Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Traveling’

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Fall.

November 12, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling No Comments →

Matches the current mood: somber, melancholy, the heightened sense that all this beauty will pass.

On the way to the park.

This is what is meant by fall colors.

We need more open green spaces at home.

For every concrete monstrosity, make the mall developers build parks. But who will alienate the money?

Parks are “non-revenue areas” and we are warned that vagrants, junkies, criminals will take them over. So only the rich can afford parks. Instead of breathing and walking among the trees, we go shopping for things we don’t really need, incur debts, drown ourselves in stuff.

A Richard Meier building

City of Cats

August 29, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Places, Traveling 2 Comments →

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 draft. 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.






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

Back from Beijing

June 18, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling No Comments →

Random snapshots while I recover from a week of trudging from one site to another.


Fried scorpions! Not.


Fat cat in a houtong.


The Condom People. L-R: Edna Abong and Lucien Dy Tioco of the Philippine Star, our director Pepe Diokno.


Ooh la la.


The antique market. Where being duped is part of the experience. I found a Victorian brass mariner’s telescope that may be overpriced and fake but I like it.


Sleeping cat at a gallery at 789.

And of course we looked at maps. Ancient maps. Lots of ancient maps.