I am writing this now because I feel that the time is right. For a long time, I have been battling my hate for Tel Aviv – a city I fell in love with in 2016.
If you’re constantly reading this blog, you will know how I am head-over-heels with Tel Aviv. It must be surprising for you to hear that I have despised it for one full year (2018) because I myself cannot believe the rage I felt towards the city I call home.
But now, the time is right. I have moved on from the heartbreak and I am ready to share this story that I have been keeping for a long time.
Love at second sight
Some time in 2016, I was invited by Vibe Israel to join a Bloggers trip. I haven’t been to Israel so this is one of the opportunities I will say yes to even if I don’t have any idea what’s in there. I have the habit of surprising myself whenever I visit a new country so I did not read anything about Israel. “Surprise me” was all I could think of while on a flight to Tel Aviv from my Hong Kong abode.
But of course, there is still a tiny bit of impression embedded in my mind about Israel. Jesus and Jerusalem were the most prominent words. Hailing from a hardcore Catholic country, Jerusalem is like the mecca for us. Where I am from, everyone dreams of going to Jerusalem. One of my friends even said I was so lucky to be going to Israel on an all-expense paid trip but I translated that to “you bi*ch don’t even go to church and yet here you are, being invited to the Holy Land.” Flying from the Philippines to Israel is very expensive so up until now, it remains a dream for many.
And that friend is right. I am not religious. I don’t go to church. I obligate myself to write Roman Catholic in every government forms I am asked to fill out even though I have no idea why are we asked to provide our religion in these kinds of forms. I came to Israel because I was invited to a Bloggers trip. That was my sole reason. No expectations whatsoever.
This is very vivid to me because on my very first hour in Tel Aviv, I already was in a mishap. I flew from Hong Kong to Dubai then Bucharest to Tel Aviv – a tedious flight as you can read so there was a tendency that my luggage wouldn’t make it. And it didn’t. I was going to attend a friends’ Jewish wedding and have nothing but what I was wearing in the flight. I let that go because I know I can always buy a dress in Israel but then again I returned to being pissed at the airlines because Israel is so expensive! I paid 300 NIS (about $80 USD) for a dress that I am only going to use once. Constantly repeating “you love your friends and you will do anything to look good in their wedding” was the only way I got over the expenditures I was not ready for. Plus, the dress that was in the lost luggage is really gorgeous (designed by my friend in the Philippines). It was another factor that made it harder to move forward.
I got over it and went back to the tune of being an explorer. A big bunch of us from my backpacking Peru days were flying into to Tel Aviv to attend the wedding. It was something to look forward to. As soon as everyone landed, we rendezvous to the Carmel Market, a famous shuk in the city.
August is extremely hot and is the peak of the summer in Israel but we’d like to believe we are not rusty backpackers so we walked for 35 minutes. None of us were sure how to take public transport and taking a taxi was never an option. But walking in the heat took its toll: one of our friends who flew in from 5-degrees-celsius-Berlin collapsed. Yep, collapsed.
Without a sign, she stumbled on the floor. Everything went so fast. She was just standing next to me and all I could remember was looking at her and shouting for help. She hit her head a little so there was blood when I tried to wake her up. Everyone in the market gathered and formed a circle around us. Our other friends came to the commotion having been distracted from their shopping and hearing my coarse voice shouting “guys, help!!!!”
She was fine. She just hit her head on the fall and the last thing I remember, we were in an ambulance with sirens blaring all over the city. I tried to remember all my first days in all the cities I visited in the world — this happened three years ago but it still tops the list up to now.
Get this: lost luggage, friend collapsing, ambulance…. Wait for it.
Just when we arrived at the hospital, I realised I lost my phone. I was pretty sure it was in the market but my friend’s hospital situation is more important. I didn’t want to do anything about the phone. At the time, I felt like I wanted to leave Tel Aviv pronto. It’s as if the Universe was telling me “Run. This city doesn’t like you.”
And that’s what I did after the wedding. I left. My luggage was returned on the day of the wedding (what the freaking feck) and fortunately, when my friends came back to the Carmel Market to say thank you to all the people who helped us, some guy recognised them and returned my phone. It was network-locked so I guess it didn’t serve its purpose to them. I felt better when I got my phone back but I was not feeling Israel. Because of the wedding, I was a month ahead for the Vibe Israel Bloggers trip so I figured I’ll just go back closer to date.
The series of unfortunate events did not end there. I decided to cross the border from Israel to Jordan. If there’s one thing I learned from backpacker forums, it’s to never have an Israeli stamp your passport. Apparently, there is a silent war in the Middle East. When you have an Israeli stamp, countries like Lebanon, the UAE and Iran will never ever let you enter their country. Even if you’re not Jewish and is just a tourist. This is when I realised the Israel boycott is real. And I’m f*cked.
Congratulations, Trisha! You now have an Israeli stamp on your newly issued passport. I have no plans in coming back to the Philippines to renew it so this incident was very irritating for me. After the Bloggers trip, the plan was to go around the Middle East (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, etc) but then it turned to, I guess, goodbye Beirut. Goodbye Tehran. Goodbye Dubai and Abu Dhabi. You will just be a distant dream until I get a new passport in 2021.
I spent 5 unbelievable weeks in Jordan and it was time to go back to Israel for the Bloggers trip. Similar to when I first arrived for my friends’ wedding, I did not expect anything from Israel. I just want to get the trip over with and move to my next destination. At the time, it was Mexico for another Bloggers trip.
The 7-day itinerary covered 3 legs: Jerusalem, The Golan Heights then Tel Aviv. Whether you believe it or not, Jerusalem spoke to me in a very religious way. Imagine growing up in a devoted Catholic country where everyone’s lives are driven by religion then you step into Jerusalem – it was a feeling I could not explain. There was a force I did not expect to be around. Part of the trip was to enter the tomb of Jesus, you know, where he rose on the third day. The line for the tomb is always long but being on a sponsored trip has its perks: the VIP line.
I entered the tomb with Mindy and Alex. It was only a 3-person at a time entrance so you can imagine how suffocating Jesus’ tomb is. The ceiling is very low – you actually have to crouch when you enter. It was claustrophobic. Mindy and Alex kneeled. I followed their lead. I looked at both of them and saw their eyes were closed, heads bowed. I closed my eyes and put my hands together in praying position. There was a long blank silent noise in my head until I was able to talk silently: “Hello, Jesus.” I already had a long list of prayers and thanks in my head (as I was trained as a child) when the guard at the door peeked and said “next!” Because of the long line, there is a 2-3 minutes limit for each group. I was already feeling the force and was honestly ready to say my prayers.
But… dude… Seriously? Hello Jesus? That’s it? That’s all????
Golan Heights highlighted a handful of wine bottles and to be honest, I don’t have a long blurb. It was a night I don’t remember. Bordering Syria, Golan Heights is Israel’s pride in the best wines of the Middle East. Our visit to the Golan Heights Winery consisted of unending wine tasting and a huge party at a vineyard. I was dancing all night (and was honestly drunk) and this is when I met a bunch of locals in the so-called moshpit. Aside from my best friends and the Vibe Israel staff, this is my first real encounter with Israelis and my first impression? They’re so fcking cool.
When attending Blogger trips, the hosting body is required to book you an outbound ticket as they are responsible for your safe departure from their country. On the day of the flight, they sent a car for me. I don’t remember what exactly happened but in my mind, it’s like this: I texted the Bloggers trip manager and said, “I am not taking the flight. I am going to stay and maximise my 90-day visa. I’ll see how it goes.”
After that, all I can remember was finding an apartment in Tel Aviv. I joined Facebook groups. Like many European cities, Tel Aviv’s trend is also the apartment hunting online. I was told it was really difficult to find one. It can take months. I guess I just got lucky annd I’d like to believe the Universe was supporting my decision.
I found a posting from a French girl who was subletting her apartment. There were many comments on her post from interested subletters so I immediately sent her a message. It happened pretty fast – the next thing I knew, she was asking to meet up and see the place. At the time, I was staying with a family in Moshav Mata, a town near Jerusalem.
That same day, I rushed to Tel Aviv to meet her. Being able to afford the rent when renting a place in Tel Aviv is not enough. Most of the time, you have to get a higher approval rating from your landlord. A French girl about my age, we instantly clicked. I paid the downpayment and she said, “it’s yours.”
My apartment was right in the center of Tel Aviv, close to the major avenues like Allenby and Ben Gurion. It was also a quick 2-minute walk to the beach. The apartment was fully furnished. All I needed was my backpack, and that was it – I was officially a Tel Avivian.
I see you again, Tel Aviv. Memories of my first step in this city flashed before me. This time, I did not feel the bad juju. Maybe because one of the locals I met there was relentlessly pairing me up with her friend. I do say yes to blind dates all the time but I was coming from months of dating while living in Hong Kong. ‘The 27 Club’ was my theme in HK. You see, I was 27, just finished years of backpacking. It was a time of my life where I kept asking myself: what do I do next?
So what I did was date. I dated, dated, and dated. I went to blind dates every night. I was set up with friends of friends almost every week. I feel like living in Hong Kong was more of a manhunt and I just didn’t realise it.
Still, it never worked.
And now here I am, being asked to go on blind dates again. The only difference is, this is not Hong Kong but Tel Aviv. So, maybe, why not?
“You know, both you and he have the same attitude. You both drink. You both smoke. You both dance a lot. You are both artists. You’re both fun!!! You’re going to like each other!!!” My friend repeated this with a giggly excited voice. His name is Oren. I’ve only seen him on Facebook because I was forcefully converted into a stalker. But damn son, this Oren is top tier. As in f*cking good looking.
After the Bloggers trip, I ended up ‘dating’ this guy. We went out all the time, we hang out a lot and have many days where we go out of a club at 11 am (from the night before, FYI). He and I were so alike and after just a few dates, we decided to be friends. You know those people who are f*cking beautiful but are not someone you feel like being romantically involved with? That’s me and him. We are still friends up until now and our story deserves to be written in another post. Although he is not the reason why I decided to stay in Tel Aviv, he is definitely the first person who has connected me with a lot of cool people who are now my friends forever. We went out as friends, more often with big groups. There were still in-between-flirtings because you know, he really is freaking attractive and we kinda got comfortable with each other’s company. But time went by and we eventually stopped playing. It just happened naturally.
Then I dated some more. I don’t know what got into me. I thought I was sick of this? I thought I wanted a break?
There was a force drawing me into Israeli men and it’s not 100% sexual. Maybe 60% sexual but the rest of the 40% is how I was always on dates with men that had sense. My conversations with men on dates are usually boring. I’m the one holding the fort to keep the show going but in Tel Aviv, they run the show. 3-year military service is mandatory for Israeli men (2 years for girls) and I think this is one of the reasons why I just felt there is so much independence resonating the way they are. I’ve also observed how they treat women as their equal. I’ve seen it from my guy friends: how they are with their girlfriends, how they are with their girl friends, how they are with their sisters, their mothers, their girl cousins — it’s quite impressive how Israeli women are treated with such respect. Most of them are even given the freedom and they don’t even have to ask. They just do their thing and the men don’t stop them from doing what they want.
In the first three months I was living in Tel Aviv, I have been on an estimate of 13 dates. Please don’t incorporate this with the unlucky number superstition. Most of my friends already did.
I just did not date in Tel Aviv. I made meaningful friendships too. Let me tell you about Olivia, a Jewish French girl whom I met in Peru. I am actually closer to her older sister, Julia. She and I worked in a bar in Bolivia for 1.5 months and have shared the same room in that time period.
“My sister lives there!”
“Yes, you should get in touch!”
I called Olivia and learned that her apartment is literally 60 steps from mine. She invited me for a drink at a bar near our street. It’s called The Prince – a rooftop bar where all the cool kids of Tel Aviv hang out. I immediately fell in love with “The Prince” especially when I saw their Street Fighter Arcade (90’s style) in the corner of the bar!
I remember Julia and Olivia being the exact opposite sisters so I don’t know if I will get along with her. I mean, I lived with Julia for a decent time and we did get along. But Olivia? I only briefly met her in Peru.
That drinking night was followed by daily night outs since we are just a few steps from each other. Olivia finishes her work shift at 23:00 and every night, I’d drop by her workplace, waiting until she finishes her shift. I was infected by her energy. She’s a person with so much life I’ve never really seen anyone like it!
“Get a bike,” she said.
“What???” I replied.
“You live here. Stop taking the bus, be a real Tel Avivian and get a bicycle.”
It is true. Most of the nights we go out, Olivia goes out with her pink teenager bike (seriously a 13-year old’s bike) all the time. It is her mode of transport. However, when she’s with me, she has to park her bike somewhere and walk with me. Or walk with me rolling her bike. It perfectly made sense to get a bicycle. Everyone has them anyway. Plus, I will save money from taking the bus all the time.
So I did it. I got a bike. And from that, I felt the deeper meaning of moving to Tel Aviv. The bicycle was an indication that I really wanted to live there. That I just don’t want to cycle around the world moving from place to place. That I finally found “home”.
Then there’s Adva, our tour manager during the Vibe Israel tour. I always develop a close relationship with tour managers on blogger trips that I participate in but Adva was a special case. We are very different people but somehow managed to find a way to understand each other with no expectations. She was there when I needed someone to turn to. I can barge into her apartment without notice. She will always come when I am looking for someone to drink in the middle of the night. Adva and I always had time for each other. It was impossible for me not to see her at least once a week. With her, I only had to be myself. No drama. No judgment. No apologies. To date, it is on top of my genuine friendships list. My relationship with her is so deep I have to find time to write it in another post.
Bloggers like me are success stories for the work that Adva and Vibe Israel does. The reason why they are bringing bloggers in Israel is to put the word out there and eradicate Israel’s bad press without discussing politics. It was purely a tour for bloggers showcasing Israel’s great potential as one of the best tourist destinations in the world. As a result of their endeavour, I became a living proof of how the organization’s work is taking effect. They invited me to a lot of events they hosted to share my story.
And this, lead me to connect to a lot of Israeli companies who were looking to follow Vibe Israel’s lead. Israel is not fond of bloggers. For them, blogs are like a “Dear Diary” thing for a school project. They were not aware of the great effects of bloggers in boosting a country’s tourism. Today, there are slowly educating themselves about this Internet trend. I was so happy to be part of the growth.
I also became a part of another group who became my constant. Imagine a group of over 20 people who meet three times a week for drinks and chat, I had to split myself between them and Olivia. This is where I met Doron, a person who I never thought I will see myself spending the rest of my life with. What’s odd is that I spent every waking day swiping on Tinder but I found this steady date in a real-life meeting.