Monday, April 23, 2007

calm after the storm

A few months back, I can’t wait to be able to get past the INQR workshop. All I wanted to do was to get through it. Weeks into the preparation, I was working over weekends… working long hours in the lab… skipping dinner with friends (or at least having hurried lunches/dinners with them — so SORRY!)… everyday felt like I was flying in a whirlwind and everything passed in a blur.

Now that the workshop is done and over with, I feel like the storm has ended and the debris that have been shot up in the sky are now falling back to Earth one by one. Ah, everything is going back to its normal pace.

But that’s only until the next deadline or the next big activity comes along. For everyone in the lab, that’s the Rice Camp starting Wednesday. For me, the next deadline is on Friday. So, after a short rest, it’s like being blown again into the wind, never knowing where I’d land.

And do I look forward to it!

Friday, April 20, 2007

overcoming butterflies

Being in front of an audience has always been one of the situations I tried so hard to avoid. I dreaded going on-stage because I was so scared of facing so many people. I have always felt butterflies in the pit of my stomach each time I go up to face the audience. It’s probably normal. Even the most experienced public speaker must have some nervousness left in him/her.

This week, I had to, yet again, keep myself from getting into a nervous breakdown. My oral presentation was finalised the evening before I was going up the stage! I forgot to plan what to wear during my talk.

On the day itself, my hands were so clammy I was regretting not bringing a pair of mittens. My feet were getting cold that I regretted wearing leather shoes with thin socks. My stomach was tied up in knots I couldn’t eat properly since the evening before.

The presentation went without a hitch, which was a good thing. I received comments about my talk, which was about a new way of approaching old problems. My supervisors were pleased with my performance. But the icing on the cake was that I was able to bring across the importance of the study to the barely-English speaking crowd. The Latinos and the Kazakh all understood the talk, saying that they could probably apply it to their work.

My officemates thought I had an easy time on stage. But when they shook hands with me after my talk, they were surprised to find that my hands were so cold! And they thought my presentation was just a walk in the park!

I wouldn’t be able to mask the lack of confidence on stage without the help of the IRRI Toastmasters Club, which trains people in the art of public speaking. And I am also thankful to my supervisor for all her guidance and her perfectionism… because without her comments and suggestions for my slides and her insistence that I practised my talk in front of an audience, my presentation would just be lackluster.

The speakers from my lab prepared for their talks at least three weeks before the workshop. All that preparation for our 15 minutes in the spotlight has paid off because we all did well.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

learning a third language

I have always loved to be able to converse in a third language, may it be Spanish (undubbed telenovelas), Mandarin (the new business language), or Italian (yummy food). My recent trips to the uni have exposed me to French (as I stayed in a French couple's terrace house and there were many French students in the lab). Plus, I always am amazed at how smoothly my academic supervisor can talk with me in English, answer the phone in Italian, leave a message in German, and talk in French to a BSc Hons student… all in the span of five minutes!

I figured, since Filipino has lots of Spanish influence, I might as well start learning it. My main reference is a Lonely Planet language book (which covers most of Europe’s major languages). Plus, I bought another book on learning Spanish.

That was a luck move, because this week, I got to meet numerous people from South America, where Spanish is the official language. Despite all the preparations I had, my Spanish vocabulary was still in a horrible state, but they didn’t seem to mind.

It all started at the workshop of the International Network for Quality Rice (INQR). I approached Mr. Cuba because I heard him speaking in Spanish and I wanted to practice all the Spanish words from all that exposure to books, CDs, and telenovelas.

Early today, as I was walking into the lecture hall, he was greeting me in rapid fire Spanish. When I blankly stared at him, hablo espanol muy pocito, he told me to go to practice so that when I go to Havana, I could talk with them fluently.

Then there’s Ms. Uruguay and Ms. Colombia who called me Paula the whole time! Mi llamo Rochie.

During the field tour, they could not understand some of the English words of the guide. So I had to dig deep through the mishmash of Spanish words I know. No rattas, no aves. Agua embotellada? Fotografia. Ritratto de quadrado.

Hence, I have now decided that I would learn how to speak in Spanish.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

after Lent

Ah, yes, the vacation is finally over. If the long weekend can actually be called a vacation. It WAS indeed a break from the daily grind - going to and from the laboratory. However, the weekend was far from stress-free.

So many city dwellers have clogged the national highway going to hundreds of pools and private resorts in the Pansol area and the beach resorts dotting the coastline of Cavite and Batangas. And it was easy to pick them out too. They were the ones who brought road rage with them to the province… the drivers who thought they owned the road (and basically caused most of the accidents, in my opinion)… and those who showed no concern for the environment by throwing their trash outside their car windows (as if they’re still in Manila).

But now, the tourists are all back in the city and the probinsyanos have the roads all to themselves again. Indeed, the long weekend has ended and everyone is grudgingly going back to the daily grind - going to and from work.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Good Friday

This year’s Good Friday was unique because it’s the first time I went to the beach instead of participating in the annual processions in Sta. Cruz or watching the different rituals in other places like Marinduque or Banaue.

No, I wasn’t on the beach for a little rest and recreation. I drove all the way to Nasugbu, Batangas to assist foreign post-docs, grad students, and their families in THEIR vacation. The group decided that their short trip would be held on the long weekend of Lent.

I thought it’s such a waste to go to the beach alone, so I took along my cousin and her daughter so they could also see the beach.

My superstitious mom had some violent reactions with going to the beach on Good Friday. According to her, it’s a particularly bad day to go swimming. I, on the other hand, didn’t see it that way. For me, it’s a time for self-reflection and renewal of faith, not the perfect holiday excuse to go to a resort.

But being non-members of the Christian denomination, it’s not such a big deal to the participants (many of them were Muslims and Hindus). To them, it’s a long weekend and a perfect time to spend away from Los Banos. This wasn’t surprising because they don’t oberve Lent at all.

When I got to the beach, I was shocked to find so many people swimming, sun-bathing, and frolicking on the sand. And these were not foreigners. These were Filipinos!

Seven years ago, I spent Good Friday up the mountains of Banaue with family. I had the privilege of discussing Lent traditions with a mumbaki in his house and visit the well-preserved remains of his father. But in that year, there were hardly any Pinoy tourists up there. Most of the people I saw were foreigners (and their beer-chugging during mealtimes was a big issue to me, being the season of restraint and all).

I guess the Lenten scene has indeed changed. Enough for a priest in Mindoro to comment sadly about Pinoys no longer understanding or observing the meaning of Lent while favouring the more worldly partying activities accompanying any beach vacation.

And this little beach trip I did on Good Friday? I think it’s an eye-opener for me about the changing landscape. I may not have queued in the procession or fasted (but I did refrain from eating meat), but the day trip has given me a chance to reflect on how the Pinoy Lenten tradition is being changed in today’s modern landscape.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

santuario de aguila

Once again, I was amazed by the birds of prey that call the Centre for Philippine Raptors their home. On March 31, I was counting on my lucky stars to at least get a glimpse of the mighty Philippine eagle.

In the centre, a guide was explaining how the different raptors are being released into the wild. My eyes were suddenly drawn to a violent flapping of wings behind the guide. It was a serpent eagle, and I thought it had escaped from its cage. The guide said that the centre has released the bird into the wild, but it would always go back there… perhaps as if it had a homing beacon atop of its head making it go back.

Then there was a pair of eagles, one’s a white-bellied sea eagle. I forgot what the other one was… but it had fluffier feathers. According to the guide, it’s not found in the Philippines. Instead, it thrives in temperate regions. These two birds caught my eye because both were sitting in the middle of a pond, untied, and without a cage! It turned out that these two were too injured to even cross the pond. They have to rely on their caretakers for food and water. Hence, they need not be restrained.

Sitting quietly on a perch right by the caretakers’ office was another raptor. If the guard did not tell me that it was there, I would never have noticed it… and it could have pecked the wits out of me in fright! Apparently, the bird was being trained for a flight show and was getting ready.

Finally, I noticed a feather held by our friendly guide. I was about to ask him if I could have it when he identified it as a juvenile Philippine eagle’s feather. I looked around and found no Philippine eagles flapping about… they were in a cage away from public viewing. To be caught with a feather like that in one’s possession is just like signing a death wish because anyone caught with a feather would be fined a whopping P5,000,000! I stopped in my tracks and bit my tongue. Now I now what that amount of money looked like.

I guess my lucky stars did allow me to see a glimpse of the elusive Philippine eagle… not the whole animal though.

Live to fight another day then.