The multilingual Filipino

I finished my phone conversation with a silly grin on my face when I caught Nico* looking at me without disguising his curiosity.

“What language was that?” he asked.

The conversation was with my girlfriend from back home. We were sat having sandwiches outside the Fisher Fine Arts library in UPenn, where my friend and I normally studied. 

Visayan.” I said. “Why?”

“It didn’t sound like the same language you speak with Ryan.” he said, referring to another Filipino classmate of ours.

“That’s Tagalog.”

“But this language Cebuano–it must be your first language, yes?”

I confirmed, and he shot a grin back in triumph.

He said he knew because everyone always sound angrier in their own language. He said I certainly sounded angry, but knew I wasn’t, because I was laughing after every sentence.

“Unless, you laugh in anger in your culture,” he mused.

I thought about what he said for a while. He made a pretty good point. We are always nicer and more respectful in another language, saying everything in a more gentle, question manner, unsure of ourselves; like we become children conversing to adults once again.

Come to think of it, I do tend to take up different personalities in the different languages I speak. I feel more professional in English, more gentle in Tagalog and Hiligaynon, and I’m a foul-mouthed, warfreak, drunken sailor in Cebuano.

Being Filipino, I grew up to hearing different tongues–sometimes simultaneously–that it was the only kind of world I knew of. In my hometown, we spoke both Visayan, and our Muslim brothers Maranao; my father’s side spoke Hiligaynon, and my mother’s side Tagalog. You know my grandfather’s temper is on the upside when you hear cussing in Spanish, English is taught in our schools from prep to college, and French…simplyfrom dating a few of them.

Sounds impressive, but not really. This is not unusual in a typical Filipino household. The country, after all, has 7,000+ islands, 300+ dialects, with frequent movement and diaspora; long colonial Spanish history, and then raised by Hollywood and 80’s love ballads. With this hodge-podge history, it is already given for every Filipino-born to be multilingual (or bilingual at the least).

We don’t really think about the multilingual aptitude much. But when you go abroad and realize that most people speak only one language.

Some weren’t granted the opportunity or exposure to other foreign tongues and cultures. Some by choice and refuse to learn any other language. And some are just simply crippled by the convenience of being born spoilt into a culture that didn’t have the necessity (I’m looking at you, America).

Foreign peers compliment me at how ‘good my English is’, like I’m not supposed to get my v’s and f’s right. And then revel at how easily I can switch from one language to another. It’s kinda nice to show off once in a while, pretending it’s some sort of superpower.

The truth is, you don’t really need to be fluent in the languages–you just need to know enough. You only need to know ‘hi, nice to meet you’, ‘beer’ and ‘cheers’ in a dozen languages for them to look at you like black sorcery. Kanpai!

Nico, being European, was also multilingual.

And so I played around with the topic and shot back a question: “Nico, what language do you think?”

His blue eyes danced, like he had been expecting the discourse. “The German language is made perfectly for a thinking mind, I believe. The vocabulary is just so exact and concise, there’s little room for error.”

I shot back the question to myself. What language do I think? What language do I feel?

On formal and professional scenarios, English seemed the default. It was my rationalizing language. But in the social and emotional aspects, Cebuano is my preference. 

Especially when it came to bodily feelings, I feel I could better explain myself in my dialect. How can you translate gigil? Kilig? Binhod? Panuhot? Pasmo? Alimungawan? How do you translate them to English in one word, without giving people the context or comparison? The nuances of languages tell us how the people and culture are characteristically; and on this–it seems like Cebuanos are very attuned to their bodies and feelings.

Nothing is more satisfying than swearing in Cebuano. I would write some of my favorites down, but they might not make it out on print. Sometimes, the F-word just don’t cut it, you know? There’s just more meat in our dialect, it’s just so wrong , dirty and crude.Especially the B-words…

Ah, nothing beats the B-words.

Now that I think of it, when I need to make more rational and moral decisions, I should probably not process my thought processes in Cebuano.

To art is human

Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. – Banksy

I could not take my eyes off the Ruscha.

Displayed in MoMA New York, I spent a good hour just staring at it; studying every detail of it– the static, the noise, the lull, the blandness; and finally finding solace in the familiarity and oddness of it.

My undergraduate is in Fine Art, but for the longest time I was not able to find my preferred medium until after graduation, years later: not in the comfort of my brushes, but in letters.

Writing to me is like going on autopilot. It felt intuitive. Natural. Like breathing. or flirting.

I wrote for myself first, for therapy; before progressing to publishing for a wider audience. However writing as a profession didn’t make much sense to me. I derive too much pleasure from it. To get paid to meander–it seems a little to selfish.

I find that ink is usually tinged with revenge, and pain or internal conflict, being the creative lubricant. If I were happy and in bliss, I become pretty useless on picking up a pen.

I recently heard in a podcast that da Vinci’s writings showed his psychological conflicts, how he had erratic mood swings. The speaker later noted that if Leonardo was born today, modern Western medical care would diagnose him with bipolar disorder and his shrink would put him on medication to neutralize Leonardo’s moods. Frida, Beethoven, Munch and van Gogh would have their own diagnosed mental illnesses too.

I don’t know what that implies; if human society should be thankful for modern medicine; but I am also a little sad about this common acceptance for muting what makes humans essentially human.

I do not know what I’ll do if I just let my emotions sit and die inside. Emotions get cabin fever, too.

And so I paint. I write. I dance. I create. I let myself have feels. Let the feels go on overdrive. Go in a trance, create, and hopefully, return safely back to the world of normalcy.

Art is a spiritual experience. It is no coincidence why the first priests in history: the shamans, were also the first artists, dancers, singers and performers. They create chants, cave paintings and performances; coming into a trance-like state–to communicate to the gods; seeking for a successful hunt or the absence of storms.

To participate in art is like coming to prayer: a commune between the human and the cosmos. Just like the prehistoric shaman performing chants and sacred dances in the bonfire; we are still enthralled when we witness the performance of the debonair pianist in the jazz club. Or the Lady Gaga Super Bowl performance, 2017.

Or, in my case, the silent impressions of the monochromatic Ruscha, The End, 1991.





The universal language of dance

Coming from Brooklyn and two subway exchanges later, I arrived at South Bronx. It was my first time.

I identified from the sea of faces the young man I was supposed to meet: an African-American man with dreadlocks. I approached him and introduced myself. He said his name was Bless.

We walked together for ten more minutes with some small talk, before we finally stopped in a spot below the bridge by a colorful graffiti mural. I looked around, and observed some skateboarders practicing their tricks looking at us. They left after they satisfied their curiosity, only to be replaced by bikers driving around with loud Harleys and leather jackets.

I shrugged, but I was also sweating, my eyes darted left to right, trying my best (and failing) to act like I was from the ‘hood.

Bless opened his bag, to take out some biscuits, water and bluetooth speakers.

“So… this is my first time dancing hip-hop.” I admitted.

“That’s alright,” Bless shrugged as he offered me some of the biscuits. “Do you do other dances?”

Five years ago, I would’ve responded with ‘I don’t know how to dance’ / ‘I have two left feet’, / ‘I ain’t got no rhythm.’

Funny how things change. “Yes. Pole. And latin dances. Salsa, bachata, samba. Some belly dancing.”

“Perfect. Because we will do a lot of isolations.” Bless said.

I didn’t really take up any form of dancing until late 2013; just 5 years ago, when I started to do solo travel. Hmm, It’s funny how I learned a lot of survival skills since I started to do solo travel–swimming, surfing, skating, and even improv (e.g. art of B.S.).

Apart from drinking, the two other important social lubricants in are smoking and dancing.

I don’t smoke, but I do like moving bodies.

The value of dancing is more apparent once you are in a foreign land that speaks a different language. When you are lost in translation, you just let the eyes–and the bodies–do the talking.

¿Te gusta bailar?

universal language of dance.JPG

Dance is a language on its own–speaking with movement, and at the same time listening to the other person. It’s all about identifying the signals: the slight push of a hand to signal you to step back; a gentle nudge at the shoulder to signal you to turn; a slight motion to the direction you are heading towards…

In that sense, dancing makes you more intuitive in understanding people and their body language. What a one-second gaze vs. a three-second gaze means; when a nudge is friendly or when it is something more; and microsecond gestures that may help distinguish actual disinterest from just playing hard to get…

It’s learning to become more sensitive to changes: because a slight change in vocal tone, in frequency or in energy–these micro-changes always signal a change of direction; or attraction; or behavior.

its showtime nyc

Bless is really talented, and is actually part of It’s Showtime NYC! a New York movement that promotes street culture and provide professional development opportunities for the street & subway dancers and youth in the city. They teach and perform hip-hop for a social cause-– 100% of the proceeds goes to Dancing in the Streets INC.

Bless proceeded to teach me the basics of hip-hop–waving, locking and popping. It was challenging for someone so new to hip-hop, but we had an awesome afternoon filled with goofing off and some laughters.


When we ended, it was already late afternoon and starting to get dark.

“It’s not very safe around here,” Bless said, hence he insisted to walk me back to the station. He shared that he has known too many friends who already ‘got shot and stuff’. He then told me that dance probably saved his life away from the gangs and the streets.

I asked Bless what he does apart from dancing. “That’s all I ever do. Even when I’m not dancing, I’m thinking about it.” Bless responded. He listens to the music all the time, he practices his move when commuting to and fro, his whole life revolves around his craft. “In fact, I think I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life.”

And although my new friend didn’t have much in common at first, we ultimately got more close, bonded by the same zest for dance and music.


‘His/my wife is Filipina’

Filipino, Elsewhere

“His/My wife is Filipina.”

My good friend Micheline Rama posted this on her Facebook page and immediately caught my interest. Mich continued in the FB post:

I cant recall how many times Ive heard this phrase. Its generally innocuous, a bit of small talk. The few times its been tinged with malice were usually in cabs or bars.

“My uncle’s wife is a Filipina.” (sneer) “She takes good care of him.” (wink)–but that’s rare…”

Not as rare as you believe, girlfriend. I thought whilst reading. I recalled a similar experience just a few days back, when an Irishman at a bar thought it’d funny to ask me to marry him because he heard ‘Filipinas make good wives’.

The women in my circle are smart, Filipino women, modern warriors of the world, Chevening and Fulbright scholars with masters and PhDs…

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The problem with writers

“Writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” – Pico Iyer

Writers are selfish creatures, master manipulators of the mind.

When you first meet them, they will hook you with their intense curiosity.

Do not mistake interest for friendship. Or romantic interest.

They’ve been known to keep people and relationships in their lives longer than they should– just because they make interesting character understudies for their next book.

They will look at you with inquisitive eyes, boring into your soul, trying to figure out your place in the plot.

They will shower you with attention, and soak information like a sponge–what you do, what you wear, what you say, and the inner workings of your mind–your drive, motivations, your dreams, your soul. What ticks you off? What makes you feel alive? 

Oysters open completely during a full moon, and when a crab sees one it throws a stone or seaweed so it cannot close again and becomes the crab’s ready meal.

Just like the oyster, be careful with the words you express when in company of a writer—they will hold on to every word you said and quote you on that, at that. They will then decide to be brutally honest, or cunningly deceiving–or both.

They will read between the lines, and if nonexistent and purely innocent, invent the words between the lines. Heck, they may even try to predict your future actions, or create and recreate plots and denouements. 

They’ve got you all figure out in their head. And if they’re wrong—isn’t that what the fiction genre is for?

You might find, in the middle of the date, the author paramour lost and elsewhere—sometimes lost in reverie; and sometimes, lost in the next table’s conversations.  They are notorious eavesdroppers who take mental notes of interesting lines and plot lines.

They will study the neighbors in question: they will take note of the man’s sweaty palms, and the texture of the woman’s hair and when it’s been last washed, the gaze, the body language—and conclude whether it is the first or the fifty-first date.

They will usually end up having their soup cold.

They have tendencies to exaggerate for dramatic flair; and exclude unimportant details because they are boring. They will paint the day with descriptions—they can skillfully describe a cheeseburger like they would describe sex, and in turn describe sex like it is the last meal of their life.

And yet, oddly and selfishly, writers do not reciprocate.

They refuse to give back as much as they take in. They are fiercely private, putting up glass walls to protect themselves; to keep control of their identities; to protect their stories. They do not wish to be at the mercy of the listener, unwilling to be subject to another storyteller’s liberties.

No other human finds comfort in ambiguity than a writer. They live for the ‘what-could-be’s and ‘could-have-been’s. The notion that there is no current conclusion is very beautiful; it gives us hope that we can always rewrite a better ending in the future. That’s how writers feel a sense of control in our lives, how we make sense of the world, by tricking ourselves that we take charge of the stories.

Filipino, elsewhere

Hey all!

I’ve got a new published column in Sunstar that comes out every month. Please check out my blog to keep updated with personal and collected stories and information on Filipino culture, heritage and identity with Filipino, elsewhere. Find my first blog post here! via Filipino, elsewhere

Suggested Itinerary: 4 days in Taipei, Taiwan

For Filipinos, Taiwan isn’t something we typically think of as a ‘tourist destination’. When it comes to traveling abroad, we dream of going to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore or Thailand–we often forget about visiting Taipei, Taiwan, which is only 1,000 km from the Philippines.

This is why Taipei is so beautiful in its own way–an underrated and unassuming city that has a lot to offer. Cebu Pacific now offers direct flights from Manila and Cebu to Taipei thrice a week, which will get you to the capital of Taiwan in two hours.

Before booking that ticket, read my post on what to expect in Taipei, Taiwan.

Here’s what you can do in Taiwan for a short 4-day stay.

Day 1: Chiang Kai Shek, Taipei 101, Presidential Building, National Palace Museum

Cram all the usual touristy stuff on day 1. Most of them are within easy access via transportation (train, bus, walk). Taipei transportation is very easy, reliable and accessible so you can visit all the main sites within the day.

The Presidential Building is one of the most remarkable buildings in Taipei, houses the most important man in the country, of course: the president of the Republic of China.


The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial is a national monument built in honor of the former president of Taipei. The square is wide, beautiful and historical–plenty of panoramic photography-worthy shots.


Taipei 101 is a magnificent architectural wonder magnificently located in Taipei’s skyline. Taipei 101 used to be the world’s tallest building until the title was usurped by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in 2010.


Finally, the National Palace Museum is a magnificent museum that houses 700,000 ancient Chinese art and artifacts dating back 8,000 years ago from the neolotihic stone age. The art pieces were transported from the Forbidden City to Taiwan under the leadership of Chiang Kai Shek in 1945.

Day 2: Go on a food trip!

Foodies will love Taiwan; because they have a great love affair with their food. You can’t talk about Taiwanese culture without mentioning their street food cuisine. Food should be the main highlight of your trip so go all out and don’t think about dieting! Some of the famous Taiwanese food include: pearl milk tea, stinky tofu, oyster omelette, steamed dumplings, crispy chicken cutlets… everything. Most times, I don’t really know what type of animal or animal part I ordered–they surely don’t waste any animal part, and I’m too chicken to ask. #ignoranceisbliss

Michelin-star restaurant Din Tai Fung originated here, so make sure to try their world-famous xiao long bao while in Taiwan. You can go themed cafe or restaurant hopping. They have restaurants dedicated to Hello Kitty, the toilet, hospital, and more.

Day 3: Jiufen and Shifen

If you are looking for a more cultural and historical experience that Taiwan can offer, there are two beautiful towns near Taipei that you can visit. Located at Pingxi District, you can easily access these picturesque towns via train.

Jiufen is best known as the inspiration of Hayao Miyazaki’s famous hyperrealist animated film Spirited Away. Shifen is most known for their sky lantern festival. You can write down your own hopes and wishes in a sky lantern and watch it fly and reach to the heavens (but not really–apparently the village people hire a dedicated workforce to retrieve the fallen lanterns in the next mountain).

If you want to know more about Jiufen and Shifen, read about it in a separate dedicated blog post here.

Day 4: Exciting Taipei Nightlife: Night markets and nightclubs

Saving the best for last: Taipei nightlife. Of course, if you have energy for day and night you are welcome to savor the nightlife every night! There’s tons of things to do at night: karaoke, night markets, clubbing… the city’s nightlife is exciting and vibrant after dark. Like most Asian major cities, this city runs 24 hours, so there’s always something to do in the wee hours of the morning.

Taiwan is most famous for their night markets–there are more than 50 of them across the country. In these markets they have all sorts of food and merchandise.

Karaoke (KTV) is also a big hit in the city. KTVs have private rooms where you can order food and drinks and sing to your heart’s content.

If you’re into clubbing, you’re in for a treat: the Taiwanese party hard. Like insane. I can recount a few times where I had to hold hair of poor female strangers in the toilet because they had too much alcohol.

people taiwanese
The random and great people you meet in Taipei.

The most famous and biggest nightclub in the city is LUXY,  bringing in renowned and billboard-topping DJs from around the world. 1001 Nights is an eclectic mix of latin, hiphop, reggaeton and international music (and I love getting shisha here). Chess is great for hip-hop lovers, Room18 for a fancy lounge scene and LAVA for a more casual night. For salsa lovers, I love the friendly vibe of Salud! Salsa Party.

Finally for some post-party replenishment needs, there is always a 7-11 a block or two away to cater to your hunger and hydration.2 4-hour convenience stores are an indispensable way of life in Taiwan. In fact, the country has the highest mini mart density in the world. They sure love their convenience, and you will too. If you’re hungry post-party, you’re sure to get your fill, there’s bound to be a restaurant or shop open for you.

Features et. al.


  • TV Features

    • PostcardPretty has been featured in GMATV’s travel show ‘I Juander’ with Susan Enriquez for the Road Trip show to Tarlac, Batangas and Pampanga


  • Fashion Show

    • Caleb and I were fortunate enough to be invited to represent Petit Bateau for the 2015 Style Origin Fashion Show in Ayala Center Cebu with professional models, Cebu personalities and #Kathniel Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla.
  • Magazine Features

    • Zee Lifestyle Directory – Dec-Jan 2016 issue for Cebu City Guide, shot at The Outlets Pueblo Verde. Read more about it, and see more photos here.


    • Sunstar Weekend – Mother’s Day Issue (May 10, 2015) – see article by Fiona Escandor in Sunstar Weekend website here. Read about it in my blog post here.


drift stories rachel arandilla postcardpretty

    • GetGo & Cebu Pacific
  • Newspaper Features

    • Canon Photomarathon

article on canon


  • Talks

    • SWU Forum with Young Cebuano Entrepreneurs

swu talk 2 swu talk

  • Go Negosyo Top 10 Young Cebuano Entrepreneurs

Go Negosyo


Cebu’s sizzling salsa scene

You get tired of the night club scene after a while: same crowd, same scenario, same cliché dance moves. I’m not really a creature of habit so after a couple of recurring same-old, same-old  nights I was ready for a change of scene one evening of 2015.

So I got hooked. For the next three months I came with my girlfriends once a week to dance salsa and bachata. The community was then so small and closely knit. But it was a great change of scenery, where stranger bodies just don’t grind on you and touch you in inappropriate areas–you actually get to meet a lot of great friends through salsa!

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It’s so easy to approach someone and ask them to dance with you–no matter the language you speak, dance is universal. When I find myself alone (traveling/living), I reach out to the local salsa community to meet new and friendly faces. This is how I met some great people in Taiwan and US. I’ve never been to Latin America, but that’s next on the list!

Take note that everywhere in the world except New York dances ‘on 1’, whereas NY salsa dances ‘on 2’. You need to know these technicalities else you will feel lost like an idiot if you find yourself in a latin club that dances a different style than you do.

Still, nothing beats like home. I have moved several times over the past three years, but whenever I am in Cebu I always try to attend the socials were organized by Cebu Salsa Club. Essentially, it is part of the experience of ‘coming home’.

The Cebu salsa community has since then has grown by leaps (kudos to Jilly and John!). I don’t recognize most of the people now. Everyone is getting better each visit. It’s impressive! They have salsa nights three nights a week now, too!


Every Wednesday
No Cover Charge
2-for-1 on Bacardi Mojitos all night
Maya Mexican Restaurant
Crossroads Mall, Banilad
Call Maya for dinner table reservations ✆ (032) 238 9552
Salsa | Bachata | Merengue | Reggaeton

Every Friday
No Cover Charge
2-for-1 on Cuba Libre
Maya Mexican Lounge
Crossroads Mall, Banilad
Call Maya for dinner table reservations ✆ (032) 238 9552
Salsa | Bachata

Every Sunday
No Cover Charge
2-for-1 on Tequila Cazadores Margaritas all night
Maya Mexican Lounge
Crossroads Mall, Banilad
Call Maya for dinner table reservations ✆ (032) 238 9552
Salsa | Bachata | Kizomba

If you’re new to the scene and would like to learn social dancing (maybe as a dare, maybe as a new year’s resolution, or maybe to impress a date?), Cebu Salsa Club also offers classes on salsa, bachata and kizomba! Classes start in February, advance registration here:


If you want to keep connected with fellow enthusiasts and keep updated about salsa socials and events, join the Cebu Salsa Club FB group, Cebu Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba Dancers FB group.

Still haven’t convinced you enough? I’ll try to with 5 more reasons as to why everyone should dance salsa. Read the post here.

How to Apply for DSWD Minor Travel Clearance in Cebu

I remember the feeling of traveling alone when I was only 16. Well it wasn’t technically a solo trip–the rest of the family were already in Hong Kong and I had to follow after my finals–but I still remember the thrill of going to the airport, checking in my luggage, going through immigrations and finally arriving in one piece–all alone.

I was in college when I first applied for a DSWD travel clearance for myself. Now that I’m a single mom, I had applied for Caleb’s travel clearance so he can travel accompanied by other guardians (e.g. his grandparents).

dswd travel clearance for minors

Who Needs A Travel Clearance?

By Philippine law, all minors below the age of 18 are required to have a DSWD Minor Travel Clearance for the following:

  • for minors traveling alone
  • for minors traveling with companions other than his or her parents parents.

Even if a minor is traveling with a direct relative such as their own adult siblings or aunts or uncles, they are still required by law to travel with the DSWD document. This requirement is to ensure that children on transit are protected from child kidnapping or child trafficking.

Minors traveling with the legal guardians or parents are not required a DSWD clearance. However, illegitimate children traveling with father are still required to have a DSWD clearance.

When Should I Apply?

Once you have finalized travel plans, it’s best to apply as soon as possible, around a month or two weeks before the travel date. This will get you ample time to collate all required documents before the travel date.

Once you have all the requirements, it only takes around thirty minutes to an hour to get your DSWD document (at least in Cebu!) The people in the Cebu DSWD office are very efficient and accommodating (thanks, Ligaya!)

Where can I apply in Cebu?

The DSWD office in Cebu is located in MJ Cuenco Avenue cor. Gen. Maxilom Avenue, Cebu City. Office hours are on weekdays M to F, from 8am to 5pm.

What are the Requirements?

As of July 2017, here is the updated list of requirements for minors traveling abroad unaccompanied by parents:

  • Filled up DSWD application form
  • NSO birth certificate of the minor
  • Marriage certificate of minor’s parents (if legitimate); no need if parents are unmarried and child is illegitimate
  • Notarized affidavit of consent from parents . This must include:
    • destination,
    • date of intended travel,
    • purpose, and
    • name of companion/s
  • 3 pcs. passport size photos of the minor and companions
  • Photocopy of the passport and visa (if necessary) of the minor
  • Photocopy of the passport and visa  (if necessary) of the companion
  • 300 PHP payment per minor applicant.
  • If parents are not applying; you also need an authorization letter from minor’s parents to process application

Once again, if the child is illegitimate, it will only need requirements from the mother (sole parental authority) and not the father.

Also, the minor does not need to be present in the DSWD office to file for the clearance. The officer will only

Once you have everything, it only takes 30 minutes to process your travel clearance valid for one year. Always check the spelling of the names before you leave.