Tuesday, February 23, 2021


Neighbors bearing gifts

Auntie Liling, our newest neighbor, drops by and gives Nanay fresh flowers. Auntie Liling lives in the lot next to ours. She is the sister and primary caretaker of her older brother, the retired priest, whom we refer to as Padre. Nothing thrills my mother like fresh flowers, so they're up on display at home.
  Gifts from friends and neighbors

Uncle Boy, dear brother from church, drops by to give us langka, freshly picked from his tree. People refer to seasons here by way of fruits—langka season, mango season, and so on. 

Gifts from friends and neighbors

What a blessing to have friends and neighbors!

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Vinta Sea Kelp (Leyte 1944)

Vinta Leyte

Received what may easily be one of my favorite inks—the Vinta Sea Kelp (Leyte 1944).

The Battle of the Leyte Gulf is where the Japanese were ultimately defeated at the end of WWII. Leyte is also one of the biggest producers of Kelp. This gentle green ink evokes the color of kelp as it floats in the bright clear seawaters of Leyte.

Never been to Leyte, but the green ink is a good shade, on the darker side. Not sure if it's dark enough to escape the notice of pharmacists and nurses. Whose idea was it to only use black and blue pens in medical charts anyway? For the meantime, Vinta Sea Kelp is a fine piece of work by Filipino ink makers. It will hold a special place in my private journals and notes—and, who knows, medical charts. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021


Review for oral exam. Brothers, both extremely light sleepers, call me "abnormal" because I wake up at 3 am and turn on the lights in the living room. Can't quite explain why I'm a morning person, why my mind is at its sharpest in the wee hours of the morning. It's like asking why the grass is green, and so on. Sean says he thinks a thief has broken in because my footsteps are loud, and irritating noises emerge from the kitchen when I make a pour-over. I say, "If that happens, get out of bed, and make coffee for me." When my brothers wake up at six, they will complain of the same things. After a while, they regard me with pity—their 33-year old brother, still at his notes. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Code switching

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

It's normal for people to talk in South Cotabato to answer in Hiligaynon when you ask them in Bisaya or Tagalog. I have Bisaya- and Hiligaynon-speaking cousins who perfectly understand Tagalog and English. As a doctor, it makes my patients comfortable if I speak to them in their lingua franca. I can barely scrape a workable Ilocano vocabulary, but my patients from Tantangan and some parts of Tacurong and Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, are impressed that I can say that the weather outside is napudot

Plant hunting in Polomolok, South Cotabato

One Garden, Polomolok

Friday with Sean and Hannah. Sat in the backseat and slept through the entire trip to Polomolok. Plan was to visit One Garden, which Hannah, a plant enthusiast, discovered through Facebook. Garden lady was accommodating, speaking in a charming Bisaya accent. Gave generous tips on soil formulations—mix pumice, lábhang (rice hulls), and soil in various proportions—which I barely understood. Kind lady and Hannah dropped scientific names in conversation. When they spoke of plants, you'd think they talked about people they knew.

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Visited the Strawberry-Guyabano Farm in Tupi town. Queue in the restaurant was long. Around this time, light rain greeted us and made us long for home, so we headed back to Marbel.

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Ever receding, ever diminishing

Some notes on "Notes from a Native Daughter," which appears in Joan Didion’s collection, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." 

The trip to Sacramento is “one of those trips on which the destination flickers chimerically on the horizon, ever receding, ever diminishing.” 

Beautiful essay about the Sacramento Valley, told from someone who has lived there, gone away, and come back. 

So happy that I have discovered Joan Didion. Got myself a copy of “The Year of Magical Thinking”—which is about her husband’s death. 

Friday, February 5, 2021


How I celebrated World Cancer Day on February 4

After breakfast, a doctor-friend picks me up to bring me to a hospital not far from where I live. His sister has brain tumor. Since day one of chemo, she hasn’t had seizures or headaches. My heart rejoices, cautiously and prayerfully.

When I come back to the city just before lunch time, I visit my high school classmate, admitted for another chemo cycle. She smiles, groggy from the sedatives. The breast mass is shrinking. Most of the day, she feels no pain. I caution about constipation, but she assures me she eats papaya as laxative. I say, See you in three weeks.

In the clinic, my high school PE teacher—my elementary classmates’ mother, a church mate’s best friend, my colleague’s aunt—hands me her biopsy result, confirming that the tumor is malignant. I promise her I’d give her a dose of sedative to calm her nerves on her first chemo next week.

At 5:30 PM, we head to Golden Valley. With me are my brothers and Hannah, Sean’s girlfriend. Sweaty and breathless after jogging along the perimeter, we visit Tatay’s grave. Sean clears the overgrowth. In our silence, we express how much we miss our father.

As I walk back to the car, I begin to glimpse at what may be God’s purpose for bring Tatay to glory on May 20, 2018, just a few months after I began subspecialty training in medical oncology. Cancer hits the hardest when it’s closer to home—I get this now. I understand, in clearer terms, what my patients and their families go through. The tears cried in secret, the agony of waiting for the next scan, the assurance of mortality.

My family and I pray for my patients as we say grace during dinner. “Lord, heal them.”

Thursday, February 4, 2021


After reading anything by Marilynne Robinson, I feel enhanced by her language. Jack, her newest novel about a wayward bum, the son of a minister, brings us to the American era when interracial marriages were forbidden, even punishable by law. Jack falls in love with Della, an African-American schoolteacher, with whom he shares a fondness for poetry. But he realizes soon enough that to protect Della, he must distance himself from her. Proximity will cause pain and suffering, a ticket to a hard life ahead. 

Exhausted after an exam over the weekend, I have turned to Tita Marilynne to help me pass the time. I finished the novel last night with the idea of rereading it sometime soon.


Friday, January 29, 2021

My Reading Year 2020

Books for 2020

A World of Love, Elizabeth Bowen
On Writing, Stephen King
Monstrous Devices, Damien Love
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar
Diaries, David Sedaris
Mother's Milk, Edward St. Aubyn
No One Here Belongs More Than You, Miranda July
Scenes from an Impending Marriage, Adrian Tomine
Across the Bridge, Mavis Gallant
Paris Diaries, Mavis Gallant
Traveler: Poems, Dennis Johnston
Friend of My Youth, Alice Munro
Self-Help, Lorrie Moore
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
The Nearest Thing to Life, James Wood
Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Alice Munro
Dance of the Happy Shades, Alice Munro
In the Country, Mia Alvar
HHhH, Laurent Binet
The Character of an Upright Man, Thomas Watson
Hermit in Paris, Italo Calvino
The Cost of Living, Mavis Gallant

Currently reading (January 2021):
We Shall Write Love Poems Again, Dinah Roma
The Early Stories: 1953–1975, John Updike
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
Letters of Note, Shaun Usher
Letters of John Calvin, John Calvin
Dreamweavers, Marjorie Evasco

Thursday, January 28, 2021

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Remembering Jason Polan

One year since Jason Polan passed away. Stumbled upon his blog many years ago. He wanted to draw Every Person in New York. Sketches were rudimentary, like scribbles on paper. No motive to impress; only, perhaps, to remember and have fun while doing so. 

Have been a fan since I learned of him.

From the NYT Obituary:
Mr. Polan’s signature project for the last decade or so was “Every Person in New York,” in which he set himself the admittedly impossible task of drawing everyone in New York City. He kept a robust blog of those sketches, and by the time he published a book of that title in 2015 — which he envisioned as Vol. 1 — he had drawn more than 30,000 people.

These were not sit-for-a-portrait-style drawings. They were quick sketches of people who often didn’t know they were being sketched, done on the fly, with delightfully unfinished results, as Mr. Polan wrote in the book’s introduction.

In memory of Jason Polan, here's my self-portrait. 

Jason Polan, in honor of

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Monday, January 25, 2021

Thursday, January 21, 2021

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"Claiming and acclaiming afflictions"

Juan Miguel Leandro L. Quizon's paper, Claiming and Acclaiming Afflictions: Narrative Medicine and the Articulation of Human Ailments, explores the power and usefulness of stories in healthcare. 
Narrative medicine creates a platform for a patient and everyone in the periphery to share in a point of contact to confront our mortality. To talk about the stories, to write and utter these experiences “help us to form clearings — and we are able to come together in the clearing of storytelling, and within the clearing of this human gift of mortality, that is where the freedoms emit” (Charon, 2011). These endeavors create sturdy affiliations and communities so that patients do not have to face their pains alone. What is the ultimate manifestation when readers are “moved” by a story? Action and connection....
The core is relationship-building. 
The process of narrative medicine is complex because it is not just about chronicling the patient’s or the medical health professional’s stories, but at the core of it all is relationship-building. How can patients reveal to medical health professionals or relatives their most vulnerable narratives? A level of trust is, then, imperative.

His conclusion is spot on.

I believe that articulating these experiences of illnesses contribute to that transformation and strengthening of survival and recovery methods. To narrate these medical moments is a way of claiming, reclaiming, and acclaiming health ordeals and ailments. Via creative language, we may start confronting these painful realities through the articulation of experiences....

The article comes out at the perfect time. We're a few weeks away from the second Creative Nonfiction Workshop hosted by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of the De La Salle University. 

Many thanks to Prof. Marj Evasco for sharing the link with me. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Jehu, lizard, naps, rejoicing

2 Kings is where I read about Jehu, a furious driver (2 Kings 9:20). During his 28-year reign, he slaughtered the house of Ahab, including the wicked Jezebel and all the worshippers of Baal. The account was like an episode of Game of Thrones, only that it happened in history. The Bible is so fascinating and comforting. God's justice prevails in the end. 

On this early Saturday morning, I'm the only one awake. It's 26 degrees in the living room, without any fan on. A lizard sticks to the white wall. The neighbor's cat isn't around. It usually visits the house between 3 to 4 am, hiding underneath the sofa. 

Lots of reading and studying planned for today. Might head out to the café at 8, when it opens. Resolved not to complain but to glorify God through perseverance and prayer. Wrote in my notebook, "Take fewer naps." 

An encouragement by John Calvin (via Tim Challies).

Friday, January 15, 2021

What am I doing here?

Bruce Chatwin, What Am I Doing Here

Before I visit my patients, some morning entertainment: the account of a writer finding himself in the middle of a coup in Benin. Wish I got to be friends with Bruce Chatwin. Seems like a guy who's fun to travel with. 


Thursday, January 7, 2021


Random kindness

My kid brother Sean—not a kid anymore, he's 30—barged into the room. He found me reading something in my laptop and shoved a mug in front of my face. 

"Hold this," he said. 

"What's that?"

"It's cold, don't worry." There was ice floating. "It's Vietnamese coffee," he clarified.

Sweet and bitter, with an earthy taste, it reminded me of the restaurant that served banh mi at the fourth floor of Robinson's Manila. "You made this? It's delicious. I'll take this," I said. 

He walked out of the room, resolved to make another cup for himself. 

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