[travelogue] Coming Out of My Cage (And It Feels Just Fine)

A/N: Submitted this as an entry to World Nomads’ travel scholarship competition. I didn’t win, but it felt like a piece of travel writing worth sharing.


It’s June.  The night is humid, glowing amber in the lights of Armenian Street.  I’m twenty-three, and girls much younger than me have done this before—wandered off at night in search of adventure—but I’d always been the “tame” one.  At home, they call me tita (aunty), lola (grandma). The girl whose idea of partying is having tea in bed after work.

Certainly not the girl who’d be rounding the corner of a graffiti-covered alley at half-ten at night, the remnants of a sangria buzzing in her blood.  But it was my last day in Singapore, and I’d found myself wanting to live a little.

Emphasis on a little.  There would be no shared drinks with strangers.  Instead, I was looking for new music, and Timbre at The Substation was supposedly the best place to find it.

Back home in Manila, I balanced a responsible, serious job as an agency strat planner with a self-proclaimed “career”—profitability be hanged—as a singer/songwriter for a rock band.  When my bandmates heard I was traveling to Singapore, they’d filled my head with stories of underground gigs with inspiring acts.  It was this promise that got me to wander a foreign city at the oddest hours of night.  I’d tried to find it in Clarke Quay, but the bands there sounded professional when I was looking for raw.  A quick Google search for “indie music gigs Singapore” pointed me in the direction of Timbre.  


Several attempts at a cab ride later, I’m elbowing my way into the dark, open-air club, dodging a bunch of finance-looking bros nursing beers.  I grab a stool near the bar and, just as I catch my balance, there’s that familiar screech of an electric guitar being sound-checked.  Then, the mics crackle to life as a raspy mezzo-soprano (just like me) launches into the familiar first line of The Killers’ hit, Mr. Brightside.

Soon, it’s midnight. Though the sangria’s worn off, I might as well be drunk. I’m dancing in my seat, shout-singing along with those finance bros through a series of pop-rock hits. Later, I’ll notice my phone battery is dead.  Later, I’ll catch my first ever bus.  Later, I’ll huddle, scared, at a deserted taxi stand in a different part of town (How did I get here?!) until an off-duty cab takes pity on me and brings me back to my hotel.  

Later, I’ll wonder what possessed me to wander around at night, in an unfamiliar city. But, with rock music blasting from crackling amplifiers, later hardly matters.

For the first time, I’m coming out of my cage, and right now, it feels fine.



#LoveLettersToLiteraryCharacters: Henry Tilney

I was supposed to send this in to a Fully Booked contest, but I forgot. The Little Prince won, which hurts a bit because of…reasons and boys and boy-reasons.

But I still have this letter. And I hope you guys might like to hear a bit about why I love Henry Tilney.



My dearest, Henry,

Everyone chooses Darcy. Everyone swoons over brooding, stately, and passionate. And why shouldn’t they? Who doesn’t want to be the woman who unlocks that heart, that teaches that serious face to smile?

I don’t. I never did, Henry, not since you.

 When I first picked up Northanger Abbey, as a teenager in high school discovering Austen post-Pride and Prejudice required reading, I knew I was a goner. I was–still am, though perhaps I might be a bit of Emma Woodhouse too–Catherine: nervous, a little socially-shy, looking for a friendly face, if not a friend. And there you were, laughing and smiling and cracking jokes and making silly comments, willing to make yourself look like a half-wit if only to put a girl at ease.

From the first dance in the pump room, I knew you were special. No, you have neither the austere, irresistible arrogance of Darcy nor the constancy and charming good-sense of Knightley (another favorite), but how many men really do? No, instead you were everything a girl needs in a literary hero: kind, charming, and real. You are far from ideal–you were hurt when Catherine seemed to ditch you for that prat Thorpe, and snubbed poor Miss Morland the next time you saw her–but that’s part of why you are so charming. You act like a real person would be expected to act, and thus, is it not too far-fetched to believe that a real Henry Tilney might exist?

Perhaps it is. The truth, after all, was never meant to be as strange as fiction. But Henry, I hope it isn’t. I hope there is someone willing to be patient with me when my imagination runs away. I hope there is someone willing to laugh instead of scold when I’m being ridiculous. Not that I would mind the scoldings, Henry, really! Because when you do tell Catherine she’s being foolish, your words are gentle. You are, first and foremost, a friend teaching a friend.

I think that’s something the world has lost in the mad shuffle for finding love, Henry. Too often we look for brooding passion or the grand gesture, but yours and Catherine’s story, as dramatic as the ending is, had a workaday beginning: a boy meets a girl, doesn’t like her (at first), but through conversation and shared interests and, above all, friendship…feelings take root and grow. Real feelings, founded on a real knowledge of the person, instead of an Udolpho (or, in modern terms, Fifty Shades) fantasy.

Henry, more than anything, you are an amazing friend. You’d be someone I’d trust to have in my corner, and I’d be so honored to be in yours. Good sense, intelligent conversation, friendship, and a few fun flights of fancy…what more might anyone ask for? What more might anyone need?

Thank you for being an unconventional hero in the way that Catherine is supposedly an unconventional heroine. Thank you for that workaday love, that friendship set on fire. Darcy, for all his wealth and pomp and splendor, could never hold a candle to your laugh.

With love,

A Roaming Tsinay 

2016: A Year In Review

Haven’t managed to do this consistently, but since 2016 was quite a year, I decided to try and reflect on it. I suppose this survey, all neatly laid out, is a good place to start.  So here I am.  You can view my 2009 and 2010 answers here (2009) and here (2010).

Name of Your Year: The Year I Lived (“Are we out of the woods yet?”)

1. What did you do this year that you’ve never done before?

  • Launched an EP with my band.
  • Went to Israel.
  • Traveled a city by myself. (Singapore!)
  • Plucked on guitar.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
– I didn’t make any resolutions this year, but I’ve made a “Seventeen by 2017” bucket list for next year!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth this year?
– No one I was close to, but a bunch of people at my office had children this year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

– No, but a ton of celebrities I looked up to did.

5. What countries did you visit this year?
– Singapore, Israel, and Taiwan

6. What would you like to have in the next year that you lacked this year?
– Stability, Consistency, Courage, and Humility.

7. What date(s) from this year will remain etched upon your memory – and why?
– See, I don’t think I’ll remember exact dates unless I check my diaries and online notes and journals, but I can tell you the things I will remember happened this year:

  • Stories Told EPonymous Launch
  • Stories Told RJ Gig (and the consequences thereafter)
  • My first, non-Stories Told songwriting collab session in ages (and how easy-as-breathing it was).
  • Polishing and recording the demo for The Cliff and The Wave
  • Wandering Singapore City by myself at night and hearing live music at Timbre at Substation along Armenian St.
  • Crying in the Finance Office and being unable to work because I thought one of my bandmates was going to leave (me).
  • Falling in crush with the same guy my friend liked and playing Angelica Schuyler for a good month or so.
  • Sailing the Sea of Galilee and sobbing my eyes out at the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Going to Baguio for the first time with LMC.
  • Spending Christmas Eve with a family I didn’t belong to and feeling so very, very welcomed.

8. What was/were your biggest achievement(s) of the year?

  • The Cliff and The Wave
  • My two juniors surviving–thriving, really–a week without me supervising them.

9. What was your biggest failure of the year?
– Forcing my band to book a gig that wasn’t really in line with our musical “aesthetic” because I wanted to gig so badly, and the way I dealt with the tension thereafter. The overall lack of confidence I had in my own identity as an artist poisoned the water a bit, and to be honest we’re still recovering from it.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration (a public or private personality)?
– My mum, for putting up with me.
– Whoever picked the MMFF entries this year, because they are all awesome.
– The Loudmouth Collective, for putting up with me.
– Marvs Fabular and Dean Carayag, for putting up with me.
– All the millennials who marched against the Marcos Burial, especially the girl who protested alone in front of LNMB.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
– The President.
– America.
– The Marcoses.
– Myself. :))

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about this year?
– EPonymous
– Singapore
– Baguio

I wasn’t excited about Israel because I was so afraid work would blow up while I left, but once I got there I was glad I’d gone.

16. What song(s) will always remind you of this year?
– “The Cliff and The Wave,” because it was the first song that I could be proud of, and it got made this year.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

  • happier or sadder – a little worse for wear, but maybe happier?
  • richer or poorer – same.
  • thinner or fatter – probably largely the same, emphasis on largely.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
– Trusting.  God, myself, the process, etc.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
– 2013: “Doubting myself, indulging in bouts of self-loathing, and lashing out in fits of temper.”
– 2016: “Same, but maybe to a more dramatic degree.”

20. How did you spend the holidays?
– I thought I wasn’t going to make it this year, because I’d ended up a “holiday orphan.” My paternal family, who I’d been spending Christmas with since I was a little girl, all went to New Zealand with my paternal grandfather. I know that they did that because my grandfather has had a difficult time coping with the holidays since my grandmother passed…but I also felt a little like I’d been excluded somehow from a family celebration. It got to this point where I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas at all, until my godmother invited me to her family dinner…and I felt so welcome, not awkward or unwanted at all. It was pretty brilliant.

21. Did you fall in love this year?
– UHM. ERR. YEAH. I ended up liking someone I probably shouldn’t have…

Still do like them, to be honest, but I am doing my best to fix that.

22. What were your favorite TV programs for the year?
– Game of Thrones, because Sansa finally got her moment.

I also started browsing episodes of “Ghost Adventures” because Zak running and screaming and flailing is hilarious, though I’m pretty much not a believer in their heebie jeebies.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
– Actually…no?  I think I hate less people now than I did then.

24. What was the best book you read this year?
The Fantasy Fallacy.

25. What was your favorite film of the year?
– I’m going to go out on a limb and say Saving Sally will be because I’m so ready for it.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

27. What did you want and get?
– I guess I wanted to figure out where I was going, and I sort-of have a better idea, entering 2017, of what that is.

28. What did you want and not get?
– A boyfriend (ha ha ha) and to get into the Vans Battle of the Bands.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
– Turned twenty-three, and I took the day off to try to negotiate a venue for Loudmouth.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
– A little less self-doubt.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept this year?
– In the words of #TeamVirus, who gave me a special award for it, “Rumarampage.”  Lots of Uniqlo.  Lots of tailoring.  Lots of basics.  Lots of dressing for the ‘gram, but not in an unreasonable fashion.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

33. Whom did you miss this year?
– I think everyone who stayed was someone who was meant to. I don’t actually think I miss anyone at this point.

34. Who were the people you were grateful to have met/gotten to know this year? (Formerly “Who was the best new person(s) you met this year?”)

  • The Loudmouth Collective
  • Devyn Parsons
  • The Holy Land Pilgrims 2k16, especially Tita Ched and Tita Moje.  (Sorry, I have favorites.)
  • I “got to know” my best friend Esther a lot more this year, and I’m happy for that.
  • Friends from World Extravaganza, specifically Nikki, Jegs, and AJ.
  • I’m glad I got to know my bro Marvs again.

35. What kept you sane?
– God.  Family. Music. Mostly, God.

36. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
None?  This was the year I gave up on Hiddleston.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson(s) you learned for this year.
– In 2013: Be brave.  Trust the process.  Just do.  Live in the in-between.  Keep a quiet heart. And Trust God, always.
– In 2016: All this, but only more so.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. ”

– Anthem, Leonard Cohen