Sunday, February 25, 2024

After decades of friendship, her friends still can't get it right


Nanay celebrated her birthday last night with her high school class. The dinner was at Uncle Puli's house in Banga. 

A poster named her Dra. Shirley Cathedral, with the "h," a common mistake that happens to all my family members. 

Happy birthday, mother dear! We praise God for your life! 


Saturday, February 24, 2024

The past is another country

Thomas Mallon writes about nostalgia in the November 2023 issue of The New Yorker. As he concludes, he writes (emphasis mine):
Nostalgia goes even deeper than that, so deep that one wonders if it isn’t a neurological condition, something fundamental and immune to the vagaries of history. As people begin living beyond their Biblical allotment of seventy years, they experience the first exaggerated panics over forgetting a name or a date, which is usually remedied by a Google search. But then comes the growing realization that short-term memory has nothing like the staying power of the long-term variety. Mentally, the seven ages of man speed up their full-circling, until the past’s sovereignty over the present is complete. The further along one gets, the more one understands that the past is indeed another country, and that, moreover, it is home. Long-term memory’s domination of short may be a hardwired consolation that nature and biology have mercifully installed in us. 

Nostalgia is what I feel when I see children playing in the street, running around, getting dirty, still indifferent to the pleasures of day time naps. It is what I also feel when I drive past quiet streets lined by trees and greenery. 


Friday, February 23, 2024

Piano and teaching

One of my favorite blogs is owned by the writer and professor, Alan Jacobs. As a teacher myself, I learn so much from him. On the first day of his Christian Renaissance of the Twentieth Century course, he played for his students "a few minutes of the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto."

He writes:
So one of the things I am doing in this class, and will be trying in other classes, is to get my students to spend five minutes listening to music. I forbid digital devices in my classes, so they just have their books and notebooks in front of them — they can of course be distracted from the music, but it’s not automatic, not easy. If listening is the path of least resistance, then maybe they’ll listen. I’ve started with five minutes, but I hope to work our way up to longer pieces. My dream — and alas, it is but a dream — is, one Holy Week, to sit together with my students and listen to the single 70-minute movement that is Arvo Pärt’s Passio.

This fascinates me. Playing music in class. I remember my neurology professor, Dr. Leonard Pascual, telling stories about playing the piano at the BSLR, the entire med school class jamming in songs. The BSLR was demolished a few years ago. Whatever happened to the old upright piano? 

I'm barely able to play the piano for myself—let alone for an audience. Each week, I carve a special hour for lessons with Ma'am Deb, my gracious teacher. My current piece is Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Maybe I can find a way to squeeze the piece in my introduction to my lectures of gene transcription.


"I" and "E" confusion


Untitled Spotted at a hospital parking lot, Koronadal, South Cotabato.


Sunday, February 18, 2024

Our neighborhood


After a late lunch, my cousin Hannah and I saw our Marbel neighbors, Uncle Ephraim and Auntie Eden, having a date in Gensan. They insisted we join them, but said we said, "Bag-o lang gid kami tapos kaon." Uncle Ephraim was in an accident that needed some stitches a few days ago, but other than that, his brain was clear of traumatic injuries. He was well enough to travel to Gensan to have a belated Valentine's date with his wife. 

“When I go to any place, whether it’s a neighborhood or country, the thing I’m most interested in finding out is how well people are treating each other on so many levels.”

Growing up in a quiet neighborhood is one of my life's great blessings. Our neighbors are, well, neighborly. When we were kids, Auntie Elsie and Uncle Boy would invite us in their home to play with their family computer. Auntie Norma would make us polvoron and see that we were properly fed, after we played patintero or pitiw on the street. Auntie Lingling would bring us fruit and cut flowers after her trip to the farm. Auntie Eden would alert us that someone was snooping around the house while we were away. 

A few days ago, as I was backing the pick up out of the garage (it had no back camera, which explained my tachycardia), Uncle Ephraim offered to be my driver, to which I said, "Di ta ka afford, Kol." 

He said, "Libre lang, Dok!" Retired, he had time on his hands.

Since I became a doctor, they've been calling me "Dok," a practice I'd normally dismiss with ,"Lance na lang, Kol," but they say it with neighborly pride, so I no longer pushed back. 

This also explains why I prefer to be called uncle, or angkol, instead of the more generic Tagalog term, tito, by my friend's kids. Angkol gives me a feeling of warmth and tenderness and familiarity. 


Saturday, February 17, 2024

Somewhere in Antique


Taken by Nanay on her trip to Antique with high school friends.


The late magazines


My copies—printed copies—of The New Yorker arrive at the most unpredictable times, usually a few months late. Last year, the magazine's marketing campaign captured my attention. I'd be given a few months of free subscription plus a free tote bag, the email said—a foretaste of the riches of the magazine's years of exemplary journalism and short stories—after which I would be charged an annual fee. By the time the free subscription ended, I had only received three copies, all of them arriving together at once through the ever-reliable PhilPost. At which point I forgot to discontinue the free subscription, and PayPal had already charged me for a year. The tardiness of their arrival does not, in any way, diminish my enjoyment of them. It is like observing the night sky from a rural farm: the light you're seeing is many light-years away, from stars so far out in the galaxies that had emitted such visual energies from before you were born. 

The magazines are stacked—I would not use the term, "displayed"—on a table in the living room. Although guests are welcome to them, they hardly ever notice the magazines. They are more entranced by Paul's needy approaches—our aspin believes he needs to welcome all guests by smelling their crotches, hoping to be rewarded by a prolonged and gentle belly rub—or by my mother's plants, which Nanay describes as unruly, at which point she would invoke the name of Michael, her gardener. "Tawagi na si Michael. Ipa-trim na ang hilamon," she would say. 

On this cool February morning, I read Eren Overbey's Point Blank, which was about his father's murder in Turkey. Then I read Rachel Aviv's profile of Joyce Carol Oates. Mornings are the moments when my head is clearest; those are also the times when I make to-do lists on a whim, half of which I never accomplish, such as finally making time to read Oates' novel I bought from the now-closed Booksale at KCC Gensan—a cultural tragedy. It was the only truly decent bookstore in the region.  What struck me the most from the profile is this line where Rachel Aviv quotes Oates saying that reading is "the greatest pleasure of civilization." I looked up and saw that the sun had not yet risen and that I was in no rush, suspending the cares of what was looking like a long day ahead. My heart was grateful. 

It was then that I remembered that my tote bag has never arrived—or hasn't arrived yet. You never really know how things work at PhilPost.


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Bumps and scratches

All of my sedan's scratches and bumps trace their origins in parking lots. 

The first damage was sustained in a hospital parking lot in 2021, when I eased the car into an open space. Having only driven my car for less than a week, my mind was calibrating and learning the critical concept of clearance, that practiced instinct of whether the Honda Civic would fit nicely in a space. The scratch on my car's right underside (after years of driving, I still haven't figured out a car's anatomy) I continue to attribute to my fault entirely, though I could make the argument that it could be due to poor architecture. I went home defeated. There's no feeling like scratching a brand new car and realizing it is damaged goods. My brother Sean, the more deft driver, said, "Kagamay ah! Tinguba lang ang pagpakay-o. Magasgasan pa na liwat." He then laughed, dismissing my complaint as a regular phenomenon of driving.

The second was in a mall. We were parked nicely on the first floor of the parking building. My cousin Hannah and I had fried chicken at Army Navy right after New Year's, in 2023. As we savored for lunch one of the best fastfood chicken in the world—and Chickenjoy is not even close—we returned to the parking lot and saw a commotion. The security guard was bent, looking at my car, while calling someone over the radio. "Imoha ni nga sakyanan, Sir?" he asked. I said yes. He pointed out a scratch in the bumper. I wouldn't even notice it if he hadn't pointed it out. The vehicle that did the damage was a red pick up truck. The CCTV had it recorded. But the driver ran away. At the police station, where we issued our statement, the police officer said, "Ah, hit-and-run." The car was hit; the driver ran away. I had no energy in me to chase after the irresponsible driver. We recovered the plate number from the footage—the erring car has been on several incidents. My car insurance covered the repair. The parts came two months later. 

The third was in another hospital parking lot, just a week ago. I was parked in my usual space. Backing up, a van scratched the bumper. The doctor-colleague who owned the van apologized profusely and said she'd cover the repair. I said, "It happens to the best of us." I meant it. But I also meant myself when I said "us." The car will get repaired today. I will have to leave it in the shop for 3-4 days. 

There is a sense in which scratching and bumping other people's cars in parking lots is better in the passive than in the active tense. This I should call to mind as I drive our family's pick up while I await the completion of repairs. 


Sunday, February 11, 2024

Sunday morning with rain, Hermes Baby, and the Bible


Feb 11, 2024, 6 am

Morning rain. The neighborhood looks gloomy. Even Paul, who is normally excited to begin his walk, looks sleepy, as if he'd had an all-nighter. In the corner of the living room, I read my Bible. My reading guide takes me to Exodus, where Moses receives the instructions from God. Moses, once an unwilling servant, is transformed by his meeting with God, Who speaks to him as a friend. The people rebel and sacrifice to idols. The passages display the supreme holiness of God and the wickedness of man. It also highlights the lovingkindness of God. God wants His people separate from the world. To distinguish them from the pagan peoples of the other lands, God instructs them through Moses to observe feasts and celebrations. The instructions are detailed. Feasts will force them to remember, as they are prone to forget.

My other reading takes me to Philippians, written by the great apostle Paul who is, scholars believe, in prison. Philippians is a joyful letter. One can rejoice despite difficult circumstances. To rejoice is a command. Paul reminds the growing and persecuted church to look over and beyond the present circumstances, and to praise God. There is rejoicing in the acknowledgment that in Christ, the Christian has everything. Paul calls all things—perhaps including his excellent education, his impeccable track record as a Pharisee, and his many other achievements, including the details of his pedigree—rubbish compared to the surpassing knowledge of knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord.

What else, truly, do I need when I have Christ?

Have a blessed Sunday. I write this using my Hermes Bay portable typewriter, which is delightful!

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Saturday, February 10, 2024

Jonathan Safran Foer's Here I Am

Untitled Aimless wandering in the mall brought me to National Bookstore. I headed to the corner of damaged books that would probably never find a home where they would be read and enjoyed. There I saw Jonathan Safran Foer's Here I Am in tatters. The front cover was partly ripped apart, but the pages smelled good. I got it for Php 151, on 80% discount. It's excellent writing about a Jewish-American family that's breaking apart, but in a super funny way. This came out many years after the author's last novel, which was also brilliant. This guy could write!

My tsundoku is growing. Worse (but not really), the number of books I have started but haven't finished is increasing. There's Manu Avenida's short story collection, Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, Stephen King's Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, Henry David Thoreau's The Journal (NYRB edition), Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass, and Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies. I hope to finish all these books before the year ends.

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Flowers in the neighborhood



Friday, February 9, 2024

The research adviser!

Consultation with Group 4

I usually meet with my research advisees on Friday nights, via Zoom, while wearing pajamas. Two groups asked me to advise them in their clinical research topics. They're wonderful. These meetings last for no more than 30 minutes. Much of the work happens in Google Docs, where I make suggestions for line edits. They approve my suggestions, address my comments, and, hopefully give me some pushbacks, too. Ellaine's group sent me a strong first draft of their research proposal, which delighted me. The group has been hard at work. I can confirm it because there are always new edits in the live document. 

During the Zoom session, I'd ask a group member to summarize the key points of these meetings, since it's easy to lose track of the edits that had been agreed upon. Nurhana, of Group 4, emailed me an update recently, and I was pleasantly surprised that my photo was included. Nakapangbalay na and ready to hit the hay after the Zoom call. 

If I don't show up in parties, this is what I'm probably doing. Or maybe I'm just watching Apple TV's Slow Horses, which is apparently a book series!