Category Archives: Memories

One Fine Day

Two Fridays ago, I decided to check out a patisserie during my lunch break and satisfy my sweet tooth. It became a day that will stick with me for a while.

When I got there, the sweet aroma and sight of a wide variety of delectable sweets on display made me linger and hesitate in picking out which one to try first. Just then, an elderly woman came and started eyeing those tarts and profiteroles, and she voiced out exactly what I was thinking. Opening my mouth to politely reply end up costing me more than I bargained for. Was it worth it? You tell me.

* * *

I could sense she wanted company.

After a hesitant pause, she asked me if I minded joining her while we each partake a piece of our chosen dessert. It was a lovely, cool sunny day, far different from the drab, rainy weather we experienced during the past Sydney summer. I wasn’t rushing to go back to work and being aware of how much the extroverted elderly people long for conversations, and feeling generous of my time, I obliged. I didn’t expect to stay for more than twenty minutes but she talked non-stop for two hours!

R. turned out to be a very interesting woman! An intelligent, well-read 84 year old, she shared with me her interest in history, travel, arts – living art, she emphasised – including classical and rock music!

Decades back, she left England as a school dropout and, penniless, grabbed the opportunity to migrate to Australia and start out a new life.

In those two hours, she shared with me her life stories that showed an enlightened, broadminded father who taught her from a young age that though people look different, we are all the same underneath; of her adventures in Asia and Europe; her experiences living as a white person in South Africa during the apartheid era and raising a mixed-race son; and dealing with people with narrow-minded views and beliefs.

These days, she spends her time taking walks in Parramatta, where she now resides after living for a long time in Cremorne; reading books she borrows from the local library; watching plays in the local theatre; and watching ethnic festivals when they’re on. She and her husband parted ways and her only son died three years ago. He was schizophrenic.

Her memory is remarkable! She would repeat full names and describe the personalities of people she met on the ship on her way to Australia, during her other travels and those she befriended while living here and the details of their conversations. I can’t even remember the first or last names of most of my teachers!

With my eyes fixed on her while I slowly sip my skim mocha, she recited a couple of poems to me, sung a tune or two, suggested books for me to read, shared her love for the Aboriginal people and people of all cultures, and scoffed at prejudiced people, and politicians and politics.

In one of those rare moments where she paused, I managed to quickly share my newly-discovered interest in chanting, which I thought would impress her. Surprisingly, she then recited a sacred mantra she knew by heart. I listened in amazement.

Under the glare of the early afternoon sun and while gushing at the delicious sweet snacks we were having, we discovered we have many things in common, like the love of:

  • Rock music
  • Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page
  • Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury

Wow, an 84-year old woman who loves ROCK! I’m as amazed to hear this as when I hear of rock music-appreciating Gen-Ys, like my friend Fran, as most of these young kids these days generally have no idea what real great music sound like! 🙂

She must have been one cool woman during her time. She still is ‘cool’, actually. She mentioned she watched the unforgettable concert film, ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ which she loved. Not to be outdone, I let her know I watched it three times! She was duly impressed!

I could imagine her musical drummer son, whom she recalled fondly, playing Stairway to Heaven with his acoustic guitar which she bought for him, to veer him away from the hard drumming that he played. She said she encouraged her son when he was still alive to play and listen to higher vibration music, like classical music, to help him with his mental condition.

You could tell she looked after herself. Her facial skin is not that lined for her age and her powdered face still shows a beauty she must have enjoyed at her youth. Her current short, light brown hair becomes her. Spanish gay friends she met and befriended would call her élégante. But she’s no longer that, she says, because she’s now old.

She narrated her love of nature and hearing the sounds of the birds in the morning. She says she was raised an Anglican/Protestant but she had left it all behind and now considers her god as the moon, the stars, the trees.

She survived breast cancer. She has firm ideas about how the female breasts should be regarded and voiced her disapproval of the way men view women’s breasts.

At 16, she fell in love for the first time but it was ‘unconsummated,’ she says. I didn’t dare ask her when and with whom it finally happened, but her mother certainly drummed into her the risks of having premarital sex.

With no inhibition, she casually dropped the word ‘sex’ like we were long-time best friends! I kept asking myself over and over while she continued talking, ‘Did I hear it right, did she really say ”sex”?’  Hence, damn it, I missed hearing what must have been the juicy details of her life!

She’s not wearing spectacles or contact lenses so her eyesight is obviously still good, her hearing is much better than mine, she walks unaided and still does her own shopping, and I’m sure there are other things she ably does by herself.

But I feel a tinge of sadness. Though her mental faculty is still enviably sharp, her physical body is showing inevitable signs of ageing and decline. She has poor body circulation, she says. Her wrinkled wrists and neck, the exposed body parts of which her beige, old long-sleeve winter coat couldn’t hide, are covered with big brown spots. She may not need eyeglasses but her eyes often become watery. She has no family to look after her or to keep her company. She must have friends but most are probably long gone. She might have once rocked it, but at this stage of her life she can no longer be a party animal that I, ahem, still am.

I tried to get up from my seat to slowly say ‘bye, thanks for the chat,’ but she didn’t take notice  and continued talking leisurely, not really minding that I was late getting back to work. She couldn’t let this opportunity pass by so easily, I suppose, to share old stories that are still alive in her long memory and are waiting in anticipation to be shared to a willing listener. I slowly eased half of my behind off the chair and poised to bolt. At my third attempt to interrupt her storytelling, I got up to say firmly, ‘I have to get back to work.’

She gave me her number for in case I feel the desire to have a chat with her again. I sensed she didn’t really seriously count on me contacting her ever. She must have offered her contact number to many others, with the small hope that one of them would call one day.

Reality for me is, I don’t get to hang out with thinkers like her too often. People who read to learn and broaden their perspective; people who question established beliefs and biases; people who defy the norm and follow what they feel is the right thing to do, not just believing things are the way they should be done just because the majority think so.

She apologised for talking too much. I replied that I enjoyed our talk immensely and I learned a lot. She paused, looked me in the eye and firmly said, ‘no, you didn’t learn from me; I learned from you.’ I tried to quickly recall what it was that I could have possibly said of value but none came to mind.

‘I must learn more about the Philippines, especially before the time of the Spanish colonisation’, she says. With dismay, I offered the information that the thoughtless Europeans who invaded my country of birth, destroyed most of the ancient and written artifacts that must have depicted a rich life and history of the ancient Filipinos. She replied that they did the same thing in South America.

I made a mental note to re-read Philippine history and silently chastised myself for not taking to heart my history lessons in school.

She assured me she’d let me talk more next time.

***

Ever since that fateful day, I’ve been thinking about how I enjoyed sitting at a sidewalk café during a perfect autumn weather, discussing life over Lebanese halva with a stranger, a woman of substance.

There’s a lot more for her to share, for sure. Stories spanning more than eight decades and ideas and opinions formed while living a meaningful life, with details too interesting and too eventful to narrate in two hours.

Still, I find myself begging the question, ‘Should I see her again?’

Hmmm… perhaps at another one fine day, I might give her a call to suggest repeating for me over coffee and a baklava the juicy details of her life that I might have missed hearing the first time. 😀

Wherefore Art Thou, Florentino?

This blog is to close the chapter of my ‘F’ story. One person, at least, is curious to know what happened to Florentino.

I wasn’t part of the elite group that Florentino and the girls who surrounded him belonged to. They were the smart ones but, Florentino, as I mentioned, was the top student of the class.

My class standing in first grade was average (story of my school life, really). Mrs Lavastida, somehow, managed to lure me occasionally out of my shell.

One day, Mrs Lavastida decided to pit one student against another, to see who could read well in English and fast. Being secretly competitive, I wanted to impress everyone, most especially Florentino.

I raised my hand. I knew I could beat those slow ones! Mrs Lavastida kept ignoring me, however, and called everyone else except me. And the later the lines of text to read, the harder they got, at least for a first grader.

It seemed my hand was raised forever when, finally, my teacher noticed me. She called my name and I eagerly stood up. As I was checking out the next sentence to read to give myself a head start, guess who she decided to pit against me??

She could have called one of those who, after a few lessons, still couldn’t read. But, noooo, she had to pick Florentino!!

Florentino already had his turn and it dismayed me that she called him again. Discouraged even before we started reading, I knew it was a lost cause. I was only halfway and struggling through my line, and Florentino had stood up, read his sentence lightning quick, sat back on his chair and bowed his head, perhaps to try and look magnanimous.

Any fantasy I had of impressing him and getting his attention away from the bevies of cute little girls who liked him, went down the drain.

Later on, it occurred to me that I had no chance to compete with the smart kids in that class. Most of them went through nursery and kindergarten, which meant they started school a year or so before me. They were well ahead of me.

Out of my girl classmates, only two stood out for me and I still clearly remember them: Anna and Irene.

Anna was the smartest girl in the class. She wasn’t what you’d call beautiful, but she was pretty and well-groomed. She belonged to the long list of girls who liked Florentino.

Irene, on the other hand, was my neighbour. She was pretty too. Dark with short hair, she lived in the same complex where I temporarily stayed. She belonged to the second list of girls who were indifferent to Florentino. But, if you read my previous blog post about Florentino, I was on both lists, right?

As a six year old, this is how I saw and assessed the situation:

Try as Anna might, Florentino only had eyes for Irene. But, Irene, as much as I liked her was, I suspected, a tomboy. Not that there is anything wrong with that! It’s just that poor Florentino had no idea. I noticed Irene was the only one he was very friendly with and kidded around with her a lot.

I don’t know if Irene turned out to be a real tomboy or if she outgrew her tomboy phase. I don’t know what became of her and Florentino. Sometimes, I wonder what became of my first grade classmates.

As fate would have it, my parents found a new place for us to stay, farther from my very first school but closer to another school, a public school. It was also farther and away from Florentino… forever.

Next post: A Paradox

Wish You Were There

Thinking about my recent trip to the Philippines, I can say I had a lovely, fun and relaxing time.

The highlight for me was spending time in an island, goofing around with my family in my ‘2-piece’, while trying to cover myself with a towel. 😀

Family

Having most of my family in the Philippines and the US, time spent with them is always cherished. I spend as much time bonding and just having a laugh with them each time I travel to see them. We’re a big clan, both sides of my family; we laugh loud and often.

This is also the time I try to show off my ‘comedic’ skills, assured with the knowledge that no matter how unfunny my attempts at making jokes are, my family won’t and can’t disown me. 🙂

We had a family reunion of some sort. As always, there were lots of food and, of course, laughter. It’s hard to stop and make real conversations though because of the limited time you have while on a brief holiday/visiting relatives and the many people to say hello to, and hug and kiss. Not to mention that a lot of time is spent taking photos to capture each moment and making sure there are new pics to choose from for our Facebook profile photos!

The plan from now on is to spend as much time with my family, as often as I’m able, especially with my parents. My parents are both in their early 80s. I’ve always appreciated the fact that I, together with my brothers and sisters, have both parents while growing up and are with us for a long time.

Let us not take our parents for granted. Count the many who have lost either or both parents early in life. I am one of the lucky ones and I truly appreciate it.

I intended to share some photos of the trip here earlier but I was preoccupied, so only took the time to do this now. You can view them here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/earthianne/

There are no close-up photos of me so as not to scare you away!

Wish You Were Here

I’m staring at my tiny feet half-buried in the white, powder-fine sand…

I feel the heat of the late morning sun. As my family and I start to walk to join others already frolicking on the beach, I pull a face of discomfort and cry out for my slippers. It’s a short walk, but I can barely tolerate the hot sand scorching my bare feet.

Grasping my mother’s hand, we rush toward the water. I feel relief as I step on the cool water, the wave washing over my feet. Members of my family laugh and enjoy themselves. I shiver and my jaw quivers, while I play in the water for just a little bit. My mother wraps a towel around me and it’s a welcome relief.

We walk back to where the rest of the clan is and find them enjoying freshly-grilled fish for lunch. This time, I notice the now cream-colour sand clinging to my cold, wet feet. Feeling sticky, at this moment I decided I don’t like going to the beach or swimming or walking barefoot in the hot sand. (LOL)

* * *

Though hazy, this is my very first recollection of going to this much-loved island when I was little. Wish I could tell you more but that’s all I remember.

I wasn’t really intending to be here at this time but I’m back. I’ve only visited the place three other times since. Now much, much, muccchhh older, I make sure I bring my own slippers (or thongs)!

As I sit in my cossies in this island facing the Pacific Ocean somewhere in the southeast, surrounded by dalisay and coconut trees, or walk alone and along this short stretch of seashore, I contemplate Rachel Snyder’s invitation and consider my next move.

In this tiny but easily-accessible island, one can appreciate the crystal clear, blue-green sea. It’s a perfect place for sea diving, I was told; or to snorkel and ogle at its rich marine life; or do more simple pleasures like enjoying the views, while sipping fresh, sweet coconut juice; or explore a hidden cave for the more adventurous.

Ahhh… holiday!

Yes, Earthianne, has been on holiday mode and taking a break from working and blogging… but only for a short time.

Cupid’s Little Arrow Found its Way to My Heart Way Too Early

Let’s take another break from all the seriousness of ‘Religion’, so here’s something ‘light’ and brief.

Image from istockphoto.com

I’m back in my childhood…

It was a fun time, living in a place which was only a stone’s throw away from my very first school.

Just weeks before, my family and I arrived from the South, where I was born, and was staying temporarily with my Aunt and her family.

The ‘convenience’ I’ve experienced during my first grade wasn’t going to happen ever again during the rest of my school life. You go out the door of your place one minute, and the next few minutes, you’re sitting in your classroom. It’s almost like ‘teleportation’. 🙂

I remember my very first teacher. She was elegant and always had her hair in a bun. She hardly smiled but she wasn’t strict. Of all my teachers in all my school years, hers is the only name I clearly remember – ‘Mrs Lavastida’.

Mrs Lavastida spoke to us in ‘Tagalog’, the lingua franca in Manila, which isn’t my mother tongue. It is at this school in my first grade that I was taught the English alphabet. As I mentioned before, I first learned to read and write in English, before I learned to read and write in Filipino, our national language. Not only that, I first learned to write using cursive handwriting, not manuscript handwriting. This is significant for me because these two occurrences were to put me in trouble in 2nd grade and diminish my confidence (but more on this in one of my future posts).

At six years old, I wasn’t that fluent yet in my mother tongue. At the same time, being new in Manila, I was just starting to pick up ‘Tagalog’. To make matters worse, in school I was being taught to speak, read and write in English. No wonder I ended up not fluent in any of these languages!

I noticed a handsome boy, as you do at six years old. I still remember his name: ‘Florentino’. He was the most handsome in my class, possibly the whole school. He was also the most intelligent and the smartest, both in brain and in wearing his school uniform.

Cupid’s little arrow struck my young heart many years too early. It wasn’t quite a bull’s eye, but it was enough to awaken the beginning of that feeling that every one of us experience at least once or even many times in our lifetime. Picture me at six years old: innocent, ignorant and already having a secret crush on a very good-looking boy.

But I wasn’t the only one. Not surprisingly, he caught a lot of girls’ attention. Perhaps from other classes as well, who knows? The girls were unabashed in showing their crush on him, while I kept mine to myself. This is a typical Scorpio trait; we like keeping things secret.

You could count on your fingers those who didn’t have a crush on him in my class. I think you could put me in both lists: the long list of girls who had a crush on him—even though mine was secret, I still qualify as I had a crush on him; and the short list of girls who didn’t have a crush on him—nobody knew so I fall in this category too! Am I confusing you?

Anyway, the girls gush over him and once during our recess and he was nowhere in sight, I observed them giggling and queueing up, taking turns in sitting and sliding on the armless chair he sat on earlier. Each of them had a few rounds, presumably to feel what it feels like to sit on his chair. I don’t know what these girls were thinking! I’m talking about little girls who could barely dress by themselves.

I must confess I wasn’t any better. When those girls were gone and only a few of us were left in the room, I sat on his chair demonstrating to some clueless few what those ‘shameless’ girls were doing earlier. 😀

My Brush With a Cult

Image from istockphoto.com

I let someone talk me into attending a play. What the play is about was vaguely explained to me but, being an easygoing person, I didn’t ask too many questions and agreed.

I had some spare cash and lots of free time so off from work I went. For a “measly” A$25 and “only” 4.5 hours of my time, including travel time, I had a reasonable expectation that I was going to enjoy myself.

The play already started when I got there. I found a seat and then quickly scanned my surroundings. It was a small hall, filled with less than 100 people.

The play turned out to be the most boring thing since [fill in the blank with whatever is the most excruciatingly boring thing for you]. The performers were reading from a script, were overacting and still managed to be unconvincing.

I won’t bore you with details about the play or the group, not only because it bored me to tears but I was overcome with disbelief that I tried to forget this ever happened. I just remembered the incident out of the blue.

To make this short story shorter, it turned out that I was watching a play by a CULT, trying their hardest to convince their audience and themselves that they are not in any way, shape or form, a CULT!

Apparently, a few individuals and groups have accused them of being so. Don’t ask me how I knew those accusers were right. You don’t spend a whole hour—perhaps the whole play—justifying why your group is not a cult.

It’s embarrassing to admit to you what sort of things I sometimes find myself in because:

I’m being too nice, silly, gullible, naive, plain stupid, sleep-deprived, got up from the wrong side of the bed, depressed-and-unaware-of-it, uhmmm… dumb, or all of the above reasons.

What’s doubly insane is I actually paid money so I could waste my time, make myself out of pocket and bore myself to death. I could have wasted my time for free, or at least spent less doing something less stupidly boring.

After a longer-time than was necessary, I got up and left. When I was out of the hall, I rushed outside, trembling and fearing they were going to stop and try and brainwash me.

Of course, it was only my imagination running wild but my heart was racing. I only calmed down when I realised no one was following me.

In my eternal quest for enlightenment, I almost plunge myself deep into the world of the silly. I had my closest brush with a cult, or… well… at least a cult-like group.

Note to self: Please spend your time and money wisely, ask a lot of questions and use your thinking skills coz that’s what the brain is for.

You are welcome to berate me. 🙂

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The Heart of the Matter

Image from istockphoto.com

I plonk on a seat on the train next to a window, where I could sit comfortably and read a book.

The train ride to my first stop is about 45 minutes. It’s peak hour and it’s all stops. This is going to be a long but enjoyable ride, or so I thought.

Halfway through the first page, I heard a man belch loudly. I moved my face sideways, not quite looking at where the sound was coming from. A hint of annoyance could be read from that slight movement of my head.

Shortly after, I could hear someone murmuring from behind me. Deaf from the usual noise when reading a book, I ignored it. I first learned to read in English before I learned to read in my own language, but at this very moment, as I go through lines after lines of English words, I couldn’t read a word. I thought the book is hard to read, but those damn racist remarks won’t stop barging in my head.

I Turned Dyslexic and Everyone Became Deaf

I closed the book and sighed. Cruel words incessantly try and invade my hearing space. Something about Asians, Asians taking over their jobs, how they shouldn’t be in this country. Oh, here we go, I thought, and rolled my eyes. Not quite dark outside, I looked out the glass window as the train hisses past buildings and trees, but not really seeing anything.

The train was filled with all sorts of people. Everyone was minding their own business, busy with their own thoughts, their own reading and, like me, pretending they weren’t hearing anything.

I decided to continue ignoring this man’s ramblings about Asians to no one in particular. Maybe it will stop and he will tire of it, run out of words to say or reach his train station soon.

Leafing through another page, and on and on the man continued. I stole a quick glance over my shoulder, and I saw the man is standing on the aisle, holding a bottle of beer.

As I attempt to correct my sudden-onset dyslexia, it was becoming obvious the man talking loudly on the train had zeroed in on a ”lucky” someone. Slowly, it dawned on me, that someone was me! The man, the harasser, was talking to me all along.

Very Cheeky and Pushing It

Indirectly, he told me to vacate my seat because, he said, I didn’t deserve it. He wanted me to give up my seat to an elderly Anglo-Australian who I didn’t see was standing next to him. The elderly Anglo-Australian giggled and nodded in agreement to what the harasser said. Under a different circumstance, on my own accord, I would have offered my seat to any elderly person. The harasser explained to a non-Asian female passenger, who clearly looked scared, that he hated Asians because Asians took over jobs meant for Australians.

Encumbered with all the stuff I had with me, including a box of birthday cake, I restrained myself from engaging in a potentially messy, chocolate-mud-cake fight. For a while, I vacillitated between wasting A$20 (at that time) worth of cake to smash it across the man’s racist face or to just ignore him as best I could and not to stoop down to his level. In the end, I chose the latter.

Not content with throwing insults in my direction, the harasser blocked my way when I tried to get off the train. With my hands and arms full of stuff, I couldn’t shove him off so I could get out before the train moved. I missed my station as a result. As the train started to move, I screamed out loud to his face: ”YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE!”

No other words were necessary. I thought that was the heart of the matter—he was just being exactly as I described him. There was no need to explain or reason out to him, nor was there any need to expend any energy to try and enlighten him.

He shrugged his shoulder. ‘I hate Asians’, he said, and walked away.

For two months, I was paranoid. I would sit at the farthest back of the train thinking I’d rather have my enemy in front of me where I can see them, than behind me.

Questioning My Own Willingness to Help Others

Would I have helped if it was someone else who was being harassed instead of me? I’d like to think, if it was clear there was someone being victimised and this person appeared helpless, that I would have. My ”Beautiful Serpent”, as author, poet and blogger Ed Pilolla beautifully calls it, rears its ugly head from time to time, and can sometimes be a bit fearless.

I thought about it for a long time. None of the passengers in the crowded train uttered a word. No one bothered to report it to a train guard on my behalf. They were either indifferent or too scared to help. They say there is strength in numbers but, even against an averaged-built man, no one dared to raise their voice. I guess, if I wasn’t saying anything, why would they?

Later that night, as I took a bite of a piece of the chocolate cake that almost never was, I shudder at the thought that people’s deafening silence and pathetic lack of courage to come to my rescue was because they had the same deep-seated fear as the ignorant man.

If you were in my shoes, what would you have done?

If you were one of the passengers, would you have lifted a finger to help a stranger being harassed?

As always, I welcome and appreciate your comments.

Read related articles:
The Racist Workplace by James Adonis
End Racism

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A Perspective on Perception

Image from istockphoto.com

Sometimes, an unfair occurrence results in a sequence of events which then culminate in an unexpected outcome.

One of my ex-managers, the only one ever to give me a negative work performance review, used ‘perception’ as her basis for her review.

This led me to write a strong rebuff on her reasons for doing so > which led me to show a colleague the content of my response > which prompted my colleague to suggest to me that I should write (be an author) > which fuelled my secret dream to creatively use written words to express and communicate my thoughts or stories.

About 15 years later, here I am, blogging about ‘perception’.

* * *

Perception is defined by Wikipedia as the process of attaining awareness and understanding using our five senses and our psyche (imagination, conscience, intellect and memory.)

But when doing this, how do you make sure:

• your imagination isn’t running amok?
• your conscience understands and accepts non-external factors?
• your intellect is acute enough to see what’s happening underneath the surface?
• your memory isn’t playing tricks on you?

There are two opposing views on ‘Perception’:

Perception is reality versus
Perception is NOT reality.

I'm a proponent of the latter view.

My perspective on perception, at least in the context of the two examples below, is that it’s an observation or a belief of something that appears to the observer as real but, without knowing the facts, more often isn’t.

I’ll give you two examples based on real-life events in my past. Obviously, there is more to these stories but for the sake of this blog I won’t go into every detail.

1) At work, I’ve had consistently good performance reviews from my managers. However, one ex-manager, the only one that I didn’t get along with (so far), once included some negative reviews which were based on ‘perception’.

My ex-manager’s contention was that there was a ‘perception’ from others of my discontent and she herself ‘sensed’ a lack of interest and motivation on my part (among other things). I countered by saying that I started a major project on my own accord, produced and completed it above the expected standards which she herself concurred, and delivered on time. Surely, I asked, those are not the actions of a discontented, unmotivated, disinterested person?

I insisted to her that those allegations are false. She must have thought I would just timidly sign and agree to her claims. She disliked me all the more after this but I felt she was being subjective and used hearsays in my performance evaluation. What particularly irked me is those ‘perceptions’ were sprung on me without ever communicating them to me at anytime. From what I know now about ‘leadership’, a good leader should provide regular feedback to his/her staff and not wait till performance appraisal time to do so.

2) Funnily enough, 11 years after this incident, I found myself in a somewhat similar predicament, having another discussion about perception with another manager, though in a friendlier and supportive environment.

My then boss’ view is perception is reality, which I vehemently opposed, drawing from my previous experience.

As he walked by my desk, I grabbed the opportunity to let him know I was getting the impression in our just-held team meeting that he thought I wasn’t happy to do my part of a certain project. He said, ‘Yes, that is the perception.’ So my hunch was correct but, lol… big mistake… his mention of the word ‘perception’ triggered another memory, a familiar, uneasy feeling. I couldn’t let it go.

Unknown to him (I didn’t mention this to him, of course), I’m very ‘experienced’ when it comes to arguing about perception. In fact, I still have a copy of my response I wrote to my other ex-manager all those years ago.

With enough conviction, I replied, ‘I have a problem with perception… because it’s not reality!’ I was feeling déjà vu as I was saying this!

I suggested that, in this second incident, those people having this perception of me should think that if I didn’t want to be involved, I wouldn’t have spent a lot of time writing a few emails, asking questions about the project. Is this the action, I asked, of someone who didn’t want to be involved?

My female ex-manager argued that one needs to look at why people have these perceptions and work with them to change the perceptions. If this was handled properly, I’d probably agree. But in the first incident, for what gain and to what end should I have done this? To appease ignorant, narrow-minded, judgmental, jumping-to-conclusions, shallow-minded, biased or don’t-know-anything-better individuals?

And to include ‘perceptions’ in performance evaluations is idiocy, in my opinion, unless you back it up with solid evidence.

My male ex-boss also had/has this conviction that it is the responsibility of the person being ‘perceived’ to change the perception. I tried to convince him that people should start learning to ‘think outside the square’, that they should change their way of thinking. For me, the onus is on the one ‘perceiving’ to find out the truth.

He asked me, how do you change the perception? I said, ‘by TALKing’. He exclaimed ‘BINGO’!

He was obviously very amused that I, known for being too quiet, knew the obvious answer. However, my point was the person ‘perceiving’ or ‘observing’ should initiate the clearing of their issues, not the other way around.

I gave him an example of him having the perception of being ‘arrogant’ (not my opinion). He took it to mean that’s what I thought of him. He wasn’t amused that I had to use that out of all the examples that I could cite. You could say it isn’t a fair perception, but it’s a good thing that I don’t believe perception is reality. 🙂

Suddenly, I had an insight. ‘You know what’s the problem here?,’ I said to my boss. Now I know what’s the problem! People here have no sense of humour!’ I seriously think some conflicts arise because human beings are just too serious and too hard on each other.

Passionately defending our side of the argument, my boss and I felt equally exhausted at the end of our conversation, or should I say ‘debate’. Each of us probably believing we emerged ‘victorious’ over the other.

Or how about we say ‘perception is not reality until proven otherwise‘? How’s that for a compromise?

The above two incidents highlight the unfairness of having the wrong perceptions on people (not the least because I was a ‘victim’ of it, twice!), misinterpreting people’s actions (or sometimes non-action) or intentions.

Folks, I ask you: let us not jump to conclusions. Let us not read too much between the lines or read things that may not be there. Let’s try to be fair.

First: find out, ask, talk, clarify, research, investigate, COMMUNICATE, discuss, dig deeper, or do what you have to do to clear things up and/or discover if what you have in mind is an actual fact or, in all likelihood, just a misperception.

So which side are you on?

To help settle this issue, please take a moment to complete the poll and feel free to state your reason(s). As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

Next topic: Losing My Religion (part 3)

Losing My Religion (2 of 5)

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In part 1 of the LMR story, I spoke about my childhood and how I always tried to cut short the time I spent on hearing mass. I narrated how I avoided the insistence of an older and well-meaning girl who tried to keep me in the church for a longer time than I wanted.

I mentioned about my ‘talent’ for sitting in one place and mentally escaping into my own world in spite of all the noise. At Catholic churches during mass it isn’t possible, what with all the rituals you have to perform: you sit, stand up and kneel a few times; fall in line for a communion; sing hymns; respond to the homily, etc.

It didn’t happen overnight, this change of heart of mine about my religion and all religions in general. In spite of this disconnect though, I retained my belief in God. I’ll have a deeper explanation about this in future posts.

If you are happy with where you are spiritually, whichever belief system you have, that’s well and good.

If you were never a believer or do not have any beliefs now, that’s alright too. I now believe God, for all the greatness that God is, is not bothered by it. I will also tackle later why believing in a ‘super power’ (and I’m not talking about the US) is better (and I’m not referring to the concept of heaven or hell).

But for now let me address my fellow believers and state the first of my four reasons I mentioned in part 1.

* * *

This is not a chronological account of my search for answers and meaning, which started when I was younger. Over the years, I spent a lot of time contemplating as various thoughts and questions came to my mind about God and the reason(s) for our existence.

For many balmy nights, while living in Manila, I would sit on the concrete steps in front of our apartment in Sta. Mesa. With my elbow on my knee and a hand cupping my chin, I would gaze at the moon and the twinkling stars above and wonder what is out there, is anyone out there, who are we, where did we come from?

While kids noisily and gleefully play in the streets, a common sight throughout the neighbourhoods during my childhood, I spent a lot of time wondering what life is all about.

As I learned about religions and their various denominations, the thought of what these all meant crossed my mind. I read a little bit about some of these religions, beliefs and other philosophies. My eventual response, after reading up, on and off, on this subject over a period of almost two decades, was to ‘disengage’.

One of my reasons is due to:

1. My conflict in reconciling where the Jews, other Christian denominations, the Moslems, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Sikhs, the Taoists, the Shintoists, the ‘Zoroastrians’, the various Indigenous religions, other non-mainstream religions, the agnostics—plus the atheistic materialists— fit into this.

According to Wikipedia, Christians now make up approximately 2 billion people. Out of these 2 billion, there are a staggering 38,000 different denominations or branches. More branches of Christianity will no doubt emerge as people, for whatever motivate them, form and lead their own group and interpret the bible in their own way.

At one time, I felt Catholicism was the best religion out of all them. That it’s the only correct path and I had a better chance in being allowed into heaven. Everyone else is wrong and ignorantly in the wrong path. However, as you know, each of the people who belong to other Christian denominations or other religions feel the same way, if not stronger, about their respective religion. People ‘peddling’ their own brand of religion, each one of the group believing theirs to be the real deal. Who’s right, who’s wrong?

But I also thought a lot about those people who have never heard of Jesus Christ or concepts like the Holy Trinity, and/or those people who worshipped a different God or Gods. Where will they go when they die? Would God forgive them? How can they redeem themselves?

What about those Christians who think everyone else will go to hell or purgatory unless you are ‘born again’, whatever that means?

How about the Moslems who seriously think that Allah is the one true God, the Qur’an the one true book, and the rest of us are infidels?

The Bahá’í’s who believe Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and most recently their own, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, are one and the same being and who appeared as these different messengers to establish a religion that was suited for the needs of their time?

The Hindus with their multiple Gods? Does believing in more than one God gets you quicker to reaching nirvana?

The Buddhists who believe that you will reincarnate over and over again until you learn your lessons and paid off all your karmas?

And the Jews who consider themselves God’s chosen people? I felt a tinge of jealousy I wasn’t born into the ‘chosen’ race.

Let’s not even mention the Scientologists who once annoyed me a bit for incessantly calling me to talk me into meeting with them, after I purchased one of their leader’s books.

In all these, I considered and attempted to turn into a vegetarian after reading about a female Vietnamese Buddhist master who teaches that eating meat contributes to global warming.

As I don’t consider myself materialistic, it was easy for me to imagine I was suited to becoming a monk—stripping myself bare of all material possessions—until I learned you have to abstain from the desires of the flesh, alcohol, gambling and other vices. 🙂

I once wanted to be like the Breatharians who claim to live without eating food or drinking water but by proper breathing alone. Imagine how many kilos I would have shed if I tried it? You must have read about a recent news of an Indian man who was reported not to have eaten for two weeks, while doctors in Australia probe him and what he was claiming.

I marveled at the mysterious world of the Shamans and their use of psychedelic plants to, purportedly, take them into different worlds and dimensions.

I read a few articles on secret societies like the Rosicrucians, which I considered joining, and the Freemasons which was for a long time exclusive for males only but have recently started accepting female members.

I’ve heard about the Gnostic Catharrs and the Essenes of the ancient times.

I was surprised to learn of the existence of the moderate Moslems like the Sufis or the Dancing Dervishes.

I read the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda hoping to get inspired but it somehow drew more questions from me.

So you see how serious I was in getting to know more about religion and other beliefs, and my desire to get some answers to some questions?

We do know religions have the same aim, even if there are myriad paths. If it continues to work for you, that’s admirable, but what gets my goat, so to speak, is the intolerance of others for people whose beliefs are different from their own, people who think they have sole access to the one correct key to open/enter, the pearly gates of St. Peter or the ‘paradise’.

But this is my story and my journey. You have your own story to tell.

To be continued…

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As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

My ‘What the Fook’ Moments

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In the early 90s, I had an Irish colleague and friend called Niamh (pronounced ‘Neve’). We’ve lost track mainly because she went back to Ireland and we both became slack in keeping in touch. I first heard this Irish-pronounced word from her, the ‘fook’. No explanation is necessary. I used to giggle to myself each time I heard it.

But this blog is not really about my friend, nor, you’d be pleased to know, about ‘fook’. I just want to share with you what I call my ‘what the fook’ moments. Two of them, in fact. 🙂

* * *

Call me luCkY, but I have had two experiences of the weird but hilariously suspenseful moments (my ‘wtf’ moments) that I’ll never forget. As people who know me knows, I keep to myself majority of the time. My being quiet though still got me in trouble in primary (elementary) and high school.

1. Once during a class in 2nd year high school, a classmate had the urge, at the wrong moment it turned out for me, to talk to me about some inane thing that I don’t recall now. Not being a rude person and not wanting to ignore her, I gave her my equally inane reply. It was at that very moment when my teacher saw me talking.

You know what teachers are like when a student appears to be not listening! She called my name to answer a question. I tried not to show it but I started getting nervous. Needless to say, I didn’t hear the question.

Involuntarily, while thinking what to say, I slowly scratched my neck. If you know anything about body language, you’d know it’s supposed to mean doubt, uncertainty and nervousness. She appeared surprised but, suddenly, my teacher exclaimed, ‘excellent!’ She proceeded to ignore me and continue with her lecture and asked my other classmates, what became apparent to me later, the same question.

Now for a few seconds, I stood there dumbfounded, with my mouth agape. I had no idea what just happened! Like a machine-gun fire, various thoughts came rushing through my mind in that millisecond: ‘Is she being sarcastic? Is she insulting me? Is she making fun of me? Is she on drugs??’

Not wanting for her to focus her attention back on me and with my eyes wide open in amazement, I quickly sat down and scanned others’ faces, looking for clues. Most didn’t seem to notice anything odd but a few were quite impressed that I knew the answer! What answer?? I didn’t even open my mouth and pretend to say something! I just scratched my neck, and then my teacher gave me a word of approval (if not admiration, lol).

Well, the teacher was discussing pressure points where you can feel your pulse from! I must have been absent when the teacher gave a lecture on that topic! At that time, I didn’t have a clue what areas of the body they’re located. I just happened to, hilariously enough, appear to point to a right part of my body (the neck) at the time that I was clueless about what I was being grilled about – the locations of our pressure points!

I, unknowingly and without meaning to, gave one of the correct answers. What a stroke of luck!

It was one of the most surreal but amusing days of my school life, and I take pleasure in remembering it to this day.

2. Another face-saving incident happened two years before, in my Maths class in 6th grade. I had what was probably my first case of being caught talking in the middle of a class lecture because one of my classmates chose an inopportune time to say something to someone sitting next to her, who happened to be… me! Again, not being a naturally rude person, I happily talked to her.

A chalk came flying out of nowhere and hit my arm. It was my teacher’s way of calling my attention. The teacher, who could have been a mathematical guru for all I know and who was supposed to teach the young much more than A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s (like good manners, for example), was being rude indeed. Though I was obviously very peeved, my scorpion tail rising to spit a poisonous sting in my teacher’s direction, I, begrudgingly, let it go.

He ordered me to solve a mathematical question he wrote on the blackboard. It’s not surprising but Mathematics is one of my pet peeves, my least favourite subject in school and, together with Science, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, English, History, Algebra, Geometry, Arts, Music… practically all my school subjects, and most especially ‘Home Economics’, the bane in my school life. (Next time, I’ll talk to you about my most favourite subject.) 😉

From the time I left my desk to the time I picked up a chalk to attempt to write my answer on the board, I must have uttered a litany of prayers under my laboured breath. I tried to do a quick ‘mental scanning’, to recall what little of the past lectures/lessons registered in my brain but to no avail.

With my back against my teacher and classmates, I started to scribble furiously, acting like I was writing something!

Kidding aside, I partly knew the answer but I thought there was something missing. I went over what I wrote many times, trying to come up with the correct answer. I stood there sweating, waiting for salvation; but I was on my own.

After what was probably just a few minutes but felt like an excruciatingly long time, I slowly put the chalk down and gave up. I felt defeated. I walked back to my desk embarrassed, my pride shattered, and my scorpion tail, previously erect with venom, now hung limply between my legs.

With a smug smile on his face, I could sense my vindictive teacher couldn’t wait to embarrass me further. He looked over my answer… then he looked at me, askance. Incredulously, he announced to the class my answer was… perfect!

I was bewildered and asked myself ‘huh? how could it be??’ The teacher must have recovered his sense of humour! ‘Surely, he’s pulling my leg!!’ But I wasn’t going to question him! I couldn’t believe my luck! He must have been as stunned as I was and perhaps a tad disappointed. But I had the last laugh!! Hahahaha!!

It was my turn to act smug. I gave him that look as if saying… ‘Don’t mess with me, you pr*ck!’ and controlled the urge to poke my tongue out at him.

What about you? Any ‘wtf’ moments for you? 😉 Share.

* * *

BTW, I’ve reconnected with Niamh and she’s happy to see me put whatever little creative writing skills I have to good use. As you may have read, it seems she can’t wait to have my first book, if it ever materialises, dedicated to her. 🙂

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Losing My Religion (1 of 5)

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Just when I say I believe in the ‘afterlife’, I declare I’m no longer affiliated with a specific religion. The two aren’t necessarily incompatible.

I remember as a young child I used to join religious processions. Once, when I was around 5, my mother couldn’t go for some reason but I insisted in joining a procession being held around the town’s church during a festive season. She sent me off with a little basket of flowers to join other little girls also bearing flowers.

Along the way, not surprisingly, I got lost (still happens to me today even with a map in my hand). It was probably just around a corner but I couldn’t find my way. By the time I saw the long line of people marching in the procession, they were on their way back to the church. It wouldn’t have mattered as my mother explained later but, already self-conscious at that age, I felt too embarrassed to join them at that point. Hesitantly, I turned around and somehow made my way back home.

Of course, my mother was none-too-pleased. Not only did I miss the procession, I also came back without the basket of flowers in my hand, which I gave away to a stranger. My giving nature was evident then.

My parents were steadfast in their belief but they didn’t practice it to the extreme. And I never heard them make disparaging remarks about other people with different beliefs.

Once, two American Mormons attempted to convert us to their religion. My father enjoyed discussing religion with them and welcomed their visits a couple of times. In the end, he told them he was happy to stay as a Catholic. My father always said all roads lead to the same place.

With just myself as company, I’m a person who can sit still for hours and not get bored. I have a knack for ignoring all the noise around me and lose myself in my thoughts. I’m also not a nag. However, somehow as a child, I was both very impatient and a nag. I exhausted my parents’ patience for my insistence on leaving the church before the mass ended.

One day, to placate me, they promised to leave after the choir had sung its 3rd hymn or song. BIG mistake. From then on, when the 3rd song came on, that was my signal to start nagging them incessantly to let us go home.

On my 10th birthday, too busy with housework, my mother sent me off by myself to church not far from where we lived and gave me a new red dress to wear. Although never been fashion conscious, I’m very picky with the type of material I wear. The dress was pretty but the outer part felt rough on my skin. I wasn’t happy. Not only because I didn’t want to wear the dress, I also didn’t want to go to church.

While my two older brothers were probably playing in the neighbourhood as usual, enjoying themselves, birthday girl was sent off to go to church. I dragged my resistant, resentful self to church.

Inside, I sat next to a young female. While she noticed I was alone, I noticed she had a pretty face. She saw I was fidgeting. I volunteered the information that I was out of there after the 3rd song. She was very nice to me and tried to convince me that I should stay till the end.

As she was bent on making me stay, I was bent on leaving after the 3rd song. With my parents not there to prevent me from leaving, no one else could make me stay after the 3rd song. On cue, as soon as I heard the piano started playing, I jumped away from my seat in case the woman grip me by the hand and don’t let me go. I saw the disappointed look in her face, but I was intent on not staying any minute longer.

Over the years, there was always this pressure not to miss mass on Sundays. Everyone always trying to make you feel you’re upsetting God for not doing your weekly sabbatical duty. As I grew older and got used to going to church most Sundays, while still not appreciating it, I started to bear staying past the 3rd song and until the complete end. Sometimes, I even sang along! Picture me singing along with the choir and parishioners during the 3rd song and not feeling the urge to bolt!

Don’t get me wrong. I find peace and solace in chapels or cathedrals when it’s quiet. Living then in a tropical country, the heat, the crowd which often spilt out into the streets and the noisy distractions used to bother me. During a priest’s sermon, those times when I made an effort to listen, it often didn’t tag at my heart.

I believe in the power of prayer. I was sometimes amazed when something I asked for happened at exactly how I wanted it to happen. And during the lowest point in my life, when I felt abandoned by everyone except for a loving few, Mother Mary was my constant companion and praying the rosary and novena were my refuge and consolation.

However, one day in the early 90s, I started on a long, gradual and lonely journey to take on the road less traversed of soul searching. I read copious amounts of books, including the bible, and indulged in even more introspection.

And then about 12 years ago, I made a conscious decision to stop going to church altogether. But it wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy going to church, or I lost my sense of gratitude for two revered beings who I turned to the most during my hour of deep need.

There were 4 reasons that prompted me to question my faith. (To be continued)

Next topic (a funny one): My [censored] moments.

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Forever Sleep

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My cute little bro, tucked-in and wrapped in an all-white baby blanket,
is sleeping peacefully. Two and a half-year old me, gazing at him curiously, felt the urge to kiss him. I planted one on his cheek and touched his face and hair tenderly. It didn’t occur to me until later, but it felt odd.

A young girl, about a year older than me, startled me by exclaiming, ‘Why did you kiss him? He’s dead!’ In a hurried, excited voice, she explained to me why I shouldn’t have done it. Somehow I understood, but I was disbelieving. ‘No, he’s not dead!,’ I denied. But she was dead sure.

In their grief, explaining to a toddler what death meant wasn’t uppermost in my parents’ mind. I was confused. ‘Ask your mother,’ this mature girl said, ‘if you don’t believe me.’

Tight-lipped as she approached, my mother wore a grim, sad face that confirmed the painful truth. I asked her repeatedly, looking up at her with pleading eyes, hoping she’d say it wasn’t true. A sad nod was all she could muster.

Then it dawned on the young me. I felt a bit odd when I kissed him and ran my fingers through the side of his face. My poor little brother was rock hard, cold and very still. With this revelation, I looked at him again, this time in fear. The look of a lifeless body with the colour of death was ingrained in my memory.

That was my rude introduction to death but then again it’s never under happy circumstances. That first-hand experience—unintentionally kissing death in its face—may explain my subsequent feelings of extreme dread and unease in anything associated with it: cadavers, wakes, funeral parlours, coffins, cemeteries.

Mario was his name. His time on Earth was but a wink for he only lived for 13 hours, I later learned. My parents, especially my father, used to say proudly that he was the most handsome of my brothers. Born in a coastal part of southern Philippines, at a time when midwives were commonly hired to help pregnant mothers give birth, his death was a mystery to my parents. I don’t remember anything else surrounding this day but this particular hair-raising incident is stuck in my memory, kept alive by a photo of my lifeless baby brother taken of that day.

Death is a word that gave me the creeps. Over the years, thankfully not too many times, in funerals, I very hesitantly approach coffins to ‘view’ the body in it. Unless I had to, I often avoid to look. It defeats the purpose of attending a ‘viewing’ really—making an effort to go see the departed, only to close my eyes when I get there.

Fast forward to the present time and after searching long and tirelessly for life’s true meaning, my views of death has changed somewhat. Death, a five-letter word, now means five things to me:

1. Release – from pain, sickness, suffering, imprisonment of some sort.

2. Freedom – from misery, from all the personal dramas that we human beings endure, unnecessarily go through or involve ourselves with.

3. Homecoming – going back to our source, to our real home, for those who believe in the ‘afterlife’ like I do.

4. Enlightenment – perhaps the departed souls will finally be able to find answers to deep-seated and nagging philosophical questions about who we truly are and our real purpose here on Earth.

5. A doorway – to another existence, another dimension, another reality.

These different ways of looking at death will not remove the pain and anguish one would feel when one lose a loved one, especially if it’s sudden and unexpected, but they offer comfort and hope.

Sometimes I wondered, and still do, what the purpose of my brother’s birth and untimely death was in the greater scheme of things. So I look forward to understanding life’s mysteries and knowing or perhaps ‘re-discovering’ the ultimate truth when it’s my turn—though not just yet— to forever sleep and hopefully, expectantly… awake in another realm.

Next topic: Losing my Religion (part 1)

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