Update from Alabang, Muntinlupa, Philippines with Love

Finding time to write down my thoughts has been a luxury since moving continents and countries, hence, the limited update on the blog. Writing will always be a top, personal luxury. In the midst of heavy traffic and noise in Metro Manila, I’d recall that peaceful time spent in Ghent wherein I’d wake up, prepare and have breakfast with Yoyo, clean and organize the flat a bit, sit down, browse through the internet, open my website, start writing, have a coffee/wine break, publish post, and then take a bus to the small vegetable shop in Vrijdagmarkt to prepare for dinner. The entirety without much sound unless I put my earphones on, which I hardly do because I fell hard, head over heels for silence. Such thoughts make me warm and fuzzy with gratitude. But I am also not forgetting the constant cold weather and I snap back to tropical glory.

Moving back to my home country, Philippines, one might readily assume I easily adjusted. I did. It’s more so the fact that I am living in Muntinlupa, south of Manila, that initially bothered me. It doesn’t bother me anymore. Almost four months since I arrived from France, the only major obstacle I face here, only because it happens on a daily basis, is the noisy, lingering neighbors’s maids that happen to congregate just outside our apartment because there is a small shop (sari-sari store) right in front of us. The leader of the pack is the always provocatively dressed transsexual maid who is in-charge of the sari-sari store, who calls everybody baby and curses everyone a whole lot just the same. Her sidekick is a middle-aged woman who wears tight and skimpy shorts, carrying an aggrieved facial expression even while smoking and she smokes all the time. Both are quite a hefty source of hyena laughs. With all due respect to hyenas, I can’t accustom myself to hyena laughter just yet. The third neighboring maid is a girl in her early 20s who blasts the radio as soon as her employer leaves for work in the morning. If the intent is for everyone in the neighborhood to hear her type of sappy radio music, she hits that goal every single day.

Other than these daily nuisances, it’s good to be home. Speaking the local language seals the deal for me. I have long missed being able to overhear and understand people’s random and odd conversations in public places. Some are downright hilarious, like an apparently gay guy supposedly talking to his yaya over the phone while we were inside the uber-crowded PNR from Alabang to Makati. He was giving instructions to his yaya to call a certain “attorney” and to tell Maricel to fetch him in a particular PNR station. How the guy was repeatedly saying the word “yaya” with a certain accent sounded so telenovela-ish, thus, particularly hilarious to me.

Unexpectedly and fortunately, the internet at home is very agreeable that we could’t feel the speed difference between this and the one we had back in Belgium. This one is almost half the price, too! I was able to download the full season two of House of Cards without trouble in a day, which is happiness if you ask me.

Speaking of happiness, I’ve been trying out so many new things and each is making me happy. A classmate back in graduate school and I would’ve had a more thrilling conversation over Phantasmagoria had I known the great feeling of trying out something new each time.

I baked baguette for the first time yesterday and french Yoyo approves of the taste and texture. I also did my discovery SCUBA dive last weekend with the best-vibed people ever. I tried surfing in Boracay last month and that was a bomb because I was able to balance my way through the water with the board more than a few times. And more importantly, I now know how to make an almost-perfect chocolate cake! But I’ve yet to learn how to swim and do a regular workout/sport activity. Bring it all on, life! Yes, including an eardrum-busting, Aegis song slayer maid to the Azkals in my background as I write. More of this, less writing. Don’t say you haven’t been warned, life!

Surfing 101 at bora (with a paddle board still counts!).

Surfing 101 at bora (with a paddle board still counts!).

bora beach

Boracay beach.

gyros at bora

Le bakasyunista!


Diving spot; Bauan, Batangas, Philippines.

baguette 2

Homemade baguette!

baguette 1

Plus homemade jam!

chocolate cake

Is not equal to gateau chocolat.


Great things come from a cozy workplace, our living room!


Embracing my new city, Muntinlupa, Philippines.

Noise, maids, blasted radios, beach. Welcome to the Philippines!


Personal Freedom Without Abandon

Love Plume by Olly Molly Golly Les.

Love Plume by Olly Molly Golly Les.

Anxiety springs from my lack of endurance to keep on trying to relate to something I have deliberately alienated myself from some years ago – hypocrisy. It is at most discomforting. One does not throw away twenty years of familiarity out of the window, especially that remembering is such a comforting human privilege.

Ex-lovers, I’ve understood early on, but I find myself still wondering why and how good friends become complete strangers. However, of late, I seem to have reached a stage wherein I find it painfully rustic to endure an affair with stubborn familiarity. Self-inflicted teenage wounds maturing into adult monsters growing by the day without recognition, blamed on others at worse, thanks but we are not getting any younger and I have better things to do with my time.

We’ve been told time and again that letting go is liberating and I concur. To do as I choose without stepping on someone else’s toes is what I am talking about here. I might be forever bound to my nostalgic sentiments but the consequences I’ve thought long and hard enough that I’m ready to face the future without you. The taste of freedom more than makes up for the grief. More importantly, I am not the one (to have had suffered and) to apologize for your lack of consideration.

Understand that to be held back by others is my and my expense alone, that I choose to confront my life – good and bad, a life I made you a part of a long time ago. Abandonment it is not for I remain open with all my heart and soul. I may not be there but I am always to be found.

Plant a Tree, Save the World & A Short Series of Solved Mystery Cases*

Mystery Case #1

Last Tuesday, we went to visit meme in Saint-Trivier and did some awesome work. I got to be the right-hand of Daniel, Yoyo’s dad, in planting a peach tree and shoveling some (lots of) gravel on meme’s backyard. I like doing physical work, and it was yet another good excuse to visit meme.

Since Fantastique and Bango were with us, I didn’t get to see Ismi, meme’s adopted cat, by the window. Il a un peur, she told me when I asked about Ismi’s whereabouts. “Murmur..murmur..murmur… les chiens… murmur… murmur… les chiens.” And as I understood, I won’t be seeing Ismi because the dogs were here, thus, il a un peur (he has fear) decoded, Ismi is scared of the dogs and won’t be showing up anytime soon. Dogs and cats situation, easy peasy, mystery case #1 solved!

Ismi behind the glass window. This cat is on fire!

Mystery Case #2

Despite all the odds, I’m happy to announce that my French speaking skills has gone from zero to barok level.

Pourquoi transferer l’arbre? I asked Daniel. Pas beaucoup d’espace parce que il y a la piscine à Montagnat? Me feeling especially determined and laughing at myself in my head for my persistent attempt at speaking French.

“Murmur… murmur… pa bien… murmur… de la terre… murmur… sable…murmur… piscine aussi… murmur...” I did see Daniel’s hand gestures while saying the words terre and sable (tila baga may sinasalat gesture in Filipino). So I figured the earth is grainy/sandy and not too ideal for the peach tree that’s why it was uprooted from the garden in Montagnat. The swimming pool being secondary, I’m just not sure if the tree with its growing roots would affect the pool or the other way around – the pool would hamper the roots of the tree’s growth. In any case, it should primarily be that the earth in Saint-Trivier serves the peach tree’s well-being better. Whew! Mystery case #2 solved!

For a moment, imagine your two eyeballs turning 360 degrees in its socket, respectively. That’s me when I’m trying to understand French, each time, no miss (walang mintis).

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The pretty lady that is our peach tree dressed in white! The cloth is really for the bark’s protection during our 45-minute drive.

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Up close.

After our morning coffee, I followed Daniel outside to plant the peach tree in meme’s garden. I like writing it’s a peach tree because I can easily imagine red peach fruits hanging by the tree’s branches. I like peaches, they’re soft, sweet, juicy, with hint of colors red outside and yellow in the inside.
Below are the very simple photo steps in saving the world, i.e. replanting a peach tree!
1. Dig it.
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Starring shovel a.k.a pala (in tagalog).

2. Be guided by a Jedi master.
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Luke… I am your mother…

3. Fertilize it.
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Pour fertilizer into the dug hole.

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Scatter in second fertilizer with your hands.

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And mix both fertilizers inside the hole using the shovel.

4. Add-in water and a bit of soil into the fertilizer mixture.
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The shovel is your tree-planting bestfriend, use it to mix the water with the fertilized soil.

5. Place tree at the center of the hole.
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Gently but firmly.

6. Fertilize some more.
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After putting the tree, put another batch of fertilizer together with the soil. Young trees need a lot of nourishment!

7. Completely cover with earth.
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Now that looks very familiar.

8. Water the newly (re)planted tree.
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Allow to settle and add a second round of water.

9. Put support for the young, fragile Peach tree.
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The strong winds could hurt this young Peach tree!

10. Stop and smell accomplishment. You just made this world a better place!
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11. The hardest and final step is to wait for these:

peach 2

A smooth peach variety also called nectarine in markets. Click to see photo source.

peach 1

Juicy! Click to see photo source.

Mystery Case #3

A day after, there was worry looming over Saint-Trivier because meme has not seen Ismi in two straight days. And just this evening, I’m happy to report that meme finally found Ismi. He got stranded with meme’s seedlings when he followed meme to the garden nursery. Elle est très content maintenant. Whew! Final and mystery case #3 solved!

Alors, ’til our next tongue-twisting, world-saving adventure. À bientôt!

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Moi waiting for my peach fruit!

An International Movie List at Home & My Friend Sofia

It’s technically not allowed by law so thank goodness you didn’t get the idea here to checkout PirateBay and access these movies listed below free of charge. Once you have them, download the subtitle (choose .srt files) unless you speak French and Brazilian (well, Portuguese) and voila! A wonderful international film festival right at the comfort of your home.

Also, if you want to see France (since most movies below are of French production and are mostly set in France, this is the cost-free way to do it). If you love Marion Cotillard, this is a great list for you! The first three movies are with her, plus she is married to that guy she’s paired with in the first movie listed, who directed the second movie with an all-star French cast. Two Brazilian movies that are here are so so so good that I’m on the lookout for more. Meanwhile, two are American series that got us so glued to the couch from morning ’til dawn for days. Keywords: Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and Jeremy Irons, how in the world would a series go wrong?!

movie posters

This list is a mix of different genres. Comedy, love story, drama, action, and for most movies, all at once! Action movies I started paying attention to recently and I totally like the genre now. It’s not only about the fight scenes but the story can be really incredibly interesting and well-written (I was always on the verge of having a heart attack the entire time I was watching Argo – disregard that this somehow constitutes my idea of being entertained by movies), as well as socially-relevant. If you’ve seen City of God and loved it, you will feel the same for Elite Squad.

Special shoutout to my long-time movie buddy, Sofia, who became a misis  last year. We’ve not seen eachother in years but  know that I miss you constantly. Best wishes again, Pei! This post is for you.

A Film by Sean Ellis: Metro Manila

metro manila john arcilla 2Synopsis

And so it is about Oscar Ramirez, a rice farmer from the north, crippled by rural poverty, who decided to take his chances in the country’s capital, Manila. Together with his wife and two young kids, Oscar braved the notorious streets of Manila (Dan Brown would certainly agree) and the family’s adventure in the gates of hell begins!

Being victims of one scam after another, homlessness, hunger, in short, utter poverty led Oscar’s wife, Mai Ramirez, to finally take in the job of a prostitute. It not only allowed her to bring her two children to work while on duty, it also enabled her to have their daughter’s nagging toothache treated by the doctor who tested her clean for diseases as part of the job. That same day, Oscar got a lucky break and he was immediately hired as a security officer. He was to collect, transfer, and guard large sums of money inside an armored vehicle into safekeeping. His partner, Ong, a generous albeit mysterious officer personally picked him for the job.

One by one, questions about Ong’s character unfold and he becomes central to the movie’s storyline. As Oscar’s character traverses the life of a poor but decent father trying to make a good and decent living for his family, he is tightly caught (even trapped) in the motives of the people around him as reflected by the overall context of the city itself. But as it will turn out, Oscar is not your typical poor but decent father trying to make a good and decent living for his family.

The reason why and all the details in between make this movie worth one’s dime and time, Filipino or not. Lovers of Manila (like me), or not (like Mr. Brown).

Happy Ending Marks the X

To its immediate defense, Metro Manila’s trailer should not lead anyone to think of it as a stereotypical poverty movie about a third world country. I know, we’ve seen this and that before – prostitution, slums, crime. But Metro Manila, a movie set in the Philippines shown now in selected theatres over here in Europe (France, The Netherlands, Belgium), depicts a reality that is skillfully sewn to come up with a believable, compact and thoroughly exciting movie. And for a bit of change, it has an unpredictable ending that would lift your spirits up, since you would find yourself rooting for Oscar, the protagonist, right from the start.

We Like Accurate Surprises

Metro Manila is a surprisingly accurate picture of the Philippine capital by a foreign movie outfit with a highly thrilling plot, coherent script, and a superb cast headed by Filipino veteran actor John Arcilla as Ong, together with the sympathetic Jake Macapagal as Oscar Ramirez, the natural probinsyana charm of Mia Ramirez portrayed by Althea Vega, the heart-wrenching endurance at such a young age of Ana Abad Santos who played the elder daughter’s role of Oscar and Mia, and Miles Canapi and her purely unintentional comedic character as “mamasan” Charlie.

So You Want To Be in Europe?

Paris, France. July 2013.

How to Get to Europe: A Sober Answer to a Very Tricky Question

When I’m asked how much it costs to travel in Europe, the first thing I say is that when I went back to the Philippines in May 2011, my Cathay Pacific ticket from Paris-Manila, Manila-Paris cost €600. Converted to Philippine peso – PhP32,238.06 is quite an affordable rate considering it’s Europe and the mere sound of it is very far. Like when I say I’m from the Philippines and a European would think I’m from a far, far away land.

Transportation is Key

Next, I would say it depends on the duration of the trip and how many countries one would want to visit. From where I (used to) live (Ghent, Belgium) for example, it only takes 51 minutes to reach Lille (France), 2 hours 16 minutes to be in Amsterdam (The Netherlands), 2 hours 50 minutes to Paris (France), 2 hours 37 minutes to Cologne (Germany), and 3 hours 48 minutes to London (United Kingdom). My overnight bus trips from Manila to Bicol took longer, indeed. But it’s not only about the distance, it’s primarily about accessibility – the means of public transport and transport facilities.One can travel around Europe quite easily by car or by bus, faster by train, and fastest by airplane. Cars run up to 110-130 KPH speed limit on the highway (depending on the country), while some German highways are “speed-free” where you can go as fast as your car can. I just got started and easily I’d get carried away. It’s the same enthusiasm I hold when I tell Europeans about Philippines and our neighboring Asian countries. Both worlds are just so different and awesome in their own ways.

The Biggest Secret is to Book Ahead

At this point, I’d figure the question was originally intended for a small talk so I’d quickly conclude my litany by saying that a good trip from Manila to Europe via Paris or Amsterdam requires at least a pocket money of €1,000 (PhP53,730.10) to visit a minimum of 3 European countries (more cities/countries would logically mean more expenses) in two weeks, all senses inclusive – see, hear, taste, smell, feel Europe. Food, drinks and museum passes take a chunk of the budget here so backpackers should make it with around €600. Meanwhile, all the nitty gritty details you can read in my previous and future posts in the blog for free.This budget ONLY applies to a carefully-planned Eurotrip, wherein bookings are made at least 6 months before. There are also tons of tour packages one can avail of for a lesser price. If not, then forget it. But then again, why would you come to Europe and spend your hard-earned money on a dream trip without a plan, right?



Albufeira, Portugal. September 2012.

Albufeira, Portugal. September 2012.

Belem, Portugal. September 2012.

Lisbon, Portugal. September 2012.

Florence, Italy. November 2011.

Florence, Italy. November 2011.


Pisa, Italy. November 2011.

Lund, Sweden. September 2011.

Lund, Sweden. September 2011.

Carlsberg Museum @ Copenhagen, Denmark. September 2011.


Prague, Czech Republic. May 2011.

Budapest, Hungary. May 2011.

Budapest, Hungary. May 2011.

Budapest, Hungary. May 2011.

Budapest, Hungary. May 2011.

Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, Netherlands. May 2011.

Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, Netherlands. May 2011.

Paris, France. December 2010.

Paris, France. December 2010.


The Netherlands, September 2010.


Q & A: Netherlands Fellowship Program (NFP)

Here are the straightforward answers to questions I’ve been getting regarding my scholarship in The Netherlands. I’d gladly answer more if you ask more. If you still can’t believe how seemingly easy things have been for me, try it out yourself because that’s the only way for you to know and see. And read Enid’s article about her scholarship, it is very, very useful. She not only laid down clearly her application process for a short course in The Netherlands, but she also wrote useful tips on how to get the right attitude and carry on with the process like a pro.

With some of my Filipino batchmates in ISS at Den Haag’s Chinatown (naturally!)

1. How long is the application process?
> I sent my complete ISS application via courier in September 2009, got the acceptance letter in the mailbox (snail mail) in December 2009. I applied for the scholarship end of January 2010, got the acceptance letter end of May 2010.
2. Did you take TOEFL/IELTS?
> No. I provided an “English as a Medium of Instruction” certificate that I asked (and paid for) from the UP registrar. Ask the school you’re applying to if they accept this in lieu of TOEFL/IELTS, sometimes they post it on the website so pay attention. You don’t want to write an email only to be told the information is on the site, you would not want to leave an impression to the school’s admission that you are not paying attention. If it’s not on their website, ask by sending an email to the admission’s office. Again, you wouldn’t want to get a reply that you have to contact the right department. I didn’t have to ask because it was written on the ISS website that I can provide this English as a medium of instruction certificate. In fact, I didn’t take any test. Among the basic requirements (True Copy of Grades, College Diploma, etc.), ISS application requires: a personal essay and recommendation letters from 3 people. I asked a recommendation from my current and former employers, and from a college professor I shortly worked with after graduating from college.
3. What was your undergrad course?
> BS Community Development. I graduated in 2005 from UP Diliman, College of Social Work & Community Development. My grades were average, I worked as a student research assistant for a year while studying.
4. What’s your work background?
> I was a Program Officer of SEDPI for 3 years before doing my master’s. SEDPI is a microfinance consulting organization based in Quezon City, Philippines. Most master’s and scholarship programs require a relevant work experience. Read the requirements carefully and/or ask, some schools accept fresh graduates. I do know that in my program (PPM), everyone had a relevant experience before coming to ISS.
5. Did you work while doing your master’s degree?
> Yes. By June 2011, we ended our class sessions to start writing our thesis full time. I decided to apply for internships, I searched and applied online. By August 2010, I was working as an intern in a Dutch impact investment company.  I was receiving 300 euros a month for 3 days/week of work. I stopped working in November 2011 to allot time to finish my thesis. You can definitely work legally as a student in The Netherlands while there. I know fellow students who made money babysitting, working in restaurants & cafes, etc.
6. Was the MA program difficult?
> No. Living in The Netherlands all by myself for 15 months was most difficult. I’ve never been alone and never felt so alone in my entire life! And how about the rainy, super cold, windy weather in Dutchlandia? Ahhh you’ll get by with a lot of traveling to nearby European countries.
7. How long did your scholarship last?
> My study lasted 15 months and the scholarship covered the entire duration of my course. School started September 6, 2010 and I graduated December 16, 2011. The scholarship covered all my expenses, from Visa application, to roundtrip tickets, to airport fees, to my train ticket from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam to my dormitory in Den Haag, it included my insurance, too. The school (ISS) pre-arranged the students’ accommodation. Literally, all I had to do was show up! I received around €980 euros monthly from my scholarship. About €400 euros was automatically deducted monthly for the rent. I had my own room with my own toilet/shower, while I shared the kitchen with seven other dormers. €980 euros per month is enough to cover basic expenses in Den Haag, even more.After my master’s, I stayed in Europe and from The Netherlands I moved to France and now I am in Belgium. But that’s another long story. Leave your questions on the comment box below!


1. Keep searching, i.e. NEVER GIVE UP. You are bound to find the right program for you if you just keep on going. Trust the universe. 2. Plan, plan, plan! Know what you are doing. Research, be informed, gather as much information as you can. 3. Europe is different from the Philippines (understatement of the year!), prepare and work on NOT resisting change as early as NOW.

Steps in Getting My Scholarship in The Netherlands (An All-Expense Paid Pinoy Adventure in Europe)

  •  Plan – Mine was to study masters abroad with a Public Policy course.
  • Why? – Because of my work experience and the budding career path idea I was toying with in my head. I wanted then to eventually get involved in the government.
  • What? – I don’t have money! Surprise! Surprise!
  • How? – Find a school that offers Public Policy, scout for possible funding. Google became my bestfriend, still is!
  • Where? – I hear good things about The Netherlands. I searched online and found this Public Policy course in ISS. It took tons of clicks before I got into the ISS website, by the way. There is no escaping it!
  • Show me the money! – I found links at the ISS websites for available fundings, which led to more scholarship websites! Once you start, it will just lead you from one website to another. Stay focused AND keep going! I found the website of the Netherlands Fellowship Program (NFP) and got the requirements for the scholarship. All in the web, you see!
  • Decisions! – Simple, I sat down and began my application quietly in July 2009.

By September 2009, I’ve sent my application to ISS, the requirements are in their website, all the information you need to know for admission is available in school websites. I submitted the following via email:

  1. Personal essay/letter of intent
  2. Recommendation letter from at least two people
  3. Transcript of Records (TOR)
  4. English as language for teaching certification
  5. Completed application form.

Towards the end of January 2010, I received the admission letter from ISS. My background is in the field of development. My undergrad is Community Development, which is related to the masters in Development Studies with specialization in Public Policy & Management I applied for.

First week of February 2010, I applied for the scholarship through email, I was requested to send the following:

  1. Personal essay/letter of intent
  2. Recommendation letter from at least two people
  3. Transcript
  4. Copy of admission from the Dutch institution
  5. Completed application form

Around July 2010, I received the email from the Embassy of The Netherlands in the Philippines that I got the funding from the Netherlands Fellowship Program (NFP). I almost passed out because I couldn’t scream since my cousins were having their afternoon nap in the living room floor. August 2010, ISS sent me the instructions, followed by the plane ticket to Amsterdam. By September I was already in The Netherlands!

Everything is paid for by the NFP scholarship, including the monthly allowance so you can dedicate all your time to study! If you think this looks so doable, try it and you will see how correct you are! Keep in mind that there are limited slots available for thousands of applicants so you really have to focus, be serious and put your best foot forward! Never ever be late, submit even before the deadline if you are 100% pleased with your own application documents. Go for it and don’t forget to tell me how it goes.


July 2009 – I started compiling the application requirements for ISS, the school I’ve chosen for my graduate studies.
September 2009 – I submitted all the requirements needed by ISS for my admission.
January 2010 – I received news of my admission into ISS.
February 2010 – I submitted my application for the NFP scholarship. (That’s right, I was only able to apply for a Dutch government funding after getting an official admission letter from a Dutch school.)
July 2010 – I received news from the Netherlands Embassy in the Philippines that I was granted the NFP scholarship.
September 2010 – I was in the Netherlands.
December 2011 – I graduated and got my degree from ISS in MA Development Studies funded by the Dutch government.

That fast!

Try it, go for it, ace it!

Here are some websites that may interest you in your search: : Find out more about the fellowship I got here. : The school where I went to. : They award scholarships too. : More grants, funds, scholarships! : Talk about awesome. Get this if you can!