Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Batanes: Some Facts and Photos

Because I am jobless and consequently broke, this Batanes trip is on an extremely limited budget. To cut down on touring costs, I decided to forego the services of a guide, avoided renting motorcycles or any convenient means of transportation, and opted to use my legs as much as possible. I also know (and have been several times victimized, embarrassed and amused) that I have a ridiculously poor, almost moronic, sense of direction, so I am relying on the kindness of strangers for instructions. Fortunately, I am quite skilled in asking the right questions and getting the necessary answers even from strangers. Before I get sidetracked by my self-centered ideas, let me give you a brief background on Batanes (nothing much that you don’t know, but due to my keen interest in the place and its people, I’ve done a lot of homework).

Batanes is the smallest province in the Philippines. It has 6 municipalities (Basco, Mahatao, Ivana, Uyugan, Sabtang and Itbayat), spread over 3 inhabited islands (Sabtang in the south, Batan in the middle, and Itbayat far north). In terms of population, it is also very small (less than 12,000 for the entire province; my town Digos has 60,000 people!). Because of the harsh environment, the people, known as Ivatans, are strong-willed, hardy, and very cooperative. Some fascinating facts and observations about the province and its people:
  • It has an almost zero crime rate. They didn’t even give me keys in Shanedel’s! I dropped my wallet in Mahatao, and after 2 hours, I retraced my steps and it was still there!
  • They have a literacy rate nearing 100%! Education has a very high value here. You talk to an elderly Ivatan in Tagalog, she talks back in great English!
  • They have 100% Philheath coverage! And this is the only province that I know of that has its own health insurance system aside from Philhealth. Basic services, health, and education are priorities here, quite different from the rest of the Philippines.
  • They have an excellent waste disposal system here. Even in Itbayat, there is a truck collecting garbage regularly from the houses. And in Basco, households segregate their wastes! MMDA would be jobless here.
  • Their culture is very much preserved: very solemn Catholic masses, a solid bayanihan system, etc. Ivatans are known to be rather shy but cooperative, hospitable, very hard-working, and respectful. And I can now attest that they really are!

My parents were furious when they found out I was going to Batanes, all alone for more than 2 weeks. But if there’s any place a lonesome female can be stranded in for weeks and still feel safe, this is it! I feel that there’s a bigger chance for me getting stabbed by a stranger while waiting for a jeep in front of PGH in Taft Avenue, than getting robbed by an Ivatan during my entire 2 weeks!

This morning, I talked to Dr. Thea De Guzman of UPCM Class 2003 (a fellow INTARMED, oh, I’m proud of this breed this time), an ipula (a non-Ivatan) who has made Batanes her home for the past 3 years. She said that the beauty and charm of Batanes lies not so much in its scenery but in its people. Oh, how true indeed!

An 82-year old lola in far away Raele, Itbayat. She still goes to her farm alone. Hypertension and diabetes are rare here. Most people die of accidents and infections. They say more and more people are getting liver diseases due to Ginebra San Miguel, consumed like water during cold weather, which happens almost all year round. During my stay in Itbayat, I think I was the most unfit and unhealthy person in town. I was the only doctor in town but I was also the only obese person there! Nakakahiya!

My Ivatan friend, Katrina, in front of an old schoolhouse in the middle of Itbayat town. I love the contrasting colors of red, blue and yellow. And her smirk. And the typical Ivatan eyes and nose.

Senior citizens after mass. I was surprised at the virtual absence of 20-30 somethings in Itbayat. The population was mostly young children and old people. There were a number of 30-somethings, all with families. They say the young people are in Basco, Manila, or abroad, studying or working. Sadly, all these young people eventually decide to stay in the cities. Very few decide to come back. Lolo is 97 years old.

And the children came. They kept me company during my most peaceful and solemn birthday in 29 years. They didn’t even have any idea how they blessed me.

With Nana Itay at the Municipal Guesthouse in Itbayat. During the northern winds (they call Northina), she brought me warm clothing, extra blankets, camote, and even kept me company. Batanes is beautiful because of people like her. (And may batang sumisilip sa likod. hehe)

After settling in in Basco, I decided to take a trip to Sabtang, an island south of Batan, 40-minutes away by harrowing falowa ride. I ended up in Itbayat, far away up north. You have seen some photos of the people I met there. Hopefully, I'll further sort my thoughts out and give you a viable account of my experience there soon enough.

According to my Lonely Planet, the word Ivatan literally means "where boats are cast ashore". No wonder I'm drawn to this mystical land. I'm a boat cast ashore too. I only wish this 2 weeks of hibernation/ preventive maintenance/ rehabilitation/ "under repair"/ soul searching/ whatever would buy me some direction. I don't want to be a castaway soul anymore.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Batanes: Settling In

I arrived Basco last January 20, aboard a Dornier jet of SEA Air. I felt uneasy, knowing I was being reckless and insane. Again.

Even as a child, I knew I had the wanderlust in me, having delighted in long, exhausting land trips that even adults find revolting. While most children throw up during long trips, I revel in them, finding solace in conversations with myself or my imaginary friends. Thank God for my highly adaptable vestibular system, motion sickness wasn’t much of a concern. I enjoy walking around on my own, looking through every nook and cranny, walking the forlorn path, always humming or talking to myself. In fact, they already knew I was crazy then (a prelude to the functional schizoid that I have become as an adult), and I’ve been spanked many times for wandering around too much. If I am 20 years younger now, my mom and my dad would have spanked me too.

Serious traveling started in 2007. Somehow, influences during that time activated the travel bug that has been gnawing at my feet for so long. The itching feet were finally scratched. In 2008, I discovered the joys of traveling on my own. Though all this history on how I became a “Lonely Planet” is beside the point. I should have been writing about Batanes. To make a long, senseless story short, Batanes has been my dream destination. And this time, finally, I’m here. Wohoo!

So anyway… The first few days were spent settling in. I decided to spend my first night at Shanedel’s Inn, a cozy homestay with a stunning view of the ocean and the Port of Basco. Because this is the winter season, tourists are scarce. I was the only guest in the house. Perfect.

Cozy ambiance, magnificent ocean view, huge table, giant meal. All for one.

The Port of Basco at dusk on a rare windless early evening. Perfect scene for musing and indulging schizophrenic tendencies.

Another shot. This is the port of a provincial capital but it is so quiet you can be heard across the street when you fart.

Waiting for sunset at Shanedel's, with Jack Johnson crooning in my iPod, while learning the art of taking self-portraits, something a lonesome traveler would have to master.

That's Basco Lighthouse over Naidi Hills. Taken during an early morning walk to the southern side of town. In Batanes, when you're by the ocean, everything seems picture-perfect.
More on this on the next entry. And more shots in Flickr...

Disclaimer: This is Not a Travel Blog.

This is not a travel blog. I’ve never been much of a writer, though I try to write good stories as much as possible. Travel blogging was never my forte, and I will never be good at it. I don’t want to.

But I will write about my travels. I owe this to the people who were so kind to me in as much as the destination is harsh and unforgiving in its beauty. However, if you expect an outline of the nice places to see, information like where-to-eat and where-to-stay, or the dos and don’ts of the place, you’ll be disappointed. Traveling is all about seeing what is there to see and being part of the place and the people you visit, at least for a while. It’s never about the scenery. It’s about your experience, how the place and its people changed you in a way that is impossible to express. I wouldn’t want to spoil you fun.

In the next few entries, I will be writing about my Batanes experience. Again, I invoke my storyteller’s license and insist that all this is fiction. This is my trip and my story.

May my story make you want to travel to Batanes and find the truth out for yourself. And then, you too will have your own Ivatan story to tell.

(If you're really interested in visiting Batanes and would like to ask a few questions, don't hesitate to ask me though. And I'll help as much as you can let me.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Nowhereland Nowhoreland

Four days in Batanes and I'm currently aching for company. I'm tired of hearing myself talk, tired of listening to my multiple personalities argue with each other. I'm currently stranded in the Philippines' northernmost inhabited island, the limestone platform that miraculously rose out of the sea, the town called Itbayat. I was here on a whim, so typical of my impulsive, risk-taking self. I was supposed to set out for Sabtang, an island down south. Since I found myself in the wrong pier, I got on the boat (called "tataya" or "falowa" in these areas) to this island (the trip was an adventure in itself, deserving of a complete entry some other time). In Lonely Planet, it said there that visitors to Itbayat should be prepared to be stranded for days or even weeks. I went anyway. I was reckless, as always.

And so, this is Day 1 of being castaway and stranded in this lovely little town. I hope the weather will be perfect tomorrow.

I was walking around town today, and wow, there's an internet shop here. A community e-center established by the local government. Perfect. Aside from this, they have a gleaming district hospital with brand new lab facilities, but no med tech and no physician. Ridiculous. This is a town with 100% PhilHealth coverage, with all medications shouldered by the local government. And when I offered to make rounds in the district hospital (they were so glad there's suddenly a doctor out of nowhere), there's no patient. Hmmm, anyone interested in getting the job? hehehe

My writings don't make any sense. Very poorly written. The last decent and real conversation I had was 6 days ago, with someone who absolutely hates travel-blogging. So I'm not going to travel-blog. I'm not talented enough to do that even if I wanted to. I'm just going to blabber here.

I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere blabbering. Some things in my mind now: I love my solitude, but the first chance of a real conversation I'd get once I get home, I'm gonna grab it and I'm gonna talk for hours. Company isn't really that bad for me, isn't it? No wonder they call the travel bible "Lonely Planet". Oh boy, sometimes it can indeed get lonely.

And another thing. If they have conversation-whores, whine-whores, or travel-whores around in this place, why, this is already utopia. And surely, if men whores exist in this place, I would already have hired myself one.

(Seriously, I'll post better entries soon, and some very nice pictures. But I won't be travel-blogging still.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Different Kind of Whoring

Very early this morning, at around 4AM, I woke up with a start. After 4 hours of sleep, my mind was still actively churning out conversations, regurgitating old spoken statements and ruminating on them again and again. The body was sleeping, the mind was awake. So when the body awoke too, I allowed it to listen to the words my mind was spewing out at a rate of a hundred words per minute. Two words stood out, pointed accusingly at me: TALK WHORE.

The term came up after I realized that for some way or another and for a very long time, I’ve been doing some whoring myself. Not the traditional whore, mind you. But as I said, I’m a talk whore. That doesn’t seem too hard to understand. You see there’s the traditional whore who gives out sex for a fee, someone always around ready to be mounted on by anyone in need of any humping. The talk whore is pretty much like that. Only, there’s no sex involved. It’s just all, well, you probably already got that, heavenly, orgasmic conversation.

The talk whore is somewhat akin to the meantime girl. However, the meantime girl is emotionally shackled to the meantime guy, hoping that someday she’d stop being the meantime girl and be the “one”. With the meantime girl, there’s sex involved, and there’s too much emotional investment. With the talk whore, a nice long conversation is all there is to it.

You go to a talk whore if you need someone to talk to. You visit at your own terms, your schedule, your choice of venue. If she has something in her mind that she needs to talk to you about, she has to wait until you would again want her enough for her services. You’re not available when she needs you, but when you ask for her, she’ll be around in an instant. It’s business at your own terms. After all, you are the paying customer.

The pay is actually cheap. Buy her dinner or a few drinks and you’d get excellent conversation in return. You know she can’t harm you because she will keep all your dirty secrets to herself. You give her a ring-side ticket to the mess you call your life and she’ll sincerely applaud you, win or lose. She gets a front-seat ticket to the soap opera that features you, and she’ll loudly laugh at all the absurdities you’ve gone through, and secretly cry for all the tragedies you’ve had. And if you do give her a supporting role in your soap, she gets to play the part of the girl with amnesia. Proudly and all too willingly.

With her, you lose track of time. You reveal your secrets, you unleash your mind. You wonder out loud, hope out loud, even pray out loud. She trusts you just as much. To you, she’s as transparent as a pane of glass, as clear and as placid as a pool of water undisturbed for years. She has seen through your soul, but despite everything she saw, you’re sure that nothing will ever be taken against you. She also allows you to see through her soul, but then, so what?

When the evening comes to a close and you have nothing else to talk about anymore, you drop her off at the side of the road. She thanks you for the great evening and walks on home without looking back. No questions asked, no threats, no invitations, no pleas. She just made herself available to you and all you had to give was your time and the free meal. There are no strings attached, no emotional anchors, no additional charges. She’s inanimate, incapable of feeling, she's just your talk whore.

She knows it may take months before you suddenly show up like a ghost again. She also accepts the possibility that you may no longer ever show up again. She moves on with her life, hesitantly at first, but she’s smart enough to know her place in the world. She’s just a talk whore, and she knows it. She's insane enough to live with it. Your secrets are safe, your life, dirt and all, will always be revered the way she will honor her own. She won’t go looking for you, but she’ll be right there if you ever need her again.

To all of you who keep their own talk whores, you might want to reconsider increasing your pay: a little more than dinner and drinks, such as genuine friendship would do. Your talk whore might be in need of a talk whore herself, someone she can call at her own terms, someone who’ll stick around way beyond talking, and way into living itself.

To all of us who were, are, or will be talk whores, whoring can never be this noble. We change the world in a way, tilt the balance on the side of good, if that’s any consolation. We have an underappreciated, much demeaned job. But what the heck, by all means, and while I still can, I’ll keep on whoring.


A beautiful Sunday morning, not as chilly as the usual mornings Manila has been having these past weeks, but it's still very tempting to stay in bed, warm under the covers. My eyes wandered to a piece of paper I posted on my wall last year. It said "Things I Should Do Before I Turn 30". Thirteen things there. Some I've already done such as own a dog, run 2 kms straight, quit smoking, dive. Some I'm still doing such as be a pesco-ovo vegetarian, explore batanes, reach a normal BMI, treat my parents to a second honeymoon. Some I'll probably never do anymore such as climb Mt. Apo and reach the peak this time, play the guitar well enough, play the drums, learn a new language.

The last item on the list falls under an undetermined category. But it was definitely hilarious: fall in love. As if there can be deadlines. As if...

In a week, I'll have exactly one year to accomplish everything I've listed down. My hopes are high. I just might be able to do everything as planned. All except the last one. As if...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Post-Travel Depression, or Something Exactly Like It

Today, it was extremely hard to overcome my inertia. I was happily idling around in my room content with my Sky Flakes and pancit canton diet when, by some miracle, a benevolent soul offered to buy me dinner and a few drinks. After an initial hesitation which was immediately erased when I found out that this person, my only hope for a familiar face in Batanes, will not be around to make it there, I gratefully consented. (Though life is unfair because he bought himself a new jacket especially for the Batanes trip, which is MY trip, one he won’t be doing anyway, while I’d have to be content with free meals.)

Conversations with this man, who I’d like to call “the stranger I picked up from Friendster who turned out to be my greatest travel buddy” (he gets credit pala for my blog name photo above), have always been akin to an adventure to some distant place. Very strangely and so unexpectedly, they always seem to bring me epiphanies. Just to name a few, here are some examples from tonight:

Epiphany #1: The best thing I’ve ever known is that I don’t know anything at all.
Epiphany #2: Sometimes, the best decision doesn’t have to feel right. It just has to be right.
Epiphany #3: It’s indeed wonderful and humbling to know that in all His greatness, God finds it worth His while to take good care of assholes like us. And somehow, He is still there even if we push our luck too far.
Epiphany #4: The path to a great friendship is thus: you find someone really great, know them better and realize they’re such flawed individuals just like you are, you stand by them anyway, and love them even more for that.

After great conversations like these, I always feel a bit depressed. Beautiful talks like these come as rarely as healing journeys to a distant land. It’s like traveling to a strange place where you had the greatest time of you life, but you have to come home to the real world that is waiting for you. Big time post-travel depression, I always say. But life is not to be pondered on, it is to be lived. Journeys happen, but it is home that matters most.

It’s great to know that my next fix, Batanes, is just around the corner. At the same time, it’s also alarming to know that Batanes will most probably be the last of my adventures of this kind. (So I’m crossing my fingers this does not turn out to be the metaphor that I fear it would.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Travel Dreaming and Travel Praying

In five days, I'm heading for the greatest adventure of my life yet - my solo journey into the last Philippine frontier - the mystic and pristine Batanes. This decision is crass, irrational, impractical, and even dangerous. The time of the year is worse. It's chilly in Manila, it's probably freezing up there. I've also expected it to be lonely, having to celebrate my birthday alone in a stone house (hmmm, I'm crossing my fingers for this) with no one to celebrate it with or even to talk to. But I'm going anyway. It's now or never. Bumhood this long would never come around again. Batanes will slowly be ruined with the passing of the years and the storms. I too will slowly be ruined, the spirit will grow tired, the sense of adventure eaten away by sensibilities and hesitations masquerading as wisdom. This is it and I'm grabbing the chance by all means!

Here are important points a traveler should consider before embarking on a trip, and my answer to each question:
  • What do you intend to accomplish? I don't know.
  • What's your itinerary? I don't know.
  • Any special places of interest? I don't know.
  • Where are you going to stay? I don't know.
  • Projected expenses? I don't know.
  • Any company? I don't know.

If by some epiphany, God would show me my goals, that would be good. If He reveals a purpose, that would be better. If He outlines my itinerary in due time, I'd be very grateful. If He provides me a safe and cozy place to stay with kind and accomodating locals, I'd be honored. If He gives me extra cash, I'd be jubilant. If He gives me company, that would be perfect.

I used to say that half the fun of a journey is in the pre-travel preparations that I have come to call "travel dreaming". But for now, my travel dreaming would just be all about expecting the unexpected. It would be limited to hoping for the best, and praying for the grace to come out a better person at the end of it all.

It's time to discard all itineraries, schedules, or plans. All I have is my round-trip SEA Air ticket, lots of time to waste, limited but hopefully enough cash, my youth and exuberance, my lack of common sense and my irrational and excessive optimism, and the promise of a fantastic time with myself to enjoy.

If, by some strange twist of fate, I'll fail to come back, let it be known that I had the time of my life and most certainly, I didn't let my moment pass me by.

Irrational Optimism

I had coffee with a good friend yesterday. I know I have just blogged about steering clear of additional expenses such as a cup of coffee from Starbucks while I'm unemployed, but nuggets of wisdom discovered during conversations with old friends are always priceless and thus worth every extra hard-earned penny. From a simple residency batchmate, my friend Ms. V, a motel-magnate and underwear guru by virtue of her blue-blooded name, has for the past year, been unexpectedly bestowed the great dishonor of being my coffee-partner and travel-buddy in my otherwise schizoid and antisocial existence.

Anyway, we were talking about how, for some strange reasons, we are both looking forward to a terrific and exciting new year. We knew how illogical and unfounded these instincts are. True to our inquisitive nature as internists, we tried to identify reasonable justifications for this surplus of optimism we both share. We found none.

Higher pay? Nope. New job? Yes, for me, but this could only mean less free time for myself. New destinations? I’m doing my dream Batanes exploration this January and she’s doing her dream Tubbataha dive in April, but after those there will probably be a dearth of more thrilling destinations for both of us. Healthier lifestyles? Hmmm, maybe. New gadgets? Nah. New boyfriends? Ugh, nearly impossible at this time, we can’t even identify old ones. This year will be man-less and full of undefiled feminine supremacy.

So why are we happy? Why foresee so much hope in the coming year? When would this optimism end? What will end it? Of course Ms. V and I failed to get any answers. We didn’t mind. These are the types of questions we shouldn’t even bother answering.

I was walking home to my apartment, feeling the chilly Manila breeze. It suddenly dawned upon me. Perhaps, just perhaps, my other friend, DD7-bra-size-turned-hotsie- patootsie-fitness-buff Ms. C is right. It’s time to clear the clutter from the old years. This time that I was actually seriously considering her suggestion, I was very much surprised when I realized that there's really not much clutter to clear anymore. I guess I've already thrown away what needs to be disposed of. Perhaps that's the reason for this irrational optimism I'm having now. Congratulate me, Ms. C!

(though being a half-baked environmentalist, i'm an advocate for the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. but that's another story.)

The past year was all about getting off the comforts of my boat, to do the impossible and walk on water. This year, perhaps it’s time to glide on air and even fly.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Relativity of a Fancy Meal

There was a time when my idea of a great time was to sit for hours in a fancy restaurant that serves exotic foreign-sounding menu, indulging in my favorite company (myself), spending at least P500 just for a single meal. After dinner, I'd go to a cafe for dessert and coffee with myself, spending a couple more hundred.

This time, bumhood has made me realize that I've quite gone full circle in my life's journey from a college kid who delights in fastfood fantasies to an urban young professional who can waste a hundred bucks on a cup of coffee. I've gone back to where I started: Sky Flakes for breakfast and pancit canton or a can of Blue Bay tuna for dinner. In my desire to preserve my meager funds for my Batanes adventure that is due in one week (woohoo!), I'm behaving like a college kid who thrives on a daily fare of pancit canton and canned goods. I'm not complaining. I am in fact, basking in the simplicity of it all. There's nothing like a penny well spent. Living the life of the scrooge fits me well.

Though of course, if anyone is willing to dole out a few free fancy dinners, I'd be very happy to oblige. But until then, instant pancit canton will be a gastronomic delight and considered a fancy meal.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Temporarily Saying Goodbye to Bumdom

Last week, my concerned dad, worried about the welfare and the future of his only child, gave me a rare heart-to-heart talk. And the topic? The state of my financial affairs. Oh yeah, it's pathetic, I have a medical degree and I am a certified diplomate in internal medicine, but this sad fact remains: I am still jobless and I am not earning a single dime.

Well, I'm not exactly a scum. I'm just waiting around for fellowship to start in March. For the 1st time since I started residency, I got a vacation that lasted for more than 2 weeks. So, give me a break. I deserve this. Right? Huh, right? Right?

During that talk, my dad found out I was planning to go to Batanes for my 3-week solo adventure some time in late January to early February. Predictably enough, he was mad! "Don't do that! What are you going to get out of it? Don't you have any common sense at all? Your priorities are all wrong!" For those who don't know me well enough, my dad's reasoning sounds logical, practical, and definitely right. But for those who have known me for the past 3 years, come on. Give me a break! I have been planning this trip since 3 years ago! Perhaps you can spare me a bit of indulgence and say, "Go ahead. Just do it." (Someone say this please...)

So I begged my dad. "I've been looking forward to this trip for so long. I'm doing this against all reason because I know I will never have a chance to do it again if I pass this one off." And being the soft-hearted dad that he is, despite the stern facade, he fell silent. (Although I saw a faint glimmer in his eyes, that could only mean hope. Hope that I was right. Perhaps his daughter would finally stop moving about and settle down, as in get hitched. Ugh!)

So I resolved to never ask a single cent from him while I'm jobless. For whatever expense, and most especially, not for my Batanes trip. This was the very reason why I panicked and hounded every person I know who might be able to get me a moonlighting job.

And God is good. I got one feasible offer tonight. Tomorrow, I'm temporarily saying goodbye to bumdom to earn my keep. I'm finally going moonlighting!

Anything for my piece of Ivatan dream...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Best of 2008, in a Nutshell

Before I'll finally leave the year 2008 behind (I'm holding on to it like a person with terminal disease), let me quickly outline the best of the year. Having an early case of Alzheimer's Disease, an outline like this will help me remember the memories easily.
  • Best adventure: Traveling on my own. In August, I managed to explore the easternmost part of Samar, the scenic and pristine beaches of Calicoan Island in Guian on my own! I even managed to reach the remote mystic shrine of San Antonio de Padua at the tip of the island and was able to say a prayer and light a candle there. I was stuck in the middle of a tropical storm there, but what the heck, I was able to conquer Guian! In October, I singlehandedly explored the beautiful island of Catanduanes after a 12-hour bus trip and 2-hour boat ride! It's exhilarating to look back and finally say to myself, you're a full-pledged traveler now, kid! This year I found out that traveling is addictive, necessary and, uhhmmm, orgasmic! That's it! There's no better word!
  • Best experience: Hmmm, that would have to be my first intro dive in nowhere less than Apo Island in Dumaguete! Being scared of water since I was a child, it took a great deal of courage on my part to even initiate that one. I was frozen with fear but when I hit the water and saw the paradise underneath, I could already die then.
  • Best meal: That would have to be the feast of galunggong and sukang pinakurat especially prepared for me by my staff the day I left the office. Sniff! Sniff! I miss them! I ate like a kargador then.
  • Best destination: That's hard. There's Caramoan in Camarines Sur, White Island in Camiguin, Anawangin in Zambales. But wait, I guess it would have to be that secluded beach in Guisi, Nueva Valencia, Guimaras, a secret sanctuary of a good friend, which we shrewdly invaded. Hehehe. Talk about passive aggression.=)
  • Best drinking session: That would have to be the drinking session of the 1st Five O'Clock Club assembly right at the office of the chairman of the Department of Medicine, my boss! I think it's the venue that made that session special.
  • Best text message: Hmmm, difficult again. It's a toss between "I'm proud of you" or "I'm still recovering" or "That will never happen", all from the same person though.
  • Best statement: Easy. That would have to be, "You will never disappoint me, Jean." But that's just the good part. The best part was paying that statement forward to someone in need of encouragement. Hmmm, I hope that best part didn't fall on deaf ears though.
  • Best surprise: Meeting my old high school friends for the first time in so many years and finding out that things are still the same or even a lot better. And finding out that my good old man is still single and already farming! wink, wink. (peace bai, kidding of course)
  • Best laugh: Claire's boobs pa rin yata!?=) Ahh! That game children in Dumaguete played... "Once upon a time in a Valentine, kiss muna bago ka choochoo..." and then they spread their legs farther and farther each time they chant that line. I was laughing my guts out until my insides felt like they were made of air. I don't know why, but that sounded so funny then.
  • Best gift: Forgiveness. For myself, others, and the whole worle d in general.
  • Best new skill learned: Patience.
  • Best movie: It's either Sex and the City or Mama Mia, all watched with the Five O'Clock Club girls. It's the company that matters most, I guess.
  • Best discovery: It's a toss between Jack Johnson and a cup of tea to cap the evening. It's hard to live without both these days.
  • Best decision: The choice to stick around for one more year doing office work, and the decision to stick around for the next three years. No matter how ridiculous the reasons are. Hmmm, we'll see. That part is yet to unfold...

So many bests. There's also the craziest, the funniest, the most shocking, the most irrational, the most irritating, etc. The year was good. This new year will be better, I'm sure.

For starters... Batanes, here I come! Woohooo!

Bisdak: Much Ado About Pikol

Last weekend, I was in Davao City to reunite with essentially the same old friends I was with the other weekend. Since I was effectively the visitor, I was made to choose the dinner site. It was an easy choice. I wanted to eat in an old familiar place, some joint we used to hang out in when we were high school kids wasting our parents' money almost 15 years ago. It was an open-air diner called, Taps, that serves an all-day and all-night breakfast menu.

The old place in Ilustre was gone. Instead, the diner moved to a place in front of Davao City's latest attraction, Mayor Duterte's real estate masterpiece, a Central Park imitation, that ended up with a pitiable name People's Park despite the media conundrum it created. The diner had a better ambiance than before; it had brighter lights, with newly painted bar stools and tables, but basically the same clientele (low to medium income yuppies and teenage kids) and the same menu. I could never forget this diner. I still blame its succulent and scrumptious tapa and corned beef, plus the garlic rice and sunny-side-up fried egg all gloriously floating in grease for the many slabs of adipose tissue I've accumulated and never managed to shed off since high school years.

I was pleased they were offering the same menu: tapsilog (tapa, sinangag, fried egg), corsilog (corned beef and the works), longsilog (longganisa etc.), primasilog (pritong manok etc.), with a few interesting additions: silog (just egg and the fried rice), something-i-don't-remember (skinless longganisa plus the works), bangsilog (fried bangus etc.). Thrilled about which grease-coated, cholesterol-laden, sinful delight I would be partaking, I took the time interviewing the obviously-getting-pissed-off waiter about the exotic-sounding offerings on their menu that I was no longer familiar with. He was kind enough to indulge me.

"Look they now have ox feet! And tuna dishes." Then something caught my eye: Pikol. Hmmm, that's weird. I've never heard of that. Pikol?

So I asked the waiter, "Sir unsa man nang pikol? (What's pikol)?" "Kana gung pikol ma'am (Ma'am it's pikol)." "Wa ko kasabot sir. Basin naa nay pasabot ba kanang mura gud ug tapsilog. (I don't understand sir. It could be an abbreviation for something such as tapsilog)." I looked at my friends, "Unsa daw nang pikol? (What's pikol again?)" They all shrugged. Undaunted by the waiter's obvious irritation, I continued questioning him, "Sir, unsa lagi nang pikol ba? (Sir, what's pikol again?)"

Irritated, the waiter went into the kitchen to fetch me a sample of pikol.

He brought back a glass jar containing plump olive green sticks floating in liquid preservative and shoved it under my nose. "Kini ma'am o, pikol! (Here they are ma'am, pikol!)"

A jar of pickles.

I was red all over, embarassed to have forgotten my bonafide BisDak (Bisayang Dako) nature. My friends noticed me blush at my stupidity, and we all burst out laughing. The waiter laughed, too.


After 3 weeks of bumming around in my sleepy town, I made an inventory of the things I had accomplished during my bumhood. And I was horrified to find out, though not exactly surprised, that I accomplished the biggest achievement a bum can ever aspire for: nothing.

Before I set off for home, I had made a list of things-to-do: learn tennis, drive around town (I got a professional driver's license already renewed twice, for crying out loud!), lose weight, watch several TV series one after another, catch up on my medical reading (review cardiac anatomy, physiology and physical examination), catch up on my non-medical reading, etc. So it was totally appalling when I realized that after 3 weeks, I accomplished none of the above. All I really ever did was catch up on sleep (that I never really lacked in the first place) and stock up on calories (which I probably will never ever lose).

So I hurried over to my stack of unread books (which I am proud of because they are all award-winning, critically acclaimed titles I got very cheaply from Booksale), and forced my sleepy head to start reading. I chose something that intrigued me for a long time, but never really moved me enough to read it, a book by Joseph Heller called Catch-22.

I was already a few chapters into it when I was suddenly aware of the Catch-22 of my own preferences and decisions. In the book, Catch-22 is defined as "Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty (on account of insanity) is not really crazy" because "a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind". Beyond the book, Catch-22 is already used to refer to unsolvable logical dilemmas, lose-lose situations, or a circular logic (or non-logic).

For instance, Catch-22 seems to be the logical basis for my theory for my long-standing, perhaps even eternal state of singlehood. Based on my patterns, I have an uncanny fascination for men who are idealistic. Because they are idealistic, and I am far away from being ideal, anybody who will be stupid enough to fall for me will stop being idealistic and would therefore be removed from my list of prospects. Get my point? Here's another example.

Another evidence of my quirky taste is my peculiar and intense fondness for weirdos. And by weirdos, I refer to men who are comfortable with their loneliness, so isolated and remote, to the point of being unreachable beyond words. Therefore, the very reason why I'm attracted to them is the same reason why I can never have them. Another Catch-22, huh?

I was blogging about the TV series, Dexter, last week. After a marathon, I suddenly stopped watching it. I hate him now! And my reason? He stopped being a weirdo, or at least he stopped being weird enough for my taste. He stopped having his grave and pathologic intimacy issues, and finally had sex with his girlfriend! Whaatthe#$%@! After that episode (ugh, I didn't even finish the episode), I discarded the DVD and moved on to my newest favorite weirdo: Gary Sinise, aka Mack Taylor, of CSI New York. I'm crossing my fingers, there won't be a sudden character metamorphosis this time.

I'm not even halfway through Joseph Heller's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece. But I do agree with these lines:

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," Yossarian observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.

Yup, Catch-22, I guess it's the best and the worst catch there is.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Evolution is good.

I keep on repeating this statement over and over again these days. Perhaps this is what hibernation does. It makes your system renew itself, such that the old, unnecessary parts are shed off, and new, hopefully more useful attributes of yourself are developed and harnessed. Survival of the fittest, that's the theory. But in practice, it's not just the fit, but the wise, and those who know when to hide, that make it big in this cruel world.

Last year, I encountered this website And I, being a great Simpsonite, because of my ridiculous fascination for Mr. Homer Simpson who I believe is actually my soulmate or even my alter-ego, ventured into creating a Simpson character out of my own photograph. This year, I did it again. And I was pleased with the changes. Hmmm, evolution is good...

I have this strange, creepy feeling that this will be a fantastic year. It's not just a feeling, but a conviction, almost like a certainty that this year will be a lot better than the rest. Of course, I'm speaking from the point of view of someone who's stuck in a proverbial dark hole, hibernating, shedding off some skin, gaining some weight, regenerating some worn-out neurons and cardiac sarcomeres, in preparation for a new phase of growth in life.

This could just be a renewed supply of optimism, the source of which still remains unknown to me. But today, just a few moments ago in fact, I have suddenly chosen to defy medical common sense, strip-off my acquired armor of cynicism, and revoke some of my long held beliefs. To hell with self-preservation. To be able to live, it might be wiser to be vulnerable and suffer some hard blows. After all, we evolve. And evolution happens to those who allow themselves to suffer, those who embrace Mother Nature in its harshest conditions.

So for 2009, I will believe in the following medical myths: neurons can regenerate, infarcted cardiac muscle fibers may be brought back to life, and yes, amputated limbs may be restored to as good as new.

Evolution, in whatever form, is certainly good!=)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Job Ad. This is Serious!

Seriously, I need your help.

If any of my readers can give me a job or refer me to someone who can get me a job I could use in the next several days, I'd really appreciate it.

Authentic UP-PGH trained, board-certified physician, plus board certified internist (if this helps, though usually it's a minus in these parts of the world, I discovered). I can work long hours, can stay sane 3 or 5 duty days in a row, with no complaint. Can go to the most remote areas, for days on end, can manage whatever comes with the most minimal stuff, good people-skills, adept in administrative stuff, computer literate, diplomatic, genuinely loves patients. Desperately in need of a source of living.

I can man OPD clinics, can work in ERs, can be an all-around doctor in community settings, can manage ICUs, can be the internist in a specialized unit, can even be secretary, can do medical transcription writing, can even write non-medical literature, whatever a physician can do. I have a habit not to complain, I'm hardworking and passionate, and most especially, I'm desperate. That combination makes a great worker, doesn't it?

I'll be available during the following dates for the following areas: Until January 10 (anywhere in the Davao or Cotabato provinces), January 11 to January 19 (Manila and neighboring communities), January 20 - February 6 (Batanes), February 7 to 28 (Manila and neighboring communities again).

Please contact me thru this blog, or email me at

Thank you very much!

Panic on New Year's Day

Happy new year!

Everything that transpired during the past year, the good and the bad, the shocking and the conventional, the poignant and the foolish, everything is something to be grateful about. Though much of what happened is still a blur, still muddled in my dazed brain, I went to bed on the evening of the 31st of December pleased and thankful for everything that has been, and hopeful for everything that will be.

But in the morning of January 1, I woke up in a state of panic…

I have just officially joined the ranks of the unemployed.

In synchrony with my drifting brain, I’m finally a certified bum, scum of the universe, another mouth to feed, a parasite living on the labors of others. This is indeed a distressing fact, to realize that your last paycheck has entered your account, when you withdraw cash from your ATM knowing that your bank account has nowhere to go but down, to run on reserve until you’re parched and begging. There’s that certainty of eventually becoming bankrupt. The thought of bills are a torture.: apartment rent, laundry, cellphone, airfare, food, ahhh, Batanes…

Panic, panic… Waaah! I need a job!