Monday, April 16, 2012

Sustainable Beauty via Slow Beauty

I was recently featured as a guest blogger in SpaRitual founder Shel Pink's new site Slow Beauty... I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Spring is among the greatest testaments to nature's glory.  Wildflowers pepper the sides of hillsides and highways, leaves and fruit blossom from formerly barren trees, and flocks of birds head home once again in their annual journey to escape winter.  It is a natural cycle that even our bodies follow.  During the winter months, we stay indoors, move less, eat our most beloved comfort foods and put up with our dehydrated skin from the cooler, drier temperatures. Instinctually, the arrival of warmer weather drives us to desire more activity, increase the circulation within our bodies leading to sweat and detoxification of stored fat, expel dormant energy and slough off dead skin cells. Whether we realize it or not, our bodies connect with nature the same way plants and all mammals do.  We look to nature for inspiration.

The spa industry has long been driven by this knowledge, mindful of the fact that nature dictates what our bodies need – hence the seasonal treatments and wellness rituals that allow us to reconnect with our bodies the way nature has always intended.  The clarion call for natural products is not a fad; it is an acceptance that true nurturing needs to start with what we put in and on our bodies.  And this all begins with an awareness of the choices we have.

In the last five years, the Green Spa Network has evolved to become nature's cheerleader and one of the biggest proponents of the spa industry.  Inclusive of everyone, it has raised awareness slowly but surely, among those ready to understand how the greener choice – when available, viable, and authentic – can allow us to slow down and capture our true natural essence.  Spas answer the call by offering everything from hammock massages and reflexology paths to light and sound therapy.  LEED-certified spas take this intention to the highest degree – from site selections that optimize public and alternate transportation, designing with energy management in mind, building with recycled and low emitting materials to sourcing local suppliers, utilizing rapidly renewable resources and purposefully developing services and rituals that use the most natural ingredients and conserve water and energy – not to mention, educating and raising eco-consciousness for both staff and guests.  That intention translates to a more sustainable system of operations and a significant reduction in costs without having to necessarily spend more at the onset.  Most importantly, both staff and guests are truly nurtured in the best possible way.

The most majestic creations of nature took time, and so will awareness, commitment and the transition to a healthier lifestyle.  Reconnecting with ourselves and nature, while at the same time being mindful of our choices, leads us down the path of finding true wellness and beauty within.  In essence, we need to stop, slow down and smell the proverbial roses in order for this to take place.  To quote Ferris Bueller, one of my favorite American teen characters, "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Your Green Guide To Wellness

(Another post I'd like to share that was initially posted by Spa-Insider)

Green Guide to Wellness

Next week, a few thousand spa/wellness experts will convene at the Mandalay Bay for the annual ISPA conference.  An expo floor of product suppliers will host a marketplace catering to spa directors, owners, and consultants.  This begs the question: Do the buyers know what they want and how to go about looking for it?  Do they understand the significance of their choices?

   The Wellness Industry is a 2 Trillion dollar business.  There are 289 million ‘wellness’ consumers in the world’s 30 most industrialized wealthiest countries.  76 million of that reside in the US and comprise 25% of the adult population.  The $250 billion global beauty market is forecasted to grow by 12% by 2014.  Baby care, skincare, sun care and men’s grooming are expected to drive future growth globally.*

At this fall’s Green Spa Network Congress, one afternoon was dedicated to helping eliminate confusion in evaluating and selecting personal care products.  With all the ‘greenwashing’ claims, even the most seasoned spa director can be led astray.  And unlike drugs, the FDA doesn’t review cosmetic/personal care ingredients for safety before they hit the market.  In fact, personal care products and make-up often contain toxic chemicals linked to cancer, infertility, hormone imbalances, birth defects, neurological issues and other health problems.
Beth Greer, author of Super Natural Home, shared her personal health crisis that prompted her to re-evaluate her lifestyle and environment, identifying and eliminating toxins that she never suspected she was being exposed to.   She shared some hard facts: 98% of more than 23K skincare and cosmetic products on the market contain ONE or MORE ingredients never evaluated for safety by FDA.  The average consumer uses 15-25 products/day.  WHAT WE PUT ON OUR SKIN MATTERS… OUR SKIN IS NOT A BARRIER.
Universal Companies Sustainability Specialist Lisa Sykes charges us, the spa industry, with the responsibility of being models for conscious living.  “Personal care products are part of the detox process,” per Sykes.  “In addition to nourishing the skin, they should enhance the spa atmosphere for relaxation, balance, and clarity.  Personal care companies have the responsibility to support wellness centers/spas in their endeavor to provide cleansing and conscious living.”  Her advice to us: Ask Questions; Analyze Marketing Messages; Check for Consistency; Do your Research.

But how do you do that if you don’t know what to look for?

Beauty expert & author Rona Berg shared some HOT & NOT SO HOT examples:
Hot General Categories with Green Examples:
•  Skin brighteners/dark spots: licorice extract (glycyrrhizinate), Indian gooseberry, soy proteins, white algae, kojic acid
•  Skin tighteners: rice bran oil-beauty secret inJapan, rich in antioxidants (and squalene), shown to promote collagen production
•  Skin boosters + serums: with rosehip, jojoba, argan oils penetrate deeply
•  Acids: still hot: glycolics, lactics, salicylics, AHAs (downside: thinning skin)
•  Antibacterials: honey
•  Antioxidants: vitamins A, C, D, E; pomegranate, resveratrol, acai and trans-resveratrol
•  Anti-inflammatories: licorice extract, chamomile, green tea, borage oil, shea butter, vitamin K, pineapple (active: bromelain), pomegranate, probiotics: emerging data indicates that these  protective bacteria may be beneficial for common skin problems such as redness, flaking, and inflammation

Not So Hot Ingredients
•  Phthalates: Landmark Korean study last year linked phthalates to ADHD in 8-11 year olds.   Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine recently found babies born to mothers exposed while pregnant 2.5 times more likely to develop attention and behavior problems. Many products with “fragrance” or “perfume” contain phthalates—but not all.
•  Hydroquinone: A skin-lightening agent now banned in many countries. Can cause serious skin irritation, swelling, and thick skin; may be carcinogenic.
•  Talc: Related to asbestos. in powder formulations, particles are easily inhaled and may lead to tumors in lungs and ovaries.
Ingredients aren’t the only ones we need to look out for.  The personal care and beauty products industry accounts for approximately a third of all landfill waste.  40% of women surveyed indicated that eco-packing was part of their decision when buying make up.  As a result, P&G and Estee Lauder, two companies that own 28 brands between then, are switching to 100% renewable energy, eliminating the use of nonrenewable resource + petro-derived plastic as well as reducing the packaging size.  We can consider more earth-friendly options like recyclable packaging, screen printing and soy inks, bamboo, and FSC certification (verifies products from the forest of origin thru the supply chain).
Finally, take the time to study the claims.  Supernatural Home author Beth Greer shares her Top 10 Greenwashing Watchwords:
1. Made with… – could mean made with as little as 1% or 1 drop
2. Organic – many brands say ‘organic’ but contain few or no organic ingredients
3. Natural – can give give the illusion the product is “of nature” when it’s not
4. Certified Green – by whom?
5. Free of… – it may claim to have no parabens but substitutes Phenoxethanol
6. Derived from – some byproducts require use of carcinogenic synthetic chemical for extraction
7. Nontoxic – by whose standards? Toxicity threshold for The Consumer Product Safety Commission is lower than that of CA
8. Allergy-Friendly Fragrance, Fragrance-Free – may still contain artificial coloring or fragrances used to cover up the chemical smell of other ingredients
9. Dermatologist Tested, Sensitivity Tested, Hypoallergenic – Look for the organization behind these claims other than the company making the product
10. Environmentally Friendly, Eco-safe – The US Federal Trade Commission considers these phrases to be too vague to be meaningful to consumers.

*Spas & Global Wellness Market Survey, GSS/SRI International
*Euromonitor, a global marketing research firm

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Full Moon Conference Takes Root

This article was initially posted by Spa Insider of Univeral Companies...

Once a year, a very special group of spa professionals choose to convene and collaborate towards raising the awareness of sustainability in our industry.  This year, against a majestic backdrop of fall foliage and a snow-capped mountain range, Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort hosted the annual congress of the Green Spa Network with almost 70 people in attendance from as far as Ireland and South Africa.  A magical rainbow greeted the GSN Board at their first morning hike to Stewart Falls, and the full harvest moon provided the perfect setting for chairlift rides to the top of the mountain. No surprise that by the end of the conference, everyone left with a feeling of renewal and a sense of greater purpose.

Sundance Resort GM Chad Linebaugh welcomed delegates with the story of Sundance and their sustainability efforts.  The 3rd oldest ski resort in the country recycles 84 tons (168K lbs) of waste a year, purchases 90% of their food items from locally grown sources within 50 miles of the resort, and founded the glass recycling program for the entire area.  Artisan glass blowers from Mexico handcraft plates, bowls, and glassware for the resort… all made from the recycled materials.

David Oakey of David Oakey Designs, whose client is Interface, GSN’s newest Sustainability Circle Sponsor and the world’s largest producer of contract commercial carpet, challenged everyone with hard facts: 100 acres of forests destroyed, 70 million tons of toxic chemicals released into the air, 86 million barrels of oil wasted, 25K people died of starvation (17K of them children) in the last 24 hours (  His mantra: Reject, Reduce, Recycle, Renew, Redesign.  As a designer and a strong proponent of Biomimicry, he emphasizes the importance of nature’s design principles & efficiencies: after all, 16 billion worth of energy escapes thru holes or cracks from poor design; 17 million gallons of fuel is spilt during lawn care (almost 3X the 6.2 million for the Exxon Valdez).   Lawns cover 20 million acres of land, twice the size of Pennsylvania.

Green Spa Members also shared some of their sustainability efforts.  The Westin Riverfront uses Ozone Infusion and Gray Water Reclamation. Vygenhoek Spa in South Africa practices the 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, and says NO to disposables.  Portico/Under the Canopy enlightened delegates about conventional cotton, the leading cause of agricultural air pollution.  Although it only makes up 3% of the world’s agriculture, it uses more than 25% of the world’s pesticides. 

Closer to home, Marti Morenings, Founder of Universal Companies (one of GSN’s Sustainability Circle Sponsors) shared her path towards the cause.  Like any great leader, she read up on corporate America’s efforts towards environmental responsibility and found so many cases: Nike’s elimination of PVCs and its reduction of the use of 95% of its chemical solvents; Visa’s Green Card, which pays off the planet in the form of carbon offsets. If you charge a $300 airline ticket that generates 2,000 pounds of CO2, Visa will make sure that 46 trees are planted to offset your carbon footprint.  Turns out that Green Card holders use it 3X more than their other CC’s because they feel good about using it.

Fascinated with business heroes like the late Ray Anderson, visionary and founder of Interface who changed his business model to become one of the first companies to recycle carpet waste, Ray proved beyond any doubt that what was good for the environment was also good for the financial growth of his company. He was able to cut the company’s use of fossil fuels by 45%, its contribution to landfills by 80%, and the company now uses 1/3 the amount of water in its manufacturing process, yet sales are up 49%. ‘Sustainability’, Ray would often say, “doesn’t cost – it pays in the form of customer loyalty, employee spirit and hard cash.”

Hence, Universal’s path towards sustainability began…  A distributor of over 5000 products with a customer base of over 28K spa professionals, it made sense for them to lead the charge and set the bar for earth-friendly products.  Soon enough, suppliers stepped up to the challenge and in the last 4 years, those that did experienced the most growth.

Another bi-product of Marti’s inspiration is Eco-Logical Energy Systems, which to date has installed a dozen wind turbines, several solar PV systems, and one geothermal system.  Even more important, is their social responsibility and the outreach to the community by creating awareness thru education and assistance.

Armed with all this information barely 24 hours into the conference, attendees were filled with a sense of purpose – to create a vital planet with vital people.  This year’s theme, “Taking Root: Making a Difference for the Planet and your Bottom Line”, set the intention for the planting of a young black spruce tree on the grounds of Sundance on the last morning of the Congress.  The tree planting ceremony was followed by the release of a Great Horned Owl from the local wildlife refuge symbolizing hope and the infinite potential of such a worthy cause.  I was humbled and grateful to be part of this unique gathering.  And I look forward to experiencing many more with my friends at the Green Spa Network.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Celebrating my First Year of Bikram

For most of my life, exercise has always been a chore and something ‘I'd rather not do”.  Being Asian and small boned, I was able to get away with that attitude until the last few years, especially when my hormones started acting up on me.  I had never tried an exercise regimen that trumped my urge to put it off till the next day or the next week or the next month, until last year…

Standing Bow Pulling Pose
Thanks to my friend, Sandi, I discovered the wonderful world of Bikram Yoga.  I had always been flexible in many ways but the other types of yogas always seemed to stress my joints especially with that famous downward dog pose.  But with the 26 poses in bikram yoga, I’ve managed to stretch my forever tight hamstrings so I’m closer an inch or two to finally touching my toes without bending my knees.  With the Pranayama deep breathing exercises, I’m learning to be more in the moment and actively meditate.

And how about that 105 degree heat and 40% humidity?  For 90 minutes in the morning, I feel like I’m sweating out everything that I wasn’t supposed to eat or drink.  Everyone always teased me that I never sweat.  In fact, I have never used an underarm deodorant.  But for the first time in my life, I am sweating profusely as if taking a shower.  It feels wonderful.  And in my own twisted way, I feel like acclimating myself to that heat helps me beat all those power surges (aka hot flashes).
"japanese ham sandwich"

A classmate of mine likened the practice of bikram to wearing braces.  The improvements are hardly seen then one day, you notice that your teeth have shifted and your smile looks nicer.  I have to agree.  Every now and then, I’ll feel like I’ll never be able to progress to the next step when suddenly one day, taadaah!

Stretching, balancing, cardio vascular activity testing one’s endurance – the latter of which served me well when I had to recently climb a 70 degree ascent to 1825 feet above sea level.  I thought I’d never make it.  But as my instructor Damon loves to put it “Mind over matter.  If you don’t mind it, it doesn’t matter”.

Camel pose
Standing Head to Knee pose

So next year when I celebrate my second year, I’m hoping to include some self photos of my Dhanurasana or Tadasana.  But for now, I’m going to have to use those of my mentors and classmates who'd been at it for years…
Balancing Stick Pose by Damon Abraham, co-owner/instructor Bikram Yoga Palm Desert

Bow Pose by Denise Abraham, Co-Owner/Instructor Bikram Yoga Palm Desert

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Aging Gracefully with Gratitude and Love...

After being in the Wellness industry for more than a decade, I know one thing to be comes from within.  Corny as it may sound, I have seen thousands of people walk through the doors of my various spas, many of whom have the means to maintain themselves physically.  Ultimately, it's always those who have a positive attitude and goodness of heart that wear this ‘glow’ that no amount of treatments or products can replicate.  After all wellbeing is mostly about the mind and the spirit manifesting what’s within.

College days
I like telling this story about a friend Brenda Strong.  Most of you will know her as the voice on Desperate Housewives.  I met her when she spoke on her Yoga 4 Fertility.  I still recall how she walked into our spa, and it was as if she had this ‘halo’ around her.  All of us stopped what we were doing especially as she smiled and greeted us.  We were mesmerized… Granted she is quite beautiful but at our spa, we saw quite a lot of physically gifted women.  She was different.  After an hour of listening to her, I knew she was special and ageless.  Another person who never seems to grow older is my dearest friend Joni.  Barely 70 and battling pains from 15 years of severe fibromyalgia, she still manages to be sweet and gracious and always generous of heart.
Joni and Jimi, her source of strength
Cousins/Aunts late 50's & 80's

In good company, late 50's-60's...

As I turn 47, I wonder why I’m not panicking that I’m three years to the big 50.  I know I don’t feel my age – at least in spirit.  In my blog ‘To My Speeps With Love’, I discuss my physical challenges, but except for that, I feel healthier and more fit in many respects than when I was a size 2-4 in my thirties.  Could it be that I am secure in my genetic disposition to have less wrinkles, as my mom and my aunts do?  Ot is it because I live in Palm Springs where a majority of the residents are in their 60’s and 70’s and still play golf, run marathons and do bikram yoga? I look at my friends and some of them have hardly aged so I think I haven’t either. I also have so many girlfriends who are in theirs 60’s and 70’s and when I’m with them, I don’t even notice the age difference.

Spa friends & College friends
Today my dear friends and family have started posting birthday wishes on my facebook wall, and I smile and realize that I am blessed with so much love and support.  That positive awareness can only help direct me towards everything positive and good.  In a compilation of blogs authored by Jeremy McCarthy, the Psychology of Wellbeing explores all the aspects of mental and spirituals sides of holistic wellness.  And it shows how positive thinking can help you be happy, healthy and more productive.

Mom & Dad at 78
Me at 18, mom at 50

From my first 23 years in Manila, to another 23+ years in the US, I may have had my share of turmoil and sadness but who hasn’t.  As I look back, all I can see is how much love and support has pulled me through the toughest times in my life.  I can only hope to share the countless blessings and good karma that come my way with others who need it most…

My source of strength & love
Aging isn’t about growing old.  It’s about growing wiser and more humbled and looking back with gratitude and love at life’s many blessings…

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy 30th to my Theresian Friends

Today, my high school friends in Manila will be celebrating our 30th High School Reunion.  Having been the Yearbook & the Magazine editor, I was asked to compose the batch write up, which I am sharing on this blog.  Why?  Because all over the world, some people are celebrating their 30th high school reunion just like us.  Those born in 1963 and 1964 are experiencing some type of milestone and can relate to what we went through.  So this is my tribute to all those in my generation…
To understand Batch 81 is to understand the years we were born, mainly 1963 and 1964.  In Chinese astrology, those would be the years of the Rabbit and the Dragon… yin and yang.  From the assassination of JFK, the ongoing Vietnam war, to the dawn of Beatle Mania and Cassius Clay (aka Mohammed Ali), we had no choice but to be thrust into a world of change, challenge and creativity. On the local front, not only was Ferdinand Marcos the president during most of our childhood and teen years until we turned 21, Martial Law was declared during our second grade and we lived during one of the most ‘Apolitical’ climates of the country’s history.

Our formative years occurred during the 70’s when the Peace Sign prevailed, skateboarding became a sport, and the culture of music and dancing peaked.  From polyester disco outfits & bellbottom pants inspired by Saturday Night Fever, and Farrah Fawcett & Wonder Woman style hairdos, we grooved and moonwalked our way through adolescent parties while Penthouse 7 taught us how to swing and salsa.  Tiger Beat was our bible and we swooned over Shaun Cassidy, Scott Baio, Patrick Duffy & Robert Urich.  90% of us had crushes on boys from Dulaang Sibol and Kundirana, aside from Hajji Alejandro.  We also lived through boxing’s glorious era and snuck in a portable TV to watch the Thrilla in Manila!

Amidst all the political and cultural highlights of our wonder years, we learned how to adopt and adapt, flow with the yin and yang and as a result championed some of the most memorable musical performances of Pippin, Sound of Music and West Side Story.  We were part of winning the WNCAA championships two years in a row while we cheered the team on with ‘Sunny Days…” from Sesame Street.  And who can forget winning three open field cheering competitions especially that of ‘Hangin’ in our sixth grade, as we blew with our very own force through all the adversity around us?

Yes, we definitely thrived on change and creativity.  Going with the flow was not an option for this group of young ladies who would ‘stir the pot’ just to make things more interesting.  How? Remember how we would drop a ruler and in unison look up to the ceiling – leaving our beloved teachers totally confused?   How about tying a firecracker to the door in 5th grade to scare the teacher when she opened it?  We had so much creative energy that we were the only batch who stayed after classes to practice folk dancing, gymnastics or our musical performances. All that creative intellect eventually produced doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, executives, and wonderful homemakers... who would impact society and help shape our children's future.

It was a most memorable time not only for us but for the rest of the world.  And as we graduated from our life within the confines of STC QC, the Columbia Space Shuttle was first launched, the word INTERNET was first mentioned, MS-DOS and IBM PC were first introduced.  Prince Charles married Princess Diana in a fantasy wedding that the entire world stopped to watch.  How poetic!  We were born as the Camelot era of the Kennedy years ended.  And we graduated from our cloistered upbringing as the Windsor wedding of a commoner to a prince gave us hope that fairy tales did exist.

Yin & Yang…30 years after graduating, we have gone to all corners of the world, conquered our fears, challenged ourselves personally and professionally, and re-united through the social media of Facebook.  Most of us seem to have hardly aged in spite of the time that has passed but we are definitely gentler, mellower and more understanding of each other.  Most of us are mothers, some are grandmothers while others made their fame in their respective careers.  Through it all, we find that whenever we meet, we reconnect with the same young girls within ourselves who shared more than a decade of memories and all sorts of experiences… and some of the best times of our lives.

Happy 30th to a dynamic and unique group of women…

Sunday, January 2, 2011

12 Things a Philippine Balikbayan Should Remember…

This blog may only apply to Filipinos but even if you are not one, I would love for you to read it and get acquainted with the Philippine culture.  You may find it very entertaining and enlightening.  Special thanks to my Dad Norman, brothers Lee & Carl for taking the time to give us a personal taste of Philippine culture today.

On my recent holiday visit to the Philippines, I had the pleasure of meeting Francis Yulo, a lieutenant colonel of the Phil Marine Corps trained in Defense Strategy as a graduate of the Masters in National Security Administration (MNSA) at the National Defense of the Philippines. More important, his group Kabayanihan Foundation, inspired by the book 12 Little Things A Filipino Can Do To Help the Country, seeks to create a cultural revolution that will hopefully spur Philippine Nationalism and Economy in the right direction. Hence, the title for this blog, from the perspective of a Philippine Balikbayan

1.     Refrain from Thinking $$$...
In many cases especially in the restaurant and hotel industry, there is a Philippine service charge added onto the cost of your bill.  Always remember to ask.  When tipping, 15%-20% is more than generous.  My husband had a haircut for 180 pesos ($3.50) and it was probably the most intricate detailed trim he had ever received.  Aside from utilizing 4 different kinds of styling scissors, the stylist used a straight razor to clean up the sideburns and edges.  In addition to light brushing his face to remove stray hairs, he powdered his neck and put a warm towel on his face.  At the end he received a neck and shoulder massage, and for that he tipped 300 pesos (180%).  Needless to say my father and my brothers gave him grief about it.  His point was that it was only a $6 tip but in the big scheme of things, it was too much.  He would have been just as happy with a 50 peso tip ($1.20). Jeff actually complains that on our travels, he sometimes feels that they give him a white man’s price… and what he did tends to encourage that ‘preferred pricing’.

2.     Appreciate the Respect & Courtesy from Everyone.
You will not find a happier and more polite group of people than the Filipinos.  As such, a generous smile and a very respectful demeanor are natural to their brand of service.  First time my husband arrived into a Philippine airport, he was nervous about being treated differently.  Instead, not only was he treated with so much courtesy, he truly felt that he was never made to feel different.  He loves staying in hotels and being catered to by everyone.   After all the ratio of employees to guests seems like 3 to 1.  Anywhere you go, people address you with a ‘sir’ or a ‘maam’ and they are so patient no matter how upset you are.  We’ve been to establishments where food was mediocre and service was slow, but couldn’t even really get upset because the staff was so kind and genuine.

3.     Filipinos are all about Family and Food.
FAMILY is at the top of the hierarchy of needs for every Filipino.  In my economics class in college, we were taught that if you take care of your Filipino employee so he can take care of his family, you will have an employee for life.  When returning to the Philippines, expect to visit your relatives and spend quality time with them.  Forewarn your non-Philippine spouse that they should be ready to hug and kiss everyone and indulge them with their questions.  Another core of the Philippine Lifestyle is FOOD.  Like most Asian cultures, there is a very extensive culinary tradition.  In addition to that, Filipinos love of all types of food from every part of the world.  As such, there is no need to worry if your palate is very selective especially when going to Manila or any big city in the Philippines.  You will be amazed at the very cosmopolitan array of restaurants including the most exotic cuisines of the world. In fact at every mall, at least 30% of the space is leased out to food establishments that are filled with people any time of the day.  You will find so many American chains as well.  And don’t forget, they eat 3 full meals a day, aside from merienda.  So take your TUMS.

4.     Filipinos take Pride in their Tradition of Hospitality.

Although Filipinos appreciate an offer to bring food to a party they are hosting, it is not necessary to bring ANYTHING at all.  In fact, it took me a while to get into the habit of taking something to every party I was invited to in the US.  When invited to stay at a Philippine home, a small token of appreciation is sufficient.  No need to offer to pay for your share of the food or the wine.  You can treat them to a meal.  But respect the pride they take in being your host.

5.     Stop Serving Yourself and Making your Bed!
Most Philippine homes have a staff of maids, driver and even a gardener.  Even a low middle income family will have some type of help.  Since most of us who live abroad are self-sufficient, we tend to forget that we need to relax and allow the staff to do their job which includes lifting the heavy luggage, or getting you a glass of water. That goes for driving as well.  Except for stoplights, there are no traffic controls on Philippine roads.  As my brother Carl likes to say, “lanes are only there for perspective” not to stay within them.  So if you think you’ll want to brave Philippine traffic where a 3 lane road has five lanes of cars, and cars come as close as a few inches to yours, good luck!  That’s why there’s a driver. And if you don't believe me, my husband will be happy to send you a video.

6.     Pasalubong is a Way of Life.
The bane of almost every Philippine balikbayan’s existence is pasalubong.  Yet it is a part of the culture that will never go away.  The tradition of gifting no matter how small when you visit with close friends or family does not go away in spite of how long you’ve lived away from the Philippines.  So always be ready to reciprocate with little gifts lest someone you least expect gives you one.  

7.     You can Buy Almost Everything in Manila.
Dogs are welcome in some malls
St. Luke's at the Fort
From Duty Free & high end shops to 168 in Divisoria, there is no lack of apparel, accessories, toiletries, gadgets and anything else you can imagine.  They even have the IPAD knockoff called the IPED.  Better yet, you can buy antibiotics over the counter and without a prescription at a fifth of the price.  And when it comes to buying medical/cosmetic services such as Botox, Braces, or Lasik, the price you pay is less than your co-pay with insurance.   Medical training in the Philippines is very good and facilities such as the new St. Luke’s at the Fort, are state of the art in terms of wellness facilities.
Public Bathroom Facilities at St. Luke's
Guest Room in the hotel wing of St Luke's

Waiting room w/food for family of patients
8.     Filipino Children Kiss & RESPECT their Elders.
With my parents
As children, we were taught to kiss all our elders.  So even as adults, you will see Filipino men kissing their dads and their uncles as a form of greeting.  My nieces and nephews kiss us when they see us even when we just wake up and are seated at the breakfast table.  At first my husband was taken aback.  But now, he is constantly amazed and touched by how natural it is to be part of their normal way of greeting people.  He loves it and finds it so endearing.  It is a precious tradition that will hopefully be kept alive by every Filipino parent.

9.     Filipinos Do Not Sue
Feeding an 18 mo old Siberian
Disclaimers and lawsuits are not typical in the Philippines.  The nature of assimilation is very inbred into the Philippine culture, that they always manage to work everything out.  You will not be asked to sign your life away before any of those risky adventure filled activities.  At the price they're asking, you should just take your chances.  We did...

10.  Airport Fees, Island Fee, Banca Fee…

When traveling within the Philippines, you need to know about airport fees and other miscellaneous charges.  Whenever you board a domestic flight, you are charged 150-200 pesos per person CASH.  The departure fee when leaving the Philippines is 750 pesos per person.  When booking boat trips, all-inclusive does NOT necessarily include fees for the island you are visiting, or the ‘banca’ you are riding to get to your boat.  So always be ready with cash.

11.  Relearn your History and Culture.
Unfortunately, most history classes were taught as if the history of the Philippines only started with Magellan’s landing.  More than that, our workbooks were created by the Americans and therefore taught from their perspective.  Take a Celdran tour, or a day trip to Corregidor.  Schedule at least one visit to a museum or even the American Cemetery by the Fort.  Better yet, read the latest book by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, “Heroes & Villains”.  You’ll be treated to a view of our history & culture totally without bias from past colonizers.    

12.  Massage is Everywhere and as Cheap as $5 – so Take Advantage!
Massage Facility typical at every airport terminal
Chi Spa at Shangrila
A foot ritual at check in
Sure you can go to the resort spas such as the Chi Spa at the Shangrila Mactan or better yet the The Farm at San Benito, and you’ll receive a world class experience and pay accordingly.  But even at airports, you will find massage stations with services rendered by physical therapists in training.   In the Philippines, it is a five year course and most therapists are hired out of school.  On the other hand, those without formal schooling usually learn their trade from being taught by the traditional Philippine ‘hilot’ practitioners.  So either way, you get a great rubdown and if they do perform ‘hilot’ on you, then your meridiens are balanced as well.
Filipino children even know how to massage and they do it well!