WaVEs dOn‘T DiE
BEHIND HERSUN-KISSED VISAGEOFPERFECT SERENITY, MONA LISA NEUBOECK IS A RESTLESS SURVIVOR.
SHE ARRIVES IN THE MIDDLE OF A WARM
afternoon, driving an old Suzuki APV down a long asphalt road and straight into the parking space of an apartment in a quiet corner of Subic. She is on time: 2 p.m., as we agreed, with the sun still harsh and high enough in the sky to pierce through the surrounding forest canopy. As she alights, she removes her sunglasses and walks over to us, a sparse grid of shadows cast upon her, the leaves swaying in what little breeze passes. There’s a bounce to her tousled, golden-brown hair, and her perfectly sun-kissed skin gleams in the light. Whether or not she intended to—and she probably didn’t—Mona Lisa Neuboeck has made a pretty spectacular entrance.
But her arrival is just another reason to feel intimidated, I think, along with what I already know: She is a hardcore vegan, who was even a staunch advocate of the raw food diet at one point, and a certified vegan chef. She’s also a yogini and an occasional instructor, who can contort herself in ways that are both impressive and confusing. And she’s a surfer, with abs that were described as “scary” at one point during our staff meeting earlier that week, because they were so goddamn sculpted.
Before I had met her, she seemed a little “scary” too—like, how-does-one-even-getthat-ripped scary; and she-could-very-easilykick-my-ass-if-I-so-much-as-looked-at-herthe-wrong-way scary; and (most poignantly) I’m-sorry-for-all-the-McDonald’s-I-ate-earliertoday scary. All unreasonable fears, to be sure, but easily dispelled within four syllables of actually meeting her. It was a warm “Hi, I’m Mona,” in a small, almost bashful voice that was exceedingly polite and modest and sweet. Not scary. Not in the least.
To answer your question: She is halfAustrian. If we’re being specific, Mona is halfTyrolean, half-Ilonggo; and there’s a proper Austrian way to pronounce her last name, but she says “new-beck” will do just fine. And to answer your next question: Yes, like the painting. Her father, who was a painter, named his youngest child after the world’s most famous work of art, and in a way, it’s a fitting namesake. What is da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, after all, if not an enigmatic ideal—a beautiful woman whose perfections belie a shroud of complexity?
SHE LIVES HERE NOW, IN SUBIC, WHERE SHE
feels quite at home, because she finds that Subic negotiates Filipino warmth with the character of a Western locale, which she’s used to. Mona was born in the United States and traveled quite a bit with her family as a child, but spent most of her formative years in Austria before moving to the Philippines. She made a go of it in Metro Manila first, and then eventually settled down here, up north, where she found more hospitable conditions. But she wasn’t always as lucky.
“Just to be very blunt,” she says, when I ask about how she found herself in this side of the world, “my growing up was not easy. I come from a family that never had any financial problems whatsoever. But my father was not an easy person to get along with.”
Up until this point, our conversations had been all fun and pleasantries as we drove to and from a secret beach in Morong, Bataan. She told me about her botched butterfly tattoo, done by an artist who was too stoned to get the antennas right. We talked about vegan tortilla chips and zero-calorie soda and the nuances between different kinds of veganism and vegetarianism. We talked about her other secret surf spots around Subic, some of which she’s had to sneak into to avoid forest rangers. But when we get to talking about Mona’s origin story, things take a turn.
“[My father] was quite violent. Imagine, there were three of us kids, and we all ran away from home,” she says. “My sister when she was 15, my brother when he was 13, and then me when I was 16. We all left because we couldn’t stand home. Then I got into the wrong group of friends, and that’s when I got into recreational drugs.”
Wait—what? Weren’t we just talking about how perfect and utterly Instagrammable her life was? How her commitment to the whole healthand-wellness thing is, as they say, #goals?
“I got into drugs to such a great extent that I could not pull myself out of it anymore,” she continues, “and I [eventually] celebrated my 17th birthday in rehab, all drugged up on psychopharmacological medicines.” She punctuates this with a sarcastic “Yay” and a laugh.
“PEOPLE ARE LIKE, ‘ OH, YOU’RE INTO YOGA, YOU’RE INTO RAW FOOD AND VEGANISM AND YOU’RE AN ARTIST; YOU’RE SO PERFECT!’ AND I’M LIKE NO, I’M FUCKING NOT PERFECT!”