Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas in New York

My first Christmas in New York had been snowless. In fact, this is the first time in more than a hundred years (1891 was the last time!) that snow was a no-show at Central Park on Christmas day. But then, who was dreaming of a white Christmas? Not I! I loved that the so-far mild winter and that on the weekend before Christmas we could go around Manhattan to finish our last minute shopping in just sweaters was too good to be true!

And so it came and it went - like I have emailed Hannahlou, at first I thought it would be much drama of homesickness and all that but there was none of it. I actually enjoyed my very peaceful and quiet Christmas away from home. No monsterous Manila traffic to contend with, fighting for parking space at the malls or battling the long line at the grocery for Noche Buena shopping was not missed at all. The shopping in Manhattan was pretty easy with so many stores around the city none really had long waits for the cashiers to fret about.

On the weekend before Christmas, we celebrated the holidays with friends and their kids. On one dinner with another set of friends, their 5-year old daughter Rachel sat with me in their living room and interviewed me about Christmas trees and Santa Claus. You see, she's never had neither because her faith did not align her with that kind of a celebration or holiday. I told her about decorating Christmas trees and how Santa would put small gifts inside stockings.

"Is Santa Claus Catholic?" she asked, her bright dark eyes peering at me behind dark brown curls.

I glanced at the mom who flashed me a "Gee, I'm glad you're here" smile while she pretended to finish her kitchen chore.

"Well, he's not. He is a very nice, generous old man who loves children so when kids write him letters asking him for presents then if they are good, he shows up and brings them toys. Sometimes exactly what they want, sometimes if it's not in his workshop with the elves, he brings other stuff." I replied.

"He doesn't give me anything." she pouted, "even if I am really good all year."

At this point of course, my heart was breaking. "Well, did you write him a note?" I asked.

"No," she replied.

"Maybe you should. He probably thought you didn't want anything special. Lots of kids write so for those who don't, Santa thinks you don't want anything."

She smiled back at me as her face lit up, "Will you help me write him a note next year?"

I looked at the mom who winked back at me, "Of course, I will but I think your mom knows where to write him, too." And with that she rushed to her mother to confirm with her about writing a note to the jolly old fellow next year for her gifts.

After Rachel was tucked in bed, we sat in the huge living room of the luxury apartment with a view of the west side of Central Park. While they shared stories about feeling deprieved of having a fresh tree decorated with tinsel and balls or stars and coming back to school after the holidays without a Santa Claus story, we all agreed that religion should have nothing to do with celebrating the holidays with kids.

And so Rachel's mom decided that definitely they would have a fresh tree next year (10-foot high, she insists), decorated in blue and white and with a lot of snowflake or star decorations, filled with tinsel and blinking colorful lights. And Rachel's dad wanted a choo-choo train running around on a track under the tree, something he had always wanted to have since he was a boy. And yep, Rachel would be writing Santa a letter and they would fill her stockings with gifts for the eight mornings of Hanukkah. And then we all laughed, understanding that the holiday can have a different interpretation for everyone.

I am probably the most pro-Christmas person I know. Even back home, coming up with the general theme of decorating the house, the decorations, the Noche Buena menu and the whole shebang was masterminded by none other. It was my most favorite time of the year and even here in New York, my friends say that I am highly contagious. I have gifts for everyone, even just small tokens, Christmas cards are mailed out really early and those that I have received I had set up on my window as decoration. At work, Wally and I had put up the tree that welcomes all visitors to the office and Christmas tunes are played from my computer for two weeks. That and of course, that I organize the office party every year.

Snow or without snow, Christmas in New York has been very beautiful and without the stress, definitely holy. Although I completely miss being with my favorite niece, Gabrielle and my favorite nephew, Liam while they tore through their Christmas gifts, I think for a while I had Rachel who gives the sweetest 'auntie' hug, Sarah and Josh who taught me about how the subway was dug (their version) and where snow comes from, also their version (THAT is totally another blog entry!!!).

This is the season for everyone but mostly, I think it is a special time for children. It is a time for them to feel love, to believe in Santa Clauses who have no religious affiliations and for just believing that in this world there is magic - whether in trees with tinsel or in gift-laden stockings. There is already too much cynicism in the world, magic should touch them at least once in their lives. For when else can they enjoy and believe such things?

Happy holidays to you all and a peaceful New Year's....


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Message 2006

17 December 2006, Manhattan -This year I will spend Christmas in New York, away from my family. It is a first among many firsts for this year. Although I have been here 6 years next month, I have always made it a point to go home to Manila for the holidays. Well, except in 2001 when my then 17 year old Nicole made her first international travel on her own – one of many she would make years later.

It is also the first time I have dressed up my apartment for the holidays. A giant fresh wreath of balsam fir hangs in the apartment and fills it with its sweet scent. A drapery of tiny lighted stars runs the length of my two 6-foot tall windows. Two pots of bright red poinsettias sit on the table next to my couch surrounded by the cards I have received from family and friends. And on my dining table, a work in progress – presents wrapped and ready for the giving sit in a pile next to rolled wrappers, ribbons, bows and the transparent tape dispenser.

It is also the first time I celebrated Hanukkah. A light blue ceramic menorah sits on the window sill just where the lighted stars end their journey from the top of the glass windows. Last Friday night, we kindled the first candles and said the traditional prayers.

My world, I realize, broadened not just in the spatial sense I have placed myself away from my family but in my acceptance of the vastness of ways a special day can be celebrated. It transcends religion, faith, culture or tradition. Christmas all over the world becomes meaningful to everyone because it becomes a chance to pause in our lives and to acknowledge the people we love and the blessings we have received or the challenges we had battled. Calendar'd so conveniently a week before the end of the Roman year, it allows us to look back to the year that was and to allow some reflection before moving on to the new year.

Unlike being home in the Philippines, not everyone in my New York circle is Catholic. Jewish, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Muslims and I even have atheists among us. We celebrate, we greet each other and perhaps at times when it had not been easy to say, the season makes it convenient – we say how much we care for each other. But yes, saying ‘I love you’ comes quite easy in a season and it is with sincerity, with commitment. ‘I’m sorry if I messed up sometimes’, makes it even more meaningful among friends.

Yet again, another realization – when you are bound together by involuntary solitude, away from families who are many miles away, you create among you a new family. Brothers and sisters who readily lends a shoulder when the tears come easy, share joy to celebrate milestones, share secrets and who will even roughen you up ‘just because it is fun’ sometimes. But most of all there is a very genuine respect for one another and concern but one that does not cross lines, never meddling in each other's lives. It is the people who you do not associate by blood but who you know you will take the bullet for without a second thought.

My extended family in New York is quite a big group considering that the spouses of my girlfriends can chill with my boyfriend in a 'boys night out', that the mom of one would cook pancit or make ensaimada for me only because I had mentioned that I was craving for it or a girlfriend would volunteer to go with me to my next check-up at the first mention of a health problem. Not related by blood but linked by a bond that is quite difficult to explain. We look after each other because away from our own families, we have only each other. We become our family.

Christmas for me always meant waiting up for midnight, enjoying the feast of the Noche Buena and then watching the kids tear through their presents. They will continue with the tradition at home and I will probably spend much of Christmas morning on the telephone getting a recap of their celebrations and Gabbie and Liam’s newest antics. I am comforted that I will be home in mid-January and will have a late Christmas celebration with my favorite niece and nephew. And in turn, I will get the greatest gift of all – my daughter is graduating from college.

No Noche Buena for me but Christmas day lunch was booked with friends in a favorite Italian restaurant on the West Side. I am expecting a quiet Christmas in New York with no karaoke singing by my neighbors (thank you, God). New Year’s will be fireworks and asthma-free (nope, I doubt if I will adventure to join the throngs of humanity who will be at Times Square). Yet the season is not all lost - everything is how you perceive it. With so much love from people who are close by and the real family who are back home, it validates the meaning of the Season of Love.

From my family in the Philippines and my daughter Nicole and I, we wish you all a very special and happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year’s.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Brenner in New York

I am a major chocoholic. And I have it worked out so that I can have my daily chocolate fix and not have the calories move to my hips or thighs (at least not most of it!). How? I replace a meal with my sweets

Since I work in an office where most everyone is anything but American so when co-workers say they are going home it often means they are traveling to Europe. And when they come back, we have taught them the value of the 'pasalubong'* and this comes in the form of Belgian chocolates and truffles, huge Cadbury or Toblerone bars (which they claim is different from the ones sold in American stores), or any other fancy, delightful gift to satisfy the sweet tooth. And then there are times when people travel locally and come back with either a box of See's or some other brand not available in New York.

Our office occupies one whole floor of our building and so we have the north end and the south end. On both sides there are baskets that are often filled with bite-sized chocolates (Hersheys, Kitkats, Snickers, Reese's - you name it and we have it). It gets worse post-Halloween when the fathers in the office would bring to the office the excess of their kids' loot, collected during the holiday. Just as when you thought you have OD'd on chocolate bars and just grateful that the last time you checked the basket it was nearly empty, you pass by and realize it has been re-filled to the brim once more.

My boyfriend knows that when my feathers are ruffled, there is only one way to appease me. The closest Neuhaus store is at Grand Central, where the Godiva store is also located and where there is a steady supply of fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate. If I cannot be swayed by Neuhaus then it would have to be La Maison du Chocolat and there is nothing La Maison cannot solve. And within the same area at the Rockefeller Center is the Swiss Teuscher chocolate store where the champagne truffles are to-die-for.

I thought for a while that I have Manhattan's chocolate spots covered. Last Saturday when I stepped off the bus at Union Square, I found myself standing in front of the chocolate store of the 'bald man'. New York had just opened my newest favorite place - Max Brenner. I had not been to the one in Makati, which my daughter had bragged to me was one must-see place the last time I came home but we had no time.

The wait line for a table for two was 20 minutes - not bad for lunch and so we waited. While waiting to be paged, my friend and I roamed around the store and savored the variety of bonbons and other mouth watering goodies displayed behind glass shelves. Some women would pine for diamonds, I crave for chocolates. This is my heaven.

When we were finally seated, we browsed the menu and lingered due to apparent indecision brought about by so much choices that I swear if we could we would have sat there the whole afternoon ordering one item after the other until we have tasted everything in the little orange book.

OK - there will be other weekends to check out the other for the meantime we decided to share an order of the Urban S'Mores - you get a tiny stove the size of a teacup and to toast your marshmallow in and a cup of thick warm chocolate to dip it in after you press it between graham crackers and one Melting Chocolate Heart Cake. For drinks, I had the Mexican Hot Spicy Chocolate (a perfect mix of sweet and spice) and my friend had the chocolate with marshmallows.

It maybe major sugar rush to some people but to me - it felt like I had died and gone to heaven.

We live for days like these - when it is a mild late autumn outside and you are sharing nice warm chocolates with a friend indoors. Yum....

Wonka lives!!!

*Pasalubong - something you bring back after a trip : souvenirs, goodies, anything from the place you came from.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Lumang Tugtugin

My first weekend back in New York. With the weather outside too cold for a night out (well, was out the whole day, anyway) I indulged myself with a cup of instant noodles and started listening to the oldies Filipino music I had brought back from home.

Music from Hotdog (listen:, Dina Bonnevie (listen:, and my all-time favorite, Apo Hiking Society (listen: brought back so much nostalgia. It was probably more than the memories of adolescent awkwardness and confusion. It was definitely about first crushes and hoping that games like FLAMES had more truth to it. Of couse what I can't comprehend now was how I actually thought I had a chance to be Shaun Cassidy's girlfriend when my first love who was another awkward lanky pre-teener didn't even notice me.

Gorgeous, gorgeous ass....... :-)

It was a great time nonetheless, to be young and naive and to feel like I own the world. A time when life was about playing patintero with classmates when classes ended and we were just waiting for the schoolbus to bring us home. And of terrorizing the nuns and the teachers and other classmates without actually firing Uzis at them.

Life was simple then. The greatest horror that could happen was waking up to a huge zit on your face. Ahhhh.... the woes of growing up, something I certainly enjoy looking back to now but would never want to re-live once more. No, I would not trade my life now albeit the weight gain and the few gray hair to 'be young again'. Been there, done that....I'm moving on.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving


After almost 5 years living in the United States I finally got wind of the meaning of Thanksgiving. It is not the turkey nor the gravy nor is the meaning to be found in the rest of the buffet feast on the dinner table. Thanksgiving is a pause in the calendar to look back to what we value in life - and for me, it is family.

So this year, like the rest of humanity in the continental United States, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, after two years of so many hits-and-miss, my family had finally got together.

Mi Famille

Truly, blood is thicker than water. I look at the youngest members of our brood (my daughter and Francis' two toddlers) and hope that many years from now, the bond and love that we had hopefully instilled and develop in them will survive and that they will continue to be a welcome part of each other's lives.

Give gratitude for lives that are charmed - that constantly seem to find good fortune even when the odds are against us, gratitude for good health that sometimes we take for granted, gratitude that we agree with other more often than we disagree (we are a boring bunch) and that even when we do disagree we continue to respect and love each other, gratitude that we have parents who helped shape us to be what we are. There is so much really to give thanksgiving for.

And to think, we didn't even take any land fromt he Indians! (hehehe...)

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Testing Fate

Note: This entry first came out in 19 October but I pulled it out until I had the ending on hand. I am reposting it with the assurance that all is well that ends well. Mavic

It is one of those phone calls you just know you will never get.

I got mine Thursday night last week and I had been at the edge of my nerves since then.

Two weeks prior I went to see my doctor for a prescription refill. Usually I would just phone her and she would just send notice to my pharmacy to renew my prescription. Instead, her assistant reminded me that it had been more than a year since my last check-up and that the doctor wanted to see me first.

I am very conscientious about my health so it was surpising that I had not set a calendar alarm for an annual medical check-up. While some children look forward to inherit riches from their forebears, my siblings and I (as are the rest of our cousins) can only inherit one or more of the following: heart disease, high blood pressure, acne, obesity, cancer or arthritis. Not that I wanted to live until I was a hundred years old. I think my objective was to make growing old gracefully and not debilitated by pain or having one or two parts of my body go before the rest was ready.

I went to see my doctor as scheduled did the tests and walked out of the clinic with the prescription refill in hand and assumed that it would be like previous check-ups I have had before - uneventful.

Then the phone call.

It registered as a missed call. I didn’t hear the ring nor feel the phone vibrate. When I took my phone from my bag when I got home I noticed the missed call icon and saw my doctor’s name listed. I did a double take wondering if it was the list of calls I had made that I was looking at but instead my heart sank when I realized it was indeed a missed call.

I went through my routine for the next half hour talking to myself. There were facts that I have learned in life that haunted me as I puttered around my apartment like a zombie - doctors do not call you back to chat and the results of medical exams are usually returned to the doctor’s office in two weeks. Previous check-ups had never resulted in a call back. Something was wrong.
And then the phone rang again.

I held the Nokia in my hand and stared at the caller ID flashing a few seconds before I finally picked up the call.

My doctor's voice was warm, but very straight forward. She told me that the results to my tests were received and that there were abnormal cells.

“What are abnormal cells?” I asked.

“Well, cells that are not normal” was the clinical answer.

“Should I be concerned?”

“They are not pre-cancerous but they are abnormal just the same,” and then she went on to advise me to see her again for another test. She said she wanted to do a biopsy.

We must have discussed a bit more but I felt like I was sitting inside a blender while the rest of the world around me turned into a banana smoothie. Nothing she said after had registered. My thoughts were on the fun weekend I had just had with my sister and how we both had small tattoos done on our back. I thought about my plans for the coming weekend –tennis and the shopping. But the word biopsy kept coming up.

Biopsy was a big word to comprehend. I knew what it was but it was also synonymous with something I dreaded the most - cancer. I thought about people who I knew who have had cancer and have survived but also those I know who I have lost to the disease.

More self-denial. I wanted to party and pretend it wasn't happening.

"...not pre-cancerous..." her voice echoed in the hollow on my head, "but we want to make sure that's why you need to come back for another test." my doctor had said.

I stayed seated on my couch staring into space after the call and tried to process the information. I wanted to phone home but I knew I would instantly cry upon hearing my parents’s voice. I didn’t want to let my sister know either – her birthday was coming up and it wasn’t fair to have her worry.

Francis had to know. Nothing shocks him away so he is always the first to hear about all medical situations, not just mine but my sister as well. Well, the whole family actually. He asked me for the details of the test and so I had to get a copy of the results from my doctor so he could consult with his peers.

My boyfriend was travelling for work and he was on the far end of the world. If I told him I knew he would worry. He would ask questions - the same ones I had no answers to. I knew that telling him now would't accomplish anything. It would be another two weeks before he was back in the continental US and his schedule was hectic. I had to spare him from the stress.

Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind then, I told myself that I would think about it in the morning.

When I saw my friend Wally the next morning at work however, I just had to confide with her. She has an air of camling assurance that all will be alright. I have never seen her panic although I knew she was concerned.

She asked me when my follow-up exam was scheduled and offered to accompany me to the doctor’s office. I was sincerely touched but I told her that I would be better off on my own.

The doctor’s appointment is still a week away but this afternoon I have a follow up meeting with her to appease my troubled mind. I hadn’t been sleeping well and had been worrying. I had questions, I wanted answers. She instead told me to come to her office so she could answer all my questions to calm my nerves.

Six hours and counting….

Part Deux

On 26 October I walked into my doctor's appointment at 2PM and had the biopsy. It took longer than I had expected. Although there had been no pain (I had been given local anaesthesia), the experience was not something I would wish on anyone.

I had shared the initial diagnosis with very few people, only those who were closest to me - Francis, Gigi, and three close friends - including Wally and Renee who work with me.

As expected, when I told my boyfriend about the initial medical result, he became very c0ncerned. I know he wanted to be strong for me but when he was stayed awake until 4AM researching online about that specific kind of cancer, I knew he was in panic mode.

Yesterday afternoon, a week after the biopsy was done, I called my doctor's office and was told that the result of the exam was benign.

I made the call from Wally's desk. I think worse case scenario, I needed her to be next to me to catch me and I knew she would be able to do that because she was an emotionally strong woman. Of course, it felt like a heavy load had been lifted after I had been told of the result.

Medical check-ups are an effective way to keep a check on our health. Women, specially those who are sexually active and are aged 35 and above should see their OB-Gyn every year for the routine Pap smears and breast exams - if you do not know how to do it yourself.

A few days before the result was released, my boyfriend made me promise that I would change my lifestyle to make it more healthy. He wanted me to start eating vegetables (I always push the salad plate untouched) and more fruits. He wanted me to run my 3 miles in the weekends even when he is not in town.

A new lease in life on hand, I am listening and will be obedient.

Hindsight is of course, always 20/20.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Butterfly

My sister is 3 years younger than I and is the complete opposite of me.

She is the first and only Filipina woman who is a member of the United States Parachute Association (USPA) - so yes, she jumps out of planes solo with a chute and a pink helmet, she is licensed to fly small planes, she has travelled around the world as a stewardess for Philippine Airlines and prefers to live in a real house (rooms, deck, view) in the mountains of Washington state.

I, of course am the one who can't even step out onto the third floor fire escape landing of my apartment (which she uses as a balcony when my sister is staying with me) or enjoy the view from my 24th floor office. I hate planes and it is that part of travelling that is my pet peeve...and airports. Well, eventually I would love to have a real house also but I can't imagine giving up my city life. I think I am the perpetual city girl.

And so when I brought up the idea of getting a tattoo, she had given me the final nudge that had sent me off the cliff!

My friend at work and I began discussing body art about two months ago. I have always wanted to get a real tattoo. For the past two summers I have had henna painting done on my wrist of a chain of flowers or any other design that my friend might feel like painting on me. The drawings stayed on my skin for a week and a half at most.

By mid September, my friend have had his tattoo done - a tribal design encircling his bicep. He had just returned from London and was expecting that I would get mine done by my birthday so when he returned and I had no tattoo to show off he had began to joke that I have chickened out.

So when my sister came to visit me, aside from enjoying a weekend of indulging in a culinary orgy - splurging to enjoy only the best restaurants in the city, we decided to have me get my tattoo.

"Do I really want to do this?" I asked her as we were walking toward Bowery in the lower East Side.

"It's my birthday gift to you so when you begin to regret it you can always say it was because I made you do it," was her cheerful reply. Typical her.

So we walked in and were shown the many varied designs that we could have drawn on our skin. I had picked my design already - something I had found online and had always wanted on my right shoulder. What surprised me was, while we were confirming my appointment for my tattoo, Gigi also picked a design which she wanted on her left shoulder - a sanskrit phrase which read: thunder, lightning and hurricane.

After 20 minutes for mine to get done and a half hour for hers, we walked out in the New York evening painted and proud.

I have more recently read that butterflies are the most common tattoos. Mine has no special meaning. It wasn't about freedom or being the social butterfly that everyone tends to call me. I just wanted a tattoo and I wanted one that was nice, clean, simple with a hint of my favorite tinge of blue. Voila! While researching for the right one, I found it online!

Two weeks later, my butterfly with the blue wings has healed and it sits proudly on my right shoulder blade. I still adore it and I know it is sexy. I have showed it off at work and has even inspired a co-worker to get one!

This is soooo cool!

My birthday gift from Gigi

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Fear of Flying

Why do you constantly talk about death in your blog entries? Is it an obsession or a fear?

That was from a reader’s email which took a while for me to reply to.

Well, I know that the journey of life will all lead toward that destination; it is the journey to the destination that troubles me.

Since we do not know how long before we are faced with our final curtain call, I often wonder if I will be able to do as much with my life before I go. How long do I have – can I take the scenic route or should I move to the freeway? I always say that while I can, I would like to see great new places, meet interesting people, do things I have never done before. I’d certainly like to live long enough to make my parents proud after all the trouble I had given them while I was growing up!

I do not want to be that person who grew old wondering what they had done with their life other than be angry about everything or fret about a life they don’t enjoy. I don’t sit still and wish things would happen – I want to make things happen. And yet sometimes I feel like I am still missing out on so much.

If I can will it, I would certainly wish some criteria be met before I go:

  1. That I outlive my parents. When I was very young, my mom made me a promise I will not forget. It was probably while I was being reprimanded for some stupid behavior, she said that “The most unbearable thing for a parent is to bury a child. No parent can live through that kind of pain emotionally unscathed.” I made her a promise that I would try. I have so far lived to my end of the bargain.
  2. That I would live to see my daughter would be happily settled in life. Not necessarily married but settled – finding her niche in the world as I think I have. But I will let her be the judge of what she will choose in life and knowing her, I am sure she’d make better choices in life than her mother who always wore her heart on her sleeve.
  3. That I would NOT die of a lingering illness. I have little tolerance for pain and even smaller patience to endure its accompanying travesty and drama.
  4. and finally, if it isn’t asking too much, that it would at a time when I can say I have done everything I wanted to do and am ready to go.

Ok, so I fear death and its uncertainty. Why? I don’t know what it is about and when it will strike. I fear death because I do not know what is out there. Will there be pearly gates to greet us after we heave our last breath? A beam of light to take us to the beyond and then live an after life being serenaded by cherubs with harps? I certainly hope so otherwise all the efforts to be a good person seem pointless. I need my reward for not shooting down my teacher in high school when I wanted to. I want my reward for restraining myself from telling a constantly angry and complaining friend to “GET A LIFE!” I want my reward for just doing what the nuns in convent school insisted was good behavior even when I thought it shouldn’t apply in real life because not everyone tries as much to conform to such standards of morality. Ah, wait… gee, I did not listen to the nuns. BUT I DO NOT WANT TO BE PUNISHED FOR THAT TINY ERROR IN JUDGEMENT!...even if I still err in judgment on that part now and then.

I think part of my obsession about death in my entries is not about the dark, sad and morbid thoughts. It is more about humoring myself and assuring myself that it is OK to go, when it is time to go. I just hope God listens and let me enjoy some more before he switches off the lights because this is one great party of a life he has certainly given me!

The thing about death and dying is that it is pretty much about flying. Until you can jump off the edge of a building and flap your arms and float on air, you don't know what flying is about. And unfortunately, no one who has tried the jump ever came out with a book telling about the experience either.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Making Strides for Breast Cancer 2006

My first ACS Making Strides for Breast Cancer was in 2002 and I haven't missed an event since.

In the past 4 years hence, my friends and I have helped with our donations to fund programs toward the research for a cure for breast cancer, assistance in educating women about the disease and extending patient services.

Breast cancer can afflict anyone, regardless of race, economic or educational background, religion or even gender. Based on statistics posted on the ACS website, approximately 213,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the US alone. It continues to be one of the leading causes of death throughout the world but early diagnosis and cure has in the more recent years led to improving the odds.

Like last year, I will dedicate this 5 mile walk to my friend Vanj Khu and other close friends who have had close calls with Breast Cancer and have lived to tell the tale.

The ACS Making Strides for Breast Cancer will be on Sunday, 15 October 2006 in Central Park, New York City.

Unlike last year though when I had been more organized about this and had started requesting for donations a full 3 months ahead, I am hoping that this late start would minimize the procrastination and that you'd send your donations immediately! :-) Let's see how that will work!!!

You can either donate online or send me your donations personally. Either way, you will receive an email confirmation that the donation has been received by the American Cancer Society. And if you're in a walking mood that day, you can also join me and the rest of the UNITED NATIONS team on Sunday!

Those in the Philippines, please extend your donations to “I Can Serve” through this site:

Thank you all for your help!

My Donation Page:

Saturday, September 30, 2006

My Top 10 Favorite Places in the World

Of the many places I have travelled to, I decided to just pick 10:

10. Tayamaan Cove in Mamburao, Mindoro – white sand and the most perfect spot in the world to snorkel and dive. I hope tourists never discover it and putting this up on the internet is just so wrong.

9. Napa Valley, California – there are magical elements about vineyards and wineries that just seem to whisper romance.

8. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and Intramuros, Manila
– similar in so many ways, they are old walled cities with narrow cobblestone streets and formerly established to be military strongholds. In its modern day transformation, both cities reverberate with rich history.

7. My bedroom in my parent’s house in the Philippines where I have a clear view of the Manila Bay, where the horizon is often dotted with sailboats and at dusk, a great big ball of orange sunset gently seemingly sinks into the waters.

6. Washington, DC – the city is dotted with many historically significant buildings where the masters of politics come to worship and yet is not a steel and concrete jungle. The buildings remain low enough that you can see the sky and each grand edifice stands as an island surrounded by shrubbery or some kind of greenery. To me it sort of softens the image and it is just perfectly beautiful in early spring when the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin are in bloom. And also, just nearby, the quaint little university town of Georgetown.

5. The Rose Garden at the United Nations, New York – in the spring it is just the most beautiful place in the world for me, surrounded by the burst of colors from the cherry blossoms that forms a grand arch on its west side and then the scent of the many roses in bloom on its south end. It looks out to the East River and in the summer it is the best location to enjoy the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks.

4. Sanibel Island, Florida – the thunderstorms may have scared the soul out of me but I loved the beach which was littered with millions of sea shells. It is a paradise where parrots would perch on trees oblivious to the human activity below them.

3. Vieux Lyon, France – another old city, another great favorite. The ambiance of this city just draws me to wish I could live here in my next life. Secret passages called tramboules weaves through its back alleys, previously used to safely transport silk from one location to another at a time when the city was the main centre for its production and trade. I loved the small plazas and its fountains and the Fourviere which is its upper city where a majestic ancient Catholic Church stands alongside convents, and the residence of the Archbishop and can be reached by a ride on the funicular.

2. Italy – “…..fairytales can come true, it can happen to you…”

1. Central Park, New York – this is my backyard in the city. I love coming here any time of the year : in the spring when it is bursting with colorful blooms, in the summer when it offers a reprieve from the heat and humidity, in the autumn when it is painted in yellow, red and gold and in the winter when it is veiled with pristine white snow. And the tennis courts are so definitely a great plus!

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Worker Killed After Falling From Roof On East Side

September 28, 2006 : The employee of a scaffolding company died Thursday after officials say he lost his balance and fell 12 stories from the roof of 800 Second Avenue at 42nd Street at around 9 a.m.

The Department of Buildings says 21-year-old Jose Luis Melendez Gutierez of the Bronx just lost his balance on the roof and fell. The man's body landed on a lower rooftop, about two stories above the sidewalk. A fire chief on the scene says workers were in the process of either setting up or taking down the scaffolding at the time of the accident.

Melendez Gutierez was wearing a safety harness at the time, but it did not appear to be connected to anything. The Department of Buildings issued a stop work order for the site, but no violations will be handed out.

Someone died today.

No, I do not know him. I do not even know his name as Iam writing this. I only got to contemplating about his fate this afternoonas I was walking to lunch and passed by the corner of 42nd Street and 2ndAvenue.

"This is the spot where he died," my other friends told me. There was a huge pool of blood that morning and they had viewed this from the 24th floor window of our offices just across from the corner.

We only know that the guy was 21 years old. Did he wake up this morning and go throughthe usual routine he goes through everyday? He might have skipped breakfast, if he takes one, because he was running late. He hopped on the subway and bitched about the crowd or the delays in the train schedule. Did he also have a scowl on his face when he saw an officemate that he couldn't stand? Something that he must have been doing everyday at the sight of that person as I am apt to do whenever I see/hear someone I work with I can't stand.

Or maybe he woke up with grand thoughts and plans about his weekend, just happy that he had made it to Thursday and that he is just one more day away from some R&R. Did he have plans to propose to a girlfriend? Move to a new apartment? Reconcile with a neighbor? If he was single would this weekend he had hoped they'd finally be able to break the ice with someone he had eternally been flirting with? If he had a family, how would his young children live the first weekend that dad will not be around? This weekend, he won't be eating with his family or drinking with his buddies. Maybe he is a Mets or a Yankee fan - he wouldn't even know ifthere would be a subway series in October.

I have no idea how he looked like. I have no idea how he lived his life. At his funeral I am sure people will talk about the good things about him. His family and friends would probably utter something like, "he was a selfless goodman." I wonder however how his neighbors thought about him.

What would his enemies say about him? Isn't that the true measure of a person anyway?

So this morning a 21 year old guy left his house and went to work. And at 9AM, even before some of us made it to our desks, he fell from the scaffolding of the building at the corner of 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue. He fell 10 stories, one news website said. He fell 12 stories, another one said. It doesn't matter now really. He fell. He is now dead.

All that he had worked for all his life had ended at some city street corner. Some people stopped to see what the fuss was about, then rushed back to their lives, only momentarily thinking - that was one painful way to go.

Such is life.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Songs of the Sea

"Does the song of the sea end at the shore or in the hearts of those who listen to it...."

A quote from the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran. A beautiful passage and how appropriately placed in a peaceful cemetery that faces out to the Atlantic.

There is so much romance associated with the sea, the sunset that blazes its horizon or the emotions that stir in its heart - its rage in a storm or its calm sweet kisses to the shore early in the morning. I even love the smell of its saltiness. And how mysterious that it hides its many secrets including the many creatures it nurtures in its bosom.

On a very special weekend, I had the luxury to unwind in a place that is almost heaven on earth. It was my day, my friend said and so I was pampered - pedicured and manicured, groomed, massaged and steamed like dimsum in a spa.

And as my plane lifted off the stretch of runway to return me to the city, the echoes of the lapping waves against the shore stayed in my head. I smiled knowing that the songs from my weekend are not left behind and that they become embedded in my soul.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Another year older! Wiser? Am not really so sure - hahaha! One thing for sure I have started to count backwards. So in a few years I'd be ready to take off!

Birthdays always have a great way of drawing in friends -specially those who we hear from rarely, often just during birtdays (and funerals but then you don't really hear them - hahaha!). When I turned on my cellphone at the arrival gate of La Guardia, I had several voicemails including one of my sister singing/screaming Happy Birthday to me in a duet with my brother-in-law. And Francis emailed me 3 videos of 'attempts' to get Gabrielle and Liam to sing a 'Happy Birthday' to Tita Mavic. Well, the first shorts were hilarious ... Gabrielle playing the older/know-it-all sister showing off to her aunt with a tune and the younger sibling in the background goofing off, rolling around the floor in the background and just trying to ruin the objective of the moment. It was soooo funny!

To all the greeters, thanks so much! Yep! I am 22!!! (that was the lowest bid and I'm doing this in an unconventional way ).


And on my site meter hits 10,000. How cool is that?!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

In Retrospect

Five years.

Where have the losses of 9-11 taken us? What have we learned? What have we gained? What have we lost really?

And most importantly, have we healed from the pain that the events of this tragic day has wrought into our souls?

Every step forward towards healing we take several steps backward with another attack reverberating from another city - Paris, Spain, India, London, many others. Innocents are now the targets. And the enemy is varied - in faces and their ideology, their purpose.

Over the weekend, US media has played events of 9-11 over and over again. Is the purpose to sear our souls with that old stinging pain again? Doesn't it instead arouse anger and questions about why five years later we are nowhere, if not in worse situation?

Five years. After the memorials are erected, numerous ceremonies and much rhetoric we still have a huge empty hole in downtown Manhattan and questions that remain unanswered.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Birthday Reflection: 100 Things to Do Before I Die

  1. Attend at least one major sporting event: the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the U.S. Open.
  2. Throw a huge party and invite every one of your friends.
  3. Swim with a dolphin.
  4. Skydive. Gigi's forte... I have fear of heights.
  5. Have your portrait painted.
  6. Learn to speak a foreign language and make sure you use it.
  7. Go skinny-dipping at midnight in the South of France.
  8. Watch the launch of the space shuttle.
  9. Spend a whole day eating junk food without feeling guilty.
  10. Be an extra in a film.
  11. Tell someone the story of your life, sparing no details.
  12. Make love on a forest floor.
  13. Make love on a train. is my daughter reading this?
  14. Learn to rollerblade. – tried to learn but stopped just before I cut the blood supply in my friend’s arm
  15. Own a room with a view my bedroom at home in the Philippines had a fantastic sunset view of Manila Bay, my apartment now faces a park… I didn’t own but certainly owned and enjoyed the view during my stay.
  16. Brew your own beer.
  17. Learn how to take a compliment.
  18. Buy a round-the-world air ticket and a rucksack, and run away.
  19. Grow a beard and leave it for at least a month. Nah, this would be scary
  20. Give your mother a dozen red roses and tell her you love her. I buy my mom flowers not just on birthdays and special days; often just because and yes, I tell her and my dad I love them as often as I can.
  21. Be a member of the audience in a TV show.
  22. Put your name down to be a passenger on the first tourist shuttle to the moon.
  23. Send a message in a bottle.
  24. Ride a camel into the desert.
  25. Get to know your neighbors.
  26. Plant a tree. – The avocado tree behind my parent’s house
  27. Learn not to say yes when you really mean no.
  28. Write a fan letter to your all-time favorite hero or heroine.
  29. Visit the Senate and the House of Representatives to see how Congress really works.
  30. Learn to ballroom dance properly. Scheduled for winter 2006
  31. Eat jellied eels from a stall in London.
  32. Be the boss. Tech Pacific Philippines, Marketing Communications Manager 1998 - 2001
  33. Fall deeply in love -- helplessly and unconditionally. ALWAYS. There is just no other way to do it.
  34. Ride the Trans-Siberian Express across Asia.
  35. Sit on a jury.
  36. Write the novel you know you have inside you.
  37. Go to Walden Pond and read Thoreau while drifting in a canoe.
  38. Stay out all night dancing and go to work the next day without having gone home (just once). Oh, more than once – in Manila and in New York.
  39. Drink beer at Oktoberfest in Munich.
  40. Be someone's mentor. I think I have – right, Jai?
  41. Shower in a waterfall.
  42. Ask for a raise.
  43. Learn to play a musical instrument with some degree of skill.
  44. Teach someone illiterate to read.
  45. Blow all your savings and take a flight on the Concorde.
  46. Spend a night in a haunted house -- by yourself. You’re kidding right?
  47. Write down your personal mission statement, follow it, and revise it from time to time.
  48. See a lunar eclipse.
  49. Spend New Year's in an exotic location.
  50. Get passionate about a cause and spend time helping it, instead of just thinking about it. Breast cancer research – ACS Breast Cancer Walk 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006
  51. Experience weightlessness.
  52. Sing a great song in front of an audience. Song: The End of the World, Iligan City, March 1998 (Was a great song until I sang it)
  53. Ask someone you've only just met to go on a date.
  54. Drive across America from coast to coast.
  55. Make a complete and utter fool of yourself. ALWAYS
  56. Own one very expensive but absolutely wonderful business suit.
  57. Write your will.
  58. Sleep under the stars.
  59. Take a ride on the highest roller coaster in the country. No way – fear of heights
  60. Learn how to complain effectively -- and do it!
  61. Go wild in Rio during Carnival.
  62. Spend a whole day reading a great novel. A lot of times, most recently, Marley and Me by John Grogan and before that, Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  63. Forgive your parents. There had never been reason – my parents are the best in the world.
  64. Learn to juggle with three balls.
  65. Drive the Autobahn. Maybe this October?
  66. Find a job you love. I only do work that I love and that interests me – it’s my rule in life.
  67. Spend Christmas on the beach drinking pina coladas.
  68. Overcome your fear of failure.
  69. Raft through the Grand Canyon.
  70. Donate money and put your name on something: a college scholarship, a bench in the park.
  71. Buy your own house and then spend time making it into exactly what you want.
  72. Grow a garden.
  73. Spend three months getting your body into optimum shape.
  74. Drive a convertible with the top down and music blaring. Autumn 2005, New York Palisades
  75. Accept yourself for who you are. A work in progress
  76. Learn to use a microphone and give a speech in public.
  77. Scuba dive off Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
  78. Go up in a hot-air balloon. Fear of heights – no way!
  79. Attend one really huge rock concert. Summer, 2003 – Dave Matthews Band in Central Park
  80. Kiss someone you've just met on a blind date. Is my daughter reading this?
  81. Be able to handle: your tax forms, Jehovah's Witnesses, your banker, telephone solicitors.
  82. Give to a charity anonymously.
  83. Lose more money than you can afford at roulette in Vegas. No way!
  84. Let someone feed you peeled, seedless grapes.
  85. Kiss the Blarney stone and develop the gift of gab.
  86. Fart in a crowded space. Mwahahahaha!!! No way!
  87. Make love on the kitchen floor. Is my daughter reading this?
  88. Go deep sea fishing and eat your catch.
  89. Create your own web site. and
  90. Visit the Holy Land. Planned for Spring 2007, Tel Aviv & Jerusalem
  91. Make yourself spend a half-day at a concentration camp and swear never to forget.
  92. Run to the top of the Statue of Liberty. Security wouldn’t allow me
  93. Create your Family Tree. Did this for my daughter when she was born…needs updating though.
  94. Catch a ball in the stands of a major league baseball stadium.
  95. Make a hole-in-one.
  96. Ski a double-black diamond run. Snowboard counts???
  97. Learn to bartend.
  98. Run a marathon.
  99. Look into your child's eyes, see yourself, and smile
  100. Reflect on your greatest weakness, and realize how it is your greatest strength. A work in progress

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

True Bestfriends

I don’t buy books anymore. I go online and reserve them on and they email me when it is available at my library branch. I had reserved the book “Marley and Me” probably three months ago. I couldn’t believe why the cue was so long. Until last week, I was still #559 and the book was still with borrower #332. So when I went to Barnes and Noble last week I decided to get a copy of the book and brought it home.

During the long Labor Day weekend, I had taken it with me and fell in love with the sloppy Lab Retriever named Marley. Marley is clumsy, psychotic, almost retarded pet but an ever loyal and loving pet and the conditional love that he had shared with his family. Tonight after I finished the book I lay in my bed looking up at the ceiling and reminisced the many dogs I have had growing up and the memories that they had left with us. Despite that dogs are as individual as each person are, in all our dogs were a bit of Marley in many different ways. When the author, John Grogan related how the Lab had used all every ounce of determination to meet him at the door (as he always does) when it was struggling with debilitating arthritis, it was our St. Bernard, Boots who in the middle of giving birth got up to greet my dad when he came home from work (as she always does). When it was the mischievousness of tugging at the end of the toilet paper roll and then running into the room, it was our favorite Silky Terrier, Spock. When it came to their fierce loyalty and protectiveness, it was the Japanese Spitz Cookie and our part-time mutt at the farm, Whitey who ensured strangers kept their distance from us when we stayed on the beach away from the house after the sun had set.

The book have lit up that part of my soul that I had let slip away. The appreciation for the love and dedication of the purest kind. I miss the many dogs with whom I had shared many secrets with, cried about ex-boyfriends with and just maltreated with cruel high-pitched screaming when there was no one else to blame for the misery that ladens a young adolescent ugly duckling in transition (still awaiting full transformation, by the way, 20 years later).

Of course, I could get a dog in New York. I just don’t think it would be practical and fair for the animal. My lifestyle doesn’t encourage another dependent. I don’t think I have the time and resources. Dogs need to be walked – regardless of the weather, in the morning and at night. I don’t even know what time I will go home until I am home! Dogs need consistency that I cannot have. And when they do their thing, New York law requires owners to pick it up from the sidewalks and to throw it in the trash. I am major squimish. They need food, medical attention – all additional expense, and a slice I cannot find from my already stretched paycheck. And when I make my annual sojourn to Manila, who will look after it for 4 weeks? My plants would die every time I go home to the Philippines if I didn’t bring it to the office and remind people to water it!

But I miss having a dog, a loyal someone who would surrender himself and love unconditionally. Nothing puts it more precisely than how John Grogan had closed his story about his 13 year old Marley:

“… was it possible for a dog ... to point humans to the things that really mattered in life? I believed it was. Loyalty. Courage. Devotion. Simplicity. Joy. And the things that did not matter, too. A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbols mean nothing to him. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog judges other not by their color, creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you’re his. It was really quite simple, and yet we humans, so much wiser and more sophisticated, have always had trouble figuring out what really counts and what does not….sometimes it took a dog with bad breath, worse manners and pure intentions to help us see.”

Blogger's note: After you have read his book, don't forget to vote for it for the Quill Awards, you have until 30 September to give it the acclaim it deserves!

More of Marley the dog! (scenes from the movie he 'starred' in!)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

House Warming

Manhattan, NY: I have lived here in my apartment since February 2003. It is my first apartment. It is also the first time I had my name in a lease here in the US. It also happens to be the smallest, tiniest space I have ever called my residence but somehow with good humor, I have learned to love it and seems will continue to call it home for another year.

Home is a studio on a 3rd floor walk-up. It was gut-renovated and so when I got it everything was new. It has hardwood floors, a full kitchen – stove/oven, full sized two-door ref and a full sink. It is not your typical New York apartment, often basically installed with a mini bar ref and a bar sink. When I first saw the apartment with my friends Karen and Gerry, I fell in love with it.

It is quite spacious for a Manhattan studio, about 500 square feet with 10 feet high ceilings and two tall windows facing the east that welcomes the sunrise. I have a view of the park across the avenue which livens up with activity during the summer weekends and the windows have a wide ledge where I can sit. I have access to a fire escape that could function as a small balcony if not for the fact that I have an absurb fear of heights. It has laundry facilities at the basement which means I don’t have to step out in the winter to do a much dreaded chore.

When I first moved in I had a roommate. Moving in day, we cabbed from my aunt's apartment with only luggage and two inflatable beds. And so the first purchase had been two single beds then a 13” TV. Then she moved out and then the starter furniture gave way to real ones including a real full size bed. Since last year I’ve started disposing many things to make way for more space. Much as I do not really buy much, I still discover that I still accumulate a lot of stuff.

My neighboorhood - the Upper East Side/East Harlem area

It is three blocks away from the subway and the bus stop is right across the street. Everything is within walking distance – the cinemas, the shops, restaurants, bars, supermarkets (that deliver so I don’t have to carry the heavy bags up the stairs), the library. The thing I love about its location the most is that I am three blocks away from the promenade of the East River and four blocks away from Central Park.

I have invested many memories here. If these walls could talk, they’d share with you the joys, fears, frustrations and tears I had gone through adjusting to my new life away from my family and just really growing up and being on my own.

Since the onset of the year I had been contemplating about not renewing my lease, perhaps moving to another location. My boyfriend and I searched for apartments for a while – not just in Manhattan but in Brooklyn as well. I had hoped that the rent I paid for my crib could have an equivalent outside of the city but with bigger space, hopefully a one bedroom. There were some that were 'interesting' prospects but in the end, my faint heart couldn’t comprehend life outside of Manhattan. I had been assured that many people have moved out of the city and have survived. But I didn’t think I could be brave enough. And around Manhattan, the studios that were of the same price range as mine were old, rundown with musty smelly lobbies.

My lease renewal arrived tonight. A few days ago my landlord called to apologize that he would have to ask for an rent increase since he had locked my rent for the same amount since I had moved in. My friends freak out when I tell them that now I have to pay an extra $33 after my lease renewal. I shrug and acknowledge my gratitude for 'rent control' and whoever invented it. Nowhere in Manhattan can you find an apartment like mine for the amount I pay, despite the increase.

I signed on the dotted line.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Dragonboat Festival 2006

There will probably be just two or three PERFECT weekends in a year in the eastern seaboard. This week will make it to the top of the list. Almost cloudless skies, a slightly cool breeze, almost zero humidity, lots of bright sunshine. My friend and I thus joined the exodus to Willet's Point in Queens to watch the 2006 Hong Kong Dragonboat Festival.

The festival's website: Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Beyond Shiksa

In Christine Benvenuto’s book Shiksa, The Gentile Woman in the Jewish World, she tells the story of Marisa, a young Filipina and her first American boyfriend who is Jewish. They met in medical school in Manila and although they spent a lot of time together, he had made it clear that because he was Jewish and that she was a Filipina woman, there was nothing to be expected from their relationship because it “wouldn’t make the grade” with his parents. He notes that she was ‘beyond shiksa’.

Ms. Benvenuto then asks: When a gentile woman enters into a relationship with a Jew, how are the dynamics affected by her class, race and ethnicity? Can a convert who wears her otherness on her skin find a home in Judaism?

When I shared this with my Jewish friends they shrugged and noted that this was the ancient way of thinking. It is more relaxed now, they assured me. Ask someone who is in a relationship with a Jewish man and she will tell you that ‘nothing at all has changed’. There is still an aversion to intermarriage – evidenced by the refusal of many rabbi (even those from the less Orthodox stream) to officiate in such ceremonies. And the Jewish mother will continue to be non-accepting of her son’s gentile partner until she has been immersed in a mikvah.

I am Asian and there is no easy way to hide that fact; the same thing with my Christian faith, which I wear on my sleeve. I can relate to my Brazilian friend who, although is non-practicing still considers herself a Catholic. When she shares with me the horror stories of her relationship with her Jewish mother-in-law, it is not to seek my sympathy but to encourage me to steer away from the complicated.

I always say that it is difficult enough to find someone that you can get along with without putting the specifics into the picture. If I had met a man with whom I can share a mutually pleasant, stimulating and balanced relationship where there is equal respect and consideration, would I walk away simply because we worship in different ways? Isn’t there just one God, anyway? I probably wouldn’t. I definitely would stay. Especially if I know that the man sincerely loves me.

Would I convert? Maybe I would consider it but I do not know if I would find any sincerity in my decision if it were just to appease his side of the family. If I ever I would choose to be ‘in the same faith’ as him, I would think that it would be because that deep inside I would find myself believing that it gives me more peace than what I have now with my Catholicism.

In New York, which carries the next biggest population of Jews outside of Israel, a majority of Jews are more open to having inter-faith relationships. The Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) notes that in 1990, there were already 720,000 interfaith married couples. It currently estimates about a million Jews married to non-Jews. It also noted that the rate of intermarriage was 52% (website here).

The old image of the tall, blonde and white Shiksa is now also the petite Asian or the sweet curvaceous Latina. Gentiles and goys (non-Jewish male) come in all shapes and forms and each one do find their place in the hearts of young Jews. Like my friend, many of them don’t lose sleep about not being accepted into the exclusivity of the Jewish social circle.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Another one

I just had a thought. If I kept at it til the end of the summer, I would have had exactly the number of barbeques attended as how many weekends there had been from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It had been a never miss, really, that it is now the same Friday night joke between my boyfriend and me: do we have another barbeque this weekend?

Another girlfriend had given me a margarita kit as a 'summer gift'. I won't drink by myself so I decided to bring it with me to the party and before long was churning out glassfuls of frozen margarita like an expert!!!


Saturday, August 05, 2006


My dad is celebrating his 69th birthday on Monday, 7 August. I will go to mass tomorrow and give thanksgiving for the gift of a wonderful man for a father (and with an equally superb mom to boot!).

I will continue to wax poetic about my Pingping. In this lifetime there is just not enough words to put together to describe how he has influenced my life and my siblings to what we have become. No man I know has the patience, love and tolerance for his brood like he does.

He rarely got angry and when he did we knew we had crossed the line. Of the few instances that I remember when he lost his cool it had been about work, or traffic or anything else. He was very protective - not just of the family name but specially of his kids. He never got used to having my sister and I being away from home. Whenever he can, he would still find a way to press us to come home for the holidays (and I always end up flying home in time for noche buena). When we were in high school and had to go to a bivouac as part of our military training requirement, he'd drive to our campsite on our last day away with my mom to fetch us. They would pack a warm meal, fresh clothes and stuff that totally embarrassed us being in high school and smothered. Of course it didn't come across as very endearing to us back then specially for my sister who happened to be the corps commander.

Nicole will always be his favorite girl. Now in her senior year in college, my dad still insists on driving up to her dorm to fetch her in the weekends. He finds it unacceptable for his grand daughter to take the bus and commute. And then he makes sure there is a pillow for her so she can nap on the long drive home. Seems to him we will forever be his babies, regardless how old we get.

When Nicole had to go through her emergency surgery in June, Francis, Gigi and I tried to keep things under wraps from my parents until the last minute when we had all the facts and the arrangements to minimize their worry time. And during that moment when I was a wreck, I made sure that I had composed myself well before I talked to my parents to not burden them emotionally of my distance. But as soon as my father came to the phone and I heard his voice, it was goodbye composure and I was instantly bawling. His voice so comforting felt like the warm embrace I always long for when things go wrong and I am far away. The kind of love that is unspoken but is genuinely felt and is a constant presence.

Not many have been blessed with parents like mine. I thank God everyday for them and their gift of unconditional love. And I pray everyday still that they continue to stay healthy and that they may be gifted with many more years to share with us and in the successes of our lives to which they had given so much.

Happy Birthday, Pingping!!!

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Heatwave??? What heatwave???

On the second sizzling weekend of Summer '06, my Brazilian mafia got together for a barbeque (yep, seems to be every weekend now I have one - LOL). While Matt made sure there was a steady supply of food for everyone, the girls supplied the party drinks going - caipirinhas, margaritas and everything else you could think of.

Despite the weather hitting a high of 89 degrees today, we hardly noticed because perched on the balcony at our friend's 4th floor apartment, we had a good breeze now and then. When the sun finally faded behind the buildings of the upper west side, it had become much more comfortable then we started to go jammin'...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Under the Mango Tree

In the summers of my childhood, I often spent hours gazing up the dancing leaves of our mango tree. I’d sit in the shade provided by the canopy of leaves. It was there I watched the maya birds build a nest and they taught me the rewards of patience and perseverance. I can still feel how the rough cracked bark felt against my fingertips. I got acquainted with the haunting scent of blooming mango flowers. And when the leaves rustled with the summer breeze, it created a lullaby that cast a spell on my soul. Until now, when it starts to feel like everything in the world is out of sync, I close my eyes and imagine that my head is resting on the back of our wrought iron garden seat with my knees drawn to my chest, looking up the mango tree and bringing back the calming feel of being ‘home’.

Our mangoes were well-known on our street for their sweetness and in the summer it often dangled massive bunches of the heart shaped fruits that teased and taunted the passersby. Many times we had to deal with petty thieves who had creative ways to steal a bunch or two.

We enjoyed eating the mangoes when they were green – unripe, sharply sour and acerbic. And the only way to devour it at this stage is by peeling and dipping it in salty spicy bagoong (shrimp paste). Or, my mom would make an ensalada by cubing the green mangoes and mixing it with tomatoes and onions then dressing it up with the same bagoong that she made herself.

When the mangoes were near-ripe or manibalang, it would still be firm but slightly yellow inside but green outside. I’d mix some rock salt with granulated sugar and dip the mangoes with it. But the best way to eat them would be when they were at the peak of their ripeness. My mom used to slice the mango against the seed to get two fleshy portions. Then she would slash the mango flesh horizontally and vertically with the tip of a knife and then turn the flesh out from the skin to create a sweet yellow mango bonnet.

At its abundance when they ripened, we’d peel the skin off in a spiral and eat the flesh straight from the pit. Then the bright yellow juice would dribble down our chin and arms and then drip from the elbows. It was certainly NOT a first date moment.

A powerful storm had blown the tree’s main trunk to rest on the west side of the roof. For months it just rested there and created an eerie sound whenever the tree swayed with the wind during a storm. My old bedroom sat right underneath the shadow of the tree. While everyone else in the house slept through the creeks and pops and cracks that the tree made as it rubbed against the house, my imagination ran amok and many nights I scared myself to sleep.

That old house had to be torn down in 1978 and also the tree that had to give way to the construction of our new home.

Years later, I still have not enjoyed mangoes as much as I had from our old tree. In my head, the sight, sounds and smell are still alive – vibrant and strong especially when I close my eyes. Sometimes when I try really hard, I can still taste the itchiness of the fibrous end of the pit that connects to the stem and feel the stickiness of the sap that bleeds from the fruit when you pick it off from the branch.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


The first heatwave of the year had just hit the eastern seaboard and New York had been sizzling since the weekend. It was so bad I woke up early Sunday morning wondering if my airconditioner had died on me or if I was in the midst of my first 'hot flash'. Whew! Grateful that it had been neither - the temperature outside had just become way too punishing that the a/c wasn't enough to bring my apartment to my comfortable temperature. And the exasperating part about it was that there was no relief anywhere in the whole of the continental USA. From coast to coast the country was braking records in terms of heat.

Fortunately, Manhattan has little pockets of parks that sprinkle the city. Along east midtown alone, there is this tiny park at the corner of 46th Street. It had plenty of shade to offer and the soothing sound of the fountain almost lulled one to a nap. It was late morning when I took one of the seats and it was empty. It's a moment when time just stops and the world's troubles are a million miles away.

Even Katherine Hepburn Park along 47th was sleepy. A guy who was bare chested practised his martial arts move on the corner and people took to the benches whiling time away - some with their sweethearts or with their dogs. Pigeons would sometimes break the monotonous lull when they flapped their wings in unison to take flight and circle the park above the lush trees that basked in the sun. Fountains dot the south side of the park, creating a peaceful lullaby amid the peaceful haven. And when it was time, the catholic church on the north side of the park played music from its carillon. I would often come early in these wonderful days so I would have enough time to enjoy the sounds and sights just sitting in one of the benches.

This, I will tell you is heaven on earth.

This was Union Square last Sunday at around noon. It is usually much more crowded with the steps rarely a space available as people fill it to people watch and be watched. Skateboarders and soccer wannabes practise here. With the huge volume of human traffic that crisscross the area, I have no idea how they avoid accidents but I am sure many a New Yorker have had their share of rants about the dare-devils.

Closer look on the same picture provides a common snapshot of Manhattan in the summer - a small patch of grass and you have sunbathers sprawled on a towel in their bikinis.

And what this woman was doing with her friend....I have no idea. But then, this is New York!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Authentic Happiness

How happy are you? Go to the research site of the Univesity of Pennsyvania (here) and find out.

In this week's issue of my New York Metro, it takes the elusive search for happiness, noting that most New Yorkers just refuse to be happy. Why? Too many options available in every aspect of living, the aggravation brought about by the competitiveness of fellow city dwellers, a hectic lifestyle that keeps from developing meaningful relationships are among the many reasons. True enough, the level of happiness in places like Branson, Missouri is higher than Manhattan. Hmmm... makes sense but trust me, no New Yorker I know would trade their life in the city for life in Missouri for anything.

So what makes people happy? I did one of the test and this is my Authentic Happiness Inventory Score - that I am 75% relatively happier than most people my age, in my location and my profession.

Hahaha, no I didn't cheat. So if I am such a 'happy' person, how had I just gone through some tough sad times? Oh yeah - that guy had something to do with it ... . But like they say, you have to go through storms to appreciate a rainbow. Well, plenty of love and support from family and friends made me realize that I belong - a feeling that I have some kind of value to other people - a sort of reassurance that I am not living a meaningless life.

So what makes for a happier life (read here)? One is to keep it as least complicated as possible (I wrote that in a big bright Post-It and stuck it to my cubicle wall at work and in front of my desk at home). Simplify life!!!

The study also found that happier people had a higher level of spirituality (don't confuse with religiosity). Certainly there is a sense of comfort in knowing that there is a higher being much more powerful and all-righteous in control of my life than I am. So that for every challenge that I go through I can always shrug that it was meant to be because it is just the means to a great end.

So what else makes for a happier lifestyle? Being married (though might not apply to some couples I know), staying away from therapists who keep rehashing dark childhood memories (yeah, why?), throwing away the receipts after you've splurged with your credit card (you've got it, keep it and enjoy it?), have a life and not work yourself to death, be friends with people who are in the same income bracket as yourself and don't be a lawyer (lawyers are 3.6% more likely to be depressed than other professions).

Frankly, I think most New Yorkers are happier than what the study states (they have a disclaimer) probably just that a great majority hadn't taken the online test. Only in New York do strangers smile at you at the subway, where you get complimented when you are having a good hair day or when you did well in putting together your outfit for the day. New Yorkers are relatively chattier than other people I have met elsewhere, and many are quite cheerful. I have seen non-New Yorkers who bitch endlessly you've think they are waging a vendetta against the world. Really, there are more unhappier non-New Yorkers, really.

Suffice to say that the happier New Yorkers are not online most of the time filling out happiness inventory tests but are out enjoying life.

This New Yorker, however, enjoys whatever she does - online or offline...if she's in the mood for it and often, the planets are aligned just right to conspire to make her joyful.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Viva Italia!!!

Italy played their best game of all time. Proof : they are the 2006 World Cup Champions.

In New York, my friends and I came to a bar int he lower East Side at 1130 AM to realize that it was already filled to the brim with World Cup followers dressed in their ITALIA shirts or Azzuri jerseys. Some even had the Italian flag draped over their shoulders. And the game wasn't scheduled to start until 2 PM! We ended up going back to midtown to the same bar where we had watched Italy win over Germany last 4th July.

The first half of the game quickly brought a score each for the two teams. One for France for a penalty shot by team captain Zinedine Zidane and one by Italy from a headbutt by Marco Matterazi from a corner kick. The rest of the game had been a an extensive scoreless nail biter that eventually went into overtime with also no winning result. For the deciding penalty kick, Italy was perfect while France's David Trezequet missed his goal.

The burst of cheer and exaltations from most everyone at the bar signalled Italy's triumph for the World Cup. The players were a rush of blue in Berlin's stadium as they cheered, hugged, and congratulated each other.

And what a way to end his career. Zinedine Zidane, who had played a very impressive game so far displayed the worst sportsman attitude when he headbutted Marco Materrazzi in the last 10 minutes of the regular game. The powerful charge had sent Materrazzi to the ground grimacing in the pain and although the referee had missed it the first time, the assistant referee had seen it and with a red card citation, sent the team captain out of the field and into disgrace.

It is understandable that the passion and the pressure of the game can become overwhelming when you are playing to represent your country. I feel bad therefore when professional players, who are looked up to by children as their role models lose their cool and become really bad examples.

Such a waste, Zidane.... a beautiful career but a lousy exit!