My dapper dad working his dancing shoes, circa the 70s

"He was stylish and charming. He wore bell bottoms a lot and made ladies swoon." - Tita E.

A couple of years ago, I met Tita E. by chance while I was manning my tita's tiangge booth. She was a balikbayan on vacation and did work that involved providing humanitarian assistance in conflict areas. She had a chirpy personality and a radiant smile. Eventually, we got around to swapping names. It turned out she worked on a project in Quezon with my dad in the 70s. And not only did they work together according to her, my dad made her ligaw! I joked that she could have been my mom. 

This is my favorite photo of my dad (no one could tell me who the lady is, though). I think, around this time, Papa was doing work that he seriously loved. This. This is proof that some endeavors are worthwhile. 


A snapshot of papa as a brother, son, and citizen

Today marks my dad's 17th death anniversary. A post to remember him. 

From a letter by my uncle dated January 2003:

During that summer vacation, our class assignment was to write an essay, "What I Did Last Summer." Manny did my homework. When I returned for my grade VI class, my essay was judged the best. But I was so embarrassed to myself. I vowed that I will always do my own homework, no matter the outcome.
After high school, Manny went to college in Mapua and got his B.S. degree in Chemistry. But he would always come back to Lopez for vacation. There were many times he came to see us in Siain - to bring us fresh clothes, food and allowances and to bring back the dirty clothes for laundry. After our high school, Manny enrolled Auntie Pina and me at Hope Christian for Chinese school and me in pre-Med at UE. We all lived with Albino above Seng Lee Hardware in Alonzo Street. That house burned down; Manny was able to save his slide rule and some chemistry books but not much else. Albino got married and we all moved with him to Nagtahan Street in Sta. Mesa. I believe he was working at Seng Kee Hardware at this time. He then went back to Lopez to help with Awa and Papa in the copra business and he also started teaching Chemistry in the college there. One time, I saw this book "Magic with Chemistry" in Goodwill Bookstore, so I sent it to him. Every year thereafter at the College Science Fair, his magic tricks with chemical reactions was the most popular show there. He was involved in so many activities in Lopez and was very well known there he had so many godchildren (mga inaanak). He was also involved as a coach in the summer basketball league. I believe he was still in Lopez when I left for the US in 1973. I did have a very difficult time for many years in the States. Papa (your Angkong) died a year after I left. I changed addresses several times, I went to Canada and back to the States. It was a dilemma deciding whether to stay here or return to the Philippines. As I was preoccupied with my own survival here, I had limited communication with Manny. But I do remember everybody wanted him to return to Manila; he was just too talented for a small town like Lopez, that the future's brighter in Manila. I wrote him a letter to that effect, and also I asked him if he was interested in coming to the States. But he was comfortable in Lopez and was reluctant to leave. Eventually he did. As you know, he was later appointed Vice-mayor of Lopez when Cory Aquino became President of the Philippines. I returned to the Philippines in 1987 after many, many years of absence. Then Awah got sick and we all had to attend to her until she died in 1992. I was working on getting reacquainted with Manny but it was not to be. His life was cut prematurely by an aggressive cancer caused by tobacco. It was one of my greatest regret that I did not have the opportunity of more time with him. But I do have many memories and fond recollections of Manny that I will cherish forever.
All of these came back as I related them to Mr. Sy. We had a long conversation on the phone.  He was so glad he spoke to me and was relieved to know his friend is now in God's Peaceful Land. As I sat the phone down, I started writing this letter because there is one other person beside Mr. Sy who needs to share these memories of Manny. Memories define us, memories give us strength and purpose. You are not just our niece whom we dearly love, you are also our memory of him. It is for memories the reason for shrines, mausoleums and museums. It is for memories the reason for Bahay Tsinoy - to remember the struggles of those who came before us, to define who we are, to resolve, to face the challenges before us. It is for memories why we are going back to Xiamen, it is where it all started for us. 

God Bless from your loving 
Uncle Torry

Along with a few memorabilia I have of my dad (his Jaycee identification card, his unused passport, a notepad), I keep this letter to keep him alive. In moments of panic where I fear that I have already forgotten his voice or that my years of being without him have already outnumbered the years spent with him, I take out his things, look at his handwriting, and then I take out this letter and try to splice myself within my uncle's words.

And I love that not only does my uncle's letter paint a pretty accurate portrait of his brother's several sides, it also captures what he (a sentiment shared among them siblings) thought about their origins, homeland, family, and how important these are to them (common among 2nd generation migrants, I think). A few months after he had mailed me this letter, my Uncle Torry took me, my three aunts (Claire, Anita, Feliza) and two younger cousins to Xiamen, Awah (their mother/ our lola)'s hometown. Eight years later, Uncle Torry, Auntie Claire and I went to Burma to meet Awah's sister's descendants.

Of course, it's also a never failing reminder of why they took me in after papa had passed (of which I will be eternally grateful for). :)

The safest place

Today marks my dad's 17th death anniversary. A post to remember him. 

The arms that could protect from loud firecrackers and the voice that could silence any fear;
with Manny on a NewYear's eve, some 25 years ago


Satrapi: On choosing to create

Life is too short and we cannot spoil it. I don't have 300 years in front of me. So I just do the things that I really want to do at the moment because that's the only way you will do them well. If you don't believe in yourself, it won't work.

Because creation, you know, it means that you don't have any salary, you don't have any retirement, all of that. So if you don't have the security, at least have the freedom. I go for the freedom.  
- Marjanne Satrapi 

Read the full interview at the 99%.  


How to travel without leaving

Have a well-curated brunch...

Of a cooking show that whisks you away,

Laura Calder's French Cooking at Home on AFC

Recipe that caught the imagination: Seared Sirloin with Blue Cheese and Cream Sauce
Thinking of doing a version using pork chop and goat cheese.

and Pasta with Crushed Pistachio and Pine Nuts
Still thinking how to localize this. 

+ of a reading material that brings you to another locale,

Article of choice: "Made in Sweden," about multiculti (yes, that's a word used in the magazine) chef Marcus Samuelsson. He and Adam Sachs took me around Stockholm, brought me to a place that serves the worst pizza but has great vibe -- noisy and fun, crowded with locals chugging beer, turned to a Champions League soccer final on TV. 

Samuelsson on finding his way back: 
"...growing up I knew very early that, to go where I wanted in life, I needed to leave this place. Now, I've traveled and I've figured out how to write a love letter to Goterborg. I'm comfortable with my Swedish side now."

Samuelsson on having always been different:
"When you're a kid you don't know how to process that off-ness. Now I'm at a point where I want to celebrate it."

Really, isn't coming home the main point of traveling, be it to yourself or, more literally, to your first point of origin? In this case, Samuelsson does both. The love letter he speaks of here is the first restaurant he's building in Göterborg after having achieved success in North America.

+ of food that seals the deal.

The day's menu: Seafood Lo Mein (bihon) and Salmon

Treat your palate to something different. 
Crucial here is preparing a meal  from a cuisine that's foreign to you (like Pad Thai or Mexican Burritos) or giving an everyday meal a different spin. In our home, bihon is usually garnished with pork & liver. This time around, it was cooked with shrimp and broccoli and then served with salmon. 

What's your version of "traveling without leaving?"


Ysa's Boracay Wedding + the One

Second month into the year: instead of being a snob about it, this blog is jumping on the February bandwagon by celebrating l-o-v-e (but the kind that's not limited to the romantic one + I do have good reason to celebrate this word, i.e. love being one of my two words for 2012).   


Wedding Setup (photo by Jay-jay Lucas)

Last June 2011, I was in Boracay for the wedding of one of my bestfriends, Ysabel. It was kind of a big deal to me for a number of reasons: Ysa and I grew up together, it was my first time to be a bridesmaid, and it was something we had planned for about 3 years. Countless YMs and emails have been exchanged in the name of this occasion. (Another minor reason for the excitement was the fact that few of my friends ever get married, so, though I love that my overlapping circles are not in any rush, hey, it may take some more time before an occasion like this one comes along again.)

Deezezit! (photo by Jay-jay Lucas)
Two days prior to the actual date, it had been raining non-stop in Manila and Boracay. So, after 2 years of not seeing each other because they're based in Canada, I would hug an Ysa for the first time at the airport crying like she was my 11-year-old buddy because the weather was threatening to be a downer. What did I do? After the hugging and the reassuring, I cried like an 11-year-old girl with her, too. There we were at the waiting area of NAIA 3 sniffling like two crazy, PMS-ing women. That was also how my first real-life meeting with Tim, the hubby-to-be, went.

As you can see in these photos, contrary to predictions the weather turned out perfectly. Ysa and Tim's big day beat the odds, parang tunay na pagibig lang (naks). The sun came out and the skies were clear and everything else about that day (the preparations, the ceremony, the food, the entertainment, etc.) flowed smoothly.

Bungisngis kisses (photo by Jay-Jay Lucas)
Fast forward to today: this beautiful wedding has turned into a happy marriage of 7 months. One insight that I would often glean from our frequent chatting is how serious marriage really is. It doesn't compare to dating, even a long-term engagement would probably not hold a candle to how real a marriage is (a possible exception could be your good ol' domestic partnership). That cliche about the wedding being just one day and marriage being something you work on for a lifetime? Totally true.

Why do people get into it despite the legal hassles and the statistics? For a number of reasons, I guess, like hormones that lead to cute little, uh, accidents, peer pressure, filial duties, fulfillment of a responsibility as a partner, security, etc. when in truth, the one reason many of us would like to have is just plain old love. Finding, meeting, marrying the one. I have always been somewhat suspicious of this concept, but recently Ysa and I have stumbled upon another reason why Tim is perfect for her and, together with this, arrived at an epiphany about what being the one could potentially mean. I must admit this made me just a little bit more hopeful. Ready?

Tim and Ysa (photo by Jay-Jay Lucas)
Ysabel is gorgeous. She's a mix of Spanish, Chinese, Filipino and descends from a lola who was once a 1st runner-up in the Ms. Philippines pageant. She's funny and classy and smart. Something about Ysa though: she has always been passionate about dancing and tennis.

So, the other day while we were talking about life, we segued to discussing the recent Australian Open. She was telling me about Nadal, the different kinds of tennis courts, tennis rules, etc. and then she tells me how good a tennis player Tim is, that when he was in high school someone actually suggested that he go pro. Lightbulb moment.

For someone like Ysabel, it's not really a big surprise that she would find someone kind and attractive (it helps that she has wonderful taste, too :p). But kind + attractive + loves to dance (Ysa's family is a dancing family, any guy with two left feet would stick out sorely, awkwardly. Tim outdanced everyone, except for the bride's father, at the reception) + good tennis player: now, what are the odds of landing this particular permutation?

Maybe this is what the one or that gift from above could mean: that this person will fit perfectly into the tiny details of your life and will not look awkward relative to your quirks. As my friend Turtle would say when talking about the concept of katuwangwalang sobra, walang kulang. 


Be the sky

The Problem
Richard Siken

The problem (if there was one) was simply a problem with the question. He wants to paint a bird, needs to, and the problem is why. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy, series or sequence, one foot after the other, but existentially why bother, what does it solve? Be the tree, solve for bird. What does that mean? It’s a problem of focus, it’s a problem of diligence, it’s supposed to be a grackle but it sort of got away from him. But why not let the colors do what they want, which is blend, which is kind of neighborly, if you think about it. Blackbird, he says. So be it. Indexed and normative. Who gets to measure the distance between experience and its representation? Who controls the lines of inquiry? He does, but he’s not very good at it. And just because you want to paint a bird, do actually paint a bird, it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. Maybe if it was pretty, it would mean something. Maybe if it was beautiful it would be true. But it’s not, not beautiful, not true, not even realistic, more like a man in a birdsuit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible, unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself, so that looking at the page is like looking out the window at a bird in your chest with a song in its throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway because the hand is a voice that can sing what the voice will not and the hand wants to do something useful. Sometimes, at night, in bed, before I fall asleep, I think about a poem I might write, someday, about my heart, says the heart. Answer: be the heart. Answer: be the hand. Answer: be the bird. Answer: be the sky.

*Italics, mine