Authentic Filipino Chair

My wife recently replaced our kitchen counter stools for they were worn out from years of use. The seat area had thinned out with some of the sea grass weaves torn or missing. We’re afraid that one of these days those seats might give out and we end up falling to the floor. Or worse, a visitor would fall to the floor.

When we were looking for replacement chairs, we decided to have an authentic Asian-inspired furniture. We thought that it should be made of yantok sticks, or bamboo, or rattan. Though we are not living in the Philippines anymore, we hope that our chairs will at least give us that Filipino-feel.

We have several Philippine-inspired items in our home besides my old barong that is collecting dust in the closet. We have an abaca runner on our dining table. We have capiz table plate mats that we bought from the Philippines. We also have the sungka (Filipino mancala game) that we placed atop of the center table in our living room which many of our guests are interested to learn how to play. We even have a parol made of capiz that was given to us years ago and we hang it every Christmas on our window.

So my wife searched high and low for new kitchen chairs. She looked for them in our local malls and furniture stores. She also searched the internet. If only she could visit the furniture shops at Calle Crisologo in Vigan, I believe she would. But finally she found what she was looking for.

When the chairs were delivered, I thought they were Asian- inspired alright. The stools are made of wood, almost like yantok, and the seat is made of woven strips like banig. When you move them, they even create that certain sound from our wood floor that is reminiscent of what we had in the Philippines. Beside being beautifully-crafted, they are sturdily-made as well.

However, they did not look like the popular chairs in the Philippines, the ones made of bentwood and solihiya rattan, that are so ubiquitous you can find them on every provincial home or rural carinderia. So I teased my wife that our chairs are not authentic enough or Filipino enough.

Few nights ago, when we were having dinner, I was a little excited as my wife cooked kare-kare, which we infrequently have except on rare occasions. I know the dish is rich and delicious (pamatay sa sarap), but too much and too often could be too rich for the coronaries (pamatay talaga).

We didn’t have bagoong that night, instead we had patis (fish sauce) to add to the flavor of the kare-kare. In my haste, I accidentally tipped the bowl where the patis was and it spilled into the countertop. The patis even flowed over into the new chair! Needless to say, the whole kitchen stank like patis.

Even after wiping the spilled patis, the smell lingered. The new chair smell like patis too. That might have added authenticity to the chair and I think they are now Filipino enough.

Isang Gabi sa Quezon Avenue

Malamig ang simoy ng hangin at magpapasko noon, mahigit dalampu’t limang taon na ang nakalipas. Namamayagpag ang mga kanta ni Jose Marie Chan mula sa kanyang album na “Christmas In Our Hearts.” Bago at hindi pa gasgas ang mga kantang ito noon. Pero alam kong kahit na hanggang ngayon, hindi pa rin kumukupas ang mga awit na ito dahil pinapatugtog pa rin sila kapag buwan na ng “Ber.”

Kakatapos ko pa lang ng medical internship at wala pa akong matinong pinagkakakitaan. Ang matalik ko namang kaibigan noo’y may maganda at matatag nang trabaho sa PAL (Philippine Air Lines). Maaring sabihin na ako ay sa PAL din noon – PALamunin. Isang gabi, niyaya niya ako at ang aking nobya (ngayo’y asawa na) na samahan siya sa kanyang pakay.

Kami ba’y mamamasko? O baka magka-karoling? Magkakaraoke kaya? Pupunta sa Boom na Boom sa CCP Complex (meron pa kaya nito ngayon)? O kaya’y hahaluglugin ang Metro Manila para hanapin ang kanyang nawawalang ninong?

Hindi po, ang sagot sa lahat ng ito. May kakaibang trip sa Pasko ang aking kaibigan. Kami raw ay magpapamudmud ng munting “aginaldo” sa mga taong nangangailangan.

Aking sinilip ang loob ng kanyang kotse at sa likod na upuan nito ay naroon ang maraming supot (plastic bag ang ibig kong sabihin at hindi ibang ‘supot’ na nasa isip mo). Laman ng mga supot ay ilang gatang bigas at mga de lata. Dahil daw nakatanggap siya ng Christmas bonus kaya ipinambili raw niya ito ng bigas at mga de latang pagkain para ipamahagi sa iba. Feeling Santa Claus lang. Napabilib ako sa kanya.

Kami ay nag-drive sa kahabaan ng Quezon Avenue at doon kami naghanap ng mga kaluluwang mabibiyayaan.

Quezon Avenue (photo from here)

Nag-park kami sa isang tahimik na parte ng kalye. Naghintay kami ng mga dadaan. Hindi nagtagal ay may isang batang paslit na dumaan. May bitbit pa yata itong cell – hindi cellphone kundi cellophane. Ano kaya ang nasa cellophane? Rugby kaya? Singhot boy pa yata siya. Subalit wala naman kaming pinipiling pamaskuhan.

Tinawag namin ang bata. Lumapit naman ito, dahil hindi naman kami mga mukhang pulis. Tinanong namin kung saan siya nakatira. Tumuro siya sa isang dako, pero baka sa ilalim lang ng tulay ito natutulog. Inabutan namin siya ng aming pamasko. Natuwa at nagpasalamat naman siya at dali-dali nang umalis.

Maya-maya pa ay dinumog na ang aming sasakyan ng mga batang palaboy. Siguro nagtawag ng kanyang katropa ang unang batang aming binigyan. Mga madudungis na mga palad ang nakalahad at naghihintay sa aming bintana. Buti na lamang at marami kaming nakasupot na ipamimigay. Matapos naming abutan silang lahat, mabilis na kaming tumakas at baka isang baranggay pa ang dumating.

Nag-drive na muli kami at sa ibang lugar naman kami nag-parking. May mga paisa-isang bata o matanda kaming nakita, ilan ay naghahalungkat ng basura. Inabutan din namin sila ng aming aginaldo.

Sa isang bahagi ng Quezon Avenue kung saan kami nag-park, ay dalawang dalagita ang lumapit sa aming sasakyan. Mukha lang silang mga teenager. Kusa silang lumapit sa aming kotse kahit hindi namin sila tinawag.

Hindi ko alam kung anong gusto nila. Siguro nakita nilang dalawa kaming lalaki na nakaupo sa harapan ng kotse. Mga kalapati kaya sila? Siguro napansin din nila ang aking girlfriend na nakaupo sa likuran ng kotse. Pinagkamalan ba nilang siya’y kalapati na aming na-pick-up? Kawawang girlfriend.

Paglapit nila sa aming sasakyan ay nagpakilala naman sila. Sila raw ay si Salbe at si Lable. Siguro Salve at Lovely ang pangalan nila, pero ang pagkakabigkas nila ay Salbe at Lable.

Hindi namin alam kung anong kwento ng buhay nila ngunit hindi na namin masyadong inusisa pa. Ano kaya ang dahilan kung bakit sila gumagala-gala sa kalsada kahit gabi na? Ano kaya ang nagtulak sa kanila para pasukin ang buhay na iyon?

Kung anumang ligaya ang inaakala nilang aming hinahanap ng gabing iyon ay hindi po ganoon ang aming balak. Sabi lang namin sa kanila na kami ay nagbibigay ng mga pamasko at ito ang nagdudulot sa amin ng ligaya. Inabutan na lang namin sila ng aming naka plastic bag na aginaldo at binati sila ng Maligayang Pasko. Tinanggap naman nila ito, at kami’y umalis na.

Iba-iba ang ating estado sa buhay. Iba-iba ang ating kalagayan sa Paskong ito. Habang ang iba sa atin ay maginhawang pahiwa-hiwa lang ng keso de bola, ang ilan nama’y nahihiwa sa mahigpit nilang pagkapit sa mga patalim. Maaring ang ilan sa atin ay palunok-lunok lang ng cherry at ubas, habang ang iba nama’y pilit na linulunok ang mapait na katotohanang sa kanila’y gumagapos.

Lumibot-libot pa kami hanggang sa maubos nang tuluyan ang aming mga pamasko. Kahit naubos na ang aming mga munting aginaldo, hindi naman naubos ang galak sa aming mga puso. At kahit mahabang panahon na ang lumipas, ito’y nagdudulot pa rin ng saya kapag aking naaalala.

Napihit ba namin ang gulong ng palad ng aming mga napamaskuhan upang ito’y magbago? Marahil hindi. Kung mayroon mang nagbago ito ay ang aming pakay at pananaw sa buhay.

Ilang mga tao pa kaya ang nag-uukay-ukay sa mga basura ngayon? Ilang mga bata pa kaya ang namamaluktot habang natutulog sa ilalim ng tulay. Ilang mga Salve and Lovely pa kaya ang gumagala-gala sa gabi?

Sana wala na.

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(*Salamat Al at kami’y iyong isinama.)

Thoughts From An Old Couch

Where do old couch go?

Few days ago, my son and I carried out our old couch to the end of our driveway for waste management to pick-up. Would it be recycled into a new form or would it rest in a land fill? I don’t know. This is not the first time though, that I have dealt with a couch on a curb.

About two and a half decades ago, I came to United States on a training visa to start my medical residency. I had one suitcase in hand which was all my belongings plus a few dollars in my wallet. Leaving our home in the Philippines, I arrived in Morristown, New Jersey and stayed with another Filipino medical resident whom I just met. I crashed at his apartment for I have no place of my own.

One day we saw a couch left at the street curb to be picked up by the garbage collector. Seeing that the couch still has some life left on it, I thought it could be of use to me. My friend and I scooped up the sofa before the garbage truck could pick it up. Of course we inspected it first and it passed our visual and smell test.

A month later after I received my first paycheck, I was able to move to my own apartment. My friend and I transported the couch from his residence to mine which was 1 kilometer away. No, we did not load it on a truck for we had no truck. We carried it through that distance. Even though it was not that big, it seemed that it got heavier and heavier as we went further along. Especially considering that we were two scrawny and muscularly-challenged guys.

Good thing was, midway, somebody saw us struggling with our load. She flagged us down and asked how far we were going. We were actually already sitting (and panting) on the couch taking a break at the side of the road. The lady lent us a furniture dolley so we can roll the sofa instead of lifting it, and she said to just bring it back when we’re done. That was nice of her. That was one of my first impression of that place – that people were nice and trustful of their neighbors.

The lady even asked if it was some kind of a special “oriental” couch that we were transporting. Perhaps she was wondering if it was that valuable that we would go through all that trouble. If only she knew that we just picked it up from the street curb.

Several months later, my wife got her visa and came to America to join me. We used that salvaged couch for a couple of years. When we moved to New York, we did not bring it along anymore. We left it at a street curb for the garbage collector or perhaps somebody else to pick up. Did it find another owner? I don’t know.

We moved several more times since then and in fact, we had 10 different address changes until we finally moved to our current address. It seemed like we were in a witness-protection program that we kept on moving, roughly every year. However, we are living in our present home for 14 years now and counting.

Regarding this couch that my son and I just placed at the curb, we bought it when we were still in Florida after we moved out of California. We got it on a clearance sale. We really did not care about its blue color, but my wife thought she could make a cover for it. Her family’s business when they were growing up in Pampanga was making drapes and seat covers. After she made a phone call to her brother and asked for some tips, she sewed a white fabric cover for our couch. It turned out pretty good actually.

We hauled this sofa along when we eventually moved here in Iowa. We have sat on it, lounged on it, spilled food on it, my kids barfed on it and I spent many lazy days sleeping (and drooling) on it. Over the years of use the covers that my wife made got torn and for a long time now we were just tossing a white blanket over it. It has seen better days and now it is time for it to have another life apart from us.

As we placed our couch at the curb, I sat there for a few moments, reminisced, and watched as the season (and our life’s season) turns. There are so many things to be thankful for. Including old couches.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

One Dollar Ring

I got a ring today. A new wedding ring? A graduation ring? A championship ring? No, no, and no.

I was seeing patients in our outreach clinic when I noticed that one patient was wearing a one dollar ring on his finger. I don’t mean that the price of the ring was $1. Or yes it was. What I really mean is that it was a one-dollar bill that was folded into a ring.

Origami is the art of paper folding. It is often associated with the Japanese culture. This form of art is not just for the kids but it has some serious following. In fact even NASA engineers are studying origami to help design their future satellites, shuttles and other structures that can fold and unfold in space. This simple art has become rocket science.

A couple of weeks ago while we were in church, my son folded the church’s paper bulletin (while listening to the sermon I hope) and fashioned it into a wrist watch. It looks like an Apple watch actually. A little boy who was sitting beside us, probably aged 4 or 5, saw and admired it. My son gave his paper watch to him and that made the little boy happy.

I also saw my son folded a one-dollar bill and fashioned it into a bow tie before. But he has not wear it outside. Definitely not in church. I don’t think his mom will let him.

Back to my clinic patient, it was unusual to have a grown up man to be wearing a paper jewelry, I thought. Maybe it was his fashion statement. So I asked him about it and he just said that it was simply his hobby.

He then took the paper ring off his finger and gave it to me. I don’t really want to get his ring, but he insisted.

Well, I can say that I was paid $1 today for my service.

My $1 ring

Electric Outlet Plugs and Precious Memories

I am taking a break from studying. I took two re-certification exams from American Board of Internal Medicine for different subspecialties this year. One in May and another this November. Next up is for another subspecialty, but it’s not until September next year. So I’ll chill out for now.

Because of the preparation I did for the boards, I have spent a lot of time reading and studying. I chose to review in my daughter’s room. Since my daughter is in college now and her room was empty, I took residence there and used her study table which is near the window. It was nice and quiet there plus it has a great view of the outside.

I also downloaded my favorite music for studying in Spotify and had it playing while I was reviewing. My go-to music when I’m studying is Jim Chappell’s. I discovered him back in the early 1990’s when I was preparing for my Philippine Medical Boards. His music is calming and perfect for quiet reflection. It puts me in a right mood too, I guess.

As I was studying in my daughter’s room, I was surrounded by her articles and effects – the stuff toys she had in one corner, the favorite books she read in the book case, the medals and trophies in the shelf, and other sort of things. Lots of memories tied to all of these items.

Then I noticed that some of the electric outlets in her room still has the plastic plug covers. We child-proofed our home and placed these outlet plugs when we moved into this house years ago. She was still a little girl at that time. Obviously we place those covers to protect her from being electrocuted in case she stuck her little fingers on those electric outlets.

But time has passed so quickly it seems that she has grown up and we have not noticed that she don’t need those outlet plug covers anymore. She probably left some outlets covered as she did not need them anyway. The wallpaper in her room may also require some updating as it was from the original owner of the house. But my daughter said she liked them, so we let it be.

I took out the plastic outlet plugs now for there were no use for them anymore. Besides I have to plug my laptop, my phone, and my portable speaker near her study table.

My daughter will be finishing college this year with a degree in Music. In fact, a few nights ago we attended her cello solo recital at the university. In a few months she’ll be performing in her final senior piano recital which will be a bigger event, since piano is her major.

It seems not too long ago that she was sticking her fingers in the peanut butter jar, playing dirt and picking dandelions in our yard. Today, those beloved beautiful fingers are electrifying musical instruments. We are glad we protected them from harm, including injury from electric outlets.

Below is a photo of my daughter during her recent cello recital. She was accompanied by her piano professor.

It is kind of funny that even the simplest of things like an outlet plug cover will evoke such precious memories. Or maybe it was the music that I was listening to that made me.

Alright, I’ll blame it all on the music.

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Here’s Jim Chappell’s song, “Precious Memories.” (video from Youtube)

He Checked Out

It is a lonely world out there.

Yes, we have this modern technology of all the world being connected and wired through broadband networks, internet, Wi-Fi, and all platforms of social media, and yet the proportion of the population suffering from loneliness and depression is on the rise at a rate that we have never seen before.

A couple of weeks ago, a man suffering from Parkinson’s disease presented to the hospital for progressive weakness and failure to thrive. He needed to be placed on a non-invasive ventilator (BiPAP) for respiratory failure. He was admitted to the ICU by my partner the night before.

I went to see the patient the next morning. Before going in to the patient’s room the nurse at the station made a comment to me, “I think he just has no more will to live.”

I examined the patient and I spoke to him. Despite him on the BiPAP mask, he was still able to communicate. After learning more about him, he expressed to me that he wanted to be DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), meaning, to let him go peacefully if his heart stops.

I learned from the patient too that his wife passed away recently. He also had a son that lives in the area but he did not want him contacted. His next of kin that he put on record was his church pastor.

I tried to get him off the non-invasive ventilator but his oxygen saturation dropped so we had to place him back on it. But I told him that we could take him off the BiPAP mask briefly to let him eat, however he said that he had no appetite.

After our initial work-up, his condition was still a conundrum. He was not in congestive heart failure. He had no apparent pneumonia. He had no viral or bacterial infection. He was just unwell.

I think the nurse’s assessment was spot on. The patient simply gave up on living.

That night, a little past midnight, my phone rang. It was one of the ICU nurse telling me that our patient went bradycardic (low heart rate) and then went into PEA (pulseless electrical activity). The nurse commented, “He checked out.” He gave up the ghost and died.

The saddest part as I learned later, was that there were no friends nor family that visited him. There was nobody around, except for our hospital staff, when he died.

I don’t really know what was the story behind this patient. What I know is that he was lonely and that he did not care to live anymore. What if somebody was there for him? Could it have made a difference?

Please take time to show people, specially our loved ones that we care.

(*photo taken from here)

Sights and Sounds of Nashville

I had a short visit and spent two nights in Nashville, Tennessee. I went there for training. No, I am not changing career to be a country singer. My training was about navigational bronchoscopy.

Even though my visit was brief, I still was able to see parts of Nashville.

Here’s Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.

This iconic hotel offers guests all the excitement and energy of a music city like Nashville under one roof.

It has climate-controlled glass atriums with bending river, falls, fountains, rain forest and an extraordinary selection of dining, shopping and recreation options for a perfect getaway. 

I also visited downtown Nashville and explored Lower Broadway, a major entertainment district well renowned for honky tonks and live country music.

Here’s Johnny Cash’s joint.

Below is Kid Rock’s Honky Tonk place.

The one with the tower is the popular Bridgestone Arena, home to famous country music concerts.

What is a Nashville visit without hearing a live country music band? So I did. I skipped the line dancing though.

However, the best part of my visit to Nashville is not even displayed in these above photos. For the best part of my trip was that I was able to see my best friend in college and medical school. He is now practicing near Nashville as a Pediatrician, and we have not seen each other for more than 20 years. We had a lot of catching up to do and two days was merely not enough.

From Nashville y’all,

Pinoytransplant

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Tag-lagas: Isang Balik-Tanaw

(Nais ko po muling balikan ang isang akda na aking isinulat walong taon na ang nakalipas, inilathala Oktubre 7, 2011.)

Lumalamig na naman ang simoy ng hangin dito sa amin. Tumitingkad na rin ang mga kulay ng mga dahon at nagiging ginintuan at pula. Unti-unti rin silang nalalagas, nalalaglag at kumakalat sa lupa. Dahan-dahang namang kumukupas ang mga luntiang kulay ng damo sa aming paligid.

Lipas na naman ang tag-araw. Hindi magtatagal ay tagginaw na naman. Lilipad na naman at babalut sa kapaligiran ang puting niyebe.

Nakaupo at nakahalukipkip sa isang sulok ng aming tahanan ang aking nanay. Siya ay dumadalaw sa amin dito sa Amerika, at mahigit dalawang buwan na rin siyang namalagi dito. Ito ay pangatlong pagkakataon niyang makarating dito sa aming lugar. Ang unang dalaw niya dito, mga ilang taon na ang nakalilipas, ay sa kalagitnaan ng tag-lamig, dahil gusto raw niyang masaksihan ang niyebe. Ngunit dahil sa sumusuot sa butong ginaw ng tag-lamig dito, ay ayaw na niyang manatili at maranasang muli ang tagginaw.

Dahil na rin siguro sa kanyang edad, ay hindi na siya mahilig mag-lalabas at mamasyal. Pinipili pa niyang umupo sa isang tabi at maiwan na lamang sa loob ng aming bahay. Masaya na siya sa panonood sa kanyang mga apo, o dumungaw sa bintana at magmasid sa kapaligirang mundo na patuloy sa pag-ikot. Maaring maligaya na siya na magbalik tanaw na lamang sa mga kasaysayan ng kanyang buhay.

Lahat ay nagbabago. Walang sinisino.

Malaki na rin ang ipinagbago ng aking ina mula ng ako’y unang tumulak parito sa Amerika. Hukot na ang kanyang tindig. Mahina na ang kanyang mga kamay: mga kamay na minsang panahon ay malalakas sa pag-aaruga sa aking kabataan. Malabo na rin ang kanyang mga mata: mga matang minsa’y kay linaw sa pagbabantay noon sa aking kalikutan. Purol na rin ang kanyang pandinig: mga tengang dati-rati ay matalas na dumidinig ng aking mga iyak at tawag. Mabagal na rin ang kanyang mga hakbang: mga hakbang na noon ay mabibilis sa paghabol sa aking kamusmusan, para ako’y malayo sa panganib.

Pana-panahon lamang ang lahat, ika nga nila. Ang oras ay tumatakbo, hindi naghihintay kaninuman.

Ilang araw pa ay tutulak na muling pabalik sa Pilipinas ang aking nanay, parang ibong manglalakbay na lumilipad patungong timog upang tumakas sa nagbabadyang masungit na taglamig.

Hindi ko alam kung ilang pag-kikita at ilang pag-papaalam pa ang nalalabi sa amin. Panahon lamang ang makapagsasabi. Sana ay nakapagdulot ako ng kasiyahaan bilang isang anak sa aking ina. Ito lamang ang pinaka-matamis na ala-alang maipapabaon ko sa kanya.

Hindi magtatagal ay mauubos at mahuhulog na rin ang lahat ng dahon sa mga puno, at matitira na lamang ay mga hubad na sanga at tangkay nito. Mananatili itong pawang tigang at patay…… hanggang sa panahon ng tag-sibol at muling magsisimula ang panibagong buhay.

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(*Post note: Ang aking ina ay tuluyan nang namaalam tatlong taon matapos kong isulat ang akdang ito.)

(**autumn photo taken from the web)

Bye at the Window

It’s autumn here in our part of the world and the leaves are changing colors. We see them everyday as we peek through our windows. In fact, we can watch the time go by through our windows and witness not just the changing of the leaves.

When our son was much younger, he would always tell us when we leave to wave goodbye at the window. So as our car would pull out of our driveway, he would be watching at the window and waving goodbye. He would feel bad if we would not wave back at him. It was his some sort of reassurance that everything would be alright. He would do this especially with his mom that it became their tender ritual. So when my wife would leave him even for a very short errand he would say, “Bye at the window, Mom.”

Children seems to have a hard time dealing with being left behind. Remember the first time we let them sleep alone in their bedroom? They would do all kind of delaying tactics so that we would not have to leave them in their room for the night.

Like, “Can you check for spiders on my bed?” “There’s none left, the monster under your bed ate them all.”

Or, “Can I have another drink of water?” “That’s your 5th glass of water, you will pee on the bed.”

I don’t know about you, but our kids did something similar. However we had to be firm in our actions so they would develop that sense of independence.

Maybe you remember when you dropped your kids on their first day of school in kindergarten. Perhaps some of them clung tightly at your skirt or perhaps they wrapped around your leg and would not let go. We have not really experienced dropping our kids in kindergarten since we homeschooled them, but I just wonder what kind of fiasco they could have done.

Our kids are grown up now. Our daughter has been gone for a few years and is almost done with college, while our son is a junior in high school. He still home schools, but he now attends some Advanced Placement classes in a community college nearby. He also drives now, and a couple of months ago his driver’s license was upgraded that he can drive all by himself but still has a restriction that he cannot drive alone after midnight or before five o’clock in the morning.

Few weeks ago, my son humorously told my wife (*in a deeper voice too*), “Bye at the window, Mom.” But this time it was he who was leaving, and my wife was the one waving goodbye at the window.

My wife said that it really felt weird and different this time. She felt so nostalgic as my son was pulling out of our driveway and she waved goodbye at the window for the longest time until the car made a turn at the street corner and disappeared from her sight.

There is definitely a twinge of sadness on these rites of passage. Yet, they must come to pass.

I think we had it wrong all along. It is not our kids, but it is us parents who have a hard time letting go.

(*photo taken by my wife as my son drives away)