Friday, December 27, 2019

Happy birthday, Freddie

What can I say about Fred Ting?

We fondly call him Freddie, and he celebrates his nth birthday today. He is a year older now, as if it matters in the greater scheme of things. After all, Fred is the oldest young man we've known. He has geriatric interests: his idea of travel is sitting quietly in a café with a good book or a good conversation with an actual human being in the flesh. When I stand beside him, I look like his teenage son. He doesn't mind. If I wrote a novel with Fred as a character, I would describe him as a perpetually punctual and rabidly organized, gracious man who sports light-colored long- or short-sleeved polos, black slacks (I've never seen him wear a pair of jeans), and black leather shoes; except during the rare instances when he finds himself in the gym with his charming wife Kat.

Knowing and working with him has been a blessing to me, and, I speak for everyone else in the Division, to all of us. I've traveled far and wide with him because he had encouraged me to submit applications to many conferences or workshops—and if we didn’t qualify, we'd laugh it all off on the train ride home. There are greater problems to be had.

I enjoy eating with Freddie. Our favorite is the Thai restaurant Soi in Kovan, Serangoon, where we order dry black noodles and chrysanthemum tea whenever we drop by. He has an aversion to spicy food, but, at a famous restaurant in Bangkok where we lined up for almost an hour, he seemed to try everything out.

Thailand 2019

He likes attending conferences, often takes pictures, and shares what he learns through his social media accounts. Our group chat is greeted every morning with links to the latest developments in oncology. Meanwhile, the rest of us dabble in the latest Netflix shows or latest episode of The Mandalorian.

Freddie

I like making him uncomfortable, as in this train ride in Singapore where he accidentally found himself in the reserved seat for the elderly. It was halfway through the trip when he realized that an old woman, who looked like a Pinay comedienne, stood beside him. She did not seem to mind.

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This was at Dhoby Ghaut station in Singapore, our favorite for no reason. We just like the sound of it rolling off our tongues.

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One of his favorite breakfasts is kaya toast with coffee. Jaja brought us to a hawker place to satisfy this craving.

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With him, I share a fascination for fountain pens. I go to his desk to ask for a bottle of ink whenever my pen dries up.

ESMO Advanced Course in Prostate Cancer

In his quest for the perfect Sailor gold nib pen, he ran to get to a fountain pen store just before closing time.  I had never seen him so disappointed: the store did not have the pens he liked. He would later realize that good pens can be bought online.

ESMO Advanced Course in Prostate Cancer

I remember that crazy afternoon when we explored Singapore by taking a brief nap on a double-decker bus. When we were finally awake, we left the bus and found ourselves at a huge public library. He found this book. The title is something he would actually say to your face if you arrived a few minutes after the agreed time.

ESMO Advanced Course in Prostate Cancer

He took many photos of us beside our posters. Nobody uses "Zirz" anymore, but thanks to Freddie who tags his posts with the said hashtag, it has become popular again.

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But what most people don't realize is that Freddie is funny. I have loved hanging out with him in coffee shops while we would wait for others to get finished with showering. We are notoriously early morning persons and are almost always ready to leave the Airbnb before 7 am. Conversations with him never run dry. The fact that we speak Hiligaynon makes me feel close to home.

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He's almost always game for anything, including having our photo taken with German businessmen who were meeting in the table next to us. This was in Seoul. "Fred," I said, "let's pretend like we're meeting with them." Despite his discomfort, he agreed to do it anyway.

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I have so many stories to tell and many photos to share. But in case you meet him today, greet him a happy birthday, but never, ever tell volunteer the fact that you're taking herbal medications, lest he begin his fire-and-brimstone preaching on the subject.

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