First-ever Rizal Monument

I was all agog to blog about why I went to Daet, Camarines Norte. But since we are commemorating Jose Rizal’s martyrdom today, I decided to postpone that post and instead blog about Rizal’s first-ever monument in Daet, which is 110 years old!

Yes, by grace, I was right there—at the foot of this historic memorial marker for the Philippine National Hero.

This three-tiered, 15-foot stone pylon, with two-level triangles, was completed in February 1899, two months after construction begun. It was erected in compliance with a decree by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the revolutionary government, to observe Dec. 30 as a national holiday in the “Free Philippines.” Camarines Norte was the first province to celebrate Rizal Day.

A popular tourist attraction, this monument is 14 years older than the most recognized Rizal Monument in Luneta in Manila.

Inscribed on the square podium are Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo; and Morga, author of Sucesos de las islas Filipinas in 1609, a book which recognized the Philippines as a civilization even prior to the coming of the Spaniards. On both sides of the top triangle are: a sun, a star, and “A Jose Rizal” (To Jose Rizal).

“Where’s Rizal?” I asked my host, Rex Bernardo. He laughed. “What makes this monument different from other Rizal monuments is that is does not bear Rizal’s image.”

According to Daet Mayor Tito Sarion, whom I personally met, the province of Camarines Norte holds grandeous Dec. 30 rites there, which includes a re-enactment of Rizal’s martyrdom on the streets, ending at the Monument.

“While in Daet, visit it. Or it would be a tragedy of monumental proportions,” Mayor Sarion stressed.

I was able to take shots of the original (top photo), including the smaller replica (photo collage) erected in another park. It's correct to say, my Daet experience was a monumental success!


Christmas Rituals

For the past five years, since JB and Gianina left for the US (where Adrian was born), it’s just been the four of us—Tony, JC, JR and moi.

On Christmas, we celebrate the coming of our King, and His gift of family, through age-old rituals.

One of them is shopping for and preparing a turkey, which takes at least two days. With the economic crisis, we considered scrapping this particular ritual, but I guess we take family traditions seriously. They connect the joyful days of our past to the hopeful nights of our future.

The rituals of our lives shape the journey of a family in its quest for lasting relationships. They make us feel we belong to a God-given inner circle where we learn to love unconditionally, overlooking and forgiving imperfections.

"Rituals," according to Robert Fulghum, “are repeated patterns of meaningful acts.”

There is something meaningful about putting together a special Christmas eve dinner, begun with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for grace given to every member of the family, present around the table or somewhere miles away.

There is something warm about gathering beside a fully lit tree, opening gifts symbolic of the greatest Gift ever received by man. There is something spectacular about snapping happy moments of grace.

The rituals of our lives today are topics for reflection of God's love tomorrow.

What better time to have the best of them than on Christmas eve?

The turkey this year is only 6.7 kilos—but good for four servings. Dinner, breakfast (sandwich), lunch (tortilla filling), afternoon snack (salad), and dinner on Christmas day (paksiw or vinegared stew).

JR was our cooking chef and JC, our eating chef. Tony and I alternated as photographers.

In His infinite goodness, God blessed us with a family with whom we could celebrate His coming to earth with the rituals of our lives.

(P.S. My tree this year matches my blog site. Yellow ribbons and sunflowers. If Jesus were born in this country today, I would tie yellow ribbons everywhere and strew his manger with sunflowers to welcome Him!)

Grace at Christmas

On Christmas day over 2,000 years ago, the Savior of mankind was born in a lowly manger. The Word was made flesh. And grace came free.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

"And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14


Tearful Tuesday

While I was away in Daet, Camarines Norte, for a book talk over the weekend, Justice fell ill.

Her Vet had earlier postponed giving her a shot of anti-parvo-virus because she was still on anti-biotics.

Unfortunately, parvo virus couldn't wait and hit Justice hard in her weakened condition. She was rushed to the hospital (again!).

When I came home, Justice was gone.

This proves, once again, that nothing on earth is permanent. But His grace is, till He comes again.


Justice Cometh

Attorney, our pet dog (a marvelous mutt), has a new friend. Rather, a new pet whom we hope would be her friend.

She's a beautiful black and brown beagle. Her name? Justice.

Justice, a gift from my friend, Baby, completes our home court. And Attorney and Justice lived happily ever after.

Not quite, your Honor.

On the first day Justice was home, Attorney snarled. Tony tried his best to keep them chummy as you can see.

But while we were not looking, Attorney—used to being the center of our universe—found a way to escape her leash and bit Justice on the neck. This caused us to rush her to the dog hospital where her wound was stitched. The Vet prescribed anti-biotics. Tony had to buy Justice a new, separate cage.

Week 2. Despite our caution and care, Attorney got to Justice again, bit her on the neck and this time, wouldn’t let go. My whole brood went to the rescue, their voices reaching the Himalayas, trying to stop Attorney from harming her new “friend.”

In the process, our househelp Jen was bitten by Justice—all five fingers of her left hand.

These called for emergency measures. Justice had to be stitched again; and Jen had to be injected with anti-rabies.

The saga between Attorney and Justice will continue—I hope not forever. Grace will come and peace will be in the horizon. We are all working on it—like a community project, where everyone is involved and committed to the day of completion.


Changing Cebu (Part 2)

My latest book, “Crying Children,” features a song. In fact, the whole story revolves around this one song. Unfortunately, I only have words, not notes. I earlier asked a friend to put it to music for me, but she has been busy.

So when the time came for me to tell the story of “Crying Children” at the Childlink Center in Cebu, I had no tune for my song. But I decided to sing the song just the same—inventing the notes as I went along. Trouble was, singing is not one of my gifts. My notes kept changing with every paragraph. And if you ask me now to sing the song again, I will have an entirely different melody.

After the story telling, Lynnie (my most gracious host) decided to give away some copies of the book and I invented (again!) a game right there. “Sing one paragraph of the song to any tune and get a free book!”

One by one the children sang the song to a lovely lullaby tune—infinitely better than mine, with much better voices too!

I wish I had time to record the songs—any of them could be the tune I have been looking for. But as in all my trips to Cebu, I had limited time. We had to hop to the next activity.

So little time and so much grace!


Changing Cebu (Part 1)

Each time I go to Cebu it feels as though the landscape has changed. I was there in May, and suddenly the buildings that weren't there then are standing tall now. People don't seem to sleep anymore.

On my last night, after a leisurely dinner with dear friends Lynnie and Carol, and a trek to our favorite spa for aromatherapy, people dressed to the nines were out in the streets walking, chatting, and simply having a nice time.

Cebu's changing and changing—moving faster, farther, and higher.

I had a chance to meet hundreds of new friends in both my talks in Childlink Center and at the JC International's “Read to Lead” Program.

And a surprise awaited me. The University of Southern Philippines thespians performed “Look for the Star” on stage! I felt like Shakespeare whose plays have been staged all over the world—maybe more than a million times.

Okay, I am stretching the comparison a little bit (a lot) because my stories have been staged—well, twice. (A year ago, the dramatic guild of the University of the Philippines staged “No Lipstick for Mother.”)

It is an honor beyond measure to be accorded such a beautiful staging.

I was interviewed by Tribo of The Freeman, who has been my great e-pal for two years (I send him my columns by-weekly.), but whom I met only for the first time. Then there was Mai-Mai and the OMFLit staff who are probably the world's nicest people. Lynnie spoils me rotten.

And the food! Burp.

There is always a change inside of me as I take one last look at changing Cebu from above the clouds. And up there, maybe closer to the One who blesses me with these flights, I feel the highest altitude of grace.   



Off to Cebu!

In a few minutes, I should be heading to the airport for Cebu. I am scheduled to attend some activities, do some story telling, and be interviewed by The Freeman and the Cebu Daily News.  
I'll be back in two days.


Breaking Bread at Bawai's

I don’t normally do restaurant reviews but I will make an exception with Bawai’s, a Vietnamese restaurant with a difference.                                                                            

It is not your regular kind of restaurant where people come and go, ordering from a menu at random.

Bawai’s Vietnamese Kitchen is tucked away in a small road in Tagaytay, where retirees settle. It is actually a house—where the living room has been converted into a restaurant. First, you need to reserve and order ahead of time. Second, it is open only on weekends for lunch and dinner. Third, you need to ring a bell for the door to be opened.

Bawai is Vietnamese for grandmother. And yes, it is a grandmother, Yong, who does all the cooking. What makes Yong’s food particularly special is, all ingredients are imported from Vietnam. So there is that foreign, yet oddly familiar exotic taste that makes one think of a far-away land and home at the same time.

Bawai’s has been featured on TV and magazines. Word-of-mouth is its only advertising.

It was JR’s treat so he took care of the reservation and orders—he sure made some excellent choices: light but filling.

One other thing that makes Bawai’s a place worth visiting is that it reminds you of family dining; and you feel filial fondness for your grandma who always lovingly prepares food that is warmed with grace.


Pineapple Hut on a Hill

Scenes like this abound in Tagaytay—that cool, cool city south of Manila. And each pineapple plantation has a hut on a hill.

When I took this shot down a beaten path, I was reminded of Andrew Wyeth's “Christina's World.” There is no visual similarity, really. Wyeth didn't even paint pineapples. But the serenity and peace in the wide, wide open space give one the same feelings of serenity and peace that don't come in the busy, frazzled world of an urbanite.

The grace to enjoy scenes such as this makes every travel to the many places outside of Manila worth the long drive.

At the end of this month, we will travel to our clan reunion up the mountains of Antipolo where the grace to enjoy (again!) nature's bounty awaits.


Thinnest House

Have you seen a thinner house?

One of the rewards of not knowing how to drive is the grace to enjoy all the things you pass by.

This house has always fascinated me. I have tried to get a good photo of it, but the traffic is always busy—either the house is hidden by a truck or bus on red traffic light, or the green light is on and we need to zoom away.

My imagination goes crazy:

The residents can’t lie down crosswise;

The dining table is very long and very narrow;

Every resident is lean and slim;

Party guests chat in a queue;

Nobody can walk side by side;

Nobody does stretching exercises;

There is no such thing as hallway; or is it all hallway?

Space did not prevent the owners from building the house. It is a roof over their head, and as good as any structure to be turned into a home.


I Love Catanduanes

“I Love Catanduanes,” says our friend Cesar Sarmiento of this beautiful, breathtaking province with the most spectacular beaches, waterfalls, rivers, streams, and rustic scenes comparable to the best in the world.

No photo could do them justice.

Who would not love such a paradise?

Oh, but Cesar speaks not from a tourist’s point of view. He speaks of Catanduanes as one would speak of one’s roots—where Cesar was born, bred, and betrothed (to our friend Lala Alcantara, another pure-bred Catandunganon).

“I love Catanduanes” is not just a buzzword for Cesar. It comes from the heart. Such big love for a small island!

No wonder friends have been egging him to run for public office, particularly for congress, where he could pass well-crafted and heart-felt laws to put this untapped, unharnessed island in the map where it belongs.

I hope Cesar takes the challenge because if there is anyone who could help Catanduanes, it would be someone like him—an outstanding lawyer and a civic worker, known for his integrity and passion in all his positions in both private sector and government, and who has already done so much for the province even as a private citizen.

If I seem like I am rooting for Cesar, it is because we badly need people like him in government—there is a dearth of his kind!

These photos were taken at a big bash organized and paid for by friends who all came with a prayer: for CS (CatanduaneS) to run, win, and do good.

May God’s grace be upon Cesar as he, Lala and their family ponder their next big move.


On My 3rd Year:

I Have Turned Yellow

Yellow no longer means cowardice, not in this country anyway. Since the early 80’s when Ninoy Aquino came home from exile and was killed, yellow has become a color with a myriad of meanings, all of them worth our pride.

Taking a cue from the song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” people braved and defied the wrath of the dictatorship by tying yellow ribbons on car antennas to welcome Ninoy. Then not much later, yellow became the color of protest and restoration of democracy, in support of Cory, Ninoy’s widow, who eventually became our first woman president.

In August this year, trees, car antennas and posts blossomed with thousands of yellow ribbons again when Cory died. It was a spontaneous gesture from those who are grateful for her legacy of integrity and simplicity, in a country where glitz, glam, and greed are the daily fare of those drunk with power.

Today is my 3rd blog anniversary (three years of blogging every three to four days, wow, it has been thrilling!) and so I am taking the opportunity to review my numbers—over 60,000 guests from 136 countries, thousands of new friends, and 300 blog posts. This occasion is definitely the day to signal change.

I have abandoned my green background color and turned yellow. Not so much as a political statement, or to jump into the yellow bandwagon, but because yellow evokes powerful memories and vivid images of refreshing change.

Our garden is all abloom with flowers of grace—yellow gumamelas—and so, why not a yellow blog page?

I also say good-bye to my past header:               

And say hello to my new one: 


Ode to a Bread Bun

The queue is always extra long and it takes approximately 15 to 30 minutes to wait one’s turn. Yet people flock to this nondescript, unnamed bakery in our neighborhood before sunrise. Among those who patiently stand in line is Tony, who is impatient with everything else.

The object of everyone’s desire is the bakery’s special pandesal.

To Tony and me, it is the best-tasting among all the other pandesals in our village. Many others believe so, too. Otherwise, they would still be in bed, not in the extra long queue.

Pandesal is a yeast-raised bread bun usually eaten in the Philippines at breakfast. It is made of flour, eggs, lard, sugar, and salt. Despite the literal meaning of its name (bread of salt), the taste of pandesal varies from bland to slightly sweet. It usually costs 2.50 pesos or a US nickel.

Our favorite pandesal (approximately two bites) is neither big nor small, and neither sweet nor salty. It doesn’t look good nor does it taste good—it tastes ummmmm!

When Tony brings a bagful home, the bread buns are still piping hot. And as one bites into its fluff and texture, one feels the comfort of home.

Like the stirring of joy at sunrise, grace comes in the morning.


A Rare Respite

If or when we find a common free time (which is rare), my boys and I drive to a residential resort south of Metro Manila and stay the night. One of the place’s attractions is its spring weather, which makes one forget the stress and jobs we temporarily leave behind.

As soon as we hop in the car, the fun begins. We drop by a bee farm, “Ilog Maria,” and buy our toiletries handmade from beeswax. Then on to lunch c/o gift certificates sent by JB, Gianina and Adrian. Lunch overlooks the world’s smallest volcano, Taal. After which, JC treats us to coffee and dessert in a coffee shop along the way.

After checking-in and swimming in the heated pool, Tony treats us to the spa. There’s nothing like a shiatsu massage to decompress weeks of taut muscles and overworked brains. A leisurely dinner, then individual walks around the quiet neighborhood come next. On to reading for me (the boys go on their own) before turning in.

A late morning breakfast at the clubhouse, then some looking around and lots of reading and sitting around, we check out for an easy, unhurried drive home—dropping by a new eating place, JR’s treat. This time it is Dawais, a Vietnamese restaurant tucked behind stretches and stretches of pineapple plantations (this goes into a separate post).

As soon as we hit home, the heat of global warming hits. But the two-day lull makes it all bearable. And in a couple of hours or so, we leave for the evening service where we praise and worship God for His lordship, and thank Him for his grace of family, rest and relaxation.


Reading Glasses

People raise an eyebrow when I say I have over a dozen pairs of reading glasses. “I just forgot to bring one today.”

(Not in photo are those I have on and those left in the places I frequent: church, school, vehicles, and maybe even the supermarket)

Who’d be crazy to have these many reading glasses anyway?


The one thing that upsets my equilibrium (aside from dry faucets and toilets that don’t flush) is leaving my reading glasses at home. I panic when I can’t find one in my purse.

Without them I can’t read a thing within two feet away—and that’s practically everything I live for: books, computers, newspapers, cell phone, and labels in supermarkets.

To solve this problem, I amass as many pairs as I could and strew them all over the house: bathroom, bedroom, terrace, computer room, kitchen, Tony’s Elvis room, on the piano, on the TV set, in Tony’s car, in JC’s car—everywhere! When I lose one, I immediately buy a replacement, or two.

And yet, there are days when I leave them all behind. Age? Rush? Feeble mind? Fuzzy brain?

All of the above.

Once I was in school for my Marketing class, and no glasses. I looked for someone who had a pair I could borrow. All the faculty members at that hour were at least twenty years my junior so no one needed reading glasses. All afternoon, I was at the mercy of my students. Someone had to read my text messages, the lessons, the attendance sheet, the test scores, etc, etc. It was their lucky day, I didn’t have the eyes to nit-pick over their seat work.

Eyeglasses holder? I lose them, too.

On those I-forgot-to-bring-glasses days, I thank the Lord for the grace of seeing. Although my eyes have grown dim for close range reading, I can still see clearly everything around me with 20/20 vision.



Bliss: spring weather out of town

Bliss: a rare weekend getaway

Bliss: reading my Bible in chronology

Bliss: writing in my head

Bliss: focusing on the Word

Ahhhh, bliss is God’s grace at work in all of the above.


"Flying" takes Flight

Manila Times featured "Flying on Broken Wings" on November 8 this year.                      

Let me share with you an excerpt of the write-up:


Author Grace Dacanay-Chong talks about her new book and the writing life

Interview by Perry Gil S. Mallari

Manila Times (MT): You were known for writing great inspirational books. Would you agree that writing in this genre demands more than excellent writing skill but also the depth of the writer’s experience in the issues he is talking about?

Grace: Writing inspirational books demands heart and soul. It is introspective. A writer must be willing to dig deep into her core and share the unique things she mines there.

An inspirational book author can only write incisively about the things she believes in and has experienced. It is easy for anyone to write about a topic, but only a creative writer can write about life, what one has gone through—because that is exclusive, enriched by people and circumstances that will never pass her way again.

There is nothing I like doing better than writing. That’s why sometimes I wish I should have started writing much earlier. But then, again, I wouldn’t have much to write about when I was younger, than I have now that I am battle-scarred, so to speak.

MT: What is the best hour of the day to work? Do you have any personal rituals before you begin writing?

Grace: I am a day person. I wake up as early as 5 AM for my morning walk; then after breakfast, I start writing. I knock off around 7 PM when my husband and kids arrive from work for dinner. I retire early to wake up early again the next day.

No rituals—just a quiet, personal talk with God, thanking Him for a new day, praising Him for His grace, and seeking His guidance for the words that I write.

MT: Your books obviously are very spiritual in nature. Can you share insights on personal spirituality and its connection to daily life?

Grace: I personally believe in living by grace. That apart from God, I can do nothing. So every thought that I write is a product of my relationship with Him.

For this, I have a Bible verse to guide me (I call it my life verse): Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

I chose this verse in a youth camp when I was 12, not because I understood it (or particularly liked it) but because we were asked by the camp director to choose a life verse. It was only when I started writing in the year 2000, when I found time to reflect on its essence, that I fully understood what it meant.

I guess it wasn’t an accident that I chose it after all—it led me to what I am doing now.

MT: You were in the lucrative field of advertising before you decided to pursue creative writing, can you tell us more of that important turning point in your career?

Grace: This was what I wrote in my writer’s folio:

One day I woke up and my children were wonderfully grown. After 20 years in advertising, I found the landscape quickly changing. And so was my attitude towards career and the corporate world. In the year 2000, a merger between our company and another giant was in the offing. So was a juicy early retirement offer for the upper tier of management.

After prayers after prayers, I took it.

Finally, from a long and winding detour, I am writing. Not for mass media but for God’s glory.

MT: Can you name a particular person or event that made the greatest influence in your life as a writer and as a person?

Grace: My dad was a bookworm. I remember watching him read—it was as though he was in another world. I wanted so much to be in that world, too. Reading and writing are Siamese twins.

As a kid, I always loved to write. I wrote speeches and letters for aunts, uncles, and my mom’s friends. I was always assigned to do scripts for skits, plays and to edit newsletters. In the closet, I was writing poems, plays, essays, letters to whomever. I was also contributing to publications.

But there was no creative writing degree at that time. So I was waylaid and took up other courses.

There are many (as in countless) people who have influenced my life as a person. In my “Gifts of Grace” book series, I speak of how grace was sent to me through a total of 45 people in three books. I could go on and write till book 10 and beyond, and yet I’d still have many people left out.

MT: What motivated you to write Flying on Broken Wings?

Grace: May I just quote Bezalie Uc-Kung? She is the Executive Director of New Day Publishers. She wrote this in the book’s “Publisher's Note.” I couldn’t write it any better.

"I waited many years for this dream book to come to fruition. . . "

MT: What future works await Grace D. Chong’s followers?

Grace: I blog, every three to four days. I hope that counts. I work on every blog post like I was writing for a publication.

I am also working on a daily devotional for young, busy women, due in March. What qualifies me to write this book? Well, I have always been busy myself and I wish I had read a book like this to affirm my busyness in the early days of my career. Again, this falls under the inspirational genre. I am not a theologian or a Bible scholar, so this book is not going to be preachy.

Through my journey, particularly my life’s dips and swells, I think I can share perspectives that others see differently. By combining mine with those of the readers’, I know they will go through their busyness with lighter, spryer steps. And as they reflect on these nuggets of life, they will find theirs more meaningful.

In between, I write children’s books on family values.

I am what you call a cut-to-cut person (an influence of the fast-paced advertising world). I can’t work on something non-stop. I usually take a breather and write something else; I guess it’s to give myself some space, the better to know where I am going.