Your Money’s Worth


Once upon a time, a brilliant idea came upon my husband. That fairy-tale-opening phrase is an apt beginning for this story . . .   

His medium-sized advertising agency was thriving, and I was earning well as EVP in a multinational ad agency, yet he had this brilliant idea to make it big as a retail king, ala the owner of SM and other big store chains.

He found a number of apparel suppliers of seconds and production overruns that had tons of rejects from big department stores. After negotiating for a space in a new neighborhood mall, the owner of which was his client, he decided to sell the goods he could get for a song, at rock-bottom prices.  

My meager contributions to the project were my excitement, its name and the logo, which one of my art directors designed—for the love of Grace. 

“Your Money’s Worth.” 

Both busy full-time, we hired people to man the store and see to the day-to-day operations. We would go there after office hours and bask in the sight of a crowd of bargain seekers. 

They’d grab items, priced in big stores for P250, sold for only P25 in ours. Soon, wholesale buyers, such as store owners in the provinces, would regularly flock to the shop.  

Just over a year later, however, the suppliers suddenly refused to sell to Tony,  with the excuse that stocks were scarce. They never revealed the real reason why this happened, but my husband suspects to this day that SM, who sold the “perfect” goods, found out about the idea and bought all the imperfect ones as well for its own.  

Tony’s vision of becoming a retail king was quashed before it could take off. 

Was it a coincidence that SM set up its own “Your Money’s Worth” and called it Surplus Store, a few meters outside its main department store? Although the prices are not as cheap as our old shop’s, it is booming and has made the big retail king who owns the department store a bigger retail king.

Whenever I see our old store sign, which we have kept as a corner d├ęcor in our home, I tell Tony, “You were ahead of your time.” 

Immodestly he replies, “Always.” 

A fairy tale it was. The end.  

"We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps." (Proverbs 16:9 NLT)


GUEST BLOG: Cars, Cars, Cars

(For the first time in 15 blogging years, I am sharing a guest post, originally published in Storyworth. The writer has not given me his permission, but I am sure he will. He was my first boss, and eventually, my husband. With feminism going strong, there is a debate on who is boss. Wink, wink. Seriously, I am posting this because I share his core values.)  

Being a practical person, I’ve never been fussy about my lifestyle, and cars.  Probably because of my Chinese roots, I’ve always looked at things from a functional point of view. For me, a car is for utility, a conveyance that can give me mobility. Period.   

Unlike some of my colleagues when I was just starting out in a multinational ad agency, I never craved for flashy or expensive cars. Aside from the fact that I could not afford them, I’ve never felt the need to keep up with my friends who show off expensive things for image. 

I’ve always liked casual. So the first car I ever owned was a second-hand Renault R-6 from France. This was in the late 60s when people were sporting big American cars such as Chevy,  Rambler, and Ford. Mine was a small but sturdy car that could get me to Baguio City and back to Manila on a full tank, which cost about 35 pesos!

Being a compact car, the R-6 was a mechanical wonder. It hardly required maintenance because it had few parts that needed changing. All the care it needed was regular oil-change. It served me well in my bachelorhood as it brought me safely to Umingan, a three-hour drive over rugged roads from my home in Quezon City to visit future in-laws and asked for the hand of their daughter in absentia, because Grace was then still finishing her studies in the USA.

The R-6 served me well into married life. But the drive to Umingan was becoming more challenging because it seemed that the rugged one-hour stretch from the main highway into the old lazy town was becoming more rugged with stones flying all around and into the car which had no air-conditioning. When our first son was born, I told my wife I needed a better car with air-conditioning because I didn’t want my first born to be inhaling all that dust every time went to Umingan, which happened once every month.

It was then that I bought a used Toyota Corona. It had air-conditioning and a small refrigerator in its trunk. It would have been an ideal car because it was fuel efficient and was roomy enough for a small family of three plus one yaya. Our trips to Umingan became more comfortable and tolerable despite the deteriorating road condition. 

But alas, one day it was bumped from behind by a truck. The truck owner happened to be a friend and not wanting to incur my ire, offered to exchange cars – my Corona for his brand-new Dodge Colt. I agreed and this time I had changed cars without intending to.   I soon found out that the Dodge Colt, with its overhead cam drive, was expensive to maintain.  Aside from this, it was a gasoline guzzler. This naturally made me suspicious why my so-called “friend” offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. Bah!

This left me no choice but to shop around for another car. This time, I looked for a brand new car just about the size of my old Toyota and as fuel-efficient. This was how I landed my first brand new car, a Mitsubishi Lancer. 

I’ve since been changing cars or adding new ones into our garage. 

Guest blogger: Tony Chong


Flash Post

Urban dictionary defines “flash post” as something uploaded on social media that is quickly deleted if the person posting it does not get any "likes" or positive comments. 

This “flash post” (my first on this blogsite) is the opposite. It got a mind-boggling 653 thumbs-up, heart, and laughing emojis!  

I say mind-boggling because I never got this many well-wishers—not even when I posted about my Life Achievement Award in Children’s Literature, a bestowal beyond my belief! Surely this recognition is so much bigger than the Duterte administration’s spox refusing to reveal his Covid-19 test result after he had already announced he caught the virus?!   

It’s a mystery. Why would someone occupying a high government position of responsibility keep his test result a secret?   

We can only guess. And so I guessed, and 653 (and counting) people agreed with my guess when I took a screenshot of the post.  

So why am I rushing (it will be deleted after 24 hours) when it got tons of positive replies? Well, the news report reeks of disgrace—an attitude that has to be called out, but also called off quickly. 

Back to writing about grace. 


Days Are Long


In the summer, days are long. (Like this photo collage I learned to create for the first time.) 

When the North Pole of the Earth is tilted toward the Sun, we in the Philippines receive more sunlight. The sun rises earlier in the morning and sets later at night. 

Summer or not, however, days have been long for more than a year now, and it has nothing to do with the sun. It has everything to do with the coronavirus pandemic that immobilized us in our homes. 

We’ve been blessed with sooooo much extra time that was, pre-Covid 19, spent on dressing up, preparing our bags/brief case, traveling to and from wherever, grabbing a cab or squeezing into a bus or jeepney, traffic snarls, queuing for services or food, waiting for people to show up for appointments, walking from one place to another, etc.   

These activities and hours spent on them are gone. What does one do with a long day? 

A lot. 

“More” has never had so much meaning for me. More time to write, to read, to nap, to do crossword puzzles, to watch and enjoy nature, to pray, and to get in touch with family and friends over the phone and through the Internet. 

And the biggest bonus for me—more time to learn and play around with technology, which has been my stress point for years because of lack of time to fiddle with apps and the keyboard. 

One of these is image editing. 

While watching a replay of the launch of Memories of Grace,  I accidentally hit a key that paused the video. And after hitting another key, my image was frozen. I did this a few times and what do you know?  

I was rewarded with multiple head shots—more than I ever had in my lifetime! 

Now I don’t need to reply, “Sorry, but I don’t have a recent photo of myself.” 

Here they are: multiple grace—the Grace that is my name, and the grace that is always dropped from above exactly when I need it. 

I can now give my photos a new look (this one’s supposed to symbolize every long day) that has eluded my blogsite for 14 years.     


is the day 

that the Lord 

has made; 

let us rejoice 

and be glad in it."  

Psalm (118:24 ESV)


My Childhood Bedroom


In our nipa hut (bahay-kubo), which stood in the compound that included our church and my grandparents’ house, I shared a bedroom with all my four younger siblings, and our househelp, Manang Ibay. 

Yup, the house I remember when I was little was a hut. My description may not be accurate as I didn’t pay attention to details, but I am sure it was made of materials people refer to as a nipa hut. 

One had to take six steps of wooden stairs to the porch that opened to the living room, with bamboo slats for floor and nipa for walls. The thatched roof was made of anahaw, a local plant.  

That hut had another bedroom for my parents, a dining room cum kitchen, plus a roofless space called bangsal, which my sister called “bathroom under the stars.” It was for bathing, washing clothes, and storing water that had to be manually pumped. Under it was a haven for our pigs and alternative coop for our chickens. 

A few years later, however, my parents decided to replace the hut with a two-story, concrete-and-wood house. At that time I was away in the city for high school. When I went home during the summer break, the new house was half-way up. Because I was turning 13 in another year, my parents surprised me with a room of my own. 

It was small, with just enough space for a slim bed and an aparador (clothes bureau) with a slender mirror. But it had a wall where I could hang three framed photos, and two huge windows where I could look down and see the pigs, chickens, and our water pump, or look up to behold a tall coconut tree and the sky above it. 

Before my room could warm up to me, however, a husband-and-wife American missionaries, who were on a long journey, came by to say “hello.” My parents, solicitous and caring to faith brethren and God’s workers, convinced them to stay the night, so they’d be rested to continue traveling the next day. 

They offered my bedroom. 

That was the day my bedroom transformed into a guest room, a most logical place for stranded pastors and church workers to rest—and where delegates to a church conference would feel most comfortable. 

Me? I didn’t mind sleeping in the double-deck beds in my siblings’ bedroom.  

Then one day, our church decided to welcome a deaconess (a lady church worker, who had just graduated from the seminary, to lead the youth group for the year.) She was from a faraway town, so she needed a permanent lodging while she performed her assignment. 

Guess what place was offered her? 

She moved into my bedroom; I had to empty my aparador and migrate my clothes to my siblings’ bedroom. My photos on the wall stayed, however, as though staking their claim to the place. 

My bedroom, to my mind, was just on lease (for free) to someone who had an important ministry. Pretty soon I went to college and stayed in a dormitory (for four years). Whenever I went home for vacation, I would visit my bedroom, occupied by another guest (a church worker, no less), and find my photos on the wall smiling back at me.  

So what was my childhood bedroom like? 

It was a sanctuary for the stranded, for church guests, for God’s servants who needed to rest their head for the night, so they can continue laboring for the Lord through the day. 

Looking back now, years and years later, I would answer that same question with words borrowed from the Bible, “Not mine, but Thine” Lord. 

(Note: This article was originally published in Storyworth; photos were borrowed from the Net to represent my bedroom view; only professional photographers owned cameras then.)  


Abandoned Rooms

These photos were posted by a colleague and friend, Ailene, on social media. As soon as I saw them, my heart was smashed to smithereens. 

These were my twice-a-week classrooms, where I bantered, joked, chatted, and learned with my students for years before the pandemic crushed everything that physical interactions stood for. 

I remember the last day I was in these rooms . . . 

Classes were abruptly suspended, until further notice, because of a government advisory that the coronavirus has entered our shores. We all didn’t realize that such ordinary and normal day would be the beginning of extraordinary and abnormal changes in all our lives. 

Had I known that it would be my last day with my students, I would have at least hugged each one or gave them my one-liner to which they would let out a huge guffaw, “Now, listen, don’t do anything I won’t do!” 

They would retort: 

“Miss, that’s like saying ‘Go into a coma!’” 

“Kill me with a knife, not with boredom, Miss.” 

“Then I might as well go back to my mother’s womb!” 

“Miss, don’t be cruel!” 

Those rascals! 

That was exactly one year ago, today. I don’t know how much longer until I could step into these classrooms again. I pray it would be soon—before my last batch of students would all have children of their own and will totally forget about these places of grace.  

Empty rooms are one thing—they could be filled up anytime. But abandoned rooms? They stay vacant till there is a safe reason for them to be occupied again. 

“Abandoned” must have been how the disciples initially felt when Jesus was about to ascend to heaven. 

But He promised them, “. . . you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22 ESV) 


Humorous Memes


Born only in 1976, the word meme (coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene) has become so popular that almost every netizen knows what it is or can even do one himself. 

It was Dawkin’s attempt to “explain how ideas replicate, mutate, and evolve [memetics].”  

Today, we all understand meme as a humorous anything: photo with a caption, a short video, witty phrase, etc. that is posted and re-posted (often with slight variations) rapidly on the Internet. Many become viral. 

Although meme is fairly new, its origin is old: mimema, a Greek word meaning “imitated.” 

Some of the funny memes are satires about what the pandemic has dumped on us; they make me enjoy the grace of laughter. 

This series, for those who are familiar with American celebrities, dramatizes—by using two famous names in one photo—what has happened to our demeanor as we drudge through the pandemic mud, or even just to survive. This other meme (below) focuses on our land—how the meme creator sees our president, who goes online once a week for his Covid-19 report to the nation, and perhaps what he does the rest of the week. 

It features a familiar photo of the president sleeping under a mosquito net, uploaded by people close to him to show what a simple life he leads. But the meme creator has found a way to make it funny and to editorialize on the president’s work ethics. 

“Humor can be one of of our best survival tools.” Allen Klein 


Chatting about Reading

There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than a video chat—live. 

I have to be totally focused and erectly seated within camera range because any sudden movement can push me off screen or distract the audience. I also have to be extra attentive to my chat-mate’s questions or the audience would click away from mindless non-sequiturs. 

Here’s the chat that vanished all those fears. 


It's called the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) Book Cart Project, aimed at encouraging  children to read, and hosted by Ate Melai, a well-loved and outstanding storyteller. 

She had invited me to some other NLP activities in the past. Unfortunately, these overlapped with my other events. 

The pandemic has souped up everything—as though flying in a Lockheed SR-71 plane or a race car at full speed. Without having to leave my workroom, I could participate in virtual events on books and reading anywhere in the globe. 

The interesting thing about a chat is that it is non-linear. There are no rules. It frees chatters from the constraints of any crisis. You can begin with the end and end with the beginning. On and on, we talked about the 13 W’s. Thirteen? Well, there are more actually, if you include whenever, whichever, wherever, whereupon, and whatchamacallit.  

She asked me about Mateo, the main character of my Oh, Mateo! series of 16 books, and I had a chance to show her the three Mateos of my life: (from right to left) my dad, my brother and his son, whose endearing qualities as a growing boy found their way into many of the stories.   

And then Ate Melai told the story of “Gone?” in Filipino (as translated by Dr. Luis Gatmaitan), complete with gestures only she can do. I guess a book for younger kids such as this needs histrionics that I have yet to learn. 

It was a one-and-half hour of laughter and fun—not nerve-wracking as I unfairly assumed.

In fact, it was  liberating grace that left me with this thought: being cloistered at home (almost a year now!) unlocks a world of possibilities.