Wednesday, January 23, 2013

bits and pieces of home

I'm not a good storyteller.

I don't remember details of what was said by whom and how it was said and when.... much to my mother's chagrin when she wants to hear juicy stories of moments like when A. proposed and what-not. My mom, on the other hand, remembers everything, from the exact words to the speaker's intonation. In contrast, I might remember a few quick conversational exchanges at the most, but that's about it. I do have a really good memory for strange purposes/things like restaurant menus. Don't judge.

All that said, I don't have a long story of my trip to India and the Philippines. My amazing, month-long, 12-airports-in-30-days trip.

What I do remember, are images. Moments captured either on camera, but mostly those that are in a freeze-frame in my mind. And I remember, with clarity, what I felt at the time.

So my stories might come in short bursts here in there. Not necessarily in chronological order.

Even this post took me several "installments" to write, because the stories come back when I least expect it, and not in any linear fashion. So I write in bits and pieces, what I remember and when I remember it. And I write, so that I can remember.

(And also, I had to hit the ground running as the semester started a couple of days after I arrived back here... hence having to write in small chunks of time here and there.)

I surprised myself by not taking as many pictures as I thought I would on this trip, especially in the Philippines. Under other circumstances, photography helps me appreciate the moment and pay attention to details. But a big part of me wanted to just soak it all in, and not behind a camera. With the thinking that the several seconds or that minute I spend getting the settings on my camera just right for each shot adds up, over the course of a month and hundreds of pictures, to potentially hours spent not being fully present with my family. 


I remember this tug at my heartstrings watching my sweet niece P. Thinking about how fast she's growing, and how she sometimes talks like an adult even at age 4. How she asked me to read the book I gave her, The Princess and the Pizza (in which the heroine has the same name as she! And as a side note, I love the feminist perspective of the story), again and again during a road trip. And how affectionate she is to everyone, randomly giving hugs, kisses, and I-love-yous to any member of the family, including A.

my niece's naturally wavy ponytail

Oh, and I do remember this one brief exchange as retold by my brother (her dad).

One morning, while we were vacationing in Cebu (a city south of the capital, Manila), P wakes up, and with her eyes half-closed she stretches in bed, and sleepily says: "I love Tito A." (as in my husband A.). Mind you., A. wasn't even with us at the time, because he had to fly home to Cleveland sooner. And then, almost like she suddenly remembered, her eyes open fully and she sees my brother standing in front of her. Then quickly, she says:

"Oh, I love you too, Dad."

Nice save, P. :)

And it made me reminisce with my parents, those days when my nephews (now pre-teens... how did that happen?) were babies. And my other 4-year-old niece's voice mail saying, "Hi Tita Mia, I'm big now, I'm going to school."


I remember both the warmth that accompanies that trip-down-memory-lane, as well as the slight ache in my belly (that is where I feel things, you know. Again... don't judge) as I pored over old photos of my late grandparents, framed and preserved in my parents' home. The home I grew up in.

Like this one. My grandfather, the perfect example of "chivalry is not dead" -- even as they were approaching 90 (!) -- asked my mom to set up a candelit dinner for two in our gazebo for their 60+ wedding anniversary.

One of my parents snapped this picture then, and while I did not witness this moment in person, it made me remember all his other romantic gestures toward my grandma. Like quoting Shakespeare to her, out of the blue, as they sat in our lanai overlooking the garden, resting after a long afternoon of tending to their flowers and plants.


I remember, with the same clarity as the turquoise waters of Boracay, a shift in perspective.

Under other circumstances, work fills my mind majority of the time. And yes, you'll probably hate me for this but I did work a bit while I was away - I had to finish grading in India because we flew out the very next day after my last day of teaching. Then twice I had to wake up for 2 am conference calls for my new consulting job, to speak to people who did not know I was away and in a completely opposite time zone. But I did not work much else aside from that. It was refreshing to not have work occupy so much space in my brain, and instead linger at the breakfast table.

Work is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I know, it's nothing groundbreaking. And while I always knew that, I felt it even more strongly with the limited time I had with my family. And what a blessing that was. Yes, working is what pays the bills and helps us travel, and we are absolutely thankful for that. But the bigger picture, really, is family...and old friends who are practically family. Nurturing those relationships that enrich our lives like nothing else does.

Not all my projects, each at a different stage toward completion. Not the fact that I need to get my manuscript published. They always say in the world of academia, "publish or perish". But in the bigger picture, it's really not the end of the world.

But my niece will only be 4 years old once. And I will only stand at this exact spot at this exact time on this exact date once in my life.

Boracay, Philippines

It is a gift.


*For a detailed review of the foodie experience in the Philippines, from the unique perspective of an Indian national-US citizen-current resident of Germany-honorary Filipina (whew!), visit my friend's blog post here.

*I also have India on my mind. But those stories will come in bits and pieces as well. More on that later.

*Tito = Uncle, Tita = Aunt

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

more on hope and humanity... and why we say "namaste"

The light in me honors the light in you.
Generally we place our palms together in front of the chest and bow our heads. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means "I bow to you." 

Why do we say this at the end of a yoga practice? 

Is it to make yoga sound "exotic" or "religious" or "hipster"?
On one hand it is a nod to yoga's roots, but personally I just love what it means. Yes, it does have a spiritual significance of honoring the divine in another person.

Having visited India twice, I love the fact that people there greet each other this way. With the gesture of palms together in front of the chest and a slight bow of the head. 

I love how the word sounds, how this one word captures all that it means. I bow to you. The light in me honors the light in you.

And I don't think it's limited to a yoga practice, but rather all-encompassing of human interactions in general.

Perhaps I'm being an optimist, because it's also true that there are many, many violent human interactions in this world. But being an optimist is not a bad thing to be. The thought of "namaste" reminds me to practice this respectful approach to life, to myself, and to others. Or at least I try.

And I'm still thinking about the words from yesterday's inauguration.

MLK Jr's I Had A Dream echoes loud and clear today:

"Hear: the doors open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos dias
in the language my mother taught me--in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips."

"One Today"
--Richard Blanco, Poet, 2013 Presidential Inauguration

image source

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Monday, January 21, 2013

hope and (in?) humanity

Why do Obama's speeches make me teary-eyed?

He had me at "For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few."

And then this...
"For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm."
I don't write about politics much, but I don't think this has to do with politics as much as it has to do with hope and humanity.

Even Beyonce's rendition of Star-Spangled Banner gave me a goosebumps. And I'm not even a US citizen (...yet! Four more years till I can vote!)

Read more here.

A random find:

Martin Luther King Jr. I have decided to stick with Love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. Sapphire Blue, Grey, 5x7 Print, Gift Idea
from cloudandcover on Etsy

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Manila (Philippines) on my mind

Aaaand we're back.

I have so much to write about, but my thoughts are still in random snippets of words and images. Images that may or may not have made it into my camera, but rather images stored in my mind. Sensations, emotions, and thoughts that are not quite coherent yet.

About how traveling reminds me just how startlingly beautiful this world is.

The colors of the sky viewed from the window of the airplane... God's brushstrokes on his infinite canvas.

The endless expanse of varying shades of blue, the perfection of sea meeting sky. The magic of a sandbar - a narrow strip of white sand which, for a few fleeting hours, felt like our own private island before it disappeared into the water.

The dewy scent of the lush tropical garden in my parents' home, the home where I grew up. If green had a scent, this would be it.

The almost intoxicating fragrance of a ripe Philippine mango, which I ate everyday like it was a gift.

The genuine embrace from the little arms of a 4-year-old.

The warmth of my mother's hands... though they look different, they feel exactly the same to me as they did 25 or 15 or 5 years ago.

Reuniting with childhood friends... picking up where we left off as though no time has passed. And noticing how we laugh just like our teenage selves did many years ago, but we speak with more wisdom and maturity.

The comforting feeling of HOME. Of FAMILY. Of shared meals, memories, and yes, dare I say even the notorious Manila traffic jam.

...Ok, maybe not the Manila traffic.

sandbar off the coast of Cebu | photo by my brother Carlo

I've still got sand in my shoes
And I can't shake the thought of you

- Dido

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