Weekend Loot: Cuenca Bazaar and BGC Art Mart 2014

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I’ve always loved bazaars. In fact, apart from my essentials, I think most of the stuff I own came from a bazaar or a garage sale! I like not knowing what to expect and being surprised at the kooky, eccentric things lying around. I guess most girls (and some guys) can relate to the thrill of rummaging through stacks of trinkets and items, finally finding something that you feel was meant for you. Also, I like seeing different things all packed in one venue – it’s a delight to my eyes, but not so much to my wallet. Hahaha. :p

Hello from me and Abbey!

Last weekend, Isa and I went to the Cuenca Bazaar in Ayala Alabang to support Space Garden (I love their terrariums!) and then yesterday, I went to this year’s BGC Art Mart to help Abbey set up her booth.

Of course, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the million quirky things here and there. They’re like magnets with a pull so strong! As expected, I ended up with a bunch of items that I don’t necessarily need but love (so much)!

1. Baby Cologne in Lullaby from Sparrow and Nautical Bracelet from Mia Casa

I like clean, fresh, powder-smelling fragrances, which is why I think I have an obsession/addiction for baby cologne (and smelling babies’ cheeks! Hahaha). When we were in a supermarket in Bali, I hoarded bottles of Zwitsal, and I have around several different brands lying around. I was so happy that I stumbled upon Swallow in the Cuenca Bazaar last Saturday because I think I’ve found my new favorite baby cologne brand. Do you know how clean toddlers smell like even though it’s already 4 in the afternoon? This is what Swallow’s Lullaby baby cologne smells like. Its sweet notes remind me of baby bath and fresh linen sheets. I wish I could buy vats of this!

I also chanced upon this super cute nautical-themed bracelet from Mia Casa! It’s only PHP 150, and it was the last piece. So, duh! I bought it right away. My favorite charms are the lifesaver and the seashell!

2. Notebook by Lorra Elena Angbue-Te and Coffee Pun Print by Abbey Sy

Snagged this breakfast couple at the BGC Art Mart! I have too many notebooks, which I don’t even use. But not only did this notebook by Lorra have waffles (my favorite favoritest favorite~) but it also had BACON! This is my kind of notebook. Paper’s 100gsm, too. Plus it’s creamy and has the right thickness for my ink-heavy pens. I realized after I bought it that it’s bad for me because it’ll just make me hungry, but whatever. I also told Abbey that I don’t know what to do with her coffee print, but it was too cute, so I got it anyway. What is wrong with me.

3. Food Stickers from KWAN

Oh, won’t you look at that – more food! But of course. I mean, where can you find isaw, betamax, and balut stickers?! I’m so happy with this sticker sheet. The balut!!!

4. Card Holders and Pouch from Ella Lama x Krafty Pirate

I first saw their stuff from Meya, who had a Dr. Seuss coin purse, which she got in Quezon Ave. When I saw their booth, I had to come back three times because I was unsure whether I needed a new card case (no) or a new pouch (also, no). So why did I end up buying them? Well because uhm… Anyways. You can’t ever have enough cute things, right? And the pouch is made from a Berenstain Bears book page! Isn’t that awesome? That’s my childhood staring back at you, yo.

5. Notebook by Abbey Sy

This notebook has a purpose! Okay, so I’m gearing up for something this coming 2015, and I’m honestly FRIGHTENED to start because I am a wuss when it comes to Big Things most of the time. But having something as compelling as this written on the notebook’s cover is enough to push me to take baby steps. I love how it’s a reminder to do the things that scare you, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. (Plus, paper’s 100gsm and has great texture!) Yay, thanks for making this, Abbey! #Pursue2015! ;)

(It’s actually a plot on how to get Dylan O’Brien to come to the Philippines. HAHA JK. But aint he a cutie? He’s the only reason why I watch Teen Wolf okay.)

Hope you all had a great weekend! :)

Rape is Not a Joke

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It was a fairly good Monday—I was able to cross out most of my to-dos and dinner was spent celebrating my grandma’s 75th birthday.

It was also a great day for feminism as Emma Watson broke it down and gave a solid speech on the #HeForShe campaign by the United Nations. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

Emma Watson was right when she said that a lot of people misconstrue the word Feminism. It’s usually perceived by the wide majority as a man-hating label—but it’s not. It’s actually defined as the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. This is one of the things we have been advocating and campaigning for in The Better Story Project and in #DesignHerStory, but a lot of people assume that just because we call ourselves feminists we are anti-male, when in fact, most of what we are asking for is respect.

Respect for the way our bodies are seen. Respect for how we are treated socially and professionally. Respect for simply being a woman. Respect because we are human beings who deserve it.

Imagine my horror when my friend linked me to a revolting t-shirt said to be designed by Boys Night Out (a popular all-boy radio DJ group) that was said to be distributed by SM Department Store.

Photo via Karen Kunawicz

“It’s not rape. It’s a snuggle with a struggle.”

Are you seriously kidding me?

I have a number of friends—one of which I am really, really close to—that have been victims of rape and sex trafficking. You call this funny? Is this some idea of a sick joke? Is this what the youth should be wearing proudly on their chests? That RAPE is a SNUGGLE with a STRUGGLE? Well, whoever designed that shirt—shame on you.

I think it’s pretty timely how Emma Watson’s speech coincided on the date this nauseating shirt was exposed on social media. When you have the privilege of influencing people with your speech and actions—don’t use it as a destructive tool. The people you reach—especially the youth—look up to you, so be responsible. It’s distressing how this shirt’s design was even approved in the first place. Am I missing something here? Is rape the newest comedy trend? I am extremely upset and disturbed at how my country’s idea of humor has been reduced to rape jokes and poking fun at one of the most horrendous acts man can do to a fellow human being. Where is the integrity and dignity our heroes have been fighting for? I hope it’s not entirely lost.

Rape is not an uncommon feat especially in Metro Manila. People are just silent and afraid to speak up because of the shame and consequences it brings. I know people who have lost their purity—the one thing they’ve been treasuring for their spouses—because of rape. Their bodies were violated by force, leaving them helpless and frightened.

This just doesn’t go out to the ladies, it also goes out to the men. I am baffled at how rape in this context is being promoted as something cool. How can something that messes you up physically, emotionally, and psychologically be cool??

I’m writing this because I am a firm believer of gender equality—I am a feminist. And I don’t really know how many people will get to read this entry, but to take Emma Watson’s words and put them into action, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Everyone needs to take a stand on feminism and to take action. Both genders, male and female should be involved in the conversation. Men, you can start by making a stand via HeForShe.org. I’m sure there will be more opportunities for you to take action soon, but it won’t hurt to take the first step.

Rape is not a joke, so please don’t throw the word around like it’s the cool “in” thing. Because it is not, and it will never be.

Sam YG

PS: “Thanks! Mwahugzzz <3″ Doesn’t really cut it, especially with this one. Make a stand, at least.

Book Loot: 35th Manila International Book Fair

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Today’s the last day of the 35th Manila International Book Fair at the SMX Convention Center! If you love to read (or if you simply are a book hoarder/tsundoku like I am), I swear this place will make your day. I try my best to drop by the book fair every year because of the many great finds, and this year, we spent 3 hours going around without even noticing the time! Oops.

Books are mostly sold at 20% off and there are so, so many good titles lying around. We spotted Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing by Don George (!!!)—which I wanted to buy so bad, but the exhibitors didn’t seem to adhere to the 20% off discount (huhu)—and my friend scored the Condé Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys, which I begged for her to give me. She didn’t.

At any rate, I’m pretty happy with my book fair finds! My picks were an odd bunch, but most were about food and travel. Didn’t buy any Young Adult because I rely on eBooks for that. I was tempted, though, to get Lang Leav’s poetry books and Rainbow Rowell’s Landline. But I had a budget to stick to. Here’s my loot!

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1. Ivan Ramen by Ivan Orkin

Ivan Orkin is an American chef who opened a ramen store in Tokyo. It’s a pretty bizarre setup for most. Just like Australian chef David Thompson and his restaurant Nahm in Thailand, Orkin’s restaurant was given a lot of speculation because why the f would an American dabble with one of Japan’s most identifying dishes, right?

But Orkin has proved himself to be a worthy contender of Japan’s ramen scene as his shop was hailed to serve some of the best ramen in Tokyo today. This book is about his story, and how grit helped him prevail even the toughest of storms. He recently opened his third ramen store in Manhattan called Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop. Another great thing about this book is that it also couples as a recipe book with a step-by-step guide on how to replicate Ivan Orkin’s ramen from the fat to the eggs.

(I have a lot to say about this book because I devoured it as soon as I opened it.)

2. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales by Various Authors

My fasciation for the Brothers Grimm fairy tales and gore led me to buying this book, I think!

3. A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

I have the e-Book of this, but I felt like I needed the paperback because I am anticipating lengthy, bright yellow highlights and notes scribbled on the side. And you can’t do that on a kindle! Nothing beats the touch (and smell!) of paper.

4. My Life in France by Julia Child

Another book that combines food+travel, especially by one of the culinary legends who elevated and revolutionized French cooking in America—Julia Child! I love books like this since they give you a glimpse on the cook’s intimate experiences with the environment they’re in. And most importantly, the food!

5. Savor the Word by Doreen Gamboa Fernandez

I’m so excited to read this book on Filipino cuisine. (I think I’ll read this next!) It’s a compilation of essays on the Filipino food culture, tackling various local dishes, their origins, and the writers’ experiences with them.

Have you been to this year’s Manila International Book Fair? Which titles did you take home with you? :)

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Be sure to drop by the 35th Manila International Book Fair today if you still haven’t! It’s open today from 10am-8pm at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia, Pasay City.

Coast Perspectives: A Water Journal

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I always find myself leaving my heart in the ocean.
Perhaps, the ocean must indeed be the last truly quiet place on earth.
So much is the stillness, so much is the beauty.

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That there’ll be days like this – “There’ll be days like this my momma said” – when you open your hands to catch, and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly, and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape. When your boots will fill with rain and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment – and those are the very days you have all the more reason to say “thank you.” Because there is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it’s sent away.

- Sarah Kay, If I Should Have a Daughter

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Photos taken at Liw-Liwa, Zambales

Backpacking in Liwa, Zambales

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If I were to be honest, I was inches away from taking back my Yes. It was an excruciating week, and at the end of a busy Friday, all I wanted to do was to curl into my bed and sleep undisturbed. I always try my best to be up for an adventure, but when the fatigue kicks in, retracting becomes too tempting.

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Sunshine leaked into our vehicle’s windows at 5am—a pack of seven strangers en route to Liwa, Zambales, a beach I’ve never stepped foot on before. Swell-wise, the odds were against our favor, but I needed to empty out, and what better place to drain your thoughts in than by the sea?

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A few steps from Liwa Beach is Circle Hostel, a backpacker’s haven especially when traveling on a shoestring. I’ve stayed at Circle La Union before, bundled up in a hammock beside my friend Bea because we took the bus on a whim without much cash on hand.

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There’s no air-conditioning here, so you’re forced to enjoy the evening breeze. If you’ve stayed in a hostel before, you’ll pretty much get the vibe, but in a more outdoor setting that’s conducive to meeting fellow backpackers and weekend warriors who just needed to get away and spend a few days near the ocean.

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I think what also makes Circle pretty unique are the artworks on the walls that catch you off guard and reel you in during moments you least expect.

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This^.

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Liwa was spotless. Quite bizarre for a long weekend. Fine sand and clear waters surrounded us as we explored the coastline. Nothing but quiet and the sound of the waves rolling towards us like footsteps rushing home.

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Lunch was at Mommy Phoebe’s where I had some of the best bulalo ever. Seafood was fresh, and I gulped the Chocolate Banana Shake (almost without breathing) despite the piercing brain freeze. Does this pain really demand to be felt alongside such ecstasy?

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I spent the afternoon hanging out by the beach with a new friend, recounting the lessons life has been teaching us lately, and just basking under the sun, watching fishermen catch tonight’s dinner. We headed back to the Circle with fresh avocado shakes in hand, and sang along to 90s music strummed on ukes and acoustic guitars.

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Reconvening late in the afternoon without a clue what to do birthed the idea of lighting a bonfire and watching the sunset. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my Saturday.

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I think it’s pretty amazing how life brings people together in the most random of gatherings, and makes you realize that you aren’t alone with the things it throws your way. It wasn’t the best week for me—it was draining and exhausting, but the weekend saved me—I found solace and regained strength by the sea. There have been countless studies about the human connection with water, but I’m just glad I was able to experience another connection—one with other human beings walking on the same road, traveling the same journey, and reveling at the beauty of the same sky and sea.

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Many thanks to The Circle Hostel! For more information about The Circle, you can check out their Facebook and Instagram. They currently have up-and-running hostels in Zambales and La Union, and from what I know (and am pretty excited about), they’re opening one in Baler soon.

I’d Be Lying If I Said, “I Partied Hard in Boracay Last May”

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No, really! I tried. But failed. Is this a coming of age post? Well, maybe.

This is about eating the worst paella ever, getting stung (on the chest!) by bloody jellyfish, waiting for a DJ who never came (this is my fault, actually, because I decided to French that freaking exit and head back early because of crowd-induced stress), and sleeping in a dingy motel because of a 6-hour delayed flight home.

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But this is also a story about friendship. About necessary endings, hopeful beginnings, and—redemption to that worst paella—some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.

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Labor Day Boracay is a heated event, anticipated by extroverted, party-loving folk like toddlers and Christmas Day. It’s the drop of the DJ and the gift from Santa that make the age difference irrelevant. And then there’s us, why were we even here in the first place? To try something new. To make new memories. It was a pretty hilarious decision, really.

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We arrived 4 hours late, a consequence for booking a budget flight during peak season. Famished and exhausted, we skirted our way to D-mall and had the worst paella negra. But who were we to complain. Andok’s had a queue and we couldn’t wait.

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I also got stung by jellyfish the next day—my chest was covered with wisplike marks. Some naughty stingers found their way into my bikini, apparently. We also fell in line and payed too much to get into a party that sucked, we experienced blackouts while taking a shower, etc etc etc.

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It gets better, though.

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We went parasailing, snorkeling at Crocodile Island, and exploring the many different untapped islands surrounding Boracay.

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We saw sunset, after sunset, after sunset. Each day, bringing a different one, and with it the promise of a new day, a new start. These afternoons were spent enjoying happy hour at Nigi Nigi 2 with glasses of brightly-colored drinks that casted magical glows as the sunlight passed through.

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There was also awesome breakfast and those perfect pancakes I still dream about from Sunny Side Café, which we visited three out of four days.

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And Lemoni Café’s Vanilla French Toast.

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I’d like to think we enjoyed Boracay with a different sparkle, lightyears away from the party-til-you-drop stigma it carries. But we still tried to party anyway.

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I guess, people look for different things at different stages of their lives. It wasn’t my first time in Boracay, but things just seemed better this time around—things seemed right. And it’s funny how this realization snapped into my psyche while walking home, trudging through the cigarette-butt spangled sand with lovers making out near the beach. Party music from different corners diffused into an audible mess, and I bumped into other visitors who may have had a drink too many.

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But after crossing that station, I found myself in a more subdued area where the stars shone bright and the sound of the waves crashing dominated. In that little space between two loud extremes, I found a quiet corner of peace where I knew all was well, and the reason why some things have to end came loud and clear. It was time for a new beginning.

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Things get better.

Writing is Not an Easy Task

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Tanah Lot, Bali (August 2014)

I don’t remember the day I decided to become a writer, but I do remember the day I fell in love with words. I was four years old, and it was my first week in kindergarten. Being catapulted into the world of social interaction with other children my age and strange adults I’ve come to know as teachers, it was very overwhelming for an only child like me. So I found comfort in our school’s library—a fortress housing a plethora of magical worlds contained in colorful hard-bounds of varying shapes and sizes.

While I had a library of my own back home, Mum was the one who dished out the words to me in plates of bedtime stories—the warm, soothing milk and cookies before my slumber. I’d be instantly transported into the enchanted world of Oz, the curious rabbit hole, and through the starlit skies of Neverland.

But it was in that humble kindergarten library where I fell in love with the cohesive stitching of the alphabet, turned into colorful strings of words. This particular one, a simple story about a little rabbit buying his mum a birthday present. A simple love story that made me want to learn more about this strange connection between words that told the story of infinite worlds, universes, and possibilities.

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A decade and three years later, I am sitting on one of my university’s benches, staring at hallways of students shuffling in and out of classes. I’m due for an interview with the Program Director of a pre-med course. As with what happens with most college students (especially in their sophomore or junior years), there comes a change of heart where one questions her path. Slight pressures, slow massages that leave a dent, are strong enough to push me to shift degrees.

I am at a crossroad between the sciences and the arts. Sciences and the arts. I think of the people I will make proud, the lives I will save (the lives I will lose), the esteem of being in the medical field, the fees that’ll buy me my first car. I think about greener pastures, brighter futures, prouder parents.

I got up from the bench, met with the Program Director. ”Your grades qualify for the program,” he tells me. “When do you want to start taking your pre-med classes?”

“Sorry, doc. I think I’ve decided otherwise…”

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Here I am, sitting cross-legged with a cup of iced mocha, tasting like it was made of half-parts water. I am surrounded by a herd of medical students, relentlessly highlighting their photocopied handouts in colors that go beyond a rainbow’s seven. I see the human anatomy in faded, chalky photocopied black.

A student slices a sausage roll with the precision of an experienced neurosurgeon, a plastic knife his scalpel. Could I have been one of them? I wonder. Could I have been wrapped in one of the glossy jackets with proud MED SCHOOL text taped to my back, instantly labeling me as one of the “smarter kids”, burning the midnight oil in a pursuit to save lives—or breasts from sagging? Yup, I could’ve been one of the adorned ones, whose parents would brag about, telling their friends, “So my kid just graduated from med school today—top of her class.” I could’ve. But I am not.

I chose to write.

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I’ve gotten a lot of flack for choosing the seemingly “easier” path, like I was scared to take on the sleepless nights and endless textbooks (the thicker, the better). But writing isn’t a walk in the park. It calls for sleepless nights as well. It’s agonizing and frustrating. It’s struggling to find that one word that would make a single phrase brilliant. It’s fighting through time to meet a deadline. It’s prolonged solitude and annoyance when the thought process is disrupted. It’s finding clarity in the chaos, like choosing the right stars to form the perfect, mind-blowing constellation.

And then there are the voices—the people whose judgments build or break you. There’s the dementor of writers known as Writers’ Block, tormenting you until you finally hit a wall and all the words fail to come out the way they’re supposed to, leaving you empty and soulless. Writing is not an easy task, which is why I’ve been failing to write for me, especially when most of my words are devoted to my work. Writing is not an easy task, but it’s always better to have written something than nothing at all.

Writing is painful sometimes, it’s like pulling the veins that are rooted deep in your skin, giving yourself the permission to bleed sans anesthesia, giving yourself the permission to feel ache and pain and sadness. Writing is also great sometimes, like a smooth-sailing, scar-less operation. Writing leaves room for creativity; the way scientists open opportunities to conjure new vaccines that are like words because they, too, can heal.

Writing means being open to failure, like a lost cause or encountering a patient with deteriorating health, but it also means success, like the birth of a newborn baby. When I put arts beside science, I wonder why most people don’t think of writers the way they think of doctors or astronauts or microbiologists or lawyers. Words have always held a certain power for life and death—just like microscopes, syringes, and scalpels, and prescriptions.

I don’t remember the day I decided to become a writer, but I do remember the day I fell in love with words. I was four years old, and it was my first week in kindergarten. I opened a book, and maybe in those minutes of being lost in the magical world of story, something tiny sparked inside of me. Unknowingly, it might have held a muted glow, casting a dull light on the path I wanted to travel on, leading me to where I am today. It’s not an easy task, but it was one of the few good decisions I’ve made.

Adventures with Tintin (in Manila)!

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My mum didn’t raise me to be the girly type—she read me books like Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when I was a kid, which probably explains why I am the way I am today: an absolute nut. JUST KIDDING.

Some of the cartoon shows I remember watching growing up, whose characters I claimed to be best friends with especially during summer vacation (#OnlyChildProblems), were Little Lulu, Arthur the Aardvark, and the Adventures of Tintin.

Back then, I thought Tintin was an older fella—you know, like in his twenties. Being able to fly a plane, walk on the moon, and embark on an Egyptian quest may not sound like things a teenager would do. But apparently I learned that Hergé, the creator of The Adventures of Tintin, designed his lead character to be the ultimate Boy Scout at the age of 15. At that age, I was probably flipping through teenage magazines and building houses for my Sims.

I’ll always carry fondness for the cartoon and comic around. Tintin is possibly one of the hugest adventure influencers in my life, which sparked my desire to travel and see more of the world. Tintin’s dog, Snowy, was also one of my pegs when I decided to get a puppy.

Tintinception: Me, Tintin, Arriane, Snowy, and Abbey

Fully Booked High Street also recently launched the Tintin Shop located at the ground floor. Good news is that it’s not going to be a pop-up store—this one is here to stay! I remember spotting a Tintin Shop at Singapore’s Chinatown and wishing for it to come to Manila, so I’m really glad Fully Booked brought it in. But what really got me excited was when the lovely folks of Fully Booked invited me to the official Tintin Shop Manila launch that included a tour of the store, which was peppered with a lot of fun facts and interesting trivia.

Ever wondered how Tintin got his signature quiff? This comic strip sums it up right here—his hair was never the same.

The Shooting Star is the first-ever colored Tintin comic. Hergé’s drawing style makes use of simple lines, while using shadows sparingly.

This is Hergé’s last Tintin comic, Tintin and Alph-Art, which remained unfinished. Notice that the drawings are still in scribbles. It’s pretty cool also to know that no one knows how this book ends, and it still remains a mystery.

There were also other fun activities like guessing games, crossword puzzles, and an origami station where you can fold your own Snowy!

Check out the snacks and their names! Aren’t they the cutest?!

What made this event extra fun were the people I spent it with! It was really lovely catching up and hanging out with this gang.

Hooray for food and adventure! Abbey, Arriane, Me, Kiddo, and Vicky.

Oh, and if you’d like to join a Tintin Shop tour and bring out that Tintin geek in you, save the dates: July 12 and 13, at 2:30 pm, Tintin Shop Manila, G/F Fully Booked High Street, BGC! It’s a pretty cool and enjoyable tour—you’re sure to have a blast. Congratulations for an awesome event, Fully Booked!

For more Fully Booked news you can check out their website, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram for instant updates.

Taipei: Unwrapping and Wrapping Up

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It’s been a total of 3 and ½ months since my Taipei trip—and I’m wrapping it up only now. There was just so much to see, so much to eat, and so much to marvel at. Spending almost a week just ambling around Taiwan was like unwrapping an overlooked present during your birthday or during Christmas. You know the kind—not the shiniest wrapper nor the most elaborate ribbon—but the deeper you dig in, the more you realize that it’s one of the better gifts you received. That’s how I felt about Taipei—underrated yet spectacular. It’s not a country that flaunts itself, because why does it even have to?

I spent my last day in Taipei with family. Really thankful that it was sunny, and there was hardly a drizzle. We met up with my aunt who resided in Taoyuan, which was a trainride away from where we were. Taipei was a bit unfamiliar for her, too, so she was just as excited as we were as we headed towards our destinations.

Taipei 101 is probably the most distinguished building in modern Taiwan. Located at the Xinyi district, the breathtaking architecture of the building can be seen from miles away. It’s still part of the list of the world’s tallest buildings, and is known to withstand earthquakes and typhoons.

A lot of people go to Taipei 101 to view the city from the deck above. Though photos proved a not-so-spectacular sight, we were there to have lunch at Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung, which originated in Taiwan. I really would’ve wanted to dine at the Original Din Tai Fung branch located at 194 Xinyi Road Sec. 2, Da-an District, Taipei just for the novelty of it, but the satisfaction after popping several Hairy Crab Xiao Long Baos in your mouth turns you into the most contented person in the world. Original branch? What? I’ll save it for next time.

Other items we ordered at Din Tai Fung were their Fried Rice with Shrimp and Eggs and Noodles with Peanut Sauce—both of which were delicious and super-filling.

Next stop was the Taipei Zoo, accessible via the MRT (Taipei Zoo Station along Wenshan-Neihu line), which is one of the cleanest zoos I’ve been to. I have zero knowledge about zoo-keeping (obviously), but I think Taipei Zoo set a high standard—very child-friendly and safe—as all good zoos should be. My grandparents also thought I was crazy when I proposed a viewing of the Pandas and Koala Bears because I’m already 24 and shouldn’t I be too old for animals? BUT you should’ve seen my grandma getting so gung-ho over the koalas, and my grandpa pressing his nose on the glass window that separated us from the penguins. My aunt feigned boredom, but the flamingoes won her over. Entrance fees for the Taipei Zoo cost around NT$20 per head, and senior citizens over the age of 65 and children below 6 get in for free (foreigners just need to show their passport).

I love the Taipei Zoo because it conveniently connects to Maokong Mountain, which was a wonderful surprise since we went there with no expectations. We just knew that it was famous for their teahouses that serve tea-infused dishes such as fried rice with dried tea leaves and the like.

To get there, take a gondola in one of the zoo tram stops, and it’ll lead you straight up to Maokong. We headed up during golden hour and the sunlight danced playfully along the trees, casting shadows that made the view even more spectacular.

After alighting from the gondola, walk straight and you’ll see a small food hall that houses different kinds of Taiwanese food.

Of course, there was the resident Stinky Tofu, but there also were other interesting dishes that I haven’t tried in Taiwan such as a simple yet tasty noodle dish that was tossed with some beansprouts, fresh carrots, and ground meat.

There were also some dumplings that were toasty on the surface and soft to the bite, while retaining the juices of the meat it enveloped. We also got some deep-fried snacks (cutely called “Tempura”) loaded with 5-spice powder—a common and identifying ingredient in Taiwanese cuisine.

And why on earth did I order some ice-cold milk tea on top of an ice-cold mountain? Because I realized I haven’t had milk tea in Taiwan, which is like, the motherland of milk tea. As expected, there was nothing mind-blowing about it, and it tasted like something I could get in Manila. But here I go again with the novelty of eating a certain something in a certain place, so…

While my family was fixated on the smorgasbord of food, I went out in search of some Taiwanese sausage just because I loved it too much. But I was knocked out of my way by the gamey aroma of lamb. It lassoed and led me to this tiny wooden store with a sizeable queue. Cooking away were 5-spice lamb skewers under a coal barbecue. Cold weather + piping hot lamb skewers = I’M SO THERE.

See those sticks of lamb? I got them all, and I was so glad I did. They were extremely flavorful and tender—my grandparents inhaled them without complaining about any toughness of the meat. Since they have a hard time chewing these days, it’s a pretty accurate gauge, I think.

I recommend you take the bus going down from Maokong since it’s way cheaper than taking a cab and the line’s way shorter than taking a gondola back down. But stay for the sunset.

The way back from the mountain down captured a view so picturesque that it was impossible to take a photo that would replicate its exact beauty. With the sun going down and the lights from neon, fluorescent signs coming up, it was surreal beaing there. The nearing view of lush forests and rows of trees felt like being swallowed up by nature, especially as the winding streets got narrower. But then we reached the landing on concrete road and found ourselves back in the city. I think that was my favorite part—winding down, unsure if you’re headed towards the right direction, but finding yourself ending up there anyway. There is so much more to see in Taiwan. I heard of mountain treks and hidden pockets away from the city, so maybe I’ll try that out next time I’m there.

That, and maybe eating at the original Din Tai Fung branch in Da-an District.

Taipei Day 3: Zakka Hunt! + Taipei Coffee Shops

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But first, an update!

It feels great to write here again. Work has been pretty challenging lately, and I think I am in a place where I know I need to slow down, find my groove again, and simply breathe. I can be very, very hard on myself sometimes, and on most days lately, I’ve been pressuring myself and pretending to be some lame-o superhero with the power to effortlessly juggle 10 million things at once (with the grace and poise of a ballerina). But hey, this is real life. I don’t even know ballet. Recently, there have been days when I feel that my head is about to burst into a glorious puddle of pink goop, and my anticipated feeling of fulfillment is replaced by the feeling of falling apart. Just like placing another wooden block on a precarious Jenga tower that’s about to collapse any time. Writing here today (and making a point to write here once every week after) is an attempt to improve on myself as a whole: sharpening the saw, reflecting on life, and just processing things. In short, carving out more time to make sense out of things. So, here we go!

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I spent my third day in Taipei on my own with postal errands to run and a crumpled map to sort out. What’s great about Taiwan is that the post office is open even on Saturdays. Just take an MTR to the Taipei Main Station and look for the window that’s half-covered in stamps.

After mailing some postcards, I took MRT going to Zhongxiao Dunhua Station since I heard that this area is heavy on Zakka stores. Zakka is actually a Japanese design revolution of sorts that has spread to different parts of Asia. I guess all those “hipster” coffee shops that sell “hipster” looking things with a bit more kitsch fall under this category. It’s a funky movement that I am a confessed fan of, and it’s created quite a stir in Southeast Asia, particularly in places such as Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan, Singapore’s Haji Lane (and now the Yong Siak area), among other places that are heavy in self-expression and odd yet tasteful art.

A word of caution: it’s so easy to get lost here, and the language barrier is definitely an obstacle. It’s a sprawl of alleys and lanes that zigzag and cross parallel and perpendicular and with all the colorful places and curious architecture, it’s recommended that you stay an entire afternoon exploring this place.


The VVG cluster: VVG Something (which reminds me of Books Actually in Singapore), VVG ThinkingVVG BistroVVG Chiffon, etc, with VVG standing for “Very, Very, Good” is a haven for people who have a fondness for warmth and vintage-looking trinkets. Cozy and quaint, each VVG store has a character of its own, making one stand out from the other that it’s hard to pick favorites. The VVG stores are located at the far end of Alley 40, Lane 181, Zhongxiao E. Rd Sec 4, Taipei. Best way to get there is by walking from the Zhongxiao Dunhua station (Exit 1). It’s quite a walk, so best if you ask for directions as well.




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