Saturday, May 19, 2007


Each has a song that is playing in the heart,
A song of hope, joy, or sadness of being apart;
The song that I heard playing in my heart,
Was a riddle, not a melody, with nary an ending, nor a start.

The riddle echoed questions in my mind,
On wanting, yearning, loving an ideal avatar;
Willing to give, risk, let go, and leave behind
All else there is, to reach that elusive star.

The riddlemaster said “it couldn’t be”,
The shadows sighed and quipped “why couldn’t it?”
I looked up and prayed, “please let it be”,
The skies growled back, “it shouldn’t be”.

The riddle went on, and so did my life,
Wondering, pondering, questioning where it would lead;
Would there be a reason for every rhyme,
Was it something I would unravel in the nick of time?

Now the riddle seems to come to an end;
The mystery now half-naked, showed a truth about to bend.
The answer lies on the crossroad in my mind,
Which path to choose, so true love I would find.

The riddle’s echoes are turning faint,
The truth so bare, leaves my soul so cold and pale.
Will there ever be a song to be sung from the heart,
A song that is true and pure from the start…

Monday, October 16, 2006


October 15, 2006 is a very special day in my life. On this day, an angel was given to me by God.

It is a whole new world for me…suddenly, our home is filled with the sweetest music of a babe’s cry and whimper. There is reason to wake up early in the morning, to see the soft innocent smile of this little joy. Prayers are unceasingly said, full of hope and good intentions for this babe from nowhere whom I now call my own.

The future looks bright, and I foresee days of laughter, loving, and letting be…. Thank God for a promise fulfilled, and more promises to keep….May I be worthy of this precious gift dear God has entrusted to me.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


(Oido is a Spanish term which means "to play by ear.")

Playing the piano is one of my childhood passions. At the tender age of five, I would quietly stay at the sidelines, listening to my aunt play some melodic and captivating pieces. I remember sitting on the piano stool, beside my aunt, desperately trying to mimic her motions, which include flipping the pages of the piano book, moving the wrists in rapid staccato, and humming the tunes which I've seemingly known all my life.

My Tita Beth would patiently teach me some simple tunes from the time she took note of my interest in the ivories. My first piece was "DO RE MI" from "The Sound of Music" - all treble, played only by the right hand. The first two-hand piece she taught me was "Chopsticks", with one bar played with crossed hands, i.e.,left hand crosses over the right. It delighted me no end learning a piece, and playing it over and over again.

The old piano in my Lolo's house was sold when my gracious aunt and her family migrated to the States when I was six. Since then, I would imagine playing the piano on our wooden sofa, to the point of drawing one octave on the hard sofa seat. With my improvised piano and with eyes closed, I would imagine my fingers move to the beat of the music playing on my mind, to be interrupted each time a visitor would come and had to sit on the sofa.

I was seven when I had my formal piano lessons. Unceasingly, I prodded my mom to find a good piano teacher who would make me play "like Tita Beth". Find a teacher she did, in the person of Mrs. David, a music teacher in the public school where Mom taught. I vividly remember my first day of piano lessons…. I wore my favorite jacket (though it was a hot summer day), tied my hair in a neat pony, and cleaned my hands thoroughly. I was so excited to learn I was one hour earlier than our scheduled session. I thought then that after my lesson, I could already play a tune flawlessly.

I realized that reading a piano piece is much like solving a math problem. Each note has a beat which is a fraction of a whole bar, and the sum of the notes’ beats in a bar should equal the numerator in the so called “time signature”, the fraction indicated on the left most side of the staff. (A staff is a series of bars.) The denominator in the time signature specifies the kind of note which would receive ONE beat. Thus, a time signature of 2/4 means that a quarter note (1/4) would have one beat, and each bar would have two beats; an eighth note (1/8) would receive a half-beat, and the bar may have as many as four eighth notes, or a combination of one quarter note and two eighth notes, and so on and so forth. Whew! Beethoven must have been a good mathematician!

I labored through my piano lessons, until I was able to read notes on my own. My teacher would sometimes use a “metronome”, a device used by musicians that marks time at a selected rate by giving a regular tick, to help me capture the correct rhythm or beat. Many times, frustration, desperation, and irritation set in, since apart from the correct beat, one should also be able to read the notes accurately, and play the piece with the ultimate feeling. The pianist has to evoke the composer’s message clearly, through the music’s melody and rhythm, my teacher would always remind me.

Three years after my first piano lesson, I could effortlessly read difficult pieces, and play them “on first sight”. (I later learned from my teacher that not all piano students possess this skill, which I should further hone.) I enjoyed playing and memorizing each piece, although many times, I no longer followed the piece “to the note”, and began improvising. My teacher would always call my attention and say “Never do oido, not yet. Only when you’re older and better equipped should you do so. Discipline yourself into not playing by ear this early; for when you start doing so, it would be very hard to stop, and you will never learn the masters’ pieces.”

I wondered why my teacher discouraged me to do oido then. To my mind, it was a sort of achievement….having to interpret another’s music in my own terms – from the rhythm, phrasing, feeling, and pacing. I did not heed her advice, and continued to do things as I please. I enjoyed playing by ear non-classics, and for a while stopped reading pieces. (Classics are taught the formal way, all the time.) By this time, the latter genre has become boring, since with oido, the possibilities are endless. One may play a single piece one hundred different ways.

I stopped taking lessons when I was eleven. From that time on, I was free to choose what music to play and how to play it. Occasionally, I would try to study a classic piece, but I always end up so unsure of how to play it. To my mind, classic pieces are true works of art, with a life of their own. I have often wondered how the great composers were able to weave up symphonies, etudes, sonatinas, and the like with only eight basic notes to tinker with. Truly, music is heaven’s gift to mortals, understood by all, constantly uplifting the tired and weary soul.

Everytime I play an improvised piece on my piano, I remember Mrs. David, and her admonition on playing oido. With life, as in music, one must have a solid footing on what is true, right, and good, before treading on uncertain grounds. This foundation we get from our “life mentors” – our parents, elder relatives, teachers, good friends, spiritual advisers and people not personally known to us, but who have great influence on how we think and act. These people have our best interests at heart, preventing us to learn things the hard way, and sharing with us valuable lessons learned from their respective lives.

Equipped with their wisdom and our own perspective, we can journey through life on oido. We will definitely encounter a constant series of hits and misses, with some life episodes off-key and out of rhythm, but we should strive to make our life a beautiful musical piece borne of a tapestry of experiences, aspirations, and deeds - perhaps not perfectly woven like the masters’ pieces, but certainly as unique, meaningful, inspiring, and worthy to be played…..again and again...

Monday, October 02, 2006


8 egg yolks
1 big can of condensed milk
1 cup of sugar (for caramel covering)

Mix the ingredients in a bowl. Pour mixture in a wok, and stir over slow fire until it thickens. Set aside to cool. When cooled, form into small balls. Set aside.

In a clean wok, pour one cup of sugar and stir over very slow fire. Once the sugar turns into syrup and boils, drop the yema balls one at a time, and once covered in syrup, swiftly scoop out the yema balls using two forks (one on each hand). Set aside to cool in a flat aluminum tray, placing the balls an eighth of an inch apart. Wrap with cellophane of bright colors.


Yema was the first culinary masterpiece I learned at a young age. I remember seeing my lola, titas, and mom spend hours on end alternately stirring the sweet mixture, and then forming little balls, dropping them, then swiftly and skillfully taking them out of the pool of boiling syrup. The caramel-covered sweet balls got wrapped with green, yellow, and orange cellophane, but the greater portion oftentimes got eaten by impatient kids and never reach the wrapping stage. The colorful yemas were then stored in big cans, to be served come fiesta or Christmas time, if remain undiscovered by sleuthing kids.

I was 9 years old then, and my brother 8, when we did our first cooking experiment with yema, unsupervised. Mom was in school (she was a schoolteacher) and Dad in the office, leaving my brother and I alone with our trusted helper, Cleofe, who was busy with laundry at that time.

My brother was excited about the whole cooking experiment. We alternately knocked the eggs, and thrillingly separated the yolks from the whites before pouring them onto a silver mixing bowl. I scoured over our cupboard for the stock of groceries, looking for the Dairy Maid condensed milk and a pack of sugar. I hurriedly opened the condensed milk, and poured it onto the small mixing bowl now quarter-full with egg yolks. My brother stirred the mixture before pouring them onto a wok.

Everything was perfect. Being the “Ate” (older sister), I was the one who turned on the gas stove. My brother volunteered to stir the mixture over the slow fire. Sounding like Mommy, I advised him to do it consistently, and slowly, so that the texture would be fine and not burn. My brother did so, patiently, using a wooden flat ladle. So far, so good.

When he would get tired, I would get the wooden ladle from him, to continue mixing the batter. Oh, how good it smelled! Just the scent of it made our mouths watery. My brother and I would alternately stir the mixture, and when it was his turn, I would see him occasionally steal pinches of the now thick mixture, unmindful of the heat emanating from it. I would reprimand him, telling him to be patient and wait a little bit more; he would listen and obey at times. More often than not though, I would see him, at the corner of my eye, continue pinching portions. So far, it was not that good anymore…..

After around thirty minutes of continuous stirring, the batter had then reached the desired consistency. I turned off the gas stove, and my brother, at this point, was eagerly anticipating to partake of the cooked sweet. We decided to forego doing the caramel syrup (since it would take another fifteen minutes or so), and just divide the cooked yema between us. Being a naturally democratic Ate at a young age (ahem!), I asked my brother if he would either (a) divide the yema but I get to choose which portion I’d take or (b) I divide but he would be the one to choose which to take. As if the question at hand was a matter of life and death, it took sometime before my dear brother decided to let me do the dividing and he the choosing. So, skillfully and neatly, I flattened the mixture on the wok, reached for the bread knife, and with just authority, divided the stock into two perfectly equal portions. He pointed to the part he would take, and slowly, using the bread knife, I scraped off that part of the wok onto his ceramic plate.

Everything was well, and we began eating our respective portion (no more forming into balls the yema we made), when almost simultaneously, our attention turned to the wooden ladle still laden with bunches of yema, resting on a quiet spot near the stove. Instinctively, both of us simultaneously reached for the wooden ladle, racing to get the yummy yema now clinging to the ladle’s face and handle. My brother quipped that he should get the whole yema on the ladle being the “bunso” (youngest), but I told him everything should be divided equally, since both of us toiled to get the cooking done. He agreed to have it divided; this time, he would do the dividing, and I would get to choose.

He scraped the yema off the ladle’s face and handle, and awkwardly divided the stock into two. I chose one part, and was ready to transfer my chosen portion onto my plate, when my brother, thinking that he divided the yema inaccurately and I seemingly getting the bigger part, mumbled that I was being unfair, and was putting one over him. Of course I reacted, being the just Ate that I was (ahem!). I told him we were doing it fair and square, and nobody was taking advantage of anybody. I was about to continue to scrape the yema off the ladle, when my brother, blinded by misplaced doubt, reached for the ladle, and forcefully tried to get it from me. Not wanting to let go, I held on to the ladle and started to wrestle with him. My brother was able to take hold of the ladle, and instantly threw it towards my direction. I’d like to believe it was not intentional on his part, but the ladle landed on my head! Yes, my head!

My hair was a complete mess, with curly strands now stuck together in sticky bunches. I looked like Medusa with squirming sticky yema on my head. My brother gave out a loud guffaw, and continued to laugh heartily, pointing to my top. Blinded by rage and humiliation, I plunged towards him and instinctively kicked him in the groin. His guffaw instantly turned into gasping for air, and his face started to get red.

Afraid that he would die at that instant, I moved towards him to embrace him, whispering “I’m sorry” all the time. I thought everything was already okay when he started to breathe normally. How wrong was I! My unforgiving brother, after regaining his strength, started to pull my hair and scratch my arms. Defensively, I fought back, and started pinching him (wherever my fingers laid on) in return. With increasing intensity, both of us kicked, scratched, pinched, punched and hurled hurting words (“You pig!”, I would say….and “You bigger pig!”, he would retort) to each other.

Cleofe (who was in the laundry area outside our house when the big fight started), went into the kitchen and was in shock seeing her wards slug it out. Unable to separate and appease my brother and I, she called my aunt (who lived adjacent to our house) for help. At that time, my brother and I were already in the bathroom now throwing water at each other, almost flooding the kitchen floor. We continued to fight it out when my aunt came, and on top of her voice, yelled at us…”Joy, Joseph, stop it, or you’ll end up black and blue by your Mom’s beating. Stop it!”

It was at that time when we realized the gravity of our misdeed. Out of respect for our elder, we stopped fighting it out, although dagger looks continued to be exchanged between us. We went out of the bathroom, and saw the mess that we caused - scattered pans, bowls and utensils, broken plates, wet floor. In place of hostility, fear gripped my brother and I….We knew that our butts would again have a taste of the cold hard aluminum stick (tool used by mother to discipline us) once she would see the mess we created.

Knowing that the only sure way to escape Mom’s beating was to settle things between us, my brother and I made up, said our usual “I’m sorry”, and agreed that we would not fight that way again, not over a pan of yema. We cleaned ourselves while Cleofe took care of cleaning our mess. Waiting for our parents, we sat in a cozy corner of the kitchen, clutching our share of the yema we successfully made. (We subsequently decided to divide what was left of the yema which clung to the wooden ladle. My brother did the dividing…and the choosing…..)

Welcomed by a deceivingly peaceful and happy brood, my tired mom reached home, and upon seeing her, my brother and I raced to kiss her and ask her hand in blessing. We offered her the yema we made, and gleefully, she tasted it, and mused how lucky she was to have talented kids who could cook on their own a concoction which required much patience….

So far, so good….until Cleofe came into the picture…..

It took one day before the swelling of our butts wore off.


Friday, September 29, 2006

FIRST LOVE (Last of a Six-part Series)

That chance encounter with E. was followed by another. E. always used Nanette as the springboard of our conversation, and I would gladly listen and share my thoughts insofar as their relationship was concerned. I wondered then if it was just E.’s ploy to get closer to me again, hence, I repeatedly told him to take care of Nette, and make things work for both of them. He gave me the assurance that no matter what happens, he would stick it out with his new love. I felt happy and relieved.

Life went on, and one day, I got another call from Nette. She told me it was over between E. and her. It occurred to me that E. never left drugs afterall, and was in fact more deeply engaged in it. Nette was crying on the other line, torn between staying with E. and having a miserable life, or moving on without him to pursue her own dreams. Her relationship with E. has already taken a toll on herself, and her family as well. She said she loved E., but couldn’t handle the pressures any longer. Having been in her shoes, I advised her to listen to her heart, and follow what it says, although I secretly wished she'd stick it out with E. E. might not be able to handle another rejection, not from this woman...and not at that time.

I hadn’t heard about them for almost a decade until that fateful day of July in 2000. It was a Saturday morning when our helper broke the news…..E. was shot dead past Thursday night, outside a friend’s house. The cause of his death was largely speculative; people say he was not the direct target of the assailant, but was a poor victim of circumstance. I felt cold and numb…At that moment, after a very long time, memories came rushing in, and with it came mixed feelings of pity, sadness, loss and wonder (would this have happened had I held on to him?)….But there was neither a feeling of guilt nor regret….

At the wake, I learned (from his closest relative, a cousin) that Nette decided to leave him years before. He never got off his addiction, and had a string of short-lived affairs, with women having the same lifestyle as his. His cousin mused that E. would have lived longer had I not abandoned him. How I wished E. were alive that very minute to tell one and all how he truly felt, and why he did the things he did. He was loved, but failed to see it, because he thought he was not worthy enough to be loved by anybody. In the process, he let himself be dragged into the depths of despair, hurting the people to whom he mattered, the most.

On his coffin, E. was ironically a picture of peace and contentment, devoid of any trace of his violent death. I felt he was happy to 'see me' again, one last time... beside him. I cried a silent tear, and whispered to E. "it's over, pain has no power over you anymore, and to where you are going, you will be truly loved"...

I mustered a prayer, asking God to welcome him, and let him feel the love he must have sought but never found in his short earthly stint.

My first love was finally at rest.

“The echoes of love have fainted now;
Barely heard, only memories do linger somehow;
The love we had for a time in our lives,
Though past and gone, will remain in the heart.”


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

FIRST LOVE (Fifth of a Six-part Series)

After that fateful day, I realized I had to make a painful choice between helping a soul or hurting my family and potentially risking a bright future. Though already aware of the possible consequences of my decision, I calmly approached E. and explained to him that although I would no longer see him, I would continue to watch him from a distance, and pray for his well-being. Misty-eyed and painfully broken, E. promised me he would work hard to “deserve” my love, and would one day make me proud of him. I vividly remember my parting words to him….”Reform not for me, or anybody else, but because you owe it to yourself. Loving you will come easy when you have learned to love yourself.” I turned away from him with silent tears, fearful of what he might become, and deeply disturbed for having to leave him when he needed me most. I consoled myself with the thought that I had given up being his crutch so he would learn how to walk.

Busy with my review, I lost track of E., although occasionally, I would receive (bad) news about him. At this point, I was convinced I made the right decision in letting him go. There were times when he would call and request that we meet, but I consciously declined each invitation, not wanting to give him false hopes. My last encounter with him was when he begged that we meet for the “last” time, just to hand me a token (which turned out to be a letter and a red rose). I obliged for friendship and old time’s sake, more than anything else.

Years went by, I had passed the board, and landed a job. I was busy building a career and had my own world. Five years after our last encounter, one morning on my way to the office, E. saw me and instinctively approached where I stood (waiting for a jeepney ride). Seemingly excited, he asked how I was and how I have been the past years. Feeling awkward and fidgety, I answered him sparingly, afraid that he would bring up the past, and subsequently, our “relationship”. Sensing I was uncomfortable, he told me he was already a working student, taking up an engineering course, and working as a clerk in a popular store chain. He was in fact on his way to his work, when he saw me and decided to accompany me to the office, and just report late. I was hesitant to let him, and only changed my mind when he told me he already had a girlfriend, an auditor in the store where he worked.

I loosened up, and in the forty-minute trip to the office, we caught up with the goings on in our respective lives. He showed me the picture of his new girl, Nanette, and told me how she helped him move on with his life. I felt a slight twitch in my heart, but was genuinely happy for E., knowing he was in good hands. He told me he would ask his girlfriend to get in touch with me, just so I would know the kind of lady he has “fallen in love” with. I just smiled.

I had forgotten about that chance encounter when I received a call from Nanette. She seemed a well-bred lady, soft spoken and amiable. She called to tell me how glad E. was to see me again, and that E. still thinks and talks about me, even when they were already a couple. She even said E. decided to go back to school and find work to be “worthy of me”. Being a woman myself, I could just imagine how painful it could be for this lady to accept E.’s musings. Reassuringly, I told Nanette she has nothing to worry about because that chapter of my life has been closed, and that I was truly happy that E. had finally found his true love. Or so I thought…….

(To be continued….)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

FIRST LOVE (Fourth of a Series)

That fateful summer when E. discovered his true and uncertain origin was one of the most painful and confusing episodes not only in his, but in my life as well. He wanted to find his identity, but sought in the wrong places and company. I wanted to help him, but didn't know how to. I tried to be the friend who would cushion his pains, but with my own limiting circumstances, I could not possibly be with him to support him one hundred percent. The news that E. was on alcohol and drugs was enough for my parents to disallow any contact with him. I no longer recall how that summer ended, perhaps out of willful desire to forget that hurtful chapter in our lives.

We didn't get in touch after four long years (college years), not even during summers. The only updates I got was from a girl-cousin who had friends in E.'s circle. Afraid that he was no longer the same E. I knew in my younger years, I would find myself whispering a prayer for him, that he be in the best of health, and far from the dangers associated with his vices. I wondered how different things would have been, had he embraced the truth with optimism and complete acceptance, rather than wallow in destructive self-pity and helplessness.

I met him again the summer after I graduated from college, and the old mushy feeling of young love had been replaced with a calculated and discerning kind of affection. The feeling was still there, but such was tempered with constant rationalization on the possible outcomes - if I intend to pursue our relationship. What kind of married life will I have? How will I raise my children with a father like him? Is love enough to change a person? Although we were far from settlling down, I was already open to the possibility that I might end up with him if I continued to see him.

Afraid that rejection would further push him to the edge, I continued to be a friend to him, although I must admit the “unconditional” love I thought I once had for him has evolved into a different level, past the romantic plane. At this point, all I wanted was to help him become the best person he can be, and to make him understand life is what we make it. Being an adopted child is not the most unfortunate thing that can happen to a person. In fact, it has been a blessing in his case, with the love and support his adoptive family has showered him, among others. At that time I felt I was the only person who somehow gave him inspiration and encouragement to go on with his life, and leaving him at that point could have been a fatal, life-wrecking move.

I continued to see E., and occasionally he would fetch me from my board review classes. This I did in defiance to my parents’ (specifically my father) stern reprimand that I cut all ties with him. How could I let someone I loved, a friend, waste away, when I knew I could somehow make a difference in how he would live the rest of his life?

Then the inevitable happened. Fearful that my secret meetings with E. would somehow be found, I decided to let him come to the house. So one day, after one Wednesday novena at Baclaran Church, E. brought me home. My father was home, waiting for me. He saw E. standing by the door. As I took my father’s hand for his blessing (traditional “mano po” or taking of an elder’s hand to touch one’s forehead, as a request for blessing), my father forcefully set aside my hand it almost hurt, and turned his back on me. No words were said, but his action was enough to let me know he wouldn’t, and couldn’t accept E. in whatever capacity. I did not reason out with my father because I understood his fear. But pray tell, how could I turn away a lost soul, who was once a part of my life, and who desperately needed a crutch at the most critical point in his life?

(To be continued…..)