Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Welcome, 2020!


This is my last entry for 2019. What a year it has been! I've traveled far and wide, interacted with patients, caught up with friends, made new ones, read books, watched films and series, ate to my heart's content, swam a number of laps, became more health-conscious, experienced God's greatness and goodness in both the big and small details of life—mine and my family's.

It has been a good year for blogging. Not the greatest year, but I have enjoyed updating this quiet space in the internet. I must admit that there have been days when I forgot the blog even existed. A consequence, I suppose, of my on-going desire to curate my online presence, my love-hate relationship with the idea of sharing my life in this semi-public sphere. Plus I had my notebooks and fountain pens; in such analog materials I would express my emotions, articulate my prayers, and outline my plans.

I resolve to blog more consistently for 2020, not because I have to, but because I want to. Bottled Brain turns 16 years next year. It has been a part of my life. It has done me a lot of good. It has allowed me to interact with people in ways I wouldn't have been able to, if not for internet. Blogging stimulates my brain. Typing, editing html codes, posting photographs—these keep my ideas fired up and constitute an essential part of my thinking process. In a sense, writing about other things keeps my technical writing sharp and focused. It has been an avenue to encourage others, to point others to worthwhile links, books, films. Maturity naturally brings with it a stronger tendency for introspection, for self-censorship. I must overcome, in a sense, my tendency to polish everything to perfection: this, too, is the beauty of the blog. Things don't have to be perfect. Forgive the occasional typo, or the missing preposition, or the poor sentence construction.

This is the beauty of having my own URL—I don't have to bother everyone with what I write, I don't have to announce to the entire world that I posted, say, a photo of a flower in my mother's garden (though I have been inclined to do that).

I wish for you and your families a blessed 2020. Thanks for reading and keeping me company.

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Dispatches from Portugal

I saw photos of Portugal posted by Rich King, colleague in oncology and a dear friend, in his Instagram stories. Impressed by the quality of photography, I asked if I can feature them here. What an eye for good shots! I hope to visit Portugal someday!

Portugal by Rich King

Portugal by Rich King

Portugal by Rich King

Portugal by Rich King

Portugal by Rich King

Portugal by Rich King


Dr. Pingoy's Naming Our Wounds

Dr. Noel Pingoy in his introduction to Cotabato Literary Journal's special 40th issue, "Naming Our Wounds," writes about the value of language and communication in the art and science of medicine.

Espousing abstracted language was part of enlisting into the medical guild and served its goal of shorthand transmission of knowledge among professionals. Such communication was once regarded as absolute and all-encompassing and was conveyed with noble intentions. But all too often it was ambiguous to a layperson and carried out to abbreviate or even cease more discussion. It also worked to curtail a doctor’s scrutiny of the values and beliefs of people before him—the patient and family members—individuals seeking an explanation that made sense to them as people, not merely cases. Doctors needed to explain what this technical information meant not only for their hearts and lungs or kidneys and liver but also for their soul. The diagnosis and treatment were just doorways to a discourse about the emotional and social impact of a particular condition and what the doctor was purporting to do about it.

When doctors write about their experiences and those of their patients, it compels them to revisit a more ordinary language, one that, while still clinically precise, is truer to feelings, perceptions, and sensibilities. Such writing enables doctors step down from the podium of the professional and plumb their internal and external persona from more human perspectives.

I'm thrilled to be a part of this issue. My essay, "The Long Wait to Cure," is up, along with a number of works of poetry, prose, and fiction by writers from the Soccsksargen Region in Southern Philippines.


Monday, December 30, 2019



Colorful windows at Chinatown, Singapore. I was supposed to meet Roger for afternoon snacks here. He appeared on time (no, five minutes late, but that can be forgiven) and did not get lost. I knew he will go places as long as he's connected to Google Maps.

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Grave in the Hills and Farewell

Book highlights from Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, continued (here are parts one and two).

Loc 43484, The Grave in the Hills
What they really remembered in him was his absolute lack of self-consciousness, or self-interest, an unconditional truthfulness which outside of him I have only met in idiots.

Loc 4448, The Grave in the Hills
He had taken in the country, and in his eyes and his mind it had been changed, marked by his own individuality, and made part of him.

Loc 4469, The Grave in the Hills
I often drove out to Deny’s grave. In a bee-line, it was not more than five miles from my house, but round by the road it was fifteen. The grave was a thousand feet higher up than my house, the air was different here, as clear as a glass of water; light sweet winds lifted your hair when you look off your hat; over the peaks of the hills, the clouds came wandering from the East, drew their live shadow over the wide undulating land, and were dissolved and disappeared over the Rift Valley.

Loc 4812, Farewell
…And I remembered what an old Norwegian captain of a whaler down in Durban had explained to me, that the Norwegians are undismayed in any storm, but their nervous system cannot stand a calm.

My father's grave is also in the Hills. (Not the mausoleum!)

Christmas Party 2019


Sunday, December 29, 2019

Palaces and castles

Thailand 2019
The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

Gruyères 2019
Gruyère Castle, Switzerland

Day 2
Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

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Reflections on Africa and the people who have lived there

Book highlights from Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, a continuation. (First part is here).

Location 319, A Native Child
Here on the plain he looked extraordinarily small, so that it struck you as a strange thing that so much suffering could be condensed into a single point.

Loc 720, The Savage in the Immigrant’s House
The prestige of the Christian religion in Africa was weakened by the intolerance that one Christian church showed towards the other.

Loc 1054, A Gazelle
I know a song of Africa,—I thought,—of the Giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I had on, or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon through a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of Ngong look out for me?

Loc 1118, The Shooting Accident
People who dream when they sleep at night, know of a special kind of happiness which the world the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue. They also know that the real glory of dreams lies in their atmosphere of unlimited freedom. It is not the freedom of the dictator, who enforces his own will on the world, bu teh freedom of the artist, who has no will, who is free of will. The pleasure of the true dreamer does not lie in the substance of the dream, but in this: that there things happen without an interference from his side, and altogether outside his control.

Loc 1153, The Shooting Accident
There is something strangely determinate and fatal about a single shot in the night. It is as if someone had cried a message to you in one word, and would not repeat it.

Loc 1399, Riding in the Reserve
In their search for the lost child, their only guide would be the vultures that are alway s hanging in the sky about a dead body on the plain, and will give you the exact spot of a lion-kill.

Loc 1571, Waimai
Before I learned to speak Swaheli, my relation to this Native world of letters had a curious feature to it: I could read out what they wrote without understanding a world if it. The Swaheli tongue has had no written language until the white people took upon themselves to make up one; with care it was spelled out was it is pronounced, and it has got no antiquated orthography to entrap a reader. I would then sit and read out their writings orthodoxly, word for word, with the receivers of the letters in breathless suspense around me, and could follow the effect of my reading without in the least knowing what it was about. Sometimes they would burst into tears at my words, or with wring their hands, at other times they cried out with delight; the most common reaction to the lection was laughter, and they were continually doubled up by convulsions of laughter while I read.

Loc 1855, A Kikuyu Chief
He had a broad nose, so expressive that it looked like the central point of the man, as if the whole stately figure was there only to carry the broad nose about.

Loc 1952, A Kikuyu Chief
There is nothing in the world which to the Kikuyu holds the interest and importance of a cow with a heifer calf at foot. Bloodshed, witchcraft, sexual love or the wonders of the white men’s world, all evaporate and disappear near the great flaming furnace of their passion for live stock, which smells of the stone-age, like a fire you strike with a flint.

Loc 2062, Big Dances
Natives had not sense or taste for contrasts, the umbilical cord of Nature has, with them, not been quite cut through. They held their Ngomas only during the time of the full moon. When the moon did their best they did theirs.

Loc 2182, A Visitor from Asia
He had a courteous little manner with him, and smiled and nodded, as I pointed out the hills and tall trees to him, as if here were interested in everything, and incapable of surprise at anything. I wondered if this consistency was produced by an entire ignorance of the evil of the world, or by a deep knowledge and acceptance of it.

Loc 2350, Old Knudsen
Sometimes vistors from Europe drifted into the farm like wrecked timber into still waters, turned and rotated, till in the end they were washed out again, or dissolved and sank.

Old Knudsen, the Dane, had come to the farm sick and blind, and stayed there for the time it took him to die, a lonely animal.

Loc 2560, A Fugitive Rests on the Farm
The true aristocracy and the true proletariat of the world are both in understanding with tragedy.

Loc 2618, Visits of Friends
Therefore does the world love the Swedes, because in the midst of their woes they can draw it all to their bosom and be so gallant that they shine a long way away.

Los 2676, The Noble Pioneer
He was a very good judge of men, with no illusions about them and no spite.

Loc 2848, Wings
The early morning air of the African highlands is of such tangible coldness and freshness that time after time the same fancy there comes back to you: you are not on earth but in dark deep waters, going ahead along the bottom of the sea.

Loc 3697, The Earthquake
The feeling of colossal pleasure lies chiefly in the consciousness that something which you have reckoned to be immovable, has got in to move on its own. This is probably one of the strongest sensations of joy and hope in the world. The dull globe, the dead mass, the Earth itself, rose and stretched under me.

Loc 2955, A Strange Happening
I have told this tale to many people and not one of them has believed it. All the same it is true, and my boys can bear me witness.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Things you need to know about Roger

Roger, too, celebrates his birthday on December. Challenged by the lovely Ma'am Ginger in a random Facebook comment, here I am, writing yet another birthday post, and as I click away and words form into sentences, I'm beginning to feel like an unpaid, overworked member of the class's yearbook committee, using up all the adjectives in my limited thesaurus, digging up my memories subconsciously tagged as "funny" or "hilarious." But the last part is only partly true. Having worked with him for five years, give or take, it is easy to conjure memories of Roger—I call him "Raj" when I ask him to get me a cold glass of water on hot days. He has a heart of gold and is "a man for others," depending on the time of the day. Calling him a dear friend has been a great privilege of my life.

Some things you may, or may not yet know, about Roger:

1. He likes having his photos taken in front of walls. I took a long time orchestrating this scene just before we entered an old palace in Seoul.

Roger in Korea

2. He is so passionate about photography even if it means crossing the street and posing behind someone else's bicycle. I maintain that I take his best portraits. This was taken in Seoul.

Roger in Seoul, parang Amsterdam!

4. He likes taking pictures, even of grammatically incorrect statements. His photos of sunsets are beautiful to behold.


5. When he travels, he has a pastel-colored Herschel bag in dire need of washing.


6. He was the poster-boy of the Korean Society of Medical Oncology for these reasons: (1) he literally appeared in the promotional poster, and (2) he presented six studies for the conference. He would later win a travel grant. He would also bag the best poster award at the European Society of Medical Oncology - Asia conference in Singapore, bringing pride and honor to the Division and the nation.

Thailand 2019

7. His feet are a constant source of jokes for us.

Thailand 2019

8. He smells good, especially when he goes to humid cities like Bangkok. Rich clearly loved the scent.

Thailand 2019

9. He likes eating. He sports a trim figure. One wonders how he burns his calories.


10. Despite being an introverted person who likes to keep his privacy, he sacrifices his time to meet up with friends. However, he almost declines my lunch invitations. This photo was taken in Taiwan, where we celebrated the end of Internal Medicine residency, in a coffee shop beside a university. Roger never drinks coffee.


Where would we be without Roger? Happy birthday, dear Roger! Remember, I have worse pictures in my album!


Highlights from The Ngong Farm, the first chapter of Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa


Although I never really grew up in a farm, it holds a special place in my existence. (Related note: A few years ago, my brother surprised my father with an article in the Philippines' largest newspaper, his surprise for Father's Day.) It was with a distant familiarity that I read Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, definitely one of the best books I've read this year. Under a pseudonym, Baroness Karen Blixen, who was born and raised in Denmark, wrote of her life in Africa. She would live there for many years, even after her divorce from her husband who was unfaithful to her and, at some point, gave her syphilis. This is never mentioned in the book; the silent parts are just as important. The reader will marvel at Baroness Blixen's restraint, a rare jewel to be found in the age of Facebook oversharing. Inspired by Jason Kottke, I'm posting book highlights from the first chapter, The Ngong Farm, as they appear in my Kindle. I will be posting some more highlights in the next days, with a few personal notes.

Location 123 (about farmers dreaming about farming—my relatives do this during reunions. "Let's start a fishpond!" is a common subject of our family gatherings):
All the country round Nairobi, particularly to the North of the town, is laid out in a similar way, and here lives a people, who are constantly thinking and talking of planting, pruning or picking coffee, and who lie at night and meditate upon improvements to the coffee-factories.

Loc 169 (about the observation that you are shaped, in a sense, by where you live):
It is impossible that a town will not play a part in your life, it does not even make much difference whether you have more good or bad things to say of it, it draws your mind to it, by a mental law or gravitation.

Loc 222 (about the familiarity of the landscape, even the smallest of details):
Camping-places fix themselves in your mind as if you had spent long period of your life in them. You will remember a curve of your waggon track in the grass of the plain, like features of a friend.

Loc 258 (about the fact that we are not alone—there are others quite like us, but different):
The discovery of the dark races was to me a magnificent enlargement of all my world.

Loc 285 (about the difficulty of understanding others, try as we might):
It made me reflect that perhaps they were, in life itself, within their own element, such as we can never be, like fishes in deep water which for the life of them cannot understand our fear of drowning.

Loc 299 (about the need for familiar human company. Baroness Blixen would, in later chapters, become friends with the "Natives," and her descriptions of her interactions with them revealed a woman so fascinated with the company she had kept):
At times, life on the farm was very lonely, and in the stillness of the evenings when the minutes dripped from the clock, life seemed to be dripping out of you with them, just for want of white people to talk to.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Meet and greet

Day 2

At Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, Milan, Italy. One of the dogs was named "Olivia."

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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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Camel ride at Anna Bay, New South Wales, Australia


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The loveliest of lovely old Japanese couples


Lee Chapman of Tokyo Times, one of the oldest photography blogs I've been following, has released his list of the top photos for 2019.

Even by recent standards, this year has been an absolute shocker, but in a world seemingly gone mad, photography has once again been an incredible source of joy, and to a certain extent, escape. The gift that without a doubt just keeps on giving. What’s more, the constant desire to photograph the city, and indeed the country I live in, has taken me to all sorts of places, and in doing so, allowed me to meet all sorts of different people.

I love how Mr. Chapman captures the every day life of Japanese society, and his photographs aren't of the touristy type. I especially like his posts on bars and restaurants, which remind me of the Netflix series Midnight Diner. I would love to visit Japan this year.


Thursday, December 26, 2019


Gruyères 2019

On our way to Gruyères, Switzerland, where it started snowing. We had four minutes to transfer to another platform in order to catch the train to Palézieux. I still argue, however, that we have the best train systems in the Philippines. The LRT and MRT, during rush hours, are the best places to experience the warmth of the Filipino spirit.

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Trisha's burger

After having my facial warts removed in a dermatology clinic, I determined to eat at Trisha's along Alunan Avenue. This locally grown fast food chain still serves one of the best burgers in the world. You can disagree with me, of course: the patty is thin and massively laden with oil, the cheese isn't spectacular, and so on. The Trisha's cheeseburger probably tastes like those sold at Burger Machine, which in the early 2000s enjoyed the same popularity as the milk tea shops do now. But growing up, Trisha's was as close we could get to a Jollibee. We would troop here, my high school friends and I, to treat ourselves during afternoon snacks with our meager daily allowance whenever there were athletic events at the nearby SMRAA, or whenever there were competitions at the nearby DepEd South Cotabato compound. (We usually won: go, KNCHS!)

Warts removal

I no longer recognized the lady at the counter. I did not recognize anyone at all. I ordered the usual ham, cheese, and egg sandwich, with a can of Coke Zero. I sat al fresco on an unpretentious red plastic monoblock chair and watched the tricycles and other vehicles pass by the main street of Marbel. I felt nostalgic. My father used to bring us here, back in the days when Trisha's served mustard and the store was more jam-packed (now, it's Pinoy style ketchup and hot sauce, repackaged in squeezable plastic containers). I imagined he would have ordered same things I had ordered, but would have asked if I liked to buy another burger before I finished eating.

Warts removal

Warts removal

I relish this yearly pilgrimage to small stores I used to frequent as a kid growing up. Trisha's, always at the top of my list, reconnects me to memories of old, when my father was still alive, when I spoke terrible Tagalog, when my idea of the world was Marbel and everything around it.

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Camels at Anna Bay, New South Wales, Australia


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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Kids and snow

Gruyères 2019

Gruyères 2019

Gruyères, Switzerland

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Eyes are opened


Christmas in Koronadal 2019

"Why, he is not intelligent, Mother. Merciful heavens, do understand, Mother, he is stupid!"—protestations of Nadya Ivanovna to her mother, Nina, after she realizes she does not like her fiancé, Andrei Andreyich. This is from Anton Chekhov's "Betrothed," the last story in the NYRB collection, "Peasants and Other Stories."(Related reading: my trip to Solidaridad Bookstore, where I got my copy.) I love reading the Russians: they often sound like Pinoy soap-operas!

It's too assuming and pretentious of me, but I hold a familiar connection to Chekhov: he was both a doctor and a writer. Took me a while, to be honest, to like Chekhov, but I'm resolved to read as much of his works as I can.


Kuya John's Reading Year 2019


Kuya John gave me the green signal to repost an excerpt of his Reading Year. It is a joy to read—Kuya John writes beautifully! (Related reading—a post from 2007, on Kuya John's birthday!)

When I visited him in Sydney this year, I was able to sample his well-curated library. As with most people I know, he still prefers the printed book rather than the Kindle. One afternoon, after work, he—like the gracious big brother that he is—took me to Newtown, where we visited one of his favorite bookstores, Elizabeth's Bookshop.


*  *  *

Instead of the usual Top 7 list, here I present the titles I’ve rated 5 stars! As with last year, I give ratings based solely on how I felt towards a book. Because while details escape you, feelings linger. (Emphasis mine.)

Here it goes.

1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Short, sharp sentences form into short paragraphs into short chapters and surprisingly unfurling into a lengthy novel. I've always been drawn to World War II literature, and Doerr . . .  narrates a six-year old blind girl's point of view from an empathic perspective. When I set foot in Paris, I will remember to attempt to close my eyes and trace Marie LeBlanc's steps to the Museum of Natural History, if only to succumb into her poignant imagination of a beautiful world masked in darkness.

2. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I could not bring myself to reading the last 50 pages of this 720 page long novel about depth of friendships and the protagonists' individual struggles to survive a world that seemed to explode out of unresolved personal traumas. I was warned by a dear friend that reading this might not be good for my mental health, yet I insisted. I soldiered on from pages upon pages of torturous narrative and imagery until all that's left of my energy has been wrung out. I had to raise the white flag for my own sanity and just asked my friend to let me know how it ended. Anything revelatory about the human condition is worth my time, and tears.

3. By The Book by The New York Times Book Review

It's like finding a treasure chest. Sixty-five of the leading writers (Ian McEwan, JK Rowling, Donna Tartt, Jonathan Franzen, etc) open up about the books and authors they love and hate. Interesting how I'm not keen on any Lee Child novels but I find his interview the most engaging.

4. The Sea by John Banville

It was the coldest of winter in Sydney when I read this. But to read about a seaside village written in the most elegant, sublime prose was more than enough to keep me warm curling up under my covers. Banville won the Booker Prize for this great work. I tell you one more time, his prose is so so elegant you can hear classical music in the background. And it’s Chopin no less!

5. Soul Keeping by John Ortberg

I was in New Zealand for my birthday. The air was crisp, pure. Ortberg's text seemed to jump out of the pages in a symphony of reassuring verses. It talked about caring for the most important part of you, your soul. Ortberg, for the most part of the book, wrote about the life of his mentor Dallas Willard. He lived a full life anchored on his unrelenting faith. It's an ideal read in a world full of excesses. Side note: I coerced my brother, Keith, who was travelling with me to go somewhere else while I finished reading this book in a quaint cafe with the full view of the snow capped mountains of Queenstown. When it was about time for us to meet, he was not picking up my call. He eventually turned up in our meeting place limping. He had a bad fall (whether he was taking a selfie when it happened remains a mystery). The usual overprotective, ever anxious ‘kuya' would have gone nuts imagining broken discs in a foreign land. But my anxiety was kept at bay. And we went on to enjoy our first snow experience at The Remarkables Snow Resort. I trust your intelligence, dear reader, to deduct why that was so. By the way for good measure, when we got back to Sydney we spent almost an entire day waiting and traveling between clinics doing x-rays! Good thing this ‘kuya’ coerced his brother to buy travel insurance! See?!

6. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

Some say light reads do not pass for good literature. I want to counter that by suggesting you read Sally Rooney. For a writer to distill the complexity of human dynamics in friendships, one must have the talent and skill to untangle intricacies and present it in a form that is accessible and simple. Reading this novel was like a walk in the park in spring. You do not stop to contemplate on why a certain flower draws more attention than the other. You just stop and look at them, smell them if you want. But don’t overthink. There are things that spark joy that do not require any taxing effort, like streams of unguarded conversations with dear friends.

7. Calypso by David Sedaris

If you happen to have read Tina Fey’s Bossypants, then we can agree that it was funny, super funny. I remember reading it on my Kindle during a 3 hour drive from Davao City to my hometown, oblivious to the infamous road systems in the Philippines. I got stomach spasms from too much laughing. But without disrespect to Tina Fey, Bossypants is not something you can present to your, say, English 132 class. Meanwhile, Sedaris is well read by the most respected writers of our time. And rightly so because his meditative observations towards middle age and mortality in Calypso is both very funny and...I hate to use this word—avant garde. So it’s like the Queen of England laughing at a funny situation. If you still don't get what I mean, consider this—David Sedaris:Heart Evangelista = Tina Fey:Mimiyuuh haha!

8. Emotional Agility by Susan David

Reading 'self-help' literature may be taken as acknowledging ones weakness. It can be repulsive for those who feel superior in managing their own lives. By all means let it be 'self-help', but if its backbone is of the highest standards in decades of research in the most reputable institutions like Harvard and Stanford I submit to you, dear friends, it is worth it. If there is one takeaway worth sharing from this book, it is this: Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is fear walking. I consider this one of the most important works I’ve read this year.

9. The Story Of A Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

I skipped Books 2 and 3 of this Neapolitan series. Book 1 was gripping. The HBO adaptation I found dragging. In the final series, Ferrante writes with so much truth and honesty you can name the characters after your own gossiping neighbours! Reading about the protagonists childhood in Book 1 and how their lives have either changed or remained the same in Book 4 is one of the most exciting jumping point of discovery for me as a fan of this mysterious writer. Yes, Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. And he/she remains to be one of the biggest conundrums in the literary world today. I long to visit Naples one day.

10. The Emperor Of All Maladies by Siddharta Mukherjee

I had to remind myself every now and then that what I am reading is not fiction. It's riveting, obviously educational and a great way to bring me back to reading non-fiction! Dr. Mukherjee masterfully walked us through the biography of cancer. From the first recorded account of cancer in history, to the painful narrative of the discovery of chemotherapy and the countless protocols, failures and trials to come up with cocktails of drugs to find a cure, to the political strategies that needed to be done to beg for more funding for research, and to the piercing fact that it remains a human story more than anything cellular or medical, this is a saga that makes the pages reek with stench and aroma of death and life. I’ve heard so much about this book from my dear friend who also happens to be the inspiration of this yearly reading list, Dr. Lance Catedral (www.bottledbrain.com). He shared with me that this book, among other events in his life, aroused his interest to further specialise in Oncology, after a much commended residency in Internal Medicine at the Philippine General Hospital. I am still currently reading this and I reckon it is a fitting title for me to end this year. The narrative is so intense as it is hypnotic, each sentence metastasising into my own defenseless visualisations of ‘what-ifs’. It is a book that will bring all your concerns into perspective. It is outright compelling to say the least. I submit to you in saying we are not the masters of our own fate.

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I look forward to your list next year, Kuya John! (Related link: You may want to read his list for 2018.)


Matt Harmon and Elizabeth Taylor

Stephen Colbert is a fantastic host. His interview with Mark Harmon is a joy to watch. It will become one of my favorites. Stephen listens, taps the table in fascination, and lets Mr. Harmon talk about Elizabeth Taylor. What a fascinating story.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas!

Full day with family today to celebrate Christmas. The celebration involved an early morning visit to Tatay's grave, lunch and afternoon snacks with family at our Marbel home, and a lot of laughing, reminiscing, and eating in between. Praise God!

Video Christmas Party 2019

Monday, December 23, 2019

Old people

There's a passage in Anton Chekhov's Peasants that illustrates the struggle of old people.

On old age. Anton Chekhov’s “Peasants.”

For this break, I've alternated between Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa (via Kindle) and Chekhov's Peasants and Other Stories (NYRB Series, which I had bought at Solidaridad).

I've been meaning to begin driving lessons, after my brother Sean convinced me it's a life skill and I couldn't rely on him always to drive me around. I don't mind taking the tricycle to get me places, to be honest. But I called the driving school, it requires a lot of paperwork, I left all documents in Manila. I suppose I will just ask Sean to take extra patience in teaching me: he has a tendency to get irritated at my lack of manual dexterity, in the same way that I am prone to make harsh, often unnecessary critiques of his written paragraphs.

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