Category Archives: Family

A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR TO ALL!

NEW YEAR'S EVE

Alexys’  friend shared with us her house in Batangas.  With three bedrooms and a really spacious living room, it was a fabulous place to spend the holidays with the family. This was time spent with the family, especially with my grandson, Emilio, and a time to catch up on my reading. It was also the time to get back to my running and exercise, a time to reflect on the year gone by, and to look to the coming year, 2019.

We were missing Miggy though…he had to be at the Philippine General Hospital, on duty. Well, that’s medicine for you.

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The historian writer, Yuval Noah Harari, said that we look at our past to be liberated from it and not to be burdened by it. Looking at history gives us options to choose from for our future. There is no other time more appropriate to do this than the last day of 2018 – today.

Professionally 2018 was a real challenge. Due to the confluence of many factors, getting the business past a threshold, we set our minds to, was just proving to be extremely difficult. This gave me sleepless nights, and that led to stress eating.  And with eating, drinking, of course. Otherwise, what’s the point of eating?

 

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A pain in the left leg gave me a reason not to run or do exercises at levels I was used to. The weather was another excuse – the year just had more rains than in the past. According to Rappler, 53% of the expected rainfall in August of 2018, fell on only one day, the 11th. This December, 244 mm of rain fell versus 164 mm just two years ago.

So all the reasons were there not to do anything physical!

As a result, 2018 was not a healthy year for me. I need to liberate myself from this year and look at my options for 2019.

There’s a very compelling reason for me to be fit by September of 2019, but I will get back to that later. What is clear is that I really need to get in shape, again.

For Emilio, and for his siblings and cousins to come!

2018 was the year spent just watching Emilio grow from a baby to a toddler who, today, is beginning to show how precocious he will be by the time he turns two this year. He eats by himself now, and he loves pasta like no other! From his hand signals, he can now prattle a few words to mean food (“namnam”) banana (“nana”) or even call his parents (“Didi” and “Mama”) or me (“Papam”).

The rest of the family is doing fine.  Joy and I are at a point closer to becoming empty nesters.  We now find ourselves alone at home because all our children seem to be currently living their own lives. I guess all couples eventually reach this stage. Unfortunately, they did not teach us this stage in school. We are just coping as we go!

Photos taken from Christmas Eve through Christmas day...
Photos taken from Christmas Eve through Christmas day…

I have kept myself out of politics although some of the things I do get “politicized.” Inevitably in my work, I get to meet government officials, and I have to go through procedures and rules that often upsets me. I think the frequent changes in senior government officials do not leave room for these officials to actually learn the trade, so to speak, of their respective portfolios. Government service requires not only good intentions but also competence.

Talking about service, I am currently serving as the National Commander of the UP Vanguard Inc. (UPVI). Our priority in 2018 has been the restoration of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).  Abolished as a mandatory training in 2003, the country has suffered a dwindling reserve force and more importantly, the rigorous training of the youth in discipline, skills, and love of country that ROTC used to offer. Towards the end of this year, we have been able to have some traction with the House of Representatives.  Hopefully, this can still pass as a law this Congress.

I still sit as President of the College of Economics and Management Alumni Foundation Inc. (CEMAFI). We are focused on trying to set up the Research Institute for Sustainable Energy (RISE) at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB).  We have been scratching our heads and reaching out our hands to whoever can support the alumni of our college.  We need funds to help our faculty, encourage more research, and support our alumni in their endeavors.

In both institutions, I am looking for the right path to nurture a successor.  The old guards must make way for the young ones who, definitely, can inject more life, more creativity, and innovation in fulfilling the goals and vision of these two organizations. I am thankful though for all the support my fraternity brothers and colleagues have given me in 2018.

Pre-New Year Dinner

Friendships have always been very much an integral part of my life. My father from very early on taught me that friends and relations are what life is all about.  That is why we purposely blur the lines between friends and relatives.  Everyone is welcome in our home. This year we reunited with friends of yore with the hope of having a reconnected relationship in 2019 and the years to come.

We also pray for our friends who are going through difficult times be it health wise or just facing a rough time in their lives today. We always try to reach out to them to tell them we are around to help or even to just to lend an ear and pray together.

Facebook and LinkedIn friends are, but I am looking forward to a more committed relationship in the coming year. I have always felt that for real friendship to flourish, one needs to have that face to face engagement.  We want to savor that whole sensory spectrum of hearing, smell, touch through get-togethers where we can tell stories and exchange ideas. Or let me get straight to the fun part: so we can gossip!

 

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Professor of evolutionary psychology in Oxford,  Robin Dunbar, said gossip is what makes us human and sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Gossip helps us develop and maintain our social networks.  This view is echoed by historian Yuval Noah Hariri who also said in his book, “Sapiens,” that gossip is the foundation of humanity’s survival. He wrote, ”It’s much more important for them (men and women) to know who in their band hates whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is honest, and who is a cheat.”

Of course, sometimes relationships turn sour – even between couples and families.  What is important is that we accept each other’s imperfections.  As Pope Francis said in one of his homilies, a perfect family does not exist. The family, according to him, should become a school of forgiveness, a school where we do not forget to say “please,” “thank you,” and  “sorry.” We should also be able to do this beyond the realm of our families and extend this to the rest of society.

As we bring 2018 to a close, we also remember those who have gone ahead of us. I particularly remember my father and the parents of Joy. They gave us our lives so we may honor their time on earth by bringing up our own family with the values and the way of life they taught us.

So for 2019, I will think of something – some activity that will bring us closer together, a time for us to gossip!

As for my profession, I will continue to pursue the reason why I am in business in the first place: to find ways to make the lives of others more prosperous through products and services that will empower them to make their business more profitable and their households more secure.   I will have to work harder in putting together the team that can make this happen. I will have to question the status quo. I will need to rebuild that trust so that this vision will be more real to the people I will work with.

Indeed, it is my fervent hope that 2019 will be a prosperous New Year for all!

 

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As we enjoy basking in the last rays of the year, let us all look forward to meeting the first rays of sunshine of the New Year. We look forward to that blessing keeping our faith intact in God. While we have just celebrated the birth of Jesus this Christmas, we are looking forward to the commemoration of His death and resurrection in 2019, the observance of His saving mankind from the vise of sin.

 

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Once again, to our friends and our relatives, thank you for being with us all through these years.  Scientists have been studying what contributes to happiness on earth.  There are biochemical answers – use of drugs that cause the release of dopamine – and there are psychoanalytical – zest according to Bertrand Russel.

To us, however, regardless of what the science says, you – our friends and relatives – are the source of our joy and happiness.

So to you, we will always be grateful.

A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Photos taken from Christmas Eve through Christmas day...
Photos taken from Christmas Eve through Christmas day…

AN INSPIRING SPANISH BAPTISM

Joy and I were on a trip to Sanlucar de Barrameda in Southern Spain. We went there because I was going to be a godfather to the daughter of a good Spanish friend of mine. The baptism ceremony was a short but solemn one. The family of my friend was complete: parents, siblings, cousins and close family friends. Oscar and Edyta Sergio Garcia christened their daughter Nadia. And as they were travelling all over the world, it took them 5 years to finally get their daughter baptised into the Catholic Church. Since I made a promise to be a godfather to their child even before she was born, I had no choice but to fulfil that promise. So on August 18 2018, I became a godfather to Nadia.

Baptism Ceremony
Baptism Ceremony

The ceremony was performed in a beautiful church of the Parroquia del Carmen. This church was originally constructed by the Carmlites in 1677 and was completed in 1689 through the generous contribution of the Marques de Arizon.

After the baptism, we proceeded to the reception at Patio Los Galanes, a cavernous restaurant with a very beautiful patio built centuries ago. The food was excellent and the wine was overflowing.  What really struck me though was how the family members interacted amongst themselves. I could feel the love and warmth among Oscar’s siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.

Oscar with Nadia, Joy and Edyta
Oscar with Nadia, Joy and Edyta

In spite of the fact that many of them hardly spoke any English and we (Joy and I) could barely pass conversational Spanish, we all had a lot of fun.  The family made us feel welcome. I was especially happy talking to Eduardo, Oscar’s father.  He spoke a bit of English because for many years he was a harbor pilot in Sanlucar and Seville. Most importantly we shared two of the best things in life: red wine and bacalao.

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Oscar has two other siblings – Eduardo Jr., and Raquel, a diplomat in the EU in Brussels.  She, of course, spoke perfect English, as did Ricardo, a cousin of Oscar who is an investment banker in London.

 

Raquel, Oscar's only sister
Raquel, Oscar’s only sister

Having heard and read of how much secularised Spain has become, it was a surprise to me to see, later on, Spanish families going out together.  Local.es, an internet-based English news service provider reported that Spain’s tight-knit family unit is not what it used to be. According to its research, the latest study by the country’s official stats body (INE) showed a drop in the average number of members per household from 2.58 in 2011 to 2.53 in 2013. With the population dropping and the the number of homes growing,that meant, according to the report, that the number of Spaniards lving by themselves is going up.

While indeed this may be true on paper, it did not seem that way on the ground.  I thought Oscar’s family was an exception. We could sense his family was not unique when we went out later that night.

Families eating and and having fun
Families eating and and having fun

We had dinner at a local restaurant where we listened to some flamenco music.  And there we saw local families enjoying the dinner together. Then we went around Plaza Cabildo close to midnight for tapas and drinks and we saw children, young parents, and grandparents frolicking around the fountain in the plaza.

Of course we never got to talk to them, but definitely Spain is far from being an individualistic country. The happy faces I saws among the parents, and the impish smile and laughter of the children made me conclude that Spain is still very much a family-centered country.

This was a short trip for me and Joy. Thanks to Oscar, Edyta, and Nadia, this trip opened our eyes to how God continues to bless humanity. Indeed what we have seen in this short trip serves as an inspiration for us back home to continue to safeguard our families, our values, and our tradition.

 

SUNSET ON A DHOW

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Watching sunsets is one of our family’s favorite past time…sunrise too, but that’s a bit difficult to do for the kids. To watch the sunset is a family tradition that requires planning for creativity. It requires that people are relaxed with a nice cold bottle of beer, or a glass of white wine to accompany that marvel of seeing the sun set before our eyes.

In Zanzibar, we decided to put this activity one notch higher. Not only did we get to watch the sunset cruising on a traditional sailing vessel called the “dhow” in Zanzibar, we even had two musicians play traditional music while we were cruising!

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The sunset we had was indeed stunning. We watched the sun as it was slowly sinking in the horizon into the Indian Ocean as the waves lapped up the side of our boat as if accompanying the drum of our musicians.

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Of course we had the white wine and the beer, but the camaraderie we had with the boatmen and the musicians was just amazing. They played a number of tunes most of which are local Zanzibar pieces. “Ya Laiti” is a favorite piece of music in Zanzibar which we learned in that cruise.

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In the end it kept me thinking that either these tours were well planned and praticed, or the people here are just natural entertainers. I didn’t ask as I thought it will spoil the spontaneity and the enthusiastic vibes we were getting that lovely twilight in Zanzibar.

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MIMOSA PUDICA AND JEALOUS HUSBANDS OF ZANZIBAR

The spice tour was really something else today. I had thought this was going to be some boring lecture about Zanzibar’s spices and agricultural products and then capped by some touristic trap at the end of the session.

I was wrong. Our guide, Momu, was a perfect host making us feel welcomed in their small village (a sitio within their barangay) where 4 families were sharing a communal farm.

But first, the mimosa pudica or “makahiya” story. I love this plant as this was the first plant whose scientific name I learned. I was so proud of that moment that I never forgot the scientific name of our “makahiya.”

How is this related to our story? Momu explained to us that as Zanzibar’s men, being Moslem, are allowed to have four wives. While they are faithful to their four wives and vice versa, temptations do abound in Zanzibar like anywhere else in the world. So these men want the plant around their homes. Why?

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So that should there be other men who will try to enter their homes, they can always check whether the leaves of the plant have closed, signifying that feet other than theirs have trodden on the plant and may have belonged to other men in the village!

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This is Momu – our host and guide. Like other guides, Momu was very articulate, knowledgeable and witty. This makes the tourism sector of Tanzania a very good one as such guides make the visit a lot worthwhile and fun!

What did we learn in our tour? For one, clove (Syzygium aromaticum) is the “King of Spices” for Zanzibar. This is so because it is supposed to be most valuable export of the island. Until recently, Zanzibar used to be the world’s largest exporter. Today that glory has gone back to the origin of the plant, Indonesia.

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According to sources (see for example, http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/syzygium-aromaticum-clove), clove is a native of the Maluku islands of Indonesia. Because of fierce competition among the European countries, the Dutch and French among them, cloves were smuggled out of Indonesia and these plants reached other parts of the world including Zanzibar (around 1818).

The “Queen of the Spices,” goes to the cinammon plant (Cinnamomum verum). This is so because according to Momu, they can use very single part of the plant, from the root up.

There’s a more comprehensive discussion on the spices of Zanzibar here: http://www.smallthingsinbignumbers.com/blog/the-spices-of-zanzibar. We enjoyed the banter with Momu who was also familiar with African cuisine techniques in cooking. We found out we used plants in cooking in similar ways. For example the way we use lemongrass and ginger were very similar.

We also were fascinated by his assistant, “Alibaba,” who could make garlands, ties, bags and crowns, on the go:

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We ended up being fed with fresh fruits – orange, pomelo, papaya, banana and coconuts:

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We all felt like kings and queens even when we indeed bought some spices at the end of the tour:

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When in Zanzibar, the spice tour is a must!

CLEANLINESS IN THE WILDERNESS

As we were going to the wilderness where the lions, leopards, and every animal in Tanzania roam in the wild, I was expecting to have a really rustic and even downright basic sanitary facilities i.e. toilets during the trip. Ignoramus me, not having read up on the facilities, I was in for a surprise.

A fair warning: toilets in the wilderness are facilities that can spell life or death. As it happens, no one is allowed to get off the vehicle while inside the national park because of the danger that it will pose – lions could be lying a foot away! Using “bush toilets” are very dangerous activities. So proper toilets in the wilderness are vital.

It started with the Kilimanjaro airport. Spotlessly clean, one could use the floor as a mirror.

The carousel area of the airport.
The carousel area of the airport.

This was my first big surprise. The immigration, by the way, went smoothly and the pieces of luggage came promptly as well.

Then we were off to the wilderness the following days. And just look at these toilets, located in the middle of nowhere:

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The lavatories with hand soaps

These put even some of our establishments back home, to shame. Every toilet had ample supply of toilet paper. We would find one solitary person who would be nearby and he would then get a mop to make sure the floor is always clean. The lavatories even had liquid soap and paper towels.

This is the “wilderness” toilet we used:

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How I wish Sen Dick Gordon’s project of having clean public toilets can be revived and expanded. And I dream of the day that restaurants and establishments with dirty toilets will be forced to close shop and fined heavily.

Tanzania, we will be back. Congratulations!

EMPTY CHAIRS AND EMPTY TABLES

St. Paul Cathedral in Bergen
St. Paul Cathedral in Bergen

It was Sunday in Bergen, a day after a friend’s daughter’s wedding. My iPhone map said St. Paul’s Cathedral is just 9 minutes’ walk from our apartment. So, I took my time knowing fully well that churches in Europe rarely ever get filled even for Holy Mass. The walk on a sunny and crisp day was enjoyable and the scenery along the way had a lot of “photo ops.”

When I got to church, however, I was shocked to find the place full. My family had difficulty finding seats even if we arrived a good 10 minutes before the mass. There were locals, young and old, as well as foreigners mostly Vietnamese and Indians. The mass was a sung mass in Norwegian and everyone participated piously and passionately.

“Empty chairs and empty tables” is a line that comes from a song in Les Miserables. It’s a phrase that I used to describe the churches and the masses held in Europe. In many masses held in the places I have been to, only the elderly attend, and only a few of them do. A Holy Banquet is attended by only a few; empty chairs and empty tables. This is in contrast to the grandeur of these churches.

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There are exceptions, of course. And these exceptions are in countries where culture has continued to embrace the Christian faith unabashedly. Fr. Pastor Iueventus in his article in Catholic Herald last April 2015 entitled “Why Poland’s Culture is Healthier Than Britain’s” pointed out that while magnificent churches may be found in both countries, there are profound differences.

In places like Norwich or Rouen, most churches are used for art exhibits or organ recitals. Whenever there are churches open for tourist visits, more often than not, these churches are piped in with Gregorian chant muzak to give visitors that “authentic” religious experience.

In Krakow, on the other hand, Iueventus remarks that church bells ring to actually invite believers to Holy Mass and where Easter celebrations are actually more than just another event in merchandising. Masses are attended by both young and old and their voices fill every nook of the cavernous cathedrals when they sing the hymns.

There are many reasons certain cultures have veered away from the faith and have entrusted their moral standards to a secular power — the government or the state. The often touted reason is the “separation of the church and state”. In the zealousness of the state to make sure that this is the case, it has gone one more step and made sure that faith, as expressed in established religions, are stamped out of the country’s culture.

And this was the proverbial Pandora’s box.

Once the state started to legislate morality purely in human terms that opened the door for almost any standard that a majority of the population would define as acceptable moral behavior. In trying to defend this as a democratic principle, our society has moved closer to one where morality is a pluralistic standard. And I think there is where the flaw lies.

Someone observed that regardless of culture, killing another human being is universally deemed “immoral,” or “bad.” However, we have, through the years, redefined “killing” to suit our current realities. There is, of course, capital punishment in many countries. In some countries, killing another person for medical reasons has also become legal. Euthanasia is now practiced and accepted as a basic human right in these countries. Abortion, too, is legal in even more countries. There is just a debate on what constitutes “human” life, but killing of the unborn is generally accepted as legal and a basic right for women.

Given these developments, there is no telling that many more activities which we abhor today will become acceptable and “moral” and definitely legal in the future. I will not make predictions here, but let your imagination run free and almost anything will be possible. When politics — through the state — start influencing the way society shapes our culture, then we are going to be in trouble. One must remember that in a democracy, the powers of the state are often controlled by an elite, an elite whose morality may not necessarily agree with ours.

It boils down to this: who should I entrust to define society’s morality?

Pastor Iueventus makes a very strong point when he concluded this about Poland:

“So strong was the link between religion and culture in Poland that, unlike in our own country, they were able to resist a state that claimed rights over people’s consciences. The same right is being claimed by an aggressive secularism which not only seeks the removal of religion from the public sphere, but also the reshaping of the public realm to something entirely at the mercy of power, money, and vested interest in which the flourishing of man is a secondary interest.”

Let’s fill those empty chairs and empty tables. This is a more fulfilling banquet, a banquet where man is the primary interest. And where humanity has a better chance of survival.