Always a parent, always a child

When I went to the store to buy sharksfin dumpling (don't worry, it wasn't real shark's fin), I saw a father and his teenage son buying food as well. The son wasn't feeling well, I gathered, because his father reached out to touch his forehead with the back of his hand. What I found touching, however, was that the son was already over a foot taller.

Radio's fine, it helps me forget for a while

But not today. Today is all about remembering.

Early this afternoon, I managed to connect the old Sony sound system that's been gathering dust in my room to an antenna. I'm pretty sure I'd tried this before and failed to get good reception, so I gave up and left the sound system alone. Almost a decade since I last tried to use it, it's aliiive!

I'm afraid to use the tape player, though, because when I pressed the eject button it got stuck for a few seconds and I thought it would never close. If there's one thing I hate, it's a cassette deck that's permanently open.

I know this sound system cost a lot of money when my dad bought it. It was top of the line at the time. It has a video CD player too, and I'm pretty sure we used it to watch movies years ago. Unfortunately, now and forevermore, it will function only as a radio. Still, I'm thrilled. I have a radio that doesn't need my laptop to play!

When I switched to radio mode, the station that played was 105.9. Maybe it was the last station I played so many years ago, or perhaps it played because it was closest to my old favorite station (105.1 Crossover). It was a good thing, too, because the DJ was playing some new wave classics and more "music for grownups from the growing up years."

I'm more of a 90s kid, but it was in the 80s, of course, that I first listened to music, so it's 80s music that pulls me back to my childhood, when all I needed was my own company or that of my brothers and cousins, a dash of imagination, and life was instantly magical.

Instead of working on my laptop (checking out job prospects, writing my blog, etc.), I plopped myself on my bed and just listened and allowed random memories to come rushing in.

I remembered when my best friend Sherwil and I would just play the radio and sit for hours, in her room, in her car, in my house, dreaming out loud about our unrequited loves. We were juniors, 15 turning 16, and we were mourning our crushes being on their final year of high school.

I remembered when the first song I learned was "The Greatest Love of All" and I felt so privileged that I was a child (probably 9 or 10 years old) and the song had that line about us being the future and I felt that life was going to surprise me with it greatness.

I remembered one summer, in UP, when I was taking summer classes. Someone I liked was away for the summer, and I had a classmate who, during our break, would always sing Beverly Craven's "Promise Me" and I'd sit and listen, and mentally sing along to the words "Promise me you'll wait for me, I need to know you feel the same way too, and I'll be home, I'll be home soon." Then I'd think, "But I'm not the one who's away, so technically this song is wrong so why am I even singing it?"

I remembered a party in the tennis court of my dad's old company in Zambales. I was about six or seven, maybe younger, and this cute guy who was old (he was, by my calculation, around twelve) danced to "Square Rooms." I had no concept of cute then, but I somehow knew he was special and I was too shy to even go near him.

I remembered when I was in grade school and when the bus would arrive early and I didn't have to catch up on homework I hadn't done, I'd head for the hill near our classroom and play there with my imaginary friends. I knew they were imaginary, I always knew, but I was often happier with them than I was in class.

I remembered the terror of not knowing the language of my playmates. I was a Cebuano child planted in Manila, and I didn't take to Tagalog for years. I made only one friend each school year, I wanted only one, and my greatest fear was her being absent and my having to deal with other classmates seeing me friendless during recess. I realize now that I had no fear of being alone; my fear was of being perceived alone.

I remembered my early friends in school. I can count them with one hand. I remember talking with one of them about our plan to read the whole Bible for the summer, something I never did and have never done, something she never got to follow up with me because we weren't classmates anymore the next school year, and I had to find a new friend again.

Then my eyes suddenly welled up with tears from God knows where, and I remembered who I was: this woman, no longer a child, now listening to old music on an old radio.

And then I remembered I had left my job because I said I was unhappy, but the truth was I was sad. And many times I had to set aside my sadness, because there was no room for the personal in that corporate life.

I remembered I had forgotten to allow myself to be sad over what I had lost, even when I had lost it by choice and with complete willingness. Joy, even.

Then today, I remembered who I was before everything became just tough and hard and bitter to the taste: I remembered I had also always been pure heart. I was always pure heart. I have always been pure heart.

I am always pure heart.

I had always loved completely and given my all in all that I did, with no hope or expectation, except for knowing I gave it all that I could. I used to do that. I did that.

I do that.

I will do it again.

Cooking with moringa and coconut cream

I also discovered the word carajay.
Here's yet another cooking experiment, which gives me a grand total of THREE mostly plant-based dishes in my repertoire.

First, a disclaimer: I am not a good cook. I think I cook with common sense and a little knowledge of chemistry absorbed by osmosis courtesy of the family.

For the longest time, for me, there was only one way to cook moringa leaves or malunggay: we added it to tinola.

In our household, we made a distinction between the two types of tinola we made depending on what leaves were used.

The typical tinola with hot pepper leaves was tinola, while the tinola with malunggay was, well, malunggay.

If I remember correctly, malunggay could also make do without the sayote or its alternative green papaya.

I've always loved both types of tinola, especially during the rainy season. I never thought of any other way to eat moringa, except as tea and capsules specially marketed to breastfeeding mothers.

In April this year, I went with Sherwil to Tabaco, Albay, to meet an old friend and be goddaughter to his child. He invited us to eat at his grandmother's house and we were treated to their family's home cooking. I discovered ginataang malunggay with tinapa flakes. That's moringa leaves cooked in coconut cream topped with flakes of smoked fish.

Now, I am a recent convert to gata or coconut milk. I used to hate it in everything and I couldn't understand why, for example, someone would ruin a perfectly good adobo by adding coconut milk to it. But one day, I tried some laing from this lechon pork belly place near my former office and I was instantly in love.

So when we were headed to Albay, I was looking forward to getting some authentic laing. You can bet I tried to order it as much as I could whenever we ate out! That, and Bicol Express. I wasn't disappointed. Not at all.

Then my sister asked me to bring home some pinangat, which I had never heard of. When I tasted it at home after bringing it in a makeshift cooler over our ten-hour bus ride back to Manila, my love for coconut milk was forever sealed.

I added six chili peppers to spice things up, literally and figuratively. 
Today, a couple of months since I first tasted ginataang malunggay with tinapa flakes, I tried to make it from scratch.

As I wrote in a previous entry, I've been working towards a more plant-based diet, and I've discovered that anything with coconut milk in it makes me crave meat less. In fact, the only time that I considered turning vegetarian was when I was eating meat-free laing.

I bought gata from a neighborhood store (I guess I'm now their suki), then I plucked some leaves from our moringa tree, and then I flaked some smoked fish that's been waiting in the refrigerator. Then I followed this recipe and just added the smoked fish.

It tasted so good, I ate more than I wanted to. But no matter! It's just leaves and some fish. It's healthy!

Healthy, wealthy and wise. But healthy first.

This is my bike. Behind it is Emily's.
One of the things I wanted to focus on when I decided to take a short break from working was my health.

I don't think I've ever been in worse shape in my entire life. A sedentary lifestyle, work stress, poor eating habits, and suppressing many feelings have all led to my being my unhealthiest self ever.

It's not even about looks at all. It's about ensuring that I will be able to do the things I love to do, like travel (trekking in Batad, anyone?) and write (ugh, brain fog) for as long as I live.

So, when I got back from the States (where, I have to confess, like many visiting Filipinos, I ate too much) and after I got over my jet lag (it took me two weeks!), I dragged myself out of bed and made a pact with one of my best friends, Emily, to get healthier or die trying.

We're on our third Wednesday now of walking in the morning.

We've designed Wednesdays to be the day we'd touch base with our progress. We're accountability partners, each other's reminder that we made commitments to ourselves and we should keep those commitments. So far, it's been working for me.

I didn't suddenly turn into a health freak, but regularly talking to a friend about my health goal has helped me be more consistent in my actions.

On our first Wednesday together, Emily and I also bought secondhand folding bikes. Em doesn't know how to ride a bike, and I've promised to teach her. I'm quite thrilled with my bike. While I don't see myself biking long distances, I'm looking forward to at least biking around the village, running errands, and visiting my nieces.

So far, I've ridden it up and down our street. It's taking me some time to muster up enough courage to go on the main roads, but I don't even have a helmet yet, so that's okay.

I've also started taking smoothies for breakfast. It's supposed to, first, help me transition to a more plant-based diet, and, second, give me a palatable way to take in turmeric and virgin coconut oil. I tried making a turmeric mango smoothie and a turmeric ginger smoothie with some avocado.

I'm happy with this steel straw, too.
Lastly, I've also been learning to cook with more vegetables. A few weeks ago, I watched the film Forks Over Knives and was convinced to make my diet more plant-based. I'm still not sure if I will ever turn vegetarian, but I've been feeling better eating more raw and plant-based food. 

My first attempt at pinakbet.
I've found that when I prepare my own food, eating healthier is easier and becomes habitual. I also teach myself to come up with flavors I crave so I can whip up my own substitutes. Today, for example, I was craving chips. I looked up some recipes online and tried making my own microwave sweet potato chips, replacing the spices with ground cumin and chili powder. I shared a picture on Instagram, but I'm so pleased with how it turned out, here's the picture again:

Goodbye, Lay's! I think.
The next recipe I really want to master is laing. Coconut cream is really wonderful when you're trying to cut down on the consumption of meat. It's fatty enough to make you feel you're still eating a rich dish.

So far, I've lost five pounds. It's not much, but it's progress. I'll keep you posted.

How to save a life, an introduction

It's been over four months since I left my job. I've done many things since then, mostly traveling (well-documented on Instagram) and meeting old friends and family I'd never met before or I'd last seen too long ago. Life is good, even with a dwindling bank account.

But life is also not always good, to be honest. Leaving a situation that brought me large amounts of joy and larger amounts of unhappiness has gifted me with many mornings thinking about all the time and opportunities I've wasted, despite my best intentions.

On days when the regret is strong, I escape into movies and social media. Happily, those days are farther and fewer between now, and I know that when the dust clears completely, that chapter of my life will finally serve its purpose as fodder for my writing and as fuel for an even more compassionate heart. 

Now let me channel Eddie Vedder and say, "I have faced it, a life wasted. I'm never going back again."