Millennialism in La Union, Philippines and the reverse culture shock
“Besh, what’s Elyu? I asked my good friennd Kenneth. I saw this a lot but I didn’t understand what it was.
“L and U. L. U. Elyu.” he repeated as if it’s something that everyone should know by default.
The thing you need to know about the Philippines is our ability to create words and slangs on a monthly basis. I’ve never seen this in other cultures and languages but the Philippines will make you feel left out even if you just went on a month’s EuroTrip. I’ve been gone for years and there’s always a sense of ‘newness’ in the Philippines which gets me to the next point: I don’t understand why people get sick of this country.
There is a huge deal of being a millennial in the Philippines: it is only here that the phrase “I am a millennial” elicited so much hate. In the same manner, “I’m not a millennial” depicts superiority. This is honestly the only country where the term ‘millennial’ is a part of a daily conversation; a way to address younger people. This term is so overused that we all tend to forget what’s being one is all about.
I didn’t have the problem to prove my millennialism to other cultures. In another world, millennials like me should be proud of what they’ve achieved at a very young age – that is living life the way they imagined – away from all the chronological order; away from the structure of society. That is something to be proud of.
“Let’s not go there. There’s a lot of millennials there.” Whenever I want to just grab a coffee somewhere, people will respond with a smirk. I’m thinking out loud because I want to know what’s wrong. Until I figured they are only pertaining to the high school kids (literally kids) who are sitting at the coffee shop, chatting without ordering. It might be just improper wording but still, why do we have to overuse this term? And every time we do, the resounding state of superiority echoes!
La Union is no stranger to millennials (God, I can’t imagine how many times I’ll write this word in this article). This is my first time visiting this surf town but I didn’t feel annoyed by what seems to be upsetting everyone re millennialism (oh, this word again!). I think these regulars made this place as it is now – welcoming, young and exciting – some three major factors that entice people to visit and be part of it.
The speciality coffee culture
The Philippines basis of good coffee is Starbucks. When I was studying in Manila, we were closed to the idea that Starbucks is the only option we have because of its close proximity to our University. My study abroad experience in Italy changed that kind of mindset. In Europe, coffee is a way of life, a necessity, a part of their every being. On my way to school, I always pass by this coffee shop in Piazza San Babila and when I went home in 2012, I never looked at coffee the same way.
The Philippines kept up. Three years later, speciality coffee shops boomed in Manila. This was the start of a new coffee culture for the millennials. As small as a pueblo as La Union can be, you will be surprised to see the whole town curating the same coffee story as that of the Manileños. If you are a coffee enthusiast (which I am sure you are), these are the best places for coffee in La Union:
It seemed to be the constant talk of the town. The people I was with had this continuous hype even before arriving La Union: El Union Coffee seemed to be the millennial-friendly coffee shop in town.
The first thing I noticed upon hearing its name was its accuracy. If you know Spanish, you are very much aware that everything has genders – la mesa, la silla, el cafe, el perro – articles is a great deal to every Spanish word you’ll ever use. I couldn’t help but notice that the correct article for ‘Union’ is El which this coffee shop has nailed. In easy saying, if we are going to base it on our Spanish language skills, our ancestors used the incorrect article for the town. If they did, we should be saying, “let’s go for a surfing weekend in El Union” not La Union.
A favourite in the interior industry, El Union rode the rave for rustic tables and chairs. They’re aesthetically pleasing anyway. A pile of surf and lifestyle magazines are visible on the shelf by the counter where a lot of minimalistic design spreads can be browsed.
The baristas are probably trained to speak coffee (and millennialism) as most of their costumers are young people. It could be a good place for online workers but the lack of tables and chairs will make you feel “you can’t sit here long. This is a coffee-to-go-kind-of-establishment.” That’s just me, though – many people were sitting their with their computers and are probably spending long hours working there.
When looking for a particular cuisine in the Philippines, my first rule is – I will not eat there if the owners are not their own race. It’s not that I am racist or something but experiencing many cultures will make you selective in the type of food you put in your mouth.
Located at the newly opened The Food Project, Latino is the brainchild of a legit Spanish dude who hailed from Valencia. I’m not impyling Valencia is known for good coffee (they’re the birth place paella though) but the Spanish, in general, are also very selective when it comes to their coffee. It doesn’t apply to everyone but for me, people who put up specialty cuisines in other countries should be those who really have knowledge about it. Latino is in that category.
Hot and iced coffee, the diversity of mocha, and a lot of berry-ish coffee were available in the selection. The Spanish Bombón, which, ladies and gentlemen was made popular in Valencia, Spain is also on the menu. This delight is made with 1/2 espresso and 1/2 condensed milk but has spread through Europe and Asia with modified recipes to adjust to each culture’s taste.
Since it is located in a Food Park, Latino has a wide space of outdoor sitting areas.
The newly opened Clean Beach Coffee is not yet on the radar of a lot of millennials. At least that’s how I observed it. After ditching the super long line at El Union Coffee, a friend of mine suggested we go to Clean Beach as they have a bigger area and it’s not crowded yet. They are also located in front of the beach!
Upon arrival, we only saw a few tables occupied – one family on the left and a few people at the bar which are probably friends of the baristas.
I’ve always admired short menus. The Clean Beach has easy to spot coffee and food variants which make the order easier.
Again, I heard the term “millennial” in this place a lot of times. Apparently, El Union was the youngsters’ hideout and the not-yet-so-popular Clean Beach is for the self-proclaimed titas. If you want peace and quiet, this is the place.
Digital nomads can also enjoy the spacious are of Clean Beach. If you are to stay there and work for, let’s say, half a day (from lunch to sunset), their menus are very affordable and filling. There are huge coworking-spaces-like tables which will definitely get your work momentum going.
The modern and hip food parks
La Union is always crowded during the weekends so it makes everyone wonder: is there ever enough places to eat for everyone? How are they to keep up if the number of tourists is increasing weekly?
Compared to other surf towns, La Union is relatively smaller so Food Parks was an idea worth putting to life. Millennials are known to be self-diagnosed with attention deficiency so a place where there are many food choices will serve as a remedy. Of course, La Union adjusted to the diagnosis, to date, here are the three food parks you will find in La Union in case the ADD kicks in:
Located right in front of St Louis University in San Fernando, La Union, The Food Project might be a little far from the millennial hideout but is a very good option when the turf gets crowded. It’s easy to reach by car and public transport so what’s a good 10-minute drive if you are to experience a deeply engraved food culture?
I say deeply engraved because most of the food stalls here hail from the legitimacy of Latin culture. The proprietors of the park itself are Spanish, Dominicans and Chinese – all of which are very selective in the food they put in their mouth.
Mexican, Argentine, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian – the idea of The Food Project is to eradicate our cultural belief that food is something to fill your stomach when you are hungry but a diversity of culture and richness of experience. This food park is not only about the great area and the availability of food but also the awakening of our knowledge about what it’s like to really eat.
Probably one of the first food parks in La Union, the Great North West PH is home to a lot of young tourists due to its close proximity to the beach. Remember the long lines at El Union? It’s here. The area is always packed there’s probably a possibility of seeing your ex-boyfriend and that friend from Manila whom you told you’re only staying home for the weekend. I myself saw a lot of familiar places from my days in Miriam and La Salle! The mixture of Manila and La Union local vibe is well-curated so much you can never identify the difference between the two.
Music is blaring in the park as the bartenders carefully move their hands for the latte art. Tables are always full of the regulars. The roof deck is carried away by the strong but peaceful breeze while everyone is drinking their beers. The atmosphere is deeply shared and communicated to others it makes it easy to be here especially when you are young.
Ol’ Pub Restobar
This is not a food park but it might as well be. Their outdoor and indoor sitting areas are very distinctive (from rustic to antique sofas) so I can really understand why millennials always have this restaurant in mind. They serve the usual Filipino food (bistek tagalog, sinigang, spam fries) but what’s admirable about this establishment is their ability to pay attention to everyone even if they are short on manpower. There was never a waiting time (considering we are 25 in a group) and the servers are very attentive to everything we’ve asked for. In such a demanding and ADD society of millennials, I am 100% sure that service is the top factor that always matters. I don’t understand how Ol’ Pub does it but they manage to give great service without being exaggerated (you know, the provincial ma’am sir approach) and the ability of attention to details is very impressive. If your hanger cannot wait, this is probably your best food option in La Union.
Millennial-friendly and Instagrammable accommodations
‘Where yo friends at’ is always one of the success formulas in the boom of hostels in the Philippines. As the number of millennial travelers increases, the Filipinos are slowly embracing the idea of shared bunks with people they don’t know. I heard stories of La Union being an empty land (literally nothing on the ground) some years ago but today, it is very easy to find a place to sleep with the possibility of meeting people along the way. Below are the best hostels in La Union:
900 per night can be a bit overboard ($17 USD approx) but Flotsam and Jetsam’s Instagramagical Artist Universe advertorial definitely sells to millennials. The three founders and owners are not millennials themselves but they know adjusting to this culture will put their establishment on top of the headlines. It certainly did.
Weekends in this hostel are South-America-backpacking-crazy. Their huge area makes it possible to host the numbers that they have now (mind you, even non-hostel guests can join the nightly parties) and their connection with musicians with Influence made them the place to be. I didn’t stay here so I don’t have any idea about the living conditions (especially when the crowd is rowdy) but their architecture expertise was surely applied in making the hostel loud and quiet at the same time.
Flotsam and Jetsam is one of those hostels that will never let you go out of their premises – they have coffee, breakfast bowls, a restaurant, a bar, a beach area – who else wants to go out if you have all these? They surely knew millennials always want to have everything in easy grasp!
While some love the adventures of the loud, a few choose to stay in the quieter and cheaper option. Just across the street lay Vessel, a new hostel that is designed from stacked containers stacked on top of each other. The owners are architects and youngsters themselves – they sure know how to build a structure that is also Instagram worthy.
Mid-century modern inspired, shades of brown and green envelope the place as the new concept of 60’s-ish design with efficiency takes place. There are also co-working spaces and shared kitchen areas for online workers who are fond of cooking. They may not be located by the beach but Vessel Hostel has a roof deck that will give you a full view of the ocean.
One of the pioneers of hostelling in the Philippines, Circle Hostel is another option for those who want privacy and a community at the same time. Circle’s idea of tents and hammocks were sold to millennials as we always have this urge of experiencing something new such as sleeping arrangements.
This hostel is no stranger to tourists as they also have branches in Zambales, another surf area in the north. Like the other hostels, one of the key factors of their success is ‘word of mouth’ and the incredible vibe they pass to their guests. In the years to come, Circle will be the hostel who will conquer all the surfing towns of the Philippines so watch out!
The wave hype
Maybe I wasn’t there at the right time. Maybe I didn’t stay long to know how it’s really like but I’ve seen bigger waves in my life – La Union is not one of those places I thought would be a surfing capital.
Surfing is an extreme activity that is very delightful to watch. Hailing from a surf region, I tried it myself when I was younger but somehow, I didn’t connect to it. I didn’t see anything wrong with that until people tried questioning that choice: “why don’t you surf?”
The reason behind my non-existing surf hype is the vibe I get from surfers. Off the water, surfers are great comrades but in the water, way back when I was learning, they seem to transform into another being that I don’t really get along with.
I didn’t try to go into the ocean in La Union to paddle but what I saw the obsession especially to millennials – everyone seems to be surfing (or at least trying to do so). This made me think there might be a friendlier vibe in terms of the surfer community in La Union but the millennials’ obsession be it holding the board, paddling, sitting down on the board or catching the wave is something I got interested in. This town’s ‘I really want to surf’ vibe is infectious. It might be a good place for beginners who are afraid to be bullied in the water. And oh, the waves are amateur-friendly, too!
The rise of urban development and environmental activism
Organic here, organic there, organic everywhere, organic everything – the new millennium’s addiction somehow shifted to organic from being obsessed with those beauty products we never cared what’s in it before. Millennials are more watchful now with the products they put on their skin and to the food they put in their mouth. The healthy transition is impressive considering we used to laugh at those friends who choose to be healthy. Now, we are all one of them. And that leads to being aware of taking care of the environment.
I am no vegan or environmental activist myself and people like me (without knowledge) should be the one promoting the environmental endeavours of La Union. I briefly sat with Tina Antonio of La Union Soul, a local beach community protecting the 5th longest coastline in the country aka La Union. Like I said, I am not an environmental advocate myself but my mom is a hardcore tree-hugger. More or less, I have ideas on how to take care of the environment in my own ways (come on, segregation and proper waste management is common knowledge).
Tina talked a lot about their environmental aims but one thing that struck me is their shared community not only in La Union but also in the coastline of North West Luzon (Zambales, Pangasinan, etc). Apparently, they are also working on helping each other’s projects because this coastline is connected. For example, if the mountains of Zambales are slowly destroyed because of forest fires, there is a tendency the same will happen to the neighbouring coasts. Moreover, the waste from La Union can even travel all the way to Zambales! I was struck by the idea because my hometown will also be affected, too: wait, she actually makes sense.
Do we care enough? We always point fingers to other people about our own shortcomings when it comes to taking care of the environment but whatever we do, however correct we deem ourselves be, this is a global problem that cannot be addressed by a small unit. There shouldn’t be even environmental NGOs because Mother Nature should be our responsibility by default!
Tina also works with RCL Properties, a company that will build Dusit International in La Union, right beside Flotsam and Jetsam. Such developments can affect the possibility of La Union being the next Boracay but RCL is also working with La Union Soul to maintain the environmental preservation of La Union. What Tina did was to make the core members of her environmental club the owners of the big hotels and restaurants so that they will willingly participate in the endeavours of LU Soul.
RCL and LU Surf are currently working together in protecting the Pawikans of La Union. Additionally, they do turtle release and even guard the Pawikan mums 24/7 every hatching season!
To participate in RCL and LU Surf’s projects and activities, get in touch with Tina Antonio here.
This trip was sponsored by RCL Properties but opinions are my own. I was never coerced or given monetary compensation to write something positive but was asked to write about my experience.
Have you visited La Union? How was the experience?
Did you feel the millennialism? What other places can you add to the list above? I’d love to know what you think! Leave your thoughts in the comment box below!