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.

01 August 2009

the vain post

There are just some things I'm grateful for.

Like the fact that even if I've had zero exercise this week, I haven't gained any pounds. I was a little hesitant to step on the scale this afternoon because I knew I had been eating, with total abandon, the following food for the past few days:

two big helpings of Ado's pancit (the best pancit ever!)
two chunks of puto with red egg
three big helpings of Amber's pancit Malabon
countless Belgian chocolate biscuits
a huge slice of rhum cake
McDonald's Double Cheeseburger meal with twister fries and Coke Light float
1/4 of a McDonald's BigMac (while I was eating my Double Cheeseburger)
one big single bowl of Mongolian food
Hungarian sausage with egg and cheese sandwich
more pancit guisado with kakanin (our office had a slew of birthday celebrations this week)
another Hungarian sausage with egg and cheese sandwich + grande cup of cold milk from Starbucks
ground beef burrito with extra sidings of nachos and salsa from Mexicali
beef siomai
Korean beef with rice
countless helpings of Ruffles potato chips, that sinful Oishi chocolate sponge snack, more potato chips and some chocolate chip cookies during poker with friends

Was surprised to find out that I'm still at 92 to 93 pounds, which is acceptable for my built. Hooray!

I really love to eat and go on zero diets, but the eating should be countered by exercise--which I haven't done at all this week. Can't be too complacent, so I'm heading to the boxing gym in two hours.