In a generation that seems to be avoiding being in a relationship, it is quite refreshing to encounter a tale of love like Jervi "KaladKaren" Li and her anonymous partner. Gender, distance, and fame doesn't seem to faze these two who are consistently building their very own version of happily-ever-after, proving that true love, partnered with steadfast commitment, does conquer all.
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How did you guys first meet?
Kaladkaren: We met in 2012 in Hong Kong. And after spending few days, there we started chatting online on Skype. On February, because we met December, he decided to go to the Philippines. We both decided that he's gonna visit. Then on May of the same year, I went to the UK.
Anonymous: Before I came in February, I've been in Norway, working. And then, I was in Africa before she came to the UK.
What were you guys doing in Hong Kong?
K: I was on a holiday.
A: Just traveling and enjoying my leave.
K: When you first saw me at Tsim Sha Tsui, what did you feel? Was it love at first sight? (Laughs)
A: No comment. (Laughs)
So, who approached first?
K: Me. Because I was searching for a boyfriend. (Laughs)
What was your pick-up line?
K: I don't know. It was like "Would you like to dance? Or drink (with me)?"
A: Oh, I've already been drinking. (Laughs)
K: But, did you find me attractive with my red curly hair?
A: Yeah, like Rihanna. At that time.
How did you react?
A: I don't know. Just what I do with people, I guess. I feel open to communication.
K: Kasi I joined the Amazing Race Philippines Season 1. I was one of the contestants. And that was my image: The funny one. They didn't mandate me to color my hair red. I just wanted it red because Rihanna's hair during that time was red and I was a big fan of Rihanna. Hanggang ngayon naman pero dati super super duper fan nya ako.
What was your first impression?
K: He looked nice, just the way I wanted. He's so much behaved, compared to me. He's more timid, I'm more of the loud type, more playful.
A: I remember dancing with you in the bar!
K: It was Ladies' Night, I remember, because all of my drinks were free. There was a Filipino bartender and we were a looking for a place to drink and then we were like "Oh, that place looks fun" because it was jamming. Everybody was in there and there was a Filipino bartender and he was like "Oh, Ladies' Night, pasok kayo dito, dito ka na uminom." Tapos lahat ng drinks ko free kaya lasing na lasing ako nun. Tapos ayun, doon na siya natulog sa hotel. (Laughs)
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Did you know from the start that she was a transgender woman?
A: Yes. It was not an issue for me. Meeting Jervi, we liked each other. I don't care about what other people think.
K: Am I your first transgender girlfriend?
K: But, you were seeing this other girl before.
A: But, not properly.
K: I am the proper one. (Laughs)
A: I was worried during the first time I told my friends about this, that there would be an issue and there not has been. They are not really your friends, if that part of your life is such a big deal. It shouldn't matter with who you are attracted to. I think there were only a couple of guys who comment negative things about me on Facebook, I don't need that headache.
K: Our relationship is something different, but I don't think spectacle sya. Because in our culture, if you are a trans or you're a gay person, a lot of people are skeptical about love. They think it's not true love because either the other person is pineperahan lang yung bakla or whatever. Feeling ko, why people talked about it nung first time nilang nalaman is because it's quite inspirational in some aspects: Nagkakaroon ng ilusyon yung trans din na like me or gay people na merong pag-asa. Ayoko namang sabihin na Messianic or "beacon of hope." First time lang siguro nakita na pwede palang magkaganun. It's kind of a testimony to the possiblity of finding true love.
How do you handle situation when you see somebody flirting with him?
K: That never happened. Maybe when we're not together. Ang usapan ng mga beki kasi, hindi ka magmamaganda sa isang bakla kung alam mong mas maganda sya sayo. Depende kasi yan sa levels, eh. Syempre puti, he's very agaw pansin. He's very friendly. When we go out, whenever people talk to him, he talks to them also. Pag yung mga guards, nag-gi-greet sya ng "Good morning," ganun. Whenever people talk to him, chikahin nya. Pero, kapag alam na andyan ako, ay dai! Walang ano! Siguro, iwas gulo rin. Ako pa naman, sometimes I intimidate people and sinasadya ko yun. Nung di pa ako Kaladkaren, mas mataray ako. Mabait naman ako, pero now, I'm more accommodating when people approach us for photos. Nagbago rin ako. Diba kapag sumisikat ka, lumalaki yung ulo mo? Sabi ng friends ko lumiit daw ako nung sumikat ako. Tawang tawa nga ako dun, eh.
How are you handling the fame?
A: Maybe I'm just naive. I really don't use social media a lot. I use Facebook to talk to Jervi but I never log on to the computer. Maybe I'm naive on how stuff works like that. I watch her clips and videos and I see how many views it have. It's exciting for Jervi and also for me. She asked me to go to the studio last week and I saw how Jervi's working and how professional and how well she does her job, from my point of view.
K: I gained my popularity sa Internet and people see me online because I post videos and websites publish stuff about me. Of course, there are comments of people. Eh ako naman, masyado akong na-hu-hurt 'pag parang "Bakla din yan. Nag-e-espadahan lang yan," "What a waste,” “Why is this guy with Kaladkaren? He can do better." May mga ganun. There will always be negative comments, yan ang natutunan ko sa social media. People are courageous to say what they want because it's just social media but they cannot tell it straight to your face. Pag may ganun about us, dedma na lang ako kasi there are a lot of people na positive feedback na we look sweet together, ang ganda ganda ko, so we're focusing on the positive effect of our relationship on the public rather than on the negative ones. Ang daming support from the LGBT community; I always feel the love whenever they see us together. It's nice that some people look up to our relationship, something inspirational.
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When was the moment that you realized that you guys were in love?
K: I think when we started chatting online na. Parang feeling ko, I really like this person already. He told me that he was going to the Philippines so I felt that it was something special, that he wanted to see where I live, and he wanted to meet my friends and family. That's when I realized that this guy is serious with me. Because, you know, a person wouldn't travel thousands of miles, if he's not serious about you. When he told me that "I'm going to the Philippines, I'm gonna visit you," I was like "Ay ang haba ng hair ko! Punta siya dito."
A: I can't point to a direct moment. But, I guess, when you feel that you can trust someone that you're away from all the time, that's it. Because you hear some horror stories that the guys have, talking about families at home and stuff like that. A few things happened to me all of the years when I've been away and it's quite been difficult but I've always had Jervi to talk to. Things that I just speak about to family at home, I felt comfortable saying the same things to Jervi. And, when you feel good when something brilliant has happened while you've been away, the first person I wanna contact is you (gestures to Jervi), I've gotta tell you this has happened.
K: I'm kilig!
Was there a moment that you started talking about being official?
K: I was the one who told him that like, "I'm your girlfriend" and he was like, "Oh, I have a girlfriend now." Because I'm (the) more aggressive type, noh. Syempre, laban di ba? Ni-claim ko na. Sinementuhan ko na para wala ng paligoy-ligoy pa. This was before the Philippines pa. That's why he went here.
How did you feel when she started putting labels?
A: I felt like I was in a relationship anyway, so to put a label on it made no difference to me at that time. We're both comfortable with it and it felt right.
What are your similarities?
K: I think the best thing is we both want to get drunk. (Laughs) We drink together!
A: One thing I really like doing with you is in the kitchen together. She loves to cook and I love to cook, too.
K: He cooks better than I do.
A: What normally happens when we cook is let's say adobo, it's one of my favorite (dishes) here. So I'll be like, "Maybe we should put this" and she'll be "No." I'll be like "Okay, I will cook the vegetables. I'll be the sous chef and you're in charge."
K: Cooking and drinking. Over the years, I have understood his love language - it's quality time. He always wants quality time.
A: When we're the only two people in the room, I sometimes get upset when you're on the phone all the time when we're alone. You have to switch off for an hour.
K: He's not really possessive but whenever I suggest that "Maybe we can meet my friends." He'll be like "Oh no, maybe we can just go home and watch telly together. I'll put a film on the telly." Gusto nya, yung higa lang kami sa bed or nood lang kami ng TV. Maybe the explanation is he's away most of the time, so when he goes back here in the Philippines or when are together in the UK, he wants to spend good times with me. He always encourages me whenever when we are in UK, let's walk Macy together (our dog) and I'm so tamad but he tells me that we're gonna go to the beach (because they have a house there, it's by the sea). We always walk on the beach with Macy and sometimes we go to the forest.
A: You fit all five of the love languages. (Laughs) I guess it depends on your mood. Sometimes, she wants to be left alone and then sometimes, she really wants to be touchy with me and just wants all my attention. And, acts of gifts. She does gets me nice things.
K: But, I think I'm more of the words of affirmation. When he writes me good cards, because you know, British people are very big when it comes to giving cards.
A: My sister, mom, dad, and my grandparents, they'll be quite upset if they didn't receive a card. They don't care about presents as much as the sentiment of the card.
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What are your biggest differences?
K: There are other cultural differences, especially if the both of you do not have the same nationality.
A: You live quite a hectic lifestyle and, because of the nature of my job, I wake up every morning at 7 o'clock and go to bed at 12 midnight.
K: It depends on my work. Now, it's becoming regular because I'm hosting the Pilipinas Got Talent Exclusives so I'm always busy during the weekends. In the weeks that I do not have a schedule, I don't follow any routine. Sometimes, I sleep at 4 AM, sometimes, I stay up until 7 when we drink, when I'm out with my friends. He is very different. He wants to be at home by 11. He wants to be asleep by 12 and he wants to wake up at 7. He wants to eat on a normal time. That's not me. Sometimes I eat my lunch at 3, and dinner at 10. He likes to have a schedule. He wants everything planned while I'm not really like that, eh.
How do you guys work around those differences?
A: We are like a normal couple. We always make up and there's a proportional blame. If we can both be humble about it and start fixing it together, then it seems to work.
K: Our differences made our relationship stronger because in my part, I'm very self-centered. Gusto ko, ako yung nasusunod. I know what I like already. When it comes to outfits, I always tell him: "I don't like that, you have to change." Kasi pangit siya manamit before. He doesn't care what he wears. When we were in UK, sabi ko sa kanya na the next time we come here, "We're gonna shop for your clothes." I always bring him to the stores and then try clothes because I always want it to be Instagrammable.
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How do you handle conflict?
K: Because we have different language, kahit we're good English speakers, when we translate stuff, it's not the same especially when you're mad. If I'm just gonna explain myself in English, I'll just shut up and I'll just let him talk and talk and talk. He's more open when he feels upset; he tells me why. I'm more like, "No, I'm gonna fix it by myself. I'm upset now." Sometimes, I don't tell him, I just do solutions to my own problems about work, family. That's my personality: I don't want to bother other people, even my parents, sisters, and friends. I'm more independent. Like, I know that I'm gonna be able to resolve things on my own. If he does something that upsets me, I'll just keep quiet and he know that there's something wrong.
A: I love it. It's just some peace and quiet time for me. I remember one argument that we had. I remember that I threw your shoes into a bookshelf.
K: Because we were drunk that night; it was a drunk fight.
A: It was not bad fight or anything. It was just a silly thing.
K: When you get drunk together, you have so much fun and then later mag-aaway na kayo, diba may ganun? We always do that. Sometimes, when we don't wanna fight, we don't drink a lot. Or sometimes, he get so drunk and I'm not really that drunk or vice versa.
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How do you handle the distance in your relationship?
K: In our situation, it's not so difficult because his former schedule was two months off and two months on. So two months off work, we're together, either I'm in the UK or he's here. Two months of not seeing each other is not a long time compared to other Filipinos who have their partners abroad who spend a year apart. It was just last year that he went back to school. For eight months, we didn't see each other because he had to go back to school and I wasn't able to travel to the UK because I was busy with Kaladkaren nung nag-viral sya nung September. I was really scheduled to leave for a vacation going to the UK on September to December but Kaladkaren happened. So, I couldn't leave because I had so many shoots and we were shooting our ABSCBN Mobile show that time. I had so much corporate events and endorsements. There was really no time for me to have break but he went here on November. So, number one is regular communication. Even the simplest things like, "I ate this for lunch" or "What are you doing?" and send pictures (saying) "Look at me, this my costume for today" or "Do you like my hair?" or silly videos. You have to make your partner feel that there are still part of your daily life.
A: You can't just say that I'll text you everyday. You have to have that communication. Another thing, when you are in the different time zone, you're going to bed on a different time, it's always nice to receive a message. I might be waking up 8 in the morning and it's 4 in the afternoon here so say "Good morning," and that's nice same as going to bed.
K: Number two is you have to make the relationship more exciting during the times that you are apart. So that when you get together again, it's fun to have something new, something to look forward to.
A: When you're apart and got something to go back to, it's a big motivation. It's gonna make you happy when you're away.
K: Number three is to trust each other
A: If you don't trust each other then it's not gonna work anyway. If you're in this situation and you're in a long distance relationship and you're don't trust your partner doing this or doing that then you shouldn't be together. Enjoying your time together is important as well.
K: Make something memorable. So you have something in your memory bank thinking about.
A: I have the scarf that you gave me in Hong Kong!
Apparently, you also have monkeys.
K: It was Valentine's day when he gave me that. He really likes monkeys, so I always call him "monkey" or when sometimes when people ask me about his name I say it's Mr. Monkey. I got this card from the post-office saying that they want me to go to the national post office and claim it. It was just so much hassle for me so I didn't do it. So, what happened was, they sent back the monkey to United Kingdom. (Laughs)
A: What happened was it arrived on the UK on your birthday, so I gave you it.
K: May monkey sya, may monkey din ako. Tapos nag-spray kami ng pabango namin sa monkey so I can smell you because I put that on my bed. Then, I spray my perfume on his monkey.
K: Magdadagdag ako ng isa pang tip for long distance relationship. You always have to have a goal. You cannot stay long distance all the time. If you've been on a long distance relationship for three years. make it a goal that on the fifth year you have to be together or else it's not going somewhere. Don't keep things hanging up in the air. You have to have goals as partners. You're away from each other now, but in a year, you'll be together, you'll live together. Because if you don't have plans, then it's not gonna work. The point of being in a relationship is to be together so if not, parang what's the point if you don't have a future plan or a goal?
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How have you changed for the better?
K: Because self-centered ako, I learned how to consider other people's feelings since we got together. Sometimes ayoko pa umuwi but he wants to go home so I was like "Sige na nga uwi na tayo" kasi kung ako yun, "Ay, hindi maiwan ako dito, umuwi ka." Pero considerate na ako na kaya "Okay, after this drink, we'll will go home."
A: I'm always been open to new experiences but definitely, to break routine. We do break routine a lot more that I normally would have. I dress a lot bad (before) probably still not the best. I found being spontaneous a really hard thing to do before.
K: I bought bus tickets for our Euro trip. I'm fixing the itinerary.
A: There was no consultation.
What's your favorite memory of each other?
K: When we went to Disneyland. That was fun.
A: I was thinking the same thing. I remember kissing you a lot in the bus when we were travelling to the hotel in Hong Kong. There was red lipstick all over my face and I didn't realize. (Laughs)
What's one thing that people don't know about?
A: I don't want to answer that question because the public will know. (Laughs)
Any future plans?
A: I'm answering this one because I'm the one who's organized and makes the future plans, I guess. We are hoping to move to the United Kingdom to get our own house. We've been saving all these years for the deposit to get some loan. There are still a lot of things to discuss about that. I guess she found her fortune here or fame or whatever you wanna call it and maybe I'm a bit naive as to how far this goes because I don't really understand so much of this business. Maybe plans will change because I know you're enjoying what you do here. And, I also love to come here.
K: It's quite difficult now because of Kaladkaren thing because I got projects and I cannot just leave it for now. But, I know there's a shelf life in show business. I'm not gonna be like the Megastar or Superstar Nora Aunor. I don't know yet, I think now plans have changed a little bit because before, I was so eager to move to the UK and live there with him. But now with this, we don't know what showbiz's gonna bring me or whatever.
What do you love most about each other?
A: When I'm away, you always have someone to talk to.
K: One thing I love about him is that he motivates me to do stuff. He's always pushing me. In swimming, I do 30 laps and he'll say that I can do more. Sometimes I need to get out of the house, kasi I'm so tamad nga eh. I can stay inside the house for days but he will be like "I want to walk or I want to do something." He keeps on motivating me to do better things.
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Banner Image by Lui Jimenez | Photographs from KaladKaren and Tin Zabat