My Missionary Tales: First Night at My First Area

I stared out of the window as the bus drove me to my first area. It was October or November of 2003, and after spending the night at the mission office, we, the greenies – noob wasn’t a word back then, were set-out with our “trainors” to do what we were assigned to do: preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as full-time missionaries.

The journey has become lonely, despite there were seven other missionaries with me. The three to four hour travel from Davao City to Sta. Josefa in Agusan Del Sur waned my excitement I felt at the beginning of the trip. As the sun set there were less houses and people on the highway we were passing.

By the time the bus arrived at our stop, it was already night time. Four of us boarded down while the other four missionaries had another hour of travel or so. We were in an intersection where the only light we had was the lamppost. There were no houses around, only the dark silhouette of a mountain that greeted us in our arrival. Looking back, it looked like we were in the middle of nowhere.

We split ways with the other two missionaries (our district leader and his companion), who were going to another municipal town called Trento. We rode a tricycle that took us up on the mountain. It was a quiet night. As far as I could tell there was no one else in the road. Lampposts kept our way illuminated like lonely sentinels. I noticed a few houses along the way but as we were in a provincial area they were few and far apart.

To be honest, I was happy when we passed a gasoline station in an intersection leading to our apartment. Seeing the bright lighted signage, I could not help thinking, At last! Civilization.

But we were brought again to darkness after making a turn in the intersection, and as a boy who grew up in the city I thought how lonely this place if that was the only establishment this town had.

We stopped across an empty lot that I found the next day was a rice field. We took my bags and crossed a dirt path leading to my new home for a few months. At that time there weren’t much people outside and I later learned that many – who were farmers – sleep early in the evening, part due to work, part due that many households do not have electricity.

The house we were renting had two rooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and a patio which was typical of houses in the province. It seemed like all houses in rural areas always have a patio in front.

The companions I had during my two year service say I’m very adaptive, and I guess it had worked well with me that first night in my first area and to the coming days afterwards. Buses with signboards written “Cubao” (a city in Manila) always pass through the highway and I had heard stories of homesick missionaries getting on those buses to come home.

I don’t remember what had happened the rest of that night. I think I felt homesick but I knew I didn’t cry. I had shed all of my tears in the Missionary Training Center.

I just knew I was assigned in this area; and that my work was about to begin the next day.

Visit To Mount Samat National Shrine

September 21, 2018. This adventure had a number of first for me. This was the first time I drove to the northern part of the Philippines. This was also the first time I would drive across North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and then the surprisingly scenic Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). This was the longest drive so far I had taken. And it’s my first time to visit Mt. Samat.

Jennifer, my balikbayan sister, had planned to take the family out even before she arrived in the Philippines. It was supposed to be a surprise birthday treat for our cousin, Ate Ada and my wife and I were game with the plan.

But I still have some apprehensions. I am an advanced novice driver, having driven our burgundy red Suzuki Ertiga for only five months (if you don’t know what burgundy red is, it’s a fancy name for violet). I wasn’t nervous about the long travel, but how to go to our destination was a challenge for me. Sure there’s the Waze app, but it drained the battery of my smartphone and did not give directions, except for the few times it warned me of road obstructions. It was – as my friend had said – a waze of time.

To get me through Bataan I had to follow my father’s Avanza through the busy road of C5 and the expressway. As an advanced newbie driver, I had to balance between not losing my dad and getting lost, and making sure there was enough distance between us so I would not rear-end him in case he brakes unexpectedly. Fortunately, the overall trip was safe with only a few near mishaps on my side.

NLEX was a better sight than SLEX (South Luzon Expressway) with farm lands stretching on each side. Some length of the road had trees that seemed to make a natural archway. My sleepy wife was pleased with the morning view but it was in the SCTEX that perked her and made my driving enjoyable. If only my vehicle was on auto mode and I would have a 360 degree view of God’s greatest painting. Endless blue sky flowed above us and lush carpet of green surrounded us, covering hills that were once hot raging mud from a volcano. My wife and I loved cloud-gazing and the formations that embellished the sky added the beauty of the drive.

We reached the foot of Mt. Samat before noon. Some of the roads were in construction so we had to drive with caution. We stopped near a bend of the road at the middle of our ascent to have our lunch and for the drivers to rest. To save money we bought our own food for the journey and shared it to everyone.

Phone signals were a bit weak up there, and I used my size to block any remaining signal to disrupt my younger sister’s web surfing (Suffer! was my villainous catchphrase).

We reached the entrance of the Mt. Samat National Shrine and climbed the steep zigzag roads, but the elevator on the Memorial Cross was malfunctioned, so we contented with ourselves on taking photos at the foot of the edifice. The constructed cross was 95 meters high from the base and on its side were relief sculptured of heroes and events from our history. A picturesque panoramic view of mountains, bays, and sea could be seen around us.

The Memorial Cross

Mt. Samat had not only a historic significance for our country but was also personal for our family as well. Near the site, my great-grandfather was among the defenders who fought against the Japanese before their defeat and joining the infamous death march.

Near the entrance was a Colonnade where the story of the Battle of Bataan was etched on the walls. At the center was a marbled altar, with a sign that warned not to climb on it. Behind the altar were three religious stained glass murals.

At its side was the entrance to the museum. Paintings of heroes, both local and foreign hang on the walls. There were war artifacts shown in its main hall, from guns to a Japanese uniform, the Mickey Mouse money, and a shortened noose.

Among the displays were panels filled with photos depicting the life and events during WWII. We breezed most of them but stopped when we saw a photo depicting a yard from UP Los Banos, my wife and Janine’s Alma Matter. Seeing our interest and hearing we mentioned Baker Hall , Sir Bong, the local historian, approached us and pointed a picture of the actual building. And a historian as he was, he gave some interesting facts, like that Gen. Yamashita was executed across Baker Hall and that there was a shrine built near where he died but was removed due to a group protesting against it.

I asked about the noose and Sir Bong answered it was the actual one used to hang the infamous general.

“The Yamashita treasure is real,” he added. “Watch Yamashita Treasure: The untold story to know what really happened.”

We thanked him for the interesting tidbits he shared though I made a mental note to validate some of the facts, especially about the noose. If it was the one used to execute Yamashita, shouldn’t it have a historical significance to have a label to indicate so?

One of the interesting display was the diorama of Bataan which had lights and labels and description depicting the last efforts of the US and Philippines to defend and fight against the Japanese. I could see the strongholds were the army stood against the invaders. I asked dad if he knew where his grandfather was stationed and fought but he did not know. I guess it would be one of those questions I had to research for the answers.

The trip to this national shrine made the history enthusiast in me happy. But I noticed that as there were a lot of people who visited the cross, there seemed less who visited the museum, much less the landmarks along the road. Maybe I am wrong. It’s a shame if people came for the aesthetic of the place and not appreciate its true significance.

Going to Mount Samat reminded me of the struggles of our patriots. I hope that anyone who visits this place would be awed not only by its height and sights, but also the blood and life shed so we could enjoy our freedom, such as taking a road trip with the family.

I’m a Tombstone Tourist

Taphophile. It’s a new word, not even listed in my Merriam-Webster dictionary app. But in Wikepedia it is also known as tombstone tourist. Yes, I like visiting cemeteries, especially the ones that have historical and artistic significance. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I discovered this grave fascination (Get it? Grave), but I suspect my interest in history had a significance contribution of my urge to visit these final resting places of the dearly departed.

One of the first cemeteries I had visited aside from visiting our dead relatives was in the underground cemetery in Nagcarlan. I remember the coin purses made of whole frog skin being sold at the entrance of the chapel. Inside, a staircase led to the catacomb. To be honest I was a bit disappointed that the place was smaller than I had envisioned. I thought that it would look like the catacombs in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. My young imagination brightened with excitement when I heard someone (I don’t remember who it was) said that there was a tunnel in the underground cemetery going to the St. Bartholomew the Apostle Parish Church, which was about 850 meters away and that this tunnel was walled with tombs, only to be blocked for safety purposes. Unfortunately, it was only years later did I discover that this was a myth.

My great-grandfather’s tombstone in the Libingan ng Bayani

Years passed with better understanding and appreciation. One of the favorite cemeteries I like to visit is the Libingan ng mga Bayani or Heroes Cemetery in Taguig. Fallen soldiers from World War II up to present were given honors by being buried in this hallowed grounds. My great-grandfather was also buried here and we pay our respects whenever we visit, but it was the artistic monuments and historical people that get me excited. Past presidents, heroes I had read in history books, and national artists were in one place where I can visit, read their accomplishments, and practice my photography skills.

Two cemeteries I had visited were closer to my childhood home. One is the cemetery in Sariaya, Quezon where my maternal grandmother was first buried. It was a public cemetery and as expected, was crowded. I could see headstones on walls and wondered how they had fit a human body in there. But what was memorable was inside the chapel entrance. It had a painting hung at the far wall, worn and neglected, depicting about the after life, one resting peacefully in heaven, and the other side picturing the fiery torments of hell. Somehow that darker side of the painting was more vivid with me.

The other cemetery was the Lumang Sementeryo in Lucena City. How old is the cemetery? In one blog it had written it was almost a hundred years old. Almost hidden from the streets, and jam packed, I remember visiting some of our dead relatives there with my dad and we had to jump from one nitso to another. But despite its space constraints, it still boasts some of the most interesting mausoleums and memorials I had seen.

During my stay at Hartford, Connecticut I visited two cemeteries, despite walking long distances just to get there. Both had historical significance. I had written one in a previous post.

The other – Cedar Hill cemetery – was a picturesque graveyard filled with artistic monuments and statues. It was an open art museum, and my eyes and camera lens had their fill with the beauty and serenity of the place. The famous people that had been buried there were a big plus for the trip.

Some may think that visiting a cemetery is a macabre interest, but to taphophiles like me, it is not the dead we fear, but that some of our historic cemeteries are endangered from neglect. If these will not acknowledged, then we will be left with their bones and the regret of losing their glory.

My Photoshoot and Writeup at the Riverside

On weekends when both weather and work permits, I escape the confines of my hotel room to indulge one of my artistic hobbies: photography.

Early this year I bought a Sony A6300 mirrorless camera – a late Christmas gift from my wife, and since had used more than a few times to capture Hartford’s interesting and picturesque places.

This morning I decided to take a walk along the riverside, both to keep myself sane from being coupe up in my room for a long time and to clear my head and find inspiration to write something. Thus I am writing this blog at a bench near the riverbank, enjoying the sounds of lapping water that reminds me so much of home.

Also I went out to take pictures, let’s not forget about that.

But as art begets art, so my photography and writing are often intertwined. Photography captures the images I want to save, either for their beauty or for documentation. Writing helps me tell the stories behind those pictures, whether they are fact or just the creation from my imagination.

Just like the story of the branch and tennis ball. I noticed the branch idly floating near the banks. Not far the current was carrying the green tennis ball closer to the log, oddly in the opposite direction the river was flowing. I took pictures of these two objects, hoping to capture a good but easily to understand photo about a game involving these two objects (I was thinking of baseball) still interact with each other in the waters. After a few shots I put the camera down, but the tale of the branch and ball has not ended. The current moved the ball and the branch in a circle, as if the branch was chasing the elusive green ball. I had not pictured nor video this but there are times when you just let memory record this scenes and you create a story; a strange story where the goddess current toys with two inanimated objects for my viewing pleasure.

But I did take many shots on my riverside walk. Many were from the sculptures that commemorates the works of President Abraham Lincoln and his fight to abolish slavery. I took different angles on some of the iron statues, hoping to make it… artsy.

Despite my interest, I am the first to admit I am not a gifted photographer and my skill’s are basic if not lacking (as you can see from a few of the pictures I posted here), but I like to think that I am doing better than I was six years ago when I first handled my dad’s DSLR.

I’m glad I got out to get some fresh but cold air outside. Photography had lubricated my left brain hemisphere, which had been quite dry for creative juices, especially on writing which made me feel that I am me again. And that I am able to share something once again with you.

Writing Bits of My Memoir

My pen was a gift from my parents and my notebook was a gift from my wife

Recently my best friend in writing is not my laptop nor smartphone, but the old fashioned pen and notebook. I tried writing a blog about being a taphophile (a new word that means tombstone tourist; not preying and molesting tadpoles), but when I wrote about my lola Lourdes’ funeral, I decided to write down that event in my notebook with more details that my memory could take me and with an honest view as my conscience allows me.

I’m no stranger to journal writing and had a few of those hardbound notebooks that I’ve tried writing my daily routine but the details were often boring and I could not succeed completing a full year account; I wasted countless of blank pages on those not so cheap notebooks.

Writing pieces of my life in a memoir was different. There’s no pressure of writing the day’s event. I look at my history from the outside and watch what the younger me was going through. I’m still at my second “post”, writing to my kids about my experience during our ward’s temple trips from Lucena to Quezon City and how it was different for them now than it was for me when I was just a boy. And I’m in no pressure to finish it in one day.

So while I do not write about my trips or my family history (the latter is a project I am serious about) the chunk of my time is recording my own history. Aside that I get to practice my writer’s muscle, I hope that in place of a journal or diary, this would be a repository of my memories, stories that wouldn’t be lost in time.

Walking on Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground

I’ve always loved old cemeteries, and Hartford has one of the most fascinating burial sites I had visited.

Panoramic view of the cemetery

Hartford’s ancient burying ground is the oldest historic site in the city, and the only one surviving from the 1600s. It’s open to the public and one could stroll and wonder the history and art in this cemetery.

Marker by the entrance

This burying ground was the resting place of Hartford’s residence from the first settlers in 1640 to the 1800s. But because gravestones were expensive, as many as 90 percent of those buried here were unmarked.

Walking along the graveled path, I admired the artwork and the stories etched on the stones. One headstone belonged to a Thomas Langrell which told of his sad demise:

“Drowned in the glory of his years

And left his mate

to drown herself in tears”

Gravestone of Thomas Langrell who died June 15, 1757 at the age of 20. The epitaph indicates that he drowned and left a wife

There were a few monuments in the burying grounds, most prominent was the obelisk structure called the Founders Monument. And there were a few peculiar table like structures which was called a tablestone – the most expensive type of gravestone at that time. Among this unique markers I found the tablestone of the Reverend Thomas Hooker, considered as Hartford’s founding father. Usually those who could afford to make tablestones were people of prominence and wealth. And I found that a few of these had more than one name etched on it.

The Founders Monument

Though not everyone from Hartford was buried here – or the cemetery should have been larger – anyone could be buried here, even African Americans. A black headstone was erected in 1998 by the efforts of Harford’s schoolchildren to honor the memories of those African Americans interred in this site.

A memorial for the African Americans interred in this burial grounds. Behind this stone we could see tombs, gravestones, and tablestones.

As a small adventure, I tried to find the oldest gravestone in the cemetery, as printed in the brochure. I went back and forth trying to find the grave of Timothy Stanly, who was buried in 1648. Enduring the cold temperature and wind I kept searching, analyzing my location and the grave, going through the headstones pointed out by the map as if they were clues in a treasure hunt, until I found it at the midst of other headstones in the North-East section of the ground. A marker was placed in front of it, a marker I had noticed numerous times as I tried to find Stanly’s gravestone!

Gravestone of Timothy Stanly, the oldest grave. In front of it is a T-shaped marker

I left the burial grounds appreciating Hartford’s rich history and art and their efforts to conserve these in memory of those who had passed and for the next generations. Though I could not compare any like it in the Philippines, my visit inspired me to search for these kinds of historical gems back home.

Travelled So Far Yet Still Fell Short (And Why We Didn’t Mind)

Last Saturday my wife and I went to the Hartford Connecticut Temple. Or tried to go to the temple. The day before we decided to travel early, a habit we had when we go to the Philippines Manila temple on weekends. But my wife was still suffering from jetlag and I let her sleep until past seven in the morning. Still we were optimistic that we would catch the 11:30 am session.

After packing and breakfast, we were on our way to the Lord’s house; our first visit here in the US. Before leaving the hotel I checked Google maps for the busses that we need to take to commute to the temple in Farmington, CT. I was surprised that the busses listed on the app were scheduled on Monday.

“This can’t be right?” I said to myself. I thought the reason for the schedule was that snow had fallen the night before. But busses were passing by when we braved the ice cold wind outside of the hotel. That was a good sign, I thought.

The app said that we should take busses number 60-66 to get to our destination. So when I saw 64W with the words Farmington Ave on the LED screen above the bus windshield, my wife and I went in and were relieved from the frigid temperature.

All was well during the trip. I showed her some sights like the Mark Twain house and the Aetna building that looked more like a university than a insurance company. But my confidence dropped when the bus made a left turn instead of going straight. I confided with my wife that we may had taken the wrong bus, and not long it was confirmed I was right when the bus made its way back to downtown.

Stopping somewhere in West Hartford we waited in a bus stop, a photo op for my wife as she took pictures of us on the snow. Bus 62 came in view, and thinking that the absence of a third digit I thought that this was the correct bus. Unfortunately, this bus turned to the right where our earlier bus turned left. Having asked the driver, which I should have done in the first place, we learned that the bus we should take was 66T. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available in the weekends (hence, the Monday schedule in my Google maps app). There were busses number 66H but it would only take us to UCONN Health Center. From there we had to walk to get to the temple.

“How long will it take for us to walk?” I asked.

“It’s some distance,” he answered, looking through the Waze app in his smartphone. “About half an hour. In good days you can walk, but not in this weather.” He pointed to the sky outside which was white with overcast. Despite his warning, we decided to push forward. We can handle thirty minutes of walking. In my mind we would be walking across suburban communities.

Bracing a long hike, we ate in a Chinese restaurant called Black Bamboo where we ordered wonton soups and General Tso’s Chicken (I give it a 4.5 stars out of 5. They did not have siopao). As with other restaurants, the servings filled more than the two of us and we had to take out what was left. Waiting for 66H, my confidence again rose and the anticipation of going to new places excited me. Not long we boarded 66H and were on our way to the temple. Or so we thought. Farmington was more provincial if compared to the Philippines than its neighbor Hartford. Meaning bare trees flanked the road side with few houses in between.

When we reached UCONN Health Center, traversed almost the whole compound, and dropping at the Outpatient Pavilion, I had doubts whether will be making it to the temple. The weather did not let up, and when I checked Google map I realized that our driver had underestimated the distance we need to take. Instead of half an hour the app said it would take more than an hour to reach the temple. That is two hours of walking. And I was worried that with that distance we won’t make it to the return trip back to our hotel.

I shared my feelings to my wife and she agreed that we need to postpone our temple trip. We took the opportunity to take pictures again while waiting for the bus to take us back to Hartford.

So our adventure ended up not going to our desired destination. But that was okay. We were able to go on an unexpected tour. And with the transit system that greatly differs to the Philippines, all the busses we rode only cost $ 7.00. My wife enjoyed the views and the trip, and wished our kids could see the piles of snow that we only had seen in TV. Despite not being able to step in to His Holy House, I think Heavenly Father is pleased with our efforts. Isn’t life like that? We tried our best, and we usually fall short. But we can try again and do better. With better planning and better preparation.

“Next time let’s take Uber,” my wife said. Sure. Totally agree.

A New Blog Site?

It’s been years since I’ve started using WordPress as an outlet for my thoughts and my creative works. And I’m grateful for all the likes and comments, and most of all your time to read my efforts to channel my inner writer. And through the years I made some changes in my site to better accommodate what I want to blog. But this day, I made a decision to create another blog site; is my new project and focuses more on my family history and their stories.

This site will still continue as I blog my stories and other things that come to my mind (hence the original name of my site “Just a Thought”). Still, is it crazy to have two blog sites? Honestly it felt like betraying an old friend but I wanted another site to focus on a specific topic and not just rambles of an inspiring writer.

I hope you’ll enjoy and follow my new site as you continue to follow and enjoy this.

Thank you very much! 🙂

A Writer’s Frustration (And Realization)


Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to write and ending with a blank space of a word processor document. I had envisioned myself as a fiction writer but lately my mind seems dry although I have lots of story plots percolated in my brain. But what the mind has conjured is not easily projected to the digital bond paper in front of me. I have lots of unfinished novels stored in my machine’s hard drive. There’s even one in a Cloud which I had worked during my commutes to the office but like a bubblegum chewed too long, the story has lost its flavor and I’m stuck at how to proceed. My last fictional works involved short stories, where it was not too challenging for my short patience and attention span. But unfortunately – not due to a writer’s block, which is much more unfortunate because it would have given me an excuse not to write – even they seemed dry and lifeless when I started working on them. In the end, the stories were doomed to the recycling bin of my computer.

I’ve bought novels, hoping that they would inspire me to get back to writing fiction. I’m still waiting, and hoping, for the results. I’m just glad that I have a WordPress account. It started with a goal to post a few blogs per month but my account became an irritating reminder; demanding that I post something, anything, even if it was terrible (and I admit I feel not all of my blogs had been great). Yet in writing non-fiction I find it easier to access my muse; I guess because I do not have to imagine settings, scenarios, and plots. What I write is what I had experienced and already know, and I do not need to worry much about plot holes, which was the death of my stories. And from dreaming of writing novels, I shifted to writing about myself, my family and our family history. I even plan to write about my great-grandfather who was Philippine Constabulary in the World War II. His efforts in the war earned him the right to be buried in the Hero’s Cemetery, or Libingan ng mga Bayani, in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig. I may even get an idea for a novel from it. But for now, I’ll just let my muse carry me in my writing efforts. I don’t want to press myself to write fiction because I wanted to be a novelist. The dream is still there, but for now I set it aside to write my non-fictional blogs instead.

And it feels right.

What My DNA Says About My Past

MyHeritage DNA kit.

A few weeks ago I joined the bandwagon of people trying to know their ethnicity through DNA. And last night, the results from came. My first impulse was to share it with my wife and my family. Then I posted the results in Facebook then started working on how to write it on this blog. The results, though most wasn’t shocking, did yield an unexpected detail of my family history in my genes.


I’m not going to bog this blog with details on how they got this data; you can Google it and spare me the time and hustle trying to explain. The top two estimates weren’t a surprise. I’m a Filipino, so naturally the bulk of my ethnicity would come to my country or it’s surrounding neighbors. So that there’s still a possibility that I came from a royal line of Datus (more on that on a future blog).  Two percent South Asian was inevitable. How many times did people mistaken me as an Indian or Pakistan? But 1.3 percent Japanese? My eyes widened when I saw that figure. I expected Chinese, as my grandfather had told me once, but not Japanese. Did that I explain my penchant for Gundams? I believe that this fact gave me a mental caffeine and made me stay awake for an extra hour last night.

Though pleased with this findings, I want to add that the company – – has already issued a disclaimer of sorts when it comes to their Ethnicity Estimates in their website:

Remember that your Ethnicity Estimates — which are the result of a highly accurate statistical algorithm — are still estimates. Some global populations exhibit similar DNA due to proximity and the mingling of populations.

So what does that mean? It means that though my results say that I have 1.3 percent of Japanese in me, it may not be 100 percent true. It’s still an estimate. Scrolling the net what it meant for that kind of percentage some say that it was possible just a “noise” (whatever that means), that it’s still good as zero. But when I questioned my dad he said that there was a possibility that there was somewhere a Japanese ancestor in my Padua line. So for now, I choose to give this result the benefit of the doubt. Happily.

Why did I take this test? Curiosity is a huge factor. Naturally it would be interesting to know my origins, where my ancestors could come from. Also the ads on the family history shows that I tune in also pushed me into taking that step.

Another reason that I convinced myself was that it would help me with my family history research. At least down the line as I work on my tree I’ll be expecting to find some ancestors coming from both South-East and South Asian countries. And with DNA I could discover unknown cousins; In fact, MyHeritage had tracked four people whose DNA matches with mine.

What did I gain from this? Added knowledge and the validation why people make a mistake with my nationality. It’s still was just a scratch on my family tree. I’m still me. I don’t have a sudden cravings for ramen or curry, although I like both foods. My parents are still who they are and so are the rest of my family. But it does shows, and this would sound and is trite, that wherever you are born, you are connected to anyone from anywhere.

And if anyone asks me if I’m Indian, I can answer, “Yes. I’m two percent Indian.”