August 31, 2008

Stranger in my own city

I love Munich. Munich is “home”. I have no genetic relationship with this city but most of my memories were shaped here. It is my focal geographical point, the place that I’ll always come back to. Yet, after having moved away years ago and although my parents and closest friends still live there, even Munich seems to have distanced itself from me. I feel estranged from the town that used to be mine. Many people I knew have themselves moved on and find themselves scattered all over the globe. The familiarity of the places and the people, that made Munich home, vanishes a little more each time I come back. I’m at the airport in the desert of Qatar, waiting for my next flight to board. My feelings of excitement and anticipation are mixed with apprehension and dread. Will I feel completely disconnected? Have I grown such strong roots in Manila, that “homecoming” won’t feel as such anymore? I hope I’ll never forget where I come from and I’ll never loose my connection with my city of birth. I’m a Münchner Kindl (Munich Child) and will always be. But I have to accept Munich as my past and cherish the memories that I connect to it. And I will embrace my future in Manila and dream about the possibilities that go with it. Anyhoo... For now I'm just excited about 3 weeks of R&R.

August 28, 2008

The art of packing

Just a few more days before we fly to Europe. My mind is already there and I need to channel my excitement into something more productive than staring holes in the wall and imagining myself strolling down Las Ramblas; hence this post. I am beyond thrilled to go back, even the more so because D is joining me. Our itinerary which includes, Munich, Paris and Barcelona is all set and after a year of stressful work and little rest, it’s about time we get some quality time together and what better way to enjoy it than during 3 weeks of Europe. With our flight schedule and accommodations booked and reserved, all I still need to worry about is packing. And believe me, as a girl this is the most daunting tasks of all. I’m (well, used to be) a notorious overpacker and yet I always seem to have forgotten that one dress that would have been just right for a sunny sightseeing day or that one pair of stilettos that would have finished off my outfit for a night out in town. I haven’t perfected the art of packing but I definitely have learned quite a bit about it over the years of traveling. Living in the Philippines I’ve lost my sense of dressing according to weather. One of the main perks of living in a tropical country is that I don’t even have to look out of the window anymore to decide on my outfit. The only difference is whether or not I should bring an umbrella with me. Going to Europe is a whole other story. The weather is unpredictable and you might just as well end up with rain and chilly 12°in the middle of summer. The answer to this dilemma: layering. My plan for this late summer/early fall trip is simple; I will mainly rely on 2 staple items in my wardrobe dresses and tanktops. Dresses are easy to mix and match with accessories; either dress down with flats or dress up with heels and some bling. Tanktops, which I bring in several colors, are paired with shorts or jeans for a simple but clean outfit that you can accessorize accordingly; plus they’re so light you can fit them easily in your luggage. And should, and I’m praying it won’t, temperature drop I simply throw over a light sweater, a cardigan or my ultimate travel must-have: a pashmina shawl. If ever the sun comes out again, I can simply peel off my layers like an onion. Shoes are different chapter and I admit I’m incompetent to give advise in this matter. But my aim is to limit myself to a pair of comfy shoes for daylong sightseeing sprees, one pair of flat sandals to compromise between comfy and pretty and finally, a pair of stilettos for those glamorous nights out. We’ll see… I doubt I’ll stick to 3 pairs… Yay, I can’t wait for us to leave on Monday.


One bad gene I inherited from my dad is his predisposition to allergies. In Germany my worse enemy used to be springtime with its blooming flowers and flying pollens. In Quebec I struggled with the harsh winter, with my dry skin having difficulties handling the extreme cold. In Manila, I started to fight an entirely different fight: pollution. Unfortunately for me and my skin, pollution isn’t seasonal. All year long my skin battles the effect of the outrageously heavy traffic. On a daily basis, my body is strong enough to fight it off. But unluckily there comes the day during which my atopic dermatitis finds its way out of my system resulting in red, swollen and itchy patches. I have kept a strict skin regimen using Evian and Avène products as well as prescribed ointments ever since I was diagnosed with this type of skin eczema which is triggered by an allergic reaction. But not only are those products difficult to come by with in the Philippines, they are also pricey. A few weeks ago, I had a bad reaction again and went to see a dermatologist. D’s mom suggested trying out the clinic of Dra. Verallo, founder of VMV Hypoallergenics. The clinic is located in Legaspi Village and doubles as a store for their skin care line. The interior is kept sleek in white and glass. As an emergency measure, I got prescribed a corticoid ointment, which surprisingly worked wonders. My skin has never healed that fast, but I attributed this fact to mere coincidence. For maintenance, the doctor recommended me one of the products from the VMV Mom&Baby line with a name that got me startled at first: The Big, Brave Boo-Boo Balm. Using baby products caused some hesitation I must admit, but most of all I had apprehension on it being a Filipino product. Although I try to keep an open-mind, I shamefully confess that I still doubt the quality of local beauty products. I’m careful with what I put on my skin and I typically trust international brands that have gained credibility through various tests and awards. Nevertheless I tried out the Boo-Boo Balm as it was praised as free of all known allergens (VH-65), 100% all-types-of-fragrance-free, and 100% paraben-and-preservative-free. My verdict? I am a converted Filipino beauty product user. VMV’s doctors and the Boo-Boo Balm definitely met my high standards. My skin is thanking me by glowing and feeling good.

August 27, 2008

Battle of the Steaks

Last weekend was a long weekend, and we finally had the time to catch a breath and meet up with friends again. The idea was to have a steak tasting dinner at M&T’s house (the only ones in the clique with a house and hence a garden with a BBQ). This was the perfect excuse to eat excessively and justify it with an educational purpose - where to find the best valued steak in Manila? The three contenders were:

1. USDA Prime Rib from S&R (P1800/kilo)

2. US Angus from Santi’s (P900/kilo)

3. Australian Rib-Eye from Cao (P575/kilo)

The culinary dreamteam R and S were, of course, our head chefs for the night and the rest of us just filled in as lousy apprentice kitchen staff. M was the barbecue man and spent most his time in front of the grill outside; he was also the official photographer and gets all the credit for the beautiful pictures. The concept of the dinner was centered around the steaks of course, although we of course had other items on the menu as well. A Filipino culinary curiosity that threw me a bit off is that steak is traditionally served with rice. Of course, the German foodie in me was craving for potato salad and bread. Luckily, and heavily influenced by American cuisine i would assume, we had mashed potatoes, buttered corn and pasta as extra sidings. I was the only one, who didn’t touch the rice. Some habits simply can’t be changed. Our chef-to-go concocted us a delicious red wine and balsamic reduction, which paired perfectly with the red meat. All the steaks tasted delicious and, once the first bite was taken, the goal to crown a winner was long forgotten and we all simply enjoyed the scrumptious meal before us. To top it off, T served us her pregnancy craving of the month for dessert: the mouth-watering Choco Cream Pie from Cupcakes by Sonja.

The crust is made out of crushed Oreo cookies and the filling is a smooth and luscious chocolate cream, all of it topped with a big spoon of whipped cream sprinkled with some more Oreo cookies. We also had a divine Leche Flan on the menu. I forgot to ask T where she got it from… Overall, it was a feast for our taste buds and a welcome occasion to spend some time with friends before D and I leave for Europe. Oh, and the winner of the steak contest? Despite being the least photogenic meat of the evening, we came to a unanimous decision. Unbeatable in price and in taste: If you crave for steak. Remember Cao.

Cao's Steak
Call: 09178387399

August 22, 2008

Ethnic Chameleon

Beauty and exoticism are among the most widespread Eurasian stereotypes. By definition exotic means “the charm of the unfamiliar” or “strikingly unusual”. And unfamiliar is the accurate word, as people often have difficulties identifying my genetic composition leading to strong bone structure yet smooth, even skin. I have been mistaken for Italian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, South American and countless other ethnicities. Particularly in the Philippines, I have experienced questioning and envious looks regarding my appearance. Mestizos are often perceived as more beautiful and the media doesn’t shy away from feeding this stereotype. Light skin, a high nose bridge and big eyes rank high on the list of favored beauty standards in Asia – and are also the features I stand out with as a Eurasian in Asia. Ironically, during my childhood in Germany I was taught the exact opposite. Suddenly my Asian features were the ones complimented; my tanned skin, my dark straight hair. My multi-ethnic looks seem to give me the powers of standing out as being exotic everywhere while still looking common enough to blend in as well; somewhat like an ethnic chameleon. Ultimately, I think people simply admire and desire what they don’t have. Eurasians just happen to build the bridge between two completely different physical appearances, hence representing an average, a compromise. The distinct look of Eurasians, a touch of something that you can’t quite grasp and yet an appearance not otherworldly enough to disturb, creates a stereotype of mystic beauty. The source of fascination, however, emerges from opposite directions depending on the culture you examine. So I suppose, it’s true when they say “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”.

August 21, 2008

Amsterdam, The Palace B&B

Our first trip to Amsterdam was just a quick weekend before D headed back for Manila. After spending several hours surfing and reading reviews on where to stay, I emailed the Palace Bed & Breakfast and got an answer from owner Rudy within hours to confirm my booking. We arrived in Amsterdam in the late morning and took the train into the city, which takes about 15 minutes. Coming out of Amsterdam Centraal, D immediately recognized the surroundings and remembered a previous trip 15 years earlier. The Palace B&B is located on a major street not too far from the train station and takes about 10-15 minutes by foot or 2 tramstops. Upon our arrival we were greeted by the partner of Rudy, Georges. After a warm welcome and some perplexed looks at each other, D and Georges realized they were kababayans (fellow countrymen). Filipinos feel strongly attached to one another, even the more so if they meet each other abroad. Hence, once we put down our luggage in our room, Georges gave us the VIP tour of the building and shared his lifestory with us. After some bonding time with Georges and some useful tips on exploring the city, we settled in our room and realized it was more of a suite.

A large open space - I would say around 50m² - it had a bedroom (which you could close with a thick heavy drape) with a large bed and pillows so fluffy I wanted to steal them, which of course I didn’t. The living area had a sofa, which could double as a bed, a dining table and a mini “kitchen” with fridge, microwave and coffeemaker. The breakfast is self-service with the fridge being stocked with fruits, bread, ham, cheeses, yogurt, jams, juice and cakes. Georges even added some extra pastries the next morning ;-) . Our suite was on the first floor (I always get confused – I mean the floor above the ground floor) and had large windows with low ledges. As the weather was warm and sunny, we immediately opened them and sat on the ledge to soak in the Amsterdam street life. As we eventually had to leave the B&B, we got handed over a key to the building and went on to actually explore the city. Aside from Amsterdam being a very pedestrian friendly city, The Palace is so conveniently located that the canals, the Jordaan district, the Red Light District and the Dam square are just a stone’s throw away. Rudy has his hair salon just underneath the room we stayed in, and next door is a typical Amsterdam coffeeshop. Amsterdam in general is one of the pricier cities in Europe and I found it hard to find a reasonably priced accommodation.

We spent about 130Euros per night, which is great value considering the size of the room and the location of the B&B, not to mention the incredibly friendly owners. Overall, as usual, I felt our stay was way too short. The Palace is the kind of place in which you don’t mind spending more time. Hotel rooms are usually meant only for sleeping, as you are supposed to explore the town the rest of the day, but we enjoyed winding down and relaxing in our suite. Can’t wait to see how my Barcelona find, the Marquet hotel, turns out to be…

Palace B&B
Spuistraat 224

Third Culture Kid

I’m not a huge fan of categorization, as I have never quit fit any label. I have never belonged to any ethnic club or community, simply because, aside from my sister, I didn’t know anyone in my Munich neighborhood with a French father and a Filipina mother. Vaguely you could say I’m Eurasian, or Mestiza as they say here, but where does my German heritage fit in? Is ethnicity limited to the blood in my veins? Aside from me being me, I like to think of myself as a cosmopolite, a global nomad, a world citizen. Those labels are ambiguous and malleable. A few months ago, I heard about the term Third Culture Kid (TCK)– someone who as a child has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture. Typically TCKs are multilingual and highly tolerant of other cultures, however they also lack the sense of where home is. Only knowing bits and pieces of each culture, leaves them with a feeling of being incomplete. OMG, this just sounds all too familiar. After further research, I realized that I even "qualify" as a Fourth Culture Kid; my culture being shaped through the ones of both my parents and my environment. Here is a selection of “You know you are a TCK when…” that I found spot-on:

- “Where are you from?” has more than one reasonable answer

- You flew before you could walk

- You feel odd being in the ethnic majority

- You go into culture shock upon returning to your “home” country?

- You wince when people mispronounce foreign words

- You don’t know whether to write the date as day/month/year, month/day/year, or some variation thereof

- The best word for something is the word you learned first, regardless of the language

- Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you

- You believe vehemently that football is played with a round, spotted ball

- You consider a city 500 miles away “very close”

- You cruise the Internet looking for fonts that can support foreign alphabets

- You think in the metric system and Celsius

- Your minor is a foreign language you already speak?

- When asked a question in a certain language, you’ve absentmindedly respond in a different one

- You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel

- You know how to pack

- You have the urge to move to a new country every couple of years?

- The thought of sending your (hypothetical) kids to public school scares you, while the thought of letting them fly alone doesn’t at all

For more on TCK check out

August 20, 2008


The secret to happiness while living abroad is to find a balance between immersing yourself in the new culture and soaking up all the impressions of your country of adoption and remembering where you come from and keeping your identity by incorporating your home culture in your daily life. Whenever I get ready to spend indefinite amount of time overseas, I intentionally bring along items that remind me of home (whatever the definition of it may be). My care-pack always includes plenty of pictures of friends and family, which I paste to the wall, a bottle of Teisseire grenadine syrup, a pot of Nutella, instant vegetable broth, my feel-good sweater, Trudi the Hippopotamus, my Ipod with music from all over the world... Little things that help me through the stretches of homesickness I might encounter. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” - once settled in a new city I socialize with locals, try to discover the places that aren’t mentioned down in your guidebooks, I eat local food (not necessarily the über-exotic kind, but at least everyday dishes) and try as much as I can to learn the language. Meanwhile, I explore the touristy spots as well; this helps me feel at ease quicker as I’ve probably seen pictures and read up on these places before. It creates familiarity and eliminates the fear of the unknown. I keep myself busy with planning getaways and exploring my new urban life, I locate a good baker and deli for my fix on bread, cheeses and meats, I check out French/German/Italian restaurants to go to when I crave European flavors, and I meet people that ultimately contribute to the feeling of belongingness. I have learned to accept the occasional homesickness and disorientation as part of the experience. After the initial thrill and excitement that comes with the novelty, negative feelings start to creep in and there are moments when I just feel like packing my bags all over again. But I have learned to be patient with myself, focus on the good things and keep an open mind. I aim to create an environment in which I feel comfortable, without attempting to re-create a replica of home. Lastly, I try to have fun and enjoy myself!

August 19, 2008

Merienda à la française, part 2

After the revival of le goûter with my newly found madeleines, I have had recurrent dreams and cravings for another French snack staple – chocolate baguette. Easy, fast, cheap and extremely delicious, this is the recipe for anyone looking for a sweet treat in the middle of the afternoon. Back in college, I would be too busy (or lazy) to concoct complicated recipes. The baker down my apartment block would sell crusty baguette and I would stuff a bar or two of my favourite Milka or Aldi chocolate in it and voilà! Odd how I forgot about this simple pleasure… In Manila, I get my bread from James the Baker. He bakes traditional French pain de campagne (farmer’s bread) and pavé rustique (rustic bread) as well as baguettes, croissants, whole wheat breads and more. He’s on the pricier side, but his products are tasty and of genuine quality, with no preservatives nor added sugar. As for the chocolate, I have yet to find a good brand at a reasonable price here in Manila. I was never fond of the artificial flavour of U.S. products and Valrhona is simply to extravagant for daily use. So, until further notice, I still have to order my choco-fix from Munich, whenever my family visits me. I like my baguette au chocolat better with milk chocolate, but connoisseurs would probably opt for darker chocolate. There are a lot of variations of this all-time favourite. I also found out that this seems to be a traditional childhood snack in the Basque country as well. Here’s a more refined recipe I discovered on one of my favourite dessert blogs - Cannelle et Vanille - which incorporates olive oil and fleur de sel. Can’t wait to try that one out!

James "The Baker" Romdane
Contact- 0929 486 0234

(photo from


I watched our friend Rob’s show 2 nights ago, Chef To Go, and he was cooking Thai recipes inspiring me to write this post. One of the many things that I have learned through my stay in Manila, and through the influence of my spice-loving man, is to love Thai food. The stylish People’s Palace in Greenbelt is one of my favorite places when I crave for Thai flavors. We usually order Tom Yam soup, Pad Thai, chicken Pandan and a curry, usually red or yellow. My favorite however is the pomelo-shrimp salad; it is often copied yet never matched. I also like the fact that all the food is extremely fresh and MSG-free and the staff is amongst the friendliest and best trained I have encountered. But… yes, there is a “but”… There’s a strong competitor in town. And I don’t mean the often raved about Som’s. Through my numerous hours spent reading various Manila food blogs, I found out about Thai Pad, which has recently been renamed Thai Sticks ‘n Steaks. Don’t expect anything fancy. The setting is extremely simple, the menu far from sophisticated, the ambiance non-existent. But, and here it comes, the food is simply yummy and above that it is a steal. The Tom Yam soup (P 120) beats People Palace’s, the chicken Pandan (P45/piece) and the Pad Thai (P130) too. The curry (P140) is good, but not amazing. I still order the yellow one every time. We have yet to try the other dishes on the menu. But whenever we plan to, we fall back into our old habits and stick with the staples. Unfortunately, Thai Sticks ‘N Steaks can’t match the famous pomelo salad of PP. But who am I too complain? D and I spend around 600 pesos on our dinner. For both of us. With rice. And yes, we eat a lot. Such finds remind me that living abroad has a lot of advantages! Thai dinner for two for 10Euros in Munich or Paris? Impossible!

Thai Sticks ‘N Steaks
G/F Marvin Plaza Bldg.
2153 Pasong Tamo cor V.A. Rufino St.
Makati City
Tel 815-1329

People’s Palace
G/F Greenbelt 3
Ayala Center
Makati City
Tel 729-2888

Half what?

The Philippines are my so-called motherland. Yet, I still feel like a foreigner. When a Filipino asks me where I come from, my answer rarely is “I’m Filipina too”. I avoid the quizzical expression and the surprised “Really? You don’t look like it at all!” comments that follow by simply saying “I’m European” – end of conversation. I have been living in Manila for the past 2 years, immersing myself in the culture and improving my Tagalog skills. Most of D’s and my friends are Filipinos and our families have typical Filipino traditions and values. Everyone is welcoming, warm and has accepted me with open arms. And yet, I sometimes feel lost amongst so much Filipinoism. A simple joke I don’t quite get, a movie i have never heard of or a showbiz personality that I don’t recognize are enough to unintentionally remind that I am just a halfie; a Filipina by blood not but experience. My work bridges the gap between Europe and Asia and I get to meet a lot of expatriates. And you would think that it is the perfect setting, yet I don’t relate to the many French people I meet. I am suddenly reminded again that I am a halfie (the other half this time). I am French and Filipina and yet my knowledge of both cultures is limited and at times makes me feel like an alien. Ironically, I identify to Germans more than to any other culture. Can my identity be divided? Or am I simply more, do I have multiple identities? Am I lacking something compared to pure breeds because I am multicultural? The label "half" is inaccurate and inappropriate. Where does one half end and the other one start? Or should I say "third"? Ethnicity can’t be split. I am who I am; there is no percentage to describe me.

August 15, 2008

Merienda à la française

I went to my bank a few days ago and noticed a Délifrance bakery in the building. Until now i was never attracted inside such franchise bakeries, but I was craving for something sweet so i gave it a try. Lying on the bottom shelf, almost on the floor, i found a plastic box with 6 dark, moist-looking, shell-shaped mini cakes. Omg, chocolate madeleines! Flour, sugar, butter, eggs and chocolate. Simple ingredients that bring back sweet childhood memories. My mom used to bake madeleines and when i would come home from school I'd know they'd be ready on the dining table, the air filled with the "fresh-of-the-oven" smell. In a French household, merienda (or goûter as they say in France) is a sweet snack at around 4pm and it was a constant fixture growing up. When my mom didn't bake madeleines, i would get a warm sliced piece of fresh baguette and would stuff a chocolate bar in it. When i would bite in the crusty bread, i would anticipate the soft richness of the chocolate inside.

Moving to Manila, i lost the habit of "goûter" and i never got quite used to the pancit canton (stir fried noodles) in mid-afternoon. So imagine my delight when i found the most delish madeleines at a reasonable price without having to order them days in advance from a pastry chef. I didn't have high expectations, as nothing beats home-made, but i was surprised to taste chocolaty, moist and buttery madeleines. D says they look like ipis (filipino cockroaches), but truth is he nearly finished the box. This is the perfect quick fix to remind me of my merienda française. I'll try the plain madeleines next time and maybe i should go look for some fresh baguette!

Home Sweet Home

For the past 8 years I was “homeless”. I am not blaming it on anyone but myself. I have itchy feet and once out of high school, I packed my bags and started my life episode of packing boxes, moving in, getting to know the place and its people, falling in love, wanting more, packing my boxes, moving out and moving on. It got to the point that my friend K. pointed out that my email was my only constant address. Of course, I always had my parents’ house back in Munich to go back to, but in between grad school, traineeships abroad, exchange programs and travels I lost the sense of home. I moved to Manila almost 2 years ago and until now I am “waiting” for my feet to itch, but... Nothing. Three weeks ago, I moved into my new condominium in The Fort (yes, I still move around but at least within the same city). I feel a bit derooted; I miss my tiny studio in Pasig. After all I spent almost two years living in it. But this is different. Now I have a full functioning kitchen, a bathroom that can comfortably have D. and me brush our teeth together, a real dining table to host dinners, a balcony that has a view, a couch to slouch on with a good book, plenty of storage space for clothes, bags, shoes… I have a place to call home… Not quite sure for how long. But, for now, I feel good about it. The nomad in me is retired.

August 14, 2008

The Best of All Worlds?

Growing up as in two cultures can be quite challenging at times. Growing up in three is even the more confusing. “Where are you from?” is a question I categorically refuse to answer. Truth is, I do not know the answer. My passport doesn’t tell me where I belong; it is just a piece of paper. Nationality these days is such an abstract concept. I like to believe that I am bit of everything. My French heritage taught me how to appreciate and relish the beautiful things in life, such as art, architecture, fashion and, of course, fine cuisine. My Filipino genes fostered in me the culture of hospitality, the importance of family and friends and the love for all things fried (even bananas!). While Germany, although I do not have a single drop of German blood, has influenced me for most of my lifetime and has shaped me into the multicultural, meat-loving person I am today. You could say I have three personalities. I am French. I am Filipina. I am German.


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