BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Monday, September 29, 2008

a child of the world

We met him last weekend.

He is such a cute, adorable and amazing baby boy. He visited our little home last Sunday with his new parents.

Baby boy N finally met his foster parents, a multicultural couple a few weeks ago. The whole adoption process took two years. What a lovely family! They're binded not by blood but pure love.

I am happy for them. Although I will never understand why a mother would give up her child for adoption, I wouldn't really mind adopting a baby if the circumstances call for it. What a gorgeous baby he is!

I wish Baby boy N and his new found parents a happy family life.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

off to Kuwait

Not me but the nanny.

Just when I thought I got the best nanny for my daughter, I suddenly receive the bad news.

She's off to Kuwait in search of greener pastures. She will be working as a domestic helper for P8,000 a month. Needless to say, I could not make a counter offer. I would have to go overseas myself to be able to match the salary she'll be getting.

It's the sad reality I have to grapple with. Like the millions of Filipinos working abroad, Ms. L wants to have a better life, too for herself and for her aging parents. She will sign up for a two-year contract and hopes to be able to save the money so she wouldn't have to work abroad for a long time.

It's the same old story. There are hundreds of Filipinos leaving everyday in search for a better life for themselves and their family. Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Quatar, Jordan, Canada, Australia. etc. etc.

Almost everyone is packing their bags for a better life elsewhere. The government has no qualms about it. Hefty dollar remittances, officials say, keep the Philippine economy afloat.

But how about the true costs of migration? Will somebody please do the counting.

Monday, September 15, 2008

pabili ng bigas

taken at the National Food Authority warehouse, Visayas Avenue, Quezon City.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cambodia: A postscript

Light seeped through the temples of Angkor Wat that early morning I stepped inside Cambodia’s famous site, a historic landmark that has drawn travelers from all over the world.

Anyone with a passion for travel will enjoy the experience. There are no special skills needed or rugged outdoor equipment required for the temples of Angkor.

One just needs to have a strong sense of adventure to see what lies out there, to have the courage to knock oneself out of the daily routine, to want to learn and unlearn different things and to be interested in everything new and foreign.

Armed with this strong sense to try something new, I, along with three fellow journalists, embarked on an adventure to the provincial town of Siem Reap in the Kingdom of Cambodia.


Siem Reap town, nestled between rice paddies and muddy roads, serves as the gateway to the age-old temple ruins of the Khmer Rouge Empire. The temples were built between the 9th and 12th centuries. The whole park lies about five to ten kilometers north of the province and encompasses dozens of temple ruins which are more than enough to feast one’s eyes and soul.

Although there are other things to see in Siem Reap, it is best to first visit the temples of Angkor.

That’s what I and my friends did on our first morning in the province. We woke up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, the first in our itinerary and the beginning of an adventure-filled journey throughout the dozens of temple ruins we would be visiting.

Angkor Wat is a majestic complex filled with darkened doorways, stone carvings of gods and demons and Buddhist shrines illuminated only by the flicker of a candle. The smell of incense wafted in the air.

The largest and best-preserved site among the temples of Angkor, it was built for Cambodia’s King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. According to the guide books, Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu, one of the three Gods of Hindu. The two others are Shiva and Krishna. Hinduism was the religion in Cambodia at the time the Angkor was constructed in the early 12th century.

Indian traders came to this part of Southeast Asia as early as the 1st century, bringing with them their culture, law, politics, arts and their religion –Hinduism and Buddhism.

At the turn of the 14th century, Buddhism became the dominant religion in Cambodia which explains the many stone-carved images of Buddha in the different temple ruins.

Two days are enough to visit all the major temples and a few of the minor ones. It really depends on one’s time and energy. As for me and my travel buddies, we opted for a day pass which was enough for our resources.

Riding a four person tuk-tuk or motorcycle trailers which are similar to the tricycles in the Philippines, is a fun way to go around the park. These tuk-tuks, driven by locals, most of whom speak conversational English, may be rented the whole day or for a package of three days. Depending on one’s ability to haggle, the average price of a tuk-tuk for a day’s rent is $10 to $13. Tuk-tuks are all over the city but one can have an arrangement made through the hotels or guesthouses.

One can enjoy the temples of Angkor just by exploring the complex inside and out. Of the dozens of temple ruins, my favorite is Angkor Wat which on my first glimpse, appeared as a giant breathtaking postcard against the sky.

It is both visually and artistically awe-inspiring, with its massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers and the finest examples of Khmer art.

I stayed there for almost two hours, admiring its grandeur and magnificence. Inside, in the labyrinthine walkways, I almost heard the gods and demons on the stone-carved walls call each other. It is an experience more profound than I had expected.


Aside from the temples of Angkor, there are other things to enjoy in Siem Reap. A visit to the Old French Quarter for drinks and a glimpse of the vibrant night life in the province should be in one’s itinerary.

Siem Reap’s nightlife stretches to near dawn. Backpackers and locals alike fill the bars that are scattered around town.

The pulse of the city at night is felt along Pub Street in the Old Market area. Dozens of bars and restaurants line the street. Those who want to experience the night life can drop by Angkor What? and Temple Club along Pub Street.

Drinkers will enjoy cold Angkor beer which is similar to San Miguel Beer but a little more invigorating.

Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese style architecture in the Old French Quarter.

In some restaurants in the Old French Quarter, one can also enjoy Cambodia’s traditional dance, referred to as an Apsara dance performance.

An Apsara is a character in Hindu mythology referring to a celestial dancer that comes out of the froth as the gods churn the oceans. The dance has a subtle yet ethereal appearance. Dancers are dressed in ornate costumes, usually in gold, silver and red colors.

The Old French Quarter and the Old Market are in the main part of town, in the Psar Chas area.

Cambodian food, meanwhile, will without doubt awaken one’s gastronomic interest. Traditional spicy food and noodles are for the taking as well as a host of salads and many coconut-based dishes. My favorite dishes are red and yellow chicken curry, mixed vegetables and Tom Yam soup.

After a long day of exploring the temples of Angkor, travelers can enjoy a relaxing traditional Cambodian massage. There are spas and massage parlors around town especially near the Old Market.

Let me warn, however, that in our case, we found the massage in the Philippines far better than what we had in Siem Reap. For one, the spas in Manila usually have the better ambience – scented candles, aroma-filled rooms and relaxing music playing in the background.

More importantly, the masseurs massage the whole body with the pressure of your preference. In Siem Reap, the massage that we experienced was limited to the face, arms, feet and a bit of the back.

Siem Reap is also a shopper’s paradise. It is an excellent place to buy Cambodian souvenirs, dolls, handicrafts, bags and original artistic creations. I bought the ubiquitous checkered scarves as pasalubongs to photojournalists back home who find such scarves useful when they are out on assignments.

The Old Market is one of Siem Reap’s traditional covered markets and the most famous shopping mecca. Guides say it offers the widest variety of handicrafts and curios. There are also individual little boutiques scattered around town for souvenirs.

As for me, the experience itself is enough to remember Siem Reap.

I only have to close my eyes and see in my inner mind’s eye the breathtaking view of Angkor Wat set against the crimson painted sky. Ah, nothing could be more pleasurable than to just stand in full view of this man-made marvel, at least when one is in this corner of the world.

Where’s my next stop?

My mother has something in common with taipan John Gokongwei. No, she’s not a consumer goods magnate nor does she own a commercial airline company.

But she, like the Filipino-Chinese businessman encouraged her children to see the world, to travel to different places, to reach as many corners of the universe as one can do in one’s lifetime and to meet all sorts of people.

“Save so you can travel,” that’s what my mom used to tell us when we were younger. She said that money is hard to earn and thus should be spent only on worthy things. Traveling, she used to say, is one of those things worth spending on.

Lance Gokongwei, I read once, said that his father encouraged them to spend on two things: traveling and books.

My mom skipped the books part but she certainly influenced me to go out and discover the world.

And so, despite my meager pay as a newspaper reporter, I struggled to see the foreign and the unknown. Every visit, I have to say, was worth every hard earned centavo spent.

My most recent journey was to the heart of Malaysia. I was in Kuala Lumpur for a lightning visit last year. It was my first time to explore the capital of the Southeast Asian country. For three days, I surrendered myself to the foreign and the unknown, took buses and trains, ate street food and got rained on to.

I had a glass of good beer in a high-end tourist area (it was all I could afford in that part of the city), enjoyed the breathtaking view of Petronas Towers, savored Auntie Anne’s pretzel, Malaysian version and I also bought a precious toy at the busy district of Bhukit Bintan.

Each trip, as my favorite travel writer Pico Iyer, said is about surrendering oneself to experience. It’s about being reborn and being knocked off one’s comfort zone. Indeed, nothing compares.

Reading Iyer encouraged me to see more places as one can see in this lifetime. Paulo Coehlo inspired me to travel alone. A friend encouraged me to blog while a travel mate from Slovakia taught me to eat the best cheeses and drink the best beer. A classmate abroad taught me to read maps. From a friend from Brazil, I learned how it is best to laugh when you get lost while on a trip.

Each experience is unique.

In Isabela, Basilan, for instance, I learned that life is what one makes of it whether you’re in a war-torn country or in a peace zone. With the Badjaos, I learned that the best freedom one can experience is the freedom from material things.

In Kazakhstan, I learned that time stops. On the bus from Paris to Rome (it was a bus trip second to none), I almost touched the horizon. The Eiffel Tower is magnificent but the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop is more amazing.

In Batanes, in an abandoned house, I realized that the best moments in life are free. Smoking pot in Amsterdam is legal. The Niagara Falls in Canada attracts hordes of tourists for obvious reasons.

There are no Vienna sausages in Vienna and that the beauty of Prague pales in comparison with that of Cesky Krumlov.

Bratislava is one of Eastern Europe’s best kept secret. Salzburg is more than just a backdrop of the classic Sound of Music.

London is gray and cloudy but its pubs are always alive. Scotland is worth the six-hour train ride from London.

India is noisy but mystical. Pier 18 in Tondo, Manila is very humanizing.

The universe is vast and there’s so much more to see in this lifetime. I wonder where my next stop will be.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

that little face

(Pardon me. This entry is all about motherhood and if you don't like listening to mothers rave or rant about motherhood, just skip this entry)

How do I leave that little face crying every morning as I step out the door? It's heartwrenching, oh yes. But I have to. Lately, I've been feeling I'm not strong enough to be a mom. How could my own mother be so patient with all five of us? How could she have the strength to walk out on us every morning to earn a living, despite our crying faces?

Tell me, my fellow mothers, just how do you cope? How does one become a mom? How does one get the strength to leave that little crying face in the morning? I'm not sure.

All I know is that I only have one shot with this role. If I fail, I would have terribly failed to make an individual grow to the best of her abilities. I would have terribly failed to raise an individual who will never stop to struggle for what's best for her and society. I would have terribly failed to be a mom.

I don't have the answers. And sometimes, I don't have the strength. I think of my own mother, who despite her growing number of white hair and wrinkles on her stunning beauty, gave us all she could. I remember her with a big embrace when I went home that fateful early morning, many years ago with my heart ripped apart into pieces by a man I truly loved.

The embrace of a mother still is the safest place in this crazy world. I hope my own daughter feels the same way, too everytime I embrace her with my thin arms.

The truth about motherhood is that it hurts a lot. It hurts to see that little face crying every morning everytime I head out the door to search for the day's news. I can only hope that someday, she will understand. I hope, I do, too.

I only have one shot. This isn't like a career where you can get second and third chances. This one's crucial and I hope I muster enough energy to become the mother that I should be.

How? How? How? How do I leave that little crying face? Please somebody tell me how.