Plodding along the market for lemons (with a basketful of eggs)

You know that feeling when you have been in this world for 40 long years and it seemed like you have been plodding, just plodding through your work life, doing this, doing that, but not really achieving something awesome?

Sometimes I think about these things: what if I risked it all- especially physical and mental health- to get a PhD, for the primary reason of publishing something worthwhile, and not just add to the internet clutter? Or what if I focused on mastering my econometrics so I could have some mathematical proof to a hypothesis, in the hopes of coming up with a nice concept (‘nudge’ won this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics) which a reader out there can learn from or improve on? Lofty (and laughable) but a girl can dream, right? Focus focus focus. That is my point. That is what I should’ve done in my work life.

Christine Lagarde imparted a life lesson: pay attention. Pay attention to the work-life balance.

Instead, what stuck to my mind from my BS Business Economics to MA Economics was Akerlof’s The Market for Lemons, which I always associate with the adage: If life hands you lemons, make lemonade; and Tobin’s Portfolio Selection Theory, which I always associate with the adage: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Which don’t speak much about my economic learnings, maybe only about my personal leanings.

Instead, life happened, so to speak. The balance tilted way too much towards life and family. Do I have regrets? No. Resentments? Yes. But then I look at my three children. Wonderful human beings, good, kind, super funny, sensitive, aware, plus really smart too. Maybe I paid too much attention to raising them. And I won’t have it any other way. Most days, anyway.

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Australia: Doing the Unexpected, from Day 1 to Day 10, from Melbourne to Sydney (last installment)

Part 2: Sydney in 6 days after 14 years

My first trip abroad brought me to Sydney. I was 26 years old, alternating between shushing an endlessly-singing 2 and ½ years old and praying that nothing bad happens when our flight was delayed for some technical check-up. We were flying to meet Paolo in Sydney, and after a few days, we all flew to Canberra, where he was studying at the ANU.

I remember everything on that day in 2003. On the final check before we went out of the airport, the officers opened my bag to reveal cans of corned beef and packs of dried mangoes. Paolo quipped that of all the food that I decided to pack in my trip, I had to bring beef, which is one of Australia’s biggest produce. After some questioning, they let me go, me, my toddler, and my corned beef, but I was both embarrassed and shaken.

I saw my husband walk past us the first time. I called, he didn’t hear us, and I almost panicked. He wouldn’t leave the airport without us, would he? And then the hugs and kisses, it was just a few months when we last saw each other but when all you have is your little family, a few months were just too much unspoken sadness and longing.

We stayed in the beautiful home of our friends Elvie and Mer. They were so welcoming, toys for Isaac, and lots of presents for me. I will remember that warm welcome and sincere smile for the rest of my life. Kindness has this habit of staying in your heart forever.

Elvie and Mer took us to Darling Harbour and I was mesmerized: the casual, laid-back, and friendly vibes of Australians and how tourists have seemingly embraced the same vibes; the soothing ambience emanating from the waters surrounding us while white birds danced in the wooden steps; and the sense of calm and freedom washing over me all at once just by watching boats of all sizes coming and going, tempting us to sail away, promising an hour or so of adventure.

I could not describe how I felt to be back at Sydney’s Darling Harbour after 14 years. Let me try. It was overwhelming, my mind was telling me it’s ok to cry, but my heart just swelled with something akin to wonder and gratitude and happiness. I came back. After 14 years, I came back with my husband, my now-teenager son, my two girls. I would sound overly dramatic when I’ll say 14 years’ worth of memories flashed before me, it didn’t. But I was so thankful to be standing there in Darling Harbour, to be back where I first realized that the world is big and grand and beautiful, and to be given the chance to soak it all in, all over again.

Day 1

We expected to take it nice and easy in Sydney because we didn’t rent a car, i.e., no hook turns to master or roundabout exits to take note of or wide right turns to worry about. We left Melbourne at 11am and arrived in Sydney 1 and 1/2 hours later. The hotel-cum-apartment we rented was half an hour from the airport. We traveled by taxi from the airport to the hotel, and the rest of the time, we either walked or rode the bus with our opal cards which we bought from a local convenience store.

When we got to Quay West Suites, I thought we would just drop our bags and go on to the first place in our itinerary, as per usual. But then we saw the view from the wide bay windows in our room- the Harbour bridge to our left and the Sydney Opera House to our right. We had to pause and marvel. I was especially emotional looking at the opera house from our window, the first global landmark that I saw in my life. It’s so good to be back, never mind that it has been 14 years.

When we had our fill of Sydney’s beauty from our window, we decided to go to Surry Hills, a picturesque neighbourhood with specialty shops, a big playground, and a variety of restaurants. We had afternoon snacks at the Bourke Street Bakery, then went to the chocolate shop in Crown Street, and ate dinner at The Dolphin Hotel. Dinner was superb- oysters and burrata with Afghan bread for starters, whole market fish garnished with just salt and lemon, sorbello pizza, and rib-eye with red cabbage for the main course, all washed with white wine. We wanted to try the lemon pudding but we decided we were too full.

We went back to the hotel at around 8pm, racing against each other to look at the night view from our window. Sydney at night is just as breathtaking as in daylight.

Day 2

We all woke up later than our usual 7am. We had a full breakfast at the hotel, the girls love the pancake-maker: just press the button ok and out comes 2 hot pancakes! After breakfast, we walked from our hotel in Harrington street all the way to Sydney’s darling harbour, a 25-minute walk amongst the pretty shops and lovely trees along Argyles and Harbour streets.

As we were nearing Darling Harbour, my heart did a bit of somersault, I took a moment to look all around me and exhale slowly..I am really here, at the same spot that I loved from 14 years ago when I first set foot in Sydney. A walk along darling harbour remains a relaxing exercise, there are more buildings now, certainly more people up and about and they seem busier now, but it is so good to be back.

Our first trip abroad 14 years ago was made more special by our stay at the beautiful house of our friends Mer N VI, and because of them, going on a nice free city tour, which was very important because we were on a very tight budget.

We met up with them again on our second day in Sydney, at the Darling Harbour. And we were happy to note that Isaac is the only one who has changed after 14 years- all grown up from the 2-year-old who said ‘pa-yi!’ (spidey!) as his way of greeting people. The friendship stayed the same, maybe even deeper now as there are more stories to share. The other thing(s) that stayed the same were the gifts and treat- new toys for the girls, new jerseys for the boys, again, a lot (!!!!) for me. They treated us to Hurricane’s grill, and everything was finger-lickin’ lip-smackin’ good! Isaac finished a full rack of pork ribs while I finished a whole snapper!

And one more thing that stayed the same: they took us on a nice tour of the area- from the beautiful Queen Victoria Building to the awesome St. Mary’s Cathedral in Hyde Park. Thank you Elvie and Mer for taking a half day off from work to be with us. Our hearts will never forget.

Day 3

Whereas our Melbourne itinerary was fixed (except for the journey towards the Twelve Apostles), the only fixed dates for Sydney was the meet-up with friends.

On our third day in Sydney, we decided to go to Blue Mountains. We called up a few tour companies the day before and found their offers a bit pricey. So we went to the official tourism office which was a 10-minute walk from our hotel and asked for some advice. To our delight, we found that we can book through their office, which was much cheaper and, to quell my risk-averseness, scam-proof.

We had a very early start. At 7:10am, we were already at the meeting point for the tour via the Gray Line. We transferred to a double-decker bus at Darling Harbour and by 8am, we were on our way already. After 2 hours, we stopped at Leura village, drank some tea and ate some brownies and an orange muffin. By 11am, we were ready to experience Scenic World-Blue Mountains. We rode the yellow skyway/cable car then transferred to the red railway which was a very short but a very steep ride, and then came back up via the blue mountain railway.  We squealed, we hiked, we laughed, we had an amazing time at Blue Mountains!

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After lunch, we went to watch an Aboriginal play, then off to Featherdale petting zoo we go! The children fed kangaroos- I tried but it took so much effort to stifle a scream every time the roo nibbled my fingers! But it was pure joy for my children.

Another interesting experience at Featherdale Zoo was getting to pet and touch kangaroos and koalas.

For dinner, we had some oysters (a regular order when in Australia), pizza, ravioli, and beer at a restaurant along Circular Quay, overlooking the Harbour bridge.

We ended the day with an awesome firework display near the opera house, which we enjoyed from our hotel’s window.

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Day 4

Our fourth day in Sydney was mercifully short- and I mean that in a thankful way because I drank too much too early. I finished almost a bottle of wine before sunset (saved two glasses for the mister) paired with just a handful of fresh oysters.

We started late, we went first to the University of New South Wales as part of our efforts to look beyond the present and check out future schools for kuya (what???? time flies). The UNSW campus gives me good vibes, I said to kuya: gusto ko dito, dilawan sila. We were lucky to walk-in (i.e., no appointment) and still be entertained by an admissions staff. It’s still two years down the road, but who knows?

And then we went to the Australian Natural History Museum, which had a special exhibit on live spiders. We all enjoyed the museum visit, especially the venom-milking session.  Aryana raced through the dinosaur section and looked up in awe at her favourite dinosaur!

Finally, we went to see the Sydney Opera House. For a moment there, we thought we would

leave Sydney without seeing up close the famous Opera House. It was so cold and windy at the harbour but we forged on, determined to re-enact our trio shot (me, isaac, and daddy) from 14 years ago. I was emotional the entire time we were there.

We enjoyed a nice dinner at the Opera Kitchen, I had oysters and wine, almost all of it mine. I was laughing all the way back to the hotel, drunk, happier, and craziest. Aryana asked me: why are you acting strange? I said: mama is so happy! And she held my hand all throughout the 15-minute walk, even though she usually prefers to walk hand in hand with daddy- maybe Aryana was afraid that mama would stumble or go craziest if she lets go. I am not perfect, but I think my children love me enough to hold my hand just so I won’t fall.

Day 5

Aryana asked ‘Mama, did we come to Australia so you could see your friends?’ I haven’t seen my Sampa dorm roommate Gracy in almost 20 years, my MA classmate Mikoy in more than 10 years. Although we have kept in touch all these years, absolutely nothing compares to hugging each other, laughing together, being with each other’s families. Our little girls are of the same age, and they played together the minute they saw each other. That is what I want them to inherit- my friendships, that my friends’ children are also my children’s friends.

Before the dinner with friends, we went to Taronga zoo, the main reason for the visit was that we wanted to re-enact daddy’s and kuya’s photo with the gorilla statues.

Taronga zoo remains a must-visit for kids and kids-at-heart. Plus the view from the zoo is simply awesome.

I realise that, from time to time, while driving in Melbourne, or walking from our hotel to Circular Quay, or strolling under big autumn trees and beautiful structures, I find myself saying ‘thank you God’. This Australia family trip will remain close to my heart until my sunset years, I just know it.

Day 6

Aside from the Christmas vacation, this Australian vacation is our longest family trip yet. You know when you’re a mother of three kids with different needs and temperaments, you inevitably come to that point where you want the vacation to be over so you can rest and sleep and sleep some more.

Of the vacations we took in the past, this one is closest to my heart, one that I didn’t want to end. We love it here in Australia. Driving in Melbourne and going places, accommodating each other’s corny jokes along the way, sharing chips and laughter, meeting up with family, cruisin’, just cruisin’. And then in Sydney, we walked endlessly, ate a lot of oysters and steaks and barramundi, met up with good friends and ate and laughed some more, went on a memorable tour through Blue Mountains, and visited museums, and took our pictures at Sydney’s beautiful landmarks.

As the husband said, this trip is full of the unexpected. We started with an unexpected 7-hour trip along the great ocean road to the Twelve Apostles and ended with an unexpected trip to the Jewish Museum. When we were about to begin our tour of the museum, the receptionist said that a Holocaust survivor named Lotte was in the museum, and asked if we would like to talk to her? We were both excited and scared. I mean, do I have the courage to listen to her story without embarrassing myself and my family with my wailing? Are there forbidden questions, which could trigger an adverse reaction or worse, eerie silence? So we went up to where Lotte was huddled with another family. We were about 10 steps away from her, diminutive in stature, but big in spirit. She lit up the whole room with her raw honesty and still-raw anguish.

We were waiting for our turn, half-listening, half-amazed about our luck to be there in our last day, about to talk to a Holocaust survivor, and learn from her wisdom. Talk about being at the perfect time and perfect place.

She came to us, you would think she will be guarded or detached in a way, but she was all crinkly eyes and big smile, she said hi and asked where we came from, and the first thing she said to us, which until today, is my reminder every time life goes awry or I go haywire: be thankful for stupid worries.

Be thankful for stupid worries, not worries about how to survive the war or to escape inhumane camps and gas chambers.

Truth be told, I almost cried when Lotte narrated her ‘three terrible, terrible years’ at Auschwitz. She was 18 when she entered Auschwitz, all other members of her family: parents, two older sisters, and two younger brothers, they all perished in the gas chambers. She said there is no explanation why she survived- it is a miracle.

She alternated between putting a hand on her head and holding back tears, as though everything happened just yesterday and it is still difficult to understand and absorb. Listening to her and looking at the number tattooed on her left forearm: 2065, I realised it is still difficult to understand and absorb- the horror that is Hitler.  (insert pics)

It is Lotte’s wish that our children today won’t have to suffer and perish because of wars. It is my prayer too as a mother. Please, no more war, no more hate, let us never forget, and let us start by being loving and tolerant at home.

11 days in all, and Aryana asked for ’10 days more please mama’. She made me promise to keep her opal card until the time that she goes back and live in Australia.

Oh  Australia, we love you, the land of beautiful sceneries and friendly people. Thank you Australia, and to our family and friends for making our trip so memorable in so many ways.

Ang saya sa Australia!

Australia: Doing the Unexpected, from Day 1 to Day 10, from Melbourne to Sydney (first of two parts)

The long title reflects the fact that our family trip in Australia towards the end of June 2017 up to early July was the longest vacation that we have had so far, happily highlighted by the longest road trip that we ever experienced.

As usual, I booked our tickets a good six months before our intended trip. As usual, I booked it right away for the sole reason that tickets were on sale. It was only later on, about two months before our trip, when I started doing our itinerary, that I realized why the airfare, which included a roundtrip international flight plus one-way domestic flight, was way below my benchmark: we are going to Australia in wintertime. And yes, the cold bothers us, especially because we just spent Christmas 2016 in the thick of winter in Germany and Switzerland.

It was not the only funny mishap that I would commit. I applied for Australian visa for our entire family. It was the first time that I applied visa online. It was nerve-wracking to say the least, especially for someone with low-tech skills. I forgot my password twice, for starters. But I forged on, emboldened by my mantra of the moment: what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. I checked the button that asks if the visa application is a family application and proceeded to attach the passport identity page of family members. After n years, I finally got to the payment part. And then I waited. The embassy sent me an email, instructing me to go to the VFS for biometrics-taking. My first reaction was, as usual, emotional, bordering on accusation: Why only me? Is it because my birthplace is in Mindanao, the southern, perceived to be the most dangerous part of the Philippines? So I emailed the immigration officer, asking why only me when I checked the box that said something about family application? And they replied in the most non-emotional, matter-of-fact, sensible way: you applied only for yourself, please fill up and submit one visa application per family member. I got my visa 2 weeks earlier than the rest of the family.

Fast forward to the day of our trip, it was summertime in Singapore, but we were wearing boots and carrying big backpacks filled with winter coats on the day of our flight. Australia, we are so ready for you!

Part 1: Driving in Melbourne for 4 Days

We arrived in Melbourne at 4am, ate a light breakfast at one of the cafes inside the airport, got our rental car at around 7am (the company picke is up from the airport to their site), consulted google on the number of hours that it will take for us to go to The Twelve Apostles, google said about 3 hours, so we looked at each other and said, why not? It will give us plenty of time to have lunch and then go to our hotel. So off we went. Aryana was so thrilled to be in a car seat for the first time! I told my husband-cum-designated-driver that our family dentist suggested we take the scenic route called The Great Ocean Road that will give us a beautiful view of Melbourne’s beaches and mountains and lighthouses. Everyone was super excited. After 3 hours and no end in sight and Aryana vomiting, the excitement ebbed, but only a little.

We stopped for a short walk along Torquay Beach, we were laughing so hard because we were the only ones in winter gear from our bonnets to our boots, while toddlers in light coats were running around gleefully.

Then, we went to the Split Point Lighthouse. It was our first time to see a lighthouse and I never thought something that looks so tall and imposing and bland from afar could take my breath away up close. There was a quaint café a few steps before the lighthouse, it’s called Willows Tea House Aireys Inlet, we took our time drinking coffee, eating freshly-baked scones and brownies, and sharing a laugh or two, bathed by the sun’s rays while shivering in the Australian winter.

And then we drove again, more determined to get to The Twelve Apostles, never mind that it has taken us longer than the 3 hours we have prepared ourselves for. We stopped again after an hour to stock on chips and lamingtons and gummy bears and drinks and then, after an epic seven hours on the road- a first for our family of five, The Twelve Apostles was before us, breathtaking and grand and soothing to the soul. It was definitely worth the one-way 7-hour road trip. We walked and we skipped and we held hands and we laughed and then we were still, awed once again by God’s beautiful creation.

It got dark really quickly, around 5pm, so we decided to set off for our hotel in Melbourne’s city center. The children dozed off during the ride back to the city, itunes was on full blast to keep sleepiness at bay, and the parents happily chatted the night away. We arrived at the Ibis hotel at around 10pm, unloaded suitcases, and asked the receptionist for the parking lot. She looked up our names in their director and was told that no, we were not booked in that hotel. I almost cried. I showed the receptionist our Ibis receipt and she very kindly pointed out that we need to do two right turns and drive straight until we see the “it’s big, you can’t miss it” hotel sign. Lucky for us, it was just a 5-minute roundabout ride and luckier still, we managed to get the last parking slot available.

Let me just say that Ibis Melbourne Hotel and Apartments is one of the best Ibis hotel we have ever stayed in, besides the Hotel Ibis Budget Stuttgart City Nord (this was way cheaper but the bathroom way tinier). The staff were friendly, and the restaurant was spacious. Offering a nice breakfast buffet, plus they serve burgers and fries up to 9pm!

That epic family road trip redefined “unexpected” for us and obviously, set a new bar for family trips. Only on Day 1 and we experienced the ultimate already!

The next day, we visited Sea Life, went on the Behind-the-Scenes and Glass Bottom Boat tour, learned about the many sharks and different types of rays inside Sea Life, and saw first-hand how they feed the rays. My favorite were the penguins, little show-offs, swimming so fast one second, and standing poker-faced the next. Tip: buy tickets online, it’s usually 10-20 percent cheaper, you don’t have to queue, and you get to choose your boat tour schedule.

We had late lunch of oysters, beer-battered halibut and barramundi with chips plus a fisherman’s basket of mouth-watering soft crab shells and shrimps and squid, beer and soda at Fish and Chippery. We saw the array of restaurants just across Sea Life, and when we were at the bridge near the restaurants, we realized they look expensive, more like fine dining, less of what we wanted. Then we saw this small, open, laidback resto, overlooking the Yarra River and partly shielded by trees in their autumn glory, with only one guy at the counter taking orders and payments and serving food and smiling throughout, and his jolly mood clinched it for us, we decided, yeah, this is exactly what we had in mind.

Tummies full and hearts ohsohappy, we walked along the Yarra River, paused to watch this guy doing simple fire stunts which he made a big deal about that we ended up laughing so hard. It was so corny but hey, we were in Melbourne, carefree and bursting with a million laughs, we could spare this guy an applause plus a laugh. After that, we went to Flinders Street and got on a horse carriage for a 30-minute ride around the city. Melbourne is instagram-perfect, so beautiful in every angle. Late autumn, surrounded by yellow and orange trees with leaves falling as though in slow-motion, taking their own sweet time, added to Melbourne’s allure.

And the people were so friendly and helpful! At one point, Aryana needed to use the toilet, and the nearest was Flinders station. But then, we didn’t have a myki train card that would allow entry to said station. When we got to the entry point, I asked the station crew if we can use the toilet and he said ‘sure no problem’ and proceeded to tap the machine to let us in. Just like that, fuss-free, and truly, problem solved

The highlight of our day was going to my cousin Mano Edmel’s home, eating kangaroo steak (surprisingly yummy plus soft, and mind you, fat-free!) and fried flounder (I finished one whole fish all by myself!) and lemon chicken and pizza and assorted fruits and ice cream plus n glasses of Australian wine for me and just a bit for our daddy driver my sweet lover. It was so good to be with family and talk and laugh with them. We went home full of good food and so much love plus extra bottles of wine, bars of chocolates, and packs of gummies and candies.

On our third day, we drove for two hours from the city to Phillip Island. The nature parks are conservation areas consisting of four parks. Because of time constraints (and we wanted to spend quality time with each park that we would go to), we chose only 3 parks: the koala conservation centre, the Churchill Island heritage farm, and the Penguin Parade. The other park that we would go to given the chance to come back is the Arctic Observatory.

We were in for a surprise since we didn’t really know that the parks are kilometers (equivalent to around 20 minutes) away from each other. I thought there would be one main entrance and the three parks would be adjacent to each other.  Obviously, Australia, with its vast bushland and nature reserves, likes to do things the grand way. Oh Australia, thank you for the many wonderful surprises for our family!

We loved every minute of our stay in Phillip Island. The drive was one picturesque view after another- rolling hills, sheeps and cows grazing, blue seas meeting bluer skies, autumn trees and pine trees, beautiful houses far and in-between, breathtaking open landscapes. The children just had to stop at one point, they raced out of the car, and then stood silently, just gazing at the sheeps and cows, looking beyond the rolling hills, taking it all in. Moments like these reassure me that we are on the right track- spending on the children’s education- with a good school and annual family trips, because there are things that you must experience, touch, savor, in order to understand that what and who touches your heart-these are what and who you hold dear for the rest of your life- your loving family, your loyal friends, sheeps and cows serenely grazing, experiences that softened you, made you gentler, kinder, more compassionate.

The first thing we did when we arrived at Phillip Island was to see the koalas in their natural habitat, up, up, up in the treetops, lulled to sleep by gently swaying trees and lotus leaves and cool winds. It was wonderful to see them up close, so much furry cuteness from one tree to another.

And then we went to the farm, ate lunch of organic produce. Everything was mouth-watering (even the coffee was super good), so we ordered and ordered some more. The lady in the counter said: ummm, are you sure, because this is too much. I replied: it’s ok, we’re a family of five. And the lady tried once more: yeah, but still… Hah! They must’ve been so astounded to see we finished them all- lamb pie, vegetarian creamy pasta, beer-battered flathead, fish fry, chicken nuggets, brownies, and apple strudel!

The big lunch gave us enough fuel to do all the daily farm activities like riding a wagon to check on the cows, feeding sheeps and horses, milking the cow, learning how to crack a whip and shear a sheep, and learning about working dogs and how they guide sheeps into formation. Aryana must have had information overload because she asked later: Mama, I learn so many new things when we are traveling, why do I need to study?

We ended the day with the Penguin Parade. We got the Penguin Plus tickets wherein you get to see up-close them penguins coming out of the water after a long day of fishing and hunting, and then ‘parading’ towards their burrows- some were walking in a hurry in big groups, others were socialising with their fellow penguins, while a couple or two were dancing, oblivious to the excited chatter and activity around them. It is forbidden to take pictures of the penguins so as not to stress them out, which I think, is a good rule since it allows us viewers to look at them closely and just enjoy the experience. And what an amazing experience it was!  We were all entranced by their entry and exhilarated as we moved along, walking back in the wooden planks, with the penguins walking in the sands below us, flanking us on both sides, happily chatting away while walking to their burrows. We replayed every bit of what we saw to each other on the drive home. I lost count of the number of times that Aryana said: I love Australia! I want to live in Australia! Certainly made all the planning and budgeting worth it.

We slept exhausted the night before and woke up excited on our last day in Melbourne. We were about to go on a two-hour ride in the Puffing Billy- an open-wagon, feet-dangling steam train that traverses along a narrow heritage railway from Belgrave to Lakeside, allowing a unique view of the Dandenong ranges. Such a priceless experience!!!

After the train ride, we went to the National Gallery of Victoria to view Van Gogh’s paintings. The exhibit divided Van Gogh’s works according to the seasons. The exhibit ‘Van Gogh and the Seasons’ was the biggest and most comprehensive of Van Gogh’s works that I am most fortunate to have seen. I have loved Van Gogh’s paintings from the first time I saw them in a Book of Knowledge special edition. I cried the first time I saw his paintings in Musee D’Orsay in May 2009 (yup, that day will always remain vivid to me). And to be able to share this love of Van Gogh with my children is pure joy. I asked them what their favorites are: Isaac likes the spring painting of colourful quaint houses amid a garden of lavender flowers; Yesica likes the summer painting of cypress trees set upon agolden wheatfield; and Aryana likes the spring paintings of green trees and carnations and wild flowers.

We ended the day with our first sit-down, unhurried dinner at this Italian restaurant which served us fresh hand-made pasta and bruschetta and ginocchi and panna cotta and tiramisù and ice cream vanilla.  We finished a bottle of pinot grigio and I can’t tell you how much I loved every moment of our dinner- we were all relaxed, exchanging stories, sharing our favorite part of our Melbourne trip. When we had a moment of quiet, Aryana looked at us and said: I like all of you. And that, in essence, is how we should define ‘family’ right?

Aryana went on to say that every day that we spent here was the best day ever. She asked if we can stay for 10 days more and when I said it’s not possible, she said: I know, this is where I will live when I grow up. Isaac is also thinking about going to school here. Yesica said she would also like to study in Australia, just like daddy did ‘so it becomes a family thing’.

It warms my heart that this Australia family trip seems to have planted seeds of dreams for the children. It’s a big world out there, but the possibilities are limitless for those who fearlessly dream.

Part 2: Back in Sydney after 14 years…

to my three musketeers*

*this letter to my children (usually posted as status/note in facebook) is an annual thing- sometimes on my birthday, sometimes on Mother’s Day, sometimes when i am inspired, sometimes when i am mad. 

dear Isaac, Yesica, and Aryana,

 

         almost 16, almost 10, almost 6. these days, i think back a lot. i had kuya when i was 23. back then, and especially today, it is foolish to have a baby when all you have is a college diploma. when kuya came,  i was oblivious to anything else- because i focused on getting it right as a young mother. i had ate at 30. i was oblivious to anything else- because i was focused on getting a raise as a young career woman. i had Aryana at 35. i was oblivious to anything else- because i was focused on helping you adjust to a new country, a new school, a new normal of English-speaking teachers and friends and Tagalog-speaking parents. 

        and it was then, at 35, a stay-at-home-mother with seemingly no end in sight, that i saw you, all of you. and despite my presence and absence, in alternating times, i realized that all of you turned out to be smart and kind and fun- my kind of perfect. 

 

         there have been many many times that i have berated myself, blamed myself for your every mistake and misstep: i wasn’t present enough, i wasn’t teaching you enough- by words and example, i am not enough. 

 

       please know that i have overcome that. i don’t feel any kind of regret or guilt. not anymore. i did my best as a young mother with nary a penny to her name. and i continue to do my best. if i do more than what i am doing for you, there would be nothing left. and we would all be miserable. 
        i am not the kind of mother who smothers you with love and affection and all things sugary and sweet. i will not read you a bedtime story when i have a book to finish myself. i will not laud your “original idea(s)” when i know Einstein said it first or your “original quotes” when i have read it somewhere, most probably in a Hallmark greeting card. i will not laugh at any unfunny joke or insensitive comment that you try hard to pass as a joke. 

 

            

        but know that i will always strive to hold truth sacred. and these are the truths in our home: it is ok to make mistakes as long as we apologize by doing better and being kinder; it is ok to have B’s as long as we can face ourselves in the mirror because we did our best; it is ok to have crazy ideas or do crazy things as long as we don’t harm anyone. 

  

         we have leveled up this year, even encouraging daddy to join us in adding two more truths😉: first, we won’t spend for any toy anymore, whereas before you were allowed one toy each for your birthday and Christmas, this year, no one, especially Daddy, buys anyone any toy no more. instead, we will read more books, watch more plays and concerts, and go to more places; and second, every time you want something and we agree it is expensive (an iPhone perhaps?), you should save up so you can pay half of the purchase price, and daddy (of course only daddy) will gladly, willingly, shoulder the other half.


 

           i am more relaxed now, and i hope you enjoy it while it lasts😂 joking aside (and jokes are half-meant), i am trying to be more open, more fun, more spontaneous. yes, just like daddy. as they say, it takes two to tango. so thank you. it takes a lot of love to understand me and my transformation from mama to monster with just one bad word, one bad deed. and you have taken it in stride- you have adjusted to mama’s every change of tone, every change of expression, every side-eye. i think we are more patient and loving as we all grow older. 

 

         as i have said time and again, you can be anything you want to be. as long as you are kind. as long as you are happy. as long as you don’t ask support by the time you are 23 (channeling Braveheart: freeeddddoooommmm!).

 

         let me be clear: now and until you turn 23, daddy and i will support all of you: emotionally, spiritually, and financially. beyond 23, we will continue to support all of you: emotionally and spiritually.  

 

         this year is better. mama is better and certainly, stronger. i can now say that i have fully adjusted, five years after we relocated from our home country. plus the beach trip did us a lot of good, yes? there is more laughter in our mealtime conversations (if that is possible at all), more time to watch movies at home, and less nagging by mama.  

 

          i look at all of you, and i am overwhelmed with so much love and gratitude. God does play favorites.

 

❤️, mama

Hello, El Nido! (Travel Tips and Nice Pics)

My favorite family trip of all is going to the beach. There are no trains or buses to catch. No opening or closing hours of museums or factories or shops to memorise. No outfit of the day to match or agonize about. No need for a big heavy bag to carry kids’ change of clothes, sweaters, little blankets, extra underwears, some hankies and socks, a book or two, coloured pens and the like, plus wipes and tissues and headbands too! Whew!

I see the sea, the sand, the sky, the sunrise, the sunset, put on some sunblock, and my soul is fed, my heart, overflowing.

We make it a point to go to the beach at least once year. But we didn’t go in 2016 because we had so many things in our to-do list last year, foremost of which was to wed in church.
So this year, our first family trip was, naturally, the beach. And not just any other beach. Our dream beach destination- El Nido Resorts, Palawan, Philippines, our beloved Philippines 🇵🇭

So bear with me as I recall here our 4 days/3 nights stay in Miniloc, El Nido. This is for me and my family, especially for the sunset years, when we turn to happy memories to affirm that we have lived, really lived, and how.

We planned way ahead. We planned in October 2016 for our April 2017 summer getaway. My bestfriend and her family have been to El Nido n times so I asked her for contacts and tips. And I’m sharing her family’s experience and mine here.

Yes, you can book online. But if you’re like us, a family of 5 who’s looking for regular rates on peak season, email is the key. So, following my best friend’s recommendation, I emailed holiday@elnidoresorts.com. The email address will come out as ‘TKDC Holiday’ in your email, TKDC stands for Ten Knots Development Corporation, the reservations arm of El Nido Resorts. They will assign you a reservations assistant. I asked for a quote for a family of 3 adults and 2 children, all staying in one room. And then the haggling begins. My tip is: if you plan months ahead, you can ask for regular or off-peak rates and they acquiesced in my case.

Once you are ready to book, they will send you a payment link for the room and another for the Manila-El Nido-Manila flight via Airswift. I found that it is also cheaper to book flights via TKDC rather than booking online.

First, the room. I found that the adage ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ is sort of true when your entire family can’t really fit in one room but you insist because that’s what clingy families do. So we were offered a seaview room, and we accepted because who wouldn’t want a seaview room? First step towards our dream-come-true journey check.



daddy and aryana balcony

rhea balcony

Aside from the air-conditioned room, booking a stay in Miniloc allows you to enjoy full-board buffet meals (yes that’s from breakfast to dinner); resort activities complete with a tour guide/photographer/trainer of windsurfing and snorkeling all in one guy; plus of course the usual boat transfers and free use of snorkeling equipment, kayak, and other facilities.


Second, the airplane ride to El Nido. I found that choosing Miniloc afforded us four flight choices: 6:30am, 9:55am, 11am, and 2pm. On the other hand, going to Apulit only gives you three flight choices upto 11am. I surmised that it must be because going to Apulit requires a 1 and 1/2 hour van ride plus 50-minute boat ride versus just two short jeepney rides (of about 1-2 minutes each) plus 45-minute boat ride to Miniloc.

boat panoramic
So we took the 6:30am flight. Imagine that we arrived in Manila from Singapore at 9:30pm, rode the ever-reliable and cheaper airport white taxi (across the street in Naia-Terminal 1) to our Makati condo, and arrived at 10:30pm, bathed and ate a very late dinner (or midnight snack), and slept at around midnight. The parents woke up at 3:30am and the parents woke up the children at 4am. We were on our way to the airport via the ever-reliable and safe uber taxi at 4:15am, checked in at 5am, and Airswift gave us 5 yummy bags of goodies filled with ham sandwiches, brownies (kitkat for the girls), cheese bars, and water. The plane promptly took off at 6:30am. It was a small plane but very comfortable, filled with 30 or less passengers, mostly foreigners with a spattering of Filipino families plus one Filipino stewardess. The flight took just an hour and 15 minutes. Needless to say, the mother goose slept throughout the flight.


They were waiting for us- big, colourful jeepneys upon jeepneys, and immediately swept us off for that one-minute ride to the reception area where they served us Filipino delicacies like palitaw and moron, so delicious that even foreigners lined up for a second serving.


We waited for around 15 minutes and then rode another jeepney for 2 minutes or so, transferred to a speedboat, and then to a bigger boat waiting in the middle of the sea for the 45-minute (I reckon it was less) ride to Miniloc.


I thought the boat ride would be a 45-minute ‘loss’. But it was wonderful to be forced to sit back and take everything in. Those I’ve seen only in pictures and dreamt only at nights- they were right before me: limestone cliffs, rock formations, endless bluest of blue seas everywhere I look. I was surrounded by so much beauty that my heart oh my heart was all over the place, silently weeping, silently ecstatic, silent. I was left speechless in the middle of the sea where beauty and harmony and peace reigned.

We were fortunate that our tour guide Chris was not only well-informed, or an avid story-teller and joker, he was also one of the most natural photographers that I know, doing tai-chi-like movements one second and handing us beautiful panoramic pictures the next.


We were four groups in the big boat- 3 families who were first-timers in El Nido, and two girl-friends who looked like going to El Nido is their favorite pastime. In our group was a Spanish family with two small children. When we arrived at Miniloc, the Spanish dad looked around him and uttered just one word ‘Wow’ which made my heart swell with pride and love for my country. Wow Philippines!



El Nido Resorts welcomed us to Miniloc with a song and a dance and some refreshments. I realise I should leave out some things so that you’ll be enticed to go. But then again, even if I will tell-all, nothing compares to actually being there, gazing at the limestones, swimming in the clear waters, savouring and savouring.





We arrived at around 9:30am, our Seaview room- big, spacious, pretty, and homey- was ready by then. But before we checked in, the reception staff asked us about our preferred activities. Save for the hiking, I am proud to say we did it all plus fishing, even with a 5 year-old in tow. The key is to divide the activities so that you have something to look forward to everyday for a few hours and rest/swim in the remaining hours before sundown.



ate paddling

I am about to break down our El Nido stay according to what we did on a daily basis:

Day 1, Arrival.
Since we slept late the night before and woke up at dawn the next day, we opted to take it easy in our first day. So the girls and I fed the jack fish at 10:30am while daddy and our son went snorkeling in the same waters where the jacks were feeding. We would do this every morning for the duration of our stay, sometimes at 8:30am, other times at 10:30am.




At 12nn, we ate a hearty buffet lunch of grilled everything (my favorite were grilled oysters, shrimps, mussels, and pork, whew a lot, I ate a lot!), plus baked fish and chicken in soy sauce and at least two kinds of rice plus assorted everything: veggies, fruits, bread and jam (i love the home-made guava and santol jams), cakes, and all things delicious and happy.



After that, us girls retreated to our room to read a book and take a nap while daddy and kuya played billiards and pingpong and afterwards, slept on the daybeds facing the sea. Oh what bliss. By 5:30pm, we were raring to go on the sunset cruise, our first activity at Miniloc.





I am old, I have seen so many sunsets in my life- in all kinds of setting, in Buenavista island where I spent my childhood summers, in Mabua beach which is a few minutes by tricycle from our Surigao home, in my previous office which was a stone’s throw from Manila Bay, etc. But trust me when I say I have never seen a sunset like the one I saw in Palawan. We spent a good one hour watching the sun set, I saw it changed from this burst of bright orange color to yellow to pink as it settled perfectly between two mountains, giving us mortals just enough time to take a beautiful photo or two, before sinking to the ocean, leaving us with a tinge of its orange-yellow-pink rays, leaving us breathless.




Aside from the tour guide and the boat captain, we were the only Filipinos there. Them foreigners- Spanish and French and Mexican, their expressions mirrored my heart’s awe. There is a God who makes things beautiful and breathtaking.



We had another buffet spread for dinner, I love the chili fritters and spicy meatballs, an exciting treat to match the still-giddy heart.

Day 2: Island-hopping, wind-surfing, and snorkeling. Big and small lagoons, and Dibuluan Beach.


Refreshed and re-energized, we embarked on an action-filled second day at El Nido, starting at 8:30am. With Chris again as our ‘tour guy’ according to my youngest daughter, we went first to the big lagoon and went snorkeling. Marine life is very rich in El Nido since the resort itself and the people in general all do their part to ensure that every living thing, including the big and beautiful corals, are well taken cared of, preserved, and remained untouched.

My youngest daughter wears eyeglasses with high power, so that we bought graded goggles for her. And how she loved looking underwater. Every time she comes up for air, she describes to me all the fish and corals that she saw. And then I would confirm it by going underwater myself.




My son and my other daughter swam farther with their dad and I could hear excited shouts of ‘I saw Nemo! So many Nemo’s!’ and it was priceless.






After an hour, we went to the small lagoon. You have to transfer to the kayak to be able to go inside the small lagoon. So we paired up: ate and kuya in one kayak, the parents and the youngest in another.



We were so thrilled to see jellyfish in all sizes while we were kayaking. The song ‘Cool Change’ came to mind: if there’s one thing in my life that’s missing, it’s the time that I spend alone, sailing on the cool and bright clear water. I wonder if the composer had been to El Nido.


And then we went to Cadugnon Caves, braved small cave openings and uneven paths littered with sharp rocks to marvel at the columns formed when stalactites and stalagmites meet and have our family photo taken inside the cave.





We had lunch at Dibuluan beach club, also owned by El Nido Resorts. The grilled fish, assorted small slices of fluffy raisin cake and ube halaya paired with fresh mango shake were memorable. There were swings for the girls, and the giggles were music to my ears.


The other memorable thing was when kuya and daddy tried wind-surfing. First of all, I was hesitant because I saw the trainer battling with the strong winds and failing, or more accurately, falling. But then Isaac proved he could make a go of it, and I was so happy that I was able to take a decent shot of him standing up to the wind. I showed his pic to the father, who, in turn, got envious and wanted his picture taken while ‘wind-surfing’. I put that in quotes because he was very clear that he wanted just one pic and then get off the darn thing after. So Chris the tour guy/photographer/trainer allowed him. Pao went for it, feeling like a pro, I took his picture, and the next thing I knew, he was sailing away through stormy waters and raging winds. He got far, boy he did, that Chris had to rescue him by kayaking to where he stood- him and his surfboard, in the middle of the sea.




After lunch, we went to Snake Island, so named because the sandbar produced by two opposing currents is shaped like a snake.





We then headed back to Miniloc to swim some more and then take a rest before plunging into another action-filled night: the spectacular buffet dinner plus that mouth-watering chocolate fondue.
Day 3. Island-hopping and snorkeling. Shimizu island, Lagen resort, and our favourite of all- Entalula Beach.



Another day, another snorkeling, this time at Shimizu Island. The tour guy, Francis, told us the story that the island was named after Mr. Shimizu, the Japanese explorer who went inside the caves and never got out alive. So I told my husband and kids to not wander far off to the caves unless they want the island renamed after them.



I realised- snorkeling is addicting, and El Nido Resorts must’ve known so that it is a daily activity. The current was strong, but Aryana’s spirit was stronger. My five-year-old holding her breath underwater to give homage to the corals and the fish. And she did this n times within an hour. Some children love ipads and computer games, my daughter loves the sea and all the beauty it holds in its bosom.


We had lunch at another El Nido Resort called ‘Lagen’ with its swimming pool, modern European villas, plus gym and library. My children were amazed: wow! a library in the middle of the beach! must be heaven!


Lagen is very laid-back. It is for those who just want to relax for days on end, watch the sea change color from day to night, watch the boats come and go. While we had lunch there (which was fabulous and sumptuous in equal parts- Italian and Japanese food), a senior citizen couple arrived. They said they came from Europe, had a layover in Dubai, then Manila, then El Nido. They seemed so happy to be in El Nido, ‘worth the long flight’ written all over their happy faces. I told Pao when we are older and grayer, we will stay longer in Lagen. Miniloc offers a combination of relaxation and adventure, perfect for families with active children.




After Lagen, we went to Entalula Beach, by far our family’s favorite of all the beaches we’ve been to. The sand is white and soft and powdery. The water magical and teasing, coming at us in big and small waves, instantly transporting adults and children alike to a place where laughter reigns.



We retired back to Miniloc in the afternoon, napped for a bit, ate dinner as the local band belted out songs from our heydays- Eraserhead’s El Bimbo, True Faith’s Hwag Na Lang Kaya, to name a few. In the middle of one Pinoy ballad, this foreigner couple went near the band and danced the night away. Made me hopeful about the world.

Day 4
Our last day in Miniloc, but one of the best days of our lives. We went for the sunrise cruise at 5:30am. It was cloudy when we left, but the clouds parted to allow us to peek into the sun as it was rising in the early morn. Truly wondrous.



At 9am, we were sailing again, this time for a 3-hour fishing trip. A local fisherman was with us that day, in addition to the tour guide and boat captain. The fisherman, Ronnel, showed us how the hook with bait, line (nylon), and sinker work. It was pretty easy, just let go of the nylon until it stops rolling, it means the sinker is already at the bottom of the ocean. When you feel a kind of yanking on the other side of your nylon or especially that you feel it is heavier, than you’ve caught a fish.


I thought: I’ve done this when I was a kid in Buenavista, my grandfather, Tatay Amboy taught me how, it should be easy-peasy lemon-squeezy for moi. It wasn’t. After 2 hours and 3 fishes, I was cross-eyed and dizzy. I had to stop.


My husband gave up long before I did. My son caught 3 and was very happy that he tied the score with me.


Yesica caught 7 fishes and if I hadn’t asked that we turn back because I wasn’t my usual bubbly self anymore, she would’ve caught more.



My takeaway: I saw Yesica listening intently to the fisherman as he was giving instructions. The same focus and determination that I see in her every time she’s doing her math homework or painting. And she just did it- let go of her hook, line, and sinker, and reeled everything back as fast as those small hands could every time she felt something. Focus. Instinct. Hard work. Recipe for success don’t you think?



We had the big adventures. We also had small moments of fun- like when this guy from Botswana passed by me, did a double-take and asked: Bonjour? Me: No. Botswana guy: Hola? Me: No. Kumusta? Botswana guy (mildly disappointed): oh hello! Or that time when every European was in the beach: germans playing billiards, French lounging in the daybeds, and the Spanish mom swimming with her kids while the dad went sea-kayaking, and my husband said: o, pa-Europe Europe pa tayo e nandito lang pala sila! (Loose translation: We go to Europe, only to find that they are here, in our country).


Every afternoon, at 4-6pm, Pao and I would leave the kids in the room, playing board games, as we go to the bar and relish the happy hour. We ordered tequila sunrise and mai tai and Singapore sling and Cuban rum and all things spicy and warm. We talked about the present, now, where we are and how grateful we are of a family that is thriving beautifully amid this mad chaotic mad world. That is what I love about vacations- there is no past to dredge up, no future to worry about, there is only the beauty of the moment.





I don’t like to be flippant about our El Nido stay and say ‘it was a good four days’. It was an experience of a lifetime. Whatever it was that worried us or stressed us out or made us angry or sad or disheartened, it all went away, cast far away into the endless seas, never to find us again, not in the same magnitude nor form nor spirit. We were healed- individually, and as a family. This El Nido trip is one that I will always carry with me wherever I go, whenever I feel down (sorry Paris, I have a new happy now). I have a feeling we will go back, but the first time will always be the most memorable, forever etched.


We went back to Manila the same way we came to El Nido, in reverse order of boat ride and short jeepney rides thereafter. We had afternoon snacks of puto and sapin-sapin while waiting for our flight. El Nido made sure that we felt pampered and special from the day we arrived to the day we left.

We watched the sunset in the airplane window and marveled once more at nature’s beauty.


Thank you to my bestfriend for the referrals and tips and the 100 year-old badgering ‘go to El Nido, you’ll all love it there.’ Thank you El Nido. Thank you my Philippines 🇵🇭 Thank you to my family who’s always up for any adventure. Thank you God, you are truly great and wonderful.

good night leaf

melancholy

I’m an orphan now- and this makes me permanently sad. I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s disease in 2014. I lost my father, half-paralysed by stroke, two weeks ago. 
As my good friend said, this is, unfortunately, the age when we start to lose our parents. Yet it is still sad. Not the unbearable, depression-inducing kind of sadness. But a kind of melancholy has taken over my entire being. There is inside me a longing- of things past, of a future that will never be. There is an ache that goes on and on, uninterrupted by the busy hours at work or the tiredness in my bones as I lay down to sleep. And I cannot sleep, not well, nor straight. 
I don’t know which is better- that it would be a one-time bigtime pain; or this sadness and its seeming permanence. 
But what I do know is that, suddenly, everyone is more important than ever- family and friends. Suddenly, everything else is superficial, even silly- weight problems, working until the break of dawn, the nice earrings I’ve been wanting to buy to reward myself- for what, I can’t even remember now. 
When my parents died, people I have met for the first time came up to me and shared anecdotes about how my parents have helped them or lifted them up when they were down or shared a joke or two to brighten up their moods and their lives. 
That is my life goal- that, in my funeral, people will choose to remember me in a positive light, and forgive me for the hurts I have caused. Nothing more. 
We will all die, and it sounds so morbid, but it is so true. Whatever our status in life, no matter that we are in the last rung of that so-called ladder of success, we will all become part of the earth, food of worms and all things repulsive.  Nothing more. 
Tread lightly. Forgive quickly. Be kind. 

Otherwise, it is an empty life. 

in lieu of a birthday gift

dear pao, 
i will always be a little sore that i turned 40 two weeks earlier than you did. but that it is the only thing that i will resent about you. because all the other resentments- big and small, ugly and sad- they have all vanished when you paid your respects and talked to my mother and father six months before we were to wed in church. maybe such is forgiveness. it takes its own time, follows its own pace, waits for nothing, asks no conditions. but when it does come, it forgives freely and everything, and at a time when you least expect it. 
this is my gift for you- i forgive you for every hurt you have caused me, big and small, ugly and scarring. 
and i am sorry for every hurt i have caused you- big and small, ugly and scarring. 
after almost two decades of marriage, the children have finally noticed that i don’t give you any gift on your birthday. i should take time to explain to them that intangible gifts like forgiveness and love are more precious than any material thing. especially if you’re a crammer and you lack dollars- a lethal combination if i may say so 😂 


in my defense, i always make sure that the birthday dinner is delicious. so tonight, we had pancit bihon and lechon cebu, washed with white wine, and topped off with the biggest and reddest and juiciest strawberries i could find 🍓 


this has always been our story- happy moments and small triumphs and epic wars. but we have always emerged. not unscathed. but stronger than ever. we are stronger together. we are strongest and happiest together with our children. 


17 years of mostly-happy marriage. 3 good children. 2 memorable marriage ceremonies. a faith in God that has always been our refuge, and one which we nurture everyday. basking in the love of family and friends. and countless rolling-on-the-floor, pain-in-the-stomach, laugh-out-loud moments, sometimes at the ungodly hour of 2am, sometimes during ordinary family mealtimes, sometimes in Paris. all these because i met you. 


happy birthday my love. 
-ish me, always me❤️

Dear Daddy*

*I wrote this during Father’s Day in June 2015, when my father was still alive. I promised that I would write about him but once. I want to make good on that promise so I’m republishing here. And anyway, everything still rings true, even after he died last March 25, 2017- that I am thankful to him for giving us the best life that he could give. It was a difficult life. He was a difficult father, hard to understand, harder to love. I have had many father figures, but I have only one father. And he was very present in my life. My husband summed it all when he said: I will be forever grateful to your Dad for raising you up as you are.  
I dreamt about him a day after he was buried, he was wearing his all-time favorite white sando. He was waving and smiling at me from across the street. He is fine. We are fine. All is fine. 

Dear Daddy,

 

          This will be the first and last time that I will write about you. “Strained” doesn’t begin to describe our relationship, although “estranged” is a bit harsh. But I just want you to know that one morning, I thought of you, and there was not a trace of bitterness or anger or pain in my heart and in my soul. Instead, happy memories flooded me.

 

          I remember daddy. I remember every single thing that you taught me: at 8 years old, with me standing on a wooden stool, both afraid and excited, and you hovering near the stove, teaching me how to cook fried rice using just the right amount of oil, garlic and salt. I had blisters in my ten fingers because the potholder was too thin and the cooking utensil I was using was too hard. But I was happy because I saw you beaming with what looked like pride. You started teaching me that complicated game of chess and strategies at 7 years old, I was winning against the older neighbors when I was 10 or 11 years old, and against high school students older than me during school sports fests. You gave me a Citizen watch at 9 years old, and taught me how to read the short hand and the long hand. You insisted that during summer breaks, apart from the household chores, I have to write an essay and a poem for you to critique. It was from you that I learned what “myriad” means. I was winning essay writing contests from elementary up to high school. You taught me how to wake up at 5am when the rooster crows, because you think that knocking on our door or waking us up every morning will make us lazy.

 

        In my entire life, you didn’t give me big sermons nor did I hear you spout big, complicated words, not during mealtimes because we usually ate in silence, not during down times because I honestly could not remember any. My schedule was always full. I wake up at 5am, cook rice in the good old metal pot and watch over it like a hawk or it will burn and you won’t like it because it’s a waste of all the hard work that Uncle Toto and Tatay Oscar and Nanay Minia put in the rice fields, take a bath, put on my uniform, and eat at exactly 6:00am so that we will be on our way to school by 6:30am, just in time for the daily flag ceremony at 7:00am. I come home at 5pm and not a moment after, wash my uniform, take a bath, cook rice, eat dinner, wash the plates if it’s my turn (some days it’s my sister’s turn), study at 8pm, and sleep at 9pm because whether I want to read a Sidney Sheldon novel or not doesn’t matter to you, it is lights off by 9pm at our house. Weekends were the best days of my life. I get to play outside, climb up a hill, slide down with just a piece of cardboard on my butt, and go home at 5pm dirty but happy. We try to hear mass on Sundays when you’re in a better mood, but usually we skip it because you strongly feel that praying is a personal thing, not something to show off to all and sundry along with your best Sunday dress. If you have extra money, we’d go straight to Tavern Hotel for buttered chicken, chop suey, and bouillabaisse soup. I remember that soup daddy, it was difficult to pronounce but very easy to gulp down because it was by far, the best soup dish I’ve ever tasted in my whole life, and I’m not a soup person.

 

         It must be old age- mine. But the pains have blurred far, far away into the distant past. I remember but I choose to forget. Although I have trekked this path of forgiveness a million times, I can confidently say that I have forgiven and I want to ask forgiveness too daddy for all the heartaches that I have caused you and mommy. I have bad days when I feel trapped in that vicious cycle of regret, forgive, ask forgiveness, regret, forgive, ask forgiveness. If I could, I will go back, be a more obedient and respectful daughter, do everything all over again, get married in Church flanked by you and mommy because I know it is something that both of you would want and because it is the right thing to do. Maybe we’re not destined for that kind of altar ending, maybe something far better awaits in the next life. That is what I keep telling myself every time sadness envelopes me. I know it doesn’t matter now, and I know you have forgiven, but I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

 

        Ma used to say every time I am angry at you “he puts food in the table, clothes on your back, and sends you to the best school in Surigao and then in all of the Philippines, surely that is enough to be grateful about.” Thank you daddy. You were always such a hardworking man. After office, you’re puttering in the house, cooking our meals, planting mango trees and kaimito and guayabano and tambis and macopa and langka and bayabas and okra and pechay and herbs of all kinds for all your gourmet-like home-cooked meals. And you are generous with whatever you have. Your government salary bonuses always go to us- a new dress during Christmastime, complete ingredients for mommy’s spaghetti (the real del monte tomato sauce and not just ketchup no no no, plus extra cheese), and a kilo of crunchy grapes. Until now, every time I tell you we are coming home, you always insist on paying for our airplane fares, and I had to insist back firmly that kaya ko na ‘dy. You are a strong man. You have difficulty walking because of a stroke that left you half-paralyzed and yet, you continue to live life the way you’ve always wanted to live it I suppose, in an unhurried way- reading the morning paper while drinking tea in the morning, watching a bit of TV, taking a nap, watching the world go by. Every time I offer something to make life a bit more comfortable, you always refuse. I get it daddy. You refuse to be a burden. You are not. But thank you for recognizing that we have our own lives now, and raising our own children. Ma was right, the fact that you chose to rear us and nurture us the best way that you could, when you could be like other fathers who abandon their family at the slightest hint of hardship, is something to be thankful for. But what I’m most thankful for is that you raised us not by words, but by example- of working hard, being generous and taking responsibility. We turned out fine daddy, we all turned out fine – me, Mae, Ayn, and Ryan.

The unbalancing act

It took me a really long time, 40 years in fact, but I am finally in a place where I am content with who I have and what I have in my life.
I am grateful for my family. A husband who adores me- a mess of curly hair and stubborn fats and greenish veins, who is very alert to my every expression and pitch of my voice and changes his expression and pitch accordingly, who makes my endless chatter his essential lullaby, who knows me and loves me just the same. Three children who light up my world when they are good and who light up my horns when they are fighting. Siblings who are thoughtful and seem thankful to have me as their ate. Cousins who are also my bestfriends. And bestfriends who are my chosen family.

I used to believe that to settle down is the saddest thing. I am wild. I am free.

My heart have settled. I am ok. I am ok with the thought that no book is forthcoming, not in the near future. I am ok that plans of opening a pastry shop or a bakery or a carenderia are not really taking shape. I am ok that I am still working as a researcher, the same job since 1998. I am ok that I have fewer friends now, some people will never like me, some people will talk bad behind my back, but then somewhere out there is at least one of my few friends who will defend me even if I don’t ask. I am ok that I seem to be the epitome of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ – so many passions, not one grand thing to show for.

I have found that there is no perfect balance between work and family, that to be happy, it should tilt towards family. My children don’t care about my work, my deadlines and stress or how much I earn, but they worry when I bring my laptop home. So I work in the office and spend time with them after office hours.

I have found that I am more vocal now (if that is even possible), that I am not afraid to call out fake news and fake people, that I will fight for what is right and just, any time of the day. I have found that being married does not tie you down or make you less of who you are, not when you don’t let it, and that a husband who takes on almost half of the family must-do’s including being a mystery reader in kindergarten, is the key. Happy wife, happy life- this is my husband’s motto, not forced on him, I promise you, but that which he has learned after 16 years of marriage. And this affords me freedom- to read my books in peace, to go to the salon, to meet up with siblings and cousins and relatives, and to have a say in all decisions big and small.


I am ok. I am still wild. I am forever free. And my biggest, most precious realisation at 40 is that, I am loved.

*That painting of our family, enveloped by 💛 is by kuya Isaac, his birthday gift to me.

5 at 40

I am 40 with 5 important life lessons, some learnt the painful way, some the woke-up-with-this-realisation way, but all useful in my everyday.

1. wherever you are, at whatever phase in your life, you will always meet people who will make you feel small. rejoice. small is better/healthier/happier than medium or large. what i’m trying to say is that, there are some things and people that you shrug off and move on from. or if you’re up to it, take it as a challenge, get a PhD, save and scrimp and scrooge to bank a million dollars, crawl and claw your way to the top, wherever it is, whatever it takes. others’ definition of success could kill you, yeah? so take it easy. be content with who you are and who you have in your life.

2. keep things simple, be a minimalist, buy less things, store more happy memories. when i think about the Adele t-shirt that i didn’t buy for Yesica and me when we watched her concert in Paris, i feel a bit of regret. but then, i think back to that precise moment that i saw the t-shirts on sale and there was no queue, and i distinctly remember as if it was 8pm on June 9, 2016, that i didn’t want the shirt, i wanted the experience- my heart soaring as Adele serenades me and Yesica.

3. it is ok to have no plans, to flit from one ‘passion’ to another, to not be in the pursuit of something all the time (how exhausting is that?), to stay put, and be still. that is our life as a family. there is no concrete plan. there are no big dreams. there is no endless ladder to climb. there is just our family, kids who are studying, parents who are working, and a family who loves each other enough to go on trips for 2 weeks, sometimes more, mighty glued to each other day and night, 24/7 or 24/14 or more, sometimes getting on each other’s skins as we discover each other’s limits, but always having fun discovering new cultures and talking to people from all walks and colours of life. otherwise, we are still, and we are still happy.

4. marriage is not for the faint of heart. we are on our 17th year and i have yet to faint, but sometimes i feel that i am close to losing it. when i came back from a 5-day visit to Surigao sans my family, my 5-year-old daughter asked: mama, what does it feel like not being here, with all of us, your family? And the first thought that came to my mind was, unabashedly, un-guiltily, ‘glorious.’ i slept straight, from 8pm to 7am. no homeworks to check, no quarrelling kids to referee, no week-long menu to agonize about, no husband to please. that much-talked about ‘me’ time? it is essential. take it, take it. not just an hour off. a whole day and night at least. go alone or with your siblings or cousins or friends. just go away for a while, watch the waves, swim to your heart’s content, soothe the aches, forget about your cares for a day or two or more. come home stronger and saner.

5. ‘when you get, give. when you learn, teach’ so goes my favorite quote from the superwoman Maya Angelou. this echoes what my mother always said ‘give and give until it hurts. if it doesn’t hurt, then that means you can give more.’ this is my mantra, my own truth, and one which i try to do everyday. i don’t want to just give whatever extra that i have because i found that it doesn’t make me happy. but when i consciously set aside something to give to others, buying one less pair of shoes or dress or bag as a trade-off, especially to send children to school or to give food to the hungry, or to uplift others’ lives, my soul is uplifted a million times over.

One last, and increasingly important lesson that I have to learn in this digital age: take a decent selfie. Forgive this one, bad angle and with glasses to boot, but that is me, old, low-tech, but confidently beautiful with a heart❤

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