More Map Tweaks


Somebody’s having lots of fun with Google Map!!!

We haven’t left the country and I’ve tweaked our route two times tonight, the night before our flight.

The map went from this:


To this (when a friend from Reno, Nevada invited us over):


To this (when a cousin from Vancouver replied to my FB message):


So who knows when we actually get to the US, how much the route can still change depending on spontaneous invitations and surprise opportunities such as meeting a famous children’s book author in Malibu.  A nine-year old friend gave Joshua a book that we all enjoyed reading together.  After rolling in laughter over it one night, I got the sudden urge to email the author because he lived in Malibu.  I asked him if we could visit him and he replied promptly in the affirmative.  So indeed, who knows what connections are ripe for the making.

Three More Days



This is it!   Three more days and we embark on a journey we have been preparing for a year. It’s been a journey in itself doing all the research work, mapping routes (ad infinitum), getting suggestions from others, downloading audio materials for the long drives, hearing both encouraging and discouraging words from family and heartfelt support from friends.

Just to put things in perspective, here are two links — one about a family who planned to travel for six months but cutting their journey short by a month and another family who has been on the road for ten years.   Two extremes.  We don’t know where we are going to fall but each family is unique.   The journey we planned is four months long but there are days when I wonder if we can make it in three and go home, finally settle down and do what we promised the boys after the trip — get dogs.

Why it’s okay to end a family adventure early

A family of 11 traveling around the world since 2007 (Yes, you read that right. 2007, not 2017.)

There is the romantic notion of living the nomadic life and there is the reality of packing bags, hopping from one place to another.  We can always combine the best of both worlds and have a home base and travel periodically as well as locally.  We shall see the next chapter soon!

And here’s a reminder how and why this all started:

Why we’re driving around the world (in segments)

All my life, I’ve been trying to find my Ikigai, my reason for being.  I’ve tried studying different things, ventured into various jobs, failed businesses, prayed for enlightenment and direction when I felt lost and unsure, but never experienced that sense of fullness that I longed for that’s best illustrated in this Venn diagram below.  I know people whose circles have merged beautifully in their lives but in mine, the circles float around seemingly unconnected and disjointed even if I have pursued many things with passion and purpose.  This project gives me hope that the circles will draw closer to an intersection.


Some people, no matter how I explain still don’t understand why we need to take this trip. Some people, without even expounding, leap for joy in their hearts for us.   I, too, do have doubts and fears but there’s also courage and faith in the great unknown.

We’ve Been Published!!!


Okay, it may not be THAT big a deal but it means A LOT to Donna and me that the article we worked on together was finally published in the online magazine of the Alternative Education Resource Organization.  It means so much to us because we reached a point when we were ready to give up after being told that the article was not fit to be published in an academic journal.  We were about to throw in the towel when, after some time, Donna brought it up again saying she really wished the piece could still be published.  I pondered the possibilities and thought the academic journal is not the only choice.  Other online publications might consider it since there may be less issues about style and language.  It just needed another round of editing.

The article is about the Shure University, a democratic university in Tokyo which by the way, is one of the organizations actively promoting the 2017 APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference) in Tokyo from August 1 – 5 this year.

Here’s the article plus the link to the article:


By Yan LI

From the oldest continuously running democratic school Summerhill founded in 1921, till now, democratic education has developed into a global movement, from kindergarten to high school. There are a number of democratic schools at the pre-school, primary and intermediate levels but at the higher levels, there are less. I was then curious to know how are the principles of democratic education implemented at the university level?

Shure University in Tokyo is a 27-year- old college where students have the freedom to choose what and how they learn and where they use a democratic decision-making process among students and staff. Mr. Kageki Asakura is one of the founders of Shure University. We met at the First Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC), which was held in the Holistic School, Miaoli County in Taiwan from July 18 – 24, 2016. During this conference, keynote speeches in the morning were given by appointed speakers and after that, most time segments were open space where anyone can sign up and share their own experiences in workshops, discussions, and other formats.

During the keynotes, Mr. Kageki interpreted the speeches to the students who gathered together and listened intently. On the 22 nd , Japan Democratic School network held an Open Space about “Japanese School Refusal and the Democratic School Network Movement.” Apparently, school refusal in Japan is a huge issue in the field of education. Many democratic school students go through the process of school refusal. In the beginning, the students who went through this process themselves, explained what school refusal is, why the students refuse to go to school and how the democratic schools meet the student’s need.  They don’t really refuse school for economic or health reasons but for deeper reasons that question their sense of self, their values and identity.

One student shared her own story: at the state school she felt bored and was under pressure to perform because everything was measured by how one’s accomplishments compare with the others. There were expectations which she had to try and live up to. She refused to go to school.  At nineteen years old, she went to Shure University and spent one week trying it out. During that short experimental period, she realized what was taken away from her – that idea that it’s okay to pursue something you are interested in. That idea empowered her to alter her self- perception and turn her life around. From somebody who did not believe in herself and had a very low self-esteem, she became self-assured and motivated to pursue her own unique path in life ( At the APDEC, she went on stage to express her idea of offering her photographs for sale at the fundraiser. She was active, confident and creative in front of the participants. In another open space, Shure students presented the Japanese tea ceremony, paper folding, self-designed stamps and so on which attracted a lot of participants. I was impressed by their kind, caring and calm smile and then began to gather more information about this democratic university.

In Shure University brochures, it says: “To live as I want. To get the world back to the self. To study, to express, to be reborn.” Shure Tokyo is the parent organization of Shure University, an non-profit organization founded by students in 1999 who wanted to continue their education. There are no qualifications necessary, no pre- defined curriculum, only freedom. In China, students are measured according to their academic performance at a college entrance examination. We judge students by the grades they get, not by who they are. We have a compulsory curriculum. If the students fail, they can’t get their degree.

“Accepted” is a 2006 comedy film made in the United States about a group of high school seniors who, after being rejected by all colleges to which they had applied, create their own college, the South Harmon Institute of Technology ( The students decide what they study based on their own individual schedule, how to spend their tuition, how long it takes to finish the course. They don’t have traditional teachers, classrooms or library, however they find their creativity and passion for learning with a desire for self- growth. Ironically, true learning takes place in this fake college. The students don’t need society’s approval to tell them what to learn or how to learn. It’s about total self-acceptance. When I introduced this American film to my students in Psychology class, they began to feel inspired, but later they said it was just a movie and not real.


I was eager to see how the concept of democratic university works in real life. Not long after the conference, on August 4, 2016, I visited the Shure University in Tokyo. Located in a two-story building, including one room for teenage democratic students, Shure University put the dream of democratic education into practice. Although that day fell on their summer vacation, the staff and students of Shure University were busy preparing for the Shure University International Film Festival all the way until night time. It was to be held a few weeks after so as the students labored, Mr. Asakura showed me around the building and patiently answered my questions.


Shure is an ancient Greek word, which means a place where people can use their mind freely. Mr. Asakura and his previous democratic school students started Shure University, because the students didn’t want to go to the traditional university to further their study. They wanted to continue the practice of making democratic decisions about the way they learn, including the tuition they pay, the curriculum they cover and the years they spend in college. Before establishing the Shure University, Kageki had already been teaching at free schools for decades and taught sociology at the University.

In Shure University’s website, the philosophy behind their school is best embodied in the phrase “creating your own way of life.” Society usually expects people to graduate from high school and university, get a job and be a productive member of the community. Democratic education posits that this is not the only route to take. “Changing yourself to match society’s expectation is only one way to live. Another way is to create your own values through your own interests and experiences for the purpose of suiting your own lifestyle. How do you want to work? How do you want to spend your time? How do you want to build relationships with others? Students here try to create their own values with other students, staff members, advisers and other friends of Shure University.” (


Now, there are around forty students, four staff members and almost fifty professional advisers from various fields. In the end, the students in Shure University do not receive a degree. Why then do they choose to attend? For them, education is about true learning, and not merely a certificate. The tuition cost is higher than the state universities but below the private ones. Without recognition by the Japanese Ministry of Education and comparatively low tuitions, Shure University has no economic advantage to attract famous experts to teach here. However, there are still fifty professional advisers such as Serizawa Shunsuke, Hirata Oriza, Shin Sugo, Hau Yasuo, Ozawa Makiko, Ueno Chizuko. The university attracts the people that they do because the students are highly self-motivated and tend to excel in the things they do since they choose it themselves.

Referring to the advisers, Mr. Asakura said that “We need fifty of them because interest of students are so diverse.” Even though the school only has forty students, the interests are so broad, spanning philosophy, anthropology, music, law, drama, cinema, history, documentary and others. These also change over time so the university has to be ready to deal with the evolving interests. Sometimes, the adviser comes to the university to hold a workshop or a class while other times, the student can visit the adviser’s office to have a personal tutorial or consultation.

It is understandable how diverse the composition of experts and advisers are because there are many unique courses available in Shure including: Alternative Education, Academic History, School Truancy, Family Discourse, Life Discourse, Cultural History, Politics and Economics, World History Research Seminar, Creating Your Way of Life, Literary Discussion, Pop Music, Computer Science, Tokyo Cultural Activities, Live Theater, Modern and Fine Arts, as well as language classes such as English and Korean. Project-based classes are also available including Film, Drama, Music and How to Build and Race Solar Powered Cars (


There are unique personal courses and a number of group projects. Students here decide how many classes they have and how many years they attend. They explore their own path with other students, staff members, advisers and other friends of Shure University. The graduate is evaluated on individual and project-based performance. One of the Shure University students, Yui Sakamoto explained that there is a meeting each semester to discuss and reflect on the seminars and group projects, what they want to get during the present semester and what they got during the previous one. Each student has tutorial time when they talk about their individual plans and reflect on their own work. Each student makes a presentation around March including an evaluation of their own work while other members give a response or comment on the presentation. They don’t use numerals to evaluate anything or anyone. In a sense, according to Yui Sakamoto, this is more challenging so when she needs to get a deeper understanding, she has to ask questions to grasp what she wants. For her, the most important thing is “living her own life and making the kind of world that she wants.”

At the APDEC 2016, American psychologist Peter Gray, author of Free To Learn explained how he would evaluate an educational system based on two questions: 1) Are the students happy? and 2) Do they live satisfying lives and are productive in society? ( From this perspective, the graduates of Shure University seem to fulfill these standards. The majority work at an NGO or take care of senior citizens. Almost none of them takes part in the commercial field. They become responsible, caring adults.

The next APDEC will be held in Tokyo at The National Olympic Youth Centre on August 1 – 7, 2017. People from the Shure University will actively be involved in organizing this major, international event. Joining it may be an ideal way to continue learning more about this exceptional university and about democratic education in general.


About the Author:

Donna (Yan LI) is a Educational Psychology Lecturer at the School of Communications, Tianjin Foreign Studies University. As much as she possibly can, she wants to promote the ideas of democratic education and hopes to start a Democratic School in mainland China someday.

494Donna at the Shure University

If you want to read more about the APDEC 2016, here are past blog entries about it:

About Yaacov Hecht’s keynote speech

About Simon Hulshoff’s speech and notes from casual talks and open spaces

About Shure University, Tokyo and my dream school

About our one-day off visiting an aboriginal school, biking and pigging-out

About Professor Fong’s lecture and Peter Gray’s first open space

About Summerhill and the talk given by Henry Readhead, A.S. Neill’s grandson

About Peter Gray’s keynote and open space after

About various open spaces – many lessons and realizations

About the round table discussion


Coming Home to Casa


Only fond, warm memories fill my heart when I think of Casa San Miguel, one my favorite places in the planet.  Let me enumerate:

  • Climbing up to the tower at Casa when the steps were all wooden. Now, part of the stairs are steel and glass.
  • Having the house to ourselves and there were beds in the middle of a wide-open space and we were jumping over the beds. Now, that wide-open space is gone, divided into rooms.
  • The view of the mango trees through the glass behind the stage but now, the glass is all covered up.
  • Around twenty years ago, my architecture classmates and I fell in love with the lighthouse on Capones island and we measured and drew it and gave the compilation to Coke.
  • Staying in the Capones lighthouse during a thunderstorm and we watched from atop the lighthouse balcony the lightning exhibition. It was just Edmund, Jaypee and me.  We felt God was putting on a show for us.
  • Sleeping in the lighthouse courtyard in a tent and one of my friends recreated a famous scene from the Titanic – the one with the hand on the car glass window.
  • We held a big event connecting music and architecture. There was a photography exhibit, a musical performance by my sister on the piano and a design workshop.  We brought bus loads of people from Manila and exhausted after the event, I remember feeling like I never wanted to organize anything that big.
  • Around fifteen years ago, I brought a youth theater group from Bulacan to visit Casa San Miguel and in turn, folks from Casa San Miguel visited our youth center in Bulacan.
  • I invited my AMCI mountaineering friends to Casa and we all posed by the windows.
  • Trips with various groups of friends including Karen from Germany. After going to the beach, we bathed using a hose in the sunken red-brick Zen garden which is now gone.
  • The trip with an environmental group, Green Peace who went on an ocular of the coral reefs around Capones Island.
  • My sister, the pianist, Mariel Ilusorio has played there several times.
  • The time I introduced my husband and my son, Joshua to the place was truly special like when you introduce your boyfriend to your parents for the first time.
  • Finally, this is the memory that makes Casa truly a safe haven for me. Many moons ago, I suffered from a badly bruised and broken heart, the type of unrequited you-know-what-ouch.  I didn’t want to celebrate New Year in Manila amidst the revelry and noise so I sought solace in Casa.  Without announcing my arrival and rather rudely barging in on New Year’s eve, Coke’s family was there to welcome me.  Close to midnight, I went to the beach by myself and felt relieved that there were no fireworks, just the sound of the waves crashing on the shore reminding me everything would be okay.

In over twenty years that I’ve been visiting Casa San Miguel, I’ve seen it change and organically evolve as Coke Bolipata, the founder, ever the consummate artist-creator, unceasingly plays with the spaces and tweaks the design so going there is always a surprise, sometimes even a shock.  He has changed the orientation of the entrance from the right side to the middle and now it’s moved to the left side.  Some windows have given way to big glass doors.  There are brash modern glass block elements combined with the more traditional wood and brick.  But whatever the changes, this remains: it is a place that continues to grow in its influence nurturing young people, promoting the arts and involving the community.  It’s a giving place with a generous heart at its core.

It is a place I will always call home and now there is a new opportunity, a project that brings me back to my roots.  My Chinese partner, Donna and I are planning to hold the future Hero’s Journey in Casa San Miguel.  It’s going to be an Art Camp with music, dance, art, film and theater workshops.  The Chinese students may not be that comfortable using English but the Art Camp will push them to rely on their English and though it would be difficult, language is not a barrier when it comes to art.  The children will stay in Casa for one week while their parents are off gallivanting elsewhere.  The parents will only see what their children produce at the end of the seven-day camp.



Although I wasn’t able to go with Jason, Joshua and Jimmy on their first trip to Capones Island, I’m happy that they were able to take the boat ride and climb to the lighthouse with Donna and Camile.  Jason told me how courageous Jimmy was swimming from the boat to the island.  Because rocks surrounded the island, the boat couldn’t get too near so it was a considerable swim even for those who dared.  The gang forgot their slippers on the boat and climbed the steep slope to the lighthouse barefoot.

36I climbed the tree and couldn’t get down so Jason helped me out.

Go Gopala! Go, Go Gopala!


Laksmi and I were brainstorming what to call the farm for homeschoolers and we debated about:

Gopala Self-Directed Learning Center

Gopala Interest-Led Learning Center

Hmmm.  Neither sounded quite right until Laksmi hit upon the perfect moniker:

Gopala Learning Haven

The word self-directed seems too forward for Philippine society.  In America, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education spearheaded by Dr. Peter Gray sounds right and appropriate but in the Philippine setting, it might not be as appreciated.  The word, interest-led, although nicer and gentler can be misconstrued as something to do with business or self-interest which has a negative connotation.

The Learning Haven, however fits just fine.  When you go to the farm in Silang, Cavite, it truly is a haven — so lush and green plus the existing structures are the right size and distance from each other that nature still overpowers the man-made.  There is more open space than closed and the enclosed spaces are well-designed, needing only a bit of renovation.  You can imagine how this would be a sanctuary for homeschooling families regardless of where they are from, who their homeschool provider is, what they believe in, what methods they use in homeschooling.  Everyone is welcome.  Every family and every child is unique.  The Gopala Learning Haven is only too happy to celebrate and live this truth.

On our last visit there on February 12, I met Mommy Sheryl from Dasmarinas, Cavite who showed me a music video their family made. Her children plays the keyboard, guitar and drums while Mom sings and their band is proudly called Granny’s Gems.  A friend edited the video and the final product is quite inspiring.  Once a week, Mommy Sheryl holds a small homeschooling co-op in her house with children from six other families.  Her passion for teaching and music is quite contagious.  I hope our family can join her group someday.


Watch Granny’s Gems on Youtube: Fight SongFlash Light

The kids collected leaves, stems and stones from their walk around the farm and made Valentine hearts.


Speaking of inspiring videos, my friend Clarie told me to check out the TED Talk of blind Master Chef winner, Christine Ha.  It’s unrelated to this post but wanted to find a way to share the info.

Finding Jala Jala


Our first Hero’s Journey was a success.  It was a hit among the parents who appreciated the freedom during their holiday because others were looking after their kids most of the day.  It was a hit among the children because they loved being with other kids and the facilitators were cool dudes who knew how to play.

However, our original intention was more of a camp rather than a “luxury” tour which it inadvertently turned into because we went to places like Hacienda Isabella, Sonya’s Garden, Club Balai Isabel and Canyon Cove.  Even if Camp Benjamin was a “camp,” it’s well-appointed facilities served big corporate team-building activities.  For the next Hero’s Journey, we want it to be more of a real camp and we found the perfect place via our partners, California Summer Camps (CSC).

Camile took Donna and me to their camp in the mountains of Jala Jala Rizal with a beautiful view of Laguna Lake.  The facilities are simple but well-thought-of.  The nipa hut dorms have generous verandas where people can sit and have bonding sessions on bamboo benches.  The big covered central space is open to the elements but roofed over so that it can host a wide array of activities.  There’s a small pool to beat the heat, a climbing wall and zipline to complete the outdoor theme.  There’s a cozy gazebo surrounded by a fish pond and lots of open space for kids to run around and expend their tremendous energy.

The land in Jala Jala belongs to the mom of CSC’s founder, Marc Leonor and you can see hanging on the walls pictures of him growing up in the States.  Having experienced summer camp life as a kid and working as a camp counselor in California, it was but natural for Marc to start his own when he moved to the Philippines.


Loving Baby


We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for a shameless plugging for . . . . LOVE!  A quasi-stranger texted me this quote on Valentine’s day, “Love is our true destiny.  We do not find meaning of life by ourselves alone, we find it with another.  T.M.”

Our family spent February 14 by pouring attention on the newest, cutest, chubbiest member of our clan: Wam.  The beach is truly the happy place for babies who take adults back to days of pure, unadulterated wonder at the freshness of everything: sand under your feet, sand in your mouth and the sound and spectacle of splashing water.


Why Hero’s Journey


Why did we use the name Hero’s Journey for our Philippine tour with Chinese families?  Last year, when Donna and I attended the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference, one of the speakers, Dr.Tsao Lin Fang talked about Joseph’s Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero’s Journey.  Dr. Fang chairs the Formosa Alternative Pedagogy Association and here are some notes I took from his speech during the Taiwan conference:

  1. A hero is someone who has the courage to become himself and take the journey that he believes he must take. Eventually, the hero returns home.
  2. The ultimate mystery is within yourself.
  3. Mythology is an excellent way to imitate the unlimited imagination. Myths inspire one to be more of a hero and have the courage to follow one’s dreams.
  4. Our schools should be a school for gods and our learning journey should be like a hero’s journey.
  5. Follow the bliss of being yourself.
  6. When people dream big, they can get into a state of bliss.
  7. The holistic hero tries to encompass the individual’s circle into the circle of the whole cosmos.
  8. Find the hero in yourself, the people around you and the people you love.
  9. Have the courage to take the journey you must.

From Wikipedia: “The hero’s journey, is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.[1]

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[2]

When Donna and I were brainstorming about the tour, the name Hero’s Journey immediately clicked and resonated with us.  Our original intent was for it to be a camp but it ended up being more of a tour with a twist.  Parents and children were together and we added four facilitators who handled the children’s activities so that the kids are able to maximize English practice time in the Philippines through fun activities following our concept of educational tourism.

We went to Taal Lake, Tagaytay, Nasugbu and Manila.  The numerous hurdles and challenges we encountered proved this was more of a Hero’s Journey for the organizers whose patience and coordination capabilities were stretched to the max. However, the trip also brought out the children out from their shells through the help of the counselors who have ten years of experience running camps for children.

For our next journey, we aim to take it closer to our original intent of a real camp and have already found ideal locations in the following areas: 1) Jala Jala, Rizal, 2) San Antonio, Zambales and 3) Silang, Cavite.   The children will be separated from the parents who would be on the tourist mode of the travel.  The kids will be on a more adventurous mode as their independence will be tested being apart from their family for a week in an unfamiliar place forced to use whatever English they have in their bag of skills.  This would be more in keeping with the Hero’s Journey concept and we can’t wait for the next one.

Pictures shared by the parents on WeChat:

Hero’s Journey

For six months, we’ve been preparing for this nine-day journey and now that it’s finished, what remains apart from great photos and the warmth of camaraderie?   It stoked the fire in two organizers’ hearts so watch out for more exciting things to come!

The words to put this project in blog perspective have all but left me so again, excuse the short-cut to pictures.  Just to summarize, all the headache, minute by minute troubleshooting in the early days struggling with botched accommodation and dates, the end result of meeting and exceeding our Chinese guests’ expectations, of purely enjoying sunsets and sand under your feet, of seeing the joy in people’s faces, of congratulatory pats in the back, of simply birthing a project to realization — all the minor mess-ups were worth every over-stressed fiber and unravelled temper.    Parents had a grand time empowered to enjoy touring partially hands-free since four facilitators took care of eleven rowdy kids ages 7 to 10 plus a 4-year old trouble-maker.  The children had an even grander time playing almost non-stop with their peers plus a gang of adults who retained the best of their inner Peter Pans without losing the sense of responsibility that comes with maturity.

Shell Residences near MOA and Club Balai Isabel, Talisay

Taal Lake and Volcano and the best meal ever at Milan’s Restaurant in Talisay

At home with each other

Team building at Camp Benjamin

Highly photogenic Hacienda Isabella

A slice of paradise found at Canyon Cove, Nasugbu

Lazer Tag!

Light and shadow

Sonya’s Garden: walang kupas sa Tagaytay

Back in Manila: Mind Museum at BGC, robotics at iCreate Cafe, lounging by the playground

Celebrating Mike’s tenth birthday with strawberry shortcake, shopping for books and a rollicking theater workshop courtesy of Kids Acts

And as Mike himself said it best when asked what his favorite is from his first ever trip to the Philippine, he answered definitively: the jiaolian which in English means the coaches/counselors/facilitators who stuck by them through the bus rides and multiple location changes.  This journey wouldn’t have been possible without the intrepid team from California Summer Camps.   Thank you so much Camile, Marc, TJ and Dan!  Till the next camp!