Category: Work

Desperately Seeking Sagada

“Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness.”
― Ray Bradbury

Baguio and Sagada calling: Happy Feet

February is here and it didn’t come as a surprise. I know it feels like we just spent New Year’s Eve/Day half awake and full of hope but February walked a few steps behind January all month long, looming, peering over my shoulder, getting ready to pick up its pace and race ahead.  True enough, February has arrived.  It has bulldozed my To Do lists and has threatened me with deadlines front, back, side and center. I am taking it all in though. No sense in pressing the panic button.  I don’t want to feed the allostatic load and get wrinkles and heart disease in my thirties.  I’ve been here before.  We’ve reached the crazy season of being a teacher. But everything will work out, I know it, so I take it all in; even if I have the annual trip to the North with the kids staring me in the face right smack in the middle of report card season.   Yup, it’s Sagada time once again, which means, February is HERE  all right, exactly where it needs to be.

Conversation with trees

There’s a lot to be said about these trips to Sagada.  The first time a bunch of the teachers went up to do an ocular inspection six years ago, we ended up attending a local baptism where the traditional thing to bring home was a plastic bag of bloody pork. It was an amazing thing to be invited into the locals’ homes, to sit and chat and celebrate and hang out.  The multitude of tourists swarming the streets of Sagada that year  had no idea what was right under their noses.  Then year in and year out ever since, by the time February rolled in, the students and four to five teachers got ready to get on a bus, travel all night long and a day to arrive in one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines.

This year, as tired as I am and as overloaded with deliverables as I am, I don’t care. I can’t wait to get on that freezing bus.  To take a break from all major cities and bond with the Grade 8 kids.  To take pictures with my prime and my new wide angle lens.  To breathe in fresh air and eat yogurt churned with butter (I just found that out) slathered on top of big fat strawberries and granola.  I can’t wait to wear fleece and gloves and funky bonnets and warm vests.  I can’t wait to spend time with Tommy and Vixenne, Mr. Fau, and the humblest of highest chiefs, Pulat.  I can’t wait to see the mouth of Sumaging cave, trek down Echo valley to see the hanging coffins and watch the sunrise from St. Jo’s with a hot cup of Sagada coffee. I can’t wait to see the kids interact with this unique community and learn something new about a place that’s part of where they are from.  I can’t wait for the bonfire and the s’mores and the Aha moments, new friendships the kids will make and the many little discoveries this place provides opportunities for.  I am harassed with work but I can’t wait to get to Sagada where the trees know so many of my secrets.   There’s so much in my heart I want to whisper  to them  right now.  Ssshhh…

The road that’s been traveled many many times

Anyway, ironically, at the end of the day what I am really  grateful for right now is time. It’s my last year to go to Sagada with the Beacon kids and I am glad I have this time to take it all in.  After that, five months and some left.  That’s just enough time to fall in love (again) with my complex city, time to say goodbye to my home and say see you real soon to everyone who matter (because Singapore is not far and I predict many visitors often); just enough time to pay attention, to take photos, write and document life as I am living and leaving it.  Enough time to sort, pack, throw and give stuff away.  Enough time to say it’s been super, but I have to go soon; no matter how bittersweet, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how scary and exciting. Yes, just enough time to know and cherish what I am leaving behind because I am certain I will miss all of it to bits.

Well, thanks again, G.  Sagada always manages to make some kind of statement every year, without fail.  Welcome, February.  I know you will go by fast but I also know you will be unforgettable.

grateful slice:  time and reflection

Back to School Album

I am super in love with this album right now.  Thanks for getting it for me, L!

And this song is currently on repeat.

Anyway, here’s to going back to school after a long break.

I have reflected. I am rested. I have recovered.


grateful slice:  joy

Question of the Year

Where to?

What began as a reluctant conversation with my sister on a cruise ship to Alaska three years ago has brought me here

 to this question.

There are many things that can already be said about it because the wheels are turning and turning quickly


right now, all I ‘m ready for is this question.


show me the way, G.  I am right behind you.

In the meantime,

I stumbled upon this awesome video, MOVE, by Rick Mereki two months ago

and have been looking for a moment to be able to share it more meaningfully.

This felt like the right moment.

MOVE from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

Anyway, here’s to everything that inspires us and sharing what those things are to pay it forward.

I feel extremely grateful right now. Thank you, G.

grateful slice:  inspiration, sharing and my next move

Pinky Promise

Before this, there's one more thing left to do ...

Yes, it’s true, there’s a lot to think about and decide on very soon but first thing is first. I remember there was this one terrible end of a bad day where a really good friend of mine and I were talking about the tragic state of affairs.  At the end of our conversation, we made a pinky promise to always remember why we are where we are, why we love the things we do, why we are so committed, and that we would choose happiness and health over anything else.  We said that it would not be enough to just not be unhappy; we said we would choose joy instead of negativity every single time.  Because that we have control over. And placing ourselves as part of the solution instead of anything else, is well part of what solves, contributes and collaborates, instead of what is divisive, destructive and dysfunctional.  So, today I wanted to reiterate that promise I made months ago. To choose positivity and happiness every time.  To be clear about why I am here, exactly where I need to be.  To be grateful, to be humble, to always seek/pursue the healthy perspective and to be a blessing instead of a burden.  I will also do my best to live by and hopefully emulate the very attributes we hope our kids will imbibe as they traverse through our classrooms.  And to be a friend and colleague/partner people can trust, turn to and count on.  I am claiming it right now — the awesomeness of the coming school year and the success of our MYP evaluation visit.  Final answer. Pentel Pen. Period. No erase. 

The IB Learner Profile

Hear, See, Speak No Evil

Taking the red pill

Is it worth it?

Seek and you shall find...

Ah, we meet again.

Sooooo, hello school year 2011-2012. I know it’s still too early to greet you since you aren’t officially here yet but welcome. A part of me is really glad you are coming soon. Another part, still catching up with this thought (summer hangover). Nevertheless, I just wanted to say, please be kind. 🙂 Am looking forward to a year of learning and teaching and facing 21st century education issues and challenges (nature of the beast) and I promise to do my utmost best.  Remind me to focus on what matters most always and also to take time to rest, recharge and recover so that I can stay balanced and always be at my best for G, the kids and well, anyone else who needs me. Thanks in advance.  See you soon.

New beginning

grateful slice:  fresh start, a new school year and pinky promises I intend to keep

Surrender with a capital ES – (India 2.0: 3/3 and a bunch of other stuff i.e. my first half of the year and summer review)

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”  – Alice  (from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis  Caroll)

And just like that, July has arrived like a ninja, which means it’s also the middle of 2011 and the tail end of our not-really-summertime-summer-vacation.  I’ve been working on wrapping my head around this fact for a week now and it seems to be working because it’s almost 3am and I am still tweaking something for work (read: for upcoming induction workshop in school. Very excited.).

Wow.  Six months.  Really?

It feels like just yesterday when I was deciding on my WFTY 2011Focus.  That’s my word for 2011.  And so far, I think it has done me a lot of awesome; well, as much as a word can do someone good, in spite of her ADD anyway.  I know I have some ways to go in the consistency department (hence, the need for the word) but I have managed to avoid all extreme anythingS since deciding that I would dodge drama at all costs.  This is a good thing.   Surrender  though, has found a way to be a subword the last two months. Which brings me here, exactly where I need to be. Yup. I seem to have been focusing on surrendering to, well, whatever recently and it’s been great. Surrender traveling doesn’t allow for mediocrity and more recent experiences and a trip to a rainy Boracay, have been far from mundane.

Now, surrender here doesn’t mean giving up or quitting or throwing in the towel or raising some white flag, leaving you with a woebegone look and a deflated spirit. No. Surrender here means simple acceptance; a profound letting go of things that can’t be negotiated, manipulated, controlled or changed. It’s making the conscious decision to gladly take the path of least resistance because absolutely nothing cooler can come from resisting the inevitable.  The inevitable unfolding of learning new things borne from living at the edge of the box I have been placed in; the one I have placed myself in.  The slow walk away from what I thought I already knew has made surrender the riskiest thing I’ve done but also, the one of the best things I’ve done.

Experiencing India with a heart of surrender made my time there textured and gritty and unforgettable. It allowed me to enter a world different and the same from my own, with an open mind and a traveler’s heart hungry for more.


Goofing around with S at the Westin

It allowed me to understand what S sees and loves about her maximum home. Why she looks at it with fondness, compassion and love.

S taking photos of Kinneri's newly renovated apartment

S taking photos at Bandra Fort

Behind the lens, I was able to try and capture a city’s strength, vulnerability, part of its culture, a little of its history, some of its personality, quirks and dysfunction.

Reviewing snaps on a train. Photo by S

 And really, what I did was I allowed myself to fall in love with a place I wasn’t sure I would have liked as a younger, more narrow-minded person.  Smitten with everything I saw, ate, felt, heard, smelled and experienced every time I rode a rick (Haha. Like tricycle rides on crack), I felt grateful for an older, more grounded and more humbled version of me because otherwise,  I might have missed it all — the people, the city’s pulse, the photographs,  the point.  Mumbai is not perfect, mind you, but what place is?  And sure, I’ve allowed myself to romanticize a bit of it (read: like never mentioning that I forked over a lot of money for overweight charges (I had an extra suitcase with a lot of stuff) at the airport which made it seem like I shopped in NYC instead of Colaba but that’s just me being an amateur traveler. Fail.), but who cares.   At the end of it all, after waiting for the “intricate maneuverings of the expert hand with a loom patiently stitching together a pattern for a silky Indian shawl” to be done, what I am left with is a work of art unique only to me; wrapped in my heart, unforgettable to my senses and lodged in my memory to be retrieved repeatedly, over and over again. Naku. Indian fever na ito.

Back Home: Clearly still have Indian Fever (with Sabine at my brother's in laws) Photo by my brother, Mon.

Katas nang Colaba. 🙂 Sabine's ring though, came from her cousins. Photo by my brother, Mon.

Anyway, Rilke was right about not seeking the answers and just living everything instead. From embracing the questions to the unlearning and the melting away of the edges of the claustrophobic  box I’ve carefully crafted to protect whatever I thought to be true, the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.“  Win.  It was a month yesterday since coming home from my trip and the ‘distant day into the answer’ hit me while sitting in church, waiting for service to begin.  I realized that surrender of this type has suited me well because at the core of it is gratitude. Gratitude towards the many opportunities to travel, learn, unlearn, to be wowed, to be moved, to be with friends in different parts of the world, to experience life in such a layered and lovely way.  If the ultimate outcome of embracing the unknown promises more of this, well, I am determined to surrender as often as I can. 🙂

Which takes me from the beginning of my not-really-summertime-summer vacation to right now, near its end point. Sigh. Looking back, it seems I have a grabbed a number of other opportunities to just live by relinquishing all illusions of control.   India apparently, does not have the monopoly of abandon. 🙂

Here are more random summer-of-surrender highlights.

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From accepting that rainy Boracay is just as fun as its sunny version (read: the ironic arrival of the sun on our last day on the island), to crawling through EDSA traffic at the height of rush hour to make it in time for the Kylie Minogue Aphrodite Live in Manila concert (read: good friend, Y, got awesome tickets last minute, like literally he called me an hour before the show) to catching the Virgin Labfest 7 (six plays and a number of serendipitous snaps of the Harbor), it’s been a wonderful last few weeks because of surrender with a capital S.  (Even if I, *sniff*, missed my parents’ 40th wedding vows renewal ceremony because it was so last minute and I was in India. Boo.  Some snaps of our family lunch at Antonio’s Tagaytay post their ceremony are in the slideshow too.)

Speaking of productive alone time — Yay! I  have increased my 50 book challenge 2011 list by a chunk.  Also caught a slew of movies (including Tree of Life, Water for Elephants, and soon,  Transformers), spent quality time with family and friends and worked bit by bit here and there to build up to a fresh start for the coming school year 2011-2012.  I’d have to  say it’s been a productive seven weeks especially since I’ve been able to mind map what’s next in terms of my career as well (I’m tenured! Woot!). Future posts on that, fo sho; on being tenured and the steps that need to be taken  in the remaining months of 2011 towards the coming chapters of my life. 🙂

So, wow, thanks for everything, G.  It’s been a great summer and first half of 2011. And you, thank you for passing by.  🙂  I do love your company. Make sure to come by again.

grateful slice:  distant days, time, surrender and melting box edges

2 Songs and Perfection

Leaving  in two hours and two songs are playing in my head.

This one by Pink.  🙂  Every time I hear, think about, or sing it…I will think of some of the most special people on the planet.  Thanks for that, 8s.   It really made a bittersweet night, sweeter.   A thousand times over, thanks.

And this other one written by Joey Tandem.   I will put the lyrics up here.  He says he will write a post about it when he records it soon. 🙂

This Much I Know

I watch you twenty years from where I stand

I know you’ll be old enough to understand

These things by then

By then

I want you to be the shining light of truth

I’ll hold you a burning torch against the gloom

Light shining through

Bright are you

The world won’t always be a friendly place

You fear you’re running out of dreams to chase

But don’t you worry now

It all works out somehow

In time

Because tonight you don’t have to be that strong

You can smile and just embrace who you’ve become

It’s alright to live for now ‘cause you’re still young

Just for tonight

Just for tonight

I’ll see you when you walk out into the world

And I’ll hear you speak the words right from your soul

This much I know

Oh I’m sure

The world may say that it’s all up to chance

I know it’s hard to keep your confidence

But set your mind at ease

And in your heart find peace

This time

Because tonight you don’t have to be that strong

You can dance like tomorrow never comes

It’s alright to forget about the world

Just for tonight

For tonight

Someday you’ll need to keep those dreams alive

Someday you’ll need to keep hope burning bright

Today a frozen moment in your life

To stay this way for one last time

At times you’ll fall and find no helping hand

You’ll feel so lost and nothing’s making sense

But you won’t ever be alone

Because there’s this place you know

This is home

Because tonight you are here where you belong

Close your eyes and take flight to the skies above

There’s no price to pay for freedom and for love

Just for tonight

For tonight

(Because tonight you don’t have to be that strong)

You know you don’t have to be that strong

(You can smile and just embrace who you’ve become)

Just embrace the person you’ve become

(It’s alright to) live for now ‘cause you’re still young

Set your mind at ease

And in your heart find peace tonight

I’ll see you

Soon enough we’ll meet again

I know you’ve learned enough to understand

This is not the end

Off to finish up packing for my two week adventure in India.  Goodbye school year 2010-2011.  You were interesting, annoying, challenging, hilarious and life giving all at the same time.  Here’s to fresh perspectives and fixing my gaze on what truly matters,  a much needed change of scenery, hanging out with one of my  best friends and doing something I love on the first few days of summer  — couldn’t think of a better way to kick off  our  break.    Thanks, G.

grateful slice:  endings and new beginnings

Poetic License

Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.  Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. 

-Carl Sandburg

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It began with Naomi Shihab Nye‘s Famous,  Dead Poets Society, and O Captain, My Captain.  These moments marked the beginnings of discovery, unraveling and unfolding. From ee cummings to Ani Di Franco, from Willliam Blake and William Shakespeare to William Carlos Williams, from Robert Frost to the Script, Coldplay and The Iliad,  I hoped a deep romance would develop between my Grade 7 students and words. It’s not an easy trek to travel from the literal to the figurative.  It’s a narrow and rocky path where they have to avoid jagged edges, bottomless ravines and bear traps because cliche’ is profanity and mixing awkward metaphors has a level in Dante’s Inferno. I recognize that it is challenging to describe a familiar feeling in a way that’s never been described before. To talk about love, loss, pain, fury, nature, identity, heritage, legacy, the future, relationships, family and forgiveness in an intimate and unique way, it can really leave one, at a loss for words. Well, I never said it was going to be a walk in the park (pardon the cliches).


the Grade 7 kids wowed me as they outdid themselves with their bodies of work.  Through their use of words and their original pieces, through free verse, the sonnet and the intimidating villanelle,  the kids dared to face who they are, reflected on the beauty that surrounds them, delved and danced with language to meaningfully articulate what’s in their young hearts and minds; what questions they are asking, the advice they want to give their future children, the idea of never ever giving up and providing an authentic voice to the fear and pain of failure and rejection.   It was a steep climb amidst a lot of prose trying to be poetry, phrases pretending desperately to pass off as verse.  But after their third poem (out of the seven they were to write for their portfolios), the kids were on a roll.

“Her beauty soothes a hostile beast,

his temper shatters a continent”

(winner couplet by A. Lilles from his poem, A Situation);

“There is no such thing as holy poop

we can say it a hundred times,

and still, we will not end up with poop that is holy

Bored isn’t a real word

there is only the inability to act

the decision to be dull

If we don’t have the daring to do something it will never be done,

it will become a ghost, and haunt you,

testing your backbone”

(an excerpt by N. Morris from her poem, Things I know to be true)

And another excerpt by S. Calubad from his poem, Revenge

“…revenge is far more rewarding than gold

Like nothing else in the world can bring.

Remember that


is not a victory or a loss but

It is worth every step of the way,

even if it is a long cold road.

And don’t listen to other people who say

revenge is not worth it

Those people don’t know what it is

Forgiveness is for the noble

Forgetting is for the weak

Hate is a coward’s form of revenge

and revenge,

revenge is a river made of sweet honey

that may only last for a second …”

Frankly, there were so many stellar pieces, I wish I could upload them all and drown myself in imagery,  alliteration,  similes and metaphors.  But of course that’s like a bazillion lines longer than the 24 Books of the Odyssey.  (Exag.)

But  really, that’s what I love about poetry.  It doesn’t choose any batch or race or age or gender or season.  So far, in the five years that I’ve taught this unit, the work the kids have produced never ceases to amaze everyone. What’s more important  though, are the conversations they start with themselves, and the world, and the page, and the themselves they find and learn to love in the process – now, that’s priceless.

To celebrate their hard work, the kids and I plan an ala Dead Poets Society Poetry Fest.  This batch’s poetry fest happened last Friday, early evening in the school auditorium.  With a lot of people’s help, we were able to create our own cave.  With twenty different types of blankets and pillows strewn on the auditorium floor, candles in glass containers and several emergency lamps wrapped in yellow cellophane, we set up a space fit for any aspiring poet to read his or her original work with pride.  Their parents were invited and like voyeurs, they sat on chairs surrounding the inner circle of hungry young poets, with little flashlights, quietly reading the poetry fest packet,  as the kids read their pieces aloud.  Guest teachers, unexpected, and some reluctant readers,  joined the inner circle on the floor and took their turn to read a verse close to their heart.  Some read about their country, others read lines about loneliness, an original written by a boyfriend, another, the best birthday poem I had ever heard written by her daughter. Neruda, a popular choice, graced our event with his words thrice.  It was awesome.

In the end, even if I had heard their poems a hundred times (during practice in class), that night it was like I was hearing them read their lines for the very first time. I cried when I heard “Eclipse” and ” Miscreation” and  laughed aloud when I heard “For People Who Don’t Have Babies” and “I Love You Like Everyday Things.” I could picture every image described in “Emotions Alive” and felt comfort as one of the kids saw the beauty of “Failure.”  I was moved by the different stories and ideas and dreams that slowly rose to the surface through the kids’ words and turn of phrase.   It was truly magical and new and awe inspiring. Once again, poetry above all, didn’t let me down.

I was really glad to have been exactly where I was at 4:30 pm, Friday the 13th of 2011.  It was exactly where I needed to be, enveloped by solemnity, surrounded by imagery and low light and the  beauty of the spoken word.  A perfect way to end a hard week. A perfect way to restore ones spirit to welcome two more.

grateful slice:  The Beacon School Grade 7 Poetry Fest and reading poetry aloud; surviving the end of another school year and report card season.

I dedicate this post to our headmaster, Mr. Patrick Ritter ( a future entry on this man very soon.) 

India Calling

Remember, send yourself a postcard this time, fo.

It’s official.  Am booked and will be heading back to India in a few weeks.  Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai this time around. Will fly out the day after the last day of school to first conduct a two-day in school MYP Assessment Workshop in Ahmedabad.  Then I get to visit S in her new home in Mumbai until the tenth of June.  It feels a little overwhelming right now with all the work that still needs to be done before the arrival of May 28 but am optimistic it will  all inevitably fall into place.   Like always.

Anyway, aside from a little healthy anxiety, there’s also the excitement and the feeling of immense gratitude coursing through my veins right now. I’ve said it before, I will say it again.  I am a lucky, well-loved schmuck. To be given these many opportunities to travel, teach, share, learn, experience and visit good friends in different parts of the world, has been a real treat from G who is ever faithful, generous and constant.  Thanks again for this, G.  You must really love S and I.  First, the 8 weeks in New York with my sister in 2009, now ten days in Mumbai!  Win.

There are a lot of plans in place.  A market tour.  The slum tour.  A missions thing. Prayer walks. Working out and running together again and visiting S’s school.  G definitely has big plans.  I am convinced that’s why He is making this happen.  🙂  Right now though, I need to focus on everything that needs to be done:  I have the Poetry Fest on Friday,  papers to mark, report card narratives to write, grades to finalize and workshop preparation to attend to.  It’s going to be a wild ride this May and damn boy, am hanging on real tight! Wohoo!

grateful slice:  traveling, India and awesome, humbling opportunities.