Book Review: “The Two Lives of Lydia Bird” by Josie Silver

Lydia and Freddie. Freddie and Lydia. It’s been this way since Lydia Bird and Freddie Hunter were fourteen years old. But Lydia’s world turns upside down when Freddie dies on her 28th birthday because of a car accident. Lost and grieving, she starts taking experimental pills to help her sleep. Then the pills don’t just help her sleep: they take her to a world where Freddie lives. But real life goes on, whether she is asleep or awake. Now Lydia has to make a choice: stay in her dreamworld with Freddie, or figure out her new life without him.


There’s no sugarcoating the pain of losing the love of your life, but Josie Silver takes you through Lydia’s grieving process with empathy and understanding. I was genuinely afraid that the plot would turn into someone spiraling into drug addiction after the loss of a loved one (my heart wasn’t ready for that), but instead, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is a painfully honest but still hopeful look at love and loss – the pain, denial, and anger of it all, but still managing to find your way out. The way out may not be fast, it will be painful, and will strain your relationships with your surviving loved ones, but it is possible.

The book is told from Lydia’s point-of-view, so we get a front row seat to everything that she’s feeling. She’s a fleshed-out character, with distinct motivations and thought processes. The secondary characters – Jonah Jones (Freddie’s best friend who was actually Lydia’s friend first), her sister Elle, and her mom – are also important to Lydia’s journey. Though we only see them in the context of Lydia’s journey, Ms. Silver writes Lydia to be observant enough that we get to see the other characters’ own pain. This is especially important for Jonah, who lost his best friend as well. We get to see how Lydia’s family tries so hard to be supportive and how much that support costs them.

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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.

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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.

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Book Review: “The Wedding Party” by Jasmine Guillory

Two people who can’t stand each other but have burning chemistry, inconvenient feelings, and a wedding all come together for Jasmine Guillory’s entertaining romance novel The Wedding Party.

Maddie and Theo are two of Alexa’s best friends. To clarify: Maddie and Theo are best friends with Alexa separately. But with each other? Not so much. Maddie thinks Theo has a stick up his ass and is condescending towards her career as a personal stylist, while Theo thinks Maddie is just a frivolous girl who only cares about clothes and celebrities. But after a hot but unexpected evening between the sheets, they find that they can’t get the other person out of their heads. The solution? Hook up in secret but break up after Alexa’s wedding.

Overall, The Wedding Party is a fun read. Maddie and Theo as characters are fleshed out, with distinct personalities and backgrounds and motivations that match said background. For better or for worse, there are no plot twists or deus ex machinas in the story. The situations and issues that come up are realistic (e.g. Theo’s big rally that goes south and Maddie’s possible new job), and the plot concludes organically, with turning points that make sense for the characters. The supporting characters like Maddie’s mom Vivian are also well-formed, and interact naturally with the leads.

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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”