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.

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classy

Hear that rusty, creaking sound?

Well, that’s me switching my brain to “student mode”. Last week I began a leadership and management course at the Ateneo Center for Continuing Education. I’ll be hurdling this course for the next three months, sitting in class for a total of 14 hours per week (including all Saturdays of summer, ouch), and praying three days a week for a good parking space in crazy Makati.

And I’m stoked! It’s a welcome change to be in a formal learning setting again, complete with handouts, classmates, and debates. And, yes, homework too (this part isn’t too exciting). I joined a batch of over 30 managers representing a hodgepodge of industries—IT, hospitality, construction, FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods), automotive, real estate. We also come from various functional expertise—sales and marketing, finance, human resource, operations, manufacturing. As the sole dude from publishing and book distribution, I’m happy to contribute to and learn from this rich tapestry of professional experiences.

When we had the requisite introduce-yourself exercise during the first meeting, I was happy to find that several of my classmates recognized our publishing house, bookshop, and books. One even came up to me during coffee break and said she frequents our Makati bookshop. Another told me that he found one of our leadership books, The Way of the Shepherd, very helpful. Praise God!

Judging from past experience, I know that I can be very conspicuous in a classroom setting—and not just because I am tall, but also, and perhaps mainly, because I can be boisterous and, er, competitive. (Yes, in the past, I was usually that kid in class whose hand shot up one time too many to recite, who cheered and jeered—good-naturedly, I hope—during group presentations, and who dispensed from a bag of humorous asides that brought down the class in fits of laughter and sometimes derailed the teacher.) For this class of, eherm, management professionals, I had resolved to tone down “Bibo Kid” mode a few notches lower.

But I’m not sure if I’m succeeding.

Yesterday at the end of the long Saturday session, the training coordinator came in to conduct a class election for President and Vice President. Guess who the class elected (well, “called out” is more accurate) for President. Put on the spot and feeling awkward, the only thing I could muster to say was, “Do I get discretionary funds?” Everyone laughed, and some demanded a treat for my “victory.” I’m thinking Chocnut.

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.

why

“What would you ask God if you were face to face with Him now?”

I threw the question to an all-female audience of National Book Store staff. It was my little ice breaker during our publishing company’s product presentation to them. Anyone who would come forward to answer the question would win a copy of Philip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts?, one of several products we were promoting.

I was being the chirpy presenter who unleashed punch lines incessantly to sustain the audience’s interest. But the mood would change dramatically as some brave ladies shared their questions for God with misty eyes:

“Why did You take my mother away?”

“Why aren’t You granting our desire to have another child? My husband and I want one so bad…”

“Why did my premature baby have to die? If he had been born a day later he would have stood a chance…”

After they shared their very personal stories, many in the audience were dabbing their eyes with tissue. I confess, there was a growing lump in my throat too.

It’s interesting how our questions for God often begin with why. We want explanations, reasons, justifications. We long to understand. And yet, many times there are no clear answers from Him. We don’t hear a booming voice that enumerates the reasons for our circumstances. There’s no bright vision to enlighten us so we can make perfect sense of our pain.

I think of Job’s experience. He wanted answers to his why-am-I-suffering questions. Although God responded to Him audibly, He did not dish out point-blank answers. Instead God drew Job’s attention to His identity and heart, as if to say, “You do not see the whole picture. Even if I explained, you wouldn’t understand. All you need is Me. I am God, and I am with you in your pain.”

Maybe that’s not the answer we want, but the one we need.

warrior

Today I felt like a Spartan warrior. I tackled a mean battalion of backlogged email, courtesy of my weeklong leave from work. After countless mouse swoops and incessant keyboard tapping the 150+ emails did get the attention they required, leaving a weary but fulfilled worker in their wake.

Now I feel sore all over — not from the email battle, but from the two-hour massage I decided to get at day’s end. My calves feel tender, but my back feels great. Hey, even warriors deserve the occasional pampering. I hope I don’t sleep too well and long; I have a morning meeting.

working out

I decided to work away from the office today, mainly to do some zoom-out, big-picture thinking and planning. I rescheduled one meeting and informed my staff that I would be accessible virtually if they needed me, thanks to email, instant messaging, and the cellphone.

I find that working off-site once in awhile boosts productivity. Being physically away from my desk extricates me from the usual office distractions. Matters that need my attention are automatically filtered if it’s really important, I will get a call on my cellphone. And, when I decide to work some place other than home, the new environment stimulates creativity. I have a very able team, and I suspect that sometimes they also consider me a “distraction.” So maybe they welcome not having me around every now and then.

After going through email at home this morning, I packed Zak (yup, that’s the name of my MacBook – thanks, Ruben) and headed to Gloria Jeans in Araneta Center, Cubao. I like this place because of its many power outlets. Customers can freely plug in their gadgets without having to deal with the service crew’s darting looks. No time limit on power usage too. There used to be just a handful of laptop users in GJ; but since the rise of ultra mobile PCs, more techie telecommuters have swarmed the place. The spots closest to the power outlets are obviously the most coveted. Thankfully, my favorite spot was available.

I’m happy with how my day has panned out. I managed to pin down a backlogged project, flesh out some nascent ideas that would otherwise be ignored during the course of an office day, and start planning the next few months. As a bonus, I also got to put Zak to testto see how well we can tackle work documents together. Before today, Zak and I have only been playingit’s amazing how fun Macs can be! I’ve been a long-time WIndows user who dabbled with Linux for awhile, and so far I’ve found the Mac OS experience a pleasant one. The Mac is very intuitive and elegant, among other things…

But that’s a different story altogether.