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Why You Should Watch Netflix’s New Filipino-Themed Anime, Trese

Based on the critically-acclaimed comics by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, Trese is an original Netflix animated series that follows the story of Alexandra Trese, an occult investigator with magical powers. She is also the resident lakan/babaylan, aka warrior/healer; one who upholds the balance between the mortal and the spiritual world.

While the concept may not be 100% original (think Hellboy, John Constantine), what makes Trese unique is its Filipino setting: the story happens in the bustling city of Manila, and features many characters and creatures from Filipino mythology. 

When it comes to the fantasy genre, we’ve had plenty of stories revolving around Western, Egyptian, Roman and even Greek mythology, but very little on Southeast Asian culture – which is why the hype was massive (especially in the Philippines) leading up to Trese’s release. 

And I’m happy to say that it does not disappoint. 

Synopsis: 

Mysterious crimes are happening all across Manila, and they seem to be from supernatural causes. At their wits end, local police enlist the help of Alexandra Trese. Alexandra’s family has long acted as a bridge between worlds –  her father Anton was once the laban, while her mother was a babaylan (shaman) – so ever since she was born, Alexandra has had a strong connection to the spirit world. In the course of the series our heroine, together with her twin bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, investigate a string of murders and disturbances – culminating in encounters with beings such as aswangs (man-eating vampiric ghouls), duwendes (goblins), tikbalang (horse-like creatures), zombies and tiyanaks (baby vampires). The events are not isolated, and indicate that something catastrophic is coming – which would involve the destruction of both the human and the spirit world. 

Why You Should Watch It 

Trese’s Filipino touch makes for a unique and refreshing take on the fantasy genre. I mean, it’s not everyday that you get an animated series based on Southeast Asian mythology – which is a shame, because the culture is so rich with amazing stories, symbols and characters. The fact that it’s on Netflix is a great step in the right direction (especially in today’s climate where companies are looking to champion diversity), because it appeals to a modern audience of young Filipinos to reconnect with their roots, and at the same time, introduce the culture to an international audience. 

While the creatures are fascinating, you also get Filipino references in things such as Alexandra’s weapon (a kalis, which looks very similar to a Malay/Indonesian dagger called the keris). Another example would be Alexandra’s bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, who were named after characters in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. In the first episode, Alexandra investigates the apparent murder of the ghost of the White Lady of Balete Drive – a Filipino urban legend that is as popular as Bloody Mary might be to the British. 

And then you have a plethora of pop-culture references to spot: in one episode, a movie studio where Alexandra and her team investigates has a sign saying ‘ABC-ZNN’, a cheeky play on ABS-CBN, the now-defunct major TV news network that was embroiled in a licensing controversy last year. You also get glimpses of everyday Filipino life: commutes in jeepneys and packed trains, a neon-lit skyline – all captured through a pretty art style that perfectly showcases Manila’s chaotic beauty.

Granted, I think sometimes these references might be lost on non-Filipino audiences (I only knew about Crispin and Basilio because the hubs and I were discussing about Philippine Independence Day – I initially thought Crispin was from St Crispin and Crispinian), but even if you’re non-Filipino, it’s not crucial to the plot, and doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story. They’re more like hidden Easter eggs that those in the know will find satisfaction in spotting. 

But what I like the most about Trese which sets it apart from others is that it does not shy away from shining the spotlight on real Filipino issues such as police brutality, the drug war and abortion, in a country that is highly religious and predominantly Catholic. Which to me shows that care has been taken to ensure the show is as culturally accurate and as relevant as possible. It’s not just one of those ‘feel-good, show only the best side’ kind of stories. 

Alexandra’s character, despite her grim demeanour, is likeable and well-developed. You feel for her doubts and her struggles, living in her father’s shadow, constantly being told that she is ‘just like him’, but yet feeling inferior that she might not live up to people’s expectations of what she should be. But at the end of the day, I like that she finds her own strength – and the message that one can trust to someone they look up to to guide their actions, but not need to be exactly like them.

My only peeve with Trese? The pacing is good in the beginning but feels extremely rushed towards the end – as is common with many animated series. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Trese, and I think it’s worth a watch for fans of animation and fantasy stories alike. First Raya, then Trese – maybe this will be the start of the rise of Southeast Asian-themed shows. I’d love to see one with Malaysian mythological characters like Badang (not like the shit that starred Aliff Syukri, I mean a proper one), Mahsuri and Hang Tuah. 

Now, tabi-tabi po. Time to go catch up on some Trese!

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The Narra Filipino Resto Lounge, Petaling Jaya

Despite having a sizable community here, Filipino cuisine is still (imo) underappreciated in Malaysia. Unlike Thai or Indonesian restaurants, which are ubiquitous all over the country, Filipino restaurants are a bit more difficult to find, and their patrons are usually Filipinos, rather than Malaysians. There is one thing to be said about that, though – it usually means that these are the places that serve authentic food for those who crave a taste of home.

One of these restaurants is The Narra Filipino Resto Lounge, tucked within Dataran Millennium in Petaling Jaya. When searching for the best Filipino restaurants in KL, The Narra regularly tops the list – and for good reason. They have a wide variety of dishes from different parts of the Philippines, service is good, and prices and portions are fair. I’ve been here several times, and even celebrated a birthday here with the Hubs. Since my parents have never tried Filipino cuisine, I thought it’d be a good idea to bring them here for dinner on Sunday.

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The decor is pretty much the same from my previous visit: neat, with clean white tables and chairs, and a small stage where a live band performs on weekends. There is a display of baked goods and cakes at the counter, as well as a couple of shelves stocked with Filipino treats and canned goods. It was quiet during our visit, so we didn’t have to wait long for our food.

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Bro and Pops ordered Calamansi juice while I went for Gulaman, which is a syrupy sweet brown sugar drink with a jelly like substance, similar to cincau or agar. It was a tad too sweet even for me, so you might want to skip this if you don’t like sugary drinks.

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Of course, I had to get my favourite order, Sisig, consisting of chopped pig head with onions, chilli peppers, calamansi and egg, served on a sizzling hotplate. The parts of the pig’s head create a medley of interesting textures: you get the crunch from the cartilage, and soft and fatty bits from the jowls and cheeks. It’s definitely not a healthy dish, what with the fat and grease, but it’s oh-so-sinful.

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I usually come here alone, so I haven’t had the chance to try dishes like the Pininyahang Manok, which is chicken braised in coconut milk, pineapples, carrots, potatoes and bell peppers. My parents found the flavour ‘very odd’, but I liked it because it reminded me of Chinese-style buttermilk, albeit with a slightly sour aftertaste. Not a fan of bell peppers in general, but I don’t think the taste was very pronounced. The chicken was cooked well, and the carrots were done just right; soft without being mushy.

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Bro had Embosilog. The name comes from the dish’s three main components: Embotido (pork meatloaf), Sinangag (garlic fried rice) and Itlog (egg). Nipped a bit from his plate and was impressed. The fried rice was very fragrant and the meatloaf was tasty.

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Grilled pork intestines for sharing. I know some people will find it off-putting but I actually enjoy the slightly gamey smell 😛

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The chicken inasal (grilled chicken thigh) was humongous. Among all of the dishes, I think this was my least favourite. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t exceptional either.

PS: If you’re wondering why we didn’t order Filipino signatures like sinigang (a tamarind-based stew) and adobo (pork cooked in vinegar and soy sauce), it’s because my mom has intestinal and stomach problems, and she can’t take spicy, oily, or sour food. Which ruled out many options because a lot of Filipino dishes are sour, and some of the good ones are oily (lechon, crispy pata).

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Having been to the Philippines many times, I think I have a good grasp of Filipino flavours – but I think my parents found it quite foreign and unlike anything they had tasted before. My mom commented that the food takes some getting used to, while my brother said, “I’m not sure what to make of it. With Thai food or Malay food, you get a distinct flavour profile that is easily recognisable. But these dishes are hard to identify.”

They both make valid points. The Philippines has a unique culture, being the only country in Southeast Asia that was occupied by the Spanish for well over 400 years. The cuisine has strong Spanish and Latin influence, which is why you’ll find dishes like adobo, chiccharon, flan, picadillo and empanadas gracing the dinner table in Filipino and Latino homes. At the same time, it also has distinct Malay influences, as evidenced by the Pininyahang Manok we ordered, which uses coconut milk – a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking. There are also dishes like the kare-kare (beef tripe cooked in peanut butter, influenced by Indian cuisine), and lumpia (spring rolls, from Chinese culture).

For me personally, I like some dishes, and some other dishes not so much. The hubs says I blaspheme because I don’t like the taste of Choco Butternut, but hey, you can’t expect every single non-Malaysian to fall head over heels with nasi lemak, right? (although I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like nasi lemak, lol).

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The Narra also sells imported products from the Philippines, such as corned beef, banana ketchup (mom: WHAT?) and Mang Tomas (pork liver sauce).

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I usually get Piattos (they call it Jigs here in Malaysia – although it’s super difficult to find these days), but the restaurant was out of stock, so I got some Lucky Mee Pancit Canton to take home instead.

Our meal (plus my snacks) came up to about RM120. I think we went a bit overboard – could have made do with 3 dishes instead of four – but the price was fairly reasonable given the portions.

If you’re Malaysian and curious about how Filipino cuisine tastes like, The Narra is a good place to try authentic Filipino food. If you’re a Filipino residing in Malaysia, the dishes and the atmosphere (the servers sing Filipino songs while they go about their work, and the resto is always playing OPM) will surely remind you of home.

THE NARRA FILIPINO RESTO LOUNGE

G001 Dataran Millennium, Jalan 14/1, 46100 Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Opening hours: 10.30AM – 9.30PM (Saturdays 11.30PM)

Phone: 03-7498 1061

https://www.facebook.com/thenarraresto/

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Review: Ordering Books Online From Fully Booked Philippines

As a child, my parents encouraged me to read a lot, even though they aren’t readers themselves. We weren’t rich, but they’d buy books for me whenever they had money to spare, so I had no shortage of Peter & Jane books and Enid Blyton novels. For that I am truly grateful. Because without books and the magic of imagination and wonder, I would not be who I am today.

Course, I think my mom regrets it immensely, now that the house is running out of space to store my books lol.

But I digress.

A friend’s daughter had her birthday recently, and since she likes reading (a rare thing among kids these days, I think!), I thought of sending her a book. A Neil Gaiman title if I could find it. But since my friend lives in the Philippines, I had to look for a store/retailer that could deliver there.

I first went to Amazon, but apparently it has a policy whereby books, music, video and DVD products can’t be shipped internationally (coz of copyright issues). Same thing with sites like Kobo and Kindle (even the e-version! If you’re in a different country, it only allows you to read it in that country wtf).

After what felt like hours (and getting annoyed that we’re in 2020 and it isn’t even convenient to buy a fahking book to gift to someone overseas) I ended up at the website of Fully Booked, a books and stationery retailer in the Philippines. Their flagship store in Bonifacio Global City, Manila, is known for its cool lifestyle-oriented aesthetic; similar to how BookXCess is like here in Malaysia. They also have an online arm, and they ship within the Philippines. Perfect!

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The site is easy to navigate and offers a seamless online shopping experience. Books are sorted by category (children’s books, fiction, non-fiction, lifestyle, art & design, etc.), and they also have a tab for special collections and bestsellers. If you know the title/author you’re looking for, there’s a search bar you can use to navigate the site. Aside from books, Fully Booked also carries stationery, totes, clothing and novelties, as well as toys and games.

After selecting your order and adding them to cart, simply key in your details and check out. Payment can be done via (for those in the Philippines) Dragonpay through options like Over-the-Counter Bank Deposits and Over-the-Counter Non-bank payments, and credit card. Since I’m based in Malaysia, I chose Paypal as my mode of payment, and it automatically converted the currency from RM when deducting the amount (this is based on standard international conversion). You can also choose to pay via Cash on delivery, provided you have a minimum order of PHP799. Free shipping is also available for orders above that amount.

Once I made the order, I received an email confirming my purchase, along with a tracking number. It takes about three to five working days to process, after which they’ll send another email informing you that the shipment is on its way.

All in all, I think it took about five days in total for the book to arrive, which is quite efficient!

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I originally wanted to get Coraline, but it wasn’t available, so I chose a lesser known Gaiman title which I thought she would enjoy.

Cinnamon is a picture book set in a make-believe place in India. It talks about a talking tiger, who is the only one who may be able to get a mute princess to speak. Illustrated by Divya Srinivisan, the book is full of colourful illustrations that both adults and children can enjoy.

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Some of the book’s lovely illustrations!

I was glad to hear that she enjoyed reading it – and that it piqued her curiosity about Indian culture. That’s another great thing about reading : it encourages us to broaden our minds, and with that, our understanding of the world.

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So that was my review of using Fully Booked for the first time. Even if you don’t live in the Philippines, I think it’s fairly convenient to buy something from Fully Booked as a gift for someone there. The only downside is that you can’t give it as a ‘surprise’, since you’ll need to key in their contact details.

fullybookedonline.com.

PS: Thank you Mr.A for the photos!

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I Interviewed My Husband on his Typhoon Ulysses Experience

November has been an awful month for many Filipinos. 

The island nation has been battered by consecutive storms and typhoons, with five within the span of the last few weeks. Earlier this month, super typhoon Goni – one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded – devastated large swathes of Eastern Philippines, leaving 25 dead with thousands more displaced. 

And now another one has struck. 

Named after the Latin moniker for the Greek god Odysseus, Typhoon Ulysses made landfall on November 11 on the island town of Patnanungan in Quezon, before steadily carving a path of destruction across parts of Luzon with winds reaching up to 105 kph. As of November 13, Reuters reported at least 42 dead and over 75,000 packed into evacuation centres. Of course, this doesn’t bode well not only because of hygiene and sanitation, but also because of the current pandemic. 

Typhoons are very common in the Philippines,  so when I heard about the news, I asked N if his area was going to be affected. This was on Wednesday night, and he was pretty nonchalant about it, so I thought there was nothing to worry about. 

We  usually message each other the first thing after waking up, so when I didn’t hear anything from him at 11am on Thursday, I began to worry. Shortly after, I got a message from my sister-in-law, telling me that their house was flooded. Since there was no electricity, they were turning off their phones to conserve battery, and would update me on the situation as it went.

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She also sent me a few photos of the interior. I’ve been to N’s house several times, which is located in Cainta, about 12 kilometres from Metro Manila. Since it’s in a low-lying area, the house is prone to floods during the rainy season, so the main floor (living room, bedroom, kitchen) is slightly elevated above the entrance by about a foot. From the photos, I could see that water had already seeped into the upper level, so there was probably about three feet of water. 

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Water at its highest. You can see how much it rose compared to the previous photo.

Now.. this might sound super ignorant, but living on the west coast of Malaysia, which has zero natural disasters (we’re blessed), I’ve always imagined floods to be this super swift rush of water, obliterating everything in its path and sending people and things to a watery grave. This is the case in some scenarios, but there are also floods where the water level rises over time. Not that it’s any less dangerous; if anything, I think these are actually more deceiving – you think the water isn’t that high and boom! You’re suddenly stuck on the roof. 

Thursday was spent on tenterhooks as I waited for updates. Watching the news didn’t help, as media outlets showed devastating scenes of people stuck on rooftops, submerged homes and vehicles, uprooted trees and damaged infrastructure. I went to the FB group for residents of where N lives, and some areas were so badly affected, they had to use boats to get people out. 

I was relieved to hear that the flood waters had subsided by 6pm. N and my in-laws spent the night in the attic. It was very uncomfortable because they didn’t have electricity, but I was glad that they were, at least, safe. 

I didn’t hear much from N until Friday evening, when he got the electricity and Wi-Fi back.  He spent the whole day cleaning up; there was a lot of mud on the floor, and some items had to be thrown away – but the important thing is that him and his family are safe. 

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Kaya the doggo looking down from the attic.

During our call that night, my inner curiosity won out (once a journalist, always a journalist?) and I plied him with questions lol. It was actually a pretty insightful conversation and helped me to understand better what I should do in case of a flood (or any disaster for that matter). 

So, what actually happened? 

N: It had been raining throughout the night. I think the water started coming in around 6am. I was sleeping. 

What? How can you sleep through a flood? 

N: It happens all the time here. If it was serious my family would have woken me up, lol. I think they were also deliberating if they should pack up and go to a hotel, or stay behind. In the end they just started moving some of the appliances and stuff to the attic. I woke up around 9am and the water was about an inch-high in my bedroom. I helped my brother stack the bed up onto chairs. 

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Was it worse than Ondoy (2009)? 

N: In terms of wind strength, I think this was more powerful. But Ondoy brought a huge volume of rainfall with it, so the floods were worse. This house was almost submerged. I can’t really tell you how that was though, because I was living near campus at the time and wasn’t affected much.

So the waters were rising. How did you prepare? 

N: You should watch the Korean movie Alive. It’s on Netflix. 

Isn’t that about zombies? 

N: Yeah, but it’s still super useful for disaster situations. I learned that you should get your earphones, because the 3.5mm jack actually doubles as a radio antenna. If you don’t have a radio, you can use your phone’s radio function to tune into the news. My mom also has a small transistor radio for emergencies. The night before, when we heard that there might be a possibility of floods, we charged up all of our devices and power banks, coz we knew electricity might be cut. Then there’s the usual; batteries, flashlights, emergency first aid kit. Electricity companies will automatically cut off electricity, but we turned off all the switches just in case. 

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View from the roof of N’s house. Uprooted trees

What else do you think one should do when preparing for a flood? 

Perishables won’t keep if your fridge is submerged, so have some processed food and canned food on standby. The water wasn’t that high this time so we could still use the gas stove to cook all the perishables for dinner. As for clothes, you can pack them into waterproof bags. Previously we used garbage bags because they float, but the material is thin and if it tears your stuff will get dirty and wet. If you have a vehicle, you should remove the car battery. Also, if you have important documents, put them all in an envelope so it’ll be easy to carry and keep safe.  

What did you do while waiting for the water to subside? 

I went downstairs to observe the situation, my family stayed in the attic. I fell asleep again and woke up around 1pm. 

I am astonished you can sleep in the middle of a flood. 

Well, it happens all the time so I’m used to it. We get floods very often; I used to call it ‘annual general cleaning’ because we’d have to clean the house from top to bottom afterwards. I was a little surprised that the water rose fast though. Like two inches every 20 minutes. I think it reached about three feet. 

What did you do at night? 

Just had dinner, talked. We didn’t use our devices to save battery. It was very hot and difficult to sleep with everyone in the attic. S (niece) kept tossing and turning, so my brother had to fan her.  The next morning we started cleaning up. We couldn’t move the fridge because there was no place to put it. Thankfully it’s still working.  

Okay, I have to ask this. Since everyone is in the attic, where do you go when you need to pee? 

N: You pee in the flood water. 

Come again? 

N: You pee in the flood water. You can’t go outside because snakes might swim into the house when you open the door lol. And the toilet is flooded anyway. So you just kinda go downstairs and do your thing. You know, the first night, I had this overwhelming urge to poop and I kept holding it in the entire night. The next morning when I could finally go to the toilet, nothing came out. What the effing hell. I guess if you really need to do a no.2, there are plastic bags… 

Typhoons are so common in the Philippines. Do you think that the government should improve on their disaster prevention measures? 

N: I might get a lot of flak for saying this, but I actually think there isn’t that much the government can do. I think they’re doing okay with what they have.

(note**: While writing this, I read some articles about how more money should be allocated to improve housing for the poor. Many Filipinos from the low income bracket live in flimsy wooden homes, which are easily flattened by storms – as is the case with Haiyan in 2013. N and I did not discuss this, but I think we should expand on this after more research).

While the worst of Ulysses seems to have passed, relief might take a long time – especially with government agencies and facilities overburdened as it is from COVID and previous disasters. It’s 1AM and I’m still seeing cries for help on social media from areas like Cagayan and Isabela, which are located in the northern part of Luzon: there hasn’t been much media coverage and apparently aid is slow in coming, and many people are still stuck, with flood waters rising.

I’m glad N and my in-laws are safe, and that there isn’t that much damage to their home. -Ber months in the Philippines are when the La Nina phenomenon occurs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if another typhoon decides to make a visit. 2020 just sucks in general.

I know it’s a difficult time and there’s nothing that I can say that can help make it easier. But to those affected, please stay strong, and keep each other safe. For donations, Philippine Tatler has compiled a list of organisations that you can contribute to. Link here.

This photo of a dog stuck on a roof broke my heart. There’s a happy ending though – it was rescued and reunited with its owner.
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Pandemic Tales: Celebrating Our First-Year Wedding Anniversary Apart

2020 was supposed to be THE year. 

N and I had our marriage registered in Nov 2019 after months of groundwork (flying back and forth to get documents and approval from the respective departments, etc), and we finally had our wedding ceremony in February – before he flew back to the Philippines to wait out the six-month cooling off period (Malaysia has this law to avoid fake marriages). The plan was for him to apply for the Long-Term Spouse Visa at the soonest possible time (May), so that we can start building our life together here. 

But then the pandemic happened. The Malaysian government imposed a ban on travelers from the Philippines (indefinitely), even for spouses. While it sucks tremendously, we understand this is for safety, and we don’t want to risk any air travel right now (plus the insane costs of quarantine which is like RM5,000+ for foreigners). 

So it is that we’re going to celebrate our first year as husband and wife 2,490 kilometres apart. 

Murphy’s Law is a bitch. 

But if there’s one thing that our four-year-long LDR has taught us, it is resilience. The whole point of us getting married is so that we can physically be together – but now that a wrench has been thrown into our plans, I think we’re better able to weather the storm compared to people who have never had LDR experience, because of our prior ‘training’ (not that it’s a ‘good’ thing, lmao. We’d much prefer being able to be together!). To all the LDR couples out there, whether you’ve been in an LDR for a long time or just forced into one because of the pandemic situation – stay strong. 

A friend once asked if I find it difficult to be apart from N, since we’re newlyweds and this is supposed to be our lovey-dovey honeymoon phase. 

Thing is, it has always been a lovey-dovey honeymoon phase, as much as you might feel like puking from reading this lol. And while it is difficult to be apart, I find strength in knowing that he’ll still be with me when this is all over. Hopefully for good this time. 

Like many couples, there are occasional disagreements and I’ve often felt like wringing his stubborn neck (I’m sure he feels the same way about me, lol) – but I think at the end of the day, we’re just two imperfect people trying to do the best for each other. I love the fact that we’re like an old married couple at times, but also giggly, immature teenagers who can laugh at silly things and act like kids. Coming from a household where my parents are the complete antithesis of what I have in my relationship right now, all I can say is I’ve been extremely blessed to find someone who vibes with me as much as he does, and who tries to understand and accept me for who I am. 

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@RIUH Kuala Lumpur, 2018

Still, it’s surreal to think that we’ve been married for a year now. We’ve come a long way since our first date at a Jollibee’s in Robinsons Place, stuffing our faces with fried chicken. It was also crazy because I recklessly flew to Manila without telling anyone and it would have been extremely bad if he turned out to be an evil person (don’t try this at home, kids – not all stories have a happy ending). 

This might sound cliche, but my husband is my best friend. We’re both people who love experiences, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to share them with. Who else is going to spend six hours in a museum with me fawning over ancient weaponry? 

Outside the Museum of Natural History in Manila. It was memorable because we got stuck in one of Manila’s infamous flash floods and only got back to our hotel at midnight. We also had to slog through calf-high flood water to get to a bus stop and N’s mysophobia meant he had nightmares for the rest of the week lol

There is nothing that I can really ‘do’ for him this year because of the distance, aside from penning down these thoughts. We’ve both agreed that we’re not going to send each other stuff, but we’re going to have a virtual date where we’ll order our favourite food (he’s getting Jollibee and I’m probably going to get A&W), dress up and Skype each other. Since it’s a special occasion I might even get some boba, ha 

The way things are going right now, we’re not even sure we’ll be able to see each other in 2021. It would be a funny story to tell our cats in the future though, “Hey, mom and dad were separated for two whole years after we got married. Isn’t that crazy?” 

Happy Anniversary, mahal ko. 

What It’s Like To Date A Filipino

So.

You’ve got your eye on a cute guy from the beautiful country of the Philippines. But you’re worried about cultural differences, and how the relationship might work out.

Fret not – I’m here to share with you what it’s like to date a Filipino, and what you can expect. winkwink 

Now before we proceed, a disclaimer for the party poopers going “OMG Eris so you dated two Filipino guys, you married one and you have a bunch of Filipino friends – what gives you the right to generalise ? Smooth out your knickers, this is purely for fun. I mean, no one gets mad when people ‘generalise’ Virgos as perfectionists (entirely true, though).

Without further ado (but first a photo, coz we lookin’ cute): 

THEY’RE ROMANTIC

Be ready for some extremely corny (but not unpleasant) pick-up lines.

Courtship is a big thing in Filipino culture. Back in the day, a man who wished to woo a woman had to go through the proper steps, first expressing interest in a friendly and discreet manner. Traditional Filipino society was conservative, so the process was often done through a ‘bridge’, a friend who knows both families. The bachelor would visit the family, asking for permission to court the lady. There might be a series of chaperoned dates, lots of gift giving, romantic letters and cards, serenading (called harana) and the like. Oftentimes, the bachelor would have to ‘court’ the girl’s family as well  – gotta please the future in-laws lol. 

Perhaps this is why Filipinos still have a strong notion of romantic love (be it through gifts, love songs, writing, etc.). Coming from a Malaysian Chinese family, where love is rarely expressed in words, it is refreshing to date someone who tells you they love you and puts in the effort to keep things fresh and interesting. I don’t subscribe to the belief that once you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, it becomes drab and dull. It’s only boring if you make it so.

I know this is not the best example (seeing as how he’s gone down in history as a despot lol), but ex-President Marcos once said to Imelda, “Just love me now, and I’ll court you forever.” We all know how that went, but you can’t say the idea isn’t romantic!

THEY GET JEALOUS EASILY 

N and I had a huge fight early on in our relationship. I met up with an old friend from grade school, and since we hadn’t seen each other for so long, we got drinks after dinner and hung out until midnight. N was pissed because he said going out 1-on-1 with a guy constitutes a ‘date’ – despite how I tried to explain that we’re just friends. On my end, I felt insulted because it was clearly not a date and how about having a little bit of faith in me? I mean, even my super protective Asian parents didn’t give a shit, so why was he even mad? If the reverse applied, I wouldn’t mind if he went out with a female friend, because there’s this thing called trust. Long story short, he insisted I was wrong, I refused to apologise, and we made a compromise that I wouldn’t stay out past midnight with a guy (apparently a group of people is fine… I don’t get the logic). Now that we’re married though, he doesn’t seem to mind – so I guess it was a ‘we’re not really official yet so I’m worried someone might steal you away thing’ ?

PS: I know some people would call this a red flag – that if a man truly loves you they wouldn’t try to put a leash on you. But I think it goes both ways. If your significant other has made it clear that they’re uncomfortable about something and they’ve explained the reason behind it, weigh it against your own principles, and see if it’s something you can compromise in, in exchange for a more harmonious relationship.  If you’re okay with it, by all means. I feel that couples these days can get too caught up in the ‘he/she has to accommodate ME’ attitude.  End of the day, God gave you brains – use them to make rational decisions based on mutual respect

THEY ARE FAMILY ORIENTED

In general, Asian cultures are more family-oriented than Western ones, and it’s not uncommon to find many generations living together under the same roof. Filipinos are no exception, and they usually have big families. While marriage is between two people, if your beau is living with his fam, naturally, you’d have to get along with his family members. If you come from an individualistic culture, this might be difficult to adapt to. I’m fortunate as my in-laws are nice and reasonable people but then again, I don’t live with them – it might be an entirely different ball game. 😛 At the same time, coming from an Asian family myself, I understand the importance of family to him, so I’d never ask him to choose between us.

THEY’RE RELIGIOUS 

A majority of Filipinos are Catholic and deeply religious. While they might not impose these beliefs on you, I think it’s important to respect the fact that religion plays an important part in their lives. N is Christian, and I’ve been to his church a couple of times to listen to sermons. Although he hopes that I will embrace Christianity some day, he has never forced me to accept his beliefs, and I’ve never insisted that he should be a Buddhist. When you come from different cultures and have different beliefs, respect is key. All too often, couples of different faiths have problems when they can’t find common ground, or dismiss the other person’s faith as lesser than one’s own.

YOU’LL NEVER GO HUNGRY

Filipinos are known for their hospitality and every time I’ve been to the Philippines for holidays, I always leave a couple of pounds heavier. His mom makes a killer nilaga, and his fam is always taking me out for good food whenever I visit. The Hubs likes to try new cuisine, which is great because Malaysians are big foodies as well. If you love food, marry a Filipino!

 

 

 

10 Of My Favourite Places To Visit In Manila, Philippines

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I have a love-hate relationship with Manila.

On one hand, I love how culturally rich and historical it is, with its museums, churches and art galleries (And Jollibee, of course!). On the other, I’m not a fan of its insane traffic, the pollution, and the fact that its one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It’s extremely difficult to find a quiet space.

Image: Assy Gerez via Unsplash

Having been here several times, I often get friends asking me if Manila is worth visiting (for many Malaysians, the Philippines is not as popular as other S/E Asian destinations like Thailand or Indonesia – and if they do visit, it’s usually to Boracay). My answer is always “It depends on what you like.” If you’re thinking the type of packaged cultural offerings you often get in Bali or Chiang Mai, or a beach getaway (because Manila is by the sea right? lol), then you will be disappointed. Manila is not a place to ‘get away from it all’. But if you’re up for a bit of urban adventure in a chaotic and colourful city…then Manila has a certain charm.

While quarantine restrictions are still in place due to COVID, that doesn’t stop you from planning for your next adventure. Since June 24 marks Manila Day – commemorating the 449th anniversary when Manila was proclaimed as Spain’s capital city in the Philippines – I’ve made a list of my favourite places to visit! For those who have never been to Manila, this will give you a good idea of what to expect.

INTRAMUROS 

If you’re new to Manila, Intramuros is undoubtedly the best place to learn about the city’s rich history. Dating back to the late 1500s, this old walled city has walls that are at least two-metres thick and six metres high, and is home to many historical landmarks, from churches and gardens to old mansions and museums. You can walk around the impressive stone ramparts, some parts of which have cannons on them, or ride around in horse-drawn carriages called kalesa.  

SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH

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One of my favourite places to visit in the area is the San Agustin Church, which was founded as a monastery by Augustinian monks. Part church, part museum complex, the building has a sad and haunting beauty, with austere stone hallways and sombre oil paintings. This is in stark contrast to the church proper, which features stunning architecture rivalling the grand churches of Europe. There are also galleries filled with religious artefacts and even a crypt. If you’re a history nerd like me, a visit to San Agustin is a must. 

BALUERTE SAN DIEGO / SAN DIEGO GARDENS 

The San Diego Gardens is one of those rare oases in Manila that offer a quiet respite, with tranquil European-style lawns and fountains that make it popular as a wedding photoshoot venue. The Baluerte San Diego, a small fort within the gardens, is the oldest structure within Intramuros. Its purpose was to ensure a clear view of the place and prepare against invaders. Back in the day it had all the facilities: courtyard, water supply tank, lodging and workshops – but all that remains of what must have once been a thriving fort are bare brick and stone.

FORT SANTIAGO

The story of Jose Rizal fascinates me. I am no revolutionary, but as a writer, there is something very moving about how Rizal’s writing set a fire in the hearts of the Filipino people that eventually led to their fight for freedom against their Spanish oppressors. His story is a true embodiment of how the pen is mightier than the sword.

Fort Santiago is where Rizal was housed before his execution in 1896, and visitors to the fort will see a pair of bronze footprints embedded in the ground and leading out to the gate – said to retrace Rizal’s last footsteps. Inside the fort, you will also find a shrine/museum dedicated to this Philippine National Hero, which contains various memorabilia including poetry pieces, letters he wrote to family and friends, replicas of sculptures, paintings and more.

PLAZA SAN LUIS 

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One of the items on my bucket list is to visit Vigan, a town known for its Spanish colonial architecture. In Manila, you have Plaza San Luis, a complex that contains five houses, a museum, theatre, hotel, souvenir shops and eateries. Since Intramuros was nearly levelled during the war, many of the old homes were destroyed, and the homes here have been replicated to represent different eras in Filipino-Hispanic architecture. The overall colonial feeling of the place – with its quaint courtyards and staircases – makes it easy to believe that you are peeking through a window in time. You can almost believe that some rich young ladies in traditional Filipinianas, giggling behind their fans in the summer heat while out for an afternoon stroll, are just about to round the corner.

MANILA CATHEDRAL

This cathedral was rebuilt a whopping eight times – it kept getting destroyed by fires, earthquakes and whatnot. While the architecture is not as grand as St Agustin, I like the stained glass art that it has, as well as the replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta in which Mary cradles the broken body of Christ

RIZAL PARK 

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A short distance away from Intramuros is Rizal Park, one of Manila’s few green areas. Like many old parts of Manila, it teems with history – hundreds of nationalists were executed here during Spanish rule, including Jose Rizal. It is fitting then, that the Philippine Declaration of Independence from America was read in this spot, and that the park was named after the revolutionary himself. When Pope Francis visited the Philippines and conducted a mass at the park, six million people turned up – that’s 1/5 of Malaysia’s population! While I wouldn’t say Rizal Park is the best park I’ve ever been to (litter is a problem), I think it’s a great place to visit if you’re sick of Manila’s endless malls. There are a few smaller parks within like the Nayong Filipino which are nice to explore.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY 

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With it’s tall, white-washed Corinthian columns and wooden doors, the grand-looking National Museum of Anthropology (aka Museum of the Filipino People) is hard to miss and is just a stone’s throw away from Rizal Park. Part of the National Museums of the Philippines, it houses the anthropology and archaeology divisions, spanning five floors. Coming from Malaysia where we have pretty lame museums (sorry, got to call a spade a spade), I was blown away by the quality of Manila’s major museums. The quality of the exhibits, as well as how they are arranged (with sections dedicated to indigenous art and culture, the history of the Philippines during the colonial era, etc.) offer interesting insights into the development of modern Filipino society.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

Filipinos are artistic people – there’s even a stereotype about how all Filipinos are good at singing and dancing (these people have obviously never met my husband) – and art has always been a way for the people to express themselves, even in times of oppression.

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The National Museum of Fine Arts, which is housed in the former Legislative Building, is a testament to this creativity and resilience, with works by national artists such as Juan Luna, Félix Resurrección Hidalgo and Guillermo Tolentino. In fact, when you walk in, the first thing you will be greeted with is an almost floor-to-ceiling work of Juan Luna Y Novicio’s Spoliarium – possibly one of the Philippines’ most popular pieces of art. The gallery is filled with artistic treasures, most of which reflect the country’s European-influenced past, and there are pieces that are so intricate and detailed, you can’t help but marvel at the level of craftsmanship that went into creating them. It’s definitely a place that you can get lost in for hours.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

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Another must-visit is the National Museum of National History, which has a very picturesque central court that boasts a structure called the DNA Tree of Life, as well as loads of interesting exhibits on nature and geology in the Philippines. There are sections dedicated to botany and entomology, marine life, mangroves and more. Even if you’re not into natural history, the architecture of the building alone is worth dropping by for.

BINONDO 

I try to visit the local Chinatown whenever I visit a foreign country. Idk, call it a subconscious need to reconnect with my roots or whathaveyou, lol.

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Manila’s Chinatown, Binondo, is the oldest in the world, dating back to 1594. Its narrow, chaotic streets, with its haphazard signboards and buildings, can feel claustrophobic, but it has a charm of its own. What I like about Binondo? The food. There are legendary establishments here that have been in the same family for generations, such as Eng Bee Tin – known for their hopia (a type of pastry) and tikoy (sticky rice cake – in Malaysia we call it niangao). If you’re here, look out for a shop called Ling Nam, which serves mami noodles (plain or with pork asado) – I stumbled across this gem purely by chance. There are many restos around the area that I haven’t had the chance to try yet, so I’m looking forward to another visit!

 

 

 

 

A Malaysian Chinese Wedding – Part 2: Customs, Traditions and Culture

Hey guys!  Welcome to part 2 of A Malaysian Chinese Wedding! I previously blogged about the planning and preparation stage: items to get, where to rent dresses, engaging a photographer and chaperone, etc. which you can read here. 

This time around, I’ll be running through some of the customs and traditions involved, some of which I also experienced for the first time during the ceremony itself. So if you’ve always been curious about how a Malaysian-Chinese wedding is like, read on! 😉

Malaysian Chinese weddings are usually divided into two ‘sessions’ – a morning tea ceremony and a Chinese banquet dinner in the evening. These days, weddings are much more modern and Westernised, with some opting for garden-style luncheons instead. There’s no right or wrong: a wedding is meant to be a special day celebrating the union of two people and their families – so don’t feel pressured to organise one in a ‘specific’ way, especially if it’s beyond your means.

5.30 AM. 

Try to get a good night’s rest, because you definitely won’t be getting any on your wedding day. I slept for about two hours (thanks, anxiety!).

The tea ceremony typically begins in the early morning, around 8AM or 9AM, depending on the lucky hour that you’ve picked out based on your bazi (birthdate according to the Chinese almanac). Because Malaysian weather tends to be extremely hot, most chaperones (if you’ve engaged one) will advise you to start early and finish early, so that your guests wouldn’t be melting in the afternoon heat.

In our case, N was scheduled to arrive at my house around 8.45AM. My makeup artist needed about three hours to set my face and hair, so she was there by 5.30AM. Our photographer, James, arrived at around 6AM to get some photos and mood shots, then proceeded to N’s hotel (about 10 minutes away) to snap pictures of the groom’s preparations.

If the bride and groom’s places are too far away, you might need to allocate more time for your photographer, or engage 2 of them if you want photos and videos taken on both sides.

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7.30 AM 

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Our chaperone Ms Foong arrived at N’s hotel at 7.30AM. Usually, if the groom has a house, he will make his preparations there – but because N isn’t staying here permanently (yet), we rented a hotel room for him, my mom-in-law and sis-in-law at Four Points by Sheraton Puchong. For convenience, some couples can consider doing this if the distance between the groom’s and bride’s places is too far away.

The chaperone conducted a simple tea ceremony for N and his family. This is meant to show the groom’s appreciation to his parents for raising him, and also to ask for blessings. The groom’s ride (my cousins helped out as designated drivers) came to pick him up and they departed the hotel at 8.30AM.

8.30AM 

Relatives and friends started arriving. After sitting still for nearly three hours, I breathed a sigh of relief (hard to do with a corset on) – my makeup and hair was finally done!

Those who know me know that I’m quite a ‘cincai’ (chill?) person so I don’t wear any makeup other than eyeliner. Having falsies and contacts on was extremely uncomfortable; not to mention the corset, the tight dress and the heels – I just had to endure it for a day lol.

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Taking photos while waiting for the groom to arrive.

You’ll actually be super busy during the entire ceremony, so this might be the only time you’ll be able to catch up with your jimui-s (bridesmaids) and relatives. You’re also not encouraged to leave the bridal chamber.

8.45AM 

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The chaperone arrived ahead of the groom’s car to conduct a quick ceremony for my parents and me, similar to what was done with the groom but minus the tea drinking.

I basically had to perform a series of bows to my parents, to show my gratitude to them for raising me. Then they placed a red veil over my head, a sign of modesty. Traditionally, the veil can only be removed by the husband at night when the couple is in the bridal chamber – but in modern times, this is no longer practised.

9 A.M

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The groom arrives! We set off a row of firecrackers as welcome.

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Moo and Pops receiving gifts from the groom. Chaperone livens up the mood with auspicious sayings.

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A male relative from the bride’s family, in this case my brother, opens the door for the groom. The groom is not allowed to open the door on his own. The groom needs to prepare a bunch of red packets to give out – and he’ll be giving out a lot of them! The bro gets one for opening the door.

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Not so fast! The groom and his groomsmen will have to face my gatekeepers ie bridesmaids.

Wedding door games are now part and parcel of many Chinese weddings in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and of course China. The groom and his groomsmen are subject to a series of fun challenges, which can be anything from popping balloons to dancing, singing or doing something embarrassing. The girls will also demand a ‘fee’ for letting the boys in – which is why the groom has to stand by with lots of red packets. It’s all in good fun, though!

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My guy friends and my brother acted as groomsmen for N. (Thanks for being so sporting!) They were made to fish out mahjong tiles from a bucket of ice water, dance and sing.

After the games, the groom is finally allowed into the house, and receives blessings from the bride’s parents.

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His “Am I really going through with this I’m going to regret it omg” face.

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Exchange of rings. Guided by our chaperone, we then bow to each other several times – one for the groom, one for the bride, and one as a couple.

10 AM

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Offering prayers to the gods. We didn’t pray to the ancestors because I don’t have an ancestral tablet at home.

We first offered joss sticks to the main deity in my house, Guanyin (the Buddhist goddess of Mercy), then Tudigong (God of the Soil, a Chinese folk deity) and finally Tiangong (Jade Emperor, the Taoist Heavenly Emperor).

If you’re of different faiths, like N and I (N is Christian), it’s best to check if they’re comfortable with the ceremony.

10.15AM 

Traditionally, after the tea ceremony at the bride’s place, the couple departs for the groom’s place, where they will be staying for good. The bride will only be allowed to return to visit her own family three days later (because patriarchy). Many modern families have done away with this.

We still had a symbolic ‘leaving the house’ ceremony, where we hopped into the car and drove a few rounds around the neighbourhood. While walking to the car, my dad shielded me with a red umbrella while my mom threw rice over it – to protect the couple from evil spirits that may be watching the house.

10.30AM 

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The tea ceremony is an integral part of weddings in Chinese culture; one that has survived through the centuries. The ceremony is usually held at the bride’s place, then the groom’s, and is basically a way to show respect and gratitude to the elders in a family. Tea is served according to ‘rank’ ie parents, grandparents, then uncles and aunties, older married cousins, etc. Jewellery such as gold, as well as money in red packets, are given to the couple as gifts after the elder has been served.

Once the elders have been served, the younger/ unmarried cousins convey congratulatory wishes to the couple, and receive red packets in return.

11.15AM 

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While the guests enjoyed the buffet spread under the outdoor canopy, my friends and I had a little Western-style bouquet tossing on the road.

11.45 AM 

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I was starving at this point – thankfully, the next part of our ceremony involved my favourite activity: eating. Our chaperone had advised us to get 2 packets of chicken rice, which would be our first meal as a couple. I can’t remember exactly why a whole chicken thigh is needed, but knowing Chinese culture, it probably has something to do with prosperity lol. After feeding each other some chicken and rice we weren’t allowed to finish it 😦 we had to feed each other sweet dumplings in syrup, to symbolise sweet beginnings. The round shape of the dumplings signifies that our family will always be unified and complete.

Finally, the chaperone instructed me to take off my husband’s coat and hang it up – just as my mom-in-law had helped him put it on, it is now my duty as a wife to take care of my husband’s needs.

By this time, most of our guests had already left and I was finally able to finish up that chicken rice. I swear to god I had never tasted chicken rice so good. Best plate of chicken rice ever, lol.

1PM 

It took me forever to get my hairpins out, and by the time I was able to change out of my dress and into a T-shirt, it was already 1PM. An hour later (it felt like 2 minutes), my makeup artist arrived to get my makeup ready for the evening dinner. Sigh. Another three hours of sitting followed.

6.30 PM 

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Dinner that night was at Moon Palace Puchong. We arrived a little ahead of time to set up the reception table for guests as well as coordinate the photo slides with the banquet manager. Our dinner was a modest 10 tables – two for my friends, the rest for family / family friends.

For those unfamiliar with Chinese wedding banquet customs, guests are expected to give a small token of appreciation in the form of money in a red packet. This will help the couple to cover costs. While there is no set amount as to how much you can give, the unspoken minimum (for banquets organised in KL) is about RM100+. The amount collected during the banquet will be counted immediately and the balance of the banquet payment settled with the resto after the dinner is over.

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Our chaperone, who also acted as our emcee for the dinner.

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Cutting our fake wedding cake, which was provided by the restaurant.

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An extra service by our emcee, which involved combining two differently coloured sand into a bottle to symbolise the union of two individuals into one unit.

After our march-in and everyone was settled, the dishes were served.

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A selection of appetisers: fried items, cold cuts, bite-sized goodies.

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Herbal soup with abalone.

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Iberico pork ribs. These were excellent!

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Fried shrimp.

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In between the dishes, we had toasting sessions at each table.

You can discuss with your emcee on how you want the flow of your night to be. We actually had a short vow exchange ceremony, where each of us read a speech to the other on stage.

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Champagne pouring. The ‘champagne’ was really just apple juice.

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And finally, a family toast with my parents, N’s family and a few other close relatives. We’re supposed to give three cheers – one for the bride, one for the groom and one for the couple – and yell ‘yam seng’ (cheers in Cantonese) for as long as you can.

The dinner wrapped up by 10PM. We saw off guests, took some photos and settled payment with the resto. My left eye was looking pretty red and angry at this point, due to the contact lenses. It took several days to clear. Never wearing contacts if I can after this, lol.

Got home close to midnight, and N spent another hour getting my hair pins out, taking a shower before we could finally hit the bed.

Planning a wedding isn’t as glamourous as you think – there’s a lot of work involved plus a significant amount of stress. While there were some things that I wouldn’t have done if I had the choice (the dinner, for instance – it was more out of respect for my parents), I still think it was something very memorable which I will cherish looking back on in the years to come.