chicago

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After wrapping up the last meeting for this work trip, I spent the rest of the day walking around downtown Chicago. Until now, I don’t think I have ever seen architecture I wanted to taste. And I don’t think I have ever enjoyed parks more than I have today. Almost got to the lake had the heat not dissuaded me.

Now I’m seated comfortably at the cafe of a Barnes & Noble. This place has a library vibe to it—the tables and chairs, the people with their books and laptops. And the relative silence. I like this place.

I think I like Chicago more than the Big Apple. There are fewer people. It’s urban but with more soul. I was admiring the flowers at the park earlier and thought, “Somebody upped the filter!” The flowers were beautiful, even in their imperfection. They stood there in the foreground, swaying with the wind, in stark contrast to the mighty, unmoving skyscrapers.

The train ride into the city was painless. Turns out my hotel is conveniently linked to the train station. Onboard the Blue Line, I listened to my Spotify playlist. Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” made me smile. Today is where your book begins; the rest is still unwritten. It was an apt soundtrack for this short exploration of new things.

Then John Lennon’s “Imagine” followed, and that too was apt as the train carried people from many ethnicities. The black woman in front of me with one earbud dangling. The white man in the orange shirt who had movie-star hair and who misted his aviators with his breath. The two middle-aged men in animated conversation and who were almost mirror images of each other—plaid shirt and khakis. I looked around searching for an Asian person to complete the international picture in my head. Then I realized that I was the Asian representation in this car!

Imagine all the people.

I took Daphne on a FaceTime date at the Millennium Park. We admired the Cloud (which should really be called the Bean). I am looking forward to when we can travel overseas together. My hand ached for her hand. Several times I caught myself wanting to turn to my side to make a comment about a flower, a sculpture, or how blue the sky is….

I picked a leaf which I would press in a book to bring home to her.

I’m not really good at being a tourist, I get tired easily. I vacillate between spontaneity and anxious scheduling. I want to try new things but find myself worrying about awkward situations, getting lost, or looking out of place. Each time I speak to people, I rehearse the lines in my mind, hoping to sound as local as possible. 

Earlier, while I was walking, I listened to the soundtrack of “Chicago” the musicale. I smiled. It was fun experiencing you —”and all that jazz”— again, Chicago.

Excerpted from a sparse travel journal written during a recent trip to the US. Every time I leave for an overseas trip, I resolve to journal religiously. And then I come home only to chide myself for not having journaled more; sometimes not at all. Given the chance, I hope to do much better in succeeding trips.

stories

While Metro Manila’s streets were being turned into raging, deathly rivers by non-stop torrential rains last Saturday, I was with forty-plus co-workers on board a tourist bus somewhere in Batangas. We were heading back to Manila following an exhilarating and spiritually enriching company retreat at a Batangas resort.

News of the unfolding calamity in Manila reached us in trickles. An officemate got a text (or was it a call?)  from her brother about “rubber boats” on EDSA. I couldn’t believe my ears, and so I clarified: “Did you say ‘rubber boats’ or ‘rubber boots’?”

It didn’t take long before we all began to appreciate the gravity of the situation in the metropolis. One of us gravely reported that the flood had reached their house; a co-worker received a text report that their car had been displaced by the current; flood waters had risen to second-story heights.

We were at a crossroads: to continue our journey home via an alternate route that avoided the express way, or make a U-turn and make good on a co-worker’s offer to house all of us for the night. Some of us were anxious to get home and be with loved ones despite the risks, while some felt that the best course of action was to wait it out away from Metro Manila and then resume the journey when the situation improved.

Before entering the express way our bus driver discovered a problem with our brakes, a setback that proved to be our biggest blessing. After the brakes were fixed (which was nothing short of a miracle!), it became clear to everyone that the wisest decision was to spend the night in Batangas and continue the journey in the morning, hoping that by then the rains have stopped and the floods have been drained out of the major thoroughfares.

Thankfully, everyone in our group was calm, patient, and cooperative. With a few others, I helped lead our pack of marooned travelers—silently pleading for God’s mercy and guidance at every turn, helping to lighten up the mood with a few jokes, updating the group of whatever progress or new setback we were facing…. By God’s grace—and I mean that with all my heart—we were able to make it back to Manila the following morning without any further incident.

Our story is just one of many in the tapestry of stories that last weekend’s calamity has woven all throughout Metro Manila and its neighboring areas. Surely, our story is among the least grave, if at all. The media, the Internet included, tell of harrowing tales of families trapped on rooftops, shivering in the rain for many hours while desperately praying for help that usually came belatedly. Photographs and video clips, both amateur and journalistic, show ghastly images of men, women, and children being subjected to Nature’s stormy wrath. The fatality toll continues to rise, not to mention the cost of damaged properties and displaced lives.

But the stories do not end there. For me and my officemates, the story continued with thanksgiving and praise during the weekly company meeting this morning, followed by an earnest petition on behalf of the calamity victims. In the afternoon, just outside my office room, the conference table was filled with donated clothes, sorted according to their intended wearers. On the floor, next to the steel cabinets, canned goods were neatly arranged, waiting to be packed tomorrow with other relief items. Earlier we were trying to compose a list of more things to buy for inclusion in the relief packs.

The pile of goods doesn’t look a lot. But we pray it will make a difference in the stories of some people in our community.

retreat

It’s just Wednesday, but we’ve been wrapping up the week’s work here at the office like it was Friday. That’s because tomorrow we all troop to Batangas for the annual staff retreat. Call time for the bus ride is 6AM. Although I live 10 minutes away by foot, I dread not making it on time. Must set the alarm — multiple times, at 15-minute intervals.

Tonight I load my backpack with three days’ worth of clothes and stuff, anticipating a great time by the beach with co-workers, most of whom have become dear friends, even family, through the years. Tonight I also start unloading my heart and my mind of clutter wrought by the past weeks’ busyness, and prepare the inner self to retreat — to actually zoom out, come away, reflect on the ‘big’ issues above the minutiae. And, hopefully, encounter God afresh in whatever way He chooses to reveal Himself to me, to us.

One more task before I go on full retreat mode: set my email’s auto-response.

HK musings

10 October 2008
Tai Po, New Territories, Hong Kong SAR.

My brother Arnel and I arrived in Hong Kong last Monday night. It’s our first visit to “Asia’s World City.” As our Cebu Pacific plane descended, Hong Kong’s magnificent lights welcomed us. The yellow glow below us made it appear like we were alighting on gold-sequined land. Commuting from the airport to our hosts’ flat in New Territories area became an instant tour complete with rides in double-decker buses and the MTR. (In no time we were swiping our multi-purpose Octopus cards like pros.)

On Tuesday Kuya Arnel spoke to over 400 kababayans, most of whom are pinays working as domestic helpers in Hong Kong. He delivered an inspired message on the importance of prayer. I pray that the seeds planted in the listeners’ hearts will grow and yield fruits of faithfulness and prayerfulness.

I too have been reminded of the utmost importance of depending on God through prayer – to remain in a position of helplessness so that the Father can demonstrate His might. As I listened, the Spirit revealed to me once again how prone to pride I am and how often I have acted independently of God. It is refreshing to be reminded that the Lord delights in answering the cries of His children, if only they would come. If only I would come.

I came to this trip thinking I could just be a spectator (I’ve already heard the “prayer” messages when Kuya spoke at our company retreat last April). I did not plan for deeper engagement. After all, my main purpose was just to encourage and assist my (travel-aversed) brother through his eight speaking engagements. Of course, I was also excited about being in a new place and experiencing new things. But it is becoming clear to me now that this trip is God’s appointment with me as well.

Away from my routine, there is fresh spiritual air to breathe. There is time to let the Spirit order a cluttered heart. There are moments to glimpse grace in the lives of Filipinos uprooted from home, even as I struggle with a silent outrage towards a government that has so failed its citizens that mothers, sisters, wives have had to be exported to foreign lands to toil as maids.

Like an elaborate Chinese lauriat, this trip is at once invigorating and overwhelming — there are so many experiences, insights, observations to chew on. It’s a blessing in so many ways, and yet I must find time to reflect (digest, if you may) so as to make the most out of it.

a kid again

The child in me came out to play last Saturday. And, boy, did the little rascal have a blast! It didn’t matter that, the next day, he left in his tracks a blob of sore muscles and sun-burnt skin–all on a body about to hit thirty in a few days…

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Yesterday some of my co-workers and I took Jelle, our Dutch guest, to the highlands of Tagaytay. We wanted him to see the famed Taal volcano—“the volcano within a lake within a volcano within a lake… within an island within a country within a continent within a planet.” (Okay, so I stretched the usual tourism spiel.)

On the grassy field of Picnic Grove, overlooking Taal volcano, all seven of us had a hearty lunch of salad, tofu with veggies, pork and chicken adobo, and mango float—gastronomic delights summoned to mouth-watering existence by Beng’s culinary magic!

From where we sat, we could see the Tagaytay sky dotted with all sorts of shapes, and on the ground, beneath the colorful specks, people craned their necks and tugged at strings. Old and young, they all looked so happy. I decided I wanted part of that action. So after lunch, I set out to do something I had never done since eight: Fly a kite!

(To be continued)

phnom penh-omenon

“Are you still happy?”

My friend Sophoat, a Cambodian editor in his fifties, asked me in halting English after we sat at his family’s dinner table. Looking at his face illuminated by candlelight, I’m sure he wasn’t really inquiring into my state of contentment or bliss. The question might have been his way of apologizing for the inconveniences that had beset us, none of which was his fault, coming to his house for dinner.

“Yes, of course,” I answered, smiling a little broader than usual to assure him that I was fine.

Earlier that evening, Sophoat and I waited almost an hour for his son to pick us up. The rain had made traffic worse. When we arrived at his place, I had to take off my shoes and roll up my jeans to wade in the flood for a bit to get to their front door. Electricity was out because of the rain, but we had a lit candle. It cast its light on the food that Sophoat’s wife had prepared for us, and even in the flickering light the meal looked delicious. In no time we were enjoying hot soup, fried chicken, and vegetables.

“My wife is asking if it floods in the Philippines?” Sophoat said while refilling my plate with another serving of rice.

“Oh yes!” I said, looking at the smiling face of Sophoat’s wife. “In many ways, the Philippines is like Cambodia.” Sophoat turned to his wife and translated what I said. He then turned back to me and, forgetting to switch back to English, spoke to me in Khmer for half a minute! Eyebrows furrowed and face blank, I didn’t have the heart to interrupt him. When he realized what he had done, we both laughed. “At least give me one month!” I jested.

Before I left, Sophoat’s wife said something in Khmer, “Preong pro tien poh.” Her son must have seen my puzzled look because he immediately offered a translation: “God bless you.” I managed to say the sentence well enough to elicit a smile and a nod from my hosts.

I was mouthing the foreign words during the drive back to my guest house, determined to etch them in my memory, as a reminder that many miles away from home, God’s blessings abound, giving me more than enough reason to be happy.

airport blogging

coming to u fr d bangkok airport! pls xcuse d txt spelng – m bloggng fr my pda phone. q’ing at imigratn now. it’s taking so long i hav tym to catch a free wifi sgnal, send email to famly, n blog! d new bkk airport s byutiful ü f only for d free wifi now, i lov bkk alrdy! but of cors ders much mor to xplor. mor wen im on my computr. lalai, my host jst txtd – she’s outside waiting ü hapi wknd y’al!

all my bags are packed…

Well, sort of.

I’ve loaded the green trolley luggage with the major stuff – clothes and pasalubong. The backpack will carry the laptop, book, mp3 player, documents, and several small items. I’ve finally wised up and got myself a small travel kit bag, the kind that unravels and has a hook attached to one end for hanging in the bathroom; it’s half-full now, waiting to receive the toothbrush, toothpaste, and contact lens stuff tomorrow before it gets zipped and stowed in the green luggage.

Why the packing? Well, tomorrow is the start of an eight-day adventure in Bangkok, Thailand and then Phnom Penh, Cambodia 🙂 Thank God for his blessings, especially the ones that require packing bags, crossing seas, and experiencing new things!

Now time for a good night’s rest (but not before I set the alarm!), and then off I go! I’ll be back with pics and stories.

back

I’m back from Lamut, Ifugao! I joined friends from The Navigators and TRUMPETS ArtReach in donating used books (some new ones too!) to the local science high school and conducting workshops on reading and stage performance. Much thanks to our hosts from the Tribal Gospel Mission!

I miss the fruit shakes, the mealtime humor (‘Dontcha!’ and ‘lactating cows’), the fresh air and animal sounds, the smiles on the locals’ faces, the amazing stories of the Bible school students, the impromtu bonding sessions with old friends, the delight of making new friends…

More stories after I unpack the backpack and apply liniment on my sore back. Will post pics as soon as our able photographers Dan and Roovin upload them 🙂 No doubt, this was a weekend well-spent.