A Taste of Home

There are certain things that can evoke strong feelings of homesickness for Filipino expatriates like me. For some it may be witnessing the Manila sunset at Manila Bay. For others it could be the traditional Filipino foods. Maybe for some it is the “fragrant” smell of the kanal and estero (kanya-kanyang trip lang yan).

Last week, I ate some traditional Fililipino food and saw Manila sunset. Manila Sunset Grille, that is!

Manila Sunset Grille is a Filipino restaurant chain with branches mostly in California. I wish they would expand here to the Midwest. Maybe in Iowa?

I flew to California and spent a week there to assist my aunt who underwent cataract surgery. She did not really needed much assistance, except that she was unable to drive for a few days. Driving her around was not a big deal, except that her car is a stick shift sports sedan and I have not driven a stick shift for more than 20 years. But I managed.

It did not stop me either when she suggested that we go and eat at the Manila Sunset Grille even though it was quite a drive through heavy traffic and busy freeways. Stick shift and all, I was determined to go.

Below is what I ordered:

I know, lumpiang sariwa, bibingka and halo-halo may not necessarily go together, but that’s what I have not tasted for a while.

And while I was savoring these food, Jose Mari Chan’s songs were playing over head which adds more to the nostalgic feel. One particular song that stroke a chord was “Christmas in Our Hearts.”

Perhaps it was more than the traditional home food and the Manila sunset that I was really missing. And it’s definitely not the kanal and estero.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Tampisaw

Noong isang umaga, ako’y nagising sa dagundong ng kulog at kalaskas ng bumubuhos na ulan. Balak ko sanang tumakbo noong umagang iyon pero dahil sa malakas na ulan, ako’y nagbatu-batugan at nagbabad na lang sa higaan. Utak ko nama’y nagtampisaw sa mga alaala ng nakaraang mga tag-ulan – mga alaala na matagal nang nakasampay ngunit parang basa at sariwa pa rin sa isipan.

Nagliwaliw ang aking isip noong ako’y maliit na bata pa. Gaya ng maraming bata batuta, ako’y mahilig maglaro sa ulan lalo na kapag maalinsangan. Kahit pa sabihing baka raw sipunin, o magkapulmonya, o kaya’y mapasma, ay hindi namin alintana, dahil sa musmos naming isip, masarap maligo sa ulan. Kung hindi pipigilan ay lagi kaming susugod sa ulan.

Nagbabakasyon kami palabas ng Maynila tuwing buwan ng Mayo noon. Mga dalawang linggo rin kaming lumalagi sa Ilokos Norte, ang probinsiyang pinagmulan ng aking nanay.

Isang araw habang kami ay nagbabakasyon, ay umulan nang todo-todo. Kami, kasama ko ang aking mga pinsan, ay pinayagang maligo sa ulan. Masaya kaming naghabulan sa kalsadang graba, habang umaagos ang malalaking kanal na ang tubig ay malinaw, hindi gaya ng tubig kanal ng Maynila. Dahil mala-batis ang linis ng tubig sa kanal, sinasalok pa namin ito ng tabo, tapos itataob namin ang tabo na may lamang tubig sa aming ulo, habang kami’y sumasayaw at tumatalon-talon sa ulan. Akala ninyo palaka lang ang masaya kapag umuulan?

Pinupulot din namin ang mga nalalaglag na kamachile dahil sa lakas ng hangin. Hindi na namin kailangan pa itong sungkitin. Sana nga ang mga mangga sa puno ng aking lola ay magkandahulog din, pero kailangan yata ng ipo-ipo bago ito malaglag.

Sa bahay naman namin sa Maynila, konting ulan lang ay baha na kaagad ang mga kalye, kaya sanay akong lumusong sa baha. Hindi namin iniisip ang Leptospirosis, dahil hindi ko pa naman alam kung ano iyon at hindi ko pa rin alam ang spelling nito. Noong nasa medical school na ako kesa ko pa lang natutunan ito, at sa katunayan, may naging pasyente kaming namatay dahil sa Leptospirosis. Sangayon sa history niya, siya ay bumagtas sa baha.

Nang ako’y nasa kolehiyo na, masaya pa rin ako kapag malakas na ang ulan. Hindi sa ako’y sadista at gusto ko ng bagyo, pero dahil kalimitan ay nakakansela ang pasok sa UST kapag baha na, lalo na sa Espanya. Umaabot hanggang hita o hanggang bewang pa ang baha doon.

photo credit: Michael Angelo Reyes

Minsan nang ako’y nasa medical school na, bumuhos ang malakas na ulan maghapon at hindi humumpay kaya bumaha ang buong ka-Maynilaan. Wala kaming masakyan pauwi, dahil mga pailan-ilang bus na lamang ang malakas ang loob na bumaybay sa malalim na baha. Walang rin namang pumapasadang bangka. Kaya lumusong na lang ako sa baha at naglakad mula sa UST hanggang sa amin sa may Balik-Balik. Sa awa ng Diyos nakarating naman ako nang ligtas sa aming bahay, at hindi napatianod o nalunod sa baha, at hindi rin nahulog sa mga nakabukas na imburnal. Wala naman din akong nahuling dalag.

Nang matapos ako sa Medisina, ako’y pansamantalang namasukan (moonlighting) sa isang maliit na ospital sa Plaridel Bulakan, upang makaipon nang konti habang ako’y nag re-review para sa medical licensing exam ng Amerika. Kung maipapasa ko iyon, magiging pasaporte ko siya upang makalabas ng bansa. Sa Plaridel na ako lumalagi ng mga ilang araw, at linguhan na lang akong lumuwas ng Maynila. Trabaho ako sa gabi, at konting tulog at puspusang review sa araw.

Isang okasyon, dinalaw ako ng aking nobya na galing Maynila sa aking trabaho doon sa Bulakan. Matindi ang ulan noong araw na iyon. Kahit na may dala pa siyang payong, ay basang basa siya nang dumating sa aming ospital sa Plaridel. Para siyang basang sisiw. Ako naman ay parang palakang kumakanta.

Habang siya ay nagpapatuyo, at habang kami ay nakaupo at nakadungaw sa bumubuhos na ulan, ay masaya naman kaming magkaulayaw kahit na maiksing sandali lamang ang sa ami’y inilaan. At para bagang awit ni Basil Valdez (may version din si Regine Velasquez), alam namin na kapag tumila na ang ulan ay lilisan na siya upang bumalik sa Maynila, at ako’y maiiwan na.

Pagmasdan ang ulan unti-unting tumitila,
Ikaw ri’y magpapaalam na,
Maaari bang minsan pa,
Mahagkan ka’t maiduyan pa,
Sa tubig at ulan lamang ang saksi,
Minsan pa ulan bumuhos ka
Huwag nang tumigil pa,
Hatid mo ma’y bagyo
Dalangin ito ng puso kong sumasamo,
Pag-ibig ko’y umaapaw,
Damdamin ko’y humihiyaw sa tuwa,
Tuwing umuulan at kapiling ka.

Malakas pa rin ang buhos ng ulan at tumatabing pa rin ang maiitim na ulap sa bagong silang na umaga. Pero kailangan ko nang bumangon at kailangan nang pumasok sa trabaho. Hanggang sa muli na lang ulit ang aking pagtatampisaw sa mga alaala ng kahapon.

Aking pinagmasdan ang aking katabi. Mahimbing pa rin ang kanyang pagkakatulog. Pero alam kong kahit tumila pa ang ulan, kami ay magkapiling na at hindi na namin kailangang magpaalam pa.

Magdadalampu’t limang taon na palang bumubuhos ang ulan.

(photo taken with an iPhone)

Biyaheng Langit

(Eksaktong limang taon ngayong araw na ito ang nakalipas nang aking ilathala ang artikulong Paglalakbay sa Alapaap. Isa lamang pong pagbabalik-tanaw……..)

Paglalakbay sa Alapaap

Alapaap.

Iyan ang aking nakita, sa pagdungaw ko sa bintana. Muli akong nasa himpapawid. Lumilipad. Naglalakbay. Pabalik sa aking lupang sinilangan.

Isip ko ay lumilipad at naglalakbay din. Ngunit hindi tulad ng eroplanong aking sinasakyan na mapayapang tumatahak sa mga alapaap, ang biyahe ng aking isip ay maligalig at matagtag.

Mula nang ako’y lumisan ng ating bansa, dalampung taon na ang nakalilipas, ay maraming beses na rin naman akong nakapagbalik-bayan. At lagi sa aking pagbabalik ay may bitbit itong galak at pananabik. Galak na muli akong tatapak sa lupang tinubuan. At pananabik na makita muli ang iniwang pamilya’t mga kaibigan.

Kahit nang ako’y umuwi noong nakaraang Nobyembre bilang isang medical volunteer para tumulong sa mga nasalanta ni Yolanda, ang naramdaman ko’y hamon na may kahalo pa ring pananabik. Pananabik na makapagbigay ng lunas at ginhawa sa mga kababayang nasakuna ng bagyo.

Ngunit kaka-iba ang pagkakataong ito ng aking pagbabalik. Walang galak. Walang panananabik. Kundi pagkabahala sa kakaibang bagyo na aming sasagupain.

May katiyakan naman ang aking patutunguhan. May katiyakan rin ang oras ng aking pagdating at paglapag sa Maynila. Ngunit hindi ko tiyak kung ano ang aking daratnan. Hindi ko rin tiyak kung gaanong kaikling panahon pa ang sa amin ay inilaan.

Pero ganyan daw talaga ang buhay. Walang katiyakan.

Hindi ko sasabihing hindi ko batid na darating din ang pagkakataong kagaya nito. Ngunit katulad ninyo, ako’y nagnanais at umaasa na sana ay malayo pa ang takipsilim. Sana ay magtagal pa ang tag-araw. Sana ay hindi pa matapos ang awit. Sana ay mahaba pa ang sayaw. Sana……..

Subalit tanggapin man natin o hindi, ang lahat ay may hangganan at may katapusan.

Maraming bagyo na rin naman ang aming pinagdaanan. At kahit gaano kalupit ang hagupit ng unos, ito ay nakakaya ring bunuin. At kahit dumadapa sa dumadaang delubyo ay muli rin namang nakakabangon.

Hindi lang bagyong kagaya ni Ondoy o Yolanda ang aking tinutukoy.

Ngunit kahit gaano pa kaitim ang mga ulap na kumumubli sa liwanag, at kahit gaano kalakas ang sigwa na yumayanig sa pagod na nating katauhan, at kahit gaano pa kahaba ang gabi, ay ating tatandaan na lagi pa ring may bukang-liwayway sa kabila ng mga alapaap.

Atin na lang ding isipin na sa ibabaw ng mga alapaap ay palaging nakangiti ang araw. Sa ibabaw ng mga alapaap ay laging mapayapa. Sa ibabaw ng mga alapaap ay walang nang bagyo. Walang nang pagkakasakit. Walang nang paghihinagpis. Walang na ring pagtangis.

Malapit nang lumapag ang aking eroplanong linululanan. Malapit na rin akong humalik muli sa inang-lupa na aking sinilangan. Muli rin akong hahalik sa mukha ng aking ina na sa akin ay nagsilang.

Sana ay magkita pa kami. Sana ay abutan ko pa siya………..bago siya maglakbay sa ibabaw ng mga alapaap.

**********

Post Note: Nagpang-abot pa kami ng aking ina. Ngunit iyon na ang aming huling pagkikita, sapagka’t dalawang buwan matapos nito, siya ay nagbiyaheng langit at pumailanglang na.

Electric Reminiscing

Last week during July 4th celebration, we had an experience that reminded me of my days in the Philippines. You may say, how can be a holiday that is so American (US Independence Day) remind me of my home country, the Philippines? Please stay with me and keep on reading.

Our last 4th of July was kind of unusual as we were invited for dinner by our friend to celebrate it with their friend, whom I never met before. We celebrated the holiday in a farm about an hour drive away from our home, in the outskirt of a small town of rural Iowa. We had dinner – burgers, hotdogs, potato salad, and vegetable salad (very American meal) – in a log cabin near a small pond. Then when darkness came we sat in our camping chairs and watched the fireworks that was fired from the nearby town.

Even though the setting of the log cabin was similar to a small barrio back home, but that’s not what reminded me of the Philippines.

Earlier that day, since it’s a holiday and I wanted my wife to take a break too from the kitchen, so we went out for lunch. We chose a restaurant that is located in a large shopping complex close to our home. After we were seated and only a few minutes after our order was taken by the waitress, the power went out. A blackout!

Why do we call it blackout or brownout? Technically the lights are out so it’s black or dark. Should it be “black in?” And is there a difference between blackout and brownout? Many people, including me, think they are synonymous. But according to energy company’s definition, a blackout is a total power outage while a brownout is a partial reduction in system voltage or system capacity. Now I learned something too.

So while we were sitting in the restaurant without power, that brought me back memories of the power outages in Manila.

I was reminded of those candlelight dinners we had, not because we were creating a romantic ambience, but because there’s no electricity and yet we need some light so not to swallow the fish bones. Those sweltering heat that all you can do was to fan yourself with the abaniko made of fronds from buri palm. For your information, we don’t have air-conditioning in our Manila home, but we have a few Standard or Hitachi electric fans.

Most of the people, at least from our neighborhood, would go outside in the street and hangout in front of their houses when the power is out. No TV to watch any teleserye, and it’s too hot to relax or nap indoors. So no other recourse but to gossip with your neighbors outside while enjoying Manila’s evening breeze. Lahat istambay sa kalye. 

Those blackouts most of the time, would last one to two hours.  And during the 1980’s to early 90’s, we had rolling blackouts or scheduled power outages, to conserve energy as there’s not enough power supply to cope with Metro Manila’s increasing electric need. Or perhaps the government just thought it was a good fad.

Sometimes it was not just once a day that we had blackouts, as it could be twice a day or more. With the lights going on and off so often, all business becomes “patay-sindi.” Of course the real “patay-sindi” establishments or the red-light districts just gets darker. And when the power is out, Metro Manila becomes one big sauna place, with its residents sweating profusely that no amount of tawas or Rexona matters.

Even hospitals and other vital facilities were not spared from this power outages. Some of the facilities have their own power generator, but even then, their generators cannot supply all their facility’s electric need. So maybe the generators can support the power for the lights, but not the air conditioning or some other functions.

When we were 4th year medical students, one of the roles we have was to become human ventilators. One of our sign-outs was the list of all patients in the hospital on mechanical ventilator. So when the power goes out, we all would run to our assigned patients and manually ambu-bagged the patient for the next hour or so, or until the power returns. Squeezing the ambubag for an hour was a good exercise for the forearm though and it strengthens the grip. I just did not realize until then that, that was one of my duties when I signed up for medical school.

When the long-awaited electric power finally returns, you could hear a loud hurray and even applause from the whole neighborhood. As if we need to cheer the energy company for restoring the power. It’s like it was our “utang na loob” to have our electricity back. Utang na loob na buhay ‘yan!

Back to our 4th of July lunch in the restaurant, as we waited for our food, the waitress told us that our food would be ready soon. They might have gas-powered grills as they can still cook even without electricity. Though it was already starting to get hot inside as there’s no a/c. They did not have to bring out candles though as it was still bright with all the windows open. We were not given the reason for the power outage which in the first place, was a very rare occasion here.

Not too long after, our food came. The restaurants closed its doors for new customers but let those people inside finish their meals. After we were done eating, the waitress told us with a smile that we can go and don’t have to pay, as our meal was on the house. I think with their computers off, we can’t pay with credit cards anyway.

I left a generous tip on the table, both for the free lunch and for the evoked reminiscing – a sultry trip down memory lane.

A Weekend To Remember

Few days ago I drove to my outreach clinic which is an hour and a half away. As I mentioned in the past, the drive there is mostly serene and relaxing, going through picturesque rural Iowa landscapes. Unlike the frustrating drive through EDSA being stuck in traffic for an hour and half. It was a beautiful spring day too, with colorful blossoms on the trees lining the highway.

This journey provides me an opportunity to ruminate, I mean to think deeply, not chew the cud like cows here in Iowa. And a chance for some “sound tripping” too. The music album I picked that day for the drive was an album I have not listened to for quite a while. I just added it recently to my iPhone’s music library. It was Jim Chappell’s “Saturday’s Rhapsody.”

While I was cruising down the road and listening to the music, it took me back 25 years ago. To be exact, it was a Saturday night in January of 1993.

I was a fresh graduate from medical school, and I just passed the Philippine Medical Boards. Some of my friends had been harassing (kantiyaw) me for days to take them out to eat as a celebration for my recent board passing. So I told them, perhaps the coming weekend after a church function, we can go out if we wish. A wishy-washy plan.

There was this girl, a friend of a friend, who recently became part of my circle of friends, that I knew it was her birthday that weekend so I brought a gift just in case she’ll show up and join the party.

The gift was a music cassette tape. Remember them? Compact discs were not in vogue yet or they were more expensive than the cassette tape that time. It was Jim Chappell’s album “Saturday Rhapsody.”

Jim Chappell is an American jazz pianist. I’m not really a jazz type-of-guy. I am more of Pinoy folk, rock and country type-of-guy, with favorites like Freddie Aguilar, Asin and Eraserheads. But when I’m studying, I avoid those songs, as I would break out in a song which will be disruptive. So I gravitate to instrumental music or music without words. That’s how I end up listening to jazz music, especially when I was reviewing for my boards.

As I was listening to a smooth jazz radio station in Manila, I heard the music of Jim Chappell, and I got hooked. I bought my first album of his, “Living the Northern Summer.” I love his music so much that I shared this to my friends, as I gave them Chappell’s album as a gift. And that brought me to that particular night in January 1993.

I bought the album “Saturday Rhapsody” as a possible gift. That is if this particular girl would show up that night. If not, I can keep it for myself, for I still don’t have that album anyway.

But the girl showed up.

Darn, I would like to keep that cassette tape for me! Yet it was also a good thing, since it was her birthday, thus it was her blowout too. So she shared on the bill for the restaurant meal for our group, saving me some money.

After seeing the album, this girl thought that the music was kind of “bastos” (lewd), as the picture on the cover of the album was some sort of a naked woman (see photo below). She also thought I was “presko” (fresh or impudent)! But afterwards, when she listened to the album, she found that it was decent music and she liked it. It changed her impression of me too.

SaturdaysRhapsody

We became good friends since then. We even went together to the concert of Jim Chappell when he came to Manila and performed at the Philippines International Convention Center in the summer of 1993.

In the end, the album that I gave away, became mine eventually and I didn’t have to get one for my own, as she and I shared it together. We have been sharing more than just music together for the past 25 years.

*******

Here’s a sample of one of the songs in that album “Saturday Rhapsody.” This song is “A Weekend to Remember.” It really was.

(*photo from the web, video from YouTube)

 

 

Return to Florida

We were in Florida for a few days about a week ago. We accompanied our son who had a team competition held there. That was our official purpose to go to Florida, though there were other reasons.

One reason is to escape the cold, as there was still snow on the ground in Iowa when we flew to Florida. Another excuse perhaps was to see the ocean. Iowa is a land lot, and the nearest ocean is about 1000 miles away, so it’s not everyday that we can view the ocean. But the biggest reason to return to Florida, was to see our many friends there, for we once called that place home. That was before we moved to Iowa.

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beach in Sarasota

We have lots of good memories in Florida. Spending weekends in the theme parks or time in the beach were not even the highlight of our three years of residence there, even though we’ve become good acquaintances of Mickey. First of all, it was in Florida where I started a “real” job, after three years of Medical Residency (New Jersey) and another three years of Subspecialty Fellowship (New York) training.

After finishing my training in 2000, I had to change my visa from a “training” to a “working” visa. That transition took several months to get approved, and I was in limbo with no permit to work and no place to go. I was jobless, broke, and homeless. I cannot provide for myself let alone for my wife and my daughter who was a toddler at that time.

During that dark period of our life, we were fully dependent on the kindness of friends and family. We spent a month living in our friend’s home in New Jersey, then two months in another friend’s apartment in New York, then several months with our relatives in California. We did not starve nor sleep in the streets because there were good people who adopted us and cared for us. They provided everything, from the food we eat to the diapers for my daughter. It was a humbling experience, yet at the same time awe-inspiring on how good people can be.

When my visa got finally approved in 2001, we moved to Florida for my first employment. It was a wonderful feeling to move to an apartment of our own, sleep in our own beds, buy our own groceries, and cook our own food. It was not that the food we ate during the times we were “homeless” taste bad, but it was just good to taste food from the fruits of our own labor. Florida is known as the “Sunshine State,” and for us we really experienced a sunny existence there after going through some cold and dark circumstances in life.

So during our return to Florida last week, besides seeing our friends, we also visited the homes we rented (we moved twice) when we were still residents there. We felt so nostalgic driving through the streets and neighborhoods we used to know. Although it took us some time driving around to find the homes we rented, as there were considerable changes in that area. It was sad to see that the orange groves around our previous residences are now gone and turned into commercial complexes.

We drove by the clinic and the hospital where I used to worked. We also visited the hospital where my son was born only to find that the whole building was demolished and the site was turned into a park. The hospital was relocated to a new site and is a much larger facility now.

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the new relocated hospital

I even teased my son that we’ll return him to the hospital where he was born. The back story to that was after my son was born, our daughter who was 5 years old at that time was jealous at the attention our new baby was getting. So she pleaded, “Let’s return the baby back to the hospital.”

Since technically the hospital where my son was born is gone, he can argue that we cannot return him anymore. I guess we are stuck with him. Hah!

I would be lying if I say that it was all good things that we experienced in Florida. For there were alligators there. They were not just in the lakes and swamps. They wear clothes like you and me. To be fair, they can be anywhere not just in Florida. Yet I still believe that overall, people are good.

While we were living in Florida, we had a friend and his wife who underwent a transition phase where they were in-between jobs, just like what we went through before. They have no place to go, so we adopted them and they stayed with us for a few months. We cannot repay those who adopted us before, but we can do to others what was done to us. We paid it forward.

As expected, this couple made it through their dark times and was able to get back on their own. We were happy for them.

So guess where we stayed when we visited Florida recently? At the Disney Resort? No, done that. At the beachfront hotel? No, done that too. In a tent at a campground?  Not this time. We stayed somewhere much better.

We stayed at the home of our friend whom we adopted before. A home where love abounds trumps even the most posh hotel. Not just we stayed there for free, it also gave us more time to catch up and enjoy each other’s company again. Besides, their place was cozy with a resort-like feel. Consider waking up to this view (photo below).

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We also had a meet-up with other friends who took special efforts to delight us. From a treat to a restaurant, to a home-cooked Pinoy breakfast, from home-baked bread to freshly picked malunggay for our “pabaon.” I’m not sure we deserve all these kindness but we’re thankful to all of them.

We surely had fun visiting Florida again. And we did not even see Mickey.

(*photos taken during our last trip to Florida)

Chasing Phantom Fishball

Yesterday our temperature here in Iowa finally wandered above 50º F. Considering that we had snow last weekend, and even had some flurries the day before with subfreezing temperature, we’re just excited that finally spring has sprung.

I was able to come home early with the sun still way up in the horizon, so I decided to go for a run outside.

I wore my brand new cool running shoes that I bought as a birthday gift for myself. I also planned to wear my new colorful running shorts and nifty running shirt that my wife got me for my birthday, but I found out they were still in the laundry. You see, like a child I need all the enticements to keep me motivated in running.

I’m proud to say that I finished my first outdoor 5-kilometer run for this year. Though I would not deny that I was a little out of condition and I struggled to complete the run.

While I was doing my run and I was on my 4th kilometer navigating through our neighborhood, I suddenly caught a whiff of a very familiar scent. I took a deep breath and inhaled it in to confirm. It was the unmistakably glorious smell of fishballs being fried in a lake of oil on a deep frying pan.

Instantly, I was transported back to my days in Manila, as if I entered a Twilight Zone. I felt I was in Forbes Avenue (now Arsenio Lacson Avenue) in front of the UST Hospital. I could almost hear the jeepneys and buses plying that route. Most afternoons, there was a fishball vendor there with his push-stall near the entrance of the hospital.

It does not matter if health experts say that it may not be “safe” to eat street foods, like fishballs, as you can get hepatitis A and some other illness, especially if you dip the fishballs in those jars of sauces. The reason is that some people do “double dip,” that is after taking a mouthful bite of their fishballs on the stick, they would dip it again in the sauce, and that’s how a disease is spread. Could it be the tincture of slobber that makes it more tasteful?

But my courageous friends and I don’t care what the experts say.

After an exhausting day in the hospital working as medical clerks (4th year medical students), we would trek down outside the hospital in our white uniform and all, and buy those delightful fishballs. While they were still hot and floating in oil, we would make “tusok-tusok” the fishballs with the stick, then dunk them in the different dipping sauces. My favorite one was the black spicy concoction with floating onions and siling labuyo. Sometimes I would also dip in the tangy sweetish brown sauce. Sometimes I would dip in all the three jars of sauce. But I swear, I don’t do double dip.

Interesting enough, during our 25th graduation anniversary meeting and reunion held in our medical school two years ago, they served fishballs on a stick during one of the breaks. They have the authentic taste like the ones peddled on the street. It was definitely a hit!

As I reached the end of the cul-de-sac, I came back to the realization that I was on a street in Iowa, and not in Manila. I looked around to search if there’s a fishball vendor around. But there was none. Just the leafless trees, brown grass, and the empty street that I was in.

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Was I hallucinating? Was it because I was huffing and puffing that my brain was oxygen deprived? Or was it because I was hungry and my blood sugar level was running low? Has my brand new running shoes have anything to do with it? Or maybe I was plainly home-sick again?

Fishball, o fishball, why are you haunting me?

(*photo taken during my run)

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.

Iba Namang White Christmas

Habang ako’y nagda-drive pauwi kagabi ay aking napuna na may mga butil-butil ng niebe (snow) na lumilipad. Matagal-tagal na rin namang kaming naghihintay ng snow, kahit na hindi ko paboritong libangan ang mag-shovel nito. Sabi kasi sa aming weather forecast, maaaring magkaroon daw kami ng 1-2 inches ng snow. Yey, White Christmas!

Pagbangon ko kaninang umaga ay dumungaw ako kaagad sa labas. Kakarampot naman pala ang snow na bumagsak. Ang kuripot naman!

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Dahil konting-konti lang ang aming snow (above photo), siguradong malulusaw at maglalaho na ang lahat ng ito bago pa mag-Pasko. Sang-ayon ulit sa aming weather forecast, wala na kaming  snow fall bago mag-Pasko dito sa Iowa. Mapupurnada yata ang aming White Christmas!

Nainggit tuloy ako sa mga lugar dito sa Amerika na maraming snow ngayong Pasko. Noong nakaraang araw lang, ay pinadalhan ako ng aming kaibigan ng photo na kuha niya mula sa Morristown, New Jersey (photo below). Parang scene sa Frozen ang dating.

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Sa Morristown, New Jersey ako unang napadpad at nanirahan dito sa Amerika. Tatlong taon din akong lumagi doon. Dito ko naranasan ang aking kauna-unahang White Christmas, na noon ay nakikita ko lamang sa mga pictures. Dito ko nasabing para akong nakatira sa loob ng Christmas card.

Nang ako’y bata pa at naninirahan sa Maynila, hindi ko inakalang ako’y makakaranas ng White Christmas. Nagkakasya na ako sa mga dekorasyon namin sa aming classroom sa paaralan ng mga Christmas tree na pinuno ng mga bulak para magmukhang may snow. Sa bulak lang masaya na ako.

Tapos sa klase kakanta kami ng “Dashing through the snow” at “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.” Ano ba naman ang malay ko sa snow at White Christmas? Alam ko lang noon ay “dashing through the flood!” Kinakanta rin namin ‘yung “Frosty, the Snowman.” Pero ‘yung Frosty alam ko at gusto ko. Ito ay isang brand ng ice candy noong bata ako. Masarap siya!

Taong 1991 nang nakaranas ako na pumuti ang kalsada sa Maynila. Pag-gising ko isang umaga at sa pagdungaw ko sa labas, ay nakita kong medyo maputi ang aming paligid. Nag-snow sa Maynila?! Pero nang aking kilatisin, hindi ito snow, kundi abo pala! Abo mula sa pagsabog ng Mt. Pinatubo.

Taong 1994, aking nilisan ang Pilipinas. Hindi para makakita ng snow o maghukay ng yelo, pero para tugisin ang aking mga pangarap sa buhay.

Ngayon, makatapos kong maranasan ang marami ng White Christmas, iba na ang gusto ko sa Pasko. Ibang puti na ang gusto ko, hindi snow. Puti, tulad ng puting buhangin sa beach ng Zambales.  Puti, tulad ng kesong puti sa loob ng bagong lutong pandesal. Puti, tulad ng bagong kaskas na niyog sa ibabaw ng puto bungbong.

Umulan na lang sana ng bagong kaskas na niyog. Samahan na rin sana ng pag-ulan ng puto bungbong at bibingka. Teka, masakit yatang mabagsakan ng bibingka!

Hay, nami-miss ko na naman ang Pilipinas.

Sa lahat ng mga Pilipino sa iba’t-ibang lupalop ng mundo, ano mang puti ang pumapaligid sa inyo – maging ito’y snow, o kaya’y abo at lahar, o puting buhangin at malinaw na dagat, o kaya’y disyerto, o mga puting semento, o kaya nama’y mga kumpol na bulak, o tambak ng puting basura, o kaya’y maging bagong kayod na niyog – kayong lahat ay aking binabati ng Maligayang Pasko!

 

 

Road Trip

The road hums a wistful song, while the passing trees, powers lines, and scenery plays like an old movie in my hazy field of vision. I am safely buckled in my seat, while we whiz down the interstate. The car’s trunk is loaded, but not nearly as full and cluttered as my mind is.

My daughter and I are going on a road trip.

It is hard to imagine that it was more than 50 years ago now, when my daughter and I went on our first long trip. We went camping in a distant national park, and even though we stayed there only two nights, we packed our car full. We brought almost everything, except the house itself – the propane stove, the tent, the air mattresses, pillows and comforters, folding chair and tables, and even a portable heater.

When I fastened my little girl on her car seat when we embarked on that trip, she mildly protested. It seemed like we stopped on every rest area for a bathroom break, as my daughter claimed she needs to go. But maybe it was just her ploy to get out of her car seat. And yes, she asked a million times, “Are we there yet?”

It was a fun trip though.

It was more than 30 years ago now also, that I took my daughter on another long road trip. We drove for several hours to another nearby state. The car was overloaded with many things, like the electric fan, microwave oven, television, vacuum cleaner, a closet-full of clothes, and my daughter’s big cello. That was when I dropped her off to college.

She was so excited to go to the university and to be on her own. I guess she views it as independence. My heart was heavy all the way through that trip. Even though it was a long drive, I don’t want it to end. For I know that when we reach our destination, I would be leaving her behind and may not see her again for several weeks. Perhaps months. But she has to go and leave the nest, and make a mark of her own in this world. I get that.

Of course she made it through college. And beyond.

Now we’re together again on another road trip. Except that I am not in the driver’s seat anymore. I am just the passenger and my daughter is driving.

She said that I cannot live by myself anymore in our old big house. And I agree, since her mother left for heaven, I am really lost and lonely. She is taking me to a place to be closer to her.

She told me that I don’t need most of my stuff, just the bare essentials. For in the place where we will go, it has everything I need, she said. I don’t need much stuff anyway. The most precious things I used to have, I already lost them.

Funny that people say that my memory is getting bad. That my mind is already playing tricks on me. That I don’t remember things anymore. Like where I placed my glasses or even my dentures. Or who is Mr. or Mrs. so and so, people they say I should know. And yet, why do I remember all these nostalgic memories so vividly?

I know this may be my last road trip. For I can barely walk without any assistance anymore. I cannot even feed myself without spilling food on my lap and all over the floor. And that’s why I am going to this “big house” with all the help available, with some other old forgetful people like me. I hope my daughter will visit me there often.

It’s nice to be on the road again. To feel the wind and the sun on my face again. If only this road trip would not end.

photo taken in some back road in Iowa

(*This short story is written as a fiction. And hopefully will stay as fiction.)