Banzai for Kansai

Japan has always been a dream destination for our family. Pao and I have visited this funky yet beautiful country on separate occasions, and both were work-related. Even with just one visit each, we declared Japan to be the best place to go, especially as a family. We decided on an Osaka-Kyoto-Nara adventure, all within 5 days or on 2-6 October 2014. So 5 days, 3 prefectures, countless train rides, virtually limitless choices of Japanese food stalls and restaurants, equals loads of fun!

We purchased our plane tickets last 21 August, applied for visas the following week, and bought Lonely Planet’s ‘Discover Japan’ when we got our visas. And then I plunged into the complicated subways and various sightseeing maps and tourist walk guides, got lost, got some headache, but a week before our scheduled flight, we were ready with our 8-page itinerary, Kansai passes, pre-paid admission tickets to Universal Studios-Osaka, and coats to battle the cooler temperature.

Day 1, Getting around and ending up in those happy places: Osaka Castle and Kaiyukan

Our plane left Singapore for Osaka at 1:25am on Oct 2. Aryana was fast asleep just after we checked-in, two hours before our flight, so it was a great start since we had all these unspent energy that should just be enough for 5 days of relentless sightseeing.

We arrived at 9:00am, picked up our 2 suitcases, and went straight to Osaka via the JR line which took us from Kansai International Airport straight to Osaka Station in 65 minutes or so and costs ¥1190 per adult and half for children aged 4-12 years old.

We had lunch at one of the Japanese restaurants called Tsuruya at the 14th floor of the Daimaru Umeda department store, located at the south gate building of the Osaka Station. The girl who served us didn’t speak English but it was never a problem. We were armed with a picture-filled menu and she had a small placard with her that announces what’s next, for example: we will serve sorbet later. Language barrier is resolved immediately, by pictures and placards.

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The Ritz Carlton-Osaka was a short 10-minute walk from Osaka station via the Sakurabashi gate. Although check-in time was still at 3:00 p.m., our room was ready by the time we got to the hotel lobby at 1:00 p.m. and we were able to avail of the early check-in, free of charge. Not only was the room ready, so too were our matching PJ’s.

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We love it that our hotel was very near the Osaka station, with multiple access points to Nishi-Umeda station either via underground, especially since it was raining intermittently while we were there, or via that 8-minute walk while taking in the sights. Osaka station is humongous, you will get lost if you’re not mindful of the arrows. But I daresay it is one of the best in the world. There is an underground garden, complete with greeneries and running waters, which allows you to breathe amid the hustle and bustle that is city life. There are just about under a million restaurants and food stalls and stores that you can right away check food-tripping and shopping in your list of must-do’s-in-Osaka. More importantly though, Osaka station allows for hassle-free connections and switches from main lines to subways, subways to subways, and everything else.

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We washed and changed as quickly as a family of five with a wriggling toddler could, and then we were ready for our family’s first official tourist spot in Osaka: the Osaka Castle Museum (entrance fee is ¥600 for adults and free for children aged 15-below). So to get there from Nishi-Umeda (Yotsubashi line), we got off in Hommachi (Y13), transferred to the Chuo line, and exited at Tanimachi 4-chome (C18).

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From there, it was a 10-minute walk to the castle. Do take note that we have a toddler-in-a-stroller-saddled-with-many-bags, so for a brisk-walking all-adults’ party, it should take less. The Osaka castle museum and park were simply breath-taking. We’re lucky that our children- aged 13, 6 and 2 love museums so that everybody was excited and entertained. We were happy scrutinizing ancient war memorabilia, from dioramas to costumes to fans. Most of all, we were having so much fun taking pictures of the Castle and all its angles, from the ground to the observation deck in the 8th floor.

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After 2 hours, we headed off to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, which is also in subway Chuo line. We went back to the Tanimachi 4-chome station (C18) and rode the train to Osakako (C11). From Osakako, walk straight for 5 minutes or so until you see the Tempozan Market Place. The entrance to the aquarium is on its left (Box A in figure below).

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Entrance fees are ¥2300 for adults aged 16+, ¥1200 for ages 7-15, ¥600 for ages 4-6 and free for children 3-below. If you have a valid kansai pass, do show to every tourist destination you go to, because, more often than not, you get fee discounts.

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There is so much to be said about the Kaiyukan: children’s h(e)aven, everyone’s blissful-peaceful place, amazing, wonder-full, are just a few that spring to my mind. We were there for almost 4 hours, until closing time, and we couldn’t get enough. The whale shark was cruising through the waters, glancing at us one second, swimming away the next, its magnificence and power took my breath away, and it was almost like there was no tempered glass that separated us. The dolphins, oh those happy dolphins, they were big show-offs, and my children, especially the little girls were enthralled! They played with the dolphins, putting their palms on the glass when the dolphins came near, waving and beckoning at them when the dolphins danced away. The many, many penguins were just as wonderful to look at. Some were swimming swiftly, leaving a thousand or so bubbles in their wake, others were dancing happy-feet style, while some were stoic, staring back at us. I reckon I could stare back at them for hours. We went to all the areas- from the islands to the oceans and rain forests. The last area we went to was the touch pool, where children, some younger than my 2 years-and-8-months Aryana, touched manta rays, small sharks and snakes. For the first time in my life, I saw children of all ages, plus some adults too, interacting with sea creatures and with each other in a harmonious, happy way. There was no crying, no pushing, and certainly no quarreling. It was pure fun. The mother in me was touched to the core. The Kaiyukan should be multiplied and placed in every country so that we need not pray every night nor spend our last centavo for world peace.

We went back to the Osaka station city for our dinner. We ate at this really delicious Italian restaurant called Trattoria Arlecchino at the 14th floor of the Daimaru Umeda department store building. We ordered two kinds each of pasta and pizza plus mixed grilled meat of pork and beef which were all gone in a jiffy. That good!

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Day 2, Officially Kids’ Day: Instant Ramen Museum and Kids’ Plaza Osaka

Our second day in Osaka was officially children’s day, which turned out to be a family fun day as kids and parents alike all enjoyed the trek to the Instant Ramen Museum and Kids’ Plaza Osaka.

The Instant Ramen Museum was beyond expectations, especially because I expected it to be a sort of showcase of ramen through the years. It was more than that. There is a ramen tunnel, yes, featuring all kinds of ramen- curry, seafood, beef, pork, chicken, spicy, miso, and so much more, in all kinds of pictures on the packaging – a wrestler/body builder, anime and cartoon characters are just some which got my attention. There is a vending machine of all things ramen, set in a café overlooking a Zen garden which was simply delightful. There is also the house which built nissin noodles, complete with age-old pots and ceramics and noodle-makers and fans and refs. The best part is the kids’ workshop where they are given a blank nissin cup, which they will design themselves. And then they will choose the ingredients to their own nissin cup. How cool is that! We spent a good 4 hours in the museum.

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When we were hungry, we walked for 5-7 minutes, back to the small Japanese restaurant we spied on our way to the museum. The restaurant was called Hakata Ippudo and although we were just on our second day in Osaka, we declared it to be our best lunch ever! The gyoza, which looked so ordinary, tasted so extraordinarily yummy. The ramen was to die for! Pao, Isaac and I ordered different kinds of ramen and they were all shocking to the palate- shockingly delicious plus delicious. Yesica ordered the grilled pork cutlets and it was outstanding in taste and presentation. Them Japanese know how to serve great food. We also bought sweet treats from a little organic shop nearby- from cookies to strawberry and raspberry and chocolate cakes, we simply couldn’t eat enough.

To get to the Instant Ramen Museum, go to the Hankyu-Umeda station, which is a short walk from the Osaka Station City, again, follow the arrows please. Look for the Hankyu Takarazuka line, get off at Ikeda Station, go down, turn right and walk for about 10-12 minutes from the station. Don’t forget to take your picture with the statue of the founder standing on top of a nissin cup noodle, which got us in stitches.

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Re-energized with matching fuller-than-full stomachs, we trudged on to Kids’ Plaza Osaka. To get there, we exited from the Hankyu-Umeda station, transferred to Nishi-Umeda, got off at Hommachi, transferred to the Chuo line, got off at Sakaisuji-Hommachi, transferred again to the Sakaisuji Line and got off finally at Ogimachi. So many transfers yes, but so short distances and so worth it! The Kids’ Plaza has everything- science experiments, adventure land, interactive dioramas, musical instruments, role-playing area, even a very-short-distance race track which elicited laughs and guffaws and shrieks from Aryana to mama! We made this day more memorable with a nightcap at the amazing Umeda Sky Building and Floating Garden Observatory. The kids had endless chicken nuggets and strawberry sundae on one table while the adults had beer and waffles and quiet conversation on a separate table overlooking the entire city. This particular memory always warms my heart. Pretty awesome.

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Day 3, The Magnificent Temples in Kyoto

We slept excited and woke up more excited, and yes it’s possible, when you know you are about to savor the magnificent temples of Kyoto. We had a quick breakfast of Lawson-bought assorted breads and left our hotel at around 8:30am for the Osaka station. We looked and found in about 1 minute or less the Karasuma line going to Kyoto (click and print: http://www.jrpass.com/images/map/map_kyoto_metro.pdf). If I remember it correctly, it was line 2 of the Osaka station. We got off at Kyoto in 30 minutes, hailed a cab and allowed ourselves to be swept away by the Kinkakuji Temple. There were so many tourists, but wherever we are, there the temple stood, unnerved by the million or so eyes upon it, glistening and making me teary-eyed. The first time I set eyes on Kinkakuji was in 2004, it was drizzling with snow and I was jostling with wide-eyed tourists like me to get the best angle using my age-old camera. But I found that any angle is the best angle. There is no escaping the golden pavilion. How amazing is that! We went around the Zen surroundings, tossed a few yens for good luck, drank pure green tea with sweet cake under a bright red Japanese umbrella, bought lucky charms, and ate nissin noodles from a vending machine and assorted mochi from a small shop for lunch.

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We then took the cab to Kyoto’s Imperial Palace. It was a little disappointing since we didn’t get enough slots for the entire family, but the children had a fun time playing in the park, gathering pine cones and pretending to roast them using fallen twigs and branches, and just running around in the vast green expanse.

After that short rest, we were ready to experience Kiyomizu-dera. Because that temple was so wondrous that you cannot just use the word ‘go’ oh no, that is too casual. Kiyomizu-dera was an experience… that it made us breathless- literally and figuratively- since the temple has many layers and the trek, with a toddler-in-the-stroller was no small feat. We walked slowly, breathing in the vibes that the entire surroundings gave out- at once cheerful, at times somber, always peaceful. My daughter Yesica wanted to have her picture taken among the many dressed buddha because (and in a high-pitched voice) ‘I read it in your book mama!’ The temple itself, and the view from the top of the mountain, plus the many dainty shops and colourful things, everything was breathtaking. We took our time, we stopped for a little family picnic, and then went down to the little shops and bought what-else but Japanese mochi and biscuits and cakes (in all happy flavors of green tea, chocolate, strawberry, banana, mango, and chestnut too) and masks and fans.

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Happy feet check, tired feet, double check. It was almost 5 p.m. when we got to Ryokan Ginkaku. I booked the ryokan from Japan Tourism Board (JTB), a travel agency located at Ion-Orchard. I tried to book online but it was too complicated looking for a ryokan that could accommodate a family of five, plus I was not comfortable with the ‘translate to English’ box that opens every time I try to book one. It turned out better for us, the total cost- dinner and breakfast included- was cheaper than the rates quoted online. The same agency offered admission tickets to Universal Studios in advance and also the 3-day Kansai pass, which was very useful and efficient since we get to use it from Osaka to Kyoto and Nara, plus less expensive than buying single tickets. It’s like a one-stop shop for travel must-have-tickets.

They don’t speak much English at the ryokan, but the big welcoming smiles said it all. They helped us settle in, gave us comfortable slippers and matching yukata, asked about our preferred time for dinner, and left us alone. We bathe the Japanese way, taking our time in the deep bath tub full of hot water. And then at the appointed time of 6:30 p.m., the parade of ryokan food began. I have never seen so many beautiful small bowls, each one filled with oishi food in all shapes and colors and sizes and emitting such delicate and dainty and delicious smell that we were salivating before we could say ‘Itadakimasu.’ There is no such thing as too much Japanese food. And ryokan food is just OMG-level. Superb superb superb.

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We slept beside each other in our futons laid upon tatami mats. The girls were just too giggly, my teenage son was trying hard to be cool about it (but was still raving about the food hours after dinner), and the husband was feeling cozy and sleepy, while I had this warmth enveloping me, especially inside my heart. We woke up excited and slept happy. Truly the best of times.

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Day 4, Feeding the Deer at the Nara Deer Park

The Kansai adventure is not for the faint of heart. Because on our fourth day, we woke up just as excited as the days before. We will be feeding the deer at Nara Deer Park! It is too much especially for hearts the size of my little girls!

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The Kyoto station is just 4 minutes away from our ryokan. We boarded the Kintetsu Nara train and got off at Nara 45 minutes later. Right away, we could see some of the deer that wandered away from the park the moment we were above-ground. I was torn between restraining my kids and taking some pics myself. But we were to learn that that exciting moment was nothing compared to being face to face with the deer. Especially if you’re holding that saliva-inducing (for humans and animals alike, I promise you, it smelled so good!) deer biscuit. They do not look hostile or harmful at all, but they are excitable and aggressive when food is nearby. So be forewarned. Feeding the deer is an exercise that is best left to the bravest of hearts. Ergo, after feeding a deer or two, I had to be content with watching the excitement unfold before me as my children fed, stroked and got too close for comfort with the deer. After an hour and a thousand yen, we started to make our way to the Todaiji Temple. We went through the park, through tunnels and ice cream shops and quaint restaurants and more deer, and then lo and behold, there stood before us the Naindamon (Great South Gate), once the world’s largest wooden building, and flanked by the Nio guardians on each side. Further on is the Todaiji Temple, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which instantly became our family’s favorite temple. We had to take a moment or two, to take it all in, compartmentalize each beautiful area, lodge the memory firmly in our heads, and just be grateful for being there, breathing in the temple and the harmony it emanates. We went inside the Daibutsuden, The Great Buddha Hall, and ‘great’ is too small a word for all the emotions it evoked in me. We spent a good hour inside the hall, looking up, up and up, allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed, saying a prayer of thanks, etching every single thing, big or small, into our hearts. Savor, savor, savor: this is how we should live our lives- that was my take-away during our Nara trip.

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We went back to Osaka on the same day, in the same hotel, in the same floor with different room number, but the same nice feeling. I know others don’t want to spend a little more on a nicer hotel, but for us, it counts, resting in a nice hotel after an exciting and exhausting day sends out positive vibes that makes the trip not just any other trip, but an experience.

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Day 5, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Osaka, Japan

Save the best for last- perhaps this was the theme that was running through our minds as we ran from the hotel to the train station to Universal Studios-Osaka to catch the opening hour of 9am on the last day of our Kansai adventure. We bought the 7-ride special pass (including Harry Potter rides of course) at the USJ ticket area on the same day, and it was just a short queue of 15 minutes or so.So many rides, so many children’s indoor playgrounds, so many cafes, so many boutiques and shops, and we enjoyed every one of them, but the best of them all, and the only thing we really went to Universal Studios-Japan for (because we have Universal Studios here in Singapore too) was THE Wizarding World of Harry Potter. That world defied my expectations. Wherever I look, it was OMG level. Too much, too happy, too blessed, too grateful. My heart burst into a million happy bits and I didn’t care.

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We were there from 9am up to 6pm, rushed back to our hotel to collect our suitcases from the concierge, went to the Osaka station to board the train to Kansai international airport, and made it just in time for boarding. As the plane took off from Osaka to Singapore, Paolo and I looked at each other above our children’s heads, and said in unison: we survived!!! 6-hour plane ride, 3 prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, 3 excited children with ages at 13, 6 and 2, countless train rides and transfers and switches, endless stairs with me carrying Aryana in her 15-kilos-plus glory, Pao carrying Aryana’s stroller, and Isaac carrying our big bags, a thousand or so 15-minute walks, that when strung together, should make up a whole week of non-stop walking! More than these, everyday was peppered with laughter and jaw-dropping moments and such priceless things as being amazed together for 24/7 for 5 days. And that is what our family is all about.

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Neophyte Runner at 37

I am always amazed by friends who go to the gym or run on a regular basis. More than being amazed, I wonder: where do they get the extra time and energy? I mean there’s work which is ideally an 8-hour shift but realistically, is an at-least-10-hour-daily-grind,  and for those who are married, there are kids who are easily a 24-7 unending cycle of waking up-breakfast-school-home works-plus projects-plus exams-plus camps-plus clubs- did I say unending?

Somehow, one day, I woke up with a start and had this urge to run. Not escape- I’m sorry to even mention this, but I admit, I scrutinized THE urge. I came to the conclusion, that yes, I want to run, as in pound the pavement, with the sun on my face, apace with the wind.

So for the first time in my life, I went to the sports store near my place to buy my first ever running shoes and outfit. And I almost backed down.  I didn’t know that the price of one pair of running shoes is equal to two pairs of flat shoes! Add to that the 2 pairs of outfits (fuchsia top with black shorts and black top with fuchsia shorts) and the total amount is my grocery haul for the week. But then, I thought to myself, surely, this could not be the end of it all. I mean, I haven’t even started yet and I am already thinking of letting the urge slip away. I picked my fuchsia things, closed my eyes, paid for them running things, and left for home.

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When I got home, I hurriedly changed into my yet-unwashed top and shorts, slipped on my running shoes, and walked. Yes, I walked to the park across where we live, and when I saw the sign which says “870 meters to Tanglin Road” I started to pound the pavement, with the sun on my face, and no, I didn’t even come close to being apace with the wind. After 500 meters, I had to stop for the traffic light. Thank God for traffic lights- they have a whole new meaning for me: stop and catch my breath. Thank God for traffic lights!!! After 15 seconds, I am off again to conquer the remaining 370 meters. When I got to the end, there was an array of park exercise equipment: body twist (for strengthening the waist and back muscles), step trainer (for strengthening the arms and lower body), and stationary bike (for strengthening the legs). I felt pumped up and brave, so I took the challenge and spent 5 minutes each on all three trainers. And then I turned around, and ran back home. My starting and ending point is this church called “My Saviour” and again, I marvel at how apt the signs are for me. As I was nearing the said church, I could almost see myself crawling, tongue out, body covered in perspiration and bruises, every single bone and nerve and hair all washed-out and exhausted from this 30-minute exercise. But I survived- March 3, 2014 is my sort of rebirth. This is the day that I wanted to live healthier and longer.

Since then, I have been running twice on a daily basis, 30 minutes each in the morning after Yesica’s school bus picks her up, and another 30 minutes in the afternoon. After two weeks, I levelled up. I now run for an hour in the morning, and the usual 30 minutes in the afternoon. I also drink green juice every lunch time in lieu of a full meal.

It’s been a month of running and green-juicing, and no, the weight loss is not drastic. I think this has to be addressed. Some are lucky in that the weight reduction is instant and dramatic. I guess in my case, the only thing dramatic is, and will always be, my personality. Beyond that, everything is on a no pain-no-gain basis. As my bestfriend said “it will pay off.” I really hope so. But I am ok with the slowly-but-surely weight loss. What I am very happy about is that I am starting to like running. It used to be boring and tiring and exhausting and lonely for me, but now, I look forward to 30 minutes to an hour of “me time.” I sing, I savor the fresh air and weeping willows and flowering trees in pink and white lining up my path, I conjure beachfront and country homes and family trips, I think of Christmas back home in the Philippines and such happy thoughts. And then when I get home, I am refreshed and re-energized, I am ready to mother again.

6 Lessons from 6 years of Facebook-ing

First of all, a disclaimer: that title I coined is a misnomer; Facebook has interfered with our everyday lives for a decade already. But I have always been a late bloomer. I joined Facebook in 2008 as the video by Mark and his team confirmed. So that’s roughly 6 years of Facebook-ing. Admittedly, it is a big (I am tempted to use the word “integral” but that connotes addiction to Facebook and I won’t ever admit it, never ever) part of my everyday life that I feel like I’ve been a member since time immemorial.

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 Let me share with you some lessons that Facebook has taught me:

1. It is not where you air your dirty laundry. I know the ancient saying “be true to yourself” and I believe it still holds today. But Facebook is not the venue to tell the world about your lovers’ quarrel, or your spat with your friend, or your bitterness against the world and its seeming endless materialism or poverty or inequality. That’s why we have friends (I sincerely wish you have one or more) with whom we can vent about or rage with or judge together the world and pronounce it plagued with endless materialism or poverty or inequality. And there is wordpress: blog to ‘properly’ vent. For most of us, Facebook is our happy escape. A place where everyone seems to be living their dream, or getting on from one wild adventure to the next, or something akin to that. Of course we know it can’t be happy all the time. But I’d rather hear about the positive and happy events than read about your latest wars and sorrows in your status.

 2. It is okay to join the bandwagon. For example, show support for Vhong the Vhugvhug Vhictim (misspelling intended), or consequently, lambast the Deniece-Cedric homicidal loveteam. I don’t care. Just please don’t sound so self-righteous. You are beautiful yes, but you ain’t perfect. Equally not nice, don’t say that you’re sick and tired of news about them. I know that you’re constantly checking pep.ph and fashion pulis and abs-cbn websites or clicking on related news shared by your many, many friends in Facebook. Or even if you don’t, you can just go about your business and not waste time and energy complaining about such posts. At the end of the day, we are what we post. So if you don’t like your friend’s post, there is a cafeteria of choices available for you: unfollow, delete, block. Actions always speak louder than words.

3. Bragging once or twice or thrice is acceptable. I know it can’t be helped sometimes so let’s accept it, do a little bragging of our own and just get a move on. There is really no big distinction between posting a beautiful, albeit filtered, selfie from flooding your wall with pictures upon pictures of new bags/gadgets/houses/hair extensions/mani-pedi or posting some of those status with #thankyouGod or #blessed hashtags (“Passed the bar after the nth refresher course” #thankyouGod, #blessed; “Now a boss, bow you slaves” #thankyouGod #blessed; “Dreams do come true: BF, BFF, job, check check check, mamatay kayo sa inggit” #thankyouGod #blessed). But if you brag in your every status every damn day, I am deleting you.

4. Majority of your Facebook friends are not your true friends. I know this sounds painful, but only because it’s true. Never mistake those who like and/or make positive comments about your every post to be your true friend, i.e., one you can consider as your child’s godparent or one you can invite to your intimate wedding or one you can have a no-holds-barred conversation with. It is not automatic. They may like your happy posts or beautiful pictures, but they may not like you once they get to know you. True friends love you. Unconditionally, absolutely, truly, bad past, ugly judgments, stupid decisions and all.

5. Facebook can be a source of utter depression. You see your schoolmate from high school- I used the term ‘schoolmate’ to highlight the fact that you were in the honors section all throughout high school and he was in the bottom 3 out of 3 sections. You connect with him in Facebook, is amazed by the wealth he had accumulated since HS graduation (was that really 10 years ago???), and to top it all, he is #blessed with a beautiful wife and genius-level children plus that lovely beach house #thankyouGod. I’ve learned that, in mind-boggling situations like these, it’s best to step back, never compare your meaningful journey with his seemingly easy one, and unfollow his posts. Life can be kind, life can be cruel. It’s a matter of perceiving the glass as half-empty or half-full. And it’s always productive to stay positive. So I repeat, unfollow.

6. Vow to gain more and lose less. Friends, I mean.  I don’t know if it’s also true with you, but in Facebook, I gained some, and lost some. Friends, I mean. And it always starts with either a freakin’ status or a controversial comment.  Combine that with onion-skinned/insecure/unhappy/bad temperaments and a statement, albeit silent most of the time, is made: delete and/or block. And years of friendship are erased. Just like that. It is February 2014, virtually still a new year. Although I know that spring (cleaning) is just around the corner, I vow to tilt the balance for once: gain more versus lose less or none at all. So what to do? It all starts with the recognition that some people change, some people become more beautiful and successful and awesomely rich and famous. But it won’t matter so much if you stop comparing and judging and bitching about it. Instead, what matters is always the attitude. If your friend is the same person you can talk to, laugh with, vent on, even ask a favour or two from, then you are #blessed to have someone like that in your life- thoroughly changed in the outside, virtually unchanged in the inside, #thankyouGod. There will be bad days of misunderstandings and untrue accusations and hurtful exchanges. Learn to step back. But don’t walk away. True friends will always wait. True friends will always come back. 

Ramblings and bad days

I self-diagnose ergo I self-medicate. I have different kinds of medicines and/or doses for different body ailments- from mild cough to cough with asthma, feverish to fever accompanied by aches in the joints, rhinitis to full-blown colds complete with watery eyes and pounding headache. If my memory serves me right, I’ve only been admitted to the hospital four times- three of which when I gave birth to my children and that one unforgettable time when I had dengue fever. So basically, I know what works for me. It is the emotional setbacks, especially these occasional bouts with depression that I have a hard time “curing.”

I don’t want to sound ungrateful because I am not. I try to count my blessings every day- a faithful husband, three happy children, three thoughtful siblings, few-but-true friends and I mean wherever I go, countless wonderful memories. But sometimes I allow my demons to overwhelm the better part of me. So that I think about the could-have-beens and the what-ifs and I weep in sorrow and regret and guilt.

I am saddened about my mother and how she has turned from a free-spirited girl with really big dreams to one who is seemingly in chains for most of her life, from a bad marriage to a bad disease. I am haunted about getting married so early and hurting my parents by not even considering a church wedding when it was one of my mother’s not-so-secret wish. I am remorseful every time Aryana fusses and all I think about is walking out. I am afraid to acknowledge the big open windows in our rented unit because I can almost taste the air and feel the rush of excitement and freedom and I don’t want to even think about what I feel. And when there is still space in my battered heart, I go all-out masochist and think about the people that I chose to let go, those I didn’t even give half-a-chance, those I judged and found undeserving of my love and loyalty, and those I completely ignored from the first exchange.

There is no cure outside. That much I’ve figured out. Not the cold stone creamery in Somerset. Or my me-time go-to Kinokuniya bookstore in Takashimaya. Not even the earrings at lee hwa that are twinkling and twinkling back at me.

I have this bad habit of hugging and kissing a sleeping Aryana every time depression attacks me in the middle of the night. And if I succeed in waking her up, I feel guilty yes, but mostly happy. Because then, I have someone to carry and hug tight and fuss about. Or I wake up my husband, which is also another guilt trip because he wakes up at the ungodly hour of 2am to work and I mean almost every day, and here I am, having a nightmare and having no qualms at all of waking him up for a cuddle.

But most days when I feel lonely and sad and almost-panicky, I pray more and deeply. I exchange texts or emails with reliable (read: replies immediately) friends and we laugh about meaningless things and half-meant jokes and funny pictures. 

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And it always works. It’s not that these ward off the depression. It’s more than that actually. Prayers and friends make the depression insignificant so that I become almost like an outsider looking in. And I see myself like this petulant (adj., sulky or bad-tempered) child who sees no one but herself and who sees nothing else but the mostly-imagined misery. I mean c’mon, yes I am jobless, car-less, house-less. But I have what I’ve always dreamed of- a good family life and meaningful friendships. I am where I want to be- in the kitchen, baking cheesecakes and chocolate cakes and pineapple upside down cakes and cooking eggplant mozzarella and tom yum from scratch. I have to be grateful for this beautiful life- and this is my mantra for 2014 and forever.

The importance of bread crumbs (in 5 easy and yummy recipes)

Some households always have flour at the pantry, or vanilla, or tomato ketchup. I always have bread crumbs. It’s the all-important ingredient in our delicious home-cooked meals. Let me share with you some recipes which I have read somewhere, initially followed to the letter, discarded or changed some steps, and made it my own:

 Eggplant Mozzarella

Ingredients:

1 big eggplant, peeled and sliced

¼ cup egg white (use 2 eggs)

½ cup bread crumbs

½ cup olive oil

1 whole garlic, minced

1 whole onion, minced

2 big tomatoes, chopped

Salt and pepper

1 pack grated mozzarella (200 grams)

 

1. Dip sliced eggplant in egg white and bread crumbs. Pan-fry using olive oil.

2. Arrange in baking pan.

3. In the same frying pan, sauté garlic, onion and tomatoes. Add some salt and pepper. Pour into pan-fried sliced eggplant.

4. Bake in pre-heated oven (160°C) for 15 minutes. Take out pan, pour mozzarella, bake for another 15 minutes. Serve.

 

Baked Porkchops

Ingredients:

6-8 porkchops or pork fillet

Freshly-squeezed calamansi or lemon juice

4 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper

3-4 beaten eggs

½ cup flour

1 cup bread crumbs

 

For gravy:

1 can Campbell’s cream of mushroom

¼ bar unsalted butter

2 cloves minced garlic

¼ cup milk

1 tablespoon white wine or rice vinegar

salt and pepper

 

1. Rub porkchops with salt, pepper, minced garlic and lemon juice. Marinate for an hour.

2. Dip marinated porkchops in flour, egg white and bread crumbs. Pan-fry.

3. Bake in 180°C for 30 minutes.

4. For gravy: sauté minced garlic in butter, add cream of mushroom, milk and white wine. Simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with porkchops.

 

Butterfly Shrimps

 Ingredients:

1 kilo prawns

Freshly-squeezed calamansi or lemon juice

4 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper

3-4 beaten eggs

½ cup flour

1 cup bread crumbs

 

1. Cut shrimps into butterfly shrimps (watch how-to in youtube).

2. Rub butterfly shrimps with salt, pepper, minced garlic and lemon juice. Marinate for an hour.

3. Dip marinated butterfly shrimps in flour, egg white and bread crumbs. Deep fry and serve hot with mayonnaise or Japanese sushi sauce with wasabi.

 

Golden calamares (squid rings)

 (see ingredients and steps in butterfly shrimps, replace all “butterfly shrimps” with squid ringsJ)

 

Salmon with Cheesy Crust

 Note: I got this from a very good friend (Elyn, that you?) who rarely cooks but when she does, it’s always bombastic-level.

 

Ingredients:

4 sliced salmon

1 cup minced garlic

salt and pepper

½ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1 cup each grated cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and bread crumbs

 

1. Rub salmon with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and minced garlic. In that exact order.

2. On the top of salmon, put cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and bread crumbs. In that exact order.

3. Bake in 180°C for 30 minutes. Serve hot with pita wrap and green salad (toss lettuce, olives, grapes, mandarin, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and salad/thousand island dressing)

 

4 bittersweet days and a lifetime of memories

I am afraid to talk about my mother because it instantly plunges me to that hell called depression.  So I won’t write about her, not at length, not yet. I just want to share our unplanned visit in May 2013. It was just a 4-day journey but one that always leaves me shaken every time I remember it. My 16-month-old daughter Aryana and I boarded a 4-hour Singapore –Cebu flight on May 27. We arrived in Cebu at about 1 p.m. and had the famous Cebu lechon for late lunch.  At 7pm, we were on our way home to Surigao for a 12-hour boat ride. We arrived in Surigao at about 7am on May 28, ate breakfast and freshened up, and by 11am, we were on our way to an island called Buenavista where I spent the happiest summers of my childhood, and where my mother lives now.  It was another 45 minutes’ ride by motorized boat. We went back to Cebu the next day, May 29. By May 30, we were heading back to Singapore.  Forgive me for being so obsessed about the dates. My mother is battling Alzheimer’s disease- although ‘battling’ is not apt; she was conquered a long time ago, a slow but sure descent, which started 12 years ago, to be exact. And I vow to always hold clear in my mind special dates and memories.

I was with my siblings and my mother’s favorite niece-in-law and sister-in-law when we visited her. Aryana was sleeping when we got to my aunt’s house where my mother is living (although again, ‘living’ is a misleading word in this context) so I had to put my baby in bed first before anything else. Everybody was sobbing when I got to my mother’s room. Not the wailing kind. It was more of a silent scream, one that is so distorting that the face dissolves into a million unrelenting tears. I almost backed down. I almost ran away from that scene that seemed straight out from a horror-tragedy movie. I remember that I felt so strange and my first thought was: it’s a good thing I haven’t unpacked yet, I am going to bundle up Aryana, now, while I am still unscathed, and I am going, going far away from here, now, now, go, go! But I couldn’t move. For the life of me, I felt paralyzed. My mother was lying in her bed, unseeing, unfeeling, unknowing, un-remembering. For the longest time, I always say maybe Alzheimer’s disease is a blessing in disguise because it made my mother forget all the cruel things that she went through in her married life. ‘Blissful forgetfulness’ was the phrase I would constantly use. Now I know it was just me, defiant amid her sickness, defensive amid my pain.

Where do I start? What words should I use so that I won’t invite pity? I don’t like pity. It is pathetic. I am not comfortable about compassion either. I always have this tendency to evaluate sincerity and try to distinguish it from curiosity.  But let me tell you a little about who my mother is to us, her children. She created a life, another world, for us, one where everything is and will be okay, one that will not disturb our studies or wreak havoc in our daily lives, one that will allow us to be the best that we can be, to become good persons amid the violence in our home and the hatred in our hearts. In our world, peace and harmony reign, and love is always the answer to whatever is troubling us. There were no regrets and recriminations in our world.  I never heard her sigh or wonder about what-ifs: what-if she had left soon enough and accepted the offer to work in a big lab in Manila, which was a big deal to a Chemist from Surigao? What if she went to the US with her bestfriend, worked there and be free from the seemingly endless abuse and unbearable sadness it brings? Or what if she didn’t marry against all odds, especially because it turned out to be insurmountable in the end? She didn’t have time for that. It was always about us- what we need, what we want, who we will become. I learned early on that education is our only ticket out- to where I didn’t have the exact picture, but from where, I understood exactly. But even though she was adamant about our studies, complete with tutorial lessons and home-made review materials, there was the constant reminder that she would rather raise good children with bad grades than bad children with good grades. There was this steady and strong emphasis on anything “good” because we all knew we had every excuse to be bad.

That is my mother in a nutshell: loving, nurturing, giving. And she loved to laugh, the hearty, tears-in-my-eyes kind of laugh which was so infectious. There was always a reason to laugh and be merry and be grateful amid the suffering and sorrow. I found it very difficult to understand – this gratefulness- so I was compelled to ask her. And she said: I had a happy childhood, you don’t. But still, you get good grades and help me in the household chores. That is a lot to be thankful for.

All of these memories of her love and laughter were suddenly alive in my head and in my heart when I saw her. And I became the bitter child that I was once and asked God that same old recurring question in my childhood years “Why God?”

That is not my mother lying in a sorry state of bewilderment, muttering gibberish words, suddenly wailing her hands, suddenly laughing, suddenly stopping, suddenly silent. My mother, who always reminded me about posture- sit up straight, walk with a straight back, never slouch- she cannot sit up anymore, she cannot walk, she is either slouching or lying. They have to carry her outside the house for her morning sunshine. They have to either support her from both sides or tie her to a chair every meal time.  She is all but gone. And it breaks my heart. That I was too busy studying and working and helping send my siblings to school and starting a family that I didn’t call her often or told her how much I appreciated her sacrifice. That she doesn’t know she has 3 grandchildren, all of whom resembles her in some ways – Isaac loves the sciences and is enthralled with chemicals as well; she would have loved Yesica’s passion for reading (and her bias towards Dr. Seuss) and doing art stuff; and Aryana inherited the curve of her smile. That I cannot tell her that I am ashamed every time I scream at my children, whereas she never yelled at us, not once, when she had every right and reason to go berserk.  That I cannot tell her I love her and mean every word- I love her, I honor her,  all that she is, all her laughter and tears, all her sacrifice and struggles, all that she gave, including her sanity, to keep us sane and make us whole.

ImageI know in my heart that it is impossible to make my mother lucid again. Even for just a day. But I pray just the same. Every night I ask God- sometimes screaming in anger, sometimes crying, sometimes cajoling, always begging in the end- I ask God to give my mother just one moment of clarity. So that she will know that we turned out just fine, that we finished school with merits, that we have our own families now and we don’t have to create another, more peaceful world for the children, that the fates were kinder to us.

Ma, I dream of you more often these days. And it’s always in that fictional world where you are still healthy in mind and body and spirit, and you are always laughing in my dream. How could you laugh when what is most important – memories of your children and our whispered-but-happy conversations and our tight group hugs that spoke volumes about our strength and love for each other amid our daily fears and our dreams of rebuilding our lives, just us, finally free – has been taken away from you? How could you laugh when fate was cruel to you, up to the very end? But then again, I humor myself: maybe you are laughing because you are happy that we are living the life that we have always dreamed of- peaceful, secure, stable.

I miss you ma. Everyday. Memories of you assault me more and more these days. I remember you when you were my age now – 36 years old. We were in front of the mirror, you were telling me that you’re getting old and fat and wrinkly. I remember being deathly afraid and I told you: don’t die on us, ma. And I started to cry. And you said, oh no, I won’t, we are going to travel to many places and we are going to have fun for once.  

I would give everything to go to many places with you, ma. But we always had fun. You made sure of that. Thank you, ma

 

 

 

5 books that nearly killed me

I initially thought of “5 books that I will never re-read” as the title of this particular blog, but it sounded so less dramatic I discarded it as soon as the replacement title above popped up. It is overly- dramatic yet honest, ergo, so me.

Some have life-changing books that they refer to every once in a while, or favorite ones that they re-read at certain seasons or times of their lives. I have a list of 5 books that (really) nearly killed me by either rendering my soul utterly depressed, or indescribably happy, or inexplicably bewildered.

1. Exodus by Leon Uris. The book is powerful because everything is still vivid to me, 10 years after reading it. More than just giving me tear-filled days and sleepless nights, this book made me want to live in Israel and experience its triumphs and perils. And I feel so stupid saying that because I know it was (is) never easy out there, and also because I never want to be anyone else but a Filipino. But Exodus does that to you- makes you want to be there, right smack in the middle of a bloody war or a silent killing field or a seemingly endless battle just because you want to stand up, fight, and die for your beliefs and your loves.

2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. At some point in your life, a novel comes along, the story of which cannot be your own, or to put it bluntly, it’s not about you, but one which makes you question your relationships, choices, and truths. I was left stunned by his first book “The Kite Runner,” cried violently in his second book “A Thousand Splendid Suns” but with this book, my eyes were dry from page 1 to end, my kindle had no highlights to mark my favorite/memorized lines, but I was a tangled, twisted, mangled, huge, sorry mess inside. I went through every negative emotion imaginable- regret, disgust, frustration- all directed at myself, and came out bitter and in pain and more pain. This one got closer to killing me more than any other book I’ve read in the past. And it took me a long time to dust off the sorrow and come around to forgiving myself.

3. Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende. It’s safe to say that I’ve read nearly all of her books, and my favourite has always been “The House of the Spirits” because it is imaginative and fun and chaotic and fun. But Maya’s Notebook is dark, a one-way ticket to the abyss, definitely not for the faint of heart. You know that statement about never comparing your journey with others because you don’t know what they’re going through? Well, I’ve always held it to be true, big words, but all so true. And so with Maya’s journey. We will never dream of measuring our own with Maya’s.  Ours will pale in comparison. And this time around, it is absolutely fine to have a relatively boring, generally uneventful life. Anything but Maya’s journey.

4. Atonement by Ian McEwan. I loved how this book was written- every line was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, every page flowed to the next, every event affecting another, every person connected to each other, every emotion resurrecting from one period to the next. I felt a weird kind of joy at how the story was told- simple yet captivating. But I hated how the story unfolded. I hated how one mistake tainted perceptions and ruined everyday lives. I had difficulty accepting the realization that even the most remorseful heart cannot turn back time or heal relationships or hope for a happier journey ahead. Sometimes the fates are unkind like that- one hurtful word or act is judged to be unforgivable forever.  I was consumed about going back, back to where it all began to spiral down, preventing the carnage by undoing the wrong. I was obsessed about racing to the end and finally unraveling the truth. I was all spent after reading this book. In the end, I decided to take it all in stride and stay sane.

5. Microeconomic Theory by Mas-Colell, et.al. The title says it all. Virtually all of my classmates in grad school highlight their economic textbooks for emphasis. I highlight simply because I don’t understand. And suffice it to say that my Mas-Colell textbook turned from a dull print to a colorful one- of the neon green/orange/fuchsia variety. I could honestly lay claim to being a very hardworking student, I read my Mas-Colell every freakin’ day and all nights during the entire semester. But all I got was this big phrase “Coase theorem” that I don’t even know when or how to use in normal, everyday conversations. This book is for mutants. And God knows I tried to understand the microeconomic theories that Mas-Colell seemed to sadistically (or was I imagining things?) inflict on me. I tried so hard. And I almost died.

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Paris and Memories: A (sort of) tourist guide

The first time we were in Paris back in May 2009, my husband and I thought it will be a once-in-a-lifetime visit. We stayed there for 10 days and went to as many places as our Lonely Planet pocketbook suggested. We spent a day each soaking in Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace plus countless other paintings and sculptures at the Louvre, marvelling at the French’s opulence and decadence while we walked in the grand gardens and palaces at the Chateau de Versailles, breathing in Van Gogh and Manet and Monet and Renoir at Musee d’Orsay, paying homage to Oscar Wilde at Pere Lachaise cemetery, watching the Paris Open where Nadal (and I) suffered at the hands of Soderling, walking hand in hand at Jardin de Tuileries, looking at Paris from the top of Sacre-Coeur, having our pictures taken at the Notre Dame and Arc de Triomphe, eating cheese and drinking wine at Au Petit Bristot and devouring crepes at Chez Nicos in Rue Mouffetard, and bearing witness to the changing of the lights at the Eiffel Tower.

Twice-in-a-lifetime does happen. So we went back just last week, Oct 22-27, 2013 or 4 days/3 nights to be exact. And we loved that there was no more pressure to go to so many places and have our pictures taken amid the Arc de Triomphe and all its panels or the Louvre and all its angles. It was just 4 days but I didn’t feel hurried or harried. We savoured Paris at our own languid pace. It was the best of times.

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So let me share with you our 4-day itinerary, complete with directions, exact pages from the May 2012 edition of Lonely Planet’s Pocket Paris, and some marginal notes. But let me also say that if you haven’t been to the Louvre or Versailles, please allot a day each for this very-French places, no, let me correct myself, these are not simply places, these are events, so please don’t begrudge yourself the experience.

Of course everything begins in Day 1. We arrived in Paris via Air France at 6:10am and hired a cab to Hotel Amarante at Champs-Elysees. Our hotel is just a stone’s throw from Arc de Triomphe, near the George V metro line 1 (also just below the Louis Vuitton flagship store). Let me digress at this point: back in 2009, we stayed at the Hotel Normandy (Pyramides metro line 14) which is about 5-7 minutes from the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, River Seine and Jardin de Tuileries. So you don’t need to ride the metro to go to these must-see places.

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The reception people at Hotel Amarante were kind enough to let us go inside our room even when the sun was barely up, and the usual check-in time is at 3:00 p.m. By 10am, we were already at Musee Rodin (page 26). To get there from George V metro line 1, go to Champs-Elysees, transfer to metro line 13, get off at Varenne, and walk to Musee Rodin (there are signs virtually everywhere, but google maps is the best assistant). Musee Rodin is where The Thinker (originally titled as The Poet) is, plus there are other special sculptures. I love “Eve” best. We ate at the Café du Musee Rodin, which is to your left when you are facing The Thinker. The café offers a variety of salads, cheeses, tarts and wines to go with your order. Please do try their apricot tart; the flavour of the fruit combined with the sweet, soft bread will make your heart melt into happy bits. We spent a good 4 hours gazing at Rodin’s works and the temporary exhibition of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s student/muse whom he had a ‘stormy relationship’ with, according to the brochure. I can relate to all of her works, I imagine her working, temperament barely in check, wrestling with her demons, finding a way to break free from Rodin and his intrusive influence, and coming up with such brilliant-but-intimate works as The Implorer and The Gossips, among others.

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Next stop is the Eiffel Tower (page 24). To get there from Varenne, go to Invalides (same line 13), transfer to line C, and get off at Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel. One cannot tire of the Eiffel Tower. It is simply magnificent, by day, by night, in summer, in fall. If you have time, please do go up to allow yourself to gasp in awe as you take in all of Paris and its grandeur. I got properly engaged in Paris in May 2009, when the husband gave me a beautiful yellow-gold ring. Four years hence, he gave me another (white-gold) beautiful ring prior to our Paris trip. So I’m looking forward to another Paris adventure haha. Yes, this is turning out to be a long engagement but I think, I hope, I pray, that we will get to the altar someday. And for that to come to fruition, I just need an exorcist. Sorry for another digression. Aside note: be careful as you pick your angle with the Eiffel Tower in the background as there are a number of hooligans who disguise themselves as well-meaning individuals, starting off with “excuse me, do you speak English” and before you know it, you’re forced to pay an expensive but really ordinary ‘friendship bond’  or something as ironic as that. We got on the hop-on hop-off tour bus near Trocadero at the Eiffel Tower. It’s a stress-free and foot-friendly way of going about in the city and taking in must-see museums and churches and palaces and other structures plus the opera house and go-to streets and cafes and avenues.

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At about 5:00 p.m., we headed back to the hotel to freshen up for our first traditional French dinner at Le Hide (page 43). By 6:00 p.m., we started walking from our hotel to the said restaurant, which took us about 15-20 minutes. Since we were early for our 7:00 p.m. reservation, we scouted the area and took some pictures with the autumn trees in the background. By 7:00 p.m., we were hungry and raring to sample the much-celebrated French menu. We went for the three-course dinner of starters, main course and dessert. I had escargot, pan-fried monkfish in lemon butter, and meringue cake “floating island” with ice cream. My husband had shrimps (lots of shrimps that the description was really “shrimp and shrimp…”) in potato cream, baked shoulder of lamb, and chestnut cream cake. I had white wine and he had red wine. I cannot completely describe what I felt as we went from one course to another. But let me describe the Englishman to our right. He was moaning. That to me said it all, especially coming from someone who looked to me as your typical Englishman when he came in – snobbish and cold-ish.

Day 2: To complement my husband who went all serious with his meeting, I also went all serious with my shopping. I went to Longchamp across the St. Sulpice metro station (line 4). Longchamp bags are way cheaper in Paris than anywhere in the world, I hazard. Factor in the 12-percent tax refund, and I am a happy buyer. Add to that, all colors and sizes and designs are available. After an hour, I went back to the hotel and got held back by the LV shop on the way. There is a queue starting at about 3:00 p.m. So if you want to buy, be there between the opening hour of 10:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. I was there early at 12 noon and had a stressful time looking and finally choosing. So many nice bags and wallets equal to so many hesitations and guilt feelings on my part. In the end, I settled for those I’ve decided on beforehand. And I think this is important: print out/take note of the items you really, absolutely, resolutely want before you go to the store, and avoid inflicting agony upon yourself by just doing it- going ahead and buying those which are in your notes, because even after you’ve looked at all the designs, you’d most probably end up with the ones in your print-out.

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In the afternoon, I went to the Musee National d’Art Moderne, which is inside the iconic Centre Pompidou (page 90). To get there from George V, go to Chatelet (same line 1), transfer to line 11, get off at Rambuteau, and follow the signs leading to Centre Pompidou. I’ve always loved art but contemporary art will always remain a puzzle to me. It does not bring out the same happy and soothing feelings that the impressionist paintings evoke, even just at a glance, mainly because modern art challenges my perception of the world and all its nuances or to put it succinctly: it makes me think. And thinking can be exhausting. After you had your fill of contemporary art (which was a good 1 hour or so for me), go to the top of the building: you can’t miss the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Hall of Justice, and other famous structures. I met up with the husband and went to dinner at a brasserie in Madeleine street (a 10-minute walk from the Concorde station, line 1), and capped the night with upside-down apple pie, berthillion sorbet in peach and raspberry, and red wine at one of the cafes along Champs-Elysees avenue.

Day 3: Musee D’Orsay day (page 142)!!! If Alzheimer’s disease hasn’t caught up with me yet, I’d say this is my fourth time to go there, 3x in 2009, and once during this particular trip. To get there from George V, go to Concorde (line 1), transfer to line 12, and get off at Solferino station. It is a nice walk to the museum as the narrow street is lined with souvenir shops. I got there at 9:00 a.m., and there was a queue already. So if you know you will stick to your itinerary come hell or whatever, purchase your tickets in advance. But if you shun such (unnecessary) pressure and have room for some surprises, then a roundtrip ticket to Paris is enough. D’Orsay is a little different now. For one, security is strict. Picture-taking is not allowed, and if you’re caught, security will shout ‘s’ilvous plait’ at the top of their lungs and everyone will look at you like you’re nuts while security erases all your buwis-buhay pictures. And anyway, why bother with some stolen shots when you can purchase and frame and hang the same Monet or Van Gogh painting in your living room. There is no substitute to being soothed by Monet’s Poppies Blooming or being teary-eyed just by looking at Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The paintings and sculptures have also moved. Van Gogh’s are in Floor 0 (yes zero), and Impressionist paintings are in Floor 5. For purchases, just go to the bookshop near the entrance rather than buy per floor. It makes the decision-making process easier. I spent five hours at D’Orsay and I could never have enough. I was late for the late lunch with my husband. So we went to Rue Mouffetard (page 130), perhaps our third time to go there. It is our favourite and happiest part of Paris. It is where great but cheap food fuse with delicious chocolate shops and the festive ambiance. We had La Crepe du Chef (for me) and La Crepe de Maison (for him) at Chez Nicos, bought chocolates at Mococha Paris where the lady seller (and I think also the owner) happily (as in almost bouncing/skipping) chose the chocolates that would fill our order of 3 layers/boxes. It rained suddenly as we were browsing the shops, so where else to take cover but at the gelato shop across Chez Nicos. I had pistachio with nutty chocolate and licked away ohsohappily. To go to Rue Mouffetard from George V, go to Palais Royal Musee du Louvre station, transfer to line 7, and get off at Place Monge. Rue Mouffetard is to your left, about 5-7 minutes from the metro.

We were so full that we were afraid we will not enjoy our other reserved-in-advance and much-anticipated dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. This is where the Obamas dined. We ordered snails of Burgundy for appetizers, seared baby calamari (for him) and roasted duck breast (for me) as main course, washed down with a bottle (yes, one big bottle just for us) of red wine, and topped it off with the dessert of the day- chocolate in ganache with citrus sorbet. The food plus the wine made me want to somersault, ‘delicious’ doesn’t even begin to describe the food, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that to understand ‘French food,’ you have to sample the menu in this restaurant. And Magneto/Gandalf himself was just a table away. I kept drinking wine to muster enough courage for a photo op. But he left early when I was still half-way through my glass of red wine. I was mighty envious of the guy near where my husband was seated, he (obviously) waited for Gandalf to finish up and when he finally stood up, the guy was ready with his big toothy grin, and Gandalf rewarded him with a polite nod. To go to this restaurant, get a cab. I’m sorry, it was drizzling when we were about to go so we hired a cab, and it took us just 7 minutes from Champs-Elysees to La Fontaine de Mars. Another marginal note: please print out the exact address (and google map on the side is helpful too) to avoid speaking in tongues with them French taxicab drivers.

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Day 4: Unfazed by the frenzy that last days normally threaten to bring, we took our time savouring the free buffet breakfast at the hotel by sampling the croissants, baguettes, au pain chocolats and have-nots, plus eight kinds of fromage (the goat cheese and blue cheese were my favorites), bonne maman marmalades and spreads, prosciutto ham plus two other ham choices, some sausages, a market-like variety of fruits, all these so I had to say no to the cereals and dried fruits.

At 9:00 a.m., we went to Musee de l’Orangerie (page 58) and lined up for 1 and ½ hours. Again, if you have spot-on very-definite plans, please buy your tickets in advance so that your queue time is reduced by half an hour at least. Otherwise, be there early at 8:00 a.m. When we finally (read: almost fatigued, almost exhausted, almost fighting) got in, we were determined to deeply (with emphasis please) savor Monet’s eight Water Lilies. They were astonishing: really huge murals in different settings. We just sat there, in awe, plus more awe. We moved to the temporary exhibit of Frieda Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera. The murals and paintings of Diego Rivera tell a story that we can empathize, especially for us Filipinos who have gone the route of revolution, replete with heroes- historical figures and modern-day idols. And then we were in a smaller room that housed Frida kahlo’s art and that painful story called her life. It was so intense and painful and sorrowful that my first thought was: they should have housed Frida’s paintings in an open space. I couldn’t breathe. I don’t know if I should wail out loud to relieve myself of emotions that were too sad and confusing or if I should take it all in and let my soul deal with her pain and my pain mixed together. In the end, I walked away. Although, it is my custom to go back and look at once more those paintings that have made a dent in my heart and soul, I didn’t dare look back at Frida Kahlo’s. I was scared that she will not only dent my soul, she will wreck it, I was sure of it. To go to Musee de l’Orangerie from George V, get off at Concorde (same line 1), stay on the left side and the museum is just around the corner, inside Jardin de Tuileries. If you have time, which we did, take a stroll at Jardin De Tuileries. It does amazing things to your spirit.

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In the afternoon, we went to Grand Palais to look at modern art. It made me dizzy, all these modern art stuff. To put it bluntly, I decided I am not and will never be enamored by modern art. And the root of it all must be that I am an old soul, or sigh, I am plain old.

We decided to have a last look-around at Paris before we head to the airport. So we went to Rue Montorgueil, which, to our delight, is a busier version of Rue Mouffetard with 10x more people in the streets and a lot more shops. We had very early dinner at L’Escargot (page 63). We had, but of course, escargot (snails in parsley and garlic) for starters, and main course of softly-roasted poulet (for him) and pork in honey sauce (for me), plus beer (2 bottles please for him and him alone) and sparkling water (for me). We decided to have our just desserts at where-else but Café George V. So we had French coffee with rum and whipped cream to go with our raspberry cheesecake and soft chocolate. The French coffee should be re-titled to French rum-with-coffee. It was that explosive.

And then the inevitable back-to-reality time came. But with a 4-day adventure filled with happy memories, serious and not-so-serious conversations, and unforgettable bonding time, we were ready to face them (children) once again. It is a fact of our life. We work to live it up.

Let me be an old nag

What pisses you off? Because lately, I found myself alternating between getting angry and restraining myself. Not much of a difference I know, but when I’m angry, I am evil. I lash out and I let go of a torrent of words that are at once maddening and meaningless but are not less potent. I tend to be really hurtful when I’m angry. And it is shameful but it seemed to be a trait that is creeping more and more into my DNA these days or months or one year and five months to be truthful about it. It’s not this joblessness and the (credible) threat that it might turn out to be my destiny after all. I cannot be angry because choice and circumstance put me in this new normal. It’s not boredom because I am honestly busy with three children who demand my attention and a husband who demands my body. And I mean all the time. It’s not being a stay-at-home-mother. I cannot be angry because I am doing this really powerful thing of shaping minds and forging destinies, also called ‘raising children.’ More so, I cannot complain because I get over-compensated for it- Aryana’s wet kisses, Yesica’s tight hugs, Isaac’s sincere smile, and my husband’s appreciation which is shown both in words and in kind.

What sends me to the boiling point?

Wastage. Yesica has this drawer+big box full of art stuff- colored pencils and markers, oil pastels and crayons, tubes of water color and poster paint; all kinds of paper in all colors and dimensions-  construction, cardboard, corrugated, glittery, origami, neon, it’s an obsession of hers; plus a million more of paint brushes and different kinds of scissors and glue sticks and glitter glue bottles and endless ribbons and stickers and erasers. Every time I see a broken pencil or cap-less glue stick or a strand of purple ribbon and gold glitters, I freak out. And then I begin my lecture on how wastage is a sin against nature and end it with the same old threat that I will never buy her a single art thing again if I see even just one glittery speck on the floor. I am impossible like that when I’m angry.

Disrespect. Isaac has this habit where I am talking to him- be it a reminder or a sermon- and he cuts me off mid-sentence with “oo nga mama, alam ko na ‘yon,” a one-liner that never fails to trigger world war 3 at home. I know I nag, maybe too much and too noisy sometimes. But if I won’t care that my son is spending more time watching TV and playing soccer than studying, then this big concept that is forever floating in my head that spells s-a-c-r-i-f-i-c-e is all for naught. And the way he responds frustrates and hurts me. I know that children these days are a far cry from how we were back then- generally repressed er respectful, afraid of elders and karma, mostly good . A lot of changes going on and the world is different now and environment does not only mean school and home but also youtube and facebook and all things good and bad in there, I know, believe me I understand the depth of its implications and complications, but there is really just one definition of respect for me. It is listening to your parents. That they, with their outdated notions and restrictive beliefs and funny traditions, they just want you to know the difference between right and wrong, the rest is really up to you. One day soon I will get tired of listening to myself on repeat. I will stop these sermons. I will not say out loud why I think too much TV and internet is bad, how your study habits now will define your future, and how hurt and crazy-frustrated and angry I am about this seemingly automatic habit of yours, cutting me off just as I am in the thick of things. My only hope is that you will not miss me too much.

Meddling. I mean, in my kitchen and my fridge. Aryana does that all the time. She eats my for-baking-only semi-sweet chocolate chips, plays ball using my oranges and lemons, uses my whisk and spatula as substitute for bat-cum-sword, opens my oven when the light is off and puts her plastic toys inside, and breaks my heating bowls which I need for melting butter and bitter chocolate bars. It is (still) tolerable, and even cute, because she’s just a toddler who is always busy copying all the things that mama is doing. But when my husband throws away the ripe bananas that I’ve been saving for my banana-walnut bread, which I realized only after preparing all other ingredients, and was about to put said bananas in my food processor for the win (the last step), I go berserk and forget who the breadwinner is. Enough said.

Users. It’s a fact of life. You go about living in this world, meet a few friends and a lot of so-called friends and get robbed- of some cash, some clothes, and especially some precious time plus some tears. I hate waking up one day and realizing it is a one-way friendship after all, and then going through that process of being disgusted, walking out, and settling for endless silence. I have been through that and if I had to do it all over again, I would want to be less angry, much less hateful, and more accepting.  Friendships end everyday all over the world. It is devastating, yes, but it will not kill you. Not if you know your worth.

It feels so good to let off that much steam. I realize that this is not really about what pisses me off or even why I seem to get angry easily these days, no. It’s something more important than that. This is about what ails me. I have to force myself, poke my eye if I have to, to know when to let things pass, when to forgive, and to just walk away if I can’t let it go or forgive. Because I cannot take back all the hurtful things that I said or did. Ever. How tragic is that.

Yesica has this current favorite song (read: refrain on repeat all day for the nth day now) that she learned during United Nations day in school, which drives me crazy but which is also wreaking havoc in my heart:

I can’t do it by myself,

So I’m asking for your help

Together we can change the world.

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I keep telling my children that if they choose to be good, they will undoubtedly change the world. They can’t. Not if their everyday example is one slob of a mother. There is so much beauty and goodness in this world, and to allow yourself to waste away in anger and hurt and pride is the greatest ailment of all. And that is me nagging myself.

Un-mothering, un-writing, and my pancake recipe

I ache as I write this. Literally so. I strained my back lifting a wriggling Aryana away from the bath tub and straight into bed. For two days, I could not sleep well and breathe well. I could not even think well. My mind was muddled by the pain in my back and the painkillers that I took.

Now that I’m feeling better, I’m raring to write. My immediate (and I daresay perennial) problem is the topic/theme: what will I write about today?

I don’t want to write about my children or that overarching, all-encompassing, there-is-no-bigger-word called motherhood. I don’t want to write about how really happy and relieved I am that my children are surviving beautifully in their new schools with their new friends of varied accents. Nor do I want to write that motherhood is a bed of roses and daisies and all things happy and fragrant. I don’t want to lie. Because it is not, especially not all the time. Of course there are moments when I look at my three children and thank God for entrusting them to me. And when they are sleeping or silently watching TV or sharing art things for their individual art works or squealing as they play fun games, while I bake or drink my coffee in a leisurely pace, I search for a word to describe what I am feeling and nothing comes close to ‘perfect.’ But there are days when I am hoarse from screaming- at my children, at the mirror, in the bathroom, in the bedroom. There are nights when I cry myself to sleep- from hurt or guilt or both. I struggle to ward off evil thoughts that begin with regret and end with regret. I shake myself back to reality when I see myself, almost like an outsider looking in, doing the mother routine with nary a flicker of joy in my heart. I am scared witless of going insane or turning a corner and finding myself in a dark tunnel leading to the abyss. Sometimes, I don’t want to wake up early to prepare breakfast. I don’t want to go to the bus stop with Yesica to wait for her ride to school. I don’t want to pretend to understand Aryana as she babbles away complete with intense body language and facial expression. I don’t want to remind Isaac about bringing his lunch box to the kitchen when he comes home from school and drinking his milk and brushing his teeth. I want some time off, away from it all (read: three children), to read my book, scribble in my still-blank pink notebook with my still-unused green pen, or just sleep the afternoon away. Un-mother, sometimes I want to un-mother. Free myself from this 24/7 thing that is driving me crazy as I swing back and forth from being endlessly happy to inexplicably sad. But that is a horrible thing to say out loud, and especially to put into writing. And I don’t want to write about un-mothering.

I don’t want to write about Devina Dediva and her two minutes of infamy. I admit that I had to take deep breaths to stop myself from composing a kick-ass (literally I wish) retort. In the end (and after her two minutes was up), I decided she is not worth my Masters degree in Economics. Plus, and I think it is one of the most crucial questions that we have to ask ourselves: what is wrong about cleaning toilets? I believe that cleaning toilets should be a fundamental part of raising children. Allow them to clean their own sh*t sometimes. Mop dry the puddles that they make. Scrub away the stubborn molds and mildews. And when they are finally done, banish the smell and grime that have clung to their bodies with fresh soap and towel. Our children will never know the difference between honest-clean and truly-dirty- in things big and small- if they have not gone down on their knees and cleaned the toilet. Ask those politicians mired in corruption issues and cases if they have cleaned their own toilets- I’m talking about a thorough washdown- and my bet is that they haven’t, not even once. But I don’t want to elaborate. That was my two-cents equal to your two minutes and not a second more I hope.

I don’t want to write about why i think travelling is essential. Spend just enough for the basics, but splurge on trips. You don’t want to spend your sunset years counting your money along with your what-ifs. What if you have been wild enough to go on a safari tour in Africa. What if you have allowed yourself the pleasure of looking out your window and watching the Eiffel Tower change colors from sunrise to sunset. What if you have been bold enough to go backpacking in India and rest under the Taj Mahal. What if you have been brave enough to chew on fried and unnamed insects in Bangkok. What if you have been strong enough in body and heart to go hitchhiking in Brazil. What if you have been care-free enough to go diving in Bohol. What if you have converted your stock certificates to pesos or ringgits or rupees or dollars or euros to see the world and take in everything it has to offer- mesmerizing grandeur and stark beauty and unacceptable sufferings and everyday heroes and unforgettable experiences and life lessons. This is where I stop writing and you start re-thinking your priorities.

I don’t want to write about my merger of a pancake recipe even though I promised that I will at some point in my mother blogger life. I don’t want to tell you that my ingredients are really simple: dry ones: 3 cups of sifted plain flour, 5 tablespoons of ordinary but fine-grained white sugar, and just a pinch of salt (measured as 1/4 teaspoon); wet ones: 2 beaten eggs, 1/3 bar of (unsalted) melted butter, 2 cups of full cream milk, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Whisk the dry ingredients first. Mix the wet ingredients next. Fold the wet ones into the dry ones. Whisk until batter is smooth (i.e., not lumpy). Let stand for 15-30 minutes. Then, scoop a half cup of the batter and pour into hot pan. That is all. 100 percent enjoyment of fluffy and yummy pancakes guaranteed!

All these drama when I really, honestly, want to write. Everyday. I have a million thoughts that are germinating in my mind. And yes, only a few are worth writing about. Most are either controversial or private or non-essential. But writing is my very definition of freedom. It would be a pity and just a tad gross if I repress my thoughts and burst into a million words one day.