Normalizing culture

Not many know that I’ve been growing my hair for several years because it’s usually tucked in a beanie. When I let it down, I sometimes get the “exotic” comment in its various forms. When something isn’t normalized, it may be deemed exotic. You may be accused of self-exotifying during your personal journey. I remember when men getting earrings was exotic. Also, when a cultural practice becomes normalized, it doesn’t lose value. It means that balance is restored. Your tattoos, long hair, or plugs may be exotic to some but for cultural restorationists, it’s a path to normalization. You will have mistakes, imposter syndrome, and other challenges as part of the journey. Keep doing the work, learn, and unlearn. 5 generations from now, you’ll be an ancestor that helped revitalize a practice. PS: I do acknowledge that there are folks that get a full Batok bodysuit in a short span to market themselves to get more clients, or sell more goods. but that is an outlier. PSS: This will be one of the topics in my upcoming podcast relaunch

Pre-Colonial gold teeth in the Philippines

Some of you may know of prePhilippine culture and the ways gold was used to in jewelry. Did you also know that gold was used in dental ornamentation? Along with teeth blackening and filing, Gold pegs and brackets were placed on teeth. Our ancestors across the islands were so skilled, that they could drill tiny holes with stone tools in teeth and attaching gold jewelry. One of the most famous examples is from Bolinao, Pangasinan. In the Filipino Heritage book series, you’ll see other examples.

I first started exploring gold teeth at my exhibitions the Day of the Dead art shows at SOMArts. I used gold fronts as a conversation starter even though I knew it was not quite right.

When I met @love.crystals.namaste at @undiscoveredsf and showed her the examples, we talked about actually recreating it one day. That day is now. I didn’t have my teeth drilled with holes. They were attached in a method that reminded me of when I had braces. These triangle patterns are found in various materials and tattoos. I hope to see this practice revitalized in the modern era. Hit up @love.crystals.namaste who’s in the SF Bay Area to get similar work done.

Sulat (Baybayin) on Trese’s 1st episode on Netflix


Trese is finally out on Netflix! It’s based on a comic by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. It’s pretty good and gave me Blood: The Last Vampire x Constantine vibes. This is a review of the use of Sulat in the first episode.

A couple of weeks ago, there were sightings of a billboard in Manila that showed Sulat. I wrote a post on my IG account how it’s a significant cultural development for not only those spending the last 20 years actively advocating prePhilippine writing but beyond that. With the foundational work that was done, a new generation is rediscovering our prePhilippine culture for tangible value. Look for my “value trifecta” in my lectures.

I’ll go more on the impact after I finish the series but I’ll go ahead an preempt a talking point/criticism that we don’t need foreign validation on our culture. While that is 100% true, we cannot discount the work and achievements of all those Filipinos involved in the Philippines and the US. This was created from a small ripple from over a decade ago and will create their own. This is what I mean by generational work.

Billboard breakdown

trese netflix baybayin

The design of this is based on Anting-Anting amulets that mix prePhilippine and Spanish colonial elements. As you can see, there’s Sulat. I added the Roman Alphabet letter equivalents. Typically when you see the usage of kudlits (vowel markers), there’s intent in the writing rather ascetic gibberish that you’ll see in another example. The translation from the top right to the Kris sword is Ika anim na anak ng ika anim na anak in Tagalog meaning Sixth child of the sixth child. Full image below:

Example 1

Trese netflix baybayin

Doesn’t look like there’s any literal meaning to this so far. While it’s not uncommon for words in our various languages to be spelled without kudlits, this arrangement doesn’t appear to spell anything. In the graphic, you’ll see that I labeled a Ba and Sa as variants. I called ones out because they’re written differently with the other samples in the graphic. The Ba variant is a circle while the other Ba is the more common one that looks like an upside-down heart. The Sa variant is the 1 stroke style compared to the more common one found at the bottom of the circle.

Example 2

trese netflix baybayin

Similar to Example 2, I don’t know if there’s a literal meaning of this. There are a couple characters that aren’t recognizable. It will be interesting if we find out if it turns into something in future episodes.

Example 3

Ka-Sa-Ya can actually mean something in the context of the story but I’m not confident that Kasaya meaning Fun is correct. Ka-Sa-Ha? When you see this scene, the characters are scratched with the Kris sword. Watch how the bottom half of the Ka is done. Quite odd.

Gift box

It’s common practice to send influencers a themed gift package. Model Alodia Gosiengfiao with a reach with over 1m posted what she received. I have this saying when it comes to writing the script – If it’s long, it’s probably wrong. On the left, you have the circle design I described earlier. On the right, you have Sulat. Here’s the breakdown of each line:

1. A-E/I-O/U

2. P-R-O-T-E

3. K-S-Y-O-N

4. S-A

5. K-U-L-A-M

That roughly translates to Proteksyon sa kulam in Tagalog and Protection from spells in English.

Close up of the box with Roman alphabet breakdown and corrected version

The incorrect way of spelling was that they cancelled the attached vowel to only add one. Remember that it’s Sa and not S. Check out the unboxing video on FB.

Some may think that this is nitpicking but spelling mistakes are not. Just because it’s fiction, spelling is generally non-fiction. If the words were in Roman Alphabet in English or Tagalog but spelled wrong, would that be OK? No, it wouldn’t. The only difference is that there’s only a few people fluent in reading in Sulat. Should that matter? It should but the same folks that say it doesn’t matter, also put little value in culture. You wouldn’t wear a shirt spelled wrong in Roman Alphabet.

So is it OK to use the script purely as ornamental? Yes, depending on the context but if you’re trying to communicate something, spell it right. Off to watch the 2nd episode!

My virtual self

After going live 5-6 days a week for 15 weeks during this pandemic, I got burnt out. Didn’t do much for weeks so when I started to get back to the grind, I focused on a way to extend my physical self in my various projects. Here are some examples of my virtual self. Listen for an explanation of this new dimension of my work. Follow me on Instagram where I’ll first post updates.

Starting a business in a recession

What a hot mess! In 2009 there was a recession in the US and I lost my day job. I cut expenses and reinvested back into my young venture. I tried a bunch of shit to see what resonated with myself and people. Trial and many errors during this time. I also took side contract gigs managing customer service for a startup and process consulting for a finance company. It was tough starting something new in the middle of all the challenges. 10 years later, we’re faced with something worst. Through this, I’m seeing folks innovate and move forward accepting the reality that will create a better tomorrow for themselves and community. Keep pushing forward

Cultural practice, People, and Coronavirus

There are some schools of thought where the cultural practice is above everything. I disagree – The people should be above the practice as it’s them who decide if you’re a cultural practitioner in the first place. Sure, you can practice by yourself or with your circle friends. However, that goes against the mission of every practitioner whose ultimate goal is to save and pass on an endangered culture. The people can shut down your practice by disowning you.

That’s not to say do whatever the hell people want, but people are complex. Changing all the time, not changing, stuck in toxic ways, happy, sad, going back, etc. You get the idea. These are attitudes and emotions that a cultural practitioner has to deal with. I can see how it can be a physical and emotional drain to deal with people with their uninformed comments on Instagram. It’s especially gut-wrenching if you’re not a people person or introvert. That’s where the beauty of a diverse circle comes into play. You’ll need someone in your circle that has these people skills. Someone savvy to the everchanging modern youth culture that can communicate clearly with compassion. A solo cultural practitioner is not sustainable.

An example of being about the people, not the practice is today. Right now, as I’m typing this in Grammarly, the Coronavirus is wreaking havoc in all our lives. Even if you think this is all bullshit being perpetuated by the “Fake news media” guided by the invisible Illuminati, the reality is that people are concerned. The fear may not even be specifically about themselves or their family getting sick, but the fear of the interruption of their daily lives. The very real effects of the socio-economic situation require compassion no matter what the root cause is. Manufactured or not. Childcare, jobs, health, are real concerns right now.

Personally, I’ve been affected by 3 events canceled with 4 more possibly affected. The 3 cancellations resulted in significant monetary losses. Yes, I’m disappointed, but if I abide by “People, not the practice,” I understand. On the other side, some culture bearers make their living servicing people, so they’re affected as well. I’m privileged enough that I have a backup for situations like this. I’ll go into planning for culture bearers in another post. Address the elephant in the room. Stay safe

Instagram filters as an educational tool

I’ve only been developing Instagram filters for less than a year as an exercise to disrupt myself. In this short timeframe, I’ve learned that it’s a powerful tool for conversations around culture, technology, and context. Conversations lead to understanding. Understanding leads to compassion. Compassion leads to peace. Peace leads to clarity.

Last December, I did a talk at General Assembly in San Francisco, California, about how I’m using AR filters (Spark AR) to educate about cultural traditions from the Philippines. I created a filter called Yakan Pagkawin/Tanyak Tanyak that recreates a traditional ceremonial face painting typically done at weddings. The water and flour are mixed and applied with bamboo reeds. The moon and stars patterns represent everlasting love. The woman on the left is Evelinda Hamja, a master weaver of the Yakan tribe from the southern Philippines using the effect and the one on the right is an aspiring IG make-up artist who applied the make-up based on the filter I created. It was quite the dynamic to see someone from a remote tribe use a digital version and then someone from a metropolis applies it in a traditional way.

To get started on creating your own filters, check out the Spark AR website. Here are some of my favorite AR developers on IG for your inspiration.
French Signer
Paige Piskin
Anon A. Mister
Mitsuko Ono

Get cancelled

If you’ve been in your game for at least a year and haven’t knowingly been canceled by anyone, you’re playing it too safe. I’m a big believer in experimentation. It leads to new ideas that you wouldn’t get while sitting still. You must learn how to disrupt yourself before someone disrupts you. 

While it might hurt being canceled, try to understand why if possible. 

Being canceled leads to some of the following understandings: 

  • Strong opposition to your view on a specific subject.
  • What if you’re wrong?
  • Did the canceller provide you with new ideas?
  • How did it make you feel? 

One memorable cancelation was a couple of years ago, I was running what’s called an A/B split testing experiment on IG stories. A/B testing is a method of comparing two versions of a message or product app against each other to determine which one performs better. 

If I remember correctly, the subject was around how people question the impracticality of cultural practices. How to make writing pre-Philippine script, tattooing, weaving, Kali, etc as your source of income. and comparing it to everyday “practical” Philippine endeavors like Duterte’s war on drugs and bleaching one’s private parts in hopes to attract a mate for a better life. Except I didn’t say private parts. I wanted to test a racy message vs a safe one. That resulted in using Vagina vs Pussy. During the safe post 24 hour period, the responses were meh. The racy one got better engagement and one reply that was disappointed with my choice of words. I went back and forth with them to understand more. For some reason, I felt compelled to let them in on my experiment. Let’s just say they weren’t happy and felt personally manipulated. I was quickly blocked, AKA canceled!  

I’ve been doing A/B tests for years testing what email subjects, graphics, models, and what apparel generates more sales. This was the first time I had strong feedback on one of my tests. I like to think that most people that follow my work know that I joke around, provoke, and experiment. Obviously, not all know. I believe that if you brand yourself an experimenter, you might be able to get out of some sticky situations in the future.