All right stop

A neighbor is playing Ice Ice Baby really loud and suddenly I'm 12, in sixth grade again... and not wanting to go to school. I'm thinking how much I hated my English teacher back then, which was a pity because her subjects (Reading and Language) were my favorite and I was really good at them. She was in charge of the school paper too, but that didn't stop me from joining.

And suddenly, too, my reality becomes even more real. It is 25 years from grade 6, I have gout, and I wish I were getting ready for school instead.

When I first moved to the Eastwood office, and when I leave

When I first moved to the Eastwood office from Alabang in 2009, I stayed at my uncle's place in Serendra and took the taxi to work. Every day was a challenge because I'd had a bad experience during a cab ride in Manila and was still experiencing some form of post traumatic stress disorder.

Almost five years and a move to Project 4 later, I'm still a very careful cab rider and slow to trust, but I've also developed an appreciation of how hard honest taxi drivers work. I've had wonderful conversations with drivers; I've been on the receiving end of their kindness as they waited for me to enter my apartment before driving off with my fare.

Because of my many cab rides I know many of the taxi drivers work 24-hour shifts and often can't help but catch some sleep. I know that not every place is safe for them, so they have their favorite spots where they can get safety for themselves and the vehicles entrusted to them, security for the day's earnings, and some rest.

On my usual route, I see them parked in front of the Eastwood City police and fire station. They converge at eateries near the corner of 20th Avenue and Bonny Serrano. Many times, I walk past a few of them sleeping soundly along Rajah Matanda.

When I see a taxi driver grabbing a meal or taking a nap, my first thought is "God bless you." I silently thank the likes of them for their service, for bringing me home safe at all hours of the day, in the 1,500 days or so since I started working in Eastwood.

My post stress anxiety has given way to appreciation and a gratitude that is almost automatic.

I'm due to leave Eastwood and my place of work at the end of March. There's a six-week goodbye to people and places and friends and routines and things, six weeks that ought to end in what five years of daily cab rides led to. As I take that last cab ride home, I want to be saying thank you, I really want to.

Happy travels

I finally had my US visa interview last week. I came prepared and also relaxed, since I'd been psyching myself up for months for this trip. Having missed a couple of important family moments in the US (an uncle's funeral, a cousin's wedding, being with an aunt for her treatments), I'd set my mind on making the time this time. Armed with my best intentions and some papers, I went to ask the US embassy to let me in their country for a while.

The wait was long, but the interview didn't last even five minutes. I got my visa today, two working days later. Thank you, U.S. of A. You will get some of my money in return.

Later, outside the embassy, I hailed a Ryo Aki cab, in competition with a family of five and a barker. They were ahead of me on Roxas Boulevard, but the driver ignored them, stopped in front of me, opened the passenger window, and told me to get in.

I beamed, congratulating myself on my luck. I had already opened the door when I heard the mother (I assumed) yelling at her adult son to tell me they'd flagged the cab first. I stepped aside.

The driver said to ignore them. I told him they were mad. He yelled at me to get in, because he wasn't going to let them ride anyway because he didn't want the barker to get a single centavo.

"Barkers are cheats," he said in angry Filipino, "They get money from both the driver and the passenger."
"Why? How much do you give them?" I asked.
"Nothing. A punch in the face."

I changed the subject and checked if I could open the locks. Just in case I would have to.

He had calmed down by the time we got to Taft Avenue.

I had lunch at a Wai Ying along Taft (beside DLSU!): hakao, siomai, buchi, and Binondo-style Hong Kong milk tea.

On the bus back to Las PiƱas, I brought out the book I had been reading at the embassy: Manila Noir. My reading was soon interrupted by the unmistakable scent of freshly fried bread. An empanada peddler had gotten on the bus, carrying a plastic box filled with pastry.

"Taste this," he told a lady passenger, "you won't be disappointed. My wife is a good cook."

The lady bought a piece, ate it, and bought one more later.

Though full, I bought four ham and cheese empanadas because I had heard the love in the peddler's voice when he mentioned his wife. And because the other option was chicken asado and I was more suspicious of that meat.

I'll see you soon, USA. I'll see you again soon, Manila, you crazy beautiful city you.

Hello, 2015, slow down

Just like that, January is over. I had the best intentions for the new year, but this year started out a little frustrating: I spent the first three weeks of January fighting a rather strong upper respiratory infection. I can say, in fact, that as early as the first week of 2015, I'd already experienced something completely new: laryngitis.

One day, I was talking non-stop with my best friends Sherwil and Emily, and the next morning, I was completely voiceless. There was no medicine for it, and, shunning antibiotics, I opted for plenty of fluids, vitamins, and rest. I slept for twelve hours or more each day.

That little bout with illness threw me a bit off track, but I'm well now and raring to get back on the New Year's Resolutions bandwagon. During the long Christmas break, I'd listed down some of my intentions for professional development, creative writing (including reading and writing in this blog), travel, relationships, finances, and health.

I managed to tick off some tasks on my to-do list, but I still need to catch up on some of this year's goals.

The unusual (at least for me) long bout with illness, however, didn't go without leaving a few lessons, the most urgent of which was to take care of myself since I'm not getting any younger, and the most valuable of which was that silence is okay.

When I was fighting laryngitis, I couldn't talk. Forced into physical silence, I compensated by allowing my thoughts to go on overdrive -- so much so that even I found myself too loud.

This year, even if I want movement, I also must learn to be still.

Just around the corner

The taxi driver is on the phone with his wife. I'd tell him to end the call because he's driving, but traffic's crawling, so I'm letting him talk for a while. He calls his wife "baby." He asks if they're going to Ma Mon Luk later, and says he's worried because it's Friday and there might be too many people. Baby, the best time to go, he says, is on Sunday afternoons.

He asks his wife if he counted their money right. It was P1,700 when he counted, he said, not P1,800 as she had said. Maybe she counted wrong, maybe the P100 fell somewhere. Never mind, he says, maybe the person who found it needs it more than we do.

He laughs when his wife says he worked hard for that P100. You're so tight with money, he tells her sweetly. He laughs. I'm so lucky, he says, I'm so lucky with you, baby.

Oh, Christmas. You're finally here.