• #NoPassionLeftBehind

    #sishiphop101 gets a taste of The Big Payback by James Brown #hiphopeducation #sisrocks #passion

    — Yvette Cuenco (@YvetteCuencoSC) January 19, 2017 

    Shortly before Winter Break, my assistant principal approached me about teaching electives in Semester 2. Not only did this opportunity give me a chance to have more face time with my students, but it also gave me the challenge of figuring out WHAT I was going to teach and HOW I was going to do it. Within about an hour after that conversation, I asked to run something by her. I decided I wanted to teach an elective on Hip Hop - but it won't just be about performance, it will give the students a foundation of where Hip Hop began and explore how it got to where it is now.  I got the greenlight.

    Begin panic.

    "Will they like it?" "How am I going to make this interesting for middle schoolers?" "I don't want to sound like I'm preaching." "I don't want to sound...OLD." 

    For the first time in quite a long time, I was nervous.  So how did I respond? I talked to my colleagues and I watched/read the news.  My colleagues seemed more excited about the Hip Hop class than the students. Through my conversations with them, my creative juices of what I will teach and how started flowing. Ideas of beat making, annotating rap lyrics, etc. all started to turn my anxiety to excitement. Watching/reading the news (particularly news from the United States) fueled my inspiration for the students to explore how external factors such as poverty, racism, disenfranchisement can manifest into a whole culture known as Hip Hop.

    @YvetteCuencoSC sharing her passion and spinning talents in her History of #HipHop class! Ss are loving it! #SISrocks #nopassionleftbehind

    — Carlos Galvez (@clos_gm) January 25, 2017

    My goals became quite clear:

    1. Exploring the foundations of Hip Hop gives them cultural context of not just the music, but also the sociopolitical factors that resulted in the artform.
    2. Learning by doing makes it FUN and complements our inquiry-based curriculum. We were going to explore the 4 Elements of Hip Hop Culture: MCing, Grafitti, DJing, and Bboying through experimentation and research.
    3. Lastly, outside of teaching/counseling - music is a passion of mine and Hip Hop culture is a huge part of who I am. This class is a great opportunity to model for my students how to take something your passionate about and challenge yourself to use it in different ways.

    We've only just finished the 2nd week of electives and already as my students and I warm up to each other, my pre-class jitters are slowly starting to go away.  When you let the internal mind chatter quiet down and you look at what's right in front of you, you will often see that "the work" isn't so difficult after all.

  • Fall Break: Tokyo, Japan! Part II

    Getting Around

    Narita and Haneda International Airports will likely be your landing/departure points. Narita is about 1.5 hours away from Shibuya, while Haneda is just 30 minutes.  A prime example of how expensive Japan can be is in the cost to get to/from the airport in a taxi.  One-way trip from Haneda is roughly 7600 yen ($76USD) and from Narita, a whopping 20000 yen ($200USD)!  However, the workaround to this is pretty simple.  If you land during regular hours of the Tokyo metro - you can take the train from Narita or Haneda into all parts of the city.  Another more affordable option are the limousine busses and these run late night/early morning to/from the airports to hubs around Tokyo.  I landed late at Haneda and the last bus had already departed, so I took a taxi. I had our AirBnB address printed out in Japanese so it was quite easy for the driver to map it on his GPS.  (Note: all Tokyo cabs are equipped with GPS and credit card machines.)  But on the way back to Haneda, I had an early morning flight. From our AirBnB, I grabbed a taxi to Shibuya Station West entrance where the limousine bus stops.  It only cost me 2060 yen ($20.60USD) to take the bus. The driver accepts cash and provides change.

    Once you get past the enormity of the Tokyo metro system, it really is not difficult to figure out. Maps/kiosks/etc. can be set to English.  A good friend of ours who lives in Tokyo showed us how to buy Suico cards. These are cards that you top up and make it much faster to get in/out of the metro vs. having to get an individual ticket each time.


    Have the cost of taxis left you in shock? Don't worry - while Japan isn't dirt cheap like Southeast Asia, it is still fairly reasonable.  The exchange rate is 100 yen = $1USD and 1000 yen ($10USD) can get you a filling, affordable and tasty meal in Shibuya. We stuck to mostly local food - ramen and sushi kaiten with stops at cafes, etc.  To really get the most out of your $, stay at an AirBnB.  What I enjoyed about our AirBnB in Tokyo is that it was in the residential side of Shibuya and we got to see a glimpse of local life. It was neat to be inside a Tokyo apartment and realise how much they can pack into a tiny space. Furthermore, most AirBnBs in Tokyo come with a portable wi-fi hotspot which makes navigating the city much easier.


    While all the major international brands can be found in Tokyo - I enjoyed checking out the local Muji, Kinokuniya, and Tower Records. If you're a fan of music, the Shibuya Tower Records is 6 floors of bliss. My favorite floor was the Soul Floor where every possible Soul/Hip Hop/R&B artist  you could possibly think of can be found along with rare releases, mixes, etc. that are only available in Japan.  I was also turned onto local R&B artist - Nao Yoshioka - when they played her album over their PA system. Dedicate at least an afternoon to browse. They have a cafe if you need a break.

    In conclusion, there's so much to see in Tokyo - that my 5 days was just the tip of the iceberg. I cannot wait until I go back and I feel like it will happen sooner than later.

  • Fall Break 2016: Tokyo, Japan! Part I

    Fun in Shibuya

    Japan has always been HIGH on my travel bucket list. The culture, the food, and the modernity has always intrigued me. Upon moving to Shenzhen, China - I immediately had a look at my school calendar to plot out my holidays.  Fall Break seemed to be the most logical time for me to go. I shared the idea with my boyfriend and his parents who've also had it on their Asia bucketlists and we began the planning.  We set the dates - 5 days in Tokyo, staying in Shibuya-ku. Part 1 details some of the sights and eats we enjoyed during this trip and part two: quirky culture + quick tips for when you decide to travel through!

    Why Shibuya-ku?

    Shibuya is one of the more central locations in the city.  My only set plan on this trip was to see Meiji Shrine, soak in Tokyo's energy, and to eat so staying near such a huge transport hub was key.  When I looked at the AirBnB map - Shibuya is the neighborhood that houses Harajuku, Shibuya Crossing, Yoyogi Park, Meiji-jingumae Shrine. With only a few days in the city - it was the neighborhood where we can see a lot without having to go too far. 

    In short - Shibuya is where it's at.

    The Sights

    One stop from bustling Shibuya station to Harajuku/Meiji-jingumae and you are transported to some of the best urban greenery I've seen since I moved to Asia.  

    Joe at the entrance of Meiji shrine

    We entered the park and followed the crowd/path to the temple. Along the way we stopped at the decorative sake barrels donated to the temple by brewers across the country.


    Finally the temple. An impressive structure dating back to 1915, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

    Meiji main shrine building

    The Eats

    When Joe and I asked each other what we wanted to eat our first day out and about, we said in unison "ramen". Luckily, ramen is EVERYWHERE in Tokyo. We turned a corner in Harajuku and ran into this place. The verdict: good, simple broth. Noodles had a great bite.

    #ramen on a rainy day. #harajuku #tokyo #japan #asiantakingfoodpix #theroamingfilipina #chopsticks #nomnomnom #japanesefood

    A photo posted by Yvette Cuenco (@theroamingfilipina) on

    Conveyor belt sushi at Genki. Prices start at 129 yen ($1.29USD) per platter.

    After a full morning of shooting Joe's mom's fashion collection, we were STARVING. The solution: ramen 2.0. This time we were with a good family friend who happens to be Japanese. He helped us with ordering and I picked one of my favorites - ramen tsukemen. It is literally noodles + pork gravy = heaven in a bowl.

    On our last full day in Tokyo, we were wandering around Shibuya looking for lunch and came upon this cozy, unassuming pizzeria run by Italians. They had a great lunch special 1100 yen ($11USD) for pizza or pasta and a drink. It was perfetto.