BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Travelling with Nicholas Kristof

I'd trade anything to be in the shoes of Casey Parks. Casey, a journalism graduate from Mississippi, will have the opportunity to accompany New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, on a reporting trip to Africa this September. Below is her winning essay, chosen among three thousand plus entries.

Win a Trip With Nick Kristof
The Winning Essay
Published: May 22, 2006

Growing up poor, I saw my mother skip meals. I saw my father pawn everything he loved. I saw our cars repossessed. I never saw France or London. I didn't even see an airplane up close until I was a senior in high school and won an Al Neuharth-sponsored trip.

The older I get, though, the more I appreciate not having money. Working as a journalist in Mississippi for a handful of years, I found my past connected me to so many people. Crafting racially charged stories, I saw myself in the eyes of interviewed after interviewed. No, I didn't know what it was like to be perceived as scary because my melanin shaded me darker. But I knew what it was like to wear out-of-style clothes and want the shoes and cooler lunches that others had. As a lesbian, I knew what it was like to feel out of place.

Moving to Columbia, MO, to earn my master's, I've lost some of my soul. The city is a predominately white, mostly middle-class generally quaint town. The fury of Mississippi almost like a dream now, I've been reading voraciously articles about the poverty Palestinians sink into daily. I find, years later, Kevin Carter's Pulitzer-winning photo of a starving Sudanese girl and the vulture who stalks her, and I long to be a part of it. I consider the allegations against Carter--was he helping, just photographing her?--and I want to know those journalistic decisions for myself.

What moves me to be a journalist? It's been a career goal so obvious to me for such a long time that the question had ceased to be asked. This semester, almost muted by theory studies, I have returned to it often. I keep a binder of stories that remind me, though: Anne Hull's portrait of gay America, Andrea Elliott's story about an imam in Brooklyn saddling two worlds, Rick Bragg's Pulitzer-winning tale of Alabama inmates plagued by old age who still find beauty in flowers, Jacqui Banaszynski's Pulitzer-winning delve into the lives of two gay men, farmers who fell in love and physically fell apart because of it. I have a distinct want (it's a thirst and a flame, all at once) to create these stories myself--not for the Pulitzers, but for the reaching outside of myself, to break people's hearts so adeptly that they move into action.

The electricity that comes from crafting seeing the way journalists do--cataloguing every movement, sound, feeling, inference--is what continues to spark me. And by no means have I exhausted the stories that are to be done in America (or even Columbia, MO, in all its quaintness). But I so desperately want to leave this country and know more. I've never thought of myself as provincial, but this year, reading on the tension between the two Koreas, swallowing Rushdie's Pakistan and India, inhaling the French riots, I realize how insular my life has been. My tour of the Southern states has left me unable to fully discern what lies beyond.

But I want to.

I want to learn by seeing. I feel deeply, and I know journalism. I'm strong, and have no need for 5-star hotels or other luxuries. In person, I'm charming and sweet and considerate, but still bold and fearless. The trip you're offering is an experience that should merge experience and inexperience, skill and desire for more. I have these qualities.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mother's Day

I can't think of a nice gift for you for your day so I'm listing down five things I love about you and about being your daughter.

Crazy, weird and insane -- that makes two of us and having someone as crazy as I am makes me feel normal.
Always there -- inspite and despite of my pendulum mood swings.
Shoulder to cry on -- no matter how comfortable I am with friends, crying on your shoulders gives me the most comfort when I'm down.
Sings with me -- nobody likes to sing with me because I can't carry a tune. Except you.
Packs my bag when I travel -- when it's you who packs my luggage, I'm always confident I have everything I need.

(photo: with Dy during a recent visit to HK)

Partners and Marriage

I don't want to write about marriage. Actually, I don't even want to think about it. But I was blog hopping and came across this piece from Bat's multiply site. I suddenly remembered one of the most encouraging things mom ever said to me -- my marriage will be a happy one. I hope so. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. I guess it all depends on me and the universe.

Perhaps, as I read in Bat's site, someday, someone will walk into my life and make me realize why it never worked out with anyone else. I look forward to that day. I've had my share of hits and misses but I know that someday, I will be with that someone I deserve.

Partners and Marriage

by Kent Nerburn

I have never met a man who didn't want to be loved. But I have seldom met a man who didn't fear marriage. Something about the closure seems constricting, not enabling. Marriage seems easier to understand for what it cuts out of our lives than for what it makes possible within our lives.

When I was younger this fear immobilized me. I did not want to make a mistake. I saw my friends get married for reasons of social acceptability, or sexual fever, or just because they thought it was the logical thing to do. Then I watched, as they and their partners became embittered and petty in their dealings with each other. I looked at older couples and saw, at best, mutual toleration of each other. I imagined a lifetime of loveless nights and bickering and could not imagine subjecting myself or someone else to such a fate.

And yet, on rare occasions, I would see old couples who somehow seemed to glow in each other's presence. They seemed really in love, not just dependent upon each other and tolerant of each other's foibles. It was an astounding sight, and it seemed impossible. How, I asked
myself, can they have survived so many years of sameness, so much irritation at the others habits? What keeps love alive in them, when most of us seem unable to even stay together, much less love each other?

Why do some couples glow?

The central secret seems to be in choosing well. There is something to the claim of fundamental compatibility. Good people can create a bad relationship, even though they both dearly want the relationship to succeed. It is important to find someone with whom you can create a good relationship from the outset. Unfortunately, it is hard to see clearly in the early stages. Sexual hunger draws you to each other and colors the way you see yourselves together. It blinds you to the thousands of little things by which relationships eventually survive or fail. You need to find a way to see beyond this initial overwhelming sexual fascination. Some people choose to involve themselves sexually and ride out the most heated period of sexual attraction in order to see what is on the other side.

This can work, but it can also leave a trail of wounded hearts. Others deny the sexual side altogether in an attempt to get to know each other apart from their sexuality. But they cannot see clearly, because the presence of unfulfilled sexual desire looms so large that it keeps them from having any normal perception of what life would be like together.

The truly lucky people are the ones who manage to become long-time friends before they realize they are attracted to each other. They get to know each other's laughs, passions, sadness, and fears. They see each other at their worst and at their best. They share time
together before they get swept up into the entangling intimacy of their sexuality.

This is the ideal, but not often possible. If you fall under the spell of your sexual attraction immediately, you need to look beyond it for other keys to compatibility. One of these is laughter. Laughter tells you how much you will enjoy each others company over the long term.

Laughter is the child of surprise

If your laughter together is good and healthy, and not at the expense of others, then you have a healthy relationship to the world. Laughter is the child of surprise. If you can make each other laugh, you can always surprise each other. And if you can always surprise each other, you can always keep the world around you new.

Beware of a relationship in which there is no laughter. Even the most intimate relationships based only on seriousness have a tendency to turn sour. Over time, sharing a common serious viewpoint on the world tends to turn you against those who do not share the same viewpoint, and your relationship can become based on being critical together.

After laughter, look for a partner who deals with the world in a way you respect. When two people first get together, they tend to see their relationship as existing only in the space between the two of them. They find each other endlessly fascinating, and the overwhelming power of the emotions they are sharing obscures the outside world. As the relationship ages and grows, the outside world becomes important again. If your partner treats people or circumstances in a way you can't accept, you will inevitably come to grief. Look at the way she cares for others and deals with the daily affairs of life. If that makes you love her more, your love will grow. If it does not, be careful. If you do not respect the way you each deal with the world around you, eventually the two of you will not respect each other.

Look also at how your partner confronts the mysteries of life. We live on the cusp of poetry and practicality, and the real life of the heart resides in the poetic. If one of you is deeply affected by the mystery of the unseen in life and relationships, while the other is drawn only to the literal and the practical, you must take care that the distance does not become an unbridgeable gap that leaves you each feeling isolated and misunderstood.

Do not betray the vision your heart will not deny There are many other keys, but you must find them by yourself. We all have unchangeable parts of our hearts that we will not betray and private commitments to a vision of life that we will not deny.

If you fall in love with someone who cannot nourish those inviolable parts of you, or if you cannot nourish them in her, you will find yourselves growing further apart until you live in separate worlds where you share the business of life, but never touch each other where the heart lives and dreams. From there it is only a small leap to the cataloging of petty hurts and daily failures that leaves so many couples bitter and unsatisfied with their mates.

So choose carefully and well. If you do, you will have chosen a partner with whom you can grow, and then the real miracle of marriage can take place in your hearts. I pick my words carefully when I speak of a miracle. But I think it is not too strong a word. There is a miracle in marriage. It is called transformation.

Transformation is one of the most common events of nature. The seed becomes the flower. The cocoon becomes the butterfly. Winter becomes spring and love becomes a child. We never question these, because we see them around us every day. To us they are not miracles, though if we did not know them they would be impossible to believe.

Marriage is a transformation we choose to make. Our love is planted like a seed, and in time it begins to flower. We cannot know the flower that will blossom, but we can be sure that a bloom will come.

If you have chosen carefully and wisely, the bloom will be good. If you have chosen poorly or for the wrong reason, the bloom will be flawed. We are quite willing to accept the reality of negative transformation in a marriage. It was negative transformation that always had me terrified of the bitter marriages that I feared when I was younger. It never occurred to me to question the dark miracle that transformed love into harshness and bitterness. Yet I was unable to accept the possibility that the first heat of love could be transformed into something positive that was actually deeper and more meaningful than the heat of fresh passion. All I could believe in was the power of this passion and the fear that when it cooled I would be
left with something lesser and bitter.

But there is positive transformation as well. Like negative transformation, it results from a slow accretion of little things.

Marriage transforms us into full bloom. But instead of death by a thousand blows, it is growth by a thousand touches of love. Two histories intermingle. Two separate beings, two separate presence, two separate consciousness come together and share a view of life that passes before them. They remain separate, but they also become one. There is an expansion of awareness, not a closure and a constriction, as I had once feared. This is not to say that there is not tension and there are not traps. Tension and traps are part of every choice of life, from celibate to monogamous to having multiple lovers. Each choice contains within it the lingering doubt that the road not taken somehow more fruitful and exciting, and each becomes dulled to the richness that it alone contains.

But only marriage allows life to deepen and expand and be leavened by the knowledge that two have chosen, against all odds, to become one. Those who live together without marriage can know the pleasure of shared company, but there is a specific gravity in the marriage commitment that deepens that experience into something richer and more complex.

So do not fear marriage, just as you should not rush into it for the wrong reasons. It is an act of faith and it contains within it the power of transformation. If you believe in your heart that you have found someone with whom you are able to grow, if you have sufficient faith that you can resist the endless attraction of the road not taken and the partner not chosen, if you have the strength of heart to embrace the cycles and seasons that your love will experience, then you may be ready to seek the miracle that marriage offers. If not, then wait. The easy grace of a marriage well made is worth your patience. When the time comes, a thousand flowers will bloom...endlessly.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

simple pleasures

simple pleasures

(Again, I came across this on CRAG's blog)

Instructions: Name ten of life's simple pleasures that you like the most, then pick ten people to do the same. Try to be original and creative and not to use things that someone else has already used.

1. Reading a good book. My favorite authors are Truman Capote, Pico Iyer and Gilda Cordero-Fernando.
2. Getting snail mail -- post cards, hand-written letters and even small packages.
3. Watching the sunrise or sunset with a loved one.
4. Painting and photography.
5. The luxury of extra sleep.
6. Emails from friends.
7. Drinking delicious red wine, a cup of very good capuccino, ice-cold beer or eating Cadbury chocolates
8. Travelling.
9. Being with kids.
10. Finishing a good article and seeing my by-line for it.

Ten people I'm tagging?


Thursday, May 4, 2006


It's 1 a.m. and I'm blogging. I finally figured it out on my own. Yes, I have to admit, I'm no techie. Friends say I'm always too lazy to learn. Tonight, however, I just had to push myself and do this. My previous blog, which I've kept since 2004, had closed its doors on me. I created that one with the help of a techie but because of technical problems, I couldn't access it anymore.

Thank you to all of you friends, kibitzers, curious minds, fans, loyal followers and netizens out there for taking time out to visit my site during the past two years.

Here I am moving on, trying to create a new blog. It will be a continuation of the old one -- a journal of my musings, rants, raves, angst, ecstacy, prayers, dreams, nightmares and everything else that's raring to come out of the deepest recesses of my soul.

I invite you to read on and glimpse into my world. Depending on where you're coming from, it can be small, frightening, huge, menacing, ugly or beautiful.

As writer Susanna Kaysen once said, "Every window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco."


Ye cosmopolitan Old English
A travelogue
Iris Cecilia C. Gonzales
BusinessWorld, 2004

A suitcase with enough trench coats, scarves, gloves and berets was enough gear for the London weather, but nothing can prepare me for the original Victorian city's magnetic charm and allure. It was an affair to remember for this Asian soul the moment the morning sun and the crisp spring breeze greeted the exit of Heathrow airport.

In no time, I was drawn to this city. London, home to seven million, is rich in history yet strikingly modern, Old English yet cosmopolitan, which makes it enchanting. I visited London as part of a Reuters Foundation training program for 12 journalists from mostly developing countries. England's capital city can seem overwhelming to a first-timer -- so much to see, feel, and experience.

My first impulse was to see everything at breakneck speed. Me and my classmates later on realized that the key is not to rush but to enjoy the simple indigenous pleasures of London, get off the beaten track and be a traveller, not a tourist. We explored the city in between classes, on holidays and on weekends. We took the train or the Underground (subway), the bus, or simply walk. The long walk was not a bother with the picturesque sights of modern, gothic and medieval architecture of buildings, churches and bridges all over the city -- everything seemed to be within walking distance.

The London adventure started with a long walk around the city center. The Tower Bridge, which cuts through River Thames, should not to be confused with the plain London Bridge, and is the only bridge that can be raised to allow ships to pass. Across the bridge is the Tower of London, an imposing castle first built in 1078 and now houses the Crown Jewels. We strolled along the River Thames and passed by the Shakespeare Globe Theater, where play enthusiasts can travel back to the period of open-air theater during William Shakespeare's time.

On the other side is Whitehall, the road leading to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Houses of Parliament, three of the city's most famous landmarks. One weekend, we took a ride on the London Eye. Operated by British Airways, the London Eye is a 135-meter wheel that provides a half hour ride on 32 enclosed glass gondolas, giving passengers a view of the city. It is best to take the London Eye when it is "genuinely sunny" and not when it is "reluctantly sunny" as we describe the crazy weather.

All Beatles fans, we ventured to Abbey Road in the quiet and affluent St. John's district. Abbey Road is home to the studios where nearly all of the Beatles's recordings were done from 1962 to 1970. The studios were officially renamed "Abbey Road" in the wake of the international fame bestowed on the building by the Beatles and by the 1969 album which paid homage to their recording home. Crossing the pedestrian lane featured on the cover of the "Abbey Road" album is a must-do for Beatles fans. The "zebra crossing" is just a few yards from the entrance to the studio building. We crossed it oblivious that it was THE infamous pedestrian lane until we saw the studio. We then took turns crossing the road to have our pictures taken, to the dismay of stalled motorists. The Abbey Road experience was capped with a bar of Cadbury chocolate for the group.

How could one leave London without seeing a West End performance? The answer was a definite "NO," so one evening we went to see the Phantom of the Opera. The scenes just seamlessly flow together and the music is heart-pounding. We were singing endlessly on our way back to the hotel.

The whole class also watched Shakespeare's classic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, at the Shakespeare Globe Theater. The Globe, also called the Wooden O, is circular and has a roof-less center. We were in the standing section so it was in this roof-less center where we stood for three hours. The play, however, took our minds off the nuisances such as the cold evening wind and sore legs.

Aside from the theaters, there are also other avenues offering entertainment. There are gardens and parks with street performers all eager to please tourists. The Speakers' Corner at Hyde Park offers a unique form of entertainment as anyone can just go to the place and speak their minds. One can watch, listen or even argue with the speakers, no holds barred. Terrorism was the topic of four people when a classmate and I went one afternoon.

There is also a long list of places to shop, but the prices are not for the fainthearted. The city lives up to its reputation of being one of the most expensive places in the world. Notting Hill is more than a backdrop to a Julia Roberts flick. It is a shoppers' paradise. Tourists abound as it is one of the best places to buy souvenirs, clothes, antiques and other stuff. For me, it was a Phantom of the Opera soundtrack.

But there is so much more to London than the sights. Beer drinker or not, one has to experience the English pubs if only to see that getting together over drinks is such a big part of the British culture. Londoners drink as early as 12 p.m. in between work. We went to as many pubs as our budget allowed us and joined the local banter and laughter over beer, wine, or what-have-we.

Many of my most memorable moments were good conversations over a drink or two. Beer, I realized is a great equalizer among different cultures. Drinking tea is another quintessential British pastime. One afternoon, after spending hours looking for Karl Marx's library in what seemed like a ghost town, some of us went to have a pot of hot English tea in a nearby pub. And it seemed to soothe our aching bodies. Aside from the sights and the drinks, the people made the adventure complete. There are the strange pilgrims I met along the way. One morning, I met a 77-year-old English woman on the train. She was on her way to the airport to pick up a friend, whom she will go "backpacking" with to Paris.

People never really grow old, she said, as long as they travel and never forget to laugh. All these made the London sojourn a memorable one. It is as colorful as the flowers of spring.