Looking back at 2009

I made this recap video to chronicle in 2 minutes the year that was. I was in Sean's room—it's quieter there—sitting at the foot of his bed, and trying to keep my voice to a minimum. I'm 22 years old now, and I still sound like a girl. Enjoy.




UPDATE 01/05/10. Had a great laugh when my classmate, Poring Porlas, informed me this afternoon that I didn't make a video—I posted a glorified podcast. He was expecting pictures to float around. My apologies for the disappointment, Poring. I'll probably make it up to you in 2011.

Jose Dalisay's Soledad's Sister: a cold corpse from Jeddah

You march into a bookstore—any bookstore, even second-hand ones—and you wonder where the Philippine literary section is. Usually, it's there: a miniscule compared to the vast array of shelves of books imported from abroad. It's a sad sight. The books don't look as glossy or pretty as their international competitors. They don't even get as much publicity as, say, the release of a book series about glittering vampires. You'd think they're just there because some student from college would buy it for his required reading. The books, too, are mostly compilations of stories or essays of people you've barely even heard of, except of course if you studied in UP and paid close attention.  There aren't even enough novels to choose from.

I was too excited to read Soledad's Sister by Jose Dalisay. A breath of fresh air, I'd call it.  The novel reeks of everything Filipino without sounding like Noli, a contemporary look into Philippine society without sounding too scholarly, too historical. Light and hilarious, it's a story about living—and dead—people who actually move within our midst.

A casket from Jeddah arrives at Ninoy Aquino International Aiport. It bears the name of Aurora V. Cabahug, one of the six hundred or so bodies of OFWs being sent back to the country as cold corpses. The real Aurora (or Rory), however, is still alive, singing in a bar in the remote town of Paez, dreaming of somehow making a singing career in Manila. A policeman from Paez, SPO2 Walter Zamora, himself having his own personal issues (his wife left him for England, taking away their child with her), takes on the case, accompanying Rory to retrieve her sister's body back for a proper burial. The novel reaches its climax when, on their way back, the body gets stolen.

One would say that the novel has too many details, but it is precisely these that make this literary work heartwarming. You'll laugh at how one family came all the way from Pangasinan, almost the entire clan at that, to retrieve the body of a close relative. You'll be amused at how seriously the people in a municipal jail take their chess games seriously. You'll scratch your head in finding out the historical origins of a karaoke bar (a librarian decides to leave her school to continue her dead husband's legacy, this time hiring sexier women for the job). You'll agree at the descriptions of Bagumbayani, a subdivision built in phases, each phase named after a cluster: "heroes in Phase I, saints in Phase II, and flowers in Phase III."

Although I admit that I love this book (and a lot of people do, considering this was one of the finalists of the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize), I could only wish there were more of these available—novels that are about everyday things in the country, things we can relate to.

But, being part of the reading public, I can't put the blame on the writers or publishers alone. Part of this problem of lack of published contemporary novels is that we're not reading or buying enough of our own. There's simply no demand. It's about time we create one.

Writing from Koronadal City

I've never heard so many people complimenting me on my weight. My emaciated, undernourished physical status has always been an area of concern whenever I'd go home. But now, friends from church here in Koronadal seem pleased that I've gained quite a lot of weight: my cheeks look puffed, my tummy is bulging, and I don't even need a belt to wear my Levi's.

Auntie Lisa Dayot (we call everyone "auntie" and "uncle here, regardless of blood connections), who practically saw us grow before her very eyes, said something like, "You (my brothers and I) all look like men now." She told us how, when we were children, we'd go out of the building during preaching to play habulan, only to come back soaking in sweat.

We had a wonderful time in church this morning. Pastor Guilbert Enriquez spoke on 1 Timothy 1:8-17. It was a reminder to recall the true meaning of Christmas—Jesus Christ coming to earth to save sinners. Right after, we had lunch with the brethren. Too bad Kuya Caloy, our pastor in UP, couldn't make it. He's in the area to speak at a youth camp. He texted me halfway through the service if he could attend church. He said he's coming next time.

I'm going to Robinson's Place in General Santos City tomorrow to be a guest judge for the Quizmas Challenge, a regional quiz show hosted yearly by UP Soccsksargen. This whole arrangement makes me feel rather old. I'm so excited to see friends, especially Keth Dela Cruz and JP Asong.

Anyway, the entire week is packed with dinner invitations. My family has long since gotten used to the idea of not eating dinner at home during Christmas. Tomorrow, it's dinner with the Leddas. And then, dinner with the Lays. And so on. There's always lechon during these gatherings, so I'm gearing up my appetite for the parties ahead.

Oh, and am I studying for upcoming exams? Absolutely no—not in the next few days.

Thank You, Lord, for this opportunity to celebrate Your goodness.

Monthly portraits: July to December 2009

July 2009
2009-07-04

August 2009
2009-08-22

September 2009
2009-09-04

October 2009
2009-10-15

November 2009
2009-11-02

December 2009
2009-12-16

Photos taken with my laptop's built-in camera, modified with Poladroid. After all the med school stresses, it looks like I haven't changed significantly. I'll continue this project to see how I'll be evolving until I graduate on April 2014.

The English Patient

The English PatientA burned English patient is bedridden in an Italian villa. He doesn't remember his name. Hana, a nurse from Toronto, has chosen to take care of him, having decided to stay behind after the war ended. The patient has vague recollections of the past: a plane crash, a desert in Cairo. And whenever morphine shots are administered to him, he breathes the name of a woman.

The English Patient (1992) sounds a lot like poetry in prose. Michael Oondatje, originally from Sri Lanka, veers away from the traditional linear style of writing—the scenes don't come in chronological order. The tone also shifts from first- to third-person.

As a whole, it's a love story staged in a background of World War II. Hana and Kip. The English and Katharine. Unlike mainstream novels about love, this novel excels at being impersonal. Which is why I liked it: Michael Oondatje doesn't overdo storytelling.

Some lines that struck me:

“Hello Buddy, good-bye Buddy. Caring was brief. There was a contract only in death. Nothing in her spirit or past had taught her to be a nurse. But cutting her hair was a contract, and it lasted until they were bivouacked in the Villa San Girolamo north of Florence.”

“When someone speaks he looks at a mouth, not eyes and their colours, which, it seems to him, will always alter depending on the light of a room, the minute of the day. Mouths reveal insecurity or smugness or any other point of the spectrum of character. For him, they are the most intricate aspect of faces. He's never sure what an eye reveals. But he can read how mouths darken into callousness, suggest tenderness. One can often misjudge an eye from its reaction to a simple beam of sunlight.”

“With the help of an anecdote, I fell in love. Words, Caravaggio. They have a power.”

Wishlist

Dear Classmate (now I sound like Karen Montevirgen),

You probably have no idea what to give me for our Christmas exchange gift. I understand. The temptation to ask the person whose name I've drawn out from that used ice cream plastic container borders on irresistible. What 200-peso gift could possibly make someone smile? This whole guessing-game exercise gets stressful, so I want to make your life easier. Here's a list of book titles I'd be thrilled to have. They need not be brand new. There should be some of them in stores that sell second-hand books.

  • Amsterdam (Ian McEwan)
  • Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret (Judy Blume)
  • A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick)
  • Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie)
  • Money (Martin Amis)
  • The Plague (Albert Camus)
  • Rabbit, Run (John Updike)
  • Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie)
  • Soledad's Sister (Jose Dalisay, Jr.)
  • Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
A simple note written on the book would be swell; I like reading people's thoughts in their own handwriting. If you don't find any of these titles, I'd love to have a wireless mouse, too. Or a car. Merry Christmas!

. . .

UPDATE (12/20/2009). I got Soledad's Sister. Thanks, Mik! That penguin on the note was awesome.

Family Day is today!

Celebrations

I look forward to Higher Rock's Family Day each year. This doubles as the church's Christmas party, a great opportunity to know the brethren more by playing games or winning prizes with them.

Yesterday we helped out in the decorations and had a chance to preview some of the performances later this afternoon.

As I'm preparing for church, I'm doing a refresher course on the memory verses we've had for the past few months. I got that tip from a pastor who told us they'd be giving special prizes to anyone who could recite these verses first.

Family or no-family day, have a blessed Sunday, everyone!

Teachers

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) is a novel about a teacher whose influence would shape the lives of her students during the 1930's. Miss Jean Brodie is quite a character in Marcia Blaine School for Girls, a prestigious school in Edinburgh, because of her unconventional teaching methods.

Her students would be known throughout the youth as Brodie's lot.  Monica is smart but has anger issues. Rose is "famous for sex." Eunice is athletic. Sandy is insightful. Jenny is pretty. And Mary is dumb. Each character has her own peculiarities.

Instead of strictly adhering to hour-long lectures, Miss Brodie would tell her love stories, her trips to Italy, and her issues with the school administration. Education, according to her, is guiding the students to think for themselves.

The Headmistress who promulgates educational orthodoxy scorns her. If she wishes to teach "progressive" ideas, said Miss Mackay, she should work in a public school. But Miss Brodie would hear nothing of this.

Almost a spinster, Miss Brodie falls in love with a music teacher and an arts teacher. At this point, in the year 1931, her students are beginning to learn about sex. Everything suddenly has a sexual contest, and their naive conversations are both innocent and funny.

Muriel Spark does not write linearly. In one part, Sandy is already speaking as a nun. Or Mary has been killed in a fire. But the transitions are fluid. Time Magazine refers to the author's descriptions as stinging. In one episode, the Scottish teachers are described as saying good morning "with predestination in their smiles." Yes, there are many funny allusions to Calvinism here.

The books is short. I almost finished it in one night. All in all, the novel reminded me of my teachers who, like Miss Brodie, affected me in more ways that I could imagine.

Hyperion

Hyperion is among the best scifi novels I've read to date, not that I've read a lot of books in that genre.

Two weeks ago, I scrounged National Bookstore at Robinson's Place Manila for cheap books. I didn't know a thing about Dan Simmons, but I liked the cover—white with black lines arranged radially—and I got a discount: Php 213. I had no hesitations buying it.

The plot is rather complex. A huge war, an Armageddon of sorts, is about to errupt: mankind versus the Ousters. The only hope of deliverance is the pilgrimage of seven people to the planet Hyperion, home of the Time Bombs and the deadly, god-like creature called the Shrike.

The Old Earth has been destroyed, and humans now live in different planets, all under a reigning empire called the Hegemony.  The Hegemony wants to incorporate all planets into the WorldWeb at all cost. Hyperion is of particular importance because it's the only planet that confounds the predictive technologies of the Hegemony's TechnoCore. The Ousters, geneticaly-altered humans living outside the reins of the Hegemony, want to invade Hyperion, and this war serves as the backdrop of the stories of the pilgrims to the Shrike.

When you think of it, Hyperion, the first of the Hyperion Cantos trilogy, is a compilation of the the stories of each pilgrim. On the way to the Tombs, they take turns to reveal the underlying reasons for their joining the Pilgrimage, something that could potentially kill them. The stories are:

  • The Man Who Cried God (Lenard Hoyt, the priest)
  • The War Loves (Fedmahn Kassad, the soldier)
  • Hyperion Cantos (Martin Silenus, the poet)
  • The River Lethe's Taste is Bitter (Sol Weintraub, the scholar)
  • The Long Goodbye (Brawne Lamia, the detective)
  • Remembering Siri (The Consul)

The stories are unique in themselves, giving each character depth and piecing together the puzzle. Together, however, these accounts constitute a beautiful whole.

My favorite is that of Martin Silenus who wants to come back to Hyperion to finish his writing. It's one of the funniest. At one point, he gets amnesia, and all he remembers are ten cuss words. It's also very insightful. He says, ". . . As I dredged bottom scum from the slop canals, under the red gaze of the Vega Primo or crawled on hands and knees through stalactites and stalagmites of redbreather bacteria in the station's labyrinthine lungpipes, I became a poet. All I lacked were the words."

To budding writer, the character Silenus says, "Belief in one's identity as a poet or writer prior to the acid test of publication is as naive and harmless as the youthful belief in one's immorality. . . and the inevitable disillusionment is just as painful."

It took me a while to get used to the terminologies, but I appreciated Dan Simmons' creative use of language—the descriptions are rich, the flow of thought is fluid, and the subplots are unique.

My presidential candidate

Poverty

May 2010 is historical in many respects. The country will, for the first time, experience automated elections—assuming, of course, that the polls don't get cancelled in the next few months. On a more personal note, it's also my first time to vote. Like most people my age, I'm filled with a sense of urgency to know as much about the candidates as I could, their platforms first before their personalities.

So much is at stake. Times are tough, and they get tougher by the minute. Now, more than ever, this country needs good leaders, people with integrity, honesty, sense of duty, and love for the Filipino. We need people who are both competent and charismatic, idealistic but never out-of-touch with reality, tactical but not scheming.

Even before the filing of candidacy, we've already seen promotional videos of presidential wannabes. These ads feature smiling faces that seem to carry a message of hope to the despairing people, appealing primarily to the emotions rather than the intellect. A shame, really, because the person who looks and sounds the best in television isn't always the one cut out to make the toughest decisions for this nation.

Which is why I welcome television networks that feature presidential debates, avenues where the electorate can hear the candidates speak their minds. A win-win situation, if you ask me, both for the candidates and the voting public. If the candidate deserves a vote, it will naturally emanate from him—and the people will know. I don't like the idea of having someone speak for you. If you're a candidate and you can't voice out your opinion, you seriously need to think about quitting. There has got to be a way to institutionalize these debates by law. Require everyone to attend; disqualify those who can't.

I'm curious now to find out what our presidential aspirants think of certain issues. Questions about the Reproductive Health Bill have already been thrown at them, and I'm thrilled to know that more and more people are forming their choices based on the candidates' answers to these critical issues. But there are other pressing concerns.

I'd like to know more about their stand on health in general. I admit that my curiosity stems from my being a medical student, but I don't see any reason why an ordinary person wouldn't care about this issue which practically concerns everyone. I'm voting for someone who has concrete, achievable goals in promoting health. I'm voting for someone who believes that health is a right, not a privilege. I'm voting for someone who is committed to the Alma Ata Declaration of Universal Primary Health Care which advocates health for all. I'm voting for someone who is determined to allocate a higher health budget.

There are other issues we can't overlook, like corruption and abuse of power. But that deserves a separate entry altogether.

I had all the time in the world this afternoon

So I got bored. For December, I've already made two headers, the first one I took down; the second I only finished this afternoon. Out of impulse, as usual.

Here's the old header:

And here's the new one:


The taglines are derived from Your Steadfast Love (Don Moen), a song we've been singing in church lately, something that reminds me of God's faithfulness.

Let me talk about the second header now because I had a great time with it:

—I experimented with GIMP brushes; installation was breezy. Here I used the excellent vector plant foliage brushes of redheadstock, which can be downloaded for free.
—For the typography, I used Operating Instructions which is also free.
—I'm still sticking to the old color scheme (red and green). I find the combination rather refreshing.

Oh, and didn't I tell you? I've got no more exams until after Christmas break, which means more time to finish my non-academic reading.

Snippets of TRP World performances

As soon as people uploaded the videos in Youtube, I couldn't restrain myself from watching the performances again and again. I don't think it's vanity but more of unbelief. I mean, how did the class pull these off: the strenuous after-class choir practices plus the rigorous dance rehearsals, on top of looming exams?

The first year class always does the opening number. Don't even try to look for me in the video because I didn't dance. I don't dance. But I am just so proud of my classmates who did. They had to sacrifice a lot to prepare for this, but their efforts really paid off.



Here's our own choir performance. We practically occupied the entire stage, all 159 of us. And I can't keep telling people how Jana Mier looks so graceful in conducting—it just comes naturally, like she was born with the skill. The song is called Isang Lagda, written by Ryan Magtibay and arranged by Anne Barraquio.



We didn't win in the choir competition; Class 2012 did, with their song, "Huling Awit." I had the chills hearing them live, especially with the line, "Tatlong taon na lang, doktor na rin tayo . . . "



I'll link to more videos if they become available. For now, enjoy.

Walang katapat

Labing-apat, walang katapat

The imagery was almost ironic: men were in a huddle, piecing together various theatrical costumes, pouring glitters onto fabric surfaces coated with glue, and—this is where it gets weirder—enjoying their time, like they were watching an NBA finals game.

I needed to see that scene to make me realize how we've all labored hard—and some labored harder—for this year's Tao Rin Pala. If you have time, do visit Fleur De Lis Auditorium at St. Paul University, right across the street facing the UP College of Medicine. Go there early, around 6:30 5 pm, so you can reserve your seats. Admission is free.

Cheer for Class 2014, too. Our venerable class president Pito shouts, "Labing-apat," after which the entire crowd says, "Walang katapat!" Everyone's so excited I highly doubt if anyone will pay as much attention to the lectures today.

...

Class 2012 won! Their rendition of "Huling Awit" was awesome. It was a sad but hopeful song, dotted with farewells and thanks to their parents, mentors, and patients.

We didn't do so badly either. A classmate got a text from the Med Choir conductor who told her ours was the best performance of a freshman choir he has seen. Coming from someone who has been to countless TRPs, I guess that's something. Congrats, 2014.

Why I like Tim Challies

One reason is that he motivates me to read more:

I receive quite a few questions from people asking “How do you read so much?” My answer is always the same: I make the time. I use small bits of time when I have them (sitting in the barber shop, waiting for doctor’s appointments, and so on) and am deliberate about making time almost every day. I consider reading an invaluable part of my life and faith and encourage others to make time for it as well. Anyone can find time to read even just a couple of books a year. Choose your books wisely, make the time to read them, and you will see what a blessing reading can be.

December na

December almost always ushers a fun-filled end to the ending year. The air is crisp, the music is happy, and everyone is excited to go back to their families for the Christmas celebrations.

There are so many things in tow this December.

My friend, Paul Velasco, is coming back from New Zealand. He's among my closest friends, having lived in the same dorm where I stayed since our college freshman year. After more than a year, I'm seeing him again. He had better be ready to speak to me with a strong accent. His Facebook picture reveals that he lost weight—a lot of it—but whether it was Photoshopped for slimming effect, I shall confirm when I meet him in the flesh.

In the UP College of Medicine, we're all looking forward to the TRP (Tao Rin Pala), the biggest celebration in the college. I keep hoping we're going to do well in the choir competition, but I'm sure the batches ahead of us will do the same, too. Last night, I helped out prepare the props for the stage, as part of my application for the UP MSS (Medical Students Society). The org reminds me of MBBS: the application process is tedious (friends will argue that it's not), but the people are great.

Our church's family day is two weeks from now. It will be an opportunity to fellowship with the brethren. I'm excited to play the games, to recall the past memory verses (there will be a special prize!), and to simply be amazed at God's faithfulness to Higher Rock.

I'm going home, too, on December 19, right after the Diliman Lantern Parade. There's only one exam left before the official vacation. It's times like these when I hope that every month is December month.

Pushcarts

I had heard about Efren PeƱaflorida way before his name became a topic of prime time news shows. I received an email from a friend, encouraging everyone to support this Pinoy's bid to become the CNN Hero of the Year. So I did what I was told: I headed straight to the website, looked for his name, and clicked "vote."

Weeks after that, he was there on-stage, carrying a wooden trophy with his name carved on it, saying to the entire world, "You are the change that you dream, as I am the change that I dream, and collectively, we are the change that this world needs to be.”

I only knew him through the online news I had read over the net, but yesterday was the first time I actually heard him speak. He was interviewed by Kris Aquino on the Buzz. Like an ordinary non-showbiz man, untrained in speaking in front of the cameras, Efren explained what his organization, Dynamic Teen Co. (DTC), is doing. (The Inquirer also offers a brief background about this man.) His shyness was his charm.

The man used a pushcart that carried books and blackboards to teach kids on-the-spot. Only someone who understands the real value of education can do that. What's encouraging is that his organization has expanded to accommodate 2000 volunteers—that means 2000 volunteers who share his own vision—and more will be added, thanks to the media exposure he's been getting.

I must confess that I had voted for him primarily because he was a Filipino—and we know how we're unbeatable in these online voting campaigns—although I did like what he was doing when I read about it. But now Efren stands as a reminder, especially to the young, that education is important; it is worth the time and the sacrifice. After all, not everyone gets to study inside a classroom. As we have seen these past days, some kids only learn through pushcarts on the streets.

You did us proud, Efren. 

Configure Sun Cellular Wireless Broadband in Linux Ubuntu

My brother has recently subscribed to Sun Broadband Wireless. He plugs the USB stick to his Mac (it works in PC, too), waits for the signal to stabilize, and off he goes to read his email. I once asked the kind people at Sun if the stick works for Linux, and they said it won't. But I desperately needed internet in my laptop which runs on Ubuntu Linux Karmic Koala 9.10.

I searched for tutorials on installing this stick to Linux, and I came upon this site, detailing in layman's terms how to configure the wireless connection in ten easy steps. It doesn't take a nerd to understand—you simply need to change the APN from "minternet" to "fbband." And it works.

Mentor

One thing our administrators like to brag about is how different our school's curriculum is. For one—and this is the part I like best—all of us are assigned to mentors, usually a husband-wife pair, both of whom are graduates of UP College of Medicine. These mentors will meet with us occasionally to check up on how we're doing. They will help us adjust to the rigors of med school, making sure we don't commit suicide because of failed exams. And these meetings will happen for the rest of our medical education.

I'm in a mentoring group myself. Ours is a noisy batch. Ching is the only woman; the rest have testicles. Our mentors are Dr. Rodney and Belen Dofitas. So far, we've only met Ma'am Belen, but we look forward to seeing the husband soon.

Our meetings consist of small talks where Ma'am Belen asks us how we're faring in the exams, if we're having any problems at all. Usually these happen over a free meal, in some restaurant where we stuff ourselves with anything we can lay our hands on. She's kind in giving advice, tips, and stories—especially about how med school was like then during her time.

Tonight we had pizza and ice cream at Robinson's Place. All of us were there, save for Ching who had to attend to a serious matter. The timing couldn't have been more perfect: we had no exams to think of, and there are no classes tomorrow.

The conversation shifted to working abroad. Dalvie brought up the fact that almost half of each graduating class in Medicine goes to work in the States. Ma'am said that is always an option, but, for her part, she never felt the urge to go abroad. Then she gave us wise counsel: true, the pay outside is plentiful, but we must weigh the cost of the leaving. No family support, and it's harder to raise a family there.

There were many things we covered, like dealing with professors whose lectures disagree with the book, having a good time, and preparing for exams. It's different, I guess, when the advice comes from someone who's been there, done that.

I'm excited to see what happens next. Soon enough, we might do videoke or go to Tagaytay. But regardless of where we'll go, talking to Dr. Dofitas is always a breath of fresh air.

I promised

Bread

Taking a break from studying, I went outside with a camera. I noticed this bakery near my brother's apartment, and I thought the neat arrangement of the bread in the glass shelves was of photographic interest. I asked the vendor, this man on the photo, if I could take a shot. He then asked me where I'd be posting the picture. I promised I'd post it in the internet. I doubt it if he'd ever find this photo of himself, proudly displaying loaves of bread wrapped in plastic, but by any chance he does—Hi, Manong!

I'll be home for Christmas

Hanging

Yes, yes, it's probably too early for this, but I suddenly got giddy after calling my father minutes ago. He was alone in the house, lulling himself to sleep, waiting for my mother who still had patients in the clinic. I told him of the incoming exam, the choir contest, and the usual drink-your-milk matters.*

"You're really enjoying it there, huh?" he asked.

"Very much," I said, "but it gets the better of me sometimes."

"Don't worry; it won't be too long become you come home for Christmas."

What can I say? Can't wait.

Slave

Sidewalk

Whenever I'd read Paul's letters, I would imagine how he must have looked or sounded like. He practically had everything—a great education, a lofty status in society, and a comfortable wealth—before he knew Christ. But his world turned around during that episode on the road to Damascus where Jesus spoke to him.

Eventually, Paul began telling others about the great news of salvation, renouncing all worldly things, calling them rubbish (Philippians 3:8) compared to the surpassing knowledge of knowing the Lord. He became a major character in the New Testament, having written most of the books contained therein.

In introducing himself to the Romans, he called himself a slave of Christ (Romans 1:1). In those days, being called a slave was an insult, but Paul considered slavery to Christ true freedom and a great privilege. Jesus, after all, meant the world for him.

While Pastor Oscar Villa was sharing these things in church this morning, he was also asking us to examine ourselves if we have the same heart as Paul had. And now, as I'm meditating what I learned during that preaching, I ask myself if I have that Christ-is-my-master mentality, if my life is completely subject to His lordship.

Thank You, Lord, for these reminders.

Paraphernalia

Pencils are my favorite writing materials and given a choice, I'd pick a Mongol over a cheap ball-point pen. Normally, though, I'd use a Pilot G-Tech Pen (black or blue, but more of blue) whose stroke must not be less than 0.4 mm, reserving my pencil for sketching arterial branches or jotting down notes on the transcriptions.

I bought this Parker mechanical pencil last June. It's shiny, sleek, and ergonomic. It feels good to hold, and seeing personalized engraving of my name on its metal surface gives me a warm feeling. It's rather pricey for a pencil, but I console myself by thinking of it as an investment for the future.  

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Which is not to say I don't use normal pencil anymore. I still do. While its strokes are more varied and harder to control (my letters really look fat sometimes), it gives me a false feeling of being smart. Like: I'm writing a really long equation that could alter the course of world history, when all along I'm just caricaturing the sleeping classmate beside me.

Photobucket

What do you use for writing?

"Di kasing laki ng hirap kong ito / Ang ginhawang maiaalay sa 'yo."

Photobucket

The song is about making little, everyday choices. It sounds a lot like a friend talking to someone: casually at first, before the conversation climaxes to words of excitement and deep conviction, ending in a hopeful, optimistic note.

That's how Isang Lagda goes. Written by Ryan Magtibay, it vividly captures our hearts' longing to eventually serve the country as doctors. The theme is timely, as our batch is the first in history to sign the Return Service Agreement (RSA) which binds us to serve in the Philippines for at least three years right after we graduate.

Anne Barraquio, with major inputs from conductor Jana Mier and the TRP Song Committee, arranged the song, resulting to a dynamic and enjoyable melody—even hair-raising in certain parts.

The piece is our class' official entry to the upcoming Tao Rin Pala (TRP) song competition, a much anticipated event in the UP College of Medicine. This has been running since the time when my classmates' parents were still med students themselves.

This afternoon, it gave me the chills to listen to the entire class sing the song together in all four voices, and the experience was like hearing the notes in the midi file take the shape of audible, human voices. That version was far from perfect, of course, and clearly there's still a long way to go. Making 158 159 people sing together harmoniously is no easy feat.

But I'm excited to see what happens next. It's been a long time since first year med students won the title, but, who knows? We might have it in the bag this time.

How she looks like now

After a long break, we were dismayed to find Big Bertha hosting an army of bugs, maggots, and other fungal infestations. Her extremities were covered with white, powdery streaks. Her flesh was partially chewed up by the insects. On her face, worms were crawling. And she didn't smell any better.

This didn't come as a shock to us, of course. Early in the sem, we already expected the worst to happen. Joreb, our youngest, was probably even disappointed when he didn't see mushrooms sprouting.

As we were finished disinfecting her (and injuring ourselves with the itchy and painful phenol burns), relief came to us when we realized Bertha's abdominal organs were still intact, fit for anatomical study. Yesterday, we cut her open, took out her intestines, and checked to see what she had for dinner before she had died. The last part's a joke, obviously, but why I'm telling you these things, at 3:33 AM, is something I don't quite understand myself.

Missions Saturday

My church's Youth Fellowship is observing the Missions Month. So far, it has been a blessing, a time for all of us to be reminded of Jesus' Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

Last week, we had JF Salazar, youth leader of Word International (WIN) Ministries - Marikina, as guest speaker. He spoke on the sovereignty of God in missions and evangelism.

He defined sovereignty ("God is in control") and then pointed different implications of what this means for the believer. Because God is in control, we must be bold and confident in proclaiming the good news to people. The results don't lie in our hands. Although we are God's mouth piece, converting a man's heart of stone to that of a flesh is supernatural, to be accomplished by the Lord alone.

JF was quick to establish that God's sovereignty doesn't take away man's responsibility. The correct response, he said, must be to work hard to spread the gospel, carefully entrusting the results to God. He cited Paul as an example. The apostle was a staunch believer of God's sovereignty, and yet spent he practically his entire life telling people about Christ.

Young and brimming with excitement, JF gave wonderful analogies, offered Biblically-saturated insights, and served as an encouragement to all of us there.

During the program, brethren from WIN sang a song based on Ecclesiastes 12:1. How the lyrics of the song—even the funny chorus—moved us! We then had snacks where we munched marshmallows dipped in the creamy fluid coming out of the chocolate fountain.

May we live out the truth of Jesus Christ daily.

Company

I was on my way home from an ice cream shop when it dawned on me how lonely—to a degree, even depressing—dinner time has become. While the dessert (a scoop of blueberry cheesecake ice cream) and the meal I had before that (embutido, egg, and fried rice) were heavenly, something was starkly missing: the joy of having friends around the dinner table.

In undergrad, I used to eat with friends from the dorm. We'd wait for each other in the lobby at 6:30 to 7pm; if someone didn't show up, we'd text the missing person with instructions on where we'd be. Usually we'd go to Lola Lita's, the second store to the entrance of the Shopping Center, because the food was just delicious, as if it came straight from our home kitchen.

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Later on, that dinner gang was slowly dissolved. We all had our own things-to-do. I had to work overtime to finish my thesis. Others had classes. Some had already graduated. Eating together was becoming the exception rather than the rule, and I found myself eating alone with no one to pray for the meals with, no one to tell stories of how my day went. It was a sad, sad feeling, so much so that I would drag my roommate (who had eaten hours ago) to accompany me.

Now I'd like to think I'm past that stage. I no longer look for friends to eat with. I understand that everyone is busy. Sometimes I just laugh at the fact that I've lost count of how many times I've been spotted eating alone by people I know. In an ice cream shop. In McDonald's. In the mall.

But I can't help but wish that things were different. Dinner, then, would be so much fun. Iba pa rin kasi talaga kung may kasalo ka.

Luther and Jason

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Congratulations, Luther Caranguian (left) and Jason Enriquez (right) for passing the boards for Electronics and Communications Engineers!

I am witness to how the Lord has been faithful to them in five years of their university life. Jason was my roommate in freshman year; Luther occupied the room in front of ours. Since then, we've been part of the UP Dormitories Christian Fellowship. I consider these guys among the closest friends I have.

I've been encouraged by their steadfast devotion to the Lord. In college, the two of them balanced strenuous academic life with huge responsibilities in the Christian fellowship. Luther became chairperson of the UP DCF, while Jason served as president of Yakal Christian Fellowship. Given this, they still went on to graduate with honors in 2009: Luther was summa, Jason was cum laude.

And the Lord has remained faithful—they're now full-fledged engineers. To God be all glory!

Restless

My November 2009 header features a line derived from Augustine's Confessions: "Our hearts are restless 'til they find rest in Thee."

God, after all, is the supreme source of joy. Gladness flows from Him. Those who study his Word and live for Him find rest, satisfaction, and peace. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, understood this—perhaps more deeply than the rest of us do.

I've resolved to read Augustine's Confessions (translation by JK Ryan) as part of my non-academic reading for this sem. I bought a second-hand copy when I dropped by UP Diliman.

I pray that the Lord would use this to inculcate in me a deeper love for and a grander view of God. How I wish I could write the same things as Augustine did. He yearned for the Lord. He lived for His glory. He dearly loved his Savior.

Old phones and the new Nokia Ovi

Until now I could still imagine the disappointment of the man who stole my phone. This happened in 2006, the days when cell phones with colored screens were only starting to become the norm. My unit then was a battered Nokia model. I've forgotten what it was exactly; I've lost count after 8210.

There wasn't anything special with that phone, except probably the old, old messages I chose to not delete. It was worn out. The letters in the keypad were barely visible. The screen had scars. Dust had accumulated in the tiny crevices. Even the most desperate thief would think twice because it wouldn't even sell for 500 pesos.

But the man who stole my phone might have only seen it bulging from my pocket. He didn't know he was stealing something that would amount to, well, a decent jeepney fare perhaps. A shame, really. So when I alighted from the jeepney, my Nokia was gone. I felt an incision in my pocket—a good one—that now I think that man might've made a good surgeon if only he had the chance.

I've never been a die-hard fan of popular technology, but now, since we're on the subject of mobile phones, a friend recently told me about Nokia Ovi. It offers features like Ovi Mail, Ovi Share, and Ovi Store. Ovi Mail can easily be created on any Nokia mobile device and is accessible through the phone and PC. Ovi Share offers unlimited storage space for all photos, videos and audio clips for free. Ovi Store is a one-stop shop for mobile applications and content—from what I gather, there are a lot of freebies. You can read all about them here.

My current phone is a primitive Nokia model; it has worked well for me, and I have no plans of changing it. But if yours is capable of web surfing, emailing, or taking pictures, try Nokia Ovi out. Get a username, enjoy its features because, well, it's absolutely free.

Catching up over dinner

Perhaps the previous months have been too unforgiving in terms of work or school. I say this because I couldn't remember a night when my friends and I from the Youth Workers Cell ate out for dinner in the last five months. We used to do that—eating together—on a regular basis.

God has been gracious in giving us time to fellowship with each other elsewhere. One thing I cherish about my friends is their love for the Lord, something that manifests in even in dinner table conversations. I am, in Pastor Bob's words, sanctified by them.

So we all had a great time catching up with one another, listening to stories from work, or sharing online links to download this or that preaching. I feel weird saying this because we see each other every week. But food makes all the difference, I guess.

I'm sharing some pictures from A Veneto, a neat restaurant in Trinoma, where we ate.

From my side.
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The other side.
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Just as we were about to go home.
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And oh, here's Banjo's wonderful t-shirt, wonderfully demonstrating that figure of speech called irony.
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(Photos: Ate Meann)

Doing sports ministry

I had the privilege of attending a seminar on sports and recreational ministry as a way of spreading the gospel of Christ and strengthening the local churches. The three-day conference, called Winning for Christ, was held at the Higher Rock Christian Church in Timog Avenue, and it was attended both by Higher Rock members as well as brethren from other churches in the city.

Now I'm not really bestfriends with sports—basketball, least of all—but Pastor Bob Amigo was right when he told the congregation that one doesn't need to be into sports to appreciate the lessons that would be taught there. I thank the Lord for this opportunity to grow in my Christian walk.

The speaker, Pastor Rodger Oswald, is the executive director of Church Sports International, a "ministry designed to serve the local church, mission agencies, and sports parachurch ministries as they would seek to use sports and recreation as church planting or church growth tools." Pastor Rodger developed the curriculum for the Sports Ministry Department of The Master's College (run by Dr. John MacArthur's church). By God's sovereignty, Pastor Bob got in touch with Pastor Rodger, and the latter desired to speak in the Philippines.

The conference began by defining and stressing the importance of a sports ministry. By definition, sports ministry is "the careful use of any recreational or sporting activity that allows the participant to worship God, serve the church in building up the believer, and serve the lost by creating an environment to manifest Christ in actions and proclamation."

Sports is a common language among people. They won't go to church, but they'd go see a basketball match. They won't understand salvation, but they'd know what a foul means. So, the idea was, why not use sports to evangelize, to share Christ, and to show His love to the community?

Pastor Rodger spent a substantial amount of time in defense of this ministry. From what I gather, a number of pastors are opposed to this, citing that sports is sinful, idolatrous, and may pose as a stumbling block to believers. His argument was that no where in the Bible are these arguments found. Sports is inherently neutral; it is the people who do sports who are sinful. Sports and recreation ministry is biblical and culturally/historically consistent, strategic, and practically expedient.

Kito, a friend from church, told me, "This is by far the most practical church conference I've attended." I agree. After dealing with the theological, scriptural, and philosophical foundations, the conference shifted to how-to-do-its. With his wealth of experience, Pastor Rodger carefully outlined how to start a sports ministry, recruit and train leaders, do camps and training sessions evangelistically, disciple, and use competition to witness for Christ.

All these Pastor Rodger discussed despite his back ache. It was so encouraging to see how a man in his old age could be filled with so much love for the Savior, having devoted his life in bringing people to a saving knowledge of the Lord.

If you're interested in having this ministry in your local church, you can access the following websites: Crosstraining Publishing, Winning Run, Sports Outreach International, and CSI.

And if you need someone to play with, I'll be here. I'm supposed to be good in Scrabble.

Be useful during the break

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Sembreak has treated me kindly. In a week, I've finished one book, started reading two more, watched three movies in cinema, registered and volunteered for a church conference, had dinner with different sets of friends from church and school, toured a cousin around the Metro, and recovered some sleep I may have lost the past sem.

It has taken me five years to learn this valuable lesson: idleness isn't the best way to enjoy the break. It's by keeping yourself on the go, perhaps at more tolerable levels, by doing things that matter. Don't oversleep; often, that gets stressful as not sleeping at all. Go outdoors; volunteer in church; read something; pray for friends you haven't seen in a long time; be useful.

I'm counting the days until the start of classes, but I thank the Lord for His graciousness in giving me a chance to take time and smell the flowers. After a sem in the cockroach-infested, pollution-stricken Manila where I now live, I sure did miss 'em.

How did you spend your break?

Bleak


If you've watched the dystopic I am Legend, you'll find Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake familiar, but not less entertaining.

It's a story of a post-apocalytpic world where everything has crumbled. Weeds grow on asphalt roads; vines cover what used to be windows; and skulls of dead people lie scattered everywhere. All these because the entire human race has been wiped out by a deadly virus.

In the midst of the chaos, one human has survived: Snowman. His recollections of the past form the backbone of the novel. Here, Margaret Atwood excels in weaving episodes that hop from different time periods, giving the reader bits and pieces of information that sow seeds of curiosity—this she does for the first 11 chapters. Right after that, she ties all the answers to those questions, and this is where the novel gets really gripping. Everything falls into place.

The general theme is not unlike The Handmaid's Tale, the first Atwood novel I've read: the future looks hopeless. If she truly believes in what she writes (regardless if it's fiction), then she may not be a very optimistic person. The book is depressing, the supreme quality that makes it a page-turner. Who' d say it's not depressing to be alone—literally—in a world where genetically modified creatures prowl around, waiting to devour you? Atwood makes it sufficiently clear that the greatest curse in being alone is that you cannot escape your thoughts—those stories of previous loves, friendships, and family.

They haunt you.

The book indirectly discusses present-day problems we can't overlook. Atwood accomplishes this by way of exaggeration. Among these issues include the ethics of genetic engineering, internet pornography, and child trafficking. It's amazing how these things reinforce one's notion of the human condition. That of depravity.

Happy birthday, Tatay

My father

Today my father celebrates his birthday. Honestly, I've lost count how old he is, but I just know he's getting older. Whenever I get back home on Christmas, I'd notice more wrinkles, graying hair, and gradually sagging skin when I'd clutch his arms. But he has always had that smile, and that voice, and that unmistakable laugh.

I remember getting really furious at him one time; this was in first grade. He left me in the barber shop because he was doing groceries. I always hated it when he told me, "Just wait for me, Bon, I'll be back in a while," because he said that often. When he came back to fetch me, I was all teary-eyed because that barber ravaged my hair, cut it an inch shorter that what it was normally, leaving me looking like someone who'd just undergone chemo. And the worst feeling was that, I was all alone there, looking at that monstrosity happen, and I couldn't find the right words to speak because I was so young.

So as we were walking, I refused to clutch his little finger. And he sensed a lot of anger brewing within me. I've never felt so angry in my life. He didn't kneel down and look at me in the eye and say sorry. No, that wasn't Tatay's style. He simply rubbed my hair off, called me bald, and laughed a great deal.

And that laugh—oh, that unmistakable laugh—made me forget I was angry with him in the first place.

The weirdest names are in Class 2014

Just weird 

  • Rich King. I voted him as class treasurer because his name seemed appropriate. I didn't know him personally then—but guess what, he's doing a swell job extorting collecting money from us. So my vote was justified, after all.
  • Karl Babe Tagomata. I make sure I don't call him "Babe" in public because other people might misinterpret it. "Let's have lunch, Babe" just doesn't sound nice if taken out of context.
  • Joan Joseph Castillo. He insists we call him Casti, but isn't it more exciting to call a tall, macho man Jo-an? People who haven't met him might suspect a real, living hermaphrodite actually exists.
  • Jamaica Noblezada. I don't know if she was born there, but it sure is interesting to name someone after a country. To talk her, you should greet her thus, "Jamaican me crazy!" For those who don't know, she was the official beauty title holder of Miss Caloocan some two years ago. No kidding.

Nicknames that stick
  • Potpot. Godfrey Josef Torres. Don't even mistake him for a skinny guy you could bully around because this dude is muscular and can trash you any minute with his strong biceps if he wishes.
  • Apol. Apolinario Esquivel III. Really, he's a big guy—not some shrieking, girly teenager.
  • Bossing. Joseph Brazal. He's not just the boss because of his rather advanced age. He's the boss because he owns the world when he walks. And don't mess with him: he can pierce your skull with his signature long, black umbrella.
  • Ching. Just because her name is Elizabeth Ching. Even her mother calls her Ching. 
  • Mau. Just because his name is Mark Jerome Mauricio. If not for him, I wouldn't have entertained the possibility of people calling me "Cat" because I'm a Catedral.

The longest names

I could imagine them in grade school, begging the teacher for some more time because they haven't finished writing their names yet, and the quiz has already begun.
  • Tristan Jegar Josef Frederic Catindig
  • Aeron Patrick Roy Dela Cruz
  • Jose Rene Bagani Cruz 
Epilogue

I guess they are named thus because they have really cool parents—or wacky classmates. Someday, you might go to some hospital and see one of these names there, but don't you worry, because I have a gut feeling they'll make really good doctors anyway.

Bad, bad child

Believe it or not, I was a bad child. Of evil proportions.

In kindergarten, I stabbed a girl with a blunt pencil. Her arm bled, and she cried hysterically. Arianne Taborete was asking me for help because she didn't know how to draw a face. I said, "Let me finish mine first; I'll get back to you." But she was so insistent. She was tugging my right arm, effectively distorting the image I was sketching on paper. I got really mad I gripped the no. 2 Mongol pencil and embedded it straight to her brachioradialis.  She has never bothered me since.

During summer vacations, my cousins and I would play at my Lola's house. The garden was wide, lavished with swings, see-saws, and the slide. Many times Kring and I would spend the afternoons there. One day, out of a childish whim, I decided to have the slide all to myself. Instead of climbing up through the ladder (which was how it should be done, really), I decided to climb through the slopey part of the slide itself—that part where the actual sliding was done. I don't know why I did that, but it sure did feel more satisfying.

Along came Kring who was just behind me, climbing in the same way that I was doing it. I told her sternly, "Get off the slide," just as I was about to each the peak. She didn't back off. So I kicked her, until she fell off, tumbling down to my grandmother's newly-mowed bermuda grass. Her eyes were all white. She was cold and clammy. And something medical had to be done to her. Hours later, when Kring was a whole lot better, Mama Titin (my aunt and Kring's mother, but that's how we used to call her) asked what happened.

With a stern look, I said, "It's all Kring's fault," concocting this web of lies that sounded like it was the truth. I was so convincing I even convinced my cousin Kring, who simply said, "Yes, Lance's right."

These things—and many more—I recalled as I answered Katrina Magallanes' how-well-do-you-know-me quiz in Facebook. I'm not a big fan of Facebook precisely because of these quizzes (I mean, do I really have to know how many Zombies you've killed?), but this was Katrina. I've known her since we were eight. So I answered it.

And among the questions there was:

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Let me tell you that the answer isn't A.

This started a rather interesting thread of comments from old friends.

John Mark Sunga wrote, "Talaga? Pinutol mo buhok ni Lance n'ung Grade 2? Hahaha."

Vanessa Gumban wrote, "KAT! I thought you stabbed Lance's hand with a pencil? Or was that someone else?" Well, that someone else is me.

To these Katrina replied, "Oo, I cut Lance's hair during Grade 2 kasi he was teasing me kay Romeo Nataya [one of our classmates.] I can never forget that kasi pinatawag ako ni Teacher Celie, and I also cried n'ung pinagalitan niya ako."

Believe it or not, I was a bad child. And all it took was Katrina's pair scissors to mellow me down. It's one thing to tease someone. It's another to actually cut someone's strand of hair. I felt really bad and defeated, but Kat knew her way. Well, on hindsight, it makes me feel better that she did have her share of crying, too.

Note on the door



A fit of nostalgia came upon me as I downloaded the files I had originally uploaded in Geocities, the first online file hosting site I used when I started this blog on 2004. For some reason, Yahoo decided to close it. I got the email notification to retrieve my files while I still could.

This was the note I posted at my door (Room B17) at Kalayaan Residence Hall. It's a quote from Galatians 2:20, handwritten by me. I took a photo of this using Myx's Nokia camera phone, the first few ones that had colored screens. I haven't seen my friends in a long while. I wonder where they are. I'm missing the good ol' days.

Getting all neurological

It's funny—no, amusing—how my things-to-do can accumulate so fast in so short a time. Ah, the unmistakable sign of a looming sembreak. I've just finished reviewing for two Wednesday exams, but I'm still up and about because I'm preparing for the neurological preceptorials later. From what I gather, the entire first year class will be meeting a neuro patient. And then, the assigned consultant (a very smart, usually old, experienced doctor) will each teach us how to do the proper techniques.

We'll ask nice, little questions—like real doctors. Behind the cloak of forced confidence, we're crossing our fingers that we don't forget our mnemonics. Imagine what a turn-off that would be if, in the middle of asking for the patient's medical history, there's going to be a two-minute lag time because—wait, what does "S" stand for again?

I don't know how things will turn out tomorrow. "Meeting patients actually scares me," said Jana a while ago, and I sort of agree with her. Let's hope we don't mess up with this one.

The after-exam meditation

After every exam, I look forward to going back to my apartment. I don't like staying out too much, especially after I've subjected my brain to what could only be described as a mental torture—or, almost always, an intricate guessing game. Peace and quiet and dreams make up my ideal detoxifying activity. Others prefer alcohol, some a thousand rounds of videoke, but nothing beats a good eight-hour sleep.

Usually my roommate would be out with his own set of friends, so I'd have the entire room to myself. I've long since realized the importance of having some quiet time alone—I hear my thoughts more clearly and see things in different ways. Which is to say that I do a lot of thinking as I rock myself to sleep.

So, yes, I've been thinking of many things lately.

Foremost of which is—am I ever going to be a doctor, and will I be a good one? I ask myself this because at the rate of how I'm learning things, the future seems bleak. I hardly retain anything, and, as my classmate Roger said, "It's all short-term." Casti told me that the first two years of med school was meant to be this way—information overload—and that the more exciting learning happens in the third year.

Despite my efforts to learn for the sake of learning, I'm often left with no choice but to study just to pass. A typical case of a willing spirit and a weak flesh, come to think of it. That's why I appreciate how Dr. Quintos, one of our lecturers, has constantly reminded the class to learn in order to understand, telling us that exam scores are hardly a manifestation of one's learning. They're simply a gauge of performance. The student probably knows a whole lot more than the answers to the exam questions. I can't agree with him more.

But lest I create the impression that I'm drowning in a sea of frustrations, let me tell you that I'm actually having fun. Slowly, I'm actually getting the hang of it. And the Lord—the faithful, merciful, gracious Lord—is my help. This semester, which is about to end in a couple of weeks, has led me to see the end of myself and to trust in Him alone.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get some sleep now.

Doubt

Sister Aloysious Beauvier—some name, huh?—played by Meryl Streep is the principal of a church-run school. One of the teachers is Sister James (Amy Adams) who reports that a black student in her class came back with alcohol in his breath after a private meeting with Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the parish priest. When Sister James confides this to Sister Aloysious, the principal is convinced that the priest abused the child—she just knew.

Father Flynn is confronted, of course, so he demands for further proof. But there isn't any, except for the deep-seated conviction of Sister Aloysious, who is, at that point, determined to remove the priest from the school.

When, in the middle of the movie, Father Flynn begins his sermon on gossip, mainly to refute the accusations against him, I knew I was going to enjoy Doubt.

In the pulpit, he tells of a story of a woman who came to a priest to confess because she spread malicious gossip against her neighbor. The priest advised her to go back to her house, cut her pillow, and throw the contents outside of her window. The feathers flew in all places, she told the priest when she came back to him. In the movie, this is the scene where the feathers fall like white snow in slow motion. The priest then told her that, for her to be forgiven, she had to gather each feather again. The woman said that it was impossible. Exactly my point, the priest said. That is gossip. You can't take back what you've said.

Sister James is torn, as she is unsure of what she saw. Father Flynn's story seemed reasonable enough, but she finds it hard to disagree with the principal, too. To whom will she take side on?

The movie illustrates how sowing doubt can destroy a person's credibility, and that people often act, not with the firm knowledge of the truth but with the fake semblance of it—a gut feeling, perhaps.

I enjoyed Doubt immensely. It's well-crafted and intelligent. Go see it.

The angriest photo I have so far

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My brother took this while we were in McDonald's Kalayaan to sap some WiFi. From the looks of it, I'm about to stab someone to death when the truth is, I'm just reading my email. You go tell your friends to take a snapshot of you when you least expect it, and you'll be surprised at the facial expressions you could sport. Once, I told a friend he could swallow a planet (or something to that effect) when he yawned in class. I think he only half-believed me because I didn't have photographic evidence.

I praise God for the swell time I've had this past week. Classes have been cancelled because of the typhoon. As a result, class schedules will be moved. That means sem break will no longer be two weeks but one. It's a bittersweet feeling.

What to do when there's a knee-deep flood outside your house

Think of deadly bacteria or parasites wriggling in the water.
Despise the piles of garbage trapped in canals.
Blame the government for not making better drainage systems.
Contemplate joining the half-naked kids who are swimming.
Don't mind the flood—or the rain—at all. You have two big exams next week.
Pray.

Wig

I haven't seen my mother in months, so I was excited to meet her last Monday. The timing was perfect: it was a holiday, and no exams were in tow for the week.

It's weird how I get to miss my mother so much when I'm not with her, the painful longing only to be displaced by a deep-seated familiarity once I see her again. Distance may separate us, yes, but my mother will always be my mother.

My parents' text messages

My parents were, for the most part, repulsed by technology. Only after my mother bought a cell phone a couple of years back did she realize it wasn't impossible to learn these things—texting, like almost everything else, can be mastered by practice. My father soon caught the interest and used a hand-me-down model from Sean.

Since then, it became easier to contact them, although my father usually leaves his phone at home when he visits the farm. I call them often, usually at times when the words on my books no longer make sense, or when I feel like the world is crashing down on me, or when I want to have a taste of home.

When I told them I passed the exam:
All glory and honor belong to God alone, keep up your good work. I'm proud of you, Lance.

When I told them I was bogged down:
Ok, have patience and perseverance.

When I told them I failed:
Lance, don't give up. Maybe God has a purpose. Don't be discouraged.

When I didn't text them for the day:
Lance, howdy? Hope di stressful ang araw mo.
Tatay makes me laugh like no other person could. He makes sure I have a stack of Sustagen and biscuits in my apartment. I think his greatest fear is to hear the news that I fainted in school because of an empty stomach. You see, that happened once in Kindergarten, and he's determined not to let that happen again.

Nanay likes hearing my narratives and always offers words of advice. Talking to her is better than the best pain killer. She's a better texter than my father.

I'm thankful for my parents, of course, and often, I feel that I do not deserve all their sacrifices. But I'm even more thankful to God, whose love for me is a gazillion times more. He, too, hears me out in better ways than my parents do, and I don't even need a Globe SIM to talk to Him.
"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with out weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Alex and Brett Harris' Do Hard Things: choosing a life of inconvenience to pursue God's agenda

Two weeks ago, I decided to leave my medical books for the moment and read something else. So I grabbed Alex and Brett Harris' book, Do Hard Things, from my brother's library. My original intention was only to finish a chapter or two, but book was—and still is—so relevant that I just couldn't put it down.

First, a word on the authors: Alex and Brett Harris are twin brothers who started the Christian teen website, The Rebelution, in 2005. In case you're wondering, they're the younger siblings of popular author, Joshua Harris ("I Kissed Dating Goodbye").

Their message is clear: rebel against the low expectations of today's culture by choosing to do hard things for the glory of God. The word rebelution has come to mean rebellion against low expectations, a call to the younger generation to step up to the challenges of life by doing the hard things, the things that truly matter. The ideas you'll read in the blog are essentially the ones you'll read in the book.

The book begins by arguing that the young can—and should—rise to the occasion to do significant things, debunking what is otherwise known as the myth of adolescence. Our generation often makes adolescence—this limbo between childhood and adulthood—as an excuse not to accept hard responsibilities or to act maturely.

The authors then proceed to encouraging the youth to leave their comfort zones. They cite true-to-life examples of teens who led massive political campaigns, initiated projects to raise money for the poor, and stood up against violence. I personally had a great time reading this because two of the more prominent examples are Filipinos.

The book ends by encouraging everyone to join the movement, to make a difference in this world. As a final word, Alex and Brett share the gospel, the story of Jesus Christ who did the hardest thing in the world—to die for our sins.

The book is easy to read but hard to digest. It's practical, theologically sound, and relevant. I highly recommend it.

Motivated to study

For His glory

A friend emailed the news of the death of arguably the world's oldest pupil. Joseph Stephen Kimani Nganga Maruge was 89.

The story reported, "Maruge accomplished his biggest goal—being able to read the Bible—but he remained shy of completing primary school." The line stood out of the screen that I just had to pause to read it again.

In his old age, his sole motivation was to be able to read the Bible all by himself, letting the "word of Christ richly dwell within [him]" (Colossians 3:16). He devoted what remained of his strength to study God's word. Now I don't know his spiritual condition, but I could only hope that he did it out of a desire to know God more.

That's the ultimate purpose of education, I guess—to know God and His greatness. We study medicine to appreciate the glory of God in how our bodies operate. We study law to marvel at His justice. We study nursing to be amazed at how He cares for us. We study science to marvel at the intricacies of of His creation.

So we must approach our books, homeworks, and reports with a God-glorifying perspective: I want to know You more through the things I study.

Bundle of balloons

Up there

The old fascinate me. Perhaps that's among the reasons why, apart from other people's nudging, I watched Up, a Disney-Pixar animation about a man rediscovering the joy of adventure and fulfilling his childhood promises even in his old age.

I love the storyline and the way it's told. The characters act like genuine people; the events are almost true-to-life. Never mind the fact that a bundle of balloons can defy gravity and lift an entire house up. Or that a boy can stay far too long from his house without getting an angry call from his parents. Or that an old man can walk for miles without breaking his knees.

It's Up's story the captivated me—its depth, color, and ultimately its message. Live your dreams. Remember the ones you love. Fulfill your promises—don't hesitate to make new ones.

This is what makes Pixar great—the movies it makes can be enjoyed by both young and old, but at different levels of interpretation.

There are films that move me for reasons I can't fully explain: this is one of them. Whenever I see balloons, I see an old house flying with it, and an old man who did not forget to live his dreams.

Undeserved rest

I've been on vacation for the past three days. That means that instead of slaving away, studying for the upcoming Friday exam, I decided to take a break—no matter how short-lived—because, well, it's about time.



August 21. I went to Star City with good, old friends from DCF. Most of them are already working, and it's been a blessing hearing how the Lord has worked in their respective workplaces. After the exhausting rides, we ended the night with a dinner, then we shared our prayer requests and other concerns. We prayed thereafter. What refreshment for the soul their company has been!

August 22. I spent the whole day at home (in my Manila apartment, that is), and alternately flipped through the class transcriptions in between sleep.

August 23. I met up with Dianne and Wegs at the SM Mall of Asia. Di treated us to the Time Traveler's Wife, the movie. We've all read the book by Audrey Niffenegger, so we knew what the story was about. My friends haven't changed one bit. All in all, it was a great time catching up with them. Di is enjoying her research work with shrimp, while Wegs is trying all sorts of neat things.

I don't believe it myself, but for these past three days I've felt like I've been on one, long semestral break. I feel so revived, so energized, and I thank the Lord for this undeserved rest.

HT: Razel for the photo.

Folks from my small group discussion in OS 201



From right: Hope, Clare, Bon, Cons (below), Isabel, Carlo and Aries (back), myself, Xiomai (that's what she's called, seriously), and Schubert. HT: Gino Gomez.

We try to sound convincing even if we're not sure of the answers, and we try not to laugh when someone concocts intelligent guesses. These meetings are more fun than they are stressful.

Two empty seats

The fact is, two of us have quit. For the meantime, at least, but we don't know if they'll ever come back. From the 160 wide-eyed members of UP College of Medicine Class of 2014, we're down to 158.

And, I'm sad to say, more and more people might follow suit.

I suppose that to be a doctor, more than anything else, is a calling. Which is why, as early as the freshmen orientations, we were asked to evaluate our passion for medicine. If we didn't see ourselves as doctors, we might as well quit. It's not an easy life, they said, so we had better be sure this was what we wanted.

Clearly some of us were unsure. Torn between pursuing a PhD or an MD, this classmate who quit told me wanted to "give med school a try." Just before he left, I asked him if he was at peace with his decision. He said yes. I'll miss seeing him around.

I haven't talked to my other classmate, but she was so kind enough to send me a message that she was sorry she didn't say goodbye. I've always had the impression that she'd make a good doctor: she was smart, emphatic, and she seemed to really like what she was doing. Little did I know that she, too, didn't see herself as a doctor in the long run.

To many, what they did might seem like a waste. To have entered the UP College of Medicine was a feat in itself, and they let a wonderful opportunity pass. But, looking at it from a different perspective, I'm amazed at their courage. They clearly knew what they wanted—or did not want—and they pursued it. After all, what's the point of doing something that you're not passionate about? That would amount to nothing short of a punishment.

In class, we prayed for them. They're practically at the crossroads right now, and they need all the guidance they can get.

Tomorrow, when I go back to the classroom, I'll be missing the people who used to occupy those two empty seats.

Goodbye

We had our last dinner with Kuya Dave tonight. Although I've already written a blog entry about him, his leaving the Philippines hasn't sunk in on me yet. Which is probably why I am, to this point, still making sense of the sadness—or whatever lonely emotion it is I'm feeling presently.

Why do our loved ones have to go away?

Over dinner we asked him what he'd do when he gets back to Wales, UK. He's continuing his ministry there. With his wife, he's going around the churches that have supported him as well as the universities he's affiliated with.

"Are your friends still there?" I asked. After all, he's been out of Wales for more or less 40 years, having begun his cross-national ministry work in Japan first and then the Philippines. He speaks fluent Japanese, by the way, but can't manage to do Filipino.

"They're either dead—or dying," he said. "But I'll be meeting their grandchildren."

We said we'd come visit him when we have the money.

"Don't come during winter. The beach there is wonderful during summer," he said. Right, Kuya Dave, as if we can manage to go there. We can't even find enough funds to go to, well, the hypothetical island Bongga-bongga.

He said he'd annoy the Welsh by pretending he's American. The Welsh hate the Americans. He'd say, "Hey, guys" (as opposed to the British version, "Hullo, lads") and that would make their blood boil. Ah, dear ol' Kuya Dave.

He gave me a desk pen holder and a copy of his last preaching in Yakal Christian Fellowship.

View from the window

Over dinner, I took note of the last words he said to me:

"I thought you were coming as Angel Gabriel, all dressed in white," referring to my school uniform.

"When you get back [after tonight's dinner], will you be studying how to cut people up?"

And he referred to me as a "surgeon," to which I wanted to say, "It might take a while for that to happen."

We all prayed, the entire gang, and bid him goodbye. Have a safe trip, Kuya Dave, and may the Lord be with you always.

Our dear Kuya Dave



Photo: Yakal Christian Fellowship, 2006. From right: Paul Velasco, Riza Leonzon, Es Duhaylungsod (sitting), Remrick Patagan, Jaylord Tan Tian, Dave Griffiths, Shean Chiva, myself, Jason Enriquez, Razel Tomacder (sitting)

I've been to UP Diliman again three days ago to attend Kuya Dave Griffiths despedida—a farewell party of sorts hosted by the Dormitories Christian Fellowship (DCF). Now retiring, he's going back to Wales, United Kingdom with his wife after more than 20 years of missionary work in the Philippines.

After he gave his last preaching, people from DCF from different generations gave their testimonials of Kuya Dave. One recurring theme was how Kuya Dave became a father-figure to them. It was all very emotional, very personal, and that's the way it should be, I think. Kuya Dave didn't do campus ministry for the sake of doing it: he did it with a passionate love for the glory of God. And in the process of doing so, he has touched different lives.

Oh, I'll dearly miss his slaps on the back, his witticisms, his deep, baritone voice that resonated whenever we sang in worship, his type-written handouts, the Talking-Tagalog-Times, and of course, that delectable English dessert called the trifle.

I can only wish that, like Kuya Dave, the Lord would allow me to be spent for Him, even in my old age.

Wedding of the year

I intentionally didn't do any studying this weekend to attend the much-awaited wedding of two of my good friends from church, Kuya Moncie Casas and Ate Rae Rivera.

They're the first couple in my close circle of friends in Higher Rock to marry, so imagine our excitement from the moment we learned they were a couple up to the time they announced their marriage date. My radar for romantic love is as slow as my internet connection during typhoons, so when I heard about the engagement, it fell right smack into my face—they're so right for each other!

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I arrived just about on time in Higher Rock in Timog Avenue, Quezon City, and when the elevator doors were opened, I saw Kuya Moncie, dressed in a smart brown suit. He was smiling, looking terribly tense, with beads of sweat on his face. Only two of us were there, and so I asked if I could take his picture to commemorate the happy end of his single blessedness.

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Everyone was busy in the registration, taking guests to the correct tables. The great thing about this wedding is that it was largely a team effort: people in church helped out gladly. These pretty smiling faces are my ates in church, and during the reception, they would sing a Broadway version of Mama Mia for the newly weds.

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I haven't been to a lot of weddings, but here, I heard the most memorable wedding vows. Kuya Moncie said his in a most creative manner, and Ate Rae in the same way. I was blessed with their understanding of the centrality of Christ in the marriage, and the value of following after His pattern of loving each other as He loved the Church.

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Pastor Bob Amigo's message was evangelistic, centering on the fact that marriage is a union of two sinners. He zeroed in on sin and the grace shown by Christ when He died on the cross.

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Here's our dear Kuya Lito Sto. Domingo, our youth pastor, who was among the principal sponsors.

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I'm not officially part of the wedding team, but I had the joy of helping out in the layout and printing of the wedding programme. Ate Krystal Mercado is the odd (wo)man out, having changed into more casual clothes after the ceremonies.

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My brother was in a black suit, while I wore my barong. Filipino-American Friendship Day ba ito?

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So that ends the wedding. They're officially Mr and Mrs Jose Ramon Casas. Let's pray for them as they begin their marriage.

And, if ever they read this, I'd like to offer two name suggestions for their first two children, Lord-willing: Do-rae-mon and Mon-te-rae. How cool, right?

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