WaVEs dOn‘T DiE

BE­HIND HERSUN-KISSED VISAGEOFPERFECT SEREN­ITY, MONA LISA NEUBOECK IS A REST­LESS SUR­VIVOR.

Esquire (Philippines) - - NOTES & ESSAYS -

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!”

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