Friday, December 30, 2022



My heartfelt gratitude to Jeff T, schoolmate from Notre Dame, who fixed the old battery of my seven or eight-year old MacBook Air. Jeff delivered it to the house yesterday. He did a clean job and even went as far as ordering a new charger for me. I paid a fraction of the cost I'd normally shoulder if I had brought my device to the Apple Store. I highly recommend him. Although I have a new MacBook Air, I won't let go of the old one, which has been with me in so many reports, presentations, and blog posts. The Japanese philosophy wabi-sabi comes to mind: 
From an engineering or design point of view, wabi may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction/manufacture especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions; in this instance, sabi could be interpreted as the aspect of imperfect reliability, or the limited mortality of any object, hence the phonological and etymological connection with the Japanese word sabi.

I like the aesthetic of used and repaired devices that have been worn out by daily, consistent use. I don't really care for getting the most updated versions of, say, the iPhone when I still have one that works.  I have, however, a preference for using old phones with cracked screens and wobbly chargers, secondhand frames bought from flea markets, shoes with cracked linings and chipped leather, wallets with broken stitching. These materials have served their purpose and, to my mind, are therefore more valuable. Their imperfections, accumulated through years of use, bear the personal imprint of their owner, and there is a kind of pain whenever a decision needs to be made: to condemn them to permanent disuse or to have them repaired again. A few days ago, I had my old Adidas sneakers repaired. The sole of the right shoe was detached and needed to be sewn into place. I couldn't part with that pair, which I bought in Seoul, on a trip with my medical oncology friends many years ago. Each time I wear them, I remember the bingsu we ate after.


In the process of having the battery replaced, I recently read Roger Scruton's take on repair. Here, he's quoted by Alan Jacobs, whose blog I follow religiously.

Repair [at an earlier stage of our culture] was not so much a habit as an honoured custom. People respected the past of damaged things, restored them as though healing a child and looked on their handiwork with satisfaction. In the act of repair the object was made anew, to occupy the social position of the broken one. Worn shoes went to the anvil, holed socks and unravelled sleeves to the darning last — that peculiar mushroom-shaped object which stood always ready on the mantelpiece.

The custom of repair was not confined to the home. Every town, every village, had its cobbler, its carpenter, its wheelwright and its smith. In each community people supported repairers, who in tum supported things. And our surnames testify to the honour in which their occupations were held. But to where have they repaired, these people who guaranteed the friendliness of objects? With great difficulty you may still find a cobbler — but for the price of his work you could probably buy a new pair of shoes. For the cost of 15 digital watches you may sometimes find a person who will fix the mainspring of your grandfather’s timepiece.

The truth is that repair, like every serious social activity, has its ethos, and when that ethos is lost, no amount of slap-dash labour can make up for it. The person who repairs must love the broken object, and must love also the process of repair and all that pertains to it.

I guess that makes Jeff T our city's honored repairer of all things Apple. Salamat liwat, Jeff.


Audrey Assad's music

Audrey Assad's Spirit of the Living God is in my head these days. It's one of the best music I've heard this year. The modern hymn is a prayer to God that is filled with expectation, faith, and hope. I love how the music illustrates the dynamics of Godhead: three Persons in one God. 
O Spirit of the living God,
thou Light and Fire Divine
Descend upon Thy Church once more
and make it truly Thine
Fill it with love and joy and power,
with righteousness and peace
Till Christ shall dwell in human hearts,
and sin and sorrow cease.

Blow, wind of God,
with wisdom blow until our minds are free
From mists of error, clouds of doubt,
which blind our eyes to Thee
Burn, winged fire,
inspire our lips with flaming love and zeal
To preach to all Thy great good news,
God’s glorious commonweal.

So shall we know the power of Christ,
who came this world to save
So shall we rise with Him
to life which soars beyond the grave
And earth shall win true holiness
which makes Thy children whole
Till, perfected by Thee,
we reach creation’s glorious goal
I'm much grateful to The Advent Project of Biola University for introducing me to painters, poets, and musicians. The last entry is on December 31. The artful meditations have been so refreshing to my soul. I'll be sure to subscribe to similar meditations next year.

Keep Reading


Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Read your Bible, and pray every day

David Mathis writes about his morning devotions and how it has changed him over time. He follows the Navigators Bible reading plan, similar to what I use

Not that this habit of starting each day with open Bible (and coffee) is always clean and easy, but it’s far more automatic and enjoyable and fruitful now, twenty years later, than at the beginning. It’s amazing how a longstanding, daily habit can change you — not just in terms of psychological pathways and external actions, but also how a soul can be formed and conditioned.

We tend to overestimate how much we can change in the short run, and underestimate how much we can change in the long run.
Unlike Mathis, though, I still check the boxes before the passages. It is habit I will not likely break because the check marks help me keep track. I read the Bible early in the morning, with coffee, fountain pens in different inks or a Blackwing pencil, and a Midori Traveler's notebook (passport size). In my journal, I'd rewrite the passages I would need to read for the week and check the boxes as soon as I'm done. Because I'm easily distracted, I'd also write my prayers and list the people or concerns I need to pray for. 

By God's grace, I've grown more in knowledge and love of God's word since I started doing my personal devotions in 2004. The days when I would miss my quiet time, for petty reasons like work or laziness, are also the times when I'd find it easier to slip into old sins. There are moments when I'd need to "force-feed" myself with Scripture; Bible-reading requires discipline and is not dictated by what I feel like doing.

I love this line from the article:
I could read at the slowest, most deliberate pace I found enjoyable, and stop to re-read any sentence or paragraph that was particularly unclear, or especially sweet — and still the full time elapsed would be less than half an hour.
Mathis's advice for new Bible readers is priceless:
For starters, I’d recommend half an hour, with the glad expectation that it will grow over time as your appreciation deepens for these quiet, unrushed, morning moments over God’s word.


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Sing we the song of Emmanuel


This is Keith and Kristyn Getty, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa's Sing We the Song of Emmanuel, a joyful, expectant, theologically-infused hymn played on loop in our home. Enjoy!

Sing we the song of Emmanuel
This the Christ who was long foretold 
Lo in the shadows of Bethlehem 
Promise of dawn now our eyes behold. 
God Most High in a manger laid 
Lift your voices and now proclaim 
Great and glorious, 
Love has come to us 
Join now with the hosts of heaven

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Monday, December 26, 2022

Not a groan, but a song

 De Witt Talmage's words and our happiness in the reality of Jesus Christ's birth!

The music that broke through the midnight heavens was not a dirge, but an anthem. It shook joy over the hills. It not only dropped upon the shepherds, but it sprang upward among the thrones.

The robe of a Saviour’s righteousness is not black.

The Christian life is not made up of weeping and cross-bearing and war-waging.

Through the revelation of that Christmas night I find that religion is not a groan, but a song.

In a world of sin, and sick beds, and sepulchres, we must have trouble; but in the darkest night the heavens part with angelic song. You may, like Paul, be shipwrecked, but I exhort you to be of good cheer, for you who are trusting on Christ shall all escape safe to the land.


The right word

Marilynne Robinson on finding the right word.
Writing should always be exploratory. There shouldn’t be the assumption that you know ahead of time what you want to express. When you enter into the dance with language, you’ll begin to find that there’s something before, or behind, or more absolute than the thing you thought you wanted to express. And as you work, other kinds of meaning emerge than what you might have expected. It’s like wrestling with the angel: On the one hand you feel the constraints of what can be said, but on the other hand you feel the infinite potential. There’s nothing more interesting than language and the problem of trying to bend it to your will, which you can never quite do. You can only find what it contains, which is always a surprise.
Ah, the joys of language!

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With Ted Chiang for the holidays

Ted Chiang's collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, is enjoyable. Always on the lookout for science fiction, I've heard about Ted Chiang's brilliance and gift from podcasts and friends. I'm more than halfway through the collection. Story of Your Life, from which the title of the collection, is as good as people say it is. I made the connection right away that this was the basis for the film adaptation, Arrival, which stars Amy Adams. What surprised me was The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, where a merchant named Fuwaad ibn Abbas retells the story of how he discovered a passageway to the future in a humble shop of Bashaarat, located in the City of Peace. It's a series of smaller stories that prove to be interconnected in the end. I love the story's last lines, and I'm sharing it here.

Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.

Here's LeVar Burton, reading the story.


Sunday, December 25, 2022

We crave for Your return

We continued our Christmas Eve tradition of sleeping early and waking up fresh to a new day. Later today, after Sunday worship service, we are hosting our mother's side of the family at home. The cakes are baked, the food prepared, and tables set. In the midst of the preparations, Scotty Smith's prayer for December 24 is an example of how we can be more heavenward in our celebrations.

Lord Jesus…

As the Last Adam, you obeyed and fulfilled the law for us.

As the Lamb of God, you bore our sin, and took our judgment.

As the Grave Robber, you conquered death and arose to give us life.

As the Lord of Lords, you are sovereign over kings, people, and places.

As our Great High Priest, you advocate, care, and pray for us constantly.

As our Loving Bridegroom, you are coming back for us with great delight.

As the Grace Giver, you take on “the hopes and fears of all the years” (ours too).

Hallelujah, and thank you. Jesus, as you lavish your love on us, we cast our cares on you. We worship you, Jesus. We need you. We crave your return. So Very Amen.

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Coastal roads

Postcript by Seamus Heaney, from the The Spirit Level (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996), captures what I feel about driving. It is a solitary, meditative exercise and a skill I have been mastering. The poem reminds me of my rides along the coastal roads of Sarangani, heading to the quiet towns of Maasim, where, fresh from medical school, I worked for a few nights as a doctor-on-call, and to Kiamba, where our church friend hosts the family for gatherings by the shore.

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Carlos in Paris


I dreamt of my friend Carlos two nights ago. In the dream, it was springtime in Paris. The sun was up, but there were a few people, without masks, riding their bicycles, along Rue de Rivoli. I was walking with him on the way to his apartment; I suppose, in my dream, I had lived a few blocks away from his home, and we were neighbors. Outside his building, I realized I hadn't eaten yet, so I invited him to lunch. It was something I would do in real life: Carlos always made time, and if he couldn't join me, he'd make the best excuses. I suppose it was 1 or 2 o'clock, just the right time to have le déjeuner. I suggested that we eat salmon with a glass of white wine in my favorite restaurant, Café Le Sélect, in Montparnasse, where my favorite short story writer Mavis Gallant once lived and dined. He would love it, I told him. We would take the Métro to Vavin Station, and walk from there. As we began our journey, he remembered that he had a report to cram for a gastroenterology case management conference. He couldn't make it to lunch, after all. 

My dream was so detailed, and it fascinates me that I could remember the little details.

In real life, I'm the godfather of his daughter. In 2017, we crammed our end-of-rotation report on pancreatic cysts for gastroenterology. He was brilliant.

Happy birthday, Carlos!


Do you think I am saved?

Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light
I spotted Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light, the third novel in her historical fiction trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, from a pile of books on sale at National Bookstore, SM Gensan. I didn't mind that I'd only read Wolf Hall (the first) and hadn't even gotten started on Bring Up the Bodies (the second). There's no method, other than my mood, that governs my choice of the next reading material—a novel, a short story, a poetry collection, a book of essays, a theological discourse, a biochemistry textbook.

I started reading the novel right away. On page 223, Thomas Cromwell—now Lord Thomas Cromwell, Master Secretary to the King Henry VIII, Lord Privy Seal—talks to Robert Barnes, a Lutheran cleric. Hilary Mantel, one of my greatest discoveries this year, reimagines the internal struggle of Cromwell about his Protestant faith in the passage below. 

It is difficult to be at ease, [Cromwell] thinks, with men who believe that, since the misunderstanding in Eden, we have had neither reason nor will of our own. "The king says if, as Luther holds, our only salvation comes through faith in Christ, who has elected some of us, not others, to life eternal, and if our works are so besmirched as to be entirely useless in God's eyes, and cannot help us to salvation--then why should any man do charity to his neighbour?"

"Works follow election," Barnes says. "They do not precede it. It is simple enough. The man who is saved will show it, by his Christian life."

"Do you think I am saved?" he says. "I am covered in lamp black and my hands smell of coin, and when I see myself in a glass I see grime--I suppose that is the beginning of wisdom? About my fallen state, I have no choice but agree. I must meddle with matters that corrupt--it is my office. In the golden age the earth yielded all we required, but now we must dig for it, quarry it, blast it, we must drive the world, we must gear and grind it, roll and hammer and pulp it. There must be dinners cooked, Rob. There must be slates chalked, and ink set to page, and money made and bargains struck, and we must give the poor the means to work and eat. I bear in mind that there are cities abroad where the magistrates have done much good, with setting up hospitals, relieving the indigent, helping young tradesmen with loans to get a wife and a workshop. I know Luther turns his face from what ameliorates our sad condition. But citizens do not miss monks and their charity, if the city looks after them."

Mantel, in so few words, writes about justification, predestination, God's sovereignty, human free will, and good works. I agree with the line she wrote for Barnes here: works follow election, they do not precede it. Mantel also writes a beautiful line for Cromwell who questions his own salvation: "Do you think I am saved?" It is heartbreaking, but it is an exercise that Christians are called to do (2 Peter 1:10).

Why didn't I discover Hilary Mantel earlier? 


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Bear witness

Intersection - Judge Alba Street and Alunan Avenue

I've been using The Advent Project of Biola University as my devotional for November and December. I learned about it through Paradox Uganda. The project draws from Scripture and supplements each passage with a music, a painting/graphic art, a short meditation, and a prayer. These artistic meditations, posted daily, stir the imagination and prepare the heart for Christmas. For December 22, the Scripture passage is Matthew 2:9-11.

And behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.

William Carlos Williams's poem, The Gift, and Mercedes Dorame's sculptural "star map" (Orion’s Belt—Paahe’ Sheshiiyot) are also featured.

Professor Luke Alecson writes:

The Magi provide a map of sorts of all of us to follow. Our role is a humble one. As much as we study, as much wisdom and knowledge as we gain, in the end we will understand exceedingly little of the infinite glory of the Lord. We will not full grasp the mystery of the incarnation. Whether wise man or shepherd, our role is simple: to bear witness to the glory we have been pointed toward, and to fall down at the feet of Him to brought us there. What else are we here to do? As William Carlos Williams so succinctly surmises:

All men by their nature give praise.
It is all
they can do.

Let’s keep it as simple as that, following wherever He leads and worshiping with everything we have.
I struggle with focusing on the central message of Christmas as I think of the logistics of the celebration: family dinners, meet ups with friends, and some demands from work. But the December 22nd meditation offers a timely reminder. 


Monday, December 19, 2022

"You know not how soon you must die, and therefore had need to be always ready"

Jonathan Edwards writes a letter to his 10-year old son. It is dated May 27, 1755. Edwards shares the news of the death of a boy named David, who probably lived with the family. 

The week before last, on Thursday, David died; whom you knew and used to play with, and who used to live at our house. His soul is gone into the eternal world. Whether he was prepared for death, we don't know. This is a loud call of God to you to prepare for death. You see that they that are young die, as well as those that are old: David was not very much older than you. Remember what Christ has said, that you must be born again, or you never can see the kingdom of God. Never give yourself any rest, unless you have good evidence that you are converted and become a new creature. We hope that God will preserve your life and health, and return you to Stockbridge again in safety; but always remember that life is uncertain: you know not how soon you must die, and therefore had need to be always ready. 


Saturday, December 17, 2022

Yiyun Li's Where Reasons End

Yiyun Li’a Where Reasons End

I gave some friends copies of Yiyun Li's Where Reasons End, a novel in which the author reimagines a conversation with her 16-year old son who had committed suicide. I warned them that it could be a painful book to read, but the language is beautiful. I only finished it two days ago. 

I love the mother-son conversation that happens in this page. 

Yes, I said, but poems and stories are tying to speak what can't be spoken. 

You always say words fall short, he said. 

Words fall short, yes, but sometimes their shadows can reach the unspeakable. 

Yiyun Li’a Where Reasons End

Don't I sometimes imagine conversations with my department loved ones, too? These internal monologues dialogues happen randomly, and I welcome these quiet moments. People we love and remember seem to hover over us years after they have passed on. Their presence in our memories exist like photo filters of grief and longing. Then, we are able to see things with a bit more clarity.


Sailor Shikiori Sakura-mori



I am absolutely loving my new ink—a Shikiori ink manufactured by Sailor. The color in Sakura-mori, evocative of the cherry blossoms in Japan.

I am fond of writing in pink. For some reason, my journals are in pink, as well as many unconvential colors, like moss green, oxblood, chrome, and gray.


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Examination of the abdomen: slide set

Yesterday I delivered a lecture on the examination of the abdomen. The second year medical students were a fun group. You may download a copy of the slideset, but please link to this page if you plan to use it. 

It was the first time I learned that bruit, which I pronounce as "BROO-wee," may also be pronounced as "BROOT."


Saturday, December 10, 2022


Looking at the rare plants my other patients had given me, Mrs. KR asked if I liked cross-stitch. Years of clinical practice have taught me that this is one way patients ask their doctors what kind of gifts they like to receive. Those experiences have also taught me to accept their presents gladly, because giving is therapeutic for them. It also gives them a sense of control over their lives. So I told her, "Yes, I love them. My mother likes them. We have many framed cross-stitch designs at home." 

She admitted that she does cross-stitch to pass the time. "I can't keep still. My hands need to be working, or I'll go crazy." She enjoys it.

I asked if she has considered selling her works online. There might be a huge market for it.

"There aren't any buyers any more. Cross-stitch isn't popular these days," she said. She couldn't let go of her works; they're too precious to her. Her husband complains that they don't have room for them in the house, but she keeps them anyway. 

She promised she'd give me one of her pieces on her next visit. I said I looked forward to it. 

In that particular encounter, I remember a line in Mary Oliver's poem, Franz Marc's Blue Horses.

Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us.

Makoto Fujimura's ideas in Art + Faith: A Theology of Making also resonates with the encounter. He argues that when artists create, they participate in God's creative process. I take that to mean that when people do something creative, they reflect the image of God in them. 

When consults turn into afternoon chit-chats, I learn something new about the persons seated across me. It is refreshing to know about their personalities and hobbies, over and beyond the biochemical state of their tumors. I relish such moments of levity. Those intermittent episodes of grace, often shared with family and friends, rekindle in me a sense of purpose and love for what I do. In a profession where burnout is common but not readily acknowledged, those moments are a gift. 


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Bordered Lives No More

I received the final manuscript draft of the book, "Bordered Lives No More: the Humanities and the Post-COVID-19 Recovery," edited by Prof. Dinah Roma and published by the DLSU Press. I co-wrote the chapter, "The Embattled Fontlines: Voices from the Field," with Drs. Dane Sacdalan, Elvie Victonette B. Razon-Gonzalez, and Joey A. Tabula. I wrote the essay, "The Evolving Ritual of the Physical Examination." 

I'll let you know when the book is finally out, but I'm excited to read all the excellent pieces in the collection in print. 


Radio silence

Radio Silence, a beautiful essay in La Vie Graphite:

The constant and compulsive clatter reminds me that many people are afraid of silence. And just as many are unaware of the existence of others in their midst. Aspiring to be compassionate, it is essential to be forgiving of the inconsiderate. After all, somebody needs to be aware of the unaware. As this life is in preparation for eternity, here is the time and place to refine the ability to forbear. But as a flawed mortal who finds forbearance unbearable, I try distracting with noise-canceling headphones (which I can hear through), listening to music, running a household fan, and turning to a lifelong friend: radio. As with any means or instrument, it is for each listener to discern and discover that which suits. Due to all the noise in the building, I’m applying a dulcet layer of classical music to try masking the din of disturbance. My less passive form of listening happens when I seek out noteworthy programs and lectures. If the bulls-in-their-china-closet are too disruptive, especially when they rattle the walls, I’ll use earphones. Amidst the chaos, I’ve taken many inspiring notes from timely broadcasts. With all of this mentioned, when I sense a late night hour when the building falls silent, I’ve noticed how I turn the radio off- just to savour the silence. My shoulders and brow noticeably settle back. It’s the good silence.

The essay resonates with me. In 2009, I transferred to Manila and lived in a studio apartment in Orosa Street. I shared the room with a classmate, who was always away. Beneath the room was a dying Korean restaurant. From a single window that faced a busy street, I could see a Minute Burger stall. There were bars everywhere. At night time, when all I had were books and transcriptions that I had to study, I could overhear party music I would never voluntarily listen to. I did like the quiet moments at 2 am, when everything became silent, and I could hear my stomach's grumbling.


Thursday, December 1, 2022

A step in the right direction

CNF Workshop Batch 2022 Closing Program

During the closing program of the 3rd La Salle National Creative Non-fiction Workshop for Doctors last November 24, Dr. MJ Guazon Uy, speaking in behalf of the workshop fellows, said,
This CNF Workshop felt like a pilgrimage to unknown territory, where we had to navigate the terrain with the craft of language and fresh perspective. As physicians, we are not strangers to rigorous training; we are actually comfortable with it. Will this workshop make us feel more comfortable now to call ourselves, ehem, writers? Who knows? Having been invited to share the company of physicians who write is a step in the right direction. But only until we continuously feed the unrelenting demands of this art, shall we be called its true followers.

I spoke in behalf of my co-panelists, workshop director Prof. Marjorie Evasco and Dr. Joti Tabula. 

I joined my first CNF workshop as a participant in 2020. It was the first real workshop I had attended, discounting the journalism seminars I used to attend in high school, now light-years away. It was also the first online workshop I’d been to—during the early days of the pandemic. I was self-conscious about the background. I angrily hushed my brother, who lurked in the corner of the 28-square meter condo unit in Mandaluyong, because I thought his swallowing would interrupt the discussion. I wrote my piece entitled “The Medical Library.” I was reviewing for the diplomate exams in medical oncology, which kept getting postponed. My life was suspended. I had nothing else to do but write. 

In this sense, I have the best of both worlds. I have experienced being a participant. I would later be promoted to the rank of the panelist. I feel that I do not deserve it. It still bewilders me—being with the likes of Prof. Marjorie Evasco and Dr. Joti Tabula, who are writers and caretakers of the language I aspire to become. But I love reading. I love words and how they can create new worlds or make sense of old ones. They are full of possibilities.

For me, each year, such as this, is an exercise of leveling up my game. How else should I frame my comments when all I really want to say is that “I like this part”, or “I don’t think this sentence works”? 

But being with brilliant people—made more luminous by their utter humility and deliberate unawareness of how good they are—is an education. I continue to learn how to close-read the texts. I am wide-eyed, anticipating a detail I may have missed but which Prof. Marj and Dr. Joti have caught. They are sharp readers. They are also compassionate and gracious. They know the piece’s strengths and weaknesses. Our sessions have been generative moments for me, inspiring me to say to myself—quoting Dr. JB’s title—“Tonight, I Must Write.”

With my co-panelists, I share the pride and joy of meeting you all this year. Thank you for taking the time to write. That takes courage and strength. That also requires motivation, as it requires you to carve a special time in your otherwise activity-filled calendars.  Thank you for the trust!

Many thanks, too, to Prof. John Iremil Teodoro and the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center for championing the life-giving cause of encouraging physicians, deadened by clinical work, to create a breathing space for them to write. The fact that several of our workshop fellows have published books, poetry collections, won awards, and journal pieces offers proof that the Center’s efforts are well worth it.  

I got the chance to meet the workshop fellows of the last three batches last Sunday. Now that's for another blog post. 

(Many thanks to Prof. Marj for the Zoom screenshot.)

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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Singing and dancing

Psalm is a beautiful poem by Michellan Sarile-Alagao, which I read this morning, after my quiet time. Psalm appears in page 37 of her collection, After the Sunstone. Prof. Marjorie Evasco referred to this piece in the foreword as her favorite. 
I would like to you to sing over me
a song of deliverance. 
I am tired of singing to you,
offering praises that don't get past the ceiling. 
If this is presumptuous, 
then I know I am forgiven already.
I am a little girl—dancing, demanding:
Look at me. Look at me. 
I am a child ready to play hide and see,
ready to be found.
Oh Lord, remind us that we were loved into being. 
Shout it, if you must.
Let that fact be the music I dance to,
and the song that finds me.
The poem resonates with my personal Christian theological convictions. God sings and is happy. God forgives and justifies us completely, not on the basis of our goodness, but on His unmerited love. "We were loved into being"—don't you just love that line? This realization moves the poet that this becomes the music she dances to. It is also the song that finds her. I can't help myself but remember the Parable of the Lost Sheep:
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

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Sunday, November 20, 2022

Paul, one year old


On the night of his first year with us, Paul resumed his open-pit mining activities in mother's garden. When we woke up the next day, we saw the horrific devastation to my mother's treasured flora. One would think he was digging to reach the earth's core. 

"Hala ka, Paul," we told him. 

"Wala abi siguro siya na-walking" was the prevailing theory. Because it had been raining that afternoon, he missed his routine with Auntie Nanic, who walks him around. Their ritual includes several rounds in the morning and a few more in the afternoon. They go as far as the plaza, where Paul greets his canine friend Vlad. He likes chasing frogs in the vacant lots and prefers to relieve himself by the garden of a community doctor. One morning, when nobody was looking, Paul had defecated there. The home's caretaker, who saw the deed, reprimanded them. Auntie Nanic's face must have turned red in embarrassment, and she apologized profusely. Paul looked ambivalent, avoiding eye contact, as if he heard nothing. She now gets into a state of panic the moment Paul exhibits preliminary signs of pamus-on and brings him to another less well-tended garden with wilder growths of grass and cosmos, and where the homeowners wake up late and perhaps appreciate the organic fertilizer Paul provides.

Nobody knows when Paul's actual birthday is. On November 17, around this time last year, just as we were preparing for a beach trip with church members, Auntie Net and Uncle Glenn brought us a package: an innocent, anxious, quiet brown puppy wrapped in a small towel. He was a gift from their neighbors in Gensan. 

When we first brought Paul to the clinic, the vet took an immediate liking to him. She estimated that Paul was at least one or two months old. His actual birthday could then be sometime in September or October. 

What used to be a quiet, ambivalent puppy is now a loud, extroverted dog. He wants to be let in private conversations. He leaves food for his frog friends, especially on rainy days. He is quieted by human contact. On Zoom meetings, I put my feet on his belly to put him to sleep. 

Paul can both be irritating and adorable all the same. But he has brought joy and comfort to our home. Mother's plants—those that survive to this day—will say otherwise.


Monday, November 14, 2022

Read then write

The poet Gerald Stein, quoted by Chris Hedges:
Your job is to read, read, read and occasionally write.

I should be finishing a nonfiction piece I've been asked to contribute for a lit magazine (it is due later tonight), but when I should be writing my first draft, I'm immersed, once more, in reading. It seems that, to get my literary juices flowing, I need to be warmed up by Bible study, poetry, or book excerpts. The best time for writing is in the morning, after a good sleep, when everything is quiet and still, and the concerns of the world—the hospital and the clinic—remain at a safe distance. 

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Sunday, November 13, 2022

Dr. Joti Tabula and Dr. Luis Gatmaitan

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to listen to two important and excellent lectures. 

The first was by Dr. Joti Tabula, who talked about creative non-fiction writing and narrative medicine. I call him Sir Joti because he was my senior resident in internal medicine. He has, in many ways, remained a mentor to me. Since the days of medical training, he has dabbled in his two loves, writing and healing, and has long since championed narrative medicine in the country, egging and encouraging physicians like me to share our works with the world. I am forever grateful. In his lecture, he used my piece, "Mother and Son," as an example, which was a great honor for me, but which made me extremely self-conscious. It is true that one's creative works take lives of their own the moment the author releases them into the world. I thought of this truth when he analyzed my works paragraph by paragraph. To be honest, I did not consciously think of using a literary device in this part, did not plan for them: they just sounded right at the time. 

Open Forum with Dr. Joti Tabula and Dr. Luis Gatmaitan

Sit Joti also gave examples of the works of Drs. Will Liangco, Maria Carmen Castillo, and Sue Ann Locnen. These are fine writers. Dr. Liangco has published his book, Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer, which I haven't finished because my cousin Hannah keeps grabbing it from me, laughing in a corner all by herself, like a madwoman. I will meet them, as well as the other CNF workshop participants, face to face by the end of the month. 

Open Forum with Dr. Joti Tabula and Dr. Luis Gatmaitan

The second was by Dr. Luis Gatmaitan, a Palanca hall of famer and prolific writer, best known for his books for children. His lecture was entitled, "Writing What One Loves." He spoke from the heart, which left us inspired and courageous to put our thoughts on paper. He talked about publishing his works in Liwayway magazine, which celebrates its 100th year; his foray into writing books for children; and so much more. The truly great people are the ones who are not conscious of their greatness. Dr. Luis exuded such warmth and humility that made me think of the kindest human beings who have walked the earth. Here's a screenshot of Dr. Luis and Dr. JB, one of the workshop participants during the open forum.

Open Forum with Dr. Joti Tabula and Dr. Luis Gatmaitan

Next week, we will discuss the first three pieces in the workshop.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Open forum with Gideon Lasco

Q and A with Dr. Gideon Lasco

I had the honor of moderating the open forum with Dr. Gideon Lasco, medical anthropologist, columnist in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and author of The Philippines Is Not A Small Country. His lecture, A Doctor's Craft of Writing, can be streamed here. His talk kicks off the Third Creative Nonfiction Workshop of the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of De La Salle University. 

We asked him to read Requiem for "Pamana," one of his column articles and which also appears in his essay collection. I'm surprised to know that his influences and inspirations for writing include the apostle Paul, Gabriel García Marquez, Isaac Asimov, Yasunari Kawabata, JRR Tolkien, and works of science fiction. 

Keep on writing, Dr. Gideon! 

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Sunday, November 6, 2022

This Sunday

Power outage in the morning, well into the church service, where the preacher talked about the sin of favoritism, expounding on James 4. 
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Then, communion, followed by first-Sunday-of-the-month lunch—a tradition from when I was a child, scolded by his mother for drawing and scribbling instead of listening to the sermon. I was, still am, easily distracted.

I’m grateful for Sundays: to be in the company of brothers and sisters and saints after a tiring work week. Their fellowship is a foretaste of heaven, where brownouts do not exist. For believers, called by God, this life is but the prologue to eternal glory.

Aunties in church spotted my two kilogram weight gain right away. “Been eating a lot in Sydney,” I said. “You should see my brothers when they return next week.” For how can one resist the delightful gelato from Down Under? It is out of this world—something else, entirely—especially Anita’s in Manly. It’s worth the long queue and the calories, which are meant to last merely for seconds in the mouth, but will linger on for months in the tummy. 

Anita Gelato

Drove to the hospital to see patients. Tried out a hidden cafe called UNFNSHD, praised by Adrian, my youngest cousin. The young ones know the best places to eat in these parts. From the highway, on the way to Gensan, turn left along the direction of Mezza Hotel. “It’s even better to stay here when it rains,” Adrian said. The skies turned cloudy, and it drizzled, but not much. We saw what he meant. I bookmarked café as a place where I can think quietly. 



Koronadal is a growing town, now with city comforts enveloped by the familiar sweet provincial air. Part of me wishes the urbanization ends here, but old, giant trees have been cut down in front of the Catholic church, cafés are sprouting, farm lands are converted to commercial spaces.

Later in the afternoon: finished Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Beautifully written. The language is exquisite. Wish I could write as half as good as Mantel. One can dream! The scene where Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell talk, where Cromwell longs for his wife Liz—so much of history and humanity in this extraordinary novel. It makes me want to watch the BBC Two series and read all of Mantel’s work.


Solferino Station, Paris Métro


I love trains! Yes, even the LRT! (Freddie, if you're reading this, do you feel the same way?!)

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Performative cruelty

Adrianna Tan, originally from Singapore, whose blog Popagandhi I have followed since college, writes about leaving Twitter and shares her thoughts on social media in general.
I am done, I think, with the performative cruelty of early social media. No more dunks, no more subtweets, no more yelling. If I am angry about something, and there are many things to be angry about, I plan to log off and count to five and go for a walk and write about it later if I am still angry about it.
Her term, "performative cruelty," hits it right in the spot. When Twitter and Instagram were starting, I found myself in a growing crowd of excited users. I itched to update my feed constantly. I followed writers, famous people, and random people I shared common interests with. But getting older has allowed me to gain better insight and to appreciate the value of restraint and privacy. I decided to "log off and count to five and go for a walk" instead of living my life online. I rediscovered the joys of keeping personal journals that nobody else will read. 

Since then, I haven't been around social media that much. My Facebook is deactivated most of the time. I only log in when I need to buy used inks on the fountain pen group on FB Palengke. I'm still on Twitter, a mere passive observer. The most I do these days is to "like" tweets in order to bookmark them for later. I archive my photos on Flickr, and write here when I feel like it. 

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Saturday, November 5, 2022

Grave, stayed, and solid

Matthew Henry on 1 Peter 4:
Let the frame and temper of your minds be grave, stayed, and solid; and observe strict temperance and sobriety in the use of all worldly enjoyments. Do not suffer yourselves to be caught with your former sins and temptations (1 Pet. 4:3).

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Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Berry, New South Wales

Berry, New South Wales

Snapshot of flowers by Nanay on our detour to Berry town, New South Wales.


Monday, October 24, 2022

Meditating on death

What else do we daily in this present life, than heap sin to sin, and hoard up trespass upon trespass? So that this day always is worse than yesterday, by increasing our sins as our days, and therefore thy indignation, good Lord, is against us. But when we shall be suffered to go out of the body, and are taken into thy blessed company, then shall we be in the fullest safety of immortality and salvation; then shall come unto us no sickness, no need, no pain, no kind of evil to soul or body; but whatsoever good we can wish, that shall we have, and whatsoever we loath shall be far from us. Oh dear Father, that we had faith to behold these things accordingly! Oh that our hearts were persuaded thereof, and our affections inflamed with the desire of them! Then should we live in longing for that which now we most loath. Oh help us, and grant that we, being ignorant of things to come, and of the time of our death, which to thee is certain, may so live and finish our journey here, that we may be ready, and then depart, when our departing may make most to thy glory and our comfort through Christ!
Been thinking about death and dying more frequently these days—October, being the month of Tatay's death. Two emails in my inbox reported news of my patients' passing. And it has been raining in the afternoons. There's nothing else quite like the pouring rain on a quiet afternoon, when the tropical sun is temporarily shielded from view, the living room is quiet, the house is almost empty, and one is left with his own thoughts.

The Puritans knew so much about death and, in a way, looked forward to it as departure from the sinful world and a reunion with their Creator. John Bradford prays, "Oh dear Father, that we had faith to behold these things accordingly! Oh that our hearts were persuaded therefor, and our affections inflamed with the desire of them!" 

Bradford writes to believers: 
Thereto remember the good things that shall ensue after this life, and without wavering, in certainty of faith so shall the passage of death be more desired. It is like sailing over the sea to thy home and country; it is like a medicine to the health of soul and body; it is the best physician; it is like to a woman's travail, for so thy soul, being delivered out of the body, comes into a much more large and fair plate, even into heaven!


Sunday, October 23, 2022


Paul during the rain

We present a rare case of melancholia, prolonged silence, and nervousness in a one-year old mixed breed named Paul. Heavy rains and thunder make him nervous and anxious. Otherwise happy, excitable, and tender-hearted, he was found crouching under the sink and was brought inside the living room on a dark afternoon. Paul is turning a year old this November, and he has brought to our home rampage, noise, and immense joy! 


It is no good to explain

In Hilary Mantel's brilliant historical novel, Wolf Hall, specifically in the chapter, "Alas, What Shall I Do for Love?"Eustace Chapuys digs into the past life of Thomas Cromwell in the hope of defending Catherine of Aragon and preventing Anne Boleyn from being married to King Henry VIII. There's this paragraph where Mantel gets inside the head of Cromwell, who keeps his past in secrecy.

... It is no use to justify yourself. It is no good to explain. It is weak to be anecdotal. It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man's power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expressions of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, and desires.

Interesting to read this, isn't it, in this age of over-sharing?


Saturday, October 22, 2022

Whose gift it is that I exist

Rereading Confessions by Augustine, translated by Garry Wills, on this early Saturday morning. 

I thank you, my God, for your gifts to me, may you preserve them, thus preserving me, so that everything you gave me may grow and be improved, and I shall be with you, whose gift it is that I exist.  

Old, familiar books feel new to me when I return to them a few years later. I read this translation in 2013, when I was in med school. I bought it at Booksale, Robinsons Mall Manila, from my allowance. I was a prolific reader of non-medical literature, my way of coping. Being cooped up in the hospital, drowning in stacks of unread chapters of textbooks, I needed get a sense of being away from the hospital, from being a doctor-in-training. Books offered me that escape. Augustine was (and remains) a friend of my soul. That Booksale stall has long been replaced by stores that sold pastries and protein supplements, and so was the Ya Kun Kaya beside it, where I read my Booksale finds.


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Gideon Lasco's The Philippines Is Not a Small Country" and Will Liangco's "Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer"

New books

Thrilled to see these books in my library: Gideon Lasco's The Philippines Is Not a Small Country" and Will Liangco's "Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer." Dr. Lasco will be speaking in the upcoming Creative Non-Fiction Workshop for Doctors this November. Dr. Will, whose blog I follow, was one of our workshop fellows. 


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Auntie Nanic

Sunday afternoon found Auntie Nancy (Nanic to us) in Gensan. She lived with us when we were in kindergarten, then left Marbel to work elsewhere, and life happened. She met her husband Uncle Nonoy and together now have three kids, obedient and loving. 

I played around with Hipstamatic, the iPhone app that I used in the early day of blogging, on our trip to SM. 

Auntie Nanic

Auntie Nanic

Auntie Nanic

Auntie Nanic

Auntie Nanic

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Stop stair-ing at me!


Stair [sic]. 


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Saturday reading

The Dead Complain of Their Burial

Was in Gensan the entire Saturday. During the two-hour break from a meeting, I walked to SM and bought five books, all on sale. Got myself a cup of coffee in a café and read a few chapters of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, a retelling of Sir Thomas Cromwell's life. It's one of those books that make me scratch my head with the gnawing question, "Why didn't I read this sooner?" Mantel died this year; she was a formidable literary talent. Was too absorbed with my reading when I realized that (a) I had 15 minutes left before the next meeting, and (b) it was pouring outside. I carried my books by hand and fit the smaller ones in my backpack. Got myself a tricycle that took me to the meeting venue. 

Book haul

(I ordered Gideon Lasco's The Philippines Is Not A Small Country online; it arrived in the mail yesterday.)

There was a dog inside the café who barked at passersby. Dogs are probably a lot like children: if they don't like you, you're likely a person with an evil heart. This dog liked me.

Dog inside the café

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Saturday, October 15, 2022

Writing and surgery

Will Self writes about Dr. Simon Bramhall, the surgeon who inscribed his initials on his patients' livers.
Writing and surgery have many odd congruences: each activity depends for its success on counterfactuals, since there can be no satisfying conclusion to a plot without a potentially unsatisfying one, and no sense of a life being saved unless it could have been lost. Moreover, while any writer may mutilate a text, so any physician may create complications rather than cures. But among medical specialties, only surgery entails such injury by its very nature: you wound patients, with the hope that they’ll both recover from those wounds and benefit from what this wounding has enabled you to do.

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James 4:14


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

How to write a research proposal

Had the privilege of being invited to speak about developing research proposals at Mindanao State University College of Medicine - General Santos City. This is the overview lecture. You may download the slides but please link to this website for attribution. 


Monday, October 10, 2022

Where smart people wash their clothes

Store seen along Yumang Street, General Santos City:
Summa Cum Laundry.

Summa cum laundry

(Photo credit: my cousin Hannah Riza!)


Sunday, October 9, 2022

Congratulations to the CNF workshop fellows for 2022

CNF Workshop

It's the time of year again when I have the solid excuse (not that I need to have one) to immerse myself in the shared joys of the written word. I still experience impostor syndrome whenever I call myself a writer even if, sure, some of my literary pieces have appeared in journals and book chapters. But Prof. Ron Baytan, perhaps sensing this discomfort, said in last year's workshop that doctors who write can be both and are in a class of their own: they are called doctor-writers. 

This list of fellows joining the workshop, just released yesterday, makes me look forward to the workshop.  Through their submissions, I am starting to get to know these doctor-writers, who come from all over the country. The process of close reading doesn't feel like work but a respite, a quiet and contemplative retreat with like-minded people.

Let me also say that it always amazes me how privileged I am to be invited to sit as panelist in this workshop. I'm with Prof. Marj Evasco, one of my favorite poets in the world, and Dr. Joti Tabula, a prolific poet himself but also a patron of creative writing and medical humanities, one of my greatest enablers to write. They live and breathe literature. The things they share in the workshops are the distillation of their personal experiences and craft. To be in the same room with them still feels intimidating, but they exude warmth and generosity. 

I look forward to a meaningful, generative, and inspiring time with other doctor-writers. 

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Friday, October 7, 2022

Pas mal


Picked up my new vintage frames from Farrofo Eye Center near Odi Street, Koronadal this afternoon. Had them replaced last week to fit my prescription. They look and feel great. Hadn’t bought new frames for years now but I couldn’t resist them when I spotted the displays in the weekend market in Montmarte, near Sacré-Cœur. I bought them for 4 euros. As the French say, “Pas mal.”


Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Untitled First time to see the river in Lamsugod, Surallah. When they were kids, Nanay and her peers (her cousin Auntie Nene Jasmin, her younger brothers Uncle Toto and Boboy) spent their summers here.


Monday, October 3, 2022

Guide to mental status examination

Here's my lecture on how to perform mental status examination, which I'm delivering today. Feel free to download the slide set, but please link to this website if you plan to use some slides.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Homecooked meals

Something to ponder in church today: James 2:1-4: 
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Whenever I visit a church for the first time, I'm always amazed at the warmth of the welcome extended to me. Hospitality is one of those rare, precious, often underestimated gifts that draw outsiders to the body of Christ. I was in Bangkok a few years ago when I was invited to a potluck lunch at a Filipino church. They do this to all visitors, regardless of status. The after-church fellowship over home cooked meals may be a key to the church's growth and flourishing. After learning I was a doctor, the pastor asked if I could give some brethren medical advice. It was enjoyable: I was chewing on adobo and rice as I heard complaints of back pain and tumors. I miss the church and look forward to visiting it soon.

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Saturday, October 1, 2022

P's wake

P's wake was at a funeral parlor along the highway. When I arrived at 7:30 in the evening to pay my respects, the parking lot was full. I turned right, parked by the sidewalk, and braved the steady rain with my jacket on. She was in the smallest room that could fit her casket, three wooden benches, and a small table at the back where packets of instant coffee and snacks were offered.

I saw P's parents, sister, and some of our classmates I've not seen for years. We had our photo taken in front, careful to cover much of the casket and to show only her radiant wedding photo in the background. There was small talk and laughter. The only way to honor the dead is to bring them up in memory. I asked permission if I could tell the story of P's diagnosis, the difficulty of finding the right concoction of chemotherapy, the joy of seeing her respond favorably to treatment, the disappointment of learning the cancer had come back much stronger. Enyek, Yaya M, Pretty Shean, Dans, and Whilz—not their real names obviously, but what I, after all these years of being away, still call my high school friends—listened in rapt attention. 

The most painful part was seeing P's son. This 3-year old child with bright, curious eyes took the back of our hands to put them in his forehead. I was impressed that P had taught him to "bless" (or make máno), the Filipino way of showing respect to their elders. How does one comfort a child who had just lost his mother but to give him candy? And so I did. I also asked for his name before he ran away to play. 

It was getting late, and my classmates asked where we'd go to do pagpag, the custom of dropping by some place to release the bad luck of death before going home. I volunteered a favorite coffee shop that would normally be empty at that hour. Outside, it was still raining. We had coffee and cakes and, for some, dinner. We remembered our classmates who had passed away: William, whose vehicle crashed onto a carabao on his way home; Rotchelle, who died of severe blood infection; Herman, who supposedly had cancer but who died quickly due to reasons we don't fully comprehend. 

And we planned to go abroad on a trip together in 2024: somewhere near that wouldn't require visas. Enyek would meet us at Manila airport before we fly to Taipei. Taiwan is lovely and cool in December.


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

San Francisco, Camotes Island, Cebu

Camotes and Cebu 2022

Rough translation: 

Don't use the (toilet) bowl because it's clogged.
Thank you for understanding. 
Please don't leave your dirt in the restroom.

Where should I urinate, if the bowl is off limits? 


Monday, September 26, 2022

Brief life update

Can't believe it's been a while since I'd last updated this site. Must tell myself to let go and let the sentences flow. This is, after all, a blog, where errors are expected because there are no external editors, no second pairs of eyes to read through the entries—the outputs are overflows of my thoughts. 

A cloudy Monday today. No clinics today but must do rounds. Hoping to finish early so I can have the afternoon free. Been reading Ted Chiang's short stories and Thoreau's journals over the weekend. 

Feeling under the weather, but God's strength sustains.


Sunday, September 25, 2022

Radio interview and a classmate's death

Got off a radio interview yesterday. Forced myself to go, even if I was feeling down with something. Had already committed to do it weeks ago in behalf of the local medical society. The interview took place at the Brigada studio at 8:30 AM. Brigada Arjean asked pointed and smart questions. I talked about cancer and how to prevent and screen for it. My Hiligaynon needs work. Could do better if I listened to local radio more. 

During the program, I thought of my high school classmate P who died early that morning. Metastatic breast cancer. She fought hard, with her everything. We’d been through different lines of chemo. Her family wanted to do everything. Saw P’s mother and sister, settling bills and arranging for the transfer to the funeral parlor. They said, “Thank you, Doc. At least we extended her life for two years.” Threw away all caution and hugged them. 

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Those who work much do not work hard

Henry David Thoreau on work-life balance:

The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day . . .  Those who work much do not work hard. 

Always on the lookout for the most efficient way of doing things, I read about productivity tools and skills more often than most people I know. But there came a point when my responsibilities and the tasks that went with them crowded my day, forcing me to sacrifice regular lunch times, even sleep. My recent trips, and Thoreau's journal entry when he was 24, remind me once again to take it slow. I remember the Freestyle song, which may not be appropriate to the context I'm referring to, since the song pertains, on closer textual analysis, to tensions of erotic love.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Moving out


After my week-long trip, Sean will have moved out of the house. All of a sudden, my kid brother, who's more mature than me in the practical ways of life, will no longer be a constant presence in the house. Among my brothers, he is the one who reminds me the most of Tatay. They share the same humor. They like constant company. They think of coming back as soon as they step out of the gate. They always bring back something—a loaf of bread or some random pasalubong—when they return. 

A few weeks ago, I joined him and the wonderful Hannah to look for an apartment, where they will start a new life. It is a few blocks away from St. Gabriel and is near the vet and our favorite car wash place. On cooler days, it is reachable by walking. There is ample parking space, with a wide view of the mountains that surround the valley. The street is quiet, since it leads to a cul de sac. Vehicular and foot traffic are minimal such that it offers a feeling of isolation from city life. 

I have an open invitation to visit anytime. Sean and Hannah have set up a comfortable cooking area where they can cook and grill—things I can never do, additional reasons why he will be missed. They will build a house of their own in due time. For now, the apartment will do. We are all excited for what the Lord has in store for them.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Saved from other saviors

From Though My Flesh May Fail: Reflections on Chronic Suffering from the Hospital Bed by Brett Fredenberg: 
For the Christian, God saves us not only from our sin, but He also saves us from all other saviors.


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

He who teaches learns

Went with Sean and his wife, Hannah, to visit an apartment they'd been eyeing to rent. Loved the place: a studio type arrangement, with yellow walls, plenty of parking space, and with just the right distance to their workplaces. Asked if I could take a photo of the landlady's shirt. She was happy to indulge.


Oh: we're wrapping up the end of the first academic year of MSU Biochemistry. Met with the team last night. Ended the meeting on a high note. I still owe them dinner.


Flowers in Surallah


My mother's photos are automatically uploaded to my Flickr account. I ask her permission if I can post some of them here. 


Monday, August 29, 2022

National Heroes Day

My mother’s high school friends are coming over for dinner. On this Saturday evening, they will eat at 6 before they visit their classmate’s wake. It’s going to be a simple dinner, she assured her Notre Dame batch who didn't want to impose. Earlier today, however, Manong, Sean, and I got our instructions to buy a tub of ice cream, prepare lasagna at the last minute, and make sure the house is spotless. We have thrice the amount of food we need. Clearly this will be a party.

There have been many deaths this week, Nanay observed. A dentist she knew from another town passed away. Her distant nephew, who was my age, died in his sleep. I told her that a thirty-something doctor also died because of stage four cancer. She internalizes these news with, “Nauna pa sila sa akon.”

To escape the Batch 73 crowd, I am in the neighborhood café where I reviewed for the internal medicine board exam. I’m rarely here, because the place reminds me of my late father—a weird term to call Tatay, who was always punctual when he was alive. He sat by me as I took notes from Harrison’s. But I have things to write and submit. I welcome the relative peace and quiet, the company of strangers and the Adele playlist.

I’m comfortable in my shorts, t-shirt, and slippers until I hear familiar voices emerging from the other table. There’s my patient, still with her wig, and her high school barkada—younger sisters of my elementary school classmates—enjoying the normalcy of this second life, this life of cancer remission. I wave at them, then go nearer to have a quick chat.

I’m back in my corner of the cafe. I will leave in a few minutes. This is how I’m spending National Heroes Day. I realize that to live, and to do it well, is almost like heroism.


Monday, August 15, 2022

Gentle and lowly

Reading several books this season. One of them is Dane Ortlund's Gentle and Lowly. Beautiful words from the first chapter:

But all Christian toil flows from fellowship from a living Christ whose transcending, defining reality is: gently and lowly. He astounds and sustains us with his endless kindness. Only as we walk ever deeper into this tender kindness can we live the Christian life as the New Testament calls us to. Only as we drink down the kindness of the heart of Christ will we leave in our wake, everywhere we go, the aroma of heaven, and die one day having startled the world with glimpses of divine kindness too great to be boxed in by what we deserve.

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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Ministers of the Word

Spent the early morning meditating on 2 Corinthians 6:3-13. Remembered pastors, Bible study teachers, and campus ministry workers who have labored hard for the gospel so I, and others like me, could grow in the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I miss them. Have not seen many of them in years. I treasure and cherish them dearly, and continue to pray for their health, protection, provision, and progress in their spiritual walk and ministry.

Matthew Henry writes:

They were slighted by the men of the world as unknown, men of no figure or account, not worth taking notice of; yet in all the churches of Christ they were well known, and of great account: they were looked upon as dying, being killed all the day long, and their interest was thought to be a dying interest; “and yet behold,” says the apostle, “we live, and live comfortably, and bear up cheerfully under all our hardships, and go on conquering and to conquer.” They were chastened, and often fell under the lash of the law, yet not killed: and though it was thought that they were sorrowful, a company of mopish and melancholy men, always sighing and mourning, yet they were always rejoicing in God, and had the greatest reason to rejoice always. They were despised as poor, upon the account of their poverty in this world; and yet they made many rich, by preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. They were thought to have nothing, and silver and gold they had none, houses and lands they had none; yet they possessed all things: they had nothing in this world, but they had a treasure in heaven. Their effects lay in another country, in another world. They had nothing in themselves, but possessed all things in Christ. Such a paradox is a Christian’s life, and through such a variety of conditions and reports lies our way to heaven; and we should be careful in all these things to approve ourselves to God.

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Sunday, July 10, 2022


Sean's wedding is a few days away. He is my first, and perhaps only, brother who will be getting married. It is a small beach wedding in the afternoon, along the shores of Glan, with close relatives and friends expected to attend. 

I have no idea how to plan for weddings and largely leave that to others, in the same way I do not interfere with cooking lest the gas range explode. So I was amused to overhear Nanay talk to her friends at 4 am that we—Manong and I—don’t contribute ideas. Because she and her friends meet every day, except Sundays, through Facebook for Bible study and prayer; the upcoming wedding continues to be a concern being lifted up to God. What would we contribute then, except a few typographical checks in the program print out and some food tasting notes for the reception? And there’s the invisible but palpable brotherly support—which really means letting Sean and Hannah decide, until they specifically ask us to do something.

Preparations are underway. Last week, Sean and Hannah talked with Pastor Henry, who dropped by the house for lunch last week. Pastor Henry was our pastor from when we were in Sunday school, and has known us from Adam. Uncle Dot, our youngest uncle from Nanay’s side, is in charge of the flowers and decorations. The church’s music team will play the music in the venue.

Weddings are beautiful opportunities to reconnect with loved ones and friends. In revisiting these bonds, we discover that human relationships endure and grow stronger with time. To see Sean and Hannah experience both the dramatic and mundane steps in their journey to oneness, with just a healthy seasoning of stress, is a source of comfort: they are headed in the right direction, by God’s grace.

So next week, I will limit my clinical and academic work. Over this weekend I will finish my lectures in biochemistry and molecular biology. I anticipate that I may need to run errands—pick up materials and people—the lot of people who drive. Nanay’s friends are coming from Panay and Negros. I might need to meet them at the airport.

People in the house—Nanay and Auntie Nanic, who lives with us on weekends—are in denial. I tell them, partly as a joke, to pack Sean’s things in a balikbayan box. “Ay, hindi anay. Hulaton ta lang nga siya ang mag-hambal,” they say. I suspect Nanay now experiences some separation anxiety, but Sean assures her she can stay at their rented apartment for a steady supply of his glorious láswa.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Forty days


Lola's lansones trees (Lansium parasiticum) showed up with fruits that left many visitors for her 40-day death remembrance awestruck. We miss Lola Ugol and still look for her when we drop by her home, now silent and solemn, the way houses become when their owners leave them for good.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Reflections at 4 am

At 4 am, working in the living room with only my laptop illuminating the darkness. Windows wide open to let the morning coolness in. Birds chatter and sing outside, like housewives on the street catching up on the latest news. What are they talking about? Their plans for the day? Their dreams last night? Their excitement for the weekend?

Sing this with me.
This is my Father's world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres 
This is my Father's world
The birds their carols raise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their maker's praise

And also: 

This is my Father's world
Oh, let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet

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Sunday, June 5, 2022

A beatific smile on his face

From Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, p. 61:


What a line.

Definitely off-topic but still related: I picture Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church, as smiling, as he was stoned to death, slowly being welcomed into the arms of his Savior. 


Friday, June 3, 2022

Currently reading: Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum


Was hungry the other day, looking for restaurants for lunch. The less people, the better. There was a graduation nearby; people flocked to the mall to celebrate. While going around, saw Kate Atkinson's novel displayed at National, on sale! Forgot about my stomach pangs and snatched it right away. 

The author's foreword:
If you were to ask me what the book is about (which is the most loathesome question you could ask—why bother write the thing if you have to explain it? It is what it is) and if I were forced to answer, I would say, "It's about things." The book is a repository for the past: for mine, for other people's, for the city's, a place of safekeeping for the fragile.


Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Bursting in tears

Paul Theroux Riding the Iron Rooster

In the final chapter, The Train to Tibet, Paul Theroux writes: 

An early European explorer to Tibet burst into tears when he saw one lovely mountain covered with snow. When I saw the landscape of Tibet that did not seem to be an odd reaction. The setting is more than touching—it is a bewitchment: the light, the air, the emptiness, the plains and peaks . . . It is a safe and reassuring remoteness, with the prettiest meadows and moors buttressed by mountains. It was, somehow, a mountain landscape with a few valleys—a blue and white plateau of tinkling yak bells, and bright glaciers and tiny wild flowers. Who wouldn't burst into tears?

This is one of the best books I've read, and I will likely get back to this piece of art and history soon enough. 

It goes without saying that this chapter, too, resonates deeply with me. My hometown, a piece of paradise inhabited by proud, happy, and smiling people, may disappear soon. A huge mining project in a nearby town has been approved. That will bring money and prosperity to people, sure, but those will mostly go to politicians and people in power. But the land will be destroyed. And the rivers, too. Supporters of this project say this mining project will be sustainable—but who are they kidding? 

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Saturday, May 21, 2022

The rain began to leak into my soul

As I return to Paul Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster on this cool Saturday morning, the feeling of calm-after-the-storm descends upon me. After a tiring week of my kind and gracious grandmother's passing away, I can go about my day without anything urgent floating in the air. I want to tell you more about Lola Ugól, of course. I can start with the story of why nobody—not even her children—knows why she was called Ugól when her real name was Trinidad Zamora Garcenila. But not today. Of course, there are patients to see and faculty work to be done, but those can wait until 10 am. 

For now, I want to savor this moment: the possibilities of a weekend. A quiet morning in the porch, the vanilla-smell of old book pages, the exquisite gray strokes of my Blackwing Palomino, the minimalistic design and engineering of my MacBook Air. These small things and habits allow me to both dwell on and forget about grief. The running joke in the family is that May is a particularly harrowing time of the year: it is when deaths and birthdays happen. 

Escape is not quite the word for what I want to do today. Perhaps, adventure might be appropriate. For the vicarious opportunity to travel distant lands, I am grateful for books, such as the one I'm holding.  In this memorable paragraph which appears in the chapter, The Shandong Express to Shanghai (p. 400), Paul Theroux writes about the pleasures of anonymity in a foreign land. 

Riding the Iron Rooster, p. 400

I stayed in Shanghai a while longer. I bought an old goldfish bowl at the antique shop. I saw a truly terrible Chinese film: it was violent and thoroughly philistine. It rained. People talked about the power struggle in the inner party. They were not cynical or indifferent to such big changes—the expulsions and resignations—but since they could do nothing about them they had to accept them. The rain began to leak into my soul. I walked through the rat's maze of back-lanes near the cathedral, and got glimpses of ancient China in the drizzle. I was happiest those nights, trudging alone in the rain, glancing into windows, seeing people ironing and making noodles and pasting up the red banners for the Chinese New Year, watching people roistering in cheap steamy restaurants and strangling chickens. It was wonderful to be anonymous those dark nights in Shanghai, when no one could see my face, and I heard a mother scolding a child with 'Where have you been?'

More than sight-seeing, I like snooping around best in places where nobody recognizes me. Fulfilling this curiosity with a heightened sense of observation and note-taking amplifies the joy of travel; it also helps one forget, but also, eventually, remember. 

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Sunday, May 8, 2022

Paul makes a wise choice

Paul makes a very wise choice

It's too bad that, as a canine, he is perpetually disenfranchised from participating in democratic exercises.


A day in contrast

Driving at 6 AM along the Gensan-Polomolok border, I see a tricycle on the outer line. It is jam-packed with five people, excluding the driver. As I inch closer, I notice that a motorcycle, propped up vertically on one wheel, is strapped on the tricycle's metal sidecar. Yellow ropes keep the motorcycle from falling off the road. The men reinforce the motorcycle to the tricycle with their arms. In their late twenties, wearing shirts and denims, they grin, smile, and laugh. Are they bringing home this brand new vehicle at home? If that's the plan, why don't they ride on it? Perhaps I'll never know. In the meantime, an olive-green Vios, which I'm presently trailing, slows down. A window opens. A teenager, her hair tossed by the wind, emerges with a camera phone. Realizing they are being recorded, the men wave in the light, intermittent rain. They are having a great time.

As soon as I arrive at home, in time for the Sunday service, I receive a text message that M has died. He was around my age. He had an aggressive kind of lung cancer. He has left behind a wife and two children.

Ours is a bittersweet existence.

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