Dear Florence

Florence, Italy

Roaming around your streets made me feel like I found my second home. Granted my friends and I looped around the same piazza 2-3 times before realizing we were lost, we were simply engulfed by your beauty. Hungry, we walked near a sea of chatty painters sitting on foldable wooden chairs and easels looking for a place to eat. They were old Italian men painting watercolours and talking passionately about God knows what. I don’t know Italian, so how should I know? One of them kindly pointed at a small restaurant a few meters away. Twelve euros for lunch? We were sold! For 12 euros each, we had a fresh caprese salad and an entree of choice. I had by far the best artichoke bolognese I had ever had at that restaurant. The sausage, artichokes, tomatoes, red wine, garlic, basil, and of course, the fresh pasta – incredible!

Between the art, architecture, food, people and views, there’s one thing that I will always remember. An old carousel lit up in the middle of Piazza della Repubblica illuminating the dark street as we walked back to our hotel. For a moment, I felt like a kid again. Standing there amazed by the wooden horses going round and round, I smiled softly. I was home.

Florence, wait for me. I’ll be back. Just wait.



DreamJobbing with Lantography

Arnold LanEvery time I’ve had the privilege to travel to a new place, I somehow learn something new about myself and of course the culture around me. Travelling helps us get exposed to different kinds of people, food, cultures and understandings. So naturally, after hearing about one of my friends winning a contest for the opportunity to experience his dream job of becoming a photojournalist, I had to ask about it! His name is Arnold Lan and here are his thoughts for his up coming photojournalism debut at Norway.

I’m incredibly excited for my trip to Norway, so excited in fact, I might dare say I have never been so excited in my life, and no that is not an overstatement! Ever since the day I picked up my camera and travelled to Asia, my dream job has been to become a traveling photographer/videographer. Every time I told people that I would always add, “oh but it’s just a dream, I’ll probably find something more practical to do because I have no idea how I would get there.” I always threw in that sentence as a defense mechanism, giving myself an escape from failure to pursue my dreams. So to be able to do my dream job in Norway after only a year, is quite unreal. Every time I think about it I cannot help but smile and get giddy. To be honest I don’t even know how to prepare myself mentally but practically I am making sure I have all my equipment.

I always imagined photojournalism to be taking pictures for a news story, or for something really important. I am having a hard time calling myself a photojournalist especially because I feel like I am just taking a lot of pictures on vacation, though of course there is much more at stake to producing good products than just showing my friends on Facebook. But I think being a photojournalist is being able to tell stories through pictures, there are many times when words are insufficient yet a picture can tell so much more. I hope I can accurately tell the story of Norway and the people of Norway to everyone else around the world, and in that process I hope I will also come to see Norway through the eyes of its citizens.

After Norway I am really hoping that this would not be a one time opportunity. I haven’t even left yet and I already know I will only yearn and thirst for it much more. I hope that this opportunity will be a gateway into something bigger. I want to come back with many stories. Stories that I hope will inspire people to chase their dreams and change. I want to come back being able to call Norway another home and to share that with everyone around me. I want to come back a better photographer, a better storyteller, and a better global citizen.

Thank you Arnold for your thoughts! 🙂

If you would like to get in touch with Arnold or look at some of his work follow the links below or click on the images above:



Balikbayan Express: My 2 Weeks in the Philippines

It’s been roughly 12-13 years since I had gone back to the Philippines. My family and I immigrated when I was younger and every time we had a chance to visit back there was something that prevented me from going. When my grandfather died, I wanted to make it up to him and the rest of my family to be somehow connected to our roots. Learning about my mom’s side of the family a little more made this trip that much more personal unlike any other trips I went to. It was interesting to see places my grandparents and great grandparents lived at and peoples my mother and her siblings grew up with. Sharing stories about their childhood shenanigans and later on realizing the significance of food in their lives was just the cherry on top.

wet marketA few days after landing at Manila we made our way south to the Visayas region at the island of Bohol. We visited the local wet market to buy fish, fruits and vegetables. This market, or mercado, is how I remember markets being; local farmers and fishermen selling their freshly caught fish and homegrown produce for everyone to enjoy. Granted the area has gotten more developed over the years with the introduction of malls and other commercial stores in the city centre, yet it was incredible to see that these parts of their cultural food traditions survived.

Another treat while visiting Bohol was getting to experience one of their unique traditions. A month long tradition of fiestas hosted by a different town every day in the month of May. Family, friends and strangers are welcome to dine in one another’s homes and engage in casual conversations. It’s a time to get reacquainted with people or meet new people by sharing experiences/stories over a meal. Going to different houses and meeting my mom’s childhood friends gave me a glimpse of who she was growing up. It’s really cheesy for me to say this, but it was nice seeing such happiness in my mom’s eyes. I can tell that she felt relaxed and at home where she was. Rightly so, she was home.

After a week of storytelling, sightseeing and more eating we made our way back to Manila for a quick stop before heading north to my dad’s province, Pangasinan. The first this I remember when I think about our visits there growing up can be summed up in one word-puto. They make the best little putos hands down! Our road trips to our grand parents house always ended with bags full of those little putos in the back of the car and some tupigs!

Along the way, I also noticed that more people have built fisheries. Famous for the milkfish, bangus, locally abundant in the province, they celebrated a bangus festival just a day before we visited the area. Spending a day at Pangasinan was definitely not enough. We didn’t get a chance to lounge around the beach longer and absorb the mythical healing powers of the sea or go island hopping around the Hundred Islands.

Try it! It's better than you think!
Try it! It’s better than you think!

Now, if you don’t have as much time as I did make sure that you check out the BBQ scene regardless of which province or island you go to. Yeah okay, it might look a little scary, and I don’t think I’ll ever try BBQ chicken’s feet (‘adidas’), but there are plenty of other items on the grill! I definitely had a handful of ‘isaw’ or BBQ chicken intestine. It doesn’t sound appetizing but with some vinegar (with onions and chili) it tastes pretty damn good. If you’re not feeling that adventurous, we have some grilled fish of multiple varieties, especially if you visit the coastal provinces, or traditional BBQ pork (sliced, marinated and put on sticks). Here’s a tip, if you’ve picked the province you want to visit make sure to research or ask what is grown in the area. Different regions have their own delicacies dependent on what is abundant in that region.

Anyway, I will have more pictures of my adventures at the Philippines posted on my Food Journal page! 🙂

Belize 2014


This was quite a unique experience. My visit to Belize challenged me intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically. I can honestly say that I left this rising nation a different person. I learned the value of having confidence and conviction about knowing your cultural heritage and your identity as a whole. In so many ways, we can be easily swayed by what people and other socializing forces envision us to be. When did it become so hard to just be you? Do the things you want to do, go to places you want to go and live a life that satisfies you. At the end of the day, the only face you’ll be seeing in the mirror is yourself, so why does other people’s opinion matter more than your own?

IMG_2929About 10 students including myself were given the opportunity to participate in this international internship program with I.S.I.S. Belize (Institute of Sustainable and International Studies) in partnership with New College at the University of Toronto. The purpose of this particular internship was to gain a better understanding of indigeneity with an emphasis of food sustainability/security. We engaged with some indigenous people/groups living at the Southern part of Belize along side our professors. Contrary to popular belief the Maya people still reside on these lands/established villages and are persistently fighting for their rights to be recognized to obtain land rights in Belize. Similarly, meeting the Garifuna people emphasized the importance and relevance of preserving their rich culture for future generations. Each of these indigenous groups are distinct yet possess such a powerful common characteristic-resilience. Learning and reflecting from their stories and how much food plays a prevalent role has been a privilege.

Making connections to my academic and personal discoveries during this educational tour only invigorated my desire to further understand my own culture and how continuous migration and colonialism [and its repercussions] has helped shape it. With food as my avenue of exploration, I can say with great conviction that my journey will not only be academically, professionally or culturally fulfilling but tasty as well.


Below are a couple of places we stayed at as well as some additional contact information of the people/organizations we met during this tour:

IMG_2913Toucan Ridge Ecology & Education Society (T.R.E.E.S.): Initially only seeing the abbreviation on my itinerary had me thinking that of course our first night will be spent in a tree house or you know, suspended from some trees with a sleeping bag. You could imagine my disappointment when I saw that there were beds, complimentary towels and (brace yourself) a powerful electric fan to combat the heat! Coming out of that long Canadian winter season the hot climate of Belize definitely brought the heat as soon as we landed. So seeing that fan was a gift.

Now let me talk about the food. This was our first meal at Belize and boy was it a good way to start. The banana bread pudding for dessert was simply immaculate. Creamy banana pudding and its crunchy, chewy crust, I’m salivating just thinking of it!

You may also contact Vanessa Kilburn at


IMG_3080Our next destination was at Hopkins Village on the coast of Stann Creek District. We stayed at the All Seasons Guesthouse, walking distance from the beach and a few restaurants in the area. The first time we were here I stayed at one of their cabanas equipped with a small kitchen, 2 bedrooms with queen size beds in each room and a shared 3-piece bathroom. If you want this space can easily fit at least 4 people comfortably and up to 6 using 2 foldable beds. Having its own kitchen, it came with a stove, refrigerator (with 3 complimentary bottled drinks), cutlery, dishes, glasses, towels, dishwasher soap and a flashlight. Which means, again, if you want to you can probably cook your own meals while staying at one of these cabanas. The rates per night at one of these cabanas or suites are definitely affordable. In comparison to other guesthouses and the amenities that they come with their prices are a lot more reasonable than most in the area. They also offer air conditioning in some suites, clotheslines and an outside seating area for each of the cabanas. Click the link below for more information or contact Reva Dark to get a more accurate estimate/prices when planning your stay.

Now, here’s the bad news, due to unfortunate circumstances the original owner of this guesthouse passed, which means that this property has been and still is in the market (real estate market). While business is steady, the previous owner’s good friend/real estate agent is managing this guesthouse. I can only hope that whomever ends up buying this property keeps it the way it is. While not having met the previous owner, the spaces she created exuded her warmth and charm. There was a sense of humble comfort staying at this guesthouse. It almost felt like my second home.

Here’s the contact for All Seasons Guesthouse:

Reva Dark, Stann Creek Realty:


All of our experiences would not be possible without the university and their global partnership with I.S.I.S. Belize.

IMG_3012I refrained from explaining the organization primarily because I don’t necessarily have all of the information about the organization but only my experience as a participant/intern. Our 8 days at Belize was jam packed with different activities from hiking through the rainforest to reach a cave, meeting a few Maya Alcaldes, engaging with a Garifuna elder at their temple to learning how to make chocolate. Participating at these activities was integral to learning about the indigenous culture at Belize. Yes, we all had very long days and we may have been half awake in some of them but it doesn’t take away from the culminating message that this trip has given. Each of us may have taken away something different from our week-long journey yet I think it’s safe to say that this experience taught all of us that the learning experience extends from classroom-country-borders. Check out I.S.I.S. Belize, where education is an adventure.


Here are additional contacts:

Filiberto Pendaos, Ph.D, Engaged Scholarship and Service Learning Director:

Gliss Penados:

Cristina Coc, Program Coordinator-Toledo:

Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, Maya Leaders Alliance: or

Ted McKoy, Nituwana Foundation:

Coming Soon!

I will try to come back for the ‘Swinging Armadillo Bar and Grill’ Grand Opening at Hopkins Village, Belize later in the year or next year!


More links on Belize: