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Follow her as she prepares and partakes the "bread for the stomach" in http://beforesixdiet.blogspot.com/ . And while you are full at it, she offers you the "bread for the soul" in her travels by foot and by thoughts in http://footandfire.blogspot.com/ Happy Reading!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Who can still recall our local Bangkiling or Sour Gooseberry?


  Who can still recall the small sour-sweet pitted fruit that has the taste and texture of starfruit or balimbing?  This one almost slipped my mind if not for the local expression (among Hiligaynon-speaking in the Philippines), "daw bangkiling ang imo balhas" which translates to "your sweat looks like sour gooseberry." Since we have a local word for it, I believe "bangkiling" is a native fruit here in the Visayas. When I was a child, I ate it plain or with salt. Its taste just tickled the tip of my tongue as I was trying hard to recall its local name. Photos below are grabbed from the web. Ownership reverts to respective owners.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Anna Karenina’s Tragedy

Anna. She lifted her coffee cup,
swayed her pinkie away from it,
made a sound with her lips.
She lifted her gaze,
and she saw him looking at her.
She saw the most painful thing:
He is turned off by her physical being.

Vronsky. She lifted her hand,
made a sound with her lips,
she extended the little finger.
Fancy habits that he found
charming in her
then. In fact, he still does.
her jealousy,
her fears,
he still
loves her.
She thinks
he no longer does.
That's her tragedy.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Dear Handyman

Dear Handyman
By Gerlie M. Uy

Dear Handyman: I see you
in this season's blinking lights:
The last time, you wanted me
to decorate your room, and
instead of a pine tree,
I churned out Mt. Kanlaon.
You said it's my call so it's fine.
I hear you in the carols:
The last time, you bought all
season's Cds in the music store
because you would play them everyday.
I taste you in the matured coco vinegar:
The last ones, you placed in all
glass bottles to mature.
I can feel you in times of aloneness:
The last time, you were in the white-walled room
sipping the aloe juice as your last taste of luxury.
I think of you in the frozen yogurt
you were delightful about
because it tastes like ice cream.
I will always see you in the miracle plant
once planted in a black bag we last bought
at the store together.
I will remember you in the pails of water,
(You gathered them then from every drop from our faucet)
in every nail and hammer
I now have to use myself,
in every stopping of my wristwatch,
(You would usually bring it to the watchman)
in every time my shoe heel gives away,
(You would always bring it to the repairman)
in every time I am frustrated or discontented,
I will remember you because now
I know that life is remembered
in ordinary things, afterall.
And for the grander things,
Yes, my Handyman,
it's all my call so it's fine.
Missing you, your daughter.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Spoliarium at the NM

The Spoliarium at the National Museum

It is huge and still in good condition given that it was made in 1884, and what is more delightful is that we can actually come closer to this national treasure at the National Museum. Being able to get close to the Spoliarium is a warm welcome to every Filipino who has the heart and interest to see for real a national patrimony. 

On the left side are the spectators who wanted to loot the dead gladiators while on the center, the dead gladiators are pulled up like animals devoid of human dignity and on the right side, a woman is bent and evidently crying over a dead gladiator. A man holding a lamp is also seen on the background. The gladiator represents the Philippines while the looters are those who deny freedom to our country. The woman represents our mother country while the man represents our heroes' enlightenment and seeking for freedom.   

Yes, the subject Spoliarium is reflective of a Spanish culture since it is the basement where the dead bodies of gladiators are sent away and also where people are waiting to loot them, but the figurative meaning of this painting continues to challenge every Filipino on how he fights for the preservation of our own culture and society. 

What immediately came to my mind was, "Are we to allow the culture of violence take over us?"      

When Juan Luna won the the grand prix through this painting in 1884, he gained the respect and admiration of the other nationals and he placed the talent and knowledge of the Filipinos above the bar. 

I left with fervent desire that we still have what Juan Luna gained by winning the Spoliarium, respect of the other nations and democratic freedom for the Filipinos.   

Saturday, August 12, 2017

For Matrimonial Purposes

For Matrimonial Purposes
Kavita Daswani
Penguin, 2003, 277 pages

This novel was loaned to me by a good friend who shares my interest with anything Eastern. I read this long before I finished the first one I borrowed from her, We want to live here, an exchange of letters between Israeli and Palestinian teenage girls. But I'm glad that I decided to pick it up. I was inspired to pick it up maybe after reading proposals and marriges the Afgani way in a memoir, The Bookseller of Kabul, where the men gives dowry to women's family.

In this novel, I learned that the family of the Indian woman spends lavishly for the wedding and gives dowry to the groom. But the same thing as the Afghans, the family agrees and makes proposals and conducts the marriage ceremony within a short period. Afghans are mostly Muslim while Indians are mostly Hindus but the similarity can be pointed out as regards marriage and women in finding their husbands. In both culture, women can be married off at 15.

Back to the novel, this is a debut novel of the author and I found it really entertaining and readable. Her humor is tempered and not exaggerated that I almost think that it is a memoir rather than a novel, since it's written on a first-person account. I felt the heat of Bombay, I dreaded the crowded marriage parties before the ceremony itself, I felt the social pressure for Raju to get marired too, I felt liberated when she found "home" in New York, I was half-pleased when she was kissed the first time by a "white man" because she has to have "an Indian boy,"  I was sad when she hoped for a proposal that did not went through, and I admired her openness in her quest to marry "the one" among her circle of friends. But I confessed that I shed tears only on the last few chapters when she already met the man who is close to "the one" and she has to get past the traditional way of finding a husband. But mostly, before those chapters, I smiled through and through because despite the oppressive tradition, she chose to adhere to it but of course with little rebellions along the way.    

Aside from the Indian culture and the story of Raju's quest for matrimonial purposes, the book is also entertaining as it mentioned many Indian food which intrigued me till the end that I made a list of them only when I was nearing the end:  samosa, lassi, potato tikki, mint chutney, peas pulao, dahiwada, kichdi, parathas, cashew mithai and papads. I wished I did the list at the onset.

The cover mentions that this is likened to the "Sex and the City," "Bridget Jone Diary" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." I saw the latter and ignored the first two. I wonder whether this one was made into a movie. I can imagine that it can be a culturally vibrant (Indian Life) and glamorous (Umrican Life) one with a mix of hilarity in equal measures.  

Whatever hardship there is in finding love, all is well that ends well. As Raju aptly closes her story, "It didn't matter anymore."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Habang Wala Pa Sila: Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig

Habang Wala Pa Sila: Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig
By Juan Miguel Severo
Abs-cbn Publishing Inc, 2016
Poetry with illustrations, 120 pages

I never heard him yet doing his spoken poetry but when I opened the first few pages, he got me by first impression with his Basang Sapatos, he likened the heaviness of losing a love with the heaviness of his steps when his shoes are wet. Plus maybe, it's rainy season so I bought and read this collection.

"Anak, nagmahal ka.
Dapat masanay ka nang maglakad
nang may mabigat na paa." 

There are "trying hard" attempts in some pieces like in Naniniwala Ako, Maliwanag ang Langit, Malamig ang Gabi, and Parating Huli but Severo got me fully in a surprising number of pieces like in Bago Ka Umalis ng Bahay and Karaoke. While I understand that his pieces are meant to be heard as a tale, I didn't get bored with the length or by some Filipino words I just met. Most of the time, I smile and breeze through the reading as heartbreaks are indeed breaking. And to just smile because you see some truth in the written words is to empathize.

My favorite pick among the collection is Corregidor, Bataan where he sought answer to his question why he can't replace the old love of his love likened to a war-torn Corregidor, and ended up realizing that to choose love is to make another landmark. For me, there lies the poetry.

"Ganito kaming iibig.
Pipiliin parati ang magmahal.
Magsusulat kami ng bagong kuwento." 


"Kung mayron mang pumasyal sa aming 
dambana o guho, nakatitiyak ako.
Pinili naming magmahal at hindi kami nabigo."

I also liked Guimaras, though it is a bit sleepy yet lyrical tale which owes of course to the lifestyle  pacing of  the province. He talked of being alone in the morning, remembering his love in the afternoon, understanding his being alone in the dusk, and his resolve to be return home being at peace with being alone. Just when I already accepted his resolve, his last line invites hope for her return to him.

I. Umaga
  xxx "Pinagbabayaran ko pa rin ang pag-iisa"
II. Hapon
xxx "Sakaling matagpuan mong nababasa na ng ulan 
ang iyong buhok, kamay ko 'yan: 
humaplos sa 'yo."

III. Dapit-hapon
xxx "Nilubos ko ang pagtitig sa araw
at hindi niya na 'ko kayang bulagin."

IV. Gabi
xxx "Uuwi ako sa lungsod nang panatag sa pag-iisa."

It could have ended there, but he added:

"At sapagkat ako ang gabi, ang sinasabi ko sa 'yo:
pagdating ko'y sasakluban kita.
Sapagkat ako ang gabi, ang sinasabi ko sa 'yo:
dito ka sa 'kin, humimbing ka."

Lastly as a writer myself, I can relate with "Kerida," where he likened his muse to a kerida who sometimes refuses to come to him although she should come to him under the circumstances of aloneness and midnight, but of course, one can't really force a natural flow of thoughts and emotions. I myself made a poem entitled "Infidel" where when there's writer's block, I feel I should rather be at work, and when the muse came and I have to rush for work, I feel I should write.

Back to this collection, I am happy that this is a short collection, otherwise, I will be shouting "enough" of these unending circles of love and heartbreak and love and heartbreak and love.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul
Asne Sierstad
Paperback, 276 pages
Virago, 2004

Kabul is in Afghanistan and Mikrorayon is the hometown of our bookseller. When Journalist-author Asne Sierstad came to buy books from Sultan Khan after she joined the army operations for days searching for news, she became interested to the life lived by the man whose hopes is to build a huge library after the war ends. Sultan Khan had dedicated his life salvaging books in the name of Afghani literature and culture, and in the process, he was able to save some old books from wherever source. But keeping the books safe from illiterate soldiers who burn anything with living things on the cover or anything that seems immoral is a challenge that could even mean his liberty and life.

 This extraordinary passion led the author to turn more stones and she proposed to live with the household of Sultan Khan. She was able to live with the Khans for four months and the resulting tale reveals a portrait of an Afghani family and culture. But for me, this book brought Afghanistan and the Afghani people closer to me. When I hear Afghanistan, 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden come to mind immediately and nothing more. But this book sent me some intimate understanding of the suffering brought by the event and the war that ensued to hunt Osama to the lives of an Afghani which turned their village into rubble.

I like how the author broke to me her discovery by revealing the thoughts and aspirations of almost all of Khan's immediate extended family in a chapter or two. While I admired Sultan Khan for his being a passionate bookseller and for his extraordinary dream of building a huge library to house important books for the Afghan culture, as well as his adoration for liberalism, I would also abhor him for his patriarchal ways in the family, and pitied the women and their lots. With the author, I was able to experience Afghani proposals and weddings, see how they define and treat crime and punishment, understand their need to be liberated from war, feel the impracticality of wearing a burka and the pain of not being able to choose whom to marry, hear each of them dream, aspire and express their fear, peep into the Muslim faith in their side of the world and peppered with poetry by Afghan poet Sayd Bahodine Majrouh.

Now, Afghanistan has flesh to me. It is a plus factor that the author told in a lyrical manner her observations, with anecdotes and intimate portraits which are balanced with some humor.            

Monday, July 24, 2017

Eat Pray Love, a surprisingly hate and love read for me

Eat, Pray, Love
Elizabeth Gilbert
softbound, 334 pages
Memoir, Penguin, 2006

It is hard to start reading a book when one has a slight negative prejudice towards it. Before I saw the movie, I already skimmed a few pages of it in a bookstore and I was turned off by the very idea that the author wanted to avoid: Another tale of prozac-filled brain in a cold urban jungle of New York City by a woman who divorced her husband and a society filled with sexual permissiveness but devoid of spiritual warmth. As a starter, I really hated too much anxiety-filled drama so that I did not decide to read this one then.

But I came to read it this June and I am glad I was ready for it. It was a delightful read as it tackles a personal spiritual journey (or I must say, journey towards selfhood). I got her now than when I was skimming the book in my 20s. There is a point in our lives when we are faced with a question whether we made a right decision all along or just tagged along the linear dictates of society. To settle down only means to get a career, get married, have children, send them to college and send them off to real life. That is not even linear to me. If we choose a different path, the society seems to bombard us with doubts. But that is life, it is dynamic and there is no such thing as a straight line in life, whatever life and love life we choose embrace. Society has no answer so that the higher being is sought after for the answer. I did not take special notice on this spiritual journey when I was skimming the first few pages long ago.

So the author, who was prescribed with anti-depressants and contemplated suicide and prayed for the first time in the bathroom decided to find God, ended up finding herself. In her journey, she went to Italy so she can eat passionately so she regained her health, she meditated a lot in India and followed a vegetarian diet, and she found balance in her life in Bali where passion/art and religion are known and as a bonus, she found her new love there.

The author has so much transparency over her many vulnerabilities which I can say she is courageous and straightforward. She also has a keen observation and the ability to put herself as the object of her own humor. She made a heavy subject light. It is  actually like drinking whiskey but one feels like she's only having a champaigne.  

We are all anxious over what the world throw at us, whether we are married, single, with children or no children, but it is in finding an anchor whatever it may be in religion, in friendship, in art, in meditation, in words. Lastly, it is not a fault to always look for love, passion, romance, friendship. Of course, for the author, I am glad that she has finally found someone to reassure her worth.

Lastly, I just want to add that I am in love with anything about Italy right now, so I had a wonderful time on the section under Italy. To Italy, I want to attraversiamo!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur

The Translator
A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur
By Daoud Hari
Hardbound, 179 pages, 
204 pages with appendices

Darfur is in Sudan. Published in 2008, this book is recommended for those who simply love personal narratives. For those interested in international politics, this is also a good background on Sudan's socio-political history. But worry not; Daoud's distinct voice is not lost in the translation. His honesty and integrity shine forth all throughout the book. This is tragedy, yes. But it is a tragedy told by a compassionate, committed and courageous man. He has the capacity to encapsulate in simple paragraph seething subjects and he can wield a good humor despite how grim the situation is. A very easy breezy read despite the heaviness of the subject and I warn you, this is an entertaining one too. Further, I appreciated the Darfur Primer as appendix 1 as it summarized the socio-political state of Sudan, very educational. This memoir appeals to the world to look at the internal and external displacement of people in their own land as a major international problem. 

With what's happening in North Korea and Syria nowadays, this story of triumph of the human spirit on the part of the translator is one uplifting story. We will be inspired to keep on working for the human rights, and to keep on telling stories like this.

For me, reading this memoir is like downing a cup of tea, just light and easy. But at the same time, I am well aware of course that the teabag, the source of my tea, is heavily laden and dipped in a very hot water before it was served to me.      

Monday, July 17, 2017

Time is relative: A reunion at Casa Mariquit Of Jaro, Iloilo City

Time is relative. Entering Casa Mariquit is like being transported to the late 19th century and early 20th century. Located just a little walk from Biscocho Haus in Jaro and with Lunok Tree as the corner landmark, this heritage house has an intact brick facade with wooden veranda in good condition upstairs. Upon entering, one is welcomed by the caretaker who will act as the tour guide as he is also the curator and framer as well as the securty guard of the property. We posed beside the portrait of Former Vice President Fernando Lopez and the caretaker informed us that it is a Manansala rendition. The house is not big but it houses some pretty interesting memorabilia like the symbolic keys to the city and lighters housed in a photo frame and a steel plane which also serves as paperweight. The polaroid cameras displayed are also functioning as well as the 116-year-old grandfather clock. What I liked most about this house is that it still has good wooden floors and furnitures. Time seemed to be preserved here, at least. Hence, it is just fitting that a celebration of our friendship and reunion be spent here.

Time is relative. It was like yesterday that the three of us left the college halls. We celebrated our 20th birthday together and will most probably miss each other's 40th but we all felt like we were still college girls who enjoy catching up on each other's lives and though we became busy with different tasks during our normal days, we find some common grounds. We write love letters to each other then. Pose together to have our pictures taken in a studio. Then we became busy with many other things. Now, even messenger cannot compensate when one of us has different timezone. But we all still plan and dream and laugh a lot just like the good old college years.

Time is relative indeed. When we converse, time stood still, as Anna correctly observed, and then as the sun went down, time ran so fast. It is too short but well-spent with two friends who are busy mothers and one of them now lives in another continent, and another one working on going somewhere. Perhaps, our next pep talk over slices of cake will be when I'll be visiting either of them somewhere. Our last meeting was in Dinagyang 2014 before one of us moved away. But the heart felt like it was just yesterday that we hugged each other and said I love you to each other. I love these girls.  

Here are the quick lines on my head while on the ferry going home. It should aptly end this tale:

Friendship is forged for many reasons.
We wanted ours to be a long tale of sort,
but it is never cosmic or symbolic,
so we only end up saying that
just listened well,
chose who to trust,
knew who genuinely care,
gave love freely.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The charm of Camotes Islands: The sea and the caves cement our camaraderie

CAMOTES Island has been pinned in my travel list for a long time already.
The travel advisories from different embassies directed to many tourist destinations in Visayas immediately before our travel date scared me, but in the long run, my itchy feet prevailed. Squeezed after a work-related convention in Cebu, a two-day escapade was just a perfect fit.

Why Camotes Island? Listen, the sound of its name alone evokes a laidback rustic white sandy beach scenario free from intruding crowd. I am happy to feedback that the reality of Camotes was as genuinely exciting as the planning stage.
We went running around on her white sand beaches, basked under the summer sun, and discovered her torquise blue waters at the Santiago Bay, Bakhaw Beach and Tulang Diot Islet.
In Santiago bay, we just walked along her long shore lined with white sand as we were there on a sunset, and observed the sea urchins and sea cucmbers. In Bakhaw, we soaked ourselves in gusto to her crystal clear salty waters and played volleyball using the seaweeds.
In Tulang Diot, we had the joyous beaching because the islet easily belonged to us and her waters embraced our bodies raring for clear blue salty waters for so long already.
Initially, the caves were not a come on because they evoke no romantic get-away idea. Caves are synonymous to horrifying dark abyss and stinky bats. But the reality of the visit turned our expectations around.
The caves of Paradise, Bukilat and Timubo are bathers-friendly, as they all enclose cool waters worth one’s time to dip into. Timubo cave was the first one we encountered and we had fun dipping in her waters and when we realized that going farther inside is manageable when some other tourists came in, we also went in. Timubo is pretty but we can’t get good photos because some lights are off.
The next cave was Paradise, our favorite because when we came in, there were only three of us and the waters are cool and blue. We joked that if the man-made table and benches inside this cave is used as conference table for our pre-litigation cases and we are sure that we will have 100% success rate.
The popular Bukilat cave is a separate tour and a must-see. This high-ceilinged cave has openings that serve as source of light. Going inside this cave is like entering an enchanted kingdom, as the cave is picturesque. Bukilat was recently one of the locations for the movie of Kathniel, Can’t help falling in Love.
I was with two friends whom I travelled alone with for the first time. Trailing the beaches and caves in Camotes is quite a challenge given the distances between the places and the mode of transportation for a small group is either a tricycle or the habal-habal (motorcycle). Our camaraderie was put to test because the group has to maintain composure while travelling along long paths with a few signboards  and lots of banana trees and horned white cows along the way.
Well, I am happy to report that we all three passed the composure test and the camaraderie can surely go to many other places. With the two girls, Josephine and Helen Joyce, I seem to be travelling with a scriptwriter-director and an actress.
Oh, I have one thing I have to tell you. Travelling in Camotes is trading one’s comfort food. There are no top-notch restos or eateries; we tried the bland Sutukil in Santiago and the red-colored barbecues in the Baywalk.
The only consolation we had was that we were able to buy fruits in the market stalls beside the Baywalk. But if you happen to pass by the Poro, the small eatery beside the Tourist Information is the only that I can recommend for you to try.
Other points of interest: Mangodlong Beach, Lake Danao, Holy Crystal Cave, Busay Falls and Buho Rock.

See this travelogue in :

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot, 
Paperback, 313 pages
2010 Broadway Paperbacks

When we hear the names of pills that cure, we usually do not ask how it came to be. We are simply not interested or have no time to research. We are simply hopeful with the promises of cure, and continue with our struggle to get cured. This may be perhaps because pills' names are not based on the name of a person who has contributed to its formulation. Science wanted to appear scientific which often translates to precision, disinterest and .

In this book, the tissue sample taken from the cervix of Henrietta Lacks was named HeLa and she was identified as a woman who eventually died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. This footnote in science textbooks and discussions is the springboard of author Rebecca Skloot to ask who is that woman. It eventually became a personal mission for her to know more.

Hela was called "immortal" because the first tissue sample which has the cancer cells of Henrietta divided so aggressively and infinitely that it solved the problem of most researchers looking for tissue samples to do drug testings at a time when the existing a normal human cell is known to divide only 50 times and dies, a Hayflick Limit. 

Because HeLa fell in the lab of George Gey who operated the same as a genius-in-chaos and evetually invented a machine from scraps that rotates immitating the flow of blood in the body and later developed techniques to grow HeLa in a lab, a serendipitous meeting started. Then, HeLa was distributed by mail or in transit anywhere in the world that it is needed by researchers. Researchers grew Hela in their own labs and eventually, a company saw the commercial value of growing HeLa and selling it to researchers who need it and who need not go through the hassle of growing their own. George Gey was happy that his role of providing HeLa was off loaded to the company because he can proceed with his research. 

It was later learned that HeLa was infected with a deadly strain of HPV (human papillovirus) and has an active telomerase during cell division which prevents shortening of telomeres that is related to the aging and eventual cell death. I'm no science geek but I grasped the science part of the book.  

But this book is not about science alone. Its heart is the story of Henrietta through the lives of her five children after she died. Her daughter Dorothy "Dale" who grew up motherless and in an abusive environment searched for her mother, and sister who died in an institution at the age of 15 during her lifetime. None of them knew where she was. Lawrence, Sonny and Zakarriya carried their own burden. What is so fascinating in this storytelling is the commitment of the author to her mission of putting a face to the HeLa story. It took her a decade since her first call to the family to eventually do the book.

Lastly, ethical and legal issues on consent of patients in using their removed tissues during operations for purposes of research are put forward in this book. Then in the 50's  and by 2010 when the book was out, consent is not necessary though suggested that it better be secured. This is very important, though not a social issue here in the Philippines. None of same case laws appear in our jurisprudence yet. 

A piece of Journalism meets literature. Well done book debut for Ms. Skoot. 



Saturday, April 1, 2017

To the Stealers of Rembrandts

To the Stealers of Rembrandts
Gerlie Uy (c) 2017

Come on. Not that you admired
the fine strokes of his brushes,
the thickness of his lines and old paints,
or the subtleness of his curves
all under the control of his disciplined pulse.

Come on. Not that you fathomed
the different portraits that he journalled,
the landscapes he captured,
or the mundane events made extraordinary by him
all many events and centuries ago.

Come on. Not that you related well
in the darkness casted with light,
in the plainliness made special,
or in the expression of a fearful or watchful eyes
in every framed work of art.

Come on. You should understand
that stealing his work not simply a crime against property,
but a heavy crime against all of us:
stealing his work seals my chance to see it;
You owe that too to your future grandkins. 

Come on. You should know by now:
a stolen Rembrandts has no ready clean buyers,
and everyone wants it back, even the insurance company.
You just can't make it sit in a barn for years and lose its luster,
a stolen Rembrandts is no good; a mere money in an oasis.


Last 24 March 2017, I released a collection of poems called The Watch to mark the 1st death anniversary of my father. I thought it would be all. I was wrong. He visited me in my dream on the morning of his cremation a year ago. I have to compose something about it. Here it is:

 (Good Morning Tay, 3/30/2017)

Today, a year ago, your body left us.
I remembered because you woke me up
after your short visit in my sleep.
I was reminded:
You left as a free man,
free from all kinds of pain
and free from the burden of worrying
all reserved for the living.
Your body left to become dust in that chamber
after your spirit just flew away with the air.
And now that you are dust;
you will just be around.
Unimposing, but there.
Thank you for reminding me today
that you are a free man
from this worldly affairs
of existing, of living.
Thank you for reminding me today
That I am a free woman.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Book and Movie Review: We Just Want To Live Here and I am Khan

We Just Want To Live Here
A Palestinian Teenager, An Israeli Teenager – An Unlikely Friendship
Amal Rifa'i and Odelia Ainbinder with Sylke Tempel
St. Martin Griffin
US ed. 2003, 153 pages

I Am Khan
2010 Bollywood Movie
With English Subtitle

I picked up the book loaned to me by a good friend thinking I could finish it in one setting but I was wrong and I ended up reading the same in installments. The thin book can actually be read in installment without losing one's way considering it is a moderated exchange of letters. A topic is given and the girls exchange their thoughts on matters such as Talking About Myself, Thinking About the other, Intifada, Travel, Jerusalem, School, The army, and How I become what I am.

Along the way, the exchange between the girls becomes an invitation to review the Middle East conflict and to peep to the wishes and dreams of common people who lived their lives caught up in conflicts. Yes, the title sums up everything: We just want to live here.

I believe that the violence and discrimination happening right now anywhere in the world in the guise of national policy may be stopped when national leaders consider how the common people simply wanted to walk peacefully in their streets, go to school, get a job and have a family. Whether one is a Jew or Muslim, one can find commonness in this simple dream.

I watched the Indian movie I Am Khan, and it was a story of an autistic Indian Muslim who came to live in the US and suffered discrimination after the 9/11 attack. He remembered what his mother taught him: There are only two kinds of people, the good people and the bad people. In the story, he married a Hindu, a  blasphemy according to his only brother. He lost his stepson to a racial attack and his wife gave up on him, and shouted at him that he should see the president and tell him that he is not a terrorist. While on his way to doing what he was told by his wife, Khan came to help a Christian community and went to their church despite he is a Muslim. He was detained for being a terrorist suspect. He was also able to foil a possible terrorist attack after hearing a hate speech in a local mosque. In the end, he was able to finally meet the President.

One conclusion for the book and the movie, RELIGION cannot bind us but GOODNESS towards another human being does. The two girls in the book may live in Jerusalem but they cannot form friendship because they are not allowed to do so and they were made to believe that they are each other's enemy. But actually, when given the chance, they can be kind, loving and good to each other. Same with the movie, people are not classified as good and bad according to their religion but according to their deeds. Once hate is espoused, hostility results. Once kindness is given, kindness is also returned.

I am lucky to read and watch these two at the same time because the message became twice meaningful.

Friday, February 24, 2017


We, as women lawyers, condemn the blatant and gruesome killing of Atty. Mia Manuelita Mascariñas-Green whose assailants are still on the run. Hence, we feel that as practicing women lawyers who are also nurturing mothers and sisters just like Atty. Green, we need to openly renew our commitment to our profession, to uphold lawfulness and Justice, and to speak to the Green children on the danger of hatred and the importance of forgiveness.   

TO THE LEGAL COMMUNITY. During her lifetime, Atty. Green is not known to us personally or professionally but as her fellow lawyers who have been unconditionally defending every man's Constitutional right to due process, we cannot help but express our protestation to this inhuman, uncivilized and unjustified killing by the assailants (and their mastermind), which only perpetuate the culture of impunity. However, despite this personal protestations and constantly living with this kind of professional hazard, we want to assure the legal community that we are still committing ourselves to the service of Justice, and that by heart, we will continue to remember that our society will be judged not by how we demonstrate hatred but how we continually extend Justice and Compassion. Thus, we will continue to unconditionally defend any accused, which translates to our defending our Constitution, which will further translate to preserving the integrity of our society for the next generation. We openly wish that this letter fortifies the determination of every lawyer to continue serving the community in the name of Justice.

TO THE ASSAILANTS. So, if you think you won by killing, you are enormously wrong. No one, even a branded criminal, deserves to be imprisoned without knowing the reason why he should be imprisoned. How much more in taking a life? This is the fundamental rationale why we have due process in our Constitution. You have no right to take away her life without her knowing why, or at least giving her the chance to explain herself. You even have no decency to spare the children from the violence. But then, even if you will be caught and tried, our fellow lawyers will defend you and afford you your right to due process.  We will not allow you to win; we will not allow the same inhuman, uncivilized and unjustified taking of your liberty, and life. Now, turn yourself in. Do not trample our Constitution by perpetuating a culture of impunity; the Constitution is where the rights of your children and your children's children depend on. And remember, no lawyer shall scamper from his sworn obligation because of what you did but every lawyer shall help seek out Justice for Atty. Green! We collectively desire that this letter reaches your conscience on the spot.

TO THE GREEN CHILDREN. We are lawyers like your mother. We are presently defending even the criminals in the eyes of the society. We have incorporated in our legal commitment, our moral commitment of giving everyone fairness and a shot at second chance. We strongly feel that you deserve all the chances in life despite what just happened. Just like what your mother would have wanted, we only wish you to grow up with extraordinary strength of spirit, free from hatred, and full of compassion. Do not allow hatred to precede your life. Nurture forgiveness and continue exercising compassion just like what your mother did during her lifetime, rendering pro bono services to the poor. Sift and live only with the goodness and wisdom that you may get from this tragic event in your lives. We fervently hope that this letter reaches you at the very moment that you need it. 

We hereby affix our names this 17th day of February 2017, Negros Island Region.

Gerlie M. Uy
Myra Gift Malacaman-Go
Shelou Matti-Go
Edda A. Opeña
Joy Infante-Guilot




Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers

A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers
Michael Holroyd
Nonfiction, Picador, 2012 (First Publication 2010)
Paperback, 264 pages

This one is out of my usual book menu. But I always welcome a little change. With this one, I thought I will be reading more of Rodin but I ended up reading about “scandals” of the royalties like reading an intriguing novel. Holroyd has the lyrical rhythm as well as sincere and inquiring tone that made me proceed. I was about to ditch this one early on because the print is so small (But there were two prior publications in Great Britain and US which you can pick up instead of this one). But since I am into Italy right now, I got hold of this book because the book is also inspired by Villa Cimbrone which is located in Ravello, an Italian village.

Holroyd's interest started from the time he saw an Eve Fairfax bust scupture by Rodin, but it turned out that the Eve Fairfax-Rodin link became a mere jump off of his research on various characters. This is a story of women who lived in the peripheral story of Ernest Beckett (Second Baron of Grimthorpe) whose political life and personal lives were in parallel; both appeared to be in order but they were not.

The bust of Eve Fairfax was commissioned by Ernest Beckett as a wedding gift, only to be called off for reasons only biographers love to dig into and speculate endlessly. Then we came to the letters exchanged by Rodin and Eve revealing a mutual admiration, and then Eve's relationship with Belgian violinist Desire Defauw, the storytelling proceeded to the wonderings as to who was the father of her son John Francis Mordaunt later on (there's an exciting postscript in this edition, Defauw's and Morduant's survivors had a DNA Test and it turned out negative).

Then we have Alice Keppel, who was the mistress of Ernest Beckett and the Prince of Wales, who begot “scandalous to the delicacy of the royalties” Violet Trefusis (she was married to Denys Trefussis). She was a lesbian who was disastrously married off to a gay in order to have a “ normal” life and was exiled by her mother to France and found herself celebrated as a French novelist. Who was her father? 

Violet Trefusis was by herself a story. She was the lover of another writer Vita Sackville-West who was herself married. It was an interestingly woven story by Holroyd who used Violet's fiction and nonfiction (memoirs and letters) as his threads. 

Along the way, I found myself in the world of Holroyd as biographer, and felt his joys and challenges, as well as understood his own feelings and assessments of the people involved in his work. He also made friends with Catherine Lycett Green whose paternity lineage may belong to the Grimthorpe but the fact of not knowing challenges her loyalty and love to her legal father as well as leaves an inexplicable restlessness in her own life. 

Lastly, the places told and the works of art revealed, not much about the characters undressed, made me come along.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Nonfiction, Harper, 2011
Paperback, 243 pages

Khair Khana is in Afghanistan, a country known to me as war-torn and the place where Osama Bin Laden was killed. That is the macro picture. But this book gave me a micro shot of Afghanistan through the story of Kamil and her sisters.

Fresh from reading a memoir called Reading Lolita in Tehran, I still have the full grasp on how women were treated when the Mujahideen (holy warriors) are running the Muslim country. Both events narrated in Reading Lolita and the times when the Dressmaker of Khair Khana was established happened in the 1990s and both stories were born out of the fact that women in these two Muslim country were suddenly limited in their clothing and space.

This book chronicles the triumph of the human spirit in times of adversity, specifically that of a woman during the precarious times.

When suddenly the times changed in Afhganistan, Kamila saw herself alone to feed and fend her sisters and a brother when her parents went away to avoid political troubles because of her father's retired status in the military and her older brother has to leave also, otherwise, he will just be randomly picked and tortured for whatever possible false charges there can be. The girls and her younger brother whose age is considered “safe” were thought better to be left at their property in Khair Khana inorder to preserve the same, otherwise, if good times resume the property would go to the government who would surely have taken over the property while they were all away.  

Kamila and her sisters are all set to become professionals before the times changed because their father believed in education for all of his children, males and females. This is quite radical because most Afghan families finance the schooling of the sons only and leave the women at home. Kamila's father understood that women can contribute to family income if they were also educated, this he observed in a foreign company he once worked for.

When the times in Afghanistan changed, suddenly the sisters became homebound. At first, they read books and got the idea of swapping books with their neigbors. With depleting resource and provisions, Kamila thought hard and well as to how to generate income to maintain the family. She had herself taught as a tailor through her elder sister Malika. After hitting orders from local stall owners in a mall and risking being caught for doing this, Kamila was able to mobilize her sisters to fulfill the first orders. Eventually, she had some trusted neighbors join her when the orders became large. As soon as the news of her business spread, neighbors and common friends came to ask for work, and she did not refuse anyone. Instead, she looked for more stall owners who would like to order from her. The in their humble house, the women have the liberty to chitchat and listen to some forbidden music. It was not only work which made women earn an income, but also an escape from the harsh realities of their lives. Kamila and her sisters were able to manage many orders and many women in the years that they operated. They even put up apprenticeship.

When the Taliban was defeated, times changed. However, Kamila, at this time, joined foreign NGO which if she is caught, she will be put to jail indefinitely. She had opportunity to work outside Afgahistan but she chose to remain in her country in order to teach entrepreneurship among her fellow women.

How the journey of Kamila and her sisters were narrated by the author gives us the feel of how women are endangered at those times and how these women survived is admirable. It took education, fortitude, faith, resilience, love for family, and devotion to one's community to survive all these.

The author aimed to showcase entrepreneurial spirit of women in times of war, and this she did successfully, interestingly and heartfully. My praise to her effort.    

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran
Azar Nafisi
Memoir, Randomhouse 2003.
Paperback, 347 pages

This memoir is a sure delightful read among readers as they can immediately connect with the relish of the author in reading in a way that only readers can savor. Though I do not read fiction nowadays, I still can relate to the joy of reading. But amazingly, this book offers more. 

While the author and her students reflect on their lack of freedom in their country, Islamic Republic of Iran, in every character or circumstance in the novel that they read, I cannot help myself from reflecting as to how in my country, Philippines, freedom is disregarded simply because it is just around. I can only conclude that want is always a good motivator in achieving something.

The memoir tells of a reading circle hosted by the author for two years at her house at the time when universities were either closing or being dictated by Mujahideen (holy warriors) and when the author was out of her job as a professor (to her relief, of course). Books were scarce and reading of foreign books are outlawed and can send one to prison for indefinite period of time. This situation made me think of the influx of secondhand bookstores and libraries, the availabilty of internet everywhere and the encouragement of  reading in my country and how we still miss reading quality books, how we abuse the social media just because we can access the internet, and the fact that reading is foregone because of youtubes and free films. Despite our freedom to read, we are not known as a nation of readers but a nation of over-the-board texting and social media users. If we lose this freedom of reading books/accessing the net, perhaps, I can imagine we will be salivating for one more book or pay whatever price just to use the net for important matters.

The memoir made me understand the suffering of women when leaders of a Muslim country decides to interpret the Islamic teachings in such a way that even just wearing the veil is mandatory since showing a strand of hair or neck is evil because it can attract a man. I consider this memoir as a window to peep on the Islam faith and politics. There were no liquors, no nailpolishes and blush-ons during those years in Iran. On the otherhand, this part made me realize that the freedom to drink alcohol is certainly abused in my country. Alcohol consumption in the Philippines is nearly insane since alcohol is cheap and available in every small community stores that even minors can buy and that alcohol-related illness and deaths are a public health concern already. Regarding supposed seduction of women by wearing nailpolishes and blush-ons, I can only think deeply and sadly as to how my country's liberty to court or establish romantic relations are abused given the many cases of seduction and sexual assault cases as well as the prevalence of sexual permissiveness, prostitution, online dating and porn sites being accessed.     

Reading this memoir made me also think of that  forced desire of the author to leave her country because of its ills and her accompanying longings of familiarity when she left it is  like that of our ofws and immigrants who chose to better their lives even if the same is not true since leaving one's country is always about uprooting and discovering the ills of ideal adoptive country.

Why am I reflecting a lot while reading this memoir? I guess because the author influenced me because all throughout the book, she reflects on the novels and applied each character or plot or even the life of the author  she reads. For one, she is fond of Nabokov because Nabokov wrote his novels while the revolution is on-going and writing became his medicine, if not temporary vacation, from violence. She likened it to her desire to read at the time of her country's own change of politics which gave her so much emotional and intellectual disturbances.

This memoir is a gift to understanding another culture. This is a celebration of how reading can empower helpless individuals. This book is full of reflections worth our every cent, whereever one is and whatever one reads.      

Reading Lolita in Tehran
Azar Nafisi
Memoir, Randomhouse 2003.
Paperback, 347 pages

My reading can only go on if can I underline something. Here are some passages which I underlined when I finally saw my marker halfway through the book. Sorry, this bad habit is hard to let go.

The balance between the public and the private world is essential to this world.

Perhaps she married so often because marriage was easier in Iran than having a boyfirend.

In our case, the law really was blind; in its mistreatment of women, it knew no religion, race or creed.

At the core of the fight for political rights is the desire to protect ourselves, to prevent the political from intruding on our individual lives. Personal and political are interdependent but not one and the same thing.

The first lesson in fighting tyrranny is to do your own thing and satisfy your own conscience.

They risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship, and to embrace the elusive goal at the heart of democracy: the right to choose.

It's frightening to be free, to have to take responsibility for your decisions. Yes, he said, to have no Islamic Republic to blame.

Inside the sealed country, Stalin poured on the old death. In the West, the ordeal is of a new death. There aren't any words for what happens to the soul in the free world. 

All that is good in their eyes comes from America or Europe, from chocolates and chewing gum to Austen and the Declaration of Independence. Bellow gives them a truer experience of this other place. He allows them to see its problems and fears.

We are not with the regime in our hearts and minds, one had said, but what can we do but comply?

How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination.

“Perhaps to remain a poet in such circumstances,” Bellow wrote, “is also to reach the heart of politics.” 

Memories have ways of becoming independent of the reality they evoke. They can soften us against those we were deeply hurt by or they can make us resent those we once accepted and loved unconditionally.

It was a special brand of cowardice, a destructive defense mechanism, forcing others to listen to the most horrendous experiences and yet denying them the moment of empathy: don't feel sorry for me; nothing is too big for me to handle.

There in jail, we dreamed of just being outside, free, but when I came out, I discovered that I missed that sense of solidarity we had in jail, the sense of purpose, the way we tried to share memories and food.

Other people's sorrows and joys have a way of reminding us of our own; we partly empathize with them because we ask ourselves: What about me? What does that say about my life, my pains, my anguish?

Mahshid and I have been talking about that, about how ever since we could remember, our religion has defined every single action we've taken.

If one day I lose my faith, it will be like dying and having to start new again in a world without guarantees.

I wanted to write a book in which I would thank the Islamic republic for all the things it had taught me 

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Promise of a Pencil: How an ordinary person can create extraordinary change

The Promise of a Pencil: How an ordinary person can create extraordinary change
Adam Braun with Carlyle Adler
Scribner, 2014
324 pages

I read this already many months ago. I just need to write something about it. This book tells of the journey of Braun from a promising wallstreet boy to becoming a CEO of a successful nonprofit organization which helps poor countries build schools as well as also engaging the community where the school stands. Braun is not only a dreamer but transformed himself as a dynamic leader along the way as he reach for his dream. He is also ready to learn from everyone he meets.

Each chapter of this book is titled with a mantra. Among my favorites are “Do the small things that make others feel big,” “Tourists see, travelers seek,” “Focus on one person in every room,” “You cannot fake authenticity,” “If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough,” and “ Change your words to change your worth.”

Just one warning: This book of kindness is infectious. Just get ready to be infected.

Here are the ones I highlighted as I went along reading:

The more we speak in the voice of our most aspirational self, the closer we pull our future into our present.

Joel Puac had once instructed me to always walk with a purpose. If you look like you know what you are doing, people will assume the same.

We are more often bystanders to conflict than we are victims or perpetrators, and with that comes the recognition that we have a moral obligation to defend others, even when the crosshairs of injustice aren't pointed at us personally.

The recovery period is just as essential as the working period if you want to be a peak performer.

In those moments when prorities clash, always stay guided by your values, not your perceived necessities.

Leadership isn't just about telling people what to do. It's about doing the right thing even when it's not written in the rulebook.

Failure is a necessary step toward achievement. In fact, it often accelerates it.

What you are describing is the state of bliss. Bliss does not come from materials or possessions, it comes from fulfilling one's purpose in this existence.

Start by changing the subjects of your daily conversation from life you are living to the life you aspire to create. By speaking the language of the person you seek to become, you will soon find yourself immersed in the converstaions that make you most come alive. You'll sense the energy you emit attracting similar energy from others.

I'll tell them that the most direct route to happiness is through creating joy for someone else.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir
Haruki Murakami,
Alfred Knopf, 2007
Translated Copy, 2008 
119 pages

Forget the title. I can say that this book is a book on meditation. Okay, just almost. 

Murakami transported me to the world of marathon without fondness or favor. He just wanted to run for the sake of running. He loves to undergo the physical challenge in the process of preparing to a marathon. While physically challenging himself, he also make me understand that his character is being challenged too. Discipline, perseverance, focus, stamina, self-examination, and many others are all put to test and use while one is running, just as in writing.

Of course, as I expected, while he is writing about his running, he inevitably talked about his writing novels. And mostly on the virtue of what he does, running and writing. 

Though I was not able to read his novels, the genre of which I believe I could not ever read, I still loved to peek through the artistic process of this Murakami.(If it lands on my hands someday, I will read his lone nonfiction to date, Underground: the Tokyo Gas attack and the Japanese Psyche.)

What I love about this memoir is that it is simple and direct with little observations and perceptions of the world from Murakami which he oftentimes translate to his writing, to his own character, his aging, his life.

And like any mature and accomplished man, Murakami can readily be a subject of his own joke.

He ran in Greece alone and while his promoters thought he should not complete the run after some photos were already taken, he surprised his crew that he finished the original Athens to Marathon route. Given the hot summer weather and the fact that he counted dead cats along the road just to get it through, I can say that that was not a happy business doing it but he did it anyway. I believed that he did it as a tribute to the origin of marathon, now that's the beef in all the effort.

Imagine the utter lack of pleasure in the process of running in a marathon. He  confided that he ran and think of this: I'm not human. I'm a piece of machinery. I don't need to feel a thing. Just forge ahead. He is just one crazy running novelist. 

In the later years, he joined the triathlon only to be challenged more. He wrote that narrating his adventure is an anticlamax to his story but then he can't help but state it as it is. He was disqualified at one time because of swimming and he practised for four years without joining any triathlon if only to challenge himself. And he wanted revenge. 

There are more anecdotes worth peeking through along the way. And I can conclude that he is one funny serious guy.

Underlined passages as I "ran" along with Murakami:

Most of what I know about writing I've learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate – and how much is too much? How far can I take soemthing and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much shouls I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? 

The end of the race is just temporary marker without much significance. It's the same with our lives. Just because there's an end, (it) doesn't mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary marker, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for fleeting nature of existence. It's very philosophical – not that at this point I'm thinking how philosophical it is. I just vaguely experience this idea, not with words, but as a physical sensation.

After my fatigue disappered somewhere after the forty-seventh mile, my mind went into a blank state you might even call philosophical or religious. Something urged me to become more introspective, and this newfound introspection transformed my attitude toward the act of running. Maybe I no longer have the simple, positive stance I used to have, of wanting to run no matter what.

My knee started to hurt. Like most of the troubles in life, it came on all of a sudden, without any warning.

On Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. 
I find it amazing how such a young writer, only twenty-nine at the time, could grasp – so insightfully, so equitably, and so warmly – the realities of life.

Will I be able to fully enjoy this autumn in New York? Or will I be too preoccupied? I won't know until I actually start running.

In most cases, learning something essential in life requires physical pain.

But it turns out I really was tense, just like everybody else. It doesn't matter how old I get, but as long as I continue to live I'll always discover something new about myself.

It's precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive – or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself. If things go well, that is.

Through the act of writing I wanted to sort out what kind of life I've led, both as a novelist and as an ordinary person, over these past twenty-five years.