BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Sunday, December 31, 2006


I spent the last 48 hours cleaning my places as part of my way of ushering 2007. I started with the bookshop and then my place. I have turned almost everything inside out to make sure I get rid of all the trash I have accumulated through the years.

It's fun to clean and let go of things I have kept for sentimental and mundane reasons only to be buried in layers of thick dust. It's always refreshing to let go. And it's fun, too. Looking at old stuff reminded me of past experiences that are all partly the reasons I am my own mold now, of dreams realized and still to be realized and of victories and failures.

There are the old letters, clothes, gifts and many other stuff from people of the past. There are dainty but useless bottles, Babushka dolls, unused post cards and other souvenir items collected from trips abroad. One cabinet is filled with old newspaper articles, photos, unused albums and even unused clothes.

Letting go of stuff I no longer use is one way for me to let go of irrelevant things in my more than 20 years of existence. I am happy to let go of so many things that no longer matter. At the end of the day, after all, it's a big world out there and unnecessary baggage will only make our journeys heavier.

When we are younger, we would hang on to every friend, every new fad or whatever it is that the times would introduce. As we grow older, however, we realize that not everyone can be part of our lives.

There is a need to discard old stuff to make room for new ones, new experiences that can make our lives more enriching than they already are. There is a need to purge those that only make the journey heavier. Traveling light, after all, makes the journey more memorable.

Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 29, 2006


He sits on that busy corner, by the road behind the pink fences, below the Quezon Avenue station of the MRT. He cannot see the hordes of commuters going about their daily grind through that part of the city because he is blind. But he knows they can hear him.

His vocal contortions, after all, fill the air. Never mind if his microphone and speaker are covered with layers of dust left by speeding vehicles plying that part of EDSA. He sings everyday to make a living. A box for coins is on top of the black rustic speaker.

His singing is louder than the deafening horns of moving buses and jeepneys.

I could not miss him. Whenever I take the train, this blind man is there singing a different song each time. His voice reverberates through the loud speaker but it is never unpleasant to my ears. And I always make it a point to drop off some coins. My aunt once said that if you enjoy the music of street musicians, even for just a split second, you ought to share something in return just as they shared their music to you.

Early this evening, on my way home, I didn't take the train. I drove my car but still I heard him as I passed by that part of the city. He was playing Pasko na Sinta Ko. I don't know about the other motorists or the thousands of commuters around him but as always, his music was a treat for me.

It is a momentary respite from both the noise and the silence around me.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Innocent Man

Just finished reading John Grisham's first nonfiction work and latest book, The Innocent Man. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy nonfiction that reads like fiction. I am reminded of my favorite author Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.

The Innocent Man tells the story of a man sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. Grisham said he was simply flipping through the newspaper when an obituary caught his attention..."Ronald Williamson, Freed from Death Row, Dies at 51."

Wrote Grisham: "I read it the second time. Not in my most creative moment could I conjure up a story as rich and as layered as Ron's. And, as I would soon learn, the obituary barely scratched the surface....Writing nonfiction has seldom crossed my mind--I've had far too much fun with the novels--and I had no idea what I was getting into."

More than the lessons about capital punishment and injustice, reading the book made one thing clear - real life is so much more colorful than fiction.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

independent living

Let me share with you the story of my best friend, Joon. I met him many years ago in JASMS. We were in sixth grade then. We started as enemies. I considered him the kind of classmate whom you get very pissed at for no particular reason. Years passed, however, and we became really good friends. We filled each other's younger days -- from the clubs, parties, concerts (we rocked with the Pearl Jam) to the sentimental heartbroken episodes that each of us went through. It was the kind of friendship that made one forget the passing of time, the curfews and the ticking of the wee hours of the morning.

Something changed, however, not too long ago. Joon met an accident one fateful day in 1998. He is now paralyzed from the neck downwards, pinned to the bed 24/7 because the accident killed more than half of his body. He needs at least two people to sit him on a wheel chair and always, at least one person to help him do the simplest things -- turning on the computer, preparing his meal, grooming his hair, brushing his teeth and even smoking. He can no longer do things on his own.

But despite all this, I never saw Joon -- not once -- bear a disabled being's soul. He remains the strong, forceful individual that I know.

And he continues to live life to the fullest, trying the best he could to live independently. But he needs help. He is inviting us to help him and others in similar situations in whatever way we can.

Read on:

Dear Sir/Madam,

The Life Haven, Inc. (LHI) is a non-profit organization with a mission to establish Independent Living Centers in the Philippines in order to promote the Independent Living Philosophy. The Independent Living Philosophy started in the USA in the early 70’s. The ideology of independent living is to inculcate in persons with severe/non severe disability/disabilities a sense of value of getting over and adapting to our disabilities and to be independent by practicing self-choice, self-determination and self-responsibility.

The Independent Living Concept was introduced to the Philippines by the Human Care Association of Tokyo. Members of Life Haven, Inc. have attended seminars and had undergone intensive training regarding the Independent Living Philosophy.

One of the services provided by an Independent Living Center is Peer Counseling, a service that aims to restore the sense of self-worth and re-establish the self-confidence of a person with disability (PWD).

In this regard, LHI will conduct a series of peer counseling seminars and workshops to empower fellow persons with disabilities with the concepts of independent living and the services of peer counseling for us to become service providers to other persons with disabilities instead of being just merely its recipient.

In this light, we would like to solicit for your kind support in whatever contribution payable to Life Haven, Inc. to help us defray the expenses in the implementation of this worthy undertaking. Help us realize our objective to enhance self-acceptance and dignity of persons with disabilities and help us live more independently in a manner dictated by our abilities, not our limitations.

One last request. Please forward this email to your friends and relatives for they also might want to help in this endeavor of ours. We will greatly appreciate this simple gesture.
Thank you very much and we highly anticipate your favorable response regarding this matter.

Very truly yours,

Joon G. Baltazar, Jr.
Public Relations Officer

Noted by:
Abner N. Manlapaz
President, Life Haven Inc.
Board Member, AKAP-PINOY
Council Member, National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) - PWD Sector
Chairman, Independent Living Committee of NAPC – PWD Sector
Tel. Nos.: +63 2 4569819/ +63 928 2769513

Life Haven Incorporated is an organization duly registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 7th, 2005 with Company Registration Number CN200511789
For your donations:

For donors in the Philippines
Please deposit your donations in favor of:
Account name: LIFE HAVEN INC.
Account number: 590078348
BANCO de ORO, Potrero-Malabon

Friday, December 1, 2006

Farewell, dear Gov

He was valiant to the end, much like a runner triumphantly rounding the homestretch after a fruitful life that included a successful stint as the country's top banking regulator.

Former Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Rafael Carlos B. Buenaventura passed away at 3:10 p.m. yesterday at the Asian Hospital in Muntinlupa City after a falling into a coma, said his wife, artist Ma. Victoria Rufino who was with him.

"He passed away peacefully at 3:10 p.m. because of cardiac arrest due to complications," she said yesterday.

His remains were to be cremated last night. A novena mass will be held today (Dec. 1) at 6 p.m at the Santuario de San Antonio church in Forbes Park, Makati.

The 68-year old Mr. Buenaventura, who was born in San Fernando, La Union, on August 5, 1938, served as BSP governor from 1999 to 2005.

During his stint, he managed to keep monetary policy and the banking sector stable despite facing one of the toughest political transitions in the country's history.

Gov."Paeng" as he is fondly called by family and friends, emerged as one of the most colorful personalities in banking.

He implemented much-needed reforms in the sector and saw the Philippine central bank through one of the toughest times in the country including the impeachment trial of former president Joseph E. Estrada.

Mr. Buenaventura considered his biggest achievement as laying down the foundation for microfinance banking.

"I like to think that microfinance is my most important contribution," he said in an interview back in 2004.

He has become so passionate with Bangko Sentral's microfinance initiatives that reporters covering the beat during his time have become so used to the topic.

In fact, reporters would jokingly close their notebooks when the amiable governor starts talking about his latest microfinance initiatives.

But people aspiring to put up small businesses can only thank him for his legacy. Since Mr. Buenaventura introduced microfinance initiatives, the number of banks engaged in small-scale, collateral-free lending has risen to 132 from only 20 in 1999.

Mr. Buenaventura encouraged banks to engage in microfinance lending by having the central bank provide incentives for those venturing into the business.

The former Citibanker also counts as an achievement the central bank's shift to the so-called inflation-targetting method of setting monetary policy.

Local and international business circles recognized his successful term but it was the recognition fromthe prestigious New York-based Global Finance magazine that he is most proud of.

He was given a Grade A from 2002 and 2003, a feat that was difficult to achieve for a monetary chief in an emerging market like the Philippines.

Before being appointed as central bank chief, Mr. Buenaventura spent more than three decades in the private sector as head of PCIBank and regional treasurer of Citibank. He also headed the Bankers Association of the Philippines, the lobby group of local bankers.

He ended his stint at the BSP happy that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed Amando M. Tetangco as his successor.

On the lighter side, Mr. Buenaventura is known for his sense of humor, his crisp barongs, well-combed hair and colorful ties.

Mr. Buenaventura is a proud Atenean, where he completed his secondary education.

After completing his high school education at the Ateneo, Mr. Buenaventura studied at the De La Salle University, where he received a bachelor's degree in commerce.

He completed a master’s degree in business administration at the Stern School of Business of the New York University in the United States.

(A shorter version of this article was published in BusinessWorld on Dec. 1; photo from

I covered Gov. Paeng for two years when I was assigned to cover the central bank beat in 2004. I didn't like him at first because I felt like he only wanted to talk to the veterans but I would later earn his trust.

I learned a lot from this man, a sweet, charming, brilliant and well-respected government official. Although there were times when I felt like he was still wearing a bankers' hat while at the central bank, the policies that he pushed proved otherwise.

"Chances favor a prepared man," he likes to tell reporters. I never forgot that piece of advice since then.

The last time I talked to him was in September when I apologized for missing his dinner invitation. He was charming and amiable as always. He said we'd see each other again. That was, however, the last time I would talk to him.

Farewell, dear Gov.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

snail mail and the Internet

When I woke up this morning, I found my parents' bed littered with old greeting cards of all shapes and sizes, of different colors and designs.

Mother was busy rummaging through what seemed trash to me. "What are you doing?" I asked my ever busy mom who, to me, is the best testament of obsessive-compulsiveness.

She's recycling old cards, cutting and pasting pictures to make the cards new and ready for use again, she said. Christmas is approaching and she wants to send cards to friends and family here and abroad.

I don't understand, I told her, adding that she could simply send them greeting cards through e-mail.

She sighed in frustration, as if my suggestion was the most out-of-this world piece of advice I have ever given her.

The Internet, as she likes to quotes her amigas, has destroyed the spirit of sending letters, the fun of receiving snail mails and the excitement of opening sealed envelopes from different corners of the world.

The Internet, she adds, has also removed the pleasure of going through old letters and the fun of collecting stamps.

And so there she was, spending hours recycling old greeting cards to create new Christmas cards for her amigas around the globe.

There are things technology can never give, my mother is convinced.

Monday, November 20, 2006

waiting 101

Des Ferriols of Philippine Star used to call it waiting 101. When I was still covering the central bank, Des and I used to wait for hours outside conference halls for officials coming out from meetings. Ofcourse, we would always hope they would dish out stories that would make the headlines so the hours we spent staking out would be worthwhile. But that's not always the case.

Sometimes, we would wait for my favorite government official for hours only to hear him say, "The peso is strengthening because of corporate demand for dollars." Moments such as those always make us wish that we spent the time having coffee at Seattle's Best instead of doing our job.

Last Friday, however. Donna (Philippine Star) , Myrna (Bulletin), Alena (Standard) and I got lucky.

We waited outside the meeting of the electricity spot market board of directors and went home with headline news. It wasn't easy, though. We had to wait for two hours for the meeting to finish.

Staking out can be fun sometimes when it turns out to be fruitful. I wonder if I'll be lucky again the next time I patiently wait for a meeting to end.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

192nd inmate

I have not been to every prison in the country but I have seen a few -- the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa, the Camp Crame detention cell and the Quezon City jail.

Of the three, I found the Quezon City jail the one in the saddest and most miserable state.

In 1999, I joined a group of crime reporters for a coverage in that place. Nothing shocked me more. The place is way too small that imprisoned convicts and innocent people alike are cramped like animals. The fetid smell of sweat permeates even from a distance. Inmates could hardly move.

During my visit, I saw different kinds of inmates -- the forlorn, the remorseful, the guilty, the stoic, the frustrated, the seemingly contended, the accepting, the sick and the dying.

I thought of the Quezon City jail when I saw the news about Atong Ang, the prison's 192nd inmate. I don't know how Ang survived his brief stay there, just before his transfer to the Camp Bagong Diwa detention center, but I'm almost certain, he must have counted every second.

The dorm assigned to Ang has a 200 percent congestion rate. There are 191 inmates sharing a 100 square meter cell.

Prisons are there as a place for persons awaiting trial and those convicted for various crimes. But the Quezon City jail is more than a prison. If there is such a thing as hell on earth, this labyrinthine space must be it.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

missing shoes

Somebody took my shoes. I was praying inside the adoration chapel of St. Paul's church this morning when it happened. I left my shoes outside as chapel rules required but when I stepped out my shoes were gone. An old lady was wearing it, as if it was her own. It was an awkward moment, seeing a total stranger wear my shoes. It's a good thing I had another pair of shoes in my car.

I remembered my grandmother, Mama Lola, who because of old age, found herself sometimes lost in her own world, oblivious to reality. Once, she asked me to buy her medicines worth P1,000. She did not realize it but she had given me P10,000. At another time, she mistook me for another apo, just like the McDonald's commercial. How scary it is to grow old. I dread the time.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

The Kazahkstan that I know

It's amazing how time flies.
In 1998, I rode a plane to Kazahkstan, not knowing where on earth it was. I stayed there for two weeks to visit a relative, assigned in the Central Asian country as a United Nations peacekeeper.

I stayed mostly in Almaty, the capital but also had the chance to visit some parts outside the city. During my brief stay, I was informed that there were only less than 50 Filipinos there at that time. Today, Kazakhstan has etched its place on the world map. It's an oil-rich country that has enjoyed economic growth since 2000.

Before, I didn't see signs of globalization. There were no McDonald's, Starbucks or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Old beat-up cars roamed the streets of the city. I rarely encountered an English-speaking Kazakh. I went around the city with a Russian interpreter. I won't be surprised if today, in the slightest chance I visit Kazahkstan again, I will see signs of Western influence all over.

But not only that. Today, in Tengiz alone, there are some 500 overseas Filipino workers. The government is working to bring them home because of security problems in an oil plant in Tengiz.

I just found it so amazing because, in the past, Kazakhstan was almost unheard of. Today, it has become another home for Filipinos. The capital, too, has been changed to Astana from Almaty.

Today, it is fast succeeding to become a rich country, less than 20 years since it declared independence from Russia in 1991. I won't be surprised if it soon becomes a major player in the global village.

But I'll always remember the Kazakhstan that I experienced -- raw, beckoning, friendly, beautiful and innocent. Truly, one can never go back to the same place, ever.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I’m embarking on a new and different adventure.

It could probably be as exciting as my most memorable adventures – meeting the Badjaos of Basilan, mountain trekking in Kazahkstan, backpacking in Prague and drinking gin with the Ivatans of Batanes – but I know it will be so much different.

When I entered the room, all the strength I had left my 100 pound body. Suddenly, I was nothing but a fragile soul treading unfamiliar territory.

I was led to a darker room with nothing but a bed and some machines.

“Take off your pants and lie down,” the doctor told me.

This is it, I told myself.

She promised me it’s going to be ok as long as I’m strong enough. The process took less than ten minutes.

It didn’t feel good. It hurt many times.

“Do you want to see why it’s worth the pain? I’ll show you,” she said.

I had just taken an ultrasound test.

It’s REAL. There’s a LIFE growing inside me. The heart is beating 184 beats per minute. It’s a miracle.

I’m going to be a MOTHER. What right do I have? I don’t know. All I know is I’ve been chosen. I’ve been picked by natural selection, by some strange twist of fate, by some magic, by some irony.

I, with a singularly single lifestyle and absolutely undomesticated soul, have been chosen to become a mother.

Motherhood, as my doctor said, is a privilege.

“Good cardiovascular activity,” the doctor said after finishing the ultrasound process.

I’m having a BABY.

Someone once wrote that to have a child is to begin the greatest of all adventures – you try to become the best person you can be to raise a new life and to present to the world a responsible and honest individual who will carry on the struggle for a better tomorrow.

Words will never be enough to explain this journey.

I’ve always believed that there are persons cut out to be mothers. I never considered myself one of them. I am an impatient, temperamental, extremely moody, selfish and individualistic soul. But I will try to be a mom.

I will try my best to nurture an individual who will never stop to struggle for what is good for him or her and for society. Maybe that that is what it meant to be a mother. Maybe that is what it meant to be a woman.

But I know that motherhood won’t be a walk in the park. It’s no playground. It’s going to be very difficult. I will make mistakes, big ones. But what is important is to learn from those mistakes.

My journey will take a while. I’m scheduled to give birth in April. I look forward to meeting my child. I will sit on the wings of angels and hopefully, I’ll make it.

(written on August 26, 2006, the day I took an ultrasound test).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Zahir

"All that will disappear. What remains will be the love that moves the bearer, the stars, people, flower, insects, the love that obliges us all to walk across the ice, despite the danger, that fills us with joy and with fear, and gives meaning to everything."

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Blood Brothers

I just finished reading an excerpt of Blood Brothers, an unflinching and engaging account of Time senior correspondent Michael Weisskopf's experience covering the war in Iraq in 2003. He lost his right hand as he instinctively grabbed a grenade that landed on the back of a US Army Humvee and tried to throw it away.

It is a story of courage I will never forget. I came across sentences like these:

"I rose halfway, leaned to the right, and cupped the object.
I might as well have plucked volcanic lava from a crater. I could feel the flesh of my palm liquefying. Pain bolted up my arm like an electric current.
In one fluid motion, I raised my right arm and started to throw
the mass over the side of the vehicle, a short backhand toss.
Then everything went black.

The loss of my writing hand launched an assault of my self-image.
If I couldn't be a reporter, then who was I?...."

The Departed, Dan and Hazel

Mother was raving about the latest Scorcese film, The Departed, so I asked a friend to watch the movie with me.

He, however, begged off because he needed to be at work today. Something happened, he said. Broadcast journalist Dan Campilan of GMA-7 had been killed in a car accident. I didn't immediately remember who he was although I knew the name. Still, it was painful to hear the news.

Wasn't it just recently when all three members of a television news crew died of a vehicular accident?

It's sad. It's very painful to hear of such news. I don't know Dan personally but I've bumped into him many times in various press events. He was young and he seemed energetic.

But I knew Hazel and Maeng, two of the ABC-5 crew members who died last August in a car accident on the way back to Manila from a coverage in Bicol. Hazel struck me as a hardworking, sincere and passionate, veteran journalist.

She was unlike many who had egos bigger than themselves, they who taught they were as big as the giant media outfits they worked for. She offered me a ride once, after a coverage in the heart of Sta. Mesa, Manila.

Maeng and I also exchanged jokes whenever we bumped into each other during press events. I would always remind him to include me in the cut-away shot.

It's sad to hear of colleagues depart to another place, another time, another world, another universe. It's sad because I know how much they would have loved to continue their own exciting rides on this roller-coaster called Philippine journalism. More importantly, I know just how much they would have wanted to continue spending more time with their loved ones.

But as my Slovak friend likes to say, such is life. Every moment is borrowed time.

Friday, September 29, 2006

(No) Beginner's Luck

I was counting on beginner's luck to at least put me at par with the veteran racers but Lady Luck probably thought I didn't need it.

After all my driving skills have never been considered poor by veteran male and female drivers who have had the chance to ride with me.

At last Saturday's opening of the 2006 Honda Media Challenge, however, I felt like the worst driver in a bunch of veterans and rookies alike. No, it's not just my imagination. I've got my own ranking to prove it --I recorded the worst time of the day at least for the first heat or round. It took me 1:26:72 to negotiate the 1.2-kilometer Carmona racing circuit. That's about as good as eternity if you ask ace driver Jess Reyes of Philippine Star who recorded the best time of the day with 1:00:48.

I would later learn, however, that the media challenge is as much about winning as it is about enjoying. I never made it past second to the last place in the rookie group of 15 drivers (three were disqualified for various reasons) but I certainly enjoyed the event as everyone did.

Monday, September 18, 2006

a tribute to motherhood

"Everything I am,
everything I hope to be,
I owe to my mother."
- Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

five seconds of fame

It's not a particularly gorgeous day. My hair's not that pretty today and my pimples are breaking out. My bosses are ranting and the worst part is, I just learned that I'm suspended from work for two weeks because of a leave form I failed to sign. Sigh. One just can't have it all. Just when I thought that my 201 file gets a major boost because of a story-of-the-month award, I get a two-week suspension, which will just erase all these gains. Or at the very least dampen it. It's like getting a grade of 1.0 for one subject and a failing grade of 5 for another. Sigh.

But I forgot about my morning blues when I went to the House of Representatives this morning to attend a legislative inquiry.

The lawmaker opened the hearing by saying that three stories prompted the inquiry -- by Myrna Velasco of Bulletin, Iris Gonzales of BusinessWorld and Jezz Diaz of the Philippine Star.

That felt good because it meant that with the slow and futile impact that journalism has in this world, it still can move people into action. That's among the few rewards I get from this job. Money, after all, is never a consolation in this field.

Tomorrow's another day. There won't be a legislative inquiry anymore and my hair will probably look bad again but I can't let it stop me. I have to get on with my job, chase another story and beat my deadline.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I'm going on a journey, a once-in-a-lifetime ride which I can't afford not to take. It's going to be tough, I know but I'm going because miracles such as these do not happen to everyone. I am excited. I'm scared but I'm more excited than scared.

The best part is I'm not going on my own. I'm going with people I love and who, in turn, genuinely love me back.

Will I survive this ride? I think I will. I can be strong when I need to be. I had my first major victory when I killed the monster of my childhood years and it's partly the reason I am my own mold now. Crazy but strong enough. Nothing more can diminish me.

I look forward to realizing this dream, this miracle. I will rest on the wings of angels and I know I'll make it.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

the bellas

I feel like blogging today but for lack of anything to write about, I'll write about the bellas. The bellas are funny, smart, hilarious, weird and beautiful despite the hang-ups.

bella #1
We are all maarte but bella #1 is the worst when it comes to kaartehan. The second she opens her mouth, you'd know right away she's maarte. She doesn't know it or maybe she does but she's a manipulative bitch. She wants the world to revolve around her but you can count on her just the same. She can be a loyal friend and a good listener, too. She's not pikon unlike bella #2. She's brilliant, too because she has a good command with numbers.

Bella #2 is eccentric. She likes to keep emotions to herself. Or she feels like she doesn't have feelings. She fights her feelings when she can despite her frail body. She hates being called engot and she specifically said so. She said something like, 'for the record, I don't like being called engot, tanga, panget etc. Never mind that she can't really spell capuccino or newsstand correctly. Oh, but don't worry, Lois Lane can't spell very well, too. She also has an only-child syndrome but you can't blame her. She buys C2 just for herself and when you would want to meet up with her, she doesn't arrive on time. Oh, and she's really lazy. She hates doing things even for herself. She's too lazy she won't even finish a sentence. She likes to procrastinate, too. And if you ever decide to have her as your housemate, think again. You might as well move to Payatas or to the Smokey Mountain.

But (and I know she's waiting to read about the but)...she's nice anyway and has her head over her heart, at least when you seek advice about men. Asking her to apply it to herself is asking too much, though.

bella #3
She is an occasional bella. She doesn't always show up. She enjoys hanging out with our sorority sisters more. She's too safe and too uptight. She can't even take calculated risks. She's just always on the safe side. Too safe, too boring sometimes. Her worst quality -- she has very poor driving skills, if you can even call that skills. Her best quality -- she sings well. She's also genuinely nice and pleasant and has very good listening skills. And the best part is that she's not usually pikon.

Now let me stop there because I risk losing all of them as friends. I can almost hear them say, 'look who's talking?!?!'

Friday, August 4, 2006

The best in the business

There's this senior colleague I truly admire. I've been encountering him more often lately because we have more or less the same coverage. Everytime I see him, I really get excited because I know I'll learn another thing or two from him through his very sensible questions.

The best part it, he's so humble, so much unlike other senior economic journalists who act as if they're the best in business. They're not.

And he has guts, too. He debates with the sources especially when they try to avoid answering his questions. And when he writes, he writes so well, you feel like he's speaking to you. He tells the story very well.

I saw him yesterday at a press conference on a very complicated topic -- the electricity rate reduction which consumers will enjoy starting August. President Arroyo announced in MalacaƱang that it's a 52-centavo reduction while Energy officials during the briefing said the reduction is 89-centavos.

The reporters and the officials started debating about the whole thing and which figure is correct.

My favorite economic journalist explained it so well. He's truly the best in the business.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

delightfully unconventional and absolutely real

I've been to weddings but never to a perfect wedding until last Sunday. Des, friend and colleague walked down the aisle in a delightfully unconventional style. True to form -- Ms. F. is probably the most unconventional person I've ever met -- her wedding, in a garden setting, is far from the traditional cheesy, mushy, boring, gushingly sweet and solemn ceremonies I've seen.

There wasn't a religious ceremony because bride and groom are atheists. Thus, there was no mention of God, Allah, Jehovah or any Supreme Being. "Godless" as the ceremony was, it was magical. The heavens seemed to be cheering the whole time and all one thousand plus deities seemed to be clapping, too. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just my imagination. I simply don't know how to explain just how everything went perfectly.

Central bank deputy governor Diwa Guinigundo, a Christian layperson gave the blessing of sorts which was short, funny and honest.

Yes, there's the candle lighting and the rings, but there's no first or second reading, ofcourse. There's only a reading of an excerpt of Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit story:

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

There's a classical string quartet, too and the marching song would have been the Imperial Death March, better known as Darth Vader's theme song if Ms. F had her way. Fortunately, the quartet didn't have that piece on its list.

Amid the drizzling but beautiful Sunday morning, everyone gamely watched the spectacle. Ms. F's closest friends, relatives and colleagues enjoyed the comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. It's a dress-as-you-please wedding so the guests left their pretensious, uptight gowns, fluffy hairdos and all-made-up looks at home.

The food was good, too, a stark contrast from the bland hotel food which makes you wish you had already eaten.

Most did not bring gifts because bride and groom said so. On the invitation, they wrote: "We prefer if you do not bring gifts, if you feel you must, we like all sorts of candles."

Des' wedding and love story drive home a point: Real love happens. And when it does, the wedding is certainly a lovely one. You don't need a lifetime to prepare for it. You don't need to wipe out your life savings. You don't even need to hire wedding coordinators who will bill you a fortune. You only need gorgeous friends (and not give them a chance to say no) to act as the Comite de Festejos and voila! you'll have that perfect wedding.

Perhaps, marriage like love, just happens. It knocks you off your feet before you know it but you're glad it did. And you either plunge into it with every bit of yourself or you cling on to safety to protect your fragile heart. Maybe or maybe not. I don't really know for sure. Cupid still needs to work harder on my case.

(photos courtesy of Stella Arnaldo's blog:

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

for the twenty-something

(Giane, my smart German-looking student, sent me this essay circulating in the Internet. Some are true for me, some are not. The ones that struck me most are the ones I italicized).

They call it the "Quarter-life Crisis." It is
when you stop going along with the crowd and
start realizing that there are a lot of things
about yourself that you didn't know and may not

You start feeling insecure and wonder where you
will be in a year or two, but then get scared
because you barely know where you are now.

You start realizing that people are selfish and
that, maybe, those friends that you thought you
were so close to aren't exactly the greatest
people you have ever met and the people you have
lost touch with are some of the most important

What you do not realize is that they are
realizing that too and are not really cold or
catty or mean or insincere, but that they are as
confused as you.

You look at your job. It is not even close to
what you thought you would be doing or maybe
you are looking for one and realizing that you are
going to have to start at the bottom and are

You miss the comforts of college, of groups, of
socializing with the same people on a constant

But then you realize that maybe they
weren't so great after all. You are beginning to
understand yourself and what you want and do not
want. Your opinions have gotten stronger. You
see what others are doing and find yourself
judging a bit more than usual because suddenly
you realize that you have certain boundaries in
your life and add things to your list of what is
acceptable and what is not.

You are insecure and then secure. You laugh and
cry with the greatest force of your life. You
feel alone and scared and confused.

Suddenly change is the enemy and you try and
cling on to the past with dear life but soon realize
that the past is drifting further and further away
and there is nothing to do but stay where you
are or move forward.

You get your heart broken and wonder how
someone you loved could do such damage to you
or you lay in bed and wonder why you can't meet anyone
decent enough to get to know better.

You love someone and maybe love someone else at
same time and you cannot figure out why you are doing this because you are not a bad person.

One night stands and random hook ups start to look
cheap and getting wasted and acting like an idiot
starts to look pathetic.

You go through the same emotions and questions
over and over and talk with your friends about
the same topics because you cannot seem to
make a decision. You worry about loans and money and
the future and making a life for yourself and
while winning the race would be great, right now
you'd just like to be a contender!

What you may not realize is that everyone
reading this relates to it. We are in our best
of times and our worst of times, trying as hard
as we can to figure this whole thing out.

Send this to your twenty-something friends...
maybe it will help someone feel like they are
not alone.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

job description: guardian

Barely awake, I struggle to get out of bed. It is Saturday, just about the only day when there's no work, affording me the luxury to sleep as much as I want to. But not this time.

Mom and Dad are in Uncle Sam's territory, probably having their usual lovers' quarrel up there in the Empire State Building, having their snapshots taken in front of the White House, strolling along Ellis Island to have a full view of the Statue of Liberty or simply enjoying their grand vacation.

I am the appointed temporary caretaker of the house, which has two younger beings (so grown up I don't know why our parents call them, ang mga bata).

I am thrust into this obligation because I am the only older sibling still staying at home.

And so I steel myself to get up. It is only 10:30 a.m. and on a Saturday morning, 10:30 a.m. is to me, just about 6 a.m. My brain is still in deep slumber. A cold shower washes away my sluggish state but not my sense of duty. And so I oblige.

I have to bring my 13-year old sister to the doctor because she has these small, red, ugly dots all over her back. It's something like Chicken Pox but not quite. It looks more like pimples, the embarassing kind which makes you want to stay home when you have them and you're going to be meeting your highschool crush or when you know you'd be face to face with Rico Blanco.

We reach the hospital and as we make our way to the doctor's clinic, the shrieks, cries, shouts, laughter and wailing of children reverberate in the hallway. They're so noisy they make me want to turn back, dash to the car and go back to bed.

But I can't. In fact, I have to endure the annoying environment for one hour. We are obviously late so we have no choice but to fall way behind the line.

Children, mostly below five years old, are all over the place. I entertain myself by watching a fat little girl in white shorts, flowery red shirt, pig-tails and all. She has a huge sandwich on one hand, an apple in another and a Tetrapack orange juice snuggled in between her thighs.

She devours on her food, gulps on the juice and then runs back and fourth down the hallway, impatiently waiting for her turn with the doctor. Five minutes more of doing this, she suddenly turns red and her eyes turn bigger than usual. She holds her tummy and runs to her mother who knows better.

The mother takes out a plastic bag, puts this in front of her daughter's mouth and waits for the dam to open.

Gross. I look away, take out my MP3 player and try to disappear into the world of U2, Bob Marley, Nina Simone and Rico Blanco.

Thirty minutes more of waiting and we finally have our turn. I am sitting in front of the doctor trying to act motherly, or at the very least like a guardian. (That is my official title in my little sister's school functions).

Little sister has this and that, I say to the doctor, also my pediatrician soon after I was born.

No, she's not allergic to medicines and to any specific food and no, she has not been doing something out of the ordinary, I try to say with authority.

Little sister has hand-foot-mouth disease, the doctor says after examining her back.

"What!!????" I panic. "Foot and mouth disease?!!!"

No, the doctor says and laughs. Not that kind, he says.

It's some sort of a virus which will be gone in five days if she drinks all the medicines. While explaining this to me, my mobile phone suddenly rings. A businessman wants to be interviewed. I excuse myself and talk to the source for a while. The doctor calls me again. I have to stop my interview.

After one hour, we are buying medicines worth P1,000. The money for groceries has been diverted to curing hand-foot-mouth disease.

We have nothing more for the week except sardines and Lucky Me and the occasional adobo that our grandmother would cook for us once in a while. Instead, we have P1,000 worth of medicines for curing hand-foot-mouth disease.

Three days since that day, little sister's back is slowly returning to normal. My temporary role as mother will hopefully, temporarily stop, too.

Or so I thought.

This morning, little brother wakes me up from a deep slumber. He has colds, cough and flu. What does he do? He asks me.

I throw the question to myself. What do you do, Iris?

My dutiful side tells me: Wake up, wake up and act like mother again.

Hay, ang mga bata...

Monday, June 5, 2006

a kind stranger

I dropped my remaining P100 peso bill today as I crossed the street from the DBP press office to the Pacific star building where I was to meet a friend for coffee. I didn't know this until a stranger called me and handed me back my money.

I was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, I forget that there are still a thousand good souls out there despite the cruelty of the world. Thank you, dear stranger for your kindness. I hope to return the favor someday.

I am reminded of the story I heard a few days ago of a cabbie who found the wallet of Senator Mar Roxas somewhere in a Makati parking lot. The lawmaker's license card, plastic money and P5,000 worth of cash filled the wallet. The cabbie went to GMA-7 to report on the lost wallet, which in turn, contacted Roxas. Roxas invited the cabbie to dinner at the Araneta family's posh home in Cubao.

The kindness of strangers is larger than life. It makes up for the heartless souls lurking around, they who do not mind taking other people's lives to survive the world.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

missing entry

(I wrote this last May 20 but forgot to transfer it to the blog. I just found it recently in my files)

It’s all over the news. A Filipino has reached the top of the world. Leo Oracion has conquered Mt. Everest a few days ago, giving his countrymen reasons to be proud.

The human spirit has once again proven its strength. It’s amazing how the power of the soul can move the earth, conquer mountains and yes, reach the top of the world.

Personally, I don’t fully understand the thrill of exhausting oneself and putting one’s life at risk to climb a mountain. I’ve tried mountain trekking in Mt. Banahaw, Mt. Makiling and in the Slovak Alps but nothing more than that. I will probably not dare try it. I would not have the strength and the courage to do so.

But Oracion’s climb to Mt. Everest, as I see it, is not just about being on the world’s highest point. It’s about wanting something and conquering it. Yes, it’s all about conquering something, facing one’s fears, overcoming the challenges, braving the tide and simply doing it.

Life, after all, is short. It is too short to allow oneself to be stopped by fears, emotions, beliefs and what others dictate. It is too short not to work on that dream. Each day is another extra lease on life.

We all have our Everests. We all have things we would want to conquer, fears we want to overcome, dreams we want to achieve, loved ones we want to see and be with, hang-ups we want to deal with and everything else hidden in the deepest recesses of our soul.

I have my own Everest. Right now, I’m nowhere near reaching the top but the journey has been an amazing ride so far. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it there someday. With family, friends, loved ones, my beloved and my faith, however, I know I will conquer it one day.

My prayer is for the journey to continue to be a good one. Perhaps, someday when the time comes and the universe allows it, I will also reach the top of the world.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Travelling with Nicholas Kristof

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I want to.

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

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mother's Day

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

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

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

Partners and Marriage

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

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

Partners and Marriage

by Kent Nerburn

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

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

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

Why do some couples glow?

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

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

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

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

Laughter is the child of surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

simple pleasures

simple pleasures

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

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

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

Ten people I'm tagging?


Thursday, May 4, 2006


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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