Bohol Adventure: Lamanok’s Mystical Island Tour & Tips

The small banca glides effortlessly in the island’s dockyard. It’s a marvelous feeling to have the island by yourself. No jostling crowd and noise.

Going to Lamanok? Prepare yourself for a trip back on ancient history. The mystical island is said to be Bohol’s “cradle of civilisation”.

It is located in Badiang, one of the 16 barangays (or villages) of Anda municipality in Bohol province. One can take a 30-minute pedicab ride from Anda town to Badiang. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the lush green environment and cool breeze from the ocean.

After the registration, we went few steps down and crossed a bamboo bridge to get to the hut where our small banca was waiting. We have heard of the mysterious stories in the island so we decided to be obedient and avoid getting into trouble.

A Filipino balikbayan was said to have visited and took a small twig from a tree without the guide knowing. He went back to the US and felt pain in his stomach. After several trips to the doctor, it was never diagnosed. They were told that nothing was wrong with him.

Helpless, he went back to Badiang and consulted a babaylan (traditional healer) who told him the twig he took could be a body part and he got cursed taking it away. We were warned: “Whatever you see in this island isn’t what you think. So be careful”.

Would you dare?

When visiting a local spot, it is best to respect local traditions and follow the rules. Better safe than sorry.

The walk in this bamboo bridge is a nice, refreshing experience.

The island’s mysterious stories makes it all the more inviting. It is an adventure to the unknown.

As Fortunato “Forting” Simbajon, 61 years old, steered the boat towards the island, he started telling us about his life and what his dreams are for the island. He had been the island’s caretaker for 14 years along with the members of Badiang Fishermen’s Association that also manages the tour activities.

Several organisations supported them in conservation work, including tour management. He said, “I did not finish high school. When they asked me to join the training for tour guides, I told them they better get those who have gone to school and can speak English. How can I explain all these spots in the island properly for tourists to understand me?”

But having seen his skills, the group insisted and eventually got recognised as one of the best tour guides in Bohol. He also learned English in the process. “When I went through the test, the trainer said I was ‘amazing’. I have to run to a teacher and ask in local dialect what that means”, he shared laughing.

You can never be too old to learn anything and be good at it. If you badly want something to happen in your life, you can do it.

61-year old Fortunato Simbahon has been taking care of the island and sharing its stories for 14 years.

He knows his craft by heart. Manong Forting proudly shares the island’s treasures.

Expertly, Manong Forting guides you through the island, identifying all the important sites, from the red limestones to centuries-old scripts written by ancestors and the different caves with strange rock formations.

He tried to convince us to get inside the cave where the babaylans burn their offerings but we were not too brave to step in. It looked dark and musty. Outside of the cave, one can still see traces of the burnt animal bones.

One cave was said to have housed a woman unfortunately accused as an aswang (witch) by villagers years back. She died in the cave where her bones were recovered by relatives after several years of search.

Her story has become a scary legend in the area but Manong Forting believes she was unjustly labeled as a witch and she hid away from the world’s cruelty.

Those who possess a “third-eye” should be careful. A woman who was said to have one allegedly saw a hand waving for her to come inside the cave. Troubled, she told the guide who advised her to politely ignore what she saw.

Have you been unfairly accused? Sometimes stories we do not verify as true spreads and destroys lives. Be careful sharing what you heard from others.

These pre-historic limestones offer us a glimpse of our ancestors lives and traditions.

The cave where the babaylans and shammans do their offerings.

What I love the most are dangling limestones and pre-historic graffiti. It reminds us how far we have gone and the lives of our ancestors of long ago. They are living proof that centuries ago, people lived way ahead of us.

The secluded white-sand beaches were very inviting. If you have time, you can take the swim and enjoy the cool waters and the view. A cool thatched-roof hut was also constructed in the island and visitors can request for food and spend time. But leftovers and trash are strictly prohibited.

Manong Forting’s hope is that the island will be preserved as it is for future generations to enjoy and learn from. For years, he was aware of many bounty hunters who tried prying into fortunes said to be buried in the island, even the famed ‘Yamashita treasures’.

Lamanok was historically said to have witnessed early ancestors battle against the entry of foreign invaders (probably the Spaniards) converting people to Christianity led by local warrior Kabel. Kabel was able to forestall the invasion for years until a much stronger force with ‘mysterious fighting gift’ defeated him.

Manong Forting believes Kabel and Dagohoy are one and the same person. Dagohoy led the longest rebellion against the Spanish colonial government from Bohol island.

Ang hindi lumilingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan (If you do not look back from where you came from, you can never reach wherever you want to go to).

The Badiang Fishermen’s Association takes care of the island and has also battled undue interests that endanger ecology and natural treasures.

The bamboo bridge and the hut where guests are picked up going to the island. A beautiful show of the Boholanos’ ingenuity.

Looking back at our past teaches us to be grateful what our ancestors (our grandparents or parents) did so we can enjoy what we have now. Our history draws us back where we came from. Often, we learn to understand ourselves and our family by our past.

When you visit Lamanok, enjoy the sights but most of all, learn from what the island stood for.

o0o

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The island is best visited with friends. We enjoyed the trek as well as burning calories for at least 2 hours.

A friendly reminder from the association. Most of these you can observe when visiting tour spots.

Siquijor Diaries: Lilibeth’s pan bisaya and why her bakeshop is a hit

By the time I met her in Siquijor, Lilibeth is already famous.

She was featured in GMA’s Byahe ni Drew, a travel show, in an Asian magazine, countless travel blogs and soon according to her on Kris Aquino’s social media channel. The last time Kris was supposed to come, a brewing storm prevented the trip to the frustration of her fans who crowded at Lilibeth’s bakeshop excited to see her.

My guide and pedicab driver Warren Omalza asked if I want to try a pan bisaya that’s been frequented by many tourists. Quite belatedly. By the time he mentioned, we were already past the bread shop. Good move we were already hungry so we decided to go back.

Every day is a busy day but its touching Lilibeth is generous with her time to curious customers like me.

The bakeshop in Barangay Binoongan (or widely known as Talingting), a part of Enrique Villanueva municipality is modest, nothing unusual from the small shops that dot the roadsides of Siquijor, even the whole country. But it changes when you meet the woman who made it possible.

It is made of bamboo and wood with some wooden tables and chairs thrown in for those who want to sit down and eat snacks or lunch.

The presidential son Baste Duterte sat on same tables with his friends. He promised to go back.

Lilibeth Viernes Alce, 49, has been baking for four years after a local micro-finance Paglaum trained her and provided support for her to start her own small business.

A mother of three (one died a baby), she established the business to send her youngest child to school. Her eldest stopped studying because she is sickly and is happier helping her in the shop.

Today, Lilibeth’s bakeshop consumes two sacks of flour for the rising demand which is even higher on holidays, during town fiestas and at summertime. Customers would often buy in dozens for pasalubong to families and friends.

I ate her freshly baked salvaro, cheese bread and bucayo torta and was blown away. Soft, delicious and tasted just like how your grandma can do it at home. There are more mouth-watering choices: ensaymada, tinalay, pan de leche and mongo bread.

As we talked, Lilibeth was preparing mounds of newly-prepared doughs ready to be baked inside her makeshift oven made of stone. It looked like a busy day as more bread are taken out and put in the display shelves.

“It is best eaten hot coming straight from the oven”, Lilibeth quips with a smile.

Baking is a passion. Lilibeth’s joy can be tasted in the bread she bakes with her family.

It was not very hard to figure out why her bakeshop is a hit. Lilibeth’s passion and love for what she does can be tasted in every bread she bakes. Her eyes light up as she talks about baking, the appreciation of her customers and the attention her bakeshop was getting.

She dreams of making the business bigger and build a house for her family. Lilibeth says, “Our house had been there even before I was born so it must be over 50 years old. My mother is also sick and I want to make sure she is provided with the medicines she need.

Tourists and local visitors are fast helping her make this happen, even her own fellow islanders who advise tourists not to miss the bake shop. Everyone loves someone who wins over poverty. One social media post got shared and the rest is history.

Simple and unpretentious, this bakeshop symbolized the hardworking spirit of the islanders like Lilibeth.

I am proud to have met and talked to Lilibeth. She is a shining example to all women that hardwork pays and nothing is impossible if you aim high for it.

Halloween Special: I survived my scary bed-shaking nights in a Bacolod hotel

Atox’s first time trip to the lovely city of Bacolod has become a very memorable one.

Guest blogger: Arthur “Atox” Condes

This one will go to the pages of horror stories just in time for the All Saint’s Day.

Or maybe the script for a short horror flick.

September 29, 2017

It was my first time to be in Bacolod City in the Philippines. Known for its annually-held Masskara Festival, this beautiful city is located in the northwestern coast of Negros island.

Though I have spent many years in the neighbouring city of Iloilo, I have never taken any chance to visit the lovely, bustling Queen City of the South. I have heard stories about its glory and fame: with many sites and sights to behold, delicacies to enjoy and relish, experiences to enjoy. All too difficult to resist.

I woke up earlier than usual, around 3:00 am, although I was scheduled to leave at around 5:30 am for the airport. While waiting for the pick-up vehicle, I struggled hard to keep myself awake. It was a raining and for someone who slept late, the coolness of the dawn and the sound of the pouring rain was lulling me back to sleep, tempting me to stay in bed longer.

It was still raining when we left for the airport.  That morning, the traffic was already slow but the good thing was that we were moving. We made it to the airport. Everything went well.

Though I have started to give up on my daily caffeine intake, I had no choice that time but to take a few sips of that sweet-smelling potion, once again, just to stay awake.

The trip from Manila was smooth, all the way to Silay City, where the airport is. A rainy afternoon welcomed me to Bacolod City. Not bad for my first visit.

The vast fields of green are refreshing to the eyes, especially my tired, sleepy eyes. The activities that afternoon went like a breeze. And then it was time for us to be brought to our hotel.

I settled in my room immediately, tired as I was. The room was quite large, with high ceiling, wide hallways and some dimly-lit corners.

Apart from the famous Masskara Festival held annually on October, Bacolod City is also known for its delicious food and friendly people. (Note: photo is screen grabbed online)

The whole place was bustling with people and activities, as the whole City of Smiles was preparing for the famed Masskara Festival. The hotel was right in the downtown area and I know that it will see some action during the festivities. In one of its corners, on the second floor, a mannequin that was dressed up in a colorful carnival-inspired attire stares blankly at the hotel guests as they pass, with its fixed wide-mouth grin. It reminded me of the clown in the movie “IT”.

The hotel is not so new but still decent, and had some surprises for me that night.

I shared the room with the driver from the host office. He was out most of the time and it was I who had this ‘different experience’.

While doing some editing work on my mobile phone, I decided to sit on bed, with my back on the headboard. I was so absorbed with the thing I was doing and I never thought of anything extraordinary that will happen.

I could hear some noise next door. “Maybe the guests were just rearranging the furniture”, I thought. It sounded like they dragged some chairs on the floor. Unusual because it was quite late at night.

Having stayed in various hotels during my other travels both here and abroad, I am quite well-aware of the unusual ‘first-night-of-stay’ feeling that would keep most people awake or on the edge.

Not for me. I get at ease quite easily even in a new place. More than 30 minutes had passed and I still sat on the bed working.

Then I felt the bed shake! It lasted for a few seconds. I thought it was because I moved to reposition my back on the wall. It can’t be an earthquake.

This time, I tried to keep still to observe. The bed shook like someone was rocking it! Still, I didn’t mind it and kept working on my mobile phone. When I was done sending mails, I washed up and got myself ready to sleep.

Nothing unusual happened aside from that bed-shaking incident — and the occasional noise next door.

As I drifted off to sleep, I began to hear that dragging-on-the floor-noise again. It never stopped! It sounded like the whole crew of housekeepers were setting up a venue for a party and they couldn’t lift the chairs or tables so they just dragged them!

I tried to ignore the dragging sounds until eventually I was off to dreamland. Still, I could hear some noise next door. I heard the door open as my roommate came in.

I remembered waking up, it was well into the witching hours. Nothing strange but the sounds of furniture dragging was still there.

I was beginning to think that it was not normal. “How could these people be so sloppy in their jobs? What is taking them too long to finish their work, to the point of disturbing hotel guests?”

Many other questions are racing through my mind. “I must talk to the front desk staff. I need to know who could be staying next door.” It was part of my ‘to-do” list for the next day.

The next day came, like any other day. I got up before 6:00 AM. Got ready for breakfast. On my way out of the room, I met a hotel personnel in the hallway. He delivered something to the guests in another room. I asked him if room 323 was occupied. We were in 324.

Indi ko sure, sir ba. Pero mamangkot ta sa front desk. Ngaa tani, sir haw?” (I am not sure, sir. But we can ask the front desk. Why do you want to know, sir?)

I told him about the noise which lasted the whole night. The sound of the chairs or tables being dragged on the floor. He smiled. A dry, uncomfortable smile. He tried to laugh but it was a nervous one.

I was beginning to have that weird feeling. Goosebumps! It started to creep from my hands all the way up to the few remaining strands of hair on my head!

As I felt light –headed, he said: Ah. Nagpabatyag gali sa into, sir?” (Ah, so IT made you feel its presence, sir?”). I was with the driver and the other hotel guest and we were all dumbfounded, stumped. I was trying to rub the hair in my arms to keep them from standing.

The big reveal was quite potent, more than the morning mug of coffee that I always have.

The place has been known to have these unseen forces and staff either took it as funny or scary. Would you dare?

September 30, Saturday

The “experience” that previous night, which I now consider to be paranormal, did not end there. That morning, at the buffet table, I shared my tale with the other hotel staff.

“Well, we heard a lot of stories from the other hotel personnel”, one of them said. She went on, “Some staff dealt with guests who walked out of their room after having that nightmarish experience of hearing things falling with no one around, also the usual sound of furniture being moved and dragged on the floor.”

“You know, there were guests who opted to sleep at the lounge chairs at the front desk lobby just to be sure they are safe from the ‘annoying entity’ in their room,” one of the waitresses recounted.

A room boy shared that it gives him creeps when he passes through the cavernous hallway. “I don’t really believe the stories that much but when you are there walking alone, bringing food or anything to the guests during the unholy hours in the morning, you would really feel like somebody’s watching you or someone’s behind you! I try to run away, if possible.”

Another hotel staff revealed that other guests heard someone cleaning up the hallway, only to be shocked to know that there was no one there. The list can go on, I thought, if I ask all the others but what I heard was enough.

After their ‘expose’ or their version of ‘tales from the unknown”, I came to think about the past experiences I had with the unseen world, the different dimension, the spirit’s dwelling, whichever you may call it.

I believe that the spirit world exists. It is something we cannot shrug off, ignore or disregard. Our experiences, whether we believe they exist or not, will eventually lead to one conclusion: that these entities are real.

The book “The Filipino Spirit World” by Rodney L. Henry (1986, OMF Publishers), is an interesting read. I couldn’t agree more when he said, “A “conspiracy of silence” exists regarding certain religious practices of Filipinos.

The Church has ignored a spirit-world belief system held by most of its members. As a result, Filipinos take their unmet spiritual needs to the out-of-church spirit-world practitioners (faith healers, diviners, etc.)”.

Henry, in this book, “expounds the development of folk Christianity in the Philippines, the theological foundation of the spirit-world, including the angelic and the demonic, and the discernment of supernatural powers.”

It will not come as a surprise to know that the Filipino folklore is full of ‘characters’ from the other world: from tamawos or engkantos (fairy folks that can change features), dwendes (elves) and tiyanaks (vampires that imitate the form of a child), kapres (a tree giant often described as black, hairy and muscular), aswangs (monster with traits of a vampire or a ghoul) and others.

Some can be benign, others are vicious or mischievous. While others hide in the shadows, some spirits can make their presence felt in a lot of ways.

Our elders have their stories to tell as well. Maybe, back in those days, the ‘other-wordly’ beings were as real as the page you are reading, the phone you are holding and the chair you sit on.

Well, after having read that book, my understanding of the ‘spirit-world’ concept seem to have fallen into its place, established after the fact. I haven’t had the faintest idea about it at all, yet I already believed they were real.

Some spirits can move in the physical realm. They can move objects, cause them to fall or be destroyed or make them disappear. Such a case can be observed in homes where little things get ‘misplaced’ too often. They can choose to appear to some people or be captured in CCTV, standard or mobile phone cameras, in their various forms.

Still on Saturday, 30th of September

Scary stories aside, Bacolod is a must-visit and one of the good reasons is Mambucal Hot Springs.

After the breakfast exchange, we were off to some other places. An activity-filled Saturday, I felt that it was one of those Saturdays that took longer than usual. We hopped from one place to another, not too far from Bacolod City, high into the mountains and forests and checked some nice places, with endless photo sessions despite the rain.

Towards the evening, all you can think of would be the nice, comfortable hotel bed, after a warm, refreshing shower. It’s an irresistible thing, after a tiring day.

That morning at the hotel, when the room boy confirmed the presence of “something” in that place, I uttered a prayer, in Jesus’s name, that we will not be disturbed by the “entity”. It makes a difference when you declare openly that you believe in a God “who is above all and over all”, both the physical and the spirit world.

True enough, not much was heard about the noise from my next door ‘occupant’ or the hallway that night until the next morning. I still slept late, doing something online but it was a quiet night.

The next day, a Sunday, I was awakened by my roommate’s alarm clock. He set it up quite early and loudly and I think it roused everyone within 10 meters of our room. Nothing unusual, though. I prepared to take a bath and my roommate left to prepare the vehicle because he will bring us to the airport that morning.

Halfway through my shower, I heard the alarm sounding off again. “He must have left the phone and he didn’t turn off the alarm!”, I muttered to myself. I had to turn the shower off to hear the sound. It was ringing alright, it must be in his bag.

Then I finished my business and get dressed to have breakfast.

I met my roommate at the buffet hall and I asked if he left his phone in the room. He said no. “I got it here.” I was a bit shocked. So, what was that noise from a cellphone alarm that sounded like his?

I shook the thought off that someone was still playing tricks on us during that last few hours of stay. It was not that scary, no goose bumps this time, because I understand what is happening.

We left Bacolod early for our 10 AM flight back to Manila. We all bid farewell to the hotel staff but I extended my hello, on the other hand, to their ‘resident entity’ or a poltergeist (noisy ghost) who gave us a “different experience.”

-o0o-

Arthur Condes is currently an executive assistant at the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the Philippines based in Manila. Aside from writing feature stories, he loves to paint, take photos and reading.

Getting around Berlin: Brace yourself for the walking frenzy!

The enchanting garden at Pergamon Museum and National Gallery.

It was autumn cold. The leaves were yellow and falling. How travel giddy can you get, you get that at autumn.

The excitement was on high pitch. Yes, Berlin!

Germany’s capital is home to the Berlin Wall that fell down on 1989, the Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Dom, Checkpoint Charlie, the Pergamon Museum and well, Homeland’s Season 5. You can think of an emoticon for the last one but I won’t budge as a forever fan.

Taking a train and arriving in a hauptbahnhof (train station) in Germany is an experience in itself. It opened on May 2006 and transports at least 300,000 passengers per day. I have been to the stations (which are conveniently shortened to HBFs) in Cologne, Frankfurt (and the one at the airport), Freiburg, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Mannheim and Munich. The lucky 8th is Berlin.

This city has too much history in just one place. Exploring it for 5 days isn’t enough. Well, holidays aren’t always enough, are they?

The climb at the Reichstag was dizzying but amazing especially at sunset.

Some of these tips you already know but it helps to be reminded one more time before you pack and go:

  • Choose a place close to a train station. All the walking is punishing. By the time I got home at night, even if I did few coffee shop breaks, I can’t hardly lift my legs. The apartment in Charlottenburg was perfect. The place was also teeming with Asian restaurants I felt at home. It was at least 5 stations away by train but all the stations have their own must-visit spots (such as Bellevue that gets my vote for the nicest train station).

 When you leave Berlin in a train for the next city, be early in your designated gleis (railway track). The trains stop quite quickly for few minutes and closes the door on time. You’ll have to wait for the next and if your ticket schedule is non-transferrable to the next train, then you’ll have to get another one.

  • Bring your most comfortable shoes. I wish you luck! I brought two – a pair of street boots and one rubber shoes that I have alternately used. The shoes worked but my legs failed me. By day 5 my knees hurt I can hardly climb stairs, I began to be grateful whoever invented escalators and elevators that are available in most of the train and tram stations. Their escalators go both ways so it can take you down after they have taken people up.

  • Wherever you come from and it’s your first time, go straight to the Information Centre right in front of the station. You cannot miss it. If you cannot speak in German then they’ll orient you properly. There’s also the Tourism Centre where you can get a week’s ticket that already covers train, tram and bus rides inside the city. You can also get your ticket for hop-on hop-off tour buses if you’re interested.

The Berlin Dom is a basilica popularly known as the Protestant St Peter’s dating from 1905.

  • Check for a free walking tour. There’s always one wherever you go. It’s a nice way to start the holiday. Sometimes you also get to help a group of students or volunteers who get by with the tips. I’ve always done this in countless cities I’ve been to from Africa to Europe. In Berlin, I once again found Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour and it was great I signed up for their other paid tours. Check them out as they are in 17 cities in Europe and in New York in the US.
  • Do your homework before the trip. Nowadays it is easier to plan ahead with a lot of travel sites and Google helping you where the famous sites are located. Doing your top 6-10 list will help you shorten your travel time. Getting lost is not an awful thing in Berlin as wherever you end is always something unexpectedly fantastic. But that’s if you have enough time to lose. When I got lost finding a nice restaurant, I ended up finding that incredible Bellevue Train Station. Don’t forget the list plus the addresses. See mine below.
    • Brandenburg Gate
    • The Reichstag
    • The Berlin Wall Memorial
    • The Charlottenburg Palace
    • Berlin Cathedral
    • Holocaust Memorial
    • Museum Island
    • The Sunday Flea Market at the Mauer Park
    • Checkpoint Charlie
    • The Tiergarten

The Berlin Wall was was a sobering experience. It’s a stark reminder that evil exists but will never prevail with humanity’s goodness.

Our trip to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was a sobering experience. Political prisoners were kept as slave labourers from 1936 to 1945. It was there that the first crematory was built in 1940. Our tour guide Rob from Sandeman’s facilitated an interesting discussion of the camp, its history and the turbulence brought by the Nazi empire.

One more thing, if you’re staying at hotels, don’t leave your rooms a mess. I realised many of the rooms are cleaned up by hardworking immigrants and friendly locals. You’ll make their lives easier by keeping your room clean and tidy. Our holidays do not have to be a burden to others.

I’d say, Berlin is a city on history-overload. But I also like the eclectic openness, the warmth of people and its ongoing quest to have its own place among the world’s famous cities, trying to be ahead but not yet there. Not quite but watch out London and New York.

You do not need another word to convince me to go back. I left my heart in Berlin.

If you have enough time, plan for a relaxing tour where you do not hurry and cram the day so you see everything. The truth is, you will never see all of them unless you live there for a year. Enjoy and savor each moment. Don’t get too caught up with photo opportunities that you end up visiting the place but not really enjoying it. I appreciated Berlin because I’ve read it in so many history books. It felt like I was visiting a place I knew for a long time. Read about the place before you go. Every trip is a chance to educate yourself more about our beautiful world.

Inside the Reichstag. Orderly, fascinating and a walk through German Empire’s power hall. It opened in 1894 and got burned down in 1933. Schedule your visit on weekdays at around 5pm to avoid too much crowd. You can get the ticket in a booth near the building across the street and it’s free!

The Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station) is a hub for travelers complete with a wide array of shopping and eating choices.

The entrance and main watchtower of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Thousands of inmates line up for morning and afternoon rolls cals in its wide space below. At the iron gate the infamous slogan “arbeit macht frei (work makes you free)” is embedded in wrought iron.

-o00o-

Next week: Let’s go to Munich’s Oktoberfest!

Moving to Argentina from Indonesia, I found my groove as a woman and a housewife

By Enda Balina

From a humanitarian to full-time housewife in a new country, Enda found a new and worthy challenge to scale.

Many women have to choose between their career or their family at some points of their life. My time to choose came right after I just completed my advanced study abroad. I joined my then-new husband who was deployed to Argentina.

Switching my life from a humanitarian worker to become a housewife was not as easy as I initially thought. I imagined it would not be hard to adapt to a new city. After all, I have been living in different places over the few years and I survived. I was wrong.

Not only that the Latin’s culture is very different from Indonesian, my being unemployed often pierced my self esteem & confidence. I think one of my hardest challenge at that time was transitioning to not having work and become dependent to my husband. I have never out of job in my life, it took me a while to make peace with my new status as ama de casa (housewife).

She found a family away from home – and more. Learning a new language and navigating through a new culture were tough but enriching.

Wherever I go, “What do you do for a living?” is often the third question being asked by the people I meet after my name & where I came from. Before moving, I completed my Masters in Development Studies where the main focus was on gender issues. I also worked for eight years in the humanitarian industry that embraced gender equality. When I made this move, some people that I know questioned my decision to give up my job and independence.

Isn’t it strange that the society does not appreciate someone who is choosing a family over work? People often belittle the important role of a mother and a wife, stereotyping a housewife as a domestic task even if it is a full-time job. Often people ask me what I do everyday to make myself busy.

I took this as a challenge to change some mindsets, conscious that even I myself used to have it. I took Spanish courses to enable me to speak faster. I got involved in various social charity activities to support our embassy leading an Indonesian women’s association and joined the diplomatic spouses’ group enabling me to meet new friends from different countries. I also signed up in many random courses like free Spanish conversation clubs, pottery class, yoga and even French class!

Being a housewife has more than pluses than minuses. “I can travel as much and anytime I want.”

Still, I often found it difficult when I had to introduce myself to new acquaintances. Answering questions where I work was the toughest of all. Indeed we live in a world where a job determines your identity and are judged by work and professional engagement. I found this harsh.

In reality, being a housewife brought me lots of wonderful experiences and opportunities to meet people, something that I would probably have missed out if I moved to Buenos Aires for a job.

I met lots of people from around the world with amazing stories. I have time to listen! Some of them are refugees from Syria, Americans who left their life back home for their love of tango and lots of western women who settled in Argentina in the name of love. Since I managed my own schedule, I was able to invest more time in people and building relations. An anthropologist by heart, I love listening to people’s stories and learn the social and cultural contexts. Casual encounters turned into friendships who became our family away from home.

I fell in love with the warmth of the Latino’s culture: one kiss on the right cheek every time you meet people and another one when you leave them – the warm and sincere hugs from friends. An old lady called me amor when I helped her got off from a bus. All these were a bit awkward to me at the first time (coming from a culture that is more reserved and conservative) but at the end, I appreciated the genuine connection.

Apart from learning new things and exploring a new environment, Enda became a mom!

One of the best benefits of being a housewife is that I could travel a lot. Anytime. I love traveling and going to new places. During our time there, my husband and I were able to tick some places in our bucket list: trekking in Macchu Picchu in Peru, climbing the glaciers in Calafate, exploring the northern salt desert of Argentina and exploring the beauty of Patagonia. On our last year, we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy.

At the end of our journey in Argentina, it was difficult to say goodbye. The place has taught me many things, the biggest lesson of which was self-acceptance of who I truly was and not letting anything determine my identity. I realized they are all superficial and temporary. Becoming a housewife was my personal independent choice. Choosing a family more than a career is something that every woman should not be ashamed of.

It became my campaign for women to stop putting label on ourselves. Often, the stereotyping even came from women who were supposed to understand and support this. A lady once asked me why I bothered to take a Masters degree when I would end up in the kitchen as a housewife. It is sad to hear but it is totally untrue! Having the best education is a great qualification for raising a family.

Are you ‘standing at the intersection’ of your life as a woman and are about to make a drastic swift? You are not alone. I’ve been there and I am sharing my tips so we can walk together.

1. Do not be afraid to take a leap! Going to an unknown land and leaving our comfort zone can be scary. Brace yourself and take the risk! We can always learn something from the experience. It is way better than to sit still and not give ourselves a chance to take up the challenge.

2. Close your ears to everything negative. Or even better, use them to motivate you in a positive way. People always have opinions about others, but so little about themselves. Don’t let all the negativity defines who you are and what you want to do.

3. Prepare yourself in advance. My biggest mistake was not preparing myself adequately before moving to Argentina. If I learned Spanish and the culture prior to moving to Buenos Aires, my early days in the city would be much easier. But then it was part of the journey and I learned from what I did not do.

4. Be flexible and ready to adapt. According to a survey, physically getting ourselves out of our comfort zone will widen our horizon and self-confidence. This is very true to me. If I did not move out of my comfort zone, I would never learn new things, a new language, cooking and organising skills, entrepreneurship or even the art of diplomacy.

Living in Argentina has definitely improved my cooking skills & creativity. Since good Asian restaurants were limited in Buenos Aires, I often had to cook my own food from scratch.

Learning new language for me was tough. The first three months were the most difficult as there were not many Argentinians who can habla Ingles (speak English). At first, I could only communicate with the lady cleaner at our apartment using Google translate from my Ipad. We literally had to type every words in order to communicate!

It has been a year that we are back in Jakarta and I love being closer to my family. But I also miss Argentina and the friends we left behind. Two months after we arrived, I went back to work making a career switch from Disaster Management to Grants. The new job is now giving me a lot of windows to learn.

Life is, indeed, a wheel. Our experiences are precious – if we give ourselves the chance to learn and explore.

Now back in Indonesia and again a working woman, Enda is happy to have her family close by. But her journey in Argentina still remains close to her heart.

Enda Balina is back as a humanitarian worker but stronger and prouder as a mom and wife. She lives with her family in Jakarta.

Growing Up at No.195: Embracing my roots as a Rojak Malaysian

By Joanne Tay

There is a stereotype that the Chinese must have their soup daily, master the art of eating rice in a bowl with chopsticks and naturally, speak Mandarin. I was anything but those.

The girl from No. 195. Bubbly Joanne sure knows how to treasure her roots and the rich Malaysian culture along with it.

Give me Sambal Belacan anytime of the day and I’ll gladly have them with anything just like how the Westerners like their cheese. While I master the art of eating rice with chopsticks, I equally excel eating rice on a plate flooded with curry with my bare hands. This way of eating is usually more common amongst the Indians and Malays but as a child, it never crossed my mind as uncommon for a Chinese family. It was just a familiar way of life in my household. This goes to show that a child is not coloured by stereotypes.

Growing up, my father sent me to a public missionary school. Penang, where I grew up, was a former British colony and I was Mandarin illiterate. The vernacular Malaysian education system means Chinese was not taught as a subject in some public schools. I learned the Malay language (my national language) and English, while I spoke a dialect known as Hokkien at home like most Penangites.

The beauty of having Rojak roots

But, Hokkien with my late amah (grandmother) was a little different.

[Hokkien mixed with broken Malay] “Ini kasi lu sambal belacan gua yang buat. Lu bawak balik makan.”

[Hokkien] “Wa ka-ki cho eh sambal. Hoh lu gia tui ki chiak”

Meaning: “Here, this is my homemade sambal belacan for you to bring home and eat.”

Hokkien’s ability to switch, mix and match languages and made them her own never ceased to amaze me as a child. When speaking with the Indian uncle who rented a corner of our pre-war house to operate his little his tuck shop or the Malay couple who sold sheaved coconuts by the side of our house during the morning market, amah would pepper it with broken Malay slangs. Then almost at an instant, she would completely switched to a full-on Hokkien with the Chinese uncle who rented the front of our house for his tailoring business.

The streets of No. 195 saw Joanne’s growing up years – and that also include her dreams and challenges overcome. (Photo-grab from Google)

Claiming that she was a nyonya (Straits-born Chinese who are the descendants of Chinese immigrants in the olden Malay archipelago, now Malaysia and Singapore), she embraced the peranakan way of life – food preferences, language, attire of baju kebaya, sarung and kasut manik (beaded shoes) with her hair dolled up into a bun with decorated pins.

Little did I know then, those formative 18 years of my life growing up with amah would eventually shape a big part of my identity and heritage. Often robust with spices and intertwined with a myriad of cultures, my Taosist family who also adopted Indian gods worship during annual festivities like the Thaipusam, made us such a rojak (a local fruit and vegetable salad dish, which also means “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay) bunch! I could never quite settle for an identity.

The crammed space at No.195 with cracked walls and crackling wooden flooring was constantly buzzing with people as relatives live together. Situated along one of Penang’s major roads in town, traffic was always a little too loud and the house even shook a little when heavy vehicles passed by. But the aroma of amah’s cooking filled the kitchen (and our stomachs) daily and I always look forward to what’s cooking!

What’s cooking? This delicious rojak is very much a part of the Malaysian culture where food always takes the centerstage. (Photo from The Star Online)

By the time I started school, I had multiracial classmates and was welcomed into their homes. Because of my love for spices and eating with hands, my Malay friends’ families were intrigued by my upbringing. And yet, I was puzzled why can’t they eat at my home?

School had me learn, unlearn and relearn a lot. Sometimes, when your home isn’t as what the school taught it to be, things can be a little confusing. I didn’t understand why race, language or the colour of our skins would be barriers in defining who we are. Because where I grew up, it was multiracial with my neighbours, food and language.

Joanne as a baby in her gangstah-look; one of the few rare photos with her dad while growing up.

Education propels me to search for an identity to call my own. And like all beginnings, I started to question my Malaysian identity and what it means.

“I can’t speak, read or write Chinese (but I’m supposed to be Chinese!). Neither am I Malay (but I eat with hands!). Neither am I Indian (but my family pays respects to the Indian gods!). So how should I call myself? Should I even categorise who I am?”

“Are we so different by our race?”

Malaysian at heart and a global citizen of this world

In the later years of my life, I had the privilege to see the world a little more and worked with international friends. These made me realised that humanity in itself is one global race. We are not so different after all despite where we come from, the language we speak or the stereotypes the society puts on us.

Remembering my late amah and her way of life taught me that despite what are seemingly stark differences, we can live in harmony if we choose to adapt and adopt the cultures that surround us and welcome them as our way of life.

We are who we choose to embrace. I am Malaysian without a doubt because it’s the only home I know. But I am also a global citizen who choose to think beyond the labels of races.

So what if there is a certain perception how a Chinese should eat their rice? Well, I  choose to eat it differently. So what if people say you’re not Chinese enough because you can’t speak Mandarin? I choose to embrace that part about me because as a Malaysian, I can effortlessly string three languages into a sentence!

I hope in your own journey in discovering an identity, you will choose to embrace the cultures that uniquely shape you. Those are the stories that define you. As for me, No.195 was a little chaotic but it was the spices of my roots. And it will always be my truly rojak Malaysian chapter.

What’s a rojak? No other dish embodies the essence of being Malaysian more.

Building her goals one brick at a time, Joanne’s journey is as fascinating as her cultural heritage.

Joanne Tay is proud to hail from the little island of glorious sun and food haven of Penang, Malaysia. She was a humanitarian worker and loves a good conversation, especially with children. Joanne is venturing into the new grounds in the field of science education for her next adventure. She believes FUN is the essence to creativity!