Snail Mail Isn’t Dead: See you in the Postcrossroads

Oh, hey look! I’m back! After two years. Finally.

When I told my sister Pil that I’m about to start a new hobby collecting postcards, she scoffed at me and told me that it’s such a ‘tita’ thing to do. Collecting postcards? That sounds boring. For all I know, she could be right, but really, who knew sending postcards could be this fun?

About three months ago, I had the sudden urge to look for foreign casual penpals. I found a website for those looking for penpals online and I actually made correspondence with some users. Eventually, I lost interest since it was still over the web and it didn’t feel genuine to me. It seemed as if we were just exchanging Facebook messages albeit over a matter of days.

It was then when I started using Postcrossing, a crowd-funded web project that encourages people from all over the world to send and receive postcards. I have been a Postcrossing member (actually, my account is for Edge and I, but I do most of the writing) for exactly 72 days as of posting, but I’m so far enjoying this new hobby.

What makes Postcrossing so fun for me? Here are my six reasons:

  1. It’s affordable. Postcrossing isn’t really new to me; I’ve seen friends in the past who have been swapping postcards via the website. At that time, I wasn’t really interested mainly because I was afraid that sending mail abroad might be expensive. When I learned from PhilPost that sending postcards — whether locally or internationally — only costs Php 15 per stamp — I perked up! Regular Philippine postcards sold in bookstores costs about Php 20 to 25. Papemelroti‘s cute postcards made from recycled paper only costs Php 5 per piece. Designer postcards could be more expensive, but really, the choice is up to you. All in all, the total price for sending one postcard could be anywhere from Php 20 to Php 45. Not bad if you ask me.  (Note: Price of the stamp changes over time. Watch out for PhilPost press releases for updates.)

  2. It gives me a reason to be excited for the mail.  I used to dread receiving mail since all I’ve been getting are bills and other junk. When I joined Postcrossing, that all changed. Now, I always have something good to look forward to in the mailbox.

    giphy

    As hyped as Harry

  3. It took somebody’s effort for me to receive that postcard.  Wrap your head around this. Imagine a stranger thousands of miles away from you. They actually took the time to sit down, think of something to write, jot down your name and your home address, which probably sounds weird and alien to them (“Caloocan City? That sounds kooky.”). After writing, they walked to the postbox or post office, bought stamps, glued those onto the postcard which they later dropped into a postbox. The same goes for me. There’s something special about writing down a strange address in another country. It’s even more exciting when the website alerts you that the recipient has received your postcard. They are now holding a piece of your small labor. Thousands of miles apart. Wow.

    The postcards I have received so far.

  4. It allows me to listen to stories from people.  I’m new to Postcrossing and, so far, I have only received seven postcards (some Postcrossers have been members for years and their profiles show that they have sent and received thousands of postcards… Someday I’ll be like that too!). But each of these postcards tells a story. The senders tell me who they are, what they enjoy doing, what they love about their country. They let me know what their travel plans are. They share stories about the tourist spots on their postcards. They tell me about their pets and families. It’s nice to know a piece of information about a stranger from the other side of the planet.
  5. It’s entertaining to match a person with a postcard.  Whenever you get a new address to send a postcard to, Postcrossing shows you the profile of the recipient. That profile offers a glimpse of the recipient’s personality and interests, and it’s up to you to be creative in choosing a postcard that they would probably like. For example, one recipient in Germany said that he enjoys diving, so I sent him a photo of the corals in Balicasag Island, Bohol. I knew that it would be cold in Russia and Finland, so I sent postcards featuring the beautiful beaches of El Nido and Coron, Palawan. Another recipient from Greece said that she wants to see photos of lakes, mountains or volcanoes, so I sent her a postcard of Taal Volcano. And finally, a recipient from China proudly declared in his profile that he is a cat lover, so I sent him a postcard of a cat. It’s a match-making of sorts, and it’s fun to know that your recipients appreciate your choice in postcards once they send you a thank you note.
  6. It lets me travel… in a way.  Can’t get to Russia? Here, my postcard can. I’ve been to Europe, especially in Germany, the Netherlands, and Ukraine thanks to my postcards.  I’ve always wanted to return to Indonesia, but my postcard beat me to it. As a huge fan of crime shows, Locard’s exchange principle is on my mind all the time and I know that DNA from my skin cells has traveled to those countries through my postcard. There’s no long plane rides and immigration queues to think about too.
  7. It teaches me to be patient.  Patience is not my strongest suit. I hate it when things are slow. When I first started in Postcrossing, I was impatiently sitting at home, waiting for my postcards to come but there were none! Three weeks later, when I had somehow forgotten that I was supposed to be waiting for a postcard, the first one finally arrived. It was a pleasant surprise. Thanks to that experience, I learned to be more patient and to let things run their natural course. No need to rush. They’ll get to me eventually.
  8. It gives me a chance to promote the Philippines. Being a traveler, I am a huge supporter of local tourism. Through my postcards, I invite the recipients to come visit the Philippines and experience our magnificent tourist attractions and warm Filipino hospitality. Don’t worry, DOT, I use our official tagline: It’s More Fun in the Philippines!

Sending and receiving postcards may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine. It’s an experience that lets you be part of a huge global village through traditional means that may be slower, but takes somebody’s precious time and effort. Labor of love, as they say. If you are somehow encouraged by my post, please register an account on Postcrossing and start sending away!

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Top of My Shelf: The 15 Books That Have Stuck With Me Over the Years

The newest Facebook trend these days, at least among my network, is the “15 Books That Sticks With You” list.  I’ve been tagged by a handful of friends for which I am thankful, but while I’ve enjoyed reading their selections, I never really conformed to this fad mainly due to two reasons: first, I am too lazy to do it; and second, I’m not Facebook-active enough to participate.

Eventually, I figured that I can still share my own list on my blog where I can set and follow my own rules.  So I scoured through my Goodreads shelves to find the top 15 books that really stayed with me.  In no particular order, here are my entries and the reasons as to why these books have held so much power over me for many years:

1.  Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden

I nurse this unhealthy fascination with holocausts.  I have always been curious about the Nazi’s Final Solution that wiped out millions of Jews, and quite recently, I learned about the genocide that is happening today in the hermit kingdom of North Korea.  Escape from Camp 14 details the hellish life of Shin Dong-hyuk, a North Korean defector, within the walls of the country’s concentration camps.  The torture that Shin and other prisoners experienced was so cruel and grisly; sometimes I forget that it’s fact, not fiction.  I never thought that this book would be available in the Philippines, so imagine my happiness when I stumbled upon this at the bookstore.

Favorite Quote:  “And so Shin’s misery never skidded into complete hopelessness.  He had no hope to lose, no past to mourn, no pride to defend.  He did not find it degrading to lick soup off the floor.  He was not ashamed to beg a guard for forgiveness.  It didn’t trouble his conscience to betray a friend for food.  These were merely survival skills, not motives for suicide.”

2.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

book_thief

One of the first books that I read on my short-lived Nook e-reader.  Set in 1930s Nazi Germany (again, the holocaust reference), the story of young Liesel Meminger is beautifully told from the point of view of an unlikely sympathetic character, Death.  This is also one of the few books that has left me crying and depressed for an entire day.  Remember when Rudy Steiner died?  And that bombed that killed Mama and Papa?  Those hit me like a brick right in the feels.

Favorite Quote:  “Even death has a heart.”

3.  A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin

asos

ASoS is widely regarded as the best book in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series [so far].  Filled to the brim with jaw-dropping revelations and heart-wrenching deaths, this book took me on a cruel roller-coaster ride of emotions.  One minute, I was so angry that I threw the book against the wall when Robb Stark died; the next, I was laughing with joy when Tyrion Lannister killed his father Tywin and that bitch Shae.  And don’t tell me about spoiler alerts.  You should’ve watched this part of the show by now.

Favorite Quote:  “A harp can be a dangerous as a sword, in the right hands.”

4.  Ang Paboritong Libro ni Hudas by Bob Ong

paboritong libro ni hudas

While its predecessor ABNKKBSNPLAko?! features a more entertaining story, there is something that draws me to Ang Paboriting Libro ni Hudas‘s dark humor.  So far, this is the only book I know that talks about fear of the pesky flying cockroach, one of my biggest fears.  Plus points for the creative book jacket.

Favorite Quote:  “Istorbo sa pagtulog ang ipis.  Lalo na yung tipong magigising ka dahil merong nagla-live show sa mukha mo.  Kaya isang mumunting kaluskus lang alam ko kaagad kung ipis.  Bumabangon ako kaagad, nagbubukas ng ilaw, at nag-aamok kahit alas-dose ng madaling araw.”

5.  Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

norwegian wood

To be honest, I have this love-hate relationship with Murakami.  Some of his books I really like, but some I never even bother to pick up.  Norwegian Wood, featuring the bittersweet love triangle between Watanabe, Naoko and Midori, is different because of its mysterious hold on me.  Murakami’s description of the places and the characters gives off a truly Japanese vibe not found in other books.  Plus, I can never listen to The Beatles’s song of the same title without my mind drifting to that quiet forest frequented by Watanabe and Naoko, and Midori’s house-cum-bookstore, an inspiration for my future abode.

Favorite Quote:  “But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a lifetime, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”

6.  Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

middlesex

I can never forget how I hungrily devoured this book — which is 400+ pages long, by the way — from start to finish, and loving every single part of it.  Of course, there’s something strange about the family saga of Cal/Calliope Stephanides.  It’s not hard to be swept away from the slopes of Mount Olympos to the crowded streets of New York while learning about the intriguing and incestuous story of the Stephanides family.

Favorite Quote:  “Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in ‘sadness’, ‘joy’, or ‘regret’. Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling.”

7.  Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

like water for chocolate

One word to describe this book: delicious.  Tita Dela Garza’s romance with Pedro Muzquiz is not perfect — in fact, it’s annoying and very frustrating — but, in the end, you still yearn for them to be together.  Esquivel’s use of Mexican cuisine and the art of cooking to describe and symbolize Tita’s life is masterful and amazing.  As one of the books that I dissected down to the tiniest core for my high school English class, this is also the book that introduced me to one of my favorite literary genres: magical realism.  I still read excerpts of this book to this day, and yes, the magic is still there.

Favorite Quote:  “Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches.”

8.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

harry-potter-and-the-sorcerers-stone

I will never forget that fateful day when I was just 10 years old.  My mother came home, holding a book about this unknown boy wizard and encouraging me to give it a try because it might turn out to be a good story.  A few months later, I finished the book, demanded the second one, and the third one, and the fourth one… until I was already in college when I cried my heart out because I’d just finished the last book in the series.  Reading is the treasure chest and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the key that opened it.  This is the book that started it all.

Favorite Quote:  “There will be books written about Harry. Every child in the world will know his name.”

9.  The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

bell jar

The only novel written by the great Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar is semi-autobiographical in nature so… imagine just how dark it is.  Also, imagine how I managed to read it without losing my mind at the tender age of 15.  And managing to write a book report so excellent (yes, I’ve no qualms about praising my own work) that my great English high school teacher gave me a grade of 97 and exclaimed in front of the class, “Now that’s how you do a book report!”  To be honest, I’d already forgotten most of the stuff that happened in the story of Esther Greenwood, but I’d be more than willing to re-read this now that I have a more mature mindset.

Favorite Quote:  “Death must be so beautiful.  To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence.  To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow.  To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.”

10.  If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon

if tomorrow comes

There was a time when I didn’t think that cliffhangers could exist out of TV boxes and silver screens until I was introduced to the writings of Sidney Sheldon.  If Tomorrow Comes was my first Sheldon book, and the first that made me squirm with anger and whoop with triumph in just 300 pages.  Plus points for girl power.

Favorite Quote:  “I will survive, Tracy thought. I face mine enemies naked, and my courage is my shield.”

11.  The World According to Garp by John Irving

garp

I’m not a fan of thick, fat books, but Garp is a huge exception.  Mostly hilarious, often serious, and sometimes horrifying, this is one of the first books that opened my eyes to the ideas of feminism, rape and transsexualism as told through the story of TS Garp, his strong-willed mother Jenny Fields, his reserved wife Helen Holmes, and a whole bunch of strange but memorable characters.  Thanks to this book, I still think of the ‘undertoad’ whenever I go to the beach.  And yes, that scene with Helen and Michael Milton in the car?  Still my favorite part of the story.

Favorite Quote:  “Helen’s mouth was snapped shut with such force that she broke two teeth and required two neat stitches in her tongue.  At first she thought she had bitten her tongue off, because she could feel it swimming in her mouth, which was full of blood; but her head ached so severely that she didn’t dare open her mouth, until she had to breathe, and she couldn’t move her right arm. She spat what she thought was her tongue into the palm of her left hand. It wasn’t her tongue, of course. It was what amounted to three quarters of Michael Milton’s penis.”

12.  The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

the-god-of-small-things

Sometimes, I owe my obsession with a certain book to academic reasons, and The God of Small Things is another example.  I was assigned to write a  report about this for my HUM1 class in UPLB, and frankly, I had a really tough time reading this book.  Not until my second or third re-reading did I finally understand the tragic lives of twins Rahel and Estha.  The frequent interweaving of Malayalam words in the story complements the description of the culture and history of Kerala, India.  And yes, I got a final grade of 1.25, thanks to this book.

Favorite Quote:  “And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”

13.  The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

handmaidstale

Most people think of 1984 or The Hunger Games when they hear the word ‘dystopian’, but, personally, I associate that word with The Handmaid’s Tale.  Set in the not-so-distant future where the government reigns supreme, human rights are optional, women’s rights are non-existent, religion is dead, and emotional freedom is unheard of, it’s amazing to think how Atwood conjured this terrifying world that somehow still reflects some parts of our present society.  I’m still wishing that Offred has finally found her way to freedom.

Favorite Quote:  “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”

14.  The Count of Montecristo by Alexandre Dumas

the-count-of-monte-cristo

The only one of its genre on this list, this is one of the first books that introduced me to that elite pedestal called the classics.  I once had the impression that classic books are boring (I have to admit that most of them are really dragging though), but it was a different case for Montecristo, which I considered to be unputdownable.  It’s not difficult to be engrossed as you read about the Edmond Dantès’s story of revenge while learning some things about 1800s France.

Favorite Quote:  “The difference between treason and patriotism is only a matter of dates.”

15.  The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

catcher in the rye

I have no shame in tagging this book as my favorite of all time.  No, I don’t love this book because I had to write a report about it.  I learned about the iconic Holden Caulfield’s story during my teenage years, the perfect age for reading this infamous masterpiece.  It’s hard to find the ultimate reason as to why this book remains on top of my list, but I would chalk it up to the feeling of relating to Holden, his feelings, and his thoughts.  And maybe because I still can’t get over Holden’s wit and humor when he described dancing with Marty as “like dragging the Statue of Liberty across the floor”.

Favorite Quote:   “I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible.  Take the Disciples, for instance.  They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth.  They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head.  All they did was keep letting Him down.”

Fourth in Boracay

For our fourth (!!!) anniversary as a couple, Edge and I packed our bags for Boracay.  It would be his first time there while it was my second.  I’ve been to the famous island in 2005 when I was in Kalibo competing in the National Secondary Schools Press Conference (I lost).  Still, it was exciting for us to visit Bora together.

Ilig Iligan Beach, Boracay

Ilig Iligan Beach, Boracay

Unlike our many other backpacking trips, we decided to let our hair down for this one and spend a little more lavishly.  It was our anniversary after all, and we needed the time for total R&R.

Nothing beats a nice stroll at a beach if you want to do some soul-searching.

Nothing beats a nice stroll at the beach if you want to do some soul-searching.

And of course, swimming. Or just playing with the waves.

And of course, swimming. Or just playing with the waves.

Being mid-July, the weather was far from sunny, but upon arriving on Friday, we were lucky enough to catch a few hours of the summer heat.  We managed to work around the occasional rainfall to do some of the water activities that Boracay is famous for.

Snorkeling and fish feeding off Bolabog Beach.

Snorkeling and fish feeding off Bolabog Beach.

All set for our first parasailing experience!

All set for our first parasailing experience!

Fifteen-minute high!

Fifteen-minute high!

Some realizations!  Edge had always thought of Boracay as an overrated island and our trip didn’t change this particular opinion of his.  While we both think that it is indeed a beautiful place, we concluded that there are other places in the Philippines that could rival Boracay’s beauty.  For one, the same white sand that makes Boracay world-famous can be found in Panglao Island in Bohol.  Plus points for Panglao since it isn’t as crowded and noisy, which makes it ideal for vacationers looking for peace and quiet.  BUT more on this later on, since I’m writing a piece about this on our travel blog, The Backpack Couple. #shamelessplugging

If you don't like the strong waves in Stations 1-3, try the calm Ilig Iligan Beach.

If you don’t like the strong waves in Stations 1-3, try the calm Ilig Iligan Beach.

Looking back, we have no regrets for choosing Boracay as our fourth anniversary venue since the place still took our breath away.  Boracay marks a new chapter for us towards more adventures in more places in the country and beyond.

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Stay classy, Boracay.

Stay classy, Boracay.

Four years!

Four years!