Showing posts from 2015

Dream: Meow

The seduction of the cat side, it begins.

I dreamt I had a white cat. It was forced on me, and I was busy working so I just let it stay in my room. When I checked on it, I saw that it had crawled under a pillow to sleep, hugging a pad of paper. I needed the paper, but when I took it, the cat swatted at me playfully then went back to sleep. I continued working on my laptop in bed, and I felt the cat crawl towards me, snuggling against my back.

It was still sleeping contentedly when I decided to keep it.

Dream: No surrender

Last night's dream: I was living in a house with Samantha Jones, the Kim Cattrall version. A man came to visit, and I could tell right away that he wasn't who he said he was. We thought he was going to take us hostage, and Samantha seduced him to win him over.

The man gave in but didn't capitulate. When he stepped out, Samantha asked me to tie her to her bed. "Just make sure I can untie myself easily," she said. I wasn't sure what she wanted to achieve, but I agreed.

I left to look for things to tie her up with, and bumped into the man. "Who are you?" I asked him. He looked at me meaningfully. I suddenly realized who he was. "You are a cop!" I exclaimed.

He pressed a finger to his lips. Somehow I understood that the bad person here was Samantha, so I decided to tie her up for real. I picked up four leather belts.

I tied Samantha's left arm to the bed post and looked at her splayed on the bed. She was wearing a red see-through nightgown. I touched her collarbone on impulse and she smiled at me seductively. I had to bend over her to reach her right arm and as I did so, she purred and stretched and my heart skipped a beat.

I ran to the cop to tell him I couldn't do it because she was too sexy. We were still talking when Samantha strutted across the room, left arm dragging the entire king-sized bed, and declared, "I have to go and pee."

The cop's mission was a failure. I left him. Then I got ready for a date, putting on my high school uniform. I was swirling the too-long skirt around, listening to it rustling against my legs, when I woke up.

Still vegetarian for another 30 days

Since I started eating vegetarian and almost-vegan (things I ate that weren't vegan: oyster sauce, some birthday cake with egg and milk, and cheese) on October 1, I've lost seven pounds and two inches off my waist. The weight goes up and down a little depending on my water intake, so my main metric is the inches.

I'm going vegan for two reasons: it's good for my health and good for the planet. I will do my best to be 100% with it, but with the way my brain works, I'm going to leave room for some tiny, tiny cheats and recommit every 30 days.

That means there's always a possibility I'd go back to eating some animal products. I'll be approaching it like I'm a forever recovering carnivore. (Hi, my name is Althea, I'm a meat eater!)

Just a note on how I'm eating: I'm more or less following Dr. John McDougall's diet plan, which is a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet. That means no animal products and no added fat (including oils extracted from their sources, like olive oil and sesame oil).

Whole-food, plant-based

McDougall doesn't call this way of eating vegetarian or vegan because it doesn't allow many things vegetarian or vegan diets allow, but I use those terms because the diet is vegetarian and vegan, and I'm getting a lot of support and tips from vegetarians and vegans. I'm not yet 100% on following the McDougall plan, but I'm working on it.

What got me started on reading up on McDougall was watching Forks Over Knives. The documentary struck a chord because my dad died of a stroke in his early 50s, which is less than 15 years from my age now. More recently, my uncle from my mother side had to get heart bypass surgery. Cardiovascular disease is in my genes.

Also, after working in a job that made me unhappy more than it made me happy in my last two years on it, I was in my worst state of health ever. I must have gained close to 40 pounds since 2009. (Hi, my name is Althea. I'm also an emotional eater.)

Then I had gout, and I learned that medicine for gout is really bad for the kidneys, so managing it with medicine was not an option.

I still love good food

Anybody who knows me knows I love good food, and I thought I'd have a hard time staying off animal products. Well, the only difficulty I'm experiencing is in finding vegan options when I eat out and learning to cook WFPB. Given the choice now, I'd choose the WFPB dish over any meat dish and not feel deprived, really, as long as I have my starch.

To be honest, meat still looks and smells tempting. Maybe I'll never get over that, or maybe as I become more exposed to the ethical side of veganism, I'll be one of those people who feel bad when they see animals on the dinner table. I don't know yet. I'm still new to this.

What I do know is I feel better, health-wise, and I want more of this better. When I struggle in the shift in my relationships because I've bonded with most of my loved ones on good food that usually includes meat, or when I struggle to introduce myself as my new identity, I always remind myself, hey you're still the old joyful, funny, emotional, food-loving you. Still the same, except with less inflammation and healthier arteries and better calcium retention.

One day, I may get an additional kick out of knowing I contribute to helping the planet too. One step at a time.

Dream: Problem-solving

I just remembered that last night I dreamed that I was taking an algebra class and there was a test and my score was -129. I saw on my test paper that my teacher had written: "Good grief! This is not the way to solve this problem."

Dream: Koi suicide

I remembered last night's dream! I dreamed that I was with my best friend Sherwil at a village club that had a pond and a pool. In one corner of the pond area, there were buckets filled with koi.

One particular fish jumped out of the bucket. Sherwil picked it up and showed it to me as it lay still, breathing, in her hand. "Look," she said, "I have had to learn how to do this." I shuddered, imagining shiny scaly slippery flesh squirming in my hand.

Sherwil threw the koi back into the bucket -- and it leapt out again, landing with a thump. They kept at it several times, then Sherwil left.

The rest of the fish started jumping out of the buckets. There was a puddle nearby, so most of them landed in splashes of muddy water. I ran around the buckets, forcing myself to pick up fish and put them back in the buckets -- only to find them jumping out again.

They were calm about it too, as if they had decided to end their lives. They didn't thrash about on semi-dry land; they just lay there, gills drawing air, waiting to dry out.

I thought that maybe they hated living in the buckets, so I decided to transfer them to the pond. One by one, I threw them in the pond and watched them swim away.

But then the pond fish started leaping out of the water and staying on the rocks. I saw koi and shubunkin and even one tilapia. I ran around the pond, tossing them back in. I saw a silvery, long fish that had already dried up, but I still splashed it with water in a feeble attempt at reviving it. Its carcass stared back at me with one eye completely white.

When I was done with the pond fish, I saw the glints of golden orange around the swimming pool: baby koi, no bigger than my finger, leaping out of the water, beaching themselves, calmly waiting to dry.

Trying to be vegetarian this October

Looking at my blog archives, I see a long history of trying to eat healthy. Some years ago, close to ten, I tried a 30-day juice fast. Then I intermittently stayed away from refined carbs and sugar. More recently, but also too long ago, I also tried eating raw for 30 days. I believe I also avoided red meat for close to a year. I also tried intermittent fasting (14:10) for a couple of months.

Both 30-day experiments were more for cleansing than weight loss, but I did lose a couple of pounds along the way. Still, considering my overall health now, everything that I did hasn't led to any long-lasting success. Eating healthy has, and always will be, difficult for me. I should consider myself always in recovery.

While I have managed to stay away from a lot of bad sugar and junk food since I arrived from the US (that was early in July), I still ate a lot of bad food (bacon, my forever Waterloo).

Then there's the matter of exercise. I've tried going to the gym, boxing, and walking. I also recently bought a refurbished folding bike (I've been using it, though I haven't gone very far). Exercise worked for me, but I also didn't last long with it.

Recently, I've been feeling my age. I'll be 38 in a few weeks and I have to admit I am in my worst shape ever. I want to put a change to that.

Also, I've been considering veganism after meeting up with my old college friend, Jimple, in Albay last April. He's now a vegan, and I marveled at his compassion and discipline when we ate out several times. Another old friend, Joel, whom I've known almost as long as Jimple, is also vegan.

Then more recently, I got to talk to two vegans at a trade fair in Festival Mall in Alabang. They were giving out samples of "Seacharon," seaweed chicharon, and I had a quick chat with them about their lifestyle. One of them invited me to the Manila Vegans Facebook page, and I've been a member since.

I've asked a couple of questions on that page, and I've also been reading up on other vegan's posts. I agree that eating should be cruelty-free and that animals are sentient beings, like humans. My heart breaks at the discovery of the extremely cruel conditions of the animal food industry. But I do not know yet if I can be vegan.

First, I use a lot of leather. I like leather. Second, I do not know if I can let go of eggs and dairy. Most important of all, I am still not convinced that it is unnatural for humans to eat meat. Cruel, yes, but unnatural? I can't wrap my head around it yet.

So, in attempt to improve my health and check if I can live happily as a vegan (as I also try read more literature on it and talk to more vegans about their experience), I am committing to 30 days as a vegetarian (with some room for dairy, eggs and some seafood--if it's part of a spring roll that's largely plant-based).

I'm on Day 4 today, and I've learned that I should definitely learn how to prepare more vegetarian dishes. If my taste buds are happy, I can definitely go veg.

Dream: Interspecies, cougar thing

I dreamed that I was being pursued by two male human-looking creatures with charcoal angel wings. They were younger than me, maybe in their mid-twenties. They couldn't enter the two-story house I was living in without an invitation, and I'd see their faces peering into windows or their arms reaching through cracks in whatever room I was in. Sometimes, I'd see only their shadows.

They freaked everyone out, but for me they weren't as frightening as they were bothersome, especially when I needed privacy. I couldn't sleep when I could see a face watching me from my window, even in the dark.

One day, fed up, I ignored the warnings of people and stepped out to try to talk to one of them. I wasn't all that brave, so I stood in the doorway, leaving the door half open. "What do you want?" I called out to the dark-haired one. He was older than the other one and had a face I'd never seen before.

He descended, and as he did his wings disappeared and he formed legs. "I just want to get to know you better," he said.

"So what do you want from me?"

"Let's hang out."


The other creature approached us, his wings disappearing and legs appearing as well. He had a familiar, friendlier face. "I want to hang out, too," he said. "But not with him around!" He pointed at the other creature, who replied with a scowl.

"Hey, don't fight," I said (and my dreaming self giggled).

So I hung out with them both, liking the dark-haired one for his brooding personality and liking the friendly one more for his humor and candor. I still didn't let them in the house, but I talked them out of looking into windows and taught them to just wait for me outside.

One day, I was talking to the friendly one. I found myself leaning against him, laughing over a joke he'd said. I stood up to walk to my house.
He stayed seated, smiling.

"Did you want to come inside?" I asked, fully aware of all the risks.

He was still seated as I walked away, the invitation still open. As I woke up, I was thinking, "Can I really do this interspecies cougar thing?"

Dream: The one with Rachel and Robin

I dreamt a new Friends/HIMYM episode. Rachel had a new boyfriend, a guy she didn't like at first and eventually fell for. It was cute how she told him "I love you" first, after he had resigned himself to being just a friend.

They were bantering, and then in the middle of laughing over a joke, the guy said, "Don't get mad, but I'm going to kiss you." She froze. He leaned over. Then he planted a kiss on her cheek. She melted, saying "Awww." The guy pulled back and started telling another joke. Rachel blurted out, "I love you."

Unfortunately, this episode was before she got back with Ross, so my dream self worried about how Rachel and this new guy would break up since we all knew she would end up with Ross.

The next scene featured Robin. It was still the same episode, but she was on a spaceship hurtling through space. The mood was different, so was the humor. But even on the spaceship, Robin had guy problems.

My last dream thought was, "This episode is bad."

Dream: Ready?

My dream faded away too quickly even if it was so vivid I remember telling myself to remember. But all I remember is this:

"Are you ready to know?" I asked.

"Are you willing to let go?" the black thing hulking over my bed asked back.

Going semi-vegetarian

I've been considering going part-vegetarian recently. My goal is to have 4 meat-free days in a week. I'm still working on making it to four days. It's hard, but I do feel better when I eat more fruits and vegetables.

I still don't know if I can give up meat completely. I don't know if what that blood type diet says is true, that we Type Os need more meat. I went 30 days meatless once, and I craved it so bad, I broke my diet with barbecued pork!

Maybe I should just focus on what I'll be eating (more fruits and veggies) and not what I won't be eating (all my favorite meat dishes). That's a dieting tip that works for me: Pile on the good stuff, and you'll soon forget about the bad stuff.

Still, I'm not yet convinced that eating meat is bad. But vegans, don't write me off yet. I have been staying away from any animal cruelty videos because I can't watch animals suffer, even if I know they suffer for my food.

Let's see how it goes. Part of my goal is to learn how to cook more meat-free dishes, so I'll try to post my experiments here.

Dream: I wrote a speech

I dreamed that I was invited to deliver an extemporaneous speech, and, after much initial reluctance, I did. It turned out that I had joined a contest and I won... and had to move on to the next round. I was totally terrified, but this time I decided to work on a speech, since I didn't know yet if we would be asked to deliver a prepared speech or an extemporaneous one.

I started writing a speech about how a trip abroad made me more nationalistic "because home is where the person I love lives." I wrote about how the awe I felt over the foreign country's sunset made me love my own country more because I remembered the people who lived there. And I wrote many other things, completing the speech in my dream--with editing and revisions, too.

It was done when I woke up, and my dream self was eager to deliver it. Of course, when I woke up, everything faded away.

Which reminds me, I once wrote an entire horror screenplay in a dream.

Always a parent, always a child

When I went to the store to buy sharksfin dumpling (don't worry, it wasn't real shark's fin), I saw a father and his teenage son buying food as well. The son wasn't feeling well, I gathered, because his father reached out to touch his forehead with the back of his hand. What I found touching, however, was that the son was already over a foot taller.

Radio's fine, it helps me forget for a while

But not today. Today is all about remembering.

Early this afternoon, I managed to connect the old Sony sound system that's been gathering dust in my room to an antenna. I'm pretty sure I'd tried this before and failed to get good reception, so I gave up and left the sound system alone. Almost a decade since I last tried to use it, it's aliiive!

I'm afraid to use the tape player, though, because when I pressed the eject button it got stuck for a few seconds and I thought it would never close. If there's one thing I hate, it's a cassette deck that's permanently open.

I know this sound system cost a lot of money when my dad bought it. It was top of the line at the time. It has a video CD player too, and I'm pretty sure we used it to watch movies years ago. Unfortunately, now and forevermore, it will function only as a radio. Still, I'm thrilled. I have a radio that doesn't need my laptop to play!

When I switched to radio mode, the station that played was 105.9. Maybe it was the last station I played so many years ago, or perhaps it played because it was closest to my old favorite station (105.1 Crossover). It was a good thing, too, because the DJ was playing some new wave classics and more "music for grownups from the growing up years."

I'm more of a 90s kid, but it was in the 80s, of course, that I first listened to music, so it's 80s music that pulls me back to my childhood, when all I needed was my own company or that of my brothers and cousins, a dash of imagination, and life was instantly magical.

Instead of working on my laptop (checking out job prospects, writing my blog, etc.), I plopped myself on my bed and just listened and allowed random memories to come rushing in.

I remembered when my best friend Sherwil and I would just play the radio and sit for hours, in her room, in her car, in my house, dreaming out loud about our unrequited loves. We were juniors, 15 turning 16, and we were mourning our crushes being on their final year of high school.

I remembered when the first song I learned was "The Greatest Love of All" and I felt so privileged that I was a child (probably 9 or 10 years old) and the song had that line about us being the future and I felt that life was going to surprise me with it greatness.

I remembered one summer, in UP, when I was taking summer classes. Someone I liked was away for the summer, and I had a classmate who, during our break, would always sing Beverly Craven's "Promise Me" and I'd sit and listen, and mentally sing along to the words "Promise me you'll wait for me, I need to know you feel the same way too, and I'll be home, I'll be home soon." Then I'd think, "But I'm not the one who's away, so technically this song is wrong so why am I even singing it?"

I remembered a party in the tennis court of my dad's old company in Zambales. I was about six or seven, maybe younger, and this cute guy who was old (he was, by my calculation, around twelve) danced to "Square Rooms." I had no concept of cute then, but I somehow knew he was special and I was too shy to even go near him.

I remembered when I was in grade school and when the bus would arrive early and I didn't have to catch up on homework I hadn't done, I'd head for the hill near our classroom and play there with my imaginary friends. I knew they were imaginary, I always knew, but I was often happier with them than I was in class.

I remembered the terror of not knowing the language of my playmates. I was a Cebuano child planted in Manila, and I didn't take to Tagalog for years. I made only one friend each school year, I wanted only one, and my greatest fear was her being absent and my having to deal with other classmates seeing me friendless during recess. I realize now that I had no fear of being alone; my fear was of being perceived alone.

I remembered my early friends in school. I can count them with one hand. I remember talking with one of them about our plan to read the whole Bible for the summer, something I never did and have never done, something she never got to follow up with me because we weren't classmates anymore the next school year, and I had to find a new friend again.

Then my eyes suddenly welled up with tears from God knows where, and I remembered who I was: this woman, no longer a child, now listening to old music on an old radio.

And then I remembered I had left my job because I said I was unhappy, but the truth was I was sad. And many times I had to set aside my sadness, because there was no room for the personal in that corporate life.

I remembered I had forgotten to allow myself to be sad over what I had lost, even when I had lost it by choice and with complete willingness. Joy, even.

Then today, I remembered who I was before everything became just tough and hard and bitter to the taste: I remembered I had also always been pure heart. I was always pure heart. I have always been pure heart.

I am always pure heart.

I had always loved completely and given my all in all that I did, with no hope or expectation, except for knowing I gave it all that I could. I used to do that. I did that.

I do that.

I will do it again.

Cooking with moringa and coconut cream

I also discovered the word carajay.

Here's yet another cooking experiment, which gives me a grand total of THREE mostly plant-based dishes in my repertoire.

First, a disclaimer: I am not a good cook. I think I cook with common sense and a little knowledge of chemistry absorbed by osmosis courtesy of the family.

For the longest time, for me, there was only one way to cook moringa leaves or malunggay: we added it to tinola.

In our household, we made a distinction between the two types of tinola we made depending on what leaves were used.

The typical tinola with hot pepper leaves was tinola, while the tinola with malunggay was, well, malunggay.

If I remember correctly, malunggay could also make do without the sayote or its alternative green papaya.

I've always loved both types of tinola, especially during the rainy season. I never thought of any other way to eat moringa, except as tea and capsules specially marketed to breastfeeding mothers.

In April this year, I went with Sherwil to Tabaco, Albay, to meet an old friend and be goddaughter to his child. He invited us to eat at his grandmother's house and we were treated to their family's home cooking. I discovered ginataang malunggay with tinapa flakes. That's moringa leaves cooked in coconut cream topped with flakes of smoked fish.

Now, I am a recent convert to gata or coconut milk. I used to hate it in everything and I couldn't understand why, for example, someone would ruin a perfectly good adobo by adding coconut milk to it. But one day, I tried some laing from this lechon pork belly place near my former office and I was instantly in love.

So when we were headed to Albay, I was looking forward to getting some authentic laing. You can bet I tried to order it as much as I could whenever we ate out! That, and Bicol Express. I wasn't disappointed. Not at all.

Then my sister asked me to bring home some pinangat, which I had never heard of. When I tasted it at home after bringing it in a makeshift cooler over our ten-hour bus ride back to Manila, my love for coconut milk was forever sealed.

I added six chili peppers to spice things up, literally and figuratively. 

Today, a couple of months since I first tasted ginataang malunggay with tinapa flakes, I tried to make it from scratch.

As I wrote in a previous entry, I've been working towards a more plant-based diet, and I've discovered that anything with coconut milk in it makes me crave meat less. In fact, the only time that I considered turning vegetarian was when I was eating meat-free laing.

I bought gata from a neighborhood store (I guess I'm now their suki), then I plucked some leaves from our moringa tree, and then I flaked some smoked fish that's been waiting in the refrigerator. Then I followed this recipe and just added the smoked fish.

It tasted so good, I ate more than I wanted to. But no matter! It's just leaves and some fish. It's healthy!

Healthy, wealthy and wise. But healthy first.

This is my bike. Behind it is Emily's.

One of the things I wanted to focus on when I decided to take a short break from working was my health.

I don't think I've ever been in worse shape in my entire life. A sedentary lifestyle, work stress, poor eating habits, and suppressing many feelings have all led to my being my unhealthiest self ever.

It's not even about looks at all. It's about ensuring that I will be able to do the things I love to do, like travel (trekking in Batad, anyone?) and write (ugh, brain fog) for as long as I live.

So, when I got back from the States (where, I have to confess, like many visiting Filipinos, I ate too much) and after I got over my jet lag (it took me two weeks!), I dragged myself out of bed and made a pact with one of my best friends, Emily, to get healthier or die trying.

We're on our third Wednesday now of walking in the morning.

We've designed Wednesdays to be the day we'd touch base with our progress. We're accountability partners, each other's reminder that we made commitments to ourselves and we should keep those commitments. So far, it's been working for me.

I didn't suddenly turn into a health freak, but regularly talking to a friend about my health goal has helped me be more consistent in my actions.

On our first Wednesday together, Emily and I also bought secondhand folding bikes. Em doesn't know how to ride a bike, and I've promised to teach her. I'm quite thrilled with my bike. While I don't see myself biking long distances, I'm looking forward to at least biking around the village, running errands, and visiting my nieces.

So far, I've ridden it up and down our street. It's taking me some time to muster up enough courage to go on the main roads, but I don't even have a helmet yet, so that's okay.

I've also started taking smoothies for breakfast. It's supposed to, first, help me transition to a more plant-based diet, and, second, give me a palatable way to take in turmeric and virgin coconut oil. I tried making a turmeric mango smoothie and a turmeric ginger smoothie with some avocado.

I'm happy with this steel straw, too.

Lastly, I've also been learning to cook with more vegetables. A few weeks ago, I watched the film Forks Over Knives and was convinced to make my diet more plant-based. I'm still not sure if I will ever turn vegetarian, but I've been feeling better eating more raw and plant-based food.

My first attempt at pinakbet.

I've found that when I prepare my own food, eating healthier is easier and becomes habitual. I also teach myself to come up with flavors I crave so I can whip up my own substitutes. Today, for example, I was craving chips. I looked up some recipes online and tried making my own microwave sweet potato chips, replacing the spices with ground cumin and chili powder.

I shared a picture on Instagram, but I'm so pleased with how it turned out, here's the picture again:

Goodbye, Lay's! I think.

The next recipe I really want to master is laing. Coconut cream is really wonderful when you're trying to cut down on the consumption of meat. It's fatty enough to make you feel you're still eating a rich dish.

So far, I've lost five pounds. It's not much, but it's progress. I'll keep you posted.

How to save a life, an introduction

It's been over four months since I left my job. I've done many things since then, mostly traveling (well-documented on Instagram) and meeting old friends and family I'd never met before or I'd last seen too long ago. Life is good, even with a dwindling bank account.

But life is also not always good, to be honest. Leaving a situation that brought me large amounts of joy and larger amounts of unhappiness has gifted me with many mornings thinking about all the time and opportunities I've wasted, despite my best intentions.

On days when the regret is strong, I escape into movies and social media. Happily, those days are farther and fewer between now, and I know that when the dust clears completely, that chapter of my life will finally serve its purpose as fodder for my writing and as fuel for an even more compassionate heart. 

Now let me channel Eddie Vedder and say, "I have faced it, a life wasted. I'm never going back again."


I bought five small bread buns from the bakery on Kalantiaw Street as I waited for my Grab Taxi cab to arrive. I ate three and left two for the cab driver. I gave him the buns as I entered the cab and he thanked me profusely. Then he told me he'd been stuck in terrible traffic from NAIA 3 to Cubao. I guess he was hungry.

As we stopped at a red light before entering White Plains, he said he'd eat the buns. I told him I liked the bakery I'd bought the buns from; their breads were tasty and filling and cheap. He took one bun out of the plastic bag and thanked me again. Suddenly, there was a knock on his window: a little girl, asking for food or money.

"She's asking for the other piece," he said with a smile. He rolled down the window a little and handed her a bun. "Let's share," he told the girl.

The light turned green. We moved forward. He bit into the remaining bun. "It's good," he said.

It is.

"All the rest is hypothesis and dream"

Theory of Memory
By Louise Glück

Long, long ago, before I was a tormented artist, afflicted with longing yet incapable of forming durable attachments, long before this, I was a glorious ruler uniting all of a divided country -- so I was told by the fortune-teller who examined my palm. Great things, she said, are ahead of you, or perhaps behind you; it is difficult to be sure. And yet, she added, what is the difference? Right now you are a child holding hands with a fortune-teller. All the rest is hypothesis and dream.

All right stop

A neighbor is playing Ice Ice Baby really loud and suddenly I'm 12, in sixth grade again... and not wanting to go to school. I'm thinking how much I hated my English teacher back then, which was a pity because her subjects (Reading and Language) were my favorite and I was really good at them. She was in charge of the school paper too, but that didn't stop me from joining.

And suddenly, too, my reality becomes even more real. It is 25 years from grade 6, I have gout, and I wish I were getting ready for school instead.

When I first moved to the Eastwood office, and when I leave

When I first moved to the Eastwood office from Alabang in 2009, I stayed at my uncle's place in Serendra and took the taxi to work. Every day was a challenge because I'd had a bad experience during a cab ride in Manila and was still experiencing some form of post traumatic stress disorder.

Almost five years and a move to Project 4 later, I'm still a very careful cab rider and slow to trust, but I've also developed an appreciation of how hard honest taxi drivers work. I've had wonderful conversations with drivers; I've been on the receiving end of their kindness as they waited for me to enter my apartment before driving off with my fare.

Because of my many cab rides I know many of the taxi drivers work 24-hour shifts and often can't help but catch some sleep. I know that not every place is safe for them, so they have their favorite spots where they can get safety for themselves and the vehicles entrusted to them, security for the day's earnings, and some rest.

On my usual route, I see them parked in front of the Eastwood City police and fire station. They converge at eateries near the corner of 20th Avenue and Bonny Serrano. Many times, I walk past a few of them sleeping soundly along Rajah Matanda.

When I see a taxi driver grabbing a meal or taking a nap, my first thought is "God bless you." I silently thank the likes of them for their service, for bringing me home safe at all hours of the day, in the 1,500 days or so since I started working in Eastwood.

My post stress anxiety has given way to appreciation and a gratitude that is almost automatic.

I'm due to leave Eastwood and my place of work at the end of March. There's a six-week goodbye to people and places and friends and routines and things, six weeks that ought to end in what five years of daily cab rides led to. As I take that last cab ride home, I want to be saying thank you, I really want to.

Dream: Captured

Another Benedict Cumberbatch dream. But before he appears, I went to a small island called Nueva Ecija and had lunch at a cheap Thai buffet restaurant (P269).

Benedict was hanging out at our house with his closest friends, all in the film industry, and all in Manila for a really important festival. They were at our house because our house gave them privacy (pronounced with a short i).

I was playing with a younger Keona or an older Kiara. She had a phone with a voice recorder and she was recording our play.
"If you were a cat, how will you come inside the house?" she asked. "Show me!"

"If you were a kitten, how would you?" I countered. "Show me!"

"Okay," she said, running for the door.

Show me she did, and all the important men in the British film industry turned to look as the little girl bounced into the house on all fours.
"The kitten to my cat," I said.

"Good actress," one of the older guys said (Moffat? Gatiss?).

"Now it's your turn!" said the kitten. And all men continued to look.

I collapsed in giggles as I tried to be a cat with Benedict Cumberbatch watching. They laughed at my feeble attempt, all of us realizing how difficult the task was, as if it was that one acting challenge only the best actors could pass.

"That was terrible," he said to me. "You're torturing your aunt," he said to Keona/Kiara.

I couldn't breathe. Heart in mouth, I just smiled. But what I thought would have been a really great way to flirt was to refer to his motion capture scenes as Smaug.

The kitten giggled and he picked her up. She caught their banter on her voice recorder.

Later, my mom asked him to listen to the recording. Keona/Kiara had spoken in complete sentences. "I didn't hear this at all earlier," he said, "Wow."

Much later, in my room, I died when I realized Keona/Kiara had also caught me on record squealing about my undying love for Benedict and he had listened to the whole thing.

Happy travels

I finally had my US visa interview last week. I came prepared and also relaxed, since I'd been psyching myself up for months for this trip. Having missed a couple of important family moments in the US (an uncle's funeral, a cousin's wedding, being with an aunt for her treatments), I'd set my mind on making the time this time. Armed with my best intentions and some papers, I went to ask the US embassy to let me in their country for a while.

The wait was long, but the interview didn't last even five minutes. I got my visa today, two working days later. Thank you, U.S. of A. You will get some of my money in return.

Later, outside the embassy, I hailed a Ryo Aki cab, in competition with a family of five and a barker. They were ahead of me on Roxas Boulevard, but the driver ignored them, stopped in front of me, opened the passenger window, and told me to get in.

I beamed, congratulating myself on my luck. I had already opened the door when I heard the mother (I assumed) yelling at her adult son to tell me they'd flagged the cab first. I stepped aside.

The driver said to ignore them. I told him they were mad. He yelled at me to get in, because he wasn't going to let them ride anyway because he didn't want the barker to get a single centavo.

"Barkers are cheats," he said in angry Filipino, "They get money from both the driver and the passenger."
"Why? How much do you give them?" I asked.
"Nothing. A punch in the face."

I changed the subject and checked if I could open the locks. Just in case I would have to.

He had calmed down by the time we got to Taft Avenue.

I had lunch at a Wai Ying along Taft (beside DLSU!): hakao, siomai, buchi, and Binondo-style Hong Kong milk tea.

On the bus back to Las Piñas, I brought out the book I had been reading at the embassy: Manila Noir. My reading was soon interrupted by the unmistakable scent of freshly fried bread. An empanada peddler had gotten on the bus, carrying a plastic box filled with pastry.

"Taste this," he told a lady passenger, "you won't be disappointed. My wife is a good cook."

The lady bought a piece, ate it, and bought one more later.

Though full, I bought four ham and cheese empanadas because I had heard the love in the peddler's voice when he mentioned his wife. And because the other option was chicken asado and I was more suspicious of that meat.

I'll see you soon, USA. I'll see you again soon, Manila, you crazy beautiful city you.

Hello, 2015, slow down

Just like that, January is over. I had the best intentions for the new year, but this year started out a little frustrating: I spent the first three weeks of January fighting a rather strong upper respiratory infection. I can say, in fact, that as early as the first week of 2015, I'd already experienced something completely new: laryngitis.

One day, I was talking non-stop with my best friends Sherwil and Emily, and the next morning, I was completely voiceless. There was no medicine for it, and, shunning antibiotics, I opted for plenty of fluids, vitamins, and rest. I slept for twelve hours or more each day.

That little bout with illness threw me a bit off track, but I'm well now and raring to get back on the New Year's Resolutions bandwagon. During the long Christmas break, I'd listed down some of my intentions for professional development, creative writing (including reading and writing in this blog), travel, relationships, finances, and health.

I managed to tick off some tasks on my to-do list, but I still need to catch up on some of this year's goals.

The unusual (at least for me) long bout with illness, however, didn't go without leaving a few lessons, the most urgent of which was to take care of myself since I'm not getting any younger, and the most valuable of which was that silence is okay.

When I was fighting laryngitis, I couldn't talk. Forced into physical silence, I compensated by allowing my thoughts to go on overdrive -- so much so that even I found myself too loud.

This year, even if I want movement, I also must learn to be still.

Dream: Engagement

Still feeling under the weather, I lie half awake after responding to the call of nature, my mind running away from me, concocting this long and elaborate emoji-filled chat between me and a US-based girl friend, during which she tells me I absolutely have to date her boyfriend's 45-year-old friend.

She sends me a pic of his wheelchair-bound 80-something mother and says he has already told her about me, and she who rarely likes the girls he dates has given us her blessing (heart emoji).

But honestly, my friend says, I have to date him because he needs character references and his encounter with me would boost his hiring potential. I don't have to look at it romantically, she says.

Plus, says my friend, I am on "what engages him: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram."

Here's his picture, she says, and it starts loading.

A cough wakes me up completely, and everything is gone.

Let us go disturb the universe

Dream: Haunting

I dreamt I was in a cab with Keona, and the cab driver couldn't find Bonny Serrano. I gave him directions, but he wouldn't listen. Or he would make a turn before my instructions would register.

As we were going around in circles, Keona slipped into the space under the car seat with my iPad, playing hide-and-seek. Against my better judgment, I let her stay there.

At one point, frustrated that we were lost in such a familiar area, I told the driver I needed to step out to get my bearings and check a partially hidden sign. Again, he wasn't listening... so when I stepped out, he immediately drove away, with Keona still hiding under the seat.
I panicked. I tried to remember his name and plate number, but I hadn't taken note of them. He was a kind old man, just stubborn, and I had given him the street address, so I walked to my street, hoping he'd finally find it, see me, and drop Keona off.

As I was walking, I bumped into one of my best friends, Emily. She was cheerful and rather bouncy, and she walked along with me. "Do you know there are ghosts walking around here?" she asked.

It was not something I wanted to hear as I was looking for my niece. But Em was persistent. "There are ghosts walking around here," she repeated, this time with a playful tone in her voice. "Like me!"

"Like who?"

"Me," she giggled, walking away.

I tried to run after her and suddenly fell. The falling felt infinite, painless but heavy. It dragged me down like a magnetic force even as I felt the concrete catch my back. When I surrendered to it, I soared for a few seconds. Then I popped back up.

People were gawking. Then I saw I had left my body.

"Now there are two of us!" Emily said.

"Let's haunt Sherwil!" I said. We giggled.

Em bounced to Sherwil's house while I, still new to the ghost business, walked. When we got there, Emily flew straight to the second floor and flew right back out. I asked her how to fly, and she said to just focus on where you wanted to go. I tried and I managed to lift my feet off the ground, but I couldn't penetrate concrete. I hovered above Sherwil's car, a black and white, checkered Mini Cooper. Sherwil was inside.

I put on a scary face and went into crouching position and landed gently on the hood. "Boo! I'm a ghost!" Em pulled the car door open and cried out the same.

Sherwil wasn't scared at all, but frustrated that she had to catch up with us. "How? What?" Em and I promised to update her soon, but we both had to run. She had an errand and I had to find Keona.

The next morning, the cab driver finally drove down a street I was on. He didn't see me so I had to chase him down. Keona looked calm, but when she saw me she finally cried. "I played games on your iPad all night," she sobbed, "but there was no Internet."

The driver said he brought her home and fed her Jollibee before resuming the search. His children tried to play with her, he said, but she was on the iPad.

I thanked him and told him to bring us home. I gave him instructions. He made a wrong turn. And we were lost again.