mush-ic and screaming instructions

Mush. Mush. Mush. Relaxing to the acoustic strains of MYMP (Thanks, Bijoi.) Ahhh… Coooool voice (the girl’s; the guy’s is ho-hum). Like rain on a hot summer day. No Ordinary Love. Constantly. Say You Love Me. Valentine’s in summer. Ahihihi.


Went to the BoyzIIMen concert last Friday night. It was one of those “Huwat?? It’s samkindovafreeeeee??” surprises from a friend (won’t tell who, hehehe). My chinky eyes bulged at the sight of the price marked on the ticket: P5000! Whoopee. (Okay, scalping did pass my mind for a microsecond.)

I’m not a big fan of the group to start with. I know two or three of their songs. But watching them live, you just got to love the groove of those guys! The harmony is ooooh-some!

Sometimes I think concerts are just an excuse to scream. No, not the “Taxi! Taxi! Taxi” kind of scream. More like, “Saklolooooh! Sunooooog!” Yep, that kind. Screaming that burns your throat, dilates the blood vessels in your neck, and bloats your lungs, but sans the unfortunate incident of fire or crime. The concert’s dim lights and the booming sound system coax people out of their vocal inhibitions. No one really cares if you SCREEEAAAAAM! Yes, even if you don’t follow instructions. For example:

BoyzIIMen to crowd: “Say ‘Ooooh, yeah’ “
Teen gals behind me: “AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!”
BoyzIIMen: “Ooh, ooh, ooh yeah!”
Teen gals: “AAAAAAAAHHHH!”

Fine! Simple follow, cannot instruction. But then again, who cares! 😉

drawing mountains

Banaue highlands.

Someday I will have children of my own. (Yes, little human beings who will actually think I’m the wisest, strongest, bravest, and most handsome man on earth—at least until they turn eight.) As soon as they are able to wield crayons, I will make sure to teach them to draw mountains. But not the way I had learned to do it as a young boy: with two huge inverted V’s and a semi-circle in between as the sun. Mountains, as I have been recently reminded, are much grander and spectacular than that.

Instead of perfect triangles with pointed summits, I will guide my little ones to draw irregular peaks, both rugged and gently sloping. Sprawled on the floor, we will outline mountains that fill a large sheet of paper. (Drawing on walls or floors, though fun, will surely get us in trouble with their mother.) We won’t want small mounds; we’ll aim for majestic heights. Our mountains will be colored in shades of green, brown, black, even yellow and orange. All sorts of trees will spring up from the body of the mountains. Some tall, some small. Some lush with leaves, some bald and brown. And grass, drawn as specks of green, will cover the empty spaces—yes, I believe we’ll want verdant mountains.

And when my little Michaelangelos finally get bored with drawing mountains with paper and crayons, I will know to bring them to see the real mountains. Together we will stand in awe of this great work of art: still yet alive, mighty yet inviting. And, hopefully, they will look up to me and ask who could have drawn this great wonder before us. Then I will tell them of the Great Mountain Maker….

And then maybe, just maybe, they will never stop drawing mountains. They will live their lives always in awe of mountains and their Creator. Until they themselves hold the chubby hands of their own offsprings, drawing mountains and then telling of the Great Mountain Maker.

unpacking 4: the album of people

Let me now employ the assistance of the proverbial thousand words that pictures paint, to help me unpack. Here are pics of the people–with anecdotes, of course–that made my first visit to the US exceedingly memorable. Thanks to you all!

United Colors of Christian Publishing. The awesome men and women I spent two weeks with attending the International Christian Publishing Institute in Colorado Springs. Together we learned, laughed, ate (a lot!), prayed, and played. Missing you all. (This pic taken after a hearty Mexican dinner served with live Mexican rondalla(?) music.)

Proud to be Pinoy! The first time (after my brother’s wedding 13 years ago) that I wore a barong. Not exactly the perfect weather for it, hence the coat. With me, from far right: Tarun (Bangladesh) told about how God worked a miracle in his family; Nikolai (Bulgaria) is an engaging conversationalist who claims his English isn’t good, but I disagree; Roman (Russia, now in US) brims with ideas and ideals that will definitely bring him to places.

The NY Subway with K.Fernan. I think he won’t mind if I divulge that he’s 40, because he definitely doesn’t look it at all! That’s Kuya Fernan, a former officemate now based in NY. This pic taken during my first subway ride on my first night in New York City. Behind us is the map of the famed NY subway, a crazy yet efficient labyrinth of trainssss that I dared not venture on my own. The next day, we took the subway again, this time with my luggage–on rush hour! Imagine the stares we got. An irate passenger, a huge black man, standing right behind me exclaimed, “Step on mah foot, and am gonna put it in yoh face!” Gulp. Thankfully the threat was not addressed to me. Had a great time, Kuya Fernan! Super thanks, superduperdude! Next time I’ll come in the summer! Hehe.

In the company of scientists. Gelo and Cathy, research techs at NYU Hospital and friends from college, made NY seem like home to me 🙂 Gelo let me crash his apartment (love the sofa bed!), lent me his sneakers when my climacool ones got soaked in slush, accompanied me for last-minute pasalubong shopping (even if my list included lipstick!), breezed me through NY streets, buses, and trains! Cathy patiently fetched me when I got “lost” in Manhattan, even drew a map for me when I decided to walk around Manhattan one day, dipped my hand in wax just for the fun of it, let me view cells harvested from the nether regions of infant male anatomy (go figure!)… and many more! Thanks, pwens, for making my NY stay a blast! 🙂 Hi to Mare and Esteban! (“Stole” this pic from Gelo’s blog.)

Too much good stuff, Rhea! On easter weekend, I took the train from New York to Washington, DC. I wanted to stay awake the entire three hours so I can appreciate the landscape. But since I got only an hour’s sleep the night before, I snoozed through most of the train ride. But I was glad I rested in the train because I would definitely need lots of energy for the fun Rhea had cooked up for me when I reached DC! Museums galore 🙂 We even went to the Capitol, the Library of Congress (this pic), the White House (a long peek through the fence), the Lincoln monument. Even had the opportunity to meet the awesome people from Rhea’s church caregroup. Great experiences all! But, Rhea, I enjoyed our talks the most. Your life is a compelling invitation to worship God, kapatid! Keep blooming where you have been providentially planted.

With Da Man! Easter Sunday, I went to church with Rhea at Covenant Life Church in Maryland. Guess who the senior pastor is? (Besp, it’s none other than the man we loved to “hate” in college! Hehe. By the way, that’s a compliment.) Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and, more recently, Not Even A Hint and Stop Dating the Church, spoke about Paul and his encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus. Nothing fancy or phony about his speaking style. More meat and heart, less theatrics. Which is very good, in my humble opinion. After church and after I sheepishly posed for this pic (“Hi Josh, we publish your books in the Phiippines.”), Rhea and some friends from her care group took me to Flowerhill Starbucks, the place where Joshua did most of his writing 🙂

* * *

*Yawn* Tap dancer needs to hit the pillows soon. Next time, “The Album of Places.”

next stop

The backpack is getting loaded again. This time it’s going to Banaue and Sagada for our company’s annual retreat. A few days ago, I stopped myself in midsentence when I realized that I was about to complain about having to go through the hassles of traveling again. Boink. This is something I shouldn’t complain about!

And so I won’t. Although the closet is still a mess and the laundry is still half-done, I will gladly fill the backpack and anticipate an awesome time admiring the beauty of God’s creation up north and bonding with co-workers. The bus trip will be long (over 10 hours, I hear) that’s why I’m loading the iPod with favorite tunes. I still need to buy a pair of sandals for the trek and maybe another pair of hiking shorts. My cheap dark glasses broke the other day, so I need to buy another (cheap) pair.

I signed up for the more difficult trek: to Batad. This is quite a stretch for me and my arthritic limbs. But since they miraculously did not give me much trouble in the face of the cruel winter cold, I’m having faith that they will cooperate with me as I traverse Mt. Province terrain. But, as a precaution, I am starting to get chummy with the burly guys at Sales just in case my knees throw a tantrum and I need to be carried. Heaven forbid!

unpacking 3: telling it as it isn’t?

The trouble with relying mainly on memory to remember an experience by is that, well, it may not be reliable. More so if you are an animated storyteller who relishes in impromptu side comments that could readily transform into almost-fantastical embellishments. Not lies, mind you. Creative non-fiction, if you will. You tell the stories over and over again until they erode/evolve into tales that are slightly different. I found myself in this dilemma lately in the midst of recounting to friends my US escapades.

I realize that, as a storyteller, I do not simply relay the events as they are; in the telling, I naturally incorporate just-surfaced emotions, thoughts, and details—ones that hadn’t been apparent to me at the time of the story’s occurrence. It is not uncommon then that I surprise even myself. The storytelling thus becomes a means for me to make sense of the event, whether it was one that I enjoyed—although it may not have seemed enjoyable at the time—as evidenced by the number of punch lines I come up with during the storytelling with friends; or one that I detested, in which case it does not get told as often or with equal flair as the fun ones.

Looking back at my US trip, I am tempted to wish I had taken more—hundreds more!—pictures. At least the pictures would help me “correct” my memories if they become too loaded and laced with my delayed impressions of them. But could it be that this “twisting of the truth” is not actually tainting or dishonoring the memories? On the contrary, maybe this is a way of validating the experiences, imbuing them with personal significance, and, in so doing, framing each one of them from the rest of Time for the self and others to look at.

If this is the case, I think I have enough “pictures” already of my time in the US.


4 April 2005 / 4.19 AM / Rm. 519 / Kabayan Hotel

The room is silent except for the monotonous hum of the airconditioner. Thanks to jetlag, I’m up early—uncharacteristically early for a nocturnal creature such as myself. Since I got back several days ago, I have had to fight off sleepiness in the afternoons and resign to waking up very early in the mornings. Not complaining, though. The silence and freshness of the day make for an irresistible invitation to write. Apart from the absence of a cup of coffee by my side at this early hour, everything is perfect for tap dancin’. The swanky PDA keyboard I bought during my trip is working perfectly.

In a few hours I will send off my elder sister to Japan where she will start graduate studies in law. She will be away for at least two years. I am excited for her. Achi has always been the dreamer in the family. Somehow, she’s always known what she wanted and keeps trusting God to surprise her with new things. Yesterday she recounted to me the grace-seasoned stories behind her obtaining a scholarship in Japan, each one an evidence of God’s hand working in her life with impeccable timing.

Ano’ng oras na?”

The light I switched on to write must have awakened her. She’s tossing and turning in bed, trying to get some more sleep, but I doubt she’ll get any more. The few hours before a potentially life-altering event is not exactly conducive to snoozing.

I know of at least two other people who are up and pensive—and possibly teary-eyed—at this early hour. Our parents. Popsy is in Laguna right now with an uncle. He came to Manila several weeks ago to visit my ailing aunt, her youngest sister, and then decided to stay several weeks longer to meet me when I got back from abroad and also to send off my sister. He called yesterday to say that he might not be able to make it to the airport today because of rheumatic legs. Good thing the three of us have had the chance to meet last Saturday morning at the domestic airport when sis flew in from Davao.

Then there’s Mama. She would be all alone at our house in Davao right now if not for a rowdy pair that have been commissioned to keep her company: Tim and Chikay, the grandkids and expert blues-chasers. It’s amazing how kids can be very perceptive and refreshingly direct. My siblings relayed this recent anecdote from home:

Chikay to LolaLils: “Psst… may problema ka, Lola, noh?”
LolaLils: “Wala ah.”
Chikay: “Meron. Kita ko sa eyes mo. Sad ka kasi wala ka na anak sa bahay noh?”
(Lola must have by now been nursing a lump in her throat.)
Chikay: “Wag ka mag-alala, Lola. Andito naman ako.”

True to her word, Chikay (with sidekick Tim who is always happy to visit Lola and her lumpia, bola-bola, and fried chicken) spent the past nights making Lola smile.

With my sis leaving home, my parents are now truly empty-nesters. I can only guess at how they must be feeling right now. This time is also a journey for them—one of trusting God for their grown children. I remember telling them once, “You will have to trust God and believe that you raised us well enough to make good decisions in life. And when we do make wrong ones, which is guaranteed, that you have taught us well how to learn from them.”

Life is full of journeys. Not all are geographical relocations; most are actually spiritual treks we need to take, each one a fertile opportunity for faith to grow.

Happy trip, sis! Wish us well on ours, too!

* * *

Got an email from Achi who is just settling in her dorm apartment in Hiroshima, Japan. Unable to understand Japanese yet, she says she’s been doing a lot of “prayerful guessing”—from operating the household appliances to playing charades with the locals.

unpacking 2: directionally challenged

I am learning to live with the unfortunate (and sometimes embarrassing) fact that I am directionally challenged. For some reason, I can’t seem to orient myself in space very well. Lest you think I’m hopelessly disoriented, let me be quick to add that most times I have no problem with Left and Right, Up and Down. It’s North, South, East, West—and all the degrees in between—that make this head spin.

As a freshman at UP Diliman, it took me a total of five trips to SM North EDSA before I could comfortably locate National Book Store. If I need to commute to a new place, I require a detailed vicinity sketch with as many landmarks as possible. When a taxi driver asks me which route I’d like to take, chances are I’d be clueless and just resort to saying, “EDSA na lang, manong.” LRT? Please tell me exactly how many stations I would pass before my stop.

But given time—don’t ask exactly how long—the direction wheels in my head do turn for the better, and an accurate mental map is eventually drawn.

Then came the opportunity to travel to the US. Now this directionally-challenged creature who has barely managed to survive the labyrinth of Metro Manila thoroughfares (after living here for ten years ) would have to take on foreign space. Quite a stretch for my obtuse internal compass. Gulp.

But I was off to a good start. Preparing for the trip, I had successfully oriented myself with basic US mainland geography—with surprising ease, I am proud to add. East Coast, Mid-West, West Coast… chicken feed. In just half-a-day of scrutinizing a photocopied map and after several Google searches, I could readily pinpoint the cities included in my itinerary. Bravo!

The next challenge: airports! I had been forewarned by officemates who had traveled abroad before that the airports in the States are huge compared to the domestic ones I’m used to. Hearing this created a knot in my stomach. I suddenly felt the urge to run to my computer and frantically download the maps (preferrably color-coded) of the more than ten airports in my itinerary. But I never got to downloading the maps—whether because of bold faith, habitual procrastination, or sheer time constraint, I’m not sure. So how did I survive the airports? Thankfully, I can read signs and am able to accurately follow arrows. Oh, I have never been more thankful for arrows! I breezed through the airport walkways, my confidence being built each time I readily located my concourse and departure gate. This must be how Dorothy et al felt skipping and singing while following the yellow brick road to Oz!

I could only wish there were more arrows outside the aiports. Fast forward to the last stop of my US trip: The Big Apple. Always too sheepish and cautious to brandish a map in the open, I rely heavily on signage and my meager sense of direction. But then again, even with a map and detailed directions, I still manage to get lost or make wrong turns. It’s almost a talent. So it was nothing short of genius when I decided to not even attempt following the phoned-in instructions of my NY hosts Gelo and Cathy to take a certain-numbered bus at some corner and get off at so-and-so avenue; that was supposed to bring me to their lab at NYU, where they both work as researchers. I muttered yeses and okays on the cellphone, but I internally labored to process the information. In the end though, after a few hours of roaming Manhattan on foot (which was absolutely fun), I found myself in the NY Public Library making a phone call to Gelo and Cathy, “pleading” to be fetchedsomewhere close by instead of me taking the subway or bus…

(Been staring at cursor way too long, typing some and then holding down backspace key… Writing about having a warped sense of direction has somehow affected the direction of this piece. I have lost my train of thought! so I’ll pause for now to gather my bearings and then close this piece neatly soon. Sorry.)