Friday, January 1

Cities and Stories

This 2015, I found myself in towns, cities, and countries far from home. It has been a year of cities and stories. Indeed, as He promised in 2014, the Lord has brought me to greater heights. It is a testimony to God's faithfulness - 36, 000 feet in the air.

During the hours spent in airports and transits, there has always been an urge to write - about the trip, about the places, about the people, etc. And often, I fail to write beyond a sentence or two. Nothing beyond 140 characters. Even square images are not enough to capture a city's soul. 

Stories are waiting to be discovered behind a skyline, a coastline, or even over the horizon. Before I go on other adventures in 2016, allow me to share some stories of three cities I've been this year.


For years, I have dreamed and prayed of reaching the Middle East with two specific requests: 1) to see my father and his life there, and 2) to see camels. It finally happened this year - as a bonus to going on mission as a cross culture participant for YFC. Two prayers answered by a trip.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Unlike other cities in the Middle East, Dubai is more 'lax. A city filled with dichotomies, contradictions. Modern yet traditional. It remains traditional as an Islamic state yet welcomes other cultures into its arms. Hip, faithful, and innovative. These are just some words to describe the emerging modern emerati culture.

It is a city of endless possibilities. Ingenuity has been ingrained in the soul of this city, to the point of erasing the word "impossible" from its vocabulary. From a settlement transforming into a bustling metropolis, to growing grass in the middle of the desert, to constructing twisted buildings and the highest skyscraper on the planet.

This city is limitless. This city makes you feel limitless.

People flock to this oasis in the desert. Some to provide better opportunities for their families. It is a city which can provide what home cannot fully give - the absence of fear. For some, the city provides fear. The fear of not being able to stay, and to leave the only home they know.

People come and go. Buildings continue to rise in the middle of the desert. One thing will remain the same: this city will be as limitless as the contradictions within it.


Indonesia has always been one of the dream destinations for anthropologists...and those intrigued with the discipline. I grabbed the opportunity to visit the country's capital when a summit was held there. Jakarta and I got off the wrong foot.

Jakarta, Indonesia

Armed with little knowledge about the city (mostly cautionary), my first thoughts were: somebody bring me back to Singapore. Traffic is as bad, if not worse, as Manila. Streets were shady and dirty. Public transportation is complicated. To top it, people spoke little English! 

But as we say in sociology, things are not what they seem.

Staying days after the summit made me feel a certain type of familiarity. Beneath the things I mentioned above, lies a city that takes pride in its identity. A product of  its rich precolonial culture, colonial past, and fighting for liberty. It struggles between advancing towards the modernity the West dictates, and maintaining its heritage alive. 

A soul once imprisoned by its own son, this city thrives in its freedom. It is curious - yearning for newness. Modernity rising in the middle of the old city. Presenting a new facade, with tradition at its core. This is a city that struggles to find itself.

This is a city just like ours. A city often misunderstood. A city lost in translation.


Manila will always be part of my trips. Nothing beats the thought of coming home, hearing people speaking Filipino, and being able to eat mama's sinigang again.

Manila, Philippines

A city which strives to find itself. From its skyscrapers to the narrowest alleys, Manila has different personas and stories to share. It is messy, noisy, and crowded. It is diversity that makes the city what it is. This city is eccentric, but it is home.

A city that continues to welcome people into its arms. A city which tries to balance every culture and tradition with its own. A city wherein one could find a piece of him/herself.

This city is a fighter. It continues to thrive because of the courage flowing through its veins. Striving to gain freedom from foreign powers. Striving to live each day that passes by. It has stood and continues to stand against any adversity that comes its way.

This city is for dreamers. Dreamers who seek better lives. Dreamers who have failed, but stood up to try once more. Dreamers who find solace in the middle of the city. This city is home for them. This city is my home. It reminds me that wherever I may be, I can always come home to its craziness. 

My 2015 has been a year of cities and stories, beyond what I can document through this entry. Another year of God's faithfulness. Being away from home is His way of telling me to be present in the here and now - to savor every moment and memories. To know the soul of these towns, cities, and countries through its people. To live life full of love and without fear.

Adventure awaits this 2016!