The Filipino Traveler Identity Crisis

On my numerous trips, I’ve been constantly approached and asked where I come from. For fun, I make a game out of it to let them guess. Most commonly, I’ve been perceived to be Thai. I’ve also been thought to be: Singaporean, Nepali, Kazakhstani, and on rare occasions, Chinese or Japanese.

filipinos what do we look like
But never Filipino. When I tell them my real identity (like Batman), two reactions alternately happen.
Either: “Oh really? You don’t look Filipino!” they say it like a genuine compliment, so I say smile. But I couldn’t help but wonder what they really mean by that. What’s a Filipino supposed to look like, anyway?

Or: Utter ignorance. “Where is the Philippines? Oh wait, wasn’t that in the Bible?” During these times I sometimes wished we have something notoriously spectacular, like the Fidel Castro or the Angkor Wat or the Dalai Lama. Oh wait, a lot of people aren’t even familiar with these. Oh wait, we have Manny Pacquiao.
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‘So, are Filipinos Asians or Pacific Islanders?’  

A fellow traveler asked as follow up, seeking to ensue an intellectual debate.

This gets a little more interesting. Before I could answer, another one butted in: ‘Neither? They seem more hispanic or latino to me.’

To note, these were raised by people who were neither Filipinos, but Americans. As westerners try to lump us into a particular ethnic group, we become more alienated and confused. Hence the understandable Filipino identity crisis. In the first place, we never classified ourselves as such or such before. It is all a western invention.

The Philippines is a creation by Western colonizers to begin with. If the Spanish never came, force-baptize the natives and named our islands after a historically unimportant king, there never would have been ‘The Philippine Islands’ in the first place. Our islands would probably have been absorbed by Chinese civilization from the north, or be integrated into the Muslim Malay nations from the south. Who knows?

To get back to my nationality guessing game, there was only one person who got it right once. Once. A Slovakian Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque guy we encountered in Ibiza.

Wow, you’re the very first person who got that right the first time!” I said, really impressed.

“It’s not that difficult. You’re a tan Asian with very good American English. So there you go. Filipino.”
I was stammered, because now this includes another element to the whole equation: the Filipino Americanization. This is getting more complicated than I thought.

Geography 101

southeast_asia_pol_2003

Geographically, we are in Asia. Hence, we are Asians! I cross-checked and consulted the world map and I confirmed that we are in the right continent.
Likewise, we love our rice to death. There’s nothing more Asian than that!
To be more specific about it, we are Southeast Asians, particularly, of the Austronesian or Malay0-Polynesian ethnic group. Identifying features include: short face, mild epicanthic fold, straight, black hair, and a happy, light-hearted disposition. Sounds familiar?
filipina girls

‘Orphans of the Pacific’

On the other hand, being labeled as ‘Pacific Islander’ is not entirely wrong, either. Historically, we used to be part of the Spanish East Indies, which comprised of Moluccas (Indonesia), Guam, Mariana Islands and the Philippines.

Our islands were once called ‘The Philippine Islands of the Pacific’. We are located in the Pacific Ocean; a tropical island paradise, 7,000 of it. Even if most of the comprising ‘Pacific Islands’ are 4,000-8,000 km away, we see plenty of similarities in physical features and culture among people in Guam, Hawaii, etc.

Filipino migration to Guam has been happening for several centuries– the Spanish were fond of exiling Filipino rebels and prisoners to Guam. The Americans continued the practice when they took over.

Kumusta / Como estas?

The term Hispanic is a broad representation of the people and cultures with historical linkages to Spain. This term commonly referring to her former colonies, although strictly speaking, it refers to the former Spanish colonies in Latin America.

After 333 years of colonization, we have a rich hispanic heritage. The native tsokolate and mais made its way to the Philippines after centuries via the Galleon trade with our latino brothers. We share our fervent Roman Catholic faith with other hispanic cultures; as well as our love for lechons, siestas and fiestas. Do you know that ‘Filipino time’ and ‘Latino time’ is exactly the same?

And who else do we share our enduring obsession with boxing and beauty pagaents?

Today, very few people in the Philippines speak Spanish, although many of our abuelos still do when they’re angry. A few Filipinos also claim Spanish ancestry. I’d like to think my aquiline nose and freckles proves some European descent. Disclaimer: I swear I’m more modest in person.

are filipinos hispanic?

So the whole debate was really much ado about nothing.Our islands have been a melting pot of cultures for centuries.It’s okay to be a little confused about demonyms assigned to us. Identity crisis have always been part of us, and maybe that’s why it was so easy for foreign entities to colonize us. Who cares if you identify yourself as Asian, or Pacific Islander, or even Hispanic? It’s all a western invention.

 

 

How to Travel Green: Responsible & Sustainable Travel

 

I travel for a number of reasons: to escape, to live, to love. I travel to be reunited with nature, to rekindle my hope in humanity, to get in touch with the world. It’s all for the sake of love for myself, for mankind and for my planet. Hence I will always decide on getting that one-way ticket over a Prada handbag.

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And yet, it has recently dawned to me that travel isn’t the most environment-friendly hobby. I traveled to appreciate the world, but I’ve come to realize how much my travels have affected the environment.

My boat trip to Surigao was spewing so much pollution that I could see the black smoke visibly on a starless night sky. I witnessed an increased algae growth in the shoreline during my last Boracay trip.

co2 emissions cokaliong
The Cokaliong boat trip to Siargao. 😦

And I can’t just blame other people. I don’t want to wash my hands off the problem, being guilty myself as well. I can’t finish my food sometimes. I drink water from plastic bottles. I drive a gas guzzler. I fly–a lot.

Air travel has a significant harmful impact on the environment. Airplanes emit heat, noise and carbon emissions, thus a major contributor to climate change and global dimming. In fact, New York Times has referred to airline travel as ‘the biggest carbon sin’. Despite the recent improvements in aviation efficiency and reduction of emissions, the rapid growth of air travel still offset the technological advances.

It’s a bit too extreme to reject travel altogether for the sake of the planet, so instead we think about how we can reduce our carbon footprint. A green traveler should adhere to responsible travel practices that support environmental sustainability.

Often, these are things that we already knew but forgot along the way. A few reminders are always helpful. These little steps add up especially if more people do it. By being environmentally responsible, we ensure that the places we love to go to will last for a very long time, and hopefully our future grandkids will enjoy it as much as we did during our prime.

Here are some pointers on how you can travel green.

  • Pack light. When we can’t avoid flying, travel light. The more weight cars, trains and planes carry, the more fuel they consume, and the more carbon emissions they produce.
  • Choose the most environmental form of transport available. On shorter trips, travel by land instead of flying. When flying, you emit 3 to 7 times more greenhouse gases than when you take the car, bus or train. If you can avoid land transportation, walk or bike to your destination when possible.
  • Fly the most direct routes. Take off and landing consume the most energy.
  • Fly economy. First class seats take up more space, and thus more energy, up to 9 times larger than economy! Not only is it more budget-friendly to fly economy, but it’s environment-friendly too.
  • Offset your travel. We can’t avoid transportation–that’s a bit extreme. But why not offset your carbon emissions by doing something good for the planet. Plant trees, do cleanup drives and support environmental programs.
travel light
Travel light! Bring only what you need

During the trip:

  • Order what you can only finish. I know that Pork Medallion looks really good, but you can’t probably finish it anyway. Order what you can only finish, and take away leftovers. Advocate zero waste consumption for the good of the community.
  • Use reusable bottles. Cut down wasteful water bottle purchases by using reusable plastic bottles and refilling in water fountains when you can.
  • Reuse hotel sheets and towels. Conserve water and take shorter showers.
  • Skip the groceries, head for the local market. They probably sell the same thing,  but the grocery products are just placed in wasteful branding and packaging.
  • Take or leave your trash back home. Most developing countries don’t have proper recycling centers or proper waste disposal. Old gadgets, batteries and other synthetic items could be tossed in a landfill that could remain for hundreds of years. Pack them and Take back your trash. Recycle the cardboard boxes of toiletry products before your trip. Delimit your environmental footprint and encourage zero waste.
  • Switch off and unplug unused electronic devices and appliances when not in use. Limit your A/C, thermostat and hot water use only when necessary.
  • Support local. Support locally owned accommodations, eat at local restaurants, get local tour guides, buy locally grown food.
  • Be responsible with souvenirs. Don’t buy products that potentially endanger local treasures such as endangered species and cultural artifacts. Try not to pick up and bring home natural resources including shells, animal bones, plants and other artifacts.

 

 

khmer insects
Eat local. Hahahaha. But seriously, this was an interesting try in Cambodia

 

  • Before doing volunteering efforts, do your research. So many scams and fake charity efforts have sprouted to fool do-gooders. Be responsible and know when and when not to volunteer.

 

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Suggested Itinerary: 5 days in London, UK

I’ve always dreamed of visiting London since I first saw that Lindsay Lohan movie ‘The Parent Trap’. It was my first recollection of hearing a British accent and I was sold into the British dream. Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, the Royal Family–these are just some things London is most known for. There’s so much to see and do in London!
By the way, Philippine passport holders need a UK visa to visit United Kingdom. For more information, refer to my blog post on how to apply for a UK visa.

Here’s my suggested itinerary for 5 days in London, England for first time visitors.

Day 1: Hop-on Hop-off, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Piccadilly Circus

Take a Hop On Hop Off London bus tour to go around the city and enjoy the scenic view.
london20hop20on20hop20off20tour
Spend the morning at the Tower of London, the heritage site of the famed Crowned Jewels. The historic castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. The Tower of London has served as a fortress, royal residence, prison cell, menagerie, treasury, and now a museum.
While in the Tower of London, don’t miss the Beefeater tour, the Yeoman Warders or standing guards in the Tower.

Other places you can see via Hop On Hop Off is the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, London Zoo, London Eye, Imperial War Museum, Madame Tussaud’s and Piccadilly Circus, depending on the 3 routes you choose.

Day 2: Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Tate Modern, Natural History Museum

Save Day 2 for Museum Day! I love all kinds of museums–whether it be about art, history, science or weird, random things. Let’s be realistic though–one can’t visit all museums in one go. Choose 2 or 3 museums to cover towards your trip, depending on your interest.
First of all, start your day at Trafalgar Square. It’s the center of west end London and can get to anywhere from there.
If there was only one art museum you had to go to, I would suggest you to go to the National Gallery in Traflagar Square. The National Gallery is home to works of the masters such as Monet, Delacroix, Cezanne, Van Gogh and more. Best of all–it’s free!
national gallery museum art


If you’re more into postmodern art, you will enjoy Tate Modern. Tate Modern houses modern and contemporary art from 1900 to present.


The Natural History Museum houses scientific specimens and historical artifacts to wow museophiles. I was instantly sold when I was told there were dinosaurs! Admission is also free.
The British Museum is dedicated to art, historical artifacts and culture from Ancient Britain and other lost worlds.

Day 3: Road Trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath

By the third day you’re probably already tired of the city, so why not take a road trip and see Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. I would recommend getting a tour to see the three iconic attractions to save you time as the three are located in different places.
Windsor Castle is the oldest & largest inhabited castle in the world, the official residence of the Queen. It has been the family home of British royalty for almost 1,000 years.
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Stonehenge is the most famous neolithic structure in the world, which sits literally in the middle of nowhere. Sure it is now just a ruin but the 5,000-year-old monument served as an important religious site back in the day. You can learn more about Stonehenge and the prehistoric people who built it in their visitor centre. You can read about my Stonehenge experience here.


After lunch, head to another world heritage site, Bath, Avon. Bath is an ancient Roman spa town with magnificent Georgian heritage and architecture. Bath is among Britain’s oldest tourist attractions and is the only place in Britain where you can bat in hot natural springs. It is 48km south of Stonehenge by the River Avon.
The Roman Baths is the most famous tourist attraction in Bath. You can’t bathe in the original Roman baths but can do so at Thermae Bath Spa, just a block over the ancient baths. They also offer massages, steam baths, and an outdoor pool.

 

 

Day 4: Buckingham Palace, House of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, The Shard

In the morning, go to Buckingham Palace to witness the changing of the guards at 11:15AM (worth checking schedules). The Buckingham Palace was as the official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837. Today it serves as the sovereign administrative headquarters.
The House of Parliament is a 20-minute walk from the Buckingham Palace. House of Parliament or Palace of Westminster is the ‘heart of British politics’, the meeting place of the two houses of parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It was built in the Middle Ages. You can’t miss the quintessential Big Ben.


As you walk to the Tower Bridge, you can stop over HMS Belfast to learn more about WWII history. The former Royal Navy ship is permanently moored in the River Thames and now serves as a ship museum.
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Of course, your London trip isn’t complete without seeing the recognizable Tower Bridge, which is truly the symbol of London. 


The Shard is a 95-storey skyscraper and is currently the tallest building in London. It is a short 10-minute walk from the Tower Bridge. One of my favorite places in London to have a drink is Aqua Shard, which provides a striking 360-degree view of London. Whether you plan a romantic evening or just want a swanky nightcap, Aqua is worth seeing and spending on.

Day 5: Relax, Shop, Watch a Show

By the last day of your vacation, you’ll probably be busy packing up and preparing yourself to come back home to your normal lives. Keep your last day chill and simple. For me, I like to treat myself to shopping–every girl deserves some form of retail therapy.
Every Filipino’s trip is never complete without some pasalubong shopping. Spend the day shopping for gifts and souvenirs at some of London’s most famous shopping streets: Regent Street, Oxford Street and Carnaby Street, all located in the West end of London.


Regent Street is most famous for its Christmas illuminations. It is home to popular stores such as Hamley’s, Liberty, Hollister, Superdry and more. If you’re shopping for kids, Hamley’s is London’s most famous toy store. It is located right down Regent Street.
Harrod’s is probably the most famous store in the world, located in Brompton Road, Knightsbridge. It is a 5-acre site with 330 departments and 1 million square feet. Aside from the shopping, it is well worth visiting Harrod’s for its historical value–it is almost 200 years old.


In the evening, complete the London experience by watching a West end show. As a Disney baby, I decided to watch Lion King in Lyceum Theatre.

lyceum theatre lion king
Magical and unforgettable experience!

Other popular shows include The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and The Book of Mormon. If you’re feeling a bit braver, you can check out the avant-garde immersive theatre ‘Sleep No More’ or ‘The Drowned Man’ by Punchdrunk.

Siargao Guide for Non-Surfers

non-surfers

The act of riding waves on wooden boards has been recorded as a human activity for thousands of years. The first surfers were the ancient Pacific Islanders and Polynesians who fish for a living, and discovered that riding the waves was an efficient way to get to shore quickly.

One of the First Known Photographs of a Surfer, 1800s. Photo from: Bishop Museum Archive
One of the First Known Photographs of a Surfer, 1800s. Photo from: Bishop Museum ArchiveSurfing and Siargao

Eventually riding waves transformed from a daily activity to a favorite pastime. There have been written records about people riding waves, from Capt. James Cook to Mark Twain. We can only guess how and when the modern form surfing was established, but one day some madcap decided it was a good idea to stand in his board during a swell and see what happens. The rest was history.

Surfing is now a sport and lifestyle that has taken a life of its own. Surfers travel around the world to catch the ‘perfect wave’. This is how the story of Siargao happened. Twenty years ago, two pro-surfers came to the Philippines to catch the fabled waves on a tear-shaped island called ‘Siargao’. Now known as ‘Cloud 9’, Siargao is acclaimed for her large, smooth and hollow-tubed waves that bring an international crowd of surfers every year. Siargao is now known as the Surfing Capital of the Philippines, and is the 9th Best Surfing Spot in the World (according to CNN).

But Wait! This Post is NOT for Surfers.

However, this post isn’t about surfing; I have no idea why I started my intro like that, but whatever. Of course, without surfing, Siargao wouldn’t be what it currently is now. Many surfers came for the waves, and fall in love with the island. Some never leave. The waves and the wonderful community is irresistible–making Siargao a little piece of paradise on Earth. I personally found the allure Siargao so seductive that I ended up booking another ticket to come back just a few days after I left!

In Siargao, surfing can be done all year round. There are different swells from different parts of the island, depending on the time of the year.

non-surfers

So What if I don’t surf?

Siargao is paradise for surfers— and non-surfers, too. If you don’t surf, there’s more to Siargao then just surfing. Of course, I would highly recommend that you make ‘learn to surf’ a top priority on your itinerary, but if it’s really not your thing, here are some activities you can do beyond surfing.

1. Magpupungko Tidal Pool

Magpupungko is named such from a unique rock formation in the area. The large boulder looks like it’s sitting on top of another flat rock. The beautiful pool only unveils itself during low tide.

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Be careful when you jump! The rocks are razor sharp!

siargao magpupungko

There’s also a beach right next to the pool with massive waves that will wipeout any entity who dared swim in it!

Photo by Chester Baldicantos. Yes, this really happened to John.
Photo by Chester Baldicantos. Yes, this really happened to John.

From General Luna, it’s a 40 minute car ride to Magpupungko. Entrance is 50 per person.

2. Island Hopping

Go island hopping and check out Siargao’s three nearby islands: Naked Island, Daku Island and Guyam Island. Depending on your negotiation skills, you can rent a boat to visit the three islands from P1,000 to P1,500.

Naked Island is just what you would expect–naked. On this island you would not find any trees or vegetation, just a stretch of fine white sand. Daku Island is, ‘dako’ or big, in terms of the other islands we visited. Daku even has its own barangay. (The ancestors were very literal and not very creative with naming their locale) We had our lunch in Daku Island before we went to our last stop, Guyam Island.

If you have the time, you can also check Sohoton Lagoon. Sohoton is famous for its jellyfish sanctuary and enchanting caves. Sohoton is three hours away from Siargao though and is closer to Surigao del Norte, so we decided to reserve Sohoton for another future trip.

3. Food Trip!

Food is affordable and good in Siargao. General Luna has quite a few restaurants and cafes that are good, interesting and not cheesy. Locals like barbecue, and they have barbecue stalls even in their disco bars! You can get great comfort food at Pleasure Point Cafe, three-layered pizza at Aventino’s, sushi at Lux Siargao Sushi Bar, great coffee and view at Cafe Loka, barbecue at Mama’s, and more.

pleasure point
Food at Pleasure Point Cafe

Locals like barbecue, and they have barbecue stalls even at their disco bars! Siargao is not as touristy as Boracay, so you can’t find any big restaurant establishments here like fast food joints and international food chains. Heck, you can’t even find an ATM machine around GL!

Fresh seafood here abounds (it’s an island, duh). You can go spearfishing if that’s your thing and roast your catch, or if you’re more mainstream  just go to the local market and purchase their freshest catch and pay someone to cook it for you.

You can check out my blog post on some of Siargao’s Best Eats here.

4. Party

So you don’t surf–but you can at least hang out and party with fellow surfers and look the part! Surfers are among the most unpretentious bunch I know and will befriend just about anyone. Siargao parties here embody the vibe of the island–laid back and friendly. You can’t expect any EDM or hardcore parties here. They have great parties in Pagoda Beach Bar especially on Mondays (named appropriately ‘Monday Fundays’) so be sure not to miss that. Other local disco bars are Jungle Bar every Fridays and Stowaway Bar every Saturdays.

pagoda

Other bars around the island include Reggae Bar, Nine Bar, La Luna Surf Buddha Resort (they also have acoustic nights on Thursdays). There are quite a few places to chill and drink around Gen. Luna especially around Cloud 9.

5. Explore the Island!

Aside from surfing, there are plenty of water activities you can do in Siargao. You can go diving, snorkeling and paddle boarding.

SUP!

A fish out of water can find abundant activities on land, too. Hire a motorbike or bicycle and explore the island itself. I read that tarsiers are also present here, and unlike Bohol, these small primates still roam free in Siargao forests. Saltwater crocodiles exist in parts of Siargao — Del Carmen, Siargao is home to the largest mangrove forest reserves in Mindanao.

There’s so much more to discover–General Luna is just one municipality! Fellow traveler and colleague Radel strongly insist I come back to Siargao and explore Siargao’s west and north side.

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Motorbike rentals are typically Php 500/day.

6. Caving

 

7. Relax

Relax! Don’t try to push in too many activities in one day. Tomorrow is another day in paradise. So yes, you deserve an afternoon’s rest in a hammock by the beach.

Relax! Tomorrow is another day in paradise.
Relax! Tomorrow is another day in paradise.
Kona is chillng like a German Shepherd boss.
Kona is chillng like a German Shepherd boss.

A Filipino’s Penchant for Personal Hygiene and Toiletries

Every time I travel, I always get into the trouble of overpacking toiletries. No matter how I try to limit my personal hygiene products, I end up convincing myself that I needed this sunblock, this eau de toilette, or this hair serum. Because of this, traveling with just a carry-on can be difficult. While I can fit my toiletries by repacking it in a dozen of 100ml bottles, some countries like the UK require you to fit all your hand-carry liquids and gels in a provided (tiny) Ziploc bag.

You have to fit everything in this Ziploc bag. FML.
You have to fit everything in this Ziploc bag. FML.

It’s not just because I’m female. Yes, women do need a lot of toiletries—but being Filipino, the stash of products increases at least twofold. We love to take care of our personal hygiene—men and women alike.

Filipinos are known to love bathing. We do it as frequently as possible, once or twice a day, and some as much as thrice daily during the summer! We have more shampoo and soap products and commercials than any other culture (that I know).

Even centuries ago, Filipinos already love bathing… which we can also attribute to our tropical climate and abundant source of water. But we also love being clean and smelling good. We can smell body odor from a mile away. We’re such a stickler for good personal hygiene.

When the Spanish colonizers came to the Philippines in 1521, the foreigners were aghast at how often we bathed, as they believed bathing provides an open opportunity to take off clothes, and in turn can lead to immorality, promiscuous sex, disease, and sin.

Bathing Girls by Fernando Amorsolo
Bathing Girls by Fernando Amorsolo

Because of this belief, the Spanish (and Europeans in general) rarely bathed during the Middle Ages up until the late 1800s. Hygiene is only restricted to washing hands and parts of the face. Even that, washing the face was done as infrequently as possible for they believed it could lead to blindness. They try to hide their stench with heavy perfumes, scented rags, or carrying fragrant herbs in their pockets.

The European royalty were probably worse off than common peasants. A Russian ambassador who visited to France described that King Louis XIV ‘stunk like a wild animal’. The Sun King is said to find the act of bathing ‘disturbing’, and has only bathed twice in his lifetime. Another royalty, Queen Isabela of Spain boasted that she had bathed only twice in her life: first, when she was born; and second, when she got married. Russia wasn’t so finicky when it came to bathing and did it far regularly–relatively speaking, once a month. Because of this, Europeans thought Russians were perverts. (Source: Today I Found Out)

Historical records show that our ancestors thought the European colonizers stank. And we weren’t the only ones who thought so, too.

The Spanish explorers under Hernan Cortes first arrived in Mexico in 1519 under the Aztec Empire. It felt for Aztecs that they encountered an alien race for the first time: the Spanish looked like fellow humans, but looked different. They had white skin, lots of facial hair, hair like the color of the sun, and they also stank horribly.

In fact, Aztec natives assigned local incense burners to follow the foreigners around wherever they went. The Spaniards thought this was a mark of divine honor, but now we know from native sources that they just really found the foreigners’ smell unbearable. (Source: Sapiens, Harari)

At the least, the colonizers tried to change our local customs and beliefs as much as they could– but they never took away our love for good personal hygiene.

Siem Reap, Cambodia: Surviving with P1,000 a Day

Siem Reap was once upon a time just a sleepy little town in Southeast Asia, virtually unknown and ambiguous to the world. Cambodia was extremely poor and still recovering from its scars from the horrors of Pol Pot’s genocide. Siem Reap was just a quaint little village in the northwest region with 900-year-old temples. No big deal, nothing to offer here.

All that changed when Angelina Jolie visited Cambodia to film the Lara Croft movie. The movie catapulted her to fame, and went with it Cambodia’s fame as the next big tourist destination.cambodia-travel-southeast Siem Reap is now a thriving resort city–boasting a number of hotels, resorts and restaurants for tourists. Siem Reap is the gateway to the Angkor region, where the famed Angkor Wat temple complex is located. While I personally haven’t seen Lara Croft, I was just as interested in seeing the beautiful country of Cambodia.

Is it possible to travel there with a budget? Of course! Aya and I spent 6 days in Siem Reap, Cambodia with only P6,000 pocket money (that’s 150 USD or 100 GBP, foreign readers), and survived! That’s a tight budget of P1,000 a day. Here’s how we did it:

1. Travel with someone with the same wavelength as you. The decision to travel to Cambodia was spur of the moment. It probably was a bit of post-partum, but early 2014 I felt like I was stuck in a rut. Feeling broke and depressed—I decided to book a ticket to Cambodia. I didn’t even stop to think. I had to do it. I invited one of my best friends, Aya, to come with me. Equally broke and depressed, she immediately agreed. 

I swear, our backpacks where worth more than what we had in our wallets.
I swear, our backpacks where worth more than what we had in our wallets.

Aya was the perfect travel buddy and soul sister–we’re both cheap, resourceful and fearless. We’re creative problem solvers (Hence, spur-booking a ticket to solve our poverty-&-depression-phase! Yeah, that made complete sense!) Two broke girls in a foreign country? No problem, let’s just wing it! #YOLO #wereoldbutnotthatold

‘Winging it’ is vital to survival when you’re two broke girls abroad. It takes a little bit of charm and boldness, and requires a bit of beauty and brains (oh snap was that a humblebrag?) to get away with getting sweet deals.

If you’re not rugged and cowboy, you can’t sit with us.
If you’re not rugged and cowboy, you can’t sit with us.

Seriously, if I had traveled with someone else, I’d probably be too shy to let her sleep in a room without AC, or to have her eat cheap food. I would never tell her ‘Let’s not eat there, I can’t afford it.’ Unfortunately, traveling with someone with the same wavelength has its pros and cons. In our case:

Aya: Where do you want to eat?
Rachel: I don’t know, wherever, you?
Aya: Wherever, you?
Rachel: No, I don’t mind, you?
Aya: Your turn to choose, I chose last time
Rachel: … (let’s just starve to death)

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our tuktuk driver Kapouv for making most of our dining decisions and taking us to great places to eat.

2. Book on Cebu Pacific.

To get to Cambodia, you’ll have to fly via Cebu Pacific. The airline pioneered direct Philippine-Cambodia flights They run  Manila to Siem flights Reap four times a week.

We were able to get a P399 promo to fly to Cambodia, or P4,150 roundtrip with VAT, etc.Other expenses not inclusive: travel tax (you have to pay P1,620 at the airport) and Terminal fee (P700). We did not avail of food or check-in luggage (because backpackers).

Cebu Pacific may get a lot of bad press with customer service and delayed flights… but a backpacker like me cannot thank Cebu Pacific enough. Because of Cebu Pacific, it’s now easier for every Juan to fly.

I advise you to bookmark Cebu Pacific and set it as your browser home page to get the latest updates on their promos. I’m such an avid Cebu Pacific flyer I could recite their puns at the back of my head. Cebu Pacific, Nothing Com-FARES to you!

3. Go to Couchsurfing.com

If you’re unfamiliar with the travel concept, couchsurfing is a global community of travelers. Hosts offer travelers to crash in their homes for free. Ideally, hosts are also couchsurfers when they’re traveling abroad, and vice versa. Couchsurfing significantly reduces your travel costs because accommodations are made free!

Even if you don’t have plans to couchsurf, you can still check out the site to meet like-minded people, have dinner with fellow travelers, go on a day tour with the locals. CS groups hold frequent meet-ups in several cities worldwide. Couchsurfing has a great and thriving travel community.

We met our tuktuk driver Kapouv through the site. He gave us a really good deal on a daily flat rate. His tuktuk also offered shade and free water for his thirsty riders. He was nice, patient and insightful. I would recommend Kapouv to anyone.

kapouv-tuktuk-driver-siem-reap We also met party boy Kuwait-based Berlin Calderon who was solo-backpacking across Southeast Asia. He later joined us in Siem Reap on our third day.

Berlin, Aya and I
Berlin, Aya and I

Berlin was the life of the party! Sometimes he made us feel like grandmas. It was good he came with us later on because he made the decisions and eased us off the burden of our undecided-ness.

4. Stay at Mad Monkey Hostel

The room we booked was a double private room with bathroom for 14 USD a night. The room didn’t have AC, but it had a fan and sufficed.

But be warned, this hostel does not sleep. But the managers sure know how to throw a good party. Mad Monkey boasts a rooftop beach bar, a pool, sundeck and a three-meter beer hose.

Mad Monkey crowd is young, with all the energy and blissful ignorance. Mad Monkey is like spring break for the I’m-a-university-student-from-a-first-world-country-currently-on-gap-year-searching-for-an-epiphany-so-I’m-traveling-to-a-third-world-country kind. It is tempting to just stay in all day, gawking at people.

Guests of the hostel are given one free craft beer every day of their stay which you can redeem at the banana bar or rooftop bar. If you ever get the chance to stay here, do the grenade shots! They keep a scoreboard by the bar that keeps tabs on the number of grenade shots done by country. Netherlands and USA was on the lead during our visit, and Philippines only had a meager 9 points. Help our country redeem itself!

5. Food

Khmer cuisine is great, I can attest to that. Khmer cuisine shares many characteristics with their neighbor counterparts–infusing influences from Thailand, India, China and Vietnam. The Khmer palate is, for the word, ‘subtle’ in comparison to other neighboring cuisines. This doesn’t mean Khmer food is inferior at all. It’s neither as spicy as Thai, not as rich as Indian, not as umami-loaded as Chinese, nor as salty as Cebuano. Cambodian tastes are subtle but the flavors feel ‘purer’. Fresher.

What’s interesting to me is how Cambodian restaurants, even the humblest karenderia-types, have a complete array of condiments and accessories for their customers. In every table, you’ll see a dispenser with floral-scented napkins, hot water, utensils, chopsticks, and the condiments black pepper, salt, lime juice and their special Khmer fish sauce. Below our table is a small trash can where we can dispose our rubbish conveniently. Philippine restrooms can’t even provide toilet paper and working tap water. We should be ashamed.

When in Cambodia, you’ll have a high time with their famed ‘happy pizza’. Basically, it’s pizza garnished with cannabis. Yep, they’re pretty lenient with that stuff here. Locals use hemp for cooking some dishes or as a therapeutic herb. Best of all, you get to choose on how ‘happy’ you’ll want to be, from ‘miserable’ to ‘extremely happy’. We chose the latter, but instead of being ‘extremely happy’ we became extremely drowsy instead. You’ll find several happy herb pizza places around Siem Reap’s Pub Street. Happy pizza normally costs US $6-$8.

Image from munchies.vice.com

Food in Siem Reap isn’t expensive and cost somewhere between US $2 to $5 in restaurants. Popular dishes are the Fish Amok, a national dish made of fish, coconut milk and curry paste, and Lok Lak, stir-fried beef in brown sauce.

Street food in Cambodia is cheap and delicious! My street food favorites are the Khmer banana pancakes, fried bananas and good ol’ stir fried noodles.

Cambodians enjoy sour fruit too! They like unripe fruits (like mangoes and tamarind) sprinkled with a chili and salt mix.

Still, there are better options to stretch that buck: stay away from the tourist traps. Go where the locals go!

On several occasions, we asked Kapouv to take us somewhere with good and cheap food. Kapouv led us away from Siem Reap central and into the outskirts of the city. He took us to Siem Reap’s local hangout called ‘Route 60′ where we got to experience the local life. You’ll see the Khmer people having picnics and barbecues with family and friends. There are family-friendly carnival rides and a la budots music blaring on the speakers.

Sunset at Route 60, Siem Reap Cambodia

Here you won’t find westerners here gawking at the area like a tourist attraction. Since Filipinos and Cambodians look alike, we blended in easily. Route 60 is the best way to experience Cambodia the local way. Authentic Khmer food was sold at US cents price! 

A personal favorite of Aya and I are their chive cakes or Nom Ka Chai. You can get stuffed here for US 25 cents or 1,000 Cambodian Riel.

At Route 60, we also got our first taste of fried insects. The street vendors sold juicy crickets, beetles, silkworm, red tree ants, snakes, frogs and tarantulas—all at a very good price.

cambodia-street-food

6. Angkor Wat Of course you can’t travel to Cambodia without seeing the Angkor Wat. It’s a magnificent (and massive!) temple complex built in the early 12th century as the then-king’s state temple and eventual mausoleum. The Angkor Wat is the national symbol of Cambodia, and is represented in their flag. It is the largest religious monument in the world.

In Angkor Wat you will witness beautiful sunrise and sunset views. I advise to see it at sunrise (leave 4:30 am) to catch the beautiful sky hues. angkor-wat-temple-cambodia-asia The only expense we couldn’t escape was Angkor Wat. For US $20 (one day pass), it was the highest expense of our trip.

If you can’t afford a tour, follow one of the several group tours and pretend to be part of the group. There are group tours done in several languages (English, French, Spanish, Nihonggo) in case you want to learn a new language too.

Fortunately we weren’t that desperate and decided to get a tour guide. There are official tours and group tours, and also hustling locals waiting outside the temple offering their services. We got a local guide who was a young university student to take us around for $15. I’d like to share more about the history and culture behind Angkor Wat and Pol Pot, but I’ll go more into detail on a separate blog post. For now, here’s some pictures we took while in the temple complex.

7. Shopping

Shopping in Siem Reap was heaven for us. Their bazaars have a cool array of clothing and souvenir items: antiques, crocodile leather, paintings, Cambodian silk and more.

The Cambodian pants they sold in bazaars were lovely, and Aya and I bought three for $3-$5 each. We bought a few pairs to use while touring around. It’s hot and humid in Cambodia plus you can’t really wear shorts when visiting temples. The Cambodian pants were perfect for touring around because they’re comfortable, airy with the right skin coverage.
We also got these nice rice sack / cement sack bags handy for keeping our money, phone, camera and water bottles in place.

While these items can also be found in flea markets of nearby Southeast Asian countries, I appreciate how the Cambodians are still nice and timid, and shoppers don’t feel pushed to buy. They aren’t as aggressive, pushy or demanding like the Chinese in Hong Kong gadget shops or their Thai neighbors. No one yells or gets furious at you.

8. Partying

Of course most tourists travel to Siem Reap to see ancient temples. But if you think there’s not much to do in Siem Reap after dark you’re wrong. The city is a tourist area and has a very lively nightlife.

Because we don’t have enough moolah to afford to see a traditional Apsara theatre, we opted to see a free performance at the Temple Bar in Pub Street instead. The full Apsara show is at the second floor and begins at 7:30 in the evening–but come early as the restaurant gets packed. traditional-dance-cambodia-women-girls After the show, you can take pictures with the dancers and continue chilling. We did so before transferring to another bar across the street, ‘Angkor What?’


Angkor What? is the liveliest bar in the street and claims to be ‘promoting irresponsible drinking since 1998’. Apart from their repetitive and somewhat outdated playlist (the dance music were from five years ago), it’s a good place to meet people. Angkor What? is famous for their beer and cocktail buckets (around $4-$5) and energetic crowd.

9. I admit, we cheated a little bit.

While we lived the broke backpacker lifestyle for most of the trip, it’s nice to treat yourself once (or twice during) a trip. And if you want to cheat, do so at Blue Pumpkin.

So we only brought P6,000 cash, but a credit card on hand can call for an unplanned cheat day. We didn’t say we regret it though. Blue Pumpkin food is soooo good. Their desserts are heavenly.

I swear, Blue Pumpkin furniture are built for customers to stay there forever. It doesn’t help that their couches are way more comfortable than our hostel bed.



10. Practice #ResponsibleYOLO.

While it seems like we’ve done a lot of crazy things on this trip, it pays to know your boundaries. Maturity teaches you that you can’t do everything recklessly. So even if you’re YOLO (excuse me for using that horrible word), practice Repsonsible YOLO.

Be wary of people who want to take advantage of you. You’re vulnerable especially because: a.) you’re a girl, b.) you’re broke, c.) you look gullible or d.) all of the above. This means avoiding douchebag French-Cambodian sons of corrupt politicians (they have it there, too!). It’s telling off homophobic, rude backpackers who should’ve stayed home in their suburbs. Responsible YOLO means being mature enough to know how far you can push it.
We were able to cover a lot of things on our six-day vacation in Siem Reap, Cambodia and make the most of our buck! What are your favorite things about Cambodia?

How to Apply for your Baby’s Philippine Passport

At some point, a mother will start to worry about applying for their child’s passport. Maybe you needed to see family or friends abroad. Or maybe you just want to take your little one to Disneyland! Summer is around the corner and travel is the best experience you can give to your child. I got my baby’s passport when he was barely two months old so that he can visit family abroad.

caleb at 5 months old, macau to cebu flight

By the way, I applied for his passport more than a year ago so my memory is kinda foggy on details. I do remember that it was quick and easy though–I remember being in the DFA center and leaving for only 30 minutes! I am surprised that the Philippine agency is very baby-friendly and convenient.

Starting this July 2016, the only walk-in applicants allowed will be infants, PWD, senior citizens and pregnant women. Other applicants will have to apply and book an appointment online. To find out, read my blog post on How to Apply for a Philippine Passport Online.

I. Requirements

  • Personal Appearance – you’ll need to bring your baby to DFA as applicant. Either of the parent must also be present (if legitimate) or the mother (if illegitimate).
  • You don’t need a confirmed appointment – minors ages below 7, senior citizens, pregnant women and handicapped can come right in and go to the courtesy lane.
  • Birth Certificate – an original NSO birth certificate will suffice. When I applied, Caleb’s NSO birth certificate wasn’t available in NSO yet (him being born a month or so ago). I had to bring his original birth certificate and had it certified at the Local Civil Registrar.
Local Civil Registrar in Cebu City
Local Civil Registrar in Cebu City
  •  NSO Marriage Certificate of Parents (if married)

    – If the parents are married, minor applicant will need a parent’s consent letter from both parents. If the parents are not married, minor applicant will only need a consent from the responsible parent (usually the mother).

  • Original and photocopy of passport of the person traveling with the minor.

– Original passport and copy of either parent will do or of mother (if illegitimate).

  • Notarized Affidavit of Support and Consent to Travel

– You will need a notarized affidavit from both parents (if legitimate) or mother (if illegitimate). I had the  notarized by my good lawyer friend Atty. Janjan Perez.

Additional Requirements:

  • If the child or minor applicant is not traveling with both his parents, you will need additional requirements:
    • Travel clearance form issued by DSWD. Original and photocopy will be required (blog post to follow on how to secure this)
      • Note that minors will not need to acquire the DSWD clearance if parents are living abroad or are immigrants, or in the Foreign service. Proof needs to be provided that parent/s are living abroad.
    • Affidavit of Support and Consent by either parent (mother, if illegitimate)
    • Passport copy of the person the child will be traveling with.

II. Appointment

DFA in Cebu is located at the 4th Level, Pacific Mall – Metro Mandaue, U.N. Avenue, Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines.

Pacific Mall – Metro Mandaue

Since Caleb was still an infant, he didn’t need a scheduled appointment. The perks of being a baby mean that you can bypass the long queues of disgruntled applicants through the Courtesy Lane. It won’t save you from their dagger looks, but cut them some slack for they’ve probably been queuing up since 4am. The courtesy lane accepts babies, senior citizens, pregnant women and handicapped applicants. I haven’t tried this (but I have thought of it), you can push it even further and try to apply for your child’s and your passport renewal. (hehe)

Step 1: Make sure to come to DFA with all the documents complete and organized to make the passport application process swift and hassle-free. Bring original copies and photocopies of all required paperwork. Once you enter, the guard will give you an application form you need to fill up. Just wait inside for a few minutes and once you’re up, submit your documents and form to the official assigned who will review them and make sure documents are in order.

passport-philippine-infant-toddler
Isn’t he big for a one-month-something old?
philippine-passport-cebu-pacific-mall-baby
Big and strong too! 🙂

Step 2: Line up to give payment at the cashier. It’s Php 950 for regular processing and Php 1,200 for 7 days express processing. As of writing, express processing is temporarily ceased and the regular processing takes a minimum 6 weeks. Waiting times will be much shorter and you will be directed to pay at the courtesy lane. After you’re done with payment, you will be given a number and directed to another room where the applicant’s picture will be taken.

Step 3: Picture-taking time. Process is again fast and painless as there were probably 30 or so counters in front–in a few minutes, we were asked to go to a counter to have baby’s picture taken. Being only two months old, he could not sit up on his own yet so he had to be laid down in the table in a blanket. If you’re worried about hygiene issues, you can bring your own light blue blanket.

Picture-taking took a longer time than expected. The applicant had to be looking at the camera with eyes open. That’s not exactly easy for an infant to do (especially if he’s sleepy or hungry!)–so the person in charge had to take several pictures and sighed in frustration.

We finally got Caleb to look at the camera after a dozen attempts. It wasn’t a very flattering photo (he looked like a mochi!) and wanted the staff to try again… but the guy didn’t want to be bothered. We left DFA roughly thirty minutes when we came in–I honestly didn’t expect it would be that easy!

Step 4: Waiting time. I didn’t opt for the delivery service so I came back to DFA exactly 6 weeks after application. I got it as promised. Thank you DFA for a swift and easy process for the little ones!

Doesn't he look like a mochi?
Doesn’t he look like a mochi?

10 Moments of Culture Shock in Europe as a Filipino Traveler

Traveling to an unfamiliar place is always full of surprises. Traveling takes you out of your comfort zone and urges you to leap unto the unknown. That’s why traveling can be so liberating and beautiful. Seeing the world gives you a whole change of perspective. The customs and beliefs you’ve learned since you were young suddenly get challenged when in a strange and new place. venice-italy-gondola-europe-ride Europe has always been a place of wonder and romance for me–a place from dreams of a little child. I thought I’ve read enough books seen enough Downton Abbey to prepare myself on what Europe is like. But, just like marriage, you can never be fully prepared for what’s to come. Here are 10 moments of culture shock you’ll likely experience as a Filipino traveler!

1.  Sparkling Water

The first culture shock I experienced was in Venice after a long-haul flight & three stopovers from the Philippines. Thirsty and famished, my family and I found the first restaurant we could find in Venice. I ordered one bottle of water, and when it arrived I drank it up immediately, only to spit it out in shock because it tasted like gas.

People, why do you drink this.

In Europe, they serve two types of water but Filipinos are only used to drinking the still water kind.In some other areas, they serve two types of iced tea too–the still and carbonated kind. So be specific if you want your drinks without the bubbles.

2. You have to do a lot of walking.

You’ll get to do a lot of walking. A lot. One time, Ejay told me we were going to visit a friend’s place and not to worry because ‘it’s just a five-minute walk away’. To me, a ‘five-minute walk’ meant walking to the next block. To Europeans, it means a 1-km walk. I didn’t wear enough layers during that walk and was not happy freezing to death–so you’d understand the numerous revenge plots on Ejay in my head at the time.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 2.08.16 PM
Lovely view, but it’s been a long day!

The Philippines does not have the ideal setting to nurture the walking or commuting culture. Don’t ask me why, but it’s probably due to a combination of climate, politics, urban planning and discipline (or lack thereof). We grew up in a car-priority society. To get from point A to point B, we mostly ride the jeepney or taxi, we drive our cars (and get our licenses without taking any driver’s test). The option to walk is very limited in the Philippines, mainly because our cities are built to discourage walking. There are no safe place for pedestrians on the road, and walkers have to run for their lives even when walking on pedestrian lanes. Doctors say that walking is good for the heart, but how can we eliminate the risk of dying every time– either by getting run over or developing a pollution-causing terminal illness?

3. Sorry, we’re closing.

While in Europe, I’ve been refused by shops a number of times because they were going to close in a few minutes. I was appalled at first (the businessman in me wanted to scream: but don’t you want my money?!?!). 

We are so used to the 24-hour convenience of Asia that the idea early closing times is distressing. What if I crave for 7-Eleven ice cream or Korean instant noodles in the middle of the night? What if I suddenly want to work out at Citigym Waterfront because I feel fat at 3am? In Cebu, many shops, restaurants and even gyms are open 24/7. In Europe, shops close early at around 5pm-7pm.

Many shops close on Sundays and holidays (museums close on Mondays, by the way). On some occasions, you will find your favorite store suddenly closed for the whole summer because the storekeeper is on vacation. Or closed for winter because no one really wants to work on winter. Did I mention that they don’t have 24 hour drive-thru? Nor a pizza delivery service? Tsk.

23651_10150113544760543_1972710_n
Well, that’s a shame.

4. Don’t they feel just a little bit claustrophobic?

For such tall people, the Europeans seem to like everything tiny and cramped. All over Europe everything feels like it’s specifically Asian-tailored–their hotel rooms, wardrobes, toilets, cars… While I don’t mind, being Asian and all. But I wonder, If I’m a six-foot-tall European, I would probably feel just a little claustrophobic.

Tiny alleys in Mykonos, Greece
Tiny alleys in Mykonos, Greece

I wish Europeans would better take care of their cars though. Drivers would bump on to other people’s cars just to squeeze in a tiny parking space. But just as one Italian friend put it: ‘what’s the use of the bumper but to bump on it?’

5. Thinking about Clothes.

Dressing in the Philippines is relatively easy. You put on a shirt, shorts or jeans, snickers (slippers if you’re feeling more casual), and you’re good to go. Some people choose to suffer for fashion and put on boots and suits in this sweltering 30-degree weather. Dressing up in a place with four seasons is fun at first. Later on, it gets tedious. Dressing up takes at least 30 minutes for me on winter. I hate the fact that I have to wear five layers of clothing–and make sure all the clothes match together. I hate the fact that it adds 5kg to my weight. I hate that I couldn’t look cute if I wanted to. Nor the fact that clothes and shoes I got for UK would be impossible for me to use when I’m back in the Philippines.

Four Layers and we still try to look cute.
Four Layers and we still try to look cute.

5.1 And the lack thereof.

I’ve seen a lot foreigners in Philippine beaches and it’s easy to tell which one’s American and which one’s European–their swimwear. Americans settle for the long swim shorts that Filipinos wear too. Again, Europeans seem to like everything teeny-weeny. (If I were male, I’d probably feel claustrophobic inside those Speedos too)

To illustrate my point…

Nude beaches are all the range in Europe. They are laissez-faire when it comes to public display of personal goods. However,  if you’re a little squeamish about nudity, do research on which beaches are ‘family-friendly’. All other beaches that aren’t family-friendly will most probably give you some degrees of a good boob show. I’ve been to a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea and have seen women go topless by the pool or on beaches in Greece. I have no problem with that but… based on my experience, most women who don’t go topless, should. Most women who go topless–really shouldn’t. I’m talking about you, Grandma.

6. Feels like you’re back in the past

It still amazes me how people in Europe still prefer to read a book in the subway, or sketch outdoors in the park, or actually talk to people and make actual eye contact. In cafes you’re forced to talk to your acquaintances because wi-fi is mostly not available (or horrible).

Sketching new ideas
Sketching new ideas

I remember coming back to Hong Kong from London and the moment I stepped out of the airport– each face is glued to their respective screens–and I’m suddenly reminded that I’m back in Asia. Technology hasn’t escaped Europe though, and you’ll find some people in their mobile phones. They aren’t as selfie-crazed. The kids still prefer to play in parks rather than stare down at tablets all the time.

I'm trying to take a selfie as subtle as possible or I might embarrass myself
I’m trying to take a selfie as subtle as possible because I don’t want to embarrass myself

7. Nothing costs like peanuts.

I remember exchanging my months’ worth of savings to euros–a thick wad of peso bills changed into five notes in the euro currency. Five notes–all my months’ salary worth and my confidence down the drain. Coming from a third world country, I can’t help but convert everything to local currency. Shopping in Europe means I would mentally convert it in peso and think really hard if I really need it. Who wouldn’t feel bad if a cup of nuts in the UK would be able to be feed you lunch and dinner in the Philippines?

Smile and pretend you didn’t regret buying this, Rachel…

8. PDA

Everywhere in Europe, especially Paris, I am forced to watch soft core porn–whether it’s on the romantic lock bridge by the river Seine or while queuing up for a crepe.

Even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.
Even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.

Yes, even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.

9. European smiles take a bit of effort.

Filipinos are generally cheerful– we love to laugh and smile. We give it openly and freely. We laugh when we’re happy, excited, embarrassed or even when we’re a little annoyed. In fact, even when I’m chatting with friends, if I don’t put a ‘hahaha’ at the end of every sentence they would think something’s wrong with me. That’s how we take our jovial attitude seriously.

Hence, the famous Mona Lisa smile.
Hence, the famous Mona Lisa smile.

Europeans look more stern and very serious. They keep a straight face when telling a joke. I thought at first that it probably hurts for them to move their zygomaticus major muscle. Or,maybe they have poor dental care. hehe. Kidding aside, Europeans aren’t really aloof or miserable, as is the common misconception– but they just don’t like to smile without reason. They are generally more reserved and somber compared to Americans or Filipinos.

10. The churches are empty.

I come from a country where it’s dominantly Catholic, people are very religious, and the church is still relatively powerful when it came to people’s and government’s decisions. Most Filipinos from middle to upper class studied in a Catholic institution where we were taught to memorize our prayers and observe religious practices strictly. Going to church every Sunday is part of every Filipino’s lives. So to get to Europe and to see all these beautiful churches and cathedrals–and to find their Sunday service almost empty–feels a bit weird. Most of Europe’s churches now work as museums for tourists to gawk at. While some churches still hold Sunday mass, attendees are sparse and few. Even the shoddiest chapel in a Philippine barangay get more attendees–and observers are willing to pack in like sardines just to observe mass.

Beautiful Florence Cathedral
Beautiful Florence Cathedral
Sunday Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Sunday Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

What are your personal moments of culture shock while you’re in Europe, or Asia, or other parts of the world? Share your own experiences in the comment box and let me know!