New Cebu (Day 1)

No matter how many times I’ve been to Cebu, the city always seems new.  Every Cebu encounter is different.

I usually take time to meet old friends and visit old haunts, but the experience is always evergreen.

My latest trip was to facilitate a back-to back creative writing workshop for students and teachers who were handpicked by the school head because of their interest in both reading and writing.

At the airport I was met by Teacher Hananel, the school's representative, who was to be my roommate (and soon BFF) for my whole stay in a cozy guest room adorned with special welcome buntings.
“Are there any places or sites you want to visit?” the school head asked. 

“None,” I said. “I came to work.” But, really, anything that has to do with creative writing is never work, it’s what I love doing.

From the airport, we took a short rest, lunch, then the “work” began. Twenty irrepressible students, grades 7-10, voracious readers all, “worked” with me. There were joshing and laughing and unlimited grace of delightful things. Each one was a quick study and his/her ideas were out of the box. 

We concluded the afternoon with a promise to do more “work” the next day. Their written evaluation of session 1 are now locked in my heart’s treasure box. Here are some of them:

“What I disliked about the workshop is nothing.”

“The games and activities helped me learn in a fun way.”

“I like how the class is interactive and how we are given the chance to write freely and express what is in our mind.”

“Now I know I can open my mind and that my imagination is infinite.”

“I learned that a writer should always be positive.”    
My Day 1 in New Cebu ended with a relaxing dinner with some teachers I met for the first time, in an old place I saw with new eyes. 

(Next post: Day 2 of New Cebu) 


2019 National Children’s Book Day

(Reprinted from the OMF Lit website)

To celebrate National Children’s Book Day, we asked some of our Hiyas authors to answer two simple questions.

These are the answers of award-winning and best-selling author Grace D. Chong.


Various studies by educators and psychologists have been conducted to find out the advantages of reading to the young. No disadvantages have been recorded, only advantages—and they are countless.

Three of them are:

1. They learn about sounds, words, characters (animals, people, nature), thus developing their imagination, creativity, language skills and fluency.

2. They learn to listen, concentrate, and sit still, which is difficult for this new generation of kids who are given gadgets as “yaya” and see their elders busy on the same.

3. They learn critical thinking (especially if you read to them diverse books)—asking questions, forming opinions—and will be encouraged to enjoy reading, as they grow up, to find answers and new information.

 May I add a fourth, and the most important one for me:


My son #2 just gave me this pasalubong from Iceland. Quite timely!

Note: Iceland is the country that filed a resolution calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to act on killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's crackdown on illegal drugs. The president’s reaction: “Iceland, ano ang problema ng Iceland? Ice lang.” (Translation: “What’s Iceland’s problem? Just ice.”)


Do Church Sizes Matter?

Commodious and complex would be how I’d describe the The New Millennium Evangelical Church to where I was invited to meet up with 10-12-year-old kids. 

I had to ask around to find my way to the Sunday School area. I looked for Ms. Joyce, a fellow children’s book author who invited me, but not one of the several guards knew her.

The church contrasted with my small home church where, through one door with no guard, one can say "hello" to every member and call him by name.  The only time I attend a church as huge as this is when I am in the US, visiting son #2, or when I get invited to guest events such as this.   

Initially intimidated by the church's size, I was warmed by the welcoming nods and smiles of the throng of faith brethren briskly heading to one direction. I followed them and soon, I was in the right place.

Fellow believers everywhere exude that before-worship look, ready to praise the Lord of lords and listen to His Word.

Finally I found Ms. Joyce and the Sunday School teachers ready to assist me. There were about 20 kids in the room, to whom I read the story of The White Shoes. I chose this book because the main character, Eva, belongs to the lower stratum of society, and I wanted these upper-tier kids—who may never meet in their lifetime the likes of her—to understand and feel compassion for needy children’s plight.

Before reading the story, I asked, “How many have at least five pairs of shoes?” All hands went up. I worried they might not appreciate the story of Eva who only had one pair in a wrong color.

I worried for naught.

In their written summary of the story, all the kids got the message: Success is all about making the most of what you have been blessed with, and being thankful for it all.

This, then, is true: God’s little children—in big or small churches—know precisely the Source of grace. And they know how to thank Him for this undeserved gift.     


And the Crowd Swelled

Came the weekend, and the wish of every MIBF (Manila International Book Fair) exhibitor was more than fulfilled: the crowd swelled to SRO.

The first three days had been a dispirited version of past MIBFs, when  people in droves surged through the entrance doors. Where have all the people gone? I asked what everyone must have been asking himself.

We got the answer that Saturday.

My author’s ID, provided by my publisher, saved me from the harrowing mile-long queue of people waiting their turn to enter the venue. Whew!

The OMF Lit Booth, where I was scheduled for book signing of  Grace at Work, was already teeming with book fans when I got there. Again, I had to wade through the crowd.

Grace at Work was published in 2014 but has been made-over this year: New size, new cover, and new layout with updated entries.

Lynnie, all the way from Cebu's airwaves, was OMF’s voice during the event. She asked me questions about the book and welcomed the people who attended the event.

And there they were!

In the crowd were some of my students, waving and grinning. Not only did they surprise me, they took me to seventh heaven and back. For this unexpected grand gesture, I will be grateful for life.

These photos hardly capture God’s grace at work that special Saturday afternoon. 


I Cried on Teacher’s Day

This photo does not show me crying, but yes, I cried before I called it a day. 

I never gave Teacher’s Day much thought. Hardened in a former workplace where Marketing was our do-or-die daily fare, I know how days such as this are invented by marketers to manipulate buying behavior.

Cursory nods were all I had for those who greeted me, “Happy Teacher’s Day!”  So when I was invited to the reception organized by the students in the university where I teach, I attended as a matter of courtesy.

But then, surprises rushed in. My students—shy and proper in the classroom—paid sincere tribute to us via song-and-dance numbers, poetry, games, and a video presentation, tied vivaciously together by two emcees.

And there were awards, where grace overflowed and overwhelmed.

Flashback to 18 years ago: When I decided to teach part-time, recognition was not in my list of aims. All I wanted was to pay forward what I had learned at work (okay, in life) and perhaps touch my students in a way that would make them more disciplined, more critical, more creative, more driven, more learned, and more sensitive—fully armed for the rat race.  

Here are the eight awards, all imaginatively worded*, that floored me: 

Before I turned in, as I said my thanksgiving prayer, asking the Lord to bless all my students for the day that was, the tears flowed. I have morphed from a steely marketer into a silly mush?!

That’s not a bad thing, is it?

 * * *


1. Omelette Award – for coming up with the most eggs-citing ideas
2. Bunsen Burner Award – for coming up with the hottest ideas
3. Smart Cookie Award - for having the most clever and creative classes
4. Bubbles Award – always having bubbly and enthusiastic attitude
5. Snickers Award - for great sense of humor and the ability to make others laugh
6. Best supporting Teacher – for being ready to go whenever needed
7. Walking Wikipedia Award – for always having answers to anything you ask
8. Amazing Faculty – has embodied the 5C’s core values: character, competence, commitment,  creativity, and collaboration

Can a teacher love her students any less?


2019 CSM Grand Book Launching:

A Moving Moment 

Once a year, on a Friday night, CSM (Church Strengthening Ministry) holds a grand book launching of their new releases at the Manila International Book Fair—on stage.

In the last five years, I have been privileged to go up that stage with the rest of the authors of these new titles.

This year (CSM's 30th anniversary), over a dozen titles were launched—among which was The Other Cheek in what seemed like an inviolable thanksgiving ritual, a holy tradition held dear through the years. As in previous launches, each author had three minutes to give an overview of his/her book. 
Then after the talkies, the authors were invited up the stage for the highlight of the evening—the unveiling of these new books. 
Aside from my joy over The Other Cheek, I was thrilled beyond telling to see Take Heart (a book by millennials for millennials, for which I wrote the Foreword) take flight. The young authors, with whom I shared a book table, were each in his/her element. For, after all, this is their first published book—and firsts are not only important milestones, they are a benchmark for excellence. 
As the authors were prayed over and our books offered to the Lord by a CSM officer, deep down in my heart I thanked Him for gifting me with the opportunity to share with readers how He lavishes love on people, circumstances, and me on this pilgrimage called life.  
It was moving moment. 

It moved both my inner and outer core to take bolder steps in echoing and emulating what Paul said, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24  (NIV)

* * *

Post-event photos:


Books in Waiting

The formal book launching of my book “The Other Cheek” wasn’t till 6 PM that Wednesday. But son #1 and his friend, both book worms, wanted to go to the MIBF early so they could scour the place. Due to the horrible traffic condition, which cannot guarantee arrival at any place on time, I decided to go with them.

Waiting for eight hours usually borders on obscene. But waiting surrounded by books is just a stone's throw away from heaven.

Now, how could I manage with my pesky right toes—those digits that have made walking difficult in the last two years? I hatched a seamless plan: walk slowly, park myself in every booth, take groufies with friends, and enjoy the books at every pit stop.

In a couple of hours, I had been able to breeze through all the books I bought. Then off to the food section. There I spent another couple of hours reading my purchases.

Then, with enough rest and a full tummy, I struggled to the second floor, where the children’s books were displayed. I found the Hiyas booth, where I was treated to a grace bonanza. Even without a scheduled book signing, I was happy to do just that. New friends (mostly kids with their moms), the staff of Hiyas and I whiled away the time by chatting about—what else, books! 

Before I knew it, it was time to change to my semi-formal attire for the CSM’s grand book launching at the theater area.