At ground level

A column about LIFE

It was a surreal day in Cupertino…

I woke up this morning (Wednesday, October 5) to the sounds of helicopters and police sirens and my daughter bursting into my room yelling, “Mom, there’s a gunman loose in Cupertino! The police are everywhere. Turn on the TV!”

That was enough to make me jump out of bed and turn on the television. Sure enough, on the news was a scene shot just about three blocks away from our home. Police had cordoned off a 10-mile radius and police cars had blocked off the road we took to school, which was also the road to the quarry, where a tragedy had occurred. It appears an employee at the quarry had shot and killed some people and fled the scene. The police were hunting him down.

Then, more sirens and another piece of breaking news. Another group of law enforcement officers were at the corner of Homestead Avenue and Wolf Road. There had been another shooting incident by the Hewlett Packard parking lot. Were these two incidents related? The news crew didn’t know.

Then came the phone calls and emails from the school. A message on my cell phone, home phone and later, office phone, notified me that due to police activity in the area, I was to keep my child home from school. Of course, my daughter cheered. I was in a quandary. I had to be in Los Gatos for a meeting in an hour. While I felt we were safe and believed the gunman was no longer in the area, my mother instinct told me I should remain at home with my daughter, at least until I was sure that the authorities had everything under control.

Later, we learned the shootings were related. The gunman was sighted by the Sunnyvale/Cupertino border, which happened to be close to where I work. Feeling my daughter would be safe at home, I decided to skip the meeting and proceed to work. When I got there, the office received a notification from the police department, asking us to keep safe and giving the gunman’s description. Our office remained open, but was placed on lockdown.

As the day progressed we learned more about this gunman. A single-parent, father of a teen-age daughter, a seemingly good person, a TV host who even authored a book and preached against non-violence. How could he have shot and killed three people and wound six others? For a while I felt sorry for the man. He must have snapped. But how? Why? I wondered out loud.

“He will be judged at the pearly gates. I have no sympathy. He killed three people,” someone muttered.

With the day off from school, I allowed my daughter to watch a movie with friends. Some people at work were surprised I was so permissive. I seriously doubted a man on the run would want to visit the mall. And I couldn’t keep my daughter home alone, when I recalled that time, when I was not much older than her. That day when I had arrived at school and was met by a flood of students streaming out of the school. Martial law had been declared, they cried out. No school! Soon after, my friends and I found ourselves frolicking around the streets of Manila, carefree, oblivious to the soldiers with guns that rode by in their trucks. That day we pranced into a parlor and got our nails and hair done, unconcerned about the uncertain future before us and the gravity of what was to unfold after that monumental day. Little did we know that a year later, we would be among the many students marching in front of the President’s palace calling for justice, democracy and the end to a corrupt dictatorship. My daughter’s afternoon was tamer than mine, it seems. She returned safely home after the movie and her afternoon was otherwise uneventful.

Back in Cupertino it soon turned to afternoon and still the gunman had not been found. I received yet another notification from the school thanking us for our cooperation and telling us they would continue to keep us abreast on further developments.

At around 4:30 p.m. we received yet more breaking news. Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, innovator, visionary had died. The toll of the day had finally taken over and I trekked home with a very heavy heart.

I was reminded of a few things today:

1. Stuff happens and your life can change in an instant.

2. The safety of family is more important than a meeting at work.

3. I was impressed with the school’s diligence in notifying parents about the status of the school and students.

4. Kids have to experience a little adventure. You can’t keep them locked up in the house, alone and afraid.

5. I didn’t realize how much I admired Steve Jobs until today. I didn’t know the man, but have always loved his Apple and Mac computers. I was surprised his death hit me hard. Godspeed, Steve Jobs and thanks for my Mac and iPhone!

October 6, 2011 Posted by | Children, Family, Life, Parenting, Philippines | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where “home” was always meant to be …

As we stepped outside the airport in the wee hours of the morning, a blast of hot air hit us. Then came the noise from the traffic and a swarm of people. I smiled, for I knew I was home. After a short drive, we arrived at my mother’s house. There was Mom, who is 84, looking so well and happy to have us back.

It was raining; in fact, there was a typhoon, which thankfully, had not crossed our airplane’s path. I loved the smell of the rain. Then came the sweet aroma of garlic rice, eggs and spam, a traditional Filipino breakfast – yet another sign that I was home. Except for a few out of town trips and gatherings with friends, I stayed close to home this trip. It was just nice to be in the house.

The house we now call “home” is the perfect place for Mom. It’s almost identical to, but a smaller version of the home where my siblings and I spent much of our childhood years. This one-story house where Mom now lives is located in an exclusive village in Makati, the business and shopping center of the country. It is the very first house Mom and Dad built a few years after they were married, though they never lived here. Instead, they had the same architect design and build a larger two-story version of this Eichler home, 900 sq. meters, in Loyola Heights, close to the schools they wanted us to attend.

For nearly three decades they rented the Makati house to the U.S. embassy, until one day, the embassy informed my dad that it would no longer be renting the house. At the time my father was stretched for money and decided to sell the Makati house. Each time, for some reason, the sale would fall through. Eventually, the real estate agent told my dad, “Mr. Meily, I’m not a religious man, but it’s really uncanny that something always happens whenever we try to sell this beautiful house. I think God has another plan for this house.”

Not long after, the plan unraveled … Dad finally gave up the idea of selling the house and, instead, had it rented. A year later, Dad died and we decided it was best for Mom to move to the house in Makati. It is less than half the size of our house in Loyola, but it would be more manageable, and a safer place for her to be.

Mom and I sat in the terrace and reminisced. Although Dad had to wade through an hour or more of traffic to get to his office in Manila and then spend the same amount of time to get home, he refused to move to the smaller house in Makati. He loved the sprawling front lawn and backyard of our Loyola home, Mom recalled.

“Where would I put my things, hija (daughter)?!” I remembered Dad groaning whenever I broached the subject of moving. How he worried about his papers and collection of magazines – Look, Life, Time, Newsweek, and yes, even Reader’s Digest!

For a while there Mom and I lamented about the house in Loyola. The buyer had torn it down and it is now the tallest condominium on that street. Perhaps it was for the best … We (and so many of our friends) have many happy memories of our time in Loyola Heights, but I think I would feel sadder if I passed by the house today and wondered who was sleeping in that large room, once occupied by four little girls. How about the boys’ room? I would wonder who was now browsing through the books lined in the gigantic bookcase in the study, and who was playing with the old turtle that had made our backyard pond its home.

“That house served us well. It was a good home,” said Mom. “Before we left I cleaned that house from top to bottom and left it spotless, even though I knew they were going to tear it down. Then I bade it good-bye and thanked it for being such a wonderful home for our family.”

I observed Mom walk across the living room, pass the dining room and kitchen, and head toward the hallway, which is just a few steps from her bedroom. I concluded, without a doubt in my mind, that all this was meant to be – the look, the feel of this house is almost identical to our house in Loyola. Best of all, it’s always felt like “home.”

They say there’s a reason for everything … It’s nice to know this house that Dad and Mom first built had a purpose from the beginning. It never sold because it was always meant to be “home.” I only hope old Mr. Turtle was able to walk away before the bulldozers leveled the house in Loyola …

A family gathering at the Makati home a few years after Mom moved there. It's so much like our home in Loyola. It is here where we now make happy memories.

A young Mom and Dad, newly married.

We have many happy memories of our house in Loyola Heights.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | Family, Life, Philippines | , , , | Leave a comment

What a difference a meme makes

Last I looked there were 22,498 members and counting, just in a matter of days. And I dare not count the number of posts and comments. If my inbox is any indication, it has reached thousands upon thousands.

Like the article “Facebook meme triggers UP frenzy of nostalgia” by JM Tuazon of GMA News says, in just a matter of days Facebook became a time machine for us graduates of the University of the Philippines – Diliman (UPD), bringing together thousands of UP alumni and thus creating an “online bonfire.”

Cleve JD Mallari, the group administrator, set up a group page on Facebook, which tasked members to complete the sentence “Taga-UP Diliman ka kung …” (You are from UP Diliman if …) with memories to which only alumni of UP Diliman could relate. Little did he know his Facebook page would explode in just a matter of days. Nostalgia set in and within a few days, the group page was filled with posts from enthusiastic alumni from all over the world. They flooded the site with memories of those good old days from food – like the best butterfly ice tea, the barbecue and delicious fish balls, to seemingly endless nights of studying, riding the “ikot” (the jeepney that serves as transportation around the UP Diliman campus), the terror teachers and the cool ones, and many amusing anecdotes about trying to register for classes and answering test questions on that famous blue book. They remembered the rallies against Martial Law and the boycotts. And, after all these years, so many of us still remember our student ID number!

Ann Angala’s post (807 and counting) “Taga UP-Diliman ka kung … hanggang ngayon memorize mo pa din student number mo…game! 87-00440,” (You’re from UP-Diliman if … until now you still have your student number memorized) along with many similar posts by others, made me recall that once very valuable student ID.

Like some other alumni, I still have my student ID 73-02494 – with my picture in my baul (treasure chest). I scanned and shared it with the group. I completed the sentence: “Taga UP- Diliman ka kung … hanggang ngayon nasa iyo pa ang UP ID card mo to recall the first time you became ‘a number.’” (… if until now you still have your UP ID card to recall the first time you became ‘a number.’) It generated 42 likes and 50 comments within a couple of hours. Ancient, paleolithic age, some of the young grads quipped, and some even noted “wagas!” (perfect)

I’m not sure why I kept my student ID. I think it signified freedom and independence for me. For 12 years, through nursery, pre-school, grade school and high school, I attended a convent school run by the Maryknoll sisters. Though the American sisters were already thought to be educating us to be independent thinkers and decision makers way ahead of the times, it just seemed natural that attending UP would be the next step for me after high school.

In UP I was just a number, but the freedom felt good. Freedom to learn – or not. Freedom to make something of myself – or not. With teachers who took us to task and challenged our minds. But it was not only the teachers, for there were many great teachers in the other good schools. In UP, there was just something different in the air you breathed. Whatever it was, just like the Maryknoll sisters, the university shaped me to be who I am and I am grateful for it.

I thought I had special grade school and high school memories, which I continue to share with longtime and very special friends, but this group page opened up yet another of many chapters in my life, which I had almost forgotten and it has been a pleasure to look back and cherish those times. Thank you, Cleve JD Mallari, for doing just that!

Whether it be due to common experiences over time, or our idealism, love for country, quest for truth (especially during the Martial Law days), and hope for a better future for a country that continues to have difficulty getting out of the trenches of graft and corruption, we have all united and made even more friends through your group page.

Mallari himself sums it up well in the article: “Iba-iba kasi yung kagandahan na nakikita ng bawat isa sa iba’t-ibang panahon na nag-stay sila sa campus,” he said. “Pero nagkakaisa kaming lahat sa pagmamahal namin sa pamantasang ito bilang mga Iskolar ng Bayan.” (Each generation experienced a special time when they stayed at the campus, but they all unite in their love for a university that reared scholars of our nation.)

In June Taguiwalo’s post (183 and counting): “Ano ang natapos mo sa UPD at ano naman ang trabaho mo?:)” (What did you finish in UP and what is your job now?), you see fruits that this powerful academic echelon of a university has produced, from international engineers, distinguished teachers, scientists, writers, proud fathers, mothers, homemakers, to highly regarded public servants. How can one not dare to hope for a better tomorrow?

73-02494 - just a number back then

August 16, 2011 Posted by | Life, Philippines | | 2 Comments

Happy Spring!

Yes, I know. It has been months since I have written in this blog. “Too busy,” I shrug off an answer when my friends ask me why. The truth is, sometimes, life slaps you down so hard it takes some time to get up. It’s happened before, and always, I managed to get up, though barely. This time, it took a toll on me, and even writing was no longer a safe harbor.

The tragic news came on Thanksgiving Day, right after we had enjoyed a great meal, a wonderful Thanksgiving with family. I look back now and realize God was still kind. When I received the news, He made sure I was surrounded and comforted by family. If a big storm had to hit me, I was in good company.

It’s taken months to get back on my feet. Some days I would even wonder how long I could keep it all together. Since then, Christmas has passed, we greeted a new year, and now, it is spring. Friends have visited, I’ve attended celebrations, loved ones have passed on and I have managed to continue to bury myself in my work and dote on my loved ones. I am grateful for the friends who know and who are brave enough to ask me how I am. Sometimes I can talk about it; other times, I just can’t. But they ask anyway, and it’s nice to know they care.

I know that no family in this world goes through life unscathed. Rich or poor, we have all had our share of problems. For years I have wondered, can anyone have a problem as unbearable as mine? For it’s a problem that won’t go away for many years, if at all.

The past months I’ve come to fully accept and also realize that things could be worse. I have friends who have close relatives who have “disappeared” and have found no closure; then there are those with a son or daughter in the military, stationed in the Middle East, and each day, they worry whether they will ever see their child again. Then there’s the tragedy in Japan, watching your family being swept away by the tsunami. There are those caring for relatives with debilitating sicknesses. Yes, no one goes through life unscathed.

In the past months I’ve also learned to compartmentalize my worries and try to dismiss the needless anxieties – to accept the things I cannot change and not dwell on them so much that it brings me (and the ones I love) down. And not to worry too much about the future. As my dad used to say, “God will provide.”

Just the other day I came across one of the columns my parents wrote in a weekly Philippine magazine. They related the story of some blind beggars in an Italian town. A man observed that one blind man seemed to be receiving more money than the others. Curious, the man approached the blind man and saw a small sign hanging across his chest. On it were written the words: “It is April, and I am blind!”

With April here, I think about this story and open my eyes to everything I didn’t see because I was dwelling on my sorrows. That radiant sun, the beautiful sky and stars aglow, the glorious sunset, the flowers that are now starting to bloom. I think of my very favorite Bible verses  in Matthew 6:26-34. These words calm me:

26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,

29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

His message is clear, isn’t it? May God protect me from needless anxiety. Keep me strong and let me continue to have faith. If God takes care of the trees, the flowers and birds, what more you and I, right?

It is April. The storm has passed for now and the sun is shining. Happy Spring!

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Children, Family, Friendship, Life, Philippines, Religion, Writing | , , | Leave a comment

Manny Pacquiao, you are my idol!

I have not been writing as often as I planned, even if there has been much to write about and so many thoughts running through my mind. There haven’t been enough hours in the day lately. Now that I have some time this weekend, let’s start with this one …

What’s this? Me, discussing sports again? And boxing, of all sports? I hate boxing. I think it’s a cruel sport. I think you have to have a certain psyche to take on such a sport, and I don’t like that type of psyche at all. Yet, I watched Manny Pacquiao’s latest fight.

Actually, the first fight I watched was his fight against Ricky Hatton in May of last year. I “forced” myself to watch it during a reunion with classmates. It was fun to cheer him on, and then, the suspense and shock of the second round knockout – I thought he killed the man. It left me in awe of this champ.

I never had a chance to watch the other fights, and no real interest after. All I heard about Pacquiao was his English (which made me squirm), his singing (which made me squirm even more), and then his run for Philippine Congress (which made me gasp). Then I watched him sing on Jimmy Kimmel twice (okay, cute, but not sensational). It made me squirm too.

At a friend’s house on Saturday, I watched Pacquiao fight Antonio Margarito. I learned then why this fight meant so much to the Filipinos – they were upset about Margarito’s reputation of being a cheater and his making fun of Freddie Roach’s Parkinson’s disease. Uh, not classy. So, I, too, wanted Pacquiao to knockout Margarito.

Watching the fight was an eye opener for me. Unlike in the Hatton fight, Manny didn’t knockout Margarito on Round 2, as I had hoped. In fact, they went the whole 12 rounds. I squirmed when Manny got caught in the ropes and was punched several times. I squirmed even more when Margarito’s face became practically unrecognizable.

This fight made me pause and changed my view of Pacquiao and boxing altogether.

I not only saw a world champ boxer, but I saw the true character of Manny Pacquiao. All of a sudden, my respect for the fighter and the man soared, as I watched Pacquiao show his concern over Margarito’s swollen eye. By the 11th and especially on the 12th round, it seemed like he had eased up on his opponent. He admitted later that he knew he had won and there was no point in further beating up the guy. “That’s not what boxing is all about,” Pacquiao told the commentator

Like my dad did with baseball, many have written about boxing as a metaphor of life. Boxing, they say, knocks off your arrogance and teaches you humility. You realize you are not infallible. You roll with the punches, and when you get hit, you get up again and try not to get knocked out. Sometimes, you get hit hard, but you need to get back up on your feet and bounce back again. Just like life …

I don’t think I will ever like boxing like I now like baseball, but I am getting to like Manny Pacquiao more and more. The man is truly noble, a gentleman. He not only has valor, he has heart, humility and kindness. He may be regarded as the “master” of his game, but as he has demonstrated by making the sign of the cross and reciting a prayer before and after each fight, he has another Master, a higher power, whom he acknowledges, and this is all right by me.

Manny Pacquiao wins!

I am starting to think that, perhaps, we do indeed need this simple, virtuous man in the Philippine Congress. He may stand among the very few politicians that have true concern for the plight of their countrymen and the future of the country. He is an example of a person coming from rags to riches who still remains humble and caring.

And sing? Heck, as far as I’m concerned, Manny can sing to the top of his lungs and as often as he would like.

I won’t even squirm anymore when Pacquiao gives interviews, because Manny Pacquiao, you are now my idol!

November 25, 2010 Posted by | Life, Philippines, Religion | , | Leave a comment

Marveling at the fast-paced world of instant communication

I continuously marvel at this fast-paced technology. I still remember when, in the late 1980s, VHS tapes were the big thing. My eldest daughter was around four years old then. We had to go somewhere and lamented we would have to miss our favorite TV show.

“Just tape it, Mom,” she hollered as-a-matter-of-factly while doing a cartwheel on the living room floor.

Her dad and I looked at each other and chuckled. This little girl didn’t know when we were first married, we had to make do with an old black and white TV with rabbit ears and no cable!

At that time computers were slow, big and bulky. Soon they, too, became speedy, compact and more advanced. Now, it is no longer enough to have a desktop; we need a laptop, or even an iPad. Now, computers and their software are advancing even faster than cars. For Macs it is no longer enough to have Tiger. There is Leopard and Snow Leopard. Windows is at number 7. My gosh, I still have to update my Microsoft Word so it reads docx!

Then there’s the marvelous e-mail. What a delight it was to receive that first e-mail from my sister in the Philippines!

“What’s your ulam (in Tagalog, the Philippine language, it means viand, a main dish that goes with rice) tonight?” she e-mailed me.

Adobo (a Filipino dish),” I e-mailed her back.

We used to e-mail each other frequently; now e-mail seems to take more time. Texting is the key to instant communication, as well as IM, iChat, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger and, of course, there is Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media. Today, we have Webcams and can actually talk and see each other at the same time.

With the mobile phone we can communicate with anyone in virtually any part of the world – instantly. I made the mistake of buying my 15-year-old daughter a new cell phone a few months ago. I thought it was neat because it was a touch phone. I didn’t realize it was a true smartphone and allowed her not only to text and take photos, but to use the Internet, as well. Then I got my cell phone bill and saw it skyrocket due to the e-mails and Web surfing she did when I grounded her from the computer!

This fast-paced technology has changed my world. Thanks to the Internet, I can learn about what’s happening around the globe. Through Facebook and my cell phone, I am now in touch with many old friends and relatives.

I do lament over the lost art of letter writing. I even chastise my kids and tell them by texting too much, they are losing the art of conversation. Yet, there are times when, even I, don’t feel like conversing for a long time. There are times when I just want to say “hi” to a friend and ask how she or he is doing. Sharing just one sentence on my wall can connect me with my friends. Their comments give me that warm feeling. I hope my comments make them feel the same way.

We can still write letters and we can still converse over the telephone. But look at all the other tools we now have! There is no excuse NOT to communicate with all these options at our fingertips. We can connect any time, in so many ways. It’s a wonderful world, with so many new and exciting innovations.

So, now, we come to this blog. I still have to master it, but communicating is the first step. Is anybody out there? …

September 10, 2010 Posted by | Philippines, Writing | 2 Comments

Just starting …

I’m just starting this thing that’s called a “blog.” I like to write. In fact, writing has been my career for over 30 years, along with being an adjunct political science instructor.

I started out as a government researcher in the Philippines, my homeland. After pursuing graduate studies here in the U.S. and marriage soon after, I settled in rural Iowa. In a place so unfamiliar to me, I didn’t know what to do, where to start, what job to pursue. The closest town had a population of 278 people. I became number 279. I thought to myself, “Well, I can write.” So began a very exciting and fulfilling career.

I started submitting weekly columns on international affairs (for $10 an article) to a local newspaper, and was eventually hired as a freelance writer. A few months later, I was hired by the rival paper as a reporter, columnist and, after several years, became editor.

When we moved to the city, I picked up where I left off, and pursued the same career. I also taught political science courses at nearby colleges and universities at the same time. By the time I left Iowa after having lived there for 25 years, I was managing editor of five community newspapers in the Des Moines area. I so loved those communities and still miss them today.

Now, living in California, I work in public relations and write about the real estate market, which can be quite interesting, especially in this state! But I miss that other kind of writing, where I can express my opinion about anything …

So, in an attempt to fill that void and keep up with this fast-changing technology, with much encouragement from my eldest daughter and close friends, I have decided perhaps I can do that type of writing in this thing called a “blog.” So much has changed since the time I used to mail a typewritten column to the newspaper. At that time, I already thought the electric typewriter was an improvement from the manual machine! Now, if I could just master this blog!

The weekly column I wrote for the community newspapers was called, “At ground level.” I named it such because I wrote about my first-hand experiences living in the U.S. – in a farm in rural America, and then, as life progressed, my everyday experiences as a wife, a mother, and as a journalist traipsing around several rural Iowa towns, and eventually, the city and its suburbs. I was sure that there were people out there who could identify with my feelings and observations.

“At ground level” was last published six years ago, when I decided to move on to a new chapter in my life. I was sad when I quit the newspapers, but I felt it was time to head west, where I am now, essentially starting over.

Adjusting to a new place doesn’t get any easier with age. There are times when I’ve felt it’s as tough as the first time when I, a city girl from another country, settled down in an Iowa farm. That’s what makes life so interesting – all the new challenges and experiences! And it’s why I am keeping the original title of my column, so I can share these experiences and my thoughts with everyone  – at ground level.

September 3, 2010 Posted by | California, Iowa, Philippines, Writing | Leave a comment