A response from the future

Hello there my invisible comrades, dear friends who have some glimpses to my thoughts. I have been quiet for two years and a blog reminder message in your email may come as a surprise or perhaps it will go directly to your social emails in newly organised email. No worries, messages from me are meant to be quiet celebrations or simple questions that need no audience. It is a blog to the void and I am happy that it remains as such – a sort of poetic gesture cast out to an ocean of advertisements, updates, and spam mail. I wanted to write today, as I felt the need to reevaluate my own feelings from when I last wrote.

My last blog had a sense of gloom, a sense of fear of the unknown and I was trying to talk to a future self, which by now, has aptly become me.  I, the future self read the thoughts of my old self and had to react to what he (the former) wanted to say. In a way, my mind is travelling in time and resolving personal issues that I had before in order for me to move forward again like how Spock advised Spock in many occasions.

For the last two years, I have made a personal resolution to strive and link both my landscape architecture skills to my knowledge on heritage. I have published articles for a journal, collaborated with other colleagues to write about urbanisation and heritage issues, engaged young people in the Philippines for the importance of valuing heritage, and presented in some international conferences that combine my interests. At the same time, I went back to designing landscapes in Singapore while trying to put my creations in the greater context of the city, embedded with deeper cultural interpretations. Eventually, I crafted a new order in my brain. I no longer felt that I had to choose between the knowledge streams I have acquired. Designing landscapes and understanding heritage values are all part of my work. They are part and parcel of my own world views.

My own failures and disappointments in the past have made me pursue my passions further and I am confident that I no longer have to debate to myself  of the value of my master’s degree. I know now that my knowledge matters and that my master’s degree is an asset to my own personal development and my understanding of space.

Coming back to Singapore was both challenging and rewarding as I had to find my own path of solving my  personal issues of meaning. I no longer had the backing of a great community of heritage practitioners in Germany that saw that protecting heritage is a mission to all people, and to be honest, there is only a small part of the general population who believes that. I have accepted that now. My reintroduction to Asia allowed me to distill what is really important in my own context while I carefully keep intact the knowledge that I have harnessed  so that I can use them in opportunities where it matters.

Tomorrow is a starting point of a new chapter of my life. This new chapter will allow me to use the different knowledge streams I have gathered and distill from it strategies which I can use for managing a designed landscape situated in a natural heritage site. It will become my new testing ground for using both learnings from heritage protection and landscape architecture and apply them in different ways . It will require me to develop new skills and probably make mistakes along the way. As I move on to a new role, beyond what I have been used to, I speak to you again dear self to guide me for the correct actions to take. What will our conversation be like in the next time you write?

You will have to keep me updated soon, dear self. I am very excited to hear from you.


Birthdays and the happiness and loneliness attached to it

In a different part of the wold, my birthday has already started. Here in the Netherlands, it’s roughly four hours away. Tick tock, tick tock. Facebook will soon be flooded with greetings from online friends. We all know the drill, those closest to us give us messages in our phones and emails, some of them give messages in facebook personally, some declare it on your wall and others, just like other people’s greetings. At this moment I have received 1 text message, 4 personal facebook messages, 11 posts in my wall and 1 liked another person’s greeting. There are those valuable few who take the time to say, “Let’s go out and celebrate your wonderful day. Just you and me and let’s find somewhere nice.” You don’t get much of those these days. It now usually ends with facebook and real life meaningful talks are now a thing of the past. This blog even reinforces that I also am trapped in this, that me writing this means that I accept that I have a virtual self.

Far from the usual social connections, I am here living in my fifth country of residence away from all that I know and cherish but I am following exactly the course of action I wanted to take. This is the dream – taking a break from work, gaining new knowledge, doing a masters degree, traveling Europe and in the process learning the cultures of the world. Why is it that at this moment when everything seems to be perfect, I realize that the only place I want to be today is either in the waterbed of our house in Singapore or right beside my mom in Manila. I just want to be there, as if I never left, as if this reality is a mere dream and all the wonders of what I am experiencing is just a momentary flash of the subconscious that I will fail to remember tomorrow.

Birthdays for me are like wormholes of emotions. I just feel everything. I’m happy and sad at the same time. I’m apathetic but all so sensitive. The day feels like a never-ending story and facebook provides false hopes of warm smiles and kind faces wishing you good things.

A few weeks ago I was carpooling in France from Angers to Paris. I was in the passenger seat with this wonderful French lady that had an American accent and we were talking away as if we were the best of friends at the same time, wonderful acquaintances. We know for a fact that we won’t be seeing each other again at any point in our lives but we shared personal stories quite casually. She was divorced, had two kids living in different parts of France and one of them is going to Luxembourg with her grandson the month after. At one point in our discussion, she told me that she was attending a wedding of the daughter of a close friend. She then told me something unexpected – that she needed to go on a diet because she thinks she looks horrible in her clothes and that she wants to loose 5kg before the wedding. She also said that she was happy to go only if there were other people who are not couples. She gets too uncomfortable with all the couples who go back to their rooms, mind their own business and don’t really mingle. She had to ask her friend if there were other friends who were also going but not so boring like the other couples. I believe she was fishing if another friend, a single old gentleman was coming. And he was so she would too. After hearing this I suddenly asked her, “It never goes away does it, this social awkwardness we feel when have no other person is interesting enough (or interested with us) to speak to?” She said something like, “Some people are just so boring, I can’t bear being in the same table with them.” I thought this sounded like a discussion  of two teenage girls talking about the senior prom.

With these memory in mind, it dawned on me that even though life becomes richer, we add more years to our age, we get white hair (just like what I had for the first time last week) and lines are formed in our faces, our fundamental issues are the same as always. I’ve contemplated about my birthday since I was in my teens and I am again back to square one. My thoughts are probably different from a few years back, the issues become more complex but the same dilemma occurs – why is it that birthdays are such wormholes of emotions. I am basically going through a seemingly annual menstrual cycle wherein I am full of uncalled for mood swings that just doesn’t go away. Maybe it is good (this is optimism coming in). It is good because I know that this is not just an ordinary day, that my mind is telling that me that this is a Eureka Moment. I am growing up again and all these thinking keeps me sane and alive for the rest of the year. What is life without introspection? What is life without the passing of time? What is life without these impossible-to-deal-with emotions?

If I get to the point in my life when I will forget my birthday was coming, to forget that the day has a meaning and that this day I will see the usual signs of joy, if I forget that, will that be living? These honest moments of confused emotions is the indicator that I have a mind that wants to understand this. I have the heart that feels this. I have the fingers that type this and I have the eyes that sees everything that will happen in this day. I am alive and every birthday I celebrate this by flushing my thoughts and emotions out in the open. I am allowing myself to be vulnerable, accepting I am not a stone because I feel. This, I believe is the miracle of my birthday posts. I say this because I believe it has meaning. I don’t know if it will mean anything to someone else but me blogging reaches to out to everyone, “Hey I am here and today, allow me to contemplate my life and my existence, because I am alive.”

Here is the link of my previous birthday post: Opening the Gates on Oneself

Here is the link with my thoughts on Facebook: Breaking Free from the Digital World

Check out this video too and the effects of social media to society 

Age, the Past and the Future

There are several reasons why I wanted to do this blog today. First of all is that I am celebrating my 1st month in Cottbus with some introspection. Second, our intensive introduction to World Heritage Studies finished last week and the real semester classes will start next week. Thirdly, I am getting adjusted to the fact that Sundays in Germany is really a rest day. Wochenende / Weekend is really a thing here because most shops are closed, even the malls. I don’t think I will ever get used to that.


As part of reflecting on the past few weeks, I remember quite vividly some striking conversations with people that I have met. One general topic of amazement is my age. Everyone thinks I’m 22 years old here, which is somewhat of a good thing in a university setting because I can easily blend in. If I wore school uniform or shop at the teens section of the department store, I don’t think people will actually frown upon it. When people realize that I have already worked for more than half a decade  in a country different from my own, thats when their mouths drop and they look at me from head to foot and say “But you look so young!” The only thing I can say to that is, “Its an Asian thing, I think.  Or maybe genes, I’m not really sure.”  Many of my colleagues / classmates here are surprisingly fresh graduates or they have worked for a year or two then decided to take their master’s education. I remember I was once like that. In 2008, I decided to really pursue looking for a master’s degree and 4 years later after 4 half successful applications and probably hundreds of hours of researching on good but economical courses, I have landed here in Cottbus. The four years I think was not spent in vain but I believe that it has improved my own perspective in life, my profession and my educational pursuits. I am a product of my own experience.

Another striking conversation that I had happened in two separate occasions, both of which had the same theme. The conversation somehow went like this:

My friend: “You are a landscape architect, right? That seems to be quite an interesting profession and it seems to me that you have a lot of experience with it.”

Me: “There are only a few landscape architects in the Philippines and in Singapore that I think I learned a lot from it. I went to present to my clients, went to different sites for construction and also managed my own time. It was a good thing.”

My friend: “If you don’t mind me asking, why did you leave then? Why did you want to take a master’s degree?”

With this question, I really had to dig deep in my own thoughts. It is a question that my previous colleagues, my classmates in the university and my new interdisciplinary classmates ask me now. If I were doing something significant in my life, why was there a need to do something else?

The answer is probably a convoluted with many layers of discoveries, of truths and of preconceived notions. The reality is that I really did enjoy what I did. I still have this exhilaration going to construction sites, seeing beautiful places being built and looking at the built environment as a physical manifestation of ideas and of human imagination and craftsmanship. I hold that dear up to now. The answer lies in the thought that I want to do something more, something that looks not just on our own aesthetic perceptions of the built environment but of the connectivity of our work as landscape architects to a bigger set of parameters. In this case, city planning, humanities and culture. I am opening my eyes to the political, social and economic forces that comes before  a site is meant for development and goes after my work when everything has already been built.

Previously, when we do analysis of sites, this is just a first rudimentary steps of the design process but I see now that there are more to a site than its background. There are more things than what the client wants and after a place is built, there are also factors to consider – sustainability, cultural connection, continued use and emotional connectivity to spaces. We are not just creating a space, we create symbols that represent our beliefs, our personal perceptions of beauty and we imprint that to a site for generations of people to see.

This newly found awareness makes me realize that there are more things that I can do and with the right guidance, hopefully I can do it effectively. It has only been a week of learning but I see the benefits of my new understanding.

As what has been written by Javiev Pérez de Cuéllar in “Our Creative Diversity” (UNESCO 1995):

“The challenge to humanity is to adopt new ways of thinking, new ways of acting, new ways of organizing itself in society, in short, new ways of living. The challenge is also to promote different paths of development, informed by a recognition of how cultural factors shape the way in which societies conceive their own futures and choose the means to attain these futures…Ultimately it will be the honesty of introspection that will lead to compassion for the Other’s experience, and it will be compassion that will lead us to a future in which the pursuit of individual freedom will be balanced with a need for common well-being, and in which our agenda includes empathy and respect for the entire spectrum of human differences”

Last thoughts on work before my Masters

Three days before my flight to Germany, I got to see this video of Gardens by the Bay in Vimeo. As I was watching the video, it occurred to me that I am getting nostalgic, not just for this intensely publicized landscape work but also about my journey of my landscape architecture practice. When I decided to take this course against its more well known brother of Architecture back when I was 15, I didn’t really know that I would love it the way that I do now. I just thought that I didn’t want to be an engineer and I wanted to design and I loved plants.

This profession has taken me to places professionally and at the same time, it has allowed me to appreciate art, architecture, the built environment and the natural world wherever I go. I walk in every city, may it be in Asia, Oceania or Europe seeing the craftsmanship of spaces. I find whimsy in pavement design and I appreciate the grandness of the avenue of Champs Elysees. There is something fun in colors of Gardens by the Bay and there is poetry in modernist landscapes in China. I have become attuned to the city and the land and I believe this is the greatest gift that my profession has given to me. I now appreciate more that definition that I wrote for the PALA website regarding the Landscape Architecture profession. I really feel connected to the land. I am a steward.

Cliveden at Grange

A residential project I did in Singapore

Now, I am moving on to understand another layer of this vast knowledge. My mind is adding another layer to design by putting heritage into the picture. I begin to ask myself the intrinsic value of places that surround us.  I am beginning to see the world with fresh eyes, understanding not just the spaces of the city but also its people, its culture and its history. Every piece of stone has a story to tell, every monument – big or small has brought meaning to someone’s life. I want to see how my work can become more meaningful to more people and not just create things because of beautiful form or its functional requirement. I want to create and preserve the value of places and I want to extend a place’s story. I am unsure what the two years will shift my perspective, how the new city will craft my mind, how my classmates will influence me to do something else however, I know that it will all be for the better.

In the next few days I will open my eyes to a new reality. May it be an exciting journey. Deep breaths, small steps, arms out wide – THIS IS IT!