How Wicked

Singapore. Tony and I are here to attend JR's graduation from the National University of Singapore and New York University. 

But that is not what this post is all about.

It's about the wickedly enthralling Broadway Musical, “Wicked,” which the three of us watched last night, thanks to JB who bought our tickets. (We wouldn't otherwise even consider the prohibitive admission cost.  Retired people like me look the other way when our favorite things loom large to tempt us.) 
It doesn't open with the usual orchestra overture; it opens with a spellbinding number that immediately introduces the audience to the interesting characters in the village where the play begins and ends. 

Every moment of the two-and-a-half hour spectacle keeps you riveted, especially if, as a child, you marveled at the Wizard of Oz. “Wicked” is an ingenious prequel to that story of our youth. And it moves along solving adult issues until the curtain call.

As I have learned in drama school, a good play has to have a series of moments: extraordinary scenes that hold and affect the audience (and may I add, as I write about God's grace today, change them for the better).

In a musical play, this can only be achieved by a village—an ensemble composed of an orchestra, song writer, lighting engineers, set and costume designers, stage managers, choreographers, actors, director, etc.) No play is ever staged successfully without the coming together of all citizens of this village.

In “Wicked,” the village is wickedly intact and well-oiled. And the message came through loud and clear: Looking at things differently is a matter of mindset change; and we all change for the better because of  significant relationships, even between most unlikely friends. 
Wicked—or most negative words—becomes positive if we work at it.  
(Oh, we had a wicked dinner in a food court immediately after the photo ops. Burp.)


Kids Make My Day

It was another one of those Book Talks that I looked forward to. This time it was in the heart of Manila.

About 200 kids—ages four to six—were herded inside a big room by over a dozen teachers.  Very well behaved, I thought.  Not one of the teachers had to shush them up. They sat quietly and looked at me like I had ten heads or was a fairy godmother, or both.

A seasoned storyteller was to read to them “Tree for All,” then I would take over with a few words about how and why I wrote the story.

But the unexpected happened.

The storyteller sent a text message that she was caught in traffic somewhere still far away. So we began with my spiel on my books, with images on the screen. The kids were still unusually behaved.

When I started asking questions, however, pandemonium broke loose.

Every hand went up the air, and all 200 of the kids wanted to talk at the same time. I mimicked a whistle sound on the mike and they piped down a bit, and totally after I said I'd tell them a story.

I am not a professional storyteller and my only thespian ability comes from a long-ago stint with the theater in graduate school as a directing major, but push came to shove, and I had to deliver. Fortunately, even the most inept storytelling seemed to sound like a magnum opus with an audience like that. They gave the perfect facial and aural expressions that made one hallucinate she was a rock star.  

I was told not to end the story—instead, I was to ask them questions on how they thought the story ended. Every answer would get a free book.

There were more volunteers than we had free books! And their answers—they were so startlingly creative an author can only ask herself, Why didn't I think of that?

That day made me a storyteller extraordinaire (only in their eyes) and made me realize once again that only kids can deliver God's grace beyond one's imagination.

The storyteller arrived when the kids were being lined up to go back to their classrooms.


House of Light

After an extremely busy two weeks of writing (and teaching and speaking and  facilitating a seminar, etc.),  I was blessed with a fancy-free day at the rest house of my friend, Luz (Spanish word for light). It was literally a house bathed in light!

Luz is one of 8 to 16 (depending on individual schedules) Rotary Anns with whom I have lunch at least once in two months. We try to give meaning to these events by calling it a celebration of someone's birthday. Luz' birthday isn't till September, but we missed celebrating it last year so we decided to do so mid-stream. She invited us to Puerto Azul (the resort in the 70's).

This time there were only nine of us, but numbers don't count when one is raring to have fun. The one-hour leisurely drive from Alabang gave me another glimpse into the serene and idyllic rural life. Animals, trees, flowers, rivers, hills and mountains of all kinds mimicked my hometown. 

Puerto Azul seems like an old world now with aged flora and fauna, along winding concrete roads hemmed in by green mountains lit by a cloudless sky. 

The rest house of Luz was breathtaking.

“This isn't a house, this is a palace!” I told her. But what awed me was not the huge size of the rambling house on a multi-level lot, but the feeling of being outdoors indoors!

No curtains blocked the all-glass, all-around picture windows of all six floors that made you enjoy nature at its most glorious at every turn. The breeze came in and out freely, while birds sung and leaves rustled.

Luz served us countless dishes, but what I remember most were the fresh pandan (lemon grass) and tarragon tea, and the turon (thinly sliced bananas and jackfruit, dusted with brown sugar, rolled in spring roll wrapper and fried) dipped in sesame seeds and served in gold-gilded wine glasses.

I was not told that there would be a group ballroom session with a DI (dance instructor), so when everyone was putting on her dancing shoes, I was stuck with my bakya (wooden footwear). Except for one who was nursing arthritis, we all tried the steps, which (hopefully) got rid of the consequences of a sinful lunch. 

Dancing with a bakya is excruciating, but among friends, one can only laugh, not whine.

And one can only praise God for His grace of creation in which I basked for one blissful day in the house of light.


When is Valentine's Day?

Tuesday (yesterday) is my day in school, where I teach college students Advertising or English for a few hours. Donning the university's dress code (jacket) and formal shoes, I was dropped off by Tony in the lobby. 

I was surprised to find the students with a uniform red kiss mark on their cheeks. “Miss, Happy Valentine's Day!” they chirped.

Oh, yes, it's Valentine's Day, I thought and quickly forgot all about it.

Then at around noon, when I was about to bite into my sandwich, I decided to check my mobile phone for any text messages. There was one, from Tony: “BTW, Happy Valentine's Day!”

I texted back, “Oh, yes, thanks. Same to you!”

Talk about romance.

It isn't as though romance has suddenly gone out of the window.  But as far back as I could remember, Tony and I never really celebrated Valentine's Day on February 14. We made time to bring the kids out when they were little, but the traffic had always been horrible and our choice restaurants had always been full, making us wait in line for hours—so we abandoned the effort. 

When an adman marries an adgal, Valentine's Day is like any other marketing event—a glorious day for marketers and advertisers feasting on mankind. I don't mean to sound callous, considering that people really take the day seriously with roses, chocolates, wine, music, and all, but the day of love, for me, doesn't fall on one specific day.

The verse of the day of BibleGateway, my e-reference for quick scripture searches, was, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

After replying to Tony's text message, grace reminded me of the amazing love the Lord has for each of us.  He loved us when we were yet sinners, not saints. No matter how rotten we become, He loves us anyway, every day.  

Happy Valentine's Day!


Success Stories?

“My father peddles drugs and is now wanted by the authorities. My mother ran away and left me with my grandmother who drinks and gambles. I fend for myself.”

“I don't know where my real father is. I grew up with my mother who is often beaten black-and-blue by my cruel stepfather who treats me like a housemaid, while spoiling my half sisters.” 

“There are days when we go to bed without anything to eat, and wake up to another day which promises more hunger and debts.” 

 These are true stories. And there are more where they come from.

If you think you can find a hint of a success story lurking behind these tales, you can wait forever. There are no success stories forthcoming. Everything is like a saga after saga of dark and dreary events. 

This had been my daily fare for three days in a resort in the outskirts of Manila with an international organization that helps send indigent kids to college. I was one of eight interviewers who had to decide which 60 among the 72 hopefuls (the poorest of the poor) would be chosen for the scholarship program in a university of the student's choice. 

It was not only difficult, it was mentally draining and heart breaking. I felt like I was playing god—a role  nobody can handle nor deserve. 

With every kid, we prayed for the Lord to guide us and give us the grace of discernment to understand each one's aptitude, attitude, and qualifications. 

I am home now but the images of those stories haunt me still.

In two days I will conduct my class in the university where my moneyed college students (they live in manors, palaces, or humongous houses in posh villages) exchange concerns that range from buying the latest Prada bag or Tory Burch shoes to spending the weekend in HK or Bora.

And their success stories? Why, there are so many, time is too short to tell them all.   

Up close, how does one deal with such contrast?


The Missing Top

The top (trumpo in Filipino), or spinning top as it is commonly called, has been missing for sometime. 

I have not seen one—not since I heard Rev. Joe Mauk deliver a sermon on salvation years ago. While speaking, he played with over a dozen kinds of tops (big ones, small ones, rough ones, purple ones, imperfect ones, extraordinary ones) to drive home scriptural truths. And grace spun its way to the audience as we watched in rapt attention.

Growing up in the province, my friends and I loved playing with tops, aside from the other Pinoy toy that has gone missing, too (yoyo), and other games (patintero, palosebo, tumbang preso, piko, luksong tinik) that are totally strange or crude to urban kids today.

To those unfamiliar with the top, it is a simple toy that can spin on an axis, balancing on a point. It is probably one of the oldest recognizable toys discovered in archaeological sites all over the world.

In the places where I frequent today, kids are preoccupied playing video games, texting, surfing the Net, watching TV, listening to music with little gadgets stuck to their ears, or playing with toys bought from stores. 

The tops of my youth were chiseled by hand and resemble this:

It took my balikbayan cousin M, who also grew up playing with tops, to point out to me:  “Look, look!” she exclaimed while we drove through. “The kids are playing with tops!”

Sure enough, a group of kids were gleefully spinning their tops on a narrow alley in a depressed neighborhood. And they seemed to be having a great time!

“I saw other kids near your village playing with tops, too,” she added. 

And I thought the top was gone forever! I have been pining for the good old days when children played with other kids and did things together. I have not been looking hard enough.  

Is the top making a comeback? Or do some kids play with it today because they couldn't afford to buy expensive techno-doodads?  Or has it gone missing at all?   

Whatever it is, I am excited to see kids enjoying tops as I did.  I hope it is here to stay. We can't afford to have a world of techie kids not ever experiencing the warmth of human encounters.


Morning Good

People usually say “Good morning” as a greeting.

But Mang Ramon is different; he says “Morning good!” And there's something in the way he says it that makes you feel it's today's headline news and a special time of grace.

On days when I walk at dawn (I have reduced my daily walk to three times a week), “Morning good!” is the first sound I hear.

It comes from the man on a bike who delivers the dailies in our neighborhood. I can't really tell how old he is, but neighbors who get to see him in broad daylight describe Mang Ramon as “the old, old man.”

I wouldn't know. 

Aside from the very brief encounters we have when he dashes by saying “Morning good!” I don't see him at all. But I suspect he only looks old because of the hard life he leads to earn a living.  Waking up so early in the morning with a heavy bundle of newspapers (replenished many times, I heard) to about 1,000 homes is not a walk in the park.

He goes a second round once a week to collect.

Mang Ramon is dark as night and thin as reed, with an almost toothless smile (his remaining teeth gleam in the dark), but God may have ordered that my good mornings begin with him.

There was a time last year when he disappeared for maybe about  three months.  During these times, we bought our newspapers from the newsstand. He had met an accident that forced him to stay in bed.  A neighbor started passing the hat for his medical expenses, and collectively, we prayed that he would be back on his bike soon. A toughie, Mang Ramon got back on his pedals and to his dawn route.   

“Morning good!” I greet back, but he's already a block away. If he were a cyclist, he'd win the Tour of Luzon (a popular event in my time) hands down. He doesn't bike, he flies.

I wish I could describe him more for you, but it is only under the shadows of the village trees and street lamps where I catch sight of him.

These are quick meetings, but enough to make me declare that indeed every morning is good!