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 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.

The Pilot

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my first newsletter.

I write when inspiration strikes, but these days, it seems to happen only when I am suffering from heart break or celebrating yearly milestones. The batting average this year are two blog posts which imply I lead a very boring, uninspired life. Quite the contrary!

Thanks to James Breakwell of Twitterverse, I may have solved my “writing dilemma” a.k.a. procrastination. James is a comedy writer by profession and he tweets about his witty conversations with his four daughters. If you can’t get enough, which happened to me, you may sign up for his weekly newsletter which comes out every Monday. Go on, check him out. His Twitter handle is @XplodingUnicorn. All I can say is, James has made my Mondays great again!

Thus this idea of my own weekly newsletter. Will I make your Mondays great too? I don’t know because it’s Thursday now and I am way past my deadline. Maybe I should publish every Friday, call it the TGIF newsletter.

My Monday last week started out at 41,000 feet above Russia. I was coming home from a week-long business trip to Oxford and it culminated with a 13-hour direct flight from London to Manila. I never got any sleep, which was not a surprise considering how tense I get when I fly. Many of you know how much I love to travel. It’s my life’s greatest passion. What you probably don’t know is I also suffer from fear of flying. I have tried to overcome it by learning more about flying, almost to the level of its math and physics. I think I can be a pilot now – if YouTube videos count as professional training. Traveling alone means I have to deal with it like it’s nothing. Traveling with friends means at least one of them might end up with bruises or broken bones from me clutching their hands or arms so tight during turbulence.

This flight, though pleasant and smooth, caused me a bit of a panic attack because the flight map suddenly stopped while we were flying over Sweden. This was about two hours from take off. Watching the flight progress helps me relax, and with it stuck, I am helpless. The interesting bit here is the same thing happened seven hours into my flight from Manila to Heathrow. When asked, the flight attendants could not explain it. One of them even said, “No ma’am, it’s working.” She tapped on the monitor and the monitor lit up. I had to explain it was the little airplane on the telly that seemed to be stuck in Sweden when in fact, we were about to land in Manila. This happened on our flag carrier which is disappointing but not quite a surprise. We Filipinos aren’t exactly known for five star airlines nor airports.

I couldn’t sleep so I ended up watching random episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Fresh Off the Boat. I can’t watch violent films inflight because it worsens my anxiety. I tried to watch Thor, but I ended up trying to decipher if the noises were from the movie or the plane. So I just stopped.

I tried reading a book I picked up in Kensington Palace, “The Really Useful Guide to Kings and Queens of England”. I got bored with it so I inserted it in the seat pocket in front of me. I was so pleased with that book, I felt like I won my way into the British royal family.

As we were about to land, I stood up to get my purse. When I sat down, the guy seated behind me said, “Hey, your pants are ripped at the back.” I felt the back of my pants and yep! He saw my very cheerful yellow underwear. At least I had underwear. I had my favourite warm kaftan to cover me up so problem solved.

I deplaned, went through our newly automated immigration, collected my luggage and considered eating Jollibee before going home, but decided against it. I wasn’t a balikbayan long-deprived of the taste of home. I did feel like one even if it was just a week. The local food in parts of England I’ve been to is not really something to rave about. The office cafeteria in particular I would recommend avoiding. But you also can’t because the office is in the middle of nowhere and the next source of sustenance is probably in another village. On the week I was there, they served a “Filipino Menu”. I wondered where they got the idea that Filipino food was bland and not greasy? The chef need to watch Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and try sisig.

I finally decided to go home. While in the car, I realised to my horror, I left my new book on the plane! The royal family and I are not meant to be after all.

I came home to a quiet apartment. And rather dirty because four grown men just spent the weekend here. They’re my father and brothers so I don’t mind. And I don’t have a choice. LOL. I decided to camp out and sleep on my sofa while I stripped my bed of the sheets. One week later, I’m still sleeping on the sofa. People who have been to my house know that my sofa is like a lullaby. I sometimes wonder why I got myself a real bed if I would prefer my sofa over it. I’m not planning on sleeping on my bed anytime soon.

Home sweet dirty home. I did spend the whole Saturday cleaning, to the tune of Stickwitu by the Pussy Cat Dolls. Finally, I recognize my home again. Funny, James Breakwell mentioned Roomba in his newsletter this week. I’ve been thinking of getting one. I’m finally open to living with another, and I choose a robot vacuum cleaner. I think this is easier than finding a quiet, intelligent and knows-how-to-clean husband.

As expected, I was back at work the next day. I have yet to decide which parts of work I should share from now and in the future. Maybe I will stick to the fun and funny. It’s safer that way.

For now, I will miss England. I will miss my favourite London and the perpetual grey skies. I will miss my Heathrow Express adventures and pretending to be Miss Jane Marple in 4.50 Paddington. I will miss the long walks to the Underground and waiting for the train. I will miss taking the long trip to Oxford and taking the bus to Woodstock. I will miss the creaking of the stairs on my way to my room at the 300 year-old Macdonald Bear Hotel. I will miss the vast empty fields of Kidlington which is where the office is. I will miss my quick trip to Kensington Palace where I got lost in space and time imagining a rich history of reign and royalty.

For now, so long and farewell, dear England. I will see you again soon.

I have been asked a lot about travel tips and I hope to be able to share those with you in my next stories.

Cheerio!

CG