I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My 26 Authors for The 2010 A to Z Book Reading Challenge

Alvarez, Julia
Byatt, A.S.
Chabon, Michael
Dunning, John
Enright, Anne
Fowles, John
Hoffman, Alice
Irving, John
Kerouac, John
Le Guin, Ursula
Mayle, Peter
Naipaul, V.S.
Okri, Ben
Pynchon, Thomas
Q - need suggestions. I've already read Quindlen
Rushdie, Salman
Sebold, Alice
Tartt, Donna
Updike, John
Vonnegut, Kurt
Wolfe, Tom
X - This is the challenge -- to find an author whose surname starts with X
Y - need suggestions; I've already read Yoshimoto
Zola, Emile

Monday, December 28, 2009

The A to Z Challenge

Every morning, twin brothers Guilt and Failure wake me up. I stretch a little and my blurry eyes are drawn to the vision and object of my guilt and failure -- a floor-to-ceiling shelf crammed with dead trees and millions of words. And that's just the shelf of fiction. It is a tower to procrastination and rabid acquisition. A tower of nearly a thousand books, more than half of which, unread. Unread by me, at least, because some were bought used. I want to remedy that.

The books are arranged alphabetically according to the authors' surnames. Some authors have multiple books, so it would seem that those are my favorite authors. I guess they are. They're my favorite authors when it comes to buying books. I haven't necessarily had any empirical basis for saying I love their work. I haven't read anything they have written. I want to remedy that.

Yes, I buy more books than I can read. I enjoy reading, but I guess shopping is a much easier and less time-consuming task. So I have a TBR pile of crazy proportions. I want to remedy that.

My remedy is to read at least 26 new authors in 2010. By new, I mean authors I haven't read yet. I will focus on fiction, and I will do my best to take only books that are already in my shelf. Except for a couple of letters near the end of the alphabet, I think I have enough to go from A to Z.

To read 26 new authors from A to Z, in that order --that is 2010's reading challenge. I will do this alone, but I hope there will be people out there facing the same overwhelming TBR situation who would want to join me and make this experience more more fun and motivational.

It is daunting but doable. It is intimidating, but it will invigorate your reading life. Do this with me!

Here's my author list: http://gegeflipspages.blogspot.com/2009/12/my-26-authors-for-2010-to-z-book.html

So, here are the details of the A to Z Reading Challenge:

Goal: To read 26 authors with surnames from A to Z between January 1 to December 31, 2010.

I will focus on fiction authors I have not read before. But you might have different goals and limitations, so you can choose how you're going to interpret the above challenge.

FAQ (thanks to Deborah for allowing me to steal her format)

Do I have to read alphabetically from A to Z?
Hmm. Ideally, yes. It gives you a system and an order to follow. That was my original plan. But I anticipate you might have to read other books at certain times like for other challenges or for your book club discussions, so this rule is very bendable. I, myself, will try to read from A to Z but will most likely deviate from the plan quite a bit.

Can I base it on the author's first name instead of the surname?
Sure. Your call. You might decide to use the first names for all the books, or all surnames, or a combination of both. Just don't count the same book and same author twice. For example, if you use Zadie Smith for Z, you cannot list her for S.

Are audiobooks and ebooks allowed? How about graphic novels?
Yes! Any format will be allowed for this challenge.

Are nonfiction books allowed?
Why, yes, of course.

Do I need to buy the books for the challenge?
You don't HAVE to buy them unless you want to. You can get them from the library, borrow from friends, use your own copies.

May I reread a book I've read before 2010?

Because this goal is about making a serious dent on your TBR piles, rereads are not ideal. But then again, whatever rocks your boat.

Do I have to write any reviews?

Reviews are not required, but sharing your reviews makes the experience more fun and interesting.

Can these books be used for other challenges?
Sure, why not?

How do I participate?
Just leave comments below with links to your blog posts about The A to Z Challenge. Include a list of authors you're aiming to read in 2010. Throughout the year, periodically, update through your blog, and leave comments here. Feel free to right click on the image above to post on your blog. I'm also using a Mr. Linky feature so you can send me your URLs.

What if I don't have a blog? Can I still participate?
Sign up at http://www.shelfari.com/groups/48066/about and participate in the thread - there you can list the books you have read and plan to read.

Are there prizes for people who complete the challenge?
Yes! The satisfaction of making a serious dent on your TBR pile, the enjoyment of reading, and the fun of discovering authors. I also didn't set up a complicated point system because, well, it's complicated. I also truly believe that reading itself is the reward.

But I am considering giving prizes to the best reviews. Let me think more about how to make this more exciting for all of us.

I hope the above FAQ covers everything you need to know to join and enjoy this challenge. Let's read more, learn more this 2010!!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Required Reading

One of the things that would surprise my teachers, if they would remember me at all, is that I'm into books, that I'm into reading big time. You see, I was a bad student. I was one of those who could pass, sometimes excel in, subjects without ever having to study. I spent my times in class doodling and designing my classmates' prom dresses and my time after classes doing everything that did not resemble studying. I could pass certain subjects without ever having to tear through the text book's shrinkwrap. By March, when the schoolyear was about to end, my books would be pristine and my notebooks practically empty.

I liked reading then. As a kid, I went through all 56 Nancy Drew titles. When adolescence struck, I was the precocious one who would pilfer my mom's Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldons and bring them to school so that my classmates and I could learn about the facts of life. Can you blame us? We had to wait for two more years before bio class, when we could learn about making babies; we had to satisfy our curiosity or forever think one could get pregnant by sitting on a chair with a boy when you had your period. We had to rely on Professor Harold Robbins to tell us which goes where and how. The humongous dictionary in the library supplied us with the vocabulary to supplement what Prof. Robbins could not explain in detail. Boy, do I digress. Where were we? Ah, books. Then, of course, I went through the Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High phases. So, I wouldn't say I disliked reading back then.

But I hated required reading. This aversion must have been caused by the trauma of having to plod through Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. For somebody with issues with delayed gratification, this was a painful read. A real drag that made me promise to myself that I would never let my teachers tell me what to read.

Maybe it's also because I never really bothered to write down our assignments. So, I just never knew which books we had to read. The whole class went through 3 levels of hell in Dante's Inferno; I didn't even bother to read the cliffsnotes. I did read Merchant of Venice, but that's because I had to play the role of Shylock in one run and that of Portia in another. Frustrated thespian that I was (still am.), I was motivated to read this required reading.

The worst was required reading for Filipino class. I found reading Tagalog difficult, so that aggravated my aversion to required reading. Besides, why did I have to read Ibong Adarna when I already saw the film with Dolphy, Panchito, and Babalu? And then, there was Noli Me Tangere for 3rd year and El Filibusterismo for 4th year. I remembered reading and wondering what the big ado was about tinola. There was nothing in those readings that excited me. The romance between Ibarra's and Maria Clara, depicted as virginal and oh-so-feminine, did not titillate the way our well worn Mills & Boon literature did. Furthermore, the book was rather sad-looking with newsprint pages that transferred ink onto my hands. Rizal's novels were delivered to us in condensed versions with each chapter as dry and bland as the previous. And so I halfheartedly flipped through the pages and read just enough to pass high school.

It was only in college, when my Rizal class got me reading El Filibusterismo in English, as a novel and not in abridged form, that I got an inkling of how great this literary work is. And I was surprised to find myself enjoying required reading. By that time, I was just about done with the hell called school, and happily saying goodbye to the necessity to read required books.

Insert time lapse sound effect here. Tingininginin.

More than 20 years later, I find mysef required to read 24 books of various genres, not because some teacher needs to fulfill a lesson plan and not because I have to get a passing grade. But just because I want to, and just maybe because I can.

Flips Flipping Pages, probably the biggest congregation of book nerds, in the country today, set up a challenge at the start of 2009. (Yes, we do have other things to do than just read. And no, it's not because we don't have social lives.) The challenge is to complete by midnight of December 31, 2009 twenty four books that should include the following:
  • 12 fiction - (6 Euro/American/Commonwealth, 4 Asian/Latin American/African, 2 local[at least one of the 12 should be classic lit])
  • 6 nonfiction - (1 science/math, 1 lifestyle, 1 poli/eco/soc, 1 bio/autobio/memoir, 2 local)
  • 3 reading group requirement - any 3 of the 10 or so FFP reading group titles to be discussed in 2009
  • 1 award winner - (booker, pulitzer, palanca, national book) In this case, it has to be the piece that won, not a book by palanca award winner XXX.
  • 1 common book - as dictated by our resident canon
  • 1 partner's choice - recommended by an FFP member

I will keep you in suspense regarding my progress towards meeting or not meeting that challenge. My teachers would not be surprised to know that I am still a big crammer, so it's not a done deal at this stage. I'm in the middle of Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere as the common book, and once in a while I would stop reading and just smile at Rizal's wit or sigh when I get to the parts that remind me of the Filipino's sad plight then and now. I hit myself on the head for not having had the maturity to appreciate, to love, this piece of literature back then. I honestly think now that every Filipino must read this book, now that your teachers do not require you to read it but your being Filipino does.

I also think we should all require, push, motivate ourselves to read beyond the usual -- beyond the usual bestsellers discussed over dinner, beyond our usual favorites and preferences, even beyond what we can easily comprehend. There's nothing wrong with an occasional nosebleed.

What this book challege does, aside from assuaging us from our rabid book accumulation habits, is to get us to experiment with other genres, discover authors we've never read nor heard of, push us to get through our gargantuan TBR (To Be Read) piles, and just expand our hearts and minds to the world wide wonder of books.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Flipped Through the Pages of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward, An Improbable Farce in Three Acts

Book borrowed from the DLSU Library, the privilege of using which is one of my strongest motivations (or is it my only motivation?) to keep on teaching.

Read September 23, 2009.

I didn’t like reading plays. I found it weird reading something that should be performed and watched. But I had an interpretive reading project that required the reading of a play excerpt.

My immediate choice was a Noel Coward work. I have vague recollections of watching and enjoying his plays a long time ago when I had Repertory Philippines season tickets. But the real reason I chose him was his frequent focus on marriage themes. And marriage themes translated to excerpts with two characters – a man and a woman. Which is just about all I can manage in terms of vocal variety.

Reading Blithe Spirit, I realized I had an unfair bias against plays as reading material. I enjoyed Coward’s dry Bristish humor, with a bit of slapstick thrown in. A lot of witty repartee to keep me entertained in the one-sitting reading of its three acts.

The Blithe Spirit in the title is the departed spirit of Elvira, the ex-Mrs. Condomine, who laughed too hard watching a BBC musical and died of a heart attack seven years ago. With issues to resolve with the living, she decides to drop in on Charles and his new wife, Ruth. Trouble, obviously, ensues. Mr. Condomine has to first contend with disbelief and accusations of drunkenness and lunacy. Then when Ruth finally realizes that Elvira is indeed back with the living, bickering and mayhem follow, as Elvira tries to bring Charles with her back to whatever limbo she came from. Curtain falls on a chaotic scene where the original problem of a spirit infestation is aggravated.

This is a fun, quick read. Coupled with a successful interpretive reading delivery that got me channeling Angela Lansbury to a very appreciative audience who laughed at the right time, this makes it as one of my most entertaining reads of the year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wishlist Wednesday 1: Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

It's Wishlist Wednesday, when I blog about the books I lust for.

Top on my list is Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

I have no intention of reading this cover to cover, unless I absolutely have to; maybe in a fit of academic pretentiousness. But I want to have it because I just love, love, love the cover. Scrumptious cover that perfectly matches the title and theme of the book.

I saw it on a list of 2008's Best Book Covers, and I fell madly in love. Props go to cover designer Jason Booher.

I can't even find the ISBN in Amazon. Could it be out of print so soon after its printing?

Any one who gives me this in that cover will receive my lifetime, loyal-puppy adoration.

ISBN: 0141036192

I Flipped through the Pages of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto

Acquired: August 16, 2008, given to me by my brother-in-law Ken on his last Manila trip; I have since bought at least 3 copies I gave up for mooching.
Read: October 2009
ISBN: 0060838728
My copy is a well-loved, dog-eared trade paperback.

This book came with high recommendations from everyone who has read it. That, of course, raised the expectation and put it in danger of falling below it. It didn't.

Only the most critical would find nothing to like about this book.

Ann Patchett's writing reminds me of the depressing truth that I can't write. Not fiction. Nothing this moving. Nothing this bittersweet and poignant.

Ann Patchett writes the language of romance. No, not the cheesy, Fabio-on-the-cover variety of romance writing. Certainly more sublime. Take, for example, the way she rhapsodizes about music. She writes about one of the book's main characters, Katsumi Hosokawa, how on his elevent birthday his father brings him to the opera. In the opera hall, they walked together, not speaking, and listened to the music. Katsumi, moved, feeling himself falling forward, reached for his father's hands. I narrate it poorly, so let me quote an excerpt:
"It was during that performance of Rigoletto that opera imprinted itself on Katsumi Hosokawa, a message written on the pink undersides of his eyelids that he read to himself while he slept. Many years later, when everything was business, when he worked harder than anyone in the country whose values are structured on hard work, he believed that life, true life, was something that was stored in music. True life was kept safe in the lines of Tchaikovsky's Eugne Onegin while you went out into the world and met the obligations required of you."

It is amazing how one can write romantically about a hostage situation.

In an unnamed South American country, armed terrorists take hostage of a dinner party, of which Hosokawa is the guest of honor. He was bribed to attend the party, and the payoff is the opportunity to listen to the music of revered soprano Roxanne Coss. The cost of this exchange is many days trapped in a house, and more. In this unlikely scenario, people of different races bond. Some of them fall in love, if not with each other, at least with Roxanne's music. Hardened terrorists, pragmatic businessmen grow enamored with music in languages they don't even understand.

And then it ended.

Abruptly. Tragically. If you're like me, a sucker for sad endings, do not read the epilogue right away. Give it some time before you turn the page, grieve, ponder, and then slowly turn the page for a surprising ending. I have no more words, so this post will end just as abruptly.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Flipped the Pages of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader

Bought: 2007?
Read: September 2009
ISBN: 0375707972
Reason for Buying: I liked the cover. Yes, because there is a book on it.
Reason for Reading: Husband was pressuring me to watch the DVD, so I had to read the book first.

I have a confession to make. I don't really like reading book reviews. They spoil the thrill of discovery and affect my judgment of the book. I prefer to be surprised. I don't really want to know much more than what's on the blurbs on the back of the book. For The Reader, however, I chanced upon some reviews -- and they were mixed. And that's why it took me some time to get to reading this.

My review is mixed as well. The Reader has a titillating beginning, a humdrum middle, and an ending that broke my heart into a million achy pieces. Overall? It just might end up in my 2009's best reads. Not because it is one of the best written, but because it got to me. Unexpectedly. Because it made me cry; no, bawl is more like it. And sometimes, that's a good enough reason for me to like a book.

The beginning: In post WWII Germany, 15-year-old Michael falls in love and has a torrid affair with Hanna, a woman twice his age. And even though this is no longer an extraordinary tale now that cougars are considered cool, I can't help but be drawn into the story as pithily narrated by Michael. Hanna's character is hard to like. But the part that makes me fall in love with their love affair, the part that makes it less indecent than it really is the part of their relationship spent reading. Michael read books aloud to Hannah, who seems to be more into those literary activities than into the sex and romance. Maybe it's just me; maybe it's because it's a constant source of frustration for me not to to be able to share my love of books with my husband, and so this part I found achingly romantic.

The beginning of the story ends with the affair abruptly ending.

The middle part is all tedium. Moralizing, contemplative, rambling tedium. Painful, please-stop-this-misery, teeth-gnashing tedium. On hindsight, maybe it was designed to be so. Because the end of their affair actually killed any sense of joy in Michael. But still. It was unbearable tedium.

And just as I was about to give up on the book, something about the ending struck me. And hit me hard in the gut. And reminded me again that I should not read while driving. More precisely, I should not read books with sad endings while driving because visibility could be terribly compromised. A sad, sad, beautifully sad ending that made me forget about that horribly tedious middle. But more than just being an ending designed to pander on the emotions of a hormonally imbalanced female who is a sucker for a good cry, it was an ending that had a message for me to chew on. A message about regrets and about how much we waste our lives not doing what we ought to do while we waffle about the things we think we ought to do. Okay, I don't expect you to understand that. Like I said, it's a message for me.

And that affirms to me what this year's reading journey keeps on telling me -- that for this reader, it's not always about how well written a book is that makes it worthwhile reading. It's not just about entertainment either. It's about how the book connects to me personally, emotionally, that makes it worth the read.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Flipped the Pages of Joyce Carol Oates' Zombie

Bought: July 8, 2008 from Book Sale for PhP40
Read: November 28, 2009
ISBN: 0452275008
Published by Plume/Penguin, 1996
My copy is a well-loved trade paperback with creases on the spine and dog-ears on the covers.

Reason for Buying: I collect Oates because my book snob friend, Naomi, says she does not like her. She also does not like Oprah Book Club books, but I don't collect those.

Reason for Reading: I was challenged to read any work of Joyce Carol Oates. This one was one of the thinnest. I'm on time pressure here.

Zombie is the diary of a serial killer. A very sick serial killer. To be fair, he really does not intend to kill his victims. He really just wants them to be his sex slaves. They just happen to have the misfortune of dying while he not-so-nimbly inserts an ice pick through the bony orbit above their eyeballs.

To divulge more about the story is to deprive you of the sheer glee (insert sarcastic emoticon) of discovering the depravity of its main character, Quentin. To divulge more is to relive the gruesome bits of this nasty, nasty novel and to go back inside the mind of a sexual psychopath. And I'm not keen on going back there. Surprisingly, though, I should probably have been more disgusted than I was. Though there were times, when I had to lay the book down, shake my head, and stop my mind's eye from imagining too much; more often I read with an unexpected detachment.

If you're squeamish and easily disturbed, this is not for you. On the other hand, it is pretty light reading as far as psycho-thrillers go.

I'm still figuring out if I like the book. It's enthralling reading, I must say. But if Nabokov's Lolita and Suskind's Perfume are the standards for novels that get you inside sick minds, then this pales by miles. It does not have the heft and depth of plot and characterization that enable Humbert Humbert (Lolita) and Grenouille (Perfume) to get under the reader's skin, to inspire strong emotions. Quentin's character is developed well enough; his motivations are made quite clear,
but as the novel makes him to be this ordinary-looking person, he comes across as rather ordinary for readers already jaded by Silence of the Lambs and too many CSI episodes. In the end, the story just does not discombobulate me as much as I think it should. Maybe because Oates writes in a tempered way that does not sensationalize. I like that the banality of narration is free from any attempt to manipulate. That's supposed to be a good thing; right?

I read this book as part of a reading challenge. The challenge was to simply read a book by Joyce Carol Oates. This work is probably not the best representation of Oates' body of work. Because it is narrated by the character, it uses crude, almost infantile language -- styled by Oates with weird punctuation and a lot of capitalized words. As such, it does not reveal Oates' prose, which I am curious to read more of. Though this book does not make me a fan, I would still be interested to read her other books.

First Entry

Welcome to the most creative post title in the world!

I tread slowly. Tiptoeing. Like maybe no one will notice how I am again adding to the world wide clutter. A little ashamed that I'm starting another blog.

Why a new one? Because I can. Also because I'm trying to reorganize my blog life. So here I am starting a new blog, which will be 100% dedicated to books. Yeay! Books!

It wasn't an easy decision to make. I felt that writing about books leads to writing about travel and food and art and people and thoughts and faith and feelings and and other things that fill my days and color my life, and so I wanted to put all of these into one mad jumble of a blog. But, it became a jumble too mad to handle. So here it is. My blog about books. Yeay! Books!

About books. Like I said in my shelfari profile, I can live without 'em. But really, what's the point? Books are great. They smell good. They look good lined up on my shelf. They're cheaper than shoes. Most of the time, they're non-fattening. Shopping for them doesn't make me feel fat. Yeay! Books!

But mostly, they're great because of what's inside them. Trees died so that I could read about other people's stories that make me think about my story. Thank you, trees. You didn't die in vain. Because of your sacrifice, I learn, I enjoy, I stay away from my other vices, and I become a slightly better/smarter/more informed/happier human being one book at a time. Uhm, all together now, Yeay! Books!

Okay, I'm being flip. And that reminds me of the Flippers (I'm glad there's no fine for cheesy segues). The Flippers luv, luv, luv books. Online and in our monthly book discussions, we just can't stop talking about books. You'll know more about them in my future posts.

Oh, future posts. There's those. So I better cut this short now and leave some for another day.

Yeay, books!

You might get confused. This is the first entry; why are there 2 million posts before this. Those posts were transferred from my previous blog.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wear Joaquin

You like fashion? You also like literature? Here's something that brings those two elements together.

Freeway honors Philippine National Artists by designing clothing collections that showcase the artists' works. The first set features Nick Joaquin. It's a scrumptious, artistic collection of t-shirts, blouses, jackets, and dresses.

I love the way the text takes as much space as the imagery. And if you're ever stuck in an elevator/waiting room/queue without a book, you can read your shirt.

Freeway does not seem to have a website, but google led me to this site that shows off the collection: http://fashion-flick.blogspot.com/2009/08/freeway-loves-art-nick-joaquin.html

Gorgeous, huh? I know you want a piece of that.

It's a bummer though that I wasn't able to buy anything. I'm way off the size chart of Philippine apparel, so I was ready to go for a bag. But there's no bag; just a tiny kikay pouch. And really, my closet will vomit the kikay pouch if I attempt to add another to the 2 million I already have. I need something I can use, sling on my shoulder, and show off so people will say, "Wow, that's Nick Joaquin." And I will beam and carry a silly grin while thinking of myself as some kind of cool, nationalistic, literate dudette with socially-relevant fashion tastes.

Oh well, maybe I will come back to their stores one of these days to try on a men's shirt.

But for you, my lithe friends, I encourage you to check this out and get yourself a limited edition. Wear Joaquin. If you have 2 navels, now is the time to show them off. Let's support Freeway as they support our artists.

Up next for the holidays is a collection paying homage to Ang Kiukok. I can't even begin to articulate how excited I am about that collection as well, and it will break my materialistic, pa-cultured heart to leave empty handed, because here finally is my chance of having a bit of Ang Kiukok without having to pawn my husband.

Freeway people, make sure you include a tote or messenger bag for the Ang Kiukok set, okay?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Often, I find myself submerged in a thick plot, lost in the pages of a good book, deeply ensconced in an armchair and swept up in other worlds, embroiled in other people's stories. But this post is not about that. This post is about submerging the book.

Yes, dipping a book in water. Uhm, yes, liquid water.

I hear gasps and the gnashing of teeth.

Warning: The pictures that follow might cause shortness of breath, activation of tear ducts, and the rapid increase/decrease of blood pressure among my obsessive-compulsive, plastic-wrapping, book-loving friends.

Be assured, however, that no books were harmed in the filming of this blog.This is my totally waterproof book. Melcher Media's The Soothing Soak is a collection of poems, essays, and short stories by Pablo Neruda, AS Byatt, Diane Ackerman among others. It is meant to be read in the bathtub. But since we don't have a tub, this book is my spa book.

I've been wanting to have a book like this. Ever since I discovered the existence of waterproof books, I've been entering steam bath and sauna rooms with a profound sense of emptiness and longing, knowing that if I had such a book, I would read in joyous peace instead of boring myself in contrived zen.

One time back in the days when I didn't have this book, I tried going to the sauna with a regular book, the type with porous paper pages. I panicked when I saw the pages crinkling into little waves. In this mega-humid country of ours, water damaged books have the potential to attract molds and destroy your whole book collection. (There's that gasping and gnashing sound again.)

Gimongous thanks to my Chicago based sister-in-law, Ate Pat, I finally have this.

One weekend, I baptized (uhm, literally?) the book at The Spa in Jupiter. I tucked the book into my little pink spa bag and brought it with me to the wet floor.

I read poetry at the steam room.I felt a bit self conscious because there were 2 other girls in the room. And maybe they were thinking I was silly bringing a book in there. Or maybe they were envious. Because they had nothing to read. While I was unabashedly reading in the steam room, instead of watching my navel or doing nothing but grappling with my body issues and trying to cover up my cellulite. I was happy.

Then I moved into the Turkish pools. I love Turkish pools with the contrast hot and cold baths, except this time the hot part was not that hot, and the cold was not that cold. Normally, I would be a wee bit upset about such technical flaws, but this time I had my waterproof book, and I was a happy camper. I read a couple of short stories. I can hardly remember the content as I was just so thrilled at the experience of being able to do two favorite things at once -- reading and spa-ing. I enjoyed myself so much, I had to force myself to stop reading, pull myself out of the pool, and get on with my spa-ing.

Two drawbacks -- one is that you need to allocate more time before your massage. The other one is that even if it is waterproof, the pages do get wet and stay wet. So I had to wipe every page before I stored the book back into my spa bag. Spritzed it with Lysol. It's waterproof. I don't know if it's mold proof.

Aaah. I can't wait until my next spa visit and my next soothing soak.

What's On Your Desk Wednesday

A few Wednesdays ago, Blooey tagged me to participate in a blog meme that would shame me, my neat freak husband, and the mother who tried to teach me urbanity.

We're supposed to take pictures of our desk, and we're not supposed to tidy them up first to make them photo-pretty. Gasp!

This is for Sassy Brit's blog meme, What's On Your Desk Wednesday. The details and the instructions are all here.

I tried to ignore Blooey's tag. But what do you know -- it's Wednesday, and I'm too lazy to draft a book review or write a blog entry that makes sense. And I'm taking the easy but more embarrassing way out. So here, in all it's glorious chaos, is a picture of my desk. Click on the image for a closer, more embarrassing look. Hopefully, the dust bunnies don't show.
The rules say I shouldn't tidy up. I have to confess I tried to make it look a little presentable, but to no avail. It's a hopeless mess. It's the end of the term and there are tons of papers to be checked. It's also book sale season and well, you know how it is with book addicts who live in tiny laces -- a book shelving nightmare, the floor disappearing. Geez, what am I talking about? My desk looks like this the whole year round, so I'll shut up with the excuses.

But like they say, if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what does it mean if you have an empty desk?

Ooo, I almost forgot. I should tag 5 bloggers. So here are my victims:
  1. ArtSeblis
  2. Blurbologist
  3. Jo
  4. Fantaghiro
  5. Cubicle Dweller
Happy Wednesday, everyone! May the rest of the week be even better than the start.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I am Gege. And okay, I admit it now, I am addicted to books. And book buying. And my husband does not like it. But confessions are necessary. And therapeutic. So, I'm showing here the view from under my desk where the recent loot is in temporary confinement until my husband goes out to play golf. When I, away from his prying eyes and judging heart, can put them into their rightful alphabetical places.

Shhh, don't tell my husband.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Dr. Seuss Sunday

Yippee. Yoohoo. ‘twas a Sunday!
A fine, fun Sunday, I may say
A fine day to catch up on sleep
And to read something not too deep

So I looked through my shelf

For a book I could choose

Then I thought to myself

How about Dr. Seuss?

Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss. He’s cool. He’s fun

And Flippers say for July he’s the one
I know, I know, some will be shocked
That I read a book about (gasp) a cat

For cats are creatures that make me say yuck

I will never like them, no matter what

This particular cat
Knows how to have fun
He brings out of the box
Thing two and thing one

This cat makes a huge mess

And gives the kids so much stress

It gives the fish a huge fright

When it lets the Things fly kites

This particular cat

Has a machine that sweeps things
Oooh, I want something li
ke that
A gadget so amazing

But the amazing thing is this
Dr. Seuss wrote this charming piece

With the same two hundred twenty words; that’s all.

So this poem can be read by kids, big and small.

When I was done with the story

Of this cat that’s naughty and feisty

I guess I had to admit
This cat is not all that yucky
As my Sunday went on
So did my Dr. Seussathon

Book two was Green Eggs and Ham
About a creature named Sam-I-Am

Though the poem sounds rather silly

And funny with a bit of whimsy

It has a lesson to preach
About living a life more rich

Get out of your comfort zone

Is the message of the book
Venture into the unknown
Try things, taste stuff, take a look

Dr. Seuss says for us to grow

Don’t say no to what you don’t know

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it

Don’t give yourself silly limits
Then it was time for book number three
This time, ‘twas something rather scary
What Was I Scared Of? was the next tome

This is now my fave Dr. Seuss poem

It tells us not to be afraid

Of things and folks that are unusual

We’re all just differently made

And that’s what makes us special

We need not fear

Of the strange and queer

Don’t be afraid too

Of things that are new

Then I took a break
From all the poetry
To read Theodore Seuss Geisel’s

Short biography

I learned he’s American
With traces of German

He majored in English

To be a teacher was his wish

Then he fell in love with Helen

Who became his travel companion

And it was in 1957

When Cat in the Hat
became a sensation

I was also to discover

That Dr. Seuss won a Pulitzer
For giving his life to educating

And making reading entertaining

My Sunday was drawing to a close

But before I rest and finally doze

There was another book to read

The last of Dr. Seuss indeed
You’re Only Old Once
Is a book for obsolete children
This was one of the last books

From Dr. Seuss’s fabulous pen

This is a bit depressing

As Dr. Seuss tells of the stressing

Hospital visits, doctor hopping
Waiting room waiting, medicine popping

Yet it’s still full of humor

And you wish Dr. Seuss could have lived more
To write more about cats and whatnots

Green eggs and other silly plots

So that’s my Dr. Seuss bookfest

What a great way to de-stress

I felt truly truly blessed
Dr. Seuss, you are the best!

PS: After composing this, I have new found respect for Dr. Seuss. This was hard. I had to use an online rhyming dictionary to get this done. And after trying to work out a semblance of a meter, I just gave up at the end.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

DO HARD THINGS by Alex & Brett Harris

Do Hard Things, for me, is a hard read.

You see, I don’t like doing hard things. Yea, who does? But I think my aversion to doing hard things is above the average. I’ve spent my life running away from hard-to-do things. Sometimes some people do not believe me when I say I’m lazy because they see me involved in so many things. And when I’m really passionate about something, I work hard and work excellently. But I’m very selective about the things I do, focusing on things I love, I enjoy, I naturally excel in, I care about, or at least things that would bring me instant gratification. And even with those things, I always manage the degree of difficulty.

So when I read the blurbs inside the book – a lot of things about a lot of hard things – I literally put it down and eyed it as if it was the mother source of the H1N1 virus. I just didn’t want to hear/read any of it. I didn’t want to be challenged, to be goaded to do hard things, things that will make me sweat, get my hands dirty. I don’t want to do anything that would make me look stupid, incompetent. No, thanks. I like my life just the way it is. Cushy, fun, easy.

So the first hard thing I had to do was to pick up the book again and force myself to read it. The next hard thing I now have to do is to write about it. That is hard because writing about it forces me to reflect on what I have just read.

One of the things that make this a hard read is that it is really targeted towards teenagers. So, I’m reading this 25 years too late. And whatever message it has for me is a reminder of the things I should have done and shouldn’t have done many years ago. It made me a bit sad that at my age, the hard things are even so much harder to do.

So, if you are in your teens or just about to hit those years, go read this to avoid the regrets. First off, you’re going to learn that this teenage concept is a fairly new one. Ages ago, people were really just divided into two groups – children and adults. Back then, people started taking on adult roles and responsibilities when they were about 15. Child labor laws, though generally positive in intent, somehow extended the childhood stage, and so a new demographic was born. Now, the teen years are supposed to be some kind of vacation just before one gets into real life – adulthood. And vacation may seem like a euphemism for the lost, crazy, angst-filled, dysfunctional years.

How many times have you heard people warn parents about this phase? The phase when the teenagers’ search for identity is usually accompanied by wild, inexcusable but expected behavior and social experimentation. Adults sigh and say, well, what do you expect -- they're teenagers. And they’re supposed to be allowed to waste these 7 or so years drinking, doping, and coupling, basically indulging in spring break type bacchanalia. After all, they have the rest of their lives to get serious. But in the meantime, real life and real responsibilities can wait. One can just hope they pass those wasted years unscathed.

It is this problem of low expectations that Alex and Brett Harris address. They want us to rethink what we think about the teen years. They want today’s young people to rebel against low expectations and reclaim the teen years as the launching pad of their lives. They want teenagers to fight against mediocrity and to do far more than is expected of them. To do the hard things – the ones that take them away from their comfort zones, the ones that won’t give them instant gratification but far reaching and much better rewards.

It’s a message that people need to hear – whether they’re in that target reader age of 13 to 19, or whether they’re parents, teachers, and other youth-influencers. It’s a hard message for the teenagers. It’s a hard message even for the adults because they have to start raising their expectations of the youth. And for some (like me), they too have to learn to do the hard things. It’s a hard message but one worth listening to.

Alex and Brett Harris write well in a contemporary, easy manner as you would expect. I’m glad they didn’t use hip teenage jargon that could have made them sound like they’re trying too hard to sound like the teenagers that they are. A lot of well written, high-impact statements here. My highlighter pen vomited lines and lines on the book, underlining catchy phrases and calls to action that even this old fogey can learn from. I can already see the industry this book will spawn – devotionals, journals, calendars. Rubber bracelets?

The authors are very liberal with examples to inspire and practical tips to apply. Though this is obviously a book written by Christians for Christian readers, the message can be relevant to those of other faiths.

Its audience has its limits though. Even though, they give examples of the experiences of Philippine based youth, the context is most relevant to American or first world youth, those with options. It’s hard to imagine how this message might apply to youth struggling with extreme poverty, youth who have hard things thrust upon them, those who don’t even have the luxury of a real childhood. They do hard things because they have no other choice. As such, you wonder about their chances of redemption. Or maybe I expect too much. Maybe that topic is altogether for another book.

Limited audience notwithstanding, this book is a must read. I wish more young people would read this and be inspired, be alerted to a call to do great things, to excel, to achieve more than what is expected of them, to make a real, lasting difference in the world. But first they have to do hard things. And first, they have to read this hard-to-read but worthwhile book.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Flippers are Foodies too

temporarily posting this here as I ask permission from the image owner, Lord Jit, here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jityanga/339554347/

Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Review: Claude Tayag's FOOD TOUR

If you caught Anthony Bourdain's Philippine stopover episode, then you have seen Claude Tayag. He entertained Tony at his restaurant/home/art gallery, Bale Dutung, in Pampanga, presenting a very posh, telegenic rendition of kare kare. He also introduced Tony to sisig.

And if you're not Kapampangan, maybe you were offended by his assertion that Filipino food is Pampanga food. But I got what he meant. He meant to say that Filipino food is different for everyone, depending on your own experience and cultural milieu. The food you grew up with as you lived in the region you grew up in, the food served by your mom and/or your lola, the food that comforted you as a child and continues to comfort you now is your definition of Filipino food.

But this is not about Claude Tayag's Tony Bourdain guesting. This is about his book.

If you are a foodie worth your salts, if you take every three day weekend as an excuse, an opportunity to discover the regions and their cuisines, then grab a copy of this book, and keep it close to your sunglasses and favorite weekend jaunt outfit.

It will be your guide, your handbook as you traverse the country and its neighbors, searching for fantastic culinary experiences that sate the appetite for food as well as for culture. It presents helpful information including contact details so you can replicate the food tours he has taken. Really, get a copy. I can see myself bringing this with me as I go south and north of the Philippines.

The book is actually a compilation of his columns in the Philippine Star. At the end of each entry is a recipe.

It is not the best written food and travel book I've ever read. Claude Tayag is not an awful writer, but let's just say his core talents lie in the visual and the culinary. He writes well enough in a breezy, conversational manner with no pretensions. Maybe a little unimaginative with a tendency to interject using the word "burp" a lot. But hey, you're not buying this book because of its literary merits. You're buying this because it will inspire and enlighten the hungry gourmand and antsy vagabond in you.

There are 3 things I didn't like about this book. The first one is its size -- bigger than your standard trade paperback, it is not very handy. The next one is its price -- P550; I think it's worth it because I will get a lot of use from the book. I also like the quality of its binding and paper stock, and that alone makes it worth it for me, but it's a prohibitive price if you want to spread the word about it and want each of your friends to get a copy. The last thing that lessened my enjoyment of this book is that the entries are verbatim lifts from his columns, and sometimes they would include captions for photos that were part of the original newspaper articles but were not included in the book. It was a bit frustrating not having the visuals that go with the captions.

But the things I liked about the book compensated for the above flaws. I liked the history of sisig, his dining guidelines, the healthy balance of street food and fine dining experiences, how he communicated his lip-smacking love of food with no apologies, and his practical traveler tips. I love the way his stories include his wife Maryann as his partner in gourmanding and traveling. He makes fun of her a lot, but he is obviously head over heels in love with her. And best of all, I like the pen sketches that accompany each article; they add so much value, art, and charm to the book.

Oh, and one more thing, don't read this hungry.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Musing Mondays: Mommy's Fault

Musing Mondays are hosted by Rebecca!.

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading? Was it from a particular person, or person(s)? Do you remember any books that you read, or were read to you, as a young child? (question courtesy of Diane)

I blame it all on my mom. I'm not sure how old I was when my mom started teaching me to read, but I remember that I wasn't in school yet, so I must have been 3. My mom would give me a newspaper and ask/command me to read in front of my relatives. Most moms would ask their kid to sing or to dance. My mom would show off my reading prowess. I remember mispronouncing the word highway, and they got a chuckle out of that.

Mom started me off with Ladybug fairy tales. Rumpelstiltskin just might be my very first book. In my mind's eye, I can still see one of my favorite books then, Little Match Girl. What a sad, sad story. Every birthday and Christmas, I would get 5 Nancy Drew books until finally I had the complete series. To this day, that collection is still in my must-save-in-a-fire list. I didn't really grow up with many toys so I had to rely on books for entertainment.

I blame my mom for this addiction to books. And I thank her much for it.

The Ultimate Bookworm Gift

I want one for Christmas! No, I can't wait. I want one for Independence Day. Slurp. Slurp.

Gosh, I just might never leave the house with something like this in my room.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


"Meritocracy" is one of those much bandied terms of the 90s. Pretty much the way "servant leadership" is today's buzzword, a favorite among cliche-loving speechsters. I didn't understand meritocracy much then, and it took Malcolm Gladwell's latest book for me to wrap my head around it. Ironically, the book illustrates it by underplaying it.

Gladwell asserts that merit alone is not the key to success. It it not what we do that enables us to get ahead. Which is not to say that hard work and diligence are not important. They are. In fact, Gladwell's magic number for somebody to achieve some kind of success in a chosen field is 10,000 hours. It takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at something. Look at Bill Gates. He's been hacking (literally, not in the security assault sense) at computers since he was a teenager. The Beatles spent thousands of hours in smoke filled pubs to be as good as they are as a band. They worked harder than their peers so they got farther.

But 10,000 hours of practice is just part of the formula. There are other extraneous factors that have made people succeed where others failed. Things like cultural legacies. And circumstantial opportunity. And where, when, and to which family you were born. These things may work to our advantage or disadvantage.

The case of Korean Air pilots would strike you as a compelling argument that culture can affect our ability to do our jobs. In this case, their high regard for authority created communication problems that proved fatal. Recognition of the problem enabled the Koreans to turn the situation around. They had to stop using what is called "mitigated speech" to prevent more plane crashes. They had to be taken out of their culture and be re-normed.

Interestingly, the Philippines was mentioned as one of those countries most enslaved by this respect for authority. When my sister in law (a doctor involved in child protection) and I were discussing the book, she mentioned that our traditional practice of calling adults, related to us or not, with respectful terms as Tito or Kuya is a double edged legacy. One one hand, it makes us a gracious and polite lot. On the other, it sets up a situation of familiarity, misplaced trust, and undue respect that abusers may take advantage of. Like the Korean pilots, maybe we need to "shed some part of our own cultural identity" to prevent tragic circumstances.

But let's go back to the story of success that the book Outliers tells.

This book says that it is not necessarily the brightest who succeeds. Our smarts can only get us so far. This has been proven empirically. A high IQ can arguably get you to good schools. But once you're in, you're in the same level playing field as those who also got in, whether their IQ is higher or lower than yours. Interesting, eh?

Don't believe anyone who boasts of his success, 'I did this, all by myself." According to Gladwell, they are "products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky -- but all critical to making them who they are."

As usual, Gladwell fills the pages of a book with fascinating information shared through fascinating stories. Reading Gladwell always makes me wonder if there's any practical use to the copious information he shares. At the verge of (gasp) middle age, I no longer have any control over the circumstances and legacies that have shaped my life to the way it is now. And 10,000 hours? With a sinking feeling, I ask myself if there is something in my life, other than breathing and eating, that I have done for 10,000 hours. Hmmm, I better stop playing YoVille and do more of whatever it is I want to do best. I don't have much time left.

I suppose this is useful to parents, teachers, and any one who can influence the very young. This is useful to the young, the generation just starting to invest the first of those 10,000 hours. Gladwell says, "To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success... with a society that provides opportunities for all."

The book teaches us to look at the circumstances and the cultural aspects that can affect, positively or negatively, our chances of success. The first challenge is to recognize them. Then use or circumvent them. Then work hard, work smart, be open and alert to opportunities, and carry on.

Whether this book is useful or not, Gladwell, as he has done with The Tipping Point and Blink, entertains, engages, and encourages his readers to think.
Gladwell, I find him doing in all his 3 books, posits some brave, fantastic, maybe debatable, theories that may not necessarily be well grounded conclusions to his research, but he does make us think. Doesn't he?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

No to the Philippine Book Blockade

By now, every Pinoy bookworm has heard about the furor over the Philippine Book Blockade. I haven't blogged much about the issue because I don't think there is anything I can add to what has already been said by those better versed in the legal intricacies. And those with louder voices, stronger influence.

I am one of the most apolitical persons I know. I don't even like reading the newspaper, so in matters that concern the government, I usually play the silent observer. Even when I feel strongly about certain causes or issues, I prefer to be lend support by adding to the critical mass.

And here is a way to add to the critical mass. Sign the petition here.


By the way, here is a page with a list of links about the issue: http://www.shelfari.com/groups/12439/discussions/118287/IS-CUSTOMS-CORRUPTING-OUR-BOOKS-

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wishlist Wednesday: Lonely Planet's The Travel Book

Spotted at: New Arrivals, Lifestyle Section, 2nd Floor of the spanking new National Book Store at Glorietta 5

What it is about: Why, travel, of course. It's an A to Z catalog of profiles of every country in the world, 2 pages allotted to each country. With limited paper square inchage, It is not jam-packed with information. Instead, it highlights some very select aspects of each destination country. Specific suggestions on what you must read, watch, or listen to before you go there and what you must see, eat, and do when you get there.

Why I lust for it: Travel Planet is great at presenting different non-cliched views of places, of places far from the beaten path. Also, this will be a great addition to my collection of books that include The Photo Book, The Fashion Book, The Art Book, and The House Book. Yes, it's a shallow reason, but there's no logic to this book lust.

The price of the object of my desire: A little over a thousand pesos

Why I deserve this book and why you might want to give it to me: I survived Sagada (see previous post). And I used my mothballed backpacks to get there. I am sooo Lonely Planet.

Amazon reviews here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Nine Things I Learned about Life by Spelunking in Sagada

14 fun, fearless, clueless souls, most of them book geeks from my book club took advantage of the Labor Day weekend and grabbed the chance to tick off a bucket list item: Spelunking at Sagada. I was one of them. And that cliche about learning lessons the hard way -- this experience exemplifies it.

Here are the lessons I learned the hard, slippery, slimy, smelly, scary way:

LESSON ONE: The dumb gets farther; the dumber gets dead.
- For a bunch of book geeks, we did not do our research thoroughly enough. When asked to choose between the normal cave tour (PhP 100 per person) and the Connection Challenge (PhP 400 per person), which traverses 2 caves, Sumaging and Lumiang, we chose what sounded more exciting, more difficult, more unforgettable. Maybe we’ve been reading too much fantasy. Maybe it's the hashish in the Sagada air. We wanted to release the inner extreme athletes inside us. And we got what we asked for. And failed to anticipate just how difficult it would be, for geeks as well as non geeks, for the fit and for those whose most strenuous exercise is carrying bag loads of books from Booksale. We all had no idea what challenges lay ahead. The guides did not give us a clue.

On hindsight, that naiveté, that ignorance, that stupidity was good. If we had known how formidable the challenge was, most of us in the group would probably have not taken it. We would have backed out when we still could. At the mouth of the first cave.

Instead, we went in, excited, awestruck, dumbfounded, dumb as rats led by the pied piper. And got the surprise of our lives. Many surprises, in fact. Gimongous walls to scale, steep crags to climb down, cliffs to descend, slippery rocks to walk on, knee-deep muck to dip our bare feet into, blind corners to hug, streamlets to swim in, the narrowest of edges keeping us from plunging into deep dark pits. It was unbelievable what we had to go over, go under, go through, jump into, squeeze in, hurdle, straddle.

Truly, if somebody had shown me first a video of what we had to do, I would have chosen not to do it, knowing full well knowing full well that given my fitness level, I couldn't. Not knowing made me do it. It was sheer stupidity that got us there, literally in between a rock and a hard place. The uncertainty almost killed me, but it was also what got me through. The dumb, the clueless, when unaware of the dangers ahead, can actually accomplish more as he walks in ignorant bliss. And I’m glad I was stupid enough to do it. Because that was by far, the most exciting, most amazing thing I had to do in my whole life.

Of course, we were blessed to have survived relatively unscathed despite our ignorance. Tales of those who were stupid enough to go in without guides and never to come out again serve as a counterpoint to this lesson. It’s okay to be clueless sometimes, but rash stupidity could cost you your life.

LESSON TWO: We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Aww, shut up! - I do not fear heights, nor water. I have scuba dived in open water. I have rafted through grade 4 white water with a stupid smile on my face. I have parasailed alone and was able to look down without feeling squeamish. I get a kick from roller coaster rides, the higher, the faster, the scarier, the better. My bucket list includes bungee jumping and skydiving.

The first time I had to take a high ropes challenge, I couldn’t contain my excitement and wanted to zip down the wire a dozen times. I was fearless. I was 25 years old, a size 6. I could do anything.

As a trainer facilitating high ropes challenges, I had seen participants break down in tears as they confronted their fear of heights. I could only watch without really understanding what that fear was all about.

Until now. 42 years old. 70 pounds overweight. My sense of balance faulty. With nothing to rely on but the grace and strength I got from ballet classes with Ms. Valeriana in second grade, and from a few lousy attempts at a badminton regimen.

In the cave, we had to rappel down a cliff, the bottom of which we couldn’t see from where we were. No harness, no safety nets. The ropes did not even have knots for gripping. And what confounded us was that the rope was tied to a lithe, little man, barefoot, sitting by the edge of the cliff. Our lives depended on him being strong enough not to be pulled by our weight to go hurtling down with us to our sure deaths.

I was afraid of falling to my death, the guides picking up my brains and innards splattered on the cavern floor. I was afraid I would die without having completed my scrapbooks. I was afraid of falling and not dying, but being permanently disabled and not being able to drive myself to the bookstore. I was afraid I'd look stupid.

I was afraid. Petrified. As afraid as I’ve never ever been in my whole life. So afraid I cried for a few seconds. What made me cry was this inner struggle of accepting that I had to do it. There was no chickening out, no charming or bribing my way through, no delegating the tough parts to others, no negotiations, no way to circumvent the challenge. I had to get down that cliff or else stay in that cave forever subsisting on a diet of bat sashimi. I was so afraid, so stupefied my brain could not even manage to make my life flash before my eyes.

But then again, after all the drama, when I got out of the cave, got home, and had a shower, I realized I had no scratches. No bruises. I did not even break a nail or scratch my pedicure. Not even though I slipped a dozen times. Not even though I missed a step rappelling up a crag and I held on the rope, swinging dangerously, ramming my already sore body against a rocky wall. I suppose fear kept me safe. It made me walk slower, and made me look like a stupid granny wimp, but it was also the instinct that made me take only sure steps and kept me from harm.

Fear is not always a bad thing.

LESSON THREE: We are stronger, faster, harder than we can ever imagine. Like I said, I’m not in the best shape. I find myself panting just mounting the bed. And I would never believe that I could do what I did in those caves. I still could not believe it now.

Nearing the exit, we stared at a 3-storey high, 15 degree steep wall that separated us from the freedom outside. In normal circumstances I would have thought it impossible to climb it and survive. But all the earlier challenges showed me that I could do what I never thought I was capable of doing. So even if the adrenalin was already starting to dwindle, and I was tired from 7 hours of gruelling spelunking, I just took a look at the challenge in front of me and did it. I heaved, I grunted, I whined, and I climbed, and climbed,and climbed until I finally got out of that cave. I realized I am stronger than I ever thought. I can do far more than I ever thought possible.

I realized how much our mindsets limit us from doing what we want to do, how much we underestimate our strengths, how much power is within us. It took the caves of Sagada and 5 sadistic guides to make me discover my inner strength.

LESSON FOUR: Crap is inevitable.In the last upward stretch out of the cave, we had to climb stone steps, made extremely slippery by bat excrement. The stench was unbearable, but the worst thing was that we had to hold on to some of the rocks to balance or lift ourselves up. Our fingers would land on inch-thick sludge – thick, icky layers of moist, mushy guano. And every germophobic fiber in my body would cringe and cry. But I just had to hold on for dear life fueled with the desire to just get out of that wretched cave that had held us captive for far too many hours.

In a Mythbusters episode, Adam and Jamie once concluded that “Poo is everywhere.” Literally. Sadly, it is true metaphorically too. Life can get crappy sometimes. Oftentimes, one can walk around and avoid stepping on poo, but there are times when there is just no way around it, and one has to bear with all the crap. You just have to grin and bear it. The thing is a little crap ain’t going to kill us.

LESSON FIVE: That big, fat ass (or nose, or ears) of yours will someday be put to good use. - What got me through the toughest physical challenges and the most perilous conditions? My stamina? Strategy? My upper body strength and leg power? Nah! It's my big, fat ass.

As we slid on rocks and soil, our guides asked us to rely on a skill creatively called the butt technique. Many, many times, we had to get ourselves closer to the pull of gravity and sit down, and let our butts do the walking, the wading, the sliding. And for the first time in my life, I thanked God for my ample assets.

I have always had what are euphemistically called child-bearing hips and the most generous rump to go with them. I hate how they get in the way of fashion and vanity. But that time at the cave, I was so grateful for all that generous padding.

It was a clear case of making lemonades out of life’s lemons. Life is fair when the things we consider as faults are actually blessings in disguise. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about 1930s born Jewish lawyers who were barred from WASP law firms forcing them to develop skills that would actually spell their success 20 years later.

So, don’t whine too much about your big ears or your big butts or whatever it is you consider a liability. They just might come handy someday.

LESSON SIX: Trust the experts, especially when you’re not one. –For all the bravado and the pride we felt after that incredible experience, we all know we couldn’t have done it without our guides, James, Andrew, Mark, Matthew, and Jory. (Those apostolic names did not escape my attention.) So many times in that whole experience, we really did not know what to do and were too afraid to do whatever it was we had to do. We had to literally let our guides lead our feet through every step. I mean every little scaredy step. And they would even let us step on their knees, shoulders, hands, and bear our weights as we shifted our balance to move forward.

For control freaks like me, it was very difficult letting go, trusting someone else, and bearing the shame of total reliance on others. But what choice did I have? So, I had to let go and let the guides get me through. When the guide said, “Trust me,” I had no choice but to obey. I trusted him with my life.

It’s the same thing in life. Don’t be macho. There are times when we have to let the experts show us how. We have to humble ourselves and allow others to help us for the sakes of safety, survival, and success.

LESSON SEVEN: Rest when you get the chance and enjoy it. – Spelunking with a large group, we had to sometimes wait for each other as we shared 5 guides and the light of a few kerosene lamps. Those were moments for rest. I loved those moments as we caught our breath and had the time to look around and admire the beauty within the cave – the fantastic rock formations, the shadows and the lights creating moving art against the smooth and the rough rocks, the heights, the layers, the sexy curves of walls, the secret crevices, the trickling and falling of the water, awesome sights no camera can capture. They’re meant to be etched in memory.

Those rest breaks slowed us down and stretched what was meant to be a 4-hour trek to 7 hours of torture. But those breaks actually fueled me, not just by replenishing energy, but also by inspiring me with beauty, and reminding me how blessed, how privileged I was to experience something so awesome.

LESSON EIGHT: The less you have, the less you fear. – Travel light. Travel light. Travel light. It’s a lesson that in my years of jet setting and island hopping, I still cannot comprehend. But when you’re in a slippery niche, 20 feet off stable ground, trying to balance yourself is made more difficult by anything hanging from your neck, shoulders, arms. Having too many things -- some of them precious like high-tech cameras, your return tickets -- complicates matters as you try to protect your goods when really you should be protecting your head and limbs. The less you have with you, the less you worry about losing or breaking them.

At one point, I had to accept that my camera had already been destroyed by the water and the blows. Strangely, I felt liberated from having to take more pictures and finding time to download them when I get back home.

Travel light. It’s still a maxim I find hard to accept wholeheartedly. But it is a lesson well learned in those dark, dank, dangerous caves where material possessions play second fiddle to life and health.

LESSON NINE: Shoes are important. – You have to use the right shoes for the right time and place. I thought my trusted Teva’s were good enough. But they are trekking shoes, not spelunking shoes. And at some point, it was better to go barefoot to let our feet grasp the rocks more securely. Having the right shoes for the right time and place is important. Okay, I don’t really know what this teaches me about life. I just want to justify my shoe closet issues.

Today, I say CAVE is a 4 letter word. My joints are still sore. My voice a bit hoarse. My body recuperating from all the slips and falls. But I can say about spelunking at Sagada, I’ve been there and done that. And I’m glad I did.

Sagada pics here:





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