I could barely keep my eyes open. It was the second day of my weekend and I waa still running on around 6 hours of sleep (collectively). I couldn’t even remember if I got to kiss my boyfriend goodbye as he walked me to the waiting Uber car.

My body’s giving out but my brain is still working possibilities, ideas, strategies. What would I do with this opportunity I’ve been presented? Would I be any good? Would i actually use it well, because i’ve wasted these opportunities before.

But shouldn’t we always be a little nervous about new things?If if doesn’t make you worry while your inner self is jumping up and down in joy, what are you doing it for anyway? Life is too short for “meh.”

That sunset is pretty. Even with that worrying blanket of smog on the skyline, orange sky is lighting up the highway, always a bit more idyllic after a couple of hours of rain. ‘

I really should have had more sleep for this, but life happens and I work too hard not to enjoy life after work.

Should I make jokes? Take more notes? Make a little more effort to connect? I’m the only one here to not really be in the mix of an actual group, and I want to not rub anyone the wrong way.

Maybe I should just enjoy it and be myself.

Myself has been fine for me so far. Let’s try that.

Family. In Filipino culture, the most important relationship we may ever have. Working with BPO companies for the past 9 years, it’s not unusual to hear the common “I need to take my aunt/grandma/uncle to the ER”, “My mom’s aunt just passed and I need to go to the funeral”, “I have to take care of my mother” as usual reasons for absences, even resignations. I’ve heard surprise, even disbelief from my bosses across the pond at hearing these from us, when mostly these reasons are usually accurate. We Filipinos still have a tribe mentality. We take care of each other. Grandparents live with their grandchildren all the time. We’ve taken years off from work just being someone’s primary caregiver when the rest of the world will tell you that hiring someone else would be more practical.

I’d like to tell you it’s just cheaper for us to personally do it, but I think it’s ingrained in us to do these things ourselves. It may be guilt, personal loyalty, or cultural expectations, but we do it. Because for us, family is everything. They are the people that raised us to be who we are as adults. The voices in our heads when we make big decisions. They are both our most loyal supporters but also our harshest critics at the same time.

Without (hopefully) airing any dirty laundry out, I’ve seen personally how my loved ones support each other. We may discuss at length the errors in judgment, irresponsibility, wrong choices that a family member/s made to cause us to have to help out, but we do it. No matter how badly the people we love have lied to us, screwed us over, make us want to just pack up and leave, we still find a way to bail them out at the last second.

It’s a vicious cycle. How do you find the balance of helping out versus being their bailout option? How do you make someone realize they’re going towards a downward spiral but not alienate them enough that they hide their problems from you and make it worse? How do you wake a person up without involving other, sketchier personalities or worse, the law?

I guess it’s enough to know them and love them enough to figure it out. Loving someone unconditionally doesn’t mean being their personal parachute. It’s making sure you equip them enough to be able to make the right choices, cheering them on when they need the encouragement, and kicking them in the butt when they need to get up off theirs.

I guess that’s what I think. Then again, I’m still figuring things out.

What’s your family like?

I am an internet lurker. I follow great blogs, people and have actually met these people in person. One thing I’ve noticed  is how markedly differently people can be in person from their internet personas. A person that’s quite eloquent on their blog can be pretty quiet in person. An Instagram personality, almost unrecognizable without their filters.

My six readers, I understand I am the same way. I don’t usually wax poetic about life and all its quirks, and analyze positively about most things like this blog and all its entries reflect.

To be honest, and readers, since you mostly know me in person (or are related to me, whatever), you know that I am a mostly sarcastic, sometimes offensive joke cracking wisebutt in conversation. My reputation at the last company I worked for that had a team that met in person once a month, have told me that I always sound like there’s a double entendre in most things I say. Birthdays I usually send links to a kind of offensive video to friends that denote something will be going on that day.

And yes, I do realize how easy it is to filter out the elements of your life that you don’t want people to find out about you. It’s always so tempting to present the most idealized version of us to the world, the one that’s always put together, or only have flaws that are adorable. So let me be a little more open right now, six readers, and let me know if I’m missing anything that you feel needs to be said.

  • I have a short temper. I’ve been known to lose patience quickly but I am trying to learn to reel it in, especially since I don’t have a poker face to hide what I feel at any given time.
  • I am a crazy bunny lady. Most of my day, if not focused at work, is focused on keeping my bunnies happy and healthy. Since I lost my bunny in June, I’ve been obsessing about the other one’s health and well being.
  • My coping mechanism is food. I usually look for something to eat when I’m annoyed or stressed or want to celebrate. Even when I’m sick, I’m always hungry. The one time I remember not being hungry is when my bunny died in June and I skipped a few meals because I was so devastated (told ya I was a crazy bunny lady).
  • I’m not very touchy feely. I use humor as a defense and don’t usually start emotional conversations. I can’t remember the last time I told my family I love them. We don’t hug unless it’s to annoy the other person.
  • I can be very passive aggressive. I hate this part of my personality and I want to be more confrontational and upfront, but years and years of indoctrination and getting that same treatment from people close to me, it’s hard to not be the same.
  • I have an incessant desire to help. It can be detrimental to my wallet, my mood, my overall well being, but if I see something I can fix or help with, I will try to do it. I’ve had friendships break because of this, because I had thought I warranted the same devotion, but I do realize just because we’re good to other people, doesn’t mean they will be to you, and that sometimes my definition of help is actually meddling, or that “good” is actually annoying/judgmental.
  • I gossip. I’m trying not to do this because I hate being talked about behind my back, but when you talk to the same people every single week, day in and day out, it’s hard to not listen.

What parts of your personality do you think you usually hide from the general public?

White sand, blue sea

White sand, blue sea

Sometimes when I feel really horrible about the state the country is in, how unsafe it feels to be here, the incredibly wasteful traffic, rampant corruption and all the other ails we’re plagued with, I try to find the good in where we’re living in. I feel like we’re blessed with our natural resources, being a collection of several thousand islands of different beaches.

It’s hard to argue with a view like that, and even if I know it’s not entirely natural as it’s part of an island resort, I can’t help but still stare in awe at it. The beach is so white, there’s no trash, the water is so clear that when we took a dip for less than an hour, I know we almost all burned under the clarity of the water.

And right now, with the rain beating down on the metro for the past week and weather forecasts saying it’s still going to keep beating down for the rest of the week, it’s hard to remember the brightness of the sun and the feeling of just being dry. However when I think about the warning that the water reservoir in dams were dangerously low, I am thankful for the replenishment, and the beauty it will lend to the greenery that was previously brown and cracked.

What views in the Philippines are hard for you to shake your head at?

I am not a fashionable person. 90% of my clothes are chosen due to their comfort and ability to come out of the laundry and not need to be ironed. My mother follows fashion a lot more than I do, telling us the trends of the month from her Vogue magazine (which I read for their food editorials). I work from home so 75% of the time I am in shorts, a loose shirt or wifebeater, and flip flops with with bits chewed off them because of my rabbits.

That is to say I’m not entirely devoid caring about how I look. I believe in looking professional when conducting business. I would never wear white, black or something completely loud to a wedding. I follow dress codes and party themes when the occasion arises.

 

I am a fan of ukay clothes shopping however, and I’ve been a patron of a few since I started working in 2007.

 

You see I’ve always worn a uniform to school, from nursery school to college. When I started to work, it baffled me to have to wear something different every day. from what I remember, I ran out of my collection of sarcastic message shirts the first month in my office job, and I was definitely not making enough to sustain my biggest vice (eating and drinking), and to also have a decent wardrobe around the space.

 

It was my mon who first went. I remember cringing a little as my only idea of these places were that they were old castoffs from other countries that were resold to ours (which is still true, I still find shirts with The Salvation Army tags on them). The variety is great though, and you’ll have less chance running into someone wearing the exact same thing. Plus, it’s significantly cheaper, which allows me to allot more of my budget towards food.

 

I regularly go now to a few different places, and it’s become like an adventure to pick out fun things (that are age appropriate) while not being too insane. I do have a few limits though. No shoes (can’t wash then), no underwear (COME ON), no bathing suits, no hats, nothing with stains or smells. Things have to be washed thoroughly with warm water and soaked thoroughly by me or professionally before they’re worn, and the basics, bought somewhere else. Ironically, my plain shirts and jeans, not from ukays but mall stores to make sure I don’t look like I’m in costume, dresses, mostly sewn by my mom.

 

While I admire snappy dressers and those who can follow fashion trends, I neither have the body or the wallet for it. The ukay gives me options that make me smile (like the four skirts I just bought for the price of one from SM), and leave me enough money for the obligatory meal afterward.

 

Don’t tell my grandma though, she doesn’t approve of the concept.

Have you bought anything from the ukay?

Lately, I’ve been in the kitchen. The thing about working at night and at home, there are days when you just want to get out of the house, and sometimes it makes it even harder to dress up and face the Metro Manila traffic. In those days, I turn to food.

For me, cooking is soothing. It helps that there is an actual end product to enjoy, and not just by you, but the others in your space. It gives back, and even if you’ve cleaned out your wallet paying for the ingredients, it’s not like it’s just going to run away from you, there is an experience to share, and depending on how much you make, it lasts for some time.

I actually have a list of things I want to learn how to cook, and mostly it’s been Filipino dishes. I realized, while thinking about what to make the significant other’s parents, that I have no Filipino specialty. All I make are American, Italian inspired things. And I get it, because those are easier to make and less pressure. Because Filipino dishes are personal. Everyone and their mother have their own sensory memories of Filipino dishes that they’ve tasted over the years and turn to for comfort when they tire of restaurant dishes.

I myself have a few Filipino dishes that make me happy every time I have them. Goto (tripe porridge), Kare kare (satay-like sauce with tripe and veggie) and nilagang baka (beef soup). All I can’t make worth a dang and I have to wait for someone else to make, as I don’t want to waste ingredients. (Precious cleaned tripe!) I have resolved to learn how to make these the next time ingredients are available. I find myself a little ashamed I still have not perfected these, as when I try to cook for others, I find myself at a loss for a repertoire that’s decent enough for a week. For someone who says she has a penchant for food, I really should be able to make more of a variety.

As for baking, I’ve checked off my one thing I wanted to learn how to bake successfully, which is cheesecake. It’s a crowd favorite, my favorite. My favorite one comes from the Calea bakery in Bacolod City, they have a white chocolate cranberry cheesecake that is thick and creamy with the tang from the cranberry sauce, it is so good. My dream is to hack the topping and to make it at home, because as it is, I’ve only had this cake a few times in my life, and I can’t fly to Bacolod just for a cake (It would be fun to, but not practical, not at all).  My next project is an iced cake, I just have to decide what kind of cake it is, before I break out the baking ingredients, as in our house, I’m primary cake eater, and I can’t keep eating all of my goods, I wouldn’t fit in my chair after a week.

What is your favorite food to make? Any recipes you want to share?

 

Most people hate the rain, and why wouldn’t they? It makes driving harder, which makes it more traffic to get to work or wherever it is you need to get to, and so on and so forth. It soaks your outfit, makes a mess on the floor, makes your dad yell at you when you come in with wet Chuck Taylors (long story).
But it also makes for this view at the Banaue Rice Terraces:

Walang tapon,

Walang tapon,

 

We forget how beautiful nature is sometimes when it’s beating down on us and is seemingly endlessly depressing. We forget that it makes the grass green, the trees lush, flowers bloom, fruits exist. The beauty of nature is that it doesn’t merely exist, it sustains. Food. Air. Overall nourishment. It took us 14 hours in a van to get to here, and I’d like to think it was worth every second. What about that view, eh? It’s intensely gorgeous without trying to hard, and it makes food too.

 

What view are you grateful for today?

A couple of months ago, we babysat a friend’s toddler for a weekend. It was a responsibility I was not ready for at the time, and I was mostly running on panic adrenaline. Since this was someone else’s child, their world, it wasn’t something I wanted to take lightly.

And boy, it wasn’t a weekend that was light. A toddler is a test of will and smarts. They absorb everything. They try to test every limit and are strong willed. Once you give in once, they will remember and test how much you’ll give in next time. It was emotionally and physically difficult, and with having lost my baby bunny five days before, I was, admittedly, wanting to wave the white flag. Take note, this took five people (my sister, mother, brother, boyfriend) 48 hours and unending french fries (long story) to get through.

So I will admit this now and get it out of the way. I am not ready for children yet. Children will be the death of me, as until now I still sob at the memory of losing my rabbit. I know that I will love mine truly and fully and will be the most paranoid I’ll ever be about the world. I won’t be able to sleep. Or worse, I’ll just throw up my hands and ask someone else to deal with it. They say when it’s your own child, it’s different (That’s what my mother says, and she keeps saying it, I think she got spooked that none of her kids want children now).

I applaud those who choose to raise kids, as it is such an unselfish thing, to put your heart and mind on something that has its own mind and decisions to make. it’s so risky and will break your heart a thousand times over, and it will drain you of your finances, patience and all else you can give.

So I’m not ready now, please don’t shoot me. But I also know I change my mind a thousand times a day, so I’ll let you know when that changes.

Two Sundays ago, I got told I was beautiful. It was such a shocking thing. I remember shaking my head and saying thank you to the family friend that said it twice to my parents. Not because I think I’m a beast (and not because I think I’m a ravishing beauty either). My theory is because us Filipinos as a culture don’t expect the compliment. We’re so used to “Antaba mo na! (you’ve gotten fat!)” or at my age “O, kelan na? (When are you getting married?)” It just reminded me how negative our usual banter is and that we should change this culture on its head when we can. Because we are the future titas (aunts/older family friends) that will comment to children on how they’ve been. We can, as a generation, find better ways to start a conversation rather than asking why our quiet niece is still single, and instead go for the positive instead of the usual critique we hear about someone’s weight or failure to fulfill traditional cultural timelines.

 

You never know how much you’ll affect someone’s day, heck someone’s life even. I’d like you to think about things people have said to you that’s affected you, most of the time simple statements really resonate with people, you never know when, or how much, because words matter, and people listen to you, no matter how you little you think your impact is on others. When you say it one on one, it may make the difference in how a person approaches the next day, week or month.

 

(Or maybe this is just me reacting to the questions I usually get 99% of the time that I’ve had to bounce back with a shy “When we’re ready!””, or “Just enjoying the time right now”, or when I’m not feeling so great “I just want to be sure this time, this IS forever.”)

 

So go for the compliment today, my fellow future titos and titas. I’m sure you’ll find something good in the person you run into or meet with. Try to focus on that. I’m not saying sarcastically point out the bracelet you find hideous Regina George style, but find something you really like and if an opportunity presents itself, point it out. Right now, even when I’m mindlessly people watching, I look for at least one thing I like on every single person. It helps reinforce that thinking that there will always be something good about someone, even if your reflex is to look for the bad.

 

What were you told lately that shocked and awed you?

 

 

 

Boatman feeding whale shark

I went on two ethically debatable trips lately, one was to go back to the whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu, (plus a guided tour of the Aguinid and Da-o falls in the same vicinity) and the Buscalan tour in Kalinga. They are ethically debatable because I personally know a few people who are against these tours, the former for its impact on the whale sharks and the environment, the other, for the commercialization of an almost forgotten art.

They were both beautiful in differing ways. The first were to be able to have a chance to commune with such beautiful animals, the whale sharks are really gentle giants, hoovering meals of small shrimp with a boatman “leading” them to the right direction. The argument the environmentalists (see arguments here) are behavioral modifications and the like are sound, I have to admit.

 

Human interaction will inherently change how whale sharks, an endangered species approach us and their way of life, but at the same time, it was hard to take this way of life for a few hundred people and a community away from them. I left with a feeling of awe and guilt as I showered away the smell of the ocean and the vision of that huge mouth vacuuming away at the fish it was getting for feed. That is not a sight you forget in your lifetime. Whether it’s because of fear or just feeling like this creature should be revered and taken care of so it’ll thrive, I left there wishing this provides more awareness of their situation so future generations can still know their majesty.

 

Going up level 2 (not me)

We also went to the Aguinid falls (see tripadvisor link here) as an alternative to the now banned canyoneering in Badian. We thought we were just going to trek up a few minutes to look at beautiful  falls. When we got there we found out it was an adventure tour of five levels (up to eight!) of falls that you had to rope, climb, shimmy up on. It took us a couple of hours, but we got up the eight levels (the guides offered to take us all the way to the top) and it was more beautiful each level up. Water was cool, there wasn’t as much people as Badian, and it’s definitely less of a thrill ride (see, no jumping off 10 feet into water to start) than canyoneering but every bit as beautiful.

The guides were funny, very knowledgeable, even told us that they had grown up in the barangay, and that only people from the barangay can serve as guides. Tip though, if you’ve  gone to Badian, don’t expect any safety equipment besides your guides and your abilities. There are no helmets, no safety shoes, no life vests. There is a rope to go up one really steep part up where there are falls beating down on you, and your guides will bodily lead you up the other parts, but other than that, no regulations, no safety precautions, no way of getting you to a hospital fast if anything should happen.

I applaud this community for sharing their secret with the rest of the country, as the guides said, these used to be their playground, their own personal backyard, and now, to help with tourism and income, a lot of the teenagers are there are guides (100+ males and females 16 and up) to people who want to see what they’ve been able to enjoy their whole life. They set you up for every picture opportunity possible, provide reassurance humor to the trip. I hope that they figure out how to make sure it’s safer for everyone involved, and keep the falls clean and beautiful.

Cebu is definitely a treasure trove of things to do and places to see, at a pace anyone can match, and budget most everyone can afford. I am aware I am sounding like an ad, but the more I go outside the city and see more than the food (porky goodness), the more it’s growing on me (and the more it makes me grow).

 

On to Kalinga. We went with my boyfriend’s cousins to Buscalan in Kalinga, to visit Whang Od, the legendary mambabatok (tattoo artist). Documentation of her age and life vary. Her age online ranges from 92-98 as of writing. It was quite a trip 14 hours in a van one way from Cubao, Quezon City. There is a 45 minute hike from parking to the village of Buscalan, and for those who do not

Whang Od tattooing

Whang Od tattooing

trek at all, it’s a steep hike with a sharp drop. Prepare to bring your own things, see beautiful scenery, and freak out a bit on a high single person bridge with no railings. We were actually in a hurry to go before another group we had encountered in the market during breakfast, knowing they were there for the same reason, to get tattooed by the legend. One of the boyfriend’s cousins actually told us that there are days when Whang Od doesn’t feel like tattooing, so we might not get tattooed by her, but one of her two granddaughters, Grace and Elyang, the only two people she taught (tradition limits that she only teach those of her lineage or the tattoos will get infected). The issue about the tattooing was fine with me, as I set off not wanting to get one, as I had not been able to donate blood (I have an agreement with my mom to get that done first before getting any ink) beforehand. I was happy to just observe and see Whang Od in person, as I had seen her in photos and the tattoos in photos and found them fascinating and beautiful.

Again, the experience was a mix of emotions. You can tell that she was the queen of the village and most of the income came from people flocking in wanting to get tattooed by her and her granddaughters. The rest of the village provides homestays and serve as guides. They are all very nice and accommodating and have a trove of dad jokes with props even to share with the tourists. They are all very welcoming, the view is breathtaking anywhere you look. It’s a simple village set in the mountains where the air is fresh, the water is clean, and there are native pigs lying around like dogs as pets. When we walked a little outside the village where the rice terraces were, we had to take a ton of photos because it felt like something out of a nature magazine.

There is also the flip side that the village is now overrun by tourists that we encountered four or five kids that just kept repeating “Pera! Pera! Pera!” at us while we walked back into the village. The tattooing area was so full I had to take a break to get some air. This tiny lady in all her 90+ years just being stared at by more than a dozen people at a time, waiting for her to finish so they can get some of her art. I can see that her grand daughters were feeling the fatigue too, so I can’t imagine what she feels after a full day of tattooing and doing the same repetitive motion with her arms raised the whole day, the sound of her sticks tak-tak-tak-ing away almost like a heartbeat in its gentle rhythm.

I know that it offers the whole community a ton of income, and the three of them enjoy a special status in the community, and know how to handle the influx of tourists coming in. Our group was actually able to stay in Grace’s (one of the three artists) home and have a couple of drinks with her, she is a magnetic, confident woman who has these light brown eyes that are no doubt beautiful. Elyang, while a little more shy, is coming into her own, joking around with our group after tattooing the three in our group one after the other, dealing her own fiery humor after she got comfortable. Whang Od, though she does not speak any Tagalog, had her (male) translator blushing and refusing to translate something about the tattoo one Spanish tourist was getting. These are women that control their own fate, and know what they’re doing. It’s not feeling sorry for them that’s the issue, it’s the balance of how the community will be dependent on them, the culture and meaning of the tattoos now that people no longer need to earn them but pick them off a board or a magazine, and the simple thing of giving these women the choice to say no when they don’t want a certain tourist to take their photo or stare at them, or who gets to be in their company all day.

So i guess I need your opinion on this dilemma. What do you think we should do as a culture to help the arts and nature thrive without throttling their very essence and life? Would you go on these trips yourself?  What measures do you think need to be in place to keep them in check?

While I treasure these memories, not just because i got to experience them, but who I experienced them with, I want to leave a place better than I did going in, and not have a twinge of guilt after I do. Maybe we need longer term measures, and not just go for the sake of going. I am a lucky woman to be able to tell my future grandbunnies that I got to do this, but I want future generations to be able to as well.

So much for relaxing and leaving your brain on vacation eh?