Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grown Up or Children's Talk

As a young mother working at home with my husband, John, to build up our photography business, I often felt harassed by my three young children fighting over toys or other domestic issues while I was on the phone with my client. I felt embarrassed because I was in an "unprofessional environment," since I was sure that my client could hear my children screaming and crying in the background. I may not have been as patient with my children as I should have been, but I remember explaining to them that if they were fighting over toys, then they would take their fight to other room and not where I was on the phone - they had to keep quiet because I was on the phone with a client, but if someone among them was hurt, then I don't care if I were talking to a CEO, I would put the phone down immediately to attend to them. Satisfied that I had given my children a good explanation on why they should be quiet, my children asked, "Mom, what's a client? What's a C.E.O?" :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Discovering Family Trivia

Since the party honoring Ret. Lt. Cmdr. Harvey E. Jewell, the man after whom I was named, did not afford us quiet time for conversation, we decided to invite Harvey, his daughter Sylvia and son-in-law Gary to lunch. And of course, our NJ hostess - my mother's first cousin and my dear friend, Myra.  Another dear friend, Ann Gay, was taking her flight to return to Boston later that day so we decided to meet halfway between West Orange where we were staying and Clinton where Harvey's grandson lives. That half -way point was Morristown. Kathy and John G, who had spent the night in NYC had to return to West Orange in order to join us. Ching and her John flew out of NY to go back to Singapore while my John, Sacha and Wayne went to the city to take pictures so they could not join us.

It was a Sunday and Morristown was quiet. A restaurant that Myra called was not going to open until four in the afternoon. The only restaurant that was open within walking distance from where we parked was a Persian restaurant. We decided to be adventurous. Besides, John G. goes to Iran often for work and is familiar with Iranian food.

We were eight - Gary, Sylvia, Myra, Ann Gay, John G., Kathy, Harvey J and myself. Although there was nobody else in the restaurant at that moment, we still insisted on a quiet corner. As we pored over the items on the menu, John G greeted the waitress and the proprietor in Iranian which pleased them very visibly.

The conversation centered on Harvey (not me, the other Harvey) and his days in the Philippines during World War II. I brought out my red notebook so I could take down notes. He has a throat condition that makes it difficult for him to speak, or sometimes, to be understood. He asked me for my notebook and wrote "'Ship Salvage Fire-fighting and Rescue unit" and then a short while later wrote "Rudy operated the electric power system for the entire complex. He had three Philippino helpers."      

Curious, I asked him who Rudy was, and he said, "your dad." "My dad?", I asked wondering if Harvey made a mistake.  My father's name was Ruperto and all my life I've always heard him referred to by his nickname, "Piting", but I suddenly realized that Harvey and probably his colleagues in the navy had given him a nickname after Rudolph Valentino, the famous Hollywood actor.  After all, that's my father's surname - Valentino. I was thrilled to learn this tidbit about my father. My father, Rudy Valentino.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Not on Friday the 13th: A Baby I Planned and Prayed For

When my second daughter was less than two years old, I had a longing for another baby. With the difficulty of two placenta previas and two Caesarean operations still fresh in my mind, I could have sworn that the maternal urge was more hormonal than emotional.  But it was very strong.

Since John and I already had two daughters, I consulted my OB-Gyne doctor for tips on how to have a baby boy. She advised me to take my temperature before rising from bed every morning, and to try to do “it” when my temperature rose (which meant that I was ovulating).

My in-laws, who are Chinese, suggested consulting the Chinese calendar. Computing from when I was born, I could find out which months of conception would produce a boy, and which months to avoid conceiving – if I did not want to have a third daughter. Unfortunately, nobody could produce that precious calendar.

Even with the well-scheduled “encounters,” I was not conceiving. After more than year of attempting to get pregnant at the right time of the month, I gave up. It was not fun sticking a thermometer into my mouth every morning, and pulling my workaholic husband from work so we could do “it.”

After coming up “negative” every month for over twelve months, I decided to stop trying hard, and declared that if God could will me to be pregnant, then He could will me to have a son. I left the business of getting pregnant entirely to God, and of course, to John. ;)

Then, in November 1982, I became pregnant! Alleluia!! I was so excited that even before my tummy started to bulge, I started wearing maternity dresses. When people who did not know John or our two daughters, Ching Ching and Kathy (then known as Ann Kay), would ask if I were on my first pregnancy. I would very proudly and confidently say that it was my third pregnancy, but my first boy. To those who knew us, I declared with as much confidence that I was going to have my first son.

I did resist the cliché to prepare baby’s things and clothes in blue. I was not going to typecast my children. I was going to teach my girls not to fear math, computers or mountain climbing, and I imagined myself teaching my son, as well his sisters, how to cook and bake, how to paint and draw.

My baby was due to be born on August 13, but I did not want my son to be teased about being born or celebrating his birthday on Friday, the 13th (like today). Instead, I asked my doctor if it was all right if she delivered my baby on August 12. She said yes.

I also resisted my doctor’s offer for me to undergo ultrasound tests. I innocently thought that I could will my baby to be a boy simply by declaring it to be so.
Many decades ago, when I was born, there was no such thing as an “ultrasound.” Parents, relatives and friends had to wait until the moment of birth to find out the gender of the newborn – so birth was a much-anticipated event, not only to welcome the new addition to the family, but also to find out if it’s a boy or a girl.

My third Caesarean was scheduled at the Medical Center Manila (MCM). I had an unpleasant experience at the Makati Medical Center where my two daughters were born, and I decided to change hospitals and change doctors. My obstetrician was the sister-in-law of a very close friend, and we often swapped stories about daughters – she has three of her own, and no sons.

Everywhere I went, I kept proclaiming that I was going to give birth to a baby boy. That is, until the hospital orderly was wheeling me into the operating room (Caesarean births are done in the operating, not delivery, rooms). Suddenly, I was filled with anxiety and apprehension about having a son. What if he became disobedient or disorderly, or rough and uncontrollable? I had remembrances of my brothers being scolded for not coming home on time, or being spanked for their mischief, while my sister and I were always conscious of obeying our parents. What if he became a juvenile delinquent, what if he became a drug addict, what if he grew up too short or too frail and his classmates would bully him, what if…

Then at that moment of great doubt, I prayed. I whispered to God to forgive my arrogant and foolish declarations about having a son. Please let me have another daughter. Please, Lord, please.

I was still praying when they gave me a sedative. I had insisted on being awake, so I was given only regional anesthesia. As the sedative kicked in and the anesthesia that was meant to deaden my body from my feet to my chest somehow seeped into my brain, I just surrendered to God and to the doctor whom I trusted with my life. But just before I went into semi-consciousness, I hastened to remind her of my request to please remove my keloids at my previous CS scar, and oh, could she also remove some of my belly fat?  But I am digressing. ;)

Half awake and half in limbo, I heard my doctor declare, “Harvey, you have a baby girl.” I was filled with excitement and became fully awake. She showed me my beautiful baby, and I was happy and grateful (for my baby and the additional procedures). I thanked her, and I thanked God for listening to me.

We named our third and last daughter, Sacha. She was born on August 12, 1983.

Happy birthday, Sacha – today should have been your birthday. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Car Photography: A letter to Randolph de Leon

Randy is a partially-blind photographer-hobbyist with a passion for cars. We met him at a workshop for the visually impaired that John conducted for his advocacy - "Photography with a Difference (PWD) - Touching Lives Through Photography." We learned that Randy loves cars, and if not for his impairment, would have wanted to be a race driver. Just for his own enjoyment, Randy shoots cars, especially during car shows. We invited him to our studio the other day during a shoot for Mitsubishi.

16 May 2010

Dear Randy,

I’m glad that you enjoyed your visit with us, and saw how car photography for advertising is done. Your own experience in shooting cars – in a photojournalistic style as you mentioned – is a good introduction but is not quite the same as doing photography for advertising, especially studio car photography. Our lighting has to be more studied, so I hope you did not get find our pacing too slow.

I suppose the two main differences between how you shoot cars and how we shoot is in how cars are lit and what angle or perspective they are taken.

Whereas, as you said, you depend on available light (or lights), we carefully decide each light or each reflection of a light that touches the car. 

Taking on a photo-journalistic style of car photography, you can afford to choose the angles or perspectives that look good to you, given the lighting condition present at where the car is, whereas our angle is dictated by the client or the art director (AD) in order to meet some advertising and marketing objectives.  This is why we cannot even begin to arrange lights until we have set up the car (or part of the car) according to the layout required by the AD. We cannot deviate from that perspective because it is that side or part of the car that they want to "sell." So we can say that you have more freedom in choosing your angle or perspective, since you shoot for your own pleasure while we, on the other hand, enjoy the exacting challenges of specific objectives.

Car photography for print advertising is so precise that it has developed its own jargon. We indicate how we will set up the car by measuring the proportion of the bumper (from the left to the right side of the front or rear of a car, in relation to the length of the vehicle – 1:2, 1:2.5, 1:3 etc.), we indicate the angle – front perspective, rear perspective, full frontal, full rear, perfect profile – the last three also being referred to as dead front, dead rear or dead side; we have to define the camera position - worm’s eye view, eye level (since I am a head shorter than John, we still “argue” which “eye” level), or top view – and the many variations, to the left or right, higher or lower, more head on or somewhat oblique, of all these positions. We have also different terms for the lighting contrasts that we want to achieve.

As you may have noticed, after we set up the car according to the required perspective or camera angle (the AD brings what we call a compre – a guide for the photographer for the kind of image he has to produce), that is the only time that we can add our lights, reflectors, gobos etc. one by one, so that we can produce a beauty shot. Since a car has highly reflective surfaces, we cannot just turn our lights on, as doing so will produce "hot spots." Instead, we often turn our lights towards reflectors (including that giant reflector that hangs from the ceiling, and all the curved walls of the studio), so only the lights’ reflections produce what are seen as highlights on the car. On the other hand, some dark materials are placed at strategic places to help create “shadows.” Highlights and shadows are what actually create the shape or contour of the car, photographically speaking. By painstakingly controlling light, a car photographer is also able to bring out details or provide drama – making the photograph a unique visual rendition of a particular car. As you were able to observe – studio car photography is no mean task.

I remember the first time that we ever shot a car inside a studio (a rented one (RS Video in Paranaque), a few years before we built our own in 1992). The client asked me how many set ups John could do in a day, so they could decide how many days to rent the studio, and added that they had five layouts – all complete shots of cars. Very confidently, John, who had only shot cars outdoors until then, said that he could finish all five set ups in one day.

We went to the studio the day before to assess the situation and what would be required. That studio had a ceiling elevation equivalent to three storeys, and had catwalks all around. It did not have the curved cyclorama or the huge reflector from the ceiling that we now have. In order for us to bounce lights off reflectors, we had to cut our roll of seamless white paper into sheets of 8 feet wide, and maybe 9’ or 10’ long, and tape one end to a long water pipe). We needed about three of those, each being manipulated by two men, according to John’s instructions. Since they were on the 3rd-story level catwalk, John had to shout his instructions (for subsequent shoots, we later bought several sets of walkie-talkies). In addition, we needed more assistants to help set up lights that would be “bounced” on those reflectors.

We also came prepared with car cleaning materials like chamois (which does not leave lint on the surface of the car), including Armor All for putting a nice shine on the car body and giving tires a rich black hue. We also had several cans of dulling spray for controlling hot spots.

High-end digital photography was still more than a decade away, so we were shooting with 4x5 color transparency films and Polaroid or Fuji instant print films.

We started setting up at eight in the morning. Experimenting with the lighting before the clients came later in the afternoon, we exposed sheet after sheet of Polaroids. They came before we were satisfied with our first layout. They looked at the set up, and looked at the Polaroids, and pointed to several “hot spots.” “No,” they said, “you cannot just use dulling spray on those hot spots because that will take out the sheen or shine of the car exterior.”

So we moved lights and reflectors around. As we did, the controversial hot spot disappeared, but before we could cheer, we discovered it popping somewhere else.

It was close to midnight and we still had not done our first set up. John motioned me to approach him. In a whisper that still loudly betrayed his fatigue and frustration, John asked me to tell the client that he had made a mistake. Shooting cars inside a studio was a challenge too big a bite for him to chew. “Offer to return their down payment, and to pay for damages, offer to pay the studio rental. And tell them, I am sorry but I can’t do this job.” I could not distinguish his tears from his sweat, but the pain of defeat was very palpable.

I approached the client and the art director and repeated what John said almost word for word. To my surprise, the client said no, they would not let John give up. They then told me, holding the latest of the many Polaroids, that it was the best car shot that they had ever seen, and there was just one hot spot that we needed to work on. They asked me to ask John to tell them how many more days we needed to rent the studio, and instructed me to charge extra for all the Polaroids we’ve used.

I returned to the corner where John was – seated on the floor, looking really exhausted. I repeated what the client said, and he could not believe his ears. Something in him immediately lit up, and together we gathered our crew. We explained our assessment and our client’s decision. John told them that since the client was renting the studio for at least another day, they could decide if they wanted to rest and start again the next day or if they wanted to continue. Jun Tolin, his assistant, threw back the question at John. “Sir,” he said, “it’s up to you. If you need to rest, we will rest, but if you want to continue working, then we will be working with you.” John took a deep breath and said, “We’re almost there, so let’s do it – let’s finish this first set up. Let’s not rest until we’ve done this.” With that, they went back to work, with renewed energy and inspiration.

In less than half an hour, they produced a Polaroid that client was happy to sign. YES! “Let’s shoot film,” and John took out the Polaroid adapter and slipped in the transparency film holder for the first of about ten to fifteen sheets of Kodak Ektachrome 4x5 film. 

The second wind was blowing. Moving more confidently after that first “accomplishment,” John set up the car for the second layout, and rearranged the lights to match the new angle.  Before the crack of dawn, he had finished another set up.

We agreed to return to RS Video to continue the rest of the set ups at five that afternoon. The client only had to rent the studio for one more day.

Fast forward to year 1992 when we built the first studio for still car photography in the Philippines, year 2000 when we invested in a PhaseOne digital back, 2003 for the second car studio on Enrique Street, and on to the present, 2010. John has been doing car studio photography for more than two decades now, and can expertly light a car set up in about one or two hours. He has read books, watched videos, attended workshops, learned from foreign car photographers, and experimented with his car photography to know which combination of lights, diffusers, reflectors, gobos – will give him the exact lighting effect or “feel” that an art director requires. He knows which lens to use to bring the car proportions – sleek or sporty - required for a car print ad or brochure.  He is familiar with different car cleaning materials. He jokes that we can set up a car cleaning and detailing shop – except that we only know how to work on the side of the car that faces the camera! J

While designing the studio specifically for the requirements of car photography has greatly helped in reducing the manpower requirement (he can shoot a car with two assistants, instead of 8 to 10), the need for a catwalk (unless he is doing a high angle shot), and the use of seamless papers as reflectors, John has also accumulated tons of car photography experience from years of experimenting with lights, reflectors, gobos, cameras and lenses to make him truly a master at car photography. Yet, he continues to find ways to bring his car photography to a higher level, and surprisingly, to share what he knows with other photographers.

John has taught another photographer, G-nie, all he knows about car photography in the 18 years that she worked with us. Since she has since moved on to work abroad, John is now devoting his time to mentoring our daughter, Kathy. Just as G-nie’s learning curve in shooting cars was reduced drastically by having John as her teacher, we know that Kathy will learn it too – not in a day, a week or a month – but in the right amount of time that John can compress more than 20 years of doing car photography.

There are more challenges to face. John is constantly reinventing himself, in car photography or in other aspects of advertising photography.

Randy, John invited you to watch him and Kathy at work because you had expressed a great interest in car photography. And even though John and I did not want to raise your hopes too highly about shooting at our shoot (John even asked you not to bring a camera or a companion – we are under contract that dictates strict confidentiality – this is after all, advertising), I approached our client and explained who you were, and why you have such a deep interest in cars. I told him what you told me - that as a child you wanted to be a race driver, and that your disability (of partial visual impairment) has not diminished your passion for cars.

Our client, Arlan Reyes of Mitsubishi, must have been impressed with your knowledge of cars that he allowed you to shoot and even gave you permission to post your shots on Facebook.  Congratulations. It’s very easy to see that passion has brought all of us together. I hope you enjoyed your visit.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Superb Curb Service

I was rushing to check in at an airport in the States, when I saw someone in some kind of porter uniform at a curbside counter waving me to approach him. He told me that I could check in my luggage there, so it would be easier for me to run to the gate. 

It was my first time to encounter this kind of off-the-curb service and I was glad. He asked for my flight number,  gave me my claim stubs, and said that he would take good care of my luggage. I said “thank you” and started to run towards the building. “Madam,” he called out,  “I will take very good care of your luggage,” and bowed. Thinking that maybe he mistook me for a Japanese, I also bowed to him, and I said again, “thank you very much.” Meters away from him,  he called out again in a loud voice, “Yes, indeed, I will take good care of your bags, madam.” I looked back, smiled and ran to the gate. 

As I sat on my airline seat, I wondered why he was so polite and so enthusiastic about his port duties.  It then dawned on me that he was hinting at a tip.  I regretted not having given him any, and actually worried about my bags since I didn’t leave a tip.  There was no reason to fret. He did take care of my bags, which I got them at my destination, but I wished I knew about the etiquette of curbside check-ins. He certainly deserved a tip.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Ice Cream Conspiracy

John discovered this most delicious ice cream – Selecta Gold’s Vanilla with Almonds. Yummy. Super yummy. Every spoonful is creamy, and has just the right amount and size of nuts. But, I remind him (and myself) - that's calories, sugar and tons of cholesterol - all the wrong things to be putting into our aging bodies. Let's not eat ice cream! Please, let's not eat ice cream.

He keeps two half gallons of it in the freezer, so there’s at least a full container that’s always ready. He treats himself to a bowl-ful practically every night, and before going to the kitchen, would sweetly ask me if I also wanted some. Even when I decline, he would come back to the room with two bowls of this yummy ice cream – one for him and another for me. I try to say no, but the temptation is strong. I succumb. I surrender. I meekly accept the ice cream.  Hmmm, yum, yum. As I enjoy the ice cream, I forget the calories. Forget the sugar. Forget the cholesterol. Forget about nagging John that it's not healthy. It's really yummy ice cream.

Oh, he just handed me some. Excuse me, but I’ll have to put my computer down. J

Saturday, March 06, 2010

2009 Annual Report

The dark clouds of worldwide economic gloom, which started to gather in the last quarter of 2008, ushered in the new, but not very hopeful, year. While we are thankful that we survived it, last year was a year that we are glad belongs to the past. However, if we chose to look at life in 2009 in a more positive way, the slow business calendar actually allowed us to do other things for which we are grateful.

John was able to devote time to his advocacy, started in 2008, which he now calls “Touching Lives Through Photography”. Two Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP) chapters – Cavite and Baguio – joined “Colors of A Spectrum,” a photography workshop for families touched by autism, while Makati’s Persons with Disability and Company (Perdisco) offered it for children with various disabilities. John also helped organized “Skywalk” for the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines. In all of these projects, Canon (for which John has become an official endorser) was very supportive.

I, on the other hand, made serious moves to do things other than manage Adphoto – not for business reasons but as part of my wish to retire. Perhaps the most major step was teaching “Business of Photography,” to graduating A.B. Photography students at the College of Saint Benilde. I was also able to start researching on John’s 1970’s photos by making a few trips to the National Library. I still have a long way to go in archiving John’s photographs, but as the great saying goes, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step…”

A brief but exciting challenge was co-curating a mixed art exhibit, Glimpse of A Soul” by my artist-friends at the Carl Jung Circle, which segued well into my participating in a group photo exhibit, with 18 of my students and one co-teacher. I chose three photos from a recent trip to the U.S. East Coast.

Somehow, having bucked the downtrends during many crises in the Philippines made us confident that we would survive and maybe even prosper, but the numbers were not helping. Billings were very low and collections even lower. Newly hired employees were the first to be discouraged and left. When Weng, our messenger, resigned, we decided not to replace him and instead promoted our cheerful houseboy, Ronel, to do deliveries. Ninfa, who started as Kathy’s yaya (nanny) in 1981 and moved up to fill different office positions, opted for early retirement to take care of her ailing mother. G-nie, our photographer of 18-years, after parrying many offers from abroad, finally made the move to try her fortune in Dubai. Before she left, she garnered awards and international recognition (Cannes Lions, Singapore Spikes and the Philippine Araw awards) for a series of ads done at Adphoto for Boysen Paints/TBWA. Online chats continue to connect her to us, and Ninfa occasionally visits.

With a lean staff and some deft cost-cutting measures, we managed to end the year with all assets intact and even a slim profit. We even managed to do major physical renovations at the studio, and do some meaningful team building activities – to get us ready for when the economy is better (which I believe is now).

All our preoccupation with declining business and the troubled global economy screeched to a stop in October, when floodwaters from typhoon Ondoy inundated all of Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Setting aside normal work activities, we helped affected families – by cooking hot meals, packing rice, instant noodles and canned provisions, gathering old (and some new) clothes, donating towels, rubber boots, mosquito nets, hammers, shovels, saws and some cash to families in Tanay and other places. (Thanks for donations received from Ching and John, Sacha and Wayne, friends Barbara and Sarah, and thanks also to Kathy for leading our very own relief operations).

Throughout the year, there were a lot of “hellos” and “goodbyes” when friends came in batches – former college friends and dorm-mates Aida Reyes (from Davao) and Genie Abiad (from Baguio and U.S.); International Club of the Philippines members who came from various parts of the country and the world; and dear relatives like Tia Remie who hosted a family reunion of the Valentinos, Lomboses and Dumasals. Skype allowed for regular communication between us and Gary and Sylvia Bement, and my dear 86-year old namesake, Harvey E. Jewell in Tennessee.

It was also hello and goodbye for our family. On staggered schedules last December, Ching and her John (from Singapore), Kathy’s John (from the Middle East and Holland) and Sacha (from Canada) came home for a brief but fun holiday – giving us time to enjoy each other’s company in Siargao (the surfing capital of the Philippines). Ching, John V, Kathy and John G showed their form on the surfboards, John C tried valiantly but did not quite make it to standing position, while Sacha and I became the enthusiastic audience (and official photographers) of the surfers in the family. Before everyone left, we managed to pose in color and style-coordinated Columbia outfits for a family picture with all the pets – Lucas, Ginger, Bob (African love bird) and would you believe, Maali (John’s non-resident pet elephant, through the magic of Photoshop).

Looking back, except for the damages wrought by the typhoon, we might have anticipated worse than what came, and thank God, the first two months of this year actually offer us hope that we are back on track. Goodbye 2009. Welcome 2010.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Going Physical

At 64, I am still hoping to find out more about myself so that my life can be balanced, joyful and productive. The list below is part of a much bigger questionnaire (there are questions on other aspects of life) and deals more with my physical skills. I was shocked to find out that I could not check even one on this list.

Having finger dexterity
Good hand and eye coordination
Gross motor coordination
Having agility, speed & stamina
Crafting, sewing, carving, sculpting
Finishing, painting, restoring etc
Cooking, baking
Assembling machines or equipment
Operating, driving machines/equipment
Maintaining machines or equipment
Constructing buildings or rooms
Taking care of animals

How could that be? What did I do with my life? Or with my body? For sure, I was never a couch potato. Except for Oprah and Suze Orman, TV holds no appeal for me. Did I just read, write and do paperwork? I don’t suppose account servicing and managing could be considered physical activities. Did I just sit in front of my computer? Although I must admit that I enjoy long after-dinner conversations, do I just spend my leisure time chatting with friends? Am I essentially a spectator, a passenger, a listener?

Embroidery, sewing, pottery, carpentry, cooking, baking – I’ve tried them all but could not go beyond introductory levels – there was not one that I was passionate about to pursue through the years.

You would not believe how many times I’ve enrolled in driving classes – maybe 5 or 6 times, and yet I still don’t drive alone. But, hey, I have a driver’s license.

I love animals but have not taken care of any of them. One daughter raised a cat; another takes care of our dogs and an African lovebird, while my husband volunteers as an elephant-keeper at our local zoo. Which pet can really be mine to take care of? Not even Tomagotchi, I’m afraid.

Playing a piano? Nope, never learned it, even though I bought a piano for our home, and encouraged my children to learn it.

Boy, I’m starting to feel useless – I love gardens and plants, but don’t do any gardening. My thumb is brown, or maybe red or orange!

Now that I’ve reached six decades and four, I can perhaps offer my advance age as my excuse for not having stamina, agility or speed, but I don’t remember joining any sports or race even in my youth, so I would be unfairly blaming old age for my lethargy. There was a time I tried Tetris but have yet to find a computer game, or a physical activity such as volleyball or badminton, or even ballroom dancing in which I could excel. Oh, no, we’re not even talking excellence here; we’re just talking “do.”

Please help! Where, when and how do I start to acquire physical skills? Do I choose one and not give up until I’ve mastered it? Then which one? I always tell myself that it’s never too late to learn something new, but is this checklist telling me that physical skills are really not in my DNA?

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Chinese Decision

A Chinese Decision

In 1985, having made the decision to stay in the country, we had offered to buy the house that we had been renting since 1980. It housed our studio as well, while we lived on the second floor that had two bedrooms, one for my husband John and myself, and the other for the children. The living room and a ground floor masters’ bedroom had been converted into photo studios, the library into an equipment room, and we shared the dining room and kitchen with the staff and clients.

When we informed our landlady, with whom we had become friends, that we were interested to purchase her house, she did not want to name a price. Instead, she wanted us to make an offer.

To help me arrive at a fair price to offer her, I decided to look around in the neighborhood to see how much properties were selling for. Then, one day, one of the real estate agents asked me to check out a house in San Lorenzo Village (or San Lo, for short), a first class gated subdivision right next to the Makati Central Business District. Although San Lo was a residential community, they were quite lax and allowed businesses to be established in some of the homes (as long as they didn’t build obviously business buildings). She assured me that San Lo prices were at par with Bautista’s, since Bautista was considered a commercial area.

My only intention for looking around was to get an idea of how much to offer for our house, but I was thrilled to think that there was a possibility that we could live in a nicer neighborhood.

True enough, I found a house in San Lo that met one of the most important specifications that my husband had set – that it must have a living room large enough to be used as a photo studio. I showed it to my husband and he gave his imprimatur. I liked it myself because it had a yard and was near the community park. I envisioned having my young children biking around in this safe neighborhood and making friends with other kids in the neighborhood – something they could not do on busy, noisy and traffic-dangerous Bautista Street.

Since I had a friend in the real estate business who lived in San Lo, I took her to the house to get her advise on how to negotiate with the owners. To my chagrin, she immediately said we should not get that house. I asked her why, and she said “Tumbok yan, and that’s malas” (“tumbok” is the Tagalog word for being at the intersecting point of two roads connecting like a T, and “malas” means to be capable of bringing misfortune). It was my first time to hear the word “tumbok” and I certainly did not believe in superstitions. I argued that my husband and I work very hard and can offset or overcome whatever “malas” the house would bring. “That may be true,” she said, “but many people believe that houses like this are ‘malas’ and if and when you need to upgrade, you would have a hard time selling this property.”

I went home frustrated that we could not push through with buying a house because it was “tumbok” and “malas.” I went to bed early, very disappointed and slightly depressed at seeing all my happy dreams and visions of this San Lo house going pffft, and at the thought of doing house hunting all over again.

All of sudden, a thought came to me that pulled me out of the pits. My inner voice was saying – “Why feel bad? In 1970 when you started the business, you had nothing and hardly any money, and today, you almost bought a house in an exclusive community in the city. You’ve come a long way, Harvey.” That thought was enough to perk me up, and I went downstairs to the studio to reassure my husband that I was feeling okay and not to worry about me.

I saw him working overtime in the studio with a Chinese client. We talked about the house and he (Felix Wu, formerly of Ajinomoto) said he would like to share a story with us of two businessmen – a Chinese and a Filipino.

Here was the story:

There were two entrepreneurs, one Filipino and one Chinese. They both had a “sari-sari” store (a humble variety store that sells, in retail, only small low-priced everyday items).

After a year, the Filipino used the profits of his store to buy himself a TV set. The Chinese man reinvests his money into the store, and turned his “sari-sari” store into a mini-grocery.

After the second year, the Filipino bought himself a second-hand car while the Chinese continued to commute using public transportation. He expanded his store, while the Filipino still had the same “sari-sari” store.

After the third year, the Filipino bought himself a house in BF Homes (a medium-level suburban subdivision) while the Chinaman continued to live in a tiny room above his store, which was by then, close to looking like a department store.

At this point, my husband butted in and said, “You see, the Chinese way is better,” to which I replied, “Better for the business but look at the two and see who is smiling.” It was easy for the three of us to reach the conclusion that the Chinese knew how to do business, while the Filipino knew how to enjoy life.

“Let’s have a Chinese decision,” John said. “Let’s offer to buy this house. After all, the studio is here, we won’t need to transfer, we might lose clients if we transferred, we won’t have to change business forms and stationary, etc.”

“Okay”, I said, “for now, we will have a Chinese decision, but I hope someday, we can enjoy a Filipino decision.”

We offered to buy the house, our offer was well received, and for the next 20 years, we lived and worked here, raised our children and grew our photography business, combining home and business as many Chinese families would. We continue to live our Chinese decision, while waiting for the opportunity to enjoy a Filipino decision.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Harvey V. Chua John went north to the HAB fest. I'm going south to Alabang so I can write, check my students' works and prepare for Tuesday. Will pass by MMP to visit my dad's grave - it's his death anniversary today. He passed on in 1978. I wish he were still alive to tell me family stories.

Harvey V. Chua John just called. He's driving back from the HAB. He told me to prepare the house in Alabang as he does not mind spending a few days there. That's mental (or emotional) telepathy. :)

These were my updates on Facebook yesterday morning. John had invited me to go with him to the Hot Air Balloon (HAB) Festival in Pampanga, two hours away from here, but going there meant waking up at three in the morning. I told John “thanks, but no thanks.” Unlike John, I don’t like walking up early.

I woke up at 8:30am and after breakfast, I turned on my computer to check emails, Facebook and a couple of photography forums. It was Saturday - my schedule for going to Alabang. Since we don’t really live there, I had our landline and Internet disconnected, so I had to finish all my Internet tasks before leaving for Alabang. Just a couple of minutes after I updated my status on Facebook, I got a call from John – he was on his way home, and would like to spend the night in Alabang. Wow, is that mental or emotional telepathy or what!

It was thrilling (in Tagalog, nakakakilig) to hear that John was thinking of the exact same thing I was. Maybe it comes from being in tune with each other. I remember one incident in the 70’s when we were courting (this is the politically correct way of saying it now but in my time, we would say, “when he was courting me” – I don’t know why women allowed this change), and he invited me to go to an air show. True to the way he is, he wanted to be early, while I needed to attend to other things first. By the time I got there, there was a big crowd and I did not know where or how to find him. As he would be busy taking pictures, I did not ask him to stop shooting to be waiting for me at a certain place, and of course, there were no cellphones or even pagers then.

So I put my personal “radar” on, sent a telepathic message to John that I was there and where could I find him - and maneuvered my way through the crowd, going straight to the center of what was “happening” while John was leaving that center to look for me. John and I were both thrilled that we located each other right away!

P.S. This status update came after the ones above.

Harvey V. Chua John and Kathy came to Alabang, but decided not to stay (because we have no Internet or Cable TV here). Instead they asked me to join them for dinner and a movie "Dear John" but I need to be back at home for a 10pm Skype date with Harvey E. Jewell. So I'm back here in Makati. It's okay.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

On Getting Old

Tomorrow, I’m turning 64, just a year shy of the SSS-decreed retirement age.

Sometimes, I feel old and out of synch.

I may remember a name after the person has left. Or, hours later.

My energy is completely zapped, and it’s still morning.

I misplace a lot of stuff. If it’s my cell phone that’s missing – that’s usually easy to solve – just ask somebody else to ring it for me. But what if I can’t find my keys, eyeglasses or laptop? When will there be an invention that could ring them?

When I meet friends, we discuss illnesses, medicines and home remedies. Or aches and pains. One friend suggested that a bar of soap anywhere on my bed would save me from muscle pains. I’ve been trying that, and it seems to work – but I have no explanation for why it works. But hey, at my age, I’d gladly trade relief for logic.

I used to be embarrassed to bring out my senior citizen’s card, but now it’s a card of entitlement. It gets me free movies, discounts at restaurants and salons, or on my medicines. Or to get on an exclusive MRT car – reserved for seniors. It’s also a great pass to skip long queues at government offices and some commercial establishments. After queuing for a taxi for 1-1/2 hours at SM Baguio the other night, I’m going to write Congress for a special queue for seniors at taxi stands.

A friend reminded me not to knock getting old, because the alternative is dying young.

So I talk to myself about the virtues and benefits of getting old, accept a few compliments on how I “have not changed,” and I turn around and actually feel younger than 64. Tomorrow, I’ll sign up for dance lessons or exercise class.

Now, where did I leave my keys again?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chet, My Writing Buddy

A Malaysian friend, Chet, reminded me that she has been waiting for me to resume writing my blogs, while at the same time admitting that she is going through a writer’s block herself. Needing someone to nudge me every now and then to write, I offered to be her writing buddy so she could be mine.

She posted a message for me on Facebook (one of those diversions, together with emails, that actually keep us from doing serious writing) asking me two questions that got me stumped.

She asked me what my writing goals are, and what are my schedules for writing. Even though I have read a few books by Julia Cameron that emphasize the need for writers to write their journals in the morning, I had not thought of my own writing goals or writing schedules. Well then, last night was as good a time as any to write my goals and schedules.

Hmmm… Writing goals? That’s easy. I’m not very ambitious or confident about my writing, and all I really want is to write family stories. So there! That’s my writing goal! And writing schedules – oh no, when do I find the time?

Well, why not now? I will write one family story, right now. Sacha and I were talking earlier about wedding photographers and I remembered a story about her not wanting any photographer other than her papa to take her picture – that’s the story I will write about. But wait – this is such an old story – maybe I had blogged about it before?

I checked my site if they contained this story. Scrolling down to check the table of contents and browsing through my old blogs provided a good excuse to be procrastinating instead of writing. The site listed three measly stories in 2009, six in 2008 and 41 in 2007. Wow, did I really write 41 stories in 2007?

What happened in 2007? I was spending weekends, and sometimes 3 days out of every week in our house in Alabang. That’s it- I like writing when I am in Alabang. I should spend more time in Alabang! But a little voice inside me reminded me that I should write no matter where I was. It was a lesson I learned from Julia Cameron that needed to be applied.

And dutifully I obeyed that little voice and went back to finishing my story about Sacha, and posting it on my blogsite. Done. Fini. I felt good about myself as I posted my first blog for 2010.

Now I can bug Chet, my writing buddy, to help her get over her hump.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sacha's Favorite Photographer

When my daughter Sacha was 3 years old and preparing to graduate from nursery class, her teacher called for me frantically. She had her young students in their togas, queueing to pose for their graduation pictures with the school photographer, and Sacha was upset. Normally a very cheerful and cooperative child, Sacha was crying and refusing to be photographed. She would not tell her teacher what was wrong.

I rushed over to the school, just a couple of blocks away from our home cum photo studio, and found Sacha sitting in one corner, pouting and visibly upset. I knelt down so I could be face-to-face with her, and asked her gently what was bothering her. She murmured between sobs – “I don’t want him to take my picture, I want my papa to do it. Papa is my photographer.”

I tried to explain to her in the simplest terms possible that we don’t do school photography, and that the school photographer was better equipped to do this job, but she was adamant. “I want my papa!, ” she said with such loyalty. (How I wish all our clients would show their preference for us with the same conviction. ☺)

Her teacher understood and offered to lend us the toga. I watched the school photographer do a photo of one child so I could explain the set up to my photographer-husband.

Sacha and I walked home where she had her exclusive photo session with the photographer of her choice. She smiled sweetly for her dad - her photographer.

P.S. Thanks to my Malaysian writer-friend Chin Chet Mooi for reminding me that I have not blogged in a long, long time.
P.S. @Sacha - Can you look for that graduation picture and post it here?