Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Few conversations have been more interesting – in an anxiety-inducing way – than the one I had with the locksmith who worked on my bedroom door one afternoon. I had unintentionally locked myself out of the room, and when I realized that the key was inside the room, I asked my mom for the spare. For some reason, there wasn’t any in the bunch of carefully labeled keys we perused. Okay, no problem – one can find everything on the Internet, I told myself. All I had to do was look for a video on You Tube on how to pick a lock (thank God my laptop was in the living room). 

Little did I know that they only make it look easy in movies – just a few seconds of tinkering with two little tools on that knob then the door magically opens. The burglar is in business! At least that’s how it always is in cop shows and suspense flicks I’ve seen. Why couldn’t I do it? I even tried using an old credit card, sliding it up and down the narrow opening while testing the knob if it yielded to my cajoling. 

By this time, I was silently begging the credit card not to let me down. Was I going to have to break down the door? And how in the world was I going to do that? Again, my only reference for this would be movie scenes that depicted cowboys or big, heroic gentlemen in suits or the Marines who successfully kicked down doors at the first attempt. I wasn’t about to try that and make like a stuntman.

When nothing worked, I decided I would have to get a locksmith. It happened to be a Sunday, so looking for an available one was more difficult than usual. I followed a few leads given by friends, tracking some of them down only to come upon padlocked booths or kiosks. 

Finally, this unassuming man whom I had seen several times with his cart and “key duplication/shoe repair/umbrella repair” signage at a street corner about 10 minutes away from our house was up for the job! Hurray!

Within half an hour he was outside my room, working two little tools on the keyhole. It was fascinating to watch and I instantly wanted to learn the skill. It would definitely come in handy for just the fix in which I found myself! 

I have forgotten the exact exchange we had that allowed me to unearth the facts pertaining to his admirable talent, but in those 3 or so minutes I asked him how he learned to do the lock-picking and was nonchalantly told his being in prison enabled him to acquire the expertise. Now hearing that from a man who was inside your home and fiddling with the knob on your bedroom door has the potential to make beads of sweat instantly form on your forehead and give you that sinking feeling. That’s what happened to me in the next few moments. I also froze (metaphorically, of course). 

I don’t like this conversation, I seem to have thought to myself at that point. Note that I seem to have thought it because the details of those moments escape me now. Everything just became fuzzy from then on, swimming inside my head – did he build a career on picking locks in illegal situations and got jailed for it, and perfected the skill while in prison? Or did he do time and simply taught the “craft” to the other inmates in a skills training of sorts? I just know the word “prison” was somewhere in there, and visions of him in a group engaged in a lock-picking demo remain in my mind. 

I don’t remember what I said after that, but my sinking-feeling-in-beads-of-sweat-and-frozen-demeanor would have lasted longer than a few seconds had the locksmith been less skillful – shortly after revealing the circumstances pertaining to his expertise, he casually turned the knob and gave the door a slight push. Open sesame! Seeing the door slowly swing toward my bedroom gave me the feeling of witnessing the parting of the Red Sea. It was a welcome sight indeed, mostly because it meant I would not have to spend another minute with the dude whose honesty was admirable but whose timing in revealing unsavory aspects of himself would be funny only if it happened in some movie, not in real life (and certainly not to me)!

I did thank him for his service (he was fast, too, unlocking that door in 4 minutes tops), paid him and promptly showed him the way out. Thank God nothing untoward happened. I was grateful, too, that I didn’t have to break down the door or ask one of my brothers or nephews to kick it open, stuntman-style.

When I see my keys, sometimes I’m reminded of this lock-picking incident. I even wonder about the talented Mr. Locksmith from time to time. What has become of him? How much does he make in a day? Has he saturated the market in our area and decided to move to another location? He and his cart are no longer on the street corner that used to be his regular post. I sure hope his key duplication and umbrella/shoe repair services generate plenty of customers and enable him to make ends meet, whatever his needs may be. His lock-picking expertise sure is awesome; let’s hope it’s used only for purposes that don’t deserve another stint behind bars. Well, for all I know, he could have just said those things to get a kick out of seeing the expected reaction. It’s possible none of it is true and that his talents and interests simply lie in keys and locks – and getting careless key owners out of their predicament is just something he does on the side.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When it's sizzling in the tropics

For about a month now, the summer temperature has been unmistakable in my country -- so seeing photos of snow-covered driveways and reading complaints from fellows in parts of the United States in March about the cold was a little disorienting. It's summer in the Philippines and it is scorching hot (and humid!), particularly the past several days.

This somehow sums it up:

Now, if you were out for some fun on the seashore on a hot summer day and someone nearby suddenly fainted, would you know what to do? The dude could be suffering from heat stroke (also known as "sunstroke") and you're standing there clueless as to how to help him!

Here are some guidelines if you should happen to give first aid to a person suffering from heat stroke:

While waiting for the paramedics to arrive, initiate first aid. Move the person to an air-conditioned environment -- or at least a cool, shady area -- and remove any unnecessary clothing.

Try these cooling strategies:
  • Fan air over the patient while wetting his or her skin with water from a sponge or garden hose.
  • Apply ice packs to the patient's armpits, groin, neck, and back. Because these areas are rich with blood vessels close to the skin, cooling them may reduce body temperature.
  • Immerse the patient in a shower or tub of cool water, or an ice bath.

Read more about heat stroke symptoms, treatment and prevention  here

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Grey matter

From Matt Walsh's article (the article I appreciate most regarding a certain book-turned-movie):

We need to consider, or more specifically fans of “Fifty Shades” need to consider, why anyone would find this kind of story entertaining or enjoyable. If you’ve already Fandangoed your tickets and are eagerly anticipating spending your Friday night wrapped up in a twisted fairy tale of fetishism and sexual abuse, ask yourself: why?

This isn’t a neutral thing. It’s not “just a movie.” It is a movie, sure, but it’s a movie with a very particular plot that could only appeal to you for very particular reasons.

If you go and see a documentary about penguins, it tells me that you like penguins, and you probably like penguins because everyone knows they’re fascinating and delightful. If you go and see a “romance” about a wealthy sadist who leads a young woman into a sex dungeon and rapes her repeatedly, it tells me that you like stories about young women being raped repeatedly by wealthy sadists in sex dungeons. That is not just a matter of taste. It’s a sign of something profound and depraved.

Full story

Matt Walsh blog

Edit (Feb. 16): I had a seen a link to this "A Letter to My Children About Fifty Shades of Grey" posted on Facebook earlier but dismissed it as the usual preachy, finger-wagging type of advice from some stern parent. What a mistake.

I sat in the theatre and looked around me at hundreds of women, buying into this so-called ‘sexy love story’ and I felt sick. If an entire theatre of women three times your age couldn’t see how damaging this plot line is, how on earth are teenage girls and boys supposed to?

Please, my daughters, don’t allow this romanticizing of sexual domestic abuse fool you into believing that you should ever allow yourself to be treated like Anastasia Steele. Please, my son, don’t watch this one day and believe that it’s ever okay to intimidate, manipulate or disrespect a woman like the ‘hero,’ Christian Grey. Nobody, male or female, wants or deserves to be disrespected, manipulated or violated against his or her wishes.
If he monitors your phone calls and threatens you with physical harm because another man calls you, he’s not in love with you. He’s abusing and controlling you.
If beating you with a leather strap until you cry is what gives him pleasure and he asks you to do it despite your distress because it turns him on and then plays the victim to explain it all away, there is no soundtrack in the world that should quiet the voice in your head that yells out that love and romance were never in the picture and they never will be.

Read the entire letter here

Sunday, October 05, 2014

It's more fun in...

Now here's a place whose beauty will soon be discovered by more and more people the world over -- and I'm not even just referring to the picturesque scenes one can enjoy here. Cebu -- located in the central-southern part of my country, the Philippines -- has among the most captivating beaches on the planet (even international travel publications have attested to this) but the province's charm goes way beyond these. It's the people, the food, the fiestas, the history, and a whole lot more. Nevertheless, the captivating sights and sites of Cebu are truly something, as shown in this short video.

And now that major refurbishment on the Mactan-Cebu International Airport will soon be underway, that means more travelers discovering the place and probably wanting to go back again and again.

"Do as I do"

Saturday, October 04, 2014

"A hearty dose of tough love..." from a Russian sibling

Being cultured has somewhat been likened to being knowledgeable in the arts, being polished in one's manners, in one's demeanor when interacting with others, or being of a certain social class. Well, what does it mean really to be cultured? Below is something one doesn't come across everyday in these times. It starts off with this:

What does it mean to be “cultured”? Is it about being a good reader, or knowing how to talk about books you haven’t read, or having a general disposition of intellectual elegance? That’s precisely the question beloved Russian author Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) considers in a letter to his older brother Nikolai, an artist. The missive, written when Anton was 26 and Nikolai 28 and found in Letters of Anton Chekhov to his Family and Friends (public domainpublic library), dispenses a hearty dose of tough love and outlines the eight qualities of cultured people — including honesty,altruism, and good habits:

And here's a part I find quite striking:

They are sincere, and lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A holy "shadow" finally comes out into the light

That is how some have regarded the raising to the altars of Alvaro del Portillo, a Spanish priest and the successor of St. Josemaria Escriva as the prelate of Opus Dei, a Personal Prelature of the Catholic Church. He was beatified on Sept. 27, 2014, with more than a hundred thousand from around the world trooping to Madrid, his birthplace, for the ceremony.

Blessed Alvaro del Portillo

Fr. Francis Ongkingko, a priest of the Prelature, pens a reflection of his encounter with the recently-declared-Blessed Alvaro:

“A Teacup without Tea”
By Rev. Father Francis Ongkingko*

“You are, as we say in Spain, like a teacup without tea!” remarked Bishop Álvaro del Portillo. This was his amusing reply when he learned that I didn’t really know a single Chinese word despite my very Chinese-sounding family name.
Back then in 1992, this sounded like a mere passing remark by Bishop Álvaro, or “the Father” –as we familiarly and fondly call him– to lighten the conversation for his Filipino son who was nervously wrestling with the vocabulary and grammar of spoken Spanish.
It would only be years later, after reading a more recent and detailed biography of Father Álvaro, that I would realize how intensely he had set his heart and mind on the expansion of Opus Dei in Asia. Knowledge of either Mandarin or Cantonese was indispensable to begin and incorporate oneself in that vast continent thirsty for God. Thus, his passing commentary was something both serious and urgent.
It wasn’t actually my first time to meet Father Álvaro. I was fortunate enough to greet him personally when he visited the Philippines in 1987.  I had just known Opus Dei then. Listening to him opened many horizons, especially the mission that we, his children in the Philippines, had in the whole of Asia.
He also reminded us about our role in the Church, as we had to be vital supports for the Pope, the Bishops and our other faithful. His personal meetings with then Pope John Paul II helped us to pray more and accompany closely the Holy Father.
I remember one particular anecdote about a late afternoon audience he had with Saint John Paul II. Noticing that the Pope arrived very tired and was dragging his feet, Father Álvaro said with filial concern, “Holy Father, you are very tired.” John Paul II promptly replied, “If I’m not tired at this hour of the day, then I’m not doing my job.” This and many other stories from Father Álvaro filled us with a richer outlook in our faith and also with greater optimism to carry out our apostolic mission.
I now return to my story about the empty teacup. Not only because that was perhaps my last encounter with Father Álvaro, but because it now affords me with a new lesson.
Indeed, it would have been wonderful if my ‘teacup had some tea’ but learning Mandarin may not be one of the chapters in my life. I realized, however, whether one knows Chinese or not, we all have –as Father Álvaro had taught and lived all his life– the serious obligation to fill ourselves to the brim. This is by carrying out the simplest duties at hand, where God expects us to serve him, with constant love and sacrifice.

*Father Francis Ongkingko is a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei who resides in Manila.

St. John Paul II and Blessed Alvaro during the latter's episcopal ordination

And here's a short video about the miracle concerning a Chilean baby, attributed to Blessed Alvaro's intercession and which led to his beatification. The boy -- now 11-year-old Jose Ignacio Ureta -- was at the beatification rites with his parents.

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