Monday, August 30, 2010

Old and New PRC Forms St. Scholastica's College

Click on the links. You may download the forms in MS Word. Regarding the new form, this is based on what the College Secretary gave me- this has yet to be perused by the Dean. On August 31, Ms. Dado, Ms. Dagsa and Ms. Amores will be going to the office to show this form for final approval. Please visit the college if you have further inquiries. Thanks Grandslam Batch, future Board Top Notchers!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


When I logged in this morning I got the most shocking news I've heard- but not along the lines of a hostage drama or an international beauty pageant, but my best friend told me she was six weeks pregnant! I don't know exactly if she is telling people yet so I won't say her name. Let's just call her "twinsis", but for those who know me well that would have been a giveaway. Anyway I'm sure she doesn't mind- we are all happy for her aren't we?

She's a year older than I am, which means it is really just about time she had a baby. I just found it hard to imagine twinsis going through something as life-altering as having a baby. Actually I'm a little jealous, the bitch is probably going to get married too. Oh by the way, when I call her bitch it's a term of endearment, you see we are so close we can actually call each other degrading names and not be offended. Sick, right? Anyway, it is hard to believe the person who once asked me, "do we really need to grow up?" is now grown up.

She and I go way back. We used to share a bedroom while we were young and trying to make it in the big city. We slept on mattresses on the floor next to each other because we were poor hahaha! She chaperoned me on dates (because I was usually shy), but if the date went well she'd slip out so I could get lucky with my date. One of the most defining moments which cemented our friendship was when we were both thrown out to the streets from the apartment we rented with our officemate "crazy Brenda".

Anyway that was such a long time ago, and for the past years I've seen her sporadically since I've been based in Tacloban since 2006. I feel for her, she really is lucky. Now she'll have a child (maybe the first of many?) who would help take care of her when she gets old.

You know recently, as I get into the throes of weighing my options after I get my license- like going away again to med school versus finding work so I could help support Nanay, I remembered the conversation my grandmother and I had when she stayed in our home during Mama's death anniversary. At 84 and battling breast cancer, she needs us more than ever. It got me thinking- even Nanay who gave birth to five children and has countless grandchildren and great-grandchildren, is feeling lonely because she is alone during the daytime in her daughter's house, when everyone is either in school or the office.

Is being old synonymous with being alone? Even here in our culture where we have extended families, the elderly still feel pangs of melancholy- how much more in western countries where they send their grandparents to a home for the aged. Maybe it is simply part of the evolution of social interactions or relationships in man's lifetime, remember Erikson's Psychosocial Theory- anyone above 65 would have to face the stage of Integrity vs. Despair. People of such age needs accept all their successes and failures in life and make peace of the inevitability of death, otherwise they would feel despair.

Nanay once joked that she would like to be buried wearing the beautiful pina dress I bought for her during her 80th birthday, and everyone of us shushed her.

"Nay, ayaw daw pag-yakan hin sugad." (Nay, please don't talk like that)

I supposed she is in that stage, and she has to think about these things, but I really hope we can make these twilight years of her life comfortable. I don't know if she would be willing yet again to try to have surgery to remove the lump on her breast but I do understand her dilemma. It's like a choice between dying slowly as the disease spreads or the possibility of dying while on the operating table.

I'm still in the category of "young adult" (18-35 according to my books), with the developmental task of Intimacy vs. Isolation. At least this explains in part me and my batchmates' need to finally make commitments and work on relationships with people around us. My book tells me if I'm unsuccessful, isolation and self-absorption could occur. Yikes!

I wonder what will happen to me when I'm old. Wait, I wonder what would happen when my father gets old. He'd surely go back home, but now I understand him when he said whatever future plans we had (referring to me and my brothers) that we are basically on our own. He's in his fifties and wants to work for his retirement. It must have been hard on him when they went to the States and he couldn't get a decent job although he is a licensed Med Tech here in the Philippines.

Anyway, as I had this whole thinking-where-I-am-in-life extravaganza, I realized that it isn't just my career path I should be thinking about. I also want to fulfill my other goals as a person- such as being a good son or grandson or brother or uncle. It is the kind of person I want to be, not just successful. Maybe in the future I might have kids of my own too (though my bestfriend beat me to it, congrats by the way sis!). Who knows? I am but a foolish boy.

Major, major

Leave it to us Filipinos to handle a rollercoaster ride of emotions- after the tragic hostage taking drama came the elation at having Miss Universe delegate Venus Raj make it to the top five. Her win as fourth runner-up got mixed reactions from Pinoys all over the world via Twitter, Facebook, and other networking sites. Some say she could have grabbed the title had she done better in the question and answer portion, while others are content with the runner-up position for the Philippines after a decade of candidates who never even got to top fifteen.

For anyone keeping score, the Philippines has two title holders- Miss Universe 1969 and 1973, plus runner-ups including Miriam Quiambao and currently- Venus.

Venus had a lot going for her: a 22 inch waistline, gorgeous morena skintone, face and proportions that embody the dusky Filipina beauty,unwavering poise, support from Filipinos all over the world (in fact, the host remarked at MGM grand that "the whole country is here", with Pinoys making thunderous applause for Venus everytime she walked the stage), she was a pre-pageant favorite and ranked among the highest in internet polls. She also had the "Cinderella factor"- a girl from an impoverished family who worked hard and graduated with honors (according to her bio), which was sure to endear her to people.

To be fair, the question that was given to her during the top five was so unlike the ones asked to other contestants. Miss Mexico was asked about her views on regulating internet usage for young people, Miss Jamaica gave her views on death penalty, Miss Australia on government legislation on tolerating religious practices, Miss Ukraine was asked what she thought about full-body scans in airport security. Our Venus was asked what she thought was the biggest mistake she made in her life and what she did to make it right. Clearly this wasn't along the lines of "what is the essence of a woman" or even some sort of commentary on social issues, hers was a personal question.

I think Venus answered honestly, and I give her points for that. The problem was that her answer was neither moving nor interesting- I mean could you blame her when she said in her 22 years of existence she had never encountered a major problem? (Although she did a minor blooper in repeating the word "major", which either she did for emphasis or perhaps when one translates "major, major" in Tagalog it means "bonggang-bongga"- " Wala pa po akong nagawang bonggang-bonggang pagkakamali"...) Well, she could have made up some story that she was a raging alcoholic who joined AA and later overcame odds and became a beauty queen, but like she said- she had honestly never encountered a major problem or made a major mistake. The controversy during her near dethronement by Binibining Pilipinas Charities could have been one element which she could have played, but I'm not so sure if that is something she wants to bring up.

We could have asked perhaps Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago to be translator and make the judges' ears bleed with her stilted language, but I think the way Venus expressed herself was not the biggest problem. The question of confidence may be entertained though, because even in Quiambao's time she also clammed up during the final question and answer. Venus herself admitted during Dyan Castellejo's interview that she was indeed nervous during the final Q & A, and it affected her response. The Binibining Pilipinas Universe who I thought completely held her own during Q & A was the witty and confident Charlene Gonzales when she answered back with a question "High tide or low tide?" after being asked how many islands made up the Philippines.

With all the raves during the preliminaries, Venus could have made it to the top. But of course the Q & A could make or break a beauty queen- Miriam's "I felt like I stood up for all women who fell on and off the stage" when she was asked how she felt about tripping onstage, made her an instant hit with the crowd. Her answer catapulted her from a virtual unknown amongst the sea of candidates to one of the top three. Sadly her weak answer on the final question made her rival win, which some pageant fanatics cruelly nicknamed the "ugliest Miss Universe ever".

How could the Miss Photogenic special award not go to Venus? Her internet votes were higher than Thailand. In fact for the past decades, that award always goes to whomever the Philippines sends. I think we are the only country who votes fanatically and support our candidate.

Part of being a beauty queen is bowing gracefully even when you don't get the crown. Despite being a runner-up we do love Venus unconditionally... To be top five out of 83 candidates is something! Come home Venus, we love you "major majorly"- or in tagalog mahal ka namin ng bonggang bongga!

Monday, August 23, 2010


I was thinking of making some sort of shopping guide, but not the one listing the usual places like Robinson's place (yawn) or Gaisano Malls, but the actual places where Taclobanons get the best bargains. Why waste good money by spending them on overpriced generic items in department stores when you can go shops where you can get them for half the price? Bargain shopping takes a lot of patience, haggling skills, and a sharp eye for quality- but when you do find one-of-a-kind items at practically giveaway prices, its worth all the effort!


Sala sets and dining sets with a price tag of 30,000-40,000 in malls can be purchased or custom made for you at furniture shops along Real St. in Sagkahan (very near the Astrodome). Good quality dining sets start at around 20,000- and you can even ask for discounts. Most of these shops make everything from Bamboo to driftwood to hardwood, so you can find suitable designs for your interiors. Hardwood can be expensive so if you really want steals (and you own a truck) there are shops along the highway in Samar that sells them at even lower prices, that is if you can stand the extra cost and effort of travel.

Save: 10,000

When I was looking for a chandelier I came upon this private residence near Coca Cola which sells them for about 4,000- but when I looked at them closely they looked like the ones in Imelda's residence in Olot, Tolosa. If you're not into what suspiciously were Marcos loot sold at bargain prices, you may opt for garage sales from old homes. This is a little bit tricky because these sales are not published on paper, so you really have to ask around or look around the next time you take the jeep around Tacloban.

Save: 5,000 from brand new chandeliers at stores or interior design shops.

Taiwanese stores have become such a hit in Tacloban that you see them everywhere! Fun fact: these people who understands neither English nor Waray-waray manage the stores may give generous discounts if you beg their staff who communicates to them with non-verbal signs- if they nod then you get a discount! From cooking utensils to home decor, china to place mats, mugs to wine glasses, they are available at bargain prices. At the downtown area (Zamora St.), these stores line the street.

Save: 50-75% from what you can buy in regular department stores. For example, a 200 peso large mug in Gaisano can be purchased at 70 pesos in a Taiwanese store and it has a free teaspoon that came with the box. Just keep an eye on quality and you'll be surprised at how many good buys there are.

When I make notes I want to write on a nice notebook with clean, white pages, with a sign pen or gel pen. I use highlighters of different colors when I study my books. You'd think I'd spend a fortune on these but no! I'll give you a comparison at what you can buy at regular bookstores or school supply stores versus Taiwanese department stores:

National bookstore vs. Taiwanese store
Good quality notebooos: Php 85 vs. One-of-a-kind harbound notebook: Php 50
Pilot sign pen: Php 45 vs. Good quality sign pen: Php 10
Tricolor pen: Php 75 vs. Tricolor pen (for duty): Php 10
Double-sided tape: Php 30 vs. Double-sided tape: Php 5
Highlighter 1 color: Php 40 vs. Highlighter 2 colors: Php 15

See what I mean? And there are more items which you just have to see for yourself.

Save: A lot of money, especially if you can't live with a planner, or is obsessive compulsive like me hahaha!

The danger in buying china phones is that even the most expert technicians may not be able to fix it once it gets broken. Some of these phones also may not function like it is supposed to, which means you need technical know-how or perhaps bring someone who does when you go shopping for a phone.

When I was at Robinsons Ermita, I checked how much a Blackberry 8900 Curve was and it was something like 24,000 or so. My phone that time was an original Nokia express music phone which was a bit pricey when I bought it- but like all our experiences (my friends included) with Nokia phones, it was prone to viruses and it kept malfunctioning. I thought, if an original phone is as incompetent as this I saw no point in buying another expensive unit.

I searched a lot of phone stores in Tacloban when I returned, picked the same model china phone and tried eight phones before finally selecting one that worked. The most important feature for me was the wifi access, so I really made sure my phone had it. A month later, thank goodness its still working in great condition and there was even a feature that is not in authentic Blackberry phones- my china phone is also a TV!

Save: 20,000 lang naman. This is the first time I bought a china phone and I hope it lasts long.


From TVs to karaoke machines, they are all available again at bargain prices and work as good as expensive ones. Believe it or not, in a single year four of those Taiwanese department stores opened in Tacloban- and by the looks of it they are here to stay.

Save: 4,000-5,000

Bensan and Dynasty square are few of the trendy boutiques in Tacloban, but fashionistas can be found expertly sorting through mountains of clothes at Ukay-ukay. Imagine this- my friend bought an authentic Vivienne Westwood t-shirt in good condition at Php50. I bought my favorite pants for Php40 and it certainly went a long way.

Save: A couple of hundred bucks for clotheshorses.

If you are a fan of wicker duyans or abaca products or local banig or shell decor, the best place to get them would be at the shopping center and a stone's throw away- the port area grand hotel ground floor. Great place for finding great souvenirs.

Save: Php 100-200 or more if you compare the prices at the airport gift shop.


Save: A few hundred bucks compared to hotel or airport prices.

Of course not everything you own or use should be bargain items, I mean you don't want to scrimp on running shoes or timepieces. It takes great sensibility and style to mix and match- I guess that's part of the challenge. Have fun shopping in Tacloban!!!

What They Didn't Tell You in Nursing School...

I was once asked to speak at an orientation for freshmen Nursing students, and the anxiety in the room (not coming from me for a change) was palpable- these kids were really eager to hear the trade secrets of surviving Nursing school. These tips are learned from my actual experiences, but I sure hoped someone told them to me beforehand so I could have prepared better. So here they are- hope these are useful to future or current Nursing students:

Fact #1: Though you will be swamped right away with 31 academic units on the first semester, but that will be your best chance in getting the highest grades you can get- because in your junior and senior year they will only decrease.

The curriculum may have changed already and I am not sure if the same policies apply, but back in our time there was a grade cut-off every semester or every year in other schools. In our college, we needed to maintain 2.2 (83%) General Weighted Average to be eligible to proceed to junior year. This meant acing the very basic subjects like Organic and Inorganic Chemistry, Physics, Communication Skills, Math, Statistics, Anatomy,etc. The passing grade for quizzes and exams is only 50% ( a 100 item exam, if you get 50 items correct you'll get a 75% rating) so this makes it easier, come third year the passing rate is set at 75%- which now means in a 100 item exam you also need 75 correct answers to pass. This is done to help prepare the students for the board exam. Moreover, the topics in the later years which covers actual nursing theories and practice are a lot more difficult, so if you are aiming for honors, better get those 1.0's (95%) from PE, Basic Computer, and other "giveaway" subjects.

Fact #2: Starting your 2nd year, skills matter.

During the first year, you need little more than a sharp mind to get the best grades since it is almost purely theoretical. Related Learning Experiences- starting with the very basic vital signs, to enviromental sanitation, to physical examination, to giving bedside care and administering medications including giving injections- skills comprise half of the grade. If you are jumpy or tend to forget things when nervous- this could significantly affect your grade even when you get high scores in pretests, post-tests, worksheets, and major exams. Work on your confidence to boost your skills, and the way to do that is to practice constantly.

Fact #3: Junior year will be the most stressful because of your transition to the clinical area, and at the same time tackle the major Nursing subjects like OB Pedia/ Operating room nursing/ and Psychiatric nursing.

The clinical exposure during 2nd year is very minimal, but after the Capping and Badge-pinning ceremonies, students are officially immersed in the hospital setting. Three days a week (plus one day for nursing audit) will be devoted to honing your clinical skills, and of course this will bleed into the lecture hours at school. During audit day, most students do not sleep because they need to finish all the requirements otherwise they will not be allowed to go on duty the following day. Most finish their requirements by 5am, just in time to take a bath and go attend to their patients like a zombie.

The studying gets even more ridiculous, because if in the second year you needed to finish reading four chapters of two different books before going to class, in junior year you finish the three inch Operating Room Nursing references in four days. The only time devoted to this topic is two weeks, including learning instrumentation, and before you know it- you begin a new area for discussion. Another fun fact: you will work will all sorts of temperamental Clinical Preceptors who will rate you according to both knowledge and skill, and get this- attitude!

You need to develop a study habit by this time because unlike the first two years when one can just relax, you will not survive if you have no discipline. Come up with a way to "detox" after having a stressful or toxic exam or duty- like listening to music or taking a walk, because if you won't find a way to cope you'll burn out (and perhaps lose the will to live, I'm kidding).

Fact #4: Sactions are a bitch.

Always have been, always will be. Make-up duties (they usually give three days once you have an unexcused absence) eat up the days between semesters when you should be resting, so try as much as possible to follow rules and regulations and don't piss anyone off.

Fact #5: You need to have a very good foundation of all Nursing areas in promotive, preventive, and curative nursing, including community and psychiatric nursing because in your senior year, you will integrate and synthesize everything for your Compre.

It is a known fact, the subjects which have the greatest mortality are Foundations of Nursing, Promotive and Preventive (NCM 101), and Curative 1 & 2- in fact our batch shrunk from 500+ in the 1st year to 200+ in the 4th year. The most toxic time would be the final semester because you will have in-house review during the weekends and intensive lectures and seminars during the weekdays. In short, for the month of January and February, we only had a grand total of 2 days that were free.

We had 13 areas in Nursing which had 75 item post-tests, 200 item pre-tests from the in-house review, and two major exams. Do the math: that's 3,175 questions answered in the four month semester. It's a miracle our heads didn't explode.

Tip: Photocopy or buy NCLEX reviewers which will prepare you for the exams, especially if reading the actual books on the concepts cannot be accommodated on a single night. Which is why again, you need to have good foundation since your 2nd year. One of the things I did was create a summary (or bullets) of a certain area, for example psychiatric nursing, I made a reviewer using two books as reference in the third year, and kept it so I could use it as a reviewer for the Comprehensive exam in the 4th year.


Relax. It isn't really as bad as it sounds- believe it or not we also had our inuman sessions or gimmick like regular students do. The trick is finding a balance between studying and fun. Join clubs in school or do engage in something athletic. Gather your strength from your friends and groupmates- you guys are in it together to finish your bachelor's degree. Value the time you are in the hospital or community because experience offers better lessons than those learned in the classroom. Most of all,learn to love your work. Being a nurse gives your great opportunities to touch people's lives by taking care of them. When your heart is really set on finishing Nursing, with a little hard work and prayers, support and inspiration from your loved ones, everything else will fall into place and you'll surely be a success.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


You may have noticed recently that my blog had begun sounding like a self-help book. Well, this is me purging all my issues after dealing with them since I obviously can't afford a shrink. Rue unemployment, but in the mean time if you are the type who gags at someone's sentiments or problems you may want to click the other cheerful blogs on my right sidebar.

I'm counting the days, and in exactly three months I turn thirty. From this day on, when I'm not in review class or self-reviewing (hah!), or daydreaming that I am one of the topnochers for the December NLE (libre ang mangarap teh!), I imagine myself as some sort of larvae (aray ko) or chrysalis na lang para maganda. One day, when I've figured everything out, and God help me I won't stray again, I'll be ready to emerge anew, aka. ready to accept and live my thirties.

I suspect it isn't really a big change, because one of my stoic high school friends turned thirty and she didn't even blink. I've always been a bit of a (garrulous) drama queen, so you have to make allowances. But I suspect when I actually turn thirty (for the record shet shet sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!!) I'd be simply hitting a milestone, but it won't necessarily mean that just because I'm not a high level exec or a PhD I'd be forever banished to the lower echelon of society. I'd be ok.

So I have to use a little Minoxidil to keep my hair from jumping ship, so I have to work a little harder to keep in shape, and that I no longer have the stamina of the Energizer bunny, but honestly I actually like myself at this age. Formerly freakishly thin, emotionally slutty, and neurotic, the grown-up me is much more serene and well-rounded. I think.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


"An albatross may fly great distances over the oceans, but despite its extensive travels, this bird will always return to the same place — and the same partner — when it's time to breed. Pair bonds between males and females form over several years and will last for a lifetime, cemented through the use of goofy but affectionate ritual dances."
- from the MNN Network 11 Animals that Mate for Life

During review classes, it is customary for me and my fellow "elders" Ann and Jude to have lunch together. Both are in their mid-twenties, Ann is married to a seafarer and they have one daughter, Jude is single and goes from one date to another, or as he calls it "booking". And so frequently the topic would inevitably be about lovelife- who's dating who in the review class, who broke up with who among our batchmates, and occasionally, our own.

Ann's pre-schooler was a product of years of romance with her college sweetheart, but although they have said their vows before a judge, they never had a church wedding- an important tradition in Catholic unions.

"Ann, when your husband comes home next year do you guys plan to have a church wedding?"

She rubbed her chin for a bit as she was thinking, and slowly said, "No."

"Why not?"

"Church weddings are so expensive: you need caterers, photographers, videographers, dressmakers for the gown and dresses of the bridal entourage, a venue. We'd rather spend the money on our daughter's schooling."

It was a practical decision for even a hopeless romantic such as Ann. At least she is lucky she has the option to wed, some of us, namely the gay populace can't really marry here in the Philippines. No civil rights to be legally bound before the court of law, much less the blessing of the church.

I once asked the opinion of a female friend who had just finished her Bachelor of Laws: Do you think gay unions be allowed here in the Philippines?

"Absolutely." She said.

"When two people decide to be together, they should be given the same civil rights as in a heterosexual marriage. Although I don't see it going as far as getting tax exemptions or conjugal property, but their union should be at least recognized."

I personally think (and there is no judgement intended here, just stating my observations) the reason why monogamy- or at least having a steady long-term relationship is not popular in the gay community is because we basically do not have anything to tie the knot with one partner. Say for example, heterosexual couples do the dating game, but then it leads to marriage- a legal contract where infidelity is actually a punishable crime (not that this stopped many heterosexuals from cheating), and marriage between a man and woman most likely will be the beginning of a family.

I do believe gay men in particular want faithful and meaningful relationships, but very few actually do. During my early twenties, I dated in hopes of having that steady relationship, and it was fun for a while but as one gets older, you'd eventually ask yourself- is that all there is? The thing about dating is that is is usually shallow, it almost never gets to the nitty gritty.

What we want is infatuation, the kind the movies wants us to believe: falling for a gorgeous man with a hot body (or maybe you try vainly to have that hot body) who falls in love back and treats you like the queen you are. But love is not candy hearts, or a bouquet of roses, or a dreamy kiss in the sunset.

Love is a decision- to love that person despite all the imperfections. Love is having someone to hold your hand when you are in the hospital having sigmoidoscopy. Love is having someone during the most difficult times of your life. Love is having to talk to someone every night about the most mundane things about your day. Love is fighting and making up. Love is messy, love is- as I recently learned- the task of cleaning the arinola of someone you respect and treasure, and thank God for everyday you get to do that because the one you love is still alive.

I suppose sexual drives are forever part of our genetic make-up (so that's why we have porn- ok I'm kidding), but that should not stop us from making those deep connections and be committed to one person. So while I think it is exciting to be in the dating game the way some of my young friends are, I'm very much happy I'm finally with someone I'm deeply involved in. Like what my friend Ann said, she needs no church wedding to validate her love for her husband, but I do hope one day I myself get to say my vows to the man I love, in front of friends and family. After all, what could be more romantic than having a mate for life?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fire, White Mice, and Wisdom


One of my most vivid memories of childhood was a dry summer night in Culiat, Quezon City. I was six years old, my little brother was almost three, and we were held by hand by Nanay, who at that time was still a robust age of sixty. It all happened in a blur: we were watching TV in the sala when I suddenly heard a loud noise like thunder, and as I gazed out the window I saw an awesome fountain of fire coming from the electric transformer atop a wooden post. It lit afire the tangled wires and in a split second, everything went dark and the next thing I knew Nanay grabbed me and picked up Tyrone in her arms and ran outside.

It was utter chaos. Of course back then I wasn't aware we were living in the squatter's area and all houses were made of plywood and galvanized iron, all sharing the same walls- it was only now did I understand how dangerous the situation really was for us that night. We were swallowed by the crowd of people on the street moving in every direction, some gathering buckets of water from the communal faucet, while others shouted "Sukaaaaa! Sukaaa!"

I kind of thought this was funny, because back in Leyte we only used suka (vinegar) for paksiw or kinilaw, and here in Manila people were using it apparently to put out fires. The biggest concern I had that time was that I was only wearing one slipper, because when the lights went out and Nanay grabbed me I hardly had time to put on the other slipper. How embarrassing for people to see, I thought, a sixty year-old lady dressed in a duster, holding two children with one of them wearing only one slipper.

It turned out vinegar did work, because hours later we were able to return to our home safely. That incident became so popular- Nanay's heroic rescue of us, albeit the barefoot part, largely because she told the story over and over during parties, reunions, and practically any occasion where there were people willing to listen. Nanay certainly was the best person to raise us in place of our OFW parents because of her unconditional love, and not to mention the extraordinary ability to survive squatter fires.


Upon my brother's whims, we started raising white mice in our newly constructed home in Tacloban, during the time we decided to settle in our province. Nanay, ever enterprising, thought it would be a good idea since we could sell these creatures. Like my brother's pet doves, kids from the nearby elementary school frequently made inquiries on how much they could purchase those pets. Unfortunately for us all, we miscalculated because in a month's time those critters multiplied exponentially- and cross bred with the existing black mice population.

My brother, who used to feed these critters with boiled rice, suddenly was frightened when they all came out to the terrace one evening- including the Mendelenian nightmare of white mice with black spots. When my mom saw this, she thought it had gone too far and decided buy poison for rats amidst Nanay's protestations. Alas, Racumin proved effective, and as we placed the dead mice in a sack, I saw Nanay actually shed a tear.

It was the first time I ever saw her cry, and I certainly thought it was strange for someone to weep over mice. Weeks later she informed me we venture into something less gross, and a little more profitable: a sari-sari store to sell snacks for elementary students during recess.


Nanay. The only elementary undergrad I know who can pull off selling white mice with aplomb, the shrewdest, most resilient woman who spent the best years of her life with us. She is the only person who was born before the war and could tell first hand stories of Japanese soldiers on Leyte shores, and the only one who could speak with much depth about life.

We were all devastated the day we learned of the lump on her breast, but at the same time we knew she would bear this affliction with dignity. Sometimes it is difficult to care for her, considering her stubborn ways and irrational fear of western medicine. Last year we were at Divine Word hospital getting ready for her lumpectomy, but in the end the surgery did not push through. She was so afraid of going under the knife, fearing that she'd die on the table.

For past nine days during Mama's death anniversary, we stayed in the same room since all the other rooms at home were occupied after my cousin's family, whose home was recently razed to the ground by an electrical fire, moved in. I slept on the floor and moved some of my things out to make room for her essentials: a walking cane, an arinola which I clean every morning, a glass of water on a coaster, a bottle of menthol liniment, a flashlight, and her medications. She's almost eighty five, and I just hope that in the twilight of her years we would be able to devote our time to taking care of her, the way she did with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Whenever people pick their icons for strength, some would pick a great soldier or a politician, or for young kids a superhero perhaps. I've always thought there was no better example than our grandmother.

Best Quote I've Heard All Day

Take it from my cousin who lost nearly everything in a fire: "Material things could be gone in an instant, but loving relationships and great memories cannot be taken from you."

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Old ladies here in the province say that the lanterna- a kind of an improvised lamp, with a candle wick set afloat on oil, signifies the presence of the soul. My mom's lanterna burned steadily, flickering ever so slightly when a breeze blows through the french windows. A picture of her, framed in silver, was placed just behind the Our Lady of the Rosary candles. Yellow blooms decorated the altar.

The actual preparation for her death anniversary started eight days ago- every afternoon they pray a latin version of the rosary, and offer these prayers for the eternal repose of my mom's soul. This practice began two years ago when Mama passed away (though after the interment it was actually forty days of prayer), a year ago we had the first "pa-syam" which unfortunately was one of the worst times for our family.

My grandmother says when conflict exists and the spirit is angry, it could manifest itself in the lanterna- the flame constantly goes out, or burns unsteadily, and in worst cases, the glass would shatter. Last year during my mom's first death anniversary, the fighting between my mother's side and father's side of the family became so severe that one day in the middle of the nine days of prayer, I came home to find the altar was ransacked and my Mama's framed photo and lanterna was taken elsewhere- and my grandmother taken away without my knowledge.

I guess now it's not important to discuss whose fault it was or why it had come to that point, but it was just a horrible time for us all. Even I myself admit I wasn't too prudent with my words and hurt people in the process of retaliation. As the months passed it became easier to forgive, or maybe even just let go of the pent up anger people had within them. Eventually after I apologized to my aunt we decided to put it all behind us.

Two days ago I found myself at the market buying ingredients for the dishes to be served during Mama's second death anniversary, and I got to thinking. Our house had seen enough drama- of people leaving, and holidays spent alone, and new people coming in. We have relatives from my father's side and Nanay back at home living side by side, and I have pondered also on what stake me and my brothers have in the house we grew up in. I realized nothing would be worth having unless there would be peace in our family.

I guess it is time to leave all the past hurts behind us all, and move forward. Some wounds may be too deep, and perhaps some of my relatives can't see eye to eye, but at least for this one occasion- we should gather to remember my mom whom I've considered to always have been the glue that held our family together.

And so all day yesterday I cooked- under the supervision of my grandmother, I kept myself busy and prayed inside that people from Mama's side would come and join us the following day. I've never been much of a domestic person, and though I've equated those dishes- Humba, Caldereta, and Menudo to be a mother's specialty (either Mama's or Nanay's), I've managed to prepare them myself. Everyone at home lent a hand as we readied for the occasion.

Today they all came- old ladies who lead the prayers, aunts and cousins, kids from my mom's relatives, Nanay's friends, neighbors, my classmates, even our old carpenter. Nanay and me, and the relatives from my father's side made sure everyone was comfortable and joined in as we prayed and later, had lunch together.

As the guests left one by one late afternoon, Nanay was practically glowing with happiness. "We pulled it off," she said, smiling at me. I remembered what Nanay told me a few nights ago, she said she had a dream she saw Mama, and she was wearing white. In our Theology classes, a nun once mentioned that souls in purgatory are in various shades of gray and as we pray for the forgiveness of their sins their souls are purified and stripped of every stain or imperfection. I took it as a sign that wherever Mama was now, she was closer than ever to our Maker. On our part, it was time for us to resolve our conflicts, and I guess time for me too, to mature. Learning to cook would be step one for me.

"Yes, we did." I replied to my grandmother, and admired for a moment the glow that the candles gave to my mom's smiling face in the photo.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ang Sakit sa Bangs!

Go tell 'em girl.. Here's (bleach) blonde Mystica to defend us :-)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Simple Life

At lunch today, everyone except my nephew's nanny, the houseboy, and myself were attending the festivities at the next town. So as we ran out of household matters to talk about, I asked him about his family. He grew up in La paz, Leyte and had to stop schooling for three years because of hard times. His father died while they were young, and his siblings were separated- two of them in Manila, one stayed with his mother, while he found work in Abuyog for a family as a houseboy. He had no salary but his employers sent him to school. A few months ago, my cousin hired him as household help but in an unfortunate twist of fate my cousin's house was consumed by an electrical fire, and that's how they all came to stay in our home presently.

He's in Grade Six level (at the age of sixteen) at the elementary school two blocks away from our home. His story kind of reminds me of Umbang's, although what's different is that he chose to continue his schooling. He is also a member of the Mormon faith and attends his church regularly. Hearing about these stories gives me perspective and leads me to realize that we are so fortunate in many ways.

Their hardships trivializes my own struggles- wanting to be the best in class, or trying to find the perfect career, or agonizing over fitness regimens. I mean, these people have real problems- hunger, extreme poverty, and at such a young age there is little that they can do about it.

Before I saw myself kind of like a "victim of fate", and here, at the table having lunch with them I realized I've been nothing more than an entitled prima donna. Sure, we have our own family problems, but still fortunate to have parents who were able to give us good education and comfortable lives. Me and my brothers never needed to work when we were eleven years old, in fact we didn't need to lift a finger at home because we always had help.

The most amazing thing is that this boy wasn't bitter at all- in fact he still manages to have a good sense of humor and a positive attitude. Back when I was a neurotic team manager, I defined happiness as a nice apartment, nice clothes, and travel at least every quarter. Unconsciously, when I was back in school in Tacloban I still had the same idea. I fancied that the desire to travel was really something that was innate and something I can't live without, and so I went on these fancy trips. On my twenty seventh birthday, my mom and brother chipped in so I could bring friends to this resort in Samar and celebrate my birthday. In the coming years, I still marked my calendar with how many nice places I've visited.

This year was different. Except for the trip to our classmate's house in Marabut where they had a nice white sand beach (spending only two hundred for both the bus and boat ride round trip), I never got to travel at all. The first few months of the year was really busy because of the last semester of Nursing school and there was no opportunity; then we had a plan to go to Canigao island during the summer, and to Guiuan just this month, but for one reason or another my friends kept cancelling or postponing the trip.

Back then I used to say I needed to travel to unwind and keep sane, but hey it's already the third quarter and I'm still doing ok. I began to think that it was only because I conditioned myself before when I was working, that this was all part of life and that I needed it. I know probably some people might find it pathetic that only when I was older (and supposed to be earning more, therefore having access to more privileges) did I finally appreciate living simply.

Say for example, I used to go to a gym in RCBC plaza which cost like 9 thousand plus to sign up, but now I go to a gym which has a membership fee of 500 bucks and honestly I have a better body. For my cardio, I do not run on a treadmill in front of eight televisions, instead I go jogging at the seaside avenue near our home. I guess that's one of the perks living here in the province.

I never imagined I'd be doing a 180 but a number of recent incidents spurred me on to rethink my views. Several of our Nursing reviewers came strutting in their Louis Vuitton shoes and bags, Hermes accessories, and designer duds but I kind of thought it would have made no difference if they were wearing no-name brands. Its like when I bought a new phone with wifi access, I expected that nice feeling one gets when having a new gadget but instead I felt that it would have made no difference if I bought a basic call-and-text phone. To each his own, I suppose.

I remember this lecture I watched online by Dan Gilbert, a Harvard Psychiatrist, on "synthetic happiness vs. natural happiness". Natural happiness occurs when you get what you want, yet people "synthesize" happiness or should I say accept or settle for what they have and this is what's called "synthetic" happiness. Gilbert insists, the quality is the same.

This actually means that whatever one's socio-economic standing is, it will make little difference in our capacity for happiness. It is true then- the best things in life are free- like air or water or meaningful relationships, and that finding a way to accept what we have leads us to be free of worries and be at peace. Life and happiness is simply a matter of perspective.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Don't Judge Someone Until You Walked a Mile in their Shoes

Right before the second Sex and the City movie ruined it all for me, I had been particularly fond of the series. In fact, one of my favorite episodes in the final season- "A Woman's Right to Shoes", was having regular reruns in my laptop. In that episode, Manhattan's ultimate single girl Carrie, famous for her Imeldific addiction to Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks, was invited to a party celebrating a friend's new baby. Upon the insistence of the hostess, the guests were instructed to leave their shoes before they enter the apartment. Carrie later discovers that someone stole her brand new designer shoes, and though her friend offered to replace them she could only offer $200- telling Carrie now that she has kids, responsibilities and a "real life" she thought it was unreasonable to shell out the actual price of $485 just for shoes.

An indignant Carrie fumes to her friends at being "shoe-shamed". She reasoned, when other people get married or have babies, she was there giving gifts and celebrating their choices- why should she feel ashamed that she chose to be single and live a life where she can afford Manolos? In the past years she had given engagement and wedding presents, attended baby showers, and spent money on gifts during holidays and birthdays of their children. She spent thousands of dollars celebrating her friend's choices, and yet they have not spent a single penny celebrating her own choices. To get her point across, Carrie registers at Manolo Blahnik and announces to her friend that she's "getting married" to herself. In the end, her friend buys the replacement pair and sends Carrie her congratulations.

As Carrie struts on the street with her new shoes she ponders:"The fact is, sometimes it's hard to walk in a single woman's shoes, that's why we need really special ones now and then to make the walk a little more fun."

I couldn't agree more...

Sunday, August 1, 2010


"Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss." -The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

"These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections- sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent- that happened when I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it..." -Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

I've had the hardest time placing where it all went wrong. It wasn't until last year, months after my mother passed away, did I learn from my grandmother that when I left for Diliman more than twelve years ago, my parent's marriage troubles started. I thought then, that since my father had finally decided to stay for good after fifteen years of work in Saudi, that our family was finally complete and we'd be happy.

I was a typical young adult who discovered more freedom he could handle, being away from home for the first time. I went home only during the holidays, so I was unaware of the drama unfolding at home. And so the years passed, and I always had the assumption that they would always be there, and I would always have a place at home in Tacloban. When I began working, I still had that attitude, until one day I found myself at the airport seeing my mom off before she left for her job in Louisiana as a nurse. Months later, my father and my two brothers followed.

It was only after I returned to my messy apartment, which I had proudly showed to my father as evidence of my first big paycheck, that I realized I was left alone- literally, and I burst into tears. I still slept on the floor that night, and in the coming nights, and never dared fix the bed where my brothers slept or the sofa littered with Papa's newspapers. The last remaining person dearest to me, my grandmother Nanay, stayed in our house in Tacloban.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, I had begun to sink into depression. I wasn't pill-popping or anything, but each time I heard the phone ring, or see the photos of my family looking very happy in their new house in Monroe, I felt melancholic. Intellectually, I knew it was no one's fault that I was over eighteen when my mother's application for immigration was filed, and only my brothers who were minors went with my parents, but I couldn't help but feel left out. Sometime during the holidays in 2005, I got sick and went to the hospital by myself. It was then I realized, that being independent wasn't so great after all. Whether it was the stress or the disappointment at having been turned down at another promotion, or my loneliness, I decided it was time to go. I was a rootless wandering Jew, and even in our home back in Tacloban someone else was already staying in my room.

Indeed it was the right decision, I got home and got my place back. I used all my effort in restoring and renovating the place because the house was in shambles from the previous floods, and tainted with the patina of years and years of neglect. Nonetheless I was happy to spend time with my grandmother again. I enrolled to get a BSN degree upon the suggestion of Mama who wished for me one day to join them in the US.

But even the perceived better life abroad did little to lessen the fights between my parents, and worse- our relatives were taking sides already. With my parents thousands of miles away, I could only write or call to mediate, but eventually they separated. The most infuriating thing of all was some people in my father's hometown were gossiping about our family, and of course it made everything worse. Add a few meddling relatives, and irreparable damage had been done.

I was third year in Nursing school when my Mama died. We were heartbroken with grief, and with my mother gone it seemed both our relatives from my father's side and mother's side escalated their fighting. This ended with my grandmother, who spent the best years of her life taking care of me and my brothers from birth to our childhood, being taken to my mother's elder sister's home. After all, Nanay is 84 years old already and should not be subjected to stresses.

Meanwhile my father and middle brother decided to live separately because of differences, and our youngest sibling moved on with his life in the US Navy. I guess one could say we are less than ideal as a family, but in spite of this I've never really given up the hope that one day we'd be okay again. As the years rolled by my brother, who is estranged from my father, eventually took the burden of supporting our household in Tacloban, I managed the household, while our youngest met a Filipina who also enlisted in the Navy and had gotten engaged.

As I presently review for the Nursing Board Exams, I faced a crossroad which challenged my intellect, will, and my personal beliefs and values. I am to choose between two alternatives- medical school and work. But of course the choices are not that simple, because this time the stakes are high, convoluted with clauses and conditions, and far-reaching consequences.

When my partner had discussed the idea, I never really thought about it too deeply until I graduated from Nursing school. What only came to mind was the lovely white coat I imagined I'd be wearing on rounds, but of course, foolish me never realized the full impact until recently. My friends who went to med school, who were given adequate financial and moral support by their families, all agree that it consumed their lives. Meaning there is no room for indecision, because being a doctor is a life-long quest and commitment. And when it finally hit me- someone who was raised in an environment where graduate education wasn't given much regard, who would undertake this journey with no financial support from family, who would be too old to be making any more mistakes at this point- I was disconcerted.

Don't get me wrong, I never had any regrets with my previous life choices, mistakes included. But truth of the matter is, med school never entered my mind until maybe about two or three years ago. The friends I've mentioned had either a mother or father who were doctors or lawyers, and it was but a natural step for them to follow suit. And of course back then pursuing an MD was not really in the plans of my parents because we simply could not afford it.

Here's the catch: in about eight years time my brother's petition might be granted and I'll finally get a US Visa. If I go to med school, I can't just throw in the towel and say I'd take any job in the US- all those years of study and work, and all the money invested in my education would be put to waste. Besides, med school would mean another four years of me being dependent and thus will not be generating income. As it is my brother is struggling sending himself through school, paying his bills, and supporting our household.

This leaves me to consider option two- work here in Tacloban and get a Master's degree. I would be able to help ease the burden on my brother, be independent and not be a burden to anyone and pay for my Master's degree myself. In eight year's time I can take the US opportunity with no guilt.

My friends were surprised when I contacted several of them to discuss my dilemma. "I thought you already decided?" They asked.

It turns out the decision is harder than I thought it would ever be. There is no right or wrong because both have its own pros and cons. One is about moving on and making something out of my life as a doctor, the other is fulfilling the dream my parents had for our family that one day I'd join them in the US like I was supposed to. If I were to leave home for four years of study in Iloilo or some other place where I'd be on this journey in med school, one of my greatest fears is that I may be "phased out" from our home like what happened to Nanay. I know it's a ridiculous notion, but believe me you have to know our family to change the definition of what ridiculous means. When my mom died, one of the things I quietly promised her was that as the eldest, I'd do everything in my power to keep our family together. With my father and brothers in the US, Nanay in Palo, and me- the last remaining family member living in the house we grew up in.

I suppose it is a gamble either way. When I opened the discussion with my partner, it went from a heated debate, to angry tears, and finally, silence. I'm terrified of making another mistake, and what if I make a decision and later become unhappy? Are those doors once closed, forever locked? My partner was right, I have not moved on- and it's only because I'm still hoping one day our family relationship would somehow return to the way it was before it crumbled. It isn't just a question of money, it isn't just a question of my future alone- what I decide will also affect the fate of our family relationship.

At the end of our discussion, my partner and I could only agree on one thing: more time to think.

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