Sunday, May 31, 2020

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Friday, May 29, 2020

Thursday, May 28, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 77

Wife-Wooing by John Updike. Parker Duofold Slimfold, inked with J. Herbie “Verte Empire”

There are days when the right words escape me.

This is from a line in "Wife-Wooing" by John Updike. Another vintage pen is featured here: a Parker Duofold Slimfold, inked with J. Herbin “Verte Empire.”

* * *

I know of two people who have the right words to say.

Dr. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez, who holds clinics in Iloilo, writes about the barter system in this personal blog entry.

In three hours, I am about to meet a stranger to trade my aloe vera on a Groot pot for a signed copy of F. Sionil Jose’s “Poon."

Last week, I traded Lang Leav and Michael Faudet for a copy of Mary Oliver’s elusive “A Thousand Mornings.” Two days before that, I exchanged my son’s extra copies of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books for alcohol and other protective essentials.

This ancient barter system was recently revived by Ilonggos through the Iloilo Barter Community (IbaCo) page in Facebook. With this platform, one can trade anything for another without having to spend: a cashless, non-cryptocurrent transaction. One uploads a picture of the item he wishes to barter, with a detailed description of it and the list of things he wants to swap the item for. In the comments section, people then offer their items and the person who uploaded will then choose from the various offers. Once a deal has been sealed, the barteristas will then proceed to sending each other private messages and to meet in person.

Here are the lessons she has learned through participating in the barter.

The community quarantine binds us to our homes and brings us simple sources of joy that need not require a lot of cash: reading poetry, planting vegetables in our backyards, baking banana bread. Their restorative and transformative power in our lives is beyond measure. Suddenly, the world is ruled by bakers, gardeners and readers from all walks of life.

I met Dr. Elvie online, during an informal course on creative non-fiction organized by Joti Tabula (himself a physician-poet, who included my short piece in his heartwarming book, From the Eyes of a Healer). I'm glad to have stumbled in her blog. I will definitely subscribe to this!

*  *  *

Fred's essay appears in this issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology's Art of Oncology.

This was when I met Rose, a 32-year-old mother of three with stage IV breast cancer. Her breast mass had started as a coin-sized lump 6 years earlier. Why did she seek assistance only now when she was so short of breath and unable to sleep as a result of generalized pain? It turns out she lives on a remote island, 18 hours from my clinic by boat and by land, a place where people live a simple life: no restaurants, no malls, no movie theaters, no cell phone service. Unfortunately, this isolation also meant no access to local or regional health care.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 76

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I received sad news this morning, just as I was having my morning devotions on Colossians 3. My patient passed away at home. She was a Christian and was active in ministry. The daughter of a retired pastor, she updated me with the Lord's moving in their local church during her chemo sessions. Last year she took the news of cancer progression with the sure hope that there is a better life waiting for her in Heaven. I shouldn't play favorites, but there are patients who carry with them fans that revive the tired embers of compassion in me. She was one of them: a saved soul, redeemed sinner, salt of the earth. It has been the joy and honor of my life to have been her doctor. I pray that God's comfort be upon her family.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 75

From John Updike’s “Unstuck,” written with a vintage Parker Vacumatic (ca. 1940s)

At some point during the day, I toy around with fountain pens. I have a humble collection, just enough to fit in a small pencil case--which is to say that there aren't a lot of them. (I know of collectors who have hundreds. I follow some of them in Instagram, which has a vibrant fountain pen community). Included in this collection are vintage pens. These pens--such as this emerald pearl Parker Vacumatic blue diamond, double-jewel--are sturdy, elegant, secretive. I got them from vintage stores online, and only at bargain prices. I will probably never know who owned them or what the first owners had used the pen for. Could it be that this Vacumatic was owned by an English teacher in England? (I got this pen from a kind and welcoming dealer in London).

The passage above is an excerpt from John Updike's short story, "Unstuck." (Link to a Google Books screenshot).  It's a story of a husband and wife who drive their cars out of the gutter after a night of heavy snow. You will see smudges in the careless and carefree handwriting, blurring the first two paragraphs. I was excited to take a photo of my notebook (a Veco sketchpad, very fountain pen friendly!) and I forgot that the ink had not dried up yet.

Parker Vacumatic (1940s)

Monday, May 25, 2020

Journal of a Lockdown No. 74

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On the way to buy groceries, I saw yellow flowers by the sidewalk. I remembered Matthew 6:28b - 34.

...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 73

Jonathan Edwards, “A Farewell Sermon.” Vintage pen: Schaeffer 500 Balance (1930s), 14K solid gold No. F nib.

I love Jonathan Edwards. I first heard about him through the sermons and works of Dr. John Piper, who quoted the Puritan author extensively. This Sunday morning, let me share with you a line from his preaching, "A Farewell Sermon," which appears in Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards.

This is my handwriting in capitals. I'm using a vintage pen, a Shaeffer 500 Balance (ca. 1930s). It has a 14K solid gold fine nib. The filling mechanism no longer functions, unfortunately. But while I'm not a fan of fine nibs (I like my handwriting to look thick and wet), this Shaeffer's nib looks so elegant. I dip it in a vial filled with ink (in this case, Lamy Turquoise mixed with another shade to make it look dark) and write with it until the ink dries up. I like the ink smudges on my fingers. I think they're scholarly, but my friends think they just look plain dirty.

Jonathan Edwards, “A Farewell Sermon.” Vintage pen: Schaeffer 500 Balance (1930s), 14K solid gold No. F nib.

Have a blessed Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 72

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Weekend treat: morning coffee and Mavis Gallant's "Forain," which appears in her collection, Across the Bridge. This line, where she describes the impoverished writers and scholars from Eastern Europe who are working in Paris, is a testament to her skill and insight into the human condition. I compare her prose to those rare human beings who only have muscle and no excess fat: they are beautiful and strong and will probably outlive us. "To deeper loneliness and cheaper rents"--very few can write phrases like that.

If you're interested, the pen above is a Kaweco 70's Soul with broad steel nib, inked with Diamine Oxblood (my favorite red), which looks like the blood of extracted from someone with polycythemia vera, except that it has good flow (a long, run-on sentence best divided into short sentences for clarity, I know). The grid notebook is a faux Muji I bought for Php 50 apiece in a garage sale in Timog last year.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Journal of a Lockdown No. 71

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Totally out of context, but this line from an Alice Munro story captures what I want to do with this blog: a public space that few know about. Thanks for those of you who drop by.

May is ending. I'm cooped up in my little space with books and prayer, pen and paper, laptop and Kindle. Yesterday I finished the series Trying on Apple TV+. It's about a couple who undergo the process of adoption after failed attempts to conceive. Loved the music. Characters were lovable. Story was uncomplicated. I want to go to Camden.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Monday, May 18, 2020

Journal of a Lockdown No. 67

Lockdown

Before lunch I received a call from a friend, asking for a favor. Would I be willing to come over to see his company's new employees for work clearance? I was picked up by a company car that proceeded as if we were in Singapore: whooshing by the roads, mildly interrupted by checkpoints in the expressway. The sight of empty walkways and green trees after the brief afternoon rain delighted me. I finished seeing close to twenty patients. Save for newly diagnosed hypertensives, the consults were unremarkable. Unremarkable, uneventful, essentially normal—I find these words comforting, even if they may not mean anything at all. I was thrilled to see patients again.

* * *

John Updike's A Gift from the City is unsettling as it is masterful:

James turned on her, surprised and stung. "Damn it, the trouble with people like you, who are passed from one happy breadwinner to the next without missing a damn meal, is you refuse to admit that outside your own bubble anybody can be dirt-poor. Of course people starve. Of course a man will pay a quarter an hour if nobody makes him pay more...."

It's a story of an Black American man, a cotton farmer with a wife and seven children, who relocated to New York City in search of a better employment. This man knocked on the door of an upper-middle class man, James, and his wife, Liz, to ask for money to tide his family through the transition. James reacted with suspicious generosity. This man could very well be a swindler, a thief, a murderer. This man could also be telling the truth.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Journal of a Lockdown No. 66

Sunday worship service

The sun is up today. There are a thousand reasons to be grateful, including today's preaching on Naomi and Ruth. I'm reminded that God never forgets to exercise grace, even among the backsliding. The songs we sing in church is a source of blessing. I'm edified by this week's selection, the classic "Trust and Obey"—the simplest yet most eloquent expression of childlike faith.



When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we'll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Oh, Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 65

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Beginning today, the word "modified" is appended at the beginning of Enhanced Community Quarantine. The government is slowly resurrecting the city. The trains will start operating. But other than the opening of Jollibee in the nearest mall, I don't feel much of a difference. I still walk around the neighborhood with caution. Proximity still scares me. In queues or on the sidewalks, I remain conscious of the one-meter distance that I should maintain. I back off or move forward, as in a reflex response, to keep my perimeter clear of other people.

But, by God's grace, I'm still alive. I assume that you are, too, if you're able to read this. Word is out that the medical oncology speciality board exam is cancelled. My momentum for studying is gone.  The cliché describing the unpredictability of life is taking on a new meaning, and it's pointless to dwell on failed plans and unrealized travels. There are bigger problems. A friend is still in the ICU. Some friends are jobless. I have no right to complain but have every reason to be thankful.

I'm tossing my review materials for old films. The Bridge on the River Kwai, Cat on a Hot Tin Room, and Hachi-ko, among them, best watched after a hearty lunch, a prelude to my afternoon siesta. I wonder why I didn't watch more of these in the past. I'm catching up on various TV series. Killing Eve, The Good Fight, and Once Upon a Time are a few examples: enough to numb the mind with a healthy but temporary amnesia of the pandemic. And then, of course, there are my books. I'm still on The Collected Stories of Jessica Zafra (I received a signed copy, in the author's beautiful handwriting in pink ink), The Early Stories by John Updike, Voyager and Other Fictions by Jose Dalisay, Traveler: Poems by Devin Johnston, The Nearest Thing to Life by James Wood, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and A Divine Cordial by Thomas Watson.

I should terminate this "Journal" by the end of the month. It seems like we're going to on different versions of lockdown for a long time, anyway, as this will be (and I hate to use this phrase, but I'll use it just this once) the "new normal."

Friday, May 15, 2020

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Monday, May 11, 2020

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Friday, May 8, 2020

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Journal of a Lockdown No. 56

Lockdown

Dr. Russell Moore enjoyed the NBC coronavirus special episode of Parks and Recreation.

This past week the cast of the NBC situation comedy Parks and Recreation, which aired from 2009 to 2015, reunited for a special Zoom-call program to raise money for hunger programs during this time of pandemic. I can neither confirm nor deny that I may have wiped away a tear as Andy Dwyer (played by Chris Pratt) led the cast in singing “Bye-Bye Li’l Sebastian.” I can confirm that I miss them all in the saddest fashion.

In my limited experience of pop culture, I clump Parks and Rec and The Office in the category of wholesome go-to shows if I need a good laugh and (virtual) human company.

Dr. Moore references Will Schoder, who "argues that popular culture has indeed moved from a pole of cynical irony toward sincerity, and he points to television programs such as Parks and Rec and The Office as indicators."

One may immediately revolt at the idea of The Office as an example of sincerity. How could episodes as cringe-inducing as “Scott’s Tots” or “The Dinner Party” be an example of sincerity? Well, contrast the American version of The Office with its British counterpart. There are redeeming characters, and flashes of redemption everywhere. Michael Scott is not a soulless idiot. In the end, he is precisely where he always longed to be—married to a woman he loves with so many children that he has multiple cell phone plans just to store all the pictures. And the last episode ends with Pam summing up the series by saying that “Beauty is found in ordinary things,” as the final scene pans toward a painting she created of the office building, a painting Michael bought, redeeming her from her seeming failure as an artist just because he loved the office (that is, loved the people there) so much that he wanted to hang it on the wall of the office itself.

Parks and Recreation leans into sincerity even more. As Schoder points out, Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are polar opposites in personality and political ideology, but both are sincere people trying to do their civic duty. And they have a mutual respect for each other that is real, despite all their flaws. He argues that Parks and Rec puts these ultra-sincere and ultra-pessimistic people (think not just Ron and Leslie, but Andy and April and so on), but without belittling or ridiculing any of them with cynicism.

The humor in such shows, Schoder argues, isn’t in lampooning as false the desire for human attachment, but by showing human foibles and flaws in trying to reach that goal. I think he’s right. And maybe that’s why so many of us loved seeing the Parks and Rec crew back together, if just for a night. It’s not the sort of forced artifice we could find in the breezy lightness of old Nick-at-Nite “Gee Wally” sitcoms. But, at the same time, it points to something that’s more than just social construction.

I'm humming Bye Bye Li'l Sebastian.



For some perspective, Li'l Sebastian is a big deal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 55

Lockdown

I submitted revisions to a personal essay I wrote for a journal. In that perspective piece, I talked about telemedicine and its impact on my clinical practice. I had fun writing it because the process brought back meaningful memories of remarkable people I encountered. Although I did not specifically mention him in that article, Mr. D, my patient for two years, would text me occasionally to ask me how I'm doing. This morning he asked if I was able to go home to Mindanao. He knew that my immediate plan after subspecialty training was to do just that. He was concerned that I had been far away from my family for too long. Mr. D has his own problems to deal with, yet he goes out of his way to ask me how I am. Praise God for people like him. His text added a ray of sunshine to an otherwise bleak day. Last night, the Philippine government shut down the operations of the country's biggest TV network. That I can write this piece in my blog without censorship is a blessing. But if this regime can do that to ABS-CBN, it can silence everyone else. The freedom of the press forms the bedrock of democracy society: it is precisely this freedom that is now at risk.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 54

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Rizal Province, during an outing with my Bible study group in church

I don't think of the outside as much as I did when the Lockdown had begun, but I welcome the opportunity to go out. The strict lockdown will be lifted in about two weeks. I wonder how things will be then.

The New York Times released a list of Books You Can Read in a Day.

You might have the time but not the mental bandwidth for “Anna Karenina” right now, and that’s OK. In fact, it’s completely normal (even editors at the Book Review are having trouble concentrating). Maybe you want to save the thick books for a less unsettling time. If that’s the case, here are a few short, quick options that can help take your mind off the real world.

Of course, you need to read Anna Karenina!

* * *

During the lockdown, keeping a notebook might be a good idea for you. Here an essay by Sarah Gerard, "On Keeping a Notebook," via Paris Review, in two parts (Part I and II).

For the last two years, my notebooks have been largely places wherein I stage ideas before writing them in a finished form. Flipping through their pages, I see notes about Gerald Murnane, Clarice Lispector, Hilda Hilst, and other writers whose work I critiqued for literary journals. When I went to Florida for a month to write my novel, I bought a brand new, five-topic Mead notebook and filled the whole thing with notes about the birth and death of stars, character arcs, and veganarchism. A few times, I wrote letters to my friends and ripped them out, leaving bits of paper behind inside the spiral. I like to imagine that someday, a conscientious biographer will collect my letters from the far reaches of the country and include them in an edition titled something like: Reassembled: Notebooks and Letters 1985—?.

Which brings me to my next point: What if somebody reads my notebooks? It is a distinct fear that I had to overcome before beginning this latest one. I was deliberate in treating this as a return to my style of keeping notebooks in the past: a place where I would write about my own life, and begin stories, and write down impressions of people I saw on the street, and lines of poems, and quotes, and secrets. It was to be a much more personal endeavor; a writer’s notebook—a place of interest for posterity, and not just a collection of academic fragments and ideas about other writers’ work.

She wrote about using her notebook as a private space for her thoughts, free from external judgment.

Over the last two years, I’ve managed to scare myself out of treating my notebook as a private space, and trick myself into using it only as a place to reflect on other peoples’ public thoughts under the guise of intellectualism. It is the same fear that beset me three and a half years ago when I took my high school notebooks outside and burned them. What was I afraid of? Of someone I respect seeing work that I found embarrassing, maybe. Of being exposed as a fraud, as if, because I once filled entire notebooks with “free verse” poems about underage sex and drinking, I could never be considered a serious writer. Of someone thinking—proving—that I’m not good enough.

Instead of tweeting, why don't you first write down your passionate and bold ideas in longhand with, say, a good pen and paper? Allow the ideas to brew, the rage to calm, before writing something irresponsible on the internet. You will make the world a better place.

* * *

In our chat group, Karen shared a photo of a Pilot V5. She uses the pen on alternate days to take notes during the review for the medical oncology board exam. She is also a fountain pen user; her Sailor ProGear limited edition comes in amber.

In this thoughtful commentary on Bic's campaign to "save handwriting," Josh Giebstrecht summarizes the history of the ballpoint pen and celebrates fountain pens!

The ballpoint’s universal success has changed how most people experience ink. Its thicker ink was less likely to leak than that of its predecessors. For most purposes, this was a win—no more ink-stained shirts, no need for those stereotypically geeky pocket protectors. However, thicker ink also changes the physical experience of writing, not necessarily all for the better.

I wouldn’t have noticed the difference if it weren’t for my affection for unusual pens, which brought me to my first good fountain pen. A lifetime writing with the ballpoint and minor variations on the concept (gel pens, rollerballs) left me unprepared for how completely different a fountain pen would feel. Its thin ink immediately leaves a mark on paper with even the slightest, pressure-free touch to the surface. My writing suddenly grew extra lines, appearing between what used to be separate pen strokes. My hand, trained by the ballpoint, expected that lessening the pressure from the pen was enough to stop writing, but I found I had to lift it clear off the paper entirely. Once I started to adjust to this change, however, it felt like a godsend; a less-firm press on the page also meant less strain on my hand.

I hardly every use ballpoints now. I love using Bic, Panda, or Pilot, for example, but writing hasn't been the same since I owned my first fountain pen.

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Monday, May 4, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 53

Sydney 2019 — Day 1

I'm taking some time off my academic reading, taking a chill pill for the day. Today reminds me of my time in Sydney: laid-back and relaxed, taking each moment as it goes without a dash of worry. For the first time in many months, I slept at 2 AM as I watched two episodes of The King: Eternal Monarch on Netflix. Is this the golden age of Korean cinema, or what? Parasite, Descendants of the Sun, Misty, Yong Pal—I've seen them. Those who dismiss Korean shows as mere Korean shows are missing the entire point: they are good pieces of art. I have come to enjoy them because, compared to American and European films, there is less sex (if any, at all) and more innocence and purity. The romance does not involve premarital sex. The good guys and the bad guys are clearly delineated. The music is extraordinary. They offer such clean fun. Too bad the next episodes of The King will come out next week. My friend Karen told me to watch them on Sunday evenings so I can binge on two episodes in rapid succession.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Saturday, May 2, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 51

Lockdown

The weekends have bled into the weekdays. Today is a Saturday, but I think of Mondays, and the long patient queues in the clinic, my harried colleagues shouting "Labas po muna ang hindi pa tinatawag!" to the crowd of patients and relatives who barge into the private cubicles at Room 107 to make sure that their oncologists will, in fact, see them, because the family had moved mountains to rent the barangay ambulance so their fathers and mothers and children and friends can find medical help after harboring their tumors for so many years because they had no money. We see the patients one by one. We listen to their stories as we figure out what is wrong. Sometimes, when the prognosis is poor, the reassurance we give them is the truth: that no matter what happens, we will do our best to care for them. In the course of the day we receive tokens of gratitude from people who barely had the money to get here. I remember the poor widow from Mark 12:41-44 who gave everything she had for the Lord. To be at the receiving end of our patient's sacrificial gratitude has been one of the greatest joys of subspecialty training. Today I remember my patient EM, who has metastatic breast cancer. She gave me this malong as a parting gift. I promised her I would use it. Last week, it was my blanket. Our patients think we have comforted them, but it goes both ways. I miss EM and my patients, and I hope they're still alive and well, that the Lord would keep them and their families safe, that they will be healed.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Journal of a Lockdown No. 50

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My friend Rac shared a photo of her sister and nieces in northern Mindanao. She wrote that she wished she were home. I messaged her that I felt the same way: I still do, even today. Ah, homesickness. The saying is true: that no other place compares to home. Home, for me, will also be our small house in St. Gabriel. I dream of going home some day, when the lockdown is lifted, and commercial flights are available.

The temperatures are feverish in South Cotabato now. At least that's what Nanay tells me. I imagine the quiet street outside. At midday, almost everyone would be indoors to escape the heat. My brothers and I would be inside, taking naps, reading books, watching TV, or, in Sean's case, computer gaming. At 3 PM, the flurry of household activity would resume. It would involve, but would not be limited to, my brothers cooking something in the kitchen. I don't know why my brothers are so good in the kitchen, when I can only barely manage to fry an egg properly.

Sean made his own flatbread a few days ago. Manong prepares singang, pasta, adobo—in short, real home-cooked meals. They share photos of their culinary creations in our private chat group. The photo above was a peach-mango pie Manong baked for me as my potluck contribution to our high school reunion. It was a hit.
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