We writers express ourselves in the best medium we know how, through words. Straightforward, laced, metaphors, riddles and poetry, they come in all forms. White spaces are canvasses to those brimming thoughts swirling in our heads, blinking cursors and inks of all kinds are the brushes that give life to the words percolating and bubbling over in our heads, screaming to be unleashed.
Writing is cathartic for me, and I sometimes forget that what I write does affect others too. A worried phone call from far away in the wee hours one morning, understandably over something I wrote, led me to take the silent road for a while and embark on a much-needed introspection.
Moving a family and a marriage abroad has been a great challenge. Everybody thinks that expatriation sounds so exciting and adventurous. It is easy to underestimate the difficulty of settling into a new life in a new country. Major ups and downs have put our marriage to several tests, and setbacks have made us question the choices that have been made.
Identity issues and staying at home have been quite challenging situations to grapple with for expat wives as well.
On top of all that, there are no shortages of disheartening encounters: rules and policies that sometimes don’t make sense, excuses for bad services hiding behind bureaucracies, unreasonable persons and a string of bad experiences enough to send us packing our bags.
Being duped and manipulated by people to further their own agenda almost made me give up my faith in humanity and unscrew my steadfast belief in the inherent goodness of human beings. How do we cope with the madness that sometimes engulf our lives?
There are days you wake up to, wishing that you could fall back in sleep right away, hoping that when you open your eyes once again it’s going to be another brand new day. Yet you still have to get out of bed and carry on with a bright smile and a happy face before the children, because it is unfair to pass on that kind of insecurity to them.
As with all obstacles we face, nothing lasts forever. No bad situation is permanent. If we ride it out long enough, hold on tight, grin and bear it, albeit not without a lot of screaming and fighting and doors slamming, any uncomfortable condition too shall pass.
Resolution comes. Things have a way of sorting themselves out sometimes when we’re lucky. In other cases, the small actions you take to make the situation better are rewarded in the end. In worst cases, even if things take awhile or hardly improve, human beings are equipped with built-in mechanisms that make us adapt or learn to make peace with the things we cannot change.
It has been a year since we moved to Kuala Lumpur. Some kind of normalcy has settled upon what was once a big mass of upheaval and I’m hearing the birds chirping on sunny mornings once more.
These days, I look out the window and see the leaves dancing breezily from the branches of the trees and wonder in awe what a lovely day it’s turning out to be. Beautiful days have always been here all along. Sometimes we just fail to notice them because we’re too caught up in the drama encircling our human existence. But there’s no use being hard on our selves for being grumpy at times.
What matters is that we’re still here standing. We managed to step over some great hurdles and more are certainly forthcoming. But having survived those, which were thrown our way, only makes us stronger and better equipped with whatever is in store because we held on tight when things got rough.
In the meantime, happy days are here again.
Each morning, we wake up to a city full of hopeful people
And all they desire is to do meaningful work
But there are no shortages of the ones
Who bring them down. Day in, day out,
we wake up and resolve to put forth our best
To accomplish, be productive
And the first encounter with a human being
Knocks the wind out of our sails…
Cutthroat, survival, fear, malice
Punch in the gut, run off with your goods
Take away the inspiration
Break the marriage; shatter this friendship
let the tears start flowing
And so we sit, staring at a blank space on the wall
What the hell just happened?
So there goes the summer, as swift as the sunshine in the northern regions of Europe. September was an exciting month that kept our house aflutter, what with our first daughter starting her formal education.
Time flies when you are occupied. Time flies when you are living life.
Summer has always been a kind of respite from the daily grind. The scorching heat makes us take refuge in the comfort of our air-conditioned homes. And when we do brave the elements, it’s to lie comfortably under the shade of a beach umbrella, basking in the sea breeze wafting our way. It is also a time of reconnection, of holidaying with friends and families, of flying across the miles to reunite with those we hold dear.
Like any other season, it never lasts long no matter how we pray. Summer’s ending sometimes also signals the closing of certain chapters in our lives.
I do not like the cold, but I like autumn for the sense of brooding introspection it brings. The leaves of the trees tease us playfully with their magnificent displays of changing hues from green, to yellow, to flaming red oranges and magenta, finally succumbing into brown and withering, descend slowly into the grounds. Disengaged from the branches, they carpet the soft earth.
It’s like the bursting of a thousand beautiful sunsets, leaving a tree standing tall and bare; its protruding branches and gnarling shape exposed.
I believe this is a helpful exercise we human beings can submit to from time to time.
And so began this long introspection. A careless word, a tactless remark, or a hateful comment can shun an artist into withdrawal, a writer into a block, or cast a friendship into doubt. Without going into the details of a series of particular events, the distillation of a long thought process culminates.
Our experiences, encounters and what we have learned from the world and our travels shape us. Some people grow with us, while others will forever remain in our past. Distance changes people. It opens our eyes into the realities of the dynamics of the relationships we have with the other people in our lives. We suddenly differ in opinions and disagree on things we once were on the same pages with.
And while everyone is entitled to have his or her own opinion, it is important to remember that we can all agree to listen to it, tolerate it, and respect it for what it is without necessarily acceding to it.
There are battles worth fighting for, and there are disagreements worth walking away from. While I admire people who stand up for their own principles, great care should be taken into account on its application. No one is entitled to force his or her own brand of morality nor push his or her sets of beliefs on another.
How thin is the line that divides basic human decency from anarchy. The idea of respect for each other’s opinions and actions must be taken seriously if we are to uphold each human transaction with great care and regard. This is the foundation of all relationships and holds together the construct of our social fabric.
But what option is left for us if someone in our inner circle invades this basic courtesy and insists on his own views and perspectives as the only acceptable course of action from which all transactions in that particular relationship are going to be based?
Taking cue from the earth’s shift into autumn this time of year, there are moments when retreating is the best option if attempts at decent discussions only escalate the issues. Arguments are futile and pointless exercises. We don’t have to make a fuss or drama every time. We don’t even have to say goodbye. Just walk away.
Somewhere in the western hemisphere, winter will soon come and cast its chill. Hopefully, this hibernation will be enough time for us to rethink our values, to regroup and to knock us back into our senses and see things in a different light.
Who knows what spring has in store.
Mid thirties is a strange age to be in. I first knew about the concept of death when I was 8 and my grandfather passed away. He was 54 years old. Until his passing, he was the only man I ever looked up to. I grew up with him teaching me tennis and holding my hand. And though while we were told that he had died at the time, I never really felt grief until I became a teenager and started missing him.
I kept wondering what life would have been with him around. Oh how the dynamics in our family would have changed because he was such a central force to reckon with, a lynchpin.
The second death in my immediate circle was the passing of my grandmother at 90 years old a year ago. A death that comes naturally with a life that’s lived and in the natural order of things is easier to accept.
But all around me for two years now friends, colleagues and acquaintances have slipped to the after life, like a house of cards falling slowly one by one. When people die in their mid thirties or forties or fifties, we say, they’re too young to go.
It makes me wonder how far is this dark harvest from taking away anyone I know in my closest circle? I wonder if we are courting death too much at our age with our lifestyle choices or is it simply, as fatalists would say, when it’s your time to go, it’s time to go? Death keeps getting younger. Or have we just grown older?
And as grim and morbid as this subject may be, it’s a reality that we all have to face. Every person’s passing is a stark reminder of how fragile, how thin is the line that divides dying from living. We could be gone in an instant, leaving just memories behind.
It makes me want to fly home and attend every friend’s birthday, wedding or homecoming. It makes me want to not miss anything for fear it might be the last. It makes me want to reach out and iron every kink there ever was in any relationship I have with others and say, “Whatever it is that’s putting this wedge between us, it’s alright and it’s not significant. My love for you trumps everything else. Everything.”
It makes me want to huddle close to my children and hold them dearly so that my embrace will stay in their memory; so they feel loved with all of my life, long after I’ll be gone. It makes me want to put down in writing all the stories swirling in my head. To make a mark, to leave a legacy that will forever live in the hearts I hope will be touched.
It makes me see how precious each day can be and the only way to go is to not waste talent, to love life and above all, to live it fully.
Chicken and ginger congee is my comfort food in times of sickness. Burning from a high fever a week ago, I woke up with a squeamish stomach so I asked our house help to make one.
She made it deliciously, but there was too much chicken in the porridge. I could taste its meat in every spoonful of soup I put into my mouth. That “ruined” it for me, somehow.
You see, I flew with Philippine Airlines quite a lot in the past. And I used to hang out in their business class lounges while waiting for the flight announcement. They have a beautiful spread of canapés, open faced sandwiches and a huge pot, the kind you see in soup kitchens, of delicious chicken congee. There wasn’t always a lot of chicken so part of the challenge was how to dip the ladle deep into the pot to come up with as much chicken meat at one go – for the ladle was huge and one ladle was all you need lest the bowl will overflow.
I usually stirred the pot first to feel the chicken bits, tried to get a few pieces into the ladle and pour it into my bowl. A squeeze of half a calamansi juice, a dash of black pepper and a sprinkling of dried garlic and fresh spring onions… I remember it vividly now as I brought the spoon to my lips and tasted the chicken meat I “triumphantly” caught, for I usually get four to five small slices on a bowl of ten spoonfuls. It was heaven on an airport lounge. I couldn’t go for a second for one bowl was filling enough.
Kind of reminds me when we were young children. Hotdogs, chorizos and any processed meat never made it to my grandmother’s market basket. She bought everything fresh from the vegetables to the live organic native chicken, which was slaughtered at home, much to our fascination. Our father was the red meat guy, so on those very rare occasions he’d come home with hotdogs, corned beef and the like, it was party time for my sister and me.
Because of the scarcity of finding such on our table, my sister and I used to bury our hotdogs under our rice so we can get seconds or thirds. We ate it with gusto much to the chagrin and consternation of my grandmother for she always said,
“Oh no, those kinds of food are really bad for you. You don’t know where it’s coming from and what they put in there. It’s unhealthy.” She never took so much as a single bite of any processed meat in all the years I lived with her.
Her choices weren’t a question of money for my grandfather left her a sizeable inheritance back in the day. But she never really acquired much stuff. And hardly threw anything away either.
Today, we live in a world where everything is at our fingertips. I can’t even begin to count the hotdog varieties available from Frankfurter, kosher, Hungarian, German bratwurst, Mexican-style, Chicago and the list can go on forever. There are more than 200 kinds of cookies in the supermarket. And when I want to just go for a quick grab of salad dressing I have to make up my mind on the following: ranch, thousand island, Italian, Mediterranean, Greek, vinaigrette, reduced-calorie, low fat… it’s dizzying.
Supermarket shelves make me suffer from choice paralysis. I’ve tried this so many times and I end up going home and whipping up my own dressing. Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a spoonful of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard from my fridge, sprinkling a bit of black pepper, salt and any chopped fresh herb on hand works every time. It doesn’t stress me out and I’m satisfied.
It is easy to acquire stuff these days, but do we really need most of it? When we take stock of what we have now, we don’t even use half of the things we already have in our possession. This irony is not lost on the soaring sales on how-to books on de-cluttering, Zen-like and minimalist living.
When something comes too easy and acquiring it doesn’t entail much work and sacrifice, the level of satisfaction it provides is fleeting. Paradoxically, when we know we can’t have too much of something, our tendency to appreciate it dramatically increases.
Having less makes room for creativity and experience. And experience, as opposed to material things, are the stuff wonderful memories are made of. Ten years on, who knew a pot of congee could make so much impression and elicit happy memories just from the sheer enjoyment of not having too much chicken in it?