an upstate of mind

One of my oldest and dearest friends in New York, Sparrow Hall, recently launched a fantastic digital experience dedicated to travel, culture, and design in Upstate New York: An Upstate of Mind. I've written a roadtrip diary about one of many wonderful weekends spent upstate. Check it out :)  

Follow him on Twitter · Facebook · Pinterest · Tumblr · Flickr 


old photos are gems : part 2

Back in October, I posted an old photo of my maternal relatives. It's a lot more unusual for me to see old photos of my father's side of the family. I loved seeing these. It may very well be the first photo I've ever seen of my great grandmother (center) and the first time I've ever seen such a large group photo of my paternal relatives. 

Take a WILD guess which one my father is. It's so obvious, it's hilarious. He's the man with the thick framed glasses on the left (he's standing directly behind his dad, my grandfather). Funny that decades later, we would share similar taste in eyewear! I love the suit and the hairstyle as well. Well done, Pa.  

I also love this photo below. I love how handsome my grandparents look here. My dad is second from the right. The look on his face already showing a faint defiance – a hint of the little trouble maker he apparently grew up to be. Ha!

old photos are gems

With my mom and her mom both celebrating October birthdays (14th, 28th, respectively), it was only fitting to share another recently discovered gem of a photo. It's a follow up to the photo I posted in July. Thanks to my cousin Joel for sharing photos he recently unearthed in Manila. That's my lola (grandmother) in the middle, my parents to the right and my my mom's sister-in-law, sister and brother-in-law to the left. This must have been in the very early 70s. I love how elegant everyone looks. My mom looks like a teenager here. But she had to have been in her early 20s. Whenever I see old family photos, I feel like I know my family just a little bit more. And I love that.

Happy October birthdays to Mama & (my late) Lola! 

10 years ago today

A few months ago, my cousin Camille, the Managing Director for Cosmopolitan Magazine Philippines emailed and asked whether I was in fact in New York at the time of the 9/11 attacks. And if so, would I'd mind writing a personal account of my experience that day for an upcoming issue. 

Below is the unabridged version of what I submitted. It published in Cosmopolitan magazine, Philippines back in June, 2011. 

a photo I took in 1999 from Hoboken, NJ

I was home in Brooklyn getting ready for what was to be my first day freelancing for Rollingstone magazine. I recall hearing a loud noise and discussing it with my roommate. We both figured it was a building explosion somewhere in the area. I saw a huge, thick plume of smoke traveling across the sky on my way to the subway station. But I assumed it was a big fire somewhere in Brooklyn. People on the street did not alert me to anything unusual. All I was concerned with at that point was getting to work. 

It wasn't until the subway car I was in crossed the Manhattan bridge (which was several stories above ground) that the entire car full of riders let out a simultaneous gasp as soon as we looked out the window and saw two burning black holes in both World Trade Center towers that I realized where the smoke was coming from. One burning hole was so new that at that point it was still in the shape of a plane hitting the building at an angle. 

I was in disbelief and I remember thinking to myself: There's no way people would be at work yet at the WTC, it was too early. So therefore, no one must be hurt. I was in denial of course, as my heart pounded loudly in my ears. I knew that people in the financial district are known to come to work early. The entire train was plastered to the window, none of us could believe what we were seeing. I heard from a passenger from listening to the radio that The Pentagon buildings also had been hit or bombed. The facts were not clear then since we were all just learning (and witnessing) everything.  It really sunk in at that moment that this was not an accident – that this was most definitely a very aggressive attack on the US. I was full of questions.   

By the time I exited the train at 51st St. and 6th Avenue – in front of Radio City Music Hall, the WTC buildings had collapsed. The subway system had been shut down and the streets were more chaotic than usual. It seemed everyone was out on the street. Everyone was confused. I decided to head up to the office, not being clear on what I should do. I was also scared. My art director at the time took one look at me and said: "Catherine, what are you doing here? We're being evacuated! They don't know what building might be hit next." I told her I just didn't know what to do. Granted we were only on the second floor but I was officially terrified. 

I left the office in a daze. People on the streets frantically trying to get a hold of their loved ones. Some were in tears. I stood and watched the news on a TV that the NBC offices has wheeled outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza so that people could figure out what was happening. I also read the news on the ticker tape that wrapped around the NBC studios building to try and make sense of it all. We collectively tried to remain calm as we struggled to hear the news reporters while fighter planes zoomed above the city combing the skies and sirens from fire trucks screamed by constantly. No one spoke. 

I had tried unsuccessfully to call my family on my cel phone. I knew that the lines must have been jammed from everyone calling each other. I was told later that the cel towers that were atop the WTC towers collapsed along with the building, interrupting service for many people. Eventually, my parents in Manila got a hold of me and the moment I heard their voices on the phone, I cried. I was shaking. But I explained that I was fine and I was trying to make my way home. 

I headed downtown from 51st Sreet on foot. The subway system would be shut down until later that afternoon. Somehow I was able to track down a cousin of mine that I knew lived in Manhattan. We managed to find each other in the East Village. I had been walking for at least a few hours and was exhausted. I finally made it back to Brooklyn around 4 or 5pm. I took the same subway train line back and saw the space where the WTC towers stood only a few hours before. Still stunned. 

My roommate told me that someone in the apartment building had run an errand to pick up a watch she had repaired at The World Trade towers just a few minutes before the attack. We tearfully sat glued to the news for the next few days. Spent hours sitting in Prospect Park wondering what would happen next and how this would affect the already ailing economy. We talked to people in the Park Slope neighbourhood about what happened. I remember walking away from a conversation offended (and furious) at someone we casually knew who angrily spouted racist remarks at people from the Middle East. I thought: Wow, this event had already triggered a reaction not unlike the one after Pearl Harbor, which was in a word, racism. Had we not learned anything from that experience? I had no idea that it would be just the beginning of what would unfold following the events of 9/11.

We had both been through lay-offs only a few months prior to the attacks. Thanks to the dot com crash. What are we going to do now? Over the next two weeks, at least, New York City was transformed. It was a city deep in mourning. Humbled. I have never seen New Yorkers be as nice to each other as they were following the attacks. People looked at one another in the eyes. Everyone was uncharacteristically helpful and kind. The stranger seated across the subway car wondered quietly whether you personally knew someone who perished that day. Lower Manhattan smelled like smoke for the next month at least. Residents of the area had to move out completely. 

It took a long time for the city to recover. In many ways, it STILL is recovering. I remember the day vividly, like it was yesterday. 

learning legacies 2

My cousin Joel sent me this photo of my Lola (grandmother) and her kids that I have never seen before. Her name was Leonarda – Lony for short. Doesn't she look fantastic?! I love that she looks so relaxed and elegant. My mom is the one to the right of my grandmother. I've seen very few photos of my mom at this exact age. It inspired me to write another post about my family history as a kind of follow-up to my post last year. Another thing that inspired me today is a comment someone left on my old blog about my ancestors. It was nice to be reminded of your ancestry.

My Lola lost her husband, my grandfather Tomas, when he was only 51 years old. He suffered from severe asthma for years and eventually lost the battle. Back then, there were limited options for treament. I never actually had the chance to meet him. He probably took this photo, now that I think about it. My grandma was left to raise six kids on her own. From what I can recall, her family was fortunate enough to own several pieces of property in and around Manila. She earned a living collecting rent from tenants of several apartment buildings. I still remember going with my grandma to collect rent. Between raising six kids and managing property, she also spent a great deal of her time volunteering for an organization that helped the poor. I also remember accompanying my grandmother many times to visit the sick and the poor. Even as a child, I found this to be very humbling. She would always bring them baked goods that she made. She would sit, hold the hands of, and and talk with people who were sick. It was all very much a part of what my Lola was about. The Lola I remember was eternally (and fiercely) independent, generous, sassy and charming. She wasn't afraid to speak her mind. She had to. During the 60s until she passed during the 90s, she was on her own. It's also great to learn that she descends from a long line of strong women — matriarchs. This of course means that I, too, (along with my mom and her sisters) are part of this lineage. I realize that it's a big part of who I am, too. That's something that's to be proud of. 


the museum of me

I just caught wind of this Intel Museum of Me application/campaign this afternoon. I must say I'm thoroughly impressed. It takes your Facebook data to create a virtual museum exhibition about your life. The application walks through the museum when it's done gathering your information. It's amazing. It's spreading like wildfire on Facebook. This is a product of social media. It feeds our collective self obsessions that have been brought on by social media: the ME monster. It also feels like a post humous memorial and is, oddly, moving as a result. It's brilliant! 

mama styling

It's already Mother's Day where my mom is. So I figured, a slightly early post would be just fine. 

That's my mom in the center of the photo with her cousins next to her. I recently finished restoring this image. I love this photo so much. Everything about it.  I even kept the skewed angle it had originally been scanned in. Perhaps it's simply because I love her look in this photo. She's beautiful. It must have been taken of her in the 60s before I was ever born. I really first learned about style and how to love clothes from my mom. She did dress me and made a lot clothes for my sister and me when we were young. It made me think: my mom was my original stylist! ;) 

Thanks, Mama. Happy Mother's Day! 

I love you.


powerful inspiration : people power

Perhaps the most inspiring experience that came out of my Montreal trip was finally getting to see People Power – a very powerful and moving play about the non-violent revolution in the Philippines back in 1986 that lead to the toppling of former president Marcos' nearly 20 year corrupt dictatorship. It was written from diverse points of view, all seamlessly represented by the cast. All of it honouring the unsung heroes of the revolution: such as the people of the working class and the activists. Not only was my sister, Christine part of the brilliant cast, she is also part of the CBT Collective that wrote this smart, rich, multi-dimensional, modern, sensitive (and sometimes humourous!) piece of theatre. Not only is my sister active in her theatre work, she's also a talented freelance art director and designer like me! I loved seeing this play and was incredibly inspired by the role my sister played in it's creation. 

Toronto-based, Carlos Bulosan Theatre is also lead by another good friend of mine, Nadine Villasin, who is the theatre's artistic director. My other, multi-talented sister Caroline also designed the costumes and my brother-in-law was responsible for the sound design. I am pretty amazed and humbled to be surrounded with such talent and creativity here in Canada.

People Power has received numerous accolades. Not the least of which are the several Dora nominations for many cast and crew members as well as a Dora Award* winning actor, Nico Lorenzo Garcia for his very moving portrayal of an average Filipino taxi driver in People Power

*The Dora is the Canadian equivalent of the Tony Award)

If you happen to be in the Montreal area between now and October 2nd, go see People Power. There are five shows left before it closes. You will be as inspired and moved as I was. 

Photos by Reese Baguio

portrait at the barbershop

my dad at the barbershop, toronto

I took a blog break last week to spend time with my dad. He was visiting New York, New Jersey and Toronto from Manila. I asked my sister Caroline to take some portraits of him. It had been a while since either one of us took proper portraits of him. I was excited about what she would come up with given all the recent family photo restorations that I've been working on as well as conversations about family history.
During his visit to Toronto, my sisters took my dad to Mankind – a spa and barbershop just for men. I must mention that my dad is no stranger to spa treatments. He's what we might refer to nowadays as "metrosexual." Only I remember him getting facials back in the late 70s and 80s – long before the term was coined and before I really understood what facials were all about. All I knew is it was a form of grooming for the face.
I really love this portrait Caroline took. It was shot exclusively with natural light (which is totally amazing to me). My dad looks like he's part of the mob here (yet again!). The photo looks very cinematic. He looks quite intimidating and sombre here. Ironically, he's usually more of a jokester but you'd never know it looking at this photo.


mom style


my mom
I recently took on the task of meticulously restoring old family photos, most of which have been damaged over the years. This portrait of my mother in the early 70s was no exception. It was drawn by my aunt Amelia (Mel) in pencil/charcoal. She definitely captured the likeness and essence of my mom here. I thought it would be a perfect homage to my mom for Mother's Day. I mean, how chic is her haircut? I must mention, too, that my mom ran a clothing company for women and children when I was young. She loved dressing us. My sister Caroline and I (before my youngest sister was born) were often her models (and fit models).
So for the woman who dressed me early in life, kicking off a lifelong love of clothes and fashion, Happy Mother's Day!
I don't see my mom too often since she lives in Manila. I love and miss her.
Happy Mother's Day to all moms out there :)


here lies love : david byrne and imelda marcos


David Byrne (formerly of the 80s band Talking Heads) is releasing an album this April of 22 songs that are all about the life of Imelda Marcos. He's collaborated with Fat boy Slim to produce this album and upcoming musical theater concept. He has this curious fascination with Imelda – the wife and infamous former first lady to Ferdinand Marcos, former dictator of the Philippines. It isn't so much an album in her honor but more so a look at her rise to power and what she did with her own brand of power. There's only one mention of shoes, which is what she's most known for: the (roughly) 3,000 pairs she owned at the time she and the former dictator were thrown out of the country. Apparently, the idea was born out of the Marcos's love for disco music during the 70s. Imelda apparently frequented Studio 54 in New York, installed a disco ball in her NY townhouse and lived lavishly (while the people of the Philippines plunged deeper and deeper into poverty). The title of the album is based on what Imelda Marcos herself wishes for her gravestone to read upon her death: Here Lies Love. I'm still not completely clear on why David Byrne was so inspired to create this project. But I'm interested to find out more.
I haven't yet listened to the album in it's entirety but I'm fascinated with this video of the track performed by Santigold entitled "Please Don't." It's about Imelda's way of working with world leaders into helping Philippine interests by charming them into seeing things her way. She dubbed it "Handbag Diplomacy" because she would bypass former President Marcos, grab her handbag and fly off to meet these world leaders. I love all this vintage footage of her. Outside of her corrupt ways, she was fabulous looking and the woman knew how to *work it.*
Check here to find out more about the project.


learning legacies


Throughout my childhood, I was told various stories about my ancestors by my Lola (Tagalog for grandmother), my mom and other family members. I remember bits and pieces about this legacy I had from the generations that preceded me – specifically my maternal grandmother's side. Having moved to N. America has taken me further away from this history. A recent invite to a clan group on Facebook by an uncle of mine sparked renewed interest. I was fascinated by the photos and stories from my mom and my sister (who looked into this deeper while on a trip to the Philippines last year). And to give you an idea of the size of this clan in actuality (not on FB), the reunion that is held every four years is attended by about 400-500 people.
My great great grandmother, Maria 'Angoy' Limjap (pictured below in a corset) was married to a prominent business tycoon, Mariano Limjap. This makes her my grandmother's grandmother. Apparently she was a very strict, regal woman and socialite who became a well-known philantropist. Mariano, is a descendant of a prominent Chinese immigrant who married a Spanish (mestiza) or someone of mixed heritage in Manila named Lim Cong Jap. Like some Chinese immigrants of the time, they combined Chinese names with Spanish names. Hence the new last name Limjap (pronounced Lim-hap – which is the Spanish pronounciation of the letter 'j').
I also heard that apart from being a very successful industrialist, Mariano Limjap was apparently a patron of the Philippine Revolution that would eventually free the Philippines of 400 years of Spanish colonial rule. In 1896, he was apparently arrested and imprisoned for his revolutionary efforts. He was eventually released when Spain surrendered to the Americans. There's a photo below of the couple's busts (in marble?) at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
My great grandmother Leonarda 'Nena' Limjap at one point also turned down a beauty queen crown in favor of traveling abroad. She would eventually marry Dr. Ariston Ubaldo who was the nephew of Dr. Jose Rizal (son of Jose Rizal's sister, Olympia), the renowned national hero of the Philippines (also played a major role during the Philippine Revolution). Meaning my great grandfather was a descendant of the country's most honored hero and was inspired by him to also pursue EENT (eye, ear, nose and throat) medicine. AMAZING.
Needless to say, learning (and being reminded of) all this was quite incredible. The research continues. I love finding out about my amazing family history. More than accomplished industrialists, they were also philanthropists and revolutionaries! It's completely awe-inspiring and humbling.
My captions below provide more information.
Maria 'Angoy' Limjap in a corseted (Victorian?) dress
Mariano and Maria Limjap in traditional Philippine dress
Maria 'Angoy' Limjap as a teenager
Mariano and Maria Limjap
The (marble?) busts Mariano and Maria Limjap at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila in 2006 photo by Ria Limjap

Maria 'Angoy' Limjap (center) with three of her daughters: my great grandmother Leonarda 'Nena' Limjap is the one on the far left
One of many lavish parties thrown by my great great grandparents. Apparently, the grandchildren (like my grandmother) would be sequestered upstairs under the supervision of nannies during these soirees.
A postcard (?) of the Limjap ancestral home in Manila



This is a photo of my great great aunt Esperanza Limjap and her husband, Sergio Osmeña who was the second President of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1944 and was one of the founding members of the Nacionalista Party. Pretty amazing!
All photos (unless otherwise noted) from La Familia Limjap



My mom. She taught me how to care, to nurture, to give and to love. She also taught me to love food. She's all the way on the other side of the world. And I miss her. 

Happy Mother's Day, Ma.

photo by my sister, Caroline