The Bright Side

Day and night. Light and darkness. There are two sides to everything.

But the dark side seems to be winning out lately. If you read the newspapers here and abroad, many of the articles are about the spilling of blood.

In the Philippines, after the election of a new president, who has waged an all-out war against drugs and who seems to have endorsed the killing of addicts and pushers, the statistics of drug-related deaths have gone up to 11 a day.

Social media is even worse. Through words and memes, people assassinate each other. On my news feed, the exchanges of brickbats outnumber the exchanges of birthday greetings. Anger and malice are tearing people apart. 

These are enough to make one’s day pitch black.

Thankfully, there are optimists around us—people who see grace clearly and therefore always look at the bright side. One of them is this website (link). It features photos that not only lift the spirit but give hope, warming the heart. I find this specially poignant:      

When we ache, we badly seek comfort. This little toddler, young as she is, shows us how to give it. A simple gesture of wiping tears away is like being ensconced in the palm of a loving God, the Source of all comforts. 

I wish we adults had her mindset—comfort-giving, instead of killing each other with words, images, bombs, and guns.


Should I Be Alarmed?

Has the world of children turned dark while I was sleeping?

I recently conducted another Creative Writing Workshop for kids ages 8-12. This batch had an additional hour in which to draft the stories they’ve been itching to write.

As gifted children go, they were intense, serious, and driven as they let their creative juices flow on paper.

The harvest was as I expected—imaginative and fresh.   

What made my jaw drop was the content in general: most of them were dark—some gruesome, some violent, some tragic—sans the happily-ever-after ending. 

One had one whole village wiped out.

Another had the hero stabbed to death by a monster-alien. 

And yet another had the scene in a filthy, leaky prison.

One more described two old people salivating, about to fulfill their lifelong dream to travel to a country. But the only craft that could bring them there acted up, then conked out—for good. 

Most of their characters have low-self-esteem and are in abusive relationships. They lose their battles; they are killed.

All these despite my rah-rah for them to offer hope and joy to their readers.

Since these kids are all voracious readers, I ask: What are they reading? What are their influencers? Why do they see the world differently from the way I see it? 

Only three out of 17 kids had me smiling at the end of their stories: good triumphed over evil; redemption. The kind of stories I write for them.

Am I living in the dark ages? 

Ooops, even their dark and my dark have different meanings. 

As a children’s book author, what to do? Should I be alarmed?

While chewing on possible answers to these questions, I hum this song of grace: 

There's a friend for all the children
to guide us every day,
whose care is always faithful
and never fades away;
there's no-one else so loyal
his friendship stays the same;
he knows us and he loves us,
and Jesus is his name.


Going Paperless

“We are going paperless this term,” announced our department Chair during our faculty meeting.

I broke out in cold sweat and hives. I also started biting my nails, a habit I kicked way back in grade school.

For non-techies, who confuse logging out with logging in, especially in new sites or apps, this could be a punishment worse than hanging.

You’re kidding, of course, I replied silently.

“I am not kidding,” he said, when he saw my face and of those who belong to my generation.

The next hour was a seminar/workshop on how to do it, using a proprietary app/tool—the one which will be used by both teacher and students. 

“Now create your own site, with your own design for your class,” the IT said, “by simply doing this.” His cursor on the big screen darted from side to side.

I got lost before I could begin. Would it be better to quit now than to subject myself to humiliation and, uh, disgrace?  

This called to mind Hamlet’s famous soliloquy: “. . . Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them?”

The workshop was torture, so I am trying to self-study at home or wherever I could get hold of a computer. Meanwhile, my other non-computer jobs have to be abandoned in favor of going paperless.

It has been three weeks, and the learning curve is no less steep. I have already uploaded several files to my cyber class, but my students couldn’t find them. Where could they be?

Yet, as I often challenge my classes, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”

Now deep in prayers for terabytes of grace from above, I am trying—frenziedly trying—to do it right.

To be continued. 


Take Two:

Creative Writing Workshop for Kids

I thought the first workshop was going to be a one-off event.

But to accommodate friends’ requests for a creative writing workshop for their kids in our neighborhood, my first son organized a second one. He dubbed it: Creative Writing Workshop for Kids in Las Pinas. 

Instead of just 15 expected attendees, we had 17!

How cool is that?

So, did we have fun? More than fun, grace was overwhelming. As a children’s book author, I have a lot to learn from and about kids today.

They. Are. Different. They already entertain issues that I thought were adults’ alone. Their ideas are out of the kiddie world’s firmament (this calls for another blog post). 

Also, I have always thought that kids have a short attention span. Not these 17 talented children. They were all ears and took in all the tasks with nary a complaint. Then I remembered that this was their thing. 

All of them are fast and furious readers. They are all potential authors, too. In fact, many of them have already written stories on their own. With just a dash of seasoning, they could give some adults stiff competition.  

They took to writing like birds to flying. Some of them even drew their ideas. And my fear that four straight hours for children ages eight to 12 (in fact, one was a six-year-old dynamo who seemed like she was six years older) would be too long was unfounded. I felt like they could work for another four.

And so, take two. On to the next batch of readers and writers.

This early, I am bracing up for a deluge of creativity that would keep me on my toes as I  continue to write for them.      



Double Delight: Year Six

This is my sixth and last blog post on our delightful twins, Maika and Nikka. They have graduated from grade school!

I intended to write and upload this last April, when they marched to receive their diplomas, but various things got in the way.

To backtrack a bit, my husband took on the education of then seven-year-old twins, who were out of school because of poverty. We enrolled them in a private Christian school (our church’s) and every year thereafter. In the beginning, because they were behind in knowledge and exposure, Tony tutored them privately.

It was uphill from there. They adapted quickly and soon, they were at par with their classmates in everything, including confidence.

During year four, tuition fees and other consumer prices increased, so we (now in our prime years, both retired) decided to move them to a public school the next year. But a benefactor (our second son) wouldn’t hear of it. He and his wife took on the twins from there.

And today, Maika and Nikka are six years wiser, bigger, older (soon to be teenagers)—and better!
We don’t see them on weekdays anymore, but on Sundays, through a window of the youth Sunday School room in our church's premises, they smile and wave, while off we go to the adult section. 

Last we heard, they are enrolled in a public high school. With their solid academic foundation, steeped in the Lord's Word and grace, we pray that they will be good role models there.

God, in His infinite love, will continue to see them through. 


The Fall

Escalators are pretty safe for adults; they are slow moving and have hand rails. How could anyone possibly meet an accident there?

Well, Tony did. He took a nasty spill backwards, and I, two steps ahead, came tumbling down too as I tried to help him.

Before that happened, I was whistling a happy tune. Then I heard a heavy THUD-THUD and the rustling noises of packages up in the air behind me. My husband was struggling to sit up and four mall guards came to the rescue. I screamed so loud my voice might have reached our relatives in China. One of those who helped had the presence of mind to put a bag of ice on his bleeding head.

Attempt to stop the escalator failed. So we all reached the highest rung onto safety on all fours, with our things scattered all over.

Curious onlookers crowded around as the guards tried to hold Tony up. His bad knee prevented him from keeping a dignified front. Poise all gone, I continued to crawl— picking up my coins, pens, and all other items in my purse and our purchases.   

Soon there was wheelchair and we all rushed to the mall clinic, where I shuddered at the grotesque, gaping Adidas wounds on his head (inset). 

Three stripes, red and drippy. After some first-aid from the two nurses, we decided to rush him to the emergency room of a nearby hospital because his head stripes oozed non-stop.

To rule out brain hemorrhage (he’s on blood thinners due to a recent stroke) and broken bones, his doctor ordered CT-Scan, x-ray, and other medical thingamajigs.

Normal all, whew!

But his three gashes needed sutures and we were advised to be confined for further observation.

How could any adult meet an accident in an innocent escalator? Wise people say accidents can happen anywhere when you talk n’ text. You guessed right—that caused the fall. Grrr.

Things could have spiraled down, but friends in faith rallied around through prayers.

From the clinic, to the emergency room, to the private hospital room till check-out time 30 hours later, grace embraced us. Except for the Adidas stripes, body aches, and ink blots (hematomas) all over, my talk n' text husband will be good as new. Indeed, great is God’s faithfulness.

After the discounts, senior privileges, and government insurance policies . . . our hospital bill? ZERO.


Of Ears and Emails

On the first day of my English for Business class, I assigned my students to research on writing business emails. “Apply what you have learned by writing me an email, evaluating how our class went,” I said.

“After receiving my reply," I added, "print the email thread for discussion and grading the next time we meet." 

Every email raved over the first day of class, except one. It had something important to say: 

Dear Ms. Chong,

I enjoyed our first session in your class and I would want you to hear my evaluation of it. The class was smooth, well-paced, and fun. However, sometimes a student calls out to you and you do not answer him, including me. I hope you will be more inclined to answer your students when called out to in the future.

Thank you for your patience and consideration.

Sincerely ,

* * *

Dear KJ,

Thank you for your message. I am glad you had fun on our first day of class.

As for replying to students, may I request that you make your voice louder next time. If I wasn’t able to give you attention, please be assured it was not intentional. I have difficulty hearing when too many sounds are going on at the same time. I ask for your understanding regarding this matter.

Please print this email thread and bring the hard copy to class for discussion and correction next session.

Ms. Chong

* * *

Hi, KJ!

I thought of a more practical idea—raise your hand when you want to say something. My eyes are better than my ears at the moment. That way, you can be acknowledged immediately. 

Ms. Chong

* * *

Hello, Ms. Chong,

That’s actually a good idea. I will be doing that. By the way, should I be adding this part of the conversation as well in the printed paper?

Thank you for your suggestion and see you next session. 


* * *

Dear KJ,

It’s your call.

You may print all—just for laughs and for my teaching moment. Or you may not, because you will be self-checking more emails than your classmates. This exercise comprises: guided self-marking, 50%, and marking by the tutor, me, 50%.  Added up, this will be your final grade for this assignment.

Ms. Chong 

* * *

Dear Ms. Chong,

I see.  Then I will be disregarding most of the messages.

Thank you very much for your advice.


* * *

I did not disregard any of the messages. I screen-grabbed them all and made them a part of my slide  presentation the next session.  Just as I thought, the class had a good laugh, learned  how email exchanges should go—and I had my own grace moment. 

Finding teaching moments like this is like finding a treasure in a trash heap.


Take What You Need

Patience was what I tried to summon for two weeks, but miserably failed. Within those dates, I had alternately cajoled, instructed, and warned one of my students to submit his paper because his grade had to be finalized (I am a stickler for deadlines).

It would have been so easy to write “Fail,” but our department head for Student Relations begged me, “Patience.”

Unfortunately, patience and other virtues are hard to come by.

This thought amused me when Tony and I were in the US for a short vacation. Our daughter in-law G and our grandson Adrian took us to a make-your-own-pizza place for lunch. While munching on the luscious our-own-concoction, Adrian pulled me to a nook at the restaurant to show me this:

“What do you need, Amah [grandma]?” he asked.

In a breath, I said, “Patience.”

He picked a small piece of paper from a canister marked “Patience” and in seconds, I got what I needed.

“I think Angkong [grandpa] needs strength,” Adrian added—Tony had a bad right knee—picking a small piece of paper from the canister marked “Strength” and gave it to Tony. 

If only life were as simple. You need something right here, right now? Then pick from a canister and you’re good to go!

That restaurant nook reminded me of a small box called “Biblicard” that someone gave me years ago. I looked for it as soon as we got back home to the Philippines. Each card has a bible verse preceded with, “If you need . . .” I had forgotten about it, so finding it seemed like serendipity.
Let me highlight the verses on patience.   

Why, it is as easy as picking from a canister! With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, one can take from a verse the perfect grace she needs for the hour.