The Filipino Expat Magazine Issue #13 Summer 2021

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El Hoyo’s star talks about identity, acting and women empowerment

Austria’s darling VINCENT BUENO

The rugged beauty of FAROE ISLANDS

Expat living in SINGAPORE

Teens of the PANDEMIC #13 2021 | THE FILIPINO


o n i p i l i F r u o y Discover ! e t i r o v a F d o o h Child


THE FILIPINO | #13 2021


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THEFILIPINO THE FILIPINO Expat Magazine is redefining Filipino publications in Europe.

Combining quality journalism with visually engaging design, THE FILIPINO Expat Magazine is the first travel and living magazine that highlights the lives of Filipinos in Europe and the most beautiful destinations in their home countries. Our stories inspire readers to travel and discover the world and uplift the image of Filipinos as global citizens. THE FILIPINO Expat Magazine provides discerning readers with wanderlust, a renewed sense of pride as a Filipino and a deeper understanding of our shared experiences abroad. Visit for subscription options or email us through Our magazine is free at official distribution points but you can have it delivered straight to your doorstep with a minimal postage fee of €12 for The Netherlands and €20 for the rest of Europe. #13 2021 | THE FILIPINO



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Contributor’s page


Editor’s Note


Spanish-Filipina actress Alexandra Masangkay on embracing her dual culture and using her platform for empowerment


Laguna-made espadrilles are summer favourites



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Up close and personal with Austria’s darling Vincent Bueno


Trailblazing Filipinas in Germany



The hidden Filipinos in Barcelona

Sugbo, a book inspired by Magellan’s journey



How to be a fabulous Filipina expat


Singapore through the eyes of Filipino architects


COLUMN MZ Akil wishes she lost her job

The rugged beauty of Faroe Islands


Halo-Halo: the Pinoy summer treat

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Pinoy teens in Spain coped with Covid-19 pandemic

A Dutchwoman reflects on her trip to the Philippines


Catalan catering inspired by Filipinos

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Justine Grace Abrugena holds a master’s degree in Migration and Intercultural Relations. She is based in Germany and works at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg. Justine’s research interests include diaspora studies, gender, labor migration, migrant emotions, and integration amongst others.

Kay Monteclaro is a licensed architect currently living and working in Singapore. Together with her husband, who is

Pepe Chavez is from Baler, Aurora and is currently one of Barcelona’s most sought-after professional photographers. He goes fishing and plays billiards in his free time. He is totally obsessed with aquariums.

Jocy Cuatriz

also an architect and a passionate visual arts creator, they broaden their social horizons by mingling with people of shared interests. Kay is a water and board sports enthusiast, and a television geek. She enjoys extreme sports and martial arts. She developed an interest in fine arts, creative writing, fashion, cooking and music at a young age.

Ella Assenberg Van Eijsden and her son visited the Philippines in 2018. She fell in love with the country that she wants to come back. She lives in Meppel, the Netherlands.


MZ Akil worked in publishing and briefly in television in the Philippines before moving to the UK in 2006. She spends her train journey to and from London—where she has a remit within luxury fashion— randomly musing about life and occasionally talking about it in her blog. Her lifelong aspiration is to write stories rather than emails.

Publisher and Editor-in-chief Nats Sisma Villaluna

Justine Grace Abrugena, Kay Monteclaro, MZ Akil, Patricia Ann Bello

Publisher and Managing Editor Dheza Marie Aguilar

Contributing Photographers: Pepe Chavez, RJ Placino, Robin Kuijs

Graphics and Layout Alden Joshua Cedo

The Filipino Expat Magazine Published 3 times a year

Creative Adviser Robin Kuijs

The opinions expressed in The Filipino Expat magazine do not represent the views of The Filipino Expat company. While we have exhausted every efort to ensure the accuracy of the

Contributing Writers: Ella Assenberg, Jocy Cuatriz Arcilla, 6 THE FILIPINO | #13 2021

Patricia Ann Bello is a freelance writer based in Manila, Philippines. An avid reader with an enormous to-be-read pile, her Instagram page @patandpages is dedicated to her love of reading. She keeps a day job as a banker and juggles being a wife and a mother to two boys while she indulges her passion for reading, writing, and traveling.

Arcilla is a seasoned Executive Assistant based in Manila. She is an introvert with a gift of gab. Jocy has an impressive shoe collection and dabbles in creative writing when her busy schedule allows. She likes learning, she took up a 3-month short course on Teaching English as a Second Language at the Centre for Language Learning at De La Salle University in 2005, followed by Spanish Language Studies at Instituto Cervantes for over a year.

information contained in this publication, neither The Filipino Expat nor its editors, contributors and staf will accept any responsibility for any omission, typographical or printing errors, inaccuracies or changes however caused. Our editorial and creative teams reserve the right to edit any material submitted at our discretion. All texts, photos and graphics have been used with the permission of the author or artists. All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be duplicated or

reproduced in a whole, in any form or by any means without the publisher’s prior written permission. Comments and complaints should be addressed to: The Publisher The Filipino Expat Magazine 2e Maasbosstraat 54 3134XK Vlaardingen The Netherlands E: Mob: +31 639311392


ReLIFE, ReBIRTH When my 13-year-old student insisted that I watch ReLIFE, I had to correct him. “Relife? Is that even a word? You mean relive?” Without batting an eyelash, he corrected me. I secretly reached for my phone and Googled it. ReLIFE is a Japanese manga series that revolves around Kaizaki Arata, a 27-year-old man who undergoes an experiment that is supposed to give him a chance to become young again and fix whatever is wrong with his life. After watching the first episode, I began to ask myself, would I do the same too? Go back to the past and fix whatever wrong that happened in my life? It really sounds tempting though, hypothetically speaking. But then, I surmised that once I undid everything that went wrong, it would naturally change the course of my future which, is my present now. Everything would be different. I wouldn´t be writing this piece at all. I would probably be elsewhere doing something else. But life never runs out of surprises. Who would have thought that my friend Dheza Aguilar, the original publisher of The Filipino Expat Magazine would revive the magazine with me in the middle of the pandemic, and with our busy lives? We must be crazy, you might think. But then again, life never ceases to amaze and bewilder. The Filipino Expat Magazine is back! After an almost six-year hiatus, we are once again ready to tell stories of our fellow Filipino expats around the world. For our first post-respite issue, Spain-born Filipino actress Alexandra Masangkay is gracing our cover. She shares with us what she learned from her journey in the world of entertainment, becoming the first Filipino actress to play in major Spanish movies. Last May 2021, we witnessed how Filipino-Austrian singer Vincent Bueno gave the performance of his life at the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam, making him the first Filipino artist to do so. In this issue, Vincent gives us the chance to know him better by sharing his personal experiences and introspections. The pandemic has affected us all. We suddenly felt like our wings got clipped, placed in a cage, and locked up. Our pre-pandemic life seemed to be a far away memory of another life. Some of us did nothing except sit, sleep and wait until this whole thing is over. Others used this uncertain period to discover themselves and make the best out of the situation. Theatre director Berger Capati bravely staged his play Tago when everyone was ambivalent about going to the theatres. Katrina Oamil, Eduard Caringal Amber Ocampo are three teens who used the lockdown to pursue their creative potentials. We are also thrilled to tell more exciting stories of our expats based in Germany, Switzerland, and Singapore. So dear readers, welcome back to The Filipino Expat Magazine. We hope you enjoy our first issue, and we are excited to share more stories of our expat journey. Let´s celebrate reLife without the need to go back to our past and fix our blunders. We have our full life ahead of us. Let´s wear that big smile and give the pandemic the middle finger because soon, this is going to be over.

Nats Sisma Villaluna Editor-in-chief #13 2021 | THE FILIPINO



Made for summer

Wataru France Espadrilles


By Dheza Aguilar

Courtesy of Angelique Villaraza

t first glance, they look like your regular espadrilles, the kind of shoes that the French and Spanish fashion sets pull out of their closets once summer temperatures hit Europe. But if you take a closer look, they remind you of something unmistakably familiar and distinctively Filipino, the colorful tsinelas of Liliw. That is because these espadrilles are indeed made in Liliw, Laguna, the tsinelas capital of the Philippines. Marrying the craftsmanship of Filipino artisanal shoemakers with refined Japanese design, Wataru France is the French retailer of Wataru Philippines. In 2017, Filipina expat Angelique Villaraza Dominici brought the brand to Première Classe, the highly attended trade show at the Paris Fashion Week. Since then, the brand has reached several boutiques in Europe including Spain, Italy, Greece,


Denmark, Belgium, and all the way to Canada. “When I moved to France, I realized that many Europeans were unfamiliar with Philippine fashion, a vibrant industry I reveled in during my years in Manila. My intention was to make Europe familiar with Filipino creativity,” said Villaraza. Before venturing into importing Filipino fashion products, Villaraza worked for L’Oréal Philippines. She moved to France in 2006 and THE FILIPINO | #13 2021

completed her master’s degree in Luxury Brand Management in Paris. Among the brands she has imported to France are googoo&gaga children’s wear. Wataru espadrilles are made of canvas and abaca or banana fiber, making these shoes not only unique but also very sustainable since all materials are biodegradable. Products from Liliw, Laguna are already known for their durability and Wataru France ensures that their shoes also passed European standards. “The Philippines has a long hand weaving tradition. The town of Liliw in particular, is known for their skill in shoemaking. What started out as a nipa hut with two artisans, developed into a compound with 40 employees living and working together to make export quality shoes. The factory owner works together with the Department of Trade and Industry and exhibits in Manila Fame, a highly edited tradeshow for


export products. All these details combined assure me of quality results. But not until I took the risk and exhibited sample shoes at a Paris tradeshow, did I confirm that their workmanship passes European standards.” Villaraza is referring to Corazon Coligado, owner of Ai-She Footwear, which specializes in manufacturing espadrilles from high-grade abaca fiber. Fashion stylist Luis Espiritu introduced the two women, and from then on, a collaboration was born. Despite their high quality, shoe designs made in Liliw do not appeal to buyers in fashion capitals like Paris. One reason is because the artisans making them are not familiar with the European taste, nor able to travel or attend trade shows outside the Philippines. Through the help of Manila-based Japanese designer Wataru Sakuma, more refined designs were introduced to shoemakers, becoming an instant hit to the Manila fashion set. “It was this set of Watarudesigned shoes that I presented

at the Paris Première Classe show. I could have created another brand name but simply had no time. I placed the samples in my suitcase, arrived at the tradeshow venue and announced they were called Wataru. When I realized that European buyers in general liked the sound of “Wataru”, I kept the name and registered “Wataru France” with the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization),” added Villaraza. Four years into her journey of showcasing Filipino artisanal shoes in Europe, Villaraza has stayed true to her no-nonsense approach to business. She lets the products speak for themselves, and in the case of Wataru France, the shoes are particularly popular with French and Spanish consumers. Boutiques selling her shoes love the simple packaging, which comes in raw, cartoon boxes. Villaraza does not spend on marketing and Wataru France does not even have its own website, although she is actively promoting her products on Facebook and Instagram. In the future, she is looking to bring more Filipino brands in other product categories to Europe. Wataru France espadrilles cost between €75 - €85. Order them online via www.wataru. or visit their stockists in Italy, France, Spain and Greece, revendeurs-stockists.

Fun fact about espadrilles Espadrilles are rope-soled shoes that were first made in Southern France and Spain in 1332. Its name was derived from espardenya, the Catalan name of the esparto grass fiber, where it was originally made of. Espadrilles were considered peasants footwear, during the time when rich Europeans wore leather and silk shoes. They were cheap to produce and were made to last. Espadrilles are typically made of natural fibers like esparto or jute grasses with the upper part made of textiles like canvass or leather. They come in different styles – flats, slingbacks, slip-ons, or mules. Perhaps the most popular is the wedge-heel, thanks to French designer Yves Saint Laurent, who launched the otherwise unknown footwear in the 70’s. Production of espadrilles is labor-intensive even at the age where braiding machines are already available. Making espadrilles still involves manual labor, because of the complicated braiding technique of the ropes.

But because of their natural, breathable materials, espadrilles are preferred for their comfort and durability, making them the perfect summer shoes.

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Up close and personal with Austria’s darling


By Dheza Aguilar

Courtesy of Vincent Bueno

incent Bueno, 35, is a grateful man. Whenever

he talks about his musical journey, he does not forget to acknowledge his father, who inspired him to make music, and the people who helped him become the first Asian to compete at the Eurovision Song Festival. Born in Austria to Ilocano parents, Bueno is no stranger to life’s punches. Six years ago, he and his wife Charity Grace, lost their newborn baby to anencephaly, and recently one of his closest nieces, Rachel, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Year 2020 gave Bueno a double punch. He was to represent Austria at the Eurovision Song Festival, perhaps the biggest break in his music career in Europe, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the entire world, halting everything, including Eurovision. To end an already difficult year, a terrorist randomly started shooting people in Vienna, where Vincent and his family live, sowing additional fear to everyone’s heart. Through all of these,

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Bueno turned to music for healing. He spent countless hours in Suitcase Media, his studio in Vienna, producing music, and pouring his hearts out to his lyrics. For Bueno, 2021 is provision time. “Once you become aware that everything is a gift from God, gratitude will naturally flow from your heart. And when you went through so many hardships, you just appreciate the other side of the coin. Five years ago, I was a nobody, I felt like people did not even listen to me. Now 200 million people have listened

“Once you become aware that everything is a gift from God, gratitude will naturally flow from your heart. And when you went through so many hardships, you just appreciate the other side of the coin. “

Left: Performing Amen at the Eurovision 2021. Right: Wearing Barong Tagalog in front of the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam.

to my music. How can you not say thank you?” Bueno was raised with strict Filipino and Catholic values. His mother, a nurse, is a disciplinarian, while his father is more liberal. Yet, like any Filipino kid, Bueno was not able to avoid the belt. Did your parents also hit you in the bottoms? Bueno laughs in the most infectious way. “Three times, by my father, buckle included. That is when I knew I fucked up, that I did something really wrong. I was a teenager, and I was cutting classes. I have always been a little rebellious. I had a double life going. I was a member of the Youth for Christ. I was this (good) guy during the day, and at night I was like the devil.” He recalls memories of trying to warn his Austrian friends about the smelly sauces in the house or introducing them to dinuguan. While his childhood memories were generally happy, he was not able to escape racism. Bueno’s reaction was to just swallow everything. “I was sometimes very depressed, but I could not express it. It was painful, to be called names like Chinese chinchangchung. It takes a

toll on your heart as a child.” Now that he is more secure about who he is, Bueno has found the courage to call out racism whenever he encounters them. And he is bent on shielding his children from it. The Bueno couple teaches their children about racism and encourages them to tell them if they feel attacked. “I’m aware that not every parent takes care of the behavior of their children, but I take care of mine. Once I feel that my daughters are threatened or bullied, I want to be there as a father.” Being the son of a professional musician, Bueno was naturally drawn to music. At 11, he could already play four instruments. He went on to study at the Vienna Conservatory of Music, finishing a degree in Music and Performing Arts when he was 22. As a versatile performer, Bueno can switch from pop to classic. In 2007 he was part of Austria’s Musical! Die Show, singing classical pieces from Phantom of the Opera to Miss Saigon and Mary Poppins. He earned praises from Philippine theatre veterans, calling him a phenomenon. Did your parents ever discourage you from being a musician?

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Top: Bueno with wife Charity Grace and their daughters Kezzy and Krista. Bottom left: The couple met in the Philippines. Right: Bueno keeping in touch with his loved ones back home in his hotel room in Rotterdam.

Bueno amusingly recalls his mother saying, “Follow your dreams, do what you want, but consider doing something more intelligent, something serious.” He would sometimes tell his mom that he was considering becoming a nurse, and she would quip, “Finally, my son is becoming matinó.” Bueno’s parents have always been supportive of his ambitions. When he was young, Bueno was a regular performer at Filipino parties and events. Within the Filipino community in Austria, Bueno is known as Mr. Gary Vienna, a play on the name of popular Filipino singer Gary Valenciano. Even at an early age, he already knew that he belongs to the stage. “I felt like it was my destiny, I felt like I belonged there to entertain people.” His father is perhaps, most proud of


him for representing Filipino talent on a prestigious European stage. Vincent forayed into the Philippine music scene in 2010, which included guesting in variety show ASAP XV, mini concerts and even managed to release a successful single called Party Hard. But his career in the Philippines was short-lived. “I had such a hard time when I was in the Philippines, particularly with embracing the culture. The Filipino concept of pakikisama (trying to get along) was new to me and I felt like I was faking it. I was not yet settled in my personality. I was very insecure, and I was still searching for my style. I found it difficult to fit in.” Eventually Vincent learned the quirks of Filipino culture. And at the same time, he met his wife Charity Grace. A singer, theater actress and model, Charity Grace was the

voice behind the young Princess Kiara in Disney’s Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride. She also played the lead role in the musical Annie in the Philippines. Charity Grace now makes up the half of The Buenos singing duo with her husband. “I never imagined marrying a Filipina. How I could find somebody who would really like me (being) a crazy dude that I am. We met at a time when I had no money at all. We went through literally nothing, we were stretching our last pesos so we could eat.” The couple has been together for nine years and their marriage has produced three children, Kezzy, Samantha and Krista. Like normal couples they also went through tough times, particularly because of their backgrounds. Although both were born to Filipino parents, Bueno was raised in a European environment while Charity Grace

“I really feel that my purpose is to be used for the better of humanity. I don’t want to say that I want to change the world, but I want to use this God-given talent to make the world a better place.”

grew up in Seattle, Washington. Culture clash was inevitable. Bueno reveals that they went to several couple’s therapy sessions to fix their differences. “It’s a rollercoaster ride with my wife but there are no relationships that are harmonious all the time. We are very honest to each other. This honesty between husband and wife is so important. It’s important to ask your partner, how do you need me, how do I need you?” According to Bueno, humor is one reason why they are still together. Having multiple cultural influences, they automatically switch to their quirky Filipino personalities and accents whenever a fight is brewing. Laughing with each other usually prevents a fullblown fight. “It’s sad if you can’t laugh with your partner.” How are you as a husband? “I learned the love language of

my wife, the do’s and dont’s of our relationship. I am more into affirmation, for my partner to assure me that she loves me. I am practical. Gifts are not my love language. Some people need to give, some people need time, some need physical. I am very physical.” Bueno says his wife knows how precious his fans are to him. But he does not give her any reason to be jealous, just full access to his Instagram account. As a family man, Bueno is a doting father, who melts at the sweetest request from his daughters. He wants to believe that he is strict when necessary, especially when teaching respect to his daughters. He wants to bring more authenticity to his music. He is also embracing more of his Filipino identity and wants to use his platform to introduce the Filipino culture to Austria. This month, Bueno became the Goodwill Ambassador of the Philippine Austrian Cultural & Educational Society

(PACES) for 2021-2022. At 35, he already knows his purpose. “I don’t want to sound preachy, but I really feel that my purpose is to be used for the better of humanity. I don’t want to say that I want to change the world, but I want to use this God-given talent to make the world a better place.” In one interview, Bueno said that his versatility was partly a result of not being fully accepted, in neither countries nor in the music world. Do you feel more accepted after Eurovision? “Representing Austria and the Philippines is such a big honor, especially for the Filipino community. I really felt their support. It was also a statement from Austria, from our television broadcaster. While they see me as an artist, not as a Filipino, they could have been bashed, or could have chosen a full-bloodied Austrian. I feel more accepted now. But you will never change the world in one day.”

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Maria Clara N

o matter where I am in the world, whenever I introduce myself as a Filipino, I usually get a reply like, “The only Filipinos I know are the ones working in my friend’s house and the ones working on the cruise ships I took”. This stereotype has been largely created thanks to the programs of the Philippine government. From Ferdinand Marcos’ Overseas Contract Workers (OCWs) to Gloria Arroyo’s Supermaids, the Philippines has become the largest labor exporter in the world. According to the data from the World

Bank, OFW remittance amounts to an average 10% of the Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP), highest in 2005 at 12.7%. Our people have become our biggest export product. But Filipino migrant women have proven that domestic helpers are only job titles and should not be limiting. They might be househelpers on one hand, and businesswomen on the other, carers by weekdays and photographers in the weekends, cleaners by day, students by night. I interviewed three modern Filipinas in Germany, whose works embody Filipino strength and talent, inspiring others to dream bigger.

By Justine Grace Abrugena

Trailblazing Filipina expats in Germany challenging the stereotypes of Filipino immigrants.

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Mary Lou: The Pioneer She has become one of the most-widely published Filipinos in Germany, particularly about Filipino migrants, women and life as an expat. She has written, among others, Filipino Women Migrants in Germany, TransEuroExpress: Filipinas in Europe, Wie Frauen auf den Philippinen leben, Philippinen: Paradies in Aufruhr, Filipinos on the move — Wir setzen auf Integration, Partizipation und Empowerment. She has published countless essays both in English and German.


ary Lou Hardillo is a pioneer of the Filipino feminist movement in Germany. Her advocacy started in the 80’s after she saw an advertisement in a German newspaper depicting Filipino and Asian women as “submissive, sweet and naïve women for rich German men.” She called the paper to express her anger and indignation. Since then, she has made it her mission to push for feminist awareness in Germany and sought like-minded individuals to further her advocacy in women’s rights. “I participated in townhalls, workshops, seminars, interacted with the local community. I wanted to let the German public know we were not like that at all, that one cannot put people in boxes. I talked to them about our Filipino culture, about the power of the Filipino women in the household, in the family, of the precolonial Filipino woman.” In 1992, together with other Filipino feminists in Europe, they founded Babaylan, a network support system that aims to unite Filipinas in Europe, provide support and address a wide range of issues affecting women, from physical and sexual abuse, racism, sexism, and discrimination. They facilitate workshops, provide skill trainings, and organize campaigns pushing for participatory roles of women in society building. The network runs on voluntary basis and that all of them have their respective primary jobs. Hardillo herself was working as intercultural mediator and court translator. “We have no office, no financial

capacity as an organization, it is a do-ityourself undertaking. There’s no money for strong women,” she laments. Her involvement in the feminist movement eventually caused Hardillo her job.

In 2007, Lotis K., a 33-year-old Filipina suddenly disappeared after a series of arguments with her husband. She was in a middle of a divorce case and a fierce custody battle for their 4-year old son. The prosecutors of Cologne charged Lotis K.’s husband, along with his brother and sister, with murder despite the absence of a corpse. Hardillo was the official court translator. At the final stage of the case, Hardillo was accused of conflict of interest. At that time, she was the chairperson of Babaylan. The court declared her biased, and in 2012, she lost her job. It was a depressing period for Hardillo but despite the challenges, she continued fighting for women’s rights. She has become one of the most-widely published Filipinos in Germany, particularly about Filipino migrants, women and life as an expat. She has written, among others, Filipino Women Migrants in Germany, TransEuroExpress: Filipinas in Europe, Wie Frauen auf den Philippinen leben, Philippinen: Paradies in Aufruhr, Filipinos on the move — Wir setzen auf Integration, Partizipation und Empowerment. She has published countless essays both in English and German. In 2020 she was nominated for the first Else Falk Prize, an award for the extraordinary achievements in the field of gender equality in Cologne. She did not win but for her, it was a recognition of her commitment and sacrifices advocating for Filipino migrants and women’s rights for more than 30 years.

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Kay: The Artist “I am a filmmaker. I moved to Europe to explore my art. In Spain, I felt that there was a glass ceiling for Filipinos, for people who came from “colonized” lands. I wanted to go to a country that did not have that kind of history with us. Germany fits the bill and Berlin offers a unique charm for art and creativity.”


ay Abaño is a Filipina artist and filmmaker currently based in Berlin.

She started her expat journey in 2004, when she pursued Cinematography at the TAI Escuela Universitaria de Artes in Madrid. She moved to Barcelona in 2007 and stayed for six years. Abaño got involved with the vibrant Filipino migrant communities in Spain, widening her interest in migration and human displacement. Immigration and borders became her muses. “I have deep admiration for our Filipino migrant workers, this admiration strengthened my passion and drive for my art”. Migrants are common subject of her visual arts. Interacting with migrants made her political. She realized that art can be a platform to criticize the system that pushes migrants and other marginalized people out. In nine years, she captured hundreds of hours of footage of Filipino migrants in Spain. Her short documentary New Heroes was nominated at the 8th AegeanDocs International Documentary Film Festival 2020 in Greece. To Abaño, art is an immediate and accessible way to communicate complicated subjects, a platform for stories that she feels need to be told. “Art gives a chance to say something without being too academic, it comes from a layman’s perspective. It has the power to

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move people, to magnify, show things that are unspeakable or overlooked.” Abaño moved to Germany in 2013,

to explore Berlin’s booming art scene and expand her creative network. “I am a filmmaker. I moved to Europe to explore my art. In Spain, I felt that there was a glass ceiling for Filipinos, for people who came from “colonized” lands. I wanted to go to a country that did not have that kind of history with us. Germany fits the bill and Berlin offers a unique charm for art and creativity.” Despite her success, Abaño admits that funding is still her biggest challenge. “It is not easy for artists to make money. That is also why I moved to Berlin. Germany funds art.” She does not want to discourage Filipinos from pursuing arts. She believes that Pinoys are talented, but privilege can play a huge role in pursuing arts. Filipinos are restricted by financial capacity but it should not stop us from exploring and showing what we can. “It’s not a question of whether we are at par with other nationalities. The quality and substance of our work is richer and more informed because of what we must go through as a nation, as people. We have talents and skills. But how do we get to where we want (as an artist) while also feeding our family? These limitations don’t normally hinder our white Western counterparts.”



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Rosa: The Scholar Activist

osa Castillo arrived in Germany in September 2011 to pursue her doctoral studies in anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin, where she received a summa cum laude distinction. She is currently a research and teaching staff at the Institute for Asian and African Studies at the renowned Humboldt University in Berlin — the only Filipina in the institute’s faculty. It is very hard to get an academic position in Germany, she explains. And

even harder if one is a scholar of color and a woman. Positions like hers are non-tenured. She is very critical of this system of exclusion and precarity and insists that this needs to change. When she first arrived in Berlin, she was surprised by the lack of engagement with Philippine studies. This motivated her to form the Philippine Studies Series Berlin in 2014, with the help of Filipino friends. Inspired by a similar initiative at the University of British Columbia, the Series is a volunteer-run platform for lectures, discussions, and art and film events on the Philippines, Filipina/o/x, and the diaspora. Starting the platform was challenging, she says. They had no funding and no regular venue. In time, the Series eventually became more visible and active and they were able to acquire funding for certain activities. However, Castillo highlights that, more than funding, the success of the Series is due to the spirit of bayanihan, of solidarity. Castillo is also active in other initiatives, such as decolonizing knowledge production and

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the academe. Recently, she and colleagues at Freie Universität Berlin won the International Research Marketing Ideas Competition Prize of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research for the project “Affect and Colonialism.” It was not easy to get to where she is right now. Regardless of the success of her endeavors, Castillo fought for and worked hard for her place in a white, and male dominated field. A big problem in academia, she says, is the struggle for recognition for the work that scholars of color do. She shares that her scholarly work has been

ROSA CORDILLERA CASTILLO A big problem in academia, she says, is the struggle for recognition of the work that scholars of color do. She shares that her “scholarly work has been disparaged as patriotic, as only focused on the Philippines, and without any broader disciplinary or theoretical impact or relevance.”

disparaged as patriotic, as only focused on the Philippines, and without any broader disciplinary or theoretical impact or relevance. “A white academic working on the global South will rarely be accused of having no theoretical relevance. I am not the only one who has experienced disparagement of our capabilities and our contributions just because we are a scholar of color.” This criticism is even more frustrating because she believes that Filipino scholars are often well-trained. Yet, she says, “this kind of training is not really recognized here, not only due to inequalities in valuing knowledge produced in the global North versus the global South, but also because of different systems of crediting academic work.” Castillo’s story is an inspiration to continue the fight for recognition and equality; to assert that we aren’t lesser than our white and male peers; to help change the system of exclusion and inequality. Indeed, Filipinos are more than the box that the world continues to put us in.

By Nats Sisma Villaluna

By Pepe Chavez


LEXANDRA´s PLATFORM Barcelona-born Filipina actress takes her rostrum and bares her soul.

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“To be Filipina is to be human.” Alexandra Masangkay, 29, does not mince words. Her conviction and tenacity are far from the shy 17-year-old I met ten years ago. It is impressive how she managed to become the first Filipino actress to star in a string of major Spanish movies. Sitting a few feet apart from each other, following the social distancing rules in Spain, we are in the center of Barcelona. Masangkay was able to squeeze this tête-à-tête before she returns to Madrid. She is wearing no make-up, but she radiates a buoyant energy as she reflects on her journey as an actress. I met Masangkay in 2010 before her stint at the Spanish reality show Operación Triunfo. I was part of a group tasked to mobilize people to vote for her. She was already a familiar figure in the Pinoy community in Barcelona, having won Miss Catalonia 2009 and her constant participation in Filcom events. She never dreamed of becoming an actress. She wanted to be an engineer. She thought that was what would make her parents happy. Everything took a sudden turn when, unbeknownst to her parents, she decided to audition for Operatión Triunfo. She got in, united the Filipino community in Spain to root for her, placed fourth in the finals and ended up discovering a newfound passion. After Operación Triunfo, Masangkay´s showbiz career seemed ready to take off. But after one recorded single and some shows here and there, it went on taxiing and never lifted off. She went back to school and studied Chemical Engineering at the Universidad Polytécnica de Catalunya, complying with her parents´ wish of getting a diploma. For two years, she played the role of a dutiful student, believing that this was her future. But she could not find her focus. She was restless, something was missing in her life. One day Dreamland, a new TV musical called. They were looking for an actress to be part of the show. She immediately moved to Madrid. Dreamland opened a new world for Masangkay. She underwent rigorous trainings, including dance workshops, acting classes, singing, and song writing sessions. When Dreamland folded, Masangkay decided to give up her studies. Performing was now her catharsis. Dreamland inspired Alex to hone her

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“In acting, you need to know where your starting point is. When you run in a race, you must know where the punto de salida is, where you are. Otherwise, you cannot compete.”

craft. She studied acting at the Centro del Actor in Madrid. “In acting, you need to know where your starting point is. When you run in a race, you must know where the punto de salida is, where you are. Otherwise, you cannot compete.” Masangkay’s punto de salida is being a daughter of Filipino immigrants.

“I started to see what it is to be a Filipina in Spain.” Punto de Salida Masangkay was born in Barcelona, to Felix and Fhe Masangkay who hail from Mabini, Batangas. She and her younger brother were raised with strong Filipino values.


“My father used to remind us that as long as we were under their care, we had to follow his rules.” She grew up close to the Pinoy community in Barcelona. In fact, her extracurricular activities included singing in a Filipino choir and attending Saturday classes with Iskwelang Pinoy, the educational arm of Centro Filipino where third generation Filipino children learn about Philippine history and culture. Being aware of her roots, she knew she needed

to integrate. “I realized that all my life, I simply wanted to fit in. I always had this necessity to get on well with everybody, so I won’t feel discriminated.” She considers herself lucky though that she had never experienced outright discrimination. She confesses that her social awareness only came in her twenties. “I was fortunate that I had a Filipino community behind me. I never felt alone. I talked #13 2021 | THE FILIPINO


to some Filipinos from different parts of Spain, and they told me that they felt different because in some schools, they did not have Asian or Filipino friends. They were the odd men out.” She believes that Iskwelang Pinoy is a good base for Filipinos born in Spain, making them feel secure about their identity, and teaching them how to embrace both their Filipino and Catalan sides. When Masangkay arrived in Madrid, she was constantly asked where she was from. She knew that the question was not malicious, so she would just reply as politely as she could. She always feels obliged to explain why she looks foreign, which she thinks is unnecessary. For her, she was born in Barcelona, she speaks Catalan and Spanish, she is a local.

“The problem is that I look different. I have different values. I am not just any other individual who doesn’t look Spanish, I am a person.” She does not want to highlight her being Filipino, and say, “I am better than you. Or being Spanish is better than me. I was born here but my parents are from the Philippines.”

From top to bottom:

Alexandra as Teresa in 1898: Los Ultimos de Filipinas. As Kiki in Flashdance. As Miharu in El Hoyo. Left: Playing Alexandra in Dreamland.

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Being Teresa In 2015, Masangkay called me to ask if I had a Filipiniana costume to lend her. She was auditioning for a movie. Bent on nailing the role, she left no stone unturned. She studied her mother´s Tagalog accent, wore a Filipiniaňa at her day job as a shop assistant and practiced her accent with her clients every day. Masangkay clinched the part. The movie 1898: Los últimos de Filipinas (Our last men in the Philippines) was directed by Salvador Calvo, about the last days of the war for 54 Spanish soldiers caught


“Teresa was a fighter. I am not. She had an ego that I did not have. It was the first time for me to go without makeup. At 23, I realized that it was okay to show my real skin and my imperfections. It was difficult but empowering. I learned to accept my body.” #13 2021 | THE FILIPINO



inside San Luis Obispo de Tolosa church, trying to defend themselves from Filipino revolutionaries in Baler, Quezon. It starred Spain’s award-winning actor Luis Tosar. Masangkay played Teresa, a young Filipino lass caught in the middle of a war, treated as an object, but who used her animal instincts to survive. The role was a learning process for Masangkay.

“Teresa was a fighter. I am not. She had an ego that I did not have. It was the first time for me to go without makeup. I had always worn make-up in my life. At 23, I realized that it was okay to show my real skin and my imperfections. It was difficult but empowering.” Teresa did not wear bra either. “I know that bras are worn to help but since I am not gifted with big pecho, I

don’t need them. Teresa was always barefoot too. I learned to accept my body.” Teresa was for her, a revolution. As a woman, she doesn´t need cosmetics nor corsets to feel validated. Masangkay´s baptism of fire was a sex scene with Luis Tosar. “I started to ask myself if I wanted to do it. My parents would watch this. I was not prepared psychologically.” After some soul-searching, she agreed to do the scene, but in the end, it was deleted. The film garnered 9 nominations at the Goya awards. Masangkay’s debut performance did not go

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“During the pandemic, we realized that anything could happen anytime. Everything can change in an instant. We must be conscious of our choices. I don´t know what is going to happen in the future. But actors are resilient, we always look for alternatives. If it means performing in the streets like in the old times, we would do it.” unnoticed, her role was meaty and memorable. She also sang the movie’s theme song. On a personal level, the film inspired her to take time to read Rizal´s Noli me tangere and a chance to visit Baler, Philippines. Entering the hole Masangkay´s second film came two years after her first. But it would make history as the

most popular non-English film in Netflix history, with 56 million views in four weeks. “El Hoyo” (The Hole or The Platform), is a grotesque building with unknown levels, two prisoners live on each floor. A grand buffet is sent down to feed all the occupants. Those on the upper floors enjoy the food first, then it goes further down to the unfortunate inhabitants of the lower floors, who are forced to eat leftovers or worse, nothing - a gruesome allegory of the current state of our society. Masangkay played Miharu, an Asian with no specific nationality. At the audition, she brought out the wild animal in her by jumping and screaming on top of the table. Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, said in one of his interviews, that he originally had a different take on the character but decided to adapt Masangkay’s intuitive interpretation. Miharu is a mentally challenged woman. “I love my character because of her maternal side. There is a little girl living in El Hoyo and I decided to take care of her.” The film earned critical praise for being bold and thoughtprovoking. Masangkay is grateful for her role. During filming, she was Miharu, not Alex, she lived

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her character, and discovered Miharu’s power and potency. “It´s disgusting to be a woman in El Hoyo. They think that she is weak but it´s not true. Why is it surprising that she kills? Why is she called a murderer and not a survivor? Is it because she is crazy? I don´t think so. It´s because the system feels threatened by a woman. “ A smooth flight and some turbulence Masangkay´s career finally took off. In between filming, she founded Lapu-lapu, an acting studio for actors of all ages. She also took up classical and jazz dance classes, which led Alex to the roles of Kiki and Alice Owens in Flashdance, a musical which toured Spain.

“Learning jazz dance was a self-discovery. I realized that one has limits because we put limits on ourselves. I do not know where my limit is, but I know that my fears have limited me. These fears are cultural, from the system, from our education.” Masangkay was in the middle of her tour when the pandemic broke out. COVID-19 paralyzed the whole entertainment industry. Left with no choice, she decided to disconnect. She focused her energy on yoga and drawing. She reflected on her life too. Her relationship with her parents has become stronger, especially with her mother. “During the pandemic, we realized that anything could happen anytime. Everything can change in an instant. We must be conscious of our choices. I don´t know what is going to happen in the future. But actors are resilient, we always look for alternatives. If it means performing in the streets like in the old times, we would do it.” Through the film industry, Masangkay can speak her mind. She has a platform, but it comes with a responsibility. She is optimistic that change will happen, and proud to be part of the process.

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But she hopes that the industry will realize that positive discrimination is not the way forward. Actors of colours should no longer be used as fillers or tokens to comply with the concept of diversity. She hopes that the industry will start humanizing these people. “How many films or series tell

the lives of immigrants living in Spain? Maybe someday, Spanish films will start to dig deeper on the characters of people with diverse backgrounds.” She wants to see more active Filipino actors in Spain in the future. Her advice to those who want to become professional actors.

“Go to an acting school, continue learning, but keep another job on the side. Acting is not a stable job. We formed Lapu-lapu acting studio to offer affordable trainings and a safe network for actors.” She and her group started “El Encuentro de las Brujas, composed of different actresses coming from

“One day I want to tell the story of my mother. How she came here, how brave she was. She is like a superhero. I want Spain to know her story.”

the audio-visual world in Spain. They give classes and lectures on feminism and anti-racism. Actresses from different nationalities are welcome. “Actors should be socially aware because we represent the society.” Masangkay has finally found her balance, as an artist and a person. She knows who she is, where she is, where she is going. And now she wants to inspire young Asian artists and empower them to become who they want to be. “One day I want to tell the story of my mother. How she came here, how brave she was. Sending money home. She is like a superhero. I want Spain to know her story.” Now that restrictions are slowly being lifted, Masangkay returns to shooting. She is starting another film with Luis Tosar, “Proyecto Emperador” and will soon shoot a TV series for Amazon. She also finished a short film called Madilim, Lapu-lapu’s first film production. The turbulence has calmed down. Alexandra Masangkay is here to enjoy the flight.



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Sugbu: An Extract


By King Macachor

ing Macachor came to Spain 35 years ago. Born in Cebu City, Philippines, he has been writing since college. Ernest Hemingway, Dan Brown and Stephen King are his favourite authors. After SUGBU, he has written four more novels. Below is an excerpt of his first novel. Daniel and Jonas shaved, cut their hair short and made themselves look human. After taking a refreshing dip in the sea, they strolled arround the village, hoping to find some souvenirs. Some of the stalls folded up for the day. They had had enough. Those which were still opened were food stalls whose owners were hoping to have a last ditch for their perishables. Hanging in most of these food stalls were yellow coco leaves woven into heart shaped receptacles which definitely contained food. Strange, they thought. “¿Cual son?” Daniel was curious of what they were. “Pusó,” said one stall owners smiling. In their curiosity they cut one in half and saw that it was rice inside, white as the sky tainted by a shade of yellow, from the coco leaves. Back in Seville, Jonas remembered a Chinese who once told him that there were a hundred ways of preparing rice. you could have it with tomato sauce, rice cooked in bamboos, wrapped in banana leaves, cooked in charcoal, in a pot or just plain rice. And then there´s paella, Shanghai rice, Indian rice, so on and so forth, he didn´t have any ideas what they were. Two entirely unique individuals from two different spectrums, personalities from different angles and dimensions who were meant to converge at a common point in time and place, to

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give meaning into each other´s lives. Destiny would have been different if the King of Spain had not been interested in financially supporting the voyage. Their fate would have gone in different direction if Jonas

hadn´t made it to the ship. He wouldn´t have found the princess of his dreams. Meanwhile, his Ilang-ilang was out there doing the usual things she was doing. It took an hour to cross the sea from her island to Sugbo, and she only came when she had to go to the market or visit her cousins where life was never dull. Even ordinary people


crossed this short trip every day to get their supplies which were not readily available in her place, especially things new and trendy which came ahead for a month. His heart virtually ached with an overwhelming feeling of the most profound longing to see her again. Today not even her shadow appeared, and Jonas missed her.

Q&A with the author: What inspired you to write SUGBO? SUGBO was the original native name of Cebu. When Magellan found the island, his scribe in the caravel inadvertently wrote Cebu in his logbook, certainly due to difference in the new sounds. The sound of the old name kept ringing in my head when I saw it written somewhere. I

got inspired writing SUGBO because someone must tell the story. I did a research on Magellan´s route to find the Spice Island. The events in SUGBO are written chronically based on the actual places he landed on. The National library in Madrid was my source. Was the story of Jonas and Ilang-Ilang based on real events?

All of it evolved purely from imagination. Ferdinand Magellan´s fleet was in Sugbo for a total of 28 days only, before leaving for the Spice Island. A few days which culminated his untimely death. Common sense would show us that he died not because of his imposition of Catholicism to the people, nor was it because he forcefully asked them to pay taxes. This reasoning is absurd. Rajah Humabon, the ruler, would not permit foreigners to do that. The story of Jonas falling head over heels with Lapu-lapu´s daughter came to mind. The chieftain was against this relationship. He did everything within his power to stop it. This is what fiction can do to one´s imagination. Some may say that Jonas’ actions and decisions were a bit rash and impulsive. Do you think the same? Hard times and no jobs prompted young people to try their luck by jumping ship and joining the long voyage. If a young man bumped into a real princess and fall in love with her, he would stay or find a way to be with her. His action was of course rash and impulsive. But this is a bitter example

“If you have the knack for knitting words together, start writing seriously. Do some lessons on the internet and learn more. Do not stop learning.”

of a love that is blind. Can you give a brief description of Ilang-Ilang’s society before the arrival of the Spaniards? Her progenitors originated from a village in the North of Borneo. They were simple people who lived from agriculture and fishing. As time went by, they had grown in numbers. Their place in Sandakan became smaller. So, they had to move to the north and spread all over the land of Mindanao and the Visayan region. Her family settled in what is now called Mactan. What was your reaction to the public´s response to the book? Happy would be a wrong description. Happiness would make you stop doing it because of

contentment. I continued. I wrote the second book because there was a feeling of déjà vu. And I did not stop writing until I finished my fifth book. What books can you recommend to those who are interested in the pre-colonial society and Magellan´s voyage? My advice is for the readers to go to National libraries and do some research. What advice can you give to upcoming writers? If you have the knack for knitting words together, start writing seriously. Go to some lessons on the internet and learn more. Do not stop learning for someday you will eventually find your niche. What have you learned from living in Spain? Spain is a beautiful country. It is full of history. The food is excellent, and the people are friendly. Half of my life has been spent in this marvellous place and learning the hidden subterfuges of the culture makes me wonder if there are still other things to learn from them.

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By Jocy Cuatriz Arcilla


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Fearless and Fabulous Pinay expat D onna Avellana Künzler, selfpublished author of THE OVERSEAS FABULOUS PINAY: A modern

Filipina’s handbook on how to thrive abroad, was born and raised in Cavite, Philippines. An Accounting graduate from De La Salle University and a post graduate degree in the offing, make for a truly meritorious academic background for this Certified Public Accountant. Künzler is also an expert system auditor and program manager. The reluctant OFW Looking back to when it all

began, Künzler relates, “It was never really my ambition to work and live overseas but being at the receiving end of a very attractive offer, made me realize it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.” And so, her journey kickstarted in 2001 when she relocated for work in Singapore. And she has not looked back since. This fearless and fabulous Pinay believes that when an opportunity knocks on your door, you invite it to stay for dinner. Künzler bravely stepped out of the safe confines of her comfort zone, while helping change the narrative of the typical Filipino overseas workers along the way. Hers is a colorful story of

the modern- day quintessential Filipina, who has proven that women can do just about everything they set their minds to do and do it while breastfeeding. The Lion City At 23, Künzler bravely embarked on a life changing journey as a “foreigner” in a neighboring country. This ultimately transformed this Caviteña into a citizen of the world. The local customs and culture of Singapore are a blend of multiple ethnic influences (Chinese, Malay, Indian and others). This was Künzler´s first stop of many, a witness to the


This fun and easy read pays homage to a beautiful journey that spanned 19 years across three continents, four countries, and five cities.

dauntless bravery of a beginner corporate executive ready to take on the world. The only caveat is that there was no ketchup served on her French fries from this point onwards. Künzler had to get used to the abundant use of chili sauce and peppers and to Singapore’s humidity. The Golden State There is no avoiding the inevitable – when one realizes that Singapore is too small a

place for a woman with Künzler’s larger than life personality and impressive paper credentials. Her journey continues to the country of endless opportunities, United States of America. To Künzler, San Jose, California was home for a year. The stint was short and sweet, and even though she had fully embraced the live-in-a-suitcase lifestyle as a financial consultant, working ridiculous hours could be exhausting, even more so when everyone seemed to be playing the who-has-the-mostdemanding-job game without any respite from the hurried and harried life. Crossing the pond Moving to London from the US brought plenty of excitement to Künzler’s life. The old “work hard, party harder” feels particularly apt in this town. You work hard, but not too hard. Here, she was happy to work late on a deadline, but she was equally happy to decamp to the pub with colleagues when the clock struck 5! And while a long-distance relationship may have first catalyzed this move, Künzler would soon fall in love

with the simple warmth and wit of the British people and their exciting pub lifestyle. Four great years spent in a foreign country so diverse it has become a strong favorite in Künzler’s book. Settle in Zurich Moving from one European country’s largest city to another was both mind-broadening and challenging for Künzler to say the least. Ending up in Switzerland (Basel and now Zurich) is the cherry on top, a perfect finish to this colorful journey. Living in a stunning country where life is clean, safe and affluent with her Swiss husband and her 1-yearold daughter, makes it easier to admit that just maybe she has finally put down roots, where the once elusive sense of permanence is now felt and embraced.

A fabulous handbook Perhaps one of the most prominent milestones in Künzler´s life to date is having successfully authored and published a comprehensive, engaging, easy-to-read handbook especially written and designed to benefit Filipino women as they transition to working and living abroad. This fun and easy read pays homage to a beautiful journey that spanned 19 years across three continents, four countries, and five cities. This insightful writer is genuinely wanting to help her fellow Filipinas succeed in living and working overseas fabulously.

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I wish I was furloughed

perhaps the beginning of a novella. It could have been my nine months of conception when I could have birthed a literary project. I was instead cooped up behind my desk at home working full-time hours writing emails rather than stories. During his self-imposed exile from Napoleon III, Victor Hugo ran off to Guernsey where he closed the chapters of ‘Les Misérables’. Sir Isaac Newton, fleeing the Great Plague of London for his family’s estate, had most likely not much to do but observe apples falling from trees thereby cementing his theories on gravity and motion. In the 1300s, Dante Alighieri was banned from Florence and spent his time wandering Italy. From 20 years of reflection in exile, ‘The Divine Comedy’ was born. Harper Lee’s friends paid her salary for a year so she could focus and write whatever she wanted. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ remains a bestseller and earned the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. Not that I could possibly equate the genius of these literary and scientific figures, nor do I have friends who’ll pay for me to write my masterpiece, the common factor in achieving their legacy was having time in their hands. Time is a precious commodity elusive to those who proactively chase it. Time is a privilege which in a twist of narrative took a global pandemic for us to be afforded. Our experiences of the lockdowns are personal and unique to us. The last 15 months

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have forced us to confront our fears, inconveniences, strength, and aspirations surrounding time—from the lack of it to having too much of it. Some described it as being under house arrest. Others felt as if they were forcibly thrown into a psychological, mental and emotional dark cell. I took it as respite from the demands of everyday life. Rather than trains to catch, timetables to strictly follow, appointments to cross out in my agenda, and crowds to negotiate, I was suddenly setting my alarm later for much-coveted duvet days, purchasing and queueing books to read, catching up on Netflix which I did not even have a subscription for pre-pandemic, and dreaming of words to write when not mentally drained after a day’s work. My body and soul couldn’t be any happier to be at home despite the unfortunate circumstances that have hauled us indoors. I put down the book that I was reading on the chair I acquired for the reading corner I set up during one of the lockdowns, and look around. The mini home redecoration has materialized. The plants have survived. The dishwasher has been unloaded, laundry basket empty. My home desk has been temporarily transformed into a work station which I walk away from on the dot to virtually attend yoga and Zumba. The peace and stillness are a contrast to my achy body, not from exhaustion, but because I have residual energy to look after my physical well-being. In some countries in the EU region work-life balance is not an alien concept, whereas in the UK working long hours is the norm. That’s the only cancel culture I would advocate. We were called back to work on the 15th of June 2020. For nearly a year now, I’ve been relishing my train rides to and from London when there are days I have the carriage all to myself. As an ambivert

with more introverted tendencies, social distancing is a blessing. Wearing a mask is a rule I hope we can drop very soon, but it has been a convenient cover-up at times when dozing off on the train would leave my mouth embarrassingly gaping. I have been intermittently working from home since November 2020, and whereas staff who work remotely are deemed

unproductive by other organizations, our management views it as essential for my department to keep on top of our work load. I wish this arrangement will be retained for the sake of my sanity. To date, 79.4% of UK adults have now been vaccinated with a first dose, and 57.3% are fully vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccination drive is hailed a success on which the UK government has placed their confidence towards the lifting of restrictions on June the 21st, dubbed “Freedom Day” by the British media. Delta, the Indian variant was a developing threat to ‘Freedom Day’ but Boris Johnson initially insisted he didn’t see any valid reason why June 21st should be postponed for another month. But the variant has indeed scuppered the planned date which has now been pushed back to July 19. Meanwhile the impetuous holidaymakers have been slapped with new restrictions, extra expenses for PCR test, and quarantine. New red-list holiday spots have also been added. The conspiracy theorists and antivaxxers must be cruising on their ocean liner of I-told-you-so. Amidst these, I just want to set foot in an airport again, not to go on holidays, but to see my family. The sun, sea, and the sand are fringe benefits. And perhaps some time to focus on writing. But I guess these are too much to ask for around this time.

By MZ AKil


t the height of several lockdowns in the UK in 2020 and 2021, while my furloughed friends were at their wits’ end figuring out how to fill their days, I was imagining how I could have used the time to write that short story I started in fiction-writing class, or

By Nats Sisma Villaluna

By Pepe Chavez


Art in the Dark Teenagers have a different way of coping with the Covid-19 pandemic than adults. In Barcelona, three Pinoy teens share how they dealt with the emotional impact of the lockdown.

Katrina Oamil draws her entry for a children’s art competition. #13 2021 | THE FILIPINO




n 13 March 2020, Spain declared State of Alarm during the Covid-19 pandemic. Nine million students all over the country were ordered to stay home for 15 days. Isolated from the outside world, they were left with no choice but to look for ways to cope. Many people turned to art to keep them sane. Three Filipino teens shared their stories with The Filipino Expat Magazine. Amber Ocampo, 16, binged on Netflix during the first days of the lockdown. She could not see her boyfriend neither sing in the choir nor play volleyball with her friends. She was left in the solitude of her bedroom. Being used to having an active life, her morale began to crumble. She started to worry about random things. As the lockdown dragged on, Amber slowly began losing herself. She ate, watched Netflix, slept, and quarrelled with her mother. She felt misunderstood. “I literally felt so down I was crying every night. I felt like a nobody. I didn’t want to exist anymore.” One night, trying to drown her sorrows, she grabbed her guitar and started to pluck, strum and hum. For Eduard Caringal, 13, the lockdown meant more time for anime shows. He would wake up late, watch series, chat with his friends and sleep at dawn. Eduard accepted the fact that he could not go out to see his friends nor go to his choir practices. The only thing that pulled his spirits down was when a favourite anime show came to an end. One night, Eduard had an idea. He switched on his laptop and started to type. Katrina Oamil, 14, and her classmates became very emotional when the lockdown was announced. Although she was worried that her father could get infected anytime because he was still working, Katrina was not frustrated. Her mother busied herself cooking and would ask her to help around. The house always smelled of food. There was no space to be sad. Katrina took advantage of the lockdown to do the thing she really loves doing. She picked up her colouring materials and drew. Art as a shield According to Eva Marxen, art therapist and anthropologist, “Art is a good way to channel one´s thoughts without having to verbalize them. The big advantage of

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artistic expression is that one can express his or her feelings, issues, and sorrows indirectly. It respects people´s defense mechanism because maybe one hasn’t finalized the idea yet or it is too painful to put directly into words.” People of all ages posted videos of songs, artworks online for the world to see as art has become an outlet to survive the grim reality of the pandemic. “She was the girl who was wearing a smile. She was the girl with a happy ever after. But what do you know?” So goes the first stanza of Amber´s “Brown eyes”, her first song. The moment she picked up her guitar that night, the melody, and the lyrics just blended harmoniously. The song is about a girl who used to be happy until the people around her broke her heart, a reflection of her state of mind during the pandemic. Amber found comfort in the lyrics of the song. “Little by little, I realized that composing songs makes me happy. Singing with all my soul makes me happier.” Eduard wrote “Mi vecino está coronado” (My neighbour got Corona-ed”), a witty novel about 11-year-old Stuart and his Chinese neighbours Mr. and Mrs. Weng. When the lockdown is announced, Mr. Weng gets ill and Stuart suspects that it is COVID-19. The 10-chapter novel takes a funny twist when Mrs. Weng asks Stuart to


“I realized that the world only revolves around money. It angers me that we still must pay the mortgage even after my father was laid off. Otherwise, they will kick us out of our house. If we get kicked out, we will get COVID in the street.”

Eduard Caringal writes a 10-chapter novel about a boy who suspects that his neighbor is Covid-19 positive.

#13 2021 | THE FILIPINO



Amber Ocampo composes original songs to keep her from depression during the lockdown.

to look after the sick Mr. Weng. Stuart´s ignorance of the virus fuelled by the fake news he picks up from social media makes things complicated. “I chose this story because I see myself in Stuart.” Both Stuart and Eduard have no siblings. The only difference is that in real life, Eduard does not have Chinese neighbors. For her first artwork during the lockdown, Katrina drew a girl with a scarf wrapped around her face covering her mouth and nose. Behind her are two round objects with small spikes that resemble the corona virus. The girl´s eyes show no expression. Not even a trace of fear. Self-discovery “Butterflies have died, clouds hid the sun, rainbows won´t show up. But all of a sudden, you came into my life. The sun showed up in my room. All I see is you sitting next to me.” Amber´s second song “Hope” is about positivity. Her lyrics showed how she was slowly healing. “What I learned from the pandemic is that we cannot always laugh. We also cry. We are not 38 THE FILIPINO | #13 2021

perfect. We make mistakes. But we must be strong. We can be happy by doing the things we really love and most of all, we can be happier by seeing our parents happy. They are one of my main reasons why I should stay happy, or at least try to be.” Solitude gave Eduard time to reflect. “I realized that the world only revolves around money. It angers me that we still must pay the mortgage even after my father was laid off. Otherwise, they will kick us out of our house. If we get kicked out, we will get COVID in the street.” Katrina now knows how it feels when a student cannot go to class due to an illness. Grateful for being healthy, she focused her energy on her artworks. She came across various children´s art competitions around the world. She decided to send an entry to Texas and one to Tokyo. Her Texas entry would eventually win her an honourable mention. American dancer Twyla Tharp once said, “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” Amber with her 10 original songs, Eduard with his novel and Katrina with her artworks, survived the crisis by creating something beautiful when all was dark and baleful.


Hidden no more A Filipino theatre artist defied the pandemic

By Patricia Bello

By Pepe Chavez


ago, Filipinos en Barcelona is independent director Berjer B. Capati’s first foray into theater. Written and directed by Capati himself, Tago was originally a cultural route showing the lives of Filipinos in Barcelona. In 2018, Tago was part of Casa Asia’s Rutas Culturales, a walking cultural tour around Barcelona. Capati was given carte blanche to create a Filipino route. “I thought the easiest way to do that was through film.” Until he met one Macrina Alcedo, a Filipina migrant who started her life in Barcelona as a domestic helper and the unofficial keeper of the history of the migration of Filipinos to Barcelona. “She was very theatrical. I was awed. I must tell her story I said. And this has to be a play.” With Alcedo as the muse, Capati proposed a route focusing on Filipino food and the history of Filipinos in Barcelona. Casa Asia gave him the green light to proceed. The walking tour would

go from one Filipino restaurant to another, an act would be played in each restaurant, each act telling a piece of Filipino history. A play with four acts Capati first wrote Act 2, a monologue by an older Filipino woman remembering her life as a Filipino domestic worker for the Catalan’s bourgeoisie. “That was really quick because all I had to do was to remember everything that Tita Macrina told me.” Act 1 began the narrative through the conversation of two Filipino seafarers who jumped ship, now living in Barcelona without legal documents. It also showed how Father Avel dedicated his life to helping Filipinos in Barcelona. For Act 3, Capati drew heavily from his experience as a Filipino living in Spain and the discrimination he experienced. “For the last act, I needed to write about the future of the Filipinos in Barcelona, about the clash between people who were born here and those who were displaced.” Tago and Rutas Culturales sadly had a short life. “We only did 4 shows with Casa Asia. Three years later, I said I need to do this again.” In 2020, Capati set out to launch Tago, Filipinos en Barcelona, subsidized by the Catalan government to produce the play, this time with an allFilipino cast. “One mistake I made at that time, was white washing. I hired Spanish actors. I had an excuse, maybe, but it is not enough. I just arrived in Barcelona from Madrid. I didn’t know anyone.” Pandemic obstacles Starting a project amid a pandemic presents difficulties. This included finding actors, doing administrative work and rehearsals online, and the closing of city borders. To top it off, Capati had to learn acting in two

Top: Theater director Berjer Capati.Left bottom: Macrina Alcedo, pictured with her husband, is the inspiration behind Tago. weeks. Capati had to take on the role of the actor who was let go. Despite the obstacles, Capati decided to keep going because he had to use up the government grant. Tago, opened on January 7, 2021, in Café Teatre Llantial in Raval, a barrio in Barcelona often called the Pinoy town. On opening night, Capati was worried about the limitations imposed by the government due to COVID-19. The comarcas were sealed off during the weekends and Macrina Alcedo lives outside Barcelona. Capati had to give her a “special role” for the opening night so she could justify crossing the comarca border. Capati thought that no one would show up because of the pouring rain and people were afraid of indoor gatherings. Ten minutes before the show, all designated seats had been taken. “Unhiding” the Filipinos Capati believes that Tago will give Spaniards the opportunity to see the Filipinos living in Spain instead of

just looking through them, to understand who they are, where they come from and what they do. For him, Filipinos in Spain need to have a voice. “We can’t stay in the background, otherwise we’re going to stay marginalized. It is time for us to be in the picture too. We must not forget where we come from. We cannot run away from it by living in a privileged, white world. It is ugly, but that is what makes you different. That difference will guide you on how far you can go.” After 8 shows, Tago is taking a break. “I’m giving it the whole 2021 to run its course.” In the meantime, Capati is back to his first love, filmmaking. “I really want to go back to filmmaking. I have already written the script for a short film.” As for the woman who started the spark, Macrina Alcedo has only this to say, “It is an honour to have inspired Berjer to do this project. It was such a moving play and I am happy and proud to be part of it.”

#13 2021 | THE FILIPINO 39


To Singapore

By Kay Monteclaro By Kay Monteclaro

By Robin Kuijs By Robin Kuijs

and Beyond

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Singapore’s Gardens By The Bay is an architectural gem that marries steel, glass and nature into a unique park visited by millions every year.



oving out of your comfort zone will never be easy. But as Filipinos, we know too well that going for the overseas option will always be in the pipeline. Maybe not for all, but still for many. I was among the wave of new architects from the Philippines who moved to Singapore between the late 2000 and 2010. Together with my husband Dunhill, we tried our luck in this Little Red Dot, like how the locals fondly call Singapore.

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Small country, big ambitions Considered as one of the only three city-states in the world, Singapore swiftly transformed from being a mere stop-over port city to one of the richest and most modern countries in the world. With this development, the demand of the construction sector also rose dramatically. Being a small territory, Singapore needed FTs (Foreign Talents) from around the world to keep up. How Singapore transitioned from a third world country to first world in just one generation, is impressive. Despite this, they were able to preserve their history buildings. Restored shophouses from the 1950s, which remain intact and livable, bring a nostalgia of Singapore before the boom. Alongside them are the ultra-modern architectural icons such as Marina Bay Sands and Gardens By The Bay. This architectural paradox is not new or unique to Singapore, but the changes happened so fast that for architects like us, it is an admiring feat. Our architectural knowledge and experience suddenly seemed so inconsequential. Five years of study, two years of applied knowledge, six months of review for

the board exams, and we barely scratched the surface. There is still plenty to learn in this tiny city. Occupying a small land area, living conditions here in Singapore can be considered compact. It is rare to live on landed homes because of the high cost of land. Tall buildings are everywhere, apartment and condominium living is the norm. “Public housing looks like Lego houses; they are neat and effective. This is a product of a uniquely Singaporean problem - limited land areas,” observes Raquel Canlas, who worked for Steel Storage Asia, a company specializing in self-storage facilities. On the contrary, the more modern this city gets, the greener it becomes. Turning Singapore into a garden city was the vision of Singapore’s founding father - Lee Kuan Yew. Lush greenery and countless pocket parks are systematically built in between and around housing estates and business districts, providing seamless balance of concrete and nature. Along the city fringe area are hike trails, parks, and a stretch of seacoast that runs along its border. “There are still plenty of trees and greeneries in Singapore, despite being a very cosmopolitan city. Modern buildings and open spaces are well designed and implemented. Having traveled to other countries, what is distinctly Singapore when it comes to architecture is how they blend technology and nature. You will see building façades incorporating plants as one of the design elements,” adds Ronnie Lucena, an architect who used to work for a landscape architectural firm and now works for Formwerkz Architects, whose core business is to restore the balance between men and nature. Expat living in Singapore As a young professional without prior experience of working overseas (a newbie expat), I had my fair share of culture shock, but this was compensated by the

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EXPAT LIVING Marina Bay Sands, perhaps Singapore’s most iconic building, is an ambitious project constructed by the best engineering, design and architectural firms from all over the world.

“I was so used to insane traffic jams every day on my way to and from work in Manila. Here, it is completely the opposite. It was also a huge adjustment to let go of my alert mode when riding public transport and not needing a pepper spray wherever I go.”

large number of Filipinos living and working here in Singapore. It gives a sense of familiarity to every new “transplants.” We were deeply impressed by how organized the city is. This is in stark contrast to the bustling Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, where we came from. Their efficient system also extends to public transport, where bus schedules can be accessed via mobile apps, accurate up to the last second. Singapore is very safe. I can leave my phone and other stuff in a public place and it will still be there when I come back. The cabbies will give your change back up to the last cent. I can jog almost everywhere, even at two in the morning, without the fear of getting harassed or robbed. The sense of security feels so alien and re-assuring for someone like me who grew up in Manila. My friend and fellow architect, Raquel, also shares this sentiment. Letting your guard down takes getting used to. “I was so used to insane traffic jams every day on my way to and from work in Manila. Here, it is completely the opposite. It was also a huge adjustment

to let go of my alert mode when riding public transport and not needing a pepper spray wherever I go.” Although the main spoken language here is English, one must get accustomed to “Singlish”, or Singapore-English. Singlish is a mixture of English, Malay, Mandarin, and Hokkien dialects spoken in a distinctly local accent. It is understandable to say that communication will not be completely easy. “It took me two weeks to finally learn how to speak and understand Singlish,” adds Raquel. “This was my biggest adjustment too. You will hear it everywhere, in the markets, train stations, malls, and at your workplace. You really must learn it. It is new and fun. I enjoyed it,” recall Ronnie and Christy Lucena, another architect couple who moved to Singapore 12 years ago. Contrary to some beliefs, Singapore is not a Chinese country, nor is it part of China. Its rich cultural diversity can be traced back to three main races - native Malaysians, early Chinese, and early Indian settlers. The British influence cannot be neglected either, as this is present in their food and national language, which is heavily influenced by the British colonizers. Understanding this intricate marriage of different cultures is crucial for anyone who wants to work in Singapore. “Interacting with other nationalities was challenging at the beginning as Singapore is a multiracial country. Despite differences in language, religion, daily practices or living circumstances, I learned to understand and socialize with different races with love and respect. It helped develop my maturity in seeing the bigger picture to every new situation I face while working here in Singapore,” adds Christy. My husband, Dunhill, was first to notice that the “porma culture” in relation to the individual’s status and courtesy here in Singapore is not as prevalent as what we have back in the Philippines. Most of the

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time, people do not actually care if you are wearing brandless flip-flop or a worn-out t-shirt while you are in the mall, and even in a fancy eatery. You will get the same service as the next person wearing a formal corporate attire or someone clad in designer clothes. What you wear or what brand you are using will not discriminate nor elevate your status when you are out and about in this city. You could be sitting next to an unassuming millionaire CEO in a train or a shop. “My initial expectation in a first world country such as Singapore was to see a lot of ostentatious behaviors from rich individuals. Years passed and this theory of mine eventually tipped over. It turned out that the real rich individuals are confident enough not to exhibit their wealth unlike what we are used to in the Philippines,” explains Dunhill. Alvin Canlas, another fellow architect and friend, has a parallel point when it comes to Singapore’s stereotypes and social rank. “I think many will assume and say that it’s the luxury items that dictate one’s success, but I think it’s just their way of life. This context may not be the exact representation of our social norms in the Philippines. Bottom line is that, truly rich people know where to spend or invest their wealth in.”

Melting pot of culture Some of the many things that we get to enjoy here in Singapore are its racial harmony, food diversity and the convenience of day-to-day living. It only takes you less than an hour from the farthest point of the island to the other, unlike in some countries where you will have to drive or fly for hours to get from point A to point B. For sports enthusiasts like us, a thirty-minute drive from the city center to the coast for our wakeboarding and wake surfing activities is hugely beneficial. Also, a variety of gyms that offer Mixed Martial Arts training are always within reach. Ronnie and Christy, both leisure bikers, particularly enjoy the Park Connector Network, a 360-kilometer network of walking/running/cycling paths that connect various parks and green spaces, extending all the way to Singapore’s coastal areas. When it comes to food, the array of dishes in one “hawker center” alone is like a trip from east to west. A hawker center is a type of food court that is uniquely Singapore and can be found almost everywhere in this island nation. Everyone eats there or has eaten there. From the mega rich to the poor, both foreigners and locals, young and old. If anything remained from the old Singapore, it is the hawker center, a tradition that will hopefully stay. Second-home, but not really In my university’s architectural batch alone, there were probably around twenty of us who came here. Now we are down to less than ten. My classmates and good friends, together with their kids are still enjoying our work and lives here in Singapore. It is not always

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Top: Hawker’s markets are popular eating places in Singapore. Bottom: Traditional houses and modern buildings blend together harmoniously in Singapore’s landscape.

Australia or New Zealand. Not us. We really want to be Singapore’s permanent residents, but after over a decade of residency, we are starting to set our sights somewhere else to build our roots as an alternative.

Singapore has some of the strictest laws in the world. easy, but for the most part, our lives as expats are not as dramatic as portrayed on TV and movies. Realistically speaking, our profession or job here is very much in line with our university degrees. This is the case for Filipino architects in Singapore. When we first came here, we were very sure that we wanted to stay for good. Unlike many Filipinos that we know, most of them just stay for a couple of years and will either go back home or settle somewhere in

Christy echoes my doubts. “Staying for good is not an option for me even if Singapore is a convenient and a safe country to stay. I will probably go back to my hometown. We are not permanent residents and for a family like us, it will be awfully expensive to stay. Ronnie and I have considered moving to New Zealand because we both love the countryside.” Speaking as collective individuals, we have so much love and respect for this land which we consider our second home. But like many countries, there are so many uncertainties on what our future here holds. As the country becomes more progressive, the restrictions in accepting permanent residents and new citizens become tighter. The reality for all of us is, no matter how much you embrace a country as your second home, it will always be up to them if they take you as their own or just be another long-term guest that (sooner or later) will need to go back to your motherland. Whichever it is, our human nature is to seek comfort where we deem available. As Filipinos, it is probably ingrained in our core to adapt and continue the spirit of resiliency within, no matter where we are. Editor’s note: Ronnie and Christy have since moved back to

the Philippines. #13 2021 | THE FILIPINO 45



Finding kindness in a faraway place Tórshavn Port viewed from the shoreline. 46 THE FILIPINO | #13 2021


More sheep than humans Called Føroyar in local language, Faroe Islands is an archipelago nestled in the centre of the North Altantic triangle of Scotland, Iceland and Norway. It is an autonomous region under the Danish Kingdom and consists of 18 islands, 17 of which are inhabited. Unless you are fond of sheep or cruises, you probably have not heard of this place either. Faroe Islands has a population of 52,122 people and 70,000 sheep, and a

popular stop-over for cruise ships plying the Norwegian-Iceland cruise lines. Tourists come for the waterfalls and the puffins. I however came for two things: to run the Tórshavn Marathon and eat at Koks Restaurant, back then a relatively new name following the foraging footsteps of Noma’s Chef René Redzepi in Denmark. What I discovered is a place of kindness where people and nature coexist in a mutual symbiosis. “It is exceptionally warm for June, you’re lucky,” said my business acquaintance, Karl Reynheim, whom I met for the first time. He kindly offered to pick us up from the airport and take us to our accommodation. I was expecting a chilly, windy day and an overcast sky, but the sunny weather was a welcome surprise. Temperature on the Faroe Islands does not exceed 11 degrees in the summer, and it usually rains half of the month. Karl thought I was crazy to run the Tórshavn Marathon but even crazier to

By Dheza Marie Aguilar


didn´t have a clue where the Faroe Islands was. But an advertisement popped up on my Facebook one day promoting a small-scale marathon in Tórshavn, somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean. I grew up on a small island in the Philippines, I am naturally drawn to remoteness. Combining this with my great interest at that time, running, I was ready to pack my bags right away.

By Robin Kuijs


#13 2021 | THE FILIPINO 47


eat at Koks. “That’s only for rich people,” he said, citing the exorbitant price of the food. Instead, he encouraged me to try the more authentic local restaurants at the centre of Tórshavn. Our conversation turned from elitist restaurants to the local cuisine. Being more direct than I was, my Dutch husband asked him, without qualms, about the Grindadráp, (recently popularized by the documentary Seapiracy), Faroese summer tradition of killing whales and dolphins. Without sounding defensive, he explained that the

agricultural situation on the islands is not comparable to farming countries. “Try telling an African or Eskimo that you are a vegetarian, that you don’t believe in killing animals for food,” he chuckled. “We had to do with what we have, sheep, whales, fish,” he added, citing that the island’s soil is not particularly arable because of the constant beating of the brutal North Atlantic wind. Looking out his car window, I noticed something glaringly absent in the landscape, trees. I understood what he meant. Only 2% of the Faroese territory is cultivated, and what

grows there are usually root crops which are not easily blown away by the hurricanes that batter the island all year round. He was worried about the young people leaving because the island is too small for a good education system. He also blamed the excesses of modern life for this diaspora. But he was glad that the gulls (fulmars) are coming back. I thought I would never see Karl again after he dropped us off at the AirBnB. But he was cheering for us at the finish line of the Tórshavn Marathon. When he learned that we

“Try telling an African or Eskimo that you are a vegetarian, that you don’t believe in killing animals for food,” he chuckled. “We had to do with what we have, sheep, whales, fish,” he added.

Puffins are Faroe Islands’ permanent residents. They are also a local delicacy.

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Clockwise from left: Barren hills welcome visitors to the Faroe Islands. The colorful houses at the port in Nolsoy, the distinctive Church of Sandavágur.

had very little time to catch our reservation at Koks, he generously drove us to our lodging so that we did not have to walk anymore after running five hours of punishing hills. Island Hopping It felt like midday at half past six in the evening. When we arrived at the guest house of Sámal and Tórhada in Tórshavn, the smell of dried fish welcomed us, a familiar smell from my childhood in Marinduque. Tórshavn, located on Streymoy island, is the smallest capital in the world, a picturesque little city with Nordic-style colorful houses dotting the harbor area which is also the docking place of cruise ships. What made a lasting impression on me was the verdant grass on its famous grassroof houses, like a meticulously maintained English lawn, owing to 300 days of rain on the islands and the hard-working flocks of sheep whose jobs are to mow these roofs. On a Thursday evening, you would hardly say that 19,000 inhabitants live here, making Tórshavn the mostly populated in the whole of Faroe. The most crowded area we saw was the cathedral steps at Bryggjubakka, where about 30 people were enjoying the generous evening sun near their beautiful port. At one in the morning, a faint strip of orange was still visible in the midnight sky. The sun was about to rise at 4am. The drowsiness of sleep came but a proper shut eye was impossible. And for an amateur runner, losing sleep before the marathon was

an awfully bad thing. From the Tórshavn harbour, a 20-minute ferry crossing took us to the nearest island of Nólsoy which was not as popular as the other islands. With a total size of 10 square kilometers and a population of less than 250 people, it was easy to roam about without seeing a single soul nor a single tree. The barren, ruggedness of Nólsoy, devoid of greenery and with three rising, rocky cliffs surrounding it, can easily be dismissed as ugliness. But this is exactly what makes Faroe Islands unique, its rawness, its complete surrender to the elements, and its ability to create something beautiful from the abundance that nature deprived them. While hiking to Eggjarklettur, the highest peak on the island, we saw hundreds of European storm petrels, a kind of seabird, flying low above yellow flowers, making panic noises. Perhaps they were disturbed by our presence, two strangers trying to get closer for the obligatory photos. We felt like intruders. On the contrary, the puffins at Mykines were more accommodating. Maybe because they are already used to nosy tourists, so you could get close without them flinching. The day after the marathon, which we fortunately survived with a satisfying finish, we went on another island tour, this time to Faroe’s most famous islands. Mykines is grassier than Nólsoy, bigger, higher and has steeper cliffs, the perfect backdrop for those death-defying travel photos on Instagram.

Humans and sheep falling off the cliffs is common on the Faroe Islands. Yet you will not find any warning signs nor safety rails holding off unsuspecting tourists. Maybe the Faroese have as much faith in people’s common sense as they do with nature. The ferry trip from Sørvágur to Mykines was about 45 minutes but the view of mighty cliffs rising above the North Atlantic Ocean, of giant rocks which felt like they were about to swallow me whole, betrayed the passing time. Dots of colorful houses were visible from the far-off coastlines. I wondered how people traveled back to their homes after a day working in the capital, trivial musings of someone who is so used to the urban life. Many Faroese inhabitants, especially the older ones do not see the need to leave their homes. The islands, their sheep, their fishing, are their entire lives. But some search for their destiny in distant places, like the retired seaman walking his dog in Sandavágur. He stopped to chat with us while we were enjoying the tranquility of the lake. At 17, he joined a sea-going vessel and spent his entire life travelling around the world. He told me that he had been to Batangas, that he loved it in the Philippines. After a while, another local approached us and offered us to partake from his stash of Royal Export beer. He hardly spoke English, but we found out that he was a hobby photographer. We also tried hitchhiking on our last day when we missed the last bus to #13 2021 | THE FILIPINO 49


Tórshavn. A friendly lady who was heading to the same direction pulled over, all too willing to let strangers into her car and drive them to the capital. Faroese are one of the kindest people I have known, and this reflects in their way of lives. Homes are not usually locked; street crimes almost never happen and there is no prison on the island. A most expensive meal In 2015 Koks was located on a hill in Kirkjubøur, still in Streymoy but accessible only by car. The breath-taking view of the water stretching to Koltur and Hestur islands was a balm to our aching bodies, tired from the marathon. They did not have a Michelin star yet, but the menu

was already priced in the finedining category. The exclusivity appealed to me. What can you expect to eat at Koks? They are serving the Faroese lifestyle in bit-size pieces. Cod, two pieces of scurvy leaves, lamb heart, clams, mussels, nettle leaves, fermented lamb meat, moss, seaweed, langoustine, skate, and sharks, freshly caught, pickled, fermented, or dried, brought in the most unique serving vessels (including stones and moss), making them appear tinier than they already are. The waiters explain each dish extensively, so you need a pen and paper (or a recorder) to remember all of them. However small the servings are, you will not leave the restaurant hungry because there at least 14 dishes included in the tasting menu. None can be ordered separately. Four years later, Koks got two Michelin stars. Currently the tasting menu for one person at Koks costs around €250 without drinks. This amount might sound ridiculous. But an army of young and proud Faroese shared their scant food resources to me, prepared in tasty elegance and served most thoughtfully. Most of all, a shark was killed for my dining pleasure. Surely this should not come cheap. 50 THE FILIPINO | #13 2021

It is hard to choose what I enjoyed best on the Faroe Islands, the marathon, our dinner at Koks, or the afternoon at the lakeshore of Sandavágur, casually chatting with the locals. It is not surprising how easily I connected with the remoteness of the Islands and the simple lifestyle of its people. Small islands

have always been my escape from the chaotic, hurried pace of city life, whether it is in the Netherlands, in the Philippines or further away in Faroe. I will not forget its barren cliffs, the stinging aftertaste of eating weeds and rotten fish meat, and that liberating sensation of being so far away from it all.

DESTINATION FAROE ISLANDS Centre: Wall art in Nolsoy island. Below left: Faroe Islands on a plate at Koks Restaurant. Right: Grass-covered roofs on Mykines island.

#13 2021 | THE FILIPINO


A Rat in the Kitchen

By Pepe Chavez

Dutchwoman´s adventure in the Philippines

The author enjoying provincial life in Aurora Province.


By Ella Assenberg Van Eijsden

verything is arranged so well. A relative of Rommel´s, my son´s Filipino boyfriend, is already waiting with a huge car to pick us up. We enter the seemingly endless swirling traffic of Manila. Our driver manoeuvres at high speed but strangely enough, I do feel safe. We finally arrive in Lipa at two in the morning. After being briefly received, we go to a private room. We get up early and join Rommel´s family. I find the ease with which my son feels at home with them moving. He had told us a lot about them and of course we had also seen the pictures but to experience it myself is so different and wonderful. Welcome to the tropics The place is surrounded by palm and 52 THE FILIPINO | #13 2021

banana trees and other trees that I am not familiar with. We are in the tropics, I have to remind myself. It is oppressively warm so I breathe slowly. We are served with a delicious meal: chicken with rice. We eat with our hands and a spoon. When I ask if I can do the dishes, everyone is startled. “No, that’s not possible. If the visitors are made to do the chores, a rat will come into the kitchen!” My Chinese zodiac sign is rat. So that’s great, there is already one in the kitchen. In the afternoon, we go to the city center. A chance for us to experience jumping into a moving bus full of smiling faces. My son and I are giants compared to the people here. We have to bend our legs because of the limited leg space. After shopping, we go back riding a tricycle again bending low to fit inside. On the way, I am amazed at how a whole family can fit inside a motorcycle with a sidecar. What a world.

Enjoying coconut drinks witrh her son.

The place is surrounded by palm and banana trees and other trees that I am not familiar with. We are in the tropics, I have to remind myself. It is oppressively warm so I breathe slowly. We are served with a delicious meal: chicken with rice. We eat with our hands and a spoon. When I ask if I can do the dishes, everyone is startled.

Dwarfed by giant balete trees.

The author visits Baler Central School where they spend the day with the student.

The next day we get to enjoy yet another Filipino breakfast. My body has to get used to eating fatty foods and I eat everything I am offered. Everything is eaten from intestines to legs, nothing is wasted. In the evening, around 30 people come to celebrate the presence of the whole family

complete with a catering service. We take hilarious photos of us standing together and laugh at our height differences. How nice that we are so included. My son feels completely at home and I am proud of it. Today we are driving around the province. As soon as we have passed

beyond the gates of the residential village, the houses look different from the one we are are staying. They are made of corrugated cardboard, bamboo, stones, leaves. Small eateries and vegetable stalls, soft drinks are beautifully displayed. It seems impossible to turn onto the road with

#13 2021 | THE FILIPINO


The luminous azure water and the snow white beaches of Coron excite me more than ever. What a color spectrum. I consider it a paradise on earth. We go island hopping and snorkelling in the crystal clear water with lots of fish. A fellow tourist from Australia happily comments, “We are in the same dream.”

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the huge flow of cars. No traffic lights, no rules? I wouldn’t dare to drive here. Rommel tells us a lot about the country. He is a real tour guide. Our destination is Taal Lake. After spending a splendid time in Taal, our next stop is Baler. It will be a night ride of seven hours. Everybody seems to be active day and night. As early as 5.30 in the morning, many people are already walking or sweeping somewhere. It must be done early because the day quickly gets hot. In Baler, more of Rommel´s relatives welcome us. We are offered cassava in banana leaves, fried eggs and rice. And always that sweet hospitality and generous smiles which never fail to move me.

Rain is really rain here The next day we drive through Aurora where the streets have become rivers. We are on our way to a market festival and there is a competition for the largest regional products. There is cooking, a fashion show with native clothing, music and dancing. I am always bombarded with the same question: “How do you like the food?” I like watching children doing the traditional gesture as a sign of respect where they take the adult´s hand and place it against their forehead and say “Mano po.” The adult, in return says, “God Bless You”. The following day, we visit the school where Rommel used to go to. He donates a camera to the

school newspaper. My son and I get to bond with the children. It is such a great day. Then off we go to Dinalungan, Aurora, a natural reserve with a beautiful waterfall called Bulawan, where we swim to our hearts delight. Butterflies and birds fly around us and again, a river of food. This time a fish soup where the head protrudes perkily looking straight at me. After another canoe ride with my son, our Baler adventure is over. Such a beautiful place. Paradise on earth Next we fly to one of the best places ever on a propeller plane. The luminous azure water and the snow white beaches of Coron excite me more than ever. What

a color spectrum. I consider it a paradise on earth. We go island hopping and snorkelling in the crystal clear water with lots of fish. A fellow tourist from Australia happily comments, “We are in the same dream.” That says enough about the beauty of Coron. I meet more lovely people. I truly admire their patience and how they help us around. And just like that, the most dreaded part has finally come. We have to say goodbye to this beautiful island. After few more days in Lipa with Rommel´s family, my Philippine adventure is really over and we have to fly back home. My husband and daughter are waiting for me at Schiphol airport. I have so much to tell them.

Below: Early evening sunlight in Aurora Province. Left: The author enjoying the tranquality of the ocean.

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t r e ss e d r e m m u s The perfect “Dig deep, then you hit a delicious stratum of red beans, white beans, and chickpeas, cubes of red and green jello, young white coconut, shaved ice and flan. It makes no God-damned sense at all. I love it.” This is how famous chef, writer, and travel-show host Anthony Bourdain described Halo-Halo, the eclectic Pinoy dessert that non-Filipinos may not easily dig. Bourdain was right, except Halo-Halo do not usually include chickpeas. Halo-Halo, which literary means mix-mix, with all its ingredients, does not make sense. But nobody seems to mind because the only sense that matters is your tastebuds! Halo-Halo is part of every Filipino summer. Young and old alike flock to their favourite neighbourhood Halo-Halo stand on a hot summer day. A long table in front of somebody’s house or near a basketball court, with colourful jars of sweetened fruit, shaved ice in a cooler, evaporated milk and leche flan awaits delighted clients seeking respite from the scorching heat. And just like magic, every bite just makes sense.

Making Halo-Halo is easy. Once all your ingredients are ready, it is just a matter of assembling them into a beautiful tower of goodness. A proper layering of ingredients ensures that you get the right texture as you eat. 1. First the heavy ingredients. Fill the bottom of the glass with a spoonful of saging na saba, nata de coco, red mung beans, white beans and kaong. 2. Add ube spread on top. 3. Add shaved ice to the brim of the glass. Pressed down to make it compact. 4. For toppings, add leche flan, macapuno, and a scoop or two of your favourite Luneta ice cream for a creamy consistency. If available, sprinkle with a teaspoon of pinipig. 5. Drizzle with a generous amount of evaporated or fresh milk. 6. Serve immediately.

Now that summer has finally arrived, memories of afternoons eating Halo-Halo with friends and families certainly bring up warm and nostalgic feeling of home. But these magical recollections don´t need to remain just memories. We can now have our Halo-Halo afternoons in Europe and share this delicious Filipino dessert with everyone. Here is how:

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INGRE DIENT S - Shave d ice - Milk ( fresh b ut pref - Buen erably e as Sagin vaporat g na Sa - Buen ed) ba in sy as Whit rup e Bean - Buen s in Syrup as Whit e Coco (nata d n u t Gel e coco ) - Buen as Gree n Coco - Buen nut Gel as Lang k a (jack - Buen fruit) in as Red Syrup Mung B - Buen eans in as Coc Syrup onut St - Buen rings (m as Can a c d apuno) ied Palm - Buen Fruit (k as Purp aong) le Yam Spread (ube) Lech fla - Lunet n a ice c ream - Crisp y young rice (p inipig), if desir TO SER ed VE - Tall g lasses - Long spoon

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Ube Jam Recipe by Catherine Mejino-Andres

Ingredients 1 kg fresh or frozen Ube thawed 397 g condensed milk or 1 can 473 ml coconut milk or 2 cups 1/2 tspn Ubeness® Purple Yam flavoring and food coloring 50 g unsalted butter or margarine 60 ml sugar (optional)

Cooking Instructions 1.

2. 3.


5. 6.

7. 8.

Steam or boil the ube until tender for about 30-40 minutes. I prefer steaming over boiling because the natural purple color stays in the ube. Once cooked through, let them cool down before chopping them into small cubes. Set aside. In a large, heavy bottom pot, add the cooked ube, condensed milk, and coconut milk. If you want your ube jam a little bit sweeter, add sugar as well. With an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth. You can also use a food processor or a potato masher but it will take longer to get your ube mixture smooth. Once smooth, move the pot on the stove and set it on a low-medium fire. Here comes the real job, stir the ube mixture continuously while cooking to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Do this until you have a spreadable consistency. At this point, add Ubeness® flavoring and see magic happen. When it has cooked to the consistency you wanted, whisk in the butter and stir until combined. Spoon the ube jam in clean (sterilized if possible) jars while still hot and allow it to cool down to room temperature. The ube jam will last in the refrigerator for about 4 to 5 days but you can freeze it for up to 4 months.

For retailer & distribution inquiries you may get in touch with CHECK OUT MORE RECIPES AT 58 THE FILIPINO | #13 2021

Buco Pandan Chiffon Cake Recipe by aMiable Foods (

Preparation Time : 15 minutes Cooking Time : 20 minutes Total Time : 35 minutes Servings : 12 servings Preparation Pre-heat oven at 160°C / 320°F and line 2pcs x 21cm x25cm baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside. Making the meringue Separate egg whites and yolks. Set aside yolks for later use. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites using a hand mixer until frothy. Tip in cream of tartar and beat again for 3 – 4 minutes. Add sugar gradually or in 3 batches while beating in medium speed until stiff peak.

Ingredients For batter 2 cups cake flour 2 tsp baking powder ½ tsp salt 8 egg yolks ½ cup sugar ½ cup canola oil / vegetable oil 1 cup coconut milk 1 tbsp Buco Pandanness Flavoring

For the meringue Making the batter 1. 2. 3.

4. 5.

6. 7. 8.

Sift cake flour, baking powder, and salt 3 times into a bowl. Set aside. In a separate large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks using a wire whisk or hand mixer. Add sugar and submerge bowl in warm water. Beat until sugar completely dissolves. When sugar is dissolved, remove bowl from warm water and continue beating until color turns pale. Add canola oil, coconut milk, and buco pandanness flavoring. Mix well until fully incorporated. Tip in cake flour mixture and gently fold with the wet ingredients. Continue folding until no traces of flour is left. Using a rubber spatula, add 2 scoops of meringue and mix in with the batter one at a time. When completely incorporated, transfer the batter into the meringue bowl and fold in until fully combined. Fill two baking pans with equal parts of batter. Tap the baking pans a couple of times on top flat surface to release air bubbles. Bake in pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes or until top of chiffon cake turns golden brown and inserted toothpick come out clean. Carefully remove from the oven then immediately flip the pans onto a wire rack lined with parchment paper and release the cakes. Turn them topside up and let it cool.

8 eggs whites ½ tsp cream of tartar ½ cup sugar

For Cream Filling (optional) 1 cup whipping cream ½ cup powder sugar (sifted)

For retailer & distribution inquiries you may get in touch with

Making the cream filling (optional) 1.


While waiting for the chiffon cakes to cool down, you can make the cream filling by whipping the cream with a hand mixer. Add the powder sugar carefully until smooth and creamy. Take one of the chiffon cake and spread cream filling on top then place the other chiffon cake on top of the cream filling. Slice to preferred serving size. Bon appetit!


Gerard LLorente and Julia Puig make up the team behind Volana Design Studio and Test Kitchen.

By Pepe Chavezavez

What´s Cooking?

Volana Design Studio and Test Kitchen

By Patricia Bello


olana, is the brainchild of Gerard Llorente Roman and Julia Puig. Established in 2019 in Barcelona, Spain, it is a multidisciplinary design studio that positions itself to the design of restaurants and hotels, a very niche sector. The Filipino Expat sat down with Llorente and Puig, in the bright and open Volana Test Kitchen, for a chat about their company. Puig, 24, was born in Catalonia, Spain to a Bicolana mom and a Catalan dad. Her father Jordi Puig, is the former Honorary Consul of the Philippine Consulate Office in Barcelona, Spain. Although Llorente, 35, was born in Catalonia, Spain to Catalan parents, he is not unfamiliar with the Filipino culture and the Philippines.

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He used to co-own businesses in Manila with several Filipino restaurateurs and has played alongside Robin Padilla in the film Bonifacio. “About four years ago, Julia and I were already working on several designs,” says Llorente, “Julia is an engineer on product design and I’m an industrial engineer also specializing in car and product design. With my experience in the restaurant sector and engineering sector, together with Julia, we thought of having a base in Barcelona and opening a design studio. That is how we started. Volana design was the first business we opened together.” Volana is moon in Malagasy, the language of Madagascar. And moon’s influence is strong in Volana Design. They wax eloquent on how the moon affects the Earth, the ecosystems and indeed, its inhabitants, and this thinking is what

guides their designs. They believe that like the moon, good design affects us but in a non-intrusive way, meaning, good design is there to serve people, but it is not necessarily visible or intrusive. The 2020 pandemic lockdown brought focus to their plans, integrating a more holistic approach to the hospitality sector, including food consultancy. Llorente, whose passion is cooking, believes that the design of the recipes goes hand in hand with the design of the restaurant. “We also wanted to, not just to work on the conceptualization of the restaurant, but also in their systems, from the creation of the recipes to their management systems,” adds Llorente. Volana Test Kitchen, a branch of Volana Design, was born from consultancy jobs that included development of new recipe lines and menus.

Clockwise from left: All set for a Moroccan fest.

During their confinement in Palamos, a city in Catalonia, they started producing YouTube videos [Volana Test Kitchen] to see if they can communicate their recipes to the audience. YouTube turned out to be extremely hard. They only got a few hundred followers. But it was a useful excercise. The Covid-19 pandemic however, proved to be a major challenge to Volana Design, the hospitality sector being one of the hardest hit industries across the world. Volana adapted to offer consultancy and events: Volana Design continues with interior design, graphic design, and branding; while Volana Test Kitchen handles events like private dining, catering service, cooking classes, and video recipes. Despite the current situation, they feel lucky that Volana Kitchen is doing well. They have catering services almost every week. There spacious Volana Test Kitchen located in Plaça Real has become the venue for their creativity and resourcefulness. They are also working with Filipino chefs in Barcelona, trying to incorporate Filipino ingredients such as patis and bagoong in some of their recipes. Starting a business comes

with challenges. “One of the first challenges was the sustainability of the business,” admits Llorente. Puig´s father, a restaurateur who owns businesses in Spain and Madagascar invested in Volana. The older Puig is also bringing his experiences into Volana. Social media has been instrumental in getting clients. Both Llorente and Puig are actively promoting their business on social media, in addition to their management tasks. Getting along with their business partners is important to

them, despite having differences. “We argue,” says Julia. Llorente counters, “But we never had real problems, just small tensions. At the end of the day, one of the challenges is to keep everything alive and well organized because you have to be efficient. It is a work in progress.” They are consistently trying to find ways to become more efficient, and hopefully get more clients. Both Llorente and Puig are looking forward to the future.

Plans are in place to consolidate both businesses, and a restaurant in the future. They share some advice to those who want to start a business: “Dream big and be open to mistakes,” advises Puig. They both recommend having a clear concept, a solid idea, a very compact business plan as your bible. Focus, but be open to the needs of the business. “You don’t want to be an atomic bomb,” they elaborate. ‘You want to be a laser beam.’

Satisfied clients at Volana Design Studio and Test Kitchen.

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d n a r b o n i p i l i W.L: A true F

acks h-quality products. Their sn hig of e ng ra e siv ten ex an rld. nufacturer, W.L. has got ny countries all over the wo ma in ity lar pu As the first Filipino snack ma po ng ini ga Philippines, and now are extremely popular in the

W.L.’S HISTORY W.L. is a family-owned company established in 1986. They are the first snack manufacturer in the Philippines. With one small delivery truck and some second-hand machinery, they started producing their first product, the Cheez Zum cheese rings, in Malabon, Metro Manila. These crispy rings are to this day a huge success in the Philippines and across the world. Thanks to this product, W.L. had the means to create more delicious snacks, and move to their current manufacturing facility in Valenzuela City. Their product line now includes beverages, noodles, and flakes but their biggest line is still Filipino snacks. From the beginning, W.L.’s founder believed that “quality is the key to success”, which turned out to be true!

CHEEZ ZUM RINGS These tasty rings are one of the most popular products W.L. has ever created. Many other brands have tried to replicate this cheese ring recipe, but W.L. produces the unbeatable original product. Filipino children love wrapping their fingers with Cheez Zum before eating them one by one, so they can lick the cheesy goodness off their fingers afterwards. Cheez Zum Rings are made from corn, which gives it a light and crispy bite. The distinctive cheese flavor is so good, it will keep you wanting more. Available in handy small packaging, or bigger shareable size.

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