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Buscalan, Kalinga | Getting Inked by Fang Od

Ruel said, on holidays, she could earn about P50,000 from tattooing alone. She was able to buy the surrounding lands and carabaos. Sometimes the neighbors would borrow money from her.

Whang Od’s short stature was always wrapped in silence, regardless of the domestic noises around her: kids crying, black hogs squealing.

She said the centipede, the design I chose for myself, is the guide for the lost.

There is nothing, I guess, more fitting for someone who has a terrible sense of direction, who, later on, would find herself at a loss after a heartbreak.

Heartbreak is one of the many trips I have taken. Whang Od has been there as well.

READ:Whand Od and Her Village










There is always that place that hands you its narrative without you asking or looking for it. It is there, it is open, anyone can see it. Buscalan is that kind of place for me. Its women’s candidness. They could ask basically anything. Especially Fang Od. Despite the language gap (her nephew’s wife served as our interpreter), she read my palms, told me I would have many lovers, and joked that Cebuano men had small pen*s. I asked how did she know, and she just laughed. She sized up the snakes from different nationalities with her fingers and arm. She was astounded with my laughter, like most strangers I met.

She braided my hair, cooked our food, pounded our coffee, and hated anything salty. She loved candies. All Buscalan  people loved candies. They loved coffee. They pounded their beans every  day. In the morning, you could knock anyone’s door and asked for it.

She was 92, and we had a bet. If she could reach a century, I would have a native pig slaughtered for her. Game, she rose the bet to three. We reached a deal. In 2013, a native pig in Buscalan cost P7 000. It might be doubled or tripled seven years from now.

I wonder if Fang Od could still remember our bet, knowing she met drifters every day. Perhaps she already forgot the woman who inelegantly laughed at her dirty jokes.


Witnessing an uprooting is painful. This time, a native house.  The most intimate, the innermost must go first: the boxes of clothes, the hearth, the pots and pans. Then the roof—stalks of an endemic grass growing in the surrounding ranges that turned gold in the morning and late afternoon light. Then the wall—the three-feet wide of pine tree wood that do not exist anymore. Then the floor that could be mistaken as walls in an uninitiated’s eye.  Then, the feet—the foundation that has been rooted in this place for almost a century. And the men involved in the unbuilding were grimed with memories.

Getting inked by Fang Od was one of the monumental experience in my adulthood.







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Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona! I’m in my early 30s and is currently based in Ha Noi, Vietnam.I primarily write poetry and short stories in Cebuano and lengthy travel essays in English. Blogging has become an outlet to think out loud. I live the life I set for myself. I try to live an unapologetic life. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at Find me somewhere else!

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