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Mark Anthony Togonon

On cloud 9

As I clamber over the jagged cliff, my legs shake uncontrollably. The Magpupungko tide pool’s depth and clarity are far from scary, but the thought of a potential injury makes my heart thump like a trapped wild animal, desperate to escape. What if I miscalculate my jump and slam my head on the steep rock wall before plummeting into the water? I watch children before me leap off the rocks effortlessly and splash into the lucent water below. Children! I am in fear of a disaster that has never occurred beyond the realm of my annoyingly creative imagination. “Go on, jump!” a boy with sun-bleached hair prods, trying to stifle his laughter at my awkward position. Don’t you dare be a wimp and embarrass yourself in front of the children, my subconscious berates me. The cool summer breeze feels …

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On their feet, with their hands

Using the rib of an old umbrella as needle, Manang Rosie weaves strands of dyed buri palm leaves into a plain-looking tikog mat, embellishing it with vibrantly colored geometric shapes and floral designs. Once in a while, she glances at the abstract patterns on a wrinkled paper as her fingers work across the rectangular weave with a surgeon’s precision. Not far from her, a group of women collaborates to complete a larger piece of banig (sleeping mat) on the floor, their bodies bent forward and legs stretched for several hours. It is easy to overlook the amount of hard work in making sleeping mats. Interweaved around the same fate, Manang Rosie and the mothers in her village get by each day by making colorful handicrafts out of dull dried tikog leaves. A long, tedious process, weaving is a skill they have learned during childhood and will share to their children. The women do the dirty work themselves. First, they gather tikog, a grass that grows profusely near rice fields and swampy areas. The harvested grass will then be exposed under the sunlight for two days to dry. Once all dried up, …

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Lost in Tokyo

There’s not a scrap of usable Japanese word in my pocket-sized notebook to help us explain our conundrum. After pointing on the map our planned destination, the gentle-faced policeman gives us a confusing instruction full of hand gestures. We nod pleasantly, trying to make sense of his floundering English. One thing is certain; we’d inadvertently gotten on the wrong train to Asakusa. A Tokyo first-timer is bound to get lost. With intricate piles of overlapping routes, the map of the train stations looks like a bowl of tangled ramen noodles. “Check the color,” the policeman says, pertaining to the color-coded subway lines on the map. You see, there are at least three different companies that run the city’s train system, and each company has several lines. To add complexity, some trains …

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Roadtrip to the North

I’m losing control! A steep slope pushes my steering wheel to a different direction. I scream in panic and excitement as the ATV gets stuck on the edge of a ridge, roaring and stirring sand as it digs itself deeper. Driving one on a seemingly infinite stretch of coastal sand dunes is a constant wrestle with the wheels. Illuminated by the sunset’s afterglow, some 4x4 trucks emerge from the dust and roar throughout the dunes as they race with each other. I arduously push the vehicle out toward a gentler trail and find my way to the middle of the desert. I am at the Paoay Sand Dunes, an 88-hectare expanse of wild thirsty sand that is remarkably gaining popularity among tourists and thrill seekers traveling to Ilocos Norte, a province …

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