Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Yearender 2013: Seasons of Time

This year is incidentally, the 13th year of my year-end chronicles, in remembrance of the highlights and life events of the year that is about to come to pass and a gesture of embracing the New Year with optimism and good vibes. Yearenders are not just about a list, but pondering through life’s lessons that makes every year we add into our life, richer, meaningful not only for ourselves but also for others. And so I did the pondering-thing while chilling out under the palm trees dotting the beautiful Boracay shoreline and uncannily, there were indeed top 13 stories of 2013.

So here it goes…

A Time to Heal. Kyla had an accident at exactly Christmas day of 2012. She had a broken wrist and had to wear a cast for six weeks until the fractured bones healed itself in time. What amazed all of us including the doctors was her calmness and bravery throughout the ordeal. She did not cry or rage into hysterics (which, understandably, a child may have done). And even while still in her cast, in January 2013 she completed 2.6KM for the Singapore Terry Fox Run for a Cause and raised $100SGD for cancer research. Kyla is an example of a child whose spirit can never be broken, and I tell her that this is the most important lesson from that episode.

A Time to Let Go. I’ve gotten better in terms of taking my vacations and really let go, albeit for a while, of my usual I-need-to-do-this-by-so-and-so-at-work baggages, and really enjoy a true vacation. In 2013, we have ticked off every destination place in our travel plans: my birthday staycation at Shangrila Sentosa, Legoland Malaysia, Hanoi Vietnam/Halong Bay Tour, SEA World SG, Art Science Museum and revisiting good old Boracay. I also had my last run in SG with the Venus Women’s Run. Life is good!



A Time to Say Adieu. I already knew that our time in Singapore is about to come to an end and once again, time to say goodbye-for-now to friends in SG and at work. I am happy to go back with old friends, but equally grateful for making new friends who will become part of my life’s tapestry.

A Time to Connect to the Next Dot. I am forever thankful for the new avenues that life had opened for us during our stay in SG—after all, this is where Kevin grew leaps and bounds in his development, where he spoke his first sentence, where we were given a renewed sense of hope on what he can be. It validated my belief that the time we spent in Singapore was not a mere happenstance but part of a bigger picture, not only for myself but also for my family. Another dot was revealed and it is time to move on to the next one. (See article Connect the Dots)

A Time for Home Coming. The first place we visited after arriving in Manila was of course our home in Laguna. There is a sense of rightness into it, something much more than the act of physically seeing our house. While we spent the last 2.5 years living in a first world metropolitan city, nothing compares to the sense of peace that I felt when I saw our house once again. In my heart I understood what Coming Home meant. Thank God, we are finally home.

A Time to Savor Triumph. At the work front, FY1213 ended at a high note. After gruelling two years of challenges and tough times, AAIJK FC SNO results are all back on track and promises to be one of the best ever year. As promised, I treated my team to that well deserved buffet dinner to celebrate all the sweat and tears it took to get to where we are.

A Time to Charter New Horizons. By June 2013, I am officially back to the Plant. I feel an adrenaline rush simply thinking about the possibilities of what could be the next level of breakthrough for an organization that is already at the high end of that bar. I was not disappointed. In a split second moment while internalizing what can be, the vision came to me like fireworks lighting up a dark sky. Destination: known. The road is set.

A Time for a Renewed Sense of Hope. The biggest challenge coming home was finding a new school and partners for Kevin’s special needs. After all, he left as a child and returned as a teenager. But once again, the Lord has been there. Always. To lead our hand to the right way. We missed our appointment with one of the teachers who was supposed to give Kevin a referall for a center in Las Pinas. Instead, I saw this flyer on their desk for a school for special needs children, somewhere in Alabang. We decided to inquire there instead and it ended to be a better option for Kevin. We are very happy that Kevin found a new family in Optimal Academy and he continue to surprise us with his progress!

A Time to Change Hats. Our little girl is now a tween. I need to learn now this fine balance of being a mom (authority) and also be a friend whom she can trust, confide with and continue to bond via shared interests. So we endeavor to continue Fun Runs whenever we can, play more Badminton (good luck to me), listen to music together (thanks to Ninang Ninnie for Kyla’s mini boom box!), read books together, bake/cook together and continue to impart wisdom as I know she is hungry for it.

A Time for that Defining Moment. Kyla told me that she wants to become an educator and open a school for special children someday. This brought tears to my eyes because, even though she may still be young and can change her mind someday, I know that this was borne out of her nurturing spirit and love for her brother. Whenever she is off-school, she spends her day going to Kevin’s school and actually acting as the teacher’s assistant.

A Time for Rekindling Old Passions. Writing has been my passion. I had been very busy early this year from all the transitions we had to go through, for family and at work. But in the middle of moving to SG and Manila, my new roles and responsibilities, I had been given an opportunity to once again flex my literary and editorial muscles with a much broader audience. Thus, the Asia D&I Newsletter came to be. (Special thanks to Marlon Devera and Choops Tupe for their creative contributions for the logo.)

A Time for Retribution. I am going to be deliberately vague on this one. I once read somewhere that “The strongest of steels are forged from the hottest fires.” I know the feeling of going through a crucible. When the day of retribution finally came, was the day when I can truly say, I survived. I will always be thankful for my truest and trusted friends and confidantes who stood my me and held my hand through that rite of passage.

And finally, a Time for Peace. 2013 is probably, the year out of so many that passed, when I can truly I am at peace with my life and with every day that pass, I thank the Lord for giving me and my family this feeling of serenity, knowing fully well that wherever He wants to BE, whatever He wants me to BE, will be.

With this, I embrace 2014 with open arms.
Life Begins.
Again.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Camp Benjamin - Day at the Farm

It is a wonderful blessing that we came to know about Optimal Academy, soon after we came back to Manila, last May 2013.  We did not doubt that this will be Kevin's new second home, and that he will have an enriching and fulfilling teenage life with them.

Kevin had plenty of opportunities to join outdoor recreations and educational activities since then. Like the class field trip, for instance. The out-of-town field trip was held at Camp Benjamin in Alfonso, Cavite.  This camp offer teambuilding activities for corporate and school functions.  They also have facilities for overnight events, an in-house coffee shop/café and pool. Instructors joined us throughout the day to assist in the teambuilding activities.


Here are a few pictures of Kevin's class activities for the day tour...

First stop was tomato planting.  The in-house instructors demonstrated the proper measurement and premixing of soils and fertilizers.  The children proceeded to follow the same, assisted by adults, scooped a portion of the soil premix into their pots. This was followed by the tomato plant and finishing it off with a water shower.



Kids get to take home their plants
For the morning snack, the children get to experience a cooking and food preparation challenge ala Master Chef :-)   The staff provided home-grown ingredients and a menu that the team of children and parents can follow.

Cooking and Food Preparation Challenge:
Veggie Burger
Squash Fritters
Pink Lime Cooler (Talbos ng Kamote extract with Kalamansi)

Taking his turn to fry the fritters

Gently turning over the patties
The team's final presentation.
Incidentally, this ended as the morning snack.

The Bamboo Bowling was a hit! We had to transfer in-doors due to the slight drizzle.




More fun games and team events...

Team Frisbee Challenge

Time for the hoops!


Kevin's first experience for a Boodle Lunch

 
 
After our fill of lunch, we prepared to visit the farm...
 
 
 
Harvesting peanuts at the organic farm


Kevin harvested a handful of peanuts





And finally, cooling down to refresh after a day's work and play! Kevin and Dad were the first to take the dip while I satisfy my caffeine fix at the café.

 
It is great to be back home! Kevin is now able to join a school with boys and girls of his age group especially now that he is a teenager already.  We feel so blessed to find this school where Kevin is in an environment where children genuinely care and support one another and the belief that every child can improve even if a little bit more, day by day, is championed.
 
At one point, I look at the children playing... they were all so happy, they cheer for each other and they are cloaked with simplicity and selflessness. I can only say to myself, "this is how truly beautiful people are like."



Monday, October 14, 2013

Plant a Tree Today for a Greener Tomorrow


It has been five months after we settled back home and its time to start updating my blog once again. Last September, we participated in the Tree Planting activity of our company for the first time. This has been an annual event sponsored by the plant in partnership with Haribon Foundation and this is being done several years now. I learned that the plant already contributed at least 16,000 trees from the tree planting activities that benefited municipalities in Laguna and Rizal. This year, the chosen site for the tree planting was at the Barangay Casile in Cabuyao. The descent to the tree planting site was quite an adventure! Due to the monsoon rains several days earlier, the 20-minute hike over muddy earth proved to be a test of stamina and agility. Our kids joined the tree planting and I am proud that they did not have a single complaint during our hike.

We were able to plant close to twenty trees that morning. Although we went home sweaty, a bit muddy and with strained muscles, it was nevertheless a worthwhile experience especially for the kids to be able to take part in an activity that helps save Mother Earth, in our own small way!

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Journey Back to Wuthering Heights

My first encounter with the classic literature Wuthering Heights was in my junior high school years. It was one of the recommended reading material for the juniors’ Literature class, although it baffled me that we never did quite discuss the book thoroughly, but was only mentioned in passing. I actually tried reading it then but unlike
Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice, I did not find it compelling enough to hold my interest. The complex nature of the story was too much for my fifteen year-old mind then.


But after re-reading this book after so many years, I understood why I could not have appreciated it then.

Love that is on the brink of being destructive and obsessive, mental (and physical) abuse, domestic violence and revenge that draws the soul to downward spiral, are not exactly what a fifteen year old would be able to relate to, enough to encourage any attempt to ponder what lies beyond the surface.

I still cannot feel any empathy to Catherine and Heathcliff's star-crossed love. Based on my earlier pre-conceptions, WH was sold to me as love story of the ill-fated couple. That is all there was to it-- ill-fatedness. But no redemption at all especially for Heathcliff’s dark obsession to possess what is beyond his reach.

I found Isabella Linton, though a minority in the story, as the most compelling character in WH. She has transformed from a somewhat foolish young girl that was blinded by her infatuation to Heathcliff, to a woman who found the will and tenacity to fight back and break free from a tragic life under Heathcliff's abusive ways.

If something was worth a 5-star in this book, it would be Isabella Linton's transformation as a woman of strength.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Latest Book Stash for Long Weekend Reads

If you are facing another long holiday weekend, going for a long drive (and not driving) or simply, enjoying a lazy day in your usual “lazy day corner”, here are a few books for a good, light reading. This assumes, of course, that we are of the same wave-length on the choice of good reads.


Strengths Finder 2.0

I have long been sold on the idea that we ought to play to our strengths. Always worked for me. The pre-requisite is knowing your basic strengths, assessed in a purely objective point of view. This book describes the thirty different types of strengths and provides a detailed description of how a person possessing those qualities can leverage it to keep them motivated, progressive and effective.

I have two of these kinds. The first book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” was given to me as a gift. The latest edition is now called Strengths Finder 2.0. It comes with a unique code that you can use to access the website Strengths Finder that will facilitate the assessment of your strengths. After taking the assessment, it will summarize your top five strengths. You will have to refer back to the book to have a deeper understanding of what those strengths mean, how it affects the way you think, operate, relate to people and so on. If you work with people, this book also helps guide a manager of others how you can develop the talents of your people based on their unique strengths.



The Little Book of Talent

Everyone has their unique set of talents. But how does talent differ vs. skills? How do you develop those talents to their fullest potential? This book is a compilation of 52 tips on how one can improve skills and develop talents. I like this book because the concepts were simplified and you can readily adopt them. Key here is being able to flex those mental muscles and turn what you have read into actual practice!

Classy

This was an accidental purchase for me while I was looking for the book The Food Rules. What is class anyway? Is it something that you are born with? Does being classy equate to being part of an elite circle and surrounded by all things posh?

This is a book that is worth reading especially for young women who aspires of growing up to be a lady and not a tramp. We see a lot of women today, young/not-so-young/young-once who embrace fleeting, trivial things that leaves a bad taste in the mouth in the hope of being classy but ends up being trashy. My daughter was interested in this book and I had to guide her through it.

This book include highlights on the following: how to dress sexy without looking like a skank, how to avoid sticky situations that lead girls to making bad decisions (think about homemade sex videos, those pictures that will haunt you to the grave, etc), behaving in public, why you are what you read, why one should avoid the rumor mill, and many more! The tagline: Because if you are not a lady, chances are you are a tramp.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Coming Home

Endings are also beginnings. You just don’t know it at that time.

So I did quote. Quite a number of times actually. One of them being, in 2010 when we moved to Singapore.

And so these same words came fleeting in my mind, as we were weaving through traffic in that very hot and humid evening of our home coming to Manila. 2 ½ years is not exactly an eon ago. So there was nothing really melodramatic about that “coming home day.” And yet, I was filled with feelings of anticipation.

After all, it is home.

Our first destination that week was to visit our residential home. While still weeks away from being able to move in, we had to visit the house often enough to get it clean and ready to receive our furnitures and stuff.

As always, seeing our home moves me. This home was after all, built at a very memorable year of our lives.

People asked me in my fist few weeks, what it feels like to be back?

Quite honestly, it never felt like we have been away for 2.5 years. Uncannily, it felt like the day we came back was just a continuity of that day I first left, although looking around me, things did quite change.

I snapped this picture of sunrise of my first official day back to work. It had to be significant because work, after all, was the primary reason for these transitions in our lives.



And while I am back still the same person that I once was deep down, I also knew that there were a few changes that happened to me and philosophically, I believed it has all but prepared me for this new chapter of my life. I had a renewed sense of purpose, for once.

I looked at the sunrise and said to myself, “A new day has just began”.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Thank You for the Memories, Singapore

After 2 and ½ years of living and working in Singapore, it is time to go back home. I have known for quite a while that my time in Singapore is finite and would come to close. I appreciated having the sense of predictability for once, after a lifetime of unpredictable twist and turns in life. The last few years have been well spent for me and my family. We were able to explore most of what Singapore has to offer and travelled great places in the Southeast Asia.

Last day at Park Infinia

A few colleagues did ask me, after the announcement of my new assignment was made, how I feel about moving back. It's mixed feelings, actually. On one hand, there is elation and anticipation.

This is a historical time for the Philippines. A nation whose time has come. We are at a turning point where all our dreams and hard work for our country is coming to fruition. We are not too far off from earning our rightful place as the next tiger economy for Asia! It is a great time to be back in the Philippines! True, it is still not perfect but we are moving at the right direction. An ounce of optimism coupled with work and perseverance always outweigh negative energies. Progress versus perfection!

I definitely look forward to resuming our tour of the Philippines. After having been into the so-called popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, I am convinced there is no reason why our beaches would not emerge superior or at par with the world's best! Palawan, Boracay, Bohol, Cebu, Ilocos, CamSur, Davao, Nasugbu - and many more - the list is endless!

We also miss our home. Being cooped up in a high rise, landless condominium unit is not the same as enjoying breezy nights at our lanai by the garden. My husband and daughter definitely missed gardening and the joys of father-children bonding over washing the car. Things we could not do in Singapore.

We missed authentic Pinoy food too, especially the ihaw-ihaw (grilled) kind! We missed the Chrismassy atmosphere that starts in September, the town fiestas, the Santa Cruzan, the firecrackers every New Year's eve and the fuss that goes along with it. The festivities that shows the fun side of Filipinos, no matter what predicament we face. As they say, It's More Fun in the Philippines! And we have thousands of reasons why.

On the otherhand, there are also people and memories of Singapore that I will miss to be sure and this made my last few months poignant with memories...

- The few close friends who stuck with me and pulled me over to have a life. I couldn't have stayed sane without them!
- Friday night unplanned after work drinks at Harry's and wherever we wound up afterwards!
- My work mentors who never gave up on me even when I was about to give up on myself. I will always remember that the best gift we can give to others is believing that they can.
- The SG-version of the oh-no-we-are-doomed days that thankfully never came.
- I will miss strolling along the Esplanade after a hearty dinner at Makansutra, simply looking over the Singapore river and the city skyline.
- Running my first 5K and 10K, which I hope to be able to continue at home.
- Eating at the hawkers. We've had our share of the posh fancy dining places but the hawkers is as real as it can get.
- Late night coffee with Belle and Lek along Orchard Road while seating along the sidewalk. Afternoon tea breaks at Wang's and the auntie who knew us so well already.
- Rummaging goodies whenever there is something on sale.  In SG, I only buy stuff when they are finally on sale! And ogling at the designer boutiques and conjure excuses why I should pull myself away ASAP.
- Being able to walk home very late at night and knowing you are safe.
- Travelling from SG to most part of the region is a breeze.
- Watching plays at the MBS Theater. Note to self: watch more plays in the Philippines.
- Walking to work! I now have to endure the slow moving traffic at the south.
- Walking to the nearby mall at the drop of hat, for some after dinner dessert or whenever I fancy buying a new book.
- No brown outs, no typhoons, no flooding. No worrying about whether we will have running water when the electricity goes out!

Most of all, Singapore will always have a special place in our hearts.

This is where Kevin grew leaps and bounds in his special education through the help of his teachers/therapists at the ABC Learning Center. In Singapore, we never felt that Kevin was looked down upon by people; he was always treated with understanding and respect despite being especially different.

I am convinced that Kevin was part of the reason why fate brought us here.

And that purpose has been served. He will be thirteen soon and as destiny has laid it down, his new needs are best met at our home country. Now it is time to move on.

Because as the tired old cliche goes... there is still no place like home.


Whenever I walk to work every morning, I glance up to these towers while I sing to myself.
 
Kevin's farewell day at ABC Learning Center

Kyla's farewell speech on her last day at school.
She even asked me to create a video of picture slide show showing
her memories of Singapore, CIS and Asia.


Farewell Dinner hosted by friends
They saved my sanity in the last few years!

... I call this our goodbye-for-now dinner.
Farewell dinner with the PS team

Ladies of FC. Will be missing you!

 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Good Morning Vietnam!"

There are many beautiful places to explore in Vietnam—Saigon, Hanoi, Hoi An, Na Trang, Hue, Danang – to name but a few! But with limited time to spare, we took a shot at going for Hanoi and Halong Bay holiday.

View of the Halong Bay

I have been to Vietnam quite a few times and mostly stayed in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City, but I prefer to call it by its old name). It was a work-related trip so time was always too short  to properly explore the city.

Hanoi is seated at the north of the narrow but elongated terrain of Vietnam. We visited in late March and the weather was chilly and slightly rainy.

My sister found a boutique hotel- the Rising Dragon Villa Hotel smack in the center of Hanoi. If you are a low-maintenance person, you ought to try this gem of a hotel when in Hanoi instead of the usual 5-star accomodations. We got two rooms for a 5-days trip and the price is unbelievably cheap and even comes with a buffet breakfast! The staff were very friendly and extremely helpful for tourists like us. They gave a run-down of places to see, foodie places to go to around Hanoi and they can also arrange for day tours to Halong Bay.
The boutique hotels around Hanoi area are a gem of a find.
Makes you wonder how they are able to pack quite a space despite the narrow strip.

The location of this hotel makes it easy to stroll around the city by foot and you get to really feel the vibe of the Old Quarter. All foodie places and souvenir shops are easily accessible from where we stayed.  The Old Quarter, near Hoan Kiem lake, has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. It leads to various street and each street then had merchants and households specialized in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewellery, lacquer crafts, hand woven bags, even stainless steel household wares. We bought a few good lacquared wall frames and trinkets.

Enjoying authentic Vietnamese Pho noodles

Main gate of the Temple of Literature
Hoan Kiem Lake at early afternoon


Interesting visit at the Army Museum where various war trophies are on display.
This is an actual French bombet jet captured in Vietnam.
 On our second day, we went for a day tour of the Halong Bay. It was a cloudy day so the pictures by the bay were less brilliant than it would have been on a cloudless and sunny day. But nonetheless, the rock formation around the bay was a sight to behold. We took a boat ride that passes through an underwater cave while being towed across the serene bay. Part of the tour was trek at stalactite and stalagmite caves which has been converted into a tourist attraction.


Even under a cloudy day, Halong Bay is still a beauty



Boat ride around the bay


Stalactite and Stalagmite Caves converted into a tourist attraction

For the rest of the week, we went around the city- visited the Army Museum, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace, scoured all the souvenir shops and places and one rainy night walked for probably 5km (am probably exaggerating, but it felt like a 5km walk) from the hotel to the posh French colonial period arcitecture Opera house.

Somehow, Vietnam is one of those countries that moved me like no other. Like a soul city, so to speak. The only other city that got me feeling this way was Shanghai, way back in 2005. As we strolled around the city of Hanoi, you can feel the optimism and gentility of its people weaving through the old and the new.


The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum at the capital


ps. You must be a true 80s kid to understand the title!

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Day at the Singapore Art Museum

We finally made it to the Singapore Art Museum after endless procrastinations ("It's-too-damn-hot-outside-excuses...).   Kyla is interested in artsy-things these days, so it is quite fitting that we go together.



Located at Central Singapore, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) opened in 1996 to preserve the contemporary art and art histories of Singapore and Southeast Asia.  The stark white French colonial architecture of the SAM today basically is a retention of the main shell of the old St. Joseph's Institution which was established in 1867 by the De La Salle Brothers.

The main exhibit this season is the Weight of History.

Here are a few pictures we snapped from the exhibit...

This makes me think of a Time Machine.


Called Translated Vases.
The main centerpiece for the Weight of History Exhibit.

Mosaic and Prints
The mini art pieces at the back wall show equally instesting collages.


Who wants to take the Hot Seat?


Aboriginal Art from Australia's original inhabitants.
Ironically, the government offered citizenship to the Aborigines.
One of the many ironies of colonization.

 
This left me staring breathlessly.
What a depiction of the rape of nature.
The painting was crafted on what appears to be a window.
When you stare outside your window, what world do you see?

...and finally, Kyla's favorite section. 

Kyla and their class went to SAM early this year as part of their Art Exposure.  She excitedly told me that she has seen this section before, titled "Everything That Matters."  This exhibit is spearheaded by Singaporean Artist Justin Lee with the Singapore Association for Mental Health. This featured pop-art  from the specially-gifted beneficiaries of SAMH. Art therapy is used as a medium for their recovery and healing.

Kyla's eye lit up when she saw the artworks. This was the inspiration of a painting she made called "Flowers".

Simplicity and Beauty. Beyond what human eyes can see.

This was our last stop at the museum. I left this room knowing that Kyla can see the beauty beyond what human eyes perceive. For a moment there, as she was looking at the paintings of gifted special individuals, I know that she and the unseen artists were in a communal state. It's just so beautiful and humbling.