BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Sunday, February 26, 2017

I like it quiet. I like it quiet in the mornings or just before the sun sets. I like it when not a whisper could be heard, nothing but the beating of my heart. I like it simple, so simple that I could feel, see and hear only the most mundane of details.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happy 2017!

I've never been so happy to see a year finally come to an end. And so with all my aches and pain, I've finally said goodbye to 2016, which I considered a really difficult one for me. There were a lot of positive things but one traumatic event overshadowed everything.

It's probably the most difficult year for me as far as I can remember. And I'm not even a drama queen. Anyway, I'm just happy it's over.

I survived and as in anything in life, I really don't have much choice but to carry on.
So here's to moving on and making the best of another year.

Happy 2017!

Sunday, September 25, 2016


(I found this in my archives. It's an unpublished version of a piece I did for Starweek. I forgot writing about this but I'm posting it here because I think I like it more than the published piece. But why I chose to submit the other version remains a puzzle).

A scissors, a chair and a cloth to cover falling hair; there is little boy and a lanky barber, his hair grown thick as well. This is a pop-up barber “shop” in an empty alley in downtown Manila. There really is no shop with the trademark helix of red, blue and white, the barber pole that dates back to the medieval times. There is

There is a woman, she with long hair cascading down her shoulders sitting alone appreciating art inside the Oarhouse Pub on Bocobo Street, described as one of the last remnants of Manila’s colourful past.

In a mass grave in Leyte in the southern Philippines, the names of the dead, they who perished when Haiyan came, are cast in stone and etched in gold, remembered forever.

In a town of water lilies, in the middle of cornfields, there is a woman covered in blue. She is the wife of a dead rebel, she is the mother of an infant son and four other children, now without a father.

Welcome to the Philippines where little boys get their hair cut anywhere, anytime, in empty streets or in crowded barber shops, where children roam fishing villages in Snow White costumes, where town elders read the livers of freshly butchered pigs in fog covered mountains in the northern Philippines and where cornfields become massacre sites.

A country of 94 million people, the Philippines is a storied place. Surrealism runs through the daily lives of people. And the stories are endless as they are varied; every place is a cartographic reality; age-old traditions exist alongside the ephemeral and yet the Philippines is as real as it can get.

There is more to the Philippines than just poverty and politics and this is what Everyday Philippines, an Instagram project put up by three Filipino freelance photojournalists, Tammy David (, Veejay Villafranca ( and Jes Aznar (

All three said that EverydayPhilippines, an account on photo-sharing site Instagram seeks to show the Philippines and not just the usual stories of poverty and corruption that the country is sometimes synonymous with.

The Instagram project joins the growing global Everyday movement inspired by EverydayAfrica, which started in 2012 initially as a Tumblr Blog by photographer Peter DiCampo and writer Austin Merill.

EverydayAfrica inspired similar Instagram accounts put up by mostly professional photographers: EverydayIran, EverydayBronx, EverydayUSA, EverydayEasternEurope, EverydayMyanmar and also to non-geographic issues such as EverydayClimateChange and EverydayIncarceration, among others.

EverydayPhilippines officially started on Jan. 1, 2015 and joins this global movement as it aims to break the visual stereotype of the Philippines being just another Third World country mired in deep poverty.

The goal is to break these stereotypes, says David, who is also a video journalist and whose works have appeared in both local and foreign publications including the Wall Street Journal.

Villafranca, a photographer represented by Getty Images, said it has become difficult to pitch stories about the country because some Western media’s preconceived notions of what the Philippines is.

“The Philippines on its own is very rich (but) when you pitch (stories) to the Western media, there are a lot of misconceptions,” says Villafranca.

And yes some people zero in on the country being just another Third World nation.

Aznar, whose works appear on the pages of the New York Times, thought of coming up with the project so he suggested it to his two friends Villafranca and David, who in turn, happen to have the same idea, inspired by EverydayAfrica’s success.

The rules are simple. The project is open to other photographers and the photographs must be, as much as possible, phone-camera captured, visually stunning and must provide contexts.

“There are many photographs and stories but what is important is to put the context,” Aznar says.

Photographers can then post their photos on their individual Instagram accounts and use the hashtag #EverydayPhilippines and from this, the three proponents then curate the photographs that appear on this hashtag search before reposting these on the EverydayPhilippines account.

And true enough, the result is a visually stunning tapestry of vignettes of life in the Philippines that entices the audience to take a closer look at a nation whose daily life is so rich in history, culture and magic realism. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

On Self Preservation

Behind the driver’s seat, I listened intently to his story. He’s been driving all his life, the only skill he knows that can earn him a living. For two years, many moons ago, he was in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, too, driving under the scorching heat of the Middle Eastern sun, serving the thousands or so servants of the King. 

He’s been driving his brother’s car for a month now, to bring commuters to wherever they need to go. Brother is in Qatar, earning a living, for his daughter who is left in Manila with her grandparent. 

Back to the driver. He’s earning a decent amount every month but things could be better. Much, much better, he says. 

And so he wants to try his luck again abroad. In Bahrain this time to earn more and more and more. Life abroad is difficult. Very, very difficult but what can he do? 

"The loneliness can kill you," he says.

"But it’s where the money is." 

The stories of survival in the Philippines are varied as they are endless. 

In the streets of Metro Manila at night, small time drug pushers are playing cat-and-mouse chase with the police and vigilante groups. 

Everyone’s trying to survive the times -- in the most mundane of hours, the most difficult days. 

And it’s not only a matter of life and death. It's also about one’s happiness and sanity.

There are a hundred and one ways to do it — from the illegal to the overt. 

Those in unhappy marriages, for instance, take in paramours and those who fall in love with their paramours just try to fight the misery. 

Some wives settle with their philandering husbands for the family to survive. 

Others just go on with their lives, just winging it, surviving on other people’s skills, talents and perhaps, even money. 

We all have our ways. 

As for me, I write to survive. I write to stay sane. I write to breathe. Most of all, as Anais Nin said, I write to taste life twice. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Earlier Mona Lisa

Imagine strolling the streets of Shanghai, which is known all over the world as the Paris of the Orient and finding out that the Mona Lisa, too, happened to be there. 

This was exactly what happened to Jes and me as we were walking aimlessly in the nooks and crannies of Xintiandi -- "New Heaven and Earth" -- Shanghai's Old French Quarters. It is a shopping district so posh one would think one is walking around the cobbled stone streets of Paris, with its charming cafes and where art is all over the city.

And that's exactly how we felt. At the House in Xintiandi, an exhibition place, we met Leonardo Da Vinci's Lisa del Giocondo. Nope, this was not the Louvre and this isn't the Mona Lisa at the Louvre but we would later learn, it was Da Vinci's Earlier Mona Lisa. 

She had a warm smile and she did look younger. 

Just how lucky can we get. It's not everyday that you get to stumble upon a masterpiece. I remember a few years back when I also saw the works of Frida Kahlo on exhibit in Brussels. This was a de ja vu of sorts. 

The Earlier Mona Lisa, according to an article on the Shanghai Daily, is also the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, but painted a decade before and therefore looks much younger.  After almost 35 years, during which historians made comparative study and carried out scientific research, the Mona Lisa Foundation, together with experts, scientists and art historians, presented evidence in 2012 that confirmed that the “Earlier Mona Lisa” was indeed done by da Vinci. Mona Lisa,” which was commissioned by Guiliano de’ Medici, was done between 1513 and 1516. The “Earlier Mona Lisa” was painted from 1503 to 1506 and commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo. It had a young Lisa, and was flanked by columns, but was left unfinished.

In all probability, da Vinci used the same model to create the Louvre masterpiece, and the earlier unfinished work ended up with da Vinci’s assistant after his death, the article also said. 

It was on exhibit in Shanghai after years of being kept in a Swiss vault.

And how lucky we were to be in same place at the same time that young Lisa was there. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Memories of Home

From my window seat, I could see Kansai Airport slowly disappear in the distance. All I could see now was the tail of the plane and the huge white clouds that now surround us.

And this is how it happens every time. I look on the right, watch the earth below me disappear into the horizon and when there is nothing left to see except the clouds that look like giant cotton candies, I lean back, close my eyes and try to catch up on my sleep.

Departures always mean a step away from home or to home, depending on where I am. 

When I no longer see the place I’ve just been to and the glittering city lights disappear, I know  I will soon be home. That moment when the plane’s wheels touch the runway, I know it’s only a matter of hours before I am back in my bed. 

But being in a different place makes me think of home more vividly. Oh how I miss the smell of our tiny apartment; the flowers in the balcony, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting in the air in the morning, the clean sheets in my bedroom and the love and laughter that burst in the seams. 

I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve had to leave but wherever corner of the world I am, I carry with me memories of home. Home is always with me, never far, never gone, never forgotten, not even for a moment.