To our Lord, the Giver of Life, From whom all good things spring forth.

“The men where you live,” said the little prince, “raise five thousand roses in the same garden- and they do not find in it what they are looking for.” -The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Also by Thad Hinunangan

City Girl Gets Trapped in the Boondocks and Other Stories (2007) The Private Exhibitionist: Blogging as Literary Expression (2008)

Printed May 2010 Copyright 2010 by Thaddeus C. Hinunangan

Blog Halo-halo

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the author. 

FOREWORD
I always say that when Anne Frank wrote her diary, never in her wildest dreams did she imagine it would be a worldwide bestseller. That’s the difference between a diary and a blog; one is meant for a pair of eyes only, while the other is released for public consumption. Yet some blogs read like they were wonderfully written and edited diaries; imagine Anne Frank getting herself an agent and a book deal—after she wrote her diary. The technical side of writing considers the fact that the blog will be read by others, but the content itself is honest, self-revealing and real. Thad’s blog allows us a peek into his life. And what a life he’s had! From growing up in Tacloban to a 9-year stint in Manila then back to his hometown, Thad offers up stories and anecdotes that draws one in and keeps one glued with his effortless and accessible prose. Do you have some free time? Then feel free to spend it with Thad. And see how the ordinary, emancipated is actually extraordinary.

Joel McVie, blogger and author of

The Wet Book: Stories from the Bath House

BLOG HALO-HALO* 

I. “MILK”

Episode 1: Room with a View or Fastfood with Greasy Fries Episode 2: Blood, Needles, and Vajayjays Episode 3: Rush, rush Episode 4: Gatekeeper Episode 5: Curacha

Nourishing School Stuff

Episode 1: Appearances Episode 2: The Tale of the Muscle Shirt, Polyester Shorts, and Yellow Speedos Episode 3: The Naked Chef Meets Fear Factor Episode 4: An Extraordinarily Ordinary Story Episode 5: Fetish Episode 6: Crush-ed Episode 7: Compromising Postitions

Chilling with Stories from Beyond the School Gates

II. “ICE”

*kakaibang trip!

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III. “FRUITS”
Episode 1: Seasons Episode 2: Of Carabaos and Girlfriends Episode 3: My City, Myself Episode 4: Mile High Mishap Episode 5: Chicken Adobo, Humba, and Homemade Love Episode 6: A Second Look at an Imperfect Marriage Episode 7: Life Lessons in Jogging
Living and Learning

IV. “SUGAR”
Sweet Stories from the Best Blogs (From City Girl gets Trapped in the Boondocks and Other Stories)

Postscript: The Big Three-Oh BONUS STORIES: The Long Weekend
(From The Private Exhibitionist)

Made in Saudi, Made in America

About the Author

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Chapter I. Nourishing School Stuff

My grandmother once told me she took a few clumps of fine hair during my first haircut and inserted them within the pages of a thick book. It was supposedly done to guarantee my aptitude in school- either that or it merely brought about my undying flair for dramatics. I’ve had a wealth of experiences in my studies through the years, but none as stressful and noteworthy than those in Nursing school. For someone who faints at the sight of blood, retches at the smell of human excrement, and hates memorizing with a passion, entering this field of study was my Everest. Writing had ever been my refuge from the madness of cramming and late night study sessions, of the palpable tension during one’s first duty in Obstetrics & Gynecology, or perhaps the rush you get from scrubbing for a major operation. It certainly was a small miracle I have survived those years, and it gives me great joy to tell the tales of Nursing life. Prop your feet up the couch as we slip into reverie in the crazy world that is college...

Episode 1: Room with a View or Fastfood with Greasy Fries 

For the record, I’m allowing myself the luxury of 20 minutes of guilt-free blogging as a way to blow off steam. I have two more Final exams tomorrow, and I haven’t slept in two days- I know I shouldn’t waste my time but screw it… Woolf said a woman needs a room of her own if she is to write fiction, Thadie says he needs fastfood junk to study Curative and Rehabilitative Nursing! Oh but I don’t limit myself, no Sir. Sometimes you’d find me taking a bite of Chickenjoy at the Jollibee on Zamora overlooking the pier, with notes in hand, sometimes sipping hot coffee and scanning a four inch thick book, or dipping greasy salted fries on a tub of ketchup at Mcdo at 11pm. My veins need caffeine to function, and a whole lot of grease to oil up what’s left of my working neurons. It is a desperate attempt to cram everything inside my head. Otherwise, we don’t want to resort to the same monkeyshines other students are into. I remember once during a 70 item long quiz, some instructors made a simple mistake of having a section take the examination earlier than everybody else- by noon not only did everyone know of the exact coverage, students actually had all the answers! Students who were brave enough resorted to the classic codigo, but chicken shits like me got torn between going through readings and looking at the answers. In the end, I decided to memorize 50 items by clustering them by fives, (and adding a tune) and answer the rest. So when the exam started, I was humming to myself bdcca-bbcaa-addcb… in three minutes I had but twenty more items to answer. In the end, we all got busted not because someone got

caught but because the scores were simply unbelievably high. Imagine, the delinquent suddenly having a nearperfect score, when in comparison, his short quizzes (if at all he attended class) were below passing. Ok, so lesson learned, shenanigans are out of question, and that’s why I’m still at this spot, in this table, at midnight. Looking around me is like gazing into a mirror: all tables are filled with students and their respective mountains of photocopies and risographed readings, faces distracted, munching on a donut, with earphones firmly in place and wires dangling from their faces. This place is a virtual school canteen in the wee hours of the morning. Drat, my 20 minutes is over. Adieu!

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Episode 2: Blood, Needles, and Vajayjays

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I acted like a complete dunce during my first time to assist a delivery. There I was, looking so immaculate in my freshly pressed green scrubs, gazing intermittently at the glass partition between the delivery room and NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), making sure my hair was in place. The Clinical Preceptor was giving an orientation and final instructions, and I just nodded my head and joined murmurs of “Yes, Ma’am!” We were finally out of the classroom and laboratory, away from plastic mannequins and simulated environment. We were finally let loose into the clinical area. “Gravida 2, 5 cm, her bag of water ruptured already!!” An orderly was wheeling in a pregnant woman in labor, her face contorted in pain. “Vital signs and FHR (fetal heart rate) now!” Barked our preceptor. I felt like I was in the middle of Grey’s Anatomy episode (or Scrubs, more like it) as we scrambled to assist the woman to her bed in the labor room. One student took her blood pressure while we get a blanket to cover her lower extremities so we could expose her swollen belly to do Leopold’s maneuver. I could finally hear the baby’s heartbeat through the stethoscope; I counted, then marked the spot for future monitoring. “BP 130/80 mmHg, the FHR is 130 bpm, contractions regular.” I said, wiping my brow.

“Another patient for C Section! I need two of you to scrub now!” Another patient came in a stretcher, and two students from our group scrambled for their OR gowns and start preparing. Just as we thought it couldn’t get any worse, our preceptor screamed again. “Multipara, 10 cm already, I need you (pointing at me) and you (pointing at a friend) with me at the delivery room NOW!” The rest, stay with the other patient and monitor the progress of her labor! “B..bb...but, Ma’am she’s not my patient, my patient is the one at the labor room.” I stammered nervously. She just glared at me and walked hurriedly to the delivery room. I followed. “Where’s the whiteboard marker for recording the time of delivery at the whiteboard?” She asked loudly while the patient was being assisted into the Lithotomy position. My classmate and I looked at each other. “You didn’t tell me about any marker!” I hissed. “Where is the Methergine ampule? Where are the sutures for the Episioraphy? Where’s your BP apparatus?” “Uhmm.. ah.” I looked around in panic. “Prepare those things NOW!” And off we went. “Where were you during orientation?” My classmate demanded. “Oh shut up let’s just find those things.” “Crowning!”

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The midwife and our clinical preceptor were instructing the mother how to push. Then the midwife did something that would take weeks to disappear from my mind: she took a sharp Mayo scissor and cut the woman’s perineum to widen the birth canal. The woman screamed in pain. Blood oozed. I felt faint, I thought I’d collapse into the big bucket where they dumped the placentas. I wanted to slide the woman to the side so I could lie down for a while. Kidding. The baby came out faster than I expected. No observable “internal rotation”, “extension” and all that cardinal movements we memorized in the classroom. The birth itself took no more than a few seconds. Just like that a person was born into this world. “BP?” “130/80mmHg.” “Inject Methergine 1amp.” I prepared the medication and administered it via intramuscular route. The woman was almost delirious; she did not even notice I stuck a big needle on her arm. The neonate was brought to the NICU for cord care. We assisted the woman into her clothes and did the after care. As we watched her being wheeled away in a stretcher, my clinical preceptor asked me: “Ok, so did you learn anything new in this exposure?” “Yes Ma’am,” I said as I fanned myself.

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“…Listen to instructions.”

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Episode 3: Rush, rush
12:01 PM. I wrapped up an hour of polishing my article for Jurisprudence, took a quick shower, and laid out my immaculate white uniform on the bed. I should arrive in school by 12:30, perfectly composed, with still half an hour to review for the quiz. Perfect. I frowned as I put my foot outside the door- a speck of water suddenly appeared on my shoe. Then another, and another. It was starting to drizzle. Fine, I took out my umbrella and headed out the gate, hugging my backpack close so it doesn’t get soaked in the rain. In the distance, there were no pedicabs in sight, which meant I had to walk to the highway to catch a ride. It was then fate decided to play a joke on me. It seemed, as I put one foot in front of the other, the rain poured harder. My shoes were completely soaked now. Even as I held the umbrella closer, the wind was blowing the rain sideways. Barely a hundred meters from our front door, I was already dripping wet from knees down, and the rain also soaked the back of my uniform, my arms, and my bag.

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Halfway to the main street, I had to finally stop at a neighbor’s hut- I was completely soaked from head to foot, and could not possibly go to school looking like I just stepped out of the shower fully clothed. Finally a pedicab passed by, so I requested him first to drop by our house so I can change my uniform. As I finally made it to the highway minutes later, changed, and a little less irritable, the sun shone its brightest, mocking me. I lost precious minutes for review so I decided to start reviewing while riding the jeep. After what seemed like an eternity, I arrived at our building and flew four flights of stairs to our classroom. What greeted me was an empty room with the lights off, and a solitary person inside. “Where is everybody?” I panted, struggling to catch my breath. She looked me in the eye and said: “Haven’t you heard? We have no classes today.”

Episode 4: Gatekeeper

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There are certain things one has to remember when being in the Psych ward, such as: number one, sharpen your peripheral vision- you never know whether your oncecalm patient would suddenly have the irresistible urge to pull your hair or perhaps throw feces at you (excuse me for those eating at the moment). Number two, treat your patients with respect you would give to a fellow human being- so when someone bites you don’t bite back (kidding), just maintain control and try to pacify your patient. You are the sane one, remember? Number three, stay calm. When chaos erupts don’t run for the nearest exit, it’s your job to make sure patients don’t hurt others- or themselves. With these in mind, around fifty of us tiptoed through the double-locked (from the inside and from the outside) iron gate to finally meet with our patients for the first time. Being fidgety amateurs must give off some kind of potent pheromones because even catatonic patients rolled their eyes, as if they could sense the fear permeating from our pristine white uniforms. Though I cannot divulge certain information or descriptions, I can say as much that I’m thankful my patient was neither too unruly nor violent. But of course, either due to fear, inexperience, or the language barrier (my first language is Waray, while patients are Cebuano- and though we tried to improve our bisaya the past months, it was simply impossible to be fluent in a short period of time), blunders are unavoidable. For example: Female Psych Patient: “Gwapo, hampa hampa ta!” (“Handsome, let’s f*ck”)

Granting that I knew only a few Cebuano words, I uttered the first Cebuano word that flew to my mind: “Unya, unya!” (Later, later!) I was supposed to say “Dili pwede” (No, that’s forbidden!) I kept scribbling on my little notebook (praying I’d be able to decipher my notes later) during the history-taking and kept jumbling names calling one patient “Sheena” when her name was Shiela, or “Myra” when her name was Myrna. No wonder they all had puzzled looks on their faces. I must have confused them further. Towards the end of the shift, I somehow found myself with my back against the steel gate. My only task was to open and close the gate for the food and medication deliveries. Temporarily, I suppose, with the few minutes of little to no interaction with the patients, I found myself more useful than a nuissance. Another day approaches, with the hope that I get to be more efficient than a human padlock.

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Episode 5: Curacha

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It really is hard to believe that almost four years ago I segued from working man to school boy. I became part of the largest ever batch of Nursing students in St. Scho Tacloban- a strong 500+, as it were the peak of the exodus of health workers abroad and the demand for Nurses was high at that time. Our batch had certain peculiarities- for one, there were a lot of second coursers (“elders”, they would call us). We had batchmates from all over Region 8, and some came as far as Manila and Mindanao just to study here. Others were transferees from big name universities like UST and La Salle, and of course there were a number of us who were certified Iskolar ng Bayans running amok (lol). I think we were also the last batch to follow the stringent screening process (aka elimination) and many of our comrades didn’t make it. By mid-semester of the 1st year 1st sem, we already had classmates who would mysteriously stop attending classes. We had 31 units straightaway, and I’m proud to note we were trained by the best General Education team. I remember our Monday schedule which began at 6:30AM for the morning praise and ended 8:30PM. The rest of the week was a blur of lectures, quizzes, practical exams, and more written exams. There were 9 sections left when the enrollment for the second semester of 1st year came. By the time we finished the 2nd year second sem, we all lined up to see the Dean, who was going to inform us of our fate. Half of the entire batch didn’t make it. Some

shifted to another course, some transferred to other Nursing schools in Ormoc, Cebu, and Manila, others simply dropped out for one reason or another. Two hundred fifty or so went on to attend the much anticipated Capping and Badge Pinning Ceremonies- signaling the start of our transition from mere classroom instruction to actual hospital duty. There was a twist in the new sectioning which began the summer before 3rd year- the administration pooled together all the Dean’s Listers in one section, which at some point raised controversy. I was in favor of the usual heterogenous sectioning, which was done for the majority of the batch, but the decision to have Section A homogenous according to GWA was upheld. In hindsight, I would have really preferred to be just placed in different sections because you get to meet a lot of different people and the solidarity of the batch was improved. Being in Section A bunched up with the same faces over and over again gets a little boring, not to mention these people are naturally competitive (myself included) which could get annoying and frightening sometimes. I’ve had friends who actually preferred to be transferred to other sections rather than be in A. But that drama aside, we surmounted a few more hurdles like Promotive and Preventive, Curative and Rehabilitative Nursing, and research. At the same time we were trained by our Clinical Preceptors in the different areas like DR/ NICU, operating room, emergency, outpatient, community and the unforgettable Psychiatric nursing. Our batch was successful with the Case Presentation at VSMMC, and completed the affiliation without incident. And of course our batch also happened to be perennial champions in the Sportsfest and College Days, earning the moniker “Grandslam Batch.” I will never forget what one of our Preceptors told us

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during the course of our Clinical duties: “Here in the hospital you are dealing with lives. There is no room for error when you are caring for your patients.” I finally understood why firmness and strictness was always maintained during our training, and I think in that moment, by the examples shown to us in Clinical practice, I was also able to grasp what kind of health professionals we should be. Saying that my Nursing life in St. Scho is colorful would be an understatement. So many people- fellow students, faculty and staff had touched my life in one way or another. Here I delved into another one of my passions which is writing, and I’ve gone far from my original blog entries which I initially posted to come out of the closet! They also had me dance the Curacha (a traditional courtship dance in Leyte/ Samar) in front of an audience, participate in a Cheerdance (with my “two left feet”), and play Basketball. Oh dear. I can’t believe that in a few days or so, we would be concluding our Nursing life and move on to the next chapter. It is with both elation and a hint of sadness that accompanies this realization. But if I were to encapsulate the feeling it would be gratitude- to everyone I’ve met here, to the patients I’ve cared for, to our Preceptors, and to the school and the profession I’ve come to love.

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Chapter II. Chilling with Stories from Beyond the School Gates

I’ve always wondered why they used the words “Commencement Exercises”, when in fact it is done to officially cap those years of study. Well, according to the Dean, who almost blew his top during graduation practice out of frustration, the term connotes “a beginning”, because having graduated only means that one had finished trainingbut is in fact still a novice in the working world. Now that classes have ended, the real lessons begin- in dealing with unemployment, the tedious climb in the organization or company that one chose to be with, and the most challenging of all: being with all sorts of interesting, temperamental people. The fact that I am in my late twenties suggest that I am no newbie to the working world. I have to agree, the most important education I got was not from within the four walls of the classroom, but elsewhere my once-jobless ass would take me. One’s early twenties consist of a series of firsts- first apartment, first job, first paycheck, first colleague crush, and a whole lot of experiences deemed strange at first. Like a baby learning its first steps, you begin to take risks and take on life’s new challenges as a young adult.

Episode 1: Appearances

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I loosened my grip on the razor as blood appeared around my ankles where I had nicked it. Shaving’s a bitch. “Why am I doing this again?” I wondered. “You’re crossing a line.” Said my brother Tye. I told him about this costume party we were having for our batch, and my plan to come in drag. But the more friends reacted negatively, the more curious I became. What’s the big deal exactly? I was bent on finding that out as I got ready for the Senior’s Ball. A make-up artist friend volunteered to do my hair, and promised to lend me a gown. She was a regular fixture in gay pageants and she knew her thing. Initially I thought of the idea of coming in drag as a joke, but after I told her, she jumped up and down excitedly at her new project. She was going to turn me from a “duckling” to a swan. We live in a society that marginalizes gay peoplethe more effeminate you are, the more people will think of you as “weak” or “superficial”. My intention was to prove that no matter what one wears, or how one walks, or how one talks,it has little to do with what’s inside- a person’s character and substance. In my case I wanted to show that nothing has changed- I am still the same person, no less. Not even 1/4 inch thick make-up or four-inch heels will make me drop my IQ points or berate my personhood. As usual, I thought, if I am to do this, I better do it right. If I looked like a walrus in a dress, then by no means am I going to parade like that in public. Yeah, that’s the vain me speaking. So anyway I began with the basics: remove

all body hair from legs to armpits so that I don’t look like some deranged cavewoman. As I stood in front of the mirror, I was amazed how long and slim my legs looked. Regularly they were covered under tufts of hair and all, so I didn’t quite expect that. I slipped into silver 4 inch sandals and tried walking. Nice. But once in a while I’d trip, causing my ankle to sprain a little bit. I put on sweatpants and quickly cleaned my room, then left for a friend’s place, where the transformation would continue. I was given three gowns to choose from: a white halter, a lime green serpentine gown, and a purple gown with a thigh-high slit. My female friends helped me dress up as they took turns in having their faces done. My oh my, they fit alright, but my shoulders were too big I looked like a Linebacker. My friend Aya lent me her dress which was a relatively modest empire cut dress with sleeves. My friend kept making jokes as she did my facethere was a brownout and she was forced to apply makeup in candlelight. She said they needed to prepare formalin because of the way I looked- reclined on a chair while a friend held a candle before me. Finally, the accessories were worn, and as a finishing touch- two rolled up socks placed on either side of my chest for breasts. While we were in the car on the way to the hotel, I could hear my heart beating. Oh my, I was actually going to be seen in public looking like this, I almost panicked! Finally, I took a deep breath and just stepped out of the car into the street and then the hotel lobby. As we entered the ballroom, jaws dropped. I couldn’t quite hear a thing because people were shrieking and taking pictures. Well,

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for one night only, why not revel in my outfit? As I thought, it wasn’t really that big a deal. I made jokes and laughed with friends. Dressing up in drag wasn’t the end of the world, that’s for sure. As I paused for a bit in my seat I had another thought- the essence or substance of everything really goes beyond what our two eyes can see. The essence of a woman isn’t in the long legs or beautiful breasts. It is the role that she plays as a daughter or wife or mother that makes her who she is. She nurtures, she cares, and she loves- that’s what makes her a woman. Similarly some people blindly measure their happiness through tax returns and bank accounts, big houses or nice clothes, as opposed to having great relationships and a growing maturity. And in the same way, a student nurse isn’t measured for the number of medals he or she earned, but in the dedication and the quality of care that is rendered to their patients. Suddenly, in that room filled with loud and giddy BS Nursing graduates, I learned an unexpected lesson. Days later, I laughed like crazy as they uploaded the photos of the Senior’s Ball. We really did have fun that night. I was a little embarrassed at those who took pictures of my boxers peeking from my skirt- another lesson, when one wears a skirt the legs must always be pressed together. Hahaha! Oh well, who cares? I got nice legs.

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Episode 2: The Tale of the Muscle Shirt, Polyester Shorts, and Yellow Speedos

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One of the saddest things ever is having a closet full of clothes you would never wear again (at least in your right mind) - like that acid wash jeans you once thought was so cool, or the sputum-colored Palaro t-shirt you wore one drunken night, or even that Lacoste knockoff you bought that’s already faded from far too many washes. I decided to clean up and make some closet space by checking each item one by one, and sorting out the “wearables” from the ones I’d give away. It’s amazing how much I’ve spent on cheap ass shirts, judging from the pile. If only I could go back in time and buy a quality shirt instead, in exchange for everything I’ve spent on these dingy Php120 a piece T-shirts. I stopped dead in my tracks- at the bottom of the cabinet were three items of glaring green, red, and yellow, all made of 90% polyester. The first item was a satin-looking (I emphasize the resemblance only, because the fabric was more itchy than luxurious to touch) green muscle shirt, with blue accents around the neckline and sleeves. I remember these- I bought it from the very first Penshoppe boutique at Dynasty Square back in ‘97. I was 16, and the shirt was a graduation present for myself. The unfortunate thing was, I weighted about 98lbs at that time- no fat, and no muscles either. Damn, it looked so great on that mannequin at the store window- and since it was a bit pricey (Ok it was 300 bucks, but in 1997, for a

high school student in Leyte- that was already more than what one would normally spend on a shirt) I was the only one who had it. I wore it once when my friends and I went out- my collarbone stood out like a couple of trusses, the skin on my arms pale and thin- emphasized by the muscle shirt’s color. “You need to gain weight!” Exclaimed one of female friends. From that moment on, I swore to eat two cups of rice every meal and never wear the shirt again. The red shorts I picked up next looked like the lower half of a basketball jersey (although I never played basketball)- and If I remember correctly, this one was purchased in 2003 when I started going to the gym. I gained weight alright, even a bit of muscle that time. There was a stain in the fabric, which I gather was the reason why I never wore it again. The last item was a pair of yellow swim trunks. The design was quite simple: plain solid color with 3 red and white diagonal stripes near the crotch area. It was neatnot too plain, not too out there. Even the cut was perfect. So I decided to try it on again to see why it remained for years at the bottom of my closet. As I slid the stretchy fabric up my legs, I had to wriggle a little bit. It was tight around thigh area- a little bit more and it would have cut off my circulation. As I checked myself in the full length mirror I suddenly knew why: at the front, it looked like one of those low-cut things men with washboard abs wore (so in short, it was unforgiving with my tiny paunch- unless I held my breath the entire time I wore it, it would never work), the back part was obscene. It could only contain half my butt, and it was a major cleavage situation down there. I felt bad discarding it though, since that thing was kind of sexy. I put my clothes back on and wrapped up the sorting.

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I smiled to myself- funny how a bunch of old clothes could take me on a trip down memory lane and those errors in fashion judgment. I stood up and went to the storage area where we keep most of the things we don’t use. The day ended with 25% more closet space for me after discarding all my old clothes- well, all of them, except the speedo.

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Episode 3: The Naked Chef Meets Fear Factor
Who said you need to spend thousands to experience a sumptuous meal fit for your epicurean taste? What I’m about to tell you is top secret- as in Maxim’s in Paris have been begging me for this but I told them no, this is exclusively for my friends. If you are planning a lovely supper for a special someone, a friend, a nosy neighbor, or perhaps your most hated enemy, you’re in luck. Whip out the lampara and set the table for a simply divine dining experience. First, of course you have to prepare the following things: 1. Tokeneneng and kwek kwek 2. Lucky Me Noodles and Payless Pancit Canton 3. 4 sticks Isaw and Helmet 4. 2 sticks Atay, 2 sticks Adidas (don’t forget to ask for sauce- usually pronounced “sows” in the streets) 5. Achara

6. 1 indian mango na may bagoong 7. Monay and dirty ice cream 8. Sarsi 9. 2 extra rice

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To begin with (assuming you are already wearing your gown, or perhaps your shower curtain cleverly draped on your body like a Vera Wang cocktail dress), serve the Hors d’oeuvres- I mean the tokeneneng. Share the sauce or “sows”. Compliment each others appearance, blah blah blah. Now it’s time to bring out the soup- the delicately flavored Lucky Me Noodles. Try not to eat too much because the pasta is coming next- and you now that instant pancit canton is the new ravioli! The main course is Foie gras and some fancy meat, with very fancy red wine. Ok its really Atay, Isaw, Adidas, and kwek kwek with rice- but who cares about petty details, right? Enjoy, try to look poised as you bite off the helmet. Try not to look at the poor chicken’s half-opened left eye. Don’t forget the sows. Continue your magical conversation over achara. Then for fresh fruit, have a slice or two of Indian mango. Share the bagoong. Then top off the exquisite meal with dessert- but nothing too common such as tiramisu or creme brulee. Yuck! Peons are feasting on those plain things in 5 star hotels- you are simply too jaded to be satisfied. So you settle with Monay ala mode. Yummy! After supper, if you still haven’t thrown up, or experience the symptoms of Shigellosis, or even had severe diarrhea and consequently had hyponatremia, you can savor the feeling of being a true food connoisseur. Bravo!

Episode 4: An Extraordinarily Ordinary Story

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Her story is the stuff of telenovelas. At a young age, her father died, and since her mother was also jobless, she was sent to live with an aunt who promised to send her to school. She packed what little belongings she had, and left her mother and siblings. Unfortunately the aunt lied, and she was instead sent to work in the fields. After several years of enduring this, another of her mother’s siblings promised the same thing, and thinking she would finally be given the chance to continue Grade three, she went willingly to Alang-alang, Leyte. Alas, she was instead turned into a maid and yaya- and without pay! This aunt was even worse, maltreating her and leaving her to eat only rice and dried fish all the time- and sometimes their leftovers. There was even an instance where she was sent to sleep outside the house, upon one of her aunt’s whims. Seeking to escape, she did the neighbor’s laundry and earned twenty pesos every time. When able to finally raise money for her fare to go back home, she ran away but her pertinent belongings which included her report card, were left in Alang-alang. Back home, it was the same story- extreme poverty which rendered her and her family hungry. Sometimes, they would make a few pesos by going into the fields to collect fallen coconuts and sell them at the market. Her mother remarried- but to a part-time laborer who beat her mother when he was drunk. A distant relative of Nanay, an old maid who lived in her town took pity on the girl. They both decided to work as

maids in a middle class household in Pastrana, but after three months and never receiving a single cent of their wages, they once again decided to leave. Nanay pleaded our distant relative’s case- this old lady was hardworking (she once worked in Manila as a seamstress, according to Nanay) and could help around the house. The only thing was that she had the young girl in tow. At first I protested at having to hire two people when we already had one maid at present. But Nanay said that we only had to pay minimal amount for the girl since, officially it was the distant relative we were hiring and that she just took pity on the girl’s situation. I finally consented. They started working at our house in Tacloban- this girl looked shockingly young (because of the previous malnutrition, she has not developed normally, much like a nine year old kid who still looks like a preschooler because of poor nutrition) and dressed shabbily. My late mother took pity on the girl and bought her new clothes- she had in her possession only three underpants, two tattered shorts, and a few threadbare t-shirts. And so she stayed with us- withdrawn and very shy at first, but eventually warmed up to our family, especially after taking active care of my year-old nephew. Of all our previous helpers (they’ve come and gone), she was the one who stayed. Honest, hardworking, and respectful of Nanay. We’ve increased her wages several times- and just today, upon handing over her wages, she asked permission if she could go visit her family. She does this on a regular basis- buying rice, food, and toiletries for her family, and give 2/3 of her wages to her mother, keeping a mere 1/3

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for herself. Now, she even is already sending two of her siblings to school, and told them to do well, as she never had the chance to finish even her Elementary education. She’s now 16 years old. I persuaded her to continue her studies at the public school a stone’s throw away from our residence, but for a number of reasons she refused- partly, according to her, she’s too old, and is embarrassed to continue at this age. Nonetheless she continues to live in hope, that somehow one day her family’s life would be better after her siblings graduate. Her name is Angeline, but as she would gleefully insist, she still wants to be called by the nickname people at home call her- Umbang.

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Episode 5: Fetish
“Tale of the Undercover Thief who Steals Old Underwear for no Reason.” -oOo-

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T’was a hot April afternoon when I decided to drop by the plush RCBC Plaza gym, to work up a sweat before my shift at the office. As I changed in the lockers, I noticed that although I brought my workout clothes- spare t-shirt, shorts, and rubber shoes; I forgot an extra pair of underwear. What I was wearing was a pair of ancient “granny pants” (sorry, it was laundry day) I had since I was a freshman in college, with the garter stretched and curled like a piece of pasta. Hiding behind the locker door, and afraid someone would see me, I decided to keep my granny pants and my office clothes in the locker while I go commando in my gym clothes. So I locked the cabinet and “bounced” all the way to the workout area. I started with the weights and the machines, carefully keeping my legs together so the one-eyed monster won’t take a peek to the outside world. It was a rather uneventful afternoon as I listened to music while “bouncing” on the treadmill that was facing GT Tower. When I finally finished with the weights, I went to the steam room and then the showers. With my towel wrapped around my waist, I walked to the locker area where a gym bunny was rolling deodorant under his arm while completely naked. Omg! I averted

my eyes (charot!) and opened my cabinet. I took out my stuff. Undershirt, check! Long sleeves, check! Necktie, pants, check! Wait. I froze. Then I checked everything again- inside the locker, my bag. My granny pants were missing!!! As I checked the pocket of my bag where I kept my valuables- cell phone and wallet- the money was complete. “Was I sure I really wore underwear kanina?” I asked myself. Yes!!! How could I forget wearing granny pants? After checking every inch of my bag and locker, an attendant noticed my distress and approached me. “Sir, is there a problem?” I hesitated. What am I supposed to do, tell him I was missing my granny pants? Even if they found those it would be too embarrassing to claim ownership of that thing. I smiled. “None, everything’s fine.” Damn. I had to go to work commando, I’d be late for office if I go home for a pair. As I exited the locker area, I looked around the guys inside the locker room in various stages of undress. One of these people took my underwear. I found it hard to believe because it was an upscale place, and there was certainly no shortage of underwear in the Philippines. Oh well, those granny pants had to go anyway.

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I headed out with both an amused and annoyed look on my face.

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Episode 6: Crush-ed
I. Youth. This was embodied in the demigod standing on a pedestal, talking with his followers. Even from afar, I could relish the sight of his soft, almost feminine featuresif not for that strong jaw and that masculine aplomb. I was seated at my station, taking calls. While the eight hours of non-stop chatter was immensely dragging, I would console myself by stealing a glance at the Queue Desk to see Larry and his pale face beaming. I’ve been at my job for about a year now, and his, even less. I belonged to an earlier training batch, but even so, he got promoted to Workforce Analyst in a short period of time. I felt the need to go to the restroom, so I had the chance to call Queue to inform them (I hoped he would be the one to pick up instead of the girls). Ring…Ring…

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“Queue desk, Larry here.” “Ah, ahm this is Thad. Break...” “Ok.” “Ay, washroom break pala.” He laughed. Great. Nice, going Thad. I got up from my seat and hauled my ass to the restroom. Looking at the huge mirror, I adjusted the black sweater I bought a few days back from ukay-ukay. Heaven and earth. No, heaven and purgatory, I though wryly. Larry the 5’8 demigod, with his perfect teeth, rulerstraight nose, and sharp fashion sense. Me, (all 5’6 of me) with my tragic outfit that once belonged to someone else, my less-than-sophisticated sensibilities, and timid demeanor. Ok, so I wasn’t exactly bad looking. I tried smiling at the mirror- open and friendly. Ugh. I looked like a high school kid on meth. I ruffled my hair and tried to look sexy. Fat chance. I finally exhaled in frustration and went back to my station.

II. Is it just me?

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I could’ve sworn he was looking my way. I turned slyly to my side and pretended to write something on my notebook. Don’t look! I looked. Yup, he’s definitely looking. “You’re imagining things, weirdo.” I chided myself. When it came to my one hour break, I opted not to go to the drop-off like the rest of my mates who went for a smoke. The 12th floor was recently opened, and the new facilities included a billiard table, a foozeball table, and a very cozy couch. I wanted to nap for a bit at the new Rec Room before returning to my toxic calls. I sat down at the edge of the couch, alone. The recreation room was dark (it was 2:00am) and chilly, so I wrapped my sweater around me and drifted off to sleep. I had this feeling of something warm next to my thighs. I realized, there was someone who sat beside me. My heart pounded. The person shifted, causing his thighs to rub against mine. Curious, I stole a glance to his side. The room was only illuminated by the faint glow of street lights below- and his silhouette was unmistakable: short spiky hair, sharp nose, and tiny bow lips. It was Larry. His eyes were open, but I couldn’t really tell if he was looking at something. He just sat there beside me in

that couch, as silent as he was still.

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Eventually I had to get up and get back to work. When I sat down, I still could not shake the feeling that someone from Queue desk was watching me. III. “There’s this guy.” “Uhuh.” My seatmate nodded. “He… well he doesn’t really do anything like talk with me, but he keeps doing things.” I confided. She raised an eyebrow. “He passes by my station on purpose on his way to the restroom, even though it would take him longer versus going straight from the Queue desk aisle to CR.” “And then I catch him looking at me during the shift.” “So?” “Alright, let me ask you this, do Workforce Analysts have fixed breaks?” “I don’t think so.” “That’s the other thing! Whenever I take my break- even when it was moved repeatedly during schedule change, he is always at the Rec Room the same time I’m there!” “Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”

“He sits beside me even when the couch is empty and he could’ve sat on the opposite side.” Now my friend leaned over in interest. “Who?” Our conversation was interrupted by our supervisor who signaled we should leave the locker area and prepare for calls. We hurried to our stations. I took a seat in a station hidden from view from the Queue desk. Just as I guessed, Larry passed by and spoke to the manager whose station was closest to mine. I tried not to look at his face as he stood there with his hands on his waist. It was the third night of us playing the you-look-at-me-andI-look-at-you game. IV. I made up my mind. I was going to gather up my courage and speak with him. Make friends, or beg him to stop sitting beside me at the rec room (like a piece of delicious pie I can never have a piece of), anything but this torturous silence of not knowing. I took calls for an hour, and kept glancing at Queue desk. Larry wasn’t there. Perhaps, he swapped with another Analyst, I thought. Maybe he is to come in an hour later. At 2:00am I went to take my one hour break. I slept alone in the rec room. When I got back, I tried to casually ask my Team Manager:

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“Karen, isn’t Larry supposed to be in tonight (I knew he wasn’t off till the next evening)?” “I’m not sure Thad.” She said. But Larry did not show up during that shift. Or the next. The pantry was abuzz with the latest news. HSBC was hiring, and Larry was among those who were pirated. It was rumored that they offered almost double of what they were earning. I slumped back in my chair, feeling like I’ve lost something precious. I know it was silly because we never even really talked- I never really knew if my crush also took a liking in me. When my shift ended I lethargically stuffed all my things into my locker, and walked to the elevator. The door slid open and the handsome chinito inside smiled at me. “Down?” “Yes.” I said, revived and smiling like an idiot.

Episode 7: Compromising Postitions

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Last night as we walked home from a very late meeting for the publication, two friends who were both NBSB (no boyfriend since birth) asked me: is it great being in a relationship? I stopped walking for a bit, and thought carefully of my answer. The glow of the streetlights and the noise of the vehicles on the street seemed to soften a little bit. “To start with, I think majority of us have a misconception of what love really is between two people.” This put their mouths agape, forming a big “O”. It was true- or at least for me. My model of “true love” was the bond between my parents. As the eldest son, I can say I’ve really seen them at their best and worst, since the time I was little, until my siblings and I grew up. When I was about four or five, they were the picture of two people completely in love- yes, the kind you see in movies: affectionate, giddy, and completely head-over-heels. Happily-ever-afters however, almost never happens in real life. Instead, people deal with the realities of raising their children, paying the mortgage, sending kids to school, working on their retirements... Love’s mettle is tested with hardships and adversities and sometimes, it does not endure. During the time my parent’s marriage troubles started- jealousy, money problems, parenting issues- I was worried if their bond would survive considering that they would be migrating to the States, on their own and away from the rest of our relatives. The harsh environment

and their distance from us took its toll, and the differences in their personalities caused a rift that was becoming more apparent. My father is the pragmatic type of person who values practicality more than anything else, my mother, the romanticist, constantly opposed his decisions with reasons that he found unacceptable. The power struggle finally ended with their separation. I cried a river over this, because for me it was proof that sometimes mere affections or romantic feelings may not be enough to sustain a relationship. That even after 27 years of marriage and three kids, a couple could still give up on their love. So I brought them back to my point: “A relationship requires more than that weak-in-the-knees feeling for that other person, because after sometime that frizzles away.” I’m an amateur when it comes to love, and for the first time, I am in a relationship that lasted more than a year and requires a whole lot of work to constantly adjust and compromise with what he wants out of the relationship and what I want out of it. To quote a line from the TV show Ally McBeal, “...perhaps because love is about learning to compromise, that’s why we find ourselves in compromising positions.” But as long as we keep striving, even if it proves difficult to make changes for one another, the relationship will endure. Learning to give and yield, finding someone who can stand you and your quirks, but also having someone to hold your hand at the funeral of a loved one or someone you can tell your troubles to, even when he says “I told you so”- I say yes, it’s hard work and it’s no fairy tale, but it is great to be in a relationship.

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Chapter III. Living and Learning

This chapter takes a sentimental turn. This is probably a clear sign that I’m getting older, because way back in my rough-and-tumble days I never really bother to see things in hindsight. It was always moment to moment of fun and eagerness. They say one of the great things about being older is being able to pick your battles. You develop an instinct of weighing your options before taking a leap- which takes the excitement down a notch just a bit. Sigh. I wish there was a way to balance that youthful exhuberance and the calm serenity one gets through maturity. This is me sober, so wipe that smirk off your face. Here we go- life lessons from the school of hard knocks...

Episode 1: Seasons

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The tamarind bonsai on our terrace had been alive for more than a decade. Once, I was alarmed because I noticed one morning the leaves were shed completely, and it sure looked dead to me. Fearing I had killed my late mother’s favorite plant out of neglect, I watered it and prayed feverishly that it would somehow return to life. True enough, weeks passed and small green buds sprouted, and in no time green leaves covered the branches of the gnarled yet diminutive tree. While I was beside the obstetrician a few days ago during our duty in the Delivery Room, I froze when the membranes burst. The baby was stillborn. The feet of the baby came first; the head was stuck in the vaginal canal and took almost an excruciating ten minutes to deliver. The doctor was apologetic, really there was nothing that could be done- the fetus was not viable and weighed only 250 grams. Lying on the delivery table, the mother stared at the ceiling, unmoving. We were asking her if she had a name for the baby, so that we could baptize him before we give him to the waiting relatives. Our eyes met as she fingered the plastic rosary on her neck. She came out of her reverie and from her moving lips sprung a name. I nodded. I could never forget the look in her eyes- regret maybe, or emptiness. I carefully wrapped the fetus and took Holy Water to baptize him. I had no time to linger on those feelings because there was another lady giving birth. I was asked to change gloves and assisted, and this time the mother gave birth to a health baby girl. Funny how the ebb and flow of life in the hospital almost goes unnoticed. How new life is born in an instant,

and how deaths become merely statistics. I suppose when one deal with these things on a daily basis it becomes routine, and health care professionals have learned long ago to tuck their emotions safely out of reach while at work. As I lay the crying neonate on her bassinet, it suddenly occurred to me that I was in the same Neonatal Intensive Care Unit my Mom worked in many years ago. I looked around the room and saw her for a moment in the nurse on duty changing a neonate’s diaper. Through the passage of time things change. Some shed leaves like that bonsai plant, some remain abstruse like the young mother’s loss, while some are renewed in the hearts of their progeny like my mother’s legacy.

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Episode 2: Of Carabaos and Girlfriends

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When asked, I only have but a few recollections of instances when I spent some alone time with my father when I was young. Being an OFW, he was always away and the man I call my father was a vague figure who was frequently overshadowed by my mom’s presence. He is a man of a few words. Simple, practical, and never really had those father and son talks with me- except I think, when it came to discussions about tuition fees and bills. In terms of life direction or career paths, my parents never really intervened, which suited me just fine since I was quite an independent kid. Among the few instances he vaguely expressed what he wanted of me- he told me one morning, he knew of a kid in his hometown about the same age as me who was good at saving money and already owned a carabao. He wanted to show me his idea of a good, stable life but probably because of my immaturity, all I could think of was this: what am I supposed to do? Get a carabao? I realize now of course, he never intended the discussion to be about purchasing large mammals. It was about being thrifty and frugal, and that those were qualities he wanted me to possess. But I had other ideas which I carried over until I started working: work hard, party hard. Skyscrapers sounded more appealing than beasts of burden, but as my lifestyle came to a halt when I resigned- I realized he was right. That was the first instance I disappointed my father. A memory had been nagging on my mind- a few days before my sixteenth birthday, he told me that if I bring a girlfriend home and introduce her, he would give me five

hundred pesos. I laugh every time I remember this. I even recall an occasion where he brought three daughters of his kumpares from Abuyog to meet with me (I think he bragged to them I was quite the ladies man who went to UP). Naturally, all of his match-making efforts flopped, and after my coming out to my parents of my sexual orientationcame the second greatest disappointment I brought him. Perhaps we will always have different ideas of who he wants me to be and who I want to be, but I do hope it would not ruin our relationship. No amount of differences can change the fact that we are father and son, and as much as I envy my straight brothers possibly fulfilling my father’s dream of what kind of men his sons would be- I can only be myself, and that’s all I can offer. I love my dad. Come to think of it, I do remember an instance when we spent time together: it was 1994, and our house was still being constructed. My father was home for a month. I made an improvised baseball using crumpled paper and masking tape, and played catch with my brother Tye. Papa approached with a wooden stick from the construction so we could use it to play baseball. And until the sky dimmed that day, we enjoyed playing with our makeshift ball and relished the time we spent with our father, just like a regular family.

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Episode 3: My City, Myself

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It was a bright, dewy morning at DZR Airport the day I arrived in the city where I grew up in, after a nine-year stay in Manila. Tacloban wasn’t exactly a cosmopolitan city by any stretch of imagination, which was why I was perturbed, returning to a place that seemed entombed in a time capsule where nothing ever changes. The Tacloban I remember was a noisy, hot city center with shops that sold plastic wares. It had rusty jeepneys and tricycles traversing its veins. It was the city of my younger days, simple times, and blissful pre-adolescent life free of worries and filled with the thrill of fresh experience and endless possibilities. I remember I was about eight when we rented our first run-down apartment near Real street. I liked living here better than my father’s hometown, which had even less to be desired. My mom usually tagged me along when she ran errands: a visit to the post office, to PNB just in front of the lovely CAP building with Mc Arthur’s statue up on a podium (back then I thought it was really Mc Arthur’s dead body which they’ve coated with bronze so I usually avert my eyes so I don’t accidentally look at the statue’s impassive face), and later get refreshments from one of those restaurants with formica tables. I actually loved growing up here. The first time I ever ate Kiamoy (and hated it!) was from Mama’s favorite deli- Lee’s, owned by a myopic old Chinese man. My first hospital duty was with my Mom. Or more accurately, she was on duty while I tagged along. My Mama was a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse at Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center- the biggest hospital in

Tacloban at that time. Here, I also met my first best friend, had my first communion at Sto. Nino Church, danced at my first prom at People’s Center, and had my first brush with opulence at Leyte Park during its heyday. What I remember the fondest were the weekend trips to the beach. The seafood was abundant and cheap. Grilled squid, fish, mussels- they were easy to purchase from the pier which doubled as a market. At sundown outrigger boats, filled to the brim with loud men, would dock and display their catch on huge platters. As the van I rode from the airport neared home, the first thing I noticed was the skeleton of the new Robinson’s Mall just across our subdivision. The massive structure stood out amongst its neighbors. As I made my way downtown later that afternoon, I passed by several structures that had seemingly sprung out of nowhere: the “Astrodome”, a few glass and steel buildings mimicking those in Cebu and Makati, and a sprinkling of new establishments… I could not see the pier for outrigger boats, for in its place was a huge Mc Donalds, and right across it, a twostorey Jollibee. Gaisano had a new mall at the heart of the downtown area, and there seemed to be twice the number of people roaming the streets. I was wrong when I thought the city would never change. In a way, the new, bustling Tacloban is comfortingI rarely get to think about my old life in Manila anymore. I nearly bumped into a group of young students as I stared at a shop window of one of the new malls. The last time I was on this street, I was a senior high school student. The reflection showed a much older guy dressed differently. My wanderings may have etched a few lines on my face, and I may have lived in different places for some

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time, but at that moment I knew, I was home.

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Episode 4: Mile High Mishap
Ever had that feeling when you have a stack of bills on the table marked “PAST DUE” and you still are at a loss where to get the money to pay them? How about an impending exam with too little time to study, and three large four-inch thick books as reference but you’ve barely started? I was sitting in the pre-departure area of Centennial airport waiting for my flight back to Tacloban. Exam week was about to start and my short respite from school due to a three day weekend was coming to an end. With a rather constipated look on my face- a combination of a frown and an anxious look, I sat alone on a bench, sipping on a can of cold soda. “Philippines Airlines Flight 393 to Tacloban is now boarding at gate S5.” I tossed the can to the trash and headed toward the gate. I could still feel the cold soda settling in my tummy- it was rather disconcerting but I thought it was just due to my apprehension. Earlier I had Muesli, a piece of fruit, coffee and half a suman for breakfast, and since then they all seemed to settle down

nicely. 

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A gorgeous flight steward greeted me as I entered the plane. “May I ask your seat number, please?” He asked. “28F.” He pointed to the far end of the plane, smiling. Great, I thought. I’ll be seated at the farthest corner. After muttering a lot of “Excuse me” to about a hundred passengers trying to stuff the overhead bins while blocking the way, I finally made it to 28F. Already seated were a 40-ish grumpy man, and a large woman beside my empty seat. I smiled and squeezed my way to my seat. Maybe it was the sudden acceleration during takeoff, but I began to feel my stomach twist in knots. This is just like the time when one has a practical exam or moving exam, you get butterflies because of nervousness. I tried to reassure myself I’ll deal with those problems one at a time. But it turns out, it was more than butterflies. “Krrrrrrrrtt.” I actually heard it. My stomach was crying in agony (and by the look on my seatmate’s face, she heard it too). I felt the hairs at the back of my neck rise, and suddenly had goosebumps on my arms. “Oh sh*t, not here!” I thought. This time the twisting seemed to move a little lower, down to my backside. I was clutching my stomach. “Would you care for some water?” That guy again, the flight attendants were done giving snacks in Mabuhay class, but for us in Econofare, a tepid glass of water was the only option. 

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“No thanks,” I said weakly, with my face contorting like I had Bell’s palsy. “KKrrrrrrrrrrrt.” This time it was loud enough for the man on the aisle seat to give me a side-eye. I excused myself hurriedly (good thing the washroom was near since we were near the tail of the plane), and locked the door the moment I got in the washroom. With trembling hands, I lifted the toilet bowl cover, unzipped my pants and sat down. Of course I couldn’t just “download” right away. I was worried- OMG I would be the laughingstock of the whole plane. What about the sound? Would the odor permeate through the thin wall-I wasn’t even done thinking when whatever was causing my stomach to turn came shooting out my backside like a rocket. I closed my eyes praying no one heard it (or that the plane would be miraculously empty when I came out of the toilet. Or was there a parachute so I could just jump out? I pressed the high-tech flush button and wiped myself clean with as much toilet paper I needed to erase the memory of what just happened. Washing my hands, and clutching tightly to the handle on a side of the washroom (I was afraid of turbulence, besides I wanted to be quick when I exitedimagine how unglamorous it would be if the plane crashed and people would find my charred remains inside a plane toilet!). I counted to ten and composed myself. As I opened the door, there was a short line already to the washroom, and there was this kid who was grinning at me maniacally as if she knew of my little crime inside the toilet. I kept my head down and then bam! 

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I bumped straight into the flight steward. “Crap.” I muttered some apology as I made my way back to my seat with my face flaming. As I sat down, I wiped the beads of sweat on my forehead. Suddenly I began to giggle at the hilarity of it all. I suppose there would never be an instance when I’ll be completely in control and no apprehensions to come and bother me. Sometimes we simply shouldn’t take everything too seriously. It was a lesson I wouldn’t forgetthat even a double dose of Loperamide couldn’t erase. As we deplaned, the cute flight attendant politely asked me, “How was your flight?” With a grin, I said, “It was great, thanks.” And I meant it. I took a last look at the plane before making my way to the Arrival area of DZR Airport, to my bills, to my exams. I’ve finally learned to laugh at myself and match life’s wicked sense of humor.

Episode 5: Chicken Adobo, Humba, and Homemade Love 

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While I was heedlessly living the “bachelor’s life” in the big city, my meals more or less consisted of takeouts, canned goods and noodles, or leftover bread with instant coffee. I’ve never learned to cook, and was even lazier with the dishes. Besides, food wasn’t that much of a big deal to me- except when I go home to the province. Being in Tacloban after months of living on overly-processed food proved to be extra special occasions when I get to eat real food which didn’t come from a foil pack (or something I ate right out of a can). My late mother loved to bake, but my favorite food was chicken, which she prepared in almost every imaginable way: fried, grilled, curried, and of course adobo. I do not think great chefs would find anything spectacular about that dish, I mean she had no secret ingredient or elixir to make it extra savory, but as the vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic cooked the chicken to perfection- there was a certain magic and fragrance. Maybe I’m biased, because even if my mom just prepared instant pancit canton I’d say it was the best I ever tasted. My grandmother whom we all call Nanay was Mama’s mentor when it came to cooking. Her specialty was the Visayan dish Humba (Braised Pork Belly with Sugar and Peanuts). She prepared it meticulously, with the accuracy of a chemist, and at the same time the versatility of an artist. She can make it sweeter or a little tangy. She can serve it in large chunks or smaller, softer pieces. The dish came out always, with no exception, just right. And seeing her brows knit in concentration as she mixes the ingredients, or having that smug smile as she receives praises for her dish must have been the special ingredient that made it

better than what a chef in an expensive restaurant can cook. Nanay is now in her eighties, and after my mom’s passing, the responsibility for her care has recently been claimed by her children. While Mama was still with us Nanay had also lived with us since we were kids. Now I stay in our ancestral home, but without Nanay’s presence it seems empty. I have begun eating in fast food joints again. I’ve stocked up on canned goods. Making this adjustment is more than just my palate missing her cooking- my heart is missing my mother’s love. 

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Episode 6: A Second Look at an Imperfect Marriage 

Months back I had written a feature article about relationships in the school magazine, and I mentioned how the words “true love” and “happily ever after” belong in fairy tales and not real life. My point was that the stark reality was the opposite of these tales of perfect romance and that even time itself gave no guarantee- calling to mind my parent’s 27 years of togetherness, which one day crumbled and ended up in separation. Their old wedding album had been in storage for decades, and the dampness had caused the edges of some photos to fade and blot, others were completely ruined. I bought a large new album where I can transfer these rare mementos which included a virtual diorama of our childhood and the evolution of our family. I tried to imagine what their life must have been like as a young couple. Their wedding was simple- a small ceremony at the local church in Abuyog, with just family and friends. My mom wore her hair upswept in braids, with flowers that decorated her veil. She looked radiant in her 70’s style wedding dress,and layers upon layers of chiffon concealed her pregnancy (I was a six month old fetus she carried in her belly when she walked down the aisle). My father wore long sleeved Barong Tagalog with what suspiciously looks like bell-bottom pants to me, this was September 1980 so I guess that explains it. If I were to describe how they looked together in scenes during the ceremony,in the bridal car side by side, and at the reception- they were happy. Wait, I don’t think that would give justice to the look I saw on their faces. Giddy, ecstatic, madly in love- yes, that’s much closer.

Through the years they went swiftly from merely husband and wife to Papa and Mama, with me and my chubby baby brothers ever beside them in photos. Like typical Pinoy families, my father one day left to work abroad to support us. And now there were two sets of photos- the ones at our humble rented house with a very thin-looking Mama, and Papa’s photos against the backdrop of the Arabian deserts. I was of course aware of those relationship ups and downs they had, after all that’s typical of every married couple. It’s just that as me and my brothers grew up to become young adults and gain independence, their parenting roles which help bound them together seemed slowly dissipating along with their affection for each other. Looking back, even though our parents began to have problems and live in separate houses in the States, I am glad they never actually made the move to get an annulment or a divorce. They made a promise before God, after all, for better or for worse. And even though it still saddens me how the ending of my favorite love story turned out, my father was there during my mom’s last hours. As I put the last photograph in place, I had this lump on my throat that I could not swallow. I guess I take it back then, looking at my parent’s wedding photo, it was a shining example of nothing less than TRUE LOVE. 

Episode 7: Life Lessons in Jogging 

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With so much time on my hands this summer I decided to take up running- nothing competitive really, it’s more of a mix of jogging, brisk walking, and perhaps a sprint now and then when a dog is chasing me. So every 5:30 am at dawn, without as much as a splash of water on the face, I’d pick up my running shoes and head outside while the house is still in utter silence. Sometimes I go with a pop song blaring on my headset, but it is equally alright when I enjoy the gentle sounds as the city stirs to life. I have grown fond of the routine: decide my running course, do stretching as I warm up, then off I go! I liken that feel of freedom, as I stomp my way through the concrete streets, to life’s journey. When we are young we begin to decide our paths- from high school to college to finding our way through the maze of work opportunities- or the lack of it. We are prepared for the long road by years of training in school, and still oftentimes we run into unexpected places and detours. We run with other people. Some, like those retirees huffing and puffing as they go, tend to adapt a slower pace and I zoom past them. Sometimes though, a troupe of cadets rush by, and I am left trailing behind. Thanks okay, I know my limits- I just learn to focus on my goal and move at my own pace. Yesterday I planned to run from our home in Marasbaras to Burayan in San Jose, then to Cogon, then turn left to Manlurip. This was farther than I’ve ever gone before and the road is different because it was secluded, with fewer houses along the road- and fewer joggers. I somewhat regretted not following the usual trail- Old

Sagkahan road to Magsaysay Boulevard and to Leyte Park, where I can pass through the usual landmarks. At some point in Manlurip I stopped. Past a certain zone, there were no longer jeepneys I can catch to get a ride back home in case I get tired, and I only had a small bottle of water with me. I had no idea where this trail led, or how far till the next town, but I thought I’ll follow it anyway. After running nearly six and a half kilometers, I finally reached a lovely seaside avenue which led to Mc Arthur Park in Baras Palo, Leyte. I collapsed on the grass exhausted, but very happy. Later than day I had the fortuitous chance of seeing online my old UP comrades in the College of Architecturethose days felt like another lifetime to me. There was a distinct feel of familiarity or even nostalgia as I saw my old professors, I mean these people I met way before my working days at Infonxx or my Nursing studies in Tacloban. I didn’t know why it left such a strong impression on me, perhaps because that was the environment that nurtured me during my adolescence and therefore the milieu and culture formed part of my personality. I also got to see my former classmates turn into husbands and wives, and doting parents- a little different from the path I’m following. But like that crossroad I had encountered yesterday, I knew I had to leave the past to memory, and keep moving forward even though what’s ahead is unknown. Life’s like that- sometimes you never know what you’re going to getbut whatever it is, is definitely better than resisting growth or change and remaining within one’s comfort zone. It doesn’t mean I’ve turned my back to what once was- after all, I’ve always kept my lessons in tow as I explore new horizons. 

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Chapter IV. Sweet Stories from the Best Blogs

Postscript: The Big Three-Oh As the waiters cleared the last of the dishes from our table, we became quiet. The laughter had faded away as the night deepened, and slowly, patrons left until there were only four of us- my high school close friends whom I’ve known for fifteen years: Remejoy, a licensed Med Tech who now worked as an editor; Frances, a Bachelor of Laws graduate who is presently teaching in UP Tacloban; and Royce, an Accountancy graduate who just earned his Doctor of Medicine degree, and is presently a busy postgraduate intern. This year, we all turn thirty. “When I failed the Bar exam, I stopped and asked myselfhave I just wasted my twenties?” Frances said. It was an honest and very candid thing to say for our usually reserved friend. “I know the feeling.” I blurted out. They all looked at me. “I think all of us, at some point, felt disillusioned when

things didn’t turn out exactly the way we planned.” 

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It was true, so few of us actually followed a straight path when it came to careers. Majority accepted whatever deadend, entry-level positions were available, and that is a tiny detail which was never mentioned to us in our four years in college. They failed to inform us that actual career growth happens somewhere in your thirties. “I think we’re all afraid that we haven’t made any difference at all. That you fell short of your own expectations, that even graduating from a prestigious school is no guarantee of success or happiness.” We looked at each other and smiled, with that same look of recognition on our faces. “France, you and I are on completely different sides of the spectrum, and yet we share the same sentiments.” My friend Frances was someone you’d call an ideal student- she majored in Psychology in UP Tacloban, then worked in an NGO as she got her Master’s Degree in Diliman. By the time she was in her mid-twenties, she began her studies in Bachelor of Laws. I on the other hand, cruised through my youth with neither urgency nor a sense of purpose. I wanted to “maximize my twenties” and by that, I meant have the most fun as I could. With this philosophy, I shot out like a loose cannonball. It was not that I was lazy or stupid; I was actually quite good with anything that I put my mind into. I helped design a museum when I was 20, which won Best Thesis in the UP College of Architecture. But by the time I saw how much my colleagues were earning in entry-

level positions I was disheartened. I chose to work in a Call Center instead- which at some point made me choose between finishing my last units in Hardscape Construction and accepting a promotion. I chose the latter. Before I resigned my job during my mid-twenties, I was earning more than most of my contemporaries but sadly was now back to square one, as I enrolled in the College of Nursing. As I celebrated my 28th birthday, a student once more, I also asked myself- have I wasted my twenties? “We’ve all been there.” Remejoy said. “Quarter life crisis.” Royce said. “Well, none of us plays life with marked cards. At least we all got a chance to correct our mistakes along the way, and keep going towards the elusive success and happiness.” I philosophized. “Maybe we’re just getting old.” Frances quipped. We all laughed. It was one of those cherished moments with friends when you just let your hair down and be honest. If anything, I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one having problems. A few months later, as I walked up the stage in front of hundreds of people, I bowed my head as Nanay put a medal on me. Officially a BSN graduate, I was just so thankful to have been given a chance to redeem myself. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have done anything differently- not just because I’ve learned so much from three different industries, but also because I got to discover what I really wanted in life. I had my fun, didn’t I? Now it’s 

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time to move on and get serious. We live and we learn, and without regrets. Most of us friends are now past the crisis, and ready to undertake new challenges and new adventures our thirties will bring. Some of us are moving up the ladder, some are building families, some are learning the difference between a calling and a career, and for sure- all of us are more optimistic than ever before. 

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12 April 2010 Tacloban City 

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A Short Story from City Girl Gets Trapped in the Boondocks and Other Stories

The Long Weekend

I. 

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The styrofoam cup felt warm on my hand, but the coffee was still scalding hot. I stirred it some more, careful not to spill its contents on my lap. “What time is the bus leaving?” My bestfriend was smoking her third cigarette for the day. “Probably at 7am. Ugh! Why did we arrive so early?” She scoffed. I was with three friends- Tatat, my bestfriend, Eric, a fellow Team Manager and my long time crush, and Jen, who I just met weeks ago. We all worked in the same office, except for Jen. We were heading to Sagada, Mountain Province for a three-day stay. Presently, we were huddled together in a corner in Dangwa Bus Station in Baguio, as we waited for the first bus to Sagada. “Gab, do you already have your QA scores for the week?” Eric asked. I took a sip of my coffee. “I don’t have them yet. I’ll phone Malou of Queue desk tomorrow and ask.” “Wasn’t your team the highest last week? Your team has been consistent with high marks. The Quarterly Evals are coming up, and it looks like a big bonus is coming your way.” Eric smiled as he sat on the bench opposite mine. “I hope you’re right on that one.” I replied. Eric and I were batchmates- we were among the pioneer reps in the company, who at that time merely had forty employees. In a span of four years the number of employees had grown exponentially, with its present count

almost reaching a thousand. Both of us now held higher positions, and are both up for evaluation. Eric was tall, mestizo, and well educated- a combination rare among guys. He graduated Cum Laude from Ateneo, and if that wasn’t enough he also happens to be well off and incredibly nice. He became known as the office heart throb, who elicited stares from girls and gay guys alike at work. I call him “the impossible dreamboat”, for I was among those who secretly had a crush on him. It was such an irrational infatuation, that I always get mad at myself whenever I think of him. Every time I have lunch with him at the pantry, I would silently curse myself for enjoying his company. Let me explain: First of all, Eric is a straight guy, and that alone should be enough to deter me. A straightgay relationship is a paradox; it will always be one way since he can’t return the feeling. Second, let us say, if in a parallel universe I was a girl, he would still be way out of my league. He is well bred, well off, and sophisticated. And me, well, all my schooling at the state university had never changed my provincial ways. Third, he is my friend, and in that respect should be off limits. It would be such a waste to throw that friendship out the window. “Here comes the bus.” Jen said. Tatat turned to me and whispered. “I didn’t know she could speak.” I made a face. “Hey, be nice to her. She’s Eric’s friend.” With our luggage in hand, we boarded the bus. I took a seat next to the window, and my friend Tatat sat on the adjacent seat. Jen and Eric took the seats on the next row. There were hardly any passengers except for an old woman who brought with her baskets of vegetables, a boy 

with a stack of newspapers, and an old man in the back. 

The rickety bus finally moved as its engine sputtered to life. I readied my camera as I leaned out the window, enjoying the cool morning breeze. Tatat lit another cigarette. “How many hours was it again to Sagada?” I nudged her. “Seven years.” She replied, waving her hand for emphasis. “Aww C’mon Gab, just enjoy the sights. The views are spectacular, and the last time I was here, I took a lot of great photos.” Eric chimed in.“The ones posted on Facebook?” Tatat asked.“Yeah, I think I saw those. Where are we staying again?” I asked Eric, who had been to the place before. Gosh, he looked so cute in his navy sweater. “St. Joseph Resthouse. It’s a really cool place, and their common area has a fireplace. Plus, it’s really cheap. The amount you spend for a three day stay in Bora can last a month here.” Eric said. “Sounds good!” I looked out the window again. There were mountains as far as my eyes could see. I remembered a scene that happened a week ago in the office…

II. “Guys, I have some very exciting news!” Karen, our diminutive Assistant Call Center Manager, was practically jumping up in her seat. She always gets like that when she’s about to make some grand announcement, I thought.

I had an idea on what it was about. 

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“The higher management has opened two new posts for the ACCM position.” Excited murmurs filled the room. I turned to my seatmate Iona, who also handled a team, “Let’s apply!” “Hmm I’ll decline for now. My team has been stuck in the early morning shift for a long time now; I still have a lot of improvements to make... You, on the other hand, are a contender. Go!” “Are you kidding me? Maybe Eric. He seems like the ACCM type.” I whispered. Eric was seated at the far end of the table, looking sharp in his crisp white long-sleeved shirt and grey dress pants. His satin tie was the same shade as his pants. He was chatting with Jet, one of his buddies in the evening shift. “So Gabby, any plans?” Karen turned to me. “Uhm, I’ll have to think about it Karen.” I said. “I’m really happy with my team’s performance. At this point it’s almost effortless for us to get good stats.” “Which makes it the perfect time for you to move up. Don’t you want to challenge yourself and apply your brand of leadership on a larger scale?” “Give me a day or two to decide.” I smiled. The meeting ended at around 7am. My shift was already done. I gathered my things and made my way to the elevator. 

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“Gab! Let’s have breakfast at Delifrance.” Eric caught up to me. “Who’s going?” I asked. Eric placed his hand on my shoulder. I felt a tingle in my spine. Damn, that happens every time! Why am I so affected? I wondered. “Jen, Jet, Mavic.. I don’t know the rest. So are you coming?” He smiled. Aww I wish I could just freeze this moment. If I tell you how I feel Eric, would you still treat me the same way? I smiled sadly. “I’ll just drop by the 14th, it might be Tatat’s break already. I’ll see you on the 12th floor.” “Okidoki.” He hopped off the elevator, upbeat and without a care in the world. The elevator closed as it ascended to the 14th floor. “Tatat!!” I exclaimed as I approached Tatat on a transfer station. She waved her arm, signaling that she was still on the phone. “You will never guess what happened. What time is your break?” I asked. She pressed the mute button. “I’m already on break, actually, but this caller won’t end the call. Grrr!” “Relax, you’ll have a coronary. Just have your break adjusted.” I patted her arm.

“Thank you, and have a great day!” She said sarcastically on the phone, with her eyes rolling. Like any call center veteran, she knew how to be sarcastic while sounding pleasant over the phone. “You really are a good actress.” I laughed. “The others are going to have breakfast at Delifrance, wanna go?” “Nah, I’ll just go down and have a smoke. So, what’s the big news? Is this about Jon, your cute CSR?” She waved a finger at me. “No! Eric asked me earlier if I wanted to have breakfast. He touched me on the shoulder it was so kilig.” “Hmp, if I’m not mistaken, he already has a girlfriend. Why don’t you go out with Alexis’ CSR?” “Are you kidding me? He is a lot more effeminate than me. Tat, I’m not a lesbian, ok? Come on, let’s go to my station. I need to get my things.” We made our way to the 12th floor. The CSRs have already transferred to the 11th floor, and there were only a handful of busybodies left- a few TMs and some maintenance people. “Gab!” It was Eric, walking from his station. “Let’s go. Hello Miss Tatat!” He said to my bestfriend. “I like your tie.” Tatat said. “That’s Hermes.” I whispered.“Gab, are you applying for the ACCM post?” He asks as he sat on my chair. I open my pedestal and took out my phone and my mug. 

“I’m not sure... It seems like a stressful job to me.” I replied, hardly looking at him. “I know just what you need- a fun weekend. A couple of friends of mine are going to Sagada.” Eric said. “In Mountain Province?” Tatat asked. “It’s a great place. Gab can make up his mind up there.” “Are you applying for the post?” I asked him. “I already submitted my application form and resume.” He winked mischievously.

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III.

The bus made its way through unpaved winding roads, but the bumpy road was no trouble at all. Eric was right- the views were spectacular. We stopped at a roadside store, and we all hopped off to stretch. “How was your interview yesterday?” Tatat asked. “With Ravi? It was ok, I think. I held my composure all throughout. I felt like a beauty contestant!” I joked. “When is your interview with the Call Center Director? I had mine with her and she’ll really grill you over hot coals.” Eric added. “As soon as we get back. Hey Jen, how are you doing?”

Jen smiled at me. “A little exhausted, but enjoying the trip so far. Let’s buy some food!” We boarded the bus for the final leg of the trip. At 2:00pm, we finally arrived at the quaint village perched on top of a mountain. It was beautiful. “Whew! Finally!” Tatat exclaimed. “Let’s get our things to the resthouse and start exploring.” Eric said. “Yes, captain.” I called after him. Eric and I ended up sharing a room, while the girls stayed at the adjacent room amidst my protestations to Tatat. “Do you want them to share a room?” She hissed. “You have a point there.” I said. And so I finally agreed. I set my bag on the small bed. “The rooms are small... But I guess its cozy, and the receiving area looked really nice.” I said. “Did you see the fireplace? Hurry, let’s go to Echo Valley, then to the hanging coffins and then Sumaguing Caves.” He could hardly contain his enthusiasm. We trekked the entire time because there were no means of transport- no tricycles or pedicabs in sight. It looked like people walked here all the time. The girls and I trudged along as Eric, the most athletic, was in the lead. He wore shorts and rubber shoes, with his camera strapped on his shoulder.

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“Eric, where to next?” I called out from way behind him. I was panting and so were the girls. “Sumaguing Caves. We’ll get a guide.” He said. It was almost sundown when we arrived at the mouth of the cave. It was huge, the mouth seemingly eating up all the light that passed through it. “Oh dear, it’s getting dark. I think I’ll just stay outside.” Jen said. “Yeah, it looks creepy as it is.” Tatat nudged me. “Eric, can we just go in tomorrow? I’m not familiar with the place.” “Relax Gab, I’ve done this before. The girls can go ahead, come on, let’s go! I’ll take care of you.” There he was again, being charming to get his way. “Fine, but let’s make it quick.” I said as I hand my backpack to Tatat. The guide led us further down to the mouth of the cave. I heard flapping of wings, and I realized there were bats on the cave. Eric was animated, humming to himself, walking with ease. The ground turned to jagged white stones. Water flowed in the crevices and I struggled to keep my balance. I turned my back and saw nothing but blackness; the only light now came from the kerosene lamp the guide had brought. “Eric, wait.” I said nervously.

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He laughed. “Are you afraid Gab?” I grabbed his arm and pretended to box him. I was starting to enjoy it actually. The guide’s face was just impassive as we went further down. He had done this a thousand times, I thought, and he couldn’t care less. “What happened to your friends who were supposed to come with us?” I asked. “Something came up at the office and they couldn’t make it, except for Jen.” I realized I’ve been holding on to his shoulders for a few minutes now, as the ground began to slope downwards. And then there was just shadow in front of us. As the guide drew closer, I saw that the ground dropped several feet and there was a thick piece of rope hanging. I walked too far down, and there was no turning back now. I swallowed as Eric made his way down. “This is called rappelling.” He said. “It doesn’t look like fun. How deep is the drop?” “Around 12 feet sir.” The guide said. Great, and below it is solid rock. I just hope I don’t go “splat!” Shakily, I made my way down. I had taken off my sandals for more traction on the rock, which was wet. It was getting cold, and I imagined we were about three stories below ground level, deep in the earth’s bowels. “Pretty cool, huh?” He grinned. “I’m wet!” I said, examining the camera. Luckily the case was waterproof. We took a few pictures of the rock formations. The guide pointed to a pond-like structure. We waded to

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the point where the icy waters reached our knees.

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“It’s cold out here. Let’s go back up.” Steam came out of my mouth as I exhaled. Gosh, the temperature must have been really low. And I realized it was already nighttime. “One last thing.” Eric said, he took off his shirt and handed it to me. He walked over to the deep part and immersed himself in the water. “Are you crazy?” I was starting to panic. I imagined some sort of crazy cave monster lurking somewhere. His laughter echoed through the cave as he grabbed his shirt and put it on. He was shivering. “You’re really losing it.” I said. He wrapped his arms around me. “Whooo! The water is ice! Good thing you’re warm.”

IV.

I was starting to get confused with the way Eric was acting. It was about 8:30 in the evening and I was washing the dirt and dust off me from the day’s trip. I was thinking aloud. Eric and I are pretty close. He shares his personal matters with me, and we share a common passion for travel- and we certainly spend a lot of time together at the office. Earlier, I could have sworn he was giving me signals. Is there a possibility there could be more than just friendship here?

I rinsed off quickly as the warm water began to cool. I entered our room and saw Eric lying on the bed wearing only his boxers. Uh-oh. I picked up my clothes from my bag and put shorts on. Then a t-shirt. His wet clothes from the trek earlier hung at the back of a chair. “Gab?” He asked. “Yup?” My eyes squinted as I tried to see him through the dim light of the lampshade. “Let’s have a drink tomorrow.” He grinned sheepishly. “Sure.” I said. I haven’t had the chance to fill Tatat in of the recent incidents. Earlier at the Yoghurt House restaurant, we only talked about the caving trip that they missed. I turned off the light. The moonlight filtered through the curtains. I could still see the silhouette of his lean body. I turned in my bed, and closed my eyes. We spent the following day trekking to the waterfalls. I was feeling good, and Eric was in high spirits. The girls on the other hand, didn’t share the same sentiments. The treks were exhausting, often off the road. We made it home just in time for dinner. The girls retreated to their room while Eric and I had supper together, and had drinks after. “So, do you think you nailed the interview with MAD?” I asked. “Pretty much. My stats speak for itself.” He said, taking a swig of beer.

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“Ang yabang nito!” I laughed. I was feeling a little tipsy already. We were in the middle of our fifth bottles of San Mig Light. “Can I ask a personal question?” “Shoot.” “Would you consider dating a guy?” Eric laughed. “What a question. Why do you ask?” “Because I’m in love with you, Eric.” He just looks at me intently, silently. “Just kidding. Forget what I said.” I was trying to make the light of it, to sound nonchalant, but my eyes said it all. I knew my little confession had shifted the conversation to high emotional gear. Making him understand my feelings would be a futile effort. Oh Eric. I took another swig of my beer. We became silent. Eric turned his eyes toward the window, his face unmoving. By the time we made our way back to our room, Eric was so hammered he just fell on his bed. I watched him for a while as he slept, and then I lay beside him, lost in my thoughts, until I drifted off to sleep.

V.

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We were silent inside the crowded bus that took us back to Manila. Eric and I hardly spoke to each other since we left St. Joseph hours ago. I glace to my side, Tatat was asleep, with earphones stuck to her ear. I decided I’ll just tell her about it when we get to Manila. We finally arrived at about 4:00 am. We got off the bus, exhausted from the trip. Tatat hailed a cab, and we say our goodbyes to Jen and Eric. I met Eric’s eyes as the taxi moved away, I had the feeling it was the last time I’d ever see him. The night I returned to work, I went to see my boss. “What?” Karen exclaimed.“Are you sure about this Gabby? You have a good chance of getting the promotion, you know.” She looked at me disbelievingly. “It’s personal Karen.” I said. “I’m saddened, but it’s your decision.” I took a deep breath as I signed the document. I walked slowly towards my station and picked up my things. I had one more thing to do- I got a pen and a piece of paper and wrote: Hi Eric, I guess I should probably start with an apology or an explanation, but something tells me you already know so I won’t. Like what Tatat said, all anyone had to do was see the way I look at you to know that I have feelings for you. Hey, you didn’t tell me at the start of the Sagada trip that Jen was your high school girlfriend, so that makes us even.

I regret doing this, but I feel like this is the only way. Unlike some people who can just move on from such an episode and dismiss it as some interesting anecdote later on, I obviously cannot. I’m still in love with you, actually. Haha! That’s so hilarious to hear, even to me. But I guess I couldn’t help it. I’ve decided it was really time for me to go. If I remain here I’d probably get sent to the clinic every night for recurring heartaches. I’ll never forget that you’ve always been nice to me from the start and sorry if I caused you any trouble. “The only true paradises are the ones we’ve lost.” Now I know what that line means. Thanks for the four years of great friendship and company, I’ll always remember that. Those memories are like secret beach coves I alone know about- and they’d always be beautiful. Congratulations on your promotion. Malou told me about it. I’ll bet you’d make a great ACCM. Gabby I folded the paper and tucked it under the keyboard on his station. I walked towards the elevators and take a last look. Beep! The glass door opened, and I slowly walked out. “Are you ok?” Tatat asked gently as she stepped out of the elevator. I shook my head and I felt my eyes blur. She squeezed my hand and took my paperbag. “Ikaw talagang bakla ka.” She made a face. We both burst out laughing as the elevator closed. ---oooOooo---

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An Essay from the private exhibitionist: blogging as literary expression

Made in Saudi, Made in America

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About 200 million migrants from different countries are scattered across the globe, supporting a population back home that is as big if not bigger. Were these half-billion or so people to constitute a state -- migration nation -- it would rank as the world’s third-largest. While some migrants go abroad with Ph.D.’s, most travel… with modest skills but fearsome motivation. The risks migrants face are widely known, including the risk of death, but the amounts they secure for their families have just recently come into view. -From “A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves”, a New York Times article on OFWs by Jason Deparle, published April 22, 2007

I. One of my earliest memories as a child was snuggling close to my mother in a narrow, windowless corridor. The massive engine of the ship that would take us to Manila hummed incessantly. The steel walls and the small improvised cot that consisted of a thick sheet of plastic mounted on a wooden frame seemed to vibrate. My father sat nearby, trying to sleep amidst the noise. Both my father and mother resigned from their jobs at Abuyog General Hospital (as Medical Technologist and Staff Nurse, respectively) for job opportunities in Saudi. I was six years old, and my brother Tyrone was two. Nanay, our grandmother, was scheduled to follow us to Manila as we would be in her care while my parents worked abroad. It was a year after the People Power Revolution, and the country was still in turmoil. Coups were staged left and right, and helicopters were constantly heard whizzing past our two-room house in crowded Culiat. I was enrolled in a public school near our home.

While most children were fetched by their parents after school, I walked home by myself. I never quite understood then, why my parents were always away. They would just show up one day, like an apparition at the door, bringing presents: toys and clothes for my brother and me, jewelry for Nanay, and lots of chocolates. Shortly, it would be time for them to leave again. I never dared ask why they would have to leave, I was afraid I would not understand the answer. II. During my preteen years, I finally mustered the courage to ask my father why we were so unlike regular families. Throughout our elementary years, only my mother, who stopped working in Saudi when she bore my youngest brother, took time to attend to our needs. I had stacks of papers requesting the presence of my parents in school, but they all went unanswered. My father was always away, and my mother was usually too busy attending to my baby brother. Once, I had to forge their signature just so I could attend an event to be held outside school, which required parent’s consent. My father’s answer was this: “I am working abroad so you and your brothers can study in a good school.” “Why can’t you work in hospitals here in Tacloban?” I asked. “There is little pay here.” He said simply.

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The discussion was over. The three of us grew up with my father working in Saudi for fifteen years. By now, I had completely understood the sacrifice he was making, only I had the feeling that somehow the solidarity of our family was being compromised.

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III. It had become a familiar sight for me: large suitcases and melancholy faces of people as they said their goodbyes to their loved ones. I was at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and my mother was among those who were leaving. She had been completing all international exams required, whilst working at Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center, and now Global Nurses found her a job in Monroe, LA. A few days prior to her departure, I had to ask again. “Ma, how come you want to live in America? We are doing fine here. I’m already working, and Tyrone is already in college.” “There are better opportunities for us in the states.” She replied. What could I do? The plan was already set, my father and brothers were to follow her in a few months time. So I watched my mother walk through the glass doors, to the Check-in area. I waited outside, and watched quietly as planes flew into the horizon till they were merely dots in the sky.

IV.

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To a casual observer, we seemed to have it all, and the pictures proved it: two cars, lovely furniture in a beautiful house, my brothers grinning ear to ear in front of a theme park sign, and my mother and father, all smiles at Ted’s graduation at Neville High School. “The truth is”, my mother confided over our phone conversation while I was at the office, “life is difficult here.” “People need cars because in small US cities, there is no public transportation. You need a credit history to be approved of a loan, a loan which you will be slaving for years on end to pay.” When my mother lost her job at St. Francis Medical Center, my father had to work as a dishwasher. US Law required a license to practice in the medical profession, and my father had only license to work as a Med Tech in the Philippines. My brother worked as a janitor to help make ends meet. Unlike here in the Philippines, where you can run to your nearest relative in times of dire need, they faced their problems on their own in the US. My mother soon found a job at a smaller hospital in Columbia, which also had a hospice for the elderly. They packed their bags once again, and moved from their apartment in Monroe. Because college was expensive, my youngest brother opted to join the US Navy, wherein after certain number of years of service, the government will take care of his tertiary education.

V.

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I resigned from my job of four years in Makati to study Nursing. My mother assured me it would be the best way to secure the future. So I went back to Tacloban, and my parents supported my education. There were issues in financial matters and their jobs, and eventually a rift grew between my mother and my father. Then one wintry day, my brother said, Papa moved to another apartment. But the biggest tragedy had yet to come: I received a call that my mother was rushed to the hospital for chest pains. Perhaps because she was an immigrant with no insurance, the question that remained was how the hospital bill was going to be paid- for tests to be done, medications, and doctor’s professional fees- given the fact that my mother was not working because of the hospitalization. They diagnosed pulmonary embolism, and transferred my mother to the ICU. I could do nothing more but pray. My mother is our breadwinner, and the money she sends pays the bills here in the Philippines, along with our food and daily needs, and my 82 year-old grandmother’s medications. I felt helpless that I could not be at her bedside to care for her, and at the same time afraid of what will become of us here without her support. On a Tuesday morning, before dawn, my brother called to give me the sad news: my mother passed away.

VI.

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I wish I could say that my parent’s strivings for a better life sustained by years and years of work abroad was worth it, but I believe we paid too steep a price: we were robbed of our time together as a family. The state of our country- joblessness, low wages, and increasing cost of goods leave no choice for ordinary Filipinos but to seek opportunities abroad, despite the loneliness and the danger. The remains of my mother arrived weeks after her death. My father, my brothers, and I were together again after several years of separation. We stood before her grave, with flowers in our hands. Our relatives wept. I touched the urn that held her ashes, and suddenly, I remembered that day when my mother held me in her arms when I was six, while we were on a boat to Manila. ---oooOooo---

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thad owes his gleefully unhinged mind to years of studying, alternately, in institutions on the opposite sides of the continuum: the sheltered Catholic formation of Divine Word University during the early years of high school, while the other half in the “survival-of-the-fittest” milieu of Leyte National High School. This continued on to the halls of academic freedom at the University of the Philippines, Diliman- followed by another four years of ora et labora at St. Scholastica’s College in Tacloban. 2010. He was Feature Editor of Binhi Magazine from 2008-