I Am in Ecclesiastes

“Happy birthday!" greeted my friend Malou on the phone. Then she asked, “Where are you?"

“I am in Ecclesiastes,” I replied.

”Celebrating your birthday there?! Where on earth is it?!"

Right at home, where I was mercilessly sorting out previously-treasured earthly possessions and throwing them into plastic bags to give away to whomever could still use them:  bags, green bottles, knick-knacks, clothes, footwear, magazines, etc.

Ecclesiastes is one of the Bible’s wisdom books believed to have been authored by King Solomon, the richest and wisest man who ever lived. The book reveals someone looking back on a life that was long on everything temporary but short on lasting rewards. The writing tone is world-weary and suggests that in the twilight of the writer’s years, he regretted his folly, pointing to a better, simpler life with God’s direction (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).

The author likewise says that nothing made sense to him after experiencing pleasure and power. And yet, all through his life and in his search of its meaning, God’s hand had been ever present.

How encouraging to note that even when injustice and uncertainty reigned, he could lean on God’s protection. (12:13–14).

Verse 2 in chapter 1 of the NLT version reads: 
Signature bags are heavy, or they have weight even when empty, because of their hardware. My aching shoulders now prefer weightless fabric bags, nameless and cheap with lots of pockets.  
I have had this kind of black bag for five years now. At the end of each year, or when it frays (whichever comes first), I buy an exact replica. If people wonder why I do not change bags, then they can wonder forever.

I am also in Ecclesiastes 3: 1 and 6b . . . "For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven . . . A time to keep and a time to throw away."

My green-bottle collection has to go, too. For what good are they on shelves gathering dust?

What do I need too many clothes for? I go out, at the most, four times a week so I need only four for those days!

Unused dinnerware and merchandise, out. Paper files, out. Scrapbooks, out. Frames and stands, out. Plaques and trophies, out.

I opened drawers upon drawers and kept finding more.

“Malou,” I replied, “I’ll call you back in a couple of hours.”

“Yeah, and tell me about Ecclesiastes. If it’ll take two more hours of your time, it must be a pretty good place for you to celebrate your birthday."

“It is. It’s full of grace,” I said.

Yup, on my last birthday, I spent the first hours in Ecclesiastes.


So Go Gi Bo Seot Jeon Go!

If you are Korean or a linguist, you would know what these words mean. But if you are an ordinary foodie like me, you wouldn’t care finding out. You’d only care for its taste.

It is heavenly.

When my family and I ordered it for the first time by pointing to a photo on the wall of a small Korean restaurant—along the highway to a resort where we take a breather—I asked the waitress what it is. She simply said, “hot pot.”
Okay, you can never go wrong with a hot pot. What was served us, however, was an extraordinary dish that combines different kinds of mushrooms (oooh!), fish steak, tofu, some veggies, and prime beef (aaah!).

After that first encounter with “so go” (our nickname for its longish, hard-to-remember name), we thought all hot pots anywhere pale in comparison. We’d make  a trip to that restaurant, which is two cities away from where we live, whenever we could, but with the horrific traffic condition these days, it is no longer possible.

It was a treat therefore when, on our way to the resort one holiday weekend recently, we decided to lunch on “so go” or bust!  It was way past lunchtime when we got to the restaurant because of the, yes, traffic, so we were so famished we were ready to pass out.

Our “so go” tasted even better than all the times we had it there! We polished off every drop and morsel.

I totally forgot that this is not a food blogsite. But then, again, grace goes through all conduits of every kind, including a special dish such as this. 


Walk in to Wok Inn

Almost a lifetime ago, Wok Inn was one of our favorite go-to places for Chinese food. Back then, the traffic was so light my colleagues and I would drive there for lunch and be back in the office less than an hour later.

It was a nondescript place, a hole in the wall in fact, but it served quickly-cooked fresh seafood and veggies—stir-fried or dunked in mouth-watering soup stock. No menus to ponder or choose a dish from. One just had to go to the glass-encased food section and point to what he fancied while an alert waitress wrote them down. In minutes, you’d be served food to die for.

The kids graduated from college, I retired, and Tony decided to let go of his business. Wok Inn became just a wonderful memory. Once in a while, we’d talk about it and plan on going there, but a seven-letter word—traffic—always crushed our longings.

Almost two decades later, I was invited to guest a friend’s solo art exhibit in Intramuros, Manila. Son #3, a history buff like his dad, volunteered to escort me so he could, aside from viewing the paintings, visit once again the centuries-old structures in the walled city.

On our way home, tired and famished, I mentioned Wok Inn and JR snapped, “Let’s go there!”

We crawled, but we got there.
Wok Inn is still the same as it was moons ago: small and characterless, but the food is exactly as I remember it—scrumptious. The price of the dishes, however, after Train Laws 1 and 2, have tripled.

No matter. Every cent, every road jam was well worth it—oh, how it was all worth it! Just walking in to Wok Inn was a walk down memory lane. And that is priceless grace.


Master of Filipino Tribal Art

Jun Alfon, Filipino artist extraordinaire, has thoroughly internalized the human origins of Mindanao and its soul that his art proudly bares it, in authentic and intrusive colors, to the beholder. 

He intensely and powerfully portrays the early inhabitants of Mindanao—various  tribal people—whose diversity has shaped the colorful multi-culture of this 2nd largest island of the Philippines, where Christians and Muslims, many of Spanish  descent, have converged through centuries.

It was my privilege to be invited as one of the guests of honor at his latest solo exhibit at the historic, old-world Intramuros (home to ancient Spanish-era landmarks like Fort Santiago).

The venue itself—Galeria De Las Islas of the Silahis Crafts and Artifacts—was the ideal setting of Filipino culture. It showcases, through indigenous products with fine craftsmanship, what makes Philippine arts and crafts distinguished.  
My son #3, a history buff, is a big fan of Jun’s works mainly because his subjects capture historical treasures. JR volunteered to escort me so he could gawk at Jun's stunning paintings and perhaps own one someday.     

It was an afternoon of shared grace with fellow art lovers and people who are on a journey to dig into, and sop up, the roots of our race through exquisite folk art. As a tribute to Jun’s remarkable art, even the selection and serving of canapes and beverages were done to perfection.          

Last year, a coffee table book entitled “Mystical and Magical Mindanao” featuring Jun’s art, for which I wrote the text, was published in the US.


Saturday Nights

Son #3 and I find ourselves in someone’s home on Saturday nights.

That’s when we hold our Cottage Ministry (small groups, as some churches call it), various groups of about five families who live in the same neighborhood. We’ve been named after the 12 tribes of Israel.
Our group is called Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob. It’s an apt name since one of us, Ate Miriam, is the oldest member of our church at age 82. 
(As an aside, Ate Miriam has been suffering from Dementia. She has lost most of her memory, but her unyielding belief and faith in Jesus remain clearly etched in her mind and speech.)

We meet to study the Bible, the same lesson for all the other tribes, as prepared by our church’s senior Pastor; we praise and thank the Lord for his big and small blessings; we share our personal burdens and joys; and we pray for one another. We likewise speak to the Lord about issues that affect us—our country, elected leaders of our land, victims of calamities, sick friends, and those who still have to meet the God we worship, the Source of all grace.

Sometimes our Saturday nights, each lasting an hour, is held in our home. It’s a round-robin scheduling that, on occasion, falls on the host’s birthday. In which case, what would usually be ordinary snacks would turn into a special dinner to celebrate the milestone.

These meetings give us time to reflect on things we normally don’t think about on our own. It is like a family coming together—enjoying each other’s company and learning from each other.

How are you spending your Saturday nights? If you are in our neighborhood, please consider joining us.



This was how Lydia Velasco’s solo art exhibit was billed. How apt.

The doyenne of Filipino contemporary art, Lyds (a former colleague in the ad industry and a beloved friend), was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. She’s been in and out of hospitals for surgery, treatments, and chemotherapy since.

It was blow when she first heard the prognosis; she worried about her art. Is this the dead end?

No, Lyds decided to take a different route—fight. She continued to paint . . . and paint . . . and paint, even if she was feeling faint. I visited her one day and she was resolute: “Despite my condition, I am working on my next solo exhibit. It will be about my battle with this dreaded disease.”

Unvanquished she is.

Through her series of stunning works displayed for the public, she shows a different Lydia—a relentless pilgrim through several stages: despair, denial, anger, fear, and struggle. These are vividly portrayed on huge canvasses.

But more than those, she depicts hope, beautifully, stemming from her faith in our Maker’s grace. These magnum opuses are offered as healing gifts to those who might likewise be suffering from cancer or any life-threatening illness.

She is likened to Frida Kahlo (a famous Mexican painter) by Cid Reyes, art critic. In Lyds Unvanquished brochure, penned by Cid, he quotes Kahlo, “I am broken, but I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.”

At the well-attended opening of her solo exhibit, where I re-connected with old friends, Lyd’s defiant paintings prove that her art remains unvanquished.
 * * *

(Note: I handed CSM’s gift, in native bayong, above, to Lyds for generously sharing one of her painting’s faces for the cover of The Other Cheek. She cheerfully signed my copy, also above.) 


New Cebu (Day 3)

Slides, check. Props, check. Materials, check.

Those done, to the private dining room my now BFF and I went. There was again hefty breakfast enough for a troop laid out just for the two of us. The private elevator was up and running and the music room was thoroughly cleaned of any vestige of litter from the children’s workshop the day before.

The teachers—about 16 of them (18, if you include the department head and school head, who participated in all the activities)—came on time, but unlike the kids, they were quiet and spoke in whispers, as though the venue was some sacrosanct shrine. They thawed after the opening prayer and in time, they were asking questions and participating in the discussions.
Many of them are closet writers and are hoping to have a book published soon. I shared with them the grace of writing, which is everything I know and have learned about the craft, praying that these will encourage them to pursue their writing dreams. 

As I did with the kids, we did varied exercises and during the last two hours, I met with each one to discuss his/her ideas for a book.  It is always a blessing to exchange thoughts with kindred spirits and listen to their encouraging journey. 

The head of school handed the participants and me our certificates and in our group photo, we allowed our wacky selves to come through. 

Over my last dinner in New Cebu with the officers of the school, we said our goodbyes, which (without doubt whatsoever) was blessed by our Lord of love and friendship.

That night, in bed, I smiled as I played in my mind all that went through for two and a half days with writing enthusiasts—both children and adults. These beautiful thoughts stayed in my dreams till I woke up at dawn for my early flight home.


New Cebu (Day 2)

Despite sleeping in a strange bed away from home, I woke up from a deep, undisturbed rest, all set to dive into the second session of the children's workshop.

But before that, a solicitous lady served a heavy and hearty breakfast at an adjacent private dining room. Then on our way to the music room (workshop venue) two stories down, a private elevator opened.

This is the life, I thought as I thanked the Lord for all the perks that made me feel like a pampered queen. In all my trips to Cebu, I was billeted in a hotel. This time, I was right in the school where I was to "work," with special guest amenities, including an efficient teacher-assistant who saw to my every need.

The kids were as perky as they were the day before. They came prepared with more ideas and questions. Because they are readers, many brought a book to read during our short breaks. The fact that there were no gadgets, except for my laptop and projector for my slides, made all the difference.  We were focused on original ideas from our own heads and not from cyberspace.

During the last two hours at the end of the day, I met with each one to discuss his/her ideas for a story. They opened their hearts and I sort of glimpsed myself there when I was their age. 
We wrapped up with the head of school handing the participants and me our certificates and through a group photo, we recorded for eternity the grace that passed in and through us within a day and a half.
I was treated to dinner by an old chum, Lynnie, and her husband, Doug, and we talked about the blessings of our various ministries—the old times, new times, and end times, too.

(Next post: Day 3 of New Cebu)