A foreign encounter

It's 10:30 pm, Saturday night, and the coffee shop is packed. Two tables away, girls in college uniforms are giggling, disrupting what should otherwise be a quiet evening. I wish I could shut them up—their high-pitched voices restrict the flow of information to my brain—but social grace tells me to leave them alone.

To my right, a Caucasian man looks amused as he reads through his book, oblivious to the noise.

All over the place, students bury their heads in books, plug white earphones into their external auditory canals, fixate their eyes onto their laptop monitors—and these they do for hours, only to be interrupted by occasional sips of Php 150 worth of coffee. Kids these days hardly apply for library permits; they just pop into the nearest Starbucks to prepare for their tests.

As I'm engrossed in coloring my photocopied references with green highlights, a man who unmistakably looks Japanese comes near and stares at the notes sprawled on my table.

I desperately hope he isn't a child molester who has mistaken me for a 13-year old kid he can abuse. "Yes?" I ask. I detect a smell of cigarette.

"I'm sorry, I just got curious when I saw your notes," he says. "This is a pelvis, and this . . . the sacrum." He points at the diagram. For a Japanese, he speaks English exceptionally well.

He tells me he's a doctor who studied in Sydney. He's been practicing there for 10 years now.

"What do you do exactly?" 

"I fix broken joints here," he says, pointing to the sacroiliac joint, "or when this gets fractured," now referring to the area of the pubic symphysis. "I'm here for a vacation."

He's a curious guy. When he learns I'm a medical student, he asks me where I study. "There are so many things to remember, right? But don't worry. You'll understand more of them when you rotate in the hospital."

"I hope I'll reach that stage," I say. He assures me I will.

"Oh, is there a bookstore in your University?" he asks.

"No, I'm sorry, but there's a store nearby." I write the address on a yellow pad. "It should be open by 9 am on weekdays."

He looks excited. He goes back to his table, excitedly speaks to his friends in Nihonggo. I overhear them but don't understand a thing.

As they're about to leave, he comes to me and pats my shoulder. "Have fun in med school. Don't think of earning money first; think of helping people above all."

"I hope you enjoy your stay in the country. Goodbye!" I say.

Minutes after, I find myself lost in my notes once more. Thankfully, this time, the noisy girls are gone.

UP Medicine Class of 2014 sweeps Mediscene 2010 awards

When it rains, it pours.

My batch won all the awards, and everyone is beaming with pride and fulfillment at tonight's Mediscene. Mediscene is the yearly scriptwriting and acting competition organized by the Medicine Student Council (MSC). This year's theme is Greener Pastures which celebrates the Doctors To The Barrio program of the College.

Cons Yu Chua won as Best Actor in a Lead Role for his heartfelt portrayal of Dr. dela Paz, the doctor who chose to serve the barrio. Everyone in the play was voted Best Actor in a Supporting Role, the first in history that this has happened. Congratulations are in order for Janna Olivera who spearheaded the Design/Props Committee, and the Technical Team for the orderly manipulation and set-up of the lights and music. Congratulations, too, to Ryan Magtibay for winning Best Director, an award he truly deserved.

We also won the Best Script award. My contribution was rather minimal here, but I had the chance to work with a wonderful team—Boss Therese Almeda, Poring Porlas, Lee-ann Caro, and Carla Bozon—all of whom were bursting with ideas, full of insight and humor.

I'll be posting snapshots of the play as soon as they become available. For now: Labing-apat, walang katapat!

Ceaseless praise

A new header is up, and the tagline, "In ceaseless praise" couldn't have been more appropriate. As I was praying last night, I was thinking of how good the Lord has been throughout my day. A delicious lunch. Great time with friends. Laughter. Rest. A family that loves me. The absence of worry or pain or disease.

But while these were undeserved blessings in themselves, what was I most thankful of, really? And then the Lord caused me to be reminded of the cross, and there I saw Jesus, who knew no sin but became sin for me, so that I may become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is that thought, that blessed assurance, that has caused me to be enraptured in ceaseless praise to the Lord.

I pray you find yourself singing to Him, too.

Larger-than-life

I had the scare when I learned that my mother was hospitalized last week. Her fever had been going on for weeks, and as a medical student, I knew that wasn't a good sign. She was still awaiting her X-ray when I phoned her, and a day after, I would learn she had bronchitis, and antibiotics would do just the trick. When I called her two days ago, she sounded a lot better.

As I write this, I remember that it was during times when I was sick that I've seen much of my mother's tenderness. She had to leave many of her patients to accompany me to the lab to have me tested after Sean's wretched dog David bit me in the heel. There was something, too, in her voice that reassured me when I was suffering from high, recurring fever.

Over the years, I've realized how bad a son I am, and how tender, gracious, and loving my mother has been to me. I like to joke around that I'm the prodigal son, the proverbial black sheep, because, when I think about it, I have received more reprimands, more corrections, more tongue-lashings from my parents than any of my brothers.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBecause I was too unruly, my mother described me as "incorrigible"—my mother's exact words, believe me, and because my seven-year-old vocabulary wasn't vast enough, I had to ask her what it meant. "Beyond correction," she said. A lot of the big words I know today I learned from Nanay.

If I had another woman for a mother, I wouldn't have turned out this way. I would have been a lot more proud, bursting with self-adoration, deceived with illusions of self-sufficiency. My mother knew the right time to burst my bubble, to help me see myself for who I am. And yet, in her own weird way, she also gave me the sweetest pat in the back for a job well done.

My mother has never been one of those who aspired to have over-achieving children. What she desired was for my brothers and I to grow in the love and fear of the Lord.

It has become a tradition for me to write about my mother during February 24. There are, after all, so many things to tell, for my mother was, and still is, a character that stands larger-than-life, for much of what I am and will be, I owe to her. Here's to praising the Lord for another year He has added to your life, Nay.

Links to presidential platforms

The race is on. Although hard (I don't have tv in my apartment), I've been trying to keep myself abreast with the current election issues.

From how it looks, the presidential election will a battle against personalities, not really on platforms. It saddens me, for instance, to hear some people say they'll be voting for someone just because that candidate speaks well. We must vote based on a candidate's plans and stand on key issues because good diction can only go so far.

Here technology creates the link between the candidates and the voters. A 30-second tv exposure doesn't allow a candidate to extensively comment on, say, the Reproductive Health Bill, but a website will. This bridge is, of course, limited, because majority of our people don't have computers in their homes. But anything—no matter how small—that educates voters towards the achievement of a stronger democracy must be a good thing.

This morning I was looking at the websites of the presidential candidates. If you have nothing else to do this morning, take time to study each plan-of-action.

Meanwhile, I'll have side comments on the blog design which you can skip.

Noynoy Aquino. The best-blog design. Great font choice. Yellow and white in a black background gives the site a classic feel. Great photography, too. The bokeh in the background looks appropriate. And it's easily navigable. It loads rather quickly.

 

Joseph Estrada. Simple and easy to the eyes. This shade of orange looks just fine. Not assaulting at all. His signature on top gives the site a more personalized feel.


Dick Gordon. Nothing remarkable here. Content wise, it's okay. The website loads rather quickly, too.


Jamby Madrigal. The font looks atrocious. The content isn't really helpful. And I can't help but wonder if a comma is needed in the statement "Bayan natin bago lahat." The colors aren't even coordinated.

 

Nicanor Perlas. Nothing remarkable here. It looks like a typical blog.



 JC Delos Reyes. There probably wasn't much planning in making this site. The links in the right side-bar aren't visible. Green against blue doesn't offer that much contrast.


Guilbert Teodoro. This site loaded the longest, so it might not run on slow or aged computers. There are too many Java images. Simplify may be the operative word.


Manny Villar. The colors are well-coordinated. The orange looks a lot like Estrada's site. The recurring V (in the Villar name) gives the viewers a take-home message. Content-wise, it's okay.


The point really is: read their platforms, and vote wisely. Don't even mind my other comments. Great designs, after all, can only go so far.

R.C. Sproul: The Soul's Quest for God. Reflections on satisfying the soul's hunger.

Over the weekend, I've been reading The Soul's Quest for God by R.C. Sproul, a respected evangelical theologian. The book's subtitle summarizes the subject of the 11 chapters: satisfying the hunger for spiritual communion with God.

Sproul writes:

The Soul's Quest for God: Satisfying the Hunger for Spiritual Communion With God (Sproul, R. C. R.C. Sproul Library.)"Something is missing . . . What is missing is a depth of spiritual communion with God . . . The Christian life is often marked more by a sense of the absence of God than a vital sense of His presence."

Here, Sproul examines the biblical pattern for spiritual growth, looks at biblical models of spiritual maturity, explores the nature of the soul, its value, and how it's nurtured, considers barriers to the soul's quest, and explains the soul's ultimate destination.

I've particularly enjoyed the chapters where he discusses the examples of Mary, Joseph, St. Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, and John Calvin. Looking at their lives refreshes the soul.

Here's my favorite paragraph where Sproul writes about the implications of 1 Corinthians 2:15-16.

Herein lies the greatest possible aid to sanctification—to have the mind of Christ. To have Christ's mind is to think like Christ, to see things from his perspective, to love what Christ loves, and to hate what Christ hates, and to be united to his system of values.

Is the goal of Christian living to be Christlike? If so, we will reach that goal only to the degree that we possess the mind of Christ.
I think I should start the habit of reading at least one Christian book every two weeks. There are many titles I can borrow from the church library. Besides, what can be a better way to spend long weekends than to spend them knowing more about the Lord?

Long wait

It's Friday night, and the rest of kids my age are out partying or having dinner with friends or officemates. I am, however, detained in the lab, figuring out how to come up with decent experimental results that could potentially change the world. This part is hyperbole, of course. My being here is to make sure I get past first year medicine by finishing a scientific project. At this point, I don't know if we're ever going to generate results—I work with a group of 16—just in time for the deadline, but doesn't uncertainty make scientific pursuits more exciting?

Here I am with Marvyn Chan and Lennie Chua. We stuffed ourselves with many packs of pancit canton while our experiments were cooking. It's great company that makes long hours in the lab memorable. Even in the troubling absence of useful results.

No one writes to the colonel

No One Writes to the Colonel: and Other Stories (Perennial Classics)
My room was so quiet it bordered on being suicidal. At the same time I figured studying for an upcoming exam was the least I had wanted to do, I went straight outside. After getting some things from school, I went strolling in the mall nearby. The throng of shoppers was overwhelming, so I retreated to Powerbooks where I surveyed books I'd probably read in the future. I had time to kill, I thought, so I grabbed No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It's a novella—its length is halfway between a full-blown short novel and a long short story—and I figured I could finish it in no time.

It's about a colonel, probably in his seventies, who lives with an asthmatic wife. He's been waiting for his pension which was supposed to have arrived some 15 years ago. Their current state is isang kahig, isang tuka. They have to sell heirlooms from their household just to get by.

However, they have in their possession a fighting cock. It's famous in the entire province, and the colonel heard it would cost 900 pesos, enough to sustain them for three years. The colonel hesitates to sell it because it's the same cock their dead son particularly took care of. The wife would hear nothing of it. She constantly eggs her husband to sell it, or else they'd starve.

The book is powerfully engaging. The statements are calculated. Every word is weighty. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was said to have revised this story nine times, hence the sense of strictness to the prose.

And the ending. Oh, the ending. It's downright hilarious. If you haven't read Marquez yet and are intimidated by the length of his longer books, No One Writes to the Colonel may be a good place to start.

The color of your skin

The Color Purple [COLOR PURPLE ANNIV/E 10/E]The Color Purple (Alice Walker) is a compilation of letters.

It begins with note from Celie, a 14-year-old girl who narrates a rape incident that involves her and her stepfather. She writes, "He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it."

The letters are addressed to God. In the next letters, Celie writes that her mother is dead, and now she wants to protect her younger sister Nettie from their stepfather. He has his eyes on the little kid.

As they grow up, Celie does everything in her power to protect Nettie. When Celie is forced to marry, Nettie eventually escapes their stepfather and becomes a missionary in Africa.

Years pass. Celie's husband prevents all form of communication between the sisters. Celie doesn't know Nettie has been writing her letters. They don't know if the other one is still alive.

The book is beautifully imagined. It's painfully heart-wrenching. And it's exceptionally well-written. This is clearly Alice Walker's masterpiece: a poignant picture of the joys, pains, struggles, and abuses against the black people in Southern America.

I'd like to share my favorite lines in the book, a conversation between Celie and her husband, just before the book ends:

Anyhow, he say, you know how it is.
You ast yourself one question, it lead to fifteen. I start to wonder why us need love. Why us suffer. Why us black. Why us men and women. Where do children really come from. It didn't take long to realize I didn't hardly know nothing. And that if you ast yourself why you black or a man or a woman or a bush it doesn't mean nothing if you don't ast why you here, period.
So what you think?, I ast.

I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ast. And that in wondering bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, he say, the more I love.
Amazing.

Resuming training

I've resumed playing tennis again. The last time I did was in 2007, and going back to it—to actually hammering the ball to the other side of the court instead of simply watching Federer on tv—felt like a sweet reunion. 

What's fun is that there are so many tennis enthusiasts in class. Some play really well. Others manage to do simple passes. But most are beginners. I place myself between the second and third categories: I can see and chase the ball as it approaches, but I need to improve my return. My forehand still needs a lot of tweaking.

The idea of being good at sports is good practice. It amazes me how some of my classmates still manage to take time off their books to play balls. I should learn from their example.

What encourages me even more—aside from the possibility of having hypertrophied muscles and better cardiovascular circulation at the end of it all—is the company of more experienced classmates who are ever so patient in teaching us, beginners. They don't hesitate to lend their rackets; they don't play as if they own the court; they still smile even if, 95% of the time, they end up picking the balls.

My parents are thrilled to know that, instead of burying myself in books, I've finally gotten out to play. But training is a long, tedious process. And right now, after an entire day of playing, my entire body aches. I think I even partially sprained my ankle. But I comfort myself with what Tin Canlas told me yesterday.

"That's the good kind of pain."

The silent Valentine rush

I think it was last week when the subject of what-are-you-going-to-do-on-Valentine's-Day popped up over lunch. The guys eating with me on the table were at first hesitant to share their plans, but I was too stubborn to be stopped from asking.

I had the impression, of course, that the reason why for the past few days we've been eating at our favorite carinderia, and not in more expensive fastfood restaurants at the mall, is mainly this: they're saving up. For roses. For a special date at some fine dining restaurant. You know, the drill. There had to be something going on in their testosterone-driven minds.

They didn't go into specifics, but the general idea was that they would take their girlfriends out on a date. I could imagine they've already thought of where to get dinner reservations. One mentioned that he didn't want to eat out with the rest on the world on the 14th, so he's doing it a day earlier. I thought that was smart.

This afternoon, I asked my lady seatmates if their boyfriends are taking them out on Valentine's (until now, it still amazes me how many in class are involved in romantic relationships, a stark contrast to my undergrad peers). They didn't know, they said, and their men weren't the type who'd give out surprises. I sensed a tone of "but-I-hope-they-would" at the end of their answers.

All this talk about Valentine's leaves a rather corny taste in my mouth. It's not just my thing, precisely because I've never been there, I've never done that.

With all this silent, secretive rush for the upcoming February 14, I've been blessed by what Sharmie Quezon (Anna to many) shared during our lunchtime Bible study.  The topic couldn't have been more timely. She talked about how deep God's love is for us.

Her main points:

  • God's love is costly and extravagant. (1 John 3:1, 1 John 4:9)
  • God's love is unconditional. (Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:4,5)
  • God's love is limitless. (Romans 8:35,57, 1 John 4:7)
It was a reminder of what love truly is. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on our behalf. We are all wretched sinners, unworthy of God's love. And yet, He loves us so. Not because we deserve it, but because God simply chose to. God's love then becomes more glorious when we see it in the backdrop of our sinfulness (Romans 3:23).

Before we find ourselves lost with eating in romantic candle-lit dinners or giving out bundled floral ornaments, my prayer is that God would cause our hearts to seek Him, the fountain from which true love springs, for Jesus Christ is God's love revealed and personified.

Lomokev

I've recently discovered the photography of Kevin Meredith from Brighton, England. He's popularly known as lomokev in Flickr. His work features bright colors and interesting subjects. He uses a lomo, an analog camera (which makes use of the good ol' film), most of the time. And he sounds really funny. He updates his Flickr many times a week, so check it out if you have time.













This man reminds me of my classmate Carlos Cuano when he asks, "Talaga?"

Cravings and encounters at Robinson's Place Manila

On my way home, I had a craving for Jollibee's Barbecue Chicken. I headed to Robinson's Place Manila and ate to my heart's content. The chicken was so moist and tasty that I devoured it without the sauce. Way better than the famous Chicken Joy, if you ask me.

As I was leaving, I had another craving for something cold and sweet. The last time this sweet spell had happened to me was on October-November of last year: I would go out of my apartment, leave my notes altogether, and grab a cheap ice cream from the nearest Mini Stop. This time I went to Dairy Queen and ordered Banana-Strawberry. As the lady was punching my orders in, I had a weird feeling: I felt that someone was sneaking glances at me.

I grabbed a high chair and began eating, when a woman grabbed the chair beside mine. "Lance? Is that you?," she asked in Ilonggo. My memory was failing me; her face didn't register at all.

"Yes," I said. "Oh . . . hello."

"I went to K-N, too," she said excitedly. "My name is Ping."

And then she spilled everything to me. We went to the same high school; she was two years ahead. She knew many of my friends, and I had to chide myself for not remembering her. Was I too snobbish then? I don't think so. There were just too many of us that it'd be impossible to know everyone. In my high school batch, there were 1500 of us.

She told me she has been working in a Makati call center. She also told me that she didn't attend the high school reunion last December—"So did I," I said—and that she was in Robinson's because it was her day-off and she felt like hanging out.

I had to leave her because I was getting sleepy. After checking my emails at home, I immediately retired to bed and had a dream of talking to a professor about Linux computers.

A daily reminder

A daily reminder

My friend Frances Bocobo recently gave this to me: a red wristband I occasionally wear in school, a conspicuous, tangible reminder to "Live For Him." According the note, "Live for Him" means "that your life is no longer your own; it belongs to Christ! Everything you do reflects on Him."

The Red Wristband Project of Kerusso aims to donate $0.25 for every band sold to Compassion International, an organization committed to spreading the Gospel by helping thousands of children.

Thanks, Frances!

Asking Prof. Wiesel

Yesterday I had the opportunity of asking Prof. Torsten Wiesel, Nobel Laureate for Medicine in 1981, what we still do not yet know about visual perception. Prof. Wiesel pioneered the work on the neural basis of neural perception, having traced the pathway from the retina to the visual cortex. Every medical school in the world studies his work.

I don't recall the exact words, but his face lit up when he answered me. He said that his discovery is only a part of the puzzle. The brain is as complex as the universe itself, and, even if so many researches have been published on how it works, we still don't understand it enough.

Here were the highlights of the open forum:

A high school student asked him what he did with the Nobel prize money. Prof. Wiesel answered, "I used it for my daughter's education."

A man asked a really long question on the role played by science in the destruction of the world—or something like that. It was so long we didn't get the drift.  The professor simply said, "Thank you for that talk."

Dr. Wiesel referred to Gloria Arroyo as prime minister, not president. The brother from La Salle, who was hosting, had to correct him. "She's not the prime minister—at least, not yet."

It was a humbling experience for me and my classmates—being in the same room with an intellectual giant. But I was even amazed with the Lord, whose idea it was to give man the eyes and the brain in the first place.

A South African story

Disgrace: A Novel"For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well." Thus begins J.M. Coetze's Disgrace, which I had read over the weekend. Coetze is the 2003 Nobel Laureate for Literature.

David Lurie is a professor of Romantic poetry at Cape Technical University, twice divorced, and spends his Thursday afternoons with prostitutes—one in particular, a woman named Soraya. But one day he sees her with her two sons, walking down the street. Things then begin to get awkward, and they stop seeing each other.

The professor thinks he lives a typical life. He teaches his courses dutifully but without much passion. He lives within his means. He's not ecstatic; he's not unhappy either.

A student, Melanie Isaacs, comes along. They have an affair. And when Melanie's parents and boyfriend pressure her into filing a complaint for sexual harassment, Lurie loses his job and retreats to the country side, in Salem, on the Grahamstown-Kenton Road in the Eastern Cape. Lurie's daughter, Lucy, lives there.

Lucy lives an entirely different life altogether—a simpler one, if one may call it. She tends her animals and works at her garden. To keep himself occupied, he helps take care of the dogs, and he assists Bev Shaw in the Animal Welfare League euthanize animals.

But the book really is a story about complicated racial complexities of South Africa. One day three men barge into Lucy's home and rape his daughter. His head has been knocked off, and he cannot help his daughter. The men steal his car and leave.

The last time I've encountered South Africa was Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom. Disgrace is probably the fictional version. It's a book about power struggles—between the black man and the white man—but this theme emerges subtly.

J. M. Coetze writes in simple but weighty sentences that need a lot of processing. I have to read this book again.