Thursday, December 18, 2008

Santa baby, yeah!

It’s not strange that the tune ringing in my head over the last few days has been “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas...”. It’s exactly a week from now to my most anticipated holiday of the year. Well, it used to be. After living in Thailand for almost four years, and missing two Christmases at home, my life has seen some changes.

From where I live now, it’s definitely not looking a lot like Christmas. In a country that’s primarily Buddhist, in a region mostly inhabited by Muslims and Buddhists (I live in the south), I’m lucky if I hear yuletide jingles anywhere. So I no longer look forward to it that much. I also abandoned drafting a Christmas wish list two years ago.

But the fact that I’m subconsciously humming “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...” while driving, still pretty much proves I'm not yet fully detached from it all. So in lieu of a wish list, I’ve decided to take you with me on a stroll down my Christmas memory lane.

Of course, what would this season be without the mention of glorious food? I miss Christmas day lunches with the whole extended family crowding around the dinner table. Slowly chipping away the crispy lechon skin over endless conversations. Oblivious to time, the talks only come to a halt when everyone realizes the pig has been totally de-skinned. It’s at this time waistlines and cholesterol levels burst through the roofs. And manufacturers of Lipitor and Zocor are sporting big smiles. So are med rep friends who promote them.


Christmas day mass is also an event I never miss. All churches are packed with regular and sporadic church-goers looking extra smart in their newly bought/received outfits. When I was young, I distinctly remember that I’d only leave the house garbed in brand new garments from head to toe. It was a requisite to look extra good for baby Jesus, I was told. A moment for me to relish too, considering it was the only time, aside from my birthday, that I would get new clothes!

The joys and pains of shopping can never be better felt than at this time of the year. To some, it becomes a spiritual experience all together. “Tis the season to be jolly!” and so they say, “SHOP!”. The time of the Christmas bonus and the 13th, 14th or 15th month pays bring to life a frenzy in every mall, horrendous queues at the ATMs and taxi stands and cardiac arrest-inducing traffic all over the metro. I plead guilty to this, I once spent half of my hard earned year-end pay the minute it was credited to my account, all in one day. And when the season leaves, depression hovers in after receiving your credit card bills and bank statements. Thank God I’ve shaken off this holiday hysteria.

But I what I truly remember and sorely miss about Christmas is the feeling. The Christmas spirit everyone hears and talks about. But what is it? There’s no definition for it really, you can only describe it. It’s that amazing feeling you get when you see the face of your laundry lady when you hand her your pinaskuhan. It’s the warm smiles and genuine appreciation from the neighborhood “wash-your-car” boys for your old, worn-out clothes. It’s the pancit bihon and fruitcake sent over by your neighbors. It's the deafening sound of Judas' belt hanging from a VECO post threatening to shatter your windows. It’s the sekwati and puto you delight in after every "Simbang Gabi". It’s that selfless act of forgiving and the rekindling of tarnished relationships. And It’s that overwhelming feeling when the clock strikes twelve and people are gathered at their dining tables. Family and friends. Rich and poor. United, through a common prayer of thanks and affirming that there is hope for everyone, everywhere. 

It's truly an amazing feeling. And though my Christmas experience is no longer as intense as it once was, the spirit never really parts from you. So I take back what I've previously said. I haven't really discarded my Christmas wish list. I just trimmed it down to a bare minimum. No more tangible things this year. 

Lord, I know you're listening... Please, please make me a DJ :-).


 Merry Christmas, Krub! 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

SIX is the number. I'm happy with FOUR.

It’s a strange coincidence how two of my favorite bloggers came out with posts both involving the “pandesal” last week. RainB’s story mentioned the Filipino breakfast staple in a heart nourishing way, while Mandaya’s take on the on the matter dwelled on a certain part of the human anatomy. Well, I too have something to share on the subject which revolves more on the latter.


Three years ago, I embarked on this quest to acquire a coveted pack of pandesals. Six to be exact. What a long and painful struggle it has been. I sure wish it were as easy as getting a pack of cigarettes, beer or underwear. But yeah, this one certainly connects quite well to the last item.


The very first Marky Mark Calvin Klein underwear Ad. 

(Okay, hold on. Before I detect any eyebrows raising, there was strictly no malice involved posting my pics together with the underwear icon. It was purely done to help get my message across. And to give in to some wishful thinking, hehe) 

Calvin Klein made a killing selling his line by accessorizing them with Marky Mark’s cheese-grating abdominal muscles. And almost instantly, life for mere mortals like me became more difficult as soon as the ads and billboards came out. The era triggered an explosion of men, as well as women who would kill to possess the sculpted abs (on themselves and for their suitable partners). Hence, the label “killer abs” found its way to mainstream.

It wasn’t very long ago that I decided to join in with the frenzy. Unlike clothes or accessories, I knew this trend would never go out of style. It doesn’t bear a hefty price tag either. It’s all a labor of love. Unless of course you take the easy route and run off to your plastic surgeon and have him slice you up and implant those plastic/silicon thingies into your tummy. I’d never go that way though. By the time you hit your 60’s, these things would be dangling right beside your testicles.

After three years of grueling hours at the gym, record breaking sets of crunches and sit-ups and tubes of toning creams, this is the closest I got to the goal:


Pattaya, Thailand. January, 2008.

Upon closer inspection, my senses tell me that I’ve only managed to achieve four out of the desired six. Disappointed? Absolutely not. It’s a well known fact that some bodies are just not anatomically “cut” out for it, while some bodies are simply born with it. Doesn’t it just get you looking at the gifted ones displaying their wares they never had to sweat for? Grrr! 

Well, I’m definitely proud of myself considering that when I started this crusade, I knew it was going to be a loooong shot, almost an unimaginable feat. But at the back of my mind, I just wanted to try and push myself and see how far I’d go.

Folks, I never imagined doing a before and after section in any of my posts, but I guess there’s a first for everything. Voila!

        Boracay. June, 2006.                                  Me now. 

I once lost a friendship because I unwittingly told him, “You shouldn’t be caught dead in your Billabongs with your love handles hanging”. It was honestly said in jest and I never imagined he’d take it as a personal blow since all the while I considered him a close and long time friend. Next thing I knew, I’d been reduced to a shallow and pathetic individual in this (ex)friend's eyes. 

I know it’s real easy to judge people by gauging them on their narcissistic tendencies. I’m pretty sure I’ve made myself vulnerable again with this post. As a parting note, I have this to say. Some people strive for titles in front or after their names. Others have skipped too many lunches to hold in their collections the finest (read:expensive) bags, watches, shoes and what-have-you’s money can buy. And others set their hearts on recognition and accolades in whichever field.

I say, to each his own. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I was about 21 when my Tatay passed away. The year was 1996. We never saw any signs nor had any premonitions. Totally unexpected. I still vividly recall that day when I got the news. I was at a hospital in Cebu, circling doctors’ offices, barely six months into my first job as a Medical Representative. It was in one of the halls that I stumbled into my cousin. I would never forget the expression on her face that day. All she ever said was, “Bhoy, your Nanay is at home, crying. She got a call about your Tatay...”. Without thinking, I headed for the nearest exit and took the first available cab without realizing that my cousin was running behind me. Not a single word was exchanged inside the cab. My mind went swirling with images of Tatay. The last moments I’d spent with him.

We got home, and immediately I saw Nanay sobbing uncontrollably. She reached for me and said,  “Bhoy, imong (your) Tatay, in his room, they said lifeless...”. Instinctively, I hugged her and tried reassuring her that they had made a mistake. Only a few minutes later though, another call. Our worst fear was confirmed. He was found lifeless by a roommate inside the bathroom of the room they were renting in Manila. I struggled to hold back the tears. I saw my brother did too. We had to be strong for that time, for Nanay who nearly collapsed upon hearing the news. We had to arrange everything first, tickets for the next possible flight, contact Aunts and Uncles in Manila to help us get around the city and of course, break the news to my sister working in Chicago. 

When everything was done, my brother and I finally went up to pack. My brother finally broke down on the bed, so I got to our parent’s closet first. At that moment, everything just caved in. I reached for Tatay’s clothes, held on to them for as long as I could and cried like I’ve never cried before.

Tatay had been in Manila for almost two weeks for a month long training when his heart gave up on him. He had been struggling with diabetes for more than two years and wasn’t really that religious with his medication. Stubbornness was his signature trait. An advocate of self-medication, he rarely heeded any doctor’s prescriptions and advice, including my Nanay’s, who was in fact a doctor.

Such stubbornness, I’ve greatly inherited from him I must admit. But there are far more greater things my father’s passed on to us. And it is only with sharing some of our memories that I can rightfully explain them.

My Tatay wasn’t born into a life of comfort. At a young age, he learned to work to provide for himself and his family. He graduated from college, became a Certified Public Accountant, earned his Masters in Business, and finally, became a lawyer, all by his own means. I often think that if only I possessed half of his intellect and drive, I would, perhaps, be far more better than what I am now.

But in spite of these things he’s single-handedly achieved, he remained simple in his ways. He was more comfortable walking instead of driving, he preferred his flip flops over his dress shoes and was happier staying home and tinkering with things that didn't really need fixing. But what made him even happier was seeing his children experience all the things he never had the luxury of having. We weren’t rich, but my parents provided us with all that we ever needed.

Tracing back to my childhood, I always knew I was a Tatay’s boy. I’d sit on his lap for hours until his legs could barely support my weight (I’d reached 140 lbs and already 10 years old when I realized I had to outgrow the habit). And I would ask him questions about anything that ever crossed my mind.  It was in one of those days that I noticed a protruding bone on his hand. I touched it and asked him about it. He told me he got it when he was about my age working as a carpenter in a furniture factory. He was maneuvering an ax when he miscalculated. Instead of the wood, it landed on his hand. And I asked him why he had to work at such an age. I didn't get it. Well, on that day, he imparted to me the values of sacrifice, hard work and determination to get to where you want.

Often misunderstood with his attitude towards money, relatives and co-workers often tagged him as stingy. But they couldn’t erase the fact that he was a  generous man. How else could he provide a decent lifestyle for us and still extend help to his poor relatives if he maintained an extravagant life. Growing up poor, he embraced the valuable lessons of living within your means and spending only on what you need. And he made it quite clear that we should follow his lead. There were obviously times when the lures of materialism put a tight hold on me. Fortunately, the sight of him in his regular clothes and flip flops would instantly erase the craving for all things branded.

But there was this one thing that really bothered me while I was growing up. It was a feeling of guilt constantly haunting me  for not achieving much academically. Here I was, surrounded with all the books and resources I ever needed, a more than stable family atmosphere, and yet, I couldn’t even attain half of what he had accomplished. He consistently made it to the top of his class from grade school to College. This, he managed by reading borrowed text books from the school library and classmates, and writing reports in a makeshift home using a kerosene lamp while juggling time between odd jobs and his studies. But not once did he ever pressure us to topple this feat. He only wanted us to appreciate and never take for granted the small luxuries he was able to afford us. He wanted us to get the best education so we have better chances of securing dependable careers. It was always our future he had in mind. And he had no intention of ever letting us go through the far-from-easy life he had struggled with. 

On the plane to Manila, I still couldn’t believe it. The man who had the answers to all my questions, my walking encyclopedia, my life teacher, was no longer with us. For a long time, an unanswered question invaded my thoughts incessantly, “Tay, have I ever made you proud?” I was angry at life for suddenly snatching him from us. For not having the chance to let him witness my own little successes. This left was an empty space in my life, a hanging chapter which kept me from completely letting go.

Now, 12 years' passed. I look back into my life again. I peek into his, too. This time, it's different. I now have the answers. How could I have not known? 

I find myself sitting in his lap again, circling my fingers around that odd, prominent bone on his hand. Strangely, this time, it was him asking me a question, “Are you happy anak?” I throw him a smile to assure him that I am. He acknowledges it, and gives me that old, familiar smile and says, “Then it’s all been worth it”. 

Deep down in my heart, I know, this was his life’s work. 

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I was looking out the window today when I saw a lady fixing her cart attached to a motorcycle. She was tying her boxes and had them secured before driving her way to town to sell her wares. She must have been 65 or 66.  The sight of her laboring at such a fragile age easily tore my heart apart. Her slouched, thin frame and her face, sparsely covered with flesh revealing visible outlines of her skull, instinctively reminded me of my mother. She was about the same age when my nanay passed away.

Since I was young, I pretty much knew that I had a strong resemblance to my mother. Aunts and uncles would constantly remind me of this fact. It wasn’t until I saw pictures of her in her early twenties that I fully believed them. It was like looking into a mirror.

She was a 36-year old Anesthesiologist when she met my dad. Severely traumatized from a failed relationship, she nearly gave up on the prospect of ever settling down. But after a year of dating, she handed out an ultimatum to my dad telling him that if he wasn’t going to marry her within the year, he could forget about the possibility of ever marrying her.

So that’s when it all began. After successfully delivering a girl and a boy, they weren’t really counting on having another one. Especially at the age of 40, a year short of her menopause. The Lord obviously had other plans because here I am now, narrating this story which is deeply embedded in me.

My nanay was a fighter.  She painfully carried herself and us through a devastating time over the loss of our father at such untimely age. And she struggled with every bit for her life, too. She had overcome tuberculosis twice.  Successfully fended off cancer but lost one of her breasts in the fight. She even made it through a serious spine injury which left her slumped for the remainder of her life.

But it was with Diabetes that she eventually conceded to. It destroyed her kidneys, not leaving much of them to function effectively. She was in dire need of another one. But she didn’t surrender right away. She stretched her life for another 3 years living on a dialysis machine, which left the family financially depleted.

Those last three years were the hardest in my life. I saw her life fade before my very eyes each passing day. I knew then she wasn’t going to win this battle. The mirror that I’ve always seen in her face gradually eroded as her face shrunk and darkened considerably due of the treatments. I still vividly recall the details of her frail, thin arms, awfully bruised from the large needles that connected her to the dialysis machine. The thin, bony hands I used to hold from time to time to re-assure her that everything was going to be all right.

But who was I kidding. She knew exactly what was coming. And she readied herself for it. Right before she died, she knew that things weren’t well between me and my brother. It almost seemed unthinkable for us to stay in one room without going into a fight. Looking after her in the hospital also meant spending time with my brother. It was during those times that our issues with each other unfolded and with the workings of fate,  got resolved. We began to understand each other more. Strangely, her impending time had brought my brother and I closer. 

In retrospect, the most significant transformation was really the one that emerged deep within me. While I was braving my very own battles, her memory provided me the strength to keep on going. When I was on the brink of giving up, it was her face I saw, no longer wrinkled and tired. And I would pick myself up again.

This was the same woman who had fallen prey to her weaknesses and struggled most of her life with an addiction to gambling. This affliction became a nagging source of conflicts in the family. Not only did it place the family finances in a woeful state, it also deprived us of the time with her. 

I admit, she was not at all perfect. She was just every bit human as we all are. Yet, I couldn’t have wished for a better mother. I know I’ve had the best nanay one could ever hope for. Her goodness clearly overshadowed all her shortcomings. For even when she was already bed-ridden and attached to an oxygen machine, she continued to make a difference in other people’s lives. I'm sure this is how she will always be remembered.

Now in my early thirties, I see so much of her in me. I've become a fighter, too. Refusing to  back off from life without a fight. That much I've inherited from her.

The mirror has never been clearer.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Love Affair with Beaches

Maya Bay, Krabi. October, 2008.

In my younger days (that would be the 80’s), our family had this bi-monthly sojourns  to the beach which I eagerly anticipated. The day comes and I’d be the first one ready to leave the house and the last one ready to leave the beach. So on most of the rides home, I’d still be in my soaked clothes because everyone couldn't be bothered to wait for me change. Those times heralded the beginning of this long standing, torrid love affair.

Now, way past my adolescence, I still feel the same thrill for every beach trip. I just feel so fortunate to have expanded my horizons (quite literally) and got to visit some of the best beaches in the world. 

Of course, I would have to start with Boracay. Definitely boasting one of the finest beaches there is, White Beach.

Boracay, June, 2007.

Second on my list is Phi Phi Island, Krabi in Thailand. Maya Bay was where they shot the “The Beach”. Undoubtedly, the island is a natural wonder.

A close third is Bali. There’s definitely nothing like a Balinese sunset. It’s almost a magical experience seeing one amid the playful waves.

Legian Beach, Bali. September, 2008.

I surely can’t count out Phuket. The island teems with life in all corners. You’ll never run out of things to do. Patong Beach prides itself as having one of the longest stretch of white sand in the Land of Smiles. 

This pursuit is definitely not over. I’m setting my heart on visiting these wonderful places one day and finally consummate the love affair. And because it's okay to dream... wait for me pristine beaches of Maldives, fabled beaches of The Bahamas, vivacious, legendary Ipanema Beach and action-packed Bondi Beach.


Island wasted. Koh Samet, April, 2008.

Monday, December 1, 2008


I have just started with this blog.  Ripples was originally the first blog title I had in mind when I was setting up my first blog. For some strange reason, the site didn't accept the title. So I thought of another name. And Life Scrabbles, my first baby was born. 

The header for Life Scrabbles.

I must admit, I do like friendster but this site is indeed much better for blogging. I never intended to make a new one, though. It was sort of an accident. I wanted to comment on an entry of one of the blogs I follow. His comment settings didn't allow anonymous comments. So I registered and the rest they say is history. I'm totally liking this site and it's features.

I'll be transferring some of my favorite posts from my old blog here. Recycled but still new, hehehe. An old passion with a new beginning. A fresh canvas and a new set of paints.

I couldn't be happier.