Showing posts from February, 2016

Something's been living in our bathroom?

A few weeks ago, I had breakfast with our cleaning lady Jane. She told me she had had a welt on her cheek, and she had consulted a folk healer about it.

The folk healer asked her if she had been cleaning a bathroom. "How did you know?" Jane asked.

"Because you got that from the bathroom you were cleaning. It was a kapre who did that to you."

Then the folk healer told her that the construction work going on in the land near our house, the land that would soon become yet another gated village, had razed some old trees. A kapre had lost his home and was now living in our bathroom.

The folk healer instructed Jane to leave an offering to the kapre in our bathroom, an offering of coins, candy and cigarettes.

But Jane remembered that I had told her a few months back about a talk I had attended featuring an exorcist priest, during which I learned that according to Catholic teaching, anything of the occult, including the tiniest ritual, even if supposedly done for the good, could open the door to more.

So she left the decision to me. I haven't done anything yet. I don't feel there's a kapre anywhere inside our house, that is if I knew what having a kapre around would feel like.

Chatting with my GrabCar driver about the elections

I took a GrabCar to school today because I was running late. The driver was chatty, and when he found out I was from UP, he asked me who I'd vote for. He was also undecided, he said, about for whom to vote for president.

We had a long, enlightening discussion. We were both anti-Binay.

He listened intently as I told him what I had learned from a journalist about election-related trends (like how the religious groups only matter in close races or how Filipino voters have never voted candidates who'd already lost an earlier presidential bid into the presidency).

He asked interesting questions and contributed a lot of equally interesting details too, being up to date with issues. I was stoked to meet an enlightened voter. Then I asked him who he'd vote for VP.

"Cayetano," he said.

Curious, I asked him why.

"Because we have the same surname."

I could hear the pride in his voice, even when he said he there was no relation.

Looking back at what I remember of the Marcos years

I'd always thought I wasn't personally affected by Martial Law in the 1980s. How wrong I was.

My family and I lived small, quiet lives in what was then the sleepy town of Las Piñas, where a trip to a hilltop McDonald's was the highlight of any special occasion and the worst crime I could imagine was someone stealing the steel drum that served as our trash can in the dead of the night.

I was five years old when Ninoy was assassinated. When we heard the news, my father was working in Zambales. We didn't have a telephone. My Uncle Jessie came over and told my mom, his youngest sister, not to go out.

We didn't talk about how it could have been Marcos who had Ninoy killed -- maybe they talked about it out of my earshot -- but I remember later looking at Ninoy's body splayed on the tarmac, searching for the red of his blood through the grainy TV reception, and wondering what he could have done to merit such a fate.

Was he a bad person? I thought to myself.

And: Could that happen to me, if I were a bad person? Could it happen to anyone I loved?

My earliest memory of Marcos, I can trace back to kindergarten. It was during a United Nations-themed school parade. I wore a kimono, and my classmate Kristine was dressed as a typical Dutch girl.

"Who is the president of the Philippines?" Kristine asked me.

I didn't even know what a president was. I said as much.

"Lagot ka," she said. You're in trouble.

Kristine explained that her mom had told her the president was the leader of the country, much like a king. It was something we should know as well as we knew the Patriotic Oath and the National Anthem. "When somebody asks you," she said, "you should know who Marcos is."

On and off, I would hear about Marcos and Imelda. Other kids would say they were the richest people in the Philippines; they owned the whole country. "Even McDonald's?" I would ask. And they would say yes, everything your eyes can see. I once looked at the rubber slippers on my feet and thought, "But how can these be theirs?"

Some kids would tell me Imelda was the most beautiful Filipina, even if it wasn't true. There was Isabelle Granada, I thought, and even Vilma. But by then I knew to stay quiet or else "lagot ka." It was often said as a joke, sure, but there was always a tiny shadow of threat trailing closely behind.

I was eight years old during the Snap Elections. I wasn't sure what was going on, except that there were colorful vehicles going around the village, parking in different areas to play funny campaign songs and distribute stickers and posters. Also this: One of our neighbors draped a Marcos-Tolentino campaign tarp on our wall, and we didn't want to offend him by taking it down.

One day, my older brother, then nine, got his hands on a Marcos-Tolentino sticker. He stuck it on the wall of the clothes cabinet we shared and drew horns on Marcos and a speech bubble that said, "I am evil."

That year was when we were preparing to receive our first communion at the Catholic school I went to, and what disturbed me first was having to see the devil every time I opened the cabinet to get my clothes.

I may have told my mother about it.

When my mother saw the sticker, she scolded my brother and told him to take it down. She said the police might see it and pick them up for questioning. Did he want that to happen? she asked.

"Never do that outside the house," she told us all.

My brother tried to peel the sticker off the wall, but the glue was so strong, large pieces of it stayed stuck on the wood. For years, its remnants stayed hidden like a dirty secret inside our crumbling plywood cabinet: white, red and blue, with Marcos' unmistakable hairline and the faded words that still said "I am evil" if you looked close enough.

Thirty years later, I realize my mother may not have been entirely serious when she told my brother the police might come and pick us up because of his sticker antics. But I am disturbed all the same that the fear was real enough to enter the realm of half-meant jokes.

What disturbs me the most, especially now that I have an eight-year-old niece, is my reaction: I had wanted to tell the police before they discovered the deed by themselves, never mind if what was left of it was a small patch of sticker paper hidden behind a small pile of clothes in a small cabinet in a small room in a small house in a small village in small town Las Piñas.

I had wanted to confess.

Maybe admission would translate to leniency, I thought, and we could go back to living our small, quiet lives without fear that what happened to Ninoy, or a least a small version of it, would happen to us too.

I must have considered it long and hard, because I can still see the scene as I had imagined it so clearly that part of me is convinced it is a memory: Policemen in their 80s brown uniforms and shiny patent leather shoes, carrying black policemen clubs, casting away our clothes to uncover what what left of the Marcos-Tolentino sticker; us, saying we were sorry.

Perhaps the twenty-something me, the one who enjoyed too much freedom and was exposed to too much risk, would agree that living with a little fear was nothing if it translated to order.

But now, at 38, I look at my nieces and nephews, all of whom are almost the same age as my cousins and I were during the Marcos years. I see how precocious they can be, how open about their thoughts, and how willing to go on adventures and unafraid to take risks.

They have big lives ahead of them.

The only order they need, I believe, is the order they bring into their lives as they are being raised to be good people.

Fear is never -- never again -- a way to live.

I've started eating a whole-food, plant-based diet

Back in October last year, I decided to commit to 30 days of eating mostly vegan. I wasn't feeling my personal best and was at my heaviest weight ever. I'd also finally seen Forks Over Knives, after a friend recommended it to me in 2014.

I had my hesitations, of course. I'd always been a satisfied omnivore. Would I last without meat? Could I possibly give up meat for good?

But my brain felt safe knowing I was only going to do it for one month, so the initial resistance quickly melted away.

After 30 days, I was feeling so good I decided to go another 30 days. And then another. Now, I'm over 20 pounds lighter and on my fifth month as a transitioning vegan.

Except my diet isn't really just vegan. It's more whole-food, plant-based (WFPB), as prescribed by Dr. John McDougall. You can read about the diet here.

I'm not yet very good at my new way of eating, especially when I eat out. Added oils aren't allowed, for example, but there aren't a lot of oil-free vegan choices in this country, so I usually end up ordering some form of vegan pasta dish that usually comes with lots of oil in it.

I also still have my little slip-ups. I've had some milk chocolate, some cheese in my pasta, and a yogurt drink at Swagat that I couldn't pass up. I've also had some cake and whipped cream. And marshmallow that I'd mistakenly thought was vegan.

I have a lot to learn and unlearn. But I choose not to sweat those slip-ups. I think I'll always be a transitioning vegan the way alcoholics are always recovering alcoholics.

But let me celebrate this: In almost five months, I've managed to avoid any form of meat. I'm happy to say I no longer crave meat and dairy.

I'm also getting better at eating out. I count it a success that I've only had to order salad once. When I started, I told myself I wouldn't default to salad, because I do not particularly enjoy salad without protein. Salads also feel cold in the tummy, and I've developed a preference for warm food, especially soup.

It's still a long journey towards good health and my ideal weight. There's an exercise routine that needs to be established. There's my needing to learn how to cook vegan. And there's the need for meditation, maybe, or yoga.

It's a long road, but I'm glad I decided to go on it.

Dream: Welcome to Ancientsia

I was in Camarines Sur with Sherwil, a girl who switched from a high school friend to Lorie, and Jimple. Jimple had managed to come because it was near his home town. CamSur, however, was in a highly elevated place, so at night there was zero visibility due to fog.

I had made a couple of friends on the bus, and when we rolled into the station, they immediately set out in the fog to make reservations at Midnight, supposedly a happening club that was in all the DIY CamSur itineraries online.

But we weren't there for that. We were in CamSur for the experience of a special Ancient Age-themed inn we'd heard a lot of but knew nothing about.

We checked in. The rooms were all beige and wooden, the beds not even soft. I was disappointed -- until a voice on loudspeaker told us to hold on to anything. The entire building started shaking, then it started moving like a gigantic rotating stage prop (and the voice on the loudspeaker said as much, more poetically), dislodging itself from the site.

First, all I could think of was, "There would have been no plumbing?! What about the plumbing?" Then I held on to dear life as the rickety structure rolled on the highway for half an hour then slowly entered what looked like a gigantic driveway.

"Welcome to Ancientsia," the voice said. Then it proceeded to give us a tour of all the amenities. There was a grayish field that was Pompeii after the volcanic eruption, a bright sunny field where you could dust off some fossils as if you were in Greece, expansive diggings on the ground that was straight out of Egypt, et cetera, et cetera. It all looked authentic; most of the fossils, one of a dinosaur, were even real.

What struck us most was an area that was a reimagination of ancient Philippines, tropical and lush. There was a small jungle, and you had to cross a land bridge to get to the marsh, then a short walk would get you to a lake. The "lake" was a mishmash of bodies of water separated by mud dikes.

There was one section with a natural hot spring like the one in Pinatubo (you could boil an egg), while another had what looked like thick boiling mud. Another section had sweet and cold water from a natural spring, and that was the visitors' favorite because it was closest to a swimming pool.

Entering the area, we were given hard hats and a choice of containers (a plastic jug for liquid samples, a plastic box for more solid specimens). I stayed behind because I wanted my helmet in a color that "meant something," but the staff manning the entrance had no idea what I meant.

When I caught up with my friends, there was a small drama brewing. Jimple had disappeared for a couple of hours with a new guy friend, and Lorie and Sherwil were upset at the principle of it because he had helped that guy friend "get some."

I showed them my plastic water bottle. "Let's collect samples," I wanted to say, but I dropped it into the water and it floated away, slowly melting. Then I noticed how the tourists had dirtied the water, all sections of it.

Sherwil, Lorie and Jimple made up and they said they were going to wash up and maybe we could check out Midnight. Since I had arrived late, I lingered.

When I was alone, the waters in all sections suddenly receded, taking away all traces of human presence, and yet some of the drains and water spouts were revealed like a magician's hand. Fresh water quickly replaced what had been drained and when all the pools were filled, the place was magical again: bubbles and tiny waves sparkling in the sunset's light, and there was even flying fish in the cooler waters.

It was beautiful and I was alone. So I called out to my friends, and they came running back. We spent a few more hours in the natural spring section, talking about our lives. Lorie was the last to speak -- when Jimple suddenly turned into John Lloyd Cruz.

"You haven't seen me," she said, "as in really seen me." We nodded. Then she asked, "Can you see me?"

I said, "Awww."

Then I excused myself to use the restroom.

Dream: I give you my personal best

There was a small tunnel connecting SM Southmall and our village gate. It was maybe 20 or 30 feet long, and you'd have to crawl or slide on your belly to go through. At each end of the tunnel were books where you could record the time it took you to go through. Every day, the person who broke the day's record got a small prize from SM and bragging rights.

Keona and I tried to do it. I surprised myself by completing it under five minutes. Keona, however, did it under three. Then a famous athlete followed us and did it under two -- with her bike in tow!

Soon after, however, her record was broken by this guitarist from an indie band. He'd been through a tough spell, he scribbled in the record book, and he offered his new physical prowess to a bandmate, their singer, who helped him through drugs and depression and a broken heart with the beauty of poetry. "I give you my personal best, man," he wrote, "and it's a gift that's going to keep giving."

And even as he was writing that, Keona was already getting into the tunnel to try and try again.

(Before I fell asleep, I was reading up on kaizen.)

Because you are what you do

One of my favorite teachers once talked about how when he was a young writer he would introduce himself by saying, "I'm Cirilo. I'm a poet." Eventually, he said, he came to realize how pointless that was. "You are what you do," he said, no other introductions were necessary.

Those words have been floating in my head since I first heard them. I'd heard them before, of course, in different variations, but hearing them said by a brilliant writer, one who speaks and writes and laughs about this loathsome heartbreaking lovely cursed art, made them truer than ever.

Last year, in conversations with close friends, I had confessed that I didn't feel like I could call myself a writer anymore simply because I wasn't writing. I was still doing a lot of writing; I had a job developing training materials, after all. But it wasn't writing writing and I was feeling more and more removed from a dream I had nurtured since I was 13.

Then later last year, I came to discover that writing wasn't my only passion. The opportunity to try corporate training fell on my lap, and I jumped in despite the voice in my head giving me a million reasons why it wouldn't work out. It was terrifying; it was amazingly fulfilling. Now I have a brand new happy path to pave.

So I told myself, "Maybe I am more of a trainer than I am a writer." I toyed with the idea of giving up creative writing completely. I imagined myself fifty years from now wistfully telling a future grandchild that I used to be a writer. I even won a literary award, I would tell her, reliving an old forgotten glory like too many old people do.

I could still be happy, I reasoned out, I would still be me.

But then in October I met a mirror: a sixty-something woman home from Canada for a Christmas visit. We were having coffee, and when she found out I had studied creative writing in college, her eyes lit up in recognition. "I used to love literature," she said, "Ask me about any writer, and I would know his work."

But when did you stop? I wanted to ask her. Is it even possible to stop?

These days, I have come to realize that if there is one thing I must stop, it's this silly business of telling myself who I am based on who I think I am and who I think I am not.

Am I a trainer? Yes, and I'm writing this in the hour I gave my 15 learners to prepare their final group activity.

Am I a writer? I hesitate, because there is still a grad school thesis that needs to be picked up, but I also have two professional writing assignments lined up.

I think I wasted too much time ruminating on being a writer--or being something or someone else, for that matter. This is the time for doing, and that should be enough.