Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Clearing Clutter

A friend of mine recently told me that the clutter we live in our physical space is a reflection of our inner lives. I tend to agree with her.

Despite my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, neatness and organization have never been my strong suit. It doesn't help that I've always been something of a pack rat, and it almost causes me physical pain to throw anything away. The other reason why is probably because I have a high tolerance for living in clutter.

I've always wondered if my ability to live in what can only be called a mess is a reflection of how my resistance to change has allowed me to exist in the mess that was my life for so very long.

I recently took stock of the state of my personal living space - and I was dismayed to find that it looked like something had exploded in it. Tour brochures, illegible study notes, unopened letters, unsorted receipts littered my single bookcase, which was the focal point of disorder in a really messy room. My suitcases were still beside my bed, gathering dust and making it impossible to draw the curtains. The top of my wardrobe was home to empty boxes and plastic bags. Despite being only here for 6 months (yes, already!), I was obviously building up an impressive store of useless things at an awesome rate.

On that realization, I resolved to put some order into my room - partly because it was driving me crazy to see my shelves every time I'd come into the room, but mostly because I, the lover of metaphors, thought it was an apt thing to do at the end of an old year to prepare for the new one.

So, after a shopping spree involving storage boxes and organizers, I rolled up my sleeves and started sorting, putting things in order - and, yes, throwing things away. The end result was, as you can see above, something to be proud of. (I was planning on taking a "before" picture so you'd know what I was talking about, but I was so eager to get started plowing through the mess that I forgot.)

It would be so nice if I could clear out the useless ideas and concepts in my head as easily as I can put my physical space in order. Life would be a cinch to fix. I can make a list of inaccurate "truths" and limiting concepts that I need to rethink, re-frame, and even outright throw out, but of course knowing always doesn't translate into actual doing. Change - specially inner change - takes energy and entails all sorts of risk. To be honest, I sometimes think that it's easier to live with all these faulty ideas that I know than take a chance on something that is completely unfamiliar.

The good news is, if there's anything this year has taught me it is that it's possible to let go of what no longer works in order to embrace the something new. It's possible to throw out ideas that stifle me and uselessly take up space in order to make room for new, more positive ones.

And while I must admit that I'm still living in an inner world that is still very cluttered and very crowded with all sorts of negative thoughts, I've made some headway into putting things in order. And just enough so that all that much needed fresh air has finally manged to blow in some and some sunshine has managed to shine into it and brighten just that much more.

Isn't clearing up clutter a great way to end the year?

Have a happy and safe New Year's Eve everyone! May the end of the old year and the coming of a new one mark your letting go of at least one bit of personal "clutter" you've been putting off throwing away. Be happy, be loved, and always, always be blessed.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Somebody Stop Me!

photo by james m

I think it's pretty obvious by now - I'm a chockful of bad habits and addictions. Ranging from the trivial (i.e. nail biting and a love of diet soft drinks) to the life-altering (i.e. negative thinking and frequent self-flagellation), I am often conquered by these compulsions more often than I care to admit. And since I got my car, I'm coming to realize that I'm on my way to developing yet another one - as if I didn't have enough of them.

It's giving into the siren song of the fast food drive thru.

Yes, despite my resolve to turn over a new leaf and eat healthy to complement my new sporty lifestyle, my new wheels have made it even easier to indulge in my craving for the quick, tasty, and greasy joy of eating fast food. I don't even want to count the number of times I've driven the five minutes down the road for a burger from McDonald's (which is open 24 hours, much to my conscience's dismay), hot-and-spicy chicken from KFC, or a chicken roll from Red Rooster.

My absolute lack of emotional quotient is appalling. What can I say? When I'm diving into hot food that I didn't have to cook myself, I temporarily lose my sanity. But it's hard to resist the call of a Big Mac at the end of a long, harrowing evening call when I can safely drive to the store in my car, pick up a burger, and be home just ten minutes than I planned to be.

Okay, okay - the yogurt and fruit for dinner daily was definitely much more positive than habitually committing this cardinal sin against healthy living. I'm going to have to double - even triple - my time at the gym just to make up for my lack of willpower... and we all know how realistic that really is!

The reason I'm writing about this here is just so people know about my budding addiction and hold me accountable. After having had a McDonald's burger two nights in a row via the Drive Thru (curse the 24 hour service - shouldn't everything be closed in Perth by 5pm?), I am willing to admit I have a problem.

Is there such a thing a Fast Food Addicts Anonymous? Sign me up, quick!

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Proud of Me

It's been almost exactly a year to the day that I wrote about my decision to defy gravity. I remember the terror of standing in front of the gaping Unknown and gathering whatever courage I could muster to prepare for that unprecedented leap.

It's a huge leap for anyone to make. But for someone who is as resistant to change, security-loving, and approval-seeking as I am, doing this in defiance of all that was sensible and practical and SAFE... it's beyond describing.

It's only on hindsight that I realize just what a leap of faith I took. Not only did I get off the safe and straight road I wasn't sure I still wanted to be on, but I traded the security of home and family for life on my own in a city where I knew no one, to which I came with literally only the clothes in my suitcases and a lot of hopes and prayers.

I guess I didn't recognize just how trapped and unhappy I was in my life back home - even if I had almost everything I needed and my life seemed to be on the right track - until I found the gumption to just make that change.

I was right. Having made one brave choice in defiance of what is expected, everything else has followed.

So here I am. I'm not just surviving - I think I can say I'm thriving. And I can say with certainty that, despite my being away from all that is familiar, despite still not having a plan, despite still not knowing how far I still have to fall - I am most definitely so much happier.

Over the past few weeks, I've had several conversations with good friends who have known me for years, heard me complain about the rut I'd stuck myself in, and encouraged me to take the drastic steps I needed to get out of it. And in as many conversations, they've all told me the same thing - that they're proud of me. Not just of what I've done so far, but because I'm making an effort to open up my life to even more possibilities.

It's heartening and touching to know that they see a change, continue to believe in me, and are totally behind what I'm doing - even if I really have no idea just what it is I'm doing at the moment. Their belief and encouragement help firm up my conviction that, hey, I guess I should be proud of me, too.

Because a year later, I'm still flying. And at this point? I can't see any end in sight.

I can feel it. It's going to be another great year.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Out of the Box

In spite of my efforts to be positive about my first Christmas away from home, it was still difficult not to feel homesick and lonely and just a little bit sorry for myself as I ate my lonely Noche Buena of chili-flavored cream cheese, crackers, and hospital-issue minestrone soup in the doctors' office on Christmas eve. I realized that even our past Christmases at work did not prepare me for the impact of spending Christmas so alone, so very far away.

I decided to work through the holidays simply because I didn't really have any plans with other people - and I figured being alone on Christmas at work beat a microwaved meal passing for Christmas eve feasting at home.

Despite being at work, as I ate my meager repast, I couldn't help but imagine what I was missing. The raucous, cheerful atmosphere around the table at home at the same moment, with aunts, uncles, cousins, and my immediate family, feasting over Mom's kare-kare, Dad's dinuguan, and all sorts of gastronomic goodies Filipino and continental; the
mayhem of family sitting in front of the tree, exchanging gifts and tearing open packages. I've always been a bit of a Christmas scrooge, but being far away has heightened my appreciation of the family rituals surrounding it.

The long distance phone call my family placed from my Aunt's house where the clan was gathered for Noche Buena (which was inevitably cut off mid-call) and hearing everyone's good wishes were pale substitutes for actually being there.

I didn't really set out to spend the holidays alone, but it would have been too complicated to shuffle my schedule to accommodate an out-of-town trip to visit family and friends across the continent despite the sincere invites I'd gotten from them months in advance. Besidses, all of my Perth friends have opted to spend the holidays over east, and most of my family in Melbourne have flown off to spend Christmas in Manila. As I sat alone in the doctors' office through the night, waiting for admissions and referrals and fighting off a monster headache due to working three nights in a row, I thought I should have made an effort of get time off instead of braving my first Christmas alone, but it was too late to do anything about it but make do.

After I realized I had missed morning Mass (the only one for the day in my small parish), I came home from work this morning hoping that I was exhausted enough to sleep through the day. But I was awake by early afternoon, and all alone in a very quiet house because my other housemates probably had plans to spend the days with their friends and family. For late Christmas lunch, I microwaved a portion of roast Chicken I had bought a few days ago with a generous dollop of spicy Mang Tomas lechon sauce to remind me of home, which I ate at the table with my landlady's cat for company.

Determined to shake off my funk with an endorphin high, I decided to head off for the beach and go for a run. It was the best choice I made all day, as the summer sunshine and the brisk breeze off the beautiful, green Indian ocean melted a good portion of my blues away. It was a good reminder that while there are things to be homesick about, being here has definitely had some great rewards - and being able to run along the coast I loved on a whim was one of them.

I topped off my strange, solitary Christmas day with
more comfort food in the form of Lucky Me instant pancit canton reserved for special occasions like this one, as I finished off the opened bottle of bubbly in the fridge. The best part of the late evening, though, was long-distance conversations with well-missed friends whose voices I was so glad to hear. And as my night wound down, I realized that the day hadn't been quite so bad after all.

Yes, I survived my solitary Christmas out of the box. Still, nothing beats being able to spend Christmas at home - and, God-willing, I'm hoping that's just where I will be this same time next year, even if it takes some schedule juggling.

So I'm sending special wishes to everyone out there like me spending this holiday season far away from home, making do with friends, surrogate families, and long-distance phone calls in lieu of being with their loved ones. Merry Christmas and all the best to you - and may the love and warmth of family and friends reach out to embrace you even if they are oceans away, no matter where you are.
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Monday, December 22, 2008


I'll be working through Christmas once more in order to distract myself from the fact that I am going to be seriously alone for the holidays for the first time in my life.

Despite this and the notched down level of Christmas spirit over here (as compared to the rabid, frenetic holiday madness that descends upon Manila as early as September), I look back on the year that was and find that, in this season of gifts, I've been given so many gifts to be thankful for.

So instead of coming with a wish list of what I want for Christmas, I'm making a top ten list of what I've been most grateful for over the past year (both material and otherwise) as a way of saying thanks to the great, loving Someone who has never stopped looking out for me.

1. my current job - which was less a job than an amazing opportunity to jump off the edge of my safety zone and give me all this room to grow.

2. a supportive family - who, despite not quite agreeing with my plans (or lack thereof), were all-out in helping me get to where I am once they knew I'd pretty much made up my mind about things.

3. cheap airline tickets and cheap baggage fares coming over!

4. finding the perfect place to live so close to work, with an awesome landlady and some pretty interesting housemates.

5. real friends among my new co-workers.

6. real friends born from friends of friends, who warmly welcomed me into their circle and have adopted me as part of their surrogate family.

7. my car - which I bought on a shoestring budget but is absolutely great for what it is, a ten-year-old runabout without power steering.

8. finding myself loving to live in this beautiful, sleepy city on the water.

9. learning to embrace and savor being without a definite plan.

10. learning, for the first time in my life, to love being who I am and where I am at a given moment.

So, what's on your thanksgiving list?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Expanding my Territory

People who have been following my blog for a while know that driving has always been one of my favorite metaphors for life. Being the wanderlust that I am at heart, it's difficult not to see life as one long drive on a meandering network of roads and choices, leading to landmarks and destinations, being almost constantly in motion one day after another.

It's also hard not to keep coming back to driving as a metaphor these days when it's the current everyday skill that I am currently trying to figure out. And it's hard not to compare this experience with how my life out here is shaping up to be.

I've been driving regularly on the wrong side of the road for about a week now, learning to understand the road rules, getting the hang of crossing wide highways without the protection of a traffic light, becoming comfortable with speed, trying to familiarize myself with the roads that I've been so used to only walking.

Most of my drives so far have been short and to places pretty close to home - to work, to the shops, to the occasional fast food chain drive-thru. I've even chanced a few long drives under supervision of friends crossing the city to the coast and back. And every day, I try to do a little more, drive a route that I'd been afraid to try the day before, and go just a little farther afield.

Coming over here was a pretty drastic way to jumpstart my life. By finding the gumption to travel further from home and choosing to wander into the unfamiliar, I have been rewarded many times over. And I find that every day, I am able to do learn a little more, change a little more, and grow just a little further - in the way I see the world, in my willingness to embrace experiences, and in the way I see myself.

There's still so much to see, so much to discover in this wonderful journey of life -and this new place I have chosen to meander in. But I love knowing that I am, without a doubt, constantly expanding my territory.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Like Starting from Scratch

After months of vacillating, I finally went out and bought myself a cheap little run-around car last Friday. The crazy thing is, while I have had it for two days, it's just been sitting in my driveway and I have been making one excuse after another not to take it out.

Okay, I admit it. I am terrified of taking it out. I live less than 2 kilometers from work, a distance which I walk every day, but I have yet to find the courage in my lily-livered heart to finally drive it by myself.

Having been a proficient commuter all my life, I'd never felt particularly motivated to learn how to drive - which is why I didn't really start driving back home until I was in my mid-twenties. Once I'd gotten the hang of it, though, I quickly fell in love with being behind the wheel - traffic mishaps, meandering journeys, and all. Driving was just such a great way to tune out and enjoy my own company in the comfort of my own car, going to where I wanted to go at my own pace. But, of course, getting to that comfort level was a long time in coming.

Unfortunately for me, I happened to choose a country where people drive on the other side of the road and where they have some pretty definite speed limits. For someone who has, under normal circumstances, always had a case of slight right-left confusion and is used to taking her sweet time in everything, this is something out of a nightmare.

It hasn't helped that my friends from back home and family all have such a huge level of confidence about my driving that they never fail to warn me in dire tones that driving here is very different and much more difficult - and to ask me if I was absolutely sure I could handle it.

No wonder I'm having tension headaches at the thought of having to take out my little hatch (with no power steering and manual transmission) anywhere on my own.

The last time I felt this twitchy about getting behind the wheel was at my first driving lesson back home. I've taken a few driving lessons here in a manual car, but I felt a lot more secure because there was someone beside me watching what I was doing and had his own set of pedals. The idea of driving alone to anywhere over here feels like I'm being shoved off the deep end of a pool, not knowing how to swim.

But if I don't start now, I'll end up putting it off and putting it off until it's time for me to go home.

Still all I've had the gumption to do by myself has been to park it into the driveway, back up into the road, and take it for a spin around the block - with my heart in my throat the whole time. And one of the first new lessons I've learned in my new car is that without power steering, I don't have to go to the gym to get a good upper body work up - all I have to do is maneuver into a parking spot.

I can do this. I've been driving for four years, for cripes' sake.

Now if I could only believe my own pep talk, I just might be able to take my car those two kilometers down to work tomorrow - even if I'll be driving on the other side of the road.

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Monday, December 08, 2008


Going into the sixth month since I took my flying leap into the unknown, it appears I am finally getting the semblance of a real life over here. A life that, despite my current state of limbo, I am very much enjoying.

What's not to enjoy? I'm making new connections, finding new interests, and discovering myself in this city that feels less like a stranger and now more like a friend each day I live in it. Sleepy Perth on the water may not have the cosmopolitan feel of Sydney or Melbourne, but I'm still quite surprised at how well we suit. I'm still surprised at how I love the laid-back, outdoorsy lifestyle and the absence of the maddening crowd I'd grown up with in busy Manila. I'm still surprised at how the simple beauty of the city still packs a punch even as the novelty of being here has begun to wear off.

I'm still surprised at how it's beginning to feel less like other and a little bit more like home.

Finding new friends has been a big factor in helping me ease into this life. While having had this time alone has taught me much about myself, being around new friends has taught me even more by giving me fresh perspectives. I've been blessed enough to have found people outside of work to intrude upon this forced solitude and alter the once solitary pattern of my days. And it's great knowing that there are now actually people who care for and worry about me within a hundred kilometer radius.

I still can't quite believe that the year I had originally planned to stay here is almost half done. I'm still flailing in the chasm of the unknown, but I'm having a great ride while I'm at it. While I still can't quite picture where I will be even just six months from now, I am savoring my uncomplicated state of simply living in the now.

Maybe, just maybe, I really am settling in. And that's definitely something to drink to.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008


Ballerina on a Bike by humminggirl

Because I've been so wishy-washy about looking for a car, my friends have been at me to ride a bike as an alternative to all the walking I've been doing. (Perth, being the outdoor city that it is, has an amazing network of dedicated bike paths that can take anyone almost anywhere.) And since I've become fairly more fit since I got here, everyone believes I can probably handle a bike. After all, it's supposed to be a skill that you never forget once you learn it.

However, due to my inherent pessimism (and my kinesthetic stupidity), I wasn't about to buy into that last assumption blindly when I hadn't been on a bike for almost a decade. Besides, in all things there were exceptions, and I was pretty sure that the exception would be me.

For one thing, I wasn't one of those kids who grew up with a bike. My parents were on the verge of buying me one when I was around six, at the time still blissfully ignorant of the fact that their eldest child was athletically challenged. Just to see if I was ready for a bike of my own, they borrowed my next-door neighbor's bike with training wheels, put me on it - and I ended up tipping over and hitting my head on the gutter and getting knocked out. The details of that fateful afternoon are fairly sketchy to me for obvious reasons, but I do know it warranted an emergency room visit.

Needless to say, my parents never considered giving any of us bikes ever again.

After that debacle, the next time I even got near a bike was in high school. Learning to bike as an adolescent presented one major dilemma: the absence of training wheels. You just had to hop on a two-wheeler even if you didn't know squat about keeping it upright and pray you didn't tip over and get crushed under it. And we aren't even counting the humiliation factor in. Surprisingly, I did learn to bike eventually - in the parking lot of PICC on a rented BMX. And, by some miracle, managing to do so without any memorable or remarkable spills.

Me being me, I was completely charmed by the wind on my face as I rode, the relative speed of it, and being able to indulge my inner wanderlust. I was hooked, and even not having a bike of my own could stop me. Borrowing our neighbor's BMX bike, I used to tuck my hair into a cap, dress like a boy, and ride around our subdivision almost every afternoon. I even tried to move on to an adult bike - a mistake which I paid for with some considerable embarrassment when I rode into the neighborhood tennis wall because it was too high for me to stop with dignity. Despite this minor setback, I kept at it until the end of that summer - but had to give it up once school started once again. I only got to ride again a handful of times after that, when my cousins and I would hire bikes on weekend outings with the family. I'm fairly sure that I hadn't been on a bike since college, at the latest.

Hence my understandable reluctance to get on one again - let alone make it my primary mode of getting around.

Happily enough, I've just spent my afternoon proving myself wrong and the adage right.

There's a certain symmetry between past and present to have my very first bike ride in ten years on a friend's borrowed bike in an empty parking lot. With no training wheels, of course. Just armed with a helmet (required for riding anywhere in WA) and a prayer, I wobbled my way into the first round, completely forgot my brakes, and almost ended with a spill.

I may have looked like a crazy overgrown kid to all passers-by, going round and round the parking lot with no apparent purpose or destination in mind. But it was worth looking a fool to feel the speed of it again, with the wind on my face washing over my huge grin at knowing that I could still do it.

No, I'm not ready to get out on the bike paths just yet. Fingers crossed, a few more sessions in the parking lot ought to do it. But once I get the hang of things - I'll probably be on my way to owning my very first bicycle.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Limbering Up

I've just come home from a session of Body Balance, the only fitness class at the gym I attend regularly, and am feeling so loose, strong, and limber.

Many of my friends, specially the ones who knew me in high school and before, often struggle to hide their surprise when I tell them that I dabble in something that involves having to twist and stretch and push your body into funny poses. Apart from my well-vaunted reputation for athletic stupidity, I guess it's a bit difficult to imagine someone as sturdy-looking as me can be flexible enough to do the poses.

I can't blame them for it - because none of them is probably more surprised about it than me.

I was first introduced to yoga while I was studying for our medical boards a few years ago. A few friends of mine and I were bunking in to review together during the last few weeks leading to the exam and looking for a means to diffuse the stress build up in our apartment. One of them had a friend who was a real yoga master (orange robes, flowing hair and all) who was willing to come to our little HQ once a week gratis to teach us. The rest of the week, we would all wake up really early and do the sequences together on our own until he taught us a new set. It was a strange experience at first, working through the menagerie of poses named after animals that constantly challenged my often uncooperative muscles, joints, and ligaments. But I was quickly won over.

The stretches were awesome and must be experienced to be fully understood. Imagine how good you feel after one really good stretch. Multiply that great feeling by the number of muscle groups used - and that will give you a rough idea how great your body feels after a yoga work out. And as a stress-buster, the relaxation that closes each session cannot be beaten. I'd always come out of a session relaxed and centered and feeling wonderful.

The most amazing thing about it, though, was how my impossibly inflexible body actually became more pliable with every session we did. So much so that I was actually able to do my first full bridge within weeks of starting (see picture above - yes, that girl in the ratty shirt and blue jogging pants is me).

I promised myself I'd continue doing it even after the boards were over, but Real Life, as always, interfered with my good intentions. I sporadically attended classes here and there over the years - which doesn't count for much, even if it's true that your body remembers.

Body Balance is not quite as intense as yoga, but it is yoga based. This is the first time I've actually been able to do it regularly. I've been going to class two to three times a week for about three months now, and I can really see the difference it's made in my posture and my flexibility. I'm far from being capable of twisting myself into a human pretzel, but I've definitely improved a lot from baseline. And, yes, I am actually doing those back bends again!

I'm thinking of trying out a real yoga class, to get a feel of what it's like and to see if it's something I want to pursue. If that doesn't pan out, I'm quite happy with Body Balance and I highly recommend it to anyone who's starting a fitness program. It may not burn as many calories as other cardio classes, but it's really great for the body.

Okay, I'm going to take advantage of this loose and limber feeling now, get a hot shower, change into my flannel jammies, and just melt into bed. Did I already mention how amazing the post-Body Balance work out haze feels? I admit it, I'm an addict.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Smack in Mundania and Other Blah Blahs

I have a confession to make. The utterly barren landscape of my blog over the past few days cannot be accounted for the busyness of my Real Life. The fact that I've recently discovered that my parents and aunts and uncles have discovered my online sanctuary may be playing a bit of a part in it (sorry, guys, but it's true - knowing you read my blog sort of weirds me out)- but that's another story for another day.

On the contrary, for the first time in months I've been relatively free to do whatever I want with my down time without any obligations hanging over my head. My life here has settled into a routine - and I suppose that's where some of my current ennui stems from. But for some weird reason, I'm not scrambling to take advantage of this lull to explore or to do more at the moment.

So what have I been doing apart from going through my day-to-day routine? Catching up on my pulp fiction reading list, for one. Backing up my dying iPod's music files. Experimenting with making my own salad rolls. Spending entire days off (apart from going to the gym for a work out) just lying around and doing nothing. I haven't even felt like blogging!

You'd think that all this down time has given me more time for introspection and figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. But I have persevered and succeeded in avoiding that as well.

I still have no definite plans for the foreseeable future - a bit of a concern when I am going on month eleven of what was allegedly my one year "break." Thinking about the future just gives me a headache - so I've been choosing not to think about the future at all. I know, I know - wonderfully mature behavior. Obviously, I am currently embracing the identity of drifter after being a pathologic planner all of my life.

I really need to pull myself out of this pit of blahs I've suddenly fallen into and get my positive energy going again.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Different Perspectives

One of the most interesting things about living so far away from home is living and working with people from completely different cultures. And with Australia being one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world, it's not hard to imagine how even my relatively limited circle of acquaintances is like a casting call for a United Colors of Benetton ad.

It's been an interesting experience.

Even the small hospital I work with is a virtual melting pot of cultures - with patients and medical staff literally coming from all over the world. As a case in point, in just my current medical team, our big boss is originally from England, one of our rotating consultants is from the Middle East, one is from Scotland. On the junior medical staff, two are from Sri Lanka, one is from India, one from Eastern Europe, and then there's the dyed-in-the-wool conservative Pinay - me!

I don't even have to stray from home to have an intelligent multi-cultural exchange - because I currently share a house with someone from Holland and another who is a genuine Aussie. This diverse mix of people has made for many interesting conversations - and has been quite an education in itself.

I guess I've always known in theory how race and culture shape who we are; but it's still an eye-opener when ideas are exchanged and I see the differences between us in a more concrete way. The food we eat, the way we think about ourselves, our jobs, the world, literally the way we approach life is under the influence of where we come from and how we have been raised.

Living and working with such a diverse group of people, it's inevitable for some ideas to clash every now and then. Negotiating the multicultural minefield can be a bit tricky. As a shallow example, something as simple as what to bring to a potluck lunch becomes a challenge when you have to consider that in the group you're feeding, some can't eat beef and some can't eat pork or anything not halal. In the context of the hospital, it's not difficult to imagine how carefully one must tread when dealing with complex issues like patient care and end-of-life scenarios.

I'm fast coming to learn that to navigate this kind of environment one needs a good dose of sensitivity. It also helps to have a tolerant nature and a sense of humor about the misconceptions and misguided notions others may have about you, your culture, and your race. But for me, the most important lesson of all is cultivating my willingness to learn from what is other and realizing that I am all the richer from being around people who are so different from me and what I have been used to all my life.

But apart from literally having my world opened up by all these new perspectives, what I find even more amazing is how much all of us actually have in common - in what we all value, what we dream, and what we love. It serves to remind me of what I often forget - that all of us are all part of the big, wonderful family called the human race sharing this little island in the Universe called Planet Earth.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

A Little Insanity

This is the reason why I have never worn my hair short and curly. And why I am glad I was still in pigtails and bows in 1986.

Since I've been going just a little bit insane over the past few weeks, the site where I made this photo composite of me (yes, that really is me!) was a bit of comic relief. I swear, I will have some sensible stories to tell in the near future about my life as an expat MD - it's just that today is not going to be that day. But I do have more silly photos!

These cat-eye glasses and curly look are circa 1960. I don't know why I felt compelled to try out all the short-curly haired templates - it must be a subconscious fashion wish of mine. Okay, we've already established that I don't do well with curly. But what about the bangs? Do you think the bangs could be a good idea?

If you're still not convinced that curly hair does not suit me, the next photo will probably convince you.

Dr. Clairebear in an Afro, style circa 1978. Where's the fashion police?

The following will reinforce some (evil) friends' tongue-in-cheek comments about my resemblance to Tracy (Nikki Blonski) in the movie "Hairspray."

I've always wanted to know how a flip-type hairdo would suit me. Now I do.

I have never actually considered dyeing my hair - but even if I ever did, I would obviously never be able to pull off being blonde. Isn't this 'do so early 90's?

Okay, okay - nearly done. I end with a look that was "in" a year before my mother was born - 1954. I can imagine it could also be my future spinster look in around, give or take, ten to twenty years from now.

But seriously - what do you guys think about my getting some bangs? :)

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sun Worship

In a country where the vast majority of the population lives on the coast, the birth of a beach culture is inevitable. And in my city on the water, where beautiful beaches beckon a stone's throw away from the urban jungle, there's no better way to spend a fine spring day just hinting of the summer to come.

It's hard not to get sucked into the outdoorsy lifestyle of Perth. Apart from the fact that the odd commercial hours make it nearly impossible to hide in a shopping mall the whole day, the lure of the wide open spaces is pretty hard to resist. And with the advent of the warm weather, outside is the place to be.

I was vividly reminded of this when I gave into the impulse to visit one of the more popular beaches on the first warm weekend of the season. My once-almost-deserted recovery room was crawling with people, winter-pale and eager to start on their summer tan. It was probably the most number of people I've ever seen in one place since I got here. Peaceful giving way to festive, quiet filled by the raucous noises of beach lovers happy to see the last of winter.

I never used to pay much attention to the weather reports at home except when it was to hope on a storm signal high enough to get classes canceled (so you can imagine that this was eons ago!). These days I find myself tuning in to the news just to see what the weather is going to be like - specially if it's going to be on a day off - so I can make plans for it. To go for a run along the river. To spend time just chilling and people watching on my favorite beach. Basically, just to be out.

If the forecast says a fine sunny day, don't bother looking for me at home. Chances are, I'll be somewhere outside, happy on my own little spot of sand or grass, worshiping the sun.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Taking It Outside

Clear blue skies. A cool spring breeze off the ocean. Pristine white sands. Turquoise water as far as the eye can see. A dedicated bike/pedestrian path along a low cliff overlooking it all.

For a dedicated beach lover and wanna-be-runner, there was probably no better setting for my very first outdoor run. At last.

Let me digress a bit just to give you a background about how I've finally gotten to this point - particularly because I almost didn't even allow myself to get this far.

If you guys remember, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I literally ran myself full tilt into knee trouble. Thankfully, one of the perks of working in a hospital is having physios on hand to evaluate me gratis, and after an impromptu consult, I was told what the problem was - I had almost-flat feet, with my left worse than my right. My nifty new shoes were probably not providing enough arch support for me, specially on the left. The fact that I was being TOO enthusiastic about things and escalating what I was doing almost every day without rest periods in between compounded the issue.

As a result, just a couple of weeks into my attempt at making my walking legs into running legs, I was getting symptoms of beginning runner's knee.

I was told in no uncertain terms to back off, at least until I was pain-free. I would have to go back to a lower degree of intensity in the program I was following and to take recovery days. I also had to get better arch support - or else.

Apparently, my spirit was willing, my heart and lungs were capable, but my ligaments and my feet were weak.

After being told off by the physios at work (you'd think I'd know these things being a doctor!), I had a good think about the whole running business. It was so frustrating to find out that I didn't seem to be biomechanically suited to the sport I'd chosen - after I'd already set goals for myself in it and convincing myself I could do it. Also there were, after all, a myriad other sports out there that were less impact on the knees and didn't require a person not to have flat feet - like biking and swimming - and I only had one pair of knees. I was seriously considering junking the idea altogether.

But after a few days of sulking and literally sleeping with an ice pack on my left knee, I figured I wouldn't be giving myself a fair chance if I gave up on it so quickly. So I went out and got a pair of off-the-shelf orthotics for my running shoes, (which initially felt like having golf balls under my arches but now feel great) and backed off on my treadmill work
(which meant endless workouts on the mind-blowingly boring elliptical machine for several days in lieu) until I could squat without having my left knee scream at me.

In a week, I was doing the prescribed runs on my C25K program to the letter on the days I could run - and taking full recovery days in between. I worked my way up to a full 30 minute run on the treadmill a few days ago - a little more that what I should be doing in Week 6 - but pain-free during and after. So I am being cautiously optimistic that my shoe inserts and my easing up on myself are doing the trick - and that I just may be able to continue my pursuit of this running thing after all.

To celebrate my first ever 30 minute run, I felt ready to take things outside. Hence my impulse trip to Cottesloe Beach armed with only my jogging shoes, dorky belt-bag, and one application of sunblock. (And, while off-topic, can I say again how awesome it is that I can actually commute to a beautiful beach any time I feel the urge to?)

Okay, maybe all I could work up to today was about 30 minutes of run - and a whole lot of walk (at least 5K total, I promise). Give me some time, I'm going to work my way to a solid 5K run soon and take things from there.

Nothing can take away from the reality that I actually ran along the Sunset Coast jogging path, wind cool against my face, water on one side, and open road as far as the eye can see. And I really can't imagine a better setting to discover that I can actually do something that I'd never imagined I'd ever do than this.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Boy Toy

This is Vincent - two going on three and charming as anything. Every time we are together, he makes it a point to go through my handbag and demands I give him a blow-by-blow commentary about every single thing in it. He isn't quite capable of coherent three-word sentences and can't quite pronounce my name yet, but we have managed to bond over his Megablocks and my Palm Pilot's Insaniquarium game.

And, right now, he's the closest thing I have to a steady date.

In an ironic twist of fate, it seems that my karma of being the odd single out has followed me here. I've been adopted by an awesome group of Pinoy friends, all in my general age group, great company, and who really look out for me despite my being a complete stranger to them in the beginning - and, believe me, I know just how blessed I am to have that. The only catch is - they're all paired up, three married couples - and one kid.

At the moment, I have a bit of a reprieve as another new friend has flown down from Manila recently and joined our growing circle. But her husband is coming in late November to join her - before the group sets off for some summer traveling.

Leaving me, of course, with the little charmer as my partner.

I've already asked his mother if they have any objections to betrothing him to me and allowing me to marry him once he is of age. It's more than a 20 year difference, but what's a few years in the face of true love? His parents have agreed, tongue-in-cheek, provided that I take care of all his academic expenses from Year 1 to college. The only downside is, by the time he's ready to marry me, he may already be really preparing to take care of me in my old age.

Hmmm, maybe I should offer to adopt him instead.

In the meantime, I will brush up on my three-year-old-speak, install more easy games on my Palm Pilot, and make sure I have interesting things and treats inside my purse. I may not have been born with the skill to catch the eye of grown guys - but I'm fairly sure I can keep my latest love interested in his grown up playmate!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Coming into Her Own

video by carine23

It's strange how things sometimes conspire to remind me of certain life lessons that I still need learning - all within the same week.

It all began with this blog entry by my blog buddy and romance guru, Evil Woobie.

Having written about singlehood on and off over the past few months - mainly because it's one of the circumstances that tilted the scales towards taking this particular life adventure I am currently on - I couldn't resist posting a comment to her post in reply.

it’s a cliche that everything happens for a reason, but i believe it - and that all the events in my life so far have led me to where i am today… a happy place to be. :)

i am so happy i had the chance to do this on-my-own thing and discover that i can be this person - strong, independent, and ready to take on anything. achievements aside, looks aside, and relationship-status aside, i know i’ll always have that under my belt and it is an accomplishment i will always be proud of. :)

I don't think that I've sounded as well-adjusted as that in a long time. (My long-time friends might even attest that I've probably NEVER sounded that well-adjusted, as I have always lived with the cloud of my myriad neuroses hanging over my head.)

But while I am certainly in a good place at the moment, there are days when it doesn't take a lot to propel me outside my happy place. It's probably because I've been so used to being so down on myself for so long that actually feeling good about me takes a lot of getting used to. And sometimes I have to fight quite hard to keep the negative voices from drowning out my inner cheerleader in training. Specially when the snarky comments come from important people in my life who sometimes say things that chip away at me simply because they don't know any better.

In keeping with my current lesson plan, I had such a moment just a few days after my enlightened comment on Woobie's blog.

For a fleeting moment, I felt like I was tumbling into the same old self-destructive pattern I've gotten used to for years - defensiveness and defiance. But, in a surprising victory for my inner cheerleader, I suddenly realized that what these people said didn't matter.

Because, for the first time in a long time, I actually feel dang good about me.

I'm brave. I'm strong. Life stretches out before me that's still filled with all sorts of possibility. And I kick ass.

And no one can ever take that feeling away from me but me.

Lots of people grow up knowing this simple truth - but what can I say? I'm a very slow learner.

It's high time I let my inner cheerleader come into her own - and give her room to dance.

* * * *

Post Script: This song is currently on tops on my "Girl Power" list at the moment. I love it because it has such a positive and powerful message. And it's also very true. I was looking for the original music video to embed on this post, but I think this slideshow I found on YouTube pretty much does the trick.

Don’t Need You To (Tell Me I’m Pretty)
Samantha Mumba

I don't need you to
Tell me I'm pretty to make me feel beautiful
I don't need you to
give me your strength
To make me feel I'm strong

I got all of this strength that I need
here inside my own two hands
All that I want is your love and respect for who I am
What I really need comes from deep inside of me

Don't need you to tell me I'm pretty to make me feel beautiful, no
Don't need you to make me strong, cause I’m strong all on my own
Doesn't come from outside
This beauty I know
Comes from inside my soul

I don't need you to
believe in me to make me know I'm worth believing in
I don't need you to
lift me up high to know I can stand tall

I can stand my own ground, I can stand proud upon my own two feet
Don't have to be part of somebody else to be complete
What I really need
Comes from deep inside of me

Don't need you to tell me I'm pretty to make me feel beautiful, no
Don't need you to make me strong, cause I’m strong all on my own
Doesn't come from outside
This beauty I know
Comes from inside my soul

Don't need to come to you for confirmation
Because I finally found this revelation
What I really need I’m gonna find inside of me
Not in somebody else
Respect, comes when you respect yourself

Don't need you to tell me I’m pretty
To know I’m beautiful

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Confessions of an Unreformed Sweet Tooth

diagnosis: one of the best cheesecakes i have eaten. ever.
cheesecake shop's mississippi cheesecake.

Of course I knew I had low-fat yogurt in the fridge at home - I just bought them yesterday. Vanilla, cheesecake, and apple pie flavored yogurt, 8 tubs in all, each just 73 calories.

But there are just days when you can't settle for anything but the real deal.

Which was why I found myself at the nearest service station at 730pm (after getting there on foot, mind you), rummaging through the freezers and looking for the lowest calorie ice cream treat I could find. Did you know that most ice cream bars are AT LEAST a 180 calories? Frankly, I really never wanted to know - but, unfortunately, due to my diligent label checking, I now know.

Luckily, I did find something that suited - a small cup of classic vanilla ice cream, just 110 calories for a small sojourn in sweet tooth heaven. Just in time, too, because the people at the cash register were beginning to give me strange looks after seeing me hovering over all three of their freezers for almost 15 minutes before settling for my treat and paying for it.

What can I say? The spirit is willing, etcetera, etcetera. And when you live in the land of Cadbury chocolate and Tim Tam, it can be quite challenging for any forsworn sweet tooth to to stay on the side of low glycemic index eating.

As part of my personal health reform agenda, which I've embarked upon to avert certain disaster - specifically a date with probable early onset diabetes - I've been trying to wean myself away from unhealthy sweets and going for the more healthy substitutes. Which translates to stocking muesli bars for chocolate bars, fruits for lollies, and, yes, yogurt for ice cream.

While that has managed to work for me somewhat, it's hard not to give in to temptation every now and then. Not having the object of my addiction on hand may prevent me from indulging regularly, but when I'm craving for the real thing, going out of my way to get my fix is not going to be a problem.

I'm trying to practice the value of moderation in this particular area in my life - and buying into the joys of muesli, fruit, and yogurt more often when a craving hits. But I still allow myself one mini-sized chocolate bar every now and then, as well as real ice cream (gelato!) when I want a treat. And no matter what anyone says - I am never, ever going to be able to turn down a slice of cheesecake. Ever.

I am, and always will be, a sweet tooth. I consider it both a blessing and curse, but it will always be a fact of my life. Curse, because it can be so hard to resist indulging in my favorite things in the world and damning the health consequences. Blessing because it doesn't take a lot to make me happy - just a great dessert has the power to make my day.

And, really, in this complicated world of ours where there are just so many things that can get you down, don't you agree that it's sort of great to be able to experience joy from a simple sugar rush?
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pushing Beyond Creaky Knees

photo credit: unknown - if it was you, let me know :)

I've finally decided on my new outdoor sport for my first spring-summer season in Perth - running.

Okay, it's not a water sport. But it's fairly simple, no-frills, and it doesn't require the kinesthetic prowess of an Olympic athlete, just lots of discipline and persistence - things I sorely need to develop anyway. Plus, it complements my insatiable wanderlust and is a great way of burning calories and getting fit while going places.

So a couple of weeks ago, I bought my first pair of good running shoes as a part of my commitment to my initial goal of working up to a thirty minute run. Overwhelmed by enthusiasm and the novel experience of being able to even jog without experiencing excruciating shin pain - something that has always turned me off running in the past - I was literally up and running.

I've started with the Couch to 5K running program, an 8 week training program that builds you up gradually to doing solid 30 minute runs from being totally sedentary. I started on Week 3 using the health club treadmill, and I haven't looked back since. I'm currently on Week 5 Day 3, going on Week 6 - which means I've actually worked my way up to a solid 20 minute run with minimal walking breaks. All of this has been treadmill work because I haven't had time to research outdoor running routes and my current schedule doesn't allow me to do a lot of wandering at the moment, but once my schedule opens up, expect me to be out all the time.

On the downside of things, beginning such a high-impact sport has made my body go into serious protest. My knees, in particular, are on strike and officially hate me.

I now know what morning stiffness feels like. I can almost hear my knees screaming every time I stand up after sitting for so long. My ankles squeak occasionally in accompaniment. My shins organize episodic protests but not quite as frequently.

Okay, okay, I admit I've been a bit of a dunce and, due to my gym addiction problems, haven't really been taking enough recovery days in between increasing my running time. But I have been a good girl about the stretching post-runs and continuing my strength training. The moans-and-groans of my muscles could probably be just a normal reaction to finally being used after happily hibernating for so long.

My friends tell me I just have to be careful that I'm not overdoing things - which means taking more time to recover from my workouts, running or otherwise. (Which is why I am blogging instead of slaving away at the gym right now.) Going for recovery days is actually a challenge in itself, because just the thought, "Hey, I can do this!" actually spurs me on that much further, creaky joints be damned.

The experience has been awesome, and a fitting counterpoint to what this year and this move has been all about.

I can't wait for the day when I'm finally doing my thing along the Swan River foreshore or the Sunset Coast jogging path, wind cool against my face, water on one side, and open road as far as the eye can see.
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Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Power to Choose

photo found via google. i don't know who took it, sorry!

I am a Christian. I have been raised and educated as a devout Catholic and am fairly active in my church. But I am also a doctor, and this is one issue where my personal beliefs and dogma and I do not see eye to eye.

And I agree that it's past time that a Reproductive Health Bill in the Philippines was passed - and executed.

It's a delayed reaction to a fairly dated issue, but I felt so strongly about the topic that I couldn't resist.

I am pro-choice but I do not believe in induced abortions. This is something that I, as a doctor, would never do for any patient. But what I don't understand is the mass hysteria being drummed up by about the issue of artificial means of contraception.

Just reading the statistics alone is already quite convincing. The Philippines is among #15 in Asia with the highest maternal mortality rates - the top causes of which are hemorrhage and abortion, of which a significant number are induced. Many of these deaths are preventable - by adequate nutrition, proper spacing between pregnancies, and, yes, even limiting family size.

How is teaching the largely ignorant populace about responsible parenthood and providing them with means to practice it an affront to the dignity of life? How does seeing the logic behind a smaller family size and wanting to prevent unplanned pregnancies make those of us who are for this bill akin to murderers?

There are those who feel that sex education, education about artificial contraceptive methods, and providing free access to artificial contraceptives somehow encourages a culture of promiscuity. Frankly, I think this argument is flawed on several levels, not the least of which is that it seriously undermines the people that they are seeking to protect. Besides this, the reality is that, despite our largely conservative-leaning society, increasing sexual activity among the young and unmarried is actually quite prevalent and has been for some time. Turning a blind eye to this reality and sticking our head in the sand will not make it go away.

I think, that for me as a doctor, the most convincing argument for family planning, responsible parenthood, and sex education was working in the OB Admitting Section every three days for several weeks as a medical student, then as an intern.

The concept of a woman having more than 3 kids for me simply boggles the mind, but there I saw countless grand multiparas (women who have given birth more than 5 times) reaching their status before the age of 30, already on baby number 6 or 7. I'd had to assist at emergency hysterectomies for these women with overused uteruses that refused to contract after delivery, causing them to bleed and bleed and threatening to leave their many children motherless.

On the other end of the spectrum were the young primis - the youngest in my experience was 14, just in her first year of high school, who never had a single pre-natal consult prior to delivery. I can't imagine what kind of parenting these young girls can offer their babies, not when they were hardly out of childhood themselves and were now forced to grow up much too soon.

And then there were the women who came in for induced abortions that were not completed, septic, bleeding, and often on the brink of death. It was both fascinating and appalling how creative and innovative some of these very desperate women would be in trying to terminate their unwanted pregnancies, turning to methods ranging from the sedate to the bizarre. Some are lucky enough to make it through. Some are not.

Do I believe passing the Reproductive Health Act will change the stories of the women who I've talked about above? Maybe, maybe not. But let's not lose sight of the fact that in the end, no one but the couples themselves can dictate what they do in their bedroom, in their sex life, and in their family lives. No one can argue with that. Isn't it then only right that they are given the chance to make informed choices?

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

To Someone Who Will Never Read This

I know we never got around to talking about it, but I have a checklist.

I've had it since I was a little girl, when once-upon-a-time everything was non-negotiable and I knew with naive certainty that the paragon described on my checklist actually existed. As I grew older and more grounded in reality, I took many of the things off the non-negotiable column and put them on my superficial checklist.

Of course when I met you, I didn't know you'd score so well - on both columns. And to be honest, I wasn't really thinking about those things at the time - upheaval isn't always the best time to think about things like that. But then you were there. And it's hard not to discover someone when you're around each other all the time. In fact, it's all too easy.

You made me laugh and kept me on my toes. We had a lot of common interests. Despite your unfailing sarcasm and contrariness, you couldn't quite hide the kindness under the surface. It was fairly obvious that I enjoyed your company. And, soon enough, being with you became a highlight of my otherwise mundane day. I sorely needed a friend, and you were there - albeit reluctantly.

You were interesting - and I, being only human and maybe a little lonely, began being interested. But, by the time I realized it, I didn't know how to let you know. In keeping with the pattern of my life, I just got sort of stuck. It's so hard not to fall into old patterns when you've been working them so long.

And before I could work my way out of my rut, you had gone. And I was still stuck.

I wonder sometimes why Fate throws the right people our way at the wrongest possible time. I know that in some way I handled it wrong. I also know that if you had been interested, things wouldn't have turned out this way. I guess part of it is also because you don't give yourself enough credit that I could be interested in "keeping" you - as a friend or otherwise - because of you, and not because I don't have anyone else.

Then again, maybe a transient passer-by in my life is all you were intended to be. Maybe to let me know that my naive belief that there is someone out there with most of the qualities I'm asking for actually exists. Maybe you were there simply because Fate knew that you were what I needed at the time - and that was all you were meant to be.

Still I wish things could have turned out differently - because I do miss you.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Big Girls Don't Cry

photo by No More Love

I hate crying.

I hate it because it makes my nose all swollen, my eyes all puffy (and sting the whole day), and my nose stuff up. I hate it because once I get started I can't stop, I just have to ride it out - and that takes a good, long while, believe me. I hate it because I am incapable of crying all dainty and ladylike as they do in the movies, but instead let loose in a cacophony of snuffles, hiccups, and undignified sobs when I get going.

I admit it, when it comes to the crying thing, I've always been a little weird. Ironically, I find that it's much easier to let myself cry over a sappy movie or a sad plot twist in a book than things that happen in real life - which is also why I often resort to using them when I feel too pent up about my life but am unable to do some cathartic bawling. Even as a little girl, I've been a big practitioner of keeping a stiff upper lip. My combination of innate stubbornness and refusing to show any sign of weakness often serve me quite well.

Which is probably a sign of emotional constipation on my part.

Anger is a little bit harder to control for me than sadness or emotional wallowing, and most of my major public tear-fests have been induced by frustration and rage. Being unfairly railed at by someone more senior than me at work or undermining my work are examples of things that can really get me going. It gets really embarrassing and awkward, but crying is at least more career-saving for me than giving into the urge to plant my knee in a superior's groin. It can get so hard to hold in the impulse to physical violence sometimes that it has to come out somewhere - the tearducts seem like a fair enough place to start.

As far as crying goes, I can be obviously such a man.
Unfortunately, I am a product of my conditioning and, until now, I often need an external stimulus not related to my life to get me going (with the exception of being triggered by the really major events - like death or long separations). If I'm really, really depressed and want a good cry without having to make excuses, I have, on occasion resorted to bottle-induced bonding - a time-old macho Pinoy guy ritual reserved for seriously broken hearts (which I may or may not have as my own reason for wanting to wallow at the time).

Does this mark me as abnormal? Is it just me, or has anyone else bought into the idea that big girls aren't really allowed to cry?

Written for The Blog Rounds 20, hosted by Ness. :)

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Channeling Sporty Spice

my battered 3 year old rubber shoes - whose soles have been recently glued back on as a stop-gap measure. I need new ones!

My relationship with fitness has always been erratic to say the least.

Maybe it was my debilitating self-consciousness and fear that I'd end up making my team lose the game (which happened enough times in my budding career as a PE dunce for my fear to have a basis), maybe it was just my general aversion to anything that would make me sweat, or maybe it was my resigned acceptance that I have always been and ever will be "nerd" with mental calisthenics as my forte. But having learned from my elementary physical education classes that I had the athletic ability of a plant, I've never been particularly enthusiastic about any sport I actually had to participate in.

Of course as I grew up, my teenage vanity and my parents' constant prodding made it imperative I get off my butt and get fit. Exercise became a means to an end - losing weight and looking great. Always existing in my life alongside the latest fad diet, exercising would get me results but I would feel absolutely miserable and tired all the time. I mean, who would be happy subsisting on only an apple for breakfast, an egg for lunch, and nothing for dinner for every day activities, not to mention adding an hour-long aerobic session daily on top of it?

Needless to say I wasn't able to sustain that particular diet and weight loss program for very long.

The funny thing about me is that when I am into the whole fitness thing, I am really into it. Seriously into it. I've been through a biking phase, walking phase, a tae-bo phase, a regular gym rat phase, even a very short yoga and swimming phase. (All nice, individual activities - I never got over the trauma of being the team goat.) But once I stopped, inertia would often hit - and it often took serious shake-ups to motivate me to get going again.

Apparently moving to another country falls under the category of a major shake-up - because for the nth time in my life, I am once more channeling Sporty Spice.

Getting back into the active swing of things began as something of a necessity. My lack of wheels initially forced me to walk anywhere and everywhere, and I rediscovered the benefits of having an endorphin high.

After a few weeks of maximizing my on-foot exploration, I realized I had enough time on my hands to make a serious bid for fitness once more - and signed up with a local health club. I do time on the elliptical, the treadmill, and the rowing machine, life weights, and attend the yoga classes. The endorphin high is amazing, and great antidote to on-the-job-stress and on-my-own loneliness. To mix it up, I've kept my fitness walking for weekends when I feel like wandering - and there are just so many beautiful spots here in Perth for walking or jogging that's just a train ride away.

I'm really buying into the sporty, outdoor lifestyle of Perth. I can't imagine feeling this enthusiastic about walking or running in Manila, that's for sure - I happen to have an aversion to inhaling gasoline fumes. I'm even thinking of getting my first grown up bike - never mind if I haven't gotten on one since college. And I am even flirting around with the possibility of training for a 10K run in April, something that I've never ever done before.

Every time I get started on a fitness craze, I always swear that I'm going to stick to it this time around. After all, being a doctor, you would think I'd know enough about the benefits of exercise to keep me motivated, specially given all my personal risk factors and the fact that I am not getting any younger. But I know from falling off the wagon so many times over the years just how hard it is to keep a fitness program up - often because life gets in the way and it just becomes less of a priority. But I am hoping that this is the time when the fitness crazy part of me really sticks for good.

I'm just glad that my schedule here allows me this great form of "me time" - and that Perth is just so conducive to a healthy, active lifestyle. I may have the athletic ability of a plant, but what I seriously lack in ability I make up for in enthusiasm. With the weather warming up, I am looking forward to more outdoor fitness activities in the spring sunshine.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Managing Older

photo from flickr

It's a reflection of how good the Australian health system is that most of its people are now the second longest living people on Earth. A baby born in Australia is expected to live an average of 81 years old, an average currently bested only by the Japanese. It's no wonder then that most of the patients we see at work are elderly - the mark of an aging population. Here it's quite commonplace to see active and healthy octogenarians and even nonagenarians, some just a couple of years shy of the century mark and a dinner with the Queen.

This is something that, as a doctor, is quite new to me, coming from a country where the life expectancy at birth is easily a decade below Australia's and most of our patients are lucky to get any medical treatment at all. Dealing with such an elderly population has been a learning experience in itself, but it has its own share of difficulties and heartbreaks.

Aging inevitably takes its toll on the human body, no matter how well one lives, so it's not surprising that most of our elderly patients have multiple medical problems. While there are also a number of elderly patients who have reached their grand old age with few serious co-morbidities, arthritic pain and reduced mobility is a common problem many share. A good number of them have been living in late-stages or even end-stages of many chronic illnesses for a number of years, the natural course of their diseases staved off by the good health and community support they are given by the system.

I had never seen many patients with dementia - until I came here, where many of my very old patients have it one form or the other. It's profoundly sad seeing someone struggling to hold on to the bits of pieces of themselves and failing. In the span of my three months here, I have seen many people falling into the entire spectrum - from those who are just beginning to gradually slide into short-term memory loss to those who have to be placed in higher level care because they would be otherwise a danger unto themselves. As heartbreaking as it is to watch as an outsider, I can only imagine how it must be for the patients' families and caregivers.

Strange as it may sound coming from a doctor and someone in the general business of prolonging life, dealing with older patients has made me realize one thing: I do not want to live to grow that old. Friends and I often morbidly joke that the best way to go is by sudden cardiac death after you've been old enough to enjoy life and a bit of your retirement - you won't even know what hit you.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean any disrespect. I do want to live a long and active life, and I hope to be healthy for the most of it. But I don't want to live long enough to feel my knees, hips, and back start to go even with the aid of modern surgery; don't want to live long enough to lose control over my bodily functions; don't want to live at all if living means losing myself mentally little by little. I admit that this mind-set and very personal preference sometimes makes me wonder if maybe some of the patients who we treat full-on feel the same way.

Having come from a system where financial constraints often dictated the extent of what could be done for our patients and the choices were often limited and thus more clear cut, working here has been different kind of challenge. In this health care system where in medical care the sky is the limit, doctors treating these kinds of patients are faced with many difficult questions.

Issues like pre-morbid quality of life and projected quality of life after admission are no longer trivial questions asked for mere completion of a patient's personal and social history but very important pieces of information that are core to the medical team's approach to management.

I've heard it said often that one of the hardest lessons a doctor must learn in his lifetime of practice is knowing when it is best to fight harder and when it is kinder to let go. In this environment of relative abundance in medical technology and resources, I think that maybe it becomes even more challenging lesson to learn.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Breathing Room

I just marked my third month completely on my own, in a city I came to without knowing anyone, on the biggest, bravest, most spontaneous leap I have ever made in my overly-cautious, over-planned life. I know it's an overused cliche, but time does go so incredibly fast - and the year I initially planned on staying here is a quarter done.

I can go on and on about the pros and cons of living abroad. There is so much from back home that I miss - not the least of which are the people I love, the familiarity of home, the lifestyle I am accustomed to. But there is also a lot about being here, independent for the first time in my life, that I am learning to love.

I'm settling into a routine, finding new friends, and slowly beginning to realize that this is not an extended vacation to an exotic place - this is my real life and this is where I live now. Some days I just want to hop on the first plane back home, but some days I also wish could stay here forever. It gets so confusing that I've given up pondering on that for the moment.

I'm living my life out here one day at a time, and I am slowly becoming more comfortable doing it. For the first time in my life, I have room to breathe. Living in the moment has given me space and time to get to know myself better in ways I have never really done before. I may not have done anything drastic or even remotely adventurous, but for the first time in a very long time, I am reveling in an air thick with possibility.

I still have no solid future plans and am still in a free-fall with no clue as to when I will hit the ground. But this early on, I can say that regardless of outcome, deciding to come here and do this was a good decision and one that I do not regret.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Last Word on This - For Now

A stuffed up internet connection that went kaput on me just as my friends were beginning to have on-line conversations with me about the two previous posts didn't keep this particular email from getting through.

I've paraphrased some things for clarity and to protect the identity of the writer (but by her choices some will know her ;P), but I asked her if she would be okay with posting her email in its entirety. Here's her argument for the multitudes of women who choose to "waste the pretty" and why it's alright.

Being an avid follower of your blog, I paid close attention to your post about "He's not just that into you." Perhaps this is just me being too predictable - because if there's anyone the title of that book is directed to, it's me. and I'm guilty as charged.

I got a copy of that book back in May, as a gift for myself on someone else's birthday. I went to a bayside nook and kept an appointment with myself just to read it because I thought it would be liberating. But I was not even halfway through it when i junked it and picked another reading material instead.

First of all, it's not applicable for Filipinos! there's a chapter there saying "if he likes you, he'll have sex with you all the time." Bwahaha! Ridiculous in our setting, right? And there are a lot of other things there that just don't apply, and are even contrary to what i think is right or proper. I think it was in the introduction or the preface when both authors cautioned us that the concepts in the book apply to the "usual" males. And I mean, duh! I, for one, wouldn't even bother if the guy is just normal! And I refuse to be plain "normal" myself.

As one of our teachers once said, "normal" is just an arbitrarily derived population-based mean. It's a bell shaped curve. If you don't fall within the interval where most people are, then you are no longer normal. Who wants to be in the middle of that bell shaped curve anyway? As for me, I will not settle for normal. That's the one thing my system just rebels against.

It's not that I'm defending my follies. I agree with the main concept of the book - that we have to love ourselves enough and not settle for someone who can't make us feel as special as we truly are. There are some huge important truths in his ideas. I do think a lot of his examples make women look too stupid. And too normal. hehehe. I really don't think most of them are real.

For me, it's okay to remain romantic and dreamy - but with your feet firmly grounded. And whatever choice you make, it should only bring out the best in you. So in the long run, even if "he's just not that into you," and you took a risk on him, you should still turn out to be a better person. You will still be that fearless, special, fabulous, intelligent female that you truly are. Maybe in the end, you will realize that you were really not that into him either. But having things not work out doesn't really hurt you because that previous delusion actually made you better.

Maybe deep down, I'm still a romantic, quirkyalone who prefers the oyster i picked even if it's an empty one. I'd even keep the shell. So sue me!

As someone who has chosen to "waste the pretty" on some really huge illusions and delusions, this perspective somewhat comforting. And true. I think we all come out of any experience like this a stronger, better person regardless of the outcome. And still hopeful, thankfully. Always still hopeful.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Variations on the Single Theme

photo by me from the "water" set

An anonymous reader posted a thought-provoking comment to my previous post about the book He's Just Not That Into You and how it's sort of pegged my hopes (not that high to begin with) even lower to a new level of low when it comes to men.

So by accepting the "new all time low" are you deducing it's best to "not waste the pretty" until it wastes itself?

Very good question - to which, at the moment, I honestly have no clear answer.

"Wasting the pretty" is very closely related to the concept of settling. Basically, the premise is that women should recognize what they're worth and shouldn't settle for someone who isn't going to treat them way they deserve to be treated. Neither should they stay in a relationship that is half-baked just so that they can be in a relationship. The book's premise is that women shouldn't waste the pretty because they are going to miss on the opportunity to find someone who is more worthy of the pretty.

Of course those of us who have been more or less single all of our lives know just how easy that actually is. All I have to say about that is one big, "Whatever." But I digress.

I am enjoying my single life enough to know that even if I am single for the rest of it, it wouldn't end my world. It is possible to be alone and be happy. And in that sense, choosing not to settle - ergo, not to waste the pretty - and holding out for the real deal that may or may not come along is hardly letting the pretty waste itself.

I started this year writing about choosing to be a quirkyalone - "a person who enjoys being single(but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than dating for the sake of being in a couple. With unique traits and an optimistic spirit; a sensibility that transcends relationship status."

But to be honest, there are days when I sometimes feel that I am just trying to convince myself that I am happy being single. Having been brought up and socialized the conventional way, I have been conditioned to want the usual things - to meet a decent guy who I'd want to settle down with, get married, start a family, etc. I won't deny that I still want that, even if I am enjoying living my current "out-of-the-box" life.

But I also refuse to settle for anything less than what I could have or deserve to have. There's still a part of me that holds on to the hope that there is someone out there who fulfills all my non-negotiables and is being prepared by Fate or by God just for me, for real, forever. Maybe these are unrealistic expectations for someone like me at this stage in my life, but I still choose to hold on to them.

So, yes, underneath all my cynicism I still choose to be an optimist - at least for now.

Will my answer change in a few years, when those creeping fears about growing old alone come more often in the night? I hope not. It's hard to say with finality what it is that one would choose to make compromises on in the light of trying to get something you really want. I guess it also boils down to what you want for yourself in the long term. But I sincerely hope not.

I guess there really are no easy answers to this kind of question. I know that if I think in terms of odds, they aren't really stacked in my favor. Yet I choose to think in terms of faith right now - faith that no matter how things turn out, whether or not I find a guy who is worthy of the pretty or whether I live the rest of my life as a fancy-free single lady, it will be what really is best for me.

In the end, happiness and fulfillment really depends on how you choose to live your life - and I hope to continue living my life as fully as I can regardless. And, as I have already said, choosing to make the most of every day I am given is hardly letting the pretty waste itself.

Besides, I'm finally beginning to realize that I do, in fact, have a lot of pretty to spare. And that's a pretty great lesson to begin learning at this point in my life, don't you agree? :)

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