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Why Japan Is Not as Safe as We Think It Is

For modern travellers, Japan has always enjoyed a reputation as being the safest country in Asia. On this list, Czech Republic ranks higher than Japan, which goes to say that this “safety index” is but relative (Don’t want to put into detail and put Czech Republic in a bad light, but you can just ask me privately).

If there’s one country I’ve never felt so safe in, this would be Japan. In my mind, there is this sort of assurance that should I get lost, lose my phone, or drop my bag, I will not have to worry with people being so nice, friendly, respectful and helpful.

But Japan, as we know from history, suffered a long, dark, arduous past. From feudalism, the country went on to wage numerous wars against their neighbors, then to joining World War 1 and 2. The pre-WW2 Japan is anything like the Japan we know of today.

In this video courtesy of Journeyman Pictures, we’ll be travelling through the world of the Yakuza (ヤクザ), a 400-year old ancient society that has evolved from being the citizenry’s protector, to now being protector of the few.

Watch the video here:

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Is Japan As Safe As We Think? Watch on Journeyman Pictures.

Though it was disturbing to watch, the short film is far from being demystified. I hope, though, it does not stop you from wanting to visit Japan🙂

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Greatest 101 Questions of All Time – Telegraph

(Work has been really hectic lately and as I type this I’m on to doing my last stretch of writing tasks for today. It’s 3 AM and I’ve been working since 10 AM. Okay, I had a 2-hour lunch break but yes, breakfast and dinner while working. But don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy with where I am now! It’s just that I haven’t been able to manage my time this week to do an article for Anthroonfoot😦 However, whenever this happens which I hope does not happen often, I make it a point to post something worthwhile to read. I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did! – R.)

Telegraph aims to answer questions that many would scratch their heads into finding answers to. Even with our friend Google at hand, sometimes, the answers do not seem to satisfy.

In this article, you will find answers– rather, another perspective– to questions like, “Why is sea air good for you?” and “Can germs catch germs?”

I hope you’re excited!❤

Here it is:

telegraph.pngThe series of articles can be found on Telegraph’s page. Enjoy! :)

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Why Is It Hard to Find Good Coffee in the Philippines?

As a big coffee fan—proud to say I’m not a snob— it’s a bit wearying to think that it’s so difficult to find good coffee in Philippines when it has all these in its hands:

  • One of the best Arabica beans in the world: that goes from Northern Cordillera to Southern Mindanao
  • One of the best Robusta beans in the world: the largest chunk found in Central and Southern Luzon
  • The perfect weather to enjoy coffee: with a half-and-half monsoon and dry season in the entire Philippines
  • Affordable access to sugar: which goes with the Filipinos’ love for things sweet (unfortunately, usually not translated to everyday life)
  • Love of good conversations—and gossip (although I think this is universal): with coffee as the perfect company to have you talk and stay sober

… And the list goes on and on.

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A bad cup of espresso. Image Credit: Canterbury Coffee

So the question is, why?

  • First off, it’s not unusual for kids to be taught that “caffeine is bad for you” because, 1) it will make you short for the rest of your life; 2) it will make you lose brain cells; and, 3) basically, it will make you dumb. I never had the chance to try this as a kid but I was given all the freedom to munch on chocolate bars and indulge in chocolate drinks. Looking back, I’m not even sure what adults meant when they said “caffeine is bad for you.”
  • Also, as raw producers it is also not unusual for most people to never see where their produce goes and how inflated it gets. One kilo of Arabica beans costs PHP 270 (5.73 USD) in a commercial market (this is not even directly bought from the farmers), and when it gets to somewhere around the world, it gets reflavored and repackaged into 5 USD per cup lattes, or 30 USD per kilo packages. This may be one of the reasons why the Philippines, in general, is not fully aware of the coffee-making standards in the world—and this is not entirely the people’s fault, because as you will see…
  • Let’s be honest: it’s a sad truth but in the Philippines, the difference between the rich and the poor is so stark that Poor Guy has to settle with flour-and-preservative-rich burger patties; and Rich Guy can just call the phone and have a thick pure beef patty delivered to his door. As a Filipino I feel embarrassed that I cannot do anything grand to make a difference on this one; but going back to coffee, this reality presents itself very well. When workers in the Philippines are not protected by law when they are paid below standards, it’s difficult to make coffee when you yourself cannot purchase the best on your own. And stingy people as the owners are, workers are expected to apply for the job having a training certificate in tow. When barista training is done just for the heck of it, and owners aren’t willing to train, there goes the cycle of bad coffee being the standard because there’s no use beating around it.

The day that we have better coffee in the Philippines is the day that we have addressed these societal differences. Bad coffee, just like any nuisance—poverty, discrimination, slow internet, traffic—is a symptom of a disease. While these things bother us we cannot just sulk in the corner and get mad at the bigger forces that made the world as depressing as it is. But being alive, being here every day, is a gift. To say “Thank you” to your local barista for his hard work, to say “Thank you” to the janitor who cleans your favorite coffee shop’s toilets, are little things we can do to be one step closer to finding the “how” to our “why.”

The “why” in bad coffee, therefore, does not stop here.

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July 15: Why It’s One Date You Should Remember for Brunei

Negara Brunei Darussalam (most commonly called “Brunei”) always has this misnomer of being a “boring” country with nothing to see but low skyscrapers, small mosques with small minarets, and a small range of food choices. The country is also world famous for its alcohol and cigarette bans, where it’s highly illegal to bring in to the country even one stick of cigarette, and any type of drink with the slightest alcoholic content.

As a non-smoker who hates the smell of secondhand smoke, and who loves the peace that comes with days that start and end early, the country was a piece of heaven for me— “Boring,” therefore, is highly relative.

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I’ve never been so scared to drop a candy wrapper in my life!

If you are the type to look for happenings and festivities during travels, if there’s one date to remember for Brunei, this should be July 15: His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s birthday, locally called “Hari Keputeraan KDYMM Sultan Brunei.”

Why remember this date? For one, you are not only given free access to the king’s palace, you are also invited to his birthday, served unlimited portions of food and drinks (non-alcoholic, of course), and, you’re given the opportunity to personally meet the king!

The king’s birthday celebration is open to all locals and foreigners, and it’s considered one of the annual highlights in Brunei next to Hari Raya Aidil Fitri (Malay term for Eid al-Fitr), which marks the end of Ramadan.

It’s amazing an event like this exists where people from all over the world are given the chance to celebrate with the king. While publicly elected governments have now phased out many kingdoms, it’s interesting to know some kingdoms have survived the test of time like that in Denmark, Monaco, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Gulf Regions of the Middle East.

Here are some things to consider for your July 15 visit:

  • If the king’s birthday falls on a Friday, the celebration is moved to the next day.
  • You are not allowed to bring cameras and smartphones in the palace.
  • Bring conservative clothes, closed shoes or sandals, and wear a hijab (for women). The arms and legs should be covered for both men and women.
  • Book early! Foreigners from all over the world flock to Brunei for the king’s birthday, and flights and hotels sell out early. I personally vouch for Royal Brunei Airlines  for its affordability and great service; and Terrace Hotel Brunei for its central location and value for money.

While Brunei is very different from its Southeast Asian counterparts—without all the hustle and bustle, that is— give Brunei a chance and have yourself enjoy the beauty, hospitality and peace the country and its people have to offer.

Negara Brunei Darussalam directly translates to “Abode of Peace.” The country, indeed, lives up to its namesake🙂

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Why Check Your Layover Time in Saudi Arabia Before Booking a Flight?

Men and women—beware!

While Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) offers one of the best rates for travels to Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, it’s not as straightforward as it seems when booking with this airline. Back in 2015, I was lucky to find a 500 Euro round trip Manila-Rome-Manila flight. With 46 kilos of check-in luggage and 15 kilos of carry-on free allowance for all economy class passengers, I couldn’t ask for more with the package!

However, one most important thing to consider is layover time in Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s port cities and the country’s gateways for all flights.

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While on an 8-hour layover in Jeddah: Glad to join everyone take their meals before sunrise

As you may know, transit travellers can only stay on any Saudi Arabian airport for less than 12 hours; any more and you have to apply for a transit visa. This is impractical for two reasons if you do not plan to visit the country:

  • Transit visa application takes a long, and far-from-straightforward process:
  1. You have to register online via Enjaz, the official site for initial visa applications. When you check the site, you will be presented with a Windows 95 version of the software; therefore, you have to reduce all your file sizes to up to 18 kilobytes ONLY (yes, you read it right). The website also works on Internet Explorer only—Firefox, Mozilla, Chrome and Safari are all blocked.
  1. Print out the visa application form.
  1. Mail your application form, together with required documents as stipulated on Enjaz, to the Saudi Arabian embassy in your country. It is highly advisable to personally drop your documents at the embassy because of a reason stated on the next step.
  1. Visit the embassy to pick up the visa. The embassy will not contact you once your visa is ready for pick-up so make sure you ask the person at the counter for an estimate.
  • If you are an unmarried (doesn’t matter if you are in a domestic partnership) or single woman, you have no chance of applying for a transit visa or any other Saudi Arabian visa; unless, you travel with your father, grandfather, first-degree uncle or brother. This means, if you get a layover in Saudi Arabia for more than 12 hours, you will not be allowed to go onwards with your journey, and will be forced to buy another ticket as you have to leave the airport immediately.

Sounds sad, isn’t it? But as we cross borders, we have to respect traditions even if we don’t totally get it and agree with it.

This post is then to give some word of caution for travellers looking into having a layover on Saudi Arabian soil, or have found affordable flights through Saudia. Don’t get me wrong, Saudia is a good airline to fly with; but save yourself the hassle of missing your entire flight just because of transit time requirements.

Remember, less than 12 hours. That’s all the information you need when booking a flight with a Dammam, Jeddah, or Riyadh layover🙂

For more info on Saudia’s flight rules and Saudi Arabia’s visa rules, specifically for Hajj and Umrah travellers, check here

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Why Choose Travel Accommodations with Kitchen?

This article was featured on Morocco World News and Mena Source🙂

With a host of hostels, hotels, condos, apartments, and room shares available online, it can be so confusing to choose the best one for your travel needs. In the Philippines, there are currently 12,000 properties to choose from—and this is from Agoda alone. Not to mention the other popular booking sites you can also check out: Airbnb, LastMinute, Booking.com, and Hostelworld among others.

Thankfully, I’ve never been ripped off at accommodations I’ve booked online, save for those hostels that surprised me with a “city tax” to be paid upon arrival. I think the language barrier was more at play in there because other than this, I’ve had a pleasant stay at all my travel accommodations.

From experience, I list down the top things I always consider which tremendously help me with landing on the right accommodation:

  1. Location

I make sure the area is walking distance from and to a major train, bus or tram station. Having this all set presupposes the idea that when there is a major station, there will always be groceries, cafés, computer shops, lighted areas— and people. I always try to avoid instances where I arrive at an area surprised it isn’t busy, lighted, or accessible to anything.

Accommodations near stations can cost more because you tend to also pay for the location, but this add-on premium is definitely more cost-effective in the long run: less-to-no taxi rides, no more negotiations with taxi drivers, and no more I’ll-just-buy-this-because-I-don’t-have-other-options sentiments. In a prime location, you will always have options. 

  1. Additional Pricing

Most accommodations offer discounts for weekly and monthly stays, and this is more straightforward on Airbnb where discounts are written on the listings. As I write this I am in Casablanca and since I am staying here for months, I booked at a listing with a 35% discount for monthly stays— It’s amazing this sort of perk exists!

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My perfectly curated bedroom in Casablanca: big thanks to my host family!

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Shared space in the apartment

  1. Internet and Kitchen 

Some accommodations say they do have internet but when you arrive, you are surprised to find these are the long-gone USB sticks you have to reload on your own. If the host does not have a Wi-Fi, make sure he/she covers for all your internet reloads.

And finally, one of the last keys to this puzzle of finding good and affordable accommodation is to make sure you book a place with a kitchen—individual or shared, it doesn’t matter. Eating out is expensive and to do this every single day on your travels can seriously exhaust your funds far quicker than you can imagine.

Here in Casablanca, I eat at home and eat out only on Friday nights. I get to enjoy myself doing groceries and markets, and to eat and drink all I want—all for a fortnightly budget of 600 Dirhams. Given that every meal here costs on average 30 Dirhams, having a kitchen at home seriously is a big saving for me.

I’ve always been a fan of accommodations with kitchen because not only do I get big savings, I also feel “like a local” doing groceries, markets and preparing meals based on what’s available in the country. Through food shopping, I’ve learned to count in French because of doing Sunday markets, and storekeepers have learned a thing or two on how to say greetings in Filipino.

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Not to sound advertise-y for I’m just speaking from experience, but I personally vouch for Airbnb for it provides extensive information on listings. I never get problems looking for these three things (location, additional pricing, internet and kitchen access) when I use the platform. Hope it proves helpful for you, too🙂

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Why Should Researchers Follow the FPIC Guidelines?

This article was also featured on Tools4Development🙂

How would you feel when people post your photos and sentiments on their social media pages without your consent?

I remember an elder from Itogon, Benguet sharing with me how bad the community felt after showing a ritual to a famous television reporter, then seeing this on TV a week later being dubbed as “animal cruelty.” First off, the reporter did not even go through all the processes required to ask for consent from the community to publish videos, photos and audios from the site. Secondly, it was wholly one-way: all for the glory of stats and markets for the station.

This is sad, to think the violation was committed by one of the top reporters in the Philippines, and by the biggest station in the country. If the people on top do not set a good example, how do we expect others to go through the proper process?

Like any other research, if you intend to do your study with indigenous groups, it is very important that you respect the culture, traditions and regulations of these communities. If your plans do not correspond with their comfort, please, find ways to meet their rules.

Here is a general guideline on “How to Conduct Research with Indigenous Communities in the Philippines.” If you’re interested with the more detailed guideline, contact me here. 

5 World Friends How to Conduct Research in the Philippines

I would like to send in my biggest thanks to Gale Villaflor, Mandeep Ranu and Joanne Chua, colleagues-slash-best-friends, whom I’ve worked with for the UNDP-PIPR (Protecting Indigenous Peoples Rights) project. Ate Gale offered her expertise to make all manuals to make this project possible. Together with Ate Gale, Mandeep and Joanne honed in the documentation techniques geared towards research in challenging environments.

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If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I’m no expert so for concerns I cannot answer, we’ll definitely ask for a mentor’s advice :)