Monday, December 26, 2005

2005 Wasn't Happily Ever After

2005 has been one of the most memorable years of my life. As many of you know Gryphon and I finally got married after seven years of being together. That was such a romantic day and will no doubt always be a highlight in our lives.

However, the rest of the year has been a long struggle. I was desperate to get out of my dead-end administration job but I could not get another permanent job. Things escalated at work so I got out. After sending a hundred applications, I applied to work as a temp. Was able to get steady work. But it was irregular and it meant that I did not have enough capital to get Gryphon here. I could get an aunt as co-sponsor for Gryphon's visa application but it would be very difficult going financially. Even without him, I was struggling. As I was telling my sister-in-law, I have really learned to be more cautious with money this year. Only spending when needed. Keeping a list of people to buy presents for and sticking to it. And keeping away from the hairdresser as long as I can.

We really started working for the visa application in earnest in October and found a lot of rivers to cross along the way. I cried over each one of them as each one meant another delay to our reunion. He was finally able to submit all the papers during the last week of November. Or so we thought. Days before his interview we got word that he needed a Certificate of No Marriage which we thought was only needed for prospective fiance visas. But turns out that they had amended the checklist this year. What with the delay in getting that piece of paper, Gryphon will be interviewed in January. Then we were told that it will take a few more months for processing.

God though has wrought a miracle. I thought I would be stuck working in administration a lot longer and continue dreaming of the day I get to work in Communications again, especially in my dream job of Publishing. When I got a temp assignment in an education company for the insurance industry, I thought only that it would tide me over until Christmas. Then I would start looking for permanent work again come January. But an opening for a Project Officer in Online Learning/Admin Support became available in late November. It involved administration but more importantly, it is also partly online publishing. Here was my chance to get back to Communications. Online publishing was something I wanted to do even with my former job in the Philippines. And the administration part includes securing copyright, etc. It literally set my pulse raising looking at the job ad. Then when I looked at the package it was higher than the minimum set by Centrelink for me to sponsor Gryphon!

I was so nervous and so eager to get the job that I did not have a great first interview. The very things I did not want to say came out of my mouth. But praise God because I did well in the practical part and my resume was good so I was invited for a second interview. I was encouraged to be more expansive. I really find it hard to do the "confident-I-have-what-it-takes-so-pick-me" sort of thing that is required but I managed. By the grace of our Lord, the job was offered to me last December 22. I will start my new role on the 3rd of January. After two years, I'm back to editing and working with html.

So for now, I dearly want to say goodbye to all the heartaches of 2005 and finally be with the love of my life in 2006. And to begin a job that is dear to my heart. It is solely by God's grace that I have gotten to this point. I am still learning how to budget and how to cook but I am thankful that I was forced to start learning. I so look forward to looking for a new place to call home and to prepare for Gryphon's arrival.

To all of you who have supported us through your kind words and prayers, thank you very much. Sorry if I have been quiet in this blog for many months. It's just that I have taken the opportunity to talk to my husband and family whenever I'm online. And I did not want to fill my posts with the discouragements I was feeling. And to those who have sent me online cards, thank you. I won't be able to reply for a while since I do not have access to a PC for several weeks. Anyway, see you in 2006! Good things do come to those who wait (or who are forced to wait).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible

I didn't make that title up. That was the title of a "news report" about the Roman Catholic stance on Intelligent Design. I don't know how biased the writer is, but it appears that the Roman Catholic church "supporting" Darwinism is big news simply because it is the Catholic Church (you know, the uber-conservative "Christian" church of the world) that is seemingly supporting it.

Of course, I don't know what Pope Benedict thinks about all this. And not all Catholics, I presume, believes that. But I would like, again, to call attention to the fact that the RCC is willing to compromise on the important issue of the creatorship of God but is adamant about their stance on priestly celibacy (which the apostles never followed) or transubstantiation (which is even more unscientific than anything I know). Perhaps that accusations of the RCC being Babylon the Harlot is true after all, although I never would have guessed such strange bedfellows.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Scuba diving are for those who can swim underwater

Among those books which my wife and I count as one of our favorites is the perennial favorite Pride and Prejudice. One of the surest ways to get my wife tingling with nostalgia is to quote to her that "[i]t is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." We loved the book; and we also loved the mini-series that BBC made... the one with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. The book was high romance and poignant fiction. I have met very few here in the Philippines that think highly of the book. I have also yet to see any local "rendition" of this book in any Pinoy movie or tele-serye, which I thought was strange. While Helen Fielding, creator of Bridget Jone's Diary, had to create different situations to make the basic plot believable, I am quite sure that an "authentic" Pinoy rendition is possible if handled correctly.

There are some who think that this would not be very easy, and I would agree with them, but I suspect that they have other reasons for thinking that it is a difficult undertaking. For one thing, I suspect that even Pinoys have this feeling that whatever the situation in Georgian England is irrelevant to that of modern Philippines, probably even more irrelevant than it is for modern Great Britain. If that is how they feel, I would disagree. If there was any place in the world that still discriminates people based on the highness and lowness of birth, the quality of connections, the power granted by owning land and having money, and the over-bearing sense of propriety, that would be turn-of-the-millenium Philippines for you, right down to the dot.

If I had a peso for every time I heard a fellow Pinoy talk about another Pinoy using the the phrase "Sino ba ang nanay at tatay niyan? Sino ba ang pamilya niyan?" I guess I'd have enough to purchase myself a really good MP3 player (perhaps I should have wished for a twenty-peso bill for every time I heard it). Of course, Pinoys may argue that that isn't the case at all and that all Pinoys have equal opportunity to get ahead in the world. What a lovely sentiment... unfortunately, so very trite. One only has to see how people get positions not only in government but in companies to see that one's pedigree is so vastly important that one has to be so shockingly brilliant in order to penetrate the "inner circle." If this were not true, there would be no political and socio-economic "dynasties" in the Philippines. Unfortunately, like the Gardiner's in Pride and Prejudice, sometimes intellect and wit are not enough to get them accepted unless one of their own would marry into a good family.

Connections, too, are very important in determining your place in the socio-economic heirarchy, just as much as it was in Jane Austen's time. It is who you know that is important, and this is a simple test. A new graduate's chances of getting a really good job is determined, first of all, by that graduate's alma mater, connection number one. If one is unfortunate enough not to graduate from any of the "ivy league" universities, there is still a chance, but one should know somebody in that company/institution one wants to join... and the more powerful that somebody, the better the position that can be offered (connection number two). I suspect that most of the jobs that people hold are not found through the classifieds so much as they are "internally" advertised to those friends, family and acquaintances of the existing employees. Even getting Ninongs and Ninangs and a batch of friends and acquaintances are based on whom you already know. Again, just as discrimination by pedigree, one must be smarter than a whip in order to be able to circumvent this, but even then, not by much.

Of course, one can get away with being rude, ill-bred and generally obnoxious if one is filthy rich. The Bingley sisters and Lady Catherine de Bourgh can afford their high-handed, high-brow attitudes only because they have personal fortunes, in the same way that Kris Aquino and Ruffa Guttierez-Bektas can get away with behavior that would have gotten severe ostracization if they were less moneyed, lower pedigreed and not so well connected. And they are just the more obvious examples. In the meantime, the poorer, humbly pedigreed and poorly connected folks must make vigilantly sure that their manners are impeccable (no matter how brilliant or talented they are) when with their more fortunate brethren, if they want to keep whatever station they currently have.

But all this is not my point. My point is that, a Filipinized version of Pride and Prejudice can be so accurately and faithfully adapted even for modern Pinoy society. I mean, those jologs who lap up "Jewel in the Palace" and other imported mini-series enjoy them, no matter how sophisticated their plots are and no matter how subtle the dramatic acting; so, why shouldn't they go crazy over a Pinoy Pride and Prejudice? Well-written and well-adapted, it can provide a social mirror to our society, much better than the over-used comedy motifs and archetypes that Philippine TV is crawling with. And the ratings can go through the roof.

But maybe I am too optimistic. My wife used to hide her love for these sort of books and suppress the natural desire to discuss social issues when she was still here in the Philippines because Pinoys, in general, hate such tendencies. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times: "Masyado kang bookish" or "Masyado kang seryoso" (I wish I had a hundred pesos for every time I heard it—it would be enough to allow me to purchase my own condominium). So many Pinoys are so bent on finding something to laugh at that they would hear the same old stale variations of "wala kayo sa lolo ko" and think it is the funniest thing in the world (one reason why I like Michael V. over Dolphy and Vic Sotto any day—because he finds innovative jokes that are also subtle satires of Pinoy society. . . now, there's a wit!). Even in Australia, where she is now, where she can express her love of books without seeming to be "wierd" my wife would have to occassionally clam up when she is with expats from the Philippines.

In fact, the more I think of it, the less optimistic I become. When Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were made into what I consider well-made mini-series, it never broke any ratings records. Not for lack of trying, but rather because of a deficiency of "connections" and "pedigree"—it was made by PTV 4 with a low budget, almost no promotion, and with no big-name stars like Vilma or Nora. Whereas a zany series like Full House or and even the infamous Meteor Garden became a part of pinoy pop culture (down to their ridiculous haircuts and misogynism) only because they were shown on the mega-networks. If a Pinoy Pride and Prejudice were to be produced in any network but GMA 7 or ABS-CBN 2, and not starring any of the big-names, I guess one shouldn't expect it to be successful, no matter how well-crafted.

Who would want to watch Pride and Prejudice? Mas nakaka-aliw to watch Dolphy do the nth variation of his stale joke, or see Vic cavorting around as if he's as young as his grown-up son, or view over-melodramatic pilit na tear-jerkers with over-acting "big name" actors yelling and crying all over the place. Thank God that the Koreans and Kiwis are much more sensible, and create stuff that we can import and enjoy. . . and hopefully inspire some of our young ones to someday reform our entertainment industry.


So. . . what has this to do with scuba diving? Well, those who content themselves to wade at the beach will only hope to see so much gray sand and other people. Only those scuba divers who dare and are willing to go deeper are granted with the privelege to gaze at wonders and come back with stories to tell.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Catholic Church is Compromising in the Wrong Direction

I have always viewed the Roman Catholic Church to be reactionary in the worst possible ways (notwithstanding that the last Pope, Pope John Paul II, seems to have been the best Pope), but this takes the cake. I couldn't believe that the RCC would compromise on such an important issue as the origins of the universe and of the species by calling "Intelligent Design" not a science and should not be taught as an alternative to Darwinian evolution.

The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was "wrong" and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.

"Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

The RCC would not compromise on priestly celibacy, or the role of women in the church, the merit system of the Saints or even Papal infallibility (yes, I am aware of the qualification that infallibility only extends ex cathedra), but whoa! they are willing to compromise when it comes to calling the theory (that we all descended from just one organism in just a few billion years) as science while teaching the belief that we were created by one God as not science?

I suspect that this is reactionism, plain and simple. The RCC are recently giving the appearance that the affair with Galileo is not an instance of Papal infallibility displaying fallibility, i.e. that the Pope wasn't using his claim to Papal infallibility. But the embarassment of having Galileo, whom they tagged with the label "heretic" and had under house arrest all his life, even if it wasn't under the assumption of Papal infallibility, as being right all along may have contributed to their more recent view of keeping science and "religion" separate. In short, they are claiming the right to believe anything they want even if it is contradicted by science; in this case, their belief that the universe, and us along with it, was created by an intelligent entity called God.

This is a cunning move on their part, as most of their beliefs can be, and has been, disproved by science. Transubstantiation, for instance. By calling the belief in God as creator not science, I suspect that they feel that they can now continue with their unscientific beliefs on one hand, while on the other delve and contribute to the very science that contradicts their belief. This, in my opinion, is dishonest. And I believe that Rev. Coyne is very dishonest, if he both believes that the universe began and was developed by chance and that, after all, God "created" the world. In fact, I am curious as to what he believes "creation" is.

Which is a shame, because "Intelligent Design" is a science as much as Darwinian evolution is. Both handle the same data, both make conjectures over periods we no longer have access too, and both have tenets that we have to take on faith. We either trust that Darwin was right or wrong, and it seems that the RCC would rather have Darwin be right (with the condition that the Roman Catholic Church, within it's own sphere, can also be as right) than have the Protestants show that Darwin and the Catholic Church are wrong.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Me as a Romantic Heroine

Took this fun quiz and I think the result is accurate. Always wanted to be a romantic heroine in a great movie, preferably "When Harry Met Sally". That's one of my favorite movies because it's so witty and when I watched it, I realized that I wanted to be best friends first with whoever I fall in love with. And that's exactly what happened between me and Gryphon.

Didn't really like "Serendipity" but I think Kate looks great and so do I (hehe)! I think dear hubby will approve.

Sarah Thomas
You're Sarah Thomas
(Kate Beckinsale - 'Serendipity')

You exude fun and intelligence, but you're often
unsure of your decisions. You think and rethink
until you're sure of the path to take, but many
times it's all a matter of the heart.
You rely on chance to control your life - though
it's a habit you've tried to break and perhaps
already have. But you still lack spontaneity.

You may express yourself in any number of ways, but
mostly with words.

You're booksy and artsy. You love music and
psychology. Your style is classic/eclectic.

All in all, you're the Thinker

Which Romantic Comedy Heroine Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I'm some kinda unknown, but cool OS

I took this online personality quiz, supposedly to match you with a computer Operating System that you most closely resemble in terms of "personality." This is what Ærynn and I both got (wow! lovely...).

You are HP-UX. You're still strong despite the passage of time.  Though few understand you, those who do love you deeply and appreciate you.
Which OS are You?



I'm curious to find the descriptions of the other OSes. For instance, what makes a person a Windows ME? Well, I found it here. Wow... people hate Windows ME. And I thought I was the only one.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Colors of Christmas "teaser trailer"

I 've been trying out several free video hosts so that I can, at last, post videos here on the Blog. I tried the free service of Google Video (which is currently in Beta) and, although the video quality has not degraded, for some reason the sound has. Oh, well! It's still in Beta after all, and Google can still improve. If you want to see the Google Video version, click here.

Instead, I got better results when I tried out OurMedia.org, which was recommended by FreeVlog.org, which is a site that provides a tutorial on how to video blog, hence the portmaneau "vlog." The initial result can be seen below.



This is the "teaser trailer" of my local church's Christmas Concert, which I made. It was shown some weeks ago during Sunday Worship services to encourage people to support, join or do both for the upcoming concert. I am very pleased with the results of this new service.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A rant on work ethics

One thing has become so very personal for me, so very personally hateful to me is a perception of my uselessness. I guess it is the only part of me that I can describe as unrepentantly machismo. But I hate it with all of my heart when people think that I am of no help.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Black and White, and Shades of Gray

This is an Adobe Photoshop color swatch toolbox. As a child, we were led to believe that there were only seven colors. Later that collection of colors was extended, first to sixteen, then to thirty-two, then to sixty-four (for those fortunate enough to afford those boxed Crayola sets), and then even later we were told that there were only, really, just three colors. Of course, sky blue, perriwinkle and dodge blue are very different colors and, for the longest time I didn't know what made them different from each other and all the other types of blue. And that's just the color blue.

Later on, when I learned about "computer" colors in my programming language class, I found that there are, actually, different sets of primary colors. I had always thought that it was Blue, Yellow and Red; now I was being told that it was actually either Red, Green and Blue, or Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. We learned to look at long color charts for the numerical equivalents of displaying colors properly; we also learned that different machines will display the "same" color differently. As a consequence, we learned to "cheat" our displays so that we can actually come up with the color we actually want, regardless of what the color chart says it really is. For instance, when Pink doesn't look pink enough, we use a light shade of some violet/purple color.

And, at around that time, I learned how to use, first of all, MS Paint and then Adobe Photoshop. And this box over there at the top of this post (which is an Adobe Photoshop color swatch toolbox) became very familiar. But, for some reason, we always knew that blue was blue, red was red, yellow was yellow, etc. etc.

About two years ago, my wife (then my girl friend) found a way to enroll me into an art class. She knew that I always dreamed, wished and fantasized about doing my own paintings and, thanks to Chords and Canvas (a project she was working on at that time) she found where I can finally realize my dream, wish and fantasies (all in that order).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Arroz caldo straight from the heart

My favorite dish has always been Arroz caldo in all it's permutations. For most Pinoys, arroz caldo only refers to that type made with chicken, the most usual type. Other types are referred to as either goto or congee if the meat used is beef tripe or meat dumplings, and lugaw if it doesn't have any meat in it at all. Technically, all these are arroz caldo, just as Colgate is just another type of toothpaste; Colgate, by the by, is the "generic" term for toothpaste for a lot of Pinoys for decades, only slowly changing during the last decade of the last century. Well, as I said, arroz caldo is my favorite dish and my favorite version of it is arroz caldo de bulalo.

For the past few weeks, I've already made three batches of this my favorite dish, but not because it is my favorite dish. I've been making this because my niece's favorite solid food dish is my arroz caldo. Of course, my brother and siste-in-law have already been trying to feed her some solid or semi-solid food. On the whole, she wasn't a picky eater, but only with arroz caldo did she display any sort of fondness, actually holding her mouth open to be fed, occassionally grabbing the spoon to put it in her mouth herself and crying if she still wants more. I mean, really, how can I resist? I am also her godfather after all.

Of course, I have to tone down my recipe so that it wouldn't be as spicy as I am wont to make it. Here is my modified recipe, based on my Mom's way of cooking it, henceforth called Arroz caldo de manok ala Dayang:

What did the fool say in his heart?

"Last week a middle-ranking officer of the Salvation Army, who gave up a well-paid job to devote his life to the poor, attempted to convince me that homosexuality is a mortal sin.

Late at night, on the streets of one of our great cities, that man offers friendship as well as help to the most degraded and (to those of a censorious turn of mind) degenerate human beings who exist just outside the boundaries of our society. And he does what he believes to be his Christian duty without the slightest suggestion of disapproval. Yet, for much of his time, he is meeting needs that result from conduct he regards as intrinsically wicked."

At last, an atheist finally admits that religious people are actually better human beings than those who claim that their creed is humanism (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/sep/12/religion.uk).

And yet he still does not see this as proof that God exists but rather as the sort of mental delusion that just so happens to make them better human beings (no surprise there). And that is just one atheist; the others still think they hold the moral high-ground and believe that religious automatically means evil.


Another Alibi?

A lot of things were wrong with T2 from the very beginning, although I was too thankful that they hired me without a lot of questions asked. I had nothing to be ashamed of, of course; it's just that I've always been subjected to the rather heart-breaking experience of being passed over so many times because of my alma mater.The Quiet Room Also, initially, the training that they gave us during the first month was well-paced and well-designed and, although my impressions of the people I was going to work with on the first day was not so positive, I was fortunate to finally be put on a team whose members were not rambunctious and generally people I enjoy being with. It was also nice that we were being paid during that period, before we were technically doing any real work, and that pay was the highest I ever got in the Philippines.

It was much later, when our product training started that we had our first intimations of disaster looming on the horizon. Compared to the accent-neutralization training we received (ACE), which was, as I stated, paced, designed and balanced well, this was hurried, with no clear statement of our goals or objectives, incidental in treatment... basically not really training us for what we should be trained for. I mean, after all that big talk on the first day that our ACE and product training would be seamless and interspersed, we were disappointed and disillusioned to see that there was actually a clear demarcation line between ACE and product, and that the only ones benefitting from the product training are those who've already undergone that sort of training in another company.

Still, I thought that I can handle it... and why shouldn't I? I, who prided myself on learning computers more swiftly than others? I, who (in my hubris) gloried over the nickname given to me by friends of "The Machine" because of my skill and know-how in anything mechanical or electronic? Why shouldn't I pass this easily? I wasn't looking out to be the best; I just want to be good enough.

But, so tedious to relate, the training claimed even those of us who believed we were "techies" as victims: we just weren't understanding enough of it on time. Still, our team performed much better than all the other teams, due probably in no small part to the introspective nature of those on the team; but we were not happy being the best. Being the best means being the first on the floor, and we knew that we needed much more training that we had. Even when we tried to ask questions, we were always told in that annoying North American accent to just "figure it out."

I suddenly felt what it was like for a raw recruit with just a month of basic training before being sent into a battlefield, where your first mistake will always count... well not quite—technically, we had almost two months before we hit the floor, but you know what I mean.

Actually, I wasn't so bad. I sounded and talked like an American well enough for the clients to think that I was, and for a while that was all that mattered. I was there to help people, and helping people (as I was accustomed to) took focus and time. Especially time. It was only when my team leader told me I wasn't doing it fast enough that I even had any inkling that I was doing something wrong. That's when everything started going wrong. Suddenly, we were all counting our AHTs and ATTs (that's Average Handling Time and Average Talk Time in newspeak), feeling irritated at the occassional grandma who just wouldn't put the phone down because they knew that we hadn't really helped them enough yet. Our goal was to help our clients within 14 minutes. FOURTEEN, FREAKIN' MINUTES!!! I mean, gee! I guess I can, if I didn't have to give all of the prescribed opening, troubleshooting and closing scripts that make me sound like an intelligent robot. I guess I can squeeze all of the help if all we had to do was "help" them. But we were supposed to document everything while helping them, that is, we were supposed to be typing like crazy everything that we did.

But I think I can handle even that. I'm a touch-typist after all. What was so illogical and unhelpful is that we were supposed to troubleshoot according to a fixed and immutable flow-chart. It didn't matter if the agent before me had already done that, even with access to his/her "notes" I was supposed to go through it all over again. And it wouldn't matter that I had already done all that, and painstakingly recorded all of it, too. The agent that the client would have to call because I was not able to "resolve" the problem within the prescribed time will, also, have to go through the same steps.

And, though it pains me, I know I can handle even that. Yet, for those few cases that training did not prepare us for, we had to rely on our "floor support" which is basically a few knowledgeable individuals who have actually handled the "product" and can answer specific questions. But with thirty or more people in our team, of more than three teams, start waving our help-me flags, they cannot help all of us at once (and with our AHTs still ticking away). Even when they eventually came over to "help" us, the North American Caucasians (who were our trainers and our floor support) would merely tell us that "we took that up in training" (when was that?) and tha we should "figure it out." Even now, the phrase "figure it out" has become a sort of swear word to us Pinoys. That first week was the breaking point for me and a lot of my teammates. My scores on quality were really good, that is, inspite of my terrible AHTs (the longest of which was almost an hour and a half long), because I knew how to get a banter going. But the first time that was the worst day, which was some time later, also proved to be my last day. I spontaneously developed S.A.D.

This was a bitter pill for me to swallow. I had faced down principals, angry parents and idiotic teenagers in the past without flinching, without fear, then suddenly found myself having an irrational panic attack during a call. And knowing that it was an irrational panic attack was not helpful... it made me even more anxious... it didn't help that I was talking to a client that had such a thick French accent and couldn't understand a word he was saying. Somehow I finished the call, but I knew that I never want to take a call ever again. I excused myself quickly from my Pinoy teamleader and the pretty but insensitive caucasian trainer. All admonitions not to quit fell on not so deaf but definitely numb ears... I wanted out and I wanted out now. By the time I got home, I had a splitting headache, my heart was beating so fast and, though exhausted, couldn't go to sleep.

It didn't help that I knew why I was experiencing such. After weeks of being "weighed and measured and found wanting" (something I have always hated), suddenly being thrust into a situation where one is judged on literally a minute-by-minute basis on rules that are unfair yet unchangeable triggered that panic attack. I have not told anyone but my wife because I, of course, fear judgement. "Coward" and "quitter" are just some of the milder translations of their Tagalog equivalents. The thing is, the actual practice of taking a call and helping them blindly while on the phone isn't new to me—I've done it for years with friends, students and former employers alike. I'm used to talking to caucasians. But having a dagger continually over one's head all that time, and being constantly reminded of it everytime we look at the timer on the Avaya web phone was just too much. I never want to work at another call centre ever again if I can help it. Even if some of my co-workers (now unemployed like me) assure me that other call centres are not as strict, I know for a fact that all of them operate on equations that compute erlangs. Basically, it means that I shall always be judged on how swiftly I end a call rather on how good I was at a call. No thank you.

Although I realize that I shouldn't be ashamed of that panic attack when it happened, I find that I cannot talk about it with others. I definitely didn't bring it up when discussing it with my family or my in-laws, that's for certain. Mom had always wondered why, as a young teen, I developed stage-fright; I had always performed in front of people, and performed well. I became ashamed of this stage-fright or jitters and have, over the years, successfully gotten rid of it. I still feel uncomfortable speaking in public, but I never feel anxiety or panic any longer. So, my intellect reasons out, I shouldn't be ashamed because even entertainers like Donny Osmond would spontaneously suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD, for short) at the height of his career. I reason to myself that I only experienced such because I hated to be judged that rigorously (I had also been "assessed" before in my other jobs, of course, but they never came minute-by-minute and over things out of my control).

But still, I feel ashamed. I feel that I cannot hope for understanding. I was making more money than at any time in my life, and for some that should have settled things.


It was only later that a lot of us would read the opinions of North Americans about outsourcing—basically, they thought that we were taking away jobs meant for them. When I went through the resignation process and the exit interview, I found that T2 didn't care so much if so many of us resigned. For one, there were always more of us waiting to be hired, so we were as replaceable as a broken lightbulb. Another thing was that, high as our salaries were, we were relatively dirt cheap, so our American employers' collective pockets didn't ache if a lot of us resigned, even if they seemingly "wasted" their resources on training us for two months. We were peanuts. Of course, with that knowledge, even if our salaries were relatively high, knowing that on the grand scheme of things we were not as highly valued as we would have liked to believe (a weakness, I admit, amongst Pinoys), hastened the departure of those whom I left behind. It also gave us some insight over the perceived tendency of the North Americans reluctance to teach and help us Indios—was there an agenda somewhere?

Of course, one can read this entire post as rant and alibi, written by one so anxious to justify oneself. There are many, another one may reason, who find that they can stay in call centres with no problem at all. And knowing that there are some who think that way makes me feel more ashamed still. But my parting shot is this: while we were still there, we had a name for those who eventually proved hardy enough to remain. We called them "asses" and, though they had amazing 5-10 minute AHTs, they were the ones that give "phone technical support" the reputation of being unhelpful, uninformed and rude.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Archive of SayBox messages

Total shouts: 28

SayBot:
We have added a new paid-only feature to SayBox. Please click here for more information
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crazyfoxycool:
Happy birthday, Ate Chris!!!
slaxxgurl:
andanda ng comp!!!
SayBot:
Our competition to win free hosting from Elixant is still open! All you have to do to win is find 10 hidden logo pieces around the SayBox site and forum. Click here for details!
Gryphon Hall:
Well done, Ærynn! At last, you are writing the sort of posts I was expecting from you.
Gryphon Hall:
Thanks, Slaxx! Really appreciate it.
slaxxgurl:
know what sir, you can make a concept book out of your blog...really good topics...
SayBot:
We're giving away free hosting in our newest competition sponsored by Elixant! Click here for details
SayBot:
SayBox is proud to announce the software upgrade to v3.1 has now taken place. Click here to read about the improvements we've made
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Due to extremely high quantities of spam email, we have temporarily disabled the SayBox email inboxes. Support requests via email will not be read or replied to. If you need help with your SayBox, please visit our forum instead, where support will be offered as usual.
eldzey:
iba ka talaga kuya jo ang galing mo! thank you talaga
SayBot:
Enter our new competition and you could win a free ipod courtesy of SayBox and Elixant! Click here for details.
ethereal07:
hi sir! musta no po?
pede po ba matanong kung pano niyo po nagawa itong "say box" thing and how did you make your blog's baskground like this. that is if it's okay.
kimi, as in kimi ng first year (dati) or kimi ng mars?
SayBot:
SayBox is giving away adfree pageviews to all SayBox Community members! To find out how to take part in this giveaway, click here!
Gryphon Hall:
By the way, Valerie, check your comments on your blog.
Gryphon Hall:
Well, you can find my wedding pics by following this link: -link-
Valerie:
hi sir... this is valerie... i am still using my blog!! how are you?? i want to see your wedding pics... were can i possibly find them? thanks!!
kimi:
i'm gonna link you sir if that's fine with you.
kimi:
we have the same tagboard. hehe. kimberly here sir. just bouncin' by. have a great day.
Gryphon Hall:
Thanks! I think so, too!
slaxxgurl:
ahmm...know what...eowyn claire's really cool and cute...hehehe
slaxxgurl:
woohoo! the slacker was here! hehehe
Christine:
Happy now dat iv posted something? I enjoy ur musings!
Christine was here!
Gryphon Hall:
Hello, everyone! Please don't forget to sign over here!
SayBot:
A new release of SayBox has been announced! Read about it in the admin panel of your SayBox, or click here to see the thread on our forum.
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We hope you enjoy using SayBox! Please feel free to delete this message via your admin panel.
I've been using SayBox for some time now. But I've changed to ShoutBox because SayBot keeps on bugging me with ads. I mean, I understand that these guys have to make a buck for a living. But if there is an alternative to this that is still free, I'm alright with it.

At any rate, I included the archive of all my "shouts" from SayBox right there on the right. Maybe someday I can port it to my ShoutBox? Or, maybe not. Who knows?

Friday, September 23, 2005

First Dinner and Chocolate Mousse

Feel like a grown-up today. My flatmate, Charry, had two guests tonight and I made dinner for the four of us. My first three-course dinner! We started off with Caesar's salad (recipe c/o Nigella Lawson), cooked the roast chicken again but got the skin browner and crispier this time and finally, chocolate mousse.

This is the third time I've made chocolate mousse based on Jamie Oliver's recipe. Tried it with milk chocolate, dark chocolate and this time a mixture of white chocolate and milk chocolate. The best so far has been the one with dark chocolate but Charry thinks it's this white chocolate one.

Anyway, here's how I made it:

Chocolate Mousse
(Adapted from Jamie Oliver ‘s Cheeky Chocolate Mousse in
‘Happy Days with the Naked Chef’)


10 small glasses, cooled in the fridge
200 g cooking chocolate (70% cocoa solids is best but use whatever you can get)
70 g butter
300 ml double cream
2 large eggs
2 tbsps honey


Divide the chocolate into blocks. Then place the chocolate together with the butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on medium for about one minute. Mix the chocolate and butter until smooth.

Place the cream in a mixing bowl and whisk until it is fluffy and doubled in size. Test by holding up the whisk and see if it has formed soft peaks (it’s soft when the cream still falls over ).


Crack the eggs in a bigger bowl. Add honey to the eggs and whisk a little. Then put in the cream and the melted chocolate. Then mix together by gently doing a folding action so that you won’t lose the air in the cream.


Get the glasses out and put the mixture in. I need ten glasses so that there will only be a little of it in each glass. My flatmate can’t finish more than that. But feel free to use only six glasses as Jamie Oliver did. Then put the glasses into the fridge and let it set at least one hour before eating.

For garnishing, u can save some of the cream and chocolate. Simply place a dollop of cream on top and then grate some chocolate on top of the cream.

Last Days


My last working day for the Department of Justice was great. After only 3 months and change, I felt that I had bonded with the team. They were nice and smart and I enjoyed the friendly chatter. Two newbies, Stef and Kyri, even became my walking buddies every Tuesday. And Susan, my supervisor, was wonderful and she agreed to become my referee when I apply for jobs.

We had lunch at the Shark Finn Inn and during the afternoon, they bought some bottles of champagne which we tasted just before 5 pm. Grabe, it was great. Such a contrast to when I left my last workplace. No one was really talking to me and people felt that I had betrayed the "family." Here's a pic of the loot I got. I'll always remember my stay there and I look forward to hearing about the final report I worked towards. And even this week, got two phone calls from the people there so they are serious about keeping in touch.

Was finally able to get my new passport last Thursday with my new surname. Haha! I basically have all the documents that are needed to on my part to apply for Gryphon's visa.

What else? Had an interview with a large financial services company this week. They said that they would call this week if I'm successful but no call.... so basically, it's back to the drawing board.

P.S. The Cheap Eats book given by Susan is a list of good but not-so-expensive restaurants in Melbourne and Victoria. She and I talked a lot about restaurants, she gave several recommendations and she loves Asian food.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Chicken Paella

My family's favorite restaurant is Trellis near the back of Quezon City Hall in the Philippines. And everytime we go there, we always, always order paella and sisig. I've been borrowing cook books from the library and when I saw a recipe for chicken paella, I just had to try it (and was raring to use the cute casserole pot that Erwin and Joan gave me for my birthday) . I cooked this last Saturday for our Bible study group and they loved it. It's kinda like arroz valenciana or a Spanish version of risotto. This paella did not taste like the one from Trellis but it reminded me enough of that original dish to transport me to all those happy shared occassions.



Chicken Paella
(Adapted from Good Food Fast by Jenni Fleetwood)

8 chicken legs (can also use wings or thighs)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric (called ‘dilaw’ in the Philippines)
1-2 chorizo sausages
1 cup long grain rice (jasmine or basmati)
2 ½ cups chicken stock
1 red capsicum (bell pepper), seeded and sliced
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a 30cm pan or a large casserole and brown the chicken pieces. Add the onion and garlic and stir in the turmeric. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat.

Slice the chorizo and add to the pan. Then put in the rice and stock. Bring to the boil and season to taste with the salt and pepper. I put in some Vegeta (vegetable powder stock) as well. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Put in the sliced red pepper and peas. Stir frequently for a further 10-15 minutes or until the rice has absorbed the stock and the chicken is already thoroughly cooked.

Variations: the paella in Trellis also has shrimp and shellfish, the original recipe also called for tomatoes

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Lotsaherbs Roast Chicken


This apron was given to me by my flatmate and she trusts at least one of the dishes I've cooked - roast chicken! She said that it's the best she's tasted so far. And believe me, she's finicky!

I am in turn thanking Jamie Oliver because I got the recipe from his book The Naked Chef. Just added an onion and made the chicken bigger because the small one was gobbled up too soon. Plus he and Nigella Lawson are my mentors in the kitchen as they show that cooking is to be enjoyed and doesn't have to be complicated. You don't need to have all the gadgets or even all the ingredients. One can go by instinct and taste.

Anyway, will be putting in some recipes I've discovered and continue to discover in this blog as I move forward on my culinary journey. I definitely love cooking now and I'm so looking forward to whipping up these dishes for my dear husband. Cooking is helping me to bridge the distance between us as I feel near to him when I cook dishes I know he'll love.




Lotsaherbs Roast Chicken
(Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s My Perfect Roast Chicken)

1 medium-sized whole chicken
salt and pepper
olive oil
3 handfuls of fresh or dried herbs (basil, parsley and marjoram), chopped
1 lemon, quartered
1 onion, quartered
4 bay or laurel leaves (fresh or dried)
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius. Wash the chicken inside and out and dry as much as possible. Rub the cavity with salt. Pull back the skin at the tips of the chicken breasts and pull up gently (make sure it doesn’t rip). Then gently separate the skin from the rest of the breast meat. Sprinkle in some salt and push in the chopped herbs followed by some olive oil. As I only had fresh parsley, I added some dry herbs. It also works.

In the cavity of the chicken, put in your lemon, onion, bay leaves and rosemary. Lastly, rub some more oil in the chicken skin and season with salt and pepper. This will ensure that the skin is nice and crispy. Lastly, Jamie Oliver slashes each leg three times near the bones and puts in leftover herbs there (didn't really do this part).

Put in the chicken in the tray and cook for about an hour or when the chicken looks golden already. One rule is that you need 45 minutes per kilo of chicken. You can put in some potatoes too into the roasting tray so it cooks together with the chicken. It will smell heavenly.

Variation of Gryphon Hall


Well, that's how my wife did it. I knew about the existence of my Ærynn's highly successful recipe (thanks to The Naked Chef) for some time now. So, when my mom and I were able to get our hands on a particularly succulent specimen of chicken, I immediately sent an SMS to my wife to get the recipe. (What I should have known is that Ærynn already published the recipe over here; if I had known, I wouldn't have called her during office hours.)

At any rate, she gave me a truncated version of what you see up there. However, I did not have an oven—what I had was a Turbo Broiler (you know, those contraptions that cook by trapping and heating air around animal carcasses or vegetables for a period of time), and she wasn't able to tell me about the breast augmentation operation. I didn't have lemons (what does one do when life doesn't give you lemons?), I didn't have basil, marjoram, parsely, sage, rosemary, or thyme (I didn't go to Scarborough Fair or anything to get 'em), and I didn't have olive oil.

But the principle of The Naked Chef is to make food with the lowest possible fuss, so I had to find other ingredients to make do. Well, I had none of the herbs mentioned above, but I had pandan leaves and oregano. Pandan has traditionally been used as part of the stuffing of chicken in the Philippines, so I guess I can't go wrong there. Hmmmmm... I need more flavor... so I crushed and chopped up some garlic, onions and ginger root to go in with it, sprinkled with powdered oregano. Well, I didn't stuff it to the full as much as I wanted it to (there was about 75% of airspace left over), but I didn't have enough ingredients. I used ordinary cooking oil instead of olive oil; not to worry, I used some of that Omega 9 stuff that's supposedly healthy.

Okay, so I rubbed salt and pepper on the skin, yadda yadda yadda... then, on a whim, I peeled an onion, made some cuts all around it, then stuffed it up the dead chicken's a**... actually, more like plugged it up with the purple onion. This would later result into something serendipitious.

I carefully put the chicken inside the turbo broiler and, instead of putting water at the bottom (as one is told one must always do otherwise you end up with dry, bland meat), I put instead, on another whim, a peeled onion and a tomato to provide the humidity inside.

So, I put on the lid, then left it...

... about 15-20 minutes later I came back to turn the chicken over (the manufacturer said that in a turbo broiler, since the air is doing the cooking, one doesn't need to turn over food; but I've found that that isn't entirely accurate) and, lo and behold! Because of the onion stuck up the chicken's a** the little air that was left inside expanded and made the chicken not only larger to behold, thereby pulling taut the skin (making it crispier) and, as an unforseen but welcome side-effect, boiling the herb soup I put inside the chicken, heat-marinading it from the inside, infusing the entire torso and fleshy parts with the flavor. It's like a scene out of Cooking Master Boy (pictured on the left) or the Iron Chef (pictured on the right)!

Now, hitherto whenever Mom would turbo broil a chicken, we usually ended up with a very "flavorful" skin (sometimes, too flavorful) that was not crispy and chicken flesh that was dried out and bland (unless it was marinated overnight, but it would still be dry). Ha-ha! Not so with this variation of chicken! Not even marinated, yet the flavor in the torso was noticeable! And more noticeable because it was juicy. The skin was crispy and flavorful, and steam would rise as the skin is broken and the chicken carved up.

Of course, the drum sticks and the wings were not infused with the special herbal soup, not being in any proximity to the cavity. But at least those choice cuts had plenty of skin and, thanks to the humidity regulation of the tomato and the onion inside the broiler with the chicken, was juicy also.

Anyway, I'm sure that now I have the complete version, I think I can come up with an even better variation.

Back to you, Ærynn!

Spring is In!

Since it is now September, it is officially spring in Australia. One of the early signs of spring are the beautiful pink chrysanthemums that line the streets.


Hope is also 'spring-ing' in my heart. Will be getting my tax refund soon and it's just enough to cover my husband's visa application fee. Woohoo! And I'll be getting my new Philippine passport soon as I had to have it renewed, with a few complications along the way. Either way, things are turning up and I think Gryphon will finally be able to lodge his application in October. There are still some requirements we need to take care of but it's shaping up!

Despite regularly forgetting to water them, my herbs are also looking good. I think they look a bit bigger now which is great. Looking forward to using some of the thyme soon to cook a chicken dish.


My stay in the office at Spring Street will be coming to an end this week. I've sent an application to one company but will need to send some more. In the meantime, I'll hopefully be getting more work from my employment agency. So I'm also a bit anxious about the future. But I know that God is helping me to work through the circumstances. After all, He has been providing for the two years I've been in the Land of Oz (landed here in September 14, 2003).

So welcome spring and hello lower electricity bill (we won't need the heater soon)!

Coffee Alamid-Rarest Coffee in the World


Coffee Alamid-Rarest Coffee in the World
Originally uploaded by Gryphon Hall
found in a coffee shop in West Fairview, Quezon City
My Mother-in-law, her two sisters and I were talking about our experiences with coffee and tea. During the course of our discussions, Ærynn's Mom tried very hard to remember one particular variety of coffee, which she said was supposed to be the most expensive coffee variety in the world.

Well, of course, I was intrigued and (I must admit) a bit doubtful. I knew certain types of coffee varieties can be expensive; but I didn't know that there would be one special variety of coffee that would be much more expensive than the ones I purchase at Starbucks. Well, she said, that's because the beans are first eaten by some type of wild cat, then it passes out whole in their droppings, farmers gather them, and roast them. That's what makes them the most expensive coffee in the world. In fact, she challenged me to find out about it and I promised to do so.

Well, the most logical first place to look should have been the internet, right? Just Google it and I should have found out quickly. As it is, I actually found out about the most expensive coffee from a Philippine coffee shop; I also found out why they were so darn expensive—the Civet cat that eats the coffee cherries are endangered. For a small jar of coffee just slightly larger than an ink well, one has to fork out PhP300, that's roughly US$6.00 for what is essentially just one or two mugs of coffee. Still, it seems that even that is cheap compared to what the British have to pay for when they import the Indonesian version of Coffee Alamid, which is called Kopi Luwak. One unfortunate Britisher couldn't see the difference between normal coffee and Kopi Luwak, as he describes in his blog.

I wanted to purchase some... but as I had quit my inhuman call centre job just recently, this particular luxury is one that I find I cannot afford all of a sudden. Well... that is another story. I'm actually playing around with the idea of applying for a coffee barista job in the local coffee shop; it's lower pay, but I don't have to have recurring nightmares about Remedy, Help Desk and Avaya conking out.

Oh, and finally, I've begun to lose weight again...

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Anti-illiteracy in the Philippines

I have been a teacher for less than three years, intermittently. In spite of all the feel good movies out there about how wonderful the teaching profession is, I haven't found it to be so. Take note, I said the teaching profession isn't wonderful, not teaching itself.

One of the reasons why I found that I cannot stay in the Philippine teaching profession is the "hakot" mentality in the country's literacy programs. Simply put, they don't bother so much about quality in education as long as as many children as possible are in school. Again take note, the programs are merely trying to get children into school, but that's about it. And about as many children as they can cram into classrooms and assigning them to a ridiculous teacher-to-student ratio, frequently 50 students to a teacher. Well... not quite. Actually, it's more like a hundred or more to a teacher, since we used to be given a ridiculous number of "preparations," that is, we don't just prepare for just one subject with a class of 50 students.

I have, of course, naively discussed this with my principal and my coordinator before—we need more teachers. The answer is, well, ridiculously simple: not enough funds. Of course! Why didn't I think of that? The traditional models of supply and demand is overturned. We have here a clear case of demand and with little supply (yes, believe it or not; inspite of all the Educ graduates the colleges and universities churn out each year), one would think that teachers would be paid more. The fact is that since teachers traditionally have low salaries, even thinking that teachers should be paid a lot is totally alien.

Well, some bloke from down under thinks that a profit can be made for teaching-for-profit, and he isn't talking about just money.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Believe it or not, I hate being right.jpg

Moblog: One of the most annoying things for me is being right. Well, of course one wants to be right; what irritates me is being right after being told repeatedly that I was actually wrong. It may be over some bit of trivia (where the annoyance is only slight), then there are those occasional times where the disagreement is about something like policy or professional know-how (where the annoyance is not only great but stressful).

However, there are those rare times that, even after I've been proven right, it is insisted that I'm still wrong, like this current situation I find myself in with an ignorant Hun.

Does God ever feel this way? He's been proven right so very often yet humans by and large still insist that their wisdom and justice is greater and better than God's-this annoys me. But what annoys me more are Christians who pervert how God really is like, making Him seem harsher and more unjust than He actually is, or worse, as one who sells prosperity and health.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Remembering my Lola


Wrote the following passage last year when my beloved grandmother passed away on 30 August 2004:



The family historian is now gone and with her the many stories and remembrances of generations. No one else can make the same woodfire-cooked pancakes, the tasty salted fish nor the soft and melting humba . She even won prizes for her cooking.

I haven't always appreciated Lola Aurea especially when I was young because she seemed far too fuzzy about things. She refused to touch the television at home for fear that it would blow up. But later on, I learned to respect her. How can you not respect someone who fostered and cared for ten children? As a testament to her, all of them love her very much. Among the ten kids she raised is one who grew up to be the best mom in the world, well... maybe second to her!

I will always treasure the time I spent with her, watching her feed the chickens, water the plants and of course, cook her delicious dishes. I am so glad we spent time together before I went to Australia. I stuck to her side like a tuko or gecko during my two-week stay in Siaton, Negros Oriental. Our first day there, we went to the supermarket in Dumaguete to buy some milk for her cereals. I was in shock when we ended up with two boxes of groceries (mostly canned good which I had to lug for a bit) and a great big tin of biscuits (equivalent to the size of a pail). Then we made the one-hour trip to Siaton by bus.

That first day in Siaton was also her first day back, having been to the United States for some months. Lola had eleven groups of friends come over during that first afternoon home. And there I was asking her why we had to get all those biscuits (mystery solved). We kept a steady stream of coffee and snacks going until everyone had cleared out. Afterwards, we went walking and what should have been a twenty-minute walk took hours because of the many friends she encountered along the way. She was that popular! She was open, gregarious, witty, chatty and intelligent. People in need were also drawn to her because of her generosity.

Lola Aurea was an independent sprit and she loved her life. She would still go about the fields and check on the condition of her childrens' plots. She was always strong and ready to go! Lola was debilitated by cancer this past year and that must have been very difficult for her. But she fought a good fight and was actually able to say goodbye to all ten of her children. She also professed her faith in Jesus. Lola said she no longer feared death because she knew God would guide her.

Oh Lola, you will be sorely missed. I was hoping you could still grace my wedding but God had other plans for you. I know you will still be there on that special day though I will not be able to see you. Thank you for all the happy memories. Through you, I have felt what it's like to be truly loved by a grandparent.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Birthday Thoughts

Someone very close to me sent me this SMS:
'Happy Birthday to you. Hope d day will stil b as special even f ur alone, w/o money n prmnent job.'
I knew beforehand that my aunts would be in the Philippines during my birthday so I decided that I would celebrate the day alone. I have never done this before, having been brought up on birthdays complete with cake, photographs, spaghetti, fried chicken, rowdy family and friends. My flatmate could not understand why I wanted to do this and I guess my reasoning is that it's a milestone getting to the BIG 3-0 and going out with friends would make it seem like any other birthday. I mean of course I would have wanted to celebrate with my husband, my parents, my siblings, extended family, new family and lots of friends - the whole shebang. But in the absence of that, I did not want a dim echo.

However, my birthday still turned out great. Family and friends remembered and greeted me. (Thank you very much to all of you, you know who you are). I felt so appreciative of the wonderful people God has planted into my life. My aunt gave me a beginner's cook book before she left while my flatmate gave me an apron with funny captions feeding my cooking obsession further.

I was able to have a meaningful quiet time with God. My hubby and I had a long phone call and we recalled why we fell in love with each other. We promised each other that once he gets here in Australia, we would have a second celebration of both our 30th birthdays. I was also able to finish the major editing assignment that was due today. And I honoured a family tradition - I bought some KFC and enjoyed all the calories!

Going through the Purpose Driven Life book, I have been struck with the notion of how short life is, how fleeting. And it is true. I still feel like I've only turned 22 and just found the love of my life. But the book tells of how there is an eternity with God that is waiting. That is a comfort to me as I now realise that I will probably never accomplish many of my goals and dreams. I will never learn all I want to know. What is important is the day-to-day living for God and accomplishing His purpose in our lives. That's why I'm glad that although the text message I received pointed out all that I lack, it ended with this thought:
'Gods testng ur faithfulns n trust n him. We miss you.'

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Bit of Earth (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme)

A bit of earth
She wants a little bit of earth she'll plant some seeds
The seeds will grow
The flowers bloom their beauty just the thing she needs
- From the Secret Garden musical

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
- From Scarborough Fair, English folk song made popular by Simon and Garfunkel

I'm a certified city girl and I've never professed a love for plants. I used to laugh at my mother who talked to her plants during the morning. And I never really understood my aunts' fascination for orchids and roses. I mean flowers are pretty but to actually spend your time and energy caring for them?

One exception to my no plants rule is herbs. My mother grows herbs and she sometimes uses fresh oregano leaves to flavour her pastas. I love the smell of her oregano and mint plants. So I've always wanted an herb garden or plant box of my own. I fantasized about having fresh herbs on hand during the someday I learn to cook. Watching Jamie Oliver in 'The Naked Chef' sealed the deal because he has a plant box by the window sill where he gets his fresh rosemary and thyme.


My aunts gave me a bit of money for my birthday so I decided that this will be my gift to myself. My flatmate and I went off to Bunnings Garden Centre and saw rows and rows of cute little plants. Not knowing anything about plants, I got help from one of the staff there. Jill directed me to the herbs section and she chose two easy-to-grow ones - rosemary and thyme. She also corrected my pronunciation of thyme, saying that it should sound like 'time'. I asked about laurel or bay but she said that it actually grows into a tree so I shouldn't buy that. Since I've been using parsley in cooking, I got that one too.


But then she told me that those little plant pots weren't enough. I actually have to buy a big pot and a small sack of potting mix. What the? Feeling a bit terrified that it was becoming more difficult than I thought, I said that I'd maybe wait for my aunt to come back from overseas to teach me.

Jill then started to reassure me, "It's easy, just put the potting mix into the pot and then dig a little hole then transfer the plant." Still feeling skeptical, she also instructed me to separate the parsley into two or three and plant them around the rosemary and thyme. Then gave some instructions about watering the plants. Armed with this information, we then went into the actual store and she helped me choose a plant box and a good but cheap potting mix with a bit of fertilizer in it. My flatmate read the instructions in the potting mix and we realised that I needed gardening gloves. So we got a flowery pair, a small plant spray and I plunged into the unknown.

When we got home, we semi-cleared the patio of boxes that Charry has been keeping for the time she moves to another flat. Found out that it's actually illegal to have junk and clothes lines on the patios here. But then Charry doesn't have any other place to put the boxes.

Got down to the business of repotting this afternoon. I think I used up more than half of the potting mix. Put the rosemary in first. Dug a shallow hole but then realised that the roots were actually deeper than my hole. I then proceeded to choke the roots of the plant trying to get it out of its pot. Then put in the old thyme, this was easier as I just squeezed the pot and got everything out. Divided the parsley into two. But then the roots of the parsley is more shallow and the plant was going this way and that. In short, I think I half-killed the parsley trying to straighten it out and then planting and replanting it.

Here is the final result. After almost 30 years of life on Earth, I now have my little bit of earth.



P.S.Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme were used as a recurring line in the song Scarborough Fair because it evoked meaning to medieval people. Parsley took away bitterness, sage symbolised strength, rosemary symbolised faithfulness and love while thyme symbolised courage.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Shark Finn Inn and Dutch Masters

I sometimes go out with my tita Babes (mom's sister) during the weekend. We don't do it that often but we sometimes watch a movie. Last July 30, we decided to indulge our cultural tastebuds and went to Melbourne City or CBD (Central Business District). I actually live in the greater Melbourne area but usually the central district is known as 'The City'.

My Aussie officemates suggested that we try to have lunch at one of Melbourne Chinatown's institutions - Shark Finn Inn. So my aunt and I met at Myer (mall) and then trudged up to Little Collins Street, to the Chinatown entrance (pictured) and on to Shark Finn where they start serving yam cha at 11:30 am. Yam cha here is a style of food service where little trolleys of food are brought out and you choose and point to what you want and they give it to you. The trolleys go on and on and the servings are small.

We were given a pot of tea and to start off we chose the fried baby squid calamari. It was so nice! Then we said no to all the other fried things because my officemates told me to wait for the steamed dim sims. We had to wait a bit then we chose prawn, scallop, mushroom and pork dim sims (three per serving). We also had some fish cakes and rice with mushrooms that was bundled in fragrant leaves. For dessert, I chose rainbow gelatin.

It was great eating yam cha because you feel pleasantly full afterwards and because you choose around one or two dishes per trolley, you get to thoroughly enjoy the little serves. And then you're eyeing the next trolleys with greed. When we saw the bill, it was cheap too.


Then my aunt and I rode the trams (pictured) and got off at the National Gallery of Victoria (pictured) in St. Kilda Road. We were there to see the big art exhibition of the year - Dutch Masters. The paintings on display are from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdan and hail from the golden era of Netherlands - the 17th century. During that time, the Netherlands was a world power because of their exploration and trade. The wealthy middle classes or burghers demanded paintings and beautiful objects to decorate their homes.

My aunt and I saw many beautiful portraits. Many were of the wealthy wearing the dark judge like robes of burghers. The backgrounds were also dark but in constrast, faces were well lit. There were also still-lifes with, some even showing bones to depict that time is fleeting and intricate sceneries. I learned that most of the Dutch at that time were Protestant and the more well known painters include Rembrant and Jan Steen.



What really floored me was the sheer number of people who were there. It was sometimes hard to move about because there were always people trying to get a better look at the art objects. It was amazing how packed the place was considering that there is a $20 entrance fee. I really don't see this happening soon in the Philippines. I think it is still a battle for survival for many of our countrymen so exhibitions like this are not on the priority list. But I'm glad I got the chance to see this and to know more about Dutch culture. And to see what Melbourne City has to offer to 'tourists' like me and my aunt.