Christmas at home

I got home on a 7:30 am Cebu Pacific flight to General Santos last Thursday, but the plane only got off the runway an hour after we boarded the aircraft because of what could only be described in layman's terms as heavy traffic--there were so many people going home to the provinces.

My younger brother, Sean, who studies Dentistry in Davao, was already home when we arrived. I was surprised to see that he, too, has grown fatter.

sean

I'm writing this from my grandmother's old house in Polomolok, about 45 minutes away from Koronadal City. We used to spend our summers here when we were younger. Lola is about 80 years old now, but her memory is still intact, her humor still piercing, although she does have difficulty walking because of osteoarthritis.

lantana subdivision, dole window

Norzagaray

We went to Joseph Chua's farm and rest house in Norzagaray, Bulacan, about an hour and a half drive away from Manila, for the Agape sem-ender celebration. He invited us to have our planning session there last year, but we never had the opportunity to go until today. Sadly not everyone made it—they either had prior commitments, or they were already home in their provinces for the Christmas break.




Joseph's mother, Tita Maritz, graciously offered to drive us. The trip was smooth and enjoyable. The traffic wasn't as bad as we expected.


(Photo above is by Ruby King, via Facebook.)

Why I'm thankful for my blockmates

Group mates can make or break you in Medicine. You don't have much of a choice but to get along with those people. The medical curriculum—at least the one in our school—is designed such that most of the time you don't work alone; you have to work as a collective and cohesive group.





This set-up naturally poses a major challenge for those who can't work well with others. For instance, those who are too opinionated, too full of themselves, too shy, and too quiet will have a hard time unless they can adjust to their new social environments. The key is balance: the group members must complement one another and must learn how to give and take.

David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: tell me how I can put down a book that begins with labor and delivery

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetI'm still reeling from the emotional after-effects of David Mitchell's masterpiece, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which I finished moments ago.

Set in the 1800s, during the time when Japan's only connection to the rest of the world was her trading relations with the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), the story revolves around Jacob de Zoet, a twentysomething clerk set to check and document the corruption going on in the Company's transactions in Dejima, Nagasaki Bay. There he meets Orito Aibagawa, a midwife, who rises to fame after she successfully saves the lives of both the Magistrate's wife and son after prolonged labor. To tell you the truth, what initially drew me to this book was David Mitchell's scientific descriptions of obstetric techniques in the first chapter—how the attending Doctor Maeno and Miss Aibagawa-san determined the fetal lie, what they did when they suspected a possible cord strangulation, with an illustration so reminiscent of those seen in William's Obstetrics. These details were mixed so expertly with the author's prose.

In which I danced on stage for the first time since kindergarten

Pastor Bob talked about pride during Family Day at church this morning. The theme of our special Sunday gathering was "Die Hard". After all, the Christian's daily battle against pride is a hard one.



I remembered the book, Humility: The Forgotten Virtue (by Wayne Mack), during the sermon.

When I took the NMAT

I got a couple of emails from a few readers asking me for tips about the NMAT (National Medical Achievement Test), the big qualifying exam for medical schools in the Philippines. The multiple-choice exam covers basic science subjects, language, and abstract reasoning, and is administered twice a year: every April and December. 

The pressure is for would-be medical students to score high in this test, so they'd get the desired cut-off percentile score for the med school they're eyeing. In the UP College of Medicine, for example, the cut-off is officially pegged at 90%.

Wayne and Joshua Mack's Humility: The Forgotten Virtue. The shirt of the soul is put on first and put off last.

"No one who knows the Bible and is a careful observer of human beings will dispute that pride is and has always been a gigantic problem in the world," writes Dr. Wayne Mack in the Preface of his book, Humility: The Forgotten Virtue. I first encountered Dr. Mack, a known Bible scholar and professor of Biblical Counseling at the Master's College, in his book, Life in the Father's House.

Humility: The Forgotten Virtue by Wayne Mack

In this short but important work, he attempts to "understand pride and humility from a biblical perspective" in the hope of diminishing the "destructive pride factor" and to increase the "true humility factor" in our lives. The book follows the 4D outline: a biblical definition of what pride and humility are, the display of pride and humility, how humility can be developed, and how pride can be diminished. At the end of each chapter are simple guide questions that readers are encouraged to answer.

How we do the handmime

It's this time of the year again. TRP (Tao Rin Pala) is fast approaching. Held every December, it's the biggest show in the UP College of Medicine, featuring talents otherwise repressed by the daily grind of med school life.

For the past years, Agape has been doing handmimes. Those peformances have become the org's signature, for lack of a better term, because no other organization has attempted to do them, at least to my knowledge.

Last year, Agape did "He Opens a Window," a song from the musical, Joseph The Dreamer. In 2008, it was "Who Am I" by Casting Crowns. In 2009, it was "All For Love" by Hillsong. You can watch them in YouTube.


Those handmime presentations have been avenues to minister God's message to the professors, students, and staff of the College. Music and songs can only go so far, of course, but who are we to limit the Lord in His ability to move in the hearts of the listeners?

Persecution

These past months I've been reading 1 Peter for my early morning daily devotions. Penned by the apostle of Christ, and from whom the book was named, this New Testament epistle encourages the early Christian believers to live victoriously in the midst of persecution.

The pictures going through my mind were those recorded in the Fox's Book of Martyrs (you can read the book online for free). The ordeals the early Christians had to go through, especially during the time of the infamous Emperor Nero, were gruesome. At the time it was one thing for the early believers to say they believed in Christ, but to boldly profess and demonstrate faith in the face of shame and persecution—that was supernatural.

Warren Weirsbe's Be Myself: the longest journey is the journey inwards

photoI've resolved to make Christian biography and autobiography a part of my reading menu. Just recently I finished Warren Wiersbe's "Be Myself." I borrowed my copy from the church library. (Many thanks to Ate Mabelle who patiently handles my book requests.)

Warren Wiersbe is close to my heart because he wrote Prayer, Praises, and Promises. There he expounded on a particular Psalm every single day. He effectively drew out its context and application. I used the devotional for my quiet times during my third year in college, and it was used by the Lord to help me grow spiritually.

Gayuma ni Maria

My mother is in town for the Philippine Dental Association annual convention. She makes time for these gatherings to see her two children working and studying in Manila. It's always a joy to see her, of course, and we praise God for the encouragement we get whenever we meet her.

Last night, we had dinner at Gayuma ni Maria located at Sikatuna Village, Diliman, Quezon City.

photo

Portraits: Management Rotation in Bicol

I took quite a number of photos during my Bicol rotation, and while I would like to post them all here for everyone to see, I cannot. There are just too many of them.

Let's start with my favorite portraits. 

She's Margie Bo Bocaya. Born in Bicol, raised in QC. Owns a mansion in Tabaco (which I didn't get to visit, unfortunately). She was my seatmate on Day Two.

photo

The Tour: Management Rotation in Bicol, Day Three and Four

It was as if it never rained the other day. Praise God! Finally the sun was up. We were all optimistic we'd be seeing Mount Mayon sans the clouds.


We ate breakfast at Bigg's Diner, the local Jollibee of Bicolandia, famous for its goto and burgers.

loving the typography here

The place reminded me of Midtown Diner, one of my favorite places to eat lunch in Manila. The music was from the 60s. The floor tiles and wall decors were from that era as well. And the typography was excellent.

Stranded and Rescued: Management Rotation in Bicol, Day Zero and One

The Management Rotation is the highlight of Third Year (LU 5) in the UP College of Medicine. During the week-long field work, the 20-membered block picks a hospital anywhere in the country to evaluate and assess. Throughout the years it has become an excuse for a decent vacation. We know of groups from previous batches who've gone to Boracay, Davao, Baguio, and other tourist destinations in the country. Clearly we weren't planning on being the exception.

Our destination: Bicolandia.

Snippets from a Sunday preaching

At Higher Rock Christian Church, we're doing a pulpit series on the Book of Acts. Last Sunday, Pastor Bob Amigo taught from Acts 3, and zeroed in on Matthew 27, to shed light on Peter's preaching.

The all-important question that every human being is confronted with is, "What will you do with Jesus, who is called Christ?" Our answer to this has significant, even eternal, consequences.

I pray you can set aside 14 minutes of your time to listen to this snippet of a recording from last Sunday's preaching.



Many thanks to Kito Espiritu for editing this.

Walk-through

Boredom often begets creativity, and I like to think that was what happened to me a couple of days ago, when I went out of my apartment, taking pictures of anything and everything under the sun. I want to share with you how my living environment looks like, right smack in the center of Philippine politics, pollution, flooding, and street crime.

My old building is beside the Manila Science High School, home of nerds who used to win televised quiz shows when I was younger.

taft avenue, corner padre faura street

Michael Cunningham's The Hours: while the rest of 'em visited the dead . . .

Spent the entire day in Quezon City, reading Michael Cunningham's The Hours. The novel revolves around three characters: Clarissa, a bohemian 50-year old who organizes a party for a friend, almost her lover at one point in time; Virginia (as in Woolf), the writer recovering from her mental instability at Richmond, dying to go back to London where much of the action is; and Laura, a wife who takes on the challenge of baking the perfect cake for her husband. Cunningham's prose is breathtaking; he writes beautifully, and this is probably why I enjoyed this book so much--the fascination at how a writer can capture the most palpable emotions through carefully chosen words.

Review: Jipan Japanese Bakeshop

My lunch today was at Jipan Japanese Bakeshop located at the Upper Ground Floor, Building A, SM Megamall. I learned of this place through Atty. Connie Veneracion's blog where she wrote:

Some restaurants we try out of curiosity. If we don’t like the food or the service, or if the prices are way out of proportion with the quality of the food, we don’t go back. If we like the food, service and price, the restaurant becomes a habit. Jipan is one those habits. 
I dragged Manong Ralph with me, and it was a first time for both of us. What almost always happens is that I research interesting places to eat, while he pays the bills. That happened today.

Psyched

Maybe it's a good thing that our block's rotation schedule mimics the normal rhythm: we're on our Psychiatry rotation during the semestral break. Doesn't feel like we're deprived of anything. Psychiatry has been uneventful so far, no backbreaking work, no demanding paperwork, no nothing when you think about it, and the enjoyment mostly comes from actual patient encounters.


I'm glad to finally learn what Psychiatry is all about; it's listening to patient's stories and making sense of them. Clarity of mind, the consultants say, is what we all should have. How can we make sense of others when we can't make sense of ourselves? Listening can get stressful, and as I inquire about my patient's feelings and wait for her to finish her train of thought, dotted with psychotic remarks that are mostly amusing, I find myself admiring psychiatrists more and more. They do this for a living, risking their sanity to help those who have lost theirs.

Sixty

We're not big on birthdays, our family. But my father celebrating his 60th year on earth—now that's extra-special. Weeks ago I planned on writing Tatay a letter, scribbled with my own handwriting, to be sent via post. But I forgot all about the surprise until this morning, when I looked at my phone and realized it's too late for big gestures. Today is that time of the year, October 26. My father's birthday.

When you're 60, people aren't hesitant to call you old because you are just that: an old man, but wiser, more sensible, more enlightened than the oily-faced teenager on the street.

Somethin' Fishy

The plan was to leave later in the evening to catch the unlimited breakfast buffet at Somethin' Fishy, a restaurant at the heart of Eastwood, Quezon City. What was originally planned to be a bonding activity for our block turned out to be a boys' night-out after the ladies backed out at the very last minute. We missed their company, of course.


Eat-all-you-can offerings are notorious for two things: there aren't enough food choices or the food tastes bland. I'm still baffled by the economics of how these establishments operate, too: don't they ever lose money? But the fact that many dining places of this nature have cropped up recently proves they earn more than they lose. It's a booming business, so to speak.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christ is the Center: lectures on the centrality of Christ in Christianity

Christ the Center Christ the Center

Christ the Center, published by Harper Collins, is a collection of lectures given by Protestant preacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the summer semester (May-July) in 1933 at the University of Berlin. In these talks, Bonhoeffer stressed the importance of having the correct knowledge of who Jesus Christ is. In one of his letters, he wrote, "The world's coming of age . . . is better understood than it understands itself, namely on the basis of the Gospel and in the light of Christ."

It must be noted, however, that the texts were reconstructed from the notes of Eberhard Bethge and a few of his students who actually sat down in those lectures. According to Edwin H. Robertson, the translator of this work, these lectures are important because "they stand between the developing theologian influence by all that he had read and thought on the great doctrinal issues, and the leader of the resistance, who was determined that this resistance would be theological rather than political." Bonhoeffer, of course, is known for founding the Confessing Church, part of the Christian resistance against Nazism.

Saturday night dinner: Burger Project and Sancho Churreria

A phase is what this probably is: my recent food adventures, fueled largely by a schedule free from excessive academic work. Except for the upcoming Management rotation in Bicol, these past two weeks are probably the closest I'll get to a decent sem break this year.

I'm blogging from my brother's apartment, and I'm stuffed. We just had dinner at Burger Project, a restaurant along Maginhawa Street, Teachers' Village, an area now bursting with life because of the recent emergence of places to hang out. This street used to be quieter when I was in college at UP Diliman.

Review: Assad Café

The apartment was empty when I came home from class. It was depressing.


So I put on a shirt and old jeans and walked along UN Avenue, which is just near where I live. I was going to eat dinner at an Indian restaurant in Paco called Assad Café, a place I only knew because of this blog entry.

It was my first time to see the other side of UN Avenue (Taft Avenue being the reference point), and I felt like a tourist again. I was surprised, for example, to learn that there was a big Philippine Christian Book Store branch nearby. And I saw an office of the Philippine Bible League, with lots of beautiful Bibles on display. These stores are just a stone's throw away from where I live. And the realization hit me once more: that I live in Manila, but I hardly know the place.

Hidden meanings


Yesterday afternoon, on the comfortable Radiology Department lounge, my friends were debating on whether I should change the name of my site to something else. 

"Bottled brain—what does that mean anyway?" Bon Buño asked me. I know that some of my classmates read my blog on a daily basis, and it's a privilege to waste their time, but Bon isn't one of them. He hardly goes online, and when he does, it's only because of group work deadlines.

"I just like the sound of it," I said.

"You should change it to something more . . . sizzling. To attract more readers, you know? And so that you'd sound really hot. Change it to something like . . . Paranoid Pepper," he said.

Review: Pizza Nero

After a big meeting on our upcoming sex education lecture for high school students last night, I approached Lennie Chua and Elizabeth Ching, "Let's eat dinner."

They asked me where.

"Where our feet will take us," I answered, to which they excitedly said, "Let's go."

Eventually Lee-Ann Caro, Krushna Canlas, Margie Bocaya, and Casti Castillo joined us. Unfortunately some friends weren't able to make it—they either just wanted to rest or they had romantic dates lined up for the evening. Mostly the latter.

That's the joy of having time to spare, I guess, a thought made alien to us by the jampacked schedule and unavoidable stresses of medical school. But now that we're on our radiology rotation—something we cherish because, for once, we're taking a two-week break from actually seeing and examining real patients, limiting ourselves to a cold room viewing X-ray or CT plates—we have time, quality time, to go out and explore the streets of Manila.

Review: Nomnomnom Happy Place

If he's not rushing to go home after church, Manong Ralph treats me to a sumptuous lunch. He's been doing this since he started working a couple of weeks ago. Having been a student himself, he knows that my weekly allowance runs quite low on weekends. I don't know how much he makes, and he refuses to divulge the said information, because I might just ask him to buy me a two-door refrigerator.

Most of the time he lets me decide where we'd spend lunch. The thing with me is that while I think of myself as adventurous in terms of trying out food choices, I'm not adventurous enough. My choices are limited. I'm loyal to the good places I had been to, and I'm not the type to look for new places for the sake of experience. I tend to believe reviews from word-of-mouth. Only last night did I try to search the internet for the restaurant reviews in major areas of Metro Manila.

"So where do you want to eat?" he asked.

I whipped up my notebook. "Nomnomnom Happy Food. I looked for reviews online. It's along 1 Tomas Morato cor E. Rodriguez Ave. Besides Shell Gas Station. That's very near the church," I said. And we were on our way.

Under the rain

I woke up hungry at 9 pm. I slept through what remained of my afternoon. I was tired after a day of taking blood pressure measurements, among other things. I decided to go out and explore new places, wondering where my itching feet would take me. It was almost 10:30 pm. I hailed the first jeepney I saw. It was raining. Didn't carry an umbrella with me. So there I was, walking along the streets, soaked, enjoying every minute of it. Heard random conversations during my commute. Saw lost teenagers in pitch-black alleys. Until I found an inviting restaurant along Vito Cruz and ordered these. Praise God for the wonderful time!

Under the rain

On treating human beings, not diseases

The mantra is for a doctor to view patients not as diseases but as human beings who happen to be suffering from something. I've heard this being trumpeted time and again in our Art of Medicine lectures—a subject only recently injected in the UP curriculum because of previous feedback that while UP graduates are competent and knowledgeable of the treatment protocols, no question about that, they severely lack bedside manners.

Grief, in stages

Taxi

During the taxi ride last Sunday, I asked the driver how he was faring so far. "Wala talagang pasahero 'pag Linggo (There are really no passengers on Sundays)," he said. I noticed a familiar Ilonggo accent in the response—a habit I got from my father who has the uncanny ability to geographically and culturally place people based on how they speak—and from then on I talked to the driver in the Hiligaynon vernacular.

Big, big milestone in my reading life

Except for James Joyce's Ulysses, which I never got to finish, I've never felt so exhausted after reading a novel until I got to the last page of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.  They say only ten percent of people who start reading this work actually finish it. And I see why: the writing is simply overwhelming, featuring some 250 plus characters, many of whom disappear after a few paragraphs, only to resurface again in the ending chapters. There are unpredictable shifts from first- to third-person, and these occur quickly. Poems and song lyrics (95% of them I couldn't understand) are interspersed in the long sentences that remind me of the works of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) and Mario Vargas Llosa (The Green House).

Just finished Gravity's Rainbow!

Search

About two days ago, I emailed a good friend I haven't seen in a while, and in the letter I shared with him a moving portion from Augustine's Confessions, among the best books I've read thus far. (I've been using the John K. Ryan translation, which is just wonderful.)

You judge me, O Lord, for although no one "knows the things of man but the spirit of man which is in him," there is something further in man which not even the spirit of man which is in him knows. But you, Lord, who made him, knows all things that are in him. Although I despise myself before your sight, and account myself but dust and ashes, yet I know something of you which I do not know about myself. In truth, "we see now through a glass in a dark manner", and not yet "face to face." Therefore as long as I journey apart from you, I am more present to myself than to you. Yet I have known that you are in no wise subject to violation, whereas for myself, I do not know which temptations I can resist and which I cannot. Even so, there is hope, for you are "faithful, who will not suffer us" to "be tempted above that which" we "are able to bear," but you "make also with temptation issue that" we "may be able to bear it." Let me confess then, what I know about myself. Let me confess also what I do not know about myself, since that too which I know about myself I know because you enlighten me. As to that which I am ignorant concerning myself, I remain ignorant of it until my "darkness shall be made as the noonday in your sight."

Augustine's prayers are so heartfelt and personal because he knew the God to whom he prayed to. God knew him, too, not just as a creature but as an adopted son, through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The experience is similar to reading the Psalms. His confessions give the reader a picture of the spiritual turmoils that trouble his heart—his lust, his pride, his other past and present sins.

Problematizing the flood

Taft Avenue is flooded. It has been raining steadily since last night. My roommates and I haven't been anywhere, except to buy canned goods for lunch at the local Mercury Drug Store.

Typhoon Pedring

The fun part about having typhoons is that the air is cool. School and work get cancelled. My group was scheduled to work in a clinic in Tondo today, but that has been postponed until further notice. A major Agape activity was also cancelled. I've had an entire day to myself.

Outside

I met Ronald, 30, while I was killing time at a sari-sari store, sipping a cold bottle of Coke, taking time off from the afternoon heat. I noticed his tattoo—I'm simply drawn to tattoos, a habit I can't seem to get away from—and so I asked him who Lyn was. His wife, he told me, smiling, a look of longing in his eyes. They have three children. He works at a dental laboratory, making dentures for a living. He was thrilled when I told him my mother is a dentist. Maybe she could send her orders to us, he said. A hardworking family man, ladies and gentlemen.


Lyn, his wife

A magazine!

Through our Community Medicine creative project, Bagong Bahay, Bagong Buhay: Kuwento ng mga barangay health worker ng St. Hannibal Christian Community (New Home, New Life: Stories of barangay health workers of St. Hannibal Christian Community) we share the colorful, often heart-wrenching stories of people who've been rescued from depressing living conditions that still beset many Filipino families in urban centers today.
  Bagong Bahay, Bagong Buhay

Their stories

After almost two weeks of immersing in the SHACC (St. Hannibal Christian Community), the people already know most of us by name. Their handshakes are warm, their welcome genuine. They greet us the moment they see us enter the gate.

gate

After more than 20 years of renting cramped spaces of makeshift houses beside the polluted river, they've been given a new lease at life: concrete houses they can call their own. Their stories are moving.

shacc

Living in a gated compound has its perks. They no longer need to fear for their security. They are more or less protected from flooding, which used to erode their properties. The bad side is that they're isolated from the rest of the barangay, especially from the shanty communities nearby. This isolation, according to the residents, is more because of envy than geography.

Immersion

The trip begins with a 20-minute LRT ride to EDSA, a five-minute jeepney commute to a local  health center, and a 10-minute walk under the scorching, melanoma-inducing heat of the noonday sun.


Meanwhile we're lost in laughter, conversation, and brief outbursts of excitement at the mere sight of a bakery or a turo-turo or a carinderia—all potential hang-out places. Jonas, Krushna, Jegar, Ching, and I . . . we're far too easily pleased. Give us cheap food and an eight-ounce bottle of Coke, and we'll be happy.

Community Medicine is a welcome break from the hospital scene. This time the patients no longer come to us; we go to them. And truth be told, they may not need us at all. This exchange, this reversal of roles, is teaching us many things we may have brushed aside. It's not about us but them.

Touring Diliman

I had the afternoon free, so I left for Diliman to get my black vintage glasses. I had the lenses replaced a couple of weeks ago. Yes, that's me, my cheeks bloated with fat. Soon enough I'll have the double chin.

 New old glasses

I wasn't in any particular rush. I walked around what used to be my campus and my home for five years. I felt envious of the students I saw: they didn't have to deal with the awful pollution; they were in their comfort zones.