Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hit the Road and Go

Amidst the rolling hills of Lonesome Pine Country Club in Big Stone
Gap, Wise County, Southwest Virginia
By Oliver Oliveros, editor-in-chief

With American country singer Johnny Cash’s “Hit the Road and Go” playing on my phone, I recently escaped the bustling sounds of New York City—on board a Greyhound bus—to explore the sprawling roadways, hills, and valleys of Southwest Virginia. 

That is usually how I spend summer vacations: hit the road—with my 70-liter trekking backpack; my mind set on a shoestring budget—and go to places I have never been to. Proud to say that made my first time visit to the busy streets of Jakarta, Indonesia in 2008; pristine, pure white sand beaches in Krabi, South Thailand in 2010; and for that matter, the star-studded Broadway theatres in New York City, United States of America in 2009, in cliché, unforgettable.

My first trip to Southwest, Virginia was no different in any other way. In fact, spending nearly 19 hours in transit on a Wi-Fi friendly, Dallas-bound Greyhound bus was somehow a thrilling experience. I got to meet a bunch of interesting people: first, the lady bus driver who intimidatingly announced into a microphone her ground rules—for instance, keep your headphone volume low (she actually stopped the bus in the middle of the New Jersey Turnpike because one passenger did not adhere to the rule); and do not chat with your seatmate during the night, among others—before leaving the Port Authority in New York; second, the traveling chemistry professor from Tennessee who frequently visits the Philippines, particularly Cebu and Davao, to spend his holidays with family and friends; and the list goes on.

I got off the bus in the more urbanized area of Kingsport, Tennessee, where my hosts, Dr. and Mrs. Francis and Nilda Jaynal, fetched me and gave me a little tour of Big Stone Gap, Wise County and Norton City, Southwest Virginia—the couple’s second home away from New York for more than 20 years.

Two of the most scenic spots that were a feast for the eyes were the Powell Valley Overlook, near Norton City, where a number of residential houses, vast farmlands, and a slew of churches of different religions are located in the valley below the overlook; and the Lonesome Pine Country Club, an 18-hole golf course surrounded by the wide-ranging views of the Appalachian Mountains.

Interestingly, Norton City is a city populated by nearly 5,000 people only. But it has everything a city has to offer: chained-brand hotels, popular U.S. banks, a row of restaurants, and convenience stores. However, the nearby Wise County seems more progressive with its cineplexes and chained-brand wholesale stores.

For the faithful, the devotion to the First Filipino Saint San Lorenzo Ruiz is alive and well at Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church (1009 Virginia Ave.) in Norton City. The church is set to celebrate the feast day of the saint on Sunday, September 14, at 2 p.m. I must say that is all the more reason to pay a visit to both Wise County and Norton City, Southwest Virginia, which are also accessible by plane; nearest airport is the Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville, Tennessee.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Coming Home

San Lorenzo Ruiz statue enthroned at St. Anthony
Church in Norton, Virginia (Photo: Oliver Oliveros)
Norton, Virginia—Today, Sunday, June 29, 2014, St. Anthony Church welcomes home a four-foot-tall brown-skinned wooden statue of San Lorenzo Ruiz (1600-1637), the Philippines’ first saint and protomarytr.

Carved by Junior Cayanan of the famed Cayanan woodcarvers of Santa Barbara in Bacolor, Pampanga in the Philippines, the serene statue of the saint, made from santol wood, and whose two palms are folded together, holding a rosary—a fitting tribute to the saint’s devotion to the Confradia del Santissimo Rosario (Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary)—is a gift from my family in Manila to Dr. Francis Jaynal, and his wife of 50 years, Mrs. Nilda Jaynal, whose kindest hospitality offered me a roof over my head when I had none midway my post-graduate studies at New York University.

For the both of us (the statue of San Lorenzo Ruiz and me), it has been a long arduous journey “finding home” since the past three years, peppered with divine interventions (which I’m a firm believer) that were too obvious to ignore.

For several months, Mr. Cayanan worked on the statue from scratch, and made several revisions to bring out the best possible facial features that could resemble the Filipino-Chinese ethnicity of the saint. Countless emails and phone calls were made between Manila (my mom, my sister, and their friends the Gregorios) and New York/Virginia (Mrs. Jaynal and me) to exchange instructions and to ensure that expectations were met. 

Photo: Oliver Oliveros
Shipping the statue from Manila to New York, where the Jaynals were based for more than 40 years, had set another bump in the road: shipping via air cargo would have cost an arm and a leg. But thanks to once strangers Mr. and Mrs. Castillo, owners of Phil-Am Foods in Queens, New York, for shouldering the costs. Earlier this year, I prayed to San Lorenzo Ruiz and made a cold call to Mrs. Ida Castillo, asking help to bring the statue to the United States. Fortunately, Mrs. Castillo did not think twice about helping.

Looking further back, like a beacon of light guiding me on my second year as a post-graduate student in New York, San Lorenzo Ruiz paved the way for me to come to know the Jaynals. In the Bronx, on an Ash Wednesday several years ago—on my way home from school--I was mugged; pinned into the pavement; and punched more than 20 times in the head by my aggressors. Traumatized by the experience, I chose to flee the Bronx. My friends introduced me to the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Downtown Manhattan, where I met Mrs. Jaynal, a devotee of the saint, who opened her home in Westchester County to me until I finished my post-graduate thesis.

Needless to say, my devotion to the Filipino saint has further strengthened since then. By your lonesome, he is like an imaginary best friend that you can fall back on when there is something amiss with your faith or when you are becoming too impatient for the coming of the spring, amid a long, treacherous winter’s night.

Today, as I glance at the statue of San Lorenzo Ruiz, neatly enthroned in its own pedestal at your church—surrounded by verdant gardens and the vast Stone Mountain under the clear summer skies—I’m delighted that San Lorenzo Ruiz has found a nice place here.

May the saint’s presence in this church—for many years to come—remind us all of his great story to sainthood: a simple family man from Binondo, Manila, who was martyred for his belief; and who was willing to die not just once but a thousand times for his faith in God.

Like what the Jaynals made me feel: Please treat him like your own.

He is home now.

God’s Blessings,
Oliver Oliveros
Devotee, San Lorenzo Ruiz
Alumnus, New York University

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

“Perseverance, secret of all triumphs”

“Perseverance, secret of all triumphs” – Victor Hugo 

 By Oliver Oliveros, editor-in-chief

When I finally got my Master’s Degree in Public Relations (PR) and Corporate Communication in May 2013 at New York University, where the first PR course was taught in the 1920s—a legacy that lured me to pursue higher education in New York—my family and friends admired me for my perseverance.

And they were spot on!

Persevering through two and a half years in graduate school with scarce resources: a partial Fulbright grant that shouldered only eight percent of my total tuition and fees; just enough private sponsorships that defrayed my living expenses; and a Philippine Peso checking account that was shrinking; was no mean feat.

But no pain, no gain, right?

I just had to keep my eyes on the prize, and finish what I started.

So when I was told the academic life story of Philippine Association of Medical Technologists’ (PAMET) pioneering president, Ismael “Mike” Jampayas, our cover subject for this issue, it rang a bell.

Coming from a family of public servants from Mawab, a third class municipality in the province of Compostela Valley (Davao), Mr. Jampayas paid his way through school. Even though he was working full time on work days and studying at night, he still made it to the Dean’s List for Academic Excellence at Long Island University, where he finished his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and Master’s Degree in Microbiology. Consequently, such academic merit helped him get into Columbia University, an Ivy League school, where he completed his (second) Master’s Degree in Public Health in 1985.

Admirably, Mr. Jampayas’ story adds another element to Victor Hugo’s formula for success. Find out more about it on pages 8 and 9. CLICK HERE!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ilocos’ Fearsome Delight: Papaitan

papaitan (Photo by Victor Merano)
By Oliver Oliveros, editor-in-chief

I wear my “adventure hat,” similar to that of intrepid traveler and foodie Anthony Bourdain, when I visit far-flung places, whose geographical locations are actually relative to fleeting points of origin—because I travel a lot for work. The main idea, though, is to try out local culinary specialties in order to experience a bit of the food culture of the place you’re visiting. Sometimes the experience lingers on: a case in point, the Ilocos Region’s (in the Philippines) fearsome papaitan.

Chicago-based gastronome Victor Merano, who’s an advocate for Filipino cuisine, and who blogs at panlasangpinoy.com, best describes the distinctly Ilocano food: “Papaitan is a famous Ilocano soup dish mostly composed of cow or goat innards. The name of this dish was derived from the Filipino word ‘pait,’ which means ‘bitter.’ The bitter taste of this soup comes from the bile. This is a bitter juice extracted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder to aid digestion.”

Not for the faint-hearted, huh? The papaitan can be intimidating, but it’s a welcoming departure from the too sweet Filipino spaghetti and too salty tuyo I was accustomed to growing up in Manila, the Philippines’ hub for mostly everything.

I first encountered the dish at a food stop in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, more than 15 years ago, while en route to a youth mission trip for CFC Singles for Christ to Laoag City. Served hot from a native clay pot, the papaitan’s bitter broth dampens your dry mouth and throat, and satisfies your empty stomach during a 10 to 12-hour-long bus ride. Since then I’ve been craving for the uncommon papaitan whenever I journey the roads of Ilocos.

Now stationed in New York, much to my delight, I got reunited with the papaitan on my first night in the big city—of all places— as a graduate student at New York University (NYU) in the winter of 2011. Think of perfect timing: the wintry weather was unapologetically cold, but there I was—tired and hungry after a 13-hour-plane ride from Manila—sipping the bitter hot soup of the papaitan, served in a familiar white ceramic bowl, at Café 81, a Filipino restaurant in the East Village.

Silently I burped; grinning from ear to ear.

Of note, there has been a burgeoning demand for Filipino dishes in the city in the last three to four years. So if you find yourself in the heart of heart of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, do yourself a favor and relish a wide array of sumptuous Pinoy food at these popular restaurants: Manhattan’s Maharlika, Jeepney Ugly Kitchen, Grill 21, and Pandesal; Queens’ Sizzle Me, Papa’s Kitchen, Payag, Ihawan, Perlas, Engeline’s, Renee’s Kitchen, Fritzies, and Fiesta Grill; and Brooklyn’s Purple Yam, among others.

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