I have been told that there are a few events in life when you are allowed a free wish.
When blowing out your birthday candle
On a wishbone
On dandelions
When you see a rainbow
When you visit a church for the first time
On a fountain
When you chance upon seeing a shooting star…
Why am I listing these things, you ask. 

Just in the past few weeks, as I went on  a trip halfway across the world, I was given way too many chances to make a wish. 
Rome, Assisi, Orvieto, Florence, Siena, Padova, Venice. I have lost count of how many new churches I entered. From cathedrals to chapels. Knocking on the doors of heaven each time. Lighting candles at altars. Asking my saints for all their intercession. 

Then, I stumbled upon fountains. Spewing and spraying their water at the height of noon, as dusk came, brilliant lights through the night. I even threw a coin in one of them. And a video to show for it. My five second shot at fame, I gamely and jokingly chide my mom who also was my camera crew.
You would think that I have these many things I may be wishing for. Or one thing I want fulfilled so fervently. Many or one that pushes all the silent whispers of my soul in those many moments.

And, as we left for home at the crack of dawn on our last day in Italy, there it was, just out of the blue, a shooting star.
And to be honest, each time I had my chance to make a wish, I thought of him. The memory of summer days spent also halfway across the world.
I just didn’t know what exactly to wish for or how to.
So, I just asked that wherever he may be, he is well.
And wherever I may be now or in the future, I will be well too.
Did I waste my wishes?
Well, each time I got bashful as I made my wishes, I get one audacious moment and mutter under my breath…
Who am I kidding, Lord? You know what is in this heart. This is why you keep granting me all these chances to make a wish. Make them come true, in their rightful time.
And with that, I stand up from the pew, throw the coin into the water, or follow the meteorite’s trail with my eye. And smile.
My Promise Keeper is at work.

Lesson from Michelangelo: Expanding Territories (ROMA: Europe Day 3 of 12)

"Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving." – Goethe

I’ve seen the Sistine Chapel.  I sat on one of its benches, and while there I couldn’t exactly say I appreciated it. Throngs of people, noise, scorching sun outside, endless walking to get to this place.  I am only human, and I almost underappreciated the marvelous pieces before me.  Yes, I almost missed out.

But as I stared at each fresco, I began to appreciate and be awed, not by its beauty but the love it took to complete them all.   It must not have been easy to have created all these.   5000 square feet worth of frescoes, 300+ scenes from the Bible, years lying on a scaffold, risking eyesight and everything else.  All because one man dared to expand his territory.  Before accepting this project, Michelangelo knew that he was not cut for the job.  At first he said “No.” He was a sculptor after all, not a painter.  Yet, it came as a challenge, from what he thought then as enemies. But with the intricate detail he devoted to each fresco, I assume he then took it as a challenge from above.  Not just one fresco of a single Bible scene, that was the compromise, but as many scenes as he could conceive and want to create.   And that’s how he came up with the 300.  That’s why he spent years  in that weird posture with paint dripping down his hair and face. That’s why he risked a lifetime of brilliance as a sculptor to chart waters he had never trod on as a painter.

Artists, unfortunately, are secularized by religious groups, theologians, and the like.  Not much have been said about their faith.  Not much research was done about the ways they loved God.  They have always been pinned as  rebels, outcasts, sinners. But to me, Michelangelo, even with his radical ideas and secularized works, was inspired by a higher force. He was obedient to that higher force. There is no one who could contest to why he said “Yes”, not much is written about that.  I didn’t think the political reason of being allowed to liberally do as he liked was much to say “Yes” to.  If one knows his weaknesses like Michelangelo did, one will be steadfast with the “No”.  Because quite simply, sculptors have their chisels, artists have their brushes. It is difficult, nearly impossible, to have to switch tools by which they could release angels in the marble or on the paper.  Yes, maybe Michelangelo wasn’t as free to do as he wanted, since he may have received advice from a theologian on the details.  But as a creative myself, I know from experience that masterpieces don’t come from mere talk or ideas, the effort one goes through to realize these ideas is a whole different story.

As to how he came to the epiphany to say “Yes” to this grand project, I will never learn.  But looking at the 300+ images on a ceiling, I see the highlights of a divine story, testaments to the grace and love of the Great Artist Himself to another artist.  All because one man said “Yes”, and with it that man dared to expand his territory.  With it, mysteries have been revealed to him and then to us in full color.  Maybe so that one day, when one of us sits in front of this, Michelangelo’s lifetime achievement and sacrifice, we may also be inspired to build the Sistine Chapels of our lives.  Like Michelangelo, without taking on what looks to be an impossible task, we can never know what we are capable of achieving.



Photo taken from Flickr.  Taking photos inside the Chapel were forbidden, and I respected that during my visit.

Rain in Roma (Day 2 of 12)

So, this day was really fully packed, so I wrote them in themes from the dayparts of the day.
Poetry in the Rain
Jet lag got the better of us and we absolutely did not get anything done the night we landed.  We just slept until the very late hours, and there was nothing else to do when we finally woke up.  So, we took another nap in the dawn and set off early on our first full day in Rome.  The sky was overcast, like the day we came in, only there were bigger clouds, rain clouds.  But we were troopers and did not want to waste a day in Rome, so we went ahead and went walking the streets nearby our hotel.  We were located in Via San Eufemia, which was close to everything that mattered.  Being close to everything does not mean we won’t get lost, however.  My Rome iPhone App was not working as we needed, the GPS won’t locate us and it was hard to find to make it simulate our correct location.  So, we just went ahead and tried to follow the signs.  And signs in Rome are pretty confusing!  They are in English, but still confusing.  It was eight in the morning and the roads were practically deserted.  I guess the Italians don’t really start a day until much later!  We enjoyed strolling around empty streets while being lost. A few wrong and finally right turns later, we get to the Pantheon (now the Basilica of St Mary and the Martyrs).  In photos, the Pantheon is very underrated.  And it took a drizzle of rain before we learned about its beauty.
Sandra and I were taking photos by the fountain in the piazza in front of the Pantheon, until the rain started to fall.  Without an umbrella, we were, thus, left with no other choice but to enter the Pantheon to seek shelter.  And that’s when we both realized the beauty before us.  The Pantheon’s dome is a hole with no glass on it.  The purpose was to make the sunshine enter in with no barrier.  When we came in, we thought there was glass as it still hadn’t occurred to us what happens when it is raining instead.  The dome was very beautiful, as in the midst of a cloudy day, it still looked as though the sun was shining through it.  The rain kept on pouring while we were there.  And as a puddle formed in the center of the Basilica a.k.a Pantheon, we saw that the rain was showering inside, in that one fixed spot.  We looked up to the dome and saw the rain droplets against the light.  The feeling was so spiritual.   It was an amazing surprise to find it like that.  We spent half hour to an hour after that in the ‘shelter’ of the Pantheon, until we finally bought an umbrella for 5 Euros.  Great start to our day!
Il Dolce Far Niente – you have got to see it in action to understand it.   
Since the rain didn’t look like it was going to stop for a bit and the forecast was being accurate, we decided to try a Roman Caffeteria experience.  We entered a coffee shop a few blocks from the Pantheon.  There was an espresso bar in the front, like a normal bar, only it served coffee.  People who were in a rush would be standing here, where the barista would give their espresso shot in a small espresso shot glass and they will drink it from there right at the bar.  They take their time drinking their coffee there, even if they were rushing.  People who were seated, like us, were served coffee in a laidback pace.  Sandy and I both ordered a cappucino, and it was the best we both had ever.  We were there for a good hour and a few minutes.  Our server didn’t even try and make us leave and respected our time and space.  It didn’t matter that we probably ordered the cheapest items on the menu, what mattered to them was we were enjoying our time.
And this is how I began to understand “Il Dolce Far Niente”.  Loosely translated as per the Eat, Pray, Love book, it means “the sweetness of doing nothing.”  It is not a lame saying or an excuse for lazing around.  It is a part of an Italian lifestyle, when everyone would take their sweet time enjoying life as they have before them — be it having a cup of coffee with a friend, having lunch, or anything that in an American lifestyle is not work-related.  Italians work hard but they also live beautifully.  Hence, to them the quality of the time spent matters as much or maybe even much more than the quantity of time.  Doing nothing is actually something.
Tu Belleza Es Tu Cabeza 
Having learned the concept of doing nothing the Italian way, Sandy and I stopped by and shopped for a couple hours on Via del Corso.  We scratched the day’s itinerary and just let our hearts decide what we could do.  We stopped by a boutique called Omai.  They had a great collection of clothing.  We were helped by a Romanian sales staff, Monica.  She was adorable!  She helped me fit a couple dresses and also even suggested styles for me.  This girl could definitely be a fashion coordinator or stylist.  She wasn’t salespitchy at all as she did not force me to purchase anything and even was honest when a particular dress or wardrobe didn’t look right.   She gave me a few reminders and tips, saying that I should not be afraid to wear color and to show off the right things on my body.  What stuck with me was her wise advice — style and beauty is in my mind, apart from the right cut of course.   I have to think and believe I can wear something and it will look good.
I really recommend Omai, as a boutique for fashion forward readers.  Their unique yet elegant style can have H&M have a run for their money.  They’re in the middle of H&M and BCBG in my opinion, but uniquely European or even uniquely Italian.
After a few hours in Omai, we stopped by Benetton which was also having a sale at that time.  (Everything in Italy was on sale during this time of year, so if anyone is looking to shop in Italy, early July is the best time to go!)  We were each given a tote bag by the saleslady at Benetton, when I paid for my purchase.  The tote bag Sandra got had this printed on it — “Tu belleza es tu cabeza”, yep, if loosely translated it means “your beauty is your mind” Now, is that a sign or what?
Pasta in Bibo
After our shopping escapade, we went back to our hotel to rest up a bit and freshen up.  Closer to dinner, we went to have our late lunch/dinner at the pasta restaurant across the street.  Sandy had the Lasagna and I had the tortellini with mushrooms and ham.  Both were good.  The waiter at the restaurant also gave us antipasti (appetizers) of mini sandwiches — one was salmon and artichoke and another was tuna.  These prosciuttos were also good!
Beauty in Ruins
After our meal, we headed off to the Colosseo which was also about a half hour walk from our hotel.  We decided to take time doing so and have fun.  We were trying to get to the Colosseo before sunset so the photography lighting would be perfect (and as most of you know, I almost lost those photos!)
Author’s note: This was written while out on a trip to Italy for the first time.  I realized I did not get to post this then, so well, it’s never too late to relive memories. I am back-dating this to the real time it was written.  They still come to me as if they happened yesterday. (September 1, 2012)

Larger than Life

The news of Taylor Anderson’s passing in Japan spoke volumes to me. After the earthquake in Miyagi, she made sure that her kids left for home safe.   She was last seen on her bike, before the tsunami struck.  Her family Stateside, kept vigil until they found out a day ago that her body was found. Her body.  Their beloved daughter isn’t returning home this August.
Sure, many people are wondering why the news outlets are making a fuss out of one foreign-exchange teacher’s death, when thousands more have died, and thousands more are on the brink of gory fate.   Taylor’s story is relevant.  And here’s why, at least for me.
Taylor is the reminder that the tragedy that fell on Japan isn’t something to take lightly.  As it can happen to anyone, could have happened to anyone you know, what with our world becoming smaller and smaller due to travel and communication.
Reading Taylor’s story reminded me of a friend I cherish. We might have grown apart over the last few months, due to life taking its normal turns, and friendships taking their natural progressions.  But still I remember her.
Like Taylor, she was in Japan to teach.  Like Taylor, she was in Japan to pursue a lifelong dream.
That fateful day, different from Taylor, she was enroute home, back to the United States, for a short vacation.  In what probably could have been one of the scariest days of her life, she sat in her plane seat on the tarmac at Narita when the earth shook. Hours later she was able to fly home, back to the arms of people who worried for her. Although, I’m glad that my friend is safe and with her family now, I can’t help to think that had fate played one of its jokes, she could have been Taylor.  And this whole Japan tragedy will get really personal for me, as if it already wasn’t.
So, I thought, I shouldn’t wait till it gets larger than life to do and say something. Because no matter how we try to devoid ourselves of its reality, it already is larger than life.
Allow me a brief moment to address my friend.
No matter how distant life may have brought us apart from each other, dear friend, I am glad that you are safe.  I am glad that you were saved.
And with all honesty, let me just say, Japan had somehow become home, with familiar memories, memories that include you.
Those memories are what tug at my heart seeing things unfold day-to-day.  They make me wish that this home will be rebuilt soon enough, fast enough.  So that dreams may continue.
In tribute to my friend, and the friends she made in Japan, and the relatives and families of the children she teaches, who may need to pick up their bearings.
In tribute to my family there who are still shaken.
I know the Land of the Rising Sun will rise again.
I trust in the solidarity of its people.
I believe in the unity of humanity.
Tremors, waves, chemicals may have destroyed homes and lives, but it will never destroy the human spirit.  I believe this. You must believe it too.


So, I’m officially back from a trip to Seoul and Tokyo. Back to the reality I call life. Was able to post my photos up on Facebook for some people and still scanning through some other photos that I probably will share later through this post.
Today, I went to lunch with my boss and a client and I realize how I missed home, San Francisco, too. It took a few glances to nearby tables and passersby on the street for me to realize that even though I’ve had loads of fun in the foreign places I visited, home still had my heart.
And I also realized that when I was faraway, although I had three cameras on me, the best part of my trip was not the ones I took a shot of, but rather montages frozen in time as my mom and I were on the subway, hailing a cab, crossing the street, figuring out where to eat and plain wondering where the road was leading.
One of my best memories of Tokyo was of the students in uniform, not yet in their teens and en route to home from school riding the Metro. I remember the innocence of childhood and was amazed at the early sense of responsibility and independence that these kids were being given.
And that of the young lady staff at our favorite breakfast nook, and how happily she went pointing out the fresh bread and trying to distinguish them for us in however little English she knew. I sensed that she was proud with what she was doing and was happy to see people appreciate her city or even just spend that little time in the early AM rush with her.
I remember also the lady by the cruise dock in Hakone, by the souvenir shop, how she neatly tucked away the goods we purchased and made sure that we had individual wrappers for them for gift-giving back home. She reminds me of my grandma, who was home at that time, the thoughtfulness and the simplicity by which it came just touches my heart. I can say the same about the young lady at the donut place in the train station, on how she offered a bigger bag so we can carry our other things together, even though we only bought a few donuts from her. Such generosity really leaves an impression on me.
These are memories I had hoped I took a photo of, but I am sure I captured in the camera in my heart.
In Seoul, a similar thing occurred. I tried to snap as many photos as I could but can only remember the story behind the photos. Like on our way to Garden 5, on the long train ride (tell me how I must trek 1 hour transferring train lines just to get to this complex), there were bits and pieces of memory I tucked safely. Of this older couple carrying bags, likely from a shopping trip. How Ahjumma (older lady) organized the bags Ahjussi (older man) carried so she can take them as Ahjussi gave her the only seat available. So Ahjussi can stand and hold on to the train handles comfortably. And this young couple who were looking at their mobile phones laughing like they had nary a care of people around them.
And I remember the concierge person on our first adventure out, how he took the subway map from my hands and doodled the easier route and the longer route and scribbled on the hotel business card and explained how I can call the hotel if we ever get lost.
Or the bus driver on the night line for the bus going down Mt Namsan, that’s while my mom was freaking out that we were officially stranded, who sweetly told me “De.” (Hangul for Yes) as I asked him if he was passing by our area in the little Hangul I knew. Ah, the sweet picture of safety.
And the taxi driver on our way to Myeongdong Cathedral and how he bravely navigated the crowded streets with a cool head — with confused pedestrians and drivers of other cars parked the wrong way littering his way.
Or the seller at the shop stall who actually did the bargaining for me when I told her, in slow English, the things I bought were selling for less at another shop. She pretended she didn’t understand, I pretended I gave up and didn’t care how much it will be. Only to the end she rings my purchase with a discount and a freebie. Such love. And such guilt on my part as I tried to compare her price with 3 other shops in the same vicinity and found out they were priced the same.
Or Kim, from the eyeglass shop, how can I forget her. My new chinggu-yah. How when we came back from our ATM hunt, and before I could hand her the money for our payment, she quietly takes my mom’s and my sunglasses away from our hands and takes them to the spectacle cleaner and cleaned them like they were her own.
As these memories form in my head, I feel like the heavens were sending me angels on this trip, to teach me something ordinary and see the extraordinary in them. And no matter how uncoordinated my memories are, I just want to immortalize it somewhere. Here. As I write from home, writing these memoirs from that East Asian summer. And all my frustrations of the humidity is lost and all I remember is love.

Fan Meetings

So, what’s a fangirl to do after being sick on a trip and after a fanmeeting? Well, what else, but blog!
It was my first time ever to fangirl half the world over and it was quite an interesting experience.  The Tokyo humidity was making it a rather very peculiar day and I can feel that everyone’s moods, the actors and audience, were dampening because of the heat and muggy clouds.  Well all that aside, I want to try and remember everything that happened but since I didn’t write notes I just want to write about the general feeling I had observing these two people – Jang Keun Seuk and Park Shin Hye.  After all, I understood neither Hangul or Nihonggo, so I was basing it all on body language.
So before I spazz, criticize, observe, analyze, I must first give credit where credit is due.  Many many thanks to Mee Xiong and the mods and admins of Park Shin Hye International Community for letting me and my mom take two of the tickets for the fanmeeting they had secured.  I’m sure there must be other people who would’ve wanted to watch both sessions but had to give it up for my mom and me.  So, for that I will be eternally grateful — for the chance to meet new friends and for the opportunity to experience this at least once in my lifetime.
And here are my observations —
– Park Shin Hye and Jang Keun Seuk were both beautiful people – inside and out.  As I’ve always observed with Shin Hye, she is a very transparent person – can easily radiate warmth, sweetness in the room around her.  I found Jang Keun Seuk to be jovial and does exhibit a certain leadership in his interactions with Shin Hye.

– Singing Still in the intro, Park Shin Hye came in with Jang Keun Seuk.  She was a bit shy at first but was trying her best to get out of her shell and mingle with the fans.  I felt there was something that happened in that 2 PM session or prior the 2 PM session that rendered Shin Hye out of her element.  She was not super perky but she did try very hard, and there were emotional vids that can bring her close enough to tears.
– Jang Keun Seuk was being a gentleman throughout the whole session.   It seemed as if they were close enough to each other that he knew and understood what she was going through and was helping hold her up to be at her best for this outing.  Keun Seuk can be transparent too as we all know, but he didn’t show any sign of being annoyed.  Very supportive. Every inch a leader.
– Was there distance between the two friends?  I didn’t feel it in this session.  It seems they have a very solid friendship where one can hold the other up as needed.  The sweet parts where Keun Seuk would tease Shin Hye  or when they would spazz together over videos of great scenes show me that there’s a unique bond between them.
There was a part after her dance number when she looked like she was saying that her long boots was making it difficult for her to dance.  And Keun Seuk was pointing out at her legs.  Since I don’t understand what he said, I took the body language to say that Keun Seuk was teasing her for being shy to show off her legs. That kind of banter really lit the room up.

-Did they reveal anything about what their relationship was exactly?  This is where I sensed the most tension.  The crowd in the auditorium was majority Jang Keun Seuk’s fans, and as I tweeted it felt like the crowd was 9:1 JKS fans vs. Shin Hye’s fans.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration but it did feel like that. Yet, even in the midst of Keun Seuk’s very loyal fans, he was looking out after Shin Hye.  Letting her speak first when the questions were directed at both of them.  Listening to her when she spoke and answered questions for her.  Played to the tune of the same music with her when they were watching the scenes, and at times even spazz confidently for the both of them, even if Shin Hye was being careful.
I think she had good reason to be careful since Keun Seuk is very adorable and definitely a ladies’ man.  Showing lots of affection towards each other was sure to attract the ire of some uncompromising Eels (term for Keun Seuk’s fans).  So, Shin Hye was trying to play safe.  Keun Seuk played along for the most part, but when appropriate stood up for the both of them to enjoy reminiscing memories from the drama or in shipper-language, to show the world where his heart belonged.  He provided her the necessary confidence boost whenever she looked “off” during the session.

-Singing “What Do I Do?” –  I had a feeling this was a very important song to sing for the perfectionist Jang Keun Seuk.  Coming on the heels of a rough attempt at this song from the Hong Kong FM last week, he wanted this particular version to be perfect.  He had reason to because they were made to re-enact the drama finale after his singing.  It was a delight for the fans – his coming off-stage to meet Shin Hye in the audience.
-Individual performances in the 2nd half.  I am proud of Park Shin Hye in her particular medley of performances.  She danced gracefully.  She sang like a nightingale.  She was glowing.  But I did see her eyes being a little nervous doing her performances.  But during her solo interview after singing Lovely Day, the confident Shin Hye was in the room.  She answered the questions in this warm, feminine way she always did in interviews while holding her head up as if she knew what she was all about.

-One thing I wanted to note is the choice of wardrobe for Park Shin Hye in the 1st and 2nd act.  I didn’t see Mi Nyu or Mi Nam for the most part, instead I saw Jang Keun Seuk’s ideal girl.  If you’ve been closely following this couple,  you would know what I mean.  Shin Hye was ever present as this renaissance-like, feminine, wavy haired girl that attracts Keun Seuk.  I thought that if wardrobes meant something for couples, this could be your confirmation.  The stylist made sure that in this outing the Keun Seuk-Shin Hye shipping crowd will remember that ideal picture.  And if they are not genuinely in a close relationship, I wouldn’t understand the need to do that.
-Keun Seuk’s swollen wrist and Shin Hye left to high-five the fans.  Although I do believe the Keun Seuk wrist thing, I also thought that it was good strategy for Shin Hye to interact with the crowd.  Although some rude uncompromising Keun Seuk fans left and opted to miss the opportunity to shake her hand (good riddance to them), I thought that Keun Seuk taking a backseat for this fan interaction was something only a great friend would have suggested.   In Shin Hye’s first international outing and with the disproportion in fans to consider, Keun Seuk took the high road by opting out.  It gave Shin Hye a chance to shine and be in touch with her fans and others who can be her fans.  And she did not disappoint, she was very pleasant high-fiving people and shaking her fans’ hands (myself included).  The “Thank You” in English she gave me as she shook my hand was a super treat.  It made all the humidity and the exhaustion and the trouble all worth it.
So, was Shin Hye sad?  Well, maybe photos I took were from the wrong angles, but her eyes do give away a little bit of that vibe in photos and videos.  Probably tired from Cyrano Agency shooting.  Probably not liking the humid weather (I can understand this!) But if there was a legitimate sadness about it, I would probably attribute it to the need to reminisce some memories she comfortably tucked away.  If you all remember, she had some cooling off period from her Go Mi Nam character early in the year.  Likely at that time, she didn’t know she would be asked to relive it somehow again six months later.  And perhaps the memory of that struggle dampened her mood.  Yet, she is quick to pick up on her feet as she felt secure around Jang Keun Seuk — like someone respected, adored, understood.

Overall, for a first fan meeting amid annoying weather in a foreign land with a foreign language, this has been a memorable experience worthy of 4 stars (I’d give it 5 if I didn’t have gripes, but I did and I don’t like to talk about gripes).
Will I do the same craziness again?  (As my mom’s eyes read as she saw me crazily spazzing right after my camera got whisked away for disobeying rules)
Without batting an eyelash, Yes.
After taking a few breaths to think straight, yes, but I must apply lessons learned for the next one.
Park Shin Hye and Jang Keun Seuk, for being beautiful, for doing beautifully to make this a worthwhile experience, kamsahamnida!
Tokyo, you’ve been rough, but not entirely forgettable.  You’ve taught me a lot. And for that, I’ll forever associate you with being a fan, being crazy, taking risks and going out of comfort zones. And if you know me, that’s not entirely a bad thing.

hang loose!!

“Just hang loose
Just have fun
Sipping on a drink lyin in the sun
Don’t try to fight it,
It aint no use
When your in Hawai’i, just hang loose”
Cousin Linden at the tour bus with his ukulele…
Aloha!  Just wanted to rub it in among you guys… first day of a great week trip out to the Hawai’i… (pronounced hawa-ee, not hahway)
tropical weather… (gawd, it’s so darn warm…)  there was that usual getting acquainted phase the first few hours where I kinna got culture shock and anxious and all… but then after a few maitai’s and a lava flow– yep, the week just officially began.  i could post some photos to make y’all jealous but you’re in luck because my memory card reader AND USB connector are both not available (silly girl left both at home!)
well anyways, it is now 11 PM in the islands (read 2 AM Pacific!) so I need to get my beauty rest for more envy-inducing photo ops tomorrow.  Otherwise, i’m missing everyone!!