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.