Friday, January 25, 2008

John Gokongwei Jr.'s speech at the ad congress last year

John Gokongwei, Jr.
Ad Congress Speech
Nov 21, 2007

Before I begin, I want to say please bear with me, an 81-year-old man who just flew in from San Francisco 36 hours ago and is still suffering from jet lag. However, I hope I will be able to say what you want to hear.

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Thank you very much for having me here tonight to open the Ad Congress. I know how important this event is for our marketing and advertising colleagues. My people get very excited and go into a panic, every other year, at this time.

I would like to talk about my life, entrepreneurship, and globalization. I would like to talk about how we can become a great nation. You may wonder how one is connected to the other, but I promise that, as there is truth in advertising, the connection will come.

Let me begin with a story I have told many times. My own.

I was born to a rich Chinese-Filipino family. I spent my childhood in Cebu where my father owned a chain of movie houses, including the first air-conditioned one outside Manila. I was the eldest of six children and lived in a big house in Cebu's Forbes Park. A chauffeur drove me to school everyday as I went to San Carlos University, then and still one of the country's top schools. I topped my classes and had many friends. I would bring them to watch movies for free at my father's movie houses.

When I was 13, my father died suddenly of complications due to typhoid. Everything I enjoyed vanished instantly. My father's empire was built on credit. When he died, we lost everything our big house, our cars, our business to the banks.

I felt angry at the world for taking away my father, and for taking away all that I enjoyed before. When the free movies disappeared, I also lost half my friends. On the day I had to walk two miles to school for the very first time, I cried to my mother, a widow at 32. But she said: "You should feel lucky. Some people have no shoes to walk to school. What can you do? Your father died with 10 centavos in his pocket."

So, what can I do? I worked.

My mother sent my siblings to China where living standards were lower. She and I stayed in Cebu to work, and we sent them money regularly. My mother sold her jewelry. When that ran out, we sold roasted peanuts in the backyard of our much-smaller home. When that wasn't enough, I opened a small stall in a palengke. I chose one among several palengkes a few miles outside the city because there were fewer goods available for the people there. I woke up at five o'clock every morning for the long bicycle ride to the palengke with my basket of goods. There, I set up a table about three feet by two feet in size. I laid out my goods soap, candles, and thread and kept selling until everything was bought. Why these goods? Because these were hard times and this was a poor village, so people wanted and needed the basics: soap to keep them clean, candles to light the night, and thread to sew their clothes.

I was surrounded by other vendors, all of them much older. Many of them could be my grandparents. And they knew the ways of the palengke far more than a boy of 15, especially one who had never worked before.

But being young had its advantages. I did not tire as easily, and I moved more quickly. I was also more aggressive. After each day, I would make about 20 pesos in profit! There was enough to feed my siblings and still enough to pour back into the business. The pesos I made in the palengke were the pesos that went into building the business I have today.

After this experience, I told myself, "If I can compete with people so much older than me, if I can support my whole family at 15, I can do anything!"

Looking back, I wonder, what would have happened if my father had not left my family with nothing? Would I have become the man I am? Who knows?

The important thing to know is that life will always deal us a few bad cards. But we have to play those cards the best we can. And WE can play to win!

This was one lesson I picked up when I was a teenager. It has been my guiding principle ever since. And I have had 66 years to practice self-determination. When I wanted something, the best person to depend on was myself.

And so I continued to work. In 1943, I expanded and began trading goods between Cebu and Manila. From Cebu, I would transport tires on a small boat called a batel. After traveling for five days to Lucena, I would load them into a truck for the six-hour trip to Manila. I would end up sitting on top of my goods so they would not be stolen! In Manila , I would then purchase other goods from the earnings I made from the tires, to sell in Cebu.

Then, when WWII ended, I saw the opportunity for trading goods in post-war Philippines. I was 20 years old. With my brother Henry, I put up Amasia Trading which imported onions, flour, used clothing, old newspapers and magazines, and fruits from the United States. In 1948, my mother and I got my siblings back from China. I also converted a two-story building in Cebu to serve as our home, office, and warehouse all at the same time. The whole family began helping out with the business.

In 1957, at age 31, I spotted an opportunity in corn-starch manufacturing. But I was going to compete with Ludo and Luym, the richest group in Cebu and the biggest corn starch manufacturers. I borrowed money to finance the project. The first bank I approached made me wait for two hours, only to refuse my loan. The second one, China Bank, approved a P500,000.00 peso clean loan for me. Years later, the banker who extended that loan, Dr. Albino Sycip said that he saw something special in me. Today, I still wonder what that was, but I still thank Dr. Sycip to this day.

Upon launching our first product, Panda corn starch, a price war ensued. After the smoke cleared, Universal Corn Products was still left standing. It is the foundation upon which JG Summit Holdings now stands.

Interestingly, the price war also forced the closure of a third cornstarch company, and one of their chemists was Lucio Tan, who always kids me that I caused him to lose his job. I always reply that if it were not for me, he will not be one of the richest men in the Philippines today.

When my business grew, and it was time for me to bring in more people, my family, the professionals, the consultants, more employees, I knew that I had to be there to teach them what I knew. When dad died at age 34, he did not leave a succession plan. From that, I learned that one must teach people to take over a business at any time. The values of hard work that I learned from my father, I taught to my children. They started doing jobs here and there even when they were still in high school. Six years ago, I announced my retirement and handed the reins to my youngest brother James and only son Lance. But my children tease me because I still go to the office every day and make myself useful. I just hired my first Executive Assistant and moved into a bigger and nicer office.

Building a business to the size of JG Summit was not easy. Many challenges were thrown my way. I could have walked away from them, keeping the business small, but safe. Instead, I chose to fight. But this did not mean I won each time.

By 1976, at age 50, we had built significant businesses in food products anchored by a branded coffee called Blend 45, and agro-industrial products under the Robina Farms brand. That year, I faced one of my biggest challenges, and lost. And my loss was highly publicized, too. But I still believe that this was one of my defining moments.

In that decade, not many business opportunities were available due to the political and economic environment. Many Filipinos were already sending their money out of the country. As a Filipino, I felt that our money must be invested here. I decided to purchase shares in San Miguel, then one of the Philippines' biggest corporations. By 1976, I had acquired enough shares to sit on its board.

The media called me an upstart. "Who is Gokongwei and why is he doing all those terrible things to San Miguel?" ran one headline of the day. In another article, I was described as a pygmy going up against the powers-that-be. The San Miguel board of directors itself even paid for an ad in all the country's top newspapers telling the public why I should not be on the board. On the day of reckoning, shareholders quickly filled up the auditorium to witness the battle. My brother James and I had prepared for many hours for this debate. We were nervous and excited at the same time.

In the end, I did not get the board seat because of the Supreme Court Ruling. But I was able to prove to others and to myself that I was willing to put up a fight. I succeeded because I overcame my fear, and tried. I believe this battle helped define who I am today. In a twist to this story, I was invited to sit on the board of Anscor and San Miguel Hong Kong 5 years later. Lose some, win some.

Since then, I've become known as a serious player in the business world, but the challenges haven't stopped coming.

Let me tell you about the three most recent challenges. In all three, conventional wisdom bet against us. See, we set up businesses against market Goliaths in very high-capital industries: airline, telecoms, and beverage.

Challenge No. 1: In 1996, we decided to start an airline. At the time, the dominant airline in the country was PAL, and if you wanted to travel cheaply, you did not fly. You went by sea or by land.

However, my son Lance and I had a vision for Cebu Pacific: We wanted every Filipino to fly. Inspired by the low-cost carrier models in the United States , we believed that an airline based on the no-frills concept would work here. No hotmeals. No newspaper. Mono-class seating. Operating with a single aircraft type. Faster turn around time. It all worked, thus enabling Cebu Pacific to pass on savings to the consumer.

How did we do this? By sticking to our philosophy of "low cost, great value."

And we stick to that philosophy to this day. Cebu Pacific offers incentives. Customers can avail themselves of a tiered pricing scheme, with promotional seats for as low a P1. The earlier you book, the cheaper your ticket.

Cebu Pacific also made it convenient for passengers by making online booking available. This year, 1.25 million flights will be booked through our website. This reduced our distribution costs dramatically. Low cost. Great value.

When we started 11 years ago, Cebu Pacific flew only 360,000 passengers, with 24 daily flights to 3 destinations. This year, we expect to fly more than five million passengers, with over 120 daily flights to 20 local destinations and 12 Asian cities. Today, we are the largest in terms of domestic flights, routes and destinations.

We also have the youngest fleet in the region after acquiring new Airbus 319s and 320s. In January, new ATR planes will arrive. These are smaller planes that can land on smaller air strips like those in Palawan and Caticlan. Now you don't have to take a two-hour ride by mini-bus to get to the beach.

Largely because of Cebu Pacific, the average Filipino can now afford to fly. In 2005, 1 out of 12 Filipinos flew within a year. In 2012, by continuing to offer low fares, we hope to reduce that ratio to 1 out of 6. We want to see more and more Filipinos see their country and the world!

Challenge No. 2: In 2003, we established Digitel Mobile Philippines, Inc. and developed a brand for the mobile phone business called Sun Cellular. Prior to the launch of the brand, we were actually involved in a transaction to purchase PLDT shares of the majority shareholder.

The question in everyone's mind was how we could measure up to the two telecom giants. They were entrenched and we were late by eight years! PLDT held the landline monopoly for quite a while, and was first in the mobile phone industry. Globe was a younger company, but it launched digital mobile technology here.

But being a late player had its advantages. We could now build our platform from a broader perspective. We worked with more advanced technologies and intelligent systems not available ten years ago. We chose our suppliers based on the most cost-efficient hardware and software. Being a Johnny-come-lately allowed us to create and launch more innovative products, more quickly.

All these provided us with the opportunity to give the consumers a choice that would rock their world. The concept was simple. We would offer Filipinos to call and text as much as they want for a fixed monthly fee. For P250 a month, they could get in touch with anyone within the Sun network at any time. This means great savings of as much as 2/3 of their regular phone bill! Suddenly, we gained traction. Within one year of its introduction, Sun hit one million customers.

Once again, the paradigm shifts - this time in the telecom industry. Sun's 24/7 Call and Text unlimited changed the landscape of mobile-phone usage.

Today, we have over 4 million subscribers and 2000 cell sites around the archipelago. In a country where 97% of the market is pre-paid, we believe we have hit on the right strategy.

Sun Cellular is a Johnny-come-lately, but it's doing all right. It is a third player, but a significant one, in an industry where Cassandras believed a third player would perish. And as we have done in the realm of air travel, so have we done in the telecom world: We have changed the marketplace.

In the end, it is all about making life better for the consumer by giving them choices.

Challenge No. 3: In 2004, we launched C2, the green tea drink that would change the face of the local beverage industry -- then, a playground of cola companies. Iced tea was just a sugary brown drink served bottomless in restaurants. For many years, hardly was there any significant product innovation in the beverage business.

Admittedly, we had little experience in this area. Universal Robina Corporation is the leader in snack foods but our only background in beverage was instant coffee. Moreover, we would be entering the playground of huge multinationals. We decided to play anyway.

It all began when I was in China in 2003 and noticed the immense popularity of bottled iced tea. I thought that this product would have huge potential here. We knew that the Philippines were not a traditional tea-drinking country since more familiar to consumers were colas in returnable glass bottles. But precisely, this made the market ready for a different kind of beverage. One that refreshes yet gives the health benefits of green tea. We positioned it as a "spa" in a bottle. A drink that cools and cleans thus, C2 was born.

C2 immediately caught on with consumers. When we launched C2 in 2004, we sold 100,000 bottles in the first month. Three years later, Filipinos drink around 30 million bottles of C2 per month. Indeed, C2 is in a good place.

With Cebu Pacific, Sun Cellular, and C2, the JG Summit team took control of its destiny. And we did so in industries where old giants had set the rules of the game. It's not that we did not fear the giants. We knew we could have been crushed at the word go. So we just made sure we came repared with great products and great strategies. We ended up changing the rules of the game instead.

There goes the principle of self-determination, again. I tell you, it works for individuals as it does for companies. And as I firmly believe, it works for nations.

I have always wondered, like many of us, why we Filipinos have not lived up to our potential. We have proven we can. Manny Pacquiao and Efren Bata Reyes in sports. Lea Salonga and the UP Madrigal Singers in performing arts. Monique Lhuillier and Rafe Totenco in fashion. And these are just the names made famous by the media. There are many more who may not be celebrities but who have gained respect on the world stage.

But to be a truly great nation, we must also excel as entrepreneurs before the world. We must create Filipino brands for the global market place.

If we want to be philosophical, we can say that, with a world-class brand, we create pride for our nation. If we want to be practical, we can say that, with brands that succeed in the world, we create more jobs for our people, right here.

Then, we are able to take part in what's really important giving our people a big opportunity to raise their standards of living, giving them a real chance to improve their lives.

We can do it. Our neighbours have done it. So can we. In the last 54 years, Korea worked hard to rebuild itself after a world war and a civil war destroyed it. From an agricultural economy in 1945, it shifted to light industry, consumer products, and heavy industry in the '80s. At the turn of the 21st century, the Korean government focused on making Korea the world's leading IT nation. It did this by grabbing market share in key sectors like semiconductors, robotics, and biotechnology.

Today, one remarkable Korean brand has made it to the list of Top 100 Global Brands: Samsung. Less then a decade ago, Samsung meant nothing to consumers. By focusing on quality, design, and innovation, Samsung improved its products and its image. Today, it has surpassed the Japanese brand Sony. Now another Korean brand, LG Collins, is following in the footsteps of Samsung. It has also broken into the Top 100 Global Brands list.

What about China? Who would have thought that only 30 years after opening itself up to a market economy, China would become the world's fourth largest economy? Goods made in China are still thought of as cheap. Yet many brands around the world outsource their manufacturing to this country. China 's own brands like Lenovo, Haier, Chery QQ, and Huawei are fast gaining ground as well. I have no doubt they will be the next big electronics, technology and car brands in the world.

Lee Kwan Yu's book "From Third World to First" captures Singapore 's aspiration to join the First World. According to the book, Singapore was a trading post that the British developed as a nodal point in its maritime empire. The racial riots there made its officials determined to build a "multiracial society that would give equality to all citizens, regardless of race, language or religion."

When Singapore was asked to leave the Malaysian Federation of States in 1965, Lee Kwan Yew developed strategies that he executed with single-mindedness despite their being unpopular. He and his cabinet started to build a nation by establishing the basics: building infrastructure, establishing an army, weeding out corruption, providing mass housing, building a financial center. Forty short years after, Singapore has been transformed into the richest South East Asian country today, with a per capita income of US$32,000.

These days, Singapore is transforming itself once more. This time it wants to be the creative hub in Asia , maybe even the world. More and more, it is attracting the best minds from all over the world in filmmaking, biotechnology, media, and finance. Meantime, Singaporeans have also created world-class brands: Banyan Tree in the hospitality industry, Singapore Airlines in the Airline industry and Singapore Telecoms in the telco industry.

I often wonder: Why can't the Philippines , or a Filipino, do this?Fifty years after independence, we have yet to create a truly global brand. We cannot say the Philippines is too small because it has 86 million people. Switzerland , with 9 million people, created Nestle. Sweden, also with 9 million people, created Ericsson. Finland , even smaller with five million people, created Nokia. All three are major global brands, among others.

Yes, our country is well-known for its labor, as we continue to export people around the world. And after India , we are grabbing a bigger chunk of the pie in the call-center and business-process-outsourcing industries. But by and large, the Philippines has no big industrial base, and Filipinos do not create world-class products.

We should not be afraid to try even if we are laughed at. Japan, laughed at for its cars, produced Toyota. Korea, for its electronics, produced Samsung. Meanwhile, the Philippines' biggest companies 50 years ago majority of which are multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola, Procter and Gamble, and Unilever Philippines, for example are still the biggest companies today. There are very few big, local challengers.

But already, hats off to Filipino entrepreneurs making strides to globalize their brands.

Goldilocks has had much success in the Unites States and Canada, where half of its customers are non-Filipinos. Coffee-chain Figaro may be a small player in the coffee world today, but it is making the leap to the big time. Two Filipinas, Bea Valdez and Tina Ocampo, are now selling their Philippine-made jewelry and bags all over the world. Their labels are now at Barney's and Bergdorf's in the U.S. and in many other high-end shops in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

When we started our own foray outside the Philippines 30 years ago, it wasn't a walk in the park. We set up a small factory in Hong Kong to manufacture Jack and Jill potato chips there. Today, we are all over Asia. We have the number-one-potato-chips brand in Malaysia and Singapore. We are the leading biscuit manufacturer in Thailand , and a significant player in the candy market in Indonesia. Our Aces cereal brand is a market leader in many parts of China. C2 is now doing very well in Vietnam, selling over 3 million bottles a month there, after only 6 months in the market. Soon, we will launch C2 in other South East Asian markets.

I am 81 today. But I do not forget the little boy that I was in the palengke in Cebu. I still believe in family. I still want to make good. I still don't mind going up against those older and better than me. I still believe hard work will not fail me. And I still believe in people willing to think the same way.

Through the years, the market place has expanded: between cities, between countries, between continents. I want to urge you all here to think bigger. Why serve 86 million when you can sell to four billion Asians? And that's just to start you off. Because there is still the world beyond Asia .

When you go back to your offices, think of ways to sell and market your products and services to the world. Create world-class brands.

You can if you really tried. I did. As a boy, I sold peanuts from my backyard. Today, I sell snacks to the world.

I want to see other Filipinos do the same.

Thank you and good evening once again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

For all that I've batbat here about taking chances, it's not really that easy, after all, now that I think about it. One only has to look around; there are so many reasons to be disillusioned! There are so many jaw-dropping stories of guys with strings of girls, it's enough to break my heart and make me want to vomit.

I never thought I'd live to say this, but I'm really absolutely super thankful that my mother was strict with me! I think she might have saved me from a dozen heartbreaks. Even now, all these stories make me want to be even stricter with my own future daughter. And I will personally break every breakable bone of any guy who breaks her heart. Come to think of it, I will personally break every breakable bone of any guy who hurts my sister. Love is a risk, my ass! It's freakin' suicide.

Still... In the face of all the scary stories in the world, this may sound naive, but I do trust Aivan. I know the nearly 4 years that it took for us to get from "just friends" to where we are right now is not a foolproof guarantee that neither of us will get hurt. But it helps. The theory that I'm banking on is that a guy who waits that long really means business. Not that that was the reason why it took us that long. But it was just as well. We often ask each other, "Do you trust me?" I do. He does. That's just the way love goes, I guess. You just have to trust...and hope for the best.

How does a girl (or a guy for that matter) ensure that she doesn't end up getting hurt? I've spent the last two nauseous hours thinking about it, and I've only come up with 2 ideas:

1. Be the kind of girl a guy wouldn't want to hurt. Don't ask me how.
2. Pray! Pray! Pray! The power of prayer is not to be underestimated. In the end, the love of God is stronger than...anything! Pray you'll know the right person when you see him. Pray you'll do everything according to His will. Pray for the strength (yours and his) to resist temptation. Just pray.

Love really is scary. There but for the grace of God go I.


* * * * * * *


Our Lowland pics...




SHMILY

I'm not a girl who cries easily. This story, though, made me hide my face and burst into tears. I don't know who the author is (I got it from a friend who received it in an email), but I hope he or she won't mind if I share it with everyone else. It's a story about the kind of love that I hope I'll experience until the day I die. May it be yours too.

My grandparents were married for over half a century, and played their own special game from the time they had met each other. The goal of their game was to write the word “shmily” in a surprise place for the other to find. They took turns leaving “shmily” around the house, and as soon as one of them discovered it, it was their turn to hide it once more. They dragged “shmily” with their fingers through the sugar and flour containers to await whoever was preparing the next meal. They smeared it in the dew on the windows overlooking the patio where my grandma always fed us with warm, homemade pudding with blue food coloring. “Shmily” was written in the steam left on the mirror after a hot shower, where it would reappear bath after bath. At one point, my grandmother even unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper to leave “shmily” on the very last sheet.

There was no end to the places “shmily” would pop up. Little notes with “shmily” scribbled hurriedly were found on dashboards and car seats, or taped to steering wheels. The notes were stuffed inside shoes and left under pillows. “Shmily” was written in the dust upon the mantel and traced in the ashes of the fireplace. This mysterious word was as much a part of my grandparents’ house as the furniture. It took me along time before I was able to fully appreciate my grandparents’ game.

Skepticism has kept me from believing in true love—one that is pure and enduring. However, I never doubted my grandparents’ relationship. They had love down pat. It was more than their flirtatious little games; it was a way of life. Their relationship was based on a devotion and passionate affection which not everyone is lucky enough to experience. Grandma and Grandpa held hands every chance they could. They stole kisses as they bumped into each other in their tiny kitchen. They finished each other’s sentences and shared the daily crossword puzzle and word jumble. My grandma whispered to me about how cute my grandpa was, how handsome and old he had grown to be. Before every meal they bowed their heads and gave thanks, marveling at their blessings: a wonderful family, good fortune, and each other.

But there was a dark cloud in my grandparents’ life: my grandmother had breast cancer. The disease had first appeared ten years earlier. As always, Grandpa was with her every step of the way. He comforted her in their yellow room, painted that way so that she could always be surrounded by sunshine, even when she was too sick to go outside. Now the cancer was again attacking her body. With the help of a cane and my grandfather’s steady hand, they went to church every morning. But my grandmother grew steadily weaker until, finally, she could not leave the house anymore. For a while, Grandpa went to church alone, praying for God to watch over his wife.

Then one day, what we all dreaded finally happened. Grandma was gone.

“SHMILY”…. There it was again—scrawled in bright yellow ink on the pink ribbons of my grandmother’s funeral bouquet. As the crowd thinned and the last mourners turned to leave, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members came forward and gathered around Grandma one last time.

Grandpa stepped up to my grandmother’s casket and, taking a shaky breath, he began to sing to her very softly. Through his tears and grief, the old song came, a deep throaty lullaby. Shaking with my own sorrow, I will never forget that moment. For I knew that, although I couldn’t begin to fathom the depth of their love, I had been privileged to witness its unmatched beauty.

“S-h-m-i-l-y ------------- See How Much I Love You!”


* * * * * * *


It was only this morning that I was able to obtain copies of our pictures caroling at Dr. & Dra. Nuico's house. Actually, these pictures had been languishing in the computer at the Surgical Conference Room for quite some time, but, like a true Filipino, I too am afflicted by manana habit. ;-D









Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January 20, 2008

There are 3 Catholic churches in Dumaguete, as far as I know. Perpetual, a Redemptorist church, is the preference of most people I know in Dumaguete (just those I know), and is where I go if I’m running late, because they also start their Masses late. (Hehe.) Usually, though, I hear Mass at Immaculate, the church just across Lee Plaza. I like it there because the church is small and intimate, the location is convenient, I know many of the songs, and the sermons are usually good.

This morning, though, I attended Mass at the Cathedral, where, as you might expect of any place’s Cathedral, there are lots of Masses and lots of people attending the Masses. I had arrived too late at Immaculate, so I took a pedicab to Cathedral. An earlier Mass was almost ending, and I decided to wait for the next.

During the Mass, I couldn’t help glancing around at the church’s interior. The altar area was surrounded by lamps such as those you might find in the streets back in classical times, fixed to the walls by ornately-shaped iron. The lower part of the walls were overlaid with stones fitted together, almost like cobblestones, and there were arches leading to the square as from alcoves. It all had the impression of a courtyard where people might mingle as they made their way home. And that made me think about the Mass itself.

I grew up thinking that going to Mass every Sunday was just a Catholic thing. A requirement, but not a burden. It was just something everyone did, like eating, or going to school. It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to see it in a different light. When I joined the Ministry of Lectors and became more familiar with Bible verses and themes, many of the priest’s prayers suddenly became familiar as well. The words leapt out from the Missal and presented themselves as something I’d come across from this or that book of the Bible, or concepts presented in this Letter or that. And I began to realize that Mass isn’t just a ritual that somebody put together. It isn’t just about honoring the Sabbath day. It’s a celebration, a marriage of Biblical teachings and centuries of tradition, created with the intention to praise, to thank, to remember.

Funnily enough, what really made me think about Mass in a new way is JRR Tolkien’s book Lord of the Rings. You know how, after the war, they all gathered in the fields of Ithilien and praised their heroes and sang songs and all that? Well, Mass is a bit like that. Let me borrow an analogy from CS Lewis.

Think of this world as a battleground between God and the former angels who rebelled against him. The enemy is everywhere; everything looked pretty bleak. Then Jesus came and, with a battleplan that the enemy did not anticipate, He delivered the victory. From a people without hope, we suddenly found ourselves free, our sins erased, the gift of salvation and the promise of heaven within our reach.

And so we celebrate. We come together every week and greet each other as fellow believers. We remember the times when we were cowards or traitors, when we didn’t always do the right thing, and we ask forgiveness. Then we praise our great King. We tell stories of His deeds, tales of our ancestors and how they, too, were rescued by the King. We sing psalms to praise Him again. And we recount His words, the encounters our people had with Him. We reenact His sacrifice, for how better to tell that story, that unique battleplan and the victory that followed? And finally, by partaking of bread and wine, we accept Him, and acknowledge Him as our Lord and Savior. When our celebration ends, we “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Of course that's just how I think about it. Surely there are deeper explanations. But, in the end, I doubt it matters whether one thinks of the Mass in terms of theological concepts or, as I do, with reference to stories and pictures that one is familiar with. What's more important, I think, is that we truly make our faith our own. What's important is that it truly means something to us. Every Mass, every prayer, every time we make the sign of the Cross, indeed, every moment of our lives, is a chance to commune with God; it's just our loss if we don't.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

migraine girl

I had my very first migraine attack this morning. The back of my head started throbbing, I felt like throwing up every 2 seconds, and, like something out of a Harrison's page, I actually had an aura on my left eye: scintillating lights forming an inverted C. The nausea I felt was actually aggravated by the Piroxicam tablet I took sublingually, and I eventually vomited my entire breakfast. How do people with migraines stand it?! It's even worse than having peptic ulcer, and even that can be unbearable.

Now you're probably thinking: how can a blog about a headache be interesting? (I'm thinking the same thing. It can't.)

Still, the idea of living with pain seems to be worth thinking about. I am reminded of Mrs. Dubose, this grouchy old lady in Harper Lee's book To Kill A Mockingbird. She was forever shouting all sorts of unpleasant comments to passers by, and Scout, the kid who narrates the story, only later learns that she had...I forgot what disease. She'd been taking morphine, got addicted to it, then decided she wanted to "die beholden to nothing and nobody." So she quit the morphine cold turkey, suffered enormously, and became even meaner. (Hehe.) But she got what she wanted: she died free, free even from her pain medications. Atticus Finch said she was one of the bravest ladies he ever knew, and that's a lot coming from a man as noble as Atticus Finch.

(By the way, if you haven't yet read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, do! You'll thank me later.)

I don't think I can be as brave as Mrs. Dubose. Anyway, what's wrong with taking morphine and making your last days on earth more pleasant? It'll be a lot easier for those around you, too. I don't see the point of dying beholden to nothing and nobody but in the process making life difficult for the people who love you because the pain is making you so cranky. Still, I admire Mrs. Dubose for believing in something and standing by it inspite of what it cost her.

People carry around different sorts of pain: it could be a migraine, it could be cancer pain, or it could be grief, for loved ones lost, efforts unnoticed, deeds unthanked. Curing diseases takes skill and dedication. But healing hurts, that's another thing altogether, and I'd like to be able to do that, too.

Monday, January 14, 2008



Have you ever had so much fun that you just don’t want the day to end? Okay, so medyo OA ra, hehe, but I did have tons of fun yesterday at Mabinay. First, we went spelunking. The first cave we visited was muddy and was described by Irwin, the queen of 3rd floor nurses, as “the most miserable experience of my life.” It wasn’t Gimli’s Glittering Caves, for sure, but the trek was still amazing. I’ve never in my life seen stalactites and stalagmites before, and they looked awfully like corals. Once we were at the heart of the cave, we tried turning off all our lights, and we had a few seconds of total darkness, which felt amazing. We also visited 2 other caves, one with a natural skylight and a serpent’s head formation on the roof, and the other a small cave with sparkling stalactites, aptly named Crystal Cave. Jen kept saying how wonderful God must be to have made such awesome creations. Even the drizzle didn’t dampen our spirits; in fact, the rain made it more fun to hike through the trees and bushes as we went from cave to cave.




After a lunch of kaldereta, paksiw and turkey, we headed to the Mabinay bridge, which towered over a river with visibly strong currents. Our guides had set up a rappelling system, with which we were to descend by rope from the bridge to almost water level, after which they were to pull us to the river bank. Irwin went first, then Chofi, then Kent, then me. I’d tried rappelling before but it was in a short cliff at Family Park, whereas this time there was no rock to push our feet against. We would be literally hanging from the bridge with nothing supporting our weight except one hand and a rope wound around an otso and tied to the bridge’s steel railings. I wasn’t scared at all, except when I was already there, leaning into the open air and about to kick off the bridge. In rappelling, as in a lot of things in life, it’s letting go that’s the hardest. After that, it was pure exhilaration as I descended; the 360° view was amazing; and though my glove got caught in the otso and my fingers were compressed for too many seconds, it was a really fun rappel.

Our last stop was in the Mabinay spring / mini-lake, where we fooled around in kayaks. The water was deep so I wasn’t able to swim that much, but it was fun rowing around and examining the lake’s edges and just floating lazily in the water. I was “previous” so, during the ride back to Dumaguete, I soon fell asleep, to the sound of Aegis songs blasting out of Dr. Bobbin Sy’s speakers. I had just enough energy, when we arrived in Dumaguete, to go to City Burger with Jen, Arlyn, Kent, Chofi and Sherwin for a late dinner. When we got back to Abby, I fell asleep in the middle of sending out “good night” messages. It had been a day to remember.

Of course, one of the nice things about having adventures is getting to brag about it after. So... Feel free to eat your heart out (hehe): ;-D
















Friday, January 11, 2008

Disaster Queen.

That was the title my fellow VINES campers conferred on me after I managed to fall on my ass in the mud not once! not twice! but three times! yeah! during our four-day camp at Mantalongon, Dalaguete several years ago.

Ah, those were the days. I was 15 years old, an incoming high school senior and looking for a fun way to spend the summer. Then I learned about a group named VISAYAS NETWORK FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY composed mostly of college students from UP Cebu and Velez, and I heard they were organizing a workcamp in Dalaguete, known to be the "Little Baguio" of Cebu because of its cold climate. A few friends and I signed up, and pretty soon we were out there making rock weirs in the middle of a river and trekking up mountains.

That was my first exposure to the great outdoors and I've always loved nature tripping ever since. That's why, this Sunday, you'll find me in Mabinay, spelunking and rappelling with Jeanette, Arlyn, Ver, Sherwin, Chofi, Kent and the 3rd floor staff of SUMC. I can't wait! ;-) I've never gone spelunking before, so it'll be my first encounter with stalactites and stalagmites and blood-sucking bats. Haha! I'll look so silly in my headlamp, those suckers'll probably head for me first.

I also want to try skydiving and bungee jumping. (Is that how it's spelled?) I've already tried snorkeling in Apo Island, so I think I'd like to try scuba diving next... Won't it be cool to swim with dolphins? Or go underwater in a cage and watch great white sharks swim around? And I would really love to go on a safari. I've only ever seen a lion from a distance, and its voice was a little hoarse that time, so when it roared, it kind of sounded funny and not so majestic. Won't it be really cool to live in Narnia and be with Aslan all the time? But in this lifetime, my ultimate adventure goal is to go on a cruise to Antarctica; I've wanted to ever since I read Troubling A Star by Madeleine L'Engle. But now that I think about it, an African safari is now a close second in the list of things I want to do before I die. Hmmm... I also want to write a book before I die. But that's another story.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

what's your favorite Bible story?

What knowledge I have of the Bible has less to do with my faith than one might expect. Of course, if I wasn't a Christian, I probably wouldn't have even seen a Bible. But what I mean is that, while I started reading the Bible at a young age, it was mostly because of my fascination with the stories it contained. Verses came much later.

I have recently (just a few minutes ago, actually) resolved to read more of the Bible this year. There are several versions: my favorite is the New American Bible, which is elegantly and beautifully written but is still easy to understand. This is the version used in the English lectionary for Catholic masses. You can access an online NAB put up by the Vatican at this address: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM. Protestant versions include the oft-quoted King James Version, which is in Old English and thus takes me longer to process, and the New Living Translation, which is in modern day-to-day English. And for those who appreciate the Cebuano language, there's a Cebuano version, in which you can acquaint yourself with Bisaya words you hitherto never knew existed. Hehe.

Some of my favorite Bible stories / characters / trivia:

1. Esther - This is about a young Jewish girl who became queen. This was when the Jews were taken into captivity and tells of how Esther and her uncle Mordecai were able to save their people. I think there's been a movie version made recently, entitled, I think, A Night With The King. Or something.

2. Maccabees - one of my favorite battle stories. Think: "300" with a Biblical twist.

3. Hezekiah - God actually "turned back time" for him and added 15 years to his life. He was one of the few good kings of Israel, and one time, the Assyrians had completely surrounded his army and the Israelites thought they were surely going to lose the battle. They prayed to God, and that night, while the Assyrians were sleeping, an angel came and killed them all. How cool is that?

4. David - Few Biblical characters had as colorful and adventurous a life as this guy. One minute he was looking after sheep, and the next he had slayed a giant, and the next he was running for his life from his father-in-law (who just happened to be the King of Israel), and the next minute, he becomes king. Okay, so it didn't happen as quickly or as easily as that. And he certainly wasn't perfect: in one of his lowest moments, he put one of his soldiers on the front of the battle so that the soldier would certainly die and he could claim the soldier's wife. But he was repentant, and the Lord forgave him, and this should give us hope: whatever we've done, however low we've come, God will always welcome us back into His good graces. David proceeded to become Israel's greatest King.

5. Bel and the Dragon - This is a Daniel story. There are a lot of Daniel stories in the Bible, and I'm not sure they refer to just one person. But anyway, in this story, Daniel proved that the god the people worshipped wasn't real by proving that Bel wasn't actually eating the food the people offered to him. Daniel spread ashes (or was it dust? can't remember...) on the floor of Bel's temple, and the next morning, there were footprints all over the floor. The people then discovered that it was actually the priests and their families who were eating the food. What say you, Sherlock Holmes?

6. Moses in the house! - When the Israelites escaped from Egypt and journeyed back to Israel, it wasn't just a matter of getting from Point A to Point B. They encountered a lot of enemies and fought a lot of battles on the way. In one of those battles, they noticed that when Moses was holding up his hands, the Israelites would seem to be winning the battle. But when he put them down, their enemies would get the better of them. Their solution: they made Moses sit on a rock, and Aaron and this other guy held up his hands for him. Of course they won. Of course.

7. Elijah - after an exciting and powerful ministry, got taken up to heaven by a flaming chariot. Again, how cool is that?

And sooooo many others.

You know how we're often told that as Christians we should read the Bible and learn God's works and words by heart? It can be a daunting task, especially if you're Catholic and the only verse you know is John 3:16. Well, try reading the Bible, not because you should, but because it might be a good read. There's a lot of action, a lot of drama, a lot of bloopers and there are quotable quotes galore. And keep in mind the most unlikely, the most dramatic, the most heartwarming story of all: God became man to rescue us. Now how cool is THAT?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

taking chances

what do you say to taking chances?
what do you say to jumping off the edge?
- Celine Dion, "Taking Chances"

Warning: This can be a little corny. Okay, a lot corny. And a bit mushy. And confusing. Actually, Cafe Noriter has run out of coffee so I'm not thinking that clearly right now. But this might still be worth reading. Hehe!

While Arlyn and I were walking home yesterday, we saw a scraggly (is there actually such a word? but it sounds just about right to describe the) kitten walking down the Laguna-Silliman road looking terribly malnourished. Now that isn't at all unusual in stray cats. But this one looked just a few weeks old, and it wasn't with its mother, and there was a dirty ditch nearby and it looked like anytime soon the little kitten would just drink the gray ditch water the way I'd seen so many stray dogs do. So I called out to it and invited it to follow us. I'm not now sure whether I actually expected it to do so. But the kitten, after ignoring my first few calls, made up its mind to follow us after all. When pedicabs passed, it would appear lost and make a few turns. But when I called out to it again, it would pick up our trail. The kitten followed us all the way to the Laguna gate, where it went through the wire fence, and turned right like we did to Abby Jacobs. I was delighted that it was being so compliant. I opened the door for the miming and it climbed in and accepted the slice of bread that I stole from Tonette's loaf. (Hehe, Ton, kung nagbasa ka ani, hehe, mangayo diay ko ug pan. Salamat daan! Hahaha!) When I got home from a dinner/talk that night, it miaowed so loud repeatedly, I was afraid Dr. Ang might murder it in the middle of the night. As we sat in the bamboo chair, it climbed into my lap and sat contentedly.

All right, I won't turn this into a whole novel about me and my new pet kitten. The thing is, when I went home for lunch today, my new miming was gone: it had pooped in the kitchen and Sir William (he sounds like a knight, but he's actually a Surebright...haha, doesn't that rhyme) put it out and it left Abby. And this will sound terribly corny, but I miss my miming. It wasn't actually mine, but it opened my heart when it climbed up my lap. I felt then that it wasn't just after a free meal: it was after me, it wanted to be my friend. Or...it might just have liked something soft to sit on. But still...

Now that I think about it, I don't know what I would have done with it afterwards. I take terrible care of pets: I only rarely fix Jiggy and Jack's meals when I'm at home, and I even more rarely take them out for a walk. I just like talking with them (don't worry, they haven't talked back yet, I'm not that crazy...yet) and running my hands through their fur and sitting beside them. I couldn't have taken care of my miming very well. But even if I could, and did, what would happen when I left Dumaguete?

Sometimes, I guess, things just "feel right," even when you know it won't -- it can't -- go on forever. So, do you, as the cliche goes, "follow your heart," go for it, and pay the price later, if there is any to be paid? Or do you shake your head wisely and say "this really isn't for me" and leave it discontentedly at that? The answer only comes on hindsight, and that's a long way off. What do you do in the here and now?

A friend texted me a few days ago and told me she'd gotten back with her boyfriend. She said that, after talking with him, she felt that he truly loved her, and that, having been together for a really long time, she felt she owed their relationship that one more chance. I only said okay, it was her life and her risk. She showed surprise at that, so I expounded: she knew about the situation more than I did or ever could, love is always a risk, and it was her life ... in the end, she should get to choose on who or what is worth the risk of getting hurt.

On the other hand, I know this guy who fell in love with a girl who already had a boyfriend. Everyone told him to give it up, that he shouldn't get in the way of the girl's relationship with her boyfriend, and how would he feel if some other guy courted his girlfriend? For a while, he tried to do just that. But he couldn't keep his big mouth shut (hehe) and finally told the girl how he felt. To make a long, corny story short, it turns out the girl and her boyfriend had been having problems, and they eventually broke up. And now she and the guy are together and they're very happy. I admit, when I learned that the guy liked the girl and was pursuing her, I was totally against it. But now I'm very happy for them: they seem right for each other, and, you know, who's to say whether or not it was the two of them who were meant for each other all along?

Hehe...all these things are coming to my mind because I lost my miming today. I'm certainly no relationship expert. And I'm DEFINITELY not for adventurism when it comes to love. I believe that somewhere out there is a person God intends for you. I don't think you have to go on a million dates and hop a million bars just to find that person. I believe that, at the right moment, God will bring the two of you together. I believe that because I believe God loves us and wants what's best for us. He's got our lives all figured out, and all we have to do is allow ourselves to be prodded in the right direction. But, like I said, love is always a risk. In the end, after we've thought about it and prayed about it and learned all about that person as much as we could...in the end, we still have to decide that, yes, for this person, I can risk getting hurt.

So... What do you say to taking chances? :-)

Friday, January 4, 2008

I had 25 admissions on the last day of 2007 and, during the start of fireworks, was glumly writing one medical history after another. My patients, however, had the courtesy of not dropping in from 11 pm to 1 am, and so at the stroke of midnight I was in the surgical conference room, with the closest thing I have to a family here in Dumaguete: my co-PGI's. Ria made a delicious fruit salad, and we all partook of roasted chicken and beef steak and pancit. I wish I could say that, on reflection, despite the fact that I was working while everyone else was celebrating, I was still lucky: that I wasn't the one who was sick and therefore burdening a homesick intern, that I had good friends with whom I could companionably spend the last seconds of 2007 and the first few moments of 2008, and that I have a loving family and boyfriend with whom I could celebrate the New Year in spirit. I wish I could say that I thought all that, but I honestly didn't. I was tired and hungry so I just ate and talked nonsense with my friends. ;-D

I usually spend the few hours prior to New Year in my room, writing my thoughts or reading a favorite book or just making tanga. Since I was denied the luxury of reflection on New Year's eve itself, allow me to fill the next few lines with ramblings on the year that was.

THE F-WORDS
best describe 2007:

FREEDOM
- from the walking-on-eggshells world of Velez
- in the sense of independence, to whatever extent I've gained it from living on my own

FLOUNDERING
- a bit, spiritually... I used to say that it would be so great if I could die this very moment: I'd be in heaven and running in green fields with my dogs and laughing with my loved ones and listening to literally heavenly music... but now I say I'm not ready... not because I doubt God's gift of salvation, but because I feel so unworthy to accept it... and of course that's the point of its being a gift, because everyone is unworthy to actually earn it, but still... I know God loves me, but I'd really like it if I was the kind of person He'd actually like... but I'm starting to pick up the pieces of my relationship with Him now... and I look forward to its full restoration in 2008

FRIENDSHIP
- lost some and gained some...
- a friendship went sour because I spoke my mind too much and too bluntly
- a friend has gone off to Bangkok and so I'm missing the one person with whom I could speak passionately and humorously about politics and ideals and books
- I met with friends from Church and high school and med school over the holidays and I realized that it's the friends you come back to and who come back to you after years of separation who are truly your friends
- I gained many friends in Dumaguete, and I'm hoping that they're the type that will last...I've come to know my former classmates in CIM so much more...or in some cases I've learned that I don't know them as much as I thought I did... and I've met so many interesting and nice people from worlds other than those I inhabited before

FAMILY
- so my sister noticed it too: my father actually says "I love you" now, not only in special events or in letters, but even at the end of the most nonsensical phone calls; and I was touched when I learned that my mother actually cried for me when they left me here in Dumaguete after spending my birthday with me
- what else can I say? they're the ones you come home to, the ones who pat you on the back or offer you a hand or a shoulder when you need it

FIRST YEAR
- since Aivan and I officially became a couple, and it's been great... the fights are many and often petty, to the point that I've forgotten most of the causes of those fights... but the good times are even more, and I do remember those... I've found a love worth keeping... I'm a lucky lucky girl...

FINAL BOOK
- of Harry Potter... hehe, couldn't resist mentioning it...