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.

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 lesson on hawkerism

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The humble hawker center is the great equaliser. A public space that doesn’t give a damn about who you are and what you do, but only that you are hungry for local eats. Anyone, from the gray-haired auntie who sells tissue to the corporate ang moh during his lunch break is not only welcome here, but is also treated the same way. The only special care is given to the one commodity that can be enjoyed by everyone: food.

I’ve always admired how the love for affordable, yet delicious food transcends race or class in Singapore. Sure we Filipinos love our food, but our food is still segregated by the principle of the 99 and 1 percent. Not every sosyalite eats kanto food or grabs lunch from the sari-sari store, unless you’re in Boracay. And no, choriburgers don’t count.

While in Singapore this open-air food court is literally a melting pot of different cultures for different cultures.

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Endless stalls of dishes representing the 3 main ethnic groups in the country – Malay, Chinese and Indian. Chicken rice is for noobs and tourists. Pick your MSG poison in the other foodporn worthy dishes. Nasi Lemak. Beef hor fun. Ayam Penyet. Prawn mee.

Seating is first-come, first-serve, with absolutely no reservation nor pretension. Navigate your way through the maze of stalls during rush hour, past the tables that are marked by the packet of tissue paper – the local symbol for ‘this area is occupied.’ Never in your wildest imagination will you ever expect to feel the hangry rage towards the trivial tissue paper, which stands between you and ordering your food.

For the longest time I tried really hard to discover the other side of Singapore, beyond the manicured façade of Orchard and industrious skyline that expats and tourists flock here for. (Read: The Unlikely Character of Geylang)

I wondered who the Singaporean was without the kiasu, on their day off from work when they aren’t busy with being busy.

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One Sunday morning I finally discovered my answer at the tip of my chopsticks,  while devouring my plate of wanton mee and sipping my glass of teh tahrik. Hawkerism is the kind of consumerism that I can stomach. No politics or money. Only the love for good food.

The Liebster Award

liebsteraward Thank you  A Restless Traveler for the Liebster Award nomination!

“Liebster is a word with German origins meaning dearest, sweetest, kindest, and beloved. The Liebster Award exists only on the internet, and is an award given to bloggers by bloggers. The award is given to bloggers with less than 200 followers. The purpose of the Liebster Award is to recognize and discover upcoming talent in the blogosphere through a Pay it Forward initiative.”

What I love about the blogosphere (and the internet in general) is that it promotes paying it forward. If you like a blog, article, Instagram photo, Tweet, you share it. That’s how people stumble upon great content and helps artists stay motivated to work on their craft.

Thank you Restless Traveler for believing in my blog :) It’s also a nice break from the writing-grind to answer some fun questions.

There are some rules involved with this award:

  • You must link back to the person who nominated you (but cannot nominate them)
  • You must answer the 10 questions given to the nominee before you.
  • You must select 10 blogs with under 200 followers to answer your 10 questions.

Now, here are my answers:

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Why did you start your blog?

Blogging has always been my constant companion, through adolescence, teenage angst, post-graduation anxiety, twenty-something contemplations. It goes along with me wherever I am, living in Manila, Singapore, traveling across the region. My blog is my way to discern, a reminder of who I am and want to be. I started my blog because I love to write, but I continue to blog because I want to share my stories and hope that others will draw inspiration from what I’ve learned.

What’s your favourite part of blogging?

I love the personal nature of blogging. It’s what differentiates it from other mediums. I love being able to relate to someone through their blog and seeing them grow through time.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about blogging?

Blogging is historical. Your blog is a way to capture a moment in time in a particular place in time. This is what I’ve always believed to be its greater purpose.

When was the first time you traveled?

I don’t remember actually, but I have fond memories going on adventures with my pops. When we go on family vacations, we’re always the ones exploring somewhere uncharted, taking the car to some undisclosed road.

Where are you going on your next adventure?

I’m going to India in January for my friend’s wedding. I am so psyched! I’ve always wanted to 1) attend an Indian wedding and 2) go to India.

A favourite dish that’s not from your country?

I love ramen but I have yet to try authentic ramen from Japan itself. Aside from that, my favorite drink is Thai milk tea.

Favourite songs to listen to on long bus,train or plane rides?

I usually stream my music, so I don’t have a playlist when I’m not connected to internet. I either sleep,  think or read. A lot.

If you could be anywhere right now where would you be?

I would be in India just because I’m so excited for my trip already!  

Travel photoblog or well written post?

I love words, so a well-written post with lots of pictures to help tell the story. Although a well-written post can stay on draft for awhile because it takes time to write properly.

What advice would you give someone about to start a blog?

 Starting a blog is easy. Continuing a blog is the hardest part! Make sure you have enough motivation to keep writing. Trust me, it will be worth it especially when you look back at what you wrote.

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My nominees (I have less than 10 because I realised a lot of the blogs I read already have a lot of followers or don’t blog regularly anymore :( )

Slouching somewhere

Slhando

Carlo Chong

Pushy for Sushi 

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My questions:

Why did you start your blog?

What has blogging taught you?

Photo-blog or well-written post?

What motivates you to keep on writing?

If you could live in one country/ city for a long period of time where would it be and why?

What’s the best travel/ blogging advice you have received?

What’s your must have travel companion?

Do you prefer traveling alone  or in a big group?

Favorite dish that’s not from your country?

Any tips or advice for people who are looking to start a blog?

The different phases of Ikea

"I didn't know I needed all this stuff until I went to Ikea."

Buying furniture is the first step in making your apartment feel like a home, but it’s practiced in various phases of an expat’s life.

Bare basics:  “I need to stop eating my dinner from the floor.”

Storage: “How can I store all my crap?!”

Settling: “I might be in x country longer than I thought I would be.”

Nesting: “I need to make a home away from home.”

Ikea noob: “I didn’t know I needed all this stuff until I went to Ikea!”

Moving, 2012

Moving, 2012

Last weekend my sister and I made a trip down to Ikea to buy new furniture for our home. It was somewhere between settling and nesting. We’ve been to Ikea a few times in the last two years, but this time was kind of a big deal. When you live abroad the concept of home is always temporary. How much time, money and effort you put into furnishing a home shows how long you envision to stay. The less you invest, the easier it is to move on, both mentally and physically. Buying a table is not only about buying a table. It represents roots, having something to leave behind or bring along depending on the next venture in life. Traveling teaches us to pack light for the transient ride but migrating makes it necessary to unpack the boxes even if you’ll eventually end up leaving again.

Settled in, 2014

Settled in, 2014

Buying furniture makes you think about how serious you are with where you are. It’s not something we take seriously within the first year because we’re still experimenting and having fun. But I guess after you pass the 2 year mark it’s only natural to start deliberating, planning and in this case, start decorating.

FOREIGN FILIPINA: A MANIFESTO

394171_10150628743865309_2063282302_nTo move abroad is to open yourself to a new way of seeing with foreign eyes and local heart. It’s to become a citizen of the world. Someone who finds home in the people they meet in places they come to love, by understanding their different way of living. Why stay in the same place when you can live and work beyond the border? That’s how I found myself here. On this blog. Scribbling from Singapore. How about you?

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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Penang

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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.

The other crab of Singapore: the hairy crab

Chilli crab is the poster crustacean in Singapore. It’s readily available in every high-end restaurant or lowbrow hawker centre at every time of the day, drunk or sober, you name it. Over the last two years I’ve met the relatives of the chilli crab — black pepper, salted egg and butter (my favourite) crab. I thought I met everyone until just a few days ago.

Introducing the hairy crab — the crustacean visiting from overseas. I’ve never heard of or tasted this autumn delicacy before until I attended a food tasting at The Sheraton Towers for Lifestyle Asia. Apparently the hairy crab is a seasonal dish anticipated every October- November. Now I feel robbed of the last 2 years of living in Singapore without trying it.

Unlike Chilli crab, which I love partly because I get to dip my mantau bread in the chilli sauce, the hairy crab doesn’t need any condiments. You just suck up the rich and creamy crab roe found within the shell. Your heart will stop, partly because of the cholesterol, but mostly because it’s that good. It also has a cooling or yin effect on the body so they usually serve ginger tea to warm you back up afterwards.

The hairy crab definitely deserves a seat at my dining table. Try it out while you still can.

Me: Have you tried hairy crab before? Ed: Nope, I prefer my crabs well groomed.

Me: Have you tried hairy crab before?
Ed: Nope, I prefer my crabs well-groomed.

Braised King Prawn and Sweet Potato with Hairy Crab Meat and Crab Roe

Braised King Prawn and Sweet Potato with Hairy Crab Meat and Crab Roe