Return to Yosemite


Five years ago we visited Yosemite National Park (see previous post). It left such an impression, that it deserves another visit. So we did.

Here are the photos of our return to Yosemite earlier this month.

This time around, we were able to reserve a housing just a few miles outside the park. We stayed at Yosemite View Lodge, a resort located at the edge of the majestic Merced river.


Below is the gorgeous view from our room. Yes, we are lull to sleep with the sound of rushing water.


Water falls are arguably the most notable feature of Yosemite National Park. So here are photos of the falls on this park.


Above is the Upper Yosemite Falls. Below are the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls as seen from afar.


A much closer view of the Lower Yosemite Falls.


IMG_3320Besides the water falls, Yosemite is also known for its mountains and rock formations.


Below is “El Capitan,” the largest monolith granite in the world.

IMG_3304An iconic landmark of Yosemite is the Half Dome, another distinctive rock formation rising from the valley floor.



With breathtaking views like these, I would say that a second visit is well worth it.

From Yosemite,


(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Long Beach, a Gala, and an Electromagnetic Lecture

Part of our big summer trip few weeks ago was going down to Long Beach, California. Long Beach is a city in Los Angeles County at the pacific coast of the US. It is 24 miles away from the city of Los Angeles, but that drive can take more than an hour due to terrible traffic.


We went to Long Beach to attend my medical school’s sponsored event. It was the 24th University of Santo Tomas Medical Alumni Association of America (USTMAA) Grand Reunion and Medical Convention.

The Hilton Long Beach was the site of the event, and that’s where we stayed for a couple of days.


Only a few blocks away from the hotel is the ocean and the Pine Avenue Pier. One early morning, I went out for my 2-3 miles run, and I wandered down to the pier (above and below photos were taken during my run).


The Pier was lined with prime restaurants, so I guess you won’t get hungry if you stroll there.


Here’s the marina with some of the boats docked there.




There’s even a lighthouse at that Pier.


Back to the USTMAAA event, since the event is billed as a Grand Reunion, many medical alumni from different batches attended. The oldest batch represented in the gala night was from medical class of 1951, though he was a lone attendee of his class. He was probably in his 90’s or nearing 90, yet he still looked strong and springy.

One of the biggest contingent was from the class of 1966, who were celebrating their 50th (Golden) anniversary. I tell you, those “old” folks can still dance the night away.

The “youngest” (the term ‘young’ is really relative) batch in that reunion was our class – from year 1991, which in my estimation was the biggest group represented. We were celebrating our 25th (Silver) anniversary.


Above is a photo I grabbed from USTMAAA website, showing our batch during the parade of the different classes at the gala dinner. Though many of my other classmates who went to Long Beach did not attend the gala, but came for the other festivities and the medical conference.

To be honest, I am not really a fan of galas and pageantries, so it that was not the main reason I attended. Sad to admit, I can’t even dance. Of course seeing my old friends and classmates was enough motivation to attend.

But the biggest reason I came was, I was invited to give one of the lectures during the medical convention, which I considered an honor and a privilege. Many of the lecturers, including the keynote speaker, was from my batch.

The theme of the conference was “Current and Interesting Topics in Medicine and Surgery.” Below is an ‘official’ photo (grabbed from USTMAAA website) of me giving the talk.


The title of the lecture I gave was: The Lung and Winding Road (my apologies to the Beatles): Current Trends in Lung Cancer Screening and Diagnosis.

A portion of my talk was about Electromagnetic Navigational Bronchoscopy, a relatively new technology using GPS-like guidance with videogame-like images, when doing bronchoscopy and lung biopsy (see previous post about this topic).

Are you wondering what was the slide projected on the screen on the photo above?

Here is that specific slide on my presentation:


For readers who are not familiar with the above character, this is Voltes V. He is an anime super robot, aired as a TV series in the Philippines in the 1970’s. One of his weapon was the “electromagnetic top.” We definitely are not the first ones to use the “electromagnetic” technology.

After the lecture, many attendees approached me and told me that they enjoyed my presentation very much. Maybe they were all Voltes V fans.

I had a fun time in Long Beach. I hope to be reunited with my classmates and other alumni in the next UST event. Borrowing the battle cry from the Voltes V team, “Let’s volt in!”


P.S. Voltes V is now forever profiled in the USTMAAA website.



Empty Bench Revisited

I made a video 5 years ago and posted it here on January 5, 2011. It was titled “The Empty Bench.”

This bench at the front yard of our home, was the favorite place where my mother and my mother-in-law would sit, especially early in the day to catch the morning sunshine, whenever they came to visit us here in Iowa.

My mother passed away November 2014, and my mother-in-law passed away a week ago. I’m reposting this video in their loving memory.

Thank you both for the love and the memories.

Life Can Be a Lonely Highway

A few weeks ago we embarked on an ambitious summer drive that took us from farmlands and prairies, to mountains and valleys, to deserted areas and busy metropolis, to rivers, waterfalls and ocean.

We started off from our home in Iowa and drove to Glacier National Park in Montana where we stayed for 3 days. Then we continued our trip to California where I attended 3 days of conference and my medical school’s grand reunion at Long Beach, but we passed by Yosemite National Park first, where we stayed for 2 days.

The sceneries that we passed have been so varied that it changed drastically: from barren lands of South Dakota to lush forests of Montana, from farm lands of Idaho to deserts of Nevada, from wilderness of Yosemite to concrete jungle of Metro Los Angeles.

It was the drive from Glacier National Park to Yosemite National Park that we passed through very lonesome country roads. Though I would take the lonely highways anytime than dealing with the heavy traffic of Los Angeles.

Passing through Nevada on our way to Yosemite, we passed Route 50, a transcontinental highway, which is also named as the “Loneliest Road in America.”


Indeed it was a lonely road. You probably can set camp in the middle of the road and not be bothered by a passing car for hours. While we were driving through Route 50, I was afraid we will run out of gas and nobody will come to our rescue. Until we saw this….


Right in the middle of nowhere, is a sort of an oasis. They have a bar, a restaurant, a small motel, and a gasoline station – all in one.


Notice the sign posted in the motel? It said, “Route 50: The Loneliest Road in America.”


They even have an old phone booth, which of course is now obsolete in this age of cellular phones.


So we pulled up to this place and filled our gas tank. We also took the opportunity of taking a bathroom break. Though in reality, I wonder how many travelers in Route 50 when they felt the urge, just stopped and took a leak at the side of the road?

We also check out their small restaurant, and we found that they have plenty of supply of ice cream! Who knew?

Life they say is like a road trip. Sometimes the journey is exhilarating as we go through scenic byways. Sometimes it feels boring as we go through mundane yet major highways. Sometimes we feel we are not going anywhere as we are stuck in traffic. And sometimes we feel alone as we go through lonely roads. But there’s always surprises and unexpected turns.

In the last leg of our trip, after the medical conference and reunion, we also took time to visit our friends and family in California, including my wife’s mother who was staying in Los Angeles area.

Sadly to say,  my mother-in-law got sick and was hospitalized while we were there. Her condition quickly deteriorated and was even transferred to the ICU. So part of my vacation was visiting the ICU, not as an ICU physician but as a patient’s relative. I can’t seem to get away from the ICU.

Despite the medical efforts, my mother-in-law did not improved. She died shortly after a few days.

It was not the vacation we imagined. But at least we can comfort ourselves that we were there during her last moments and we’re able to say our goodbyes in person.

Our family is surely going through a lonely road right now. Yet, we can find solace that even in the loneliest road, there’s always an oasis, a refuge, or a sanctuary if you will, waiting for us where we can find rest.

Lastly, an important thought to remember, that even though it seems we are passing through a very lonely road, we are never alone.


P.S. Nanay, thank you for the love and the memories. From you “favorite” son-in-law.

(*photos taken at Route 50, somewhere in Nevada)




A Visit to Glacier National Park

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I had the chance to visit Glacier National Park. It is located in the state of Montana on the side of the US, and it borders Alberta and British Columbia provinces, on the side of Canada.

This national park is a wilderness with pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes.


During our visit, we stayed in a beautiful historic lodge, the Glacier Park Lodge, which was built more than a century ago. Stepping inside this establishment is like stepping back in time.


Rustic and yet classy, this retreat is located in such a beautiful place. Here it is in the early morning light (picture below).


One of the high points of the trip is driving through the Going-to-the-Sun road. This a scenic mountain road, that is quite narrow and winding, with hairpin turns, and precipitous drop. Driving through this road can be both exhilarating as well as frightening.

Here we are going around the mountain….


Through the mountain (via tunnel)……


Driving besides the river…..


And even driving under falls.


Besides driving around, we also took boat rides (both motorized and a row-boat) in its lakes. Here’s the boat we rode in this clear lake.


This park is named Glacier National Park due to its glaciers. A glacier is an extended mass of ice formed from snow falling and accumulating over the years and moving very slowly, either descending from high mountains, as in valley glaciers, or moving outward from centers of accumulation, as in continental glaciers.

Glacier National Park has 150 named glaciers in 1850, but was diminished to 26 in 2006 due to continued climate warming. Today, it only has 7 or 8 remaining, according to the experts. They may have to change the name of the park, when all the glaciers are gone.

Below is a view from the boat ride, with one of the remaining glaciers seen from a far.


Here I am standing at the bough of the boat, and channelling my Leonardio DiCaprio moment like in the film Titanic. “I’m the king of the world!”


We also did some no-sweat hikes. Here’s the view when we hiked down off the road into this mountain side.


We also hiked up and down this ski slope in our t-shirts, shorts and rubber shoes. Even though the hike up the snow is probably a quarter to a third of a mile, it was comfortable. Not hot nor cold. I don’t think we even broke a sweat climbing up this snow-covered hill (photo below).


When the snow melts, the water find its way to the rivers, falls, and lakes. Even though the lakes and the rivers seem inviting for a swim, they are icy cold.

Below is a photo after a climbed up a ledge near a raging river.


We also hiked to a nearby falls. Again, not a serious hike as it was less than a quarter-mile from the dock where the boat dropped us off.


Another highlight of the visit is seeing the sunset and sunrise with the play of light changing the colors of the mountains and the sky.

Here I am at the lake during sunrise. Of course I have to wear a colorful jacket too.


When not busy roaming around outside, we just cooled our heels in our beautiful retreat. And what did I do in my downtime when we were there? Blog, of course!


With a view like this, who would not be inspired to write? This is where I wrote my earlier post “Serendipity.”

I hope you can visit this place, before all the glaciers are gone.  I know the subject of global warming is such a hot and debated topic, and I would leave the politics and the science of that to the experts. But I do hope that we as a human race, will be responsible enough to keep this world of ours as beautiful as it can be.

from Glacier National Park,



(*All photos in this post were taken with an iPhone. I am grateful to my “unofficial”photographers.)

Pinaglalaruan: Kwentong Multo

Taong 1991, ako ay isang medical intern na nakadestino sa Canlubang, Laguna sa isang maliit na ospital bilang aming community service. Isang malamlam na gabi, isang binata ang itinakbo sa aming Emergency Room. Ito’y walang malay at para bagang naninigas pa.

Sabi ng mga kamag-anak nito ay wala raw silang alam na sakit ang binata. Alam lang daw nila na mahilig itong mapag-isa at malimit itong pumaroon na walang kasama, sa tabi ng ilog.

Tumingin sa akin ang nakatatandang duktor na naka-duty sa Emergency Room. Tinanong niya ako kung ako raw ba ay “naniniwala.” Naniniwala saan?

Hindi ako nakasagot. Dahil hindi ko rin naman alam ang aking isasagot.

Hindi na lang umimik sa akin ang Emergency Room doctor, ngunit naringgan ko na sabi nito sa isang nurse, na baka raw napaglaruan ng espiritu ang binata.

Bilang mga Pilipino, tayo’y maraming mga paniniwala. Hindi alintana kung ano man ang antas natin sa buhay, bata man o matanda, mataas man ang pinag-aralan o wala, marami sa atin ay may mga superstisyon.

Naniniwala tayo sa multo, sa aswang, sa tikbalang, sa kapre, sa tiyanak, sa manananggal, sa nuno sa punso, sa engkanto at engkantada, sa dwende at marami pang iba.

Balik tayo sa Canlubang. Isang buwan din ang naging rotation namin doon. Apat na babaeng co-interns ang kasama ko sa rotation na iyon, ako lang ang lalaki. Sa isang maliit na gusali sa likod ng ospital kami nanirahan habang kami ay naninilbihan doon.

Isang gabi, isa sa aking co-intern ay may hinahanap na gamit niyang nawawala. Kami ay tinanong niya kung amin daw ba itong nakita. Sumagot ang isa ko namang co-intern na baka raw “hiniram” lamang ito.

“Hiniram nino?” ang aming tanong.

“Maari ng mga dwende,” and sagot niya.

Nagkatinginan na lamang kaming apat. Tanong namin, “May dwende ba rito?”

“Oo, ayun nga ang isa sa may pintuan o,” ang dagdag pa nito.

Biglang nagtayuan ang aming mga balahibo! Sumulyap kami sa may gawing pintuan kung nasaan daw yung dwende, ngunit wala naman kaming nakita.

Mayroon daw talagang mga tao na kitain ng dwende, o ng multo, at ng kung anu-ano pang kataka-takang pangitain. Siguro katulad ko ay may mga kakilala rin kayong kagaya nila. Ayaw natin silang kasama, kasi lalo lang tayong matatakot.

Mula noon, lagi nang nagpapasama sa akin ang aking mga co-intern paglalabas sila sa gabi mula sa aming tinitirahan, kahit patungo lang sila sa ospital, na may ilang hakbang lang ang layo. Madilim at mapuno naman kasi ang paligid, tapos dadaan ka pa sa tabi ng morgue ng hospital. Sino nga ba naman ang hindi matatakot?

Marami pa akong narinig na makababalaghang kwento mula sa aking pagkabata sa mga lugar na aking narating. Tulad ng White Lady sa Balete Drive sa pagitan ng Aurora Boulevard at Rodriguez Avenue. O kaya nama’y ang kwento ng diwata sa bundok ng Makiling, na kilala na si Maria Makiling. Nang kami din ay bumisita sa isang liblib na purok sa probinsiya ng Quezon, bilin sa amin ng mga tagaroon, huwag daw kaming masyadong tititig sa mga nakadungaw sa bintana na hindi namin kakilala, at baka raw kami mamaligno.

Naalala mo rin ba noong bata ka, huwag ka raw tatapak sa maliit na bunton ng lupa, at baka raw may nuno sa punso na nakatira sa loob nito. O kaya ay binabawalan ka na huwag kang turo nang turo kapag nasa gubat o mapunong lugar, at baka ka ma-matanda. Umiwas din daw sa puno ng balete at baka magambala mo ang mga nilalang na naninirahan doon.

Naniniwala ba ako sa mga ito at mga kwentong multo?


May kinakausap kaya ang batang ito sa puno ng balete?

Pagkatapos ko ng aking internship, dahil hindi ko pa tiyak kung anong specialty ang aking pipiliin, kaya’t nag-moonlight muna ako sa isang ospital sa Plaridel, Bulacan. Habang ako ay nagre-review para sa Medical Licensure Exam ng US, upang makapag-training sa Amerika, ay sa Plaridel muna ako nanilbihan ng kulang-kulang isang taon.

Maliit lang ang ospital na iyon. Nasa looban ito at nasa daang graba. Sa ikalawang palapag ng ospital ay mga kwarto ng pasyente. Sa unang palapag naman ay ang klinika, at ang emergency room.

Isang gabi na medyo matumal ang dating ng mga pasyente, ako lang at isang nurse ang nasa ospital. Walang pasyenteng naka-admit sa ikalawang palapag, kaya’t patay lahat ng ilaw sa itaas. Wala ring laman ang Emergency Room maliban sa akin at sa nurse na naka-duty. Naroon din naman si Manong na katiwala ng ospital na nakaupo at nagbabantay sa pinto ng Emergency Room.

Nagpaalam ako sa nurse at sabi ko ako’y bibili lang ng softdrink sa may tindahan sa kanto. Sinabihan ko rin si Manong na tawagin at takbuhin lang ako sa kanto kung sakaling may emergency na dumating.

Pagbalik ko sa Emergency Room ay humahangos akong sinalubong ng aming nurse.

“Doc! May multo po yata sa taas!” ang gimbal na pahayag ng aming nurse.

Tinanong ko kung ano ang nangyari. Sabi niya ay may narinig siyang malalakas na yabag mula sa ikalawang palapag. At para bang may kinakaladkad pa itong kadena, wika pa ng aming nurse.

Alam namin na walang ibang tao sa ospital. May mga ligalig kayang kaluluwang gumagala-gala sa gusaling ito? Ano kaya ang kanilang gustong ipahayag? Baka naman “pinaglalaruan” lamang kami.

Bumaling ako kay Manong. Sa halip na takot ang mababakas sa kanyang mukha ay parang nakangisi pa ito, na para bang may sanib.

Marahan kong nilapitan si Manong, habang pilit kong tinatago ang tunay kong nararamdaman. Ako’y bumulong sa kanya, “Bukas ko na lang po isasauli ang aking hiniram.”

Kinaumagahan, isinauli ko na ang hiniram kong kadena ng bisikleta ni Manong, na aking kinaladkad noong gabi.

Pinaglalaruan nga ba kamo?


P.S. : Nurse Owie, peace na tayo.

(*photo from the web)


Serendipity: the occurrence or development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

Several days ago when my family and I were driving to Glacier National Park in Montana, while we were in a middle of nowhere in a lonely highway, we came to a site that was unexpected, at least for us. We had to stop and enjoy the view, for just a little longer.

Of course we were expecting great views in Glacier National Park, a wilderness in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, known to be one of the most picturesque landscapes in North America (I’ll make a separate post about Glacier National Park later, I promise).

However, while we were still hours away to our destination, we serendipitously saw this field full of bright yellow flowers with the snow-capped mountains seen from the distance. It was  just us and some bees on that field.


a field somewhere in Montana

Later on we learned that they are canola plants, the source of canola oil, and are commonly farmed in this part of the US. We were just not familiar with them. But still, I think you’d agree that it was such a beautiful sight, right?

Sometimes in life, there are things or events that we are not expecting, but happen as a pleasant surprise. Of course the opposite is true as well, when we have such high expectations and then we become extremely disappointed by the turn of events. We even have a law for that – the Murphy’s law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

Well, back to the positive side of things, there are also “mistakes” that turned out to be just right. The discovery of Penicillin and the development of Post-it are prime examples.

Are there really fortunate happenstance?

When I was applying for Internal Medicine residency training program after I graduated from medical school in the Philippines, I sent out more than 50 application letters to different universities and hospitals in the United States.

A classmate of mine who was also applying, gave me a list of US hospitals and universities that would likely accept foreign medical graduates like us. I am not sure where he got this list, but that was an era before the heyday of the internet, whereas now you can “google”just about anything.

The list that he gave me was scribbled in a hospital’s pad paper with a letterhead. So I sent applications to all those on the list. And for good measure, I also sent one to the hospital on the letterhead, even though it was not on the list. How did my friend got the stationery? I have no clue.

Out of more than 50 applications I sent, I received only 8 or 9 invitations for interview. I needed all those invitation letters to apply for a visa to enter the United States.

You know that traveling from Manila to USA cost a fortune, not to mention traveling to different States where those hospitals were located, and so with limited resources, I was forced to choose only 3 hospitals to go for an interview – all were in New Jersey and New York, and all within a train or a bus ride away from each other.

After all the interviews, each applicant would rank their preferred hospital or training program, while every hospital would also rank their chosen applicants out of the hundreds they interviewed. Then the National Resident Matching Program matches all applicants to training programs by using a mathematical algorithm. There’s always a chance that an applicant won’t be accepted nor matched.

Where did I end up matching and doing my training?

I matched at a hospital in New Jersey that was an affiliate of Columbia University. Though this hospital was not on the list that I was given. It is the one on the letterhead of the stationery with the list!

Serendipity? Maybe it is destiny.


(*Photo taken with an iPhone)

Breaking Wind

There was a story last week that broke like a wild-fire. Or more accurately it broke like a wild wind.

It was a story about a Swedish soccer player who was issued a red flag by the referee while he was playing in a football match. His offense? He “broke wind.” In simple terminology, he farted. The player, Adam Lindin Ljungkvist, claims that he had a “bad stomach” but was surprised and annoyed he was penalized for releasing bad air.

I know it may be inappropriate to fart in a public place nor it is prim and proper to do so in a polite company. But could it be an offense? Or a crime? Should we hold it in then?

There was a study not too long ago, published in New Zealand Medical Journal, that stated that you should not hold your fart in while in an airplane, but should “let it go.” No, the release of gas will not generate thrust nor help the buoyancy of the airplane. It has nothing to do with that. The issue is altitude can increase the gas content of the digestive system and it is not healthy to suppress the gas in.

Not healthy for the individual, you may say, but how about the health of the other passengers who would be exposed to the “polluted” air? Should gassy people be on the TSA’s No Fly list?

The authors of that particular study also suggest that airplane seat cushion should contain charcoal to help absorb and neutralize the smell. I would like this recommendation implemented.

What is the science behind fart? By the way, the term fart may not be decent to some, but it comes from the Old English “feortan” meaning “to break wind.”

Flatulence (that’s the medical term), is part of human living. We all fart. A normal person farts an average of more than 10 a day. Yes, women fart as often as men, they just may not be as proud of it. And for those who denies they fart, are either not telling the truth or not human.

Why do humans fart?

When we eat, drink or even when we clear our throat, we swallow tiny amounts of air which accumulates in our gut. When we digest the meal we ate, gas is also released from the breakdown of the food. As the gas builds up, the body may need to get rid of it. This we do by burping or by flatulence.


air release

The chemical makeup of the average fart is: 59% nitrogen, 21% hydrogen, 9% carbon dioxide, 7% methane and 4% oxygen which are all odorless. The gas that gives it a distinctive smell is hydrogen sulfide (sulfur) which is less than 1% of this released gas.

Many times, flatulence occurs and the person is unaware of it – there is no smell, and the amount is tiny. If food has not been digested properly, it starts to decompose or rot, releasing sulfur. Which can make it stinkier.

Foods that can cause flatulence are generally those high in certain polysaccharides. Examples of these are: beans (of course you know that already!), sweet potatoes (kamote), broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, radishes, and cauliflowers. Though we should not particularly avoid these foods for they are healthy and very nutritious.

Other food products that may cause flatulence are artificial sweeteners (sorbitol and mannitol), carbonated drinks, and fiber supplements. Chewing gums can cause flatulence not because of its content, but because you swallow more air when you chew gum.

There are also health conditions that predispose to flatulence, like lactose intolerance, celiac disease (intolerance to gluten), and other more serious chronic conditions like Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Laxatives and antibiotics can also cause flatulence. Antibiotics do so by upsetting the normal intestinal bacterial flora.

How about the sound of a fart? That particular sound that we playfully simulate in a whoopee cushion, is not from the fart itself, but from the noise generated by the flapping of the butt cheeks as the wind passes through.

Apparently we are not the only civilization to appreciate the sounds of flatulence. Roman Emperor Elagabulus was known to trick his royal guests with a primitive version of the whoopee cushion.

What should you do when you “accidentally” broke wind while you’re in a crowd?

One, you can own up to it and ask for pardon, and explain that you had bean burrito for lunch. Most likely they’ll let it pass, for all of us pass gas. Or you can act as if nothing had happened and keep everybody guessing who’s the culprit. Or lastly you can act surprised but annoyed, then look suspiciously to someone beside you, and let others think it’s somebody else not you.

But what can you do if someone beside you farted? Should you run away?

According to a study by AsapScience, using the kinetic theory of gases, it figures that the smell particles of a fart can travel 243 meters per second, which is a lot faster than any human or animal can move. So sorry folks, you cannot outrun a fart!

Do you have more questions on this subject? The answer my friends may be blowing in the wind.

(*photo from the web)




Smells Like Philippines

“Dad, you smell like the Philippines.” That was what my son told me the other morning.

It was the weekend and I did not have to go to work, so I was preparing breakfast. But I was  cooking omelet and not a typical Filipino dish, like the tapsilog, so I know that’s not it.

What is the “smell of the Philippines” anyway?

Most of us would associate the smell of the Philippines with the typical Filipino dishes. Like the adobo, or the kare-kare, or the tinola, or the lechon. Not to forget the more “smelly” foods that we Pinoys are known for, like the tuyo, the danggit, the pusit, and the bagoong.

Some of us would definitely remember the Philippines with the sweet scent of sampaguita, or the ilang-ilang, or the calachuchi, or the dama de noche. Or some would like the more exotic fragrance of the durian. That is for certain a pungent scent for not the faint of heart, or more accurately, for not the faint of “sikmura.”



For expats and oversea workers out there, maybe it is the distinctive smell of the palengke (wet market) of the Philippines that you miss. The mixture of odors of fish, fruits, stale water, pig’s blood, and mud. Or maybe it is the smell of Philippine traffic with the smog, the diesel fumes, cigarette smoke and body odor that you miss.

Since I now live in Iowa, a land lot in the midwest of America, where the nearest ocean is about a thousand miles away, I miss the smell of the ocean. Definitely I associate the salty air smell with somewhat fishy accent with my days in the Philippines and its gorgeous beaches.

By the way, do you ever wonder what gives the ocean its distinctive briny smell? Scientists said it is not mainly the salt nor the fish. It is mostly from the phytoplanktons. The what now? Phytoplanktons are marine microscopic organisms. When they die they release dimethyl sulfide or DMS, the chemical that is responsible for that specific ocean scent.

There’s also memories of certain scents that I associate particularly from the Philippines. Like the barber shops, with the whiff of rubbing alcohol, pomade, and Johnson baby powder. The hair salon that I go to here in the US, does not have that certain nostalgic smell that I used to know.

But there are also the smell of the Philippines, that maybe we are not proud of. Like the stench of the clogged canal and esteros, or the sad fate and smell of our slums and squatters, or the reeking pile of the uncollected garbage, and the stinky street corners and walls, even with “Bawal umihi dito!” written all over them.

Back to my son’s comment, I tried to figure out why he said I smell like the Philippines. Do I smell like tuyo? Or the wet market? Or the stinky walls of Manila? But I knew I just took a shower, and just put on clean clothes.

Then when I sniffed my shirt, it dawned on me that the shirt I was wearing was a shirt I have not worn since I came back from the Philippines a few months ago. So it was last washed in Manila, with the undeniable scent of hang-dried in the sun and Philippine laundry soap. It certainly smells like Philippines!

For expats like me, even the laundry, can remind us and make us long for home.

(*photo from the web)

Dreamy Ukulele

Last summer when we went home to the Philippines, a family gave us ukulele made from Cebu. Not just one, but two. They said one for each of my kids. Though they said I can borrow it too if I want to.

It is a known fact that Cebu is the center of guitar manufacturing in the Philippines, boasting  that among the best guitars not just nationally, but international as well, were made there. Cebu is known to be one of the finest crafters of ukulele too. Definitely we got two beautiful and good-sounding ukuleles.

I don’t know how to play the ukulele, but I believe it is simple enough to learn. I have played another 4-stringed instrument in the past, the violin, and I think ukulele is much easier to play than that. Or so I thought.

One of my favorite song that is played with the ukulele is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by the late Hawaiian singer Iz Kamakawiwo’ole. I just love his version of that song with the certain “island-feel,” the care-free strumming, and his dreamy rendition.

No wonder that is the first song I wanted to learn in the ukulele, in that distinct style. So after we got back from the Philippines last year, I searched on YouTube and watched some tutorials to learn it.

First thing to learn is the kind of strumming on this specific song. It is called “island strumming.” But for the life of me, I can’t get it. I guess I am not coordinated enough. My left hand can do the chords with not much hitch, but my right hand just cannot keep up with the right rhythm of the strumming.

Easy to learn huh? So I gave up.

I did not touch the ukulele again for several months until a few weeks ago.  My daughter’s music teacher said that it will be nice to have a number that will be different and special if in my daughter’s recital, I play the ukulele while she plays the cello. What song? “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” of course!

I took on the challenge. Besides my son will also play with us, playing the other ukulele. So he can carry me if in case I mess up, right?

So I practiced, and practiced some more. Soon I had my right hand perfecting the “island” strumming. I can transition between chords with ease. I can do it with my eyes closed. I can even do it in my sleep. Maybe not.


The day of the performance came.

As I was strumming on the ukulele, I tried to imagine that we were in a beautiful tropical island, under the swaying palm trees, with the warm breeze blowing, the waves softly lapping on the beach, and we’re lost in a care-free world somewhere over the rainbow.

Off course I got lost in my chords too, but my daughter and son played beautifully that nobody even noticed my slips.

(*photo taken by our friend)