Category Archives: Strictly Personal

meiLBOX was recently hacked but is back online!

MeiLBOX Header

The image above is a screenshot of my site’s temporary header in the old host. Again, I would like to thank biinclover and mpsaz.org for the use of their images in this temporary header.

Hello meiLBOX readers! This is just a quick post to let you all know that meiLBOX was recently hacked. Many or most of my images (embedded in the blog posts) had been stolen by the hacker. While I had placed watermarks in all of them, I am not too sure if they can be easily erased or manipulated. Therefore, I encourage you all to be more vigilant in purchasing or using photo works online. They might have been stolen from this site or elsewhere. :)

I have slowly rebuilt the site with the help of my previous server–I decided to transfer to a new web host–so I hope you will enjoy visiting meiLBOX again!

I would just like to share some important lessons I learned as I was rebuilding my site, with the hope that they will also help WordPress bloggers in protecting their sites:

1. WordPress had become very attractive to hackers because of the weak features such as the log-in page (the URL that you use in order to log-in to your site). You can change  this “first door” to your site by using plug-ins such as Rename wp-login by avryl.

2. The next weak spot is the automatic assignment of the name “admin” as your log-in name. WordPress should really look into this. In the meantime, you can have the option to change this generic “admin” name by using plug-ins such as Admin renamer extended by Ramon Fincken. (I learned from my Google research that hackers really like sites with “admin” as their user /login names.)

3. You can add additional security features such as BruteProtect by Parka, LLC and WP User Access Notification by SiteGuarding.com). I especially like the latter plug-in because it sends email notifications every time I log-in or someone (a possible hacker) attempts to log-in.

Please note that I am not in any way connected to the owners and developers of the plug-ins I had cited here nor am I endorsing them so please do your own diligent work as well.  Nevertheless,  I would like to take this chance to thank the developers cited above for the great service they are giving to WordPress users for free.

Thank you and God bless you all!

[Note:  I would like to thank Jeffre of Pinoywebsite for the assistance in the migration of meiLBOX from their site to my new host, Zoom.ph]

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This is not a paid blog.

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

My way or your way? (Or how to strike a balance when dealing with clients)

My way or your way? (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin, with due permission from the 2 'spotted' models.)

My way or your way? (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin, with due permission from the 2 ‘spotted’ models.)

The other day, I received a long email from someone who has assisted me in an urgent project this year and a thought-provoking question was in the email: “To what extent do you push for your ideas and when do you give way to client’s wishes?

It seemed a very simple question but the longer one ponders on it, the more complex it somehow becomes. And so I briefly replied that, “Hmmm, I am not an expert but, I guess, the priority is still the client’s wishes, his comfort zone, and his realities.” I then realized that the question deserves a longer reply so I decided that this can actually be a good topic in my next blog. :)

Before I expound on this question, let me first qualify that my tips/insights below apply only to circumstances when one’s core values and beliefs are not going to be compromised (that is, the situation should not call for pleasing a client but committing a crime or even a professional faux pas in the process!). Therefore, this post refers only to situations that do not involve the commission of a crime, breach of contract, and other similar consequences.

I may be citing real-life experiences just to emphasize a point but I won’t be mentioning names of persons or institutions, for privacy’s sake. (It is indeed true that ‘experience is the best teacher’ so I hope that my own experiences will help you, dear readers, in dealing with situations when you are torn apart between wanting to please your client 100% and pushing for your ideas.)

The following may be considered as good take-off points or pieces of advice:

1. The customer is always right. This may sound used and abused but always remember, when faced with a blank wall, that you exist because of your customer (client). Fortunately, I got trained in DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) Methodology, an approach to problem-solving and considered in the corporate world as part of the Six Sigma management philosophy. Through DMAIC principles, I had a deeper understanding of how to connect the client’s wants and needs to my existence as part of a corporation or even as an independent professional. I will not bore you with the details of how my training went but suffice to say, there really is a ‘methodical’ way of appreciating why clients behave that way and why you, as a supplier or service provider, should go the extra mile to do what your clients want.

2. Know your bottomlines but always refer to point No. 1 above. You can always have your own ‘bottomlines’ or that specific points when you really must say “no” already. This means that you may always bend to the wishes of your client but if such acquiescence means that the final project/output will already have significant impact on your career and long-term goals, then by all means, say a respectful but firm “no”. For example, if a valued client requests you to finish the layout and design of a book with a very short lead time–a time frame that makes it physically impossible to deliver a brilliant design–you can respectfully but firmly reject the project. After all, it will be your reputation and portfolio at stake there.

However, there will always be those rare instances when you simply cannot refuse, right? I had been in those situations and they were really difficult times. Should this ever happen to you, you can consider taking the following course of actions: (i) Accept the project but propose changes in the terms of reference so that the tasks may be adjusted based on the time frame given (e.g.,  if it is no longer possible to develop 3 cover studies, then strike an agreement where you will only propose 1 or 2 studies; (ii) consult a lawyer to help you develop a contract where there will be enough protective clauses for you (e.g., your contract should stipulate that the client should give their comments within a specific period only and anything sent beyond that will already impact the project calendar and, therefore, you should not be made liable for the consequent project delay); (iii) agree on fair/realistic quality standards and ensure that your client will not feel shortchanged (e.g., while it may be impossible to develop highly-complicated graphic works, you and your client should agree on minimal use of info-graphics and nice but simple design tweaking); and (iv) request your client to allow you to sub-contract some of the tasks involved so that you can deliver on time with the agreed quality parameters.

3. Listen. Have a more open mind. These two ‘epic statements’ sound simple, right? However, they are easier said than done. I have met consultants, artists, and graphic designers who are so brilliant but seem to lack or fail in the emotional quotient (EQ) department. In the same way, I have worked with young and upcoming specialists and professionals who may still be ‘learning the ropes’ but whose work ethics, patience, diligence, and commitment are exemplary. These are preferred by clients. I don’t need a very brilliant artist but who always complains, doesn’t listen, and acts as if he is always right and the greatest artist in the whole world. I prefer someone who does a great job (even if it’s not so perfect) AND really listens, appreciates my business, and open to my ideas. Simply put, intelligence, brilliance, and talent should be accompanied with the right attitude. No wonder EQ is essential in ascertaining whether a person is perfect for the job. :) You might ask, “How will these two statements help me when I want to push for my ideas because I know I am REALLY right and that my ideas ultimately support the goals of my client?” My answer is simple: You can actually make your client feel that your idea is actually his idea just by simply listening and having an open mind. Listen more and you will perhaps realize that your ideas do not exactly oppose his ideas. And in the worse case scenario, there might be a workable compromise position somewhere. The trick is to make your client feel that his ideas are also important and useful in the bigger picture.

4. Always remember, your client is NOT stupid. There are designers and IT specialists who think and act like they are God’s gifts to the universe (pasintabi lang po, bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan ay h’wag magagalit). They are the ones who will bluntly tell you, “Oh, I cannot do that because…(and then give you long explanations with their technical jargons and IT what-nots)” when you simply needed a user-friendly template. There is a common joke circulating around that we must never have IT administrators as enemies because they hold the passwords to our private emails and, painfully, they can easily cause the demise of our careers (or reputation?). It seems a harmless joke, right? But the reality is that many IT and graphic design professionals have strangely developed a certain ‘air’ around them. They are the untouchables. You cannot mess with them. You cannot argue with them. They have their own language, which you cannot penetrate. They make fun of lesser morals who have only basic understanding of IT and design jargons. But be warned: clients are smart, too. They may have lesser gigabyte of IT knowledge but their basic understanding of IT and design what-have-you’s may mean that they have humongous understanding and ownership of the other important matters in life–including the money that they will pay you. Never assume anything. Never assume that the client doesn’t know anything about your line of work. Never assume that they are stupid or fools. Thread carefully for the client might just ask someone to blacklist you in the whole corporate community just because he did not enjoy your sarcastic email about why it is not possible to convert such a file to the template that you needed. Fair enough? :)

5. Good track record matters. Build a solid track record with your client and this makes the work (and future negotiations) a lot easier. It is alright to push for your ideas particularly if they are really brilliant. However, remember that it takes time for a client to trust you enough. It is the same with relationships. Don’t expect people to trust you instantly just because you have a very good CV. Relationships take time to build. It is the same way with clients. They tend to listen more to people whom they already worked with over the long haul. Therefore, if someone or a corporation is your first-time client, be very careful with your ideas. Try to hold your horses at first. Get a feel of how they interact with you, take note of their corporate culture (and even their body languages!), and eventually, you will know when is the perfect time to propose your ideas. (See no. 9 below also.)

6. Appreciation. We had been taught the power of appreciation by our parents. We had been told to say “Thank you” when someone helps us, gives us a gift, or utters a compliment. But no one really told us how to say “Thank you” if someone acts like a brat or refuses to listen. Someone has forgotten to say that the workplace is in another dimension. Planet Mars, maybe? The thing is, it is difficult or downright impossible to say “Thank you” if you are pissed off. However, if the going gets tough and you are faced with a client who doesn’t seem to want to listen to your ideas, count 1 to 10 and say an inner “Thank you”. Thank the heavens above because you have this client and the job. Thank the universe because this difficult moment in your life makes you a better and more patient person. Thank the stars because you have this opportunity to practice yoga (read: the art of detachment). Finally, thank that spot where you are standing on because certainly, someone else can easily fill that spot (and he is just a phone call, SMS, or even tweet away!).

7. Remember the rule of karma and the saying, ‘walls have ears’. Every action that we do will become part of our history. There is no way that we can delete the past so we must always strive hard to think of the consequences of our action or statement. If we made a client very happy today, it may eventually lead to more opportunities in the future (and not necessarily with the same client). A satisfied client will always speak nicely of you and such a reputation is very important in the market. If you are faced with that moment when you really must be frank with a client and insist on your ideas, then weigh the benefits versus the risks. Will insisting on your point ruin or negatively impact your relationship with your client? If the answer is yes, then don’t hold your tongue and simply do what the client wants or wait for the right time to re-negotiate.

8. Patience is the best virtue. I always liked this saying, “Good things come to those who wait.” This is can be applied when faced with the dilemma of finding a way to push for your ideas without offending your client. Learn to be patient. This is particularly challenging especially if the deadline is tight or the situation is just too stressful. I had been there and believe me, I had experienced moments when I just wanted to walk out of a project. Once or twice, I actually gave up an opportunity for a good reason (see my earlier notes about not compromising our values and principles in life). However, it is best that we always keep our cool. It helps us have a better appreciation of the demands of our clients. I guess it takes many years of practice and experience to develop genuine patience and wisdom. I think no one can really be completely patient (every one will always have that breaking point) so let us also try to accept our humanity. The key, I think, is having enough self-restraint and magnanimity without having to compromise our core values.

9. Timing is everything. I have encountered people who seem so close-minded at first but who eventually open their minds up if only they are allowed enough space and time to think about your ideas or proposals. There is that thing about finding the perfect timing. Don’t talk to a client who just had lost a bid or even endured two or three hours in traffic. In the negotiation table, your client will always have the upper hand. Therefore, you have better chances of ‘winning’ if you lay out your game plan at the perfect time. Pray, consult a feng shui expert, or do a ritual dance  if you must!

10. It’s a free world. At the end of the day, you are answerable to your own self. Stick to your guts. If you are comfortable in your own skin and have a positive outlook of how the world and businesses operate, you will find it easier to strike a balance between what you think is right and what the client wants. Bend if you must. Be like a strong bamboo that sways with the winds. However, never lose yourself just because you need the moolah. Develop an inner compass and that will surely help you make those critical decisions in such challenging phases in your career, and even life in general. It’s a free world. You have the right to make your own decisions, cognizant of the goals of your clients and the rights and welfare of people around you.

Let me end this post by sharing with you a picture of Nobuko, one of the dolls in the Kimmidoll series. She reminds us to ‘live what we believe.’

Nobuko tells us, "By living what you believe, your actions will always find their true direction." [Doll by Kimmidolls; image taken by M. Velas-Suarin]

Nobuko tells us, “By living what you believe, your actions will always find their true direction.” [Doll by Kimmidolls; image taken by M. Velas-Suarin]

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

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

Journeying with words and books

I devoted much of the day by sorting and cleaning our books. Because we have lost many books  from Ondoy’s floods back in 2009, hubby and I are slowly but joyfully growing the collection again. :) Many of the books that I had collected when I was still single are still with me although some are in storage, left in boxes when I left the country back in 2007.

It always brings me so much joys just to see (and touch!) printed words on paper. I began to seriously take up the hobby of reading when I was in high school and, indeed, my life had been made richer and more meaningful because of the many journeys that I was able to take just by simply reading. My travels had also been more profound because of the companionship of authors like Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, Umberto Eco, Jose Rizal, and many other great weaver of stories. (I do enjoy light reading, too, so I am not ashamed to admit that I have many chick-lit titles as well!) ;D

Books that stay with me. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Books that stay with me. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I think that even with the event of eBooks and Kindle, I would always be buying hard-bound books and paperbacks. eBooks bring so much convenience especially when one is traveling but nothing compares with seeing rows and rows of books on one’s walls, shelves, and even floors! It is just so romantic, don’t you think so, too? While wiping the dust from our well-loved books, I thought about taking their pictures and here are some of them.

Some of our business books.

Some of our business books.

I am aware that many people  disagree with many of the ideas and opinions of Robert Kiyosaki but I would still recommend his Rich Dad, Poor Dad as a basic reading. There are certainly better books than this one but Kiyosaki’s simple style of narration makes reading on financial independence and wealth building more engaging. His other books like the Guide to Investing also offer practical tips but, still, one is advised to be very discerning when following any of his (and even other authors’) recommendations especially when it comes to money and business matters.

Here’s another peek at our titles…

Love books, learn new languages, appreciate history! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Love books, learn new languages, appreciate history! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I got lucky that I was born on June 19 and that means I share Rizal’s birthday. :) Perhaps, many of those who share his birthday would admit that they, too, enjoy reading, writing, traveling, and other forms of communicating. I guess we will always have this hunger for knowledge, experiences, travels, and to some extent, new languages. I took up a basic course in French language in Dhaka, Bangladesh many years ago and, this year, hubby and I decided to be conversant in the language. Luckily, Fully Booked in Bonifacio High Street had this complete volume in French (Living Language series). It contains 3 books and 9 CDs! It was indeed a more practical alternative to attending regular classes because with the e-files, you can easily rewind, forward, and repeat sessions for as long as you want, and for as many times as you want, minus the risk of irritating a teacher or classmates!

Back to Jose Rizal – I would really recommend that every Filipino read (or re-read, depending on the case) Noli Me Tangere. It is Rizal’s most popular book, possibly the book that profoundly influenced a lot of Filipinos who fought for our independence.

And to show more of our well-loved titles…

Food for the soul. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Food for the soul. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Not to sound preachy, but I am sure many hold the Holy Bible as a personal companion, a source of guidance, and a symbol of God’s love to humanity. Hubby and I found this beautiful copy (bound and protected by a nice blue leather) in National Book Store. I count myself lucky, too, to have found this 4-volume series on the Mangyan culture (special thanks go to the Mangyan Heritage Center for selling these books to me when I visited their office early this year). The Philippines is a culturally-diverse country so we must do our best to know more of our culture and history. For other readings that are sure to soothe your soul and give you positive feelings, we also recommend The Celestine Prophecy and The Tenth Insight by James Redfield.

These are JR's favorite books! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

These are JR’s favorite books! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I have been blessed with a husband who patiently and lovingly cooks for me. Friends know that I lack talent in the kitchen so the following books are not actually in my ‘territory’ but they deserve a spot here because through this post, I want to thank my loving husband for having the talent, diligence, (and immense patient?) to prepare wonderful meals for me. (Thank you, my Papa Bear!) Indeed, it is true that when we pray, we should always be specific! I prayed for a husband who knows how to cook and he gave this person with culinary talent and much much more!

Grab a book and weave your own stories. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Grab a book and weave your own stories. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Of course, I admire Asian* writers! One of my favorites is Ms. Amy Tan. I remember the time when I was reading her The Joy Luck Club, I knew instantly that it deserved a film adaptation (which eventually happened) because her characters are so real, they speak to you like a friend or an old relative. I can go on and on about her and her works but I’d rather that you discover her on your own. I also have full admiration to the writing style of Arundhati Roy. I also like discovering authors myself (minus the influence of reviews or bestsellers’ lists) because that is the only way we can find new treasures.

And so my and hubby’s journey continues. Along the way, we will discover new places, meet new friends, and become conversant in French and other languages. We’re excited every day day because we know that in each step, in every new encounter, in every new book that we will buy and read, there will always be beautiful lessons and stories, intertwined with our own.

I will end this by sharing with you a habit, which I would always do every time I bring home a book. In every copy of book that I own, I would usually write the date when and place where I bought it. This way, every book also shares some kind of link with my own ‘herstory.’

A book bought in Bangladesh. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Bangladesh. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Cambodia. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Cambodia. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Singapore. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Singapore. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Thailand. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Thailand. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

What are you waiting for? Grab a book now and be happily brought to magical places! Soar high and reach your dreams!

Mei_Watermark-4

 

 

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*As much as possible, I do avoid categorizing writers (and people) according to their nationalities. (After all, our talents are part of who we are, regardless of our race.) However, I am simply awed by such great talents, who, incidentally, have Asian roots and heritage, and so I ask for your kind indulgence.

This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

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

Gratitude Wall (inspired by Geminids Meteors)

HAPPY NEW YEAR, friends and readers! (And happy birthday to my niece, Jarmaine Abby Trilles!) May the new year bring you many more reasons to be grateful about.

Thank you, Lord, for the beauty and magic of the universe!

Thank you, Lord, for the beauty and magic of the universe!

I began writing this post last December 14 so please forgive me that this may sound a little stale. :) That early morning, I fell asleep with gratitude in my heart and a smile on my face. Hubby and I just came back from UP Observatory to watch the Geminids meteor shower, the memories of which still linger in my mind.

I do not have a photo to share as proof of our beautiful experience that early morning in the UP Observatory but you may view some photos at http://www.space.com/18906-geminid-meteor-shower-skywatcher-photos.html. That magical morning reminded me and JR once again that the mystery, beauty, and vastness of the universe are strong proofs of God’s existence and his great love for us. Whoever created such indescribable beauty must really love us so much, huh? :) So I fell asleep that early morning with nothing but the deepest gratitude in my heart. I think I was even whispering repeatedly, “Thank you, Lord…thank you, Lord…thank you, Lord…” until I fell asleep (the quality of my sleep that night was probably among the best in my entire life!)

As many sky watchers know, the sight of a meteor is exhilarating, empowering, and enigmatic. You would always feel that sudden surge of joy (may be compared with adrenaline rush?) when you see one. In fact, based on how I felt each time a meteor appears on the horizon, I become so awed and captivated that I’d always forget to ask for my wish! ;D It is funny. In that split-second, you forget everything, even the wishes that you want to ask from God and the universe. “Never mind,” I said to myself. I saw 50 meteors that morning and that was enough. More than enough. I am willing to share those 50 meteors with you, my dear readers, and ask for your wishes. Consider them granted. After all, God and the angels who also stayed up that evening and dawn of December 13 and 14 must have watched intently from above, smiling at us, knowing that all is well on earth. If His children can still watch meteors all night–never minding the mosquitoes and other strange bugs hovering around–then everything is ok and going as planned.

It was wonderful to chat with a mother and son who also went to the Observatory to watch the meteors. We did not know their names and it was so dark to even try to look at their faces but it was enough that we shared the moments with strangers who must have also felt the same wonderful feelings that we felt. The bond between them (after all, how many mothers and sons still watch meteors together, right?) is inspiring. When JR and I have our own children already, we hope and pray that they will grow up equally in the same way that the young son had become–grateful of God and the universe, loving to and respectful of his parents, and always in awe of the stars, meteors, and the sheer togetherness of families.

One amusing ‘side story’ that evening was when a TV network (I won’t say which network!) crew member fell asleep on the make-shift ‘banig’ of old newspapers strewn beside where JR and I were lying down (we brought our own banig!) when there were thick clouds over the horizon and most people must have fallen asleep. Lo and behold, as I continue to wait for the clouds to clear, this crew member began…SNORING! That must have been such a sweet time to “sleep on the job”, right? ;D Nevertheless, I am pretty sure that getting assignments such as waiting for meteors and watching the stars is not that bad. In fact, it is very very good!

I end this post with a simple “Thank you.” Thank you, Lord, for the blessings and wonderful moments of 2012. Please continue to bless my family, friends, and country.

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Here are basic information about Geminids meteors and the 2013 showers. Save the date!

Geminids meteor streams are groups of meteoroids originating from dust grains ejected from Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. These small dust grains (meteoroids) are distributed along the parent asteroid’s orbit concentrated close to the asteroid nucleus with fewer grains farther away from the nucleus. Every time the Earth passes through this stream of dust particles (i.e., meteor stream), we experience what is known as a Geminids meteor shower. These brief streaks of light from meteors, sometimes called “shooting stars”, peak on Friday night the 13th December 2013 when earth moves through the center of the dust trail left behind by the asteroid.

How to view the Geminids

Go outside, find a dark spot and look north north-east near the constelation of Gemini for the Geminids radiant. Meteor showers are strictly for night owls or early risers. The best time to view the Geminids is from around midnight to dawn. They are of average speed but very colourful. You should be able to see 120 streaks an hour or more during the peak. The Geminids meteor shower is active from the 7th Dec to 17th Dec with fewer activity either side of the peak time. (Source: http://www.bashewa.com/wxmeteor-showers.php?shower=Geminids&year=2013)

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This is not a paid blog.

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

Food Trip with Fr. Leo: A Celebration of Food and Family Ties

Fr. Leo puts so much of his heart and soul in every meal that he prepares.

A cooking priest?! This is what came to my mind when our good friend, Jinky, texted us about an event that’s happening the next day. Forward to January 6, 2012.

Yes, Fr. Leo Patalinghug is a cooking priest indeed! It was my and JR’s first time to see a priest in a chef’s coat and it took us a few seconds for the reality to sink in. :) When we shook hands with him and began a conversation, we almost forgot that he is a priest because he is so down-to-earth, cool, and humorous. (Father Leo, please consider that as a compliment.) ;)

The event is part of Fr. Leo’s way of sharing his joys in cooking and spreading the word about his group’s advocacy and movement, “Grace Before Meals.” (Visit http://gracebeforemeals.com for more info.) The movement encourages people to spend meals together as a family and community, and in the process, build stronger ties, and commune with God, who is the unifying force and the creator of endless bounty. This is not your typical ‘preachy’ affair but rather an enjoyable journey towards rediscovering the beauty of cooking, sharing culinary delights,  and experiencing simple joys just from talking with our loved ones over shared meals, however simple they may be.

During my and Jinky’s interview (I’d rather call it a conversation) with him, it almost brought tears to my eyes when we began discussing our own personal experiences that have something to do with food. I shared with them a personal encounter, which has happened to me recently. It was last Christmas eve when Mom and hubby were preparing buko (coconut) salad. Enjoying the bond and joys of preparing meals, they suddenly began disagreeing over how much sweetener should be put in the salad! Each was so adamant about his/her own preference (Mom wanted more condensed milk in it while JR was insisting to go easy on the sweet for health considerations, saying, “Mommy, we don’t want you to have diabetes!”), that it got to a point when they decided to prepare two versions: one is very sweet (Mom’s version), and the other, with just the right sweetness. Until now, every time I’d think about that recent episode, it still makes me want to laugh. There is something really funny when two persons closest to your heart are seriously arguing about something seemingly nonsensical such as the the right formula for the sweetness! :) I shared that with Fr. Leo and Jinky yesterday, and what the former said touched me to the very core, “You know, when your Mom is no longer here with us, you will always look back to that moment and it will always make you want to laugh. And you will always remember her every time you eat a buko salad.” Oh, I was ready to burst into tears just thinking about that possible moment in the future…

My hubby, JR Suarin, with Fr. Leo. I know that God will always be on the side of JR as he journeys through life and future career as a chef! How can I be so sure? Well, look at his new apron! It is autographed by God through the hands of Fr. Leo, one of his messengers about good food and small miracles. :)

But it is so true! Buko salad now has another meaning in my life. :) Isn’t that another reason to celebrate our shared meals (and cooking time) with our mothers/partners, husbands and loved ones? Such moments truly make our life richer and deeper, infusing them with even more vibrant colors, or shall I say, yummier taste? :)

I have zero talent in the kitchen but I have been gifted with a husband who is so passionate with cooking that I consider this as another miracle in my life! I cannot cook and yet, I know I will always eat good and hearty meals all the rest of my life! Call it a twist of fate or whatever, but JR seems to be God’s perfect solution for my lack of talent in the culinary department. (Wink! Wink!) In a way, meeting Fr. Leo is also a serendipitous event in our life as a couple. More especially for JR who is beginning a new phase in his life (he used to be working in the financial sector), hungry for new culinary adventures, and constantly in search of inspirations and ‘gurus’. Through divine intervention, I think JR just found another inspiration in Fr. Leo.

As I type this, I also recall one of our most recent conversations before retiring for the night. I shared to JR how, as a child, I enjoyed playing with my palayuk-palayukan (children’s clay pots and pans). I have a complete set and I’d always “cook” meals with them, complete with actual sinaing (steamed rice)! Laughing a bit, JR retorted, “So! That is why you no longer want to cook when you got older! You finished up all your talents and patience in cooking when you were just a kid!” And we burst out laughing. :) There, it makes us think — many of the best moments in our lives have something to do with food and meals, right? Fr. Leo reminded us that when we celebrate the special events and milestones in our lives, we always dine out or prepare and share sumptuous meals.

Fr. Leo’s Funky Fusion Fajitas. This is what he served us last night. It is truly the best Fajitas I have ever tasted. Go grab the book, “Grace Before Meals,” and discover the recipe.

However, how often do we even bother thinking about how the food was prepared and even how the ingredients were produced? Very rarely, right? That evening with Fr. Leo reminded us again to savor every bite, feel gratitude in every fiber of our soul, and thank the creators of the bounty on the table: God who gave us huge gardens and deep oceans, the farmers who patiently planted the seeds and harvested the vegetables, the soil, the rain, and the sun who ensured that our food will be full of nutrients, and the chefs (and mothers/fathers/wives/husbands) who lovingly prepared the meals so we can continuously grow, live, and enjoy life’s miracles.

Wait, did you know that Fr. Leo was able to beat Bobby Flay in the Food Networks’ “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”? Yes, he did! I think you can watch the episode in YouTube and in the Grace Before Meals website (url above). Culinary arts enthusiasts know that Bobby Flay is a great chef and it is indeed a great feat to beat someone like him. The throwdown was on the Mexican/South American dish, Fajitas, the same dish that Fr. Leo served us last night. Oh, I still salivate every time I remember the dish. I am just so happy that JR promised to make his own version! Yehey!

Grace Before Meals, The Book. It invites us to a journey one closer to God, a celebration of love and family ties. Every purchase of this book in the Philippines will help Sendong victims in Mindanao.

In a way, JR and Fr. Leo share another common experience. While JR used to be in the financial sector and is now preparing to shift to a new career in the culinary arts, Fr. Leo did not really intend to become a priest. He was a martial arts (arnis) enthusiast-athlete, and a graduate of Political Science-Journalism. Like JR, he also eventually moved on to a new calling, a new vocation. Like them, we also journey through life facing new “callings”, forcing us to be bold, to jump, to embrace an uncharted path, even if our hearts beat wildly in our chest. How many times have we followed our instincts only when making difficult decisions and choices? It is during those moments that we can be sure, God is with us. For it is Him who carries us through the difficult moments, assuring us that every thing will be ok.

That evening, we are renewed, inspired, and rejuvenated. Not by a mind-boggling event that deserves a page in the Guinness Book of World Record, but by a simple act of cooking. Fr. Leo cooked to his heart delights, shared his life and personal stories, brought us one step closer to God, and reminded us once again of the biggest reasons for celebrations: our existence and our families. Ahhhh, gimme a plate of Fajitas!

(More photos from the event are below. This is not a paid blog. But Glory to God, I have been paid more than enough through the beauty of this world, a loving and thoughtful husband, and the glorious taste of food!)

We’re now proud owner of Fr. Leo’s Book, Grace Before Meals. :)

Fr. Leo with (L-R) Jinky, JR, and me. Happy gourmet moments!

Fr. Leo shares his life and his personal stories.

There is joy in the little things. Discover them every day.

Give every thing you do your very best for God creates miracles through you.

Commit to each moment. Savor life.

Prepare each meal with love and joys in your heart. A miracle is happening there.

Thank the great creators who prepared the meal on your plate.

Thank the farmers who planted the seeds and harvested the vegetables. The soil, the rain, and the sun, who ensured that every bite will be full of nutrition.

See the miracle on your plate? It is God’s bounty beckoning you, inviting you to a feast.

Fr. Leo was assisted with De La Salle University culinary arts students, Marion Manuel Lagman & Jan Michael de Guzman. (Thanks, guys! Goodluck in your future careers!)

We were served with a very delicious tiramisu dessert, done by Marion Manuel (and assisted by Jan Michael). It is one of the best tiramisu versions that I have ever tasted, with just the perfect tinge of sweetness. Ohlala, salivating for a bite now… :)

God works in mysterious ways. Who would have thought that we will ever meet Fr. Leo, the famous cooking priest? I know now that JR will journey through life and his future career as a a chef with God’s graces: with this apron as a reminder, what dish can ever go wrong? Thanks, Fr. Leo, for the gift of your heart and talents. Mabuhay ka! God bless you more each day!

Big thanks to BergHOFF for hosting the event. Big thanks as well for Ms. Anon Ozaeta, and the staff of BergHOFF, for the warm welcome and good work. Kudos sa inyong lahat!

Contacts:

BergHOFF | G/F Frabella I, 109 Rada St., Legaspi Village, Makati City

Tel. +63 2 347 1165 (Contact Ms Anon Ozaeta)

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

Be fired up for the job

No, this post is not about how to fire someone. :) This is a summary version of what my husband and I have discussed several times over the two years of our marriage (and over the four years of our friendship).

Jump if you must! Doing something for others is a gift in itself. (Photo credits: http://rajeshshukla.com/)

It’s about passion for one’s work. This may not probably sound extraordinary anymore  but nevertheless, let me share my learnings and experiences in client management and customer service or CS (both as a service provider and client). I think that poor services and treatment of clients can almost always be rooted to a lack of passion for the job. Many of us share these typical encounters: long lines in the bank during lunch break because bank employees also take this exact time to take their lunch break (not thinking that workers use their lunch break to transact with the banks); bookstore sale staff not being able to locate the book that you are looking for because they do not know the difference between anthologies and satire; courier service company staff refusing to call the originating branch where a document came from just to verify if indeed there was a typo error in the name of the consignee; telephone service providers who ironically cannot even call their linemen who are supposed to be fixing your landline after a storm; remittance center who refuses to hand over your funds because they do not have smaller bills of USD (yes, this actually happened to me–the center even suggested that I go back the next day!); and the list is endless…

Admittedly, corporate culture and values should be strongly inculcated in the minds of employees but I will not attempt to discuss this dimension here as it is another topic that needs more lengthy discussion. Let us then concentrate on discussing how fire and passion into one’s job can make a whole lot of difference.

Definitely, training and exposure in client management and customer service are important in enhancing our skills and competencies. I always believe in the beauty and importance of continuing learning. In fact, I am beginning an MBA course soon, with focus on renewable energy (to know more about it, you can go to this link). It is always wiser to continue investing in ourselves, particularly in this age of globalization and outsourcing (and intense market competition).

However, there are aspects of our jobs and careers that should be deeply-rooted in our core being. One of those is passion for the job. Just like in any relationship, if passion is gone, love also wanes and may eventually die. In the same way, our passion for the job constantly fires us up, pushing us to greater heights of accomplishments and fulfillment.

For example–in my example above regarding my encounter with a bookshop employee–it was disheartening for me to receive only blank stares when I tried to look for a specific book title. It was hard for me to understand why a bookshop employee does not know the different types and genres of books. I do not say this in a condescending way. It is just frustrating that someone who is surrounded with shelves and shelves of books does not care enough to even attempt to get to know their “wards”. I may be too biased because of my love for reading but I think that this should apply in any merchandise that one is trying to sell.  If you are selling a stove, you must know exactly what are the different types of stoves and how one type is better than the other. This takes passion. That ‘connection’ where you find a deeper meaning to even the mundane details of your job.

At the core of this drive is the joy of being able to serve others. I think we are depriving ourselves of joys and a sense of fulfillment if we take our jobs for granted. We are shortchanging ourselves if we do not try our best to enjoy our jobs. Remember that our jobs connect us to the outside world and give us opportunities to serve others. I think the chance of doing something for others is a gift in itself. When we serve, we give a part of our time and ourselves. It may lead to a continuous cycle of giving and serving. If we served someone with a smile that day, that person will be gracious enough to do the same to another person. That single act of serving can lead to long-lasting friendships and even casual acquaintances who may eventually end us as our future colleagues, employers, or clients. And such attitude of graciousness should remain even if we are under extreme pressures or faced with difficult circumstances.

Let me share a very challenging encounter that I once experienced when I was still serving as a customer service (CS) manager of a global service delivery firm. Note that I have no prior (formal) experience in CS although I have considerable experience in client management. I think that even without such formal experience, it was relatively easy for me to adapt to the responsibilities of the job because I truly enjoy serving others. It is in the core of every work that I do, even when I was still in college working as an associate editor of our university paper. I tend to go beyond what is expected of me not because I care about credits but because I truly enjoy working. I get a certain high if I have already accomplished my tasks and satisfied my peers and clients. Perhaps (and I am just guessing here) that my former boss in that firm decided to hire me even if I did not have a formal training in CS because he saw that ‘inner fire’ and the commitment to perform and excel.

Lend your ears and truly listen. (Photo credits: http://www.inneraltitude.com/)

Everything was going well in the job when one day, a furious client went up to my office. He was so angry that, I think, if I was not a female employee, he could have easily punched me on the face. The offices are glass-walled and the lay-out is designed such that the managers’ offices (following almost a ‘squarish’ U-shaped pattern) are facing the cubicles of of the staff. The client began ranting at me, in an angry tone, so that all of my staff stood up from their cubicles and looked worriedly at me. I think that they heard every word that the client said even if I already closed the glass doors (which I never do). I just allowed the client to talk and rant and berate me and the company, until slowly, he began lowering down his voice. All the while, I kept on nodding my head, listening to his every word. It was disconcerting but I tried to be calm and took everything he said with serenity in my heart. I did not even try to defend the company’s position. I just put myself in his shoes. Realizing that I was actually listening, he eventually stopped and gave me a chance to talk. Needless to say, it took a combination of sincere apologies, wise words, calm but firm voice, and a concrete solution, for me to eventually pacify him. I have also promised to make up for their company’s incurred losses (which my company did not intend nor were caused by inefficiency on our side but rather a technical glitch which our airline partners also experienced) and beginning that day, I will be personally taking care of monitoring their job requests. This is not actually expected of me (I can delegate it completely to the CS Supervisor, who is just as competent) but in that kind of situation, I strongly felt I have to do this extra step. I also thought that the client will only give us a second chance if he is assured that I am there for him and his company, personally, in the long haul. Needless to say, he was satisfied and eventually remained as a valuable client of our company (he was already, at first, threatening to move their accounts to our competitor company). I was even in for a surprise bonus. Several months after that encounter in my office, I was happily surprised to receive a special invitation from him for the grand opening of his and his partners’ restaurant! For me, this is wonderful but totally unexpected “return” on something that I have done wholeheartedly without any expectation of reward. The mere fact that it was unexpected doubled the joys of being appreciated and considered as a friend (and a special guest at that!). This underlines what I have mentioned above: every encounter can lead to more meaningful and important relationships in the future. However, we will not find any meaning to the nitty-gritty of our “boring” jobs if we fail to appreciate the beauty in each encounter or task, however mundane we may think it to be.

Another important facet of job appreciation is possessing a strong pride in everything that we do. I am not sure if this is entirely a Pinoy penchant for simplicity or the tendency to humble ourselves, but I would oftentimes hear of employees–trying to be defensive when they realize their lapses–saying, “Sorry po, Ma’am, empleyado lang po ako. “ (Loose translation: “I’m sorry, Ma’am, I am just an employee.”) It is like admitting that you are just an employee, therefore, you are mostly useless and have no mind of your own, no power. I heard this statement recently from a lawyer in a public office (yes, he is indeed a lawyer) when I suggested that he should propose  a concrete recommendation to his boss. He said he cannot do that because he has no power nor influence. It was disheartening. I have worked with public officials but I have always thought that my bosses listened to my insights and that I was hired to give them that–clear solutions and recommendations. Apparently, this lawyer does not think of himself as that capable person who can try to make a difference. In his mind, he is just an employee. No wonder we notice such lethargy in many government offices today.

A similar attitude is when we say, “My father is JUST a driver or a factory worker, and so on and so forth” when we can simply say, “My father is a farmer or a driver or a waiter”? Have we really asked ourselves what is so embarrassing or wrong with being a driver or a farmer? I think that it is time that we carry more dignity and pride in our work, whatever it may be.  This will definitely motivate us to appreciate our jobs more. Let us be fired with the knowledge that our jobs are important not just to our families but also to the society as a whole. If our farmers stop planting, what do you think will happen to all of us?

Put yourself in the client’s shoes. We always hear this. It is always one of the key lessons that are being taught us in the corporate world. Do we really mean it when we say that? Take the case of bank employees who also take their lunch break at the exact time when working people would also be doing their bank transactions. Does it take a genius to realize that the lunch hour should also be the exact time that banks should open all their counters? Ironically, bank staff also choose this time to take their lunch break, closing the other counters in the process, compounding the inefficiency because of the long lines of clients who also have to rush back to their offices. This stems from the lack of appreciation of how it is to be a full-time employee who has his lunch break only to do his bank transactions. Admittedly, bank management calls the shot but front-line employees should be the ones recommending changes because they are the ones facing clients on a day-to-day basis. Remember, you have the power to propose changes and this does not stop in your job alone. You can propose and work for changes in every circle where you circulate in. :)

After all, our job extends to the many outer layers of our lives. More importantly, we carry the names of our forefathers so carry that name with care, joy, and pride, for when we besmirch our names, we also hurt the names of our great ancestors.

Be the best in your job, and be among the best citizens of this world!

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This is not a paid blog.

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

Wellness: Pinoy Style

Wellness has certainly become more than a buzzword. It has become the “ultimate” state of mind-body-spirit that many are aspiring for. Health no longer stands on its own. Many people have learned to embrace that health should be accompanied by wellness.

What is it really? There is no exact definition yet but for the sake of discussion, we will borrow the definition of Charles B. Corbin of the Arizona State University, who stated that, “Wellness is a multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being.” (Source: definitionofwellness.com).

Doc Jimmy: His passion for wellness and his faith in our natural ability to heal make him an extraordinary doctor. Photo shows him during the launch of his book, “Medicinal Fruits & Vegetables” (co-written with his wife, Ms. Becky Galvez Tan). Photo credits: PinoyWeeklyOnline

Our very own Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, the former Secretary of Health, and a community and clinical practitioner of natural healing and integrative medicine is among the new breed of doctors and healers who have been passionately advocating holistic wellness. JR and I were happy to attend his talk last July 1 titled, “Wellness, Happiness, and Prosperity.” He once again emphasized that wellness encompasses several dimensions–physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, environmental, and occupational–practically every aspect of our life itself.  That is why it is very important to follow an integrative approach when it comes to our health and well-being. Neglect one aspect and you will ultimately feel the impact on the other. Even without any background on yoga or other Eastern principles, many of you already know that a happy and positive disposition in life almost always leads to good health.

Easier said than done, one might say. True. We are living in a highly stressful and toxic environments. Metro Manilans, for instance, deal with horrendous traffic, polluted air, and varying degrees of stress on a daily basis. How can we expect to live a life of balance and wellness when we cannot even escape the pollution in the air and the difficulties of our lives as urbanites? The answers will never ever be simple.

However, there are things that we can still control. For instance, we can choose to eat the right kinds of food, sleep 8 hours a day, drink plenty of water–Doc Jimmy recommends 10 glasses of water as we live in a tropical country–and do regular physical activities like walking and jogging. The sleeping, drinking, and exercising part should be pretty straightforward. The eating part becomes challenging particularly for busy urbanites who often do not have time to cook or prepare nutritious food. Another concern is the cost of food these days–many of us cannot afford following the food pyramid concept religiously because of the lack of income.

A banana a day helps keep the doctor away: Packed with iron, potassium, Vit. B, and fiber. (Photo credit: ExportHub.com)

That may be true in some ways but let us not forget that we are very fortunate because there is an abundance of fruits and vegetables around us and most of them do not really cost much. We also take it for granted that many of our “nature’s gifts” are packed with the nutrients that our bodies need for maintenance and the prevention of many sicknesses. For instance, the banana–available the whole year–is rich in iron, potassium, Vitamins A and B, fiber, and other nutrients that are good for the blood, memory, digestion, and the heart. (For more info on how nutritious this fruit is, visit The Natural Shelf.)

Even many of our Pinoy berries (e.g., aratiles, bignay, lipote, and duhat) are found to be high in antioxidants and important nutrients and are, therefore, health-givers and natural healers. But how can we access and eat all those fruits and vegetables if they are not always available the whole year or we do not even have the time to cook a decent breakfast before rushing off to work? The Natural Shelf rushes to the rescue.

Berrywell: It can “very well” be one of the best approaches in our search for wellnes. (Photo credits: The Natural Shelf).

The Natural Shelf, an innovative wellness company set up by Riva Galvez Tan (Doc Jimmy’s daughter) and her friends, promotes the health-giving properties and benefits of natural health products and positive and active lifestyle. It is soon introducing a new product line called berrywell, which are natural food supplements derived from Philippine berries, fruits and vegetables. With these supplements, you need not worry anymore about getting the daily nutrients that you need. Of course, the actual fruits and vegetables (preferably uncooked) are still the best source of nutrients but these supplements are perfect alternatives particularly for busy individuals and those with specific health needs. The berrywell line will be enjoyed in six variants: (1) Cleanse and Boost (cleanses the body by flushing out toxins obtained from the regular intake of unhealthy food, excessive alcohol, and exposure to pollution); (2)  Protect  (strengthens immune system and enhances overall well-being thereby decreasing the risks of infection; (3) Prevent (prevents cancer and kidney damage, rejuvenates liver cells, helps lower cholesterol levels, and relieves gastric pains and inflammation in the skin and muscles; (4) Restore (enhances memory and restores youthful glow); (5) Relax (relieves stress, promotes relaxation, and increases energy); and (6) Reduce (lowers blood glucose levels and helps in reducing weight).

The berrywell line is certainly a longed-for breakthrough. While our market is already flooded with many options for food supplements, it is very rare that we can enjoy an all-natural variant which is made of solely Philippine fruits and vegetables and completely meets (or almost completely meets) our daily nutritional requirements. I, for one, regularly takes malunggay (Moringa oleifera) supplements but I have been waiting for a Pinoy product that can incorporate many more fruits and vegetables in one or few variants. By the way, the berrywell line will be introduced in the market this August 2011 so you already have enough time to start saving for it!

Before I end this post, let me also share some more of Doc Jimmy’s talk, where he recommended 12 Steps Towards Wellness. I cannot adequately cover all the steps in this post but his “prescription” can be easily remembered because he has formulated an acronym for the 12 steps: BE PROSPEROUS. I have tried my best to summarize the 12 steps below:

B – BOOST your immunity.

E – Take the time to REFLECT each day.

P – PREVENT illnesses by  eating nutritious food.

R- RELAX and engage in yoga, tai-chi, etc. and listen to good music.

O – RESTORE your youth and beauty by using natural and home remedies.

S – CLEANSE your body by avoiding smoking and excessive drinking.

P – PROTECT yourself from illnesses by getting vaccination.

E- EXERCISE everyday or every other day.

R – AFFIRM that you are a happy and beautiful person.

O – RECONNECT with friends and families.

U – REDUCE and manage weight/BMI and blood sugar.

S – SHARE your blessings.

For the complete version of The 12 Steps, you may contact The Natural Shelf for a copy of Doc Jimmy’s lectures. The Natural Shelf has also produced health and wellness tips and they are already available in YouTube. Here is a video on How to Prepare Healthy Pinoy Salads featuring Doc Jimmy and Riva.

What are you waiting for? Pursue wellness, Pinoy style!

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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