Friday, January 31, 2020

My Reading Year 2019

Each year I endeavor to read as many books as I can. These are the books that kept me company in 2019.

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. Danish baroness Karen Blixen's account of living a in Africa. She lived a hard life—her husband, who had many affairs, at some point gave her syphilis—but there is no bitterness in this account. Only servants, dogs, lions, chieftains, tribal politics, and farm life. I had the feeling that she left so many things unsaid. Cue Ronan Keating's "When You Say Nothing At All."

White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Why had I only discovered Zadie Smith this year? I remember starting on her novel when I saw an old secondhand copy in our bookshelf at home. Her debut novel was about family and friendships, religion and secularism, Muslims and Jehovah's witnesses, Bangladesh and Jamaica.

Peasants and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov.

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. A graphic novel that I read on a plane ride.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg. Read my entry.

The Hugo Winners Volume 5: 1980–1982, edited by Isaac Asimov. The Nine Billion Names of God was a standout.

Death in Midsummer by Yukio Mishima. My favorite story was about the girls who, dressed in kimonos, performed a ritual of silently crossing several bridges so that their wishes would come true. This was one of the very few stories that made me laugh. The rest were depressing: a mother who, after napping, realizes her children had drowned; a couple who commit honorable suicide but make passionate love before that.

John the Baptist by F. B. Meyer. I turn to F. B Meyer for the beauty of his writing. It was a pleasure to the soul to get a glimpse of the humility of John the Baptist in light of Jesus Christ's earthly ministry.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. I've written this for the nth time—that I adore Elena Ferrante. I read this months before I flew to Italy.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. I read this in Milan. I realized that reading about the places I travel to amplifies the joys and wonders of adventure.

Overheard in a Balloon by Mavis Gallant. She belongs to the triumvirate of my favorite women writers, which includes Alice Munro and Marilynne Robinson. Both Gallant and Munro are Canadian.

L’appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home by David Lebovitz. A chef who buys an apartment in Paris and renovates it. It's not as easy as it sounds. Apparently, the French require a lot of unnecessary paperwork.

The Doctrine of Regeneration by Stephen Charnock. My cell servant (Bible study leader), Kuya Vance, mentions this during our Thursday meetings. So I decided to give it a go: an encyclopedic treatise about the Christian doctrine of regeneration. It took me two years to finish the book, mostly during train rides to work. On sanctification, he wrote: "It is the office of the Spirit not only to comfort but renew, and to comfort by renewing."

What Are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson. Miss Robinson, the author of Gilead, Housekeeping, and Lila, as well as a number of essay collections, is one of America's most insightful thinkers.

Circe by Madeline Miller. The Odyssey as told from the perspective of Circe. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood. Autobiography of a woman whose father was a Roman Catholic priest. I like reading anything about fathers.

Young Once by Patrick Modiano. Reading about the Métro stations jolted me: "Oh, I've been there, too!" I like reading works by this Nobel laureate: they're just of the perfect length to distract me from my academic reading without significantly disrupting my life.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. A simple love story told beautifully. I will read anything by Miss Rooney.

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert. Each year I try to read any work by Frank Herbert.

I've been doing a compilation of books I've read ("My Reading Year") since 2011. Here are the links:

Because He lives

Today marks the end of January. I have, for the past 31 days, attempted to post at least one blog entry, mostly of photos taken in my past travels—snapshots of people, events, random scenes of the every day that are stored in my private cloud. The experience has been rewarding. There has been a rekindling of my fascination for blogging, never mind the fact that online traffic has markedly dwindled. In a way, it doesn't really matter. I still find, as when I had begun this website, that writing is therapeutic.

Today also marks another day closer to the end of clinical fellowship. That I will leave the hospital in a few weeks and start a new routine of studying for the board exam is a reality that I both relish and dread. I will, once again, find myself at a crossroad—the question of whether I should start my clinical practice or get further training elsewhere. My soul, however, sings the hymn, "Because He Lives," whose familiar chorus goes, "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow / Because He lives all fear is gone / Because I know He holds the future / And life is worth the living just because He lives."

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Monday, January 27, 2020

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The writer's writer

Mavis Gallant was legendary. I reread her stories because they make me so happy. Her technique is fluid and masterful that the reader wouldn't notice she'd been doing literary gymnastics with her sentences. That her characters spoke to her, that she knew them intimately enough to write about them—this video was a delight to watch.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My TWSBI story

My good old TWSBI Diamond 580 Aluminum is among my favorite every-day carries (EDCs) because it's a trustworthy writer with an extraordinarily huge ink capacity (2 mL). If you go on clinics at a government institution where I train, you'll know that one full ink refill (2 mL) can last at most two full clinic days. And I don't write a lot for each patient: I keep my entries clear and concise, but I sometimes do write essays to explain my medical management strategies to the other specialties—an exception rather than the rule. No wonder why TWSBI is a favorite among fountain pen users at PGH. It has a great value for money, it's not flashy, it's meant for heavy duty.

These past weeks, I've had difficulty refilling the pen because the piston no longer glides as smoothly as when I had bought it last year. I know, and my kid brother Sean has been telling me, that I should apply silicone grease to the insides of the 580 as well as the area around the rim of the rubber piston to improve the lubrication. But although the TWSBI has been designed to be taken apart, tinkered with, and reassembled, I'm not particularly gifted with mechanical hands. (I would bring my pen home where Sean can clean them; he enjoys tinkering with things, which makes him a great dentist.) I've been traumatized by my experience with my first TWBSI—an Eco I bought in TY Lee pen store in Taipei. The piston was stuck inside the pen, largely because of what I did, and the pen remains unusable to this day—but I can't quite get rid of it because it reminds me of fun times in residency.

Besties, Abby and Bea, beside the owner of the pen store. 

Expensive pens were displayed—we couldn't afford them!

Carlos Cuaño and Everly Ramos trying out some of the pens; Carlos would later become a pen enthusiast himself. 

This Jetpens Youtube tutorial made it look so easy, so I pried the Diamond 580 apart.

I encountered the same problem: the piston was stuck inside the pen. With much determination, I reassembled the pen, then pulled the knob–piston connector–the piston head complex, and it did just the trick. I applied the silicone grease, and reassembled the pen altogether. It works even better now.



I'm also happy to report that my new TWSBI Eco Rose Gold has arrived! Despite being a hard, medium nib, it's a smooth, wet writer—which I like! It's featured below, inked with Parker Quinck in blue-black.



Tuesday, January 21, 2020

On Marriage Story by Noel Baumbach

I get how Marriage Story (dir. Noel Baumbach) articulates eloquently and artfully the pain of divorce, but never have I seen a film highlight unspoken love between two people who go through the painful process. One wonders why they had to go through it when they clearly loved each other still. The final scene, where Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) reads aloud the list of good things about him by his former wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), just when as he guides through his son read a written manuscript (which would later turn out to be Nicole's list), was a brilliant, heart-breaking moment.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Sunday, January 19, 2020

On Joel Ferrer's Elise

Elise, directed by Joel Ferrer, reveled in its simplicity and innocence. It was predictable and carefree. It did not aspire to become anything but a Filipino coming-of-age romantic film set in a small town in Bulacan, where teachers were still feared, where students walked to school, and where, on the way home, one could still appreciate the greenery. The houses were old but homey, draped with see-through curtains similar to what we used to (and still) have at home. The scenes were tinted with a warm glow; it must have been stifling in those houses, what with the lack of air-conditioning, but nobody perspired.

But there was comfort in knowing how things would end as soon as the film had begun. There was Bert (Enchong Dee), shy and reserved and whose tongue failed him when he wanted to say something, falling in love with Elise (Janine Gutierrez), a strong-willed girl who promised him, “Ako ang bahala sa iyo,” until she left for Manila. They lost touch, fell in love with other people, and reconnected in college. They ended up together and decided to elope on a rainy night. They built a successful ice cream business (Josie’s, it was called), and then there was the ending, which I shall not mention. You may think the film ended tragically, but, as with most things, it is a matter of perspective. I think it was a great ending, nevertheless: a reminder that we go can go through life with joy despite the pain and suffering we’ve been through.

My friend Mervyn, who suggested that I watch it, told me the conversations sounded “natural.” They talked like real people one would overhear in daily life. I liked it very much.
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Dispatches from friends no. 2: Roger in Pangasinan

Many of my friends like to travel. The sense of adventure, along with the pervasive culture of rabid instant documentation, has cultivated in them the thrill of taking good photos. They remain very private, however, but occasionally send me photographs by way of email or Telegram. Rich, a private man, shared me with me his photos from his Portugal and Spain trip recently. Roger, who has spent his weekend in Pangasinan, sent me these: nostalgic images from the countryside. "Can I blog these?" I would ask. Of course, they would agree! What are friends for?


Roger takes great photos of sunsets.


Saturday, January 18, 2020


HHhH by Laurent Binet


Found myself at Booksale SM Manila and bought a secondhand copy of Laurent Binet's HHhH, translated in English by Sam Taylor. HHhH stands for Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich or "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich." The novel is told from the POV of a nameless author. It starts rather boring, but the rhythm picks up—a uniquely riveting book. It's about the assassination attempt against Reinhard Heydrich, Hilter's trusted hand in implementing the final solution to the Jewish question. It's not for nothing that Heydrich was called the Blond Beast and the Butcher of Prague—he was determined to execute all Jews, convinced of his Nazi ideology, in total loyalty to Hilter's Germany. I'm more than halfway through the novel, and I'm in now in the part where Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš jump off the plane with parachutes, part of the clandestine Operation Anthropoid of the Resistance in Czechoslovakia: they will assassinate Heydrich himself. I'd already seen the film and heard the tour guide in Prague that the story doesn't end well—the two young men will die in the attempt.

The novel brings to mind my brief exploration of Prague, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. The memories burned in my memory enrich my imagination as I flip through HHhH. I wonder how it is pronounced, though—"Ash Ash Ash Ash," perhaps, as the French pronounce "H"?


Friday, January 17, 2020

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Notebook No. 2: Suffering in the Book of Job


I wrote a paper on suffering for an English class under Prof. Carlos Aureus when I was in my college freshman year. I wish that manuscript would never see the light of day, for it sounded like it was written out of theory rather than experience, a case of a young man taking himself seriously, taking on ambitious topics such as human suffering for a class requirement. I don't ever recall having suffered significantly before I was 16. But Prof. Aureus was gracious enough to give me an uno for the subject—not so much for the quality of the final paper but for the attempt to understand the Book of Job.

My 5-day Bible Reading Plan, recommended highly by Tim Challies, took me today to the first three chapters of Job. I just want to share an incomplete page of my journal today. If you're interested (i.e., if you're one of those people who are fascinated with writing materials), I'm using a Kaweco 70's Old Soul (broad nib) inked with Pilot Iroshizuku 100th limited edition Bishamon-ten. My notebook is a Midori Traveler's Passport; notebook insert is a Moleskin carnet (in grid), which was sold at a huge discount in Milan.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Monday, January 13, 2020

Sunday, January 12, 2020

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Notes on Rev. M'Cheyne's Memoirs: a personal view of sin

This year I'm treating myself to Memoirs and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M'Cheyne. It's a long book, and I suspect that it will take me an entire year to finish. I downloaded the scanned copies of the book freely made available by Google. I'm reading the PDF in my Kindle, in landscape mode. I like how it looks (I'm sharing the actual screenshots), a lot like reading an old copy in a dusty library.

The book starts with how Rev. M'Cheyne came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The succeeding chapters give snapshots of his journal entries. Here, we read of his despair over his sin.

"What a mass of corruption I have been! How great a portion of my life have I spent wholly without God in the world; given up to sense and the perishing things around me."

M’Cheyne on sin

"Restrained from open vice by educational views and fear of man, how much ungodliness has reigned within me! How often has it broken through all restraints and come out in the shape of lusts and anger, mad ambitions, and unhallowed words! Through my vice was always refined, yet how subtile and how awfully prevalent it was!"

M’Cheyne on sin

"O great God, that didst suffer me to live whilst I so dishonoured thee, thou knows the whole; and it was thy hand alone that could awaken me from the death in which I was, and was contented to be."

M’Cheyne on sin

"And though sentiment and constitutional enthusiasm may have a great effect on me, still I believe that my soul is in sincerity desirous and earnest about having all its concerns at rest with God and Christ—that his kingdom occupies the most part of all my thoughts, and even of my long-polluted affections."

M’Cheyne on sin

I will be sharing some more book highlights as I read along.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

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When my prayers are lukewarm

There are days when the lukewarm soul needs a little nudging. These moments are marked by episodes of dry prayer devoid of passion, fervor, and love. When these episodes come, I force-feed on the Psalms—a wise counsel of my youth pastor a few years ago.

Sometimes, when I don't know what to pray for, or when my praying becomes repetitive, I turn to the Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers compiled by Arthur Bennett. I love the prayers in that book (I've shared some of them here and here). They're so poetic, with beautiful words, wonderful imagery, and timeless truths that stir the sleeping soul.

I also turn to Heavenward, a blog by Scotty Smith. Today, for example, he shares the prayer, "Craving the Day of No More Sickness," which resonates with me deeply, I who have a number of friends suffering from some form of illness or debilitating disease.

Today, I ordered Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans edited by Robert Elmer via Amazon. My favorite blogger, Tim Challies, wrote a great review on it. (The article, interestingly, begins with a confession of his indifference toward the Valley of Vision. It fascinated me.)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Lost luggage

In my limited travels I've never lost a luggage. I suppose that's largely due to the fact that I don't like checking in luggage and paying for them. I also pack very lightly—if, say, I had forgotten something, I could just buy it at my destination. I usually only have a small roller suitcase and a backpack. In the ministry of carrying and lifting things, my kid brother Sean calls me useless. (Note to self: arm exercises!)

I know of friends whose suitcases got lost in the complications of air transfers and stop-overs—not lost, only left behind, to be sent to the destination hotel after two days, in which case they would need to get another pair of underwear or resort to finding a change of clothes to tide things over.

One of more interesting things I read this week is this Instagram-story-esque of what happens to luggage lost and found in German trains. I took a screenshot. The Secret Afterlife of Lost German Luggage by Sami Emory and Andreas Meischner. After accounting for them, they put them up in auctions after some time.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


Notebook No. 1: Hurried handwriting

Day journal no. 1

This year, I will take photos of my actual journal entries and share them here occasionally. This is my standard handwriting. I write very fast, often legibly—a life-skill for doctors who have lots of patients to see. For this entry, I used the journal Fred Ting gave me as pasalubong when he went to Seoul. I used my favorite Pelikan 4001 blue-black ink and the Parker pen (broad nib, hard, steel) that my patient gave me. How would you describe your penmanship?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Sunday, January 5, 2020


Old bakery, Colon, Cebu City


Bobby, Norman, and Papau took me along with them to visit the sights of Cebu, Philippines's oldest city when we were there last year for an oncology mid-year convention. Cebu called the "Queen City of the South," which is partly correct in that it is south of Manila but is actually in the central Visayas region. I like taking photos of old stores because they can disappear anytime. At the speed at which things are changing, the Fa Fortuna Bakery in the old central district might be replaced by newer, fancier malls.
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