I distance myself from people for a reason…

No man is an island, no one can live alone. This I agree, very much!

But there comes a time in our lives when we learn to choose the people we want to keep and those who we want to skip. This world is full of choices and choosing to surround ourselves with people who make us happy is one of the choices we must make.

smileyI was never part of big gangs in school and in college, but I always had a circle of friends who I cherished up to this day. As a professional, we had cliques … and the people in those cliques remain friends till now. Moving here to India, I easily made friends. I have had several circles from every company I worked with. Many of them are still in touch with me and we get together once in a while. Outside work, I made friends with some people who have remained an integral part of my life as an expat here. They were and are still a great help in making me feel at home in a country not my own. Apart from these people, I came across thousands who I simply call acquaintances – officemates, neighbors, mothers of my daughter’s classmates, wives of my husband’s colleagues, friends of friends, relatives.

set-awayAs time passed by, many things have changed and I made some choices. One of them is to weed out people from my life. In doing so, I have this philosophy to follow: “If your presence doesn’t add value to my life, your absence will make no difference!”

We may come across a lot of people in our journey through life, but not all of them are worth keeping.  I am done being the Nicey-pansy female that I use to be. I have decided to live for myself and my family, minus the unnecessary complications and pointless drama that other people parade themselves with. I have decided to steer clear of all the negativities and be free from all who lack the enthusiasm to live a life of true happiness.

negativeDecades of being myself — a daughter, a friend, a student, a professional, a wife, a mother — I learned that people are different. Some of them can be toxic and they defy logic. Here’s my shortlist: JUDGEMENTAL, they are the ones who have something negative to say about anything that you are and anything that you do; JEALOUS, they are those who can never be happy for you. They mock your achievements and pretend like they don’t care; MANIPULATIVE, they are the ones who make everything about them. They would use all kinds of techniques to get what they want. They make you believe that they are the victim and that we should feel sorry for them; UNGRATEFUL, Oh I have a long list of these types of people. They would pretend to be such a friend until they have squeezed all that you can offer, and then they stab you in the back.

Everyone deserves to be happy, and I am no exception. To be happy, I have to stay clear of people who weigh me down, people who cannot be happy unless they have taken you on their road to being miserable themselves. Weeding out people who never give a damn about how I feel is the first step. They do not have a place in the life that I want for me and my family. They have no right to call me a friend. They are not welcome in my circle. Saying YES to happiness means saying NO to things and people that stress you out. We may not be able to control someone else’s behavior, but we can choose not to be part of it. There it is … the reason why I distance myself from people!

Empty vessels make the loudest sound…

emptycanThe day the meaning of this saying became crystal clear to me is still vivid in my memory. It was back in grade school while wearing our crisp white gala dress on a Thursday, groggily sitting inside the church for our weekly mass with Fr. Alex. An irritating noise woke us all up from our torpid prayer-like stance when just before the homily, the priest threw an empty two-liter can of Del Monte Pineapple Juice (yes, the ones they use for fiesta!) in front of all of us. Did he know we’re all sleeping? Was he so upset that he had to throw such an ugly-looking rusty can to get our attention? Silence. Is he preparing to lecture us on how to behave properly in church? And then, he threw another can. This time, an unopened Ligo Sardines – the red, chilly flavored one! Puzzled, we were all quiet. Not knowing what to say, how to react … we all went back into our prayer-like stance, avoiding the gaze of our Teacher Alice who was checking out on our reactions. And then finally, Fr. Alex spoke. “The empty can made loud noise, and the one filled with stuff made almost no noise at all,” he began. For the next fifteen minutes, he elaborated on how this relates to people.

As I grew older, I carried this life lesson everywhere I went. And it has been proven right in almost all occasion. When I started working and began meeting different types of people, I saw how the same saying holds true.

I can never forget a former colleague of mine who has something to say in every discussion, not that he wants to share his thoughts, but because he wants to be the dominant voice in it. A neighbor who talked like she knew everything in the books, but she eventually failed in school. A friend of a friend who would narrate stories of her exciting trips abroad when in fact, she has not even experienced being on a plane. An acquaintance who announced her almost everyday shopping spree (only to the most expensive stores in town) like there was no tomorrow when her parents could hardly pay for her fees at school.  These instances made me think of what these people are trying to prove … to us, to the people around them, to their family, but most importantly – to themselves.

Is it just a case of empty cans making noise? Well, I believe there’s more to it. It could be one of many reasons –but one thing is apparent. These people talk because they want to be heard and seen as someone — not necessarily who they really are.

Most of the people I mentioned live a very inane, unhappy, pointless life.  Underneath that noisy façade is a seemingly troubled personality. To me, their talking is a manifestation of their desire to show the world that everything is perfectly alright with their life.

As I venture into the world of adulthood and professional life, I came across people who knew only how to talk. Forget about knowing what they are talking about, they just talk….and they keep on talking until no one is listening or willing to listen to them.  I also learned that there actually are groups of people who are known to be talkers rather than doers. Those who weave their way through their mouths and somehow get what they want in the process.

On the contrary, there are the “can filled with stuff” people. Those who give reflective meaning to the Latin proverb, “Still water runs deep.” They are the ones whose voice could hardly be heard but when they open their mouth, everyone is in awe. These are the people who actually matters!

Sadly, in this modern world, some are still enamored by talkers. Gullible people get carried away by their way with words. They may not have the stuff needed for the job but they get hired for the position. They may not have proper skills and qualifications, but they get promoted to a higher position. They may not be deserving of honors and accolades but they are given without asking.

Several years ago, while working at an international organization, a wise man told my husband, “You should learn to speak up to sell yourself, otherwise, you will be overtaken by many.” These words struck me and my husband because we always believed that our work should speak for itself. But then we realized how time has changed and the world has acquired a dog-eat-confidencedog mentality.  Well, not that we began bragging about our work but we became more aware of the wolves-pretending-to-be-sheeps around us. And yes, we now speak of what we have done and what we can do, nothing more than that. The rest can be seen on our performance when given the chance to execute the work.

Empty vessels make the loudest sound, and they can be very annoying indeed. Believe me, our office has quite a number of them. IF ONLY CLOSED MINDS CAME WITH CLOSED MOUTHS!

Reading and Giving

We have done this before, many times in fact. But nothing compares to the feeling of parting with those hard covers, the distinctive smell beneath the pages, plots and characters that gave us company when all we needed was just to curl up and get lost in the mysteries unfolding with each flip and turn of those crisp folios.

Books have always been a big part of our lives – favorite present to give and receive, preferred topic of conversation, favored over television and movies, desired when alone, carried evebooks-1rywhere.

As far as I can remember, back when I was in grade school, I would always have a book with me wherever I go. There were no mobile phones yet, so you can imagine how boring it would have been traveling by jeepney or bus, and not having anything to do but sleep or marvel at the sceneries that you actually see almost every single day! Books were my constant companion when traveling alone, waiting for someone, during breaks, before going to sleep, or just about any time anywhere … yes, including that place! I remember the EENT doctor telling me once, when I was around thirteen years old, that my persistent headache was due to reading while on a moving vehicle. But of course, what he said didn’t dissuade me from my reading habit.

In high school, I would save my allowance (even starve) just to gather enough money to buy those pocketbooks sold at Adi’s (IJA students during the 80s would agree with me that this place was “the” happening place during our time). My mom came to know about this because I started developing ulcer and she threatened to throw all my books if I don’t eat properly at school! From Mills and Boon series I graduated to Sidney Sheldon to Jane Austen to Danielle Steel to Margaret Mitchell to John Grisham to Nora Roberts to Nicholas Sparks … My choices evolved from genre to genre as I evolved as a person from a teeny bopper to a young adult to who I am today. In the last few years, I’ve been interested in biographies.

My little is one is no different. When kids clamored for candies and toys, she requested for books. She was a member of a book club at age 5, and Labooks3ndmark was her favorite place in Chennai. She is at her happiest inside a book store, in the company of books! When we holiday abroad, we always end up with excess baggage because of the books she bought. She claims that her first precious possession was the 20-volume Time Life Series from where she met the Seven Sisters and learned about Roberto and his magical clocks. Buying the series (however expensive it was!) was one of the decisions I will never regret making for I saw how they ushered her into the wonderful world of books and reading! A bonus for me — when her teachers comment on how vast her vocabulary is and how well informed she is – way ahead most of her classmates! Those words sounded like an “Alleluia” chorus to my ears and they always brought a flutter of pride inside me. Needless to say, we ended up buying more book shelves for the books she was accumulating. And then came the first instance when she had to part with some of her books. And then again, she had to give away more of her books when we had to move abroad and back, several times.

This is the point I was trying to make in the first part of this article. This is not the first time we had to give away books, but the feeling never gets better. It always hurt! Packing about fifty of her books last night was an unhappy experience for my daughter. It took time for her to finally give in and let go of them. It is one of those things that I know is difficult but has to be done because apart from the fact that we are running out of spaces in the house — she has grown, and will soon be moving out to study for college abroad.

Our family has always been open to giving, sharing, and allowing others to partake in the good things God has blessed us with. Knowing that the books are going for a good cause, lightened up my little one’s feelings about giving them away. I explained how children from villages will get to read them and experience the joy of books-2knowing the characters that she used to enjoy herself, made her felt better.

We still have two big shelves full of books at home, most of them are still of my daughter’s. She insists on keeping some of her favorites like the Time Life series, her Calvin and Hobbes collection, A Song of Ice and Fire, Kane Chronicles, Amar Chitra Katha, Harry Potter books, and a few others that held meaning to her growing up years. My husband has given away most of his at a local library, and I have some left still. We have migrated to reading electronically (read: Kindle!) but there are some books that we feel like they have to be read the conventional way! Reading, for us, is a way of life. As a family, we discuss titles that we are all interested in. My daughter gives us tips on interesting books that she came across, my husband shares information on some of the latest in the market, and I am always on the lookout for what would be interesting to read.

So there it was, one bagful of books on the way to the Room to read program in the Dindigul and Theni district south of Chennai. And my daughter is already fiddling with her phone, browsing through Amazon and loading my cart with more books!

 

Proverbs 22:6

Todproverbsay, the country celebrates Children’s Day. And my first question was, why? Don’t get me wrong. I am not asking why do we have to celebrate Children’s Day, rather my question is — Why do we celebrate Children only for one day? Why not every day?

I love children. Playing with them, talking to them, listening to them, or simply watching them be themselves. Children teach us a lot of things — to live simply, to live humbly, to live honestly! I have been fortunate to be given the chance to work with kids and for kids. Back in the Philippines as a Production Assistant for the now-defunct children’s show called “Batibot” and here in India as a newspaper columnist for a dedicated page for children called “Kidstalk.” Both opportunities gave me the chance to learn how children are better than adults, in countless ways. There are hundreds of instances when I find myself speechless in awe and admiration in the way children think, the way they talk, the way they react, and the way they express their feelings. There is so much honesty in them that I wish would never get corrupted in the process called, Growing Up!”

Raising a child of our own, my husband and I allowed ourselves to be guided by a biblical passage from the Book of Proverbs 22:6 and a famous poem by Dorothy Law Nolte, a famous teacher and lecturer on family dynamics (both the passage and the poem are attached in this article.) A little idealistic I must say, but then I believe we must follow certain idealism in order to achieve even just a morsel of what ideal is. We are not perfect parents, but I would like to believe that we are successful in raising a child who is grounded and respectful of other human beings.

Raising my child IS the most rewarding experience of my life. I will never trade it for any other experience there may be. I do not regret setting aside my career in order to be with her every day of her growing up years. I enjoyed driving her to playschool, meeting the other moms in the playground, building sand castle with her at the beach, stitching her costume for a play, training her for an oratorical piece, helping her with her projects, watching her roll with her skates and glide with her ballet shoes, listen to her play guitar and practice keyboard, watch her hit the ball hard in a game of tennis, and listen to her thump her drumstick as she played with her school band. I enjoyed them all!

As my daughter grew, I too grew in the process. As we taught her the ways of life, she taught us the way of living. Each day, we learned a thing or two about life by simply watching her, by simply being with her. We may not have imbibed all that Miss Nolte listed in her poem, but we are confident that we have imparted some good example to our child.

Raising a child in this modern world is a challenge. It is very easy to get swayed into allowing technology to take over parenting, and for parents to substitute presents in lieu of their presence. But if we only allow ourselves to celebrate life looking through the eyes of children, if we only allow our children to teach us the true meaning of happiness, if we only share that happiness with every one we meet – then we won’t be searching further for the true essence of life.

So yeah, why not celebrate children every day? I don’t mean any disrespect to Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, on whose birthday we celebrate Children’s Day. It was said that he was very affectionate to children and that he did a lot for the welfare of children. I am sure he won’t mind if we celebrate Children’s Day every day — not only on his birthday. Let us celebrate the innocence and humility that every child brings. Let us not spoil their growth by exposing them to corruption and greed, competition and jealousy, being conceited and judgmental. Today, and every day, look at a child in the eyes, and you will see a beautiful creature, celebrating LIFE.

Tatay

tatay

It was a puzzle to me that some of my cousins use to address my granddad as Mamay (grandfather) while my sister and I addressed him as Tatay (father).

Growing up, I did not have many memories of my own father. Responsible as he was, he took a job abroad to send us to good schools and provide for our needs. He comes home every two years for vacation and we would spend a month or two, happily together. It was on July 1983 when my dad met with an accident while on vacation. He died and my world shut down. I vaguely remember people who came to condole, some friends and relatives who stayed on to give us a hand, but it was my grandfather who lightened up our gloomy situation. Every morning, he would come home to see to it that my sister and I are sent to school with proper food (cooked by my grandmother) and that my mom gears up to start all over again. It was not easy picking up the pieces, my mom can attest to that. We went through the worst. But Tatay never left our side.  With his quiet and kind demeanor, he showed the people who threw spiteful words to us and those who predicted that my sister and I will land on the streets, that we can be successful even without a father.

I can never forget how he lugged banana bunches, sacks full of papaya and guyabano (soursop), and occasional jackfruits and pineapples to sell to the market in order to have ready money for my tuition fees. After the coffee harvest, he would order his trusted assistant, Edi to move a couple of sacks to our house to keep and sell whenever we are in need. He was upset when he came to know that my mom went out “para maglako” worried about her growing back pain, and he was furious when my sister and I decided to sell fishballs outside our house. He was always protective of us even without saying a word.

With Tatay’s support, my mom emerged a strong woman. She proved to show the world that she is capable of raising her daughters and taking them to great heights. I finished schooling and so did my sister. We would not have done it without the resilience and perseverance of our Tatay coupled with the determination and fortitude of my mom.

In my mind, the puzzle was solved. The reason why we called him Tatay instead of Mamay is because he took over the responsibility of a father to us.

The question on how to repay him for all his goodness was always in my mind. A simple, unassuming person that he was, it was a question that’s not easy to answer. He never demanded anything and he was happy even for the simplest thing we gave him. I remember how my cousins and I would make a stop at Harrison Plaza, just before going home to Buho (from Manila) just to buy him his favorite Oishi Crackers. And as we handed him the packets, his smile would widen as he give us each his blessings.

Getting married, I never had a doubt in my mind as to who would walk me to the altar. It had to be Tatay! Controversies arose from this decision of mine but I stood firm. And when I saw him waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs, I couldn’t help but shed a tear … for without this man, I would have been nothing.

My husband and Tatay shared the same interest in farming. Once, Tatay took Venkat to the farm and told him to take over farming from him. Which of course was never meant to be but he warmly welcomed my husband to our family, in his own little ways. Knowing that Venkat is vegetarian and that he loves fruits, he never fails to bring fruits from the farm and dropped them off to our house saying they are FOR Venkat.

I am happy that when my little one was born, Tatay was among her first visitors. Deep in my heart, I knew he loved my daughter dearly. When my little girl became sick at five months old, he was there at the hospital, deeply concerned. When the doctors told us that she may not survive, he was quiet. After two weeks of battle, with God’s grace, my little one recovered … but my Tatay died due to a simple cut on his thumb. Coincidence or not, I believe that Tatay lives in my daughter for she has the same admirable kindheartedness and compassion, responsiveness and empathy to those in need.

I miss you Tatay!

 

My Rupee notes ceased to be Money :-(

 

rupee

It was almost nine o’clock when we got the news through several WhatssApp groups.  At first, we dismissed it as one of those hoaxes circulating in the social media. And then we checked the latest news on television, and voila! There it is, Reserve bank of India announcing that the infamous 500 and 1000 Rupee note will cease to be legal tender effective midnight! Yes, in another three hours! The news went on and on but my husband and I were no longer listening, we were busy checking our wallets if we have loose notes to use the next day (100s, 50s … even 20s and 10s) as banks will remain close and ATMs will not disburse money! After a thorough search … Lo and behold, we gathered a whooping Rs. 140! Turning to plastic money and transacting digitally is the only way to go for now… but what does this really mean to Indians and their economy?

The Prime Minister announced that this is a measure to curb black money in the market. A good move, I would say. Pulling this surprise to thousands of people hoarding unaccounted money may just prove to be successful.

When I first came to India and first heard of “Black Money,” I shrugged it off as some Rupee note that’s been damaged or soiled … ergo, turning black! What an innocent child I felt I was when I came to know that “Black Money” actually refers to unaccounted money that, more often than not, are acquired illegally! Over the years, I came to know that black money is actually running a parallel economy underground, making the Indian economy suffer in the process.

The common man and honest taxpayers will definitely feel the pinch of converting their old Rupee notes to new ones. But the bigger fishes will certainly be bruised! Of course, these people will have the necessary machineries to get around, just as Moses parted the Red Sea by simply raising his staff, these people will have to raised whatever can be raised to save their skin and of course, their money!

We woke up to the news of the people of India counting notes and United States counting votes, and we are going to bed with the news of India’s stock market crashing and Donald Trump winning! Wonder what tomorrow brings.