What goes around, comes around

Then universe is a curved mirror .  Like the kind we use to check our facial pores.  What you transmit, goes back to you in multiple folds, in a magnified version.  For what it showers back on us, we can only be thankful.  Acknowledge with a grateful heart all the good things that you have.  This starts the cycle of continuous blessings and positive energies. This sounds so new age, but come to think of it, various religions and spiritual groups advocate the same thing in many different terms.

Most people do not cherish the smallest conveniences around them.  Mostwould easily fall into the trap of seeing what is lacking, complaining and rejecting, that they fail to see the many other good things and good people surrounding them.  In other words, they wallow in a cycle of ungratefulness, continuous defeat and overall frustration.

Being grateful allows you to see the good in every situation, in every person.  It magnifies all the little good things happening around you.  When truly acknowledged, it will leave you feeling light, happy and positive.  And these are the energies you transmit all around you.  And the universe will respond…many folds.

Simple Pleasures

Summer this year came a little late. Usually it comes just around the Catholic Holy Week with the weeks leading to it starting to get really warm. This year, we had rainy days and thunderstorms for weeks prior to the Holy Week. They say, the times are really changing, what with volatile weather conditions worldwide. That big summer sky said “better late than never!” and decided to hang himself up there right after the Lent celebrations. Summer! the smells, the tastes, the feelings all come rushing back. Summer is the briny smell of sea breeze, it is the cool cucumber and tomato in your kinilaw and it is the hot, languid, carefree afternoons with your summer lover.

So here is Cebu again with temperatures rising to 35C with people running to the beaches to cool down. Ofcourse I just had to have that requisite beach picnic too. The first for this year was with Shaun and his friends last weekend. They were to celebrate the last few remaining days of American friend John in Cebu. He’s been in the Phils for 5 years total, 2 of the most recent in Cebu and will be moving back to the States. I tagged along. We were headed for Bantayan Island.

I love Bantayan and I have vacayed several times in this island. The last time I was here was almost 2 years ago. I love that the beachline is not crowded, and that it is wide. The water is clean minus the algae floating and the docked pumpboats. Yes, I mean algae, not seaweeds. Not a lot of us know that algae is a telltale sign of polluted water no matter how blue green the water is. But I digress. Now I also appreciate the peace and quiet. I just don’t understand why some people try to make a party place out of beaches like they do in Boracay. They can always do so in the City. Bantayan is hush quiet, just the way I like it.

As expected the beach was there, the water was there and the quiet was there. One change I noticed was that the ugly oil depot near Sta Fe is now gone! Another was that there are motorbike and bicycle rentals around town now. After we sated our beach hunger, we rented bicycles the next day.

I love bicycle rides. I remember all the summer breaks growing up when I would be really dark with sunburn cycling around Mabolo. These were the years when San Jose dela Montana didn’t have the traffic volume it has now and it was safe for 9 year old kids to be passing thru its thoroughfare on their bicycles. I would go out on my bicycle every afternoon, no matter the heat, and go around the corners and nooks of Mabolo. I remember the wonderful feeling of discovery everytime I found a new route or found a new neighborhood. I believe I never again rode bicycles after I turned 10 years old…

When I saw the rental signs, my elan kicked in. So I invited Shaun, John and Clint and they were up for it. And like they say, I quickly remembered how to ride a bicycle, nothing really to almost 20 years of not riding one. Oh! the sheer freedom of breezing through the little streets of Sta Fe. Past Brgy, Okoy, Okra, Ampalaya, Talong and Kamatis! Everywhere we went, the womenfolk and the children would say “Hi” or greet us with “Good Morning!”. Everytime Shaun and I would find something nice, we would ring our bells. I found myself driving the bike wiggly woggly as I get myself distracted looking at the houses, new and old, the neighborhood scene of Sunday cockfight, and the green all around.

Ofcourse,  we were cruising around town with the sun’s heat beating down on us mercilessly. But hey, wasn’t this the idea? We did a le petit bonheur, a little happy hour after a few minutes though. The best way to cooldown…halo halo…no matter how overpriced.

On our way back, we chose to follow a different route, this time by the beach side. Warm sun on my skin and cool sea breeze on my face. I love summer. Who would have thought summer fun can be just this simple, but then this is me talking. What’s your idea of summer fun?

Fatal Attraction

After the Holidays, four of them to be exact(Christmas, New Year, Fiesta Senyor and the Chinese New Year) Shaun, myself and my sister have slipped into a weekend habit of shopping, doing grocery errands and then having  dinner and coffee/dessert all in the mall.  We usually do this on Sundays.

However, one particular weekend, we fell into this routine and I ended up in the hospital.  How?  Well, I work nights and the last day of my work week is Saturday AM.  I usually get off work at 10am.  This particular Saturday, I had scheduled a lunch with my team.  Afterwards, Shaun and I spent the whole afternoon shopping for shoes.  I had to buy a new pair since my favorite 2 – year old pair of sneakers are now really worn. I bought a grande cup of my favorite hazelnut mocca frap to keep me up.   It was already around 5pm when we got done buying the shoes and paying off some bills.

My sister works on weekends and she gets off work at 5pm, so we decided to text her to come over so we can have dinner together.  When she got to the mall, we ended up looking for an outfit for a party she will be attending.  That done, it was already 930pm.  Then we had dinner.

By this time, the caffeine has long left my system and I am just about to crash.  Off we went to our fave restaurant and sat at our favourite spot, promising to not take any longer than dinner.  I decided to order something light, my favourite shrimps, skewered and barbecued with a side of rice and vegetables.  I only had enough energy to sit thru dinner and then get home.

4 hours later…1AM…I went into anaphylactic shock.

I spent 2 days in the hospital, groggy from steroids and was so sad when the doctor made me swear off my favourite shrimps for life!  The doctor said it was hypersensitivity.  My immune system went so low and was not able to fight off the histamines.  If I want, I can undergo desensitation.

It was truly one of the scariest moments in my life(…drama queen in me), I surely miss my shrimps…

Road Trip

It is another Holy Week and the summer heat has just started to creep in.  A little late than in past years but it wasn’t any less in its fury.  My rhinitis and migraines had started to show up too.  Fortunately, I was allowed a week’s vacation.

I spent the first few days cleaning my room and just catching up on sleep.  Then the Lenten Holidays came, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  It was yet another rare occassion to have the whole family together.  I found myself the official kusinero.  Guess what?  It is my 1st year to cook binignit and biko!

Anyhow, the long stay home kind of got a little blah.  Such that, when Shaun suggested a road trip when he woke Saturday morning, I lost no time packing.  Just to put this into context, Shaun is someone who can be locked up in a room for weeks on end as long as there is cable tv, internet and lots of food.  Not rarely do I have to beg for him to get out and go around town with me.  So Saturday was a surprise.  It was like there was some divine occurence while he slept that he decided to be merciful and suggested the trip.  Sabado Gloria!

Off we went to the South Bus terminal without any destination or itinerary in mind.  On the spot, I decided on Boljoon.  I was there a couple of years ago but failed to explore the church and the museum as they were closed that time. 

 But somewhere between Carcar and Sibonga, we thought it would also be nice to take a dip at a beach.  It was steaming hot, our skin were dewy with the moist, dense humidity.  The next line up was Argao, Dalaguete and Alcoy.  Why not?  Argao has a Baroque – Rococo Church I haven’t explored too, it has its white sand beach as well, Dalaguete has its fresh water cold spring while Alcoy has a beach.  We can go visit them all!  We were dropped off Argao.

This trip turned out to be really fun with lots of new discoveries.  We had a glimpse of life-sized gold plated idols in a Baroque church.  Lunch at a quaint cafe featured in Lonely Planet a few years back was yum.  We brought home the famous Argao cacao for champorado.  We also dropped by a castle.  Who can beat that?  And then to end the day, a cool dip and the sunset at a rare white sand, clean public beach.

One of the many reasons I love being in Cebu is precisely this, that at any given day, on a whim, I can just hop on a bus and enjoy whatever it is I want.  The noisy fun of the metro, or the quite study of its history or just plain hanging out with its natural bounty.  All within reach. 

Plastic

The past 3 weeks have been very wet for Cebu City. And as expected, several areas in Cebu were flooded.  This is now becoming a normal occurence.  The rain did not spare even the annual solemn procession of the Sto. Nino de Cebu.  Devotees waded thru murky, bacteria rich floodwaters downtown as they strived to finish the procession.  The worst of these flooding was a few days ago when a cloudburst dumped an unexpected amount of rain in just a matter of an hour.  Even SM City Cebu was flooded. 

The rain poured around 7am – 8am.  I got off work around 11AM, by then the floodwaters have subsided.  The aftermath reveals the real culprit.  Garbage, specifically plastic.  Strewn all over the streets together with dirt and grime from the inutile drainage system.

These problems(I mean garbage disposal, use of plastic and the city’s poor drainage system) have long been unresolved.  I heard that after weeks of rain and the threat of landslides and more flooding, the local government is finally paying attention.  The whole project was to cost around P500M.  I wonder where we’ll get the money and when this project will ever be completed.

As my own personal way of making a difference and contributing to society, I decided to minimize, if not, totally eliminate the use of plastic bags, especially cellophane. 

Today, I went to Carbon Market to buy fresh vegetables.  I brought with me a reusable bag.  I remember when I was growing up, I would see my aunt and our househelp come back from the market on Sundays lugging their nylon net bags filled with produce. Walking around Carbon, I rarely saw people using reusable bags.

My initial purchases were large pieces of vegetables and it was interesting to see the reaction from the vendors when told that I won’t be needing the cellophane.  Most of them would give me a look as if to say “Sure Ka?”  (“are you sure?”). 

I started to have trouble when I bought teeny little red chillies.  Where to place them without scattering and maybe crushing them inside my already heavy bag.  Another problem was when I decided I wanted “sari-sari”, sliced mixed vegetables.  No way to get around them but give in to The Cellophane.

No matter.  It was just my first day.  I am sure that as I strive to make my own little effort.  I will find better ways to avoid the use of plastic and cellophane bags.

How about you?  What do you think of all the environmental changes we are experiencing nowadays?  What do you think you can do to make that teeny difference before it’s too late?  I would love to hear from you.

Less Means No MOre

In this age of instant gratification, it is quite easy to spoil our most rotten spending  habits.  Not having a good jumpstart to your day?  Why not grab a stick of cigarette and pair it with your favorite frap from Starbucks?  Weather too hot?  Let’s go into a mall somewhere and see what good movie is on.    Oh, and don’t forget a cup of your favorite frozen yogurt complete with toppings.  Depressed?  Why not swipe your self a little happy using your credit card to buy yet another pair of imported rubber flipflops?  Too insecure with your looks for the upcoming company party?  Why not visit the salon to get that nice shampoo, haircut and facial from your Korean stylist?  After all, this is what you have been slaving for right?  You deserve these treats.

All of these makes the world seem bearable, until you realize how far away the next paycheck is or until you get your next credit card bill.  Most of these expenses actually cost at least three times more than the daily cost of a decent meal. 

In 2010, the company I work for decided to “re-align” our compensation package.  Part of the change resulted to a lower but more frequent pay.  Another was that it totally eliminated our quarterly performance bonus.  Bummer.  I never completely felt the impact until now, December, when I look back to the year that was and realized that I cannot remember shopping for anything for myself at all, this year.   Not even for a new pair of underwear.  (OK, maybe that’s an exageration, it’s all about priorities you’d say.  I know!)

But what were the trade offs?  I realized,  it really wasn’t as bad as it looks:

  1.  Having a lower budget for lunch means sometimes having to bring food from home to work.  This means, no more waiting in line at the fast food, no more waiting for food to be served at the restaurant and more extra time for other things during your lunch hour.  For me, I have been taking more walks with colleagues around the area near the workplace.  More conversations and laughter.  And sometimes maybe a catnap.
  2. My budget cut also required that I downgrade my tastes when it comes to coffee.  Now, either I enjoy the free coffee at the pantry or just sprint to the 3rd floor concessionaires where coffe is almost 50% cheaper.  This means more productive time at work.
  3. Instead of taking at least two meals in a day at work.  I now go home on time, no more overtime(since they don’t pay overtime anymore).  This means that I have to be extra efficient at work.  This means that I also take breakfast (I work nights) with my mother at home.  The conversations we have is something that I missed sinced I started working 9 years ago.  We have long given up on the routine family meals.  But now, we are bonding over home cooked meals.
  4. My daily allowance can only afford one – way taxi fare.  So I take the public transport going home.  This allows me to ponder the lives of the “daytime” people as they ride with me on their way to work.   Yes, ponder, for that is what you do while inside a jeepney with 17 other passengers sardine-packed to the brim.  Instead of being coccooned in your cool cab ride home, you are actually getting in touch with the “real-world”, reminding yourself that you are still a part of it.

 

What about my weekends you may ask.  Well, I still go to the mall, but only to run pre-planned errands.  This ensures that I do not spend more than what I need to.   Most of my weekends are spent at home, surfing the web, watching tv, catching up on the lates movies in dvd, reading and most of the time, catching up on healthy home cooked meals and sleep.  No more alcohol on my weekends.  I have also said good bye to the long nights of dancing and panting to nicotine-infused air.  This means no more need to shop for the latest outfits too!

The budget constraints have also made me more creative in redirecting my energies.  I rediscovered my cooking skills, I learned to appreciate the many beautiful yet free-of-charge local attractions and community events and I also discovered the joys of pouring my heart out to a blog just like this one. 

With regular sleep and a healthy dose of free laughter from friends, who would need a facial or a massage just to feel good?  With a warm, caring homelife, who would need the mall or the movies?  Forget the designer coffee drink, I don’t need one when I am busy chatting with my closest friends.

Less money means more.  More quality time for self, for friends and for family.  More time to be healthy, to create fond memories, to nurture lasting relationships. 

But ofcourse, I’d still welcome a raise or a bonus anytime!  Who am I kidding?!

Realizations

It is almost a year to this date when I got home from a wonderfully surprising trip to the US of A.  I couldn’t help but remember all the realizations I brought home with me.  I was the other half to an exchange program between coaches for our client partner. 

My counterpart shared how shocked she was with the poverty and the urban “crowdedness”.  How it almost physically choked her everywhere.  From the tourist sites, to the wharves, to the mall.  She was amazed to know that our big boss, who invited her over to his place one time, did not have a washing machine and instead had a housemaid who did laundry by hand.  Traffic in Manila was overwhelming to her and while Cebu was more tolerable she did find herself homesick for most of the 6-week stay.  After seeing Reno myself, I couldn’t blame her. 

I, on the otherhand, was shocked how similar we are.  Having grown up with all the Western influence through the tv, movies and internet, I at least have a preview of life in the US.  However, working and being there was so different.  My impressions from the tv and movies were almost the opposite of what I actually experienced.  They are warm, hospitable, educated people.  Well those that I’ve met at least.

Just like us, Americans are hard working people, with the same joys and worries like ours.  Jobs(or the lack of it), money(or the lack of it), family and friends.   But while we all fuss about almost the same things – survival and success, I think Filipinos have more fun at it.  No amount of stress or problem will drive a Pinoy to a shrink.  Maybe only to the nearest Videoke Bar. 

I believe that as a people, we are innately fun-loving and carefree.  We are also very grounded on family and community, our support system during hard times.  Put these together and you will never break the spirit of even the poorest Pinoy.

Visiting the US only served to make me appreciate the people and places around me more.  That regardless of dire economic situations, I still find our nation, my family, myself truly blessed.  As I look back on the year after that trip, I can only be thankful for my family and friends who stick it out with me through thick and thin.  I may not be living in a 1st world country but I find myself amazingly happy and content.  True, things will never be perfect, but with them around, it will always be OK!

Meet the Family

Our Family Name in Chinese Characters

 

I recently attended the family reunions of both my paternal and maternal side.  They were two very different events.  On my paternal side was an annual celebration where no less than 500 people, all with the same last name, are in attendance.  The proceedings are very predictable and one that I am familiar with since my childhood.  This is why even if it is a huge crowd, it still feels like family.  There is a certain comfort in knowing that the family hymn is still sung and sung by almost the same roster of old ladies.  That it will always be a lauriat meal every year, that there always will be prizes raffled off before the party ends.  For my parents, this annual event should never be missed. 

From my maternal side was a birthday celebration.  Now this one is very rare.  Busy with our separate  lives, we tend to keep to ourselves even if most of the family is in Cebu, even during special occassions.  So when a cousin of mine decided to throw a bash for his now 77 – year old mother, my AE (Auntie) Hayling, it was a really pleasant surprise.  We all wore the requisite red.  We all had a great time catching up with each other, old uncles and aunts getting to know their fast growing nephews and nieces, and just plain enjoying each other’s company. 

I have always wondered why most people feel uncomfortable with reunions.  Mine is not a perfect family but I have always cherished it.  Family keeps me grounded.  It reminds me that I have roots.  That I belong to a larger community who share my heritage and who will share in my journey to the future.  Family gives me a sense of purpose.  It encourages me to strive to become better and better knowing that we all are interdependent.  Family keeps me safe.  It is that warm, bright and happy place that you retreat to everyday, in your heart.

So be it a big family gathering of 500 or just my little family of 5, I am there.  Always!

How about you?  Do you like going to family gatherings? What kind of feelings do family reunions evoke in you?

Tihi Tihi is Uni Sashimi!

I love raw Japanese sea food.  No, let me correct that, I like raw seafood, period.  It doesn’t have to be Japanese.  I love kinilaw na isda(tangigue and salmon, no tuna), kinilaw na ba-at(sea slugs/cucumber), takubo (giant clams)and sea urchins (tihi-tihi).  I also like seaweeds, lukot(some say they are some kind of seaweeds, some say they are seaworms(?), and even some say they are the waste product of sea snails(wtf)).  I can take them any which way.  Japanese style with soy and wasabi and some pickled ginger root, Mindanao style with vinegar and coconut milk or just plain homestyle mix of vinegar and spices.

Of all these, I especially love takubo (giant clams) and tihi-tihi (sea urchins).  Now takubo is hard to come by nowadays as they are being salvaged as an endangered kind.  Harvesting them now is illegal.  Some groups have even started to breed them in controlled labs just to help them populate.   So now, I turn to sea urchins.  In Japanese restaurants, these are called “Uni Sashimi”.  I love the gooey velvety sweet taste mixed with a little soy and wasabi.  The thing is that they are very rare in the Japanese restos around the city.  Sometimes they are available, sometimes they are not.  Some restaurants don’t carry them at all.

Now, this sashimi has a local counterpart called the tihi-tihi.  This is a very familiar delicacy to me as I spent summer weekends in Lilo-an as a kid.  My parents would leave me and my big brother with our aunt if they have a busy weekend planned. 

You would usually see this delicacy in bottles being peddled at the beachfronts or at the local wet market in Lilo-an.  I do not see them in the grocery and the local markets in the city.  So, I was very happy that I got a good reason to visit Lilo-an again.  It’s All Soul’s/Saint’s Day/Halloween weekend and just like the rest of the Catholic community, we planned on visiting the tombs of our departed family.  My lola passed away two years ago and she was laid to rest at the Manila Memorial in Lilo-an.  So yesterday, the rents and I found ourselves on our way there at 730am as we wanted to avoid the hot sun and the crowds.

It was way too early and we were hungry by the time we got there.  So instead of heading straight to the cemetery, we continued on to a little side street near the Church, just in front of the Municipal Hall. Now this side street have always been there as far as I can remember, but is just gaining popularity as the new housing developments have sprouted in the neighborhood.  It is a usual stop for those travelling north, for “bikers” on their weekend exercise and for the locals after church on Sundays.  I found Uni Heaven!

Here you can find grilled pork, fish and squid.  You will also see your favorite lechon pork(roast pork) or lechon manok(roast chicken). 

And ofcourse, here you will find all the raw stuff, sea slugs, fish and sea urchins!  YOu have a choice of pairing these fare with boiled camote(yams) or hanging rice (rice cooked in palm leaves).  While the japanese eat rice with the meat at the lower part(so it hits your tongue) I like a sliver of kinilaw on top of camote.  The tangy, hot, salty taste of the raw seafood marinated in vinegar against the sweet soft camote.  Yum!

This is Tihi-Tihi!

 

Boiled Yams and Hanging Rice

Oh and yes, I brought a bottle of sea urchin meat with me!

My rents...fellow road trippers!