Tree: A Haiku and some thoughts

Weary from this world

Where no one can give comfort,

One sits in a tree.

—–

As a child, I loved climbing trees. There used to be guava trees in front of our house before my uncle built his house there and a java apple fruit tree behind one of my aunts’ house, which is behind our house. My grandfather made sure all his 8 children lived in the same place, so where I grew up there are 7 detached houses where my mother and her siblings had built their homes.)

My sisters, cousins and I used to climb the trees in the afternoons and sit on the branches (we were all young and thin!) and pick fruits. We were all pretty good at climbing back then. (I can probably still climb but I don’t think any of my sisters or cousins will dare! Lol!)

So whenever I see a tree, I judge it as being climbable or not. Part of me really wants to climb when I see street trees (here they are mango trees) , but living in the city, I don’t want to embarrass myself. A couple of years ago, I went to visit my former professor and he had a very climbable tree in his yard, so I asked if I could climb and sit in it. Being eccentric himself, he said, “Why not?” So, I did!

Sitting in a tree gives me a wonderful feeling of being safe and worry-free, especially when I hear the rustle of the leaves when the wind blows.

At my age now, I see a lot of trees that were I ten years younger, I would consider climbable, but can only look at with a sigh. I wish I could teach my son to climb a tree. That would probably need hundreds more of occupational therapy sessions, but who knows.

Rainy Days and Memories

“Into each life, some rain must fall.– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It’s that time of year again — cold and raining. And the thoughts that crossed my mind last year, surfaced again this year as I walked by the lake and felt the cold wind on my skin.

Funny how such ordinary things as the rustling of leaves, the breeze on one’s skin, the chirping of birds can bring back a flood of memories — all those feelings from years ago come back and seem so fresh. Yet, you are brought back to reality as soon as you tell yourself, “That was then, this is now. And now you are wasting time and energy thinking about it.”

My best friend has told me many times I think too much of the past, that the future is more important. Maybe so.

But one has no control over what comes to mind, or does one? I can shake off thoughts that come to mind, but there is no way I can stop these thoughts from entering my mind. Even saying, “I will not think about it,” is proof that I AM thinking about it.

Walking in the winter rain does this to me all the time — full of drama in the head. But this too shall pass.

Hope you have a lovelier weather than what I have in my neck of the woods.

T.

Time and Memories

img_3898

I checked the date today and realized I had only been back from home for a week. It feels like I had not been home for a month and missing my son so bad.

Is it time that plays tricks on us, or is it our brain?

Sometimes a memory comes into mind, and I would feel it happened just yesterday. Other times I would feel it happened a lifetime ago.

Sometimes I wish I could relive a memory, not just recall it. Like how my son as a toddler, looked at and listened to me when I sang to him, as if I was the most entertaining person in the world, and he was my number 1 fan. Or how he would stop playing and run to me to hug me while I was busy in the kitchen.

Other memories I just want to erase, the same way you highlight a text you’re typing (Ctrl-A) and then press delete. Save. That quickly. But the irony is, the more you want to forget something, the more it rankles in your mind. Memories like these are hard to forget. Is there ever a way to forget?

 

T.

 

 

In search of Gong Bao Ji Ding

In my first few years in China, I often ordered Gong Bao Ji Ding (宫保鸡丁 or Kung Pao Chicken) and Mapo Doufu (麻婆豆腐)whenever we went out to eat simply because the Chinese restaurants my friends and I often went to were Sichuan restaurants.
But as years passed and my friends left in China, my husband and I seldom go out to eat, and when we do we don’t usually eat Sichuan food. So I had not eaten Gong Bao Ji Ding in at least 4 years even though I live in China! Until today.

We purposely went out to find a restaurant that serves Gong Bao Ji Ding because the restaurant we used to go to no longer serves my favorite dish! We walked about 3 km until we found one that serves it. Though I was a little disappointed it didn’t taste the same as I remembered it, I was still glad I finally got to eat it again!
Another dish I recalled liking then and ordered today was Gan Bian Si Ji Dou (干煸四季豆).

This one tasted the same though.
All in all we had a beautiful morning walk that culminated in a good lunch that brought back memories of good food and fun company.

Have a wonderful weekend! 💕

T.

“Coco” and Remembering the Departed

COCO

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” — Thomas Campbell

I am no longer a big Disney fan, but I watched “Coco” because I wanted to find another movie that my son can watch and enjoy watching. I absolutely loved this movie, not only for its story but for how close it is to my own culture. This movie reminds me again of how similar the Mexican and Philippine cultures are – having both Spanish and American influences. (And this in turn, reminds me of my trip to Canada last year where I met a young Mexican man at the airport in Vancouver. I had to call the travel agency, but my phone wouldn’t work. He offered to let me use his phone, even though we didn’t even know each other’s names. Later he sat next to me on the bus, and we talked all the way from Vancouver to Victoria like we’d known each other forever! It felt like I was talking to my own nephew!)

For an adult to enjoy this movie, one has to employ a willing suspension of disbelief – for example, there’s no need to question (like I did): before the invention of the camera, what was the requirement for the departed to be able to visit the living if they had no pictures in the ofrenda?!

In my hometown (I’m not sure if this true in all of the Philippines), when All Souls’ Day comes, people would write down on an envelope the names of their loved ones who had passed on, and put money inside and offer this to the altar during the Offertory part of the mass. The priest would then read the names of the departed, praying for their eternal repose. (When there are too many names to read, the priest would just say, “All the departed whose names are here on the altar” or something like that.)

One All Souls’ Day years ago, my mother couldn’t find an envelope to use for the offering. She was getting agitated. I finally found an Air Mail envelope with the red and blue stripes on the sides, and said, “Here, Ma, this will get to God faster!” She tried so hard not to laugh, believing it was blasphemous.

Also on All Souls’ Day, we fill our altar with the departed’s favorite things. Just like in “Coco.” I’m using the present tense “fill” because we (my sisters back home, and me here in China) still practice the same. But what we do prepare is nothing compared to what my grandparents did back in the day.

My grandparents had something like a prayer room. There was a big altar with several icons. At the center was that of Christ the King, and then that of St. Michael (the patron saint of my city) and the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Joseph, etc. My grandfather had a big chair facing the altar where he would sit and pray the rosary in the evening. On All Souls’ Day, there would be different kinds of food, and drinks and tobacco or cigarettes. It was an exciting time for us kids back then because we looked forward to eating those sweets prepared for the dead. We were told to wait until the dead had seen them. To be honest, I can’t remember what time they said it was that the dead came to see the offering.

Since I moved to China, I would make a small altar made up of a cross and a candle on my father’s birthday and on All Souls’ Day. I’d “offer” a brownie or a slice of chocolate cake, a can of beer or a glass or rum, and a pack of cigarettes, and in the evening I’d drink the beer or rum (with coke though) and smoke a cigarette. These are the only times I smoke or drink. I’m allergic to alcohol, but I like remembering him this way. (My father only drunk on weekends after playing tennis. He didn’t drink on Sundays or weekdays because he didn’t want to be hungover at work.)

As my mother has also passed on, I now have two pictures on my altar.

Watching “Coco” made me realize that this practice of remembering the dead is rooted in the belief in the existence of purgatory and that the dead need help from the living for them to move on. I do no really think of heaven, hell or purgatory anymore unlike when I was a kid when I saw the cover of the Novena for the Souls in Purgatory.

So why do I still keep photographs of my dead parents and prepare an “offering”?
If I am to be honest, it is for selfish reasons – I miss them, and I do not want to ever forget them, and part of me wants to believe that somehow they can still see or hear me and help me when I have a burden that’s too much for me to carry.

It is very selfish and immature perhaps, but I think when you grew up having very protective parents, a part of you will always remain a child of your parents, looking up to them for guidance and protection. Just like Coco, who was already a great-great grandmother, yet still calling out for her Papa like a child (she might have had Alzheimer’s, but her memory of her father was not a false one.)

Can the dead see or hear? Will they know that the living even think of them? Perhaps not. But remembering the dead is not really for them to be taken out of purgatory and into heaven. It is for the living that theymay have the courage to live their lives the way their departed loved ones would have wanted them to do.

Of flowers and funny mothers 


I bought these flowers yesterday with my mother in mind. She would’ve turned 83 today. She loved flowers and liked to have fresh flowers on the altar, so I always bought some on Sundays when I was home.

I miss my mother. I miss hearing her voice, especially her laughter. She was a funny woman who could not tell a story without standing up and making gestures and lots of facial expression. But she only did that in front of her 4th grade pupils and us, her family. She always seemed different when with other people.

At her funeral, my sisters unanimously voted for me to give the eulogy. The youngest always gets the least easy task. I was unprepared (funeral was held three days after she passed on) — sleep-deprived, a restless 5-year-old to look after, and a flight to catch –and I was unable to deliver a eulogy my dramatic yet funny mother would have liked. Sorry, Ming.

These days what it feels like is wanting so much to speak with somebody but the person can never be there anymore. Not even a video call or even a text message. Just silence. And a big part of you just wants to break that silence even just for a minute, even if what she says is the same thing over and over again.
T.

On Mistakes, Memories and Introversion  

One of the lines that struck me from the season finale of Westworld, was spoken by Bernard to Maeve: “How can you learn from your mistakes, if you don’t remember them?

Though some memories are better totally forgotten, these actually have contributed to our present selves. The “we” that we know is a product of all the experiences we have been through and our memories of them.

I think I have an earlier post on a similar theme, but I like musing on this idea: that awareness and understanding and acceptance of our past – all the good and the bad – help us deal with our present selves. I had some very sad experiences as a child, and even sadder and painful experiences as an adult, but I acknowledge that those same experiences have helped shape a more confident, wiser and stronger ME.

In my early twenties, I was made aware of certain patterns in my behavior towards certain people and circumstances. I would have the same problems, dilemmas over and over again. Same story, different people that I was unhappy with  and different settings. It took me a while to see that I was following a pattern. Thankfully I was patient enough with myself and had the enthusiasm to write in my journal my thoughts and feelings during this very confusing period of my life. My journals have been a great help in my journey through self-awareness and self-acceptance. My memories have taught me how to handle my emotions better, and how to prevent myself from getting into an unhealthy pattern of behavior of unnecessarily feeling hurt by other people who may or may not have the intention to hurt me.

My memories have helped me narrow down my list of trusted friends. My memories remind me of the kind of people and situations I have to avoid to have some peace within, because it is true –one can be kind to everybody, but one can’t possibly have everyone as a friend. It may sound like I have built a wall around me, and that it’s not a good thing. I beg to differ though. I think we need walls to protect ourselves, but the walls have to have a door where we can let certain people in; and certainly with age, I feel this works for me. I do not feel the need to meet with so many people and have more “friends”. I do not get energized going to parties and making small talk with people who, just like me, are merely being polite. It’s exhausting. (But yes, once in a while, necessary which is why I socialize once or twice a month.)

However I enjoy being among my family and a handful of people I call friends, with whom I don’t have to be merely polite, but be able to show not only the loving and caring me, but also the silly, goofy me. Then I can laugh. And the laughter is real.

I recognize the changes I have gone through from being introverted as a child, extroverted as a teenager and twenty-something, and introverted again as an adult. This is quite common, I guess, as a number of people online have asked if people become more introverted with age.

The shift to introversion may be a result of the experiences older people have had and their memories of them. The mistakes they made in their lives somehow make them build a wall around themselves, not to hide themselves, but to let only a few people in – the ones they think are worth keeping. And with the wall too, they get to have more time for themselves and introspect and assess their lives.

I agree with Bernard, we should remember our mistakes. We should have memories. And we should be mindful of them. Learn from them. Or we risk making the same mistakes we did in our youth,trapped in a looped narrative and not even knowing it. That is just sad.

 

I wrote this in December 2016. I don’t remember why I didn’t post this though. Perhaps later I will re-read this and realize why I didn’t and then take it down. Lol. I’m looking forward to the next season of WW. But first, Game of Thrones! 

On Age, Music and Chemicals in the Brain

music

A few days ago, I came across this interesting post on serotonin and dopamine and was reminded of it yesterday as I was listening to the songs of Barry Manilow. (OK. Please. Just be patient with me. I do have a point I want to share.)

When I was younger (“…so much younger than today…”) whenever I heard Barry Manilow’s songs, I would sing along until I cried (Yeah, I was that disgustingly dramatic.) I would think of the guys that I liked but didn’t even know I existed, or the guys that I liked but were not free, or the only one that broke my heart to pieces. (Who would not cry listening to “Even Now” and “Somewhere down the Road”???)

Now that I’m in my 40’s and in a stable, loving relationship with my husband of 10 years, and together raising a child, I feel absolutely nothing when I hear the songs that used to make me cry and later make me smile. When I listened to those same songs yesterday, there was not even a sigh. Nada. It seemed like that part of my mind or my heart just disappeared!

My husband thinks it’s just because I’m over that time in my life. Well, I have been over that period in my life for years now. But I used to have fond memories of that time. Now, even that fondness is gone.

So I wonder if those chemicals in my brain are up to something, or I am just getting old or already old.

Do old songs still make you cry or smile or angry? Do they have any effect on you at all? 

Mother’s Memories

You stared blankly into space  
As if looking at something 
That only you could see. 

Then you opened your mouth to speak 
About old friends and the fun times you had with them 
And how there was only peace among everyone 

You said you wanted to go back to the old house 
With the people you say were your real friends. 

We wish we could give you what you want. 
But the house has been gone for over half a century 
And your friends’ tombstones have even faded 

I wiped a tear away as I felt I was no longer in your memory. 
But I braved myself to ask,  “Do you know who I am?”
You turned to look at me and softly said my name, 

 And added, “My dearest child.” 

Childhood Memories

childhood memories

I watched the movie “Lucy” sometime ago and thought the first half of the film was interesting, and then it just got stranger and sillier until the end. But one scene that stuck with me is the phone conversation Lucy had with her mom, where she told her she could feel everything, remember everything vividly, as if they happened just a few seconds ago. She could remember how her mother kissed her when she was still a baby.

Would you like that? To remember everything so vividly? I am guessing most people would like to remember just the happy, beautiful times and not the painful ones. In fact most people would prefer to forget the pain they have gone through.

When I was a little girl, being the youngest, I was very affectionate with my mother. I always liked kissing and hugging her and being kissed and hugged in return. She always smelled of Johnson’s Baby Powder, and I liked that. I went on being like this even when I was already in my late 20’s. My sisters used to tell me off telling me it was disgusting that I still acted like a baby when I was already an adult. But it never bothered me what other people thought.

Those are not the only memories I have of me and my mother in my childhood though. I also still vividly remember the times my mother got angry with me and my sisters. I would not say it was a typical Asian way of discipline, but it was quite common to be hit and scolded in front of family and friends or even strangers. My sisters and I sometimes talk about those times with a little sadness and a lot of laughter, but my mother remembers nothing of those times she was not gentle with us.

Yes, I remember them as well, but those hugs and kisses are the more powerful memories.

So now that I, myself, have become a mother, I hug my son tightly as often as I can, hoping he will never forget how much his mom loves him and makes him feel loved. I want him to always remember the loving look his mom gives him, and how when he is scared or hurt, his mom comforts him and makes him feel safe.

It is useless to wish he won’t remember the times I get angry with him, but I hope those memories will not be as vivid as the beautiful ones.

One of my favorite scenes from Dostoevky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov is at the trial of Mitya (Dmitry) when Dr. Herzenstube was called to the witness stand. He recalled a time when he saw Mitya as a little boy, “barefoot, his little trousers held up by a button…” He felt so sorry for him, knowing that Mitya’s father cared little for the boy, and decided to give him a pound of nuts. After that he did not see Mitya again, until twenty-three years later, a young man came to visit him and reminded him of his generosity. This young man said to him, “I’ve just come to town and I want to thank you now for the pound of nuts you once gave me, because you’re the only person who has ever given me a pound of nuts in my whole life!”

What happens in our childhood may have a major impact in our lives as adults. We remember things that happened to us when we were children as if they just happened yesterday. Some may be good, others may make us cringe or angry.

What’s your best childhood memory?

Love in the time of Computers

How many times have I fooled
Myself into hoping
That you’d come
Knocking at my door
To surprise me
To make me smile
Like you used to.

Why is it so hard
To store in this brain
That you had moved on
But left everything
For me to process
And decode the meaning
Of your sudden leaving.

Isn’t it enough
That you had left
(Not the country,
Though I sure wish you would!)
And that you see me
See you happier
Without me?

But ah, this brain
This brain has faulty programming.
Its memory is full.
It cannot store new data
And none can be deleted.
It can only self-destruct,
In due time.

Serenity in Solitude

IMG_1592

The other day I read about a father who sang a song and played the guitar for his dying baby.

I couldn’t stop crying, and just wanted to hold my sleeping Eli as tightly as I could.

There is so much pain and suffering in this world, but since I was 19, I have always believed and seen pain and suffering coming to an end, joy taking their place, and making people stronger, until the next round of pain and suffering comes.

A friend once called me masochistic because I said I liked feeling sad and experiencing pain because the experience made me think and introspect, thereby making me know myself better. And thinking and introspecting always give me peace and the energy to go on living in such an absurd world.

When I am down or just want to vanish from this world, I am blessed enough to remember the only time I had a one-week retreat in a Carmelite Monastery by the sea. It was so long ago, almost twenty years ago when I was at the height of searching for answers to questions that my mother worried were driving me crazy. (She always complained that it took me forever to finish doing the dishes because I was always lost in thought!)

For one week I was mostly alone in a 4-story building that was the retreat house. My retreat guide came to visit me twice and did not stay longer than two hours each time. I had a room on the top floor which was close to the big balcony that faced the sea, where every half an hour, a ferry from the west port would cross to the south port. I stayed out in the balcony in late afternoons and waited for the sky to turn from orange to gray and then black; and then the lights from the ports came on, and I could see the lights from the ferry moving in the darkness. In the morning I went to a wooden gazebo on stilts right in the water connected to the retreat house by footbridge made of bamboo. I would listen to the sound of the small waves as they hit the bamboo stilts underneath, smell the briny scent of seawater, and hear the occasional squawk of a bird overhead. These images, sensations come back to me as clearly as the time I was there.

My theosophist friend with whom I used to spend a lot of time talking TO (she just listened most of the time, bless her) once told me that one reason we miss somebody or something too much when they/its gone, is that when they were there, we did not give our whole self to them. Our mind perhaps wandered to somewhere else, and so our experience of them was incomplete. So that time when I was on a retreat, I made sure I was completely there. I watched,listened and felt my surroundings. I will say I miss being there, but I can also “go back” to that place whenever I need to. I can have a few minutes of peace and serenity just by remembering my time in that retreat house.

I do not mean to offend people who suffer because I, too, have suffered, but I find beauty in suffering and pain. I get energy from knowing that this suffering would come to an end, and when it does, I will experience joy, and it will be very sweet just as sweet food tastes even sweeter after eating bitter food.

But to find beauty in suffering, one needs to get away from everything. One needs to be quiet and look within to be able see better what is outside. This is nothing new, and I’m not trying to sound like an expert on this subject, but I speak (write) from experience.

These days it is extremely difficult to have some real quiet. People cannot get away from their cellphones. For everything that happens in their life, no matter how trivial, they feel somebody else has to know. Or they feel they have to know what other people are up to. People are so concerned with what they look like on the outside that they have forgotten to look within and know themselves, who they really are and of what they are capable. There is more self-absorption than self-awareness    , and it does not help anyone.

I hope we can all find time, especially when we are down, to get away from it all and go to a place –physical and/or spiritual — where we can recharge and be better equipped to face life’s absurdities.

Have a pleasant week!

Aging and Memories

IMG_0857

Iligan City, Philippines

 

I like being in my 40’s. Of course people will say it’s because I have no choice, but it’s more than that. I have embraced being 40 something, and am loving myself more and becoming more confident than I have ever been about myself. It’s great not to worry about what others think about what I’m wearing. I think that’s the biggest and silliest thing I ever worried about before. I still worry about whether people think I’m stupid. I know I can be stupid sometimes, I just don’t like it when other people say it. I’ve never really worried about what people think about what I do for as long as I enjoy what I’m doing. Especially now that I’ve been living in another country for the past 11 years, I’m not really bothered by what people back home or even in the country I’m in, think about my actions. Being a foreigner has given me the freedom to be what I want to be without hurting the sensibilities of those I care about back home. (Look, mom, I’m 42, happily married to a good man and have a cute little son! I can take care of myself.)

With age people tend to become forgetful. Sometimes I find myself forgetting what I did just a few minutes ago. I have to pause and think (usually aloud!) “What was I doing earlier?” I find that scary. But with age, too, some memories become even more vivid.

A few days ago I had early morning coffee with a friend. It was a beautiful, clear and breezy Monday morning, and the coolness of the air brought back memories of a certain bittersweet feeling that was so strong back then when I was feeling it, and seemed just as strong as I was recalling it. For a few seconds I was back in that spot where I stood 15 years ago, hearing the rustling of the leaves of the tall, thin trees as they swayed toward each other, the crackling of dried leaves as they were stepped on, and the tiny voice inside of me that was saying, “This is all so beautiful, I don’t want it to end”;and then the voice that ended it all when it said — “You know why this is so beautiful? It’s because we know it’s not gonna last.”

There are memories that we wish we could just forget, memories we wish we would remember forever, and memories that just appear when we least expect them. As we live each day we are creating new memories. We have no way of knowing whether they’ll be forgettable or unforgettable ones, but we can try to make good ones as we create them. October 16