Monday, July 14, 2008

The Sunshine Post #30: On Learning Something I Cannot Spell

Hello dears!

And so I am doing capoeira.

Oh dear.

I am doing capoeira. (I know, right? Another one? Sheesh. I guess I have to learn Portuguese now, too. Lech. And I haven’t even gotten my black belt in taekwondo yet. Talk about a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.) I couldn’t even pronounce this, let alone spell it, years ago.

I was in love the first class alone though – it was like the first time I did taekwondo in New York, or the time I fell in love with nunchucks and sai. In taekwondo, the first thing I thought when I saw all the black belts kicking was ,”Wow, that’s so cool!” But in capoeira, the sight of a couple dozen people doing synchronized gingas was just gorgeous. It’s a wonderfully balanced combination of kicking, striking, and rolling, with rhythm and song tying it all together. I also love how it makes a mockery of slavery, as capoeira was born from the slaves in Brazil. The happiest martial art of all!

After the first class, I welcomed the familiar feeling of being so sore and achy, with my feet black from the mat, and the undersides of my toes close to blistering. My whole body felt like it was made of lead, so much so that I skipped a parkour** class that weekend. Whee! I am home again! And finally, something that will develop my (non-existent) upper body strength! I can finally give up boxing, which I fear will smash my hands and render me incapable of sketching well.

** parkour – it’s this French thing that, as an exaggeration, involves you jumping from one building to the next. People who practice this (traceurs and traceuses) will tell you that it’s about efficiency.

I inwardly rejoice come kicking time, since squatting down for an hour makes me feel like my thighs disappeared. I am known by some as “the girl who does taekwondo” since the height of my kicks gave me away. Oh well. I guess the splits they made me do back then are so paying off now!

I will never give up taekwondo, though. I miss the resonating slap of a kick pad and the satisfying crack of a board breaking. It still comprises my roots and for God’s sake, I have bled for this sport! A lot of drama and angst and hard-earned cash went into my training and some of my teachers have seen me cry and that rarely happens. But I like having something to go back to where I don’t care about getting a belt; it’s just fun for me and I need to recreate that feeling of being so cleansed and spent without the 100 degree heat in yoga.

I think I am doing capoeira to force myself to socialize, as capoeira is a social art and we were told in the beginning that “no one is a stranger.” Yikes and whee, let’s get it on; I am losing this battle. Already my old habits are in place – I stand in the back corner and rarely speak to anyone. Hmm. I do not recall being in a bar voluntarily in my life, and I will make every single excuse not to attend press conferences, huge gatherings, and launch parties. Am I socially deficient or what? I have this feeling that they think me aloof – the pale girl from New York with the fancy handwriting (I was picked on during the first day when I had to sign my name.)

But where human beings are involved, I usually have a good first impression of martial artists. They’re usually more self-assured, respectful of people, and less obnoxious. It gives you a backbone without you realizing it. I think it explains my rather desperate answer to my father a couple days ago, when asked why I just HAD to go to class. I have to do it, Dad! Or else I get so mad at the world and then at myself. I’ve nearly thrown my cellphone on the floor three times the past week in exasperation. I need to get away, you guys, especially when I have this unstoppable urge to start breaking things.

One thing I’ve noticed consistently in martial arts is the apparent homogeneity of the initial mental states of the people who begin doing it. On one extreme, you get the people who are very competitive and want to be the best – the jock types who want to be cooler. On the other hand, you see those who are very problematic and who seem to be the types with self-esteem issues. I reckon that a number of them were picked on in school or at work, aren’t in love with their jobs, or are still seeking some life direction. A few months into it, it becomes quite beautiful to see their confidence boosted up, as though the simple act of hitting a kick pad did something to their heads. Each training day becomes something they can hang onto, to remind themselves that they can be something more than what they ever thought they could be. A few hours on the mat becomes their personal escape from the ordinariness of what has become the existence that is far removed from their childhood fantasies. They become more focused, feeling that if they can finally do a technique they were struggling with earlier, then they can do anything, including stand up for themselves or finally go for what they want.

One wonders whether the lone thing human beings need to trudge through life is a shot of affirmation.

Anyhoo, I am currently extremely jealous of the hosts of Fight Quest, a Discovery Channel documentary that chronicles the journey and training of two guys who go from one country to the next, learning their martial art. Whee! I am fascinated and in love and please, do you need a girl? Yes, you need a girl! And you need one from a different race and culture who is mixed and can speak a lot of languages! Three is a much better number than two and you need your comic relief. HIRE ME!!!!

Lots of love,

The Sunshine Post #29: Tae Kwon Do, Tae Kwon Don't

Hello dears!

So I’m taking another break in taekwondo. Tsk and sigh.

Is it just me, but as you go through your twenties, your body just isn’t the same anymore? I used to be high on adrenaline all the time; I got through the GREs on one hour of sleep (I was too excited. Yuck.), and for as long as I can remember, I have always been chasing deadlines. I never allowed insomnia, migraines, or PMS (yeah, I’m going there) affect me before, but now, they sweep me off my feet faster than a hero from a sappy romance novel. Oww.

Rahr. My black belt. So near. Yet. So. Flipping. Far. (I’ve three tests to go, yo.)

You know, there are times when I wonder why I even do this to begin with. I mean, I do not have the body of a martial artist by virtue of my hips alone. (They’re the only things that haven’t budged in my sudden and drastic weight loss. Carp.) Possessing these has made me incredibly grateful for celebrities like Jennifer Lopez who have equally, uhm, developed posteriors and have made them acceptable in modern society. (They run in the family. Maternal side. I am optimistic that childbirth will be a breeze.) The “taekwondo body,” as I have learned, is that of a tall and skinny person with no butt cheeks to speak of. In that case, I am so in the wrong sport.

But every time I ask this question, I always have the same answer: solitude. I’ve always seen martial arts as my way of zoning out the world. I think that we go through so many distractions every day that keeps us from realizing our potential in life, translating to a lot of bitterness and wasted time. It is also the one thing that has kept me grounded and allowed me to not take things way too seriously. I never liked team sports.

Even the choice of martial arts I’ve made is very telling. I like taekwondo because you use your legs to get attackers away from you, and my legs are quite long so I get great distance from humans. I love weapons, too, because they’re an extension of my body; yet more distance away from humans. I will never be caught dead doing jiu jitsu or judo or samba – arts that force you to be very near people, mixing with their sweat and bad breath and all. Eww.

I will always be grateful for the self-respect that I found while doing it. I think it makes you aware, every single day, of your dignity to the point that you will never let anyone take it away from you – they will have to take you down first and damn it, you are trained to be up to that challenge. It makes me impervious to pain and suffering.

I once read that doing things like yoga and martial arts releases creativity, which, considering the timeline of when I began them, completely makes me understand why my life has turned the way it has. I have no regrets, though. I LOVE being in the creative realm! I think I can finally look at my work from now on and know that I own it in its entirety, without feeling like a fraud because I keep having to check out what other people are doing.

These things serve a different purpose, too. For a writer, doing something physical is a metaphor for living. The board that I have to break in taekwondo is representative of the fear that prevents me from doing what I want. Twisting like a pretzel in yoga is analogous to my goal of pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do. I think it’s why I hate going to gyms despite my athletic lifestyle. Nothing like running like crazy on a treadmill and getting nowhere as a metaphor for life that might come true!

But I need to take it easy for a while, or at least find another time to do it and not at six in the morning. This isn’t an “adults-only” class with students who just want a release from work or school. People train here because they aim to compete, be it in a regional tournament or the Olympics. The vibe is completely different from the other martial arts classes I’ve had, where we all just go to let off steam. Here, you pretty much have to kill yourself. And I’m the ‘outsider’ in the class. Rahr. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when I was having my armor secured by the Skinny Jerk Who Keeps Calling Me ‘Heavy’ that I finally snapped and said to myself: That’s IT! I’m doing capoieraaaaa!!!!!

And so I cut one class. And then another. And finally, a whole month went by without me stepping on a mat. And then I had an idea.

(E-mail censored from here on out because this might bite me in the ass.)

Monday, July 7, 2008

J.K. Rowling's Commencement Speech at Harvard University

Copyright J.K. Rowling, 2008

President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates,

The first thing I would like to say is 'thank you.' Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honor, but the weeks of fear and nausea I've experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world's best-educated Harry Potter convention.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can't remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the 'gay wizard' joke, I've still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.
Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called 'real life', I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents' car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticize my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools.

What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person's idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone's total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International's headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country's regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathize.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathize may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.
One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people's lives simply by existing.

But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people's lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world's only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children's godparents, the people to whom I've been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I've used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.

So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:

As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

I wish you all very good lives.

Thank you very much.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Sunshine Post #28: Can Vegetarians Eat Marmite? And Other Times I Think I Slipped

Hello dears!

I turned vegetarian on November of 2006; a side effect of a martial arts retreat that I attended out of recommendation of one of my taekwondo teachers (I was stressed out and emo then. My brain cells were dying for the umpteenth time – not my brain; the rats'. Ugh.) Aside from being trained in knife fighting and kali, I also quit eating meat cold turkey (pun sort-of intended). I don't know, you guys … there's something about eating flesh that makes me queasy now. Even though I keep emphasizing that I do it for health reasons and not moral ones, it's hard not to put the "respect for life" factor in there at some point. I've decapitated way too many rats for a normal person; meat was serving as a gross reminder of what I once was: a grad student doing joyless drudgery.

The road to vegetarianism has its share of road kill, especially for one whose cultural heritages are notorious for eating anything and everything. To announce that I'm vegetarian has usually resulted in dismayed groans, and I've limited going to lunch with people, else to give me yet another nail to pound in my coffin of guilt for being such a burden. I'm very hard to feed.

I may be a gastronomic pariah, but there are excellent side effects to vegetarianism. Weight loss, great skin, great teeth (I just had the shortest dental appointment two weeks ago – I haven't had one in over a year and all she had to do was clean my teeth a bit. No meat, no cavities, yo! Woohoo!), and more energy. It's cheaper for me, too – when you've lost as much weight as I have, and when you can't eat anything that once had limbs, food stops becoming a tourist attraction to you. I feel so clean, which is timely for this stage in my life where I am hell-bent on cleaning out my life as much as possible.

Being relatively new to this dietary lifestyle, there were times when I wasn't as purely vegetarian as I thought. When desperate, for example, I would pluck out the meat from pizza and just eat the bread, or sip chicken stock when skipping a meal was the only other option. I've been slowly removing these little slip-ups, but sometimes, the world seems to be against me. Last week, while eating arugula salad at my favorite restaurant, I stopped short when I noticed something green moving among the leaves – a larvae! Eww. God knows how many of those I've already digested, since I'm always reading or writing while eating.

There are culinary discoveries that have made me wonder, as they don't seem to be meat, but they're not vegetables, fruits or grains either. To the Aussies and the Brits, is marmite vegetarian?* Are you sure? Hmm? I've had it and I don't think it's that bad – marmite/vegemite/black gold pizza is actually good. But it's from yeast, which moves and reproduces pretty quickly, as I've observed under a microscope. Yikes, yo! What have I done?

I had another dietary anomaly today. Out of curiosity and the need for WiFi, I ordered a shot of civet coffee. In my rather blunt and shameless way of describing things, I will define it as coffee beans that you pick from poop and then charge people a lot of money for. Here is the definition from the back of the really expensive jar: "Picked from the Philippine forest floors during coffee season, the Philippine Civet Coffee comes from the droppings of the palm civet, a nocturnal animal that chooses and gorges only the ripest and sweetest coffee cherries. These coffee cherries are fermented in the civet's digestive system and are dropped as whole beans. The beans are then washed, dried, and roasted, capturing the complex flavors for everyone to enjoy."

It was brought to me: hot, steamy, with the fascinating color of excrement. Ah! An expensive espresso shot. I took my first sip. And nearly choked. Whoa, yo! "Complex" is right. It's really strong and bitter; just two sips and I couldn't take any more. (Here's another thing with vegetarian yogis – we can't take as much caffeine as we used to.) "For everyone to enjoy," my ass. But back to my question – was this vegetarian or not? A show of hands, please. I mean, it went through some animal's intestines and went out its butt, for the love of God. Bleh. Regardless, I will never do it again; it's just too strong for me. Oh well. Now I know what it tastes like, I will never have to wonder anymore. It's my new thing for today – drink coffee from animal poop. (I have a daily habit of doing something new every single day. I might go racecar driving next week. We'll see. I will let you know.)

Ah. Just when I thought life was made simpler by exclusion, there are exceptions that I must consider. But to simplify everything, let's hear it for my new vegetarian rule (I might make a T-shirt out of this):

I don't eat anything that's greater than 15% homologous with my genome.

Lots of love,

* Edit: Yes, marmite/vegemite is vegetarian, since yeast is a sentient organism and belongs to the taxonomic kingdom of Fungi, where mushrooms also belong. Ah, portobello mushrooms! Without you we vegetarians will starve!

P.S. Humans share a 47, 63, 38, 15, and 20% homology with the fruit fly, the mouse, C. elegans, baker's yeast, and Arabidopsis, respectively.

P.P.S. Yes, Manila was stormy over the weekend, but I'm ok! As are all my family and friends. Thank you for the concerned e-mails. You guys are the sweetest!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Sunshine Post #27: Bugged and Bothered

Hello dears!

Dang it, I’m mad.

I am infuriated! I am outraged!

I have been stood up by a record eleven people in four days on six different occasions. Eleven! Dear God. Do I look like someone who has a lot of idle time on her hands? Leche*. Argh, if there’s one thing I hate worse than being late, it’s not showing up at all. Tsk. Such an insult to my feminine charms, yo. Am I this cancelable?

*Leche: lĕ’-chĕ. Spanish for milk. I use it as a way to curse without really cursing. It has a nice sharp phonetic zing to it. Say it with me now! Leche! Leche! Lech lech lech!

A second source of irritation is the number of cockroaches I have been encountering. I have killed dozens in the past week or so. There are a lot of them, man, both in the office and at home. (It’s the weather; it’s an odd mixture of humid and rainy now. Ugh. What on earth is this? The Reaping?) Having to gut and decapitate rodents for a while (and therefore desensitized to pests) has made me the Go-to Girl when it comes to these buggers, and I have learned that killing them consists of two phases – Step, then Slide. The second is mandatory because many a roach has resurrected itself, leading to a lot of screaming women in the office.

I don’t know which is worse, wasting my time, or going to war with a bunch of bugs that can survive nuclear warfare.

Ok, deep breath. And release. Ahhhhhh. Off to yoga! No humans for a week! Or until they know what to do with a watch.

I’m a little peeved today, yes. I mean, I had to drink coffee to get free WiFi! And it wasn’t even decaf! Harumph.

Dang it, I’m mad!

And a little hormonal. Oweeee. Sniffle.

Lots of (indignant) love,

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Sunshine Post #26: Retroviral Reflections and the Wonders of 'Wawa'

Hello dears!

My unspoken vow of silence and isolation was broken this Saturday, when I had to speak the whole day for work. I know, right? For a “Director of Communications,” I’ve been pretty silent and anti-social, yo! But after years of listening to drivel, trust me, I’ve learned to pick the more efficient and lasting ways to communicate with people. I remember one class in grad school where everyone had to critique a paper. Everyone was just dissing the data for hours, while I had nothing to say because they all hated each other. I did, however, come up with a really long poem entitled “Vocabulary of a Poser.” Talk about a sign.

I slept at two in the morning the night before and awoke five hours later to give a workshop on HIV/AIDS. The gist was I had to give them a Powerpoint on how HIV works, how it is transmitted, why we’re interested in it, etc., and to get them to give an HIV speech. Ah, I had no idea how on earth this was going to go. I’ve never given a science talk to people who weren’t going to critique the work, ask me about experiments, and inquire which brand of Petri dish I used. The feeling was strangely pleasant – since transmission of information was the whole point, I was a lot more concerned with making sure they understood what I was saying, instead of trying to smoothly steer them away from the questionable numbers in my data. When competition and getting published are not an issue, the ability to educate and to inform is magnified a hundredfold.

I had hope after last May’s Blast-O-Cysted Summer Camp. (The word of the day, if you must know, was retrovirus.) A couple hours later, I was floored when Desiree used the words “retrovirus, “integrates” and “genome” in one sentence. I was shrieking with glee, bouncing up and down and clapping my hands. I nearly had tears in my eyes, yo. Whee! I can explain stuff without making people fall asleep! See, science isn’t that boring and hard!

Later that afternoon, I had to speak again, this time on how I came to do what I am doing now. (This is pretty much “the story” I say to everyone, so I didn’t have to prepare much.) From decapitating rodents to making vegan cupcakes and being among people who want to join the Cirque de Soleil -- I guess it does make for a rather unusual story for some people (although it makes perfect sense to me!). I’d like to think my audience recruitment and motivational skills weren’t too bad. I mean, how on earth can you go wrong with the theme “I-hated-humanity-before-coming-to-WYA-and-now-that-I’m-here-I-am-allergic-to-people-less-and-less,” right? I was under orders by the Directors here to tone down my personality (which was the hard part, but hell, I was a very proper Catholic schoolgirl with pigtails once upon a time).

As I was speaking, I noticed that many of the veteran members and former interns, Donna and Emily in particular, had these doe-eyed constipated “awwww” looks on their faces, which confounded me and almost made me lose my place, until I went out to dinner with the former at Cyma. Mein Gott, this is officially my Philippine-Greek equivalent of Gobo, although it’s not all vegetarian. I can eat their roka (arugula) salad every day forever. Finally! Something I can eat! Yum yum.

By some attack of misfortune, all of my friends cancelled their plans with me that day, which was annoying at first but I’m fine since it was a time for me to get to know these people more. Dinner with Donna that evening was … hmm, there is no word for this – let’s just say that imagining myself in her stories made me digest my dinner faster. Ah, the love these people have for this organization! Amazing. I am so happy to be here! But yow, you guys, I am glad for the more stoic, non-Filipino bloodline/s coursing through my veins – I don’t think I am built to be that emotional and weepy; I will likely have an aneurysm. I mean, I was exhausted just listening to her New York internship stories – so many sentimental tears! How… heh, I can’t believe I’m saying this word, but how wawa*.

* wawa (adj.) – Pronounced wáwâ. Say it with me now! Wawa. Wa. Wa. Wawa! Whee! A word that World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific members say a lot; I think we can trace it to Tams. It’s short for kawawa – Filipino for “pitiful.” Wawa is used in a loving way, especially when said with puppy-dog eyes in a voice that’s a few notes higher than normal. Example: Aww, a cockroach ran up your face? You’re so wawa. (Insert pout here.)

Whee! I am slowly building friendships here – a big relief to a lot of people, I know. As I write this, Peejay, a national committee member, just SMS-ed me to tell me that he loved the Bikram yoga class we just had. Yahoo! I will turn all of them into healthy focused yogis, one lechon**-eating person at a time. Trina, a former intern and my Gold Standard for Hyperactivity and Enthusiasm, sent me a message late one evening to tell me that Moleskines are still available in Manila in this particular bookstore. Thank God and aww, that was sweet. And Frank will teach me all about the stock market in exchange for web design instruction tomorrow. Yay!

** lechon – roasted suckling pig. Oh dear God. Donna told me about riding in a truck with her arm around one, with the oil dripping on her. I just blanched. Bleh.

All this sounds pathetic, I know. But I’ve been so alienated and alone for so long and only had mice and Chloe, my purple Carebear Cub, to keep me company at night for three years, that I think wanting to be with the people around me as opposed to feeling forced to socialize in meetings and parties, listening to drivel and engaging in inconsequential small talk all the time is actually big and bloggable. I may want to take on more challenges in the future, but please God, don’t let me go through the a repeat performance of feeling so agonized and sad, thinking that a minute more with the wrong people will make me slit my wrists, and not having anyone’s name to place on my Emergency Contact Person box. How unbelievably depressing. How perfectly dull. How incredibly dismal.

How very wawa.

Lots of love,


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Sunshine Post #25: Twenty-Five and Still Alive

Hello dears!

I’m 25.



Dalawampu’t lima. Er sher wu. Di tsah goh. Viente cinco. Vingt-cinq. Twenty five

Hmm. I’ve written this in all the languages I know but it still feels strangely new to me.

My birthday, for the first time, was uneventful. In fact, I did nothing to commemorate the day. I don’t know why; I wasn’t depressed or anything. But I’d like to think that I’m at that stage where I am finally on the right track and happy with everything I am doing that there’s no need for one big explosion of affirmation. I think that joy is the theme of my life, and that solitude happens to accompany it at this point although hopefully not forever. To be 25 seems to have some sort of finality – dang it, you’d better have learned SOMETHING at this point to make all this turmoil worthwhile!

Ah, but yes! What good is a blog without the necessary reflective post that I will cringe at years from now? Here are twenty-five points to commemorate twenty-five years:

Five Things I Will Do For a Long Time, if Not Forever
1. Create. If I cannot relate to the real world, then I shall make my own! Long live the power of the Whee!
2. Do yoga and martial arts. I refuse to be a Botoxed weakling when I am 40.
3. Learn new things and teach them to others. Passing knowledge on is my way of determining whether I really understood it or not.
4. Write. When the silence is deafening and my head is close to exploding, typing my thoughts on screen eases the migraines.
5. Attempt to make people happy, then bounce away! Doesn’t it make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? Repeat.

Five Things I Will (Hopefully) Never Do Again
1. Do a Ph.D. I seriously think it stifles creativity. And I have neither the attention span nor the competitive urge for it.
2. Eat meat. I can’t eat anything that used to have beaks or boobs anymore, you guys. I can’t even look at rotisserie chickens without having the urge to puke.
3. Hold back when I really want to do something. I think everyone should have a Bucket List written down as early as possible, and go back to it as regularly as they can.
4. Be anyone’s doormat. Ha! That goes without saying.
5. Ghost write for anyone. Ever! (Yeah, that’s right! Everyone has to do their own speeches, love letters and articles from now on, yo. You are stomping on my dignity by taking my words without proper compensation! The world has enough drivel; let’s at least remove the anonymity and own up to your loggorhea!)

Five Things I Am Grateful For
1. Knowing what I am innately good at and what I really want to do, without peer and parental pressure, competition or nepotism. And knowing is half the battle!
2. Being healthy. Trust me, this yoga/taekwondo/healthy eating thing was waaaay out of my character three years ago.
3. Three years alone in New York City. They were painful and tumultuous (and next time I’m in a new city by myself again, remind me to make friends earlier) but I guess that was the point. I think everyone should break out of the mold eventually. I’m just happy it came earlier than later.
4. Making friends wherever I go. Because nomads need love, too!
5. My sarcasm. I think irony is something we can all grab onto when the chips are down, so we won’t ever take some things way too seriously.

Five Things I Regret
1. Not spending more time with interesting people I’ve met. There may be no goodbyes, but there are farewells to the type of person your friends are at this moment.
2. Making excuses. When someone asks you how far you want to go, you don’t give a number; you say “All the way!”
3. Learning these lessons only now. When you look at it, they seem a little ‘duh.’ Didn’t we learn all these in kindergarten?
4. Being resistant to change. Ah. I still am, sometimes.
5. Not going to trapeze school when I had the chance! *sob* I shall fly one day, you’ll see!

(At Least) Five Things I Will Do This Year
1. Climb ______.
2. Learn ______.
3. Earn my ______.
4. Attempt to ______.
5. Create ______.
These will, of course, be documented in the most fun way possible.

Hmm. Now that I think about it, one reason I didn’t feel like partying was that I felt this irrepressible sense of exhaustion. The racetrack I placed myself on turned into a roller coaster that seemed to go on forever, and now I am dizzy and badly need to hurl. Too many things keep happening that I feel glad to have written about them so I have some sort of proof. (These e-mails aren’t some random idea, by the way. Before The Sunshine Posts, there were 100 Chronicles of Paranoia e-mailed to 200 of my friends. My writing mentor wants me to turn those into a book, but yikes, I don’t think so. There are way more embarrassing and incriminating things there than I want strangers to know. And who on earth wants to pay for some chick’s neurotic drivel? I might turn it into a blog for posterity’s sake.)

But I digress. Now that I think about it, adventurousness and productive creativity are just my Freudian way of making sure I never have to be embarrassed about revealing my age. I never want to have to hide my age (or look my age for that matter, hence the facials), and feel like being asked that question is a violation of my person because I feel I hadn’t done enough. I think it’s why I want to experience everything as early as possible, even just once – the twenties are, after all, the years where we laugh, cry, love, and hate with the greatest force we have ever known.

When I was 21, I dreaded uncertainty, but now I think it is a blessing and a challenge to have to carve out my life with my own hands. If there’s one scenario I am glad not to be in right now, it’s to be in the corporate/medical/law/academic world, surrounded by the same type of people I grew up with, engaged to someone in one of my circles. I’m sure it’s a nice pleasant story with more or less a happy ending, but I’d rather see the world and know how beautiful, destructive, joyful, painful and limitless life can actually be before settling down on some preordained path. That’s the true measure of a life well-lived, I think – to extract from it happiness with substance, instead of happiness that’s too thin and trite, even Hallmark doesn’t want to make a greeting card about it. And as the great and renowned tour guide and performer Carlos C------ reassured me just a few weeks ago (and to everyone in their twenties, I propose we turn this into our battle cry):

“It’s all drama until you hit 30.”

Lots of love,


Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Sunshine Post #24 - Vows through Vicissitudes

Hello dears!

My writing mentor Sandra tied the knot two Saturdays ago, and quite typically, it was not your typical wedding. The theme was pre-war times, and the bride and groom looked they were members of the Mafia. I love it! There was no entourage, which, now that I think about it, saves a lot of time, money, fabric, and social tension. The food was vegetarian-friendly, and the wedding cake came in the form of cupcakes that the two of them finished baking at four in the morning.

They were married in a library, with a couple of the great Filipino writers as sponsors, with up-and-coming writers for guests, and with books as souvenirs (They combined their library and wanted to get rid of the books that doubled. I ended up with Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje; I had them pick it out for me.) Whee! I love events with themes! It’s like going to an amusement park with people and interior design as entertainment.

Seeing a mentor get married was quite an experience. You’re close, but in a different way; it was like seeing an older sister I didn’t grow up with get hitched. I’ve known of the groom for a while –teaching literature entails relating one’s personal stories to what your students are studying. His vows “came in the form of cupcakes,” he stated. Ah, my kind of guy. I actually think we’re related – his surname is the same as my mom’s maiden name and they came from the same province.

Years ago, being surrounded by all these writers would have made me giddy with excitement. (I’m calmer now, if you can believe that.) “You want to meet Philippine literature? Here, meet Philippine literature!” Sandra exclaimed, gesturing to her friends. These are the people who, as one of them pointed out in a toast, endeavored to use words like “vicissitudes” in everyday conversation. (I am not kidding. It’s like all the GRE words I studied are finally put to good use.)

Their marriage wasn’t a photograph -- one-shot, short, and immediately gratifying. Instead, it was a painting – multi-layered, textured, with patches that could either be interpreted as imperfections, or attributes that are just part of the art. It was a ceremony that represented years of knowing each other and realizing in the end that a life together made absolute sense.

There is something to be said about marriages that have a lot of history backing up the relationship. Instead of growing with each other when you get hitched young, you marry each other already the person you were meant to become. I guess in some ways, this makes the relationship stronger – each of you has already gone through so much, now you’ve finally figured yourself out and want to share that life you’ve made with someone else.

When I was in college, I looked at writers with a certain sense of awe. When you study in a university that is known for student activism, you see writing as a catalyst for change. You also begin to see writers for their (many) indulgences. I remember being 19 years old and Sandra assigned me to beer duty during one Writer’s Night. I had to do at least six beer runs (Six! Dear God.), which was odd (and exhausting and wasted on me) because I don’t drink. A lot of fiction writers love their booze; I guess that’s why I cannot be one full-time.

Hmm. The fact that I didn’t choose writing immediately after college makes me think that it’s not what I’m meant to do, at least for now. I think that anything original should be organic and come naturally – the struggle must exist, yes, but more so because that thing inside of you is just bursting to come out in the most perfect way possible. I think I didn’t want to pursue it head-on because people just kept telling me to write so that I could get published, or so that I could win something. It was technically feasible, but my mind wouldn’t do it because it felt so false.

Like marriage to the love of your life a bit later in life, I guess it’s the same way with professions. Whenever I talk to people of my generation (the ones who are not in medicine, business and law), I discover that we asked ourselves the very same thing: “Why only now?” (Incidentally, this is the English translation of this awesome Filipino song Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang which seems to be a World Youth Alliance thing – that, and Low by Flo Rida. Yikes. Apple bottom jeans! Boots with the fur! Grr! Enough!) I could have dedicated much more of my time and hard work if I knew that this was what I love to do, instead of slaving away in loneliness and despair with only deadly things to cheer me up. Must I feel that I wasted all those years, getting embittered and angry, for something that I eventually could easily let go of?

Well, I hope not. I think that in addition to finding The One, it’s also equally important to discover it at the right time. It’s why child actors fade away quickly, or give in to pressure so easily. There has to be some level of personal history behind success for it to mean anything in a human way. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself to get through the ordeal. (It has worked so far.)

In a way, it’s great. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there! Whee! I just need to make friends with Photoshop to execute all the things in my head that are clogging up my neural networks. To be honest, I have to remind myself constantly of the joy I feel when I’m immersed in a personal project, because there are so many haunting distractions that call me back into my old life. In the same way as it’s not too late to change careers, it’s also not too late to go back to the old one, especially since I still cough up science every chance I get.

But just like relationships, I guess professions, especially creative ones, have to be fought for. You may not love it to death all the time, but in the end, you know you will lose yourself if you try doing something else. I am not letting The One be The One that Got Away.

I’d like to believe that what you’re meant to do in life (or in my mentor’s case, the person you end up with) is something you can get lost into, forgetting time, distractions, people who may or may not support you, the very air that you breathe. It still makes sense despite such contradictions; you will make all rational arguments not to do it, but you still need to do it anyway. You end up living in your own world with your own rules and sense of time. And you become grateful that for one indescribable moment, you actually lived. I guess that a big part of life is the search for The One, because we need it to understand ourselves better. Especially when encountering life’s vicissitudes.*

Lots of love,

P.S. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I barely knew what this word exactly meant and had to Google it to be enlightened. Here you go:

Vicissitudes [viss-iss-it-yewds] changes in circumstances or fortune, often for the worse

Seriously, who uses this in everyday life? There’s just a lot of hissing.

Then again, I still get ridiculed here for the word “blastocyst,” so who am I to talk.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Sunshine Post #23: Thoughts Before the Big Two Five

Hello dears!

In a week from now, I shall be turning the supposed dreaded age: twenty-five. You know, young people tend to be mortally terrified of reaching this age, and I’ve been given so much advice and warning on what should be either a milestone, or a death sentence. Even my aesthetician used to tell me that I don’t have to put on make-up, or begin to be seriously concerned about my skin, until I turn 25. What is it with this age? I am sort of imagining my body to suddenly deteriorate when June 3rd strikes. I will let you know.

But on this note, I wanted to share something I wrote on Christmas Day last year: a summary of the last three (lonely but tumultuous) years, written in three lists. (When you are alone for Christmas for the second time in a row, you write more as a way of talking to yourself to ward off the silence. Hmph. Hopefully, Yule 2009 will find me watching fireworks on some white sand beach.) Looking at these rosters after six months gives me such joy; I think of my life now and I am suprised to find out that I’m sticking to them, and I didn’t even have to check on them every so often – everything comes naturally now. Before, my life was very linear: It could be summarized as:

Get Ph.D. --> Head lab --> Die

Whee! Yeah baby! Thank God this wasn’t what I am meant to do!
December 25, 2007

10 Things I Learned about What I Should Do with My Life, Whether Scientific or Otherwise

1. There must be joy.
2. I must love the people, or they at least must not want to kill each other.

3. The odyssey must be as enjoyable as the destination.
4. I must be surrounded by role models.
5. Social skills and leadership qualities must be an absolute requirement.
6. It shouldn’t bank on knowing what other people are doing.
7. It must be based on actual talent and creativity.
8. I should not ride on anyone’s coattails.
9. There should be variety, instead of hammering a point down repeatedly to the point that it has lost all its wonder.
10. I should be able to make a personal, original contribution.

10 Things I Learned About Life and Myself through Cancer Research
1. The only thing worse than failure is questionable success.
2. Being correct does not matter to me.
3. I have a very short attention span.
4. I live in my own little world of happy.
5. I am capable of doing absolutely anything as long as I want it.
6. I am incapable of being obnoxious just to try to sound intelligent.
7. I have no desire to compete with other people.
8. When making plans, be as detailed as possible. But when something better pops up, grab it before it’s too late.
9. It is still cute to make mistakes in your early twenties, but tragic to do so much later.
10. Do what makes you happy!

Three Scenarios I Can Think of Ten Years from Now
1. I join the circus where my flexible yogafied butt will be paired with my juggling skills, and I livehappily ever after with a Spanish-speaking trapeze artist who caters to my vegetarian dietary needs.
2. I live in a Shaolin monastery where, in exchange for martial arts training and rent, I bake vegancupcakes to feed the bald monks.
3. I write novels and cartoons in the quiet European countryside and moonlight as a teacher of taekwondo to juvenile delinquents. Occasionally I may cross paths with Peter Mayle and Carolina Herrera* while shopping for organic food, and we high five each other for choosing the creative life.

* Peter Mayle left the corporate world of advertising to be a novelist. Carolina Herrera, Jr. took up biochemistry but joined her mother’s fashion empire. Added to this list is Yohji Yamamoto, Paris-based fashion designer who also has a black belt in karate. There are a lot of us! Woohoo! I hope to be like these people!

I just finished watching Iconoclasts, this show about today’s “visionaries” (I haven’t had a TV in so long; the good thing is that I am very selective about what I watch now. If it’s not CNN, BBC, the Discovery Channel, NatGeo, or reruns of Will and Grace, I think twice before giving it the time of day). Quentin Tarantino and Fiona Apple were on, and I loved how the former said that after doing Kill Bill, he felt like he climbed Mt. Everest. After that, so many other potential projects became small easy hills, which he didn’t want to do anymore. He also thought that he didn’t want to do another tumultuous Kill Bill climb. But he said that “Years from now, you won’t want to climb Mt. Everest. Now is the time you have to climb your Mt. Everests.”

Whee! Here’s to seeing the world and not letting any opportunity go to waste. Climb on!

Lots of love,

P.S. Anyone interested in contributing to a happy creative project? Am looking for interested people! Please e-mail me!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Sunshine Post #22: Of Blastocysts and the Beach

Hello dears!

Despite my vow never to do an experiment ever again, I find myself having to explain scientific concepts at work, which, surprisingly, I do like. Science is amazing! The logic of how these different parts just fall into place is just fantastic. This is even though being The Geek at Work entails you to be mercilessly teased for some of the terms you say.

Case in point: The lone contribution* I had to the past summer camp was the fact that, drum roll please, these kids now know the life cycle of the HIV virus. Ohmygod, you guys! They all know the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology! Whee! *takes a bow* I am so proud of my babies! And, ahem, they all know what a blastocyst is! (Although I kept getting ridiculed for that part. Dears, it’s BLAST-o-cyst, not blas-TOE-cyst! Please humor me.) You guys all know these, right? Right?

* (Well, it’s that plus the fact that I was placing acne medicine on everyone’s zits. Mario Badescu’s Buffering Lotion, yo! The best for those “headless” red bumps that are painful and inflamed. Badescu + Blastocyst on the Beach in Bicol = Annoying Alliterations I cannot Avoid)

But I digress. Sometimes I am frustrated by the unbalanced distribution of scientific knowledge in the world which I think is crucial for creating solutions and understanding life. On the one hand, you have all these academics who are too busy and are caught up in their careers to have time to make non-academics understand science, and on the other, you have those who have the best intentions and want to “save the world” but are unfamiliar with scientific concepts that they would really benefit from. Seriously, for the headlines that HIV/AIDS is currently making, I’m a little appalled that there are few/no ads that show what an HIV virus looks like, and so many of celebrities looking pretty. One can only take so many Gap ads in one lifetime. There must be some balance, you know.

I do think that science is sometimes explained in a really inaccessible way. I think it’s why I like talking about molecular biology to those with no scientific background: there must be more people with creative ways of presenting all these wonderful facts to the world in a manner that won’t kill their audience with boredom. I used to be able to explain neuronal polarity with kitchen utensils. To be fair, my friends all understood it (unless they were just trying to be supportive).

It takes a lot for me to admit this, but I hated what had to happen to me in grad school. I love science and I would still marvel over the accuracy of pipettes, and bounce up and down when I got a pellet for my DNA minipreps. I think that’s why I try to drown myself in work and in personal projects and try as hard as I can not to have idle time -- there is still a small part of me that wonders whether I was one of those who “didn’t make it” because she couldn’t hack it. I resented the feeling of being defeated by some insecure aging people who felt like the walls were closing in because of another grant deadline or that they were cheated because they didn’t have much to show despite their intelligence -- the egotistical nutjobs with nonexistent social and fashion skills whom I have never heard of and will likely never hear about ever again. I sound a little mad, I know, but argh! Woe to you and to your western blots, damn it.

There are times when I feel sick to my stomach when I think of how I told myself I would never do academia again. I lost two friends and an aunt to leukemia, and my grandfather to pancreatic cancer. I have a friend who got breast cancer at 25. These are some of the reasons I wanted to do cancer research in the first place – to reduce the suffering that I’ve seen it bring people and their families. Sometimes, I feel very ashamed of myself that I couldn’t just suck it up and do it anyway. I’ve been blessed to have lived this long, to have had countless beautiful relationships, and to have seen a lot of the world. If I must die tomorrow, then I can say that I’ve made the most of life. Why, then, couldn’t I have just devoted my work to something that should help people?

I think one thing that changed with me is how I see solutions. When you’ve grown up in a developing country, the way you solve problems is very reactionary – attend political rallies to go against corruption, incarcerate the criminals, cure the sick, feed the hungry. I think that when the slate isn’t blank to begin with, it limits the type of solutions you can think of. It’s like putting your finger through a hole in a dam that’s about to burst – it works for a few minutes, but it’s not sustainable. Perhaps if we instead create new innovative ways, whether they are geared to solving problems or not, then they will fill some void in our communities and we may even avoid encountering some problems to begin with. Now, I really do think that if we keep pushing ourselves beyond what we thought we could do and strive to be happy all the way, then we will be less angry with the things that befall us that are beyond our control because we will be better equipped to handle them.

I suppose that being just a wee bit angry or defiant is necessary for someone to extract the best of herself, especially since I do concede that I am way too happy for a normal person. Don’t (just) get mad, and don’t get even – instead, go beyond what anyone thought was possible. It will surprise everyone, including yourself. To the social/corporate/academic ladder-climbing, pretentious simpering toadies with no grain of originality whatsoever, especially those meanies who bully interns, assistants and graduate students, this means war, yo! War! Waaarrrr! Creative people are happier, funner, and we have more friends and job satisfaction. One day you will be asking me for money.

Lots of love,

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Sunshine Post #21: Back from Bicol!

Hello dears!

I’m back in Manila after a fantastic week in Bicol, this region in the southeastern part of the Luzon island, for World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific’s Summer Camp. I’m one shade darker! Yay! Although it took a while for it to last. I kept running to people like an excited kid and going, “Look! Look! I’m tan! I’m tan! … Oh wait, it’s gone.” But looking at the mirror, I think it’s safe to say that I’m less pale, even though my legs still, as Gabby Tatad says, glow in the dark.

Ah, Bicol* with undoubtedly the happiest and most hyperactive group I’ve met in my life! What an adventure! It doesn’t matter that it rained buckets and that some things did not go precisely according to plan. That’s the thing I love about Pinoys. We can get soaked to the bone, be left stranded (once by our bus and another by our pick-up truck) in our swimsuits (we had to walk through town drenched in the rain), have pineapples fall on our face (one brave intern suffered through this – they came from nowhere, yo! She’s ok.), and be threatened by an earthquake of 6.8 magnitude (which did not happen, thankfully), but it’s all good! We will turn it into a photo op and have stomachaches from laughing so hard. Tuloy ang kaligayahan (The happiness continues.).

* pronounded Bee-kol. It ain’t Bī-call, yo! I’d kick your butt.

It felt amazing to be on the beach again. The last time my feet touched sand was on Coney Island, which trust me, doesn’t qualify as a summer paradise. I slept near the tent’s door and watched the stars and woke up to an orange-pink marmalade sunrise. I marveled at the foggy view of the distant mountains which looked like a cross between a Japanese painting, and a taco. The white froth of the waves appeared in staccato fashion on the shore, accompanying the crescendo of the tides. Heaven on earth, man! And this wasn’t even a white-sand beach! Argh! I cannot wait to go to Boracay! I’ve had it with concrete and asbestos and Botoxed women in their Manolos!

And the food, the food! After living off of yogurt, fruit and granola bars, it was felt sinfully delightful to indulge in one of the top ten Filipino practices that is rivaled only by karaoke and taking pictures: eating. Filipinos fry everything – from the garlic rice, eggs and sausages that make up longsilog, to the bananas that we first soak in batter and put cheese on. The latter sounds horrible, but trust me, it tastes amazing. We had fresh mangoes and coconuts after bathing and sunning ourselves in a river that was barely touched – we had to trek through mud to get there and back. We had a beach campfire where we had s’mores and hotdogs (well, everyone but me had hotdogs), and hours of photography and dancing. Really, it doesn’t take much to give us happiness that will last a long time.

There were some things I would rather not remember. I nearly fell out of the back of the (moving) pick-up truck that was driving us from one town to the other; I grabbed on to Frank Chiu, who was next to me. I wasn’t sure if it was still ok to use my towel which I hung from a window, after learning that the walls of our cabana were likely soaked in bat piss. And I think I am traumatized for life after riding a motorcycle between towns in my pink polka-dotted silk pajamas (I was strategically holding my shirt in place because my pants were falling down.) during a scavenger hunt.

But I can’t ever forget the kids who were there. I’ve met a lot of people who have studied human rights and parrot on how they can supposedly save the world, but don’t practice common decency with their fellow human beings; these kids are barely out of college but they know a lot more about dignity than, well, a lot of people. It’s just the little things really – one of them was insistent to lend me her sleeping bag because she didn’t want me to endure back pain from sleeping on the sand, I loved (LOVED!) my teammates who kept making me laugh, and even though Peejay Manalo et al mercilessly teased me for being vegetarian during training (“Cathy can’t eat anything with a face!”), they were practically spoonfeeding me with the food that they thought I could eat. And ahem, one of them thought I looked 20 years old. Good boy, 100 extra points to you! (He called me “Mommy” all the time, though. Yikes.) Three of us said goodbye to catch an earlier flight, and it was hilarious for me to go “Oh no! Goodbye! I will miss you! *Kiss kiss hug hug.*” and go through this ceremony three times even though I would likely see most of them the following week. Haha.

But seriously, I think the best people who can articulate human dignity are those who practice it as second nature, and just train and educate them well, as opposed to those who may have more education and experience, but who still have to have it spelled out to them that bullying people and caring only about yourself is not a good thing. Cultural differences, my ass. Heart is the one thing you can’t fake regardless of where you’re from.

You know, I’ve always thought that organizations like the World Youth Alliance typically attract the “good” people, but I wasn’t prepared for these. I only have half the hyperactivity that these kids have (which says a lot, I know). This may be biased, but I think that the fact that the Asia Pacific office is in Manila is an incredibly good thing. I don’t think you will find anyone as welcoming and as nurturing as Pinoys. It’s like caring for people is imprinted in our genome, and we may not know you much, but we will love you to death and you will not know what hit you.

My mind was considerably lighter when I got back. Honestly, I was a little hesitant to go in the first place. I didn’t realize how much being in the wrong lab damaged me. After cancer research, I was very withdrawn and subdued – I just hated being with humans. I didn’t want to create relationships with anyone and would always be somewhat detached; a barrier would be there. I would still do and create things for people but I would try not to feel anything for the person and just revel in the joy of doing – it felt very karmic that way. (You should see people’s photos – I carved out the organization’s logo on the inside of a coconut husk. I’m on a roll, yo. They all thought I was nuts.)

I think I am terrified of getting close to people now, and have inadvertently kept all of them at arm’s length. I have observed it even with the people I work with; I don’t think I’ve made much of an effort to tell people about myself, even though I have tried to make up for it by showing them every creative thing I’ve made. Even back in New York, my mind would always draw a blank every time I had to fill out the Emergency Contact Person box on any form. (This was quite sad, really.) Ah, curse the breakups and meltdowns and the loneliness that they cause! It’s amazing how these things can scar you for life, even though you know that they really don’t mean much in the larger scheme of things.

But being with all these college kids just dented the bubble I have imprisoned myself in, yo. (Albeit temporarily – I came back home and suddenly I want to hide from the world again. Oh well. This takes time.) They’re just so nice and warm and really quite unlike any other group of individuals I have come across – and I’m Filipino! I told myself that it is impossible to go as long as two years without getting my necessary shot of Pinoy love. They’re just so sweet, they sweat sugar. My heart was melting even though my waistline was expanding. Seriously you guys, how many fried bananas can you have before they wreak havoc on your digestive system? I couldn’t poop for two days, man.

I told Ren before I left that I think I’m slowly coming back to my pre-NYC/pre-cancer research self. She exclaimed, a bit exasperated, “Finally! After a year!” Oh shut up. I taught you how to swim, yo. Plus I can blackmail you forever after that little incident where you practically mooned the entire town by walking around in your bathing suit. In the rain.

Lots of love,

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Sunshine Post #20

Hello dears!

I am rethinking the wisdom of this No-Yoga-For-A-Month plan, and with good cause. Yoga is really one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, even though it takes up a lot of time and money. I think it makes you a better person, if not for the belief in karma, then the biological effect of having your circulatory system become more effective in pumping blood throughout your organs, making you feel happier.

I never thought how effective these meditative exercises could be; it was so easy to poke fun at the people going “Ohm” before. But I guess you become less receptive to environmental distractions because your mind is so focused and spiritually content. It’s why yoga studios target people who lead extremely stressful lives. In a way, you are blessed with such a great sense of self-possession and internal harmony that you become immune to things like crowds, noise, gossip and the like. I am trapped in my own little universe, and I think I like it this way.

Well I guess the disadvantage of living in LaLa Land is I am numb to stimuli that should not be ignored. This week, I was riding a cab (that looked like it had seen better days) to go to the bank. For a long while, I slowly became aware of this ticklish feeling of something crawling, but paid no attention. Until, hmm, wait a second, it feels like it’s on my shoulder and huh, it’s been there for awhile. Ok, let us snap out of this reverie and check out reality, why don’t we? Landing on Planet Earth in 3… 2… 1!

I glanced down and saw a huge cockroach that was about two inches long, staring at me and looking like it was about to jump on my face. It’s antennae were already tickling my cheek, and the nagging creepy feeling was concretized right there, perched on my shoulder and looking like it was ready to attack.

And so for that one horrific moment, all illusions of poise and ladylike refinement went out the window and I just lost it.


The driver yelped. “What?! What’s wrong?!”

“There’s a cockroach near my face!” I cried. (Filipino Word of the Day for you guys: “IPIS!”)

So there I was, squealing and thrashing around in the backseat, alternating between high-pitched hysteria (I kept looking for the cockroach, which, in its terror at some howling girl, was nowhere to be found) and cautionary pragmatism (I was yelling at the cab driver to watch the damn road because he kept looking back at me, helpless and bewildered and clearly on Panic Mode.).

Minutes later, I was so exasperated and tried to regain my dignity. “Will you PLEASE clean your cab?” I sputtered.

“I do!” he protested.

At the end of the ride, I asked, “Hey, don’t I get a discount? That was the most traumatic cab ride of my life.”

“Uh, no.” He muttered something about how never in his years of cab driving had he encountered a passenger like me.

I trudged miserably to the bank, where three armed guards awaited me. I stared at one of them for three seconds and bluntly asked, “Can you please check if there’s a cockroach in my hair?” (I don’t know where that cockroach ended up. I distinctly remember flinging it in the general direction of my open bag, so it could actually be inside and I might have brought it home with me for all I know.)

Inside, the bank teller asked me what was the matter, because I was clearly distraught and not behaving normally. She gave me some hand sanitizer and led me to the ladies’ room. As I slowly regained my senses, I was soon aware of the entire establishment staring at me; they all heard what went on and were clearly amused. I managed a weak smile and locked myself in the bathroom for a few minutes, taking deep breaths and weighing the pros and cons of emptying the contents of my bag to see if the cursed insect was hiding inside.

Upon leaving, I was getting into another cab, when I caught the bank guards grinning at me and waving. I gamely waved back. I think I need to change banks, you guys. I just made myself an urban legend.

You know how the power of suggestion is, well, powerful? How the mere hint of something can lead people to let their imagination run away with them? In my case, every single brush of hair on my face, each trickle of sweat down my leg, the constant touch of fabric on my body, and every synapse of my nerve endings make me shudder at a possible replay of this horrible encounter; I keep scratching myself. I wanted to cut boxing class and do yoga instead. I cannot do this month-long abstinence, man; I might have a heart attack.

I don’t understand how I can guillotine rats so calmly, bounce up and down when using deadly weapons, and eagerly swing through the air so high above ground doing extreme sports, but I scream at the sight of a bug. Welcome to my world.

The saddest thing is that random incidents like this happen to me a lot. My biography is chockfull of these embarrassing moments that I have come to embrace, which explains why I cannot ever take myself way too seriously anymore. You hear that, world?! I am resigned to having my life as a big fat joke! Bring it on, yo!

Dear God, I think I just aged ten years and lost the effects of two years of yoga that day. Dignity is innate, isn’t it? You cannot take it away, right? Right? But I think I was close to losing it there.

Lots of love,

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Sunshine Post #19

Hello dears!

I’ve been spending a lot of time with old friends lately, and it’s been so nice. I’ve met a lot of great individuals in the past years, but it’s good to be with people who have known me since I was in kindergarten, playing in the swings and wearing pigtails. I tip the waiters here a lot because my friends and I get so engrossed in our conversations, we end up drowning out the whole restaurant with our laughter. Home is where you are with people who can emotionally blackmail you because they know you so well.

But I think this is the reason why a significant part of me dreaded going back home: I’m not particularly wealthy or anything, but I’m pretty spoiled here because of the people around me. My friends treat me incredibly well, especially because we’ve known each other since we were really young. I am very grateful especially for my guy (and gay!) friends who on the whole have entertained my every whim and fancy. Who else will teach me all about cars, the stock market, the recession, and all these other boring topics that need to be patiently explained to me? Who else will bike all the way to my house to give me vegetarian sisig out of the blue? (I guess he felt that I would starve here in Manila. Aww.) For everything I ever wanted to do, I always knew I had someone who can offer help should I need it.

I think that’s one aspect of living in a developing country that I am grateful for – having so many friends and a very strong sense of community. Being blessed with all these people made me deal with a bad boss a lot better, at least in some self-preserving psychological way. Dude, if my friends ever meet you, they will rip you apart for what you did to me!

As one who left home and spent years alone, one of the many experiences that stayed with me was working shifts for the yoga studio I frequented. Because money was tight and I couldn’t pay for classes anymore, I signed up as one of their workstudies – work a few hours every week maintaining the studio and you get free yoga. Woohoo!

As a workstudy, I mopped sweat off of floors, wiped mirrors, did hundreds of loads of laundry (You never know how many towels yogis would use, but man! It’s a lot.), cleaned sweaty mats, washed strangers’ used clothing and underwear, dealt with different bosses and teachers, fielded off sexual harassment (Some idiot on the phone; I’m ok, by the way. I told him I do taekwondo. Haha.), and once fell down the stairs while taking out the trash during a night shift when we were closing shop (Ouch!). I put on my happy face and gamely dealt with customers at 8 in the morning on Sundays -- surly New Yorkers who wouldn’t look twice at the girl behind the counter, swiping their credit cards and politely asking them whether they wanted a Vitamin Water or a Zico. There were so many nice people in yoga, though – if you must do customer service, do it in a yoga studio because people are generally nicer. It’s bad karma to be crabby in yoga.

I never thought much of that back then, but now, I think it was a good character-building experience. Where social hierarchy goes, people in customer service are generally placed down there in the ladder. I guess it’s not viewed as extremely intellectual, although I would argue that learning how to deal with different people’s moods and demands while being as amiable as humanly possible is a mind game in itself.

It feels very humbling and validating as a human being to know what it feels like to be in that position where you looked after people who only had their own interests in mind as paying customers. Your feet are more firmly planted on the ground because you have wiped that ground (in my case, with diluted Sol-U-Mel, yo. The smell was pretty addicting. Mmmm.) The best friends I’ve made in New York have all been waiters, bartenders, and hostesses while pursuing their dreams in acting, singing and musical theater. And they have been the most down-to-earth and fun people I’ve met.

I think everyone needs to have a job in customer service at least at some point in their lives, if at least to know what it’s like for people to think of you as “lowly” and “menial.” Everyone needs to be on the other side of the counter. I think that when I’m off to another foreign land all by myself again, I would choose to work in one of these service jobs, for a few shifts at least, in some café or diner or dojang whether I needed the money or not. It may sound crazy, but I think I have to remember what it’s like to feel just how cold humanity can be to you when they think you’re beneath them. Just to keep me real.

I think it’s what makes it sometimes difficult for me to be with a lot of the people I used to hang out with. A lot of my peers are driven in their luxury cars, are waited on hand and foot and have never mopped anything in their lives. They’ve not known real independence from their families because it was not necessary, and I can’t help but feel that this limits their perspective on the world. How can they help make the world better if they themselves have never struggled? They see poverty and hardship only through the tinted windows of their bulletproof BMWs.

We all run in the same circles too. I think that’s the annoying fact for us nomadic ones: you can never be anonymous. Everyone is related in some way; it’s like we’re inbreeding, yo! Gross. I think that’s one reason why there’s no sense of wonder when it comes to celebrity; we’re probably connected in less than six degrees anyway. My friend’s mother-in-law is the President, for crying out loud. (Eww, by the way.)

I do not wish to sound ungrateful, but I know that I will never be able to look at myself in the mirror and be proud of what I have accomplished if everything was handed down to me, or if things were made a bit easier by virtue of the life I was born into. I think that’s the curse of any oligarchy: mediocrity of ambition because you’re given so much so young, it’s hard to want for anything else. I still believe that we should live each day going beyond what we think is possible – to challenge ourselves whether we can be something bigger, something … more. To be passive and complacent because you were born into privilege is like becoming a bonsai – it’s purty, yo, but it’s not going to help curb global warming like a fully formed oak (oh fine, coconut tree).

I think that’s one reason why, despite me loving it here, I am itching to go off to other places and I won’t stick around home for long. I don’t want to feel content to the point that I will never want to be something more than what I am expected to be. I’m happy that my years in New York woke me up to the fact that I didn’t dream big enough; that I could be so much more than some chick with a PhD applying for tenure in 10 years – it’s not wrong, but I think I was created with this thirst for originality for a reason. I know that for the rest of my twenties and perhaps thirties, I will be traveling and seeing the world, meeting all of these fantastic friends while perfecting my craft and always pushing myself to go further beyond what I thought I could do.

In a way, though, I’m happy that all of these “paradigm shifts” happened to me now, even though having your life change over and over again made me think that someone up there became way too happy and excited rolling the dice of my life. I’m exhausted, man, but not yet broken. I’m so happy that my Quarter Life Crisis is over before my quarter life even began! It was over before I knew it, and I didn’t have to torture myself bracing for it to come.

At the very least, I know how I would want to raise my kids. Whee! I cannot wait to be a mom! Ohmygod, you guys! Can you imagine what fun I would have? I would make my babies organic sandwiches using that Sanrio toaster than burns Hello Kitty’s face on the bread and lots and lots of vegan cupcakes (of course), read them international bedtime stories, teach them sign language (one word every night), and give them at least 20 hugs a day. My kids will learn at least four languages from birth, can fix toilets and change car tires, would have read issues of the Economist, as well as the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud and Confucian literature before they go off to the prom, and will all have black belts before they have their driver’s licenses. As a summer job, I will send them to Maria Grizzetti’s house where they will learn about cleanliness, organization, and proper gourmet cooking. Half of them will take after me and will be very bubbly and hyperactive, while the other half will be a lot more serious and sensible and take after their dad* whose personality is much tamer than mine.

* (One would hope, right? One crazy person is more than enough in any marriage).

Lots of love,


Monday, May 5, 2008

The Sunshine Post #18

Hello dears!

I have very few vices in life, but for the little that I have, at least they're good for me. They are, in no particular order: books, journals, and skin care products. The last one is something I got into only during high school after my best friend urged me to "invest in my skin." I may not own a makeup brush, or lip gloss, or a bottle of hair spray, but I own every type of skin care product known to man. If there's one thing I want in life, it's to age well – not to look your age, but to look like you made the most out of the years given to you.

My friends know this obsession as my thing – if I became a doctor, I would have likely become a dermatologist. I am optimistic every time I see my parents and my relatives who, thank God, age pretty well and look rather young for their years. Yes, Mom, genetics may have swayed me away from cancer research but dang it, I will still look good when I hit 60!

Last Sunday, my ex-professor Sandra took me to a department store to have something I hadn't had in months – a facial! Whee! As a registered bride, she and her friends can spend an afternoon being indulged in the pleasures of one of the most heinously expensive French skin care lines which I will not tell you because of this story. When a facial is free, apparently there is a catch – you are the one who will apply everything on yourself. There were bottles lined up on a red satin-covered table at which we sat (not lay down, oh no. Sheesh.) and were introduced to the skin care line with incredibly unpronounceable ingredients by a girl in a white lab coat. I used to have to draw those molecular structures in organic chemistry class, which I despised.

Ah, what I'd give to be one of those rich housewives who do nothing but use their credit card! Uh, nothing. Inactivity is not my thing, yo. I think it's one reason why even something as simple as cleaning your face is made to be so complicated: to give the Ladies Who Lunch something to pass the time away. When removing cleanser, one had to rip a tissue paper into two, lay it on one's face, press hard, fold the lower half upwards, fold the left side to the right, then finally use that one square of paper to wipe the last corner of your face.

Applying toner is also new. You have to work on both cheeks with two hands to make both sides of your face have the same treatment – kind of like an experiment in that sense, but come ON, man! It's just toner, for the love of God.

As I obediently applied the next – hmm, moisturizer? Radiance booster? I don't remember. The girl looked at me and said very sternly, "No. Long strokes. Like this." And then she proceeded to illustrate The Touch that is trademark of the brand. Both hands on the face, then go upward from the corners of the mouth to the temples. Over. And over. Again. Repeat. That did it. You guys, I tried so hard to be silent and morose, but hearing the words "long strokes" and being so anal about a face cream made me laugh uncontrollably. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!, " I wheezed in between guffaws. "It's just that… HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" The girl looked like she wanted to kill me.

I calmed down after thinking sad thoughts, apologized and remarked on the nice cleansing sensation my pores were receiving (which they did). Minutes later, another girl entered the scene and proceeded to take photos for "our file." At this, we all shielded our faces from the camera with me shrieking, "No pictures! I work for non-profit!" The logic of that sentence befuddles me, too, but sheesh, man – if this gets published anywhere, I will sue your ass. I did learn something from them New Yorkers.

We did this for the next hour, applying product after product and removing them with sheets of cotton. My God, I love taking care of my skin but I never take this long, yo! I think vanity can only be taken so far before we all have to just slap ourselves in the face and say, "Our cells are all going to senesce. Let us accept it and move on."

Oh spite, oh hell. I don't know if it's a bad thing that I don't take a lot of things very seriously anymore, but it's very liberating not to feel like I must obey something just because someone in "authority" tells me to. That's one thing I'm not sure how to feel about – the lack of strong opinions on most things. I think I've developed the ability to zone out people and environmental stimuli to the point that there have been many times when I've nearly gotten hit by cars because I don't hear them. On the other hand, it's very peaceful and joyous to know that you don't care about what anyone else says. It allows me to make decisions solely on the basis of whether I believe in them or not, instead of asking myself if it will make someone else happy. Sometimes, it takes as much strength to take responsibility for yourself as it is to care about other people.

While we were sitting there quietly for a mandatory 15-minutes to wait for our beauty masks to work their magic, I with a hideous white silk bib over my yellow "Procrastinators: Leaders of Tomorrow" t-shirt and an equally hideous white headband with my face full of gunk, Sandra turns to me looking equally monstrous and says:

"You know, when you were my student, I never thought we would have this moment."

I had 10 products on my face. It's starting to smell weird.

Does anyone want a picture?

Lots of love,


P.S. Everyone's been calling me 'Catherine' the past week. What's up with that, man?!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Sunshine Post #17

Hello dears!

There are two things that Mexicans and Filipinos will happily argue about who has the better one: mangoes and boxing. As for the latter, it’s something I’ve found myself doing. Whoa, guys! I am temporarily retiring from yoga and taekwondo for a month. Gasp! It’s just for a short, experimental time, though. Due to the bad sprain I had in early March, I don’t think I should be kicking anything still. And yoga is really expensive. I think I’ve plateaued in both and wouldn’t mind doing something new.

I’m doing it in the school near the office, whose gym I went to years ago. It’s funny seeing the usual people: the university jocks who are older, the trainers who are (still) there. My trainer now, well, doesn’t take me seriously. In hindsight, I don’t blame him. Note to self, don’t wear your Happy Shirt on the first day of anything lethal! The one with the picture of the cookie and the milk carton holding hands, with one of them is saying “I love you!” The bright pink one. Uh huh. And I think I should stop smiling, too. They just read into it so much. Growl next time, for the love of God.

It was slightly better than my first (and only) boxing class in New York City. The trainer led me to the boxing ring. I stared at it, looked back at him, then asked, “Where’s the entrance?” Oops.

It’s been almost two weeks now. My trainer calls me “The Main Event.” He finds my punching so amusing for some reason, and he says that women are weaker. I think he enjoys making me suffer. How sadistic. How infuriating. Hmph. Maybe it’s deliberate; I end up so angry that I make my punches harder. I’m a bit afraid that I will accidentally hit him, but my subconscious will scream, “Yes!” I got neon pink hand wraps to further bother him. Plus they match a lot of what I own.

I’ve gotten much better; he actually falls into the ringside when I punch hard enough. And we play around by exchanging muay thai and taekwondo kicks. When I’m feeling exhausted and want to stall for time, I teach him hapkido moves. Woohoo!

Boxing is a great workout, but a bit barbaric. I like martial arts so much better, where respect is instilled in you from Day One. None of this “You’re a woman so you’re weaker” rubbish, which still is a bit stronger in Asia than in other places. That’s one thing I didn’t like, growing up in a largely patriarchal environment, and there are good and bad things to it. The men are on the whole very gentlemanly, but there are moments when I think whether they’re being gracious because they have a high regard for us, or because they really don’t think much of us. Sometimes I just stand there, seething with rage. I can kick your butt, and I’m taller than you, Oh Puny One. So there.

That’s another reason to love martial arts. Everyone is equal, and no one dares make more of what you say. Everything just… is. Argh. I miss my weapons, my yoga mat, doing poomsae, my martial arts masters in New York who became my therapists!! Two weeks down, two to go! I cannot wait to get back to yoga and taekwondo!!

Anyone think I’m a little hormonal today? Yeah, me too. I’m starting to rhyme; that’s a sure sign.

Lots of love,