A Taiwanese tale

It was the perfect night to test what little Mandarin skills we had. Erik was not due for a few more hours from a week-long trip from home, and there were tasks we wanted done asap. So ate Leni and I put on our jackets and set out to prove ourselves.

First, we went to the general merchandise to buy a length of rubber tubing. “Duoshao qian?” I confidently asked, a smile escaping my lips, before I even finished my sentence. We had practiced this line several times. It was 7nt per foot. The storeowner gave his answer wordlessly, gesturing with his hands. I took five feet and gave him the exact amount. Three silver tens, one five. San shi wu. We were getting good with numbers.

Bolstered by our successful purchase, ate Leni and I gamely went around the back for a more difficult task: looking for my missing water bottle.There were three possible places where I could have left it: at the 823 grocery store, at the duck restaurant, or at the hot soya place at the corner.

We stepped inside 823, and with one glance at the counter, concluded that my bottle wasn’t there. We were out before the automatic doors had closed behind us. At Duck, asking “shui ping?” and miming drinking yielded an apologetic “no” from the Taiwanese cooks. Our trip to the hot soya place was also a bust.

Feeling perplexed, we retraced our steps, trying Duck again, armed this time with hastily translated phrases, courtesy of google.

Left water bottle? Left water bottle last night? We were met by confused stares. It must have been our accents. Finally, ate leni thought of showing them the translated Chinese characters. The three men looked at my screen, and then to one another, and then back at the screen.Voila! One of them produced my water bottle from off the side, smiling profusely. We showered the air with Xiexie’s as we left.

To celebrate, we two accomplished adventurers shared an order of xiao long bao before returning to our campus.

We were beaming with pride as we related the story to our two friends.
“We have a new phrase! Zuo shuiping?
Likai shuiping zuo wan?”
Erik, the only Chinese speaker in our all-Filipino group looked puzzled. His brows furrowed as he asked as to repeat our sentence. We proudly obliged. He was silent for a moment, and then he burst out laughing. Zuo was left, as in left or right. It was not the past tense of leave.

Amidst our laughter, we learned a new word. We had been in Taiwan for a month. There were more bloopers to be had. ūüôā

Sunset

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The day nears its end
And I wonder how the final moment
Could be every bit as breath-taking as the dawn
When the sunrise was filled with promise,
Overflowing with fantasies,
Brimming with dreams of an ideal twenties,
Rife with exciting unknowns
No one – not Gauss nor Newton
Nor an engineer in mint condition
could have solved

Yet, God, it somehow is
As beautiful as the daybreak,
Even with the pain of unclaimed promise
And the wounds left by heartache
Its brilliance not dulled by disappointment
Nor eclipsed by ideals unmet

Perhaps because the sunset knows what I yet not-
That a dawn more beautiful than the last
Suffused with more love than in the days past
Is just beyond the present
Timeless, boundless are the beauty of Your plans
God, How awesome are the works of Your hand!

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Well Spent

Food can only take me so far

A Venti Latte, a few more waking hours


But today is written in the language of laughter,

In conversations never awkward,

In songs which would make a weird mix tape

Fit for a person with the most eclectic taste

In friendships that endured

Months of absence,

And missed milestones

In connections which prove stronger

Than the turning of the calendar


And it takes me far-

To the knowledge that I am treasured,

and that in them I have treasures,

To a heartfelt grateful prayer


I had dinner with college¬†orgmates¬†today- two of them I regularly see, and the rest I haven’t talked to in a while. Most of them were from younger batches, and I realized that while I’ve always thought I was closer to the older batches, that may not have been true. Tonight might be proof to the contrary. Thank God for giving me a wonderful college experience, for the friends I made in college, for these wonderful people who have always been my cure to homesickness, and for the opportunity to spend time with them again.¬†

Chronicled by FRIENDS: Meet-ups with the college crowd

As weeks rush past, more and more of my conversations with highschool and college friends center around career paths and job decisions. At first, it was fine. It was easy to say I was taking a break. Sometimes, I replied that I was still considering my options. Occasionally, I joked that I was waiting for the results of my Big Brother Audition. And then I got tired of getting asked about what I was doing with my life. So I took a short break away from everyone, and the next thing I knew, the whole world had become a working people land.

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And then I realized how pathetic it was that I was still financially dependent on my parents and not moving on from that foggy place of bumhood. Not surprisingly, every conversation ended with a resolution to finally close my bumlife chapter.

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Unfortunately, it’s a looooot harder than I thought it would be. It’s been more than a month since I first handed out my resumes and application letters. (Sidenote: I must be the only UP Diliman ChE graduate unable to get a job offer within a year of¬†graduation.) I thought I was strong enough to handle¬†the hazards of job-hunting. But I realized otherwise when I found myself crying¬†tears of frustration and self-pity yesterday.

I’m here, in my favorite place in the world, my hometown, Tuguegarao City. It’s 35.5 degrees today and the sky is a perfect, cloudless blue. It’s the prototype of my favorite day. But the urge to say this has never been stronger: Life sucks.

*Feeling down today but talk to me again in a week and I’m sure I’ll be over myself by then.¬†

Chronicled by FRIENDS: What College Profs Forgot to Say on Graduation Day

Bum life has given me the gift of¬†time. And I chose to spend it on the¬†comforts of my all-time favorites. More than ever, I am finding wisdom in FRIENDS, Naruto, Anne of Green Gables books¬†and Agatha Christie¬†mysteries, among others. So, here commences a new series: Chronicled¬†by my favorites. It’s going to be about (my) life, according to my favorite books, songs, shows and movies. I hope you enjoy it! ūüôā

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In a few more days, I’ll be celebrating the first anniversaries of my plant design presentation and thesis defense. It’s been four months since my board exam. I’m pretty sure I no longer own the privilege to call myself a fresh grad as March nears its end.¬†No doubt, universities all over the country have started¬†sending their seniors to the world of unemployed.

Has¬†it already been eleven months since my own graduation? I try to recall what our guest speaker,¬†Chief Justice Serreno¬†told us¬†in her speech¬†last April. (The only thing I remember now¬†is her¬†promise that her speech won’t to put us to sleep. To give her credit, she kept it.)

Now, I’m still the same neophtyte UP sent out,¬†but¬†a little less idealistic, a little more confused. With all the reminders¬†our¬†professors¬†gave us graduates, they must have¬†forgotten¬†to say one very important thing:

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Grief

9 December 2014

Tomorrow marks a full week since we buried tito Leo’s body, two whole weeks since the day he breathed his last. On Thursday, it will be three weeks since he entered a coma he never woke up from. Today, the ninth of December, is a full month since he was attacked by a mild stroke brought about by a blood pressure soaring at 240/110. He was preaching behind the pulpit when it happened. It was his last message.

When I think of everything that transpired between the 9th and 26th of November, every little hopeful up and every agonizing down, it feels a little unbelievable that all those could have happened in a span of 18 days. And yet, I remember how the clock ticked so slowly on those days I kept my phone close, waiting for an update from my sister and my tita because I couldn’t be at the hospital, while they, in turn, waited for news from the doctor; on those nights I cried after my roommate went to sleep; on that afternoon I raced up four flights of stairs to a room full of family. Every person in the room was family, except for the doctor who came to bring the painful truth- that if the rules of science were to be obeyed, my tito was never waking up.

I remember the interminable waiting that ironically ended too soon. I remember the hours after tito’s second operation while we prayed and prayed and waited for tito to wake up, inching closer to despair with every hour. I remember his neurosurgeon’s words that tito was to wake up within 24 hours or never. I remember dreading the passing of the time. I remember dawn breaking and the morning failing to bring any of the joy it promised. I remember the crushing sorrow lasting far more than a night.

I remember the little ups- how the doctor said it was a good thing my tito was on respirator or he might have stopped breathing even before his second operation. I remember thinking it was a reminder God was in control, that surely God was telling us to hold on to our faith because He was keeping tito alive. I remember the doctor from the ICU saying tito was not brain dead more than 48 hours after tito’s second operation. I remember the ICU nurse telling tita that during visiting hours, tito’s blood pressure spiked and remained stable. I remember having tito transferred to a private room so we could spend more time with him. I remember the gospel hymns and the Christmas carols we sang around his bed. In the midst of it all, I remember the private nurse saying, “Masaya si sir. Tumaas bp nya at stable vital signs nya. Dalawang oras ko na inoobserbahan yan“. I remember my cousin saying only half-jokingly, “walang uuwi!“. I should have heeded him and spent the night in the hospital, as was my plan, because what I remember from the next day is getting greeted by the heartbreaking sight of tito’s body wrapped in a blanket from head to foot.

Even now, I remember the painful moments we alternated between waiting for a miracle or waiting for tito’s last heartbeat as we alternated between hope and despair. I remember the anguish of losing tito, because I feel it still. I also remember tito alive because we keep talking about him at home, how we feel suspended in that state between acceptance and disbelief. It’s easy to remember because my cousins and I take turns torturing ourselves with memories of tito. Not a day has passed that a picture of him did not grace my feed. Yesterday, I put up our tree and my mom and I couldn’t help reminiscing how tito used to tease her whenever we put up our Christmas decorations. Last night, my brother checked the NBA season standings and I remember tito mocking our Celtics love while sporting a cap with the team’s mascot up front. This morning, I made coffee and I remember our shared taste in 3-in-1 brands (Nescafe sucks; Kopiko rocks.).

It still feels unbelievable that he won’t tell another corny joke again, nor strum a gospel hymn again. It seems an incredulous thought that none of us will ever taste his igado, beef steak and zinagan again- a shame because they were the absolute best. None of us will be wed with tito as officiator or ninong (deciding between the two was a dilemma, I am to learn, not exclusively mine). None of us will listen to his preaching nor his wisdom-filled advice again. None of us will have the pleasure of asking tito about a theological point. And understandably, none of us can get over the loss in less than two weeks.

I remember a lot of things and no doubt, my cousins and titas and titos remember other memories. I remember again the long days in the hospital as we all reminded ourselves that we were on a test of faith. An exercise of trust, like the one we are in right now. If it was hard letting go of tito in the hospital, it’s even harder moving on without him. Tito was our family’s spiritual leader. He would have been the first to point out God’s sovereignty to us. And amidst all the grief, pain and problems following tito’s death, I struggle to remember that tito’s first response would have been an emphatic, “pray!” And though praying has become extremely difficult to do since tito’s death, and God has never felt as distant as He does right now, I bow my head in prayer- asking God to make the hurt stop, and the problems, too, because there is only so much grief one can face in the space of two weeks.

The Hospital Hater Hypothesizes

5 Nov 2014
~4 pm

There is no place quite as depressing as a hospital. I hate hospitals. I hate the smell of antiseptic, the walls painted a most unattractive shade of green, the miscellaneous sounds of grief. I hate the somber mood. I hate them all.

hI am here outside the St.Paul Hospital Emergency Room, my phone on one hand, a canned pineapple juice on the other, and a sheaf of reviewer on organic chemistry on my lap. None of them takes my mind off this depressing setting. I’ve been here for all of fifteen minutes and already, I can feel the gloom permeating my subconscious. My mom is inside the ER, along with my dad talking to the on-call doctor. Her high-blood pressure earlier had me abandoning my reaction kinetics book mid-sentence. “The effect of pressure on the heat of reaction is negligible when . . .” There is nothing negligible about the effect of pressure on my mother’s body.

I don’t have to eavesdrop to know that the two women conversing across me have something weighing heavily on their minds. The cadence says it all. The man behind me sleeps but his dreams are not sweet. His brow is furrowed, the lines of anxiety evident on his face. The sight of a man in the chapel cannot comfort me. His sobs may be muffled, but his grief refuses to be subdued. The nurses’ laughter in the nurses’ station earlier is a stark contrast against the muted conversations, the cries of an infant inside the ER, the steady hum of machines doing what the human body is supposed to do on its own. They perhaps would be happy sounds outside of this place. But here, they only emphasize the gloom of impending death, and the silence brought about by the fear of it.

I’ve been to many hospitals before- to government hospitals, neglected, cramped, chaotic, and to ones that are practically hotels for the sick. On the outside, they are as different as poor is to rich, but even the luxurious hospital experience the latter offer cannot hide the gloom of the place. If anything, the restaurants and the shops in such places add a note of despair to the whole setting. They are a mockery to the sick rich, who, for all their wealth, could buy only things, but not the capacity to enjoy them. A taunt to every one whose millions could not be bartered for good health. Penniless, billionaire- when it comes to control on how long our life’s going to be- we are all the same.

I am not skittish. I have no qualms about eating food from the hospital cafeteria nor about using the hospital comfort rooms. I am not the type to be unduly spooked by the idea of an elevator guy wearing a red tag nor grossed out by the sight of a patient vomiting. I generally can watch a blood-and-gore movie and still eat my fries with ketchup. I’ve watched horror movies then slept alone in my room afterwards. I can even listen to poop talks while I enjoy my meal. But this mixture of fear and anguish I sense in the air gets to me like nothing else.

The hospital is a place where the dying die. A setting for lives meeting their end. I hold this thought almost subconsciously. It is an inaccurate generalization, as few of the people I have visited in a hospital actually died. An unfair belief, because the hospital is also a place where the sick is cured, where most of us first took our breaths outside our respective mother’s womb. I know, I know. But the thoughts we develop subconsciously are the ones we cannot dispel easily. It’s why kids check under the bed for monsters night after night.

It is an easily explained belief, though. I have always been the patient or the visitor. I have yet to view the hospital with the eyes of the doctor or the nurse. That is my excuse. An unacceptable one, I admit. After all, I have had the chance to hold the opposite view, and I turned it down. It has been more than five years since I declined to interview for UP’s Intarmed program.

Sitting here alone, watching sick people and their worried family come by in an ambulance, listening to underpaid nurses and orderlies talk to them in their most efficient bedside voices, I am an easy target for helplessness. I suppose it is this emotion that makes me see hospitals the way I do. Later, I would have to fill a prescription I know nothing about in the pharmacy, watch a nurse take my mom’s BP and insert a needle for her dextrose, wait long hours for mama’s doctor to come by and talk to her for five minutes, tops. And I will do all those with the knowledge that I can offer nothing but moral support.
fork
For the second time since my own operation three years ago, I wonder what would have happened had I grabbed my shot at med school. It is possible, maybe even likely, that I would have failed the interview, thus making this whole mental enterprise moot. But if I had taken that interview and passed it, I could be a fourth year med student today. (Of course, there is a distinct possibility I may have shifted out a long time ago. Med brains and engineering smarts are definitely not the same. While I am not exactly rich in either, there’s always an abundance in God’s grace, which makes me suppose I might have made a passable med student. ) I may enter a most lucrative career yet, though that is certainly not my aim, but I am close to wishing I tried my hand at pre-med/med, after all, because it will put me in the best position to serve my loved ones in the future.

Look at me, a recent graduate of BS Chemical Engineering from my lifelong dream campus, participating in this exercise in futility. I am two weeks away from my board exam and still, I spend precious time torturing myself with thoughts of what if. Count on my indecisive self to second-guess irreversible five-year old decisions. These reflections are running amok in my brain, killing every bit of security my college degree gave me. Then again, what security should a college degree give one, anyway?

Six hours later:

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain. Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

James 4:13-15 (KJV)

I almost smile at the perfect timing of this pre-planned Solid Joys devotional. Here is God’s reply to my insecurities. It is a perfect reminder that there are things in life we cannot control- and life itself is one of them. Coming at the heels of my self-doubts, it is a most apposite message to me- that ultimately, it is God’s decision to continue or end a life. Even then, all earthly lives are but mists, ephemeral vapors that dissipate in their own God-ordained dynamics.

There is no need to second-guess, after all, nor any reason to be subject to helplessness. In whatever profession, I can only be of as much help as God will allow me to be. And I think I’d rather be an engineer who understands how dependent she is on God than a medical professional who rests on her knowledge and expertise alone. Of course, one could also be a doctor who trusts God. That probably would be ideal. But I’m already here, that particular crossroad five years behind me, and another fork before me. It is a waste to make a pastime out of cooking up hypothetical situations. I don’t know what lies ahead of me. I don’t even know if I’ll pass my board exam that is but two weeks away. I’ll trudge ahead, anyway, and let the turning of the day bring me closer to the fork, because I know One who sees beyond every fork, and He is the One guiding me on.