Sunday, September 22, 2019


Fictional and technical

Reading fiction facilitates my technical writing—or so I like to delude myself. In this sense, I like to alternate between the two categories of material. I remember that the same method is employed by George Saunders, a fine short story writer who happens to be a geophysical engineer, too! After finishing more than half of the Elena Ferrante novel, I spend my Sunday evening writing the manuscript for a technical paper. It's not an easy process, but it's made easier by my remembrance of Elena and Lina.

Marginalia using broad nib, Pilot Custom 74, Diamine Chrome ink.

Weekend reading

The last time I stayed this long in bed—say, five to six hours, give or take—after waking up was, to be honest, a long time ago. So distant was the memory that I couldn't even remember. Yesterday, however, with the gloom and drizzle outside, and with the recent conclusion of the medical students' oncology module which I helped coordinate, I started my morning at 6 am with a fresh cup of brewed coffee, and, still in my pajamas, grabbed two books from my shameful but proud tsundoku pile. The first was The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume I (Avon Publishers, 1971), edited by Robert Silverberg, lent to me one of my mentors, Dr. Ding Fernando, a few months ago. The second was Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, book three of the Neapolitan novels, which I also bought many months ago. It was perhaps the closest I've ever gotten to an actual shopping spree—I bought all the Ferrantes at National Bookstore, fearing I may not see them in stock again.


As with most short story collections, I did not read the stories as they were arranged, but picked, without a predetermined plan, the stories at the spontaneous moment of actual reading. I treated myself to these tales after a handful of reading materials in medical oncology which, too, offered an excitement of a more technical kind. Helen O'Loy by Lester del Rey was about men who fell in love with robots. It was tragic but romantic in a way that left me uneasy. Theodore Sturgeon's Microcosmic God was about a scientist who shut himself away from the world and settled in an island, working on experiments made easy by highly adaptable and intelligent organisms he had invented. Isaac Asimov's Nightfall was about the coming eclipse that caused insanity to the entire humanity. Lewis Padgett's Mimsy Were the Borogroves was about toys from another dimension and the children who disappeared after they had played with them. The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke was about monks who believed that the world would end after the nine billion names of God had been written down. The monks commissioned computer scientists to speed up this task. 


Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay was set in 2005, where Elena Greco was a writer and Lina Cerullo was a worker in a sausage company, already with a child of her own. Their friendship was complicated: they adored each other with a certain jealousy and contempt and fondness. Years have passed since I read the last Ferrante novel, but how this anonymous author weaves the stories, creates the characters' emotions, with interjections of humor, frustration, and anguish is beyond me: she is a master in her craft. To my mind, she is at par with Marilynne Robinson and Alice Munro—among my favorite contemporary authors. To understand Ferrante, and to see the city through my eyes, is the main reason why I want to visit Naples someday: so I can set an actual physical picture that will serve as a backdrop of my imagination when I return to her pages. In this sense, travel and reading are, in fact, complementary.


I interrupted this solitary reading confinement with quick walks to a restaurant that served Italian food, both for brunch and dinner. With all the Italian in my head and stomach, I may as well have gone to Napoli.

On my way home, I was almost hit by a tricycle as I crossed the street. It was a dark corner, and the lamppost was about to give up. It dawned on me then: I was, and still am, in Metro Manila.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019

On my Twitter accounts

I'm presenting a paper at the ASCO Breakthrough in Bangkok next month. I was asked for my Twitter handle during registration—how cool was that? It will be printed on my badge. This goes to show that social media is here to stay, and it is best that clinicians and researchers make use of this platform. (In case you're interested in all things oncologic, you can follow me at @lanceoncology.)

I maintain two Twitter accounts—@bottledbrain, which is more personal and private, and @lanceoncology, which is technical, academic, and public. I use the first account to follow the news, engage with friends, and write miscellaneous realizations. In my younger days, I may have inserted a few rants. (Forgive the ignorance of my youth.) I use the latter to monitor the current developments in medical oncology, tweet key points of the the conferences I'm attending (it also helps keep sleepiness at bay), and follow researchers from all over the world whom I've met and admired. Establishing this dichotomy has redeemed the personal value of Twitter for me.

I'm glad I listened to Dr. Iris Isip-Tan who has written and spoken extensively about the use of social media to generate one's academic portfolio, to create one's personal learning network, and so much more. Her blog, The Endocrine Witch, is a thing of beauty. How she manages to update it, on top of the gazillion things that she has to do, is admirable! I suggest that you subscribe to it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Favorite group portrait

As I count the months towards the end of clinical fellowship, allow me to share a favorite group portrait during our foray in Seoul where we shared our research findings at the Korean Cancer Association meeting. I’ve been blessed beyond measure to have worked with these men. @k.momdragon, our leading lady, wellspring of compassion, mother of the sweetest girl in Manila, our source of estrogen and testosterone, deserves a separate citation.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


While watching Weathering With You (天気の子) in cinema, yet another film by Makoto Shinkai—whose masterpiece, Your Name (君の名は), I had just watched this weekend—it was raining outside. I once wrote that I used to love the rain until I lived in Metro Manila, where it translates to massive traffic jams and deadly cases of leptospirosis, but, when I think about it now, I still love the rainy weather. It reminds me of childhood when, trapped inside the house, I would play with my brothers and read the story book, "Who Made the Angels Cry?"—which was about a rabbit who stole a cookie from a jar.

Weathering With You is beautiful. I want to watch it again.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


On Midori Traveler's Notebook (Passport) and my fascination for pens and paper

Never in my lifetime has my fascination for writing instruments reached this level, not even comparable to my childhood days when I would find any pen and paper to practice on my signature after I had read about John Hancock's curlicues or scribble whatever came to mind, even in the back pages of Childcraft encyclopedia, much to my aunts' dismay. As any fountain pen user would claim, the fascination begins with an entry-level pen—say, a Lamy Safari, still one of my favorite writing instruments—followed by a growing interest in inks and paper. Such is the natural history of this obsession.

A few days ago I ordered a Midori Traveler's Notebook (passport size) through Scribe's online store. After reading about it, I learned that there's a cult following of sorts—an entire community of creative individuals whose passion it is to take journaling to a whole new level. Search for "Midori Traveler's Notebook" or "MTN" in Instagram or Flickr to see what I'm talking about.





I keep mine simple—the passport size makes it convenient enough to bring it around, to scribble for when I need to remind myself of my to-do list, and to eventually use for my daily quiet times with the Lord. For now, I'm still using the old journals and notebooks I had acquired or received as gifts from friends.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Life in the farm on a lazy weekend

I'm writing this using Sean's powerful desktop gaming computer. I'm in his room, with the air-conditioning at full blast. He's asleep, tired after seeing a patient in his dental clinic. The keyboard is a joy to tinker with: the keys are soft, pliant, and make a staccato-like clickety sound that resembles a typewriter's. In the kitchen, Manong Ralph is baking a cake. He saw the surplus of bananas nearing their expiration date; he figured he'd whip up something for dessert. The large oven at our St. Gabriel home , which sits in idleness for most days of the year, was acquired largely to facilitate his culinary pursuits and only comes to life when he is home for the holidays, as has been the case for the past three days.

Auntie Nanic (her real name is Nancy), my mother's younger cousin, lives with us and is presently assisting Manong as he prepares the batter for his banana bread, a recipe he has perfected. These days, her other two children, Lyzza and Dave, are staying at home, too. Their presence adds vibrance to the house, which is too quiet on most days, if not for mother's intermittent trips to the fridge, or her morning gardening. My clasmates who pass by our home say it's like nobody lives there anymore.

Yesterday we visited Auntie Cecil's property in Banga, about 30 to 40 minutes away from Koronadal. She is my mother's younger sister, a chemistry teacher in a public high school who enjoys hosting us during lazy weekends. It was the perfect timing because there was a scheduled brownout from 8 am to 5 pm. Going to the farm seemed like the best way to escape the city heat. Also gathered were my aunts and uncles and cousins from the Garcenila side. We are a family of farmers: my grandfather Mauro took his family from Antique to carve a better future for them in Mindanao. He didn't know much except for farming, and he was quite good at it. He was able to send all his children to college. Such is my family's humble history.

Rice fields

So we are connected to the farm in more ways that you can imagine. Our family conversations always involve fruits and trees and crops. For instance, my aunts and uncles were talking about what they'd do with all the durian and lansones that their fruit trees bore. Our calendars are marked by fruit seasons. During our phone calls, my mother would say something like, "Oh, it's rambutan season already; you should go home!"

It's a shame that I didn't get to learn more about farming as I should have. My brother and I grew up in a small city, and didn't get to play with carabaos or apply fertilizers to fruit trees, for example. And while my father did keep a farm, we only got to visit the property once in a while and only for a few minutes at a time. Farming is a worthwhile pursuit. If the Lord allows, I'd like to have a go at it someday.

Here are some photos.

My brothers, Sean and Ralph.
Brothers in the farm

Sean, in the rice field.
My kid brother, leading the way

Lilies in the pond.
Water lilies (Nymphae) in the pond

A cow feeding beside a tributary of the Banga River.
Cow and river

A beautiful vine growing in the backyard.
Purple flowers

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