Pasay’s lost glory days

A few months back Candice – an old editor whom I’ve actually never had the chance to meet in person – asked me to contribute a story to her lovely blog project called The Story When – a collaborative project that weaves individual stories into a casual anthology.

These are personal stories you hear from relatives, strangers, that often slip through time, but are reflective of that certain period. Capturing it as written word is a way to preserve history. I wrote about Pasay’s lost glory days, re-told from the passenger seat of my pop’s car.

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The bustling Metro Manila metropolis is no stranger to urbanization. Every time I go home to visit from overseas I’m always on the look out whether anything has changed. Are there new buildings? Has the traffic gotten better or worse? Is yet another new mall being built? What’s the hottest new club?

It’s a city constantly under construction. Even though I’m only in my twenties, I have already witnessed how much Metro Manila has changed, for better and worse, under the guise of different leadership and foreign exposure.

As a Makati girl, I have experienced the rise and fall of Embassy Super Club under its different iterations, the influx of traffic into ‘The Fort’ as new condominiums, bars, restaurants, and offices has turned it into the central business district and the hippest place to be seen hanging out with friends after work or on the weekends.

But once upon a time, before the gated villages of Makati started to rise, Pasay was the land of rich and the ‘mayaman’, recalls my pops.

When he would drives us around the city as kids, instead of playing the radio in the car, he would reminisce about the good old days.  Every car ride was like taking a trip back in time. Pops would make kwento about every nook and cranny in the city—a backstory that we would probably never learn in school or even make an effort to Google. These are stories that are passed down through the generations, not via the Internet, but straight from the mouths of people who actually lived through it.

Pops tells us that, back then, Pasay shared a long coastal area with Manila and Paranaque—often a site for swimming or witnessing a scenic setting sun by the bay to mark the end of the day.

With a population of about 20 million people, Pasay was peaceful, unpolluted, well lit, and decorated with trees. People took long walks in the evening because it was safe.

Before Dasmariñas and Forbes, Pasay housed a community of ungated villages and walled properties with no condominiums. The old residents of today’s gated Makati villages were once residents of Pasay. Even the original Polo Club was located in Pasay.

Like the Makati and Fort Bonifacio of today, Pasay was the gateway city and a center for trade, so its development was fast. But with a heavy heart, pops says that the fast urbanization, although planned well by the colonizers, was not executed well by the local government at that time.

Now Pasay has become forgotten, barely part of the local vernacular of the Metro Manila youth. Despite the stories I’ve heard over time, even I don’t have a clear picture of what Pasay looks like now, what more of the glory days back then. I only have the ruminations of my pops to capture that moment in time. And it’s my job to help him preserve his memories by sharing it for the next generation.

But as time continues to pass by, it’s possible that the home I know today might suffer the same fate as Pasay or continue to blossom into the metropolis of tomorrow.  I’ve already seen it change so much in such a short span of time. I can only trust that years from now, I too will reminisce and share about Metro Manila as I’m driving through the city with my kids.

Read the original article here and view more stories from The Story When. 

Letting go and lighting the way at the Yipeng Lantern Festival

SAMSUNG CSC Over time we become attached to people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations because they become our markers for meaning. A point of reference for us to gauge who we are.

But what happens when we evolve? Do our attachments hold us back or enable us to grow? Letting go is one of the hardest things to learn. 

This was how I felt after releasing 1 out of 3,000 paper lanterns, which lit the sky on fire when I went to the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai last year. What started out as something to check off my bucket list became an exercise in letting go. Yipeng5It all happened so fast.

My journey to Chiang Mai started as a spur of the moment decision. I’ve always wanted to attend the Lantern Festival, but I wasn’t available for the international festival date. Luckily my sister who was already in Thailand messaged me the local date, which was happening only a few days away!

After some internal debate about the cost I ended up booking anyway just one day before my departure. And even though buying 4 airplane tickets for a 2 day trip and sleeping overnight at the airport might not be practical, I knew that once-in-a-life-time experiences never are.

Afterwards, every moment leading up to the festival was about waiting.

We waited underneath our makeshift tent of scarves, in the scorching sun, for more than 6 hours. SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC We waited until the procession of monks indicated the start of the ceremony. Yipeng3 Even when the speakers blasted, “Do not light your lantern until we give the signal,” we waited some more.

Our patience was growing thin so we passed time by chanting along with the monks while shifting our weight between kneeling positions. Then finally the loudspeaker blasted the signal. We could finally spark our lanterns. SAMSUNG CSC I was so engrossed in the moment of trying to light my lantern that I almost forgot to look up at the sky. But when I did I was speechless yet overcome with awe and rapture. YiPeng One-by-one the lanterns floated into horizon, like messengers of goodwill delivering our wishes to the universe above; a surreal sea of floating lanterns; a sky burning at the seams with positive energy. I felt so alive witnessing gratitude and hope multiplied by the thousands of wishes floating in the sky.Yipeng4 Me? Well, I held onto my lantern long enough to channel all the people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations that no longer mattered to me into the fire. Yipeng2 Then I let go not only of my lantern but also of all the parts of my life that don’t serve me anymore. Because I realised that if we don’t let go, hope will never be free to light the way. And if I didn’t let go, I wouldn’t have felt so alive.

Beyond the skyline – A Singapore beach getaway

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On the not so distant islands of St John and Lazarus, just off the coast of Sentosa Cove, we discovered a place where the Singapore skyline meets the sea. An anonymous piece of city paradise to actually dig our toes into the sand and wade in all shades of aquamarine.

The beach isn’t decorated with sun-kissed locals who live off the sea. No bangkas nor wooden boats delivered coconut juice or San Miguel beer up to our boatstep. Instead we found city folk kickin’ back their Havaianas for a day trip of frolicking in their bikinis, with tan lines leaving a mark on their air con weathered skin.

For my friends it was a welcome break from the concrete corporate playground we know Singapore to be. While the beach doesn’t compare to those back home in the Philippines, it was lovely to actually be able to jump off the boat and melt into one of the untouched coastlines in the city. Even until now, after 3 years of living here, Singapore can still surprise and delight. Two islands – St. John’s and Lazarus island – beyond the skyline and a beach getaway just a short ferry or boat ride away.

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Tips and Tricks for Managing Your Money While Traveling

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 4.14.06 pmI’ll be honest. Managing money is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. Yes, I can easily save and spend. But it’s being aware of my spending habits and understanding how to make my money really work for me that takes a lot of trial and error.

Luckily, traveling is the best teacher for stubborn people like me who learn best from experience, both good and bad. I call it baptism by fire, especially when you find yourself shortchanged with almost a week left in your trip in a country that doesn’t really accept credit cards. Trust me, it happens and you too can survive.

In the last couple of years I’ve traveled in groups, pairs, alone, for the weekend, over a week, on business and for pleasure. I’m not an expert, but hopefully you can learn from some of my tips below.

Managing your money starts before you trip

Research. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but researching the costs and expenses will give you less of a headache on the road. You don’t need to budget for everything. After all, the best part of traveling is being spontaneous.

But you should know the basics and set aside money for it, like the cost of a hotel and hostel, and most importantly, any airport fees that will potentially prevent you from flying back home or to your next destination.

I freaked out once when I was traveling alone because I was looking at a guidebook that said I needed to pay airport tax, which I didn’t have enough money set aside for. Luckily, that book was outdated and I got home just fine

Tip: Always have a contingency plan. If you can, set aside an extra hundred dollars as an emergency fund. Don’t change it unless you absolutely have to.

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Plan for what you like to splurge on

You should be able to enjoy yourself while traveling and sometimes that means spending a little bit more on the experiences that make you happy. Whether it’s food, shopping, massages, tours or museums, don’t feel guilty about spending that extra dollar or two.  Plan for it. When is the next time you’ll be in that country? The chances of running into the same store with that adorable handicraft again are slim. Also, be conscious about what other people in the group don’t like spending on (like tips) to prevent any potential disagreement.

Tip: Check what’s the custom in the country that you’re visiting. Is it normal to tip and if so how much is the going rate?

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When to use your credit card

It’s best practice to always have cash on hand but don’t carry everything around. Predict and only carry how much you will need for that day. This helps to prevent you from spending too much all at once.

But your credit card is a safety net and security blanket. While I try to charge as little as possible, be practical and assess every situation. Charge if you have a big expense and need the extra cash because you’ve just begun your trip. I do find charging a good way to keep track of expenses especially when you’re in a big group and need people to reimburse you later on.

Tip: Remember to authorize your card for overseas transactions or use a bitcoin wallet like Xapo that helps you spend money in a secure and convenient way while traveling.

Have a tracking system when in big groups

When traveling in groups of 3 or more set up a kitty or a pool of money that’s contributed by everyone. This can be used for shared expenses like food and transportation.

Tip: Not all countries or activities give you receipts like taking a tuktuk for transportation in South East Asia so make sure you consciously note down all your expenses.

What are your tips and tricks? Share in the comments.

For the love of food, travel and social

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Hello! I just wanted to drop in and say that I’m still alive. My vacation is over and I’m getting into the full swing of the New Year. After spending the holidays in Manila, and 1 week back at work in Singapore, I flew to India for my friend’s wedding – my first ever Indian wedding! It was one week of color and chaos, aloo and masala, poverty and palaces. I can’t wait to write more about it but in the mean time you can check out my instagram @senorica where I’m still spamming pictures from my trip.

Work has been crazy busy, but the good kind. I’m handling social media for new clients in two of my favourite industries – food and travel. It’s a lot of work but I’m learning a lot and having fun. It’s hard to get off vacation mode when I’m writing content about beautiful destinations and crafting content strategy! I feel incredibly lucky to have this chance for my interests to intersect. I constantly look back, trying to connect the dots, but I realised that you need to have experience and exposure in order to form those dots in the first place. Then suddenly all the confusion, restlessness and hardships of the last few years makes sense because it has brought me here to this junction.

Anyway, I can’t believe January is over already. I hope the first month of the year has been a good kind of busy for you too.

2014: A year in settling down

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I’ve always been a creature of change. I’m restless, constantly moving, living upside down and side-ways. Change was my trigger for growth and I’ve always been proud of my ability to weather a storm, drizzle, downpour, typhoon and all. My more ‘mature’ self was the pot to look forward to at the end of the rainbow.

That’s why change, in one form or another, was my underlying year-end lesson of 2012 and 2013. But to my surprise, it isn’t my theme for 2014. Getting settled is. And what I’ve learned is that stability can make you grow too. It isn’t synonymous with complacency.

The start of 2015 marks my third year of living in Singapore and second year of my (first) relationship. It’s the first time I’ve welcomed the new year with the same job that I genuinely enjoy. My neighbourhood feels like a home and my errands don’t feel like a chore. I have a constant group of friends. I actually have savings that I look forward to growing instead of using as an emergency fund.

It’s not that 2014 was lacking in change because it was with the momentum of a new job, traveling solo for the first time and to 9 places in total, family/career milestones and mistakes. But I can’t deny this feeling that every bit of change is giving me a clearer picture of who I am and the life I want. Indeed I’m getting settled — settled into myself that is. And that makes all the difference.

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I’m a firm believer that you have to test yourself in order to find yourself. Actually, let me rephrase. You have to keep testing yourself in order to keep on evolving because humans are naturally dynamic individuals. Heck, I’ve tried a kazillion of things in my short lifetime and will keep on doing so. But what I’ve learned in 2014 is that longevity breeds familiarity, which in turn develops the inner confidence and trust in ourselves that we need to evolve and ride the recurring waves of change.

I’m incredibly thankful for the year that was, finding the balance between work-life-travel-writing and a creative outlet for the things I love; and strengthening even longer lasting relationships with loved ones. 2014 was the warmup. 2015 is game time – a chance for me to really step up, keep my balance and ride those waves. It’s going to be an epic year. I can feel it.

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Going home – A balikbayan Christmas

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“Will I go home for Christmas?” For balikbayans that’s the question.

I never thought of Christmas as something to plan for because it’s always just there, a seasonal routine, but with a change in setting, colder weather and more food than usual.

But the reality for those of us who live abroad is that Christmas is months in the making. When you need to make a decision, how do you measure, measure Christmas?

In plane tickets.

In savings.

In 2 weeks of leave.

How do you measure a year, a year that you were away?

*Cue chorus of Seasons of Love* 

But really, being away is why reunions is a big deal for this time of the year. It’s a small, universal window of time when loved ones from all over the world can be at the same place, at the same time. This becomes more difficult with more of our friends and family moving away, building their own separate lives but it’s also what pulls the festive heart strings even harder.

Do we create memories in our new life or rekindle the nostalgia of the past?

In my first year abroad, I contemplated not coming home so that I could experience the holidays somewhere new.  My sister retorted then, “How can you imagine spending Christmas anywhere else?” with the 3-course homemade breakfast meals, noche buena and parols in Manila.

Admittedly, the more I come home, the more I get used to the idea of coming back to Manila for the holidays. Maybe it’s because I’m older now, and more attuned to my Asian upbringing that puts family first, then friends. No one is getting younger. Life is getting faster. If we can’t share the small moments with our loved ones anymore, then the least we can do is be there for the big ones when we can.

I know there will eventually be a year when I don’t fly to Manila, for one reason or another, but in the mean time I’ll measure the holidays in coming home.

Merry Christmas everyone <3

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A ‘glocal’ Thanksgiving

A holiday tradition is rooted in culture, heritage and religion. Catholics and Christmas. Muslims and Ramadan. Americans and Thanksgiving. Back then these traditions used to be celebrated in silos, compartmentalised by upbringing, limited to the country of birth and the generation who passed down the practice.

Now enter the age of the internet and social media, mobility, cheap and interconnected flights and the burgeoning desire to experience the world. Tradition is no longer preserved through lineage, from the past to the present, grandfather to daughter. It’s perpetuated laterally through the networks of foreigners and locals who are interacting. More people are getting exposed and the result is a new generation celebrating glocal (global + local) tradition. These are rituals adopted and experienced while living abroad and traveling.

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I am a Filipino, but since moving to Singapore I have celebrated holidays I would otherwise not have been able to do before. Last February I got a red packet for Chinese New Year. Last month I flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand to take part in the buddhist Yi Peng Festival or Festival of Lights. This weekend I will have Thanksgiving dinner with my friends, despite a majority of us growing up as catholic Filipinos/ buddhist Singaporeans who don’t usually celebrate Turkey Day.

Yi Peng Festival, Thailand

Yi Peng Festival, Thailand

Thanksgiving might be a Western holiday, but gratitude is a universal value for many cultures. Since I normally write my list of gratitude for my year end review, here are 4 things I’m thankful for about living abroad instead. What are you thankful for?

Expanding vocabulary 

Every country has their local vernacular. There are nuances in language and behaviour that you can only pick up by living somewhere for a long period of time. Words not only have a definition but a context. Aside from learning bits of broken Singlish, I realised that two people speaking in English might not necessarily understand each other.

Ex. ‘Take away’ and ‘take out’ both mean to have your food packed, but are mutually exclusive. Each phrase only has meaning in Singapore (take away) and the Philippines (take out).

What I’m thankful for: Learning how to understand, adapt and communicate with people in various contexts. 

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House warming’s and potluck

For me this has replaced clubbing and going out on the weekends. Going over to a friend’s house is nothing new, but the vibe feels more personal when someone has their own crib. The helper is not preparing the food. Someone is cooking and everyone contributes drinks and food. This is a new experience for Asians who don’t typically move out until they get married.

What I’m thankful for: The friendships that grew stronger from playing Cards Against Humanity at someone’s house. 

Accountability

It’s harder to slack off and take your job for granted when your salary pays the bills. You become more accountable to your life, the roof on your head, the food on the table and ultimately the good or bad decisions you make.

What I’m thankful for: Professional and personal growth because of how much living abroad challenges who you are and tests who you want to be.

Tioman, Malaysia

Tioman, Malaysia

Travel

When you live in Singapore South East Asia becomes your playground. It’s easier to take weekend trips to neighbouring countries where the flight is cheap and the cost of living is lower. If the regional air pass from Air Asia pushes through, and I can fly to 10 different locations in S.E.A. in one month, I’ll never be in Singapore on the weekends anymore.

What I’m thankful for: Being able to travel around the region effortlessly (thank you Changi!) 

Discernment 

The stakes are higher when you live abroad because you’re on your own. So you learn how to trust your gut and filter through your real friends.

What I’m thankful for:  Family who are always there for me. Old friends who will always keep me grounded. And new like-minded spirits who make Singapore feel less lonely.

A weekend stroll in Penang (Part 2) #Coffee shops

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After spending a day strolling around in the hot sun you reach for something cool: a mug of beer, a can of soda, or a glass of water. Your choice of drink is convenient at the moment, just a few steps away to the nearest bar or street vendor. When my sister and I were in Georgetown, Penang, our oasis from the heat was coffee. The cafes were everywhere.

Honestly, we were surprised. Café hopping was not part of the itinerary. We were here for the street food and street art — what Georgetown is known for. Maybe the wave of hipster coffee is finally hitting this town (like in Singapore). But secretly I’m hoping that the scene will stay true to the joy of discovering our beloved coffee shops by chance. Our trip to Penang was exactly that kind of serendipitous encounter. These were 3 of my favourite café’s.

Purrfect for relaxing

The cat café was my sister’s idea. Proof that there are other ways to relax in a café beyond reading a book or Instagraming the whole afternoon away.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of cats. Unlike dogs I feel like they are too slinky to cuddle with. But admittedly spending around an hour with these furry felines was not a bad idea. The trick is waking them up or catching them before they run away.

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Got coffee? 

B&W café is literally a cardboard coffee shop. Everything is made out of cardboard with black marker scribbles. It reminds me of playing make believe as a kid. Instead of forts and barricades were coffee tables and chairs assembled from boxes.

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Out of all the coffee shops that I have visited and reviewed B&W is definitely the most unique concept. And the coffee ain’t bad too, especially when they come in these adorable coffee cartons.

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Later that night we took the same route back to our hotel. To our surprise (we really shouldn’t be at this point), some café’s came out of hiding from their hole-in-the-wall. There was no façade, no pretentiousness, which usually accompanies new coffee shops these days.

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Bikes and coffee

For our late night cap we dropped by Wheeler’s Coffee. Nowadays cafe’s are not only about the coffee anymore, but your hobbies as well. Cafe cum bike shops are not that uncommon in Singapore, but Wheeler’s coffee in Penang was my first taste of how the scene is evolving. Even at night this place is bustling with energy and despite our exhaustion, my sister and I ended our last night on a high.

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This is the second part in a photoblog series about my weekend in Penang. Watch this space. Some pictures by Pia Facundo.

A weekend stroll in Penang (Part 1) #StreetArt

Georgetown is a quiet, charming town in Penang, Malaysia where time slows down. A place for art, coffee and food – the perfect ingredients to relax excessively without guilt. Thankfully, it makes a short weekend trip with my sister feel a lot longer than 2 days.

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We take leisurely walks under the hot sun, following the street art trail left by Lithuania-born Ernest Zacharevic and other artists. Zacharevic’s style is playful and distant. Unlike Banksy, whose satirical drawings provoke, Ernest’s paintings feel like an almost forgotten childhood. Memories that restlessly linger in the streets of Penang.

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We also shoot snippets of every day life along the way. A mundane street is like that quiet person people say you gotta watch out for. Detached from afar but infinitely interesting up close.  Every sight, sound, and shadow is a window to the city’s soul.

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Scribblings on a wall can tell you about the city’s hopes and dreams,

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struggles and frustration.

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Or give you a glimpse into their daily grind.

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As a tourist, I can either blend into the background,

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Luckily, in Penang I can be both.

This is the first part in a photoblog series about my weekend in Penang. Watch this space. Some pictures by Pia Facundo.