Monday, November 12, 2018

I Feel Like a New Person...Again

In the past year, I made several conscious changes with regards to how I live my life and how I make an impact. I continued to assume a digital nomad lifestyle, which meant working from wherever my laptop is and being based wherever my backpack is. Also, I switched to a vegetarian diet wherein I no longer eat red meat (pork, beef), white meat (chicken) and seafood (fish, shells), as well as eggs and milk. Lastly, I started to pursue a zero-waste lifestyle by refusing single-use plastics (straws, cups, bags) and by buying from public markets instead of from supermarkets.

With these changes, I felt more aligned with my personal values. And this is probably the first time that I stopped considering "what I should be doing" and accepted that "what I want to be doing" is entirely different.

Living Nomadic

A few years ago, I made the decision to travel full-time and to live locally (rather than touristy) wherever I am. I realized that nothing actually required me to stay in Manila. I was already working remotely with no physical office I had to report to, and I was single and unattached with no one to part from. Also, I had a surplus of savings, no debts to pay and no dependents to support. It was an ideal setup.

My initial plan was to "test whether I really can build a sustainable travel lifestyle". I began by going on one-month multi-country trips, staying back in Manila for a few months to work, going out again for a month or so, and then staying back again for a longer period than I was out. But that wasn't full-time travelling and I felt dissatisfied with my half-assed attempt.

So I made a follow-up decision to make an all-out attempt and see where my guts and my savings can really take me. I travelled within the country without a return date, picking out destinations I haven't been to and making plans along the way. At several points, my account balance approached zero but I was always saved by friends or new-found friends without them knowing it.

Most recently, I have been able to stay out of Manila for a year -- albeit with quick visits in between. I rented apartments and lived with other travellers, becoming a local expat myself. I spent most days working on my laptop out of coffee shops but found time on off-days to explore a bit farther or to soak up the local sun.

Currently, I am making another decision to continue moving and resist the temptation of staying. Although travelling asks me to give up the comfort of familiarity and of knowing what to expect on an almost daily basis, it nevertheless empowers me to pursue the life that I feel most comfortable with.


Where are you going next?
In two days, I am due to fly to Taiwan and then to Thailand where I will end and start the year. As my Filipino passport is only allowed 14 days in Taiwan, I will do a "visa run" to Chiang Mai just so I can spend about 30 days exploring Taiwan, specifically Kaohsiung, Kenting, Meinong, Tainan and Taipei. Afterwards, I will gauge whether I want to stay in Chiang Mai, which is one of the digital nomad capitals in the world, or move out to a quieter area in Thailand.

Where are you from?
When travelling abroad, I say that I'm from the Philippines. Easy. When travelling within the Philippines, I normally say that I'm from Manila, just because that's where I have lived the longest (about a decade). However, I spent my childhood in Laguna and my teenhood in Batangas (both provinces that are 2-3 hrs south of Manila) although none of my parents or family are from there.

Where do you live?
I live where you currently find me. I am writing this in Manila where I have been living for the past couple of months. But that's going to change in a couple of days.

Outside of Manila and Batangas, I always find it awkward to respond "I live here" when I obviously look like a foreigner or a non-local. I think unless a person is seen as employed in that place, it is difficult to perceive that someone is a local resident.

It was during a solo travel to Moalboal, Cebu that I learned to drive a motorcycle by asking my tricycle driver to teach me. He called me a daring fast-learner as I drove at 60kph along the National Road while he "comfortably" sat at the back.

Switching to Vegetarian

Although growing up with some form of meat always on the table, I don't really have strong attachments to it. I do appreciate its taste and texture but don't enjoy its oiliness and heaviness. Eventually, I started questioning my reasons for eating meat (out of habit and culture) and started looking for ways to replace meat from my plate but couldn't find any. As compromise, I opted for chicken or fish, thinking that those are healthier and pose less impact, but continued to feel dissatisfied, thinking that there must be another alternative.

Fortunately, I ended up living with vegan/vegetarians and learned from them how easy and practical it is to maintain a vegetarian diet. We bought common vegetables (tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, bell peppers, sayote, monggo) from the local market and simply cooked them into a stir-fry or curry. We ate a whole food, plant-based diet every day and all meals were delicious and nutritious without ever feeling bloated or weak, or missing meat.

I discovered a whole new world of vegetarian eating. I learned about quinoa, lentils, and Vegemite and experimented with vegan banana pancakes and avocado toasts. I realized that there are so much more (and more flavorful) choices beyond pork adobo, grilled chicken and fried fish, and that lots of common dishes can be made vegetarian by simply leaving out the meat/seafood component (e.g. tinola, sinigang, kare-kare).

Whilst feeding myself remains a daily struggle (which it has always been), I know I will never go back to eating meat. I don't experience cravings and don't consider those as food anymore, especially in the midst of sustainability and climate change issues. Most importantly, I feel in better control of what I eat.


Why did you decide to become vegetarian?
There are numerous reasons for deciding to become vegetarian. The turning point for me was realizing how commercialized and mindless the food industry is. It is motivated solely by profits without regard for anyone's health, well-being and satisfaction. Everything is merely represented by numbers in a spreadsheet whereas food is supposed to be nourishing, valuable and appreciated. Although this is also true about vegetables and fruits, I can at least consume it in its natural form. A carrot looks like a carrot whilst we sometimes miss the connection between sausages and pigs.

Other than that, there's:
  • Human do not need to eat meat. We do it for pleasure instead of survival.
  • It's easier to handle, store and cook vegetables than chicken and fish.
  • Pigs, cows, chickens, fish and seafood are living creatures just like you and me. They are not meant to live and die in factories and farms for our consumption (and pleasure).
  • Meat dishes are normally very oily and are more difficult to digest.
  • Meat production is no longer sustainable and is among the major contributors to climate change.

How long have you been vegetarian?
I have been vegetarian since April 2017, though not strictly. There were instances that I ate batchoy with pork innards, Wagyu fine steak and tilapia stewed in coconut milk but I don't enjoy it anymore. With the steak specifically, I had a stomachache for a full week.

What exactly do you eat?
When eating out, I go to normal restaurants, but avoid those that specialize in meat-based dishes, e.g. Mang Inasal, Tapa King and Peri-Peri Chicken. I look for vegetable-based dishes and request to leave out the meat bits, if any. For example, chopsuey and pinakbet are vegetable-based but sometimes include shrimp and liver. I don't actually just order salads as those are not full meals. If I'm cooking, I make stir-fry tomato-halves with okra and garlic, stir-fry kangkong with red onions, oatmeal with banana and apple slices, or lentils with stewed tomatoes and carrots.

On the plate: sliced cherry tomatoes, grated beets, grated carrots, pumpkin seeds, diced sweet potatoes, chickpeas, sprouted sunflower seeds, and hummus. This isn't how I eat every day but look at how colorful and diverse a veggie meal can be!

Pursuing Zero-Waste

Probably the most difficult and frustrating of my ideals, pursuing a zero-waste lifestyle requires constant discipline, planning and research. At the same time, I think it is one thing that I should stick to and that everyone should pursue -- and not just consider or tolerate.

To live zero-waste is to aim to generate the least amount of garbage possible so that virtually no trash will end up in landfills, incinerators or the ocean. More than practicing "Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.", for me this means purchasing only what is necessary and many times reusable, and refusing what I will not use even if freely given. This includes purchasing a stainless steel tumbler that I can reuse for my drinking water, hot coffee and fruit shakes, and refusing random giveaways such as notepads and shampoo sachets that I already have too many of.

What makes zero-waste living challenging is that there is an opportunity to generate waste at every move. The toiletries I use, the coffee I drink, the clothes I wear, and even the pen I write with all produce trash that is not recyclable and not compostable. Although I can make simple switches like using shampoo bars instead of bottled shampoos, getting coffee at coffee shops instead of making my own, buying second-hand clothes instead of new ones, and writing with pencils or high quality pens, I am still directly or indirectly generating waste.

Although it may seem pointless to even try, I think it is still necessary not because it might save the world but because it might save us from ourselves. Imagine taking out the garbage once a week instead of everyday, not accumulating paper bags and plastic bags from groceries, having less clutter and more space in the house, and choosing fresh fruits for snacks instead of potato chips.

Admittedly, my zero-waste journey is still far from ideal and may never be. However, I do my best in every situation and will continue doing so, striving a balance between consumption and conservation.

Some simple steps:

  • Putting my groceries and purchases in a reusable shopping bag instead of in a paper bag or plastic bag
  • Using my receipts as notepads instead of purchasing a notebook (though this might not be professional enough in a business setting)
  • Switching to a bamboo toothbrush that is compostable unlike a normal toothbrush with a plastic handle (though the bristles are still synthetic and non-compostable)
  • Buying whole fruits without plastic packaging instead of cut-up fruits in plastic trays
  • Dining in at restaurants instead of taking out or ordering deliveries
  • Switching to a menstrual cup and menstrual cloth pads that are more hygienic and cheaper than sanitary napkins and tampons
  • Refusing straws and using my lips instead or requesting for a spoon when consuming thick fruit shakes (straws are really unnecessary and non-essential and wasteful)
  • Switching to silicone freezer bags and silicone stretch covers from Ziploc bags and cling wraps
  • Refusing any kind of packaging whenever possible, e.g. that clear plastic packaging when purchasing clothes, that carton box when I bought my tumbler
  • Buying mobile credits electronically instead of buying a plastic prepaid card in plastic packaging
  • Requesting for coffee mugs and metal cutlery instead of consuming food and beverages with paper cups and plastic utensils

Instead of accepting brochures, calling cards and flyers, I take a picture of the information I need. In this way, I have nothing to throw away or to add to my luggage, and it is easier to find and to keep information that may be useful in the future.


Although I do promote them, I made these lifestyle changes not because someone told me to do so but because I see the value in them. My decisions make sense for me, considering what I deem important and acceptable, but not for everyone. And that is okay. My only hope is that for more people to take more active and conscious steps towards what is most meaningful and most valuable for them, even though it may not be the most convenient.