The Filipino Expat Magazine Issue #14 Autumn/Winter 2021

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THEFILIPINO #14 AUTUMN/WINTER 2021

EXPAT MAGAZINE

Thriving in New York City

Google sales executive BERNIE MILAN shares his life in the Big Apple

SEASON OF BENEVOLENCE Five retirees on finding their passion and giving back to the community

PARENTING Redefining the modern family in Amsterdam TRAVEL Conquering the mighty Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps SHOPPING 10 Pinoy brands for your 1 #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO Christmas gift list TASTE Pinoy food is coming to European homes


! g n i r a h s r o f t c e f r e Oishi P

This Holiday Season, share the spirit of togetherness with Oishi Filipino snacks. Bring them to the office for your Friday night drink, to the many Christmas parties, to movie nights with friends or simply enjoy them at home with your loved ones.

If your store does not have these products, please contact Beagley Copperman, and we make it happen! 2

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For retailer inquires, email sales@beagleycopperman or visit our website www.beagleycopperman.com.


SUBSCRIBE NOW!

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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 abroad 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 www.thefilipinoexpat.com for subscription options or email us through editor@thefilipinoexpat.com. Our magazine is free at official distribution points but you can have it delivered straight to your doorstep with a minimal postage fee of €5 for The Netherlands and €10 for the rest of Europe. #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO

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TABLE OF CONTENTS 6 Contributors’ page 7 Editor’s note

14 Finding passion in dancing

34 A rainbow family is redefining the modern family for Filipino gays

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Christmas gifts: 10 Europe-based Pinoy brands

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Expat retirees on serving the community way beyond pension age

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Reflections on aging

The secret to a successful career life in the US

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Diplomat Off Duty: Consul Armand Talbo from New York and his life outdoors

40 Money in eyebrows

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COVER STORY: Bernie Milan shares how he survived and thrived in the Big Apple

42 Column: MZ AKIL is taking the plunge


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Publisher and Editor-in-chief Nats Sisma Villaluna

Expat Living: In Monaco, the super-rich advocates green living

Publisher and Managing Editor Dheza Marie Aguilar

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Destination: Climbing Switzerland’s Matterhorn

Graphics and Layout Alden Joshua Cedo Creative Adviser Robin Kuijs Contributing Writers: Bles Chavez-Bernstein, Francine Alessandra Vito, Teresa Corti, MZ Akil, Raymond Unico, Patricia Ann Belo, Judy Anne Santos,

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Contributing Photographers: Pepe Chavez, Robin Kuijs, Steven Rosen, Carolos Santos, Rene Cuales

A Pinay’s quest for heights

Make-up Jaylee Rose Lazo Chavez The Filipino Expat Magazine

55 Tastecrib is bringing the Pinoy taste to European homes

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Bringing the Spanish flavors home

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Dispatch from Kenya: Born out of hope: Living a Pinoyless diet Heroes App Philippines

Published 3 times a year The opinions expressed in The Filipino Expat magazine do not represent the views of The Filipino Expat company. While we have exhausted every effort to ensure the accuracy of the 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: editor@thefilipinoexpat.com Mob: +31 639311392

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CONTRIBUTORS PATRICIA ANN BELLO is a freelance writer based in Manila, Philippines. An avid reader with an enormous TBR 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.

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.

FRANCINE ALESSANDRA VITO is a writer, serial thrifter, and an advocate for the slow living lifestyle. You can find her sustainable fashion and lifestyle posts on her Instagram account, @francinealessandra17.

TERESA CORTI is a Filipino/Swiss climbing professional. She is a presenter and assistant producer for Epic TV Climbing.

AGATHA VERVADERO is a writer and editor from Nairobi, Kenya. She finished her MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University Manila and her BA Humanities at University of the Philippines Diliman. While not immersed in her work or playing with her fur baby Sam, she does extreme adventures in the wild

RAYMOND UNICO is a Filipino queer living in the Netherlands. He completed his master’s degree in gender studies at Utrecht University. He is particularly interested in issues around race, gender and sexualities. School of thoughts such as critical race theory, postcolonial theory, and posthumanism are quite influential in his works and modes of thinking. Raymond enjoys reading, writing, and learning new things.

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 obssessed with aquariums. ALDEN JOSHUA CEDO is a design professional working for one of the Philippines’ biggest real estate companies. If he is not tinkering with Adobe applications, he can be found in the gym or in his pad listening to music.

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BLES CHAVEZ-BERNSTEIN is a Filipino-American soprano, poet, and author of Without Rhyme, a poet’s story, and In The Typhoon’s Eye, a story of childhood and leaving home. Bles has performed solo concerts in various countries including the U.S., Thailand, Philippines, Germany, and South Korea. In the last eighteen years, proceeds from her performances have supported advocacies for women and children worldwide. Bles has also devoted many years in the art and vocation of nursing, working as a registered nurse in the U.S. both as bedside clinician and director of nursing, in two clinical specialties: mental health and addictions nursing. Currently she is working on her second collection of poetry, Sensuous Healing. For more information on Chavez-Bernstein’s works, visit:www.blessingingpoet.com www.amazon.com/author/bles https://www.instagram.com/ blessingingpoet/


EDITOR'S NOTE

The Benches of Autumn Whenever I think of Autumn, I think of benches. Absurd as it sounds, but two benches easily come to mind. I remember spending my first days in Santiago de Compostela sitting on my favourite bench in Plaza Alameda under the cold September sky, pondering on my new life in Europe. One year later in Madrid, I found myself sitting on a bench in Ave. Miguel Hernández contemplating my future as I had finally decided to stay after my master’s study and go on an adventure in the Spanish capital. Sitting there, away from the crammed places of the city, with just a few deciduous trees as my companions, gave me a sense of clarity and solitude. There is something about Autumn that evokes a sense of reflection and contemplation. We may already miss the fun of Summer or yearn for the exuberance of Spring, but it is in Autumn that, whether we are aware of it or not, we take time to mull things over, to prepare ourselves for the challenges of the coming Winter. As the season of Fall is about nostalgia and remembrance, our Autumn Issue is a collection of uplifting tales of perseverance and adventure, of failures and victories. Of will and personal resolve. We are thrilled to have Google sales executive Bernie Milan on our cover with the Big Apple in the background. Coming to New York at 21, a young and broke Bernie thought that making it big in the city would be a walk in the park. He was wrong. But he was quick to learn, adapt and adjust. Twenty five years later, he has become the best version of himself; successful, happy and fabulous. Surviving life abroad takes a lot of focus and tenacity. And to thrive, one needs fortitude and a sense of purpose. That is why, it is heart-warming to hear expats Sharon Masler, Rhafael Antonio, Edson Gonzales, Judy Anne Santos and Oyeen Dy Valcos share their inspiriting stories about chasing their dreams, facing their fears, working hard to triumph in the end. This issue also pays tribute to our senior expats Teresita Marques, Sr. Paulita Astillero and Rick Tuazon who, despite reaching retirement age, are not yet ready to sit idly and stare at the wall. Their schedules are full, busy serving their communities. Slowing down is obviously out of the question. Modesto “Papang” Aguirre is a 100-year old Pinoy in Canada, who has weathered a world war and a pandemic. At his age, with his sharp wit and innate charm, he remains a source of joy and inspiration to his family and friends. Filipino American soprano, poet and author of In The Typhoon´s Eye, Bles Chavez-Bernstein shares her thoughts and realizations on the uncertainties of advancing in years. Take a peek at the life of Consul Armand Talbo outside his diplomatic duties in New York and Amsterdam-based Johnny and his unconventional family set-up that is redefining the idea of how a modern family should be. Be inspired by MZ Akil, our Londonbased columnist, as she starts her journey to Creative Writing, finally ready to flap her wings and jump off cliffs, figuratively speaking, that is. The Christmas season is just around the corner and The Filipino Expat has an early Christmas gift to our readers. We have come up with special ideas to help you out with your gift list for the Yuletide season. As Filipino Christmas is about food, can you imagine years without puto or dinuguan? Well, our columnist Agatha Verdadero narrates how she survived her years of living a “Pinoy-less” food life in Kenya. As if it is not enough, we are taking you to Monaco, one the most expensive places in the world and to an exhilarating adventure as we climb the highest peaks in Europe. So dear readers, we hope you enjoy our Autumn issue. Although we are still weeks and weeks before we celebrate the birth of our Lord, allow us to be the first to greet you a Happy/Healthy Christmas and a Safe/Prosperous New Year. May you find your own “bench” to witness the unravelling of this season´s magic.

Nats Sisma Villaluna Editor-in-chief

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ARTISANAL FILIPINO

GIFT IDEAS

The Christmas season starts in the Philippines as soon as September rolls in and for Filipinos away from home, this may also be the best time to make your gift list. Living abroad, Filipino expats have the rare opportunity of becoming ambassadors of Filipino-made brands. However, we understand that it might not be so easy to bring in Pinoy products to Europe. So, we have listed down 10 brands that are purely Pinoy-made or owned by Filipino entrepreneurs who are based in Europe. No need to worry about import taxes and exorbitant shipping fees.

Wataru France espadrilles

Minimalist, colorful and sustainable. Wataru France espadrilles are made in Liliw, Laguna, the tsinelas capital of the Philippines, using indigenous materials like banig. While it may already be too cold for espadrilles, we recommend the Marga mustard yellow and Banig mules for those who want to keep their feet warm during cold months. You can give them away to friends and loved ones to use as stylish “pambahay” (house slippers). Wataru France is imported by Filipina expat Angelique Villaraza and sold in boutiques in Europe, particularly France, Spain, Italy and Greece. Price starts at €75. Order your pairs at www.wataru.bigcartel.com/products.

Don Papa Rum

PamPinay Balabal

These colorful and sometimes cheeky limited-edition kimonos and Filipiniana tops feature the artwork of Switzerland-based Filipina artist Pamela Gotangco. Each piece is handwoven by a group of seamstresses in the Philippines using a unique weaving pattern called Binakol. To order, contact them directly through their Facebook and Instagram pages or email pgotangco@hotmail.com.

By Dheza Marie Aguilar

Produced by the Bleeding Heart Rum Company, based in Negros, Philippines. Don Papa offers different variety of rum distilled from molasses, and aged for 7 years in American oak barrels, and charcoal filtered. Your rumdrinking friends will surely appreciate a bottle. Available in different liquor stores in Europe.

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LitratoLdn

Travel blogger Noime Espinosa, behind the successful blog Pinay Flying High, has turned her travel memories into printed keepsakes. LitratoLdn prints travel postcards and personalized artworks to hang on your walls, display on your work table or send to your friends. You can also send her your pictures for a more customized gift. Buy the prints at www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LitratoLdn. Send her a message via Instagram @litrato.ldn or email pinayflyinghigh@gmail.com.

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GIFT IDEAS

GustoKo by Paula bags and clutches

De Moi beauty products

GustoKo is a collection of beautiful, stylish embroidered bags designed by Filipina expat Paula Figueras, who is based in Portugal. GustoKo products are designed in Portugal and hand-made by housewives in the Philippines using locally sourced materials like T´nalak (from abaca fabric) Ticog, Buntal, Philippine pearls, snakeskin, Kamagong (wood), Rattan, and other natural materials. Their iconic bags start at €180. More info at www.shopgustoko.com.

De Moi is a cruelty-free and ecologically friendly beauty brand created by Cebu-born and Switzerland based Filipina expat Demee Koch. De Moi beauty products use Philippine botanicals like papaya, guava and aloe vera sourced locally by single mothers in the Philippines. De Moi line includes eyelash serums, beauty bars and face serums, perfect gifts for your beauty conscious friends. Price starts at €34.50. Visit www.demoi.ch/shop to order.

Sagana sweets

Sagana is also a Swiss-Filipino brand importing healthy, sustainable, and ethical baking and sweetening products from the Philippines. Coconut sugar, coconut blossom coconut butter and nectar syrup are some of the gifts you can give to your friends who love to bake. They also sell Pili nuts in different flavours, as well as Heirloom Wholegrain rice from Northern Luzon. If you find it hard to choose, we suggest the SAGANÀ Jewel of the Tropics set (€18,40 + shipping). Visit their website www.sagana.org.

Virginutty hair and skin care

Another cruelty-free and socially conscious beauty brand, Virginutty is created by young entrepreneur British-Filipina Melissa Alcantara who is based in London, UK. Using the moisturizing and healing properties of coconut oil, Melissa wanted to produce products that are free of carcinogenic ingredients and whitening chemicals. The beauty range includes skin drink moisturizers, makeup melt cleansers, hair balm and hair masks. Supporting local coconut farmers in the Philippines while empowering minorities in Europe, Virginutty models highlight the beauty of brown skin and curly hair, giving us products that suit our needs. They also sell candles with nostalgic Pinoy names. Prices start at €14. Shop at www.virginutty.co.uk/ shop.

Ten Foundation school and lunch bags

New Year, new school bags for the kids! Ian Campbell started his foundation in 2012, and from his home in Belfast, he has helped alleviate poverty in a village in Batangas by providing jobs to its residents as bag makers, and education to its children. Not only are Ten Foundations bags a symbol of hope, they are also environment-friendly, made from recycled materials like juice cartons, fabric offcuts, or advertising banners. Prices start at €17.50. Buy online via www.tenfoundations. org or visit their stores at The Boulevard, Banbridge and Castle Court, Belfast.

The Filipino Expat Magazine Yes, we are including ourselves in the list! Give your Filipino and non-Filipino friends a subscription to The Filipino Expat Magazine. We only charge a minimal postage fee. If your organization or events need a gift to give away for free, email us at publisher@thefilipinoexpat.com and we will send you a #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO bunch.

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DIPLOMAT OFF DUTY

OUTDOOR LIFE Consul Armand Talbo in Bear Mountain, one of the best-known peaks of New York’s Hudson Highlands.

We are used to seeing them in their formal suits, working hard serving the Filipino communities abroad as members of the diplomatic corps. But what do our ambassadors and consuls do when they are off from work? In Diplomat Off Duty, Deputy Consul General of the Philippine Center in New York Arman Racho Talbo tells us: What do you do on weekends? Some of my weekends are spent with members of our Filipino community, participating in cultural and sociocivic activities and events. These give me the chance to engage them and get to know them personally. But on weekends and holidays where there are no events, I take the opportunity to rest, read, or go to museums and parks to recharge and destress. When I was younger, I used to ride my motorcycle around Barcelona or go camping in pueblos around Madrid during weekends. But age is catching up, so I do more adult-friendly activities. How do you spend your free time? When I was in Barcelona, my free times were spent with friends doing photography, hiking, and occasional fishing

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in Playa Nova Icaria / Bogatell area, but I never caught anything! I see that many of my friends in Spain who love photography are still doing it, either professionally or as a hobby. And I am so happy to have been part of their group. Now I’m into running, mostly for fun and to get fit. I’m joining the New York City marathon this November! Where do you go to unwind? I love nature so when I want to unwind, I usually go to the beach, river, lake, or hills and mountains to walk, hike or even camping. I find these activities relaxing, probably because I get my quiet time and chance to reconnect with mother nature. I love the sound of water, the whistling of leaves. I love the beaches of Girona and Ibiza and the mountains around Andorra. They are calming and relaxing. Where should we go when we visit New York? There are many places to visit in New York! And some of our friends and community members in Spain have


OUTDOOR LIFE

come here to visit. Don’t miss the Statue of Liberty- an iconic representation of freedom and democracy. If you like the hustle and bustle of New York, visit Time Square and be amazed by the lights and display. There are many remarkable museums in New York: Museum of Natural History, Museum of Modern Art, and the Met. And of course, watch a Broadway show! Where are the best places to eat? I would recommend that visitors try our Filipino restaurants in New York! There are several of them in Manhattan: Tsismis, Bilao, Tradisyon, Grill 21, and Purple Yam in Brooklyn, just to name a few. There are many more in Queens and New Jersey. They offer so many versions of our rich Filipino cuisine, from home-cooked meals to top of the line fusion.

Best part of living in New York? There are so many opportunities and possibilities in New York. It is bustling with events and activities, there is always something happening and there is always something for everyone. It has modern facilities, and it is easy to go around using the subway. It can also be challenging living in the Big Apple, a city that never sleeps, but as they say, if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. What do you miss most about the Philippines? I miss my family and friends and the warmth of our people. Iba pa rin pag nasa sariling bayan. And nothing in the world can match the beauty, warmth, and hospitality of the Filipino. I can’t wait to go home!

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Juan EU Konek gets new funding, launches Kontra Corona Unlockdown AT AN EVENT hosted by Megaworld International on the 8th of September at Bintang restaurant in Camden, digital programme and non-profit organisation Juan Eu Konek announced that they have received a second round of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund. The funding will support JEK’s work in providing information, education, inspiration, and to better connect with the Filipino communities in the UK and beyond as they continue to battle the Covid-19 pandemic. The new grant will allow them to continue to deliver their signature public service project Kontra Corona for the next eighteen months. The National Lottery Community Fund, which distributes money raised by National Lottery players for good causes and is 12 THE FILIPINO | #14 2021

the largest community funder in the UK (funding projects in communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), are passionate about funding great ideas that matter to communities and make a difference to people’s lives. “With the second round of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, we are excited for this new chapter in our journey to continue to tell the stories of our kababayans in England and Europe,” said Rose

Eclarinal, executive producer of Juan Eu Konek. At the event, Juan Eu Konek heads and core presenters Rose Eclarinal, Gene Alcantara, Crystal Dias and Jay MontelibanoMcLeod also received their individual MEGA (Megaworld Exemplary Global Achievers) awards in recognition of their outstanding service to overseas Filipinos from Ethel Lim, Megaworld’s First Vice president of Sales for Europe 2. Megaworld International, which recently

celebrated 21 years of enriching the lives of Filipinos around the world, have been recognising individuals, who have illustrated excellence, significant impact and outstanding service in various fields through their yearly MEGA awards. It was attended by Londonbased British-Filipino media, bloggers and vloggers and representatives from Philippine Embassy United Kingdom; Consul General Arlene Gonzales Macaisa, Vice-Consul Stacy Alcantara Garcia and Labor Attaché Amy Reyes from Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO). Juan Eu Konek, which will commence with a new project dubbed as Kontra Corona Unlockdown, will be announcing further details of their project in the coming months. Their digital content is available via Facebook and YouTube @JuanEuKonek.


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ESSAY

R

n passion retirement

By Raymond Unico

ick Tuazon is one of the few Filipino gays I know in the Netherlands who is already enjoying his pension life. He was the first person who came to mind when I was assigned to write about retirement in the context of Filipino LGBT expats in the Netherlands. We agreed to meet at Café Nordrick, a newly opened Filipino restaurant in The Hague. Rick is still energetic, fun, and very enjoyable to talk with. Every now and then, he will crack some jokes and I will just burst into laughter. Being a Filipino gay myself, I can connect with his sense of humour and recognize his experiences. When Rick arrived in the Netherlands in the 70s, he said that it was very rare to find any Filipinos on the street. Today, one could speak of a vibrant Filipino community in the Netherlands, where we are not just guests but active members of the society. Rick is active in the Filipino community in the Netherlands. Through his passion for Filipino folk dances, he shares his talents and

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creativity by bringing to us the Philippines that we left behind and showcasing the Filipino culture and heritage in our new home. In many ways, the performances of these dances are a declaration – at least in part – of who we are. Rick retired from work in 2009, having reached the pension age of 67. While he stopped doing his regular job as a manager in an engineering company, he did not retire from serving the Pinoy community. He was the cultural director of the United Filipino-Dutch Association (UFDA). According to him, ‘It is very important to promote our Filipino culture to inspire the young people, so that they could learn about our heritage and continue it.’

Finding one's passion is a gift I am rather envious of Rick. He has found his passion in the Filipino folk dances. To be able to do that is a gift, and having something that drives us, makes our lives more fulfilling. During our meeting, all that Rick can talk about is dancing and how we can exhibit our culture through it. Dancing is a beautiful way of proclaiming our souls. Rick continues to produce cultural

events where he choreographs various dance performances. What Rick loves most about Filipino folk dances is the culture they represent and the stories they tell. He takes choreography and costumes very seriously. ‘I would like to bring the performances of our folk dances in Filipino events here in the Netherlands to a higher level – to the standards of Bayanihan.” Before Rick migrated to the Netherlands, he was part of the Bayanihan Dance Company in the Philippines, which was established in the 50s. With his fellow dancers, Rick travelled to perform around the globe. Being a member of Bayanihan opened a different world for him, and since then folk dances have become an integral part of his life, a part he is not willing to part with despite his advanced age. When we get old… In spite of many challenges we face as Filipino migrants, our lives here in the Netherlands are relatively more comfortable and secured than the lives we would otherwise have had in the Philippines. This is perhaps truer for most members of the Filipino LGBTQ community. Thanks to the normalization of homosexuality and financial security in the Netherlands, we can live a life with less oppression and free from want. We do not need to worry about growing old alone and destitute. And when we are not looking down worrying about our next meal, we could look up and wonder about the stars. One of the many issues we Filipino LGBTQs used to face while in the Philippines is getting old. In a society where children are expected to be caregivers of their parents and grandparents,

we are confronted with the question of who will take care and provide for us when we get old. I have noticed that, now that we are living in the Netherlands, we are no longer being confronted with this question. Rick’s story best illustrates this. He used to have a long-term life partner but decided to end their relationship because he was unhappy with him during their last years together. And when one thinks of it, it is indeed better to be alone and happy than to live with somebody and be miserable. But Rick is not entirely alone because he has his passion. His life – especially now that he has

reached a certain age – is fulfilled because of it. However, being able to find and chase one’s passion is a privilege. Rick can pursue his passion because of his relatively comfortable and secured life in the Netherlands. But the question for us is, how can we fulfil the full potential of our lives after reaching pension age? How can we still make ourselves useful to the society where we belong when we get old? I used to worry about my future. When I look at Rick, I see myself years from now and I must say, I find that quite reassuring. I am not worried anymore. Everything will be alright. All I need to do is to find that passion in life that will keep me going.


PROFILES

THE BENEVOLENCE OF AUTUMN Life’s lessons from pioneering Filipino expats Retirement is a tricky word. For some, it is synonymous with enjoying the remaining years of one's life. For others, it is egressing towards obscurity, irrelevance, and loneliness. I

the world, who ignored the comfort of retired living, defied the norms of retirement when they reached pension age, and instead, carry on doing what they love most. Whether it is by necessity or by choice or they are simply stubborn, one thing is for sure, they are living the best times of their lives.

By Nats Sisma Villaluna

By Pepe Chavez, Carolos Santos, Rene Cuales

talked to three retired Filipinos living in different parts of

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PROFILES

SR. PAULITA ASTILLERO:

THE MISSIONARY

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RETIREES

“Uuwi ba kayo sa atin? Are you going back home to the Philippines for good?” Paulita “Sis Pau” Astillero would ask a retiring lolo or lola this question when she was still the president of Centro Filipino-Tuluyan San Benito, a Filipino social and cultural organization in Barcelona. She learned that after living abroad for so many years, Filipino migrants feel that their families have changed. That whenever they decide to go home, they need a lot of adjustments. That it takes time to embrace each other’s evolution, newly acquired habits, mentality, rationality and beliefs. In 2007, Sis Pau and two other Centro Filipino volunteers participated in a two-year course offered by Caritas Diocesana de Barcelona. For their final project, they proposed to put up a center for returning migrants in the Philippines. Sis Pau knew that she had to make the project a reality. After the course, she went to the Philippines to look for the right people to help her with the project. Four priests liked the idea. The late Fr. Avelino Sápida, founder of the Filipino Parish in Barcelona and Centro Filipino, donated a piece of land in Cavite to be the site of the proposed Center. In 2013, Centro Filipino for Returning Migrants (CF4RM) was registered as a non-stock, nonprofit church-based organization at the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission. A year later, Sis Pau decided to move to the Philippines to dedicate her time to building the new Center. She didn’t mind living in a container van which served as the Center´s office. “The greatest challenge is money. There was even a time when we didn’t have food to eat. But then somebody would just come to visit with food. I just put my trust in the Lord. I feel challenged

“It is hard to stop. As long as I still have the strength and will to serve people. There is no retirement soon. This is not a job. This is my mission.” because I see how much OFW returnees suffer the painful process of readjustment and reintegration in their family and their environment, and how they have to rebuild their life preparing for their twilight years.” With the help of different private groups and individuals, the Center was coming together, first the kitchen annex, then a bahay kubo which now serves as the reception area, then the fence, the gate and soon the multi-purpose center. A migrant and a missionary The daughter of a road builder and a dressmaker from the Camotes Islands, Cebu, Sis Pau´s eventful journey as a migrant started when she went to Rome in 1988 to be part of the Missionary Benedictine Congregation. Aside from her duties inside the monastery, Sis Pau visited a small Filipino community in Rome to listen to their problems; from loneliness to joblessness and relationship issues. After a year, she was assigned to Madrid to help both the Benedictine and the Pinoy communities there. From Madrid, she was sent to Barcelona to work as a Centro Filipino volunteer together with other Benedictine sisters and Fr.

Avelino Sápida. In 1995, Sis Pau was diagnosed with cancer, but she remained undaunted and steadfast in her role as a missionary. After undergoing treatments and having been declared cancer-free a year later, she was back to Madrid to be the directress of the congregation´s student dormitory. Six years later, her next assignment was Argentina. “There weren’t a lot of Filipinos in Argentina. I was hesitant. I felt that I was needed in Barcelona, but I also love the congregation. My superior told me either to go to Argentina or leave. It was really painful.” Sis Pau realized that her calling was not to live a monastic life. It was to serve her fellow migrants wherever they are. After leaving the congregation, she became the president of Centro Filipino in 2005. Even though she is no longer a nun, people still call her Sis Pau, a term which she finds endearing. Under her watch, Centro Filipino thrived. Its programs such as Iskwelang Pinoy, Spanish classes, migrant youth trainings, social works with the Red Cross became more functional and active. She was on call 24 hours to accompany kababayans to their lawyers

to fight labor malpractices, to assist the sick in hospitals, to help the undocumented and victims of domestic violence. She also guided newly formed Filipino associations on how to become legally registered and regularized. Not a job, but a mission Sis Pau considers the birth of CR4RM as the most significant event in her life as a migrant. “Ever since it was built, the Center has been visited by various Filipino overseas workers. We listen to their stories. It is heartwarming. I am grateful.“ Today, CF4RM is in full swing. It has partnered with DOST, DA-ATI, PCLEDO, the Diocese of Cavite, local and international communities in order to upgrade its socio-cultural program, integrated urban farming system, Pinoy Ginhawa livelihood initiative, which all have become the core activities of the Center. It has now 350 members all over the world and 1,050 beneficiaries which include the residents around the Center. Now 70 years old, retiring is not on Sis Pau´s agenda. She visits Spain once or twice a year to coordinate with Spainbased members and to raise funds. In her recent visit to Europe, she endured a 12-hour bus ride from Barcelona to Geneva to introduce CF4RM to Switzerland-based Filipinos. “It is hard to stop. As long as I still have the strength and will to serve people. There is no retirement soon. This is not a job. This is my mission.” Sis Pau believes that she has gone far but not yet there. “I still have a long way to go. There are lot of things to be done in the Center. I long for the time that CF4RM becomes self-sufficient. To be a place where migrant workers, especially those who were not lucky in their quest abroad, may feel provided, taken care of and find new opportunities and ways to start a new life.”

#14 2021 | THE FILIPINO

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PROFILES

TERESITA MARQUES:

THE CONDUCTOR

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RETIREES

Teresita Gutierrez Marques met her husband, Antonio at a music festival in Coimbra in 1973, where she was with the UP Madrigal Singers and him, with the University of Lisbon Choir. Antonio was instantly smitten by the Filipina beauty that he invited Teresita to have dinner with his family the day after. Proving his pure intentions, he flew to the Philippines to meet her family and stayed there for four months. In December 1976, they tied the knot in the Philippines. Born and raised in Batangas, Teresita studied music at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She joined the world renowned UP Madrigal Singers in 1968, just a year after it was founded, and was an active member for seven years. It gave her the opportunity to see the world at 17, performing in prestigious concert halls for heads of states and dignitaries. Teresita still remembers very well when they sang for former King Juan Carlos of Spain in the 70s. When she moved to Portugal in 1977 as a newly married woman, the whole country was still reeling from the aftermath of the 1974 revolution. Unemployment was high and the air was rife with uncertainty. “It was not easy at first. My husband was working as an economics teacher and was trying to finish his law course. I didn’t work for seven months after I arrived from the Philippines. I studied the language first.” Teresita’s first job was at the National Ballet Company as an accompanist. Because of her experience in choral music, she then applied at the Lisbon National Conservatory as a choral teacher. “I couldn’t believe my luck when I got accepted. We were five applicants, and I was the only woman and a foreigner at that. That was the beginning of my journey.” Teaching music, creating harmony First on her agenda was to

form a chamber choir. “I decided to create a choir because the school didn’t have one. I chose the best singers and at the end of the school year, we performed in a concert for the whole school.” Teresita’s chamber choir was a success. Invitations from different groups outside the school poured in. “They began to pay us, but the school was against it. We also needed sponsors for our concerts and activities. So, on our 3rd year I talked to my singers. What do we do?” They decided to leave the Conservatory of Music, and Teresita´s 20-member Coro de Câmara de Lisboa became a legal and independent entity and would later become one of the most respected choirs in the country. Teresita juggled between her teaching duties at the

“I will do what I am doing as long as my body and mind allow me to.” Conservatory and her choir. “I really enjoyed what I was doing. I was fortunate I didn’t experience any form of discrimination at work. In fact, my colleagues were very helpful. They knew that it was not easy for me in the beginning due to the language barrier. My coteachers were much older than me, they treated me as their daughter.” Every day was a challenge for her. She had to prove that she deserved her post. Although she was the only choral teacher in the entire school for five years, she displayed nothing but professionalism and hard work. She was named coordinator of the chamber orchestra, chorale and bel canto classes in her last 12 years at the Conservatory. Meanwhile, Coro de

Prof. Teresita Marques with the members of Coro de Câmara de Lisboa.

Câmara de Lisboa has been going places, collaborating with the Ministry of Culture, recording CDs for big record companies, joining choir competitions and travelling around the world. They bagged the grand prize at the International Choir Competition in Tolosa, Spain in 1982. In March 2016, they recorded a CD entitled “Celebration of PhilippinePortuguese Friendship”, as a joint project honoring the 70 Years of Diplomatic Relations between the Philippines and Portugal. In 2018, Teresita went to the Philippines to receive the Overseas Filipino Presidential Award for Overseas Filipinos who have contributed and obtained success in their professions abroad. Still a busy life ahead At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, Teresita and her choir members didn’t idle their days away. They recorded the song “The Lord Bless You” by Joseph Lutkin and posted it on Youtube. “I was having breakfast the following morning and suddenly our recording was transmitted on Portuguese radio and the announcer mentioned our choir and played our song. I was very happy. We did more recordings after that.” The choir has just turned 43 and currently, it has 16 active members. Teresita sometimes hints at retirement. “The members tell me, no, you can´t leave us. And I jokingly tell them, why is it your business if I would like to stare at the wall? It has become a running joke now. But seriously, being with the choir is

psychologically good. My mind works.” Teresita can’t slow down even if she wants to. Just recently, she got a call from the court of justice for an important case. “I was surprised. The caller told me that I was referred to by the Philippine embassy and asked me how much time I could rush to court. After 20 minutes, I was face to face with five men in handcuffs. One of them was Pinoy.” The Pinoy was accused of drug trafficking and Teresita just found herself a new title under her belt, a court interpreter. “There are around 3,000 Filipinos in Lisbon. Although we have a good reputation here, there are some remote cases of drug trafficking and domestic violence that involve our kababayans and that´s when I come in. Aside from translating at court hearings, I also have to translate documents after the trial from Portuguese to Tagalog and vice versa.” At 70, Teresita has lived a sedulous expat life. Being a music teacher, a choir conductor, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a court translator, she has learned to survive, adjust, appreciate her surroundings, and count her blessings. “I will do what I am doing as long as my body and mind allow me to.” For now, Teresita can’t turn her back on something that she is eternally grateful for: music. Music took her around the world, brought her to Portugal and gave her the chance to create something beautiful and exceptional. #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO

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MODESTO AGUIRRE:

THE VETERAN

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RETIREES

A smiling Modesto Aguirre or Papang greets me as soon as he gets connected for our Zoom interview. Cool, cheerful and gentle, he is the kind of lolo everyone wants to have. The interview, a mix of Tagalog, English and Hiligaynon, displays how sharp Papang’s memory still is and boy, his sense of humor is infectious. Papang later confesses that laughter and vegetables are two important ingredients of his long life. The middle child of five siblings, Papang was born in Sicaba, Cadiz City on 15 June 1921, a year after the end of the Spanish flu pandemic. He spent his childhood in Cadiz and one of his fondest memories growing up was the time he spent fishing with his mother. Papang met the love of his life, Vivencia or Mamang in a chance encounter in 1942. He was smitten right away and wasted no time in courting the young lady. On 2 March 1946, the two tied the knot. The union later gave them 11 children. “I had several girlfriends before her, but I chose her. There was even an ex-girlfriend at the wedding…” Papang doesn’t have the chance to finish his line because we all burst into laughter. During the second world war, Papang joined the underground guerrilla movement. Unfortunately, he was captured by the Japanese, but luckily, he was spared from the brutal tortures that the Japanese soldiers were known for. “I was only beaten with a dos por dos,” Papang recounts with a giggle. On the

13th day of his detention, Papang was released with the help of the town mayor. After the war, Papang became a clerk at the Philippine Army Signal in 1948. He then worked for the ASAC (Anti-Smuggling Centre) of the Philippine government as a radio operator until he retired.

As if working eight hours a day was not enough, Papang took on a second job, as a dishwasher in a steakhouse restaurant. For ten years, he would clean the apartment from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon and run to the steakhouse restaurant to wash the dishes from six in the evening to one in the morning. “I was happy, lean and fast. The owner of the restaurant saw how the plates would fly from my hands. He was impressed.” Being a war veteran, it was not hard for Papang to find his place in the Filipino community. He was the secretary of the Filipino Veterans Association in Winnepeg from 1982 to 2000 and at Philippine Independence Day celebrations, he and his mates were tasked to raise the Philippine flag at the city hall.

An expat life in Canada The idea of migrating to Canada came after Papang’s oldest daughter, Bernice´s move to Winnepeg to work as a nurse in 1979. She petitioned her family to follow suit. On 28 October 1982, Papang and Mamang, together with four of their children, left the Philippines to start a new life in a new country. The rest of their children would join them several years later. Papang´s unforgettable memory of his first days in Canada was the first time he saw snow. “I was amazed. We went to the mountain to cut a pine tree to make it a Christmas tree.” Despite being in his 60s, Papang adjusted well to his new home. Only three months after he arrived, a friend called him with a job offer. It was to clean apartments eight hours a day, for six Canadian dollars per hour; to which he gladly accepted. “It was not too hard to do. I was still strong that time.”

A retiree again From Winnepeg, he moved to Brampton two years after retiring, a decision that allowed him to spend time with Mamang visiting their children who were now based in different parts of the world. Mamang was Papang´s constant travel buddy until her death in October 2013. In Papang´s colorful life, he considers 1 July 1946 as the most memorable day of his life. It was when Mamang moved to Manila from Cadiz to finally join him. That sweet day when he was standing on the pier waiting for the ship bearing Mamang to dock. Asked how he is as a father, Papang says that he was a cool father when his kids were growing up, but he also set some rules in the house. “When my kids were small, when I said, it´s time to wake up, it´s time to wake up. If not, they would wake up with a pail of water thrown at them.” Florence, who is sitting beside Papang laughs so hard as a sign of agreement. She

“To the young ones, never be enslaved by money. Money is evil. It can destroy your family. Work hard, because you can prosper and of course, finish your studies. No one can steal your education from you.”

claims that they had a schedule for the daily house chores. In 2008, Papang was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) but soon recovered from this ailment. This year, he has an oxygen tank on standby, but he can manage without one. During the pandemic, Papang’s daughters, Florence and Bernice took turns taking care of him. His lockdown days were spent relaxing in his garden and watching Korean dramas. Turning a new leaf Last June, Papang turned 100 in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. His family, strictly following safety measures, saw to it that it would be an unforgettable day for the celebrant. And it was. Making it extra special was the greetings that Papang received from the mayor of Brampton, Patrick Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and even Queen Elizabeth. Papang proved to be a real trooper by staying up until one in the morning. At 100, Papang is still in good shape. His memory is as sharp as a razor. He can recite important dates, birthdays and anniversaries with ease. He even has a Facebook account and loves listening to his favorite Filipino radio programs with his iPad. For Papang, hard work and patience are two most important ingredients to survive life abroad. Coming to a foreign country as a retiree and deciding to work again for another 10 years did not deter Papang´s outlook in life. His determination to give his family a bright future was his anchor to beat the odds. Despite his age, he continues to exude positivity and inspiration to the people around him. “All my dreams have been fulfilled. I can’t ask for anything more. I am extremely grateful to God. No regrets at all. To the young ones, never be enslaved by money. Money is evil. It can destroy your family. Work hard, because you can prosper and of course, finish your studies. No one can steal your education from you.” #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO

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ESSAY

A

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A Wanderer’s Home to make a courageous decision to give up my nursing career. It meant giving up thousands of dollars pouring into my bank account every other week. I was determined to take that leap even if it meant losing my income and saying goodbye to a career that spanned over four decades. It was time for me to focus on what I considered the most meaningful move in my personal and professional life. So I did. Since certainty is never a part of life, it is possible that I won’t have enough time to enjoy all the things I love to do. Oh, the arts! I’ve always wanted to become a full time artist, but life demanded that I stayed in the field of nursing longer than I intended. Juggling two careers for eighteen years, I endured sleep deprivation so I could go to school during the day and work at night. Living a double

life was an understatement. As if my struggle was not enough, life took on its natural course so fast that I had to set aside my personal pursuits to attend to the needs of my loved ones –my daughters’ weddings, my son’s college studies, my mother’s sudden illness, and her passing. My mother’s illness and passing gave me a new window into my own future. My view through this window becomes clearer as I get older. Will I live another twenty-five years…maybe thirty if I’m lucky? I’d blurt these thoughts aloud that my daughters could hear them. “Mom, don’t talk about that...we don’t want to hear it.” “But I need to talk openly about my future and my dying.” I’d tell them. “That is one inevitable truth everyone must face.” I want to welcome aging and dying with an open heart.

I intend to fade away with dignity and grace. I’ll wear a smile when life’s mysteries no longer exist. Questions about dying sneak into my consciousness on idle days and I don’t do too well when idle. The COVID pandemic forces me to isolate in my home. The isolation constantly challenges all my creative resources as I attempt to find new ways to be content. Planning for old age is never one of my favorite subjects. I’d rather chase my lifelong dreams, rather than making plans with so-called experts. Following my passions is what makes me feel most alive. Isn’t that a great way to live in the present? However, having experienced a decade of single parenthood and raising three young children on my own, forces me to engage with financial advisers who seem to have all the answers. I find their calculated speculations encouraging. Timing plays a big role. Saving for the future must start as soon as income is generated. Many of us make the common mistake of thinking “I’m still young. I’ll do it later.” I’m guilty of making that mistake and it took me a decade to undo

By Bles Chavez-Bernstein

distant memory. A momentary daze. An image appears, slowly taking shape…a small house perfectly shaded by a row of palm trees, the air is warm and humid moistening your face, blooming colors line your narrow street, an old neighborhood welcomes you. On the street corner, the smell of freshly baked pan de sal teases your palate. You join in the incessant laugh of your playmates as full moon descends on the playground. Like a movie, the reel keeps rolling with images so vivid they grab your heart, its beats racing, pounding on your chest. The place you desire is out of reach. You reminisce. With eyes involuntarily closing, you savor the warm sensations all over, like a tight hug from a long lost friend. Nostalgia sets in. The vision quickly fades. You decide to sit in your favorite chair. You let out a loud sigh… the thought of the past heightens your longing. Time may not be on your side. You blinked and the years went swiftly by. I waited so long for this… when I no longer have to work forty to sixty hours a week. You placate yourself with the intention to reassure. Four decades is a lifetime spent away from your homeland. You convince yourself that you have a great home where you are. You love the culture that was once foreign to you. You have many friends. Yet something is still missing. Reality keeps knocking... the practical reality. Many of my friends in America, Europe, and the Middle East have recently retired from their lifetime careers, and so have my high school friends back in the Philippines. We are in our sixties now and are often referred to as seniors. It took me a few years to let the word “senior” sink in into my psyche, another year to let it settle emotionally. This realization has allowed me


ESSAY

With aging comes the gift of wisdom, the end result of life experiences and selfawareness. With wisdom, it doesn’t mean I no longer make mistakes.

it. Sometimes, the well-known cliché, “The only time we have is now,” can be taken out of its context and places us offbalance. I find discipline as the key to the process of saving for the future. I place equal value to my near and far futures. To sacrifice one for the other can end in regrets. Saving for my old age does not mean I deprive myself of the priceless moments. “There may not be a tomorrow,” I remind myself. I travel to see new places, make friends, share stories and poetry with others, and sing before an audience whenever I can. In a strange turn of events, the lockdown brought about by the pandemic paved the way for me to complete writing the book I’d always wanted to write. While battling the signs of a looming depression, I wrote In The Typhoon’s Eye, my childhood memoir. I turn to writing as often as I can, treating it as my friendly companion when alone. I escape into the magical

world of books to destress and heal myself. If inspiration is low, I cultivate it. I learn how to value time as my most precious commodity. My family and friends are scattered all over the world and distance create another hurdle. Virtual meetings bridge the effects of distance but not all. Computer and cyber skills are vital especially in these times of disconnect. Without them, connecting with loved ones is almost impossible for my senior friends in their 80’s. Loneliness intensifies the yearning to return to their homeland, especially when their adult children live far to pursue careers in other countries. The gift of companionship comes easier to some but not to others. Some brave living a life of loneliness for the sake of physical comfort. For most seniors, choices narrow down to what can support them with their healthcare needs. Others choose to retire back in the Philippines believing that their happiness lies in being surrounded by their family of origin, the old culture they grew up with, in the old setting of where ‘home’ was. For those who are fortunate enough to afford maintaining two homes, one home in the Philippines and a second one abroad, their life can be more rewarding as they live in the best of both worlds. The list of hardships experienced by the aging immigrant can be endless. If I dissect further and go deeper into the day-to-day battle, aches and pains occupy the top of the list. I am no exception to this reality. I visit doctors when I need to and choose to be proactive when it comes to my health. I prefer to be a step ahead instead of behind. Since none of us chose our genetic makeup, we inherit predispositions to certain illnesses. The good news is that pain can be managed to a point where it does not need to interfere with the quality of life. Although it took a few months to reduce the aches caused by degenerative changes in my spine, the combination

of daily yoga stretches and Zumba exercises proved successful. I choose not to take pain medications. The simple things that we do on a daily basis can have a huge impact on our health as we age. Nutrition, exercise, recreation, socialization, and hobbies play significant roles in promoting health. Nourishing our body with healthy diet is just as vital as nourishing our mind with healthy information. “We are what we eat.” The daily rituals we do to feel good and maintain our well-being eventually turn into habits. Our habits become us. Life is never easy. It may seem even harder for people who love adventure, like you and me. I am a wanderer seeking the very best in life. I don’t stop looking for answers. I know that life can be unfair but I rise above that painful truth. Life does not offer me anything without a price. Nothing is free. The moment I chose to live on life’s terms, I broke the shackles that have bound me for too long. I no longer tread inside the dark tunnel of pessimistic thinking. With renewed faith, like a child, I pursue everything that makes me happy. Material things are not the answer. I used to feel like I didn’t have enough clothes, jewelry, and other material possessions. Now I look around and I see that I got everything I need--a roof over my head, food on the table, the love and respect of my husband, children, friends, family, and the chance to live my waking dream. I’m living that dream as I speak. The inner voice says, Bles, it has been long overdue. With aging comes the gift of wisdom, the end result of life experiences and self-awareness. With wisdom, it doesn’t mean I no longer make mistakes. Learning lessons does not stop. Taking risks is inevitable if I aim at having accomplishments. New mistakes are bound to happen as I navigate new territories, new fields of study, new skills, new relationships, and new places to navigate. Complacency is not in my vocabulary. I intend

to enhance my knowledge, hone my skills, and polish my voice as an artist. With all live performances on hold due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, I create my own invisible platform. I sing my arias within the four walls of my home, at the same performance level I would give on a live stage, with imagined thundering applause from an audience in standing ovation. I dance to keep my body limber, my spirits lighter. Music and writing confirm what my life purpose is. Purpose adds meaning to my existence. I write poetry to connect with those who find beauty and solace in the written word. I tell true stories, healing and painful, beautiful and ugly, to widen perspectives and create better personal paradigms. I may not notice when my life’s sunset sneaks in to steal my sunlight for I’ll be too busy being happy. I live to inspire and be inspired. One story at a time. Chasing my love for the arts took me to my temporary homes, each of them creating memories that have become part of me. The house where I grew up still stands on the same street that looks shorter now. Our old neighbors are gone. Nothing looks like the home I knew. Only the old kapok tree on the corner of the grassy yard bears resemblance of my childhood, in my age of innocence and wonderment. Last summer, while visiting my children in South Florida, I overheard an impassioned conversation between my six-year old grandson and her five-year old cousin, my granddaughter. “I want lola and lolo to buy a house in my neighborhood.” “No, I want them to live in my neighborhood!” The little cousins happened to live in the same neighborhood. From that moment on, I knew where my next home was going to be. It would be right in the midst of those who will bear my legacy. #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO

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By Nats Sisma Villaluna

By Steven Rosen

COVER STORY

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BERNIE


BERNIE MILAN

E MILAN: CONQUERING NEW YORK CITY

#14 2021 | THE FILIPINO

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COVER STORY

W

hen Bernie Milan, 46, decided to move to New York, he had a vision of himself waltzing his way into the Big Apple welcomed by the city with open arms. Born in San Francisco but raised in Bacolod, Philippines, Bernie was enjoying a promising career in Manila working as an assistant director to one of Philippines’ most respected filmmakers. “I was being mentored by the legendary director Peque Gallaga but I was too young to realize what great opportunity I had. There was nothing tying me to the Philippines since I lost my parents as a teenager, and I thought that my success in Manila would translate easily to New York. I decided to join my sister in Brooklyn and find my purpose.” Spring beginning The waltzing didn’t happen. New York didn’t care who he was nor how successful he was back home. Bernie arrived in the middle of springtime, April 1996, staying on his sister’s couch in a studio apartment in Brooklyn. Not wanting to be a burden, he combed the city for whatever job there was; he entertained retail and assistant jobs only to be shown the door. “I quickly understood that it was time to get serious. I spent weeks at the NY Public Library researching how to represent my experience in a résumé. I shed my artiste-wannabe appearance, chopped my long hippie hair short to a crew cut. My sister’s then boyfriend gave me his old suits to wear to interviews for corporate jobs. I remember that they did not fit right but it did not matter. I decided to put in the work to get a job, to make it in New York.” After months of pounding the pavement and endless interviews and rejections, Bernie found himself in a waiting room full

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BERNIE MILAN

of other candidates, dressed in an illfitting suit and worn shoes, vying for an advertising sales position at a media firm. He recalls thinking, “What if these other candidates were better than me? Did I even have a shot? Was I enough?” When the hiring manager called him in, the first question she asked was “Are you Filipino?” As luck would have it, the manager just came back from her brother’s wedding in the Philippines. “I got the job and moved out of my sister’s apartment. I rented my own flat on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I felt very proud that it was my Filipino heritage that allowed me to connect with my manager and helped open doors.” With his first pay check, Bernie bought clothes that fit and replaced his only pair of worn-out shoes. Through hard work and sheer will, Bernie became one of the highest money-generating employees in the company. His decades-long career bloomed, working for big companies such as The New York Times, Time Inc., Conde Nast, Microsoft and now, Google. He also obtained his Master’s in Business Administration at Columbia University,

an Ivy League institution. Not bad for a “probinsyano” from Bacolod. Summer rainbow and the adobo project Summer in New York is hot and humid, but it does not stop New Yorkers from taking long walks along the Hudson River, celebrating Pride Month in June or exploring the hottest Broadway shows. For Bernie, this time of year will always remain extra special. In August 2018, three summers after the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in the US, he exchanged vows with his better half, Michael. He recalls how overwhelmed he was with emotions when he was signing their marriage contract at the city hall. “I never thought I would ever get married. I never thought of it as a possibility. I grew up in a Catholic society where gay marriage wasn´t even a dream. I remember when I was about 13 or 14 that one of my titas came up to me and said, Kahit bakla ka lang . . .Biskan agi ka lang, alam ka gali no?” (Even though you are just a gay man, you are quite intelligent). I will always remember how that comment made me feel like I was less

Above: Bernie Milan as Cavaradossi and Sabrina Palladino as Tosca in Puccini’s Tosca. Photo by David Wentworth. Below: Bernie Milan as Rodolfo and Alea Vorillas as Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme. Photo by Sabrina Palladino.

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COVER STORY

Bernie and his husband, Michael, on their wedding day, with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

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BERNIE MILAN

Bernie Milan as Cavaradossi and Sabrina Palladino as Tosca in an Amato Opera production of Puccini’s Tosca. Photos by David Wentworth

“I never thought I would ever get married. I never thought of it as a possibility. I grew up in a Catholic society where gay marriage wasn´t even a dream. I remember when I was about 13 or 14 that one of my titas came up to me and said, Kahit bakla ka lang, biskan agi ka lang, alam ka gali no?” (Even though you are just a gay man, you are quite intelligent).

than. Imagine saying that to a kid. How horrible.” New York, however, has never made Bernie inferior. He always feels like he belongs. People can be themselves in New York. “Someone can be walking by wearing a skirt, with piercings, make-up, bald etc. and people may say that’s cute or that’s his or her thing. That´s that. This is what I love about New York, there is room for everyone. New York doesn’t care where you came from.” When Bernie was growing up in the Philippines, his parents would tell him not to lose his accent. Remain as American as he could possibly be. They mentioned that once he returned to the US, Americans may not warm up much to his Filipino heritage. This idea rings quite true for first- and secondgeneration Filipino immigrants. However, in recent years, young Filipino Americans have become more curious about their roots, embracing their unique Filipino heritage. “At Google, an employee

resource group called the Filipino Googler Network, or FGN, was created by its Filipino employees in 2004, to connect its global community, find ways to support its members and celebrate their Filipino heritage. Before the pandemic, we would meet in the office over Pinoy food and network with the community. During the pandemic, we needed to find ways to connect with each other virtually to make sure that everyone in the community was okay. To take care of our own.” In the summer of 2020, Bernie launched the “Quarantine Adobo Project” for FGN. This was a monthly one-hour virtual video call where members can learn how to cook a traditional Filipino dish, discover its history, and share recipes that they can make their own. Bernie recalls some members say, “I don’t look quite Filipino, or I don´t speak Tagalog. Am I Filipino enough?” Bernie, as one of their community leaders assures them, “Yes, you are Filipino.” “There is not a single way to make a great adobo - the

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COVER STORY

same way that there is not a single way to be Filipino or Filipino American. You don’t have to speak the language to be considered Filipino. If it is in your blood, it is in your blood. Celebrate that part of you.” While the Covid-19 pandemic was affecting millions of people in the USA, with Filipino nurses on the frontlines, the summer of 2020 was also a time of racial reckoning in the United States. Living in New York, Bernie experienced being in the epicentre of the Coronavirus pandemic and found himself participating in the Black Lives Matter and Anti-Asian and Pacific Islander Violence protests. “I marched for Marriage Equality for many years until it finally became law in 2015. The violence against the African American and Asian American communities need to end. So, I did what I could do during that time. I supported the 30 THE FILIPINO | #14 2021

causes. I marched.” One act of violence got to Bernie. It was that of a 65-year-old Filipino immigrant that was brutally attacked near Times Square leaving church. As the attack unfolded, no one came to her aid. “She looked like our mothers, our titas, our lolas. Why didn’t anyone do anything? This really broke my heart.” He noticed that some of his Filipino friends thought that it wasn’t their place to speak up for African Americans during the BLM protests and violence against our Chinese brethren during the Coronavirus “blame game”. “I do not agree with this at all. I believe that as immigrants and people of color, it is our place to speak up for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. There may be a time when you need someone to speak up for you.” Through all of this, Bernie’s group

hosted what they called Listening Sessions where they went through what was happening and checked in with the community. One of the outcomes was a project called “Healing Through Kapamilya” where members were encouraged to share stories of their elders, the most loved and vulnerable members of the community. “We honored our elders by sharing some old photographs and stories on how they played an important role in our lives. It was truly a cathartic experience and brought the community even closer.” The music of fall For Bernie, New York is most beautiful in autumn. When the leaves turn orange and there is a hint of nip in the air. “The fall foliage in Central Park is truly a sight to behold. New Yorkers dress up in layers, with fashionable jackets and coats. Most


BERNIE MILAN

importantly for me, fall is when the new season of opera and Broadway shows start.” It was in Fall of 1999 when Bernie’s dream to perform in New York came true. Despite his success in the corporate world, he just could not turn his back on his first love: music. From elementary to college, Bernie joined various choral groups, musical plays, and would often win in singing competitions. Performing was in his blood. “When I was working at New York Times, one of the managers asked me to sing at the company’s holiday party after hearing me sing in a karaoke bar.” To prepare for his performance, Bernie hired a voice teacher, Carl Olsen. Under Mr. Olsen, Bernie learned opera. He encouraged him to train with worldrenowned vocal coaches. Mr. Olsen also introduced him to Anthony Amato, owner

“Someone can be walking by wearing a skirt, with piercings, make-up, bald etc. and people may say that’s cute or that’s his or her thing. That´s that. This is what I love about New York, there is room for everyone. New York doesn’t care where you came from.”

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COVER STORY

of an opera company in downtown New York. Mr. Amato took him under his wing and reinforced his training by having him sing in the chorus and in some comprimario or supporting roles. Eventually, Mr, Amato cast Bernie in leading roles such as “Rodolfo” in La Boheme, “Canio’’ in Pagliacci and “Cavaradossi” in Tosca. For about 10 years, he had been living a double life. Corporate suit guy by day and an opera divo at night. He was even invited to perform at a concert in Barcelona, Spain. “During weeknight performances, I would change into my costume in the office, hop on the subway and about a few minutes later, I would be on stage. My co-workers thought I was crazy.” In 2009, the US was in the middle of The Great Recession and Bernie´s opera career prospects plateaued. He had to decide. “A lot of my performer friends had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. I was blessed with a successful corporate career and all signs pointed to me doubling down on it. Looking back, I don’t think I was cut out to live the performer’s life. I loved it very much but I also understood where I needed to be to live the life that I wanted. I remain a huge fan of opera and hope to continue singing ... even just for myself.” In the winter of 2011, Bernie´s mentor Amato passed away. Surviving winter, surviving life Winter in New York can be cruel and harsh. In 1996, the year when Bernie came to New York, the city was hit by one of the strongest blizzards in history. But just like all the calamities and attacks that befell the Big Apple, the city has always found a way to rise again. New York survives and thrives. For Bernie, to survive in New York, one must roll with the punches. “You need to be ready for anything and everything this crazy and wonderful city throws your way.” Taking a long pause, he adds, “Living in New York is not always as glamorous or easy as one sees in the movies or on social media. It can be tough but as I get older and a little bit wiser, I have learned to surround myself with amazing people and to become my own best cheerleader. I am so fortunate to have my family and a husband that supports me no matter what.” “On that kahit bakla ka lang and that trying to hide my Filipino-ness nonsense. I have learned to let that all go. I have never been prouder to be Filipino. I belong and yes, I am enough.”

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#14 2021 | THE FILIPINO

33


PARENTING

Redefining the modern

By Dheza Marie Aguilar

By Robin Kujis

J

FAMILY

ohnny and Goran are life partners, and they are raising two children together with Daphne, the mother of their kids. “He looked at our passports, look at the passengers in the car and asked me: Where did you get these people?”. Goran* (43) fondly recalls the funny incident with an immigration officer when their family was checked at the border in Slovenia, his motherland, for a holiday. In the car were his partner Johnny* (46), a Filipino expat living in Amsterdam, their two children Leo (14) and Lawin (5), and Daphne* (33), the children’s mother and Johnny’s niece. It might be an unconventional set-up but in the Dutch family system of meerouderschap, children can legally have two or more parents. Johnny, Goran and Daphne ‘s family set-up is what they call in the Netherlands, a regenbooggezin (rainbow family), basically a three-parent family with one or two LGBTIQ+ parents. Johnny, an accountant and Goran, a dancer and photographer, met at the 2009 Gay Pride in Amsterdam. At that time, Johnny had already adopted 34 THE FILIPINO | #14 2021

Leo, the son of his niece Daphne, whom he has taken care of and supported since 2006. When did you decide to have a family together? Goran: I had a boyfriend before who had two daughters but then I could not really raise them because they have their own mom. Somehow I got used to having kids around. Then I met Johnny and on the second date he said he had a child. And I said, “Oh perfect, maybe when we are ready, we can bring him (Leo) here”. Johnny: Daphne was living in the Philippines, so we were already looking for options to have our own child here in the Netherlands. We studied the legal

complexities of different set-ups and eventually we decided to ask Daphne. Goran: We proposed to her that we would like to have Lawin. And it took her six years to agree. The couple went to the Philippines to introduce Goran to Daphne and Leo. It took a while before three-year old Leo warmed up to his new Papa, his Daddy’s partner, but they eventually developed a good bond after several more visits. When Leo turned five, the couple brought him and his mother to the Netherlands. Johnny admits that financial reason was one of the factors that convinced Daphne to agree on the three-parent set-up. But because

he is also her uncle, she trusted them that they would take care of her and the second baby the way they took care of Leo. In the beginning, Johnny and Daphne hesitated to explain the family set-up to Leo. But it did not take long before the young boy started to wonder about the complexities of his family. Daphne: I was young when I got Leo. My boyfriend and I didn’t really live together. Leo did not know that before, and then one day he asked, “Why are you calling Johnny uncle, but he is my Daddy?” He was eight and we were in Nice that time. Goran: He is smart. He came to me and asked, “What’s going on?”

Above: The modern family of Johnny (right), Goran (center), and Daphne, with their children Lawin (left) and Leo. Below: Goran reads bedtime stories to Lawin.


MODERN FAMILY Johnny: We wanted to talk about it, but we didn’t know the right approach. It was a heavy subject. But I was very happy when he asked. The conversation became much easier, and I was relieved. When Daphne became pregnant with Lawin, she remembers how she tried to hide the pregnancy from friends and even some relatives to avoid gossips. Johnny’s family came from Sultan Kudarat, but they eventually settled in Davao. The society was not exactly open-minded about two gays having a child with a woman. But several years after, both have learned not to care about other people’s opinion. Daphne: I kept it a secret in the beginning, but I can’t hide Lawin forever. Now I post about him all over social media. Of course, I love my child. Daphne got pregnant through artificial insemination. She carried the first month of pregnancy in the Netherlands but was uncomfortable giving birth in a country with an unfamiliar health care system. She went home to give birth in the Philippines, a decision that Goran struggled with because he could not be there for his son’s birth. Goran and Daphne are officially registered as Lawin’s parents. Three months after Lawin was born, Johnny and Goran flew to the Philippines to see his child for the very first time. How was it like holding your child for the first time? Goran: I was very emotional (becoming teary-eyed), holding my own child. But what was strange, when you are a couple you can talk about things, how she feels. But with her (Daphne), I didn’t know anything. She was away so we needed time to grow together as parents. I missed that but I was also happy to be with Lawin. The children, together with Daphne eventually moved to the Netherlands. The family settled into a routine of a normal family, Johnny managing the finances, Goran taking care of the daily activities of the kids, and Daphne assisting the couple and taking care of the kids wherever necessary, while holding a job of her own. And while the kids did not experience upfront discrimination

“I am not afraid for his future because it is a different society. Whatever you become, it will be fine. In Holland, whatever you do, you have a certain level of comfort, unlike in the Philippines where it is difficult.”

and were even considered to be “cool” for having two fathers, the couple decided to enroll their children to a school where students came from well-off families, where parents are more open to gay partnership. Johnny: You don’t want people bullying your kids or have a very difficult discussion about being gay that can affect them. Goran: In Leo’s former school, parents didn’t talk to me. What is the most challenging part of being gay parents? Goran: Gay friends who don’t have kids, sometimes they come in and they don’t notice the kids. I find it so odd. I feel that gay people are not so into children. Some friends are even bothered by the noise the kids make. Johnny: Straight parents are more attentive in that regard.

What is your biggest fear as parents, as gay parents? Goran: Before Lawin was born, I already wanted to have an Asian kid because I felt like I was too restricted, I was too stiff. Lawin has a lot of male and female energies. He is very free, he imitates both men and women. It is very confrontational. Johnny: He can be very theatrical. Goran: Then Johnny starts calling him bakla. I told him, maybe it is too early. Don’t do that to my son. As a father I don’t want anyone calling him bakla. He is maybe gender fluid. I also talked to some parents on how they are dealing with that because in our household we don’t have role models, so everything is possible. It is a small fear. I don’t know why. It’s a funny feeling even though I am gay myself. Johnny: I don’t do that in

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PARENTING

a degrading way. I mean we are bakla ourselves. He finds it a bit awkward, so I stopped saying it. Goran: The fact that my son would also be gay is so weird. I am also learning from him, to just accept him and myself. I remember when he wanted to be with boys in the playground and the boys didn’t accept him so he pushed one guy and I thought, he could stand up for himself, he is going to be fine. He can take care of himself. It was my own fear. Maybe I wasn’t allowed to be

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more feminine because we lived in a village, so they always told me it was bad. I think that came up on him and it was liberating. Johnny: The fears that I have are general parental fears, not how they will grow up. I am confident in Leo, he is very chill, easy going, confident. I think it is also the generation, it is different, it has changed a lot. Some of his friends come here for sleepovers and vice versa and it is just ok. People are more accepting (of gay couples).

What would be your ideal life for your children in the future? Goran: I just try to guide them with all my knowledge as an artist. In Holland, life is more laidback. In Slovenia it is always about performing and performing. Johnny is also very ambitious and driven. With the kids, I try not to push them too much. From Leo, I am also learning that you don’t have to perform all the time, you don’t need to be the best all the time.

Johnny: I always tell Leo, you have the opportunity here, make use of it. I always push him a bit, six is not a grade good enough, to motivate him as well. I tell him when we were studying, we needed to pay a lot of money to go to a good school or get a scholarship to go to the university. So, it will be a pity if you don’t make use of the opportunity and what you can achieve. On one hand, I am not afraid for his future because it is a different society. Whatever you become, it will be fine. In Holland, whatever you do, you have a certain level of comfort, unlike in the Philippines where it is difficult. I want happiness for them. But I also explain to Leo that is it is difficult to be happy when you don’t have money. So, it should be a good balance between finding passion and earning money. It is just the reality. Leo seems to understand his Daddy very well because when asked what he wanted to do later, he said “something that is good earning.” What is your advice for other gay couples who wants to build a family together? Goran: As a couple you have to have the will. When I met Johnny, and he said he has a kid, I said, good let’s do it together. If you feel that from your partner, that’s a good base already. You need to be mentally ready; you need to be mature. You need to be ready to give up certain things or put some things on the side. Do I need to be career-focused still? Those things you think about. Johnny: Maybe gay people like the idea of having kids but the practical aspect is not easy. There are a lot of legalities involved, so that’s the main drawback. It is also costly. A lot are very inspired with the way we did. But we are just lucky that it worked the way we planned. *Surnames are not published at Johnny’s request. They are known to the editor.


PARENTING

AD

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BUSINESS

Lessons for a succesful career “I had to learn everything from scratch. Even if I have the degree, it´s different. I had to start working on my accent. That was the first thing I did because some people judge you with your accent.”

By Nats Sisma Villaluna

S

haron Taleon Masler, 46, learned the ropes at an early age. Instead of getting discouraged, she used these lessons to lead her to where she is now. Based in Irvine, California, she is a mother to three boys and managing partner at Masler & Associates, CPAs. Sharon shares with The Filipino Expat her secret to a successful career in the USA. Born in Bacolod, Sharon is the eldest among three siblings. When she was 10, her family had a small bakery where they made the best pandesal. The bakery was doing well until the competition became fierce. Sharon vividly remembers one incident where she had to do something out of the box to save her family from losing a great deal of money. “It was the day before Christmas, our delivery truck carrying loaves of bread broke down in the middle of the road. It was already getting dark when it finally got fixed. Due to the

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delay, our customers went ahead and bought bread somewhere else.” Sharon wasn´t just going home with a truckload of unsold bread. Their workers wouldn´t get paid otherwise and it was the holiday season. “I told the driver to drive to Libertad public market, find a parking spot and sell our bread there.” She stood next to her truck and sold the bread to last minute shoppers. Sharon left the place without a single loaf of bread left. Family first Her father stopped working as an engineer when she was still in elementary, and it was her mom who held down the fort for the family, working as a teacher, running a bakery & a small hacienda, and raising her children. Sharon was inspired by her mom’s tenacity and hard work. She wanted to unburden her of some of the responsibilities, especially after their bakery closed down. Sharon had to become the breadwinner. Instead of taking the CPA board exam after

graduation, Sharon moved to Davao to work for a bank so she could send her younger siblings to college. With a meagre salary, and even with strict budgeting, the money was never enough to support the family. So, she started looking across the ocean. Adapt Immediately Sharon was 25 and was single when she took the chance to apply for visas to Canada and the United States. She was so blessed and got her visa approved in both countries. That was when she knew she was destined somewhere. Sharon’s initial plan was to visit her relatives in the States and explore possibilities but was unsure about staying. Unbeknownst to her, the universe had already sealed her fate. “When we were living in Davao, we had an American neighbour who was married to a Filipina. When they went back to the US, they looked for me.” The wife

Sharon Masler and the staff of Masler & Associates, CPAs.


SHARON MASLER

introduced Sharon to her stepdaughter, a CPA in Newport Beach who offered Sharon a job as a secretary. It was a small firm, but it was a great training ground for her to learn about how a business operates in another country. The CPA was a great mentor, but she retired, so Sharon moved to another firm as the administrator. Because of her Accounting degree, she handled audits, review and compilation of financial statements and prepared tax returns. On weekends, she would look after an elderly, and clean the house to earn money for her family’s needs. “I had to learn everything from scratch. Even if I have the degree, it’s different. I had to start working on my accent. That was the first thing I did because some people judge you with your accent.” Surround yourself with people who see your worth Sharon met Greg Masler, fell in love, and got married. “At first, I was worried about cultural & religious differences, he is Jewish and I’m a Christian. But then I realized that your faith is personal, and mutual respect is very important. Greg always pushes her to be the better version of herself. In 2008, the firm she was working at merged and sold their company and Sharon decided to go freelance. “Greg always told me, you have the skills, you have the brain, why don´t you do something for yourself.” It was perfect

on the work that I do for them and how I take care of their finances. I always tell myself that as long as I have my brain and you have your brain, we are equal. There is not any reason for you to treat me in any other way.”

Sharon and Greg with their three boys.

timing because Greg’s dad, Steven Masler, CPA, was dreaming of a family business and saw Sharon’s potential as a business partner. “I am eternally grateful to my father-in-law for giving me this amazing chance to start a business with him.” In between having children and running a company, Sharon studied for the CPA exams and passed all four parts. Have a game plan Sharon and Steve started with zero clients. They had to start marketing their practice. “We created our website, made our presence felt on Yelp and Google. Slowly, the clients came. According to them, they chose us because of the sincerity of our website.” Their photos appear on their website because they want to show that they are real people. “Some firms could be shady, maybe a tax preparation

firm today and a donut shop tomorrow, leaving clients lost. So that was how we built our name, slowly, sincerely and surely.” Integrity and competence Sharon always sees to it that her firm treats their clients with integrity and professionalism. Rich or poor, everyone should be treated fairly. During the early stage of their firm, a client came for help. “He said that he got audited by IRS and had to pay $100,000. He could not find his CPA, he was helpless. It was not an easy task, but we did not gave up on him.” Sharon’s firm represented him in front of the IRS and discovered something his previous accountant had overlooked. “The IRS agents saw the discrepancy, and in the end, instead of owing $100,000, my client walked away with a

refund. The client was very happy, and he has remained our client for 13 years now.” Empathize Sharon likes helping small businesses. For her, it is not about what one makes, it is how much one can keep. “I have clients who make $30,000 a year to $5 million a year, to $50 million a year. But at the end of the day, those people making little money are the ones who have more in their pockets because they are wiser.” That is why on her Facebook account, she often shares information about saving money. Speak up Sharon is aware that being Asian in America, she needs to prove herself most of the time. She feels lucky though that she hasn’t experienced any serious form of racism. “My clients are more focused

Take care of your staff The secret of Sharon’s firm is her staff. The firm has eight loyal and competent staff members. Most of them have been with the firm since it started. She always sees to it that they have time to bond and enjoy each other´s company. Just recently, Sharon treated her staff to the Pageant of the Masters, a theatre show in Laguna Beach. Sharon doesn’t micro-manage. She believes in training her staff and empowering them to provide the best possible service and utmost care to clients. As the company grows, it is an opportunity to give back. “Whatever the company earns, any increase in our profits, I make sure to share it with them. After all, my staff is the vein of our firm’s existence.” Do not forget your roots Sharon is still deeply connected with her roots. She supports a feeding ministry in Bacolod. She flies to the Philippines with her family, frequently visiting family, and friends on different islands. “Philippines has so much to offer, it is such a beautiful country with abundant natural resources and wonderful people.” Sharon and her husband invested in a property there, so they have a place to stay for their future visits. “Right now, our marketing team is in the Philippines, and they are doing such a fantastic job.” In the future, she dreams of establishing a bookkeeping arm in the Philippines, an opportunity to provide jobs to many talented Filipinos in Manila and Bacolod. Appreciate, Aspire, Act Undeniably, Sharon loves what she does. From time to time, she gets asked why she does the things that she does. She always tells them that it makes her feel good when a client can sleep peacefully at night knowing that his/her financial affairs are well taken care of. Sharon has come a long way. But despite this, she has remained grounded and grateful. “I have learned three important things in this journey; always appreciate what you have, aspire to be better and act to achieve the desires of your heart.” #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO 39


BUSINESS

The business of brows Microblading is here to stay and one Filipino expat in Amsterdam has turned it into a profitable business.

By Dheza Marie Aguilar

By Robin Kujis

E

dson Gonzales just came back from a holiday, but he was already busy fending off negative reviews online. When I pointed out the negative Google reviews during the interview, he heaved a deep sigh. “Those are fake. I already had one removed and my lawyer sent a demand letter for the others. I suspect that this is from someone I had a tiff with.” Like any entrepreneur with an online presence, Edson’s Eyebrow Lab Amsterdam is not safe from negative reviews, and fake ones. But through the years, he has learned to ignore the negativity and channel his energy into running the business. That’s why it is no surprise that he was able to survive the closure of businesses in the Netherlands due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Gonzales’ life story is a familiar one. He came to Amsterdam as a tourist in 2009 but when his visa expired, his relatives convinced him to stay. He cleaned hotel rooms to earn money, while also dabbling as a make-up artist on the side, the career that he left when he migrated. He never thought he would become undocumented. In 2014, he went back to the Philippines to apply for another visa, unsure whether he could still come back to the Netherlands. He was granted the proper papers and years later, became an entrepreneur. “All I wanted to do was earn and do the things that I love,” he declared. Eyebrow Lab Amsterdam is a clinic specializing in eyebrow microblading, skin rejuvenation and tattoo removal. Located a stone’s throw away from

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Amsterdam Central Station, clients come all the way from Switzerland and United Kingdom to avail of his services. Choosing his own way Any entrepreneur who needs to take up a lease in Amsterdam’s expensive property market knows the burden of exorbitant rent. Monthly rates for small business studio’s usually start at €2,000 and it takes a good business model to cough up such amount monthly. But Gonzales did not have to go to the bank or borrow money to pool in a capital for his business. He used the savings he earned from working in a bed and breakfast and microblading gigs to buy materials and pay the deposit and rent for his clinic, amounting to more than €5,000. His confidence in the sustainability of his business model made him less worried about revenues. “Sumugal talaga ako,” he said resolutely, referring to his decision of quitting his jobto start his own

business in 2018. But his resolve to go on his own was not easy, partly because of his Filipino values of loyalty. Despite already earning a good income and building up a client base from his microblading gigs, Gonzales was also working as a manager for a bed and breakfast owned by a good friend. He was confronted by the guilt of utang na loob, of leaving the people who helped him build a life in the Netherlands. “It took me two years to quit (my job). It was difficult to leave a job that you had learned to love for a decade, especially when you were the one they were relying on. They helped me and then suddenly I was going to leave them. So, my biggest challenge was overcoming that guilt, that loyalty. But my heart was not there anymore, so I started making mistakes, and they thought I was not interested anymore. Eventually they let me go,” he narrated.

Learning the skills Gonzales discovered microblading in 2016. But to be able to enroll in a professional training academy, he needed €2,300, an amount he didn’t have at that time. To gain experience, he followed training videos online and practiced on his friends. After six months, he was able to save enough to pay the tuition fee at Elite Beauty Academy, a UK-based microblading and dermo plasma


EYEBROW LAB

BUSINESS AT A GLANCE training school. After completing his training and getting certified, Gonzales offered his expertise to Clinic 63, a high-end aesthetic clinic in Amsterdam, as an additional service to their beauty treatments. He worked on commission and started to build his client base. In 2018 he scoured the city for a good location and saw a good opportunity when the ground floor of the multi-level canal house in Amsterdam Centrum where he lives became available. To be able to afford the rent, he initially partnered with Groupon, a popular discount website for goods and services. “I was already earning €200 per client at Clinic 63 but I was worried about how to sustain the rent in my own clinic. So, I went to Groupon to get more clients. But working with Groupon is difficult. They give you too many clients for a minimum price. They sold my services for €80, and I only got €40, and they gave me 300 clients. I was working like a horse, and the quality of my work was getting compromised because I had to work fast all the time.” He hired a Dutch marketing company to get his name across a broader client group through Facebook and Instagram, and eventually managed to get the clients that he wanted. He also needed to improve his Dutch and work on his accent to effectively communicate with his clients, especially when explaining the technicalities of the procedure. “Because it is an expensive service, the clients who can afford them are usually older women. They prefer that you speak Dutch

to them. One client even told me that I had to speak better Dutch because a sloppy language may turn off clients. I asked friends to help me improve my language skills. Now it is easier because I am just memorizing them.” Personal touch Microblading is a form of semi-permanent tattooing where a specialist draws a tiny brow hair using a needle and ink to create a thick superficial eyebrow, drawn according to a client’s request. The technique is very delicate because the artist must be careful not to cut too deep in the eyebrow skin to avoid leaving scars but not too shallow that it will be erased easily. The pressure on the artist hand can also influence the final color of the eyebrows. Micro-bladed eyebrows can last up to two years with regular touch ups, so it is a popular choice for women who don’t want to draw their eyebrows every day. Microblading has been around for 25 years, but it only started to get mainstream in 2016 when actress Bella Thorne posted on her Snapchat account how she managed to transform her light eyebrows to thick, well-defined lines. Since then, it has become popular among celebrities, from popstar royalty Madonna to Grand slam winner Serena Williams. According to Gonzales, microblading is not suitable to some skin types, like oily skin so he sometimes refuses clients. Before accepting a client, he conducts a 15-minute interview where he asks their expectations, explains the procedures as well as the risks. Because of his expertise, Gonzales charges a basic fee of

€425 for his services. His clinic was approved by the Dutch Municipal Health Authority (or Gemeentelijke Gezondheidsdienst, GGD) and he only uses needles and inks that are approved by the European Union. To be able to keep up with new techniques and trends, he continuously attends workshops and trainings from colleagues in different parts of the world. In Amsterdam, Gonzales considers himself among the best microblading experts, owing to more than five years of experience, his specialist needle knowledge, and his personal touch. And despite constantly worrying that a client would not be happy with the result, he has learned to accept that he cannot please everybody. “You try to make everybody beautiful but it is not always possible. But I’m very accommodating. Customer service is my advantage because I am a Filipino, and I am very hospitable.” Future plans This year Gonzales turned 40, his business is two years old, and he is marking 12 years of living in the Netherlands this month. He is dreaming of a beauty empire in the future but for now, he is building his own Eyebrow Lab Academy, creating modules, and developing trainings for those who also want to learn the trade. So far, he has trained 110 students while his online modules have sold 400 times. He is also launching his live trainings again this month after the Covid-19

In a niche business like microblading, expertise is the basic requirement. But customer service and continued learning are what will set you apart.

Business name:

Eyebrow Lab Amsterdam microblading and beauty clinic

Location:

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Industry:

Beauty and wellness

Initial Investment

€10,000 (rent deposit and advanced, materials, interior, training and certification and marketing)

Recurring expenses:

€6000 (rent, materials, marketing, salary)

Expected ROI: In one month

Best Business Advice:

“Don’t be afraid to gamble. But when you decide to go into business, put your heart into it. You have to be really interested in what you do, because if money is your only motivation, it will not work.”

restrictions have been lifted in the Netherlands. Best of all, he does not have to short-change himself anymore just to get clients. Gonzales now receives a minimum of four clients every day, and because eyebrow maintenance is a beauty necessity comparable to a regular haircut, he thinks that his business is recession-proof and will remain profitable in the coming years. His advice to others who want to venture into the same business? “Know your worth, charge high but give the best services.” The best part of being an entrepreneur? “Freedom. To go on vacation anytime I want and do the things I really love,” he happily declared. #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO 41


AT HER CORNER

COLUMN

JUMPING OFF CLIFFS

By MZ Akil

I

came to the UK on a spouse visa, with two suitcases, diploma, transcript of records, and writing samples. As an immigrant from a developing country, I was conscious of proving myself, and hopefully breaking barriers. I wanted to be more than the designated category in my immigration papers. However, I was taught by one rude awakening after another, that reinventing myself was not a walk in the park. It wasn’t required, but I nonetheless took an IELTS exam for proof of proficiency in the English language. My overall band score was 8, with 9 being the highest in the scale. Eyeing a UK educational qualification, I requested a statement of comparability from UK ENIC (formerly National Academic Recognition Information Centre or NARIC). My degree from the Philippines was comparable to a Certificate of Higher Education. Essentially, it was recognized in the UK as only equivalent to the first year of university study. We’ve heard it before: it’s just a piece of paper. But the weight it placed on the notion of being undervalued dragged on for years. Just when I was prepared to use the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) en route to a qualification, a course advisor

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We’ve heard it before: it’s just a piece of paper. But the weight it placed on the notion of being undervalued dragged on for years.. reached out to me via LinkedIn advocating that I may be eligible for postgraduate studies. It turns out that my life, work, and writing experiences have more gravitas than my baccalaureate degree. This month, I start pursuing Master of Arts in Creative Writing. I would like to share with you my personal statement which was part of the application process: A few years back, a friend has responded to her calling as an astrologer and has since been negotiating her way through a long list of readings. My astrological chart had revelations occasionally darker than my shades of grey and more colourful than my curated social media persona. The one thing prominent in my life path is that I am a storyteller. I cannot recall the first time I fell in love with words and its creative forms, but the love for reading and writing has been a

consistent theme in my life that when I had to abandon print publishing as circumstances forced me to, I would always weigh the pros and cons of a job based on how much time will be left to devote to what I am most passionate about. Fifteen years into settling in the UK, I have carved a career in the luxury fashion industry where my degree in communication management has been useful in the client relations side of the business. My writing has taken a place on the back burner while I tend to the practical matters of starting a new life in another country. But I would always find myself searching for opportunities to reveal myself through words. I have started, ended, and revived a blog over the years, occasionally written for online publications, and finished two short writing courses at University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education while on full-time employment. The course work and interaction with fellow writers honed my editing and literary assessment skills. Being in the presence of kindred minds— albeit online—boosted my creative inclinations further. Just a few days ago, my first column piece for an EU-based online and print magazine dedicated to challenging the stereotypes of Filipino immigrants was published. I have not been professionally mentored in writing, therefore when I was messaged via LinkedIn by the University of Hull to put

forward my interest in MA in Creative Writing (online), I took it as an invitation to prepare myself for an opportunity. The University of Hull’s programme is one of the most competitive and flexible amongst universities offering the same category. It is inspiring to be approached and considered as a possible suitable candidate. As an immigrant, I would like to share how I, a Filipino-British, have navigated and found my place in this country which I now call home. In secondary school, I read and studied via Philippine Literature in English the works of Filipino-American writers who tackled the intricacies of being what the US then dubbed as ‘little brown brothers’ who were struggling to integrate into the fabric of American society. Online, there’s no dearth of contemporary Filipino American authors as recommended readings. In the UK, I have encountered a Filipino-British author only once. I aspire to be another voice whose narrative will be about melding cultural heritage with my adopted national identity. In the most recent short writing course that I took just before the lockdown in March 2020, my tutor left our class with a thought from Kurt Vonnegut: writing is continually jumping off cliffs and developing wings on the way down. ‘Happy winging’, he signed. And with that, I am ready to start flapping mine.


EXPAT LIVING

The famed Monte Carlo casino in Monaco.

n a sunny Saturday afternoon in February, I was attending my first local event in Monaco. It wasn’t a fancy ball or a yacht party. Decked in an apron instead of a long gown, I was joining a Zoom workshop on ZeroWaste and Healthy Cooking from the comforts of our kitchen. This free class was organized by La Transition Énergétique de Monaco and Ecoslowasting, a business that saves unsellable yet perfectly edible food from restaurants and grocery stores. I tried my best not to cut

my fingers off while keeping my ears sharply focused on the host’s French instructions, my eyes constantly checking the two casseroles filled with ingredients boiling on the stove. I could not keep up with the participants and I started to doubt this idea of taking a cooking class in a language I wasn’t fluent in. But an hour and a half later, I was able to cook two beautiful rolls of gluten-free cannellonis made from leek tops and a recipe for a lactofermented drink from beets and old dark bread. Not bad for a first local group event. Sustainability, saving food waste, and luxury might not always go together, especially when you think of Monaco. The world’s second smallest country is commonly associated with glamour, gambling, and fast cars,

By Francine Vito

Green living in the billionaire’s playground

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EXPAT LIVING

thanks to its famous Casino de Monte Carlo and the Formula 1 Grand Prix race. Over the last few years, I have started practicing a more sustainable way of living. I thought that moving to a place synonymous with extravagance would be difficult. I expected that moving here would be the death of my bank account. Will a probinsyana like me survive? Most of us have a surface idea about Monaco, formed by what’s in the media and movies. I had no clue about its greener side. Dubbed by Architectural Digest as an unexpected leader in sustainability, the microstate has impressive environmental goals: to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to half by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2050. The current monarch Prince Albert II has even been nicknamed Green Prince by the press for his environmental work. What it lacks in territorial size, it more than makes up with its natural beauty. Monaco is part of the Western Alps and nestled in a 5.47 km stretch of land in the Mediterranean coast. It shares its borders with the South of France and Northwest of Italy. Its geography means it has treats for everybodyclear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea and a majestic landscape of rocky

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cliffs. Exotic plants imported from abroad co-exist with their local cousins, palm trees, fire lilies, and a myriad of cacti and succulents. Monaco in real life is as picturesque as what you see in movies like James Bond or To Catch a Thief. Living in Luxury Don’t get me wrong, the bling is still strong. Expensive cars are the norm, not a rarity. I’ve often found myself in one of the city’s elevators next to a coiffed Madame who looks like a walking jewelry display. Women wear their Chanels and Diors to walk their dogs. The air always smells slightly perfumed, and I’d venture to say it’s because of the amount of perfume people use. A Google search for “life

“The air always smells slightly perfumed, and I’d venture to say it’s because of the amount of perfume people use.”

in Monaco’’ will show results for articles and videos that only seem to cater to millionaires. Not surprising, as average property prices can go as high as €48,000 per square meter! Its status as a tax haven makes it a big draw for high net-worth individuals.

And it doesn’t hurt that Monaco has more than 300 days of sunshine a year, mild winters, and a highly secure environment with constant police presence and camera surveillance in public spaces. The healthcare system is great and some of the world’s

The Oceanographic Museum built by Prince Albert 1.


MONACO

best doctors can be found here. And a huge parking space dedicated to yachts. Return to nature I moved to Monaco to be with my boyfriend this year but landed in the middle of a Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. The streets were quiet. There was barely anybody outside, except for the occasional walker or runner. Restaurants only did take out, but a good number of them didn’t even bother to operate. Theaters, museums, and non-essential shops were closed. Public events and gatherings were not allowed. All the places and activities that help expats immerse in local culture, shuttered for the time being. The pandemic has stripped most cities of their extraneous frills. As everything was limited to the

essentials, it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of a place without the incessant activities that mask its beauty. Monaco may be a bustling city with construction work going on almost all the time, but it has solid policies on having green spaces. Its total land area is only two square kilometers, but 20% of the territory is occupied by parks and gardens. For urban residents, this is crucial. Numerous studies back up the benefits of green spaces in cities, where the pace of life is often fast and stressful. These are places where we can rest, exercise, meditate, or have picnics with family and friends. It also makes the air cleaner, temperature cooler, and noise insulated. As a self-confessed plantita, one of the things I love doing in Monaco is visiting the gardens and parks.

Monaco’s Japanese Garden will easily transport you to Asia.

There are several of them spread around the city state, and each of them has something unique to offer. Jardin Exotique is home to a large variety of cacti and succulents (movie buffs take note- this garden is featured in the Netflix remake of Rebecca). If you’re in the mood for some zen, there’s the Japanese Garden, and with its small waterfall, brook, tea house, and oriental bridges, you’ll be transported into Asia for a little while. The Casino Gardens houses exotic Birds of Paradise and colorful tropical flowers. Not far from it is the Little Africa Gardens, home to some of the Heritage Trees of Monaco. Just outside our apartment is Parc Princesse Antoinette, a park slash playground with a mini farm and a vegetable garden intended to

teach kids about growing food. Among all these, my favorite has to be the St. Martin Garden located in Monaco-ville, Monaco’s oldest district and home to the Prince’s Palace. The park sits atop Le Rocher (The Rock), 62 meters above sea level, offering spectacular views of the sea and the ancient Port Hercule. It’s a tranquil, green oasis full of surprises. Walk through the park and you’ll find bronze works of art, small ponds, ancient trees, or that perfect quiet spot to rest or read a book. No Porsche? No Problem Travelling in and around Monaco is a breeze. They have eco-friendly local transport: a bus system which runs on electricity and biofuel and an electric bike-

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EXPAT LIVING

sharing system called Monabike. My main mode of transportation, however, has been my two trusty feet. Talk about burning calories while saving euros. Walks are a great way to get to know a place better. You get to see things and events happening up close that you wouldn’t even notice when you’re in a moving vehicle. Walking in Monaco isn’t like a leisurely walk in Central Park, as Monaco is built into the cliffside of hills. Going inland from the downtown areas means having to walk up an incline. One needs determination, good cardiac health, and a whole lot of leg muscle power. For people who want to challenge and meet their fitness goals, stairways are all around the city, discreetly tucked in between buildings. They provide moments of respite if you find yourself out of breath and weak-kneed from walking. From some of these passages, you can see beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea framed by colorful Belle Epoch buildings. Of course, taking hundreds of stairs every day is not everyone’s cup of tea. Thankfully, there is a whole network of elevators and underground passages throughout the principality. Sustainability in their DNA Monaco’s green movement is not a recent reaction to the threat of climate change. It has been a part of their DNA since 1889, during the reign of Prince Albert 1. The Monegasque prince was a pioneer of environmental awareness, an explorer, and lover of science. He established the Monaco Oceanographic Institute, including the Oceanographic Museum, one of Monaco’s architectural marvels perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the sea. The institute supports the study and protection of the oceans and holds regular activities tackling the effects of climate change. Prince Albert 1’s vision is carried on by his successors

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“Living in Monaco redefined luxury for me. It is like living in an openair museum filled with plants, art installations, and old buildings, free for everyone to enjoy.”

Above: Locals and tourists enjoying the sun at Lavortto beach. Below: The facade of Monte Carlo casino boasts of a beautiful architecture.

and supported by both public and private sectors. In fact, the private sector plays a key role in Monaco’s sustainability efforts. Businesses adhere to government campaigns like “Monaco Takes Action against Food Waste”, which encourages restaurants to reduce food waste, and “Mediterranean Sustainable Buildings of Monaco”, which promotes eco-friendly construction. These are changes that we would also like to see in our home country. But it takes huge financial spending and strong political will to rally local businesses behind sustainable practices.

I spoke to a local who works for one of Monaco’s environmental organizations. His advice: Start with educating more people. Organize fun and engaging events for the public, in schools, parks and in their households. Monaco holds events like Ocean Week, National Awareness Day for Bees, and even a walking tour called Heritage Trees Trail to showcase Monaco’s “green heritage” and their efforts against deforestation. When the public has interest and knowledge about something, from kids to adults, it’s easier to inspire action and change. I realized that places usually

have two faces. A superficial one, the image promoted by tourism industry and clever marketers, and the one hidden to most people, the face that you only see after you have stayed long enough to let the smoke and mirror tricks fade. Living in Monaco redefined luxury for me. It is like living in an open-air museum filled with plants, art installations, and old buildings, free for everyone to enjoy. Monaco taught me so many lessons on living a more sustainable life and inspired me to care for the environment even more.


DESTINATION

UNEXPECTED

HOURS

By Teresa Corti

Climbing Matterhorn, one of Europe’s highest summits

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DESTINATION

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ednesday, 9 September 2020. I was with some friends at a bar and overheard, “I’m going to the town of Zermatt tomorrow,” and I jumped right into the conversation. Suddenly what was meant to be a chill out evening quickly became a packing list for an adventure. I’m 24 years old and was born in Lugano, Switzerland. Life happened, and my family moved around a bit so now I speak four languages, have friends all over the world and a couple of years ago, my life drastically changed. I started climbing. Up until then, I did several sports, but when I started climbing, everything clicked and made sense. It was that thing in life I was missing. It brought many changes in me, and I welcomed them all with open arms. Finally, life got exciting, and with so many “unknowns” in front of me, I was ready for new challenges. I moved to Chamonix, a small town nestled below the highest mountains in Europe. This was the least scary move in my life. I was just excited to start a new job, meet new people and thanks to this move, I discovered alpine climbing, culminating in this trip to Zermatt, Switzerland, to climb the Matterhorn. Climbing Aiguille Du Tour When talking about adventures, I never say no to anything because why would I limit myself? So the first proposition ever was from Matt to climb Aiguille Du Tour, a peak 3,540m above sea level. We woke up at 4 a.m. and we knew we had more than 2,000 vertical meters in front of us, so we were praying for the coffee to wake us up. Slowly but surely, we approached the Le Tour mountain, and at 7 a.m., we caught a glimpse of sunrise. It was probably one of the best moments in my life. At that point, we were on a glacier with nobody around us, only surrounded by mountain peaks poking out of the sea of snow. The sun just warmed our bodies and minds while we continued this endless hike up to the bottom of this mountain. This is all quite silly, honestly. Walking for hours in adverse conditions just to get a bit of climbing

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in for the day. This was in May, so there was still a lot of snow early in the season. We decided to take the snow gully on the right side of an iconic rock table that is the main feature of the route on Aiguille du Tour. I had never been on that type of terrain; snowing, potential

loose rock, and extremely exposed. I would look down to one side or the other, and there was a 200m drop. One wrong step could end up in a very long fall. To avoid that, obviously, I was with an excellent partner, Rick, who had an idea of what he was doing compared to me.

Eventually, we got to the top, and even though the day was far from over, it was so satisfying and rewarding that my little body brought me up there. I had no issues with the altitude, sure I was tired, but the view was sublime. It was a clear day, and we could see all the other, higher peaks


MATTERHORN

surrounding us. I felt a sense of completeness. I was with a person I love, overlooking the most beautiful scenery on earth and eating cookies. Life does not get any better than that. The summer passed by, and I tried to climb as much as possible, sport climbing, bouldering or

alpine climbing; it did not really matter as long as I enjoyed my surroundings. Slowly but surely, I ticked off some of the classic climbs around Chamonix; Arete des Cosmiques, some climbs up Brevent. Then as the last adventure, I had a big day with my best friend Adele and climbed

Arete du Papillon, where we walked and climbed for 21 hours straight. Conquering Peak of the Meadows By early September, I thought my silly summer adventures of walking from the valley floor up to the mountains were going to be over but instead, the day after I

heard the conversation, Thursday afternoon after work, I ran to the train station and hopped on the wagon where Rick was waiting for me on the train to Zermatt. While on the train, I realized I was going on a 4000-meter peak. In the Alps, there are 82 mountains over 4,000 meters,

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DESTINATION

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DESTINATION

and each is a unique challenge. However, the Matterhorn, which roughly means the Peak of the Meadows, is unlike any other. It stands at 4,478 meters above sea level, and is a famed mountain steeped in mountaineering history. It is nearly a pyramid shape, steep and proud, standing on its own. This is a serious business as it is considered high altitude mountaineering. This means that there are so many factors to take into consideration before attempting such a peak. But realistically, I did not have time and skipped a couple of steps. So not acclimatized, with 13km ahead and an elevation gain of about 1,6km from Zermatt, we headed off to the Hörnli Ridge trail, and in the first half-hour, we were making good time. We met a couple coming down who informed us that the winter room was packed. After a 5-hour walk, we closed our eyes for a power nap under the stars and in the bitter cold, up at 3,200m right underneath the Matterhorn. Not that we could see it since it was pitch dark. At 4:30 a.m., we were awake again and ready to set off! In the early morning hours, the rock had a thin layer of ice, a phenomenon called verglas, making it a tricky beginning. I am used to climbing steep vertical walls, and this turned out to be more of a strenuous hike with high steps and pulling on the fixed rope that led the way. At sunrise, we made it up to the Solvay hut. In my mind, getting to 4,000 meters was already quite an achievement. I could have waited for my partner if I was not feeling well. But that magnificent sunrise just warmed my heart. A couple of snacks fueled my body, and up we went again. By 9 a.m., we were beckoning the summit. It was so close yet so far. When we saw the statuette of San Bernard, as tradition, I rubbed his head, and a couple of tears ran down my cheek, probably out of exhaustion, but it was also a pure sense of joy. We were not even halfway done.

“Getting to the peak does not really matter. The people I met along the way and who have made my life better and more fun are what I take away from all these unusual, extraordinary days.” We pushed to the top, walking along a sharp ridge edge, no more than 20 cm wide, from the Swiss summit to the Italian peak. Looking down on the right, the north face a plummeting drop, on the left the view down to the Italian town of Cervinia. And in front of us, a picture-perfect cross. Meaning the end of our ascent and marking the halfway point because the descent probably was even trickier than the ascent. Besides being scared of walking down the snowy path, I do not remember much of it, but Rick lowered me safely on some bits due to time constraints. At 7 pm, we were in McDonald’s with two chicken burgers.

too. We just needed some cardio training. We had agreed that by 25, we were going to climb that mountain, and I did. Getting to the peak does not really matter. The people I met along the way and who have made my life better and more fun are what I take away from all these unusual, extraordinary days. These little stories make me so profoundly happy that

I cannot put them into words. Confidence is what I am gaining while climbing. Becoming physically and mentally stronger to face the world and all its hurdles, going on the Matterhorn taught me that I may not have somebody who really believes in me, but it does not matter. As long as I believe in myself, I can do whatever I want.

No such thing as impossible climb The words “what did I get myself into” during the climb kept running through my mind. I am happy I did it, and I did not stop when I could have and pushed through the pain and general discomfort of no sleep, tired legs, hunger. I honestly had no idea how difficult and beautiful it was going to be, and I am glad this adventure taught me to be more prepared and that I should not underestimate myself. Willpower goes a long way indeed. I summited my first 4000-meter peak, not just any peak. The Matterhorn is maybe the most iconic mountain in the Alps. Once I stood underneath it when I was 20 years old, intimidated but fascinated by it. My friend told me it was not an impossible climb, and not only for those old mountaineers with a beard but for us regular people #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO

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DESTINATION

WALKING ABOVE THE CLOUDS

By Patricia Belo

A Pinay mountain climber´s quest for heights

“I wouldn’t call myself a mountaineer. I am an outdoorsy person who likes adventure.” Undine Homena-Lasater discovered her love for the outdoors in college. She did her first traverse, or going across a mountain range, on Mount Madjaas with the Iloilo Mountaineering club, staying on the mountain for four days. Later on, she joined the UP Outdoor Recreational Group. Describing herself as someone who is very curious, Undine does not climb mountains for the sheer challenge of it. But she likes to see what’s in there and enjoy the amazing view up there. Not to mention the camaraderie she finds among the people she climbs with. Undine climbs whenever work and family life permit. She shares her fondness of the outdoors with her favorite climbing partner, her

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husband, Kevin. It was challenging to go climbing/mountaineering when their kids were small, she says, but now that they are older, they are able to join them on easy hikes. When she is not climbing and to keep herself fit, Undine either hikes in the woods at the back of their house, goes running, or goes to a climbing gym. From the peaks of the Philippines to the summits of Europe What’s great about living in Europe is that outdoor recreation is not limited to climbing, hiking and traversing so Undine took advantage of that accessibility. Based in Vilseck, Germany, she has learned rock climbing. Undine and her husband rock climb in Frankenjura, one of the largest and popular climbing areas in northern Bavaria, almost every month, save for winter. Undine

“When we were there, you can see clouds below you, and you are climbing at the time when the sun is starting to rise… it makes you think the sun is actually below you as it rises. That was pretty amazing.”

describes Frankenjura as the Mecca of rock climbers all over the word. The ease of travelling in Europe gave Undine and her husband opportunities to do lots of outdoor activities in other countries. She waxes poetic about Monte Baldo and Cima Capi in Italy, Cairngorms in Scotland and some hikes in Czech Republic and Greece. Since the pandemic, Undine was only able to climb four mountains. Recently, Undine has volunteered for the Spouses Club in the US Military Base in Germany, to lead their hiking group, look for places to climb and organize the trip. Volunteering allows her to hike with a group when her husband can’t go with her. Undine climbs whatever mountain catches her fancy. “If I


MOUNTAIN CLIMBING Undine resting in front of a mountain hut.

find something interesting, then I go. Partly for the challenge, especially now we’re in our 40s… can I still do this?” The highest mountain she has climbed in Germany was the Watzmann where she climbed with American soldiers. “We’re talking about guys in their 20s and I, 47, but I did not care. I was going to enjoy this climb. I was going to see what’s up there.” One of her scariest climbs was Geiselstein in Bavaria, rapelling down with Kevin. “The mountains there are only suitable for goats. If you make one wrong step you can really get hurt or you can die. It was ridiculously steep and I wasn’t really used to rappelling down the mountain.” Geiselstein is not high but it was not the height that makes it difficult, but its technicality. Undine was praying that she’d get home in one piece. Fortunately, they survived.

Seeing the sun below as it rises When asked about her favourite climbs both in the Philippines and Europe, Undine tries to recall with a hint of nostalgia. “My favorite climb in the Philippines is Mt Madja-as mountain range. Once you’re there, you can see birds that you only see in pet shops. You can also see wild orchids.” Climbing Mt. Madja-as also gives hikers the opportunity to see and interact with the communities living there. Undine finds it hard to pick her favorite climbs in Germany. But eventually picked Watzmann and Geiselstein as the climbs she enjoyed most. “It’s hard because every mountain has its own special thing. It might not be technical but the climb itself offers something different.” Climbing Watzmann mountain was unique because Undine had never stayed in a mountain hut

The sweeping views of the Watzmann mountain in Germany.

“My favorite climb in the Philippines is Mt Madja-as mountain range. Once you’re there, you can see birds that you only see in pet shops. You can see wild orchids as you travel.” before, and the climb was typically cut into two days. “When we were there, you can see clouds below you, you are climbing at the same time when the sun was starting to rise. It makes you think the sun is actually rising below you. That was pretty amazing.” Her Geiselstein climb was an unforgettable adventure – a mix of both hiking and alpine climbing – and the scariest. “But I would do it again,’ declares Undine. More peaks to scale, more heights to conquer Undine’s climbing bucket list includes the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany, Cinque Torri in Italy with its impressive

natural towers, and Mt. Olympus, home of the Greek gods and the highest mountain in Greece. At the moment, she has no interest in climbing Mt. Everest nor Mont Blanc. “I think climbing Mt. Everest will take away the enjoyable parts of climbing,’ says Undine. The sense of the accomplishment, the exultant surprise of finding out what you can achieve, the rush of reaching the top of the mountain when others quit mid-way are the reasons why Undine enjoys climbing mountains. Curiosity drives her to climb, especially now as she is close to hitting 50. “You should never let age stop you from having an adventure.”

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TASTE AMBASSADOR

RHAFAEL ANTONIO:

Bringing the Pinoy taste to European kitchens Netherlands. Juggling a corporate career and a successful side business has not been easy. To help him manage his social media presence, Antonio has enlisted the help of her sister who lives in the Philippines. He continuously draws inspiration from his family back home and relies on his husband to whisk him away from his hectic schedule for a much needed rest and relaxation. Together with Asian food store Asian Food Lovers, Antonio recently came out with the

first Filipino food box, a meal box comparable to Hello Fresh, that allows customers to make four Filipino dishes using the ingredients curated in the box. Rhafael Antonio, 37, was born in Las Pinas, but grew up in Sta Rosa, Nueva Ecija, in a traditional Filipino household surrounded by an extended family, including three grandmothers. His love for cooking was inspired by her Lola Juana, who he remembers was the one always cooking for the family. Their family lived comfortably enough to afford to help his cousins to go to school but not too well off to go on regular vacations like his classmates. Young Rhaf would also collect the recipes at the back of Del

Courtesy of Rhafael Antonio

also the brand selling baking kits with made-to-measure ingredients for pastries like cupcakes, cookies, and muffins. “When you are starting a business, you always have to boot strap your business and to combine that with a full-time job, a husband, family and social responsibilities, is very challenging. People think it’s just a photo but behind that photo is a lot of time and effort,” said Antonio, who spoke to me online from his home office in Lelystad, the

By Dheza Marie Aguilar

W

ithin one year after the Covid-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill, Rhafael Antonio was busier than ever. He managed to sign a cookbook deal, developed more than 20 Filipino products for sale in Europe, came out with a Filipino food box, and signed two exclusive contracts with a big food manufacturer while maintaining a full-time job in a multinational company. “We are proud of you! You are always working hard and usually tired, but you still managed to come up with something new,” commented one of his followers, his mother-in-law in one of his Instagram posts. Antonio is the creator of the Instagram account @tastecrib, a food blog that was born out of the need to make something useful of the extra time that the pandemic has gifted him. Originally a personal food account, @tastecrib has evolved into a platform where Antonio shares recipes and easy baking techniques to almost nine thousand followers. Tastecrib is

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TASTE AMBASSADOR

“Recipes are good but when I am cooking, I don’t measure a lot. I just go with how I like to do things and I think that’s where your creativity will come out as well.”

Monte canned products, going as far as asking the neighbors for their discarded tins so that he could have the recipes. However, his first and biggest lesson in cooking came from his Home Economics teacher, after cracking the yoke when he was flipping the eggs which was supposed to be cooked sunny side up. “My teacher said that in cooking eggs, or in making food, it is really up to you how you want to do it. The kitchen is yours. Do it however you want to do it. There is nothing wrong if you want to flip your sunny side up,” he happily recalled. Antonio migrated to Calagary, Canada after a stressful stint in the outsourcing industry in the Philippines. He worked as a gardener for the first few months, although he knew nothing about it. Eventually he got a job as a customer agent in a petroleum company, and not long after, met his Dutch Canadian husband, Sander. On their first date, they went to a Filipino restaurant where he introduced him to dinuguan, kare-kare and pinakbet and 24 hours later, he decided that he was the one and agreed to move to the Netherlands with him in 2016. Pandemic project At the beginning of his journey as a food blogger, Antonio was already satisfied sharing and posting on Instagram food that he was cooking and baking. When people started asking for his recipes, he thought it might be a good opportunity to introduce baking to people struggling with getting the measurements and techniques right. Tastecrib was born. For someone who did

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not grow up with an oven, Antonio’s foray into baking was born out of boredom and curiosity to try new things. While growing up in the Philippines, his idea of baking was making puto (fluffly rice cakes) in a steamer. But at home in the Netherlands, Antonio owns an oven, and he researched and experimented with his new cooking tool until he was able to come up with the most delightful baked goodies, which he shared online to his followers. “When I started baking, the problem for me was the measuring part. When a recipe says one cup of flour, is it a compact or a loose cup? How fluffy is fluffy enough? Those are the things that I struggled with so I thought there might be a business opportunity here. I started making baking kits with pre-measured ingredients like sugar, flour, chocolates, which you just need to mix. They came with a recipe with precise instructions like how long they should be mixing, because in baking overmixing is where a lot of people fail.” After a year of trial and error, Antonio was already confident enough with his baking skills that he began applying the lessons his old H.E. teacher taught him. “Recipes are good but when I am cooking, I don’t measure a lot. I just go with how I like


TASTECRIB

to do things and I think that’s where your creativity will come out as well. With baking, at the beginning you really must be measuring ingredients accurately, but after you get the hang of it, you can already tell if your mix needs more liquid or flour or predict the outcome just by looking at the consistency or the texture.” His little baking experiment eventually landed him bigger projects, including recipe creation for a new Filipino meat product brand in the Netherlands called Pinoy Kitchen Europe. Becoming a food ambassador Despite a hectic year, Antonio is not slowing down. His list of upcoming projects includes a Filipino cookbook, which will be written in Dutch and released in the Netherlands and Belgium. And although he eased into his role unplanned, Antonio’s goal of bringing the Filipino taste in the European food map is only just beginning. “I think it is high time that Filipino cuisine was recognized in Europe. Our cuisine is so unique, it is a fusion of a lot of culture which makes it more special. I think it is the original fusion food. When I moved here, there was only one Pinoy restaurant in The Hague, and

now, there are three or more. You can see the increasing interest in Europe, not only with the sale and availability of many Filipino food products but also the presence of Filipino restaurants like Jollibee. I think Filipino food will be the next big thing when it comes to Asian food in Europe. And the Filipino cuisine deserves it.” But he is also aware that hurdles are inevitable

based from his experience in developing recipes for Pinoy Kitchen and Asian Food Lovers. Introducing an exotic taste like bagoong, a key ingredient he insisted on including in his Filipino box, can be a hit or miss, but he is willing to put hard work and energy into it. Fellow Filipinos also have a role to play in bringing our cuisine in the Europen food map. Antonio advises that a

“I think it is high time that Filipino cuisine was recognized in Europe. Our cuisine is so unique, it is a fusion of a lot of culture which makes it more special. #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO

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TASTE AMBASSADOR

“The pandemic gave me more time to evaluate (my life) outside the corporate world. Corporate work is not something I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to start something on my own.’’ simple gesture of offering or preparing simple Pinoy food like pandesal with coco jam to non-Filipino friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, already makes a big impact not just in creating awareness but also helping the companies and people trying to put the Filipino food in the European food palate. His biggest dream however is to put up a small café selling Filipino baked products. “The pandemic gave me more time to evaluate (my life) outside the corporate world. Corporate work is not something I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to start something on my own. I always tell my husband if I have my small Filipino cafe where I can serve coffee and Filipino food, I’ll quit my corporate job.” For now, he is already satisfied with his contribution to making Filipino food more popular. “What I love most (about being a food ambassador) is the fact that you can actually bring Filipino food to each and every home easily. I love cooking for my friends, especially those who helped me when I was still new in the Netherlands, but I cannot cook for everyone. This Filipino food box is my way of actually helping them cook Filipino food.’ 58 THE FILIPINO | #14 2021


Consell de cent 141, 08015 Barcelona, Spain

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Courtesy of Oyeen Dy Valcos

TASTE

By Patricia Barcelon

I

t took 15 years for Chef Antholyn “Oyeen” Dy Valcos, 46, to realize his culinary dream. He once planned to study in the prestigious culinary school of Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles in 2001 but life took him to a different path. A family health crisis happened and his mother had just opened a new business. He was left with no choice but to help out and stay on. More than a decade passed and pursuing Le Cordon Bleu already seemed out of the question. He felt he was too old to even consider it. Oyeen was feeling the void that he started to avoid watching cooking shows, something that

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BRINGING THE SPANISH TASTE HOME he used to enjoy doing. Even people at work noticed that he was getting temperamental. During one board meeting, a trusted management consultant told him,“Wasn´t there

one thing you would like to do? If you don´t do it this time, you won´t be able to do it forever.” With his mom’s blessing, Oyeen took it as a sign to give his dream a


MUSEO VALCOS

Oyeen (left) together with his classmate at Le Cordon Bleu Madrid.

“Sometimes I can’t express my feelings in words every time I see the facial expression of my clients after their first bite. Or when an empty plate comes back in the kitchen, I know I am doing the right thing.”

go. He initially picked one of the local culinary schools but figured he waited long enough so he might as well go on an adventure, at the same time celebrate his 4oth birthday. Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo topped the list. But he felt that it was too close to the Philippines and his family would surely visit. “This won’t be the adventure I am looking for. Maybe I should go further away.” Finally, his dream coming true but Being the only branch of the school that teaches Spanish cuisine and him, being a big fan of paella, Madrid was the perfect choice. In August 2016, Oyeen officially became a student of Le Cordon Bleu Madrid. He was thrilled to finally get closer to his dreams. But not everything went as he expected. “At the end of the first day of class, I wanted to quit. It was very difficult.” The classes were in Spanish. Oyeen had to wear headphones in class and had a chef translator at his back. It was hard hearing Spanish spoken by his chef, at the same time listening to his translator. Some of the ingredients were unfamiliar to him but his chef assumed that he knew all of them. Oyeen also had to commute daily from his flat to the school via public transport which he finds a hassle.

From being a boss of a company, he bcame a student who got chewed out by his teacher. Oyeen seriously considered dropping out, a week or two into the course. But his friends and family pushed him to continue. Studying in Le Cordon Bleu involves classroom and practical tasks. The practical work involves cooking a set number of dishes that will be judged by their chefs. “They call you one by one at the chef’s table. You present what you made, and they’ll critique your dish in front of your classmates.” Oyeen relates how he spent his days staying in his room, to the point that his housemate called him a monk. He had to master ten recipes and on

examination day, he needed to cook three of the ten recipes, based on the given ingredients, and within a strict time frame. Unfortunately, he was assigned to a burner that wasn’t working properly and he failed to finish two dishes correctly. He was given a second chance after the observer chef confirmed tha the burner was defective. Oyeen passed and finally found the will to stay and soldier on. From always finishing last, Oyeen worked his way to the middle of the pack, to finally being the first to finish cooking the assigned dishes with great reviews. He became excited about presenting his work, got encouraged by any positive feedback from his chefs, and took criticism of his work constructively, less personally. Oyeen graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with a diploma in Spanish Cuisine in April 2017. Out of the 19 students who took the Basic course, only five graduated. He got the 2nd highest grade in the final practical examination. When he went back to Manila, the first thing Oyeen did was to cook paella for his mom. But he didn’t jump into cooking right away, opting to take a break. Eventually, he realized that he shouldn’t waste his hardearned knowledge. “I didn’t know how to start. I knew I didn’t want to open a restaurant.”

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TASTE

The birth of Museo Valcos In January 2018, a friend was celebrating a birthday. Oyeen offered to cook paella, tapas, soup, salad and sangria for eight chosen friends, a degustation, to test the waters. Good reviews, social media and word of mouth gave him more clients after that. By the end of 2018, the private dining doors of Museo Valcos (in Oyeen’s condo in Pasig) formally opened. Museo Valcos (@museovalcos on Instagram) became popular. Clients love Oyeen’s Spanish degustation dining and appreciate the various art pieces displayed in his house. He did not advertise. He wanted Museo Valcos to grow organically by only accepting reservations from friends or people vetted by friends, because the private dining experience was done at his house. At its peak, Museo Valcos was open daily, and Oyeen did everything himself: prepping, cooking, serving, entertaining and cleaning. In 2019, Oyeen was invited back to Spain by his Chef in Le Cordon Bleu for a one-on-one mentorship for two weeks. He was supposed to train again last year but the pandemic hit. When Metro Manila shut down in March 2020, Oyeen had to close the doors of Museo Valcos. He rested on the first month, thinking that the pandemic would not last long. But it did. Oyeen started to wonder what to do next. His neighbors discovered his cooking and they started ordering paella, with him bringing his paellera to their doors before mealtime. Then his regular clients began to order food trays. Oyeen took this as a chance to expand his takeout menu to include cochinillo (roasted sucking pig) and callos, among others. Rising above challenges Being a chef gives Oyeen instant gratification. His decision to drop all his worries to face the challenges and hardships of the course was all worth it.

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“Sometimes I can´t express my feelings in words every time I see the facial expression of my clients after their first bite. Or when an empty plate comes back in the kitchen, I know I am doing the right thing.” A Le Cordon Bleu chef is not just an ordinary chef. He or

she is able to cook at the highest standard. Knowing this by heart, Oyeen works very hard to live up to the title. “I once heard someone say that it is not enough to live your life, but you must also play a role in your life. I chased my dream and I’m living and loving it.”


Deliciously tender and juicy, just like in the Philippines.

Deliciously tender and juicy, just like in the Philippines.

www.pinoykitchen.eu

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#14 2021 | THE FILIPINO 65


TASTE

CLOUD AND SOIL

Living without puto and dinuguan

By Agatha Verdadero

W

hen I moved to Kenya, I promised myself not to crave too much for things from home. I had done a research trip the year before, so I had steeled myself for what I could and couldn’t have from supermarket shelves. To ease into life in Nairobi, I brought a balikbayan box of Pinoy goodies including packets of mixes for champorado, tocino, sinigang, three large glass jars of spicy bagoong covered in bubble wrap, bottles of Datu Puti vinegar and soy sauce and other packed Filipino ingredients. Food wasn’t the only items I brought. Together with my books, I also included my brand of shampoo and conditioners, and common Filipino muscle rub like Omega Pain Killer and Efficascent Oil. Once my supplies emptied, I was going to live with whatever was available in Nairobi. Within a year or so, they were gone, and I allowed myself to do as Kenyans do when in Kenya. That’s not to say that I suddenly became a fan of their staple, ugali and sukuma wiki (stiff maize meal porridge and sauteed collard greens), but I didn’t shy away from eating mongo stew with chapati instead of rice or chunky beef stew with spaghetti. Unlike countries populated by a large number of Filipinos, Kenya didn’t have a single Filipino store. There were less than a thousand Filipino expats in Kenya, and we were too small

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a market to be catered to. While it had a few Asian markets back in 2002, they were primarily Indian. Still, I was thankful that they were even there. Sometimes, I did manage to score a punnet of fresh tamarinds from one of them, which I promptly boiled to make my sinigang base. Decades ago, there was once a TV ad of a woman sweating it out in the kitchen to boil, pound, squeeze, and filter sampalok to make the sour broth until Knorr came to save the day. My situation became the “before” model of that commercial. Around 2010 the Chinese started arriving in historic waves, to construct highways in partnership with the government and establish new businesses. It didn’t take long before supermarkets began to create aisles for “ethnic” food. They started stocking up on a broader variety of soy sauce. Instead of just the regular dark mushroom soy sauce that I used for years to make adobo, they added varieties like light soy sauce and sodiumfree soy sauce. Other sauces like fish and oyster followed. It didn’t take long before the Chinese community to establish a socalled Chinatown in the Kilimani area in Nairobi. While most of these products were made in China, I wasn’t one to complain. I sometimes preferred their rice vinegar for my adobo to apple cider vinegar or––gasp––balsamic vinegar. Very soon, the “ethnic foods” aisle was no longer just Chinese ingredients. Thailand brought in better coconut milk. (Kenya’s coconut milk is lumpy

and coagulated.) I finally got to enjoy my ginataang kalabasa and ginataang halo-halo again. South Korea introduced the super-spicy ramyeon to Kenyan palates. I even had a random sighting once of pancit packages, genuinely made in the Philippines. Still, not everything was available. I couldn’t just saunter over to a regular store and ask for pig’s blood and innards. I couldn’t have any kind of puto because malagkit was not available in any of the supermarkets I patronized. Of course, trust fellow Filipinos to find a way. In the rare times I attended embassy gatherings, I was able to enjoy a bowl of dinuguan seemingly from out of nowhere. I was tempted to ask where they sourced the ingredients from, but I never did. I didn’t want to create an insatiable craving for myself that couldn’t be easily satisfied on an ordinary day. It might sound foolish that I stubbornly stuck to the promise I made to myself in the early days. With global deliveries and international friends visiting regularly, Pinoy food isn’t out-ofreach. I’m not saying that I never asked for pasalubongs; I just kept things to a minimum without pressure on anyone. I was ecstatic when they were there; I was still happy when they were absent. Meanwhile, by suppressing

my Pinoy food cravings, I was able to broaden my tastes, explore different cultures, and meet new friends. I became a fan of Ethiopian cuisine because of an Amharic neighbour who shared with me his mother’s homecooked dishes flown in from Addis Ababa. From that point on, I ate it at least every fortnight. I never said no to a nyama choma (roasted meat) invitation, which doesn’t only refer to the food but is also a typical Friday night gathering where Kenyans enjoy a bottle of Tusker or White beer to end the work week. In the same way that friends have introduced me to their cultures by way of food, I’ve also had the opportunity to welcome them into mine by way of pork barbecue, sotanghon, bananacue, leche flan, buko salad, Pinoy macaroni salad, and much more. Now they know about our history under Spanish and American colonizers, and trading that went on with Chinese seafarers. There are at least two Kenyans I know who can cook adobo with their eyes closed, after I taught them. So, while I do miss other Filipino food every now and then, I’m glad that their absence has given me an opportunity to connect with friends from other ethnicities and to enjoy the simple joys of sharing whatever is available on the dining table.


The perfect Bicol Express Bicol Express with its tender pork cooked in coconut milk, shrimp paste, and chili peppers. A well-known dish in the Bicol are of the Philippines that goes well with steamed rice. Preparation Time: 10 mins | Cooking Time: 30 mins INGREDIENTS: 1 kilo 2.2 lbs pork belly cut into strips 2 cloves garlic chopped 1 medium onion sliced 3 red or green long chilies or bird’s eye chili peppers 1 tbsp vegetable oil 2 ½ tbsp Buenas Bagoong of your choice 1 ¼ cup Prao Hom Coconut Milk ¼ tsp salt adjust according to preference ¼ tsp pepper adjust according to preference

1. In a pan over medium heat, sauté onion until translucent then add garlic and sauté until fragrant. 2. Add pork belly strips and cook until light brown in color. Tip in Buenas Bagoong (shrimp paste) and mix to coat the pork. Let simmer for 2 – 3 minutes for the taste to absorb. 3. Add salt, pepper, and chili peppers then mix to incorporate. Pour Prao Hom coconut milk, then stir a bit to distribute the pork evenly. 4. Cover with lid and turn down the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the pork is soft and tender. Transfer in a serving dish and serve while hot. Bon appetit!

By: Amiable Foods

If your store does not have these products, please contact Beagley Copperman, and we make it happen! #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO For retailer inquires, email sales@beagleycopperman or visit our website www.beagleycopperman.com.

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GIVING BACK

BECOMING HEROES OF ONE ANOTHER A

By Judy Anne Santos

t the height of the pandemic in 2020, I was incredibly vocal about the plight of those who cannot afford to stay home to keep the virus from spreading. They have two choices, to die of COVID or die of hunger. Drown or burn. While I subscribe to the idea of the lockdown, I felt the need to highlight that for many Filipinos, the privilege of staying at home does not exist. This is the truth a lot of us would rather ignore: that there is a lot to be done AND a lot we can do to help the Philippines get back on its feet.

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“CHILL. Wala ka namang magagawa. Ang swerte mo na nga, nandiyan ka sa Europa. Why should you care, e umalis ka na nga?” In the nearly two decades I have been living in Europe, I’ve heard the same rhetoric from people who do not think I have any right nor capacity to care

nor dream of contributing, on the ground in the Philippines. I almost believed them. Hero App: Born out of hope The inspiration of Hero came one day on my way to the fresh market. While on a tram I came across an interview of a masseuse on one of those Filipino


noon time shows who said that she gets Php100 commission for a Php600 massage session, she rarely makes minimum wage, approximately €9 per day. The interview made such an impact on me that sleep came only in bouts that night. It didn’t feel right nor fair. Why are skilled workers struggling to earn? While there is enough supply of workers, why do I still see a lot of random posts on social media looking for services? Why is it so difficult for this ecosystem to work fairly and effectively? The next day Hero App was born, from a simple wish to provide the opportunity for skilled workers (like that masseuse on TV) to work in an even playing field. A hope that they can provide for their families well and go beyond survival. As a working mother, I also know how outsourcing some of the things on my never ending to do list can provide me much needed time for myself. Something I know others would need too. Driving a thriving community of clients and service providers will enable each Filipino to help and be helped. Hero app is an open market platform for a variety of skilled services where the power of choice is in the hands of the client who serves him, when, where and how. Hero app also prioritizes fair labor and market practices, guarding our Heroes’ well-being and livelihood. The app currently has services for Delivery, Repair and Professionals (online and on-site). In the future, Hero will host services for Beauty, Care, Errands, Contractors, Home, even Volunteers. Having three flexible base modules on the app means Hero can launch quickly and sustain facilitating multiple services well, regardless of their nuances. The more people join as Heroes or become clients, the more effective the model is. Hero stands for the faith that Filipinos can be Heroes of each other

Hero at its core has full faith that Filipinos can be heroes of each other. This is part of our DNA and is integrated in our values of excellence, professionalism, compassion, integrity, and service. Choosing the name Hero meant taking on a privilege and a responsibility to serve others. Unlike other organizations, the founding team took over a year to enlist our pioneers. We make sure our teammates acknowledge the profound change we can make for the country by creating a thriving ecosystem of Heroes: service providers, clients, partners, and affiliates supported by the Hero Services App. Heroism in everyday lives For us Filipinos, our cultural conditioning has prevented us from believing that we can activate the courage for heroism. Being colonized for hundreds of years, we have formed limiting beliefs about our self-worth and behaviors that do not serve us anymore in this age. This faith in what we can do for each other is the key to dramatically improve the quality of life of every Filipino. As an expat Pinay who has been repeatedly told to live my “comfortable” life in Europe and disregard the opportunities and challenges of the Filipino people, this is a calling to be even more passionate about dreamingof a better Philippines. The founding team of Hero consists of individuals with the same heart and the same dream. Currently, the Philippines has the highest all-time debt, more than 10 trillion pesos, a very high unemployment rate with 18 million Filipinos living below the poverty line. You are needed, wherever you are. We need to step beyond ourselves, our families, tribes and our immediate cliques. Being apathetic to others’ needs beyond our immediate circles will only drag us down. When only a few wins, no one wins at all. With Hero, our goal is to cross the finish line together, with as many Filipinos as possible.

LEARNING TO BECOME HEROES Heroism is a capacity within us, but few dare to embrace it. But heroism is within us, and if we try hard enough, we can be heroes for others. We need to believe with all our hearts, that we deserve better. Better leadership, better services, better products, better working conditions, better lives. We need to learn to demand for space, to demand to be heard. We need to practice active compassion, favoring meaningful service over empty rhetoric. Active compassion can be overwhelming and arduous, but extremely worth it. Seeking international validation for the smallest things, praising each other for mediocre results will not change anything. Our passion is often misdirected towards empty discourse on social media or promises during election season. Meaningful service is about doing something in service of the good, no matter how small. We need to learn that facing challenges head on does not have to compromise our ability for “good vibes”. Acknowledging and acting on the challenges in front of us head on, speaking up and making each other accountable for what we committed to, do not need to compromise our ability to live happy, stress-free lives. In fact, these will enrich our experiences, by expanding our ability to think critically and own our choices. With service, good vibes is instantaneous, though never the goal. #14 2021 | THE FILIPINO 69


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