To My Best Pal, Who Had Set Her Soul for a Short Departure

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mygeorge

To my beloved Georgina/Jorge,

Two to three weeks flew fast forward from the day of your departure; and ever since I received the text message regarding your short burial, my world — for some instances — had been cased around an inexplicable amount of despair. My family had undergone a state of mourning, and seemingly, Marco, your dearest companion and partner, was not eating a lot for days, and yet  — once upon a time — both of you were classically conditioned to automatically be hungry as soon as you hear the sound of pots and of plastic bags. But you know what? The arriving semester will soon create a larger, inevitable doom, but I do not anymore have that ‘special someone’ whom I can talk with regarding Pokemon and Naruto episodes that I missed and whom I can express rants about my incompetence in school and about my crush who never noticed me. Ouch.

You knew how embarrassed and furious I was when a friend of mine showed me a picture of a guinea pig being experimented for medical purposes. You knew about the night when I barely had enough sleep because of  pictures of specially deep-fried and marinated-then-roasted guinea pigs that were kept to flash before my vision. For me, it was a nightmare, and I thought, “What if either Marco or Jorge are about to be cooked? Well, I would not mind grilling the cook or chef alive instead!”

The family bullied you for having red eyes — one of which turned blind for unknown reasons. I once regretted for not having brought you to a vet, but, to hell with it, why did you not heed to my advice that ‘you mustn’t use Sharingan too much to avoid side effects’?

You witnessed the moments when we were watching Marco and you having this ‘sacred union’ but such will be interrupted because you would notice us peeking. We always wished for a baby to be born, but you never became pregnant. We waited for countless months, but when we all grew tired of waiting, my only consolation to myself was: “Maybe she’s a lesbian.”

I will forever cherish the days I had you in my arms — afraid to let you go, the days we took a bath together and you were trying to flee out of the bucket of water because you felt so cold even though we were gravely plagued by the heat of summer, and the days when I would not bother walking distances to find something for your dinner.

There were moments when I would be mad at you because you were sometimes attempting to fully destroy the boxes that my father had exerted with full effort for it to remain as your sanctuary. I would also be mad at you because of myriad of other petty reasons, i.e. peeing on my face. But despite that, I love you. I love you, along with Marco and Brownie, more than any other animals — or maybe anything — in this world, that I would wish for us to stay together as friends, probably for a lifetime. But sadly and annoyingly, cute rodents have indeed shorter lifespan than greedy politicians and capitalists. Pssh.

I know that this message I am demanding to deliver is by now too late. I regret for not having to be by your side during your last hours. Or maybe, you would not permit me to do so, because you knew that I hate witnessing sudden departures.

But before I finally say my farewell to you, there is this memory that I am sure I would never forget: the very first time you set your feet on the soil and ran around the whole garden by the countryside, as if you were enjoying the first breath of freedom after my father lifted you out from your little, beautiful cage. In that particular moment, I felt so proud when I saw you running as fast as you could and stashing yourself between the rich foliage, as if you want us to play hide-and-seek with you. And as I think of it, relief comes back into my senses, because finally, you experienced the life outside the comfort of four corners during your last days.

And perhaps, this is the time to let you go.

I love you, Georgina. As always.

 

Your proud guinea pig pal,

Josue/Sueju Takeshi


Short Note: My buddy and I never took selfies together. There were several times when I captured photos of her, but the memory card of my cellphone containing such photos was corrupted, and I did not have anymore chance(s) to recover the files. So, I am thanking Guinea Pig Cages for posting this photo on Internet, because this guinea pig indeed resembles my dear Jorge. More power to your blog!

On Fantines, railroads, and perished dreams

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This essay was published as the runner up of the recently concluded online essay writing contest, Imagining My Future,  hosted by Kendii, in partnership with The Immigrant Entrepreneur.  If you wish, you may check my essay at Kendii’s site, through this link: Imagining My Future.

Every morning, by the time sunlight shines and enters my eyes, I am constantly reminded of how exhausted I was the day before, while struggling over the pain cycling within my arms and my knees, as if I did a lengthy fitness routine for hours. Every time I ride the train leading to the university, thoughts of failing constantly reign over my head, while trying to recall the main points of the political and economic books I read over the past weekend.

But then, while I was contemplating about my academic fate and about my social responsibilities, my mp3 player began transmitting a popular jazz tone through my earphones. It was ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ of Les Miserables musical playing all over again; then I harassed the replay button and sang the famous song despite the noisy, torrid environment inside the train. Even if the other commuters were either merely observing or were already judging me, I did not halt my singing, because, for me, that moment was, but destined to release all my negative feelings.

When I pushed the magnetic ticket towards the tiny hole of the ticket gate and pursued a short, successful exit from a 10-minute worth of hell, I recalled Fantine in that particular scene — alone and depressed, wearing rugged clothes, starving and ailing — delivering powerful stanzas with her lungs out, as if that moment could be her last to decry all the curses the world had cost her.

Moreover, at that very moment, I pitied her fate and began rethinking about mine. I began thinking about what had brought me to acquiring great dreams and taking the railroad that is full of inevitable obstacles. This long road, soon, has led me to higher expectations as I conquer each level of serious challenges and eventually, to more paths of reality and uncertainty.

Years before my high school graduation, I cited a variety of careers I wished to make as effective ways to prosper, beginning from public health research or civil engineering to business administration and accountancy; but changes in the course of time also paved way for my advancement in other areas, such as mathematics and literature. I even wrote in our Class Prophecy, which was published at our school’s commencement exercises souvenir program, that I will be a Bangkok-based landscape photographer someday!

But sadly, annoyingly, and unfortunately, in the end, when I decided to choose UP Manila to be a political science major, my ‘dreams’  dashed away in a cold instant. All my desires to solve math and physics problems all my life abruptly perished; and when my first try for love failed, I gave up capturing photons and stopped turning them to high-quality masterpieces.

My first semester in UP flew by; and my only consolation for not landing over my preferred study track was the strong fact that I am studying in the country’s premier state university. The prestige kept me within the rooms of happiness, but when winds of second semester entered swiftly like a thief, I am not anymore satisfied with whatever I was studying. And as I spent sitting on the same wooden chair day by day, my desire to shift to another degree program —and even to transfer to another campus — bloomed, after which I tried to garner the grades necessary to fulfill my aim.

But little did I realize that my almost two years of stay in the university had been instrumental for me to visualize my future self and that the people around me had been supporting me for whatever I truly desire. My degree program and my university indeed had been my inspiration to spark change in the society I currently live in. I remember that sometimes, my friends ask me, “When will you be transferring to BS Math or BS Biology?” but I most of the time respond with only either a nod or a smile. Whenever I feel the hardships of life, I remember how the farmers of Hacienda Luisita fight for their rights to land ownership, despite the fear that has been haunting them for decades. Whenever I feel oppressed, I remember the Aeta children of Mabalacat, Pampanga, who welcomed our medical mission-team with open arms, without the thought that we might be just another line of oppressors, preparing to take everything that they have, including their identity. Whenever I feel sick due to the sickening environment inside and outside the campus, I remember the dying patients, whose voices are seldom heard, inside the Philippine General Hospital, and the ailing children and elderly, who travel distances to reach health centers or hospitals, residing at the country’s far-flung areas.

Thus, after several series of realizations, I became more determined to finish this undertaking. I began planning to enter medical school, to practice community medicine upon graduation, and to finally serve my fellowmen.

But, what if one day, I would be like Fantine whose dream never came true? What if everything would be just a dream – a dream never fulfilled? What if every challenge I encounter along the road would soon lead to my downfall?

Sometimes, I pray to God that I do not want to suffer the same fate Fantine had experienced. Perhaps, I may sometimes feel ostracized because of the career path I chose, but I know someone out there is willing to help me out whenever I ought to surrender. The tuition and other fees in medical school are probably high, but now, I am studying very hard to maintain the grade necessary to obtain a scholarship. The road towards my graduation and entrance to medical school may be tough, but I am determined to do my very best, because the true of state of our nation serves as a calling for me to serve the under-served and represent those who are often neglected by the government.

Perhaps, people around me may never be proud or contented for my choices that are divergent from theirs, but I hope that in the near or far future, all of our hearts will soon converge, like the railroads of a train terminal, in pursuit of a common, beneficial goal.

I hope that someday, Fantines can no longer be found on the streets and begging for alms and sympathy of the passers-by. I envision a world that is unified in curing the diseases of our society, in raising the discourse, and in building better relationships for all people, regardless of our countless differences.

 

When learning ceases

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“If I could use a time machine, I would go back to the time when the grading system was invented and I would destroy it. Because of its invention, teaching ceased to be a calling and became a profession. I can only imagine the amount of potential we kill every time teachers give a student a grade of 5. A grade is but a number. Never let anyone judge you by a number, much less yourself. The day you start caring about your grades is the day you stop learning. A card of excellence is just a piece of paper. It will rot. But the knowledge you get because you wanted to learn—that’s yours forever, or you could pass it on.”

Link: When learning ceases.

I can’t write, but…

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I can’t write, but….

Metamorphosis

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1012017_629341987086082_270003806_nI have not heard of anything about my Master for weeks now, and this is mainly because I am too busy burning drops of midnight oil since I have entered college, and only through Facebook we both can possibly communicate; but I only use the said social networking site for obtaining announcements and handouts that I needed for school. And this attitude may be very well linked to what she always says that my “laziness” in a selfie society is something I inherited from her, and that my “diligence” is purely concentrated in academic works. Through these days I have been thinking of her and the upcoming World Teachers’ Day, and I imagine myself going upstairs to the stage to give her the “Best Teacher of the Millennium” award because she deserves to be given with such title.

But beyond the numerous and immeasurable recognitions she had received, this woman whom we call as Mastershifu has touched our hearts by teaching us the greatest lessons of life, and having her as our mentor is one of the biggest chances of a lifetime.

In June 2010 my very first day as a sophomore began, and everyone, like what was expected, started introducing themselves with each other and I, as much as possible, tried to hide behind my shells because only in that way I was sure that I may appear invisible in their eyes. I only knew a few of them, and those few, like me, were from heterogeneous sections. I was a taciturn, young fellow then, and what I kept in my mind was to remain as a victor in this intellectual Hunger Games.

In the middle of the disturbing noise I heard a slow, tapping sound of shoes heading to the direction of the room where we were into. As the tapping sound approaches the door, my classmates dropped hints to keep their mouths under their own control by staring at each other. After a while, a soft yet deafening sssssshhhhhh dominated the still air, and everyone grew silent.

A woman appeared by the door and slowly made her way straight to the teacher’s table. She drew out a piece of chalk and wrote something on the board; I quietly yawned and I took the chance to close my eyes when suddenly everyone laughed.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” I asked my seatmate.

She did not answer and continued chuckling. I became very curious that I fought the drowsiness that had run through my veins, but I never understood a thing except for her name.

A month had passed and everyone had already established the adjustment with each other’s presence. The bell rang, which signaled the start of our Biology class, and I was sitting there, in the classroom, because my ultimate goal was to acquire the grade that would surely please my parents. I had always stood up for my conviction that high school was no other than a torture chamber where our teachers clouded our heads by gassing us daily with useless thoughts and that graduation was a more formal term for “scheduled freedom” from the complete list of terrors.

A week after, we submitted to her our first journal entries, and when she returned them to us, I noticed a tiny sheet of paper, stapled at the corner of the first, empty leaf of my journal. But instead of reading the whole thing, I had decided to ask a friend about this.

“What is with this paper?” I abruptly asked her.

“It’s the story of the butterfly,” her instant response.

I did not throw my eyes on that paper for I only knew that it was just the similar, old story of how a mother butterfly lays its eggs, giving Mother Nature the opportunity to take care of them until the day arrives that these eggs will be more parent butterflies.

The following day I was tempted of knowing what the paper really contains, so like a wimpy kid I little by little lifted the cover and flung my sight between the lines.

In most websites, the content and the moral of the said story were indeed the same and clear, and it went like this:

A child found a cocoon of a butterfly, and one day, a small opening appeared. He watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggles to force its body through the little hole, and he noticed that it had no more progress and it could not go any further. And the child decided to help the butterfly, drew out a pair of scissors and cut off the other edges of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The child continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

But his expectation never happened, and the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around; it was never truly able of flying.

And the story I had trivialized suddenly served as a beacon of light which guided me out of the pit of my dark attitudes, while slowly eradicating my pretexts against the beauties and advantages of learning.

From that day on I appreciated Biology in spite of my inclination in Mathematics; I had exerted all my efforts on the former while I showered all my hatred and frustrations towards the latter. I attended a series of “Science Coaching” and for weeks I submerged my head between the pages of the book due to upcoming Bio competitions.

The third quarter of that school year was marked by the cold atmosphere brought about by the northeast monsoon winds as Christmas season goes nearer. However, my performance too, froze and this was evident when I failed our first long exam in Genetics, in fact, I got the lowest mark in the class. When we were handed over with our answer sheets, a statement in red ink shattered my confidence: Explain to me why you failed. I wanted to explain that I did study the night before the said test, but I knew that that explanation will never show my sincerity. Instead, I had mustered all my remaining courage like what the Green Lantern Hal Jordan did to defeat the Parallax who insists and feeds with one’s fear. In the same period also I got embarrassed when her former students, after their break time, always waved their hands from the backdoor, and I found it disturbing.

“I want them with their heads off,” I whispered to myself, as I was detaching my attention from that day’s topic. It was not until my junior year that I had expressed my guilt towards my wickedness and that I also wanted to experience the same waving-hands scenario. But surely I will not wash my hands like what Pontius Pilate did to show his innocence over Christ’s death.

Both in the classroom and in her home she told us of how one should understand his own personal legends, as depicted by an Andalusian shepherd Santiago from the famous novel,The Alchemist. And when she first asked me what I wanted myself to be someday ­­—

“I want to become a writer or a doctor,” I confusedly muttered.

Day by day it became like this, and Biology is not only anymore the study of life, but also the study of what a contented and meaningful life really is. At the end of the chapters of my sophomore year I landed at the peak of our Bio class and I challenged myself for another friendly competition. And even though my life was circulated with how many f(x)’s I have found a solution or how well I have written articles, grades no more defined my character. Throughout the course of my life I have committed mistakes, but that does not mean I am not a human, and humans are always vulnerable. In fact, no one may coat his personal rusts with colorful paints. Thus, the vulnerability of humans makes them prone to failures.

But despite the inevitable reality that I had been a living sculpture of negativity, she stood up as a Don Quixote to his squire Sancho, and taught him to face his opponent with courage and optimism, no matter how strong it is. And the most wonderful part is that she gave me every reason for me to compete not only with others, but also with my own self.

I will cherish our first day in Bio class and how she opened the topic about love and how she presented an emphasis to love of learning. I understand now, that everyone has their own God-given potentials, and that one’s love and passion for everything he does is responsible for unleashing of those potentials.

Five months ago when I at last graduated, she repeated the same question which she asked me when I was still in second year — what do you want to be someday?

“I want to become someone … someone who inspires a lot,” I replied, without any signs of hesitations. But my original objective was to inform her that I really want to be like her, who became a role model to her colleagues and students.

When I read again the story of the butterfly, I was marveled to know that I was once that egg which only sought of freeing itself from its shell for its selfish needs. I crawled also as a destructive caterpillar and adapted with my new environment. Finally, I came out as a young butterfly after all the hardships and shortcomings I had surpassed within my own cocoon.

I had also learned that one’s impulsive attempts of evading the challenges of life before giving them the opportunity to mold his character is no other than a butterfly which hurriedly urged itself out of its chrysalis or cocoon — it will never be anymore capable of flying.

And lastly I completely changed my personality to that of a beautiful butterfly. A butterfly may have an attractive and vivid pair of wings, but these wings do not entitle it to boast its uniqueness; moreover, its low flight will always remind us to practice humility.

For the past few weeks Mastershifu and I, her dragon warrior, have not seen each other, and in those days I could have notified her at least of what is currently happening in my life. We dreamt also of going to Japan but I knew that it will not be the plane tickets which will take us there, but our faith towards the fulfillment of that dream.

I know that the word which best represents the butterflies’ timely change was metamorphosis. But I am not the fictional character Mariposa who has the power to give that word its meaning, but I guess that our real and only metamorphosis emerges when our hearts truly desire for it to happen.


How about you? Have you written a dedication (poetry, personal essay, or short story) to your beloved teacher(s)?

At a snail’s pace

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I used the snail as a fresh metaphor to describe the progress of our country in terms of different aspects and the most recent news, about our country’s average Internet speed. Photo Courtesy of Google.

This youngblood article of mine was published in the opinion page of the May 27, 2014 issue of the broadsheet, Philippine Daily Inquirer .

Almost a decade ago, during my grade school years, a typical summer day with my companions meant gathering together and roaming around Fort Bonifacio (now called Bonifacio Global City, but we usually called it “Kampo”). It would be a bit of luck if the sky was filled with cumulus clouds, which at least could reduce the threat of a torrid, almost deadly, atmosphere.

The main conflict of my character as a chief explorer of our group was how to escape the very sight of my parents because they always wanted me to stay at home and hit the books. I was thankful for the highly-popular afternoon show at that time (which was also their favorite), for it gave me the chance to run off as quickly as possible.

The narrow street leading to Kampo was near ours, so I had to improve my speed and agility whenever I learned that either my father or my mother was chasing after me. The street was sandwiched by rows of old wooden houses with thin steel roofs, and the murkiness of the water in the small canals indicated the presence of pollution in the urban area. But my mind and my body were already habituated to the stinky odors and the peculiar marks of a poor community due to my desperate goal of eluding these two “house cops.”

At the end of the street, my friends would be patiently waiting for me to arrive; exhilaration would grow among us as one by one we saw one other’s shadow. A challenge I had to overcome was climbing the enormous gray wall facing Kampo. It was a piece of cake, but honestly and ironically, up until now I still have a hard time climbing up to a sturdy branch of a small mango tree. I believe it is the adrenaline in our body that allows us to behave like ninjas even for a while.

After the struggle with the obstacles, without any more decision-making, we would automatically travel along the hot pavements and roads. Often we went up the hill and gathered wood and other materials for a tent. An inquisitive boy, I “hunted” for tadpoles and my favorite mollusks and put them in separate jars. Whenever a traffic marshal appeared, we would run as fast as we could, if possible ignoring all, even the itchiness inflicted by the tall talahib.

One time when I was caught, my excuse was that I was conducting an experiment for a science project. And I murmured to myself: “You’ve always been moving like a snail.”

A month after my encounter with the marshal—sometime around June—I did the same routine by myself. But this time, neither of my parents blocked my way, and they were no longer surprised by the jars of snails I brought home and stashed under the plastic dining table. (I abruptly stopped catching tadpoles when frogs began multiplying inside our compound. It was indeed a chore to try to drive them out completely.) As I keenly watched a snail moving to and fro in the miniature muddy environment that I had created, my father would tease me and laughingly say: “Snail soup will be your breakfast tomorrow morning.”

I actually never did a thorough study of these mollusks. I only observed them slowly flashing back and forth from the corners of my eyes for I was not an expert in malacology.

The years that quickly flew with the changing wind have transformed me into an older version of who I was 10 years ago. The hills where I had found the snails are no longer there. The grasses cannot anymore contain the small white butterflies I once chased and enclosed within my hands. In short, modernization began to revolutionize the area.

Recently I visited a park in Bonifacio Global City and my heart hopped with amazement and joy when I saw and observed a snail hiding itself behind a plant’s tiny, leafy stem.

Suddenly I realized that our country’s progress has been moving at a snail’s pace.

From all over the world, we have been crowned as one of the slowest in almost everything. We are known for having slow service in government agencies because of the employees being underpaid, and the long lines in their offices are obvious evidence. Who can forget the sluggish pace of justice for the victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre and their families, as well as those in other cases? And most of us may see a development in a certain part of the metropolis, but does that development include and benefit the urban poor?

Some of our not-so-honorable government officials keep insisting that our country is rapidly progressing. They also crow that the economy is improving due to the increments in our GDP and GNP, and that some surveys indicate that the poverty rate is declining. But we are saddled by the burden of thieves in the government, who, while professing to be public servants, are servants of their own greed and luxury.

Reality will always be reality, and the more we rely on statistics than the actual conditions of our countrymen, the more we deviate from the actuality of their conditions and their being trapped in a slow, chaotic society.

A recent piece of news is that the Philippines, with an average Internet speed of 3.6 mbps, is ranked the slowest among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and 155th of 190 countries in the world. Some of us who easily get riled by this type of connection express anger and disappointment through wordy rants and meaningful protests.

But I know that being branded as the “slowest” is no longer new to our ears.

I have wondered even before whether the snail possesses the virtue of patience because it has to take a long time to crawl from one side to another. I can see it also in my countrymen: that although we progress ever so slowly, like a snail, we still manage to adapt to our conditions and live. But I know that patiently waiting and thinking and acting like a snail will never be enough; it is the perfect time for us to find a long-term solution and speak up for our rights.

I am hoping that someday we will all manage to finish this race at the end of this empty street, but not anymore at a snail’s pace.

Link: Youngblood-Philippine Daily Inquirer 

Sueju Takeshi 武