Sunday, 17 June 2018


My colleague flopped onto her chair, after spending lunch break with her dad whom she hasn’t seen for at least a couple of weeks. Her old man ended up spending a good part of the hour on a conference call. Half-sulking, half-blushing, she said she stared at him all throughout lunch, hoping for a conversation, but was nevertheless content with his physical presence.

“I’d kill for that,” I said straight from the shoulder.

In fact, I’d kill all the men in my path to have an hour’s lunch with my father even if it was just to stare at him. I said that in jest, of course, but who knows what we’re capable of when what’s at stake is a short-lived reward of reliving time lost? 

I excused myself, went straight to the bathroom, and allowed myself a good cry. It’s my hayfever, I explained of my bloodshot eyes when I returned to my desk.  

Like others, Papa and I had father-daughter dates. We ate out, watched films (he preferred me as his companion as my mother would be asleep halfway through the film then ask him what happened the whole time she was dozing off), and went shopping (my favourite as I always came home with something as well even though the trip was for him). We went bowling, much to my chagrin at the time as my manicured nails would break and I wouldn't and couldn't show my annoyance so as not to disappoint him. A few months before he passed, we talked about my move to another country over coffee and cigarettes—I know it's not the healthiest of habits—but my smoking-and-coffee vice back then was a revelation to him: I wasn't his little girl anymore.

This framed photo of Papa is displayed on his old TV stand at my maternal grandmother's ancestral home. He was around 46 then. I'm on a mission to collect more of his old photos for future projects.

When I was studying for my pre-medical course, Papa, during one of his medical association conferences, would pick me up from my dormitory and take me along to either sit in one of the lectures or join him and his fellow physicians for dinner. It shaped my confidence to mingle with men and women of respectable professional standing, and I undoubtedly intimated to myself that I belonged there. At least that's what I thought. Before my stage father had images of me as a chanteuse, he thought I could be as brilliant as he was with a stethoscope and a scalpel. One afternoon, Papa took me as an observer while he removed a cyst in a woman’s breast. At the time, I was barely past my Human Anatomy classes where dissecting cadavers on a cold hard slab was my closest brush with human flesh. I barely saw Papa at the time as his medical practice was in his hometown in Mindanao, so every opportunity to spend time together was taken up, so much so that standing next to him by the operating table was considered quality time. 

No one will disagree that Papa's most looked forward to and major father-daughter bonding was him organising fundraising musical events with me as the singer, or him watching my singing gigs which I took up while in between jobs. To describe him as very proud of me was an understatement; he was astounded that someone like him who couldn’t even vocalise do-re-mi in tune actually carried musical genes and passed it on to me. When I was a young girl, Papa used to gather family members (and some neighbours, to my horror) in the front room of my maternal grandmother’s house so they all could hear me belt out Whitney Houston’s ‘One Moment in Time’. Now convinced he had a crush on Ms Houston, I would be teasing him about it if he were alive. With his head resting comfortably on our living room sofa, eyes closed, he would listen to me sing some of his favourite ballads after dinner or breakfast, which also became my rehearsal for recitals or any performances scheduled. Nowadays when I think of him, I close my eyes the way he used to. The only expression I can’t recreate is the faint smile on his lips—I have tears in my eyes instead. 

People ask me why I stopped singing. I give a list of practical don't-ask-me-again reasons, but the most profound which I'll only ever mention here is that that the person I'd love to hear me sing most is gone. There is no one else most impressed to impress.

I'd love to sit down with him and talk as much about anything as possible, not because we're running out of time, but rather because it is the only time. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind sitting next to or opposite him in silence while he goes through his morning ritual of reading a broadsheet from cover to cover while sipping a cup of sugary black coffee I just made for him. For reasons of family feuds and misunderstandings caught in a web of political and social turmoils (yes it's that complicated and I'm not exaggerating), I can't get near his resting place. I visit my father in my memory, from the first and last time I paid my final respect at his grave, and I don't want that slice of my last memory of him to slowly fade.

The other night, I found myself in exactly the same position I used to find him when watching TV: both legs resting on the coffee table, left arm placed across my belly supporting my right arm, and right index finger pointing upwards resting on my lower cheek as if in deep thought. It made me smile, for in the subtlest of manifestations, I am indeed my father's daughter.

For more of my tributes to Papa from previous posts:

Click HERE 

and HERE

Sunday, 18 February 2018


I have been been journaling since I was about 13. I don't like the sound of the word journaling, but I love the habit I've made out of it. I can still vividly recall the cover of my very first proper diary (I say proper as I recall using my aunt's ledgers as a writing material): it was a cushioned PVC, with the image of a brunette girl in a Victorian frilly dress sitting in a field of daffodils, writing in her diary.

My laptop is temporarily evicted from my home desk to make way for my journal

It had a padlock and a set of keys. I kept one in my wallet, and another somewhere in my bedroom where no one would find it but me (but I was too good in stowing trinkets I used to forget where I hid them). I religiously locked my diary even though I knew no one would dare touch it. Looking back, it was the initial stages of my attempts to build a wall around me, which, as I got older, meant that my defences were reinforced around people I have just met or I'm not comfortable sharing my private self with, or my thoughts on issues that really matter to me. There are things that are locked away and not meant to be shared with just about anyone.

I used my birthday money to buy it from National Bookstore--think of that place where everyone wherever you're from goes to buy school and office supplies, and books, of course. It was a tough decision between a Trapper Keeper and a diary (a teenage choice between being seen as cool or being branded as a geek). I got the former the following school year.

Just slightly above the girl's hair was a line that says, 'Life Is A But Dream." Mind you, I claimed that line first before Beyonce made her film (I can't stand her by the way, nor her music, so my childhood diary's tag line has acquired a cheesy pop feel to it that dampened the nostalgia). At 13, I had no immediate grasp of what it meant. I just thought I liked where the girl was: on her own penning her thoughts away without a care in the world. And the frilly frock was lovely. Just the kind of dress I would never had the chance to wear in a tropical country. I wanted to be that girl: lost in her thoughts in a field of daffodils.

Many moons after, I do find myself lost in my thoughts--at work, while seated on my office chair, surrounded by the humming and buzzing of the printer slash photocopier slash scanner, tapping of keyboards, slamming of folders on the shelves, and shuffling of papers, sans the daffodils. 

'The Artist's Way' author Julia Cameron encourages writers to jot down whatever comes to mind first thing in the morning. Three pages' worth of subconscious musings are the equivalent of morning exercise for the gym buff. I'm not a morning person, so I write at night, when the whole world quietly sits down with me. It's my form of meditation. Writing down my thoughts and feelings about anything I'd like to talk about is the only time nowadays when I completely put aside modern communication gadgets. I'm very happy I do not have a work phone. I would hate to have one issued to me.

For Christmas 2017, a colleague gave me a diary that says on the cover, 'Memories & Milestones: The Journal of a Future National Treasure'. I thought it was hilarious. We barely knew each other at the time, so it was exceptionally intuitive of her to gift me with something she probably didn't even realise I'd greatly appreciate. I could never ever topple Samuel Pepys as Britain's greatest diarist (perhaps I'd come in a close second to Bridget Jones), but everything I write down is an immense personal treasure from my heart and soul.

Grabbed from my IG

Journaling gives me insights into the various emotions and thoughts about certain issues at random periods in my life, and how my feelings about them have evolved, were resolved, or buried in time. My diary doesn't judge me or attempt to process things for me. It's a friend who pulls out  a chair, offers a drink, who doesn't say a word while I speak but nods in understanding of my complexities. When I'm done ranting, I close the page, and we meet again at an undisclosed time to pick up where we left off.

It takes courage to let ourselves be vulnerable in the presence of others. Or to disclose our darker side. Not everyone will be receptive. Or we may misplace our trust. I turn to my journal especially at times when not even the deepest conversations with a friend or special someone are enough. There are times when all we need is a written dialogue with ourselves. 

How about you, do you keep a journal?

Tuesday, 19 September 2017


I've been welcomed to the club by those who've been there. There was the usual outpouring of sympathy and empathy, and certainly no schadenfreude as the ones with whom I immediately shared a most recent life event were close family and friends. A few were envious and would swap places with me--for a considerable fee, of course. My advice was for them to be careful what they wish for, as I found myself unprepared for the position I subconsciously played in my head and which I am now in.

My cheese has recently been moved: I've been made redundant from my job of seven years. It's not unusual. It happens to the best of us, and more expectedly to the worst of us. I just didn't see it coming. Although I consistently went through hot-and-cold phases during my tenure, my misgivings didn't prompt me to quit without a well-carved-out back-up plan. 

But here I am, navigating a more competitive job market than what I knew from a decade ago, forcing myself to sign up for LinkedIn which I protested against for so many years as I viewed it as a vanity project for people who have nothing else going on in their lives apart from their impressive yet empty job titles, and finding out that even though I'm now considered a veteran in my industry, being unemployed is a social status leveller.

For the first couple of weeks, the question of what is next was rhetorical rather than sequential.

It's scientifically proven that our bodies undergo rejuvenation wherein our cells are replaced by healthier ones which in turn create a repackaged version of ourselves. As a former allied medical science student, I learned about the processes cells go through for renewal. Each type of cell has its own life span. The myth is that the whole process is a cyclical seven-year period, which is a random choice of time frame for the 50 to 75 trillion cells in our body. When I look back at mine (not my trillion cells, but my major life events from 40 years down), I had a realisation that I have been through several seven-year periods where I break my life down to the basics to rearrange my pieces back together.

It's now apparent that my cells are reconditioning themselves, or I'm blooming like giant Himalayan lilies do after being an unassuming clump of leaves for five to seven years. Whatever the case may be, unfavourable circumstances have been prodding me to reinvent myself yet again. 

I'm embracing the change by challenging myself to come full circle and confront what I've been running away from for a long time: getting a formal training in creative writing. 

I have not fully abandoned writing, from the time in my early 20s when the craft was my main source of income. But I drifted in and out, partly because writing alone couldn't pay the bills, partly due to myself moving to another country where my confidence took a slight beating, and mainly because I joined the rat race where I was actually more like a vole  squashed by marauding rodents. 

For the last seven years, I've been checking--no, I stand corrected--stalking the start dates for Creative Writing and Critical Analysis courses on the university's website while coming up with as much excuses as possible not to sign up. The excuses dried up. I secured one of the last two places. 

Together with at least 20 other participants from all over the world, of eclectic professional and creative backgrounds, and diverse age groups, we are finding and reinforcing our writing voice, constructively analysing our words and sharing our thoughts via our forums that are moderated by our tutor whose book I previously read to get a glimpse of his literary style. We all have one goal: to bare our souls through our written words.  To be physically naked is daunting; to mentally undress for strangers can be crippling.

I don't know if I've got what it takes. My attention is divided, my dedication rusty, and my patience deficient. But my desire is definitive: I don't want to regret passing up the chance to indulge what my core screams for. 

So, what's next? 
Your guess is as good as mine.

Sunday, 18 June 2017


Just as the camera briefly hovered over the doctor's bag on top of the dining table, I burst into tears without warning. 'Doctor in the House', a BBC documentary series about a GP invited by families to investigate their health issues, was on that night. I normally would attribute the emotional outburst to an incendiary mix of hormones and fatigue.

That night,I had no reason other than I miss my father.

My dad was a Physician-Surgeon, or a GP, as we call them here in the UK. He wasn't able to specialise in a specific field of Medicine because he and my mother, who's a nurse, were offered posts at Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health back in 1979. They were looking specifically for a husband-and-wife team. My parents made the final cut. By the time they decided not to renew their employment contract, it was 1989 and I was on my way to high school. Priorities have changed. 

His friends and classmates from medical school--at least the ones I met--have said that if my father managed to do further studies, he would have been brilliant. He wasn't the theoretical or overly academic type--just the man to turn to for practical applications and when all other options have been exhausted. As someone who originally wanted to be a mechanical engineer, he must have viewed human anatomy as a machine to unravel. 

Please excuse the red sofa (and my matching red shorts), my father's massive bling that I joked was his engagement ring, and myself for looking like a little boy that grew a Dora-esque hairdo. I left almost all of my childhood photos in the Philippines, I don't have more decent ones to post.

His name was Cosain. I have no idea what it means in Arabic, or if it's Arabic at all or an amalgamation of words in Maguindanao dialect. Funnily enough, when I googled it, the results came back describing a word with Irish roots. There's absolutely nothing Irish in him (as you can see in the photo), except probably his ability to handle his alcohol during his pre-Mecca inebriation days. As his Muslim name was very unusual and unique in my mum's Catholic hometown where I grew up, my school teachers had an excuse for word play. Perhaps with, or most likely without pun intended, he was 'christened' as Cocaine, at least on my report card. How my teachers managed to come up with the idea of a person being named after a type of recreational drug is beyond me (I came across the word cocaine in my father's Legal Medicine textbook when I was about eight ), but no one even noticed it at the time apart from when I mentioned it to my mother. She probably won't even remember this incident.

I've heard it said by others who lost loved ones that grief never really leaves you. It certainly has took up home in my psyche. Although I no longer think of my Papa--as I called him--on a daily basis, there are occasional reminders of him that turn me into an emotional wreck. I once cried in the middle of the men's shoe department of Harrods, surrounded by all the Guccis, Ferragamos, and Ballys that I wanted to get for him using my staff discount. Papa was a Rooster. In Chinese astrology, they're the dapper ones. He was fashion-conscious, with a preference for bespoke tailoring. When he passed, he still had several pairs of shoes he hadn't worn. In Islamic tradition--at least in the Philippines--the family has to give away all the material possessions of the departed save some personal effects that have sentimental value. I wasn't there when he left us; I could have kept at least one of his pairs. While waiting for my train at London Marylebone station a couple of weeks ago, my attention was caught by a display stand of Father's Day greeting cards. I don't remember giving him Father's Day cards. I phoned. Or did I? 

I last spoke to my father exactly 11 years ago today. There are things that are slowly becoming blurry, but the sound of his voice remains intact in my mind. It sometimes feels inaudible, so I close my eyes and play it back in my head over and over again until I can hear him clearing his throat before speaking up. Unfortunately, time is slowly disconnecting my memory from the sound of his laughter. It scares me to lose recollections of that part of him. But I'm at least still left with the physical reminder of his cheeky laugh: his gregarious grin immortalised in his photos.

He would have turned 72 this year. When I see men his age achieving long-held dreams or trying new interests for the first time, I wonder what else he could have become. Papa was constantly chasing new knowledge, endeavours, and skills. I inherited my appetite for reading from him. I can imagine he would be dabbling in social media if he were alive. He once had a Q&A health program at his local radio station where patients would phone in and he would either diagnose or give advice on air. He probably would have run for public office again, this time in my mum's hometown where he was intending to retire. Or he would have been a lawyer, because being a GP wasn't enough. Mama recounted, during one of those late-night conversations we have about him after his passing, that he was planning to enter law school. I'd say my father had a predilection for intervention--medically or legally speaking.

I think I'm not alone in going through periods during our growing up years when our knowledge of our fathers was boxed into details of what they did for a living, which school they went to, which hobbies they engaged themselves in if any, or maybe how they met and courted our mothers. Around the time my father died, we were just getting to know each other past the father-daughter familiarity. The generation gap was closing in--we were becoming friends. And I guess it's what breaks my heart: I lost my father and my friend too soon.

As I write this, I was chatting with my mother to check if what I knew about my father's history was accurate. One day, I may have no one left to ask about him. That drives me to write about my father as much as I can. One of my most treasured possessions is a pen that he left me. It's showing the years I've kept it. I thought it was just another random gift from my father; little did I know that he symbolically wanted me to tell stories, relive his presence in my life, and remember him in my own words.

His story does not end with his demise. 

Happy Father's Day to my own doctor in the house!

I also wrote a tribute to my father in 2013. If you have time, click HERE to read. Many thanks.

Friday, 16 June 2017


I'm a hayfever sufferer, and would greatly benefit from not being outdoors as much as possible. Trouble is, I do love being out in the woods or in the garden where I'm most susceptible to my number one allergen: pollen. Where I shouldn't be or spend too much time in is where I'm drawn to. 

I recently visited the RHS Chelsea Flower Show at the end of May, which was both a visual delight and an immune system assault. My friend recently introduced me to David Austin Roses who is a major exhibitor at the show, and has bred a rose variant called 'Miss Alice' after Alice de Rothschild.  She can be found of course at Waddesdon Manor's Rose Garden which was a year-2000 addition to the garden attraction of the house. 

I did intend to see her, but it was like one of those parties where I got distracted by conversations with other guests (mind you, that's something big for me as I hate small talk), I failed to pay courtesy to the host and only realised it when I've left. 

The empty wine bottle tree

The Rothschilds are keen gardeners, from Baron Ferdinand's mother, Charlotte, to his sister Alice, and down to Lord Jacob Rothschild's daughter Beth, who's a trained horticulturalist. Although a French landscape architect designed the garden, the look and atmosphere are a mix of French formality and English romantic parkland. The extensive restoration and innovation have won Waddesdon garden the Europa Nostra Diploma in 2000 for 'the extraordinary re-creation with modern techniques of a major Victorian garden'. 

Part of the Parterre, which is the major attraction of the south side of the Manor. During World Wars I and II, the flowers were replaced by vegetables and hay. Today, the Parterre blooms with 110,000 perennial and annual plants maintained with the help of  automated irrigation systems. 

The Garden Department of Waddesdon has 9 full-time staff. They also maintain a trainee gardener scheme enabling students to spend a year at Waddesdon, then complete two more years in other gardens. There's also a volunteer programme for foreign students where they assist in cultivating the gardens.

If a garden is a proper permanent department in a Manor, it's no wonder that starting a horticulture hobby is so enormous for me I don't know exactly where to begin. 

Called the Frog Fountain,, there is no record as to why it has been called as such. The steps are quite majestic leading downwards to the park, and upwards to the Parterre.

The Rose Gardern is located near the Aviary, and was planted in 2000, in the same year when 'Miss Alice' rose was introduced at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The garden is circular and was created and planted with David Austin roses.

I was overwhelmed by the sight of the roses, it was difficult to pick the ones to take photos of. Here are some of the beauties.

Waddesdon Manor hosts year-round and seasonal events such as food and performing arts festival, wine tasting, exhibits, garden parties, discovery talks, floristry workshops, meet-and-greet the avery keeper, artisan food market, wine cellars talk, and more. The Manor Restaurant can also be booked for traditional afternoon tea, or families can opt for ice cream and open sandwiches at the Stables Cafe.  

I'll surely be back for some of these events, and you're definitely coming with me.

If you missed the first two instalments of my visit to Waddesdon Manor, please click HERE and HERE

Bye for now, and have a lovely weekend!

Waddesdon Manor
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
HP18 0JH

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...