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?!