Once Upon A Time

Not too long ago while walking at the mall, I was captivated by the music being played. You might ask, on what occasion does mall music captivating? Many times the music is just blaring and quite annoying.

Not in this store. Actually I was in a large department store that you would consider old-school, a holdover from the classic era, if you will. Though it is in the mall, this particular store has a quiet and serene environment. The music is calming and not loud. Most of the time it is provided by a grand piano in the center of the store, near the escalators. And they employ a live pianist to play the piano.

So when I heard the certain song being played, I was drawn to the place where the piano was, to see the musician who was providing the music. Though I was not familiar with the tune, somehow it stroke a nostalgic chord.

When I came down the escalators, I was surprised when I saw the pianist.

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He was a bit older than what I was expecting. He was perhaps in his late 70’s or even 80’s. His mobility was not very good anymore, as substantiated by the presence of a walker beside the piano. Yet the dexterity of his fingers were still impeccable. And the emotion in his playing was still very much palpable.

I was enthralled that I had to sit down on one of the sofas near the piano so I can watch him a little longer. He has no notes or music piece that he was reading. He was playing by memory with his eyes closed. Perhaps he has played this song so many times, that he’s performing it all by finger or muscle memory. Yet I can feel the deep sentiments on those fingers as it runs through the piano keys.

Maybe he was reminiscing the good ole days. Maybe he was reliving bygone happy moments. Or maybe he was lamenting a lost Valentine’s.

What was the song? I didn’t know, so I asked him after he finished playing.

He answered, “Once Upon A Time.”

Such an appropriate piece.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

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“Once Upon a Time” is a song composed by Charles Strouse, with lyrics by Lee Adams, from the 1962 musical All American. It has been sung by Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan among others.

Here’s a version by Alex Bird (taken from YouTube):

 

For all the lovers out there, including those who loved and lost, and who loved once upon a time, may you have a memorable Valentine’s.

Ang Tandang at si Uncle Tom

Ako ay may tiyuhin na Amerikano. Siya si Uncle Tom.

Tatlong dekada na ang nakalipas nang isa sa aking mga tiyahin ay nagka-penpal ng isang Amerikano. Uso pa noon ang ballpen, magsulat sa papel, at maghulog ng sulat. Matagal-tagal din silang nagkasulatan, at dumating sa yugto na gusto nilang magkita. Wala pang Facebook at FaceTime noon, kaya’t nag-planong lumipad papuntang Pilipinas ang Amerikanong penpal ng aking tiyahin.

Dahil kami ay may bahay naman sa Maynila, at para na rin tuluyang makaliskisan, este makilatis pala ang ibig kong sabihin, ang kanyang penpal, kaya pinakiusap ng aking tita na sa bahay na namin tumuloy ang Amerikano.

Itanggi man natin o hindi, marami pa rin sa atin ang nagnanais na makakilala ng isang banyaga, at mapangasawa ito. Dahil sa isip natin ito ang ating magiging pasaporte para lumisan ng bansa. At kung tayo ay medyo tag-hirap, ito ang ating pagkakataong umunlad at makaahon sa buhay. Darating kaya ang panahon na ang mga Pilipino ay hindi na mangangarap na umalis ng bansa?

Kaya nang dadalaw na ang Amerikano, hindi kami magkandaugaga sa aming paghahanda sa kanyang pagdating. Para kaming naghanda sa isang official state visit, gaya nang dumalaw si President Trump sa Pilipinas. Kulang na lang ay umarkila kami ng banda ng mga musikero at magpa-piyesta sa aming kalye sa pagsalubong sa kanya.

Lumuwas pa ng Maynila ang aming lola mula sa probinsiya at nagdala ito ng mga buhay na manok, para raw ipanghanda sa Amerikano naming bisita. Siyempre, mas masarap pa rin daw ang lasa ng native at free-range na manok. Organic pa at siguradong hindi sinaksakan ng growth hormone at antibiotic.

Isa naman sa aking tiyuhin ang sumundo mula sa airport. Hindi na ako sumama dahil puno na ang sasakyan at baka wala pang maupuan ang aming bisita. Pagkasundo sa airport, ay sa bahay na namin sa Sampaloc Manila tumuloy ang Amerikano.

Sa aking silid pinatulog ang bisita. Malaking tao pala itong Amerikano. Hindi ko alam kung paano siya nagkasya o kung naging kumportable siya sa aking munting katre. Aaminin ko medyo masikip ang aking silid, pang-Petite (Palito?) size lang ito at hindi pang-Jumbo size. Hindi ko rin alam kung naglagkit sa init ang aming bisita, dahil wala naman kaming air conditioner. Pero may bintana naman at bentilador ang aking kuwarto.

Kahit payak ang aming bahay at masikip ang aking kuwarto, ay siguro naman ay lumutang pa rin ang aming pagiging hospitable sa aming panauhin. Kung tutuusin hindi lang ang Amerikanong penpal ng tiyahin ko ang banyagang natulog sa aking munting silid. Minsan ay nagkabisita kami ng galing Papua New Guinea na tumuloy din sa aking kuwarto. Marami ring kaming mga bisitang lokal ang nanuluyan dito. Kaya puti, itim, o kayumanggi – walang kinikilingan ang aking silid.

Balikan natin ang mga manok na dala ng aking lola. Isa dito ay puting tandang, pero hindi ito pang-sabong. Dahil hindi lahat ng manok ay ihahain kaagad, kaya’t ang iba ay hinayaan munang buhay. Kasama dito ang tandang na itinali sa veranda ng aming bahay.

Unang gabi ng aming bisita, maaring pagod na pagod sa biyahe ang Amerikano, at may jet-lag pa, kaya hahayaan lang sana namin siyang matulog kahit tanghaliin pa siya ng gising. Subalit may ibang balak ang puting tandang.

Bago pa magbukang liwayway o maaninag ang liwanag ng umaga, at bago pa magsipag-byahe ang mga traysikel ay simula nang tumilaok ang puting tandang. Walang patid at masigabo sa pagtilaok ang pesteng manok. Pumwesto pa ito malapit sa bintana ng aking kuwarto.

Hindi nagtagal ay nagising ang aming bisitang Amerikano. Galit at mainit ang ulo nito. Masama ang pagkakagising. Sino nga bang hindi mauunsiyame kung mabulabog ka sa iyong mahimbing na pagkakatulog.

Paglabas niya sa kuwarto, ay ako ang kanyang nasalubong. Sabi niya sa akin: “Where is that #&*@^! rooster, I’ll wring it’s neck!”

Sa halip na sa ilang araw pa sana kakatayin ang pobreng tandang, noong araw rin na iyon, naging tangahalian na namin ito. Nahimasmasan naman ang init ng ulo at natuwa pa ang aming panauhing pandangal, nang matikman niya ang masarap na luto na inihain namin sa kanya. Tinolang manok!

Nang malaon na ay nagkaigihan naman ang aking tita at ang kanyang penpal. Sila ay nagkataluyang magpakasal, at siya ay naging aking Uncle Tom. Hindi na nagtagal pa ay nakalipad na rin ang aking tita papuntang Amerika.

Maaring sabihin na dahil kay Uncle Tom, ay naging masuwerte ang aking tiyahin dahil siya’y nakarating ng Estados Unidos. Kahit man ako ay nabiyayaan din, dahil ang tiyahin kong ito ang isa sa tumulong sa akin sa pinansiyal nang ako’y nag-a-apply na papuntang Amerika para sa aking Medical Residency Training. Dahil sa ako’y natanggap sa isang academic hospital para mag-training, ito naman ang naging daan para ako’y makapangibang-bayan.

Noong nakaraang Pasko, maliban sa aking pagtawag sa mga kamag-anak sa Pilipinas, ay tinawagan ko rin ang aking tiyahing ito na naninirahan na sa California. Siya ang pinakamalapit kong kamag-anak dito sa Amerika. Ang California ay mahigit na tatlong oras na biyahe sa eroplano o dalawang araw na drive mula sa amin dito sa Iowa.

Sa pag-uusap namin ng aking tita ay nabanggit niya na medyo lumulubha na raw ang kalagayan ni Uncle Tom at nagiging makakalimutin na rin ito. Sa katunayan, may mga ilang taon nang may sakit si Uncle Tom. Salamat na lang kay tita na tunay na nagmamahal sa kanya, at hindi niya ito pinababayaan. Isa pa, dahil nurse ang aking tiyahin, naaalagaang lubos si Uncle Tom.

Sa aking tingin at palagay, kung naging masuwerte ang aking tiyahin, mas naging masuwerte si Uncle Tom dahil nakilala niya ang aking tita at ang aming pamilya. At hindi lang ito dahil sa nakakain siya ng tinolang manok.

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(*photo taken during our last visit to the Philippines)

Looking for Falling Stars

Last summer, we learned that there would be a great opportunity to see meteors in our area. That is if we would look at the right time and at the right direction. And provided that we would have a clear sky.

The event is the Perseid meteor shower, a stream of debris associated with the Swift-Tuttle comet. This is an annual event, and they said that in a clear night sky you can potentially see 100 falling stars in an hour. A hundred falling stars in an hour? That’s a proposition that was just too hard to resist.

Even though I spent half of my life in Manila (can’t see much stars in a big city), I have seen meteors several times in the past. The first time was when I was in grade school during our school’s camping in Batangas. The last time was not too long ago when I was driving home one night here in Iowa and it streaked down the sky. Perhaps I am lucky to see falling stars a few times, or perhaps I’m just looking at the night sky an awful lot of times.

My wife who have not seen a falling star ever, except maybe Kris Aquino falling off the stage on live TV some decades ago, so she was really determined to see this event.

So one night last August, we went outside to watch for falling stars.

We live in a country side, which was a decision we made years ago, where our dark night sky still shows the stars shining brightly and not blurred by the city lights. However in the past 13 years we have lived out here, the city has been creeping closer and closer to us. The cornfields and open prairies that we used to pass by is steadily being gobbled up by construction of housing developments and commercial establishments. I am not sure if I would like to call that “progress.”

It was close to 11 o’clock at night when we went out, a time that ordinarily I would already be snoring. We stood in our deck and looked out in our backyard sky towards northeast, the direction we read it would be. After close to half an hour outside, we still have not seen any falling stars. Not even a single one! And they promised 100 stars an hour?

We were also getting cold, for even though it was summer, it was seasonably cooler than usual that night. Our necks were getting strained as well from looking up. We should have placed a mat in our lawn and lay there under the stars with our blankets. At least we would be comfortable while we eagerly wait and while we listen to the ‘sweet nothing’ whispers in our ears. I’m referring to the pesky mosquitoes buzzing around our heads.

After a long while, as I was looking at the sky in the direction we thought the meteors would appear, I believed I saw a light streaked in my peripheral field of vision. So I told my wife that perhaps we were looking at the wrong direction. So we trained our gaze to a different direction in the sky.

Sure enough, in less than a minute, we saw a bright star flashed across the sky and disappeared in the dark. Not much later, another one did. And another one.

Isn’t it like many times in life, what we’re searching for has been there all along, we just have not realized it, or we just have not looked the right way. Like your lost keys. Or the love that you’re waiting for. Or the happiness that you’re chasing.

Satisfied, my wife suggested that we can go back inside the house, knowing also that the right direction where we can look was in the full view of our bedroom window. So we pulled out a sleeping mat and placed it near the window, and there we laid for the night instead of our bed, and watch for more shooting stars.

They said that you should make a wish when you see a shooting star. Of course I did. That wish was already been granted: lying down here beside me.

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Happy Anniversary my dear. It has been 23 years of happy moments and fulfilled wishes.

(*photo taken in Mohonk Mountain House, New York)

 

Don’t Lose Your Head

Perhaps you’ve heard of the advice that goes something like this: Be careful, or you’re gonna lose your head.

For some creatures, apparently this warning should be taken literally.

One morning last week, while I was working at our clinic, I noticed a praying mantis resting on our glass window. Our office room is one huge room that I share with my other partners.

One doctor partner of mine also saw the praying mantis and nonchalantly said that female praying mantis sometimes chomp off the head and eat their male partner after they mate or even while they are mating.

What?!!

I don’t think I heard that fact before. Maybe I was absent that day or missed that lesson during my biology class in high school and college. I know some creatures cannibalize their mates. The most notorious perhaps is the black widow spider, that’s why they are named such.

Other creatures that kill their mate after copulation includes the jumping spider, some scorpions, and some octopus. You probably have heard the song, “Love Hurts” by the rock band Nazareth. But for these creatures, love kills!

Our office secretary also overheard our conversation, and started ‘googleling’ some facts and videos about praying mantis.

I learned that mantids (plural of mantis) have 2 large eyes and 3 smaller ones and have stereo-vision. They can also rotate their head 180 degrees, enabling them to scan their whole surrounding. But maybe that’s the reason they are decapitated by their female mate, so they won’t look around anymore for another mate.

By the way, they are called “praying” mantis, because they have a stance that their front legs are folded like they are praying. The word “mantis” in Greek means prophet or seer. But don’t be fooled with this angelic pose, for they are deadly predators, preying on smaller insects. Bigger mantis can even prey on lizards, frogs, and birds. Yes, they prey even on their mates! They should be called “preying” mantis.

Such an opposite meaning between praying and preying. Do we sometimes give a different impression than who we really are? Do we hide horns underneath the halo? Maybe those mantids are just praying before they prey on their meal.

So back to my story, after hearing more facts from our secretary, courtesy of Dr. Google, we wondered whether the mantis on our window is a male or a female. Doctors can be very inquisitive, you know.

We learned that differentiating a male from a female praying mantis is quite simple. A male mantis has 8 abdominal segments, while the female has only 6.

So we looked closely on the praying mantis on our window whose belly is very visible to us. We determined that it is a male.

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praying mantis on our window

Doctors can determine the sex of the fetus or an unborn baby by looking at ultrasound images. They can determine the sex of a skeletal remains by anthropometric measures and bone features. They can even determine the sex where a tissue sample came from by doing genetic testing. But in our case, we also determined the sex of a praying mantis by simply looking at its belly.

After learning all these, we said to the mantis, “Be careful buddy, or you’re gonna lose your head.”

I guess, the warning applies to humans too, especially for the young ones. Many times we lose our head, in a sense that when the ‘love bug’ bit us, we lose our mind and we abandon our thinking brain, as we behave and act against all reasoning.

As Francisco Balagtas, a Filipino poet wrote long time ago in his work Florante at Laura:

O pag-ibig na makapangyarihan, pag pumasok sa puso nino man, hahamakin ang lahat masunod ka lamang.

(Love, all-powerful thou art, when you enter anyone’s heart, all will be abandoned, just to follow thy path.)

To all lovers out there, not just for the mantids, please keep your head.

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(*English interpretation of the excerpt from Florante and Laura is my own translation.)

 

Hamog

Parang kumot na sumusuklob sa damong giniginaw,

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O balabal na bumabalot sa paligid kong tanaw,

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At parang kurtinang tumatabing sa araw na sumisilaw,

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Ang mga ulap na humahalik sa lupa at nanliligaw,

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Gaya ng pag-ibig na tila hamog sa pusong nauuhaw.

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(*photos taken with an iPhone during my morning run)

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Post Note: since a reader asked, here’s the English translation for my non-Filipino readers and followers:

Dew
Like a blanket that covers the shivering grass,
Or a heavy cloak that the surrounding it wraps,
Or like a curtain that veils the sun’s glare,
Are the clouds that court and kiss the earth,
Just like love is like the dew to hearts that thirst.

 

Bulaklak ay Nalalaglag

 

Pansit ay napapanis,

Hopia ay inaamag,

Alahas ay kinakalawang,

Maganda ay nalolosyang,

Katanyaga’y nabibilasa,

Lakas ay humuhupa,

Awit ay napapaos,

Kuwento ay natatapos.

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Bulaklak ay nalalaglag,

Ngiti ay lumalayas,

Tangkay ay yumuyuko,

Damdamin ay natutuyo,

Araw ay lumulubog,

Hininga’y nauubos,

Panaho’y lumilipas,

Pag-ibig ma’y kumukupas.

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(*photo taken and edited with and iPhone)

 

Gintong Singsing

Ako’y isang magarang gintong singsing,

Mula sa Escoltang mamahalin,

At isang araw ako’y pinili,

Ng isang binatang masalapi.

 

Sa simbahan ako’y iminarcha,

Bitbit ng batang naka-Amerikana,

Inihatid sa harap ng dambana,

Isinuot kasabay ng pagsumpa.

 

Lumipas ang maraming mga araw,

Yaring pag-ibig hindi pala tunay,

Ako’y hinubad at kinalimutan,

Tambunting naging aking hantungan.

Tuyo Na’ng Damdamin

Habang ako’y bumibiyahe patungo sa aming outreach clinic noong isang araw, na isa’t kalahating oras ang layo sa aming siyudad, ako nama’y nagsa-soundtrip ng mga kantang Pilipino na aking kinagisnan (OPM Classics).

Habang tumatahak ako sa kalagitnaan ng mga bukid at parang, ang aking sasakyan ay tumatakbo ng siyento-bente kilometro kada ora, ngunit ang aking isipan ay lumilipad ng dos syentos kada ora.

Sumalang naman ang kantang “Tuyo Na’ng Damdamin” na orihinal na inawit ng APO Hiking Society. Ni-remake din ito ng Silent Sanctuary at ni Noel Cabangon.

“Minsan kahit na pilitin mong uminit ang damdamin
Di siya susunod, at di maglalambing
Minsan di mo na mapigil mapansin
Na talagang wala nang naiiwan na pagmamahal.”

Habang ako’y nagmumuni-muni sa lumang awit na ito, ay nakakalungkot lamang isipin, na maaring humantong pala sa ganito ang isang relasyon. Wala ng init. Wala ng paglalambing.

“At kahit na anong gawin
Di mo na mapilit at madaya
Aminin sa sarili mo
Na wala ka nang mabubuga.”

Wala nang maibubuga? Isa lamang masakit na katotohanan ng buhay. Lahat kaya ng bagay dito sa mundo ay may hangganan? Wala ba talagang forever?

“Parang isang kandila na nagdadala
Ng ilaw at liwanag
Nauubos rin sa magdamag.”

Upos na kandila? Hindi ko alam kung ano ang dahilan kung bakit isinulat ito ni Jim Paredes, o para kanino, o anong tunay niyang tinutukoy. Pero may alam akong makabagong paraan ngayon para makaangkop sa ganitong masaklap na kalagayan. Marahil wala pa nito noon nang isulat ang awiting ito.

“Di na madaig o mabalik ang dating matamis na kahapon
Pilitin ma’y tuyo na’ng damdamin.”

Kaibigan, huwag kang nang malungkot. Mayroon ng Viagra!

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(My APOlogies to APO if I totally misunderstood and misinterpret the song.)