El Nido island hopping tour

Small Lagoon. Miniloc Island, El Nido, Philippines.

Small Lagoon. Miniloc Island. El Nido, Philippines.

When you visit El Nido, you have to do an island hopping tour. Ceddy found a great one through El Nido Boutique & Artcafe. We did a private tour where we saw, kayaked, and swam around three different lagoons and a beautiful beach.

Ceddy & me kayaking.

Ceddy & me kayaking.

I’m terrible at kayaking or rowing any sort of boat, but Ceddy was able to compensate for my lack of kayaking skills.

Ceddy & me swimming in a cave.

Ceddy & me swimming in a cave.

We even got to swim in a cave.

Big Lagoon. Miniloc Island. El Nido, Philippines.

Big Lagoon. Miniloc Island. El Nido, Philippines.


Ceddy & me jumping from a random platform in the middle of the water.

Ceddy & me jumping from a random platform in the middle of the water.


Coral & fish.

Coral & fish.


Simizu Island. El Nido, Philippines.

Simizu Island. El Nido, Philippines.

We had lunch on Simizu Island. Our guides grilled out & we had fish, pork kebabs, pineapple, rice, & salad. We couldn’t bring the camera onto the beach because the waves would’ve knocked it out of the kayak & into the water.

El Nido, Philippines.

El Nido, Philippines.

El Nido – a tropical getaway

El Nido, Philippines.

El Nido, Philippines.

After it snowed in Seoul, Ceddy and I escaped the cold and went to El Nido, which is in the southern part of the Philippines called Palawan.

El Nido, Philippines.

El Nido, Philippines.

El Nido, Philippines.

El Nido, Philippines.

We arrived mid-afternoon and enjoyed drinks by the beach before dinner at El Nido Corner Restaurant.

Lapu-lapu fish (grouper).

Lapu-lapu fish (grouper).

Watermelon & rice.

Watermelon & rice.

Shrimps gambas & salad.

Shrimps gambas & salad.

We found El Nido Corner Restaurant while walking along the beach. Ceddy and I shared lapu-lapu, shrimps gambas, salad, rice, and watermelon. Those dishes and the other seafood we tried while in El Nido were the freshest we had on our trip.

El Nido, Philippines.

El Nido, Philippines.

The view from the patio was lovely, too.

What are you?

A childhood in Alabama
consisted of fielding
ignorant questions daily.

What are you?
I mean, where are you from?
Born in New York and lived here since third grade.
But where are your parents from?
The Philippines.
Where is that?
Southeast Asia.
Then why does your last name sound Spanish?
Spain colonized the Philippines for centuries.

A brown kid in Birmingham
is a novelty and source
of entertainment.

Say something in your language.
You mean in Tagalog?
Whatever it is.
I don’t speak it well.
Didn’t your parents teach you?
Not really.
Why not?
They didn’t want us to sound fresh off the boat.
I would love to be bilingual.
You still can be — you just have to learn a foreign language.

Blending in is impossible,
but not lashing out is
the only option.

If I could’ve, I would’ve asked,
Are you pale during every season?
Since your grandparents are Irish, do you speak Gaelic?
Is your hair naturally blonde?
Are you actually one-sixteenth Cherokee?
If I could’ve, I would’ve said,
Your English is great,
for someone born in Bessemer.
Enjoy the rest of your life, thinking
Alabama is the center of the universe.

Yesterday would have been my grandparents’ 70th anniversary.

Lola & Lolo's wedding photo.

Lola & Lolo’s wedding photo.

Yesterday would have been my grandparents’ 70th anniversary. (They were always excited to share the day with their youngest grandchild’s birthday.)

Lola and Lolo were together for 64 years before Lolo died. They met in the Philippines during World War II; Lola was a nurse for the U.S. army and Lolo was a mining engineer. It was love at first sight. Three months later, they married. They had my three uncles two to four years apart and my mom a decade later. Their life wasn’t perfect (no one’s is), but they did everything together as a team.

Lola was a chronic worrier, so Lolo always made her laugh. When he became diabetic in middle age, she managed his medication and administered his insulin shots. He doted on her, picking up her favorite flowers or jewelry just because. They called each other “my dearest darling” and were still sweetly affectionate even as octogenarians. As Lolo was dying, he told Lola not to fret. For the five years after his death, she was inconsolable. Life was unbearable with her other half missing. When she died last December, she was finally at peace because she knew she would see him again.

My grandparents were one of the few couples who I consider to be role models for a healthy and happy partnership. My mother disregarded the epic love she witnessed while growing up. The only similarity between my parents’ and my grandparents’ marriages is that my parents got married after dating for five months, while my grandparents did after three. Lola and Lolo were in constant communication, but they didn’t fill the silence with meaningless chatter. They didn’t avoid their issues by buying each other expensive cars or watches. They didn’t use their children as pawns in fights. When things got hard, they leaned on each other. They were each other’s best friend. All of us grandchildren aspire to have a relationship as long-lasting and fulfilling as theirs.

Lola gave me one piece of advice about men, which I’m sure she would be happy to know that I followed:

“Find the man who you will be happy to wake up next to — not just because he’s handsome, but also because he’s a good man.”

The geography of ignorance

During the break between second and third period, Gaby and I switched our books at our lockers and walked to class together. We rarely lingered for more than a few minutes. We weren’t eager to go to English class; we avoided the guys who had the adjacent lockers as much as possible.

Unfortunately, we had no such luck that morning. The Hunters descended. Gaby knew the two Hunters from middle school, but I could never tell them apart. Their Dixie Outfitter t-shirts and camo hats made them indistinguishable.

“Mornin’ Gaby. Mornin’ Samantha.” Hunter M. tipped his frayed cap.

Politely, we replied, “Good morning.”

Hunter D. leaned on his locker, blocking our path. “Say, Gaby — do you speak Mexican?”

“I’m from Peru. I speak Spanish.” Gaby rolled her eyes.

Hunter M. asked, “Is that near Afghanistan?”

“No, it’s in South America.”

Hunter D. turned to me. “How ’bout you, Samantha — do you speak Mexican?”

“My parents are from the Philippines, so they speak Tagalog. I’m taking a Spanish class now, though.”

Hunter M.’s brow furrowed. “Is the Philippines in the Middle East, too?”

“No, it’s in southeast Asia.” I exchanged irritated looks with Gaby. “We better get to class.”

“See y’all later — we’re gonna review for our quiz.”

One would think that sixteen-year-olds could correctly guess the regions where Peru and the Philippines were located. Then again, the Hunters’ lack of knowledge illustrated why Alabama was ranked the fifth worst state for education.

Home is wherever I’m with you


Home has never been a place, but a feeling. Five cities in less than two decades taught her to shapeshift; it comes naturally now — observing the locals and adapting to blend in.  This is only temporary.

There’s nothing to do in Alpharetta, Georgia.

It’s not because it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s the standard suburban town — within a ten mile radius, there’s a mall, chain restaurants, movie theaters, and an ice skating rink. It’s the fact that she’s restless and craves adventure, but her mother doesn’t understand why.

The problem is that her mother implements the worst parts of Eastern and Western parenting. From Manila, her mother brought the idea that a daughter’s worth is measured by her purity and the extent of her obedience. Like the Americans, her mother sought a boundary-pushing, helicoptering, best friendship with her.

There’s no better motivation to get into college than wanting to escape.


“Why won’t you come home?”

“My friends are having a Fourth of July party here in Athens.”

“You never prioritize the family! You’re always getting drunk with those friends of yours.”

“I’ll be there for Brie’s birthday in a couple of weeks.”

“You’re an ungrateful, insolent child. Never there when I need to talk to you about your father –“

“If that’s what you feel, Mom, then okay.”

“– always talking back to me –“

“I’m gonna go. It’s hard to talk to you when you’re like this.”

“– ponyeta! You do not hang up on your mother!”



There’s the realization that home is exactly as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros describe.

Alpharetta is a hostile place. She avoids it as much as possible, save for visits there with her siblings. Her mother wages emotional warfare to shame her into be there. The more she sidesteps the guilt grenades, the more her mother demands.

Atlanta is where she and her man began their adventures two summers ago. Easily, they had made the transition from college friends into being a couple. Though her parents are from the Philippines and he’s from Côte d’Ivoire, he understands the struggle — to establish your own life, not the one your parents planned. 

Home isn’t only a feeling. It’s wherever the person you love is. It’s something she never imagined finding with an amazing man.