Friday, May 24, 2013

Around the world in 6 years

One year ago today, I signed off from my last cruise ship contract from Royal Caribbean International.  I left the ship in the middle of the French Riviera, flying from the busy airport in Nice, France.  Cannes Film Festival and the Monte Carlo Grand Prix were happening at the time.  Little did I know that as I stepped off the gangway of a luxurious international cruise liner, I would be re-entering this thing called the Real World.

Leaving the Real World was a decision I made on purpose back in 2006.  I was working in Manila since 1999 and was not happy with how things were headed.  I’ll spare you the details, but I was given the chance to sign a contract in 2006 with Hong Kong Disneyland to perform the role of Nala.  From the craziness of Manila, I basically entered a life of vacation.  I lived my everyday life where people plan and save for their family vacations.  I sang “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” for 2 years.  As you can imagine, there are only so many times a person can sing that song and keep their sanity.  In 2007, I decided to leave Hong Kong and finish my degree at USJ-R in Cebu.

Photos from some of the shows
on Royal Caribbean International
In 2008, I auditioned and was accepted for the cast of Royal Caribbean’s fleet of international cruise ships.  There I continued living in the vacation world.  I had no car, no cellphone, no rent, and no bills to pay.  My hardest decision each day was what time to eat in our crew cafeteria, also free, or what time to go sightseeing off the ship.  I did work, however, and the work was good.  I worked with very talented people and got to perform really great shows.

For four years I was able to tour the world with Royal Caribbean.  I will be forever grateful for the wonderful opportunities I was given.  I got to travel to over 40 countries on 5 different continents.  I worked in the theater with actors from both Broadway and West End.  And most of all, I met my husband during the second of four contracts.  We finished our cruising career with a world cruise from Europe to Asia and back.

Top (L to R): Makeshift bed; My sunburnt husband
Bottom: Sunburnt legs; Broken piano in a lounge
I feel that I do have to add that cruising wasn’t always easy and we endured two life-threatening events that changed our lives forever: a violent ship rocking off the coast of Egypt in 2010 and a ship fire near Borneo in 2012.  After the fire, my husband experienced second-degree sunburns because the ship was without power and sat, exposed to the brutal sun.  And after the repairs were finished during a drydock in Singapore, we had to travel through the treacherous Gulf of Aden and were approached by several small pirate boats.  I have all the respect in the world for my fellow Pinoy seamen, they risk their lives and go months without seeing their families, knowing their sacrifice will provide a better opportunity for their family.  They were my family on the ship, we ate pancit and sang karaoke together.  They watched out for me, especially when my now-husband and I started dating.  Imagine, he had to go through 50 fathers, mostly the deck and engine crew, who were there to protect me.  They initiated him with dilis and buwad.  For me, they don’t get enough credit for what they do all around the world.

Top (L to R): Egypt; Bethlehem; Church of the Nativity
Middle: Our home onboard; Taiwan; Japan
Bottom: China; Temple in Shanghai; Temple in South Korea
All in all, the experience was surreal.  I traveled to places I had never even dreamed of.  I tasted authentic food everywhere!  Crepes in France, kebabs in Turkey, gyros in Greece, Kobe beef in Kobe, and best of all pizza and pasta in Italy.  The taste of pizza fresh from the brick oven in Naples, Italy is an experience everyone should get at least once in a lifetime (however, Michelangelo’s Pizzeria here in Cebu is really close, and my husband and I go here often for dates).  I walked the final path of Jesus in Jerusalem, visited His birthplace in Bethlehem, saw the Pyramids in Egypt, experienced the samba of Carnival in Brazil, visited Evita’s Pink House in Argentina (while I was performing a Tango show on the ship), and got to visit ancient Rome and the Vatican.  My husband and I had our first date driving 4-wheelers in the beauty of Santorini, Greece.  That’s just a short list of the amazing places that I was able to see.   I'd put my travel list up against the richest people in the world.
Eating our way around the world.
Thank goodness we also had a gym!

But all good things must come to an end.  We realized we couldn’t go on living at sea forever.  We were married here in Cebu last August and we plan to start a family next year, God willing.  You can’t really raise a child in the middle of the ocean!

Some days are easier than others, but I think I am still transitioning back to a life on land.  When I’m spending time with family and friends, I wouldn’t trade going back for anything.  When I look into the faces of our students at The School of Rock (a music school my husband and I co-own here in Cebu), I am so happy to be doing what I’m doing.  But days of heavy traffic in the city, or the days when we pay the bills, or the days of budgeting and buying groceries I really miss the ship life.  We were able to travel, to save money, perform at a high level with amazingly talented people, and focus on our job in a way that is impossible on land.  I was guaranteed steady work every day for six months at a time.

I must continue to acknowledge missing my ship life, but it’s time to face the Real World.  Although we have closed the Royal Caribbean chapter of our lives and are moving on to the next chapter, we will always hold on to the many memories we made.  I am so grateful to God and I promise to share everything I have learned along the way.  But even while touring the world, there is a famous movie phrase that always plays in the back of my head, “There’s no place like home.”  For the first time in 14 years, I can say I am home.

Top (L to R): Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Rhodes, Greece; Dubai, UAE
Middle: Kusadasi, Turkey; Jordan River, Israel; Disneyland Hong Kong
Bottom: Singapore; Taipei, Taiwan; Ephesus, Turkey

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