Saturday, June 30, 2007

Journey to Health and Healing

(for July issue of Personal Fortune magazine)

My acupuncturist’s clinic smells like healing.
Every week I visit Dr. Eddie Concepcion at Centro Maginhawa Acupuncture Clinic, 97 Maginhawa St, Teacher’s Village, Quezon City. His patients range from young to old, of all sizes and walks of life, recovering stroke victims to ladies-who-lunch who need to lose weight. He sees his patients on a strictly-by-appointment basis, and his list is kilometric. Currently, he doesn’t accept new patients, but he has a team of four other equally-competent doctors who can accommodate newcomers and who have their own stable (and growing list) of patients, as well.
There’s a distinct aroma of incense in the clinic. Not your cloying, sandalwood-type of scent, but something more toasty, more organic. It smells faintly of the type of incense they use in churches, but rounder, like pleasantly-burnt sesame seeds or sawdust. It’s a smell I’ve come to associate with safety and security. If you’re relaxed enough, once you’re in your appointed cubicle and getting your treatment, the smell may even waft you off to sleep.
I’ve got too much fire inside me, Dr, Eddie says. My system is full of heat. All this he sees by mere examination of my tongue (which has got “red spots” to indicate the flares in my system), which is how practitioners of Chinese medicine perceive what needs to be fixed in their patients. As a result, I’m sometimes (ok, ok, most of the time) so wired that it’s hard for me to relax, I get night sweats, I wake up feeling un-refreshed. All the heat inside me manifests in my skin—the dryness in my mouth, my pale and chapped lips, the hunger in my belly (literally) that rears up again and again even if I’ve already had three full meals and a merienda with rice. It may sound too voodoo to some of you, but his diagnosis is right. I do feel off-center; sometimes it’s hard for me to focus. I hate getting bored, waiting, waiting. (And here’s another interesting thing that Dr. Eddie’s observed by the appearance of my tongue—it’s got a cleft in it, right where the heart area is, which means my heart has been broken big time. He took a double take at my records and said, “you’re a single mom?” I nodded. He laughed and gave me a mock bow. “Wow, bilib ako!” Yeah!) But since I’ve begun seeing Dr. Eddie (I’ve just finished my fourth session), I’ve found myself to be calmer, less jumpy. I sleep better, and I wake up feeling rested. My appetite has normalized—I don’t need to go on wolfing down boneless chicken from the nearby Reyes Barbeque and solo pizzas from Greenwich. His goal: to tweak my system so that yin and yang are balanced. Your body has gotten used to that kind of energy, he explains, referring to my penchant for giving into moodiness and lethargy and anxiety. It’s time to whip it back on track.
Thus, despite my busy schedule, getting my acupuncture has become one of my recent non-negotiables in my pursuit of work-life balance. A single mom—for obvious reasons--has more at risk if that balance gets out of whack.
My former mentor, An Alcantara, used to liken a mother’s life as a fulcrum, upon which she balances all that she has to deal with in her life: her children, her husband, her work, her time for herself. We’re too busy juggling all the components--if one component dips, the rest are sure to collapse, too—that we forget that what’s holding it all up is the fulcrum itself. It’s a no-brainer, sure, but a no-brainer that many of us forget so many times because of stress, pressure to give into expectations, and guilt. Guilt of having time for ourselves, fear of what other people will say, pressure to act like supermom.
I confess—and can say with all truthfulness and modesty—that I’ve felt and overcome, at different points in my life, all three barriers. Going on holidays alone has helped; so has yoga, the occasional night out with friends, packing my kids off to my mom’s, and just letting go and accepting that I don’t have to prove to anyone how nicely decorated my home is (it’s not). But life does have its cycles, and the same stressors come and go in varying levels, and so do ways of coping. For me, now, it’s acupuncture. The journey continues.

For inquiries and appointment, please call 9217649 and 4348490.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Happy (solo) mom's day to us!

...for May issue of Personal Fortune Magazine (Business Mirror)
(part 1 of 2)

The thing I’m most proud about being a solo mom is how I am raising my daughter Simone. I don’t know how I did it, but she’s amazingly well-adjusted, never a spoiled brat, and is one of those ‘cool kids’ that even grown-ups want to have around. Maybe it’s the prayer I lifted up, everyday, while she was in my womb, knowing that I’d be raising her on my own: “Dear God, please let her know she’s loved, let everyone she meets love her and respect her, and may she be loving in return.”
God sure answered my prayers. Who wouldn’t love someone as caring, selfless, and as authentic a human being as Simone? She’s the perfect ate, helping me with her twin brothers when I’m short of a yaya, missing them when she’s away from them for even a day, and genuinely having fun with them (she’s nine, they’re three!) when they play. When I mention that I’m short on cash, she offers me her savings. She knows the value of money and has never, ever demanded that I buy her anything, but reminds me gently when I do promise her something and she knows I can buy it. When she meets people, be it my fashion associate in Girlfriend magazine, Bevs, or my photographer friend, Jose Enrique Soriano, she is genuinely interested in what they do. She helps Bevs list down her pull-outs and credits during shoots; she listens intently when Derek talks to her about aperture and how it’s related to how a pre-exam for Lasik has affected his ultra light-sensitive eyes. She is popular at school and with her teachers, and I really never have to worry about her grades or what the teacher will tell me during PTCs. And when I’m not home at their bedtime, or don’t spend the night in the house, she texts me, without fail: “Good night, Mommy, I love you very much! See you tomorrow, XOXOXO Simone.”
I think it’s because I never hid anything from Simone, even my feelings when I was undergoing a separation (which have had its negative effects as well, I know). I’ve always talked to her intelligently; bring her to work with me; and though deep in my competitive little heart, expect her to be the best, reassure her that it’s ok when she’s not, that she can excel in other things.
Maybe it’s the absence of a husband that makes me lavish so much attention on her (I know all her school chismis and intriga); and maybe it’s the absence of a father that make me work double, triple time with her. No matter what it is, I’m thankful for the result.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

just another day in michel

(account of march 18, 2007)

It strikes me in mid-chop, as I help Berto prepare his dinakdakan. It's a typical day in Michel, that old pre-war apartment building on Mabini St, Malate, inhabited by a motley crew of artists and eccentrics. It's a Sunday afternoon. The sun is merciful today. None of the psycho summer heat it's been threatening us with the past few days. That we're a couple blocks away from the sea helps, I suppose. The wind blows in gusts, stirring the mound of gravel that a bolt of tarp tries to tame. It fails, and the gravel sprinkles us and hurts our eyes.
The grill nearby, fresh from being used to cook today's lunch (several pieces of garoupa), is resuscitated again to toast the pork used for the dinakdakan. The scene brings thoughts of the beach. Ungas (Derek) suggests we spread the gravel on the ground as sand. Miko, his Japanese neighbor, a glass blower and graphic artist, and all of 24-year old innocence about her, looks at him blankly. You don't know if she'll take him seriously or not. Around her neck is a Holga she purchased earlier from Quiapo. She tries to catch Gizzard, Derek's yellow lab, as he writhes on the concrete--and fails.
Back to my chopping: today, the people of Michel are in the mood for dinakdakan, a northern dish made of grilled pigface (P100 for a full kilo!), chopped all nice and fine, tossed with onions, ginger, chilies, and spicy vinegar. Berto fantasizes about pig's brain, which is also used to enhance the dish.
"But you can't mix it in right away," he says in his heavily accented Tagalog. The Scout Ranger has a handsome face--"like Omar Shariff," his commander describes--and the body of an active man who's seen too many inactive days recently, round and solid, like a barrel. He explains that the people of Solana, an area in Cagayan, up in the north, where he was stationed some time back, first wrap the pig's brain in plastic, then dip the bag in hot water to gelatinize the brain before it's tossed in the dinakdakan.
He pauses. We all pause, imagining the rich, sweet taste the brain brings to any dish.
"Eh...ano kung mayonnaise?" Berto ventures.
All at once, we violently disagree.
The chopping is nearly done. Mon does the ginger; I continue with the onions, red and white.
Ali, my sister, an environmental policy analyst for the Milken Institute in Sta. Monica, California, likes to write regularly about her tales to Vegas and Jamaica and New York and whatever city or country she might be visiting at the moment. What she ate, at what resto, what she saw, what she bought. I've always thought whatever stories I had to tell would pale beside dunganess crabs and Tumi bags and Tiffany. All I have are these little snippets of everyday life here in the Philippines (the most corrupt country in Asia!), its characters, their idiosyncrasies, and what lessons they teach me--or fail to let me see.
Today it's friendship I'm taught, once again. It's the joy in pushing through with a plan, however seemingly shallow--"hey, let's make dinakdakan today!" The afternoon has a village-y, tribal feel to it. I came to Michel this afternoon expecting to spend the day at the computer finishing a deadline. Instead, I am outside, volunteering to wield the knife. People gather round the worktable, tell stories, laugh, walk about, try to catch a runaway Coke bottle as the wind topples it and carries it to the far end of the lot.
Nina Simone plays from Derek's ipod. Milo, the beautiful chocolate lab, slumbers heavily in the backseat of Elvis, Ungas' Lancer. We settle the sting and the spiciness of the vinegar according to Jimmy's taste, which is too timid to take the wrath of the labuyo. Everyone is happy, everyone agrees.
And it strikes me, yes, in mid-chop. This makes for as good a story as anything.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

tabaco exhibit

Photo exhibit pays tribute to dying native tobacco culture

“I grew up on my lolo’s lap,” says Jose Enrique Soriano, “and he used to smoke cigars and pipes. So the aroma of tobacco always brings him back.”
His current exhibit, Tabaco, is inspired by memories of his grandfather and the hours of joy spent on his grandfather’s knee, enveloped in a comforting scent of habanas, Half and Half, and Mixture 79.
The collection of 40 prints pays tribute to the men and women in Ilocos Sur, where the culture of tobacco was born, and thrived for the past few centuries. It focuses on the “native” tobacco and the process of what the Ilocanos call‘Dobla’, the hand rolling of a whole tobacco leaf, cut in half. One half is used as a filler, the other as a wrapper--the same technique the Spaniards learned from the Mayan Indians, who were the first to smoke tobacco. The Spaniards brought this to Europe, and later to their colonies. When they reached the Philippines, Ilocos became the center of tobacco production.
The “native” tobacco used by the rollers today are of a similar variety, if not from the very same seeds Spanish friars took to the province from Cuba. This variant has been kept alive in small farms, as the plantations were replanted with Virginia tobacco by the Americans for the cigarette industry.
The ‘Dinobla’ cigar and the “native” tobacco are now a dying trade. It is the culture of this industry, kept alive by the fading numbers of tobacco growers and rollers, that Soriano captures in this exhibit.
Soriano frequently found himself in Ilocos over his 20-year career as a photojournalist covering the Philippines and Southeast Asia. “I used to watch the workers, and their toil would fascinate me,” he continues. Even when he lived abroad and other brands were readily available, Soriano stayed loyal to cigarillos produced and rolled in the Philippines. “I always asked people to bring some over for me,” he recalls.
As soon as Soriano returned to the Philippines from a 10-year stint in Singapore, he packed his bags and returned to Ilocos and shot the first part of the series. The project was shelved for almost two years, however, as Soriano continued with commercial and editorial assignments.
“It was also getting expensive,” he admits. Soriano is one of the few photographers who still works in the traditional way, using film and processing and printing out of his own darkroom. “It was also getting difficult sourcing paper and chemicals locally.” Last year, the project was revived when a friend suggested Soriano approach Instituto Cervantes, the arts and culture arm of the Spanish Embassy, for a grant.
Unlike other institutions that demanded a “methodology and scope of work,” Soriano says with a laugh, “Instituto Cervantes immediately understood the value of the work.” He returned to the Ilocos in September 06, and by December, had completed the series that is now on exhibit. Like most of his work, all the prints were shot with a Hasselblad and his trusty old Leicas on black and white film.
Soriano is known for the striking quality of his work. “They are stills that can still you,” remarked one writer of his 2004 show, Episodes, which documented mental illness in the Mandaluyong facility. The same can be said of this exhibit—albeit this time around, it’s a gentler, more settled Soriano that gives us the images. Only a calm, mature soul can express the stateliness in a worker’s gnarled hands; bring the viewer to near tears with woman’s tired gaze as she puffs proudly on piece of freshly-rolled tobacco; evoke the same restfulness with an image of women rolling cigars on their silyons, tired yet grateful.
When asked what his lolo would say if he saw the prints, Soriano pauses. “He’d say nothing—he’d just probably ask me to help him roll a cigar.”
His images—like his grandfather’s memories, a puff of smoke from a perfect cigar, and Soriano himself—speak softly, but their voices resonate and linger over time.

Tabaco runs till April 29, 2007 at the Silverlens Gallery, Pasong Tamo, Makati, Philippines. Artist's talk by Jose Enrique Soriano, "Sticking to the Path of Documentary Photography," will be on April 14, 2007, 3-5PM.