Friday, March 30, 2012

to talk with a real person, please press [zero]...

One of the things I don't enjoy doing is calling a phone number only to find out that I've reached an automated answering system.
Good day. If you know the extension number of the person you are calling, please dial it now. If not, please wait and an operator will assist you.
That isn't too bad. It's simple: just dial in the person's local number and you're connected! Actually, I like this kind of the voice prompt because it doesn't alienate callers so much. People are assured that they'll be talking with a real person in the next step.

Then there's the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure voice prompt:
Good day. To better serve you, please follow the instructions to reach the correct customer care specialist. For new applications, please press '1'. For information about new promos, discounts, and services, please press '2'. For callers using Product X, please press '3'. For callers using Product Y please press '4'... For inquiries about Product A, please press '9'.
Just as you thought that the next option in the long litany of the disembodied Voice will finally lead you to an actual person, the voice says:
To repeat the options, please press '0'.
Arrgh! What a letdown! This must be some cruel joke! No option to talk directly to a person who can transfer your call to a 'specialist'?!?

If that isn't bad enough, how about spending 10 minutes trying to decipher this maze the customer service people have developed to replace whoever is picking up the phone? After pressing one number in the first step, the caller is once again faced with a myriad of numbers to choose from. One mistake and you won't be able to reach the correct 'specialist'... or any real person, for that matter.

I had the misfortune of being a caller to a hotline that uses the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure answering machine. Frustrated with not getting answers after several minutes of listening to the Voice, I gave up. The next day, I visited the company's office. My one-on-one consult with a customer service representative was shorter and was a lot more informative than my phone call (which led me nowhere).


For the sake of being client-friendly, I hope that companies that use these voice prompts in their customer service hotlines keep the user interface simple.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

on changing phone numbers

This is the fourth (or the fifth?) time I'm changing mobile phone numbers in the fourteen years that I have been a cell phone user. The count just includes the times I've changed Philippine phone numbers; my overseas mobile number changes every time I'm outside the Philippines because I buy a local SIM in my destination.

With each change in mobile phone number (whether in the Philippines or outside), I find myself having difficulties in accepting my new number and letting go (albeit temporarily) of the old one. For instance, in 2008, I was forced to change my phone number because my phone had been stolen. It was such a big adjustment since I had that phone number since 1999, I think. FAST FORWARD TO 2012: I thought it's high time to apply for a data plan (since internet access is so strongly intertwined with phone usage); the caveat was that I have to change phone numbers again!

So while waiting in line for the salesperson to talk with me last week, I began thinking: why do I have a hard time letting go of a phone number? One that I've been using for several years. An inanimate and intangible object at that. What's the big deal about an 11-digit number?

Then I read Lem Usita's blog post: "Phone Numbers". He says that phone numbers used to be "identity markers", something that I could connect myself to, something that I could identify with. Reading it gave me a Eureka moment...

Changing phone numbers this year was like letting go of who I have been for the past four years. A new phone number is like unfamiliar territory, an uncomfortable place; something that's hard to adjust to. But like an immigrant who has newly arrived, I'll eventually get used to the new phone number. It will feel like home; just give it a few months.

All that uneasiness! And to think that this is an additional phone number. Someday, I might use this new number exclusively, but right now, I'm keeping both numbers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

if you're not celebrating your birthday, we'll celebrate it for you

One of my colleagues, Crystal, claims that she doesn't celebrate her birthday. Different; but to each his (or her) own, right? However, people in the lab are always looking for a reason to celebrate. Celebrate ANYTHING, specially since she's the only March celebrant in the lab. And so during the lunch break, the masterminds conspired to at least have cake on her special day.

The infamous pink hat (which always goes round the lab when donations or contributions are being collected) was circulated in time for preparations for afternoon snack:

The conspirators then wondered: If Crystal wasn't celebrating her birthday, would she be offended if people pushed through with a celebration? It was like inviting the birthday girl to her own party, or asking for permission to celebrate it... with or without her.

She did allow us to celebrate it and even joined us in her birthday party. Otherwise, she wouldn't see the message on her cake:

Indirect English translation: Let's eat snacks. Oh, today is also Crystal's 26th birthday.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tita Mely's birthday party

While the siblings were still together, plans for Tita Mely's birthday party were underway. She didn't want a celebration because the family is in the period of mourning. When I dropped by for dinner with them, I said that it wouldn't exactly be a party or a celebration. Since it was her birthday, she was just going to declare a rest day from cooking; that's why dinner would be outside. Nothing fancy. Just dinner.

One birthday party day: When I got to the restaurant, Lam Hung (another favorite Chinese restaurant of mine), the whole family was there; the priest was there; family friends were there. And most importantly, Tita Mely was enjoying her birthday dinner. 

The birthday dinner was, for me, a reminder of close family ties: a tight family that is together in sad times and in happier ones.

Monday, March 19, 2012

savoring the food at the Mandarin Palace

Along Aguirre Avenue in BF Paranaque, there's a relatively new Chinese restaurant that got me and my aunt, Tita Ising, curious. The opportunity to try it out came when my Mom and my brother were about to leave, a few days after Lola Estay's funeral. The four of us, including Tita Ising's god-son, trooped to Mandarin Palace for her despidida for Mommy and Biboy.

As we entered the restaurant, a disclaimer greeted us at the front door, showing proof that this establishment is indeed quite new. If we'd get service that was inferior to what we expected from such a good-looking restaurant, we'd been warned. We entered at our own risk, basically.

The area looked very nice inside. The lighting and the temperature inside were pleasant despite the bright glare of the sun and the heat outside. I particularly liked the whiteness and the shapes of the bowls and the plates... remembering that these factors influence the way customers perceive their food.

Then the food arrived. We ordered some of my favorites: stir-fried beef with broccoli, tofu and mushrooms, and the hot and sour soup. Everyone liked the beef but the soup and the tofu dish were not very popular with the rest of the lunch group. But they liked the lemon chicken, the dish that I wasn't a big fan of.

The beef slices were tender and the broccoli florets were crisp. The sauce was not very salty. It tasted just like the version I love in Ding-Hao (in Calamba).

My family wasn't a big fan of the hot and sour soup because they found it too hot (thanks to the chili) and too sour. But I liked it; it reminded me of the soup I'd buy at the airport in San Francisco just before going through the final security check and walking to the gate for my flight back to Manila.

The tofu and mushroom dish had a complex taste that I think came from the mushrooms and from the bamboo shoots that were stir-fried in one very strongly flavored mix. To me, the dish had a lot of earthy flavors injected with a degree of sourness. My family didn't like this dish a lot; their palates must have been overwhelmed.

While I loved the food, the lunch service was a different story altogether...

The waiting staff were apparently new at the time we ate there because they made two mistakes while we ate there. For one, they gave me the wrong beverage even after making sure that they got my order right. Then, while Tita Ising was getting food from a serving platter, a waitress took a plate that Tita Ising was still using without asking for her permission. We found that we couldn't really be disappointed with the staff because of the disclaimer at the door.

Despite the bloopers, I think I'd go eat there again one day, when Mandarin Palace's staff are more experienced. The reason: I liked the food we ordered.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

the eulogy is one of the hardest speeches i had to say

Just minutes before Lola Estay's funeral Mass last March 4, my mom and her siblings assigned me to speak on behalf of Lola's grandchildren. I'm sharing the draft of the eulogy I delivered.

One of my favorite fictional characters, Albus Dumbledore, said:

"After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

While Lola Estay sets off to her next great adventure, I'd like to remember and thank her for being the blessing that she was to everyone of us, particularly to my sister and me.

Thank you, Lola Estay for showering me and Anna with food.
She never forgot to give the two of us enough food to feed five people for a week. And when she grew weaker and frailer, she was worried that we didn't have anything to eat at home anymore. Don't worry, Lola, our fridge is stocked; and yes, at least one of your plastic containers is still at home.

Thank you, Lola Estay for keeping our family close.
Just look at all of us gathered here today. All of us have been touched by Lola's life in one way or another. My favorite memory of family unity, besides being at the dining table with her, was when we brought Lola Estay to the wrong terminal at the international airport. Imagine, when we realized that Philippine Airlines passengers were no longer embarking at the old terminal, the whole family ran all the way to the parking lot, raced to the Centennial terminal, and deposited a very confused and flustered Lola on a wheelchair just in time for her flight. Instead of the usual tears we always see when people say their goodbyes at the airport, all I saw was relief; relief that Lola was able to make it.

Thank you, Lola Estay, most importantly, for blessing us with our Mom, our aunts, and our uncle.
I didn't spend as much time with Lola Estay as many of you have because I don't live close by. However, I know that she is a great mom. Her goodness is reflected by my mom, one of the strongest women I know. It also shows on Tita Mely, one of the kindest people I know, and on Tita Babie and Tito Boy, who are also very kind to Anna and me.

Lola Estay has lived a most generous, unselfish, and loving life. While we are sad at this parting, I once again quote another of my favorite literary characters, Gandalf the White,

"I will not say: do not weep for not all tears are an evil."

At the same time, I choose to remember the joy that we had that day in the airport. We know that Lola Estay has left us but we also know that she has made it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Good bye, Lola Estay! (1917-2012)

Lola Estay, my maternal grandmother, passed away on February 29. She was 94 years old.

It was a heartwarming experience to see a lot of people attend her last Mass and then join her family as she was finally laid to rest. The Parish of Our Lady of Maulawin of the Iglesia Filipiniana Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) was filled to the brim with people (as if a movie star were there). Four priests officiated the service. And on her way out of the church, the queue of the funeral procession was very long as well.

My grandma was a local celebrity in her community, though she never knew (or admitted to) it. Fr Sonny, the priest who frequently visited Lola Estay at home, said in his homily that she's as famous as her store; her house is a landmark in barangay Sto Angel Sur and people in surrounding barangays know her; she (as the store owner) is and will always be part of Sta Cruz, Laguna's history.

I never realized how famous Lola Estay was until the day of the funeral. To me, she's the doting grandma who always fussed about her apos not eating enough during (and between) meal times, who cooked the best fried chicken in the world, and who always insisted that I bring home enough food to feed five people for two weeks even though she knew that I would be back to visit her on the next weekend.

Good bye, Lola Estay! See you again one day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

15 years on: appreciating my high school literature class (6)

Events this week reminded me of the words of Emily Dickinson that I studied in Ms. Apalin-Gaffud's third-year literature class. I wonder if Dickinson's last moment on Earth felt as beautiful as the way she wrote in Because I Could Not Stop for Death. One thing's for certain though: relatives of a dying loved one won't take Death as easily as the way she described it.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death --
He kindly stopped for me --
The Carriage held but just Ourselves --
And Immortality.

We slowly drove -- He knew no haste
And I had to put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility --

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess -- in the Ring --
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain --
We passed the Setting Sun --

Or rather -- He passed us --
The Dews drew quivering and chill --
For only Gossamer, my Gown --
My Tippet -- only Tulle --

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground --
The Roof was scarcely visible --
The Cornice -- in the Ground --

Since then -- 'tis Centuries -- and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity --