Vandal

A story for kids.

The smell of the cave was a secret language only the two of them knew. Before he met her, he and his parents had moved around the world as they dug in one archaeological site after another. However frustrating that was, one thing he could never forget was the four months spent in Dewil Valley, a rice plain surrounded by massive limestone karst towers on the east coast of El Nido, Palawan.

They had set up camp near the foot of Biyaya Cave, the main cave to an uncharted cave system in the area. His parents belonged to a group of 30 archaeologists who were going to excavate, among other things, earthenwares, seashell jewelries, animal bones, and human remains, to learn about how people lived there thousands of years ago.

The day they arrived, he wandered around and found a trail in the dense rainforest where Biyaya Cave peaked out like a giant limestone fallen from the sky. The forest was riot of color and sounds, beating to the rhythm of metallic insects and bizarre birds. When he stopped to look, he found raindrops hanging at the end of every green leaf, each drop full of forest and light.

Just when he was heading back to camp, he saw her footsteps, a little smaller than his own, pressed on the soft earth. He followed them and ended up at the mouth of the cave. Looking in, he caught a sight of her dress in a distance as she disappeared around a bend, walking off without caution, without a lamp, as if she glowed with her own light in this sunless bowl of earth.

The dimly lit passage felt like exploring a large esophagus, leading to the cave's stomach. There in its high domed black womb he met, to his horror, a thousand pairs of bat eyes. He dashed towards a brighter area lit from from a navel opening in the ceiling, and saw her facing a wall. She was half-covered in the shadow, her brown hair falling over the whiteness of her kamiseta.

With a piece of charcoal in her hand, she had drawn pieces of her life in camp: spiral seashells, banaba flowers, fish-tailed birds, cashew apples, and an outline of the limestone tower. After that, she drew a stick figure of a girl facing the cave entrance, and then a stick figure of a boy with curly hair. There she turned around and looked at him intently, all knowing he had been following her all this time.

Their first few words were a disaster, an exchange of unfamiliar sounds, followed by grunts and sighs. It turned out that she spoke Cuyonon and he Ilocano, and neither of them could understand each other. During the long pause that followed, they stood there baffled and amused with each other, held together by the cave's deep silence and the fragrant smell of guano.

With a gentle stirring inside him, he picked up a charcoal, walked towards the wall, and started to draw a slice of his life in his hometown, Vigan. He sketched stick figures of his best friend and cousins, his collection of firetrucks and beetle-shaped kites, and his beloved wooden bicycle that his father made for him on his tenth birthday.

With a large wall of drawings from both of them, they went over their sketches with renewed interest and found out they understood some common Filipino words: bisikleta, insekto, and kweba. Despite these, the rest of their talks were still hard to understand. But they had their canvas, and that was all that mattered.

As days went by, the cave wall was filled with sketches of their shared memories: the sun setting behind mountains and other limestone towers, the large dugong that they encountered when they went out fishing, the small crabs they picked from the mangrove, and the red-crowned woodpecker they caught sight of in the forest, among other things.

In several weeks, five walls in the cave's womb turned into their secret vault of memories in Palawan, hand-drawn with care and relived daily like a picture book. In all the silences that they shared sketching, watching each other, and doing things together, the smell of guano stuck to him like a perfume that was invigorating as it was alluring. It wasn't until an archaeologist found out about their drawings and told their parents.

To put it shortly, they received a beating--or she did. Two lashes of a leather belt stung from the back of her legs. She took all the blame, saying she started it all. Their parents and most from their team of archaeologists couldn't believe their eyes of the massive scale that their sketches took.

Filling a total of eight walls, their drawings were elaborate as they were numerous. They called the two defilers of a "national cultural property", destroyers of a "cultural identity", and took their activity as a crime. They called it vandalism. And like outlaws, they were torn away from each other, and were banned from stepping inside their cave again.

When the fierce habagat winds and the rainy season were ending, the archaeologists had dug something groundbreaking: bones of a young woman who was defleshed, crushed, burned, and then placed in a small box. The artifact was 9,000 to 9,400 years old, the oldest cremation burial in Southeast Asia. In the meantime, the charcoal vandals were wiped off, with a few remaining smudges here and there. Not a word came out of their "child's play".

It's been fifty years since he has left Dewil Valley. When he tries to remember the sketches they made and the time they spent together, he is always met with an indescribable blankness in his heart. It is only when he closes his eyes that he sees her beauty amidst all these bits of obscure memories, she illumined with her own light, surrounded by the cave's darkness and deep silence, all smelling of batshit.

// Oct 2017

Graffiti in the City: A Bike Tour of BGC


"Wonderland" by Faile // Website // Twitter

A city without art is a city without a soul. While Metro Manila is often identified with slums, floods, smog, and gridlock traffic jams, there's a little breathing space there called Bonifacio Global City (BGC).


"Bear" by Nate Frizzell // Website // Instagram

What had once been a vast military army base with nothing but weeds and a choir of crickets was transformed into an upscale city filled with tall green buildings, recreational parks, outdoor shopping centers, and plenty of sculptures and street art.


"David's Hand" by Bunnie Reiss // Website // Instagram

For the two years that I worked here, I'd bike or walk around different routes just to revisit some the artworks that I admire. (The images are pretty much cleaved in my head by now.) I borrowed a bamboo bike, took it for a spin in the city, and snapped some shots using a borrowed Nikon camera.


"Pangako" by Anjo Bolarda // Behance // Twitter

Since I quit owning stuff, I'm used to borrowing random things from people these days. At least I don't have to earn for the thing, take care of it, and dedicate a special space somewhere to keep it. Clears a lot of mental (and environmental) space, mind, especially when you add them all up. I need to be free; anything else ties a rope around my neck.


"Between the Lines" by Cyrcle // Website // Instagram

Then again, would be nice to have a lightweight Olympus Pen camera which I've been longing (nay, aching) for the past couple of months.XD In the meantime, carrying a borrowed monolithic DSLR is fine. I'm working on growing my forearms while I'm at it.


"Mother Nature" by Dee Jae Pa'este // Instagram

These are by no means the only street art in BGC. I covered only half or even less and have not even seen the new graffiti since the time I left--which gives me a reason to bike again and hunt all visual treasures in the area.


"Manpower" by Kris Abrigo // Instagram

Sure, not everyone appreciates these things. After all, graffiti is in the eye of the beholder. If it's a crime to have painted these, then the artwork becomes even more alluring, if not anarchistic.


"Charlotte" by Nate Frizzell // Website // Instagram

But then again, these pieces have zero political agenda other than to force random passersby to stop and appreciate walls: walls that used to be blank and full of potential. Isn't that how everything begins, empty?


This one is new. I don't know the artist.

While in some parts of Metro Manila, graffiti borders on violence, of walls spraypainted with crude sketches of groins and middle fingers, there still are others that evoke beauty and harmony. For the most part, BGC is free from defacement of buildings, public or otherwise.


"Pop Art" by AKA Corleone // Website // Instagram

Almost all these artworks are sponsored and curated, with artists coming from all over the globe. While the more specific term for these are "murals", their outdoor setting and spontaneous street styles give them more of a graffiti feel than the traditional fine art of wall paintings, such as those seen in the protected interiors of churches, temples, and other religious spaces.


"May You Find Comfort Here" by KFK Collective // Instagram

These art pieces won't last forever, due to weathering, or in some cases, replacement, but their lives will survive in the hearts of us city dwellers, and in the pages of online blogs.


Downing on the Moon. Another new graffiti.

// Sep 2017

Puka Beach

I remember a photo of us,
you and I,
all smiles and innocent
of a night
yet to come. Behind us
the surf was unruly,
violent, the
sound of waves
crashing in
a lost memory. A vast
space of sky
and sea huddled us
together, as if
our bodies, our lives,
were too big
to fit in the lens:
you and me,
at a singular time,
on a singular frame,
were held so close
so briefly.
What were we before
any sign showed itself?
Unprepared to enter
the same fold
of warm, white sand, we
were drawn
each into each, lost
in the other,
under a distant, jealous moon.

// Aug 2017

Minimalism #2: Ride a Bike!


Alon (translated as "wave") has been with me since 2013.


He's sleek and minimal, with an old school Mongoose frame.


He's made for boys, but the seat works fine for girls like me.


I'd go to work with him back when I had a day job.


If I'm not taking a stroll, I just get lost with Alon in the city.


He's nothing fancy, just functional and beautiful.


With basic brakes and no bike stand, he doesn't ask for much.


An easy ride would do, and some clean up once in a while.


My big brother takes care of him whenever I'm away from home. I miss Alon badly.

// Jul 2017

Mountain Heaven in Mountain Province

I'm in mountain heaven at Mountain Province. The artist who I met in Coron didn't make a mistake to tell me to live here. A tribal drum craftsman and tattoo artist, he's lived in many places, high land and low land, in the Philippines. The only place I know where NOT to live in is Metro Manila, with the exceptions of UP Diliman campus and Bonifacio Global City. Outside the city capital, Sagada, said the artist, is a perfect combination of relaxed atmosphere, chilly weather, indigenous culture, and plenty of mountains, naturescapes, and outdoor activities. Sagada is an ideal playground for nature junkies and introverts like myself.

Sagada is an ideal playground for nature junkies and introverts like myself.

Just like how I came and explored other locales in the country, I've arrived in Sagada alone, without any booking or hotel reservation, without knowing anybody. I just come and dive in like a boss, trusting that the universe will take care of everything else. (Which it usually does!) While I have been here for short trips several times in the past, knowing the soul of a place doesn't take two or three days. I took the advice of other long-term travelers, accustoming myself to living in one location for AT LEAST three months. (And I promise to write more now, since I have electricity!)

On the side note, I have to update my criteria on living in a new destination:

I've been here for only two days, the first day spent just sleeping and recovering from the 12-hour bus and jeep commute from Manila. As soon as I recovered, I haven't stopped wandering. The first two or three days are usually spent familiarizing myself with the town, its streets, vegetable markets, restaurants, transportation routes, and secret nooks for reading, yoga, or just breathing delicious air. And then I'd talk to a dozen people to get a glimpse of their lifestyles and views on which area is best to live in. I checked out two potential places to settle in yesterday, and the first one was just perfect.

What do I mean perfect? Thirty minutes before I set out to look for a room, studio, or apartment, I listed a couple of things in my phone. That this new home is within 15 minutes to the market (so I can prepare my herbivore food XD), has a view of the sunrise, near the forest, mountain, or stream/river, has available drinking water and electricity, has a clothesline, kitchen, and bed. And guess what? The first place I checked out had all of these.XD I don't know if my visions are creating the future or that I can foresee the future. I may have superpowers like that.

The chimney house is made of heavy hardwood on the inside and insulated with steel metal sheet from the outside. I share the six-room house with about 8 other people, mostly Igorots. Uncannily, they don't look anywhere near the Igorots found in mainstream media, but they are generally heavyset and squat (but not always!), often with bloody-looking mouths from chewing betel nut. My room is on the second floor, with two wide windows, one of which faces the sunrise, a portion of Echo Valley (where the hanging coffins are found), and steep mountains clad in pine trees. The air here is seductively clean and cool, with the faint but all-pervasive smell of pine. If I get to find a carpenter within this week I'll have a wooden table made for me to write on and finish my books, all that facing this gorgeous view. Ah, heaven!XD

Since I've already been to the hanging coffins, burial caves, and rock climbing activities in my previous visits, I went out my way to explore sites rarely visited by tourists. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning yesterday, washed up, and started trekking to Kiltepan where I would see the prettiest sunrise in Sagada. Guessing I'd get there in 30 minutes, I walked leisurely starting at 5 am, and marveled at the mist slowly rising around me. With the brightening sky, the noisy birds shooting off their headquarter trees, tall pine trees everywhere, cozy chimney houses in sight, all these united by thick fog and freezing chill, I thought I was in some page ripped off from the novel The Hobbit. All the way to Kiltepan, fog came out my breath as if I was smoking a cigarette. Turned out, I underestimated the trek as it took me at least an hour to get there (way to go, Little Miss Leisurely), the last 15 to 20 minutes entailing a gradual ascent on a dirt road towards Kiltepan Peak.

Had I known it would take me that long I could've hitchhiked instead. But the trek itself was rewarding anyway so I thought I'd just hitchhike on the way back. Kiltepan Peak had a wide clearing for car parking, surrounded by more pine trees, and an abandoned hotel and restaurant on its highest ground. From the edge of the peak was a panoramic view of mountain ranges one behind another, where the sun had risen (and I missed it, goddamnit) and was now slowly inching over two distant but still inspiring rice terraces collectively known as Kiltepan Rice Terraces. Note to self: visit this again before sunrise and hitchhike next time! On the way back down I chanced upon a middle-aged man who just emerged from a pine forest and had a motorcycle parked along the dirt road. He said he's been scouting area for mushrooms and they haven't sprouted yet. Kuya Ronny, his name, let me ride on his motorcycle on the way down and to the town.

Oh drat, I sold my iPad and no longer have anything to take pictures with, save for my analog talk and text phone that shoots photos in kilobits.XD I bought a Kindle Paperwhite after selling the iPad -- I should've done this a long time ago! I'm in love with Kindle. Reads like a regular book with soft paper. (Then again I'd still prefer a real book I can turn a page and sniff over anything else.) An iPad makes for a shitty long-term ebook reader. My eyes would hurt and water after just an hour of reading, and then there's the stripes imprint at the back of my eyeballs when I close my eyes. HIDEOUS. Good riddance.

Goddamnit, this place is too perfect. Time to make some trouble.

// Jul 2017

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