Number one fan

Everyone needs a number one fan.

The Ateneo College Glee Club already had its own when I joined it as a freshman in 1999. His name was Dr. Fernando Hofileña, M.D. To us, and the generations of Glee Club members who knew him, he was simply Doc Hof.

Doc was a tenor in the Glee Club during the 1950s, when it was still an all-male choir. He stayed on to become its tireless cheerleader, mentor, guide, morale booster and its number one fan.

You couldn’t be in the Glee Club and not know him. Your identity as a card-carrying member of the Glee Club was not valid until you had seen him strolling in his stately pace with his trusty umbrella along Katipunan; until you’d been stopped by him in the hall and held by the arm for a long chat (often, just as you were dashing to class or to rehearsal); until you had heard him speak in superlatives of the group you belonged to.

Everyone has their favorite Doc Hof story. Mine is the time when, after a particularly disastrous rehearsal, our conductor launched into a cutting sermon that left our confidence in shreds (as conductors will often do).

At the end of Sir Joel’s tirade, Doc walked into the rehearsal room beaming, bringing his hands together in slow, emphatic applause. “Incandescent!” he declared beatifically.

Well, nobody could stay angry or tired after that.

My other favorite Doc Hof story is how he, as an octogenarian, was hit by a truck while walking home in Loyola Heights. We were all horrified when we heard. Oh, no, not to worry—he was okay, he said. He simply got up, dusted himself off and walked home. After getting hit by a truck. True story.

Doc Hof’s unconditional love and support was constant even in the toughest times—when we sounded anything but incandescent. I was president during a difficult time in the Glee Club: we changed conductors twice in one year; we were on our own after a dramatic break from our alumni members; the makeup of the group shifted suddenly towards young, inexperienced singers. After our hard-earned triumphs in Europe, listeners expected a seasoned, winning sound that the “new” Glee Club simply didn’t have and couldn’t rush no matter how bad we wanted to.

During that transitional period, I heard many things from many people—but not a single thing from Doc. Making difficult decisions for the group was nerve-wracking and we officers could never be sure we were doing the right thing. In those times, Doc Hof’s quiet kindness was a gift. His constant presence was reassuring. His unshakeable faith in us, that we would endure and flourish, was a soothing balm. He simply knew that we would make it, even if I wasn’t sure we would.

Doc was so in love with the Glee Club, it was all he ever talked to us about. He never said much about himself. We were all stunned to learn about his achievements when he was awarded the Lux-In-Domino Award by Ateneo in 2008.

Here was a man who, when World War II broke out, stopped med school to return to his province of Negros to help his father, then the Mayor of the town of Silay. After fleeing with his family and townspeople to the mountains, he joined the Resistance against the Japanese and became acting Mayor at the age of 22.

After the war, he became a Fulbright scholar and studied pediatrics and child psychiatry in New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He came home to become the pediatrician and clinic head for the very first school for special education in the Philippines—now the Cupertino Center for Special Children in Loyola Grand Villas. I could go on and on, but you can read more about Doc’s remarkable life here.

He loved music, theater, debate. If you had ever talked to him, you would realize how much he exemplified a bygone era—one where people were kinder, greater, more genteel, more noble. Now that Doc is gone, I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone whom I could accurately describe as genteel or noble. Now I feel like his era has passed with his passing.

Everyone needs a number one fan. That a man as accomplished and remarkable as Doc Hof could be humble enough to be ours—so unabashedly, so unconditionally—was a gift beyond our deserving.

Doc was laid to his eternal rest today. Though it was always an honor and a pleasure to sing for him, I believe that we were only the opening act to what awaits him. I can only imagine what beautiful music must have been prepared to welcome him. I can only imagine his face when he hears it.

Dear Doc, rest well and enjoy the music. We love you and we will miss you.

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Garden state

Last month’s visit to Versailles was actually the second time I’ve been there. The first time was exactly 10 years ago (eeep!) with the Glee Club. We had some bonus miles from our bus company, so the group decided to use it on a day trip to Versailles.

However, it was a Monday and the palace was closed. We only got to see the gardens, which were free. We would have been extremely bummed if not for the fact that the Versailles gardens are, like, jumongous. Never underestimate the fun-generating ability of a bunch of Pinoys with cameras.

The gardens of Versailles then… and now.

How’s this for another before and after shot?

Nobody is allowed to comment on how I looked like I was stretched in post. I’m not exactly happy about this decade-long, er, expansion project. You are however allowed to comment that 10 years later, I am at least dressed better than my neneng self. By the way, this outfit is part of the two-part guest post I did for Plus Size Fasyon Mudra.

In the summer, Versailles charges a €7 admission fee for its gardens. In exchange for this little sum, you get the perfect soundtrack for a French frolic. Music from several appropriate historic periods is piped in amidst the tall green hedges, serene fountains and assorted Greek bronze figures.

Not all of us were happy about having to pay for something that was free on our last visit. On the bright side, the music was well-chosen, discreet and did a lot to enhance the ambience and stimulate the imagination.

Not only did I keep expecting to happen upon Marie Antoinette amidst a flock of poodles, the music  made me feel like I should be laughing a coquettish, lady-in-waiting kind of laugh and playing hide-and-seek in a powdered wig and taffeta ballgown. Makes me wish I hadn’t left the talcum powder and the whalebone corset in my other handbag.

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From happy to happier (hopefully)

A few weeks ago, Marlon and I saw a window display for a book about the world’s happiest countries. Imagine how gleefully we chortled upon seeing how our soon-to-be ex-home and our soon-to-be future home stacked up against each other on the list!

Moving 77 places up the list is not too bad, ey?

Though Singapore and I have not exactly been a match made in heaven, we’ve had some great times. And for a place that ranks below Kosovo, Bosnia, and Kazakhstan on the happiness list, it’s done very well for me these last three years. For obvious reasons, there are tons of things I’m looking forward to in Amsterdam. But to be fair, there are also a lot of things I’ll miss about Singapore.

The food. Singapore is where I really fell in love with Asian food. For some reason in Manila, if you want gobsmacking, very authentic Asian food other than Chinese (say Thai or Indian), chances are you have to pay through the nose for it. Not so here. Great food is abundant, very affordable and truly diverse. Unfortunately for me, I have enough added poundage to prove it!

Black pepper crab, my all-time favorite Singapore dish

The professional growth. Coming here stretched me professionally. I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself to take on production if I had stayed home; being shoved out of my comfort zone led me to discover the little payoffs and sweet spots in what seemed, many times, like a muck of difficulty. Among other things, I learned that being “fast” and “nice” is well and good, but not enough to carry me forward; not when there are other things to be, like “reliable”, “accurate”, “professional”… and so much more.

My last shoot with BDA for the Disney Channel in Kuala Lumpur
Finding the courage to leave a job that I’d loved was a daunting risk that paid off. And both learning that I’d done well enough for other people to want to hire me, and being able to sustain a financially rewarding freelance career out of that, have done wonders for my professional confidence.

Our house. I will miss our house! It may be out in the boonies as far as Singaporeans are concerned, but  I’ve loved living in this green, quiet, low-density, sprawling complex.

Our home has been an expression of Marlon’s and my still-developing identity as a newlywed couple. We’ve had so much fun decorating it (even if I did end up getting rid of half the furniture), making my first culinary steps (and mis-steps) in it, hosting the many guests of “Hotel Plazo” (or Palazzo Plazo, as Pauline calls it), just holing up and getting cozy on leisurely weekends, and yes, even messing it up when we just get too damn lazy. I enjoyed the comforts of home especially over the last six months when I started working freelance.
 The view that tells me the workday is over
It may not be a Town & Country or even a Real Living kind of place, but it’s been our home. And I sure am going to miss having a pool…
Singapore = 1, Amsterdam = 0

Note to self: must swim more this week! Barring Boracay and Bohol in December, God only knows when I’ll get to swim next!

Multicultural colleagues and friends. The locals may complain about us “FTs” or foreign talents (some even go as far as to call us foreign trash), but Singapore sure knows how to attract people from all over the world. (Whether they actually stay and put down roots is another story.) There are just so many expats here.

Happier times at BDA
I’ve had the chance to work with people from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Japan, Australia, the US and the UK; some of the dearest friends Marlon and I have made here are from as far away as Colombia and South Africa.

Just like when I traveled to Europe with the Glee Club, meeting people of different cultures and backgrounds makes you realize there are so many different ways to live, so you don’t feel completely insane for making certain decisions. (Like going freelance and moving to Amsterdam, for example.)

The infrastructure. When locals whine about their infrastructure, sometimes I just want to slap them and say “Please travel more! And you’ll see that in this world, you’re lucky just to have a country that works!” Because public transport here is pretty awesome.

It’s why we haven’t felt the need for a car for three years (seven years for Marlon). And it’s why I don’t understand why one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the country prints letters to the editor that are about such pressing problems as puddles (yes, puddles) in MRT stations and heated pleas to the government for an in-train display that lights up to tell you what stop you’re at and on which side of the train the doors will open. (People! It’s four freaking MRT lines, not rocket science! Have you seen the metro systems in Paris, Tokyo, Seoul?)

But I guess discovering malfunctions in such a well-oiled system can be like paying through the nose for tickets to Disneyland and finding out that Space Mountain is down for repairs. Oh, and I’ll miss cabs.

Cabs are my biggest vice here by far. Never mind the cabbies and their driving. I’ll miss relatively affordable taxi rides (relative to Europe, that is), being able to book taxis via SMS, and having them arrive in minutes. Ohhhh. If I think about it too much, I might get depressed. On to the next.

The large, and growing, Pinoy community. The number of Pinoys in Singapore has boomed since I first started visiting Marlon seven years ago. And the demographic is changing; for the first time in the history of Singapore, there are more Filipino professionals than Filipino domestic helpers. Nowadays, I catch snatches of Tagalog nearly everywhere I go. It’s like living in Makati. Or sometimes, Katipunan.

With Singapore-based high school and college classmates (Justine was visiting)

It’s great to be able to speak Tagalog to someone (most often on the customer-facing side of things) to break the ice, get things done, or simply create instant rapport. It’s even better to run into old acquaintances and rekindle friendships. And best of all, because of the large Pinoy community, it’s easy to get a lot of things home. In the mood for longganisadaing na bangus, sukang pinakurat, even pan de sal? Lucky Plaza lang ang katapat niyan.

Proximity to home. Cheap flights were a godsend for me in the first few months here, when I was still very homesick and hadn’t found work. Later on, as I started to make a home for myself here, the Philippines became our destination of choice for short getaways.

 Happiness in Bohol

I tried going to a few other beaches (Phuket, isdatchu?), but I guess there really is no place like home. It’s just ironic that I could only really afford to travel around my own country once I got out of it. When plane fare home moves up by from three digits to four next year, I am sure going to miss being able to hop on a Philippine-bound plane at the drop of a hat!

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An epic buy

My trip to the San Francisco book lovers’ mecca known as Green Apple had set my head spinning. The cashier had already rung up my and Marlon’s armfuls of books, second-hand and new alike, but that didn’t stop us from heading back into the aisles. Unadulterated book lust had seized me and dragged Marlon’s wallet into a blazing inferno with me in the process — and guilt was starting to set in.

I had gotten to the point where, while waiting for Chris to finish browsing through cookbooks, I plopped down on a small wooden stool facing a corner and kept my eyes glued to the floor JUST SO I WOULDN’T SEE ANYTHING MORE TO BUY. Finally Chris finished his browsing, and we made our way through the aisles towards the exit.

And then I saw it. A single word that jumped out at me from my childhood. A beat later, the art on the cover registered and I knew I couldn’t leave without having it.

The Ramayana.

One of the most vivid memories I have of visiting India as a child was reading Amar Chitra Katha’s comic book adaptation of the epic Ramayana, widely believed to be the first poetic work ever written in Sanskrit. My relatives gave the comic to me and my sister along with a compilation of stories about King Vikram and the vampire spirit Betal. I must have read it countless times growing up; I know the whole story of the Ramayana by heart. 

(Image via Amar Chitra Katha)

The comic must have been written sometime in the sixties, and thinking back the writing was really old-fashioned. The characters always addressed each other as “O Rama!” or “O Sita!” and if you look at Sita on the cover with her ample curves and moon-shaped face, you’ll see a very traditional ideal of Indian femininity. I always found it strange that Rama was blue, and it was only fairly recently that I found out that was because Rama was believed to be an avatar of the god Vishnu, who was also blue.

But do you think any of that mattered? Nope. I loved all the characters: strong and handsome Rama, loving and beautiful Sita, evil twelve-headed demon king Ravana (it must have been a real b*tch every time the artist had to draw all those heads!), loyal brother Lakshmana, powerful and mischievous prince of monkeys Hanuman, even the power-hungry and cunning Queen Mother Kaikeyi. I loved them and all the absurd and wonderful things that they did.

(Images via Sepia Mutiny)

Naturally when the extravagant musical Rama at Sita was staged at UP Theater in 1999, I was obsessed with it. I remember saving a spread from the newspaper that showed the stellar cast in their amazingly crafted costumes and makeup. I would look at it over and over again, marveling over this decadent reunion with old friends, over this marriage of the two halves of me: an Indian story captured by Filipino artistry. 

(Image via Gibbs Cadiz)

I’ve thought back to the Ramayana comics now and then, with the vague hope that I can still find a copy someday to hand down to my kids someday. Although my kids will only be a quarter Indian, I still want them to learn about it; for all the little I learned about my Indian side, it’s always been a tremendous source of pride for me. 

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to find a beautiful reimagining of this (heretofore fairly obscure) childhood favorite, in San Francisco of all places. This particular retelling is illustrated by Pixar artist Sanjay Patel, which makes it all the more fantastic. 

The hero, Lord Rama

His nemesis Ravana

His ally, Hanuman the monkey god

And the center of the conflict, his consort Sita

Consort! I mean who uses that word anymore? The comic always used to refer to Sita as Rama’s consort, not his wife, woman or spouse, and it’s idiosyncracies like these that have stuck with me. 

I’ll have to wait a little longer to pore over these beautifully illustrated pages. Marlon is reading it now, and it feels wonderful to introduce him to the characters who may have new faces, but are still the same old friends to me.
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10 years ago I was 18

UPDATED: Now with pictures and a note on technology!

Maggie and Gutsy’s forays into nostalgiatime made me realize, somewhat belatedly, that 2010 marks the passing of an entire decade. So I thought a look back at the Noughties (surely there is something better to call it?) was worth blogging about.

But as I have the awful habit of putting a favorite song on loop literally for years, thus preventing more current songs from penetrating my aural fog, I am not in the best position to make a playlist to commemorate the decade.

So let me just remember how it was 10 years ago, when I was 18.

10 years ago…

… I was a college freshman and my favorite class was English with Doreen Fernandez. I was just beginning to discover how much writing was a part of me, how happy I was doing it, and how good I could really be at it. Ten years later, it’s become how I make a living and how I live.

… I was possessed by the terrifying belief that to lose myself in the delicious mindlessness of pleasure, I had to be very deeply in love. To my great relief, I learned that the two could exist independently, thereby leading to some very liberating but otherwise pointless and frustrating… er, adventures.

… I made a powerful choice to be happy, long before I knew I could make such powerful choices, which got me over the biggest heartbreak of my life. Thankfully, no other heartbreak has followed to date.

… I promised to be friends with my first love. We still are.

… I met the man whom I would marry. I never thought he would be the one.

… The singular point of my existence was making it on tour, getting to Europe and having a life-changing adventure. I was probably waiting for some European Lothario to sweep me off my feet, but the real life-changer was the friends I made in the process of making it on tour and singing my way through Europe.

… I fell in love with singing. And after years of being an alto, I became a soprano. Now that was life-changing!

… I was in Slovenia, among other places. And I was shocked to discover not everywhere in Europe was prettier/newer/better than the Philippines. Slovenia!!! How’s that for somewhere you’ll never be again.

Que horror! Ano ba yang bandanna efek? 

… Oh Lord! All my tour pictures were on film. Each roll of film cost roughly Php150 and about the same to develop. I had to really think about which pictures I wanted to take. I saved up for months to have all 18 rolls from the tour developed. In my mind, 10 years is not that long ago since the memories are amazingly fresh — but looking at these film prints just makes it all seem prehistoric.

…  Speaking of pictures. The only person who had a digital camera back then was multibillionaire wonder boy and pawnshop heir Harvey Villarica. The resolution of this uber-expensive piece of technology was… ONE megapixel. Which meant he could develop them into prints about the size of a postage stamp (or, if you really wanna go back, Neoprint-size). We were all mystified the first time he showed it to us. “Harvey, what will you do with the pictures if you can’t develop them?” my English block mates wondered. “Put them on the Internet,” he shrugged. We just stared at him. “But… what for?” Ah, the dark ages.

… My family and I were struggling to make ends meet. There were days where I literally would have to scrounge up fifty pesos just to be able to go to school. Things are vastly improved now, to say the least.

… I shared a bedroom with my sister, with my mom in the next room. Today we live in three different cities — Sta. Rosa, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

… I was at least 35 lbs lighter. This in spite of the fact that I would have a three-pack of Chips Ahoy or a chocolate bar everyday. Well at least now we know how I got to my present weight. Hah.
… And in spite of the fact that I was 35 lbs lighter, I absolutely did not take advantage of my skinny-ness and dressed like an eejit. My favorite outfit was flared jeans, black leather platforms from the mercato in Milan, a blouse and a Jansport backpack. Ngek. My second favorite outfit was army green cargo pants, a large t-shirt, and sneakers. Fug. This style of dressing created the impression that I was either butch (Marlon: “I thought you hated guys”) or an athlete (Mags Imaizumi: “Oh aren’t you on the soccer varsity? You dress like the type”). Go figure.
 I loved this butchy grey Esprit jacket to death. I wore it all over Europe 
with my passport, wallet, camera AND travel journal stuffed into my tummy pocket 
like a dumpy manang kangaroo. I even cried when it went missing. 
Now I wish I could reach into this photo and rip it off me. 
Mamatay na lang ako sa lamig.

… I was one, maybe two cup sizes smaller. I would gladly give back my boobs if I could also give back the rest of the poundage I’ve accumulated since then.

… I had virgin hair. (High school attempts to “dye” it with Kool-Aid do not count.) I had only just discovered how not to tweeze my eyebrows to invisibility. Upper lip waxing, moisturizer, eye cream and sunblock were not yet part of my beauty vocabulary. The only sunblock in my consciousness was Coppertone and you would never think of putting that gunk on your face if you weren’t at the beach.

… I failed Math 12. Ten years later, does it matter? Hell no.

… Come to think of it, I can say with perfect honesty and zero regret that I once woke up to find myself in bed with my Math 12 teacher and his wife! (Be not alarmed: Lorna, Gerard and I were in the same Glee Club caroling group that year and we slept in the sofabed in Eunice’s den after caroling in Alabang. I was sleeping next to Lorna, naturally. LOL!)

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