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Exploring Identity and Surf Culture | Baler, Philippines

September 26, 2018

by Jianne Soriano


As a third culture kid, that’s always been an issue that I struggle to find an answer for.

Being a Hong Kong-born Filipino, I frequently travel to the Philippines. One I consider my home, the other, I consider my roots. But each time, the feeling of travelling back to my roots aren’t as exciting as going to other places.

Last February, my family decided to travel to Baler in Aurora province of the Philippines. Baler is considered as the birthplace of surfing in the country. And with a four-hour road trip, I wasn’t the least bit excited. Baler itself isn’t even as popular among the locals compared to buzzworthy destinations like El Nido or the rising Siargao. Surfing? I don’t know even know how to swim.

But the trip proved to be so much more than I expected and so much more meaningful. My experience in Baler reconnected me not only with nature but also with my identity as a Filipino. Going back to the Philippines always made me feel like an outsider despite sharing their blood, being ethnically Filipino and speaking Filipino. But in so many ways, we’re different.

Compared to other overseas trips, being able to speak Filipino allows more interaction with locals. Even simple conversations like, “Where are you from?” by the locals spark thoughts in my head. “Should I say Bulacan (the province where my family lives in the Philippines) or should I say Hong Kong?”

By watching young boys happily dancing and swimming under a hanging bridge, from surfers catching the waves to relying on our 70-year-old tour guide as we venture into raging waters and slippery rocks, a feeling of longing waved inside.

Being Filipino isn’t just about being surrounded by Filipinos or eating Filipino food or speaking the language. In a way, it’s how you connect with the values, the lifestyle and the culture. Being born and living in a concrete jungle of skyscrapers and crowds of people, there’s always no room to breathe. You can’t take a step back and admire things or connect with people or explore who you are. In so many ways, I adopt Hong Kong’s culture because I live here but at the same time, I connect with the values of being Filipino some being resilient and family-oriented.

For me, there’s so much more to discover about my roots. Just like the waves of Sabang Beach, the fierce rocks to Mother falls and the muddy grounds of Diguisit Rock Formations, I trek and I make my way to venture new things about my identity and what makes me who I am. The thought of this journey of discovery excites me and I realize that going back to my roots is already an exciting journey itself.

Growing up in Hong Kong where I’m seen as different, it’s a constant question of who you are. Going inside the Balete Tree, Asia’s largest Millenium Tree, you get stuck, you hold on to the roots, you lose your way but in the end, you can still get out and amidst all that, you see the light as they filter through the tree. For me, that’s what matters, not the exit but how you got there. In the end, there’s really no need to find the one exact answer because there isn’t one. Who you are can be so many things: Filipino, Hong Konger, whatever. What matters is not the answer but everything that comes along with it. It’s just like taking a trip.

Jianne Soriano is a Hong Kong-born-Filipino that aspires to be a photojournalist. She loves to travel and East Asian cinema. Through her camera, she wants to tell stories that are undiscovered and give voices to the unvoiced. Follow her adventures in her Instagram: @jiannemsoriano through the hashtag #jiannetraveldiaries.

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