My three weeks as a sustainability consultant

The end of October marked the end of my three weeks with the Orange ASEAN Factory – a sustainability consulting training program for “young” professionals (yes, I made the cut!) from Southeast Asia and the Netherlands. This run brought together 20 participants from the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Netherlands, grouped us into small teams, and had us work on business cases for real-life sustainability issues from their partner companies. The OAF was initiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is currently organized by TheRockGroup, a sustainability consulting company in the Netherlands. This Manila run was the 7th run since OAF started in 2016.

I applied to join OAF because 1) sustainability-related training is hard to come by in general (and especially in the Philippines), and 2) I wanted experience in other industries. This 7th edition was held in Manila, so fortunately or unfortunately, I didn’t go far. Previous runs were held in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. Would have been nice to work in another country for a change but there were still advantages to staying close to home.

Continue reading “My three weeks as a sustainability consultant”

Why I walked away from research

A month ago, Mantle Magazine published another article of mine: The travels and trails of a marine biologist in the Philippines. AKA Why I gave up on being a researcher, it was originally titled “Wanted: Perfect Scientist” but yay for editors fixing it.

All in all, this was a very difficult article to write and something a long time coming. Writing was difficult because it forced me to organize my thoughts and put into words the jumbled mess of emotions that came with putting aside a childhood dream. How do you reconcile working so hard for so many years and then giving it up?
Me during happier times

Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you want them to. Sometimes due to things you can control, sometimes due to things you can’t.

Sometimes, you find another path. Sometimes the new path works, sometimes it doesn’t. Then you have to go find a new path.

Continue reading “Why I walked away from research”

Book Review: “Ayesha at Last” by Uzma Jalaluddin

A mix of giving up on a dream in exchange for security, dealing with a bad boss, crazy relatives, a case of mistaken identity, and old family secrets already reads like the kickass start of a great romance novel. But add in the cultural context of the Canadian-Indian Muslim immigrant experience and you’ve got yourself the gem that is Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin’s debut novel.

A modern and inclusive romance

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El Nido hugots in Mantle Magazine

El Nido’s one of my favorite things to write about because it’s one of my favorite places on Earth. So when I was approached by the wonderful editors of Mantle Magazine (oh hai friends Rej and Dante) to write about the El Nido experience, I quickly accepted. The catch? I had to write about El Nido’s development as a tourism destination.

El Nido town’s waterfront in 2018

The full article is available on Mantle’s website. Yes, I kept the title from my previous blog post because I really liked it.

Writing this was both easy and heartbreaking. Easy because it’s a topic I know well and once I got the outline and supporting statistics figured out, I hammered out the thing in two days. Heartbreaking because I had to put my experience to paper (err, keyboard?) and describe both the good and the bad that comes from increased tourism to a place that isn’t ready for it.

Tourism is often trotted out as the solution for funding protected areas, but that’s a simplistic answer. A destination can go after fewer but higher spending tourists, but that means only the rich get to experience the personal growth and satisfaction that comes from traveling and learning. But lower the price too much and you overwhelm the destination with an unsustainable number of visitors. How do we ensure that the local community benefits from increased tourism? How do we ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place? In short, how do we ensure visitor satisfaction and safety while protecting the environment that they came here to see?

There are no easy answers, but answering it needs the cooperation of the local government, community, businesses, and the tourists themselves.

El Nido, after all this time

I finally returned to El Nido, Palawan last June 2018 after three years away. The last time I was there was back in 2015 when I helped train DENR personnel in coral reef monitoring methods. At least this time, I was back for a vacation with the husband and some of our friends ❤️

I’d like to credit AirSwift’s New Year’s Day sale as the reason we were able to afford to fly directly into El Nido. Yes, the sale started at 12:00 midnight on January 1, 2018. Thank you also to our hosts, Patrick and Cindy, for understanding why I brought a laptop to their NYE party.

In all honesty, it’s taken this long to write about the El Nido trip because I wasn’t sure what to write. Coming back after practically living there for six years then being MIA since 2015 meant that I watched El Nido change through a screen, with my Facebook feed filled with posts from friends who had grown up there and friends who decided to move there. I watched El Nido turn into a crowded tourist destination, with all the good and ilk that comes with it. It was conflicting to see friends proudly start their own businesses alongside seeing the trash and pollution piling up in an unprepared town. I wasn’t sure how I felt then, and I’m not sure how I feel now. Continue reading “El Nido, after all this time”

How to Green Your Holidays

Christmas is upon us and with the joy and celebrations come the piles of torn wrapping paper, mounds of food waste, busted string lights,and other stresses that will make Mother Nature shout “Bah humbug!”. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s possible to celebrate Christmas without creating a trash pile for Santa’s elves.

  • Collect your coffee (and planner stickers) in a For Here mug or your own reusable tumbler. 

How many coffees do you need to buy to get a free planner? How many thousands of people want the same planner you do? Multiply the two and you have an idea how many paper cups are thrown in landfills just this Christmas season to get that free planner. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Bring your own mug and save the planet. As a bonus, many coffee shops (both chain and independent) give you a discount for bringing your own mug. Chances are, by the time you collect enough stickers for that planner, you’d have saved enough from the cup discount to buy yourself a bonus coffee.

  • Unplug your Christmas lights before you go to sleep.

If you’ve had your Christmas lights installed since November 1st, you’re probably already feeling the monetary pinch from keeping them running all the time. Remember to unplug your lights before you go to sleep. Anyway, no one’s awake to appreciate them. If you can, invest in LED lights too. While they cost more in the beginning, they also last longer and are safer to use.

Christmas Spirit

  • Unplug appliances before you leave town.

Appliances left plugged in still use electricity – often called “phantom energy” – so unplug them when not in use, and especially when you’re about to leave on a long trip.

genius invention: why didn't I think of this?

  • Say no to food waste.

Food waste – whether it’s the waste from food preparation (think peelings) or waste from your plate – almost always also ends up in landfills. Once there, they decompose without air and produce methane.  Methane is an even worse greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide, trapping 28 to 36 times more heat compared to CO2.

Reduce food waste by planning properly so that there are no leftovers. If there are leftovers, give them away or eat them right away before they spoil.

Compost the food prep waste. If you have even a small garden, you can compost at home using the Bokashi method. If you need to compost food waste from a large party (your company party maybe?), consider hiring a composting service like Green Space.

The aftermath 3

  • Go for greener gifting.

Everybody loves gifts. We love getting them and we love giving them (to people we actually like). But to soften the blow to the environment and avoid all the messy post-unwrapping cleanup, consider:

  • Gifts that don’t need to be wrapped, like tickets to concerts or classes and store gift certificates. One of my friends gave me gift certificate for classes with Writer’s Block Philippines and it’s one of my favorite things ever.
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  • Gifts that keep on giving, like donations to charity on behalf of your recipient
  • Buying gifts from environmentally and socially conscious SMEs. Buying locally made items from local companies supports more jobs and keeps the money inside our economy. Last year, I gave away bottles of tea concentrate from Bayani Brew. The tea leaves come from small Filipino farmers who are paid fairly, the price is right, and the tea itself is damned good. I’m also a big fan of SGD Coffee, who buys their beans directly from small farmers in Sagada,
  • Placing gifts in reusable gift bags. I save all the paper gift bags from the previous Christmas so I can reuse them for the next year. If you don’t like paper gift bags, maybe you can learn the art of furoshiki instead.

For this year’s gifts, I’ve gone for the following:

  • Bath and Home Care gift sets from Messy Bessy for the family titos and titas. Messy Bessy’s corporate gift guide, Christmas catalog, and regular catalog are available for download:

Messy Bessy Corporate Gift Guide 2018

Messy Bessy CATALOG 2018

They offer free shipping within Metro Manila for orders worth at least Php 5,000. If you’re getting items from the regular catalog, they offer 5% discount and free shipping for orders worth at least Php 5,000.

  • Baby-safe liquid laundry detergent from Messy Bessy for my brother and sister-in-law (and super cute niece)
  • Books from Adarna House and Tahanan Books for my inaanaks. Support local authors and publishers!
  • Homemade goodies for my friends and cousins. Yes, they are my (unwilling) test subjects for my baking.

 Merry Christmas everyone!

Book Review: “One Day in December”by Josie Silver

A novel just in time for Christmas

What do you do when you spot The One, fall irrevocably in love in the span of 60 seconds, lose them right after, spend the next year searching for them in every bus stop in London, then finally meet them again when they’re introduced as your best friend’s new boyfriend? Thus begins One Day in December and the love story of Laurie and Jack, spanning ten years of heartbreak, choosing to be happy, loss, what-might-have-beens, and finding happiness again.

Laurie James meets, or doesn’t meet, Jack O’Mara at the bus stop on December 21, 2008. She’son an overcrowded bus, on the way home from a long shift at a hotel reception desk – a job she’s working while she’s trying to get a job as a staff writer at a magazine. She looks out the window and sees the most beautiful man sitting at the bus stop. He looks up, their eyes meet, and something shifts in the universe. But as fate would have it, Laurie’s bus pulls away just as Jack gets up. Laurie spends a year looking for “Bus Boy” throughout London, roping in her best friend Sarah to help with the search. She doesn’t find him, not until that fateful day when Sarah introduces the new boyfriend that she’s head-over-heels for. “Bus Boy” is Jack, Sarah’s boyfriend.

Romance novels live and die by their characters, and One Day passes with flying colors. Laurie and Jack are fully formed and relatable: good people who genuinely care for each other and the people around them but are deeply flawed as well. The story is told from Laurie and Jack’s alternating point of views, which gives us a lot of insight into their motivations. The downside of this is that Sarah’s characterization gets lost in the shuffle. As Laurie’s BFF and Jack’s girlfriend, Sarah becomes the ultimate example of virtue and success, and any flaws she has is told to us,not shown.

The story also benefits from the longer time span. The ten years it takes for Laurie and Jack to finally be together are caused by both circumstances and their personal choices, which makes their journey all the better for it. There’s some pining to be sure, but neither one fully depends on the other for their personal growth. Josie Silver handles their will they-won’t they with a deft hand, making sure that there are no irredeemable bad guys.

One frustration of mine with regard sto romance novels is when the characters are at the mercy of the plot, where they have no agency and every roadblock to their happily ever after is an external force. I’m happy that it wasn’t the case here.

My only major regret is that the resolution happens so quickly. Laurie and Jack were separated for so long.Surely Ms. Silver could have devoted more page time to their happily ever after? As someone who got sucked into this story, I would have appreciated a longer and more substantial final act.

All in all, One Day in December is highly recommended for believers in love at first sight. And even if you don’t,it’s still recommended for its depiction of supportive female friendships and the importance of finding your own happiness and way in life even without The One.

This review was first published as part of Fully Booked’s First Look Club. Thank you very much to Fully Booked (and Ilia!) for the opportunity 🙂