Balikbayan Stories


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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…)

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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…)

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