If you’re into travelogues, then the essays in Paolo Mangahas’ “From Manila to the World: 10 stories, 10 cities, one accidental globe-trotter” may not be quite what you’d expect. The stories, which capitalize on this communication professional’s way with words and almost uncanny powers of observation, are both deep and hilarious, almost incredible, but always vivid.
The book was launched as part of the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House (USTPH) Sinag Festival, which wrapped up at the Manila International Book Fair last Sept. 14-17 at the SMX Convention Center.
This is Mangahas’ second book, with the first one, “How to Stop an Asteroid from Killing Your Family,” published in 2021, a similarly wry yet thoughtful compilation of personal essays. Lifestyle caught up with Mangahas, who flew into Manila for the book fair from Singapore, where he is based.
What’s your day job? And how did you end up writing essays and travelogues?
I’m a communications professional who specializes in marketing and corporate communications in Singapore, working for a multinational tech and digital company for 17 years already.
I have a bachelor’s degree in communication arts (creative writing major) and a master’s degree in development communication (social marketing major), both from the University of the Philippines. I’m one of those people who ended up professionally practicing what I actually studied! I started writing mostly as a hobby, to nurture my creative side and to stay productive outside my day job.
The first book was a collection of personal essays—and now, travel tales. Was it a big leap?
It wasn’t. I still wrote with the same voice and from the same mental and emotional place, except that this time, I had a more cohesive theme that centered on travel. I would say the leap had more to do with technique, because this time, the places themselves figured prominently in my stories, so I had to write using them as a backdrop or treating them almost like a character. I also had to find a way to creatively maneuver in and out of both emotional and geographical spaces.
How did you get to travel around so much? And why do you think so many weird things happen to you?
I’ve held either regional or global roles since being expatriated for work, hence travel has always come with the job. But I’ve also done a lot of personal traveling because as a single person, it’s relatively easy for me to just get up and go. I’ve always joked about not being able to own even a plant, because I’m constantly away. They’re usually wilted or dead by the time I get back. I’ve also experienced waking up disoriented in the middle of night, forgetting which city or hotel I was in.
Such have been the minor pains of my constant travel, but I can’t complain because with them have come some of the richest and oftentimes most unusual experiences I’ve ever had. I write about this in one of the chapters in my book where I describe myself as a magnet for oddballs, probably because as a naturally observant and curious writer, I tend to attract weird experiences into my life.
What do you think it takes to be a good travel writer? Who do you want to reach with your stories, and what are you trying to tell these readers?
I think that good travel writers are those who are in tune with themselves, because those who are, are most likely going to be in tune with their surroundings—and the resulting stories are usually more layered and meaningful. These stories need not be profound all the time. They could be simple, light or humorous, and yet reveal the writer’s heart in every sentence. For me, a good travel piece not only takes readers on a journey to different places, but also invites them to explore new places within themselves, perhaps to get to know who they are a little bit more and challenge some tightly held beliefs along the way. This is not really a book for those looking for travel tips, but for those who enjoy insightful and humorous travel stories about personal growth, family, identity, self-discovery and life in general from a uniquely Asian point of view. I wrote this book not so much to show where I’ve been, but more to share how far I’ve come along as an evolving human being, trying to understand life, in hopes of inspiring others to do the same.
Why do you think people should travel?
People should travel not only to discover new places, but also to discover parts of themselves they never knew. I’ve always believed that travel is one of the great teachers in life because a journey in miles into different cultures and landscapes is essentially a journey into oneself.
Check out the book at USTPH on Shopee and Lazada. Follow Paolo Mangahas on Instagram @paolomangahas, on Twitter @PaoloMangahas, on Facebook at facebook.com/PaoloMangahasPublic and on paolomangahas.com