The Trees We Lost to Glenda

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A crazy storm hit the Philippines last Wednesday morning. Unlike recent storms, rain was not the leading lady, and flooding not the looming horror. In its place, the strong winds that took the title role, shaking fear into the metro.

Everyone in Metro Manila felt the storm, some more than others. It woke most of us from our sleep with whistling and howling. The power was out. Everything swayed and shook in the wind. From the window, I watched our trees in our yard dance and swing, still graceful in the violence of the wind.

It seems everyone has lost a tree they know, or part of one at least. Either a tree in their front yard, one they know in their neighborhood, one on their path to work, or one from the house they grew up in. Some trees lost branches, or suffered irreparable fractures and splits at their trunk, or experienced complete uprooting from the ground. In addition to the lost trees – people have lost their roofs, ceilings, walls, windows, paint, gates, and fences. The busy cities also felt the disruption of black outs – for days straight, or in rotating breaks as managed by the local power provider. There are areas where power has not yet been restored.

Still, this storm had winds only half as strong as the super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda experienced by the Visayan regions in November last year.

Over the past months, I’ve spent much time reflecting of falling and fallen trees. I remember riding around the different Yolanda-affected Visayan regions of Cebu, Roxas and Leyte; surveying the change in the lanscape, peppered with fallen trees. There is sadness and wonder.

Now, my own surroundings in the city and home have altered. Everything storm-blown as well.

 

Speak soon,

T

 

The photo above is a fallen tree at the center of a town in Laguna. Below is three-quarters of the beloved mango tree in our front yard. 

 

tree glenda

 

 

Mid-Year Moment of Gratitude

Happy July 1st! Where did the first half of the year go?

Here are a few things I am thankful for today, the midpoint of 2014.

1. Work.

Whenever I am tired and feeling overworked, I try to remember how difficult it is for too many others to find a livelihood. I am blessed to have two jobs that are stable, safe, challenging, and engaging. I continue to love what I do.

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2. Ideas.

I feel the love of God when He plants a seed of an idea in my mind, and allows me to discover it. These are ideas for things to do – whether personal, professional or in between – Buhay Makulay activities, independent projects, creative initiatives, process improvement, troubleshooting, an interesting perspective, ways to mentor my staff, new ways to approach the classes I teach, or new adventures to go on. These are all gifts from above.

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3. Hope after the storm.

In the wake of devastating SuperTyphoon in November last year, and in celebration of the 8th year of the annual Fairs – we’ve taken our Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair on the road. The children and their communities continue to teach me about hope.

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4. Travel

Because of the #3, I’ve been able to travel the Philippines a bit more this year than most years. We’ve played with children from Capiz, Cebu and Leyte. Hopefully Iloilo and Negros in the coming months too. And I finally made my return to Singapore to visit my older sister – a plan six years in the making.

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5. Art

#3 has allowed me to do some community art. But in the past few months, I’ve been craving personal art-making time. I cannot always fit it into my schedule, but since reading a beautiful novel about Claude Monet, going on a painting afternoon, purchasing a sturdy & easy-to-carry sketchbook while in Singapore – I’ve picked up my drawing pen again and vowed to restore art to its rightful place in my life. I also want to start dancing again – and by dancing I mean, not Zumba..

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My pen portrait from a couple Sundays ago.

 

 

Speak soon,

T

 

My teacher-teacher adventures at twenty-four

Twenty four was a great year. Looking back at the adventures of the past twelve months, my gratitude just spills over. It was whirlwind of so many beautiful and challenging things.

As I write and reflect, one thing seems to stick out: I learned a lot this year. 

Sounds like a pretty ordinary statement because isn’t all of life a journey of learning? (Yes!) But even so, this past year more than the years that have preceded it, has gifted me with some serious learning opportunities.

My explanation for this is that my learning came hand in hand with my sharing (of the learning). But the sharing has added all the value for me.

One of my favorite games as a kid was “Teacher Teacher.” Alone, with a friend, my stuffed toys, or imaginary students – I would pretend I was a teacher. I’d make a lesson plan, grading sheets, and then conduct a lesson, complete with the reprimanding of unruly students.

Sometime in just the past twelve months I remember considering: “I think I’m am finally a teacher.”

There is still so much left to learn and discover; but I believe it was this year, at 24 years old, that I considered with more intention than ever, my role as a mentor and teacher to those in my circle of influence.

From June to December last year, I was leading Likha, a Buhay Makulay program. Over the course of six months, we met with a group of 31 children from the urban poor sector. Most of them live under a bridge and are considered invisible and unrecognized in their city. We were mentoring these little ones through movement and visual arts. Play used as learning. On one particular Saturday I was teaching them about complementary and contrasting colors. At the end of the art making session I realized that they got it. They grasped these basic art concepts! Sure, these weren’t deeply-scientific, mind-blowing theories, but it felt like an achievement nonetheless. They may never use that piece of knowledge again, but it’s the process of discovery that we valued. Despite barriers of economic or social background + my weakness in the language, something made it through – and clicked!

(Teaching this group of children was an entirely different experience from teaching my Sunday schoolers who came from some of the grade schools in the country and were completely used to well-equipped classrooms, the routine of a rigorous school day of reading, writing, learning, and communicating with others.)

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Likha 2013


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It’s been a few years since I discovered how much I enjoy facilitating small to medium sized group activities/workshops, handling group dynamics both serious and silly (which by the way I would have never pictured, as the shy little girl I was). And now I feel I have grown even more. I’m learning to teach the way I first understood teachers as a child – in a classroom setting.

Every day is a learning day for me.

 

“I think I’m am finally a teacher.”

I was led here by many different but sustained “sharing” experiences of my year 24:

I was teaching Sunday School to 4th graders every Sunday at 10:30 am. Two Saturday mornings of each month I was facilitating art/life lessons with children from our city slums through Likha, a program of the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc. To get that program running, I mentored a group of teenagers from similar backgrounds, who now served as volunteers and youth leaders in Likha. I was teaching roughly 15 (muscle-burning!) fitness classes a week at PlanaFORMA to folks (mostly women) of all ages. I was teaching Zumba regularly at the same studios, but also with lovely senior citizens at my church, two Wednesdays of each month. I was mentoring and managing our full-time staff at The Paper Project. More recently, I’ve gone on the road with Buhay Makulay, traveling to communities affected by the typhoon last year to share a vision of hope with children.

Over and over again, I am grateful for these windows to serve, learn and be given inspiration by the people around me. Aren’t we all just students of life?

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Easter Sunday 2013 with the kiddos from my first year of teaching 4th grade Sunday school!

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Does 25 mean that my early twenties are over?

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How many decades could you bear to wait, before seeing your brother again?

I’ve been following this story: the rare family reunions that some Koreans have waited over six decades for! Since the Korean War over sixty years ago, the border between North Korea and South Korea  became more than just a line drawn in the earth. It became an impenetrable boundary, dividing families, casting a shadow on generations. Some 72,000 South Koreans remain on the waiting list, hoping for a reunion with a brother, sister, cousin or child living in North Korea. About half are over the age of 80.

In a society where we are bombarded with the double-edged power/curse of instant connectivity, it is both refreshing and heartbreaking to see the force of a human bond that transcends any technology invented for communication. The human bond to another, can endure 64 birthdays worth of separation with zero communication. No exchange of sight, touch, sound, or even written message.

In fact, it can endure much longer. But I can hardly bear the thought of putting that to the test!

South Korean Lee Young-sil (right), 87, cries after meeting her North Korean sister Lee Jung-sil, 84, during their family reunion at the resort in North Korea. [From the Daily Mail]
The reunions are a rare occasion.  The actual reunion between families lasts only hours! Only about a hundred relatives have been able to take part at a time. There is a lottery system  in South Korea to determine who is invited, while in the North, people say that politics are involved. The most recent round of reunions concluded just yesterday, and they do not happen often enough. In the past, reunions were cancelled or heavily threatened months prior, when North Korea would disapprove of something going in the South. People must also undergo medical check-ups before being cleared to see their relatives.

Brothers, sisters and families –  separated as young children – now come to meet each other with cane in hand, sitting in a wheelchair, or transported via ambulance.

Here’s a quote from a man meeting his brother after 64 birthdays. He was twelve when he last saw his older brother:

“It’s hard for people to understand what it’s like when you’ve been separated so long, but it’s a true miracle; I’m so elated. All that was missing in my life was my brother, and now that I can see him again, I’d have no regrets whatsoever if I were to die tomorrow.” -Lee Du-young, South Korean

A 100-year old woman, for a reunion a few years ago, prepared to see her daughter after over half a century of separation! Her daughter was sixteen when she last saw her, and she had thought of her every day since.

After the war (1950-1953), Korean family members were separated by the division of the peninsula. There was no peace treaty, just a ceasefire. Who knew that the separation would be a constant in their lives? They wait not just years, but full lifetimes. They continue to wait today. 

This file photo taken on 31 October 2010 shows an elderly South Korean man wiping his tears as a North Korean relative (in the bus) waves to say good-bye after a luncheon during a separated family reunion meeting
South Korean Namgung Bong-ja (right) and her North Korean father Namgung Ryul, 87,
cry as they say goodbye to each other. [From the Daily Mail.]
Tearful: South Koreans hold hands with their North Korean family members (pictured inside bus)
before they are separated again. [From the Daily Mail]

 

What joy to be back together with a loved one, for even a moment. But how deep, too, the grief over the lifetime spent without, and the continued separation of the years to follow. Reunited families separate knowing they may never see each other again. 

How often we take for granted and abuse the capacity to reach a loved one at the touch of a device. With technology today, it takes a split second for a message, call or video feed to reach someone you care about on the other side of the planet. We hardly realize this continuous exchange of communication and what a privilege it actually is. 

But do not rely on only that, not only on the connectivity infrastructure that society has built. Break it down a bit. Though we may never be subject to such harsh and extreme separation against our will, we have every reason to treasure each touch, word and moment with relative and friend.

Elderly South Koreans travelled through falling snow with their families to North Korea’s Diamond Mountain to reunite with relatives they had not seen since the Korean War. Pictured is South Korean Park Yang-gon, left, and his North Korean brother Park Yang Soo. [From the Daily Mail.]
A South Korean man selected to attend joint North and South family reunions sits in the lobby of a hotel as he prepares to depart for the North Korean border, in the eastern port city of Sokcho. [From the Daily Mail]
Read about this story on the news: here, here or here. 

Based on reports and photographs as published by BBC News and the Daily Mail.

2013: You Were Quite a Charmer; A Playlist

As always, this is late. But here comes my annual tradition: a playlist that sums up the tastes and flavors of the year that just ended. These songs loyally rolled me through the amazing adventures of the year that was.

Friends: enjoy the music! 2013: cheers to you, and on to the next!

Take what is weary, and flip it upside up.
Take what is weary, and flip it upside up.

Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It – Stars

Smother – Daughter

I am Not a Robot (Clock Opera Remix) – Marina and the Diamonds

Isaac – Bear’s Den

Lonesome Dreams – Lord Huron

Your Drums, Your Love – AlunaGeorge

Boy With a Coin – Iron and Wine

Goodbye, Goodbye – Tegan and Sara

Contact High – Architect on Helsinki

The Story – Brandi Carlile

Thirteen Thirty Five – Dillon

England – The National

Different Pulses – Asaf Avidan and the Mojos

Seoul – Amiina

Lippy Kids – Elbow

How You Like Me Now – The Heavy

You’re Missing – Bruce Springsteen

Big Blue Wave – Hey Ocean

Sans Soleil – Miike Snow (Second mention in a row, and now the finale at that! Still in love with this song, but this time I share it in the form of a lovely live recording!)