Chinese New Year 2018 by Bernice Beltran

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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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