Saturday, June 08, 2013

The fire victims

The way he boarded the jeep took us all by surprise: first he slid a plastic drawer, no doubt part of a cabinet, with a jersey shirt covering the contents. Then he hoisted a little girl without shoes, with feet covered in soot. His wife then entered the jeep, with a baby in her arms. Only then did he board, his wide dirty unshodden feet quite noticeable.

The little girl whined that they have no slippers, to which the man grimly said, "Bibili na lang tayo."

He set the girl on top of the pile of clothes on the drawer in the jeepney aisle.

The family was quiet, and everyone in the passenger jeep seemed to have the same question even as the vehicle continued to weave through traffic on E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue.

"Nasunugan kayo?" the man's seatmate, a woman, asked curiously.

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The pamanhikan tradition

In this day and age, marriage has become optional, and even commitment too. Just take into account the various permutations of relationship statuses these days: just going out, hanging out, just friends, special friends, dating, exclusively dating.

Even President Benigno Aquino III is in some kind of relationship with TV host Grace Lee as they confirmed they were "officially dating."

That brings a question to mind: If there's such a thing as "officially dating", is there a status dubbed as "unofficially dating"?

And if so, is that the same as the MU (mutual understanding, or mag-un, for those who like each other but can't shout it out to the world) of a generation ago? What happened to good old-fashioned boyfriend-girlfriend commitment?

With commitment hanging in the balance, it was thus comforting and reassuring for me to note that some good old-fashioned traditions are still alive.

One of them is the pamanhikan.

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Kindness on the streets

Sometime last week, I was walking on Timog Avenue in Quezon City toward the car I parked. Some pavement tiles on the sidewalk were missing on the tight spot right next to the driver's door. 
Gingerly, I half tiptoed on the tiles that were still there but before I knew it—splat! My left sandal became half-submerged in black muck, as the rain drenched the city earlier that day.
"Ay si Ma'm, nalubog," said a middle-aged woman sitting on a stool on the sidewalk. 
"Ikaw kasi, diyan mo siya pina-park," she added, admonishing a young man who was scratching his head.
"Kuha ka ng basahan, dali," she said, and in a second, a younger woman produced a clean rag right beside my sandal, the type of rag being peddled on the streets for a peso each, made of cut retazos of cloth.
"Ah wag na, ok lang ako," I said. "Hindi naman ako nabasa," I explained, turning my foot so that I—and they—could see the sole of the half-muddied sandal, and my not-muddied foot.
"Ay hindi, ipunas mo diyan. Babaho yung sasakyan mo," the young woman said, while the older woman said something in agreement.
And so I stepped onto the clean rag on the sidewalk and twisted my sandaled foot left and right, while they looked on. The older woman said, "umulan kasi kanina."
I thanked them, got into the car, and soon I was on my way home.
While driving, it struck me that a homeless family chose to be kind and helped me that day.

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'Bagong Lipunan', the Metrocom, and my other memories of Martial Law

To my five-year-old mind, something was up.
I was too young to make sense of it all, but I do remember walking over with my mom and my sisters to the house of our neighbor, Tita Vita, one night. All the lights inside their house were on, and soon we were there in the sala where fellow neighbors were already praying before a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Tita Vita seemed distraught. She was distraught and tearful. I remember this because Tita Vita was normally boisterous and happy. Things weren’t the same that night.
It was many years after when I remembered to ask my mom what happened that night at Tita Vita’s when I was just in kindergarten. My mom said Tito Efren, the husband of Tita Vita, was picked up by the Metrocom police, among the many people arrested when Martial Law was declared by then President Ferdinand Marcos.

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What theater does to us

It's been a week since I watched Ballet Philippines' (BP) restaging of the 80s pop ballet hit "Rama Hari" at the CCP and I'm still humming "Magbalik Ka Na Mahal," that haunting melody that speaks of longing for a loved one from the depths of one's soul. There's a movie in my mind still playing, that of Rama and Sita dancing with the people of Mithila as lead singers sing "Day da day da day da..." I still ache in my thoughts with Rama as he pours out his soul in the song "Tagistis ng Ulan," while he ponders Sita's fate. 
And a week after watching it, I still want to watch it again, if only time (mine and BP's—their last playdate was Dec. 9) would permit it. 
Ah, time. It's the reason I wasn't able to watch this year "The Sound of Music" at Resorts World, "Phantom of the Opera" and "Stageshow" at the CCP, "Mind's Eye" at RCBC Plaza, and more. They say the chandelier at "Phantom" wasn't quite the same as the original, and I wouldn't have been able to tell. "Stageshow" was “something rare and wonderful,” said our critic, and I couldn't chime in.
That got me thinking: how many of us do make time for theater? 

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"Be my laydeh..." Martin Nievera crooned as I entered the bus, this first bus I saw with a "Dau" sign on the dashboard, on EDSA near Munoz Market.

"Comfort me through all the pain and be my laydeh..." Martin seemed to serenade me as I plopped on a seat I had all to myself. It's almost the same. Like being transported back in time, I told myself, as I surveyed the inside of this generic bus I can't even remember the name of.

Red curtains shielded us passengers from the sun's harsh rays. Backpacks and plastic bags were stacked overhead. The seats were covered in plastic. There was a TV overhead behind the driver, but it was turned off. The bus smelled old. The word 'kitsch' stuck in my head.

Then came Ric Segreto singing "Lovin' you oh-oh is such an easy thing to do..." and I relaxed. I've been through this before, something like more than 20 years ago, on a bus on the way out of Metro Manila with 80s music from cassette tapes. I was on one of my "nakikiprobinsiya" trips back then, like now.

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Why I vote

On my Facebook wall the other day, I saw my friend's post saying she might not vote this coming May for the national and local elections. "Why bother when nothing has changed all this time?" she said.

Now that may or may not be true depending on your vantage point. 

From a poverty standpoint, indeed nothing much has changed since 2006, if we are to believegovernment data. Many of the poor are still poor. 

From a macroeconomic standpoint though, there has been progress. The infamously sick man of Asia is becoming a tiger, says the World Bank

From my own microeconomic point of view, my P1,000 a few years ago could buy a lot of groceries. Nowadays, the P1,000 can barely cover 12 items, qualifying me for the express lane in the supermarket.

And yet there's progress from my small vantage point: government services like renewal of passports and driver's licenses can now be done in the growing number of malls, in between grocery runs. Now that's a bit of progress to me.

But back to my friend's post: she has decided she's not going to vote.

I, on the other hand, am scheduling a trip to the Comelec head office in Intramuros this weekend to take advantage of the early voting for media practitioners. This is the first time journalists are being allowed to do this, giving us the same privilege as soldiers, teachers, and other government workers who have election duties. Many more of my colleagues will be able to vote. Now that's a positive change too.

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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hope for millionaire-wanna-bes

My sister kidded me a few years ago, saying she's not like me who writes down every expense in a notebook. I chuckled. It must be the CPA in me, I reasoned out.

The truth is, I want to know if I'm overspending, if my income is enough for my needs, and if I'm saving enough. I feel sad when, at the end of the year, I find out I incurred a net loss. And when I come up with a positive figure after deducting the year's expenses from my income the year, I shout, "Yay!"

There have been good years and lean ones, but always, I would see God's hand providing for our needs. We have an awesome God indeed.

Due to my interest in personal finance, I have read a number of books on managing your money. A new one that I received recently is the little white book "9 to 5 Millionaire" by Leila Hernandez, just published this year. It's marketed by the Christian publishing ministry CSM Publishing Inc.

What makes this book different from majority of the books I've read is that it was written with the busy employed person in mind. Its target readers are those who have full-time jobs from 9 to 5 (or any 8-hour schedule) desiring to one day retire as millionaires.

Is that at all possible? Author Hernandez says it is, citing herself as an example. She did not grow up rich, and in fact, was told by her mother there was no money for her college education. But she persevered, supported herself as a working student, saved diligently, and worked hard after graduation. Although she lost her savings dabbling in the stock market, she has bounced back, and retired young as a millionaire after years of working.

The author reminds readers to have a goal, a road map, and mind map in mind. And, like other authors, she advocates building up passive income (income from investments, not your job) while earning active income (salary from a full-time job).

She tackles investing in stocks and real estate in chapters 4 and 5 and does so in an easy-to-understand way. After reading, you get the idea that, hey, yeah, maybe I can do that.

It's not a comprehensive guide, but an informative guide to attaining financial freedom nonetheless.

And at the end of it, when you have reached your goal, Hernandez says, "The biggest reward is your transformation. Life is not about what you acquire, but what you become, how you lived and loved." Puts everything into perspective, doesn't it? :)

BOOK OF THE WEEK: I just finished The Tehran Initiative by Joel C. Rosenberg which I got on sale at OMF Lit's R.O.B. sale this month, and man, I could hardly put it down! It takes off from Rosenberg's last fiction book The Twelfth Imam and follows CIA secret operative David Shirazi on his mission to find out all he can about Iran's nuclear program. Throw in the end of the world scenario and Biblical prophecy and you have suspense on every page. 

VERSE OF THE WEEK: "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want." Psalm 23:1

Sunday, March 11, 2012

To Sendong victims from an Ondoy survivor

Dear Sendong victims,

It took me a while to write this letter, although it’s already been on my mind for a month, ever since I heard about the monstrous flash floods that took lives and swept away homes in Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan, and even Dumaguete.

Watching the news that Saturday night in mid-December and the following days, I could only gasp, horrified, at the images I saw. That photo of a father in tears clutching his child all muddied and lifeless – which became viral on the Internet – brought me to tears.

And I just shook my head in disbelief and bowed my head in prayer when I learned that someone I know – well, technically someone I have transacted with in the past via phone and email as we have not yet met in person – lost three of her loved ones: her parents-in-law and a sister-in-law.

I’ve been to Cagayan de Oro City twice in the past, and discovered it to be a friendly city indeed. It lived up to its moniker, City of Golden Smiles. I found it safe to go around, and enjoyed walking around the city proper, having dinner at Bigby’s, shopping at Robinsons, buying pasalubong of Sler’s chicharon and pastel. Everyone had a ready smile everywhere you look.

I’ve also been to Iligan, to Maria Cristina Falls in fact, on a land tour around Mindanao that took us to the Del Monte Pineapple Plantation in Bukidnon, Dakak resort, and Rizal’s old home in Dapitan. The Maria Cristina Falls was beautiful and pristine, with clear rushing waters that were a sight to behold.

So it pained me to see Cagayan de Oro and Iligan suffering.

And the pain was greater because, in a way, I know what you have gone through.

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A Pinoy diaspora Christmas

It's three days before Christmas, but our home here in Manila is quiet. We don't even have a Christmas tree or a belen, although we do have some Christmas stockings up. There are no gifts in the living room, and no one's in a frenzied hurry to wrap Christmas gifts. Oh we know Christmas is this weekend already, but somehow we're just ... quiet about it. You see, tomorrow, half of the family will fly out from Manila to Japan to meet one-fourth of the family based there, and one-eighth of the family will fly out from the US, where they are based, to Japan for the same holiday reunion.

Meanwhile, half of those based in Manila will be staying put in the city, but we still had to convince half of that half –one-fourth–to come over on Christmas Eve instead of just staying at their home like they were planning to do.

As for the remaining one-eighth of the family, they'll stay in the US and connect with the rest of us–in Manila and Japan–via Facetime.

It's not always like this though. Most of the time, my two siblings based abroad would come to Manila, leaving behind their own families, to spend Christmas here with my parents, my sister, me, and our own families. As they would say–and other Filipinos abroad no doubt would, too–iba pa rin ang Pasko sa Pilipinas.

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Get into your kid's world

"Oh look, it's Domo-kun!" I said, pointing to stuffed toys of the brown Japanese character at Toy Con 2011, the annual toy convention held at SM Megamall recently. "And Angry Birds, and lots of anime characters. Do they have Lucky Star?"

Yup, that's me talking. Thanks to my son's interest in Japanese anime, I am not so unfamiliar with what some kids and teens are into these days.

When Miley Cyrus was in town recently, someone in the office asked, "Does Miley Cyrus have a lot of fans?" And I said, "Hello? Hannah Montana!"

And when the video of that 4-year-old Fil-Am boy singing a Warbler song a la Darren Criss on "Glee" became viral, someone in the office again said he's not familiar with the song as he doesn't watch "Glee".

I know who Miley Cyrus is, and I watch "Glee". And "Lucky Star". And some years back, "High School Musical" and "Gundam Seed Destiny".

I try to make time to get to know what kids today like because it's a way to bond and build relationships with today's generation.

Click here to continue reading at Smart Super Women.

Note to self

Watching Giada de Laurentiis, Anthony Bourdain, and even the kids on “Junior Master Chef Pinoy Edition” on TV last weekend, I got amazed once more at how they all seem to be so good at cooking. It's so natural to them as breathing, and they seem to know what to do with food.

I, on the other hand, confess that I always end up confused whenever I go to the meats, fish, and vegetables section of the supermarket. I look at the counters and shelves and ask yet again, what do I do with these?

Pressed for time, I would order a half kilo of this, pick up a frozen pack of that, and grab a sealed pack of salad vegetables (just pour dressing!) before heading to the canned meats section.

Cooking isn't one of the areas I'm gifted in. I'm not like my friend Meg who can whip up something without the help of a recipe. Oh sure, I can cook survival food and fry something or do basic adobo. But still I'd look up a recipe just to make sure I put in the right amount of soy sauce and vinegar in it.

Click here to continue reading at Smart Super Women.

Learning starts with wanting to learn

At a lunch meeting early this week with a school official, talk veered to teaching. I asked the woman I met with if she also teaches there.

"No! I can't teach these young kids. I tried before, but I just can't do it again. I can teach adults, but not college kids," she said.

She then went on to explain how difficult teaching is and moreso when the students are not interested or behaved.

I nodded in agreement, as I know what she's talking about.

Back in 2005, I taught communication subjects at a college nearby, and the yearlong stint has instilled in me an even greater respect for teachers. You see, I realized how much of a vocation teaching is.

You spend many hours preparing for your classes, then when you are in class, you give all that you've got. Teaching exacts much of you, as you give of yourself so your students can learn.

But I realized after a time, that even though you pour out your heart teaching, not everyone will learn. Only those who want to learn, who are willing to learn and be taught, and who are teachable will be the ones to benefit. Even the smart guys stand to lose if they are not hungry to learn.

Click here to continue reading at Smart Super Women.

Tutoring our children

Back when my son was in preschool and the early grades, I would try to rush home early, and beg off from after-work activities to make way for "Homework Time."

That was the time I reserved on weekdays to help my son with his homework, and if there wasn't any, to make him answer reviewers I would make myself.

As the years went on, I trusted him to study on his own. But there were times when he and I agreed a tutor would help, such as during one summer he spent going twice a week at a tutorial center for high school math stuff.

He also attended a summer tutorial course this year to prepare for college entrance exams.

My friends who are also parents also believe in tutoring their children. Most of them take the time to help their kids with homework, and some of them have hired tutors when they couldn't be there or don't feel they're up to the task.

Click here to continue reading at Smart Super Women.

Being thankful

I overheard someone say our weather these days is bipolar. It can be very very hot in the morning until early afternoon, then rainy from late afternoon to early evening. Four days ago, it was stormy; yesterday was a sunny day, and today promises rain and flood as typhoon Quiel is here.

On social networking sites, particularly Twitter, I read many comments from people all over the world. “Crazy weather,” said one. “The weather needs to be better informed about our needs. I say we write a petition. No, protest. With signs,” tweeted Vaguery. “Weather today is so confusing. One minute the suns out, next minute a monsoon mixed with tornado-like winds coming down the street. Umph,” posted benthal.

I find it ironic that here we are complaining about the weather when, just a few weeks ago, survivors of 9/11 were recounting their stories on History Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. It has been 10 years since September 11, 2011, yet these survivors still choke up when recounting their experiences finding their way out of the North Tower before it collapsed, and running away from the humongous debris cloud when the twin towers collapsed.

Click here to continue reading at Smart Super Women.

How parents really feel about those college entrance tests

I craned my neck to scan the crowd for a familiar face. So many high school seniors have been spilling out onto the sidewalk on Taft Avenue in Manila right after they took the De La Salle University College Entrance Test (DLSUCET) last Sunday night. Some of them were smiling, while some looked serious.

“Ang hirap naman ng exam! Puro word problems! Mas madali pa ang ACET!” one guy said, talking to someone on his cellphone. (The ACET refers to the Ateneo College Entrance Test.)

“Madali lang. Mas mahirap pa ang ACET, pero pinakamahirap ang UPCAT,” said my son when we finally met up. (UPCAT, on the other hand, is the University of the Philippines College Admission Test.)

Parents and relatives wait it out outside Melchor Hall in UP Diliman in August 2011 while their children take the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT). Photo by Karen Galarpe

I found it sweet to see a mom smiling from ear to ear as her daughter was telling her something. And then there
was the touching scene where a daughter held on to her dad’s arm, a latte in the other hand, while they walked.
She was talking about the exam animatedly, while her dad beamed from ear to ear.

Click here to continue reading at Smart Super Women.

Online tutoring: a 21st century benefit

It was a few years ago when I first saw those ads of companies looking for English language online tutors. These tutors were to go over essays written by Korean students, and would have to conduct one-on-one tutorials via the web.

Here was another application of modern information technology – classes and tutorials can be done online, with a student in the comfort of his home abroad going over lessons on English grammar and composition with his teacher across the seas.

I heard that Filipino English language online tutors are quite in demand, given their proficiency in the English. That isn’t surprising.

Online tutorials now are not just limited to English language tutorials. A number of tutorials are now done on the Internet, from web applications courses and college exam review courses to cooking lessons.

Yes, cooking. Senator Panfilo Lacson himself said he learned how to cook during his fugitive days last year, thanks to Google. He could now even bake his own bread!

Click here to continue reading at Smart Super Women.

Building memories

Looking over the chocolates on the shelves at the supermarket today, I smiled at seeing a bag of local cheap chocolates individually wrapped in white-and-orange stripes. “It’s still alive!” I thought to myself, as I picked up the little bag and added it to my basket. Memories of me in my grade school uniform unwrapping those little chocolates while in the school bus (more like a school jeep) on the way home came to me on the way to the cashier’s counter.

Then other grade school memories flashed: filing past displays of swimming fish at the Manila Aquarium (there was such a thing back in the 70s), eating my classmate’s baon back in Grade 4 (since she lived near our school, she had hot lunch delivered every lunch break, and often times could not finish her meal), running around and going up and down the slide in the playground under the hot noonday sun, swimming with my father in a beach (me in T-shirt and shorts, he in maong pants), going from tomb to tomb at the cemetery with my cousins to collect candle wax on All Saints’ Day and rolling them up in huge hot balls, and traipsing down Session Road in Baguio with my family, all of us bundled up in sweaters and jackets.

Those were the days when we had nary a care in the world about traffic, debts, bad news, sickness, inflation, catastrophes, love life, and what have you. What mattered then was that precise moment, when we just did what we had to do and lived for that moment alone.

Click here to continue reading at Smart Super Women.

The candies and sweets of my youth

At the foot of the MRT station near my workplace a few weeks ago, I screamed in my mind at the sight right in front of me: Butter Ball candies in the familiar yellow plastic packaging.

I quickly gave a P5 coin to the woman vendor, who looked up at me quizzically. I then scooped up 5 Butter Ball candies and said, "Piso isa, 'di ba?" She nodded, and I smiled.

I popped one in my mouth soon after and was immediately transported back in time when I was in my grade school uniform, white socks, and black shoes, waiting for my turn at the Chinese garter game--a piece of long garter is held by two girls, and one has to jump over it, making sure to touch the garter with one's legs. The garter is held higher and higher as the game progresses.

Ah, it's the same Butter Ball of my youth, with the same sweet "butter" taste. Now this was contentment, never mind if the candy now costs so much more than it did back in the '70s.

Butter Ball isn't the only candy I loved back then. There was Cola, a round candy wrapped in purple, which tasted like Coca-Cola.

Then there was Serg's milk chocolate which I preferred more than the crumbly Choc-Nut. The latter one is still around today, but sadly, Serg's is nowhere to be found. My schoolmate Analyn said the owner's daughter was her classmate in prep, and she thinks they may have migrated already.

I remember I was in Grade 3 or 4 when I discovered Pop Rocks--an imported candy which, when you put inside your mouth, would literally 'pop' in what seemed like baby explosions. I would close my mouth and listen to the pops, afraid that if I opened my mouth, the 'rocks' would pop out of my mouth, and isn't that so dyahe?

I didn't quite get the science behind it, but I suspect there was some carbon dioxide thrown in there. Now come to think of it, Pop Rocks could have been my first exposure to "molecular gastronomy."

Goya chocolates in football-shaped balls and round gold coins have also been treats I enjoyed as a child, and so were Ricoa Flat Tops and Curly Tops--cheap and satisfying. I stayed clear of Milky Ways and Hershey bars in grade school since these would cost a big part of my baon, and so I settled for local chocolates.

Just last week, I discovered that Goya has pretzels dipped in dark chocolate, and twice this week I gleefully had that for snack in the office. I so liked it that I didn't share. Ooops. Sinful.

But still nothing beats the candies our helper bought recently at the sari-sari store--Lipps candies! These were the bright red candies that made your tongue (and lips) bright red. My classmates and I would stick out our tongues at each other and laugh at how red they have become. And yes, we would take the red candy and apply it on our lips as "lipstick." I was happy to discover that Lipps is still around these days, even though they changed the packaging.

And so yesterday at the office, after lunch, I unwrapped one pink Lipps candy. Ten minutes later, I checked my tongue in the bathroom mirror and chuckled at seeing my fuchsia tongue. I felt like a kid all over again.

Funny how little things like candies bring back memories of your childhood. And to think I haven't even started on the drinks, like the Choco-Vim I used to buy with chits at the school canteen.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: I'm almost done with Finishing Well: Book Two: Is This Really My Life's Work?, written by Bob Buford. It challenges people in the midlife stage, or those beyond 40, to discover how to make the second half of their lives count.

The author does this through interviews with accomplished people conducted over lunch, such that you feel as if you're there and part of the conversation.

What is the second half of life (or what he calls Life II) all about? He says it's all about relationships and priorities, it's about family first, it's about saying no, and it's about giving and receiving a blessing. It also involves having a new purpose, repositioning, and finding or creating the right context.

So much to learn in this little book.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:14

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A non-Thai relaxing massage in Thailand

They say you haven't been to Thailand if you haven't seen the reclining Buddha (Wat Po), got on a boat on the Chao Praya River, bargained in the night markets, rode the tuktuk, and had a Thai massage.

Well, in the 3 visits to Thailand I have made over the years, I've done them all, except for the Thai massage.

This year, I got the closest thing to it, though--a non-Thai massage. It was an hour-long aromatherapy massage which was so relaxing and memorable, I would have had it again the next day, and the day after that, or every day even, if it were possible.

Our hosts, the amiable people of Goodyear who were launching new tires then, billeted us members of the press at the Sheraton Hua Hin Resort and Spa, a beachside place by the Gulf of Thailand, some 3 hours away from Bangkok.

It was a wonderful resort hotel, with the cool waters of the swimming pool winding around the villas leading down to the infinity pool a few meters away from the beach. The casitas with their red cushions strategically placed around the pools looked so inviting for those who want to lounge around, curl up with a book, and sip a refreshing drink in between dips to the pool.

 Sheraton Hua Hin Resort and Spa. Photo by Karen Galarpe

Our hosts asked the 4 of us from the Philippine press if, after the event at the racetrack that day, we wanted to have a massage at the resort hotel's Aspadeva Spa or go to the night market. We chose the massage.

So on our 2nd night, we were booked for massage service at 9 p.m. The spa receptionist had a message for us: eat light for dinner. So I just had caesar salad and fish fillet from the buffet table at the resort hotel's Black Restaurant.

It was there that a Goodyear executive, about to have his dinner, warned us not to get the Thai massage as it turned out to be more uncomfortable and a bit painful than relaxing for him. And so when we trooped to Aspadeva Spa from Black Restaurant, we said we're having the Aroma Fusion Massage (2,100 baht), not the Thai massage, for 60 minutes.

The gracious lady at the reception area gave us a choice of massage oil, letting us get a whiff of three kinds of massage oil. One was lavender, which was calming, another was lemon, I think, and then orange. We all chose orange.

My massage therapist, Wen, led me to a private massage suite which had its own changing room with a dresser. A couple of red silk robes, disposable underwear, and slippers were ready.

Wen then got a basin with warm water, and bathed my feet in it while I sipped cold lemongrass tea. She asked me where I was from, and when I said Philippines, she said people from the Philippines are friendly. Then I got on the massage table face down, and found myself looking at a bowl of floating flowers placed strategically in my line of sight.

I told Wen what I like: hard strokes on the upper back, light massage on the legs, hard strokes on the soles of my feet. She would ask often if the pressure was okay.

I felt the hard knots on my upper back being loosened, the tension being addressed. Ah, This is what massage is all about, I thought. It's healing those aches and pains. It was so good I didn't want it to end.

But it had to, after 60 minutes. Back at the reception area, we were given hot ginger tea and a warm face towel. And as we sipped our tea, we all had smiles on our faces. We may not have been yanked and twisted away here and there via a traditional Thai massage right in the heart of Thailand, but it was such a great way to end the night. Can't wait to have such an experience again.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Four years ago, my friend Richelle gave me the slim book Handle With Prayer by Charles Stanley. It took a long while before I got to read it finally recently, but I felt it was the right time. It tackles topics such as why our prayers are not answered, how to pray in the will of God, fasting, and praying for others. A book certainly worth reading.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days." Psalm 90:14

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wish list on a stormy day

The timing of Pedring's wrath was noted by many Filipinos today. As typhoon Pedring felled trees, made bodies of water swell, brought down power lines, and flooded Roxas Boulevard, people noted that, just two years ago, it was Ondoy causing destruction.

The images shown on TV today were familiar: cars in Manila were submerged in water, evacuation centers were crowded, free hot soup handed out to adultd and children at evacuation centers, men cutting down trees blocking roads, and old and young people wading in floodwaters.

I wish and pray things won't be the same anymore. I wish that:

1. there will be no more floods in Metro Manila and the provinces

2. the Department of Education would suspend classes early enough, such as the night before

3. there will be no more power outages during a storm

4. mobile phone services will not be disrupted

5. Meralco would restore power in less than an hour

6. evacuation centers won't be so crowded

7. people would stop complaining about everything

8. LRT and MRT services will continue their services rain or shine

It's a tough wish list, but one the Philippines can aim for. While we can't do much if we're not in government, we could all certainly do number 7.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Over coffee today, I started reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, a book about writing "and life." The author tackles the topics discussed in her writing classes, from how to start writing to dealing with writer's block, and more. I like what Lamott wrote in the introduction: "One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore." But she's not one to romanticize writing fully. In succeeding chapters, she tells readers how difficult writing really is, but you have to just do it, and do it "bird by bird", as her father advised her brother who was agonizing about doing a paper about birds due the next day.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: "But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you." Psalm 5:11

Friday, September 09, 2011

Facing dengue eye-to-eye

Almost every day since last month, there has been a report of someone, most likely a child, dying because of the complications of dengue. According to the Department of Health, as of September 3, 2011, some 63,741 patients have had dengue since the start of the year, and 373 of them have died.

While the figures are better than those of the same period last year (87,409 cases, 586 deaths), it is still alarming that female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are still at it, biting unsuspecting people and putting lives in peril.

And they'll still be around for as long as there are containers and areas with stagnant water around us. Have you looked around your house, yard, and neighborhood? I think vigilance is key in combating dengue.

I'm passionate about calling attention to the need to take measures to prevent the incidence and outbreak of dengue in communities because I know what it's like to have a family member get dengue. In January, this year, I faced dengue eye-to-eye as it threatened to harm my son. And a few years ago, my 8-year-old nephew, the son of my first cousin, died of dengue shock syndrome 5 days after he started not to feel well.

My son's case started with malaise on a Wednesday and so he skipped school. Later that day he had fever, which would go down after taking Biogesic, and go up again within the next 4 hours. The next day, a Thursday, I got a call at the office saying our helper brought my son to the emergency room at the government hospital nearby as he still had fever and was vomiting. I rushed to the ER and found my son looking kinda OK, with just colds, cough, and pain in the joints that drove him to use my mom's walking stick.

The doctors and nurses at the ER thought it was just flu as his complete blood count (CBC) test showed that his platelets were at the normal range. I would have thought it was the flu too. He could have been discharged earlier but the staff had to wait for instructions from his pediatrician, who was a consultant at the hospital. As the hours went on, I saw my son becoming pale and more tired, that I told the staff I'd bring him home right then and just come back for the prescription later that night.

I drove back to the hospital that night to get the prescription for antibiotics and made sure my son rested well the next day, a Friday. We were instructed to bring him to his pediatrician for checkup on Saturday.

And so we did. Little rashes began to appear on his body, and the pediatrician thought it could be allergy to antibiotics and so she gave me a new prescription. But she was puzzled as to why he didn't seem to improve in spite of powerful antibiotics, and gave me another prescription – a request for CBC test – with the instruction to get him that test later that day if he still had fever. I brought him home and went to work at the office.

Coming home from work that night, I saw that he still had fever, and still had pains. I brought him to St. Luke's Medical Center in Quezon City past 8 p.m. for a CBC. My son had a hard time walking even with my mom's walking stick to aid him, that I felt this was no ordinary flu.

The hospital said it would e-mail me the results, and I was up all night waiting for it. When I got it at past 2 a.m. on Sunday, I saw that his platelet count – still within the normal range – had gone down.

I reported this around breakfast time to his pedia, and she said to make sure he is hydrated, took his meds and got lots of rest. Technically, his platelet count, you see, was still normal.

But my son's face and ears have turned red, and I just didn't know what to do anymore. My dad told me to bring him to the hospital right away and have him confined to be sure.

I drove him to St. Luke's Medical Center – this time at Global City as they had a promo that time (50% off room rates, my niece, a doctor who works there reported). They immediately worked on him as soon as he was wheeled in the ER from the driveway – got his blood pressure, et cetera. And they performed a CBC and a dengue antigen test (NS1 test), the results of which were to be available in 2 hours.

Within 2 hours, the ER doctor said my son's CBC even went down from its level the previous night and confirmed that my son was positive for dengue, and that we had a choice whether to bring him home or have him admitted. Of course, I chose the latter option for my peace of mind.

A pediatrician consultant was called in and he looked at my son. He assured me not to worry, as even if my son's platelets would still go down, the hospital had enough fluids on standby. He also said he didn't think it would go to that stage.

I texted close friends to ask for prayers for my son as I knew dengue is deadly. I also posted a status message on Facebook calling for prayers and support, and wishes for his recovery poured in. It was also Prayer and Fasting Week at Christ's Commission Fellowship where we go to regularly, and I even texted our pastors to please include my son in their prayers.

By Monday, my son's platelet count still went down as his pediatrician said it would. The doctors and nurses would check on him often, and ask if he felt any stomach pain. His liquid intake was monitored, as well as his urine output to make sure he was not getting dehydrated. The good thing was my son's appetite was still normal. He would also just have slight fever, not a high grade one.

The next day, Tuesday, his platelet count went up a bit, and he still had no pain in the stomach (a sign of internal hemorrhage). His energy was also up. My son's pediatrician gave the go signal for us to go home. Praise God!

During the next few days, my son would continue to rest at home. On the second day, he got red again in the face, so I brought him back to the ER at St. Luke's Medical Center in Global City to be sure, and after CBC, his platelet count was at the same level as it was that Tuesday. It was to be expected, his pediatrician said, but he was on the way to recovery.

It took about another week for my son to completely recover and be strong enough to go to school. We are grateful for the many people who prayed for him, and for the attentive service given to him by his doctors and nurses. We believe God answered our prayers for his healing.

Where could my son have encountered that dengue-carrying mosquito? We traced it to a shallow pit near our garage which would get filled with rainwater. The pit has since been cleaned and repaired.

Dengue is now not just in season during the wet months of June to August. It's affecting people all year round. Take the time to check your surroundings – from plant pots and flower vases to gutters and pits – to keep those pesky mosquitoes at bay. Dengue is not something to be taken lightly, as life is a precious gift.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Both teachers and non-teachers alike will learn much from the little book Letters to a Young Teacher: The Art of Being Interesting by Joseph V. Landy, S.J. In a conversational style, the author talks to the reader and asks questions such as why do you want to teach? He then goes on to advise those whose main goal is to earn money to try something that can earn more money: "trading or farming or even hair-styling." Teaching is a noble, but "relatively low-paying profession", he says, yet is so rewarding to those looking for fulfillment. He shares many tips for teachers, which parents and trainers may heed: Have the "knack of making the seemingly dreariest subject interesting."

VERSE OF THE WEEK: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” ~ Psalm 143:10

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Zip lining at 80

Can't resist posting this photo here. That's my mom on the left, at 80 years old, on a zip line last month at the Picnic Grove in Tagaytay. Beside her is her friend.

Imagine that! What do you think you'll be doing at 80? Would we still be alive when we reach 80? :D

So whatever's on your bucket list, go for it! Enjoy life, but stay safe!

BOOK OF THE WEEK: I finished reading yesterday Just As I Am, the autobiography of world renowned preacher Billy Graham. The thick hardbound book cost me only P75 after my friend Tinna decided to let go of some of her books. :-) From milking cows daily, Graham has gone on to inspire millions of people all over the world to make peace with God. His message still holds true today: that God loves us and has great plans for us, but sin got in the way. We can't atone for our sins because of our sinful nature. God therefore sent His only Son, Jesus Christ to take our place on the cross and wipe our sins away. But though He did it for mankind, we have to take that gift individually and open our hearts to Christ. It is interesting to read Graham's stories of the people he has met over the years and how God has guided him.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: "For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding." ~ Proverbs 2:6