Sunday and the question of what to do

Weekends or any kind of free day is like my paycheck in my bank account; it's suddenly there and I struggle with what to do with it. 

I think of other people like my siblings and I know that for the most part, their decisions for the day are determined largely by their responsibilities as parents. I only have to be responsible for myself and there lies the conundrum- what to do with oneself? Obviously, I'm good with the 'I take care of myself' bit; I like to believe I have a good grip on my health- it could be better, but there's the part of enjoying life. I always cast the story of my dad's health as a cautionary-tale but when I relieve the memories of family weekends filled with great food and contentment, I pull myself back from thinking that a piece of perfectly cooked pork-belly will end up killing me.

 It will or it may not, but one thing I will never do is to live in fear of it.

But no pork belly today, sadly.



Belated happy birthday to this one

With the exception of Yanna/Ally, none of my siblings' children resemble them at all. My mom would moan something vaguely racist about dominant bloodlines but I get her point; there is something comforting seeing your likeness passed on to your children. So I've used an image of Yanna/Ally because I couldn't find a photo of her mother that I liked. I find this photo taken when we spent Christmas in Hawaii a few years back particularly interesting because this is how I remember Binky when we were younger. She was always the serious one and it was rare to catch her simply unguarded, unburdened by whatever she was thinking. 

I would like to think that we're polar opposites but it doesn't seem to be true; I just hide the seriousness very well. In photos, we have the same expression of hesitation; should I smile? Should it be a half-one, a full-on grin? We get caught in photos always looking unsure of what to project. But maybe that's our problem- do we need to project anything at all? And if we do, should it be what the world expects, or should it be what we truly feel at that moment?

And the search goes on, looking for the 'perfect photo'.


Happy birthday to this one...

My mother makes it a point to ring us on our birthdays. After the greetings have been dispensed with, it's mostly a catch-up on what's happening at home. Unlike dreaded text messages in the middle of the night, most of the news- admittedly grim ones- concern other people. Because really, there are only two kinds of news anyway right?

Binky hates it tho- what kind of news is that she complained to Doyet who told her about what had happened to Atchi Gina. But she's not the only one who chose to brush that away. When I was home last December mom had urged me to pay Atchi Gina a visit, but I really didn't want to. What does one say to someone who is dying from a mysterious condition that doctors couldn't diagnose?

These are people you've known your entire life, but the connections are now so tenuous, I feel as if the stories are not real. It seems like copping out, but I would choose to remember people as they were in the past- alive, healthy, happy.

And on a happier note, we settled on Chinese for Doyet's birthday.

doyet birthday.jpg

Catch-up 1

22 July 2017
Last night, I got one of those horrible texts; a number that wasn't on my phone-book and without my glasses, all I could make out was that the message was in Filipino. Possibly bad news. 

It was Jong asking if I was still awake, that he had brought Doyet to Middlemore hospital for stomach pains and if I could come over to the house the next day. Sam asked me if I wanted to go over and I said that it should be fine. It should be. This was one of those things that you knew, had to be fine; willed and prayed to be fine. 

It had been a gruelling several weeks of what else, work. Mental work. Creative acrobatics. Petty office politics. Superficial office socialising. Waking up at 5am. Thinking of lunches and dinners days in advance. Butt and leg exercises. I wasn't really exhausted; I felt full. All I wanted was not to think of anything on a Friday night but just get to bed, to sleep, to wake up at 10am.

I would usually put my phone on flight mode before I went to bed to shut off the endless notifications, but I didn't this time. I texted Jong back to update me and that I was coming over the next day.

I went to bed and didn't think of anything except to surrender to blessed sleep, to faith.

(Doyet is fine)

15 July 2017
Trying to find snow and unable to find it..

10 July 2017
It took all of 15 minutes of a sudden Auckland winter storm to rip off part of the roof of a building our offices are in, allowing rain-water to soak most of the new extended wing. There is something terribly refreshing about a pseudo-disaster (it took less than two hours to relocate desks, set-up and start the daily grind); you (temporarily) become more productive, more sociable. Alas, return to 'normalcy' happens too quickly.

30 June 2017
The best steamed pork-bun is in Manurewa. And to be clear, this is siopao which is actually Hokkien for steamed buns and totally different from the more commonly found char sio bao with the cracked top, the denser dough and the paltry filling. The best siopao should ideally be half bun and half filling. It should also ideally be eaten the moment one buys it; I would get it for morning tea and have to contend with peeling off the paper bottom that gets stuck via the steam onto the bun. Microwave ovens are convenient sure, but it's a steamed bun's worst enemy.

A Matt gallery

Happy birthday Matt!

That road up north

After you've gone past the city of Whangarei, there is nothing much to see in terms of urbanity- just farmlands, forests, dingy road-side cafes. We've been to Paihia before so the whole point of holing up overnight in a motel on the cusp of autumn (though the trees are still stubbornly green) and trying out a much-ballyhooed ribs-dinner was just a welcome break from all that tiresomely tedious urbanity.

But ironically, you do still look for urbanity- a wifi connection, cable and a gourmet ice-cream restaurant. We were looking for seafood but it seems that Kiwi consumers would have nothing to do with a fish unless it arrives on their plate already cleaned and cooked. 

On the way back, we took a side-trip (about 40kms) to a hot-springs area. I can't remember the name of it now as it was in Maori, but when we stepped out of the SUV, Chini shrieked at the bubbling muddy puddles and the stench of sulphur was stronger than Rotorua's. There was a make-shift hut with tarp-covered wooden platforms which looked out over the pools; a series of holes that seemed in their irregular shapes, to have been carved out of the earth by hand. Three to four people could fit in one pool and the instructions were that there was a sequence as to how you transferred from one pool to the next. 

The water was black and we knew without even saying it or putting on that expression on our faces that signified displeasure that there was no way on earth we would be dipping our toes in there. I mean, we could on an adult dare, but the kids would most likely refuse and stay in the car skulking.

We wanted to take the requisite phone photo before we left (it was a sight to see the contrast of white caucasian skin against the black water) but there was no discreet way to take it.

We did another detour, this time to the Tutukaka Coast and on my phone's GPS, the long and winding (literally) road to the destination seemed like an immense effort. But this was expressed only by the kids when they were awake or bothered by one particularly sharp curve.

If I could drive, untethered as I am by any responsibility, I would probably take to these long roads (over perfect surfaces as befitting a first-world country). I remember my moped-riding days that when I was bothered by something or when I couldn't sleep, I would take these slow, comforting rides in the middle of the night, or even when it was raining, just to clear my head.

I probably wouldn't do that sort of thing in the Philippines anymore- and get shot or robbed in the process, but it's a shame that I'm losing out on the opportunity to do it here.

After what seemed like eternity, we arrived at what was called Sandy Bay- a panorama of a rained out beach with angry 2 metre waves, black rocks and blush-pink sand. There was no shade and a motley crowd of locals- lean surfers and portly beach-goers were either changing back to dry clothes or getting ready to hit the surf. We just sat in the car a bit looking out- thinking- until the kids started to whine and Jong had to reluctantly start the engine so we could head back; to home, to urbanity and the comfortingly familiar.

Or the tediously tiresome- I didn't even bother to take a photo.

The (future) architect is in the house

The last of a long list of March birthday celebrants; so I couldn't let the month end without a shout-out post to my god-daughter Toni Dominique (her birthday was 8th March).

I stalked her on the net looking for photos away from my usual source ( and was surprised to discover how involved she is with her architectural course at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. 

So here are five innovative spaces borne not only out of human creativity and imagination but also more importantly I think, from a genuine love of what you do- so continue loving what you do Tonic and everything will fall into place..X

Adele Live 2017: a concert that actually made you feel good about yourself

I'm for nostalgia only when it comes to family. For music- sure, it's a trip listening to those 80s and 90s tunes- but I am hinged (on that rare occasion) to the present. That is why when Madonna came to New Zealand, there wasn't really that attachment anymore to music that felt firmly rooted in the past (Material Girl in the late 80s and Vogueing to Vogue at the University of the Philippines in the 90s). I discovered Adele by accident way before she imploded. And while those sad and forlorn train commutes listening to 'One and Only' are now in the past, I am still hinged to her music (pre-ordered 25 and I NEVER EVER buy music) because:
1. I do love ballads
2. I am always partial to music I can sing (and I can actually sing thank you very much)
3. And while music can be many things to many people, it is to me, something that is personal and relatable. And Adele is relatable.

When she came on and without hesitation, plunged into the downpour, you already felt that you've gotten your money's worth; that this is one person you feel that you actually know. That she actually comes closest to being real is both an enigma and an anomaly in this day and age where people share a lot of things, a lot of which are not even 'real'.

The only bullshit thing about the concert was the stupid Auckland rain- but then I thought, I probably would only be able to experience this once. Adele had said after all, she didn't care about the money. The tour could be her last. That two armies wouldn't be able to coax her to do one more album. That family, happiness and peace of mind, were far more valuable things.

She couldn't have been more right.

And so the challenge ends- but not really

I wake up at 11am with swollen eyes. It's raining again and in quantities that Aucklanders are not used to. I know it's mean but I can picture (with glee) drivers on the wet road acting as if they just finished their driving lessons last week. Auckland is a great city- a fact (in spite of the housing problem, the growing gridlock) but Aucklanders are one of the stupidest drivers in the world- also fact. It's Sunday and I've nearly completed the challenge (Leila is catching up) which is hardly a challenge, and Leila and I both know that. The whole point really of the exercise is to point out the obvious; you don't need challenges. You just have to fucking do it. You also have to say that to yourself as forcefully as you can. And if you can't do it, then you have to remind yourself of it another time to do it. And then try to do it and if you fail, well, you have to try and do it again. And again. 

There are days- weeks even- when I just fall blissfully into routine, silencing that voice with dreams that bleach themselves out with the lateness of the day; you eventually wake up at 11am, 12 noon because there is nothing else to dream and your eyes are full and swollen.

I dab a cold anti-eye puffiness roller ball under my eyelids and plunge into the shower.

We drive to Newmarket and the rain for the first time in a long while, is not the spitting, insipid thing it normally is. The gutters along Broadway in Newmarket have become swirling rapids and Kiwis, normally blasé about rain showers have been forced to tote umbrellas, don water-repellent jackets. 

Selera Malaysian restaurant in Newmarket

Selera Malaysian restaurant in Newmarket

The normally robust Sunday crowd has also been thinned by the weather and finally, empty seats at the always busy Selera Malaysian restaurant. Sitting down to perennial favourites Mee Goreng and Hainan Chicken, you realise that the food is nothing spectacular- just honest, well-cooked home dishes which incidentally, are perfect for the weather. That chicken Big Mac may have to wait.

Quilted leather-bar stools at Chanel

Quilted leather-bar stools at Chanel

Don't ask me how I ended up at the Chanel store in Britomart, but I've discovered that (outside of the US, at least in Honolulu), high-end stores usually have the best staff. So I don't get the stories of customers who get rebuffed by snooty sales-staff because of the way they dress. That Asian lady with the funny shoes and the cabbage smell may just matter-of-factly, humbly pay for her low five-figure purchase with a black AMEX.

Man, it's so humid outside I non-chalantly say to Petra the sales-associate. She smiles and deftly tips my face up before delicately spritzing a fine mist of Chanel's Hydra Beauty Essence mist. That should do the trick she softly purrs before attending to another customer.

See what I mean.

I had to cook Sunday dinner for the flat-owners grandmother, this lovely old Scottish lady named Doris and I promised a Filipino styled meat-loaf, 'embutido'. So from Chanel, I end up at Save Mart, an Asian supermarket. I was specifically looking for RAM pickle-relish (there was none) and Sun-Maid raisins before realising that I could go to a regular supermarket and get gherkins and sultanas. I spy some Choc-Nuts and pray to God they weren't off- we have a Pangasinan word for it- 'maali' which means the oil used in the sweets has gone rancid.

It hadn't.

Sunday, 10pm
I remember when my mother first attempted 'embutido'. She unwrapped it and the mince had not set at all for some reason. It was a few months after my dad had passed away and she was trying to learn how to cook. We didn't laugh even if on another day, another time, it would have been hilarious. She cried and it took all my willpower not to burst into tears. 

No such mistake for me but this would have to be a separate post for another day. Suffice it to say that I wasn't completely happy with that I made; I've set aside a roll in the freezer for Doyet to taste and to tell me what I had missed.

I start on the last post for the seven-day challenge:

I wake up at 11am with swollen eyes. It's raining again and in quantities that Aucklanders are not used to...

But I just know that I wouldn't be able to finish it, not tonight at least.

But it's okay. I'll finish it tomorrow.

Monday, 9:40pm
And I do. Goodnight!


A few things I'd like to do when it rains

Listen to Beyonce's Lemonade as I did in the car going to the supermarket. In Sandcastles, she cries: Dishes smashed on my counter / From our last encounter/ Pictures snatched out the frame / Bitch I scratched out your name/ And your face/ What is it about you? / That I can't erase baby
When every promise don't work out that way/ No no baby/ When every promise don't work out that way..

Catch up on Greys Anatomy; and yes, I'll be watching it till the end of time or until I give up the conceit that I could have been a doctor.

Bike in the rain if I had a bike.

photo by Michael Quinn

photo by Michael Quinn

Make a cardamom cream cake courtesy of my favourite cook Melissa Clarke of The New York Times.

Make hainanese chicken, which I just might for Friday night. The forecast has rain the whole week.

Download and read Moshin Hamid's novel 'Exit West' where migrants try to find a home via a series of magical doors ala the magical wardrobe in the Narnian Chronicles. I think it's plausible because didn't we just all enter one marked 'Trump World'?.

But Hamid sort of reassures us: 

“the apocalypse appeared to have arrived and yet it was not apocalyptic, which is to say that while the changes were jarring they were not the end, and people found things to do and ways to be and people to be with, and plausible desirable futures began to emerge, unimaginable previously, but not unimaginable now.”

Sorry batch

Really sorry; for missing your wedding, for failing to write those 'vow thingies'.

To think that after all these years, you're just one of only two people who actually still asks me to write something- and that these requests to write poetry, vignettes, essays.. makes me remember the person that I was (the person that you know) and the person that I still am.

Hope to make it up to you somehow. 

Allow me to publish the last thing I wrote for you- a piece for which your only instructions were: 

Batch, help. Write me an article entitled : I want a boring life. Then enumerate why you want a boring life : things that a man who is ready to settle down would trade for a life of bachelor galore :  parties, gimmicks, travel, etc. A man who is ready to settle down and be a father. Those things that most bachelor would consider boring. Thanks batch!

P.S. Ano na balita sa'yo? :)

Who knew that several months later, this would all mean something.

I Want a Boring Life

There were three text messages from M. The first one was, ‘how was the run?’. I texted back, ‘was great. a bit sore now. great sunrise’. Sure. I threw in a photo to go with the text, a sunrise, taken four months ago. I sort of prayed that she hadn’t seen that photo. I swung my legs off the bed, got up a bit too quickly than I would have wanted and the room spun. 

The second message had a photo of a bowl of oatmeal with the missive, ‘recover with a good breakfast.’ Milk. Congealed oats. I felt like gagging. Grease. I needed grease. I tottered over to the small kitchen and opened a refrigerator that predictably had what I really needed; eggs, a slab of bacon, Purefoods frankfurters. I heated a pan and dumped everything in. There was some leftover rice in the rice-cooker from God knows when (I sniffed it, it smelled fine). Meats done, I took out a bit of Pampanga taba-ng-talanka, garlic bits and made fried rice. 

Wolfing everything down, I started to feel a bit better and slightly sleepy. I thought that a long nap was due and then maybe catching up with a few episodes of ‘House of Cards’ when I woke up at around 6pm. I actually was about to smile at the thought of a nice, quiet and relaxing afternoon (by myself!) when I realised that I hadn’t read the third message. 

I knew instinctively that it wasn’t good news. ‘See you at 2 @ the planners, you will love the flowers.’ 

I actually rolled my eyes and groaned at the same time and felt it, a stab of guilt so strong, I was worried the feeling of nausea would come over me again, pushing my lunch up. 

What was wrong with me?? I loved M absolutely and unequivocally. I had no doubts about that- none at all. In a life peppered with quite a few of them, with M, there was only clarity and understanding. Here was someone who actually meshed with me where it mattered most. She understood my fears and never mocked them. She knew my faults and not only accepted them, but pitched in to help me out when I got myself caught in a corner. She didn’t judge me and neither did I. We had great sex- heck, amazing sex on top of everything. 

In a generation obsessed with relationship concepts that at best were hypothetical, we actually put the work into our relationship. And everything was going fine until for some reason, we thought of marriage and tellingly, we actually came upon the idea together outside of a bar in Bonifacio City, on a night we thought we had it good and that maybe the next step was formalizing what we had.

‘I’m sick of this actually’ M says as we pushed our way through the crowd and out the club into the cold dawn air.’ Why we even bothered to come for someone we barely knew…’ M didn’t even finish the sentence knowing fully well that it was at her insistence that we came, that she wanted to see what the fuss was about with the club and that she wanted to wear this Herve Leger dress she wanted to show off while she was at the weight she worked hard to get. 

I hated her work-friends and I would have wanted a more casual, laid-back drinking crowd over a hyped-up bar. I could have rebuked her as I would normally do when we were on the cusp of her admitting that she f_cked up. But she looked so distressed and so beautiful that I felt a tug in my throat. I simply held her face in my hands and kissed her forehead, ‘we don’t need to do these things anymore you know..we can move on from this..’I said, my voice trembling.

And we looked at each other, smiled at the same time and knew what the moment was saying to us. Or did we?

I don’t exactly remember now what we talked about afterwards. Did I even say will you marry me?? Did I drop down on one knee in a moment of drunken epiphany and offered a make-believe ring? Did she even say yes? But I do remember the morning of it, at the McDonalds down her apartment where we laid down the basics in a haze of half-sleeplessness and adrenaline; the date, the venue, the budget.

Then she called her parents who lived in Boston. It was 8pm there when she rang and they were having dinner. On the speaker phone, the chorus of happy, surprised congratulatory voices seemed strangely un-parental, like she was just talking with friends her own age. There was only uncomplicated joy and the promise of getting together soon. We love you D! See you soon D! they holler out to me and I could only marvel at these strangers whom I only heard and read about on Facebook. Soon, I would be meeting these strangers under closer scrutiny, away from the cozy shield of Facebook’s pseudo-familiarity.

‘Now it’s your turn’ she tells me and I sort of blink, half-dazed. ‘Aren’t you going to call your parents to tell them the good news?’  Call it job experience (I’m in advertising) or survival (M would’ve killed me if she knew) but I wasn’t about to get caught out. There was no backing out now. I pretended to call my parents and I must admit that while I’ve made some pretty convincing lies in the past, I’ve never, ever seriously lied to M. But she was too caught up in the moment to notice that I was just going through the motions and that once someone picked up on the other end (I did call my parent’s landline), I hung up and told her that no one was home. 

And that’s how it started- the ‘lies’ that weren’t exactly lies.

It wasn’t that my parents would have been horrified but that they were vastly different from M’s self-assured, social-media savvy, touchy-feely parents. They would’ve been embarrassed to have been put on speaker-phone nor would they the type who would holler effusive endearments to a person they weren’t even close to (they have met M a couple of times). I did tell them eventually about two weeks later and it was a quiet, no-nonsense talk that involved frank common-sense. They only asked me two questions: did I love M and how much money did I want them to contribute for the wedding?

When M asked me about it, the ‘lies’ somehow were necessary in the sense that I’ve never seen her so happy. And it wasn’t the happiness that she normally exhibited with a new dress, a fancy dinner or the surprise overseas trips we normally have. It was happiness from the belief that what we were embarking on was momentous. That it was truly special. That it was meant to be.

‘She cried a bit- with happiness’ (my mother never even cries watching dramatic movies) I tell her, describing how I broke the news to my parents. ‘And my dad thinks that its great what your dad does for immigration’ (in truth, my dad felt that Filipinos with Ivy League educations never really cared for fellow Filipinos who weren’t in the same social league as them). But I strongly felt that M didn’t need to know these things. What was important was that she believed we were going to be better after this- that marriage was going to make us better people. And that I was going to do whatever it took- all these ‘lies’ included- to make this happen.

My belief was that all I needed to do was to catch up with her. This was natural, I told myself, to doubt, to ‘lie’. After all, my heart was in the right place. I truly loved her. All I needed to do was try harder, to believe it a bit more. And maybe it will happen, like waking up one morning to discover that all the lying was nothing but an unpleasant dream.

But it hasn’t and it was becoming more and more apparent that it was splitting me into two- the person I truly was and the person I thought she wanted me to be.

(This is where it ends).


#TBT weird but pretty photos from Sony Xperia Z1

That foray into Android seems like a million years ago. But then, the Sony Xperia Z1 looked good- on paper at least; it was water-resistant, had a sleek, black rectangular body and a 20 megapixel camera.


The thing is, I love taking photos but don't know much about photography.

I didn't even know that I could change the aspect-ratio of the Z1 so I was blissfully stuck with a whole bunch of photos that were taken at 16:9. It was a challenge to fit the world into a horizontal space, so I had to teach myself to look that on occasion, life looked best from a vertical angle. 

Happy birthday Binky!

I think that I tend towards writing fiction because I don't remember things very well. I think it also keeps me young in a sense- I'm never burdened by the past. When it's gone, it's gone and I only recall the good and happy memories. It makes for skipping and jumping towards the future much easier and less painful on the knees and joints too!

So on the occasion of Binky's birthday, I'll try to jog my memory a bit and try to recall stuff about her; she could always email to correct me if I got things wrong.

1. She won every beauty contest in high school

2. She got into UP Diliman but chose to study in Dagupan instead

3. She took the Physical Therapy national licensure exams a few months after graduating. The exams were somewhere in Pasay, or Cubao and were held for three consecutive days. Her fiance Al and I accompanied her and we all stayed in a motel that didn't have windows. I don't remember ever going out in those three days and just ordered in; my dad paid for all of it. It had a good result though; she ranked 11th over-all. 

4. My dad gave her and Al a bed and mattress as a wedding gift, but they didn't get to use it much because they had to leave for overseas. I ended up using the bed at home in Naguilayan.

5. The last time she visited the Philippines was 2004 when my dad passed away.

6. Happy birthday!

Small things to live by

I read somewhere, this so-so fashion person who said that she buys this particular brand of jeans because they were ethically-made. She not only looked good, she apparently also slept really well at night. She probably ticks it all off- ethically grown coffee, artisanal produce with minimal carbon footprint, the occasional hashtag for currently popular causes. All sorted. Pats herself in the back for being an extraordinary human being.

But I should stop here and to remind myself that 'If you judge people, you have no time to love them'. To be honest, I wouldn't give this bitch the time of day, but it's true- judging is exhausting. It binds you in this tight, uncomfortable smugness that dampens your joy, zaps your energy. You end up doing things like yoga or adult colouring books which I suspect were invented specifically for judgy people.

It was Mother Teresa by the way who first said this and yesterday, she officially became a saint of the Catholic Church. I'm definitely not aspiring for saint-hood and on some days, I am shocked by thoughts that if the devil himself offered me fame and fortune ala the Kardashians by selling my soul, I would most likely tell him, give me 48 hours to think about it please.

But I'd certainly like to live a life as simple and true as one can possibly live it, without distracting novelties, complicated rationalisations, lofty philosophies or cruelty in any form, no matter how subtle.

My two most favourite human beings

My two most favourite human beings

Here are some quotes by Mother Teresa that I'm doing my damn best to live by:

1. “I see somebody dying, I pick him up. I find somebody hungry, I give him food. He can love and be loved. I don’t look at his color, I don’t look at his religion. I don’t look at anything. Every person whether he is Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, he is my brother, my sister".

2. “Do ordinary things with extraordinary love".

3. “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do,”.

4. “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love,”.

5. “We fear the future because we are wasting the today,”.

6. “The future is so much in the hands of God, I find it much more easy to accept today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow has not come and I have only today,”.

7. "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies".