Valentines 2018

Valentine’s Day is so commercialized, I scoff! I turn my nose up at the displays, at the flower market (although honestly I love the flower market). I breeze by the chocolates (cause I have a huge stash at home). Like a Valentine’s Scrooge. Scroogette.

It’s lovely though to see all the posts, the bouquets, the sweet surprises, the declarations of love and faithfulness on social media. I’m a real romantic at heart, and it’s only now that I’ve found myself dating a guy who is just as cheesy as I am.

We didn’t go out or have dinner. It’s not our thing. We didn’t even meet up.

For the record, the men I’ve dated were usually nonchalant about this commercialized holiday. I was okay with it. Sometimes. I occasionally had to demand flowers, the way really bad deities demand sacrifice. I would have also been okay with meat and jewels, and food! My dad though, who is a sweetheart, always gives me flowers.

But wow there’s such a wonderful thrill, when your phone rings and it’s a delivery service and the flowers are almost as tall as you! “It took them an hour to make your bouquet,” he says when I call to thank him. THIS MAN. I swear. Okay, enough of the cheesy. I’m going to go put these flowers in a vase now.

viber image




January Wary

  1. you were sick somewhere, and i was worried. i’d gotten up in the middle of the night. i don’t remember where i was, only that the hotel room curtain was green, that i didn’t feel clean, that i needed to shower in the middle of the night. but you never answered your phone.
  2. i could feel you sleeping across the cities, and remember the dark, easy night of your hair, the shape of your sprawl across our shared sheets — the wind in the trees, the way the guava tree gently dropped its fruit on the roof — i remember how at night i stayed up, a guardian of our little world
  3. you talked in your sleep. you didn’t say anyone else’s name, you didn’t say a single thing that had any meaning.
  4. once we went to 12,000 children’s birthday parties. i got tired and bought the same gift for everybody. the parties all felt the same, and there was always cake, and frosting, but there weren’t always balloons. I was annoyed because you never chipped in or bothered to buy a gift, and most of the children belonged in one way or another, to you.
  5. i hold a grudge against you. i nurse it. keep it tucked next to me like a pet snake.
  6. i got tired, and you still lie to people about why.
  7. around this time, one year, we had our final fight.
  8. i do not regret that fight. it was the best fight i could have ever had.
  9. but i still blame you.

Gala (To Wander)

In a quiet room, in an old bungalow in a mountain town, I align my arms and present them to a man named Noy. I present my arms to him and he tells me “Gala ka kasi, (You wander, that’s why).

He tugs at my fingers and shows me. My arms are not aligned. It could be my posture, or the way I stand. It could be that the human body is asymmetrical at best, but he tugs again.

Then, he holds my head in place with one hand and massages the front of my shoulder with the other.

The pain is spectacular. It’s like a spaceship exploding in space.

He says “Say your name to cast it out!” Gesturing towards the door, he tells me. “Sige! Shout it out.”

The two Belgian kids with me are watching in horrified fascination. I say my name, and flick my arms towards the door. My cousins, two boys who are also watching, waiting their turns, are laughing at me.

Noy measures my arms again. “Gone.” He says, satisfied. “Next!” He slaps my upper arm and I’m off on my merry way. I’m covered in oil and I feel like I’ve been in a fight, but I feel better. The pain that’s been nagging at me is gone.

Wandering Gets You in Trouble

Gala means to wander aimlessly, but there’s a connotation that implies that you, as a wanderer, are the one who is aimless, and not the path you take. Gala is treading where you shouldn’t tread, stepping off well-worn forest paths into the actual forest, which is far deadlier.

Filipino animist belief is rife with spirits, dwarves (known as dwendes), cryptids like the Tikbalang and beautiful benevolent fairies known as diwatas. They love to bless you or play tricks on you, especially if you help them, or offend them.

For example, it is said Mount Pulag, the highest peak in Northern Luzon, is guarded by a tikbalang, who will go after you if you litter. By go after you, it means he (Tikbalangs are usually dudes), shows up in your dreams and shouts at you.

Tikbalang The Philippine Demon Horse Commons

In many cultures, crossing paths with beings brings luck. The kind of luck they bring to you really depends on the mood of the being, and the disposition of the wanderer. In many cases, they aren’t evil per se, but mischievous. They adhere to the rules of fairytales. Keep Neil Gaiman’s Instructions in mind or you can end up possessed, riddled with boils or lost forever in the land beyond.

Wandering can cause you pain

Noy says the pain in my body — my bad shoulder, the bad sleep, the weight I gained, all come from my habit of wandering. “You disturbed them, and they disturb you back.”

He pauses. “You are prone to this, being followed by spirits.”

He’s not the first one to say so. As a child, a hilot (healerused to come by our apartment in Makati. She would say the same thing – spirits follow you, they dwell in you, they are attracted to you. 

She would always start sessions with a divination, a way to figure out if there was a spirit near me, or around me.

She would give a painful massage with her scented oils (the one she preferred was sticky, and  left stains on my green bedspread). She would drip candle wax into a bowl of still water and look at what formed to — “Ah, this dwende is following you.” The water would trap the spirit, and she would slip the bowl under my bed to finish the job.


It was a weird, and also strange way to explain why people fall sick or have pain. They like you, so they make your life painful.

The second culprit of pain is the cold in your veins – known as lamig. Lamig was responsible for the cracking, popping sounds that come when a hilot adjusts your body.

Gala makes you sick — so they say

It sounds like nonsense. I never really thought so, but like most Filipinos, I thought it was just something people believed in. Then, in my final year of high school (this was in 2002) I became ill. I had migraines that lasted for months. I’m not talking about the occasional migraines here and there. I’m talking about a forever migraine, an octopus of a headache that stayed with me forever. I woke up with it, ate with it, went on vacations with it throbbing in the background.

The neurologist called it status migronosus  – a forever headache. I was on anti-epileptic drugs, Xanor, Naprelan, every painkiller I could get my hands on. We couldn’t figure out what caused it.

The drugs weren’t working, and my mother decided to try alternative medicine. Acupuncture, chiropractors, diet changes, meditation. These sessions persisted until my first year of college.

One weekend, a year or so after the migraines started, we drove to a small house in La Trinidad, Benguet. La Trinidad is a valley nestled right in the middle of the mountains like someone jammed a bowl into sand. The mountains rise up beside it, and all you see are fields, and skies, and houses perched precariously on the mountainside like all these people decided to take off all their hats at once and strew them about. The town is cut through by long straight highway flanked and the best public market where the trucks stop after ambling down from the mountains.

Ambling being the right word, since these trucks were spectacularly slow, and overloaded with vegetables, or manure, chickens or pigs from the mountains that span the northern tip of the Philippines. We meandered our way to a small house, in a side street, with chickens in the yard and a laundry line strung up with freshly washed clothes.

The interior of the house was full of statues of saints, and candles that flickered. The hilot this time was a big woman, and we waited quietly, sitting on monobloc chairs, me dozing fitfully since my medication turned me into an almost narcoleptic.

Candle lights (565924507)

My turn came up, and I sat in front of her. Most masseuses and therapists went straight for my back. My acupuncturist went straight for my face and stuck needles in my cheeks and jaw.

She looked at me, running her thumb over my temple. “It’s someone in your family. Someone has bad intentions towards your family, and she is paying for it.” She was talking to my mother.

Instead of pressing on my back, she pressed on my pectoral muscle, above my heart. The pain blinded me. The only time I ever felt that much pain was falling off a skateboard and slamming the back of my head into the pavement.

She massaged me for fifteen minutes. “No payments,” she told my mom. “Buy a candle for the saint, light it and pray.”

On the way home, I told my mom. “The pain went away, for just a minute.” It was the first time I had been pain-free in a year.

Two sessions later, my migraines were gone. They’ve largely stayed gone, over the years. Occasionally, I will get a blinding migraine and be unable to go to work. Once every few months is better, compared to everyday, and always.

I’m still gala. I still wander into places I shouldn’t. There’s a part of me that still thinks it’s an old wives tale. But when I feel sick, or my body is in pain, I still call a hilot, or a healer before taking a pill.



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Odd Encounters 4

“I like your tattoo. Is it real?” We’re in the middle of a noisy conference hall. My feet already hurt, and I’m not even wearing pumps. My skirt is a little too tight. She has long straight hair, an earnest beautiful face, winning smile. She looks like a Filipina soccer mom.

I always want to say no, not real. I like to rotate temporary tattoos. It’s tempting. I forget people don’t always like tattoos, or seeing them. “Yes.”

We talk about tattoo work and color. Tattoo colors are different colors. They are black and gray. Colored. Watercolor. “It fades,” she says. “After a few years, if you’re not careful. Keep out of the sun.”

“I have one too.” She says. It’s secret. Most women tend to get tattoos in secret places: hip, rib, back of leg, top of thigh. Other women tend to get tattoos in small places: wrist, ankle, the tiny place just under the back of your neck, the tip of your spine. “But I don’t show the others.” Conservative culture sometimes makes for conservative rebellion.

We continue to wait for the meeting to go on break. It’s hard to be different here. They remember differences, even after the years pass: the girl with blue hair, the two people who kissed in the parking lot (but they were married to different people), the Japanese man who went mad in his office, shut himself in. This, that.  They call you siga, like you wade into things to wage war. I think of the dozen tattoos I seriously wanted, and how they lurk under my skin, waiting.

“If I was a bit…” I want to say brave, or dumb, but being brave or dumb isn’t defined by the body art you wear, or the armor you carry. “Crazier, I guess. I would have covered my arms now.” I make this gesture, like pulling on sleeves.

She tells me about her friend — always a friend, the ultra Amazon, tattooed goddess type friend. I wanted to be that girl, I want to tell her but I don’t. I don’t really know this woman. For a moment there, I even forgot her name.


After the Life Altering Break-Up (henceforth dubbed LABU). I went through the mandatory soul-searching Activities.

I drank a lot of bad craft beer and a few good ones, a lot of whiskey, oodles of Black Label, and Double Black. I ran a 10k, tried a few new hobbies, and gave up some others.

Once, in an effort to acquire [redacted], I met up with  L –, a good friend from Baguio at a nearby mall. L — played guitar very well, but also sold [redacted] on the side for extra cash.  As I waited by the tiny Ferris Wheel, listened to the inane loop of children’s songs (these places always seem to have children nursery rhymes sung in little irritating voices). I thought. Hurrah! This is my life. My friend showed up next to me the way spies do in movies, materializing from the nether.

“Uy.” Followed by a friendly shove. L — was gaunt, but carried a beer belly around like a favorite kid.

“Beer tayo?” My treat, since I was buying.


Sometimes when I look back at periods in my life they come back like snapshots.

There was this one sad/happy day when I went to eat with A — at this cute little restaurant in Taft. It was raining, I think, but I don’t really remember. I don’t remember the food because I spent most of the meal with my head on the table, crying. I don’t remember why  (we usually have a purpose, like a gig or an inuman) we met up, but that wasn’t really important.

A lot of the snapshots involve cab drivers. Mostly because I wasn’t driving in the city yet and Manila has snarly, horrid traffic that gets exponentially worse as the weather worsens.

I once sat through a terrific lecture from this old cab driver who happened to be probably the most devoted member of Iglesia ni Kristo. First, he tried to invite me to service. When I demurred, he said. “Iha, sa simbahan mo mahahanap true love mo.*” He proceeded to tell me about his first wife, who passed away and how he met his second wife, and how lucky he was in love.

I was really sad when I got home that day, let me tell you that.

The next week or so, I was stuck in three hour traffic with an utterly insane cab driver who told me how he caught his wife cheating.

He had been deeply suspicious of an affair between wifey and neighbor, who was also one of his closest friends. It was his birthday. They had a little celebration, which became a drinking session for the adults. In time, the number dwindled as various party goers said goodbye until only the three of them remained.

Kuya Driver feigned extreme drunkenness and told them that he was tired and needed to sleep, but that they could keep drinking if they wanted. His wife even tucked him into bed and gave him a good night kiss.

Imaginin mo yun!”**

An hour later, he caught them in-flagrante delicto, on the sofa in the living room. The neighbor ran for his life, disappearing so fast he left his pants and shirt behind.

He then proceeded to drag his wife out of the house to beat her senseless in front of all their neighbors. So badly he knocked out most of her teeth! The guy was also their neighbor, and it turned out everybody knew about the affair except him.

During this cab ride, I was mostly quiet, except the horrified gasps that kept coming out of my mouth. I kept wishing that I hadn’t forgotten my headphones at the office or engaged this particular driver in conversation at all.

I think he noticed, because he tried to console me with: “I had her teeth fixed, don’t worry.”


* You will find your true love in a church. or more colloquially, I was mostly evil and wouldn’t find a good man in a bar, so I better like save myself by hanging around in a church. 

**Imagine that! 

mix tapes – the cranberries

In third grade, we moved to Manila from our little city perched on the mountain.  It was the middle of summer and I had never realized how hot a city could be before. As an added insult to injury, my sisters and I somehow managed to contract lice at the same time. After a couple of Kwell baths and extensive hair-combing, my mom had had enough and decided to simply cut off my waist-length hair. (As an adult I somehow got lice from a public bus, and Kwell made a reappearance in my life. But later, I had more patience, and I didn’t lop all my hair off.). Manila also had minimal trees, like some non-tree lover had made an executive decision in the past to simply not let them exist.

School was horrid, especially at first. I was used to smaller, Montessori-style classes where I could freely leave my classroom to go play Chinese Checkers with this blind kid who would also leave his classes to play guitar in the principal’s office.  This didn’t fly well at my new, strict, Catholic school.

I was also a probinsyano, which is kind of the equivalent of a redneck from Redneckville moving to New York. Like most Baguio kids, I spoke too much English and mixed it with a local dialect, Ilocano (a social faux pas, to always say kwan, which is more of a punctuation, than an expression if anything else). I could barely speak Tagalog. I had short hair, which wasn’t allowed. I was too nerdy, too eager, too something. I was also, and still am, gullible as all hell.

I felt bad because everyone was listening to Ace of Base and Wooden Heart and songs I had no idea existed. My music education was almost entirely composed of Disney and my parent’s extensive  CD collection. I had just discovered the Cranberries, and I loved them.  I remember bringing the CD to a school show and tell and a classmate, derisively asking, “Ano yan? Baduy.”



I did not like Zombie, which would later be the hit that they would be remembered for. The music video made me uncomfortable, but the album itself is still quite a classic. I’ve grown to like the song, but anyone who sings it during karaoke sessions instantly loses cred. 

This album (which I recently listened to again) revealed sadder songs like Everything I said and Twenty-One. During long trips home to Baguio, we would sing it in the car with my parents, For this reason, I occasionally like to play it on when I travel alone.


Market Trips

The best kind, where you can take photos and look forward to later eating.


The market was next to a line of seafood restaurants and along Manila Bay.



Select what you like, how many kilos of this and that, have them cook it for you and then chow down.

I love markets, the glistening rows of fish and squid, the lobster tanks, the shrimp.



(The eating, later, was also delicious.)