Crazy Project


Joshua, Jimmy and I had a blast seeing The Greatest Showman yesterday, singing along in the movie house and upon returning home, we searched YouTube videos to continue belting the tunes and find which parts of the fictionalized depiction was real and not.  There are a lot of negative reviews and low ratings but it made me think how the critics may be like the bespectacled pundit in the movie itself who could not derive joy from something many people drew delight.  All in the spirit of fun, plus the message hit me in the heart.

One of the film’s anthem probably resonates with most dreamers (unless it’s too cheesy for them):

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I’ve lost my mind
I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design

‘Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make

You see there’s a crazy project I’m involved with that embodies a vision of the world that may not sit well with many out there.  The project’s unofficial kick-off fell exactly on Valentine’s day, a gift to myself via an online hour-long conversation with Ken Danford, founder of North Star self-directed center for teens and Liberated Learners which “supports the creation of centers based on the North Star model that promote living and learning without school.”

There are young people in my own family whom I know would benefit from this kind of radical alternative but even opening the topic to their parents who are my close relatives is something that I wouldn’t dare do so why am I even contemplating such a thing for total strangers?  Because I know there are families who are more open-minded than some and who would welcome this type of “inclusive club” for their children.

Although I have listened to Ken Danford’s TEDx Talk, School is Optional, it was Joel Hammon’s TEDx Talk, Teacher Liberation that prompted me to email the two of them about the possibility of setting up a place like North Star here in the Philippines.  I was scared and excited at the same time — scared knowing how ludicrous and impossible it would sound to some, and excited because this is staking your life on something you believe in.





Following are centers across North America that Liberated Learners have helped set up.  What will the one in the Philippines look like? 


Read more about North Star and the Princeton Learning Cooperative:

Helping Teens Thrive Without School

Tigers, Humans and SDE









Our Finds at the Big Bad Wolf


I was planning on heading to the check out counter after finding six books but we were inundated with tables upon tables of choices at hard to resist prices.  Everyone had baskets or shopping carts but I was stubbornly clutching the books in my hand, refusing to get a cart because I promised this will be a quick jaunt and I’m not going to over-buy, until I scooped up some more, gave up and decided to get a cart before heading to join the kilometric queue.  When we did merge with the the line, it was a whole new ballgame.  That’s when we found MORE Minecraft books that Joshua and Jimmy were pining for.  That’s when I found two books for myself that I did not intend to get because I get kindle books because they’re cheaper.  This time, the physical books themselves beat the kindle cost so who can resist the lure of the smell and touch of new books.

I usually get second hand children’s books from Booksale and Biblio but this is too good to pass — brand new books at close to pre-loved price.  This is the dream I’ve had whenever I salivated in lust and envy at bookstores in China where they had books the way it should be pegged affordably but the only drawback there was they were in Chinese!

Back at the Big Bad, I saw Joshua leafing through a book called The Savage by David Almond and illustrated by Dave McKean.  “Do you want this?” I asked him.  He answered no.  I leaf through it myself and I want it for myself but I ask him around three more times, “Are you sure you don’t want this?”  He keeps saying he doesn’t want it, but I put it in with our pile and figured I’d still read it to him.  Mine is the mother dilemma of not liking some of the “babyish” books Jimmy wants me to read so I’m always on the look-out for read-aloud books that keep me going.  I don’t know if my sneaky cheat would work but we found the biography of Minecraft creator, Markus Pearsson.  I grabbed it and said, “I’ll get this for you.”   I’m hoping it will make Jimmy fall asleep faster while Joshua listens with (likely, unlikely) sustained attention.

A good technique for next time may be to just go to the tables where the lines don’t pass through, join the line, shop while you queue and voila, time saved.  But there is no way you can really save time with the crowds.  Nobody’s budging because the deals are too good to pass up.  The fun is in discovering books people leave in the wrong pile, seeing you want that book yourself, change your mind and put it in another stack.  That practice should be avoided and you should return things where you find them but that’s the element of anarchy that is part of the game.  Another entertaining feature of standing in line for hours is discreetly ogling other people’s baskets and carts.  A kid peaks into our cart and asks where we found the Minecraft books.

Nearing the cashier, there are more books on the wooden palette dividers.  You can see how people changed their minds before the final purchase is made.  When I get home, I thought hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten these two out of eighteen.  I intended to buy less than ten but ended up buying almost twenty so if I got them at half or more than half the price that means I still spent more than I intended, but still get much, much more than one gets in the regular bookstore.  Chuck budgeting out the window because it’s fun, satisfying and we can’t wait for next year.  I want to sneak in there at 5:00 in the morning.



Treetop and Jollibee Joys


One is scrunched up in fear; the other raises his arm advanced in triumph at the starting line.  After the Superman rider zips them back and forth twice over the lush canopy of Subic rainforest, they all want another turn.  That’s like how we are at times with life – nervous, anxious, doubtful at the beginning but once we get the experience, we’re good to go another round and another.

In a visit to the Philippines, aside from enjoying the sand, water, sky, sea and trees, one must have a taste of the jolly bumblebee’s delight – Jollibee spaghetti and chicken joy.  There’s also Kultura for souvenir shopping – one stop and everything’s there.  The Manila Bay sunset, Toy Kingdom and National Bookstore are bonuses.  You have to let the guests try sinigang (tamarind broth) and halo-halo (mixture of shaved ice, milk, beans, jelly, fruits and other goodies).

We are grateful Camile, Francis, Maebel and Danise prioritize safety especially in crazy crowded areas like Mall of Asia on a Friday night.  We are grateful for the counselors’ generosity of spirit and energy.  We are grateful to Taj and Dingdong for the synergies they facilitated through the workshops.  We are grateful to Gabe and John for leading us to Dingdong.  We are grateful for Carl, Samantha and Zena for braving the exhausting plane rides to and excruciating airport of Manila and for bringing the children to experience something totally different.   We are grateful to all the parents and children for their trust and participation.  We are grateful for your laughter and your screams.  We are grateful to all the people behind Prado Farms, Casa San Miguel and Crystal Beach Resort for hosting us.

It’s quite fitting that “summer” camp (in this case, it’s really winter since it’s winter in China) ends with tearful goodbyes.  Till we meet again next time!




Crystal Mingle


My favorite part of Crystal Beach in San Narciso, Zambales is the part where you go through a thicket of pine trees, bend low as you wade through the needles that gently slap your face, follow the light at the end of the furry tunnel and emerge in a cozy hang-out labeled Mingle in the Jungle.  Mingle in the Pine Forest doesn’t sound as good, so jungle it is.  Two hammocks among the pine trees wait for you not to mention a set of sungka invites plus music from guests who just grilled their dinner.  A few steps away is the beach with perfectly angled lounge chairs for chatting the night away.   We could stay here forever but we had a bonfire roast (hotdogs, smores, marshmallows) planned.

Crystal Beach had another surprise waiting for us: they set up a movie screen on the beach with low tables and banig and they showed back to back two animated features: Home and A Bug’s Life.  What are the chances that they chose these on the night our children’s camp was there?  On a usual night, it would be surfer type movies.  They know how to please their guests.  I remember talking to the owner’s daughter some months back and she said how her dad blended in with the staff because he would pick up trash and wanted people to have doses of thoughtful service.

We stayed, nay cheated a bit in their glamping tents — tents where you can fully stand up and that come equipped with electric fan, light and outlet to plug your gadgets.  On nearby trees, swings hang made of tires and plastic blue barrels for barreling through the air finding your balance.  Wide open sandy space beckons you to play frisbee and volleyball.  I’m glad Camile convinced me to hold the much-awaited laser tag at the obstacle course.  I pictured in my mind that the kids will run a race through the half-burried tires and climbing net but instead, they played the classic camp favorite.  Sometimes, maybe most of the time, reality presents us something more interesting than what we imagined.

At Home at Casa


We could come home to it again and again and it would welcome us with open arms despite anything that’s happened in the past.  That is home.  That is Casa.  Casa San Miguel of my dreams and now, yours.

This time around, it’s twelve kids without their parents.  Only one Mom came and she graciously helped us record everything in photos and videos so that parents back in China can be assured of how well their children are cared for, and more than that, how they are having a rollicking, crazy good time frolicking in the beaches of Zambales, catching tadpoles in the pond, directing a surprise for their fellow camper, making puppets come alive, chilling out with Lego and the piano, riding the Pinoy tricycle, eating pizza, biko and suman, and going round Coke’s mental and physical labyrinth.

In my over 20 years of visiting Casa and its surroundings, I’ve never been to Anawangin Cove and this time, we took the guests there but it’s probably not the pretty, pristine cove it was way back then.  We took the boat to Capones which still rule our hearts because we can own the island for the afternoon and pick shells and tiny bits of coral as much as we want.  Even if we can’t swim or safely ride the waves like in Anawangin, it was enough to feel like ship wrecked adventurers on our very own island.

A 3-minute tricycle ride plus a good sand trek away from Casa, we also had an afternoon swimming in the river with it’s fresh, unsalted, calm waters in sharp contrast to the salty ocean with powerful waves just parallel it and with merely a sandy strip dividing the two bodies. Nature is a miracle worker.

Dingdong from SPIT Manila facilitated the process of drawing stories from the children which were then translated into shadow play through the guidance of Taj.  Camile, Francis, Danise and Maebel joined the fray, gently coaxing the storylines out of the kids and even coming up with their own wacky presentation.  It’s amazing to see how shadow play stamps out inhibitions and brings out confidence as you remain hidden behind a screen.  After a day and a half of workshops, the kids jumped into performance which brought out enthusiastic voices.  After garnering the applause and bowing on stage, the kids went behind the screen and continued weaving their own stories and dialogues like what they do in free play.


Read other articles about Casa San Miguel:

Coming Home to Casa

Hero’s Journey Version 2.0

Culmination and the Awesomeness of Ensemble

Casa of My Dreams

The Ballad of Coke Bolipata

And you can watch this on Youtube: The Story of the Filipino: Coke Bolipata

Look at Casa through the lens of Hero’s Journey 2017 and 2018 and you see the big difference in the structure.  Coke, ever the genius creator, added a bold, radical roof with green wall and hanging woven lamps, pushing boundaries all the time.  I know there are people who miss the iconic silhouette but it always makes me wonder what Coke will cook up next.




Peace at Prado


Luck was on our side driving from Manila to Lubao, Pampanga on a Sunday when we breezed through normally choked EDSA.  After one full day of flying from Tianjin to Xiamen to Manila, leaving very early morning and arriving way late at night, it was good for the travelers to relax the next day in a serene farm dotted with art works, creativity bursting from each detail.  Among the trees, kids played on and under colorful sculptures.  At first they were tentative and scared to go into the pig pen but once they started offering leaves to the pigs, it was hard to get them to stop so the next group can take their turn after the carabao ride.  They brought out a ping pong table for our group to use near the big tree with vines from which it was a joy to swing.

Except for one, all twenty of us stayed in a dormitory which was great for bonding.  Camile and her team of camp counselors, Francis, Maebel and Danise played charades, tag and read the kids bed time stories.  We felt that one day and a night in Prado Farms is too short to fully soak in the trees, sky and fields into our system and next time, we’ll stay longer.

Check out Prado Farms

Hero’s Journey at Prado Farms last year (2017)



美国神话学大师约瑟夫·坎贝尔(Joseph Campbell,1904-1987)在《千面英雄》总结出英雄是能够了解、接受进而克服自己命运的挑战之人。《千面英雄》从“千面”的角度来解释单一英雄原型。“启程”“启蒙”“归来”是坎贝尔神话理论的中心思想。我们再次前往菲律宾原始热带丛林,未经雕饰的海水沙滩探险,享受淳朴的风土人情。想象一下,湛蓝的天空、变化多端的海,高耸的椰子树、悦耳的涛声。

天津乐学乐尚Levelup教育中心负责人卡尔Carl倾情加盟,他与妻子Samantha创办的幼儿园,英语和艺术培训机构。5年间,乐尚默默无闻的存在,不打广告,学员近300人 。这十天的旅程由Carl和5名菲律宾引导师facilitators全程陪着孩子们。他们拥有10多年与儿童工作的经验,能够确保孩子们在菲律宾的整个过程都能处于英语浸入式环境。第一英雄之旅,孩子们与引导师Camile,Marc等人结下了深厚情感。第二次英雄之旅,我们共同见证影子戏老师Taj 与孩子们营造的光与影的梦幻世界。


孩子居住的艺术中心:这里不仅有音乐,画廊,雕塑,日式禅意庭院,专业演出舞台,还有15亩芒果林,离海滩步行5分钟,天然的游戏场所,让孩子们身心得到释放。孩子们七天独立生活: 混龄生活,男女生分宿。4-5人一间,拥有独立卫生间。温馨提示,自然环境中,蚊虫多。



Photos from Hero’s Journey July 2017

Photos from Hero’s Journey February 2017

We hope you can join us this coming February 2018!


Places Included in the February 2018 Hero’s Journey:


Check out more stories about the Hero’s Journey here:

Culmination and the Awesomeness of Ensemble

Surviving the Obstacles

On with the Journey

Meeting Destiny at Prado Farms

Las Casas Filipinas, Island Waters and Six Mothers

Hero’s Journey Version 2.0

Why Hero’s Journey

Hero’s Journey 1.0