writing

year30, writing, travel

The Grand Move: Updates on the road, Days 9 to 12

Day 9: San Antonio to Austin, TX

The only real reason we decided to put San Antonio on our itinerary was because I insisted on seeing a live San Antonio Spurs game. Since we've successfully checked that off our list, we decided to leave town and head to Austin, where there's a lot more happening (read: FOOD). Before we left, though, we made sure we paid San Antonio proper homage and went to its downtown area.

Downtown San Antonio

We did part of the River Walk, which was expertly laid out and connected. We didn't really take a lot of photos while we were there (at least I didn't, maybe J did), but here's a quick look at the map, courtesy of San Antonio River Walk's official website:

 We only did the loop part of the River walk, shown on  this map .

We only did the loop part of the River walk, shown on this map.

We passed by the Alamo and took around 20 minutes to breeze through the exhibit. We weren't allowed to take photos, so if you want to find out what's there, you'd have to look it (J's favorite line to get out of photography duty: "You can Google better images of ______ than I can take, babe!") up or go there yourself. Or you know, YouTube.

Food and drink (San Antonio)

For lunch, we ate at El Milagrito Restaurant for our first Tex-Mex in Texas. J got the chipotle enchilada (it was fine), and I got the lengua with ranchero sauce, which I would have enjoyed, had I not bit into the random green pepper that came with the dish. My tongue burned for the next couple of hours and I couldn't eat anything for a few hours. Lesson: DO NOT bite into an unidentified garnish from the pepper family.

Road trip discussions

Before zoning out on a few albums for our short drive to Austin, I told Jason about an article I read compiling some of television's worst moments this year and the fact that it included the Family Guy / The Simpsons crossover episode. While I liked both shows separately for different reasons, J admitted to liking Family Guy better. "Family Guy is just smart funny, like, continuous streams of laughter funny. The Simpsons just makes me chuckle for a short time like, oh haha that was funny." I haven't seen an actual episode of the new generation The Simpsons, so I can't really refute him; I mainly remember loving The Simpsons when I was 7 or 8. I also find the jokes on Family Guy a tiny bit more relevant. I just hate it when they waste ten or so minutes on a fight between Peter and the damn chicken.

 UGH I hate it so much. J, on the other hand, finds this utterly hilarious.

UGH I hate it so much. J, on the other hand, finds this utterly hilarious.

Playlist

We decided to do whole albums and chose one each. We have impeccable taste, if I say so myself. My pick [1] and his pick, consecutively:

Austin Accommodations

Centrally Located Private Cottage in Austin

Cabin in Austin, United States. This cute little backyard cottage promises to make your Austin visit comfortable, convenient, and because it's away from the street and in my backyard, really private. Step inside the little green cabin to a large comfortable bed, kitchenette, ful... View all listings in Austin

Our Airbnb host, Marcos, was very thorough. He made sure he sat us down before even showing us the small cabin he had in his backyard so he can discuss the map of the neighborhood.

This rental was within walking distance to the South Congress (SoCo) and South First St. (So-Fi) areas, so we had lots to do! We walked along So-Fi, which Marcos called the "funky street" (SoCo was the "trendy street") to try and get our bearings and find some place to get merienda or drinks, and we were both overjoyed to discover that this street was Food Truck City. Definitely coming back for lunch one of these days.

For the moment, though, our mission was to find me some margaritas, so we went to a place called Polvos, which the Web hails as the place to get margaritas in our vicinity. Verdict: So good and OMG SO STRONG. I don't even know how I managed to drink two. J only had one and had to switch to beer because the margaritas were starting to give him acid reflux.

By the time we finished our drinks, we felt so woozy and tired. We walked all the way back home, where we instantly zonked out.

Day 10 to 12 in Austin: Holy briskets, Batman! (and the art of pigging out while on tour)

Seriously, I don't think there's any point trying to break down what our days were like in this fair city in full detail, the ways I usually do with this series of blog posts, because if we were being completely honest, when we weren't busy working over our computers (UPDATE: My Surface Pro 3 is holding up, yay![2]), all we thought about was food and all we did was eat. So pardon me if I skip all my usual mumbo jumbo and just hone in on all the food we've tried during our visit, and share our verdicts.

Shawarma Point

We took a quick drive to the food truck area we chanced on yesterday to see what's up, and this was the only one of two that were open for lunch. Jason got the falafel shawarma and I got the beef/lamb plate.  OF COURSE I had to get it in #BrownPeopleSpicy. Verdict: Despite having a hashtag that appealed to me, we were both disappointed. J says his falafel wasn't that great, and my beef/lamb combo meat was just dry and almost tasteless. Nothing has beaten Shawarma Snack Center in the Philippines for me when it comes to shawarma, I think. Damn, I miss living across SSC. We both do. The only good thing about that meal was the refreshing Crush soda. 4 /  10 for both shawarmas.

The Blue Ox [3]

This place actually looked amazing - the ambiance felt right for a night-time food truck and the atmosphere was definitely conducive to stuffing our faces with brisket and beer. We shared a half pound of brisket with a side of slaw.

The set came with white bread - which we assume was for making sandwiches - but we decided to get rid of the distraction and just focus on the meat. Verdict: The meat was pretty good - we chose the fatty part of the brisket, which made it all the more flavorful. The slaw wasn't really slaw and more like a pile of shredded cabbage - maybe we really were meant to assemble the plate into sandwiches. 7 / 10 for the brisket, 3 / 10 for the slaw. In J's opinion, San Jose's Bray Butcher Block & Bistro in San Pedro Square still had the best slaw he has ever tasted, and that says a lot. He's a coleslaw connoisseur.

Mellizoz Tacos

We originally wanted to get some of their fancier tacos on the menu, but at the time we were there, they only had three options available. J ordered the Old School (ground beef, spinach, tomato, cheddar cheese) and I got the Padre (braised carnita pork, avocado, pineapple and salsa fresca).

Verdict: While J thought his taco was just OK, I was flipping out over mine - the avocado, pineapple, salsa, and pork on a soft taco just meshed well together. It's something I would definitely try to make at home. 5 / 10 for the Old School, 9 / 10 for the Padre.

Gourdough's

I have wanted to get a big-ass donut from this food truck ever since we saw its sign our first day in town, but J thought it was too giant for me to eat alone (I obviously have the more active sweet tooth). But since Mellizoz was right next to Gordough's and I really, really wanted to try one, we decided to get something small at Mellizoz to make room for dessert. We decided on Funky Monkey (grilled bananas, cream cheese icing, brown sugar). Verdict: It was so goddamn good, I may have had a tiny orgasm. Together, I think we decimated the huge donut (bigger than J's fist) in less than 5 minutes. 10 / 10 seriously.

Brown's Bar-B-Que

We of course ordered brisket. Note: Austin is known for beef barbecue, so if you can, always order brisket. We had cabbage and mac and cheese for sides, but they were both standard so I'll skip rating them (although I enjoyed the cabbage more). Verdict: This is a smidgin better and tastier than the brisket from The Blue Ox - the meat was just more moist and had the sauce better integrated. 8 / 10 for the brisket (always get at least half a pound to share with someone, more if you're hungry).

Franklin Barbecue
Anyone I asked about food recommendations told me to make sure I try the brisket at Franklin's, but to note that it's so damn popular, that if you do decide to go, you need to go go fifteen minutes earlier than your original plan. Let me put it another way: Restaurant opens at 11 AM, but people start lining up at 9 AM that by the time you get served, they may have already run out (they remain open only until they still have meat to sell). We get there at 9:20-ish and already there was a huge wait. I sat on the floor on top of my extra fleece jacket and read Amy Poehler's Yes Please on my Kindle; J went back to the car to get some work done. By 10:48 the people started getting out of their seats (there were some available for customer use) because the restaurant was about to open. I was so excited.

Get this, though. We lined up at 9:20 AM. We got to the actual counter to place our order inside by 1 PM. Sounds over-the-top crazy, sure, but let me tell you, it was worth it. The pit master up front cut up some brisket for us to taste prior to ordering, and just from that one bite, I had an out of body experienvce. IT WAS SO GOOD. The smoking was perfect. The flavor was amazing. And it was so, so juicy. We ordered a pound of brisket to share and told them not to give us bread anymore. For sides, we got a pint of coleslaw (we love our slaw) and loaded up on raw onions and pickles available at the condiments section.

This is my third paragraph talking about Franklin, which means one thing: It was definitely the highlight of our visit to Austin, at least for me. I'm happy we were able to make this excursion happen, on our last day in town. Verdict: The slaw was just basic, but better than most. The meat? A perfect 10 / 10, 11 / 10 even. The barbecue-crazy foodie in me was incredibly thrilled to be treating her palate to something so heavenly. Along with Franklin's three sauces, it was just the perfect sendoff meal for us vagabond travelers and brisket tasters.

[1] Some of the tracks on this album are not available on Spotify. Bummer.
[2] Thanks to J, I have developed an addiction to playing Pyramid Solitaire on my computer. I. CAN'T. STOP.
[3] Monday seemed to be a barbecue holiday of sorts. Most of the places we wanted to try were closed that day.

year30, writing, travel

The Grand Move: The official route

To those of you wondering if this trip we're taking across the country is spontaneous and unplanned, the answer is, sort of. While we don't have reservations for places to stay or itineraries to follow prior to getting to our next stop, we are following a general route, which you can check out through the map below (click the image to enlarge).

I am happy to report that we are on schedule. As of this writing, we are currently in Austin, TX, our first of 4 days in the city. Our next stop is New Orleans, LA, but we'll probably take two days driving there (working in the AM, driving in the PM, sleeping at a motel).

Not accounted for on this map is our trip to Miami, FL after the holidays, where we'll be waiting out the winter for a couple of months. :)

year30, writing, travel

The Grand Move, Updates on the road, Day 8

Lubbock to San Antonio, TX

Road specifics

  • Weather: 47 F, 10 AM
  • Song most appropriate for current aroma: Smells Like Cow Spirit (Seriously, miles and miles of stinky fertilizer infiltrated our nostrils)

Route

Food and drink

  • Breakfast: Dunkin Donuts iced coffee (YES!), Jason - Boston Kreme Donut, Jam - Cronut

Verdict: Definitely not worth $2.50, J's donut was better at $1

  • Lunch/Dinner: McDonald's, because we needed something quick on both occasions, Jason - Big Mac both times, Jam - McDouble and Chicken nuggets (honey mustard sauce) consecutively
  • Snacks: Our off-brand treats, just as good as Pik-Nik and Cheetos
  • After game dinner: Went to a dive bar called Joey's and got beers and lemon pepper wings. By far the best lemon pepper wings we've had in a while. I totally recommend in whenever you're in San Antonio.

Random stuff

  • We usually get a magnet from every place we visit, but we neglected to get one from Santa Fe, which unfortunately started a trend of not bothering with it. J suggested we get them off eBay, because that's where all the souvenir shops get them, anyway.
  • J regaled me with his concise knowledge on why interstate highways exist. Short version: Back when war was rampant and only US highways were available, the government decided to erect sturdier and wider highways that went from east to west to allow the Army to transport their tanks back and forth a lot quicker. J explained that it's quite possible that the U.S. became the powerhouse country that it is now because of the interstate highways - it pretty much allowed for better and easier commerce and made everybody rich. Pretty cool.

First times

  • Both our first time seeing actual cotton plants. There were vast fields of cotton on our way out of Lubbock. "That's how they make your shirts!" - Jason
  • Both our first time seeing an NBA game live. #GoSpursGo!

Spurs vs. Timberwolves

This, in particular, was a dream come true for me. I've been a Spurs fan since 2003 and the prospect of seeing one of their games live was something I always knew I'd have to make happen. Thank goodness for this road trip - it enabled us to have enough excuse to go to San Antonio (to be honest, the only reason we would ever go to San Antonio would be to see a Spurs game) for a day. Totally worth it (never mind that the Spurs totally decimated the Timberwolves and that Ginobli and Parker weren't playing that day...I WAS THERE IN PERSON)!!!

year30, writing, updates

Back to writing

It's been more than a year since I've written anything for any publication other than my own (which really isn't a publication per se, but whatever...more on that soon), but I'm happy to report that I'm back to what I love doing...writing about tech and the Internet!

 Clicking the screenshot will lead you to my new author page, where my work will be accessible.

Clicking the screenshot will lead you to my new author page, where my work will be accessible.

I've only written one piece so far, but I am hopeful that there will be more to come, so stay tuned!

writing

I can never stop talking about the perks of online dating

In my short stint as a Web writer for Digital Trends, I always tried to take all the online dating-related writing assignments. Why shouldn't I? I am, after all, one half of a successful OKCupid marriage. This fact made me feel like an authority of sorts on the subject.

So when my friend Camille asked me to write about it for Pacifiqa, I was more than happy to. Note to editors working for online publications: I will always be eager to write about online dating and share my thoughts, stories about the many people I've met, the various techniques I've employed, and the countless lessons I've learned. Just ask.

Feel free to read my article on Pacifiqa and use my experience to improve your online dating game.

writing, travel

First time, first class

Back in 2009, on our way home to Manila from Los Angeles, mom and I got offered $800 each if we allowed ourselves to be bumped off from our current flight for one scheduled to leave the next day. At that point, I had been out of school for a week, and if  I delayed any further, I could potentially max out my absences for this one class (that only allowed one absence for the whole term) and fail. So half-heartedly told my mom I couldn't, and that was that.

Except that wasn't that. My mom - who believes in fate and seizing opportunities -  felt really bad for missing out on the chance. "If we took the deal, our trip to the U.S. would've been for free!" Multiply that guilt trip by about a hundred...it was that terrible for me emotionally. This was something I couldn't handle (add to the fact that the professor for the class I was so afraid to miss and fail didn't even show up, BAH!).

Anyway, when J and I got a similar deal from Delta on our way back to San Jose from Utah, I remembered my mom and her disappointed face. J left it up to me (the same way my mom did back then, although she probably didn't mean it) to decide which one of us would stay behind (Delta only needed one volunteer) to claim the $400 reward. Inasmuch as I hate being apart from J, I volunteered.

It wasn't so bad. I had my laptop, I had my Kindle, I had my meal voucher, and hey, I had my $400 redeemable air miles. Added bonus: the lady at the counter bumped me up to first class!

Okay, for those of you who frequently fly first class, you might say, meh, first class on Delta isn't that great...WHATEVER. First class is first class. And it was free. I wasn't going to complain.

I got assigned to seat 1A...the very first passenger in first class! The seats were extra cushy. The flight attendant wanted to take my jacket, but I refused. She also offered me a drink before take off, but I settled for water because I wanted to be sure I wasn't overstepping my privileges.

first drink in delta first class.jpg

After perusing the magazine and texting J in a panic to ask if I indeed, could order booze for free, I finally got the courage to order my very first alcoholic beverage on a plane flight (I usually choose cranberry-apple or ginger ale because it's free). It was great! The guy next to me made eye contact, and since it was my first time in first class, I decided to be friendly to this stranger and told him it was my first time in first class. He made me feel more at ease and said that he only flies first class sometimes and that it was always a good experience. "They might even serve us a free meal!"

The flight wasn't long enough to warrant a free dinner (plus I already had dinner paid for by Delta before boarding), but first class did get more amazing snacks. AND THEY KEPT THEM COMING. They also kept the booze coming. I had three vodka tonics that night, hell yeah!

All in all, it was a great experience. I probably won't buy a first class plane ticket on my own any time soon (can't afford it), but if I ever get offered a chance to stay behind for one, I won't hesitate. :-)

writing, travel

The vagabond traveler is back: The trip, plus some realizations

I've been gone for a while, so here's a quick recap of what I've been up to.  I'm also going to let y'all know what I am up to, now that I am back. 

Where I've Been

Orlando

What really set this 19-day vacation into motion for The Traveling Kotenkos was the marriage between Daniel and Kari.

This is Kari and Daniel.  They both went to the same college as J.

This is their adorable little baby Ana.  She is one of the cutest babies ever!

J & J.  Wow, we clean up good!

So anyway, we spent a couple of days in Orlando after the wedding and went to Universal Studios.  I probably would have had a more awesome time at Disneyland, but Disneyland didn't have The Wizarding World of Harry Potter...that made our choice way easier.  IT WAS AWESOME.  I would have asked J to go through the roller coaster again in TWWOHP, but he wasn't feeling that great (we had a lot to drink at the wedding) and I didn't want to do it by myself.  Ahhh, so THAT'S why Kari had a shitload of Tums in her wedding giveaways for us!  Should've had the common sense to bring it with us to the theme park.

Hogwarts.  It was pretty damn spectacular.

Washington DC

We flew to DC and stayed with Jason's brother for 2 nights.  J ensured that a day would be enough to see the sights in DC.  It would have been true, if it didn't suddenly rain later on in the day.  We did get to see the monuments and I did get to see a few of the museums at the national mall, but we weren't able to go into the Capitol (it was a Sunday) and there was no time to check out the White House.

J&J in front of the DC Capitol

We did get to meet up with my cousin Johnny, though, whom I have not seen in 3-4 years!  He's one of my most favorite relatives and it was really heartwarming to see him.  He almost didn't come, but I expertly guilted him into showing up by saying that it's been years and that all I wanted from him was a hug. :)  He brought his girlfriend with him.

Pennsylvania

My mother-in-law picked us up from Jason's brother's place so we can spend some time with her and my father-in-law in the house J grew up in.  It was my second time in their house and in their town.  I always enjoy visiting because it reminds me of the village I grew up in.  It was small enough for people to know people (if not personally, at least by face), it was peaceful, it wasn't congested or polluted.  In short, the ideal place to raise a family.  I know people from small towns have big dreams of moving to the city, and maybe when J was younger, he too wanted to see the world, but there's definitely a charm to the small town life that appeals to me greatly.  Maybe after J and I have exhausted our vagabond traveling ways and are looking to rest for a while, we'd reconsider our options.

We also took a trip up to Edinboro, J's college town.  On the way there I had a slight mishap with the convenience store door, rendering two of my toes on the right foot torn apart and bloody, which sort of limited our activities from then on, but it was okay because 1) We got to spend 2 nights in a quaint little cottage, and 2) I fished for the first time and caught one!  J's dad threw mine back into the lake though since it was too small, but now I sort of get the appeal of fishing: it's a quiet activity, you get to relax, and you get a sense of pride when you catch a lot of fish.  It also doesn't hurt that you have a yummy meal ahead of you.  It was good...the only thing missing was a saucer of soy sauce and calamansi. :P

J's college house.  Adorable, ain't it?

Chicago

We drove all day from Edinboro to downtown Chicago without a plan or a hotel reservation, which was a mistake, we later on learned.  We actually got in early thanks to J's steady driving, but we ended up having to look for a place to stay for 3 hours until we settled on an expensive Country Inn & Suites hotel suite (we actually had hotel points that would've enabled us to stay for free, but J decided to save those for a more worthy cause in the future).  Traveler tip: Finding a hotel in Chicago is tough shit...better visit with a reservation prior to arrival.

Anyway, like I said, we absolutely had no plans for our stay in the city, so we did the touristy thing first and visited The Bean, which was pretty cool for about a minute--there were just too many people taking photos and whatnot!

That's me and J in the middle, with someone random behind us.

We also walked around...a lot.  I would've wanted to go to the art museum because they were featuring works of Roy Lichtenstein (one of my favorites!), but being the frugal folks that we are, we decided on going to a free concert instead.  Apparently they do this a lot, hold free concerts in Millennium Park, in an area where people can bring their own food and drink and chairs and relax.  We weren't as prepared as some of the people there (a couple had wine in glasses, a table, and fancy takeout from some Italian restaurant), but it was okay....we laid on the grass and drank our beer in cans.  It was great.  The concert?  It was Haydn's The Seasons, and the entire time we had no idea what season was being performed.  We were so confused we decided to leave during intermission.

We also visited the Lincoln Park/Zoo (is this what Linkin Park is named after?), which was awesome, despite not being able to see any bears.  We also had a bunch of good food (ribs = my fave = always good)...didn't get a chance to try deep dish pizza though.  I know, tourist fail.

Our stint in Chicago ended with a night out with some of Jason's college friends.  We drank and barely had time to sleep off our hangover before we had to head to the airport for our next leg.  Traveler tip:if you plan to get shitfaced before a flight...DON'T DO IT.  It does not feel good.

Utah/Idaho

This was the last stop in our very long trip, and I was very excited to see it (Idaho especially) since J refers to it as one of his most favorite places he has lived in.  It was just bad luck that I had a hangover and that we had to go through a lot of bull to rent a car from the Salt Lake City airport (read: modus operandi where they say they don't have your reservation, but they have a more expensive rental for you...nevah mind!), but that didn't stop us from having a good time.  Not even the fact that we had to stay in a Motel 6 for a night..tired people are not choosy people, I've learned.  And it was okay after that anyway...  We saw a little bit more of Utah and checked out the Mormon towns, which are impeccable.  Never mind the fact that they have weird beliefs in magic underwear, they sure know how to keep a neat and orderly lifestyle!  I also found out that Mormons are required to keep a year's supply of food and other amenities in their household for, ya know, in case life as we now know it collapses (this idea I actually support, seems like a good idea to be prepared for an apocalypse).  And yes, I met up with my MrazWomen friend Whitney. :)

We also ended up staying at J's former workmate's parents' mansion house, where there were 4 dogs and 9 horses free to roam about.  It was scary at first, but it didn't take me long to love it and wish I had a horse of my own (or wish that I knew how to ride one on my own, without assistance).

Our last few days were spent with Jason's old boss/mentor and his wife, and we also had drinks with some of his other former workmates from back when he was an intern at the national laboratory.  One of his workmates, Randy, had a garden full of tomatoes, peppers, and other herbs, and visiting them made me want to have my own garden of eatables so badly.  It further solidified my resolve that one day, small town life will be ours, J's and mine.  If not here, then maybe the Philippines.

And have this view, if not right outside my window (wishful thinking), then maybe an hour's drive away...

What I've Realized: A Consolidation

To make this part easier, I'll do a list:

Although doing things spontaneously and "winging it" are two of my favorite past times, I shouldn't do those things when my own wedding is concerned (which will be in January 2013, in Miami...more on this real soon).  I definitely want a small wedding like Daniel and Kari's.  Instead of my old plan of planning things out 1-2 months before The Day, I'm going to try and get started as soon as possible.

I know jackshit about the US, about its history, and its geography.  As an aspiring US citizen, I really need to get crackin' and find out more.  I've asked J to find me the best and most comprehensive American History book he can find that's not so hard to read.  I'm also making it a point to look at the US map that's on our apartment wall right now so I can get a better sense of what state is in what area.

* Like I've said previously...I think I am in love with the small town life.  I am unexpectedly enjoying being a housewife as opposed to my old dream of being a full fledged career woman, and the more I think about it, the more I think it's okay.  Maybe the modern woman is regressing to the old days when women ruled the household since female empowerment has already been established and we've gotten a taste of gender equality.  Maybe I've just been unemployed (in the corporate setting) for far too long that I've grown accustomed to my laid back routine.  Whatever the reason, I think that down the line, I'd rather enjoy my life in simple ways rather than work myself to the ground and enjoy the fruits of my labor a little too late.  The small town life is so awesome...waking up with the sunlight streaming into your room because there's no smog blocking it, hearing animal sounds instead of traffic noise, eating vegetables right out of your garden, having a barn full of animals.  IT ALL SOUNDS AWESOME.  And really, as long as I have Internet, I can pretty much occupy myself with other things if I really need the distraction.  I can even get a job and work from home if it's necessary.  Which leads me to the next one...

Working only when necessary...THAT IS THE ULTIMATE GOAL.

We're too old to get too shitfaced....AND THAT'S OKAY.

So far, that's all I have.  I've uploaded photos of our trip on my Facebook account, so if you're interested, just check there.

writing

The J&J Story, The Wedding: Our wedding vows

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Marriage is a very important step in a couple’s relationship, it signifies a promise that is made in the hearts of two people who truly love and respect each other. It is a pledge to be the best of friends and the most caring of partners. 

Happiness in a marriage is not something that just happens. A good marriage must be created and nurtured. In the art of marriage the little things are the big things.

It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say "I love you".
It is speaking words of appreciation and showing gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is cultivating flexibility, patience and understanding.
It is having the ability to forgive and forget.

It is not marrying the right partner; it is being the right partner.

writing

The J&J Story, The Engagement: How it happened through a small bottle of Absinthe

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We went over to our friends Daniel and Kari's house to celebrate a low-key New Year's Eve with them.  They served veggies and meat and cheese on a hot plate then chocolate fondue for dessert.  We spent our night playing a card game called Phase10 and even watched a live telecast of the ball drop at Times Square when the clock stuck 12.  We were drinking and having a fun time when we saw a collection of untouched absinthe bottles, which is a type of liquor that's known to be strong.  Dan dared Jason to drink the whole mini-bottle, and of course, Jason did.  Halfway through he stopped and looked like he was going to be sick.  He didn't throw up, but I knew he was done for the night.  We all took a small swig and DIED.  Apparently, absinthe needs to be diluted with water before drinking, and Jason drank it pure.  He said it felt like his esophagus was on fire.

 The dare that went wrong.

The dare that went wrong.

So Dan pointed us to a room we can crash in and helped Jason to bed while I helped Kari clean up.  When I got to the room Dan told me I didn't have to go to bed too if I still wanted to stay up and talk, but Jason gave me his puppy dog look so I told them I'd look after Jason and said good night.

Jason told me to get in bed and held out his arms, so I got in, turned the lights off and got into my usual fetal position, with Jason hugging me from behind.  I remembered that during Christmas, when his mom asked me what we planned to do when my visa expires, he said "she can extend" so confidently, and I knew for a fact that I couldn't extend because 6 months is the max for my visa, so I kept thinking he knew something I didn't, that he had a plan.  I knew it could be marriage, but it could also have been something at his job...maybe he was able to get me one, too.  So Christmas night, I asked him again (for the nth time) what his plans were, and he said his usual reply, "I've got it under control, trust me" with that exasperating grin of his.  So I said, "Will you at least tell me when New Year comes? I AM DYING HERE."  After a long pause, he said yes and that was the end of it.

So back to bed, fetal position, Jason hugging me from behind.  We were talking in whispers.

Jam: You owe me. What were you talking about last Christmas?

Jason: What do you mean?

Jam: What you told your mom about me extending?

(silence)

Jason: Do you want to get married?

(silence)

Jam: Huh?

Jason: Do you want to get married?

Jam: Do you?!

Jason: I do.

Jam: Are you sure???

Jason: I am. I've been sure for a long time. 

(silence)

(tears)

Jam: Wow.  

Jason: so...will you marry me?

Jam: Hell yeah!  Yes!  I've been sure for a long time, too!

Then Jason started explaining why he can't give me an expensive ring yet because he had to put money away for paying my adjustment of status process, but I just stopped him and hugged him tight and just told him I loved him.  He said he was happy and I said I was, too.  Then he kinda drifted off to sleep.  Meanwhile, I was eyes wide open, DYING TO GO ONLINE and tell someone, but the signal in the room was weak.  I couldn't fall asleep.  I was too happy and excited and I don't know...relieved that we wouldn't have to be apart for so long.

The next day, it was like nothing happened when we woke up.  We agreed not to tell anyone until we told our families, and Dan and Kari were actually also in the middle of planning an August wedding, so we didn't want to steal their thunder while we were guests in their house.

We left, got into the car, I turned the radio on and started singing.  It was like any normal day.  In the middle of some highway I just blurted out OMG ARE WE REALLY GETTING MARRIED?! :P The other day when I woke up, I looked at him and yelped, OMG ARE YOU MY FIANCE?!  Haha, it's funny.  It doesn't seem real to me yet that everyday feels like an OMG kind of day, and it will be that way until it actually happens, I think. :)

writing

The J&J Story, The Beginning: How jamglam met jfk32 and stayed together despite being an ocean apart

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jamglam was a Filipina in Manila looking for a worthy pen-pal to exchange email correspondences with.  An experienced participant of long-term, long-distance relationships, she didn't let proximity get in the way of true love, wherever that is.  She was also tired of dating Filipino guys, who don't seem to "get her".  She went on the dating website OKCupid to meet a man from a different place, to learn a different culture, to have a friend in another country she can visit in case her dreams of traveling the world come to fruition.  Also, she was new to online dating and was terrified of potential creepers, so she focused on people outside of the Philippines instead, just to be safe.

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jfk32 was an American in New Jersey who only came there to claim a free boat he found on Craigslist.  He really didn't know anyone in the area, and since he went there with a work-from-home job in the middle of winter, he had very limited opportunities to meet anyone new.  He's had a few girlfriends in the past and has tried casual dating for a while, but none of them have gone the distance or have been successful in keeping him interested in the long run.  He went on OKCupid with the hopes of finding gals to hang out with, armed with a firm resolve not to take anyone seriously just yet. Hey, a man's got to have high standards, ya know.

For some reason, jfk32 landed on jamglam's profile, and she happened to be online to catch that view as it happened.  Right away, she checked out his profile, liked what she read, and sent this message:

Hey there!
A discussion about life, the universe, and everything sounds awesome.
I was checking out your profile and I think you're an interesting guy. 
Lemme know if you want to get a correspondence going—easier to ramble on about life and anything like it if you have the option to compose it before sending :) Chatting is fine, too...I'm not here on OKCupid that often, but if you reply it'll get to me and I can give you my email address or skype/YM handle if you'd like.
Hope to hear from you soon!
Jam

His response:

If you want to talk, you should tell me about one dream you have for yourself. I don't even care if you make it up, or you haven't taken one step to get to it. I'm just interested in hearing what people have to say :-).
My dream is to sail around the world, stopping at as many countries as I possibly can, and staying in them as long as I can. I don't care if it takes me 10 years to get around the globe. I want to crack open coconuts with rocks and drink the sweet water inside, I want to jump off high cliffs into deep pools of crystalline water, I want to hike across deserts where nomadic herders still roam, visit cities and villages and no-man's-lands, meet people who challenge my American view of the world, and just get lost in life. It's crazy, it's over the top, but I think about it every day.
Anyway, get back to me if you want to talk!

In a span of a month, they went through all stages in the Getting To Know You phase of any online relationship.  Epic emails of a thousand words each turned into daily text chats on Skype.  Then voicemail mp3s sent by email.  Then finally, video calls.

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Fact: If you meet someone you can talk to every day and every night and still find the energy to email five times a day and not get sick of each other, then that's probably a great sign. 

I think they both realized that early on.  He first told her how he felt by sending a Youtube link to "I Think I Love You" by David Cassidy.  She eagerly answered him with "If I Fell" by The Beatles.  A month and a half later, he arrived in the Philippines (after traveling 17,000 miles) to come be with his girlfriend for two weeks.  That was enough time to make him realize that she's the one, the one to make him go back to the States, sell all his possessions, quit his job, and come back to be with her. 

After a full year of adventures visiting new places in the Philippines and Asia, she returned the favor and said yes to coming to the US with him to continue the dream.

feature, writing

Discovering the secret behind Sonya's Garden

The garden that started it all

01 Sonya's BNB.jpg

In the beginning, it was never meant to be a business. Back in the 1980s, all it was was an hectare of land full of possibilities. Armed with a great eye for detail, a well-developed artistic sense and a love for nature and gardening, she built herself a house with a huge garden. “Para lang kaming naglalaro noon [We were just playing then],” recalls Neneth Pendon, Country Bed and Breakfast Supervisor and the only employee today that was around during Sonya's Garden's inception. Sonya would invite close friends over for lunch and serve them delectable dishes using ingredients fresh from her garden. They were so enamored by her cozy home, her beautiful garden and her good cooking that they thought it only seemed right for her to start charging them a fee for the food. One greenhouse later, Sonya's Garden Restaurant was born.

Sonya's Garden Restaurant: a business by friends, for friends

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Floored with pebbles and blanketed by nothing but a plastic roof and adorned with simple curtains, Sonya's Garden Restaurant served only one course daily. When asked about her menu, she used to say, “I have no menu. I will tell you what to eat and what's healthy!” Guests would see the garden harvest first-hand and witness Sonya's staff bring it directly into the kitchen and then later on, their plates. Years later, her restaurant still only serves one type of set meal—garden salad fresh from her very own backyard, fresh bread, pasta, and local dessert—and the people who've tasted her cooking have no complaints.

To round up her tried and tested menu, she also recently added braised chicken with potatoes and roast chicken with herbs, available only through special order. For her overnight guests and for special groups of 20 or more, she designed an all-Filipino menu showcasing some of her local favorites to give everyone a taste of her good, home-cooked meals.

A perfect venue for your destination wedding

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Captivated by the beauty, the privacy and overall feel of the place, the son of one of Sonya’s friends expressed his desire to propose to his girlfriend in her garden. Despite being in business for a short time and with limited space to offer, Sonya and her staff made it happen, resulting in a very happy yes. Word spread and pretty soon, restaurant reservations started piling up, especially for that year's Valentines Day. To accommodate all the wedding reservations that started coming in, a second greenhouse was built. In December 2010, Sonya's Garden was the chosen destination of over 36 weddings, and reservations for the new year have already begun pouring in. They have an available wedding package catering up to 300 guests, including her famous and unchanging set meal.

Sonya's Country Bed and Breakfast: A refuge for friends

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The more Sonya developed and beautified her private world, the more people desperately wanted to stay.  Friends who frequented her home stayed long because of its relaxing ambiance.  It became a silent sanctuary, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. One day, one of her friends playfully suggested she build a new structure for guests to spend the night in, since the number of visitors who had no intention of leaving was rapidly growing. Sonya thought it was a good idea and had a cottage built for her friends to call their second home. Soon, one cottage became two. Today, there are now 17 cottages within Sonya's Country Bed and Breakfast, all named after her favorite herbs. Decorated with a hint of Italian, Balinese and Filipino design, the Country Bed and Breakfast truly captures Sonya's personal taste. One of the most unique features of the rooms is the batalan, an outdoor-style bathroom that has loose pebbles for its flooring.  It is placed indoors, giving the guests a unique feeling of being out in nature while in the privacy of their own rooms.

For bed and breakfast guests, Sonya provides “Art of Doing Nothing” lessons for free. It has almost everything, from basic gardening, compost making, plant propagation, and making natural pesticide to flower arrangement, wreath making, walking, and trekking. Other activities are also available, depending on the schedule and season, like firefly watching (during mating season), cooking lessons using herbs (to be scheduled upon reservation), and yoga lessons, courtesy of Sonya herself.  Given this wide array of things to choose from, you have the option of enjoying the quiet and relaxing atmosphere or turning your stay into an enlightening experience.

The revitalizing comforts of Sonya's Sensuous Spa

To complete their ultimate experience of relaxation at Sonya's, people who would spend the night would bring with them their own massage therapists from the city. Like all the other wonderful ideas of her friends in the past, Sonya took this one and made it happen by adding it to her growing empire. She started training her own massage staff and provided her own spa services to guests.

Sonya's Sensuous Spa offers all kinds of massage, from Swedish, Shiatsu, Tuina (Chinese) and Thai to Sonya's Signature Massage, a combination of all types of massage featuring Sonya's favorite massage strokes. There are various packages named after Sonya's favorite flowers, all including a type of body scrub, full body massage, facial and hair spa. All-Filipino Spa Services are also available, including hilot, the traditional Filipino massage technique. They use a wide variety of oils and essences, all of which are also for sale at the Beyond Scents store next to the spa.

The tale of the Panaderia

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Sonya doesn't only take inspiration from her own interests and ideas as well as her friends'—she also makes it a point to help bring out the best in the people she employs. After getting lost a couple of times during their trips, her driver expressed his desire to do something else. “Ano naman ang gagawin mo [What will you do]?” “Magtatanim po [I will plant]!” Sonya was so delighted by this that she agreed.

After further prodding, Sonya found out that her driver had a lot of experience working at a bakery. During a time when the restaurant's kitchen ran out of bread, the ex-driver used the only small oven they had to try and bake some.  The resulting loaves turned out to be so good, the guests asked for more. With only a small oven and almost a hundred people to feed, he would have needed to bake for 24 hours straight! It was then that Sonya decided to get more ovens and put up a Panaderia and left her former chauffeur in charge. He began experimenting in the kitchen. He started making Spanish bread originally meant to be sold to the staff, but the guests loved it so much, they would fight among themselves over it just to be first in line. To this day, the Panaderia's Hispanis Bread is one of their best sellers. Along with it are the super luscious chocolate cake, and Lola Liling's Sans Rival cake.  Lola Liling is Sonya's mother, an accomplished cook herself.

Sonya's Panaderia also offers baked goods for the health-conscious. The oatmeal cookies that are made without egg are perfect for vegetarians, while sugar-free breads are well loved by those afflicted with diabetes.

Sonya shares her passion

Do you like the china used at the restaurant? Fancy the curtains in your room at the bed and breakfast? Does the scent of the massage oil used at the spa relax your nerves? Ask the staff about them, and they will tell you that the wonderful trinkets, artifacts and other beautiful items and products around the compound are treasures Sonya has collected from her many trips out of the country. Most of them are sold at the Country Store.

Aside from sharing her immense love for art and design through the foreign products she sells at the souvenir shop, she also shows her desire to help the community by actively supporting and promoting Filipino entrepreneurs through the local, all-natural products her store carries.

The secret

Sonya's Garden is an enterprise that springs from one great idea after the other. Most of them may have come from her friends, but she always manages to put a little something of herself into each one.  Everything you see in this breathtaking piece of paradise—from the perfectly placed flower boxes in her garden to the expertly managed and beautifully decorated bed and breakfast—is a manifestation of Sonya’s personality.

A well-tended garden full of flowers in bloom. A healthy lifestyle free from illnesses fostered through fresh and nutritious food. A community of service-driven and nature-loving people. Those are the things that make Sonya happy and content, and those are the secrets that make her garden such a joy to visit.

+++

How to get to Sonya’s Garden:

From South Superhighway exit Santa Rosa and turn right towards Tagaytay. Upon reaching main Aguinaldo highway, turn right toward Nasugbu, Batangas. Go past Tagaytay Rotonda and proceed for 10km. After Splendido Golf course and Sunrise Hill make a right turn on the Buck Estate. Drive for 2km and watch out for Sonya's on the left side. Use the first gate and drive towards the end of the driveway and make a right towards parking lot.

For reservations:

Call/text: +63917.5329097 / +63917.5335140 / +63917.5231080

Email: info@sonyasgarden.com

Website: http://www.sonyasgarden.com

Published in Batulao Magazine, March 2011 issue

Photos by Jason Kotenko

list, writing, how to

How To effectively get off your ass and write, write, write

For as long as I can remember, I've always enjoyed writing.  From the many well-kept notes I had in school (my classmates all wanted to photocopy my immaculate study materials come exam week) and the many blogs I started to the numerous features and literary pieces I wrote while I was active in the college paper and the still-existing list of blogs under my name, we can pretty much conclude that yeah, I live and breathe the written word.

I love writing, but sometimes I write about stuff I don't particularly love, and that's okay to a certain degree.  I say that based on experience--these days, I have found myself more frequently reaching that degree and I almost always feel stuck.

So the question is, how do I wriggle myself out of being stuck?  How do I create time to write about stuff that I actually love and give a damn about?

I chanced upon a link on Twitter that led me to a list of tips that will help you make room in your otherwise busy schedule (hey, playing Angry Birds, Facebooking, and watching Glee replays count as activities, too!) for some writing to be done.  I shall simply re-iterate tricks mentioned by editor Victoria Mixon in her site and add my interpretation, not only to get you lazy bums back into your writing groove, but also to slap me in the face in greeting every time I attempt to go off-course.


1. Unhook.
  Basically don't even launch Google Chrome (or whatever browser you prefer) that automatically loads your Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Youtube, Reddit or other social networking account that causes you to be a mindless drone who unknowingly puts a pin through your balloon of motivation every goddam time.  DON'T. DO. IT. NO. MATTER. HOW. BORED. YOU. ARE.

Your notifications and @replies will all still be there a few hours from now.  Sure, Google Reader might go apeshit and stack up to 100 or so unread items, but that's the beauty of the "Mark As All Read" button (you can hit it, I won't tell), that's why entries can be sorted into topics.  So you can skip the ones you only subscribed to just to fil up your reader and read it when you've got nothing else to do.  While you're on a quest to exercise your writing chops, do yourself a favor and rearrange your daily routine by putting "getting some writing done" on top of the list.

2. Close your mouth.  A kinder way of saying, shut the eff up.  Wait for your empty brain to reboot and start filling up with words, thoughts, ideas, the whole shebang.  Have a pen and notebook (I like Sharpies and unruled paper) handy, or open Notepad and begin writing down whatever comes to your mind.  It doesn't have to make sense right away.  Writing in bullets can sometimes be a great way to organize brain content later on.

3. Plug your ears.  Or if you share your workspace with your incredibly hot boyfriend like I do, stop yourself from looking behind you to check him out--you can have all the hankypanky time you want later.  Earphones help if you are the type who can concentrate with music playing in the background.  Otherwise, you can invest in a couple of ear plugs or just master the art of zen and drown out everything that surrounds you.  It's hard though, especially if there's a damn construction site next door.  If you can successfully drown that out, you're awesomesauce.

4. Watch the clock.  In my case, I use Google Calendar to create my task list and Qlock for alarms.  Make sure to work on a schedule and try your damdest to stick to it.  Don't be cruel to yourself though by scheduling unrealistic time frames.  Squeeze in a couple of breaks so you have time to unwind.  If to you unwinding means Facebook and Twitter though, think twice before you schedule those in between writing tasks...you might be risking loss of momentum.  Take breaks for snacks, a quick walk, maybe even a power nap.  Reserve Internet surfing for after you finish all your work.  Trust me, I've made that mistake quite a few times already, and I always end up having to cram my work a few hours before my deadlines.  I always finish and I always convince myself that I work better under pressure, but a loud voice in my head goes, "HAH!" every time I pull that excuse out of my ass.

5. Take advice.  The list says to get a great book about writing, letting it fall open randomly and start reading.  I have a couple of great books I can try this with.  It sounds like a great tip.  Mine are more about screenwriting and story development though, which is probably a good start.  If you don't have books on writing readily available and you have great self-control, you can try Google searching writing tips AND ONLY writing tips.  If you feel like you're losing it, don't be afraid to copy paste content quickly into Notepad and shut that web browser down.  Nope, minimizing won't work.  If you really want to do it, do it right. 

6. Doodle a name.  Write it, type it.  If you feel like you've immersed yourself too much into reading writing tips, write down random names you'd like to give your characters. If you're not specifically writing a story, then doodle your crush's name.  Doodle a song lyric.  Allow the words to evolve into something completely different and work your way from there.

7. Drink tea.  If you dislike the leafy aftertaste of tea like I do, try adding milk and ice.  Oh wait, list says "something warm and comforting".  Maybe warm milk?  Hot cocoa?  As long as you have a nice, go-to drink to keep you energized that's not a plateful of bacon (unless you're dead hungry, but eat light meals!), an espresso, or booze, you're good to go.

8. Zonk out.  Don't feel bad for taking a nap.  That loud ringing in your ears or those throbbing temples are your brain's way of telling you to time out, ease up a bit and take things slow.  Maybe dream a little while you're at it.  Sometimes stories resume in our sleep.

9. Disappear for a week up a river or a mountain, break a leg, and get snowed in.  If nothing works, swap your setting for something else.  Change your environment if the walls feel like they're closing in on you.  Assign yourself a temporary new work place.

Here's to wishing you (and myself) a heartfelt good luck with your next writing expedition.

writing, college

Graduation tale

Pick me up love / From the bottom / Up to the top love / Everyday…

My computer—my most loyal companion for the past couple of weeks since my last term in college ended—is playing the Dave Matthews Band track Everyday, which has been playing daily, promptly, at exactly 7:00 AM, the time I am programming my insomniac self to wake up so I can get my much-needed regular exercise.  Only today, I set it at 5:30AM, and it’s not because I missed three days worth of early morning jogging (another habit I would like to make regular).  I set it early because at 8:00AM today, I am expected to attend my graduation.

So yes Dave, I am up, only after three hours of sleep; it doesn’t even feel like I’ve had any.  To tell you honestly, I don’t even feel the excitement one ought to feel at the impending end of one’s scholastic experience.  I don’t feel the usual graduate-to-be’s anxiety over the fact that after today, she will be another member of the growing population of the unemployed.  I am not sure what the reason really is, but one thing’s for sure…if there is anything that is supposed to hit me today, right at this moment, the moment I wake up to a day marking yet another accomplishment, it has not made its rightful kaboom yet.

I trudge towards the bathroom, splash cold water on my face, take a quick cold shower (they are the best in this heat), get in my white-polka-dotted-with-black dress and 4-inch pumps (they can kill people, and my feet too!), make my face up (which sounds really weird, now that I have typed it), grab a few chocolate chip granola bars and took two sachets of 3-in-1 coffee, empty it into my Starbucks tumbler, put in an inch of hot water to dissolve the powder first before pouring in cold water and ice, to complete my wake-me-upper drink.  Kia texts and tells me that there is virtually no traffic and that she will meet me at the graduation venue.

In the car, I try to play an mp3 CD I burned earlier of a couple of songs from my Up And At ‘Em Playlist, but the car radio fails miserably, and we are forced to listen to early morning radio.  Stephen Bishop’s It Might Be You plays and I cringe while I try to remember why I hated that song in the first place.  I think it has something to do with it being the theme song of a guy best friend in high school and his then-girlfriend.  I also remember that I sort of had a crush on him, and my gal pals Danii, Iris and Jomai (who are still three of my best-est friends to this day) could not understand why.  I also remember that we used to do spit shakes (yeah, in high school…how juvenile and disgusting) and he once dared me to wear his retainer, and I did.

As our car was making a U into the driveway of the venue, my dad asks me if I want a corsage for my chest, and I say I didn’t mind.  As if on cue, a strange man comes up to me as I was getting off the vehicle, with two corsages: one for me, one for mom.  I find it weird that my mom had to have a corsage, too.  As he pins the flower onto the toga I am hurriedly wearing, he mumbles, “Ma’am, 200 pesos for the two flowers.”  Oh, right.  Nothing in Manila is ever free.  I see Kia approaching us with her dad in tow, and like a mommy she reminds me that according to the grad invite, we are not allowed to wear flowers on our togas.  And the photographers outside are NOT official photo takers, so don’t get fooled (at this moment I feel immense gladness that I have her whenever I can’t bring myself to be a hard-ass.)  Mom scans the crowd for the strange man to return the flower we were fooled into buying.

My mom and dad document our walk to the entrance with their digicams and camera phones.  Kia and I make the best of it and pull Tyra faces while I help her get made up and while we fix each other’s togas.  We separate from our parental units and hurriedly go inside to find our classmates in Multimedia Arts already lined up for the grand entrance. We have about five minutes to kill before it starts, during which JM shows me his grape-flavored cigar (Kia says EEEWW) and I show them my iShuffle ingeniously hidden underneath my garb, in case the 3-hour name-calling got too boring.

The graduation march plays, and we are asked to start walking to our seats.  The person in front of me tells me to be careful going down the stairs, or we might do a domino effect and topple over like black tiles (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGnNlQ-KNv4).  I try to look for my folks in the sea of supporters.  I remember that I failed to tell them to choose seats on the right side so they were near my batch.  I hope they figure it out.

The professors do their entrance.  I find it sort of amazing that our teachers are required to wear the togas from the respective colleges they’ve graduated from.  Some are in black with red trim, blue trim, gold trim, some with weird-shaped hats, some with just sashes over formal wear.  The winner is an old math professor that had a pure gold toga and a cap that resembles a chef’s hat with gold tassel trimmings around the perimeter, making him look like a lampshade.

After everyone gets into place, the baccalaureate mass begins.  I think to myself, even if I am a non-practicing Catholic, I still have the mass responses pretty much memorized and it peeves me that they chose really weird mass songs for the choir to sing, ones the crowd can barely sing along with (I try to remember one of my more favorite mass songs, but I pull a huge blank).  Then I remember that I almost never attend mass anyway, only during occasions like this.  I start to think about religion, and I remember this OKCupid question I answered previously: Would you be willing to change your religion for your significant other?  Yes, No, Maybe/I Don’t Know?  Then I remember the movie Fools Rush In starring Salma Hayek and Matthew Perry wherein Salma’s character says that if they were to have kids, she would like to raise them Catholic (since she was Catholic).  Then that got me thinking really, really hard….what is Matthew Perry up to now?  Is it true that the whole gang agreed to film a Friends movie in 2011?  How much will they get paid if they used to be paid 1 million per episode before?

Another break, then the graduation proper begins.  Our college, School of Design and Arts, is the first to get called. There is only one graduate under the Music Production course, and he is not in his seat.  He probably didn’t bother attending.  The whole walk to the edge of the stage, I was chanting…don’t trip, don’t trip, damn I am hungry, don’t trip…  They call my complete name, which is 26 letters long, including my surname.  I walk towards Brother Vic, the school’s president, and I see a familiar smile on his face. “Jam!”  He knows me by my nickname and he seems mighty glad to hand me my fake diploma.  I grin my usual Jam grin, the ear-to-ear variety, and communicate this message with my eyes: Yes, Brother, I am graduating today.  With grace and with joy.  I walk a couple more steps towards the x mark in the middle of the stage, face the crowd, and do a little bow.  I get off the stage and walk back to my seat.  30 minutes into the program and my Kodak moment is over.  My poor parents have to sit through a few more hours of random names being called before we can leave for our celebratory lunch.  My seatmate Gab nudges me with his elbow and laughs when finally, our favorite person on the grad list gets called (Jacky A. Chen).  Finally the last girl on the list gets called.  She has the best deal if she decided to sign up for the video coverage; she got the most applause.

In the middle of the Magna Cum Laude’s speech while she recounts how she got to where she is and thanks her parents for sacrificing a lot to send her to this school, it hit me: IT IS FINISHED.  We sang the Benildean hymn, and I realize that after three years in this institution, I still have not memorized it.  The more general Lasallian alma matter hymn, I do know by heart.  This reminds me of the reggae version someone made: http://bit.ly/aKIH7Z

Everybody now wants to have a picture with anybody they know.  Kia and I start looking for our two favorite professors who decided to attend our graduation so we can say thanks, but we get sidetracked for photo ops multiple times along the way.  I am probably going to get tagged in X number of Facebook images, X being a gazillion.

After a few more minutes of camwhoring, I slowly walk, inch by inch, to our car.  My high heels are killing my toes off one by one. In the car, mom nags me that now that I am officially done with school, I ought to do my pending projects for them, like her website, the layout of the new book she is writing, my aunt’s brochures, and all these things she thinks I ought to do on a “family discount”.

We go into a Japanese restaurant and order plates of spicy tuna salad, ebi tempura, maguro and salmon sashimi. Spicy tuna makes me happy somehow.  I am glad my dad chose this restaurant for lunch.  Few more photos are taken; among my parents’ four children, I am the only one who actually went through graduation.  My older siblings just waited for their diploma in the mail and did not march.

My sister-in-law Gel and I go to the bookstore to get a few art supplies she needs while my sister and niece go to the pet store to get chew toys for their dog Twitch.  We agree to rendezvous at the frozen yogurt shop.  People in my immediate circle seem to love the stuff; personally, I’m more of a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream kinda gal. Gel and I walk over to Fully Booked.  While she looks over sketchpads and acrylic paints, I walk over to the sci-fi section to see if they had the book Cryptonomicon, a recommendation made by a new friend.  On our way back to the fro-yo shop, we ponder on this question: can people actually be born gay or do certain events in our lives trigger the inherent switch in all of us?  I think about the way that sometimes I find girl-on-girl kissing in movies hot (provided that one is Megan Fox and the other is Amanda Seyfried), but I cannot, for the life of me, imagine myself getting physically intimate with a woman.  Gel says, “If you can’t see yourself muff-dive, then you’re straight FOR SURE.”  I can pretty much claim that, thank you.

We get to the fro-yo shop.  Gel gets plain with mango, almonds and choco chips as toppings.  I, on the other hand, get choco chips, cocoa pebbles and choco syrup.  Yes, I completely ice creamed it up with all that chocolate, just the way I like it.  After a few more photos, mom inquires quietly, “Jam, how do I recover deleted photos?”  I ask her to hand it over and discover that my camera’s memory card is COMPLETELY WIPED OUT.

I spend most of the afternoon trying not to get too upset about that.  I even go with Gel to the front of the restaurant where we ate lunch to try and re-take some photos.  I keep her company and let my folks go ahead home.  We spend a hot day in traffic taking half-assed pictures in her Volkswagen Beetle to replace my deleted ones.  I still have a bit of hope that something can be done to recover them, though.

A few more hours are spent at the mall.  We walk around and look at stores.  I remember a guy once telling me that I would look really pretty and sexy with a flower in my hair, so I buy a headband that had one.  Jiki, Gel’s friend, comes to meet us and we hang out at one of our favorite restaurants, Cibo.  We order nothing, Jiki orders an iced tea.  More photos.

At this point in the story, I feel the fatigue set upon my abused body.  I have not been sleeping particularly well, you see.  8-10 kilometers away, my bed in my bedroom is giving me signals for me to come home and take refuge.  After a few more rounds in the mall, looking for a parlor that had vacancy for a mani-pedi or a spa for a massage, I call my mom to come pick up her favoritegraduate.  I need to go home.

She picks me up fifteen minutes later.  I get home, go straight to my bed, and fall into it face first.  Sigh, what an incredibly relaxing feeling, having 5 fluffy pillows cushion and cradle my tired body.  I look over to my inspiration wall and spot the post-it I put up around three months ago: Feb. 27, 2010.

It is finished.

writing, contest piece, college

Poll automation: Is the Philippines ready?

Since the birth of the Internet, more and more people have found it easier to use the computer in accessing a vast amount of information available. After years of development, it has become the easiest and most effective form of communication available to almost anyone. To keep up with the fast pace dictated by computer technology, more nations like the United States of America have turned to the convenience of the online world and applied its advantages to something that affects their entire country—voting for their government leaders through poll automation.

The Philippines is not one to allow itself to be left behind—our capability to keep up with technology is apparent in the multitudes of gadgets we own that we update almost as fast as electronics companies make them. However, considering our government’s notorious reputation marred by graft and corruption, is this proficiency sufficient to prove that we are mature enough to handle something as serious as poll automation in the upcoming 2010 elections?

To take as an example, in most schools like La Salle, we have the luxury of machines that accept polls with slates blackened to symbolize choice (remember your multiple-tests and the evaluation questionnaires you are required to answer every term?). In the US, they use a similar method in tabulating votes during elections, and based on results, this process yields a more accurate response. Computers now have touch-screen monitors with the ability to record fingerprints—an incredibly efficient way of detecting flying voters and tamper-proofing the ballot counts.

The fact that we have comparable systems only proves that we have the necessary skills to use our available resources and make our voting process more effective and efficient at the same time. However, our path to progress is stunted time and time again by the corruption of the people in office. Despite our government having the budget for automated polls and computer education, somewhere down the hierarchy all the money disappears, and we have no choice but to depend on the not-so-accurate and not-always-honest poll watchers and counters to help decide which of the candidates are put into office.

A computer-automated 2010 elections may seem like a very promising option for our country. It may help lessen (if not completely eliminate) the number of repeat voters and may increase the accuracy of the vote count. But if the people responsible for putting this technology into action are still stuck in their old habits, Filipino voters and poll watchers alike seem to have no other choice but to be stuck just like them.

(Winner, 1st Place, Campus Journalism Awards 2009 under the Editorial Writing - English category)

writing, contest piece, college

The online nation: The Internet’s role in today’s media

Where the Internet is about availability of information, blogging is about making information creation available to anyone.


- George Siemens

Consider the current situation: Since the invention of the computer, more and more people have gained literacy and awareness. The Internet, after years of development, has become the easiest and most effective form of communication available to almost anyone, bridging distances of global proportions. As of June 30, 2008, 1.463 billion people use the Internet. Its reach has become so awe-inspiring that even those who don’t usually voice out their sentiments are now blogging about them 24/7.

The Evolution of Man In-the-Know
Back during the days of war, colonization and in our case, martial law, only members of the press cared about the sacred freedom of the press; others were either blissfully unaware or simply uninterested in the merits this simple principle afforded us. Now, more of the older, more traditional modes of communication and information dissemination are gradually being overtaken by the fast pace of modern technology. These new methods have with it advantages that improve their freedom of expression—from satellite televisions and voice over Internet protocols to web-based publishing. These simple tools have armed us not only with easier means to communicate, but also the sincere desire of being up-to-date with the latest trends, not to mention gaining awareness in issues directly affecting our personal lives.

Birth of the Online Nation: Blogging as a Way of Life
Writing is one of the longest-standing modes of relaying thoughts and opinions known to man. From the time we first learned to write in our diaries to the first moment we were tasked to type a book report in school using the typewriter, the same progress has been made through the Internet.

A Web log (blog) is a site usually maintained by a person that discusses a wide range of topics, anything from daily rants to description of events and political opinions.

After years of availability, blogging has become another household name and has, quite literally, become a way of life for many people. Businesses have accepted the importance of being available on the World Wide Web; websites like eBay and Amazon allow people to shop in the comforts of their own homes and allow people to advertise the many services and products they have to offer. Newspapers have broken the boundaries of print media by having websites of their own that update their content in real-time, acting as information gateways to billions of Internet users hungry for information.

Blogging has ideally transformed itself into the crossroads where all forms of media combine—TV footage immortalized by the videos on Youtube; your favorite radio tunes, on rewind, brought to you by lastfm; national and world news reported to you as it happens by CNN.com and Inquirer.net; even your favorite magazines, catalogued and shared through issuu.com. All these can be conveniently archived and shared by bloggers worldwide in their very own place in cyberspace.

Media and Responsible Blogging
In old-school information dissemination, thoughts on paper go through a long list of channels. Blogs and the Internet allow writers of all sorts to bypass all that and send messages directly to the public. With that in mind, there is a bigger tendency to also bypass copyright and the necessary role of mass media in feeding mankind with reliable news. With online content largely generated by the users themselves, an education in online information validation, proper citation, and proper online etiquette is needed to keep in balance the potentially negative effects this important technology has. The fact that almost everyone is online, more people ought to care about not just the perks of freedom of expression, but also the underlying responsibility that goes with it.

Blogging as a Defining Factor to What’s Important
Blogging widens the range of topics people are most concerned about. As bloggers, we define what issues ought to be buried (like maybe, how Bush is probably the worst American president ever, or the overly discussed Jen-Angelina feud), and what ought to be given proper attention (like the rise of Obamanism, or the declining prices of gasoline and other commodities).

Based on results, with the ever-present change the current media landscape is undergoing, blogging will forever be part of the important milestone linking old media to the current trend of technology as well as the developing attitude we have towards it.

Reference: World Internet Usage Statistics News and Population Stats updated June 30, 2008 http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog http://www.maxgladwell.com/2008/12/media-landscape-newspapers Websites named in the article were searched under Google.com.

(Winner, 2nd Place, Campus Journalism Awards 2009 under the Features Writing - English category)

writing, contest piece, college

The Nasser incident: Is the Internet to blame?

Along with the Internet came the birth of blogging, a tool that allows any computer-literate individual to broadcast his or her point-of-view in any topic available. Blogs are now widely used for any reason—from something as trivial as one’s daily rants to something as important as hard-hitting world news brought to you as it happens in real-time.

However, this phenomenon comes with it a very important fine print: the information you get online can be ranged anywhere from completely accurate to misleading, biased and blown out of proportion. Because of this, its readers are left with the important task of intelligently forming their opinions based on what they think are valid sources.

Take for example the Nasser Vs. Dela Paz incident. According to various news reports, Secretary of Agrarian Reform Nasser Pangandaman, Sr. and his son, Mayor of Lanao del Sur Nasser Pangandaman, Jr., allegedly beat up 56 year-old dela Paz along with his 14 year-old son. Due to emotional distress, the Dela Paz party did not file a complaint at once. However, Bambee, dela Paz’s daughter, blogged about the incident and garnered many sympathetic readers. With the incident now the center of popular discussion over the World Wide Web, dela Paz pushed through with their complaint.

Though the court responsible for this case saw the Pangandamans as innocent until proven guilty, the damage done to their reputation online pushes reasonable doubt aside. It seems that whether or not the Pangandamans are guilty, the freedom of expression brought by the Internet has already shed a bad light on the politicians, strengthening the cause of the other party by a small margin. The counter-suit they filed complaining of physical injuries and insisting that they weren’t the ones who started the fight are now seen as a feeble attempt at trying to save face instead of it being given credit.

Though blogs are protected by the same law protecting the freedom of the press, it is up to us people on the outside to keep the sanctity of the justice system by being responsible bloggers. Some situations can be retold online without meriting disastrous consequences, some situations require a little bit of decency and due process because of its adverse affect on the people involved. Some are factual news with the right amount of sources cited to make it legally binding, some are solely based on first-person point-of-view, hearsay and opinion.

In the end, it is still up to the reader (and blogger) to know the difference.

(Winner, 1st Place, Campus Journalism Awards 2009 under the Editorial Writing - English category)

writing, contest piece, college

Family beyond blood

“The family is one of nature's masterpieces."

—George Santayana, Spanish-American philosopher, poet and humanist, 1863-1952

In today’s world marred by hypocrisy, war and injustice, we are faced with opportunities to meet certain people or situations that can become obstacles to our pursuit for a happier, more content life. In troubled times like this, we can only rely on our kin for loyal support and unconditional love.

Back in grade school, we were taught that a family is a small group of people bound by the same blood running through their veins. Our teachers showed us pictures of a mommy and a daddy with children who had the same facial features. Along with this lesson, we were introduced to the many races of the world as well as our differences that set us apart from them.

Filipinos: Diversity Personified
Let’s take our country’s history in consideration. In the Philippines , ever since the Chinese started trading with us back in the pre-colonial era, from the Spanish colonization to the American regime until now, we have been exposed to a number of cultures which make up our currently very colorful way of life. We have grown accustomed to various cultural influences, beliefs, principles, and customs. Our past directly affected our physical appearance, our spiritual and mental makeup, our emotional sensibilities and the like. Because of our background, as a nation, we are not inclined to discrimination.

Racial Prejudice: An Old School Tradition
In other countries, although through time more people are becoming more comfortable with the idea, the blending of the races is still looked upon with a skeptical eye. We look at our television screens in awe at Angelina Jolie’s growing brood of assorted ancestry and wonder, “does it really work, caring for a child not your own?” When we see an African-American man with a Caucasian woman, people still look, comment and sometimes silently disapprove. No amount of cultural evolution or modernized morals can change the fact that when two people of different backgrounds are united, regardless of romance, intelligence or level of liberalism, it still doesn’t quite add up for some who haven’t outgrown their traditionalist ways.

To Filipinos, a person’s worth goes beyond the color of one’s skin or the number of peso bills in one’s pocket. As long as you live in the Philippines and enjoy being here, you can be called a Filipino. Kahit sino, pwede maging Pinoy! Take a look around and you will see the many different faces of various types of people who have considered our country their new home.

Welcome to the Philippines , where everybody is welcome to be part of a family. In a place where the concept of family is top priority and love is free-for-all, whether or not you’re a Dela Cruz or a Lee or a Johnson or a Panemanglor does not really matter. A family that lives in harmony and love despite their obvious differences is still a family in the end.

Diversity in Family: A Step Closer to a United World
Due to unbearable living conditions some may have experienced alongside the ever-present poverty line, many of our fellow Filipinos have opted to leave the motherland to seek a better life on the other side of the white picket fence. However, they still bring with them their Filipino sentimentality: you can take the Filipino out of the Philippines , but you can’t take the Philippines out of the Filipino. Wherever they decide to go, whether for work or to raise a family, they still hold in their hearts the same high regard they have for their loved ones.

Today, armed with the quick solution of immigration and inter-racial marriage to escape the hard life, Filipino immigrants abroad are actually taking us a step further to close the racial gap between nations. Parents of an inter-racial family are inclined to value the importance of uniqueness and diversity as well as the beauty in people of all races, shapes and sizes. The child born from an inter-racial marriage exudes a stronger sense of self with a heightened appreciation for different cultures.

In a world marked by ethnic boundaries, multi-racial families provide convincing evidence that races can co-exist, not only in the same town or country but in the same home. It strengthens the age-old belief that we are all brothers and sisters, stemming from the same family tree. It takes the future of a united world from the dark corners of our dreams and actually brings it into the light of a possible reality.

(Winner, 3rd Place, Campus Journalism Awards 2008 under the Features Writing - English category)

college, opinion, writing

Of lists and principles

Random obvious fact: loneliness can be a bitch to deal with. Whether you already have a significant other to call your own or not, it doesn’t exclude you from the hordes of hopefuls waiting for that one bigoomph that will catapult one’s life from the pits of depression into sheer relationship bliss. We all have lists and we all want a perfect happy ending.

A certain hopeless romantic recently let me in on his secret when it comes to “finding the one”. He fondly calls it the “pie principle”: for a person to make it to the next level, she (in his case) has to satisfy the physical, intellectual, and emotional requirements set by the one in search of The One. Back in high school over a decade ago, my best friend and I made The List. It had specific qualities and attributes we wanted in a boyfriend. It had everything—from “wide reader” and “good conversationalist in English” to “athletic” and “incredible sense of humor”. She ended up with a gambling drummer ex boyfriend with the emotional mood swings of a PMS-ing teenager. I, on the other hand, had to go through a bi-curious fella and an over-achieving relationship doofus before I got lucky with an okay mate nine years my senior. What’s up with that? Is setting relationship goals considered idealistic? Can’t we enjoy the entire pie?

We all want a perfect happy ending, and that includes the perfect person to share it with—the complete package. So what does a person usually do until that scenario presents itself? Go on countless dates. Flirt like there’s no tomorrow. Collect and select. Whatever it is, people do it armed with the hope that someday, all that’s going to end with a Kodak moment and a surefire answer to the ultimate dating question: is this it?

Good sense and high hopes tell us that love, companionship and joy are for everyone. However, we each are wired differently—we see from many points-of-view and choose to take different paths. Some see the logical mathematical equation: you plus me equals we, provided that you plus your goals is equal to me plus mine. Some are driven by either that incessant butterfly fluttering in their stomachs or that nagging voice inside their heads. Whatever the motivation, the destination is still the same—a happy life shared with someone.

We are complicated beings. Most of us have strong tendencies to want what we don’t or can’t have. We send out mixed signals and we choose to read between the lines. One of the reasons why so many people have a hard time looking for love, happiness and everything else in between is because of high expectations—they ruin relationships, especially the ones that haven’t even begun yet. Instead of inviting people in, they build walls. They delay the pursuit of happiness and prolong the excruciating pain of loneliness.

No one is completely alone, though. I’d like to think of life as one humongous jigsaw puzzle, and the world populated with literally billions of people waiting to be the put in the right place. If you meet someone who doesn’t quite cut it according to your standards, don’t fret and immediately close the door on that opportunity. Pie principles and lists of qualification don’t determine a person’s worth to be part of your life. Give it a shot and be the one who brings out the hidden qualities in that person that will ultimately make the pie whole, the complete package.

Lists honestly don’t matter in the end—eventually, we find someone who’s the only exception.

(Published in The Benildean, the official college paper of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde)

college, opinion, writing

Indecent proposal

Most of us grew up being taught good manners and right conduct—it was a subject in grade school, even. There are also signs everywhere, telling us what we should do and what rules we should abide by. Despite that fact, there’s still garbage on the streets, irresponsible pedestrians who ignore traffic lights, men peeing on walls, and vandalism on bus seats and bathroom doors. How come, even though we know it’s something improper and frowned upon, we still do trivial acts of indecency?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean “flashing me your penis” kind of indecent, but rather the simple rude things people think they can get away with every single day without anyone giving a damn. Take for what happened to me earlier this month. While I was choosing a bus decent enough to ride to school without having to worry about the scorching heat, stuck in place due to the two heavy paper bags I was lugging around, a man from a passing open-air bus spat on the street shamelessly. Unfortunately, his revolting glob of mess landed on my pant leg. Who does that? What, too lazy to whip out your handkerchief? Can’t your spit wait until you get off at the next bus stop so you can aim it at a trash bin instead of an innocent bystander’s leg? The only thing that stopped me from screaming out profanities was the fact that masses of people were elbowing each other to get to the other side of the highway populated with various “no jaywalking” signs.

Which made me remember another instance—the way passengers on the LRT and MRT act. There are people who want to get on the train so bad, they elbow their way through troves of people who need to get out of the train. These people who seem to care only for their own personal space and are not mindful of anyone else’s. People who ignore queues as if they didn’t have a purpose. How hard is it to understand: when someone is lined up at the LRT stop, you get behind that person and respect the fact that he got there first. Don’t sneak up beside him in the hopes that you beat him to the door opening for a better seating opportunity.

Why do these things still happen? Maybe it’s a force of habit or the fact that we see a lot of people get away with it so often that we think it’s all right. Whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter. Rudeness will never have a legitimate excuse, at least in my books.

We’ve got to stop being crass and start becoming more aware of our surroundings. Just look around you—doesn’t the sight of chaos and filth make you want to be a better citizen, a better member of the human race? If that doesn’t do it, give the Golden Rule a shot. If you don’t want someone’s spit to be on you, then I guess you’d have to hold yours in for the time being.

(Published in The Benildean, the official college paper of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde)

college, writing, opinion

Luck schmuck

In life, people do bogus things to get fate on their side. Athletes wear their overused lucky bacon-gartered underwear for the win. Gambling hopefuls blow on their dice—sometimes kiss them like they would a lover—toward the jackpot. Some people consult their horoscopes religiously. Others, the calendar. This year is very lucky. Especially on July, 7, 2007. Opportunity will open its doors and all your wishes will come true.

That, my friends, is the day when my mother’s water bag broke over a mahjong game she was winning and gave birth to me while she was sedated. My birthday this year is 07-07-07. My name is Frances Kristin Jamille (777). I turned 23. Two plus three isn’t seven, but you get the picture. If luck were based on numbers, then I could be considered pretty damn lucky.

I didn’t get emergency superhuman powers. I didn’t suddenly wake up in the middle of the night with the body of Wonder Woman. Johnny Depp didn’t magically apparate in his Jack Sparrow costume to wish me Happy Birthday. Basically, I’m still me. Unlike probably thousands of people that day, I didn’t bet on the number seven in the Lotto. I didn’t hit the slot machines at the casino. I didn’t get married and have babies.

So what’s the big deal? Sure, my fellow Cancerians had something to brag about that day; it would be a cool license plate to have. Never again in this century would we have a triple number “lucky” date (okay, maybe in the year 2077, but that’s a long way off).What happens the day after? We become ordinary again?

Sure, luck can be delicious if you get to have the better bite, but in the pot of stew we call life, it’s not the main ingredient—it’s the salt and pepper added to taste. We still have to get up in the morning with the obligation to give ourselves the boost to work hard to be able to achieve what we want to make out of our consumer-driven lives. We still have to face the consequences of our actions with heads up high. Celebrate if something goes your way. Suck it up and take responsibility for the unsuccessful decisions. Basketballs won’t magically shoot themselves ringless because you have your undies from high school on; practice does make perfect. Rolls of the dice are not pre-ordained—you win some, you lose some (Note: Winning gambles on a regular basis is not a sign from God that you abandon your studies and pursue a career in professional poker. Do it for fun!). Just because Libre tells you that you will come across your future girlfriend at the Vito Cruz station, it doesn’t mean you stop making a good first impression.

Doors to opportunities do open, but not all the time, and not to people with nothing under their belts but blind hope. The cliché is true: there are many fish in the sea, and luck is not the thing to make you different from every other fish. Work hard, play hard, pray hard. Sure, make a wish when you blow out your birthday candle, amuse yourselves with your horoscopes, light a candle and burn a paper with your list of wants on it while chanting—it could be fun. Just don’t sit on your ass wishing on the first star you see with crossed fingers, waiting for something magical to happen. Get out there and show them what you are made of—a unique and industrious individual with substance and a great attitude. Take an actual step forward nearer toward your goals.

Being born on July 7 didn’t make me a better person. I still lose my homework. I still get seatmates on the bus simmering in their body odor. I still get viruses on my computer. I still say stupid stuff that gets me into trouble sometimes. That doesn’t stop me from being me, though. The me who stays up all night just to re-type my paper. The me who steadfastly stands on the aisle of the bus carrying a humongous bag. The me who refuses to kiss her external hard drive goodbye without exhausting all possible solutions. The me who knows the value of saying sorry. And the more I think about it, being me isn’t so bad after all.

(Published in The Benildean, the official college paper of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde)