Familiar Yet Different

“What has changed here?” Adrian implored one time. It has been 16 years since I had left La Trinidad for college, then for work, then for marriage. Since 2004, I don’t think I have spent more than a week in my hometown. Now, Adrian, Marikit, and I have passed our fifth month here.

“A lot,” I replied. “That drugstore wasn’t always there. There used to be a bakery nearby that marked the boundary between KM5 and KM6 for jeepneys bound for Buyagan.”

I think I could have gone on and on about the ways the years have caused La Trinidad to change. Even sleepy towns like ours are not exempt from urbanization. But I guess the biggest thing that has made our town more different – just like everywhere else in the world – was COVID-19.

If things were different, it would have been lovely to come back to the familiar viridian town where you were sure to meet at least one person you knew while taking a stroll outside. It would have been wonderful to return to the place where you could easily crisscross between a city and a slower-moving municipality (Yes, I’m talking to you, KM4 traffic). Yet the La Trinidad we have come back to only has handfuls of masked people who’re likely to be strangers walking about; the La Trinidad we have come back to now has border restrictions that constantly divide Baguio and the surrounding towns, making me think that La Trinidad has already become like North Korea and Baguio the more open South.

Well, there are also certain changes that have been a big plus for us. We now have Grab Food and Foodpanda here in addition to various errand and delivery services. There are also fiber Internet providers making our work-from-home set-up much easier. Shopee and Lazada delivery fees are also not that high thus much of the items we have bought were actually only a few clicks or swipes away.

If there was something though that I would have wanted to remain the same but didn’t, it would have been the ability to meet up with my high school friends. Were it not for COVID-19, we would probably have had several coffee meet-ups already, several mini-reunions during special events. But this is our situation now – most of our interactions have just been online.

I apologize if this is yet again a melancholy post. But though it has been sunny here, you can’t help but feel that there are still notes of sadness in the air.

Well, there is a time and season for everything, as Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says:

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Our hope and prayer is that this season will pass soon enough.

Viridian.

La Trinidad Summers

It’s starting to get hotter here. The other day, it was around 27 C and in the coming days it might reach 30 C. A friend of ours living in Metro Manila said, “Nakakahiya sa 40 C dito!” (How embarrassing for our 40 C here!)

Quite true. At night, we still wear jackets when we go outside. Our bedroom still feels like the air conditioning is turned on 24/7. But Marikit can now wear sundresses and I can take ice water baths at night without complaining about the cold. (We don’t have a shower – we go by the tabo system in our new home).

“Do people look forward to summers here?” Adrian asked me one time.

“Hmm… I don’t think people look forward to the warm weather in particular… I remember looking forward to summer when I was a kid though because it meant not going to school…” was my hazy reply. To be honest, I don’t think I looked forward to the heat because – prior to living in Los Baños, then Malaysia, then Metro Manila – I avoided hot weather as much as I could. But when I left home, it was an everyday part of life.

I remember summers though when we would make ice candy using Milo, melon, and buko juice. I think we were also able to have avocado flavored ones one time and that was a treat! It also got hot enough for us to crave for the halo-halo our neighbors sold only during the warm season. It got to a point when we would eat halo-halo everyday.

I still remember summers more though for what we did rather than for how high the temperature went. Daily Vacation Bible Schools when I was young. School-schoolan with my cousins wherein I got to be a student, and then eventually a teacher, then a principal at some point as the years passed. Ten days fieldwork as an initiation to high school. Violin lessons and voice lessons. And finally, UPCAT reviews and then eventually graduation parties.

Now it’s Marikit playing with her cousins at the compound pointing at bugs, butterflies, birds, lizards, and frogs. It’s supervising them running around, throwing mini-tantrums every now and then.

If the heat wouldn’t give way to the rain and to the cold yet again in the next few months, it would somehow feel like an endless summer here. Everyday I feel I am experiencing the summer of childhood with work sandwiched in between.

It’s a pity we can’t take Marikit to the beach like our parents would take us at least once each summer when we were young. And that GCQ has kept us from parks nearby. But she’s happy with our yard, with the compound, and with our parents house. I guess that will have to do for now.

Summers bring me back to simpler days. I guess the three of us are lucky we can enjoy these simple days here. For what it’s worth, with all the chaos happening in this world, it still pays to pause for a moment to look for and be thankful for uncomplicated things like these…

Oh to be a child enjoying the summer life.

Oh, Hello

Perhaps you are wondering if this blog is still alive. It is. It has fallen asleep these past few months. But stick around and maybe you’ll see it coming back to life.

It will soon be eight months since my homecoming. Just eight months, but I already feel like I have been here since forever. Still, like cross talk, what was in Malaysia crisscrosses into what is in Metro Manila now.

We go through the tunnel near Ayala in EDSA and I feel like the Petronas Twin Towers will emerge anytime. I walk through Greenbelt 5 and I think I’m just lost in a new wing of IOI City Mall.

I have an ex-colleague from Malaysia working here. I’ve also been connected to a Filipina who has been attending Malaysia’s Midnight LG but has now come back home. I’ve started wearing my black office work dresses again.

I’m teaching now. I do distance education. In other words, I have a long distance relationship with my students and we do most of our interactions in cyberspace.

Adrian and I have, thankfully, graduated from that. As of blog writing time, I’m sitting with a view of the sun setting over HV Dela Costa Street, waiting for him to pick me up for our dinner date. I think back to our 1am once-a-week Skype dates. I don’t ever want to go back to that.

I’ve gained weight again. I think it’s because I eat so much when I’m with Adrian, when I’m with my friends, when I’m with my colleagues, when I’m with my family. It’s fine. I’ll go jogging tomorrow, or, like Elizabeth Gilbert said, I’ll just “buy bigger pants.”

I’ve been writing poetry sporadically. You’ll see some of them in this space here. But life here is more rushed, busier, I think. The week has flown by, I haven’t even realized it will already be Friday tomorrow.

I’ll do my best to keep this blog updated. Besides, it feels good to be back here writing again.

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That old school webcam selfie.

Kapal Terbang

Let me fly high. I will soar
across the stratosphere, my fingertips grabbing
tufts of clouds and dreams floating
in the oceanic sky.

I’ve been on this flight before.
Destination: an unknown future. Which I
must willingly embrace as I spin
and tumble through the air, wings
outstretched, hands
lifted in surrender, feet
poised to take on an unknown territory. An
unknown territory called
home.

Fear is a familiar form of
turbulence. Tossed in with anxiety,
plus sleeplessness, plus unnecessary
pressure. But a buzzing excitement
gets me through. This is an
opportunity to start anew. I shroud myself
with optimistic hope and
bump fear,
bump worry,
bump insomnia,
bump all the pressure aside.

I am coming home.

I will run, I will fly, this is not me
being anchored back to the shore. This is me
flying towards a brand new
chapter, a brand new
adventure.

Gifts

Tis the season once again. Belt out those falalalalasbring out the keso de bolas, and spread some Christmas holiday cheer! Snow’s already been invading my blog these past few weeks, so that’s a start. But I thought I’d still do a little project, like the one I did last year with the Fire Potion thing.

I read a book entitled The Secret of Counting Gifts at the beginning of 2013. It was one of those gems which touched my heart profoundly. I think one of the biggest lessons I got from the novel is that it makes a big difference when we stop to appreciate the different “gifts” we encounter daily.

From now until January 1st, I’m going to list those gifts down. Will post on Wednesdays and Fridays, including one on a stray Monday. Care to join me on this journey?

These are the gifts that I will be counting:

  1. Gift of Memories: Seven 2013 highlights
  2. Gift of Song: Six Songs for 2013
  3. Gift of Stories: Five Memorable Books
  4. Gift of Pictures: Four Important Photographs
  5. Gift of Lessons: Three Lessons Learned
  6. Gift of Turnaround: Two Turning Points
  7. Gift of the Future: One Thing I Desire for 2014

Are you all ready? Let the counting begin!

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On Being a Writer and a Storyteller

I am a storyteller. After years of trying to discover my writing niche, I’ve come up with the conclusion that telling stories — both fiction and non-fiction — is what I do best. I write long, thoughtful, melancholy prose punctuated by an abundance of commas and em-dashes. I write gently, romantically, and whimsically. Rarely would you find me writing tongue-in-cheek, bitch-slapping pieces. I don’t talk that way (harshly, bluntly) in person so… It would be kinda weird if I start taking on that tone of voice as a writer.

Once upon a time, I was a feature writer in both my elementary and secondary school papers. Once upon a time, I was the EIC and I wrote editorial pieces as well. Once upon a time, I had the privilege to compete in two national level campus journalism competitions — feature writing in Tacloban, Leyte* when I was eleven; editorial writing in Sta Cruz, Laguna when I was fifteen.

I had dreams of pursuing a degree in mass communication but, in retrospect, that might not have worked out for me. I’m too much of a softie. I watched Patricia Evangelista’s Diliman Ted X Talk on “Why We Tell Stories” the other day. Let’s say the universe conspired differently and I would now be working for a newspaper or a television company, would I have the courage and strength to put my life constantly on the line by doing hardcore journalistic reporting?

Perhaps I would, perhaps I wouldn’t.

So yeah, right now I’m a coder and I sit behind the computer most days typing out scripts — HTML, jQuery, PHP, and no, not production nor broadcasting scripts. But you can never take the communicator away from me. And so I continue to write stories.

But to what end? Why put my voice out into the sea of others, into a sea which many now shun, take for granted, or care little about? I mean, come on. I’m thankful for my blog followers, I’m thankful for those who take the time to read these pieces, and I will continue to write even if I had an audience of none — but yeah. Sometimes it gets disheartening when you’ve poured out everything to a piece only to find that you can count the number of people who’ve read that with one hand.

Maybe I should stop writing altogether and do something more productive instead.

But take writing away from me and you’ll leave me dead, lifeless, void of dreams and passion. So I won’t quit. I won’t give up. I won’t.

I chanced upon a tweet from Juan Ekis, a Palanca winning playwright, the other day. He said, “Nakakadepress magbasa ng balita sa feeds [It’s depressing to read the news in our feeds]. This is the perfect time for storytellers to donate healing & affirming stories to our people.” Can I say amen to that?

I realize that is what I can offer as a writer, as a storyteller. I can offer stories of hope. I can offer stories of healing and affirmation. I can even offer stories of kilig if you want, but that’s mostly because out of the overflow of the heart the keyboard creaks.

I can offer travel tales (read: misadventures) which will add color to your dullest of days, I can offer prose which will make you fall in love with words in a thousand and one ways.

I’m going to continue treading upon the path of a storyteller. I know it won’t be easy. I may or may not make it but one thing is certain: I have to keep on writing.

No. Matter. What.

I am actually drawing here, but I tell stories through visual art, too.
I am actually drawing here, but I tell stories through visual art, too.

___

*Tacloban is still a MESS. Hope is starting to rise up from the ruins, but please do continue to pray. Keep those donations coming in, and help out by volunteering if you can. Thank you. You are all good and wonderful people.

Bungkus (Takeaway)

A week has passed and I am still singing that song – 10,000 Reasons (co-written by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin). It’s my takeaway tune from this year’s ICPM. More than having a melody which has hit me (and I believe everyone else) with a serious case of LSS, the song has wordings which have left significant marks on my heart. 10,000 Reasons basically sums up my ICPM 4 experience.

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning / It’s time to sing Your song again / Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me / Let me be singing when the evening comes

It’s a brand new season. There’s no doubt about that. A new day has dawned upon my personal life, a new day has dawned upon my work and my ministry – sometimes I have to pace myself (and all those involved) so that I (and most often, we) could keep up with all the changes taking place. But truly, it is time to sing His song again. I’ve fallen silent for a time, but I have to keep singing. I’m unsure of the things awaiting me in the road up ahead, but, yet again, I have to keep singing. I have to. I want to. I resolve to be so filled with gladness, to be so overwhelmed by gratitude, to be so overtaken by love that even through lonely or pain-filled nights, I will keep on singing.

Bless the Lord, O my soul / O my soul / Worship His holy name / Sing like never before / O my soul / I’ll worship Your holy name

It’s all about worship. It’s all about pouring out our lives to the King of Kings, showing forth His glory by simply being who we are created to be. I loved Kuya Paul’s session about convergence. He said, “Convergence is the point where all our talents, gifts, experiences, uniqueness, and personalities ALIGN for us to perform our GREATEST WORK.” I am still mulling over my five stones. What are in my hands? What do I have which I can use to topple over giants, to conquer my mountain, the mountains of – *gulp* – education and arts?

I have yet to make those things clear in my heart, but one thing is for certain: I will sing like never before. In all the things I am doing right now, I am determined to give my 100%. 100% in my relationships. 100% in my work. 100% in my ministry. 100% in everything. I want to live a life of excellence once again. I want to start asking questions the way Kuya John Eric asks them, I want to run the extra mile the same way Ate Visiel showed us how.

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger / Your name is great, and Your heart is kind / For all Your goodness I will keep on singing / Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

I shall do all these things because there are ten thousand and more reasons for my heart to do so. Because above all, God is GOOD. During one of the times of worship, I just felt Him saying these words to me – “I have always been faithful.” He reiterated those words when Kuya Lester honored us and asked us to stand up during his session. And I held on to them and saw a glimpse of them coming to life during the parade of nations.

“I have always been faithful.”

And on that day when my strength is failing / The end draws near and my time has come / Still my soul will sing Your praise unending / Ten thousand years and then forevermore

One day, I’ll get married. One day, I’ll have kids. One day I’ll move out of Malaysia, perhaps go home, perhaps move on to the next nation. One day, all my kids would have grown up and would have families of their own. And then one day, all the insurance money Wilbert educated me about will prove to be very useful.

One day, I’ll look back at these moments of my history and see them as significant but nonetheless mere memories.

But still I shall keep on singing. Ten thousand years and then forevermore.

Bless the Lord, O my soul / O my soul / Worship His holy name / Sing like never before / O my soul / I’ll worship Your holy name

And so I will bless Him. Let my life be simply full of praise. Let me be unstoppable, as I was during our amazing race when I tore the back of my favorite blouse just to get hold of the elusive Thai elephant. Let me simply sing like never before.

Heartfelt thanks to all the speakers who poured out their hearts during their talks and sessions. Hats off to the organizers who made all these things happen. Tight hugs to the big ICPM family, you are all my heroes and inspirations. And so much love to all the people who have run this race before me, who are running the race now with me, and who will keep on running with me.

Let’s all sing like never before.

With Cristina Joy. Thanks to Ate Kim and Kuya JM for the mugto eyes photo! :D
With Cristina Joy. Thanks to Ate Kim and Kuya JM for the mugto eyes photo! :D