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Tribute to the old man

I thought writing about one’s father would be relatively easy. That’s why I took my time, thinking the process would be quick when the thoughts start flowing freely. It has always been the method that felt natural to me. It’s how my best work comes about.

Then I realized what’s behind my difficulty. It’s easy to tell a few stories about my dad every now and then. But to write an entire piece that sums the man up as you have known him all your life… that’s something totally different… and much longer than I initially planned.  Let’s see how it goes.

As the person alive who had lived with my dad the longest, it would be easy for some to believe that I would be the one who knows him best. But the thing is, it is not as simple as that. We never really talked that much until these last 10 year. It just wasn’t our thing. And I learned more about him in those last 10 years than I ever did 30 years prior.

Like just about everyone who has lived a full and productive life, there are different facets to my dad. He’s been with me all my life. But I’ve only been with him for just a little over half of his. Even before he became Lex the dad, to our family he was a son, a brother, a cousin, an uncle, and of course, a husband to my mother. To the rest of the world, he was first a poor boy living in a remote island on the northern edge of the country post World War II who, with the help of his older brother, somehow made it to UP Los Baños to study and ultimately earn a college degree, and subsequently dedicate his professional life in the academe. And it is this facet that has existed for five decades, which he is best known for – the era where I happen to be intertwined with.

Probably taken in the late 1970s while dad was a PhD student at Indiana University., because while he would wear that matching brown suit anywhere, what other reason would there be for me to be wearing that sweater…

 

From the outside

Everyone who knows him will know Dr. Felix Librero, the career academic, educated at UP Los Baños and Indiana University, reaching the peak of his career as Chancellor of the UP Open University, and going on to sit in the Board of Regents before retiring in 2013. He still teaches as Professor Emeritus with us to this day. You can probably read about his exploits in the academe elsewhere from those who have a better understanding of his work.

But what about Lex, the person and family man?

To the casual passers-by during the 1970s and 1980s, he’d probably be recognized for the IU alumnus ring and belt buckle, the glasses, the patterned shirts and jackets and the custom-made hard-heeled boots whose steps you’d hear from the opposite wing of the now CDC Building at UPLB.

There’s that early 1970s Toyota Corona – our first family car. It was red when he bought it. But until now, I do not know why he had it painted bright orange or why he made the dashboard look like what you’d see on jeepneys. And then he had that thing in the car that loudly played these beeping melodies when you shifted the gear to reverse or hit the signal light lever. It was definitely easy to know whenever he was leaving the office or the house. Thankfully, dad’s tastes became much less gaudy by the time we got our second car, a 1984 Nissan Stanza, back in the early 1990s. But man, that car went through a lot with us, as well.

It’s difficult for me to gauge how my dad was regarded by his students. I’m sure some were intimidated by him. Others probably endlessly wondered how on earth he’s able to be on top of his classes, with stories of him looking like he’s sleeping through a student’s oral recitation, and then suddenly opening his eyes with full knowledge of what just transpired. And as I got older, I always got a kick out of telling his current and former students stories of my dad’s reactions while reading papers submitted to him. I usually stay up late while my dad starts his day really early. So, there were days when by the time I was getting ready to go to bed, he’d have started checking his students’ works. And sometimes, I’d overhear some colorful verbal commentary, then proceed to ask said students when was the last time they were in his class.  I also found it hilarious whenever a student somehow found his or her way to our doorstep neither invited nor expected nor wanted, nervously holding a thick thesis draft. They’d usually receive greetings such as, why am I just getting this now!? or how the hell did you find out where I live!? Student life back then was definitely interesting.

On the other hand, our house was frequented by a lot of students back in the day. Both my parents made it a point to welcome them, particularly the foreigners. Had I not known any better, I’d have thought that my dad was either a father or elder brother figure to the foreign students, many of whom found themselves alone, especially during breaks. That is why, to this day, he is respected and loved by his former students, many of whom are now very successful in their own careers. Even I get to reap his rewards from time to time.

I have no idea how many people my dad has worked with.  There are those, of course, from UPLB’s College of Development and Communication and its earlier incarnations, when it was under the College of Agriculture. By association with his wife, there is the School of Environmental Science and Management. And of course there are those linkages to all the other units under UPLB. It was in these offices where I have the least understanding, as far as his work and dealings went. I was too young to even care. That only changed when I made it to college. I took up BS Agriculture and majored in Animal Science. And to my mild surprise, many of the faculty were people whom I already knew from childhood. The rest, I knew of thanks to both my parents. I did my best to avoid being labeled as Lex’s or Cely’s son, but when I had to acknowledge it, there was no denying that there was a certain weight to it.

Although he spent just as much time at UPLB, it is with the UP Open University where I think he did his most meaningful work.  Somehow, I always knew he’d be Chancellor one day. And while I had UPLB in mind early on, in hindsight, I am glad that it turned out to be UPOU.  He was a hard worker – much more than I’ll ever be. On the other hand, he wanted his work to matter. And matter it did, while at the front lines doing pioneer work for UP and the country suited him. Maybe there were parallels between him fighting for the existence of a campus during its infancy and his personal struggle to live a life better than what he had as a boy in Itbayat, Batanes. Maybe that’s why UPOU suited him well.

 

Relatives

I have no idea how big our extended family is. But there are only a handful of us at the core. And to all of them from my generation, he was their Uncle Lex. We looked up to him, his older brother, our Uncle Flor, and their younger sister,  Auntie Nita.

Our elders shortly before Uncle Flor’s passing.

While they manifest it differently, the two brothers can at times be walking self-contradictions. Two accomplished forward-thinking academics that somehow find themselves clinging to certain bits of tradition. They are both a strange blend of warmth and stoicism.

As young men… Dad on his wedding day with my Uncle Flor back in 1972.

While I won’t pretend to remember most of them, their conversations are always fascinating to listen to, especially when I was a teenager. I smile quietly when a discussion starts to turn into an argument, and then my dad would discreetly acquiesce, just like a younger brother in our family would. And then I would feel sad. There were even a few times when it got bad for me that I’d excuse myself and tear up a bit alone, because I was envious. I would never experience being in a conversation quite like those.

Librero Family, mid-1980s

My Uncle Flor’s recent passing meant the mantle of padre the familia got passed on to him. And this is one of the few parts of this writing that is not retrospective. He highly values how his brother carried that mantle, but he is a different man dealing with different circumstances.  And we look forward to what he has planned for us to do.

Much of what I know of him as a family man, however, are from memories of how he embraced my mother’s side of the family. The Dinulos family is different in many ways. I’m not even sure how I would begin to qualify that. They can be a handful, for sure. And it wasn’t until I got older when I realized how much he loved the family. His affection, patience and generosity practically had no bounds. His nieces and nephews on the Librero side became close to him as adults. But it was in the Dinulos side where he embraced being an uncle to children. That is why to this day, his nephews, nieces and even some second degree grandchildren all grown up with their own families, still ask me where their Tito Felix is when I go to gatherings without him.

Dinulos Family, early 1990s

Even though he has sort of detached himself from the Dinulos family, he will always be regarded with love and respect by those whose lives he’s touched.

 

The Household

From time to time, I still get asked what it was like in the Librero household.  Between that time getting further and further into the past and the clouds of nostalgia and personal biases blurring my perspective, it’s easy for me to give wrong impressions.

I arrived five years into my parents’ marriage – which is quite late for any couple who’s ever wanted kids from the get go. I can imagine them at some point attempting to come to terms with the possibility of ending up childless, like the elder Librero couple, my Uncle Flor and Aunt Aida. However, I would be both their first and last. I also get asked why that is so. The only reason I know is what I’ve been told repeatedly — after I was born, mom was diagnosed with diabetes. Her mother and eldest sister also having the same affliction implied that it may be hereditary. It’s easy to understand that the possibility of passing the disease on to a child along with the overall risk to my mom’s well-being throughout a second pregnancy would be too much to overlook.

However, I don’t remember a time when it was just the three of us in the house. The only time it actually happened was when my dad took up his PhD in Indiana University, and I have next to zero memories from that time. My earliest coherent memories in the Librero household were those with my parents and grandmother – my dad’s mother Jacinta. And then at almost any given point in time, there’d be someone else living with us – cousins, nephews and nieces. There were also housekeepers. With the exception of the older housekeepers who worked for us, my parents’ sent all of them to school. With the relatives, I understood it perfectly. But the housekeepers – I saw no obligation to do so. At least one housekeeper even managed to finish college thanks to my dad’s support. If not for their constant responsibilities in the house, you’d think they were part of the family. I was taught to always treat them with respect and regard them more as relatives rather than servants. That is why I would like to believe that everyone who lived with us was treated well and have fond memories of my family. And they have my dad to thank for that.

 

The Family

Even though my grandmother was an integral part of our family who I owe so much to, for me during my formative years, it was really about me and my parents. And yet, I have never really drawn out a full cohesive thought about us. And this is where my difficulties in articulation lie.

They were two awfully different people with different sensibilities. And looking back now, I’m actually amazed. As a boy growing up, I thought to myself that, damn, my parents have a perfect marriage. I thought they were generally well-liked by the people around us. They always did as many things together as possible. And not once do I ever remember them fighting or having heated arguments. Never. Now, it’s probably silly to even think that it was actually the case. Looking back now, I’m sure there were a lot of arguments between them. But they never let me see any of it.

One of the biggest family goals my parents set out to do was to build their own home. By the time I was in high school, we had lived in six different places that I know of. And they wanted to settle down to a more permanent home. After a series of buying and selling property they chose to build a house relatively near the UPLB campus. Personally, I loved living in-campus and I was sad to leave after the house was completed by the end of 1996. To this day, I have a love-hate relationship with this house. The maintenance has been driving me insane ever since dad turned the house over to me. But after 20 years of living under its protective roof, I have developed an appreciation for it and where my parents were coming from in their sense of urgency to build it.

The Librero house under construction in 1996.

Unfortunately, our move to this house coincided with the series of life challenges that we would have to face for the next several years. From my perspective, there were two great tests of their marriage, and it involved their hearts – literally.

Dad was a heavy smoker back in the day. Back when Seven Stars Lights were sold locally, they had a redemption booth where you could get various items in exchange for empty packs of their cigarettes. For years, we had a LOT of Seven Stars towels and apparel at home. I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually found a towel among our old junk today. At some point he found the willpower to just stop. He also cut down on his alcohol and started taking maintenance meds. Unfortunately, the change in lifestyle ended up being too late. The damage had been done. And of all days, back in 1997, he would have to suffer a heart attack on Christmas Day.

I remember waking up that morning. I was still struggling to get up from bed as a bunch of chores were waiting for me. We were expecting relatives, as we always had a family get-together every Christmas. Dad would have been on the road already to pick up a few of my aunts and cousins. Then suddenly, mom was ushering me to the phone. She said I needed to talk to dad because I need to pick him up. That was confusing. Dad told me that he needed me to get to him because he was in no condition to drive. I immediately launched to walk as fast as I could not even realizing I was just wearing this worn out shirt and small shorts which I slept in (this is probably why to this day, I refuse to sleep in anything I wouldn’t be caught dead in – I now have this habit of trying to be ready to quickly go out in case of any emergency). I found our car parked by Lopez Avenue, close to Collegio de Los Baños and my dad was already seated on the passenger’s side. That’s when I knew it was bad. I was still half hoping that he just needed company. But no, it was actually the first time he asked me to drive for him, and I wish it had been under less grim circumstances.

It’s a bit of a blur to me what happened between getting in the driver’s seat and getting him to the UPLB Infirmary’s emergency room. I don’t remember if we picked mom up before heading to campus or if we went straight to the Infirmary before I headed back home to pick her up. I think it was the former because it wouldn’t make sense to delay his arrival to the Infirmary any further. I know that it’s sort of contrary to my dad’s own account. But hey, who would you believe more in this case?

I had hoped that everything would turn out fine within the day. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Dad would eventually have to undergo bypass surgery at the Philippine Heart Center. He wrote about it at length and has told the story a number of times. I could probably add quite a few pages to that story, but that’s for another time. Without going into the details, it was a long and fairly difficult road to recovery for him.

Mom was there every step of the way. But the disadvantage of a small family became apparent. I was tasked to man the house the whole time, only heading to the hospital if necessary. She had no relief. I wouldn’t have minded trading places with her. But for her, not being in the same building for any extended period was not an option. It also felt like my parents made it a point to shield me from as much of the burden as they possibly could. I don’t know how she would have managed had the people from UPOU and UPLB not lent assistance, and for that we are eternally grateful. Even so, I couldn’t imagine how heavy the weight on her shoulders were as dad lay in the ICU. She held it together incredibly well. But it was heartbreaking when she broke down in tears on my shoulders the moment she saw me finally make it to the Heart Center to visit and help with paperwork. She was exhausted and yet, I could offer no real relief. The best I could do was make it up a bit when dad was finally discharged from the hospital and sent back home. And it was a fairly long road to recovery for him.

I would not be surprised if this was the point where my mom’s own ordeal started.

She herself would suffer a mild stroke not long after dad’s bout. And it was now his turn to tend to her. But instead of looking forward to recovery, what ensued was a gradual decline in health that was painful for all of us to watch. Dad talked to me about it early on, warning me that her path was not going to be the same as his. Even so, that could not have prepared me for the next 3-4 years.

I will not go into the details of what transpired during my mom’s final years. Let’s just say that I don’t find it pretty. But I will tell you about how my dad handled the whole thing. For reasons I don’t completely agree with, he continued to shield me from much of the burdens at hand. Mom had to stop working, leaving dad as the sole breadwinner. I had struggled to get a job after graduating from college, so I resorted to keep studying instead. I was no help in this regard and ended up being one of the drains from the family finances. At the same time, we probably had more people in the household than ever and dad had to take care of all of them. I don’t know how long he had to endure spending more money than he was earning. He was already a Vice Chancellor, and then Chancellor by then, so the income was already quite ok. But if you’re supporting a son, two or three housekeepers and caregivers, two relatives, and a wife with ever increasing medical bills, there’s no way that income would suffice. How he managed that, I will never fathom. And then there was the emotional toll of it all. Yet, outside a few sighs or shrugs of frustration, I never saw him complain. Not even once. And the household stayed very much afloat. Grace under adversity. That’s my dad’s strength of character for you.

Mom sadly passed away in June 2003. Shortly thereafter, at least for a time, it was just me and my dad in the house.

 

Father and Son

Except for a few facial features, my physical attributes came pretty much from my mother’s side. But how I am as a person… by far, I do take to my dad. The only thing I failed to inherit from him is his diligence, which is unfortunate. I can only wonder where I am now if I had his work ethic.

Dad never really knew his own father. He had no real first-hand experience as a father’s son. He had his kuya, but it’s not the same.

It’s fascinating to hear his stories of me and him raising me when I was too young to remember anything. I honestly don’t remember the last time he actually had to take the belt out on behalf of my misbehaving behind. But the fear of it lingers in some form to this day. Even as an adult, I’d spring in attention even with the imagination of him calling my name.

I don’t think I was a bad kid. But I’m sure I had my moments. There was this one time when I tried running away after getting scolded repeatedly by my mom, only to realize I didn’t have it in me. So I resorted to refusing to get back in the house instead. What ensued was a cat and mouse game between me and my dad in the middle of the night that probably lasted an hour, which I find hilarious in hindsight. He didn’t get physical, but I’m sure it took quite a bit of patience to talk me down.

I also had a cute rebellious phase as a teenager, just like everyone else. It was a confusing period because there were times when it felt like they had me in a ball and chain, while there were times when I thought they left me to fend for myself as I struggled with school. It took a long while before I had a better understanding of what my parents were trying to do. had long since realized how much leeway he gave me. The mere fact that he relieved me of the pressure of doing well in high school meant a lot to me. I didn’t do particularly well, as it was the start of my life phase of hating school. He understood that and let me be. It was enough that I just make it through.

Perhaps the first profound lessons he gave me were of responsibility and accountability. There was the time when I was getting to college. I had the unfortunate predicament of losing my admission documents. I left it in the living room, took a nap, and then couldn’t find it anymore afterwards. This was my first registration period. I was already getting an earful from my mom telling me how careless I was. And it was at that moment when he broke his silence.

That’s not carelessness. That’s stupidity.

That cut deep. I couldn’t even speak for the rest of the day. He eventually pulled a few strings at UPLB to help me out so I could proceed with my enrollment. A few days after, my documents actually reappeared… gnawed on by a rat. I’m sure you can imagine the looks I got from the Office of the University Registrar every time I used a rat ate my documents as an excuse. Everything turned out fine in the end. But it was a lesson dad made me learn well. It was my first step towards manhood.

I would continue to make more mistakes throughout college, and while he’d never directly impose, he was always there to save me if he needed to. I was raised to be independent-minded, though sometimes I wish he’d intervened more when I was growing up. Some of you may be surprised to know, but I hardly had any help from him in my studies, particularly with the theses work. He never actually taught me how to write. Perhaps there really is some gene that I inherited from him, which allows me to hold my own if a situation calls for it. But we do have different styles and approaches.

I tried reading his book, and had a hard time understanding it. I’d ask a few questions here and there and get lucky when I get a useful tip. But all that writing was me (with the guidance of my advisers). It felt really strange that the most visible support he gave me while working on my Master’s thesis was delivering food to my panel during my final defense.

At the time, I actually had mixed feelings towards that. It’s difficult to explain, but I will try.

Fellow children of UP faculty would understand and relate this best. I had the strong urge to get out of my parents’ shadow. Even though I eventually chose to study in UPLB, I picked a different field and swore never to be a teacher in UP. Obviously, I failed to keep that vow, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Little did I know back then that teaching would eventually be my calling.

I also wanted to finally practice the virtue of being responsible for myself and not dragging other people to my own problems. I was raised to value independence and I did not want to fail at it. And I probably went overboard with it once or twice.

I forget the exact year, but I was a Master’s student back then. I got really sick while dad was out of the country, probably Indonesia. The stubborn idiot with a hospital phobia that I am, I waited three days for my fever to subside. But at least I had the mind to ask my dad’s driver, Naldo, to check on me in case I need to be taken to the hospital. And indeed he did. It turned out that I had Dengue fever and I had to be confined. Interestingly enough, it was none other than Dr. Reaño, the same doctor who admitted my dad when we rushed him to the Infirmary when he had a heart attack who had me checked and set up for confinement.

I asked Naldo not to let my dad know, at least not until he picked him up at the airport when he goes back home. I didn’t want him having to cut his trip short on my account. Not once did I think that I was lying on my deathbed in the Infirmary’s isolation ward. Even though it was a horrible ordeal, I didn’t think it was that serious, especially since my blood platelet count remained high enough for me not to need a blood transfusion. All I could think of was this one day some years back…

Dad never got to set foot to Europe. But he had one real chance. He was all set to go to Rome for an engagement and had prepared for it well in advance. Mom was already bed-ridden and emotionally erratic by then. She seemed ok with his trip at first. But on the actual day for him to fly, mom threw a fit and begged him not to go. And he begrudgingly acquiesced. After a while, me being my usual self, getting up late, was surprised to see him in the house and I was like, huh, dy… aren’t you supposed to be on a plane to Italy by now? A heavy sigh was all I got from him. But he was visibly angry.

I didn’t (and still don’t) want to ever do anything remotely similar to him. Never will I let myself be a burden to anyone, let alone my father.

In my devotion to that single-minded goal, I failed to take into account the emotional effect of a parent’s realization of not knowing – in this case not knowing his son got confined to a hospital for the first time in twenty years, being treated for a disease known to result in death. He did not know that my platelet count was holding and while I was in pain, I was in no further danger. After all, how could he? I didn’t want him to know.

He came in the isolation ward mad — really mad. To his credit, he managed to exert a huge amount of restraint. Just by looking at him, I realized my miscalculation. I listened to everything he had to say, but it wasn’t needed. I was wrong. Letting him know, but assuring him I’ll be fine, would have been the right move.

 

Getting Married

His decision to re-marry after a few years of being widowed was something I did not really expect. I did not know Jeanette well enough during that time. It was admittedly an awkward dynamic, especially at first. Never did I believe she was a bad person. But she was so different from my mom. Her company took time to get used to. But I would like to think that everything turned out fine. Nobody I knew deserved to be happy as my dad should be. I wanted to make sure that it happened.

On his 75th birthday

The best thing that Jeanette did for my dad was to teach him to appreciate life more – try new things. I was worried when it suddenly felt like he had withdrawn from my mother’s side of the family. Thankfully, whatever I thought he would miss was compensated by his being accepted by Jeanette’s folks. And I will be forever thankful to her for that.

Dad called my decision to get married myself as being a high point of my life. It certainly took more years and one false alarm too many before it happened. While Vanni and I were making plans, he talked to me one night and gave me a strange apology. He handed me some money (which I didn’t want to accept), and said he was sorry that he can’t be of bigger help with the wedding. It was difficult to process that. All I could do was ask myself this question… what else could I possibly need from the man who has given me everything?

My father-in-law, wife, me and my dad on my wedding day.

He had to carry me for 30 years before I could even begin stand on my own in the face of the world. Along with my mother, everything that’s good about me, I owe to him. That is why, if anything, it was me who needed to give back.

 

The Grandson’s Arrival

When I was young, I had a dream of having the money to buy my parents a pickup truck. They often talked about getting a piece of land and turn it to an orchard. A pickup would have been the perfect vehicle for them. Unfortunately, neither came true.

Dad was always great with kids, from all of my cousins down to Jeanette’s niece. Unfortunately, as time went by and as I grew older, it had gradually become less and likely that he’d have the chance to be with his own real grandkids. On my wedding day, Uncle Flor was quite transparent about expecting  a grandson from me and Vanni, unfortunately piling on some more pressure on my already anxious new wife. I’m sure dad felt the same way, but was gracious enough to keep most of those feelings to himself.

After a year of trying, I was starting to think about the possibility of being childless myself. We Libreros aren’t a prolific family, and it was becoming likely that I would be the last in our bloodline carrying the family name. I don’t think I could wait five years, like my parents did with me. While I figured out how to come to terms with that, I could only imagine how much harder it was on my wife, who believed the problem was on her end (I do not discount the possibility that I also have a problem, myself). I did my best to show that we’ll be fine either way. But this was something she wanted more badly than me. That is why it was such a huge relief for her that we were finally able to conceive, 15 months into our marriage. The child being a boy also gave us a chance to keep the family name alive, much to the happiness of the Librero patriarchs.

With a day-old Aidan.

Dad was the first person I called right after Aidan Kanarem was born on April 18, 2014. He was one of the first to hold the baby outside those of us who were present during the birthing. And it was a great feeling seeing how happy he was that day. And from that time, I have made it a point to make sure he would have as big a role as he wanted in raising the boy. At the very least, Aidan should get to know his lolo and spend as much time with him as he can. It is one of the first important pieces of happiness I can give my boy and possibly last big piece that I owe my dad.

At the beach on Aidan’s 4th birthday

 

So, who is Lex?

Uncle Flor once told me that he saw himself as the measuring stick for his brother. He peaked as a Dean of the College of Human Ecology at UPLB. He expected my dad to match that level. It was his subtle way of saying that he expected me to match that, as well. But at the same time, it was his way of expressing pride seeing his brother match, and then surpass him.

Son, brother, uncle, husband, father, grandfather, colleague, teacher, mentor, leader – Lex Librero is all of those – a life of 75 years well-spent – the embodiment of success with all aspects of life even in the face of adversity. And still have more to look forward to. That is something for his peers to honor and the rest of us to aspire to.

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A decade in UPOU

I’m not here to preach about how you should always persevere and never quit, that tomorrow is a better day, or that God loves you and will always be with you, going ra-ra with fluffy pom-poms and all that. If you know me at all, you would know it would all be bullshit, coming from me.

To my recollection, I have drafted at least four resignation letters, the most recent of which is less than a year old. And yet… earlier this week, I had this plaque handed to me by my superiors.

I started with utmost gratitude. I had not distinguished myself an exemplary student since sixth grade. As far as I knew, UPOU was banking on my potential because I had very little else to offer based on what credentials I had back then. But maybe some of my dad’s attributes had rubbed off to me — enough to help me become a competent teacher, at least. Maybe they were able to somehow able to account for intangibles, since some of the decision makers knew who I was personally. Whichever the case, the point is, UPOU took a chance with me, and I will never forget that.

At my third year, I had already started to believe that I did not have what it takes to make this my career. A college teacher, sure… but a faculty member at UPOU… that felt like a different thing altogether. It still does. There were challenges, difficulties, sacrifices and outright burdens which I had not expected to take on, let alone carry long-term.

At my sixth or seventh year, I had to make a conscious effort to change my approach to work. I had shifted to survival mode. I had to drop the notion of aspiring for awards and taking part of the more glamorous parts of the job. It had let to harboring less than positive thoughts towards everything, as everyone else seemed to be getting all the attention. But it allowed me to march on.

At my ninth year, I felt the need to make another adjustment, and start thinking about my own advancement — whether it’s in or out of UPOU. And it is now, that I have begun to think more clearly of what I need and want to do. I still won’t be distinguishing myself in the university, but I am slowly getting back into doing things that I want to do.

It seems contradictory — that I have to act more selfishly in order to figure out how to do better in a job that is, for all intents and purposes, public service. But whatever. It’s working.

I managed to survive.

That is probably what this plaque symbolizes for me — resilience — ten years worth of it. No one else with the same career path within UPOU has ever lasted even half as long. And while I still do not have nearly enough optimism needed to happily look forward to the next day of work, I can tell you that I can get through it.

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MMS 173 Virtual Photography Activity: The Witcher 3

This is probably the first time I actually participated in this activity. I got a new video card a few months ago and wanted to see how far I could go with the settings of The Witcher 3 with it. I was so happy with the results I decided to post them here.

Instead of relying on game mods and regular screenshot function, I made use of Nvidia Ansel. You need an Nvdia-based card with it, and it won’t work with all games. But it does for this one, and I took full advantage. I was tempted to capture cutscenes, but that would be sort of cheating. So everything was shot in-game.

 

Kaer Mohren Sunset

The shot obviously follows the rule of thirds, with the castle as the main subject. But it also shows a lot of rhythmic elements thanks to the mist covered trees, clouds and the mountain range. The depth of the landscape also provided a lot of overlapping elements.

Natural lighting also had to be deliberate, the position of the sun depended on the time of day, as in real life. Late afternoon provided the quality and direction of light I needed for this screenshot.

 

Shrine at Skellige

The branch and stern of a longship falls within the golden spiral. They, in turn, create a frame within a frame for the altar and background landscape. The stern and altar themselves, if you choose for them to be the subject, follow the rule of thirds.

This is another afternoon shot with the camera shooting against the light. I managed to frame this in such a way that the lens flares were prevented. But you do see a dirty lens effect, which I find a little annoying (luckily, I found a way to turn it off for the succeeding shots). I find this more interesting, with lighting from behind the subject, rather than up front.

 

Silver For Monsters

Nvidia Ansel also allowed me to pause midway through Geralt’s attacks and let the camera go up close. The level of detail is amazing. Again, rule of thirds prevail here. Yet, it is the sword, with its rhythmic elements up front which is given emphasis. I wish depth of field was shallower here, but it is noticeable enough, to bring about many overlapping parts — the silver sword, Geralt, his sheathed steel sword and the background lansdcape. Unity is strong in this one (if you can forgive that tip of an enemy’s weapon that got awkwardly included in the frame, covering one of Geralt’s hands.

 

 

Igni

This one’s a little morbid, but has a LOT to offer design-wise. Again, rule of thirds is followed by Geralt (more specifically his spell casting hand) and his opponent. The enemy’s body also creates a frame within a frame for Geralt. The fire bursting out of Geralt’s hand in all directions relative to the frame creates a radial composition, but it is clear that it also has a strong directional force moving towards and even through the enemy as he is engulfed in them. The shooting flames also accentuate the overlapping layers found in the frame.

 

Yennefer in Toussaint

This is probably the one I spent the most amount of time with. I realized that with Nvidia Ansel, it becomes possible to do a portrait shoot like never before, it least for this game. I took so many shots but eventually settled with this one, because this is where I managed to move the camera finely enough to make it look like she’s looking at the camera. In-game her eyes follow Geralt, so I had to carefully place Geralt so that Yennefer faces opposite an acceptable background, which the immediate area does not provide much of, sadly. Not very intuitive, I know, but it works.

So… rule of thirds with lots of overlapping layers in the background, of course. With her seemingly looking at the camera, I could give emphasis to those violet eyes. In the end I figured those eyes were more important than that leather and lace outfit of hers (yes, I just fanboyed over one of the most beautiful women in video games). Again, I made use of the afternoon sun, for the added warmth of colors.

 

The world of The Witcher is now my favorite virtual world for this activity. This has been so much more fun than Second Life.

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Uncertainty with Aidan in Taichung City

Taichung City, Taiwan, March 2016

I brought my family to Taiwan. We offered to help out a friend who was working on an art installation in the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung City. It was a relatively short trip that had its share of ups and downs. But what loomed over my head insidiously was an unmistakable change in the behavior of my son that started a month prior. It was something I tried to dismiss, but really couldn’t. It wasn’t until much later when the pieces were put together that I had a better understanding of what was going on.

On our walks in the city, he had this penchant of walking ahead of me with no regard to anything around him. He never looked behind to check if either of his parents was still nearby. He tried to break free every time I tried to hold on to him. I always found myself having to catch up to him in corridors and walkways as he kept moving. The pictures below will offer you glimpses of what I dealt with.

We also spent time with an artist couple who had a daughter roughly the same age  who I understood had her own little developmental issues. But even then, she was significantly ahead in many aspects and was more conscious of her surroundings.

At nearly two years old, close friends and his grandparents were already noticing how he actively avoided eye contact and wanted no part of anybody other than his mother. Even I had a difficult time interacting with him. It was a stark contrast to the baby boy that always smiled and laughed to the delight of everyone around him.

Little did I know back then that autism had become a distinct possibility for him.

Perhaps my ignorance back then was a blessing in disguise. It would be months before I was adequately educated of my son’s condition. By then I could already look back at the pictures below with amusement. Otherwise, I’d be picking up a very different story immediately after taking these pictures.

These seemingly symbolic scenes of him walking alone in the huge expanse offered by the parks in the city evoke strong emotions that haunt me, which I am sure some of you can relate to. I still choke up a little bit as I type this post.

The difference seen in the pictures here and our Hanoi trip more than eight months later was dramatic. It was almost like he was in his own world in Taichung. Hanoi saw a boy significantly more engaged with his surroundings and the doting people around him.

Nearly one year after, I am relieved to say that things have improved significantly. The doctor still doesn’t want to completely rule out autism, and he continues to attend therapy sessions to address his issues. But at this stage, the possibility of the condition that I dread for my son has become highly unlikely.

There is still a fairly long trail that lies ahead. But at least now, I am confident that the worst of this issue is over and things will be looking up.

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Hanoi trip notes (December 2016)

It is in this trip where it occurred to me that I can now start to live vicariously through my son. I didn’t think it would come so early. He’s years away from shooting his first hoop or playing his first three guitar chords.

From start to finish, there was always something.

He was quite a center of attention during the conference amusing everyone in sight. I had officemates more than willing to look after him. I was told a Vietnamese student offered to change his diapers. He stole the show for a short while during his mom’s presentation.

At Ba Dinh Square, just before I took this picture, there was another family with whom we stuck around with for a few moments. They had a friendly little girl who wanted to play. I’d have let them if I wasn’t so worried about Aidan’s habit of pushing other kids (we’re still working on that).

Before we checked out of the hotel, the receptionist asked what time we were leaving. When she realized she wouldn’t be seeing us again, she gave Aidan a hug then asked if he wanted to stay with her (lol, like that’s gonna happen), then said she hoped to see us again.

The man who drove us to the airport was quite feisty on the road and some of us felt he had a bad attitude. But what the rest of the group didn’t know was that before we left, I was standing outside the hotel with Aidan. The driver approached us, smiled, lightly pinched my son at the cheek, then gave me a thumbs up. He was a bit stiff, but I don’t think he’s a bad guy.

Then while we were waiting to check in at the airport, a middle aged Korean man approached my wife. He recognized them, turned his camera on, and showed a picture he took of Aidan while we were at the coffee shop beside the Vietnam Military History Museum the day before. His group was seated some tables away and took the picture (in hindsight, I probably should’ve asked for a copy).

I know he’s cute. But so are a lot of kids. So, it can’t be just that. As my former boss once said — he has a certain character about him, which is now being tempered by his time at A.B.L.E. Center and Bahay-bahayan ni Mariang Makiling — it’s the things he learned from both of them which the other people see. But no one deserves more credit than his own mother. It’s been an arduous learning process not without its share of mistakes on both our parts. But it’s her effort and sacrifice that keeps everything else going.

 

Auntie Aida

Aida R. Librero RIP

As I try to wrap up work for the year, once again, I find myself unable to focus on anything. And it’s troublesome, as I still have a some more important meetings to attend to, twp of which are coming up in a few hours as I write this.

My Auntie Aida has just passed away, less than three months after his husband. Where Uncle Flor was considered the patriarch of the Librero Family, from my limited time with them, I always saw Auntie Aida as having no lesser of a status in the Recto Family, being the eldest among her family as well, for as far as I can remember.

I had just as much interaction with her as I did with my uncle. Or perhaps even a bit less. She was part of top level management at Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) under the Department of Science and Technology. I never really knew that part of her life. But what I do know is that until my dad became Chancellor of UPOU, whenever someone older saw my name, I was more often asked if I was related to either Florentino from UPLB or Aida from PCAARRD. And if it was my auntie, that question usually had an air of respect or even a little bit of intimidation about it.

I wish I did knew more about her professional life. I came in relatively late in the academe. Or more accurately, most of my elders were either already retired, or on their way, by the time I started in UPOU. It was only in recent years where I was having actual conversations with my auntie about research and conferences. She had a more practical perspective on the matters, which I think would have been useful. Unfortunately, it usually didn’t amount to much as I was working in a different field and she had already been out of the game for so long. Who knows what I would have learned if circumstances were a bit different.

However, what I am probably most thankful for is what she did for me, or rather me and Vanni. It wasn’t just about their farm as our venue. Being wed in at Panyesanan farm meant all the paper work had to be accomplished at Lipa City, Batangas — a far more tedious prospect than, say, right here in Los Baños, Laguna. My auntie was instrumental and speeding things up and finalizing everything. Vanni told me about my auntie accompanying Vanni to city hall and getting people there to move like a boss (I suppose that aside from being a Recto, being at management in a government institution helps a lot). That would have been an awesome, yet amusing sight for me to see.

Auntie Aida (May 19, 2012)
Photo by Tootoots Leyesa

My uncle’s decline in health was relatively quick and dramatic. Auntie Aida’s was far more deliberate and slower paced. I am actually amazed at how she has managed to endure a major debilitating illness started off by a mild stroke so many years ago. Perhaps it was the constant motion in their farm that kept her health up. But it was only a matter of time when that would no longer help.

Before I left my uncle’s funeral, I hugged Auntie Aida and kissed her cheek to say goodbye. She knew I was fresh off an overseas trip and haven’t really had any sleep yet. She thanked me for making the effort. Saying nothing about the pain of losing the biggest part of her life, this was an old woman who at the time was under hospital confinement, could no longer stand on her own two feet and cannot breathe properly without an oxygen mask. But she found the will to attend. And there she was — gracious about acknowledging MY effort.

I thought I was going to cry with her then and there. And after asking Aidan to wave bye bye one last time before driving off, I silently harbored an unshakable feeling that it was going to be the last time I would see her face and talk to her. It, unfortunately, turned out to be true.

As much as I refuse to remember my uncle as the weakened old man, I will not remember Auntie Aida as I saw her last. I will remember her as the short unassuming lady who seemed to have an almost permanent smile on her face, always the welcoming presence.

We have lost a matriarch. But perhaps we can find comfort from the belief that she is at peace, no longer in pain, and did not have to endure a long time before rejoining her husband, wherever they may be.

Tino

Florentino Librero (1934-2016)

As imposing a presence my dad can be at times, it may come as a surprise for some people that he actually did not have the last say in matters of the Librero clan. That honor belonged to his elder brother. But that has changed now.

Florentino, Flor, Tino, my uncle, godfather, benefactor of my marriage and patriarch of the Librero family, passed away September 25, 2016 on a Saturday night. My being in Seoul at the time prevented me from being by his side. There were no premonitions, dreams, visions or anything like that — just my dad’s Facebook post the following morning. Yes, I found out just like everyone else outside my family. That could have been upsetting by itself. But what made things even more difficult was that I had to tune it out for at least another day, as there was a conference and a paper presentation that needed my attention. I also didn’t want to dampen the spirits of the amazing people around me at the time. But as soon as I got on the plane back to Manila, all I could do was anxiously tap on my phone’s screen and write much of what you are reading now.

I didn’t feel sad because of his actual passing. All of us in the family knew it was coming. Other things gnawed at me. They still do.

I never really got to know my uncle, at least not as well as I feel I should have. He and my Auntie Aida didn’t have their own children. I was his eldest first degree nephew and I carried the name, which mattered to him deeply. But it were my younger cousins who did a far better job in trying to spend more time with him.

Next to my dad, he was perhaps the one whom I was most scared of disappointing. And I probably did.

Uncle Flor, to me, was a man of contradictions. He was a UP Professor, educated in the West and carried a warehouse of progressive ideas in his mind. And yet, he held on to old fashioned patriarchal family values which the rest of us deferred to.

My uncle was bursting with ideas for Panyesanan, his and my Auntie Aida's property.

My uncle was bursting with ideas for Panyesanan, his and my Auntie Aida’s property. He shared them every chance he got.

He had rather radical visions for his property in Batangas and invested heavily on it. Unfortunately, I could never have a firm grasp of them. I don’t think anybody did, really. Perhaps with enough time and inclination, I would have. But it wasn’t to be. Visiting was not easy. The property wasn’t near where I lived. And I couldn’t stay there for extended periods, as my work required things the place couldn’t provide.

It also bothered me that being the only one still able to pass on the family name, people started assuming I’d be inheriting the entire thing. I did not want that responsibility nor did I want the baggage that went with being the subject of that belief. That is why I actively denied it was true. Not once did I entertain the thought of it.

I believe whether or not it was actually true stopped mattering when my uncle realized that I was not inclined to take over when the time came. I remember one of my visits when he shrugged and said, Wala eh… Di ka naman yata interesado… (What can I say? It doesn’t seem like you’re interested…).

Tino

Sometimes, I wonder if our struggle to keep up with his thoughts and ideas frustrated him.

It felt like I failed him there. I never was able to shake off the feeling of guilt.

In another of our one on one talks, he told me of the benchmark he set for my dad. He used himself as measuring stick of what he expected my dad to achieve. He was a former Dean of the College of Human Ecology in UP Los Baños. That was the level my dad needed to reach, he told me. Of course, my dad reached that level and surpassed it by multiple levels. I may have not known my uncle as I had wanted, but I knew him well enough to understand. My dad’s achievement wasn’t his point. It was part of an implicit point. It was a subtle way of telling what he expected of me. Anything less than a deanship in the academe is a failure. Yes, he had this habit of setting the bar pretty high for a Librero.

I obviously didn’t make it within his lifetime. I’m not even sure if I even want to. I just wish he knew how close I am now to being within striking distance of meeting his expectation.

In any case, it would be a while after those conversations before I made things up to him.

It was probably late 2011 or early 2012 when I told him and Auntie Aida I was getting married and asked if we could hold the wedding at his property. They quickly agreed. My uncle then went ahead to tell me as long as we handled everything else, he wouldn’t charge me anything. That by itself was generous. But I didn’t expect how far he took it. It had been a hot and dry summer. But he made sure the entire landscape looked green and fresh. The day before the wedding, I found him building something. I asked him what he was doing and if he needed help. He said, I’m building a platform here going over a canal. This is where you’ll be making your vows tomorrow. And no, I’m fine. Here was a 78 year old man carrying lumber and long steel pipes and was not particularly willing to accept help from the person he’s doing it for. I had mixed feelings towards that platform of which I was obviously in no position to turning down. But I will never forget that gesture and that scene where I just stood there and watched. It would also be the last time I would see him the way I want to remember him – a healthy, strong and seemingly ageless man.

On the platform in question. (Photo by Pol Veluz)

On the platform in question. (Photo by Pol Veluz)

He only wanted one thing from me which he made clear enough during the wedding reception. I took it lightly. But the pressure was actually on for the new wife.

It took a few years, but we did it. We were finally able to give him a grandnephew — the new bearer of the name. Request granted. Mission accomplished. Everyone happy.

For a time, at least.

His health was already in decline by then. No longer able to maintain it, he was forced to give up his property and moved to a smaller house close my aunt’s family as she herself had been in poor health for an even longer time.

My heart broke one day when we visited him in the hospital more than a year ago. Aidan was already learning how to play with toys and was curious with his granduncle’s squeeze ball. I was about to take a picture of them, but decided against it when I realized this bittersweet moment before my eyes was best left a vivid memory and nothing more. His mind was still remarkably sharp, but his body wasn’t even close in keeping up. He couldn’t help but tear up while Aidan was beside him on the hospital bed playing with the ball. He knew he’d no longer have the chance to play with the boy and live long enough to see him grow up.

He did not dwell on it, though. Like a true padre de familia, he took it upon himself to do one more task. He made sure his family would be taken care of. Along with my Aunt, he gave me provisions for Aidan’s education. In a little twist of irony, the person some people assumed would inherit everything actually got nothing — at least, not directly. But Aidan’s future is more important to me than any other thing in this world. And I am eternally thankful for the new layer of security Uncle Flor gave.

Three generations. I know of no other picture. One thing we do have in common is our preference to be on the other side of the lens. Aidan might turn out different, though.

Three generations. I know of no other picture. One thing we do have in common is our preference to be on the other side of the lens. Aidan might turn out different, though.

My son will never personally know his granduncle. But he will know of him. He will know of the love, kindness and generosity that we will feel well beyond his passing. He will know of his legacy and be thankful of the privilege it provided him. And he will know of qualities everyone in the family strive to emulate.

 

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Maraming Salamat Po, Ma’am Gigi

Today was Dr. Grace Javier Alfonso’s last day as Chancellor of the UP Open University. It brings up a lot of memories and stirs a lot of strong emotions.

It was around a year ago when I realized that I had only had a meaningful working relationship with one big boss my whole life. Of course, it’s not that simple, given how the university is organized. I follow orders and requests coming from a number of people. But all of us ultimately answer to one person.

Immediately after earning my Master’s degree in 2007, I applied for a job a second time at the UP Open University, specifically stating the office I wanted to be part of. Unfortunately, it seemed that they didn’t want or need me. That would have been the end of it. But another office picked up my application. They had other applicants to consider, who were either more experienced, or more gifted than I was. But even though I was at the bottom of that list, they stuck with their decision to include me all the same. That is why I am eternally grateful to Dr. Alexander Flor and Dr. Melinda Bandalaria and I will always be loyal to the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies.

Of course, I am also grateful for Chancellor Alfonso for allowing FICS to proceed in taking me in. It was definitely a turning point in my life. But it was her role in my life milestones later on which I will always credit her the most.

It would be nearly a month after my first day on the job when I finally met the big boss. I was at the UPOU Faculty Room in my little cubicle minding my own business, or more accurately, trying to look like I was busy, when she went in and proceeded to the next room, where the senior faculty members’ desks where at. She went to talk to my Dean, Dr. Flor. When their discussion ended, he officially introduced me to her, and I will never forget her first words to me, as she looked at me with a smile.

It’s nice to finally meet you, anak… Madami akong ipapagawa sa iyo.

Of course, the best I can say is, sige lang po! But I was really thinking something along the lines of, oh shit, there goes my plans for a quiet career as a junior faculty…

I had no clue as to what was in store for me.

It wasn’t long before I found myself sitting on an honorary seat in the UPOU Chancellor’s Advisory Council. I was barely 30 years old straight out of grad school and being asked to either provide advice, or worse, actually make major decisions on how to run a university I barely knew from the inside. I thought it was a great honor to be entrusted with that power and responsibility. Then reality sank in.

It was difficult. Overwhelming. I had wanted to quit. Several times. You had to understand that this was before the UP Charter change that ushered in the new salary rates that UP faculty enjoy today. Had I not been single and living with my dad, I’d never live a life I wanted on my own with that salary. The administrative work that was the source of huge amounts of stress provided a monthly honorarium that would not even be enough to pay for a day of confinement in the hospital when I eventually broke down due to stress.

It just wasn’t worth it. I had found a passion for teaching. But I could barely live with the other responsibilities that were tied in with being a teacher at UPOU. This negativity was compounded by the realization that even though I did as much work as the other mid-level managers, I did not receive the same benefits they had. For a time, I regarded myself as the lowest paid IT manager in the country.

Two years into the job, I finally said to myself I have had enough. It was also not helping that I was struggling to move on from a failed long-term relationship. So, I built the nerve to walk into the Chancellor’s office to ask that I be allowed me to resign. At the very least I was going to negotiate that I be relieved of my administrative duties that had helped destroy my self-confidence and brought me on the brink of depression, neither of which anybody really knew about.

I barely held it together in front of her as I tried to plead my case. Although I managed to not break down crying, I almost couldn’t talk anymore and felt a tear could fall any moment.  It didn’t, but that moment of transparency was not lost to the Chancellor, who almost cried herself (yes, that’s how she is). But she didn’t let me resign. Yes, on paper, she did cut my administrative load in half. But in practice, I still ended up keeping most of my original responsibilities. There was, however, something more profound that happened for me that day.

The Chancellor believed in me, even at a time when I didn’t believe in myself. That meant everything. I was dissuaded from quitting. So, with that no longer an option, I focused on finding ways to stay without burning myself out and running myself to the ground. Even though my desire to work at UPOU wavered, I had become intensely loyal to the person who ran it. Validating her faith became my mission. But not too much, I guess. I was still pissed about the lack of compensation.

I would like to believe that I had started to achieve that validation in 2013, when she asked me to run my newly re-christened office formally as Director, with all the benefits befitting the position. I was a little surprised. I can imagine that she didn’t have a lot of options back in 2007. But it wasn’t the case anymore at that time and I was getting ready to give way to whoever becomes the lucky guy or girl that receives the perks of being a Director that I had wanted for myself. I even told her as much. She already had younger and brighter people to work with. Then she asked me that question.

Who?

Oh, I had at least three names I can give off the top of my head. But I stopped short of mentioning any, just as she probably knew I would. They were just that — young and bright… and green. Perhaps even more so than I was when I started. If I were to recommend one of them, I’d sentence him or her to the same thing I went through for the past six years. It felt like she was giving me a test of character. Or perhaps she just knew exactly how to corner me. After all, there is a good reason why it’s damned near impossible to say no to Grace Alfonso. She was also on her third and final term as Chancellor. I think she would largely prefer to stick with battle-tested people which she had built trust with. This belief made this request an honor for me. So, of course, I accepted. I still didn’t like the job. But aside from the familiarity over it, I was already stronger, thicker-skinned and perhaps most importantly, had the maturity for it (barely). The perks were just icing on the cake. The real reward was that sense of self-validation that took a long time to earn.

 

Ma'am Gigi had a profound effect in both my professional and personal life. It makes me wonder how differently my life would have been (or if my son would even have existed at all), had she not make me stay at UPOU.

Ma’am Gigi had a profound effect in both my professional and personal life. It makes me wonder how differently my life would have been (or if my son would even have existed at all), had she not make me stay at UPOU.

 

Ma’am Gigi turned her responsibilities over as Chancellor earlier today. My own appointment expires a few months from now. On two separate instances, I hugged her and said thank you. But I don’t think those two words muttered twice would be remotely enough in making her realize just how much I owe her and how much I appreciate her faith in me and how I cannot imagine how my life would be right now had she not let FICS take a chance on me and more importantly, if she had let me quit that day in her office.

Visa Application: United Kingdom

As I write this, I still may or may not make this trip to London which I had been thinking about for the past month. But it didn’t stop me from applying for a visa despite the cost, anyway.

Applying for a visa is always a stressful undertaking for me, as it may be for many of you. I believe I have already earned the credentials to go to just about wherever I want and be allowed to do so. Being an academic makes things even easier. But still, the thought of someone you don’t know judging as to whether or not you are worthy of entering another country kind of affects my self-esteem. Even more stressful is having to compile all the documents required of you and have those closely examined. Applying for a Schengen visa is just that.

However, the UK visa application process outwardly looked more similar to the US visa application as far as requirements are concerned — an exhaustive application form, a rather high application/processing fee and a suspiciously short list of required supporting documents. After all, being used to going through the eye of a needle with Schengen visa applications, I can’t help but think that what if they suddenly ask for something I did not bring with me and all that shit.

So, I searched the Web for all the instructions and pointers I could fine. Aside from the information from the UK Embassy’s own website, I came across Wanderlass’s blog, which I found to be helpful and encouraging. I will now attempt to fill in whatever blanks her blog left and updates to what she laid out (the blog was written back in 2011) which I think might prove useful for everyone.

Everything starts with the online application form. It is long — perhaps longer than the US Embassy’s DS160. It requires information whose relevance you might question. For example, I can’t for the life of me, understand why a savings accounts’ income (interest rate for the rest of us) be more relevant than the actual balance. But I filled it, anyway (which turns out to be close to nothing).

After taking a few days to gradually fill that form, I finally submitted it, and set my appointment for the biometric scan and whatever interview that may arise. This was back in February 10, 2016. The good news is that I had the option to schedule my appointment for as early as February 12, and that’s exactly what I did. I chose to be processed at 8:10AM and then paid US$128 by credit card. Then I waited.

The UK Embassy doesn’t deal with applicants directly. Instead, a third party, VFS Global along Chino Roces Ave. extension at Makati, does it for them. Apparently, they process visas for many other countries, including Australia and some Schengen states, which I found surprising. Maybe I can experience applying for one through them next time. But at the time, I was focused on my immediate need.

I was there early and relaxed a bit. I fell in line exactly at 8:10AM. Then I realized that bags are not allowed beyond the waiting area. It would have been nice to know that prior to my going there. The good news is that VFS Global offers a locker service. The not so good news is that it will cost you P150.

Coming in to the processing area, I was surprised to see a largely vacant seat of benches, especially when you’re accounting for all the countries they represent. This was no US embassy, that’s for sure. I have barely started filling the checklist the receptionist gave me when my number was called. I took a deep breath, assuming that if there was going to be an interview, it would be then and there. I was expecting to have to answer questions of why I did not carry this or that supporting document. Instead, the young man at the counter asked me:

Man: Is this all that your going to submit?
Me: Well, is there anything else I need to submit?
Man: That’s up to you, sir.
Me: Uh… ok. If that’s the case, that’s all of them.

I mostly felt relieved, but not completely, lol. I submitted a certificate of employment, a bank statement, information on the conference I was planning on attending and a hotel reservation confirmation. I thought it was enough, but I can never really know and that would be totally on me. Well played, VFS Global.

I was then asked if I would prefer my passport to be sent back to me via courier and be sent notifications via SMS. I quickly said yes to both, and then got surprised when I looked down at his counter. I saw that the return delivery cost P500 and the SMS notification cost P150. Wow. I was beginning to realize how lucrative a business VFS Global has going. Then again, it is hardly my concern. I just wanted to get this over with.

I waited for a bit to have my picture taken and fingerprints scanned. Then I was done. I fell in line on time at 8:10AM and was out of the building before 9:00AM.

I was told to wait three weeks. But I knew full well that it was a safe and conservative estimate. I was confident that this will not take long in my case. My guess my application will be processed within two weeks. But on February 17, I received my SMS notification that my application has been processed. My passport was delivered back to me the following day. That was six days from my personal appearance at VFS Global to my passport being delivered back to me. Even my original supporting documents along with the passport were returned to me.

This application is on the costly side, but it was quick and smooth. Not bad at all.

 

 

 

 

Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

Nasaan Ka Kaya? – the first product of the UPOU Soundtrack Project

By now, you’ve probably heard of Mix 3 for the song Nasan Ka Kaya. In case you’re still not familiar with it, this song was written by one of the BAMS students, Bem Favorito.

 

Now, Bem was kind enough to let us use his songs for what we’re currently dubbing as the UPOU Soundtrack Project.  Nasan Ka Kaya was chosen as the first guinea pig, so to speak. I grew up in the 1990s and it was probably the time when I listened to music the most. When I first listened to Bem’s demo, I was immediately reminded of the sensibilities, as well as recording qualities of rock and indie bands of that era. It was imperative that we capture some of that vibe for this song.

Three people have directly contributed to the production of this song. Bem is based in Metro Manila and recorded the vocal track. JM Agbayani played and recorded her bass guitar from the other side of the world in Dubai. I provided a basic backing track for them to follow and record with. And then they sent their recorded track to me online. I live near UPOU Headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna and I recorded the electric and acoustic guitar parts of this mix.

Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

So, above is the main window of REAPER 5, the DAW software I used, or rather, am using for my audio production work. I am going to break this mix down, which I hope can give you a better understanding of how we went from Bem’s old demo to this mix.

As you can already see, the whole thing looks complicated for a relatively simple song that can be played by a three- or four-piece rock band with relative ease. It is complicated in the sense that the closer you get to the sound that you like, the difficulty in finally making it there increases. But you really don’t have to work that hard or have an extremely high level of proficiency to get something to sound decent. I would also like to say that I do not consider myself an expert in this line of work, nor do I believe that my way is the only way to get this mix to sound good. But I will say that I am happy with this whole learning experience and that while I believe there will always be room for improvement here, I can live with what I have here now.

 

Drums

Recording drums is one of those things that intimidate me in this project because I’ve never done it before. But I do look forward to learning how to do it. Unfortunately, as of this video clip, we still haven’t had the opportunity to do so. That is why we had to make do with a virtual instrument, at least for now.

I used a software plugin called EZDrummer 2. As the name implies, it is an easy-to-use virtual drum software, with a large library of MIDI-based loops and actual drum recordings. Creating a drum track for the entire song was largely just a drag and drop affair. I used stock loops, except in parts of the chorus where the snare, kick and cymbals are hit in unison with the guitars and bass.

 

This is very much usable. But I would like to point out that I look at EZDrummer more as a songwriting tool than an all-around replacement for a real drummer. I would still very much rather have live acoustic drums in the mix. Hopefully we’ll still have the opportunity to record that.

 

 

Bass Guitar

Just like the drums, I had a MIDI Bass Track prepared for this song. I was already resigned to the proposition that it will be as far as we will go for this song. That is why I was so happy that JM came forward and volunteered to play bass for us. She had an actual bass guitar and a USB interface. She even elected to use Reaper for the first time. All these were fortunate on my part. I asked her to send me a dry or effects-free recording. This is important because it makes thing more convenient for me while mixing. Applying effects would be easier and more predictable. And cleaning up any noise or unwanted artifacts would be less complicated.

 

While it needed some more work, the dry track sounded surprisingly good. It would probably be ok if I just left it as is. But I eventually decided that I wanted it to sound like it was being played through a bass guitar amplifier. I also wanted to reduce the faint noise that was audible when the bass track played alone. But I didn’t need to be too aggressive with the editing, because any noise in the bass track was adequately masked by the other tracks.

 

Acoustic Guitar

This is where things start to get a little fancier… well, despite outward appearances.

In a previous mix, I used an electric guitar with a synth pickup to simulate an acoustic guitar sound. It’s fine for live work, but I wasn’t particularly happy with how it sounded. So, I opted to just record this part again, but with a real acoustic guitar. This entailed a few matters that needed attending.

The reason why I first used a guitar synth was to not worry about acoustic considerations. Like everyone else in the project, I don’t have a professional grade audio studio at home. I can hear just about any noise outside or inside. I also don’t have a room with honest to goodness acoustic treatment. What I do have is some space in the middle of my house which I haven’t gotten to cleaning up. It worked out surprisingly well. In fact, I hadn’t noticed that it was lightly raining while I was recording until I took off my headphones. Luckily, the sound of the rain wasn’t picked up.

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My makeshift recording room

 

I had a cardioid condenser mic aimed at or near the 12th fret of my guitar at about 12 inches away. This was my intended main acoustic guitar sound. But since my guitar had a built-in pickup, I thought that I might as well, make use of it. So, I recorded the same performance with two sound sources. It turned out to be a good idea.

 

The sound from the microphone isn’t bad by itself, as you can hear. But to me, it sounded like it was a little short on bite.

As for the pickup sound, well… it sounds different. It’s also good, but is not as mellow as the mic’d sound.

I probably wouldn’t want to use it by itself for recording. But when you blend it with the microphone recording, you can get something different, and dare I say, better. They mutually make up for each other’s weaknesses.

 

Electric Guitars

These are probably the set of tracks which I put the most thought over. And yes, it does have something to do with these being my part. Most people will hear the electric guitars as if it were just one, or maybe two instruments. It’s not that simple, and I’ll show you why.

I plugged in my guitar directly through my interface and used the same software I used for the bass to simulate a guitar amplifier’s sound. I could have mic’ed a real guitar amplifier – I actually have a real version of the simulated amp that I used. But I decided against it. I didn’t want to deal with the acoustics of my work area. Of course, if it didn’t sound good to me, I would have opted to use a microphone like I did with the acoustic guitar. But BIAS FX, the software I used, made things so much easier for me. More importantly, given the circumstances, I doubt I could have gotten a better sound within the same time span.

 

The thing that helps keep the song together is the rhythm guitar track, which doubles the acoustic guitar, creating a thicker sound. But at the same time, I didn’t want it to dominate the mix, so it wasn’t really that much louder than the acoustic guitar here.

The lead guitar is also a straightforward affair. It’s nearly as loud as the vocals, and with a bit more distortion applied. The melodies themselves… well, they’re not what I would normally like to play, but they do work well for the sound and feel that Bem wanted for this song. He seemed to agree, so I kept them all.

 

I simply repeated the verse vocal melodies for the guitar solo spot, but to keep things from being too monotonous, I recorded a third guitar track to provide some harmonies. Then I added a fourth electric guitar track in the background to build up the song towards the climax at the final chorus. As far as keeping the 90s indie feel went, this was the part where I veered away from it the most. They didn’t do much ambient guitar stuff back then. But I still think it works well with the song. At the very least no one’s complaining about it, so it hasn’t been taken out.

 

Vocals

Whenever there is singing, it will almost always be the main focus of a song. That goes for just about any music genre out there and it is difficult to find exceptions. And no, this song is no exception either.

That is the point of working on mixing in the vocal track last. With the accompanying tracks close to being set, Bem sent me his recording. My job was to lay it down front and center and adjust the rest.

The dry vocal track itself needed work. But at the same time, I didn’t want to completely lose its rawness. So, I employed a technique I learned called parallel processing. It’s where I leave the dry vocal track pretty much as is, and then I send the same signal to a new track where I apply all the effects I wanted. And then like with the acoustic guitars, I had the option to easily blend the two tracks together until I get a sound that I want.

 

As far as effects were concerned, I used a plugin called IzoTope Nectar Elements. It’s a stripped down version of IzoTope’s more professional, and yes, more expensive line of effects plugins. But it has all the basic things I needed for the vocals. I started off with Nectar Elements’ Indie Warm and Dry preset. It essentially adds a little bit of reverb and then sets the EQ as a high pass filter. I further tweaked it by amplifying the signal and adding a bit more high end.

 

Panning

I kept panning simple for this mix. Since the bass guitar and vocals work on different areas of the frequency spectrum, it’s ok to keep them both at center. Lead guitars were also at center. It should also be fine because even if it lies relatively close to the vocals in terms of frequencies, they almost never play at the same time, anyway. Acoustic guitars are slightly panned to the left, while the electric rhythm guitar is equally panned to the right. The guitar fill heard at the final chorus actually doesn’t stay in place. I’ll explain that next.

 

Automation

Automation in DAWs is something you might not know about. I don’t know if it will ever be talked about in MMS 172, but I certainly don’t remember touching on it last time. But it is possible to tweak just about any parameter in the mix while the song is playing. And you can set the DAW to do it for you and by how much.

For this song, my automations made subtle changes, but I do think they make a big enough difference. The most obvious one is with the guitar fill where I played a bunch of natural harmonics in the last chorus. I laid down this track to add just a bit of ambience to the chorus and make it sound bigger. I certainly didn’t want it to muddy up the mix. So, rather than let it sit in one place along the stereo spectrum, I thought it would be cool for the harmonics to pan from left to center and then right to center.

 

Another part, or rather, the other parts where I do it are during the choruses where I temporarily raise the volume of the rhythm electric guitar track just before the vocals go nasan ka kaya…. and anong ginagawa to emphasize the downstrokes of all the guitars with respect to the rhythm.

 

Final Words

A great deal of my work here dealt with the faders to set the volumes for each track. It may have contributed to my seemingly endless series of tweaks, but I followed no definite rules for this. The important thing for me is that, in the end, all the tracks have to be audible in a manner that are good to my ears, and none of the volume meters should go red.

The 1990s indie vibe is definitely there. I started asking other people to listen to the song. Every time somebody mentions The Eraserheads, I know that the mix worked (though such a remark may have to do with Bem’s vocals more than anything else). Still, there are other influences and aspects that shine through the mix, which I’m particularly happy with, such as the 70s-ish guitar sound and harmonies, as well as a little bit of ambient effects – my personal little imprint on the song.

It is demanding part-time work. But I do enjoy doing creative projects with colleagues and students. I hope this song will only be the first of many to come.

 

 

 

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DIY Project: Acoustic Panel/Blank Canvas

Setting up my home office has so proven to be more costly and work intensive than I had first imagined. I took for granted the fact that furnishing it does not end with a good-sized desk, a small steel cabinet and a few shelves. But everything that I have done so far has been fun and fulfilling. And I would like to share one of my favorite projects, so far.

Since I was also going to dabble into audio production (both as a hobby and part of my work), I was going to need to deal with the acoustics of the room. Doing it the proper way by installing fixtures that can absorb and diffuse reflections is an expensive proposition, which I am still not willing to get into, or at least not for now. However, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t experiment a little bit, learn how to deal with acoustics and decorate while I’m at it.

I wanted two relatively small panels which I can move around the house or even put together as a makeshift sound booth, if necessary. After a bit of thinking, I got myself two pieces of 1”x2”x10’ framing wood. Each plank was cut to four pieces to build a 36”x24” frame. Rummaging through my dad’s old stuff, I found a mitre clamp which I found extremely useful in putting frames together, helping me ensure the pieces of wood are perpendicular to each other. I wish I had at least four of these. It’s also a great means to compensate for my poor sawing skills.


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I don’t like using nails, so I opted to use woodscrews instead, which also involved some pre-drilling. I even installed brackets along the corners. It’s likely to be overkill, but I’d rather be safe about this since I’ll be experimenting with different insulation material as time goes by.  It’ll also help in keeping the frame in shape.

 

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I had intended my panels to serve two purposes – sound absorption and decoration. The first thing that came to my mind was canvas, so that’s what I looked for and bought. National Bookstore sells them pre-cut to less than a square meter for nearly P100. However, my local fabric store sells them at P85 per yard. A single yard is actually cheaper and bigger than the one sold at NBS, and you can get much larger cuts. So, I bought some and cut a portion to fit my panel. It was then I realized that I didn’t know how to properly stretch canvas over a frame. Luckily, I did figure out a way. And it is here where this project’s most essential tool comes in. I managed to do a decent job stretching the canvas and fastening it with a staple gun. Every household should have one.

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I first experimented with old clothes to use as insulation to stuff the back of the panel. But while window-shopping at the nearest HMR branch, I found used 60cmx60cm gypsum tiles selling for P90 in HMR for a batch of five pieces. I just had to buy some. They’re dusty to work with, but should be fine when kept dry and contained properly. Having them behind a frame affixed to a wall ought to be proper enough.  They also make for bona fide sound absorption material.

 

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Had I chosen a different fabric, the project would have already been done at this stage. But I did choose canvas for a reason.

 

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My baby boy’s recent exploits in the playgroup his mom takes him to on weekends inspired me to turn this into a family project. I realized that his work or if you want to put things into perspective, random splashes of watercolor on paper will fade or get lost sooner or later. I wanted something more permanent. So, I had my wife prime the canvas with white latex paint and prep Aidan to work on his first big work of art.

 

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This part turned out to have taken the longest time. My wife did what she could to guide the boy, but what can you expect from someone who’s barely more than a year old, short attention span and all? So, while I was excited about the result, there was no pressure on my part. And whatever turns out will look great to me, no matter what. And look great it did!

 

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As of this writing, the second panel I built remains blank. I might decide to attach a different fabric on it, but it can wait. Besides, the wife might decide she wants to paint on it herself. But the first one is finally done and proudly hanging on my wall.

 

 

 

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New guitar: to where the dreaming began…

I remember the time my parents took me to the mall to buy my first electric guitar. It was the old Park Square 1 in Makati around 1993. There were like four music stores there at the time. But it was in JB Music where my eyes got fixated to this guitar sitting on a shelf on its own. It was my first glimpse of a white American-made Fender Stratocaster. It’s difficult to recall what it was, exactly since I hardly knew anything about all the Fender models back then. I wasn’t able to look at it closely either, as it was off-limits to all but the most serious buyer — you couldn’t just test it (which, come to think of it now, was quite douchey of JB Music). But to the best of my recollection, it was either an American Standard or a Richie Sambora model. I don’t remember how much it was being sold for either, but it was definitely way out of reach as far as I was concerned. I was wowed and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. However, my feet were still firmly on the ground and understood full well that I, or more specifically, my parents, would not be able to afford something like that. If I recall correctly, I ended up not buying anything at the time and eventually got some bad Kramer copy from Raon. Still, as we went back home, my mom had the heart to tell me, anak, ang mahal, pero makakabili din tayo niyan (son, it’s expensive, but someday we’ll be able to buy one like that for you)…. She said that lots of times to me throughout her life. She didn’t always deliver, of course. But the promises never really got old and I love her for it.

While I have fond memories of those very first trips to the music stores with my parents, I never thought much about the Strat again. I mean, I did my best to avoid Strats at the beginning. I just thought it was ordinary and uncool. But when that phase was over, I realized that a Strat was exactly what I wanted and that holds true to this day. And so I went through a few of them over the years.

Last year, I thought my guitar purchasing days would be coming to a stop for a while. We were expecting a baby and I was worried by how much will my expenses pile up. I wasn’t doing too badly, but at the same time, the money wasn’t exactly pouring down on me like a waterfall. The luxuries had to be put on hold, and that included guitar gear. The abstinence was short-lived, though. A month before my son was born, Yupangco, the local Fender dealer, announced what would probably be one of their most awesome promos ever. Suddenly, it was going to be possible to buy two new American Standard Fender guitars for roughly 70,000 Pesos. That’s less than the regular price for one of these things — it was practically a buy-one-take-one deal. Even though I resisted at first, I eventually caved in and made the trip to their showroom. Of course, my financial status never ended up being in danger. My wife bore a healthy baby boy without complications. But I really had no way of knowing at the time.

I had already decided that I was going for a Strat with a rosewood board and a Tele with an all-maple neck. The Tele was going to be easy because there weren’t a lot of choices left as far as Teles went. The Strat, however, was going to be tougher. A far as colors went, I was still undecided. When I finally made it to the display cases, I found it — 2012 model Olympic white Stratocaster. It was the first one I tested and I did so for a while. I already wanted it, but I thought that since I was already there, I might as well go through some more of the guitars. There were the ones in black, sunburst, red and that cool Mystic Blue. I even tried another white Strat, but with a maple board (which I would find out was actually the one reserved for me). All in all, I went through at least eight copies. They all pretty much sounded the same. But there was something about the first one I tried. Maybe it was because it was the only one on display whose bridge wasn’t set to float or the one with the least fret buzz. Or maybe it was because of the fretboard which somehow looked different than everything else*. Whatever the reasons, I eventually went back to that white one I tested first.

It wasn’t until I unpacked the guitars at home when I suddenly recalled the childhood memory I wrote about at the beginning of this blog. I realized that my mom’s musing just came true. Perhaps not exactly as what either of us had in mind, but it was reminiscent enough as to make me remember. A white Fender American Standard Stratocaster finally made it to me. And a happy New Guitar(s) Day it was.

Fender guitars

Mom, wherever you are now, I’d like you to know… I finally got it!

 

* As it turned out, it really was different. Jun Castro confirmed that, instead of the usual Indian Rosewood, the board was actually made of Pau Ferro, which Fender only uses on some signature and custom shop models. Never had I seen it on a mass production model. This was definitely a special buy.

 

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Pau ferro fretboard

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The philosophy of the pig

Last week, I had a brief conversation with one of my former teachers in UP Los Baños, Dr. Pidz Agbisit, who is now the Director for the Animal and Dairy Sciences Cluster in the College of Agriculture. We were having a little discussion on some opportunities for collaboration. We’ll see where that leads to in the coming months. I don’t get to spend much time with people from my college days anymore, but it’s always interesting when I do.

Pidz is someone who I have always looked up to, both as a former mentor and as a senior brod in the UP Animal Science Society. Some of the little things I do in my online classes were adapted from my experiences as his student. Not being able to apply much of what I learned in college at work, this, to my estimation, was my most important take-away from him.

I am reminded of one of his lectures in Swine Production class. He talked about a certain behavior observed among pigs. I don’t know if he actually tells it this way, but this is how I remember it:

Let’s say you have a swinehouse with 100 pens and at full capacity and all 100 pigs are just standing or lying around quietly minding their own business. Now, go inside and feed one pig. It doesn’t matter which one. You can even feed the one on at the farthest corner of the house. When you do, it will not take long before all the other 99 pigs would rise up and LOUDLY squeal in anticipation. It would be as if all these 99 other pigs rose in protest of the injustice of them being left out, demanding to be fed immediately. The noise will not settle down until each and every pig is fed.

That is what Pidz called the philosophy of the pig.

I’ve forgotten all but four of the swine breeds commonly raised for production. I don’t know how to how conduct a feasibility study for swine production anymore, at least not without studying it again. Feed formulation? Right now, even the basics are out of the question. But the the philosophy of the pig… it wasn’t really part of any of his syllabus, nor did he include it in the exams. And yet, it is what I have continued to hold on to even after nearly twenty years.

I wonder why?

 

 

* feature image credit goes to Dr. Orville Bondoc and his book, DNA BARCODING: Livestock and Poultry Breeds and Strains: Going beyond taxonomic classifications.

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RIP: Jerico Tolentino

Last night, I received unexpected and unpleasant news which stirred a lot of memories and emotions. I was supposed to write about the UP Academic Leadership Conference that I just came home from. But this news prompted me to write something different, instead.

 

October 2007 – I was probably within my first week on the job at UPOU. I couldn’t access my MyPortal account and found the helpdesk completely unresponsive. I wasn’t aware that the person manning the online helpdesk had just resigned. I then sought the help of Ems, the administrative officer for the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies who promptly called someone and got him to talk to me and give me access I desperately needed.

That was my first interaction with someone whom I would eventually supervise for the next three years.

Along with Joshua Ebarvia in the former Management Information Systems Office, UPOU has Jerico Tolentino to thank in playing a key role in keeping the university’s decaying network infrastructure afloat. Jerico and Joshua came in at an unfairly difficult time in UPOU. My predecessor was on his way out and there was no clear plan for moving forward. I wasn’t much help early on in my taking over because I could barely make sense of anything that was happening.

We were a small team of three and at the time, we were among the youngest staff members of UPOU. And while it was almost never explicit, there was never a lack of things that reminded us of that fact. But at the same time, we understood that borderline radical changes were necessary in order to effect the improvements in UPOU’s infrastructure that management expected. These were changes which would not sit well with a number of people. That, in turn, meant our office did not sit well with them either. While Joshua was relatively pliable, Jerico can be one cold, uncompromising S.O.B. And I mean that in a good way, because I believed that there were times when it was the mindset required for us to be able to do our jobs. I don’t know how much of this he actually knew or even appreciated, but it was because of this belief that I spent a LOT of time in front of my superiors having to defend him and explain our side of the story whenever some complaint arose. It was my most important but least pleasant job as head of the office — shield my team as they do their jobs with as little interference as possible.

Again, unlike Joshua who I consider a close friend to this day, I had a bit of an unstable personal relationship with Jerico. There were times when we could confide with each other with matters beyond work. I am close with the person who would eventually be his wife. On the other hand, he had this barrier or attitude around him which I never really figured out. Things came to a head between us because of how he left UPOU. It got bad enough that even my relationship with his wife got soured. I never got the chance to speak to Jerico in person again, but in time, when I found myself in speaking terms again with Iyen, I took it as a sign that things were ok. There never really was no animosity on my part to begin with, anyway.

Whatever non-positive aspect there was in Jerico’s personal relationship with Joshua and myself, there is no way it could overshadow everything else. The three of us had a pact – no matter what happened in the office, we would always have each other’s backs. When one of us screws up, the other two would cover and make up for it. I gave us three years. If within those three years it got really bad, all of us would resign together. And we almost did – twice! Somewhere under my junk would probably be my signed resignation letter. They never made it to the Chancellor, though. The Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration deftly intercepted my attempt to submit it and defused whatever emotions the three of us were on, pulling up what was probably the lowest morale I had ever experienced as a staff member. I do believe we had a considerable amount of will to endure, but in those moments when it proved insufficient, we had our boss to catch us. I will always be thankful to her for that. None of us ended up leaving during that crucial formative period.

For Jerico’s part, I will always credit him for a number of milestones. Aside from the number of applications he developed for UPOU, he should be acknowledged as the person responsible for UPOU adopting Google Apps. I imagine it might be hard for the newer constituents to appreciate now, but this was a game-changer for us. UPOU email accounts were suddenly available again. It also helped in making the upou.edu.ph domain safe to use again. He helped me find a better means of running the ever problematic MyPortal. The difference made be moving the learning management system from an old in-house server to a Moodle Partner’s data center was like night and day. I also recruited him as a lecturer in the Diploma in Computer Science program right after he graduated from it. He still is one of the most reliable lecturers I have ever had the privilege of working with. With the whole MISO team teaching in DCS, the program was at its most efficient. To say the least, unlike with the rest of UPOU, hardly any DCS student complained about late grades.

It was around 2010 when, despite the fact that there were still a lot of things that need fixing, I felt that we had already established a general direction for IT development in UPOU. Unfortunately, our little victory took a huge toll. We were all burned out and it had felt like we had worn out our welcome amongst colleagues. A change was imminent and this time, we had no intention of fighting it anymore. Unsurprisingly, Jerico was the first to go. Joshua followed suit a year after. Even I was starting to make plans in the event of my own departure. Breaking up the band was bittersweet for me, but as I had suspected, it eventually turned out to be for the better. Both of them successfully found their greener pastures and eventually found the careers they deserve overseas. They, in turn, were replaced by people whom I would say are better suited to the dynamic among UPOU staff. However, to this day, I always make it a point to credit them where credit is due. I owe them that.

I was content that things had gone well for all of us…. until last night.

I had received word that Jerico, my former colleague and comrade-in-arms, passed away. He was too young. But what made this particularly saddening for me is that he had just signed up for what I would guess is a lucrative contract to work in Germany. His wife and baby girl were preparing to follow him there. That sounded like a promising future for the family, as far as I could tell. But now, this…

I am not a religious man and cannot come up with a comforting Bible quote or a faith-based reason to explain this with conviction. But what I do know is that no matter how bleak this looks for Jerico’s grieving family, I have no doubt that at some point, hopefully sooner than later, he would want them to survive this tragic setback, get back up and move forward. It isn’t going to be easy. But I have no doubt that they will.

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Visa Application: United States of America (2013)

I previously wrote about how I did not look forward to having my passport renewed. I did so, anyway, and much earlier than I expected. Here’s why.

I got scheduled for a trip to the US, but it fell within six months before my passport’s expiration. I might not be allowed to travel when I go to what is perhaps one of the things I looked forward to the least — falling in line to apply for a visa at the US Embassy in Manila.

I’ve already applied for other visas and would not hesitate to reapply given the need. But I’ve always thought it wouldn’t be a loss nor would I ever feel unfulfilled if I end up never setting foot anywhere in the US. (Un)fortunately, an good opportunity to do so arose. It was hard to pass up. So, yes, I had my passport renewed early just for this.

August 22 — The first stage of the process was strange. The online application consisted mainly of the DS-160 — easily the most exhaustive visa application form I’d ever seen so far (it’s worth seven pages when you print it). It took me a while to finish. The first dilemma came when I had to declare whether or not I had been to the US in the past. I’d make it easier for myself and say no, but that wouldn’t be true. I was barely a year old and hardly remember anything from that time, but my family lived in Indiana for a while when my dad was taking his PhD. I didn’t want to be accused of lying in case they actually still have my old visa on record. The problem was I had very little idea how long I stayed exactly. I had to ask my dad, who didn’t remember either. It was a good thing he didn’t throw my old passport away. I had to dig deep into the old documents in storage, but I found it. When I checked, the visa was so old it didn’t have the 10 digit number that is standard today. The DS160 did not accept the number, anyway. It felt like a waste of time, but I figure I’d just bring the old passport with me at the embassy, just in case.

My first US Visa.

My first US Visa.

With the DS-160 finally accomplished and confirmed, the next thing to do was pay for the processing fee. A hundred and sixty US Dollars is steep, but what choice do I have, no? I opted to pay online. I love BPI’s online banking, but payment does not register immediately in the embassy’s system. I was worried, as I was paying in the midst of a typhoon and there was an upcoming holiday. One banking day may as well be one week in reality.

What made this bad news was the set of appointment dates that were available to me. According to the system, the earliest date for an appointment was October 18. I had to fly on the 19th. I promptly told my colleagues they may have to travel without me. Still, I was advised to keep checking. While I felt like it was fine if I wasn’t going to be able to go, I did check regularly. It surprisingly paid off. By August 29, new appointment slots suddenly opened for September 5 and 6. I got myself signed up for the 6th at 6:30AM

September 6 — The drive from Los Baños to Manila was quick, as expected, being so early. I made it outside the premises and found a parking slot nearby across Roxas Boulevard at 6:00AM. By the parking lot and around the overpass, there were lots of vendors, selling pens and offering storage of electronic devices. Even USB flash drives weren’t allowed in the embassy. But I already knew that. I made sure my bag only contained my documents, a notebook and two pens. Everything else, I left in the car.

The lines were already long, by the time I joined it. It was thankfully still cool and it wasn’t raining. I can only imagine how much worse it is for those who have to endure both conditions later in the day. Fortunately for everyone, the queue moved at a quick pace. Soon enough, I was ushered inside the building. The queue was unsurprisingly long, filling a large area to capacity. But I have to commend the personnel at the embassy for their efficiency and ability to keep things in order.

The application itself is a three-stage process that involves getting a biometric scan, verifying your documents and the actual interview. The online application stage explicitly states that I do not bring any other additional documents that is not mentioned in their checklist. It even said not to print the DS-160. I did so, anyway (in typical Filipino segurista fashion). Needless to say, that was a waste of paper and printer ink.

It was during the verification step that I asked if my going to the US as a baby count. I showed the old passport to the person going over my stuff. I don’t remember getting a clear answer from her. She barely looked at it and told me it’s ok or something.

The final stage involved the interview conducted by Americans. As I waited, I couldn’t help but observe the row of windows manned by the interview officers. Each one handled interviews differently. Among those that I could see, there was a dour older guy, a no-nonsense guy that probably wasn’t that much older than me, and there was the affable lady that was all-smiles. I ended up in front of a no-nonsense guy.  The interview went something like this:

Officer: How are you today?
Me: A little anxious, to be honest…
Officer: What do you do?
Me: I teach at the University of the Philippines
Officer: What’ll you be going for? (I couldn’t hear him clearly.)
Me: … I’m sorry?
Officer: Where’ll you be going?
Me: Oh, I’ll be attending a conference in Las Vegas.
Officer: What’s it about?
Me: It’s a conference on e-Learning.
Officer: How long will you be there?
Me: Two or three days, then I’ll head to San Francisco for four days, if I can.
Officer: [Looks over my documents one last time, and then…] Ok, we’ll just send your passport back to you after a week or so… Good day.

That was quick…

I wrote down the times. I was led inside the embassy at 6:18AM. I got out at 8:07AM. By 8:30AM, I was enjoying a mug of coffee at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop across the street. The anxiety was gone.

I received my passport with a 10-year multiple entry B1/B2 US visa within five days. Everything eventually went as planned. It’s going to be a while before I will have to go back in there to have my visa renewed. But when that time comes, I don’t think I will be anywhere as apprehensive as I was during this first application. It wasn’t the easiest process I’ve ever experienced, but it sure wasn’t nearly as hard as I first imagined.

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