Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Life Begins at 30

image from flickr


The arrival of May often heralds a serious bout of pre-birthday blues for me. I usually spend the two weeks or so before my birthday wallowing about turning a year older and my often vague dissatisfaction with my life. What can I say? I'm a half-empty glass kind of girl. The spectre of another birthday is about enough to suck whatever is left of my optimism dry.

Last year was particularly bad because I wasn't just turning a year older, I was turning a decade older. I was hitting the big "3-OH" with not much to show for it - a bitter pill to swallow when I'd see my non-doctor friends settling into their successful lives. I was digging myself into rut I desperately wanted to get out of but was too scared to esacpe.

This year, as my birthday approaches and I look back at the year that was, I can't find anything to be blue about.

Crazily enough, my decision to take a flying leap into the unknown and get off the seemingly inexorable course of my life has turned into one of the best I've ever made. Taking this temporary breather has opened up my life in the most amazing ways.

So it's true that at the moment I don't have a job that gives me a regular paycheck and I am living on the lagresse of my parents and my very meager residency savings. (Anyone who's been to residency in the Philippines will understand just how meager my savings really are.) And it's true that I haven't really practiced any serious medicine since last December. And it's true that I am still single, with no prospect in sight. And it's true that I am now wandering around with no definite direction, and my life right now is riddled with more questions than there are answers.

But despite all this... (dare I say it aloud?) I'm actually happy. I'm happy being aimless. I'm happy sitting at the roadside for now, watching everyone else run by. I'm happy despite having a huge chasm of uncertainty gaping at my feet (that is, when I am not being terrified - and that only happens when I think too hard about it). I've finally adjusted to living from day to day for now.

This hiatus has helped me appreciate what I've already done and has given me space to do everything I've wanted to do.

I've had the chance to travel to places I'd never had the time to see before. I am finallly writing regularly again. I have a deeper appreciation for being single and fancy free and simply living for me. I've also realized that I actually like being a doctor, and while I still don't think too much of my skills in that part of my life, I miss medicine and will be glad to get back to it when my break is over. In the meantime, there are things to do and places to see and adventures to be had.

It's been a very good year - and I'm already looking forward to the next.

Yes, life really does begin at 30.
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Monday, April 28, 2008

Anawangin - Paradise Close to Home

the almost white sand of anawangin cove


It's hard to imagine a place so idyllic and untouched so close to the city, but Anawangin Cove is all that and more.

Once a well-kept secret by the hardcore outdoor enthusiasts and dedicated shutterbugs, it seems to have exploded into the Manila crowd's consciousness, all through word-of-mouth advertising and blog buzz. All of a sudden, this little patch of paradise just 3 hours outside Manila - most of it great driving or an easy commute on very good roads plus a 30 minute boat trip - has become one of this summer's must-see destinations.

Jean and I weren't immune to the lure of the gorgeous photographs and the enthusiastic narratives published on-line by previous visitors. So despite having nil camping experience and unfazed by the prospect of being just two women traveling alone, we set off last weekend to see what the fuss was all about.

Fortunately, my sister and her boyfriend were gracious enough to let themselves be dragged in the wake of our enthusiasm. Being an outdoor savvy couple with several visits to Anawangin under their belt, their presence definitely made the trip much smoother than it might have been.

While Pundaquit, in San is just one bus ride away, my sister decided to bring a car instead. The commute coming from Manila would be easy enough by bus, but getting a ride back home the next day would be a different story. My younger brother and his friends, who had been to Anawangin just the week before, ended up on their feet for the entire bus ride on the way home.

We left Manila at around 430 am and were soon flying down the . After stopping for breakfast at one of the gas stations on the freeway, it was smooth driving all the way to San Antonio, where we made another pit-stop to buy drinking water and provisions at the public market. And let's not forget the other beach essential beer - and an ice chest full of ice.


a view of pundaquit beach and the mountains as we pull out


We parked the car at one of the pay parking lots near Pundaquit Beach (overnight charge PHP 100), and found a boat to take us to our destination. My sister, being a frequent visitor, was able to make arrangements with a boatman she knew ahead of time, and we had a boat waiting for us on the beach. Without much ado, we were off.

The boat was smaller than the one we used for our island-hopping in Caramoan, and the seas were more choppy as well, even if this is the height of summer. It made for a very wet ride, but exhilarating nonetheless. However, the waters going to Pundaquit can become quite rough during storm seasons, so plan your trips during those months with caution.


sheer rockface makes up the coastline to anawangin cove


As we approached the cove, we were greeted by the sight of white sand under the mid-morning sun and the unusual sight of pine trees instead of the palms we are used to seeing on a beach. At first sight, it was obvious what the buzz was all about. After unloading the boat and making arrangements for the boatman to pick us up the next day, we went into the campgrounds to set up camp.

It was a bit of a disappointment to see the campground dotted with tents already, but we were expecting the crowd. Even while we were still in San Antonio, we had already seen several groups of backpackers waiting for tricycles to Pundaquit. Besides that, it seemed as if many friends of friends were descending on the beach this weekend. Jean calls it "The Six Degrees of Anawangin." Inevitably, we would all end up running into someone we knew, someone who we didn't know was coming that weekend. Anawangin is becoming that popular.

All this despite the fact that there are but two makeshift toilets on the campgrounds and two deep well pumps to service a campground teeming with weekend tourists and mountaineers.

Luckily we were still able to find a good spot among the trees, shaded from the noontime sun. After setting up camp and cooking and eating lunch (I will never laugh at contestants making botched sinaing [steamed rice] ever again), we settled in to take advantage of what any beach had to offer - an afternoon of utter indolence. A bit of exploring and picture taking here and there, then it was time for a long afternoon map in a hammock under the shade of the beautiful pine trees that are part of this cove's mystique.


the stream behind our campsite


There isn't a lot to do in Anawangin in terms of sports activity. There is some snorkeling that can be done by the rocks, but the rips on the sides of the cove can make this dangerous. Swimmers should also approach the beach with respect and caution. While the bottom is sandy and the water amazingly clean, sudden drop offs and undertows influenced by the tide have taken the lives of even strong swimmers caught unawares. With no life guards and minimal warning signs, you must be responsible for your own safety.

What Anawangin is perfect for, aside from watching the world go by, is drinking in the beauty of Nature at its finest. Aside from the beautiful beach, the woods just behind the camping grounds are such a novel sight. Framed by mountains in the background, it looks like a something from on European postcard. Hard to imagine that the sun-kissed tropical beach is just a heartbeat away.


A European postcard shot taken in Zambales


Photographers abound here, toting their SLRs and tripods, running to and fro along the beach to find the perfect shot. Who could blame them? My heart bled for my own SLR camera to capture the utter gorgeousness of this place. I've been to a number of beaches in my career as a wanna-be beach bum, and I must say my vote for prettiest dusk (even if the sun sets behind the mountain) definitely goes to Anawangin.

It was too warm for a bonfire, and the stars were blotted out by the clouds from the summer rain shower, but we still had a nice, quiet evening under the stars, still-cold beer in hand. One of our former interns and his friends joined us with a half-finished bottle of tequila, but since they were already way more wasted than we were, we didn't have the heart to challenge them to finish the rest.


a beach bathed in fire


We woke up early the next morning and took a morning walk along the beach. While the serenity of the beach and the water was calming, our walk was marred by the sight of waste from the previous night's revelry scattered on the beach - an empty bag of chips here, plastic cups here and there. It was so sad to see how irresponsible visitors to this idyllic wonderland were being, instead of making an effort to preserve its beauty and cleanliness.

After a quick post-breakfast morning swim and a makeshift shower at the campsite using a five liter mineral water container filled with deep well water, it was time to pack up and wait for our boatman. We were supposed to stop by Capones Island on the way back, but due to the bulk of people also going home that day, our ride was late, and we left Anawangin past 1:30 in the afternoon still teeming with people enjoying the sun.

Based on the number of people going there this summer, Anawangin is obviously no longer a secret. I just hope that the influx of people will not turn the pristine, untouched state of this cove into a lost memory because of carelessness.

If you want to go there to get away from the maddening crowd, it's best to come on a weekday when you'll have this wonderful place all to yourselves - or off-season, if you're brave enough to face the rough waters. Still, it's definitely worth at least one visit to see this paradise so close to home, regardless of when you'll make the trip.

I hope to be back, too, someday... maybe with an SLR camera at last.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Lost in Makati-land



My visa sponsorship finally came in Wednesday. I've been busy putting together my papers to send off to Australia - and I finally got to do it yesterday afternoon. Looks like I may make my deadline after all.

But that's not really what this post is about.

This morning, as part of my visa requirements, I had to go into the heart of the Makati central business district to get a medical exam done. Not being a bona fide Makati yuppie, I haven't really had any chance to wander the CBD. Apart from my occasional visits to the malls, Makati is a foreign to me as another country.

After today, I have come to realize that it is as confusing to me as Wonderland must have been to Alice.

Murphy was certainly working overtime on me today. For one thing, my alarm didn't go off, and I left the house late - which considerably complicated my plans. I couldn't get an FX that would go directly to Ayala Avenue, where I could get off across the street from the clinic. After almost an hour of waiting along Ortigas for a ride, I hoofed it back home to get my car and drive to Makati - smack at the height of rush hour traffic.

Being of a practical bent, I wasn't about to take the car directly into the heart of the CBD, where parking rates were atrocious. I chose to park the car at Glorietta, the biggest mall complex there, and was planning on taking a bus or a cab to the clinic instead.

Easier said than done, given the confusing maze of underpasses and lack of pedestrian crossings along Ayala Avenue.

I emerged from the parking complex in front of Rustan's and found the underpass that let me cross the road to the side where I mean to catch the bus. At the stop, I was refused a ride by the driver, who told me it was only an unloading zone. I needed to walk further down Ayala to get to the loading zone.

Obedient commuter that I am, I followed his instructions and walked a couple of blocks to the intersection of Ayala and Makati Avenue. I could see the bus stop in the distance, a few meters away - only to have my way barred by a fence that screamed, "No pedestrian crossing!"

What the fudge? How was I supposed to get to the other side?

Incensed, I walked back the way I came, looking for an underpass that would possibly allow me to emerge on the other side once more... but I couldn't find any until I came to the first underpass I used. Left with no other choice, I crossed back to my starting point and walked the same couple of blocks back towards Makati Avenue until I finally came to another underpass that finally led me to the loading zone.

What should have been a simple walk a couple of blocks long in a straight line turned out to be one confusing zig-zagging among the underpasses. Anyone who plans to go around Makati on foot should arm himself with a map of the underpass network rather than a street map!

I appreciate the efforts of Makati to keep their pedestrians safe and maybe to improve the traffic situation, but is it too much to ask them to make the underpasses less confusing and allow pedestrians to cross at street level on intersections not provided with an underpass?

It was an incredibly confusing and tiring day overall. And that's not even taking into consideration how I had to take two and a half liters of fluid in the span of 30 minutes for my medical exam... but that's another story!

It's a good thing I have the prospect of another new summer travel adventure to brighten my day. Tomorrow... destination: Anawangin!


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Finding Caramoan, Part 2


We spent a couple of hours in Sabitang Laya swimming and getting sunburned in the noontime sun. After eating another packed lunch bought from Bigg's at the mainland (that food came a long way!), we packed up our makeshift picnic and prepared to move to the next destination.

Our late night finally caught up with us during the boat ride to our next stop - the island of Basud. Despite the narrow confines of the boat, we were all nodding off, lulled to sleep by the wind in our faces and the boat's gentle bobbing. It was low tide as we pulled up on one of Basud's beaches. It was not as beautiful or as inviting as Sabitang Laya, but our guide, Nene, told us snorkeling was good here just a few feet from the shore.

However, we unanimously vetoed the idea. Instead, we picked a spot under the trees and proceeded to have an afternoon beach bum siesta, as we lay cooled by the brisk breeze off the water. And we were all treated to fresh buko on the island before we set off for our last stop.


afternoon siesta at Basud Island


We only had enough time for another island because we had to head back to Caramoan before dark, and Nene decided to take us to the shrine of Our Lady of Peace. The shrine is located on top of a high hill - 526 steps high, to be exact - on the island of Tabgon. Even from afar, the alabaster white figure of the Virgin Mary beckoned to travelers - and promised of a full view of the entire peninsula from that vantage point.

As we approached the island of Tabgon, it was apparent that this was not going to be one of Caramoan's white sand paradise islands. Tabgon is more an agricultural center, with its crab farms, fish pens, and rice fields. Our boat was soon surrounded by murky brown waters as we approached the island pier, its concrete steps leading straight into the water. We all thought we were going to dock there, but the low tide forced our boat to stop several meters away from the shore. We would have to walk the rest of the way - in mud.


walking from Tabgon to our boat


Comforted by the presence of my slippers, I plodded uncertainly through the knee-deep water, the mud sucking at my flip-flops. Unfortunately my flip-flops had other ideas, and one gave way halfway through. I spent the rest of the walk barefoot and trying to ignore the image of all sorts of unthinkables I could be stepping into.

The 526 steps leading to the shrine are carved on the steep hillside and was an impossibly long way up. Last Holy Week, the island had been overrun by pilgrims who had come to pay homage to Our Lady by making the climb. When we got to the foot of the steps, we were stunned to see the people of Tabgon of all ages making the climb with sacks of earth on their backs to help with the completion of the shrine at the top.


locals bringing up bags of soil


I am ashamed to say that no amount of persuasion could get me past step 260-something, roughly halfway though. The view at halfway up was already quite impressive, but even the enticing call of the panorama at the top wasn't enough for me to overcome my fear of heights. Even from below, I could see there were some flights with no banisters. Given how steep the steps were, how could I not look down and be terrified - with nothing to hold on to? Out of the question.


the view from halfway mark


My other travel buddies had no such qualms and plodded on. With frequent rests in between flights, they managed to make it to the top and were rewarded by an amazing view of the islands spread before them in a breathtaking vista. They stayed to watch the sunset over the bay before painfully making their way back down - which was pretty hard on the knees.


pushing for the top


We headed back to Caramoan town in the dusk. Dark was falling inexorably over the islands, with no electric lights to counter it anywhere along the shore. We were as far removed from the city as we could ever be, and I marveled at the simplicity of a life so one with nature. As we pulled into Bikal Port just as the last light of the sun was fading, I was stunned at the magnitude of the silence that fell once the boat's motor was shut down. It was a quiet that begged for whispers, the faint sounds of a videoke machine playing in the distance notwithstanding.


Bikal at dusk


Starving from the day's activities, we went straight to dinner at nearby Camalig Grill, just a few steps away from our motel. We wanted to end the evening with a hearty drinking session, but our tired bodies were not up to it. After a single beer each outside our rooms, we all gave in to exhaustion and went straight to bed.


Caramoan Church

The next morning, the early risers heard Sunday mass at 6AM in the beautiful red brick church of Caramoan. After a heavy breakfast, we were on the road again - back to Guijalo port where we would were to catch the 9AM boat going back to Sabang. The weather, which had been nothing but sun the previous day, took a turn for the worse and we were once more greeted by rain.

We missed the 9AM boat by five minutes - and had to wait for two hours before a passenger boat would arrive from Sabang and make a return trip. Local authorities discouraged us from chartering a small boat to travel such a long distance given the weather. In one of those funny coincidences, after our boat finally arrived, it was carrying a group of our former interns, who were also exploring Caramoan for the first time.


Guijalo port in the rain


Thankfully, the rain stopped on our way back, and the ride was surprisingly quite smooth. We decided to do as the natives did and rode outside the boat, all the more easy to watch the beautiful scenery. The green was cooler to the eyes this time, the sea was a cobalt blue, and the forest was shrouded by mist. But our luck didn't hold for very long, and the rain came pouring down again right before we docked at Sabang.




After a short stop at Camsur Watersports Complex so that Queenie could try the kneeboard and the rest of us could try the incredible laing pizza, we were finally on our way back to cosmopolitan Manila - and arrived in the wee hours of Monday morning. How's that for cutting it close?

Was it worth the trip? Most definitely! Living up to its hype, Caramoan is truly an untouched, barely discovered paradise that is worth visiting again and again and again. What can I say? I am completely in love - twelve hour trip be damned.

Note to self, though (and to anyone else who is interested in going) - next time we plan a trip to this incredible place, we should make block off at least three days to really make the most of our stay. But, yes, there is definitely going to be a next time!

So, are any of you free this coming May? Let me know if you have plans - I would love to tag along.
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Finding Caramoan, Part 1

DSC01547
definitely worth the trip


Jean, my fellow wanderlust-wanna-be, and I first heard about last August. Described in glowing terms as an "untouched paradise" by someone who had never seen it himself, the hype whetted our curiosity - and we've been planning to take a trip there ever since. After discovering beauty of Bicolandia during our weather-cursed trip last February, we've been even more eager to realize its promise.

With a resident's schedule, easier said than done. (This is no longer really my problem, but with my travel buddies all tied to the hospital, I don't have much of a choice.) But sure enough when there's a will there's a way, and last weekend we finally managed to get away.


travel buddies wide awake at 630AM


The Caramoan Peninsula is found in the Bicol province of . It is three and a half hours away from - itself already an eight to ten hour drive from Manila. Caramoan town proper is an hour and a half by land to Sabang Port then two hours by boat to Guijalo Port. That's a total of twelve hours travel for people who can barely get a weekend away.

We got started on our journey to Caramoan on Friday night, leaving Manila at around 8pm. We drove to Naga City straight through the night, sleeping fitfully in turns to make sure someone was awake to keep the driver up. We had contracted the services of a guide to coordinate our trip so that we could make the most of the day we were spending at there, and we were set to meet her with the transport our group would take to Sabang.

We arrived at Naga City at 4:30 AM of Saturday morning, about half an hour earlier than scheduled. Our FX to Sabang picked us at our meeting point up along the highway. It was long drive and a tight fit, so it was too difficult to fall asleep on the way... but it was worth it because I got to see dawn break over majestic and the bucolic agricultural landscape en route to Sabang Port.


a view from Sabang Port


Boats leave from Sabang Port to Caramoan town at 7AM, 9AM, and 11AM. We were early for the first trip out and were first to board the boat, which can carry around 30 people plus baggage. While we waited for the boat to fill, I had my first glimpse of how far removed Caramoan is from the bustle and noise of the city. From across the port, we were treated to other side of Mount Isarog, dressed in lush green forest garb.

After a half hour wait, we were finally off on the two hour boat ride. The sea was moderately choppy but the sun was out, and the stunning beauty of the Caramoan Peninsula and the vivid colors of sea and sky more than made up for the butt-numbing trip. We docked at Guijalo Port after a two-hour boat ride. From there, our guide arranged for a jeepney to take us to the town center - another 15 minute rough road ride.


more amazing rock formations in turquoise waters


More than twelve hours from the time we left Manila, we checked into our accommodation, the Rex Inn, one of two motels in a town center so small that most of the business establishments can be found along one main street. The rooms were clean and air conditioned, and it felt great to fresh up after the long trip. And finally eat our packed breakfast.

Unfortunately, there was no rest for the wicked! Because of our tight schedule, our guide was knocking on our doors after only thirty minutes - just enough time for us to change into our swim wear and slop on lots of sunblock. Then we were piled back into our jeepney for another bumpy ride to Bikal port from where our island hopping adventure would commence.


boarding the boat at Bikal


The islands are roughly 30 to 45 minutes away from each other by boat, scattered off the coast. Given the short time we had, we would only have time to visit three at best. As usual, foreigners had discovered this untouched paradise before we did, and three of the most famous islands were closed to the public because of the filming of the European version of the TV series Survivor. But our guide assured us that the less known islands were just as lovely as the famous ones... a fact that we whole-heartedly agreed with as we approached the turquoise waters and cream-colored sand of Sabitang Laya island.


creamy sand on deserted beaches - what more to ask for?


Oblivious to the fact that it was near high noon, we hurriedly jumped off the boat to soak in the sight and enjoy the near-deserted beach. Not to mention all the photo ops! People who are interested in camping on the beach are usually advised to camp here because of its more secure loaction and its proximity to the town proper. There are some really nice places to camp, and anywhere you pitch your tent is just a few steps from the beautiful beach.

Word of warning: the experience is as back to nature as it can get because there is no toilet or running water here - and no other inhabitants. But the unspoiled beauty of the beach makes it worth the trip. Frankly, I could have spent the whole day - and night - here, being a bonafide beach bum, but I was outvoted by my more adventurous travel buddies. Such a shame - the stargazing would have been wonderful here.


a place to sit and dream


I'll have the rest of this post up tomorrow, so watch out for it. In the meantime, I'll leave you with one more Caramoan eye candy to tempt you into planning your trip before the summer's end!

pristine and untouched


(Note: All pictures were taken by Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot cameras. No special effects! Amazing, huh? :))


This post is continued in Finding Caramoan, Part 2.
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Monday, April 21, 2008

Disturbing Behavior

photo still from Grey's Anatomy

Having been figuratively removed from the world for the past few days, I almost completely missed the explosion of the Vicente Sotto Medical Memorial Center Video Scandal into the Philippine media firmament. Now, because of some unthinking, insensitive, and generally stupid health care workers' behavior, the medical profession is once more being given the spotlight - and not in a good way.

My resident batchmates and I discussed this issue over dinner last Saturday. Having been trained in charity teaching hospitals, we are not unfamiliar with being surrounded with so many young student spectators, whether nurses or medical students, while in the heat of an urgent medical procedure - like an urgent intubation or even an on-going resuscitation.

Despite this understanding and experience, my batchmates and I were all hard put to justify the behavior of the nurses and doctors who are involved in the above case. While at the time, I had not yet seen the video, the mere narrative of what had transpired disturbed me. More so after I had.

As a medical resident, I have often taught my medical clerks and interns bedside with the patients themselves. Patients with textbook clinical findings are asked if it is okay for them to be made clinical learning material for medical students during consultant rounds. While their personal information is never divulged, some of these patients' clinical history and course are discussed lengthiliy over medical conferences in order for medical trainees to gain insight on managing similar cases in the future.

The nature of medical education hinges on the principle "see one, do one, and teach one." Unfortunately, there is much we cannot learn by mere lectures and working with dummies - and even more that we must learn with practice. When patients have themselves admitted in a charity hospital, they tacitly agree to becoming "learning material" for medical students and nurses in exchange for not paying fees charged by private hospitals which they cannot afford. If circumstances were different, I am sure the patients would never have chosen to be admitted to a charity institution in the first place, but circumstances simply force them to take the lesser evil of being taken cared of by medical trainees like myself than not being treated at all.

To be fair, I did not see anything technically wrong with the way the procedure was done. I have read blog reactions to this video, and some have commented about the way someone was shouting instructions while the patient was being operated on. This is standard practice in surgery, where the primary surgeon tells his first and second assists to maneuver instruments in such a way that he can perform the procedure with optimal light and exposure. He also needs to do this to inform the scrub nurse which instruments he will need next. In every operation, there is also a "circulating nurse," who does not "scrub in" so that he can retrieve things that are needed outside the operating field so that the team that is already "sterile" remains so.

Also, it is not uncommon for interesting surgical cases to be documented by video or still photos for future teaching purposes, although a patient's consent is always secured before this is done. It is also not uncommon for such cases to be observed by young trainees. Those of you who watch Grey's Anatomy are familiar with the viewing deck for the interns that overlooks the operating theatre where surgeries take place. Unfortunately, in the Philippines, we do not have the luxury of a similar viewing deck. So while the number of people in the OR is often regulated, students are allowed to observe some surgeries at ground level.

The above could explain why there were so many people in the OR that day and why perhaps an "official" video was being made. However, this does not justify the way that even the student observers were taking out their phone cameras and taking pictures of the patient, who was in no state to prevent them from doing so. That a copy of such a video was uploaded on a public server and could be accessed by anyone from anywhere in the world smacks of insensitivity and disrepect beyond the bounds of professional ethics. It completely disrespects the social mores by which we live.

The primary surgeon also shares some fault here, because as "captain of the ship" it was within his power to control the number of people in the OR that day. Instead, for whatever reason, he allowed it to be a spectacle for whoever "usiosero" wanted to come in and watch and tape. The mood of anticipation and underlying amusement was palpable and translated through the camera quite clearly.

The video is no longer on YouTube, but the damage has been done and is not easily repaired.

Again to be fair, laughter is - fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one's perspective - a common form of stress release for those of us in the medical profession. Humor is one valve which we must use from time to time to cope with the enormity of the responsibility we carry from day to day. The "baby out!" expression and the cheering could have been an expression of relief that the operation - by no means as simple or as easy as it looks - was a success, without any untoward events. But these expressions take on a new and less innocent meaning when one of the medical personel takes the canister, faces it to one of the cameras, and sprays it for no good reason. To me, it crosses the line between benign amusement into mockery.

This patient, regardless of the absurdity of his dilemma, certainly deserves much better than he was dealt. He may have been divested of his medical ailment, but the mockery and the humiliation that this incident has caused him has magnified his suffering several times over.

I am a doctor, and I am ashamed.

The public is, understandably, enraged that something like this can happen. Aside from feeling sorry for the violated patient (the fact that the video does not show his face at any point notwithstanding), it triggers that visceral fear in every mind with regards to becoming patients and the power doctors have over them. "What if I go into surgery and this happens to me? What if I get sick, and I have to expose myself - will they be laughing at me, too? Are they making me into a guinea pig?"

This incident has eroded into the already-precarious relationship between the doctor and the patient. Even if in their minds people do know that they cannot make a sweeping generalization that all nurses and doctors are like the ones who were seen in this clip, the gut fear will always be there now that there is solid proof that something like this could happen. It has tarnished once more the image of doctors in the country, at a time when we are being demonized as it is.

I just hope that the public will keep in mind that this incident is an exception rather than the rule. The good majority of medical professionals do not take their oath as lightly and continue to practice medicine to the best of their abilities to ensure their patients' well-being.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Heroism Not Required



If more people were willing to tilt at windmills, our country would be a better place.

I'd like to believe that people have their hearts at the right place, they just don't think there's much they can do as one person. I, for one, am guilty of this.

We are an optimistic people. As Filipinos, it is inherent in us to hope, for a better country, for a brighter future. But, as a wise friend of mine recently said, that hope must broaden into responsibility. To realize our hopes, we must also learn to become responsible for making them happen.

Not all of us are cut out to be heroes. But this does not mean that there is nothing more we can do.

Nina, freelance writer, blogger, and Team RP officer, has some suggestions on what the less heroic among us can do to make a difference. (I'm reposting her blog post in almost its entirety here with her permission. I've edited a little for brevity, but you can read the entire post here.)

7 Ways to Help Save the Philippines While Sitting Down

Whether you're an office worker glued to your desk for most of the week, a Net junkie who loves blogs and social networking sites, an overseas Filipino looking to connect back to home, or simply someone with something to say, the power to set this country right is within your reach.

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In these times of social unrest, when media focus hops from one controversy and "crisis" to another, Filipinos everywhere are saying, "I don't want to condone these actions, but I don't know how I can help." They resign themselves to the fact that corruption exists everywhere, that their well-intentioned actions may not amount to anything, and that it's perhaps best to leave political action to the politicians.
After all, they would reason out, politics is dirty business.

Maybe politics has become the dirty, bastardized creation that it is today precisely because we, the citizens, have let go of it. We left it up to the crooks, the unscrupulous, the malicious, and the ethically ignorant to take hold of it,thereby strangling us and taking the power away from the real state: the people. In a supposedly democratic government such as ours, we should be part of the political process and this doesn't end during elections.

We have the power to save the Philippines. And we can do it even while sitting down.

1.
Be informed. The first step to conquering anything is to know what it is. Wherever you are in the world, stay in touch with the Philippines through online news sources. You can check out www.inquirer.net for comprehensive news articles, as well as podcasts and blog entries. Of course, a lot of us also read the Inquirer for its thought-provoking and often-controversial columnists. If you want meatier stuff, check out www.newsbreak.com.ph. This hard-hitting publication may have ended its print run, but its online presence shows that nothing will stop Marites Vitug and her staff from getting to the bottom of the news. If you want something with a dose of TV on it, log on to www.abs-cbnnews.com or www.gmanews.tv.

There are also some great non-news sites that offer bite-sized, thought-provoking content. My favorites include www.ted.com, our very own WhyNot? Forum (www.whynotforum.com), and ChangeThis (www.changethis.com).

2. Share your thoughts and ideas over the Web. Now is probably the best time in human history to be expressive and outspoken. The Internet has given us tremendous power, and we can harness it by broadcasting our thoughts and ideas over the Web - which is the most democratic space we have seen so far. If you want to develop your own "fan base" and position yourself as a thought leader, start a blog. (Just be a tad more productive than Brian Gorrell, please.) If you think blogging is too tiresome, post your comments to news article, features, blog entries, etc. People do pay attention to comments, so go ahead and make them.

3. Read other people's blogs. Tit for that: if you want people to listen to - er, read - what you have to say, return the favor. Technorati's Top 100 Filipino blogs include:
* Jessica Zafra's http://jessicarulestheuniverse.com/
* Manolo Quezon's The Daily Dose
* Inside PCIJ (www.pcij.org/blog)
* Jim Paredes' Writing on Air
* Butch Dalisay's Pinoy Penman
* Newsstand (www.newsstand.blogs.com)

Some other blogs that haven't quite made it to Technorati's list, but which I love anyway (aside from them being my friends' blogs) are Harvey Keh's and Benjie dela Pena's.

4. Participate in online discussions. Let's face it - whether you openly admit to it or not, you have political opinions, and would love to share them with others who would care enough to listen. Online discussions allow for a democratic sharing of ideas, encourage critical discernment on issues, and allow for an emergence of various viewpoints which are essential to critical decision-making. As a people, we need to listen to each other and consider each other's perspectives if we are to arrive at intelligent decisions and actions.

Now that 2010 is just around the corner, perhaps we should start discussing among ourselves what qualities we think are important for a true leader, and which of the public figures around us really do exhibit and live out these qualities.

5. Sign online petitions and campaigns. Online petitions and campaigns have the potential to wield great power over political and social action because they help educate people about issues and gauge public opinion. A successful signature campaign trains media's lenses on particular issues and forces public figures to make important decisions or stands on concerns that would otherwise be left in the back burner. It encourages discourse and debate, legislative action, and policy reforms.

For instance, we at Team RP have an ongoing signature campaign pushing for the Philippine Access to Information Law (PAIL). In our quest for truth, accountability, and reforms in Philippine government we saw that, while freedom to information is enshrined in our Constitution, there are no enabling laws that ensure this right. Whenever one goes to a government office to request for public information, the burden is left to the citizen to prove why he or she needs this information. It should be the other way around: government should offer access to public information, and the burden of proof should be on them if they do not make this information available. We are currently aiming for 10,000 signatures so that we can begin engaging media and incumbent legislators to file such a bill and enact such a law. Those who wish to support the campaign for PAIL may email team.rp.pail@gmail.com.

You can play an active role in strengthening Philippine policies by signing such petitions and campaigns. And it won't even take you two minutes.

6. Share information with your friends and online buddies. Don't you hate it when friends forward useless chain letters? I do, I really do, and I find it amazing that people actually believe that stuff like this works. I would rather forward information that people will find useful and relevant, such as news about new rules and policies that will affect their industries or their daily lives, information on breakthrough ideas or movements that will benefit a great number of people, new causes and organizations that people can support, or even trivia and tips that will make people think and, perhaps, help them make small but useful changes in their daily routine. Information is power, and it is something that we cannot take for granted. When you've got useful information, pass it on and spread the love.

7. Use the power of the Net to recruit members and solicit donations to worthy causes. There are so many great and worthy causes out there that need all kinds of support - from volunteer time, to material donations and in-kind support, to donations and financial support. Likewise, there are many of us who are looking for "something to do" or something to which we can contribute, but we just don't know where to look. We can do both cause-oriented groups and do-gooders a favor by patching them up online. It won't take much time or effort: simply forward messages about causes and movements to friends, family members, and online buddies, then let them build their "relationship" on their own. Who knows? Something great might come out of it someday and they'd have YOU to thank for it.

It really doesn't have to take so much of your time, energy, and resources to help save the Philippines. Each of us can realistically do only what is accessible and interesting to us, so take advantage of online resources to do as much good as you can with the least amount of effort. You'd be surprised at how the daily act of contributing and sharing information can make a big difference in a country that is still enveloped in ignorance and intellectual poverty. And you won't even have to get up from your chair.



I know that I, for one, am not made to tilt at windmills. But I do hope. I do care. And because I do, I choose to be responsible - even if it's only in my own little way. And that's the challenge to each of us.

"If each drop of water were to say, 'One drop does not make an ocean,' there would be no sea."


Collectively, our one drop can make a difference - no heroism required.

****

You are all invited to the first ever Team RP General Assembly on April 26, 2008, 1 pm at the Club Filipino. Interested parties can read more about Team RP and the event over here. Website and on-line forum are still being developed and will be coming soon. Wake up, fellow sleepwakers!

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Love in the Land of Gata and Sili

photo from flickr


It's true. I admit it. I am no longer going to fight the urge to tell the world at large that I am utterly, absolutely, head-over-heels in love...

... with Bicol food.

I don't know if you've noticed how I've avoided blogging about food all these months. This, of course, does not signify my indifference to food... quite the opposite, in fact! I absolutely love food, of almost any kind (as long as no creepy-crawlies or weird animals are part of the menu). Which is why I don't trust myself to make reliable reviews, hoity-toity or otherwise - to me, it's all good.

I'm making an exception in this case and devoting an entire post to Bicol food because I am, obviously, completely taken in by the cuisine. What's not to love?

Fresh coconut milk - check! Chili peppers in abundant quantity - check! Fresh vegetables - check! Super fresh fish, shrimp, crab, and other varieties of seafood - check, check, check, CHECK! I could rest my case right there, but I will go on and show you guys how huge a gourmand I can be.

I fell in love with it when my friends and I stayed in Daet a few months ago, and I had my first sample of the true Bicolandia home cooking. Some people may argue that my memories of that first encounter have been swayed by the enormous quantities of food rather than its quality, but that is so not true.




Before then, I only had a vague acquaintance with and . But after days of living on the day's freshest catch made even more yum-yum appetizing by this concoction called "sinantol" - a mix of shrimp and santol rind cooked soft in coconut milk - I became a convert and am now wondering why there aren't any restaurants in Manila carrying this great stuff. It's awesome with shrimp, fish, crab... what am I saying, it's just plain awesome!

When we went back to Bicol a few weeks ago, there wasn't enough time to prepare "sinantol" for us - apparently it takes time for the rind to soften. As a substitute, we were served "iba" - kamias fruit cooked in shrimp and coconut milk - that's similar to the "sinantol" and just as heavenly with the feast of seafood they served it with.

Then there was this dish called "pinangat" which is made of taro leaves wrapped around this mushy stuff (such sophisticated culinary lingo, girl!) with some chopped shrimp and I don't know what else, all awash in coconut milk and chili. Amazing stuff.


picture by verenitagreen


A caveat for those who are trying to cut their carbs - Bicol food is really made to be eaten with rice. Lots and lots of it. It was at Daet that my fellow food-worshiper friends and I named identified "The Kanin-Ulam Conundrum." It is that very Pinoy phenomenon of not quite being able to stop filling your plate until the amount of viand on it is just enough for the amount of rice on it to make the last spoonful. Quite often though, it's usually that stopping point when you can't really eat anything more.

Since I've already mentioned laing, I can't very well end my post without extolling the virtues of Camsur Watersports Center's amazing Bicol Special Pizza. Topped with cheese, laing, and shrimp cooked in coconut milk, I fell in love with this 8-inch wonder just as quickly as I stumbled into love of all things Bicol. While certain friends of mine (particularly the native Bicolana) insist that Laing is best eaten with rice, my other Manila friends and I (not knowing any better) swear by the pizza being an adequate substitute.




I could go on and on about it, but Bicol food is best experience to be believed. So if anyone can let me know the name of any restaurant that serves this awesome cuisine in Manila, I'll be eternally grateful. Otherwise, I'm going to have to wait for our next trip back - which, given my current infatuation with the wonderful region itself - will be hopefully very soon.

(Okay, now it's pretty obvious why I don't do food posts. :))

****

Post-script: I know people are wondering what happened to that Caramoan trip I was telling you guys about... well, we made it, and we had a wonderful time. And... no rain until the last day. I'm going to work on writing about that particular trip soon, so watch out for it. In the meantime, I suggest you guys start planning your trips while it's still an undiscovered paradise! :)

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Signposts for the Lost

photo by CellPhoneSusie

About a week ago, in response to an informal tag at Marjie's site, I glibly made a Hemingway-esque six-word story about my current reality as follows: "Lost at Crossroads, looking for map."

Things have been so vague and undefined since I left the structured halls and clear goals of my previous job that it finally became imperative to tell myself to stop and get my bearings. Wandering in the middle of nowhere, even leisurely wandering, can get old very fast. Lost is still lost, no matter how much fun you're having doing it.

So over the past few days, I've been off on a trip of a different sort - this time on a solitary journey inward.

Did I come away with any miraculous answers or "Eureka!" moments to take home with me? Unfortunately, I did not. No journey is never completed in an instant, after all. The world I have returned to is as vague and uncertain as ever, and I'm smack dab in the same middle of nowhere I took a break from.

What I did bring home with me is the reminder of promises made by the One who walks with me in my lostness, even when I often take for granted that He is there. So for fellow lost travelers on this unnamed and uncharted road, I just wanted to share some of these promises with you.

For those who feel out of control and frantic, He says, "Be still and know that I am God." - Psalm 46:10

For those uncertain if they will ever find his way, He says, "For I know what my plans for you are, plans to save you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and to give you hope." - Jeremiah 29:11

For those who are afraid, He says, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine... Since you are precious in my sight, and important - for I have loved you..." - Isaiah 43:1,4

My retreat director puts these promises in wonderful context when she says, "God doesn't promise that allowing Him to enter our choices will mean we will no longer be hurt or that it will be a sure thing. But our God is a reliable and faithful God, and what He promises is that He will be there with you as you walk through fire or through waters, and that His grace will be sufficient for that moment."

So while I still sit here in a quagmire of my own making, grappling over choices that I do not have any clear idea how to approach, there is the invitation and the challenge to trust Him to help me find my way out of this limbo I am in and into the fullness of life He has always wanted for me.

And as I stand here looking up at these signposts, I pray for the grace to let go and release my life into His all-knowing hands.



a commentary on The Road to Emmaus
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Friday, April 18, 2008

The Lucky Ones



I grew up in the art and practice of medicine in one of the largest tertiary charity hospitals in the Philippines, the UP Philippine General Hospital.

As a leading charity referral center, we received patients coming from all over the country. Most of them, if not all, could ill-afford the medical services they sorely needed. Most, if not all, were riddled by diseases given free reign to wreak havoc on the landscapes of their bodies until they were all but unsalvageable. PGH, for these patients, often became the bastion of last resort.

Even as a medical student, I would see emaciated patients with lumps as big as a melons on various parts of their bodies who would tell me that they have been growing the masses for months. Or the elderly patients with feet all swollen and reeking of gangrene saying their wounds had been there for weeks. Or patients in severe diabetic emergencies who have not been taking any anti-diabetes medications since they were diagnosed. I have heard stories of the same kind from different patients, with different diseases, from all over the country too many times to count.

Frustration was my constant companion. While after so many years I would already know the answer, I couldn't help but ask them anyway. "Why did you wait so long? Why come only now, when there's not much more we can do for you?"

The response was constant as well. They would shrug almost apologetically and say without mincing words, "Ngayon lang po kasi kami nagkapera, dok."(We were only able to come up with enough money now.) Their silent gazes of mixed helplessness and painful hope were heartbreaking. Often all the more so because I knew that without capital and given the late extent of their diseases, there's really not much I could do to help them.

Sure as day, whatever little money these patients have with them runs out within their first day at the hospital. And while there are institutions that could be tapped for assistance, both by the families and by the residents (who are doctors and social workers at the same time), when working with disease, time is a constant and ruthless enemy.

While all of us has had many success stories, both through the generosity of benefactors or sometimes by sheer divine providence, we have also had to watch patients slip away all too often when all that would have been needed to save them was a regular dose of IV antibiotics or other medications regularly given. Or an operation that could not not be done on time because until the last minute, the relatives were still looking for the money.

It was always hard to lose patients this way, but it was a hard reality we came to live with - and had to learn to accept, if, as trainees, we were to stay sane.

On hindsight, I realize now that these PGH patients were actually the lucky ones - because they were the ones who were able to reach our hospital at all. Poor as these patients are, they are not even the poorest of the poor in terms of health care in the Philippines.

The poorest of the poor are those who live in remote places that are hours of travel away - whether by boat, by jeep, by tricycle, or on foot - from any form of health care delivery system. The poorest of the poor are those who live in areas accessible by transport in the heart of the city but cannot even muster the fare to come. The poorest of the poor are those who do not even know where their next meal will be coming from and live from day to day - and will certainly not prioritize a visit to a doctor who will only prescribe medicine they will not be able to afford anyway.

The reason behind this can be over-simplified into one painfully obvious problem: we simply have no budget for health care.
Can I offer any solution to this problem? The answer there is painfully obvious as well.

So in the meantime, I and others of my ilk will continue to be small cogs in the wheel of the Philippine Health Care system - a system that does what it can, ill-equipped, severely underfunded, but always working with the best of intentions. But until things can be changed, inequity in health care will continue to be a fact of Philippine life. All that others can hope for is to be among "the lucky ones" as well.

****



See the rest of The Blog Rounds, 6th ed, over at Merry Cherry's place.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Loving the Open Road

my sister and my cousin in our mobile home
(summer, 1996 - location: aosta, italy)



A road trip is often more about the journey itself rather than it is about the destination.

As a child, I learned to appreciate the joys of traveling by car. My father hates to fly (with "hate" actually being a euphemism for "absolutely terrified"), so any place we would go to as a family would have to be accessible by land. So while I've had my share of plane rides growing up, I find that I still have a soft spot for long drives to distant places.

Despite the butt-numbing, leg-cramp-inducing torture of an hours-long drive, I'm convinced that it's still a great way to travel.

I've never actually driven farther than Batangas myself, but I have been on several long-haul trips with friends in recent years. The summer after internship, my blockmates and I made the grueling 13-hour trip to Ilocandia by bus. Once already there, we set about to exploring the territory with borrowed vehicles, guided by two friends native to the region. The time-consuming drives were definitely made faster by the great company and lots of laughter. Travel by car is, hands down, great bonding time.


block J and friends at Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte (summer, 2004)


While quality time with friends and family is a great reason to travel by car, for me the best thing about traveling by road is discovering places you never would have found otherwise. On one of my most memorable road trips ever, my uncle rented a mobile home and took my cousins, siblings, and me on an unforgettable, meandering drive from Aachen, Germany all the way south to Rome, Italy - with a stop at Pisa, Florence, and Paris along the way. We would park from camping ground to camping ground - all located in remote, unknown pockets of beauty in the European countryside.

When people ask me about that summer trip to Europe, they marvel at our unconventional itinerary - because despite being there a month, we weren't able to hit all the "must-see places." But I'm pretty sure that people who do "the grand tour" to cover all the highlights have not been treated to the gorgeous sight of Tuscany countryside in the early spring; or the breathtaking view of a medieval castle on top of a verdant mountain, its spires rising above the mist. That trip was, without a doubt, an awesome experience I would love to relive again.


our Europe road crew sans our driver (summer, 1996)


Any long-distance trip by car requires a good deal of patience and eyes on the goal. It also requires a healthy sense of humor - most needed when faced with the inevitable mishaps that crop up along the way, given the lengthy travel time and the many factors out of one's control. The best way to enjoy any road trip is to simply embrace every experience, making every one taken a life lesson in itself.

As I look back at my career as a budding wanderlust, I find that when armed with great company, the right attitude,and an openness to take detours along the way, going by open road can be the best way to see the world. And - at the expense of mixing my metaphors - when you choose to take the journey, finding yourself at a destination well-worth the trip ends up as merely icing on a really amazing cake.


worth the 12-hour journey
(caramoan, camarines sur)


So what are you waiting for? Gear up, tune your cars, and get going!



****




For the 5th edition of TBR - "I know what you did last summer" at Doc Ness' place.


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Friday, April 11, 2008

It's Out of My Hands - and I'm Going Nuts



Now that I've more or less made my immediate future plans more public, everyone has been asking me when I am leaving for Perth.

My standard response used to be, "Probably some time in May to early June." After a few weeks of the apparent inactivity of my employers' visa sponsorship papers in the DIMC, it became, "When the visa comes through - and, oh by the way, I haven't lodged my application yet."

These days, when asked the same question, I no longer attest when the visa comes through - I say, "If the visa ever comes through."

The waiting is obviously eroding into my optimism big time and undermining what little hard-earned courage I have to do this.

While patience has never been my strong suit, there is something else that makes my leaving within the next three months crucial. Due to the evolving rules regarding practicing medicine in Australia with a temporary registration, all who apply for a temporary license after June 30 are required to have passed the Australian Medical Council's written exam when they apply.

At the moment, all they require of foreign medical graduates to work in Western Australia is for an application to take the AMC exam to already be underway, authenticated credentials from your training institution, an acceptable score on the academic IELTS (for medical practitioners, 7 and above), and an initial application by your employer for temporary registration.

Scheduling the AMC written exam is no easy feat. At this point, the earliest schedule I can get would be in July 1, which I can take here in Manila. The rest of the scheduled test dates are off-shore in Australia. Which I cannot enter regardless because I do not have a visa.

*sigh* Maybe it's a sign.

The usual processing time for the visa once it is lodged (something I have YET to do) is roughly 4-8 weeks. If I don't lodge it soon, I'm not going to make deadline. Frankly, I have no idea what will happen if I don't make deadline. Will my employer withdraw my job offer? Will they give me the next few months to study and take the exam? (And taking the exam is a whole other cesspool of anxiety waiting to happen.)

One wonders why I am subjecting myself to this anxiety in the first place. If I had just taken the fellowship exam and gone straight into fellowship, I wouldn't be tearing my hair out in frustration right about now. I could have a well-charted life here. I would be doing a job that is suited to my level of training (a status which I have earned through a lot of hard work, I might add) rather than going down a step and taking on the challenge of being a general practitioner all over again - albeit, hospital based.

Sometimes, it really boggles my mind, too.

It's not so much that I am unpatriotic, and that I can't wait to take the next plane out of here. I won't deny that the better compensation is one of the reasons why I have decided to take a hiatus from training by getting a job abroad. While I have no long-term plans at the moment, I also won't deny that while I am there, I will be taking steps to allow me to eventually apply for a permanent residency should I wish to do so. I hope to come back, but I also believe in keeping options open. Everything at this point is up in the air.

Truth is, I really just want to get out of my staid old box, drive off the paved road, and experience something totally new. Does this make me a selfish, ungrateful person to put my needs first? The guilt hanging over my head says it does, but on another level, I also know I am just doing what I need to do to stay sane.

I've committed myself to this, and I am determined to see everything through regardless of outcome. If, in the end, I don't get to fly out at all, it's not because I didn't make a real go of it.

But it's all out of my hands, and it is driving me nuts.

****

Post Scripts:

* I am interrupting regular programming for the next few days while I shed my anxieties and drink in the beauty of the Caramoan Peninsula with friends. Let's hope our trip to Bicol will not be as cursed by weather as the last time we went. I promise to take lots and lots of pictures this time!

* The Middle of Nowhere visited two medical blog carnivals this week - both very, very interesting reads. Our weekly all-Pinoy Blog Rounds, with the theme "The Doctor as Patient" is up at Dr. Tes's site. One of my posts was also included in this week's Grand Rounds at Dr. Wes's site. Medical-minded readers might want to take a look at those while I'm away. Great weekend reading!

Okay - I'm off to pack for my two days in the summer sun.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Rickrolling Down Memory Lane



It's a testimony to how much time I've been spending on-line these days that I've been a victim of the Rickroll too many times for me to keep track of.

Not that I've minded it too much.

While many perpetrators of the latest huge internet prank are probably too young to remember Rick Astley's heyday, the sight of the hiralious dance steps, the big hair, and the high-waisted pants evoke in me a feeling of nostalgia. (Admit it, people, you all used to wear your hair and your pants this way, too!)

I was ten years old when Rick Astley's big voice first hit the Manila airwaves. At the time, I was just beginning to discover the joys of having my own set of cassette tapes to play on my own Walkman. Unfortunately, it was the late 80's - hardly a dignified era for the pop music scene.

While I did experience the tail-end of the New Wave music era, 80's pop music got its hooks into me pretty well. My preferences at the time ran to the ever-present Madonna, Debbie Gibson (whose songs I used to sing to with a hairbrush in front of our full-length mirror), Bananarama, Kylie Minogue, the Jets, and New Kids on the Block (I dare my elementary and high school classmates to deny their devotion to these guys!).

And, of course, there was good ol' Rick, whose songs I still - to my shame - know the lyrics to to this day.

Most music junkies have memories associated with the songs they grew up to, and for me Rick Astley's songs are no exception.

Those familiar big band vocals and distinctive Stock, Aitken, and Waterman beat brings to mind my first-ever trip to Baguio (My "Hold Me in Your Arms" cassette was among the few we took on the trip, and we played it whenever our car radio could not pick up broadcasts from any station); the silly dance-aerobics presentation we had for our fifth grade PE class (for which we used one of his songs), and, yes, watching quintessential Rick-Astley-wannabe Roderick Paulate singing and dancing to "Together Forever" on TV with my mom at home.

My musical tastes have broadened, matured, and hopefully improved over the past 20 years. But I confess there's a secret place in my present-day iPod for Rick Astley's greatest hits - as well as many of those old 80's pop ditties I grew up to but should have sent to some forgotten place to die. And, yes, believe it or not, there are days when this playlist still gets exclusive playtime while I am negotiating exasperating Manila traffic. Yes, singing and bopping to kitschy 80's pop music makes me less inclined to shoot the other traffic-causing idiots on the road.

I second this motion: given the influx of 80's acts into the Manila concert scene and the huge exposure he's getting from the Rickrolling phenomenon, it's high time someone brought Rick Astley to Manila. If I'm here, I just might splurge on a ticket and watch him do a live Rickroll - no tricks required. What can I say? I'm a fan, albeit a closet one (but not anymore! *LOL*).

To convince the skeptics and as a treat to the closet fans who are just dying to admit it, I'll leave you with the internet video sensation that has caught the world by storm - Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." That is, if you haven't been a victim and seen it for yourself! Won't this be awesome seen live?



On the other hand, if you're not up for a dose of Rickrolling fun - you should check out this great Muppets video instead.

Enjoy!

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Aussie via Armchair



Research is the best way to prepare for any endeavor, and my pending trip to sun-drenched Australia is no exception.

Despite the fact that none of my plans is set in stone at this point (I have yet to get my visa), I've invested in some travel guides about the world's biggest island and its people. Sure, the internet is a treasure trove of free information, but books will always be my first love. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for my meager savings), very few books about Australia seem to be available in the Philippine market today.

"The fact is, of course, we pay shamefully scant attention to our dear cousins Down Under - though not entirely without reason, I suppose. Australia is, after all, mostly empty and a long way away."

So says author Bill Bryson, in his engrossing travelogue "Down Under," which I managed to read from cover to cover in a little over two days.

I bought got this book on the recommendation of another fellow doc who is also planning to give life in Oz a go. After weeks on the hunt - and several Fully Booked branches later - I finally found a copy at Gateway Mall last Friday.

It was a good thing I didn't hit any of Bryson's laugh-out-loud adventures while I was still on the train home. And, believe me, there were a good number of hilarious moments - mostly involving the author and his horrified encounters with the exotic Aussie wildlife.

In "Down Under," Bryson writes about his visits to some unusual and fascinating places around Australia. This is no Lonely Planet travel guide. It has no accompanying photographs of the tourist hot spots, no detailed how-to-get-there travel tips. Nonetheless, Bryson's prose is in itself fun, engaging, and informative. His narrative smoothly shuttles back and forth between history and present-day, from stories of early explorations to his own attempts at navigating the vastness that is Australia.

Bryson is wry, straightforward, and funny as he recounts his experiences and observations moving from one end of the continent to another. He writes with an outsider's candid irreverence about the people he meets along the way and appropriate terror at the myriad natural hazards that Australians seem to deal with matter-of-factly on a daily basis. But underneath it all is the appreciation and awe he has for this continent he has all but fallen in love with.

This man is no tourist - he is an honest-to-God traveler. And while all his rambling about the dangerous creatures that abound in Aussie has me a bit unnerved, to say the least (for example - did you know that ALL of the 10 most poisonous snake species in the world are indigenous to Australia?), his enthusiasm for the place has stirred in me the beginnings of excitement. There is just so much to see and do.

If you are planning on traveling to Australia any time in the near future - or you're a frustrated wanderlust with just enough of a budget to travel that far by book this summer - grab your copy of "Down Under" ASAP.

But wait... I think I already got the last copy.

(On a completely off-tangent note, just a thought... I wonder what he would have to say about the Philippines.)

****

Other travel books by Bill Bryson (for fellow armchair explorers):
A Walk in the Woods - US
Bill Bryson's African Diary - Kenya
Neither Here nor There - Europe
Notes from a Small Island - UK



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