Kyle Jennerman turned 29 on the day that I met him. He had also lived in 29 different countries before the Philippines, but
kept his anonymity until he arrived in our country and was unceremoniously christened Kulas, kickstarting his journey
to Becoming Filipino.
“A manong just came in to the place where we would tambay, pointed to me and said: Kulas,” he shares, recounting his journey that spawned an ANC show, an Instagram account (@becomingfilipino) with 69.6k followers, a website (becomingfilipino.com), and a Facebook community page with half a million followers. “It’s not a fan page because I don’t have fans, they are all friends.”
For the better part of his viral career, Kyle aims to keep it real, even responding to all messages and email himself. “People can tell when you are giving them BS. I try not to.” He bankrolled his first venture into the blogosphere and social media with his life savings, built from odd jobs and a regular one he held in Hong Kong for anoutdoors company, facilitating activities for young blood. “Fifteen of my officemates were Filipino,
in fact most of them the members of the Hukas Divers from Cebu. Before that, the Philippines didn’t exist to me at all,” says the Canadian.
“When I came back from visiting the Philippines for the first time,I spent most of my days in Hong Kong thinking about the country, its culture. The people. The humor.”
His first visit to Cebu led him to living in Liloan, a year in Manila to do the ANC show, and now in his present headquarters in Cagayan de Oro. “I fell in love.” True enough, Kyle waxes about the country like he was talking about a girl he really, really liked.
In fact, no mention of a romantic entanglement came up while he spoke of why he has been a Filipino by choice for three years now. Only his love for the Filipino. “The most amazing thing about you is that you share happiness so easily. It is never awkward.”
“When I get frustrated about Filipinos, I talk to Kyle,” intimates freelance makeup artist and my friend Darleen Hopkirk, a Cebuana by way of Ormoc, who met Kyle when he was new to the country. “After that, I’m good.” We both agree that Kyle’s positivismis unparalleled, as I was at the receiving end of it in Pearl Farm Resort in Davao over the weekend. He and I are new coach and returning coach, respectively, of the annual Backpacker Challenge from Cebu Pacific Air, #JuanForFun2017.
By chance, we both pulled the yellow scarf from a bucket and were both partnered for the special Coach Challenge, simulating what the student teams will be going through in the actual competition in June of this year. Kyle did brilliantly in every single challenge (we shot one each in a beer-pong inspired game, and then he landed the one that gotus to the next station; his “hobbit feet” picked the most marbles from a plunge pool to drop into a glass of water to make the level rise; his marbles were in top form in a memory game at the last stop), which clinched us second place (right behind #TeamSaabBog with Saab Magalona and Bogart the Explorer).
As I was huffing and puffing to the next stop, I ask him to run ahead, as he was evidently more light on his foot. “Don’t worry about it, there is a way that it can be done properly. Take your time. So when we get there we’re not too tired to think.”
By the end of the day, everyone had been Kulas-ified, sporting a tri-color headband Kyle braided for each member of the party. “I used to make it in different colors,” he says with that wide smile of his,” but now I make it only in the colors of the Philippine flag.”
And as he blows his second cake of the day and thanks everyone for the nth birthday serenade, he takes in the seemingly endless happy birthdays
(his words) in stride. After all, weeklong birthday celebrations are all part of truly becoming Filipino.
(Get to know Kulas, Bogart the Explorer, Ren Sapitan of @travelstoriesphilippines, Sabrina Iovino of @JustOneWayTicket, vlogger Wil Dasovich and myself in the sixth year of Juan For Fun. The big prize is a one year FLY-ALL-YOU-CAN pass from Cebu Pacific Air. For details on how to join, type this on your browser: bit.ly/JFFJude)