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Saturday, December 10, 2011

TCS Six-Word Stories Contest: "Anything Christmas"

What do you think? 
Hi there, avid reader of The Culture Shack! Do you want to be part of my little blog and win cool prizes (30 peso load) while you're at it? Here's how: 

I'm launching a series called "Six-Word Stories Contest" every week where you get to claw through mud and barbed wire to get awesome bounties (30 peso load)! The premise of this weekly contest is simple - I give a topic, and you have to make a brilliant story out of it in exactly SIX WORDS. Simple enough, right? 

The topic this week is "Anything Christmas". In six words, brew up something related to that topic such as "Santa's elves are lousy iPad makers." or "Early New Year accident: Noche Buena."

So let your imagination run wild...within a six-word limit! Simply submit your entries in this format: (Name, Mobile Number, Six-Word Story).


All entries must be sent before 11:59pm of December 17 - that's next Saturday! So, what are you waiting for? Put some elbow grease on those brain muscles and don't miss this chance to win fabulous prizes (30 peso load)!

By the way, in case you're wondering, the person who makes the best story will win 30 pesos worth of load. Don't give me that look. You're just going to type six words, not the Mahabarata.

Will be posting the Top 5 entries, which I hope is not equivalent to the Only 5 Entries, by Sunday next week. Sorry, no prizes for the runners-up. I might be able to throw in some old novels from my personal book collection or copies of Budyong (if you're lucky *wink*), but don't get your hopes up. That's as good as it's gonna get. Merry Christmas, y'all!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Culture Shack is the 2011 Philippine Blog Awards BEST PERSONAL BLOG and READERS' CHOICE!

What do you think? 

We've seen rock stars do it in concerts. As a song progresses to its resplendent chorus, someone high-voltage like Mick Jagger or Chester Bennington lick their lips and prop their hips, preparing to thrust themselves into the crowd. Just as they hit the song's climax - a resonating scream or a goosebumps-inducing belt - they run towards the audience, jump and land on a sea of pumped-up fans where they will be passed along from one fan to another as they bask in the glory of being held up by the people who absolutely adore them.

While I will probably never get to experience crowd surfing in my life (or even if I did, I don't think anyone could sustain my weight even in a crowd), I consider winning the 2011 Philippine Blog Awards Best Personal Blog and Readers' Choice Award the next best thing. Though not as ancient and wrinkly as he is , I truly felt like Mick Jagger in a lot of ways throughout my journey. I feel a lot of people lifting me across the an ocean of people as they shared and liked The Culture Shack on Facebook and Twitter. It was a rock star moment for me and I am humbled by the overwhelming support.

Somehow, I am more astounded by the support that my blog garnered than getting the award itself. But what I was most touched by was when the people of Albay started to get involved. Somehow, Albay Gov. Joey Salceda managed to get word of my blog entry through the efforts of Mr. Rhondon Ricafort, Aldin Navarra and Mel Balino, all of whom I am Facebook friends with.

It's simply amazing how a couple of willing people could start an online wildfire so big that it burned its way to the Philippine Blog Awards! It happened almost instantly, once Gov. Salceda himself posted it on the link to my blog entry on his page onslaughts after onslaughts of "Likes" started pouring in from all over Albay and the Bicol Region. It was something that I was not able to fully process easily and something I was not used to.

Ate Sheena and Jessa holding TCS's two trophies.
There I was inside a seedy internet cafe, watching The Cuture Shack spread like an epidemic on Facebook. I had my mouth opened the entire time. In a matter of minutes, my blog that didn't have a fighting chance managed to get hundreds of likes from people who don't even know me! 

Jessa delivering my acceptance speech 
They even put up a "Liking Station" in our college just to help me boost my votes! Thanks again, Mr. Rex Eduarte for that amazing thing yiu guys did.

It was all magical, and even to some extent divine, how everything turned out. And I couldn't help but be eternally grateful to everyone who supported me. As giving back the support you all have so fervently given, I dedicate to you all this blog post.

The awards night for the 2011 PBA was held earlier at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City. I wasn't able to attend since I was attending to my sister who has dengue and we had a midterm exam earlier today. Thankfully, my friends, Jessa Jarilla, Sheena Ferrer, Maricar Brizuela and Dunhill Jasareno, all Bicol University College of Arts and Letters AB Journalism graduates, were so kind enough to attend the event on my behalf.

Here is the short acceptance speech I prepared that was read earlier tonight by Jessa:

First of all, I would like to apologize for not being able to be there with all my fellow bloggers and event organizers tonight due to circumstances beyond our control, which me and my classmates refer to as “midterm exams”.

My sincerest thanks to the organizers of the 2011 Philippine Blog Awards for making this incredible honor possible. As a neophyte blogger, being a finalist in the Readers’ Choice Category, Bloggers’ Choice Category, Best Culture and Arts Blog - National, Best Culture and Arts Blog – Luzon and Best Personal Blog – Luzon in a prestigious nationwide blogging event like this is something unthinkable for me.

The Culture Shack started last year as nothing more but my attempt at self-expression and catharsis. Just like how a schoolboy would sketch doodles for hours on his desk while a teacher discusses a very uninteresting lesson, I used my blog as an escape from my occasionally dreary life.

Unlike most bloggers, I don’t usually get to travel to a lot of places, attend big parties or events or get to write about things that a lot of people would consider “bloggable”. I’m essentially just a 21 year old Journalism senior from a small town in Bicol. I often asked myself, “I would love to blog but would blogging love me?”

My life isn’t exactly filled with high-speed car chases, or dodging bullets from Angelina Jolie. I live a very simple life. But simple doesn’t have to be boring. In the words of Jason Mraz, “If all is ground, then go make a mountain out of it.”

Through my blog, I was able to convert everyday experiences into something that readers could enjoy, learn from or relate. I’d like to believe that turning your simple life into something that would stir a positive effect on readers is something that is “bloggable” and worth telling. I think it’s safe to say that The Cutlure Shack bagging the Readers’ Choice and Best Personal Blog Award proves just that.

Please allow me to indulge as I thank the following for making all of this possible:

Thanks to my mom, Marilou, my dad, Larry for supporting me in all my endeavors, no matter how silly they may be sometimes. My siblings: JP, Patricia and Samantha for getting their friends to support my blog. I’d like to thank my Titos and Titas especially Tita Bingbing  for all taking care of us while our parents are abroad. I’d like to thank my brother from another mother, Carlo who has always been my biggest supporter. To my topnotch and supportive friends – Henor, Franco, Jessa, Reynard, Eric, Jonalyn, Mel, Ched, Julie, Jessha, Cervin, Caryl, Rey, Edda, Lorena, Marjo, Nico, Pau, Golda, Camille, Earl, Zandro, Ira, Xyza, Jelly, Ate Anele, and Amira – for being there for me no matter what. Thanks to Budyong, the official student publication of the College of Arts and Letters, for making me the writer I am today. Thank you to Albay Gov. Joey Salceda for his unwavering support for my blog and his faith in my capabilities. My sincerest and most heartfelt thanks to the people of Albay and Sorsogon who have tirelessly promoted my blog. Thank you for Bicol University and the BU College of Arts and Letters for acting as my sanctuary for the past three years. Thank you to Rhondon Ricafort, Dex Baldon, Ritche Asagra, Goldimyrr Repolles, Rex Eduarte, Ariel Guban and Bicolano Blogger Republic for pushing me further to pursue this. I would like to thank every single person who has liked my blog on Facebook. You are awesome and we are eternally indebted to you. This is, above anything else, YOUR award, not mine.

Mabuhay ang Albay! Mabuhay ang Bicol University! Mabuhay and College of Arts and Letters! More power Philippine Blog Awards and Filipino bloggers everywhere! Salamatunon tabi sa indo gabos!

I'm still crowd surfing right now and I don't intend to go back onstage.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

2011 Philippine Blog Awards Readers' Choice Poll-watching, Flabbergasted.

What do you think? 
The voting for the 2011 Philippine Blog Awards Readers' Choice ends at 11:59 pm tonight. As of 3:45 pm today, The Culture Shack still leads in the polls with 3,464 votes. Blog B, coming in at second, has 2,309 votes. Thanks to you, yes YOU, we are now dominating the polls by more than 1,100 votes! THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE!

All this support is overwhelming me right now as a colossal sense of stupor and gratitude washes over me. I will not stop thanking everybody for supporting my little blog. This is definitely more happiness than one could experience in his lifetime. Thank you!

I will be logging in later to see if we've succeeded. My fingers remain crossed. 

Please help me win the 2011 Philippine Blog Awards Readers' Choice!

What do you think? 
Hi! Please help me win the 2011 Philippine Blog Awards READERS' CHOICE by simply liking this photo. I am a finalist and we really need your help to bag the award.

Also, please feel free to share this photo. We would really appreciate that. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

OUR FIRST BUDYONG PRINT ISSUE: A Hardworking Staff's Labor of Love and How It Actually Got Me To Shut Up For At Least An Hour

What do you think? 

Best. Publication. Evar.
I think the Budyong editorial staff never thought the day would come when they'd see me so overwhelmed that I would actually be just sitting at a corner and speechless for at least an hour. 

Akin to seeing Jersey Shore's Snooki Polizzi all sobered down Xanaxed out, albeit without the fake tan and drugs, my uncanny temperament change brought about an awkwardness in the Budyong office that was so thick you could cut right through it with a knife.

No, I wasn't felt up by a creepy old man inside the restroom, our first print issue just arrived today! Saying we were as jubilant as Piolo Pascual in a Chippendales show in Vegas would be a complete understatement.

Budyong, the official student publication of the Bicol University College of Arts and Letters, the newspaper which I'm the editor-in-chief of, is very glad to announce that we are already releasing our first print issue for the Academic Year 2011-2012.

Our wonderful,  kid-friendly Budyong artists
Seeing those stacks of newspapers fresh out of the press and delivered to our office was like witnessing the live birth of your son (Not that I would know. Seeing as I can barely keep my dogs healthy or mentally sound, I would not allow myself to procreate). Watching the guy from the printers carry those newspapers in was simply the most glorious thing a first-time editor could experience.

But it wasn't all my hard work. It was mostly the staff's, if you ask me. I could only imagine what our paper would look like if our layout and graphic artists weren't around to make sure that we wouldn't use green outer glow effects on red fonts. If the writers are the heart and soul of the newspaper, our artists are definitely a slightly overweight college girl's sassy gay best friend who always helps spruce up and glamorize her look.

As I gaze intently at our newspaper, I always think how the students would never see all the sweat, blood, tears and sleepless nights we had to put in in order for us to produce this labor of love. This is why I'm taking this opportunity to beg everyone to PLEASE READ THE PAPER.

It would be a disservice, not only to the staff, but to you as well if you opt not to take time in reading the college publication. You paid for those 18 pages after all. The students paid for restorative and responsible journalism and it is only fitting that they get they're money's worth.

I hope we could see a the newspaper's tangible effect manifest itself soon. Budyong is all for student transformation and nothing would make us happier than seeing our paper change the way students think and act. Never mind the negative response, that will always be part of a journalist's career. We just want to see them think, act and move for a change.

A photo of me in Jollibee Old Albay still intoxicated
with bliss and incapable of coherent langauge.
But I won't linger on audience effect in this blog post, because right now I'm still basking in a profound state of accomplishment and fulfillment. I mean, we're talking about something that took almost four months to create! We had to forgo our academics to some extent just so we could give back to the student body. So seeing all of our efforts in the form of these newspapers is something I will never stop blabbing about.

As this was definitely a cause for celebration, the staff headed to the nearest Jollibee in Old Albay for dinner (Yes, most of us are economically challenged.)

Looking at every staff member at our table, I couldn't help but feel utterly grateful for their contributions to making our newspaper happen. They are very special to me and without them, there would be no Budyong print issue.

This blog post is dedicated to them. And since I've recently found out that I'm a finalist in both the 2011 Philippine Blog Awards Bloggers' Choice and Readers' Choice, I would like to make them a permanent part of my blog as they are also a very important part of who I am. In the first place, I wouldn't have The Culture Shack without these guys. So if ever I get to win something on December 3, I want everyone to know that they're a big part of my victory. Not that I'm expecting to win of course. But it would be hypocritical on my part if I told you that I don't want to win.

This is for everyone who have made our great accomplishments possible. I raise a toast for you!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Why you should vote The Culture Shack as Philippine Blog Awards 2011 Blogger's Choice!

What do you think? 

The Culture Shack is a 2011 Philippine Blog Awards Bloggers' Choice finalist!
Thinking that my Youngblood article would be my last big accomplishment of the year, I received an e-mail today from a friend informing me that The Culture Shack, the blog you're reading right now because you have nothing better to do presumably, was nominated as a finalist in the 2011 Philippine Blog Awards Blogger's Choice.

It is un-effin'believable to be a finalist in a national blogging contest, especially if you're somebody like me who isn't exactly a hundred percent confident in (and conscious of) the value of his personal ideas and writing capabilities. To me, simply being nominated in an event of this magnitude is like Forrest Gump being given a Nobel Prize. So needless to say, I am genuinely and sincerely grateful for this honor.

But of course, it would also be really nice if I won this award. You, yes YOU, can help me reach my dream of bagging this honor. Also, it's so easy, even my grandma could do it! Here's how:

1. Write a blog post about your choice from the list of finalists. You may give an explanation why your choice should be the Bloggers’ Choice for this year.

2. Make sure to include a link to this post in your blog post, and
 make sure to include “rel=nofollow” in the link. We will not count your vote if you fail to comply with these requirements.

For example:
I vote for "The Culture Shack" for this year’s Philippine Blog Awards Bloggers’ Choice.

The link should look like this: <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>

You can vote for only one blog in the list above, and you can only vote once.
Voting ends 11:59 PM of December 2, 2011. You can start voting now!

Now you may be wondering why you should vote for The Culture Shack. Here is a list of reasons:
  1. The Culture Shack is about everything under the sun. It's not only a potpourri of a wide range of subject matters, it also dares you to look at things from a different perspective and challenges you to adapt a unorthodox mindset.
  2. The Culture Shack is both about embracing life and kicking in the balls (Not necessarily in that order). This blog understands that in order to appreciate life, one must look at both its beautiful and butt-ugly faces. 
  3. The Culture Shack is sheer, unadulterated rawness. When we say that this blog has a point to put across, we mean it. We don't like to compromise the intellectual and social value of the blog posts with empty calisthenics. Style without a means and/or an end is a cheating writer's way to hoodwink people into thinking that they have something to say when they don't. The Culture Shack likes to keep it real, unlike most blogs out there pretending that they have something to say.
  4. The Culture Shack is written by someone like you. No, I don't get to travel to many places. No, I don't rally in front of government agencies or cause traffic on Labor Day. No, I don't know any  famous people personally, except if you consider Pinoy Big Brother Unlimited's Casey Austria (an ex-classmate) a celebrity. I'm just a 21 year-old journalism senior from Bicol University wanting to throw in a piece of my mind into cyberspace. It's amazing what a seemingly boring daily life could contribute to social media. If there's someone who knows this well, it's me. The greatest adventures are sometimes just in front of your vandal-ridden armchair.
  5. The Culture Shack is notabout self-promotion, it's about speaking out. I believe that every single one of us has something to tell, and this is my way of satisfying my need to help other people see from a different lens. 
I'm sincerely hoping that you would help me win this award. Like hot sauce on sinigang, it would really make my day. Please vote for The Culture Shack. Remember, this is not only my blog's victory but yours as well! Thank you very much!

The Culture Shack is a 2011 PBA Blogger's Choice finalist!

I vote for "The Culture Shack" for this year’s Philippine Blog Awards Bloggers’ Choice.
 <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Got Published in Youngblood!

What do you think? 
Never in a million years did I expect that any of my work would grace the Philippine Daily Inquirer's "Young Blood", a column that features thoughts on social, economic and political issues from the twentysomething and below.

I think you have to tilt your head a little bit to read this.

I was editing news articles yesterday when I got word that my article got published. Mr. Dex Baldon, a colleague and fellow blogger from Bicol Blogger Republic, sent me a message on Facebook congratulating me for a job well done. Flabbergasted, I didn't know what the congratulations were for. And then, I saw the link in the message to an article named "Golden California" on the Inquirer website. I literally exploded in front of my laptop.

This came to me as a complete shock because I didn't think that PDI would run any of my work at all. I thought that my brand of writing would not make the cut, especially since I e-mailed the story to PDI way back in August and got no response ever since. I dismissed my attempt at being published in Young Blood was as an impossible feat. That's one reason why I was so shocked. Three months without any sign of me getting published and now here I am, blogging about it and so happy I could die.

But the idea of gracing the Young Blood column wasn't entirely my initiative. Sir Ariel Guban, one of my esteemed professors, told me that I had the chops and convinced me to write something that was Young Blood-worthy. Overwhelmed, I followed his advise since it wouldn't hurt if I tried.

Shout-out to BUCAL and Budyong y'all!

I am still in an advanced state of stupor right now and basking in this moment as if I won the lottery. The best part of getting published in Young Blood are the e-mails from people who've been inspired and have realized a lot of things because of your published work. I 've got dozens of e-mails since "Golden California" came out, and the responses were eternally awe-inspiring, to say the least.

After getting published, I must say that all of this has boosted my self-worth as a writer drastically and has convinced me that I could actually write to affect people. The best feeling in the world is when all your hardwork and sleepless nights get rewarded with lives touched.

This is one of the most monumental events in my journalistic career and it gives me great hope that, through my writing, I would be able to help people realize a lot of things in life and do something transformative to society.

Here's my published article:

‘Golden California’


After an almost two-month stay in Los Angeles, I found myself in LAX awaiting my flight back home to the Philippines. My Mom and Dad, who sat beside me, looked awfully crestfallen. The prospect of “abandoning” my parents in a foreign land, more than 2,000 miles away from family and friends, was heartbreaking. I knew how they’d feel alone even in a city with a population of 4 million.
I arrived in the United States last summer – my first time to be there. As I was traveling with an immigrant visa, the plan was for me to stay there for good and become a US citizen. But I was only a year away from graduating from college, and we thought it was best if I stayed in the United States for just a couple of months to comply with immigration formalities, secure my green card and then return to the Philippines to finish my studies. I’m now a journalism senior, and as soon as I get my diploma, I’m heading straight back to California.
“Mauunahan mo pa kaming makauwi sa Pinas,” my Mom blurted with a tinge of envy and regret. Since she set foot on the United States three years ago, she never has had a chance to return to the Philippines. And Dad, a US citizen, has been back here only four times. He has been residing in California for more than 10 years now. Despite their being homesick and even though they can buy expensive plane tickets home, neither of them can afford the luxury of going to the Philippines, even for a short visit. That would mean taking a break from work and relinquishing time that could be spent earning money.
“We’re very lucky, son,” my Dad would often tell me in LA, “many people would kill just to come to America.” I know. I’ve seen people selling practically everything they owned for a shot at working in the “States,” as we refer to the “land of milk and honey.” But I didn’t have to make the same sacrifice.
If the seemingly endless lines in front of the US Embassy in the Philippines are any indication, many Filipinos are willing to go through hell and high water just to escape the pitiable life they have in the Philippines. Our economy looks so bleak that many resort to a US visa as their golden ticket to a better life.
But the two months I’ve been in the States was long enough for me to see that establishing a career or working in the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” is not as glamorous as it’s bruited about.
My parents are care providers in a facility for the “developmentally disabled,” or people with disabilities that hinder daily functioning, independent living and economic self-sufficiency. The facility serves as a home not only to the developmentally disabled clients but also to my parents. It’s my parents’ responsibility to look after those residing there, cook meals for them, clean the house, and make sure that the residents don’t harm themselves or their fellows as most of them have self-destructive behavior.
Throughout my stay in the facility, I saw firsthand how looking after childish grownups can be so painstaking and sometimes even unsafe. Apart from doing housework, my parents have to frequently pacify the clients when they get into fistfights, or go after them whenever they attempt to run away, or intervene when they threaten to hurt themselves physically.
“This is what the American dream looks like, son” my Dad sneered as he scrubbed the toilet with his tired hands.
Ever since I was a small child, I’ve always thought that “living the American dream” meant achieving a self-actualizing, quality life with little difficulties. Turns out, the American dream, at least to our family, is more of a struggle to break away from poverty than an express-lane journey toward the realization of personal aspirations.
A minimum-wage employee, Dad often laments how the meager pay often cannot compensate for the lack of self-fulfillment, depression and physical stress he has to bear with his work. Mom, on the other hand, sleeps for only four or five hours a day because, aside from her day-shift at the facility, she also takes on the graveyard shift as a cashier at a gas station.
My folks’ occupations are exhausting, to say the least. But as my parents aren’t young anymore, fresh graduates and teenagers evidently have the edge in terms of landing higher-earning jobs, so they haven’t got much of a choice but to stick to their jobs. I guess what keeps them going is the idea that they are providing for their loved ones more than enough by Philippine standards.
Financial stability for their families is the reason many Filipinos flee to the United States. The exodus of Filipinos seeking greener pastures in the States can be likened to the 1848-1855 California Gold Rush. Much like the “forty-niners,” Filipinos are being drawn into the United States by the glint of “gold,” though not anymore necessarily “in the American river.” At present, there are over 4 million Filipinos residing in the States. But for most of them, hitting the “mother lode” is a lot harder than they can ever imagine.
In Los Angeles, my parents are into their own version of the California Gold Rush. Unseen behind all the balikbayan boxes, dollar remittances and exciting tales of places visited, are my parents’ sacrifices, most of all a life of loneliness, away from almost everyone and everything important to them – most especially family, kin and friends. No long distance calls can completely compensate for what they painfully miss.
To provide for a better life for their family, Dad and Mom missed the joy of seeing their kids grow up or the warm company of people they’ve known through their whole lives and became closest to. They forgo home-cooked Filipino meals and had to give up the rustic life in the province. They have to adapt to the ways of other peoples, other cultures.
True, you have to sacrifice so many things when you choose to go abroad in search of better opportunities and greener pastures and, ultimately, in pursuit of a better life for your family. Always in the main, it’s a choice between providing for your loved ones while being away from them, or being with them in poverty.
At LAX, I could feel how painful it was for my parents to see me leave. I kissed them both, hugged them tightly, boarded the plane and then was on my way to Manila with a heavy heart.
Back here in the Philippines now, I know this is my last chance to make the most out of life in the country I was raised in. Pretty soon, I’d be off again to the States, to carve out my own path to a better future. A lot of Filipinos wanting to go overseas just don’t know how daunting this challenge is, even in the States.
After I graduate and before I finally leave my home country and join the Filipinos’ present-day version of the “gold rush,” I’d like to have more time to reflect on and appreciate the things I’ll be missing out, like swimming in the river behind our house or being with my friends.
I’ll not only be building a life of my own, but also raising a family soon. It worries me that my future kids won’t be able to speak Tagalog or value the Filipino blood that runs through their veins.
During my stay in Los Angeles, I came to understand that it’s only fair for the Filipino pursuing the American dream to realize his “Filipino dream” first. And with less than a year left, this challenge could prove to be a great ordeal.
Andrew G. Gahol, 21, is a college senior taking up journalism at Bicol University. He is also the editor-in-chief of Budyong, the official student publication of Bicol University College of Arts and Letters.

Here's the link to my Young Blood article, please check it out: