Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Making Happiness

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

We are relentless. Our stubborn attempt to make happiness even if all odds are against us persists. We cling to each other for comfort. We continually relive a lifetime's worth of happy memories and hope against hope to make more of them soon. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Writing Naked

Monday, December 30, 2019

People often curate themselves online to present a certain image of themselves. I am guilty of that. On Instagram I am that widely traveled, always smiling girl who doesn't harbor dour, cynical, melancholic thoughts. It is here, in this blog, that I reveal my true self: a recluse who thrives in the solitary way of life, choosing to close herself off and limit her social interactions to people and events that would not disrupt her carefully ordered existence. In this space I put into words my thoughts stripped bare, guided by Denis Johnson's lasting advice: "Write naked. That means write what you would never say. Write in blood. As if ink is too precious you can't waste it. Write in exile, as if you are never going to get home again, and you have to call back every detail. "

Sunday, December 29, 2019

How?

Sunday, December 29, 2019

How do you comfort somebody who is miles and miles away? How do you make him feel the depth of your love for him? How can you support him in his worst moments when you can't even give him a hug? How do you ask for divine intervention when you don't believe in prayers? How can you deny your spirit to succumb to utter despondency when hope is slowly slipping away? 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Calories

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Yesterday I finally managed to drag myself out of bed at 5 in the morning to go for a run. It's been six days since my last run, and I've been eating irrestible holiday food at my mom's place at an indefensible rate. In dire need to burn off all these calories, I wonder, what will it take to get back in shape after this two-week break?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Too Late

Friday, December 27, 2019

“…I was sorry for her, sorry for her delayed and failed life, sorry for the delays and failures of life in general. I thought that if the right time gets missed, if one has refused or been refused something for too long, it’s too late, even if it is finally tackled with energy and received with joy. Or is there no such thing as “too late”? Is there only “late,” and is “late” always better than “never”? I don’t know.”

~ Bernhard Schlink, The Reader, 1995

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Best Books I Read in 2019

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Of the 85 books I read this year, these are the ones that made me sigh, seethe, weep, laugh, and think:
  1. Improvement, Joan Silber, 2017. Like the interwoven strands of a Turkish rug, the characters and cross-cultural relationships are intertwined in this beautifully written, intricately rendered novel. 
  2. The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai, 2018. A fictional recreation of the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s, this book is an affecting meditation on friendship, grief, loss, memory, death, and art. 
  3. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara, 2015. This is a harrowing, infuriating, and disturbing novel that seems to say that everything is hopeless and life is meaningless and not worth living. 
  4. The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara, 2013. Centered on a Nobel Prize winner convicted of sexual abuse of his adopted sons, the novel provides a critique of Western imperialism and scientific hubris while raising questions such as: Is morality culturally relative? Is suffering and the destruction of a whole culture, an entire society justifiable in the name of science? 
  5. The Only Story, Julian Barnes, 2018. Such a bleak, heartbreaking novel about the love between a young man and a woman old enough to be his mother. 
  6. Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney, 2017. This is a novel I devoured in one sitting. 
  7. Normal People, Sally Rooney, 2018. On the surface, this book tells the story of two people connecting, falling in love, and struggling to make their relationship work, but is much, much more than that. 
  8. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-delusion, Jia Tolentino, 2019. What I love about this collection if essays is the author's intense self-awareness. 
  9. The Chosen, Chaim Potom, 1967. This novel is about the friendship between two Jewish boys and the contrasts between two  aspects of Jewish faith: hasidic vs orthodox, tradition vs modernity.
  10. How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story on How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS, David France, 2016. This nonfiction book, a well-researched account of the AIDS crisis, focuses on the medical, political, and social struggle to fight the disease. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

25 December

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Is it a coincidence that I started 2019 reading a book about the AIDS crisis and now, almost at year's end, I'm reading another book about the same topic? Early this year I picked up Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers, a fictional recreation of the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s. It is a very affecting meditation on friendship, grief, loss, memory, death, and art. David France's nonfiction work How to Survive a Plague, which I started reading this month, tells the story of the fight against AIDS. It gives testament to the grassroots movement that fought against the disease and the system that perpetuated it but doesn't romanticise those battles into sentimental feel-good narratives. 

Since its Christmas day, shouldn't I be reading a more cheerful book? Maybe I should stop reading altogether and just spend the day watching The Witcher instead. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Turning Pain Into Honey

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The late John Updike said that "being able to write instantly becomes a kind of shield, a way of too instantly transforming pain into honey." I guess that's what I've been doing the past few days - endlessly reworking words until they feel right, seeking comfort in recording the past and in doing so reliving happy memories.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Battered Suitcase

Monday, December 23, 2019

All the traveling eventually took its toll on my suitcase. I lugged it around South America for a month, and two years after I took it out of storage and stuffed it with clothes for Japan. It didn't show any signs of damage until we reached Kyoto. Its wheels started wobbling as I was hauling the bag uphill to our accommodation in Sannen-zaka and finally broke when we arrived in Takayama. We weren't even halfway to our inn when it happened. There wasn't a cab in sight so D had to drag that heavy, wheelless luggage for almost a kilometer. I was cringing in embarrassment yet laughing so hard because of how hilarious the whole thing was. 

We roamed the neighborhood to look for a replacement, but we couldn't find a store that sells inexpensive luggage. We returned to the inn and explained our predicament to the guy who was manning the front desk. He was extremely helpful. He directed us to two nearby thrift stores, 2nd Street and Santa, where we could find second hand suitcases. He even drew a map so we'd know exactly where to go.

Santa has everything you can think of--kitchenware, bags, clothes, washing machines, shovels, vinyl, furniture, record players, the works. There we found a cheap yet ancient Mickey Mouse hardcase that was huge, looked a bit battered, and weighed a ton. We bought it anyway.  Curious as to what the other store has to offer, we then walked to 2nd Street. It was five times bigger than Santa! Thrilled and overwhelmed, I succumbed to the lure of shopping and returned to the inn with four beautiful handbags.

Everytime I look at my ancient yet astonishingly sturdy suitcase, I am reminded of that shopping adventure we had in Japan. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Five Months Ago

Sunday, December 22, 2019

I wrote this five months ago:

16 July 2019
I'm now reading a book by Arundhati Roy, My Seditious Heart. It's a collection of essays she'd written in the past 20 years. The essays are mostly about the building of the huge Sardar Sarovar Dam that spans the three Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. From the start she's been adamant in her opposition to the construction of the dam for the evils it could or would bring to local communities: flooding, lost homes, lost livelihoods. She is incandescent with rage.
The only person I know who would be interested in this is you. But you're not here. I miss you so. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What are the Odds?

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What are the odds of both of us forgetting our keys that very same day? It seemed improbable, but we did. You had to wait for hours for me to get home. And when I did, I didn't have my keys either. Incredulous, we looked at each other and burst into laughter. The chances of us falling in love and staying together are slimmer, yet here we are, defying the odds, contradicting expectations. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Honey

Friday, December 20, 2019

His name is Eduardo, some call him Ed or Daddo, but he is always honey to me. We've been together for twelve years now. He is my travel partner, my closest friend, my lifeline, my cheerleader, and my one and only fan. He is my life's constant. He makes the best burger in the world. He is 20 years my senior and is sometimes mistaken for my father. He is the only person who has the patience to listen to me ramble about dead authors, dreadful traffic, Duolingo, and the desperate state of the world. He obligingly reads the obscure books that I recommend and (grudgingly) wakes up  in the wee hours of the morning to go running with me. He doesn't believe in any supreme being and neither do I. He is at times taciturn and inscrutable. He likes to travel to exotic places like I do but leaves all the planning to me. He refuses the straitjacket of conventional life and is unconcerned with position and appearances. He loves the Cubs, chess, his big bike, street food, golf, okra, his kids, and me. He makes me happy. He is old, fat, bald, and now ill, yet he is and will always be the love of my life.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Our Temple Stay in Koyasan, Japan

Thursday, December 19, 2019

We left the neon-signed excitement of Osaka in favor of a muted, monastic life in Koyasan. Koyasan, with its wooden temples nestled in fog among cedar trees, perfectly typifies how I’ve always envisioned Japan. It is my favorite among all the places we visited in the country.
Temple lodging (shukubo) in Koyasan
Since the railway to Koyasan was damaged by the typhoon, we had to take the bus instead of the train. From the bus stop, we walked to Zoufukuin, a Buddhist temple where we stayed for two nights. The moment I saw those slippers meticulously lined up at the entrance of the temple, a sense of tranquility that lingered throughout our stay came over me. We removed our shoes, put on the slippers, and then entered the temple where we were greeted by a monk who gave us a tour of the place: the communal bath, the prayer room, the shared bathroom, the gardens, our room. A traditional Japanese room stripped back to bare essentials, ours had tatami mats, sliding doors, a big picture window, a low wooden table with zabuton (floor cushions), two futons, two sets of yukata (cotton robe) hanging on a rack, and a portable heater. With the temperature going as low as 2°C at night and the heater barely heating up the space, the room felt cold but not uncomfortably so. Sitting in its spacious silence with D at my side, I felt soothed.

Guests at the temple follow a strict schedule: the public bath is open from 4 to 9 pm; nobody can enter or leave the property between 9 pm and 6 am; breakfast starts at 7 am, right after the 6 am prayer ceremony, while dinner is at 5:30 pm; and the meals served are all vegetarian (shojin ryori). I don’t know about D, but this regimented life appealed to me because of the self-discipline and austerity it entails.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Exactly a Year Ago Today

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

I wrote this in my notebook exactly a year ago today:

18 December 2018
Coming from an hour and a half of traffic, tired and weary, I come home to my honey puttering in the kitchen. The table is set: perfectly cooked chicken with boiled beans and tomatoes on the side. He smiles at me, and I felt happiness course through me. Life is great, I thought.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Of Nobel Prizes and Great Conversations

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Yesterday I came across an article about how winning a Nobel Prize for Literature affects book sales. The article included a slideshow on the past Nobel winners since 2000. As I looked at the pictures, I remembered all the conversations we had about those authors year after year: When Kazuo Ishiguro won in 2017, you asked me if I've read any of his works. I replied that I've read all of his works and we spent the next couple of hours discussing his books--by discussing I mean me doing my usual monologue like a hateful pundit and you patiently listening to me, indulging me like you always do. In 2016 Bob Dylan won. Remember how enraged I was about that? You thought it funny when I said that if the Nobel Prize committee in Sweden felt so compelled to give the award to an American musician, they should've just given it to Bruce Springsteen for at least he actually wrote a book, a good one at that, one that even Philip Roth read and enjoyed! And let's not forget about Mario Vargas Llosa winning in 2010. The following year I insisted that we stay at an inn in Peru mainly because it has great reviews and partly because it's named after one of Vargas Llosa's novels, The Green House. That proved to be a great pick, didn't it? For we had a wonderful stay, one of the best we've ever had. In 2007, Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel. Like her, I won big-time that year because that was the year I met you. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Something in my life had ended

Monday, October 21, 2019

“I looked out the window at the station. I had the sense that something in my life had ended, my image of myself as a whole or normal person maybe. I realised my life would be full of mundane physical suffering, and that there was nothing special about it. Suffering wouldn’t make me special, and pretending not to suffer wouldn’t make me special. Talking about it, or even writing about it, would not transform the suffering into something useful. Nothing would.”

~ Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends, 2017

Friday, October 18, 2019

Our Idyll Couldn't Last

Friday, October 18, 2019

At Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
Snug in sunlight, with your hand warm and solid in mine, we walked along the palm-fringed shores of Unawatuna, unaware that that would be one of the last moments we'd spend together; that our idyll would end painfully, ineluctably, sooner that I could ever imagine.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

His pleasure in living has been snuffed out

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

“His pleasure in living has been snuffed out. Like a leaf on a stream, like a puffball on a breeze, he has begun to float toward his end. He sees it quite clearly, and it fills him with (the word will not go away) despair. The blood of life is leaving his body and despair is taking its place, despair that is like a gas, odourless, tasteless, without nourishment. You breathe it in, your limbs relax, you cease to care, even at the moment when the steel touches your throat."

~ J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace, 1999 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Myanmar, Maybe

Thursday, October 3, 2019

I’m thinking of traveling to Myanmar next year. I’ve got everything planned out: when to go, which hotels to book, which buses to take, what areas to explore, how much everything would cost. The only thing I’m worried about is that I intend to do it alone. Is Myanmar safe for an independent solo female traveler? I read from several articles that it is. But still, can I survive a two-week backpacking trip on my own? I surely would. Will it be lonely? Of course, but it will be fun, too. My life, in general, is lonely as it is. I might as well add some adventure to it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The specter of stagnation

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"I wanted to land in a new life where everything—bodies, ambitions—would work seamlessly and efficiently. Trapped in corpse pose, in a motionlessness that was supposed to be relaxing, I felt the specter of stagnation hovering over my existence. I missed, suddenly, the part of me that thrilled to sharpness, harshness, discipline. I had directed these instincts at my mind, kept them away from my body, but why? I needed a break from yoga, which had reminded me, just then, of how I’d felt all throughout Peace Corps—as if I didn’t know what I was doing, and never would."

~Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, 2019

Friday, September 27, 2019

Saturdays

Friday, September 27, 2019

I always go on a 10-km run on Saturday mornings because it gives me an excuse to laze away the rest of the day. Coming home tired yet elated from the run, I would take a shower then immediately prepare breakfast--usually, vegetable-stuffed omelet, pandesal, fruits, and coffee—which I would eat leisurely while watching pundits on CNN debate the day’s breaking news. A certain sense of schadenfreude comes to me whenever I watch news reports about what’s happening around the world. It’s an affirmation that other countries are as fucked-up—or even more so—than the Philippines. That momentary pleasure would then turn to dismay—why are these things happening—and disgust—why am I watching this shit—that I’d turn off the TV, seek solace in books, and retreat from the rest of the world.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Perfect, imperfect

Friday, September 13, 2019

"Perfect. Imperfect. A pair of adjectives that come over and again, in all seasons, day in and day out, taunting us, judging us, isolating us, turning our isolation into illness. Is there a more accomplished adjective than perfect? Perfect is free from comparison, perfect rejects superlative. We can always be good, do better, try our best, but how perfect can we be before we can love ourselves and let others love us? And who, my dear child, has taken the word lovable out of your dictionary and mine, and replaced it with perfect?"

~Yiyun Li, Where Reasons End, 2019

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thoughts on a Thursday Morning

Thursday, September 12, 2019

I sit here, alone with my thoughts, surrounded by the bigwigs of Philippine publishing who have once again congregated for the annual educational publishers' conference. Attending conferences like these is the part of my job that I hate the most. I don't want to be surrounded by people. It saddens me to listen to grand ideas about improving student learning when these ideas are actualized only in the most privileged schools in the country. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Ella, Sri Lanka

Friday, September 6, 2019

Dismissed by some travel guidebooks as a small hill town with nothing much to do, Ella is the one place in Sri Lanka that I wanted to visit.  A small town with nothing to do? That’s definitely my kind of place.

A pleasant five-hour car ride from Unawatuna along the southwest coast of the island and through the narrow winding roads of the hill country brought us to Ella. We spent those five hours admiring the passing landscape and chatting with our driver about the flourishing tourism in his country, the 2004 tsunami, and the time he worked in the United Arab Emirates where he learned to speak fluent English.

Ella Rock viewed from Little Adam's Peak
Ella largely consists of a main street lined with shops and cafes that branches out to dirt tracks leading to a plethora of guesthouses that offer splendid views of the mountains. From the balcony of our small cabin, we could see the famous Ella Rock, imposing in its magnificence. The sight of that mountain caressed by milky sunlight never ceased to amaze me. And when we climbed it I was awed ten times over. 

On a morning filled with the opulence of summer we started our hike to Ella Rock. We walked from the inn to the main road to the town center to the railway station; we went down the tracks then continued walking along the tracks past another train station and onward to a dirt path on the left side of the tracks; we crossed a footbridge, went through a tea plantation, and followed the tree line up the mountain that lead us to a ridge from where could see the stunning verdant hills of Ella. From this view point, we walked up an incredibly steep rocky path amid a forest of eucalyptus trees until we reached the mountain peak. It took us four hours to get there. There are many routes—some very complicated ones--to Ella Rock, and we would have been lost if not for the very detailed directions and the hand-sketched map provided by our innkeeper. On the map he marked which path we should take and which ones we should avoid as well as landmarks that will guide us along the way. These include mileposts, some Buddhist statues, the ruins of a house, and a certain long flat rock that he said we would recognize when we see it--which, to my surprise, we did.

While others would generally spend a couple of days in Ella, we stayed there for six. In those six days we were able to hike not only to Ella Rock but also to Little Adam’s Peak and Demodara Nine Arches Bridge; we relished the inn’s traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of egg hoppers, pani pol (Sri Lankan pancakes), roti, fresh fruits, coffee, and tea served right on our porch; we watched Western backpackers in full hiking regalia wander aimlessly around town; we learned how tea was picked, manufactured, and sold; we walked everywhere, wondering how that small town can remain as it is and not be overwhelmed by the influx of foreign tourists attracted to its beauty; we didn’t want to leave, but we had to, of course.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Everyone has their love story

Thursday, July 25, 2019

"Everyone has their love story. Everyone. It may have been a fiasco, it may have fizzled out, it may never have get going, it may have been all in the mind, that doesn’t make it any less real. Sometimes you see a couple, and they seem bored with one another, and you can’t imagine them having anything in common, or why they’re still living together. But it’s just not a habit or complacency or convention or anything like that. It’s because once, they had their love story. Everyone does. It’s the only story."

~Julian Barnes, The Only Story, 2018 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

I Wanted to Run

Thursday, July 18, 2019

What was I thinking, getting up at 4:30 am to run even if it’s drizzling and then giving up after two kilometers when it started to pour heavily and relentlessly?  Why didn’t I just stay in bed and luxuriated in the peacefulness of that early morning hour? It’s because I wanted to do it. I wanted to run. I wanted to feel my heart accelerate as I pounded the pavement. I needed the comforting monotony of running the same route over and over again. I crave for that feeling of utter exhaustion and serenity—the spent muscles and the clear head—after a long run.

I run because I can; I run because it makes me happy.

Friday, July 12, 2019

That Joyful Ride

Friday, July 12, 2019

I just needed to close my eyes and that train ride from Colombo to Galle unspooled in my mind like it happened yesterday and not a year ago.

We arrived at Sri Lanka’s Colombo Fort Station at six in the morning, an hour before boarding time. The station, though bustling with people, was not as chaotic as I expected, and we easily found our platform, from where I watched with glee the coming and going of trains as we waited for our ride. I could have stayed there for hours marveling at the endless ebb and flow of people leaving and arriving at the station, but our train arrived on time and we had to leave.

Our observation car was attached to the rear of the train and gave us an excellent view back along the track.
The train started to move, past the commotion and the wearying tempo of the city, chugging slowly along the Indian Ocean through small coastal towns. Looking out the windows of our observation car, I could see the sweep of the railroad tracks fringed by coconut trees and flooded by the sun’s warm, golden light.  That ineffable joy of experiencing something singular for the first time seeped through me as the train rumbled on and the cool ocean breeze wafted in.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Often, they carried each other

Thursday, July 4, 2019

"Some things they carried in common. Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct. They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself—Vietnam, the place, the soil—a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity. They moved like mules. By daylight they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, but it was not battle, it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost."

~Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, 1990

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Rain

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

We live in constant terror. The ominous rumble of thunder triggers that panicky urge to go home before it starts to pour. “Oh no, it’s going to rain again” our minds warn us, as if rain is a harbinger of doom and not a common element of weather.

We can’t be blamed for feeling like this for everyone who lives in Metro Manila knows that rain, even just a bit of it, will inevitably bring flood and flooded streets mean hellish traffic congestions that turn a 30-minute commute into a two-hour misery ride. 
 
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