Impromptu, I told  Patricia one afternoon over e-mail, is waking up to the strangeness of life and write about it in 10 paragraphs or more.

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Durians and Southeast Asians

And the question has been thrown to me once again last Sunday, January 24, 2016. Why Durian Writer? Two things: I come from Davao, a city outside the Philippine capital which is known to cultivate the best varieties of Durian in the country. Second, I am a writer (among many other things that I do).

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Nganong mapakyason ang imong pagluto’g Adobo sa Indonesia

UPDATE: Nagpataka ra diay ko.

Alang sa Ininggles nga bersyon niini, palihog i-click kini nga link

Duna ko’y itug-an. Kon nagaplano ka’ng magluto sa imong paboritong Adobo dinhi sa Indonesia, kalimti na. Matud nila, duna ra’y duha ka klase nga Adobo: una, Adobo nga lami, ika-duha, kanang imong Adobo nga plano nimong lutuon dinhi.

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Why it’s (almost) impossible to cook Adobo in Indonesia

UPDATE: I’ve proven myself wrong.

For the Cebuano version of this piece, click here.

Let me tell you a secret. If you’re planning to cook your favourite Filipino Adobo in Indonesia, forget it. They say that there are only two kinds of Adobo: one that is masarap, and the other is the one you’re attempting to cook in this country.

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Kung nagaplano ka nga muadto’g Indonesia

Daw nahimong bag-ong entry sa dictionary ang word nga Mary Jane sa mga Pinoy nga naka-puyo dinhi sa Indonesia. Huy, pag-bantay baya ha. Isarado gyud og pag-ayo imong malita kay basin ma Mary Jane ka. Kabalo na man siguro mo unsa’y pasabot nianang pulonga kung gamiton sa ing-ana nga konteksto. Usahay, kung akong madunggan ang pangalan sa Pinay isip usa ka verb, dili nako mapungngan ang akong simod nga mukusmud. Ana pa akong mama, ako dawn’g  likayan ang pag-kusmud kay inig saputon daw ko, ang akong simud pwede sabitan og maleta.

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Why the yellow star follows me

A lot of people in Indonesia have been asking me whether I’m just pretending to be Filipino. Some people think I’m Indonesian, or Thai, while others, because of this yellow star I bring wherever I go, think I’m Vietnamese.

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Ang Bisdak nga mi-order og kape sa Indonesia

“Nag-inusara lagi ka?” Pangutana sa usa ka usisero nga tindera didto sa eskwelahan kun diin ko nagatudlo.

Wa ko kabalo kung unsa’y akong dapat itubag. Nagsagol akong kasuya, kakurat, og ang akong pagkaluoy sa tindera.

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Tawi-Tawi: Journey to the Philippines’ westernmost frontier

BONGAO, Philippines – Never mind being stuck in an island where electricity and mobile phone network coverage is bleak. In Tawi-Tawi, disconnection from the normal routine is the only path to savour this place endowed with horizons of untouched white shores.

It’s the Philippines’ westernmost frontier and locals can spot first-timers in a breeze: visitors’ faces light up as they gaze at the beaches and the majestic Bongao peak, a sloping stretch of elevated land patched with trees that makes the provincial capital stand out from its two hundred other islands. In early mornings, low clouds cover the hill’s crest that resemble a flower horn cichlid’s forehead, best seen at the Sandbar resort, where facing against the Bongao peak is another breath-taking view of the white sand beach.

Literary named for its geographical isolation from any other places in the country, Tawi-Tawi comes from the Malay word “jauh” which means far. But its moniker no longer holds true today. Travelling to Bongao from Zamboanga City is now a 50-minute journey by air – although many of the locals opt to travel by boat that reaches the Chinese port overnight. Traders bring with them Malaysian noodles, canned goods, cereals and coffee from Zamboanga.

But perhaps its geographic isolation (cartographies ten years ago don’t have a detailed map of Tawi-Tawi) is what makes it exotic and deeply inviting among tourists aside from the ambition to have a picture taken with the sandbar in Panampangan at the background.

There aren’t too many tourists here, Salvacion Pescadera, the province’s tourism head, told us. “People fear Tawi-Tawi because it’s part of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.”

What negative notion, I asked. Every people we meet at the market and villages joyfully respond to the Islamic “as-salamu alaykum” greeting. The warm friendly reception is even felt more in mosques where devoutly religious Muslims, such as those at the Sheik Makhdum Mosque, spend most of their time reading the Quran. Islam was said to have first reached here in 1380, manifested by the mosque named after Sheik Karimul Makhdum that humbly stands before Bajau homes perched on stilts.

“Tourism officers in the province work hard to correct the negative notion,” she said.

Hard work must have been reaping rewards for the province. If there aren’t many tourists flocking Tawi-Tawi, then the fully booked Cebu Pacific I rode one Monday morning, which landed Sanga-Sanga airport, could have just been a dream.

Fresh catch at Bongao's wet market
Fresh catch at Bongao’s wet market

And the sight of exotic fresh catch displayed at the Bongao market was equally dream-like. It is amazing to witness how vendors and customers trade without those weighing scales which most people worry it’s helping sellers rip off buyers. Here, Lapu-Lapu is sold for P200 per dozen, Yellow Fin Tuna for P50 per five pieces and Sting Ray for P100 per piece.

Of course, only fools would look forward to seeing concrete jungles in Tawi-Tawi. This isn’t a place to search for man-made structures – except for the sacred Mosques that are marvellous to look at while the Islamic call to prayer fills the air. There are no malls but there are groceries and small trading centres downtown. But majority of the province’s trade happen at the port area where one could find food stalls, pawnshops and currency exchange stalls at every part of the streets.

It’s proximity to Sabah, the Malaysian Borneo, has influenced Tawi-Tawi’s culture. Here, you would find Bahasa Malaysia to be a useful language as many of its people speak it aside from the widely spoken Tausug and Sama.

Tourism in Tawi-Tawi is on its infancy stage, Salvacion tells us, as promoting this group of more than 200 islands to Filipino and foreign tourists are coupled with a laboured explanation that it is, indeed, safe to be here. But this place could be the Philippines’ next top tourist destination when it reaches at the ripe stage. Anyone going here will cherish being the tranquillity of the province, a gift to this place barely reached by many. The absence of urbanity is offset by the warmth of its people, eager to listen to tales of the tourists of how they have fell in love with their hometown at first sight.

For now, this westernmost Philippine frontier shall wait patiently for its influx of tourists whose ambition would be to tick an item off their bucket list.

(Published in M Magazine’s Dec. 2012 issue)


Philippines fortune tellers

At the heart of Manila lies, Quiapo, the old downtown. Home of the Quiapo church. And the place where some of the most unusual trades can be found. Fortune telling is one of them.

I met Vivian Alcares sitting before a table filled with decks of cards, patiently waiting for customers under an unforgiving midday sun. Telling fortunes to strangers for decades, she says it’s been her way to make help people.

“I’ve helped many people by interpreting the signs revealed by my cards,” she tells me.

And it’s not just about telling fortunes, she says. A day sitting at Plaza Miranda, rain or shine, business must go on — for it is by the number of customers that determines how much she would earn every single day. Her profit is what she spends for her family to survive.

But not all days are prosperous for the 63-year-old, she says. When there are no customers, there’s nothing to buy food, an irony among fortune tellers — for they themselves don’t know what tomorrow has in store for them.

(This piece is an assignment for my Multimedia Journalism class at the Asian Center for Journalism.)