My niece asks her Mom, “Why are the rivers here in Aurora clean?”

We were on the way back to Manila from a family vacation in Aurora Province when my niece, Danica, suddenly asks her Mom, “Why are the rivers here in Aurora clean?”

In urban children’s minds, clean waters just seem to be a figment of their imagination. In Aurora, Danica found out that they are still real.

Everyone in the car was surprised with that question. It was a very simple one but carries with it such a complex dimension of environmental degradation. Being the environmental professional in the family, I was expected to answer her question. Frankly, I was challenged with her question, too.

In a mix of Tagalog and English, I tried to give her a simple answer. I told her that what she sees in the city (Metro Manila) are just like the ones she saw in Aurora, many years ago. Except that the city dwellers did not love and care for their rivers so much that they took them for granted and did not give a damn about throwing their garbage and waste on them. I wanted to give her a more complex answer about the impact of population growth and urbanization to the environment but I decided that my first reply was enough for now.

Days after that, hubby and I were still pondering about her question. We realized that in Danica’s mind, it was “natural” to see dirty river waters so, therefore, it was unimaginable to actually see clean rivers! Now we fully understood why she immediately jumped into (and did not want to leave anymore) the river bordering Mom’s farm. We had to convince her that we are going to another river the next day.

When Danica saw this river, we couldn’t get her out of the water anymore! (By the way, this is one of the fantastic views if you are perched on the edge of Mom’s farm).

Her question touched us deeply because we thought about the other children in the urban areas–those who have not even seen a clean river or stream. What a terrible kind of deprivation that they will all grow up not even experiencing how is it to wade and swim in clean bodies of freshwater. Of course, they can always go to the nearest pools in 5-star hotels or beaches such as in Batangas (which are just 4 to 5 hours away from Manila) but it is still different to experience the non-salty and natural (non-chlorinated) types of river waters. Bathing in freshwater is stilldifferent from bathing in salt water and artificial pools. It is still a different experience to marvel at and sit on those huge rocks, knowing that those were shaped by the rushing of the waters over thousands of years.

Danica and Anne at the Caunayan Falls. Suddenly, their joys are mine, too.

What have we urbanites done to our environment, specifically, our river waters? When will we ever pause for a while and think about how we are depriving many generations of children the sheer joy of wading and swimming in crystal-clear river waters? And we are not yet asking about the grave health and ecological implications of water pollution here…

As we ponder on these questions, let me then share with you a brief rundown of some of the salient points (in terms of prohibitions) of the Philippines Clean Water Act of 2004 (Republic Act 9275).

Under the law, it is prohibited to:

1. Deposit material of any kind which could cause water pollution;

2. Discharge, inject, or allow to seep into the earth any substance that would pollute groundwater;

3. Operate facilities that discharge regulated water pollutants without the valid required permits;

4. For LGUs not to comply with the Water Quality Management Action Plan; and

5. Directly use booster pumps in the distribution system or tamper with the water supply.

So, dear readers, I hope that in our own little ways, we can become environmental advocates even in our own families and communities. Who knows, the child who listens to us may just, one day, become the Secretary of the Environment, a multi-awarded ecological expert, or even a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for the Environment.

As they say, a single drop on the water creates not just a single wave but a ripple effect that extends far beyond the point of contact.

Be that drop and create your own ripples!

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

At 6am in Saigon, someone shouts, “My friend!”

I have always had beautiful, touching, and amusing encounters in all of my overseas travels. This one can probably be considered as among the best and the most endearing among all those little and memorable encounters. Let me begin from the start.

On my third trip to Vietnam in May 2008 (I was with JR on that 3rd trip there), we met a cyclo driver near the small hotel where we were staying in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). For those who have not been to Vietnam yet, cyclos are the equivalent or the “evolved” version of rickshaws in many Asian countries. The cyclos in Vietnam are still human-powered. A driver pushes/moves the 3-wheeled cart through the use of pedals.

JR with our favorite cyclo driver in Saigon.

The photo on the right partially shows how the cyclos look like. Well, we saw this man perched on his cyclo and…our eyes met. He then tried to convince us to try out this mode of transportation. I looked at him and his frail body and I hesitated…I said something like, “But we are too heavy for you! You will get tired! And where will I sit?” In basic English and hand gestures, he tried to convince us that actually, he is strong, and that he can easily transport the two of us. He also said that I can sit on JR’s lap! (haha)

I looked at my then boyfriend (now hubby), JR, who smiled at me, and this exchange of glances and smiles somehow gave me confidence. Our cyclo driver must have said something like, “Hey, you two are peanuts to me so ride on!” but it did not matter anymore what he said because we just found ourselves climbing up his cyclo, still deciding whether it was the right decision. :)

It was challenging at first. I did not know how to sit properly! I told myself, we would definitely be a laughing stock in the streets of Saigon. And I was right! People (mostly tourists) were pointing at us as we rode happily along. Some even smiled at us. After a few minutes, all my hesitations vanished. I was triumphantly riding in a cyclo with an old man who seemed happy (and strong!) enough giving us this joy ride. Our driver brought us to the “must-see” places in Saigon and although it was already my third trip there, it was as if I am seeing the city for the first time again. The view from a cyclo is definitely different!

One of the best “joy rides” in my life! :)

We decided on full stops every 10 minutes or so that we will not tire our driver out. I was a bit worried because he seemed so frail. However, we also thought later that he was strong for his age. He was relaxed and contended as he pedaled on and on, pointing to us the historical places of Saigon. I saw and felt the beauty and intensity of his hard labor.

Before we asked him to bring us back to our hotel, we then asked him to bring us to Jollibee (yes, we were gladly surprised to found out that there is a Jollibee branch in Saigon!) and after eating, we ordered some take-out for him. We would have wanted to ask him to join us but we were concerned that he cannot leave his cyclo unattended (after all, HCMC may have stricter street parking policies). When we gave him the bag of goodies, his eyes glistened with gratitude, surprise, and joy. And our hearts melted. It was as if a strong bond had already been forged.

When we parted near our hotel, we just couldn’t thank him enough. For him, he simply gave us a ride. But for us, he gave us more. He gave us a deeper appreciation of Saigon. He taught us about love of labor. He touched us with his kindness and integrity (he did not tell us how much to pay him nor negotiated for a “touristy” price; instead, he simply told us to pay him any amount!). Most of all, he reminded us once again that friendships blossom in the most unexpected places. However, there was sadness in my heart when we parted. I was not sure if we will see him again. In the usual mad rush of travels, shopping, and planning for next destinations, we forgot to ask for his name or contact number. Darn it, “We don’t even know his name!”, we exclaimed later. (Until now, we still do not know his name.)

On our friend’s (Ate Cel) next trip to Saigon that year, we asked her to bring our photos with “Mr. Cyclo” and try to find him on that same spot where we met him, so she can give him the copies (the ones posted here). However, when Ate Cel returned to Phnom Penh (we were still based in Phnom Penh around that time), she informed us that she didn’t see our guy. She tried her best to find ‘that face on the photos’ but she was unsuccessful. So we kept the photos, hoping that some day, we can give those to him.

When JR and I were in Saigon again in December 2008, enroute to Manila, we were glad to see our “Mr. Cyclo” on that same spot! We were genuinely happy to see him in that old familiar spot. However, we forgot to bring the photos with us! Around that time, too, we were on a very brief stay and didn’t have much interaction with him. We also walked more around the vicinity of the hotel so we didn’t have the chance to ride in his cyclo again.

Past forward to April 2011, more than two years since the last time we saw him. We were on the way to the Manila international airport for another trip to Saigon. This time, we were accompanying our friend, Jinky, and her daughter, Kira. I suddenly remembered the photos with “our” guy! I hastily asked JR to look for them but he couldn’t find them. I was so adamant in bringing them with us because I was hoping we can still see our Mr. Cyclo in that same spot. I then decided to help JR in searching for those photos and voila, I found them along with other old photos inside a box. I was ecstatic!

Friendships blossom in the most unlikely places.

We then placed them carefully inside an envelope and off we went to the airport.

We arrived around 2 am in Saigon but we stayed a bit more in the terminal so we didn’t have to kill so much time while waiting for the bus that will bring us to Phnom Penh. We met two Pinay travelers who were on their first trip to Vietnam so I shared with them my impressions on and experiences in Vietnam. We left the airport together and shared a cab.

Around 6am, we were already walking in Pham Ngu Lao Street, looking for the station of Mekong Express Bus. We asked early-risers and fellow travelers but we were given wrong and sometimes opposing directions.

And then, suddenly, I saw him…our Mr. Cyclo!  He was still in that same spot…but this time…lo and behold, with a motorbike! And he looked younger! I started staring at him, suddenly disoriented (remember, we didn’t have a night’s sleep because we were up talking in the terminal) and unsure of what to say. I just blurted out something like, “It’s you! It’s you! Do you remember…?” And…I was given a blank stare. He was probably trying to decide whether I was (a) a lunatic; (b) someone who is out to play a prank on him; or (c) an unknown daughter from a former girlfriend who left him after figuring out she was pregnant…(ok, maybe this is an exaggeration, but how I wish I can clearly describe the confusion and surprise on his face!) Our Mr. Cyclo can’t remember me! My heart is crushed!

And when I was about to do something more clever so he will remember me, he suddenly turned his confused (and clueless) face to my left (where JR was standing by) and without any warning and much of a thought, he blurted out excitedly, with obvious joy, “MY FRIEND!!!” He then stood up from his motorbike and then in a combination of hugs-and-manly-shoving-of arms-and-exchanging of-hand-shakes, he welcomed and greeted his long-lost friend, JR. And then he looked at me and now he was 100% sure that he remembered me, too! Yeheyyy!!! Our Mr. Cyclo remembers me! And all of us ended up laughing so heartily. At 6 am in a Saigon street, we were like one big happy family laughing together as if we found a gold mine. We then hastily found the photos in our bag and gave them to him. He looked at them and looked at us and in his eyes I saw a silent form of happiness. Like the quiet breezes.

And you know what’s also amazing? Our Mr. Cyclo was the one who pointed us to the correct office/station of Mekong Express Bus. We have been walking around in Pham Ngu Lao but we couldn’t find the station…until the angels brought us to him, our favorite cyclo driver in Saigon. Isn’t it a nice story? Another reminder that in our search for something, sometimes we are given another thing, which will eventually lead us to that one thing we were looking for. So don’t mind the stopovers or the sudden detours. Each step brings you closer to your destination.

I am not sure if we will see our Mr. Cyclo again. We forgot to ask for his name and contact number (again). We had time for very quick goodbyes when he helped us cross the street and find a cab on the way to the Saigon airport (for our return flight to Manila, 5 days after we saw him that morning) but it was again another chance meeting. He was again perched on his motorbike that evening and when he saw us trying to cross the street, he was again ready with his warm smiles and kindness.

I pray to God that we will still see him again, perhaps a year from now, still seated on his favorite spot under the trees, in a busy part of Pham Ngu Lao. And I promise the universe, I will no longer forget to ask for his name and number.

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Aurora: a way to look back and move forward

(A repost of a blog from my main site, meilbox.asyanna.com, dated December 31, 2010.)

First of all, HAPPY NEW YEAR, DEAR FRIENDS and READERS! May the love and goodness of our Lord continue to be our source of strength and inspiration!

JR and I spent a few days in Aurora right after Christmas. It was a perfect time to end 2010 – bonding with Mom and then visiting the place where she has ‘taken roots’. It was also about time I “introduce” hubby to my Mom’s birthplace.  We had one of our best vacations ever! The trip was not really planned but it was Mom who broached the idea and even offered to sponsor the trip! (Moms are really the best!) I was also requested by Mom to help a relative so hubby and I readily decided to go even if we did not have much time to prepare for it. We stayed up the whole night prior to the trip to finish an assignment, entertain friends, pack our bags (although it was hubby who packed everything!), prepare breakfast (again, courtesy of hubby!) and get dressed. Despite this harried preparations, it was all worth the trouble.

Hubby (JR) and my Mom by the riverbanks near the farm. Isn’t my Mom cute with her big hat? (Photo taken through my HTC phone)

The first thing we did the next day (we arrived around lunch time on the first day but was too tired and sleepy to even go out of the house) was visit Mom’s farm in Dibucao, Maria Aurora, Aurora. Yes, the photo on the right is JR with my Mom. (And yes, Mom is wearing a big hat whenever she goes to the farm!)

This photo was taken by the riverbanks. I was so happy to know that the river by the farm is still crystal clear! I was quite worried because the last time I went there was in 2005 or 2006 so I was not sure if the water will still be that clean. Thank God, it was still as clean as I remember it from way back. It made me look back to my childhood days when I’d frolic in the rivers with my siblings and cousins, full of joys and in total abandon, knowing that the water is totally clean! I sure hope that many Filipino children can still experience such joys in clean and unpolluted river waters! I also hope that we (the public) and our government will do more aggressive steps to stop polluting our water bodies. This is something that we need to do more seriously.

Those are my and JR’s feet – see how clean the waters are? Yes, it is still possible to bathe in crystal-clear rivers in Aurora!

Anyway, after the visit to the farm, we went to the Balete Park where one of the tallest Balete Trees in Asia is standing. Also called “The Millenium Tree,” its diameter measures about 10-15 meters and would need about 60 adults to encircle the base, hand-in-hand. Here is a photo of it. Apologies that this was taken with a camera phone only. The small person with hands outstretched and standing by the base is me! This tree is really amazing. It was actually my second time to see it but I am still in awe of its size, beauty, and mystery.

We had the chance to give respects to the Giant Balete Tree of Aurora (located in Brgy. Quirino, Ma. Aurora). See how huge it is? It towers to about 60-65 meters!

I just hope that the local governments of Quirino and Aurora will work together to save it from ‘dying’ because it looks ‘uncared for’ and hungry for TLC (tender loving care). Several concrete posts of the fence around it are destroyed (they look like they were intentionally destroyed?) and speaking of the fence, it may actually be a good idea to simply remove it because it does not go well with the natural environment, is obstructive to the view of the trunk, and makes it impossible to take nice full-shot photos of it  (e.g., if the photographer wants to take a full shot, he needs to stand further away from the tree but going further means he has to sacrifice aesthetics because the concrete fence will definitely show). If a fence must be built, then it should be constructed further back. I hope concerned citizens can join me in “knocking” on the doors of the local government officials of Aurora so this beautiful tree can live on for many more generations.

The visit to the farm also gave us wonderful moments even if it started to drizzle. Mom constantly reminded us about loving our lands because they are gifts from her ancestors. She said, “Ang pera, madaling mawala; ang lupa ay laging nandito, hindi nawawala.” (Translation: Money goes away fast; but lands always stay, they never go away.) Simple words but truly come from the heart. Those words also reminded me about the gifts of our past. That we have gifts from our forefathers, nurturing us, giving us life.

I stand there amid the rice fields and look at the skies. Ahhh, this world is a true miracle. Thank you, Lord.

Who cannot smile amid this paradise?

Thank you for another year of love, friendships, reunions, forgiveness, laughters, generosity, kindness, strength amid the challenges, and the never-ending voices of your Angels who continue to guide and take care of us.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!!

Contacts:

For trips to Aurora, there are Genesis buses that leave Cubao and Pasay every day. In Cubao, the trips to Baler (the capital of Aurora Province) begin leaving at 4:30 am until about 7:00 am (or earlier if there are many passengers).

Genesis Transport Services, Inc.

Tel. Nos.: Cubao (02) 4211413 Pasay (02) 8533115

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Dreaming of a Philippine Leadership Academy

(A repost of a blog posted last December 7, 2010 in my previous site, http://meilbox.asyanna.com)

If I have the means, I will build an institution and name it the Philippine Leadership Academy.

A “No” uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a “Yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble. – M. Gandhi (Photo Credits http://www.newsofap.com)

It will produce graduates with the integrity and courage of Mahatma Gandhi, intelligence of Jose Rizal, and spirituality of Mother Theresa. The graduates will be the only ones qualified to run for public office or even become public servants. Training and formation of these future leaders will begin in Grade 1 and continue until the day they walk up the stage to get their college diploma. Having a high IQ (or at least more-than-average IQ) will be a basic requirement for admission.

Ok, you can laugh now and tell me that I am trying to ‘fish’ for the moon.

Impossible as this dream may sound, I think this is the only solution for us to have government leaders, elected officials, and public servants who will serve with intelligence, wisdom, leadership, compassion, honesty, and integrity.

We have the Philippine Military Academy, right? We even have formation houses for priests. So why not do it for elective and civil service positions when the stake is significantly higher?

However, a 5-year or even 8-year program will not work. The education and formation should begin in childhood; when there is still enough innocence left in a person’s mind. When his mind is still like a fresh sponge waiting for knowledge, wisdom, and integrity to soak everything in.

The parents of the prospective students (future government leaders) should be fully committed to their children’s future as  leaders. They should not expect them to become millionaires but maybe just comfortable enough to be able to afford some luxuries every now and then (the government, should of course, give them decent salaries so that there will be no reason for temptations). They should also give them enough motivation and inspiration. Even the parents should live a life of integrity. After all, young people look up to their parents as role models.

We all know that education is crucial to how a person will eventually become in the future. Of course, there is no guarantee that a well-educated person will not end up being a crook someday but with a formation program as intense as what I am envisioning, there will be lesser chances for the ‘churning out’ of a corrupt public servant. The program will be so intense and soul-deep that there will be yoga and meditation classes as early as in the elementary years. Simply put, the education will not just be about atoms, anatomy, governance, Renaissance, poetry, and climate change, but also anchored on the mission to produce graduates who are so spiritually-grounded that they will not even know the spelling of corruption.

A part of their high school years will be spent reading about exceptional global leaders and Nobel Prize winners who left remarkable and lasting legacy for the humanity. They will be taught to enjoy the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and even our very own kundiman, because that is the only way they can connect with the past and appreciate their places in the future. There will be art, poetry, and foreign languages appreciation classes because the only way to broaden one’s perspectives and see the world and its sufferings deeply is to breathe life and art itself; to consider life through the minds of artists, poets, and linguists so that one comes out wiser and richer.

In college, there will be debate classes and mock sessions on how the government operates. Their minds will be pushed to their limits; their creativity nurtured so that they can think of new and innovative ways to govern and make the bureaucracy work for the benefit of all. They will be challenged on how to craft and implement laws and policies that will really work and not some kind of token legislation that are so full of great promises but lack the teeth for proper implementation. They will be trained in the most intensive courses on economics, business, and finance so that they will know how to manage this country’s wealth and resources (including human resources) so that they will not even aspire for overseas trips just to get investors and ODA money to finance our domestic requirements and industries. Their minds are going to be molded so that they themselves will abhor words like nepotism, political dynasty, and padrino systems.

Most of all, the graduates of this leadership academy will NOT steal, lie, or amass wealth. They will be so nationalistic and grounded that having a functional car and a comfortable house will be enough. There will be no dreams for yachts, private jets, and Hermes bags for their wives. Of course, their rich ancestors can probably leave them inheritance to allow them live a good life but those will be reported in public up to the very last centavo spent. In fact, they are just so grounded and selfless that they would rather donate the sudden inheritance (with the condition that it will be used to build factories or assist SMEs).

“No good water comes from muddy spring. No sweet fruit comes from a bitter seed.” – Jose Rizal (Photo credits http://moralheroes.org/jose-protacio-rizal)

These leaders will commit their lives to goals bigger than themselves. As what our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal once said, “It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal. It is like a stone wasted on the field without becoming a part of any edifice. “

However, in order to have this kind of leaders, we need to plant the seeds. We have to believe in this dream. We need to start while the minds of our youths are still fresh like the morning grasses waiting for the dews to drop on their faces and nourish them.

I am serious about this dream and I hope the 741 million lotto winner will read this message and offer the initial funds for the setting up of this leadership academy.

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Silang’s Little Secret: Abundant Cafe

(Repost of my Sept. 11, 2010 blog in meilbox.asyanna.com)

My UP friends (Rory and Jinky), hubby, and I went on a quick trip to Tagaytay yesterday and we were gifted once again with a fun-filled and beautiful day. Tagaytay is one of my favorite places in the whole world and the quick trip yesterday sealed my resolve to own a place there someday (may God give us the abundance to make that dream house happen!).

And speaking of “abundance,” Rory led us to an added treat by bringing us to Abundant Cafe in Silang, Cavite.

A view of the (eternally) open door to one of the huts where glorious food and drinks are served.

It was the first time for me, hubby, and Jinky to visit the place so we even if we were still full from the hearty lunch we had at Leslie’s by the Ridge, we heartily gobbled up the dessert which Rory recommended. It is the traditional palitaw but it was served with a cute red flower on top and other garnishing that I really thought it was not thepalitaw that I used to enjoy in my childhood days! Here are some snapshots so you can imagine how yummy it really is…

Yes, this is our traditional palitaw with a “twist.” And yes, the flower on top is edible!

I also liked the net-like cloth that the Cafe uses to cover the glasses.

See the pretty glass covers that protect your drinks from bugs!

The Cafe is also selling native/ethnic bags, pillows, canopies, mats, curtains, and those trinkets (of shells and stones) that you can see in the photos here. It was really tempting to buy all those trinkets…well, actually, I bought 3 pieces and now they are hanging already from the top threshold of our bedroom door (courtesy of dear hubby).

The lovely stringed trinkets made of shells and stones.

The trinkets you see on the photo below are almost the same with the ones I bought. They are also used as hanging decors and they complemented the ethnic and cozy look of the cafe. By the way, the walls of the cafe’s huts are made, not of woods or concrete, but of net-like cloths! So the breeze from outside provides a natural ventilation. Hmm, this ‘green’ design is something we all can learn from particularly if you want to have small “siesta” huts in your gardens.

I also liked the lampshade mostly made of capiz shells. And look at the way they made the hut cooler by putting more net-like cloth beneath the ceiling.

We were also served piping hot cups of chocolate drinks, the same one served by my dear Lola when I was still a young child. I fondly called her, “Nanay”, back when she was still alive and sometimes I still miss her.  Perhaps the afternoon with hubby and my good friends yesterday was also Nanay’s way of reminding me that she will always be around as long as there are still hot chocolate cups to be enjoyed.

Here, you can have a very relaxing cup of hot chocolate!

We ended our merienda with a drink of hot water infused with tarragon herbs. I did not even know that tarragon herbs can actually be used as a tea concoction! Thanks to the soul and creativity of the place and its owners, we left Tagaytay with more good feelings, grateful for the ‘abundance’ of this universe, the strong friendships that we have forged over the years, and the limitless joys that life always brings.

Have a good life!

Contacts:

Abundant Cafe and Handicrafts

220 Bypass Rd., Aguinaldo Hi-way, Tubuan II, Silang, Cavite, Philippines. Tels. 0918 431 6973/ 0928 364 0563 (Look for Ms. Cecil Guela Caño).

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Photos taken through my HTC PDA/Mobile Phone. This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin