The tropical island of Boracay, with its pristine, white-sand beaches, crystal clear blue water and picturesque sunsets, has always been the Philippines’ best-kept secret. Until now. What was once a remote, perfectly untouched enclave has freakishly mutated into a typical Southeast Asian tourist hotspot, no different from Phuket or Bali.

Though Stations 2 and 3 have always been bustling with the usual beachfront restaurants, bars and hotels (they are boat stations after all), more and more establishments have now overcrowded the already condensed coastline. Sadly, not even the relatively calm Station 1 has been spared. Considering the hundreds of paraws (small, banka-like sailboats) blocking your supposedly breath-taking view or the hoards of boatmen rudely awakening your sunbathed slumber to offer you a joyride, it’s pretty safe to say that Boracay has officially lost its charm.

Add a Starbucks right smack in the middle of the island as the icing on the cake and you know it’s all over. Boracay as it once was, as the best-kept secret of the Philippines has inevitably shifted sands.

As an archipelagic republic far-removed from the Southeast Asian mainland, tourism plays a critical role in Philippine economic development. In truth, these boat tours, beach front massages and even late-night fire dancing serve as the main lifeline of Boracay’s local economy. Nevertheless, if these tourist-centric activities result in the conversion of a once splendid island paradise into a long stripmall crowded with middle-aged caucasian men and their suspiciouly younger Filipina girlfriends (or wives), then it is rather questionable whether or not this development is worth it.

Indeed, for most developing nations, the exploitation of natural resources, whether for industry or tourism, is both characteristic and conducted with good reason. Economic law dictates that the rampant destruction of the environment is only logical since natural goods such as cash crops, timber and minerals are in abundance in areas such as these. As a result, the bulk of exports from the Third World are composed primarily of agricultural commodities, raw materials or low-level industrial goods such as textiles, clothing and footwear (as opposed to highly advanced technologies in the West). Despite these means of production, countries like the Philippines are still considered to be economically immature.

Be that as it may, it must be pointed out that the standards of economic development are set by those few nations that possess an entirely distinct set of economic circumstances (geographic location, endowment of resources and historical context). The result of which is a Starbucks –the epitome of rapid commercialization and development– around every corner. Who is to say that their model of progress is well-suited to the developing world? If that were the case, prevalent issues such as sustainability, climate change and environmental protection should not be demanded of emerging econmies as those in the First World have been disregarding them ever since in order to gain economic supremacy.

Yet, it is in fact the protection of these natural assets that must be prioritized by developing nations, not for the sake of tourism but rather in order to achieve a more sustainable path to economic development. Given the vast uncertainty and instability of the modern, global economy as well as the steady decline of Western economic growth, emerging markets, particularly in Asia and the Americas, are in a strategic position to capitalize on improving their economic performances, especially through sustainable means. As the Western model has proven to be far too aggressive and irresponsible, the developing world has a golden opportunity to be at the forefront of innovative, sustainable growth, through the protection of their natural resources.

Although a concrete mehod of achieiving this remains to be seen, keeping the beaches unstarbucksed is undoubtedly the first step. ✌

Boracay Malay Aklan, The Philippines

Early to Rise

Being absent from the Philippines these last few years, I had forgotten how early Filipinos start their day. It was not until I heard the thunderous roar of a jeepney’s engine at five in the morning that I realized it. While I lay in bed, struggling to overcome my jetlag, it seemed that everyone else was either preparing for work or already on their way.

Particularly in Manila where the traffic slows to a grinding halt by 06:30, being early to rise is not only common practice, it is a non-negotiable necessity if you want to get anywhere, anytime soon. No one is spared, not even the children who are out of the house by 06:00 and singing our National Anthem in the classrooms by 07:00. Still, among the country folk living in the provinces across the archipelago, the day begins even earlier.

Geographic location has much to do with this peculiar way of life. As a tropical nation, the Philippines enjoys a healthy amount of sunlight all year round. Like much of the Southeast Asian region, it’s climate is ideal for the planting of rice- a staple of the Filipino diet. As a laborous endeavor, rice cultivation requires long hours in the paddies and constant exposure to the torturous sun. Farmers must therefore rise before dawn in order to work more efficiently in the fields. Since the time of sunrise never varries in this part of the world, it is indeed this agricultural tradition that made way for an early start to the day.

Be that as it may and let this serve as a warning, it must be said that despite an early bird mentality, Filipinos are still never on time. However, do not make the mistake to think that they are the least bit lazy. ✌

Tagaytay Batangas, The Philippines

Indie BRANDS, the Launch

Indie BRANDS (BIS Publishers). Photo Courtesy:

Pakhuis de Zwijger*, Amsterdam played host on Thursday (22 December 2011) to the launch of Indie BRANDS – a new book portraying 30 independent brands and their inspiring stories. Written and curated by Anneloes van Gaalen, the publication explores the Indie Brand concept as well as the creative minds behind them, the innovative products they make, their base of operations and sources of inspiration. Be it Tony’s Chocolonely slavery-free chocolate or O△+ biodegradable sneakers, erotic fragrances by Etat Libre d’Orange or hyper-caffeinated Frittz-kola, Ms. van Gaalen traveled the globe to investigate a variety of brands and what makes them tick. Accordingly, financial and creative independence, original storytelling and a firm grasp of marketing are unifying virtues inherent to authentic, independent brands as opposed to those in the mainstream.

Accompanying the launch was the well-attended Indie Brands Event. In participation with a number of brand owners featured in the book, the gathering combined keynote speeches and panel discussions on critical issues surrounding an indie brand lifecycle. From the initial idea generation and brand formulation to media exposure, cash flow and growth, the speakers presented valuable insights based on their own experiences and mistakes. More importantly, it was an opportunity for these individuals to share their personal stories and how they were inspired to throw caution to the wind and devote their lives to create something valuable.

Indie BRANDS Event
Indie BRANDS Event. Pakhuis de Zwijger Amsterdam. phillipqgangan (2011).

Despite their good intentions, there was still a hint of skepticism among those in attendance, particularly in regard to the authenticity of these brands. A few members of the audience were not entirely convinced of the sincerity of the business owners and questioned whether or not their brands were truly independent. Intriguingly, with the introduction of each panelist, the crowd was bombarded with professionally executed marketing campaigns and audiovisual presentations. While both storytelling and marketing play an integral role in establishing brand identity, there is a tendency for companies nowadays to carelessly throw around terms such as sustainability, social responsibility and independence in order to boost their corporate image, hence the public’s suspicion.

Similarly, it seemed as though the main focus of the conference was entirely on the brands themselves and the products they represent. Albeit unavoidable at a brand-centric event, the pursuit of customer satisfaction was a missing element in the discussions. It is common knowledge that the success of an indie brand or any other brand for that matter primarily depends on the customers’ patronage. No amount of marketing gimmickry or storytelling will ever convince a dissatisfied customer, especially when it is the brand’s value-added services such as on-time delivery, after-sales and customer assistance that are substandard.

Indie BRANDS Panel Discussion
Indie BRANDS Event Panel Discussion. phillipqgangan (2011).

Nevertheless, Ms. van Gaalen thinks otherwise. As a veteran of the street art scene and a well-published author on the movement, her primary passion lies in good storytelling. Of the 60-odd brands she shadowed over the course of 2 years, only 30 were deemed worthy enough to grace the pages of the book with authenticity as a fundamental provision. What was most inspiring to her was when business owners openly admitted their failures, whether it was the incapacity to fulfill purchase orders, the abhorrence of their peers or a disastrous product launch, all resulting in the severe loss of capital. Sure enough, it is this sort of honesty, imperfection and struggle that separate these brands from the mainstream.

Indie BRANDS Panel Discussion
Indie BRANDS Event Panel Discussion. phillipqgangan (2011).

At the end of the day, founding a business is no easy feat. Leaving behind a lucrative career or starting out with no more than just a good idea in order to create something of value is a risk only taken by a few. Whether they are strictly indie or not is beside the point. What is clear is that these brands are the real underdogs. They are the products of creative thinking and grueling hours of hard work, facing insurmountable uncertainty with an air of confidence, unwavering commitment to what it is they do and the guts to dream. ✌

For more information on Indie BRANDS, Anneloes van Gaalen and the brands featured in her book, visit the websites listed below:

Indie BRANDS (BIS Publishers)

Anneloes van Gaalen (Paperdoll Writing)

A Call to Alms

Typhoon Washi Strikes the Philippines. Photo Courtesy: Bobby Lagsa, EPA / Landov/

On 17 December 2011, Typhoon Sendong (International name: Washi) devastated the Mindanao region in the Southern Philippines. More than 1000 people have died and hundreds more are reported missing due to abnormal weather that brought about the accumulation of a month’s worth of rainfall overnight. Although the Philippines is prone to tropical storms throughout the year, this particular region in Mindanao rarely experiences typhoons of this strength, let alone the staggering amount of rain. As a result, over 300,000 people have been affected by severe landslides and flooding, including the residents of two major cities, Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

The Philippines is currently in a state of national calamity. The residents of the worst-hit areas have lost their loved ones, homes and quite literally the clothes on their backs. Makeshift evacuation centers in Mindanao lack the necessary resources, including potable drinking water, food, medicine and clothing to in order to properly assist over 88,000 evacuees. Despite the help of aid agencies, the efforts are still not enough to manage a calamity of this scale.

We need your help. Please. Donate now and help save lives.

For your donations and more information, please visit the following organizations:

Philippine Red Cross

Het Nederlandse Rode Kruis

The Humanitarian Coalition

If you know of other relief organizations accepting donations for the victims of Typhoon Sendong, please do not hesitate to contact the author at in order to include the aid information on this post. ✌

Where Will Happiness Strike Next: The OFW Project by Coca-Cola

There is no denying that Coca-Cola‘s global brand recognition goes far beyond its ever popular, carbonated soft drink. With an iconic, type-faced logo, catchy tag-lines and prolific marketing strategies, the brand has always been a household name. Nevertheless, the Coca-Cola Company is also highly committed to “making a positive difference in the world.” This Christmas, the brand has truly outdone itself with its “Open Happiness” campaign, particularly in the Philippines.

With more than 11 million Filipinos working overseas, the Philippines considers its people to be its most valuable export. In a country where the legality of divorce is not acknowledged, labor migration is the major cause of broken families. Oftentimes, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are separated from their loved ones for an interminable amount of time, all for a chance at giving their children, siblings and parents a better life.

Given this reality, Coca-Cola asks the question, “What is happiness?”

To the millions of brave Filipinos working abroad, happiness is home. ✌


Stark Contrast: Paris and Berlin

Maria Austria (1915-1975), Paris, 1960. Photo Courtesy of Maria Austria Institute, Amsterdam and the Fotomuseum Den Haag

Gare du Nord, Dutch photographers in Paris 1900-1968                           Fotomuseum Den Haag

Gare du Nord is the latest exhibition by the Fotomusuem Den Haag, featuring the work of Dutch photographers in Paris during 1900 to 1968. At the time when the French capital was deemed a premiere metropolis – with its bustling nightlife, romantic clime and charming avenues – the City of Light truly inspired quite a number of intellectuals, writers and artists from across the globe. Dutch photographers were no exception.

Centering on the magnificence that is Paris, the exhibit presents the work of about fifty Dutch photographers, each with their own technique and favored subject matter. From breathtaking cityscapes to the Parisian Banlieues, everyday people to celebrities and icons, these photographs allow for a glimpse into the city’s past, weaving a rich tapestry of Parisian life during that time. Indeed, the images capture Paris’ mystical allure, leaving even the most globalized, twenty-first century viewer bewitched.

Jonathan Meese
Jonathan Meese (2006). Photo Courtesy of GEM Musuem voor Actuele Kunst, Den Haag.

Jonathan Meese, Totalzelbsportrait                                                                           GEM Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Den Haag

Accompanying Gare du Nord is a retrospective on German artist Jonathan Meese, entitled Totalzelbsportrait at the GEM Museum voor Actuele Kunst. Known for his burning advocacy on the “Dictatorship of Art,” the Berlin-based painter, sculptor and performance artist has chosen his “total self-portrait” as a unifying theme. In doing so, Meese reveals a multifaceted portrait, simultaneously playing the role of child, animal and dictator. Though his image constantly appears in the majority of his work, Meese makes use of his likeness to oppose self-addiction, commonly associated with the self-portrait format. ✌

“Art does what it wants, not what the artist wants. The artist may be ill, stupid, dead – art is not interested. Submit to art and you no longer need religion.”

Exhibit Information:

The Gare du Nord and Totalzelbsportrait installations are open until 15 January 2012. For more information on the exhibitions and museums, visit their websites: Fotomusuem Den Haag and GEM Museum voor Actuele Kunst.

Urban Art as Social Activism

Bringing together some of the finest street and graffiti artists from across the globe, the Wynwood district of Miami has been transformed from a forgotten warehouse quarter into a haven of public art. Strewn across the industrial landscape is a collection of vibrant, awe-inspiring murals of monumental proportions. With each masterpiece, a rich dialogue is continuously initiated between the artists, their shared personal narratives and the viewing public.

Mexican graffiti artists Sego and Saner (featured in this video) invest in this creative discourse through an imaginative dreamscape. Their mural seeks to act as an agent of change, aiming to reshape world perspectives on their motherland, culture and people. Ultimately, their art strives to influence the passive observer to think critically and become agents of positive change themselves.

The principle that art has the power to create and recreate is clearly evident with the Wynwood Walls. The project has not only revitalized a previously dilapidated Miami neighborhood, it has also made available a public platform for a truly-under appreciated art from, giving it the attention and respect is rightly deserves. ✌

For more information on the Wynwood Walls and artists featured in this video, visit their websites listed below:

The Wynwood Walls

Sego & Saner

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