Championing the cause for a rabies-free Philippines

IMG_9730I’m now in the last leg of the three-part session of the Communicating Health Advocacy Mentorship Program (CHAMP) conducted by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. Being a huge animal lover, this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss, even if February has been quite the most toxic month for me in terms of event schedules at work. Rabies continues to be a public health concern, and having been a dog owner all of my life, this is an issue that hits so close to home for me.

GARC is an international organization that works towards the global prevention of rabies. Rabies cases among dogs and humans persist in the Philippines, and GARC aims to tap communicators in the goal for a rabies-free Philippines by 2016. Participants chosen for this communication training come from selected parts around the country from agencies like Philippine Information Agency, Bureau of Animal Industry, and local government units.

The course is broken down into three modules that taught us so far how to come up with communication plans and strategies to effect behavioural change, the educational media tools to use in executing communication projects, and running social media campaigns for advocacies.

So far, the course has been educational and very enlightening for me. This post is actually an output for the third module, which is to come up with a blog entry about the course. I’ll come up with another more comprehensive blog post on my insights and learnings in the next few days. I’m looking forward to being one of the champions for a rabies-free Philippines!

The questions I have put off asking myself on work, love, life

I hit the ground running at work when 2015 kicked in. Already, two agencies have permanently booked our Kapihan (I host a radio/TV forum) for the first two Wednesdays of the month for the entire year. Requests for activities are coming in from all sides, I have two more trips booked to Tagaytay for a mentorship program, and a possible business trip abroad from one of our clients (When someone asks you if would you like to go to ******, you don’t just say yes, you freaking scream YES! Fingers so, so tightly crossed on this one).

When this year started, I asked God for an open heart and for road signs because the last two years of my career have been life-changing and mostly fraught with challenges and angst. I told myself that I’m going to work my arse off this year like it’s my last year on the job, and to get at least two more stamps on my passport. Then December 2015 will be my proverbial fork in the road. It’s the month I’ve set to ask myself some questions I’ve put off answering for quite a while now: Do I continue on this career path which I haven’t strayed from for the past 16 years? Or do I take that turn in the road rife with uncertainty but also ripe with the potential for adventures and fulfilled dreams?

I have stuck to my comfort zone for more than 10 years. I know some people who have never moved away from their comfort zones for all their lives. They chose to live in that bubble, never stepping a foot outside it. I wonder if this was by choice? Or was this because there was never an opportunity for them to lose sight of the horizon? Should one even have to wait for this opportunity to come, like waiting for the wind to blow in the right direction in order to change sails? Or should you go and create those opportunities yourself, steering your own ship, carpe diem and all that?

I think wanderlust has bitten me lately. With the increasing popularity of travel blogs and me getting to know some accomplished travellers, I have suddenly been beset with the restless urge to go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s far away from my comfort zone. I have until now only been to 2 countries : India (Bangalore and New Delhi) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur). Both trips, which took place in the last 4 years, were paid for by someone else (India was courtesy of ASEAN, while Malaysia was a birthday gift from a very, very good friend). Both trips were epic for me. It changed how I see life, culture, race, people. It got me thinking and asking. It got me craving for more.

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Exotic street food alert: Pungko Pungko in Cebu City

Since I started working in Cebu, I have developed a hankering for street food – the fried, unhealthy ones. Barbecued meat, barbecued chorizo, barbecued hotdog, barbecued intestines. Right outside the place I rent in Cebu City are a couple of barbecue vendors and whenever I pass by them on my way home, the smokey aroma is enough to trigger hunger pangs. It’s always a battle of wills for me, that short walk home.

On the other side of the street and a stone’s throw away from where I work is a small, popular place that serves Tuslob Buwa – fried pig brains that you dip your rice into while it sizzles right in front of you. Tuslob Buwa – I call it the Zombie Food – is one so interesting that it deserves a blog post of its own (although if you do Google it up you’ll find a lot of blog posts have already been written about it.)

One street food I’ve tried recently – and one that I won’t be trying again in the near future not because I like it but because I want to live longer – is Ginabot, Cebu’s version of chicharon bulaklak. Ginabot differs from the regular chicharon bulaklak because after it is salted and dried, it is first dipped in flour before it’s deep-fried. I first thought it is pig intestines, but according to this blog, it’s the “mesentery”, or the membrane that holds the intestine to the abdominal wall.

In Cebu City, you can eat Ginabot at the pungko-pungko, or eateries alongside the streets that serve fried foods. Pungko means to squat, referring to how you have to sit slouched on a bench when you eat in these eateries. There’s a big plastic container on the table filled with a combination of all things fried: hotdog, chorizo, ginabot, pork, chicken, spring rolls (lumpia) and ngohiong (a local version of lumpia).

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It’s a fry-a-palooza pile. Forget the cholesterol for a moment. The pungko pungko along Llorente Street, Cebu City.

Before you dig into the pile, the server gives you two plastic bags – one to slip your hand into, and the other to serve as your plate. Or you can ask for another plastic bag if you want to use both your hands while eating. No plates and utensils in these places. You eat with your hands, which for me is a more fun experience.

I’ve been wanting to taste the Ginabot, so that was basically all that I ate. It tastes like soft chicharon, and well, a bit ewwy, a bit salty, just a tad sweet. If you’re not Filipino, and not gastronomically adventurous, then do stay away from Ginabot. But if you’re the open-minded type who wants to live right on the edge, then head on over to Llorente Street in Cebu City, where one of the best pungko-pungko stalls can be found.

Forgetting the cholesterol for a moment and enjoying Ginabot in a blue dress.

Forgetting the cholesterol for a moment and enjoying Ginabot in a blue dress.

Ginabot is best paired with vinegar mixed with a lot of chopped onion, which is what the servers give you right away after handing over the plastic bags.

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Before we left, the server was nice enough to ask me if I needed to use a hand sanitiser, which I didn’t refuse of course.

I know that’s a lot of plastic there and there are environmental issues to that. Hopefully these eateries will find a way to use more environmentally-friendly utensils. But in the meantime, this is how the locals do it, so I’m enjoying the moment.

Magic, Dreams, and Good Madness

Two years ago, I defied gravity. I made a career decision that whisked me away from my comfort zone. It was the biggest leap of faith I’ve made to date, and one that I am absolutely grateful to God for.

I’ve stubbornly held on to my comfort zone in Dumaguete City for ages, having lived here for most of my life. I thought I was content where I was, that I was where I was meant to be. Nothing happened to me, and I thought I was happy with that.

But it was fear that was holding me back. Change scared me. I didn’t want to disrupt the life I had in Dumaguete City. Each time an opportunity to move up at work came up (promotions meant working away from Dumaguete), I relied on my usual excuses: my folks, who are both in their late 70’s, needed me to take care of them, my father needed me to handle the editorial side of the family newspaper business, I can save more money living and working in Dumaguete, etc. Even the cats that I was feeding at our work building also became an excuse. It turned out I was using these excuses as my crutch, that I was just limping through life because I was afraid to put myself out there.

I even talked myself into thinking that I don’t have it in me to meet the responsibilities of managing our office in Cebu, that I’m not good enough. I allowed all my insecurities to weigh me down and pin me down. I couldn’t see what my boss, our regional director, saw in me. She was forever encouraging me – at one point even forced me – to accept the opportunities to move up to management level. Thank goodness that she, and God, knocked some sense in me.

Two years ago, I took a risk, and it was one that paid off big time. Sure, the money isn’t that much (It’s government. ‘Nuff said.) but all that I learned the past two years was more than what I’ve learned working in Dumaguete for the past 15 years. Those two years were the most trying for me, both professionally and personally. I had a hard time adjusting to the new work environment, new people, new ways, new thinking. I was tried and tested, pounded and stretched to breaking point. The stress ate me up and spit me out. I cried, I couldn’t sleep, I ate a lot. I was a mess for most of the first year.

I remember that night in my parents’ bedroom, my Dad and I were talking in the dark, and I was crying my heart out as I told him how I just want to quit my job and walk away from it all. That time, I wanted him to tell me to go ahead and quit. After patiently listening to my ranting and quiet wailing, he said: “If you want to give up now, fine, I’ll support you. But I raised you not to give up easily, and this is easy.” He told me to give it a year, and if I still felt the same way, then I should quit. 

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My three best books on writing

It was only when I became an editor that I became a better writer. It could be that by spotting the typos and grammatical errors in other people’s works that I learned how to best tighten my own copy. Editing other people’s articles made me look at my own writing from a different perspective, a better one. It’s like when you slip in the other person’s shoes and see things from where they stand that you start taking a closer look at things from where you stand.

Although experience is the best teacher and there’s no better way to become a good writer than to keep writing, reading books on writing is another surefire way of improving this craft.

Here are some of the books that I consider my go-to’s when it comes to writing:

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1.The Bedford Handbook for Writers (4th Edition, Diana Hacker)
This was a random pick at a local bookstore in Dumaguete City. I’m sure there’s a more updated edition of this book by now. The author, Diana Hacker, was teaching composition classes at Prince George’s Community College when she wrote this book. It has become my bail-out book especially when editing. Plus I love the hand-edited sentences and quick reference charts on common writing problems like subject-verb agreements and comma splices.

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2. Seven Rules for Writers, Joseph V. Landy, S.J.
It’s lightweight, direct to the point, with emphasis on “crystal-clear prose pulsing with life!” The point of this book is help writers acquire a skill not just correct but effective English. I read his seven rules time and time again, my favourite of which is to “make every word count.” The author, Fr. Landy, earned his degrees in English from Fordham University in New York, and Oxford University in England. He also taught English courses at the Ateneo de Manila University Philippines for five years.

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3. Creative Non Fiction (Reader and Manual) by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo
When it comes to feature writing or creative non-fiction writing, there’s no other book for me than these two. I love this set, especially the manual. I’ve based my Feature Writing presentations for workshops on Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo’s manual, which explains in detail the strategies for writing creative non fiction. It’s full-bodied and rich with information on how to show, not tell. This book explains the rules on writing and how to break them to come up with compelling pieces that breathe, pulse, throb.

Every student of writing, whatever the genre, should read this book. The Reader is especially helpful. There’s nothing like reading the works of Filipino literary masters such as Luis Katigbak, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Clinton Palanca, Jessica Zafra, and of course, Nick Joaquin, to get those creative juices pumping.

I’m sharing these books here with the hope that if you’re a writer, and you happen to pass by a bookstore, watch out for these gems. Most of these I bought from second-hand bookshops (except for Pantejo’s). If you happen to see them on the shelves, grab them right away. You won’t regret it.