Sunday, December 31, 2017



The flight was delayed. It meant that I’d miss lunch. I ate a cinnamon bun I intended to give as pasalubong to my parents for when they’d meet me at the airport. I slept through most of the flight. I gazed outside my window and saw that the sky was blue and the sunlight glaring. I closed the shades until the flight attendant asked me to lift it fully.

My aunt was crying over the phone just minutes before I boarded the plane. My grandmother, Lola Gloria—90 years old, the most organized woman I know, the matriarch who saw that my father grow up to be a good man—was dying. The picture of her lying unconscious on the bathroom floor struck me. I replayed Tita Beb’s panic-stricken hysteria. It made me uneasy.

I dragged my bags from the conveyor belt. Tatay helped me carry them. Nanay waited inside the car. We decided to visit Lola in Polomolok, the same house where she installed swings, see-saws, and a slide for us, cousins, her flesh and blood, whom she fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with snacks in between. She did not take no for an answer.

I kept watch over her the entire night. The nurses were kind. The hospital staff treated us well. Lola used to oversee the housekeeping there. No wonder why, in her Lantana home, no window was left unwiped, and the vision of dust was a blasphemy. I checked her labs, made sure her antibiotics were given on time, but didn’t realize that at around 5 am, she pulled her nasogastric tube, a fact that surprised me. She was, after all, finally moving.

But the DNI/DNR remains on her chart. We visited her after church service today. We prayed for Lola before we left. Manong said the prayers because Tatay's voice was faltering. “Lord, may you give her comfort, and if you decide to take her home, usher her into Your Kingdom.” Tatay kissed her on the forehead and whispered something to her ear. Was he saying his goodbyes? He changes topics, takes long walks, or does household chores, but he never talks about it. We saw him just like this when two of our aunts, his sisters, died. After dinner tonight, I sat beside Tatay as we sipped tea in the veranda. “Are you okay, Tay?” I asked. I handed him the honey and gave him a piece of piaya.

Lola’s favorite hymn was “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Even in dying, the Lord remains faithful.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Lunch and snacks—forgive this title

Meeting friends can be exhausting, a trait I probably got from Carlo, my friend since med school, and whom I met for lunch today. Friends leave indelible marks on a person, and this newfound introversion—a fake construct, say my other friends—I largely attribute to my hanging out with Carlo. I would drag him to dinner or to coffee shops, away from his comfort zone: his privacy. Things always make sense when I talk to him, as friends are meant to do: giving us clarity by helping us see many things as they are. He gave me a fountain pen as a graduation gift. I should probably do the same when he finishes his radiation oncology fellowship in two years. He's a fine physician, and his dedication to his work and his patients always inspires me to do better myself.

For coffee and afternoon snacks, I met Jo Lucero and Rac Bruno at a quiet, unassuming café called Commune in Makati. Jo is the out-going chief resident of IM; Rac is her executive officer. I'm glad to the call these women my friends. I've been honored to have served the Department with them.

So this must be how it felt like to be back front-stabbed. (There's a backstory here: I sneaked underneath the table, which amused them.)


The grocery in front of the café was called Wang Wang.


We talked about friendships, plans, humility, and childhood—an afternoon well spent, and I didn't feel exhausted at all.

Monday, December 25, 2017


My TWSBI Eco Pen, with the 1.1 mm nib, and Tom's gift, which couldn't have come at a better time, since my wallet is in its final stages of dilapidation (taken from my Instagram: @bottledbrain)

I mostly lived at Quisumbing Hall (Residents’ Dorm 5) for the past three years. It has been a place of respite, quiet, and sleep, largely owing to my roommate Tom—a (former—ah, the finality of it!) neurology resident—whose presence reassured me that there were, in fact, people more tired than I was. As I packed my things this Christmas morning—a ritual of beginnings and endings—I saw Tom’s gift on my table (see above).

Yes, Tom, I loved Fargo (the series and the film), and I’ll miss the late night talks that almost doubled as entertainment and therapy when training got the better of us. What should I watch next? Nothing with John Lloyd please.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Taiwan: people

I didn't imagine how traveling with a large group could be fun and grueling—and possible. For our proverbial last hurrah, just a few days before the end of residency, my friends and I went to Taiwan, where the streets are walkable, the air clean, the pervading feeling calm—even during rush hours. The signs are readable. Public transportation is functional and is easy to figure out. The locals don't speak English, though, a difficulty surmounted by Google Translate, a must-have for travels to foreign lands.

We spent three full days in Taipei, the capital, and neighboring cities, Keelung and Shifen. I've come to a point in my life where I don't have to take pictures of all the things I see, mainly because my friends are doing it anyway. I did take intermittent snaps with my iPhone. Here are my favorite portraits of friends and short descriptions of them. I will miss them.

Here's Bea Uy just as we had left the Sun Yat Sen Memorial to look for a decent cup of coffee. It was her second time here. A consummate traveler, she took me with her along Shillin and Keelung night markets where I was introduced to candied strawberries, which will go down as one of my favorite desserts. I'll miss her generosity, fierceness, and joie de vivre.


Roger charges his phone at our Airbnb near Ximen MRT. Sometimes lost but was always found, Roger had to endure our fast-paced itinerary and the intermittent reminders ("Bilis! We're late!") which must have exhausted him. The combination of personalities made it interesting. There were people who though two minutes late was equivalent to the end of the world. There were those whose idea of punctuality was waking up when they felt like it. Most of us were somewhere in between.


Doc A with best friend Bea at Shillin Market—a very unlikely friendship that fascinates me to no end. Doc A has worked with me in the Undergraduate Committee, and I couldn't imagine going through it without her. She navigated the train stations like a local. She reprimanded us when we congregated in the middle of the station during rush hour, an incident where the slogan, "Doc A is the new Type A," was coined.


Team Auntie leads his pack! Jay Magbojos, Carlos Cuaño, and Racquel Bruno talk about where to go next, just after we had a hearty lunch of thick noodles, fried pork chop, and dumplings with noodles. For dessert, they had a generous serving of milk tea. I passed. The afternoon was chilly but comfortable, so reminiscent of spring in Vienna.


Roger Velasco, Mervyn Leones, Racquel Bruno, and Carlos Cuaño pose for a photo at Campus Café, just beside the University. When this photo was taken, Rac and I just got back from a 1.2 km walk from GuangHa Digital Plaza, where she got her boyfriend a smartwatch. The selfie was sent to our Taiwan 2017 Viber group to tell the rest of the pack that we were alive and happy. The rest were still in Shifen to check the night lanterns. In this youthful coffee shop beside Taiwan, I finally scored a good cup of espresso.

Campus Café

Mervyn Leones, the most social media savvy person, snaps a photo of the group as we waited for the train. One thing I had to endure during this trip was having my photos taken so many times. My objections were overruled by my friends who insisted that I join, lest we don't move on.


Here's Doc A whose sophistication was in stark contrast to the trash bin beside her. Single pa po ito!

Doc A

A morning stroll—one of the best pleasures of this livable city.


In this photo, Mohan, David Francisco's son, talks to me about how he has enjoyed the travel so far. "David, he has your people skills!" I said, to which David responded, "Ang ingay nga eh." Here we were about to enter the Confucian Temple. David brought his mother, wife, sisters, and Mohan for  this trip. We've all seen Mohan grow up for the past three years, and being recognized by him (he called me "Uncle Lance" whenever his father prodded him) was pure joy.


Racquel Bruno and big boy, Jeremiah Vallente, pose at the Taipei Main Station, minutes before our bus ride to Shifen. I'll miss these two: the only people who, when they ask me to do something that I find objectionable (like a group selfie), say, with frustration, "Ang daming arte na naman nitong si Catedral."

Taipei Main Station

Roland Angeles, the man responsible for our itinerary, met us on the second day. He just came back from his cousin's wedding in Singapore. His flight was delayed, but the short of it is that he found us anyway. He is one of the most gracious and diligent people I know. He's like Martha Stewart in terms of cooking (have you tasted his squid pasta?!) but with bulky muscles.


Carlos Cuaño celebrated his 30th birthday during our trip. Here he dons an old US Military-issued jacket in Shifen—he's into history and processes. I'll miss his political incorrectness, his take in life, his interests in whiskey, watches, and now, fountain pens, and so much more. I'm glad I got to know him as one of my dearest friends. He's getting married soon, and I can't wait to tell his future kids how well behaved their father was—and how he never cursed.

Carlos's 30th

Chevs (Everly to most) Ramos figures out where to go next. This is classic Chevs when she's on game mode. She's our incoming chief resident, a post where she'll flourish and be happy in. She's one of the best internists I know and is now in the habit of writing travel reviews when she finds time. I'll miss tormenting her.


Danes Guevara, who doesn't get tired of topping our monthly exams, walks along Keelung Night Market. We normally see Danes posing excitedly for the camera, but I picked this because he looks so calm in his thoughts, savoring the moment without the pressures of social media.


This is so classic Mervyn! Chevs is directing! Open a photography shop already!


More on our Taiwan trip soon.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Reading for Taipei

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I'm headed to Taipei today with friends and colleagues from Internal Medicine. It's our proverbial last hurrah before we part ways towards the end of the year. As always, part of the plan is determining which book I'll bring. I'm all set to reading George Saunder's Lincoln in the Bardo and Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 15, 2017

Team B Christmas Party

Team B Christmas Party

My OPD forever-mates! I'll miss them. What a riot that night was.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Christ, our treasure

Since we see that the whole of our salvation, and all the branches of it, are comprehended in Christ, we must be cautious not to alienate from him the least possible portion of it. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the name of JESUS, that it is in him; if we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his unction; strength, in his dominion; purity, in his conception; indulgence discovers itself in his nativity, by which he was made to resemble us in all things, that he might learn to condole with us; if we seek redemption, it will be found in his passion; absolution, in his condemnation; remission of the curse, in his cross; satisfaction, in his sacrifice; purification, in his blood; reconciliation, in his descent into hell; mortification of the flesh, in his sepulchre; newness of life and immortality, in his resurrection; the inheritance of the celestial kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; protection, security, abundance, and enjoyment of all blessings, in his kingdom; a fearless expectation of the judgment, in the judicial authority committed to him. Finally, blessings of every kind are deposited in him; let us draw from his treasury, and from no other source, till our desires are satisfied. For they who, not content with him alone, are carried hither and thither into a variety of hopes, although they fix their eyes principally on him, nevertheless deviate from the right way in the diversion of any part of their attention to another quarter. This distrust, however, cannot intrude, where the plenitude of his blessings has once been truly known.

--John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Ch XVI

I read in bed for much of the afternoon. John Calvin's work never fails to inspire me. Its breadth is outstanding. His interpretations of Scripture cut deep into the heart. Here he argues that Christ is our all in all. I mustn't forget that he was only about my age when he'd written this.


Friday, December 1, 2017

The search for the perfect blue-black


My new-found fascination with fountain pens has taken me to the discovery of various ink choices. My favorite color for writing in medical charts is blue-black: it's more black than blue, but can pass as the former, should the elderly nurses in the hospital do random spot-checking for hospital standards. (I was criticized once for using sky blue ink, and I had to rewrite my prescriptions with a darker shade of blue--an incident that made me ask how blue should blue be.) My choice of blue-black is the Pelikan 4001. It's more expensive (around Php 400-plus for 62.5 mL) and harder to find. I'm glad I found a bottle at Scribe, a cool store in EDSA Shangri-La Mall. The salespeople there are used to newbies and would gladly help them pick the best choices for beginners. Last week I tried Pilot blue-black, which I got for less than Php 200 at National Bookstore, but a colleague told me one can get it for around Php 135 (30 mL) at Cosmos Bazaar in Binondo Area. It's Pilot's official distributor in the country. The shade is lighter, so my colleague, who goes by the name of Dr. Berbi Berba, told me he'd mix black ink with the blue-black to get his desired intensity. Part of enjoying the ink is the risk, and thrill, of combining colors. I'm using Diamine Indigo now: I'm not the biggest fan, but the strokes look fine nevertheless. So far, no complaints from the nurses.


Saturday, November 25, 2017


Writing with Diamine Merlot is like dipping one’s pen in wine over dinner. Thanks to my former clerk, Walter Cheng, for ordering this for me.



We were taking selfies before "selfie" even became a word*. My good friend Wegs Pedroso owned a portable blue Sony digital camera that she brought with her everywhere, especially during lab classes where she took photos of slides straight from the microscope then uploaded it in Multiply, a terrific photo-sharing site before the Facebook era. This was the camera's primary utility, but Wegs also used it to take photos of ourselves, while picking samples of Dieffenbachia, or eating at CASAA (already burned down, to our dismay, as the place sold delicious turon), or hanging out at Albert Hall in between PCRs. Her primary subjects were me, Dianne Deuna (who's doing further studies in marine biology--so cool!), Juanchi Pablo (who's based in the States, married, with a smart kid, but still balding), and our other block mates in molecular biology. This is my personal history of the selfie. How we managed to get everything done still escapes me!

But when did this phenomenon start? Jonah Engel Bromwich of the New York Times set out to find the first selfie taken in history.

Robert Cornelius's photo, taken in 1839, is considered the first selfie, but "he ran into the frame. Could it be argued that a selfie must be taken using a hand-held camera?"

The image in question was taken in 1839 by an amateur chemist and photography enthusiast from Philadelphia named Robert Cornelius. Cornelius had set his camera up at the back of the family store in Philadelphia. He took the image by removing the lens cap and then running into frame where he sat for a minute before covering up the lens again. On the back he wrote “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.” 
I've gotten past the impulse to take selfies. I've done it so rarely these days--during my roommate Tom's 30th birthday (for posterity); my travels, mainly to appease my father ("Tay, nakita ko na ang Eiffel Tower!"); or when my students insist, usually after rounds--as I find the exercise rather extraneous. Seeing photos of myself online also makes me uncomfortable.

*It was first used in 2002 and became Oxford's Word of the Year in 2013.

10 years of Kindle

The Kindle celebrates its 10th year. Amazon's Chris Green says, "We can never be better than paper, but we can be as compelling ... We really didn’t want any bezel or bling or even page-turn buttons — everything we’ve done over 15 generations has been to reduce it to basically a piece of paper.”

Take a look at the different versions of the Kindle through time. I still like reading books on actual paper, but I don't have much physical storage space and have pretty much settled with Kindle, a remarkable device! It was a smooth transition.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I bring my Kindle everywhere (I named it John Ames--the device actually requires you to), and have finished many books, as in Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, on the train and cab rides, or during long waiting times at the grocery cashiers, and so on. My mind drifts everywhere when I don't have a book with me, a sensation that leaves me more tired at the end of the day. I also can't stand or sit still without doing anything. The Kindle helps allay my unease.

This is the way to read more books: get a reading device, bring it everywhere, read intermittently, avoid the internet.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Increase tobacco tax now

My professors and mentors in med school share their poignant stories of how smoking had affected them and their families.

Dr. Tony Dans, whom I look up to (he meets us weekly during lunchtime to appraise studies on therapy), writes

My Dad was an amazing man. He taught us discipline, integrity, love for God and love for country — not by words, but by example. When I was young, I thought his greatest fault was that he was a heavy smoker, and all his kids were exposed to this habit.

He had a stroke at 67, and died of lung cancer when he was 69 years old. Both are considered self-inflicted tobacco-related diseases. But now I understand. He was a victim, not a perpetrator. Smoking was not his fault.

Dad, this fight against tobacco is for you. Smoking is not a choice, increasing tobacco tax IS.

This article is a response to the disappointing response of Senator Angara and Secretary Dominguez to increase tobacco tax. Failure to do this is, I suppose, tantamount to allowing 150,000 deaths from tobacco each year.

Saturday, November 18, 2017



Got myself a carbon black ink today but later learned that it can potentially clog the pens. I’m still on the lookout for the perfect blue-black. It helps that I live most times of the week near a fancy pen store. From left to right: blue Lamy ink, J. Herbin in vert, and Plaisir black (in cartridge).


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Counting the days

ECG reading
Walter, Agnes, and Micah. 

ECG reading
Tyson and Walter.

ECG reading

Each month, depending on where we rotate, we read a pile of ECG tracings. The ECG room is on the first floor of the PGH Main Building, beside the section of Medical Oncology, just on one's way out to the Out-Patient Building.

I can't imagine being as great as Dr. Ramon Abarquez, our professor emeritus and once my service consultant in Service 1, who diagnosed obesity or gallbladder stones through ECGs alone. Making sense of the lines inside the tiny red squares was a daunting experience for me as a medical student, but by constantly reading ECGs, I think I've gotten better at them.

In first year residency, before I left for home (assuming I could), the ECG room was a haven where I could sit undisturbed inside some of the most powerful air conditioning in the hospital (the chilled air comes from the same machine as the Central ICU on the second floor). I considered it a brief respite from the humidity and noise and action of Wards 1 and 3.

Last week I read my last ECG tracings as a Gen Med senior. I took my students with me: I've made it my mission to teach them the basics of ECG, so at least they'll recognize somebody with a heart attack and save a life.

Writing about my "lasts" sounds so premature when I still have a month to go before residency actually ends, but reading those ECGs is something I'll miss when I'm done.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


I have nothing much to say about the declaration of work holidays, suspension of classes, closure of roads, and narrowing of EDSA to two functional lanes during the ASEAN summit, except that it all looks staged to me, a glorified pretension to impress the world, hiding from the world's most powerful the stark reality of the every day.

Ambeth Ocampo, whose column I always read in the Inquirer, writes about Filipino hospitality, basically saying that we've always been welcoming as a people, and even history attests to that.

Documentation on three royal visits to Manila are available, namely: the Duque de Hedimburgo in 1869, and the Duque de Genova and the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia in the 1880s. Manila played host to only one king, Norodom I of Cambodia, who visited in 1872, months after the execution of the priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora. Archival material is so detailed with individual receipts for all the expenses for the visit: materials for triumphal arches, cloth for festoons and banderitas, food and drink, so a good time could be had by all. Norodom was so impressed with Filipino hospitality he ordered one of his ministers to ask the Spanish governor general for a complete list of everyone who had contributed to the success of the visit. Norodom later rained on all these individuals various medals and ribbons of the kingdom’s state decorations.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Pens and inks

I've been reading about fountain pens these past days after my friend Mervyn had convinced me to get one. The second year IM residents have taken a strong liking to it: never mind that their ink runs dry, literally, after a 24-duty shift at the emergency department. If using a fancy pen makes their ED stint any easier, why should we stop them? Their chart entries look like photographs of journals from the past.

I joined the bandwagon a few days ago when I realized I didn't really like blue or black ink but a combination of both. I was curious: people who've converted to fountain pens never seemed to look back, as if using ballpoint pens were heretical, if not entirely malicious. But these people, good friends and colleagues in the hospital, were never snobs: try it; it suits your handwriting, they said. They also said that it may turn out to be more cost-effective in the long term. I learned that with fountain pens, one can combine ink colors. The opportunity to personalize this part of the physical writing process, using pen and paper, thrilled me.

It helped a lot that two of my students, Walter and Agnes, were fountain pen users themselves. Walter asked if I wanted to piggyback on his online order. He showed me a palette of colors, twice as many as there were in the rainbow, and, overwhelmed, I picked something that looked brown, blue-black, and I don't know what else. The inks should be arriving this week.


Naturally, I read the history and mechanisms of the fountain pen. Why, for instance, doesn't the ink drip? What keeps the ink inside the reservoir, and what allows it to diffuse, via capillary action, onto paper? As if I had lots of time to kill, I watched YouTube tutorials of how to change inks via converters, what to check if the ink doesn't flow, and so on. This meant that I enrolled in a local forum for fountain pen enthusiasts in the country, but I've not posted anything yet.

Tonight, I fixed my brother's fountain pen, something given to him as a gift a year ago. I soaked the nib in tap water for a few minutes, flushed the dried ink with running water, refilled the cartridge with Verte Empire (J. Herbin) ink using an insulin syringe (it was not a converter), and made a mess with my hands in the process. The green ink, combined with the dried black stuck inside fountain pen for months, looked elegant.



Sunday, November 12, 2017


Today marks the 500th anniversary of a German priest, Martin Luther, famously nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. He had encountered God in fresh ways, and sought to reform the church by calling people back to a teaching that we receive grace freely from a generous God rather than earn it stingily from a reluctant one. In the process of sparking debate and pushing for change, however, the political and religious movements of the day carried his ideas into a massive fracturing of Christianity. Much good ensued, such as Bible translations into heart languages rather than only Greek and Latin. Much pain, warfare, and division also followed. Having grown up Protestant, however, one hardly notices the word root is "protest." Our narrative feels more like the true faith standing firm in the face of unreasonable opposition than like the vilified footballers taking a knee, or civil rights protestors marching through southern towns. Can faith and protest go hand in hand? Is is sometimes necessary, even heroic, to be fissiparous?

Read 500 Years of Protest in Paradox Uganda.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Soft wisps of hair

View of Sarangani Bay, taken from the veranda of Sarangani Highlands (2016)

To introduce my piece for this issue of the Cotabato Literary Journal, MJ Tumamac writes, in eloquent Bisaya,

Apan ang mga doktor gayod ang usá sa mga gadeklara sa kamatayon sa mga tawo. Pipila na kahâng kamatayon ang ilang gideklara ug nasaksihan? Sa anekdota sa doktor nga si Lance Isidore Catedral nga nag-ulohan og “Mother and Son,” gisaysay ang kamatayon sa usá ka inahan pinaagi sa pagtutok sa gibati sa anak: “On Mother’s Day, he was still a boy — soft wisps of hair just starting to grown on his armpits, his voice barely beginning to crack — but already mother-less.” Ginapasayod niining pagpapaila sa “pagbalhin” sa anak gikan sa pagkabata paingon sa pagkabinatilyo nga kauban sa kamatayon ang dakong kabag-ohan sa kinabuhi sa mga nabilín sa mga namatay. Gadugang pod ang klinikal nga deskripsiyon sa kamatayon sa inahan sa pagpabatî sa atoang magbabasa sa sakít nga pagdawat sa anak.

Thanks, MJ, for keeping our region's literary tradition vibrant.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Celebrating the 500th year of the Reformation

Five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, it's said that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in protest against the doctrines and practices of the ruling Roman Catholic Church. This ushered the momentous event in world history known as the Protestant Reformation, a movement that led Christendom back to its roots, to the purest form of God's message of salvation: grace alone through faith alone. This movement changed the world. Along the way, it introduced intellectual and spiritual giants—Martin Luther and John Calvin, among them, who were persecuted for standing up to Rome. The printing press was born as an inevitability and necessity. The renewed understanding of God's sovereign and unmerited grace was due, in part, to the distribution of Bible translations in the people's lingua franca. For the first time ordinary folk, who likely did not understand Latin, could read and understand God's Word for themselves. With their eyes opened, the Gospel freed them from the paralyzing fear and uncertainty of their eternal destinations. By the grace of God, they understood that they need not work for their salvation—it was, and still is, freely offered once they repent of their sins and put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God would breathe new life into their souls, so they could do good works as a consequence, and never as a prerequisite.

The Reformation's battle cry was a return to the purity God's Word, that Scripture alone should be the basis of faith and doctrine was, and that Scripture must interpret itself. Only Christ can save people from their sins, and never themselves. What joy! What freedom!

Why the Reformation Should Make Your More Catholic by Fred Sanders
The Aesthetic Beauty of the Gospel by Mark Mattes
Here We Stand
Portrait of Calvin by THL Parker (free download)
Here We Stand by Dr. Albert Mohler — a really good essay!


Monday, October 30, 2017


Cloudy day
Paris, France (April 2017)

I woke up to cloudy, after-rain weather, a welcome treat for someone like me who doesn't like the sun a lot. I've lived in the tropics all my life; moments like these break the monotony of humidity and warmth. In order to complete the picture-perfect moment, I should've had a warm cup of freshly brewed tea, a good book, windows open to let the fresh breeze in, and the joyful kind of solitude; but the truth is that I dozed off after a day at work without an after-thought, my nap dreamless, only to be awakened by the sound of my brother's utensils as he made dinner--a healthy broth of fish and vegetables.

There's a tinge of selfishness in my indifference, sometimes indignation, at knowing about the minutiae of people's lives--the strongest argument supporting my avoidance of Facebook--but here I am, writing about mine.

Read, listened to, and watched

Inspired by Jason Kottke, here's a quick review of the things I've read, listened to, or watched for the past few weeks.

Good Witch. A small-town drama where love and truth always triumph and people are nice to each other. It's also perpetually cold. Best feel-good series I've watched in years. (A)

Doctor Who, Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2. Hilarious. Scenes of the English countryside fascinate me all the time. (B+)

Madam Secretary Seasons 2 and 3. My dose of some White House action. (A)

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Tom Brooks. Ambitious, but the tone was inconsistently off. (B-)

The War Against Pope Francis. So many controversies in the Catholic Church. (B+)

The Foreigner. I'm a Jackie Chan fan, though nothing much happens here. Pierce Brosnan with the Irish accent was a surprise. (B)

Fargo, Season 2. The Kansas City Mob! Clever, ambitious. The series made me crave for coffee. I recommended this to my roommate Tom who was then studying for his exams. He watched the first season and passed. (A+)

What's Inside: Songs from the Waitress. My soundtrack for the month. Favorites include Opening Up, What's Inside, I Didn't Plan It, and You Matter To Me. (A)

American Vandal. Cars were spray-painted with phalluses, and the search for the culprit was on. Refreshing satire on crime investigations. Had a lot of good laughs. Warning: coarse language. (A)

Don't take the scores seriously. 


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Popular Bookstore

New haunt: Popular Bookstore along Tomas Morato.

Popular Bookstore

Too bad it closes at 6 PM. Great book selection, featuring Filipino publications. Got myself a copy of Jose Garcia Villa's short story collection (Ateneo de Manila University Press).


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Soul comforts

I CAN'T overestimate the encouragement I've derived from listening to good music. Nothing quite comforts the soul than song. This one is Compassion Hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty, among my favorite Christian songwriters. Through this I'm reminded to "show to the world [God's] compassion," especially as a physician—this, even during hard times.

There is an everlasting kindness
You lavished on us
When the Radiance of heaven Came to rescue the lost;
You called the sheep without a shepherd
To leave their distress
For your streams of forgiveness
And the shade of Your rest.

And with compassion for the hurting,
You reached out Your hand
As the lame ran to meet You
And the dead breathed again;
You saw behind the eyes of sorrow
And shared in our tears,
Heard the sigh of the weary,
Let the children draw near.

What boundless love,
What fathomless grace
You have shown us, O God of compassion!
Each day we live
An offering of praise
As we show to the world Your compassion.

We stood beneath the cross of Calvary
And gazed on Your face
At the thorns of oppression
And the wounds of disgrace,
For surely You have borne our suffering
And carried our grief
As You pardoned the scoffer
And showed grace to the thief.

How beautiful the feet that carry
This gospel of peace
To the fields of injustice
And the valleys of need—
To be a voice of hope and healing,
To answer the cries
Of the hungry and helpless
With the mercy of Christ.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mistrust without a cause


Expounding on 1 Samuel 27:1 [1], CH Spurgeon wrote:
He [David] should have argued from what God had done for him, that God would be his defender still. But is it not the same way that we doubt God’s help? Is it not mistrust without a cause? Have we ever had the shadow of a reason to doubt our Father’s goodness? Have not his lovingkindnesses been marvelous? Has he once failed to justify our trust? Ah, no! Our God has not left us at any time. We have had dark nights, but the star of love has shown forth amid the blackness; we have been in stern conflicts, but over our head he has held aloft the shield of our defence.
While my coffee was brewing this morning I took on the mindset of a skeptic and squeezed my memory for episodes of God's failing me, as Spurgeon so challenged. I did my best. Was there, in fact, any instance, when God had left me on my own, when He had left me fend for myself, when He failed to be my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, just as He had promised? The answer is a resounding no. Never. Not once has He left me. Not one promise of His has failed to come to pass.

I read this passage together with the account in Matthew 4:35-ff, where Jesus calmed the storm.
And they [disciples] woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he woke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
In the thick of things I lose my vision and ask the same faithless questions. "Do you not care...?" But the witness of Scriptures, the narratives of my friends and family, even of people I don't personally know—and even my own—only reflect His love and care, all of it undeserved, all of it by the unmerited favor He has granted to sinners like myself.

[1]“And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.”


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Quiet and windless

I spent my weekend in Cabangan, Zambales with my IM family. After a brief medical mission at San Ildefonso, Bulacan; we took a five-hour drive to Zambales, a place we picked because we had wanted a taste of the beach. In our van were the Mondragons: Sir Alric and Karen and their daughter Monay (Alessandra to most, but she'll always be Monay to her Uncle Lance) were seated in the middle row. The little lady hardly cried during the trip. Her default reaction was a smile. She didn't mind being tossed around, carried by her childless titos and titas, all of them entertained by her calm, quiet composure.

Night lights

We arrived in Cabangan at dinner time. Everything was pitch dark. Bea asked where the beach was. "There," someone must've mentioned to her, pointing to the wide expanse of emptiness. Then we could  hear it—the steady hush of the waves. It was a quiet, windless evening away from the metro. Psalm 8:4 came to mind, "What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" I was overwhelmed by the Lord's providence.


After dinner we stayed by the beach. The beach caretakers prepared a bonfire for us—too intense for smores, but the fire kept everyone excited. I retired early for bed. I know Roger, Jerry, and Grace went swimming that night, but I had a good sleep after having gone on 24-duty at the ICU the day before. I couldn't even remember what I had dreamed about.

Beach front


I woke up as usual: 5 AM. After my morning devotions I hit the beach. The sun had barely risen, the water still warm for some reason. Good thing I brought my goggles with me: a pair of Speedo frames  that match my myopia, the same pair I'd been using for my laps in Manila. Then Rich and Roland approached me in the cottage. "Ikaw pala 'yun," they said. They were wondering who would swim this early.


Breakfast was coffee and tocino. I hit the beach again. Rac, Grace, and I left the crowd near the shore and swam for the deeper areas where we kicked  to keep afloat. "I've missed this," Rac said. I swam myself to exhaustion. A good kind of stress. Along the shore were Michelle and David and their son Mohan who's been going to school already. Since I'd met him three years go, Mohan has learned to love the beach. He used to go hysterical when even his feet were soaked in the water.

Coffee cups

By the beach we talked of politics, fake news, impeachment, and so on. It felt energizing to talk about ideas instead of people, for a change—and it encouraged me, in this time of cynicism, to hear my friends speak of the country's future with idealism and hope.

Cabangan, Zambales

Most of my friends went home by 2 PM, but Merv, Rac, Jerry, Grace, Doc Abby, Jay, Roland, and I stayed behind, a bit sentimental about residency ending in a few weeks. The sunset was just as it should be: gradual, without fanfare, and it had ended before anybody even noticed. The drive to Manila was smooth. The eat-all-you-can buffet in San Fernando was worth it.

Blue skies

At 10 PM we were back to regular programming.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Cabangan, Zambales


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Productivity, Statistics and Lit, Essays

At any given time I read three or four books at a time. I get bored quite easily. Maybe that's just me. I say "bored" here not as a negative connotation but as way to express that some works need some to be read for prolonged periods, with intermittent moments of rest in the interim. To help me get past lengthy, revered works of fiction, I read collection of short stories, non-fiction, or short contemporary novels. Too much Cormac McCarthy makes me suicidal and despairing; too much Mindy Kaling turns me light-headed. A change of view increases my appreciation for each book I read. Multiplicity does not diminish the delight.

Last week I finished three books, all read in my Kindle (which I've named John Ames, because the device, in fact, asks the owner to give it a name). I enjoyed the books thoroughly. I recommend them to you, if you have time to spare. (You have time to spare. What's your excuse? Teddy Roosevelt finished Anna Karenina while chasing thieves in the Dakota Territory).

Do More Better

Tim Challies, 2015, Cruciform Press

Challies is one of my favorite Christian bloggers. I turn to him for advice on how to make my life more productive. He defines productivity as:
effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and for the glory of God. 
He runs us through the apps and software he uses. He gives us tips on how to deal with email. He likes Evernote, which I've been a a fan of, too. His perspective is centered on Scripture, beginning with the fact that we must be faithful stewards of time, that we must lean on God's sovereignty despite seeing our plans disrupted. 

Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing

Add caption

Ben Blatt, 2015, Simon & Schuster

Using statistics to analyze literature, Ben Blatt's book is a joy to read. He answers, among other questions: Does the use of adverbs signal poor writing? Can someone tell an author's sex just by analyzing the text? Does the size of an author's name on the cover correlate well with his/her popularity? How do popular authors begin and end their stories? Which novelists are fond of describing the weather?

It's a lot like reading a scientific journal but more fun. Bar graphs and pie charts appear a lot in this work, but don't be intimidated. 

I find this interesting because I'm part of an on-going study that makes use of the methodology Blatt applies here.

When I Was A Child I Read Books

Marilynne Robinson, 2013, Picador

These essays are gems. Robinson argues against scientific reductionism as a way to describe the human condition, defends Calvinism from its detractors, and argues that religion should have its proper place in society. In Freedom of Thought, she writes:
The notion that religion is intrinsically a crude explanatory strategy that should be dispelled and supplanted by science is based on a highly selective or tendentious reading of the literatures of religion. In some cases it is certainly fair to conclude that it is based on no reading of them at all. 


Friday, September 29, 2017

Hymns versus modern worship

The Babylon Bee is brilliant. This cracked me up: Hymns vs. Modern Worship.

Hymns: A hymn is a song that’s typically broken up into four or five verses, but no one ever sings the second verse. Hymns usually use lots of words no one knows the meaning of anymore, like “interposed” and “Ebenezer.” What the heck’s an Ebenezer, people? Why are we singing about the Scrooges? Above all, each hymn must fully articulate a point of doctrine as well as a systematic theology book might, without ever once pricking the singer’s emotions, since he doesn’t know what the words mean anyway.

Modern worship: Modern worship songs tend to be written only by qualified theologians. Haha, just kidding. They’re written by high schoolers, scribbled down on the back of napkins at night clubs when the inspiration strikes. CCLI rules also dictate that the modern worship song must contain one bridge repeated as many times as necessary to evoke the desired emotional response, but may have no more than four words in the entire song. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

I wish I were home

My younger brother Sean told me he’d get me new shoes as a present. “Just let me know when you’ve picked something. I’ll send you the money,” he said, laughing, over the rare telephone conversations we have—given his schedule.

Since working as a municipal dentist in a nearby town, Sean has taken on more serious roles in the household. According to my father, Sean buys the groceries, pays the bills, and has even contributed to my mother’s new project of bathroom renovation. He runs the errands which likely involve rearranging the plants in my mother’s small garden during the weekends.

My parents were on their way to the Leddas for a birthday party; they're never late. Sean decided to stay at home, waiting for Manong Ralph, who was coming from Davao for a speaking engagement. When they’re not about to sleep, my parents are in one of these places: (1) in church, for the Bible study, (2) at funerals, (3) at birthday parties. I realized I was the only one missing, as the case has been for so many New Years and Christmases and important occasions.

He is, according to him, quite single. (As far as I know, he used to have a girlfriend.) I don’t know how else to respond but to say, “Aw, that’s too bad,” then move on to other topics. I wish him well—he knows that—but I just don’t have the right words.

I wish I were home.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Manila sunrise

Manila sunshine
Photo is taken by Racquel B who celebrates her 30th birthday this month. She enjoys a calming, detached view of the Manila skyline from where she lives.

Have a blessed Sunday, everyone!


Saturday, September 23, 2017

The clarity of loneliness

Weekend reading: Marilynne Robinson's When I Was a Child I Read Books, a compilation of essays on faith, American generosity and liberality, and many more.

Ms. Robinson writes about her upbringing in Idaho, where solitude was considered a virtue rather a moral failing. This stands in contrast to the prevailing suspicion that a person who likes to be alone must be depressed.

She writes:

It seems to me that, within limits the Victorians routinely transgressed, the exercise of finding the ingratiating qualities of grave or fearful experience is very wholesome and stabilizing. I am vehemently grateful that, by whatever means, I learned to assume that loneliness should be in part pleasure, sensitizing and clarifying, and that it is even a truer bond among people than any kind of proximity. It may be mere historical conditioning, but when I see a man or a woman alone, he or she looks mysterious to me, which is only to say that for a moment I see another human being clearly.

I remember my introverted friends and how I like to torture them with unwanted attention. So far they have not punched me in the face. I still see them clearly.