Saturday, March 23, 2019

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Spotting F. Sionil Jose and Mavis Gallant

I finally saw F. Sionil Jose, the Filipino novelist, in his bookstore, Solidaridad, along Padre Faura Street, a stone's throw away from PGH. He was handing out books that had just been delivered to his assistants (I saw When Breath Becomes Air), telling them to which section they should be displayed.

F. Sionil Jose

I got Mavis Gallant's Overhead in a Balloon for Php 250!

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Deborah Treisman, the fiction editor at the New Yorker, wrote this about her:

Gallant was sometimes unforgiving, but also compassionate toward the characters she inhabited. I came to her as a reader years before I had any idea that I might one day know her. For a young woman, reading secondhand copies of the collections “From the Fifteenth District” and “Home Truths” was a revelation. Gallant’s characters were so interior one had the sense that they were almost trapped inside their own minds, peering outward through two circles of light. The degree of self-knowledge was painful, the understanding of the moods and motivations of others astonishing, but the moments of real connection heartbreakingly rare. There was isolation, and then there was the acceptance of isolation.

She is a "writer's writer."

Friday, March 15, 2019

Saturday, March 2, 2019

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Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered

Completing my census relaxes me. It requires nothing more than quick eyes, steady hands, and a computer plugged to electricity. It is best accomplished with some music. Kristin Chenoweth's version is beautiful. Do listen.



Love's the same old sad sensation
Lately, I've not slept a wink
Since this silly situation
Has me on the blink
I'm wild again, beguiled again
A simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

This song has been playing in the background as I kill the afternoon writing my census, about a hundred or more pages of entries at size 10, Arial. I am "bewitched, bothered, and bewildered" at the opportunity to have taken care of this many number of patients. I don't remember everyone on the list, but I can recall most faces.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Happy birthday, Nay!

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Nanay celebrates her 63rd birthday today. After having been diagnosed with cancer, she did not think she would last this long. She had clear instructions to Tatay as to how her funeral service was going to be, which flowers we were going to pick, which songs we were going to sing, and so on. Tatay wouldn't have any of it, as he could not imagine life without my mother. God's plans turned out differently: He called my father home first. I texted Nanay on the way to church after making rounds at the Cancer Institute, just in time to catch the 9 am Sunday worship service. I wrote that she is the best mother I could ever hope for. Because she never says "I love you" back (it makes her cringe), she replied, "[I'm] Always happy because of the four men in my life. You are my joy, my pride, my satisfaction next to Jesus." It occurred to me that she has never called us her babies but has always treated us as men, even when we were little kids, giving us responsibilities, holding us accountable, ensuring that we behaved accordingly. She didn't care much that we got good grades (although she made sure we made our best efforts in school, particularly scolding me for reading novels instead of textbooks), but she always prayed that we would walk in the fear of the Lord. I thank God for giving me a mother I can never deserve.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Homeland, Season 7

I am a fan of Homeland, largely because of Mandy Patinkin who plays Saul Berenson. I dress like him most times—rolled up sleeves, dark trousers, leather shoes, glasses—this I now realize. Clare Danes is spectacular as Carrie Mathison, her child Frannie now already grown up. I have loved this series and has streamed this even before the advent of Netflix. Season 7 is about the Russian interference in US politics. President Keane is being removed from office by a well-orchestrated narrative perpetrated by social media, to which opposition politicians fall hostage to. It is fascinating, almost like a commentary of the present day. In the final episode, the US President addresses the nation and cites the Philippines (the last in her list) as one of the countries where democracy is dying.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The purity of God's Word and its impact on my life

I had the privilege of sharing a short testimony during the church's anniversary. I'm sharing it here.

There is so much suffering in this fallen world. Just this week, I met a 19-year old girl with salivary gland cancer, a 30-year old man with an advanced facial tumor, a 50-year old single mother with stage IV breast cancer, a 60-year old farmer with prostate cancer who could no longer afford his medications. These, and many more.

It is exhausting.

By four o’clock in the afternoon, my mouth is dry, my throat is painful, my hands are numb, and my heart is tired. There have been times when I would rather have just walked out and gone home to sleep it all off. But it is during these moments of exhaustion when the neediest patients arrive, and the urge to become distant and mechanical is the strongest. It is, after all, easier to think of them as pieces of DNA that have undergone mutations or as human bodies whose cells have become dysfunctional, instead of as human beings who have souls.

I need to turn back to God’s Word—and this I need to do daily. Jesus, in His earthly ministry, must have been exhausted. Matthew wrote that “they brought [Jesus] all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and He healed them” (Matthew 4:24). Jesus was an internist, a neurologist, a rehabilitation specialist, a dermatologist (He treated leprosy)—the best physician that this world has seen. It makes sense, therefore, to turn to this Great Physician’s Words: He knows all things, controls all the cells of the body, and knows exactly what I need.

How has the purity of God’s Word impacted my life?

God’s Word reveals what is lacking in me. I realize that I lack compassion and love for others. The Bible presents the loftiest example of love: that of Jesus Christ, who died for a sinner like me. The Bible is a clear lens through which my otherwise selfish eyes see my sins. It allows me to see God’s highest standard of holiness, which I could never achieve apart from His grace.

God’s Word fills me with compassion and joy. What I lack, God graciously fills up. He is the wellspring of life, the infinite source of compassion and love. I am refreshed and renewed when I behold Him. His words are a balm to my soul. His promises give me hope. When my mind and heart and saturated with His word, they overflow in my dealings with my patients, my family, and my friends. I love how John Piper described love—“the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.”

God’s Word transforms me daily. God sanctifies me to become more Christ-like. It is often a painful process. Understanding this truth makes me realize that no patient interaction is accidental. Will He give me an opportunity to exercise sacrificial love and selfless compassion to this patient who is about to die? How may I glorify Him the most? As a result, I am drawn to share the gospel by way of gospel tracts or short conversations during multiple consults, to pray at bedside, and to emphasize the reality of eternity, to my patients and their families. The Christian hope, after all, is unlike any other. In this aspect, I am a work in progress.

In what seems like a never-ending battle against pain and suffering, God’s Word settles my heart. In Him alone I find rest.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The hassles and joys of printed books

Last Saturday I came across the Powerbooks book sale at the Upper Ground Floor of SM Megamall. I got three hardbounds for less than Php 1500! The acquisition of too many books (the Japanese have a word for it: tsundoku) poses a subject of conflict between Manong and me--probinsiyanos who live in a small rented space in Metro Manila. Before going home I could almost hear my brother ask me in a serious tone, "Where will you store those?" He wasn't too pleased when, a few days ago, I brought home five volumes of De Vita's Oncology textbook, 11th edition, and stacked them on the dining table. The lack of space is the main reason why I've mostly turned to Kindle for my leisure readings and my iPad for my academic readings (journals, textbooks, and so on). Most of the books I've accumulated since 2004 have been shipped back to Koronadal, where my mother had an entire cabinet installed to house them. (My late father carefully packed them in neat boxes, some of which still exist, bearing his neat and careful handwriting.)

Thus far, the transition to digital has been seamless. I've discovered that I read more slowly with printed books; I'd much rather use my iPad to read DeVita, for instance. It uses the same amount of concentration but less muscular ability: plus, I can read in the dark, which is really how I study. A pillow propped behind my head, my body in a supine position, with comfortable pajamas. Some would call it "getting ready to sleep." The physicality of the reading process is more pronounced when I leaf through actual pages, being able to smell them, crumple them, and write little notes on the margins. Other than that, I haven't had many issues. The blogger Tim Challies said he endeavored to transition to ebooks completely. Just don't remind me of Michael Dirda's Browsings, that beautiful account of a biobliophile whose main hobby is collecting first edition prints of books. After reading Mr. Dirda's essays (in my Kindle, ironically), I had a shopping spree with my fellowship allowance money, where I bought all copies of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels and some more. They're in one corner of the dining table.

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I'm reading David Lebovitz's l'appart, his account of buying a space in the 11th arrondissement of Paris and renovating it. I've enjoyed my time in Paris in 2017 and look forward to going back.

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I got Bulfinch's Mythology for my brother. This pacified him and even excited the English major in him.

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The page edges are in gold. I hope that I can spend entire days with these stories.

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Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote the masterful novel, The Sympathizer, edited an essay collection. The pieces are written by refugee writers. What does it mean to be taken away from one's home to live in a foreign land, with a different culture and value system? I always think of Christianity as a life of refugees in a land both foreign and familiar: in the world but not of it. Our home is in heaven, which we will see someday. I'm not sure if the book resonates themes of longing and homesickness (it can be, I expect, extremely political), but I hope it does.

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If you have time, visit SM Megamall. I saw unopened comic books, children's books, and even Stormy Daniel's account of President Trump on sale. No Christian or theological books, unfortunately, but there are many places for those.
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Over-sharing

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I met my friend Paul, now a citizen of New Zealand, over lunch yesterday. The subject of my blog popped up, Paul having seen me in 2004 start mini-website at an internet cafe near the UP Shopping Center. (There wasn't internet connection in Kalayaan Dorm yet, and this was the time when only Paul Balite and Luther Caranguian had laptops, which made them extra-cool.) "I'm sorry I sometimes forget to check it," he said, issuing what I still feel is an unwarranted, misplaced apology. Some friends think I oblige them, wherever they may be in the world, to read this little space of the web.

I told him I'm glad my phase of over-sharing--which included taking photos of all the food I've eaten, writing about how I felt about this or that film or movie--is of the past. I was, in a sense, social media savvy even before social media gained traction in Filipino culture. The closest thing to a social media in 2004 was blogging, now considered dead by some, but something that I continue to enjoy working on.

I'll meet him, Lord-willing, in Australia by the end of the year. He promised to drive me around. Paul, if you're reading this, I'll hold you accountable!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Multiple corrections

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This was the menu of Mr. Poon Restaurant in Ermita, Manila. To conserve paper and avoid plastic lamination, the managers decided (I think) to use white correction tape.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

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Fishing

Along a beach in Hong Kong (2016), where Minori N. showed my brother and me around.
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At the male restroom at Café Breton, Tomas Morato, Quezon City. Too bad the branch at Robinson's Place Manila is now closed. It used to be the place where I did some leisurely reading, where I picked up a French novel whose author I now forget, and where I almost always ordered the mushroom burger (perhaps the best in town, second to Trisha's beside SMRAA in Koronadal), and cafe americano plus sugar and butter with lemon crepe for dessert.
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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Before work

Before work

It is quiet at 4 am. I brew a cup of espresso, reheat the ensaymada given yesterday by a colon cancer patient now in remission (praise God!), and start my devotions. I turn my iPad on and scroll through the ESV app. Ephesians 2--that glorious chapter. That life-changing "but" that has given me, and so many others, hope and eternal security.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

My heart cries out, "Thank you, Lord!" I have seen too much human suffering the day before. I need perspective, clarity, and hope. The secular world does not have these things, but Scripture does. This is where I should be looking.

The ensaymada is delicious, imbued with the perfect softness, layered with melted cheese that has begun to crunch. The coffee keeps my stomach warm. My pen glides with green ink on soft, unlined, Japanese paper in cream. My day has begun. I wish you safety and joy.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

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National Handwriting Day!


Written using Vintage Parker Duofold (ca. 1930s) in Sheaffer turquoise ink—among my life’s miscellaneous joys.

I found in vintage pens a marriage of my fascination for fountain pens and history. During the Christmas break, I discovered eBay, the online marketplace, repository of all things old and new. It has been recommended by Dr. Butch Dalisay, whose fountain pen collection is a continual source of admiration.

I tried my hands at the auctions—a relatively harmless pursuit, I supposed, something I considered similar to haggling, only with a computer and sans the chatter. It took me a while to learn the ropes. I lost many times. There was joy in that, too, because the process left me with the possibility that I could win—what if nobody else cared for that 1930 Parker Duofold or that rotting model of a Vacumatic? What if I could get the pens at a low price?

Part of the thrill was the existence of these what-ifs. Another was the possibility of holding in my hand, shipped from elsewhere, a piece of history, a metallic object with a 14K gold nib, bearing scratches and pigmentations from way before World War Two had even begun. I won.

More than three weeks later (because I picked the cheapest shipping option), our office secretary received notice that I had a parcel to retrieve from the Post Office. I braved the Metro Manila traffic, entered for the first time the old, decrepit Post Office Building, and got the vintage pen of my dreams.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The pilgrimage

A great blessing in my Christian walk is the weekly fellowship I have with brothers from Pilgrim Cell. This quote from Stephen Charnock's The Doctrine of Regeneration, a massive piece of theological treatise and exposition (I'm only halfway through!), resonates with the fact that Christians who walk on this earth are on a pilgrimage.

Use the world as travellers an inn, to lodge, not to dwell in, to accommodate you in your journey to that Father of whom you were born. Let a heaven-born nature be attended with heavenly flights, longing for that happy state wherein nothing but the divine nature shall be seen in union, as nothing but fire is seen in melted gold.

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Taiwan, December 2017

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019

Genesis 1:11

January 2019

Scribbled using a J. Herbin Verte Ink with TWSBI Diamond 580 1.1 mm stub nib. Too bad the hospital doesn't allow other colors in the chart except blue and black.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

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My mother's little project

I've asked my mother, who refuses to engage in social media and warns me not to post indiscriminately about her, to take random photos every day. I installed a Flickr app on her phone and iPad, and configured them to automatically upload all photos taken when she is connected to the internet. She has retired from her private practice but occasionally sees old patients for some minor dental work. Otherwise, she refers her patients to Sean and spends time indoors, with her huge flat screen TV perpetually connected to Netflix. Our conversation revolves on the series she has watched; she calls them "season-season," having learned that some items there require more than one week to finish. She sometimes prefers watching films and has sampled all sorts of them, with languages as varied as the French, Spanish, Turkish (her favorite), and now, she tells me, Korean. She also does a lot of gardening, which involves her telling Auntie Nanic, her cousin who lives with her, to transfer her potted plants from one corner to another. She has finished all the books I've asked her to read. This she can do because she has all the time in the world. I warned her that her lifestyle is sedentary. Save for her daily walks in the neighborhood, her home visits to the sick and dying, and her Bible study classes in church, she is mostly at home.

I've asked her to begin a photo project, in the hopes of getting her out of her room and into the world. I don't have permission yet to post some photos she has taken, but I did not know she is taking our little hobby seriously. Here she is, taking a photo of "ferns attached to the coconut tree," marveling the serenity of the gardens of her long-time friends the Figueroas. Many thanks to Auntie Liza Dayot--who also owns a beautiful farm place in Banga, South Cotabato--for sharing this photo of Nanay.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

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All our good is in God

Jonathan_Edwards

When midnight struck, I had a meal with my brothers, walked out to St. Paul Street to find some neighbors watching the fireworks, and returned to the bedroom with my Kindle at hand. The book was Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, edited by H. Norman Gardiner. It was printed in 1904 by the MacMillan Company, but I downloaded mine from Project Gutenberg.

A theologian in New England and considered as America's foremost intellectual and spiritual thinker (a shame that we don't year a lot about him as often), he considered himself primarily a preacher. In the book's foreword is a description of his work.

Even in his most terrific sermons he never appeals to mere hope and fear, nor to mere authority; in them, as in his theological treatises, he is bent on demonstrating, within the limits prescribed by the underlying assumptions, the reasonableness of his doctrine, its agreement with the facts of life and the constitution of things, as well as with the inspired teachings of the Word.

I can only imagine hearing him preach. YouTube hadn't been discovered then. But his pupil, Hopkins, offers us a glimpse of the manner of Jonathan Edwards's preaching.

His appearance in the desk was with a good grace, and his delivery easy, natural and very solemn. He had not a strong voice, but appeared with such gravity and solemnity, and spake with such distinctness, clearness and precision, his words were so full of ideas, set in such a plain and striking light, that few speakers have been able to demand the attention of an audience as he . . . He made but little motion of his head or hands in the desk, but spake as to discover the motion of his own heart, which tended in the most natural and effectual manner to move and affect others. . . He carried his notes into the desk with him, and read the most that he wrote; yet he was not so confined to his notes, when he wrote at large, but that, if some thoughts were suggested, while he was speaking, which did not occur when writing, and appeared to him pertinent and striking, he would deliver them; and that with as great propriety, and oftener with greater pathos, and attended with a more sensible good effect on his hearers, than all he had wrote.

The first sermon, God Glorified in Man's Dependence (1731), moved me as Jonathan Edwards's sermons generally would.

How many times this year did I find myself at the end of my strength, and in such moments, how often did God carry me through?

I write this now, with the comforts of personal restropection, because 2018 was the hardest year of my life to date: my grandmother passed away in January, my uncle Papa Eddie in March, and my father in May. Jonathan Edwards, preaching from 1 Corinthians 1:29–31, said to his congregation, and is saying to me now, hundreds of years later, by way of a timeless reminder that only books are able to accomplish:

The redeemed have all their good in God. We not only have it of him, and through him, but it consists in him; he is all our good.
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