Sunday, December 30, 2007

Feeling my mortality

I knew something was wrong three quarters through the Cycling work-out with Ogie last Thursday noon. He was subbing for Emy who was on her holiday leave.

Ogie was good, if not a little bit too enthusiastic...then again, challenging work-outs like Cycling and RPM require a lot of spirit from the instructors if we are to stay on the bikes. His approach to the sets was new, as compared to the that of Emy which, by this time, I had more or less remembered enough to anticipate the moves. And so I intended to complete Ogie's class at the challenge level he set for us.

I added resistance when he instructed and followed the cadence he set and he added and set for a real cycling challenge. We must have added resistance of at least 30% for every set, including for sprints; some climbs were even at more than 50%. Yet I soldiered on, rationalising that I have done this many times daily, even twice daily, in the past. And so it was for 45 minutes with nine sets, including warm-up and cool down.

Two things that differed from my past work-outs were that I didn't have a drop to drink during the work-out and that it was especially warm in the studio for the duration of the work-out. I was following Emy's example of challenging myself by not taking breaks during the entire routine, including ones for drinking or stretching.

I just felt light-headed during the last climb. I was so winded just two minutes into the routine that I "cheated" and reduced my resistance by 20%. I was so tired the rest of the day that I practically passed out at my desk at around 3PM. I then started to binge on the chips and chocolates I received as gifts that day. Then the finger tips of both my hands started to tingle, like after compression. Then on occasion my stomach would heave if only slightly. I was having dizziness episodes on the drive home as well but I dismissed it as post-workout exhaustion.

But I was feeling again woozy the following morning. I was having brief bouts of dizziness accompanied by light-headedness. I borrowed the office digital blood pressure monitor at around 11:30 AM and it read: 137/76. Slightly high but likely caused by the rush to get to the office, albeit late. My second reading taken at around 8PM read: 147/80; higher now but likely because of the end-of-year party binge.

It was serious enough for me to forego two successive days of work-outs. In fact, I found myself praying those nights. I mean, it doesn't hurt to be prepared to meet the Maker, right? I just had to get back today but I passed on Sam's Cycling class which is a guaranteed hyper-tensioner, opting instead for resistance training using my Facebook-based workout guide. Tomorrow I will hazard Sam's Cycling again.

Wish me luck!

Going home to Lipa

My mom was quite insistent on us making the trip...she must've reminded me twice daily for a week. This was an important homecoming for her: her only female cousin on her mother's side was home from Mississauga, Ontario and celebrating her 73rd birthday. So we had to take this trip.

Tita came along of course, she's family after all. But we left Dad so he can attend to his uncle's birthday celebration later that night.

The trip started out languidly, as I had objected to leaving the house at 8AM. The heat had built up in the house so stepping out of the shower was like getting in a sauna. Dressing up was no fun as I had to change shirts twice just to mop up all the sweat.

We drove off at around 10 AM - making for a comfortable 2 hour road trip to Lipa. Traffic was light all the way until Nichols SLEX then the crawl until the Bicutan exit. We picked up a chocolate cake and gased up at Shell Magallanes beforehand though (Note: that chocolate cake is a steal at around P300). I had forgotten about the lifting of the truck ban so we had the behemoths as traveling companions all the way to Calamba.

Of course, any drive to Lipa with my mom and aunt automatically qualifies it as a pilgrimage so ingress-venue-egress rosaries are required. So we started the first one at the Southwoods exit and ended near the Makiling Residence Center in Bgy. Tulo (if we managed to have Sexmoan changed to Sasmuan, couldn't we do the same for Bgy. Tulo? Just thinking). We drove right into the Carmelite convent for the second rosary but left the last for the drive home.

We passed our Tita's house but it was empty. My mom called my aunt's daughter-in-law: what do you know, the venue is in the municipality of Mataas na Kahoy. My late uncle was from the town and inherited the family manse. And this was where the family was gathered.

I have never been to Mataas Na Kahoy (MNK, for short) so it was an adventure. I was instructed to drive along the National Highway towards Batangas City then hang a right after Fernando Air Base. Then a left at the first intersection right after the PNP checkpoint then a right right before a welcome arch.

The party was well under way. Now understand that this was a party for a 73 year old so there wasn't (much) booze or a garage band or a DI. It was a proper lunch, catered by family members, with certain food items serving specific cultural purposes. Pancit or local noodles is a fixture as it signifies long life. Lechon is another must-have as it denotes the host's stature. Most of everything else complements the two like the fresh cantaloupe and watermelon slices for dessert. The fresh lumpia and macaroni salad were on their way to bad in the heat though.

The canvas tent managed to block of the sun but couldn't do much about the heat. But a stiff breeze would steal through once in a while, briefly cutting through the humidity.

We were impressed upon to repair immediately to the second floor sala as the heat was making itself felt on the elders. Typical of old houses, screened windows with sliding shutters surrounded the room. Wooden cutouts decorated the eaves, allowing for better air circulation throughout the house. And the all living spaces are on the upper floors. The change was felt immediately: a cooling breeze was blowing through. It was a natural airconditioner and it dried us all up quickly.

True to form: dessert was laid out in the dining area. As if lechon, lumpia, pancit, deep-fried breaded fish, meatballs, fried chicken and rice weren't filling enough, they had ube cake, black forest cake, ripe mangoes and homemade chocolate muffins. I opted for the latter since Ate Joy made them by hand. It was your basic cupcake recipe but topped with gooey chocolate with the consistency of honey. I don't know what she put into it but it was pretty good; I think she mixed in some cinnamon powder into the dough. And nothing complements sugar better than coffee.

My mom and aunts spent the rest of the afternoon updating themselves on each other's lives and then some while I napped in the sala. A great way to spend a lazy weekend.

On watching a play with complimentary tickets

I was invited one late Friday afternoon to watch The Rep's play, Glorious, starring, among others, Joy Virata. Tickets were courtesy of a friend who got them for free...I guess "play-culture" hasn't yet taken hold in Manila that I managed to score the free viewing. Now, if the tickets were for a free movie, then all bets are off.

Since the tickets specified 8 P.M., I waded into Friday-night traffic to Greenbelt. Can't say much else of this quasi-penitential procession of vehicles into the heart of commercial Makati except for "Aaarrrggghh!" And they even had traffic enforcers: double "Aaarrrgghh!"

The secret to stree-free parking in Greenbelt, for you non-Makati denizens, is to immediatelly go to the Greenbelt 1 parking: it was half-filled, in contrast to the parking in the newer Greenbelt area. What's a short walk compared to burning gas (and brewing bile) while waiting for a free slot in the latter.

To the play. The rep of The Rep (pun intended) ensures one of a professionally run production. True to form, the second half started at the stated time, despite the fact that ex-PM Cesar Virata and Amb. Yuchengco were still at the theatre lobby.

I'm not a theatre-buff/critic but the cast, the production, and the score were excellent. The sound system could use an upgrade though: it was scratchy throughout the performance, detracting from the otherwise flawless night

A story

I have my hair cut at this barbershop in Robinsons Galleria and usually by any one of three barbers. On this particular day, Zaldy was free so I sat on his chair. In the course of the service, I commented on a feature on Channel 7 (the TV was on at that time) about the riles community. Suddenly, Zaldy said that he at one point lived in the streets, finding sleep in any relatively flat surface like a tricycle cab. I asked him when and how. He said it was something like seventeen years ago in Davao City. He had run away from home at fifteen after his parents asked him to drop out of school to allow an older sibling to finish schooling. He ended up living around Bangkerohan Market in Davao. He taught himself the trade (haircutting) to support himself. He only returned home after a year and only after his father spotted him in the market.

He ran away again three years later after a particularly bad argument that ended with both he and his father drawing blades on each other. He packed all his belongings in a small bag and took all of P300 to strike out into the world. He slipped onboard a Manila-bound boat as a stowaway. He was discovered as the boat was nearing Cebu island. He was emotionally traumatized by the experience, he said. The crew threatened to set him adrift as punishment. He offered his cutting services to work off the fare. He ended up cutting hair and shaving all the crew of the boat but had to leave his equipment at the port of Manila until he could make the P848 debt to the shipping company. He managed to recover his clipper and scissors after a week.

He marvelled how he was able to find his way around those first few months with not a word of Tagalog. He got so lost one time that he found himself in Cubao after missing his Boni stop on the bus -- he admitted crying in desperation. He even had to ask a Visayan to call a friend on his behalf. This friend, also from Davao, got him his first job and a place to stay. With nothing else to do and little money to do anything with, he concentrated on his work, often putting in 16-hour days in a small barbershop in Manila.

He proudly said that in the thirteen years since stepping off the boat, he had managed to earn enough as a barber to have owned three houses and a motorcycle. He lost everything when his marriage, and likely his confidence subsequently, broke down. He bemoans not having much presently and having to start all over again. Given his history and relative youth (he's only 31), I am sure he will be able to get much of what he lost back.

I sometimes bitch and moan (and if you really knew me, this is nothing new) about life in general, moreso now, with a slow economy and elections around the corner. But hearing his story got me thinking: there is really no depth from which we cannot ascend from. And it doesn't just take inheritance or special circumstance to uplift one's situation in life, it takes guts, determination, and perseverance.

Serendipity...with a P100 haircut.

Working off one's sins to one's parents

It came as a rude shock to me when, while alone, I realized that my parents were old. Not because of the caricature of the elderly that often have in mind (my parents still have most of their chewing teeth, all their hair and very few age lines) but because of the amount of medicine and relative care they now require; for example, a cold and chills were something my dad braved a decade ago but pneumonia almost took him two weeks ago. And so as any dutiful child, we align our lives towards first supplementing then likely down the road, providing for their future.

But beyond money, I also realized that we must provide for their emotional care as well. These are people who have devoted three to four decades to meaningful work that engaged their minds and bodies and provided them not just with monetary compensation but with psychical challenge and fulfillment, too. Retirement, I am now often told, starts their general decline.

It's good that my Dad has found his niche in the remittance business so banks have been asking for his consultative expertise. So for the family, it's one down, Mom to go. My mother is rarely un-engaged though. Concerns of the home occupy her, which is a good thing because I wouldn't know the first thing in anything to run our household. She always says that homemaking is the most important but unpaid profession. Nevertheless, my sibs and I have to worry.

Serendipity (that lovely thing again) came by way of a lecture in my mom's Church group. A U.P. professor taught her coffee-klatsch the basics of producing and retailing household chemicals. My mom came home excited about her new knowledge. My sibs and I gave her her first capital infusion and equipment. She then remodeled a section of the garage into her laboratory/factory. Last Christmas saw her first orders from our cousins and aunt for their personal gifts.

Despite her early success, she still has doubts on her ability to run her little enterprise. Nothing in her family background really prepared her for business. In fact, she was the first in so many generations of her (paternal-side) family to work, they being land-owners. So our role is not just to bank-roll her preoccupation but to encourage her as well.

Emotional development in children is important as it will determine how successful they will be as adults but it is equally important for the elderly in order to cope with the many physical changes they will or have already undergone (think menopause). Included in this is developing new challenges and new goals. And for us their children to contribute by engaging them in their new endeavors fully -- if only to give encouragement once in a while.

So watch out for Muy's Homecare Systems and support a way of paying parents' back for years of unconditional love.

Flying first

A friend recently told me that Cebu Pacific has come up with a novel idea in building a stable of pilots: offer a scholarship. As far as my friend can remember, the airline will offer anywhere between 50-80% coverage of the P3.5 million tuition in exchange for years of service. The only requirement is for 20-20 vision and a certain aptitude for flight mechanics. In just one year, you can be piloting an Airbus. I suddenly remembered my first flying lesson 22 years ago and wonder if this is a new possible professional direction.

I know it was a Friday the thirteenth because when I called my mom soon after getting back to barracks, she told me the significance of the date. My decision not to inform them was deliberate - I didn't want them to talk me out of the session. I just knew it was among those few things I had to do for myself then.

The session started easily enough: "Colonel", the head of the Aviation Dept., sends the service station wagon to pick you up from any point on campus. I believe I said to meet at the Logansport Gate. Colonel was a co-pilot of the B-52D nuclear bomber of the U.S. Strategic Air Command before retiring to teach in Culver. He also loves his tobacco and the whole car reeks of it. I believe I developed my taste for pipe tobacco from those car rides.

The drive was ordinary by any Culver spring: the trees lining the road were shaking off a harsh Midwestern winter by sprouting new leaves to catch the sun while squirrels were out in force gorging after their long sleep. Perfect day with perfect flying weather.

The first thing you see as you drive to the hangars are the gleaming white and maroon planes of the school, arranged wingtip-to-wingtip out on the tarmac.

The Colonel led me into the hangar to start the lesson. We started with the pre-flight briefing. I know I should've read the manual but with AP English, Chemistry, and Grenadiers practice everyday, I just didn't have the time...but also likely, neither the discipline.

He showed me around the aircraft. Up to that point, I have always thought of planes as being this solid metallic wonder: all firm and sleek and complicated. What I saw then came as a shock: I remember telling my mom later on that it as no more than an aluminum and plastic coffin. The forward hatch was open to reveal the engine and I reached out and shook the aluminum panel covering in disbelief. It was so pliable, almost frail.

Boarding the plane was even more surreal: we had to step on the low-slung wings of the Piper. And when you clambered on board, the plane shook, almost groaning at the weight of two men on her.

The cabin was fairly cramped but comfy for four. It was all of plastic forms and glass panels and analog instruments. The plane cross-section is no wider than one and a half arm's length: I remember reaching across the Colonel's line of sight just to get a feel of her dimensions. At this, the Colonel grunted his seeming amusement but said nothing, likely relishing the excitement (and fear?) of a newbie flier.

He talked me through the pre-flight with the manual. When everything checked out, he had me start the engine. The plane shuddered thrice before the engine caught then hummed as the propellers reached their full rpms.

We taxied out of the hangar using the yoke and the foot pedals. We made our way slowly to the single asphalt runway. I guess since we were basically a service and training field, we didn't need to have a control tower so we radioed a tower somewhere east of our location.

After final adjustment of the flaps, Colonel told me to "floor" the engine. The little plane shook with the increased power then slowly started her run down the asphalt. Our speed steadily increased as the grove of pine trees in the horizon came closer. When the needle hit 65 mph, Colonel told me to pull on the yoke. I guess I didn't do it fast enough because he suddenly grabbed the stick and pulled back harder. We missed the tree tops by a mere ten feet, quite close by aviation standards.

We climbed till we hit 1,000 feet, I think, then the Colonel had me level off. We adjusted the pitch for normal flight and pulled up the flaps. Our Pipers have fixed undercarriages so there was no need for wheel retraction.

Indiana is generally flat so at a thousand feet with clear skies, you can see all the way to Chicago. Actually, you will know it is Chicago by the ominous looking nimbus cloud of pollution hanging heavily above it.

The view is spectacular. With the plane optimized for level flight, I can release my tense hold on the yoke and watch the scenery. The ground is neatly laid out like a quilt of soy and wheat squares, Indiana's chief crops. Lake Maxinkuckee lies to my right like a large mirror. The cities of Logansport, South Bend, and Warsaw lay before and around us. I see other planes below us: crop-sprayers, sport planes, and business jets. The contrails of commercial aircraft criss-cross the skies above us.

Colonel teaches me to radio our identity and location to a nearby tower under whose jurisdiction we fly over. We repeat this several times as we cross over different zones of control.

I learn to bank for turns, keeping a certain landmark at my right or left wingtip. I learn slow turns that will allow me to descend slowly while circling an airfield. I learn quick dizzying turns to keep me at my present altitude but flying in the opposite direction. Keeping the nose level with the horizon is a good way of controlling the plane: nose up and we stall, nose down and we speed right up. Diving is quite a thrill -- comes with this screaming sound you hear on WWII movies of Stukas bombing and strafing.

We did a touch and go at another airfield, pretending to abort a landing. Learned that we shouldn't bounce an aircraft if we wanted to keep the undercarriage in one piece and our lunch properly digested.

Just before the hour was up, the Colonel decided to have some fun (at my expense). He had me turn off the engines so we can glide. The sudden quiet was unnerving - then again, seeing the plane as a coffin first then having to fly it unpowered now can be quite frightening. Colonel then had me practice banking while gliding. Altitude loss was far quicker now so corrections had to be made faster. I was white-knuckling all the way.

After we dropped down to something like 500 feet, Colonel had me start her back up. The rumbling sound was really welcome now; the revving like a soothing balm for my nerves. We climbed back up to altitude for even more fun.

Colonel had me feather the engine for level flight then had me watch the ball. He then slowly pulled on the yoke for a slow climb. The engines started shuddering, like running a car on 4th gear in traffic, then the plane suddenly lost power, slowed, then dropped. We were in a controlled stall. The Colonel simply let go the yoke to drop the nose then we built back the speed in a dive. Now that was better than a roller-coaster ride...and without me screaming like a little girl.

My time was up so we lined up for the approach. After radioing our position, we dropped the flaps and adjusted our pitch for landing. The deployed flaps changed our flying profile so much that we lose altitude gradually.

The wind over Maxinkuckee was now blowing across the runway that we had to fight yawing. If you thought handling the yoke was hard, controlling yaw with the foot pedals is a bigger challenge. Nothing in my experience taught me to control moving left to right with my feet alone. So it was a strange experience having to fly with my right wing forward up until fifteen feet above the runway. We then swung the plane back forward then touched down.

Actually, it was more bounced down. I think we went up twenty feet before settling back down hard. Shook me up so much that my teeth chattered. Since you always land with power up, you had to push down on the yoke to keep the nose down. The Colonel then feathered the engine while I applied the nose brake gently so as not to blow the tire. He had me taxi back to the line up. The Colonel was very charitable in his assessment: most newbies flub their landings and that with a bit more practice, I will nail a three-point landing eventually.

We did the post-flight check-up before unbuckling from the seats. We clambered out of the cabin and off the wing. I patted the plane as a way of thanking it for getting me back safely before walking over to the station wagon.

I was shaking when I got in the front seat. I was chilled by the wind and my sweaty undershirt. The temp had dropped considerably when the cabin doors were opened - two large men generate a lot of heat in a small enclosed space. I just pulled my jacket tighter around me. The Colonel thankfully turned the heater on low for the drive back.

I flew for another seven hours after that. It was getting expensive so I stopped before getting to fly my first solo. I still haven't gotten over my love of planes and of flying -- it's good that my work involves some air travel at least twice a year. And I still have getting my pilot's license in my list of life to-do's.

Ruining my Shangri-La

In as much as I would love to gush over my new found visual paradise, I have to rant over the public service failings of my favorite sights. Doesn't really detract from the beauty of the place but does soil the memories like paper acid on old favorite photographs.

You can really see how much local officials respect their constituents by the quality of civil structures, esp. transportation stops. Gare d'Nord, Termini, Central Station in Amsterdam, the bus stops in SIngapore, the Ferry Harbor of Hong Kong, heck, even the public urinals of Bayani are examples of elegant but utilitarian structures. The central bus station in GenSan along with the Manila Domestic Airport are both notorious eyesores and public health menace. A tin roof supported by concrete pillars in a virtual sea of cracked earth and dust does not a transportation node make. And don't even get me started on the public restrooms. Calling on Congresswoman Darlene! So you've KO'd Pacman, now get working on this.

Now really.... be continued on my next visit

Finding Shangri-La

Haven't you had this determination to see or have something? I'm sure we all have a virtual laundry list of desires. Everything from riches to a relationship to respect to power. So that's fairly normal.

Now can we remember what were our earliest desires in life? Back before college graduation, before puberty, even before our tween years. Well I can. I've always wanted in my heart of hearts to go to Davao. Really.

Sounds mundane but I have always had this fascination for Davao. It's not for the durian (which is always always good), the bananas, the pomelos, the waling-waling or whatever. It has always been for the idea of being in the place called Davao. True, my dad and sis' work with the airlines had afforded me to see many parts of the civilized world but I have always wished to set foot in Davao.

Well, my wishes were granted when the office arranged for an Outreach in 2005. We stayed at the Marco Polo Hotel, the best hotel in the city. But I was so disappointed: my decades long dream came true but it didn't feel at all special that time. Yes, I had my fill of durian and pomelo and marang (thank you God for this fruit!) and mangosteen and tuna belly and...well, you get the picture. Of course, the breakfast buffet at the hotel was just incredible (que sabroso!) but still no fireworks - unless you consider the flatulence after particularly large meals. I had the same feeling when I returned twice after for merchant events. I really couldn't understand why after wishing for so long that the experience was such a let-down.

This last trip however was different. A colleague and I decided to fly in General Santos City to visit KCC and Fit Mart Malls then commute to Davao after. We finished the work at around 3 PM so we went straight to the bus terminal to catch a Yellow Bus to Davao.

(Please see following blog-rant)

We opted to wait for the direct bus to Davao. Most of the other rides had one or two stops before the city, adding hours to an already three-hour road ride. Most stop in Digos, capital of Davao Sur while others were headed up the Muslim north like Cotabato, Koronadal, Magunidanao. If it weren't for Bonamine (God bless Meclizine MCL), these trips will never be for me. Or else, I would be busy mopping up today's lunch off the bus aisle or myself.

We finally got on our bus after depositing my very large rolling luggage. I usually travel with a large soft-sided rolling suitcase so I can check-in as many of our electronic equipment and merchandising material as possible then haul back as much pasalubong home. I just make sure I have at least five large garbage bags and a number of medium sized zip lock bags to wrap my essentials in. Remember, provincial airports are nothing more than (barely) airconditioned waiting sheds with no protection from the elements and luggage are usually left to drench during collection. And believe me, the stench of daing na palad/pusit/isda doesn't easily wash out from your clothes. So wrap them tight, making sure all the air is squeezed out of the bags. A roll of packing tape comes in handy, too.

Back to the trip. My mom trained her kids to be able to sleep as soon as our backs hit padding material. So true to form, I was snoring (and I do emphasize the snoring part) just as soon as the bus crossed left the second bus stop in the city.

I woke when I felt my head violently swaying from side to side. We were on the zig-zag descending towards the plains of Davao Sur. And just on time, I thought. The vista slowly unfolded as we would take a zig then a zag. The valley below was like a lush green carpet, no, a big lush green shag carpet. Trees, bushes and shrubs as far as the eye can see, arranged seemingly haphazardly. It was like wave upon undulating wave of agricultural success, neatly arranged in farm squares. I just wish it was offset by virgin forest.

This was the blessing of the gods: a temperate climate and away from the typhoon belt. Trees that have never been bent nor denuded by strong winds not swept away by floods or mudflows. At last, found my Shangri-La.

P.S. It has been recently tainted by the knowledge that the insecticide/miticide used to kill giant spiders that live among the banana trees is also slowly killing farm workers.