BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, September 29, 2011

When Life Happens

Growing up, I had those little life plans that kept me company. Those dreams were as varied as my interests. Some were as petty as walking along the Great Wall of China, seeing the South of France, owning a small farm in a province or as huge as living in a foreign country for a year or having an organization that would help save abused children around the world

I had a lot of dreams when I was younger. First, I dreamt of becoming a doctor, an aid worker and then a journalist. As a student, I represented my school in writing contests. Sometimes I earned a place, sometimes none at all but I was always urged to at least try. It was then when I molded dreams of becoming a writer, a newspaper reporter. I dreamt of working for a mainstream newspaper. I wanted to write, write and write. I wanted to write a book someday.

And then I also dreamt of being part of theater, of acting in a play. I also dreamt of painting a mural.

When I traveled to Japan as an exchange student, I fell in love with travel. I dreamt of seeing the world, of knowing other cultures of just feeling the universe around me. I dreamt of drinking wine from a café in Paris or to travel in the countryside of France and see stretches and stretches of vineyards. I dreamt of working in refugee camps, here or abroad.

I dreamt of earning an M.A. after my bachelor’s degree.

I dreamt of having a nice and simple house with a small garden. I dreamt of bringing my parents to a foreign country when they are old. I dreamt of the chance to take care of them when they are old, to ensure that they are okay.

At one point, I dreamt of a solitary life with no children or a life partner to share it with. It was a selfish, undomesticated side of me but I had that at one point when I felt I just wanted to travel and travel around the globe and see the places I read in books.  I wanted to see the snows of Kilimanjaro as seen by Ernest Hemingway and I felt that the only way to do it was if I did not have the responsibility of a mother.


You realize that life doesn't always work the way you planned it and along the way, there’s a lot of changes to those dreams.

Here I am, thirty-plus and still dreaming. I have reached some of these dreams and have forgotten they were once part of those little life plans.  Some dreams molded in the past may no longer happen because other equally wonderful and life-changing events have happened.

Yep, life happens. The key is to recognize the things I cannot change and to just surrender, to release to the universe the fear, anxiety, resentment and anger and to just take in the magic, the wisdom and the love.  

As my child and I would often sing while traveling or just hanging around in the warm little shack we live in, “Que sera, sera (Whatever will be, will be).” 

(Salvador Dali, wikipedia)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What Gets You Excited?

I stumbled upon the blog of Roxanne Krystalli, a woman with such a gift of soulful words and photographs  and the question she posed made me reflect on my own little dreams and everyday excitement; the passion, the love, the elements that put me in a trance, those little details that make my senses feast. What gets you excited? She asked in her latest blog piece, inspired by words from another amazing writer Akhila Kolisetty's post on what gets her excited. I was led from one writer to another and was driven to list my own stuff, the things that ignite me and move me to the core.

                                 Indonesia. By Iris Cecilia Gonzales

I get excited about travel like Soulshine Traveler Meghan Johnson.
I've traveled to more than twenty countries all over the world and I am still yearning to see more. I will forever be grateful to my mom for encouraging me to grab every good chance to travel and fill my room with dolls from all over the world as she did.

                                 Kazakhstan. By Iris Cecilia Gonzales

"That's my favorite," she would show me the doll from Sicily and would always challenge me to go get one from that famed corner of Italy. I haven't been to Sicily and I didn't get to collect dolls from my trips because there was never enough money.  I'd often tell myself, souvenirs are for those who cannot remember.

For me, I only have to close my eyes to see in my inner mind's eye the places I've been to. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Kazakhstan remains the best place I've seen.

Traveling, for me is not about earning mileage or taking photos for the pretentious Facebook universe to see. It really is a journey of self-awareness, of discovery, of feeling everything that is foreign, of tasting new dishes and seeing things for the first time as Elizabeth Gilbert did in Eat, Pray, Love.

                                 Portugal. By Diana Lungu

                                            Portugal. By Iris Cecilia Gonzales

As noted travel writer Pico Iyer said, “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in."

I get excited about work
Yes, I get really excited about Mondays because I'll be off to work again after taking a Sunday break. I love my job and don't think I'd trade it for just any other work. Journalism is not just about complying with the daily deadlines and covering the usual stuff. And this is what others never understand no matter how much they try. Some reporters live to beat a deadline. To them, news is commodity, like derivatives traded in the market.

To me, journalism is a way of life. It's drinking with sources or having dinners with them for no particular breaking news. It's about cultivating sources for years and years and trading information with them. It's even being friends with them just so you can get to the bottom of things.  It's about getting updated with showbiz news because these are stories that highly powerful and influential people never miss out on.

It's moving beyond the often one-sided stories that PRs and spindoctors dish out to understand the stories better. It's about going with the dirty ways of a beat to understand and be able to penetrate it. It's dealing with crap and getting over it.

I don't salivate over stories just so I have something to submit. What I really, really love about my profession is the ringside view that it gives me. It is the opportunity to record history in a hurry, to see things ordinary citizens will never see and the chance to make these things known to the outside world. I love talking to people especially the brilliant technocrats in government. Brilliance in a world of airheads is rare.

It's not easy and sometimes, I really get exhausted and frustrated. It's an industry of men and women with bloated egos and messianic delusions. It's a Lion's den and is never for the faint of heart but it's where I am truly at home.

I get excited about opportunities to help people
I have no God complex but I believe in maximizing opportunities to help others. I believe in channelling energies to do even the smallest acts of kindness. I believe it is better than just sitting by and watching the world crumble, than just complaining about how f)@cked up the world is or planking to protest the government 's endless follies. I am inspired by people who are genuinely good and altruistic.

                                 Mindanao. By Jes Aznar

I get excited about words
Because I cannot express and articulate my feelings verbally, I am in love with the beauty of words. I am moved by brilliant prose especially by my favorite authors, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway and the musings of Anais Nin and the insights from the brilliant gypsies around the world.


I get excited about being with the people who make me happy
Needless to say, I get excited about being with the people who make me happy. You know who you are and so do you.

                                 Cebu. By Baby Pumatong

What gets you excited?
Thank you again to fellow blogger Roxanne for giving me the idea to do this. I don't know her and she doesn't know me but I fell in love with her blog the first time I saw it. Her writing and her photographs are among the stuff that excite me. Thank you for the inspiration. Keep on writing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

From the Carl Jung Circle Center



September 23, 24, 30 and October 1, 2011

The Carl Jung Circle Center is an accredited CPE provider of the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP). All seminars, workshops and other CPE activities sponsored by The Carl Jung Circle Center are eligible for CPE points for the PAP. CPE points for this workshop is equal to 20 points.

September 23, 2011/Friday
9:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon

Jung, the Psyche, and the Individuation Process. Participants get to “meet Carl Jung” through an orientation on his life and his theories on the psyche and its structure. Didactics and discussions underscore the role and importance of the unconscious process.

1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The Hero’s Journey. The hero’s journey is used as a springboard to introduce participants to Jung’s view of psychological growth, which he called the process of individuation.

The Mandala. Participants are introduced to Jung’s favorite way of accessing the unconscious. In the mandala, the unconscious expresses itself in vivid images.

September 24, 2011/Saturday
9:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon
The Archetypes: Persona and Shadow. The inner world is rich, inhabited by patterns of psychic energy which Jung called archetypes. This session introduces the Persona and the Shadow, the first archetypes encountered in the individuation process.

The Archetypes: Anima and Animus. Participants are introduced to one of Jung’s major contributions towards the understanding of the human psyche – the archetypes of Anima, the feminine in the man, and Animus, the masculine in the woman.

1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Archetype of the Feminine. Using a questionnaire based on the work of Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen, feminine archetypes expressed in life and relationships are explored, discussed and processed.

September 30, 2011/Friday
9:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon
Archetype of the Masculine. Using a questionnaire based on the work of Jean Shinoda Bolen, masculine archetypes expressed in life and relationships are explored, discussed and processed.

1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The Puer. An archetype that prevails in Filipino culture is introduced, followed by an interesting discussion of the work of Marie Louise von Franz on the Puer.

October 1, 2011/Saturday
9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The Trickster, Mask Work, and Integration. One gets an understanding of an archetype that is associated with mishaps and challenges in one’s life. The rest of the day is devoted to an active imagination activity to facilitate integration of the four-day workshop.

Faculty: Dr. Dido Gustilo-Villasor, Rose Marie Yenko, Sophie Sim-Bate, Bernie Nepomuceno

Venue: Salcedo Three, Tordesillas St, Salcedo Village, Makati City

Fees: P8, 800.00 (This subsidized fee includes materials and morning snacks but no lunch.)

Payment: 50% downpayment by September 16 to Sophie Bate BDO # 006-448-004-961

Contact: Chato at 0917-8317773

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

(Not Your Ordinary) Grocery Day

Whenever I can, I plunge at the chance to see some of the little girl's many firsts. Today was one of those days. In between screaming deadlines and merciless projects hovering above my shoulders, I accepted her teacher's request to be one of the parent-drivers for the class field trip, her very first. I stole an hour from work, an hour which happened to be the crunch time for the newspaper, to drive them to Rustan's supermarket in Katipunan.

Yes, it was a simple field trip to the grocery but the kids really enjoyed it.  They were such a cute bunch, all revved up with excitement.  On any given day, I would skip the chance to go the grocery. I only do when there's nothing more left in the fridge except the smell of an empty fridge.

But I had a fun time today. Seeing the little girl so happy made the trip all worth the I-might-miss-the-deadline-induced stress. She was so happy to have her mom as one of the parent-drivers. It was also her very first field trip and she could not contain her enthusiasm. I was not able to eat my lunch because the time ticked like a bomb but hearing the little kids' laughter and cheers of excitement was all worth the effort.

Thank you Class 4's and 5's!

(Photos by me except the first one, taken by teacher Christy)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Life Without Television

In a corner of the shack I live in, I have a small flat screen television that is rarely used. A few months ago, I decided to do my child a favor by removing television from her life, our lives. For a Filipino household, I know it's really weird to be doing this. My mother, a television junkie, has repeatedly questioned my decision and has offered to pay for my cable subscription fee. 

This is actually the first time I went without television although I was never a junkie. I enjoyed shows like Nam: Tour of Duty, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing but I was never addicted. In the home of my childhood days, there was a television in every room. And when I moved out of the family home, the housemate I lived with subscribed to not one but two cable service providers when I moved in. Either he loved television that much or he just wanted to make sure there was no dead air. (LOL)

Seriously, I'm really happy to finally get television out of my child's life. And even out of my life. I strongly advice it to parents and to those yearning to get more out of life. My child and I have bonded better without the tv, which in the past became her virtual nanny. It has also spared her from developing a consumer mentality derived largely from the loads of tv commercials. 

It's true what they say, television tends to shift brain activities from beta waves to alpha waves, which results in lower consciousness. 

"On television we see shows, serials and movies that appeal to conscious lowering emotions such as fear, anger and desire rather than to consciousness raising emotions that would lead us to reflect and question things," according an article posted on the Personal Development Blog.

And of course, anybody who wants to have a strong case against television only needs to remember the name: Willie Revillame.

Below is an article discussing the benefits of life without television:

Some Benefits of Life Without Television
(from the wisdomandfolly blog) by Jim and Amy Spiegel

For our entire married life (11 years), Amy and I have not had television (in the sense that we don’t receive channels, though we do watch DVDs and videos).  Occasionally we are asked about our reasons for making this choice, so I thought it would be a good idea to actually compile a list of some of the benefits of TV abstinence.  So here is a list—by no means exhaustive—of some of the major benefits of life without TV.

1. Avoidance of commercials and the fueling of the consumer mentality — It’s all about the sponsors, as we all know.  And to watch a TV show is to be bombarded with constant pitches for products one neither needs nor, properly, desires.  Even the most circumspect person cannot help but be impacted by this.
2. Better stewardship of time — Amy and I spend much less time watching shows because we only view the DVDs and videos we plan ahead of time to view.  We don’t end up watching shows that we didn’t want to watch (which, strange as it sounds, is a common phenomenon among viewers).  Without TV, relative to my life before, I virtually have a 27-hour day, so I can get more accomplished with family time, reading, and creative projects.

3. Protection of children — Our kids are not exposed to inappropriate images, language, and lifestyle choices which even find their way into “innocent” shows (e.g. foul language, disrespectful attitudes, undermining of authority, the normalization of premarital sex and homosexuality, etc.).  Of course, in our culture it is impossible to perfectly shield one’s kids from some of these influences, but without TV there is a dramatic reduction in this exposure.

4. Avoidance of narcissism, bad ethics, and poor reasoning — Whether it is sitcoms, reality TV shows, or even news programs, the me-first mentality is ubiquitous in television land.  And from what I’ve seen of such shows as Friends and Survivor, the moral-decision making and logical thinking skills are rather suspect.  Let’s just say that, as a Philosophy professor, I always know where to find vivid illustrations of moral vices and logical fallacies.  So thank you for that much, Mr. Television.

5. Enhancement of aesthetic sense — Most television shows are just not very good from an aesthetic standpoint.  A rare exception is The Simpsons, at least in previous seasons which I sometimes watch it via Netflix—so I can’t speak to how strong the show is currently.  But generally speaking, constant exposure to television injures one’s aesthetic sensibility.  Occasionally we hear someone recommend a show to us as “one of the best on television” (e.g. Lost, 24, Arrested Development, etc.).  Invariably, when we take time to check them out, we are disappointed.  To say a show is one of TV’s best is, well, damning with faint praise.

Friday, September 16, 2011


There's no point to any of this. It's all just a... a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. You know... a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, those are good, the sky about ten minutes before it starts to rain, the moment where your laughter become a cackle... and I, I sit back and I smoke my Camel Straights and I ride my own melt. - Troy Dyer, Reality Bites

Life isn't perfect but there are many perfect moments. There are so many things to be thankful for. You know when it's a perfect day.  You feel it in every piece of you. You remember everything. You savor the details and the taste lingers in your mouth, like a shot of single malt whisky. 

Last Monday was one of those days. I went shopping for an electric fan even if the most important person in my beat was giving a speech at the House of Representatives. I didn't mind. It's been an exhausting week before that so for a change, Jes and I just wanted a quiet and perfect time, away from all the chatter and the noise. And what a perfect day we had just bumming around.

Today is another good day. Feeling sick and tired after a frustrating coverage out of town, I slumped into the comfort of my bed. I asked the househelp to prepare soup and a hot cup of calamansi juice. I was feeling so weak but the exhaustion disappeared when my little girl gave me a massage. It's true what they say, your child will love you unconditionally. 

This is the part I like best about being a single mom -- the chores, duties and responsibilities are double but so is the immense joy. She and I -- we're quite a good team. She knows just exactly when to give that hug, that warm embrace or  to ask how things are. 

These are the little things in my life that I would never trade for anything else. In between chasing stories, writing a book, keeping a blog for a London-based publication, traveling around the world for assignments -- his and mine -- I try to be a mom. It's not easy and I've had my outbursts and big sighs of frustration but again and again and again, I try. I try with enough love. 

Such are the details that put meaning in my life. And I take pleasure in each and every detail, like enjoying a kaleidoscope of colors in a giant canvas. There are of course monster days in between the perfect ones because as Troy Dyer said, "life's a random lottery of meaningless tragedy." The key is to treasure the details; to cherish the good ones, to find delight in every sorrow; to be shaken, to learn, to take that leap of faith and to embrace life's uncertainties with enough love. As Tuesdays with Morrie said, "love always wins."

And that after all is what it means to be human.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

'Like a Cage Without a Key'

My latest blog on The New Internationalist:

‘That’s the thing about depression: a human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.’  - Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

Photo by Ernest Duffoo under a CC Licence

Writer Wurtzel, in her triumphant memoir about her own journey through depression, could not have said it any better. ‘Every person who has experienced a severe depression has his own sad, awful tale to tell, his own mess to live through. Sadly, Kurt Cobain will never get that far. Every day, I thank God that I did.’

From the 13th floor of a posh five-star hotel in Manila, the Philippine capital, my cousin jumped to her death one hot Saturday afternoon, a few years ago.

She would have been one of the country’s best lawyers. It was just less than a month since she passed the Bar Exams, among the few brilliant ones who did. She was a writer and a lover of life, a jolly and vibrant young woman. She received the best education and had a loving family. She travelled around the world and went to places others could only dream of.

Indeed, she had such a bright future ahead of her. But a bout with depression, aggravated by the ill effects of anti-depressants, failed to bring her out of the tunnel.

She got stuck until there was nowhere else to go. The day she decided to pull the plug on this thing called life, my cousin bade her loved ones goodbye. She simply could not take it anymore.

In seconds, her body crashed into the cold pavement – hard, cruel and lifeless. It simply could not be undone. It was the end.

I remember her story as the Philippines joined the world in the observance of World Suicide Prevention Day last Friday, 9 September.

I would guess that every mother and father who has lost a loved one to suicide knows that it is tied to depression. Depression is serious. It is not a disease but a condition that needs profound understanding, genuine love and compassion.

Improper medication can worsen the problem, says Frances Lim of the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation, a non-government organization established in the Philippines in 2007. I interviewed Frances on the sidelines of a forum about depression and mental health as part of the observation of World Suicide Prevention Day. The Foundation was named after Natasha, Frances’ niece and a successful young woman, who in 2005 committed suicide because of depression.

Frances said it is important to raise awareness of depression and what interventions are needed so that it does not lead to suicide, and so that it may be addressed.

It has been years since Natasha’s death and the Goulbourn family has persevered in turning their tragedy into a crusade to help other families.

My cousin is buried in the middle of a grassy field in a quiet cemetery. It is a place away from all the noise, the chatter, the nuisances, the stress, the pain and the troubled world outside its walls. Sadly, it was, for her, the only way out of the fog. But her story is completely her own. As Wurtzel said, depression strikes down deep. People going through it have their own tales to tell, their battles to fight. I can only hope that they will put up a good fight and not stay there. But reality is stark and telling. I know that as I write this, someone is holding a gun to his head or popping an overdose of drugs into her mouth. It can’t be undone.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Things I Take for Granted

A recent visit to a women's correctional institute moved me to the core.

A mother I interviewed has not seen her seven children for more than 600 days now.  I think of my own child and the countless times I ignored her tug, choosing instead to write, to read or to simply steal a few hours of sleep.

They have not been with their parents, families, siblings. I keep ignoring my mother's pleas for attention. They have played with fire to bring food on the table. They have dealt with drug syndicates to earn a living. They have murdered. They have robbed. They have stolen money just to bring home something for dinner to their families.  I splurge on unnecessary stuff.

They would trade anything to be with their beloved, even for just a few seconds. I would waste hours fighting with the love of my life on bad days. And for that I am sincerely and profoundly sorry. (His eyes are rolling right now as he is reading this. He is sighing in frustration, I can almost hear it). 

I complain a lot. I get mad at people. I whine. I can be so demanding. I can be such a brat. I go ballistic. These sentenced criminals let out their kindest smiles, even to a stranger like me. They live a difficult life, as difficult as the person that I am.

I am in awe of their resilience and strength.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering Paris (and the bus ride to Italy)

I received a postcard from Paris and memories of the enchanting French capital just came pouring back. I visited Paris in 2004 but I can still see in my inner mind's eye the breathtaking beauty of the place.

Everything is a feast for the senses -- from its "good food, beautiful buildings and different way of life," as my cousin wrote in her postcard.  Below is the travelogue I wrote during my visit.

(BusinessWorld Weekender, 2004)

PARIS, France - It was the best ride of a lifetime, a bus trip second to none.

Most tourists take the plane or the train, but at some point one has to be different and take the road not yet taken - at least in exotic Paris wanting to see historic Rome and to experience the sweetness of life it promises.

It was not the most convenient way to travel from France to Italy, but it was the best way to see Europe.

The ride started in Paris, a city one seems never to get enough of.

There is just too much for the senses to absorb.

There are two ways to experience Paris on a weekend, through a tour bus or  through the metro - the practical choice. There is no complication in  the Paris underground with all the signs on the train and the stations.

An early morning trip to the Eiffel Tower, Paris's famous landmark, is a must to avoid the hordes of tourists who want to get a glimpse of the man-made marvel.

The tower, an immense iron structure built in 1887, never fails to impress those looking for magic. The view from the top is as majestic as taking the picture of the first morning of spring.

There's so much to see, for the eye to transmit to the brain - buildings, bridges, and the churches seem to metamorphose into a collage of fine architecture that extends out to the horizon.

An observatory, situated on the first level of the tower, 189 feet from the ground, provides people a venue to study what seems to be a living iron structure because of the movement of its high point.

Then there is the second level (379 feet and eight inches above ground) where one digests a view of the cityscape. On the third level (905 feet and 11 inches above ground), the air gets  colder and the breeze crisper.

Day or night, Paris comes alive from this towering height. For those who want to listen to side stories, it was on this level where Gustave Eiffel welcomed Thomas Edison in his office.

Then there's the Louvre, which has lately become a point of pilgrimage for people who read and were convinced of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. Seeing the Mona Lisa and trying to decipher the supposed mysteries behind the painting has become an attraction of the Grand Louvre.

The more than 15,000 visitors who come to the museum has become a mix of art lovers and mystery fanatics.

Not far from the Louvre is the Notre Dame cathedral, a Parisian treasure that inspired Victor Hugo to pen the story of the gentle and kind Quasimodo, whose crime was to have been born deformed but whose heart proved to be a thing of rare beauty when he saved the beautiful Esmerelda.

For those with cash and a high credit limit, business blends well with culture in Paris to feast on fashion and haute couture. While one can feed vanity with designer clothes, one can also feed the soul with the finest of art, music, and literature.

At the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop, for instance, there was Pablo Neruda idly sitting with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Truman Capote on the wooden shelves, while the bookkeeper, a guy from Dublin, played Mozart, serenading lovers of books and wisdom, only to drop the violin to press the cash register.

Then there's the food at cafes where everything was as French as the French. People come for much more than a glass of red wine.

Then it was time to board the bus to another land of magic and adventure.

It was 5 p.m. and the sky was as clear as the surrounding countryside of rolling hills, old villas and vineyards. There was no stopping sleep from opening one's mind to dream of other places, of the homeland, and of what awaits at the end of the journey.

The horizon seemed so near as the bright orange ball started to set somewhere beyond one's reach. The other pilgrims started to doze off as the bus crossed into Italy in the middle of the night.

At dawn, the weary travellers reached Bologna in Italy. The city is refreshing with its seemingly monotonous but admirable architecture. The marbled pavements make walking a welcome respite.

Piazza Maggiore, a wide pedestrian square surrounded by the city's medieval and renaissance buildings, bustles with tourists and merchants.

But there was no time to explore its secrets.

The journey must go on. One has to move forward into Florence then Milan, with its cobbled stones, age-old buildings, and churches. Yes, there are churches everywhere.

"Milan is a city like no other in Italy," a fellow bus passenger said. Milan is quintessentially Italian. People visit the church of Sta. Maria delle Grazie not necessarily as devout believers but to wonder at the beauty of the place as merchants hawk bags and leather products they claim to be "Italian" on street corners and parks. Milan is the starting point for a sojourn to Venice.

The main destination, however, is further ahead - Rome. Rome, the eternal city, is the end of a long cross-country bus trip and the beginning of a new adventure.

Seeing for the first time the eternal city was beyond what was expected. Roma, non basta una vita (Rome, a lifetime isn't enough) is more than accurate. The monuments, churches, palazzis, bridges and fountains built and designed by Michelangelo and Bernini capture the sight.

Curiosity, awe and faith follow, especially after a walk around the Vatican. The bus or train are options, but there seems to be no better alternative to walking at the seat of Roman Catholicism.

A day is not enough, maybe even a lifetime, to contemplate the beauty and mystery of a city, the smallest independent state and the seat of a religion whose faithful count hundreds of millions worldwide.

Piazza San Pietro is a masterpiece. In the middle is Bernini's square, a melting pot of pilgrims and a haven of tourists. At least 140 statues of saints sit on two semicircular colonnades, which are made up of four rows of columns.

Saint Peter's Basilica was a work of art that holds a vast collection of treasures. One can also spend the whole day under Michelangelo's dome, an architectural gem that soars 119 meters above the altar.

It was a rare moment to be in the Vatican during the Pope's birthday.  Thousands of people, not everybody necessarily Christian, gathered at the Basilica, unmindful of the heat of noon. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many to see the Pope, listen to his message and even raise a rosary or two to be blessed by the Pontiff.

Like any other city where culture, religion and commerce coexist, the city center, surrounded by relics of ancient glory, is a paradise to walk around for hours.

How can one describe the fountain of Trevi, a crowd-drawer, without plagiarizing the best of writers who once might have been enamored by its history? The high-baroque fountain was built in 1732. Aside from its aesthetic value, is the belief that if one tosses a  coin into the fountain, a return trip to Rome is assured - if not by faith in the ancient gods or the intercession of Christian saints, then by the accumulated mileage from foreign trips.

The Colosseum is a must-see. The structure that is supposed to seat more than 50,000 spectators to watch gladiators. Its outer walls have three levels of arches and columns.

Then there's Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the patriarchal basilicas, which was built in the fifth century. The main facade stands out in the evening because of its light effects.

Going around Rome would not be complete without a visit to Piazza de Spagna, site of the Spanish Steps. It has become a gathering place for visitors and a meeting place for Filipino domestic helpers during their free time to exchange news from back home. The structures at the piazza were built in 1725 and the Steps were named after the Spanish claim of the area, especially when it built its embassy there.

Ironically, the Steps, which are decorated with pink and red flowers in April and May, lead to a French church.

After all the walking and like any first time visitor to a foreign land, one ends up looking for a place to eat and shop. There's no lack of shopping area in Rome - stylish clothes, shoes, leather items, bags, silk, shawls, knives, religious souvenirs like rosaries, prayer booklets, paintings, and porcelain.

And one cannot leave Italy without trying the pasta and the pizza, so they say. For dessert, there is the gelato, an ice cream Filipinos in Rome are fond of.

There is so much that Rome has to offer, from food and wine to churches and fountains, the la dolce vita (the sweet life) experience in the eternal city.

It was the best ride of a lifetime. It was a trip second to none. It was a moment in life when one made a difference, going through the road not taken - be it by bus or train.

Of Pink curtains, Teddy Bears and Women Drug Dealers

DAVAO - Rock-and-roll songs blare from the loudspeakers. The band plays deafening music but this is not enough to drown out the feeling of deep, profound sadness that pervades the air.

It is a sadness that tries to hide behind Pink curtains and brown teddy bears, or life size Hello Kitties and longhaired dolls that fill the different bunk beds in this prison institution for some 1,000 female inmates.

Julie is 47 years old. She has seven children but unless they visit her, there is no way she will see, hug or kiss them or simply ask how they have been. She is serving a life sentence for being caught in possession of illegal drugs.

She says she just happened to be in the same car with the friend who was responsible for the drugs. It was one cold night, nine years ago. She recalls that fateful day with ease but her voice shakes when I ask about her children.

She gazes far away in silence.

She is on her bed. I am seated across her.

Rosanna, another inmate, walks toward us to listen. Her smile fades as she hears Julie talk about her children.

Rosanna’s story is stranger than fiction.  A judge sentenced her, her husband and her three sons for murder. Her husband died in jail. Like her, her three sons are still serving their respective prison terms. She insists she is innocent. Rosanna is 63 years old.

Her eyes could not conceal the pain.

Rosanna and Julie are only two of the brave and resilient women serving prison terms at the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) here at the Davao Penal Colony.

The institution is different from other prison facilities in the Philippines that I have visited. I have seen a hell-like place where inmates are cramped like sardines in a rusty can and one that smells of trash and human waste.

Nestled right in the middle of 6,000 hectares of Banana plantation, the CIW looks more like a university than a prison. One will notice the little red flowers and green plants that surround the facility more than the piercing barbed wires.

The rooms are clean and the bunk beds are neatly arranged. There are bed curtains of different colors and designs and bundles of stuff toys, dolls and trinkets on most of the beds. And today, the inmates have prepared a program to welcome some visitors from Manila.

Yet, as in other prison facilities, there is that same sadness and profound pain that lingers, that never goes away.

There is that longing for home, a desperate wish to be able to press a reverse button, to be anywhere but here.

I am in awe of their strength and resilience, of how they struggle to survive. It reverberates louder than the music playing on the background as I walk out of the prison compound.

Ten Rules for Brilliant Women

I found this on the blog of Tara Mohr, an inspiring woman.

Here are ten principles for owning your brilliance and bringing it to the world:

1. Make a pact. No one else is going to build the life you want for you. No one else will even be able to completely understand it. The most amazing souls will show up to cheer you on along the way, but this is your game. Make a pact to be in it with yourself for the long haul, as your own supportive friend at every step along the way.

2. Imagine it. What does a knock-the-ball-out-of-the-park life look like for you? What is the career that seems so incredible you think it’s almost criminal to have it? What is the dream you don’t allow yourself to even consider because it seems too unrealistic, frivolous, or insane? Start envisioning it. That’s the beginning of having it.
3. Gasp. Start doing things that make you gasp and get the adrenalin flowing. Ask yourself, “What’s the gasp-level action here?” Your fears and a tough inner critic will chatter in your head. That’s normal, and just fine. When you hear that repetitive, irrational, mean inner critic, name it for what it is, and remember, it’s just a fearful liar, trying to protect you from any real or seeming risks. Go for the gasps and learn how false your inner critic’s narrative really is, and how conquerable your fears.
4. Get a thick skin. If you take risks, sometimes you’ll get a standing ovation, and sometimes, people will throw tomatoes. Can you think of any leader or innovator whom you admire who doesn’t have enthusiastic fans and harsh critics? Get used to wins and losses, praise and pans, getting a call back and being ignored. Work on letting go of needing to be liked and needing to be universally known as “a nice person.”
5. Be an arrogant idiot. Of course I know you won’t, because you never could. But please, just be a little more of an arrogant idiot. You know those guys around the office who share their opinions without thinking, who rally everyone around their big, (often unformed) ideas? Be more like them. Even if just a bit. You can afford to move a few inches in that direction.
6. Question the voice that says “I’m not ready yet.” I know, I know. Because you are so brilliant and have such high standards, you see every way that you could be more qualified. You notice every part of your idea that is not perfected yet. While you are waiting to be ready, gathering more experience, sitting on your ideas, our friends referenced in rule five are being anointed
7. Don’t wait for your Oscar. Don’t wait to be praised, anointed, or validated. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to lead. Don’t wait for someone to invite you to share your voice. No one is going to discover you. (Well, actually, they will, but paradoxically, only after you’ve started boldly and consistently stepping into leadership, sharing your voice, and doing things that scare the hell out of you.)
8. Filter advice. Most brilliant women are humble and open to guidance. We want to gather feedback and advice. Fine, but recognize that some people won’t understand what you are up to (often because you are saying something new and ahead of your time). Some people will find you to be not their cup of tea. Some will feel threatened. Some people will want to do with your idea only what is interesting or helpful to them. So interpret feedback carefully. Test advice and evaluate the results, rather than following it wholesale.
9. Recover and restore. If you start doing the things that make you gasp, doing what you don’t quite feel ready to do, and being more of an arrogant idiot, you are going to be stretching out of our comfort zone–a lot. Regularly do things that feel safe, cozy, and restorative. Vent to friends when you need to. Acknowledge the steps you’ve taken. Watch your tank to see how much risk-taking juice you have available to you. When it’s running low, stop, recover and restore.
10. Let other women know they are brilliant. Let them know what kind of brilliance you see, and why it’s so special. Call them into greater leadership and action. Let them know that they are ready. Watch out for that subtle, probably unconscious thought, “because I had to struggle and suffer on my way up…they should have to too.” Watch out for thinking this will “take” too much time – when the truth is it always has huge, often unexpected returns.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Gypsy Girls and a quiet morning

I like it quiet in the mornings. I have this very sacred space and time (an hour, a few minutes or just a few seconds) which is just before the duchess in my little kingdom wakes up and rocks my world yet again. It's my daily ME time.

It's the time I use to think and ponder how my day went and to plan how today will go. (How many stories do I write today? What errands have yet to be completed? I have to visit my mom! Should I go for a massage?). 

Today, I used the time reading Gypsy Girls, an entirely new and fascinating world I found on the blogroll of Allison Hales, a fellow traveler I met in cyberspace and I am  so thankful to discover such an  inspiring and amazing space. The stories are real, poignant, mundane and as human as as can be.

Read their Gypsy Girls' manifesto and be inspired!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

But Despite the Pain...

It is 10:52 pm and I am waiting at the airport, exhausted and still in pain. I thought of how my day went and the pain that just kept stinging through the hours. I realized that today, as in some days, I failed to realize that despite the pain, I'm still lucky. I was still able to do the things that I wake up for, I live for. I did origami with my little girl, chased the news and beat the deadline. The doctor told me my condition should improve in a week's time. I'm still lucky it's not a matter of life and death.

Yes, sometimes when it's just too painful, I simply forget to take it easy.

Pain is a Four-letter Word

I can't eat properly, can barely smile and hell, I can't even sleep well. Either I've had too much domestic travel lately or I just miss trotting around the globe.

Whatever it is, I'm in pain. Physical pain, that is. There's a scientific term for this disorder but I'll skip the introduction. The bottom line is it's irritating, difficult and frustrating. I went to visit the doctor today and he said, it's usually stress-related which I suspect was aggravated by too much air pressure.

Or whatever.

I have very low threshold for physical pain so more than anything right now, I really would like an anesthesia -- a strong one that would deaden the pain. I'd like something like the one I had four years ago when I gave birth to a gorgeous little rockstar and disappeared into an abyss of numbness, a Neverland, a utopia of sort.

I'll take the shot now, please.

(photo from

No Fairytale: The Story of the Philippines

My latest blog for The New Internationalist:

There once was a man whose charm and wit made him king.
He was gallant and brilliant and as a grand as a king could be. None of the rulers that came before him captured the hearts of the people as much as he did.
He wore a golden crown that covered his sleek hair. He stood with valour and spoke with eloquence and charmed even little girls in knee-length socks and pink pigtails.
He promised the kingdom of 80 million people that all would be good, their lives would be great and food would be aplenty.
But lo and behold, the opposite happened. The king stole everything that he could.
He emptied the coffers and pocketed the treasures. He and his queen, with their dukes and duchess, poured everything into their fortress, much more than they would ever need. The queen had 3,000 pairs of shoes, as varied as the glitter that came with each pair.
Photo: Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos by The Wandering Angel under a CC Licence
For 20 years, the bright lights in their castle glistened through the vastness of the land while the rest of the people starved and suffered.
Nobody was allowed to question authority and those who did disappeared in the dead of night. Many were never seen again. Fear reigned in the hearts of many. The town criers went from one town to another in hushed whispers.
Years passed in this God-forsaken land.
Eventually, the king died. The lights went off. The extravagant queen was stripped of power and the fortress was returned to the people.  
The kingdom rejoiced and hopes reverberated high in the air.
But new rulers reigned and nothing much changed.
They came, they ruled and they promised. Some succeeded for a while but the excesses of the past were too difficult to fix.
Now 25 years later, the kingdom is no better than it had been before.
Everyone promised that things would be better.
But things only went from bad to worse, especially when a red queen came into power along with her greedy fat king.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo by the World Economic Forum under a CC Licence 
All hopes were dashed as the queen and king stole from the people as much as they could.
Their greed was on a par with that of the dead king.
The red queen lied and deceived so that she could stay in power.
Nine years after, the excesses of her reign are being told and re-told. She misused funds for the kingdom’s military and the police force, one town crier said. She pocketed funds for rice, coffee and schools. She took away the budgets for charity and hospitals. She spawned wars to make money from armaments. She supported warlords outside her fortress.
Her king accumulated the equivalent of million-dollar properties in other kingdoms using taxpayers’ money. He coddled smugglers so his queen could keep her throne. He sold second-hand horse-drawn carriages to the kingdom’s warriors and earned from it.
They stole and they stole until there was nothing more to plunder.
Where is the red queen (Gloria Arroyo)? by bingbing under a CC Licence 
The kingdom became as poor as before. Some people fled to faraway lands to find gainful opportunities. Others stayed on to fight corruption.
Whistleblowers and town-criers decided it was time to speak out.
Evil caught up with the others, who saw no other recourse but to take away their own lives.
Here now is a prince who has promised to change all of this. He was given the throne and the one chance to change what the kingdom has become.
He promised an end to corruption and greed. 
The people will again wait, as patiently as before, hoping against hope that the kingdom no longer belongs to the abusive and the corrupt.
But the work of rebuilding is tedious and tough. There is nothing more to plunder in what is now a bare and barren kingdom. There is only bedlam and empty coffers and heart-wrenching hunger.