Sunday, December 31, 2023

On the first annual conference of the Philippine Society of Literature and Narrative Medicine

Moderated the Philippine Society of Literature and Narrative Medicine's first annual congress last night and chaired Prof. Marj Evasco's session on Close Reading Texts. By acting as "chair," that meant I introduced her to the audience and did the backend work of sharing PDFs in Zoom screens. I have always loved working with her. Was blown away by her insights on the poetry of Jean Tan ("After Winter, Before Spring") and Jade Mark Capiñanes ("Bioluminescence") and reignited in me the love for poetry. Poems demand time and attention, Prof. Marj said. I told her, in behalf of the audience, that poems intimidate us because many times we don't get them. When I asked her what we should do in case that happens, she said, in sum, that it's a natural reaction, but if the language and imagery captivate us, then let's continue to dwell on it and enjoy it. Not all poems have lessons to impart. 


Dr. Joti Tabula, trailblazing president of PSLN, spoke on Basic Concepts of Narrative Medicine, citing Rita Charon's seminal work on the subject. The poet John Brixter Tino spoke on Patient Narratives and shared his poems, in glorious Filipino, with us. He has a rare genetic condition that causes, among others, cataracts, which he alludes to in his poem about a visit to an eye doctor. Dr. Noel Pingoy, in his talk, Introduction to Medical Humanities, talked about the development of the field throughout history. 

Knew many people in the Zoom room. Some of my students and colleagues from the MSU College of Medicine participated. Dr. Analyza Galia even shared a verse during the exercise on writing about longing. Student Ellaine Grace Plaga offered an insightful interpretation of the poem, "After Winter, Before Spring." 


Saturday, December 30, 2023

Under new labels

Did some spring cleaning here and re-organized the major labels. 

  • Books/Reading: My latest reads, book recommendations, and thoughts on the writing life.
  • Blogging: In which I share my latest CSS tweaks and general thoughts about blogs, which, according to many, are dying. I disagree.
  • Daily: The daily grind. Also known as the "wastebasket" category, in which I clump posts that I can't otherwise categorize.
  • Faith: On Christianity, theology, and spirituality.
  • Film/Music: On movies, TV shows, and music. 
  • Medicine: All things medical. My own experiences and reflections on internal medicine and oncology. Might also contain slide sets and links to journal articles — so it's easy for me to keep track.
  • Pens: Fountain pens, pencils, paper, and notebooks.
  • Travel: In which I share stories about where I've gone.
  • Typewriter: I love typewriters. They don't make them anymore.

Removed photography and journals because I clumped them under Daily. Watching+listening is now under Films/Music. I removed links entirely. 

Because this post is about my tweaks in this blog, it's categorized under Blogging.


Dr. Will Liangco wins a National Book Award for his book, Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer and Other Misadventures

Dr. Will Liangco wins a National Book Award for his book, Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer and Other Misadventures. It's a remarkable book: funny, smart, compassionate, and not your usual medical narrative. I like it so much because I'm a medical oncologist who trained at PGH. But I imagine how the book can be a great gift to yourself and to your friends (in the medical field or otherwise), kids, nieces, nephews, inaanaks, and random neighbors who are thinking of going into the medical profession, or are burnt out by it.

His interview in has a pa-shout-out to the Creative Non-Fiction Writers' Workshop for Doctors by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of the De La Salle University. It's a welcoming and generative space for stories to be shared.

Why are there many doctors who are writers, too? "I think that just like everyone else, in whatever profession or stature in life, doctors have the need to express and share their own experiences, and be heard, whether this expression is in the form of music, poetry, or children’s literature," says Liangco. "It’s wonderful whenever we are able to create avenues for these stories."

In 2020, De La Salle University held a CNF (Creative Non-Fiction) Writers' Workshop for Doctors, which Liangco participated in as one of the selected writer-doctors. It is part of the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center's efforts to "boost collaborations and critical/creative exchanges between scientists and artists; to train medical practitioners in the art of life-writing; and to help immortalize the stories and contributions of our front-liners to this nation especially during these precarious times." The Philippine Society for Literature and Narrative Medicine was later created and spearheaded by Dr. Joey Tabula, one of the doctor-writers who served as a panelist in the workshop.

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Rehumanizing the Art and Practice of Medicine through Literature and Narrative Medicine

The Philippine Society for Literature and Narrative Medicine will be having its first annual congress today, December 30, via Zoom, at 4-9PM, open to doctors and medical students. Registration is free. 

The theme is: Rehumanizing the Art and Practice of Medicine through Literature and Narrative Medicine.

Registration link here. See you!



Friday, December 29, 2023

Updated blockquote styling

Used ChatGPT to make edits to the CSS code on blockquotes. I wanted a vertical line to the left side. I applied this update to the Blogger HTML. The result looks clean!

Vertical line - blockquote modification

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Discovering Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni's essay, Our Semicolons, Ourselves, is brilliant

Writing is thinking, but it’s thinking slowed down — stilled — to a point where dimensions and nuances otherwise invisible to you appear. That’s why so many people keep journals. They want more than just a record of what’s happening in their lives. They want to make sense of it.


Like a Tita

The Best Sentences of 2023 compiled by Frank Bruni in the New York Times.
Over recent days, I took on a daunting task — but a delightful one. I reviewed all the passages of prose featured in the For the Love of Sentences section of my Times Opinion newsletter in 2023 and tried to determine the best of the best. And there’s no doing that, at least not objectively, not when the harvest is so bountiful.

What follows is a sample of the sentences that, upon fresh examination, made me smile the widest or nod the hardest or wish the most ardently and enviously that I’d written them. I hope they give you as much pleasure as they gave me when I reread them.

My favorite in this list:
Alexis Soloski described her encounter with the actor Taylor Kitsch: “There’s a lonesomeness at the core of him that makes women want to save him and men want to buy him a beer. I am a mother of young children and the temptation to offer him a snack was sometimes overwhelming.”

In Pinoy culture, we call this tendency "acting like a tita." The English word, "aunt," doesn't quite deliver the nuance of the Filipino, "tita." For some reason, I remember my friends Carla Barbon, Bea Uy, and Everly Ramos. And Racquel Bruno! I hope to meet you soon, friends!


When school paper advisers visit

We had Ma'am Mervie and Ma'am Babette for dinner a few days ago. It was their first time to visit our home. They were our former English teachers, school paper advisers, and speech coaches. They have become dear friends we intermittently reconnect with in our chat group called "Intermediate Family"—not immediate family, because we weren't genetically qualified to fly out to an intimate Boracay wedding intended for Feve's closest family. 

Ma'am Babette spoke in a journalism workshop on editorial and feature writing when I was in elementary, which led me, happily, into the rabbit hole of writing and publishing. In high school, she also wrote my speeches for the Population Commission contests, which we won. Those speeches were printed in legal size paper, on double-spaced text in Times New Roman, justified, in 12 point, using an Epson dot matrix printer. At the KNCHS English Department Office, usually in the afternoons, she carved out time to polish my delivery. She taught me how to make hand gestures—nothing grandiose (or "bombastic") but natural. Two hands in front, with palms facing upward, the arms pushed outward quickly to make a point, accompanied by a smart nod.

Ma'am Mervie was my school paper adviser. She had brilliant ideas for The KNCHS Recorder, whose office I often frequented because it had a working computer, a dot-matrix printer, and good airconditioning. (I miss dot matrix printers!). Joining press conferences was a riot because she was around—a young, cool teacher with a rebellious streak and a gift for words and dry, crazy humor. She wrote my winning speech for a national speech competition organized by a veterans association. 

I owe so much to them. Too bad they're not teaching in the classroom anymore. They now occupy crucial positions in DepEd offices. They shine, wherever they go. 

Manong prepared cold cuts and aperol spritz as aperitifs, and, for the main course, lasagna, pork ribs, and three desserts, including pecan pie and tiramisu, which were hits. We told them, "We don't eat like this on a regular basis, but because you're here, we're pretending we're quite sophisticated."

Ma'am Mervie said kids these days write differently. "Lain na gid sila magsulat. Their subjects are dark and depressing. In our generation, we used to write about good, happy, colorful things." This gave me pause. 


Thursday, December 28, 2023

Unearthing the cringe-worthy archives

After the blog redesign, in which I reverted back to the first-generation Blogger template look by Douglas Bowman, I began reading my old blog posts. I've been thinking long and hard about deleting/hiding them from view, but, cringe-worthy and poorly written as those posts may be, they remind me of who I once was. Those posts feel like they've been written by someone else. I can change my mind, of course, but those posts are, for the meantime, here to stay, hidden in the archives, but discoverable by the curious. 

Unearthing the past can be cathartic. Nostalgia hit me when I read what I wrote about Tatay's 60th birthday. This was in 2011. He was so alive—and I believe he truly is, in heaven, and, figuratively, in our hearts and minds.

Making coffee

Made a double-shot espresso to rid my afternoon headache, fulfilling a promise I made to my kid brother that I'd use his Breville and take care of it when he's gone.

Sean is with Hannah's family on vacation in the Visayas, visiting beaches and zoos. He sends me photos of Cebuano dogs, confirming my hypothesis: the canines there look sleepy. Could it be due to their proximity to the sea, which cures all problems, including insomnia?

He's relishing his last days in the country. Spending quality time with his wonderful wife and in-laws is a great idea. This past week, Sean brought home many prized possessions from their rented apartment: such as his adjustable gamer chair in faux leather, his collection of keyboards (they're supposed to work in Macs, too, with a little tweaking), his plastic box of electric wires and extension cords, all cleaned and organized. In this respect, among many others, Sean and I are vastly different. I would throw all things inside a baul, whereas Sean would meticulously label, fold, and arrange them. He says I'm not careful with my things. I tell him to look at my iPad Mini, my Kindle, and my MacBook Air—which all remain functional many years after their arrival, even if they bear battle scars from my carelessness.

His espresso maker now occupies the kitchen counter, near the piano keyboard. Beside it stands his fancy grinder. Around these machines are coffee paraphernalia, such as the metal container he expressly told me to pump thoroughly so as to create a vacuum, a condition which supposedly preserves the coffee beans. A stickler for rules, he told me to weigh the beans before I grind them ("18 grams, that's enough," he said). 

Am I having serious separation anxiety? I will remember them each time I have coffee. My double-shot espresso tastes heavenly, a conclusion he will contest, if Sean were here. And who would appreciate my home made yogurt, if not for Hannah?




And that cowboy hat super looks cool.

Good news to the world

Been meditating on The Advent Project of Biola University these past weeks to settle and engage my mind and heart for Christmas. Each day features a devotional, composed of a Bible verse (it's all from Isaiah on this year's iteration), a poem, an artwork (painting, graphic design, or sculpture/installation), a song, and a brief reflection. Today's meditation is on Isaiah 49:1-7. In this passage, God's salvation plan unfolds to include the Gentiles (". . . I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles that you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth," says verse 6). That includes you and I who are not of Jewish descent. That is good news to the rest of the world. 

Christopher Harvey's poem, “The Nativity,” is featured the latest entry, and I'm sharing it in full here for you to enjoy and think deeply about.

UNFOLD thy face, unmaske thy ray,
Shine forth, bright Sunne, double the day.
Let no malignant misty fume,
Nor foggy vapour, once presume
To interpose thy perfect sight
This day, which makes us love thy light
For ever better, that we could
That blessèd object once behold,
Which is both the circumference,
And center of all excellence:
Or rather neither, but a treasure
Unconfinèd without measure,
Whose center and circumference,
Including all preheminence,
Excluding nothing but defect,
And infinite in each respect,
Is equally both here and there,
And now and then and every where,
And alwaies, one, himselfe, the same,
A beeing farre above a name.
Draw neer then, and freely poure
Forth all thy light into that houre,
Which was crownèd with his birth,
And made heaven envy earth.
Let not his birth-day clouded be,
By whom thou shinest, and we see.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Debut for a seven-year old girl

After getting a pedicure, Nanay says to me, "I'll tell you something." She had to wait for her turn to get a haircut in the salon. A seven-year-old girl was getting her hair and make up done for—she overheard—a mini debut. Nanay says, "What was her mother thinking?"

I say, "But that's their money to spend."

She says, "Sabagay." 

Correction of the week

The New Yorker has a feature called "Correction of the Week." In the Aug. 28. 2023 issue, this hilarious correction from Vogue magazine is highlighted.


Nagreklamo kaya si Dan Baer? 



Breakfast buffet in Madrid, Spain.

Happy birthday, Dr. Noel!

With the Medical Humanities Committee of the Philippine College of Physicians, headed by Drs. Noel Pingoy and Joti Tabula (back row, from left). Front row: myself, Drs. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez and Will Liangco. 

Dr. Noel Pingoy celebrates his birthday this month. I can say many great things about Dr. Noel—he insists I call him "Noel" and I try—but among my favorite things about him are his wise and beautiful essays about our hometown, Koronadal. His essays add a depth to my understanding of what it means to live in this quiet place of this world. His sentences give me pause. They are so rich and melodious, entertaining and devastating, with a cadence borne out of a life of careful reading and playing with words. "Tuod gid man, 'no?" I would say, when he writes something like this

I often discover this when I go home on weekends to be with family. Despite the six-lane highway, friends often stop, wave, and smile when they recognize you. They ask you how the parents are. They tell you how this friend has gout and yet won’t stop his daily dose of beer, or this former classmate whose blood pressure is way up the stratosphere but won’t quit smoking. They tell you how they met old teachers who haven’t aged a bit. They offer you turon kag bandi. They welcome you to their homes like a long-lost brother. They share triumphs and heartbreaks, secrets and anecdotes. Of course, the constant question about marriage and spreading of genes [smiley].

This is the sort of kasimanwa (town mates) I grew up with and got to stay connected after many years.

Summers then were quite punishing in Marbel. I remember the times when brownouts were frequent; we had to stay outdoors often, under the trees, beside a brook, or at my uncle’s farm in Barrio 8. But the start of the rainy season was a welcome relief; the heat was more tolerable, and the constant pouring in the afternoon was an invitation to run around in complete abandon. Since most roads then were unpaved, we had individual puddles in the middle of the street that became exclusive wading pools.

Happy birthday, Dr. Noel! What a gift you are to the world. 


Early morning of December 27. Read about bees and Elon Musk on my previously unread New Yorker magazine copies. I subscribed many months ago so I could get the tote bag. The magazines would arrive three months late. The tote bag never came. 

Lulled by the early coolness, slept on the couch. Awakened by Nanay who, at 3 am, opened the gate. Her new routine: walking while it's dark. Manong Ralph made coffee. I tinkered with my blog's CSS. Reverted back to the classic Blogger template designed by Douglas Bowman. Had problems with resizing the image width. Asked ChatGPT to help me with the coding to make the images responsive (that is, they don't exceed the width/margins of the text). The code worked. But the text appears after the footer and before each blog post.

.post img { max-width: 100%; height: auto; padding: 4px; border: 1px solid #ddd; }" which appears in the footer.

I'm stuck. But I like the raw aesthetic of the blog. A lot of design decisions here have been dictated by whim. Blogging should feel like playing. Writing too seriously removes all the fun. No wonder why I haven't been posting anything here lately.

Meanwhile, here's Paul, the darling of the neighborhood. After Simbang Gabi, our Catholic neighbors who passed by the house would call out to our dog, "Good morning, Paul."


Found the floating code and deleted it. Blog looks better now.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Sean's chair

Sean gives lets me borrow his gamer chair. He’s leaving soon and is distributing his earthly goods to his brothers who will be left behind. The swivel chair is ergonomic. It feels great to sit on. I see myself sitting on it for hours, writing on my computer and do teleconferencing. It does not fit my taste aesthetically—but functionally, it’s beautiful. My neck and back don't hurt.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Manu Avenido's Ikigai Ug Ubang Piniling Sugilanon


Prof. Marjorie Evasco sends the best gifts. Consider what came in the mail yesterday afternoon. 

The doorbell was not functioning. Paul was sleeping indoors, defying his masters' orders to watch out for passersby outside the gate. Frustrated that no one was answering his "ayo!", the delivery man called my phone and told me he was outside, clearly sweltering under the heat of the Marbel sun. 

I opened the package. It was carefully prepared, with a note in her exquisite handwriting that warmed my heart. It was Manu Avenido's book, Ikigai Ubang Piniling Sugilanon, translated into English by Prof. Marj. 

I emailed Prof. Marj, and here's an excerpt.

That night, I proceeded to read the first story, Sa Lalaking Naligsan sa may Interseksiyon. I was hooked right away because there are themes about politics of teaching and academic promotions and allusions to Murakami stories I am familiar with. The cadences of language are different and nuanced. Binisaya is beautiful. And so is English. I keep on rooting for the narrator, even as I write this. He seems like someone who actually exists in the real world: an educator who commutes to work and struggles with providing for the family and eking out a good life for himself. I hope he gets his promotion, completes his PhD, get married, and have a great life.


Tuesday, December 5, 2023


View from taxi

View from the taxi in Mumbai, India


Yapak, Western Visayas

Yapak, Western Visayas. Auto-uploaded from my mother's phone.


Shanghai Mama


Toledo, Spain

Saturday, November 25, 2023


I overheard my mother's friends praying over the speakerphone as I did a third round of review of my suitcase. It usually takes me three iterations to trim my clothes to the bear minimum. I'm a light traveler. The past days have been crazy. I won't bore you with the details of the commitments I've gotten myself into—a hospital's tumor boards, a small group discussion in med school, a lecture on the coagulation pathway for biochemistry, a research collaboration, and many personal matters, such as the death of a high school classmate, my reunions with friends I haven't met in a while. Nanay and her friends meet on Facebook Messenger at 4 am daily, except Sundays, to pray. Auntie Cecil, who's like a second mother to us, thanks God for people who are arranging my quick trip to Davao City for a research contest for doctors that I'm judging today, the safety of my flight tomorrow and the health of the passengers around me, and all the small details I forget to praise God for. It amazes me, therefore, that there are people interceding for me, and I should do the same, too: praying for others, looking over and beyond myself, and be intentional in my thanksgiving. 

And thanks be to God for my work space, a place of quiet and peace, with excellent lighting and various options for writing, both analog and digital.



Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The Person with tHis Ability: Rehabilitation from Prehabilitation


I am usually awake on the 3:20 am flight from Manila to Gensan. I can't stop reading Dr. Brent Viray's book. I had met him the night before. He was one of the writing fellows this year. We shared the same table during the closing program of the Creative Non-fiction Writing Workshop for Doctors. Before he left, he gave me a signed copy of his memoir. 

Unless you read his book, you wouldn't notice that he had a huge stroke. Out of the sheer grace of God and a lot of willpower and the help of friends and rehabilitation, he pushed the limits of what was possible. His recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. He is back at what he does best—surgery. 

I recognize a lot of names in the book. I can imagine the operating room and the hallways of Philippine General Hospital. The book hits very close to home. The brevity of life, the way dreams can vanish with a brain bleed. Despite these, Brent, who's one of the kindest surgeons I know, with a special calling to serve the underserved communities, overflows with thanksgiving. 

I'm not done with the book yet. But it's something you should read when it comes out in the market.


Friday, November 17, 2023

In good company

This is a copy of my closing remarks as panelist that I delivered during the closing program of the 4th National Creative Nonfiction Writing for Doctors by the Bienvenido N Santos Creative Writing Center of the De La Salle University. 

In 2020, in a small condo unit in Mandaluyong, isolating from the world that was confused and broken, I received an invitation to join a Zoom writing workshop for Joti’s mentees. These were young, bright-eyed medical students. Dr. Elvie Gonzalez was in that crowd, too. I was unemployed. I had just finished my medical oncology fellowship, with plenty of time in my hands. I had a blast. That would be the start of my involvement in being a panelist of the creative nonfiction workshop for doctors by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. Through God’s providence and grace, I found myself in the company of like-minded, curious, kind people who like words and stories and books. In a sense, I have the experience of two worlds: being a participant and a panelist of this workshop. I suppose I am in a unique position to share my thoughts on the importance of this workshop and why it has worked for the last four years.

First, they offer instruction to doctors who have stories to tell and who have the willingness to write them. Most of our participants had no formal training in creative writing. This workshop was probably the first time they had heard of terms like “in medias res” or “close reading”. The workshop is done online, a format that is convenient for doctors, even those who live outside of Metro Manila. This workshop is truly national in scope.

Second, they offer encouragement. This encouragement is inherent to this community. The past iterations of the workshop, including this one, have been open, safe, perhaps nurturing environments for stories to be shared, examined, and analyzed. I believe the advice to not care about what other people think is nonsense. We must think of what other people will think of us, but not all people, for we cannot please everyone. I am talking specifically about the people who matter to us. I remember this line in The Lord of the Rings, where, after receiving a compliment, Faramir says, “The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.” For our stories to receive the rapt, kind, compassionate attention of celebrated writers like Prof. Marjorie Evasco and Dr. Joti Tabula buoys our hearts. To hear that our stories have moved our peers, people we have only met because of the workshop, is a great kind of feeling.

Third, they offer possibilities. Some of our fellows have gone on to reap literary awards and get their creations published in magazines, anthologies, and books. Those are great. But I am also talking about the gift of insight in what we can do with an idea or a figment of a story that might, in the future, might find its way to other homes and hearts as well. I am talking about the realization that doctor-writers share a space in the world.

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Thursday, November 9, 2023

Flowers during my rounds

Flowers during rounds


Wednesday, November 8, 2023

There's the Rub and bookstores of childhood

I woke up thinking of Conrado de Quiros for no reason, then a quick Google search brought me the news: he passed away on November 6. I grew up reading There's the Rub, his opinion column in the Inquirer, and I loved how he weaved words and phrases. Because of him, I wanted to own my own column, too, thinking I would have the energy and words for it. I'm now looking for copies of his books. Amazon and the online retailers indicate that this books, including "Flowers from the Rubble," are out of print. Please send me a note if you have any leads where I can get them. 

Ambeth Ocampo's column in the Inquirer is about bookstores

Looking back, my earliest memories of bookstores were of Popular Bookstore on Doroteo Jose which was the carrot my father dangled to get me into a dentist’s chair. Popular Bookstore didn’t have children’s books, but I liked just being in it as my father browsed the latest engineering texts for his classes in Mapua and University of the Philippines Diliman. The bookstore where I remember buying a childhood book was Ato Bookshop along Session Road in Baguio. It was located in the basement of a building and I remember scrimping on horseback and merienda allowance to save up for my first Filipiniana book, “Creatures of Midnight.” Maximo Ramos published an illustrated catalog of all the aswang, tianak, manananggal, kapre, and mangkukulam in Philippine lower mythology. This book taught me how to detect these creatures and I memorized, by heart, all the methods to dispose of them.

For me, it was People's and Crown Bookstores along Alunan Avenue in Marbel (Koronadal). 


Tuesday, November 7, 2023


Resumed my piano lessons after more than a month of hiatus. Ma’am Deborah, so gracious and accommodating, understood why my performance was sub par. The twenty-year old electric keyboard borrowed from Tita Beb’s house is broken. Was not able to to practice at home. Ma’am Deb is generous enough to say I’m a fast learner. Either that’s true, or that her benchmark is the eight-year old pupil who takes the slot before mine on Monday afternoons.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Remembering October

I revisited Des Poticar-Biboso's excellent photography (I wish she'd resurrect her blogs) and remembered that there was a time when I used to take so much pictures to share in this space. October was a colorful month for me. To write about the month-that-was in the past tense reminds me how time flies quickly, how everything passes before our very eyes if we don't pause and look and look back. 

Paul adds so much happiness in our home. Now an indoor dog, he considers it his birthright to sleep inside the house. His spot is behind the white couch beside the bookshelves. At midnight he barks and awakens everyone—by everyone, I mean Manong Ralph, the lightest sleeper—so the doors can be opened and he can urinate outside. After a minute, Paul returns to his nook, preparing for his 6 am walk in the neighborhood. He is the sweetest, most considerate, and most compassionate dog. He leaves some of his food for the frogs, which he kisses and licks gently when he meets them.


Rizal Street is where my old high school is. After casting our votes during the barangay elections, Manong and I walked to the café where Non's store used to be. It was the go-to place to buy school supplies at the very last minute. The street was quiet at 2 PM. Most of the city's voters were done. The precincts were beginning to wrap up. The secret to voting quickly is to do it very early, before daybreak, or do it very late. But where's the fun in that? In a small town, queueing and small-talking and random sighting of old friends and classmates and neighbors are as much part of the democratic process as deciding which leaders to choose. 

Rizal Street, in front of KNCHS
On my solo walks after attending a worship service in a reformed Baptist church, I visited Museo Naval (the Naval Museum) in Madrid. Admission was free, but a 3 euro donation was encouraged. I kept looking for references to Ferdinand Magellan, but I remembered my history lesson (I hope that part hasn't been revised yet): that Portugal, not Spain, sent him on a quest to find Malacca and in the process, he landed in the Philippines.

Museo Naval

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Saturday, November 4, 2023

Friday night

Met Willie, Mayche, Katty and her little boy Mark last night for dinner. Small pockets of reunion are ideal for catching up with my high school circle. Willie lost his Uber privileges because a driver in a small town in America gave him a low rating because he charged his phone in the car without asking permission. Stuck in an outlet store miles away from his hotel, he booked a taxi instead which cost more. After her extended yoga session, Mayche spouted theories about interracial marriages but says she's not getting married soon. We didn't get too much into politics, but Mayche's eyes were fiery when the subject of confidential funds was brought up. Katty remembered the times when we were the ones left at Precious Child Learning Center because our sundo, Manong Elvic, was late again because his tricycle broke down. Katty proudly shared that Manong Elvic eventually did send his children through college. What I remembered most about him was his extraordinary kindness and his ill-fitting dentures. 

Had to ditch all plans to catch up on pending work to watch All the Light We Cannot See because of Prof. Marj's recommendation. Beautiful, even the opening music. It kept me up all night. Only made it to the first two episodes, though, because I was too sleepy. When I woke up this morning, I read my copy of Anthony Doerr's book. As usual, Manong Ralph's judgmental reaction was, "Ay, wala mo pa gali nabása na?" So all I talk about now are Marie and Werner. When I'm absorbed in a particular story, I always say the names of the characters, like how some people repeatedly hum a tune of a song they'd just heard. They look older in the Netflix series but they're 16 and 18 years old, respectively, in the book. I look forward to finishing the series today.


Friday, November 3, 2023

Let the kids play

Russel Moore's newsletter (Moore to the Point) which arrived in my inbox on October 20, 2023 is entitled Let the Children Play: Their Lives Depend on It.

He writes:

Most people know that something is going badly awry with the next generation.

It’s not often that an executive summary from The Journal of Pediatrics ricochets around the internet. But this week we saw just that with the findings of a study from three researchers entitled “Decline in Independent Activity as a Cause of Decline in Children’s Mental Well-Being: Summary of the Evidence.”

The broad thesis is that, while many factors have led to the national emergency we are seeing with adolescent mental health, there is one major factor that is insufficiently recognized: the decline in unstructured, unmanaged, and unsupervised play.

He continues:

It turns out that play and exploration are essential for what it means for us to thrive as human beings. And by play, I do not mean organized sports or hobbies (while those are important). I mean the sort of unstructured freedom to independently encounter obstacles and problems—and overcome them. And to pursue this for its own sake, not to put an item on a college admission application or a résumé or even to gain status with one’s peers.

This might look like spending a day wandering through the woods, playing an impromptu stickball game with the neighbors on a city street, or combing the neighborhood looking for arrowheads or lost coins—without a hovering parent in sight.

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I took my brother Sean and sister-in-law Hannah to the airport yesterday morning. My brothers, especially the Third Born, take punctuality to a whole new level. If Sean says their flight leaves at seven, we should be on the road by 4 am. Never mind that they were checked in online and had no bags to drop off. Yesterday we arrived on time, with plenty more to spare.

One thing you should know about my family: we are hardly ever late. We got it from our father, who, contrary to the prevailing culture at the time (that's changing now), was conscious of time. My mother doesn't like the feeling that people are inconvenienced because they are waiting for her. Preparing to go out of the house is clockwork, chop-chop, paspasanay. Anyone left behind, dilly-dallies, nagapadugay-dugay, invites criticism. It baffles me how some people, who are not celebrity and who have not  massive strokes or disabling neurological diseases, can take hours just to shower and put on clothes and arrive late to their appointments.

I can take this concept of time even further to describe why I avoid meetings in general because they take so much time and often end with what one could call "progress." These meetings are unstructured, do not have a fixed agenda, and people are unprepared to give updates. All organizations should have a flow chart on how to determine if a meeting is really necessary. This is brilliant. The flowchart should incorporate whether a face-to-face or a Zoom meeting is preferred. I like online meetings better, to be honest. That's one good thing that came out of the pandemic, in a sense: the realization that meetings can be done virtually. It removes the hassle of driving to the venue, time that's better spent doing something else. It's also more economical: no snacks, no venue reservations, and no airconditioning.  

Meeting schedule


Monday, October 30, 2023

Dog in Zambales

Dog, pathway, landscape

Keep on going

There are days when I think about shutting down this blog. Nobody reads blogs these days. I prize my privacy. I have rediscovered the pleasures of keeping a prayer journal in pen and paper, which has its own advantages: I can write anything I want without anybody reading it. I have become rather critical of my own writing—which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the time of day. I cringe when I reread what I have written. So often, I forget that I have written anything about a subject at all.

But I realize, too, that writing for a potential audience here has been a habit of many years. Whatever I post here is meant to flex my writing muscles. Blogging helps me metabolize my thoughts and experiences for the reading pleasure—I hope—of others. I hardly edit my posts. The process I employ in writing a blog is different when, for instance, I submit a piece for an anthology or magazine. Those instances rarely happen.

I do not blog as frequently as I used to. Maybe I should.

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Narrative medicine


I spoke at and moderated a lunch symposium of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) annual convention. Credits to Kgel Bebero—wellness advocate, world traveler, medical oncologist from Trento and Tagum—for the catchy title. Soul-scription—Writing for Our Well-being. With me on stage were Drs. Honey Abarquez, no less than the conference organizer herself, Will Liangco, bestselling author whose book, Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer, is selling like hotcakes (where are the hotcakes my father used to buy from palengke—yellow, doused in margarine, and sprinkled in refined sugar?), and Joti Tabula, whose gift is not just heart-expanding poetry but the generous encouragement to doctors and opportunities to share their stories. We were thrilled that the medical humanities and narrative medicine were given the time of day—at a prime time slot at that—in a prestigious meeting that normally features lectures on new data about treatments for cancer. That people stayed until after lunch to listen to us read our pieces was a surprise. I told Will, who sat beside me, “Andito pa sila!” So we talked about our motivations for writing and how it helps us as doctors make sense of our experiences. Many thanks to the leadership of PSMO for the kind invitation.

In the evening, I, together with 22 young medical oncologists, were inducted as PSMO fellows. Lining up outside and waiting for our names to be called, we reminisced the harrowing moments of the written and oral exams two years ago. “Ayoko nang ulitin ‘yun,” one of them said. Praise God for His goodness in being with us this far in our careers.

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Right after the customary handshakes with the PMSO leadership onstage, I rushed to another venue to attend the 2023 Rotor Literary Awards. I met met Prof. Marjorie Evasco (so radiant and elegant in her Filipiniana), Dr. Noel Pingoy and Dr. Joti Tabula (who co-edited the new anthology of medical narratives) as well the leadership of the Philippine College of Physicians. I also met Mark Siñagan, who practices in Maitum, Sarangani. He was in my PGH internship batch. He won second prize in the creative non-fiction category. I also saw the poet Dr. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez (whom I'd just met in Bohol a few days ago), the podcaster-writer Dr. Ella Masamayor and the pediatrician Dr. Mitchie Gonzales, who joined the La Salle Creative Non-fiction writing for doctors last year. I also met Dr. Su-Ann Locnen, Dr. Regina Berba, my consultant in GenMed at PGH, and a host of bigwigs from the leadership of the Philippine College of Physicians. I arrived just minutes after the program had ended but I was able to get a sense of the excitement and joy of being in a crowd that celebrates medical humanities.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Arturo Rotor as Doctor-Writer and the Growing Field of Narrative Medicine in the Philippines

Dr. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez

Congratulations to Dr. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez for winning a Palanca this year. This evening I'm moderating her talk on Arturo Rotor as Doctor-Writer and the Growing Field of Narrative Medicine in the Philippines. There will be a 

Friday, October 13, 2023

Typecast 11: Hermes Baby

Typecast 11: Hermes Baby

The Hermes Baby has arrived. Mr. Gerald dela Cruz, typewriter restorer-extraordinaire, allowed me to receive this machine from his workshop in Comandante Street, Quiapo. It is a solid machine. He did not need to do repainting because it is well-preserved. It comes with the original case bearing instructions on how to change ribbons or which parts do what. This brings my collection of working typewriters to four: 

  • the Smith Corona, which I used to write my entry for the Rotor Awards
  • the Erika-Weinrich, a remnant of the Cold War, and 
  • the Underwood Universal, which sounds like a character in a Netflix series (Frank Underwood, of course, from House of Cards!).

What a great addition to my growing collection. This typewriter is truly portable. It is very light and does not occupy too much space.

Hermes Baby

Hermes Baby

Reach Gerald through Instagram.


Med onco family—my batchmates edition

My med onco family - batchmates edition

Extremely proud of what they are doing and who they have become! Roger, Rich, Freddie, and Kmomsh Karen. There are days when I wish I had them around the clinic, seeing their own patients in the other cubicles, so I could shoot them questions, discuss my diagnostic and management dilemma, and occasionally have a fun chitchat and share a hearty laughter, which was how we had coped during training. (Photo taken during the annual Philippine Society of Medical Oncology convention, where we were all assigned to speak on-stage at some point.)


Embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope

Thomas Cranmer's collect
Typed using my Underwood Portable.


Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Nicole Kidman, Melbourne Central Station

Nicole Kidmen, Melbourne Central Station




Fireflies along the river (Maribojoc, Bohol). Photos taken by the internist-medical oncologist-hematologist-writer-photographer-renaissance-man Noel Pingoy.

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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Bohol Diary: Day Two

Successfully squeezed myself into the travel plans of Drs. Elvie, JP, and Rey. Was welcomed with open arms to join their day tour of the island.

Woke up at 4 am and waited for the beginning of daybreak before heading out to sea. Young and old men in small boats hauled fresh fish to the shore. Overheard friendly banter and the chorus of dogs, as if in conversation. I imagined that, after the ritual of fishing and sailing, the men would all be home with their wives and children, on dry land, waiting for the next sunrise. The waters were calm. Had to walk many meters from the shore to approach deeper waters conducive to swimming. Carefully stepped on sea grass, which felt ticklish on bare feet. Was far out into sea, yet the water was below my knees. Decided to head back and swim in the pool. Alone, I realized everyone was sleeping, or transitioning to wakefulness. It was 6 am. Breakfast was ready. Had danggit and coffee. From my vantage point, it seemed like a good day to meander: not too hot, with pillar of clouds of day to shield us from the oppressive Visayan heat.

First off: Napoleon Abueva’s Blood Compact Shrine. Datu Sikuatuna signed an agreement with General Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565. Bohol is the stuff of Philippine history. The island is steeped in myth and stories.

Then, a 45-minute van ride to Carmen, Bohol to see the Chocolate Hills. Thrilled to see the geological wonder in person: a marvel of God’s creation. The photos don't do them justice. "Buról" was my go-to anyong lupa in Sibika at Kultura, when the teacher asked the class to draw a landscape. The hills were green at this time of year. No huge trees grew on them. The marker on the lookout told the story of how the hills came to be. This part of the island was underwater. As the waters receded, the hills emerged. The hills were made of calcium, not fertile soil. I asked the driver-tour guide Lumin what his favorite hill was. He said he liked everything.

Drove straight to the tarsiers. If you asked me to rank animals based on their cuteness when they sleep, I’d say the tarsiers would be shooting for first place; koalas a far second; and our dog Paul a close third. Caretakers warned us not to use flash-photography or make noises. Otherwise, we’d stress the tarsiers out. Got fresh buko juice and had Bohol Bee Farm ice cream. 

Stopped over the “man-made forest.” Dr. Elvie asked why it was man-made. Mahogany, apparently an invasive species, were planted by the roadside. To get a proper photo taken, one has to risk getting crushed by speeding vehicles.


Hungry. Lumin brought us to the Loboc river cruise. Well-traveled friends told me it was underwhelming and the food was bland, but Lumin said this was different. Stepped on a boat with eat-all-you-can buffet. Fish, clams, seaweed salad, tropical fruit, rice-based desserts, pork chops. Crowd serenaded by a Boholano balladeer as the boat slowly moved forward into the river. Heard American country music, OPM love songs, Cebuano folk songs. To cheer the Korean tourists, he sang the Korean national anthem and a love song ("Sarang hae yo"), earning him enthusiastic clapping and a generous tip when the hat was passed around. Korean girl beside me said, "He sing better than Korean!" Same girl said she loved the Philippines.


Dropped by the Dauis church, built in 1697, to see the well with miraculous water. Did not get inside because there was a wedding we'd interrupt had we insisted.


Headed back to Amarela for Prof. Marjorie Evasco's book launching and 70th birthday celebration. Listened excerpts read from "It Is Time to Come Home," a literary jewel. Felt stunned and grateful that I got invited to this intimate affair of closely held friendships. Heard heart-warming testimonials from her colleagues, teachers, friends, and family: she is a woman whose generosity of spirit and humility of heart have touched many. A common thread from what were spoken: just do what she says, and you'll do well.

The book launch/birthday celebration also doubled as a PCP Medical Humanities meeting.

Merienda cena by the beach was a feast. Everything was well-curated, each detail considered.

The medical contingent with Prof. Marj: Drs. Noel Pingoy, Elvie Razon-Gonzales, myself, Alice Sun-Cua, Rey Isidto, Will Liangco, Joti Tabula. Front row: Prof. Marj Evasco with Dr. Charito Mendoza.

When I thanked Prof. Marj for the goodie bag, she replied:

The red Binacol bag was woven by malingkatweaves run by Fawziyyah Maridul of Sulu, who had become a friend after I gave her & her weavers a copy of Dreamweavers. She also printed the gift tags. The Binacol design is the Tinggian Mandarawak’s blanket, although the one for healing is pure white. The coffee is “Café de Nueva Vida,” & Dr. Miñosa, retired anesthesiologist who now runs Buenaventurada Farms in Carmen, Bohol, personally delivered them. The Ube Kinampay pastel from Osang’s Baclayon was delivered to Amarela personally by Pie Maristela, who now runs her mother’s heritage pastry house.

As if those were not enough, she arranged a quiet visit to the fireflies by the river in Maribojoc, her hometown. She would gift us with memories. We left the hotel at 7 PM and stepped on the boat at 8 PM. Darkness surrounded us, with streaks of bright light from the lightning. Rain was coming. Then we saw the magical fireflies, sparkling like Christmas lights. The young man who guided us said they fed on the mangrove trees' flowers. Our boat inched forward so we could get a closer look. Magical. A firefly came near, curious why outsiders like us were around. It rained, and then we went back to the hotel.

Left early the next day to catch Oceanjet to Cebu. Did not get to say a proper goodbye to my companions, who were sleeping. Flight to Gensan was delayed but I had Prof. Marj's poems with me. It was time for me to come home, but it surprised me that I felt at home where I had come from. 

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