Mailap, a Tagalog word.
Intractable, Elusive, Untamed
Visual Director | Re’Yana Graham , website link to more of her visionary photography.

H E A D to T O E |

Coral 3/4 Sleeve Oversized Sweater | Zara

High Waisted 510’s | LEVIS (distressed by yours truly)

Double Finger Ring | Topman

Gold Bracelet | Topman

Almond Toe Boots | ALDO


Beginning. | BlissXODefy

Project: “#BlissXODefy”

The Simple Definition of Defy:

  • :to refuse to obey (something or someone)
  • : to make (something) very difficult or impossible
  • : to resist or fight (something)


Defy through two perspectives |                                                  

(as defined by Miguel) (as defined by Isabel)

For Isabel’s complete outfit, see Unconventional Bliss



During my photoshoot with Miguel, a train passes by twice. My eyes linger on the back of that locomotive and out towards the farthest ends of the train tracks, and my mind wanders for a moment. Wanders and thinks about the future.

When i was growing up i knew one thing was to be sure. If I studied really hard, worked even harder, answered only when asked, obliged if told to do so, head down, that I would make it. Standing at the railroad crossing, I realized that this time. I felt like I had the freedom to choose. That a driving force inside me was whispering. “finally.”

After watching “Stand By Me” in the summer of 2015, it left me with a sense of nostalgia, a longing for simpler times when walking around town with your group of twelve year old friends was safe and normal to do. Now it’s “too dangerous” to be walking out and about, let alone by yourself.


I wore black at the crossings to signify a rebirth of sorts. Of allowing risk, fear, doubt wash over me for a moment in a hue that I’ve embraced. Because of the countless times I’ve been told that to dream is dangerous, that I have no ownership of my dreams. If you came from where I came from, you need to stay practical and that’s that. I was sitting on the tracks, and thinking about how close I am to something I wouldn’t dare touch, let alone sit on. That’s what fear conditions in us. More fear.

Whenever I come across railroads, I think about the fictional larger-than-life journey of the young boys in that movie. It was more than a coming of age film. These boys really grew up in the events that they experienced together, creating this immense bond they would have never developed if it wasn’t for those life-and-death situations. When I come upon railroads and trains, whether in other movies or during my own travels and strolls, I feel a wash of mixed emotions and thoughts: nostalgia, childhood, the unknown, adventure, excitement, independence, freedom, the future.


To defy is to refuse to believe that only what is laid out in front of you and where you’re placed in this society is what you’re allowed to have.

To defy is to fight for those difficult dreams, regardless of the outcome so you never have to wonder.

To defy is to resist in order to reach a true happiness and understanding of the person you look at in the mirror everyday

As a fresh design college graduate, my mind has been going back and forth between relearning how to relax and sleep more than 4 hours, and this implied responsibility floating in the air that I have to prepare material to apply for a “big kid job”.

Risk and Reward.

I don’t want my journey to be defined by markers. Markers others have placed on me.

But I’ve also been reflecting on the growth I’ve experienced while in college and how much “defying” I did against my old self to reach this more empowered, confident being I am today (but of course, continuing to better myself because there is always room for improvement).

Because we defy odds. We defy the normal. We defy what we’re told we have to be. Because defying is thriving.

By resisting the norm, we learn something about ourselves. The fight and obstacles we overcome allow us to understand our limitations and strengths, realizing our potential we may not have known if it wasn’t for this fire to want to go against the grain and refuse to obey, whether it be social norms, cultural norms, gender norms, etc.  

Follow #BlissXODefy this summer to see other ways we choose to defy, and hopefully we light a fire in you to start defying and empowering yourself too. | Bliss & XO

Sweaters and Leggings.


H E A D to T O E |

Black Snap Cap | ASOS

Oversized Sweater Front-Zip Pockets | Allsaints

Trainer Leggings | Nike

High Top Taupe Sneakers | ASOS

For Isabel’s complete outfit, see Unconventional Bliss

A Reminder.



#whathappensnext | A Million Diaries

Sunset Cliffs
If I had a million diaries.

I’d whisper into its pages. The ink cements a moment, the words cement a memory. I turn the page and I link memory after memory, moment after moment, feeling after feeling.
I place a period. Turn the page anew. Lock the book and move forward to the next diary.

But in reality, I will never have a million diaries. 

It’s funny to think that the diary and the heart don’t work the same way even though a diary is intended to piece bits of your hearts moments together. In a diary, you have blank pages at the ready. If you don’t like a page, you can scribble, erase, or tear the page away to move on to a new one. You can even find a new one to use. When it comes to the heart, there’s no such thing as multiple blank pages, just a stronger less likely to rip version of a used one. One diary. One heart. One page to write your story on.

Lately my world has returned pieces of my past. Manifesting in different ways either as signs, places, or people. Things I’ve written about in my “diary,” that I glossed over, hoping it won’t ever return. I don’t know if it’s meant to bring me clarity for the future, or a lesson to be learned, but what I do know is that I’ve locked away a lot of things I needed to address for my own personal growth. I’ve not read the contents of my diary. And I need to.

I can’t heal without looking back. 

I had written so much and locked it away for the last five years without really reading the words on those pages. 

A majority of my college career, actually my entire life was me constantly moving from one point to another. Whether it was cities, schools, achievements, or obligations. There were moments that I never really gave myself the opportunity to read and process what I’ve written in my own diary, or to allow myself to fully benefit or hurt from all that I was doing or moving for. That explains my lack of attachment to things. If I was in pain, I moved without stopping. If I felt accomplished, I let it last for a day and moved onto the next goal. All that motion can leave you feeling exhausted. And unable to navigate the future in a healthy way.

I’m slowly making amends with myself, one page at a time. And this is a difficult process because of all the change I’ve undergone as a person. I hadn’t stopped to recognize who I’ve become. 

But what happens next, is a healing process that involves letting go and coming to terms with who you are and how you’ve grown. 

People in your life will leave you. That’s okay. You will leave people. That’s okay. 

You’re not rewriting, your writing anew.

DJ, the visual director for this piece taught me about the significance of Sunset Cliffs. How for years the water has slowly broken apart pieces of this mass of land, forming a breathtaking version that so many of us get to see now. It doesn’t mean those pieces of it were never there, and it doesn’t mean the next time I come back it will look exactly the same. 

Just like us.

I never thought I’d be comfortable wearing trunks this length much less see myself wearing them. But here they are. And here I am. The look itself also shows my comfort with a relaxed version of white, pairing a white open button up and a mesh blue longline. I’ve also grown to love gold accents, something I was told looked to feminine for a “man.” Now I’m wearing it without hesitation.  
If I had a million diaries, I don’t know where I’d start reading. Good thing I only have one. 


So start at a page you feel you need to return to. There’s a lot about you you’ve yet to uncover,

H E A D to T O E |

Long Sleeve Button Up | Levis

Longline Mesh Tee | Zara

Patterned Short Trunks | H&M

Bracelet and Double Finger Ring | Topman

Slight Heeled Boat Shoe | Cole 

Visual Director | Daniel Joseph Aniciete


#whathappensnext | Connected.

It’s all connected. 

Be Bold.

It’s been about 3 weeks since I’ve graduated from undergrad at UCDavis , and just an update, the reflection is surreal. I don’t think it’s even officially sunken in that whatever’s next is completely new territory. I don’t think this type of reflection applies to just students graduating college, it applies to the feeling that wraps around you after grinding so hard for something you really strived to reach for. Anyone else experience this?

Allow for connection

Reflecting also has me thinking about how every instance of hardship or every milestone whether big or small for practically all of my life involved not just pushing believing in myself, but allowing for people to believe in me. 

Now I live for the mantra of not allowing the opinions of others define who you are, but this doesn’t mean disregarding the truth that nothing we do in this world, ends up being a singular self realizing piece. Even if we do something for the sake of ourselves, it ends up affecting others, whether it’s many lives or just one individual that we touch in some way. 

Which brings me to what happens next when it comes to connections? The process of reaching out to your contacts, relatives, friends, possible employers is uncomfortable post graduation because it can feel like you’re baring your soul to someone who may inevitably not be able to provide you with anything more than advice. But it’s necessary. Honestly, even advice is something worthy of a listening ear, and honestly your networks have plenty of a “knowledge nuggets” to share. In my five years of college and working I constantly heard the word “networking“. For me, the importance of that term lies not in its ability to possibly land you a career, but in its ability to motivate you to think about your interactions with people and how you maintain relationships that are significant or insignificant to you at the moment. I know I’ve made mistakes in relationships, but let these serve as lessons to absorb from.

Just like my combination of black color blocks and the world of bright hues around me, I see my future as a mixture of experimenting with shapes, blacks, and neutrals finding color dotted throughout because I need balance. I need a balance of color and minimal. Of common wear and abstract pieces. Of risk and realistic. I need to balance wanting to fight for myself and realizing that even in that struggle, the world, and the relationships we make will forever be connected to us whether we choose to accept that or not. 

And remember that it’s never a bad thing to have people in your corner. People who are willing to take a chance on you. These are genuine connections that add color to our lives. Someone who came to mind as I went through this conceptualizing process is Cindy Suzuki, a friend, pillar, and fellow believer as a means of style as expression of our truths. 

Cindy’s XO | 

Post-graduation comes with the vulnerable territory of, “what’s next?”

That vulnerability is something I knew I would eventually wallow in, given the time to face it. But instead of having that vulnerability weigh me down, the one thing I’ve consistently heard from my peers and mentors is this: embrace it — don’t be afraid.

To me, that means to live bold and colorfully.

 Being bold doesn’t always mean reckless pursuit — it can also mean living vibrantly in all that you are, and owning your emotions in the process.

That’s where this look comes to play. I comfortably embrace grays, blacks and whites in my wardrobe to create streamlined and sophisticated looks. The crisp array of colors and bright patterns highlight my vision of living colorfully; stepping outside my comfort zone physically and visually.

Currently finding the human in everything and wishing you all well in building those connections,



H E A D to T O E |

Statement Necklace | Forever 21

Tie-Neck Top | Papermoon and Crescent for Stitch Fix 

Pencil Skirt | Renee C for Stitch Fix

Lace Up Sandals | ASOS

H E A D to T O E | 

Fedora in Brown | Topman

Oversized Color Block Top | Urban Outfitters

Distressed Black Denim | DIY, original pair, LEVIS 

Almond Toe Boots | Aldo

Spike Ring | ASOS

Black Laced Ring | ASOS
Collaborator and Visual Director of What Happens Next | Daniel Joseph Aniciete 


#whathappensnext | The Wandering Mind

What Happens Next | Mind

I’m an early bird. 5:30 am and I’m up. Sometimes, some of my most insightful conversations are the 5:30 am talks that I have with myself out in the loft of my apartment. Albeit silent, incredibly therapeutic. Especially now I’ve noticed my 5:30 am talks becoming an everyday conversation, sometimes even twice in a span of 24 hours. 

How many of you have come to any type of crossroad in your life? People say this happens one or twice when you turn quarters of a century older, but I believe the opposite. Often times I find myself at many crossroads. Sometimes I am able to bridge two roads together, doing all that I love at once. Other times, the crossroads lead to one path, and I see this as a focused road. One wherein lies growth. 

Right now my mind is at a crossroads. Its been a little under a month since I’ve graduated and my mind hasn’t stopped laying out all the possible scenarios of my next five years, playing like a presentation in my head. 

First generation college student? Check. 

Social anxiety? Check. 

Avid worry wart? Check. 

But Strength through all of this? Absolutely. 

As much as my mind is at wits end, I find comfort in knowing that there is strength in acknowledging that it’s okay not to know what happens next. At least, not just yet.
Letting my mind wander. Letting it learn. Letting the uncomfortable settle. This is the beginning of a powerful project with Daniel, #whathappensnext where we explore post graduation and what it looks like for souls like ours, and hopefully you’ll find purpose in our words and visual stories. 

Head to Toe |

White Henley | Urban Outfitters

Leggings | Old Navy

Corduroy Collared Long Sleeve | Levis

Beige Knit Socks | ASOS 

Rings | Forever 21

Collaborator | Daniel Joseph Aniciete


The Challenge of Duality.

I hold one card in my hand. One card with two distinct faces. The duality of my ethnic identity is both by choice and by the categorical “deck of cards” I’ve been forced to place myself in. In my heart I identify as Pilipino. Cognizant of how the cultures, values, and practices I hold, are from a childhood place I knew so little about. It’s ironic how the heart can feel so connected yet so conflicted when it comes to where to fit in. This side of my card has remained face down because according to the social, economic, and political forces involved in the game, I am Filipino American. The eldest son of an immigrant mother and father who came to America for the search of wealth, striving to reach for the ambiguous phrase of “A Better Life,” an immeasurable phrase that millions all over the world dream for the opportunity to attain. This decision to immigrate to America has left me living in a confused community where as an Asian I am praised, tokenized, fetishized, included, and excluded both by those that identify similarly in terms of ethnicity, and those that don’t understand how salient ethnicity can be for many minority folks. My ethnic identity as a Pilipino/Filipino American has bled into every part of all the identities I’ve carried from gender, socioeconomic status, and is expressed unapologetically in what I choose to wear.

Absorbing it all.
My Pilipino/Filipino American identity has developed through various facets. An important reason for how it has developed is where I’ve lived geographically and how I have received the knowledge of the cultures that are tied around my ethnic identity. The Pilipino and Filipino American identities can be jarring to reconcile at times because there is a learned culture in America that is picked up only by experiencing it. Symbolic interactionism meaning, “People give meaning to objects, behavior, themselves, and other people, and develop and transmit this meaning through interaction”  has developed the difference between Pilipino and Filipino American. Living in a multicultural country, we are exposed to so many ethnic cultures at once that we create signals and markers that differentiate groups from one another, even if it’s inherently wrong. This type of racial segregation is a lived experience that’s shaped my symbolic interactions with family, peers, organizations, institutions, media and other connections that are connected to my life. It’s all colored in meaning, whether it’s something we are taught to believe or are forced to acknowledge, it has shaped how I see myself. Sitting in a classroom, reading about White leaders and their heroism, very rarely seeing a face or a story that reflected mine, forced me to see through only the lens of stories that washed away what my ancestors did for this country. As a first generation college student, my parents were never able to navigate the college education system and I was going to a high school that prepared me for community college, while my peers who attended more privileged school systems with a higher White population and funding were taking their SAT’s and planning for entrance into competitive UC’s and Ivy League schools. It wasn’t till college that I realized how our educational institutions were not made to serve people of color.

Just bad luck? I don’t think so.

Growing up in the Philippines for 6 years, my family’s socioeconomic position fell further into the wealthier side but being Filipino American I experienced the struggle of immigrating into the US and watching my parents struggle finding jobs that provided us with enough to live on a daily basis, when they were used to management level positions in the Philippines. In the Philippine media, overseas workers like my parents are considered “heroes” and are constantly portrayed as economically capable of sending money back to extended families in the Philippines on a whim because of the luxury of living in America. Because America is perceived so highly in other countries that lack the resources this country has, it creates an invisible divide that constructs the racial segregation ethnic identities like mine face when understanding how our geographic location affected our perception of our own ethnicity. Having experienced both living in the Philippines and the US, the idea of group boundaries brings that divide front and center as it acknowledges the fact that the Filipino American identity has an ingrained exclusivity and vice versa. I think there is a geographic factor that directly affects how I choose to engage my ethnic identity and when it becomes more salient than other identities that I carry. A prime example is the difference in culture when I moved from the Philippines to the US. When you’re younger, social consciousness isn’t always demonstrated because it becomes more about trying to blend in with others looking for a state of acceptance. Little things that were a major part of my everyday Pilipino culture like eating rice for lunch or wearing a beaded bracelet with the colors of the Pilipino flag from home, I compromised to make way for the American culture. As I grew older, I began instead to make the conscious decision to find folks who understood my struggles, as I no longer felt comfortable in hiding parts of my identity.

My agency to push for a new consciousness came.

The color is beginning to bleed outward.

Ethnic identity also shapes our other identities.

It even affects my gender which lies on a spectrum. Although I identify as male, my gender presentation and sexual preferences separate me from the heteronormative societal structure that has our community wrapped around the gender binary. My ethnic and gender identity are also strongly linked to two large ideologies, patriarchy and toxic masculinity, which has clearly separated how a man and a woman are supposed to look, act, and accomplish, leaving little room for anything in between. The overlapping layers within my own identity has made it very difficult to explore this area of my life as a Queer Pilipino Male, especially as internalized homophobia has run rampant and is perpetuated in the Philippines and here. Out of all my overlapping identities, I find this discrimination profoundly greater in how we as a community continue to marginalize LGBTQIA+ folks that exist in our spaces. Although ethnic identity for me isn’t as fluid as my other identities, I challenge this because how I choose to engage with my ethnic identity and the intersecting identities, is what changes over time based on acquired knowledge and lived experiences such as coming to terms with my Queer identity. The hierarchy that has been created within our ethnic group due to colonialist mentality and homophobia has not given me the opportunity to bring together both my Queer and Pilipino identity, leaving me feeling more marginalized than ever in both spaces that have always been dominated by heteronormative ideals.

There are days I feel isolated. We are isolated. Considered the Latinos of Asia, I feel as though we are further marginalized in an already marginalized community. We are the minority, although we are the largest population of what is categorized as “Asian” in California, we are among the most socioeconomically challenged and divided. The westernized construct of identity has decided to place all those who are Asian into a large mass, regardless of the fact that not all ethnic groups that are categorized under the umbrella term of Asian come from similar cultures, value systems, geographic regions, etc. leaving the Pilipino community lost in translation.

In an effort to try and find our voices again, I find myself asking more questions than I ever have, searching for ways to reconcile my Pilipino and Filipino American identities.  The Filipino community, specifically here in the US relies on nationalism, because it’s the closest thing to unity we can attain compared to not being in our homeland. But herein is the fear of further compartmentalizing our increasingly diverse community outside of the Philippines. A shared lived experience doesn’t mean the absence of individual stories and voices that need to be represented.


So where does Fashion come in?

What I wear is a relationship all on its own. It’s a living, visual representation of the different stages of my intersecting identities. Like a relationship, style has the ability to evolve and change along with the individual. And with that, a look has the ability to protect a memory, a moment, or a choice I’ve made. As a queer, first generation Filipino American, I’ve found that my narrative is directly reflected in what I wear. My everyday looks convey my desire for a genderless fashion industry, for a time where it’s no longer brave to look a little “different” than what we are conditioned to believe is appropriate, and it conveys a liberated understanding of the struggles I continue to face, and the moments I celebrate.They say you don’t always remember what you wore. But I do, because what I wear isn’t ever just a statement, it’s a narrative choice. It’s my story, told through style. And who can forget a powerful story?

Looking Within.

I hope through this, I’ve given you more of an insight into the complexity of identity, and how I am currently navigating how this affects everything that makes me, me. And hopefully, it can help you start to think about the things that make you, you. 

Longer read, but one that means everything to me.

Love Always,

Miguel Raphael | XO


Photography | Daniel Joseph Aniciete





The Power of Twinning.

The XO | 

A little note to start,

Oh how I’ve missed writing. Is it weird that the outlet I need for release is the one I constantly choose to suppress. I don’t know if many of y’all experience this with any passion of yours, but sometimes I push writing aside because I don’t think it’s as important as my schoolwork or actual work. And then I realize, it’s more than just important. 

It’s my world away from the world.

I’m not necessarily escaping reality, it’s more like I’m able to process and perceive things with much more depth if I give myself time to “write it all out.”

I’m going to be honest in saying finding the drive is a constant struggle.

But good news, this time I won’t let myself spiral down. For the first time in a long time, when I say I’m worth it, I actually believe it. 


If there is anything consistent in this world, it’s the constant changes in everything and everyone that’s around us. It’s easier to recognize all these external changes, and it’s easier to see what has changed around you. It’s much more of a challenge to see how you’ve changed. You can only hope to see, because unless you think about everything you do and how maybe a choice you made recently, whether subtle or monumental was a decision you’d make in the “you” of last year, you wouldn’t really quite know what the difference in you may actually be.

That’s why I think who you surround yourself with matters. Because they then become your “mirrors.” Someone who sees you, and if they are the kind of people you deserve to be around, can help you see pieces of yourself that you may not always consciously see.


Twinning is an outward projection of an inner feeling of happiness you share with a special/special individuals. No it’s not dumb or hip and the word “cute” is a surface level adjective to describe how powerful twinning can actually be.

There’s a sense of strength, when you consciously decide to wear the same color, or embody the same prints in a day. Sure its picture friendly, but it brings a camaraderie between people as well. Having a common goal, or a commonality in general unites people. This journey at Davis has allowed me to encounter so many beautiful souls that have “mirrored” me in different points of my life, whether it’s a struggle I’m going through, or a moment I’m living in, people have entered my book in chapters that I needed a “parallel,” or an outside view of an inside situation. Through these people, specifically individuals I try and align with, I confide and forge bonds that have become authentic and long lasting.   This is tough for me, because I am a secret introvert and I burn out at social events all the time to where I’ll need the next day to not see anyone, but right now its important we make connections. We thrive better with a support system.


So keep twinning not just figuratively, but holistically. Keep asking your friends to wear flannel together, or rock the same color and pattern and on that same note, find those individuals that resonate with your heart, or challenge and comfort your spirit at the same time. It’s not only fun, it’s empowering. 

When Isabel, DJ, Elleanor and I blog, we try to come up with themes or words that spark a certain inspiration in us at the given moment. We then use this “corkboard” of sorts to bring our ideas and sparks together. It not only brings us together, but we create something beautiful in the process.  

Are there ways that you know someone resonates with your own personal energy? Let me know, I’d love to swap ideas on how to strengthen this inner tool we have.

Love Always,

Miguel Raphael | XO

Unconventional Bliss | Isabel Bagsik, photographer

Elleanor Pangilinan | Photographer


The Look |

Pilgrim Cut with Black Band – Topman

White Long Sleeve – Zara

Textured Charcoal Cardigan – Urban Outfitters

Black Denim – Levis

Ankle Boots in Suede – Aldo




XO | Transition.

IMG_8425 (2)

This blog post is simpler than my other ones, and I think it reflects the current state of stillness I am in.

I’ve come to a point of difficult progress. My life is in a constant state of unlearning, learning anew, and building my foundations for the leap forward.

I think when you sense an internal transition, it’s the hardest in the world to admit and acknowledge, especially if the change has to do with something personal to you. (Whether that’s an attitude, a habit, or a lifestyle). You know that feeling when you realize things need to change to attribute to your overall happiness? (Raising my hand as this is where I’m at).

The power of transition though, is that it can bring much needed change. A reinvention of some sorts. This 2016, I don’t have a magic list, I have a living list.

One that is allowed to grow, allowed to adapt, and embraces unfamiliarity. As much as I am a firm believer in fate, this year taught me that the amount of effort you put into anything can 95% of the time produce results you would expect based on your effort. (the other 5%, is in my opinion, the magic of when life takes over and things go beyond your control).  


So here’s the first point (and most likely not the last) on my living list:


  • Embracing the newness within.

Denim and White Denim. One I have alot of history with, while the other I am just getting to know. This sounds alot like how I see myself now. Parts of me I am comfortably familiar with, and other parts are still so foreign. My one want this year, is to allow myself the opportunity to explore new identities of mine. My transition from identifying with Gay to Queer, or from a Student Worker to just a Full Time Employee. Also, going from always being silent/ keeping the peace to standing up for what I believe in and values in various spaces as of late.

IMG_8449 (2)

I am seeing the change, day by day. Finally applying what I learned during my trip away into my life as well. It’s hard progress, but a needed transition.

If you had a living list, what would it look like?

Warmest Everythings,

Miguel Raphael |XO

XO | About the Look

Look 1: Denim on Denim  IMG_8583

Denim Trucker Jacket, LEVIS

Denim Western Shirt, LEVIS

Stonewashed Denim, LEVIS

Pointed Boots, ALDO

Vintage Watch, FOSSIL











Look 2: Neutral Norm

IMG_8467 (2)

Gray Long-Cut Tanktop – Urban Outfitters

White Denim – Banana Republic

Rings – ASOS

Pointed Boots – ALDO

How I Found That Thing while Traveling, Lost It, and Found it All Over Again.

37 Days.

I miss myself. I miss who I was before I boarded that plane and flew thousands of miles away. I felt alone, surrounded by love, but alone. I hate feeling that loneliness, but in that moment I grew. In that moment I discovered truths.

The want to find ourselves, to actively seek our missing pieces will never end. At different points in our lives, our layers deepen and require more of us than what was needed before. 37 days gave me so much. New pieces were found in every moment that redefined my definition of what it means to actually live. But I don’t want to confuse the word “live” with “adventure seeking.” You don’t have to reach the peak of the highest mountain, because not everyone gains the same amount of satisfaction from any one thing. To actually live, can be as simple as being able to pray everyday, or finding time to call someone you miss even for just 30 seconds, no matter how awkward it could be, simply because, you miss them. Living is seeking your own risks, and your own truths.

Everytime I think about those 37 days, everytime I close my eyes and let the moments seep back into my heart, they bring me to a place I’m scared to unpack. Ironically, mentally unpacking is the complete contrary of actually packing and unpacking for a trip. It’s easier to pack into the heart, than it is to unpack the truths you find within it.

This is me unpacking 37 days, in the most honest way I possibly can. Instead of giving you a list of best places to spend the night at or critique all the restaurants I had eaten at, I’m giving you a piece of my heart through the moments that ignited it. This is my XO.

Layover – Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila.

As fate would have it, my trip to Bali included a layover in Manila, Philippines. A place I lived in for 6 years, with one of the most important people in my life living there, my Grandma Betty. It had been 5 years since I had last been able to hug this incredible woman. When we landed I thought i would get a few hours to share with her. Those few hours instead became only 5 minutes. What do you say in five minutes, that you’ve been wanting to say for five years? We stood at the terminal where she waited for me, and held each other for what felt like the longest time. With my grandma asking if I’m “hungry” really being the only bit of conversation we had. there were so many tears, and holding back of more. It’s true what they say, no amount of Skyping or Facetiming someone you love can compare to being in that same space with them. I consider it a blessing to begin my journey being enveloped in her energy. It set the course for the remainder of my summer away.

Bali. Singapore. Philippines.

25 hours, two layovers, and three flights later, we arrived. As memory serves, I remember sleeping through the first day. Jetlag is ruthless and I recommend getting that necessary rest to avoid feeling burnt out as you trek through in the days after. Evan and Ashley, two of my closest friends joined me on this experience. In my life, many things come in threes. From having 2 younger siblings to make 3 combined crazies, to the different roles I currently work in, to the number of people that went on this 37 day trip, and even to the countries I ended up traveling to: Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines (the latter of which was an unexpected turn of events). The number 3 carries a significance I hadn’t realized till this year. And during my trip, my learnings came in 3.

Courage. Compassion. and (unfortunately no, it’s not another C word) Grace.


I was standing at the Sekumpul Waterfalls, my feet slightly dipping into the surprisingly chilly water. 350 steps. 350 steps was what it took ranging from steep to largely gapped, with certain parts lacking railings as a guide to reach our destination. I remember how powerful the water was as it pounded. I was so scared to swim into the waterfall. A million reasons why I shouldn’t entertain the action ran through my head, and for a solid 10 minutes I stood there watching Ashley and Evan as they dove right under the waterfall and out, laughing and enjoying themselves. Was I actually comfortable just watching? I really didn’t think so. And when I finally decided to jump in. that moment was everything. it was cold. for a moment, but after that initial chill, i found it. A different type of pleasure. One that can’t be gained from just being an observer. It was one you find by jumping at a risk, and it was something I didn’t do enough.

And I kept it from that point forward. Saying yes to riding on the back of a motorbike with a handsome stranger I’ll never meet again after an unforgettable night exploring the humming streets of Ubud’s quieter nightlife. Rafting bravely through Bali’s wonderfully preserved Ayung River. There were moments where we had to lay backwards matrix style to avoid long branches that could knock you off the raft, followed by a doozy vertical drop where my organs were left midair. Or Exploring Sentosa at its highest peak (note my fear of heights), a man made recreational center in Singapore complete with amusement park rides, interactive games, and its own lake under the incredible Singapore heat. Even strolling through the busy Ubud and Seminyak market shops in Bali, where I bartered for the lowest prices (because sellers will definitely try and upsell you!) on my own. I found the courage to explore, even if it meant not enjoying something or becoming frustrated. I am surrounded by peers who have formed so many opinions on topics and subjects they openly choose not to experience. It’s easy to conform to this, but I realized that it’s better to fully experience something to know whether you like it or not. As simple as that sounds, it’s not as common a habit as you’d think.

Courage came in the form of allowing my heart to feel romance again, this time, uninhibited. I am the patron of never making the first move, or following a guideline of three months and then this needs to happen, etc. This unrealistic idea trapped in my head about how love should be. How every connection needs to be permanent, when the simple truth in life, is that there will be connections that will serve as temporary vessels, meant to challenge the traditional ideals of romance you thought you knew.

Running around in the Philippines, reaching Maginhawa Avenue and trying a genius take on the traditional Filipino breakfast of “Spam and Rice” to traveling on the LRT (Philippine version of our subways), Jeepneys, and Tricycles for the first time to get to our destinations. Making it to Rizal Park watching dancing fire, seeing Makati skyscrapers, and standing in the middle of the Divisoria, the Philippines largest market (bartering central). Moving from place to place in the rain, clothes were drenched but none of it regrettable and sharing a kiss in the middle of an overpass bridge, as Mother Nature poured over us. (yeah, sometimes I felt the need to be pinched).
He, a student like me, was as hungry for an adventure as I was. And he opened my eyes to making the most of a day, from the sun rising till it sets.

Walking along Kuta Beach, Bali at midnight listening to the waves, side by side with the ocean and having conversations with a gentleman who’d accomplished so much in his life thus far. To spending a whole day with him, laying out on Batu Belig Beach (an LGBT friendly beach scene), to exploring all the souvenir and trinket shops sprawled across the sunlit streets of Seminyak. Long life conversations on “where do we go next?’ over earl gray tea and pie. We talked about how different our lives were. He helmed a successful business brand in India that he built from the ground up while I was studying just about to fulfill my dreams. I remember how amazed he was at how I had been budgeting out in Bali, and I told him the trick was not to eat at all the typical “tourist” hotspots, as many of them are overpriced and overhyped. I told him some of the best traditional Indonesian dishes I’ve tasted were at local Warungs (small restaurants) that didn’t cater to tourists. So we had lunch at this bourgie italian restaurant he took me to, and we had dinner at a warung I took him to. We ended the night dancing at the strip of LGBTQIA+ Bars, followed by sitting a bit too drunk near a convenience store having ramen and life talks till 3 AM.

Cinderella only had till midnight. And that’s okay. When she returned from the ball, she wasn’t bitter about wanting more, suffice it to say she was too busy being satisfied about having the opportunity to dance and love. I’m not saying it’s ever or always good to settle. But sometimes in life you are only given moments. A moment that could be 3 days, 3 weeks, or even just 3 hours. Make the most of it. I wasn’t thinking about whether or not this guy can be my future partner, or where I’d like the night to go for once in my overly critical head. And I appreciated that mindset. Because now everytime I look back, I have all these wonderful memories of moments where I felt alive.

And the most important commonality in all these moments, was that I existed in them.


I’ve been so hard on myself these last few years. It’s true what they say, you can be your own worst enemy. And even if you try and put your best foot forward, you can be the first person ready to lend a foot to trip you on your way to happiness. The world needs more compassion for one another, but equally as important, is the compassion we need to give to ourselves.

I came from such a broken part of my life. Amidst all the success I was so thankful for, I was broken on the inside. So many years of pain I’ve yet to talk about I carried with me as I trekked through temple after temple searching for the spirituality others say they’ve found there, and the endless lush rice fields that encompassed the majority of agricultural life out in Bali. There was a moment during our countryside trek out in Mayong Village, where a friendly local climbed the top of a coconut tree to pick fresh coconuts for our group. He allowed us into his home where his wife and granddaughter were waiting, fed us freshly made banana chips and coconut juice (3 different types, with flavors ranging from fizzy to sweet depending on the age), and although we weren’t able to communicate due to the language barrier, their kindness was something that resonated beyond our typical use of words.

We don’t do this enough to ourselves. We don’t try and break our own barriers within, enough to know who we truly are.

I experienced Vinyasa Flow at the Yoga Barn in Ubud, and accessed spirituality in a way I never had before. In America, Yoga was quickly becoming a fad, and from it came things like Hot Yoga, or Spin Yoga. In Bali, faith and spirituality lives within each movement, and in turn is passed on to the person. I splurged on Singaporean food, from 8 different types of cooked crab to trying sting ray for the first time, especially at its Chinatown where the fusion of foods was worth every bite.

I know that when I indulge, I typically like to shop as it makes me feel as though the things I am spending my money on are worth it because I can use it multiple times, but very rarely do I spend for the moment. (This trip being an exception). How valuable physical presence is I realized. how valuable our feelings are, and the ability to just be present without allowing the thoughts and criticisms of the outside world affect your internal peace. Finding that peace involves being kinder to ourselves.

And being kinder to yourself means being stronger from within, as it can lead to challenges brought by outside energies. I experienced a form of hate harassment during my night out in Sky Garden, a nightclub 7 stories high out in Legian, Bali. A Russian man approached me as I was grabbing drinks. He put his arms around my shoulders, and I immediately realized he was drunk. He asked about my ring (which in his mind gave away my sexuality) and began to whisper to his friend, constantly bringing up the word “Suka” (which in Russian means “Bitch”). He asked if I was gay to which I replied a resounding, “yes.” He simply smiled, still holding me and said, “That’s fine, you’re entitled to live your life, just don’t come to Russia or I’ll kill you myself.” I was shaken of course, I remember not being able to hold my glass of vodka well as I walked to the balcony, being so far away I thought I had a moment of freedom from this type of harassment. But this is reality. To be kind to myself meant allowing to give myself the ability to express who I was, wherever that may be. I value the comfort I have in doing that now more than ever, because the struggle to self express can be dangerous in other places of the world just as it can be in America. But I don’t want to be any other version of myself. As far as I’m concened, kindness can be a powerful thing when you give yourself a bit of it.


Batik. The word batik originates from the Javanese tik and means to dot. You use wax and dye to bring your art to life on cloth. My session was lengthy, from 10AM to around 5PM, but the process was enduringly beautiful. I enjoyed sketching what I envisioned on the cloth, which ended up being a mermaid (as my fascination with them continues). And I became more enthused to actually blend the watercolors and crack the wax, seeing my work placed into a pot to boil and lastly, dyed in blue. This was a quieter moment during my trip and you had to be patient with yourself. One wrong judgment of arm positioning could lead to wax dripping onto your batik in a place you didn’t intend. (but in my mind, that’s one of the best parts of art, the beautiful mess.) I think what I loved most about this process was when you were finally able to “crackle” your cloth, so that after it’s been dyed and dried, you’ll see lined cracks all over the piece, giving it the signature batik look.

The process to finish was long for a tourist like me, and I can only imagine what it’s like for an actual batik designer, but it served as a reminder that in life. it’s important to find moments of stillness. Patience is, a difficult skill to sharpen and utilize.

    And Patience would be a reoccurring theme throughout my adventure.

When I landed in Singapore, I didn’t realize that one of the highlights of my trip would be a miracle gift. My godmother decided that I would accompany her to see her Gynecologist because she was going in for a checkup. Little old me didn’t put two and two together, till after the checkup when she handed me an ultrasound picture of my soon to be baby nephew. (Who we referred to as “Baby Starshine” for the remainder of my Singapore stay). After years of unsuccessful attempts and difficult times, Starshine was finally here. And I think what I admire most, is how graceful my Godmother has been through all these years of trials. I knew in that moment that this baby was going to be in the best hands, one of the most patient of hands. and that he’ll be surrounded by love to infinity and back.

Just like the morning in Lovina, which is a beach city out in Indonesia, when Ashley, Evan and I traveled out to spot Dolphins on their morning swim. A lot of it was waiting. Waiting out in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes they’d poke out their tails or upper body, other times no sight of them. You can easily grow impatient if you don’t spot a dolphin right away, but I enjoyed the warmth of the sun. The breeze as the boat sped over to any location at any possible hint of a dolphin spotting. And most especially, the woman from France who I ended up having a wonderful conversation with about her travel out to various areas, even remote parts of Indonesia trekking from place to place on her own in search of herself.

There was a moment when we visited this Buddhist Temple where I was so taken away by its beauty. I sat and stared at it. You wonder how long it took to look the way it did, how has it been tended to all these years, and why do these temples of prayer feel so familiar. This was also the first temple where it felt quiet, as so many of the other ones we visited were crawling with tourists, many of which simply took selfies, not really understanding the significance of where they stood. That’s when I knew that from this point forward, I need to live with intention.

And intention is NOT easy.

I spoke to a healer in Bali, and the conversation was lengthy, lasted at least an hour. Being in his home with his family, felt sacred. Many of the healers out in Bali became commercialized because of the success of the movie Eat, Pray, Love, so we visited someone who actually no longer practiced reading people. As we conversed I learned how to make the offerings that Balinese folx gave to the Gods and spirits. Among the wealth of information and advice he gave me, he told me to face those fears I’ve had in the back of my mind, and to change those habits that I know are holding me back from happiness. Embrace the bad and the good, because they both exist in this world. It is what we make of it that defines how it affects our world. He said I will one day gain success I never thought I’d attain through continuous hard work, but it would involve living with intent.

And that is where grace comes in. refinement. the chance to grow exists within all of us, but we need to put in the effort to take action within ourselves. It doesn’t have to be impulsive, and you need to be patient with yourself. It involves unlearning what we see flooded in so many articles that pop up on our feeds now, because becoming a happier and stronger you doesn’t take 10 minutes or seven steps. It is defined simply by you at your own pace.

On the last day of my experience. I rode on a tricycle to spend a quiet morning with my Grandma and Grandpa in the Philippines. Every Sunday morning after mass, Lolo Mike would take my Lola Betty on a date to the same place, Tropical Hut. I felt humbled to be invited on such an exclusive occasion, but to see them together, and still “dating” after so many years filled my soul to the brim. They weren’t loud, or talked a lot, they were very comfortable just sitting there next to one another.

I wanted that, but not with someone else. I wanted to sit in silence, with myself.

It’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to have your heart taped, glued, and tied back together. Before I left, I didn’t quite understand how much damage I had done to my own heart.

But it took having my heart broken into hundreds of pieces and being a thousand miles away from everything I knew to discover that each piece pulsed on its own. We often talk about how we need to take care of our hearts, but that doesn’t quite explain what it is we are taking care of, and how we take care of the contents found in every piece of it that beats.

Lastly, it’s easy to lose all that you learned when traveling. Sometimes it’s hard to apply the knowledge you’ve gained into your reality, especially when time moves at a lightning speed. I had difficulty with this. There were times when my actions conflicted with my learnings, but you have to remember that we will forever be learning. It’s never going to stop and you’ll make an abundance of mistakes. The important thing is this:

What you experienced, all that you are and all that you’ll be, lives through your soul. You and only you have access to what you felt, touched, or remember. So you’ll know how to apply those learnings more than anyone else. Don’t be afraid of it. There isn’t a formula for it, because if there was, I’d buy the bottle.

This won’t be the last time I’ll bring memories and moments from this chapter in my life. And for the record, I no longer miss who I was before I left for Bali. Because I found that thing again. Whatever that “thing” is for you, I wish you many blessings as you search for it.


I’m excited to see how 2016 brings us all together, and hopefully brings me closer to all of you. 


Miguel Raphael Bagsit.