Today's Deadly Flood

The flood that submerged all of Metro Manila and neighboring provinces starting yesterday is reminiscent of the great flood in Noah’s time.

Typhoon Ondoy (or Ketsana) unleashed its flagrant fury never before experienced in this country. It was as though the deadly rainfall would not let up. One month's worth of rain poured in just six hours! And water rushed in from everywhere.

People swam for their lives. Many clambered over rooftops. As of this writing, many are still up there—men, women, and children—soaking wet and shivering from hunger, illness, fear, and trauma.

The main difference between the ancient flood and today’s deadly flood is that thousands of people are alive to tell tales of horror and terror—of hanging on for dear life for hours; of their babies, properties, homes, vehicles being swept by the whirling tide; and of rescue too slow in coming.

We who have been spared, watch their suffering on TV, and we collectively feel totally, utterly, thoroughly helpless. We can’t even get out of our own homes because streets are impassable. Even the government, at this point, has inadequate facilities to handle a disaster of this magnitude.

Paul said something to the Thessalonians which we can do: “Pray without ceasing . . .” We can get down on our knees and pray for a torrent of grace for those who are drowning in pain and misery brought about by today’s deadly flood.   



The Good News!

Before I could snap out of my euphoria over the books at the fair, I rammed myself into another book excitement—mirth of a different kind.

I finished reading September 23 in my Chronological Bible on Joel, Chapter 3.  And what do I know?  September 24, today, is the New Testament! 

I was so used to the Old Testament's last book, Malachi, that when I got to the New Testament, I didn’t know what hit me!

The experience was, uh, let me borrow from Milton for I lack words at the moment—my heart was “jocund and sublime.” I was especially woozy when I read the transition statement: “Four hundred years after the Old Testament book was written, the story of the New Testament begins to unfold, around 6 BC.”

And it begins not with Matthew, but with four verses of Luke 1; then it proceeds to John 1:1-18. 

It is all very real, and totally overwhelming, the best news that ever hit mankind—the birth of the Messiah.  

(I have a confession to make: the last pages of the Old Testament got to be a bit frustrating.  It was like a non-ending yoyo—people would turn against God; God would forgive them and punish them. Again and again. Then they would go back to their sinful ways and again, back to God's laws through Moses.) 

But from this page of September 24, the good news is riveting. I couldn't put the book down.

Everything is about grace; rather, grace is everything. And oh, to read all about it on printed page, in chronology! I can gush till kingdom come.


Crying Children

This 11th book in the “Oh, Mateo!” series made it to the 30th Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), coming off the press a day before the opening!

By grace, it was warmly received by the readers, children with ages ranging from 8 to 12 (although many kids younger or older claim they, too, read the series).

With every new book, a comment such as this never fails to tickle an author's heart: “This completes my collection of your books. When is the next one coming?”

Crying Children is a tribute to child care center teachers—they who volunteer their time nurturing very young children, and ushering them into the academic world for the first time. Mateo, the main character in the series, affirms these selfless teachers by demonstrating how this spirit of volunteerism has rubbed off on him.

It was my day one at the MIBF. Although I got to the OMFLit booth very early, many got there even earlier. The OMFLit staff kept a punishing pace; many activities were scheduled that day—storytelling sessions, interview over DZAS, and book signing.
Nothing beats the joy of interacting with children—their candor can waft you up the clouds or bring you down to earth, with a thud.

“Why haven’t you written anything about my cat?"

“I read your books to my baby sister because she can't read yet."                                     

“I lend my books to my friends. But I wish they'd buy their own books!" 

“My grandma buys me your 'Oh, Mateo!' books because she says I am a good boy, like Teo.”

“You look like my grandmother!"

"You look like my sister!" 

I could write another book on those candid comments. For now, let me wallow in the grace I amassed through Crying Children on my day one at the 30th MIBF!


Sign Pen from Germany

On the 3rd day of the Book Fair, my sister Aie, who just arrived from a meeting in Germany, came to the New Day Publishers' booth to give me a special sign pen. She brought it all the way from the venue of her meeting—the Bethel Mission, a huge haven for PWD (persons with disability).

“This pen should belong to you, instead of me,” she said. It was a gift to her from Bethel Mission, but she bequeathed it to me because, “It came from the sanctuary of people flying on broken wings.”

Trust Aie to think of perfect gifts.

Those who came to the booth that day and got their books signed, now have in their possession a scrawled message in ink from that special place, halfway across the globe, which nurtures those who are living with a physical disability.

With my new sign pen, my own “Flying on Broken Wings” seems like a step, small though it may be, in fulfilling my new dream of a similar sanctuary for PWD in this country—a Bethel Mission “twin,” which can house, educate, care for, and give PWD jobs that will make them marvel at the abundance of grace.


Still at the Book Fair

As you can see, I still have very limited computer time. Will make up for it after the book fair, promise.


Flying on Broken Wings

(Stories of courage in overcoming disability)

This is my newest book, with a foreword by Lovely Romulo, Chair of the National Council on Disability Affairs. It will be available at the Manila International Book Fair, September 16 to 20; and soon in all bookstores nationwide.

It's one book that took me time to finish. I agonized over every story—but I couldn't walk away. Why did I write it?

Bezalie Uc-Kung, Excutive Director of New Day Publishers, answers this for me with kind words I don’t deserve. Let me quote her in the “Publisher's Note.”

"I waited many years for this dream book to come to fruition, but I am thankful that I waited patiently for the right person to write it. Things have a way of taking shape at the right moment and this is one of them. For who would ever imagine I would cross paths with Grace D. Chong, the writer I just admired from a distance? Or that she would be willing to write for New Day Publishers on such a remote topic as a book on disability, certainly not her cup of tea?

"Reading this book, one feels the sensitive and gentle touch the author used in writing up each life story. Frankly, I never thought this kind of book could be so lovingly and wonderfully written. After all, disability belongs to the stark and ugly realities of life. But the author never tried to sugarcoat or gloss over the unpleasant truth to the point of patronizing. Grace kept a respectful distance that allowed her subjects to be alone in their thoughts and recollections; at the same time, she had empathy and rapport with them that encouraged openness and vulnerability. Each essay reads differently, but all are treated evenly. One cannot say that this story is more touching or engaging than the others. I guess this is where Grace's many years of practice as a mother come in. Thank you, Grace, for this beautiful book! Your passion for your craft and the compassion that goes with it, have given this book heart and soul.

"If this book has made the readers more aware of people who walk on this earth impaired and challenged because of physical disability; or beyond awareness, the readers have been inspired to help push our government to give more teeth to the laws we have for the People with Disability (PWD) in the Philippines, then this book has accomplished its purpose. And if, in addition, this has sparked hope and courage in our hearts, then truly this book is meant to be such a time as this."

Try to grab a copy at the New Day Publisher’s booth at the Book Fair, read it, or give it away as a gift to someone with a disability. Experience the grace of sensitivity to those who have to deal with life with less ease than able-bodied people do.

Bezalie was born with only one foot. Her other foot is a prosthesis. She is one of millions of PWD in our midst courageously flying on broken wings.

At the soft launch: (from right) Dr. Esperanza Cabral, DSWD Secretary and Lovely Romulo
From left: Bezalie, me, and Hon. Grace Relucio Princesa, Executive Director, Dept. of Foreign Affairs


Bruno vs. Kimmy Dora

Bruno is a blockbuster international movie.

Kimmy Dora is a Philippine indie film with mainstream content," is how film makers and critics describe the rib-tickling movie starring comedienne Eugene Domingo.

I don't know about jargon, but I know how to choose. Between Bruno, the worldwide phenomenon, and Kimmy Dora, the local movie heard only through the grapevine, I chose to go for the underdog.

It was one of those suddenly declared non-working holidays. And so the banks, schools, offices, and other places where we belong were closed. Suddenly we had time in our hands.

"Let's go watch Bruno!" my two boys invite me.

"No way," I snap, by way of gratitude. They smile, by way of respect.

"How about Kimmy Dora?" Tony asks. "Rina Jimenez-David said some very nice things about it."

I have always respected Rina's opinion columns. And although I am only one of 95 million Filipinos, I support Filipino indie films because they have been like the CPR that can resuscitate our ailing movie industry.

"The movie starring Eugene Domingo?" I ask back. I also have a lot of respect for Eugene, after watching her in 100 (an indie film shown a year ago, and now one of my favorite Filipino movies of all time). That girl's talent is spelled with a capital "T." And I had read that Chris Martinez, the director of 100 and a Palanca awardee, wrote the script.

"Well?" Tony asks again.

"Well, I have no choice, do I?” I reply, by way of romance.

So we part ways—the two boys to Bruno, and their parents, to Kimmy Dora.

Kimmy Dora, on a budget thinner than a string, immediately surprises. Bruno is satirical; Kimmy Dora is hysterical, stripped bare of the sure-fire combination of sex, gay roles, and a stunning leading lady.

One minute you're rolling down the aisle with laughter, and the next minute you're wiping copious tears with wads of tissue paper. It is as riotous as it is poignant. Eugene, in the dual role of Kimmy and Dora, tackles both with effortless flair.

All told, the movie connects—extremely well. There are no distractions like poor sound recording, or bad cuts, or prolonged scenes, or inconsistent lighting, or storyline lapses, or cloying phrases. The direction and script are crisp and always unpredictable.

How did I know about Kimmy Dora? Well, definitely not from advertisements, for it had none. I read about it in blogs and columns and heard friends urging friends to watch it.

It's word-of-mouth at its best, belying all traditional routes smash-hit movies like Bruno takes.

When the two boys get home, they look ten years older, "Not as good as we thought."

Their father and I look ten years younger, "Not as bad as we thought." Not-bad-at-all.

This is not a tirade against Bruno. But a plea for Kimmy Dora. Go watch this well-crafted comedy, and be a part of the grace that is seeping through Philippine cinema—and permeating indie films.


A New Bookshop!

When a new bookstore opens, my pulse goes haywire. Especially when that shop is close to where I live.

A new OMFLit Bookshop opened two days ago in Paranaque City, in the shopping mall where we do our groceries and where we go for lunch and then coffee on weekends. Neato!

I used to travel over 40 kilometers to go to OMF Bookstore on Boni Ave. Because it was such a long ride, I had to make a list of the books I wanted to buy and schedule other errands on that day because the “out-of-town” trip may not happen in another month or so.

Now I don’t need to plan ahead. I could go to the bookshop whenever whim gets hold of me. Or when fellow book lovers say, “I am going to the OMF Bookshop . . . ”

My response, “I’ll come with you!” And if, by chance, I am summoned to do booksigning anytime, I'd come running.

Grace made it possible for me to attend the SRO opening. And there, grace brimmed all over, my digicam couldn't capture all.

(Above photo shows the ladies from right, wife of the Mayor of Paranaque, wife of OMFLit's CEO, and wife of Nelson Dy, one of OMFLit's authors.)


Talking Passport Photos

What’s more horrifying than staring at a passport photo?

Staring at four (sometimes five) talking passport photos!

Those cyber conferences from free providers do not make one look good on screen, but who cares? They do wonders. They get you connected and allow up to a six-way communication. Now, how good a communication it is? Well, that’s another story.

Our Board Meeting for Media Associates International (MAI), Asia, was set to take advantage of one such public provider. MAI is an international organization whose goal is to help fledgling writers and publishers produce Christian literature that is culturally relevant.

The Philippine contingent met in one place so together we could meet online with the rest of the members in other countries. At the exact hour, passport photos popped in from Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. For some reason, the photo from India was missing. The president, who is from the US, was fortunately in Singapore so he was able to adjust to our schedule.

Four of us from this country positioned ourselves to fit one small frame. One had to be very careful not to sneeze or he'd be out of camera range. If you peer closely, there’s me taking a picture of the computer screen.

Then the photos suddenly started talking. The lip movements never matched the voices, but the messages came through. One country did the opening prayer and another country led the devotional.

Like clockwork, we would hear what sounded like an ambulance siren coming directly from . . . we couldn’t tell. And although not one of us was in a cave, our voices echoed.

We raised our hands at voting time and clapped when there was something to celebrate. We laughed at a joke three seconds late. All told, we got through the 12-point agenda; minutes were taken in Singapore, and the meeting closed with a prayer in the Philippines.

The meeting was so surreal I thought I was thrown into some place I’ve never been to before. Well, in a sense that’s true. I’ve never had to do cyber conference with a non-stock, non-profit organization, whose ministry is fueled only by funds still yet to come from conduits of grace.

It was a BOT meeting that saved us thousands of dollars in travel and accomodations costs, and got the job done, talking passport photos notwithstanding.