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.

Click here to continue reading on GMA News Online.

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.

Click here to continue reading on GMA News Online.

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.

I know I’m not alone in this mission because when Taylor Swift was here a few months ago, two of my friends watched the concert with their daughters and their daughters’ friends. And they realized Taylor is really a great performer and a good role model for today’s kids.
Same thing when Justin Bieber arrived in Manila this year. Guess who were photographed with preteens and teens in the crowd? Their parents.
What is your child into? Find out, get into it yourself, and in the process get to know your child more.
Since my son loves cars, I have seen my share of auto shows and even drift competitions from which I have come home smelling like burnt rubber. Is it worth it, grime and all? It is. Our children are priceless, and time spent with them is valuable.

Click here to read this on the Smart Super Women blog.

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.

And so that’s my first Note to Self this year: Learn to cook more. The benefits: healthier food for me and my family, plus I need not look so lost in the meat section next time.
I think we all should take steps to do some self-improvement regularly. We are not perfect, and there’s bound to be some area in our lives we need to improve on.
Here are some suggestions on self-improvement steps you might want to take. Make a note to yourself to do any or all of the following:
  • Learn something new this year. It could be as simple as changing a car’s tires or baking a chocolate cake, or as challenging as learning a new language. Commit to learn a new thing this 2011.
  • Start an exercise program, or if you have one already, stay on track and even do more challenging stuff. I was sedentary for many years before I decided to finally again start exercising last year. The huffing and puffing as I climb up stairs has lessened, if not diminished, and I’m stronger now than before.
  • Read the Bible. You read books, don’t you? Why not read the Bible in a year? I found that there is much wisdom in the holy book, and we can find many of the answers to life’s questions there.
  • Travel. Get out of your city this year, and head to a province or another country to take a break and get a glimpse of the world outside. Traveling provides many opportunities for learning. It opens our eyes to how we can improve our lives and our nation.
  • Get involved. Donate blood, help build a house, volunteer to hold the hand of a child with cancer, or collect clothes and toys that can be given to the less fortunate. You may be just one person, but you can do much to help others.
  • Count your blessings. Stop complaining and be grateful for what you have. It’s a great life, one that’s worth living.

Click here to read this on the Smart Super Women blog.

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.

It’s like me when faced with html codes that all look Greek to me. My brain refuses to process it, or refuses to even try, and I give up right away. I don’t even want to learn html because, well, it looks so complicated and I’d rather leave it for others to decipher. But give me something else–history, current events, whatever, and chances are, I’ll lap it up. I want to learn while I still have breath in me. There’s just so much going on in this world and we have so much to learn from each other.
As parents, we should instill in our children a love for learning. How? It starts with us. When we ourselves show amazement at new discoveries, when we make the effort to feed our minds and engage in critical thinking, when we look upon our world with curiosity and ask, what can I do to make this world better–children pick that up.
Love learning. It’s a great way to live!

Click here to read this on the Smart Super Women blog.

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.

Back when I was a student, tutoring was not the norm. Even parents did not take the time to teach and tutor their children.
Over the years, with more studies done on education, though, and parenting, too, experts have realized that children stand to benefit from tutoring.
One, it can help children keep up with their lessons and understand the subject better, according to the article “How to Know When It’s Time to Get Your Kid a Tutor” on
Two, tutoring can help a child who’s already excelling in the same subject. According to the aforementioned article, a child who already knows the subject matter being tackled in class will become bored and uninterested during class discussions. A tutor can teach him beyond what the class can offer and challenge him to keep on learning.
Tutoring provides that one-on-one mentor-mentee relationship, or at the least, a learning environment with a very small group. A student is free to ask questions and go at the pace he wants and needs.
When my son had that math tutorial a few years ago, he told me that his tutor was still a college student studying chemistry at the University of the Philippines. And though the tutor was not a math major, he knew his algebra and trigonometry and made it so much simpler than my son’s teacher in class did.
Sometimes we need a little help, and a tutor just might be the answer.

Click here to read this on the Smart Super Women blog.

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.

I think these survivors wake up each day thanking God just for being alive. Shouldn’t we do the same instead of complaining about the “crazy” weather?
The next time you feel the urge to complain (it’s in our nature, don’t fret), think of something you can be thankful for. It can be the nice orchid blooming in your garden, the bird you hear chirping away outside your window, even the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting in from the kitchen. It can be the smile on your child’s face in the morning, instead of a grumpy one. Thank God for time to have breakfast, a safe ride to school or work, and the privilege to earn a decent living. It’s a new day after all.

Click here to read this on the Smart Super Women blog.

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.

This has been the pattern, more or less, for the past few months as many college hopefuls have started taking those competitive college entrance exams at the country’s top universities. Parents would anxiously wait right outside exam venues, and would be all ears to find out how their children did.
At the University of the Philippines (UP) campus last August, thousands of parents and family members (with some of them even bringing their pet dogs as well) congregated outside UPCAT venues throughout the campus as the examinees went out. The anxiety written on parents’ faces would change to pride and joy as soon as their sons and daughters emerged from the gates.
The same scenario was seen in the next exam, that of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) that same month. Then it was replicated at the Ateneo de Manila University last September and DLSU last Sunday. Before the month is over, UST will have its second UST Entrance Test (USTET) for high school seniors.
If students are nervous about these tests, so are their parents, believe me. Every parent wants only the best for her child, and a good education, they say, is the best legacy a parent can give. Of course, most parents want their children to get the best university education there is, thus the shared anxiety during this season.
Come January next year, expect to see ecstatic status messages on Facebook from parents of college hopefuls as universities start releasing the lists of those who got admitted to their campuses. To see one’s child get into the university of his dreams – that would be a milestone along with the great moments of all time: the day a child made his first step, celebrated his first birthday, went to school for the very first time, attended his first prom, and graduated from high school. Someday, in the far far future, we hope, would be the first relationship, the wedding, and the first grandchild for us. But that seems like light years away. For now, there is college, and so we wait.

Click here to read this on the Smart Super Women blog.

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!

The beauty of online tutorials is that you can take them at your own pace and at your own time. You don’t have to rush through traffic and spend for transportation to get to the tutorial center or school. And with chat facilities, online tutorials make it easy for students to raise questions and have their tutors answer them immediately. It’s learning without borders, 21st century style.
Thinking of enrolling in an online tutorial course? Here are some tips to help you choose the best one for you:
1.      Research about the company offering the online tutorial course. Is it a reputable company? How long has it been in the business? A stable reputable company may be relied on to offer quality online tutorial courses.
2.      Read up on the teachers’ qualifications. The website should give potential enrollees a brief background on the qualifications of the online tutors.
3.      Look into the details. Will you be able to chat with the tutor to get answers to your questions fast? How soon will you get feedback for tests and homework sent online?
4.      Ask for feedback from other enrollees. Check online forums for feedback about an online tutorial course, or ask family and friends for referrals.

Click here to read this on the Smart Super Women blog.

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.

A few years ago, I interviewed Heinz Bulos, a money-smart dad and editor of a personal finance magazine, about family finances, and he said something that stuck to my mind: “Spend for experiences rather than stuff,” he said. “As dads, we have a tendency to lavish our kids with material things, partly out of guilt for not spending enough time with them and mostly because we just enjoy seeing the smiles on their faces. But their excitement is gone weeks or even days after getting something they want. So instead of buying more and more stuff, spend for experiences–trips to the zoo, the park, the beach–since memories of happy experiences last much longer than the fleeting enjoyment of toys and gadgets. Plus you get to spend quality time with them. More experiences, less stuff.”
What memories are you building with your children? I hope that someday, even when he is a grown man, my son will remember us going to Manila Zoo and Enchanted Kingdom, swimming in the clear waters of Boracay, eating sushi in Tokyo, watching cars drift in an exhibition game in Greenhills, plunking down on the floor of a bookstore at the mall to read a storybook together, or just sharing a piece of chocolate at home on a lazy summer afternoon.

Click here to read this on the Smart Super Women blog.

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