Balikbayan Stories


I write this in darkness, well candlelight.  It’s the second blackout of the day (called a ‘brownout’ here for some reason—I like to pretend its some ironic homage to skin colour).  The neighbours next door are singing American pop songs to each other as orange light flickers from their window.  Speaking of Americans, I saw one in front of the airforce base earlier, well I assume the white guy in fatigues was American. (more…)


My cousin laughed and smiled when I gave my condolences for her ex who they believe was “salvaged” (a term for summary execution) by the police a couple years back.  He was found beaten, threat slit, and with a friend who had a nail drilled into his forehead.  Other members of the local fam were equally nonchalant.
Just then theirpreschool aged kid ran by laughing, cutting in and out of the congestion of cars, tricycles (motorcycle taxi’s), pedestrians, and the street stalls that pack into this side road by an overpass in Quiapo, Manila.  He was playing with his other cousins, including my god daughter who was born on my second trip to the Philippines in 2005.  This was the audio equipment  sector of the market (karaoke machine parts mostly), and the music cut in and out as people sampled machines, and storekeeps tried to attract customers.  The scene was an audio, visual, emotional cacophony, and tensions were high–the police were there.   (more…)

In front of a really f*cked up ad for some kind of skin whitener. (photo by k.ancheta)

In a family bathroom I recently found a bar of soap that featured “WHITENING EXTRACTS” (caps theirs), that would apparently “reveal the whiter skin that glows with health.”

Later that night Vince was asked “Why are you so dark?” by a well-meaning friend of a friend.

Sigh. (more…)

Standing in a dry creek that runs through dry farmland. (Tarlac)

It was a weekend of contrasts.  I’ve been doing alot of contrasts lately.

It was a weekend where I saw people beating themselves bloody for Jesus, met my paternal grandfather’s side of the family (who were mostly landless farmers), found out that a distant cousin committed suicide, and then returned to the city for a get-togther in the newly renovated, and super swank, and super empty, Manila Hotel. (more…)

Hi all,

I just wanted to link you all to my latest project blog.

“Balikbayan” is a Filipino word referring to an individual who lives outside the Philippines returning for a visit.  It is a composite word comprising of the word ‘balik’ meaning ‘to return’ and ‘bayan’ meaning ‘country,’ ‘community,’ ‘village,’ or ‘my house.’   (more…)

In many ways I am still reeling from my day yesterday.—just wait til you see the footage in our doc in this summer’s Kultura Festival in Toronto.

The many many mosquito bites I have on my arms and legs remind me of sleeping on a table in a dusty open air jeepney depot in Novaliches, Quezon City documenting the very simple life of one driver.  I spent the next morning (yesterday) with the driver, and by the evening I was having a beer by a pool in Alabang, the premiere gated community for the Manila elite. (more…)

It ended with us in interrogation.  Apparently they didn’t much appreciate outsiders seeing (let alone shooting photos and vids of) the random bits of human remains just lying about.   (more…)

Last weekend Vince and I joined Salinlahi (a child’s rights advocacy org) in providing a photo workshop to out of school youth from 12 to 17 years old in a fishing community in Bacoor (just outside Manila).

This is part of the photography program Salinlahi is bringing to different impoverished communities in the Philippines to explore the serious and common situation of child labourers. The chronic and worsening hardship in the country (not to mention the shrinking budget for education) leads to more and more youth dropping out of school in order to help make ends meet for their family.  (more…)

Outside there are mangos growing in the trees.  A beggar walks by with a child in tow.  They look hungry. The mangos grow covered in urban dust.

It’s early, but it’s getting hot already, corrugated iron reflects heat in every direction.  I’m on the fourth floor of Vince’s family home.  I scan this entire scene from the balcony of our private room separated from their home by a sheltered open-air courtyard.   (more…)

by alex

One of the great things about coming home to the Philippines is being with family.  It’s a joy to have that connection with another part of yourself when you meet others of your blood, those who never migrated.

One question I hope to explore in this project is “what if?”  What if my family had not moved to Canada?  What if I had grown up in Manila?

What would my life be like here?

Family provides me that mirror.  And on some levels it leaves me awash in different emotions.

You can see here in these photos images from where some members of my family live.  Clearly, my life would be much different had we stayed. (more…)

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