Wanderings in the Kingdom of Wonder

It took us around five hours to get from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh by bus. Upon arrival, one thing I noticed is how organized the land use planning of the city is. We saw a lot of Lexus cars and we found out that it’s easy to buy them here because it’s also easy to get a loan. The locals constantly complain of the traffic jam but it’s nothing compared to EDSA traffic in Manila.

We got to go the main tourist attractions, the Royal Palace and the National Museum. We also went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school used as a concentration camp. A sad reminder of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge nevertheless an important way of keeping us vigilant to never allow such thing to happen again.

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National Museum
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Royal Palace

From Phnom Penh, we traveled to Sihanoukville to attend a reunion for a youth program I joined five years ago. We then headed to Siem Reap via Phnom Penh to explore their famous temples – the Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Angkor Thom (also known as Tomb Raider, thanks to Angelina Jolie’s movie with the same name). It’s amazing how these structures stood the test of time. Though overcrowded with tourists taking a gazillion of photos, your visit to Cambodia wouldn’t be complete without going to these sites.

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Angkor Wat
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Bayon
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Angkor Thom / Tomb Raider

Going around Cambodia is very convenient with its tourist-friendly transport. You can choose to ride their sleeper bus or van that has regular trips. They even have Uber for tuk-tuk called PassApp Taxi.

Payment is also not a hassle as they use US dollars alongside the Cambodian riel. There are no coins. The Cambodian currency is usually meant for anything less than a dollar. It can be confusing and amusing how you pay in one currency and get the change in another but you get used to it eventually.

St. Augustine said that the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. I’m quite fortunate to have the privilege of reading more than just one page. I consider myself a passive traveler. Usually someone else would organize all the logistics of a trip and I simply tag along. The destination is secondary to me. I mostly go on these trips to enjoy the company of friends, meet people, get immersed in a different culture, and learn and experience something new.

Looking forward to the next chapter of the book!

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Re-visiting Vietnam

“It’s better to be a foreigner in Hanoi. When they learn you’re from Ho Chi Minh because of your accent, they charge you more.” Interestingly, there’s this apparent north-south divide in Vietnam.

Funny how conversations can range from guy stuff to serious topics like this one during drinking sessions. I find the drinking culture of Vietnam pretty unique. It’s all about service they say. So don’t be surprised when the waiters or waitresses would keep on refilling your drink and replacing the ice. Their “beer chow,” or food taken with drinks or “pulutan” in Filipino, is meat with generous helpings of vegetables. And they end the drinks with a dessert of fresh fruits! For the record, I don’t drink so I just helped myself with all the food. I love how every meal here is not complete without greens and herbs adding rich flavor to every dish. I hope they maintain this and not give in to the invading fast food culture.

It’s been five years since the last time I was in Ho Chi Minh. Now, you can barely see the “old” Vietnam as it’s transitioning fast to the western way of development. It’s sad how we set that as the standard.

Coffee shops are everywhere and there used to be no Starbucks anywhere but that’s no longer the case. I noticed how they use a lot of plastic cups and straws and these drinks are further placed in plastic bags. It’s no wonder how Vietnam, like the Philippines, is one of the top plastic polluters in the world.

We visited the usual tourist spots – the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, Ben Thanh Market, and some museums. I truly enjoyed Ho Chi Minh’s organized chaos of shops and motorbikes here and about. I couldn’t get enough of the affordable, healthy, tasty food. And the best thing was really embracing and learning more about Vietnam and its culture through conversations with locals and being hosted by our Vietnamese homestay mom, Mommy Helen.

Cam on (thank you), Vietnam for another memorable experience!

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Filipino Youth Beyond Paris (and yes, youth pa rin ako)

Ang suwerte ng kabataan ngayon. Ang dami nilang opportunities for youth engagement. Basta may event o program na meant for youth participants, tsine-check ko kaagad ang age qualification. Hindi na kasi ako pasok sa Philippine definition pero sa UN, youth pa ako so wapakels ako sa inyo, haha! Joke lang.

Anyway, inorganisa ng Climate Reality Project Philippines ang “Filipino Youth Beyond Paris: Acting on Climate, from Paris to Kigali and beyond,” isang climate action conference para sa mga youth (yes!). Ninais din nitong pag-usapan ang national youth statement on climate na ibibigay sa Philippine delegation sa 23rd Conference on Parties sa Bonn, Germany.

Hindi iyan isang bonggang party. Meeting iyan at negosasyon patungkol sa Paris Agreement. Ang Agreement na ito ay naglalayong i-limit ang pag-init ng mundo below two degrees at tinatarget nga natin ay 1.5 degrees kasi just a slight increase in temperature could mean the end of the world as we know it. OA?! Pero seriously, remember Yolanda? Bagyo pa more ang dala nito.

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Picture ng aming mock negotiation (Photo from Climate Reality Philippines).

Eh, ano naman iyong Kigali? Bale siyudad ito sa Rwanda kung saan na-ammend iyong Montreal Protocol. Iyong Montreal Protocol ay nagpa-phase out ng mga ozone-depleting substances. Dahil walang effect sa ozone ang hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) ginawa siyang substitute as refrigerant pero powerful greenhouse gas pala siya. So doon sa Kigali Amendment, kailangang i-phase out na rin ang HFCs. Gets?

Policy work can actually be exciting pag naiintindihan mo ang mga galawang nagaganap. Isa pa importante rin siya kasi ito iyong nagiging basehan ng mga pagbabagong ninanais natin. At sa mga policy work na ito, siyempre dapat involved ang all sectors including the youth. Kasi nga, tayo raw iyong pag-asa ng bayan na paulit-ulit binabanggit na para bang nakalimutan na natin. Kasi feeling nila puro selfie ang alam ng mga millenials. Pero sa totoo lang, sa tingin ko mas empowered at proactive ang mga kabataan ngayon, which is an awesome thing!

So balik tayo sa climate action, you want to know what you can do? Check out 101 ways to fight climate change. Sali ka rin sa iba’t-ibang youth initiatives at sabihan mo ako kung merong event pang-youth, iyong UN definition ha, hehe! But at the end of the day, bata o matanda, lahat tayo may magagawa para masolusyonan ang climate change. And the time to act is NOW!

No longer the Baguio we used to know

Baguio has recently been designated as one of the UNESCO Creative Cities for crafts and folk art. While this calls for a celebration, I can’t help but think about the issues haunting my beloved hometown.

Baguio is no longer the City of Pines. The trees have been replaced by malls, tall buildings, and condos. Are we trying to copy Manila? Manila of all places! Remember how trees were cut to make way for a “green” Sky Park that features environment-friendly facilities. Really?! How smart! Very, very smart, indeed!

I’ve joined a protest walk to stop this madness but sadly, corporate greed prevailed. In a funny twist of fate, the mall’s roof was blown away by a typhoon, not once but twice!

Now comes another “brilliant” proposal of constructing a podium car parking at Burnham Park.

Baguio is no longer the “Clean and Green City Hall of Famer” it used to be. The city is choking. Choking in smoke, garbage, and plastic. There’s an ordinance that bans plastic and Styrofoam. I understand that this is yet to be fully implemented next year but when I was in town the past weekend, it seems like there’s not even an attempt to transition to eco-friendly bags.

Baguio is no longer the Summer Capital of the Philippines that we knew. This title, in fact, has been abused to justify putting up more hotels, more establishments, more cafes. Apparently, there’s almost a hundred registered cafes in the city! Far too many of everything if you ask me.

Blame doesn’t only fall on big corporations, businessmen, and realtors. Baguio residents have allowed the invasion of houses on mountains which appear nice at night but look like garbage piled on top of each other at daytime. It’s easy for us to put the fault on tourists for garbage and too much traffic but we also contributed to these.

Sigh… the rant just goes on.

But the real question is where do we go from here?

Part of the Horde

My old phone died. I’m not really techy and I have no idea what model it is so let’s just call it a really old phone. I was tempted to buy the same model but everyone was saying it’s about time to buy a smartphone. So I did. I felt sad about it because I can no longer boast how not having a smartphone is perfectly fine. I’m now part of the zombie crowd (Thanks, Steve Cutts for the very accurate illustration). I have to admit though, with this new phone, I like how convenient it is to easily book a ride although I still pretty much prefer riding the taxi so I could support these taxi drivers, who are, to be fair, are not all evil.

“Is there wifi?” That’s the question most people would be asking. The common question I got asked when I spent a week at Makiling, which is a lovely place by the way; but since we were up in the mountains, the signal was very weak, to the dismay of everyone.

We’re so accustomed to being connected or online all the time. I still can’t understand how every moment, one has to constantly look at the hypnotic screen – while riding the jeepney, inside the elevator, in between conversations, heck, even in the toilet!

“The things you own end up owning you,” said Tyler Durden of Fight Club. And it’s an apt statement to these phones controlling our lives.

It facilitates communication, yes. But with that comes the ease of spread of fake news, more incidences of cyberbullying, and promotion of unrealistic self-image. Add to that the strain to human interactions.

We sure have a way of corrupting technology. It’s inevitable, I suppose. Maybe it’s just me being sentimental of the good old days. Or simply me growing old. Eek!

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Terror

Oo. I consider myself a terror teacher. Pati ako matatakot sa sarili ko.

Pagpasok palang ng classroom, animo’y mga ipis na ayaw sa ilaw ang mga estudyante kong balik kaagad sa mga upuan at todo pretend na behaved sila. Otherwise, makakatanggap sila ng death stare.

“Umupo nang matuwid, itikom ang bibig, kamay sa desk!” Parang military. Iyong mga boys, aliw na aliw kasi marami sa kanila ang pangarap ay maging pulis o sundalo. Don’t ask me why.

Nung minsang birthday ko, kinantahan ako ng mga estudyante. Hindi man lang ako ngumiti. Sabi ko lang, “Thank you, sit down,” sabay resume ang lesson. Cold-hearted, ano?

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Thank you, sit down!

Mabait naman ako sa totoong buhay pero kailangang maging super strict sa classroom kung hindi kakainin ka ng buhay ng mga batang hindi nauubusan ng energy.

I’m sure hindi ako iyong paborito ng mga estudyante ko. Pero may mga mangilan-ngilan na parang they could see through me. Iyong tipong mababasa mo sa kanilang mga mata ang pang-unawa. Na tila sinasabi, “Naiintindihan namin kung bakit kailangan mong maging istrikto.”

“Teacher, kokopyahin?” tanong ng mga tsikiting.

“Ay hindi, tititigan!” sagot ko.

May mga palihim na ngiti. Marunong pala akong magpatawa, sarcastic lang.

Siyempre, dahil Teacher’s Day ngayon may mga greetings at throwback pictures noong ako’y nagtuturo pa, three years ago.

Bigla kong na-miss ang ingay at gulo sa classroom.

Iyong pag-prepare ng lesson at pagtuturo in straight English na parang college students ang mga kausap (nganga iyong mga bata).

Iyong pagkanta at pagsayaw tuwing may program. Kapag teacher ka dapat kaya mong gawin lahat.

Iyong feeling na tipong may na-inspire o may natutunan sila sa iyo.

Maraming nagsasabing teacher nga ang aura ko maski hindi na ako nagtuturo. Marami rin ang naguudyok sa aking magturo muli.

Puwede naman, subalit marami rin kasi akong gustong gawin. Mahilig din akong maglakwatsa at pumunta kung saan-saan. Hindi lang para mamasyal kundi pati gumawa ng mga bagay na ikabubuti ng bansa, community work kung baga. Bilang guro, mahirap iyong madalas na wala ka sa classroom.

Hindi biro ang maging teacher kaya sobrang saludo ako sa mga indibidwal na pinili ang tahaking ito.

Sa lahat ng teachers, mabait man o terror, tulad ko, happy Teacher’s Day!

Commune with Nature at Mount Purro

Go on a hike and enjoy the air’s freshness of the forest.

Savor the generous helpings of freshly prepared healthy dishes (you can request for vegan/vegetarian options, too!).

Sleep in cozy kubo-style cabins and let the sound of crickets and the flowing brook serve as your lullaby.

Take a dip in the pool.

Bond with your barkada in the game room.

Meditate and have your reflective moments in nicely decorated huts.

All these you can do at Mount Purro Nature Reserve.

If you’re looking for a quick getaway and escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then this place would be perfect. Sounds like a promotional campaign but really, if you’re into nature and trees, like me, you’ll appreciate Mount Purro which is located at Barangay Calawis, Antipolo City, and is about an hour and a half away drive from Quezon City. It started as a reforestation area now it boasts of facilities and activities suited for everyone.

Truly, we always go back to nature for healing and rejuvenation. I just wish we could bring more of nature, greeneries, and trees to the city so we don’t have to go somewhere else to escape the concrete jungle.

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