Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From dry to wet

The Philippine summer, or more appropriately the dry season, ended with the arrival of a super typhoon in the Philippine area of responsibility last week. Luzon was fortunate to have been spared by the typhoon when its trajectory brought it instead along a path that headed to Okinawa and the Japanese mainlands. Fortunately, too, the typhoon weakened into a tropical depression before it hit Japan and also spared that country from more misery from another of nature's reminders of how powerful it truly is.

For me, the signs of the transition from the dry season to the wet season was already evident in the days prior to the conception of typhoon Chedeng (international codename: Songda). It was already raining in parts of Metro Manila in the afternoons, usually stronger in the area near the La Mesa watershed including Novaliches and the Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban). From the clouds visible from the Blue Ridge section of C5, I could also guess that there were probably rains in the eastern parts of Antipolo and probably the towns of Tanay and Teresa on the other side of the Sierra Madre mountains.

I personally experienced the rains in unceremonious terms one Sunday afternoon as I drove from my in-laws home in Novaliches to my parents' home in Cainta. It was zero visibility all throughout my drive along Commonwealth Avenue and I had to turn on all my lights including my blinkers (hazard lights) like all the other vehicles in traffic that afternoon. The downpour was so much and over a wide area that I believe I passed through at least 9 flooded sections of road including portions of Commonwealth Avenue, Katipunan Avenue Marcos Highway and Imelda Avenue. Most of these were familiar sections as they were the most likely to have floods especially the flash floods brought about by the heavy rains that afternoon. For Marcos Highway, I was a bit surprised because the waters were quite deep but I understood the situation given the unfinished road and drainage works along that highway. To be fair, the work was continuous, it was just that the rainfall was so intense. I just hope that when the project is completed, it would be able to handle such downpours.

So I guess it's farewell to summer now, at least what we in the Philippines term as summer. For now, I should look forward to when the dry season will begin again. That is probably in the period that coincides with autumn in temperate countries of the northern hemisphere. There is the prospect of traveling with the Clairvoyant to the Bay Area and perhaps explore and experience places we have been planning to see for some time now.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Missed opportunities

The Clairvoyant is returning from San Francisco today and I just got off the phone with her telling me in ecstatic tones what I missed during the US trip. She was at NAIA Terminal 2 to catch a connecting flight back to our second home in Singapore. I was eagerly looking forward to the US trip. For one, such opportunities when the wife and I get to travel together abroad are quite rare. The last time we did was Japan but I guess that can be considered an exception since I was already staying in that country as a visiting researcher. Still, we were able to plan that out and it did help that her office had their meetings in Tokyo around the time I was there. Singapore doesn't count because we have a home there and the Clairvoyant is based in that country now.

A US trip would have been wonderful and the Bay Area would have been the perfect staging point for expeditions to Napa Valley, Silicon Valley and other places of interest I was not able to check out during my brief stay in 2007. That time was my first and only US trip (The Clairvoyant frequently travels to the US as their headquarters is in Chicago.) and I still regret why I didn't extend my stay to be a tourist for a few days. Oh yes, I remember the reason, I didn't have money at the time. But now is different. Though we are not awash with cash, I certainly could afford to go around more with the Peso strengthening against the Dollar and the fact that I did prepare a budget for the trip. Problem is, work happened, and I haven't stopped saying sorry to the Clairvoyant for what could have been an opportunity of a lifetime with no work whatsoever linked to the travel.

So to sort of alleviate my feelings of regret and what might have beens these past days when I could have been in California instead of in wallowing in work in Manila, I am posting some photos of fine memories of my first US trip. I am very thankful to friends from way back in high school for hosting me for few days before I returned to Manila at the time. The brothers Mike and Ian Campos are great hosts and we had a great time exchanging stories and experiences since we last saw each other prior to my visit. I am also very thankful to Tin Togle, a friend of ours from the Clairvoyant's previous work at a Makati law firm. She took me shopping and I do not regret getting the pair of Cole Haans that to this day remain as my favorite shoes (yes, I am vain, too).

With the Campos brother Mike and Ian, who were my high school classmates

With Ian and family

With Mike in front of SF City Hall

At the wharf

Lombard Street - "the crooked path"

At Ghirardelli Square (before shopping for chocolates)

In front of the UC Berkeley Dorm Building where we stayed at during WCTR 2007

With Tin Togle at the Campos residence

At the fog shrouded Golden Gate Bridge

Waiting to take the San Jose VTA

At a BART Station platform

Saturday, May 21, 2011

End of the world?

It is May 21, 2011 and it is supposed to be the end of the world. News programs have featured people in the US professing to their knowing May 21 to be the end of the world that will start with the occurrence of a powerful earthquake. But then again, this is one phenomenon that we still couldn't predict when one will exactly occur even given the best equipment that public and private funds could buy. Japan was not able to determine that a big one would happen in March 2011 and that it would be off the coast of Tohoku and that it would generate the terrible tsunami that would go on to kill thousands in a country that was supposed to be prepared for The Big One.

End of the world? Perhaps we should check again when 2012 comes around in less than 8 months time. Probably we can even get to compare it with the visuals in the movie that carried the same title. And for those who can't get it yet perhaps we should just live our lives as if it is going to be the end of the world tomorrow.

I am not suggesting that people should go out and be wild and careless and reckless. Perhaps we should be mindful of the most important people and things in our lives. These people are the ones whom we love and should be with and pay attention to. Perhaps we should be thankful that there is a brand new day each time we wake up in the morning and be appreciative of the littlest things. And perhaps we shouldn't preoccupy ourselves with doomsday pronouncements so much as we should be worried about whether we are contributing to making this world a better place for our fellowman.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Master sense

As I arrived from the grocery last weekend, our neighbor pointed out that our dogs started barking way before my car pulled into the driveway. I replied that the dogs had the knack for sensing our impending arrival as if they could smell our scent a mile away. This has been validated by our help and my father who at times had to dog-sit for us. The dogs become alerted and bark a certain way and the next thing is our arrival.

Particularly sensitive is our terrier mix Barbie who is always the firs to sense us and starts barking to alert our Lab Troy. Troy would have the big voice that would usually catch the attention of any human. His bark though worse than his bite (Labs being mild-mannered), it always seems that the bark comes from a vicious animal given that he does bark with a loud, whole voice that masks the gentle beast that he really is.

I believe it is one of their ways of recognizing us and welcoming us every time we arrive home. It is something one would look forward to every single day. It is also perhaps something that gives us a feeling of relief after a hard day's work. To me, it is a way to de-stress after a toxic day.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tragedy and mockery

Friday the 13th turned out to be tragic to a faculty member of the College of Mass Communications of the University of the Philippines Diliman. Prof. Lourdes Estella-Simbulan was killed when a bus hit the taxi she was riding along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City at around 6:00 PM yesterday. By the looks of the crumpled taxi cab shown in photos and videos taken by the media, it would have been a miracle if she survived such a crash.

Adding insult to injury were reports that the bus driver fled after the incident. The name of the bus company is not familiar to me despite our Center currently immersed in a project developing a planning support system for public transportation that included a database component that required us collecting data on companies and operators of public transport in Metro Manila. I suspect that the bus is one of those fly-by-night units taking advantage of the night in operating illegally or maybe one that is part of the kabit system that would be difficult to take to task by the HPG or the LTFRB. It is indeed a mockery of traffic rules and regulations that drivers can get away with murder when they are involved in crashes such as this. It is even more frustrating that the most common reason mentioned by drivers when asked why they drive recklessly is that they are just “naghahanap buhay” or earning a living. Such is unacceptable and those charged to bring order to traffic should be decisive and assertive on acting to prevent such crashes from happening again.

To me there is some irony in what had transpired considering that a couple of days ago, the Philippine joined other countries around the world in launching a program geared towards the reduction of road crashes and victims in the next ten years. Forget about the decade – there is a need to reduce crashes and victims NOW. This is because people are getting killed (or dare I say murdered) now, and there are terrible costs even as I write this post.

The College of Mass Communications is a partner in our advocacy for road traffic safety. In fact, that college produced a video for driver education that was supported by resources extended by the private sector led by the Automobile Association Philippines and Toyota Motor Philippines. I am sure that their faculty are now wondering if their efforts have been to naught considering the proliferation of drivers disregarding traffic rules and regulations, throwing caution to the air when they drive their vehicles.

On my part as head of a Center providing training to public utility vehicle drivers, I feel responsible and frustrated at the same time as I question myself if indeed our efforts are even having the slightest influence to improve PUV drivers’ behaviors. In fact, I have been admonishing participants in our training courses about how they sit in and pretend to learn, and then go out and drive like hell. I just hope that the driver involved in the crash that killed Prof. Simbulan is not among those whom we trained at the Center. It would be a shame and one that makes a mockery out of our efforts in promoting road safety. It is our failure as educators that our students and trainees do not practice what they are taught in terms of road safety. We just take it with a grain of salt, so to speak, that responsibility for such PUV drivers’ behavior can also be linked to a flawed licensing system as well as shortcomings in the regulations of public transport services. Indeed, we have our work cut out for us and we can only hope that our persistent efforts would eventually prevail and lead to a significant improvement to safety along our roads.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Missing the Clairvoyant

Savage Garden provides a perfect soundtrack to what I had in mind 12 years ago...

Stormwatch in early May

I didn't get to sleep much last night. It wasn't really because the Clairvoyant happened to be in Singapore nor was it due to our two dogs insisting to give me company. It was mainly out of being so aware and so conscious about the heavy rains that started pouring shortly after the conclusion of the television broadcast of Manny Pacquiao's boxing match against an overwhelmed Shane Mosley. I guess it is already part of me that I go into something like a vigil mode when I sense something extreme about the weather. I have experienced too many typhoons and had waded into too many floods in my lifetime that I know just how strong certain rains are based on sound alone.

It was quite alarming for me already when, during the drive from Novaliches to Cainta, the rains started pouring and there was practically zero visibility for the entire stretch of Commonwealth Avenue. I estimated that I encountered 5 flooded sections of that highway and had to be thankful of the buses who literally parted waters so that lighter vehicles could move forward in their wakes. Entering the UP campus was a blessing since the drainage system is usually excellent and flash floods are rare because of the elevation. Katipunan, however, offered 2 flooded sections but these were easily traversed as one only had to keep to the lanes closest to the median where the water was negligible. I was in for a surprise though when after traveling along Marcos Highway quite unhindered, I encountered a flood just before reaching Dela Paz in front of a small hospital where both the DPWH and Manila Water were conducting works intended for drainage and water supply, respectively. It was deep enough and many of us motorists braved the waters, one after the other, and mindful of the water lapping the underside of our vehicles and likely to enter our tailpipes. From thereon, I only had to deal with one more flash flood along Imelda Avenue right after Vista Verde and in front of a Phoenix gas station. That's a total of 9 floods I had to go through yesterday, and silently I prayed that my vehicle won't stall and that the rains would cease.

I didn't expect the rains to be that strong and I must admit that I let my guard off a little as I dismissed a tropical depression as not at all alarming at this time of year. After all, it is still early May and only last week we had experienced scorching weather with temperatures reaching highs of 35 and 36 degrees Celsius in Metro Manila. It was supposed to be the dry season and summer in most parts of the country. This, however, seems to be a false assumption now that we got drenched yesterday and are expected to be drenched again today. Our climate now seems so delicate and or weather systems seem to become more unpredictable.

With state of the art equipment claimed to have been acquired by the DOST-PAGASA much was and is expected for the local weather agency to at least provide guided estimates of rainfall. A simple comparison will suffice in making people aware of how much rain is expected. Our knowledge for example that Typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy poured something like 58mm per hour of rain makes for an excellent benchmark for what people can easily visualize as what could happen if given a figure to compare with such reference. It is simple, straightforward science that if applied properly would save us some sleepless nights.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Murder or self-defense? - INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos

The news the past week has been tremendous considering the events that have unfolded, both good and bad, happy and sad. Many people, however, may regard what is usually sad or bad news as joyous or good. I am not talking about the Royal Wedding or the Beatification of John Paul 2. These are definitely and obviously joyous events. I am referring rather to the death of Osama bin Laden. A lot has been written about this person, his works and what he stands for. Most of these are probably about the evil that he has done, the harm he caused to a lot of people including those attributed to him due to his disciples actions. I am sure that if he were just another person, who typically did both good and bad like anyone of us, his death would be mourned by so many including relatives and friends who would attest to his good deeds. And yet, not so many probably mourn his passing (or in the words of his supporters, his murder or assassination) compared to the tremendous lot who celebrate him no longer being able actively influence our lives. Indeed, it is a form of closure despite some people claiming that "the end does not justify the means." The article I read today from the Inquirer is a good read and I share in some of the thoughts of the columnist. We can all claim to have reservations about capital punishment or for asking for the blood of those who did heinous wrong. However, isn't it also too difficult, too challenging once it is us who are offended or injured? It is a challenge to how strong our faith really is when such things become a reality rather than be treated as theoretical or hypothetical.

Murder or self-defense? - INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos

You be the judge?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I have always told stories about Troy, our Labrador Retriever. He is a very smart dog and seems to know when you're down as he snuggles up like a cat to let you know everything will be alright. A dog's unconditional love and companionship is a surefire way to keep stress levels down. I think he actually helps keep my blood pressure in check. Below is a recent clip I took of Troy as he communicates his desire for food. And mind you, he knows where the goodies are located - the refrigerator!

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I am no stranger to hard work considering I am a civil servant, having worked for the government since 1995. It is always said though that working for a state university is quite different from working in other government office such as say a local government unit or a national agency. I am inclined to agree considering my experiences as a faculty member at the University of the Philippines and in interacting with other people working for various office of government. Perhaps it is this different environment, a nurturing yet inquisitive and challenging environment, that makes us a rare breed and a valuable commodity for administrations that allow us and our graduates to be elected or appointed to sensitive positions in government and the private sector. But that, of course, can be considered arrogant and aloof in many ways by others who do not understand how it is to be part of the faculty of the country's premiere university.

I am, however, not going to talk about that kind of labor in this post. I will talk about work that we typically call chores when we and the members of our family do it, and work or labor when it is done by our help. The way we call it is very typical of the way we call illnesses (asthmatic vs. hikain, warts vs. kulugo, Down's vs. mongoloid, etc.) that they sound so different and so pedestrian when used for those who appear to be of lower social class compared to the term used for those who can afford the "finer things in life."

I am no stranger to household work. This, even though we have had help at our home when I was growing up and even today as my parents are already senior citizens. I attribute this to our helping out at the house despite having help. My parents are firm believers of hard work and have taught us how to do the basic chores of cleaning the house, washing the dishes, tending to the plants, doing the laundry, and ironing clothes. I can even do a little cooking, thanks to a mother who was taught me at least to cook my favorite dishes. My way, however, has not replicated hers and I still long for the distinctive taste of her cooking.

I was able to practice doing a lot of these chores when I stayed in Japan. I can proudly say that in my 3-year stint while working on my doctorate degree, I was also able to hone my skills in ironing and cleaning. Let it not be said that I went to the university with unpressed clothes nor will any visitor attest to not seeing my home away from home clean and orderly. I take pride in this as I do so today. Of course, these days I have better tools than what we had before though I did have my own vacuum cleaner when I was in Japan and I did use my personal steam iron while there. I was just thankful that we had washers and dryers at the dormitory and the "mansion" back in Yokohama. I was prepared to do handwashing but it took much time and effort and I was abroad mainly to study rather than do housework.

I salute those who do decent, honest work on this Labor Day. A lot of people don't even the simplest menial work because perhaps they have not done anything like it. We tend to dismiss housework as chores and some even detest it as if it is something that is not worthy of our time. Is it perhaps due to our having help and our parents not allowing us to lift a finger to even put order in our rooms or closets? Is it because we were spoiled and had snooty parents and relatives? It is sad if we were like that and think so about our help and about other workers and laborers in different lines of work. We might be professionals or white collar workers, or perhaps homemakers with staffs to work at our pleasure. But we should learn to appreciate and to value hard work that is put in by others, sparing us of doing so in the process and freeing us to do what we like to do.