The world needs people who have come alive

After sending emails to relevant individuals before I plunge into an intense 10-day UNESCO conference, I again felt the need to to sit down and be in my paradise zone. Today is another last day in Singapore. Like many other last days before taking a plunge for adventure, I am in deep thought, being fully aware of my emotions, hoping to decipher the meaning of these few seconds. I again will embark on a journey, or rather continue one as I see the fulfilment of a dream.

In 2012, I decided to take a journey to quit my job and fulfil a long time yearning for a masters degree and with that decision came the embrace of new ideas, experiences and seeing life in a different perspective. I initially felt scared leaving my comfort zone to decipher who I want to become. However after sometime, these emotions settled down and I became comfortable again with my own skin and I moved forward the connecting with people who are just like myself, passionate about the cultures of the world. Along the way, I have gathered new skills, for example, reading dense books on culture and sociology, discussing how local people adjust with challenges of the modern world, academically debating with international students from parts of the world I can’t even pinpoint in a map, learning to research more scientifically and lastly, becoming comfortable living in places where English was not the native language.

I spent almost two months here in Singapore at our lovely home with my partner and our two dogs, with my days filled with readings on cultural, historical and landscape matters for my final academic work. Hours pass with me huddled in a corner and all that I exercise is my brain and my fingers, churning up data on possible strategies to make historic places more relevant to people. You might think, that is such a boring life! but you know what, I feel that learning about heritage and culture actually makes me sharper, makes me look under the surface and it makes me connect far better with the people around me. I now see that everything has a certain meaning, our buildings, our traditions, our clothing, our language, our politics and all that we see are linked to something intangible. I feel more mesmerised with the world than ever before.

By tomorrow I will be in the middle east, in a dessert city I have only visited in transit to Europe. I will be going to a political and cultural conference on heritage, the biggest and most important one there is, and I will be part of a delegation advocating the conservation of nature. I would never have dreamed being in such a situation before my World Heritage Studies. It seems to me that the world has revealed something that I have never admitted, the world chooses where one should go. I try my best in what I do but it is fate that moves me forward and my life, dreams and future are dependent on so much more forces than myself. I am happy to now believe in such philosophy. The last few months have been such as a blessing to me and I am honest enough to say that I don’t know where life will take me. My task for the moment is to do “my job” everyday, maximising the capacity of  fate to pick the best choice.

As Oprah Winfrey rightfully said to the graduating students of Harvard University in 2013, “You will find true success and happiness if you only have one goal, and that is this, to fulfil the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being.” She yearns students  to maximise their humanity by using their energy to lift themselves up and the people around. She also quoted the theologian Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I believe that this masters has made me feel more alive.


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!

The Filipino/Singapore Spirit

The best airport - Changi

This gallery contains 28 photos.

Today is the start of my 2-year sabbatical. I call it a sabbatical even though a friend of mine said to me while we were in a pub that the term is only appropriate if I have a confirmed position … Continue reading

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A Proper Facebook Shout-Out

With my visa requirements more settled and ready for submission next week, I am now getting a bit more comfortable with the idea – I am going to Germany. I just haven’t booked my ticket yet and my visa will hopefully be approved before the end of August.  Keep calm and carry on.


Here is my facebook shout-out a couple of minutes ago:

“I have been told by Jose that I should do a proper shout out for this so here it goes: After five years, I am having a break from Singapore life to go to Germany for my masters degree. 

A new chapter opens with much hope and excitement but also with a bit of nervousness. A lot of German lessons required for the next few months. Ich spreche kein Deutsch!”

This is a moment to celebrate. I’ll worry about the other details later.

Mood: Festive

Time: One and a half months before my trip home, 2 months before flying to Germany.

A Time With Mother

I am stepping away from the topic of education for this blog and focus on the two weeks that I spent with my mom whilst she visited me in Singapore. The main purpose of her visit is because of the opening of my project but also it was my goal to give her a wonderfully relaxing time away from the difficulties of daily life. This trip is well deserved – a few months ago, my father suddenly passed away and  because of that my mom diligently travels a journey to the mountain city of Baguio to patiently endure the trauma and sadness of the court trial of my father’s demise. Aside from that, last November when her trip was supposed to happen, she was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis. DVT is a blood clot that occurs deep in the vein that makes walking unbearably painful. DVTs predominantly occur in the legs and may have no symptoms. DVT may go away naturally, but the most serious complication can affect the lungs and become a life-threatening. She was bed ridden for a couple of weeks and it took a while before she was able to fully recover her motor functions without pain. I am happy that she is able to walk again as if nothing happened.

Pinkdot mom

My mother has always been a fighter, determined to raise us kids in the highest standards of ethics and intellectual pursuits. I owe to her my determination, my desire for learning, my love of the arts, culture and current events and the passion for education which eventually made me decide to pursue a master’s degree.

For this trip, I brought her to a couple of museums, brought her to a funeral (a bit morbid but culturally enriching), showed her what PinkDot is all about, treated her for a really nice weekend in a 5-star resort, brought her to the futuristic garden that I help design and build and let her explore the city by herself in some days. I have let her experience Singapore, probably different from the usual tourist route. There are always great things about a city, there are also the not so good things and I guess that is life. It’s not what you imagined it to be but at the end of the day it remains beautiful in some way.

One night last week after a long day of exploring Sentosa and enjoying the view of the sky scrapers of Marina Bay, I spoke to her and said like this, “Mom I think at some point I will get married. I am not yet there but I probably will.”  That was the beginning of a long discussion of my plans which led to a reflection of her marriage with my father – the joys, the difficulties, the questions and the resolutions. At one point she shared with me another life, a life when she was younger, engaged to another man who was living in Canada and her decision to go there to get married and in the end, she came back to the Philippines broken-hearted but resolute that she is not supposed to marry her fiancée. I listened to her patiently realizing one thing – she is not just my mother, she is also a woman with her dreams and aspirations, a woman with a past that she can look back to, a present that she experiences and future that is unknown. She is an individual just like me. As an individual, she cannot just be seen in one mold. She is multi-faceted and real. She is not this figurative individual that I call mom which I would expect to get advice from or will prepare me food when I am at home. She may also want to live a life of meaning, pursuing what she believes is right and what she is passionate about. She can actually be a really good friend that may sometime need my advice too or alternative point of view.

Please look after mother

This thinking is so similar to the novel “Please Look After Mother” which she read and shared with me a few days ago. As the Korean author Kyung-Sook Shin wrote as thoughts of a daughter about her mother who they lost in the busy trains of Seoul:

“…I have so many dreams of my own, and I remember things from my childhood, from when I was a girl and a young woman, and I haven’t forgotten a thing. So why did we think of Mom as a mom from the very beginning? She didn’t have the opportunity to pursue her dreams, and all by herself, faced everything the era  dealt her, poverty and sadness, and she couldn’t do anything about her very bad lot in life other than suffer through it and get beyond it and live her life to the very best of her ability, giving her body and her heart to it completely. Why did I never give a thought to Mom’s dreams?”

This realization provided me a certain truth: if I see her as someone like myself, I am able to see her in a different light. Although she is a generation older than me and she has raised me to become the individual that I am now, we swim the same seas of our day-to-day life and whatever will be life like after my father’s passing, she has that same power to choose her own path to reevaluate her own purpose and life meaning. She can reinvent herself or keep herself as she is but the main thing here is that, as a child of hers and as another human being, I am here to support her and ultimately love her for who she is and who she will become, whatever that will be.

I hope that the future will bring her good things, new and exciting experiences and i hope she pursues her dream or best, create new ones. The world is hers as it is mine and I can’t wait for her to smile and say, life is still good, whatever happens.