The Year of Living Brilliantly

The Year of Living Brilliantly

By Jing Lejano

When we started the Smart Super Women blog exactly one year ago, we never thought that we’d play witness to daredevil feats of adventures. We wanted to hear inspiring stories of mothers, daughters, sisters, warriors, peacemakers, intellects, vamps, homemakers, career rats, readers, adventurers, and dreamers who were going through their everyday lives. But we didn’t think that they’d do so with such daring and gumption.

Take the case of Mari-An Santos, a cum laude graduate of the University of the Philippines. We happily read about her trips to Thailand, when she suddenly revealed that she was packing her bags and moving to Romania! She had received a grant to pursue her Master’s degree in that European country. In her latest entry, she writes, “Studying in a foreign land has not only opened my eyes to the reality that I am a citizen of the world, it has made me appreciate my being Filipino all the more. Even as I learn about other peoples, cultures, and places, I have learned to value home even more.”

A collection of personal essays for and by women, the Smart Super Women blog was created to inspire its readers to tackle everyday challenges with courage and to work for the fulfillment of their dreams with conviction.

Most of the contributing writers are working mothers with school-aged children. They discuss such topics as careers and children, literacy and education, family and friends, and the quest for self-improvement. Because the writers contribute on a regular basis, readers have seen them tackle different challenges, resulting in a very interesting read.

There’s newspaper editor Gina Abuyuan, who never got around to traveling alone when she was single, but who finally had the nerve to roam the streets of Chiang Mai all by her lonesome now that she is “older, tougher, not afraid to tell someone off.” Her latest solo trip had her enjoying the sound of waves crashing at a beach side resort in the provinces. Oh, and may we add that she also recently opened a pub together with her life partner and some friends?

Of course, the adventures aren’t always of the adrenaline-pumping kind. Sometimes, we see these women finding epiphany in a cup of coffee shared with friends, in the few hours they sweat it out in the gym, or in the few minutes they spend with their children as they drive them to school.

But whether they’re raising their kids in the Philippines like writer Ruth Floresca, who’s a work-at-home mom to four boys, or juggling their time between career and home in Australia like editor Lyra Pore, who gets up at five in the morning to bring her daughters to the day care center, these women always find creative ways to make every opportunity a learning experience.

Ruth goes on date nights with her sons as a way of catching up with what’s going on in their lives. She writes, “It’s a continuous process, this getting to know one’s children because they grow up so fast and I don’t want to wake up one morning to find out that I don’t know anything about them anymore.”

Lyra Pore Villafana takes swimming lessons as a way of relaxing from the challenges of living an immigrant’s life. “Life overseas is so different to what we’ve all been used to… But doing something for oneself isn’t unique to Asian moms coping with the stresses of building a new life in a different country.”

Maridol Bismark bombards her sons with questions to learn her way in the digital world. She writes, “I work for an online entertainment portal. Every day, I am exposed to words and phrases that are just starting to make sense to me…I feel like a child lost in a newfangled world, groping for a hand to guide me. Fortunately, the hand belongs to the boy who appreciates everything that I’ve done and will still do for him.”

As these women continue on their journey to live, love, and learn in the modern age, Smart Super Women will be right alongside them, watching their every step, hoping to inspire others to live as fearlessly and as brilliantly as they do.

A Student in a Foreign Land

A Student in a Foreign Land

By Mari-An Santos

I was sitting at a popular restaurant in Bucharest, having lunch with a Romanian friend, and taking in the beautiful surroundings. There were blondes. There were brunettes. There were so many foreigners—and then it dawned on me, I am the foreigner. With my brown skin, small eyes, and jet black hair, I stood out like a sore thumb in a sea of Caucasians.

I’ve lived in the Philippines all my life. And because I’ve only traveled to nearby Asian countries, “looking different” had never been an issue for me. Now that I’m living in a European city that is not quite cosmopolitan, I find myself “looking different.” There are only a handful of Asians at the student dormitory where I live. I’ve seen a couple of Chinese and Japanese citizens, but that’s about it. The Filipino population here, not counting me and my schoolmate, is a measly 11.

On any given day, it’s not unusual to be gawked at on the street. I’ll be walking down the street and get stared at by my fellow pedestrians. I’ll be riding my bike to class and be greeted by “Ni hao” or “Sayonara.”

The other day, I was asking a shop owner about their products when she tells me that some of the soaps she makes contain Chinese teas. I politely tell her that it’s nice to know and that I am not Chinese. She apologizes and asks where I’m from.

At first, I was appalled by such occurrences, especially after someone told me that we Asians look alike. I explained to him that I could actually tell the Koreans from the Japanese, the Chinese from the Filipino. But eventually, I began to see things his way. From where I’m standing, I wouldn’t be able  to tell the Europeans apart either.

And that’s perfectly fine.

Studying in a foreign land has not only opened my eyes to the reality that I am a citizen of the world, it has made me appreciate my being Filipino all the more. Even as I learn about other peoples, cultures, and places, I have learned to value home even more.

Photo by Kyle Gregory Devaras on Unsplash

Work Trips, Discovery Trips

Work Trips, Discovery Trips

By Paula Bianca Abiog

Traveling is one of my favorite things to do, and I only realized I loved it when I was already working. I wasn’t able to travel much when I was a kid, since I didn’t have the means and my family wasn’t big on trips. Fortunately I found work in an industry that allows me to travel. Initially, I only went on work trips, but soon I was also planning my trips for leisure.

Since I started working, I’ve traveled to lots of places around the country, from Batanes up north to Zamboanga down south. What I love about traveling is that it gives you the chance to discover new places, try different kinds of food, face your fears, and learn more about yourself. Some of my most memorable trips are the ones that taught me a lot about myself. Just a few months after I graduated college, I was Boracay-bound—alone. It was a work trip for my first job. On my first night in Boracay, I cried in my hotel room. It was my first time to go anywhere alone, and immediately I felt very lonely. But the experience forced me to make new friends and be responsible for myself—I had to budget my money for food, and arrange my own boat transfers. By the end of that five-day work trip, the tears have dried up and loneliness was forgotten.

Soon after that trip to Boracay, I went on assignment to Zamboanga City. I knew I was still in the Philippines, but being there felt so different. I was in a predominantly Muslim city, and it was there where I learned to appreciate and respect the differences in our religions. Not to mention they had fantastic food over there, influenced by Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine.

A trip to Batanes, the northernmost province in the Philippines, helped clear my mind after a painful breakup. Hiking up the rolling hills of Marlboro Country, and watching the crashing waves where the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea meet helped me gain some perspective. I came back to Manila feeling refreshed and ready to move forward.

Caving in Sagada, Mountain Province and “swimming” in the deep waters of Coron in Palawan, on the other hand, forced me to face my fears. The Lumiang-Sumaguing cave connection in Sagada took me four hours to finish, and it was a struggle to crawl, slide, and jump my way through the dark, slippery cave. In those four hours I felt like I was trapped the whole time, and I was constantly feeling panicky. Despite thinking that I won’t make it out of the cave alive, I felt delighted to have crossed the entire stretch of the cave connection.

In Coron, I realized I was terrified of not being able to touch the floor of the lake while keeping my head above water. I even had a full-fledged panic attack! The trip finally pushed me to take swimming lessons.

And my four-day vacation in Bangkok, my first trip in a different time zone, taught me how to properly plan for a trip—from booking plane tickets to arranging for accommodations and hotel transfers, and everything else in between. It also taught me to just wing it—while my travel buddy and I had a detailed itinerary prepared, you have to allow yourself some time to get lost and go with the flow.

Traveling for me is more than just an escape from my busy life in Manila. It gives me fresh ideas, forces me to think things through, and teaches me things I wouldn’t have picked up while sitting in my office cube. The reasons are more than enough to get me travel bugged.

Photo by Chen Mizrach on Unsplash

All My Bags Are Packed

By Mari-An Santos

I am in the midst of packing my life.

A few weeks ago, I shared the news with all of you that I was awarded a scholarship grant to take up my Masters abroad, specifically in Europe under the Erasmus Mundus program. After receiving the happy news, I thought that the toughest task I would have to do was to pack my bags. I was wrong. The process of obtaining a student visa isn’t exactly easy—and I even had to fly to another country to get the process going. Don’t ask.

Fortunately, things ironed themselves out and now here I am, on the verge of moving.

I look around at my room now. On one side, bags and suitcases are stacked, huddled together like an army in the trenches; in one corner,  almost-empty bookshelves and cabinets; and strewn all around are CDs, books, notebooks, brochures, and leaflets that have yet to be organized and categorized. But how do you pack up more than half a decade of memories?

The task of giving away some of the books, magazines, CDs, and clothes that would have added more weight to my already burgeoning luggage was close to Herculean. Clothes had to be categorized under the “yes,” “no,” and “maybe” piles.

The books were the hardest to go through. After setting aside the books that I had borrowed, which were to be returned to their rightful owners, I couldn’t bring myself to give away or even sell any of the books I had before me. My mother always says, “If you’ve already read them, why can’t we give them away?” But with a heavy heart, I eventually bid goodbye to a handful.

I also had to decide which brochures, maps, old flight and bus tickets, and calling cards I could throw out. The memories from each and every trip triggered by a scrap of paper or a notation on a map, made me hesitate every time. Calling cards, though years old, may prove useful later on. In the end, I decided to scale down the pile of cards and to have my maps and travel guides adopted by friends.

Looking around my room, I am impressed at how I managed to fit so many items into less than a dozen bags. I am also amazed at how much the human brain can recall. Though I have given away many things, the memories they conjure are vast and unlimited.

Wish me luck!

Note to Self

By Karen Galarpe

Watching Giada de Laurentiis, Anthony Bourdain, and even the kids on “Junior Master Chef Pinoy Edition” on TV last weekend, I got amazed once more at how they all seem to be so good at cooking. It’s so natural to them as breathing, and they seem to know what to do with food.

I, on the other hand, confess that I always end up confused whenever I go to the meats, fish, and vegetables section of the supermarket. I look at the counters and shelves and ask yet again, what do I do with these?

Pressed for time, I would order a half kilo of this, pick up a frozen pack of that, and grab a sealed pack of salad vegetables (just pour dressing!) before heading to the canned meats section.

Cooking isn’t one of the areas I’m gifted in. I’m not like my friend Meg who can whip up something without the help of a recipe. Oh sure, I can cook survival food and fry something. But still I’d look up a recipe just to make sure I put in the right amount of soy sauce or vinegar in it.

And so that’s my first Note to Self this year: Learn to cook more. The benefits: healthier food for me and my family, plus I need not look so lost in the meat section next time.

I think we all should take steps to do some self-improvement regularly. We are not perfect, and there’s bound to be some area in our lives we need to improve on.

Here are some suggestions on self-improvement steps you might want to take. Make a note to yourself to do any or all of the following:

  • Learn something new this year. It could be as simple as changing a car’s tires or baking a chocolate cake, or as challenging as learning a new language. Commit to learn a new thing this 2011.
  • Start an exercise program, or if you have one already, stay on track and even do more challenging stuff. I was sedentary for many years before I decided to finally again start exercising last year. The huffing and puffing as I climb up stairs has lessened, if not diminished, and I’m stronger now than before.
  • Read the Bible. You read books, don’t you? Why not read the Bible in a year? I found that there is much wisdom in the holy book, and we can find many of the answers to life’s questions there.
  • Travel. Get out of your city this year, and head to a province or another country to take a break and get a glimpse of the world outside. Traveling provides many opportunities for learning. It opens our eyes to how we can improve our lives and our nation.
  • Get involved. Donate blood, help build a house, volunteer to hold the hand of a child with cancer, or collect clothes and toys that can be given to the less fortunate. You may be just one person, but you can do much to help others.
  • Count your blessings. Stop complaining and be grateful for what you have. It’s a great life, one that’s worth living.