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 tanti baci (lots 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 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

The Turkey

I have not been sleeping well since I got back. It has been two weeks. Extended jet lag perhaps? Work stress since I am in a dual role indefinitely? Still nursing a broken heart? Worried about this whole fiasco about my apartment and my brother ditching me in the middle of everything? All of the above, I guess. The scene inside my head is really just ugly, I can imagine. Damn it. I don’t have to imagine. I am wide awake at 4 a.m. simmering in it.

Last Thursday, I woke up after banking only three hours of sleep so I could rush to the property developer and get documents for the apartment I am purchasing. I need to be The Flash and get them signed by my brother and sister-in-law so they can be out of responsibility for an investment we initially agreed on. Considering that my brother does not get home anytime soon, I am doomed to fail. Time is always money. Of course. This situation has been really hurtful and I feel like I have been betrayed. I know in my heart that if the situation were reversed, I would do anything for my brothers. I have tried so hard to make it a rule that money will never be an issue with my family. It is just not worth ruining relationships over finances. And so, I am struggling to be okay with what happened. I don’t want to go into detail anymore because even writing this now makes my stomach lurch. If, however, I will be honest about it, I feel very hurt. Angry even. But I will do my best to get out of it. Money can be earned again.

Still, I cannot help but feel like I have been duped twice. I am still trying to move on from The Friend. I have had my fill of people I care about just carelessly trampling on my feelings. To which a friend has said, I am too nice. That is for another story.

Also, I think that the daily stresses at work is starting to take a toll on me physically. I am always tired. I hope I don’t get burned out. Been there, please not again.

This is pretty much the hell that is not seen by other people’s naked eyes. My hell. A hell that eventhough I am so drained of energy of late, I am still determined to fight.

On the same Thursday as above, while walking home from the clinic, I suddenly realized it was Thanksgiving in the United States. It’s turkey-eating day! How ironic that I was ruminating on all my woes on the day that we are reminded that there is always something to be grateful for. Of course there is always something to be grateful about!

For starters, I am alive. I am still here and I have a fighting chance to make things right again.

I may need to spend a big amount to straighten things out over my home, but it is money that I earned already. I don’t have to worry where to get it. I would rather save it or share it with my family or help two of my friends who are sick with cancer, but if I have to let it go then I will. I still have a way to negotiate it and I will. I just have to learn to accept the outcome.

I am reminded that November would have been the month that I lose my old job and yet, I am still here. I only had two days to worry about it. Now, I have been granted a new one that has me doing what I love the most – building a new team. Okay, new jobs because I am handling way more than I should. But you know what? It’s fun! I am apalled by the backlog of emails, but I do my best. I swear on all the turkey stuffing.

I made my dream trips happen this year. I got to go to two new countries – Japan and Iceland. How many people are given the same chance in a lifetime?

I have my family still. Two parents and all my brothers alive and healthy. I have two beautiful nieces who I love with all my heart.

I have friends who I can turn to if I need them.

I am a little unhealthy, but I can still do something to get back on track. Only age matters in this corner but that’s nature and you cannot mess with that.

So yes, here I am at 4:30 a.m. realizing just how good life still is. God has been my silent warrior in all these.

The good always outweighs the bad. Movies are there to remind us so. There are just times when the bad is really bulky so it seems difficult to carry. The good is always light so we take it forgranted. It is also true that if people know you to be a strong person, you are often seen as someone who doesn’t need anything. How wrong they are. To me, a simple hello is equivalent to the biggest turkey on Thanksgiving. I will feel so full.

On Thanksgiving, I posted the saying, “The problem with being strong is no one bothers to ask if you’re okay.” Two days later, I get a surprise visit from my friends who live in Australia. Why is it a big deal? Because whenever they are here, I am the only one they always make time for. Always.

I feel like I really got the whole turkey for myself. Happy Thanksgiving!

CG