Interlude: 2014 Wrap Up

Before I move on with our "The Adventure" storytelling session, let's have a quick wrap up of 2014 as an interlude. I'll let the pictures do the talking. Thank You, Lord, for a wonderful 2014. Here's to an even greater 2015!

January: Went up to Bukit Broga for the first time with next-door-officemate.
(Photo from Nadiah)

February: Went mural hunting in Georgetown, Penang
with Prescious (not the kid in the photo).

March: We saw hot air balloons! (Photo from Yana)

April: My family and I hiked up Mt. Kalugong in La Trinidad.
(Photos from Quantum)

May: Guess who was here in Malaysia? (Photo from Prescious)

June: ICPM 2014 in Kota Kinabalu!

July: We discovered Taman Botani in Putrajaya
and rediscovered the sights in Malacca. (Photos from Shiela and the girls)

August: Leaders' retreat at Bukit Tinggi!
(Photo from Mrs. Gonzaga)

September: Reveled in the street art found at Laman Seni.

October: We celebrated Hari Raya Haji with friends in Johor Bahru.
First long drive going south. (Photo from Prescious)

November: Christmas card pictorials with the fam at Camp John Hay.
(Photo from Quantum)

December: 4th Anniversary Thanksgiving Celebration
and Christmas Party at the Lake Gardens. (Photo from Amir)

Those Goodbyes

If my life in Malaysia were a book, it would be divided into two parts. "Part 1" of the adventure would consist of my life as an MS student. And "Part 2" would be life as an expat, an OFW, if you may.

Part 1 feels like it happened ages ago. Granted, it only spanned two years and I'm now going into the fourth year of Part 2 - but it does feel like it happened in a completely different lifetime. A lifetime where I lived in a monkey-infested dormitory. A lifetime where I had hospital, police, and immigration run-ins. A lifetime where I relied on KTM and Rapid KL buses but went places anyway.

I relied on my graduate research assistance scheme and a couple of odd jobs, but it was a lovely lifetime, even more because I had a lovely set of friends whom I treated as my surrogate family here. As Part 1 drew to a close, the story with that crazy bunch drew to a close as well. I don't think anybody really counted on it. Some got married and moved to India, moved to Singapore. One took up further studies in Canada. Some went back to the Philippines to fulfill obligations as well as to start anew. My family in Part 2 is somewhat different from the family I grew up with in Part 1.

Oh, but they're still there. And oh, we still see each other around. A couple of them crisscross across Singapore and Malaysia and sometimes it feels like nothing's really changed. But things have. There's a nostalgic feeling to it, too.

But I guess that's the bittersweet thing about moving from one chapter to the next. You must first conclude one part in order to get onto the next. And it's often difficult, especially if you'll have to deal with a lot of goodbyes.

But you have to do it to begin the next adventure that awaits.

So that's it for Part 1 of the story. This 2015, I'll be sharing about Part 2. So, goodbye, "The Adventure - Part 1". Hello, Part 2.

On Making an Impact

When you embrace your identity as a world changer, it is often easy to get discouraged once you start to think that what you are doing isn't significant enough. Take me, for example. Five and a half years in Malaysia. Am I even making a difference here?

It's easy to say I'm not if I base it on the scales the world creates. But these aren't the standards that matter. It's the standards of the One who called us that matters the most.

I miss those early years when I had all the time in the world to just go out and see how God was moving in the lives of people all around. Unbound by work, having only my thesis and several class hours, I could go anywhere at a moment's notice to meet up with people, to talk about life, to sing "Salamat, Salamat" over and over again while playing a guitar with blistered fingertips. And then I'd spend the following day hibernating especially if the previous one was far too tiring.

We went to Malacca weekly because there was a group of Filipinos there, hungry for the word of God. We spent time with friends in KL, Kajang, Serdang - Johor, even. Those people had different stories. Some were at the height of life, some were at the lowest of their lows. But it warmed my heart to see how they clung to God no matter what.

These days I'm consumed by Monday to Saturday working hours. It often feels like Sunday is the only day I can give to God and to other people. But I realize that's not how things are supposed to be. I can be a blessing even during the nine-to-five. I can be a world changer even if I'm not travelling from city to city, even if I am not speaking in front of crowds as big as the Bukit Jalil Stadium.

Yes, there are people who do that - God bless them for heeding that call. And it's wonderful to dream of doing that too, someday. But this is where I am now. And this is how I can make a difference today.

Nothing is in vain. Things become of great significance when they are done with a great, great heart.

On Writing Letters

My father should have had an award for his effort in keeping connected in the days of dial-up modems and card-operated public payphones. While he was taking up his PhD in Australia, he never failed to keep us updated through snail mail, email, and phone calls - not ones made through a mobile phone with low IDD rates, but ones made through payphones using cards I eventually collected to make key chains. The handwritten letters were my favorite, though. He personalized photos and postcards with inked in comments and captions. He told us stories of his university life while we waited for visas and plane tickets to take us where he was.

I seem to have inherited his knack of writing letters. When I moved out of La Trinidad to study in ELBI (which was a good 10-hour-bus-ride away), I maximized my newly created yahoo account and wrote to my family and high school friends until I eventually became too busy with schoolwork. When I moved from The Philippines to Malaysia, I did the same and wrote password-protected pdf files. I also had a special exchange of letters with my Soul Sistah. I smile, thinking back at the days when opening my yahoo mailbox brought a rush of anticipation.

An excerpt from one of my letters home:
I was still awake the time that you sent it - still burning the midnight oil for an exam that I had this morning. I couldn't reply because I was afraid I'll just ramble on and on about interpolation, k-means clustering, etc, etc, etc. But I was greatly encouraged. I meant, I really needed every sort of encouragement during that time. Thank God for you. Lots of encouragement came all over the place din from different people. Ang sweet din ni Lord diba, te?
Maybe it's just me, but there's something about long letters that are meant to be treasured and appreciated. The thought of someone sitting down, giving full attention to either reading or writing - as opposed to distractedly trying to pay attention through the stream of multitasked activities we encounter each day - well, that's just something... special.

The last handwritten letter I wrote was delivered to its recipient at the beginning of last month. If people are said to wear their hearts on the sleeves, well, I wore my heart on that envelope. Embarrassingly enough, I had to gulp down bouts of tears as the one reading it went through it (silently) in front of me. I failed myself and let those tears out anyway. I cried because the letter left me bare and vulnerable. If anybody read any of my letters written in 2009 in front of me, well, I'd probably do a repeat performance of that Wendy's crying scene, too.

I hope writing letters will never die out and become an extinct craft. Social media and instantaneous response are good. But I still feel letters express a different - perhaps deeper - facet of love.

Do you love writing or receiving letters, too?