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.