26 December 2009

Dear e-Santa

Can you please give this to me for Christmas? Wandered into Bratpack in Greenbelt 5 yesterday and tried these tan Sanuk Women's Starlet slip-ons. These Sanuks generally look ugly when they're hanging on the shelf, but lo and behold, they look great on my feet!

I'm a size 5 by the way.


This is not the first time I've forgotten to publish a post. This should have been released last December 20.

No wonder I didn't get this for Christmas, harhar.

14 December 2009


My current favorite lotion. It must be the baby scent of buttermilk and coconut that makes me fall asleep at night.

I used to like floral-scented stuff but as I get older, I'm leaning towards skincare products that include vanilla, buttermilk, almond, basmati rice, and coconut scents. Ah, the smell of childhood.

28 November 2009

Midnight's Children

I'm having one of those lazy Saturdays in which the only decision-making that takes place is which fastfood to order for home delivery. McDonald's usually wins, because of its hot fudge sundaes.

Anyway, a free Saturday with no plans gives me enough opportunity to catch up on reading. While I still have a ton of new books to read, I still indulge in re-reading some of my favorites.

Am currently re-reading Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, which I truly believe deserved winning the Best of the Booker Prize twice--the second win being in 2008, which cemented its status as one of the best English novels of all time. I'm eternally fascinated with the premise of this book. It can even translate well into film, if some fan-slash-director really cared enough to make a movie out of it. (And I believe there ARE plans to make a film adaptation.)

People who are woefully ignorant of Rushdie's works (some assume The Satanic Verses, is, well, satanic) or never bothered to read him, thinking he's a difficult read, may be surprised to know his books are actually reader-friendly.

Not as reader-friendly of course as the drivel that writers come up with these days (Paulo Coelho and Twilight and chick lit whatnot). What I mean is that Rushdie's pretty accessible without dumbing you down. He's not as easy to read as Garcia Marquez or de Bernieres (who both tackle magical realism like Rushdie) but he's definitely more fast-paced than say, A.S. Byatt or Thomas Mann. He may not be my first option when I enter a bookstore with an intent to buy a novel, but he's usually a solid choice.

I love trying new authors now and then, but it's great to go back to old favorites. Reading Midnight's Children just brings me back to the time when I did first read it, the excitement of discovering how beautiful the plot was, how I raced through the pages, reading it wherever I went (in the MRT, at Starbucks, at the office during lunch breaks), how I stayed up late to finish particular chapters until my eyes hurt, etc. A few years back, I had more time to read, and Midnight's Children was one of those books I devoured and finished in less than a week. Even Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories is associated with particularly happy memories; I was reading it in October 2006, when I found out that I won the fundraising post in UNICEF Philippines.

The Midnight's Children edition I am reading now is the 25th anniversary release, which contains an introduction written by Rushdie himself. It's a damn good introduction, and I'm glad I bought this edition. Here are excerpts:

.... I had two titles and couldn’t choose between them: Midnight’s Children and Children of Midnight. I typed them out one after the other, over and over, and then all at once I understood that there was no contest, that Children of Midnight was a banal title and Midnight’s Children a good one. To know the title was also to understand the book better, and after that it became easier, a little easier, to write. I have written and spoken elsewhere about my debt to the oral narrative traditions of India; also to those great Indian novelists Jane Austen and Charles Dickens — Austen for her portraits of brilliant women caged by the social convention of their time, women whose Indian counterparts I knew well; Dickens for his great, rotting, Bombay-like city, and his ability to root his larger-than-life characters and surrealist imagery in a sharply observed, almost hyper-realistic background, out of which the comic and fantastic elements of his work seemed to grow organically, becoming intensifications of, and not escapes from, the real world....

.... In the West, people tended to read Midnight’s Children as a fantasy, while in India people thought of it as pretty realistic, almost a history book. (“I could have written your book,” one reader told me when I was lecturing in India in 1982. “I know all that stuff.”) But it was wonderfully well liked almost everywhere, and changed its author’s life. One reader who didn’t care for it, however, was Mrs Indira Gandhi, and in 1984, three years after its publication — she was Prime Minister again by this time — she brought an action against it, claiming to have been defamed by one single sentence. It appeared in the penultimate paragraph of Chapter 28, A wedding, a paragraph in which Saleem provides a brief account of Mrs Gandhi’s life. This was it: “It has often been said that Mrs Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay accused his mother of being responsible, through her neglect, for his father’s death; and that this gave him an unbreakable hold over her, so that she became incapable of denying him anything.”

Tame stuff, you might think, not really the kind of thing a thick-skinned politician would usually sue a novelist for mentioning, and an odd choice of casus belli in a book that excoriated Indira for the many crimes of the Emergency. After all, it was a thing much said in India in those days, had often been in print, and was indeed reprinted prominently in the Indian press (“The sentence Mrs Gandhi is afraid of” read one front-page headline) after she brought her action for defamation. Yet she sued nobody else. Before the book’s publication, Cape’s lawyers had been worried about my criticisms of Mrs Gandhi and had asked me to write them a letter in support of the claims I was making. In this letter I justified the text to their satisfaction, except with regard to one sentence which, as I said, was hard to substantiate, as it was about three people, two of whom were dead, while the third would be the one suing us. However, I argued, as I was clearly characterising the information as gossip, and as it had been printed before, we should be all right. The lawyers agreed; and then, three years later, this one sentence, the novel’s Achilles’ heel, was the very sentence Mrs Gandhi tried to spear. This was not, in my view, a coincidence.

The case never came to court. The law of defamation is highly technical, and to repeat a defamatory rumour is to commit the defamation oneself, so technically we were in the wrong. Mrs Gandhi was not asking for damages, only for the sentence to be removed from future editions of the book. The only defence we had was a high-risk route: we would have had to argue that her actions during the Emergency were so heinous that she could no longer be considered a person of good character, and could therefore not be defamed. In other words, we would have had, in effect, to put her on trial for her misdeeds. But if, in the end, a British court refused to accept that the Prime Minister of India was not a woman of good character, then we would be, not to put too fine a point upon it, royally screwed.

Unsurprisingly, this was not the strategy that Cape wished to follow — and when it became clear that she was also willing to accept that this was her sole complaint against the book, I agreed to settle the matter. It was after all an amazing admission she was making, considering what the Emergency chapters of Midnight’s Children were about. Her willingness to make such an admission felt to me like an extraordinary validation of the novel’s portrait of those Emer-gency years. The reaction to the settlement in India was not favourable to the Prime Minister. A few short weeks later, stunningly, she was dead, assassinated on October 31, 1984, by her Sikh bodyguards. “All of us who love India,” I wrote in a newspaper article, “are in mourning today.” Despite our disagreements, I meant every word.

22 November 2009

The Fists That Rule The World

Oh yeah, that's our Manny.

It was unspeakably wonderful to watch him live (not in freakin' Las Vegas, which I can never afford) on pay-per-view inside an air-conditioned tent-slash-theater with hundreds of other Filipinos to witness his brutal victory over Miguel Cotto.

And be recognized as the first boxer in boxing history worldwide to win in 7 different weight divisions.

I've watched all the HBO 24/7 episodes focusing on the training camps of Pacquiao and Cotto prior to fight night and it was just so obvious that Manny had way more arsenal than Cotto. People just tend to underestimate the little guy, that's all.

2010 seems so far away. Pacquiao-Mayweather . . . can't wait!

08 November 2009

I heart Moleskine Helvetica

My latest love.

I've used Moleskine for years. I use it to list all the books I buy and read on a monthly basis, to write down the books I want to read (and every time I finish one, I tick it off the list), and to make personal daily notes. Even in the age of Blackberrys and digital planners, I still find great comfort in jotting down stuff on my Moleskine notebook's acid-free paper using an ordinary tech pen.

When I saw the Moleskine Helvetica special edition (in celebration of the font's 50th anniversary) in Fully Booked, I nearly had a seizure. I love both Moleskine and the Helvetica typeface, so it just made perfect sense to buy it. I got it though for a pretty hefty price (Php 1,300 for a frickin' notebook?? some would say), but it's worth it.

If you love typography and if you've watched the feature-length documentary film Helvetica, then you'll find yourself wanting this notebook as well.

31 October 2009

our guest from UNICEF UK

Hey, looky! I'm included in a story posted on the UNICEF UK website, along with some colleagues!

Our office has a web consultant, Andy, from UNICEF UK, who will be with us until December to help us improve UNICEF Philippines' online presence. Because we're so swamped with emergency work and the upcoming holidays (which is peak season for UNICEF fundraisers), Marge, Pam and I are just so grateful for the extra help and web expertise that Andy brings to the table.

AND, he's promised to run 10k with us in the Timex Run this November 15. Welcome to the Philippines, Andy!

Old Man Running

This 70-plus year-old runner and his blog inspires me so much. He literally keeps a running log of his weekly training, which I avidly follow.

I'm younger, and I don't even get to run as much as he does. Guess who's the fitter one between the two of us?

When I reach the age of 70, I'd still want to be able to go the distance like Old Man Running here.

27 October 2009

I have a plan.

And the plan is this:

Week 1: Oct 26 - Nov 1
5km run
boxing + 300 crunches
5km run
7km run
boxing + 300 crunches

Week 2: Nov 2 - Nov 8
7km run
boxing + 300 crunches
8km run
boxing + 500 crunches
10km run
*with an option to do a 12km run (if I haven't keeled over yet with all this exercise)

Week 3: Nov 9 - Nov 15
6km run
boxing + 200 crunches
8km run
boxing + 200 crunches
10km run on RACE DAY

Knowing how my body responds under certain workout conditions, I'm fully aware I shouldn't over-exercise on race week (the week of November 9 to 15). So that's why I've decided to pace myself and come up with a realistic workout plan.

The only thing left to do is to stick to it.

Oh, and yes, I forgot to mention: this whole thing is in preparation for the 2009 Timex Run happening this November 15, 2009.

I am so scared I won't be ready for 10km, because I haven't been running regularly in the last 3 months. In fact, I haven't been running much at all, so I think I'm not in great shape. But if I stick to plan, I should survive the 10k.

This Monday evening, I started working on The Plan and walked over to Legazpi Park, the scene of both my running highs and lows, to do a 5km run. Anyway. Ironically, my Timex Ironman Fitness Tracker watch decided to conk out on me (does it need batteries or did I calibrate it incorrectly once again?), and so I couldn't accurately track my performance.

I should have been upset about the whole thing, but when I hit the twenty-minute something mark, I thought, what the hell, I'll do an open run instead. I ran for a total of 35 minutes. Don't know if I ran 5km exactly--it could have been less, could have been more. I average 30-35 minutes anyway on a 5k. Well, suprisingly, it didn't matter if I wasn't aware of the exact distance of my run earlier tonight; I was just happy to be running again.

I felt free, running without measuring my distance, and funnily enough, I could feel myself picking up the pace on the last few minutes. Pretty encouraging for a girl who hasn't run in weeks and weeks.

On Wednesday, if my watch is still acting weird, I'll run again for 35 minutes.

26 October 2009

left hook blues

I hate how the physical exhaustion one feels right after boxing becomes amplified in the next few days after the workout.

My right wrist was smarting like hell during Saturday's session because of the uppercuts Ryan had me do. My right uppercut got weaker and weaker, and my frustrated self felt that the best thing to do was to compensate by doing better on my other punching moves.

So there I was, delivering harder straights with my right, and putting a little more violence in the ever reliable left hook. More than 24 hours later, I am sporting sore right knuckles, which is typical. But what irks me is that I now have an extremely sore left arm, which, when I try to lift it, starts shaking, like I have Parkinson's or something. Not to mention a white-hot flash of pain that starts from above my left elbow up to the shoulder every time I raise my arm.

So it's now 3:30 am, and I still can't sleep because of the pain. If by Tuesday's session my right wrist and left arm are still sore, I guess this means the only punches left for me to do are the bread-and-butter jabs and straights. How sad.

25 October 2009

(500) Days of Summer

I love this film and everything that it stands for.

It's one of the best movie [un]love stories I've seen. Now I'm no longer puzzled why I like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and High Fidelity so much.

Most days I'm a Summer with a great discomfort in labeling relationships, but there are days when I'm a giddily happy and hopeful Tom.

And when it comes to break-ups, well, we've all been a Tom at some point in our lives.

Song of the Moment? "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths.

24 October 2009


v. become normal or return to its normal state

Oh, I sure hope so! The past few weeks (and weekends!) have been uber busy for me, as I've been juggling direct mail work with emergency fundraising for Ondoy & Pepeng victims. And then there's RedDot, which I totally blame for all that web work cramming until 2:00 am and at-my-office-desk stress eating.

But things are starting to be normal again, and I can breathe easier, now that I'll be getting more help on the UNICEF Philippines website. We just rolled out a local version of the Bangkok regional training, and our office has just gotten a web consultant, Andy, who's on board with us until December.

My previous crazy work schedule has left me hardly any room for exercise, and I feel so unfit these days. When I boxed again last Saturday after a 2-week hiatus, I was gasping a lot--and my trainer was frowning at me a lot. Struggled painfully to finish 45 minutes of boxing and 300 crunches, and I felt like such a loser walking back to the office at 10:00 pm to do--wait for it--more RedDot work. On a Saturday night.

So later this afternoon, I hope to redeem myself in boxing and get an approving nod from Ryan. And if the weather cooperates tomorrow, I will RUN, after what seems like eons of not running. My last race was in July, for cryin' out loud. I really need to shape up if I'm going 10k again this November at the Timex run (but more on that in succeeding posts).

Catching (500) Days of Summer with Bun this evening and squeezing in some reading as well. God, that sounds like a normal weekend plan--and I'm loving it.

The Informant!

I love this film! Awesome performance from Matt Damon.

Haven't watched a movie in a long, long time (and a good one at that), so it was such pure joy to run over to Greenbelt 3 and meet up with friends last Wednesday to catch the screening. I found myself laughing at intervals, because the script was so clever.

The official site is here, and I get a kick out of hearing again some snippets of Damon's voice-over monologue from the film.

Joel McHale also stars in The Informant! as FBI Agent Bob Herndon assigned to the lysine price-fixing case, and he just cracks me up. Now there's no excuse for me not to start downloading Community.

11 October 2009

more on Middle-earth

I recently finished reading Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle-earth. Here are just some of my favorite parts in his book.

Feel free to skip this post if you're not a fan, but I think Shippey had many interesting things to reveal about Tolkien's writing that aren't common knowledge to most people.

Gnomes vs. the Noldor, Trotter vs. Aragorn

[Tolkien] was stubborn to the point of pig-headedness about sticking to names, apparently in total incomprehension of their likely effect on contemporary readers. He kept using the term 'Gnomes' for the Noldor till at least 1937, in confidence that 'to some "Gnome" will still suggest knowledge', through its connection with Greek gnome, 'intelligence' (see Book of Lost Tales 1, pp.43-44). To some, possibly. However, to all but a vanishingly small proportion of English speakers, 'gnome' has lost all connection with its Greek root, and means instead a small, vulgar garden ornament, very hard to take seriously. Similarly, as remarked above, p.95, Tolkien stuck to the name 'Trotter' while the character who bore it changed from a wandering hobbit to a hobbit-Ranger to a human Ranger to the last descendant of the kings of old. Very late in the construction of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn, or 'Strider' as he eventually became, is still declaring (War of the Jewels, p.390), 'But Trotter shall be the name of my house, if ever that be established; yet perhaps in the same high tongue it shall not sound so ill...' Wrong! For 'trot', as the Oxford English Dictionary rightly says, implies 'short, quick motion in a limited area,' and is quite inconsonant with dignity when applied to a tall Man.

- Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, p. 293.

On Macbeth and The Lord of the Rings

It is thus quite clear that whatever he said about Shakespeare's plays, Tolkien read some of them with keen attention: most of all, Macbeth. Motifs from this play are repeated prominently in The Lord of the Rings. The march of the Ents to Isengard makes true the report of the frightened messenger to the incredulous Macbeth in Act V Scene 5: 'As I did stand my watch upon the hill / I looked toward Birnam and anon methought / The wood began to move.'

.... When Denethor says that stewards do not come to be kings by the lapse of a few centuries in Gondor, but only 'in other places of less royalty', the remark is true of Scotland, and of Britain--though not of Anglo-Saxon England, ruled from the legendary past of King Cerdic to 1065 by kings descended in paternal line from one ancestor. The Return of the King is in a way a parallel, in another a reproach to Macbeth.

Tolkien, however, used the play for both more and less than motifs. There is a flash of minute observation in chapter 6 of The Two Towers. What shall we do about Saruman, asks Theoden. 'Do the deed at hand,' replies Gandalf, send every man against him at once. 'If we fail, we fall. If we succeed--then we will face the next task.' The jingle of 'fail-fall' echoes a famous crux in Macbeth, where the hero falters in front of his wife. 'If we should fail?' he asks. 'We fail?' replies she--in the Folio punctuation. Actresses have tried the line different ways: as a sarcastic question, a flat dismissal, a verbal slap. They were all wrong, implies Tolkien; it was a misprint, the word was 'fall,' meaning 'die', and it is a straight answer to a straight question.

....However, the final and strongest influence of Macbeth on The Lord of the Rings is quite obviously in theme. If there is one moral in the interlacements of the latter, it is that you must do your duty regardless of what you think is going to happen. This is exactly what Macbeth does not realise. He believes the Witches' prophecy about his own kingship, and tries to fulfil it; he believes their warning about Macduff and tries to cancel it. If he had not tried to cancel it (and so murdered Macduff's family), Macduff might not have killed him; if he had not killed Duncan, he might conceivably have become king some other way. Macbeth is a classic case of a man who does not understand about the cooperation between free will and luck. Galadriel's warning about the events in her mirror, 'Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them,' would have been well said to him. But he had no Galadriel. The only mirror he sees is controlled (Act IV Scene 1) by the Witches.

- Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, p. 182-184.

On the Fate of the Elves

The future fate of the elves is often mentioned in The Lord of the Rings but never becomes quite clear. Some will leave Middle-earth, some will stay. Those who stay, says Galadriel, will 'dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.' 'Dwindle' could have a demographic meaning; there could be fewer of them. It could be physical too, looking forward to the 'tiny elves' of Shakespeare, and even moral, making one think of the detached, cruel, soulless elves of Scottish and Danish tradition. The best fate for the elves who stay, perhaps, would be to turn into landscape.

....It's hard to say, declares Sam Gamgee of the elves of Lothlorien, 'whether they've made the land, or the land's made them' (p.351). And his perceptions are often deep, even if his education has been neglected. His further explanations may be taken to refer to The Lord of the Rings as well as to Lothlorien: 'Nothing seems to be going on,' he says, 'and nobody seems to want it to. If there's any magic about, it's right down deep, where I can't lay my hands on it, in a manner of speaking.' Yes, agrees Frodo, complementing Sam's style as often with his own. Still, 'You can see and hear it everywhere.'

- Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, p. 133-134.

07 October 2009

child marriages

I've been working in UNICEF for three years now and have heard and read a lot of distressing stories about the plight of children.

But I still can't get over the fact that child marriages continue to be practiced in this day and age.

From the UNICEF Press Centre:

Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman on the death of 12-year-old child bride from Yemen

NEW YORK, 14 September 2009 - "It was with great sadness that we learned of the untimely death of 12-year-old Fawziya Youssef from Yemen. Fawziya was forced into a child marriage with a man at least twice her age. She became pregnant and she and her baby both died after struggling for three days in protracted labor, according to media reports.

“Child marriages violate the rights of children in the most deplorable way. The younger the girl is when she becomes pregnant, the greater the health risks for her and her baby. Girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s.

“Child marriage denies girls of their childhood, deprives them of an education and robs them of their innocence.

“Tragedies like these underscore the urgent need to better protect the rights of women and children, particularly girls. Child marriages are often a result of poverty and ignorance. More must be done to address the underlying causes in order to prevent tragic deaths like those of 12-year-old Fawziya and her baby.”

06 October 2009

emergency fundraising

Managed to have a little (just a little) breathing space in between Ondoy emergency fundraising campaign efforts and an upcoming major direct mail campaign.

Sometimes I think my work life is just one urgent campaign after another. Not that I have a right to complain. Millions and millions of children are living in such dire conditions, and it is only when their needs are fully met that UNICEF will cease to exist.

As this won't be happening any time soon, the work continues.

Placed this donation page on the UNICEF Philippines Facebook account for fans who may want to donate to UNICEF's emergency response campaign for Ondoy storm victims. The page shows what your donation can do or provide to the children. The amounts indicated here have a specific equivalence in terms of 'deliverables' or supplies, but any interested individual can donate whatever amount he or she chooses.
So just in case anyone reading this little blog wants to send in a contribution, simply click here to donate, and you'll be taken to UNICEF Philippines' donation page.

Your support to UNICEF Philippines is always, always appreciated.

September is the cruelest month

This post was in my Blogger drafts folder since September 28, and apparently, I forgot to publish it. The past few days have been crazy, with the office on emergency mode, responding to the needs of children in the aftermath of tropical storm Ondoy. Anyway, here goes:

I don't have the heart to post trivialities at the moment. Too many people have died and suffered this month.

Needless to say, Tropical Storm 'Ondoy' (Ketsana) left a terribly destructive trail of flashfloods and landslides in Manila and other provinces. This calamity hits too close to home, and forces us to reflect on the utterly temporal state of things.

But Filipinos, resilient as ever when experiencing the cruel side of Mother Nature, were galvanized into action in the midst of calamity. While our country sadly lacks resources (such as rubber boats!) to enable quicker and more efficient rescue operations, it is nevertheless heartening to see that our bayanihan spirit is still alive.

People were using Facebook, Twitter and GoogleMaps to update disaster and emergency groups on victims urgently needing rescue and assistance. Telethons, SMS campaigns, and various donation channels were set up to accept monetary donations. And of course, there will always be volunteer work in relief operations.

Went to Ateneo yesterday with Bun and Danna to do volunteer work in assembling standard food packs. It was a bit of back-breaking work but the four hours we spent were very productive ones. I couldn't believe the overwhelming number of students, alumni and other individuals who were present last night to help in whatever way possible.

Took some [not-so-very-good] photos from my mobile phone on the relief operations. Go Ateneo TaskForce!

P.S. Currently working on UNICEF emergency appeal efforts for Tropical Storm Ondoy. Here's hoping more support comes pouring in.

19 September 2009

Savior, thy name is Leukoplast

The answer to complete boxing happiness is worth 70 bucks.

Or less. Can’t really remember. It was that cheap.

I’ve been using Leukoplast tape for several sessions now to directly protect my knuckles from getting beaten up—and so far, no wounds, no swelling. What an amazingly useful thing.

Leukoplast, which one can buy at any drugstore, is mainly used to secure dressings because of its highly adhesive properties. But upon the recommendation of a friend, I now directly apply layers of Leukoplast (4 or 5 strips will do) on both sets of my bare knuckles prior to a boxing session. The tape rigidly sticks to my skin, thus protecting it from the repeated impact of gloved fists on my trainer’s mitts. Combine Leukoplast with my gel-cushioning wraps, and I am uber protected. Just some redness on my knuckles after all that punching but at least no bloody mess. So far so good.

I was excited to hit the boxing gym after I got back from Thailand. Work kept me busy, so I was finally able to box last Thursday.

To my surprise, the gym was noisy and packed when I arrived 30 minutes before closing time. Usually around that time, the number of clients would be dwindling. I had the sinking feeling I’d have to wait for quite a bit until Ryan would be able to focus on me, as he was usually one of the busier trainers there.

In the middle of the crowded training floor, Ryan welcomes me with open [and sweaty] arms and a loud “Thailander! I missed you!” Loud enough for the other people to hear.

I roll my eyes but laugh just the same. Clearly, I am one of his favorite students. (Or should I say favorite object of torture?) He enjoys seeing my utter discomfort whenever he draws attention to me. I don’t know why he gets a thrill out of it.

I felt strong that night. But because the time I had left to box was so limited, I just managed to do 10 rounds straight with Ryan and then 200 crunches afterwards. I didn’t want Mang Jun, the maintenance guy, to wait long until I was done with crunches and a shower, so I just promised myself to do 200.

Ryan had me do a lot of uppercuts this session, which I found brutal for my wrists. I’m always deathly afraid of spraining my wrists, so sometimes I hold back, not punching hard enough when delivering an uppercut. But my trainer could tell I was being such a wuss and had me continuously doing uppercuts, especially on my right, which was the weaker one.

An hour or so later, my wrists were so sore, the shampoo bottle I was holding felt heavy in my hand as I was taking a shower.

My knuckles are well-protected now, thanks to Leukoplast. But what about my wrists?? Guess I have to start wrapping them with something as well.

15 September 2009

the biggest loser

Yesterday morning, my first Monday back at the office after my Bangkok training, I stepped on the weighing scale--and encountered the biggest surprise so far this week. My weight is now down to 90 lbs!

Before I left for Bangkok, I was at 94 lbs. Still within my ideal weight range and relatively healthy, in spite of the lack of exercise I've had the past couple of weeks. I managed to do an hour of boxing and 500 crunches the day before I left for Thailand, but I don't think that's the real reason I lost so much weight.

It must have been all that walking around the city of Bangkok and the healthy Thai food that I ate most of the time. No wonder Thai women are so skinny. They hardly put on weight even if they're fond of Swensen's ice-cream cakes. The spice in their food probably does wonders to their bodies. This is one of the reasons I love Thailand!

Anyway. While munching on salad greens over lunch on Monday, the girls in our fundraising and sales teams have made this blood compact of sorts to shed off 10 pounds within a month's time--in the form of a contest. The biggest "loser" every end of the week is considered to be the person who has lost the most weight in terms of percentage loss (e.g. 5 lbs lost out of the expected overall goal of 10 lbs for example would results in a 50% weight loss) and exempted from giving a weekly Php 50 penalty. By the end of one month, the overall winner will receive the whole pot of money. It was an exciting challenge and opportunity for everyone in our team to lose weight.

Can I join??? I asked excitedly.

And all six teammates turned to give me their most withering stares.

"You are exempted from joining! And Reggie too!" Tintin declared vehemently. Apparently, they have made the collective decision to ban Reggie and me because us two were considered to be stick thin already. Daaa-yum. I would have loved the challenge, but then come to think of it, I didn't need to lose weight.

Tricia is currently on a fruit diet, so she set her weight loss goal at 8 lbs while the other five decided on losing 10 lbs. Pam announced that she wasn't joining, as dieting wasn't her thing--and I had to agree with her on that. I mean, for the life of me, I could never imagine myself going on a fruit diet. I had a big bowl of hot and spicy Mongolian food that Monday lunch, plus my 290-calorie Starbucks Caffe Mocha, and I wasn't about to give that all up. Besides, I needed the carbs to burn for boxing and running.

Because I was banned from the, er, Biggest Loser competition, I was appointed judge. Today, Tuesday morning, would be the start of the contest, and just like in a pre-boxing match, I had to weigh in all six participants and note down all their respective stats. And then I would have to weigh them every Friday, for the next 4 weeks. The weighing scale to be used would be, of course, the one located right in my work area.

I am seriously psyched for my teammates. Who's going to be the biggest loser, I wonder??

14 September 2009

Belated Happy Roald Dahl Day!

September 13 is Roald Dahl Day. I was in Kinokinuya last week and I saw this huge poster about it. Made me actually wish I had my own children to celebrate it with.

There's even a website wholly dedicated to the beloved children's author's official day: www.roalddahlday.info. Ain't it the cutest?

In this website, kids, teachers, store owners, and basically anyone who's a fan can celebrate Roald Dahl Day by using any of the suggested ideas listed here. Available for downloading are complete "Roald Dahl Day kits" and these can be customized, according to how you wish to celebrate this occasion--whether as a "splendiferous" day, as a "whizz-popping" term, or as long as a "gobblefunky" year. My favorite event toolkit consists of quizzes on his books plus Matilda-themed games. Wild!! How I love Roald Dahl.

13 September 2009

I miss blogging!

Back in Manila after 7 days in Bangkok. Had a majorly good time in the land of smiles and spicy food. Was there for training on UNICEF's web content management system, RedDot. The only description I can think of for RedDot is that it was simple and complicated at the same time. Harhar.

I'm going to cheat here and just list down what I liked best about those 7 days:

1. Staying in a fabulously cheap hotel located in the middle of the shopping district. Marge and I then had more money to burn. YAW-hoo!

2. Thai food, of course. I had tom yum every single day. And all sorts of spicy dishes.

3. Shopping. I've never been much of a shopper here in Manila. I don't buy clothes and shoes often, but Bangkok, with its dizzying array of stores and night market stalls, seems to bring out the shopaholic in everyone. Bought shoes, bags, a top, little souvenir stuff for the people back home, and loads of skin care products that one couldn't find in Manila.

4. KINOKUNIYA BOOKSTORE!!! Spent 3 hours in the Kino branch of Siam Paragon and combed all the bookshelves. The store, with all its titles and editions, was so beautiful, I almost wept. Spent more than I should have but at least I'm happy with my purchases. I made sure to buy only the books I haven't seen back home; nearly bought a copy of Joseph Heller's Closing Time, and then I remembered seeing one in Fully Booked.

I went back to Manila with 6 books plus 3 Foxtrot titles for Ryan, who was salivating on the other end of the line when I called to tell him I was standing in front of a stack of Foxtrot comic books.

More on my book purchases in another entry, because it deserves a separate blog post.

5. Riding the BTS Skytrain to and fro training and shopping. I love the city's Skytrain! It was fast, efficient, and the people were very nice and respectful in the way they went in and out the train. Wish I could say the same for Manila's MRT. The people here like barging into the MRT before they allow the other passengers to get out.

From the hotel to the training site, it takes me less than 20 minutes to ride the BTS to Siam, switch trains, get off at National Stadium, and walk a short distance to the training venue. No traffic at all, unless one takes a cab.

6. Thai massage. Had two wonderful massages while I was in BKK. Nothing abso-posi-lutely beats an authentic Thai massage. The kind of massage wherein you're twisted like a pretzel in all sorts of ways and your spine feels re-aligned afterwards. The spa was located right beside my hotel, which was perfect.

My masseuse was so good in making all the soreness and pain in my muscles go away, I simply had to know her name so I could request for her massage services the next time. She giggled and said in broken English, "Is hard to say name. Very long. So remember this number only." And she pointed to the number "70" which was embroidered on her spa uniform.

I couldn't believe my ears. Having one's identity reduced to a mere number just didn't seem right, even though the spa was very clean and pretty and treated both clients and staff very well.

7. Learning new things such as the cool stuff you can do in RedDot. RedDot can be pretty frustrating at times, but the training left Marge and me with huge desire to revamp our UNICEF Philippines website. Exciting times ahead!

8. Starbucks near my hotel and especially near the training site! I could take my pick of branches, actually. The coffee was more expensive than Starbucks Manila; my grande-sized nonfat Caffe Mocha with whip cost THB 120, which is equivalent to PHP 180. Highway robbery. But Starbucks in Thailand had those cool debit coffee cards where you can load some baht and then use it to charge your coffee purchases. It was so convenient. We don't have that in the Philippines.

The only downside to Starbucks in Thailand was that they supposedly charge you an extra THB 15 for the chocolate sauce on top of your Caffe Mocha. How weird is that?? I had a bit of an argument with the baristas on several occasions and insisted that the chocolate sauce was part of the Caffe Mocha recipe to begin with--and I know for a fact that if an ingredient is really part of the recipe, one shouldn't be charged extra for it. Heck, I know my Starbucks coffee, thank you very much. The baristas eventually gave in to my argument. I wasn't being a bully; I just knew my points were valid.

9. Khao San Road. It was Marge's birthday last Saturday, and she wanted to usher in her birthday by hanging out and drinking in Khao San. And oh my God did we drink. Went out with Belle and some of our regional colleagues and drank a whole lot of SangSom, the local whiskey mixed with Coke. It was sweet and lethal. Khao San was so alive with music, bright lights, people having fun and getting wasted, vendors selling all sorts of things from street food to dreadlock wigs to rubber lizards (what the hell), and flowing liquor. It was a real blast hanging out with the group. We were so noisy, yelling out a countdown to Marge's birthday Times-Square-on-New-Year's-Eve style. And then total strangers were coming up to Marge, hugging her and wishing her a happy birthday. I'm pretty sure she had one.

10. The best thing about this trip? Meeting new people in other UNICEF country offices and ending up being good friends with them! I mean, after 5 days of training, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, how can you not?

I miss my training mates already: sweet, giggly Tsolmon from Mongolia, Prayi (I hope I got the spelling of her name right) from Korea, Cindy from China (one of the nicest girls ever), and Joseph of Fiji, who totally cracks me up because he likes to confuse Tsolmon by deliberately giving her the wrong instructions (and I end up correcting them). Joseph and I more or less have the same technical competencies, so it was good to share best practices on that level. And then there's Dike of Indonesia, of course, whom I've met before in a previous workshop/training, so it was nice to see a familiar face. We call each other by our last names, laugh hysterically, and just basically hang out in class and after training hours.

Nat and Kritsada from the Bangkok regional office were great companions, especially Nat, who took me to lunch several times and offered to accompany me to Starbucks for my after-lunch coffee. She and Kritsada were also so kind in helping me plan Marge's birthday cake surprise. We had a delicious ice-cream cake from Swensen's delivered to our training venue last Friday afternoon, and surprised Marge by switching off the training room lights, carrying in the cake, with everyone singing 'Happy Birthday' while she blew out the candles.

Valerie, our RedDot trainor based in UNICEF NY headquarters, is definitely one of the sweetest, most engaging persons ever, and learning RedDot would have been absolutely boring if she wasn't the one handling it. Some aspects of the training were basic to me, but a considerable number of participants (there were 27 of us in total) encountered a bit of struggle in mastering the stuff--and Valerie was so funny and patient handling all of us.

It also felt nice to be asked for help by the others in Photoshop; I mean, I only knew basic to intermediate stuff in Photoshop and am no expert, but it was a good feeling to share what knowledge I had to others who had zero experience with Adobe Photoshop.

And when Valerie asked me last-minute to present to the whole group (with my regional boss looking on and asking technical questions, gulp) the web analytics tool that UNICEF uses, I was a little alarmed and flabbergasted. First of all, it was a big shock to find out that none of the country offices in our region were using Urchin (the web analytics tool) except for the Philippines. Secondly, I was also relatively new to Urchin, and just learned my way around it, generating the reports I needed and making my data analyses from there. So it was pretty funny for me, standing in front of the "class" and teaching them how to draw up web data reports by going on the Philippines' Urchin live system, to use filters, to make the proper analysis, etc--because I was no expert myself. I'm just glad Valerie and I did well in answering the others' questions (and there were some hard ones, really) about Urchin.

I went to Bangkok with the original intent of learning from the trainor, and ended up doing a bit of trainor work as well, which was a nice experience.

The other participants were from all sorts of places like Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Malaysia. The beautiful thing about working in the UN system is that you become exposed to various cultures and you learn to appreciate the uniqueness of each one. I wish more people could experience the kind of training and exposure I'm having, and I wish UNICEF would still continue giving me such wonderful learning opportunities.

Bangkok, you haven't seen the last of me, I hope!

01 September 2009

What’s on my desk today?

Just one big mess of direct mail materials and UN documents to read.

Busy, busy, busy.

The green mailer is my latest newsletter campaign, which will be dispatched next week to our donors (yehey!). I have two other direct mail campaigns to handle this week. Printing to start the week after (while I deal with online fundraising and a multitude of other things), and then letter shopping and dispatch before the end of the month.

People may think direct mail fundraising is easy, but it’s really not—and the technical demands of the job make me hyperventilate sometimes.

The coffee on my desk is to keep me sharp, the lemons to make my cough go away. The painting is to keep me relaxed, and the books are always there to make me stay sane.

My messy desk serves a purpose.

29 August 2009

cute shirts

I usually wear t-shirts only during the weekends, when I'm going to the gym or something. But these funny shirts actually make me want to wear them at work, for some reason:

28 August 2009

Why Not Catch-21?

I finally bought the book I've been hankering for: Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles.

If people spent a bit of time browsing the literary criticism section of Fully Booked, they'll actually find some pretty damn interesting stuff there. Like this book!

The title says it all. Author Gary Dexter reveals very entertaining facts about how the novels featured in this book ended up with their respective titles. There are 50 titles explained in this book, and the essays are informative, riveting (if you're really into books), and succintly written. I've read three essays so far--on Plato's The Republic, Sir Thomas More's Utopia, and Joseph Heller's Catch-22--and am thoroughly enjoying it. Highly recommended!

Some of the titles featured in this book are Lolita; A Study in Scarlet; The Great Gatsby; The Postman Always Rings Twice; The Waste Land; Nineteen Eighty-Four; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Hamlet; Sonnets from the Portuguese; A Clockwork Orange; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; Winnie-The-Pooh; Waiting for Godot; Around the World in Eighty Days; Moby-Dick; The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America; and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

How Catch-22 became Catch-22 (and not "Catch-18", as Heller originally wanted it) is a particularly interesting story. The thing about this book is that you either love it to pieces or strongly hate it. I subscribe to the Catch-22-Is-Brilliant-In-Every-Way School of Thought.

And because I love Catch-22 to pieces, I wish everyone would love it as well. Am placing here the full text of Dexter's essay on Catch-22:

'Catch-22' has passed into the language as a description of the impossible bind:

Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. 'Is Orr crazy?'

'He sure is,' Doc Daneeka said.

'Can you ground him?'

'I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule.'

'Then why doesn't he ask you to?'

'Because he's crazy,' Doc Daneeka said. 'He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground him. But first he has to ask me to.'

'That's all he has to do to be grounded?'

'That's all. Let him ask me.'

'And then you can ground him?' Yossarian asked.

'No. Then I can't ground him.'

'You mean there's a catch?'

'Sure there's a catch,' Doe Daneeka replied. 'Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy.'

Orr is crazy, and can be grounded, but if he asks to be grounded he is sane--and he can only be grounded if he asks. Joseph Heller complained that the phrase 'a Catch-22 situation' was often used by people who did not seem to understand what it meant. Given the mental contortions of the catch, this is not surprising. He even described receiving a letter from a Finnish translator, which said (in Heller's paraphrase): 'I am translating your novel Catch-22 into Finnish. Would you please explain me one thing: What means Catch-22? I didn't find it in any vocabulary. Even assistant air attache of the USA here in Helsinki could not explain exactly.' Heller added: 'I suspect the book lost a great deal in its Finnish translation.'

There are no catches 1 to 21, or 23 onwards, in the book. 'There was only one catch and that was Catch-22.' Like the final commandment left at the end of Animal Farm, Catch-22 is an entire rule-book distilled into one lunatic decree. Its very uniqueness meant that Heller had to think carefully before naming, or numbering it. And his choice was--'Catch-18'.

In World War II Heller was a bombardier with the 12th Air Force, based on Corsica, and flew 60 missions over Italy and France. Yossarian in Catch-22 is a bombardier flying the same missions. Rotated home in 1945 and discharged as a First Lieutenant with an Air Medal with Five Oak Leaf Clusters, Heller took a degree at New York University, then an MA at Columbia, before working in New York as an advertising copy-writer.

In 1953 he began writing a book called Catch-18, the first chapter of which was published in the magazine New World Writing in 1955. When, three years later, he submitted the first large chunk of it to Simon & Schuster, it was quickly accepted for publication, and Heller worked on it steadily--all the time thinking of it as Catch-18--until its completion in 1961. Shortly before publication, however, the blockbuster novelist Leon Uris produced a novel entitled Mila 18 (also about the Second World War). It was thought advisable that Heller, the first-time novelist, should be the one to blink, and the title was changed. Heller said in an interview with Playboy in 1975: 'I was heartbroken. I thought 18 was the only number.' The first suggestion for a replacement was Catch-14, but Robert Gottlieb, Heller's editor, felt it didn't have the right ring. 'I thought 22 was a funnier number than 14', Gottlieb told the New York Times Review of Books in 1967. Heller took two weeks to persuade.

But the journey from 18 to 22, although tortuous, was worth making. The reason is this: 22 has a thematic significance that 18 or 14 do not.

The doubling of the digits emphasizes a major theme of the book: duplication and reduplication. When the book was first published, critics objected to its monotony and repetition. 'Heller's talent is impressive,' said Time magazine, 'but it is also undisciplined, sometimes luring him into bogs of boring repetition. Nearly every episode in Catch-22 is told and retold.'

This is true. In Catch-22 everything is doubled. Yossarian flies over the bridge at Ferrara twice, his food is poisoned twice, there is a chapter devoted to 'The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice', the chaplain has the sensation of having experienced everything twice, Yossarian can name two things to be miserable about for every one to be thankful for, all Yossarian can say to the dying Snowden is 'There, there', all Snowden can say is 'I'm cold, I'm cold', Yossarian overhears a woman repeatedly begging 'please don't, please don't', and Major Major is actually Major Major Major Major. The critic JP Stern identified a pairing approach to the characters:

Most figures in Catch-22 are arranged in pairs; e.g., the medical orderlies Gus and Wes; the HR clerk Wintergreen and the Chaplain's orderly--both nasty characters; the two CID stooges; Major Major and Captain Flume--both persecuted; Generals Dreedle and Peckem--both harshly satirized; Snowden and Mudd--both dead; Piltchard and Wren--both enjoy combat missions; Aarfy and Black--men without feeling; Nately and Clevinger--upper-class college boys, both get killed; the nurses, Duckett and Kramer.

The mad pairing reaches its apotheosis in the catch itself. As the novel says: 'Yossarian saw it clearly in all its spinning reasonableness. There was an elliptical precision about its perfect pairs of parts that was raceful and shocking, like good modern art, and at times Yossarian wasn't quite sure that he saw it at all, just the way he was never quite sure about good modern art...'

Doubling is thus a stylistic device suggestive of the qualified nature of reality. Nothing is singular, unblurred or unambiguous. The title, with its doubled digits (2 representing duality, itself doubled to make 22) conveys this in a way that Catch-18 could not.

It seems clear therefore that what happened when Simon & Schuster found out about Leon Uris's book was a piece of great good luck.

24 August 2009


Decided to go for a cleaner look with this blog. It's one of my attempts to simplify certain things in my life.

We all had to clean up our own work areas in the office just a week ago, and while some didn't relish the idea of throwing stuff away, I was happily tossing old documents into the shredding and disposal bins.

The whole office clean-up gave me a high, and a few days after that, I decided to work on de-cluttering my, er, underwear drawer. After an hour of color coding, folding and stacking my undies into neat piles, I was surprised to discover that I had more underwear than what was necessary and that some of them I hadn't even used (and these were nice stuff, by the way!)

I don't know how exactly how cleaning my underwear drawer inspired me into simplifying my blog, but, yeah, that's what happened.

So here I am now, with a cleaner-looking blog design and layout: less color and with minimal elements. Hope you guys like it.

writers' rooms

The Guardian's Books section is one of the best sites ever for checking out what's new in the book scene and for reliable book reviews. One of my favorite subsections here is Writers' Rooms, (a pretty much self-explanatory title) which gives mere mortals like me some insights on where and how these writers work.

Showing here the rooms of writers I read:

George Bernard Shaw. I would have expected Shaw to have a grander-looking room; this little country house tool shed-like room seems a little out of character. But whatever floats his boat, right?

Mark Haddon. The room's quite messy but it seems to match the owner's playful writing style.

Roald Dahl. I will forever be in love with Roald Dahl's books. They are a big part of my childhood. I got my little sister (who's 10 years younger than me) hooked into reading at a young age when I insisted that she start on Roald Dahl. His books are very much a part of our little family library. I like how he keeps certain memorabilia on his desk--probably to serve as inspiration? Here's an excerpt on the feature on his room, which was written by his illustrator (could it be Quentin Blake??):
I didn't go into the shed very often, because the whole point of it as far as Roald was concerned was that it was private, a sanctuary where he could work where no one interrupted him. The whole of the inside was organised as a place for writing: so the old wing-back chair had part of the back burrowed out to make it more comfortable; he had a sleeping bag that he put his legs in when it was cold and a footstool to rest them on; he had a very characteristic Roald arrangement for a writing table with a bar across the arms of the chair and a cardboard tube that altered the angle of the board on which he wrote. As he didn't want to move from his chair everything was within reach. He wrote on yellow legal paper with his favourite kind of pencils; he started off with a handful of them ready sharpened. He used to smoke and there is an ashtray with cigarette butts preserved to this day.

The table near to his right hand had all kinds of strange memorabilia on it, one of which was part of his own hip bone that had been removed; another was a ball of silver paper that he'd collected from bars of chocolate since he was a young man and it had gradually increased in size. There were various other things that had been sent to him by fans or schoolchildren.

On the wall were letters from schools, and photographs of his family. The three or four strips of paper behind his head were bookmarks, which I had drawn. He kept the curtains closed so that nothing from outside came in to interfere with the story that he was imagining. He went into the shed in the morning and wrote until lunchtime. He didn't write in the afternoon, but went back later to edit what he'd done after it had been typed out by his secretary.

He wrote in the shed as long as I knew him - we worked together for 15 years from 1975 to 1990 and I illustrated a dozen of his books. I would take my drawings down to Gipsy House for him to look at while sitting on the sofa in the dining room. I don't think he let anybody in the shed.

And here's a nice write-up on his wife, Felicity Dahl, who talks about her 7-year-marriage with the beloved children's writer.

Louis de Bernieres. Birds Without Wings is my favorite among his books. Still looking for his novels Red Dog and Labels, as they are pretty hard to find here in Manila. His shed-slash-writing room is as quaint as the settings in his novels.

Martin Amis. A really nice room for writing. It looks like something I'd like to have for myself. Well, not for professional writing, but mostly just a place where I can keep my books and spend some quiet time by myself. The skylight is a nice touch. One can always look up when bored or stuck in a writing rut.

Jane Austen. The winner in the entire series, in my opinion. She wrote most of her novels in this table, which actually has the size of a side table. Just goes to show one doesn't have to have all that writing space and ambiance to be a brilliant writer.

Here's the full text from The Guardian feature on her writing space:
Not long before her death, Jane Austen described her writing as being done with a fine brush on a "little bit (not two inches wide) of ivory". Her novels are not miniatures, but she did work on a surface not so much bigger than those two imagined inches of ivory. This fragile 12-sided piece of walnut on a single tripod must be the smallest table ever used by a writer, and it is where she established herself as a writer after a long period of silence. Her early novels had been written upstairs in her father's Hampshire rectory, and remained unpublished when the family moved to Bath in 1800, where writing became almost impossible for her. Only in 1809, when she returned to Hampshire and settled in the cottage on the Chawton estate of her brother Edward, could she devote herself to her work again.

Chawton Cottage was a household of ladies - Mrs Austen, her daughters and their friend Martha Lloyd - all taking part in the work of the house and garden. But Jane was allowed private time. Having no room of her own, she established herself near the little-used front door, and here "she wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper". A creaking swing door gave her warning when anyone was coming, and she refused to have the creak remedied.

From this table the revised manuscripts of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice went to London to be published in 1811 and 1813. From this table too came Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. Here she noted down the encouraging comments of neighbours - Mrs Bramston of Oakley Hall, who thought S&S and P&P "downright nonsense", and "dear Mrs Digweed" who volunteered that "if she had not known the author, she could hardly have got through Emma".

Austen died in 1817, and after Cassandra's death in 1845 the table was given to a manservant. Today, back in its old home, it speaks to every visitor of the modesty of genius.

23 August 2009

about a scar

I was standing in front of a full-length mirror this morning with hardly any clothes on (okay, that was too much information), and I realized--after months of not paying attention--that the scar in my pelvic area has faded and flattened into a pale, almost skin tone shade. Give it a year or two, and it'll hardly be visible anymore.

The very vain part of me really hated this scar when it was new--weeks after that April 2007 cyst removal operation. I didn't like the idea of having a 5-inch surgical scar ruin what I considered to be a perfectly normal, blemish-free body. It depressed me for quite a while.

The scar was a huge discomfort to me, and for these past two years, I had gotten used to it announcing its throbbing presence whenever I run or do crunches after boxing. In a race, I'd find myself talking to it (in my head, of course) and I'd be like, "Oh come on, just a few more kilometers! You and I can do it. Stop complaining! You'll be okay!"

And in a cold environment, like the office, my scar would get all annoyingly itchy as if to say, "Time to moisturize me!" Because I feel it's totally wrong to scratch skin--and scars in particular--my only form of relief is to slather on cocoa butter lotion over it. And then my scar would "quiet" down.

It's like some living, sensory indicator that would warn me every time I was overexerting myself in a workout or if the cold got too much. (I find myself wondering how my scar would react if I went to Alaska or Russia or something.) To a certain extent, I've grown accustomed to it, having it as a sort of companion whom I'd defy in mid-crunch and especially in running. But when I've finally crossed the finish line, I'd say (again, in my head), "See? We're okay, scar!"

I have a love-hate relationship with it, as you can see.

The thing about scars like mine is that they remind you of what you've been through and what you're still capable of. It's annoying to feel the pain when I'm running for example--but when I think of all those weeks I had to hobble around and even require assistance from sitting up in bed, when I had to go without exercise for months to let the scar heal, when I couldn't be in a standing position for more than 5 minutes because the pain was exhausting and unbearable--I consider myself lucky to be running 10 km now, moderate scar discomfort and all.

If one thinks about it, those weeks after the operation were all just about physical pain (and other people have endured much worse), but getting over it has immense mental benefits. Many wonder why marathon runners still run even when they're experiencing cramps and all that muscle pain in mid-race. Or to put it within a more personal context, some people in the office ask me why I still do cardioboxing even when my knuckles have undergone some considerable beating and look like crap. Why? Why go through all that torture, they ask.

And the simple answer is...well, it feels good to beat the pain, that's all. It makes you feel better as a person knowing that your tolerance for pain has increased by a notch or two.

So as I stood in front of the mirror this morning, I patted my scar and thought about two things I want to accomplish: 500 crunches in one boxing session this coming week--and perhaps, just perhaps, a 12.8 km practice run sometime soon. I think we'll be okay, scar.

22 August 2009

why Bag End was named Bag End

Am continuing my reading of Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle-earth at home right now, after a tiring day at work. I love reading about how J.R.R. Tolkien comes up with names of people and places in Middle-earth--names that are rich in meaning and in history and are monumentally significant to Tolkien the philologist.

Here's an interesting factoid on the creative origin of the name 'Bag End' (the name given to the place where the hobbit Bilbo Baggins lives):

His name, thus, is Baggins, and he lives in Bag End. This latter name had personal and homely associations for Tolkien (see Biography, p.180). But it is also a literal translation of the phrase one sees often yet stuck up at the end of the little English roads: cul-de-sac. Cul-de-sacs are at once funny and infuriating. They belong to no language, since the French call such a thing an impasse and the English a 'dead-end.' The word (cul-de-sac) has its origins in snobbery, the faint residual feeling that English words, ever since the Norman Conquest, have been 'low' and that French ones, or even Frenchified ones, would be better. Cul-de-sac is accordingly a peculiarly ridiculous piece of English class-feeling--and Bag End a defiantly English reaction to it.

- Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, p. 71.

Shippey explains, in a chronological order, how Tolkien created his Middle-earth and his mythology as a whole. I'm still in the part where Tolkien begins thinking up names for people, things and places in The Hobbit--and it's already exciting to begin with. What more when Shippey starts telling the stories behind the names in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion?? I mean, there's a considerable amount of background stuff (on the origins of these names 'made up' by Tolkien) mentioned in Shippey's book that I've read about in other books, like Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle-earth series, for example. But Shippey also has a lot of arcane, geeky information to impart on the philology of Middle-earth. Honestly, it's like I'm discovering Middle-earth all over again.

I'm predicting many pee-in-my-pants moments while reading this book!

21 August 2009

Ninoy Aquino's 26th Death Anniversary

These old photos of Ninoy and Cory Aquino which were posted today on Inquirer.net gave me goosebumps. Absolutely THE most inspiring couple in Philippine history.

Happy Ninoy [and Cory] Day!

19 August 2009

book finds last week

Every Friday, fresh batches of previously owned books are delivered in boxes to the Books For Less stall inside my office building. I wait patiently until late afternoon when I know the nice woman manning the stall is already done stacking the books--and I drop by the place to visit and browse.

Normally, I don't buy previously owned books (as I've mentioned in a previous post) and I prefer them brand new, but if you're addicted to books like me and you pass by this stall every day when you take your lunch, it's kinda hard not to resist buying anything.

So here's what I got on Friday last week:

1. The Stranger by Albert Camus. It's Camus, it's a Vintage paperback edition, and a brand new copy costs more than Php 400. I got this one for Php 128. What's not to like?

2. There's a Wocket in My Pocket! (Dr. Seuss' Book of Ridiculous Rhymes) by Dr. Seuss. I got hooked into Dr. Seuss' books at the age of 3 and that's how I learned to read, according to my mother. Twenty-six years and over a thousand read books later, I'm still in love with Dr. Seuss, especially Green Eggs and Ham--a copy of which I keep on my desk. So when I saw this cute, pocket-sized Wocket in My Pocket board book edition with the jaw-dropping price of Php 50, well, I bought it right away. 'Ate' (I forgot her name), who mans the book stall, thought I was buying it for one of my goddaughters, and I sheepishly admitted it was for me.

So now, Wocket in My Pocket is on my office desk as well. Dr. Rien, a colleague at work, once laughingly commented that my books occupy more than half of my work table (which in reality, do not), and I take that as a compliment. While others may choose to stack their desks with paper and folders and thick reports, I choose to file these documents properly into cabinets and allot space for my books. The books are all neatly shelved and stacked in one corner, which to me, serves as a homey, living space which I can stay in when I get tired of thinking and working at a furious pace in front of the computer.

But if my books are starting to pile up, I'm wondering if the office will allow me to install some shelves in my work area...

11 August 2009


I stood in line in Mini Stop Sunday evening to buy some salt-and-vinegar flavored chips, when I heard an acoustic song being played over the speakers of the convenience store.

The singer was a high school batch mate of mine, and her newly-released album was currently making waves in the local music industry. Even though acoustic love songs weren't really my thing, she sounded really good (just like she was back in high school), and I was proud of her anyway.

She was now enjoying stardom, and I was, well, leading a normal life.

Which is fine, actually. I've never been the limelight kind of girl, and I usually shy away from large parties and crowded dance floors. I don't like talking to so many people at the same time, or entertaining them for that matter.

So as I stood, waiting for my turn to purchase my chips, I was thinking, yes, I do lead a quiet, ordinary life, and it's okay. For the first time in what seemed like years, I felt a sense of peace and contentment with the way my life is unfolding at the moment.

At the age of 29, I'm surrounded by family and close friends, I'm in a job that I absolutely love (in spite of the high stress level, rigid processes, and workload), I am blessed with a healthy body and with a positive attitude towards regular exercise, I get to read and write (which are my small, personal joys), I'm still able to afford little luxuries in life even though I shoulder my younger sister's college tuition, and I get to travel at times and meet interesting people along the way. As my dearly departed colleague Ms. Leila had reminded me years before, I must count my blessings. And I do.

I enjoy a certain routine these days which is basically this:
- long, fruitful hours at work with colleagues (most of whom I get along really well with)
- my usual lunch with close office mates and my usual after-lunch Starbucks café mocha at my desk while I work
- poker with good college friends on most Fridays (there’s a lot of heckling that takes place, but you can generally feel the love)
- meaningful one-on-one conversations with close friends and loved ones
- an occasional trip to the book store or cinema
- regular exercise consisting of boxing and running (although my running sked is irregular these days because of the rains)
- and best of all, quiet weekend afternoons by myself in Starbucks just reading or doing stuff on my laptop

I'd like to think it's a small, regular kind of life (and I really do), but my sister once said that there are some parts of my life that aren't really ordinary. Like my work, for example.

Okay, admittedly, my work life is probably tons more interesting than that of the cashier guy at Mini Stop. In the two years and nine months I've been with UNICEF Philippines, I've raised so far--through my own campaigns alone--over 30 million pesos to fund programs for children.

Now that I think about it, that's actually not a regular thing, and I'm proud of my work. It's just that when you're in UNICEF, you're expected to be good and brilliant at what you're doing--in the same way that everyone else in that office is so good and brilliant at what they're doing. So basically one's 'awesomeness' at work is pretty much expected on a regular basis. And we tend to forget how awesome our work and our achievements are actually, because we're so busy carrying out the programs and operations and raising the funds.

It's only when I'm out on a site visit, seeing children smile when they receive new books and learning materials, or when someone outside the office tells me how cool it must be to work in UNICEF and save lives, or when the caretaker of this small temple in Bangkok comes up to me to shake my hand and to congratulate me for being part of the UNICEF staff (I am only 1 out of 600,000 worldwide)--that I realize, hey, my life isn't that ordinary after all.

And there isn't anything that super ordinary about my obsessive book purchases (small but frequent book-buying episodes), or my status as an extremely poor-sighted (‘legally-blind’ is the term) individual due to excessive reading, or my overindulgent habit of buying Starbucks coffee almost every day, or the fact that I can identify, say 8 out of 10 times, the exact Starbucks coffee blend by taking just one or two sips from the cup, or even my masochistic addiction to the long, semi-violent rounds of boxing mittwork that leave my knuckles all bloody and wounded. But I'd like to think that these are just the little idiosyncrasies that set me apart from the average Juan (or Juana).

Overall, though, my life is pretty ordinary. It's a blessedly regular life, and I love the way I am living it at this point in time.

09 August 2009

Royce' Chocolate

Isn't one small piece of Royce' Nama a fine work of art?

I am in love with Royce' chocolates. I really am. It's pretty silly to be this much in love with a piece of chocolate, but when I'm not craving for my usual fix of Starbucks coffee, I am craving for Royce'--the Nama line in particular.

The difference between the two is that Starbucks is something I can afford on a regular basis; on the other hand, my two absolute favorites, Royce' Nama Au Lait or Royce' Nama Mild Cacao, cost Php 580 a box.

I recently received a box of Royce' Kirsch Truffe (Php 450) and it was heaven in a box. It lasted me for 3 days because I refused to share it with anyone--except on the third day, when Ramon offered me an Orange Truffe in exchange for one Kirsch. Because the Orange Truffe made me so happy, I willingly shared the remaining two Kirsch Truffes with Paola and Miguel.

As my little sister wisely pointed out, Royce' tastes best when it's given to you. True enough.

But if I can't stand it any longer, I'll head over to Greenbelt 5 and get myself a box of Nama Mild Cacao.

* photos are borrowed from other bloggers who are fellow worshippers of Royce'

Farewell, Leila

This past week has been a week of good-byes.

When Cory Aquino died, the whole nation mourned. My friend Bun and I were one of the countless thousands who stood in line Tuesday night in the Intramuros area, hoping to catch a glimpse of the beloved former President on the last night of her wake.

Well, we weren't able to see Cory, even though we stood in line until 2:30 am. It was raining, there were too many people, Bun and I were both getting sleepy (even though we tried to amuse ourselves while standing in line), and some parts of Intramuros were flooded--and so we decided to turn back.

Got home past three in the morning, exhausted. When I woke up several hours later, I received the most depressing news via SMS. My colleague in UNICEF, Leila Dabao, had passed away after a painful, 2-year struggle against colon cancer.

Eerily enough, she had the same sickness as Cory's, and both their deaths were just a few days apart from one another. But Leila was only 57 when she left this world--and to me and to many others, she was gone too soon.

Unlike Cory though, Leila was given more time to enjoy the rest of her life; she was diagnosed in April 2007, and had 2 blessed years to prepare. I remember all this, because I was in the hospital too when she was told by the doctor that her cancer was in the advanced stages, and she had only some months or a little over a year left to live.

This was heavy, heavy news to bear, and anyone would have understood Leila if she had raged and gotten angry at the world and at God. But Leila wasn't like that at all, and I remember all too clearly how serene she looked in spite of the sad fate that she had to accept.

That day in the hospital back in 2007 is my best memory of Leila, for she was at her most beautiful.

I was confined in Makati Medical Center in the last week of April 2007 for an ovarian cyst removal surgery. There was a huge dermoid cyst--the size of a human fist, according to my doctor and to my mom, who had actually seen it post-op--located inside my right ovary. I had to stay in the hospital for a few days to recover, as the pain from the surgical scar would not have made it possible for me to walk and check out of the hospital right away.

I've always been a healthy person all my life, and this cyst operation came as a shock, because it made me wonder if I had any other sicknesses I should know of. I was 27 at that time, physically active, healthy and acceptably slim--and it was a blow to me to discover that I had this ugly cyst (thankfully benign) swelling inside my ovary.

So there I was, lying in the hospital bed, recovering after the surgery, entertaining depressing, self-pitying thoughts like, "What if there are other cysts in my body? What if I have a lump in my breast? What if I have breast cancer or some other terminal illness?"

An office mate of mine texted to let me know that Leila, or Ms. Leila as she was called by many in UNICEF, was also confined in Makati Med, and on the same floor where I was staying. In fact, she was just a few doors down.

I had already known at that time that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer, and as soon as I was capable of walking and with no more IV needle stuck in my hand, I decided to visit her.

Leila was really just three or four doors away from my room, but my walk took forever. I had refused to sit on a wheelchair, and I wanted to try and walk, even though 'walking' meant shuffling my feet across the floor and holding on to the wall to avoid losing my balance. I felt like some 90-year old woman, because it took me MINUTES to reach her door. By the time I entered her room, I was tired from my efforts, and the scar in my pelvic area was throbbing painfully (I had to take a Dolfenal 500mg tablet every four hours to counter the pain).

Ms. Leila was in bed, reading the Bible. Her daughter-in-law let me in, and Leila smiled when she saw me. I slowly, gingerly sat on her bed, and we talked for a while. I was careful not to ask direct questions about her cancer, and she did not bring up the topic as well. Instead, she asked how I was and said that she would pray for my speedy recovery. I felt tears well up in the corners of my eyes, for I then realized I was in the presence of a truly selfless person. She said nothing about her own condition and chose to concentrate on another individual's well-being.

The next few minutes were very difficult; I had to struggle not to cry. Ms. Leila was advising me in her gentle voice to always pray and to count my blessings, and not to worry because I'd get well soon. She also said to trust in the Lord and His will, and she even read out loud some passages from the Bible.

The way she looked and how she talked to me with such peace in her voice would always stay in my mind. I was physically healthier than her, with no terminal illness to bear at that moment--but she was the stronger one in spirit, a real child of God. I felt ashamed for being so self-pitying, when my own condition wasn't nowhere near to being a tragedy of some sort. People were dying, and here I was, worrying about the physical pain of post-surgery as well as the non-existent scenarios in my head about contracting breast cancer and such.

I cried in the hallway when I left her room. I didn't dare cry in front of her, and I also refused to cry in my own room, because my mom would see and probably be upset at the sight of her daughter in tears. So I cried in the corridor, as I slowly made my way back to the room. I cried because I was angry at myself for being so self-absorbed, and I cried because Ms. Leila, the good person that she was, didn't deserve to die so soon. She should have lived longer, but then again, who was I to question His plans?

Leila was the faithful child of God; she had learned to accept early on what He had in store for her. She was so ready to go, and she let everyone know that she was just waiting. But while doing so, she still drove herself to work everyday for these past two years and kept herself busy. And when she could no longer go to work because she was so weak, there was still no complaint from her--just serene acceptance. In the end, she died quietly and peacefully, in spite of the great pain she had endured in her last few days and weeks on earth.

We held a memorial service for her both on Wednesday and Thursday. Leila, in her unassuming way, had actually not wanted a public viewing and a wake, but it was impossible for us not to visit and pay tribute in some sort of way. Both services were beautiful, and many of us cried. But we laughed too, as some stood in front to share happy, funny memories with Ms. Leila. The services were also a celebration of her life, and I'm sure she would have liked that we remembered her that way.

Ms. Leila, we love you and miss you very much. You are an inspiration to all of us. May you rest in peace.


Many of us in the office were pretty overwrought with how the week had turned out, and it was a bit of a shock to us when we got an email on Thursday afternoon that the mother-in-law of our colleague, Geo, had passed away.

Although we've never met Geo's mother-in-law (we only knew her as the kind soul who prepared Geo's yummy lunches) and it wasn't really a close connection, some of us who were good friends of Geo went to the wake last Friday to pay our respects.

Spent some time with Geo and his wife Bullet, who were both really happy to see us. It was rather disconcerting to be at a wake once more, but we had no problem 'settling in', as my office mates and I ate pasta, pan de sal, chicken lollipops, and half a bowl of peanuts. A strange kind of way to spend Friday night, but that's okay.

Was in Starbucks yesterday evening, doing some work on my laptop, when I got a text from Bun. She was asking me to accompany her to a wake that night.

Are you kidding?? I stared at my phone in disbelief--but with the strange, irreverent urge to laugh.

I don't think I'd be able to handle another wake, I said to Bun.

It turned out that I didn't have to accompany her after all, but I still found it disturbing that there were so many deaths happening in my circle of friends and acquaintances. Either I'm getting old, or people are not staying healthy these days.