Real Alone Time

Real Alone Time

By Gina Abuyuan

Writer and editor Alya Honasan takes pride in her annual solo getaways. She’s a diver, and for about a decade now, she embarks on dive trips—Palawan, Palau, Australia—by herself. It’s invigorating, she says. And the feeling of freedom and independence is like no other.

When I was single, I never had the courage to take off the way Alya does, even though I daydreamed about it. Hitch-hiking across the Philippines, setting up a tent alone on a beach, discovering Sagada on my own–I thought about all doing those things, but never had the balls to carry them out. I stand barely five feet, a tad gullible, and sometimes too shy to speak out in case I offend someone (although people close to me are sure to contest that)—not an ideal formula for a solo female traveller.

These days, though—older, tougher, not afraid to tell someone off–I can pretty much hold my own. I’ve travelled to Camarines Norte and Palawan alone, downed drinks in bars alone, and roamed the backstreets of Chiang Mai alone. The latest solo trip I took was the one to Marabut, Samar, for a much needed break after a weighty assignment interviewing farmers affected by climate change in Southern Leyte.

I chose Caluwayan Resort, a three-star resort with four villas and two open cottages fronting the beach. Since I didn’t have the budget to rent a villa (P5,000 a night), I opted for the open cottage—and when I say open, I mean open. It’s a gazebo walled-in by a white canvas tied to the posts. The “door” is a double layered curtain of canvas and gauze. There’s a double bed and a side table. It may sound bare, but it was actually quite comfortable. I felt like I was sleeping in my own room, with the bonus of the sound of waves and natural breeze. Magical.

That said, there are certain things you need to remember if you choose to go on a solo holiday. Here are the most important:

  • Make sure your kids, husband or partner, or a close friend knows where you’re going. Show them the web site and give them the contact details. Tell them when you plan to leave, and your ETA back in your hometown.
  • Keep your mobile phone on (even if it’s on silent) all the time. If the signal’s wonky (as it is in Samar), inform them so they don’t worry.
  • Bring medication if you’ve got a condition that calls for it. I’m asthmatic, so I bring at least two inhalers with me, plus anti-histamines. Inform the restaurant or the cook of any allergies, so they don’t mix any crab or shrimp or lobster (in my case, that is) in your food.
  • Bring along a self-defense weapon and know how to use it. This can be a pepper spray, a taser, or a small knife.
  • Don’t attract attention. It’s inevitable that a man/men will want to chat you up or be curious on your solo status. I choose not to make eye contact if I sense a man is trying to catch my attention, and I clothe myself in a “leave me alone” aura. I also make it a point to let the receptionist or waiter or boatman know that I’m married (or at least, partnered) and have three children. This is my way of saying, “Yes, people will look for me if I disappear.”
  • Don’t get inebriated. No explanation needed.

Some moms may think that this is a little extreme—alone time away, hundreds of kilometers from home, when an hour at the spa can do the trick. There comes certain instances, though, certain valleys in one’s psychological, emotional, and physical health patterns, that can only be cured by a literal change of pace and scenery. Like Alya’s—and if you are so inclined—you can treat yourself to a solo holiday once a year. Let go of the guilt, plan it well, involve the help and understanding of your partner, support group, and kids. Take it from me: you will come back renewed and refreshed. You won’t regret it, and—seeing what good it did Mom–neither will your partner and children.

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

It Pays to Be ‘Praning’

By Regina Abuyuan

“What’s worse than someone raping your daughter?” read an award-winning poster for an awareness campaign back in the ‘90s. “Someone raping your son.”

I think either is worst, period. Sexual assault, bullying, seemingly harmless pranks that end up scarring one’s emotional growth forever, illness—the list of motherly fears go on.

Friends and family like to say that I’m braver (let’s say more foolhardy) than most, but it’s the opposite when it comes to my kids. With them, I’m hopelessly praning. I wiped down their toys with alcohol when they were babies, fearing they would contract some deadly disease when they put them in their mouths. I stock up on the Neosporin, fever patches, and make them drink wheatgrass, even if I know their intake of fruits and vegetables is enough (I hope!). I’m that kind of mom.

I also, have of late, begun teaching my teenage daughter more practical ways to stay safe. Some of these were borne out of my own “kapraningan” when I was young—and were validated later on via viral emails and warnings, as everyone grew more aware of how to keep out of danger or compromising circumstances. Here they are:

The two way mirror. Restrooms, dressing rooms, and yes, motel bedrooms have them. Not wanting to go down in history with a Betamax scandal tape to my name, I learned to search for hidden cameras or places where they could be hidden. Any strange protusions, wires, unevenly installed areas of an otherwise flawless surface—those were subject to scrutiny, knocking (if it sounded hollow, it was covered), and rearrangement (lamps and vases, transferred to the floor).

Mirrors were particularly tricky. A trick I learned from a policeman was to put your finger against the surface. If there was no gap between the surface and your finger, it was likely to be a two-way mirror (I can still picture myself doing this in the restroom of Larry’s Bar in Makati). Another trick was to check if the mirror was installed within the wall, and not merely mounted on it. If it was, it was a sign that it was an observation mirror.

Of course, a pervert need only to clear the silver backing of a small area of a mirror to get a view, and there are more ways to tell a one way mirror from not (read here), but so far I’ve been safe. Phew.

Walking on the traffic side of a sidewalk. Never walk on the outer side of a curb—especially if you have long hair, a bag swinging from a long shoulder strap, or loose articles of clothing hanging from your body (a jacket tied around your waist, a cuff with tassels, a necktie). Abductors can easily swing by and drag you into their vehicles, mostly vans. (I almost had this happen to me in the Katipunan area. I quickly stepped back and ran back inside the Ateneo campus grounds.) In the same vein, don’t use your mobile phone, iPod, or gadgets while walking in public places. A motorcycle snatcher can easily breeze by and grab your valuables.

The open drinks. Never accept open drinks when you’re out partying or hitting the clubs. Let’s be real. Your daughter will eventually enter this scene, even if they claim they never will, and forewarned is forearmed. I tell my daughter that, when that time comes, to buy her own drinks, and if she accepts one from anyone, to make sure she sees it being opened in front of her by the bartender. Sedatives or date rape drugs can easily be dropped in already-open drinks. Not good.

Don’t be afraid to scream. Teenagers value their image and poise. But in times of uncertainty and danger, they have to learn to scream—scream their lungs out. Troublemakers don’t like attention, and they’re sure to scurry away if a victim creates a major fuss. Their voice is their best weapon in times of distress. Reassure your children it’s okay to let it rip, and the “embarrassment” far outweighs their safety.

Be wary of men who approach you in malls. During the launch of Called to Rescue, a movement to halt trafficking, Cyndi Romaine informed the audience that a popular modus operandi of traffickers was to approach a group of teenagers in public places, usually malls. They would choose the average-looking girl—not the prettiest, not the homeliest—to them, it was a safer gamble. That particular girl would probably have the self-esteem easier to manipulate and be easier to “sell” to clients. Whether or not the motive is to traffic, warn your children—girls and boys—to stay away from strangers in malls. Our parents warned us about this then and it’s worked…so might as well warn our kids now.


Open for Improvement

By Regina Abuyuan


Around mid-2004, I did the unthinkable: I joined a self-enhancement seminar.

Before I actually signed up, though, I went through the usual motions: denial that I needed it; balking at the price; and scoffing at the too-happy, seemingly too-confident people who gave their testimonials. “Interesting,” I thought. “But not for me.”

Curiosity and a good deal on the terms of payment made me register eventually, and in two months, I was sitting with a group of a hundred or so people, eager to discover if this seminar (which promised us “everything we wanted out of life” and “personal breakthroughs”) was really everything its participants said it was.

In a way, they were right.

I learned that most, if not all, of us never live in the present. We live in the past or the future, and the baggage of our past and the anticipation of what’s going to happen in the future affect our choices today.

I learned to consider things, events, people, words just as they are—nothing more, nothing less. They only gain meaning when we color them with our own intent and personal dramas.

I learned that the everyday complaints we have about people and situations are what hinder us from moving forward. I learned that we actually are attached to those complaints and don’t want to give them up, even if we know we can and should, because we get a payoff from feeling and believing in such.

What are these payoffs? We may feel right (or righteous), we may feel powerful, or for those who like it, we may feel victimized. Whatever it is, those payoffs make us blind to what really matters: Would you rather be right, or alone? Powerful, or feared? Strong, or perennially stressed out? Victimized, or always dependent on other people’s perceptions of you?

I learned about choices, how they’re different from decisions, and how you can make your life work by re-making your choices every day—or unmaking them with the same commitment if your life isn’t working.

I learned how to “complete” things and issues with other people; and how to feel complete with incompletions if the other person wasn’t yet in the right space to allow that completion.

I even learned that the simple formula of context-breakdown-breakthrough could be applied to almost anything (in fact, it’s one of the formulas I give to younger writers if they ask for story guidelines).

These may sound simple, and I learned so much more from this basic seminar, that I enrolled in the Advanced Course, and later, the Leadership Course. As I am not a trained Forum Leader and one blog entry can’t encapsulate everything the seminar has to offer, it would be unfair for me to expound more.

There are some who get addicted to seminars like these, though, and when that happens, their self-improvement goals become counter-productive. Self-enhancement programs are meant to enable you to stand on your own; they’re not meant to become a crutch.

I stopped being actively involved in those seminars in 2006. Life continued, but this time I was equipped with tools I needed to deal with certain aspects of it; to transform the way I previously handled problems and issues. I don’t use all of them all at once, and sometimes I forget to use them at all, but they’re there when I choose to pull them out, and so far they’ve served me well. “We already know that,” skeptics will say about seminars like these. “We just need a reminder.”

True, but it takes a bit of humility to be open to those reminders; and a bit more to actually accept them. Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t an advertisement for you to go out and sign up for the first self-enhancement class you encounter. Those opportunities for self-improvement can come in different forms, and at the right time.

Meanwhile, be willing to be nudged, to consider another person’s perspective— an external voice, if you will—to make you realize your “blind spots” and help you bloom.

Be willing to do the unthinkable.


Teaching by Doing

By Regina Abuyuan

My friend R, who partnered with D and me on this new venture of ours, a pub in Cubao X, has an ingenious solution to the never-ending quest for work-life balance and spending time with his kids even when he’s at work: letting his kid work alongside him.

For two weeks now, his son R2 has worked Fridays and a couple of Sundays waiting and clearing tables at the pub. Unlike most teens, he’s not into video games and girls (thanks to his ultra-sensible, well-grounded parents). However, R thought he could use some boosting in the get-your-nose-out-of-your-book-and-relate-to-the-world department. Don’t get me wrong—R2 is no sullen, emo-type nerd. He’s always smiling; chatty when he wants to be. But parents like to push their children’s potential, so here we are.

The first night, R2 was learning the ropes, trying to gain his footing. And he did—fast! Now he automatically hands guests their menus, knows how to serve beer, and wipes down tables after.

“It’s about building confidence,” his father likes to explain to people, after joking about child labor, when they inquire about the bespectacled lad handing them their drinks. “How to relate to different kinds of people—people skills.”

The best feedback I’ve gotten from R about his boy waiting tables, though, is this: “Papa,” R2 told his father after one (his first!) particularly busy Sunday. “I will never get irritated at waiters again.”

And what about my kids, you may ask? Why haven’t I asked S to join in? I don’t think it’s for her. I’ve asked her to serve customers a few times, but I know she wouldn’t be the eager learner like R2 is. Instead, I let her watch and witness how hard D and I work at the kitchen and bar—and her reaction has been just as rewarding.

“Are you sure you’re OK?” She texted last pay day, a Friday, when she learned D was going to be late for service and R wasn’t around. I was basically running the whole show, with the crowd growing bigger by the minute. “Yes, I’ll be OK,” I answered.

“Uhm, well, at least you’re earning…and you like it…I hope Tito D comes soon so he can help you.”

I rediscovered what I taught myself and S when she was little and would sit beside me while I wrote: If you can’t bring your kids to work, or have them experience what you do, at least make them understand what you do, how much you enjoy it, and how much it means to you. That way (hopefully!) they won’t resent your work—or at least resent it less.

The Search for Balance

By Regina Abuyuan


Readers of this blog who are connected with me through Facebook have probably been keeping tabs on the latest adventure of my wonky life. With D and another friend, R, I recently opened a pub in Cubao X. It’s called Fred’s (after D’s grandfather, a drinking stalwart who was also into cigars; coincidentally, R’s and my maternal grandfathers were also named Fred, and both carried their drink and smokes more than well). It’s been weeks of very late nights (er, early mornings) for me, which had me behind the bar serving drinks, wiping down tables, and cleaning ashtrays. I have great respect for waitresses and barmaids now. Their job is exhausting and murder on the feet and legs.

For more than a week straight, I packed my kids off to my mom’s (God bless grandmas!), and prayed they wouldn’t be any trouble.

They were.

Well, at least my twins were. My daughter behaved as she always does—responsible, quiet, obedient. My absence had taken its toll on the twins. My mom and her househelp tell me they frequently fight, watch too much TV, and fall asleep with the TV on. One day, when I had nicked enough time to drive by and check on them, they exasperatedly said, in unison: “Finally!”

When I got ready to leave again, Mateo handed me the piece of origami he had made (he likes making me these things; my bedside table is littered with them). “I made this for you, Mommy.”

My heart almost broke with guilt.

Their teachers have told me their behavior has changed in school, as well. Mateo’s on the verge of being a bully; Marco is his usual cool self—but probably more cool than expected, which is also reason for alarm.

I swore I would never allow myself to feel this way again, to let any situation let me feel this way again. But the universe likes to play jokes on us sometimes, and just as we think we’re free, an opportunity comes where we have to give up something to attain something. I feel especially guilty because the twins have gotten the brunt of these choices; the first was when I was putting up a new magazine when they were only three years old, and now, this.

Is it worth it, you may ask? I don’t know yet. But at least now, being part-owner of something I created, I also have the power to choose how much time I put in our venture, and how much control I’m willing to take—or give up.

I’ve not had a late night in the pub since Friday, and I attended the twins’ emergency preparedness workshop on Saturday (another advocacy I’m involved in). I’m trying to regain what I lost over the past weeks: Balance. It’s what all mothers strive for. It’s the law of the universe; the law of Mother Nature herself, who knows just how and when to tip the scales this way and that.

Wish me luck!

Quality vs Quantity

Quality vs Quantity

By Regina Abuyuan


The first time I heard about the proposed K-12 system of education being implemented here, I almost balked. What stopped me was that I was sitting across a senator who was clearly in favor of it. His steely glare told me to quiet down or he would leave our one-on-one.

The worst kinds of mistakes are usually knee-jerk reactions to age-old problems that need analysis, time, critical thinking, and effort to solve.

Where do I start? A paper by Abraham Felipe and Caroline Porio (“Length of School Cycle and Quality of Education”) starts out citing entrepreneurs’ “anecdotal evidence” of Filipinos’ dismal performance with requirements, and relates it to the quality of education. It goes on to cite our low scores in TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), attributing it to our short educational cycles. The graph and analysis accompanying the paper debunks this, though:

“…The lower left hand corner is the region for low performing countries with short preschool education sub-cycles [6]. Note that the Philippines is somewhere in the lower left hand corner but is appreciably higher than South Africa which is the lowest. Note also that a short preschooling does not condemn a country’s 8th graders to dullness. South Korea has the same length of preschooling as the Philippines but is one of the top performers in TIMSS. At the same time, other countries had longer preschooling (e.g., Ghana, Morocco, 2 years; Botswana, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, 3 years) but lower TIMSS scores.

In the comparable chart for 4th graders (Figure 2), one can note similar observations. South Korea (the top-notcher for 8th graders) did not participate; hence, its 4th graders had no TIMSS records. Australia had a respectable TIMSS score even if it has only one year of preschooling. On the other, Morocco (2 years of preschool), Norway (3 years), and Armenia and Slovenia (both 4 years) had lower scores than Australia.

“Long sub-cycles have been believed to contribute to higher achievement. This notion is clearly wrong in the cases of elementary cycle data. In Figures 3 and 4, the test scores of the Philippines which has a 6-year elementary cycle was lower than the test scores of all 13 countries with shorter elementary cycles (Russia, Armenia, Latvia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Italy, Egypt and Iran). The only exception was the case of 8th grade tests for Palestine.”

Clearly, the quantity or length of education is not the problem here—it is the quality of the education, which of course spirals into a chicken-and-egg debate about budgets allotted for teachers, classrooms, heck, even chalk and chairs. While I am no economist and cannot spout figures off the top of my head, I do know that parents play just as important a role in nurturing a child’s mind and his desire to learn.

I was a teacher for one semester, and it took all my patience and willpower to not fling the chairs at the students for not wanting to read, not hungering for more knowledge. I assigned them short stories, asked them to read it in class, and tell me, right after they read it, what the paragraph was about. Ninety-nine percent of them could not. And these were college kids!

The child takes cues from his parents. If he sees that education—learning—is an integral part of his parents’ lives, he’ll pick it up naturally as well. If he sees that his parents are “living curious,” to borrow a phrase from Nat Geo, then he will, too.

My twins go to the Center for Blended Learning, a school where the teacher to student ratio is 1:2, and where different approaches to teaching are used, not just the traditional blackboard-homework stuff. They finished first grade in around seven months. They’re looking to finish both second and third grade this year.

While most don’t have access to this kind of schooling, I have to emphasize the importance of my involvement and presence in their learning. School isn’t just a place where I dump ‘em off in the morning. It’s a partnership with the teachers to know where they might need help or reinforcement, or when they are doing well.

That said, I think the government and teachers need to seriously re-think their roles in giving Filipino children quality education. A longer education cycle will not work if the focus is still on rote and not understanding, on blind submissiveness than critical thinking, on the desire to merely pass rather than the value of learning, on the desire to achieve rather than the desire to make a difference.

The K-12 scheme is just another salve to patch over our deeply-rooted, flawed views on education. Just like PNoy’s Social Contract with the Filipino People, it is an impressively put together proposal that’s nothing but pretty words and loose promises. The Filipino needs more than changes based on anecdotes and comments. Change has to start from the inside-out, not the outside-in. It’s not the obvious what that has to be tackled, but the profound why.