I had been to Bohol twice—both times within the context of work, and each time bound to an itinerary that just offered bite-sized portions of Bohol’s many charms without actually letting us savor the full portions of its delectable fare. But I am a creative soul in frequent need of inspiration, and I find that, of the places in the Philippines that I’ve been to so far, Bohol is one of those locations where I’d like to be a frequent flyer.
Here’s a rundown of the things I’ve enjoyed, the things I’d like to go back for, and the things I’d like to try (in no particular order): Read more
The Philippines finally has its first Picasso exhibit EVER. In this excerpt of my art review in ClicktheCity.com, I share details of this important date with one of the world’s most important artists–and what it could possibly mean for the country. Read more
I like labels. It caters to the obsessive-compulsive in me and it works to establish order and boundaries. One of my favorite childhood activities, especially during the grade school years, was labeling all my school supplies using Dymo (revealing my age, yes) and those different colors of Dymo labels.
However, it is one thing to label personal property and another to label natural wonders and cultural treasures such as, say, a volcano. Read more
In a disconcerting double-whammy, the Philippines’ Ninoy Aquino International Airport was voted the worst airport “for sleeping in” on the same week that Air France-KLM announced a phasing out of its Manila-Amsterdam route. Read more
At the Homeless World Cup, people of all colors, shapes, and sizes converge under different flags that represent different languages, political systems, ideologies, and religions. There are teams from 48 countries in six continents, some belonging to global superpowers whose flags have instant recall and recognition, others to little-known states that are still seeking recognition. Read more
“And on to your left we have the coffin of King Ferdinand V of Bohemia…”
Our tour guide’s voice drowned in my head as I fumbled with the controls of my borrowed camera. The room that kept King Ferdinand’s coffin was dark, and I wanted to get a good-enough photograph using the camera that I had started using only the day before that. A click here, a snap there—I turned around to ask my classmate, Eva, a question about using the camera in low light…
… And then they were gone.
All of them.
I was in the middle of St. Vitus Cathedal, in Prague’s historic Hradčany Square, with what looked like hundreds—even thousands—of Sunday tourists, and I couldn’t find our tour guide or any of my classmates. It was my second day in a country whose language I did not speak and whose signs I could not decipher, and I was lost.
* * *
It was exactly a year ago when I landed in Prague, the Czech Republic to try to my hand at being a student in an international program. I was 30 years old and married for less than year, but I felt like I was 18 again—young, exuberant, and ready to take on the world.
When I found myself alone in the middle of St. Vitus Cathedral, I took it as a sign that I was meant to explore the city in my own way. After a momentary panic attack, in which I went around and circled the cathedral twice in hopes of finding a familiar face, I let go and decided to walk around Hradčany Square, the world’s largest functioning castle compound which houses the cathedrals of Sts. Vitus, Wenceslas, and Adalbert, as well as Prague Castle and the Archbishop’s Palace, among other edifices. I retraced some of the steps that our tour group had taken, spending a bit more time to take in the sights and take some photos, then I chatted with the old gentlemen who were selling their artwork by the hillside staircase and bought myself some art. I browsed the museum shop, peeked in some the cafés that lined Hradčany’s perimeter, chatted with the cute guy selling black Bohemian beads, then I made my way to the streets below. I couldn’t understand a single thing that the signs were saying, but I had a map, intuition, and my inner sense of adventure to guide me.
* * *
I seemed to have done a lot of walking while in Prague—not only because taking the metro and walking to our various destinations was the most cost-efficient way to travel, but also because I had a lot of questions about myself and where I was headed. I found that walking offered me time, space, and great stimuli for thinking. The more I got to know the city and make myself comfortable traversing streets whose names I could not pronounce, the more I felt that I belonged out in the world instead of in a little box defined by a title and a desk. The more I immersed in the seven-day program and got to meet journalists of all shapes, colors, languages, and persuasions, the more I realized that words were where I was most comfortable. While I had thought that change was best done while being in government, I also realized that truth was sometimes best pursued from the outside looking in. “The journalist’s first obligation is to the truth,” our program said, and I knew that I had to step out of my political blinders in order to see better.
And while I loved my country and was projecting myself to be “Little Miss Philippine Ambassador” while in the program, I also knew that there was a larger world outside, where race, ethnicity, and nationality mean less than being human itself.
One afternoon, after a Mexican drinking spree with some of my classmates, I was walking back with Sarah, a lovely young Egyptian who was talking about the challenges of being young and Egyptian in a society where race and religion was such a big deal, and I asked, “Wouldn’t it be better if we just saw ourselves as citizens of the world?” Sarah liked that thought and, together, we reveled in the possibilities that it offered.
* * *
The program showed me much about a side of the world that I hadn’t yet seen, and it also revealed sides of myself that I was only getting to know. At the end of the program, when we were asked to write letters to ourselves, I wrote this letter , where I asked myself these questions:
The real question is: where are you now, REALLY? What REALLY brings your heart joy, and what are your real motivations sans the ego and the titles? Your dream board says one thing but sometimes you get caught up in the ideals of power and responsibility that you find yourself foregoing things that matter to you–and for what? In the narrative that is your life, who is your target audience? Who do you really want to speak to, and whose lives do you really want to touch?
You can’t be everything to everyone. So, who do you want to be someone to, and what do you want to do? How will you get there?
* * *
One year later and a continent away, I’m closer to finding the answers. It’s funny how we sometimes need to (literally) lose our way just to find ourselves, and how we need to be jolted out of our comfort zones in order to make it back home. I lost my tour group while looking through a borrowed lens while in Prague, but it was also these borrowed lenses of the world that helped me see more clearly and find clues that were just right under my nose.
Different people have different reasons for packing their bags, getting on a plane, and setting off for distant lands. Some do it to take a quick break from their frenetic life and escape to sun, sea, surf… and shopping. Some do it for work, the trip necessitated by this client meeting or that conference. Others do it to survive. They pack part of their lives with them and leave the other half at home, risking social ties, emotions, and a bit of security for a larger paycheck that would allow them to support their families. Others do it for love, crossing continents and cultural boundaries to spend the rest of their lives with The One. Still others do it for the thrill of the chase, planning their sojourn months—years!—in advance then finally taking off for weeks on end, in search of colorful experiences and connections that will often lead them closer to themselves.
When I was younger, I saw traveling as a bothersome necessity, a requirement imposed by the fact that we were a family of airliners and that we had loads of free trips to use each year. I grew up in a single-parent household with my mom being gone for… maybe three-fourths of my childhood, and she compensated by taking us on these impromptu trips. Shopping in Hong Kong, zoo-going in Singapore, fun family time in Disneyland, our first limo ride in Hawaii—these travels weren’t too frequent, but they were memorable if only because it was time for everyone to be all in the same room. But since I was too young on many of those trips to fully appreciate what they entailed, I ended up just going with the flow, not expecting too much and not putting too much of myself into the experience.
As I got older, however, wanderlust crept in and there emerged a hunger—a deep yearning—to learn from the world outside of my beautifully shaped archipelago. The adventure started in 2006, when a short-lived partnership with a Singaporean firm saw me traveling out of the country on frequent, impromptu trips. I loved the feeling of connecting with and learning from colleagues from different parts of the world, and I resolved to keep traveling for work—to keep seeking out those intellectual and cultural connections that won’t necessarily come with flying on holiday.
In 2008, I took my first-ever trip as media covering an international event—the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, where my now-husband had performed and where I find myself again this year. There I met an organization and people who I now consider to be part of my “media family”. That year, too, I experienced a series of heartbreaks when I couldn’t secure the funding I needed to take two programs—one, a short journalism course in Greece, another, a graduate degree in Australia—and the hunger grew.
Maybe it was the “Fil-for” in me (my biological father is British) that kept me wanting to connect with another continent; maybe it was generations of trans-continental travel seeped into my blood. Whatever it was, a latent desire to be out into the world was seeded in every pore of my being, and milestones in my life kept happening outside of the country without me planning for them. In 2009, my husband and I were married in the midst of the Homeless World Cup in Milan, Italy, where he performed and gave drumming workshops and I was part of the media corps. Then in 2010, I took my first solo flight to Europe for the European Journalism Institute in Prague, Czech Republic. It was followed by another week of traveling, writing, and connecting with friends in France. That trip—taken at 30 years old—sealed the deal for me.
I wanted to travel for work and do work (writing, researching, meeting, talking) while traveling. I wanted my life to be about these trans-continental, cross-cultural connections that don’t just happen within the confines of a single organization or a single country. I wanted to embrace the world—and I, to be fully in it.
Then, lo and behold, in 2011, the Universe decides to make me editor-in-chief of a travel magazine. (Part of the wish, granted.)
As I write this now, I am in a room surrounded by lush greenery in Kuching, Sarawak, in a hotel near the foot of the mythical Mount Santubong. It is my third time to cover the Rainforest World Music Festival, my fifth time in Sarawak, and my nth plane ride this year. I’ve had Misadventure and Mishap follow me around in airports and at my destinations, but I don’t let them stand in my way and I just treat them as part of the fun. I have a terrible cough and would really be better off resting at home, but there’s a kind of magic here—a powerful, positive energy—that I cannot deny myself.
Yesterday, while attending one of the musical workshops that are embedded into the festival, I watched an impromptu jam of three musicians from Poland and one from Iran as they introduced their kinds of zithers, multi-stringed instruments that sound more like harps and pianos than guitars, and explored the nuances and intricacies of their instruments. I was mesmerized by the soothing sounds of the zither and found myself almost in a trance as I tried to capture that moment on film. After that came another jam focusing on “rast”, what they call Eastern modal music.
I was absolutely entranced by the voice of Mamak Khadem, a beautiful Iranian woman who is defying stereotypes and cultural norms by giving a voice to the women of Iran, in a society where only men hold power. I loved the electronica and oud combination of DuOud, a duo from Tunisia and Algeria by way of Turkey, who continue to uphold their traditional music while embracing technology. Also part of that jam was Theodosii Spassov from Georgia, an amazing flutist who could produce a wide range of sounds with his shepherd’s flute, and Hamid Saedi, a handsome Iranian who was also Mamak Khadem’s husband and quite magical-sounding on the sambuka (the Persian zither). And that was only the workshops—a full night of concerts had yet to unfold.
Last night, too, over beer and cocktails at the festival’s famed “Heinekabana”, I had an eye-opening conversation with a senior colleague, John—originally from the UK, now living in Thailand—whom I had conversed with a year ago on “Asian jazz” and the “anonymity” of our music as far as our Southeast Asian neighbors were concerned. This time, though, the conversation was on the socio-political and cultural contexts of his Thailand, my Philippines, our other neighbors (Burma, Vietnam), and similar events in the United Kingdom in the 1820s. It was part-history lesson, part-political commentary—and some of our friends had already left the table, probably thinking that they would rather go out and enjoy the music than be part of this discussion—but I loved every minute of it. These are conversations I would not be able to have back home, conversations that enrich my data bank and inform my work as a political animal back in the Philippines. This wasn’t part of the festival menu, and yet here I had it.
It is moments like these—moments wrapped in pure musical bliss or intense intellectual and cultural exchange—that make me excited to pack my bags again and again, and endure all the inconveniences of modern-day travel. These are moments when I feel the world’s many lines being blurred and even momentarily erased, as we access knowledge and “knowing” from all parts of the world in one space.
Here, in this festival, for instance, there are no boundaries between me and the musicians of Kenge Kenge from Kenya, who are only a handshake and a smile away. There was no language barrier between me and Señor Victor Valdes of Mexico, whose enchanting performance on the Mexican harp put us on the same plane without having to exchange words with each other. I didn’t need to understand Mamak Khadem’s words to be moved to tears by her beautiful, haunting chanting. The customs and traditions of the island nation of Vanuatu are within reach—if only I open them long enough to see the performances of Leweton Women’s Water Music. To me, THIS is what traveling is all about—it is not just about the journey or the destination itself, but also, and more importantly, about the people you meet and learn from.
This is just one event of many, one trip of several more that I will be taking this year, but it captures perfectly my connection with travel and the world. As I step out of this room and onto the sunshine, I will greet each experience with arms wide open, embracing this powerful wanderlust that has brought me here and that makes me privileged enough to sing, dance, and live as one with the world—even if it’s only for a few short days.
The ProPinoy Project is a Global Community Center for all things Pinoy, to connect Filipinos at home and abroad by creating a space for ideas, trends and analyses about the Philippines and the global Pinoy community to inspire informed discussion and transformative action.