Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Back to The Shire, Back to the True Essence of Christmas

By Oliver Oliveros, Editor-In-Chief

I am convinced it was a wise decision for Warner Bros. Pictures and Oscar Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson to move the official release of the first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's “The Hobbit” film series, “An Unexpected Journey (2012),” from summer to Christmas, which the next two parts, “The Desolation of Smaug (2103)” and “The Battle of the Five Armies (2014),” followed suit.

The fantasy novel and the films' main protagonist, 50-year-old hobbit Bilbo Baggins, accompanied by Gandalf the Grey and a company of militant dwarves, has only one true wish throughout his long arduous journey across The Shire to Erebor: to return home among his equally home-loving family and friends in the Hobbiton village, which I believe shares the same essence of Christmas: to return home—physically or virtually—for the holidays, and welcome back home Christ whose birth as a man more than 2,000 years ago is why we celebrate Christmas after all.

Welcoming back home Christ should be no less than festive, introspective, too. That is why we take time to dress up our houses with at least a four-foot-tall Christmas tree, adorned with colorful, glittery ball ornaments and small flickering light bulbs, in the living room—to accentuate our jovial spirits. That is also why Filipinos around the world attend a nine-day Christmas novena, often called Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo—to renew our faith in the infant Jesus, given birth by a virgin in a humble manger, whose main source of light came from the divinely bright, beautiful Star of Bethlehem.

Back at home, I made sure my family has an image of the infant Jesus as the centerpiece of our Christmas holiday decorations. This year, my family has also placed a recycled parol, a representation of the Star of Bethlehem, made from used soft drink straws and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, on the main entrance door. Appropriately so because Christmas should be a reminder of Christ's utmost humility and not of the world's hedonism and extravagance.

On that note, please allow me to wish you a joyous, peaceful Christmas and a prosperous new year!

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Preparing for the Inevitable

By Oliver Oliveros, Editor-In-Chief

Sometimes life reminds us that life itself is short.

When my youngest sister, Joi, suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in the afternoon of June 12, 2002, her critical care doctor straightforwardly told me and my parents to just go home; wait for the medical staff's phone call; and prepare for the inevitable. I can still vividly remember that Joi woke up early that morning; took over all the household chores; and fed her two-year-old son like nothing unforeseen was about to happen.

Alas, shortly after my parents and I got home, the phone rang; the voice on the other side of the line broke the sad news: Joi had already died. She was only 22 years old.

A death in the family is certain to happen, sometimes at the most unexpected time. Fortunately, my family's emergency preparedness at that time helped us get through those tough moments. Without missing a beat, my mom was able to pull her pre-need funeral insurance policy out of her drawer in the master bedroom. For my part, I was able to easily retrieve Joi's life insurance policy and her son's college education plan, along with the phone numbers of her former classmates and co-workers, from her desk drawer. We all--my mom, dad, and I, even my other sister, who was then teaching preschoolers in Bangkok--knew where to find those important documents because we were told their locations beforehand.

Starting conversations on essential preparedness planning should come early on among Filipino families, whose topic of death, even sex, is, sad to say, traditionally taboo. Besides discussing preparations for loss of life, members of any family should also talk about steps to do when someone gets laid off from work; when someone gets sick; or when someone retires at 50+ or 60 years old, which AARP Community Ambassador (Ret.) Major General Tony Taguba—our cover subject this month—has been strongly advocating to Filipino-Americans.

“Somebody has to start that conversation. It should be the parents, but in case the parents do not do that, the oldest child, or the youngest child, or whoever wants to talk about it should bring that up,” Major General Taguba says.

As we grow older, we are also bound to realize that the things we regret most in life are the things we did not bother to do earlier.

So be wise, and plan ahead.

Life is fleeting.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

“Practice Makes Permanent”

By Oliver Oliveros, Editor-In-Chief

Several times in the past 10 years, I was able to work with Philippine-based concert and theater director Freddie Santos, who is now directing the well-received Manila run of “Noli Me Tangere: The Opera,” the same production, produced by businesspeople Loida Nicolas Lewis, Jerry Sibal, and Edwin Josue, which premiered in Manhattan last Fall, and played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. last summer.

Interestingly, besides the fact that Direk Freddie was one of the pioneering image consultants of singer Chona Velasquez aka Regine Velasquez when she was just starting out in the music business in the '90s; and Direk Freddie has written one of my favorite songs recorded by Gary Valenciano, which was “Could You Be Messiah”; it was also Direk Freddie who tried to correct me when I once told a theater actor that “practice makes perfect.”

“Oliver, practice makes permanent, not perfect,” Direk Freddie said.

Come to think of it, he was right. Perfection is not always attainable, but developing permanent habits—could be either good or bad though—is within reach. “Practice can [also] be wasteful and unproductive unless you practice fewer; practice more important skills better; and practice deeply,” as reiterated by Mark Lewis, Esq.

The same rings true when striving for excellence at your work: aiming at excellence is a good habit, which hones your leadership skills better, and encourages deeper thinking when analyzing processes and evaluating outcomes, which, by the way, reminds me of our cover story, the inspiring real-life story of Queens' practicing internist-cum-entrepreneur par excellence Dr. Marissa Santos, found in this Fall issue of Fil-Am Who's Who.

“I really strive hard to be successful, and I don’t settle for mediocrity. If I want to do something, I want to do it my best. If I knew that I was not going to do my best, I would not do it. I don’t force myself to do things that I am not prepared for. Dapat pinaghahandaan,” said Dr. Marissa in an interview with contributing writer Maricar Hampton on page nine.

Ensuring “permanent”quality is an important component of achieving excellence.

Evidently, that would take a whole lot of serious practice.

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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