2022 marks the fifth year after I left the Philippines.

Five years is a blip in life, but considering that I spent two years of it in a pandemic, those five years both feel like a lot and nothing at the same time. I took time to think about things that I know now.

Kindred souls are everywhere

When I left the Philippines for Vietnam, I never thought that I might be lonely because I knew no one there. I was more reserved as a kid, but I was never afraid of doing things alone or striking conversations with strangers. I found the idea of being alone in a new country more exciting than scary.

In HCMC, the easy part is going out and meeting people. It's finding and keeping your tribe that is the hardest. It finally clicked when I realized that not everyone would be a tier 1 friend. In hindsight, I realized that this analogy of levels of friendships was already the same while in my home country, but because I have the safety net of my close friends, starting new friendships as an adult wasn't much of an issue. If a friendship works, then that's great. If it doesn't, that's fine too. I have others.

Five years into this life, I accepted that it's okay to see people and hang out with them at a level we're both comfortable with. Not every friendship has to be a soul-baring friendship. But the most rewarding is when you find friends that end up being tier 1s, regardless of the years you have not seen each other and the distance!

Being independent is a fundamental life skill

I grew up not needing to do chores. There was always someone who would take care of maintaining our house. My main responsibilities were to study and get good grades. My parents provided all that I needed—a roof over my head, good education, and all the financial support until I finished university.

While I lived on my own since I was 16, I only barely learned how to cook when I started working in my 20s. I didn't have to cook because food is cheap in the Philippines and Vietnam. Then I moved to a western country, and now it's an entirely different story. Dining out every night in Amsterdam is not possible with the prices and frankly because of the food quality. So here I am in my 30s, trying not to overcook chicken and learning how to balance salt and acid.

What makes us human is universal

I was in Kuala Lumpur, hanging out with a previous colleague and talking about dreams of seeing more of the world. Somewhere in the conversation, I said, "It's interesting how we almost have the same thoughts even though we're of different races and religions."

I was in Brunei, talking to another guest at the hotel, and somehow we ended up talking about how they dealt with loneliness.

I was in a dinner, and someone I had just met there was in tears sharing a story about their recent breakup. They did it in English because I didn't speak the language. I realized how universal heartaches are. There's no Pinoy version. A heartbreak is a heartbreak.

These experiences remind me that we all yearn for the same things—freedom, belongingness, inclusion, the need to be loved. When people let themselves be vulnerable, I feel an immense understanding for us humans.

Leaving changes you

I've heard stories of people repatriating to their home countries and experiencing a reverse culture shock. They have trouble readjusting to the culture in their home countries. A reverse culture shock happens because leaving changes a person. It's the price to pay for gaining all those experiences.

On a bus in HCMC, a man asks me, "So how often do you see your Filipino friends here?". I say, "Unfortunately, I don't have Filipino friends here." At that time, I haven't made Filipino friends yet. He goes on to say, "My wife is Indonesian and has Indonesian friends. That's what minorities do. They hang out in groups."

One way to never have a reverse culture shock is to keep your circle to what's familiar—stay within a community of Filipinos. With this, you instantly belong in a group because of your race. Does this make the experience of leaving more meaningful? I'd say no. While I do have good Filipino friends that I met overseas, the point of me leaving was so I could experience more of the world. I think I would have wasted this opportunity to broaden my mind.


So if I went back in time to five years ago, would I still leave the Philippines? Yes, without a doubt! The things I learned and experienced in the last five years are all worth the effort of stepping beyond my comfort zone a thousand times. The last five years have been significant in formulating my values and how I think, and I'm sure the coming years will even have more impact.

When I became a freelancer, I thought I was going to be one forever. I started because I thought I wanted to escape the drudgery of working fixed hours. I wanted to live, and going to the office was taking the life out of me.

It turned out my problem was not the hours—it was because I lost track of my purpose.

From an engineer to a writer

I studied engineering, and I spent 9 years of my career in various roles in tech: support engineer, integration engineer, and solutions architect. I'd spend my days learning new things and solving complex technological problems, all while sitting in an office chair or hunched in a freezing server room. There were many sleepless nights, but I didn't mind because I thrived for action even if it meant that my worries of breaking everyone's internet connection continued in my dreams.

When I started to burn out, I turned to writing as a hobby. On weekends, I traveled then wrote about my travels. Traveling and writing helped me reset my brain, and I would always get back to work on Mondays with a better perspective even when I lacked sleep.

Writing has always been a part of my job too. While writing was not the most important aspect, it was necessary. I wrote design documents that stakeholders read and agreed to. I wrote detailed procedures. I made sure there was no room for misinterpretation at 1 AM when we deployed to production.

I was enthusiastic about writing so I joined writing and blogging communities. Through communities, I found out that people were willing to pay me to write (what a shocker) and that I can earn a living as a writer. It didn't take too long for me to realize that I can travel and make money simultaneously; I didn't have to choose.

And so, after a year of getting paid to write on the side, I decided to leave the corporate world. I intended to take on all sorts of writing.

Not all kinds of writing are equal

In almost two years of freelancing, I took all sorts of writing contracts. I quickly realized that taking all sorts of jobs made me feel the same way as I did when I was going to the office, except now I have the Pacific Ocean as my view.

Some writing contracts sucked the joy out of me, such as those where I needed to:

  • Write only to meet a word count, peppered with keywords.
  • Write just good things (really, this is lying by omission).
  • Write without knowing if what I wrote was true.
  • Write content that I would never read.

At some point I realized it wasn't a problem of working hours or going to an office. What I was doing for a living was the problem. What I did didn't align with what I found important.

The right kind of role

Finally, I realized that at the very core, I am an engineer. My purpose has always been to solve complex tech problems.

Letting my experience guide me, I looked for writing contracts that aligned with my strengths. I found that I enjoyed:

  • Trying and breaking things before writing.
  • Writing to explain and clarify.

This kind of writing is called technical writing, meaning writing about technical things.

I did the same activities as an engineer: learn and understand how things work and try out solutions. The difference now is I'm doing these so I can write and explain these concepts in the clearest way possible to help readers solve problems. I think of the role as an engineer light version, where I still use the same skills but minus the stress.

And now a technical writer

At the end of 2016, I took a full-time technical writer role in a company in Vietnam. While I had no corporate experience as a technical writer and only had a small tech writing portfolio, my manager took a chance. I'm forever grateful that they gave me an opportunity.

After almost two years, I took another technical writing role in the Netherlands.

Every day I get to satisfy the engineer within, every day I get to work with a team of experienced technical writers, and every day I get to learn how to become a better writer.

Freelancing paved the way

Had I not taken the chance to be a freelancer, or had I not gone through soul-draining writing contracts, I wouldn't have figured out the exact role that fit my strengths. I may not be a freelancer now, but that experience helped me experiment and think about what I enjoy doing the most. Now I'm back working in an office and in a role that's anchored to who I am and what I find important.

Not that I needed an excuse to go anywhere, but in 2019, I had the perfect ruse to go to Athens for the weekend—the Stoicon 2019! Before you start thinking that it was a gathering of stoics and people with poker faces, let me set this straight. Stoicon is the Modern Stoicism Conference, where people who practice Stoicism (the ancient Greek philosophy), who are interested in Stoicism, or who are curious to know about Stoicism, meet for a weekend. I've never been to one and I had some doubts, but the thought of attending a Stoicism conference held right at the city where it first started was way too enticing to pass up.

Cotsen Hall, American School of Classical Studies, Athens - Venue of Stoicon 2019

The Stoicon weekend experience

Before Stoicon 2019, I've never actually met anyone in real life who practiced Stoicism. From 2013 when I first read about Stoicism up until the Stoicon, I've considered myself as an interested party, one who reads about Stoicism and occasionally applies what she's read in real life. Being in an auditorium full of people who knew about Stoicism and who probably knew all of Marcus Aurelius's and Epictetus's words by heart felt intimidating, but it also felt like I was finally meeting all my classmates.

My fellow attendees (AKA classmates) were artists, writers, psychologists, educators, tech people - you name it. The conference reminded me of how important it is to be part of a community where you not only geek out on ancient texts but also learn from how others apply Stoicism in their personal lives and in their field of work. I also realized that over the years, I have grown in my Stoic practices and that it is time to stop thinking of myself as a dabbler in Stoicism.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus

In between sessions, I got to meet other attendees who gave tips on how I can find and start my own Stoic community in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, I didn't make any immediate action. Marcus Aurelius probably has something to say because even emperors dealt with procrastination.

More about Stoicism

The first thing that you need to know about Stoicism is that the philosophy is not about being emotionless (the meaning of the adjective stoic). My definition of Stoicism is it's a philosophy that helps me navigate life by being aware of my judgments and perceptions, figuring out whether something lies within my control, and applying a set of virtues (or at least try) to the things that I do.

The internet is a wonderful place, there are plenty of resources if you want to learn more. If you're interested in knowing more about Stoicism, check out the following:

It's been three years since my last solo journey.

In 2016 I wandered through Visayas for a month. Good friends joined me on some legs of the trip, interesting strangers shared my journey through the rest.

I clearly remember when it happened. It was a beautiful day and I was sitting in front of the beach right outside the cottage I was renting, when this slow, sinking feeling crept in. I don't know why I was doing what I did.

My view in Bantayan

Maybe the feeling was aggravated by the scenery - the turquoise sea, waves gently lapping on the shore, surrounded by the quietness of it all. I was sitting in the middle of all this beauty and still there was that nagging question, "What the hell am I doing this for again?".

"Because I can", along with other reasons that I came up with, were all unconvincing.

It made me feel guilty. For all the freedom that I wanted and finally had, the location independence I dreamed of, longed for, and worked so hard for, I was ashamed to acknowledge that there was a tinge of unhappiness, and that I did not feel fulfilled.

I trudged on for days but that trip still ended well. Thanks to friends who flew in and joined me for the last leg in Bohol.

Figuring it out

I didn't have a plan when I got back to Manila, but I knew I had to start somewhere. Hearing the phrase Finding your purpose still makes me cringe, as it's almost always followed by cliché advice - travel, explore, go somewhere. It's as if having no purpose can be solved by escaping. However, finding a purpose was exactly what I needed to do.

Coming to terms with my aimlessness was a gentle awakening. I was lucky that I didn't go into a downward spiral to depression. It was more of a shake of hands, a nod of agreement - an acceptance that something had to be done. Maybe it was Stoicism, or S.N. Goenka's words, or my mom's constant prayers that pulled me through.

I went in and deep. I started by always asking why am I doing things. I became ruthless in pruning connections and activities that didn't help me. I sought friends and contacts with whom conversations always left me full of insights, and sometimes made me question my own views on politics, economics, religion, and all other things. I realized how important it was to expose myself to diverse ideas, to learn before I form my own thoughts on issues, and to not be stuck in an echo chamber.

It took a couple of months before I figured out my why. I'm here and I exist to help sort out confusion. I'm good at thinking things through, at being rational, at attempting to simplify convoluted ideas.

Realizing this made me understand why I cringe every time I have to write fluff, why I lose my focus as soon as the conversation stops being factual, and why I struggle reading and listening to ideas that have no execution plan. It helps me keep an eye on my lapses too - to know that sometimes I only need to listen and not dish out obvious and practical advice, that it's okay to do things just for sheer fun and nothing else.

Starting over

As if on cue, after I figured out what I'm here for, the universe held out a lifeline. In 2017, I took a full-time job as a technical writer. I've never questioned my purpose since then. I'm lucky to have found a career that aligns with what I'm here for and I know it's not the same for everyone. It's hard enough to figure out your purpose, even harder to make a living that stays true to your main WHY.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we spoke about how we both used to think that work is just work and that you can always do whatever you like doing in your free time. We both agree that now in our thirties, we've changed the way we think about it - it just so much better to spend 40 hours of your week doing what you were made to do.

Fast forward to 2019, I went on a solo trip to Lisbon, Portugal. This time I had no questions. I knew exactly why I was doing it: because I wanted to bask in the sun and to eat my way around the world.

It's a gloomy February on this side of the world.

If you identify as solar powered AKA a person from the tropics, you should know that it's a struggle to be a functioning human in northern Europe at this time of the year. Endless gray days, zero sunlight, and if you live in Amsterdam, you'll get a bonus serving of wind and rain.

While there are ways to trick your body into getting that much needed vitamin D and serotonin, sometimes the only solution is to get it from the real thing. Luckily, cities in the southern part of Europe offer a quick escape from the gloom.

Why choose Málaga?

Málaga was not on the top of my list for a weekend getaway until someone who knows me all too well presented the idea. It became the escape of choice because:

  • It's affordable and easily accessible from most main European cities.
  • It's less crowded than most Spanish cities.
  • It's a coastal city, swimming is optional. It's still way too cold for that.
  • It's Picasso's birthplace.
  • Spanish food! Realluy, what other reason do you need.

Tip: Go to Skyscanner and put your destination as Everywhere. Chances are you'll get some affordable sunny destinations way up on the list.

What you need to know

The beach area

Málaga is in the south of Spain, facing the Mediterranean Sea. As with most coastal cities all over the world, Málaga also has that laidback, I'm almost too lazy for anything vibe. Cruise ships and yachts line the port, facing restaurants and shopping boutiques on the promenade. Walk over to the other side of the promenade to go see the beach. It's not exactly my idea of a beach holiday (I prefer a deserted beach) but it was entertaining to see people bask in the sun, a tad friendlier and less grumpy than usual.

Arts and culture

If you're into arts, history, and architecture, you might find yourself stretched thin over the weekend. There\'s a couple of museums (Museo Picasso Málaga and Museo de Malága to start), there\'s the Alcazaba and the Castle of Gibralfaro, and there's the town center, proof of millennia of history in itself.

Tip: If you don't like crowds, start your day early. The streets were empty up until 11AM and lines at the museum were non-existent until afternoon.

Food

If you would like to go on a culinary exploration, do your research and place reservations ahead of time. All tapas are not made equal so if you like food and you don't want to end up somewhere mediocre, give it some planning. One thing that you don't have to think about though is the wine! Spanish wines are always a win, regardless of the time of day or the tapas that go with it.

My personal dining favorites are:

DIY walking tour

If you just want to see random things in the city (like I do!), either find the guy with a free tour umbrella or do it the old-fashioned way: go for a walk and see where your curiosities will take you.


On that weekend, the Spanish people went out for a mini-parade at the city center. We never found out the reason for the patriotic gathering but it was likely a football match.

Lastly, enjoy the city the way the Spanish do: indulge in leisurely lunches, al fresco dining, and end the night with tapas bar hopping.

You'll be a better person by Monday.