Photo by Jefferson Villacruz, from

My high school, the University of the Philippines Integrated School, is celebrating 100 years of existence tomorrow.  The old high school, on Katipunan Ave., Quezon City, was torn down a few years ago in favor of an Ayala mall, what is now known as the UP Town Center.  With the help of the Ayala Land, a new high school was built inside UP Campus in 2013, where the old Narra Residence Hall used to be.

The last time I went to a reunion was in 2012; the new high school building was still being built then, and we had the reunion at the elementary school grounds.  I’m actually excited to see the new building for the first time, and of course, to see my friends.  My high school class is pretty close-knit, probably more so than other classes, and we generally have a good time.

My high school friends and I were the children of UP faculty. Most of us lived on campus then.  We are still close; we meet several times a year. Over the years we have all moved out of UP campus, started working, raised families. Half of our barkada (gang) is in the United States and they try to come home for a visit at least once a year. We’re godparents to each others’ children.  I treasure the times we get to meet. Usually we spend the time just eating and talking.  I expect much of the same happening tomorrow at the reunion, only with more photos.

Daily Prompt: Treasure


[I’ve been remiss in blogging. In the last 3 years I’ve blogged only once each year. I’m trying something new, using a daily prompt. Hopefully that will keep me writing again.]

I was in graduate school in Australia and was living in the international students’ dorm. To save money, we would cook all our own meals, and so we bought the condiments we were used to, back in our home countries.

One of the most prized condiments was Thai fish sauce, the one with the squid pictured in the label. It was of very high quality, better than what I could get back in the Philippines. The only thing about fish sauce is that when you are cooking with it, the entire building begins to smell of it – there’s a pungent smell hinting of salty, fermenting, decaying fish that’s so overwhelming you’ll need to open the windows. This would awaken the salivary glands of those who grew up in cultures where the smell of cooking with fish sauce was commonplace. But it would most commonly drive Westerners out of the building, choking and gagging. Knowing this, I never cooked with it, just served it on the side, with lemon. It did not smell when used as a dipping sauce. Despite the trauma of the cooking smell, our Western friends would return and happily partake of the dish, whose flavors had been transformed and melded into an umami-rich delicacy.

It’s the same with cooking dried fish. The smell can cause landlords overseas to discriminate against Asian tenants. I never cooked dried fish in the dorm in Australia, as it wasn’t sold in the neighborhood, but the craving would occasionally haunt me until I got back home again.

I’ve heard of this phenomenon called the “yum-yuck” contrast, a term used by judges on cooking competition reality shows. You intellectually don’t like the ingredients used in the food someone made, or think they don’t go together well, but in reality, you can’t help but enjoy eating the dish. The smell has something to do with that. Or it’s a culture thing. Smell is memory, they say. I think of fish sauce and dried fish fondly.

Daily Prompt: Pungent


I wrote this in 2009, as a reflection on my mother’s experiences with tech and culture. It was originally on Multiply, which has now closed down, so I am missing the comments of my friends who know my mother and love her. I mentioned in one comment that she would be the Scully to my dad’s Mulder (gosh, how I loved watching The X-Files!).  I just wanted to share this with all of you, in case you could relate.

Personal Geographic

My mom was sitting on the sofa reading the current issue of Newsweek.  Inside were several letters to the editor from readers who felt that Michael Jackson was not treated with the respect that someone whose contribution to music was that significant.  One letter-writer admitted that he was a fan until the sordidness of the child molestation charge severely tainted his admiration of the singer.

Nanay:  What did Michael Jackson sing?  I might know it?

This was tough, because she had no personal reference to any of the songs I knew.

Me:  Er, it’s hard to pick something you’d know, because you never really listened to the radio.  I just realized now that you know absolutely nothing of rock and roll…

We try to explain to other people that my mom “was born in the 40s, lived twice through the ’50s, totally skipped the 60s, and went straight to the…

View original post 583 more words



One of the members of our Manila fountain pen group decided to start a small book club.  We had our first meeting last weekend, where we figured out what books we’d all like to read.  We’ll focus on a book each month, focusing initially on Filipino writers writing in English.  There are so many good books out there, but it’s a shame not to read the writers of one’s own country.  The guys in our group made a request not to have to read romance novels, and the rest of us heartily agreed (hahaha!).

This May we’re tackling the late Kerima Polotan‘s 1961 Stonehill Award-winning novel “The Hand of the Enemy”.  In June we’ll be reading her collection of essays “Adventures in a Forgotten Country”.  Both books are published by the University of the Philippines Press.  Also in our list is Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr.‘s Killing Time in a Warm Place (Anvil Publishing), a novel based on his experiences as a Martial Law detainee.  (Incidentally, Butch Dalisay is the founder of our fountain pen group.  We’re asking him to sign our copies.)  We’ll follow with National Artist Nick Joaquin‘s May Day Eve & Other Stories.  Next up is Esteban Javellana‘s 1947 classic “Without Seeing The Dawn” (which was made into a Tagalog tv mini-series when I was a child).  We’re also reading young Palanca winner F. H. Batacan‘s mystery novel featuring a “Jesuit priest who is also a forensic anthropologist as sleuth”, Smaller and Smaller Circles (UP Press).  Then we’ll read another classic of  Filipino immigrant fiction, Carlos Bulosan‘s America is in the Heart (Anvil Publishing). Just so we don’t get stuck on novels, we also picked a book of essays edited by Erlinda Panlilio, The Manila We Knew (Anvil Publishing). Then for something totally different, there’s Resil Mojares‘s Isabelo’s Archive (Anvil Publishing), a compilation of essays and notes on Philippine culture and history, based “on Isabelo de los Reyes’ groundbreaking attempt to build an archive of popular knowledge in the Philippines.”  And then there is Bambi Harper‘s new historical novel, Agueda (University of Sto. Tomas Publishing House).  There is also Luis Francia‘s History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos to consider.

The titles or order of reading might change.  But it’s good to have a reading list.  If we didn’t sit down to plan this, we wouldn’t know where to start! We can’t always meet in person, but we can always email our reading notes to each other.

From this list you can see we all have this common interest in literature, history (national and personal) and culture.  Indeed, in Jose Rizal’s words, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa kanyang paroroonan.” (He who does not look back from where he came will never reach his destination.)


The mass exodus to the beach began during the Holy Week.  We decided to wait until after Easter, when there wouldn’t be such a big crowd.  We went to our favorite resort, Anvaya Cove, in Morong, Bataan.  We’ve been going there since 2011, as guests of a family friend who’s a member.  I wrote about our first trip here (with some nice photos).


We stayed two nights, three days.  Whereas before we spent most of our time at the beach or at the swimming pools, this time we decided to explore the rest of the resort.  On our second day we took an afternoon walk, and met a flock of ducks that lived near the resort’s man-made lake.

2013-04-03-226xduckhunting DSCN4501x

2013-04-03-222xThe ducks were quite friendly and were probably used to being fed by visitors.  My 7-year-old niece tried to get as close as she could for this photo:

duckhunting DSCN4491xWe crossed a bridge and walked towards a lawn with small mango trees, and the ducks swam across the lake and followed us!  When they realized we weren’t going to feed them (we didn’t think to ask the Anvaya Cove staff what the rules were about feeding the ducks), they walked off to the clubhouse to importune some sympathetic visitors.

2013-04-03-223duckhunting DSCN4510xduckhunting DSCN4518xIt was quite funny to see the ducks all in a row 🙂  We walked back to our room in one of the casitas as the sun went down.

sunset DSCN4521x


I guess you can tell how well-managed a place is by its happy ducks! My sister, brother-in-law, niece and I had a grand time.



It was 1957.  The acacia trees lining the avenues at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman were not as tall and leafy as they are now.   He saw her walking to class one day.  She walked with a certain spring in her step, clutching her books.  “Magarput” is his word.  It’s an Ilocano word that’s hard to translate, but it connotes a certain kind of vivacious girliness.  He kept an eye out for this “magarput” little Chinese girl from the sugar lands of the South, who mostly spoke English because she didn’t know much Tagalog, the lingua franca of Manila.  She graduated class salutatorian from Negros Occidental High School.  In those days being an honors graduate automatically granted young students admission to UP Diliman.

She had no idea he was interested, until much later.  He was a good-looking Northern boy from the summer capital, Baguio City, and he was in UP to study mining engineering.  With other Ilocano boys he roomed at Narra Residence Hall and spent some of his free time with his fraternity brothers, or riding around in his friend’s Volkswagen Beetle serenading young ladies at the nearby dormitories.  She stayed at the YWCA dormitory across the street, where, every Sunday, they served the best fried chicken on campus.  All the Narra boys dreamed of being invited to dine at the YWCA on Sundays!

My dad learned she was secretary of the youth organization at the UP Protestant Chapel, the Church of the Risen Lord.  Naturally he joined, too. She had two other suitors, one of which became a top volcanologist, and the other, a prominent judge.  But she only had eyes for my dad.

One fateful day he was returning to Narra Residence Hall from one of their dates, and came upon two fraternities fighting violently nearby.  In the ensuing melee one boy stabbed him in the side!  My mother brought him to the hospital, where she met my paternal grandmother for the very first time.   When the boy who stabbed him found out that it was a case of mistaken identity, he was mortified.  He apologized, and they later decided not to file charges against him. Oddly, a few years later, when my parents got married, he sent them a nice set of placemats.

My dad later joined an equipment firm, while my mom taught high school Biology at UP. They continued to see each other.  On Valentine’s Day in 1967 he went over to her faculty room and said, “Let’s get married!”  So off they went to Quezon City Hall.  The two witnesses were my dad’s best friend and the judge’s secretary.  They didn’t have much money, so they went to Little Quiapo nearby and had a crushed ice dessert, halo-halo, to celebrate.   It was many years later that my mother was finally able to introduce my father to her mother.  My maternal grandma was fond of saying, “You know, I never met your father until after they got married, but he turned out to be my favorite son-in-law!”

Twenty-five years later they renewed their vows in church.  They’ve been together 46 years now, best friends and lovers and parents.   They are in their seventies.  My dad jokes that their marriage has survived this long because he is deaf in one ear.  My mom says it’s because they each maintain their individual interests and yet support each other’s pursuits.

But I think it’s the romance, which is still quite strong.  My friend Ana called me on the phone one night.  The phone reception was very clear and she could hear everything going on in the living room, and even heard the doorbell ring.  She heard the clattering of my mom’s shoes on the marble.  “Who’s that? ” she said.  “It’s my mom,” I explained.  “My dad just arrived.”  Suddenly it was quiet.  “What’s happening?  Why is it quiet?”  I laughed and said, “They’re kissing!”

There are pink tulips in a little pot on the table tonight.  It reminds me of the time he first gave her tulips many years ago.  They were the exotic and fashionable imported flowers to give on Valentine’s Day back then.  We were all stuck in traffic on our way to their wedding anniversary dinner.  After sniffing the tulips, she said with surprise, “But they don’t smell of anything!”  So he jumped out of the car and ran after a vendor selling sampaguita (jasmine) leis, and ran back.  “Here!” he said, panting, giving my mother a lei.  “Here’s the scent!”

Ain’t love grand.


When I was a little girl I was bookish and not the least bit sporty.  I did, however, love swimming, climbing trees, running with the dogs and playing games the neighborhood children played. I even endured hula dancing class.  It wasn’t until high school PE that I became one of the goalies of the girls’ soccer team.  I sometimes walked home all covered in mud.  The only time I was goalie and we played against another school, it was a long, hard match that ended in a draw.  No big deal – we had sandwiches and we had our stories, and we enjoyed ourselves.

I had a place in the team, a role and a goal, and I tried as much as possible to achieve it.  The sense of belonging and pride in the team was exhilarating.  For once I was the doer, not the watcher.  Many people prefer to just watch, and never give themselves a chance to do.

Many years later, I watched my goddaughter Jassie play girls’ Little League Softball.  Their team won the right to represent the Philippines at the International Little League World Series that year.  I cheered myself hoarse that day, and was so proud of my friends’ little girl.  I remembered thinking that when I was a little girl I could never hit anything on cue even if I tried.  I was hopeless at shooting a basketball or returning a volleyball serve.   The only thing I knew how to do was kick a ball in certain directions and block it with my body.  I thought it was great that kids nowadays had all these organized activities that gave them opportunities to discover physical and social skills, activities that weren’t available or fashionable when I was small.  All we had then was a choice of learning dance, or a musical instrument, or art, or kiddie cooking class.  Very few little girls then participated in team sports, unless you counted school patintero and Chinese garter games at recess.

Last Saturday I watched my niece Lilo play Little League T-ball.  It was a very hot and humid day, but families gathered around the El Circulo Verde field, cheering on their kids.  There’s something so appealing about watching 6-year-olds running around a diamond trying to catch a ball.  Each of them had a job to do.  Lilo batted twice; later she had to exit the game due to heat exhaustion.  They only played for an hour in the sweltering heat, but they all got their exercise, which is one thing kids always need enough of.

When Lilo started out with the International Little League Association of Manila‘s Major Holdings team, she was the smallest girl (and one of the youngest) in the group.  They practiced once a week on a weekday and played virtually every Saturday in the school year.  In the beginning she didn’t understand the game rules.  She cried whenever she was tagged out.  Eventually she learned to hit a ball on a tee strongly, even hit a coach’s pitch, and to catch a ball. And she learned to run as fast as she could.  There were days she didn’t feel like playing, but she played anyway.  There were days she was more interested in daydreaming while in the outfield. But she played anyway.  Her teammates didn’t all go to the same school, but they all became friends.

A year later, some teammates moved into the next age group.  Some stopped playing in favor of other pursuits.  This year Lilo plays in a mixed boys and girls group.  (More new friends!)

t-ball-01t-ball-02t-ball-03This sort of experience is so important.  It’s not about dressing up to look sporty, or so you have something to brag about (although some people do that).  It’s about learning to work with others, and to do your job the best way you can so you can contribute to the team’s success.  For most little girls, it’s trying out what you initially think you’re not inclined to do, with the hope of finding out that you really like what you’re doing.  And becoming the better person for it.

The last time I participated in a team sport, it was in Philippine airsoft, from 2001-2003.  I was a member of the PPG, an all-girl assault squad of Team Wyvern.  We participated in the first Kalis competition, where we had to successfully complete an assault module, a defense module and a hostage rescue module.  We held a respectable middle place in the competition, not bad for first-timers.  Here’s a couple of photos from those days when I was 20lbs lighter and had sharper cheekbones:

That’s Ria Miranda-Regis and me clearing out the first room of the FTI warehouse in Taguig.  (Thanks to Mike Wu for these photos!)

The PPG disbanded at a time when some of us became wives and mothers.  Those are important roles, too – except your team is your family this time.  As for me, I passed my airsoft gear on to my godson Raffi, who uses it mostly for cosplay.

Those with young children should take advantage of opportunities for team sport.  If you’re thinking about things like the expense and the time it takes up, believe me, it’s worth it.  Let your children join something, have fun and learn to play well with others.  There are many, many lessons to learn from experiences like this, but playing well with others is one of those skills that you may not realize means a lot when it comes to living well in this world.


easter-01Last Holy Week our entire family packed up and went to our parents’ place in Cavite, a place full of trees and flowering plants and birds.  While walking around, my sister Joy saw this empty nest.  It was about 9 inches high, and 3 inches across, perched on our bougainvillea.

easter-02We took my 5yo niece Lilo to the aratiles tree by the pond, and were able to pick a handful of berries.  I must have been in high school the last time I did that!  I think it’s one of those things all Pinoy kids should experience.

easter-03We also found this giant millipede.  Meanwhile, we collected the eggshells from the week’s omelettes for a special Easter project

easter-04which later became this Easter Egg Tree:

easter-05easter-06And while we didn’t have an Easter bunny, we were happy with Moonball the Easter Guinea Pig instead!


Photos copyright 2011 Joy Abara.  All rights reserved.


I haven’t attended a UP Lantern Parade in ages.  I can’t even remember when the last time was.  Maybe it was when I was still an undergrad, when I was actually IN the parade, not watching it.  Some friends of mine attend, like it was part of some great big pilgrimage.  If I lived nearer campus, I probably wouldn’t miss it.  All that creativity!  All that energy!  The cold air!

Last night I was at the Christmas party of my high school batchmates. Across me was Ney, who this morning was attempting to break 60 minutes in her 10k run.  That reminded me of January 2008 when I joined the UP Centennial Run, the 5k leg. It was still dark when we started running, and the fairy lights were still on in the bushes, and there was a huge swathe of mist in the air.  It was cold.  I was wearing two layers of running jersey.  I was shivering.  UP was beautiful.

It used to be that whenever I would dream of home, it would be of this place.  I never dream of the place where I live now.  They say the home in your head is the home of your heart – that is, of your childhood, if you had a happy one.  Mine was extremely happy.  I remember cool mornings, walking around campus with six dogs, with friends, chatting about everything and nothing.  The air was clean.  There was green everywhere.  Time was slow under the acacia arches.

After the Lantern Parade people used to gather at the Sunken Garden for a concert, to grill some barbecue, to laze about on sleeping bags and have a forbidden (within school perimeter) beer.  It would be the last day of the academic year, and people would celebrate.  One morning I woke up, and the sky was my bedroom ceiling.  Three of my close friends were snoring nearby on their sleeping bags.  It was amazing we were not arrested; we were the only people left in the entire Sunken Garden.  The sun was just about to rise.  I looked around, with this sense that the dawn seemed unreal.  I was shivering; UP was cold.  And so beautiful.


My mom was sitting on the sofa reading the current issue of Newsweek.  Inside were several letters to the editor from readers who felt that Michael Jackson was not treated with the respect that someone whose contribution to music was that significant.  One letter-writer admitted that he was a fan until the sordidness of the child molestation charge severely tainted his admiration of the singer.

Nanay:  What did Michael Jackson sing?  I might know it?

This was tough, because she had no personal reference to any of the songs I knew.

Me:  Er, it’s hard to pick something you’d know, because you never really listened to the radio.  I just realized now that you know absolutely nothing of rock and roll…

We try to explain to other people that my mom “was born in the 40s, lived twice through the ’50s, totally skipped the 60s, and went straight to the 70s.”  It may sound inconceivable that rock and roll never even made a dent in my mother’s life the way it knocked the breath out of ours, but it’s true.  She doesn’t know any fast Beatles songs, only “Michelle”.  She knows that Elvis gyrated his hips into musical history, but the only thing that registered in her memory was “Love Me Tender”.  She can, however, sing songs from any Broadway musical you’d care to name, for as long as it was performed before or around the same time frame as “Fiddler On The Roof”.

My mom’s musical context is golden age Hollywood.  She remembers “Lara’s Theme” from “Dr. Zhivago”.  Henry Mancini’s “A Time For Us” from “Romeo and Juliet”.  My dad courted my mom to the strains of “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.” Dance music meant very little to her then, she grew up bookish.  She was very shy so even just my dad’s big band sort-of-fast boogie made her nervous.

My mom knows ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” because she hears it on her Thursdays senior citizen dance class at the clubhouse (which she attends sporadically), and because she watched Meryl Streep in “Mamma Mia”.  She was amazed that people knew all the songs and sang along to the movie, which she thought was a cheerful comedy remake.  She couldn’t wrap her head around why Pierce Brosnan and the other guys wore sparkly Spandex and platform boots towards the end credits.  She knows disco as a place where one danced to fast music, but not the actual music itself, nor the lifestyle.  She remembers songs she can sing along with rather than to dance to.  I wonder what she’d make of the lyrics to “MacArthur Park”, especially the part about “leaving the cake out in the rain”.  I don’t know what to make of them either.

I tried to think of the most ubiquitous Michael Jackson song that my mom would have heard, and I came up with:

Me:  Er, do you remember the Christmases when I was a kid?  Almost all the holiday songs being played in the stores were sung by the Ray Conniff Singers?  Well, Michael was the little boy who sang “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”.

Nanay:  That was Michael Jackson???  How come I don’t know what else he sang when he grew up?

Me:  I don’t think you would have known the words to anything he ever sang as an adult.  They were songs we danced to in high school.  There were some other good ones, but you never listened to the radio, so I don’t see what difference it would make to you.

Nanay:  I remember he used to be such a good-looking black boy.  Didn’t you ever buy a record?

Me:  No, I wasn’t a fan.  I think I spent all my money on Duran Duran, U2 and The Police.

Nanay:  If you weren’t a fan, how come you know a lot of his songs?

Me:  Well, he was so talented, he had such a long and successful career.  They played his music everywhere.  I didn’t NEED to buy a record.

Nanay:  But nobody listens to radio now…

Me:  No.  I think they’d rather watch on Youtube.

Nanay:  (dreamily)  Youtube… oh yes, I like Youtube…

My mother, who totally missed out on popular music on radio and tv the first time around, is now a bona fide Youtube music video surfer.  She was last seen hunting down some Johnny Mathis.  What can I say.