On finding the right 'pen pal'

pen pal writing
Dear B-----,

I have always wanted to do this, to write letters to someone. In my youth, I had worked very briefly with Elisabeth on a fiction book project that is ideally a result of two people who move a plot by "instinctively" writing to each other. But after a few letters, with work and other matters in the way, it never transpired. What I had with Lis was special to me; it was inspired by a fantasy book I read a long time ago. The authors admitted in the introduction of the book that while they discussed the plot at certain points, the letters they exchanged with each other were mostly instinctive, if not random. What amazed me was how two people from different places could have the same and one mind on a plot in a time when communication platforms were limited. The story was okay. I already forgot the title. But the mode the story was presented, which was through letters between two fictional characters represented by the writers themselves, was truly unique and memorable. I wanted something like that, that genuine meeting of minds. But with who?

Stories and Gratitude

essay gratitude life lessons
Surrounded by stories. That’s what I am. I wake up to blinking cursors on words of client stories waiting to be edited. I take breaks reading about the voyages of Doctor Dolittle (or whoever it is I fancy at the time). I listen to my mother perpetually telling true-to-life stories that, if documented, can without a doubt rival those New York best-sellers. Then I hear my sister tickled and flushed over her Korean soap operas. I talk to my fiancé and giggle like a teenage schoolgirl over his stories or jokes of the day. Then right before I roll back to sleep, I cry myself silly over Coca Cola advertisements on Youtube or FaithTap.com videos on dogs, babies and old people.

It’s a beautiful thing, this being surrounded by stories and breathing well to appreciate their existence as my personal life source. I know when this life source starts to drain when I stop living on the present story and worry too much on the next one, when I take long pauses on reading, when my overwrought psyche is clogging the flow of events and preventing the stories in my life from fully developing. I know when this happens because I will start wondering if my life is boring—working hard, reading less, more client meetings, lesser leisurely travels, more emails than talks. 

Love, Unexpectedly - First Date

true love stories
Afternoon light broke through my room's unadorned jalousie windows. There was no need to turn on the bulb; it was bright enough as it was. I was rolling on my small bed, my mind in a riot of past, present, and future thoughts. I had been doing that a lot for a month now.

At 21, in 2005, just four months fresh from college graduation, I banged my head over what job I wanted to do. I just wanted to do something, anything, and earn from it. But deep inside, I knew it was a half-hearted decision. It already seemed like a privilege to acquire a job that was related to what I have studied for three years.

I sat up. My feet landed on a book. On the floor, books were scattered, like fancy clothes spread out for a look-over and selection. I smiled. I arranged and rearranged them in a pile and carried them to the wide wooden floor-to-ceiling shelf at the foot of my bed. My practical father, a resourceful maker of all things necessary for the house--from hangers made of wood and wire to ceilings that are plastered with aluminum insulation foil--built my shelf.

Love, Unexpectedly - First Meeting

I looked up at the steep staircase, small and dimly lighted. Behind me was the rush Sunday activity of vendors eager to call on the churchgoers leaving the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu just across from where I was standing.

I climbed up the stairs and walked the familiar hallway. Obscure lighting from the high ceiling failed to flood every corner of the corridor. The indistinct paint was coming off the old walls. The floor was unswept, with unbundled trash and a couple of cockroaches just off the corner at the top of the stairs. I immediately turned my eyes to the direction I was going, lest I would feel a bile of disgust coming out of my throat.

The Filipino Cinderella

cinderella variants farytale
Cinderella is not really a personal favorite fairytale, what with Cinderella being physically and emotionally persecuted, bad sisters basking in the joy of making other people miserable, and the prince, er, not exactly an admirable character. I understand they are part of the fairytale formula, but that does not mean I have to like it. Still, the way her story has survived and adapted in different media is proof of how memorable Cinderella truly is. 

Cinderella is a folktale that shows triumph of good over evil. It tells the story of a woman who was forced into unfortunate circumstances but nature cooperates with her wishes for a better life. There are so many variants of the story, such that even the Philippines is included in the Wikipedia list and Aarne-Thompson-Uther Folktale Type 510A and Related Stories of Persecuted Heroines list of these variants. Regardless of how many variants there are, the name Cinderella has become the archetypal name.

Estrella Alfon’s tips on how to care for your neighbors

Filipina writers in English
How long is the street you are living in? Do you know your neighbors, greet them beyond a passing wave of the hand and a simple hello, or do you prefer to know them behind the blinds, looking on people throwing their trash or passing by your front lawn, which can awkwardly put you at the risk of being called the weirdo next door? 

In Cebu, and in the rest of the Philippines, many streets are thriving, living macroorganisms. This is best illustrated by Filipino writer Estrella Alfon in her short story, Espeleta, who describes with nostalgia the Espelita Street in Cebu City: 

You could walk its whole length to where it ends by stopping humbly at the very gate of the San Nicolas churchyard; you could walk that whole unwinding length, as I say, and experience no shortness of breath, no dampness of perspiration (3).

My first encounter with CBS

Cebu Bloggers Society Inc.
When I entered the park, I was struck by a rare consciousness over my clothing. I was wearing a black collared corduroy shirt with sleeves up to my elbows and with big brown buttons down my chest. I matched it with a pair of subtle-colored slacks and small-heeled brown shoes. My attire was my favorite set. But the park was acting cheerful and bright on this particular weekend that I began to wonder if I was glumly or overdressed for the occasion.

A few steps away, on an old bench made of cement, a group of young people were huddled together, their rosy mood in sync with the brilliance of the sun. They were talking and laughing, oblivious to the towering presence of the old exquisite fountain behind them or to the rays of light that streamed through the lush trees or to the roundabout flow of traffic beyond the iron fence. 

Pushed by instinct, I marched up to them, said my greetings, and told them who I was. I was first met by Mark, the founder of the group they called Cebu Bloggers Society. He then introduced me to the others: Wilhelmina, Kevin, Jorich, Clarence, and Johnn. There were many others present. And they were all dressed casually, blowing away my primordial worries that were spawned by the nature of my job assignment.

The lost children's garden

St. Joseph's Academy Mandaue City
Before St. Joseph's Academy (SJA) has become what it is today, all concrete from bottom up, there was a brown patch of land by the main gate, beside the National Shrine of Saint Joseph (formerly St. Joseph Parish). It was small but big enough for about 20 to 30 children to run around and play catch in. 

Thinking about it now, I'm sure it was meant to be a garden with a statue in the middle and trees surrounding it. The slender trees, thick with dark bark and coated with ground dust, stood bent and drooping, like a decreasing army of wounded soldiers. 

A bit of trimmed grass, parlored bushes and a keep off sign would have made that piece of land a peaceful sanctuary in the middle of a bustling city, a modest remake of the garden of Gethsemane, something you would expect from the ICM Sisters who managed the school in its early years.

Remembering Coleen, the girl of joy

family cousins Coleen Joy Remedio
What is now a paved road outside my parents' house used to be uncovered soil with stones and weeds. This rough plot of land, with only trees on one side serving as a sort of boundary and a concrete wall on the other, welcomed the restless feet of 8- and 10-year-old children jumping and thrashing against the hard ground.

Among them was Coleen. She was a short, frail-looking girl with a pair of sad eyes. Her appearance was a sober contrast to the meaning of her complete name: Coleen Joy, or a girl of joy. But appearances can be deceiving.

During one of our games of catch or hide and seek with the neighborhood children—Manny, Toto, Nonoy, Christine, and Alwin—Coleen would come out of her house pale and tired. She must had had one of her "nebulizer sessions" to ease her asthma attacks.

I was among the eldest in our playgroup and I was familiar with the nebulizer machine, a dreaded white thing, because my father and younger sister are also occasionally attacked by asthma. I was young at the time, with so much energy to dispense and with less care to understand the gravity of the disease.

But Coleen, with the spirit that was left in her after she inhaled her medicine, still came out and hit the ground with us. When we played, I often saw her thin hair teased by the wind.


Benedict Anderson: A global person

It is impossible to meet Professor Benedict Anderson now. He died in December 2015, around 16 months before I even heard of him.

If he were alive, he would have this languid walk toward the residents of Indonesia, his posture leaning forward to listen as his mind scrambled for the proper Javanese translation of his response. He wouldn't take notes or carry a voice recorder; his mind would be too sharp and well-trained for that. But when he would reach home or the university or his sponsor's house, he would pick a pen and notebook and write down all his mental notes in a rush and then carefully. These notes would soon serve him well for his current research and, if not, for his future research whose thesis would be borne out of a single statement made by a fellow instructor who would pass by his opened office door at the university.

Celine Dion and some memories

Celine Dion biography
I was already singing her songs before I got to know the tall, flawless singer. The songs came out through my elongated radio, a black cassette tape player I had bought with the money I had received from an aunt who married a retired American soldier. That player was fixed in the third row of my bookshelf, sometimes dusty and mostly immovable. In the same way it was fixed on a spot, the player-sleek, curvy and almost inconspicuous-was almost always fixed on one radio station, 96.3 WRock. 

I can only count the times I changed the dial to an AM station to listen to “golden music,” as the disc jockeys called it, of Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Dan Hill, Jim Croce, Abba, Bee Gees, Cascades, Tom Jones, Kenny Rogers, and Air Supply. They were our Sunday best friends over a feast of guso, lato and a kilo of lechon (roasted pig).

Twiddling with needles and threads

cross-stitch patterns
I walked into a shop of paper, thread and beads. By the door, little jars of paper flowers, yellow beads and other craft supplies were laid out, taunting me to buy one or two of them. The walls showed off bright handmade creations, daring me to pause and take a look. But my feet were resolute, kindled with a purpose and I went straight to the clear books.

I flipped pattern after pattern, waiting for an image to capture my attention and immediate interest. I was absorbed with cross-stitch designs of fruits, prayers, angels, and Precious Moments figures that it took me some time to notice another woman, petite, quiet and somber-dressed, at the opposite side of the table.

Her eyes were fixed on two patterns that were rubbing shoulders with each other. With balmy eyes darting left to right and back, the woman looked like she has arrived at a crossroad, like the many crafts enthusiasts who are willing to buy everything in the store but have to restrain themselves because of lack of money, if not lack of storage space.

To me, here was another woman who was passionate about struggling with separating strands that can be as mischievous as toddlers who refuse to remove their clothes, licking the stubborn edges of the same threads to get them to stick together, and hooking those edges through a vision-challenging hole of a needle, before operating on a cloth.