Monday, December 03, 2007

Airports and Angels

December 1, 2007

I came back to Boston today, after having known the helpless feeling of possibly being stranded at the Los Angeles (LAX) airport where I was coming from and maybe having to spend the night and probably even the next day there. When I saw the crowded departure lounge and learned that the flights were fully booked, and that many flights were either delayed or cancelled, I knew my chances to find a seat on a low-priority, non-revenue buddy pass that I received from a friend were slim.

In my mind, I was trying to imagine Tom Hanks in the movie “The Airport,” and strategizing what I would do to make my stay as comfortable as possible. I checked out the eating-places – Starbucks and an unfamiliar deli offered not very appealing food and beverages choices (for me, anyway). The most accessible ladies’ room was under renovation, making me feel that my “bathroom” facilities were not “ensuite” – another inconvenience. There was wireless Internet, but to be used with a prepaid card – so that was an activity I could not do that night. Besides, my computer needed recharging and I didn’t know where I could plug for electric juice. I also surveyed the chairs at the departure lounge to choose one where I could park my body for the night, if need be. They did not look comfortable and were not the kind that could be reclined. How I wish I were at the Changi Airport instead - the Changi airport has a special lounge for air travelers who may need to spend the night at the airport which has fully reclining chairs with alarm clocks and all sorts of bells and whistles (my vote for the world’s most user-friendly airport readily goes to Singapore’s Changi airport but that’s another story altogether). But I settled in to wait and, despite the possible discomfort, accepted that it might be an adventure worth writing about if I got stranded.

I approached the ground crew at the gate every now and then, just to remind them that I was still there waiting to be accommodated, but at the same time, making sure I didn’t appear to be a pest. Knowing how important it is to be on their good side, I did what I could do to earn their sympathy, and avoid their ire.

Aliz, my friend Gay's friend, who gave me this free ticket, called at 11:00pm, worried that I may not get on. She asked if my friend from LA (Henry) was still there and I said no. I told her that I had asked him to just drop me off. She had been monitoring the flights and was told that it was almost impossible for me to get on. (She works with ground crew at the Boston airport and knew the real score). I assured her that I was fine and more willing to wait than to go back to the city and then go through the hassle of airport security screening again. Besides, it was a good hour driving to and from the airport, and I didn’t want Henry to have to go through that. She had called everyone she knew at the LA airport, and there was nothing more that she could do. Again, I re-assured her that I was fine, and that there was nothing to worry about.

While I believed that being stranded at the LA airport is not going to be my worst nightmare come true, still, I believe in prayers, and I prayed to get on the plane. I alternated between meekly pleading and having complete faith that my request would be granted, remembering to say thanks as if God had already given me what I was asking for, and scolding myself for now and then doubting. I tried some visualization techniques too, imagining myself receiving the boarding pass, going through the tube, going through the aisle, and finding my seat.

The plane was delayed to start with - it was supposed to leave at 9:10pm but the announcement at the gate said ETD 9:40, then 10:40, and then back again to 9:40pm. The ground crew finally started to board passengers at around 10:30pm. Before they could assign me a seat, they had to call some other passengers who were on the list but failed to board- maybe their connecting flights were not yet in, or they were wandering around in the airport. There were quite a few of us "stand-bys," including a pilot still in his uniform (there was no way I could get on before he did!). I could have a chance if passengers would not show up, so as they called out the names of the missing passengers, and as they trickled in, my chances dimmed. But my prayers were answered, and after they packed everybody in, including all the other stand-bys, there were two seats left on the plane, and I was told that I was free to choose which one I wanted. When I got in a little after 11pm, there was not even space in the bins for my carry on. I tried to stuff them – my computer bag and my silver photo-display bag under the seat in front of me, but the two 26” high angels that I was carrying in one of those bags were too long to put under the seat. (The angels are “pasalubong” for my two Boston angels – Aliz and Gay).

The plane was not given immediate clearance to leave. The weather was fine at the LAX airport, but the Las Vegas airport - where we needed to make a stopover before going to Boston - was heavily backlogged due to weather delays. We were told to wait, then told to refuel, so we would have enough fuel to fly at a higher altitude, in case we needed to fly above the troublesome wind and clouds (not sure if Nevada was having thunderstorms). At 11:15pm, the pilot acknowledged that some passengers had expressed their intention to leave the plane, but asked for their patience. No one moved to leave, but after another 30 minutes, some passengers actually started opening the bins to claim their carry-ons, and walked out of the plane. Aha - I suddenly had space for my own. Not only that, one of those passengers who left was my seatmate (I had the aisle seat, he was in center). After another 15 minutes, we were done with refueling and just had to queue to take off. We flew out at midnight. Too bad for those who opted not to wait. Now, I know, patience is truly a virtue.

As for the connecting flights from Las Vegas, we were told that most of the flights were also late, and there was a great probability that our connecting flights - wherever passengers were going after Las Vegas- were waiting for us (or late themselves), but our plane crew did not have information for all the connecting flights of the passengers on this plane. There was nothing I could do but to wait until we got there.

As soon as we arrived in Las Vegas, I inquired about the flight to Boston and was told to go to gate 14. I rushed from Gate 10 where we landed to Gate 14 (another cluster, not quite that near) and found the other Boston-bound passengers still waiting to be called. The board stated the scheduled flight and the new estimate time of departure – about two hours late. Thankfully, Gate 14 was not as crowded as the one at LAX.

Now, the Las Vegas airport's departing lounges are like no other. At the center of each cluster of gates are slot machines! Not that I would be enticed to gamble, but it would have been entertaining to watch people play (if we were stranded). We left at 1:50, about two hours later than originally scheduled.

By the next morning, we were taxiing in at 9:30, instead of 7:59am, our cumulative delays shortened by the force of tail winds. There, as soon as I exited from the plane, at the entrance to the tube, was Aliz, who gave me a big hug and was demonstratively excited that I managed to fly on that flight. She had monitored the flight as late as 11pm the night before (before I was called to board) and as soon as she reported for work at 7:30am and knew by morning before I flew in that I made it. Aliz was excitedly chatting with me, all the way from the tube to the baggage claim area. One of her colleagues at the gate reminded her to "hold it in" - I suppose that meant to keep her voice and excitement down, but it felt good to be so warmly welcomed.

It was also the right time for Gay, with whom I am staying, to fetch me at the airport, as she gets off from work at 9am (from 5:00am!). Those two gave me royal treatment, with Aliz escorting me from planeside all the way to Gay’s car, on the driveway just outside the arrival area. The two would not even let me carry my luggage. Talk about red carpet treatment! Friends and relatives have received me warmly at many airports around the world before, but this morning’s welcome was the warmest ever. Maybe it had something to do with the drama of almost missing my flight, and possibly being stranded at an airport.

My plane pass may have been low-priority, but you would never suspect that from the royal treatment that I received from my two angels, Gay and Aliz, at the Boston airport. Their welcome really warmed my heart.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sacha's Graduation

November 16, 2007 in Toronto.

It was a cold morning, and too early to be getting out of bed, but we were all excited to troop to the Convocation Hall where Sacha will be receiving her diploma – Masters of Applied Science at the University of Toronto.

I wore a long woolen skirt that hid my leggings, and on top of my thermal undershirt, I had my knitted shirt, a sweater, a jacket and a knee-length winter coat, plus a red scarf to either put around my neck or over my head. The black pair of velvet gloves that I bought at a bazaar in Manila came in handy, and helped me to feel warm. I carried a large bag – with “windows” that held photos of our family and scenic spots in the Philippines - to hold the winter clothing accessories that I had to put on and off.

It started to snow, very gently. Sacha said that it was the first snow of the year and season. She pointed at the round convocation building as the place where we should be while she dashed to go to Knox Building to get her toga. We found only one lady who was there ahead of us, waiting for the doors to open. She had a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in another, and we chatted. She assured us that we were at the warmer side of the building, as the wind was blowing on the other side. She turned out to be the Convocation Officer, and offered to take us where Sacha was.

We found Sacha (thanks to cellphones) at Knox in her full regalia. Aida – the Convocation Officer whom we met earlier– taught her how to wear the toga, and gave us tips where to take her pictures –stairs, hallways and courtyard of Knox building. We decided she was truly the expert on graduations at the U of T, and followed all her suggestions.

We had a few minutes to take pictures before Gay and I had to queue to enter the Convocation Hall, while Sacha looked for other graduates from her department.

We got good seats (for Gay, Wayne and myself) – right behind one row of seats reserved for those in wheel chairs. It was warmer inside so I started peeling off some of the warmer clothes that I was wearing – coat, jacket, sweater, gloves, scarf – but had to wear them again when the ushers opened the main doors to let the graduates in.

A man next to me complained of the cold draft, so in a friendly tone, I remarked, “At least you’re accustomed to this cold.” He said – no, he never liked the cold, and everyday, he said, he would imagine himself in a tropical island, sitting under a palm tree. At that point, I brought out my bag that showed pictures of Boracay and Cebu and he exclaimed – “That’s the place where I want to be right now – where is this place?” Beaming with pride, I replied, “The Philippines.” (We learned later that he was at the Convocation Hall with us because his wife was graduating with a Masters in Nursing).

It was not a very long ceremony – since they segregated the graduate students from the undergrads who had a much longer ceremony the night before. The main speaker – who gave a short, sweet and simple speech - was a professor at the University. So, in no time at all (about 2 hours), it was over.

We did a lot more picture taking before proceeding to one of the buildings where they were holding a reception for the new graduates. All alumni were given small gifts (chocolate) and letters exhorting them to be active members of the alumni association. Wayne excused himself to go back to work, while Gay, Sacha and I decided the food there was good enough for lunch.

Sacha then took us to her building and we met her adviser, Marc Chignell, and other colleagues.

After we left her campus, we went back to the inn, and then downtown for a quick visit to IBM where she now works. Sacha had invited her friends to a vegetarian dinner in the evening, but before that, we met up with Scott Ramsay, a friend of the family. Scott helped Sacha get oriented in Toronto and to find winter clothes when she first arrived in Canada a little over two years ago.

We met Scott at World’s Biggest Bookstore (now, no longer world’s biggest bookstore), and walking around the block – we found a nice coffee shop/bar, and chatted there until it was time to go to the vegetarian restaurant.

Scott dropped off Sacha at the restaurant (so she could be there ahead of her guests), and then gave Gay and me a short city tour, on our way to Cabbage Town to fetch his girlfriend, Nathalie. The four of us then went back to the restaurant where we found a large group (from U of T, Toastmasters and other people she met at conventions) of Sacha’s friends. Wayne and his daughter, Jessica, came shortly after. There was a stream of friends – some leaving early, some arriving late – but all toasting, praising and congratulating Sacha on her graduation.

It was fun evening. What a full day!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Remembering the Dead

Today is All Saints Day, and while almost everyone is at the cemetery or memorial parks, for practical reasons – (there will be less traffic tomorrow than today) - I choose to go tomorrow, which is All Souls' Day. Because of horrendous traffic jams on all roads leading to cemeteries and memorial parks, more and more people are choosing to observe the day for remembering our departed loved ones on November 2, while some even spend two full days (November 1 and 2) to honor their dead. I hope that I would meet with relatives and friends when I visit there tomorrow.

These occasions - All Saints Day or All Souls Day - are more than for remembering our beloved departed. These are days for reconnecting with family, relatives and town-mates. We meet at the graves of those with whom we share an affinity - by blood, family or personal history. This explains the annual exodus to the provinces on these dates, and why these occasions take on a festive, rather than solemn, nature in the Philippines.

When we troop to the cemetery, we bring not only candles and flowers to offer to our dead, but also food to share with the living. Lots of food, for what is a Filipino gathering without food? It’s a major picnic, yes, even a fiesta with food and drinks laid out over tombs and gravestones. There are tents to shield us from the sun or rain, and to define our space from those in neighboring plots who are not related to us. There are food stalls selling hotdogs or lumpia, halo-halo or fruit shakes, pizza or palabok. Children are running all over the place, gathering candle droppings, and competing with other children on who can form the biggest candle wax balls. To complete the party atmosphere, some even bring playing cards, scrabble or mah-jong, and we do not think playing them is irreverent. There is lots of storytelling – how life was when we were children, how life is now, and what our plans are for the future. We tell our own stories, but we also inquire about those who did not come. There are conversations about the living and the dead, and as we go home from the cemetery, we bring with us cheery or sad updates on a great number of people in our lives.

For many years, I was out of the loop for these occasions for family reunions. I live in the city, busy with the business and not too concerned with following traditions. However, I am almost 62 and there must be something with being at this age that has made me appreciate being in touch with my past and the people who make up my personal history. On All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day, I look forward to meeting the relatives whom I know – aunts and uncles (the few of them who are still alive), and first, second and third cousins – and the distant relatives I get to recognize and acknowledge only when we trace our common affinity with the dead whose graves we visit.

This is the Filipino way – and now my way - of remembering the dead – by reconnecting and enjoying joyous moments with the living. I am sure the spirits of our dearly departed are also partying in heaven and smiling on these Filipino traditions on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

It Pays to Ask

I had offered to treat my two daughters and their Johns (Ching and my son-in-law, John Valdezco and Kathy and her boyfriend, John Grimme) to a trip to Batanes, which my husband seconded. (A third daughter is starting work in Canada and cannot join us).

Kathy had booked the six of us (herself, myself and Ching and our 3 Johns) on Asian Spirit to go to Batanes in December. She told me that I would have to go to the Asian Spirit office myself if I wanted to take advantage of the 20% senior citizen’s discount, so I did. Kathy told me that she had asked about the airlines promo fares, and that the prices quoted us were the lowest.

When I approached the counter, I asked if they had loyalty or frequent flyer programs. She said no, but they had the “VIP” deal. What’s the VIP deal? She said that if I bought 5 tickets, the 6th was free, but that I had to choose between that or getting the senior citizen’s discount. Hmmm… should I go for the 20% discount on my ticket alone (I’m the only senior citizen in our group of six) or the 100% discount, if I counted myself as the 6th passenger? Did she have to ask? I saved more than P13, 000!

P.S. When Kathy called the airline, she asked for the frequency of flights, and the sales person answered, “We fly daily on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.” When asked to compute the fares, he asked Kathy, “May I hold you for a moment?” and she answered, “I don’t think so. My boyfriend would not like that.”

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Daughter's Independence

Do you sometimes feel that you know the exact moment when a milestone happens in your life? In 1981, on the first day that my eldest daughter entered a big school, I knew it was the beginning of the process of letting her go.

My eldest daughter was 4-1/2 years old when she entered St. Scholastica’s College as a prep student. She looked great in her blue and white uniform, carried her own school bag and lunch box without help from me, ready to face the challenges of grade school.

I joined the 40 or so parents (mostly mothers, some fathers) and nannies who were watching the class from outside the window of our children’s classroom, each of us just watching our own daughter or ward. Every now and then, the teacher would come out and ask us to please leave the children and wait at the designated waiting areas – which were far from the classroom.

It was like a dance, and we were moving to and fro. When the teacher got busy attending to the children – some of whom were crying and some did not want to be left in the classroom, we parents would inch our way to the windows, some even crowding at the doors. Then the teacher would shoo us away, and we would move away. At least, for a little while. Then one parent would dare move closer, positioning herself where the teacher would not see or notice her. If she succeeded, another parent would follow suit, and another. Then, the teacher would come out and talk to the parents, pleading with them to let the children settle down in class. At first, she would be reassuring, but later everyone could see that she was getting annoyed.

I was one of those parents tiptoeing back and forth until my daughter marched out of the room, and said to me in a reprimanding tone – “My teacher said you should wait there.” – pointing to a place several meters from her classroom. I think that was the first time that I felt my four-year old daughter was actually scolding ME, her mother.

It was at that precise moment that I knew that someday soon, she would no longer be mama’s little girl. My little daughter was ready for the big, wide world, and I knew I had to prepare myself to let her go. It was the day I learned to say goodbye. The day I knew she would succeed in life. I was a proud mother that day. I still am.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Preventing Alzheimer's

I have learned that one way to delay memory loss is by doing mental games – crossword puzzles, Sudoku (the numbers game), or even playing chess. I was prepared to do that and had bought a chess set when my husband and I attended a seminar on Corel Painter – a software that allows one to convert photographs into what look like watercolor, pastel or oil paintings.

Except for MS Office and a little bit of IPhoto, I have stayed away from computer software, especially graphic applications, because my poor brain cannot tackle the complicated steps. So maybe, learning Painter is the right challenge for me.

Also, I need to decorate my house with paintings and since I run a photo studio, and my husband and daughter are both photographers, I did not think I would be right in buying and displaying real oil paintings or watercolor drawings. I wanted pictures with more personal connections to us. But to display photographs – especially since we are in advertising - would be like turning my home into a studio, and that is something I would not like to do. Looks like converting their images into photographic paintings would do the trick.

Today, I will try Corel Draw’s Painter. It looks like I have found a way to decorate my home as well as to exercise my brain to stave off or prevent Alzheimer’s.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Teddy Ruxpin

Yesterday, a visit to Metro Manila’s newest mall, Trinoma, led to our discovery of the first Philippine store of Toys R Us. Although John and I are empty nesters, with three grown up daughters but without any grandchildren yet, we went inside the store to try and relive those days when our children were children.

Toys R Us has always been a big thing in our family. Every foreign trip would not be complete without a visit to a Toys R Us store. In 1986, when we traveled to the United States for the first time, we went to one in Los Angeles. It was exciting to be in such a huge store, with an overwhelming array of choices, but our budget was tight. We had picked out three different toys for our three daughters when we chanced upon a new toy – Teddy Ruxpin. He could talk! And move his mouth and eyes as he talked! Being the first animated toy, he was expensive. We simply could not afford him on top of the individual gifts we had already chosen for our girls. Sadly, we put him back on the shelf.

We went around the store looking at other toys but we could not get our minds off Teddy Ruxpin. We had really fallen in love with him. We thought, if we returned all the toys we’d carefully picked out for each of the girls – 10-year-old Ching Ching, 6-1/2 year old Anne Kay (now nicknamed Kathy) and 3-year-old Sacha, maybe we could afford to get Teddy Ruxpin. And maybe, the girls would not mind not having their own personal “pasalubong” if they had Teddy Ruxpin instead.

Teddy Ruxpin was such a hit with the girls that they did not mind sharing him among themselves. We agreed on the particular days when Teddy would be assigned to Ching Ching, Kathy or Sacha, but at unassigned times, they would have to co-own Teddy.

The sharing scheme worked well! In a way, it was a good thing that we could not afford three Teddy Ruxpins – one was all we needed to teach and learn about joint ownership, waiting for one’s turn, and sharing. Teddy Ruxpin may not have been intended to teach about sharing, but that’s what he taught us.

What memories going to a favorite toy store can bring!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Runaway Elephant

Last night, Dr. Romulo Bernardo and Tita Ming of the Manila Zoo came to visit us at our Alabang house, after they gave a bird-and-animal show at the Palm Country Club which is near us. Since animals are what they have in common with us (Kathy founded the MyZoo Volunteer Group Foundation while John still takes care of Mali, the female Asian elephant at the zoo), the conversation over Yellow Cab pizzas and San Mig Lites naturally focused on animal stories.

One of them was when an Asian elephant (not Mali) escaped and walked down Quezon City roads. It was a male Asian elephant, which was part of the Elephant Show near the Araneta Coliseum. It was musking, and could not be contained. Somehow, it got out of its enclosure and wanted to explore the city (I don’t blame him).

News traveled fast, and one of our friends who knew that John was doing volunteer work taking care of Mali, sms’ed me. His wife had called him to share the exciting news that she saw this huge elephant sauntering down Kamuning Street, going towards Tomas Morato (restaurant row). He called me because he didn’t have John’s number and because he thought that John would be the best person to know what to do. He told his wife that his friend, John Chua, was the elephant expert. I corrected him – John was not an expert on elephants. He was an expert on one – Mali.

John had a shoot, and could not be contacted, so I told Kathy so she could in turn inform the people at the zoo. Thankfully, the vets at the zoo had been informed, and one of them had rushed to the site. This was the first case of a runaway elephant for him (and for everyone), so there was a lot of excitement to go around, even for people from media.

Kathy called friends and contacts in zoos in three countries. She first called Johannesburg Zoo where she had previously done volunteer work, but they told her that they had no experience with Asian elephants. She remembered and called an Indian mahout at the Singapore Zoo (who also trained John at some time), but he preferred to refer her to a vet and elephant expert in Malaysia.

You would have to be here to listen to Kathy recount her phone conversations so you can join in the suspense as well as in the comedy. The Malaysian expert asked Kathy, “Describe the elephant,” and Kathy answered, “It’s big and grey.”

“I know what elephants look like. Tell me what it is doing.”

“It is tied to an Indian...” and realizing she was talking to an Indian, and didn’t know if he would be offended promptly corrected herself. “It is calm now and tied to a small tree.” He asked what tranquilizers were available and rattled off some scientific names. Kathy said no, and offered the names of what was available – which turned out to be tranquilizers for cats and dogs. Moving on, they finally found something suitable.

The local vet knew he had to tranquilize the elephant but he didn’t know with how much or with what. So, there was Kathy, without any degree in veterinary medicine, dictating names and dosages of tranquilizers to him. You can imagine that he was not very pleased, and very reluctant to follow Kathy’s instructions. But he probably had no choice, and somehow knew that Kathy’s information was coming from a foreign expert (Kathy lost no time in naming him and reciting his credentials).

The zoo had no tranquilizer gun, so he tied a big syringe to a pole (not a good idea but there was nothing better). He bravely approached the elephant – as far as the pole could separate him, and poked him, making sure his aim was on target. Then, he ran. Really fast. The fastest he ever ran. He knew the elephant would not be happy, and he had to be away, at least until the elephant was fully sedated.

Kathy told us that the right way was to sedate the elephant so it would be groggy , but not asleep. Then, it could be led to the truck. But it was given a bit too much (there was no time or opportunity to weigh the elephant to see how much would be the right dose) and the elephant went to sleep, and therefore had to be lifted to the truck. In the process, the harness broke, and the elephant fell on a taxi that was following the truck.

The taxi was the only casualty. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and the elephant was successfully returned to its enclosure. They soon thereafter closed the Elephant Show, and returned the entire herd to Thailand, where they originally came from. I hope going home was a happy ending for the elephants in this story.

Since our visitors share our love for animals, we had a really pleasant evening, and swapped many animal stories. I hope I can write all the stories told so that they can be shared with you.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Here's One of Those Aerial Photos

We found at least one aerial photo of Banaue, and still need to look for one of the Hundred Islands. This photo was taken in 1976 or 1977.

Copyright/Photography by John K. Chua. All Rights Reserved.

Short Ride, Long Drive

Once upon a time, John was in Banaue to take pictures – not for any client, but just for himself. He drove eight hours in his yellow Ford Fiera (see photo with our Adphoto staff in the late 70’s – we all looked very young!) and was busy photographing Ifugaos on the rice terraces when he saw a helicopter land on the parking lot of Banaue Hotel (the only place where it could land). Two sounds are music to John’s ears - the click, click, click of his camera and the sound of a helicopter propeller whirling. Hearing them both at the same time was like heaven to him, and he was ecstatic.

He ran to chat with the pilot, who volunteered the information that he had room for one more passenger. Like an eager child, John asked him, “Can I come? Can I come? Please, please, Can I come?” The pilot was ferrying some foreign guests and would be flying back to Manila through Baguio that same day. “Sure, hop on,” said the pilot to the photographer, and away they flew. They flew low so John could take photos of the Banaue rice terraces and the Ifugao villages, the geometric rice paddies and thick pine tree forests of Mountain Province and the vegetable and flower terraces of Benguet. They made a stop over in Poro Point, La Union to refuel, and continued on to fly over scenic Hundred Islands in Pangasinan and over the rice fields of Pampanga and Bulacan and back to Villamor Air Base, in Metro Manila. John clicked away with his camera, loading roll after roll of film.

The flight took just slightly over two hours, but John still needed to go back to Banaue. His clothes and vehicle were still there. As soon as he hit Metro Manila, John immediately grabbed a cab and asked to be taken to the Pantranco Station in Quezon City, so he could have a bumpy ride on a non-aircon bus (that’s all there was then) all the way back to Banaue.

His yellow Ford Fiera was still parked where he left it. He gathered his clothes and threw his bag into the Fiera. He grinned ear-to-ear, and whistled happily while driving alone all the way from Banaue through Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Metro Manila and finally to his home in Makati – over eight hours to travel 350 kilometers. 700 kilometers of road travel and I don't know how many air miles in less than 24 hours!

His take from this joyride? Priceless photographs to show a bird’s eye view of the Ifugao rice terraces and Hundred Islands.

(Note: Our archivist is still looking for those vintage aerial shots).

A lesson to be learned: Scan those film images now before they fade away.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"I'll Take the First Circus"

I suppose that every family has “in” expressions, mottos or slogans in much the same way that they have “in” jokes. While you may hear only a phrase -the family knows the entire story behind those few words.

For our family, we all understand and get inspired by this expression, “I’ll take the first circus.”

It came from an anecdote that my husband and I read in the Readers’ Digest about a little girl in a town soon to be visited by three circuses. Her father explained to her that the family was not financially able to take her to all three circuses and could take her only to one. The first circus would be just a small one, while the third would be the best and biggest, and presumably the most expensive. “I’ll take the first circus,” she said, and so her parents took her to the first. A few months later, when the second circus came, the family’s finances had improved and they were able to take her to the second. And finally, they found that they could afford to get tickets to the third and most expensive circus.

In 1989, my husband had a photography assignment in Germany. It was going to be his first trip to Europe. While he was there, I faxed him that I could go when his job was finished so he and I could travel together. We had very little money so he said that maybe it would be better to wait for another time when we could afford to visit other European countries as well. Pleading, I faxed him again “I’ll take the first circus.” Remembering the story, he said yes!

Like the little girl who chose to take the first circus, I have managed to go to Europe three times - to Germany and France in 1989, then again in 1992 (six countries) with my eldest daughter, and in 1996, in a trip with the entire family – my husband and three young daughters.

In our family, a prospect of limited opportunity will not be turned down. Instead, you will hear us say, “I’ll take the first circus.”

Friday, June 08, 2007

"Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal"

It's a New York Times bestseller by Rachel Naomi Remen M.D. It is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read, and should make a great gift to family and friends. I've already given a copy to a medical student whom I know, and I will get a few more copies to give to doctor-friends. I think it should be required reading for all doctors, nurses and caregivers no matter how long they have been practicing. The lessons, truths and insights contained in the stories that she shares are not only for those in the medical profession, but for anyone who calls himself or herself "human."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Love in a "Pan"

In the 70’s when John and I were courting, one of our favorite restaurants was Casa Marcos, which specialized in Spanish food. Our favorite dish was called “Pan de San Isidro,” a Spanish version of Cordon Bleu. A thick slice of cheese and ham are wrapped in a thin slice of veal, breaded and deep-fried. Since I was a light eater, John and I usually shared one order.

One evening, I was home (home then was an apartment owned by my parents that I was sharing with my younger brother) when the doorbell rang. At the door was one of John’s mother’s employees, an all-around helper whom John occasionally borrows as his driver or messenger. (His name was “Tabâ” because he was very overweight). He handed me a paper bag, with something wrapped in aluminum foil. Since it was still warm, I guessed what it was – Pan de San Isidro! How sweet of him! Thinking of John but not of my brother, I decided to send John half of the Pan. I asked Tabâ to wait while I divided the dish into two. I sent half back to John, with a thank you note.

The following day when I saw John (I didn’t have a phone at home and this was decades before the advent of cellphones), he wasn’t smiling. He appeared aloof and didn’t seem glad to see me, and of course, I wondered why. When finally I was able to coax him to talk to me, he said that he was very disappointed that I sent him half of the Pan. This was perplexing, as I thought he would be glad that I did.

He went on to explain that he went through a lot of trouble to surprise me with the Pan. The night before, he personally went to Casa Marcos and pleaded with the restaurant manager to allow him to talk with the cook. After he explained what he was planning to do, he was allowed to go inside the kitchen. John handed him a love letter that he had written, asked him to wrap it in foil, and to insert it between the ham and cheese. He told me that both the manager and the cook, and even the waiters, were thrilled to be part of this romantic conspiracy. While he was waiting for the Pan to be ready, they were all trying to guess how I would react. They were also challenging each other to think of ways to surprise their own wives or girlfriends. He left Casa Marcos with a big grin on his face.

But that night, when he ate the half of the Pan that Tabâ handed him, he found his foil-wrapped love letter in the portion I sent back to him. He was very disappointed, to say the least. While he knew that I had no way of knowing what I missed, still, he said, it was such a let down. All that effort was for naught, he said, and I said no, not for naught. I thanked him for what he did, and apologized for sending him back half of the Pan de San Isidro.

P.S. Since the element of surprise had been lost, John didn’t want to give me that love letter anymore. I wasn’t, but he was also too embarrassed to take me again to that branch of Casa Marcos, so we dined at their other branches instead. Casa Marcos closed down a few years ago.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tulips on Mothers' Day

The beautiful bouquet of yellow and yellow-orange tulips came on a Friday, a full two days before Mothers’ Day, which is celebrated, annually, on the second Sunday of May.

It created quite a stir in the office, as the staff thought that the flowers came all the way from Holland. They know that Kathy’s boyfriend is Dutch and it was easy to assume that the flowers were flown in from Europe. Well, in a way, they were, (they must have been imported from the Netherlands) but they were arranged and delivered here by our favorite florist. It seems Kathy and her boyfriend, John, went to see Gina de Guzman of Petals Galore months ago when he was still here.

I took the bouquet to the other studio where Kathy was working overtime with her dad. The clients (Campaigns & Grey) who were at the studio for the car shoot thought the same way as the staff, and were told about the special arrangement with the florist.

Kathy wanted to take photos of the flowers but had to wait until the next morning since she and her dad didn’t get to finish work until past midnight. After taking photos of them in the studio, she took the flowers to our house in Alabang, so she could take photos of the tulips with a pair of Dutch wooden clogs that she got from her John on her birthday (March 3).

So now, photography has made it possible for those beautiful flowers to be immortalized. Long after the fresh tulips are gone, we can still look at Kathy’s photo of those beautiful yellow and yellow-orange flowers, and be reminded of today’s Mothers’ Day when I received that beautiful bouquet.

P.S. Kathy researched on tulips and found out that the yellow ones are called Yokohama tulips while the orange ones with yellow edges are called Kees Nellis.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Writing Exercise: "Hear/Listen"

Every Saturday, I attend a writing class with Barbara Gonzalez, a Philippine Star columnist whose writings I admire. Our exercise for this Saturday was to pick a pair of words and to write something using those words. To encourage us to write poetry, she said to write without worrying about rhyme, cadence, stanzas etc. Just write the two words, and “cluster” around those two words. So, here’s one of my first attempts at writing a poem. I chose the words “hear/listen.”

We are in love.
You love me, I love you
We listen with pure ecstasy
As we hear our hearts beat as one.

Sometimes we only give a hint
Sometimes not even
We understand and feel as one
And words need not be spoken.

Your eyes speak, my eyes listen
Your arms speak, my arms listen
Your body speaks, my body listens
Your heart speaks, my heart listens
In the deepest recesses of our souls
To each other, we listen.

But, sadly, years pass,
Somehow love passes, too.
We speak words, we wail and cry
But wounded hearts do not listen.

We hear the sobs of anguish and pain
We hear the doubt and disbelief
We hear the silence between us
But our hearts no longer listen.

Will love come again?
I put my ears to the ground
I raise my ears to all around
I strain to hear you above the noise and din.

Hush, I hear a tiny whisper
Reaching out through time and space
Across loneliness of yesteryears
Our hearts striving to listen, not just hear.

We can love each other again
Lost love can be regained
Our hearts will teach us how
Once more, to hear and listen.

We will listen with ecstasy
From now till we breathe our last breath
We will hear our hearts beat as one
Each day, each moment, until death.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

My Paternal Grandmother

I’m trying to remember whatever I could of my grandmother, but I do not have much to go by.

My father’s mother’s name was Liberata Santos. Although she lived to be 85, and I was already in college when she died, I had very scant memories of her, of which very little was based on my own personal experience with her. Most of the stories that I heard about my grandmother were from my aunt and my cousins, with whom she lived, in the big house next to ours.

I do remember that before I started going to grade school, I would go with her to help her peddle fresh fish that she carried on a bilao on her head. Usually, we would not go far, as she had her “suki” (regular patrons) in Don Galo, especially the Pulo area, who regularly bought from her, fish and sometimes some tomatoes, kangkong and labanos for making sinigang. I would be her only grandchild who was available to accompany her as all my cousins were going to school, while my sister and another brother were too young. My older brother was not someone she counted on, and in those days, probably not someone expected to help.

I do remember her long white hair that she regularly treated with coconut oil. She would get the coconut milk (derived by squeezing grated coconut meat) from the maid or her loyal houseboy, Polonio, but would cook it herself to extract the oil. The coconut while being cooked this way was very aromatic, but what we would wait for was the brown “latik” that was formed when coconut milk was cooked. That was delicious. She would transfer the coconut oil to a small bottle and wait for it to cool, and then apply it to her hair. Her straight white hair reached almost her knees, but since she was shorter than 4’10”, that wasn’t too long. She was a bit plump and very fair. Although she spoke a little Spanish (just the prayers and the cusswords), it was obvious from her facial features that she was not Spanish.

For reasons I never got to find out, we addressed and referred to her, not as “Lola” which is the common way, but as “Grandmother” (pronounced the Filipino way – granmader). Her younger relatives called her "Lola" or "Nanang Berata."

I do remember that she was diabetic, and she used to “steal” spoonfuls of sugar from the sugar container, which was kept in my aunt’s trusty GE refrigerator. When caught in the act, she would fight off my cousins who would try to take away the sugar from her. In the physical struggle over a spoonful of sugar, she would always lose, as my cousins were taller and stronger, but that would not stop her from cursing them and her illness, in a flurry of Tagalog and Spanish expletives. Soon, she developed a gangrenous toe that would not heal, and when that was amputated, she finally acquiesced to not having sugar.

When she was too old and sick to sell fish, she kept herself busy by sweeping their front yard with a walis tingting, and sometimes, squatting alongside the asphalted main street (there were no concrete sidewalks then) to arrange the pebbles and stones on the ground. She did not find television (then in its early days – black and white, no remote control, and only two or three channels) entertaining, but would try reading newspapers in English, by syllabicating the words, as English was not a language she knew.

I remember the stories about her because my cousins often teased her about them. She was 16 when she first got married, and had a daughter, my aunt, Kakang Salud (Salud Gutierrez), before she was widowed at age 20. At 24, she married a widower, my grandfather Alejandro Valentino, who had one daughter, Kakang Floring (Florencia Valentino). Lolo Andoy was a cochero. Their union produced my father, Ruperto (“Peting”), but it was, again, a short-lived marriage. At 28 she was widowed for the second time and never remarried. She continued to take care of the three children, two of her own, and her stepdaughter from her second husband.

Although I never saw her wear them, I did get some occasions of seeing her bring out her baro’t saya with matching panuelo. She must have valued those clothes, or why would she keep them when she had no more use for them?

At six o’clock every evening, she prayed the rosary, in Tagalog, and some prayers in Spanish, before an image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which she kept in an altar in her room. After my grandmother died, this antique image of the Virgin Mary, about sixteen inches in height and encased in glass because she was dressed in a beautifully beaded white and blue dress and made valuable by her ivory hands and face, was transferred to the main altar of my aunt’s house. It was treasured as a family relic from my grandmother.

My “granmader” died in her sleep, in 1966 at the age of 85. I was 20 years old then.

I never thought of keeping a picture of my grandmother, but last week when I visited my cousins, I asked if they were able to save any pictures of her. Unfortunately, a fire gutted my cousins’ house and my parents’ house a few years ago, and nothing was saved – not any photos, not her “baro’t saya” and “panuelos,” and not the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, which was her most prized possession.

Deprived of any physical reminders, I would just have to keep an image of her in my mind, and hope that this story would help introduce my grandmother to my children, especially when I get too old to remember correctly.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My Maternal Grandmother

My maternal grandmother, Matilde Jimenez, was born on March 14, 1905. Her children called her “Inang” (a derivative from the word “ina” which, in Tagalog, means mother) while her grandchildren called her “Inang Tilde.” Her youngest daughter was only eleven months old when her husband, Antonio (or Antonino, but nicknamed “Meno”) Lombos, a caretela driver, died in 1936 of a ruptured appendix, while playing football. For information on my maternal grandparents, I can only ask my only living aunt, Tia Remie and uncle, Kuyang Ben.

Of the little that I actually remember, I know that I was fond of her, and she of me.

I always remembered her to be a hardworking person, selling rice and pan de sal in order to support herself and her five children, my mother Dolores, and her siblings, Felicisima, Ricardo, Benjamin and Remedios. She maintained her own household, with her then unmarried children. Her only brother, Melquiades (Quiades), could not help her much as he earned very little as a taxi driver and had his own family - a wife and six children - to support. While she died at 55, her younger brother died only recently, in his 90’s.

When I was in first grade, she had a sari-sari store situated on her brother’s property, which faced an “eskenita” (alley). My school, the Don Galo Elementary School, which was a few blocks away, and her house were on the same side of the main street-, which as a child I was not allowed to cross - so I could go to her store on my own after class. It was there where my parents would pick me up later in the day as soon as they had time to fetch me. I remember that she would offer me a Coke and whatever bread or candy was available in her store. One of my favorites was a wafer - similar to a Chinese fortune cookie - that had tiny toys inside, including rings that I could put on my little finger. She generously gave me rubber bands and “peks” which I used as toys when playing with the neighborhood children.

For some reason that I never knew, she gave up that store, and instead started selling pan de sal, pan bonete (similar to pan de sal) and rice from her house. My job was to use a wide, flat wooden stick to keep each variety of rice in a neat pyramidal shape apart from the other rice varieties (Milagrosa, Wagwag), which were displayed in the other compartments. There were three such compartments in one big six-legged rectangular box, with sometimes a fourth compartment for mongo. I would help measure the rice to sell, using a scooper that looked like a gallon can of paint sliced diagonally, with a wooden handle at the center of the closed, flat bottom part. The scooped rice was placed in a wooden box called the “salop,” which was open on one side where rice grains were poured. The flat wooden stick was smooth with age and frequent use, and had a rich patina, and I liked caressing it with my hand, like a sword that would not cut, but could swipe away across the top of the salop all rice in excess of the intended measure. Rice used to be sold by the salop, or “kalahating-salop” (1/2) until the government required that rice be sold by weight.

A dress that she gave me has not survived the years, but its memory has. My grandmother was very proud that I was finishing my third grade school year with honors. Although only the top three honor students were called to the stage (as first honorable mention, I was fourth) she took delight in the fact that her first granddaughter (I have a brother older than I) showed promise. As a gift, she gave me a dress. That was very special because in those days, I would receive new dresses only on two occasions a year – Christmas and my birthday – sometimes not even.
I remember it vividly. It was a maroon dress, with small black-checkered design, with a round neck, without a collar, and with covered buttons at the back opening. The neck and armholes were decorated with tiny “C” piping made from the same cloth, sewn in half-moon fashion, one by one, like scallops. The skirt part was sheared, and had a pocket on the right side, the top of which had the same scallop accent.

It was the practice in those days, especially when one is poor, to buy larger clothes and shoes for children so that they would not out-grow them before they got worn out. Since I had few clothes, and it was my favorite, the top got worn out right away. My mother knew how to sew, and so did my grandmother, so one of them replaced the top and sewed it to the old skirt, loosening and lengthening where needed. After a couple of years, the top was still okay but the skirt needed replacing, and it was replaced. Technically, did I get a new dress?

When I was in high school, my grandmother became very sick. This was the first time that I heard about cancer, an illness that would befall at least three members of my mother’s family, including my own mother. My grandmother had breast cancer, and could not afford whatever therapy was available in those days. They could not even afford to give her painkillers. In December 1959, I knew she was dying. Instead of celebrating the season, my mother and her siblings would be huddled with their dying mother in a dark and stuffy room, where she lay writhing in pain on a banig on the floor. I would hear my mother and especially my youngest aunt cry along with my grandmother when she was in pain, but I was afraid to disturb them and stayed outside the door to her room. I prayed fervently that my beloved grandmother would not die during the Christmas season and begged for God’s mercy to let us still have her until after the holidays. When she died on January 7, a day after the Feast of the Three Kings, which then marked the end of the Christmas season, I worried that maybe I had offered her to God sooner than God would have wanted to take her. It was also then that I learned that my youngest aunt’s birthday was on January 8, and I was filled with remorse for not asking for a longer reprieve for my grandmother. It was the first time that I felt the terrible pain of separation that death brings.

My grandmother’s life on earth was brief, but I remember her fondly.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Teaching the Love of Reading

1. Share reading time with the people you love.

When my children were still babies, toddlers or in preschool, and occasionally, when they were in early grade school, I would put them on my lap to read to them. It was still fun to do even when they could read on their own. Now, they’re all grown up and they’re voracious readers. My husband theorizes that maybe the warm and fuzzy feeling of their being close to my body when they were young had become associated with reading, and while they no longer sit on my lap -the eldest is 30 and the youngest is 23 - ;), the association remains, albeit unconsciously. Unfortunately, my husband and I were at our busiest at work when our second daughter was growing up, and we did not get to spend as much time to read with her. It is sad but no wonder that she did not take to reading as much as the two other daughters did, but she caught up with it on her own later (more on this later).

If you are just going to start with reading together when your children are too old to sit on your lap, try sitting next to each other and reading the same book. I think that as long as you are still physically bigger than they are (say, they’re 7, 8 or 9 or a even bit older), you can still put your arms around them so you can look at a book together.

At times, I could be in bed with a book in my hand and my husband a few paces away, working at his hobby table, and I would try reading some passages from the book that I was reading – at one time it was John Grey’s “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, at other times some snippets of stories from Readers Digest – with him, and we would share a laugh - which goes to prove that no one is too old for sharing the love of reading.

Spend time reading together. Usually, this is before bedtime, although it could be anytime. I remember that before my children learned to read on their own, they would ask me to read book after book after book to them. Since I dramatized the reading (changing voices for each character in the story), it was fun but tiring, and my jaw would hurt from reading so much, but my heart was full.

2. Get books that your children are interested in.

As I mentioned earlier, one of our daughters did not readily take to books, until we discovered when she was two years old, that she had this fascination for horses, and at bookstores, she would pick out books that had pictures of horses in them, especially if the pictures were on the book covers. It was the same with the toys that she would ask us to buy for her. Although I could not explain where this fascination came from, I latched on to that and bought all the children’s books on horses, or containing stories about horses. Until recently, she remained in love with horses, and we keep buying her books on horses.

Find out what your children (or spouse) are interested in – mystery, airplanes, dinosaurs, football, cooking – anything at all, and make books on them available in your home. The beauty of books is that there is something on everything for everybody.

3. When reading is really difficult, ease them into reading.

When they were in high school, they all seemed to have trouble reading in Pilipino, especially Philippine literature. One of their teachers suggested taking them to watch movie and play versions of the Rizal novels that they were supposed to be studying, so that they could get the plot, meet the characters and have an overall feel of the stories without having to struggle with learning all that while reading in a language they were not at home with. I also looked for comic books (the same way I found cartoon books on statistics or physics), and looked for book versions of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo that had better, more readable fonts. (I do not understand why publishers insist on using archaic fonts). In short, I wanted to make reading easy and pleasurable.

When they were older, I learned that there are different learning styles, among them the visual and auditory ways. One of my daughters prefers auditory books (cassettes, CDs, DVDs), and we said, by all means. Now, she seems to be picking up a few books for her own reading pleasure, or for learning (her current interest is anything and everything about the Netherlands, as her boyfriend is Dutch).


Reading is fun. For me, I can pick up instant information by going to the internet, but I can’t get from the internet the same wonderful, warm and fuzzy feeling that I get by sitting on a comfortable sofa, propped up by soft pillows or snuggling with someone I love with a book of my choice.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Moving some posts

I'm moving some posts from another blogspot. I still have a few more to move to this site. When I am done transferring them, then I will drop the other blogspot, and will exclusively update on this site. Please be patient if you are reading some posts for the second time.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Conversations with a Cobra

Conversations with a Cobra

Kathy welcomed a group of 35 students under Ms. Judy Sibayan, her former thesis adviser who came on a field trip to visit our studio. Aside from showing them around, she regaled them with stories of how she not only survived Ms. Sibayan, but also actually learned how to be a better photographer because of her. (Incidentally, although she did not receive the highest possible grade, her thesis was adjudged best thesis of her batch’s).

Although Kathy’s assignment was to photograph endangered Philippine endemic animals, her thesis adviser wanted her to include the Philippine cobra, which is not an animal on this list. Kathy thought that Judy just wanted to see her dead.

To top it all, her adviser wanted her to use a film camera. It would have been easier to use a digital camera which would allow her to see right away if she got the pictures right.

Reluctantly and fearing for her life, she set up her photo session with the cobra. The Zoo did not have any anti-venom in the premises, and the nearest one was at the San Lazaro Hospital, just a few kilometers away but an agonizing three-hour ride in Manila’s horrendous traffic.

Judy wanted it photographed on a white background, with its wings flared – all poised to attack. With one eye looking through the viewfinder, and another eye watching out to see if her subject was aiming for her, and her hand shaking, Kathy tried to photograph the cobra. Because she was using film, she had no way of checking if her pictures would turn out alright and had to use up the entire roll of 36 exposures and hope that at least one would be sharp, properly exposed and with the cobra within the frame, and doing what was expected of him! It was a tall order for both the photographer and the cobra!

“Aren’t you done yet?” asked the cobra.

“Just one more, please,” pleaded the photographer.

“Okay, hurry up, I’m busy.”

The students laughed at Kathy’s funny way of storytelling, and Kathy continued with her narration.

She presented her photos to her thesis adviser, who thought that it might be better to use a black background. Unable to argue her way out, but convinced that her teacher was resolute in seeing her dead, Kathy cried all the way home but went back to the zoo to re-arrange for another shoot.

“You again? What do you mean, you have to re-shoot?” was the cobra’s reaction. Kathy pleaded with the cobra and explained that her adviser wanted a different background.

“Make it snappy. I get angry when I get too tired. Or impatient.” So Kathy rushed through another roll, careful not to displease her subject.

She then faced her thesis adviser, whom she feared as much as the cobra, and presented her with the second set of contact sheets. Briefly browsing through the new images, Judy chose the very first portrait of the cobra – on white background!

After narrating the story of how she survived her ordeal with her subject and with her thesis adviser, Kathy turned to the students and declared “Whatever does not kill you, will make you…” and she waited for all 35 of them, and Ms. Sibayan, to say in chorus, “…stronger.” “I would like to reassure you that you would live through Ms. Sibayan, as I have.” And with that, they applauded her. More than a talk on photography, it was probably what they needed most to hear.

A Holy School

A Holy School

My eldest daughter was in prep and I was eager to attend my first PTA meeting at her school, St. Scholastica’s College, a Catholic school just a few blocks from where we live.

Before the meeting started, I sidled up to her teacher and asked in a whisper, not wanting to let other people in on my ignorance – “May I know who St. Scholastica was? You know, I went to a Catholic school myself and I thought I was familiar with names of saints, but I never heard of her.”

“Mama!” In a hushed and embarrassed tone, my daughter chastised me – “St. Scholastica was the twin sister of St. Benedict. She was a holy person. When she died, she became a school.”

Home is Where the Internet Access is

Home is Where the Internet Access is

Kathy had already set up a G5, two monitors and her laptop on a temporary computer workstation in the house in Alabang because we were getting better Internet connections here than in Makati. A strong earthquake that hit Taiwan seemed to have damaged Internet cables that connected Manila to the rest of the world.

She worked here for three days and three nights, and never leaving for Makati. But on Sunday, when we came home from a party with relatives, she found to her horror that we had no Internet in the house, but there was in Makati. So, off she drove to Makati, even though it was past midnight.

Sacha was too sleepy to care but needed to connect to the Internet in the morning, but found it not working still by then. I had to make an emergency call for the driver to fetch her so she could rush to Makati. She left grumbling about the inconvenience of Alabang (something that did not bother her while we had internet connections).

I stayed home to tinker and fiddle with the wires, modems and wifi but could not get them to work. I tried connecting directly from modem to laptop, but still nothing. I frantically called the telephone company three times, and still nothing. I called Smart Communications to inquire about using my phone to log online but no, that’s not going to work for what we wanted to do. Then I remembered about dial up ISPs – and voila – I connected to the world.

Seeing how we all scampered to where we could connect online, I remarked to my husband that it’s no longer “home is where the heart is,” but “home is where the Internet connection is.”

Saturday, March 31, 2007


Thursday, November 09, 2006

“If we would go home to our “home-home” no matter how late, I will come to work no matter how early,” was my offer to my husband to persuade him to take us home to our new house as often as possible, hopefully everyday.

Just a few months ago, we bought a 15-year old house in the suburbs after living in a combined home and photo studio on a busy and noisy main street of Makati for the past 26 years (plus another 4 years at another Makati address that was also both studio and residence). Although I have always been longing for it, I have only belatedly experienced the joy of living away from work. We did not really transfer residences, but instead maintain two homes -one in Makati where we work, and the other in Alabang, which I call our “home-home”).

There are many advantages to living where we work. Having the house above the studio means that all we need is a 2-second commute between one and the other. Living there also meant that we were accessible to our children (when they were young and still living at home) even at our busiest times, and we didn’t have to worry about children we left at home, if we had lived elsewhere. Our children also grew up exposed to the work that we did, and often took interest in them.

It is also a convenient location. I can grab a cab just by stepping out of our house/office. We are very near the country’s primary business district. The supermarket, wet market, church, banks and our favorite bakeshop are all within walking distance, or an accessible, easily available (by tricycle, taxi, jeep, bus) short ride away.

But, there are also distinct disadvantages. It is difficult to decide when to stop working, especially since our work numbers are 24/7, not 9 to 5. It is also very easy to bring office problems into the home, and vice versa. As for attending to the family, we would be physically present and accessible even while at work, but often caught in the middle, torn between demanding children and equally demanding clients competing for our attention.

Our studio/house can a busy place – and on especially hectic days, it can be as noisy as grand central station. One can get auditory overload just hearing the buses and tricycles on the street, and the telephone ringing or paging at any odd hour. Music can be loud – to put talents in the mood, or to keep photographers from falling asleep when they need to work overtime.

The house in the studio is still here, and I suppose we will continue to maintain it. We somehow still find the studio the most convenient place to start from when we have early morning shoots, or to come home to when shoots last well into the night. Living away from work is bliss, but I must agree, working away from home is inconvenient.

But we are getting used to driving after work to our home-home and we like it there. It is in a quiet neighborhood. We have a little garden. We can relax in this house – the atmosphere is really tranquil. Sometimes, we even find time to write -John in his photography online forum, and me, doing blogs, such as this.

Even the commutes do not bother us – spending time on the road on the way home from work allows us to unwind, while being caught in slow-moving traffic is, to our sweet surprise, an extended and unexpected “bonding time.” (Except on some nights when traffic on South Superhighway or even the Skyway is bumper-to-bumper and hardly moves – like last night. We were on our way to our “home-home” and U-turned because traffic was horrendous!)

Even friends like our new home - that is, when they can make the long trip to visit us. When they do come, they no longer need to wonder if they’re interrupting us at work. Long and relaxed conversations with family and friends are now possible.

Gradually, we are spending more time in our new home. When we first acquired the house, we only spent weekends there, and sometimes not even. We have progressed to spending about 3 or 4 nights a week at home. My short-term goal is to spend all the nights of one straight week here, or one full month. We will probably celebrate when we are able to come home everyday for a full year! I don’t mind the coming and going, the commute to and from the city and our home - leaving the home to work, and leaving work to come home. It is a small price to pay to enjoy our “home-home.”
posted by Harvey at 12:01 AM

Dealing with Roommates

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dearest Sacha,

Today, you wrote about a roommate who does not seem to like you, and you wrote, “I sometimes wish I could have something like the close roommate relationships my mom had when she was in college.”

I’d like to tell you that not everyone I roomed in with became a friend. I remember being miserable with three roommates who were already roommates and friends by the time I joined them. I suppose they were not too happy with me because they all came from the same province and spoke the same dialect and I didn’t. I also kept borrowing a portable typewriter from one of them – no wonder she was pissed off with me - because my family could not afford to buy me one. Obviously the solutions were to buy my own typewriter, (my mother borrowed money to get me an Underwood portable typewriter) and to change rooms. Well, I could have tried to learn to speak their dialect, but I didn’t.

(From this experience, I learned to try to draw people into my circle, but will not persist, if they insist on staying out).

But I did form friendships with many whom I met at the dorm, some roommates and some dorm mates, and I am thrilled to think that 40 years later, we are still friends.

Living with other people is quite a challenge – and you can imagine why it is a challenge of a lifetime to marry someone and share the same bedroom for years and years. ; )

I suppose sharing a room or apartment follows the rules of physics about friction. You can’t have friction if surfaces don’t touch or rub together. So the more your lives intersect, the more chances for friction. When you live together, surface contacts can’t be helped. Trying to avoid each other can make life difficult for either or both of you.

Following this analogy, friendship, respect for, and acceptance of each other are like oils that prevent sparks (negative ones) from being thrown off by the friction of living together. In day-to-day living, respect may mean cleaning up your own space and common areas and not intruding into someone else’s space. Don’t give up the opportunity to form friendships with people you live with without trying to use those lubricants.

Please also remember that many Westerners like to define and claim their own personal spaces (physically, I think it’s an arm’s reach in front, beside and behind). They tend to be more private people who prefer to set boundaries around their personal air, visual, auditory and even emotional spaces. They like these spaces respected even when forming lines (whereas Asians don’t really mind if there are no airspaces between queuing bodies) or sitting on park benches (often occupied by one person or at most two, sitting at either end, even though there is room for three). However, there are differences among them as well, some being warmer than others in the way they relate with other people. Just understand the differences and respect them. Hopefully, it’s just a cultural barrier that personal friendships can transcend.

Now, if your roommate’s attitude turns out to be more of a personal dislike for you, don’t worry about it. Sometimes, we just have to accept that certain people do not get along, and are not meant for each other. There are more than 4 billion people on earth. I wonder how many a person meets and interacts with in a lifetime? Definitely, you cannot possibly be in good terms with everyone, and there will be people who would prefer your company while there are others who will intentionally move away from you.

If extending your hand in friendship and showing respect still fail, then the best way to avoid friction is to avoid each other (tough to do when you are roommates, but it can be done). If the relationship becomes explosive, then maybe she can ask to be transferred to another room or suite.

It will be her loss not to have known or counted you as a friend.
posted by Harvey at 2:50 PM

Virtual Dating

People in love will find a way to connect, no matter what separates them.

In the 70’s when my husband and I were still courting, he had to leave for Iloilo, leaving me behind in Manila. Neither of us had access to telephones, as my family was poor and could not afford a phone, and cellphones were 25 years away into the future. Before he left for the province, we vowed that each night at precisely 7 o’clock, we would drop whatever we were doing to look up at the sky. We identified our constellations, narrowed them down to our favorite group of stars (Orion’s Belt) and prayed that the sky would be clear enough to allow both of us to focus on the same thing. We were making a spiritual connection that made physical separation bearable.

Fast forward to the 21st century, year 2007. Oceans, continents and a 6-hour time difference separate my daughter and her Dutch boyfriend. They just have to find ingenious ways to get together, including virtual dating. She here, and he there, they prepare popcorn, DVD players and their favorite movies. They set the alarm clocks on their cellphones and at the pre-agreed moment, they each insert a DVD disk to start their virtual movie date. Conversations – hushed, as they would be if they were in a theatre – are conducted through their computers, with the help of Skype.

Whether connecting the old-fashioned way by looking at stars or the electronically advanced way through Skype, it’s all the same –it’s called virtual dating. It’s about connecting, and bridging the distance that separates people in love.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sacha and U.S. Consul

When my youngest daughter was 7 years old, I needed to take her to the U.S. Embassy to apply for a visa.

I brought with me all the documents that I was expected to show, if and when asked, to prove that we have ties to our country that would make us come back – land titles, business papers, bank statements etc. I had two briefcases of such documents.

When her name was called, we approached the counter. The interviewing consul very formally asked – “Your daughter’s name is Sandra Jean Chua?” I said yes. “Do you have her birth certificate?” So I looked in one briefcase and then another, frantically shuffling through the papers, but could not find it.

While I was in panic-mode, my daughter tiptoed and asked with a sweet smile on her face - “Why do you need my birth certificate? I’m proof that I was born.” The consul smiled at her, and asked, “Where do you want to go?” “Disney” was my daughter’s quick reply. “Well, then, have a nice trip” and stamped her visa application – “Approved.”

posted by Harvey at 8:23 PM Friday, September 29, 2006

A Mother's Persistent Plea for Gifted Education

Mrs. Lala Castillo, now directress of the Philippine National High School for the Arts and formerly principal of the grade school (St. Scholatica's College) where all my three daughters went, loves to tell audiences at Parent-Teachers Conferences the story of how, when I was pregnant with my third (and youngest), she and her teachers would try to avoid me and pray that I would give birth to a baby boy.

You guessed it – St. Scho is an all girls’ school and they were not too happy with this very persistent parent. I still had another daughter who was about to enter pre-school, and the prospect of having three Chua daughters at St. Scho must have been a daunting thought.

I suppose they were getting tired of my pushing for a gifted education program. My eldest daughter was in second grade, and from the time she was in prep, I had been pleading for them to introduce this special program at their school. I was not proposing the segregation of bright girls from the rest of their classmates, but I could see that a uniform teaching plan was not beneficial to those who were ahead and to those who were lagging behind. I argued that since they had a program for the slow ones, then they should also have a program for the fast ones. Their needs were just as real. Besides, I got into St. Scho because they boasted of "group instruction with individualized pacing." I felt that the needs of my daughter and other girls like her were being overlooked.

After a few years of pleading with them, and showing them all sorts of literature on gifted education, they did try but the teacher they sent for training had to resign and relocate when her father got sick and eventually died. With due respect to the departed, St. Scho’s program on gifted education seemed to have died with him. But eventually, they tried again, and in the ensuing years, more and more teachers were sent for training, including sending the principal and assistant principal to the U.S. to attend conferences on gifted education. In time, they had a full-blown program across all the grades that went beyond even my own expectations.

Now that my girls have all graduated from St. Scho’s grade school and their gifted education program is firmly in place and making the school proud, Mrs. Castillo and I can joke about the time when they wished I had a son instead of a daughter.

Funny, But Still Contrary

My husband, John, is a workaholic. He gets by with little sleep, and if he is working, may even forget to eat. Recently, he has been having spells of dizziness and nausea. Friends are quick to suggest that it’s vertigo and quicker still to relate their own dizzy spells. I’ve had to insist on his seeing a doctor but after a few tests, we still don’t know what is wrong with him.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he says with a grin, “I’m perfect.”

I told him that his MRI results indicated negative findings. He said he was afraid they’d find nothing because there is nothing up “here,” pointing his forefinger to his head.

His ear and balance tests showed nothing remarkable, except maybe a very slight loss of hearing in his right ear. Not enough loss to explain why he does not hear what I say.

I told him that he should listen to his body, as it is telling him to rest. He said that his body and he speak different languages, so even if he listened, he still cannot understand what it is saying to him.

“Maybe you should take up yoga,” I told him, “so you can learn to relax.” He said yoga people are still learning how to fly, and he already knows how (he’s an ultralight pilot). Besides, he said, they only fly 6” from the floor, and he wants to fly higher (he’s an aerial photographer).

He insists that the only reason he is feeling dizzy and nauseous is because he may be pregnant. He is 59, so I reminded him that he’s post-menopausal (like I am), so that rules out pregnancy. ;)

It’s difficult getting him to see a doctor and even more exasperating getting him to take care of himself. Like many men, he is stubborn, but I have a hard time hiding a smile when he says something funny. Now, if only he would get a good rest as he does a good laugh, then maybe the dizzy spells would go away.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Friday, November 17, 2006

Kathy insisted on trying a new restaurant, so we went to Capricciosa in Greenbelt 3. They just opened, and it was half an hour before lunchtime, so there were not many people there yet.

We chose a booth and I had to slide in. John sat next to me and Kathy was across us. The waiter came and introduced himself as Jeffrey, while handing us brand new menu cards. Since it was an Italian restaurant, we naturally ordered pasta and pizza, and bruschetta to start the meal.

“Would you like soup?” Jeffrey asked. Although we had not thought of having soup, he obviously was trained to “push” their products in a smart and pleasant way. “You might want to try our Italian beef and vegetable soup? It’s very good.” In the split second that he saw that we were a bit undecided, and might be persuaded, he gave it a final push by saying “It’s my favorite.” John, who is just as quick on the draw, replied, “If we ordered that, then you would have to sit down and join us.”

That cracked us up and we, including our waiter Jeffrey, all had a good laugh. He looked like he was totally unprepared for that kind of a reply from a customer, and all he could do was join us in hearty laughter.

P.S. Verdict: the staff was friendly, the prices were a bit high, and the food was okay but not fantastic.

The Wedding Garter Game

The wedding coordinator eyed the bevy of bachelors and bachelorettes. She glanced at the bride and groom furtively, and having received what seemed like a conspiring signal from them, proceeded to play the games that would choose one lucky bachelor to receive the bride’s garter and one special bachelorette to catch her bouquet.

The lucky pair looked like an odd couple, but the bride, groom and their coordinator seemed to have handpicked them for each other. Although they’re about the same age, the young man was short and slim, while the young lady was a head taller and much heavier than he. He had a serious but docile look on his face, and she looked like she was a good sport.

She was more than game - she was funny! When the groom was about to hand the garter to the winning bachelor, she grabbed the garter, and stretched it before handing it to him, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

She sat on the chair so the bachelor could put the garter on her, but offered her arm instead of her leg. The audience howled, “No way,” so she demurely acceded. She lifted her foot so he could slide the garter on her leg, but rested her hands on her knees so he could not bring the garter any higher. When the crowd screamed “higher, higher,” she allowed him an additional inch above her knee. Then he stopped. The guests again howled “higher,” but she stood pat. Seeing that she was serious this time, the people at the wedding reception kindly agreed that it was okay to stop there.

As they posed for photos with the bride and groom, the wedding coordinator motioned the bachelorette to kiss the bachelor. She shook her head to say no, but offered her cheek so he could kiss her, which he gamely did. He even escorted her to her chair. Hmmm, we wondered - is this the beginning of a true romance?

As they later joined the newly-married couple in a wedding dance, they held and looked at each other like we were not there, and we wondered, will they be the bride and groom in the next garter game?

(Based on observations at Rainier and Iris Camille’s wedding on February 20 at Oasis in San Juan, Metro Manila).

Monday, February 19, 2007

About Visual Floaters and Getting Old...

At 61, I do notice myself getting old, and one of the most telling ways is how my vision has deteriorated. It is getting more difficult to read fine print (especially telephone books) and recently, I had my first encounter with floaters.

On Valentine’s Day, I was doing paperwork on the dining table when I saw something a bit blurred in front of my eye. Thinking that I had a stray eyelash or hair in front of my eye, I brushed my eye with my hand, but the “vision” stayed. After I washed my face and it was still there, I suspected that I had “floaters.”

The first time that I heard about “floaters” was when my husband John experienced them a few years ago. I remember how worried he was about his eyes then, which is understandable because, after all, he is a photographer. All we knew about them then was what his doctor told us. Now, with Internet, my first recourse was to “google” and there was quite a bit to learn about floaters.


As soon as I saw my husband, I told him about my experiencing floaters. Before I could impress him with the information I culled from the Net, he said, “You’re getting old.” His quick-on-the-draw remark was not meant to hurt - it is characteristic of him to be simple, precise and direct to the point.

Seeing a slight worry frown on my face, he did a double take and told me that his own floaters no longer bother him. “Go see an eye doctor,” he said, and gently added, “Don’t worry, we’ll grow old together.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Two Pillows

At our age, it is common for internists and cardiologists to ask us how many pillows we use when we sleep. (I’ve always answered but never asked why we’re asked – I should when I am asked again).

I suppose it indicates our capability to breathe comfortably (does that make sense?), and maybe that’s how doctors know if we still have good lungs. I’ve always answered “one,” but last night, I realized that I use two. Come to think of it, I have never slept with one pillow.

There are many reasons for using an extra pillow – to elevate the head or to hug something soft and warm - but last night, the reason why I use a second pillow became obvious to me. I put my head on a pillow (pillow number 1) and I put a pillow on my head (pillow number two).

It is to muffle the sound of a husband snoring. ; )

Of course, in the middle of the night, I may not need those pillows.

P.S. 1 I sms’ed a friend who is a medical student to ask him why they ask and here’s his reply:

“Haha. Funny that doctors forget to explain. When hearts enter a failure state, fluid can collect in the lungs because of the increased pressure in the lungs. Patients try to use pillows so fluid stays lower in the lungs via gravity, so they can breathe easier. Ü”

P.S. 2 It must be true love that has kept me sharing the same bed for 33 years with a husband who snores. =)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Blogging Confusion

My first blog was about family and I posted one story there, while my second attempt at blogging was to chronicle John's involvement with the town of Banaue. I decided to separate it from the story about the family and created another site for it.

Recently, after two years of not blogging, I tried writing again about the family, but I could not find my first blog. I could not remember the title, my username or password. So I was advised to just start from scratch and I did. I wrote quite a few posts, and thought that I was really getting the hang of blogging. I knew how to get to Dashboard and to add a new post. I was proud of myself, and my youngest daughter was proud that her old mother knew how to blog.

Then Blogger switched to their new format, and I could not access my old Dashboard. I could go to my three blogs and managed to combine the first with the second (not what I wanted. It was the second that I wanted to combine with the first so I could drop the second blogspot). I could not go to the Dashboard of the blog that mattered - the most recent and the site that had the most stories.

I searched for help and tried the many suggestions to combine blogs or to find lost usernames, but to no avail. After struggling and failing to find the right away, all I had was a headache. So today, I cut and pasted from my favorite blogsite to my first site. I also made the mistake of transferring some family stories to the blog on Banaue.

I'm confused but I hope you will bear with me. My most recent post, "My Date with Carl Gustav Jung," is buried among the cut-and-pasted stories of my old posts. I also hope that someone can help me put my posts in order, at least chronologically. But I will not be defeated - I will try again.

Dreams Do Come True

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dreams Do Come True
Paolo Coelho in his book, "The Alchemist" promised that "when you truly want something, the universe will conspire to give it to you." I have only recently read this book, but it seems John (my husband) and I have been living according to this precept for most of our lives.

In 1975, we needed a four-wheeled vehicle for use in our photography business. Since we couldn't afford to buy a car, we traded in our motorcyle for an owner-type jeep that was old and decrepit. One time, John was driving and the stick shift came off from the socket! It was a frightening experience but we somehow laughed it off.

A couple of months later, we started doing editorial and coverage photography for General Motors. John wanted to have a car - not a car to buy since we didn't have money to buy one - but he wanted to convince GM to give him a car to use. I didn't know then about the power of dreams and asked John "Nahihibang ka na ba (Have you gone crazy?), why would GM give you a car? Will you do all your photography for free use of a car?" Being the partner in charge of the business, I didn't want such an arrangement. John reassured me that we would get paid and still get a free car to use. The volume and value of work that we were doing for GM then was quite low and so I found it hard to imagine that GM would agree to this proposal. I was still full of disbelief, and John pleaded "Just believe. Trust me, they will give us a car." John dictated the proposal to me and I typed it on our letterhead.

Guess what, GM agreed! They even took care of maintenance, all we had to do was spend for gasoline. If anything was wrong with the car, John could take it back and come home with another car! Our neighbors thought we were rich.

That was our first big dream, and we have been chasing and realizing dreams ever since. Thank you John for teaching me, before Paolo Coelho did, that dreams do come true. Thank you, universe.
posted by Harvey at 10:54 PM

Dramatic Reading

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dramatic Reading, Part 2
I started to imagine myself doing the actual dramatic reading. In the TDRs (technical dress rehearsals), there will only be family members of the cast, and I expect them to be supportive. In the actual performance, the audience will be composed of only about 30 people – mostly sponsors who are generous with their time, money and readiness to acclaim the efforts of a non-professional group such as ours. This is probably the most gentle and reassuring way, as Lala said it, “to get your feet wet.”

On the way home, Lala congratulated me, and said that I did fine. She pointed out the fact that Tita Naty did not correct me even once. (That was a great confidence-booster because I had heard my children and their classmates speak of how much fun theater could be but how strict Tita Naty was). I told her that the last time I read that way was when my children were young and I read to them, dramatizing the characters from fairy tales, or stories from Dr. Seuss to keep them entertained.

I’ve had good practice then.
posted by Harvey at 8:24 PM
Monday, November 27, 2006

Dramatic Reading
A few days ago, Naty Crame-Rogers (whom we all call Tita Naty), 83-year old 2006 National Artist for Drama, sms’ed me an invitation to join her group in a dramatic reading of “the Cradle Song.” She would ask our mutual friend, Lala Castillo, to bring me the script. I was to play Sr. Maria Jesus. The first meeting of the group will be on Friday, November 24.

Lala sent the script on Thursday, which I didn’t get to receive until Friday morning. So it was only then that I discovered that Sr. Maria Jesus was supposed to be an 18-year novice at a convent. “How on earth can I be a convincing 18-year old?” I asked myself. I am 60 and maybe I look 50, but sometimes my voice quakes and quivers like I am 70. But I had not seen Lala in a long time, and it would be nice to chat with her on the way to Tita Naty’s house. Later, I can always make excuses why I could not join.

Through Manila’s traffic, the ride took about an hour – a good amount of time for a chat with Lala. I told her how I felt about playing an 18-year old, gave her the whole slew of excuses that I had prepared. She said not to worry, there is always a double cast, and reassured me that I could quit if I wanted to.

At Tita Naty’s house, I met her motley group of volunteers that does dramatic readings, plays and musicals in her sala (living room) or garden theater. Of course, I already knew Tita Naty. I first saw her perform in the much-heralded Filipino play, Nick Joaquin’s “Portrait of An Artist as Filipino,” when I was a student at the University of the Philippines. She was until recently, the indefatigable drama coach at St. Scholastica’s College where my three daughters attended grade school and where Lala was the grade school principal. Lala retired from St. Scho but was immediately invited to be directress of the Philippine National High School for the Arts. Other participants included Mrs. Mabanta, her 76-year old neighbor who was introduced as the wife of a former government official, Cathy, a tall woman in her mid 30’s who works at a call center, and the only man in the group – Danny Escasa, who I learned works with computers and had met my daughter Sacha in one of meetings of the Philippine Linux Users Group.

After some small talk, Tita Naty started talking about “Cradle Song.” She told the story, and gave some tidbits about previous presentations, including the fact that it had been made into a movie. After learning that the role assigned to me was that of Sr. Maria Jesus, an 18-year-old novice in a convent, I was just about ready to back out. “I’m 60, and my character is 18,” I protested but Tita Naty said she doesn’t really assign actors according to the age or personality of the characters to be portrayed. “But I can’t memorize scripts anymore,” I protested again, to which Tita Naty said, “you don’t need to memorize the script – this is dramatic reading, so you’re allowed to read, well glance at, the script.” “But it’s December already next week, and I won’t have time to rehearse with you,” I reasoned to wriggle my way out of this commitment. “Oh, that’s ok. Everybody is busy in December, so we’ll start rehearsals in January.” “But I may be too busy at work to come for rehearsals or the actual performances,” I tried again, and she said “Oh, but this is relaxing and just what you need to have after work.” Running out of excuses, I surrendered to her persuasive ways and picked up the folder that contained the script, in a way glad to have been “pushed” into trying something I have wanted to do for a long time.

The folders that held the scripts were fastened at the bottom instead of at the top, I suppose to make it easier to “drop” the finished page and move on to the next.

There were more characters than actors so Tita Naty, Lala and Danny doubled up, with Danny actually reading a part for a female character. When the script came to my part, I read, almost cautiously, half expecting Tita Naty to correct how I read. But she didn’t! I know that Tita Naty’s ears are trained to hear if lines are read properly – right pronunciation, enunciation, tone, inflection, emotion – whatever it was that we were supposed to do with our voices to make the characters come alive, so it was with relief that she didn’t correct me, or point to any error in the way I read. At some point when the conversation among the characters was supposed to be excited and animated, she must have noticed that all our voices were going the same way and pitch, and she gave us a short informative lecture on the three pitches – high, medium and low. She advised us to listen to each other, and to change the pitch from the one used by the previous reader. “If she’s high, go medium or low.” Like a choral director, she harmonized our voices while keeping intact the identities of the characters.

I found myself flowing through some 15 pages of script, and Tita Naty was right. Except for the first part when I was nervous, the rest of the practice session was quite relaxing. And fulfilling. I committed to attend the rehearsals in January.