Tan-Ong Family

December 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

End of year Malacca trip with labmates. :)

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goodluck to me

November 29, 2017 § Leave a comment

I found myself calling my grandmother’s number a few hours before my PhD thesis oral defense.  She was never good in empathizing, I wasn’t sure myself why I decided on doing so when I could have just called her after, at least what she had to say would have been outright obvious depending on the outcome.  I didn’t call anyone else, in fact.  She picked it up before I could act on the thought of canceling it, and so I told her it was my final exam in a few hours.  I felt her search for words and come up with only long pauses and awkward sentences which didn’t say much.  It was typical of her when she was at a lost of what to say.  I smiled to myself and helped her by saying “sana matapos na po (I hope it finally gets over)”, and she let out a candid laugh and said “oo nga, ang tagal na niyan! mag-aapat na taon na … (yes, it’s been so long! it’s been 4 years already …)”.  I was about to say it’s been more than 4 years, but she quickly continued with “…na wala na si Clara (…that Clara’s been gone)”.  I confirmed her observation, my grandmother’s always been particularly good with dates.  Four years that I’ve been functioning without my mom, I thought to myself.  Not bad.

I’m writing this right before my defense, with no idea how it will go, knowing that I can only do my best.  I called my grandmother because I somehow felt she was the closest thing to my mom.  That in getting her blessing and prayers, I would somehow get my mother’s.  But in fact, all my friends and family’s well wishes of luck felt overwhelmingly from her.  Or perhaps it was from the universe, reminding me that though I am a minuscule part of its humongous whole, I am taken into account.

my three grandmothers

November 22, 2017 § 2 Comments

I have 3 grandmothers.

Nanay Auring, my dad’s mother, passed away when I was in 1st grade.  Her children’s stories of her beauty, intellect, culinary talent and strictness are well-known in the family.  Her former suitors, mathematical aptitude, Spanish specialties and outrageous acts of love for my grandfather are still the topic of reunion conversations to this day.  But I remember her most for the afternoons my Dad forcibly took me along to their ancestral house to practice the piano.  During that time, I saw those weekends as a painful act of discipline I was made to unfairly endure.  Looking back, I realize now that my Dad had partially made me an excuse to be able to regularly spend time with his mother.  As I sat on the piano and miserably practiced my assignment from my piano teacher, Mrs. Berenguer, I now recall how he went around cleaning the house and taking care of my then bed-ridden grandmother.  She would repeatedly groan “Daddy”, calling for my grandfather at every moment he wasn’t beside her, and I had gotten used to not minding it as I struggled with correcting my fingering.  I sat there wondering how she perceived the world around her.  If she still knew me.  She was my first encounter with diabetes.  The time we spent there would end with my dad finishing my grandma’s sponge bath, and making her drink her medicines.  He’d hide the tablets in mangoes or grind them with juice just to make her drink them.  That was either where I got my own reluctance to drink tablets, or my habit of asking my Dad to do the same for me back when he still conceded to my childish requests.  To this day, I take a good couple of minutes to drink them, and would prefer easier natural remedies not in the name of denouncing synthetic medicine but for the sheer despise of the gag reflex a tablet provokes in me.

Mommy Auring, my mom’s mother, and yes they were both named Aurora, moved to the U.S. before I even started nursery.   Together with my aunt, they braved the land of milk and honey for the quintessential American dream.  My brother and I grew up with all of her and my Tita Wowie’s balikbayan boxes. They were filled with fruit loops, chocolates, clothes and foreign toys that my parents did not spoil us enough to provide.  For that reason, we would eagerly look forward to that box every year, opening it and smelling the enclosed scent from a land far way, looking forward to perhaps the only toys we would own that we could brag about.  While my grandmother lives far away, visits and calls are moderately regular.  Although the frequency has substantially dropped after my mom passed away.  Mommy Auring is not the stereotypical grandmother portrayed as a person infinitely agreeable to grandchildren, but she was stereotypical in the sense that she did spoil us to some degree.  Due to circumstances, my grandmother did not grow up with a good education or family upbringing – and this has constantly been a source of conflict in the family.  Her life, although one could describe as having had a stroke of luck, was not devoid of difficulties nor was it copiously peppered with happiness.  Yet I know she tries her best.  She tells me about her lucky casino streaks and the stories of her friends over long distance calls.  Inevitable as well is the small talk about family, often repeated, at times intriguing, yet always with the same zest whether for praise or criticism.  Whenever I visit or she visits, she never fails to volunteer to buy me luxuries she can afford.  While some of her habits can be hard to live with, my brother and I would always recount her idiosyncrasies with fondness and humor.  I remember the first time I visited her after she left the Philippines, she fried me sunny side-up eggs on our first morning and as I eagerly waited to eat them with the then-novel bagel, she deftly cut out my favorite yolks and threw them to the trash before she laid them in front of me.  I stared at the gaping holes with shock as she told me they were unhealthy.  But I did not care for eating healthy at 9 years old.  I owe her my streak of fierceness, stubbornness and independence, the same traits that my dad would mock my mom and I for.  And while they may be the opposite of sweetness and kindness, those traits have allowed me to survive some of the hardest times in my life.

Yet I have a third grandmother, Mama Mila.  My maternal grandfather had several partners after his original wife – one was my grandmother, and the last one being Mama Mila.  The story is complicated, yet I grew up acknowledging her existence as perfectly normal.  There was a period in time that we would visit my grandfather in his house every weekend, and my grandmother had already long been separated from my grandfather then.  So it was Mama Mila and Tita Anna who greeted us in his home.  While the situation was perhaps a complicated overlap of interests and blood ties amongst everyone involved, I had only pieced parcels of the story from hearsay when I was already grown-up, at a period where it didn’t make any difference to me at all.  Nevertheless, Mama Mila had always taken cared of me well.  My grandfather’s house was always my benchmark for order, elegance, wealth and abundance.  She was always pleasant and seemingly perfect, consistently in high spirits.  Even when the circumstances of my grandfather’s estate eventually changed, I had always admired Mama Mila how she kept order, comfort, and still elegance, in my grandfather’s life.  Her devotion to my grandfather is laudable, especially now when he has become even more difficult to take care of given his old age.  And apart from that, Mama Mila has always been generous to me and my brother.  Although I had never seen her as a grandmother, as much as a “Mama Mila” – a concept a child accepts and grows up with, she treated us no different from family.  During the later years of my mom, and especially now with her gone, Mama Mila would go out of her way to bring us or my dad something, constantly letting us know that she’s always there if we need anything.

And while I am a person with no favorites, with the same applicable for my grandmothers, I love them all in their own way.  Though I didn’t grow up showing extreme affection to any of them, perhaps due altogether to my own personality, upbringing and characteristic reservedness, I would still like them to know that I recognize their presence in my life.  Not as just grandmothers, but as distinct people and characters – influences for which I am thankful for.

hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage by alice munro

November 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

Finding a row of Munro books in the library had refreshed me the memory of a promise to read more of her work.  I wasn’t able to do a review of “Dear Life”, given the fact that I’m hardly fond of writing such, but in the pursuit of keeping the little diamonds in this particular collection, I have willed myself to write one.  Especially when I owned that copy of “Dear Life” but “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” is still in my shopping cart – subject to a few more days of internal evaluation.

Judging just from the title itself, I would have never picked this out of the slightest interest.  I’ve never quite understood her penchant for using titles that often reeked of banal sentimentality – unless like her stories, her objective was to tease you into a world of the predictable but time and again, be immersed into anything but.  If not that, her titles would otherwise seem so ill-fitted, leaving the reader with an impression that the decision of the title was taken on so many levels or perhaps just a single one.  I have found it her startling talent to write about different facets of a person’s humdrum existence in quite a way which was so familiar it was unsettling.  Munro would give life to these details, details that are otherwise stepped over in most stories out of politeness or neglect, in a literary breadth that never fails to captivate the reader.  Her characters will remind you of people you know, or you once knew, and most importantly how they made you truly feel – the beautiful, the polite, including the ugly, unspoken and unthinkable.  While I have not professed love to all her stories, just as much as a person may prefer mangoes over strawberries, it is often the case that a particular passage or line will captivate me without fail, requiring a pause from the reading experience.  Most of her stories have to be read more than once, I can only surmise she had decided on the whole plot before she started writing.  I often wonder if Munro imagines these dreamy situations, even when they sound so trite and possible yet so unexpected that you would still think them a product of but a lucid daydream.  Or does she draw from her own life or the life around her?  I am short of words to describe why I am this much enamored by a writer with her amazing insight and capacity.  Reading her stories allow words to invade my thoughts days on end, as if one word was enough to describe an entire experience.  And the ease at which she perfects the juxtaposition of words like “horrible” and “treasure”, a horrible treasure, paint descriptions with emotional precision.  The following are some of my favorite passages in a few of her stories in this collection.  My selection was done with much tapering, for it is only truly proper that her stories be taken in entirety.  May she find it in her heart to forgive me, I am limited by words.

Floating Bridge

“What she felt was a lighthearted sort of compassion, almost like laughter.  A swish of tender hilarity, getting the better of all her sores and hollows, for the time given”

This line was this story’s ending, said by a woman suffering or dying soon of cancer, tired of her life’s incessant expectations of her as a sickly person yet still as a member of society, surrounded by well-meaning people who to her did not see her in the light that she saw herself.  Ready and almost excited to die, she is weary and angry when in an errand her husband is too caught up with his own presumptions and decides to leave her in their truck outside a house as he goes in to be cordial and polite.  And this woman finding herself kissing a boy more than a decade younger than her, under the stars on a floating bridge.  Munro’s words feels like unraveling an entirely new universe of possibilities in the face of death.

Family Furnishings

“When I had walked for over an hour, I saw a drugstore that was open.  I went in and had a cup of coffee.  The coffee was reheated, black and bitter – its taste was medicinal, exactly what I needed.  I was already feeling relieved, and now I began to feel happy.  Such happines, to be alone.  To see the hot late-afternoon light on the sidewalk outside, the branches of a tree just out in leaf, throwing their skimpy shadows.  To head from the back of the shop the sounds of the ball game that the man who had served me was listening to on the radio.  I did not think of the story I would make about Alfrida – not of that in particular – but of the work I wanted to do, which seemed more like grabbing something out of the air than constructing stories.  The cries of the crowd came to me like big heartbeats, full of sorrows.  Lovely formal-sounding waves, with their distant, almost inhuman assent and lamentation.

This was what I wanted, this was what I thought I had to pay attention to, this was how I wanted my life to be.”

This story was particularly one of my favorites.  It is hard to describe in brief everything that I loved about this story – of how it resounded in me.  Of how it reminded me of myself and the many characters I have met through in life.  I picked this story’s ending lines, for it is also a story of a writer, who naively thinks that to be a writer one was to breathe in stories from an indifferent, strange reality that surrounded you.  One that you find yourself in when you’re in a coffee shop as a stranger, as an eye to the world – putting yourself into a pedestal you yourself created.  It seems like a mistake, for most of our best stories are actually our distorted own.

Comfort

“They were a pair of people with no middle ground, nothing between polite formalities and an engulfing intimacy.  What had been between them, all these years, had been kept in balance because of their marriages.  Their marriages were the real content of their lives – her marriage to Lewis, the sometimes harsh and bewildering, indispensable content of her life.  This other thing depended on those marraiges, for its sweetness, its consoling promise.  It was not likely to be something that could hold up on its own, even if they were both free.  Yet it was not nothing.  The danger was in trying it, and seeing it fall apart and then thinking that it had been nothing.”

This passage talks about how two characters seemingly trapped in a shared yet silent longing for each other, albeit both married with their own intricacies, felt about that predicament.  And how Munro describes it is probably a situation in which many a times people find themselves in – not that I have.  The last line was particularly gripping for the dreaded finality of the possibility.

Nettles

“Back home, then, I would sit and write for hours at a wooden table under the windows of a former sunporch now become a makeshift kitchen.  I was hoping to make my living as a writer.  The sun soon heated up the little room, and the backs of my legs – I would be wearing shorts – stuck to the chair.  I could smell the peculiar sweetish chemical odor of my plastic sandals absorbing the sweat of my feet.  I liked that – it was the smell of my industry, and, I hoped, of my accomplishment.  What I wrote wasn’t any better than what I’d managed to write back in the old life while the potatoes cooked or the laundry thumped around in its automatic cycle.  There was just more of it, and it wasn’t any worse – that was all.”

This was said by a woman, recently divorced, finding herself in the lackluster reality of what it was to be one, far from what she imagined yet it confronted her and she had to accept it.  The way Munro describes how she had realized that her dream to be a writer might have been a painful mistake, a fantasy when one is bored of their present, only to find that there was no future in it.

The Bear Came Over the Mountain

“‘Do you think it would be fun -‘ Fiona shouted.  ‘Do you think it would be fun if we got married?’

He took her up on it, he shouted yes.  He wanted never to be away from her.  She had the spark of life.'”

And while Munro is adept in writing about the darkness, frailty, complications, nuances and grievances of living, the simplicity with which she renders human intimacy is equally splendid.

 

friends

October 24, 2017 § 2 Comments

Have I ever wondered, you ask?  Of how life washed us off into the same shore.  Of how your smile was enough to encourage my hesitant hand to shake yours.  Of how an early morning trip to nowhere special could be the pillar of conversations from different timezones.  I wake up with the sun as you start off your slumber with the moon.  And with each passing day across now different lands, we could only wish for that time given back or a new one granted.  Of how it may be impossible yet it doesn’t change a thing.

No, I don’t.  For some things, there’s only enough room for gratitude.

for Anu

solitude, the wind, and I

October 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

The wind lapped on my little beads of sweat.

It offered me tiny dried flowers gathered from hidden branches and eaves, embracing me in a gentle whirl.

And as my hair loosely hung from my crown, I felt the lovely chill as it caressed both my thin and thick strands in a mesmerizing dance.

It raised the hem of my spirit, and glided in between the crevices of my consciousness.

Gracefully, it made love to me, and so I did with the beautiful face of solitude in front of me.

my mother’s penmanship

October 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

My mother’s penmanship is nothing like mine.

Her smooth cursive glides in between two shades of her pen, interrupted only by perfunctory stops.  Each loop and line written in full and consistent control.  “Light, dark…light, dark“, as she showed me one day how it’s done the “Paulinian” way.  “They didn’t teach me that in school.  Can you just write my name on my notebook labels, Inay?“, I pleaded.  She would usually accede to my request, at least until before I went into secondary school.  When high school came, even doing the plastic cover wrapping was suddenly expected of me.  Looking at how I wrote my name usually made me squint in disgust.  The letters rarely stood on the same line, and the angles & sizes were undeniably mismatched.  In addition to that, I had to make do using print.  My cursive was even more appalling.  It barely improved over time.  In contrast, though my plastic cover wrap started rather shabbily, I grew better with it over time.  So much so that I even looked forward to doing it for my brother – something he readily allowed me to claim responsibility for.  After a few years of bearing with my handwritten labels, I finally asked my mom to get me a name stamp.  It increased my desire to see my school books.

This was what I thought of as I dropped the letter I wrote for Tita Marivic in the mailbox.  She was one of my mother’s close friends, at least that’s how I would describe her.  My mom didn’t really have friends she would regularly hang out with, so to speak.  She loved her socials and parties, but they weren’t constant cliques.  But I remembered Tita Marivic’s regular visits to our house in Sampaloc up until the time before she migrated to Australia.  Memories of their conversations are vague, but I recall sitting on her lap.  I was perhaps 6 or 7 then when she left – and I never did see her again.   When my mom passed away, we received a letter from her.  I could only assume she still kept in touch with my mom until the latter years as we had changed our address already by then.  Moved by her kind gesture, I wrote to her as well to thank her for her condolences.  I wrote so many letters that month, with the help of my brother and with the prodding of my father.  It helped us manage the pain better – to dwell on good memories and focus on gratitude.  And as with how the consciousness to friendly affection can sometimes vaporize over both the routine and hysteria of everyday living, it was only after almost 4 years again that she got in touch with me by way of greeting me on my birthday a couple of weeks ago.  I was ashamed for not having kept in touch, not because we were friends, but because she was my mother’s.  A thread of connection that I did not necessarily want to let go just because my mom’s knot was unraveled.  As I walked away from the post box, I was gripped by a sudden regret.  I hadn’t written a disclaimer for my messy handwriting and neither did I consciously try to make it more legible than usual, how inconsiderate of me.

But more than that, it somehow pained me a little that Tita Marivic would not be able to remark how I had the penmanship of my mother.

(post-titled # 2)

October 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

You.

I stand there waiting whenever she leaves me half-past 9.  Perhaps a few thousand people per day, I hear their footsteps and I smell their presence.  Sometimes, on a few occasions which can be far in between, I feel their sadness creep in on me like a chill.  But when it’s happiness that radiates from within – a glow that refuses to die even in the direst of days, I smile off the wear away and draw more courage to stand there in wait.  Yet I still worry a lot.  My mind is often vagrant with troubling thoughts.  ‘Are you sick?’  ‘Do you feel bad today?’  ‘Have you forgotten about me?’  ‘Will you ever come?’

Today she picked me up a little past 5.  Always in a hurry, but nevertheless she asked me how my day was.  I smiled and said, “It’s been good”.  Because today, you came.

——————

“What were you waiting for?”

For the blind uncle who stands in wait for a kind passer-by to buy a tissue packet from him (Singapore)

(post-titled #1)

October 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

Not anymore.

I’m not sure when exactly, but it happened in the lull of an afternoon.  People hanging on threads of wakefulness, the sun burning more than half-through its day’s embers – everything working on a slow rhythm.  I was there, unadorned with thoughts.  Silent in the contemplation of nothing.  Moving like a fish that swam constantly because if it didn’t, it would die.  In a brief moment, the artery that gave me its dreams was sliced clean.  Not a drop of blood, not a tear was shed.  When I slept that night, I no longer saw the rainbow.  That was when I knew the answer to your question.

“Do you believe in Love?”

 

Ho Chi Minh

September 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

It was one of those trips that was more of the company rather than the destination.  Three days was barely enough to scratch the surface of this beautiful country.  Despite the constant tourist reminder to be wary of theft, our naive carelessness did not attract any untoward incident – thank goodness.  I’m generally drained from my month-long hiatus from responsibilities, ironically, so I will just be listing my favorite memories from this trip and leaving a video of our moments.

  1.  The food – a ton has been written about Vietnamese cuisine, I say don’t bother reading and just go out there and eat it.  Every little shop is bound to be authentic and interesting the least.
  2. Teh Dar – we watched this cirque-like performance at the Saigon Opera House and it was well worth every dong we paid.
  3. The history – though I did not leave with a thorough understanding of why the Vietnam war happened, a glimpse of life during and after their wartime offered a better understanding of how their people fought for their independence and how the players from both sides had to live through the consequences.
  4. The buildings – So much boutiques and interesting shops lie in the seemingly old buildings in the city, we were lucky enough to run into 26 Ly Tu Trong where the Phong Tranh Nghe Thuat Art Gallery is housed.  This was one of my favorite spots (the dark corridors and the vintage elevator that’s characteristically French) and I can only imagine the city has a lot more to offer that we never got to see this round.
  5. The company – I’m really weak in writing about really happy times, sad writer’s syndrome. So I guess this video and a big thank you to April, Gale and Marge will have to do.

Oh, another thing, I have reached my media storage limit for this blog which is why this entry has no photos.  Still pondering if I should pay up or open a new blog.  :(

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