When Andy Met Nathan

“Life is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote upon realizing the value of getting out of what you consider familiar and therefore, comfortable.  Up until last month, I have not really paid that much attention to the wisdom that grounds this exhortation of sorts from St. Augustine.  At least not to the same extent that I have learned to appreciate it as the month of April comes to a close.

You see,  I have never really been a big fan of traveling. I would rather stay at home, spin some records, play the guitar for my wife, play board games with my kids, read the latest from James Patterson  and attend to the endless tasks that are crying out to be done.  In fact, this is precisely why  I have always delegated the task of arranging our family travels to my wife who has been as passionate about it as the first day we met.   But a recent surprise rendezvous of Andy with Nathan in the city of Hong Kong made me take a long hard look at St. Augustine’s reflection.

Andy is the name of the tour guide who was assigned to accompany  my family. It also happens to be the name of my father in law who has been an exemplary  father to me and to my wife as far back as I can remember.  Like my father in law, Andy was a very jolly person who loved his job with passion and dedication. You could sense this in the way he carried our conversations and the way he  conducted himself  from day 1. We were like repeat customers he has had the privilege of serving over the years.  He would regale my kids with magic tricks and impress my wife and me with interesting trivia you would not   find in travel guides about Hong Kong.

Nathan is the name of the road in Hong Kong which served as our temporary home for the 4 days that we were in the city.  It also happens to be the name of  my youngest nephew who is based in Canada. Like the kaleidoscope of  possibilities that await Nathan given his having been born in Canada, Nathan Road kick started my fascination with the many engaging chapters that comprise the book that was  our trip to Hong Kong. Here are 10 of them.

Despite the fact that the Philippines is no longer the sick man of Asia and is, in fact, poised to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, we clearly have a lot to learn from the world-class airport of  Hong Kong.  Their airport and the attendant services you could enjoy within its premises – from its awe-inspiring architectural design to its WiFi for everyone provision, from its  walkalators to its dining areas, from its connecting trains to its well-paved  roads,  – remind me no end of Singapore’s   Changi Airport.

If Paris is the City of Blinding Lights in Europe, Hong Kong could easily qualify as Asia’s answer to Paris.  Its myriad of electronic marquees, giant vidiwalls and neon signs that are lit up practically 24 x 7 have a way of making you forget that you have an itinerary to follow.  They seem to be saying, whatever it is that you have scheduled to do for the day, it can wait.  Stop, look and wonder how they could have put all of these blinding lights and kaleidoscopic colors together.  Which I guess is also why for tourists like me, the idea of walking for hours in this great city  is a very enjoyable experience.  There is so much to gawk at, so much to marvel at, and so much to sample. Alas, there is not that much time.

To be sure, there is also traffic in Hong Kong.  Its public transport system is so efficient, however,  that its daily traffic is not as unnerving  as the one you would experience on weekdays in the major roads  of Manila. We got to experience this first hand when we boarded one of the double deckers plying Nathan Road. Unlike our buses in Manila which bus conductors normally fill to the rafters like canned sardines, the double deckers of Hong Kong are never standing room only affairs. There was also no need for conductors as you paid either by way of a reloadable card or by paying exact fares via fare boxes next to the driver.  Buses here have fixed loading and unloading areas which you would know about before you board the bus because it’s indicated in the loading and unloading areas. Drivers appear to be more disciplined even if you could hardly see traffic enforcers on the road.

Techno thriller writer Tom Clancy used to wax poetic about Disney being the happiest place on earth.  You’ll never really get to appreciate where Clancy was coming from until you actually set foot on Disneyland. The one in Hong Kong may not be as sprawling and as massive as the one in Orlando but it definitely is much more awesome as our Enchanted Kingdom in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. The devil as they say is in the details and the creative minds behind the original Disneyland in the U.S. went to great lengths to ensure that the magical experience we associate with Disney would ring loud and clear even in Asia.  I lost count of the magical experiences that our trip endowed my family and me but my  top 3  would have to be  the Iron Man 4-D aerial tour of Hong Kong, the Mystic Manor musical ride, and  Mickey’s PhilHar Magic. Of course, if I were the thrill-seeking type, rank 1 would have to be the Star Wars HyperSpace Mountain Ride, the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars and the  Toy Story RC Racer Ride.

I have always been fascinated by dolphins from the first time my kids saw their first dolphin show in Subic to the first time we were accompanied by Bohol fishermen as the dolphins pranced and danced along our boats.  Ocean Park did not disappoint as it presented an ecological conservation-centric dolphin show to an auditorium filled with stars truck visitors. From their characteristic sing-song sound to their graceful aerial jumps, the dolphins of Ocean Park held our attention like iconic rock stars we’ve been waiting to visit the country.  An unexpected bonus which was just as compelling as the dolphin show was my family’s very first cable car ride.  Partly thrilling, partly scary, it was a ride like no other we’ve taken.

Prior to our trip to Hong Kong, I was warned by well-meaning friends and relations that most of the people at Hong Kong are not as engaging and as warm as the Filipinos. To be blunt, they even warned that a number of them are openly hostile if not rude.  Not true if our 4 days in Hong Kong were to be used basis.  On more than two occasions, smiling Hong Kong nationals who were passing by would offer to take our pictures as they saw how we fidgeted with the selfie button of our mobile phones. During our night market explorations, quite a number of the merchants were nice enough to engage us in small talk and even allowed us to haggle. The tour guide who accompanied us on our last day was just as cordial and as pleasant as Andy.  He even knows about the best diving places in the Philippines as he is a frequent visitor of our country.

This trip, of  course, would not be complete without the obligatory sampling of the vinyl stores of Hong Kong. Thanks to the internet, 3 of the top 10 vinyl stores of Hong Kong were practically walking distance from Nathan Road.  The 3rd and last store in our list rewarded me with almost a dozen vinyl titles that have eluded me in Manila.  Due to budget constraints, I settled for two albums that I’ve been looking for for the longest time: the original sound track of Forrest Gump and the debut album of  Two Cellos.

Thanks to the Bull Runner blog, I was able to zero in on a tried and tested running route near Nathan Road. I am, of course, referring here  to Kowloon Park. Turns out it’s also connected to an elevated promenade which offered early morning runners with  a breathtaking view of the Hong Kong harbor and its  spectacular skyscrapers.  But I was not prepared to be further mesmerized as I accidentally discovered yet another promenade along the Hong Kong harbor when I ran from the Avenue of the Stars to as far as the running path would take me. Consequently, my target 5km for the day eventually ended up as an 11km run.

Two boat rides representing the factual and the fictional all the more made this trip memorable.  The former was by way of Hong Kong boatmen who made their living from the sea.  They gave us a tour of  the Hong Kong harbor which included the floating restaurants, the houseboats of real-life fishermen and the  yachts of the rich and famous of Hong Kong.  According to Andy, before Hong Kong became a first-world commercial hub, it was at its core a fishing economy. The fictional ride was courtesy of a funny Disney boatman who took us on an imaginary tour of Tarzan’s home at Disney.  Despite the fact that Tarzan’s treehouse was undergoing a renovation, the said boatman’s funny antics made the boat ride enjoyable and engaging.

I also have this trip to thank for educating me about the premium that many tourists place on buying jewelry from Hong Kong as we toured what is possibly the most famous jewelry factory in the city. I was surprised to see autographed pictures of famous Filipinos who have actually set their foot in the factory.  We were welcomed by a veteran sales man who gave us a very fascinating overview of their company. He was so good that even if I was not looking forward to the tour, I actually almost forced my wife to buy a jewelry or two from them.

Two decades ago,   my first corporate supervisor shared how traveling to  other countries have a way of putting to question how you currently live your life.  You get to inevitably  realize that you need not live the life that you’ve known all your life.  There are, in fact, numerous alternatives to what you’ve gotten familiar and comfortable with. And travel is the surefire route to get to know about those alternatives.  So to my wife’s surprise, I now  find myself  competing with her in plotting the dates of our next travels together. New York, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Boston,  and Chicago, we just might actually visit you even before we hit pay dirt with those lotteries.

This blog is lovingly dedicated to Elaine.

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Never Say Never

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There is a Filipino exhortation that goes: “Wag kang magsasalita nang tapos.”  Roughly translated in English, it means, never speak with finality.  Back in the day when I was starting to run, my dreams were a lot simpler. From completing my first 5k, I wanted to eventually do a 10k, a 21k and ultimately,  a 42k.  Whenever someone would bring up the subject of  trying out multi-sport or triathlon, I would often say, I would never get into that. My reasons were quite iron-clad or so I thought at that time.

First, I was happy to simply work towards increasing my mileage progressively. Second, I was intimidated by the attendant costs of investing in triathlon equipment and training. Third, I could not picture how in the world, training for one could possibly fit my already demanding schedule as a husband, a father and a senior manager in a multinational company.

All that changed when I got injured and I stumbled onto several well-researched readings about how triathlon is positioned as  a perfect way to actually improve your running. Even more compelling was the assertion of experts about the therapeutic impact of multi-sport training to injuries sustained in the course of running.

Three pivotal  moments eventually convinced me to seriously consider the possibility of giving tri a try.

The first one was when I first completed my 21k race in 2015 by way of the Manila leg of the Milo Marathon.  I bumped into an actual triathlete who did his 21k with an impressive finishing time.  He enthusiastically encouraged me to give multi-sport a try because  it’s more enjoyable than running. He also credited it for his improved 21k finishing time. I remember him saying,  “now that you’ve completed your 21k, you can easily transition to triathlon because you have a good foundation in running. Forget about marathons,” he said with conviction.  “They’re too long and boring.  Triathlons are more fun and fulfilling.”  When I countered that I did not have the time to get into the sport, he reasoned that you can do the bike rides at home on weekdays and just do the long rides on weekends.  The swim part is what I need to carve out time for.  The feasibility of actually following a triathlon training routine intrigued me. But at that time, it was not enough to distract me from targeting my first 42k.

And then  I got injured several times. From shin splints to runners knee, from ITB Syndrome to plantar fasciitis, I experienced them all.  Somehow through practice and training, I eventually overcame all of these injuries  but it was my bout with Achilles tendonitis that had the most adverse impact on my recent races.  Even worse, I started experiencing cramping during the last 2 kilometers  of my 21k races. After I overcame cramping in the course of my 22-week marathon training, it surfaced anew during the 33k segment of my second marathon.  It was in the course of reading about injury prevention and management while preparing for my second marathon that I started to ask the question: what if I actually gave triathlon a try?  Who knows, these experts might just be right all along?

The final clincher came by way of the Nike commercial that featured the Iron Nun Madonna Buder. If she could do over 40 triathlons within her lifetime and she started late running, perhaps I can do, too. Within a few weeks after chancing upon Sister Madonna’s Nike ad,  I stumbled onto a book that explained triathlon from a philosophical and inspirational  standpoint. I am, of course, referring here to Scott Tinley’s very engaging Finding Triathlon. Each of the chapters that comprised Tinley’s book progressively convinced me that this was indeed one life project worth investing serious resources on.

And so here I am gearing up for my first sprint distance triathlon happening in June.  I’m quite confident I can nail the 5km run segment. The 900 meter swim is where I’m having a lot of struggle visualizing.  Although I’m now able to complete a variety of swim drills, I continue to experience serious problems integrating the breathing part.  Related to this, I also need a lot of improvement  in  kicking more efficiently and twisting my hips enough to allow me to inhale more efficiently.  Without a doubt,  swimming is my weakest link as an aspiring triathlete. This is precisely why at this point, I’ve practically invested a lot in it in terms of training.

As for cycling, given my growing up years biking, I was not surprised when a cycling veteran complimented me on my good sense of balance during our cycling drills. It is the mastery of gear shifting and the confident use of cleats that I know I need to work on. I also have no idea yet with regard to the efficient use of  a bike trainer at home. This should allow me to achieve the target mileages I should go for to prepare for my first sprint distance triathlon.

Alas, the fact that I’m still reeling from the frustration that accompanied my second marathon got in the way of my plunging headlong into my triathlon training.  That, along with my realization that I owe my body some serious rest, made me distance myself from running for practically a month.

And so even as   I find myself at the starting point  of a full-blown sprint distance triathlon training, questions and doubts hound me.  Am I an April fool in the making? Will I make it in June? Can I actually swim free style by then? Will I master gear shifting and pedaling with cleats in time?  Will I have enough left to complete the 5km run after the swim and bike segments of the race?

If I go by Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s exhortation, the outcome need not be belabored.  “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Let us begin.

Move On

tbr2017k

“Life is  like  a box of chocolates,”  as Forrest Gump once put it,  “You’ll never know what you’re gonna get.”  Take my second stab at the full marathon last February 19, 2017. Up until the start of the second half which is where  my coaches point out  the real marathon starts, I was still hopeful that I would beat my personal best from 2016.  Alas, what played out was not what I thought things would turn out to be.

To be sure, one can easily argue that, notwithstanding my more elaborate marathon preparation this year compared to my preparation for my first marathon, my 2017 race results is clearly a failure. Numbers, as they say, do not lie. But, more than a week after I crossed the finish line, I am all the more convinced that it would be grossly unfair to me and those who helped me cross the finish line a second time to dismiss it as such.

You see I just recovered from a serious case of what is called the ITB Syndrome. Even worse, as I began training for my second marathon, I had to endure what turned out to be an  Achilles tendonitis on my right foot.  This was precisely why I decided to sign up for a series of therapy sessions and a triathlon coaching program. In my effort to figure out how to overcome my injuries, I came across several readings which pointed to triathlon as a tried and tested way of strengthening the runner’s legs even as it ups the ante of endurance training by introducing the runner to two other disciplines: swimming and cycling.  Part of my therapy session was a video analysis of my running form.  The year before I really appreciated the insights occasioned by the Chi Running video analysis that I invested in.  I was hoping to arrive at even more instructive insights.  I was not  disappointed as  I discovered through the analysis that my  left leg apparently  had faster ground contact compared to my right leg. To address this, I was advised to try two things: form the letter T with my thumb and forefinger to ensure my arms were not crossing when I ran and improve my cadence by investing in a metronome.  The theraphy sessions provide by PACE Prehab managed by Coach Francis Diano along with my determination and drive to stick to the 22-week plan designed by Coach Jim Lafferty,  The Bull Runner Dream Marathon (TBR DM) founder Jaymie Pizarro and Coach Lit Onrubia which in turn was modified by Coaches Noy Basa, Al Gonzalez and Pao Leano of Inside Track Athletics gave me hope  that I would not only  triumph over my injury. I would eventually achieve a PR this year.

Here’s how it  actually went down on February 19, 2017.

The Sweet  Half

A running skeptic in the office would often say, what’s the point of running long distances when you can always take the car or get an Uber or a Grab alternatively? He misses the point completely. Running a marathon  is not about getting from point A to point B. It is about the 22-week preparation and the 3 to 6-hour validation of one’s passion, hard work and dedication on race day itself. It’s about the journey rather than the destination, as the cliché goes.

Enjoy the journey I did particularly during the first 21 kilometers  of the race.  The festive atmosphere, the smiles of friends and fellow runners at the starting line  and  the encouraging words of the TBR Dream Chasers were more than enough to pump us up with enthusiasm and excitement as we started at 2am.  The cool temperature, the happy exchange of comments and stories among fellow runners, the endless cheering by past TBR alumni along the course track, the expansive  sky full of stars and, for the first time in  a long time,   my playlist in the background made the experience even more awesome.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the TBR DM experience is really such a powerful experience of pure, unadulterated energy, positivity and affirmation compared to  all the other races I’ve ran for the past 4 years. Nothing comes close.

The Bitter Half

As I  entered km 22, I started to detect muscle tightness on my right calf. It surfaced in trickles to a point where I thought it would go away.  Having gotten a preview of the experience in my past races and my recent LSDs,   I knew what to do.  I did what worked during my training particularly  the 30km practice run.  I ran backward and sideward every so often. I also walked uphill and ran downhill. By km 30, I saw a number of runners doing the same thing. Were they imitating me or did their coaches and teams also teach them the same thing?  I smiled at the thought.

Shortly after  going up the round-about for the second time, I modified my approach to  a 1- minute run, 2-minute  walk to lessen the muscle tightness which gradually became progressive. There was a routine though that I discarded upon my therapist’s  advice (i.e., forward leg swinging and sideward leg swinging), as he said it would just worsen the cramping. By the time, I got to the Miriam College uphill leg of the race course  for the second time, the 1:2 gave way to the lamp post technique I learned from both Coach Lit and Coach Francis. I stuck to this until I got to the u-turn of the Republic Wakeboard leg of the course. To my dismay, that was where the cramping practically  forced  me to stop dead in my tracks.  Remembering my coaches’ advice, I decided to walk.  The tightness appeared to lessen. To my horror, my left toes also started cramping along with my right calf.  Thankfully, I had the good sense to head for the nearest first aid station where I borrowed a foam roller stick. That helped a great deal. God bless the Dream Chaser who handed me a salt stick.

“How in the world could this happen to me despite all my preventive measures on top of following my training?,” I asked myself.  Consider the following: I’ve pumped my body with 500ml of buco juice every single day one week before the race. I was eating bananas daily 2 weeks before race day. I followed my race nutrition plan taking in energy gels  every 45 minutes. I did all the stops to sip water and interspersed the same with Gatorade even if I did not feel thirsty. I lost count of the number of bananas I ate on the race course when the muscle tightness started surfaced.  I followed the metronome setting of  180 strides per minute until it became problematic to do so.

As I made my way back from the junction, I decided to just walk off the rest of the race. I knew my target of  finishing within 5 hours was gone. I just smiled and muttered my thanks to the kind and generous Dream Chasers who cheered me on. I really wanted to run as I passed by them if only  to reward them for their kindness and generosity but I was terrified of repeating  my Run United 3 experience  where I limped to the finish line after I cramped at km 18. A number of the Dream Chasers, it turned out,  were my batchmates from TBR 2016 who gleefully cheered me on: “Takbo, Von, takbo!” “Von, may camera, run!” I just smiled at them after waving  and sharing  that I have cramped.

My heart sank further as I passed by Head TBR Coach Jim Lafferty who was waiting at km 38. I wanted to explain my situation and tell him that except for the week in December when I got sick, I followed the TBR plan like my life depended on it and more but I kept this to myself. I  wanted to thank him for the program  but I was not so sure how it would have come across. Walked on I did until km 39 where I came across Coach Al who was all smiles and who encouraged me by saying: “Konti na lang. Good job!” He also recommended that I try running and walking backwards but I said I’ve done that already.

By km 40, an unexpected grace came my way by way of 2 lady runner friends of Team Bulalo who coaxed me to run by pacing me. One of them, Anne, reminded me that: “lalong bibigat yan.” So run I did out of “hiya.” Surprisingly, the salt tablet may have kicked in along with whatever was left of my adrenaline.  I actually got to run the last 2km without any issues. That I guess was what made me smile as I  capped a bittersweet finish.  I actually ran my way to the finish line despite my cramping earlier.

I teach a module on Adversity Quotient (AQ) which espouses the growth mindset. Stating the thing broadly, it is not what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you that will make you grow and develop. Failure is to be regarded as a stepping stone to improvement. It is not the last chapter of your life.   The centerpiece of the module is what AQ researcher Dr. Paul Stoltz calls the LEAD approach.

Listen to your adversity response

The way I see it, there  are two options available to me.

The low AQ response says: I should be sorry for myself and this failure is massive. The high AQ response says: I should be grateful I still managed to finish the race despite my injury. This failure is but a detour to better things to come.

Explore the origins and ownership

The low AQ response is not grounded in reality. The fact of the matter is that the race results revealed that I need to strengthen my body further and I need to heal completely  to run faster.   The cross-training did help. The techniques taught by Tai Chi and Yoga would no doubt also prove helpful as my coaches in swim and cycling also point to my stiffness and tension as a development opportunity.

Analyze the evidence

The evidence clearly says this setback is not permanent. There are tons of lessons to learn from this which would help me become a better runner and, at the same time, help me gear up for my first sprint triathlon.

Mindset is clearly part and parcel of race preparation. Rest should not be underestimated. Food intake should be scrutinized and reviewed consistently. Being at the starting line an hour before gun start is much better. Strength training is not an option. Flexibility training is just as critical.  Forgiveness of oneself is a grace to pray for. Gratitude and appreciation for those who helped you cross the finish line is a must.

Decide to take action

I suppose this is why the following day,  I readily signed up for my first Triman even as I capped my second marathon day with a 2-hour swim drill which validated my readings once again. Swimming does hasten muscle recovery and is a perfect sport for the runner.

While signing up for another race makes your succeeding efforts more focused and intentional, I strongly felt that part of moving on is to allow my body to get a much needed rest so my injury could heal more completely.  Then and only then could I truly say, it is time to move on. The best is yet to come.

Why Indeed

Possibly the most famous admonition associated with Saint Pio is: “Pray, hope and don’t worry. Worry is useless.” In this day and age of dizzying changes and transformations happening every nanosecond, it is one admonition we who live in the 21st century would do well to take seriously. 9-11, globalization, climate change, digitization, drug wars, Brexit, rationalization, financial meltdown,  Syria, ISIS, Greece…The list is endless. As the classic rocker Don Henley would put it: “In a New York minute, everything can change…” To be sure, given all these,  it is very easy to intellectualize Saint Pio’s counsel.  I propose though that unless and until you are forced into what some existential philosophers call limit situations, you would never fully appreciate what he was trying to drive at when he offered the above advice.

I must say I’ve been blessed to find myself in such a situation a couple of times. It is possible that all this is borne of the challenges associated with entering midlife. Then again, it is equally possible that this is a matter of selective perception – seeing what we want to see in what are objectively random events in one’s life.  Having said that, I’ve been thankfully  blessed to come across some friends who unwittingly offered what to me appears to be the biblical premises of Saint Pio’s reminder.

The first one is from Jeremiah 29:11 and I quote: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” While the original context of this passage was the message of hope and assurance that God wanted to bless the Jewish people with as they had to stay as exiles in Babylon for 70 years, I believe it is not stretching the meaning of the passage that much if we are to relate it to our individual and collective state in the face of various adversities.  More to the point, it easily grounds  the first component of Adversity Quotient which the researcher Dr. Paul Stoltz refers to as control or how one perceives an adversity as either actionable or beyond hope.  One can either look at the problem as a permanent state from which there is no escape  or as a temporary detour from which one could  springboard to better things. Jeremiah 29:11 underpins the latter.

The second one I have been blessed to be gently reminded of is from Matthew 6:26-34  and it goes: “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which if you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore, do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear? For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father know that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Again, while these words were addressed to the crowd that gathered around Jesus during his famous Sermon on the Mount 2,000 years ago, its explanatory power resonates loud and clear  in the 21st century regardless of one’s social, economic and political situation. For indeed, just like that, as they say, you could lose it all. Just like that, one’s life could unceremoniously end. Just like that, a relationship could end. Just like that, the unexpected could happen.

I suggest that it is precisely in the context of these three passages that we could fully appreciate the other half of Saint Pio’s admonition which we don’t often hear:  “God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”  With these three passages written hundreds of years apart, one can more confidently sing along to Annie’s “Tomorrow” and play the air guitar to Bamboo’s “Umagang Kay Ganda.” Why worry indeed!

When Less is More

Tempus Fugit. Time flies especially if you’re having fun.

It’s practically been 7 years since I’ve been bitten by the analog bug. Thanks to a group of friendly analog enthusiasts whom I met by way of Analog 101 and Wired State.  I can still remember how magical the whole experience was of listening to the vinyl versions of iconic classic rock albums that accompanied my growing up years – from U2’s Joshua Tree to Jackson Browne’s Lives in the Balance, from Yes’s 90125 to the Eagles’ Hotel California, from Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing to the Best of Carly Simon. It was the proverbial superb sound as well as the larger than life album art of analog recordings that possessed and compelled   me to convert my sizable CD library into its analog counterpart. So you can imagine how alien the thought of slowing down and taking things easy was to a vinyl convert like myself 7 years ago.  That was the key message I took home with me from listening to a mild-mannered gentleman whose avatar name in Wired State was Pican. Pete Pican, I think, was his full name. He had an easy air about him and he could have easily been my long lost favorite uncle judging by the way he held court as he dispensed hard-earned lessons in record collecting.  At the time that I met him, he had thousands of analog recordings in his library compared to my collection of over a dozen albums I bought mostly from Bebop Records at the Makati Square.  I remember him pointing out how this hobby could prove to be a  hard habit to break  as it promises countless hours of bliss from stumbling  onto your hard to find album to sitting down and listening from that sweet spot in your listening room. Better this than having a mistress, he would explain to his wife.  Better this than disappearing into the night and burning money in night clubs. Better this than gambling. At least, your wife knows where you are.

Having said this, he also  shares how he has come to a point in his record collecting where he would rather listen to a handful of records instead of continually amassing more and more. In the end, he says, even if you only have 365 records which he did not at that time, you won’t even be able to listen to all of them even if you target to play one album back to back per day. In fact, that is not what usually happens. What usually happens is that you have a handful of favorite albums which comparatively enjoy more playing time compared to the rest of your collection.  This, of course, is not a new principle. Pareto Principle is how we refer to the 20% that produces the 80% of your analog bliss. It’s the same as how we use the shirts and pants that pack our closets.  And that is why he says at that time that it makes perfect sense to give away or if you will, endorse the rest of his albums to those whom he knows would take care of them either by selling them or even better, by giving them away.  You won’t be able to take them away with you anyway.  A couple of months after that, we were saddened to learn of his passing.

My record collection is nearing the one thousand mark and I must say that now more than ever, his wise reminder resonates strongly with me today. Which is why I have been experiencing my own version of diminishing returns. The drive to be a completist of artist discographies has lost its appeal to me. Rather than collect all of Robert Palmer’s albums, I’d much rather have Addictions Vol 1 in my collection. In lieu of searching for all of Steve Winwood’s studio albums, I’d be happier with his Chronicles compilation.

To be sure, Pican’s wise insight is reminiscent of variations of the same message delivered to me by well-meaning messengers  in the course of my life.

There is the New Testament, of course, where no less than Jesus Christ himself admonishes us that “what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but loses his soul in the end.” There is the financial management seminar I once attended where I learned that the healthiest and most productive attitude we should aspire to develop towards money is not the resolve for more  but rather the vocation to be stewards of God’s talents so that we may be able to bless others with it.  And then there is Gabriel Marcel’s Being and Having in which the great existentialist philosopher talks about the tragedy of reducing being to having when having is simply an aspect of being. To be is not reducible to have.

Indeed, we are all just passing through. Naked we came into this world. Naked we shall leave this earth. What matters most is how we lived rather than how we accumulated. It’s a great thought to reflect on as we start the new year.

 

Surreal

In the CD-ROM entitled All This Time, rock icon Sting shares how strange and surreal it was to meet your heroes face to face. This realization dawned on him as he met singer-songwriter legend James Taylor for the first time. This was because Taylor was one pop icon whose albums Sting  used to buy and listen to a lot during  his formative years as  a musician.  Given the preceding, it is not that difficult to imagine how he must have felt when Taylor unexpectedly showed up backstage right after Sting’s concert to engage him in a conversation. They would, of course,  eventually become life-long friends who would sing  in each other’s albums over the years.

Sting’s surreal reflection might as well apply to me when I met not one but two real-life writers who have paid their dues as accomplished craftswomen of the written word. Thanks to their continuing long-running stints with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the leading broadsheet of the Philippines. I am, of course, referring here to Ma. Ceres Doyo whose column Human Face appears every Thursday in the Inquirer and Neni Sta. Romana Cruz who also regularly writes for the Inquirer on top of her duties as  Chair of the National Book Development Board and her calling as an educator, a book critic, a reading advocate and prime mover of WhereTheWriteThingsAre.  The latter facilitated the afternoon talk which was given by Ms. Doyo on the basics of feature writing.

SURREAL

Since I am a struggling and aspiring writer despite being published 5 times by the Inquirer between 2014 and 2015, it took awhile for me to get my bearings back when I realized I was in the presence of writing greatness.  Awed, blessed and highly favored would not be inaccurate to describe how I felt.  I took in the whole experience like the first time I saw the U2 docu film on IMAX.  Indeed, the experience brought back fond memories of how I felt when I  had the privilege of shaking the hand of Inquirer columnist  Conrad De Quiros during one of the rallies in Makati sparked by the excesses of the  Estrada presidency. The same might as well apply to the first time I got to speak face to face with yet another Inquirer columnist Randy David during the visit of the late philosopher Richard Rorty to U.P. I was instrumental in coordinating Professor Rorty’s visit to the Ateneo by referring Professor David to the Ateneo Philosophy faculty.

 MASTERCLASS

Despite the fact that Ms. Doyo conducted her talk sitting down (as she was not feeling well) and notwithstanding the fact that her Powerpoint deck  could use some millennial aesthetic fine-tuning to keep up with the times, from the moment she opened her mouth and proceeded to walk us through the various stages of feature writing, you knew this was not just a talk on feature writing. It felt more like a master class. I particularly appreciated her many stories and examples from her writing career. She used these to amplify her tips and advice to aspiring feature writers like me.  Among those that seared themselves in my heart and mind were her first-hand experience of being harassed during the Marcos dictatorship, her engaging interview with Chavit Singson, her life-long project of preserving the legacy of Mac-Ling Dulag and her front-seat access to the execution of a serial rapist by lethal injection.

It was also inspiring to realize –  as she was sharing tips on prospective subjects to write about as well as numerous angles and approaches one can explore – that one could never possibly run out of things to write about.  You just need to have the guts to face the typewriter or the keyboard and, to quote her favorite author, “let the drops of blood flow from your head to your keyboard.”  Funny yes  but oh so true.

DOWN TO EARTH

After overcoming the surreal dimension of the entire experience, I  found the voice to engage with Ms. Doyo by way of questions which she encouraged her class to shoot her way.  She answered every single one of them with very incisive insights and in a very inspiring way.  I think it was the poet Maya Angelou who once wrote that after several months, people will forget what it was you said to them but they will not forget how you made them feel.  Thanks to their sincerity and their being grounded in the  reality of their readers and now listeners, both Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz reminded me of my favorite teachers in high school and college. They would not only answer your questions with wit. They would also effortlessly complement their replies to your questions with inspiring remarks. Remarks that inspire you to dream bigger dreams. Remarks that goad you to keep fighting, keep trying, keep writing no matter what.

Maybe it was the reason why I ended up being caught by the camera with my eyes closed when I had my picture taken with them. Maybe it was my self’s physiological way of telling those who cared to observe that clearly my mind and my heart at that time could not snap out of such  a transcendent experience.  “Was this really happening?” would not be a bad way to caption the said picture.   In her book entitled Human Face which I requested Ms. Doyo to sign, she scribbled the message:  “Celebrate the human.”  That was what I felt like doing through writing as I contemplated her message weeks after her talk.  After listening to Ms Doyo’s talk and conversing with Ms Cruz about my travails and worries as an aspiring weekend writer, that was exactly how I felt celebrating by continuing on with my blogging, come rain or come shine.

Maraming salamat po, Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz. Hulog kayo ng langit.

If You Can Keep Your Head

I have always been fascinated by the flying genius deftly displayed by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger at New York’s Hudson River on January 15, 2009. You can imagine my delight when I learned that his heroic act as celebrated in his  memoir entitled Highest Duty – My Search for What Really Matters would be turned into a movie. More so when I read that no less than Clint Eastwood would direct the film that would topbill Tom Hanks as Capt. Sully. For months, I looked forward to finding out how these two world-class talents would transform a 315-paged autobiography into a 120-minute film.  And so when we read about Sully opening in our city, we wasted no time catching it on Imax.

Here are 5 takeaways that made us even bigger fans of Sully, and, by implication, Eastwood and Hanks.

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Sense of Purpose

Both in the book and in the film adaptation of the latter, Sully consistently refused to refer to himself as a hero, choosing instead to share the credit with his co-pilot and crew.  As far as Sully was concerned, he was simply a professional aviator who got the job done out of a strong sense of purpose.  To be sure, this strong sense of purpose did not grow in a vacuum.  In the film, Eastwood points us to three compelling elements in Sully’s life that proved pivotal in this regard –  his love of flying during his growing up years, his military aviation training and his wife and kids.  The book though takes us even farther, specifically, to how he was formed and raised by his dad who served in the military and his mom who was a grade school teacher. Both did a fine  job of forming his strong sense of purpose  in words and deeds.  “When we’re not around, we’re counting on you” my mom would tell me. My dad would say, “You’re in charge.” (p. 63.) Being a military man, Sully’s father “impressed upon me that a commander’s job is full of challenges, and his responsibilities are almost a sacred duty. I kept my father’s words with me during my own military career, and, after that, when I became an airline pilot, with hundreds of passengers in my care.” (p. 57.)    And so it was that despite the fact that Sully lived in an age when being a  commercial pilot is no longer as glamorous and as high-paying as it used to be in the old days,  his sense of purpose – to care for both his passengers and crew come rain or come shine – was as undiminished in 2009 as it was when he first flew with his instructor Mr. Cook in 1967.  That the movie was screened during the week celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday all the more amplifies his characteristic  insistence to always  be the first to lead and the last to leave, always choosing to put his passengers ahead of himself every time, all the time.

Law of the Harvest

I like how Director Clint Eastwood uses Sully’s love of running to take us back to critical snippets from Sully’s past. There’s one scene in the movie where Sully catches sight of an F-4 Phantom on display towards the end of his run. It was one run that augured well with his attempt to center himself during a period of tremendous self-doubt. That’s because the F-4 was the same aircraft where he and his co-pilot got involved in his very first   near-miss when he was still  a military aviator. He describes this in vivid detail in the book: “perhaps the most harrowing flight of my military career came in an F-4 out of Nellis…We were at a very low altitude, and I felt the plane move by itself. Imagine being in your car, driving along, and all of a sudden,  without turning the steering wheel, you start veering to the left. It would be a bit shocking.” (p. 121.) Even then, Sully was the take-charge pilot that he was during the Hudson River incident.  Instead of being swallowed by fear, “I immediately pulled the F-4 skyward. I needed a rapid climb  to get away from the unforgiving ground. I had to buy myself time and give myself room. At a higher altitude, Loren (his co-pilot) and I might be able to make sense of the malfunction and deal with it more effectively. More important, if the situation worsened, we would have the time and altitude to be able to recover or successfully eject and survive.” (p. 122.)

In yet another scene in the film where the viewer learns that his career as a military aviator was largely influenced by his teenage years flying crop-dusters in Denison,Texas Eastwood once again turns to running to evoke Sully’s reminiscences of the same.  Lest the viewer think that everything started when he did his first solo as a teenage boy, his memoir reveals that Sully considers himself “lucky to find my life’s passion at a very young age. I have a clear recollection that at age five I already knew I was going to spend my life flying airplanes.” (p. 131.)  Yet another reiteration of how world renowned theater personality Lea Salonga frames her landing the role of Miss Saigon. To wit: a classic case of preparation meeting with opportunity. Make no mistake about it.  Capt. Sullenberger’s feat at the Hudson River was not a flash in the pan. Far from it. It was premised on flying for thousands of hours  with optimal aptitude and passionate attitude.

Critical Thinking

The scene in the film where Sully discusses the value of striking a balance between following flight protocols and exercising a judgment call  reminds me of a recent talk given by Rock Ed founder and advocate Gang Badoy.  In her talk, Badoy decried the dogmatic approach of some overzealoous  employees even in situations which clearly call for a certain degree of latitude. One involved a hotel staff who refused to lend a thermos for making coffee  to a hotel guest who wanted to use it to bathe as it’s against hotel policy. The other involved a nurse who refused to administer an extra dose of anesthesia to a pregnant woman who was clearly in dire need of it given government policy about  patient-anesthesia ratios. Good thing that in both cases, it was Badoy’s critical thinking that fortunately triumphed over dogmatic compliance.   At the time of the flight emergency of Flight 1549 in 2009, critical thinking could be said to have saved the day. Consider how Sully’s thought processes concluded that  there were two options available to him when the crisis set in. One was for the flight officer to fly the plane so that he, the captain would have the time to figure out options available. The other was for the captain to fly the plane himself while the first officer sorted out the applicable trouble-shooting solutions. Sullenberger reflects thus, “Even in those early seconds, I knew this was an emergency that called for thinking beyond what’s usually considered appropriate. As a rush of information came into my head, I had no doubts that it made the most sense for me to take the controls…For one, I had greater experience flying the A320. Jeff (his first officer) was much newer to this type of plane. Also, all the landmarks I needed to see in order to judge where we  might go were on my side of the airplane. I also knew that since Jeff had just trained on the A320, he had more recent experience practicing the emergency procedures. He could more quickly find the right checklist out of about 150 checklists in our Quick Reference Handbook (QRH.)” (p. 211) Can you imagine what would have happened had Capt. Sully blindly followed the first option?

15 Years After

The timing of the movie’s screening could not have come at a more apt day of the year, opening as it did to phenomenal reviews by both critics and moviegoers 3 days before the 15th anniversary of 9/11. As one character in the movie  puts it, “It’s been a while since we’ve heard some good news about New York especially about planes.” More than providing us with a piece of good news about the city that never sleeps though, this Eastwood opus is also a tribute both to the beauty of this awe-inspiring metropolis and the spontaneous compassion of New Yorkers who came to the rescue of US Airways Flight 1549 on that fateful day of January 2009.  From its famous skyscrapers which have adorned hundreds of Hollywood movies to its busy streets brimming with so much energy and diversity, New York City as it is presented in Sully  beckons the moviegoer to visit this great city at least once within one’s lifetime.  And of course no less than Capt. Sullenberger points to January 15, 2009 as yet another great day celebrating the best that New Yorkers have to offer. “In the stress of the moment, there was an efficient kind of order that I found absolutely impressive. I also saw examples of humanity and goodwill everywhere I looked.  I was so moved when deckhands on ferries took off the shirts, coats, and sweatshirts they were wearing to help warm the passengers…I was seeing dozens of bystanders acting with great compassion and bravery – and a sense of duty. It felt like all of New York and New Jersey was reaching out to warm us.” (p. 250-251.)

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Kipling Revisited

Quite possibly, the most surprising revelation of this film even after having read Capt. Sully’s memoir was how unsympathetic and skeptical  the National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB) investigators were from the very beginning of their investigation.  That was not clearly explicitated in the book.  On several occasions in the movie, the NTSB sought to point out that Capt. Sully could have saved both the plane and the passengers had he decided to land in the nearest airport instead of gliding the plane and executing a water landing in the Hudson River.  While the whole world outside the investigation room was celebrating Capt. Sullenberger as a hero, the NTSB investigators were keen on proving he was the exact opposite for having done what he did.  That he was having the beginnings of a post-traumatic stress disorder during the investigation period only made the situation even more stressful.  As Capt. Sully notes:  “It took me a couple of month to process what had happened and to work through the post-traumatic stress…They told me I’ve be sleeping less, I’d have distracted thinking. I’d lose my appetite. I’d have flashbacks, and I’d do a lot of second-guessing and “what-iffing.”  (p. 273.) To the credit of Eastwood and his crew, Sully takes us on the backseat of what it means to go through such a harrowing experience as the movie offered various cinematic glimpses of how Flight 1549 could have ended tragically.  Thankfully, in the end, despite the self-doubts and the skepticism that came his way, Sully’s wife and partner, Lorrie observed that, “He is feeling better today. You know, he’s a pilot. He’s very controlled and very professional…I have said for a long time that he’s a pilot’s pilot, and he loves the art of the airplane.” (p. 276.) Reflecting on how Tom Hanks portrayed the steady demeanor of Capt. Sullenberger throughout the movie notwithstanding his self-doubts and the doubts that his heroic actions elicited in the NTSB, I can’t help but remember a poem by Rudyard Kipling. If, according to my  literature teacher, is an eloquent portrait of what it truly takes to be truly human. My classmates and I enthusiastically dissected this Kipling masterpiece line by line in search of wisdom to guide us during our high school years. We were amply rewarded with lessons that would last us a lifetime.  In Capt. Sully’s actions that fateful day in January 2009 as well as the many times he fulfilled his highest duty from the time he flew his first solo to his sorties as a military aviator, from his first commercial flight to his celebrated water landing onboard the A320, we have been blessed with a true to life contemporary reiteration of  Kipling’s admonition.

"If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!