Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Christmas market!

Christmas Market, Geneva

Because Geneva is a quiet city for serious people—a realization Harold and I had while figuring out the bus stop to the city center, concluding that this calm neighborhood was the city center!—we chanced upon what looked like a Christmas Market after alighting from the Place de Neuve stop. We were figuring out our way around this small city, confident that we wouldn't pay anything because we got free city passes from where we were staying.

"That seems interesting," I told Harold, directing him to a park lighted with Christmas lights. The sign read, Nöel aux Bastion. Harold, at this point, could still not get over the fact that our hotel room was upgraded to a suite on the seventh floor.

"Game," he said. "Pero parang walang tao." We decided to give it a go as we had nothing else to do.

We were surprised at the liveliness of the atmosphere. There were, in fact, people. They were huddled over fires to ease the cold. They lined up for raclettes and cheese fondues and chocolat chaud. They spoke in rapid-fire French, of which I only understood bits and pieces—this over warm cups of wine (vin chaud). There were even babies wrapped in down jackets, sucking their pacifiers. Their first Christmas.


I was intrigued by the Christmas trees, dotted with lights and decors, that flanked the corners of the pathway. "Siguro, totoong puno ito," I concluded. I pulled out some of the needles. They were not made of plastic. My mother would be so thrilled.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

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Italian coffee

When my friend Luther visited Milan a few months ago for work-related affairs, he told me the Italians prefer the espresso: richly black coffee filling up about a quarter of a demitasse. They drink it many times a day, during breaks, as a single gulp while standing. They don't linger in coffee shops, which was a shock to him who ordered a cappuccino at lunch time. His choice of beverage also gave the Italians a shock, since cappuccino (or any coffee with milk in the preparation) is usually taken during breakfast. His experience launched a rabid interest in coffee. He talked about the getting the right pressure at the correct temperature to get the perfect flavor out of the coffee beans and so on. I always love talking to Luther and, in preparation for this trip, consulted him on my itinerary.

I remembered him as I had my coffee here. For breakfast, I would have un café (an espresso) and a croissant albicocca.

This was immediately after my arrival, at the Milano Central Station.


This was in a corner café along Via Marocco where my hotel is. I can't find the photo of my espresso, but I ordered just the same. I found on a table a copy of the day's La Republicca and found a story about people close to home.

Day 2

In the afternoon, tired from all the walking, I had a quiet moment inside a café. I lingered with Elena Ferrante's The Story of the Lost Child with a cup of espresso and a bottle of sparkling water.

Day 2

I stayed for more than an hour, lost in the story, my feet recovering from the strain.


The thrill of traveling alone is the opportunity to force one's self to a heightened awareness of the environment, of other people, not to be distracted by the constant company of friends or family.

For instance, as I was walking along the sides of the canals of the Navigli district yesterday, I was also praying silently. "Lord," I said in Hiligaynon, "thank you for this rare opportunity to experience this colder part of the world." My hands were freezing so I tucked them inside my overcoat.

As I passed through the next block of ristorante, trattoria, pizzeria, and bookstores, I saw this mother and daughter pair: how she loved her child and doted on her; how the child loved her ice cream! I looked at them from afar before I took this photo as I decided to walk along.

Day 2

Monday, December 9, 2019

Milan and museums

I realize it's only 4:56 pm as I begin writing this. I had just finished showering—this, after more than 24 hours of air travel, walking, getting lost, and saying "grazie," one of the very few Italian words I know. When delivered with my faux Milano inflection and my genuine Filipino smile, "grazie" can do wonders. The Italians are a charming and gracious people who respond well to thanksgiving.

I am now about to sleep and skip dinner—most restaurants are closed on Sundays anyway, and I don't want to return to Duomo, in the city center, just for a meal. When I barged in a neighborhood trattoria, the beautiful lady bid me come, only to tell me that they were closed for the day. Sunday is extraordinarily quiet in Milan.

I realize that even for my standards, 4 pm is quite early. It is typical of Italian winters to have long nights and short days, apparently—a foreign concept to someone like me who has spent 99.9% of his life in the tropics where these things generally don't matter.

I flew a few days earlier to make good use of my weekend. The main reason for this European foray is to attend an immuno-oncology conference in Geneva, where Harold and I will be sharing the results of our study on pancreatic cancer. I will be meeting Harold in Switzerland on Tuesday where, he told me, it is already snowing. I'm grateful to have worked with him on a number of research projects, and I'm proud of him as a colleague and friend.

This morning I went to Duomo. It was beautiful the way Gothic cathedrals can impress with their intricate patterns and ambitious motives.


Here is the panoramic view, best viewed through Flickr.

I went to museums. This was Leonardo da Vinci's sketch at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.


This was Rafael's cartoon, The School of Athens.



I also visited Filippino Lippi's L'Annunciazone exhibit.


The museum tour was in Italian, but I was surprised at myself that I could understand what was going on.


I dropped by Galeria D'Italia along Piazza Scala to look at the Thorvaldsen sculptures and other artworks.


I had an overload of artworks and paintings, so it amused me to hear Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" in the background.


Praise God for His goodness in bringing me to Italy this weekend!

Thursday, December 5, 2019



The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang, tells the story of a Chinese family that decides to withhold the diagnosis of lung cancer stage IV to their matriarch, the grandmother Nai Nai. They spare her the troubles of dealing with terminal illness, dismissing her complaints of cough as prolonged infection, and going out of their way to create fake X-ray results. I must say that I enjoyed the film immensely, as it deals with the question of how to best approach the family's decision against disclosure versus the patient's need to be informed of the illness.

This issue resonates with my daily experiences, but I've come to realize that patients know a whole a lot more about their illness than we give them credit for. How do I deal with this issue? It's still on a case-to-case basis. I tell the family it's hard to conceal a cancer diagnosis if we plan to give palliative chemotherapy or some other treatments with concerning side effects. Disclosure is a complicated issue for which no pat solutions can be offered. Here lies the art of medicine—something I keep working to be good at so that one day it becomes second-nature to me.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019


Blogs are here to stay

Blogs are here to stay. Tim Challies makes strong arguments of why that is the case.

"... We are seeing the shortcomings of other forms of social media. When blogs began, they were social media. They were an early form of online social connection between people who shared similar interests, whether that was politics, hobbies, Reformed theology, or anything else. But it did not take long for other forms of social media to develop—Twitter was at first considered “microblogging” and Facebook was a kind of “friend and family blogging.” Yet as much as each of these has displaced blogging in certain ways, none has quite replaced it. Twitter causes as many problems as it solves by its immediacy and by the nature of its character limit; Facebook emphasizes the most urgent information while older updates or articles almost immediately disappear into the void. These forms of social media speak to the present, but don’t adequately archive information. They allow people to speak quickly, but don’t value thoughtfulness. Though they have strengths, they also have weaknesses—weaknesses that blogs address well.

Now that we're in the subject of blogs, here are the top five blogs I subscribe to. While I miss Google Reader, The Old Reader does the tricks of an effective blog aggregator—perhaps even better!
Faithful to God's word, Tim has written daily for 5,877 consecutive days as of the time of writing. I love his insights on the kind of Christianity that's lived out daily. I love his devotion to God's Word, his recommendations of links and Kindle deals, and his tips on productivity. I've had the privilege of meeting him in person when he spoke at the Live It Well conference in Quezon City, a conference which our church hosted.
One of the coolest people in the internet, Jason Kottke is my go-to source for the best links in the web. I love his writing: simple and honest sentences, and quite sincere, too—like listening to a friend talk about the things he likes.

Paradox Uganda
Missionary doctors Scott and Jennifer Mhyre write about their work in Africa. They run a school and a hospital, and juggle many responsibilities in between. I love looking at the photographs of their family—their children are all grown up now. Their writing is a balm to the soul; the insights are otherworldly, transcendent, emanating from souls that commune with our gracious Redeemer.

Pinoy Penman
This is the personal blog of Dr. Buch Dalisay—college professor, writer, novelist, and fountain pen collector. What I love most is when he writes about fountain pens, his collection of antiquated materials, and his reflections on life. He takes great photos, too!

Austin Kleon
I love his Blackout Poetry collection, photographs of his notebooks, and insights into an artist's life.

Update: Evhead is back to blogging. I'm encouraged to read statements like this:

That’s why I’m getting back on the mat — i.e., making an effort to blog/write on a regular basis (in public) again. Partially for fun. Partially to see what comes out of my brain. And mostly to understand from the individual creator perspective how our tools need to evolve for this point in the internet’s evolution.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Pen-abling the oncologists

There is a thrill when I pen-able friends—that is, coax them in a way that will change their behavior positively towards trying a new pen, or getting a fresh bottle of ink, or writing on a smoother Japanese paper.

This is what Fred and I did to Rich, who has taken a liking to his Pilot Metropolitan—the "gateway drug," said Berbi, who was among the first to pen-able me. I give credit, above all, to Mervyn, for telling me to try out fountain pens a few years ago. My life has never been the same again, although, to be honest, the Pilot V5 still occupies a special place in my heart; it was my pen of choice for most of residency. I still miss it, and I'm happy whenever I see my friend, and now hematologist-in-training, Jeremiah, who remains a devoted fan.

Image credit: The Well-Appointed Desk

We brought Rich to Overjoyed, along Handy Road in Singapore, and here he was, trying the TWSBI Eco—a beautiful entry-level Taiwan-made pen with a huge ink capacity, perfect for whole-day out-patient clinics.


Fred couldn't resist the thrill of the Midori Traveler's Notebook, passport size, and got himself the brown one. I like to think this was partly due to my influence, although I may be exaggerating at this point. Our dear friend, Karen, has also taken a liking to fountain pens and notebooks—the most surprising revelation of all because she seemed like someone who could never change her mind towards her ballpoints.

I'm happy to share this fascination with them. The great thing about pen-abling friends is that when I realize I'm running short of ink, someone will tell me, "May blue-black ako, Lance. Kuha ka langnasa drawer ko."
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