Saturday, January 12, 2019


My mother's little project

I've asked my mother, who refuses to engage in social media and warns me not to post indiscriminately about her, to take random photos every day. I installed a Flickr app on her phone and iPad, and configured them to automatically upload all photos taken when she is connected to the internet. She has retired from her private practice but occasionally sees old patients for some minor dental work. Otherwise, she refers her patients to Sean and spends time indoors, with her huge flat screen TV perpetually connected to Netflix. Our conversation revolves on the series she has watched; she calls them "season-season," having learned that some items there require more than one week to finish. She sometimes prefers watching films and has sampled all sorts of them, with languages as varied as the French, Spanish, Turkish (her favorite), and now, she tells me, Korean. She also does a lot of gardening, which involves her telling Auntie Nanic, her cousin who lives with her, to transfer her potted plants from one corner to another. She has finished all the books I've asked her to read. This she can do because she has all the time in the world. I warned her that her lifestyle is sedentary. Save for her daily walks in the neighborhood, her home visits to the sick and dying, and her Bible study classes in church, she is mostly at home.

I've asked her to begin a photo project, in the hopes of getting her out of her room and into the world. I don't have permission yet to post some photos she has taken, but I did not know she is taking our little hobby seriously. Here she is, taking a photo of "ferns attached to the coconut tree," marveling the serenity of the gardens of her long-time friends the Figueroas. Many thanks to Auntie Liza Dayot--who also owns a beautiful farm place in Banga, South Cotabato--for sharing this photo of Nanay.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


All our good is in God


When midnight struck, I had a meal with my brothers, walked out to St. Paul Street to find some neighbors watching the fireworks, and returned to the bedroom with my Kindle at hand. The book was Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, edited by H. Norman Gardiner. It was printed in 1904 by the MacMillan Company, but I downloaded mine from Project Gutenberg.

A theologian in New England and considered as America's foremost intellectual and spiritual thinker (a shame that we don't year a lot about him as often), he considered himself primarily a preacher. In the book's foreword is a description of his work.

Even in his most terrific sermons he never appeals to mere hope and fear, nor to mere authority; in them, as in his theological treatises, he is bent on demonstrating, within the limits prescribed by the underlying assumptions, the reasonableness of his doctrine, its agreement with the facts of life and the constitution of things, as well as with the inspired teachings of the Word.

I can only imagine hearing him preach. YouTube hadn't been discovered then. But his pupil, Hopkins, offers us a glimpse of the manner of Jonathan Edwards's preaching.

His appearance in the desk was with a good grace, and his delivery easy, natural and very solemn. He had not a strong voice, but appeared with such gravity and solemnity, and spake with such distinctness, clearness and precision, his words were so full of ideas, set in such a plain and striking light, that few speakers have been able to demand the attention of an audience as he . . . He made but little motion of his head or hands in the desk, but spake as to discover the motion of his own heart, which tended in the most natural and effectual manner to move and affect others. . . He carried his notes into the desk with him, and read the most that he wrote; yet he was not so confined to his notes, when he wrote at large, but that, if some thoughts were suggested, while he was speaking, which did not occur when writing, and appeared to him pertinent and striking, he would deliver them; and that with as great propriety, and oftener with greater pathos, and attended with a more sensible good effect on his hearers, than all he had wrote.

The first sermon, God Glorified in Man's Dependence (1731), moved me as Jonathan Edwards's sermons generally would.

How many times this year did I find myself at the end of my strength, and in such moments, how often did God carry me through?

I write this now, with the comforts of personal restropection, because 2018 was the hardest year of my life to date: my grandmother passed away in January, my uncle Papa Eddie in March, and my father in May. Jonathan Edwards, preaching from 1 Corinthians 1:29–31, said to his congregation, and is saying to me now, hundreds of years later, by way of a timeless reminder that only books are able to accomplish:

The redeemed have all their good in God. We not only have it of him, and through him, but it consists in him; he is all our good.

Monday, December 31, 2018


Miniso unlined notebooks and fountain pen knobs


I recommend this unlined journal from Miniso—great paper for notes and doodles! It costs less than 300 pesos and is widely available. Jessica Zafra, a rabid note-taker, recommends this, too, having broken up with Moleskines because the company no longer distributes unlined notebooks in the country. I don't mind lined notebooks, as long as the paper is good.




My kid brother, Sean, after sensing that a knob on my fountain pen was loose, decided to fix it on the spot.

"Do you need to apply grease?" I asked.

"No, it looks fine. It just needs a little tightening."

He has always been good with his hands—he is, after all, a dentist—so I wasn't surprised that he did a better job at fixing my TWSBI Diamond 480 1.1 mm stubbed-fountain pen than me.

"I read online that you shouldn't tighten the knob too much when you suction the ink," he said, warning me that there could be problems if I did so.

I asked for some ink; I didn't bring anything for this trip with me. Sean is a fan of the Pilot Irishozuku Iroshizuku, but I felt it too expensive for my present purpose—doodling and writing non-sense—so I had the Lamy black instead.

I've resolved that the next time I have problems with the pens I've accumulated, I'll just have Sean check and fix them.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Friday, December 28, 2018

My Reading Year 2018

This has been a good year for reading. I wish I had read more books, but in between chemotherapy, academic reading (which I don't count as reading, in the way that I define it here, i.e., reading for pleasure), I could only squeeze in a few. Which is not to say, of course, that reading DeVita isn't pleasurable—it can be. Nevertheless, here are my most memorable reads for 2018.

[Before I launch into my list, I asked some friends and family to list their favorite reads, so I can convince non-readers to try out the habit. You can read Kuya John's top seven, Manong Ralph's top ten, and Ate Liw's many recommendations, including those that had lasting effects on her. In a sense, you are what you read. Surely, you don't want to be defined by the fact that you only read—that, too, is mildly entertaining, but there are greater joys to be had.]

My Reading Year 2018
My Reading Year 2018

1. Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin

After a year, I finished reading volumes 1-3 of John Calvin's The Institutes of the Christian Religion. I mostly read it in my Kindle during my morning commute to work, a ritual that affords me the chance to read works of literature outside of my standard readings in oncology. The Institutes now belongs to my list of favorite books of all time, along with Augustine's Confessions (which was often quoted by Calvin). Calvin's main thesis is justification by faith alone through Christ alone. It is the "alone"—the exclusivity of faith, the rejection of good works (or good works with faith), as a means to salvation—that creates the major doctrinal difference between Calvin's faith and Roman Catholicism. More here.

2. Scalia Speaks by Antonin Scalia

This book is a collection of speeches of the late US Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia known for his conservative interpretation of the US Constitution ("originalist") and his colorful and passionate opinions. At some point his book made me tear up when Nino—as his best friend, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, called him—wrote about his father and his childhood. His tributes to his friends were also moving. I wish there were more like him in government. He once said, "“If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity . . . Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.” More here.

Watch this memorable interview.

3. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddharta Mukherjee

I wrote, "It is a narrative that illustrates the value of the scientific process, and how basic sciences—molecular biology, chemistry, and physics—form the backbone of medicine's understanding of this disease. The book excels in outlining the doubts and worries of the scientific community, a reminder that uncertainties lead to scientific questions; and with the questions come the answers—not as an inevitability but as a possibility. In a situation where death is impending, any possibility spells the hope of relief, if not an actual cure." What an exciting time to be in the field of Oncology! More here.

4.5.  Love to the Uttermost by F.B. Meyer

I quoted F.B. Meyer many times this year. This work is an exposition of the Gospel of John, highlighting the love of Jesus, a love that is to the "uttermost." I'll go back to this masterpiece of Christian literature to cheer and encourage my soul. If you find printed copies of any of his books, kindly alert me.

4.5. Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living With Books by Michael Dirda

These are reflections of Washington Post book critic and Pulitzer prize winner Michael Dirda about the joys of reading. These came out initially as weekly essays he wrote for The American Scholar. He is neither snobbish nor proud, but he exudes the childlike charm of a bookworm, and he loves reading so much that he wants to convince every person to get into the habit. Towards the end of this work, he quotes Franz Kafka, "The books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation—a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us." Thanks to him, I got into a book-buying frenzy this December, having purchased Elena Ferrante's four Neapolitan books in one go because, according to him, to own a book is to own it physically. This was—and still is—a joy to read and reread. I imagine myself going back to Browsings to check his recommendations for what kind of fiction to read on holidays, what science fiction to enjoy, and so on.

5. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

President Lincoln and his dead child, in a gripping, heart-wrenching story about longing, death, and separation. What a delight—like reading an obituary in the backdrop of Dante's Inferno.

6. Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

"Paul Artreides's sister Alia is now grown up, a sarcastic, powerful, intuitive Reverend Mother, trained in the ways of the Bene Gesserit. Paul is now called the Muad'dib, the Emperor of the known worlds in the galaxy, and he has to confront opposition, intrigue, and mystery that comes with his powers." More here.

7. The Quiet Ones by Glenn Diaz

"What with all technical papers I need to write and the oncology journals I need to read, I can't get my eyes off Glenn Diaz's The Quiet Ones (Ateneo Press), winner of the 2017 Palanca Grand Prize. It is a masterful work of someone who breathes the English language in Filipino atmospheric conditions. The book is about a call center agent who gets involved in a scam and who scrambles out of Manila to escape the authorities. The details that intersperse the story make the novel riveting: such as this scene at the PGH Cancer Institute. Alvin's mother had pancreatic cancer." More here.

8. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

This book challenges the notion of love and sexuality, the way only science fiction can question our reality. A representative of the Ekumen goes to the Gethen, in the hopes of convincing the leaders of the planet to join the confederation of celestial powers. The Gethenians are ambisexual—they change sexes after a period of time. Ms. Le Guin was a writer ahead of her time. She passed away this year. More here.

9. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen

The old fascinate me. Mr. Groen is an 80-something man who lives in a nursing home in the Netherlands. A sensible, decent man, he likes to keep to himself, his diabetic friend who would lose his toes due to neuroischemic foot ulcers, and his geriatric gang that goes out once a month. He also falls in love. Asians would probably not get the point of putting their parents in these institutions, for we would rather take care of our old ourselves, in our own homes, but this book nevertheless adds to my understanding of the unique challenges posed by aging.

10. Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe by John Julius Norwich

There's so much that history can teach us, only if we allow it to. In this gripping work by John Julius Norwhich, he draws themes from history's most powerful men in Europe.

Other books I read

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

An English detective, who lost his parents in Shanghai, finds the truth about his parents. The book reminded me of the old streets of Hong Kong, for some reason.

Where Europe Begins with Yoko Tawada

I didn't enjoy this as much, unfortunately. The stories seemed weird to me.

Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings

Have you seen the BBC series, Killing Eve? It's about an awkward detective who looks into the murders committed by a trained, brilliant, beautiful sociopath. A short read but was just as thrilling as the series starring Sandra Oh. The series was painfully short. No season two yet?

The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr. Norris & Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

These reminded me of long train rides in Europe, and the many conversations I overheard there.

Boys Among Men by Jonathan Abrams

I belong to a cell group in church called Pilgrims, which is comprised of basketball-loving and -playing men, with whom I share a love for Christ and the Bible. I wasn't gifted in the sports department, so what would be the best alternative way of learning about basketball? In this book, Mr. Abrams, explores the lives of players who transitioned from high school straight to the PBA, bypassing collegiate tournaments. NBA is brimming with intrigue and malice, apparently, and all of that happens during the drafts. The young are vulnerable, and they need the support of family and friends.

Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler

"The book attempts at being coherent; it is divided in nine chapters with a preface that begins with, 'There's a branch of Christianity that promises a cure for tragedy. It is called by many names, but most often it is nicknamed 'prosperity gospel' for its bold central claim that God will give you your heart's desires: money in the bank, a healthy body, a thriving family, and boundless happiness.' But cancer is hardly coherent." More here.

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

Mr. Sedaris is among the funniest people alive. The books comes straight out of his diaries. The entries are absurdist. In reading this, I reminded myself to become more observant. Each day, each person is unique and could end up in my own journal.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

The first book that made me realize that poverty creates a culture among those living in it that they can only go as far in life as their predecessors—until someone tells them otherwise. This is a biography of the lawyer, J.D. Vance, who is proud of his Appalachian, hillbilly heritage.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

A group of inertials—men and women who have the special ability to negate powers of precogs and telepaths—is killed by a blast. The survivors go through a time warp and are subjected to rapid deterioration themselves. The panacea is a special spray called Ubik.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

By now, this must sound cliché, but the book is way better than the movie.

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

The journals of the fictional Logan Mounstuart, who comes from a privileged English background.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Mr. Murakami runs to fuel his writing. No wonder why he looks so trim!

Currently reading

What Are We Doing Here? By Marilynne Robinson
The Complete Father Brown by GK Chesterton
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
The Doctrine of Regeneration by Stephen Charnock

Never finished

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

At some point I could not take the language, as it bordered on the lascivious.

Christmas celebration 2018

Christmas 2018
With the Espinos, Fernandos, and Gesilvas

Christmas 2018
With Ate Milaine and Kuya Vance, among my dearest friends from church

Just when I've gotten used to spending Christmas alone, having been away from home for medical training, I got invited to a family gathering for the second time. There was food—Ate Milaine is a marvelous cook whose recipes pose a challenge to my self-imposed diet! There was music—cello and piano played by a wonderful home-based live band that played the songs I knew. I couldn't leave the party without a song rendition of sorts. I sang "On the Street Where You Live," among other standards, which unleashed the old soul within me—and in all of us, when I think about it now, because everyone chimed in during the chorus. There was conversation about cancer, fountain pens, and Christianity, where I learned various things about these brothers and sisters in Christ, all of whom left me with the feeling of being in heavenly company. Thank you, Espinos, Fernandos, and Gesilvas, for having me! (Photos by Ate Milaine)

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Liw's Reading Year 2018

Ate Liw, human rights lawyer and advocate, certified world peregrinator, once an English major and a dear friend, shares the most memorable reads she has had for 2018. Her global humanitarian work inspires me, but so does her travels, her book choices, and love for Jesus. She's one of the coolest, bravest, most elegant people I know, taking the road less traveled to champion the rights of the oppressed. She has has been a blessing to me and our family.

Three books with lasting effects on me

1. An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

My work allows me to witness the humanitarian consequences of overcrowded jails on persons deprived of liberty while on trial so I immediately connected with this novel. The way the story unfolds shows how each one of us can easily get caught up in a flawed justice system and how incarceration dehumanises. It is life changing to those incarcerated and alters their relationships with those outside, often in tragic ways. This novel should force us to start having conversations about punitive criminal justice systems and the lack of genuine restoration, reconciliation and rehabilitation.

2. Educated, Tara Westover

This fascinating memoir offers readers a door inside a life and world view dominated by extreme religious beliefs and how learning—culture, history, beliefs, travel—shines a light in a dark world. Definitely outstanding.

3. Last Girl, Nadia Murad

Another memoir about how holding on to extremist religious beliefs can destroy not only a single life but in the case of ISIL, trigger a genocide of the Yazidi race in Iraq. Having worked with young victims of sexual slavery and abuse, Nadia’s personal harrowing experience sadly wasn’t new to me- but the magnitude and how the entire world watched without intervention was truly shameful to read. Her resilience and her incessant quest for justice on what was done to her, her family, her community and her race will inspire if not rebuke us all from our inability to empathise and our propensity to dehumanise real tragedies happening in the world. Nadia’s extremely remarkable story should make advocates of us all against sexual violence, religious intolerance, armed conflict and injustice. Her 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Award is well deserved.

Books that gave me vicarious experiences

1. The Witch Elm, Tana French

What drives a person to kill someone and how violence and abuse affects a victim.

2 The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn

Because we need to talk about mental health more.

3. Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly

What populism brought Poland during World War II.

On worldview, perspectives and faith

1. Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
2. ISIS: inside the Army of Terror, Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan
3. Scott Sauls on suffering (and his books)
4. The Sun and Her Flowers, Rupi Kaur

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