A Test of Patience

God might have given me Shoo (not his real name) as a student to test my patience. He knows I have very little of it.

Shoo is not a Filipino, 6'4" at age 17, and like a gangly teener that he is, he has a stoop, especially when he talks to me.

Many of my students in the foreign university where I teach come from different countries, where English is hardly spoken. But after a month of English class, they come around quite easily. Before long, they gain many friends, excel, and become part of the here and now.

But Shoo is different. For him to understand me, I have to drawl (much slower than the allowed speed limit), use extravagant gestures, and put on histrionics. Sometimes I sing and dance.

Most of the time, Shoo asks what this or that word means. I'd tell him to look it up in his dictionary.

That's not what's frustrating about mentoring Shoo. In the beginning I thought his thoughts were elsewhere, and so I kept trying to bring him back to terra firma.  But he is  actually nowhere.  And that's a harder place to come from.

Each time I ask him a question, he answers, "I don't know." Or, "No." Or, "Nothing." His favorite, and probably his only, gesture is the shaking of his huge head.

I don't want to give up on you, I thought. But I said, “I don't know what to do with you!”

I've asked him all possible questions: What is it you really want to do? Do you have friends? Do you want to go back to your country? How do you want me to teach you? Did you read the reference book? Did you do your assignment? What are the things you want to know? What interests you? What is your favorite activity? Subject? Topic?  

Because of his difficulty with English, or his indifference to everything, or both, he is on a one-on-one tutorial program, where he has all the attention of the teacher, who adjusts to his learning pace.

Now I'm afraid that if our department chair asked about Shoo, I'd reply, "I don't know.” “No.” “Nothing.” 

Giving up? Or is my patience still holding?

I remember wild, unmanageable, deaf-mute-blind Helen Keller, who became the luminary that she was because of her teacher, Annie Sullivan (dubbed "The Miracle Worker" in a play and movie of the same title).
When I decided to teach part-time after leaving the corporate world, I dreamed of likewise becoming a miracle worker.

Shoo is nowhere near Helen Keller. He has all his faculties intact: hearing, seeing, talking.  He is as tame as she was fierce. He is as polite as she was bratty. Alas, there is only one teacher of note with godly patience: Annie Sullivan.

My dream has shrunk into a wish: a tad more grace to stretch my patience till the end of this term (which is next week).

All I  want is to continue encouraging Shoo to leave the nowhere land—and find himself where the rest of us are.


Elvis Madness

Elk's Club. Family. Nostalgia. Buffet dinner. Elvis music. Laughter.

This is the recipe for a yummy treat, courtesy of my cousin Faith and her husband Win. It was a bonus that Minna, another cousin, is in town from New York; my sister Aie is in a rare lull from her dizzying travels around the globe; and my brother Dave and his wife Gladys are visiting from American Samoa. 

And then there was Tony, of course, who has been nicknamed “Elvis is alive” by our close kin.  

It was "Elk's Elvis Night for a Cause," a fund-raising project to support the Cerebral Palsy organization in the Philippines. 

Not one, but four Elvises showed up to regale us with numbers from Elvis' beginnings to his end. And what a riot it was!

As could be expected, we sang along, making people remark, “This table knows all the words!”  

We took countless photos,  and remembered the king of Rock 'n Roll who died 35 years ago, on August 16, 1977, but still very much alive in the many Elvis wannabes (from a 2-year-old toddler to seniors, male and female) all over the world.

It's a phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me. How can countless Elvis impersonators or ETAs (Elvis Tribute Artists), many of them born before his time, keep popping up, trying to duplicate his one-of a-kind tremolo and wearing his outlandish stage costumes and sideburns?

Is it because of the unique iconic status of Elvis that the ETAs have invaded socio-civic causes, literature, stage plays, film, television, and academe? 

Well, nobody knows for sure. But Elvis madness has not ebbed from the time he died over three decades ago until today.

What I personally think is that Elvis, the compleat entertainer, has left a legacy to his fans—wholesome entertainment with no expiry date. After all, he spent his entire life making people feel good and forget their cares, despite his own personal problems and pain.

I was not a great fan of Elvis (Frank Sinatra was my first boyfriend), but my husband and other people close to my heart, like my cousin Minna, are. 

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the evening listening to his danceable, singable songs, and remembering the way he performed them through the four ETAs.

Elvis madness gives a new dimension to the new e-term: viral.  His music infects his fans, who then infect his non-fans with pandemic joy that makes for a carefree bonding time.

A get-together with people in my generation allows one to act silly and be childlike, diminishing the cynicism that has crept into this world-weary planet.  

On an Elvis Night for a cause, grace finds its way to creep back into our hearts.


Hot n Cold

Summer came rushing to assault and oppress us. 

Grrrr. The sweltering heat is not very good for the health. I've had this lingering sore throat for the past few days. And so do my friends.

I probably get the same amount of sweat while typing as when I am walking early in the morning.  I don't think I am exaggerating when I say:  you sit down, do nothing, and you sweat;  you look to your left and right, cross the street, and you get sunburned; you walk a few meters, rest awhile, and you get a heatstroke; you stay under the sun for an hour and you get hyperthermia or melt.

One radio announcer spooked me this morning when he said, "This summer, the elderly are prone to have a stroke, sunstroke, or heatstroke." He meant well, he was advising seniors to stay under the shade and drink plenty of fluids. 

Which are what I am trying to do, but failing. I have too many errands these days to keep me under the sun, and too little time to drink plenty of fluids.

Then I saw these photos on JB's blog. Beautiful, cool shots that make me miss Adrian (and of course his parents, too) and the cold weather.

This tiny 4-year-old can ski better than his parents.

Brrr. In that freezing landscape, there is also the danger of suffering from frostbite.

Now I am going to state a prosaic (or profound, depending on how you look at it) statement: there are pros and cons to every situation on earth, where a concept exists because it has an opposite. Bright and dark. Tall and short. Beautiful and ugly. Hot and cold. Pro and con. Grrr and brrr.

The only places where there are no pros and cons are not of this planet: heaven and hell. In heaven, everything is good and grace. In hell, everything is bad and disgrace.

That's probably why the Hon. Senator Miriam Santiago said that hell is not a geographical place. Going there is unthinkable. So the Hon. Senator explains further, it is a metaphor, which means the absence of God. And if it were a place, there is no one there.

Here's what the Bible says. Hell is:

“A place of outer darkness where there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:51; 25:30)

“A place to be avoided even if it means losing the physical members of your body. (Matthew 18:8-9)

“A place where the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:43-48)

“A place of regret, torment in fire and no water.” (Luke 16:19-31)

I can't possibly win an argument over the Honorable Senator without sweating. Hell is a terrible geographical place.

And summer in geographical Philippines? Compared to hell, no sweat.


A Reason to Live

This year has brought on so many news I wish I didn't have to hear.  

Three close friends passed on one after another, and three more close friends have fallen into life-threatening illnesses. My prayer time has never been more fervent; my prayer for grace has never been more urgent.

Grace found me in a devotional I wrote two years ago with the same title—Grace Found Me. I was leafing through the book, which I intended to give as a gift to a friend, when this page spoke to me:
Reason for Living 

During my childhood, my uncle Astring told many stories of  World War II.  He would entertain us, nieces and nephews, complete with big gestures and sound effects, about how he had been tortured by the enemy, and how he had escaped death many times. 

"But God was with me and never left my side. We marched side by side to Bataan," he would say of the death march, which was the highlight of his war tales.  

As we grew up, his faith in God never wavered. When he reached his late seventies and felt the symptoms of aging, he kept saying, "I long to go home. Jesus is waiting for me."

His children and we would shush him up saying, there is still so much to live for. 

"I am homesick. I want to be in that beautiful place where Jesus lives with your Auntie Felicing [his wife], Nanang
and Tatang [his parents] and . . . " he would name all the people in the clan who had passed on. 

Uncle Astring was one of the few remarkable people I have met who joyfully anticipated  dying. 

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, had the same attitude about death. He said that the wonderful hope of dying kept him alive.  (Philippians 1:21) “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

The hope of seeing Jesus gave meaning to every moment of Paul's and my Uncle Astring's life.    

So many of us are afraid of dying. When we face a grave illness, we say with much dread, "I don't think I am ready to die yet."  How much better if we look at dying in the way Paul and my Uncle Astring did!

(Father, thank You for giving mankind the opportunity to be with You for eternity.  Help me look at dying the way the apostle Paul did.) 


FEAR: The Long and Short of It

The person I feared most, the person who made me tremble during face-to-face encounters, will no longer have to face me either.

I should be heaving a long sigh of relief, but I suddenly miss her.

I am speaking of my dentist, my husband's dentist, and my children's dentist of many, many years—Dr. G.

Her children finally prevailed upon her to retire after poking into patients' mouths for over 60 years. She is 80 something today.

One day last month JC went to see her but he was turned away with a warm good-bye. To my family, it was the end of an era.

Looking for a new dentist was like looking for a needle in (let me revise the idiom) a hectare of haystacks.  Thankfully, JC remembered, and sought out, his friend whose wife is also a dentist.

As I entered the new clinic, I thought I was zapped into Oz and Narnia.

Little did I know that dental clinics today are bright; seats become beds; drilling does not take forever; soothing music fills the air; laser lights are pointed into your teeth; and bibs and rinsing glasses are disposable. No whirring sounds, just a high-pitched extra-terrestrial tone, and the dentist has little time to hum or narrate how life has been.

When our new dentist Dr. P filled my cavity, she asked me who did my bridge. "Well done," she said. I thought it was a wonderful tribute to our 80+ old teeth doctor that a new generation dentist, reared on the latest in technology, would still marvel at something done without modern doodads years ago!

Who is better, our old dentist or new?

The new one scares me too, not less, but in much less time.

The old one scared me much, but she spent gentle time making the fear go away by telling stories of life and humming a familiar tune—in the process, she became an instrument in drilling in grace that enables us to build relationships. 

Old Dr. G will forever hold my deepest affection. Well, for as long I have teeth (those I have been born with and those I paid for).


Titanic and Singapore's Past

Museums take us back in time. They give us clues on how people came to be the way they are.

And that's where we spent most of our brief stay in Singapore. It was a bonus that seniors get a 50% discount and students (JR) are free. 

First stop was the Chinatown Heritage Centre, which houses a wealth of memories and untold stories of  migrants from China.

It traces the difficulties of the early settlers. The four evils—opium, prostitution, gambling, and drinking—that plagued the community are  presented so graphically the images had the power to shake us centuries after they happened.

Swinging to the opposite end of the spectrum, we visited the Peranakan Museum.  It shows remnants of an opulent lifestyle and traditions that are unheard of in this informal, anything-goes world today.

The Peranakans (Malay term meaning 'locally born') was a unique community of acculturated Chinese in Penang, Malacca and Singapore.

These affluent families, with a unique hybrid culture and customs, left behind a rich legacy of antiques, cuisine and language that are still part of Singapore’s living heritage.

Last stop was the “Titanic Artifact Exhibition” where we relived the grandeur and tragedy of the world's largest ship. It was held at the unusual, lotus-shaped building of the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands.

The exhibition features 275 artifacts recovered from the ship's wreckage. (Unfortunately, no photos were allowed here.) They are housed in galleries recreated to resemble iconic sections of the Ship. We went through key milestones in the Titanic's story—from conception, construction, and life on board.

“This exhibition has to have an iceberg!” Tony said while we toured the Class A quarters. “Otherwise, it isn't worth its salt.”

There was an iceberg! And there was a part where it simulated the sinking and underwater experience.

All told, the exhibitions cost us a bundle, but each one was worth its salt. The fun was great and  grace was free.


Master of Laws

JR's LL.M. graduation from New York University School of Law (NUS campus) was the reason Tony and I went to Singapore. But here I was, blogging about everything but the purpose for the trip.

Finally I get around to it.

The graduation, or convocation as it was called, was almost austere. There were 44 graduates from 24 countries, plus four university luminaries, a handful of aides, and about the same number of parents.  Except for the sporadic noise of a three-year-old who came with her grandmother, you could hear a pin drop. 

All the professors from NYU flown in to Singapore during the year had a short, meaningful message on video, and the Singapore Chief Justice made a brief, inspiring speech.

It was after the simple rites that the bedlam began. If you're thrown into a roomful of aggressive lawyers, you could hardly put a word in. It's just as well. With pride, the parents watched their children revel in their accomplishment, raring to spread their wings.

The dinner was formal but loud, and photo ops were all around.

We had a chance to chat  with young lawyers from China, Germany, Uganda, Australia and all the other countries represented.

And my feet ached from my killer heels. Fashion and comfort are never allies. 

Food, drinks, and grace flowed, even up to the time we got back to the hotel, exhausted. (I speak only, of course, of seniors like Tony and me. JR stayed up finishing an NUS paper that was due the next day.)

Because he finished a double degree, JR says there will be other graduation rites, this time with NUS and another one in New York,  but those will just have to happen without us. The pocket is dry and so is the reservoir of energy. But grace springs eternal.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of children.


Out to Lunch—Abroad

It's true, we were out of the country, and in that country, we took a trip to yet another country just to have lunch!

That seems like the height of over-indulgence and decadence, but we got invited by JR's wonderful “family” in Singapore (my niece and her husband, who brought along their three-year-old son) to do just that.

It was an invitation that thrilled us. We were to dine in a restaurant in another country (Malaysia), which required us to bring our passport, take two long train trips, four buses and two taxi rides, plus a total of four immigration documents for entry and departure (in both countries).

"JR tells us that as a family you often go out of town just for a meal,” our host said, "so why not go out of the country?"

Why not indeed?

The only snag would be JR's graduation ceremony at 5:30 PM that same day.

"Oh, we'll be back in good time,” JR said when we left the hotel at 9:30 AM.

Now in Malaysia, we pigged out on indescribably delicious dishes: Paper-baked chicken (incomparable to any bird I have ever feasted on); some spicy leaves; some baked seafood; some fried concoction; and a beverage of mixed longan and fungus.

Every morsel was polished off in minutes.
Spicy but yummy.
Melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
The trip was absolutely worth every step and stride, including a brief brush with immigration for Tony taking my photo. I'd never gone out of any country for lunch before, and this very first time was an adventure never to be erased from the memory of my mind's hard disc and external drive.

JR was right, we got back to our hotel in good time—3:30 PM.  All told, the whole escapade took only six hours. We had two comfortable hours left to gussy ourselves up for his graduation (or convocation, as New York University School of Law calls it).

Nothing ever runs amiss in Singapore, probably the most efficient country in the world. You can actually plan your day up to the last second. Everything is precise; even the flora and fauna along the way seemed to have been landscaped in clockwork fashion.

All toilets flush, have tissue paper, and are impeccably clean; a train comes every three minutes; and no electric wires nor eclectic billboards block the view of cookie-cutter structures with newly-painted look.

“Why, even the trees are trimmed exactly the same way!” I told Tony.

The experience opened my mind to the gamut of encounters this planet has to offer; and the gamut of grace that makes one enjoy it all.