Monday, March 31, 2008

My old alma mater

Kyle with his classmates

My cousin, Pitos, woke me up on Tuesday morning to visit our old alma mater and watch the grade schoolers do their playground demonstration. Though my old school is a mere 5-minute walk from my grandmother’s house, I never went into its gates again until that sunny Tuesday morning last week. I graduated from this elementary school three decades ago. My father finished his grade school here, as well as my aunts and uncles, all my paternal cousins, my sister and two brothers, and now, my nephews and nieces are students.

My grandmother, Lola Ynestoria, taught first grade in this school for more than 30 years. My grandfather’s cousin, Lola Socorro, was the principal when until I was in the 3rd grade. Another aunt, T’yay Florenda, was a beloved Math teacher until she succumbed to breast cancer in the mid 80’s. I dreamed of becoming a teacher under its ancient acacia trees. At seven, I elocuted my first declamation on its newly-built concrete stage; represented the 3rd graders and sang Tom Jones’ “I Know” in the cultural night. Acted on a play and forgot my lines; was caught dancing to "My Sharona" by our Home Economics teacher when I was supposedly cooking Arroz Caldo with my classmates. I laugh at the memories.
The school was built after World War II, I believe. In fact, they’re having a grand alumni homecoming on April 30th. I would love to attend but my next vacation is still a couple of months away. It would be interesting to see the graduates from 1947 to 2007.

As for the playground demonstration, the colorful costumes and the dancing talents of the school children were a delight. I guess the kids and their teachers are avid fans of Sexbomb and the dancers in the noon-time TV shows.

Kyle with a friend

the 6th graders---cousin Chippy's daughter was one of the dancers

a camera-shy Jaysel (jeezzz, who did your make-up, kid?)

the 4th graders

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mambukal Resort

About 20 kilometers southeast of Bacolod is Mambucal Resort, situated at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon, an active volcano. A 45-minute drive from the city, the resort is surrounded by lush canopy of trees, a river with seven waterfalls, cottages, camping grounds, swimming pools, a lake for canoeing and a hot sulphur bath. The water in the dipping pool is said to boil an egg, and is good for arthritic people. There are also trails for mountaineers, bats flying above the towering trees, a 20-foot high slide-for-life and a wall for rock-climbing. Originally built as a spa in 1928, the building was designed by Kokichi Paul Ishiwata, a Japanese engineer, in 1927. The restored bathhouse is a historical marker supported by the National Historical Institute. The baths are open to the public at 150 pesos for a 30-minute bath. There are crevices around the resort spewing hot, boiling mud---there is smoke from underneath the rocks. Mt. Kanlaon must be having a temper tantrum these days.

I wanted to explore the waterfalls but there was an advisory that the 1st and 2nd falls were closed due to the recent landslide. Walked around the resort instead and enjoyed the cool mountain air.

Ishiwata bath house

lake for canoeing

boiling mud

smoke on the water

a JFK bust

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Batchoy of my dreams

Aside from Chicken Inasal, Bacolod boasts of a great tasting La Paz Batchoy. And a great way to spend an afternoon with old friends is while chowing down the steaming broth of Ted’s La Paz Batchoy at SM-Bacolod. This tasty noodle soup stimulates the senses and livens up the chikahan.

I’ve been craving for La Paz Batchoy since I landed in the new Bacolod-Silay Airport. In high school, our usual destination on summer afternoons was Baling’s Halo-Halo. But on Saturday afternoon, when my old high school buddies picked me up for a get-together, I asked that we go for Ted’s Batchoy.

La Paz Batchoy is a noodle soup, made flavorful with pork liver and innards, crushed pork cracklings, shrimp, beef loin, shrimp broth, and chicken stock. Not recommended to those with high levels of uric acid and high blood pressure.

high school buddies---Juna, Fe, Nonoy and Jean Marie

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Viernes Santo

The Holy Week was a source of excitement when I was growing up. It meant going around with aunts and uncles doing the Via Crucis, eat hot bibingka (rice cakes) and cotton candy at the plaza, watch the colorful procession of pasos (floats) carrying antique life-size sculptures of Catholic images, witness the Sinakulo (passion play) and Tal-Tal (crucifixion), stay up late for the du-aw (visiting the dead Jesus), and going to the beach on Easter Sunday.

I was not raised a Catholic but growing up in a family where religion is a seamless blend of tradition and education, the Semana Santas of my childhood were more exciting than Christmas.

Spending the Viernes Santo in my mother’s hometown of Valladolid brought back warm Semana Santa memories. There were familiar faces, smiles and waves. I saw my ninong whom I haven’t seen in more than twenty years, a sorority sister, an ex-boyfriend, and a childhood friend. A woman also stopped by and told me I look exactly like my mother. I watched the passing procession with cousins and aunts, feeling like a child again.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Going home

a favorite past-time

This morning, I woke up in a panic, thinking I was going to miss my flight. I reached for my cel phone to check the time and noticed the post-it note hanging from the lampshade. In the post-it is the list of the things I need to pack. Realizing that today is a Tuesday brought out a sleepy smile…I lay back and savor another 20 minutes in bed. Tomorrow, I’m going home.

Holy Week usually brings me to places I’ve never been before. Instead of meditating at home during Lent, I find new places more conducive to reflect on my faults and virtues. But this year, I decided to go home for the Holy Week holidays, to be with my relatives in Negros, visit my 96-year-old grandmother, catch up with old classmates and childhood friends, and explore my old hometown.

After all the journeys I’ve made, there’s a primordial instinct to go back to where it all began, where I came from, where my roots are. I am a firm believer in the old saying, “Huwag maging dayuhan sa sariling bayan” (Let’s not be strangers in our own land), so I explore the archipelago every chance I got. But paid little attention to my hometown’s nuances that makes it different from all the other places I’ve seen and visited. In a way, I’m a stranger to the place that nurtured my childhood, been away for most of my adult life. I know a week is not enough, but I’m going home and try to rediscover my roots, and perhaps, in the process, rediscover myself.



There is the night separating us
its black vastness
is more than i can cross
sleep hides in places hard to find
but elsewhere,
you are pillowed in the slumber
of the innocent
of the havoc you wreck on my heart
in these early hours of morning
as i sit, grieving
over what you can never give...
There is this life separating us---
everything about the way we live.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Saturday afternoon

Saturday afternoon found me and Fritz at the Harbor Square. I was craving for pancakes and coffee, Fritz loved to strut on the brick walkway. But we were turned away by the guard because dogs are not allowed there---even good-looking dogs like Fritz. Oh well! There was a shower of light rain as we were walking towards the parking lot; I was comforting Fritz and myself on the aborted pancake indulgence and the fact that unlike smokers, dog owners [and their dogs] have no place in many establishments. Then this man in pink umbrella caught my eye…a lonely figure against the cloudy Manila sky.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Book Worm

I am ashamed to say that I was not a reader of Filipino authors. The only Filipino authors I have read are the ones who wrote school text books like Rizal, Zaide and Constantino. Reading Rizal's El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere in school was like torture---I survived the class by sketching the teacher's face. I could still remember my Rizal teacher...she had pointy ears, squinty eyes that look at you disapprovingly. She almost fainted when a naughty classmate asked if Rizal was gay. I daydreamed my way through Florante at Laura, exchanging notes with a boy sitting behind me. A friend gave me Jessica Zafra's Twisted one Christmas, and a cousin surprised me with Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. These are the only two Filipino contemporary books in my book shelves for many years, excluding Pol Medina's Pugad Baboy (literally, "Swine's Nest"), my favorite comic strip.

Reading started as a hobby when I was a was also an escape from household chores. In my house, there were incentives when you're reading---you're not obliged to buy cigarettes from the sari-sari store; you're not asked to wash the dishes, or water the plants, or clean the dog house. My father brought home illustrated classics to encourage us kids to read. We read illustrated Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, etc. At 13, I was hooked on Mills and Boon which I discovered through a spinster aunt. There were no Filipino authors in my father's book shelves, either...oh, except for Marcos of the Philippines by Francisco Tatad and another book written by Marcos himself. But politics was Greek to me at that time.

So I grew up reading novels written by American, English and European authors. A few years ago, I started reading Indian and Asian writers...but not Filipino authors. I was not conscious that there were Filipino authors of note, not even when Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters hit the international bestseller list. I once watched a play at the CCP, Portrait of the Artist as Filipino by Nick Joaquin. Impressed, I made a mental note to check out books by Joaquin, but I never get around to it.

About a year ago, a British client told me over dinner that she has a book club back home, and we started discussing books we've read. I've just finished The God of Small Things [by Arundhati Roy] then and I told her how emotionally moved I was. She gave me a list of books by other Indian authors and asked I could recommend Filipino authors for her to read as well. I draw a blank! Aside from Rizal, I was embarrassed that I couldn't name even one Filipino author worth reading! Because I never read one!

The very next day, I went to PowerBooks. For starters, I bought Recuerdo by Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo but it's been gathering dust on my nightstand. One summer night last year, I just finished The Inheritance of Loss [by Kiran Desai] when I absentmindedly picked up Recuerdo. It was a marathon...I didn't stop reading until 8 the next morning. It was captivating, vivid, colorful---I also cried a bucket. With swollen eyes, I went to work that morning and finished the novel during my lunch break. Recuerdo is a Palanca prize-winning novel (UP 1996) and Hidalgo has written and published 15 books! Since last year, I explored the brilliance of Filipino authors like Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose and other Palanca award winners. They're awe-inspiring...the stories are familiar yet fresh and exciting, with words that seem to speak of your own thoughts and memories, and gently stir the soul.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I wish I had learned to love you less...

touched the half-moon of your nails,

kissed your eyelids when you dream,

and kept your flowing river in my veins.

In my dreams, you are the touch

that connects the stars to my fingertips,

the affectionate warmth on my frigid skin.

In my dreams, you are the voice

that speaks of endless blossoming summers,

of heart songs and growing old together.

I wish I was there to lessen your sorrow

and grieve your unspoken grief,

cradle your head in gentle slumber,

and shelter the distance that you crave.

Instead I lay in the hammock of days spent

bathing in the smile beneath your eyelashes

un-kissed; longing to hear the echoes

of bursting stars inside my head...

I wish I had learned to love you less.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Job hazards

beach at Mactan Shangri-La

My trip to Cebu last week was interesting. The client from the Middle East was fascinated with the designs he saw in the booths as well as the factories I brought him to. But the Cebu X has gotten smaller this year. A lot of furniture exporters in Cebu has closed shop because they couldn’t compete with China prices. The depreciating US dollar has not also helped the export industry. It’s sad that the old, lively Cebu market is now wilting.

The client was also captivated with the lush Mactan Shangri-La. I booked him at the hotel’s spa on his second night, and he couldn’t stop talking about it the next day. He was delighted with our dinner of lobster, crabs, prawns, and oysters at the Cowrie Grill, Shangri-La’s beach-front restaurant.

We were at a factory one afternoon, selecting furniture, when the client asked me where the west is. For a minute, I wondered at the question---then he asked for a fabric he could use to kneel down to pray. It suddenly dawned on me that Muslims pray a couple of times a day. I couldn’t find a fabric or a carpet, so he asked for a folded carton instead. He doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol, and we talked about Islam and Christianity while stuck in Cebu traffic, about terrorism, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I also got two offers that day. The client offered to double my pay if I'd work for him in the Middle East. Then the Italian guy who owns the furniture factory suggested that I relocate to Cebu since I'm single, and stay at his 3-bedroom condo, rent-free. Yeah, right! Rent-free, indeed!

What surprised me was the client's interest in girlie shows! Frankly, I am not that na├»ve to be surprised anymore…but after seeing him pray a couple of times a day, I find his interest a bit strange. Oh well…he’s only a man after all! I’ve been going to Cebu regularly for the past 9 years but I’ve never been to a girlie bar there. I called a couple of my Cebu vendors and was advised to bring him to Jaguar or Arena, both class A bars, or to Gold Fingers for some raunchy dancing, or to the Silver Dollar in Jones where the Australian tourists go, said to be the wildest of them all.

More than a decade ago, our American clients would ask me to take them to Firehouse in Ermita, or at the Hobbit House. I would leave them there and go home, the driver would take them back to the hotel. And some of our auditors and IT persons from Hong Kong would shyly ask about girlie bars in Timog or Pasay. My male colleagues would take them, and I usually stayed out of it. But with nobody to turn to in Cebu, I brought the client to Jaguar, Gold Fingers and Silver Dollar in a span of 3 hours, feigned nonchalance and drank beer in-front of gyrating bodies of young Cebuanas.

By midnight, I brought the client back to Shangri-la, returned to my hotel and took a very long shower.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fingers crossed

Catching myself humming “I’m leaving on a jet plane” while packing this morning is a good sign. I love travel but I hate to pack. It’s those tiny, last minute details that always slip my mind when I pack that makes me reluctant to do the task. For example, I forgot to pack my camera charger this morning…it’s my good fortune that my flight is at five this afternoon and I have time to pick up the charger at home before going to the airport.

When I go on vacation, I just pack the basic---shorts, t-shirts, underwear, toiletries, slippers/running shoes and camera. But when I travel for business like what I’m doing today, there are a million and one things that I need to pack. I usually make a list the day before I pack but still, there are small things that I tend to forget.

I’m also a bit anxious about this trip because I’ll be meeting, for the first time, a new client from the Middle East. It’s his first trip to Cebu, and his first visit to the Cebu X (Cebu International Furniture Show). I've been handling American and British clients, and working with this Middle Eastern client is a first for me. I hope he likes Cebu furniture, love his stay at Mactan Shangrila, love his visit in Cebu, and I can convince him to see the Pampanga furniture factories as well...Oh well, I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

See you all again on Monday! Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dreaming of Summer

at Iwahig Penal Colony, Palawan

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."

Is summer officially here? We still get drizzles and cool breezes in the evenings, but the afternoons have become sultry. I’m off to Negros in two weeks and really looking forward to the trip.

Ah, summer---a season for adventure! I love lazy summer afternoons, having siesta in a hammock under the shade of my grandfather’s old mango tree. The leaves filtering the warm sunshine, creating a dreamy and magical light. The soft breeze cools the sweat on my forehead as I sip iced tea, snack on boiled saba dipped in bagoong, and marvel at the landscape of my childhood.

At night, under the full moon, I would lie on the grass; listen to the murmur of the wind, the rustle of the leaves, the songs of cicada. The stars seem so near as I watch one or two fall from the heavens. The distant strum of guitar serenades the enchanting night as frogs frolic in the nearby pond, night birds croon at their nest.

Summer mornings would find me by the beach, picking up shells and pebbles; chasing hermit crabs back to their burrows, gaze at the ocean's expanding blue horizon and dance with the waves. I would wait for the fisherman's fresh catch, wave at them as the small boat approaches the shore. I miss the unhurried mornings, and the simple joy of being at the water’s edge, feel the warmth of oncoming tide against my feet.

I don't know what it is about summer...but everything looks vivid at this time of the year, everything in full color. When summer comes, I'm in love with life "as an ant on a summer blade of grass".