Mi Ultimo Ubo

 

Hithit ubo, hithit ubo,

Pabili nga ng Marlboro,

Hithit ubo, hithit ubo,

Pahiram din ng posporo.

 

Hithit ubo, hithit ubo,

Butas na ang bulsa ko,

Hithit ubo, hithit ubo,

Butas na pati baga ko.

 

Hithit ubo, hithit ubo,

Hirap na hirap na ‘ko,

Hithit ubo, hithit ubo,

Tang’n@ng yosi ito!

 

Hithit ubo, hithit ubo,

Adios! Malupit na mundo,

Hingal ubo, hingal ubo,

Hingal……hingal……aaagghh.

smoking

(*image from the web)

Lights Up

Our Christmas lights are up.

Actually, I set them up since last week. Only to take them down again.

No, it’s not that the neighbors complained that it was too early for Christmas. It’s not that we contemplated on canceling Christmas. And it’s not that Santa is not coming to town. Nothing like that.

Why I took the lights down has a more rational reason.

Last week, when we were experiencing a seasonably warm November (up to 70’s degrees Fahrenheit), I decided on a whim to put the Christmas lights up. I hang them up at the edge of our roof. I rather put them up when it was warm and not when it’s bone-chillingly cold.

So with my trusty ladder, and with the help of my son, I climbed up and dangled our Christmas lights for all the neighbors to see. By the way, I was not the earliest among our neighbors to set up Christmas lights. I saw one down the road, even two weeks earlier than me.

Risking life and limb (maybe not life, only limb, for it was only 10 feet high), and after more than an hour of work, I completed setting our outside Christmas lights up. I was so proud of my accomplishment.

Only to find out, after I plug them in to the electric outlet, that almost half of the lights were not working. What a bummer!

All my efforts and time spent were gone down the drain. I suddenly felt my back really ached. Maybe it was more imagined than real. I almost got a headache too, when I thought of banging my head to the wall!

I have no one to blame but me. Why did I not check the lights if they’re working or not, before I hang them up? Yeah, very brilliant of me.

My wife said, trying to keep a straight face, “at least you’re not making that mistake again.” Thanks dear, that makes me feel better. Not.

I left the unplugged bum lights hanging for a week , while I let my disappointment simmer down a bit.

Then this week, after getting a new set of Christmas lights, which I think was time for an upgrade anyway, I finally took the old non-working lights down, and hang up my new brighter and yet more energy efficient LED lights.

And yes, I tested them first, even if they’re new, before I hang them.

Our temperature also got significantly colder this week, with the lowest in the 20 – 30’s degrees Fahrenheit. But I just bundled up, suck it up, and do what I needed to do.

As I look at our Christmas lights tonight, somehow they look more beautiful than ever. They better be, for I spent double the time and effort putting them up. Make you appreciate the things that you work your tail off.

Of course I also gained a notable experience and a valuable lesson learned: never assume, always check it out first. And that just not apply to Christmas lights.

I am not taking them down until after next year’s Christmas.


(*photo taken with an iPhone)

Trusting Strangers

I grew up in Manila in a time where trust is hard to get by. We were indoctrinated never to trust a stranger. But this perhaps is true in many parts of the world.

It was inculcated in our young minds that when a stranger talk to us in the streets, to make sure that we hold our bags more tightly, or check if we still have our wallets. When we are in a public or crowded places, we were told to be sure that we have our valuables close to us and never ever leave them.

When I was commuting to school, I always carry my backpack on my chest (should it be called a chestpack?), since the pickpocket can easily access my bag without me knowing if it is on my back.

We have even been instructed on the so many modus operandi of the mandurukot and snatchers. They usually have accomplices that would distract your attention, while somebody else go for your valuables. But sometimes they just seize your valuables right in front of your face.

Though on a good note, I have heard from my friends and relatives that Manila is much safer now, under the administration of President Duterte. I hope this continues.

I have personally witnessed snatching a few times in the past. I may have been a victim also, as I lost my money once while I was riding in the jeepney. Though I may have just dropped it, as I was a little burara when I was younger.

Once in college, while we were crossing the overpass in España Blvd in front of UST, a snatcher grabbed my classmate’s necklace. He was about to run after the snatcher, but I held him back, knowing that these people were armed and always have accomplices. It was better for him to just lose his necklace than his life.

In another instance when I was in high school, I was in Harrison Plaza when I was approached by somebody asking for the time. Then he stared at my watch suspiciously. It was a Citizen automatic watch, that was given to me by my father on my birthday. I suddenly sensed a bad feeling – like a “spider sense,” that I quickly ran away from him and entered a store where there was a security guard standing by.

One time we were in a food court of a mall, when a distraught lady ask around if anybody saw her bag. I was sure it was stolen perhaps when she was not paying attention.

In recent times cellphones have been the favorite object of snatchers. I even heard of horror stories that people got hurt because they won’t give their cellphones to a holdupper.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my homeland. But these things I don’t miss. For foreigners who are planning to visit Manila, I am not scaring you away, for it really is worth a visit. Just take proper precautions.

Then, I moved to Iowa.

Somehow all the years of my upbringing looking suspiciously to any stranger that comes near me, have to change. I don’t have to be hyper-vigilant all the time. I learned to trust people again.

Few days ago, I had a day off and my wife and I had a breakfast in a restaurant in Des Moines. The place was fairly busy with lots of people coming and going.

A family came and pick a table near us. When they went to the counter to get their order, they left their belongings unattended on the table. Cellphone, car keys, wallet and all!

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It was so unnatural for me to see this, that I have to take a photo.

You may call it naive, but people here are still so trusting. I hope it never change.

It may take me a while to fully let my guard down and leave my cellphone and valuables unattended. Or perhaps I never will.

 

Rewriting History

After almost half a century on this earth, I can say that I have been a witness to many milestone events. Spending half of my life in the Philippines and the rest in America, I would say that both of these places are seeing current events that history experts probably never imagined would happen.

This I can say for sure, as I have seen it happened: people who hated you today, will embrace you tomorrow. And people who revered you today, will curse you tomorrow.

As the saying goes, “the only constant in this world is change.”

Take for example the changing political landscape in America, where I reside now.

Who would have predicted that someone like “the Donald” who many considered as a joke, and many would not take him seriously as a presidential candidate, even in his own party, would end up taking the highest office of this country. And he won it in a convincing fashion too.

If you listen to all the hurled insults during the campaign period, you would think this world is out of its mind. Or maybe it is. A circus act? Racist? Sexist? Fascist? True or not, it does not seem to matter.

The people have spoken. He is the elected 45th president of the United States of America.

Politicians, especially from his own party, who have tried to distance themselves from Trump before the election, are now backpedaling trying to align with the new elected leader.

How would America be under President Trump? Let’s just wait for the history to write itself.

Then let’s go to the current events in my homeland.

As good students of history know, the former President Ferdinand Marcos was deposed and expelled by “People Power” revolution in 1986. I was in college at that time, and been an eyewitness and even a part of that historic event.

Who would have imagined that after three decades, he will be embraced again by the same nation that derided him as a dictator, and would consider him now as a great president and a hero, finding his final resting place at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

ferdianand-marcos-libingan-ng-mga-bayani-cnnph

And who would have thought that a name that has been synonymous before to a hero, or a name even toyed to be considered as a saint, would be the same name that many people would find now as unfavorable.

What changed?

But to be candid, people are restless and are always craving for a change. Unless that change that they clamor for is brought in, their loyalties would change. And that’s very understandable.

Whatever happened have happened. The events of the past did not change. It is the perception of the people that have changed. Whether it is right or wrong, I don’t know. Nor am I in a position to pass judgment.

Perhaps let’s just wait for the history to rewrite itself as the years go by.

 

Writings on the Wall

 

My head is light and the walls spinning,

Too much of the “happy hours” again,

Staggering down Manila’s dark alley,

My steps and dignity are both shaky.

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I know I have passed this way before,

Promising a change, I will go for,

But my will is weak to the intoxicating spirit,

I am but a spineless fool! Damn it!

 

My family have long gave up on me,

I’m at the point I’m giving up on me,

Am I beyond redemption? Can’t get free

From the quatro cantos that enslaves me.

 

Heeding the call, fumbling in the night,

I am desperate to seek the light,

Then the writings on the wall, I saw

It reads: Hoy, Bawal Umihi Dito!

 

(*dedicated to all who struggle with the bottle; photo from the web)

 

Left Behind in Albuera

(Last week was the 3rd year anniversary of the super typhoon Yolanda hitting the Visayas. With the town of Albuera, Leyte sharing some headline news, though for the wrong reasons, that I wrote this article.)

Unless you’re hiding under the rock, you probably have heard that the mayor of Albuera Leyte, Rolando Espinosa, who was linked to illegal drug trade, was gunned down while he was in prison.

After learning the news, and after tracing back my memory and confirming where Albuera is, I ascertained that I visited this town three years ago.

A week after Yolanda ravished Tacloban, I volunteered to join a medical team headed by ACTS World Relief Team (see previous post) and a group of Harvard doctors specializing in Disaster Medicine. I was the lone Filipino doctor from the US in that group that came.

When we landed in Tacloban my heart sank after seeing in person the utter devastation of the place.

In one of our medical missions, a small team was sent from Tacloban to fly to Albuera. Two small helicopters loaded us up – 4 doctors (2 Americans, 1 local doctor-in-training from Romualdez hospital, and me), 1 military personnel who was our security detail, and several boxes of medicines and medical supplies.

After 40 minutes of flight time, we arrived in Albuera. The mayor of the town, Ramon dela Cerna Jr., (the mayor before Espinosa) was waiting for us there. After brief greetings, we were taken to the nearby health center where hundreds of people were already in line, waiting for the medical team.

We worked furiously for about four hours before our medications and medical supplies ran out. We decided then to close the clinic, though it was kind of sad as there were still people waiting in line. However we have triage and screened those in line and we have seen those that needed immediate care.

The municipal office even provided us simple meal, if I remember it right, chicken and rice. I’m sure food was in short supply at that time after the devastating storm, but they were still able to offer us what they have. That’s Filipino hospitality in action, offering the best for the visitors even if we have nothing left for us.

When we finsihed eating we were taken near the beach, not for a swim, though that would be nice, but because there was a clearing  there for the helicopters to land. While waiting for our ride, Mayor dela Cerna kept us company telling us stories of the storm’s tenacity, but even more of his people’s tenacity to rise to this challenge of life.

When our ride finally came, it was a lone helicopter, instead of two. It was a small one too, and can only fit three passengers.  There were five of us.

The pilot said that the other helicopter was sent on another important trip. He also said that he was not sure if he could  make a second trip as he might be sent for a more pressing mission, or maybe it would be too late in the day as the afternoon sun was quickly going down the horizon.

We knew that the roads were in bad shape, mostly blocked with debris from the typhoon. So most likely we cannot travel by ground back to Tacloban even if we wanted to.

I know we cannot leave the two American doctors behind. Too much liability for their safety. I also know that if we leave the local doctor-in-training and the soldier, the headquarters may not be too obligated to send back the helicopter for them, and they just have to find a way to travel back by ground the next day or so.

That was when I decided, that I will be the one to stay. The soldier volunteered to stay with me too. Since the headquarters knew that I was a member of the US group, maybe they will be compelled to come back for me. Besides I feel safe among my people.

After the helicopter departed, the mayor took me to the municipal hall, and told me that I can hang out there while I waited for my ride home. The mayor also promised me that if for some reason they were not able to come back for me,  he would find a way to send me back to Tacloban the next day. That’s a 120 km trip which usually takes 3 hours, though could be much longer with the uncertainty of the road conditions.

The mayor then went back to work, while I found a comfortable seat inside the municipal hall.

Not too long after, someone approached me making sure I was doing fine. She introduced herself as the mayor’s sister. I told her to not to worry about me, for I can keep myself entertained. Or since it was a long day for me, I could also catch some cat naps while waiting.

While I sat there, a group of the mayoral staff held their meeting near where I was. I was too sleepy to eavesdrop to what they were discussing. Maybe they were planning on how to take over the world. Before long, I faded into Lala land.

After more than an hour or so, I was informed that the helicopter was coming, and it would be landing in about 15 minutes or so. I said goodbye to my host, including Mayor dela Cerna. The soldier and I were taken back near the beach for the helicopter pick up.

On our flight back to Tacloban, the soldier who was with me, was thankful that I decided to stay and thought it was brave of me to stay behind in a strange place with uncertain circumstances. He was sure that if it was him and the other local doctor who were left behind, the helicopter would not come back for them.

I just thought that it would just be another adventure if in case they didn’t come back for me. Or perhaps I’ll have the people of Albuera adopt me for a time.

The advantage for being left behind? The trip back to Tacloban was beautiful, as we flew into the sunset.

*********

 PS. A shout out to the people of Albuera: damo nga salamat!

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: A Reminiscence

This is not a film review.

I know anybody can be a critic. Everybody has an opinion and everybody is entitled to one. You don’t have to be an expert to critique a movie. There are movies that we watched and discerned that they are good movies. Then there are those that we watched, and we felt duped and wanted our money back.

But there are films that we remember or even cherished, not because of the film itself, but because of the memories tied into them.

Maybe it was that animated movie that your whole family saw when you were young. Or maybe that romantic comedy that you saw with your crush on a date. Or perhaps that stupid action movie that you and your classmates cut class just to see it. Or maybe it was that boring drama that you watched after your girlfriend/boyfriend dumped you.

The film that I fondly remember as of recent is the “Guardians of the Galaxy.” (Spoiler alert, if you have not seen it yet.) I know a sequel is in the works and will be out by the middle of next year.

The reason I like the “Guardians of the Galaxy” was the personal events surrounding it.

guardians-of-the-galaxy

It was August 2014. I went home to the Philippines emergently to see my mother who got sick and was hospitalized. My sister sent me a message and told me that mom was gravely ill, and to come immediately if I want to see her alive.

Three days after I got the message, and after more than 24 hours of traveling, and about 8000 miles of airflight, and a ton of apprehension and jet lag, I got home.

When I came to the hospital, UERM university hospital in Quezon City, my mom came out of coma and actually was doing better. Maybe because she learned that I was coming home to see her. At least, that’s what I wanted to believe.

However, after few more days and more tests were done, it was found that her cancer from the colon, which was removed through surgery five years earlier, had come back. Now it had spread to her lungs and perhaps to other organs as well.

After evaluating all our options, we discussed with my mother asking her what she wanted to do. She firmly stated that she does not want to do any more therapy – no more surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. She decided to just wait for the inevitable to come, and she wanted to go home. “Home,” has different meanings in so many levels.

So that day we decided that as soon as she is stronger, hopefully in a couple of days, we will take her home and set up a kind of hospice-like arrangement until her days here on earth is through. It was a sad day of reckoning.

I was the bantay (watcher or guardian) that day of my mother. I know in the Philippines, it is a common practice that patients in the hospital have a bantay, to assist in every need, may it be a glass of water or help with the bedpan. Unlike in the US, a patient is mostly left alone in his/her room with just a call light to summon for help.

When my older sister came that evening to relieve me as the bantay, I really don’t want to go home, but I don’t want to stay in the hospital either, for I need to clear my head.

So I went to SM Sta. Mesa (Centerpoint) which was just a block away from UERM, to pass the time. I just want to escape from the sad reality that was happening right before my eyes.

After wandering for a while, I decided to watch a movie. The movie I watched was the “Guardians of the Galaxy.” If there would be a movie about the hospital bantays would they entitle it “Guardians of the Bedpan?”

I like sci-fi movies. So its not a surpirse that I chose to see the “Guardians.” Besides I don’t remember the other movies that were showing that time. Definitely I would not watch a drama or a depressing movie given the circumstances I was in.

I thought the concept and setting of the “Guardians” was so out of this world, that it was hardly believable. But then again, at that time and what I was going through, the farther from the reality, the better for me.

I like the featured songs of the 1970’s in that movie, music that I grew up with. I also like some of the characters of the movie. Especially Groot, the man-tree who has very unique powers, even though he can only say one line: “I am Groot!” And of course the star of the movie, Peter Quill, an unorthodox hero, who calls himself Star Lord.

But maybe it was background of the story that has a soft spot in my heart. Peter Quill lost his mother, and what remained was only her loving memory and the old songs her mother left him.

On the last scene, Peter reads an old letter from his mother, and then unwraps a gift from his mom, a cassette tape of oldies songs. As he listens to the nostalgic music, it puts him on a kind of trance. It placed me on a kind of trance as well, realizing the similarity to my own state of affairs.

I thought I was escaping, but somehow the painful reality sneaked in.

Last week was my mother’s death 2nd anniversary. It so happen that the movie the “Guardians of the Galaxy” was being shown on TV that night. I couldn’t help it. I had to watch it again.

Sure enough, it brought back memories.

(*photo taken from the web)