Monday, July 13, 2009

Is The Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

(Taking time off the other side of romance to revisit a short essay written nearly a year ago.)

The Intertwining of Problem Solving
and Decision Making

DECISIONS, decisions, decisions: you and I make them every single day. Like, from the moment the alarm clock shatters the morning silence, I ponder, albeit groggily, if I could afford to remain cocooned for a few more minutes in my bed instead of arising swiftly to seize the new day; to choosing what I will have for lunch, to signing the walking papers of my inept assistant, or whether it is time to tell my best friend that she has invested more than enough time and emotion in her unfaithful domestic partner.

But while making decisions may appear to be not a whole big deal most of the time, it is not the case for some people. Even when the options that are arrayed before them blatantly show which is best, or when the problem seems like a non-problem at all, they still agonize over it and as a consequence, they get stressed out. And stress, as everyone knows, has no place in a healthy and healthful life. Therefore, one must look at making decisions as a necessary and inescapable part of living. And to approach making decisions as routinely as taking a deep breath, one has to learn the process of solving problems. After all, solving a problem is closely linked to making a decision; you can’t have one and not have the other as well.

Two Approaches to Problem Solving

THERE are two schools of thought pertaining to the ways of solving a problem. Learning Connections of the University of South Australia proposes a traditional, seven-step problem solving cycle, namely: (1) identify the real problem; (2) explore the depth of the problem or who else are being affected; (3) set goals or pinpoint what must be achieved in solving the problem; (4) look at alternatives or lay out all the other options geared towards solving the problem; (5) select which option is best in solving the problem; (6) implement the option, or in other words, make a decision; and, finally, (7) evaluate if the problem has been solved.

The other approach is regarded as “state-of-the-art.” It is called appreciative inquiry, or AI, and is said to be a major breakthrough in problem solving according to Carter McNamara of Authenticity Consulting, LLC. AI is based on the assertion that problems become problems only when an individual looks at it as problems. And if an individual regards something as a problem, then it becomes a constraint or a hindrance in one’s growth or development. Proponents of this approach, notably McNamara, asserts that appreciative inquiry includes identification of our best times about the situation in the past, wishing and thinking about what worked best then, visioning what we want in the future, and building from our strengths to work toward our vision.

The first approach mentioned above to solving a problem is clearly the more practical of the two. It sets the seven-step process rationally, thanks to Learning Connection , and is an effective guide in learning a skill, that of solving problems. Without a doubt, this skill can be applied over and over, within an individual’s lifetime, in problem solving and decision making.

AI, on the other hand, does seem impractical. But as its proponents say, AI is a philosophy, and that I can believe. However, there is something in AI’s assertion, i.e. problems are often the result of our own perception, which somehow connects with my own process of solving a problem. The connection may be fragile, but it is still a link to my own philosophy.

A Glass Half Full and a Lemonade

FOR me, what most other people regard as problems are not actually problems but challenges. The word ‘problem’ itself connotes a negative, or perhaps a defeatist, tone, whereas when I look at a temporary setback to anything as a challenge, I create a favorable scene or background with which to meet the challenge. Admit it or not, the prospect of meeting a challenge stirs a vital excitement in us. It exhilarates. It inspires. The problem, or challenge, can also be regarded as looking at a half-full glass instead of it being half empty. The challenge lies in filling up the half-full glass. It can also be equated – ‘it,’ referring to my personal challenges – with turning a lemon into lemonade. There is enormous strength to be gained in the process of rendering a lemon into a blessing.

But while positive attitude and bright disposition do not always result in my making a good decision – in other words, if the problem has not been solved or if the challenge has frustrated me – I still take consolation in the bit of wisdom that I gain from the situation. The skill in solving problems, or in meeting challenges head-on as I prefer to call it, can only get better with each success and with each failure. With each success, a good decision has been made; with each failure, a good decision will be made in the future when faced with the same problem or challenge.

Decisions, decisions, decisions: I make them every single day with always a half-full glass in mind. So today, I shall have a heart-to-heart with my assistant and tell her that I look forward to a long and productive work relationship with her if she will shape up. Later in the day, I will meet up with my best friend in the café where her boyfriend is sure to hook up with his other girlfriend. Maybe, just maybe, my best friend will finally see for herself that her glass is actually empty. But before I witness this drama unfold, I have to resolve this dilemma – will I have a Big Mac or arugula salad for lunch?

Friday, May 15, 2009

When One Marries for Reasons Other Than Love

Marrying for love is divine,
Marrying for reputation – i.e. the girl got pregnant and marrying “is the right thing to do” – is honorable,
Marrying for convenience is a breeze to understand,
Marrying on the rebound is both imprudent and risky,
Marrying for companionship – i.e. mature couple, either both divorced or both widowed, or one is divorced and the other widowed, whose children have left the coop – is sympathetic,
Marrying for companionship, if just a ruse, is doubly pathetic;
But marrying for one other reason not mentioned above is –

I don’t know what to say!
(please read on to see what I mean)

SEVEN or so years ago, I was asked, as a favor, to meet up with a Filipino woman who I would call Gardenia. The request came from the friend of a friend. The latter, an Englishman, let me call him Reginald, was a very good family friend. His friend, who I would call Garfield, was also English. I have never met Garfield – fortunately for me. Both men lived outside metropolitan London.

The request was unusual if not weird. I was to interview Gardenia in my house; I was to plumb from her the details of her very recent “extraordinary” experiences, namely, (1) her having lost her passport twice, (2) her being swindled by a travel agent who had ran off with the money she had paid for her one-way ticket to England, (3) her failure to board the subsequent flight booked for her by Garfield in Britain. After extracting the facts from her, Garfield was supposed to call me; I was expected to relate to him the details of my interview with Gardenia.

I thought the whole thing sucks! Or let me clarify: I thought it would have been quite transparent to Garfield that Gardenia was just being creative in making him part with his money. And then I was told that yes, Garfield was already suspicious of that. He had already spent a lot of money for Gardenia’s “misadventures” in the Philippines, and one way to curb that was to get her to England. When she gets there, Garfield can strictly monitor Gardenia’s constant need and request for money.

However, her UK visa’s must-fly-within-this-date provision was about to expire, and Garfield, desperate to have Gardenia by his side, had already booked another flight. It was first-class, no less, since all the economy and business class seats were all taken.

I was to take on an important role, I was cheekily informed, in pushing Gardenia make that flight. Also, the first-class ticket had to be paid in the local airline office. I was to get the money and pay for it.

GARFIELD and Gardenia were married in the Philippines less than a year ago. It was a whirlwind courtship the likes of which I have only heard of and written about, as fiction, of course.

This 56-year old man met the 27-year old woman during his two-week holiday in the Philippines. They got engaged during that period. Shocking, indeed, even for a romance writer who had thrived on romance of all sorts (but not this sort apparently). Gardenia had never been married while Garfield was awaiting his divorce decree from his second wife who happened to be a Filipina.

A few months later, with his second marriage dissolved in England, he returned to the Philippines with a certificate of no impediment (to marry yet again). He stayed long enough to meet the required three-week continuous stay before filing for license, and the obligatory 15-day waiting period for the issuance of marriage license, and then married Gardenia. He left immediately for England while his new bride stayed behind to work on the processes involved in UK visa application.

Needless to say, that was when her streak of unfortunate experiences began…

THE lost passports and the travel ticket swindle were mere deceptions, obviously, so Garfield would cough up more money for the new wife. When Gardenia came to my house, rather unenthusiastically, and I started asking about which travel agent or agency ran off with her (Garfield’s actually) money, she hemmed and hewed about it.

When I asked her what her problem was that made her miss the flight to England, she gave an answer that was patently ridiculous and a lie! Ten minutes of interview with Gardenia and I was ready to pull my hair in exasperation. I might have an endless patience for listening to people wanting their life stories written about, but I don’t always suffer fools and liars easily.

[I had a pressing deadline at the time so maybe, my vexation was compounded with stress if I would be unable to submit my book and collect my cheque :)]

Fortunately, Garfield called Gardenia’s cell phone while she was in my house. Garfield spoke to me and I told him without mincing words that he should not send any money to me as I refuse to take responsibility for purchasing Gardenia’s ticket. I also said that based upon my interview, I gathered that his wife was not very keen to fly to England.

He then spoke to Gardenia, and it was agreed that the money would be wired for the ticket and that she must fly before her visa provisions expired. I saw the wily smile in Gardenia’s face as she left, her eyes a-twinkling with ₤₤₤ signs.

SEVERAL months later, Reginald flew to the country for his annual holiday. He was profuse with his apologies for having inflicted Garfield and Gardenia on me, and added that Garfield was not a close friend.

“He just tagged along with me when I had my holiday here two years ago,” he explained with a wry smile. “But I bet you could make a good yarn out of their story.”

I made a face, and said, “She looked spaced out when I spoke to her.”

Reginald became serious. “The word I got from her friends was that she’s a drug user.”

“So, she only married Garfield to finance her drug habit?”

“That would appear so.”

“Have you told your friend?”

“He would not listen to me. He loves Gardenia very much.”

“Between us,” I said after a moment’s pause, “and please don’t think me as being uppity and judgmental, Gardenia isn’t pleasing to the eye.”

Our family friend laughed, and said, “You mean, she’s ugly as sin?”

“Well, you said that, not I.”

“In the dark, her being homely would not matter,” Reginald said, again, with that wry smile. “But she has a body, according to Garfield, to die for.”

“Oh, yes?” I blurted out, in disbelief. I did not see nor look at Gardenia that way. I remembered her being a 5-foot slim woman, perhaps a girl’s body not yet destroyed with drug abuse.

“Would you like to know in full what Garfield said to me when I asked him why he was marrying Gardenia?”

I nodded.

“He said he loves Gardenia and that he will marry her because she gives him the greatest sex of his life.”

MARRYING for sex may not be that odd a reason for settling down to a few. It is an unsettling reason for me though, and quite distant from the other side of romance.

As for Gardenia, she took all the money she could wring from Garfield to support her habit, and never flew to England.

Garfield, broke, begged the second ex-wife to let him live in her house until he could sort his finances again.

Marrying for reasons other than love, obviously, has karmic consequences.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Reality of Irony

In the past couple of years, saying ‘life is short’ has become a mantra-like line for me. But my saying that life is short did not only mean living life to the fullest or taking every opportunity, every chance, every little thing that might make life – yours and that of others linked to you – a bit more meaningful.

When I say ‘life is short,’ I also refer to living day-by-day, as if it would be your last day on earth; therefore, nothing should be left undone.

And then the reality of irony hit me: life, indeed, could be very short…

One busy day, someone close to you is alive and breathing, having just sent a PowerPoint document following a request for a few moments to chat.

Then another day not long after, that same person dies.

Then you realize: you have not acknowledged receipt of the piano bar presentation, nor have you even given a reason for declining the chat.

(It was to “show” a just-acquired high-tech gadget meant for someone who could no longer use tongue and vocal chords; cancer had eaten away those, and was surgically removed, amongst other places in the body, excised, where the dreaded C cells had lodged).

Sad, so sad.

You failed to reach out to a dying friend, a friend who had reached out to you many times in the past.

Life, indeed, is short and should not, must not be taken for granted – especially when someone close needs just a little of your time.

Sad, so very sad.

And now, you have to deal with the things you should have done but did not…

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Irony of Reality

HE was one notable friend who had made me feel special – special in the sense that not a lot of people in this whole wide world have a rocket scientist for a friend. Yes, he is a rocket scientist, the kind that we all want to make jokes about in order to justify our less-than-genius IQ.

He – let’s call him Bud – doesn’t look like a stereotyped egghead, say, like Einstein. He’s even nowhere near, in looks and eccentricity, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) of the Back to the Future films. Bud looks like a regular guy, maybe more attractive than others because he is, after all, a rocket scientist; no airs, no looking down his nose attitude. He cracks jokes: some are outrageously funny, a few ridiculously corny. He could be sarcastic without the other person knowing he was being such; he could also give a wee lecture on propulsion using layman’s language (but still, my less-than-genius IQ could not grasp its principle).

We have lost contact for years, and then one day, early this year, I dropped him a line and asked how he was doing. This – sending him an email – was not done on impulse. Twice, I woke up knowing that Bud was in my dream; only, I had no idea what the dream was about. I just knew he was in the dream. It took me over a week before I managed to write him a short note. Turned out, he wasn’t doing well; in fact, he was very ill: he had cancer. He was fighting for his life, and he was scheduled for a major, major surgery after a few other previous recent surgeries. It was unnerving.

Bud was on the operating table for nearly 30 hours with a team of specialists; I wasn’t there but I could imagine it was touch-and-go. The surgery was successful, his life is saved. Of course, he knew before the procedure that his life will be changed forever after surgery. Among those changes – he could no longer speak. And to think I was the last person – besides his family – who he spoke to, on the phone, a few hours before the surgery. He also could no longer eat solid food or drink any liquid for the rest of his life. Tough, tough, tough.

However, I did not immediately learn if the surgery went well. It took a few days before I heard a couple of times from his colleague at work that yes, he was conscious a day after surgery. Conscious – but will he live? I did not have the courage to ask. When I did not hear from my rocket scientist friend again after two months, I looked, online, for the obituary pages of his local paper. It was unsettling, to be sure, but I had to know.

When I heard from him again through email, he was cheerful and upbeat. I could imagine he was like that with his son and siblings – smiling and assuring them that all is well, that he will write that book on surviving cancer, that he will, perhaps next year, climb Mt. Shasta, and enjoy nature like he has enjoyed it before; and that he will get back to his much-delayed project, putting up a taller wall in his property to guard against forest fire. His passion for life and living is amazing that I feel guilty sometimes when I’m feeling down.

But for all of Bud’s bravado, and while I admire his resilience, I realized just how ironic life could be at times. His very words echo this irony:

… the radiation took its toll… I hope to God we never have a nuclear war with anyone even though I spent a lifetime developing rockets to deliver such a terrible weapon…

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hearts of (a few) Men, Part 2

Sans Expectations

IF there was one person whose love story had left a deep mark upon my core beliefs in life, then that would easily be Aaron. He had a heart bigger than John’s (please see previous post); ironically, this same big heart had caused a huge vacuum in Aaron’s spirit. I still carried with me the thought of his new-found credo, a credo that no-one, in my opinion, should subscribe to. But Aaron does, and who could blame him…?

AARON was a tall, physically fit, slightly balding, but strikingly handsome Englishman who just turned 50-years old. He was a solicitor from London who decided to retire from his profession immediately after his divorce. He thought, at the time, that he’d had enough of being a lawyer in a city known for its perpetual damp and dreary weather. With his lifetime savings plus the money he got from his ex-wife who bought out his share of their beautiful home, he flew to the Philippines to turn over a new leaf.

Starting life anew, for Aaron, meant investing in a business he knew nothing about. He was, for the most part, encouraged by his pals, three in all, living in the Philippines. Two of these pals, Kyle and Dude, were multinational executives assigned in Makati; the other one, Brent, a former law school classmate, had made the Philippines his second home.

Brent was also a Brit, twice-divorced, from a well-off family who’d rather “pay” him just so he’d stay away from England. Aaron’s best pal, Brent, was the black sheep of the family and as such, a constant source of embarrassment for the stiff-upper-lipped clan. Through Brent, Aaron met Emmalyn. She was Brent’s Filipina girlfriend.

Emmalyn was in the local real estate business. When Brent took her to London once for a month of rest and recreation, they met Aaron many times for dinners, drinks, and gabbing. As Aaron was in the final year of settling his marital dissolution – and very depressed and confused – the smooth-talking Emmalyn managed to earn Aaron’s admiration and trust. He thought how lucky his pal was to have hooked up with a smart woman. In conjunction with Kyle and Dude’s persuasive tales of the nonstop sun and fun Aaron could have in the Philippines, the wily Emmalyn goaded Aaron to invest in her most ambitious project, that of land and subdivision developing.

When Aaron flew to the Philippines, he thought he’d never return to England again except for brief visits. He sold all his assets, from stocks to his car; even his law books! He burned his bridges in his homeland as he imagined the good life he would have in a developing country.

Aaron sunk in all his money, a little over £1,000,000 (over P80-million pesos as per the current exchange rate at the time), to finance Harmony Homes (not the real name of the company, like all the names of the people here have been changed as well). And as the paperwork for Harmony Homes were being prepared with Emmalyn fronting as the majority partner, Aaron had the time of his life.

Goodtime Girls Galore

AND he did have the time of his life!

Aaron, accompanied by his pals, became a regular patron in the clubs and bars in Makati. He could not believe how easily the guest relations officers (GROs, euphemism, of course, for sex workers / bar girls) did fall in-love with him. Aaron felt absolutely loved when he, even without the company of his compatriots, had cruised the clubs in Makati and all the working girls – those without customers to entertain – flocked to him as he entered the threshold, as feathers to tar. It had not occurred to him that buying for them a ladies drink or two, at P450 a pop, was what made him popular and lovable (the word ‘sucker’ did not enter his mind). But when he met 23-year old Charmaine, the ‘star’ GRO in his favorite club, Aaron suddenly stopped bar-fining / bedding the goodtime girl of his choice for the night, every night, week in, week out. He had found the most attractive lady of the night, one who could satisfy his amorous and erotic needs.

After paying a huge bar fine for Charmaine, he took her away from the club scene. They beach-hopped for six weeks. They had fun and sun – from Boracay to Palawan, from Bohol to Davao, from Guimaras to Boracay again.

Returning from their holiday, Aaron did not allow Charmaine to go back to work as GRO. He wanted her to continue her college studies. She agreed, but with conditions. First, she did not want to move in his Ayala Alabang condominium unit. She said it would break her parents’ heart if she lived-in with a guy, especially a foreigner. She said that Aaron must also support her family as she was the breadwinner while she went back to school; she could only spend the entire weekend with him if she was to concentrate on her studies.

Aaron could not say yes, yes, yes, oh, damn yes! fast enough. He was, to say the least, under Charmaine’s thumb.

Pizza, TV, Sex, Sex, TV, Pizza

AT first, Aaron thought that such an arrangement with Charmaine was neat. While she was in school during the day on weekdays, he could, at the same time, focus on work and business. In the evening, while she did her schoolwork, he could join his pals as they cruise their favorite nightspots in Makati. So, that’s what he did.

Reality, however, started to sink in as Aaron found more time for business. He discovered what every investor in the Philippines, foreign or local, finds: the labyrinthine business documentation process. The process – too innumerable to mention – was so slow it was like watching a young coconut peel its husk itself. Even when he gave Emmalyn the go-signal to grease the necessary palms – and there were quite a number of them especially in the government licensing divisions – the progress of Harmony Homes moved tediously.

With all those issues swirling in his head from Monday to Friday, Aaron, naturally, shared his concerns with Charmaine. He thought he could get some form of input from her. But he thought wrong. Not only did she give him a blank expression as he outlined the outrageously slow progress of putting up the business, she also drowned out his complaints against Philippine bureaucracy with her favorite telenovela!

Aaron tried to justify Charmaine’s attitude. She was young and perhaps a bit immature. She had no interest in any kind of business; or perhaps she had no interest at all in anything he said? Once or twice, she had made a comment so stupid that he chose to ignore it. But then, he thought about it later. Charmaine was a college student, not a high school freshman. As such, he said to himself, she must have some sense of what was going on in her country. Then he paused, eyebrows knitted, and thought about Charmaine’s course. A four-year secretarial course! In Great Britain, secretarial skills were taught in three months. Aaron could only shake his head; he downed the single measure of Scotch whisky he had poured for himself and took a deep sigh.

Eventually, his excitement over weekends with Charmaine had become less and less intense. It had become routine; a routine of sex, TV and pizza. Since neither of them knew how to cook, they depended on home-delivered fast food, pizza being their common choice. As for TV, while he recoup his strength from their bedroom acrobatics, she watched local shows – and with boisterous emotions. She rooted and hooted loudly, as if watching a live ball game, while watching noontime shows, game shows, telenovela, even gossip shows. Aaron began dreaming of his previous sane existence in London with its famous dismal and dreary weather.

And then he met Ginette.

“A Filipino Woman Like No Other”

IT was through Ginette that I learned about Aaron’s circumstance. She was pretty, petite, smart; a youthful-looking widow who was three years younger than him. She owned a few businesses, all small ventures but consistently in the black over the past few years. Ginette and Aaron met in her office at the Makati business district. She was scheduled to transfer her office in Ortigas Center; he was sizing up Ginette’s office as possible location for Harmony Homes' main office.

Little sparks, although very subtle, flew during their initial meeting. They had lunch that day; midday coffee the next, lunch again the day after that. They were certainly headed to have dinner and breakfast together if only Aaron could cancel and reschedule his flight back to London. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, really, he could not forgo his trip. It was business-related. He needed to raise money in England because his business venture in the “land of nonstop fun and sun” was bleeding his blood dry.

During the 15 days that he was on the other side of the globe, he kept constant touch with Ginette. He was so infatuated with her. He could not believe, as in could not really believe, that there is a Filipino woman who possessed so much knowledge, info, and wit between her ears. Aaron thought that the country’s female population was represented by the likes of "empty-headed" Charmaine and her colleagues, and money-grasping Emmalyn and her female office staff (all, one way or the other, relatives of Emmalyn).

It was also during Aaron’s absence that Ginette learned all about Charmaine.

Widow’s Ego

“SO,” I said to Ginette, “tell me.”

“I don’t know where to start,” she said as she took away her dark glasses and exposed the lack of sleep in her eyes, “I was shocked when he confessed about his girlfriend last night.”

Aaron had been calling Ginette, night after night, for hours on end, from London. His call must be costing him a small fortune but he needed, obviously, to connect with Ginette.

“You’re apparently smitten by him.” I smiled. “Even your office staff can tell.”

Ginette managed a smile but she looked at the door of her private office to check if it was shut tightly against eavesdroppers. “He wanted to be my boyfriend.”

“What did you say?”

“I said yes but on one condition.”


“He will have to break up first with this young girl, that’s all.”

“What did he say?”

“Yes, he was for it. He said weekends of sex, TV and pizza no longer had any appeal to him. He wanted someone with whom he could discuss serious stuff.”

“Also someone who could give him free advice with regards to the ins and outs of doing business in the Philippines, right?” I said, a bit cheekily. “Or someone who could lead him into the right circle of people to facilitate the solutions to his business woes?”

Ginette laughed. “Don’t forget: someone who cooks well and only watches the news and the stock market channels.”

“Are you serious, Ginette, about this Englishman? You’ve only just met him!”

“It was you, as I recall, who advised me to give love another try?” She was obviously on cloud nine. “So, I will give it a try. It isn’t every day that a lonely widow like me gets to meet a gorgeous-looking – ”

“He’s bald.”

Ginette laughed again. “Just slightly balding, which was becoming. Gives him character.”

I stopped making comments. I hated deflating anyone’s ego, Ginette’s especially. It was clear that the extra sparkle in her eyes was due to Aaron’s amorous attention. So if she was happy, then good on her. We parted, Ginette and I, with her in high spirits. She was counting the days when Aaron would be back in Manila, out of Charmaine’s arms, and into Ginette’s.

Trophy Girlfriend - Not

AARON had suggested to Ginette that she pick him up at the airport when he returned to the country. She declined. She reminded him of their agreement, that they would only meet again after he has broken up with “the girl,” as Ginette liked to refer to his girlfriend.

He arrived safely, called Ginette from the airport as soon as his plane landed, and called her again as soon as he arrived in his Ayala Alabang condo. After that, four days of utter silence from Aaron followed. No telephone call, no e-mail, no office visit, not even one lousy text message. On the seventh day of Aaron’s arrival from London, Ginette took a few days off work. She needed to brood and sulk and feel like an utter reject amongst the heap of sorry rejects.

Aaron, she said, chose his “stupid, shallow, two-timing bar girl” over her. “But I am not at all surprised, you know,” she further vented. “What can you expect from a middle-aged man? They need to prop up their ego; they need to have their virility revalidated by a girl over half their age; they need a trophy –” Ginette faltered. She could not bring herself to say the words, trophy girlfriend, because in her opinion, Charmaine did not qualify as one.

Ginette nursed her bruised ego over a long period of 144 hours.

Heart’s Expectations

NOT very long after Ginette has bounced back to her old, happy, optimistic self again, I discovered the minute details of why Aaron dumped Ginette. Looking back to that day, I would perhaps be disinclined to hear what I heard, and know what I now knew. But as destiny would have it, I was given another little glimpse of real life, another peek on the other side of romance…

Aaron, on the second day of his arrival from London, called Charmaine on her cell phone. He wanted to see her; he wanted to discuss their break-up. Charmaine answered the phone, said she was at home and she was busy doing a writing project, and can they not talk that coming weekend? He was not happy with that brush-off. She had not seen him in over two weeks, and yet, there was no indication that she missed him. Didn’t she say she loved him?

On impulse, he went to where Charmaine lived. He had never been invited by her to come to their humble house, but he had taken her home many times, in his car, and dropped her off the street corner. He knew their house number so it was not a problem. However, Charmaine was not at home. Her relatives living in the house said that she had been out since morning.

Aaron turned the car, intending to drive towards Makati. He would have gone to the bar where he met Charmaine. He was so incensed at being lied to. But as he turned the corner, he saw Charmaine. She was walking with a young man, his arm possessively resting on her shoulder, Charmaine giggling softly and coquettishly. There was no question in Aaron’s mind that there was something going on with Charmaine and the man.

When Charmaine looked up, she saw Aaron in the car. She went very pale. Aaron drove on, teeth clenched, fury rising up within him. He had no idea how he got back to his residence as his mind was in total turbulence when he saw Charmaine with another guy.

Charmaine arrived at the condo within the next couple of hours. She was in tears as she hugged Aaron and asked for his forgiveness. She was so fearful that Aaron would break up with her. If he did, how could she go to school and feed her family at the same time? She said she did not love “that man” that Aaron saw; said she only loved Aaron, and could love no-one else.

Aaron hugged her back. “It’s all right,” he said to Charmaine, “I forgive you. I love you so very much, you know that.”

* * *

As Aaron finished relating to me his side of the story, he must have felt the rather thick and palpable contempt that oozed from my direction. I did not have to voice out what I thought of his naiveté.

“You can call me anything and I will not contest it,” he said.

I toyed with many names in my mind for Aaron: fool, blind, crazy, mad, stupid, idiot. I did not say any of them. I wasn’t there to judge him, just to listen to his justification for turning his back on Ginette.

“I realized that it is Charmaine who I really love when I saw her in someone’s arms. I was absolutely frightened of losing her!”

A hint of smirk must have crossed my face.

“You write about love,” he said, “so can’t you at least understand that what I feel for Charmaine is love at its purest?”

“I write about romance, not love at its purest. I write about fairy tales, with happy endings and feel-good resolutions.”

“And mine doesn’t have a happy ending?”

“It doesn’t have any feel-good element in it. It’s all wrong, but I’m not writing about Charmaine and your love story.” How do I tell Aaron that love was obviously one-sided in his case?

“I’m happy. I have my weekends with Charmaine – ”

Yeah, I said to myself, weekends of sex, TV, pizza. How exciting!

“ – And the first model houses of Harmony Homes are being erected as I speak. But, of course, problems at work keep on cropping up. Emmalyn keeps on asking me for more money for the business. She has forgotten her promise to me that I’d start earning on my capital after a year. I wanted to cash out but obviously, I can’t.”

I let him vent for a few more minutes. Writers are used to listening to people telling about their lives, even to endless whining. Then Aaron checked himself and apologized for talking at length about his woes.

“But,” he said after a pause, “I have a new formula, or maybe call it my new motto, for not getting overly disappointed.”


“I realized that I will be happy and contented in life if I stopped expecting anything from anyone. Like with Emmalyn and my office staff, all her cohorts, by the way. I shan’t expect them anymore to deliver what they’re supposed to do and accomplish. With Charmaine, even if I love her to bits, I have started not to expect anything from her as well.”

“Not even her being faithful in exchange for your generosity and, uh, well, love?”

“If I live a life of no expectations,” Aaron explained, “I will not be disappointed or frustrated because I have no expectations of such in the first place. It’s how I plan to live my life while in the Philippines.”

We parted, Aaron and I, with a heavy, heavy load in my chest – for him.

While I admired the kind of selfless love he had for Charmaine, I totally disapprove of his ‘living a life with no expectations.’

If men or women were to go by their day-by-day activities with no positive expectations of anyone or anything, is that not the saddest and emptiest kind of living? And if men or women were to live without expectations of any kind from anyone or anything, would that not be tantamount to a life without meaning, without joy, without – well, life itself?

Hearts of men and women should not, must not, beat without any kind of expectations – jubilant, ecstatic, dismal, horrible, triumphant, ad infinitum. Living life with expectations, whether positive or negative, is what drives one to try either harder or hardest.

I feel so very sad and sorry for the hearts of a few men or women that beat in tune with that of Aaron’s.

(picture from

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Revelation: Hearts of (a few) Men

ANNABEL and John met at a local golf resort. He was with some friends who were avid golfers; she was the restaurant supervisor of the clubhouse. He was a middle-aged Australian, a widower with no kids; she was a Filipina in her late 20’s, a single mother, her daughter was in the care of her parents in a far-away island-province. They hit it off straight away, Annabel and John, and before long, she moved in his recently-leased flat in the compound where I live. Annabel became a next-door neighbor.

She was nice, quiet, and a bit as “reclusive” as I was. She did not associate with the resident gossip in the tiny community, nor did she attend those weekend barbecues of the Australian expatriates in the compound. Most likely, it was because her partner, John, did not actually relish the company of his cheerfully loud compatriots. He was a low profile guy unlike some of the other expats in the compound. He was as quiet and as unassuming as Annabel, the kind of neighbors I preferred. It was only much later, upon discovery of an unexpected thing in a totally unexpected place, did I reflect on the couple’s relationship…

The House on the Hill

AS introverted as I was, it would’ve surprised Annabel had I told her that I had met John some three years earlier. It happened in Puerto Galera. I was on holiday with THNE: the latter was making merry connection with a new-found acquaintance from down under, and I was tracking down a faith healer to interview. (I had an off-and-on series on faith healers at the time; could not help it, I was a workaholic).

This new-found acquaintance, an Australian named after a popular soft drink, invited THNE and I to his house. He – let’s call him Dr. Pepper although he wasn’t a doctor but actually a sailor – was also on holiday like us. But unlike us, Dr. Pepper rented a fully-furnished apartment instead of staying in a beach hotel. That served him well because he stayed in Puerto Galera from one to two months unlike us who only stayed from one to two weeks at a time.

The idea of calling on Dr. Pepper did not appeal to me. I had a faith healer to look for and interview, and socializing with Aussies was not on top of my list. There are plenty of Australians in New Zealand; in fact, the Kiwi even speaks like the Aussies! What should I miss, then, if I did not come visiting Dr. Pepper? But when I found out where Dr. Pepper’s house was, I sprang for it like a jack-in-the-box. The one and only faith healer in and around the vicinity of Sabang was, according to my source, could be found on top of the hill. So, off, we went.

Sunset View

THE steep steps, maybe 60 or so, going up the hill where roofs of flats were partially visible disconcerted me briefly. Not that the exercise fazed me; it did not. I was just reminded by my inner voice that I was on vacation, wasn’t I, and did I need additional going-up-the-hill mode? The city center in Auckland, with its sloping streets everywhere afforded me that kind of mode five times a week! But the interview with the faith healer beckoned so up the hill we went. It was around half past four in the afternoon then.

Dr. Pepper appeared on top of the steep steps when THNE and I were halfway up. The former looked quite pleased as he waved to us with one hand, his other holding a bottle of San Miguel. As soon as we reached the hilltop, Dr. Pepper led us to his house. It was nothing fancy, just comfortable holiday accommodation with ample cooking facilities. There was a second floor. We went up there. Dr. Pepper said that the sunset view from the balcony was “to die for.”

That was where I first met John, Dr. Pepper’s friend who was sharing the house at the time. We were introduced to John. He said hello with an uncertain smile and parroted Dr. Pepper’s invitation to stay and watch the sunset from their balcony. We did. And even if I preferred sunrise over sunset, I had to thank Dr. Pepper and John for the opportunity. The view of the setting sun from the hill off Sabang beach was magnificent. It was like communing with Mother Nature at one of her very best. The reddish orange hue with streaks of pink and purple across the sky lent an unforgettable drama when the huge globe vanished down the sea.

(I did not get to interview the faith healer. He lived on the other side of the hill, by way of the forever-temporary and seemingly-forever-muddy wet market. I came to find him on my last day of holiday, but my enthusiasm vanished when I saw the faith healer’s dwelling by the hillside. I was frightened – and, boy, I was frightened. I had been to many houses of faith healers before, from mansion-like to match-box size houses, but I had never been that scared. The abode of my subject for interview looked like the outside of a witches’ spidery-cracked cauldron if truth be told.

I retraced my steps to the beach hotel, disappointed for having been to Puerto Galera twice and, so far, no interview yet with the local healer.)


There was nothing wrong, in my opinion, for not having mentioned to Annabel that I met John before we became neighbors. It wasn’t as if he had a woman with him at the time. If he had, I would have zipped my mouth tighter. But as it was, I knew that John – and this, from snatches of conversations I’d overheard from THNE and his Australian expat buddies – was faithful to Annabel. I was happy for Annabel especially when she became John’s fiancee. Shortly afterwards, the couple flew to Sydney.


Power outages are most unwelcome especially if one has deadlines to beat. And if the power interruption occurred at the witching hour when no one else was in the house, like what happened one very muggy midnight, my only choice was to step out of the front door, take in fresh air to dissipate my fear and frustration – fear that most of my work might not have been saved by the automatic save feature of the PC; frustration that I might not be able to meet my deadline and collect my cheque.

I took a couple of steps away from the font door, intending to stand by the curb and stare at the stars but lo! There was Annabel, standing on the curb a few steps from her own front door, obviously intent on doing what I thought was a novel idea. I expressed pleasant surprise upon seeing her in the semi-darkness.

“I thought you were still in Australia.”

“I just arrived the other day.”

For a while, as we stood side by side in the darkish compound, the huge, shadowy presence of lush trees all around us, she told me about how she liked it in Sydney. She said she had been there twice already, something I did not know. It showed just how reclusive I was (imprisoned by deadlines maybe), not knowing that the next-door neighbor had been back from overseas, flew again, and now, was back again. But back to Annabel’s story –

She recounted how she and John’s mother got on well. The mother was in her 80s and a bit frail but was still active so it was not too bad. I wanted to ask Annabel when she and John will marry but something in her voice stopped me from being nosy.

As if she could read my mind, she said, “John will not be returning to the Philippines anymore, even for a short holiday.”

Why? I did not ask that, it just showed in my eyes illuminated by the bright stars in the night sky.

“He is ill.”

I was stunned.

“So what are you doing here?” I asked, not unkindly. “You’re engaged to be married. Shouldn’t you look after him?”

Her voice broke. “He has broken our engagement. He’s not marrying me anymore. And he even took me to this spot in a park, somewhere in Sydney, where Filipino women and Australian men hang out in search of partners. John wanted me to find another boyfriend.”

It took a bit for me to digest all that. It was overwhelming, all those information. I was speechless for several minutes.

Annabel broke the silence. Her voice was no longer broken but I heard the tears in her tone.

She said, “I refused to go to that place the second time. But don’t get me wrong. It was a decent place, just like a normal meeting place, not a sleazy type for picking up one-night stands.”

“Why would John suggest that you find another boyfriend? If he is sick – “

“He is very sick and his mother did not want me to leave Australia. She wanted his son to marry me so I could stay. She knew that John loves me as I love him… But he did not listen to her. Even when I begged him to let me stay and look after him, he said no. And then my six-month tourist visa ran out. His mother could not sponsor my stay so I had to leave. There was nothing I could do to change his mind.”

“If he really loves you – ”

“Yes, he does,” Annabel interjected, pain and grief in her words and manner, “I have no doubt about that, that’s why he wanted me to find someone else, to be happy. He does not want me to see him suffer as his cancer gets worse. He pretended to be all right until the last moment before I left, but I knew he was dying. He did not want to make a widow out of me, and later be saddled with the care of his elderly mother.”

I was silent for a long time. I had always, always thought that only women were capable of such sacrifice. Even if some of my romance novels depicted men as capable of endless and/or enduring love, I had not seen men in the light as I now see John. A most unexpected place for me, really, to discover: selfless love in the heart of a man.


Annabel has been living with her American husband in Washington DC for a couple of years now. It took her a few years to mourn John’s passing away before she was persuaded to settle down. Just the same, I am inclined to think that she would never cease loving this unassuming Aussie who loved beautiful sunsets viewed from the house on the hill off Sabang beach.

And I have to thank him again; this time, for unshackling my prejudice with regards to the hearts of men.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Almost Paradise

THE beach is on top of my list when it comes to choices of romantic settings in my novels. The reasons are much too transparent even to the readers.

Then, too, the beach, as a setting, provides a wide spectrum of scenarios that allow the main protagonists to interact in ways that tickle the imagination. Like, for example, a supposedly demure heroine with a stunning body will have “no choice” but to wear her bikini and, hopefully, dazzle the previously indifferent hero. On the other hand, another hero can unwittingly shed his usual nerdy attire, wear his Speedo that will show off his strong forearms and abs to the heroine who has always looked at him as dull, uninteresting, and worse, wimpy. The beach, indeed, is a place where one who has it can flaunt it and not be reprimanded for being an exhibitionist. In other words, the beach is a pragmatic choice of setting for an author of romance paperbacks.

The beach on my mind, however, is not complete without the word ‘resort’ after it. And since a couple of decades ago, there is one beach resort – actually, it’s an island resort – that had clung to my mind like spilt chocolate drink on the white shag carpet. This island resort, which I will call Almost Paradise, has been the setting of many of my romantic novels, and also the setting of my very successful romance-thriller series, Diamante (13 books in all and still unfinished until now). But then again, Almost Paradise Island Resort had showed me the many faces of the other side of romance during those times when I was, supposedly, on holiday.

This is a glimpse of one of several other curious love stories and relationships that got snagged in my memory bank in one of my working holidays in Almost Paradise

The Tanned Couple

DAISY and Günther (not their real names, for reasons that will be obvious to you in a bit) arrived in style at Almost Paradise. I said ‘in style’ because rarely did guests arrive in this island resort by helicopter. The norm was for resort guests to take the plane from Manila; be picked up by the resort staff upon arrival in the postage-stamp sized airport in the provincial capital, and be escorted to the tiny wharf where a small ferry was waiting. The ferry would then bring the guests to the island resort.

It was a hassle, all those rides, to Almost Paradise but the 40-minute ferry ride across calm blue waters, with breathtaking views of the surrounding islets to your left and to your right, would compensate for the hassle. And as soon as the ferry approached the island itself, with its gleaming white sand and waters that seemed diamond-studded, all you could think of was paradise with a capital P. Any hardworking person on holiday was bound to lose, almost instantaneously, all signs of stresses. Almost Paradise was exactly that – almost paradise. (But take note not to travel there while there’s a raging storm, or you’d triple your current level of stress.)

But back to Daisy and Günther, the couple with overly bronzed skin, big floppy hats and oversized sunglasses, who, as I would learn later, had been using helicopters in their beach-hopping binge across the country like a “regular” taxi service.

Daisy looked very Asian; she’s Filipina but she could be mistaken for a Vietnamese or Thai. She was no taller than five feet so when she stood beside Günther, her European husband, she looked like a midget. Günther was about 6’5” tall and sort of gangly.

The couple was quite affable. Daisy was particularly warm and bubbly – but only to me, I would quickly notice, compared with the other female guests in the island resort whom she appeared not to notice at all. Günther was cordial to everyone although he had the kind of smile that only got reflected in his eyes. If other people smiled only with the corners of their lips upturned, Günther, it seemed to me, did not have that facial ability. Still, it was pleasant to see his crinkly grey eyes twinkling at a joke; sometimes, he laughed with a kind of laugh resembling a throaty rumble.

Socializing with the other guests in this island resort was easy. There was only one dining hall and one entertainment room with a big-screen television and a couple of pool tables. There were no TV set and telephone unit in the bungalows. It was part of its charm: not having to listen or watch to depressing news, or get calls from whoever. After all, people went to the island resort to “get away from it all” as its advertisement read.

There was a big swimming pool adjacent to the dining hall, but most of the guests preferred to swim in the clear blue waters. And oh, yes, there was a 9-hole golf course at Almost Paradise but its quality was not up to par with golf aficionados. But, still, some guests played there when they’ve had enough of jogging (by the beach), swimming, jet-skiing, glass-boating, snorkeling, and boozing in the floating bar. When it rained, the guests contented themselves playing Trivial Pursuit – and thank, goodness, there was no karaoke bar there at the time.

At the time, too, even when I was supposedly on holiday (from regular work in Auckland), I saw to it that I had brought deadlines to work on; not much, just small writing projects from the local publications. It was the way I always wanted my holidays to be – productive. So, while the male partners of the guest-couples were into their thing – like playing Trivial Pursuit or sharing common trivial experience while sipping single malt Scotch whisky, I either shut myself in the bungalow to write, or write away the lovely time at the front porch of our bungalow. The view of the beach, the sea, and the neighboring islands from the porch on a bright, cloudless day was just fantastic – and that was where Daisy had cornered me, so to speak, quite a few times, for some girl-talk.

Girl-talk, in this context, consisted of her telling me about her diet, her exercise, the new and fancy clothes accumulating in her closet but have not been worn yet, their vacation houses in Florida and Tuscany, her family background, her life before she met Günther. She told me how “young” she was but this was before putting me in a spot.

“How old do you think I am?” Daisy asked me with an impish grin. [This was after she showed me how to do crunches when we were in our bungalow’s porch. She was aghast, you see, when I told her I was not a member of any fitness club.]

I would have said that she looked as old as my mother, but being rude was not in my character. I remembered having mentioned a number close to my own age at the time. She laughed, very pleased at my stupidity. Then she told me that she was already 44-years old, a number I could not believe. She may be petite and slim but up close, without her floppy hat and large sunglasses, her skin was dry, nearly akin to a dehydrated prune. But in fairness, all the beach-hopping that she and her husband was doing, exposing themselves to sun as much as possible, must have done its damage without them doing something to protect their skin.

In our later conversation, I would also learn that before she married Günther, she used to work at the airport. Her father, who had just retired, also worked there and held a senior post. Daisy had also told me about her previous marriage to a foreigner, they had a son, and she retained custody of the son when they divorced. The son was already grown-up then and was in the care of Daisy’s parents.

In between these many conversations with Daisy, whether with just the two of us, or during meals at the dining hall, or walks on the beach, or having evening barbecues on the beachfront with the hubbies, I learned about Günther’s financial status. He was an engineer and the inventor of mobile wheelchairs. (There had been many other inventions since then pertaining to mobile wheelchairs so Günther’s anonymity is assured, I hope!)

It was a big, big deal at the time. To invent something as functional as a wheelchair that afforded mobility to its user was a guarantee for lifelong wealth. Günther also owned the company that produced other high-tech gadgets, but he had retired recently, leaving the management of his business to his son from a previous marriage. With Daisy, Günther, who was in his mid-50s, had gone on to their early retirement by traveling all over the world and enjoying life as if they’re in paradise.

No Cinderella

IF Daisy had came from a poor family, I would conclude that her love story was like Cinderella’s. But she was not from a poor family. They – her family – was relatively well-off, and this, despite the fact that her father did not use his position as a junior immigration officer assigned at the airport to acquire wealth. I was in awe when Daisy mentioned that. Corruption amongst the immigration/customs officers in the country was an open secret. And to discover that such an officer exists who has not enriched himself in office, I, naturally, admired this person.

Ironically, when Daisy mentioned her father’s honesty, the impression she gave me was that of disapproval. She thought he was impractical. Then I learned why. Daisy was the exact opposite of her father. She was a personal assistant, or PA, to an important customs officer, and she used her position to stuff her pocket and wallet with bribe money. I could not imagine how a PA could do that but, apparently, she used her boss’ name without him, the boss, knowing that Daisy was getting bribes. The bribes came from people coming in from overseas, bringing in highly taxable goods. Daisy facilitated the release of those goods for a “fee” which was a fraction of the right amount of tax that should go to the government.

I was dumbfounded.

But I haven’t heard it all yet.

If She Was Simply Man-Mad, or Even Sex-Mad…

WHAT was more shocking was this: Daisy, to that day, continued her illegal activities – despite her husband’s wealth!

“How could I do that?” she asked me, her eyes aglitter with amusement. She was obviously enjoying my open-mouthed perplexity with how she could still “earn” easy money the way she used to when she was the senior customs officer’s PA when she was no longer working for him.

“Oh, quite easy,” Daisy answered her own question. “I have many friends there. And my previous contacts, you know, the business people who brought in goods from, say, Hong Kong, still rely on me to assist them. They will usually give me a call, tell me when they’re flying back to the country, and I will be at the airport to meet them. I mean, I meet them and tell the customs staff handling the customs declaration documents that the arrival is a friend of mine. And off we go through customs without any problem. Of course, I have to share half of my ‘fee’ to my friends still working at customs. It’s SOP.”

“I thought you and Günther are traveling around the world, and not permanently based in Manila?”

Daisy laughed again. She really thought I was impressed with how clever she was in earning easy money.

She said, “I make sure we’re in the Philippines six months every year. Maybe only three to five weeks at a time, but within that period, I always get a call from friends coming in through customs who need assistance.”

I could not speak. What could I say anyway?

“Or sometimes,” Daisy added, “I fly to Hong Kong myself to join my business friends. It’s only a short hop. I fly to Hong Kong in the morning and return in the afternoon. It was easier if I claim to my friends at customs that the goods are mine.”

“Does your husband know?”

She laughed out loudly. “Certainly not! He will kill me if he learns I’m up to my tricks again. Günther did not even know I’d been to Hong Kong for the day. He thought that I was just at the gym or at the beauty salon all those time. Am I not clever?”

I should have asked Daisy if she had a pressing need for extra money, but I did not. It was transparent that she had no urgent need for that. Any couple who used the chopper like a normal taxi service in their island resort hopping, stayed in 5-star hotels, and flew to Singapore just to enjoy a dinner of authentic Hainanese chicken rice, must be rolling in dough.

When Daisy and Günther shared our dinner table that evening, I observed the couple a little more closely. I tried to perceive if there was something odd in the way they act, speak, gesture. I wanted to rationalize, in my mind, Daisy’s need to moonlight as cohort to small-time smugglers. But all I detected, up until the time when their private helicopter landed at Almost Paradise to pick the couple up, was a genuine loving relationship. It was a good material for a romance novel but one which I have not written about, until now.

There was no way I could twist or transform this story – basically, Daisy’s – to an acceptable read. I may sometimes pander to my readers’ need to read about a man-mad, even a sex-mad, heroine, but with the likes of Daisy, I simply could not shrug off my repugnance.

Daisy had it all: a supportive family, a loving husband, comfort beyond imagination of the ordinary mortal. It was safe to say that she was blessed with a life akin to almost paradise. But almost paradise for her meant nothing.

She had to trick and cajole Günther to take off Almost Paradise that day. A business friend had sent her a coded telephone message the previous evening. The friend needed her facilitating service; this friend just bought a huge shipment of faux designer shoes and bags and bales of fine silk. Daisy was to fly to Bangkok the next day, return to Manila the next in order for the friend’s shipment to breeze through customs sans duties.

It was disgusting and sad at the same time. Daisy and Günther could have joined the guest couples at Almost Paradise in an hour’s time – sipping champagne while watching the sun set on the horizon which resembled a palette of orange, pink, purple and golden hues. It was oh, so romantic.

But there was no romance in being money-mad.