Spanish Romance

Tonight, after a surprise early-release from work and a fabulous dinner with former coworkers of years past, I headed back towards home from downtown Boston by way of Park Street. It was quiet and muggy in the underground station, and by the lack of people standing around, I correctly guessed that I had just missed my train. A beautiful, familiar tune began to fill the air. The college-aged musician producing it was sitting on the floor next to a collection cube with a paper sign. “Textbooks: $479”, it read. I was his only audience for the duration of the song, and I nodded along in melodic familiarity.

When he finished, I clapped. He smiled. “That was great. What is the name of that song?” I asked.

“Spanish Romance,” he replied.

“I’ve never known the name of that song my entire life. Thank you for that. What are you going to school for?” I inquired.

“Political science,” he said. I reached into my pocket and pulled out $7 to add to his cube. $472 to go for next semester.

I began to think about my sister. She once was a bright-eyed, civics-minded student. She did it much to the chagrin of our extended family, with legitimate worries on how her studies in government would pay the bills. They did make her a living. She proved them wrong.

As a teenager, she decided she wanted to learn guitar. Inheriting a vintage Yamaha on permanent loan from our aunt, she took a few lessons and proceeded to self-teach her way to competence. As she was fumbling through fundamentals, she loved to play the beginning of Spanish Romance frequently. I do not think she ever finished learning it, though. There were too many tunes to play, and those eventually turned into many beautiful tunes she wrote. I would always rap loudly on the wall that connected our rooms when I heard certain songs being played for the umpteenth time, but I could never do it when she played Spanish Romance. I always had a soft spot in my heart for that song, even though she or my aunt would never finish it for whatever reason. I only realized I had never heard the end of the song when I ran into the buskers at Park Street or Harvard Square, playing the dulcet resolution of the major-tonal second section, and the recapitulation of the minor-tonal first section. I had been left in the dark past the beginning of the song for years.

I turned to the young busker. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” I said. “You’re great at it, and it sure as hell beats a more normal way to earn money for books.” He thanked me, and asked me if I had anything in particular I wanted to hear. I shook my head, and he went through a repertoire of classical guitar and popular rock songs until my train arrived.

She is going back to school in a few weeks too, for another graduate degree after winning another prestigious fellowship. We are so proud of her. And just last weekend, in Riverside Park, the love of her life gave her what could be called her second-most important ring, set with a beautiful, character-filled black diamond. Things will never be the same again, but at the same time, they will only be better. I can be assured of that by the fact that her spark of never-ending curiosity is still bright, so bright that it has given her soulmate the same inspiration and fervor for life that she has. They are a fantastic pair.

I don’t know if she’ll ever finish Spanish Romance, because she is moving on to bigger, more important things, but perhaps maybe I will.

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on Gratitude

Most recently, my parents, being the amazing people they are, told my sister and I to book some paid time off so we could go together to the Philippines as a family. My mother and father go quite a bit. You can tell that when my parents head over there my father’s homesickness goes away and he turns into a completely different, more vibrant person. Naturally, my parents have been talking about taking my sister and me. As we grow older, the number of chances for us four to take a vacation together as a family dwindles, so when the dates were finally nailed down, my sister and I jumped at the chance to join them.

One thing that my parents were excited to do was to take us island hopping in various parts of the country. Every vacation to the Philippines in memory has been during our school vacation, which is typically monsoon season. If we were lucky, we could find time to go to the mall, but for the most part we would sit in our grandmother’s room, marathoning episodes of the cheesy game show Pera o Bayong and avoiding the humidity and flooding. This time was different, though. It was as if my parents, who wanted to bring us to all these places that were important to them in the past, were possessed. Their children were in their beloved home country, and they wanted every minute to be packed to the brim with everything their home country had to offer.

My sister and I were in Asia for ten days. In the early stages of vacation planning, my sister and I were tentatively planning side trips to other cities in Asia – Janelle wanted to visit her dear friend in Korea, I wanted to take a weekend to myself in Tokyo. Our budgets and timing were not right for this feat. Mom saw what we were planning to do and encouraged us to book tickets through Hong Kong. She even surprised us by booking tickets for her and Dad to join us, so we could have more family time.

When we got to Manila, everything was a whirlwind. From the moment we landed to waking up at 4 in the morning the next day to drive to Batangas to enjoy luxurious private beaches, my parents took care of everything. From Batangas, we went to Cebu, where my mother arranged for us to stay in a beautiful condo, and was ridiculously accommodating when my sister and I stayed out all night catching up with our cousin, missing her boating reservation. Without any fuss, she rescheduled it. From Cebu we went to Zamboanga, my mother’s hometown. Mom arranged for us to see the city, visit our relatives, have manicures in bed. Still, the vacation started to wear on my sister and I. It was not in the cards for us to stay in one town for more than 36 hours. We weren’t used to eating five times a day. And every day was filled with something, from sun-up to sundown.

Our family vacation hit a snag upon returning to Manila. My father really wanted our family to go to incredibly rural Quezon province. It was colder and raining, and the stomach-churning bumpy drive did not aid our moods. Dad was so happy to show up the places where my grandfather grew up and introduce us to our family. I could not get over the weather, and my smell-sensitive sister was throwing a small tantrum over having to deal with forty wet dogs in a thirty minute timespan.

The snippy mood continued onward to Hong Kong. I was tired, exhausted, and getting over tainted water poisoning. My feet hurt walking up and down Hong Kong’s hills. My mother, through all this, kept a smile on her face as my sister and I took turns throwing small quips and barbs. She was trying to make our vacation enjoyable. I was tired of posing for the umpteenth family picture with a monument of no interest to me. I had enough.

And then, it happened. On our last full day of vacation, we were getting on the Hong Kong subway, only traveling a few stops. My mother had secured a seat on the subway car, and suggested I do the same. She kept trying to push me down, and I snapped. Worse off, I snapped at her. My own mother was just looking out for my best interests. Instead of owning up to my error, I started yelling and being defensive that she had pushed me, and my mother began to cry. My heart sank, because the entire time I had been thinking about myself. I apologized repeatedly, knowing that every apology I could muster would never be enough to repair the error that I just committed to the most important woman in my life, who spent so much time, money and effort to create the best possible experience for all of us. And not just in the Philippines or Hong Kong. Since the day I was born.

I am still pretty ashamed that I had it in me to just be such a terrible, ungrateful person. This week has been especially rough. A girl from my hometown went missing this week, the little sister of one of my sister’s friends. I think about it and of all the grief I have caused over the years, and I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. I was a relatively troubled teenager and I can’t help but think about the pain I caused my mother when I had a meltdown and went missing – there just aren’t ever enough apologies to ameliorate my behavior of the past.

Time only goes forward – I’m a happy, well-adjusted and gainfully-employed adult, and I have a stronger sense of appreciation after tons of self-reflection. There are so many ways in the world I can pay it forward to people I care about. I try to talk to my mother and aunt more frequently now. But it’s nowhere near enough, I am nowhere near perfect, and our time on this earth is limited.

There can never be enough gratitude in the world.

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The happiest of tunes.

I go through really weird music phases. I’ve been very addicted to Pandora as of late because their 60’s and Doo Wop playlists are so beautifully curated. So good, that when this gem popped up my first week of work back in early March, I smiled, and really, couldn’t stop smiling. I can’t think of a song that has made me smile so much! I’m pretty sure I listen to it 10 times a day, at least, grinning like the office idiot. I’ll be listening to some dirty rap or Ying Yang Twins, and take a Tymes break.

It’s pretty scary how much of an old soul I am. But I am shocked, nor ashamed!

Which mindnumbingly sweet songs make you smile?

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Penny Arcade – Sportz

Penny Arcade - Sportz

Why I love Penny Arcade – my Penny Arcade friends who love football had a field day with this one. Brilliant!

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Ramen-flail: Minca

I’m shooting off this quick post because my jetlag finally kicked in and now I am stupidly off schedule on my way to New York Comic Con 2012.  It is pretty weird attending Comic Con alone as my sister and her boyfriend are off to a wedding in upstate New York, but it is a great excuse to see some of my PAX friends, especially the ones who work for ReedPop and the Enforcers who pull double duty at NYCC as Crew or attendees.

The upside to going to a major city alone is that no one can particularly tell you what to do, where to go, or who to see.  What I end up doing when I am not supervised usually involves finding great places to eat and drink.  New York is very conducive to my vice.


There’s a special place in hell for a dish this rich and porky. I want to find that place.

Cue Minca.  Boston’s authentic ramen scene is only but a baby, and when you think New
York, you think Ippudo.  I also think, “impatient”, which is then followed by “How can I have an amazing experience without having to wait 2 hours?”  Minca had three things going for it.  For one, a quick glance over its reviews showed that many people preferred it to Ippudo for a few dishes.  Secondly, the wait was almost nonexistent compared to the 1+ hour wait estimate I had gotten when I called Ippudo.  Thirdly, it’s in the East Village, which when you add the East Village to the Lower East Side you get an impressive food playground ripe for the picking.  After a brisk half-mile walk from the J train, I waited for about 10 minutes and had at it.

At Minca, I had the Toroniku Ramen.  In a rich, pseudo-creamy garlic broth you could write home about, were noodles, typical ramen fixtures, fresh cabbage on top, and an egg (for no extra charge).  The highlight of it, though, were the huge, plentiful slow-cooked chunks of fatty pork.  These meat chunks are no joke.  They are huge and take up half the bowl, and I was still eating pork when I had already cleared the bowl of noodles.  I was also expecting over-salty, as that tends to be a typical feature of ramen dishes, but it was surprisingly not.  And the noodles were of great quality.

I’m not one to write praises about food often and eloquently – but holy crap, you should definitely trek out here to try this.

My arteries are filled with love.

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My grandmother, Mamang

I got a message at work last Friday to call Canada urgently. My grandmother, whose cancer had relapsed, had been readmitted to the hospital. They had taken her off of chemotherapy shortly after my visit in July. She was weak in July, but in September, she seemed improved. The chemo wasn’t making her weak anymore, but we all knew it was going to be a temporary thing.

My grandmother was really special. She was feisty, defiant, and very loyal to those who were special to her. Even though she lost her husband eighteen years ago, she has been amazing on her own right, helping rear her grandchildren, trekking out on her own daily via SkyTrain, hopping on a plane to come visit the east coast without nary a mention. While she lived an entire country’s length away, her inspiration lives on in her children, and in turn grows in us, her grandchildren.

I wrote this e-mail to my family one month ago on my way back to Seattle shortly after I saw Mamang for the very last time. When I returned my mother’s message last Friday, my aunt picked up the phone and told me Mamang was gone. I could hear my mom in the background going over her last will and testament. I burst into tears.

Hanging out with Mamang was pretty surreal. Her condition is worsening and she coughs a lot. She is frail but still tries, more than when I saw her in July. She came out on our trip to Superstore and out to dim sum, and also to Deep Cove where she enjoyed being outdoors in the shade while we went paddle boarding.

We went to the nail salon today and Mamang came along. Auntie Julie chatted up some of the other patrons, a nice Filipina lady and an elderly African woman. They talked about family, and cancer, and Mamang got her hair cut. As we were leaving, both ladies gave Mamang a big hug. The African woman held Mamang’s hand and told her she’d see her around soon. Mamang exclaimed, matter-of-factly, with no anger in her voice, “But I’m dying!” and the lady responded, “We are all dying. From the minute we were born.” Mamang nodded in agreement and smiled at the lady before leaving.

As they dropped me off at the SkyTrain, I gave Mamang a big hug. I said bye to Mamang and said softly, “I love you, I’ll see you later.” Mamang smiled and shrugged and said, “Well, I probably won’t see you but, take care.”

It is haunting to see how she has accepted it, but it is amazing that she is making the most of her days watching TV and enjoying what will probably be her last summer. I am writing this and crying and listening to Bon Iver which is probably not helping. I am really glad I was able to see her and spend some time with her, perhaps for the last time.

I am incredibly blessed and proud to be such a tremendous woman’s granddaughter.”

I love you, Mamang. May you find eternal peace.


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Thoughts on the upcoming Super Bowl

Most people know I’m crazy into football, and I posted this on a forum.  Since I watch ALL THE GAMES,  lot of people have asked me lately on an objective look on how this Super Bowl could potentially play out.  Disclaimer’s stated: I am a Giants fan, but most people who know me know I’m a total geek about statistics and play in multiple fantasy football leagues.

As a Jersey girl living in Boston, I get a lot of flack for the teams I like.  I also have a lot of fun at my part-time job at a coffee shop talking shop with a lot of the regulars about football.   I came up with a lot of what I wrote this morning during my usual morning banter with one hardcore fantasy addict customer of mine.  It’s my take on what both Giants and Patriots fans should be on the lookout for while watching the Big Game.


I was born and raised a Jets and Giants fan and I want the Giants to win. Still, I think this is a very balanced matchup because of how the teams are built, which really only leads to memorable games.

The Niners defense was arguably the best in the NFL this season. They allowed for one 100-yard rusher, Marshawn Lynch in Week 16. They have the best Red Zone defense in the league. Their secondaries are solid, although not the best. Still, stuffing the run-game definitely allowed them to at least slow down and stay on pace with the offensive juggernaut capabilities of the Saints, while the addition of a passing game from Alex Smith ended up winning the divisional matchup.  And the Giants still beat them.

The Pats were definitely outplayed by the Ravens last weekend. There wasn’t a significant improvement in the offensive line from the week before to last week, and actually, the Ravens lost Michael Oher for a few drives and were able to score and gain field position without him. I made an observation on Twitter that the pocket they were giving Joe Flacco, who is a relatively middling, arguably only-slightly-above-average-talented passer, was so good that he had enough time to make two Bloody Marys AND complete a longball to Torrey Smith. And Flacco was sacked 5 times by a Texans team that outplayed the Ravens in their loss the week before.

The Patriots’ pass-rush as something to be worried about if you’re pulling for them in the Super Bowl. It’s been shaky these past few years since their 18-1 season. Bill Belichick, an on-point but awesome control freak, assigned his safeties coach to be the de-facto defensive coordinator, but you don’t have to be a genius to see who really runs the defensive show in Foxboro. Belichick was a pretty great defensive coordinator for the Jets before he went to the Pats, but with his combined duties as head coach, his lack of DC for his team has really come to light with their major defensive problems. The Pats’ pass-rush and defense as a whole did marginally better versus the Ravens but the thing that’s troubling is their consistency. 21 unanswered points to the Bills in the first quarter of Week 17?! That’s scary stuff. Sure, they ended up offensively killing it to make up for the deficit, and a win is a win, but the Bills are not the Giants. Slipping like that early on could cost them the game.

The Giants are one of the best-built 9-7 teams the NFL has seen in recent years. A lot of their inconsistency was due to huge injuries that sidelined many All-Pros, like Osi Umeniyora, Hakeem Nicks, and Ahmad Bradshaw. But looking at the Giants’ injury report, all of these major players are healthy and well-prepared for this matchup. Umeniyora, Pierre-Paul and Ware are SCARY when they are all active. And the Giants put up enough yardage and points to match it, with great skill and balance in their big-play wide receiver core and devastating run game. Eli Manning is no Joe Flacco. Manning was downed by the elite San Francisco defense 18 times, 6 sacks and 12 hits, yet he still threw for 316 yards and 2 touchdowns. If the Pats give him enough time to find an open receiver, it could spell doom for the team.

While I’d like to see the Giants win, they have been very susceptible to momentum shifts this season, so if they don’t put up enough points early (a la Packers game), with all the balanced skill in the world, they may still not win or come close to losing (a la 49ers game). The Patriots also have been very reactive this season. No large lead is comfortable against the Patriots this year, just ask the Bills and the Dolphins.

I am terrible at predicting winners for games and when I played in casual pick ’em leagues I would’ve probably done better flipping a coin. Still, I’m comfortable in saying that the Giants have more of a consistency advantage, and that they have a very good shot at going all the way.

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