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October 11, 2010 / iselgarcia

To Germany, With Love

It was around ten o’clock in the evening when my cellphone rang. A female voice broke through the choppy connection.

“Hey, it’s M.” It was my cousin. Who, as far as I knew, was in Frankfurt. “I was wondering if I could interest you in a project that will help cure your blues.”

The Project: Compile pictures of the Philippines, showcasing the sights, culture and people.

What for: An exhibit for the Philippine Embassy in Frankfurt, Germany

Contender: Me

Knowing that I’ve been plagued with a bad case of ennui and the occasional I-can’t-get-out-of-bed-I-need-a-new-city-I’m-dying-of-quarter-life-crisis moment, my cousin M thought the project would help lift my spirits and give me a better appreciation of here and now.

So, here are some of the pictures I put together to illustrate “My Philippine Islands” – the land which I have a rather dysfunctional, love-hate relationship with. Pilipinas, though I criticize you a lot, I will die defending you to those who think you’re no good. And though I always think of leaving you, no matter what “fairer lands lie beneath alien stars”, as Anne of Green Gables would say, you will always be Home to me.  

September 17, 2010 / iselgarcia

Where the Sun Salutes the Earth

“Oomm. Oommm.”

The chant reverberated in my ears as I focused on my inhales and exhales. I could hear the birds chirp. The water cascading from the fountain sounded strangely near.

If I had any misgivings about waking up early on a holiday morning, they were out of my head by the time I opened my eyes and bid the yoga instructor “Namaste.” I very seldom experience moments that I can really call peaceful— and this happened to be one of them. The sight of rolling, green gardens; serene ponds; graceful waterfalls and the crisp, white-yellow glow of early sunlight; made the Downward Facing Dogs and Cobra positions at 7am well worth it.

My trip to The Farm at San Benito was completely spur of the moment. My sister and I had originally planned on going to HongKong for the National Hero’s Day long weekend but the tragic events involving the Philippines and HongKong made us cancel our trip.

Located in Lipa, Batangas, The Farm at San Benito is obscurely hidden atop a hill. I felt a rush of excitement as we drove up the winding, tree-lined road leading to the main entrance. When we finally got off at the reception area, I knew: we had arrived in Spa Heaven.

The room/hut that we booked, called Sulu Terrace, was a sight for tired eyes. Designed like a traditional Ifugao hut, it had rustic charm combined with modern comforts: air conditioning, plush beds, a full bath with a rain shower head.    

Resisting the urge to drop into bed and sleep the stress of work away, we looked through the day’s activity pamphlet (which had events ranging from trampoline-jumping to cooking vegan dishes) and chose the one we arrived just in time for: afternoon meditation.

There are several things you can do in San Benito. Besides the daily activities they offer, the farm has three/four swimming pools, a Spa and a vegan restaurant. Not in the mood for swimming, though, my sister and I booked ourselves for after-dinner massages in the Spa. Though the Spa prices were rather steep, it was quite worth it. I don’t think I’ve had a better massage in my life. Plus, the Spa itself was beautiful.

After our massages, the night was still a bit too young for us to head off to bed. So, we got a couple of books and decided to while away the time by drinking wine and reading in the Alive! restaurant. What about the food? Though I’m too much of a foodie to ever consider turning vegan, the fare was refreshing, flavorful and satisfying— at least for a weekend.  

Overall, my experience in San Benito was positive. Although it was a little too quiet for my taste (Think crickets. I had to restrain myself from screaming at the top of my lungs at one point), it was a restful and welcome change from the fast-paced city life.

Would I go back? Honestly, I don’t see myself needing to go back for a little while yet. I’m at a time in my life when I like hustle and bustle, colors and noise. But if you feel exceptionally tired and deflated or you just need to de-stress and shut the world out for a little while, The Farm in San Benito is definitely a place I would recommend.

July 23, 2010 / iselgarcia

Expat Pinoy: Comforting Women

From Expat Travel and Lifestyle magazine, vol. 3 no. 3, August-October 2009 issue

TEXT:

EXPAT PINOY:

COMFORTING WOMEN

By Isel Kintanar Garcia

“I am sitting high up in the center balcony looking down at the black stage. A spotlight shoots out from above and strikes a woman like a gunshot. Her small brown body convulses.  The voice of an elderly Filipina woman echoes throughout the theater and the Pinay below, with her long hair caught in the wind of some kind of hurricane gale, moves to the cadence of this old lola’s voice.  She is walking and then running and the light chases her and the old woman’s voice races and falters and all the while the Pinay’s body reacts to the voice, to that music, a narrative spoken in Tagalog to a winter audience in Minneapolis, Minnesota…”

“…[I]t’s a little unclear to me why I am so moved by the voice… I am in tears.  I am in shock. I have somehow left that theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the dead of that night and I have traveled to someplace I have never been…This is how I begin my search.  This is how I discover my Lolas.”

1997 in Minneapolis, Minnesota; dead of winter. A young woman sits in a dark theater, tears rolling down her cheeks. At this point in time, American-born Filipino, M. Evelina Galang can hardly explain why she is so moved by what was taking place on the stage. But this is where her extraordinary journey begins. A journey that would take her back and forth between two continents, a journey that would send her to comfort the “comfort women” of her native land, the Philippines. In a series of emails, Evelina, who has been named one of the most influential Filipino women in the U.S., opens up to Expat about the cause that has changed her life as well as the lives of countless women and men across the globe.

Tell us how it all began. What made you take an active role in the fight for justice for Filipina “comfort women”?

I have been drawn to the plight of the “comfort women” since I first learned about them [through the play, The Bamboo  Women] in 1997.  That night, Lola Amonita, a surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII washed her testimony on the walls of the auditorium… [She was] taken by the Japanese Imperial Army, thrown into rape camp and made to serve the multitude of soldiers.

Though it was [an actress] Pearl Ubungen and her company… on the stage, it was Lola Amonita calling me.  Though my understanding of the [Filipino] language was weak, I understood with my heart. I was compelled to listen to their stories

How could I not [take an active role]?   I once heard Korean filmmaker and activist say, “Once you hear their stories, they sink into your bones and you cannot sit still.” [In 1998], I took my Fil-Am students to Quezon City to work with LILA Pilipina to research a screenplay (now my novel, Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery). When I was leaving, the women surrounded me to say good-bye, holding on and kissing me and looking up to me. Something inside me lit up.  I told them, “The next time I come back, I’ll write your stories.”

That’s what my Fulbright Senior Scholar Research was about – [I went] back in 2001 to be in the homes of 15 women, to accompany them to their provinces, to the sites where their nipa huts stood during WWII, to the sites of abduction – churches, schools, rice fields, city halls.  I even traveled to Abra, San Juanwhere almost all the families’ young women were kidnapped and held in these military sex slave camps.  I met a 105 year old survivor.  Since then, I’ve gotten grants and funding from the Universityof Miamito complete my research and to write the book of their stories, LOLAS’ HOUSE: Women Living with War.

I [have come] to know the lolas as individuals and they adopted me as their own granddaughter – I’ve grown to love them.  And now I am committed to supporting their need to record their stories, their histories and to fight for their justice.  Their justice is my justice.

So, you were a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in the Philippines back in 2001. Tell us more about that experience.

 

During my Fulbright, I spent weeks being with each of the 13 survivors I had interviewed in 1998 (two had passed away by then).  I went through their days with them, I took trips with them to their home provinces and I visited the sites of abduction and the garrisons where they were held.  Each time a woman told me her story, she relived it.  Each time she came to the part of the story where they scarred her body, she would take my hands to witness the wounds on her body – bumps and scar tissue and deformed limbs. I brought back over thirty hours of interview tapes and I have interviewed most of the women at least twice, if not more than that. I also gathered whatever written testimonies were available – testimonies they had given the Japanese courts and testimonies they had given newspapers and the organizers at LILA Pilipina and I used all those different versions of their testimonies to weigh them against each other for accuracy and for dates and times and places.

You created Laban! Fight for Comfort Women. Tell us about this organization.

On March 1, 2007, then Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe made a statement to the world.  He said there was not enough evidence to prove that the 200,000 “comfort women” of WWII were coerced in their military sex slave camps.  When I read this, I needed to respond because I had met the evidence.  I had been to their homes and to the sites where they had been abducted, I had walked through the spaces that we call school, church, home, but during WWII were the garrisons and “comfort stations” where young girls and women were held.  I was frustrated because I had called and written to reporters from major news papers and radio stations and government officials in the U.S.and Japanand I was not being heard… There IS evidence.  I have kissed the evidence, made mano to the evidence.  I have sat at the kitchen table with the evidence.  They were coerced and their lives have never been the same.  I needed to tell someone.  So, I took a lesson from my own students, started a blog and began my own personal campaign to enlighten Abe and the world.  In doing so, I connected with other activists who were also enraged by Abe’s statement and I began to network and work with other organizations like HR 121 and a few Korean American activists here in the States.  On my blog, LABAN!  Fight for Comfort Women, I began to share not only the women’s stories, but I began to lobby for House Resolution 121, a non-binding resolution from the Congress of the United States of America asking Japan to take full responsibility for these I crimes against humanity and to offer the survivors a formal apology.  I also began an online petition that was addressed to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  It was intended to persuade Congress to pass the resolution, but soon private citizens fromJapan were writing me and asking if they could also sign the petition.  I said, why not?  And we opened up the lines and had over two thousand international signatures.  I am pleased and proud to say that in July of 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed HR 121 with a unanimous voice vote.  And that resolution inspired many other governments to create similar resolutions. Japan has stayed silent.

What other groups are you affiliated with?

I have started an informal chapter of Friends of Lolas, an extension of LILA Pilipina, in the U.S.  and mostly my students at the University of Miami have begun to support the lolas by educating others of the women’s experiences during WWII through workshops and public readings and by raising whatever funding we can raise to support the sustenance of Lolas’ Center (formerly Lolas’ House) and their campaign for justice,  In addition to their outreach, they connect with the women in letters, photos and cards – so they know we care about them and we are actively fighting for justice through the dissemination of their experiences and histories.

Share with us the most memorable experience you’ve had with the lolas.

I have so many, it’s hard to choose.  What I want to say about the lolas is that despite their tragic experiences, despite the fact that many were never able to finish their education, or go back to their families, or establish themselves in the world because of the war, they are not victims.  They are not even survivors anymore.  I think they are superheroes.  I have watched them in my one dozen years with them transform themselves from being victims to survivors, to wise women and counselors and now superheroes.  Many of the students that go to Lolas’ Center and volunteer to fight for justice confide in the lolas – they too are victims of abuse – and now, after all this time, the lolas are giving them love and support and examples of how to stand up for yourself, how to push away those feelings of guilt or shame, how to understand what has happened to you is not your fault.  It is amazing, this gift they are giving the world. How to stand up for yourself.  [It’s] Beautiful.

Last summer, I made adobo, rice and pancit for the lolas and invited a few Filipino American college students who were doing a summer seminar in Quezon City to join us at Lolas’ Center.  While I was getting the food on the table, the group of thirty or so people entertained each other, singing songs to one another through a microphone.  They took turns sharing – first a lola then a student.  At one point, they asked me to sing and I looked up from the table and grabbed the mic and without thinking I began to sing “You Are My Sunshine” our family song – we sing it to the kids and my dad sings it to my mom and you know, our family song.  Well, there I was singing acapella and they were clapping along and before I knew it, the lolas had grabbed the students by the hands and they were up and dancing to my little version of “You Are My Sunshine,” twirling around the room arm in arm, smiling at one another, stomping their feet.  I must have sung three rounds of that song.

What ongoing events or activities does your organization have? Any future plans?

As our semester at the Universityof Miamibegins this September 2009, I’m hoping to invite more student organizations to work with Friends of Lolas as we create forums and testimonial readings and raise funding for the lolas.  Perhaps we can create a template of activities for other universities so they may begin their own chapters of Friends of Lolas.  They are dying fast and the time is now.

There are a lot of people who would like to see the “comfort women” get the justice they deserve. How can an ordinary person help?  

 

Anyone can be a Friend of the Lolas.  I’d write to Rechilda Extremadura, the executive coordinator of LILA Pilipina and Friends of Lolas and the most devoted and fair advocate for the women and ask her what their needs are – the need is there and it changes depending on the lolas and she can tell you what they need.  You can write letters to the lolas or to government officials or sign petitions, or financially support the women; you can help educate others and can personally connect with the women and their families.

It is [our] duty to share their experiences so we might learn from them, so nations can come to understand the sacrifice women and children have made during wartime. More than anything else, the lolas do not want these experiences to repeat themselves.  By telling their stories, by being aware, we are hoping to stop the violence and sexual abuse to women and children during times of war.

Blurb: About LILA Pilipina

Liga ng mga Lolang Pilipina was born of the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council (AWHRC) of 1992 and is an arm of Gabriela.  It was originally called the Task Force on Filipino Comfort Women and was supported by women’s groups like Gabriela and Bayan Women’s Desk.  In 1994 they transformed themselves into LILA Pilipina and had over 100 active surviving “comfort women.”  They are among the first survivors to charge the Japanese government and fight for justice on their own behalf.   Since then, there have been many rallies, many letters toJapan, many statements and testimonies made in the Japanese courts, many appeals.  There have been international resolutions coming from theU.S.,Europeand other nations, and not a single formal apology from the Japanese government.  Since then, many of the 173 survivors have passed away.

For more information or to join Friends of the LOLAS contact LILA Pilipina Executive, Director Rechilda Extremadura (kuyangateng@yahoo.com) or U.S. Friends of LOLAS coordinator M. Evelina Galang (labanmgalola@yahoo.com).

SEND DONATIONS FOR LOLAS’ CENTER or WRITE THE LOLAS:

Make checks out to LILA PILIPINA LOLAS CENTER 120 Narra Street, Brgy. Amihan Quezon City, MetroManila,Philippines. Tel: 4354623/ 09155379579

Check out Evelina’s blog at: www.labanforthelolas.blogspot.com

July 22, 2010 / iselgarcia

For the Love of the Game

* As published in Expat Travel and Lifestyle magazine’s Feb-April 2010 issue.

For the PDF version: Rugby[1]

TEXT:

Nothing quite matches the adrenaline rush of playing a good game. Hours of training, physical exhaustion and the occasional injury are nothing, compared to the exhilaration you feel once you hit the sports field. After all, when it all comes down to sports, passion is the name of the game. Everybody knows you gotta love a sport, in order to play it at your best.

And nothing fuels passion more than team spirit: the genuine camaraderie, the mutual love for a sport and the rush of friendly competition that belonging in a team gives.  

Passion and team spirit are precisely what the Manila Nomads Rugby team is all about.

 In fact, with members from all over the world (four chaps I met were from the UK, New Zealand and Fiji, respectively), these two things are exactly what bond them together.

“Someone came up to me at a party one time and asked me ‘Do you play rugby?’”, shares Alex Patrick, a marine biologist from Fiji, “I’ve been playing (for Nomads) ever since.”

“I think one of the first things an expatriate in a new country looks for is a bunch of friends to hang out with,” adds Sam Fogg, from Britain. Their teammates, Theo Ashton and Danny Williams agree.

“And it’s great that we all love rugby.”

—————————————

Started in 1914, Nomads was originally the first sports club created for expatriates in the Philippines. Not a century later, it now offers classes like tennis, swimming, squash, cricket, football, touch rugby (for women) and contact rugby (for men) for expatriates and locals alike at their clubhouse in Merville, Paranaque. 

Rugby, which was introduced by the Nomads to the Philippines in the 1960’s, only became regular in the late 70’s. Now, it has an accredited and fully-funded organization, the Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU).

“You don’t expect to find rugby here in the Philippines,” says Sam Chittick, former rugby captain from 2008-2009. “It’s a pleasant surprise.”

But this doesn’t mean that Philippine rugby is backward compared to other countries where the sport has been played for centuries, the former captain is quick to add. In fact, he has pretty high hopes for rugby in the Philippines. “The Philippine National Team (of which some members play for Manila Nomads) is second tier now. In five years, they could be top tier.”

And it’s not hard to see why. As I watched the Manila Nomads group together on the field in the gathering twilight, participating in drills and training that could easily daunt even the fittest of fitness buffs, I could only conjecture that only a pure love for the game could keep them out on the playing field.

———————————–

That and, perhaps, a growing anticipation for the upcoming Cape Manila 10s, the annual competition hosted by the Nomads and tagged by ESPN Stars Sports as “the best social rugby tournament in Asia.” The competition, of which part of the proceeds go to the PRFU, pits the Manila Nomads against 32 international and local rugby teams over the course of a weekend.

“The Cape Manila 10’s leads up to the HK7’s (the biggest international tournament),” shares Bill Bailey, Manila 10’s chairman since 2007, “It’s the biggest social rugby event of the year. Teams from Fiji (Black Watch), Hong Kong (Pot Belly Pigs), Seoul (Seoul Survivors), Japan (Tokyo Gai Jin) and many others compete with the local teams. (The tournament) is fast-paced and exciting.”

It is also interesting to note that, apart from the usual roster of local teams joining the competition (Alabang Eagles, Cebu Dragons, Manila Japons, etc.), a team from the Philippine Maritime Academy is also set to compete.

Bailey points out that one of the goals of the Nomads is to promote rugby in the Philippines by integrating it into school curriculums and forming local teams.

“The Philippine Maritime Academy thought rugby would be perfect training for their military men.” Says Bailey, “and indeed it is. Rugby is all about skill, speed, strength and, most importantly, team effort. You can’t win at this game without team effort.”

So, what can we expect for 21st. Cape Manila 10’s this March?

“You don’t have to be a rugby fan to enjoy this tournament. It’s a total, family-friendly, weekend experience. There’s something for everyone and it’s a lot of fun.”

Do the Manila Nomads have a big shot at winning?

The newly-installed team captain, Aaron Briddon is quick to answer. “As long as we’ve got the support, we can win.”

The Cape Manila 10’s will be held at the Nomads Clubhouse on March 20-21, 2010. The event’s curtain raiser  and auctions (proceeds go to the PRFU) will be on March 19,2010, Friday lunchtime at the Marriott Hotel. Former ESPN Presenter, Justin Sampson will be officiating the event. Former international rugby player, Joe Roff, will be a guest of honor.

July 22, 2010 / iselgarcia

Expat Kids: Eirene and Laura Schneider

Expat Kids: Eirine and Laura Schneider

*as published in Expat Travel and Living Magazine, vol. 3 no. 3, August-October 2009 issue

 

For the PDF version:

expat_kids[1]

Text:

Making Waves

“ASK me what my favorite color is,” she tells me, eyes all a-glow.

“Okay,” I laugh, “What is it?”

She sticks out her foot to display shiny, painted nails.

“Midnight blue!”

Hanging out with the Schneider girls, Eirine and Laura was like hanging out with your favorite gal pals back in elementary school. They were bright and friendly, chatting 100mph about everything under the sun (Laura’s pet goldfish that died, school dances, friends, favorite subjects – Swimming and Math for Eirine, Art and P.E. for Laura – and many other things). But the Schneider girls are anything but ordinary.

Born to Sofitel’s GM Bernd Schneider and his wife, Pippin; all three of the half-German, half-Singaporean Schneider children were born in different countries. Eirine, 11, was born in Singapore; Laura, 9, in China and Benedict, 3, in Manila where they are residing now.

But being exposed to so many different cultures seems to have only positive effects on the kids, who are perceptibly very eager to learn.

“I miss school a lot,” Eirine shares, talking about the British School Manila (BSM), where both girls currently study.

She’s gonna be in highschool soon,” Laura points to her sister proudly. “I’m gonna be in year 5.” Laura then shows me a bag she got from Penang, Malaysia, where she attended an athletics event with her schoolmates. “I got to play football and I swam,” she tells me animatedly, her light brown eyes sparkling. Her mum tells me later that Laura won 11 medals in that event.

Though the girls are “excited for Monday” when school starts, they have also been keeping themselves pretty busy during the summer. Besides swimming and tennis at the Manila Polo twice a week, they also have weekly German and Chinese classes. But all this is just a piece of cake for these spirited girls, who are able to swim more laps in a full-length pool than I can ever dream of swimming. In fact, they seem didn’t seem a bit tired at all, when our afternoon together came to a close (they played tennis and then swam continuously for an hour and a half).

“I’m gonna break a world record!” Eirine tells me when I asked her what she wants to do when she grows up.

From the pool, Laura calls out to me as she plays around and says, “Look, I’m going to make waves!”

I smile. I have no doubt that the Schneider girls will.

July 21, 2010 / iselgarcia

Expat Style: Joie de Vivre!

TEXT:

Joie de Vivre! Living the Exu(belt)rant Life with Cintura

By Isel Kintanar Garcia

Vibrant. That is one word that completely describes Aira Franco. And if art is the ultimate expression of a person’s inner being, then Franco’s belt line Cintura has truly captured the contagious vitality of her personality. Scanning through the pictures she sent me of her most recent belt collection, I felt like I could skip around a field all day, wearing colorful scarves and gorgeous, unbelievably gorgeous belts.

 

In recent years, the fashion market has been bombarded with a lot of new brands and designs. What makes Cintura different from other belt brands? What is Cintura all about?

There are three things that make Cintura completely different from other brands: 1) the belts are locally made. I make sure that everyone knows that our belts are made in thePhilippines. It is my way of sharing the nationalistic spirit and in letting the world know that the Filipinos can actually make products that are beautiful and competitive to luxury brands; 2) all the designs are original. I make sure that none of the belt designs are a complete replica of other belts. The most I’d do is to get inspiration from certain belt designs; 3) all the belts are customized. Once an order has been made and the preferences of the customer have been confirmed, that’s the only time that we’d manufacture the belt. So, one can say that the Cintura belt is made just for her.

Before Cintura, you had no previous background in fashion design. What made you think of coming up with a belt business?

My background is actually in business economics, so that’s where a little of the “business” aspect came from. However, our family ever since has been in the belt industry. We have a 26- year old brand namedALEXANDRIA, which is available in all SM Department stores. After a couple of years of trying out different fields, God willed for me to begin helping out in the family business. Cintura came along because I was starting to get frustrated and lost in terms of designing belts for our SM brand. I guess, I also felt the need to have my “own” thing. Thus, I put up Cintura asAlexandria’s high fashion subsidiary. It was supposed to be just a side project but through God’s grace, the brand clicked and I’m now full time with this.

Describe to us your creative process. What inspires you?

 

My creative process is actually very simple. I just really make belts that I would be willing to wear. I usually just look at the current clothing trends and try to come up with belts that would match the trends. Sometimes, I go to my suppliers and check out the new materials & hardware. From there, I can come up with certain designs. But I always stick to my mantra: if I can’t wear it, then I won’t make it.

Your most memorable Cintura experience so far?

Oh gosh, so difficult to just pick one. Can I give 3? (Laughs)

1. When I was just about to launch Cintura’s site, I made a mental list of the top 5 celebrities I’d want to wear Cintura one day. After 2 years with the brand, all of those celebrities have purchased their Cintura belts. The last celebrity, and the most exciting by far, is Kris Aquino. Imagine the sheer bliss I felt when I received a message from her, ordering 40 pcs of assorted corset belts. I got more overwhelmed when I saw her wear them and people started asking if she’s wearing Cintura belts.

2. The Pinoy Chic: A Designer’s Fair [held at Mall of Asia last June] was one heck of an experience for me. It was my first time to join a bazaar because I’ve always been hesitant to join because I felt that selling “customized” belts was a difficult concept to market in a bazaar. Well, I was wrong. It was such a wonderful experience for me as I got to meet some online shoppers, random strangers who took on the customized belt concept, and all these other people who bought their Cintura belts. It made me realize that there is huge opportunity in bazaars and maybe, it’s time for me to put up a store for Cintura.

3. Getting to work with and for fashion designers such as Puey Quiñones & Rajo Laurel was probably the best experience ever. Getting contacted by them alone was almost surreal for me coz I’ve always wanted to work with them (they were my dream designers). It was very inspiring to work with them coz they do so well with what they do, and I am motivated to work better so I can keep them happy.

What are your goals for your business? Any future expansion plans?

Main goal for now is to be more aggressive in terms of branding and distribution. Cintura belts will be available by July in Archeology, Rockwell, and hopefully soon, I’ll be able to put a boutique where all the belts will be displayed and everyone can just visit and order from there.

I’m also working on completing the whole “accessory” line by coming up with a bag line and shoe brand. The shoe line, which will be called SINTA, will be launched in September, and a bag line will follow soon after.

Favorite belt out of your collection?

My favorite (and everyone’s favorite too) is the Carrie belt, which was inspired by the belt worn by Sarah Jessica Parker in the Sex & the City collection. I love it because it can be worn with just about anything! I can wear it if I want to do glam rock or even when I just want to be casual.

Fashion icons?

I absolutely love everything Sarah Jessica Parker & Nicole Richie wear. Their style can’t be defined by just one category. It’s like they’re so random and they can actually get away with anything.

(Blurb) Belt it In: Finding the Right Belt for Your Figure

Petite:                            Stay away from very thick belts as these would drown you

Tall:                              Those blessed with height can pretty much get away with anything. So, go knock yourself out with all the styles!

Slender:                         Like tall people, slender people can get away with almost anything too. However, be careful not to wear empress-style belts, unless you want to look like an ironing board. Stick with low-slung, thick belts that will accentuate your hips or thin but structured ones that will show off the smallness of your waist.

With a bit of tummy:      To tuck that muffin top in, try wearing corset or gartered belts as these would cover what needs to be covered. Plus, it would be a great way to bring out those curves.

July 19, 2010 / iselgarcia

Expat Newspaper Travel: Braving the Pinatubo

TEXT:

Braving the Pinatubo

By Isel Kintanar Garcia

June 15, 1991, Pampanga:

Seismologists record that it was about an hour and a half past midnight when the tremors started. Exactly three months after the first signs of activity were observed on Mount Pinatubo, the worst was finally happening. At 2:30 am, less than an hour after the tremors, the volcanic eruptions that began in early June escalated into a climactic explosion: the second largest and most catastrophic one seen in the 20th century. Registering an alarming 6 in the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), it shot 10 billion metric tons of magma into its surroundings; destroying thousands of churches, buildings, homes and taking the lives of 800 people.

I was six years old when Mt.Pinatubo erupted. I remember waking up and seeing cars, streets and virtually everything outside my window covered in what I thought was snow. It wasn’t snow, of course, but ash.

August 1, 2009:

Eighteen years after the cataclysmic event, I found myself in a 4×4 jeepney, driving up to the foot of the Pinatubo. The chilly mountain breeze was slowly beginning to wake me and my companions up, and we couldn’t help but grab our cameras from our bags (very touristy, I know). The landscape was simply beautiful. It was a testament to the forces of nature: craggy hills, sudden drops, weathered cliffs and – of course – molten lava rock formations and stretches of earth covered in hardened gray ash. To a bookworm like me, the scenery looked like one taken straight from Lord of the Rings or Wuthering Heights that it was a little hard to think that something catastrophic, something horrific took place there. But there were signs of the eruption. Besides the sand-like ash, paths were carved into the ground where the lava must have passed, little snake-like windings stained with dark yellow – an effect of sulfur – as one of my companions pointed out.

After fording a river, revving up a steep climb and bumping my head a dozen times on the jeepney’s hand bar (good times!), it was finally time to get into the business of trekking. As I looked up at the peak of the mountain, I stifled the urge to ask “Are we there yet?” and focused on putting one foot in front of the other, telling myself that I was young, fit and free-spirited enough to conquer not just a mountain, but a volcano.

Thirty minutes later, I was ready to drop. Don’t get me wrong. The climb is well worth it. The forests of Pinatubo are lush, with a few streams running through – a proof of nature’s resiliency and ability to recreate itself after a calamity. But there were moments when I just wanted to collapse and rejoin nature. But that’s the thing about trekking: when think you can’t take another step, you take a hundred more (because you have to) and, suddenly, you’ve reached the summit.

“Imagine this being red,” one of my friends quipped as we gazed down on the still, bluish-green waters of the Pinatubo Crater Lake. Clothed in mist, it looked surreal, like some picture on a postcard. And yet, there we were, dipping our tired toes on the very pit from where destruction struck less than two decades ago.

You can swim in the Crater Lake and ride a boat to Pinatubo’s Hot Springs. But as it was drizzling and chilly the day we trekked, we promised ourselves that we would return for the water activities some other time.

August 9, 2009

But nature is unpredictable. The morning ofAugust 9, 2009, I woke up to the headline of a landslide in Pinatubo, caused by Typhoon Kiko and resulting in the death of six people: two European tourists and four Filipinos. Treks to the volcano were suspended until further notice. As my phone began to buzz with text messages from my trek companions, all I could think about was the irony of it all. In 1991, the Aetas, (a native tribe that has lived on the volcano since the Spanish colonial time) claimed that the eruption was punishment from their god, Apo Malari, for illegal logging. Did the Aetas see this as another punishment, perhaps, for man’s desecration of the forest? Once again, punishment or not, the beautiful Mount Pinatubo had become the site of a tragedy.

August 19, 2009

It has almost been three weeks since my friends and I “braved” the Pinatubo. As of presstime, treks to the volcano are still suspended indefinitely. The Department of Tourism (DOT) Region 3, however, assures the public that they are trying to fix things up and are waiting for clearance from DENR and DPWH.

As the weather gets better and adventurous souls brave the Pinatubo once more, maybe they’ll come to the same conclusion I did while writing this article. Nature is untameable.  The Pinatubo will continue to surprise us. That is the essence of it: the interplay between beauty and catastrophe, destruction and resiliency. The truth is, we are at nature’s mercy. But, ironically, as studies on global warming continually remind us, we also play a huge role in nature’s cycle. It is our duty to take care of the environment, to return what we get from it and not greedily take what we need. It shouldn’t take a landslide, for example, to remind us of the conequences of illegal logging. The beauty of Mount Pinatubo, as well as many other breath-taking spots on planet Earth, is already a living testament of what we should preserve– for the generations to come.