I love the meaning of your name, illuminate. When you told me what your name means, I imagined a candle illuminating its light in a dark room; a ray of sunlight illuminating a gloomy dawn. Thank you for being just that in my life.

Sunrise in Kathmandu, Nepal

I still remember the first time we met. It was my first trip to your country and I was anxious because it was also my first trip alone abroad. I saw you holding a paper with my name on it, surveying the crowd to look for that stranger you were tasked to pick up. When our eyes crossed, there was an instinctive recognition. We both smiled.

Introvert as I am, I find it hard to talk to people I just met. But with you, I felt that connection instantly. You were so kind enough to make me feel at home. You never hesitated to provide me assistance and even toured me around Thamel despite your tiresome day.

Even if we are far apart and seldom see each other, I see you as a good friend. I travel a lot and meet people from diverse walks of life. But you are among those who made a mark in me. It is because I can see in you depth and maturity, characters that stand out from the superficiality of the many people I have encountered.

I want to let you know how I admire you for choosing a career that you love and enjoy doing. I know people who only wish to be a doctor, engineer or lawyer for the social status it gives them –which I see as delusional status– yet they are neither happy doing it nor find meaning in it. I also know people who chose a simple yet more fulfilling life. I even have a friend who let go of a Fulbright scholarship and chose to stay in the Philippines to help the farmers.

If I can divide myself into two, I will let my other half do what you are doing right now and work in the hospitality industry. Not everyone is lucky enough to find out what it is that makes them feel alive at a young age. Yet you had easily discovered your passion and have started to trek that path. I know sooner that I’d thought, you will make your dreams a reality.

The last time we were together, I took this photo. I hope like sunrise, you will continue to be a light to other people; let your heart illuminate and brighten the lives of those you will serve.

Best moments of 2013

At the end of the year in the last 2 years I have written ‘people of my year’ articles to honor a few individuals who have inspired me. I learned this practice from one of the women I admire, Bianca Gonzalez.

This year I decided to write about my most memorable moments instead. A lot of people have made a difference in my life this year. Some of them sailed with me through turbulent seas; some matched my insanity and laughed with me like there is no tomorrow. But this year has been more about me confronting the different versions of myself. I have encountered my benevolent self, my rebellious self, my fragile self, my stubborn self, my feminist self, my empowered self. And imagine them fighting with each other making my head much like an alive volcano.

So I want to remember the moments which reconnected me to the depth of my soul; moments which made me appreciate the priceless joy of living amidst the chaos in my head.

Squatting at the top of Sarangkot hill in Pokhara, Nepal
It was the best start of my year. Pokhara is a city that exudes an air of rustic pleasure that penetrates a restless heart, easing the turmoil inside. Wherever I look was a splendor to behold. Below us was Phewa Lake while the fog covered Himalayas sat behind us. It was a very serene moment away from the hustles and bustles of Bangkok metropolis. And as I sat there I savored not only the beauty of nature but more of the joy sitting with someone you feel connected with brings. It is very seldom that we find people we can sit quietly with and still end up feeling we just had the best conversation. That rare moment brought me back to the essence of connection and companionship.

Sarangkot Nepal

Himalayas Nepal

Skygazing and wandering in Ubud, Bali
I went to Ubud for the sole reason of meeting Ketut Liyer in person. And nope, I did not go for palm reading but for the sheer thrill of meeting a character in one of my favorite books. But every part of the trip ended up as special. I met a coffeemaker who let me taste all his tea and coffee flavors and told me his inspiring life story in his garden. I’ve also seen an Asian palm civet for the first time. I enjoyed spending the night in Ketut’s garden, listening to the rustling of the water from the fountain and gazing at the sky. I wandered around Ubud and was always in awe of its richness in history and artworks. Ubud is indeed an enchanting place and heaven for artists; a place I can fall in love over again. There, I felt how it is like to be happy being just with myself. I appreciated being independent and in control of my life even more. I am reminded how priceless traveling is and the experiences of meeting different people and embracing their culture.

beach bali

ubud bali

Exploring the Secret Garden of Chang Deok Gung Palace in Seoul, Korea
There is this Korean song that I listen everyday. No, I’m not exaggerating, as in every single day. Some songs relive old feelings. Early in 2011, my cousins suggested I watch this Korean drama. I was hesitant at the beginning as I feel Korean dramas are for teenagers. But when you live alone 1,405 miles away from home, you will succumb to just about anything that saves you from eating yourself alive. Since it is a feel-good soap, I felt amused watching it. The song reminds of that feeling when I’m able to shut my mind out from the rest of the world and just enjoy a silly drama. I listened to the song over and over again while I walk around the Secret Garden. The thought of finally listening to it in Korea made my heart smile. It also brings that chill down my spine –in the most delightful way—reminding me that sometimes it’s better if we stop thinking about the complications of love and life but instead savor the feeling while it lasts.

secret garden korea

Reading a good book
I am so proud of myself for having read 8 books in 2 months. Like, seriously I have abandoned reading books for longer than I can remember. Having read that much is already a huge achievement for me (insert doing the cartwheel here… but only in my head haha). I mostly like reading on the train, a 30-minute ride to and from work. Reading doesn’t just make me feel extremely happy. It also brings me to the attention that there is so much I don’t know about the world. It puts me grounded that my knowledge doesn’t even amount to a pinch compared to how much there is to learn and discover in life.

Standing in Thailand and looking at Laos across the river
Day turned to dusk and the sky displayed a magnificent hue. It was cold and serene. I felt deep sense of connection across humanity. I am reassured that we are all but one. Geographical boundaries are just but lines that can easily be erased with just one stroke of love.

mary antonette abello

Photo by John Hyde

Receiving unconditional love

There is a saying that goes, “Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves”. True, forgiving frees us from the agony of grudge which silently wrecks havoc in every aspect of our life. But obtaining forgiveness is equally freeing. More than that, it teaches one to be more forgiving and compassionate; feel more valued and loved. I have never seen love in its purest, selfless countenance until I did wrong and that love held the broken parts of me through forgiveness. That forgiveness was materialized by a blue cross necklace. He said, “This necklace is from the most peaceful place in the world for me in Assisi. I hope when you are feeling down, this necklace will bring you the peacefulness of that place.” I have no words, just tears of profound gratitude.

Making peace with myself
For once I will let my ‘people (person) of my year’ to be my own self. This year had been the most emotionally bumpy one. I let my vulnerability be naked. I gave in to childishness. I rebel against my own good judgment. But amidst those delinquencies, I did not lose sight of my own goodness and value. Crying is not a sign of weakness; it is giving ourselves a chance to release negativities before we stand back up again. Giving in to childishness made me see what I didn’t want myself to be; it made me appreciate the mature me even more. Letting my guard down and my vulnerability seen is like opening a dam and letting the water with a very strong current pour upon, destroying whatever is on its way. But the process made me realize how strong I can be in going against the current, turning things around and making them better.

mary antonette abello

Thank you 2013. Let’s do it 2014!

The Secret Garden of Chang Deok Gung Palace

Who doesn’t like a secret garden? How about a secret garden in a palace? Imagine how thrilled I was to learn there is actually a secret garden at Chang Deok Gung Palace! It was my first trip to Seoul, South Korea and I felt like I had discovered a hidden treasure only because I didn’t know it was there from the beginning (wink)

I only had a few hours left before our flight leaves Seoul in the evening so I thought of visiting Chang Deok Gung Palace. It’s just a walking distance from the Noble hotel where we stayed so I didn’t have to worry about the traffic.

Admission to Chang Deok Gung Palace including the Secret Garden is 10, 000 won, approximately 10 US dollars. The tour inside the Secret Garden is guided so you have to follow the schedule. Since the guided tour started a bit later after I arrived, I did not get to finish the whole tour as I have to be back in the hotel at 3PM and rush to the airport.

Secret Garden Seoil Korea

The Secret Garden is a forbidden place, only intended for recreational area and retreat of the royal family of the Joseon Dynasty. In the garden, you can see beautiful ponds like Buyongji, Aeryeonji and Gwallamji. A small but beautiful Ongnyucheon Stream runs through in the Northern part of the garden. The New Seonwonjeon, found in the deep woods in the western part of the garden, is a sacred place with facilities for ancestral rites. It’s not like our typical picture of a garden filled with flowers and ornamental plants but rather a place full of historical structures and stories.

Buyongji and Jumhamnu

This area is in the heart of the Secret Garden. It was a relatively open place used for retreats and study. The royal libraries of Gyujanggak and Seohyanggak are also in this area. State exams were conducted in front of Yeonghwadang Pavilion on special occasions, in the presence of the king. Buyongjeong Pavilion which seems to be a lotus flower bloom on the pond is designated as a Treasure.

Buyongji Seoul

Juhamnu Seoul

Aeryoenji and Uiduhap

King Sukjong, the 19th king of Joseon Dynasty, was said to have created an islet topped by a pavilion in the middle of the pond in 1962. The island disappeared, but the pavilion remains on the northern end of the pond. King Sukjong named the pond ‘Aeryeon’, meaning ‘Loving the lotus flowers’. The king once said “I love the lotus because it blooms with such clean and beautiful flowers, however dirty the water may be, symbolizing the virtue of a true gentleman”. Uiduhap, which bears the sign ‘Gioheon’ at present, is a modest study. Unlike most traditional Korean structures, it was not adorned with various colors named “Dancheong”. Next to it is Ungyeonggeo. It is the smallest building in the palace.



Crown Prince Hyomyeong constructed Yeongyeongdang in about 1828 to hold the Jinjakrye ceremony to celebrate the 40th birthday of his mother, and to present a title for his father, King Sunjo, the 23rd king of Joseon. The men’s and women’s quarters are separated, but inside they are connected, just like in a typical Joseon nobleman house. Nongsujeong, situated on a high spot in the garden, bears a roof that resembles a hawk spreading its wings. Behind the women’s quarters is a kitchen; since the reign of Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty, Yeongyeongdang served as a venue to receive foreign envoys and throw parties with political overtones.



Jondeokjeong Area

This area is believed to have been the last to be added on the Secret Garden. Originally, there were five small round and rectangular ponds. During the Japanese occupation, three of them were transformed into one curved pond, which is called Gwallamji. The other two ponds were also put together then one pond, called Jondeokji, was made. Pavilions of various shapes were built here. Jondeokjong, a hexagonal pavilion with a double layered roof, and Gwallamjeong with a fan shaped roof were built on the brim of the pond. On the hill to the west stands Pyeomusa. Pyeomusa was originally built in a ‘ㄱ’ layout and an auxiliary house, but nowadays it is a plain-looking building with no auxiliary structure. Deep in the woods is Seungjaejeong, a smart-looking pavilion with a square roof. Of all these, Jondeokjeong, built in 1644, is the oldest.



Source: Chang Deok Gung Palace brochure