Sunday, February 21, 2010

Going Physical

At 64, I am still hoping to find out more about myself so that my life can be balanced, joyful and productive. The list below is part of a much bigger questionnaire (there are questions on other aspects of life) and deals more with my physical skills. I was shocked to find out that I could not check even one on this list.

Having finger dexterity
Good hand and eye coordination
Gross motor coordination
Having agility, speed & stamina
Crafting, sewing, carving, sculpting
Finishing, painting, restoring etc
Cooking, baking
Assembling machines or equipment
Operating, driving machines/equipment
Maintaining machines or equipment
Constructing buildings or rooms
Taking care of animals

How could that be? What did I do with my life? Or with my body? For sure, I was never a couch potato. Except for Oprah and Suze Orman, TV holds no appeal for me. Did I just read, write and do paperwork? I don’t suppose account servicing and managing could be considered physical activities. Did I just sit in front of my computer? Although I must admit that I enjoy long after-dinner conversations, do I just spend my leisure time chatting with friends? Am I essentially a spectator, a passenger, a listener?

Embroidery, sewing, pottery, carpentry, cooking, baking – I’ve tried them all but could not go beyond introductory levels – there was not one that I was passionate about to pursue through the years.

You would not believe how many times I’ve enrolled in driving classes – maybe 5 or 6 times, and yet I still don’t drive alone. But, hey, I have a driver’s license.

I love animals but have not taken care of any of them. One daughter raised a cat; another takes care of our dogs and an African lovebird, while my husband volunteers as an elephant-keeper at our local zoo. Which pet can really be mine to take care of? Not even Tomagotchi, I’m afraid.

Playing a piano? Nope, never learned it, even though I bought a piano for our home, and encouraged my children to learn it.

Boy, I’m starting to feel useless – I love gardens and plants, but don’t do any gardening. My thumb is brown, or maybe red or orange!

Now that I’ve reached six decades and four, I can perhaps offer my advance age as my excuse for not having stamina, agility or speed, but I don’t remember joining any sports or race even in my youth, so I would be unfairly blaming old age for my lethargy. There was a time I tried Tetris but have yet to find a computer game, or a physical activity such as volleyball or badminton, or even ballroom dancing in which I could excel. Oh, no, we’re not even talking excellence here; we’re just talking “do.”

Please help! Where, when and how do I start to acquire physical skills? Do I choose one and not give up until I’ve mastered it? Then which one? I always tell myself that it’s never too late to learn something new, but is this checklist telling me that physical skills are really not in my DNA?

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Chinese Decision

A Chinese Decision

In 1985, having made the decision to stay in the country, we had offered to buy the house that we had been renting since 1980. It housed our studio as well, while we lived on the second floor that had two bedrooms, one for my husband John and myself, and the other for the children. The living room and a ground floor masters’ bedroom had been converted into photo studios, the library into an equipment room, and we shared the dining room and kitchen with the staff and clients.

When we informed our landlady, with whom we had become friends, that we were interested to purchase her house, she did not want to name a price. Instead, she wanted us to make an offer.

To help me arrive at a fair price to offer her, I decided to look around in the neighborhood to see how much properties were selling for. Then, one day, one of the real estate agents asked me to check out a house in San Lorenzo Village (or San Lo, for short), a first class gated subdivision right next to the Makati Central Business District. Although San Lo was a residential community, they were quite lax and allowed businesses to be established in some of the homes (as long as they didn’t build obviously business buildings). She assured me that San Lo prices were at par with Bautista’s, since Bautista was considered a commercial area.

My only intention for looking around was to get an idea of how much to offer for our house, but I was thrilled to think that there was a possibility that we could live in a nicer neighborhood.

True enough, I found a house in San Lo that met one of the most important specifications that my husband had set – that it must have a living room large enough to be used as a photo studio. I showed it to my husband and he gave his imprimatur. I liked it myself because it had a yard and was near the community park. I envisioned having my young children biking around in this safe neighborhood and making friends with other kids in the neighborhood – something they could not do on busy, noisy and traffic-dangerous Bautista Street.

Since I had a friend in the real estate business who lived in San Lo, I took her to the house to get her advise on how to negotiate with the owners. To my chagrin, she immediately said we should not get that house. I asked her why, and she said “Tumbok yan, and that’s malas” (“tumbok” is the Tagalog word for being at the intersecting point of two roads connecting like a T, and “malas” means to be capable of bringing misfortune). It was my first time to hear the word “tumbok” and I certainly did not believe in superstitions. I argued that my husband and I work very hard and can offset or overcome whatever “malas” the house would bring. “That may be true,” she said, “but many people believe that houses like this are ‘malas’ and if and when you need to upgrade, you would have a hard time selling this property.”

I went home frustrated that we could not push through with buying a house because it was “tumbok” and “malas.” I went to bed early, very disappointed and slightly depressed at seeing all my happy dreams and visions of this San Lo house going pffft, and at the thought of doing house hunting all over again.

All of sudden, a thought came to me that pulled me out of the pits. My inner voice was saying – “Why feel bad? In 1970 when you started the business, you had nothing and hardly any money, and today, you almost bought a house in an exclusive community in the city. You’ve come a long way, Harvey.” That thought was enough to perk me up, and I went downstairs to the studio to reassure my husband that I was feeling okay and not to worry about me.

I saw him working overtime in the studio with a Chinese client. We talked about the house and he (Felix Wu, formerly of Ajinomoto) said he would like to share a story with us of two businessmen – a Chinese and a Filipino.

Here was the story:

There were two entrepreneurs, one Filipino and one Chinese. They both had a “sari-sari” store (a humble variety store that sells, in retail, only small low-priced everyday items).

After a year, the Filipino used the profits of his store to buy himself a TV set. The Chinese man reinvests his money into the store, and turned his “sari-sari” store into a mini-grocery.

After the second year, the Filipino bought himself a second-hand car while the Chinese continued to commute using public transportation. He expanded his store, while the Filipino still had the same “sari-sari” store.

After the third year, the Filipino bought himself a house in BF Homes (a medium-level suburban subdivision) while the Chinaman continued to live in a tiny room above his store, which was by then, close to looking like a department store.

At this point, my husband butted in and said, “You see, the Chinese way is better,” to which I replied, “Better for the business but look at the two and see who is smiling.” It was easy for the three of us to reach the conclusion that the Chinese knew how to do business, while the Filipino knew how to enjoy life.

“Let’s have a Chinese decision,” John said. “Let’s offer to buy this house. After all, the studio is here, we won’t need to transfer, we might lose clients if we transferred, we won’t have to change business forms and stationary, etc.”

“Okay”, I said, “for now, we will have a Chinese decision, but I hope someday, we can enjoy a Filipino decision.”

We offered to buy the house, our offer was well received, and for the next 20 years, we lived and worked here, raised our children and grew our photography business, combining home and business as many Chinese families would. We continue to live our Chinese decision, while waiting for the opportunity to enjoy a Filipino decision.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Harvey V. Chua John went north to the HAB fest. I'm going south to Alabang so I can write, check my students' works and prepare for Tuesday. Will pass by MMP to visit my dad's grave - it's his death anniversary today. He passed on in 1978. I wish he were still alive to tell me family stories.

Harvey V. Chua John just called. He's driving back from the HAB. He told me to prepare the house in Alabang as he does not mind spending a few days there. That's mental (or emotional) telepathy. :)

These were my updates on Facebook yesterday morning. John had invited me to go with him to the Hot Air Balloon (HAB) Festival in Pampanga, two hours away from here, but going there meant waking up at three in the morning. I told John “thanks, but no thanks.” Unlike John, I don’t like walking up early.

I woke up at 8:30am and after breakfast, I turned on my computer to check emails, Facebook and a couple of photography forums. It was Saturday - my schedule for going to Alabang. Since we don’t really live there, I had our landline and Internet disconnected, so I had to finish all my Internet tasks before leaving for Alabang. Just a couple of minutes after I updated my status on Facebook, I got a call from John – he was on his way home, and would like to spend the night in Alabang. Wow, is that mental or emotional telepathy or what!

It was thrilling (in Tagalog, nakakakilig) to hear that John was thinking of the exact same thing I was. Maybe it comes from being in tune with each other. I remember one incident in the 70’s when we were courting (this is the politically correct way of saying it now but in my time, we would say, “when he was courting me” – I don’t know why women allowed this change), and he invited me to go to an air show. True to the way he is, he wanted to be early, while I needed to attend to other things first. By the time I got there, there was a big crowd and I did not know where or how to find him. As he would be busy taking pictures, I did not ask him to stop shooting to be waiting for me at a certain place, and of course, there were no cellphones or even pagers then.

So I put my personal “radar” on, sent a telepathic message to John that I was there and where could I find him - and maneuvered my way through the crowd, going straight to the center of what was “happening” while John was leaving that center to look for me. John and I were both thrilled that we located each other right away!

P.S. This status update came after the ones above.

Harvey V. Chua John and Kathy came to Alabang, but decided not to stay (because we have no Internet or Cable TV here). Instead they asked me to join them for dinner and a movie "Dear John" but I need to be back at home for a 10pm Skype date with Harvey E. Jewell. So I'm back here in Makati. It's okay.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

On Getting Old

Tomorrow, I’m turning 64, just a year shy of the SSS-decreed retirement age.

Sometimes, I feel old and out of synch.

I may remember a name after the person has left. Or, hours later.

My energy is completely zapped, and it’s still morning.

I misplace a lot of stuff. If it’s my cell phone that’s missing – that’s usually easy to solve – just ask somebody else to ring it for me. But what if I can’t find my keys, eyeglasses or laptop? When will there be an invention that could ring them?

When I meet friends, we discuss illnesses, medicines and home remedies. Or aches and pains. One friend suggested that a bar of soap anywhere on my bed would save me from muscle pains. I’ve been trying that, and it seems to work – but I have no explanation for why it works. But hey, at my age, I’d gladly trade relief for logic.

I used to be embarrassed to bring out my senior citizen’s card, but now it’s a card of entitlement. It gets me free movies, discounts at restaurants and salons, or on my medicines. Or to get on an exclusive MRT car – reserved for seniors. It’s also a great pass to skip long queues at government offices and some commercial establishments. After queuing for a taxi for 1-1/2 hours at SM Baguio the other night, I’m going to write Congress for a special queue for seniors at taxi stands.

A friend reminded me not to knock getting old, because the alternative is dying young.

So I talk to myself about the virtues and benefits of getting old, accept a few compliments on how I “have not changed,” and I turn around and actually feel younger than 64. Tomorrow, I’ll sign up for dance lessons or exercise class.

Now, where did I leave my keys again?