now i remember

“I think Sunday night is the saddest night of all. The weekend is over and work is looming in the background. You know that you can’t stay up too late because you have to wake up early the next morning. And you know that you’ll feel suicidal on the first few minutes (or hours) of work, asking yourself why you’re still there, and spending the rest of the day pondering on this question.”


I wrote this entry in my journal last night. Lately, my weeks had started more or less with this same miserable tone – weekends seem too short, coupled with bouts of homesickness after my regular Saturday night telephone conversations with my family, and I am not looking forward to Mondays anymore.

Today was no exemption. In fact, it was even worse because of my flu-like symptoms and So Cal’s unpredictable weather. I woke up feeling so tired and lethargic and I wanted to call in sick but I remembered that it’s Monday and my school kids missed so many Mondays already (because of official holidays), so unwillingly, I dragged myself out of bed and went to my school site.

When I arrived at school, it was absolutely freezing, and I mentally kicked myself for not wearing a thick-enough jacket. I was so lost in my own despondent state that it took me awhile to realize that one of the kids (though not mine) was banging his head on the floor while others are crying or climbing on top of tables. Confronted by this chaos, I assumed my usual therapist role, and by lunchtime I had almost forgotten about my aching limbs and congested sinuses. Also, it helped that I had a 30-minute break over lunch, chatting with my friend/partner-in-crime Lori about everything other than work – from her lovely daughters to my plans of going home in the summer.

And then it happened.

As our usual routine, Peter (one of my kiddos) and I started “getting our muscles ready” at the playground before doing fine motor activities. Peter is slightly overweight, he does not like to participate in challenging gross motor tasks, and has difficulties with social interactions. We’ve been working on his ability to access some playground equipment and to interact with his peers appropriately.


Today, while Peter was slowly motor planning his way through the climbing structure, some second graders from a regular ed. class came and joined us. Two of them, Andy and Laura, were athletic enough to do some acrobatic stunts (that they told me later as ‘front-flips’, ‘back-flips’, and all those other flips that I can’t even remember) while hanging on to the climbing structure. I prompted Peter to initiate a conversation with them and soon these kids started to help him climb, demonstrating some daring moves that I wouldn’t even try myself. Initially, I was a bit nervous, I didn’t know how Peter would react, for in the past he used to throw a tantrum or give up altogether when faced with challenging activities (especially in social situations). But much to my surprise, he didn’t. And although he wasn’t able to perform some of their ‘stunts’, at least he tried and he looked very pleased with himself.


I was very proud of Peter, too. And I marveled at how patient the other kids were with him. Unlike us ‘grown-ups’ (to borrow a term from Antoine de St. Exupery’s The Little Prince), with our preconceived notions of how things should be or shouldn’t be, these kids did not see Peter as someone ‘different’ or someone with ‘special needs’, but rather, they treated him as they would any other kid, not setting up limitations for what he can do and even challenging him a little. I looked at them, happily taking turns and doing those crazy flips, and I knew that I will always remember that moment. It wasn’t even extraordinary or miraculous, but I was deeply touched by their openness, their uncomplicated way of relating to each other. They teach me, time and time again, to slow down, to pay attention, because it’s in these little moments that life will amaze me the most.

Earlier, I asked myself why I’m still here. Now I remember.


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On a lighter note, I finally got my Born into Brothels DVD from Amazon today and I’m so excited to watch it again. This is one of the best (if not the best) documentary feature I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s about a New York-based photojournalist (Zana Briski) who taught photography to the children living in Calcutta’s red light district. Given my concerns about cultural competency, I didn’t want to fall in love with this film. I wasn’t too sure if Zana Briski was there for the right reasons. But in the end, the children won me over, they looked so alive and so happy when they were taking pictures. Of course, because I went to USC and because I studied OS, I can’t help but look at this documentary from an occupational perspective – it is definitely a testament to how meaningful occupation (photography) can help children make sense of their lives and empower them to change their narrative amidst a bleak and desolate world.

Here’s my favorite picture, taken by Suchitra, which was also chosen by Amnesty International as a cover for their 2005 calendar:

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Girl on the Roof

Learn more about Born into Brothels and Kids with Cameras here.

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*To protect client confidentiality, no real names were used in this blog.

missing home

Yesterday I called my family and I learned that my father had a hypoglycemic attack while he was playing tennis. I was really worried (and still am), especially since he has diabetes, he smokes, and he can be very stubborn sometimes. Thankfully my younger sister Moira (who is also a nurse) was there and everyone in the family persuaded him to go to the doctor afterwards.

Because of what happened, I was very anxious for the rest of the day and I called home late last night again. It was so good to hear everyone’s voices (especially my father’s) and they all assured me that everything’s alright, they can’t wait to see me in the summer, and yes, my father promised to quit smoking and live a healthier lifestyle (yeepey!).

God, I miss my family.

At times like this, I wish I wasn’t so far away from home and my dreams hadn’t taken me halfway across the world. How simple it would have been if all I ever wanted was to finish college, marry a man that I love, and raise a family – in Cebu.

But it was never that way. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to expand my horizons, travel, and learn many things. And I’ve always known that one day I will leave our sleepy little town by the sea. It was one of those things that I just know, deep inside my heart, sort of like when you see a place or a person for the first time and they feel right and you never question it because that’s just the way it is – that’s exactly how I felt about leaving my home and my country. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that, but my point is, I don’t think I would have been happy if I had stayed either.

Still, I can’t help but wish that someday we will all live in the same country (or even the same continent) again.

gael and my nomadic tendencies

The first time I saw Gael Garcia Bernal in the movie Y tu Mama Tambien years ago, I was so captivated by his acting, his character’s carefree wandering, and his beautiful, beautiful eyes that I wanted to be a charolastra myself – spontaneous, daring, unpredictable


Fast forward 2006 - I am nowhere close to becoming a charolastra but I'm still obsessed with Gael. And today, in my futile attempts to understand and speak Spanish, I watched The Motorcycle Diaries again and I can’t help but wish that I’d be like Ernesto or Alberto or Jack Kerouac or Alice Steinbech or Freya Stark. You know, those people who eagerly threw caution in the wind to live (and love) with reckless abandon. The combination of Gael’s intensity as the young Che Guevara and the breathtaking backdrop of South America is too much for my peace of mind. Once again, I felt the call of the unknown, the urge to leave my sensible self behind and just go where my heart leads me.
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I pictured it more than a dozen times – packing my bags and buying a one-way ticket to Central America (because I’ve always wanted to volunteer in Guatemala) or Nepal (so I can spend some time in the Himalayas) or anywhere else really, so long as there are no bulky mails asking you to sign up for credit cards you don’t even need or trashy reality shows with silly girls pulling each other’s hair over some guy who can’t even remember their names. In short, any place unpretentious, with tons of culture and good food, minus the flock of tourists. I’ll stay there for a year or two because my tickling, itchy feet won’t allow me to live in a place longer than two year. And as for finding a source of income or a place to stay, I’m sure I’ll figure out a way once I get there –

confessions of a sleep-deprived therapist

I’m back in LAlaland, but my heart is still in San Francisco.

What can I say? I just love that city. More than anything else, I think it’s because it is the first city that I really explored on my own, joyfully getting lost in its rollercoaster streets and finding more of myself in the process. And it probably helped that I have the best cousin in the world who’s gracious enough to let me stay in his apartment, even if I must’ve driven him nuts on more than one occasion (gracias, gracias Kuya Bill).

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Work is pretty much the same, I still have a lousy schedule and I’m procrastinating on a huge bulk of my paperwork. This week was very difficult though, I can’t seem to go back to the rhythm of things after 12 days of ‘going with the flow (as in Csikszentmilhayi)’ and indulging my creative side. To make matters worse, I haven’t been sleeping very well lately, I either fall asleep early in the evening and end up waking at 2 in the morning, or I spend most of the night tossing and turning and eventually falling asleep at dawn. And as most of you know, a sleep-deprived therapist is definitely not a good match for kids who are bouncing off the walls.

Yesterday, I had to put a kid in a ‘time out’ for the first time. I thought he was repeatedly defying my instructions, I was very tired and at my wit’s end, so I took our game away and ignored him for 5 minutes. I felt awful afterwards, especially since he looked like he was about to cry eventhough he was trying really hard not to let me see it. The poor kid must have been scared because I never acted that way before.

Now I wished I could have been more patient with him. It could very well be that he was just being playful and silly or maybe he couldn’t hold the prone position for long that’s why he kept sliding out of the barrel, but insensitive me just saw it as an act of defiance. Whatever happened to the promise that I made for myself that I will help create meaningful spaces for my kids in therapy, and now I’m making a kid feel bad about himself instead?

Oh dear, this is not good. I'm distracted and weary and I'm turning into an angry therapist that I swore I will never become. I think I need another vacation, haha.
Guatemala, anyone? :P

postcards from the bay


Day 8, San Francisco. I am writing this in a café called sweet inspiration. As cheesy as its name though, this place is anything but sweet or inspiring, its only redeeming feature is a little fountain near the display counter, with water sloshing from a cogwheel. I know I should be annoyed at being unknowingly deceived by its name or that their coffee costs so much more than Starbucks (where I have a prepaid card, thanks to one of my kids’ parents), but I’m not. In fact, I think there’s nothing in this city that displeases me, not even those long queues that you have to endure for an overpriced cable car ride. I’m in San Francisco and that alone is enough to make my heart sing!

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At the risk of sounding like a guide book, here is a glimpse of my San Francisco, those little things that I’ve ‘discovered’ (and loved) during the times that I’ve been here:
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Victorian townhouses with red doors.
I’ve noticed them only last Monday night, but I love them so much that I think someday, when I’m cured of my wanderlust and I’ll have a family and a house of my own (which will make Tia and Mayee very happy because I won’t have to drag my kids around in the bushes :D), I will definitely paint its door red. Like this:

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Serendipitous surprises. Last summer, I got really lost while walking around Haight Street. But the good thing about getting lost in this city is that you will also find unexpected treasures along the way. And that hot September day, I found this tiny shop called PlaNetweavers, a unique collection of artifacts and music from all over the world – silk paintings from Japan, African masks and drums, UNICEF cards, Mexican hatboxes and crafts, handmade journals from India, books on Zen and Buddhism, and all those exquisite little gifts from places as faraway as Bhutan. I was so engrossed in them that I forgot that I had originally planned on going somewhere else. Now every time I get lost, I always remind myself of that day and how I should be more open to whatever surprises that will come my way.
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Adventures in eating. The gastronomic delights in this city are endless, be it in a swanky café in The Castro or a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Little Italy. As a seafood-lover, I can only recommend Tarantino’s at the Fisherman’s Wharf, home to the most delicious clam chowder, not to mention an excellent view of the pier. If you’re a fan of dim sum (just like my friend Dae), there’s Gold Mountain in Chinatown, where picking out something from its long menu requires some serious decision-making skills (which I obviously don’t have that’s why I prefer to choose from their dim sum carts).

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Indie and foreign-language films. I’m a little biased and this shouldn’t be included in my list, but when I think of San Francisco, I always think of independent and foreign films. Perhaps because it’s so diverse and multicultural, or perhaps because of the S.F. International Film Festival (which I really want to see in late April), I think that this city is the perfect setting for watching unconventional, out-of-the-box films. This week alone, I persuaded my cousin to watch so many of these movies with me (Born into Brothels, Il Postino, Malena, El Crimen del Padre Amarro, Dot the I, Like Water for Chocolate) that I must have made a convert out of him, no matter how much he says otherwise or how he hates reading those subtitles!

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Museums and quiet, open spaces. I must admit, I love museums for reasons other than what’s inside them (although I can stare at a Van Gogh or Rembrandt painting for hours). What I really like about museums is the opportunity for solitude, to get lost in your own thoughts, and to step back and be quiet. And because San Francisco is such a compact and walkable city, I can go to different museums in one day without having to worry about finding a ride or getting stuck in traffic. My faves: The Legion of Honor and the HM de Young Museum, Yerba Buena Gardens, Asian Art Museum, and the Palace of Fine Arts:

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Its not a museum I know, but I love these ruins!

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Coffee and cafés everywhere. I’ve never drank so much caffeine in my entire life than in this city. Cafés are all over the place here and not only that, you can also have your coffee in whatever combination and whichever way you like it. At first I was a little intimidated, when someone asked me what type of milk I wanted to add for my latte (skimmed, non-fat, low-fat, organic, condensed, etc.) or if I wanted to add some spices (gee, I’ve never even thought about this before!), but pretty soon I got used to it – ordering my lattes, espressos or cappuccinos according to how I feel at the moment… very fancy, don’t you think?

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Bargain books and rare finds. Just like cafés, bookstores are everywhere here and because I am such a bookaholic, I started researching (what a geek!) about their second-hand and specialty bookshops. My favorite is City Lights Bookstore in North Beach, birthplace of Beat literature and the first paperback bookstore in the U.S. Being there and walking straight towards Vesuvio Café where Jack Kerouac was said to have spent most of his days here in San Francisco, I felt somehow connected to my roots. It was odd, to feel that way about a little bookshop and its cramped shelves, but I felt more at home there than in most places I’ve been to in this country. It must have been the wandering, bohemian side of me waiting to break free, haha.

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A Heaven of Books

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Walking in the rain. I don’t know why, but there is something very poetic about walking in the rain along the hilly streets of San Francisco, the humidity and the wind throwing my hair into riotous curls that I can’t tame, not even with my trusty Sedu (a ceramic hair straightener that costs a fortune!). Yesterday, while I was window-shopping at Union Square, it was so windy that I had to hold on to a lamppost to stop myself from being knocked over. I looked at my flipped black umbrella, the people rushing past while trying to avoid some water puddles, the homeless guy asking pedestrians for a spare change, and some drunken youth telling everyone about a genocide in Sudan, and it dawned on me that somehow, I am not an wide-eyed tourist anymore, and that I am seeing this city for what it really is – beautiful beyond words and also dark, mysterious and treacherous, just like any other big city in the world. In spite of that, or maybe because of it, I must say that I love this place more and more.


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So now that I’ve demonstrated why I should have been a Lonely Planet writer instead of an underpaid therapist (heck, it’s never too late to switch careers right?), I think it’s only fair to ask myself this question: am I moving to San Francisco?

champagne, fireworks, and storms

Happy New Year!

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So here I am again, in this beautiful city by the bay, where I had just spent one of the most unforgettable weekends of my life.

It started Saturday morning when my cousin Bill and I went out to meet his friend Fred, who just came back from Antarctica. After a hearty brunch and stories of Fred’s adventures with the seals and the penguins, the boys decided to take me to the rugged cliffs of Sutro Heights, somewhere at the northern corner of San Francisco. Despite a rainy day forecast, the sun came out shining so brightly when we arrived at the cliffs and the ocean view was stunning. I don’t know if it was the gorgeous weather or the bubbly champagne that we ordered at the Cliff House to celebrate the incoming New Year, but I felt very lightheaded and carefree, like I could easily spend the rest of the day gazing at the wine’s effervescence and discussing why it always starts at one point and end at another....

Later during the afternoon, we had tea with another one of my cousin’s friends, this time in an artsy café called Samovar at the corner of 18th and Sanchez Sts. And lo and behold, when we looked at their menu, they had a dish called Odessa Platter! Isn’t that random? Of course, we had to order it, and much to our delight ‘my’ platter turned out to be very yummy – a mixture of trout and salmon, among other things (which is very me, knowing how much I love to eat fish). I was so thrilled that I even took a picture of it:
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Me!
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We spent our New Year’s Eve at a small party in Mark’s house (yet another one of my cousin’s friends) at the Noe Valley. With its floor-to-ceiling view of the entire city, his place is so beautiful that I couldn’t stop myself from gushing about it during the entire evening. We ate, drank, played a board game called Urban Myth (something that I wasn’t really following closely because I started to feel very sleepy), drank more, and welcomed the year 2006 staring at the city’s spectacular fireworks display from Mark’s balcony. Afterwards, I thanked the heavens for giving me such a wonderful day and for having met people who made me feel very comfortable right away. And oh, did I forget to mention that I was the only girl in the group? So much fun! :P

Back in my cousin’s apartment at about 2 a.m., perhaps because of the excitement of the day or because my cousin stirred a touchy subject, I started to cry. And then I really cried, and eventhough I tried so hard to stop because I was so embarrassed, the tears just kept on falling (my poor cousin, he must not have known what to do with me at that point because I was just bawling like there’s no tomorrow!). I can’t even remember exactly why I cried but all of a sudden I felt very bad because I forgot to call my family and greet them a ‘happy new year’ and then I thought of how I’ve been such a cowardly idiot this past year, making (or unmaking) decisions that I now regret... mostly depressing thoughts that went on and on, those slit-your-wrist-and-lay-in-the-bathtub kind, as my friend Samia used to call them. I eventually fell asleep with the silly realization that my eyes are going to be all puffy and red in the morning.

Thinking about that crying spell now, I therefore conclude that too much champagne is a serious threat to my sanity…not that I’m not crazy already, but it sure makes me a tad crazier!
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With Kuya Bill on New Year's Eve
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Sunday turned out to be not as dramatic as Saturday, but still it had its own surprises. My cousin wanted to do some ‘exploring’ so we drove around the Bay Area’s coastal towns along Highway 1 (better known as Pacific Coast Highway). If you haven’t done this drive before, I think that it is one experience that you shouldn’t miss in California. The view from this curving highway, some 700 ft. above the Pacific, is absolutely breathtaking. In fact, we had to stop every now and then just to take it all in. I was so entranced by the beauty before me that I didn’t even realize that it was raining hard already. Pretty soon the rain turned into a full-blown storm but still we decided to drive on and brave the weather.

Somewhere in San Mateo, we found this cozy café/bookstore by the coast, which surprisingly was open in spite of the storm. I begged my cousin to stop and sit there for awhile, and again just to take it all in. It was New Year’s Day, we were in the middle of a storm, and I couldn’t have felt more alive. My senses were so attuned to everything around me – the gray-gray sky, those angry waves, the flickering Christmas lights, my wet Puma shoes, the slightly bitter taste of my cappuccino… even those creaking sounds that chairs make when people would get up and pick out another book from the shelves. And as trite as it sounds, I felt really happy to be – living, breathing, in awe of nature’s fury and wisdom….
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The roaring Pacific
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When I was little, my mother used to say that whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you will do for the rest of the year. My sister and I would then put on our best clothes and try to be “good girls” for the day (meaning help my parents at the store, eat our vegetables, and pray the rosary). Over the years, I had stopped believing in this story but it comes back to me every now and then. Like for instance, during the year 2000 I was really sick for the entire Christmas break (because I stayed outside too long waiting for the “love of my life” to come and he never did… yes, I was very pathetic), and for the rest of the year I either got very sick or was involved in major accidents (e.g. fractured foot in Bacolod).

Well, if this weekend is any indication for the rest of my year, then I can only hope for a lot of wonderful surprises, endless exploration, and moments of solitude and reflection. Maybe even just a couple of manic-depressive episodes (LOL).

And please, please God, let me go home this year.