30-day Challenge

Day 24 of 30 – Lessons I Learned From My Favorite High School Teachers

Not a lot of people know this but technically I went to two high schools. The first was Uno High School where I started kindergarten all the way to first year high school. The second was Philippine Academy of Sakya where my mom transferred me (and my brother) after I flunked my Chinese classes during first year. Yes, I flunked. Badly.

It wasn’t even because it was hard. More than anything I think I just got bored and just stopped putting in any effort. To give some context, Uno is known as a really strict school with a high standard of education. The strictness is borderline like a military school in that everyone is expected to follow the rules to the T. There was a lack of extracurricular activities as the focus was purely on academics.

My mom felt perhaps the setup wasn’t ideal anymore for me given that I was an honor student in kinder and grade school and my performance in school slipped as got to Grade 6 and 1st year. She decided to transfer me to her alma mater, Sakya. I wasn’t happy about this because coming from Uno, the perception was that Sakya was a lesser school (or pretty much all other schools for that matter given how much school pride was drilled into us ever since in Uno). I was embarrassed but deep down I knew it was my fault for failing. I remember arguing with my mom about not wanting to take the entrance exam in Sakya even right before I was about to take the exam. I actually thought about punting the exam but I think that would have been more embarrassing to say I also failed a basic entrance exam.

Long story short, I did end up going to Sakya, and despite my initial trepidation, I’m very grateful that my mom made that move for me (and my brother too who was more excited to join me in moving schools). The biggest adjustment was how the school wasn’t as strict as what I was used to in Uno. Talking to your classmates was allowed when there was no teacher yet in the classroom, which I never once experienced in Uno because there were cameras watching the classes with no teachers. Like I said, military-level strictness lol. And in my first week there alone, I witnessed more fights than in all my years in Uno. It was definitely a culture shock for me.

But what I immediately liked about Sakya was how more well-rounded the school was in terms of activities whether it was in sports or the arts. I thoroughly enjoyed being exposed to different sports outside of basketball like chess and volleyball, to excelling in spelling bees, to performing on stage whether in plays, interpretative dances, and even discovering that I can sing (a bit). It was really through my 3 years in Sakya that I learned more about myself. Also, given how bad I felt about flunking in Uno and how it went against what I thought of myself as a good student, I rediscovered the drive to excel in academics and graduated with honors.

In my 3 years there, I had two favorite teachers – my English teacher Mrs. Gusi and our THE/Drafting teacher Mr. Simpao.

From Mr. Simpao, I learned the value of taking pride in my work and the discipline to do things the right way. He had a couple of sayings he never got tired of drilling into us. “Love your work” and “Do it right the first time”. These words are forever etched into my brain even the way he said them in that laconic almost melodic tone that was his signature. His subject was probably the hardest because he was such a stickler for details and craftsmanship even for the most basic plates (as the drafting sheets were referred to). Each line is scrutinised even how clean (or dirty) the plate you submit was. He was not above tearing your submissions or dumping them in the trash (never mind how much you slaved over them) if he felt it was beneath his standards. He berated and forced all of us to level up our work to a standard that for sure felt like it was an impossible one to meet.

Watching J.K. Simmons’ character in the movie Whiplash actually reminded me of Mr. Simpao. And like Fletcher the movie character, I can see that Mr. Simpao simply wanted his students to hold themselves to a higher standard, to push us to do our best work because sometimes we also don’t know what we’re capable of. I was never the top student in that class as a handful in our batch were really amazing artists but I certainly put in the effort to excel as much as I can. My proudest moment was that in my senior year, one of my projects scored a 99 which he said was the highest grade he ever gave (impossibly high standards like I said). It was for a project where we needed to use vines in a creative way and I used it to make a “belen” with lights for Christmas. I still remember submitting it and how he even got teary-eyed for a bit while scrutinising it. My mom still uses it under the Christmas tree every year until now.

With Mrs. Gusi, she treated me almost like a son given that she was also the teacher of my uncles and aunts when they were in Sakya. It helped too that English was my strongest subject and that I had quickly dominated (pardon the blatant bragging lol) in spelling bees , writing contests and the like upon my transfer. Reading all those books when I was younger definitely came in handy for my vocabulary. During 3rd year, the school decided to send a representative to a Metro Manila wide speech contest and I was tapped to represent the school after winning the school speech contest.

But, during the preparation for this contest, I think Mrs. Gusi kinda saw I was mailing it in and not really taking the practice seriously. To be honest, I wasn’t too confident that I can compete and have a chance to win. I had built up the competition so much in my mind I was sort of sabotaging my preparation thinking there’s no chance anyway. In the last practice before the contest, Mrs. Gusi sent me home early but not before leaving a note in my speech sheets. She said that she has full confidence in me, that even if I pretend not to care or believe that I can do it, she knows that deep down I have the ability to do well if I only believe in myself. She ended the note by saying she knows I’ll do my best and that will be enough come the contest. It may sound weird but really up until that point in my life, no one has really said encouraging words like that to me, not even my parents. It certainly had the right effect on me as that night I took those words to heart and practiced my speech a couple more times with much more effort.

During the competition, the field was incredibly talented and well-prepared. With Mrs. Gusi’s words of inspiration, I took the stage and delivered the speech better than I imagined or practiced. I felt good about my chances but in the end I had to settle for 1st runner-up as the winner actually combined singing with his speech which was pretty good I must say. But, I still did it, I brought home a trophy to the school in a competition of almost 30 schools, I performed well enough to beat everyone except for one. It’s a lot more than I expected going in and it wouldn’t have been possible without Mrs. Gusi’s confidence in me.

Until now, I still value the impact they had in that critical juncture of my life, as I was going through adolescence and learning more about myself. In fact, at the tail end of senior year, when all the department heads (of which both of them were for their respective subjects) were deliberating on the honors, I was told by another teacher that no one argued more on my behalf than Mrs. Gusi and Mr. Simpao. Honestly, even if they didn’t do that and I didn’t make the cut to graduate with honors, the lessons they imparted have benefitted me more than an award ever could. And for that, I’m forever grateful to have been their student.

30-day Challenge

Day 23 of 30 – Quotes from Walt Disney

Walt Disney, a legendary name that will echo forever in the hearts and minds of kids, young and old, everywhere in the world. The founder and creator of countless beloved characters, stories, and movies, Disney lived a life that fully expressed his imagination and creativity. Despite the challenges he faced in pursuing his dreams (including bankruptcy at one point), he never wavered in making what was in his mind a reality. Because of this, generations of children have him to thank for the legacy he left behind.

Like Disney, I hang my hat on using creativity and imagination though I express it in creating brands and products rather than characters, movies and experiences like he did. I’ll always relate to the stories and struggles of creators as I go on my own journey and struggles. Below are some of his quotes that I’ve bookmarked through the years.

  1. If you can dream it, you can do it.
  2. All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.
  3. We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
  4. The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
  5. Somehow, I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.
  6. All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.
  7. A man should never neglect his family for business.
  8. I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.
  9. I do not like to repeat successes, I like to go on to other things.
  10. All you’ve got to do is own up to your ignorance honestly, and you’ll find people who are eager to fill your head with information.
  11. Do a good job. You don’t have to worry about the money; it will take care of itself. Just do your best work then try to trump it.
  12. A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.
30-day Challenge

Day 22 of 30 – A Song for Elian

A couple of weeks after Elian was born, while watching him sleep one afternoon, I discovered this song in Spotify that captured my feelings as a new father. It’s a song called Start a Riot by Banners, and it’s essentially about doing everything to protect, love and care for a loved one.

“Start A Riot”
I will march down an empty street like a ship into the storm
No surrender, no retreat
I will tear down every wall
Just to keep you warm
Just to bring you home
I will burn this city down for a diamond in the dust
I will keep you safe and sound when there’s no one left to trust
Will you take my hand?
We can make our stand

If your world falls apart
I’d start a riot
If night falls in your heart
I’d light the fire
In the dark, when you sound the alarm
We’ll find each other’s arms
For your love, all you are
I’d start a riot

I will wade through the fire and smoke like sunlight through the haze
I will fight till the flag waves white until my dying days
Through the bombs and blasts
We will take it back

If your world falls apart
I’d start a riot
If night falls in your heart
I’d light the fire
In the dark, when you sound the alarm
We’ll find each other’s arms
For your love, all you are
I’d start a riot

I’d start, I’d start a riot
I’d start, I’d start a riot
I’d start, I’d start a riot
I’d start, I’d start a riot

If your world falls apart
I’d start a riot

30-day Challenge

Day 21 of 30 – My Favorite Photo Ever

In 2 months, Elian will turn two years old. It’s been an amazing journey for both Ellen and I these past couple of years raising him. He’s given us incredible joy everyday and having him really makes everything we went through to have him worth it..

I still remember everything about that day he was born. It started the day before when we were scheduled to go to the hospital to prepare for Ellen to go into labor. We met with two of our best friends Camille and Maite in Morganfields in Uptown Mall for a celebratory dinner. We feasted on a huge platter of ribs, sausages, and so much more. We got to St. Lukes BGC at 730pm where they checked Ellen in. After an hour, they said she was starting to go into labor but that it might take a while since she wasn’t fully dilated yet.

In a couple of hours, the contractions were becoming too painful for her already so she was given an epidural dose to manage the pain. However, we didn’t expect that her labor will take more than a full day as things dragged on to the next day and night. There were several times when we were talking about maybe having the baby delivered caesarean especially from both of our moms who were worried that the pain might be unbearable for her already. Throughout the 9 months though, Ellen made it clear that she wanted to deliver the baby naturally and it was my duty when she went into labor to remind her of this. The only way she would be ok with caesarean was if the baby was in any danger which at that point was not the case. So for 25 hours I kept reminding her of this and she gamely managed through the pain.

Finally around 830pm Dr. Aguilar said it was go time and they wheeled Ellen to the operating room. I was very nervous, I didn’t know what to expect, my head was spinning. They suited me up and I was led to the operating room where they told me that taking videos is not allowed but pictures are ok. I took a couple of selfies while waiting. For the next half hour Ellen was pushing, while a couple of nurses were practically on top of her helping her push. It must have been about a dozen times that Doc tried pulling but wasn’t able to get Elian out. Ellen was just focused on pushing while I kept encouraging her even if I was anxious as hell. Then I secretly turned on the video once Doc said the baby was finally coming out. I wasn’t missing having a video for sure lol.

When Doc finally pulled him out and plopped Elian on Ellen’s tummy though, he wasn’t moving for about 5 seconds but it definitely felt like an eternity for both of us. I remember we both asked repeatedly, “Doc is he ok? Is he ok?”. Finally he let out a loud cry which was beautiful music to our ears. Tears were flowing from my eyes as I kissed Ellen. It was such a beautiful moment to see our baby being born and I’m so thankful to witness everything including how strong and brave my wife is. For someone who has a low pain threshold to endure everything she endured before and during the actual delivery. I will be eternally grateful to her.

I cut the cord while one nurse was telling me to look at the camera while another was telling me to look at the cord so the photos on my phone captured how confused I was at that moment as I kept looking back and forth lol. They cleaned him up, warmed him up, weighed him, and wrapped him up. The nurse carried him out with me to show our family. Before we reached our family, the nurse turned to me and asked if I would want to hold my baby. I was like FUCK YEAH OF COURSE! I thought she’d never ask lol.


So this photo (taken by my sister-in-law Ella. Thank you forever for capturing this perfect moment Ate!) is that exact moment I first held Elian in my arms, after all the pain and disappointments, after the joy of finding out Ellen was pregnant when we least expected it, after all the anxiousness and fear carried over from the previous miscarriage, after Ellen’s 25 hour labor, after everything, finally here he was, a beautiful miracle, our beautiful miracle. Ellen is a mother, and I, a father.

30-day Challenge

Day 20 of 30 – Why (and How) I Chose UA&P

Back when I was a senior in high school, I have to admit I was completely clueless about what I wanted to take up in college and even more so what I wanted to do or be after. If you’ve read my post about finding my purpose, you’ll know that this uncertainty extended beyond college. But anyway, the time came to apply for college and like my sister before me, my parents had me apply to 5 schools namely, UP (University of the Philippines), DLSU (De Lasalle University), Ateneo, UA&P (University of Asia and the Pacific), and UST (University of Santo Tomas).

To show how much I did not know what to take, the courses I applied for were the following:

  • UP – Industrial Economics
  • DLSU – Mechanical Engineering
  • Ateneo – Management Economics
  • UA&P – Political Economy
  • UST – Industrial Engineering

Looking at it now, it’s funny how those were the choices I listed down because Engineering and Economics are certainly not my fields of interest. I had an interest in taking up Law at that time due to the ongoing impeachment trial of Erap which exposed me to some great lawyers. That’s the reason why I listed the courses for Ateneo and UA&P because they can be considered as pre-law courses.

I got admitted to all 5 schools which made the choice tougher. I was kinda hoping I’d only pass a couple of them so my choice will be easier. While I was proud to have been the only one in our high school to pass in all those 5 schools, I was freaked out by how to make the right choice.

My dad preferred either UST (his alma mater) or DLSU for the course which he thought would help when I eventually joined the family business. My mom preferred Ateneo so I’ll be the first in the family to go there and also because she thought being a lawyer might fit me. My sister just preferred anywhere but UA&P which is where she was already. Truth be told we weren’t very close at that time.

I didn’t see myself going to UP especially on an Economics course so I crossed that off first. Like I said, I also didn’t see myself as an engineer of any kind so I crossed off both UST and DLSU next. Those two were particularly tough choices to cross off only in the sense that most of my friends were going to those schools or in CSB so that meant I’d be far from all of them.

That left me with Ateneo and UA&P. Between the two, I definitely had my sights on Ateneo longer due to familiarity of the school’s rich history while I had no idea about UA&P except that my sister decided to go there despite also having Ateneo and DLSU as options. Plus if I really wanted to be a lawyer, going to Ateneo seemed like a more straightforward path. I decided the right move was to go to Ateneo. In fact, I remember letting the deadline to secure a slot in UA&P pass which was on a Saturday. I was sure of it decision. Or so I thought.

The next day, Sunday, the whole family went with me to Ateneo to tour the campus. We checked out the facilities in the school then afterwards went across Katipunan to look at potential dorms. We live in Parañaque so the idea was for me to dorm by myself and just go home on the weekends. We found a decent dorm near the big fast food chains. It had a convenience store, laundromat and a computer shop (Counter-Strike time lol). It seemed everything was falling into place so after speaking to the landlord, we went home for dinner.

On the way home something about it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t quite explain or even figure it out. I just had this intuition that maybe this wasn’t the right decision for me. Later that night, I went to my parent’s room and told them that I didn’t want to go to Ateneo and if it was still possible to claim my slot in UA&P the next day (Monday), that was where I wanted to go for college. My parents were stunned (and my sister a bit irritated lol) but they could tell I was decided on it so they just went with it. The next day we checked with the admissions office and they informed us that they would be happy to take me in. And that’s that, I was going to UA&P!

Looking back, I’m still not sure why I had that intuition. I think part of it was my uncertainty on the course to take. Since in UA&P, you had the first two years to decide and apply to the course, I can delay making that decision. Maybe I didn’t quite trust myself at that time too to essentially be living alone. I might just play video games and eat junk food all the time. To be fair I still ended up playing games and eating a lot of junk food either way but with a bit more structure lol.

But in hindsight, that was certainly one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. The obvious top reason was of course meeting Ellen and all my good friends later on. Another reason is that my sister and I became very close during our time in UA&P, especially since I ended up taking the same course as her. I don’t think we would have developed that closeness if I went to another school. And less I forget what I actually went to school for – my education!

The Humanities-based curriculum in the early years gave me a lot of tools for self-reflection and knowing myself. That, combined with the skills I learned in IMC eventually led me to discover my true calling. That’s something I’ll always appreciate about UA&P and why I’m thankful I made that decision long time ago.

30-day Challenge

Day 19 of 30 – The Stonecutter’s Credo

Years ago, I read an article about the San Antonio Spurs and how under the leadership of RC Buford and Gregg Popovich, they have built a unique program in the NBA known for their consistency of success and excellence. It was said that they had the quote below displayed prominently in their practice facility to encapsulate the team philosophy, and which informs their approach to the work they do.

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it — but all that had gone before.”

I immediately wrote this down in a quote notebook and then again in Evernote later on. I think it is so profound yet so simple and practical that anyone can easily apply this type of mindset and approach to their work. It speaks of patience and perseverance, both of which I think have become a challenge for most people who feel the need to experience immediate success perhaps due to the pressures of having to keep up to what they see on social media and the internet as a whole.

I think having the patience to keep hammering away at a goal is a key factor in whether or not we’ll eventually get to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Only then will we have the perspective that the all those time of struggles, sacrifices and hard work, when things did not seem to be working for us, were building up and leading to a breakthrough. It kinda gives truth to the saying that there’s no such thing as overnight success, when the reality is the success happened over many nights.

30-day Challenge

Day 18 of 30 – The Pursuit of Better Sleep

I’ve always had trouble with getting a good night sleep for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I’d often had nightmares and admittedly was letting my imagination get the better of me after watching scary movies. To be fair, Chucky was really fucking scary for a doll lol.

But as I grew older I noticed (or my siblings who slept with me in the same room noticed) that I snored. It became so unbearable for them that they moved to my grandma’s room while I slept alone. They’d have to endure it though whenever we traveled and had to share a room which wasn’t easy. My dad was also a snorer so my siblings kept suggesting I room with my dad instead while they room with my mom.

One time we found this pillow from Osim that claimed to help minimize snoring. We bough two pillows and gave it a shot. It was this candy shaped pillow that required the user to sleep on the side with one arm under one of the grooves of the pillow. Supposedly it will support the jaw and neck line in a way that will allow for better airflow and thus reduce snoring. I think it helped a bit but I had a hard time with it because whenever the pillow would get hot I would need to move around and find a cool spot. This meant I wasn’t keeping the recommended position thus negating the benefit. My dad had better luck with it and my mom slept better as well.

So years passed with no one really getting bothered with my snoring except for when we traveled. But like when I was younger, I’d still regularly get nightmares, the type where you feel you’re awake but can’t move and you think there’s a presence in the room. I’d be so freaked out I’d turn on the lights and not sleep again after episodes like that. Later on I read that this is quite common for some people who deal with sleep apnea and is most probably not related to something supernatural.

I also struggled with low energy since high school probably when I started snoring. I didn’t really connect all of it but it was weird playing sports regularly and working on conditioning but somehow feeling like I’m getting tired way too early given the amount of work I’d done to prepare for a game.

And worse, I often felt so sleepy during classes. And yes I’d dozed off in class more than once. Actually way more than once lol. The most embarrassing was freshmen year in college during Theology. I sat in front because of my surname and towards the end of the class just gave up and dozed off. Father Estrada was already leading the prayer and everybody was standing up except for me, enjoying my unscheduled nap. He kept calling me using the mic and my seatmate had to really shake me to wake me. Needless to say that was quite an impression to make. I even had a red mark on my forehead lol.

Granted, I wasn’t always sleeping early and enough back then whether I was working or playing Call of Duty. So lack of sleep plus the bad quality of the sleep I did get likely contributed to my always feeling tired. Anyway, fast forward to getting married and now Ellen had to endure the snoring. It took a while but she eventually got used to it and said she didn’t mind it, that it became sort of like white noise for her. What she did make me do is sleep earlier than what I got used to. She even got me a Jawbone UP band to help me track my sleep.

What I found out was even when I was not sleeping 8-9 hours, I’d still wake up feeling dead tired. And I don’t mean the usual feeling most everyone gets of wanting to stay in bed. But more like really tired like you just finished running the whole length of EDSA, which is a super regular recurring dream of mine all these years to the point that I’d joke that I don’t exercise anymore because I literally do it in my sleep. The data from the app showed this as well, I wasn’t getting enough deep sleep per night and was awake too many times to really get restful sleep. It’s almost like my sleep quality being bad due to apnea actually made sleeping longer worse because there’s more time for the apnea to be triggered.

But what finally made me decide to have myself checked in a sleep clinic was when we had Elian and we felt his sleep was being affected by my snoring. He’d get startled and awakened by my snoring especially when I would make choking sounds. Unless I planned on sleeping separately from Ellen and Elian, something had to change. So about a year ago I had myself checked in for a sleep study under Dr. Keith Aguilera in St. Lukes BGC.

Lo and behold the test confirmed what we knew all along, that I had sleep apnea and it was pretty bad. It showed that I was stopping breathing for more than 50 times per hour or something like that which meant I wasn’t getting oxygen as well. (NOTE: I’ll update this post with the actual results when I find my records.)

Dr. Keith immediately prescribed the use of a CPAP machine since the test also showed my breathing and sleep quality improved during the second half of the test when I was on the machine. My uncle from Canada happened to have an extra machine (his medical insurance entitled him to a new machine every 5 years and since he just got an upgraded one, he sent me the one he just stopped using) so he sent it to me through my sister’s childhood friend who was flying to Manila.

I’m not going to lie, using the machine was not very comfortable with the mask and tubes and being conscious not to move too much at night so it won’t get dislodged. It took me about a week or two to get used to it and to feel the effect which was that I wasn’t waking up with my heart pounding anymore. Plus Ellen and Elian finally get to enjoy a quiet sleep which was definitely worth the inconvenience of having a mask on my face the whole night.

After a month of using my uncle’s machine I looked for a smaller machine that I can bring with me when we travel. I ended up buying a Fisher Paykel APAP machine which had a built-in humidifier and is half the size of my uncle’s CPAP machine. It is truly one of the best purchases I’ve ever made despite it being a bit pricy due to the many advanced features. I’ve always brought it with me during out trips even on overnight staycations. In fact both Ellen and Elian have gotten used to me not snoring, if I forget to use it or if the mask gets loose at night and I start snoring, it gets so jarring for them that they both wake up irritated with me lol.

About a month ago, I had the data from the machine (it comes with a handy USB that records my sleep data) downloaded by Aunty Charity who is the official distributor of Fisher Paykel here in the Philippines. The results came out really positive. From the 50+ times I used to stop breathing in the sleep study, it was now down to just 4-5 times per hour.

So while I still sometimes wish to be able to sleep well without a mask, the results just confirmed how I’ve been feeling since I started using the machine a year ago which is that after having poor quality sleep for most of my life, I now have much improved sleep quality. Oh and that recurring dream of running the length of EDSA and the nightmares? I have not had a single incidence of both for a year now. That’s a tradeoff I’d take any night for sure.