Saturday, November 30, 2019


When we bid our goodbyes yesterday on our final class for the semester, I felt a tinge of separation anxiety which, I confessed to a friend, was so unlike me. But that class was the penultimate master’s class meeting for my degree (Master in Clinical Medicine, if you’re curious). While it looked like an ordinary Friday afternoon—with Fred and I nodding to each other so we could rush to the LRT to avoid the paralyzing Metro Manila rush hour—it was, forgive the cliché, the beginning of the end.

I like to think that I’ve had a good run in Medical Oncology training. I’ve been blessed beyond measure. The Lord has proven Himself faithful and true to His word. He has given me so much more that I deserve. I consider the past two years the hardest moments of my life, but these were also the most fruitful.

I suppose I shouldn’t brush away these healthy feelings of gradual loss. It is painful to let go of things dear to one’s heart, especially to my constant company of rowdy, supportive, humble, inspiring, and brilliant colleagues-turned-friends.

*  *  *

I'm sharing some photos of us, taken by Raj.

Freddie, Kmomsh, Rech, myself, and Raj during lunch breaks at the European Society of Medical Oncology preceptorships. Freddie, Kmosh, and Rech attended the Gastrointestinal Preceptorship, while Raj and I were in the Immuno-Oncology session.

Photos taken by Roger

We helped one another set up our posters at ESMO Asia—a constant theme of our existence. Helping out one another, seeking the good of the other, even at one's inconvenience or expense. Raj would later win the award as Best Poster in the lung cancer category.

Photos taken by Roger

Our natural facial oils and Singapore's Gardens By the Bay. Raj insisted on a selfie.

Photos taken by Roger

Besties Raj and Freddie, reconnecting under the fake tree.

Photos taken by Roger


Photos taken by Roger

Ni hao, Rech!


Freddie delivering an excellent presentation of his team's randomized controlled trial.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Sweaty inside the Bangkok temples

We arrived a day earlier. Despite the tropical heat and humidity, Mervyn Leones and I determined to visit the temples, if only to marvel at the architecture and culture that Bangkok offered. It was a charming city, one that Manila could have been, if only we had been better at governing ourselves, or at choosing the people who governed us. We shouldn't compare places—each has its own peculiarities—but comparison was inevitable in this case because there was a time in history when Thailand and the Philippines were similar in status as emerging economies in Southeast Asia. Now Manila has been left behind. It is frustrating to write that. But she is struggling, and the struggle continues.

There is a place in human experience where one needs to have one's photo taken beside a famous statue or icon, but I have long since overcome that urge. I'd much rather take photos of people taking photos of themselves (how meta!), or to take random snapshots of humans maximizing their short opportunities at getting their snapshots before their tourist buses leave. It's amazing what people will do—poses that often border on humiliation, which they will soon regret, happily, years thereafter, when someone resurrects them with innocent likes—for a chance to amuse their Facebook friends temporarily.

So here we were.

An iconic photo of a largely unnoticed pond. The doctor in me thought of Aedis aegypti.

Lotus pond, Thailand

Masyadong ginalingan.

Posing, Thailand

The looking-far away pose, which reminds me of creative graduation photos of people where I train.

Tourists in Temple, Bangkok, Thailand

And my favorite—this kid, tired from all the walking, in the process of hydrating himself.

Thirsty, Thailand


When I learned that my good friend and colleague Rich King also liked gardening, I knew I wasn't alone. After doing chemotherapy, Rich would lull himself to sleep by watching YouTube videos of plants and herbs (see the channel, Garden Answer—thanks, Rich!). This seems to agree with him—a quiet, peaceful hobby, perfect for introversion. I told him that I like watching Monty Don's Big Dreams, Small Spaces in Netflix, a show where ordinary people transform what little patch of land they have into the garden of their dreams. The gardens don't always turn out well—an episode showed the creation of a pond that looked like a toilet bowl—but one appreciates the effort and drama.

Gardening and plants. This botanical fascination creeps on us as move into our thirties, when we are more stable, perhaps more certain of our place under the sun. As a kid, I took a liking to botany. Having learned about monocots and dicots, I carved out a special place in our backyard and planted corn (monocot) and munggo (dicot). I tried out fertilizers, decomposed dried leaves, and was mostly impatient that things would speed up.

Recently, my good friend Kuya Imay, also the best insurance adviser in the world, sent me photos of his vegetable garden in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley. I asked permission to share these here. What a relaxing sight, indeed!

Kuya Imay's vegetable garden

Kuya Imay's vegetable garden

Kuya Imay's vegetable garden

Kuya Imay's vegetable garden

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Down under

Last week my brother Ralph and I had the opportunity to visit friends from Down Under. These were friends from way back—those who knew me from when I sported the crew cut and looked emaciated. We stayed in a university dorm together, enjoyed sweet Christian fellowship, labored in prayer for "acads" (how we termed our university requirements and exams, which we hoped to pass to get us closer to our baccalaureate degrees) and our spiritual walk with the Lord, and went to dinner in our favorite staple, Lola Lita's and its killer tofu, already burned down to the ground because of a massive fire a few years ago. They have remained friends and have become—no, really—family. My eyes water and my heart overflows with thanksgiving when I think of the tapestry of my life in my twenties, carefully handcrafted by God who included them.

After the delayed release of our visas, we booked a cheap flight to Sydney. Friends in Manila asked me what I was going to do there. My reply was that I did not know. The plan was to just coast along, follow the itinerary set in the WhatsApp group called "Catedrals in Sydney," and have fun.



So have fun we did. Kuya John hosted us in his beautiful place in Burwood. He would cook lunch and dinner—steak and Australian wine and that luscious salad. He would join us for coffee and snacks during his breaks. He would tour me around Newtown and bring me to his favorite bookstore, where I saw a vintage copy of The Pilgrims Progress.


Mike Tan treated us to dinner at The Rocks. He would be our tour guide in The Blue Mountains, and would ask us to pose for the camera, something I rarely do these days. But Mike was always insistent: "Naglakat pa kamo diri kung hindi lang kamo magpapiktyur!" Ah, Mike! It makes me laugh every time I recall our walks along the eucalyptus trees and our views of the vast New South Wales landscape, marred with the occasional bush fires and chilly winds. He also took us around the charming Katoomba and Leura towns, which looked like the New England setting of The Good Witch, a feel-good Netflix series I'm watching.




Kuya Arbie and the lovely Ate Vinz prepared dinner for us in their apartment just a few blocks away from the Sydney Olympic Park. Their daughter Louise knew how rally a crowd, with her small violin and her ABCs, which she would sing to Kuya Arbie in the morning, like a natural alarm. I hope she does not get Kuya Arbie's musical ability when she grows up.

All of us, save for Ate Vinz and Louise, went for a drive to Port Stephens, did a not-too-exhausting hike, dipped out feet in the beach, ate pizza at a public park in sleepy Newcastle, dipped our feet again in the sand dunes where I saw camels for the first time, visited a small zoo with wombats and kangaroos, and drove home.



In between these trips, we caught up with each other, talked about our other friends, about how God has been at work in our lives, and planned our next trip back to Australia.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Three ways to "stay Christian" when discussing politics

I have friends whose political views run contrary to mine. This article by Jared Wilson is particularly instructive on how I should relate to them. In summary, the three ways are:

1. Turn some things off.
2. Remember your political opposites are sacred image-bearers of God.
3. Take your cues from Your Christ, not Your candidates.

I feel just the same way, and, at some point, have been guilty of this:

I cringe every time I see a friend or family member share some derogatory or dehumanizing comment or meme about politicians they don’t like. Sadly, objectifying our opponents has frequently been the way American [Philippine] political debate works, simply because it’s the way the world works. But Christians are not to act and look like the world. The stakes in our political rivalries may be high, but they are not so high that we must abandon the biblical truths that our real war is not waged against flesh and blood. They are not so high that we must deny the dignity of our political opponents, harping on their mistakes and flubs, scorning them with the hatred none of us owes to fellow human beings made in the image of God.

Saturday, November 9, 2019


Sydney 2019 — Day 1

Sydney 2019 — Day 1

Sydney 2019 — Day 1

First, cityscapes and suburbia; then beaches, pubs, and cafés. And then the mountains and rocks and chilly winds that nearly overthrew us over the cliff. Today: we return to the shores and 20-minute hikes. Ah, to celebrate the goodness of the Lord through friends!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Still taking exams

Mid-term exams

I'm spending a good deal of my morning working on a take-home mid-term exam that's due next week. I love writing papers and taking exams, for some reason. There is no virtue in it for me—I just like punching the keyboard, reading my words come to life, and hoping they make sense to get me an acceptable grade.

Friday, November 1, 2019

More to life

More to Life

While cleaning my fountain pens, a private ritual I share with fountain pen-loving friends who do the same during long weekends, Spotify played Natalie Weiss's rendition of More to Life. Ain't that the truth? In this photo is a Parker Duofold Slimfold inked with a green ink (likely a Pilot Iroshizuku sampler gifted by Ate Milaine).
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