In the mood for life – with Janz

The concept of “home” used to be vague to me. When I first set foot in Portugal, I finally understood what it might mean. Having spent childhood in the Philippines, followed by adolescent and adult life in London, I straddled both worlds, two vastly different cultures, two different perspectives, and felt belonging to neither. But one thing was for certain: I longed for a home. One that I choose to make for myself.

I knew it immediately when I landed in Lisbon, sight unseen, on the twelfth of June, without knowing the significance of the day, that Portugal is the place. For Lisboetas, this is when the city celebrates Santo Antonio, the city’s most important festival of the year when the air is suffused with joy, music, dancing and colourful parades. But the chief of them all is the exhilarating smell of grilled sardines.

Like a Proustian flashback, at the height of the revelry through the streets of Alfama, this smell instantly plunged me back into my childhood, a memory of a similar sensorial experience of village fete and sardine consumption. Suddenly, I felt like being at home, or reminiscent of home. Or perhaps it was the universe’s way of reminding me that serendipity does exist.

This precise moment, and a few other key succeeding eye-opening, serotonin-induced moments, led to my creation of In the Mood for Life, a storytelling-driven YouTube travelogue series that takes a glass-half-full approach to travel and cultural appreciation, and simultaneously an outlet for my creative energy and inspiration, as well as a confluence of my skill-set and can-do attitude from my media, video and documentary-making background.

You see, I have Portugal to thank for this. For without coming here, without thoughtfully choosing to be here, this video series wouldn’t have been born, and crucially, I couldn’t figure out what home could be.

And so it began, this languorous love affair with Portugal and its glorious landscapes, dedicating a video series plumbing the cultural depths and navigating the topographical boundaries of this country. Five years onwards and twenty-five videos later, this journey that started with In the Mood for Lisbon has led me, indefatigably, to all corners of Portugal — from the corners of the Algarve right up to the mountainous Minho province, and longitudinally, from the frontier fortress towns of Alentejo and Beira to the coast of Peniche, and beyond, the sparkling islands of the Azores.

You’d think Portugal is a relatively small country, and I haven’t even covered all of it. There’s still so much of the centre, the north, and a rather special place that’s called Madeira. I was once accused as a completist, and while not exactly disagreeing with the notion, my motivation lies somewhere else.

For me, In the Mood for Life is about a deep appreciation, a practice of gratitude, a state of mind, a continuous way of creating, of being. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” one wise poet said akin to the sentiment, but only more elegantly.

These videos are my way of giving tribute to this country that inspired me, and fundamentally, to know and understand more about the country that I chose as my new home. As a way to compensate, where I wasn’t able to explore deeper the two countries I had lived before, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

Along the way, this journey sparked and fostered new connections, both fleeting and meaningful, at a time when Portugal is experiencing a kind of tourism renaissance. This series has led to collaborations, partnerships and sponsorships with hotel establishments, tour agencies, car companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs, who all saw what I could do and believed in the spirit of the Mood videos.

What’s more, what I truly get out of it, and what remains the best gift out of all this endeavour thus far are the people — the ones who have become friends, companions, and somewhat extended family. Now I share a home and a life together with the Portuguese sommelier Salvador Borges de Castro, whose passion for the wine culture, history, regions and gastronomy matches profusely with mine, a shared passion for Portugal.

And it turns out, Portugal was just the start. From Lisbon, I set my wings and created In the Mood for Vienna, for Budapest, for Rome, for Morocco, and soon, at the very early stages of development, will lavish praises for Salzburg, Munich and Barcelona. Capturing the story, essence, culture, gems (both widely known and hidden), gastronomy and lifestyle of cities and places have become essential to my videos, showing these aspects in ways that I know how narrated through my voice and autobiographical perspective.

This took me a while to understand why someone like me, a person with a camera, would meander in cities and make videos like these. It wasn’t until I realised I wasn’t just any person with a camera, but someone who’s moved halfway across the world, taking along a gift of fascination, acquiring lessons, mistakes, skills and wisdom, humbled by literature and history, and a respect for telling stories. All told through my lens.

I used to be made to feel that my outsider status was a kind of dysfunction. Now, I hold my outsider perspective as my best function. Like a keen observer, the ability to not only dwell on details but to rise above and see the whole picture is something that I hold close to my chest as a documentarian. Especially in today’s world, where our attention spans are challenged by the likes of TikTok shorts and Lilliputian reels, where the art and sparkle of storytelling are waning, creating In the Mood videos is a kind of rage against the dying of that light.


Now and again, I’m also reminded that no matter how far I’d go to embark and create videos from far-flung places, I know that I eventually come back to Portugal to get my hands deep into the earth, where I planted the seeds of this creative adventure. That despite the grand allure of travelling to seductive destinations, some of the best, most liberating moments, of my life so far are made in Portugal — a road trip along the raw and off-the-beaten path along Costa Vicentina, hiking through the woodlands of Sintra, swimming in the lakes of Gerês, visiting vineyards in the valleys of Douro, soaking in the volcanic thermal pools in São Miguel, seeing the stars in the unpolluted skies above the plains of Alentejo, and watching the sun come down, teary-eyed, on a miradouro in Lisbon, the strings of a nearby guitar might as well be plucking the chords of this soul. A person who made it all the way here in the beautiful imperfection of Portugal.

I already knew then that this country is the closest I could ever have as home, so I treat it as one. Now, home is by the sea, along the Lisbon-Cascais coast, where there’s peace, rest and creativity. This, I suspect, is how the concept of home reaches a kind of clarity for me, as clear as the blue sky on a bright sunny day in this little corner of Portugal.