My parents got back from the Philippines last week, after spending two blissful weeks in the homeland. Every time they go for a visit, they always come back electric and full of life. Along with that renewed zest is also a tinge of melancholy, written in their faces as they slowly readjust to life back in the States. I hug both of them and smell the sweet scents of home.

But because homesickness also has a physical element, it wouldn’t be a homecoming for Filipinos without balikbayan boxes. My parents had four of those boxes which contained gifts and goods from the country: dried mangoes, polvoron (plain and chocolate ones), specialty dried herring in mason jars, “French” corned beef, candies from sari-sari stores we used to buy as kids (Mik Mik, Haw Haw, Hi-Ho), lengua de gato (butter oats), 3-in-1 coffee mixes, garlic peanuts, special tamarind candy, delicacies from Baguio (chocolate marshmallows, chocolate flakes) and more.

I think my sisters, our relatives, family friends and I have enough goodies to tide us over until the next wave of homesickness hits. We can always eat our feelings.

While munching on one of the Pan de San Nicolas my dad absolutely adores, my mom handed me another package wrapped in plastic. I think they secretly waited until I ate some of the “heritage cookie” specially made in our province (Pampanga), which bears an embossed image of the St. Nicholas on the biscuit itself. My parents are unhappily aware of my Buddhist beliefs, gravely disappointed by my spiritual choices after having gone to a Catholic school for 14 years. Word has it that it has a “curative effect,” to be eaten while saying a prayer. I felt bad after literally biting the head off one.

I opened the package and in it were three glorious things:

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Habang Wala Pa Sila (Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig) by Juan Miguel Severo

Stupid is Forever by Miriam Defensor Santiago

The Duterte Manifesto

The first two books were from my dear cousin back home, Ate Tet, and the last book was something that caught my dad’s eye. I mentioned that I wanted these two books unavailable in the U.S. and sure enough, my family came through with my request.

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tag-ulan

minahal kita
walang payong na dinala.

– Juan Miguel Severo

I first heard about the poet after watching a spoken word piece that went viral. I’ve always loved spoken word artists — Kai Davis, Aja Monet, Saul Williams; and I’ve always admired Filipino poets — Bienvenido Lumbera, Joi Barrios, Jose Garcia Villa. It was a breathtaking experience to see both Tagalog and spoken word combined, to witness Severo’s work. The depth of his poems and the conviction of his delivery tugs at the heart. It was like being granted permission to access those parts of us we didn’t even know existed. And to top it all off — I’m an undoubtedly big fan of a Filipino teleserye called “On The Wings of Love” which featured the poet and his work consistently.

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Law school is quite easy. It’s like a stroll in the park. Pero Jurassic Park.

– Miriam Defensor Santiago

The next book Stupid is Forever by this renowned politician in the country is “a collection of jokes, one-liners, pick-up lines, comebacks and speeches delivered and/or curated by the beloved Senator.” I’ve always looked up to MDS even as a kid, as I watched her on TV deliver impassioned speeches in Congress, in awe of her intellect and outspokenness. She ran for president during the most recent election season in the Philippines and lost, the frailty of her health a huge concern.

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I don’t care if I burn in hell as long as the people I serve will live in paradise.

– Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

Last but not the least (and also unexpected) was a copy of The Duterte Manifesto from my dad. My dad likes (or loves) to challenge my political beliefs, specially when it comes to politics in the Philippines. He knew I would find this book interesting, notwithstanding its title very similar to another very popular manifesto out there. Duterte is an interesting figure, rife with contradictions but I’m watching and learning. If anything, this book promises to be an intimate rendering of the president. In the introduction, it was signed (translated from Tagalog):

“From my humble hacienda larger than the terrain/estate of (bleep),”

– Senyora Santibañez (the main antagonist of an old Mexican
telenovela aired in the Philippines)

I can only surmise that Senyora is alluding to Hacienda Luisita, owned by the former President Aquino’s family, a site of decade-long struggle and resistance of the farmers against their landlords.

These three books in no means capture the state of Philippine society as a whole, but they draw a picture of popular culture that is reflective of different parts of Filipino society. I’ve always trusted books more than television, finding poets and writers more credible (even while they’re making jokes!).

I’ll be spending the next few weeks immersed in these three literary pieces of which I will duly be reporting back and writing about in this blog. Now that’s what you call healing.

Pasalu-book: Gifts from the Motherland

Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

Charting the Inner Landscape of our Lives with Krista Tippett

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit


It was a cold Saturday morning in a hospital in San Francisco and I was huddled on a desk, silently cursing the winter chill. I wasn’t supposed to be at work that day. The department was eerily quiet, too bright with all of the fluorescent light panels on. And then from a corner of my inbox, I noticed an email from Seth Godin that has illuminated my life since then: his interview with Krista Tippet, host of the podcast On Being.

I’ve been a fan of Seth for some time now, religiously devouring his daily emails (you should really subscribe if you haven’t), books, interviews and classes. Seth’s humbling brilliance, punctuated by Krista’s insightful wisdom stunned me. The hour flew by. Even though I was unfamiliar with Krista’s tone and style, it was easy for me to slide into the show’s rhythm.

That interview made me a Krista fan, as I relished episodes wherein she conversed with luminaries I’m both familiar and unfamiliar with: Pico Iyer, Maria Popova, Alain de Botton, Paul Muldoon, David Whyte, Elizabeth Alexander. It wasn’t until later, after ten episodes or so, that I finally started to grapple the depth of the show; I slowly felt its impact within the inner workings of my own being.

What is striking with these conversations is that although Krista’s guests/partners are not necessarily spiritual nor religious, she is always able to take them to a field where the heart, spirit and soul meet, bringing her listeners with her. Each episode always leaves me feeling a little more grounded, embracing the length of being human even more.

As soon as I found out that she was releasing a book, I knew that Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living would be just as generous as Krista was (also Seth’s words in the interview).

Coming Out on Faith with Anne Lamott

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

Ash Wednesday came early this year. It was supposed to be about preparation, about consecration, about moving toward Easter, toward resurrection and renewal. It offers us a chance to break through the distractions that keep us from living the basic Easter message of love, of living in wonder rather than doubt. For some people, it is about fasting, to symbolize both solidarity with the hungry and the hunger for God.

I started reading Anne Lamott’s Small Victories: Improbable Moments of Grace a day after Good Friday. The day was “Black Saturday,” a day of mourning for Catholics. It’s that in-between time after the death of Jesus and his resurrection the following day.

The day before, I was still finishing up my post on Ed Catmull’s book and my mom casually asked if I still went to church. I didn’t have a better answer than “I’m not practicing” so that’s what I said. Dammit. That was a lie, followed by Catholic guilt.

For a long time I considered myself an atheist, not believing in God/dess or a higher power. I always questioned his/her/their existence, having witnessed a lot of suffering as I grew up. As I got older I became agnostic and eventually, I turned to Buddhism, finding its teachings and practices a much more suitable fit for the person I want to be. For the person I try to be, instead of feeling bad that I hadn’t followed my parents’ religious footsteps 

I was learning the secrets of life: that you could become the woman you’d dared to dream of being, but to do so you were going to have to fall in love with your own crazy, ruined self.

A Different Way of Looking, with Marcel Proust and Alain de Botton

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit, Writing

What I know of Marcel Proust: nada. What I know of Alain de Botton: quite a lot, although not personally, but enough for me to dive deep into one of his books, How Proust Can Change Your Life (Shop your local indie bookstore).

One of the things that I’ve truly been enamored with Proust/de Botton’s compendium is a new way of looking: of a character in one of Proust’s essays where he forces a dissatisfied youth to take in Jean-Baptiste Chardin’s paintings of mundane things, not-so-special moments: of bowls of fruit, loaves of bread, kitchen utensils, one reading a book, a mother showing her daughter some mistakes in needlework as opposed to paintings in the Louvre’s “grand palaces painted by Veronese, harbor scenes by Claude, and princely lives by Van Dyck.” That there is beauty in a lot of things that is already around us, and that we are just plainly inattentive to these details. de Botton points out this lack of capacity of seeing beauty is not due to laziness or inattention, but more so because we are inexperienced with looking. 

The happiness that may emerge from taking a second look is central to Proust’s therapeutic conception. It reveals the extent to which our dissatisfactions may be the result of failing to look properly at our lives rather than the result of anything inherently deficient about them. Appreciating the beauty of crusty loaves does not preclude our interest in a chateau, but failing to do so must call into question our overall capacity for appreciation.