Watching Stars from Afar

My mother has just turned 50, but she tells me she’s feeling 35. That’s not the way it works, I tell her, but she doesn’t listen. On some nights we go on video call simultaneously, but at different times–me at 8pm, she at 9am the next day. We are 13 hours apart. I watch her cook meals, check my brother’s homework, file the paperwork for our business, other things that only require her to not even look, just listen. Just listen, Ma–I tell her about my life in Boston, how it’s getting colder and colder–Do you remember? I ask her, you used to love snow–and how life is somehow catching small pieces of happiness that I’d love her to see as well.

My mother’s first time in the U.S.
My mother and me

I’m 23 now, but sometimes she treats me like a little kid. My Ann-Ann, she croons to me, You’re always looking for a mother’s love. She tells me she’s planning to adopt, but I tell her to consider otherwise, tell her she doesn’t have time to take care of another child, but she thinks it’s for the better, nevertheless. Maybe that’s what mothers feel when their children are getting older and older one by one, or when their eldest goes away. Maybe it’s a Filipina mom thing, or maybe it’s just my mom turning 50. Either way, she seems very alive, seems very full of hope that I wish I could also have.


What seemed to be happiness: my visit to the Philippines and some nice spots

Since the holidays started, a lot of my grad school friends from other nationalities had been messaging me for suggestions on places to see in my home country.

Having visited the Philippines for three weeks last September (and having even toured a friend from Moldova who came to do some sightseeing in Manila as well), I decided to just list down the nice spots that I would highly recommend should anyone want to see the capital, plus the surrounding areas of Metro Manila.

The first batch focuses more on the local spots which I would recommend touring on foot and/or with a friend who knows how to get around with the public transportation–it’s tough for anyone for the first time, as you would have to learn the routes and stops, not to mention what to say to the driver (the magic words are “Para po!”). I personally would love to tour people myself; I’ve been a tour guide for exchange students as a side gig back in college, but since I’m now based in the States, hit me up if you really need a local guide–I know a couple of friends and contacts who do tours as well for a small fee.

Anyway, let’s start with the very heart of the Manila capital:

  1. Recto: this is the last station of the Light Rail Transit Line-2 (LRT-2) coming from the Santolan Station. Not far from Divisoria, the local marketplace for bulk merchandise, Recto has a lot of cheap gadget stores along Hidalgo Street and Raon. I remember passing by and seeing a lot of jukeboxes, military gear, uniforms, textbooks, DVDs and CDs for sale.
  2. Escolta: Plaza Miranda of Quiapo Church leads directly to Quiapo Street if you cross the Rizal Avenue (Or Avenida, as locals know it). I love, love Escolta since this is the entrance to Carriedo Street, the downtown district during the old days, and if you walk along even further, you’ll find Binondo Chinatown–the first ever Chinatown in the entire world. If you need a list of must-try food stops, message me; I’d be happy to give you my top 5 (or I might even write another blog post for some other time hehe)
  3. Manila Bay: where the best sunset is, hands down. Opt for sunny/cloudy weather to see the harbor. Since it’s pretty long for a good 15-20 minute walk, you’ll find lots of horse-drawn carriages, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, our Central Bank, and a couple of museums along the way such as the Museum Pambata (Children’s Museum), the National Museums (there are three separate buildings), Planetarium, and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
  4. Cultural Center of the Philippines: right beside Star City and in front of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) is the CCP. If you walk along the Manila Bay and follow the path that leads to that giant star tower, you would find the facade of the CCP complex. It’s free admission to the galleries inside it but it’s also nice to catch a performance when there’s one–there are ballet shows, operas, films, and plays featured every now and then. There are also good food spots beside the building with a variety of cuisines–my Filipino life hack: Mang Inasal has unlimited rice for a plate of chicken thigh!

The spots for my second batch have locations in northern Metro Manila, which is Marikina, Antipolo, and Quezon City (including Cubao, Diliman, and Katipunan).

  1. Arete: The Ateneo de Manila University has a newly-built art complex called Arete which has its own art gallery. Not far are the UP Town Center and the University of the Philippines with their own set of food stops and exhibits. The Katipunan Strip–or Katip, as we call it–also has good food spots but if you need to satisfy your art cravings, you can also visit the Vargas Museum in UP Diliman and walk around the university complex itself.
  2. Cubao Expo: I collect old vinyl records (mostly for my ballroom dancing tastes and my parents’ trip down the memory lane). Cubao Expo has a lot of vintage thrift shops that sells all sorts of collectibles. It’s within walking distance from AliMall, Gateway Araneta Center, and Farmer’s Plaza. Pro-tip: the night life is also something to see with all the indie music and bands.
  3. Maginhawa Street in UP Teacher’s Village: My all-time favorite place to hang out with friends back in college. They have a lot of board game cafes, dessert stores, small fashion boutiques, food trucks, and a lot more. The spots just come and go most of the time and probably a lot more has popped up since the last time I visited, but there is always something about Maginhawa that draws me back to it.

The last batch has spots that are located 2-3 hours away from Manila. You can board a bus from the Cubao Terminal Station (near Aurora Boulevard) that goes to Tagaytay, Subic, Batangas, and Cavite, all of which are outside of Metro Manila. I myself grew up in Cavite for eight years before continuing my studies in the capital. My family usually visits Ilog Maria Honeybee Farms to see the honeybees and buy their products in Silang,Cavite. Not far from that are the following:

1. Tagaytay: You’ll probably need to hire a van for this if you are with a group but if you are alone, you can book a tour to certain destinations such as the People’s Palace in the Sky, Puzzle Mansion and Museum, Bag of Beans, Sky Ranch, and Picnic Grove. And if you need an Airbnb for this, let me know and I refer you to the owner of The Snug!

2. Subic Bay: My family loves driving from Manila to Subic for a nice joyride near the coast. I like the encounter with the tigers of Zoobic Safari, the dolphin shows at Ocean Adventure, and the rows of shops at Harbor Point. I would recommend staying there for at least three days since there’s so much to see around the area. 

3. Batangas: Nasugbu and Anilao have really fascinating beaches with white sand and clear waters. We booked our room at Amara Residences (it’s a private residential area) which has its own pool and access to the sea but we were also allowed by the guards to drive to Punta Fuego which has the Infinity Pools. Punta Fuego has a nice buffet and lounge which is perfect for the summer weather.

Here are previous blogs I wrote to help you:

  1. My MapaLakad (trans. Walking Map) project back in college: this was an art project that motivated me to become a tour guide for students back then. I posted more actual photos of the places on the other blogs so you’d have some sort of landmarks should you actually decide to visit.
  2. The real guidebook I made. Since it was an art project, my focus was on abandoned historical spots and buildings around downtown Manila. I placed them on the guidebook strategically that allows you to give an entire feel of the city.

  3. A rough draft of the maps I’ve collated that will help you trace your path. Since I wrote the final guidebook in pure Tagalog and had my friend do the layout, I figured you’d want something more accessible. I hope this helps you in some way.

I didn’t focus much on Makati, Ortigas, and Taguig even though I know there are a lot of cool and hip places around there too. But I chose the ones that I frequent with friends and family and since writing about these places do help me relive the good times with them, here’s to me hoping that you guys will also enjoy visiting these spots.

Anyway, I’ll probably be in the Philippines in December 2019 for my cousin’s wedding (assuming I was able to secure a job for OPT beforehand). So if you do happen to visit, let me know and we can probably figure something out. Cheers to more travels!


December Travels, winter, the Perfect Girl, and more

Winter break has become the epitome of continuous travels for me. Ever since my last final exams, I’ve traveled to Orlando, Florida for a week to meet some friends and friends of family, and then had Christmas Eve in Rockland, Massachusetts (35 mins south of Boston) to celebrate Noche Buena before heading to Bedford, New Hampshire, a town near the border of the two states, to celebrate three Christmases and a wedding anniversary dinner. Needless to say, I’ve had a good time so far.

More and more I’ve tried to read up new essays and brush up on old ones. I ordered a couple of books from Barnes and Noble (which includes Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential), plus a battered copy of Durga Chew-Bose’s Too Much and Not the Mood. The irony is this: less and less I’ve satisfied my restlessness I cannot seem to articulate precisely because I am not trying hard enough to do so.

I cannot reason why despite having partially accomplished some sort of list of to-do’s: I was able to get–not one, but two–internships for the spring, was able to get in touch with a couple of hiring managers and recruiters, was able to attend some gatherings and parties from invitations (knowing me, you would need a lot of convincing just to have me RSVP, let alone actually attend one), was able to pay bills and buy gifts on time. In short, I was able to function properly in the midst of winter.

Perhaps it is really just a matter of pinpointing what kind of pain/fear/restlessness that I’m entering right now, rather than articulating how this pain/fear/restlessness is manifesting in me nowadays. I should probably boil it down to literary hunger, a pang for writing, that recurring ache of not being able to recall how I managed to write those literary essays, or even start a good sentence or paragraph in praise of prose. This is not a mere case of winter blues or homesickness. In the words of Joan Didion, sans context: “There was nothing that made sense.” Once I retreat to my room, what would usually happen is this: I would force myself to shut down my laptop, grab a pen and my good old journal, write a narrative of my day in short, painful declaratives like the following:

“A– fetched me at the Park and Ride on the last good day. It was warm; weather was about 70F. We went to the beach after having breakfast at Panera Bread. We shared a salad with lime and vinaigrette. For lunch he took me to Petey’s and spent $150 on both of us. ‘We make poor life decisions, A–,’ I told him. A– didn’t care. We hung out at nearby boulders near the shore, overlooking the light blue sea and the pinkish skies. The sunset was beautiful at that moment.”

My friends have been sending me their manuscripts for feedback; we had a habit of sharing unpublished works to each other to show that writers actually have enough trust, maybe just not to themselves. I have not returned a single one. And this is the only reason I can think of: I do not see myself anymore as a literary figure with the authority to actually critique works of others. Call this humility or cowardliness–whichever it is, I have somehow retreated into this world of “unliterary.” Maybe deep inside me, I’m still trying to clamber back into that world of attempts, of figuring-outs, of wonderings and wanderings. I want to relive it once this winter is over but I’m not sure how.

Here are my December reads:

Haruki Murakami’s short story, On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One April Morning (I know, the title’s a mouthful): I’ve read this back as an undergrad in one sitting and then completely buried it in my memory. Murakami was mentioned in a conversation with a friend and then I found myself trying to recall the title of this piece, and now we’re here.

If You are What You Eat, then What am I? by Geetha Kothari: Traditional Indian cuisine and the fusion of Western/American food in the eyes of an immigrant. Somehow I can relate to this, being a Filipina who terribly misses her home cuisine, having to acquire the Western taste (which is not a bad thing at all; just something unsettling at first).

The Santa Ana, an essay by Joan Didion. My OG and kween of the essay. I remember passing by the very places that Didion happened to mentioned in her books–Haight-Ashbury, The Golden Gate Bridge, Downtown Sacramento and Davis, California, and of course, Las Vegas. I remember being mesmerized by that particular moment of matching the literary with the real, the actual. That sudden spark in me that words can actually do so much in making a reader believe that these are not just the writer’s imagination but are, in fact, the very premise that made the writer ruminate about her experiences during that period of time. It was like some sort of pilgrimage, having arrived at those spots, both a literal, space-and-time-occupied concept, and somehow a heartwarming one.

Sharking through the Water

Just last week, I was invited to write about sharks.

Yes, sharks.

My mind had lots of questions: What kind of sharks? The ones on the verge of extinction. Are we talking about metaphoric sharks here or literal sharks? Up to me, I suppose. Am I writing to save sharks or am I writing about how dangerous they are? Somewhere between those two, apparently.

It was a friend and fellow artist who reached out to me. He and a partner are working together on an art gallery about shark preservation in the Philippines. They wanted me to come up with something that will entice readers and other art enthusiasts to come visit the exhibit.

I said yes on the spot. Yes because I miss writing. But here’s something I should have let him know: I have neither published nor written any literary piece in a year or so. Even more, I don’t believe I’m inspired enough to write something about sharks.

What I know are shark tanks for business pitches, sharksfin in Chinatown, and of course, that annoyingly cute Baby Shark song.

Everything about me is business-related nowadays. Which I think doesn’t mean I should let go of writing completely. I want to write about the business world, make a series of industry recommendations ’cause I’ve gathered enough information for conversation-starters, and then revisit my stock-trading journey now that I have some new insights from my Finance classes.

Maybe I should do that, too. Maybe I could do both.

I could write about sharks today and then industries the next. After that, I could blog about my stock-trading and why sharks are worth writing about. Perhaps confuse myself if it’s a literal or a metaphorical shark.

The thing about sharks is this: they are hard to catch once their sense of navigation guides them to the right path.

The thing about me is that I can find my way through almost any challenge.

To be a shark you must learn not to fall for traps.

To be me means you must learn to catch an opportunity when it arises.

I can’t help sharks with my writing. But my writing can let people know that sharks are smart.

Smart enough to know where they are going once they figure things out.

On Distances

“If you are coming down the narrows of the river Kiang
let me know beforehand and I will come out to meet you
as far as Cho-Fu-Sa.”

-Li Po, translated by Ezra Pound

What I am, ever, is this: composure of stone.
Spare weather visiting the garden, small as the hours
I keep watch by. Beyond this wall

Must be better weathers. This claw of stars
Must constellate somewhere into a bear.
Else names would lie.

Since winter’s thaws, no script from you
Save this: “I travel the river and follow
The white gulls —”

Husband. See me walking the dusty pass
Where loom our prior lives?
Here the years pass that I enshrine

Within these walls, sparing nothing
From the ardors of my stare. Blue plums,
Paired butterflies repeat you

In a walled world. I tell myself
To clear the moss, mend the gate
So long unswayed and caked with dirt,

But nothing moves. Somewhere
You are actual. Happen to me there.

As Far As Cho-Fu-Sa, Mookie Katigbak

One of my favorite poems since my undergrad days as a Creative Writing major.

Lots of things have happened the past few months to me: I happened to find love after coming back from the Philippines; to say it’s “true love” is still next to uncertain: he talks way more than I do, laughs way more than I do, knows things way more than I do, insists that we see each other once again as soon as we part ways, meets my family, introduces me to his, loves it when I smile out of embarrassment, loves it when my brown eyes meet his blue ones, gets engrossed with romantic gestures, and then, what else, what else–hmmm, I don’t know anymore. But everyday I wake up and tell myself I’m choosing him, over the small mistakes and the huge uncertainty of our future (“I don’t know where I’ll be in six months,” I tell him while he holds my hand), I’m choosing him, through the good and the bad that happened in our past, and yes, I’m choosing him, even when he’ll be gone for a while, because he has promised me one thing: he’ll be back before I know it and when he does, he’ll come back home, which is, in this case, back to me.

Hope in Hack-for-Humanity

When Professor Mike Grandinetti first realized that students need to be more aware of the business realities happening throughout the world, he decided to have a Hack-for-Humanity Hackathon. According to him, to hack is to “create a quick solution to a problem.” The other word, he mentions, is marathon, which he defines as “a fast-paced demo.” With this coinage, hackathons accelerate innovations, lending humanity the ability to propose groundbreaking solutions with the right guidance and motivation. Having supervised several Hackathons for many years, Prof. Grandinetti believes that solutions come from intense brainstorming breakthroughs with optimistic collaborations.

Given the four tracks that correspond to a certain challenge proposed by a chosen NGO, the Hack-for-Humanity Hackathon invites students to participate in the day-long event filled with adrenaline rush and inspiring lessons to learn. Representatives from RecycleHealth, Rethink Relief, Rosie’s Place, and Green Hope Schools presented their goals and needs for their institutions. From providing schools in Tanzania and shelters to homeless women, as well as from recycling fitness trackers to bridging humanitarian disaster response and recovery, the Hackathon can collate ideas generated from bright young minds.


A New Wave of Mentorship

Mike Grandinetti is persistent when it comes to change. He hopes to see his students motivated to provide solutions to real-life problems. A global professor of innovation, entrepreneurship, and marketing from Hult, Prof. Grandinetti dares to disrupt the familiar. However, he is not only into the seriousness of things. From wine-and-beer tasting with former students to Lego plays with Hackathon participants, Prof. Grandinetti understands that work and fun can go together.

“I believe that there is no effective way to teach entrepreneurship and marketing in a purely academic fashion—it requires ongoing, practical application for the skills to truly be learned,” says Grandinetti in an earlier Hult article. When asked what being a mentor means to him, he makes no hesitations to his answer. “It’s a role I cherish,” he says. Having served as a trusted advisor for students, he also creates events that complement and reinforce Hult’s practical curriculum.

During the orientation on the day of the Hackathon, Grandinetti paces around the Fenway Bleachers. His booming voice demands authority, attention. “It takes a village to make a Hackathon happen,” he explains. Aside from the students who signed up to take on the challenge, Grandinetti also meant the mentors.

Briefing the mentors—most of them his former students—is something he is used to. Grandinetti reminds them of their roles: to strike the balance between independence and mentorship, between letting the students think for themselves and giving them as much information on the NGOs as possible. Aside from trying to drive sustainability, he wants the mentors to  “leave them [the students] at a focal point, give them plenty of space to get to a solution.”


Generating Ideas for a Change

Perhaps it is not the grand prize that is the priority of the Hackathon: free tickets and accommodation to the world’s first Conscious Tech Summit in Egypt. “Conscious Tech is any kind of tech that tries to save the world,” explains Prof. Grandinetti. Behind the allure of an exclusive trip, opportunities for a better tomorrow are at the forefront for the students.

Rethink Relief winners Nitin Sethi, Renata Grande, Saul Robinson, Duje Suric, Gaurab Subba, Kenzo Vezina—all from the MBA program—know this all too well: with their two-fold strategy in providing design workshops and consultations to various institutions and to focus on providing skills to refugees in creating products to be sold in the urban markets, they hope to help Rethink Relief in empowering its constituents. Knowing that their chosen NGO bridges together initial humanitarian disaster response and the resettlement and recovery that follow, the team advised Rethink Relief to work on fundraising solutions to make their strategy possible.

Students Diane Tran (MIB), Tzu Ning Chan (MIB), Charity Maddox (MIB), Precious Nwachukwu (MIB), and Michelle Maestre (MFin) won for RecycleHealth, an NGO that takes old fitbits and trackers and provide them to individuals with health problems who need to increase their exercise. “[We] created a roadmap that aligned to the vision of the organization to bring feasible solutions. . . . [and] an implementation plan that would help RecycleHealth’s organizational structure and improve sustainable funding,” says Nwachukwu of the winning team, “The strategy was to listen to each team member, mentor, and co-founder, dig deep into the root of the organization and establish short and long-term solutions that align with the vision and mission of RecycleHealth.”

Winners of Rosie’s Place—Angelica Ferrao (MIB), Franziska Schlemmer (MIB), Sanjit Advani (MIB), Ayelet Norkin (MBA), and Titilola Shawana (MBA)—offered solutions that are targeted towards a broader group of women—”and not just the women with those specific need,” adds Schlemmer.  The first ever homeless shelter for women in the US, Rosie’s Place faces the stigma attached to people who are afraid to reach out in servicing the poor and homeless women. With first-aid kits to be distributed to students through their schools, the winning team hopes to provide awareness to people—mothers and children alike—about the advocacy of Rosie’s Place.

Green Hope Schools winners Anna Lundberg (MIM), Anne-Cathérine Verellen (MIM), Bernardo Pennacchio (MIB), Elise Teves (MIM), Melissa Behrens (MIM), and Vidhi Vekariya (MIM) had to focus primarily on maximizing the use of the resources that Green Hope has in order to develop a self-sustainable growth strategy. Knowing that their NGO hopes to have big school with experienced teachers and kids of all ages, Behrens elaborates on their idea. “The new business model for the short-, medium- and long-term includes the social and organizational embedding of the pre-primary school into its local area in Tanzania as well as the expansion of trained staff and the curriculum for the children.”



His students are ever so thankful for the privilege of working with him. Allison Ziehr, a dual degree student in MIB and MIM, and part of the dedicated team of organizers, admits that organizing the hackathon was “a great learning experience for all of us.” Should Prof. Grandinetti have another one the following year, she would not hesitate signing up all over again.

Dylan Andrew Lurvey, a representative of GreenHope, is very impressed. “Looks like you’re so well-liked on LinkedIn that my only option is to follow!” He tells Prof. Grandinetti through text, “Ami [also a representative] and I had an absolutely fantastic time, and we really felt as though we connected with people in your organization both on the student side, and the mentor-judge side as well.” Lurvey has left Prof. Grandinetti speechless and awed.

It was not only Lurvey who appreciates Prof. Grandinetti’s first-class attitude and the enery he carries. His former students know that working with him was as much enlightening as it was fun, and they are all looking forward to the opportunity of working with him again in the future.

“Dream Team—” Grandinetti calls them, “While there were many others involved along the way, you were the nucleus, always available and ready to do whatever it took to make this Hackathon the success that it was.” He muses. “I consider myself fortunate to have you as my students and mentees and friends. I could not have done any of this without each one of you there in support.” Gratitude from Mike Grandinetti goes a long way.

Whether seeing the participants having fun, giving elaborate speeches to a huge crowd, or even just getting together with his former students, Mike Grandinetti himself has learned hope from the Hackathon: the global generation, in its youthful endeavors, will not fail him.

All my thanks to Vanessa Rosenthal for copyediting and to Melissa Behrens for featuring this article in The Hultian.

It’s been a year, Boston

What a year it has been. I keep on telling myself a year can go by very fast, but I suppose I don’t actually realize how many things can occur within a span of a year. Boston has been very kind to me, despite the certain obstacles along the way–I happened to make some good friends, get an internship at a company I like, see a lot of sights in and out of the city, and think about all these in retrospect while walking along the Charles River or sitting on the grass at the Commons.

My only hope now is I get a chance to stay here once I finish school in May; I love Boston and I hope it will love me back. There’s too much uncertainty where I’ll be a few months from now. I just wish I’d be happy wherever life may take me.