That’s So High School

“And when we’re 27 or 87, I want us to be able to look back on the next couple of months and talk about how it was the best time of our lives.” — Quinn Fabray, on senior year

Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron from Glee)

High school is fun! (?)

Some people wax poetic about how wonderful high school was and how it was the best time of their lives. I say, “WHAAAAAAAAT?”

Truth be told I didn’t have an idyllic school life as far as socials are concerned. Sure I was an A student, but I also wore glasses, grew into my boobs earlier than everyone else (so therefore looked fat), and felt very much like an outsider. It didn’t help that it was a small school (around 30 students in the entire high school section from first to fourth year), so I couldn’t just go sit with the geeks and nerds at another table.

Kids can be cruel. I don’t know what it is but there is this human impulse to exclude others, even for very shallow reasons. (I was excluded from a barkada just because my initial didn’t fit their acronym. WTH.)

Mean Girls Burn Book

Thank God we didn't have a Burn Book.

The best part of my high school life is that it ended, and we all grew out of our awkwardness and pettiness. I’m actually great friends with people from high school now. But that’s because we’re different people now from who we were back then.

However, I’ve encountered people who live as if they’re still stuck in high school, forming cliques and gossiping about those who aren’t part of their in-crowd. It’s tough having gone through that once and to have to deal with it again since it brings back unpleasant memories and feelings of inadequacy.

And then I snap out of it because I realize I’m no longer in high school and I don’t have to stick around and deal with that sort of thing.

I’m going off to hang out with the geeks and nerds now.

Youthful Folly

I’ve never kept a proper diary. When I started blogging in 2000, I poured out to the Internet those thoughts that had previously only been revealed through pen and paper.

Although I’ve long since lost access to the websites that used to host my blogs, today I decided to see how much I could find through the Internet Wayback Machine and the granddaddy of blog hosts, Pitas.com.

Oh, how much I found. And since I love causing myself grief, I read through every single entry of both my anime blog (which was the first one I created) and my everything-else blog. Feel free to point and laugh at my youthful folly. At least it was youthful. 😉

Milton says "Ha ha"!

Milton is laughing at me.

That was a tumultuous time in both my personal life and the country’s history. I was finding my own identity, trying to negotiate between the silly anime fan that I was, and the serious-minded scholar I needed to be in order to graduate. (Also, I was 16.) I was studying in the University of the Philippines as a Political Science student at the time Erap Estrada was about to be forced out of office. Blogging and use of the Internet was at a crossroads between mere interpersonal communication and being able to harness citizen awareness and action.

Reading through these blog entries of the past gave me a headache, but it also brought back memories of the choices I took that brought me here and make me who I am. Wow. Twelve years blogging.

I hope my blog entries make infinitely more sense these days.

Trippin’: Bohol Beach Break

Last December, not even four days had passed since I returned from my trip to Malaysia when I hopped aboard a plane again. This time, I was bound for Bohol to attend a high school friend’s wedding with Julia.

Trippin' to Bohol: Flying

I love flying!

This trip was planned way in advance so I had no idea both trips would be that close together. As a result, I was still tired from Malaysia. Got to tell you, though, Bohol was the vacation I needed.

Trippin' to Bohol: Bohol Beach Club Trippin' to Bohol: sunbathing

kicking back at Bohol Beach Club

Thanks to a family friend of Julia’s, we were booked at the Bohol Beach Club on Panglao Island. After my frequent visits to that other island whose name also starts with “B”, Bohol Beach Club’s long stretch of white sand beach without the annoying hawkers trying to get you to go parasailing was very welcome. The water was also unbelievably clear and calm; it was a shame I forgot my goggles because I would have loved to swim a few hundred meters back and forth along the beach. I think I’ve found my new favorite place.

Trippin' to Bohol: swimming Trippin' to Bohol: starfish Trippin' to Bohol: Bohol Beach Club Trippin' to Bohol: Bohol Beach Club
Trippin' to Bohol: zzzzzz

Bohol beach break

Julia and I spent a day and a half just snoozing on the beach and getting sun-kissed skin. (We also tested Benefit Bathina Body Balm for some additional glow.)

After getting that much-needed rest, I was ready for our friend’s wedding. It would be held at a much smaller resort about fifteen minutes away from the BBC, but that didn’t make it any less dramatic. In fact, it was the intimacy of the whole wedding party that struck me the most. Only those people who were important to her and those people who wanted to be there were present.

Trippin' to Bohol: flowers
Trippin' to Bohol: the wedding party Trippin' to Bohol: Here Comes the Bride
Trippin' to Bohol: the beautiful bride Trippin' to Bohol: the happy couple

Julia called this THE ISLAND WEDDING

Our friend had married into an Italian family, and the groom’s parents and family were barely conversant in English. Still, love and joy overflowed, needing no words to be felt.

Julia and I flew back to Manila the next day, which was Christmas Eve. It was just too little time to enjoy Bohol. In fact, the only creature I saw resembling a tarsier was myself after catching the bouquet.

Trippin' to Bohol: I caught the bouquet

MWAHAHAHAHA!

#itsmorefuninthephilippines

Given my newly reawakened desire to travel, I was really pleased to wake up to my Twitter timeline last Thursday morning and see so much buzz about a Department of Tourism slogan to be revealed later that day. And BOOM! #ItsMoreFunInThePhilippines went viral.

Getting Upstairs. More fun in the Philippines

Getting Upstairs. More fun in the Philippines (via itsmorefuninthephilippines.com)

Seriously, my timeline was flooded with tweets about the fun things to do in this country. The hashtag campaign was nice since it got Filipinos thinking about the things they could be proud of and that they enjoy doing here. The #itsmorefun hashtag trended worldwide, which is a good thing for drawing attention.

Along with encouraging people to tweet using the hashtag, the DOT launched a teaser website, itsmorefuninthephilippines.com aimed at snagging those people who would google for what the hashtag meant. The website’s copy states:

Wherever you go in the Philippines, it’s the Filipinos that will make your holiday unforgettable. Just ask anyone who’s been here. In fact, Lonely Planet guidebook calls us ‘among the most easygoing and ebullient people anywhere’. Find out for yourself why it’s more fun in the Philippines. And make the most out of your next vacation. This is just a preview of things to come. Watch out for more fun. Soon.[emphasis mine]

What a great start, right? Well, not really. Among the flood of positive tweets about why it’s more fun in the Philippines, there were some pretty ugly reminders of the things we really do need to fix in this country. These tweets focused on traffic jams, pollution, corruption, hostage crises, etc. There were critics of the campaign who said it was a waste of money when there was a Swiss ad that used the slogan in 1951. (Can anyone who can remember that Swiss ad when it first came out even travel now?) That the bad things in this country should be fixed first before we start marketing tourism to international visitors. Someone even registered a website that collects less than glamorous photo memes about the slogan. (I’m not linking it so it won’t get any Google juice.)

To that, I could only say: ayaw niyo talaga magkaroon tayo ng mga turista, ano? I’m pretty sure other countries aren’t pristine and peaceful either, yet they still persist in trying to draw in the tourists. That’s because tourism benefits the economy and also jumpstarts other infrastructure-building. And the “one problem at a time” people probably can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Pwede naman ipagsabay, hindi ba?

Former Tourism undersecretary Enteng Romano in a riposte about the bashing gave some great insider information about the nature of marketing to foreign tourists:

[Regarding the former slogan “WOW Philippines”:] …we don’t use it in Japan – our third largest market, because they don’t understand the word WOW and there is no direct equivalent of the word in their language. They don’t know that even in the US – our number one market (and where they fully understand the word WOW but maybe not appreciate it as we do), we dropped it and used another slogan because there was no traction. And they don’t know that in the last few years that we have been using the brand, we have steadily lost market share to the point where Vietnam has overtaken us in terms of tourist arrivals.

Of course you can argue that there are many other reasons for our declining market position – lack of infrastructure, traffic, lousy airport, lack of promotional budget., etc… But it might interest you to know that at the time when Vietnam overtook us, they had far worse infrastructure than ours (small airport, limited road network), and operating on a smaller promotional budget than ours. [emphasis mine]

Eyes are on us, Filipinos. DOT Secretary Mon Jimenez tweeted, “Tourism is successful in Thailand because their positive voice is louder than their negative voice.” What do you really want to show the world?

Change ofaddress. More fun in the Philippines

Change of address. More fun in the Philippines (via Olive del Valle)

Personally I’m excited about the buzz, and I’m hoping that any concrete plans to be implemented to make the Philippines more tourist-friendly will live up to expectations or exceed them. According to Sec. Jimenez (in a direct message to me), this is just the opening salvo.

If you’d like to create your own More Fun meme images, check out Jayvee’s tutorial and SEO tips. Or use Federico Colla’s More Fun Maker. Browse other people’s #itsmorefuninthephilippines meme images sourced from Twitter through itsmorefuninthephilippinespics.com created by Arnold Gamboa.

The Yogini

In 2008, I had the pleasure of meeting a yoga teacher named Sherie Dyer. She had packed up her life and moved to the Philippines to help start a Bikram yoga studio, and at the time I interviewed her for the following article (that never made it to print) she believed she had settled in the Philippines for good.

Sadly it was not to be; she’d spent years traveling as a yoga teacher and student previously and I guess she just got itchy feet! Last I heard of her (she deleted her Facebook account), she was teaching Bikram yoga at a Pittsburgh studio, although she’s no longer on the website’s teacher list.

I recently remembered this article existed, and I’d like to share it with you.

(The following was written September 14, 2008.)

Sherie Dyer, photographed by Daniel Tan

Sherie Dyer, photographed by Daniel Tan

Yoga teacher Sherie Dyer fearlessly lives and breathes her chosen vocation in this country she’s adopted as her own.

It’s 5:25pm, shortly before the start of a yoga class at the Sundar Bikram Yoga studio in Greenhills. Students old and new talk in muted tones as they set up their mats and towels inside the heated room. They pause in anticipation of the teacher’s arrival. They know she’s coming by the sound of her voice steadily getting louder as she approaches the doorway.

In strides the teacher, and for a moment it seems she’s in the wrong place, like she would fit in better at a rock concert. Full-sleeve tattoos, a multitude of piercings, and a personality that’s bigger than her five-foot nine-point-five-inch body make her the antithesis of a stereotypical yoga teacher. But a yoga teacher is exactly who Sherie Dyer is.

“The stereotype is a small man in white loose pants and a beaded shirt,” she shares. “I bust that stereotype every day just being who I am.”

She’s a vegetarian, but takes time to cook delicious meat dishes for friends. She listens to loud rock music (her Myspace page lists musicians from the punk rock White Stripes to alternative rock superstars Radiohead), but quiets her mind with a steady diet of yoga. Who Sherie is can be a fascinating mix between what we often think are polar opposites.

Getting past the initial shock of how Sherie looks, one can see her deep understanding of how to coach her students through the 26 postures and two breathing exercises done in a heated room that make up Bikram’s beginner yoga class. Today, she takes time to explain how to constrict a muscle in the back of the throat so one can take deeper breaths. In the middle of class she stops to demonstrate the stages between Tree Pose to Toe Stand.

However she never allows the students to take it too seriously. She defuses tension and wakes up a sleepy class by poking good-natured fun at the students. One student has gained the moniker “Rainbow Butt” because she wears a rainbow-colored bikini bottom to class.  Today, a group of ladies Sherie has nicknamed the “Spunky Chipmunks” are raring to get into and out of each posture quickly.  “Don’t look so sad,” she tells today’s class as they come out of a difficult posture. “I know why you’re here so early. You’ve got plans tonight.”

Sherie has the confidence of someone completely at home in her element.  Not bad for an American who came to the Philippines little more than a year ago not knowing what to expect.

It didn’t take much persuasion from studio director Al Galang to get Sherie to become the head teacher of the Bikram Yoga Greenhills studio, which opened in November 2007. They had met and bonded during the nine-week teacher training in 2006 in Los Angeles, California, and had kept in touch afterwards over Myspace, a social networking website.

Sherie calls him her best friend, and recounts, “He emailed me and said, ‘I’m not running a business. I want to create something special here and you’re my first choice, please come out here and do this with me.’ I said, ‘Of course. Philippines – where is that?’”

Despite not knowing anything about the Philippines except that it was where Al came from, she got on a plane and never looked back. She now oversees Al and two other teachers at the studio, Thai import Betty Khumtong and homegrown talent Ginger Diaz.

“I had a reputation for being the renegade teacher, brought in to shake things up a bit, maybe scare people into shape,” Sherie says of her previous teaching experience, and she hasn’t eased up since she’s been here. She has regular meetings with the teachers to assess how they can all improve, and she practices three to four hours daily with them. “How can you teach if you don’t practice?” she explains.

Al is a firm believer in Sherie’s ability as head teacher. “When it comes to understanding the body, how to guide so many lost bodies at the same time, I couldn’t find a better teacher to teach students and teachers.” He affirms, “She has the best understanding of yoga among us.”

That comes from Sherie’s 16 years of yoga practice, a year spent in Bangalore, India studying raja, hatha, and bhakti yoga, and yearly intensive training with international yoga competition champions where she hones her form and technical mastery of postures. She says, “I started yoga when I was 14 [years old] to get out of a knee surgery.” The more she practiced, the more she wanted to know. “I’ve tried other forms of yoga. I like the discipline [of Bikram yoga]. And the postures are always the same, it’s how your body feels in them that changes. You keep learning about yourself.”

Sherie is not just a devoted student of yoga, but also a skilled teacher, using six years of medical school and her knowledge of body mapping (a way of looking at people’s bodies, which she learned in India) to help her perceive more about her students. “You’re telling a story about yourself,” she says to them. For example: “If a girl’s shoulders are hunched forward and she has big breasts, you know she has insecurities about her appearance.” How her students react to the challenges of the postures tells her when she can push them harder, and when to back off.

“You never know,” Sherie explains about trying to see deeper into a student’s mind. “What if that person’s grandmother just died?” Though she can be outspoken and “VERY honest” (her own emphasis), Sherie is always understanding of where people are in their lives.

Her students appreciate the way she teaches. Elizabeth Lacson, a regular student at the studio who practices alongside her husband Ricky, says, “Sherie is a gem, an endless source of inspiration.”

Ricky adds, “Sherie comes across to some as the ‘Hitler of the Hot Room,’ but that’s only because she sincerely wants to help each one of us become better at our practice. Her genuine concern stems from her passion for yoga, and her desire to share it with others.”

Yoga definitely is Sherie’s passion. Sherie says, “What yoga means to me is to be present — at all times at this point I focus on being present. This may be the breath, the posture, the person in front of me, perhaps their life and their pain. Only once we are truly present are we open to things like love, growth, relief, healing, change — and all the truth you can handle.”

After one year of teaching and practicing in the Philippines, Sherie is looking forward to helping the local yoga scene grow. Establishing a national yoga competition here is one of her goals, so the Philippines can participate in the Bishnu Ghosh Cup – the “Olympics of yoga.”  Barring that, she offers to compete for the country. “I’ll go compete somewhere, Bangkok maybe, just to make sure the Philippines is represented.”

Sherie and Al have also signed with Adidas as sports ambassadors, doing yoga demonstrations for the sportswear giant.  “They want to show off their clothes and promote yoga for athletes,” Sherie says. “We show what you can do with yoga. People see the poses, go home and try them.” She adds, tongue-in-cheek,”They fall out of the poses. Then they come take class with us.”

With a teacher like Sherie, that class will always be delivered with wisdom, self-awareness, and lots of humor.