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Filipina Explorer is a travel blog that believes in the power of stories to connect us to the world, shape ideas, and move us to action. Read these stories from the archives.
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About Filipina Explorer
Hi! I'm Gretchen, a travel writer based in the Philippines. I created Filipina Explorer in 2009 to document my journeys through places, parenthood, and word weaving. This blog is a collection of those stories and everything in between.
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Today I took a leave from work to not only catch up with deadlines that have piled up, but to create space to deal with the reason why they did. "I have not been mentally there the past days", I told our editorial head. Last night I stayed up until past 1 am trying to work. Yet, despite how easy (though tedious) it is to read through submissions, edit them, and send out approval or rejection letters, the cursor just kept blinking. And I just kept staring.

It's easier for me, because I didn't lose my job. I am still earning like I used to. I live somewhere where I am allowed to go outside for errands. But still, four months in, with nearly 53,000 COVID-19 cases - some of which are starting to spill to the once COVID-free town I live in - and a very bleak future led by an inept and apathetic government, I can feel hopelessness and intense anxiety creeping in slowly from fringes to center.

I wish I could live not caring about what's happening. I wish I could remain apolitical the way I did the first two decades of my life. But the fact is I can't. #empathproblems

I care first and foremost because I am a mother. My kid deserves better. I decided to have her and that makes me responsible, in part, for the world I brought her into. I care because I feel, and it's natural for humans to empathize. I care because I believe that in the end, it is collective caring that breaks the wheel created by the powerful and corrupt. A tad idealist, I agree. But in a world that is the very opposite of ideal for living, I don't think it's too much to ask for some.

Letter #21: What They See

Hi, Lia. 

People see a girl going out to hog snacks from a sari-sari store. 
I see a girl coming back with tons for her friends and always with one for me, even if I don't ask for it. 

People see a girl who vandalized our white walls. 
I see a girl whose art is infinite.

People see a girl interrupting her mother's client meetings. 
I see a girl serving me iced tea or coffee in the middle of it. 

People see a girl asking for too many biscuits at the grocery. 
I see a girl who gives one to every street kid she comes across with. 

People see a girl who "talks back" (because God forbid that children have opinions and worse, state them).
I see a girl who knows that important conversations take place when honesty and truth aren't set aside for politeness. 

People see a girl who cries easily.
I see a girl who gives her heart to everything that it hurts. 

People see a girl who is demanding and needy. 
I see a girl whose love language is time and affection; who often says, "The happiest moment of my life was when you became my Mama."

People see someone who is impatient, hot-headed, stubborn, and sometimes borderline perfectionist.

I see those too. 

But more importantly, I see the moments in between that are driven by passion, hope, determination, and kindness. 

There is a world of difference between what others see and what we, parents, see. When the world fails to see who you are, my hope is that you take comfort in knowing that I've always seen who you are, from the moment you took your first breath. May that knowing serve as an affirmation that you're always worth discovering, worth loving. May it embolden you to live your truth - boldly, openly, and kindly.

With eyes wide open, 


On a barren patch of earth a few steps from where our dog was laid to rest, we planted a young golden shower. A wooden swing from where we can tilt our head back to bright yellow blooms bursting in the summer, their dark seedpods hanging over us like precious heirloom jewelry - that was always the dream.

The man who sold it told me to wait five years. But to wait is tiresome. To witness without expectations, to allow for stillness, to simply be present as the tiny gears inch to full circle is much simpler, less heartbreaking, and sometimes, even fruitful.

As the pandemic-induced quarantine unfolded, I've become less concerned about waiting. I've stopped counting the days. They all look pretty similar to me – bare, often quiet, slow-moving as fog. Counting - anything remotely connected to mathematics, if I'd be honest - is not only my weakest suit, but it's futile to me and the work that I do in editorial and publishing.


Everything right now is a matter of uncertainty. The years seem like a nameless face, and anxiety a dull, redundant pain. I decided I will not participate in its mechanisms any longer - more than I allow myself to. I recognize the privilege in being able to say that, because millions of people around the world have no other resort but to wait – families who need test kits, the people who are waiting for their affliction to subside, essential laborers, healthcare workers stuck in hospitals for a week at a time. I am beyond lucky to be in a position where I can choose not to wait. I will forever be grateful.

Right now, we live our days mostly in the short term – except the part where we isolate for long-term gains. In a world where no one knows an absolute, exact solution; where even scientists can only estimate the number of days, weeks, months, years we need to bear to fight an enemy we cannot see, how do you keep counting the days and making elaborate plans only to be told “not yet” over and over again and not lose a thread of hope each time?

Sunset scene where we are

With many liberties taken, life has changed shape. Oft-overlooked simplicities have become valuable. I work 12 to 16 hours a day including weekends, and a bike ride to run errands is now a godsend. Pre-quarantine, I viewed it mainly as exercise; a way to reduce transport costs. Now, with freedom of movement largely restricted, without access to sights outside our home, our rickety bike has become the only means to keep everything up and running in the house.

It is liberation from the toll that everyday living in these uncertain times brings.

At sunset, I'd stomp on the pedal - full halt - and just spend minutes looking at the Sierra Madre Mountain Range from afar. I'd lean my head against the wind to marvel at birds flying in Vs. I don't even bother to take photos most of the time. Eternity in seconds. That's how sunset bike rides feel to me these days. They haven't been for a very long time.

For a long time, I was always in a mad rush to work. It's an innate characteristic that's hard to get rid of. I've yet to learn the art of doing nothing. Labor is an act I take pride in. One that I can be happily immersed in for more than half of a 24-hour period. But I've also rediscovered the meaning of and the joy in slowing down, even just for an hour three times a week. I've relearned the value of warm conversations and switching off for and with my daughter. Every day I am reminded of how it feels like to return to a time when connection meant things you can feel, smell, and see with your barest senses. To live simply, mindfully, and compassionately.

Wrote this poem entitled "Quarantine", which sums up what I feel recently about here and there in these crazy, crazy times.

I've learned to let go of expectations of an uncertain future and not be taken out of the now by gripping fear of ifs and whens; of possibilities that I am not sure will happen. I've learned to say “We'll see what happens” instead of “This is how it should happen”. And it's absolutely priceless.

This story is an entry to ComCo Southeast Asia’s “Write to Ignite Blogging Project”. The initiative is a response to the need of our times, as every story comes a long way during this period of crisis. Igniting and championing the human spirit, “Write to Ignite Blog Project” aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities to inspire the nation to rise and move forward amidst the difficult situation. This project is made possible by ComCo Southeast Asia, co-presented by Eastern Communications and sponsored by Electrolux, Jobstreet and Teleperformance.

Letter #20: Eight

Hello, Lia.

It's unbelievable to me that today, I am saying to you, “Happy 8th”. I don't even notice the years. Wasn't it just yesterday that you were swaddled in that newborn jumpsuit? That you walked your first steps? Sped off on your bike on your own? Wasn't it just yesterday that I let go of another year?

Today, I do so again. I bid goodbye to a girl in second grade go and welcome someone who will be in third grade. Each year I let go, knowing the clock doesn't tarry or rewind. Knowing I will never meet that same person again in my life. We simply march forward, meeting many different and constantly growing persons that we call our daughter.

How bittersweet, exciting, poignant, life-changing, and humbling experience that is all at once.

Lia, I don't think there is anything else I could tell you now that I haven't said in my other letters to you. But the thing I want you to remember the most is that no matter how many persons you become in your lifetime, no matter how the tide shifts and changes you, one thing remains constant: I will forever be your Mama, and you my daughter. I will always love the many new yous that are born each year. And all those yous will always have warm arms to come home to, no matter how cold and bleak the earth turns.

Here now and always,

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