The Korus Girl

Last week started off on a high note. Literally.

My university choir, which we fondly call “Korus” is having a grand alumni homecoming in February 2020 and we just had our very first rehearsal. Korus was founded in 1962, so we have been in existence for 57 years. This makes it an institution, and one that I am mighty proud to have been a part of for 10 years. Gatherings like the homecoming, or just the mere rehearsal attended by 50 people from different decades are such a thrill! We may have served Korus at different times, but we share its music and love for show choir performances. This institution and the people who paved the way for me, helped shape me into the person I am today. I was a teenager when I joined, still building my identity and I found it here, with Korus.

I love telling the story of my Korus humble beginnings. It’s one of those blessing-in-disguise situations, and the outcome was a completely different path than I had originally imagined.

At the university Freshmen Welcome Assembly in 1997, I witnessed the performance of a choir. This made me realize how much I missed performing just like in elementary school. I just spent the past 4 years in a science high school where music and arts formed just a small part of the curriculum. How refreshing to see and hear an actual college choir! This piqued my interest right away and I took note of their audition schedules.

A year passed and no audition happened. I decided to put it off until next year so I can adjust to college life first.

True to plan, I geared up for audition as soon as sophomore year started. I was going to do it with my blockmate who also became interested the previous year. By then, we were living in different dorms within campus. I went to talk to him about going for our auditions, only to be told he already did, but with a different choir. He said I might like this other group too because it is kind of like a show choir, with dancing and singing and lots of Broadway. He said we didn’t see this group last year because they were on tour in Europe. Tour? Europe? Oh man! Sounds like a dream. He pointed to a flyer pinned on the dorm bulletin board and I saw a photo of a girl in Filipiniana beside Queen Elizabeth II herself! It was more like the girl photobombed Her Majesty, but hey! I’ll take that any day! The caption read, “I went to London to visit the Queen.”

It may have been around this time that the travel bug bit me. I thought, if this girl can see the world by singing and dancing, I can too! So, it was really the prospect of seeing the world and not going to school for six months that sold me to the idea of joining this other group. The singing and dancing was secondary.

I don’t remember exactly what day I auditioned, but I remember the awe I felt when I entered the College of Music. This was a college where you can create “noise” and no one will shush you. Some students were practicing their instruments – trumpets, trombone, drums. I could hear singing – of course. There was piano, and some students were just huddled in small groups talking. I remember I wore jeans and a pink shirt with little black flowers on it. I sang “Some Good Things Never Last” by Barbra Streisand as my audition piece. I think they also made us sing the National Anthem. Because you know, you will sing it hundreds and hundreds of times as a member. I was still able to sing the arrangement of National Artist Lucio San Pedro before it was discouraged because it “desecrates” the true nature of our anthem. Whatever. It was beautiful.

I passed, but I was assigned as an alto. I guess I sabotaged my own audition when I refused to go higher when they were testing my range. It was quite daunting and I myself didn’t know I could be a first soprano. A few months later, I was “re-classified” and became a Soprano 1. I continued to be one until I left the group in 2008.

I went on to train with Korus for 6 months before becoming a member. What was it like? I wish I could say it was rainbows and roses. Rather, I could only remember them as dark times. So dark because we would always go home so late. In fact, my friend A and I would always go home beyond dorm curfew hours, and we eventually got kicked out. But hey! I have goals. I was gonna go on a world tour by hook or by crook. If it meant being homeless before that, so be it. (Kids of this era, don’t try this at home).

Training was hard. I wish I could say it was the best time of my life. But no. It was rigid, grueling, demanding and at times psychologically taxing. This was probably where all of my values as an adult took root. You wanted something so bad, you had no choice but to adapt.

Time was sacred. You cannot be late, ever. If you were late to a rehearsal or call time, you may want to just ask earth to swallow you. Many co-trainees lost the battle for being tardy and getting punished for it.

Ever heard the saying, “The show must go on.”? The only time you will miss a performance is if you were dead. This is an exaggeration now, but this is where I learned to show up. No excuses. When I graduated and joined the corporate world, I always showed up. On time. It became ingrained into my being. It certainly helped me get to where I am now.

You had to be able to handle criticism. You have to have the nerve not to let harsh words get to you. Otherwise, you quit. I think this was the worst part, but also what I am most thankful for. I learned to ask myself in any situation, “What is the worst that can happen?” And I learned that the saying, “What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger” is so, so true.

Learning new pieces was hard. I could not read notes at first. I still could not, who am I kidding? Hahaha. So I had to exert extra effort to learn my music. I had no recorder, I could not afford one, so I relied to memorizing on the spot during rehearsals. Or asking people to play my part on the piano.

I sound like a lunatic. It seems like I hated my whole life as a trainee. Well, the other side of it is, I really looked forward to every time we would finish learning a song and start choreographing. I loved the fact that we could sing and dance and move around the stage and be happy, or sad or in love and just interpret the songs. It was extraordinary. I loved that I got to sing at different events and perform with famous celebrities and singers. It was so cool. How many teenagers get to do it while in school? Not many, so I was privileged.

In the end, I made it. So did 12 others with whom I shared all the hardships of those 6 months. Our hard work paid off. In 2000, 10 of us went to travel the world for 6 months and had the most amazing, once in lifetime experience. We went to 14 states in the US and 9 countries in Western Europe. We joined a festival that many other Korus members experienced before and it didn’t matter that the food was always bland, we were in Scotland! We experienced the magical world of language barrier having lived with our precious non-English speaking host families. It didn’t matter, we spoke with our hands and eyes and laughter and eventually understood each other. It was in Italy that I met a jolly and doting grandma who showered me with hugs and pinches on the cheeks and tante bacci (lost of kisses). She spoke an Italian dialect and I can still speak the one sentence she taught me even if she has already passed. “A mi ma pias la polenta”. I had one Italian mamma who always made me and my roommate take honey before leaving the house because it was good for the voice. Another Italian mamma was so frustrated she could not speak English but she had a picture book so we can point to what we were talking about. She also asked me to learn Italian for when I go back and see her again. I really did that. BA European Languages, hello! Okay, I never finished it, but I learned enough. 19 years has passed and I can still remember everything. Most of all, I remember that we were treated well. We were accepted as part of our host families, and we learned to appreciate the many, many cultures around the world.

The festival that I spoke about, it was the Aberdeen International Youth Festival. Imagine yourself surrounded by many other youth groups from countries you never even heard of. Imagine an opening program where the only thing you all do is sing each of the participating countries’ National Anthems. How crazy and cool and wonderful is that? Ah….so much pride and nostalgia. I feel so incredibly rich.

I went on to become an active member for 10 years, represented the country and the university in 4 international tours, served as a treasurer and president twice and now a proud alumna.

Not many people will understand the journey. Not many were made to withstand the rough seas we had to sail through to get the most coveted status as a member. Not many know what it’s like to talk to a leaf and will it to answer back. I don’t know that either, but one of my co-trainees may. LOL. Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it! This is the glue that binds us together. There’s no experience quite like it. And to do that at such a young age, it really does alter your DNA. And those whose DNA were altered like yours, they become your lifelong friends. I could have ended up very differently from who and where I am now. I could have decided to just go straight through college and become an engineer. When tour time came, I could have just given up my slot and decide that travel wasn’t for me and just wait until I was working to have those. But I didnt. I was way too determined to achieve the almost impossible to take the safe options. But you know what? I’m glad I took the road less traveled. It was meant to be. I was meant to be a Korus girl.

Newsletter 4 – Week of August 12

The Bizarre Love Triangle

I was just thinking what a bizarre week this was. There was a messy love triangle, the complex world of millennial dating terms such as “ghosting” and the reminder of one of my most traumatic Mondays in history. The very reason why I sort of don’t post “Monday, let’s do this!” quotes anymore.

But before going into that, I would like to announce the end of my couch sleeping days. After two long months, I have decided to be a normal person who owns a bed and who sleeps on it.

So, let’s do the messy love triangle first. G, B and J are famous celebrities and now the news of G and B’s breakup is a national buzz. The breakup was allegedly caused by G cheating on B with another young actress, J. Social media is burning, everyone has something to say about it. Both ladies have issued strong statements; well, mostly J saying she is a victim. There is less noise and hate thrown the guy who was accused of cheating. Not that I was looking for them anywhere. But the guy has a reputation. A former colleague who is related to another ex-girlfriend of G pretty much said he is a serial cheater. When asked about their break up, B said the guy just stopped talking to her so she didn’t know that they’ve actually broken up. In the present world of dating, this breakup is called ghosting.

It seems to me that the complexity of dating these days has exponentially increased with the world being more connected than ever. Before the invention of the internet, people could only communicate through letters, telegrams or the telephone a.k.a. landline. When relationships don’t work out, you just avoid each other. With social media nowadays, you have all the tools to torture yourself with. There’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, and possibly many other means to stalk your ex. Moving on with a clean break simply isn’t that easy anymore. It has to be a deliberate choice where you either unfriend or block someone so you could get your peace.

No wonder more and more people are getting sick. It’s not just physically, but mentally as well. Depression is a huge topic in the world today because more and more people are being diagnosed with it. In an article published on February 26, 2019 on CNN Philippines, it is said that as of 2015, the rate of suicide has increased by 1.9 for females and 5.8 for males. The stigma that we as Filipinos still have against mental health issues also does not help us in addressing the matter with empathy and understanding. We also need to see this as a problem beyond religion. I am saying this because our culture plays a large part into how we see depression and other mental health issues. According to the same article, our indirectness as a culture also prevents us from expressing our need for help, expecting other people to read between the lines. This really sucks, but all is not lost. Our society’s awareness of depression and suicide is getting better and more people have now access to the help and care that they need.

Going back to the love triangle, I would like to say love is dead. Even more so now that Liam and Miley have ended their very short marriage. But, I would be a hypocrite to do that. I don’t think love is dead. I would however say, the power of legal marriage is dying. Being unmarried all my life, I often ponder on my views on this. My 29-year old self definitely thought it a must. I’ve sang at more than enough weddings to know what a big deal this is for us as Filipinos. Never mind what a big deal weddings are all over the world. I don’t think there isn’t any country that didn’t see weddings as cause for huge celebrations. People sometimes spend money as if this was the ultimate goal of their lives.

Ten years later, how my views have changed! I think somewhere in between bad decisions related to men and trying to move on, a person is forced to look inside oneself and get to know who you are. Also, I read a somewhat cynical definition of marriage as being a “contract between two strangers who agree to live together and procreate”. I do not remember where but I thought, how true. We often hear how very different marriage is from being in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. In a marriage, you truly get to know who you married.

Just to be clear, I am not against marriage. I am still open to it…sometimes. But, I also love the life I have now. I love the freedom, the time I get to spend on things that I want to do. I am mostly relieved that I have no one relying on me to live. I have the ability to kill succulents which require less care, what more human babies. So yes, I am open to marriage. I am against big weddings and lavish traditions that go with it. Maybe I will elope when the time comes. There will be no spending on wedding invitations, professional photos and videos, no expensive catering, and most of all, no expensive wedding gown that will only be worn once. Yup, I’m really eloping from the sound of it. Family and friends, forgive me. Or roll your eyes when I do end up with a traditional catholic wedding with matching kissing doves that fly off into the sunset. Or the ceiling.

Now let’s all calm down and go back to the reality of my 100% singleness. I suspect marriage will come as a miracle considering I am not even going out to date. I don’t get asked out and I am also not into Tinder or any of those dating apps. At least not anymore. I’m scared I might end up swiping right on a serial killer. LOL. Seriously, I just don’t feel like it. I am happy and quite content with my life now. Maybe also a little scared to let a man mess up my life again. Go figure.

To us women, especially those who are wishing and storming the high heavens with prayers to send them The One, be patient. He is out there, possibly also afraid he might get murdered on Tinder. See, something in common already. But we know there’s more to it, so let me share the measuring stick. I found this at a time I was trying to figure out a man and Sherry Argov shook me back to earth: “That’s the big picture. Your happiness. And health. You should never care what a man thinks of you until he demonstrates to you that he cares about making you happy. If he isn’t trying to make you happy, then send him back from “whence” he came because winning him over will have no benefit. At the end of the day, happiness, joy…and yes…your emotional stability…those comprise the only measuring stick you really need to have.” Let us thank Sherry for this is a very powerful reminder that we should be the heroine in our lives. Always. Self-preservation, dignity and self love can never do you wrong.

Phew. All that because of a bizarre love triangle.

Let us move on to the mystery of one traumatic Monday. August 7, 2017 started out just like any other Mondays – mocked and dreaded with so many quotes written about it. I think I posted a cute Heather Stillufsen illustration about “Coffee and Monday. Let’s do this.”

When I got to the office, I had a meeting with my boss, another colleague and the HR Director. I didn’t think much of it. The meeting came and I was informed that my position is being eliminated and I had 3 months before I either find a new role within the organization or leave.

At that time, I had already started considering leaving the company to take a 1-year hiatus and just do nothing and everything. I was deep in research to set up a small business. When the news came, I thought maybe my decision was being expedited. However, my gut told me I wasn’t ready and my financial targets haven’t been met yet. It’s not a good time to leave. I was shocked, as you probably would be if you hear you are being rejected. It wasn’t my first time to hear the same kind of news, so I was a good sport about it. Work is replaceable. I do not advocate “work is a rubber ball” for nothing. I strongly believe it.

My first retrenchment happened when Company M outsourced to Company H. I moved to Company H but only lasted 8 months because Company R called and offered me a career maker. I accepted and the rest is history. It was 5 years later in Company R when I got retrenched again but I got a new role after 3 days so I stayed. I am about to celebrate 7 years with the same company.

This ends the story of the bizarre love triangle and the traumatic Monday. For both career and entering relationships, we require acceptance of certain risks. The bizarre love triangle triggered my thoughts on marriage and why I am glad I am single. The traumatic Monday reminded me of how something we are afraid to lose can be replaced with something better. Both made me think about our innate fear of rejection as humans. Rejection in itself is not all bad, it’s the implication that we are not good enough that messes with our heads. Rejection can be quite a blessing! Imagine if I had ended up with the last guy, The Friend? The jerk who I would like to now refer to as The Non-Entity? Ewwww!!!! His rejection was the best I ever had!

What we do in the face of rejection is what makes the difference. At the end of the day, it’s our love for ourselves that should always prevail. To G, B and J, good luck and I hope you all move on soon. We all deserve better news headlines next week.

Newsletter 3 – Week of August 5

The Choice

Last Friday, I sang at a wedding with my friends from Gala Quintet. This after a few months without any gig. It seems like we all got busy with our own lives and it so happened, we had no bookings either. See how the universe accommodates our priorities?

I, for one, was everywhere. Between March and July, I managed to fly four times! Two of those went all they way to Europe and back. The other two were a bit closer to home – Japan and my hometown for my mother’s retirement party. Just thinking about it makes me dizzy. Thus, I am now on travel hiatus until further notice. I never thought I’d say this but, apparently I have reached my limits. Besides, there’s too many typhoons lately and flying will not be easy on me.

And so, the universe probably thought it was time to take me back to that other thing I love – singing. My group mostly sings in weddings. We all met in college and were members of a choir. We all graduated and ended up in different fields, but singing kept us together. I sing soprano for the group.

It was a hellish day for me. I haven’t been sleeping well since I got back from London almost a month ago. The wedding was two hours south of Manila. I was still suffering from a cough with very thick phlegm stuck in my throat. The weather sucked, it rained the whole day. On the way back, we were stuck in traffic for three hours.

Okay, enough whining.

After the rollercoaster that was, all I crave for now is rest and the luxury of doing nothing. I owe it to myself to invest time in self care. It seems to me that our world is only getting busier by the day and slowing down is now an alien concept.

I, however, would like to be different. I am not one of those people who are proud to be so busy all the time. I do not like being labeled a workaholic. In a very fast-paced work environment, I prefer to take my time to get the right kind of results. I also believe in spending just the right amount of time in the office, because there will always be something to deliver at work.

I wasn’t always like this. Back in 2009, after a really horrible heartbreak, I would spend 16-hour days in the office. I was also just a new leader, without both level 1 and 2 managers so I took it upon myself to look after the team. I was eager to learn and figured, working is better than wallowing. This went on for a few years.

Then came my new boss and my very first mentor as a leader. She was quite the organized person and being strategic and precise was what I learned from her. She also helped me grow into self awareness at a time I needed it the most. Best of all, she embedded in my skull the idea that working yourself to death will never ever benefit anyone.

The turning point came one night, after another 16-hour round and there was no sign I was leaving anytime soon. My boss went to my desk, forced me to log off my machine, walked me out of the building all the way to the bus stop. She said she wanted to see me get on the bus so she is sure I will not go back to the office that evening. It is quite laughable when I remember it, but she drove her point home.

After that, I stopped being the slave that I was. To this day, I rarely spend more time than I have to be in the office. I only stay if I absolutely must. This mindset was even more justified when I got retrenched in 2012. The saying that work is a rubber ball could not have been more apt. Work is a rubber ball which will bounce back and will never break. The other balls – family, health, spirit/integrity and friends – are made of glass. Once broken, they can never be the same.

So really, I hope that everytime there is a choice to make between too much work and yourself, I hope you choose yourself.

Black Holes

I hate Korean Drama. Ever since it reached the Philippines, I’ve done my best to avoid watching them. My Koreanovela-obssessed friends would be so horrified to know that I have only finished four out of the hundreds that exist. Of those four, they either had Song Hye Kyo or Rain or both.

My hate does not come from not liking. I hate them because once you start, they are like black holes that suck you in and you disappear forever. Okay, maybe not forever. You resurface after the last episode with a huge hangover.

For example, the first K Drama I watched end-to-end was Full House. Yes, Full House from 2004 starring Song Hye Kyo and Rain. This was before K-Drama, K-Pop, and all those Samgyupsal restaurants invaded the Philippines. The show was even dubbed in Filipino. After that, I never wanted to watch a K Drama again. It was so beautifully created, I wanted it to be the only K Drama I know. I did not have the heart to taint or replace its memory. Loyalty to a fault. It’s possibly one of my greatest strengths. Or weaknesses. It’s up to you how you may see it.

In 2016, I finally decided to visit one of my best friends who has lived in South Korea for a decade. I suddenly thought of Full House. With technology more advanced, I was able to find full episodes on Youtube. I ended up not going out the whole weekend. This was my first black hole. It swallowed me whole.

Youtube is cunning. It gave me suggestions on what to see next. Soon after that, Black Hole 2 came. This time it was “The Fugitive: Plan B”. This was with Rain and Lee Na-young. It was a bit longer than the usual 16 episodes of a K Drama but it was well worth it. Having Daniel Henney in it was a real treat. He is my all-time Korean American crush.

When I was finally in Korea, I heard that Song Hye Kyo’s new project “Descendants of the Sun” was off the charts. I tried to pretend I wasn’t interested. After all, I knew what it would do to me. Eventually, I caved in and that’s my Black Hole 3.

At that time when Descendants of the Sun was airing, Rain also had a drama. It was called “Come Back Mister.” It’s not one of his best works, but because it was Rain, I still finished everything. That was Black Hole 4.

After Descendants of the Sun, it was easy to ignore the ones that came next. Next to Full House, this was my new favorite. The script was so amazingly written by award-winning writer Kim Eun-sook. Yes, I had to look it up because I loved the writing so much.

Late last year, when I saw an ad for Song Hye Kyo’s new project, “Encounter”, I knew Black Hole 5 has arrived. It was only a matter of when I would get sucked in. That question has been answered a few days ago. It was time. So here I am, wrapped up in my own little encounter with the divine fictional world of television. Aaah, it’s so easy to ruin your life these days. I wonder if there’s such a thing as K-Drama Anonymous, a rehabilitation center for K-Drama addicts. Sometimes I feel like this is worse than alcohol addiction.

Anyway, “Encounter” is awesome. I also feel like I am in a better place watching it because I have grown up so much since “Full House”. Fifteen years is a long time in between. I say I appreciate the story of “Encounter” more because watching it practically brings me all the feelings I’ve ever felt in the last 15 years. It’s a love story between a CEO of a big hotel, Cha Soo-hyun and a younger man, Kim Jin-hyuk. Fill in the blanks with all that you ever have to face in a relationship. All the beauty and heartache that comes with it. I told a friend the other day, “I’m watching Encounter because it has everything I don’t have in my life right now.” And possibly something that will never be in my life ever.

Nonetheless, I can relate. The last 15 years made sure I knew what butterflies in my stomach felt like. I learned how excruciating it can be to wait and endure uncertainty. I know that I can face disappointments and survive the worst of heartaches. I know that I can be brave and ask for what I want. I know when to persist and also know when it’s time to recognize the end of a road.

With “Encounter”, I saw my love for travel and adventure. Parts of it were shot in Havana, Cuba. It makes me want to see the sunset in El Malecon. I saw my love for coffee and sitting in a quiet cafe when I visit a new country. I saw how fascinating it was to listen to foreign music and feel a language even when you don’t understand the words. I even saw the face of a past love. He looks so much like Kim Jin-hyuk, I cringe. I saw how one must never lose hope or give up even when life is crap. I saw and confirmed what is always promised in the end: Things eventually work out the way they were meant to.

Mr. Nam said it wisely.

“No one can stop flowers from blooming in spring. No matter how hard the flowers try to resist, they all end up blooming in the end.”

CG

The Ball

LoyKThe incessant rain the past few days was about to drive me crazy. Three days cooped up in my parents’ home. Three days of outdoor plans down the drain. Thank God, the sun is finally out today. Fingers crossed, it will be the same beautiful day tomorrow before we ring in 2019.

I love the last few days of every year. There’s always a certain excitement where people seem to be rushing everywhere. Like that meme said, “Those days after Christmas, where you seem to not know what day it is and time does not exist”. I feel like this is a free pass where you can do whatever you want. You can make up for wasted time or opportunities that you should have done during the year. I saw some friends go on a trip. Some to countless reunions and dinners and lunches. I was going to learn how to drive. This has been a goal of my life for so many years now. I’ve gone through three student license renewals, and I’m still none the wiser. Maybe next year will be different.

Wait. I know next year will be different.

But before I step into the new year, I would like to reflect on what 2018 has been for me. I feel like my life has been in limbo and I never really accomplished much. I know it’s not a great thing to say, and in Miss Universe 2018’s words, “I should look for the beauty in it…and be grateful.”

So here’s me and my silver linings for 2018.

I suffered through several health-related setbacks, but here I am and I got through them all. I remember starting 2018 with so much motivation to continue with the weight loss that I started in 2017. Unfortunately, my neck pain that I thought was already cured came back even worse in January. It went on until July. July was also the time I had to go through my neck pain, flu and gastroenteritis all at the same time. Talk about the trifecta from hell. What made the neck pain go away? Only the 90K pesos treatment prescribed from my Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ) diagnosis. Yes, please go look it up. The pain literally disappeared after that. Magic. One would think this was all psychosomatic. It has not gone back since, but my weight has. Time to take control of my health and body back in 2019.

On my first international trip this year, I got to cross off a bucket-list experience. I went to Pyeongchang, South Korea to watch the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics. I won’t say it was also part of the bucket list to sit in an open arena in -3C weather for 3 hours. But I will not trade my frozen bum experience for anything. It was simply amazing. That was definitely one way to light my fire.

Exploring new countries was definitely a highlight for me this year. In April, I visited Dubai for the first time. It was almost summer, but the weather was still pleasant and not too hot. United Arab Emirates was my first middle eastern country to explore and to sum it all up, it was extraordinary. This is where they take the “go big or go home” challenge really seriously. The best part was that I got to visit my cousin who lives in Dubai. 

Indonesia and Thailand were the other two new countries for me.  A lot similar in their ways and culture; I felt like I should have explored more. I needed more time. Especially in Bali. We spent only three days in Bali, exploring temples mostly and less of nature and beaches. I enjoyed the company but I know I was not able to make the most of it. My Bali trip probably represented my entire well-being this year: lacking sleep and perpetually exhausted. 

Thailand stood a better chance. First we went to Bangkok where I drowned myself in Tom Yum Goong and Thai milk tea. The food was just awesome. The highlight really was flying to Chiang Mai from Bangkok for the Yee Ping and Loy Krathong Festival. It was a spiritual experience to see the sky lit up with hundreds of lanterns. 

I think I really should write about my travels. A few sentences don’t do them justice. What do you think?

Gaining two new nieces are never merely silver linings. They are both real and beautiful sunshine and they have brought me the same joy as Max and Ella. In the process, I also gained a new sister when my brother tied the knot in September.

Okay, I admit. It does not seem so bad. Everything above are the things I value most – family, friends, travel, health. Then why do I feel like it is? There seemed to be a consistent drone of unhappiness that followed me around.

That drone of unhappiness is probably just The Voice reminding me that I should be listening to it and taking my life’s direction towards something new. My work needs to take a new direction. It is something I cannot ignore.

If there is one thing I am most proud of accomplishing this year, I think it would be finding strength and dignity in self-preservation. No more short-changing myself. If I would make this about the five balls we juggle in life, then I would probably want to drop the one and only ball that can bounce back. 

“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls…are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”― James Patterson, Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas

Thank you for being an eye-opener, 2018. 

CG


The Voice

When I was in college, I joined a prestigious choral group that gave me an opportunity to travel around the world. I was 19 years old when I went on my first international tour and took a leave of absence from the university for one semester. We were sponsored by Filipino communities in the United States and by local families in Europe. This meant staying with our hosts and we were part of their families for the short period that we were in their homes. A lot of the families I stayed with in the US were second generation immigrants. Their parents went to America in the hopes of  building better lives.

When I got back home, I asked my mom if she ever thought of migrating to the US when we were young. Young meant the 80’s when the American Dream was selling like hotcakes. She said, “No. Only rich people did that.”

That conversation left me with so much regret at the thought that we missed out on a big opportunity. I could have been an American citizen now. I could be holding one of the most powerful passports in the world and did not have to apply for a visa every time I wanted to travel to Europe. The conversation happened almost two decades ago. Things have certainly changed and I myself did not pursue the American dream. A lot of my friends have moved to different parts of the world and here I am still very much grounded in the Philippines. I still think about the possibility of moving, but with travel now so much easier, I just see other places as temporary homes. I go and immerse and I come back to my beloved, comfortable, familiar homeland, the Philippines.

I sometimes ask myself if I’m crazy to not have this drive to go abroad and find a new life. But then, what is crazy about living in the land where you were born and raised? What is crazy about not wanting to be too far away from family? What is it about the comfortable and familiar that makes us want to stay? Maybe it is precisely because it is what it is. Comfortable and familiar means it is less scary. After all, fear always accompanies the unknown.

About two years ago, I had a rather horrible experience at work. It was a situation where I feel I never stood a chance of getting accepted no matter what I did. Still, I weathered it out, but it made me sit down and start thinking about a hiatus. I worked out a list of my current financial obligations and what cost it would take to be free for a year. That list was originally on paper, but it eventually became a working spreadsheet. The situation at work eased up a bit for a few months, but it turned into boredom. This was when I had time to google “prawns vs shrimps” – a phrase my friends now use when they want to say they are bored. LOL. Eased up, however, did not mean happiness nor peace. I still did not stand a chance, but I guess I just accepted that I have to live in misery until one of us gives up and leaves.

The universe decided to humor me. One fine day in August, I was told I was losing my job in three months. I was prepared to go through the different stages of grief, but that did not really pan out since I got a new post two days later. I still had the option to leave and make my hiatus dream come true, but I knew I was not ready financially. I took the job and finally, all of us can stay and at the same time be away from each other.

It’s been a year since I took that new job. The people surrounding me have been great and I could not be more grateful. But…the seed that was planted two years ago took root and it was only a few months ago that I realized it has grown.

I am not surprised. I have always been curious about life outside the corporate world. I have friends who are freelance musicians, writers, make up artists and business owners. They are all living great lives. I have always wondered what it would be like to try and be part of that non-corporate world. It’s all rose-colored glasses until I think about the income stability that my current job provides.

My current job provides me a steady source of income. It is an enabler to so many things I currently enjoy in my life, including getting to travel often. This job creates for me a predictable day to day life and suggests there is an upward career path for me if I just play my cards right. I learn a lot; not just about the world we live in but also about myself and the people that I get to interact with everyday. Sounds to me like a dream job. The thing is, it is probably someone else’s dream job now. I have known myself to be highly driven and always had eyes on that vertical career path.

One day, I caught myself looking elsewhere. At first, I thought I was just tired. It will pass. In the meantime, let me take on a hobby other than going to the gym and singing. What else do I like doing? Oh, I like looking at jewellery and coloured gemstones. Art deco jewellery particularly fascinates me. And so the reading and the research began. The more I learned, the more glued I became. I started learning the business side of it and I eventually opened my own Instagram jewellery blog. A little voice started telling me this is what I should be doing.

At first, the thought shocked me. Am I crazy? This is just nuts to be thinking about myself as a business woman. Maybe I am just burned out and really need a break. Yup, ignore the voice.

How timely is it that one of my friends has just left the corporate world to start her own yoga studio? As I follow her amazing journey, that little voice became louder too. It became so persistent I had to stop and listen. The voice said, “Why not? Remember when you were 8 years old and had this little candy store by your bedroom window? Remember how you felt when someone actually bought a candy and you receive their coin and put it in a little coin bowl?” Coincidentally, I also sang at radio station contests about the same age, so I also earned money on the side for these gigs. It made me laugh to think that after a long and winding road, I would end up the adult version of that little girl in retail and singing at events. I laughed, but my heart was bursting with the possibility.

I think I have finally befriended that little voice. When I did, I told my good friend about it and she laughed and introduced me to a book called “When To Jump”. She said, “You are describing exactly what other “jumpers” have experienced in their journey towards a life of their dreams.”

The next day, off to the bookstore I went. There was one copy left, tucked between other books, it could easily be missed. This one book was meant for me. I just started reading it, but it has helped me a lot to recognize that what I feel and want to do is not that crazy. A lot of other people have done it and made it. If they can, I probably can too.

I will end this post with a quote from Jeff Arch’s story in the book and so far my favorite. Jeff Arch went from being an English teacher and Karate school owner to being nominated for an Oscar in 1994 for writing “Sleepless in Seattle.”

“…when you know how to listen and know when your heart is really speaking and know when your heart is telling you that the ground you’re standing on just isn’t enough – then the only thing left to do is jump.”

💙

CH

The Afterglow

In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along.

There’s a truth to these lines from Billy Joel’s song, isn’t it? Sometimes, the only way you truly move on from someone is when you find a new love. Too many songs written about love or lost love and they all speak the truth about us humans. Love can be beautiful, yet it can also be soul-crushingly painful.

A few weeks after cutting The Friend off from my life, I found myself wondering if I made the right decision. You see, I am not used to banishing people, even when they have wronged me. Doing this makes me feel very uncomfortable. Or it can mean I am a masochist. Thus, I need some sense knocked into me by people who truly love me. Fast forward to now, on New Year’s Eve before 2018, I am quite certain I did the right thing. No regrets. I no longer feel the loss nor the desire to be friends with him again.

Just like that, I am a changed woman. Magic. LOL. Honestly, it’s really Billy Joel and his song. A new one has come along. Kind of. The poor guy has no clue that he has come along.

Just a month after I got back from my Iceland and UK trip, I was surprised to find myself flying back to the UK for work. Before that, I was so tempted to decline traveling again so soon because I was dreading going back to freezing temperatures. As one friend put it, just going out to buy something from the supermarket is a major production number because you have to put on so many layers of clothing. Also, the thought of flying 18 hours again each way made me nauseous. But, it’s work and I needed to make sure I get first hand knowledge from that two-day workshop. I was also facing the prospect of a sad Christmas. The idea of another distraction is more than welcome even if it meant flying ten thousand miles just to get me closer to healing.

I did not know I was in for possibly one of the most movie-worthy surprises of my life. The healing that I was wishing so hard for turned out to require a return trip to England. Expensive and physically taxing. Good thing I was only responsible for the physical part.

Three years ago, I struck a friendship with a colleague from Singapore when she came to visit Manila with some of our other colleagues from the US and UK. Upon learning that I was the only single person in our group, she took it upon herself to think of a possible match. None came up until we were again on a business trip to the US a few months later. A familiar name came up. It was familiar because I had worked with this guy in 2012 when I was forming my new team. I had met him only once and in passing. I barely remember him, but the name stuck because it was an unusual name. A name that only exists in a particular country in Eastern Europe. Let’s call him NG. Let’s call my Singaporean friend AS because she is my Asian Sister from another motherland. AS was so convinced about the match and genuinely believed that I was already on board. I wasn’t.

To humor her, I checked if NG was on Facebook. I added him when I found his profile. I added him on LinkedIn as well. Soon, NG and I were “friends”, much to the delight of AS.

For the next two years, it was a really exciting one-sided matchmaking endeavor. My friend would check if he was still single, and when he confirms, she would let me know. Not that I cared. AS was just convinced I did. Poor NG had zero clue. The only person excited about this was our friend.

Last October, I suddenly received two photos from AS. I knew she was going to be in our UK office at that time and I also knew she will meet with NG. The photos were of AS and NG when they had lunch. Along with it, she sent a message saying, “I showed him that I sent you the photos. He was surprised but I told him we are good friends. He said you are friends on Facebook. I also told him that you’re single just like he is. He got the hint. He was laughing, but he did not say no. That is a good sign.” I thought, yes it’s a good sign that he is at least polite. LOL.

A few weeks later, it was my turn to go to the UK and Iceland for holiday. After the holiday, I was asked by my boss to extend for a two-day workshop in our UK office. AS was adamant that I get in touch with NG so we can catch up, have lunch or dinner or something. As if we were close friends. *Roll eyes*. Of course I did not get in touch. I did drop by to say hello at work but he turned out to be a home-based employee. The workshop got postponed and so I had to return when the new date was finally announced. It was two weeks before Christmas. When I relayed the news to AS, she again suggested that I let NG know so that he can set aside time for our catch up. We simply had to close that five-year gap. Oh dear. Again, no getting in touch of any kind was done.

The second day of workshop turned out to be the same day when the company Christmas party was going to be. Only, there were two separate parties for my old and new team. I was already set to go to the new team’s party of course. Since we will not get to be in the same party, I promised another colleague from the old team that I will drop by to say hello. He was also home-based and that was the only time I can see him. I promised I would go when we take a break for lunch.

When lunch time came, I took the stairs from the third going to the ground floor. Just as I was going down the last flight, I locked eyes with a man who looked familiar. He probably had the same thought as I did. “I think I know her…..” And then we both realized who the other was and both our eyes just widened in surprise and started laughing. NG and I finally meet again after five long years. He met me at the bottom of the stairs and I thought, what the hell…might as well give him a hug. This was five years in the making. I realized he has really nice blue eyes. The seed that AS planted in my head started to germinate. His first few sentences were, “What is with you and all these traveling? Do you do this just because? I always look at your Facebook posts because I don’t know where you’ll turn up next.” I see. We talked and caught up until I realized my break time was running out and I really had to see my other colleague. NG and I took a selfie and I sent it to AS. LOL. I am glad he really is polite.

That night, I ended up going to two parties. I went to the new team’s party in the center of town first. Then, I took a taxi and went to the old team’s party in an old castle in the middle of nowhere. Great decision I made since the old team’s party turned out to be more fun. It would have been, with or without NG. But, since I have decided this story is worthy to be posted on my blog, it means there’s more NG in it. I did not seek him out, but after playing pretend-black jack for about an hour, I ran into him at the bar.  That was our cue to start talking again. We talked about how he came to the UK from Hungary, his daughter from a previous marriage, archery, his family and why he was drinking coke and not beer. Our big boss joined us and when he made a comment about how much I have changed since he last saw me, NG was the one who said, “She’s been going to the gym. We’re Facebook friends you know.”

I ended up staying the night in that old castle. It was too late for a taxi. There was someone who did not make it to the party and I took his room. Everyone had breakfast together the next day. After, I decided to walk with NG and talk to him outside while he smoked and while I waited for another colleague who will drive me back to my hotel. While talking, NG suddenly said, “I’ll drive you back to your hotel.” That meant more time to get to know this guy who was no longer much of a stranger. I had possibly gained a new friend.

Oh, who am I kidding? Yes, he is a new friend. But then, there is also a germinating seed in my head. AS may not be that crazy after all. Power of suggestion sometimes sucks. Sometimes, yay!

Anyway, those two days made it to one of the best unexpected moments of my life. We parted ways with him this time giving me a hug and saying he hopes it does not take another five years for us to see each other again. Or maybe I will be back in two weeks. My response was, “You never know.”

In the same Billy Joel song, the next lines go:

I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense

It’s been three weeks since all of these happened but I still light up when I think about how I saw NG again after five years. We haven’t talked since then except for when we exchanged Christmas greetings, which I initiated. While I would be happy if we did keep in touch, I am also content if we don’t. There is a certain afterglow that I know will remain associated with those memories. At this point, I am just in awe at how the universe orchestrated something totally unexpected for the both of us. Cliche I know, but, I felt like the stars aligned to make just that particular event happen. It crushed whatever hurt I still felt about the past four months and the sadness just faded. However, I will choose silence after this. If something is meant to happen, it will. Some of the most beautiful things in life require no effort nor orchestration. They are just meant to be.

For now, I am just grateful that I am finally out of my rut. I am also sure that I have learned every lesson I needed to learn. I really am a changed woman. No magic. Just a lot of tragic experiences that are all in the past.

By the way, the song is called “And So It Goes”.

And this is why my eyes are closed
It’s just as well for all I’ve seen
And so it goes, and so it goes
And I’m the only one who knows

From now on, no one can have this heart to break. Not even NG.

Perhaps, the only role NG had was to get me out of my misery. To give me a glimpse of what I was wasting my tears on. Maybe he was an instrument in making me see how much more I truly deserve.

Someday, if NG reads this, I just want him to know that he was the Non-Grinch who stole my bad Christmas. And no matter what happens next in our story, this chapter will always leave me in afterglow. 💙

CG