Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Places’

City of Cats

August 29, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Places, Traveling 1 Comment →

Cat in Holland Village

Noel wanted to go someplace fabulous and bleeding with local color, but I really am the most boring guest. I wanted to go to temple immediately, i.e. Kinokuniya. To my credit, I was in and out in just over an hour. I found:


– Sweet Caress, which is not a romance novel, and Armadillo by William Boyd, who creates characters I would like to meet. Any Human Heart is one of my favorite books. If you are glum and in despair over how you’ve spent your life, I recommend it highly.

– The Mark and the Void, a comedy about banking by Paul Murray, who wrote Skippy Dies.

– Public Library, short stories about libraries by Ali Smith, who is wonderful. I have two copies of How To Be Both and cannot bring myself to part with one.

– Suspended Sentences, three novels by Patrick Modiano. The French are allowed to publish very short novels. Reading Modiano teleports me to Paris, where one is happy being melancholy.

books actually
The resident cats at Books Actually have pins, postcards, and other merchandise, which gives me an idea.

On the weekend I went to chapel, a shop in Tiong Bahru called Books Actually, which last time I was there was patrolled by a large cat. There are three cats now, they know they are crowd-drawers, and they barely deign to be patted.

bks actually 2
The friendlier of the cats at Books Actually

In the day Noel went to the office while I wrote. At night we went out to dinner. In two days I finished my second draft, leaving the weekend free. If you have to write fast, I recommend getting out of Manila for a bit. Not entirely, because what would we have to write about?

Cat at Moh Guan Terrace in Tiong Bahru

I had told Noel that I wasn’t interested in seeing the sights, which of course did not stop him from producing lists of things to do and restaurants to try. It is hotter in Singapore than it is back home, but it is clean and orderly so at no time do you feel like you’ve been spritzed with eau de Pasig River. Also there are plenty of well-fed, glossy cats on the streets and in the shops. Could I live here? Probably not, but it makes a great contrast. We all need a little antiseptic sometimes.

cat socrates
Zoozoo, the real owner of Cat Socrates on Joo Chiat.

cat socrates

A change of scenery

August 28, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling 1 Comment →


I’d never spent more than three days in Singapore, and only for work, never by choice. Then one of my closest friends, Noel, moved to Singapore and rented a three-room flat so he could have visitors, and I needed a quiet place to finish my second drafts. I write in restaurants and at home, where my cats are always challenging me to staring contests, but being in unfamiliar surroundings improves my writing (or I would like to think so). I suppose your senses are on high alert in places you can’t navigate blindfolded. My brilliant travel agent (Ms Angela at Asia International) booked my flight, my cleaning lady (Mrs Shiv) agreed to cat-sit (The cats like her well enough to make me jealous), and I was off.

I disagree with people who rate Manila’s airport the worst on earth, but it is definitely too small, and there are too many people in it. Most of our city’s problems are rooted in congestion, traffic being the obvious example, so the basic solution is population management (Other than shooting people, of course). In Terminal 2 there were lines everywhere: at the one shop serving sandwiches and coffee, at the washrooms, and at the boarding gates, which often serve two flights (But not at check-in or passport control, since I arrived insanely early). And then the woman sitting alone on a bench for six will tell you the seats are “reserved” for her entire family, who are presumably lining up somewhere.

The morning flight was full, departed 15 minutes late, and landed in Singapore a half-hour early. By following the signs in the vast airport (No one getting in your face!) my suitcase and I got to the MRT with no trouble at all. Sitting in the clean, cold, spacious train, I realized that I can no longer make fun of “Singabore”. Frankly I have had enough of the overly vivid thrills of living in Manila, and can now appreciate a city that treats everyone like a human being and recognizes that they have things to do with their time. It takes a third of the effort and time to get things done in Singapore, and your phone battery doesn’t die on you from searching vainly for a signal.


to be continued

Where am I going?

August 24, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling 3 Comments →

Not a rhetorical question.






Tales of Mt Cloud: The Bookshop Ghost and the Crying Floor

August 22, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places 1 Comment →


It took me an hour and a half to get to the bus station in Cubao from Makati (It wasn’t raining), and four hours to get to Baguio on the 10:15 express bus (no stops, snacks, washroom on board). As soon as we left Metro Manila I could feel an invisible iron band loosening around my head. That’s what living in Metro Manila is like: an iron band around your head, growing tighter and tighter. You’re so used to it, you don’t even know it’s there. Metro Manila is killing us.


Fifi, who runs Mt. Cloud Bookshop, had invited me to give a talk. I discussed my writing method (lots of doing apparently nothing) and read an excerpt from my novel. Mt. Cloud carries books about the Philippines, books by Filipino authors, and a smattering of other titles. It’s a charming two-storey shop, the kind that has a portal to another dimension, in the refurbished Casa Vallejo near the Session Road rotunda. The shop is packed with books, so events are held at the Cinematheque next door.


Like any self-respecting temple of literature, Mt. Cloud has a resident ghost. They call her Carmen, and she regularly pushes books onto the floor. One week Noli me tangere was on the floor, and the following week El Filibusterismo, so there is a theme to her picks. No one has seen the ghost, so she’s either antisocial or looks perfectly human and indistinguishable from the clients. Of course it could be an industrious mouse, whose hard work is callously attributed to the supernatural.


Apart from the ghost, the bookshop is haunted by the heartbroken. For some reason, people like to sit on the cushions on the second floor and have a good cry. I don’t mean silent tears rolling down their faces, I mean wailing and sobbing. Sometimes they don’t even get to the second floor, but sit on the stairs and start bawling. Maybe it’s because being surrounded by books is so comforting: all those alternate universes offering asylum.


Visit Mt. Cloud’s website.

Archaeologists unearth Tintagel Castle of Arthurian myth

August 12, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History, Places No Comments →


The palace is just one of a dozen structures that ground penetrating radar surveys picked up on the Tintagel peninsula, some of which likely housed workman, soldiers and artists. Whoever lived in the main structure, however, lived a pretty glamorous lifestyle considering it was the dark ages. The researchers have evidence that they drank wine from the geographic area known as Turkey today, and used olive oil from the Greek Isles and Tunisia. They drank from painted glass cups from France and ate off plates from North Africa.

Read it.

If I remember my T.H. White (and Thomas Malory and Mary Stewart) correctly, Tintagel was the castle of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall, whose wife Igraine was coveted by Uther Pendragon. The obsessed King Uther Pendragon besieged the castle without success, so he resorted to magic. Merlin cast a spell that caused Uther to take on the form of Gorlois. Gorlois was lured out of the castle, whereupon Uther rode in and convinced Igraine he was her husband. Nine months later, Arthur was born and given to Sir Hector to raise as the boy “Wart”. No one but Merlin knew Wart’s real parentage until Wart came upon a sword stuck in a stone. . .

Later, Gorlois and Igraine’s daughter Morgause seduced Arthur and gave birth to the horrible Mordred, who would rebel against his father/uncle.

I try to read The Once and Future King every other year. My sister and I have memorized most of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so we can ward off boredom with phony French accents and the Camelot song.

Trapped in a Beijing metaphor

June 20, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling 6 Comments →

saffy furious

Saffy: That’s what happens when you’re away on my birthday. Saffy turned 16 last June 15.

The day after ASEAN foreign ministers took a swipe at Beijing and then took it back because the Malaysians didn’t want to offend Beijing, I found myself in a taxi in Beijing, in the middle of a quarrel that started over nothing. The quarrel was instigated by the taxi driver, compounded by our inability to understand each other’s language, and aggravated by everyone’s tendency to start yelling as if turning up the volume would bring clarity to the issue.

In short, I had landed in a metaphor.

My two colleagues and I had gone to the Circle Market to buy souvenirs and Mao kitsch. The doorman at our hotel had called a taxi for us. It was past 6pm, rush hour, and the doorman said it might be difficult for us to get a taxi back to the hotel. The fare to Circle Market was 13 Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY, the exchange rate today being PHP7.07 to CNY1).

Circle Market looks like Virra Mall in the 90s. I was kicking myself for overpaying for a Vladimir Putin T-shirt for my sister that I could probably get cheaper in Greenhills, but I was in a hurry. Also, I just wanted the seller to get out of my face. We got our shopping done in an hour. There was a taxi on the curb, so we piled in and showed him the hotel card. So far, everything was fine.

A few blocks from the hotel, our companion, who was the designated wallet, noted that the fare on the meter was already CNY28, more than twice what we’d paid earlier. The route had not seemed longer this time around. “Maybe there’s a rush hour surcharge?” I said, not wanting to assume that we were being cheated, though the evidence was right there. Also I did not feel like having an argument in sign language.

A block from the hotel, the taxi driver stopped, pointed to the meter, and said, “Give me 100.”

Keep reading

From the BBC: South China Sea: The mystery of missing books and maritime claims