It’s more fun in the Philippines

Vacation’s over, and I’m back in Amsterdam!
Marlon welcomed me home with so much love—a handwritten sign at the airport, a sparkling home filled with flowers, and a piping hot lentil soup. As we were catching up over dinner, he asked me if I had seen the new campaign launched by the Department of Tourism last Friday (while I was on the plane). “You have to see it,” he said, excited. “It’s so good. I want a t-shirt!” After seeing the new tagline, I had to agree with him—and with the concept behind the campaign. 
Why do I love it? First, the idea behind it is simple and true. It is more fun in the Philippines. It’s why I went home for three weeks instead of staying here to travel around during my first Christmas in Europe. It has that ring of truth that gives good concepts a chance to actually make it out there.

“What differentiates the Philippines from every [other place] in the world… is the Filipino. [It’s] his special gift for transforming what is already a beautiful place into an unforgettable special place,” Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez said. “You take two identical islands, put Filipinos in one, it’s going to be more fun there.”

I completely agree. That other island will also be more chaotic, true, but it will definitely be more fun. We may not be able to do some things well (like, oh… enforcing bus lanes har har har) but we do know how to have a good time—in both the best and the worst of circumstances. 

Second, I like the concept of sharing the work of tourism with millions of Filipinos all over the world via social media. It’s never been done. That 10-year old WOW Philippines corporate video on Youtube with a paltry 253,000 views? It doesn’t count in a world where a sneezing panda can get the attention of 127 million people. So I think this first attempt to play by 21st century rules is an important, and valiant one. 

[Jimenez] described the new international slogan as “so deceptively simple” that traditional advertising and marketing people may find the new tag line “a little strange because it is a thought almost drawn from social media…. In a very real sense, it is a very modern 21st century kind of campaign. But it’s something Filipinos immediately can get behind, because it’s true.”

The naysayers who think PhP 5.6 million, or approximately US$ 126,900, is a lot of money for an international media campaign (the advertising agency doesn’t just come up with a slogan, people!) have no idea what they’re talking about—they need to see the rate cards for placements on TV, radio, print and outdoor advertising, and do the math. 
The social media effect is a multiplier that does the work our government can’t afford to do. So a concept that makes it easy—and yes, fun—for Filipinos to “take hold of it and make it their own”, that sparks our own creativity and humor, is genius. I’m a writer, but I know when something needs more than just writing (or “slogan making” in barangay and high school parlance). So I can also see that more than just writing is what is at work here.
It’s a campaign not simply to be impressed by, but to get behind. And that’s been missing from previous campaigns, even WOW Philippines, which has become the yardstick by which we Filipinos measure our tourism campaigns. As the Professional Heckler says: just like Anna Dizon, WOW Philippines is WOW Philippines… but what could I, personally, have done with it? 
Not much. I always root for foreign friends to visit the Philippines, and I put effort into it. I’ve been known to send friends emails detailing fares, itineraries, hotel, restaurant and even wedding planning suggestions. But never has something like WOW Philippines figured in any of that. What was I supposed to do, sign my emails with “WOW Philippines”?
But this… well, this is different. It made me immediately think of things that, to me, are more fun in the Philippines. It made me think of jokes to crack and images to use. It made me finally install Photoshop, which I’ve been telling myself I would do for the last four months. And it made me simply get behind it.
It was easy, and it was fun. In fact it was so easy and fun that I made 10 more of these with my own original photos. But that’s for another post!
All images courtesy of Chuvaness, except the last, which is mine. For more on the campaign, click here. Also, insightful reads on the campaign here, here and here. Finally, a helpful how-to for your very own “More Fun In The Philippines” meme here.
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Christmas chandelier

Remember the wineglass chandelier that we got in April?
It recently became the target of my Christmas decorating frenzy. I had something in mind, but before I could put my idea to work, all the wineglasses had to come off. Yes, all 36 of them. 

While the glasses received their first wash in months, I strung up a few new ornaments: a set of four very shiny silver ones from Ikea, as well as some fresh picks from De Bijenkorf. All of the ornaments I chose were either silver, gold, transparent or some kind of combination of the three. All the better to let through, or reflect, the light from the central bulb.

Marlon and I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures while working. Shiny things are just too much fun to play with.

After throwing in a few of our pre-loved ornaments to fill in the gaps, and draping some faux greens over the top, our chandelier revamp was complete.

Voila! Presenting our Christmas chandelier.

Just looking at it all lit up in the evening gives me the warm-and-fuzzies.

It’s just as pretty in the daytime.

I’ll be sad to take it down after the holidays. But for now, I’ll enjoy it as much as I can. 
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MangoJuiced: Fave talks from TEDxAmsterdam

Searching for inspiration? TED has it in spades—that’s why I’ve been watching TED talks online for two years, and why I volunteered for TEDxAmsterdam. This is the volunteers’ team onstage at the end of this year’s conference: can you find me on the extreme left?

Photo: Jan-Jaap Heine/TEDxAmsterdam on Flickr 

This week on MangoJuiced, I share three of my favorite talks from TEDxAmsterdam. I’ll blog about my experience behind the scenes—or more appropriately, in front of the doors—very soon. In the meantime, click over to MangoJuiced for the talks and the full post… and enjoy!

MangoJuiced is a webzine for anything and everything that interests women—from fashion and family, to pop culture and beauty, to travel and lifestyle. Follow MangoJuiced on Twitter and Facebook… and don’t forget to check back in for a new post from me every week!
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See it, do it

I just found a collage that I made at the beginning of spring, when I first started getting back into my creative groove. I was done with it, but not quite.. until I saw these tiny hot air balloons in a magazine ad and decided to toss them into the mix at the very last minute.

Six months later…

Coincidence? Or is it just what happens when you put something out into the universe? You tell me. I’m just glad it worked out this way. As R. Kelly sings: “If I can see it, then I can do it!”
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Filipinas: an interview with photographer Isa Lorenzo

The second article I wrote for the Philippine Star‘s YStyle section has been published. I’m posting the full text below, since the link that’s up here likely won’t be around for long.

I can type fast without looking at the keyboard, and I was really grateful for that skill when I interviewed Isa (who happens to be Rina‘s aunt). If I’d been hunched over my laptop, I might have missed how fun and inspiring Isa was. I was blown away by how firmly she stood for her artistic vision in the face of discouragement, indifference, difficulty and even—drumroll please—offers to buy her work. Yes, money. (I may have sold out.) Isa had become what she’d intended the women in her photos to be: real and inspiring.

Her staff had given me a comprehensive media kit and press release, so I could have just done a couple of nips and tucks and turned my article in well before my deadline. But I enjoyed my conversation with Isa too much to be a sly, cheating shmuck.

Incidentally, I’ve actually performed at the UNESCO House in Paris, during ACS’ tour last October.

Here’s the article. See if you can guess who the “false start” was.

Filipina greats

By Deepa Paul
The Philippine STAR 03/02/2007

To the public at large, Filipinas is a series of photographs of 30 Filipina women. Having first opened in February 2006, Filipinas, the exhibit, shows the faces and stories of women who are pioneers in their respective fields, whose example paved the way for other Filipina women to become more than what was expected of them. But to photographer Isa Lorenzo, creative director of Silver Lens Photography, Filipinas is a four-year journey.

The journey began, as most do, with an idea; for Filipinas, it was Isa’s idea of an “homage to women who have reached lifetime successes.” Having heard about some of these women since childhood, Isa set out to put together a list of women who had, in some way or other, gone beyond themselves in areas that were difficult. “My qualifications for inclusion in this list were accomplishment and age—they must have done a lot in their lives and they must be old enough to not screw up their achievements.”

She intended her list to include only 12 women, but Isa soon realized that the Filipina’s power to inspire, and the number of lives that deserved acknowledgement, could not be limited to such a small number. “We have a lot of Filipinas who are firsts in Asia, like the first female mayor in Asia, the first Asian graduate of the Harvard school of medicine. By the way, she’s 97 and still practicing!” Isa says.

Getting started

List in hand, Isa’s journey had barely begun. There was the task of learning about each of the 30 women on the list and hunting down people who knew them—children, grandchildren, relatives, students, and friends—and would agree to deliver Isa’s letters of introduction and samples of her work. There was dealing with rejection for reasons of health or vanity; an unnamed patron of the arts promptly and firmly declined upon learning that she would be photographed without makeup. There was the logistical nightmare of scheduling the shoots, despite the fact that Isa only required a maximum of 20 minutes of actual shooting time. “These women are so busy, it’s insane!” Isa exclaims “The most difficult was (National Bookstore founder) Socorro Ramos – we had to schedule her 15 minutes of shooting time six months in advance!”

There were false starts, too – such as the very first subject Isa chose to photograph. “As soon as I began shooting, I knew I had the wrong woman. I felt like running away! Hindi ko siya kaya!” Isa says, laughing. “I didn’t shoot for three months after that.” Traumatized? Perhaps, but Isa is quick to say that she used the time to thresh out her artistic vision for the exhibit, and to focus on what she wanted to achieve with the photographs she would compile. The subject of Isa’s first shoot (a larger-than-life, controversial historical figure) never made the final cut – a conscious exclusion that Isa feels “changed the nature of the project completely.”

Then came the processing of the film, the edits, the search for the paper to print the mural-sized images on, coordination with the printer, meetings with various national institutions as venues for the show, and so on. The project took roughly three years to complete.

Hitting the road

Filipinas’ opening night at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) almost exactly one year ago was not the end of the road, but the beginning of a new and unimagined path beyond the gallery. Filipinas traveled to universities all over Metro Manila, where it faced the puzzled scrutiny of students who goggled at the size of the photos and wondered what the big fuss was about these bare-faced, deeply lined, and in many cases, completely anonymous women.

What they discovered beyond the bafflement and curiosity blew them away, much to Isa’s delight. “We brought the show to Far Eastern University, where one girl remembered that she had totally hated high school. But she had one teacher, just one that she really loved, who made all the difference and kept her from just suffering through high school,” Isa recounts. “These women are like that. It then became very real to these students that just one woman can make a world of difference.” More importantly, Isa says, once students saw that, they began thinking beyond “I can never be like that, I’m not from where they’re from, I don’t have what they have” to “I can make a difference, too.”

From gallery to university to retail spaces and malls, Filipinas continued to move and inspire with its clean, stark images and powerful message. It was only a matter of time until its journey proved to be unstoppable. So unstoppable, in fact, that in December last year, one of the world’s biggest organizations came knocking with an invitation.

Paris and beyond

Upon the suggestion of Filipinas curator Deanna Ongpin-Recto, Isa had tossed off a letter to UNESCO in July 2006 – and had promptly forgotten about it. The invitation to exhibit at the UNESCO House in Paris came as a total, yet welcome, surprise. Filipinas was chosen by the UNESCO Section on Women and Gender Equality to be shown for a full week, in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8. Isa was also asked to speak about the photographs and bring her UNESCO audience face to face with a few of the women whose photographs were part of the exhibit.

Paris marks Filipinas’ first step outside Philippine borders – and that, Isa feels, makes a huge difference not just to the photographer and her subjects, but to Filipinas and the Philippines. “The face of the Filipina known to the world is the OFW (overseas Filipino worker). But these women are not that. Not many people know about this side of the Filipina,” Isa emphasizes. “People will see that the Philippines has something more to show. It will be acknowledged on a different level, on a global platform.” It is Isa’s belief that that global recognition will pave the way for greater acknowledgment and appreciation where it truly counts – back home.

After being parked in Paris until late spring, Filipinas will continue its journey across Europe in May 2006, visiting Madrid, Rome, Geneva and “somewhere in Germany, maybe Berlin.” The Department of Foreign Affairs has taken Filipinas under its wing and put Philippine embassies to work finding places to show it in Europe; no mean feat, considering the difficulties posed by an election year. “The embassies’ minds are on anything but arts and culture,” Isa says wryly. “But Filipinas is apolitical, neutral, it’s para sa bayan (for the nation)–and they get that. That made it easier, in a way.”

The photographs have been compiled into a book to be published in June, and arrangements are being made with the Undersecretary for American Affairs to bring Filipinas to the United States later in the year. Having enjoyed a lengthy run uncommon to most local exhibits, Isa is committed to propelling Filipinas as far into the future as it can possibly go – a commitment that stands in the face of offers to buy or borrow select photographs. “This is not a selling show, where the work gets broken up into pieces for sale,” Isa emphasizes. “It was so difficult to gather all of these women. Why would I ever take them apart?”

After traveling abroad and going down the publishing route, what else lies ahead in Filipinas’ path? Isa thinks back to the beginning for the answer. She remembers assembling the list, being extra careful about inclusions or exclusions, combing through fields of society and far-flung communities for exceptional lives, and scrutinizing these lives for ethical value. “It was so hard to find good people who are still good and still at it,” Isa says. “But there are more out there. I just haven’t had an opportunity to meet them, and photograph them, just yet.”

* * *Filipinas is open for public viewing at UNESCO House, 7 Place de Fontenoy, Paris, until March 9. It is presented in cooperation with the Museum Foundation of the Philippines, Department of Foreign Affairs, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Cultural Center of the Philippines. For more information, visit

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