A “Journey” To Remember

There is a machine that is found everywhere in the Philippines: in high-rise apartments, along streets in red light districts and located inside small bamboo huts in the most remote Filipino villages. It is accompanied by family members, recent acquaintances, and even strippers in the major cities. In the words of Lady Gaga’s mom, “We are all born superstars,” and this machine allows those words of wisdom to come true. This machine, my friends, is called a Karaoke machine.

My first experience was at a councilor’s house in Samal just a day after I had arrived. The members of the coral restoration project and I were talking and drinking iced tea, discussing the day’s events.  Dun Dun, one of the men responsible for community outreach and education, walked over to a pavilion in the middle of the property and began belting out tunes one after another. The group joined him and someone informed me that if I really wanted to be Filipino, I had to sing karaoke. Nevermind that I just met these people about 24 hours prior and I don’t like listening to my own voice. Before I knew it,  I was sitting, wide-eyed with a microphone in hand and the lyrics of Don’t Stop Believing appearing on the screen in front of me.

Karaoke Hut

I sounded awful and laughed the whole time. “Sing more,” they chanted and we each did a number of songs before loading up in the truck and driving home. I shocked to see (and hear) other karaoke machines in the homes we visited over the next couple days. Bars and small shacks surrounded by weeds and mud had fully functioning televisions and microphones for use anytime of the day or night

Private Room (TV not shown)My second experience was in Davao City in a private rented karaoke room. After leaving Samal Island, Viv and I stayed two nights in Gene’s house (the same woman who owned the rest house in Samal) and got to see the city with her wonderful daughter Maiki. On our first night, we met Maiki’s cousins and ended up at a small pizza place with a large private room consisting of a bar area, couches and you guessed it…a kareoke machine. We spent the entire evening eating taco pizza, ordering beer, and singing to our hearts’ content. Sing if you’re sober. Sing if you’re drunk. Sing if you have a terrible voice. Sing sing sing. It was fabulous. 

In Metro Manila, particularly near Manila Bay, there are numbers of signs advertising KTV or Karaoke Television. I’ve heard that many of these place have live strippers coupled with televisions and microphones. For the tame, there are family KTVs for more wholesome song singing. Karaoke for everyone.

I’m getting used to having near strangers join me in love ballads, Spice Girl classics, and Jackson 5 favorites. To anyone who hasn’t traveled to the Philippines before: drink some warm tea, warm up the vocal chords and take a deep breath. A microphone and TV is closer than you think.

Maiki, Me, Viv, Viv's friend Miko

Island Adventure: Samal Edition

View from the house

The wonderful world of Wi-Fi does not extend to the far reaches of Samal Island, beneath the canopy of palm trees and bamboo walls that softly muffle the sound of the laughing ocean waves. Too poetic? Perhaps. My week-long exposure to community outreach and reef restoration was fundamental in both the research of my undergraduate thesis and my growing love of the Philippines . [Warning: this post is filled with pictures.]

Main House


The main goal: save the beautiful underwater habitats while providing the local fishermen with legal and safe ways to make money and fish. The project was titled The CORAL Project: COral, Restoration, Awareness, and Livelihoods. The mastermind behind the combination of Marine Protected Areas and a functioning sea cucumber ranch was Bonar Laureto, the former executive of the Law of Nature Foundation before (my boss and friend) Viv took over the position. Viv and I, along with a small team, stayed at the lovely rest house of Ma’m Jean and every member welcomed the confused American girl with open arms and wide smiles.

The Crew minus Bonar and Sherwin

Excluding Viv and I, there were five main members and a range of incredible volunteers. Before every community meeting I was warmly introduced as we traveled to different villages, talking to local fisherman and explaining our project.Russ would translate for me while I videotaped the conversations. One man showed us three fish: his entire catch after being out at sea for 9 hours. I tasted tuba for the first time-homemade coconut wine that accompanied every community discussion. I saw young children playing in their father’s arms while the men explained how the lack of fish takes a toll on their families.


Community gathering


Too many stories to count. There was the dance lessons I received from the local woman in the Tagbaobo community and tasting incredible fish ginger soup.

There was the hour and a half commute down the steepest, bumpiest unpaved roads I’ve ever seen, at night, in drizzle,seated in the back of a covered pickup truck. And there was snorkeling just off the coast of our house surrounded by sea snakes, brain coral, and clownfish swimming in every direction.

Viv and I in the truck

I could go on and on about the incredible people I met: the dedication, hope, and resilience found in community leaders, volunteers, and fishermen alike . I seem to have the same number of memories as I do bug bites but can only begin to scratch the surface of their deeper meaning.

Meaning of the memories. I figured out the bug bites pretty quick.

Fishermen on the ocean