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.)

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)

Old Stomping Ground

In my last post, I already alluded that I went back to New York last weekend. Besides attending a program in honor of a retiring beloved Pastor, this trip also gave me the opportunity to visit my old stomping ground.

When we were in New York about two decades ago, we lived in “the Hamptons.” But before you think of that exclusive and ritzy place in Long Island for the rich and famous, I don’t mean that.

This is the Hampton I meant – Hampton Street in Queens, New York.

We lived in one of these apartment complexes.

My wife and I also visited “Ihawan,” one of the several Filipino restaurants in the neighborhood where we used to frequent before. We had a hearty (as in heart-attack risk?) breakfast here.

After breakfast, we walked to the hospital where I did part of my medical training. I even went inside and check out the place. There was much changes here since the time I left.

Then we hopped on the number 7 train of the New York City Metro. This line of train is on the top of the street instead of being underground, at least in this part of town.

We rode the train and boarded off here, the Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

People here are always rushing, and time seems to be incessantly fleeting in this place. Except for us now, as we had time to kill and just relax.

We then walked through New York City midtown and end up in Bryant Park. We were also in this place last December where our kids went ice skating. This place looks very different in the summer as instead of an ice skating rink, there is lawn grass.

We just sat down here and did some people watching. There were even some ballet dancers practicing at the park.

Then we headed down to Time Square area as we wanted to see a “new” establishment there. We heard it opened in October of last year. Was it an earth-shaking institution or such an epic landmark that it forever altered the face of Time Square? I don’t know, you tell me.

Perhaps we were just hankering for that certain taste of home. We were greeted inside by this happy guy.

That sums up our short visit to the city. Until next time…….

From New York City,

Pinoytransplant

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(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

Follow the Sunflower

A couple of weeks ago, when we were coming home from a week-long international camporee, we happen to drove by a sunflower farm here in Iowa. We were unaware that there’s a sunflower field here. Since we were all tired from the camping, we did not go down to check it out, but promised ourselves that we’ll come back and visit it some other time.

Last Friday, after we helped our daughter get settled back to her dorm, we trekked down to the sunflower farm, which was less than an hour drive from our daughter’s university.

When we arrived at the field, we were a little disappointed, as the condition of the sunflowers has passed its peak. Summer after all, is almost ending and plus the heavy rains earlier in the week did a number on the sunflowers. In fact some of the sunflowers had already fallen to the ground.

Since the state of the farm was not that picture perfect anymore, the $3 entrance fee had been waived, and instead a box for voluntary donation at the gate was placed. It was also free to take some flowers home.

I have to say though that overall, peak or past their peak, the sunflowers were still a beauty to behold.

I noticed something peculiar as well. I always heard that sunflowers always face and follow the sun from sunrise to sunset. This phenomenon is called heliotropism. However in this field the flowerheads were actually turned away from the sun as they were facing east, though the sun was already starting to descend in the west. Why?

I asked one of the farm attendant and she told us that young sunflowers follow the sun across the sky, but when the plant mature, the stalks become stiff already so they lost their ability to turn. So the mature sunflowers face east permanently the rest of their days.

Isn’t that like people? When we were young, we were impressionable and we follow rules without questions. But when we get old, we become “stiff neck” and become pasaway (hardheaded).

Speaking of pasaway, here’s one:

watering the sunflowers

Don’t worry, I did not really “water” the sunflowers. It was all for photo effects.

For some reason while I was on this field, I had this certain Beatles song playing in my head. Maybe because I know that the sunflowers follow the sun:

One day, you’ll find
That I have gone
But tomorrow may rain, so
I’ll follow the sun
Yeah tomorrow may rain, so
I’ll follow the sun.

From the sunflower field of Iowa,

Pinoytransplant

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

The Unconquered Hill

There are places that are hard to conquer because of their natural physical barrier. Like the Masada in Israel, a fortress on top of a rock plateau 1400-feet high. This was the last foothold of the Jews against the Romans. Or the Maeda escarpment, which is a 350-foot high ridge in the island of Okinawa, Japan. The Americans lost hundreds of lives trying to capture this place, a story featured in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.

But I am not really going to talk about battles or wars today. The unconquered hill that I was alluding to was a hill in a bike route. Yes, no shedding of blood here, only sweat for it’s just a bike ride.

I participated in the RAGBRAI*, which is a popular annual week-long bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. This was my second time to join this event.

Before you really get amazed on my undertaking, I want to let you know that I only rode for one day, and not for the whole week. And I chose the day with the shortest route too, which was only 40 miles. I say only 40 miles, because on the other days, the course ranges from 60 to 88 miles.

see my shadow taking photo?

I did not train much for this bike ride. Since I run at least 2-3 times a week and can run 3 miles comfortably, plus knowing that I have finished several half-marathons in the past, I was confident that biking 40 miles should not be a problem at all. After all, I am reasonably fit, right?

When I run for the half-marathon, I usually train for at least 2 months. But the only preparation I did for this bike ride was I performed a 5-mile exercise in a stationary bike at a gym a week before, and I rode a 10-mile road test 2 days before the real event.

That was a mistake.

My cardiopulmonary function may be alright, and my determination is like titanium, but I overlook one thing. Riding a bike uses a different set of muscles than running.

So on one of the steep uphill climb, I felt my quadriceps muscles cramping and almost giving out. They were not trained to pound on the pedal for that long. As you probably know, running uses more of the hamstrings and calf muscles, not so much in cycling.

We stopped for a while after that grueling hill, and sat at the side of the road to give my cramping quad muscles a break. This bike-ride is not a race anyway. You can do it at your own pace, and can stop several times if you want. In fact, stopping to sample the foods being sold along the way and hanging out in the small towns we passed through was encouraged.

bikers and bikes taking a break

I made it through the 40 miles ride in one piece, and without keeling over. No bruises, no fractures. Only fractured confidence.

On the bike course of that day, the last leg was a couple of hills. I don’t know why they chose a steep hill for a finish after already pedaling 40 miles and passing so many hills. But since we were already within the vicinity of what was considered the end of the route, we skipped the last hill climb and called it a day.

the last hill of the course

We then phoned for our ride to fetch us at the street before the last hill – the last unconquered hill.

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(*RAGBRAI- Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa; photos taken with an iPhone)

Columns of History

Pompeii is an ancient Roman city near the modern day Naples in southern Italy. On that fateful moment in AD 79, it was suddenly buried in 4 to 6 meters of volcanic ash and debris during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

The city remained frozen in time, concealed under ash and rocks until it was discovered by surveying engineer in 1748. With methodical excavation, evidence of a once thriving city was unearthed.

When we visited Pompeii several weeks ago, we were able to witness the ruins, as well as take a peek at a slice of ancient Roman life.

Photo below is one of the main streets, where horse-drawn carriages or chariots pass through. It is amazing how the stone-paved road is in very good condition.

Though the pedestrians, experts believe, walk on the sidewalk and use the step-stones (big stones in the middle of the road) to cross to the other side of the road. The reason why pedestrians don’t walk in the stone-paved road was that most of the time runoff water was flowing in the road as part of their water drainage system. Plus, sewage from homes also stream through it, and you definitely don’t want to step on that.

Below is an entry way to a well-to-do home. I was impressed on the intricacy of the mosaic art on the floor.

Here is a courtyard garden inside the largest home on the block. It was believed that this residence was owned by a prominent Roman of the ruling class.

Below is an ancient eatery or food vendor, perhaps like the modern day McDonald’s or your local carinderia. The holes in the ‘counter’ are where the pots or vessels containing food were kept warm by a fire underneath.

Here is their theater (next photo) where they watch plays and concerts. I wonder what shows they have then. Maybe “The Three Roman Tenors?” Or perhaps “The Phantom of the Colosseum?”

The Romans also have public bath houses. The photo below, believe it or not, is a sauna room. A wood-burning furnace outside sends warm air under the raised floor to heat the room.

Next is a sample of their wall art. Much nicer than the modern day graffiti, I would say.

They also have some sort of sports complex. The facility below is a training ground for gladiators.

Below is Pompeii’s town plaza. At the backdrop is Mount Vesuvius, which is considered an active volcano up to this day, though the last time it erupted was in 1944.

As we walked around the ruins, I have noticed that there were lots and lots of pillars.

I supposed these columns that are still standing today, are testaments of a once proud and prosperous city, and what it stood for. Sorry, pun intended.

From Pompeii (while leaning on a pillar),

Pinoytransplant

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Summer Colors

Summer has arrived as temperature in our neck of the woods is now climbing consistently into the 80’s Fahrenheit. Though the official start of summer, which is the summer’s solstice – the longest day of the year, is not until tomorrow. I am sure our mercury will rise above 90’s F (above 32 C) or even in the 100’s F (37.5 C and above) in the days to come.

Here are some of the summer colors I captured in the past week:

The first photo was taken in downtown Kansas City, when we made a stopover here on our way to visit our son who is working for two months in a summer camp in Missouri.

The next photo was taken in the downtown Botanical Garden here in Des Moines when we checked it out a few days ago.

My wife also got new planters and have started planting annual flowers that hopefully will not just last for the dog days of summer but late until the cold winter wind blows. Here are some flowers in our deck:

The photo below was taken two days ago when I drove down to southern Iowa for our outreach clinic. As you can see, even a summer’s day can become foggy, dull, and gloomy.

However. even if the day gets gray, there is still a possibility of beautiful colors shining through. And that is true in all aspects of our life. Photo below was taken from our front porch:

I am wishing you all a fun, delightful, and colorful summer.

(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

Taste of Italy

Italian cuisine is one of the best among the world’s cuisine. It is one of the most popular and most copied type of food as well. And where can you find the best authentic Italian food? In Italy of course!

When we visited Italy last month, we covered most of the country, from the northern region, with cities like Milan and Venice, to the central region which is Tuscany, including the cities of Pisa and Florence, and to the southern region, in Rome and even down to the Amalfi coast.

Amalfi coast (photo taken with an iPhone)

By the way, we avail the services of JDC Private Tours when we were in Italy, that’s why we were able to visit so many places and packed so many activities in such a short period of time. I was more than happy and have only compliments of their business.

Part of our trip of course was sampling authentic Italian food. Their cuisine is known for its regional diversity, especially between the north and south of the Italian peninsula.

Overall, the Italian foods that we ate, from the ‘street’ and on-the-go food to the long sit-down fine dining with 5-course dinner, (one evening we’re treated out by a friend from Rome and we ate dinner for almost 2 hours!), and from the appetizer like bruschetta, to the dessert like tiramisu, were all very good. It was really a delightful gastronomical experience.

Here in the United States, when we talked about Italian food, we think mostly of pizza and pasta. However, many of the “Italian” food we have here are somewhat modified to cater to the American taste.

For instance, when we went to one local restaurant in Rome, there was a note in their menu that says, “we don’t serve spaghetti with meatballs, fettucini alfredo, and lasagna.” That was interesting. Perhaps that’s all the American tourists order, and to the locals those were not even really authentic Italian dishes.

To say that Italy have many kinds of pasta, is an understatement. After all it is the mecca of pasta. But one thing peculiar is all their pasta are served “al dente.” Meaning it is really firm, teetering to raw, that you have to bite and chew it before you can swallow.

Leaning Tower of Pizza…….I mean Pisa

Another thing is that the Italian pizza is not served pre-sliced. They give it to you as a whole piece, fresh from the wood-burning oven, and they give a fork and a knife for you to slice it yourself. I heard that when they first introduced pizza in New York City long long time ago, somebody had the bright idea of serving it by the slice and made more money from it. Since then pizza in the US is served pre-sliced.

In one restaurant we went to in northern Italy, I was impressed on how many types of sauce or variation they have for pizza. The menu had 3 pages just for pizza! And Hawaiian pizza? That’s not even in the menu, because as you can surmise, that’s an American version of an Italian dish.

As a Filipino who grew up in Manila, I also have a different concept of an Italian dish. My favorite is the Greenwich pizza, which I understand is a Filipino brand of pizzeria. Furthermore, I used to think that spaghetti always have a sweet-tasting sauce, just like how my mother prepares it, which is close to the taste of spaghetti in Jollibee, the largest Filipino chain of fast-food restaurants.

When I migrated to America more than 20 years ago, the first time we dined in an “authentic” Italian Restaurant in New Jersey named Trattoria, I was a little surprised that the spaghetti tasted “sour.” In fact me and my wife looked at each other and said to ourselves, maybe the sauce was spoiled as it tasted different. That was an ignoramus moment for us.

Back to our tour of Italy, we landed in Milan airport and stayed in Milan for two nights. On our first day, we were so tired and jet-lagged that my son and daughter went to sleep without having dinner. But my wife and I, despite being tired, felt the hunger pangs and so we went out to eat.

view from our hotel room in Milan

Since we were in the heart of the city of Milan, there were several decent restaurants around our hotel. In fact in our hotel itself was a good ‘ristorante,’ but my wife and I wanted to explore the city. And lo and behold, just walking two blocks from where we were staying, we found what we were looking for.

We were excited as we enter the restaurant. Then we ordered our very first meal in Italy. I understand that you cannot go wrong if you order pasta in Italy, and that’s what I did. I ordered spaghetti. And when I tasted the spaghetti, it was all what I envisioned. It was good.

In case you are wondering what restaurant we went to for our first Italian dinner?

It was Jollibee!

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(*Jollibee opened in Milan last year, and was the first ever Jollibee branch and only one so far in Europe.)

When in Rome

When in Rome…..

Do as the Romans do…..

You strike a pose!

By the way, the last above photo is at the Vatican, and is not the Star Wars’ Death Star.

I think my modeling was kind of boring. Maybe I should have assumed a more gallant stance like this…..

Or perhaps I should have taken a more dramatic pose like this…..

On second thought, I don’t suppose I should shed off my clothes, so I’ll pass.

Posing from Rome,

Pinoytransplant

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(*All photos taken with an iPhone; credits to my unofficial photographer.)

Flying the Roads of Tuscany

When we talk about Italy’s countryside what comes to mind are the picturesque rolling hills and bountiful vineyards of Tuscany.

And there’s no better way to tour this scenic place than the iconic Italian way – riding the Vespa or the Fiat. Well, you could do it too with a Ferrari convertible but that would cost you an arm and a leg.

During our visit to Italy we did the Tuscany Vespa Tour. (This is not a sponsored article though I would gladly accept even a free pizza if they offer.) Some of us rode the Vespa scooter while some of us rode the classic small Fiat car. I did the Vespa.

We picked up the Vespa and the Fiat from the tour’s office parking lot. After a brief tutorial, as I have not ridden a motorcycle since more than 25 years ago, I became more comfortable of riding it. I was at least confident that I would still be alive after the tour.

Then off we go!

Our first stop was at a local vineyard.

After parking our motorcycles and cars, we toured the place which includes wine tasting. I am not really into wine, but they had prepared free pasta lunch too, so I was more than happy. Plus I don’t think indulging in wine and riding a motorcycle afterwards was a good idea.

I even saw a black cat at the winery. Was it a bad omen? Should we not continue on our trip? Nah!

After the vineyard tour, we were back on the road again.

Our next stop was a quaint town. We parked our vehicles and walked around the small town. Here we tasted free samples of truffle spreads, different kinds of cheese, and balsalmic vinegar offered in the local stores. Their balsalmic vinegar tastes good that it rivals the sukang Iloco (being a half-bred Ilocano, I’m still biased for the sukang Iloco).

After hitting the road again, our last stop was an old fortress. Its medieval courtyard was transformed into shops and eateries. There were no sword-wielding knights nor jousting tournament though. The closest we had to a battle were tourists jostling to buy the ever popular Italian gelato. Of course we had some too.

Overall, it was a really fun ride. You may think that this small scooter is under power, but it is not. Yes it is not as muscular as the Harley-Davidson, but this Vespa Sprint model with its 125 cc cylinder can still fly through the Tuscan hills.

It was a swell experience to fly the Tuscan roads with the sunlight on my eyes, wind on my hair (even though I don’t have much) and bugs in my face. Wait…..what?

Actually “flying” has a double meaning here, as this includes the flying insects that may hit your face as you zoom through the hills. I must be in a state of exhilaration with my mouth wide open that one insect hit my teeth. Good thing I was able to spit it out.

Italian bug tasting? Not included in this tour.

From the roads of Tuscany,

Pinoytransplant

(*All photos taken with an iPhone. Thanks to my unofficial photographers who took some of the pictures. A shout out to JDC Private Tours, who made our tour of Italy such a pleasant experience.)