Should you buy those seashells sold by the seashore? On beach walks, seahorses and collecting sea shells

Kelp on beachesI love seashells.  I am a collector of little shells and interesting objects I find while walking on the beach.

While some beaches are known for their variety of seashells and for beach combing (like those in Florida, Hawaii and Gulf states), at the beaches here in  Monterey Bay, you will likely run into seaweed or giant kelp that have lost their tether and left their undersea home, rather than shells.  It is not a beach you visit to collect seashells.

Kelp on the beach web

My grandson, Gabriel, having fun with kelp that washed up on the beach.

But…you will see sand dollars, broken clam or mussel shells (perhaps remnants from many sea otter lunches), a lot of driftwood, and depending on the beach, pretty little stones, or smooth glass pieces.

Lining up sand dollars with barnacles web

The boys lining up their find of sand dollars… At this beach walk, each of the sand dollars they found (oddly) had barnacles growing on top.

The few shells that do end up on the beach are usually clean, because the animal that lived inside was already eaten by other creatures, shore birds and beach scavengers…or have rotted away before the tide and waves pushed them onto the beach.

My grandsons have picked up my little beach object collecting habit, and we have come back from beach walks with bits of shells, a pretty rock or tiny driftwood.

I started to put  their treasures in glass jars, not because they are colorful or striking like those found at other beaches, but because they liked it and picked it up, and it was a little treasure to them.

Beach combing shells

Some of the little shells and rocks my grandsons collected are in this glass jar.

Although Monterey Bay beaches are not known for pretty seashells, tourist stores — especially those at the Fisherman’s Wharf — do sell colorful sea shells from different parts of the world.

Just as people enjoy eating seafood when visiting seaside towns, people also like buying shells and related products as souvenirs.  I’m sure stores that sell seashells and dried up starfish and other marine animals can be be found in just about any seaside community that caters to tourists.


A few years ago, during the off-season for tourists, I stopped by a store off of Highway 1 that sold shells and seashell products.

Their sign indicated “Sea Shells from Around the World”… but really, the majority of the shells are from a certain part of the world, and that is the Philippines.  In fact, when I went inside to browse, about 90% of the shells were marked as being from the Philippines.

Why is this?  First, the Philippines has a rich and diverse ocean life (cited as “the center of the center” of biodiversity by researchers at the California Academy of Sciences) with an amazing array of seashells — many of which are prized by collectors.

Second, the Philippines is a poor country…so those in the shell trade could easily exploit locals with low pay to collect these shells for export to tourist shops.

Sea shell shop off season

Sea shell shop Monterey Bay “Off-season”

Growing up in the Philippines, I was accustomed to seeing seashell products fashioned into jewelry, necklaces and decorative items, or dried marine animals like starfish, seahorses glued onto frames and home decor items.

Because they were so common, I always thought that these seashells and marine animals were picked up by beach combing… as in, the creatures are already dead and washed ashore.

After a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seahorse Exhibit, I learned otherwise.  From my blog post about the exhibit…

This is not the case, and much of these animals are collected ALIVE and dried to make these souvenirs.

I am saddened at how uninformed I was  about this practice! Family and friends, please do not buy these souvenirs.

With everything else happening to our oceans, we all have to do our part to stop this. And please spread the word about protecting these fragile and fascinating creatures.  In the process, we also protect and  preserve their homes —and our home. More here

This poster from the Aquarium says it best…

Seahorse 1 rd

In support of World Oceans Day and as part of a series for the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers blogging challenge, I am again posting this information.

If I made this incorrect assumption about the shells and dried starfish or seahorses sold at tourist shops, then there are probably others who do not know this information.  More from a shell article in Wikipedia:

…the majority of seashells which are offered for sale commercially have been collected alive (often in bulk) and then killed and cleaned, specifically for the commercial trade.  This type of large-scale exploitation can sometimes have a strong negative impact on local ecosystems, and sometimes can significantly reduce the distribution of rare species.

I am also re-posting this video from the California Academy of Sciences, on the dramatic decline of seahorses all over the world.  Excerpt from my post about seahorses:

…The huge economic boom in China means even more trouble for seahorse populations, as seahorses are highly sought after for use in traditional Chinese medicines.

US Customs at the San Francisco airport recently confiscated a shipment of at least 1,000 seahorses, and the US Fish and Wildlife turned over the dried seahorses to the California Academy of Sciences to help determine their source.  See full post here… including a link about the sea dragons (and seahorses) supply chain and market.

Have you heard of, or used products with dried seahorses?

I can’t help but think that we are doing the same thing to our ocean and its resources, as we did with our forests.  Are we going to look back 25 years from now and find out we unknowingly wiped out certain species of marine life because of unsustainable fishing… and what seems like an innocuous shell collecting hobby?

Can we stop and first find out how these shells are harvested?  If it is done sustainably, or if these creatures are collected beach comb style, then we can happily collect to our heart’s content.  But if not, then we need to find ways to educate the public so we can make responsible choices about the shells we buy.  I don’t want my grandchildren to ask why our generation let the same thing happen to our oceans, as we did to our forests in the Philippines.

Are you  a seashell collector?  If you buy seashells from seaside tourist shops, should the shops let consumers know if the shells were collected from the shore, or sustainably harvested?


To participate in the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ blogging challenges hosted by Jane from Just Another Nature Enthusiast or to see other submissions for the theme “Healthy Oceans – Healthy Planet” click here.

Philippines – A Marine Biodiversity Hotspot (Post for Earth-Friendly Chroniclers’ #11)

When my daughter was little, one of her favorite places to visit was the California Academy of Sciences, located within San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.  We spent a lot time looking at exhibits there, from the dramatic dioramas in the African Hall to working in a show at the Morrison Planetarium.

Of all the permanent and temporary exhibits at the Academy, the place where we spent the most time was the Steinhart Aquarium.  It was a fascinating place for kids and adults, and when we had family visiting, it was often a place we took them during their stays with us.

The California Academy of Sciences looks much different today than it did when we lived in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and the Steinhart Aquarium now feature a Philippine Coral Reef Exhibit.

Philippine Coral Reef at SteinhartThe 212,000 gallon exhibit includes the largest display of living coral in the world — all from the Philippines, a country that has the most diverse reef ecosystem in the world.

I’ve always wondered what the connection was between the Steinhart Aquarium and the Philippines, and recently learned that researchers from the Academy have worked in and around the Philippine archipelago (of over 7,000 islands) for over 100 years.

Last year, a team of scientists from the Academy explored new sites and depths in an area of the Philippines off the coast of the main island of Luzon, near Batangas.

Map of Philippines highlighting Batangas

This area  — near Isla Verde — is called the “Coral Triangle” and reportedly has over 1/2 of the world’s species of coral.

Isla VerdeFrom the Academy’s website…

Within the Coral Triangle is an area known as the Verde Island Passage—waters teeming with such an abundance of life that Academy scientists suspect it may be “the center of the center” of biodiversity.

Our 2014 expedition sought to document the astounding life in the Verde Island Passage by collecting and identifying species not yet described (and in many cases never before seen) and creating a base of knowledge that will help to protect this area going forward.

And what Academy researchers found in this “Coral Triangle Area” last year was amazing.  On June 8th, 2015 — and to celebrate World Ocean Day — they made this announcement:

100 new marine speciesHere are photos of some of the new marine species found during the expedition…

Philippine new nudibranch


Multi colored Philippine tunicates

Nudibranch Philippines

These new marine species are stunning, and how incredible to learn that there are still undiscovered species living in our oceans!

And who knows… perhaps one of these newly discovered creatures will help us produce a cure for cancer or hold keys and answers to the mysteries of life on our planet.

So the challenge is…. how can areas like this “Coral Triangle” be protected, knowing what we do about the severe threats to marine life and the health of oceans surrounding the Philippine islands due to pollution, over-development of coastal areas, poverty, overpopulation, climate change and unsustainable fishing practices?

From the Academy website:

To combat these dangers, the Academy developed a practice of rapidly translating data collected in the field into effective marine conservation actions.

By working with Filipino and international governments, organizations, and communities, we’ve been able to create real-world change.

Real world change means that as new discoveries are made, scientists take the data and work in collaboration with Philippine government officials and decision makers so that in turn, policy makers can take immediate actions to help protect these areas.

I realize solving the problems that harm our oceans are complex, and will require global cooperation and focus — especially as it relates to pollution and poverty.  But it seems to me, the method directed by Academy scientists may be a good model if immediate steps are indeed taken to preserve natural resources.

It is easy to be cynical (I know I am at times!) but I do think this approach, and increasing awareness about marine life is a positive step towards helping us — and the next generation of human beings — to be better stewards of our oceans and our natural resources.

Maybe the next time someone is tempted to leave trash or plastic bottles on the beach, they will remember these amazing creatures and the harm that it will cause…and do the right thing.  Ideally, the new generation will place as much focus on conservation issues as is placed today on celebrity news / political gossip.  Yes, I’m hopeful!

This video from the Academy tells how the 7,107 islands in the Philippines came to be…and the urgency in studying its marine biodiversity hotspots.

Have you heard of these new discoveries?

Are you hopeful, as I am, that scientists, conservation groups and a willing government / policy makers (and we, the public) can reverse the decline of our ocean’s health… or do you think it is too late?


This post is part of a series in support of the Earth-Friendly Chroniclers blogging challenge hosted by Jane from Just Another Nature Enthusiast.  To take part in this blogging event and to see other submissions for the theme “Healthy Oceans – Healthy Planet” click here.

Previous Earth-Friendly Chroniclers articles posted on are here.




10 Ways to Rise Above Plastics

Article about the plastic bag ban in California (California is the first U.S. State to ban single use plastic bags)

Link to California Academy of Sciences

New Americans: Top 5 country of birth for new U.S. citizens

American Flag Immigration imageAs an immigrant to the U.S., I am always interested in immigration topics, especially as it relates to Filipinos.

If you have ever wondered about the country of birth of new American citizens, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) publishes this data through the Office of Immigration Statistics.

The Top 5 Country of Birth for New Americans (for fiscal year 2011 to 2013):

  1. Mexico (99.385)
  2. India (49,897)
  3. Philippines (43,489)
  4. Dominican Republic (39.590)
  5. China (35,387)

And here is the chart of the Top 20 Country of Birth for New Americans:

Note: Filipinos dropped to #3 after India, from the #2 spot after Mexico in the data compiled for the previous report.

New Americans 2013 by Country of Birth

With Mexico being a neighboring country, it is no surprise that most new Americans were born in Mexico.

But what about the other countries?  Does this country of birth data surprise you?  For example, that India is #2 and that Iran (a country we often hear about in terms of U.S. foreign affairs) is in the Top 20 countries?

The chart below lists the top states where new Americans resided, at the time they became naturalized.

New Americans by state of residence

The number of new Americans residing in these 10 states represent 75% of those who naturalized. The data pretty much matches the states with the most population, and so there were no surprises for me on this chart.  How about you?

Do you know what it takes to become a U.S. citizen?  From the Department of Homeland Security:

An applicant for naturalization must fulfill certain requirements set forth in the INA concerning age, lawful admission and residence in the United States. These general naturalization provisions specify that a foreign national must be at least 18 years of age; be a U.S. lawful permanent resident (LPR); and have resided in the country continuously for at least five years. Additional requirements include the ability to speak, read, and write the English language; knowledge of the U.S. government and history; and good moral character.


Up until the 1970s, most people who become American citizens were born in European countries.

It shifted from Europe to Asia because of increased legal immigration from Asian countries, and the arrival of refugees from countries like Vietnam in the 1970s. Since 1976, countries in the Asian region has led as the origin of birth for new American citizens.

Earthquake memories and living on the San Andreas Fault

If you live in California — or even if you don’t — you probably think about earthquakes every now and then, and most likely have heard of the San Andreas Fault.

San_Andreas_Fault Image via NASA and Public Domain

The San Andreas Fault – Image via NASA (Public Domain)

From what I understand, this fault is a boundary where two parts of the earth’s crust (the Pacific plate – under the Pacific Ocean and the North American plate) meet.

The San Andreas Fault stretches for 810 miles (1300 km) across California, from the Salton Sea in the south all the way to Humboldt County, 200 miles north of San Francisco. It is the most studied boundary plate on our planet for the following reasons:

  •  it is on land, and therefore easier to study than tectonic plates that meet in the ocean
  • the fault is in close proximity to educational institutions and organizations dedicated to earthquake research

There are cities and communities that sit directly on the San Andreas Fault, and we lived in one of these communities while stationed at a base in the Mojave Desert in Southern California.

Late in the summer of 1981, Jeff and I drove from our military base in the high desert to the San Gabriel mountains.  He wanted to show me the little town where he and his friend, Bill, skied during the winter.  The town we visited is called Wrightwod, and about 40 miles (64 km) away from the base, at 6,000 feet (1809 m) elevation.

At the time, there were just over 2,000 people living there, though in the winter, there were many more as it was a popular ski resort area about 75 (124 km) miles from Los Angeles, in San Bernardino County.

Vintage photo 1981 Wrightwood California

Vintage photo! Wrightwood, California, Fall of 1981. This area is covered in snow in the winter, and the bare ski trails of the Mountain High Ski Resort can be seen on this photo.

While in Wrightwood, we went to a pub, where the bartender overheard us talking about how beautiful it was there.  He told us about a little cabin for rent just down the street.  On a lark, we decided to visit the cabin, and met the owners (who lived in the house next door).

It was partly furnished, had 1 bedroom, a fireplace, a loft space, and knotted pine walls.  It faced California’s State Highway 2, and behind the cabin was a hill.

Wrightwood cabin

The little cabin home we rented in Wrightwood, California.

Wrightwood cabin front

Front of the cabin, facing California Highway 2

We rented it on the spot, not even thinking about the drive we had to make back and forth from the base (about 45 minutes to 1 hour each way).

Shortly after our move, we met a fellow service member living there, and a civilian who also worked at the base, meaning we were able to join in a carpool.

Wrightwood hill behind cabin

Cabin roof after the first major storm, winter 1981. We were trapped as it took a while for the highways to be cleared.

Later on, I learned that the town sat on the San Andreas Fault from a newspaper article a co-worker showed me.  Wow…. a fault…oh, what is a fault?  Earthquakes… really?

Philippine Casiguran Earthquake

When I was little and we lived in Manila, a big earthquake hit the Philippines.  I remember my mother rushing us outside (that is what you were told to do back then), and the distraught neighbors around us talking about fires and something about the Ruby Tower.

With a bit of research, I found out that the Philippine earthquake happened in 1968 and was called the “Casiguran earthquake”.

Since it happened at night, I most likely was asleep when it hit.  More about this earthquake from a Wikipedia article:

The city of Manila was the hardest hit with 268 people killed and 261 more injured.

Many structures that suffered severe damage were built near the mouth of the Pasig River on huge alluvial deposits.

A number of buildings were damaged beyond repair while others only suffered cosmetic damage.

Two hundred and sixty people died during the collapse of the six-story Ruby Tower, located in the district of Binondo. The entire building, save for a portion of the first and second floors at its northern end, was destroyed. Allegations of poor design and construction, as well as use of low-quality building materials, arose. (More here)

Besides the earthquake in Manila, I had not experienced any other major earthquakes, and none while living in California at that point, so I didn’t really think much more about it.

California 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

Years later, we moved to the San Francisco Bay area, and lived here when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit Northern California.  The Loma Preita is in a segment of the San Andreas Fault.

San Francisco Skyline 2012 web

The beautiful San Francisco skyline as seen from Treasure Island at sunset (2012) Photo

The Loma Prieta earthquake is memorable because it happened during a World Series baseball championship, and was broadcast live on national television.

Due to the World Series, casualties were amazingly low (63 deaths and 3,757 injured).  Instead of being in the rush hour traffic heading home, many people left work early to watch the game, and traffic was lighter than normal.

While casualties were low compared to other earthquakes of the same magnitude, the Loma Prieta earthquake remains one of the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the United States.

View of San Francisco Bay at TI Web

To the left of this photo is the Oakland – San Francisco “Bay Bridge”. Photo

My younger sister was working in a San Francisco high-rise office building at the time of the earthquake.

It took us 5 hours to reach her by phone, when she finally made her way home…and we were relieved to find out she was safe and unhurt.

We lived in the East Bay, and I was in the car on the way to pick up my older sister when the earthquake happened.  I suddenly lost the radio signal, and felt the car making unusual movements — movements that I could not control with my steering wheel.

A few minutes later, I arrived at my older sister’s workplace.  She was already outside of the office building where she worked, and felt the earth quake beneath her feet, and saw the building she was just in, move and slightly sway.  She opened the car door and got in…we both couldn’t believe that a strong earthquake had just occurred.

Bay_Bridge_collapse photo USGS

The collapsed upper portion of the Bay Bridge. Photo by USGS via public domain

We rushed to pick up my daughter from her after-school care. She was outside at the playground during the earthquake, and she (and her teachers) told us they distinctly remembered that the birds stopped chirping right before and after the shaking.

We tuned into the news as soon as we got home — and were glued to the television set for hours.

It was a mistake, because the constant image of fires in the Marina District of San Francisco, and the collapse of a portion of the Bay Bridge made my daughter anxious about crossing the bridge, for many years after the earthquake!

San Andreas Fault North / South

Another well-known earthquake in California was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which destroyed 80% of San Francisco and killed 3,000 people.  The 1906 earthquake is also connected to the north part of the San Andreas Fault.

In terms of the death toll, the 1906 earthquake is the worst natural disaster in California’s history.

Wrightwood related at Geoscience WorldThe part of the fault where Wrightwood is located is in the south part the San Andreas Fault.

If you want to read more about Wrightwood as it relates to the San Andreas Fault, past earthquakes and predictions for future earthquakes, visit this GeoScience World article.

There have been many earthquakes in this part of the fault, and they note “These observations and elapsed times that are significantly longer than mean recurrence intervals at Wrightwood and sites to the southeast suggest that at least the southermost 200 km of the San Andreas fault is near failure.

San Andreas – The Movie

You may hear even more about the San Andreas Fault this summer.

An earthquake disaster movie with Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) is now playing in movie theaters, and it is called (what else?) San Andreas.

Here is the preview…

Nothing like seeing the place where you live (and that you love) destroyed and in total chaos…with millions of people in peril.

But at least it is just a movie, and perhaps it will make us think about our emergency preparedness, and supporting strict building codes and improvements that incorporate new technology to save lives in the event of “the big one”.

If the “big one” hits, will California fall into the Pacific Ocean?

Los Angeles from above web

Greater Los Angeles area – photo posted for article The Los Angeles Spread. Photo

The San Andreas movie trailer shows the ground splitting, complete destruction of buildings in downtown Los Angeles, and a tsunami in the process of finishing off the city of San Francisco.

The tsunami scenario is certainly real… and of all the natural disasters in the world’s history (i.e., volcanoes erupting, heatwaves, floods, typhoons, cyclones) earthquakes by far have killed more people than any other.

But the myth that you may have heard of — that California could somehow fall into the sea — when the big one hits, well, it is just that, a MYTH.

From the Earthquake Mythology page of the California Department of Conservation:

The San Andreas Fault System is the dividing line between two tectonic plates. The Pacific Plate is moving in a northwesterly direction relative to the North American plate. The movement is horizontal, so while Los Angeles is moving toward San Francisco, California won’t sink. However, earthquakes can cause landslides, slightly changing the shape of the coastline.

To further allay immediate concerns about a complete change in the California landscape should the big one occur on the San Andreas Fault (SAF), here is a clip from on how long it would take for California to look different from how we see it today:

California San Andreas Fault 28 million years old

I don’t know about you, but for me…that’s good to know!


Do you live in an earthquake prone area?

It seems to me that the entire state of California is earthquake prone, but it has not stopped people from living here.  There are now 38 million people that live in California — that is 1 out of every 8 Americans.

Have you heard about the San Andreas Fault or do you have earthquakes worries where you live?  I would also like to hear about your own earthquake experience, so please do leave comment.



  • From, see cities and communities in the fault zone (San Bernadino, along with Wrightwood in Southern Claifornia, and closer to home here in the Monterey Bay — Aromas, San Juan Bautista…)
  • Data from the USGS on the largest and deadliest earthquakes over the last 25 years.

Broken down barracks of Fort Ord in the Monterey Bay

Starting in 1917 and up to the 1990’s, almost 1,500,000 military troops trained at Fort Ord.  It was a major army post, located here in the Monterey Bay, in California’s central coast.

Although the post closed in 1994, many of the old buildings remain.

Because I was in the military, there is a part of me that is nostalgic about these buildings…and having lived at military bases, they are familiar to me.Fort Ord off Imjin Eucalyptus side barracks

In addition to its role as a major training base for the army, Fort Ord was also a staging and deployment area for troops that fought in World War II, as well as the Vietnam war.

Word War II is known as the most violent and largest armed conflict in history, and troops who trained here were involved in battles in the Philippines — my home country — after the Japanese conquered the Philippines in 1942.

Many of the old buildings at Fort Ord have already been torn down, and eventually, these will too, to be replaced with new housing communities, office and service facilities, and new shopping centers.

Fort Ord off Imjin barracks 6a

I’ve wanted to photograph some of these old buildings before they are gone forever, and glad that I finally had a chance to do so this month.

I was in the Air Force, and our living quarters were called “dormitories”.  But in the army and other armed forces, buildings that house soldiers are called “barracks”.  Definition below:

The English word comes via French from an old Catalan word “barraca” (hut), originally referring to temporary shelters or huts for various people and animals, but today barracks, are usually permanent buildings for military accommodation.

…The main object of barracks is to separate soldiers from the civilian population and reinforce discipline, training, and esprit de corps.

Fort Ord off Imjin barracks 2

These barracks photos are much different from my previous post for The Changing Season photo challenge (the beautiful scenery at Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf).

Fort Ord off Imjin exit side table

Still…I think it is worth posting, and preserving these images, especially as the landscape transitions to something else.

I imagined this place once filled with many soldiers, and the bugle sounds of the morning reveille — the wake up call (short sound clip below).

Over 20 years after the post closure, the abandoned barracks stand, wounded by vandals, and awaiting their end.

Most of the buildings have broken windows…

Doors removed, stairs missing or overtaken by iceplants…

Fort Ord off Imjin no more stairs

Debris around some of the buildings…

What remains at the Imjin exit side of Fort Ord are mature eucalyptus trees, and the ever-present and invasive ice plants — planted there to contain the sand and for erosion control.

Fort Ord off Imjin Eucalyptus trees

Across the street from these barracks, a wellness center and a shopping center is in place, and beyond these new buildings are brand new housing communities.

Future of Fort Ord land 1

The Ford Ord land also houses facilities used by California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB).  With plenty of land available to construct new buildings, CSUMB is predicted to eventually be the largest in the California State University system.

Fort Ord off Imjin Exit

It’s not all going to be developed though…

Thankfully, three years ago, a large part of the Fort Ord area became a national monument, and is federally protected from further development — a great thing for the Monterey Bay area!

In addition to the interior part of the Fort Ord land, beaches in this area are also part of the national monument  / California State Park system, and land set aside for the public.

And so the Fort Ord land that started as an artillery training field almost 100 years ago, and was a major post for the military from World War I to 1994 now continues its transition, with much of the land going back to public use.

Are there military base closures where you live?  How has the government and community transformed the land after closing the military facility?

Related link: President Barack Obama Proclamation – Establishment of the Fort Ord National Monument

…The protection of the Fort Ord area will maintain its historical and cultural significance, attract tourists and recreationalists from near and far, and enhance its unique natural resources, for the enjoyment of all Americans.

Asian Festival at Salinas Chinatown: Celebrating Chinese, Japanese, Filipino culture and preserving history

What warms this lola’s (grandmother’s) heart?  Seeing the next generation Filipino-Americans continue to learn and dance the “tinikling” at the Philippine Community Center — one of the venues for cultural performances at the 8th Annual Asian Festival in Salinas last month.

A popular Philippine folk dance, the tinikling originated in the island of Leyte and is named after the “tikling” bird.  The dance imitates the movements of the birds as they walk along branches and grasses, and how they get away from bamboo traps set out by rice farmers.

I remember trying this dance while in elementary school, and my worries of getting my feet caught (and smashed) in between the bamboo poles!

Filipino Folk Dancing Tinikling keep the beat

Little ones help to keep the dance rhythm by banging half coconut shells — and audience clapping / participation also helps to keep the bamboo pole holders timing as they slide and clang the bamboo poles for the dance.

The motion and footwork for the dances is also an entry for the WordPress photo challenge — though unfortunately, my camera settings produced a lot of photos also appropriate for the challenge theme of blur.

Note:  If you are interested in Philippine birding, see this article from Cornell Lab of Ornithology Getting familiar with Philippine Birds, including the “tikling” bird.  Excerpt with dance description:

In one of those convergences that make travel fascinating, we sat in a barnlike banquet hall at dinner and watched a local dance troupe perform the traditional Philippine tinikling, in which two people kneel and clap long bamboo poles together while dancers hop in and out of the poles in rhythm. The dance is named for tikling, the local term for a rail: dancers mimic the graceful, high-stepping gait of the bird as it walks through the marsh vegetation. In the Villa Escudero marsh the next morning, we saw several members of the Rallidae including Buff-banded and Barred rails, White-breasted Waterhen, White-browed Crake, and Watercock.

Aside from folk dancing, the festival is also a great place to sample authentic Chinese, Japanese and Filipino food.

At the Philippine venue, my favorite banana leaf wrapped item — the suman — as well as cassava cakes, puto, fried banana turons and halo-halo were among the choices for dessert.

But first, you had to get your chicken adobo, lumpia, pancit and rice combo packs…

The afternoon presentation at the Philippine venue showcased traditional Philippine formal wear featuring the Barong Tagalog — Filipino formal attire, and traditionally made of pineapple fabric or a type of fine abaca (musa textilis related to the banana plant) — and the changes throughout history in traditional women’s attire, influenced by over 300 years of the Spanish colonial era.

Philippine fashion show at Asian Festival 1

The malong garment — traditionally used by a number of ethnic groups in the Southern Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago — and its many variations was an interesting part of the fashion show.

A group of women who performed a folk dance earlier in the day also participated in the afternoon’s fashion show.

Filipino-American artist Elgene Ryan Tumacder was at the festival to exhibit some of his artwork…

Fil Am artist Elgene Ryan Tumacder at Asian Festival

You can see more of his work at the 2015 Capstone Festival, California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) on Friday, May 15th at the Visual / Public Art Buildings – 100 Campus Center, Seaside.

The exhibit by the Monterey Bay Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) is a must see, especially if you are looking to learn more about the Filipino community’s history in the Monterey Bay / Salinas Valley, and Filipinos in the context of the history of the United States.

I also add two random photographs taken at the festival because 1) the Philippines’ most famous athlete Manny Pacquiao fought against Floyd Mayweather last weekend and 2) I love the Tagalog word “makulit” and spotted a little guy with the word on his T-Shirt.

Makulit means one who is stubborn, or annoyingly asks questions that have already been answered…and hopefully the “makulit” person is toddler aged, when they ask the same thing over and over, and not an adult, right?  Though you can call anyone, regardless of age MAKULIT.

This year, children representing the Chinese community also performed at the Philippine venue stage.  Their dance delighted the audience!

If you missed this year’s festival and want to learn more about the  history of Salinas Chinatown, you can visit the Asian Cultural Experience (ACE) Salinas website.

Virtual Walking Tour Salinas ChinatownWhile there, be sure to check out the site’s historical timeline feature.

The timeline starts with the California Gold Rush, then the arrival of Chinese workers recruited to build the transcontinental railroad, and later as laborers to drain lakes and swamps that created 500 acres of farmland in Salinas, to the arrival of Japanese and Filipino immigrants to work as farm laborers.

The timeline feature gave me a better understanding of the struggles of Asian immigrants, and their contributions to the modern-day agricultural wonder that is Monterey county.

Historical Timeline Salinas ChinatownThe ACE Salinas website also features an oral history archive, conducted by California State University Monterey Bay students and faculty, as well as video documentaries about Chinatown produced by professional filmmakers and film students.

Oral History Archive

Click HERE to visit the Oral History Archive main page and here for the Filipino Community oral history archives.

And to learn more about the Monterey Bay Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society, click here.

I hope to see this festival continue grow in the coming years, and with the support of Monterey Bay residents, I believe it will.

WPC: Early Bird – Sunrise and Philippine pandan leaf sellers

My favorite time of the day is right after sunset — the twilight (“takip-silim” in the Philippine Tagalog language, takip meaning to cover, and silim means dusk). I am definitely not a morning person.

Earlier this year, I did see some amazing sunrises.  Luckily, I was awake and aware enough to appreciate the moment and snap some photos on my phone camera, with pine trees in silhouette…

Monterey Bay Area (California) Sunrise Photos

Sunrise 1

Sunrise 4

Philippine Pandan Leaf Sellers Sunrise Photos

Though I am not a morning person, one has to wake up pretty early if you want to buy leaves at the market where Philippine pandan leaves — called “romblon” in our region — are sold.

Here are a few of my photos of pandan leaf sellers unloading their banka (outrigger) boats and bringing in bundles of leaves to sell at the weekly market.  They usually pull in from surrounding islands right before sunrise.

Early Bird Photo Challenge

Early Bird Photo Challenge 3

Early Bird Photo Challenge 2

More versions of my pandan leaf seller photos arriving for market day are posted on the Native Leaf website, here (posted for the Golden Hour photo challenge).

Romblon Leaf "Bayongs" (Market Totes Bags)

Romblon Leaf “Bayongs” (Market Totes Bags)

And if you are curious about what products can be made from the  leaves of the pandan plant, in addition to its use in Asian and Pacific islands for cooking and food flavoring, see this post: Philippine Romblon (Pandanus) plant or click on the market totes – Philippine bayong photo.

To participate in this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge (WPC) theme of “Early Bird” or to see entries for this challenge, click here.

Early Bird Challenge theme guidelines, from

Whether it’s an unforgettable sunrise, that warm glow that only comes from early morning light, or just the lack of other people walking through your shot, early birding can pay real dividends in your photographs.

This week (and especially if you’re among those who find the early bird concept cringe-worthy), I encourage you to set your alarm for the early hours, grab your first (several) cups of coffee, and challenge yourself to capture an outstanding photograph in the early morning light.

Immigrant Terms and New Americans: Are you first, second or “1.5” generation?

California coast from airplane web

Above the California coast and the blue Pacific ocean

Are you “first-generation” or “second-generation”?

If your family immigrated to the United States, you have most likely been asked this question.  Or if you speak with a clear American accent, you may be asked “So…when did your parents immigrate to the U.S.?”.

The term “first-generation” usually mean the first among the family who immigrated to the new country.

For example, here in Monterey County and the Salinas Valley, I’ve met many “second-generation” Filipino-Americans.  Their parents (the first-generation) immigrated to the U.S. as adults and settled here.

Steinbeck Exhibit Wall 4Note: See my post about the “Filipino Voices” exhibit at the National Steinbeck Center and the Asian Cultural Experience website to get a sense of the history of Filipinos and the Asian-American community in this part of California.

The 1 point 5 GenerationDid you know there is also a name for another category of  immigrants… the “1.5 generation”?

My younger sister and I fit this category, because we immigrated to the U.S. when I was 16, and when she was 14.

My older sister was already an adult and married when she immigrated to the U.S from the Philippines a year ahead of us, so she is considered a “first-generation” immigrant, and her daughter Stephanie is a 2nd generation Filipino-American (though she identifies as an “American” with 1/2 Filipino ancestry).


My older sister — the “first-generation” immigrant — pictured at right was 19 and married when she immigrated to the United States. She had already lived in two U.S. states by the time I took this photo in New Jersey, with my then 15-year old younger sister at left (the “1.5-generation” immigrant). Both are now American citizens. Photo taken the fall of 1980 with my first SLR camera, a Minolta, at the time when you actually had to buy a roll of black and white “film”.

The definition for the “1.5 generation” fits my younger sister and I very well. A Wikipedia article on immigrant generations defines 1.5G as:

…people who immigrate to a new country before or during their early teens. They earn the label the “1.5 generation” because they bring with them characteristics from their home country but continue their assimilation and socialization in the new country, thus being “halfway” between the 1st generation and the 2nd generation. Their identity is thus a combination of new and old culture and tradition. Sociologist Ruben Rumbaut was among the first to use the term to examine outcomes among those arriving in the United States before adolescence.[2]

Depending on the age of immigration, the community into which they settle, extent of education in their native country, and other factors, 1.5 generation individuals will identify with their countries of origin to varying degrees. However, their identification will be affected by their experiences growing up in the new country. 1.5G individuals are often bilingual and find it easier to be assimilated into the local culture and society than people who immigrated as adults.

Many 1.5 generation individuals are bi-cultural, combining both cultures – culture from the country of origin with the culture of the new country.

For more information on this immigrant term, see the blog post by Leslie Berenstein Rojas “Gen 1.5: Where an immigrant generation fits in with information from UCLA anthropologist Kyeyoung Park.

Country Road and Fence Monterey web

Country road – North Monterey County, California

Are you or your parents 1st or 2nd generation…or does the term “1.5” fit you?

If you have Filipino ancestry and live in the U.S, do you consider yourself a Filipino-American, or refer to yourself as an American?

Unless…Water is a Precious Resource (an Earth-Friendly Friday Challenge) From the U.S. to the Philippines, a remembrance and how we take water for granted

I heard my niece, Stephanie, calling out for me from the bathroom of my mother’s house.  She is 15, and it is her first visit to the Philippines…

Rice Fields and Coconut Trees

Rice Fields and Coconut Trees — Verdant Philippines — drive from the pier to home. I can’t imagine not liking the color green, especially if you grew up in the Philippines.

Stephanie found the journey to the Philippines unbelievably long.  For her, it began in the U.S. state of Virginia — then to California, to first attend the wedding of my younger sister.

Several days after the wedding, we are headed from San Francisco, California to Manila — the largest city in the Philippines.

Sunset from above ground webAfter a long layover in Manila, we take another hour-long, plane ride to the island of Cebu, then head to the pier for a 2 hour “Supercat” ride — a catamaran style ferryboat service that shuttles people from one island to the next.  At the pier, we are picked up and all load into a van headed for my mother’s home.

But it is another 45 minute drive from the pier to our mother’s home…and by this time, we had been traveling for 24 hours.   While in the van, a travel weary Stephanie asked…”so what is next after the van ride?”

water buffallo kalabaw or carabao late 1800s

water buffallo (kalabaw or carabao) Photo from late 1800s.

I told her that after we arrive, we would have to ride atop a water buffalo (a “kalabao” or carabao) with our luggage, and head up to the mountains.  “The van cannot travel on those unstable roads” I tell her.

She shakes her head in disbelief…”A water bufallo???”.  I smile at her and tell her I am just joking…the van is the last leg of the trip, and soon, we would finally be at my mother’s home.

The following day, she wakes up and wants to take a shower.  It is hot, humid, and she is looking forward to a shower, especially after the long journey.  She is calling me from the bathroom because she has turned the water faucet handles and no water is coming out.

I knock on the bathroom door and ask her what she needs.”Is there a trick to the faucets?” she asked.  She opens the door, and I explain to her that there is no water pressure in the morning…and most likely, there will be no water available until the evening.  “How am I suppose to take a shower, then…and why is there a big garbage can size container of water in the shower?”

I tell her…”well Steph, that container of water is your shower”.


A Filipino “Tabo”

I point to the “tabo” floating on top of the big container of water in front of her, and pick it up. “You see this thing Steph, it is called a tabo. You dip it in the water, then pour the water over your head and body to rinse.  Then you soap up, shampoo, then do the same with a final rinse”.

I tell her it’s a “tropical shower”, and add…”or…you can wait until this evening to take a shower, when the water pressure is back up”.   Her jaw drops…then she responds “Really?” I answer back “Yes, Steph…really.”

I giggle as I close the bathroom door and imagine the culture shock she must be experiencing.  Having grown up in the Philippines, and accustomed to preparing for water being unavailable from the tap, I find the situation amusing.  And then I think, well, all in all, it is good for her because there is so much we take for granted living in the United States.

Filipina with water jar

Photo of a young Filipina with a clay water jug, late 1800’s. My sisters and I fetched water during the early 1970s, and thankfully, the containers we had for our water were much lighter than the one from this photo…

While living in the province (“prubinsya” or away from the city) when my sisters and I were young, we experienced having to “fetch” water away from home.  A few times when the water wells dried up, we had to walk up the road to a natural spring site to get fresh water.

To this day, we all remember fondly our time in the province and once in a while still utter…”okay…mag-igib na tayo nang tubig” — translated to “let us go and fetch some water now”.  Then we laugh about it, because of how absurd it sounds, with all 3 of us now living in the states.

Can you imagine having to “fetch” water?  Picture our little tribe of kids walking on the gravel roadside with our balde (buckets), and metal containers, headed to the  natural spring source.  We fill our containers and carefully walk back — trying not to spill what we fetched.

I remember our older sister scolding us every few steps because of the water spilling out from our heavy containers.  She tells the group to be careful because we would all have to come back AGAIN if we keep letting water spill out.

We do our best, but I’m pretty sure we lost half of the water by the time we got back to our Nanay Lucing and Tatay Kerpo’s place (our Aunt and Uncle’s house).


This post in support of Unless…Earth-Friendly Friday Challenge for World Water Day – Water is a precious resource; let us count the ways.

Although my take for this challenge is a little humorous, I do hope the post will make us appreciate how we take water for granted here in the U.S.  There are still many places around the world where clean water is hard to find — or does not even come out of a faucet.

Please check out these photos from the International Business Times for World Water Day (found via and you will think twice about ever wasting water again.

Water is everything to all of us on this planet. 

Without water, we cease to exist.  It’s as simple as that…


Photo taken during the time of Stephanie’s visit, of a group of us swimming at a natural river “pool”. My daughter is at the front, both arms up — she was 13 then (and now I am a grandmother to her 2 boys). Behind her is my mother, and from left, my older sister, our cousin Donah, my cousin Ate Violeta, and her daughter.

This post is also dedicated to my niece, Stephanie, who celebrated her birthday this week.  Happy Birthday, Stephanie!   We are still trying to convince her to come and visit the Philippines again…


Stephanie’s Baby Photo

My mother had a water tower installed several years after Stephanie’s visit.  It is filled up every night, so that throughout the day, there is water available for cooking, washing dishes, gardening, washing clothes, or even….for taking showers.

Ready to visit again, Stephanie?

Happy Birthday

From left, my younger sister, older sister (celebrating her birthday) and her daughter —- my niece — Stephanie.

Rural Philippines Clothes Washing

I posted an article about water use (and water saving tips), and about Filipinos — as well as Filipino-Americans using a “tabo” for the weekly WordPress Earth-Friendly challenge.


Photo via Mom Bloggers For Social Good

The website Mom Bloggers For Social Good recently posted photos and an article about Women and Water in the Philippines

You can see a tabo on the photo above in a community area for washing clothes.  Click on the photo or here to read about water and sanitation projects happening in rural areas in the Philippines.

There are also photos of women washing clothes at a Philippine river for my post on the Weekly Photo Challenge theme, Humanity (Liberated from Laundy?).

Laundry day 2a web

Laundry day 1 web

It is great to see development projects focused on improving conditions for women, especially water projects — and I take comfort in my belief that dedicated people are working to alleviate the causes poverty and inequality in our world.

Especially because my Philippine laundry photos — in our modern times — should be MUCH different from the one below, taken over 100 years ago…

clothes washing old Philippines

Photo circa around 1890s from the book “The Philippine Islands”.

Unless… Earth-Friendly Friday: My Water Footprint and about the Filipino “tabo”

This week’s Earth-Friendly challenge continues on the theme of water (last week was about our watersheds – and our watershed in Monterey County is the Salinas River Watershed).

The challenge this week asked us to take a “Water Footprint Calculator” developed by National Geographic.  I highly recommend taking this survey — I was surprised at the information learned including:

  • It takes 880 gallons of water to produce a gallon of milk
  • 1 cup of coffee takes 55 gallons of water to make (we drink a lot of coffee!)

Here are the numbers for our household:

Water Footprint Calculator

Part of why we use less water than the U.S. Average is that we live in an area with very mild climate and we do not have a typical lawn (though our neighbors do, and one in particular has installed a “fake” or plastic lawn — see photos here).

So…it takes very little water to maintain the trees and shrubs where we now live, and we also save on energy bills because no one needs an air conditioner in this area.

We are older and do not need or buy as many “stuff” as most.  And again, because of the mild climate, our clothing do not need to be washed as often as say, if we lived in the Philippines or a hot climate where clothing would be drenched in sweat every few hours and must be washed frequently.

The area we can continue to improve upon to reduce our water footprint is our diets and to eat less meat.  Though we eat a lot of chicken, I do want to eventually transition more to a mostly vegetarian diet.  Cutting out beef and pork completely (which my younger sister has done) and some form of meat is still a challenge because

  1. Jeff grew up in the Midwest and although he is a great cook and we eat a variety of styles of food, his basic go to meal consists of a plate with a “meat”, potatoes, and vegetables.
  2. Pork is a big part of my Philippine culture and celebrations — as with many Pacific / island nations — and I’m not quite there yet in terms of completely cutting that out of my diet (see post “My Germany and Philippine Connection” and you will get an idea, since a Filipino party is not a real party without our “lechon”.

The bottom line is there are always areas to improve on,  in our household’s water footprint.

I recently met two women who go above and beyond most in their water saving efforts, and I add their ideas for this blog post.

Marilyn Water Saving HeroineThis is Marilyn — a water saving heroine.

She is a retired teacher and lives in Bakersfield (Southern California) where there are water restrictions in place because of California’s continuing — and severe drought conditions.

She told me that when she takes a shower, she puts a bucket under the tub/faucet to capture water that otherwise would go down the drain, while she waits for the water temperature to warm to her liking. She also uses her washing machine “grey water” to water her garden.

She has been able to reduce her water use and bill by 50% with these new habits!

Amalia Water Saving HeroineThis is Amalia — she lives in Marina (Monterey County, California) and is also a water saving heroine.

She is mindful about saving all the water she can, including using the grey water from washing her dishes to water her plants.

She is originally from the Philippines and does something that some Filipinos still practice — in the Philippines — and that most Filipino-Americans would not think to do here in the U.S.

She uses a “tabo” (pronounced as“TAH-boh”) to bathe.

So what the heck is a tabo, you ask?  Technically, a sort of water dipper and tool for taking a tropical shower!

The modern tabos are made with plastic and has a handle.  Traditional ones were made of hollowed bamboos with a handles, or large coconut shells.


A plastic “tabo”. My older sister and I each brought one back from a trip to the Philippines, because we had not seen anything like it (with a handle) for sale here in the states.

The tabo is also used for bathroom hygiene and cleaning, and is pretty much a fixture in bathrooms in the Philippines — in private homes as well as in public places (work places, restaurant bathrooms, etc.).

Using a tabo to bathe is actually akin to an old-fashioned “military shower” where you rinse, shut off the shower water, lather, shampoo, etc., then turn the shower on again to rinse off.

Except that instead of the shower,  the tabo is used with a big bucket (called a “balde”) or other larger container of water.  Same idea, you dip the tabo in the bucket, pour the water over your head and body to rinse…then soap, lather, shampoo, then do a final rinse.  It saves A LOT of water.

Amalia is super dedicated to saving resources not for herself but as she put it “for my children, and their children…and those living here on earth after I am gone”.  She says she often gets into disagreements with her sister and family members about her eco-habits, and they don’t understand why she takes a Filipino style bath, telling her “you are in America now, why are you still using a tabo?”….yet she proudly sticks to her water-saving practices.

While I admire Amalia’s dedication to water conservation, I’m now quite fond of the American style shower.  Though she has inspired me to check to see if the shower heads we have use the absolute least amount of gallons per minute!  Always room for improvement, right?  :)

To participate in this timely WordPress weekly challenge hosted by, and inspired by the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax,  click here.

NOTE: For this post, my explanation of the tabo is for its use as a “tropical shower”.  In the Philippines and other countries in Southeast Asia, a tabo is part of the culture — and specifically, the bathroom culture (and may be controversial or disgusting to non-Filipinos).  So if you really are curious, there is a comprehensive Wikipedia article about the Filipino use of the tabo, its history, and includes mention of a Filipino who was fired from his job in Australia for using a tabo.  Click here to read…


ecology_center_headerBerkeley, California-based Ecology Center’s Guide to Greywater-Compatible Cleaning ProductsWastewater that is discharged to the greywater system ends up in the garden soil and can either be beneficial or harmful to soil, water systems, and plant life. A common problem with improper use of greywater systems is salt build up in the soil…

2014 California ShowerMy post last year about California’s drought emergency as it relates to showers and crop production


baths v shower cat dog image

Which method uses less water — Bath vs. Shower? Question answered by Umbra at

A Day to Celebrate Love

Love Symmetry web

Love image from a mural at a school building, San Jose, California

Today is Valentine’s Day, and although celebrated by many as a day about romantic love, I think it should be a day to think about and celebrate love…in general.

Bloggers sometimes include a favorite quote when posting their photography, or articles.  I like this practice and include this for today…

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

—Rumi, 13th Century Persian Poet


Chocolate “beans” come from the fruit of the cacao tree. The pods grow on the branches and trunks of the tree.


Did you get or give chocolate – the most craved food in the world — today?

Click on the cacao pod photo to find out how cacao trees — source of chocolate — came to be grown in the Philippines.


PRI Article: Catholic leaders battle against birth control in the Philippines

Related to my post yesterday about Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines, and on the pope’s comment that  “Catholics should not be like rabbits”, here is a report from PRI: Catholic leaders battle against free birth control in the Philippines

Video accompanying the article…


…Half of all pregnancies in the predominantly Catholic Philippines are unintended, according to a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, a US-based think tank that promotes reproductive health.

Of those unintended pregnancies, 90 percent are due to a lack of modern methods of contraception. Unlike in some other developing nations, the Philippines’ government has not provided free contraception.

…The lack of free contraception has taken a toll on maternal health, according to experts.

The Philippines isn’t on track to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal deaths from 162 per 100,000 in 2006 to just 52 deaths per 100,000 women by this year.

The UN Population Fund’s director for the Philippines, Klaus Beck, is hopeful the new law will change things.

And here is the UN MDG (Millennium Development Goals) Analysis for the Philippines, referenced by this report:

UN MDG Goals Analysis Philippines

UN Millennium Development Goals Analysis for the Philippines. Click on the chart for full details.

Want more information about the UN’s Millennium Development Goals for 2015?  See my post about the promise of 189 nations to free people from extreme poverty here.

What are your thoughts and opinion about this?  I’d like to know…

Why Pope Francis went to the Philippines

Pope Francis’ 4-day visit to the Philippines last week prompted questions from my (not Filipino) friends like…”so why did the pope visit your home country?  Why not other, more populous nations in the region — like Indonesia, or Pakistan or Bangladesh?”

Photo from the Vatican website

Photo from the Vatican website

My friends are right in that the Philippines is not the most populous country in Asia and even in Southeast Asia.  What they didn’t know was that the Philippines is the only country in the region with a majority Christian (primarily Catholic) religion.

Media reported that 80% of the Philippine population are Catholics.  Since the Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world with over 100 million people, that is around 80 million Filipino Catholics!

The Philippines is among the 10 countries in the world with the largest number of Christians (ranked #5 after the USA, Brazil, Mexico and Russia).

Here are numbers from a Pew Research study:

Chart Source: PewResearch Religion and Public Life Project

Chart Source: Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project

Around 6 million people gathered to see and hear Pope Francis at Manila’s Luneta / Rizal Park last week.  Rizal Park (renamed after Philippine national hero Jose Rizal) is one of the largest urban park in Asia — but still, a crowd of 6 million?

Image from Vatican Website

Image from Vatican Website

Six million is roughly the entire population of Finland, or the entire U.S. state of Massachusetts converging for an event in one place.  Can you imagine being around that many faithful followers?

Many Filipinos are religious — and it is no wonder there are 80 million Catholics in the Philippines. For many, this faith sustains the spirit, and gives hope, despite living in conditions that most of us cannot imagine.

But the Catholic church — at least in the Philippines — is so powerful that over the last 15 years, they blocked and stood in the way of badly needed reproductive rights legislation.  Legislation that would have allowed family planning education and for poor families to access free birth control to help with overpopulation, and subsequent poverty problems.

See my post

Population Philippines – Too many mouths to feed

and the beautiful and poignant video “Above and Below” from Stephen Werc on the post “Living with the dead” to get an idea.

A reproductive health bill finally passed and is now law, but the church is continuing to lobby to overturn the new law.

The Pope visited the Philippines because there are more Catholics there than any other nation in Asia.  Prior to going to Manila, the Pope also visited Tacloban, the area hit by Super Typhoon, Haiyan in November of 2013. Typhoon Haiyan was the most devastating typhoon in Philippine history and one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded.

I am not a Catholic — and don’t agree with their stance on birth control — but if I was, Pope Francis is someone I imagine I could relate to, as the leader of my church.

Family planning aside, Pope Francis seems like someone who truly cares about the plight of poor people on our planet.  I just don’t understand  why the Catholic church view family planning and reproductive health topics as separate from what contributes to world poverty.

You may have heard about the latest OXFAM report published this month, and that “1 in 9 people do not have enough to eat and more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25-a-day.

We cannot accept this, and I hope the power of faith, and those devoted to the core beliefs of Christianity or whatever religion guides them, will work to eradicate poverty and to address the unbelievable, and continuing inequality of what the rich have and what the poor do not, living in our modern, but fragile world.



  • The last time the leader of the Catholic church visited the Philippines was 20 years ago, when Pope St. John Paul II presided over World Youth Day in Manila.
  • Prior to arriving in the Philippines, Pope Francis was in the country of Sri Lanka to canonize the country’s first saint, Blessed Joseph Vaz who was known as the “Apostle of Ceylon.”  Sri Lanka has a population of 20 million, of which 7.4 % are Christians, with about 80% of Christians being Roman Catholic. Portuguese colonist brought Christianity to Sri Lanka in the early 16th century (more about Sri Lanka here).


OXFAM International’s article Richest 1% will own more than all the rest in 2016

For more on countries the pope will visit this year (including scheduled visits tot he USA and Africa), visit the National Catholic Register website here.

You may find the following post of interest as well, related to  the Philippines & human development topics:

The photo that inspired me to find out what happened to the natural fiber rope trade, once dominated by Philippine “Manila Hemp”

While reading about the 2014 International Coastal Clean-up Day I came across this beach clean-up photo by Kip Evans.

plastic rope debris photo by Kip Evans

The image — and knowing something about ghost nets in our oceans — had me curious about marine trash washed up on the beach and remaining in our oceans, and specifically, when the world switched from using biodegradable natural fiber fish nets and ropes (photos below) to synthetic or plastic, petrochemical-based ropes.

In the process, I learned how the Philippine fiber, abaca, known as “Manila hemp” dominated the natural fiber rope industry starting in the mid 1800’s…

abaca hemp warehouse Manila late 1800s

Traders at abaca warehouse, Manila, Philippines late 1800’s. Bales of abaca are at bottom right of photograph. Photo source: The Philippine Islands by Ramon Reyes Lala via the Gutenberg website, published in 1898 by the Continental Publishing Company.

…and how a material invented in the 1930’s and originally designed as a fabric to replace women’s silk stockings signaled the decline of abaca / Manila hemp as a prime material for the natural rope and cordage industry.

Interested in a bit of history?  Link to the article on Native Leaf’s blog here (The switch from natural fiber abaca, hemp ropes to synthetic ropes).

Related Links:

Philippine President on Global Security, China and Climate Change


Photo via Here & Now website: Jeremy Hobson speaks with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III in Boston. (Samantha Fields/Here & Now)

Climate change is a reality.  The Philippines has experienced strange weather patterns over the last few years — typhoons in November / December when they normally end by September.

The November, 2013 Typhoon Haiyan (called “Yolanda” in the Philippines) was the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record and one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded.

The Philippines is a member of the United Nations (UN) Commission on Climate Change, and President Benigno Aquino spoke at the United Nations Climate Summit on September 23, 2014.

The day before he spoke at the Summit, President Aquino was interviewed by Jeremy Hobson on the public radio program Here and Now

In case you missed it, here are links to the broadcast…worth a listen, covering global security and climate change as it relates to the Philippines and the U.S – Philippines relationship.

Interview excerpt:

On the threat of climate change for the Philippines

“If you look at the maps, especially for storms coming from the Pacific side, it seems like we’re a gateway to the rest of Asia.”

“For instance, Typhoon Haiyan. We don’t get typhoons in December. They normally end by September. A typhoon happening in October is considered a late event. Having a major typhoon in December (and this has happened for practically ever year that I’ve been in office) … is truly alarming to us.

“Even the planting cycles, which are really very dependent on weather — there seems to be a return to normal this year — but for the past few years they kept on changing, which affects the food security, not only for us, but for a whole range of other countries.”

Note: If you cannot play President Benigno Aquino’s interview from this page, link to the Here and Now program’s web page, here.

Is lip-pointing a learned or inherited trait? And by the way, it’s not exclusively Filipino…

Western style pointing

My grandson, Gabriel, at the beach, hot cocoa in one hand and the other hand pointing like most…

People living in areas where the index or the “pointer” finger is the norm when pointing may think that this communication method is a universal gesture….but it is not.

According to the paper The Protean Pointing Gesture, lip-pointing — instead of finger-pointing — in one form or another is a method used not just among Filipinos, but also widely used by those living in other parts of Southeast Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Africa, and South America.

If you know Filipinos and Filipino-Americans who grew up in the Philippines, you will know what I mean by lip-pointing.  If you haven’t seen it, here is a great description from Lisa who blogs at

Filipino lip pointing is actually more than just a simple puckering up. First there’s eye-to-eye contact, followed by variations of lip pursing, combined with a eyebrow, head and neck action, the execution of which all depends on the intention of the pointer.

Non-Filipinos who have observed this gesture find it confusing, and sometimes hilarious.  Foreigners should be wary of this practice.  A Filipina puckering her lips doesn’t necessarily mean she’s asking for a kiss.  She could just be pointing to something on your shoulder.  She might slap you in the face, if you misinterpret.

One of the most common reasons for lip pointing is to give quick directions, of which explaining verbally would take a longer time.

So, if you’re at a mall, and you ask a Filipino who’s carrying grocery bags up to his arms where the rest room is, he might purse his lips then extend his neck to the direction of the restroom in one smooth action.  Or he would purse his lips, lift his head up, and turn it to his left, which means: walk straight ahead, and make a left turn at the next corner. A head bobble before the head lift would mean pass two aisles down before making a left. If he over extends his neck, bends a bit, and stretches his lips outward, it means you’ve got a farther ways to walk.

According to the study, finger-pointing is one of the first gestures a human baby uses to communicate, even before they can speak.  And this is seen everywhere and across cultures.  So does this mean lip-pointing is something one learns?

Lip Pointing learned or natural webBut if it is also common for people from a particular region of the world to lip-point (e.g., Southeast Asia) then is it possible that lip-pointing is also an inherited trait?

If my U.S.-born grandsons (who are part Filipino) decide to move and live in a country where lip-pointing is common, will they easily convert to this method?

Unfortunately, the question of whether lip pointing is an inherited or a learned behavior is not answered in the study, so we will have to wait for further research.

But what do you think…learned or inherited? After all, it is not easy to teach someone how to lip-point.

Speaking of more research, can they can also find out why Filipinos and Thais sniff kiss?

Philippine narket web

Scene from market in the Philippines. Hands full? No need to drop those market bags right away since you can just let the vendor know you want by lip-pointing.

I do wonder if modern Filipinos point less with their lips, and like the rest of the so-called WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic) societies, switch exclusively to pointing with their index finger.  I hope not, as I find lip-pointing an endearing Filipino trait, and one I hope is kept by modern and future Filipinos.

For a funny take on Filipino lip-pointing, check out this YouTube video and Auntie Advice from the HappySlip Channel.

Unless with family, I rarely point with my lips now, compared to when I first immigrated to the U.S…so yes, I now point the WEIRD way.

If you are Filipino living outside the Philippines, do you still lip-point?

And another clip on YouTube featuring the Filipino-American comedian Jo-Koy talking about his 3 1/2 year old and his lip-pointing Filipina mother…

And oh wow, just in time for the 2014 Holiday Black Friday shopping, see this Wal-Mart ad targeting Asian Americans — specifically one in Tagalish featuring an actor who…yes indeed… points with his lips.

Liberated from laundry? Humanity and my take on this week’s photo challenge

We walked to the river carrying everything we needed to do the laundry…from the bundles of clothes and wash basins balanced on top of our heads, the bars of soap, the pot of rice, bananas and other food we will cook and eat while we wait for the warm sun to dry the clothes on the rocks.

This was laundry day when I was a kid and lived in the province (away from the city). Since my younger sister and I were still little, we played and splashed in the water while the other women in our household went about the task of washing clothes.

Fast forward decades later, I am  back to the Philippines, and while stopped over a bridge to take in the view, I look below and see a scene from my childhood…women washing clothes by the river.

Laundry day 3 web

I am nostalgic and remember the fun we had playing in the river during laundry day — rearranging rocks to form our own little swimming pools and creating dams to capture fish and freshwater shrimps.

Then I thought, wait….I am a grandmother now…why are these women STILL doing laundry this way?

My take on this week’s WordPress photo challenge are photos about something we share as modern humans..that is, we all wear clothes, and these clothes need to be washed.

Laundry day 2a web

How we go about doing laundry though is a symbol of how developed the area is where we live, and how much time is available to women.

Here in the US, over 80% of households have clothes washers (even almost a decade ago, based on the these stats from the US Department of Energy):

Percent clothes washer stats US

For poor households, over 60% still had clothes washers…and anyone can go to laundromat to wash clothes.

We take for granted the clean running water we have access to, and the machines that liberate us from tedious tasks, like washing clothes.

Laundry day 5 web

How often is this scene still repeated around the world daily?  Imagine how liberated human beings  — particularly women — can be, simply by having a  machine that we take for granted here in the US.

Laundry day 4 web

It may not be something we ever think about, but to me, how laundry is done around the world is an indicator of progress.

And the work towards eradicating poverty worldwide — so that everyone has access to the tools, and yes, machinery — to allow us more time to live a good life and express ourselves is part of what defines our humanity.

To see beautiful humanity inspired photographs and other imaginative takes on the challenge, visit the WordPress Photo Challenge Site. 

For more on why I think there is still so much poverty in my home country of the Philippines, see my post Chameleons: Why Filipinos live and work in just about every country in the world.

Otters in the Philippines (Asian short-clawed otters)

I adore sea otters and have posted several articles / photos / videos about California sea otters on my blog.  Until recently — and although I grew up in the Philippines — I did not know there were otters in the Philippines, too.

California Sea Otter - Photo by my grandson (then 8 years old) Jun-Jun

California Sea Otter – Photo by my grandson (then 8 years old) Jun-Jun

It turns out that sea otters are found not only along the coastal areas of the Pacific Ocean in North America but also in parts of Asia.

Philippine Map Source US State Department

Map Source: US Department of State

In the Philippines, otters live in the Palawan area, on the western part of the archipelago.

There is not much information about Philippine otters posted on-line, not even within the comprehensive National Geographic website.

And I could not find information on exactly how many otters are left in the wild in Palawan or anything else about their current status.

So far, here is what I did find:


The Asian short-clawed otter has a large distribution, ranging from north-western and south-western India, through southern China (including Hainan) and the Malay Peninsula, to Sumatra, Java, Borneo and the Riau Archipelago (Indonesia), and Palawan Island in the Philippines.

The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) list Asian sea otters in the “Threatened” category.  

Specifically, Asian sea otters are listed as “Vulnerable” under the IUCN Red list.

As with other wildlife vulnerable to or facing extinction in the Philippines, the threats to  otters include deforestation, pollution, humans destroying the otters and their natural habitats (e.g., turning mangroves into aquaculture farms).

Compared to the sea otters we see here on the central California coast, the Philippine otter is much smaller. This video from Diana J. Limjoco’s blog shows 3 young Philippine otters brought to her Palawan home by locals.

The otters on this video — like most otters — are truly adorable.  I am curious about how they are doing, especially health-wise living among the other domesticated pets in the household.

I am also curious if there is a program in the Philippines established to care for orphaned otters so they can be re-introduced back into the wild (as the topic of the film Saving Otter 501 — shown on the PBS show Nature).

In neighboring countries of Malaysia and Singapore, otters are totally protected by the government.  In the Philippines, Republic Act # 9147 (2001) prohibits the killing, collection, possession, and maltreatment of wildlife.

But if locals do not know about the R.A. 9147 law or how special and rare these creatures are, and if there is no funding to enforce the law or do public service announcements (PSAs), then the law is useless in terms of saving remaining Philippine otters.

There was a blog started by Philippine otter researchers called “Palawan Otters” (Lyca Sandrea G. Castro) but it may be abandoned as there were only a few post, and not any new information since last year.  I hope they are continuing their research and will post new information on the blog soon.  (NOTE – as of September, 2014, Ms. Castro has revived the blog — YAY!!! I have added the “protecting otters” poster from the Palawan Otters blog at the bottom of this post.)

Here is another video of Asian small-clawed otters at the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand playing with a pebble, via Wikipedia commons.

When I think of poverty issues facing many Filipinos it seems that my interest and focus on endangered animals are inconsequential.  What is the point of learning about these animals and writing a blog post if they are so close to the edge of extinction.  What difference is it going to make…

I suppose there is always hope, and I am again reminded of the 1968 quote from Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum:

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand.  We will understand only what we are taught.”

Sometimes, endangered wildlife are killed simply due to a lack of understanding of their role in our ecosystem, or by necessity, caught for food…it is as basic as that, and goes back to poverty issues.

The same problems that cause wildlife to become extinct — pollution from pesticides, loss of their habitat due to illegal activities that degrade the environment — are issues that also make people vulnerable to other disasters. So I don’t think we have a choice…we have to learn about endangered wildlife and how their loss affects our ecosystem, and spread the word.  It can only improve our prospect for saving our environment and perhaps make the difference for future inhabitants of our planet.

UPDATE:  As I was getting ready to publish this post, I googled “Philippine Wildlife Act 9147 sea otters” and found a comprehensive paper written by Jeric Bocol Gonzalez titled Distribution Exploitation and Trade Dynamics of A.cinereus in Mainland Palawan, Philippines.  Published in 2010, the situation did not look promising for rare Philippine sea otters back then!  Does anyone have any new information since publication of Jeric’s thesis?

Otter Protection Photo from Palawan Otter Blog

Click on the photo to link to Palawan Otters blog

Other (Sea) Otter posts on

And for more about California sea otters, see The Otter Project. and the Monterey Bay Aquarium website page Sea Otters as Risk.

Related endangered wildlife posts:

LAST NOTE:  If you want more information about otters in other parts of the world, visit the IUCN’s Otter Specialist Group website (where I found Jeric Gonzalez’s paper).

Jose Antonio Vargas…and the upcoming Pistahan Festival

Jose-Antonio-Vargas-22Jose Antonio Vargas, a well-known activist for undocumented immigrants was recently detained at a Texas airport while reporting on the onslaught of minors crossing into the U.S. from Central America.

I posted about Mr. Vargas when he was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Pistahan Festival — a festival in San Francisco celebrating Filipino culture and cuisine.   Excerpt:

Jose Antonio Vargas was part of the Washington Post team covering the Virginia Tech shootings, earning a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting. Vargas profiled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker in 2010, and his articles on AIDS inspired the documentary, The Other City.

In 2011, Vargas became the “story” when he revealed that he was an undocumented immigrant, in an essay for The New York Times Sunday Magazine.   Continue reading…

I am following his courageous work…and fears about him being deported (though always the possibility, and part of his reality) were allayed after reading the article from Mother Jones on 8 Reasons Why Jose Antonio Vargas Won’t Be Deported.  Made sense to me!


Members of the Kariktan Dance Company at the Pistahan Festival celebrating Filipino culture

And the post reminded me that the 2014 Pistahan Festival is coming up soon…

In case you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or nearby, Pistahan is the largest celebration of Filipino culture in the United States and worth attending.

Pistahan’s focus this year is the Visayan culture!

A huge and colorful parade kicks the festival off on August 9th, and the festival runs through August 10th at Yerba Buena Gardens — Moscone Convention Center area.  For parade schedule and festival information, visit

There are terrific performances and great food if you want to sample Filipino cuisine (the year we went, they had Pinx Catering serving up Ube Waffles).

More Filipino food related posts, here and post on Why Filipinos live and work in just about every country in the world, here.

Mosquito bites and the chickungunya virus

A viral disease called chickungunya is now being spread by mosquitoes in the US.   Oh great…one more thing to worry about with mosquito bites.

Types of mosquitos spreading CHIKV virus

Chikungunya (CHIKV) is transmitted via the bite of an infected mosquito. Most common are the mosquito types on this photos (Aedes spp., predominantly Aedes aegypti and Ae. albopictus).  These mosquitos are the same type that spread dengue fever.  They bite in the daytime.  Photo via CDC website.

Have you heard about chickungunya?

The first outbreak of the disease was in southern Tanzania in 1952.  The name ‘chikungunya’ is from a word in the Kimakonde language (spoken in southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique) that means “to become contorted” or “that which bends up”.

It describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain.  Signs and symptoms also include a sudden start of fever often accompanied by joint pain. Other symptoms are muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. The joint pain is often very debilitating, but usually lasts for a few days.

Most infected patients recover fully, but in some cases joint pain may persist for several weeks or months, or even years.  The good news is that deaths from chikungunya are rare.

Countries where chikungunya virus transmitted

Countries where chikungunya virus transmitted – map via the US CDC

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chikungunya (CHIKVI) has occurred in Africa, Southern Europe, Southeast Asia, and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

In late 2013, CHIKVI was found for the first time on islands in the Caribbean.

chik-inbound-english-tSince then, CHIKVI has been found in multiple countries or territories in the Caribbean, Central America, or South America, and now in the US.

NOTE: In California, the mosquito Aedes albopictus (one of the types that spread CHIKV) are found in Southern and Central California.

Its habitat are small containers and old tires.

As there are no known vaccine or medication, the CDC advice is to reduce your exposure by:

There are currently no antiviral medicines to treat the chikungunya virus. However, there are medicines to reduce the fever and pain experienced by those exposed to the virus.  For more details, visit the CDC’s website about chikungunya, here.

yellow fever mosquito

Photo via

Also visit Monterey County Mosquito website, here:  Excerpt:

The yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti is a mosquito that can spread the dengue fever, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses, and other diseases. The mosquito can be recognized by white markings on legs and a marking in the form of a lyre on the thorax. The mosquito originated in Africa but is now found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, now including many parts of California.

And by the way, there is also a measles outbreak now, which originated in the Philippines!  Over forty-thousand cases were reported in the Philippines between January to May, 2014.  More on the measles outbreak, here, including information on what travelers can do to protect themselves if traveling to the Philippines.

Blog post information source from the U.S. CDC and World Health Organization (WHO)

My encounter with a (not so scary) California snake

Backyard snake Monterey County CA 1

I’m sure my intense fear of snakes stems from an  encounter with a huge snake when I was around 5 years old.

We lived near a rice field in the province of Bulacan (Luzon island in the Philippines).

While I was in the outhouse (an outdoor bathroom) by myself, the snake crept inside through the gap between the bamboo door and the dirt floor.

I froze in fear, and then let out the loudest scream I could summon.  Shortly after, I heard my mother running towards me and then right outside the outhouse door.

I was too frightened to move and unhinge the door, so my mother had to break the door to get to me — and not so easy to do as she was in the late stage of being pregnant with my brother.

Perhaps because of my screaming, or maybe it was really interested or following something else, the snake was gone by the time my mother got through the door.

Rice Fields and mountain background

Rice fields in the Philippines, coconut trees and mountain backdrop. Photo

Since venomous sakes — including the Philippine spitting cobra, one of the most venomous snakes in the world — often hunt for rodents in rice fields near where we lived, a group of neighbors, with their machetes firmly in hand, formed a line at the rice fields behind the outhouse to look for the snake.  I can’t remember if they caught it.


Many decades later…I am (understandably!) still afraid of snakes.  I am not fearful of spiders, or bees or most bugs really…but when I think of snakes and sharks...the feeling of fear is immediate.

And it turns out that even people without a conscious fear of snakes are wired to react fearfully to snakes because snakes were among the earliest threats and predators to human beings.

A few days ago, my 9-year-old grandson Jun found a 2 1/2 foot long snake skin in the backyard.  Fascinated, he was holding it stretched above his head when he came over to show me his find.

And this morning, as I was coming from the driveway, here is what I encountered…

Pacific Gopher Snake in Monterey County

I now know that snakes are important to our instead of running away and screaming, I grabbed my camera and took a photo (thank you zoom lens) so I could learn more about this snake living near our home.

Pacific Gopher Snake range in California

A visit to the California Herps website’s picture gallery made it easy to identify the snake.

It is a Pacific Gopher snake and harmless to human beings.  It is found in a wide range in the state of California, as shown in red shade on the map at left.

Because gopher snakes are sometimes mistaken for more dangerous rattlesnakes, they are killed unnecessarily.

The California Herps website notes:

It is easy to avoid this mistake by learning to tell the difference between the two families of snakes as shown in these signs.

Unless you have experience handling venomous snakes, you should never handle a snake unless you are absolutely sure that it is not dangerous.

rattlesnake vs gopher snakeHere are some interesting snake facts:


map of world distribution of snakes

map of world distribution of sea snakes and land snakes via Wikipedia

  • Snakes are found in every continent except Antarctica (see Life is short, but snakes are long blog post on the most widespread snakes in the world)
  • Most snake bites occur in agricultural and tropical regions
  • There are 3,000 known species of snakes — of which, only 15% are considered as dangerous to people.
  • Most snake related deaths occur in South Asia, with India reporting the most deaths of any country (this would make sense though, as India is the most populous country in South Asia).
  • Worldwide, snake bites are most common during the summer when people are outdoors and when snakes are most active

In the USA from the

  • There are more casualties in the United States due to car accidents (37,594), lightning strikes (54), and dog attacks (21) each year than from venomous snakebites (5).
  • Approximately 7,000-8,000 people are envenomated each year in the United States but there is only an average of 5 casualties
  • In Texas alone, there were more casualties in 2005 from drowning (308), firearms/hunting (79), and venomous arthropods (16) than venomous snakebites.

In California

  •– a guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California is a super website with loads of information, pictures and useful links.  Visit the page on what kind of reptiles and amphibians might live near your home and how to encourage them to stay there, by clicking here.

I am less fearful of snakes since I learned that most snakes are NOT dangerous to humans, and that most snake bites to humans are caused by snakes that are NOT venomous.

Remember though, unless you are a snake expert,  it is best to leave lots of room between you and any snake you may encounter…and don’t kill snakes!

Further reading and resources:

Related post about animals (and endangered animals) from Lola Jane (click on photo to link to article)

Sierran Tree Frog profilePost about the Sierran Tree Frog (photo by Lola Jane)

…It is comforting to know the little frogs survive in our backyard, despite the large presence of big business agriculture in our county (Monterey is the only county in the United States with more than 1 BILLION in annual vegetable sales).


Leatherback-turtle-found-dead-off-leyteAbout the Giant Pacific Leatherback Turtle and the connection between Indonesia / the Philippines and Monterey Bay, California)

Photo by Austin Don Perez for Bayan Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula, via post by Iloed.C at


Philippine-Eagle-Close-up-photo1On the critically endangered and magnificent Philippine eagle (Photograph by Klaus Nigge –  ...the Philippine Eagle, pithecophaga jefferyi – and referred to as “haring ibon” or king bird.  It is among the rarest and most powerful birds in the world.  In 1995, it was designated as the national bird as well as an official  symbol of the Philippines.

Shark-photo-Sean-Van-SommeranPost about Sharks!

The photo is of a 4,000 lb shark tagged in Santa Cruz, California and caught by accident in the Sea of Cortez area, Mexico.  Photo Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, contributed by Sean VanSommeran.

Also see comparison of shark attacks vs. lightning fatalities on the US Coast

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand.  We will understand only what we are taught.”
— Baba Dioum