Homecoming by Bernice Beltran

My family lived in Jakarta for six years before Dad found a new job in Surabaya and brought us there. It was here, in Indonesia's ibu kota (capital city), where my brother and I learned to walk and to speak in three languages: Tagalog, Indonesian, and English. Before we knew the words of Lupang Hinirang, we sang Indonesia Raya in school and saluted to the red and white flag. Our house helper learned to cook Filipino food for us but our kitchen reeked of sambal that she made for herself.

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Pablito and Baselisa by Bernice Beltran

Baselisa and her husband.

A post shared by Bernice Beltran (@bernicebeltran) on

Two years ago, a friend of mine and I embarked on a trip to learn more about the Batak tribe in Langogan, Palawan. The project had no clear direction but we were determined to help them. We learned that there were only very few of them left. They were vulnerable. Living in the jungle made them susceptible to many life-threatening diseases such as malaria and typhoid. Greedy businessmen were eyeing on their ancestral land. Some said these businessmen planned to build a resort, while others thought they would turn it into a mining area. 

One afternoon, we came to visit Pablito and his wife, Baselisa. The wife was once a chieftain and was representing the community in Langogan. We wanted to know more about her story. Out of curiosity, we asked Pablito how he courted Baselisa over cups of coffee, slices of bread and roll-your-own cigarettes. He is a Tagbanua and she is a Batak. Her father didn't like Pablito. He wanted her to marry someone from the same tribe, but Pablito was willing to risk it all for the love of his life.

He paid her a visit every night when everyone's asleep. She sneaked out of her hut to see him. If her father saw me, he would shoot an arrow at me, he said. But the cupid's arrow struck you instead? I joked. It wasn't my best punchline but it made everyone in the hut laughed. 

Life had been difficult for Baselisa and Pablito. They farmed to make a living and to support their family. They did not earn much but they made sure all three children are fed. Despite all, their love for each other endured. 

Two Weeks in Thailand by Bernice Beltran

When my friends and I went to Bangkok 2 years ago, I didn't get the chance to see it that much. We headed straight to Koh Pangan from Luang Prabang in Laos for the Full Moon Party - a long, arduous journey by land that lasted for 3 days. After the party, we sailed back to the mainland and stayed in the capital for a couple of days before we flew to Burma. Exhausted from the long trips and partying, we locked ourselves in our Couchsurfing host's townhouse throughout our stay. Thinking that capital cities in Southeast Asia probably looked the same, I thought I didn't miss out on anything. 

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Plered, Cirebon by Bernice Beltran

Somewhere in the west of Java lies a small port city that is not so popular to travellers called Cirebon. Google it and you will find a few articles and travel guides in the search results. If it weren’t for my father who has been working here for over a decade, I probably would never found out about it. In the few times that I went there, I stayed home and waited for my father to take me to a pub where he and his colleagues from Europe would hangout after work. Seeing Europeans (mostly old men) in this part of Indonesia was quite a shock for me knowing that there are other cities in Indonesia that are more appealing to foreigners who wish to retire. But I suppose they're not in Cirebon for retirement, they're here for business. 

Last week, dad took my mother, my sister Bea and I to a place called Plered to buy some batik clothes. Known for its thriving batik industry, Plered reminded me a little bit of Quiapo, particularly its chaotic narrow streets that were mostly clogged with vegetable stalls and motorcycles and becak (the Indonesian pedicab) parked on the side. We got there before 8 AM - at the time when most vendors are just opening their shops and students making their way to school. While waiting for the batik shops to open, I took advantage of the morning light and snapped a few shots.

I found the street rather photogenic. I could tell from the chipped-off paint, stained walls and a few broken signages that the buildings in Plered were pretty old. Adding to the quaintness were the horse carriages that roamed about and the people who wore traditional batik. Besides the railings that divided the two-way street, there was hardly any order. People walked in whatever space left on the road and step aside when there's a becak, a motorcycle or a car passing. There were food stalls in every corner, saturating the air with the smell of coffee and the strong scent of spices. It's no tourist spot (and I doubt that it intended to) but it gave me a glimpse of how the people from this town live.

The main attraction in Plered is the batik workshop located just behind Trusmi Batik Cirebon, one of the biggest batik shops in area. When the shop opened, we saw about four women sat around the pot of ink, tracing a faint line art on the pink fabrics. In one corner, a man stamped a white fabric with batik patterns. He said that the batik stamps and ink can be purchased somewhere in Plered though he did not specify where we could get it. After what seemed like an hour of photographing and making my two companions wait, I put my camera back in my bag and went into the shop purchase some batik for work. 

Indonesia is a huge country to explore - a year and a half wouldn't be enough, especially for someone who's gets interested in pretty much anything like me. But I will make a way, find some time to go back to see as many places as I can, and take pictures like it's the only thing that's keeping me sane.

Roxas & Langogan, Palawan by Bernice Beltran

We headed to the tribe settlement in Langogan with all our backpacks, Southeast Asian style: overloading Rudra’s motorbike. Rudra drove and wore his backpack on his front to make space for Lara and I. Lara sat in the middle carrying the groceries, while I occupied the remaining space. To keep us from falling, we squeezed our butts as if to grip the seat and pressed our legs tightly to the either side of the motorcycle

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