Independence

The Green Zone may feel a lot like The Hurt Locker. They're both about American wars in the Middle East, involve strong men struggling to make sense of things, and feature scenes that are genuinely shaky and shakily genuine.

What sets The Green Zone apart is that it's more political. It's justified to call it a critique of the American intervention in Iraq. It's asking why the United States waged a war against Iraq in the first place. To the average viewer, the answer is clear: there have been so-called intelligence reports of Saddam Hussein's government supposedly manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. But, as the movie later exposes, these reports are fabricated.

In the last parts of the movie, Freddie (Khalid Abdalla), an Iraqi translator assisting Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), summarizes the movie's intentions. "It is not for you [Americans] to decide."

Namesake

The Chief: A Memoir of Fathers and SonsLance Morrow and I go a long way. My mother named me after him. My mother read an essay he wrote an essay about Imela Marcos' shoes a year before she got pregnant. I emailed him when I was in high school, and he replied back. He even missent an email intended for his wife, one that jokingly read "Her mother and I were just friends." My mother was amused.

This explains why I read The Chief: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons with such gusto. Here Lance Morrow principally writes about his father, the Chief, who worked as adviser and speechwriter to Vice President Rockefeller. His father became one of the forces that shaped his person.

There is a sense of struggle as Morrow describes his father. The divorce. The shame. The aloofness. The narration is non-linear. Morrow jumps from one scene to another with transitions that are masterfully done. A notable essayist himself, Morrow's sentences are packed with extraordinary insight, intelligent wit, and vibrant dynamism. I wish I could write like him.

Amen, Pao

I was, and still am, thrilled to listen to Paolo Tomacder's valedictory speech at the UP College of Mass Communication's graduation.

He begins with a challenge:

But are you still applying what you’ve learned? Or are you now caught up in the system? As you read this letter, are you sneering at your younger self for condemning “envelopmental journalism,” avoiding plagiarism, for trying to elevate the quality of broadcast news and for introducing intelligent films? Do you find your younger self too ideal for the world you’re living now? Only you can answer that.
He continues with thanksgiving:
A few days before graduation I was asking God that if it was His will for me to graduate with the university’s highest honors, He will give me the grace to address the graduating class, that I may share about His goodness.

It wasn’t His will for me to get the highest honors but He gave me this privilege to share His goodness to you. And for that I am grateful.
He ends with sharing his personal testimony loaded with the gospel:
I’m sharing this “for I cannot help speaking about what I have seen and heard" about Jesus Christ.

There is a reason why the most famous verse is John 3:16— "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is because the verse essentially summarizes God’s message for humanity.

There is a God of love and of justice who reaches out to us in our inadequacy, offering forgiveness and reconciliation through His Son on the Cross. By grace, through faith in His name alone He offers the free gift of eternal life in fellowship with Him.

That message was something I didn’t expect to meet, understand and even accept in a university unjustly stereotyped as godless. But I testify that the message changed me. It wasn’t for me to reject for He has given and before the King of the Universe, I can only stop and utter my humble Amen.
What courage you've shown here, Pao! I'm praising the Lord with you and your family.

Here's the actual video and transcript.

About books

Over the years I've found that I remember things more clearly if I write about them. The principle applies to books. If you've been following this blog for years, you may have noticed that I've written a number of entries about books I've read. They're not exactly reviews because they're too personal—incoherent, even—and do not follow a particular structure. I write what I think, and I write them chiefly for myself.

I hope, though, that while these reviews are not as good as those in the New York Times (whose writers have a deeper grasp of literature, something I wish I had), they would help friends who visit this site choose which ones to pick, if the urge to do something bibliophilic comes up.

There is, after all, a kind of humble joy in hearing friends they love the book I said I liked.

Writing from home

The heat is terrible, and the fact that Koronadal City is closer to the Equator doesn't help at all. Because of the Mindanao power crisis, there are recurring power shutdowns. Here we experience brownouts twice a day, three hours each. It's unbearable, the heat, not to mention the inevitable boredom that goes with the sudden uselessness of otherwise entertaining electrical devices.

Knowing this, I brought additional books to finish this break. They are:

I have yet to write reviews of the books I've read so far; I hope to post them as soon as I feel like writing them.

Just hours after we had arrived from the airport, it rained. It feels much cooler now.

Ah, it feels great to be back!

Intramuros

We took our grandmother to Intramuros this week. It was a first time for us. We did a lot of walking. Lola immediately got tired, so we finished the tour in two hours.  While we were having lunch, she decided to go out. Unfortunately she slipped and fell down the stairs. Thankfully she didn't injure herself, save for a small laceration on her forehead and a blackeye which, to this day, looks more like an eyeliner that hasn't been washed off.

I'm sharing photos from that tour.

When I saw this picture, I realized I picked the wrong shirt.

My grandmother

A favorite storybook of mine during childhood was entitled The Park Bench, written and illustrated by Japanese authors, whose names I've already forgotten. This photo reminds me of that story.

The park bench

Here's an old entrance to a dilapidated building. I would love to live in houses that look like this.

Entrance

The heat was terrible it lulled this kalesa driver to sleep.

Asleep

I like how this vine was protruding from the dry walls.

Growth

A romantic scene.

Romantic

From the looks of it, Rizal was a really short guy.

Jose Rizal is so short

I loved the typography employed by the Intramuros curators. Here's an example:

Typography

There were many tourists around, but the Japanese remain the noisiest.

Japanese tourists

Overlooking the Park was Pasig River. This photo reminds of the closing scene in the movie Les Miserables.

Pasig River

A busy bridge.

Harbor

It was a fun experience for us. Do visit here if you have time. They charge Php 50 for students (don't forget your ID) and Php 100 for adults. I think I'll drop by here sometime in the future to finish a book or study.

Manong's graduation!

Graduation Day has always been a family occasion. My parents, my grandmother, uncle, and aunt all came over from Mindanao to support my brother, Ralph, who graduated from Law. An entire barangay, I know, but during moments like this, the rule is simple: the more, the merrier.

I took this candid shot after the recessional. I especially love Auntie Net's smile here.

Family

Our family portrait. We're all officially bespectacled.

Family portrait

Myself and my brother Sean. I'm relieved to know that he brushed his tongue satisfactorily.

Myself and Sean

All glory be to the Lord! We have a new lawyer in the family. Well, almost. The bar exam is yet to come.

The ride to the airport

It's almost noon, and my brother Sean has just texted me that they've safely landed. They're 30 minutes early, my family, and I'm imagining my mother's impatience growing by the second as she waits for her son to appear in the airport.

I'm supposed to meet and bring them to my brother's huge apartment. Thankfully, I'm with Kuya Imay, Manong's housemate, since my brother has to settle something in court and can therefore not make it.

"We're retrieving our baggage now," reads Sean's message. The traffic is slow, pretty much like my brain after a long day in class. Or my classmate Hazel who gets my jokes eons after I crack them—I say that lovingly.

"Can we make it on time?" I ask Imay.

"Of course. Don't worry. Tell them we'll be there in 20 minutes."

I secretly wish the cab can fly.

I'm seated beside the driver, a stout man in his forties, the type who likes to talk. Taxi drivers are naturally noisy, but this one is a notch higher. I can tell: his voice is warm, his chuckles hearty, his expressions engaging. Why not make the most of this trip?

I do a classic conversation starter.

"You've been driving for years now?" I ask.

"Twenty years," he says, smiling, showing off his dentures could fall off if he's not careful. "I can drive around this place even with my eyes closed."

"You drive around Manila more often?"

He's busy looking at the road and doesn't seem to hear me. He's figuring out where to take a U-turn. "Bayani totally made a mess around here," he says angrily before he turns to me. "What did you say again?"

"You drive around Manila more often than, say, in Quezon City?"

"Oh! I like going around the Metro, but I know Manila more than I know all the other places, so I stick here more often."

"But Manila is much more crowded," I say.

"I've gotten used to it. I'll choose this place over Quezon City. I got kidnapped there once, you know?" he says. I am surprised. I've heard about these things in the news, but here is a living testimony.

"Do you remember how they looked like? Did they have guns?"

"They were three of them. One was seated beside me. The other two were at the back."

"Were they in black?" I ask. I've always had this notion that thieves always wore dark clothes.

"I don't remember, but they looked pretty normal. So there we were, driving along Scout—I forgot the name of the street already! They pretended like they were lost, but the truth was they were only looking for a spot where there weren't any people."

"And then what?"

"They pointed a gun at me. They pushed me aside and took control of the car. I couldn't do anything. They had an ice pick aimed at me. If I didn't do what they said, they could kill me anytime."

He recounts these events as if they happened yesterday. After all, the best—and worst—of memories are the ones that remain in us the most.

This conservation doesn't happen everyday, so I asked many things: like what happened to him after, what things were stolen from him, and how he survived the ordeal.

"They took everything from me—the cab I was driving, my wallet, my t-shirt, my pants, and heck, even my briefs. They tied my hands so I couldn't move, and they thew me off a dirty creek."

I say "Ewww" at this point.

"I was glad it was shallow," he continues, "but it was so dark I couldn't see a thing. I thought, as long as I wasn't drowning, I should be thankful."

"You were naked the whole time? As in . . . nakalawit lang?"

He laughs so hard before he answers. "Yes! Can you believe that? Good thing there weren't too many people around. So I got out of the creek, found a decent neighborhood, and I knocked at one gate. A maid opened it. I cried for help. Her boss came outside, invited me in, and gave me a pair of pants. I was just so thankful."

"That was some adventure," I say.

"Well, it's a dangerous place—the place you don't know so well—so you should be careful when driving around unfamiliar territory."

We're now entering the airport premises, and by then, the story has reached its end. I feel my pocket vibrating.

It's Sean again. "Where are you? We're at Bay 3," the text reads.

Imay and I thank the driver and wish him well before we rush past long queues of tired passengers. After a few minutes, we find them: my parents smiling heartily, my aunt and uncle and grandmother embracing me, and my brother Sean landing a kiss on my right cheek and whispering, "You are dead meat."

Celebrating the Lord's mercy and grace for twenty-three years

I tried something new today: instead of the usual birthday blog entry I would usually write (read my entries when I turned 20, 21, and 22 years old), I made a video. It's a bit rushed, it looks rather amateurish, and, when you choose to waste—I'm not kidding—two-and-a-half minutes of your life going through it, you'll hear the annoying beeping noise whose source I haven't pinpointed yet—it must've have been the built-in mic.

Here's to praising God for yet another year of He has added in my life.

My Life According to Michael Giacchino

The instruction: using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Thanks for tagging, Laureen. I had fun.

Artist
Michael Giacchino

Are you a boy or a girl?
He's Got The Bird

Describe yourself.
The Spirit of Adventure

How do you feel?
Paradise Found

Describe where you currently live.
It's Just A House

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
The Explorer Motel

Your best friend is . . .
Married Life

What's the weather like?
Dark Reverie

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called?
Up With The Titles

What is life to you?
Stuff We Did

Your fear.
Canine Conundrum

What is the best advice you have to give?
Memories Can Weigh You Down

How I would like to die?
52 Chachki Pickup

My soul's present condition:
Seizing The Spirit of Adventure

My motto:
We're In the Club Now

Flagged down, twice

I visited my Malate apartment to do some last-minute cleaning; the plan was to get back to Quezon City the day after. In both the trips I took (going there and coming back), the FX's I rode were flagged down by MMDA Traffic Enforcers--the first one for loading passengers in the area between the No Loading and Unloading signs in the Morayta area, and the second for smoke belching.

What were the odds?

Anyway, I overheard one passenger tell the driver that the MMDA people are getting busier because it's election season; this accounts for the increased number of recorded traffic violations.

I still don't see the connection.

Relishing the moment

Assigned to evaluate us was Dr. LCL, arguably among the fiercest, toughest consultants in the neuro department. And this was our return demonstration, a practical exam of sorts that aimed to evaluate our ability to elicit a good patient history, assess the patient's mental status, and test for cranial nerve function. While the exam was intrinsically challenging, our assigned preceptor made it even more so.

The good doctor is known for asking questions that span the theoretical and the practical. Terrified, my groupmates and I prepared for her to the best that we could. When it came to the real thing, we didn't deliver as much as we hoped.

"Trace the visual pathway," she told me. This she said even as my partner, Miguel Catangui, was busy eliciting tendon reflexes in our patient. I was shocked. My mind went blank. I had to say something.

"Ma'am, can I get a pen and paper? I think better when I draw things," I requested.

"While you're at it, where is the lesion if the patient has left homonymous hemianopsia?" she asked.

I traced the pathway, mustering all I knew. I hadn't prepared for this, and I was in panic. This was the sketch.

IMG_2492

"So where is the lesion?" she demanded.

"It takes me a long time to figure these problems out, Ma'am," I said calmly, a betrayal of what I actually felt—raging anacondas in my stomach, not just colorful butterflies.

Just about the end of the exam, I had it—the elusive answer—but Ma'am, for some reason I couldn't comprehend, had forgotten the hanging question entirely.

The lesson? Keep it slow, keep it cool.

Goodbye, Rotchelle

I just heard the news that my high school classmate, Rotchelle Padua, has passed away. I'll always remember her as the quiet, shy learner and the kind, gentle friend who never spoke ill of anyone. The last time I talked to her was through email. She wrote me, in January 27, the words, "Hello Lance! Always losing your phone huh?hehe"

I'm linking to her Youngblood article, published in the Inquirer, on March 19, 2009. (HT: May Che Capili). Our friends from Newton Class of 2000 will sorely miss her.

Letters to Melbourne

The Trick of It: A Novel
An unnamed university professor in UK invites the literary giant from London whose works he has been teaching. He knows everything about her, even minute details like her exact height. He's almost like a stalker, but an academic one.

The professor writes about these experiences to a friend in Melbourne. The Trick of It, then, is a collection of letters that are funny, witty, and frank. (This is the second book of Michael Frayn I've read; the first one is Spies, which I enjoyed immensely.) The reader eventually finds out that there is longing and sadness concealed beneath the otherwise happy exchanges.

The professor eventually falls in love with the literary giant and eventually marries her. She is constantly writing a book, and the professor does not know how to insert his presence in this chaotic literary exercise. John Updike, in his review of the book in the New Yorker, called it "the opposition of the creative spirit and the critical."

If I want a good laugh, I'd read this book again.

Right to die

The Right to Die?: Caring Alternatives to EuthanasiaFriendly debate
I distinctly remember having a friendly argument with a seatmate on the issue of euthanasia. The debate, of course, was prompted by my question: would you choose to die if, by some freak accident, you're paralyzed from the head down?

I was against it, as I was arguing for the "sanctity of life." But I'm afraid the debate didn't resolve anything. We were still as hard-headed as when we had started and just about as clueless about the subject we had argued about.

I realized that physician-assisted suicide—or mercy killing or euthanasia—is very controversial, as most ethical cases in medicine tend to be. I wondered then what the Biblical response should be in such cases.

The right to die?
Is it consistent with God's Word and with moral standards to help someone die because the patient is complaining of too much pain? Can we actually choose when and how to die, given the fact that we have autonomy? Should families always choose to sustain the lives of their relatives in "persistent vegetative state"? The stream of questions was overflowing.

When I found the book, The Right To Die?: Caring Alternatives to Euthanasia, I immediately grabbed it. It's written by Mark Blocher, a pastor and bioethicist. The book takes on a sound Christian worldview, citing Biblical principles and examples, to explain why physician-assisted suicide can never be justified. It was, for me, an eye-opener, a book that has shattered some assumptions I might have had before.

The book argues that "there is no disgrace in human mortality, that human dignity can be cared for and respected in the midst of life's worst experiences." It also rallies for the fact that every dying person should be given these three promises:

You will not be a burden to us.
You will not die in pain.
You will not die alone.
Blocher therefore advocates for hospice or palliative care for the dying.

Outlined
The book starts out by outlining a Biblical definition of death. The second chapter deals with Jack Kevorkian and the horrors he has caused. The third deals with the abuse of language to justify assisted suicide. The chapter I liked best is the fifth chapter where Blocher answers the question on whether death is a right, a duty, or an inevitability. The next chapter deals with the issue of having natural limits on personal freedom—this time, on death. The other chapters deal with the role of physicians at the end of life. In the penultimate chapter, Blocher doesn't veer away from answering hard questions on euthanasia and medical futility.

Sound understanding
The book has been a great help to me. The perspectives are sound and Biblical, the reasoning is logical, the examples are thorough. I couldn't recommend a better book on the issue of physician-assisted suicide than this.

Security guard: the second encounter

I just had my dinner in the nearest Jollibee, and as I was about to open the gate, he asked me when I was going home.

"The last month week of April," I said.

To which he replied, "You should write in my slam book before you leave."

The man works as the security guard of the Korean restaurant in the building where I live. He gave me sound advice on studying before.

I always see him around, but I never really got to ask his name. I wonder how his slam book looks like.

Mentally unstable

Psychiatry makes a great subject of films. I watched Shutter Island alone and found myself wondering about a lot of things. My thoughts were, for the most part, disturbing. For instance, I was asking myself how I could ever be so sure of my sanity. What if, like Teddy Daniels (Leonardo Di Caprio), I just made my own reality—that the world in which I live and function as Lance Catedral is a world invented by my mind, and that there is a real, external world out there?

It's these deeply philosophical questions that the movie makes you think about. The film is beautifully made, masterfully crafted—I mean, we're talking about Martin Scorsese here.

Plans for summer

A few friends will go abroad, many will venture into high paying summer jobs, and still quite a few will brush up on the previous year's lessons to prepare for yet another year in medicine. I think majority will stay at home and do nothing remotely academic.

In my case, I'm going back to Koronadal at the end of April, right after my brother's graduation. These are things I aim to do this summer:

  • Read at least eight books. I'm not decided as to the titles yet, but they should cover the following categories: classical fiction, contemporary fiction, non-fiction, and Christianity.
  • Read previous transcriptions and do a self-review in anatomy, especially the OS 203 (Skin, Muscle, and Bones) part.
  • Work on stuff for the research project.
  • Help out in our local church, Marbel Evangelical Fellowship. I can help in the office work, even in teaching Sunday school, which my mother is committed to doing.
  • Visit my grandmothers, aunts and uncles, and cousins. 
  • Watch at least one movie with high school friends.
  • Keep idle moments to a minimum.
The last thing I want to happen is to find myself stretched out in bed the whole day, saliva drooling out of my mouth, because summer comes only once a year, and there are so many useful things to do.

2010 LU3 Comprehensive Exam Answer Key: The Definitive List

These will apply to items you have no idea about, and the only logical, humane thing to do is to hazard an intelligent guess.

OS 201 (Biochemistry): answer C (for Dr. Chung or Dr. Caoili). Thanks, Mindy.
OS 202 (Neurology): answer C (for Dr. Chua)
OS 203 (Skin, Muscle, and Bones): answer B (for Dr. Bundoc)
OS 204 (Head and Neck): I have no idea—do a toss coin. Your call.
OS 205 (Thorax): answer C (for Dr. Quintos), unless you find a Q in the choices
OS 206 (Abdomen and Pelvis): answer B (for Dr. Bonzon)
HD 201 (Obstetrics and Gynecology): I don't know; the answer depends largely on which edition of William's you're using.
HD 202 (Pediatrics and Psychiatry): answer B (for Dr. Balderrama)
We're all in this together.

Defense


I feel euphoric as I write this. This morning the class had the project defense, and I'm so glad it's over. The feeling is equivalent to a postprandial state after a really good meal—only no calories were involved.

You get the point.

We worked on Influenza A(H1N1), and we thought our results were cool. Our major problem was talking all about the stuff we did for 7 minutes. What can you say in 7 minutes, right? But we had no choice. I was chosen as the presenting speaker, so I was pressured to keep it really short and sweet. And I'm talking of compressing 180 pages worth of information in that limited time frame. It wasn't an easy task. Somehow I had to leave some important details along the way.

But everything happened smoothly when it was our group's turn. We said what we had to say. And I'm thankful that many appreciated our efforts.

It humbles me to know that we started from nothing. Our experiments weren't working, so we made a back-up plan of sorts, just to have something to submit at the end of the academic year. Interestingly, we got cool results in all the other side studies we did—better, in fact, than our original project.

God is truly amazing.

Many thanks to Dr. Frank Heralde III for seeing us through and Kuya CJ Pastor for guiding us in the lab. It's almost over now. Can you believe it?

Jason is off to Japan


Part of the reason why I got to know a lot of people in Kalayaan Residence Hall in 2004 was my roommate. Kind, smart, and ravishing, Jason Enriquez unintentionally attracted feminine gazes just by being . . . well, himself.

These girls would ask me if Jason was the type who studied really hard ("Yes, he does"), if he slept late ("No, he sleeps at nine"), if he roomhopped often ("Never, except to consult Luther on their ES 1 plates")—these, among other things normal people would otherwise consider irrelevant. It's the Jason magic. To prove that, Jason attracted the most number of people when we were sharing the gospel to a school in Antique—hence, the running joke, "Jason, our secret evangelistic tool."

I last met Jason a couple of weeks ago to bid him goodbye as he leaves for Japan today. The trip is work-related. I don't know how long he's going to stay there—even he's not sure—but I trust that the Lord will protect and guide him. I myself will surely miss him. To this day, he remains the best roommate I've ever had.

People will, of course, distinctly remember Jason as the guitar player. He used the instrument like it was an extension of himself, and I miss those moments of clarity when he created melodies just before he went to sleep.

So, God bless and keep you, Jase, the world's most beloved

Congrats, Manong Ralph!


The family is coming over for my brother's graduation this month. Everyone is excited. My brother's marching to get his law degree after four arduous years of schooling is a testament to God's faithfulness and graciousness.

I've a few entries regarding Manong's journey in law, probably more than he has cared to mention in his blog. Among them: (1) the morning he took the Law Aptitude Exam (LAE), (2) the moment he learned that he had passed it, and (3) typical study sessions at his apartment wherein he'd tell me to get out of the room because I was too noisy.

On that note, I'm excited, too, for my good friends Katrina Magallanes and Paul Balite who are both enrolling in UP Law next year. What a comfort to know that I will have many people to lean on when patients begin hurling malpractice complaints.

You're not bored, you're fossilized


I've never seen the street in front of my apartment so quiet, so subdued, so hushed. What that statement has got to do with the sketch I made out of boredom, I have no idea. I trust you're relaxing in peace and noiselessness. Come to think of it, why can't every week be holy?

Anyway, I saw a real half-naked man walking, hammering his back with what looked like a rope with spikes. He was bleeding. If only he knew that he didn't need to do that precisely because Jesus already paid the price for our sins. No amount of self-mutilation or sacrifice can ever help us earn our way to heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9).