Archive for September 2007

Knowing things that you think you didnt know

September 29, 2007

charles handy, our favorite BBC guy, said that finding out that you know what you think you didnt know is not trivial. i agree with him because this week, there were so many things i wanted to learn about, thinking i do not know many things.

first, i dont know how a city can grow in three hundred years since i am only half century old. whenever i go home to lucena, i visit the street where i grew up – zamora street. i see a few familiar houses but there is so much change that i feel i do not belong to the neighborhood anymore. when caloy, my brother told me about the longest street – quezon avenue,i invited him and maxine, his daughter to take a ride and see how long it is. what a pleasant surprise when we started from cotta, one of the oldest ports in quezon province and where a lot of boats used to unload fishes and products from masbate, romblom and other southern tagalog islands. caloy told me that many migrants enter lucena from cotta and dalahican ports but the building where we were standing used to be the garrison used by both spaniards, american and japanese authorities. after talking with the men at the port, i realized that i did not get any local history instruction when i was at the university. caloy told me that we could go as far as tayabas but i wanted to learn more about the life and the people along quezon street ( since i remember my classmates in maryknoll grade school and luzonian high came from cotta). as we reached the train station, i suddenly got nostalgic because our family used the trains to travel to naga during vacation and to manila for special visits. caloy showed me the retired trains with hondagua signs and the former station building that has occupants. he said that hondagua in the early 1930s was a popular destination but i dont even know where it is. all i can see is the rust and the derelict station and rails. i told caloy that in europe, the trains are super slick and the terminals are fabulous, like the rome termini or the paris du nord. i felt sad that we do not have the mass transportation that our people travel when they go overseas. i think that our migrants in europe are lucky because they get to ride the Eurostar and the london-paris express. oh i have so many good memories traveling on trains across europe. ayen used to sleep on train tables when ed and i commuted in the netherlands in the early 90s.

going back to finding out what i dont know but somehow i know – i went to visit sandra torrijos and pray with her since her mother died. we had a long talk on how we care for our mothers when they get ill and what we can do when a parent dies, or cross over to another state. sandra did everything she could to take care for her mother who was diagnosed with leukemia last year. when the final end came, sandra was wondering if her best efforts to ease the pain her mother had was enough for a peaceful crossing. i told her love never fails in helping a person to cross over peacefully. as she described all the things she did for her mother, a slight electric wave went up my spine and somehow i felt a pleasant message. only when i was introduced to sandra’s aunt beth did i learn more about sandra’s mother whose name is sol. then i knew that tita beth knew that all is well. sol torrijos is well on her way to a lovely celestial journey. it is like taking the luxury car of Eurostar and having friends and family accompany you. it is like dining in the best restaurants while the train passes through panoramic valleys. it is like being served the appetizers that wet your appetite. oh, crossing over is simply delightful. if you ask me how i know, then please pray for the safe and joyful arrival of people you know who have just crossed over… then you may know what you think you didnt know… a paradox…

fear of the unknown

September 22, 2007

the more i read the thinker nassim taleb and the theory of black swans, the less i fear the unknown. interesting ideas crop up as you read taleb the essayist. i like his way of explaining abstract ideas with stories of traders who get rich, very rich and then lose their millions in one sweep. i also like the way he writes his chapters on chance and uncertainties and all the citations that he generously share in developing his ideas. taleb grows on me and i hope he is not anti-feminist. though most of the people he cites are male, i may find him a female black swan. when i do, then the unknown is a welcome path for me to navigate.

also today i gave two lectures on learning for the graduate classes of dr. cesar a. villariba, my eminent father who has been teaching for more than 60 years in enverga university in lucena. i chose to talk on lifelong learning and the search for happiness in the morning. in the afternoon, it was tony buzan and mindmapping with some memory exercises on recall and how reviewing material in an hour after delivering it helps people to recall abstract ideas.

i chunked the lessons in a way that my father could tell stories between ideas ( using the 20 minutes input ,then 5 minute breaks, then review after an hour ) and allow the learners to join the storytelling. as i went through the lessons on lifelong learning, i saw that the people were always smiling and nodding. i told myself – i must be lucky and i asked them what they feel. of the nine students who were present, only two said they were not happy. good to know one has a happy audience because i want to deliver my lecture to a happy class. my father was so good with stories to illustrate the notions of happiness and satisfaction , or satificing ( herbert simon on satisfaction and suffice) that we ended the class laughing and energized. how i wish graduate classes could be taught by father and daughter telling stories and making everyone laugh. that is for me a sufficing learning experience. herbert simon defined satisficing as melding “satisfy and suffice” together and it allows us to stop when getting a near-satisfaction solution . this is relevant when we want to optimize every step in life because the alternative to satisficing is to exert an infinite amount of time and energy and that means eternity. in facing the unknown, go for the satisficing path, then you will conquer the fear of the unknown.

hearts and swans

September 21, 2007

today i passed my stress test? hurrah! am glad that at 56 am still blest with a normal heart. but the lesson is not simple. according to the lebanese thinker on randomness, taleb, you must not be fooled by randomness. this means that passing one simple stress test may be good for your emotions but it may be that the day was lucky for me. many people think that just because one is healthy at the time the heart test was conducted, they will be healthy for a long time. taleb says that we should be thinking of probabilities and that we should remain alert to all kinds of probabilities. his book “Fooled by Randomness ” is a difficult book to understand because he takes us to the science of probabilities and uncertainties. as i plowed through his ideas, i begin to appreciate his discussion of the” black swan” – that one may conclude that all swans are white after observing a million swans but somewhere in another place, a black swan is found. that is a rare event but invalidates the conclusion of swans being all white. now for all those who are interested in making money and investing in futures, read taleb.

now, what is so important about believing in a black swan? for me, if i look at the political situation in the philippines, i hope a black swan is found and that all the corruption and plunder money gets to blow up. my friends in the media and in ngos have been wondering how long will the apathy of our people last since there is no strong wave of reaction with the scandals that have been pestering the news. i often wonder about our people ‘s patience and capacity to tolerate unjust and immoral acts of politicians. but upon reading taleb and the theory of the black swan, maybe, just maybe the politicians will find the rise of the black swan.

the other idea that i found interesting is taleb’s habit of avoiding television and reading newspapers. he said that there is so much noise in the news and that journalists are not a good source of signals. he prefers to read books and do his homework by studying risks and uncertainties. the bibliography in his book is impressive because i have not met many of the authors he cites for the simple reason that he is working on scientific ideas and abhors pseudoscience. well, am glad ed bought taleb’s book in our life. now i know i cant afford to believe in swans being all white. it will be good for my heart to think of black swans.

protecting oneself from harm

September 20, 2007

yesterday, my brother had his car window smashed and his laptap almost stolen had we not sense something was wrong outside where the car was parked. the car alarm did not work and we just barely heard a thud. it was a balmy afternoon that turned into a chase and call for help. the incident is almost hilarious because the thief was carrying a fuschia umbrella and was walking casually on our street. then we heard something to get us going out of the gate. phey saw him walking away with the laptap and he shouted. the thief dropped the laptap, umbrella and left his slippers to run. a tricycle driver offered to help and phey went with him to catch the thief while i called for help. as they were entering the main road, kalayaan, my brother sensed that the thief who was nowhere in sight might have sought cover in the slumdwellers place near the market. he had to think twice about entering the area since he wasnt sure if he would be harmed. he saw a police station in the vicinity but the police said to report the incident to the barangay since they saw nothing. well to make the story short, the barangay captain came to investigate and he produced a picture which phey confirmed was the thief. it seems the guy was a snatcher and has already been caught. “so why is he free to roam around smashing car windows?”we asked. the people who gathered around us (we were attracting a small group of men who were trying to be part of the storytelling) said that our neighborhood is a hotspot. the barangay captain asked for the thief’s umbrella and slippers as evidence but in the commotion, some one got the slippers while i gave the umbrella to the captain. lesson, pay attention to the car and don’t park with any valuables inside. but for my state of mind, it’s better that we just got one window bashed and no bodily harm.

so how do we protect ourselves from harm? cell fones, laptaps, even wallets and bags are worth stealing- if you need them to work, carry these things without attracting attention. how? inside pockets for money and fones, usb for digital files & rent or pack your laptap in canvass bags that look inexpensive ( like those green grocery bags). but best of all, be in a gamma synchrony state of mind. that is the highest frequency of the brain, relaxed but alert. you get this by constant meditation. the university of madison tested the monks from tibet and found their brainwaves high on gamma synchrony. there are now many experiments in neuroscience and scientists are studying brain wavelengths with the latest technology. one hypothesis is that imagination and memory are found in the same brain area, and that we should imagine as often as we can to keep our memory robust. now that is a good exercise for those who forget often like me. but what i want is to imagine myself free from harm and my brain waves protecting me from any negative thoughts, from within and from others. i wish we could sense when someone is thinking of harm and already neutralize them with our thoughtfulness or mindfulness (as the budhhists call it). my teacher in tetada kalimasada, mars robosa, is about to teach us the shield energies , where we can be sensitive to certain stimulus and protect us from harm. am looking forward to these lessons. salaam tetada kalimasada.

healing work that women do

September 18, 2007

last night shinette, a psychologist and life mentor, told me that we should share the inner energies we learned to generate in tetada kalimasada with new friends. i agreed and said let’s have a series of healing sessions that allow people to listen to their bodies. i remembered the conversations i had with dom-an manegdeg and bong dela torre ( not a relative of ed) about healing circles and energies. the two young friends came to visit me in the afternoon and they shared the healing work they do. both play the nose flute and want to expand their healing work so that peace can grow across communities.

what really heals people? how does it start? people i know who had cancer realized that their cancer was a wake up call- a call to attend to their own health needs and get help from a community willing to work with them for as long as it took to get healed. not many people get to examine their lives when they are healthy. most of us who feel well do not solicit aid from wellness communities. it is when pain becomes a daily visitor that we become conscious something is in dire need of full attention.

one of the communities that impressed me with its energy is the breast cancer association. last year, luz martinez and i went to fundraise for a friend, itty gaerlan,who has ovarian cancer. luz and i went around asking people to provide us tips on fundraising and susanna george referred us to her women doctors who are part of the breast cancer network. they gave us enough information to organize a cancer q&a forum. the forum generated many queries but the answer to the question why we are the country with the highest breast cancer incidence in Asia was still fuzzy. having found out the causes of cancer, from heredity to diet and lifestyle, we still dont know how much of our poverty and level of human development can explain the cancer epidemic. taleb, a lebanese thinker-trader warned us of being fooled by randonmess, that we should know all the information before concluding what causes what. i have a hypothesis that our health is more than a personal concern and that there is really a social cancer – all the things we do, we drink and we eat – come from the commons. what we do with our soil – we eat. what we do with the air – we breath. so if people do not examine what we do in this life (what socrates call the unexamined life), then appointments with death becomes a daily event. i counted the people who are dear to me who had cancer and i got 25 (most of whom are dead now).

healing and wellness should be our priority now. we start with who we are, what we think, what we do. then we go and help people who need to get well, reflect with them and widen the learning into all the aspects of living. by being with people who are ill, we learn to be compassionate. by being part of a compassionate circle, we heal ourselves and those around us.

marriage is a long conversation

September 14, 2007

today i miss long conversations with ed. ed has been in cebu since tuesday . i was in lucena sunday to wednesday. our marriage has spanned twenty seven years. conversations make our marriage sustainable. when i look back in 1980 at the start of our marriage, i smile at how we worked on a love code. living overseas in rome, amsterdam, utrecht and london led us to having a lot of good conversations, from pillow talks to morning chats. we were surrounded by people who talk a lot. traveling all over the continents meant multiple interactions so we decided that our intimacy would take several forms.

morning hugs and coffee conversations during train rides became a habit. reading books and exchanging reviews until we reach our destinations was another. ayen wasnt born yet so it was easy to carry books and get ed to shop for books. ed is an excellent book shopper – all his trips would reward us with books and magazines. we consumed them with passion. when ayen came into our life, she wondered why ed’s bags were always full of books and documents,”ayan na naman ang mga libro, mas marami pang libro kaysa laruan” (here is father whose bags have more books than toys) she would complain. as she grew up, ayen began to appreciate why Ed was lugging up on books.

pillow talks are our favorite. after a long workday , we would snuggle up and chat about everything, from the people to places that excite us.we would wind up with ideas, projects, people to support and events to organize .

we also arrived at the rule that we would not allow our quarrels ( yes we have our struggles as normal couples) to stay unresolved so we could sleep soundly. if the issue was serious, ed would allow me to get the emotional energies blowing while he listens. i would also follow the same rule – allow him to be angry until he is ready to talk. i usually chatter when upset while ed is ice cold when angry. ed does not explode, but intimidating, like an iceberg about to move out from its moorings.

we have funny and affectionate conversations (of course) . since i became menopausal, my brain would leap into ideas that jumble up my words, like a lateral thinking version. ed would gently unravel them until the insights are coherent. ayen told me that i mix match my words and i wonder why. this is the reason why i blog daily , i told her, to make my hand follow my brain since my tongue is a bit lose. i took to blogging two years ago, earlier than ed who blogged only this year. now we have our virtual conversations, sms, email all rolled into blogging. anais nin said that” we write to taste life twice”. ed and i blog to taste love twice.

lucena 1929-1931

September 14, 2007

This week I borrowed from Carlos Villariba, my brother archivist, an old telephone directory of Quezon province. It was compiled by Monico Songco, the Quezon provincial cashier in 1929. It had interesting items and I spent reading it cover to cover. The directory is so different from what we have now. It starts with a list of all the government senators up to town officials and inspectors (even their drivers are included) up to the profiles of all the towns. It is similar to a provincial census with a yellow page directory . Perusing the pages, the names of all officials and their posts, citizens who have properties worth 5000 pesos, professionals, tinsmiths, lamplighters, tobacco dealers and even cockpit proprietors are enumerated. I tried to find my grandparents names but since they were simple folks, the directory did not carry their names.

The school fund for 1925 in Lucena was reported as P41,679.47 with 17 barrios and a population of 12,108 ( males 6357,females5751 ). I checked how many women professionals were listed and found many male professionals, a few women midwives and teachers but only one woman doctor and one woman lawyer. Women found it difficult then to go to higher studies, much less practice their profession. Other than the names, what I found worth reading was the enumeration of technical and vocational workers, from tinsmiths, butchers, bakers, copra dealers,tailors to telephone operators and the drivers of officials. The towns did honor the common workers and even if they did not own properties above the 5000 peso bracket, they were part of the official community.

I also found the direction in traveling from Manila to Lucena and onward to Gumaca edifying. There was no map, just directions on what to see, what to watch out for and what to do. The assumption of the instruction is that the traveler had enough time and a good sense of direction. It instructed the traveler as if he were driving his own car and just wants to see places in a most relaxing way. For example, upon reaching Los Banos after the long ride from Manila passing 12 towns and watching all kinds of scenery from Pasay to Calamba laguna , the traveler is invited to walk towards the Los Banos Falls and then proceed to the Agriculture College. During that time, it would mean driving the whole day until late afternoon to get to Los Banos. There are all sorts of travel tips to reach Laguna but upon arriving in Quezon, the tone of the instruction changes ,eg. ” the road to Tayabas is first class but the road to Lucena is all down grade “. There is a constant warning for water, not for the driver to drink, but for the radiator to be full of water! The instructions never say anything about how much time it takes to get to Lucena and is very generous with adjectives to places which may be dear to the writer’s heart. Can you imagine being on a business trip in 1929 and take these instructions ?

My objective in reviewing the directory is to find out how much development migrants have contributed to the progress of Lucena. I have a hypothesis that many of the learning resources in Lucena came from different citizens from all over Quezon, Batangas, Laguna and even from Bikol.

In the next blogs, I will share what its yellow pages contain and how colorful life was in 1929. My father was only 6 years old then and my mother wasn’t born yet.


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