Will I do a great job at this?

You know, one of my greatest fears about being married is losing that private space that I have always enjoyed all my life. Not that I am complaining about my future husband. He is the sweetest and most considerate man any woman could ever hope for. He gives me the space I need; he understands completely if I just want to read or write or work in one corner.

Looming forward to more candle-lit dinners together. :)

But I am sure other brides (especially the bohemian and independent types like me) will understand what I am saying. For one, sharing a bathroom (or even a bedroom!) is something that women like me will definitely consider as THE major adjustment. The good thing about me and JR is that we shared a 2-bedroom apartment in Phnom Penh and somehow, I already got so used to having a permanent “housemate.” It was difficult for me at first but then again, deciding to have a husband entails giving up some of the “perks” as a single woman, right? :)

Ahhh…for so long, I had been on my own, did my own grocery, decorated and painted my apartments single-handedly at times, carried the trash out on my own…and now, there will be someone with me all the time…will I do a great job at this? Will I be willing to give up some of my independent streak? So far, everything is going well and I only have to thank JR again for allowing me to remain the person that I really am: feisty, opinionated at times, independent, and yet, still has a very soft and sentimental side who needs to be cuddled and pampered every now and then.

It’s a nice life. The thought of growing old with someone is so nice. But yes, sometimes I think of those times that I was alone in my apartment and everything felt so at peace. Will I find that kind solitude too in my married life?

And then, I start to think, “Will I turn out to be a bored wife? Will I end up as simply ’the wife’ waiting at home? There are so many stories of happy and blushing brides ending up so unhappy, so unloved, so full of regrets. But then, there are also stories of old couples who remained strongly in love all those years of being together. There are beautiful stories of couples celebrating their golden year anniversary in the joyous laughters of their children and grandchildren. Will we become like that old couple too?

I remember one of my online conversations with an overseas friend who recently got married too. She asked, “Are you ready to get married?” And I replied, “I think so! It’s different pala to go home each day knowing that someone is waiting for you at home, that there will be someone to ask you how your day went. You know, we’ve accomplished so much already…we didn’t think we need a man in our lives, right? But yeah, it’s nice pala to be married….I mean, to do the ordinary things together…for life.” And I guess I already have my answers.

[Re-post from our wedsite, 16 February 2009.]

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Mixed Nuts

Mixed nuts indeed

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog here so it feels great to be back! The past months have been very busy, challenging, and for the most parts, happy. As they say, there’s always the yin and yang of life so we get to savor the best parts more because we have been through the pits.

I have to thank my favorite snacks these days for the happy feelings the past months. You might say I have gone nuts, too, to correlate my happiness with this pack of goodies. Let me then expound further…

You see, when I am eating this snack, I will meticulously pick out only two of the nuts. Well, actually, only one of them is technically a nut. The other one is like a small bit of biscuits (square-shaped and orange in color). So I just pick out these two “nuts” I like, and I separate the rest of the nuts on one side…or directly put them on the palm of…who else, JR.

Yes, JR takes care of the “rejected” ones. Not that they don’t taste good, nah. It’s just that my two nuts are the best-tasting in that bunch of nuts. So, gladly, JR takes care of the discarded ones. We usually munch over these nuts after dinner, over TFC telenovelas (yes, Virginia, now I am a telenovela fanatic, I can always tell you what is going on in the lives of Catherine in Iisa pa Lamang or Garie in Kahit Isang Saglit). And yes, I consider those moments a big treat! What more can I ask for? I have a good soul beside me, I have the best-tasting junk food in the whole world, and I can watch Filipino telenovelas without having the slightest guilt or “yucckk” feeling because back in Manila, I found telenovelas really kabaduyan. But now that I am overseas and miss everything Filipino, I am definitely changing my mind. Telenovelas rule the world! :D

But wait…there’s more to this Mixed Nuts thing. Much much more. You see, it is during those nights that I realize (again and again) how lucky I must be to have this kind soul beside me now. You see, I am reminded again and again that he must love me so much to allow me to have the best parts of the Mixed Nuts pack, just contentedly waiting for me “sort out” the bunch…and throughout all these, still managing a smile on his face…and well, ok, that hungry look in his eyes (like a puppy waiting for his favorite bone)…;D But seriously, can you imagine having to eat only the ones that, you know, do not taste as good as the others? For example, your friend opens a bag of goodies and he only gives you the Lollipops while he gets away with the Kitkats and M&Ms? Unfair, huh? But you see, there’s that special thing there. You let your friend get away with the best parts because you want to see him happy. Nothing can be as good as that. Well, some others might say, “maybe you have ulterior motives,” but for the less cynical among us, well, this is still something to be thankful and happy about that. And fortunately for me, I am not yet cynical about life.

So, yes, this guy beside me right now does not know it yet. But I have the Mixed Nuts to thank for…not just for the warm, funny, and exciting telenovela moments but more importantly, for the mixed nutty feeling of happiness, contentment, bliss, and peace that I experience just being reminded that there’s this one person in the world who would gladly give me the best parts and still smile about it. :)

[Re-post of a blog dated October 18, 2008 (from my previous site).]

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Circumstantial Culture

Being away from home allows one an opportunity to look at his own people with a detached perspective. It is with that note that this blog is being written.

Because I am overseas, I only manage to get fresh news from home by watching the news in TFC. It is very refreshing to hear news of Filipinos achieving so much in the fields of boxing, entertainment/music, fashion and sometimes, even science, but it is quite disconcerting to hear news about the degenerating political and social climate in the Philippines. I speak here not as an expert but as an ordinary person who has big dreams for this country and also thinking of how best to contribute to a brighter future for all Filipinos.

I dream of a Philippines where all children can go to schools and are taught the right values.

I have titled this blog, “Circumstantial Culture” to describe what I observe as an alarming social phenomenon where particular segments or sectors (or sub-sectors?) of society share and live a common mindset and behavioral conduct which ultimately seem as if they are evolving a culture so uniquely their own. I wish to emphasize here that I have no intention to judge nor offend any one. If I will do so in the process of sharing my thoughts, I offer my apologies. My kababayans (compatriots), I hope these thoughts will also touch some minds and hearts, and perhaps, will encourage more discourses – discourses that will hopefully lead to meaningful changes.

There is a part of me that feels sad or even angry when I hear news about demolition of squatters’ shanties; of rivers being clogged because of too much garbage; of children being continuously born from couples who have barely food to eat between themselves; and lately, of vendors being driven by police and MMDA out of sidewalks.

I am sad because my people are still poor; I am sad because my Government is still insensitive to the real needs of the Filipinos; I am sad because the society remains blind and deaf to the plight and circumstances of others.

But I am sadder because it seems that more attention and bias are being given to what the squatters feel when their shanties are being demolished. Before anyone accuses me of being pro-rich and anti-poor, let me stress that I am not angry at them because I can imagine how is it be driven away from one’s home; to see your roofs being torn down right before your very eyes.  Who would not scream and shout in such a circumstance? The police, demolition teams and landowners are cruel, ruthless, insensitive…

But on one hand, I ask this: Have we ever thought of what the owners of those lands feel? What about the rights of the persons who own the lands? What if those lands are products of the toils and sweat of their ancestors? What if those lands can be used to build factories, which can eventually generate employment? Isn’t it enough that the squatters have enjoyed years of free rent from those lands and that now, isn’t it time to turn over the lands to their rightful owners? Can’t they shout praises and thanks for being given free rent for years instead of screaming invectives and hateful words?

But the media is quiet about that. Instead it proudly espouses the “rights” of the squatters; picturing the demolition team and landowners as the “enemies of the poor.” I see that as promoting selfish circumstantial culture rather than encouraging a culture of peace, wisdom, and gratitude. Because the media amplifies the invectives and hatred, they also (perhaps unconsciously) promotes continued ignorance. It seems like instead of becoming instrument for education, the media becomes puppet to mass hysteria and distorted thinking. What can our society expect in today’s young generation when what they see on TV are pictures of a society that encourages land-grabbing and squatting instead of respect for rights, private property and entitlements?

Again, no one has the right to make any judgement. But one is free to ask questions. Where do these squatters come from? Most of them come from the provinces. They are the ones who leave their small pieces of land and carabaos in the barrios, thinking that Manila is the “land of milk and honey.” They join the millions of people who are also homeless and jobless when they arrive in the big city. So they end up building shanties on the land they do not own and when the real owners now come to re-claim their lands, they shout “injustice” and “cruelty.” Yes, sometimes these words are true. There are cruel and ruthless landowners. But more often, the squatters don’t see that there is also a big injustice in their inability to respect private ownership. They seem to refuse to see that these landowners are humans, too.

The other night, I also sadly watched about the deteriorating physical environment of Metro Manila. There is that portion of the news that highlights a river clogged by household and industrial garbage. Then the report suddenly highlights the local government’s “inaction”; saying that the government should clean it up soon. Of course, it always comes down to that; the government should always take the flak. In a society that continue to encourage this somewhat twisted way of thinking, clogged rivers are the fault and responsibility  of the Establishment. The news report didn’t say anything about people, households and industries throwing dump on the river; rather it highlighted the local government’s incompetence.

Now, please tell me, what kind of generation are we bringing up?

Another thing that continue to baffle me is the Philippines ever-growing population. It is as if our people have not been seeing enough poverty. When we look at statistics, we will see that families in the lower strata of the society have more children than those who can very well afford bigger families. We hear of heart-wrenching stories about women giving birth to twins and triplets but without enough money to feed these innocent beings. Our hearts go to them and some even go as far as sending immediate help. I, for one, also plan of adopting one of those children so that I can carry a part of the sadness of these grieving mothers. But in my mind, too, I still continue to ask the same questions. Why can’t they just stop having children? It is not as if they don’t know that having sex can mean producing another mouth to feed. Is it really the government’s fault that they are not being educated enough? Is it really the society’s fault that these families are not eating enough? Are people born in difficult circumstances excused from thinking wisely? Do we offer more space and excuses for them because they are poor and therefore, worthy of more understanding? In the process, aren’t we encouraging a culture that promotes mendicancy instead of self-reliance? In school, we are taught about compassion for the poor. I grew up in a family that encouraged charity and compassion. But in school, are we also taught enough about engaging the poor to be more responsible?

In the same manner, we are also falling victim to the cries of the sidewalk vendors who are violently driven away by police and MMDA from the streets. We pity them as they receive lashes of invectives from the “cruel” police and “thugs” of Bayani Fernando. TV cameras focus on the angry faces of helpless vendors running away from pursuing “mobs”, pulling their carts, carrying as much of their merchandise as they can. News clips air more of their struggles but give less coverage on how these vendors cause disruption on traffic, public safety, and drivers’, even pedestrians’ right of way. Sure, the government and private sector should ensure that there are enough infrastructures for people to sell their goods. There is no argument about that.

But what kind of picture are we showing our children? That in the Philippines, it is ok to squat and build houses on lands that you do not own; that it is brave and heroic to sell your merchandises on the road (never mind if you are subjecting yourself and others to harm); that it is admirable to produce more children that we cannot even feed?

What kind of culture are we promoting?

I feel sad because I am borne out of that society. And I am guilty, too.

[This was submitted as an entry to a blog competition, with the code PBA09qo3907p.]

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10 Things I Can Do/Have in Phnom Penh (But Couldn’t in Manila)

1. Go to cozy and (even upscale!) bars and restaurants wearing the most ordinary white T-shirts and rubber slippers. In Manila, I can’t really do this because most establishments in the same range/scale have specific dress code – i.e., no rubber slippers even if they’re Havaianas! Here, everything and everyone is so laid-back, it is always easy to just decide to go to a bar even if your original plan was just only to go to the grocery wearing an attire that Fashionistas in Manila would definitely raise their eyebrows on!

2. Wake up, eat a decent breakfast (c/o a great housemate), get dressed for work and be there before 8:00 AM. Yes, you are reading this correctly. I am actually eating a decent breakfast here everyday and don’t arrive at work looking like a tornado has just wiped off my face. Living here is such a breeze because there is no traffic! I don’t have to wake up at 5:00 AM just so I can be at work by 8:00 AM. Yes, dahlengs, I can wake up at 6:30 AM, do my girl things and eat breakfast in an hour, and voila, leave home at 7:30 and reach work in just 15 minutes!

3. Be home early enough to watch TV Patrol, Kokey and Lastikman. Yup, yup, here in Phnom Penh, I have what people call “life-work balance” (wink, wink). In Manila, I would usually still be in a horrible traffic by 8:00 PM. Here, I am home by 6:30 PM, early enough to watch news from TFC (The Filipino Channel) and yup, even the fantasy soaps Kokey and Lastikman! My friends know that I don’t watch TV but yes, I am transformed here. I guess when you are out of the country, you somehow miss anything Filipino so much that even soaps that won’t even have 5 minutes of your time in Manila suddenly becomes a novelty, like a favorite dish that you can’t just have enough of. I fell in love with Kokey that I swear I’m gonna buy a Kokey stuffed toy (if there is such) when I am home for a visit.

4. Go to work in a tuktuk and feel like I own the world. In Manila, I either ride in my driver-driven car or in a taxicab. Here, I live a simple existence, happily enjoying the short trips to and from work even if it’s just in a tuktuk. It’s not air-conditioned, very sensitive to bumps and potholes on the road, and doesn’t have the “cushiony-feel” of leather-covered seats but hey, it gives me such a beautiful view of Phnom Penh’s street-life and allows the soft morning breezes to kiss my cheeks (ohh la la…)

By the riverbank

5. Be home on Sundays and watch The Buzz. Because I have less commitments and involvements here, I have 1.5 days of weekends all to myself! I don’t have to go out to catch meetings, dancing lessons or meet-ups with my ever-growing social circle in Manila. Sundays here are so lazy and free that I can still be in my sleepwear writing my blogs while watching The Buzz. Yup, yup, I am more or less updated now in the latest showbiz tsismis back home. Very unlike the Mei that my friends knew, the Mei who didn’t even know about the Kris Aquino-Joey Marquez break-up until it was about 2 months’ old news already.

6. Live without internet access at home. In Manila, I have unlimited internet account subscription at home. It’s like I couldn’t live without it. My whole life depended on it, from the time I wake up to the time that I’d call it a day. I couldn’t sleep if I didn’t open my Yahoo. But here, I’ve learned to live a “normal” life again, minus the pressure of surfing or opening my emails everyday. Besides, home subscription here is still expensive so I just check my Yahoo in the neighborhood internet café where speed is as slow as dial-up in Manila (hehe). But I can’t complain, they charge 1,500 Riel only for an hour of use (that’s about 16.00 pesos); still expensive if compared with rates in Manila but remember that Cambodia is still considered behind in terms of technology vis-à-vis other bigger cities in Asia.

7. Travel overseas just riding a bus! Since this part of the world is land-locked with Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos, I can go to these countries just by bus! Imagine the amount of money I can save on transportation even if they are considered overseas trips. In fact, I went to Vietnam last June and spent less than $100 only on a 3-day stay including my hotel expense!

8. Have a hair-cut using sign language and an old photo. Now, this should be in No. 1 but I didn’t remember it earlier. Here in Phnom Penh, most hair salons are manned by Khmer and sometimes, Chinese/Korean hair stylists. So having a haircut using English language is definitely a luxury. While there may be salons run by English-speaking stylists, they would normally charge such ridiculous fees that one would think they are giving you a new piece of head or face. One time, I badly needed a new hairstyle (my curls are getting ugly already) and after being shocked to discover that the English-speaking salon I first went to will charge me $90.00 for a hair straightening procedure, I decided to try a salon across the street, whose signage tells me it is run by a Korean. I looked at the male stylist focused on doing a man’s hair and decided this is the place. The Stylist’s hair was so perfect and chic-looking that I told myself, I won’t hesitate trusting him with my hair even if he comes from Mars. I was right; he didn’t speak any English nor understands it so I ended up showing him my old photo (I had the foresight to bring one) and gesturing through sign language how I wanted my new look to be. It was like an adventure; I felt I was about to go to the guillotine, not knowing if I’d still want to look at myself in the mirror after this lunatic decision. But yes, since you are reading this blog now, I didn’t commit suicide after this adventurous stint with an unfamiliar hair stylist. He actually copied exactly how my hair looked like in my old photo and later, I happily I told him (in my combination of sign language and English) that I loved what he did and I’m going back again.

9. Get a discount without even asking for it. One time, JR, my housemate, and I went to the market to buy fruits. Since fruits are very cheap here, we decided to buy lanzones, mangoes, mangosteen, and rambutan from an old woman in the market near our flat. We paid in US dollars but were given change in Riels. Because we were not yet very familiar with converting USD to Riels and vice-versa, it was a bit confusing for us. We were repeatedly counting the bills handed down to us; the old woman was repeatedly talking to us in Khmer, perhaps trying her best to explain to us why we are getting those bills. She was gesturing a lot, getting back our bills, counting them one by one again, giving them to us again; and then later, another woman who was passing by was also gesturing already. JR and I still looked totally confused. Finally, when I realized that our change was indeed correct and in fact, we even got more, I dragged JR out of the vendor’s stall or I’m afraid she’s going to throw us out already. Later, I explained to him that what we got was even more, realizing that the poor old woman must have gotten so frustrated with explaining the conversion to us that she actually gave us additional Riels more so we will already leave her in peace! JR and I were laughing all the way back home and can’t stop imagining how ridiculous we looked and how exasperated we must have made the old woman feel! Driving away stupid customers by giving them extra change is probably a trick that vendors normally resort to if things get really tough. ;-)

10. Spend less than $20 in personal phone bills a month. In Manila, I maintained two subscriptions in Globe and this means paying about $80-90 a month! Here in Phnom Penh, sending SMS and making calls are much cheaper and because I have a smaller social circle here, I don’t spend much on personal phone bills. It’s cool to realize that I live a much quieter and simpler life here. Besides, my only real close friend here is also my housemate and that means spending less on SMS and phone calls because I can always tell him how my day went, face-to-face, minus the fear of ever-growing cellphone bills. :-) Ahhh…life in Phnom Penh really rocks!

[Re-post of a blog dated November 9, 2007 (from my previous site).]

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From Angkor Wat to Bangkok to Phnom Penh

I write this in my hotel room here in Bangkok. I just got back from a wonderful night with my boss from here. She’s smart, accomplished, beautiful, sexy, and whenever I look at her, I’d always wish that I’d be like her 5, 10 years from now! :)

Anyway, we had a great dinner in an Italian Restaurant called Le Casbah at the Central World Mall. We shared a yummy Cezar’s Salad and a big plate of 4 different pasta dishes…aahhh…it’s like I can still smell the Italian herbs lingering in the air. Le Casbah was also a delight – it has beautiful hanging lamps, some tables have fluffy pillows on the seats and then there are tables by the veranda. I will definitely go back there again. After dinner, we went straight to the cinema (we bought tickets before we headed for dinner) and I had my first movie after leaving Manila last June! It’s been more than 4 months since I last saw a film (in a real theater!) and so, I was like an excited child about to go to his first field trip! (Ooops, I forgot to mention that we first stopped by an ice cream stand and got ouselves yummy cups of another treat!)

Though the film we watched was a very violent one (The Kingdom), I enjoyed watching how the story unfolds, the acting of its cast, and the real emotions that you see in them even if they are not saying anything. I like the subtlety of the way their eyes moved. But it’s a very sad and tragic film and I wouldn’t recommend it for those who have faint hearts! It’s a gory film with lots of killings and blood but yes, it’s a very moving and heart-wrenching film. I don’t want to give further details so I won’t spoil your excitement if you decide to watch it. ;)

Anyway, I was in Siem Reap last week before I traveled here last Sunday. Siem Reap is where the magnificent Angkor Wat is located. Six hours by bus from Phnom Penh, it is quite a nice and cozy town. I must admit that the primary reason I went there was to see Angkor Wat. I didn’t have much expectations from the town itself. But amazingly, it captivated me. I like the “composition” of the town! It has clusters of restaurants, hotels, shops but not too overbearing. I like the stylishness of some of the hotels. While some looked too ostentatious for such a very small town, many hotels have a quaint and cozy appeal on them. I can’t put the exact words to it but I would really recommend Siem Reap as a travel destination especially for those interested in photography and simply for those wanting a peaceful vacation with still lots of opportunity to dine out or party.

The Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Of course, the most beautiful part of Siem Reap is Angkor Wat. It was said to have been built in the 12th century for King Suryavarman II. A book I briefly read at the bookshop in Phnom Penh airport said it was built by 100,000 workers over a span of 30 years. It is often referred as the largest religious monument in the whole world. Wikipedia said this about Angkor Wat: “One of the first Western visitors to the temple was Antonio da Magdalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it “is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of” [Higham, The Civilization of Angkor pp. 1-2.] I am also out of words right now. For me it is the most magical place I have ever seen so far. It is so breathtaking that it’s almost surreal, as if you’re seeing a huge painting done by God.

One thing that I just regret is that we (I went there with my good friend JR) didn’t stay long enough. We only had one day to explore Angkor Wat and the nearby temples! The rest of the time was spent traveling because the bus ride was quite long. But because of this, I promised to myself that I will go back there again…and longer! I need about 5 or even 7 days there! I missed so many of the other temples and I know I won’t pass up another opportunity to go there again. My friend Juana Banana is planning a trip to Cambodia next month and hopefully, I can join her again when she goes to Siem Reap.

These past two weeks have really been great. The week here in Bangkok was very learning (I learned so much about DHL, my new employer!), fun, and although there were some sad moments when I recalled that the last time I was here was with my ex, I also realized that I missed BIG city living so much (Manila is more or less like Bangkok) that I’d make sure I’d savor every moment here. And I am doing that right now. Bangkok rocks!

But I miss Phnom Penh now that it’s my new home. It doesn’t have the excitement, chaos and madness of cities like Bangkok and Manila, but that’s the place where I am building a new life now. It embraces me like its own daughter and I fall asleep nestled in its warmth.

Tomorrow, I’d be home again. See you soon, Phnom Penh.

[Re-post of a blog dated October 19, 2007 (from my previous site).]

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Courtship, Pinoy Style

Romance, Pinoy-style

I decided to write this for a friend, with the hope that this little piece of information will orient her American boyfriend about what Pinoy courtship is really all about. She shares (with a little exasperation perhaps?) that her boyfriend doesn’t understand the term whenever she or her Pinay friends mention it during their conversations. He almost always looked like the term is from Mars and was purely invented to confuse men like him. ;)  I had a brief chat with him over YM last weekend and he also had the same words for me, “I don’t get it.” ;)

Ok, this one is for him.

First, the Pinoys’ style of courtship may still be similar to how men in other cultures try to woo the women of their dreams. After all, the desire for a man to be with a woman (or vice versa) is universal. But I guess in the Philippines, the famous hot “Latin” blood still runs wildly in our veins and, therefore, we still view courtship in a combination of traditional and modern sense (if there is such a combination!).

Gone were the days of fetching water (in pails and buckets) for the family of the woman (thank God we already have modern plumbing systems in most cities of the country) but nevertheless, men are still expected to bring flowers and chocolates, the works! They are still expected to visit her in her house, get to know her whole family–including grandparents if they are still living with her–and even her friends, call and text her often (though not too much that she won’t have the chance to miss him), and be at her side if she needs a companion in going to the movies or the bookshop and YES, I will put this in capital letters for emphasis, HAIR SALON or BEAUTY PARLOR.

I think the last one is the ultimate test because I know for a fact that men hates accompanying their women when they are having their haircut or having their nails manicured. I don’t know their exact reasons but I guess they are horrified with the thought of being bored to death while their women try to transform themselves with perhaps an equally horrific hair-do. I’d give men who accompany me to the hair salon 1,000 pogi points because that means they really are in love with me, enough to suffer those boring moments just to be with me (wink!).

What are my kilig moments if someone is courting me? For one, I like midnight calls if it’s my birthday. I feel kilig when my suitor brings me my favorite food like siomai and pansit. I feel so good when he tells me I am pretty in the most unexpected moments. It’s also nice to receive text messages and calls of support when I am about to do something important like open my exhibit or have a job interview. And then, I feel great when my man remembers the things that I shared with him some months ago. That means, he is very attentive. I also give 1,000 pogi points for suitors who show respect and support to my passions in life like my attempts in photography (I had one suitor before who bought me a beautiful book on photography and I swear that almost gave him my Yes!). :) And then, how can I not feel good when he kisses my hands so tenderly while he’s doing something like reading a book or driving his car? And then, there are the usual things that women go crazy about – being pampered like a baby (i.e. getting free head massage for one!), being told she’s the most beautiful woman in the world, being seated in a dining table where all the food was cooked for her, being hugged and cuddled when she’s feeling lonely…ahhhh, such moments are sure to win the hearts of the women in your lives.

Oh wait, I don’t want to forget this. I also get the high if he buys me a little something when we’re shopping together. It’s not the money, you see. I get the kilig feeling because it tells me that he’s still thinking of me even if he’s also buying the things that he likes for himself. I think that’s also the ultimate test. It tells me that this guy will be a thoughtful boyfriend because he still takes special care in finding things that I’d like and enjoy even if he seems preoccupied with buying his stuffs and gadgets.

For the guys—it is not really difficult to please your women. You don’t have to be Mr. Casanova or have the bank accounts of Bill Gates in order to woo the woman of your dreams. Believe me, most of us will be very happy if you show up in our front doors with just a single bud of rose or our favorite dessert on our birthday. It’s the thought, guys. Of course, admittedly, there are “high-maintenance” women, but I think the general sentiment is that most of us just want to feel special. We want to feel that in your eyes, we are unique. That we are above the rest. That you will do everything to make us feel that we’re the only woman you’d ever need in your entire life (READ: no philanderers and cheaters, please!).

Courtship is a great phase and couples should enjoy this period of “getting to know” one another. However, I think that guys should always remember that after the courtship, they should never ever stop wooing us. They may have gotten our “yes” already or that we’ve said “I love you, too,” they still should continue to act like they are still courting us. Remember, while men have limitless choices, too, we can also dump you guys if you begin acting like you’re God’s gift to the universe and have totally stopped giving us that loving look and that sweet head massage that made us fall for you. If you want us to stay in your lives, you’d better hone your skills in courtship or you’re out the door the next day with only your suitcases and boxer shorts to hug at night. ;)

[Re-post of a blog dated September 9, 2007 (from my previous site).]

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Certified Dog Nanny

The Ceritified Dog Nanny and her wards, Sabbay and Luna. :)

Now I can finally call myself a Certified Dog Nanny. :) Sure, I volunteered to care for dogs of friends who were going on a trip before but this is the first time that I am again living with two dogs longer than a few days (we cared for dogs before as a family). Yes, my dear, I have been with these two dogs for three weeks now and two more weeks to go before I finish my “Master’s Degree.” :)

What is this experience telling me? For one, caring for dogs is comparable to caring for humans. You have to wake up early in the morning because you have to let them out so they can do their weewee and pooh-pooh and then later, prepare their breakfast. Once or twice a week, you have to give them a bath and this is a bit challenging because most dogs (at least to my experience) resist the feeling of wetness on their thick fur. And then you have to keep them company, play with them, or they’d get depressed.

With Luna, who can vie for the title of “Cutest and Sweetest Dog of the Year.” (Sorry for this blurry photo; it was difficult taking one’s photo with a puppy that is so “malikot.”)

This also tells me much about animal behaviors. Take for instance the case of Luna and Sabbay, the dogs I am caring for right now. Luna is a Yorkshire Terrier, small, cute and cuddly, with long brown and gray hair. She is so well-mannered, balanced, adorable and sweet. She likes to cuddle but stops pestering you if she’s had her usual share of cuddling and caressing already (like most dogs, she enjoys having her tummy scratched or caressed). She sleeps, goes out and runs after the birds, or simply walk around in the garden by herself. She is a perfect companion.

Sabbay, a mixed-breed local dog, is an entirely different story. I even think she’s mentally-deranged (sorry, I love dogs, too, but it was how she behaved in the first years of her life, according to her owner). On the first two or three days, I’d also scratch her tummy just like how I do it for Luna…but later I realized that she thinks this is my fulltime job – to scratch and caress her tummy the whole day! She will not leave me alone. She will follow me relentlessly, even up to the point of threatening to bite all of my feet’s fingers just to have me caress her tummy…Oh my, I told myself, this is a nutty case. When I started saying NO NO NO to her, she would stop chasing me…but only for 15 or 20 minutes. Later, she’d go follow me again, scratching my feet and legs, getting me to caress her tummy. She’d lie flat on the floor and open all her legs to gesture that I should scratch or caress her! Goodness gracious. So this chasing went on and on for about a week. I realized that Sabbay is totally clueless. I think she didn’t take Promil when she was just a puppy because it seems her IQ level is lower than 10. ;) Finally, now on the 3rd week with them, I think she finally got the message that my job is NOT to scratch or hold her the whole day. Now she leaves me alone. She still attempts to have me caress her, especially when I wake up in the morning (she sleeps just outside my door) but even if it makes me sad, I stopped doing it to her altogether because with her state of mind, I think that one “tummy-scratch” and she’d begin thinking again that it’s my sole mission in life – to become her personal massage therapist!

Sabbay really tested my patience but I learned much from her. :)

So what is this telling me about animal particularly dog behavior? Well, it seems that with dogs, especially who may be suffering some kind of “mental disturbance” or “anxiety” (I checked the websites and I confirmed that Sabbay’s behavior is a sign of anxiety and psychological problems), the best treatment is not to spoil them and make them think that they are the boss. Had I continued to give Sabbay what she always demanded, she would forever think that she can get what she wants and that she is the boss. Now, when I say NO, she stops. Before, it takes me about 20 NOs for her to stop chasing or pestering me. It was a bit hard for me to do this because I love dogs and I have a soft spot for them. My heart melts whenever a dog looks at me as if wanting me to cuddle her.

However, with my experiences with Sabbay, it seems that not all dogs can be treated in the same way. Sabbay needs a strict, disciplinarian and firm treatment while Luna needs a softer approach. Sabbay needs to be put in her proper place while Luna only needs a little cuddling every now and then and she’d leave you in peace. In fact, right now, as I type this, Luna is outside enjoying the view of the garden while Sabbay is here sleeping near me. Luna seems so sentimental and yet independent (maybe like me?), but Sabbay is needy, dependent and always needs to be around a human being. She never leaves my side. At night, she would sleep outside my door while Luna sleeps near the front door of the main house, a good distance away from me. It is still puzzling me, how these two dogs who are living together are poles apart in their personalities and temperaments, but what the heck, they are still my wards and I should care for them in the best way possible.

Enjoying the big garden while playing with my wards. :)

This “stint” with them is nice because I also learned to cook a bit. ;D I noticed that they don’t want to eat their food if it was the same as what was served them earlier in the day (yeah, they get tired of food so easily)…so I have to keep in inventing dishes although I must admit that my experience is rather limited. But hey, I learned that they really love marinated meats! They would usually finish their meals fast if it’s marinated overnight. Of course I also feed them the usual dog food because hey, I cannot cook for them all the time. The commercially-available dog food provides variety, one thing that they also need.

These quiet times with the dogs and house-sitting for my friends Tuomo and Karen—their house is big, warm, and cozy–give me much-needed solitude as I try to heal from my broken heart. Some mornings I sip my tea or Vietnamese coffee in the patio outside my room. Some afternoons, I read a book in the gardens (in a swing!) while I watch over my wards. A few times, I have also watched DVDs because they have such a nice collection of foreign films like those from France and Finland (the countries where Karen and Tuomo come from). On a couple of occasions, I have entertained Filipino friends who have visited.

The household’s Khmer security staff were all attentive and helpful. Their genuine smiles always brought warmth to the place.

Every morning, I also sweep fallen leaves around the house. Although this is sometimes frustrating because leaves fall all the time! But then again, it is also relaxing to just to take care of this small task every morning. The security guards–yes, we were guarded 24/7–were also attentive and helpful. Sometimes, they will help in sweeping the fallen leaves and I’d shower them with my generosity by serving them hot coffee, which were always returned with such warm and friendly smiles.

Anyway, I have to finish this blog now as I need to cook for my wards…again…catch you later. :)

[Re-post of  a blog dated July 16, 2007 (from my previous site).]

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This is not a paid blog.

Birthday in Vietnam

This is the second time in my life that I didn’t spend my birthday in the Philippines. The first one was when I spent it in Dhaka, Bangladesh when I was posted there to help organize an international conference. This time, it’s in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and purely for personal reason.

I took the bus that leaves Phnom Penh at 1:15 in the afternoon of June 19. It was an interesting bus ride for me because it was the first time that I am crossing an international border simply by land! When one comes from an island country, it always feels a bit ‘strange’ that you can actually reach another country by bus! Hehe! The ride was also made pleasant because I got to know my seatmate, Teang, a pretty Cambodian woman, who was so kind enough to offer me one of her SIM cards in Vietnam, which later on proved to be very useful and practical! She’s an angel!

Despite its rapid modernization, Ho Chi Minh City continues to respect and nurture its centuries-old trees.

The trip to Ho Chi Minh City (used to be called ‘Saigon’) takes about 6 hours. There is one ferry boat ride to cross a river at Neak Loeung, which is about 2 hours from Phnom Penh. You can expect to reach the Cambodia-Vietnam border again after about two hours (or 4 hours from Phnom, Penh). The immigration procedure was very simply and fast. Usually, the bus conductor just takes everyone’s passports and hands them over to the Immigration Officers. We were, of course, requested to leave the bus upon entering Vietnam territory because the bags and the bus had to be checked for security reasons. We also had to go through the usual x-ray machine routine. I think all these took 20 minutes only (or even lesser). By about 7:00 p.m., I was already in Ho Chi Minh City.

Mien, my ever-lovely and sweet Vietnamese friend fetched me from the bus station…on a…surprise…motorcyle! I must tell you all that I am not a fan of motorcycle rides simply because it’s like riding on a piece of metal that can fly everywhere! ;) But I trust Mien to be an excellent driver (and I have tested it while she navigated quite effortlessly through Ho Chi Minh’s tricky streets!) and I just prayed that our guardian angels would not fall asleep during those exciting rides as we criss-crossed through hundreds of motorcycles, taxis, buses and cars. ;)

After checking in, Mien and I went to dinner where we were also joined by her fiance, Tuan, and Tuan’s friend, Dung. It was a fantastic dinner of seafood and Vietnamese spring rolls. Mien gave me a good orientation on how to eat a small seashell delicacy which was really yummy. We were laughing all the way because I told her that after eating these small seashells, I would already be an expert in French kissing (wink!)…but seriously, it was quite challenging because you have to keep on sucking on both ends of the small shell until the meat inside becomes lose enough and easier to ‘dislodge’ from inside the shell. Get the picture? ;) However, it was worth the efforts because the meat was really delicious. The dish is also cooked in rich coconut sauce (similar to “ginataang” dishes in the Philippines) and it was really glorious, for lack of a better word. There was also another seashell which was easier to eat because it looks like our own “tahong.” The dish was also excellent!

It was an evening of warm friendship and exquisite and delicious Vietnamese cuisine.

After dinner, we went to a hip club/bar called “Lush” and we just sat in the bar watching people and listening to the lively music. Soon enough, people were already dancing all around us. I was so tempted to dance also but I think I was already happy enough just to sit there and watch people from many nations dancing to the groove, eating and drinking, and probably even discussing major business decisions. On my left, a Korean woman chatted up with me for a while. She can’t stop saying how much she loved Manila when she was there a few months ago. Suddenly, I missed home. The Korean woman was a little drunk but I knew that what she said about Manila could only come from someone who must have really enjoyed her stay. Thumbs up for Manila! And thumbs up for Ho Chi Minh City that is also raring to tell the world that it is alive, throbbing with excitement and waiting to be rediscovered.

The next day, I decided to join a full-day city tour so I can cover many areas given that my time in Vietnam was very limited (I had to go back to Phnom Penh the next day because I need to catch my Finnish friend Tuomo before he leaves for his vacation…this will be another blog entry!). Our tour group was composed of Sri Lankans (who are now based in Sydney) and a Singaporean couple. We had a Vietnamese tour guide who was friendly and helpful. Together, we explored the War Museum, Independence Palace, Chinatown market, a handicrafts factory where all workers are handicapped, and a couple of temples and religious shrines.

The visit to the War Museum was very moving. In fact, I almost cried but I just stopped myself because it was a public place. There, I was again reminded of the horrors of wars and when one sees those photos of death, destruction, and human sufferings, one can’t still figure out how can humanity allow such violence. It will always be a big puzzle to me. How can men and nations just decide to kill each other like that? Can wars ever be justified? Those questions lingered in my mind as our van exited the Museum grounds.

The Independence Palace reminded me of our very own Malacanang Palace. We were walked through the rooms and conference areas where I was also fascinated with exquisite Vietnamese furnitures, arts, crafts, and ornaments. There is one large mural on the wall that must have taken months or even years to create! Please visit the Gallery in Asyanna.net so you can see the inside of the Palace as well as other photos.

I think the best part of our tour guide was when we visited a Chinese temple. Here, our tour guide taught me how to do a prayer offering/ritual. He instructed me to write the name of my family members on a red paper with Chinese inscriptions. Then he directed me to a center table where temple staff are seen assisting visitors in burning one end of a coil incense (it’s an incense that is ‘spiraling’ upwards, in a shape of a cone). With the help of a staff, I burned one end of my incense, silently prayed, and then another staff helped me hang it from the ceiling. I looked up and there I saw my incense, burning slowly, along with the prayers of so many believers from all over the world. God, I said, this is a beautiful day.

After the tiring but meaningful day, I went back to my hotel, took a shower, and collapsed in bed (I only had about 4 hours of sleep the previous night). It was already past dinner time when I woke up. On my way out, I realized it was raining and my soul was a bit dampened too because I had planned to walk around the city and take some more pictures. But then again, I thought, perhaps it was meant to be that it was raining that night so I can sleep earlier. I needed to catch up with Mien again for beakfast the next day and my body was really craving for a decent sleep. And so I chose a nice restaurant near my hotel and quietly enjoyed a pasta dinner in an outdoor table. I also ordered an avocado smoothie and it was again delicious. One begins to think how Vietnamese people can manage to stay fit and slim.

I thought I will sleep early that night but when I went to the hotel lobby to check my emails, I was so saddened by an email from one of my best friends…she is in deep pain because of a marital crisis. Gosh. I felt really sad for her. My heart ached so much that I also cried when I reached the 2nd paragraph of her long, sad email…I felt so sad that I am not there by her side. I so badly wanted to hug her tight and assure her that this phase will pass. This is the saddest thing about being away from people that matter most to us. We cannot be there to physically hold their hands or listen to them as they cry their whole hearts out. I felt really sad. But yes, I also believe that distance shouldn’t be a hindrance in making our friends and families feel that “we are there” with them. That we are embracing them across the oceans and they will always be in our prayers.

Anyway, that night was a bit lonely. I so badly wanted to be with my friend who was grieving at that very moment! But I know she knows how much I love her and how much I am wishing her well. So yes, if she gets to read this, I want her to be reminded again that she’s a strong woman, a beautiful woman, who will, one day, smile again.

The next day, Mien fetched me from the hotel and we shared another yummy meal with Tuan. Next stop was Highlands Coffee where Mien treated me for a nice cold Vietnamese coffee. It was also delicious. I decided to buy a pack of 200 grams and was pleasantly surprised by it’s cheap price! :) Oh, I forgot to mention that the day before, I also bought 500 grams of another locally-grown coffee. I intend to taste different varieties of coffee so I can prepare myself to that day in the future when I will already be selling and exporting coffees all over the world. :) Besides, having talks with friends over nice mugs of coffee (and tea!) are one of this life’s simply joyful moments, right?

By 11:00 a.m. Mien and Tuan were already bringing me to the bus terminal where another bus will take me back to Phnom Penh, my ‘foster’ country at this time in my life. Mien and Tuan bid me goodbye and as usual, I felt a little tug of sadness in my heart beause I am again leaving another good friend and a city that I have already fallen in love with.

It was a beautiful birthday trip. Ho Chi Minh City, I will be back.

[Re-post of a blog dated June 23, 2007 (from my previous site).]

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This is not a paid blog.