They use a totally different calendar and for them, December 31 is not the last day of the year.  It’s an ordinary day that doesn’t end in a colorful bang, at least not in majority of towns that are not major cities chock-full of foreigners.  Christmas decoration is even more sparse and non-existent than before (new rules, I was told), so for traditional celebration-averse people, going to China during the holiday may be the perfect cure for the uber-consumerist tone of the season.  No matter the rituals observed, it’s still the time for reuniting with family and friends.

We started with the usual welcome by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s families, spoiled by the excellent cooking of Xiao Dan’s mom.

Manila or Tianjin, Joshua must get his football fix.  The football club in Dagang welcomed him plus dates with favorite playmates arranged.

We had one ski destination each week sandwiched in between the requisite visa-run to the Philippine embassy in Beijing for the kiddos.  Nanshan near Beijing was easy enough for Jimmy and I to enjoy but we left the more professional, technically difficult trails of Wanlong to the true champions of snowboarding — Joshua and Jason.

Four of our previous Hero’s Journey campers were part of a theater group whose performance we were lucky enough to catch and see how much they’ve grown.

The Hero’s Journey is on from January 24 to February 1, 2019 and we had a quickie meeting of partners to discuss the camp.  The more important purpose of the visit was seeing Xavier and for Jimmy, it was Evan’s generosity with his Pokemon cards and beyblades that made his day.  Samantha knew we were bibliophiles like her so she showed us her stash of beautiful new children’s books from Taiwan.

Mike and Joshua missed each other.  Joshua had been wanting to visit Mike in his home and finally it transpired.  We discovered it IS possible to have an X-box like experience with a projector but you need a PS4 instead.  If you don’t have the video camera, you can use the cellphone but it’s limited to dance.  Dance we did with joy and abandon.

Remember the library in Dagang Youtian that we started with a group of moms who love books and wanted to pass on that passion to their children?  That group has always been part of an active organization of Youtian moms who planned an amazingly full repertoire to greet the winter solstice (dong zhi).   Kids sold and traded products, food and drinks followed by tug-of-war.  The Mom who is into Waldorf education told dong zhi stories.   Then the community made jiaozi (dumplings). We’ve been having Chinese dumplings for two straight days and this was the most delicious, freshly made with lots of love.

Joshua and Yinpu were kindergarten classmates.  It’s hard to believe that they had more years apart than together but they still play so well together.  Yinpu’s Mom, Susan showed me Yinpu’s amazing artworks.

It was a blessing in disguise that Jimmy got a fever when we got to the Wanlong ski resort.  The temperature outdoors reached minus 23 degrees.  Jimmy and I wouldn’t have stood that long skiing or snowboarding but the other pair had two full days in the blue and black-grade slopes.  When Jimmy was well enough, we sled down two times a tiny, tiny hill and cowardly rushed back into the warm indoors.

December 29 was Jason’s dad’s birthday and how happy he was to be with his grandchildren.  He gave a touching speech before dinner started.   It was as good as Christmas for the kids with all the toys we managed to get for the cousins.

Vacation is a series of playdates, but then again so is non-holiday time.

Jason’s sister, Jiang Ping is probably the best teacher for Joshua and Jimmy.  They listen to her and follow while I can only learn from the expert.

And the food!!!   We had hot pot, barbecue, our favorite street food breakfasts, our favorite rib place, unbeatable noodles and this newly opened restaurant stoked our taste buds for extreme spiciness.  This table had a thin layer that looks like wafer solar panels but is used to warm the food.  A big piece of waxed paper is placed over the whole table and they pour a mix of seafood and veggies braised in Szechuan pepper and chili.  The best way to eat is with your hands so they provide you with thin plastic gloves, one of which was humorously packaged like condom side by side other designs featuring Chairman Mao and Hello Kitty.   I really miss China but I’m also ready to go home.

Online photos make it appear our vacations and lives are perfect.  The drama is not seen between the photos. A friend of mine occasionally posts pictures of her children crying just to remind everyone, not all is rosy.  In this case, what I was taking a break from Manila is what makes me want to go back.  I miss having problems to solve, tons of work to do.  A part of my mind is with the things I left unfinished back in my country.

But I am truly grateful for the quiet, no-fuss simplicity of this Christmas and New year in northern China.  I get to hug and snuggle more with these two in the freezing cold of winter.


No Cheesy Goodbyes




Fearless Trailblazer

Losing a Star

Gone Too Soon

I’m sure she’ll think the titles cheesy and bonk me on the head.  We only met a total of three times but enough to make an impact in my life.  Imagine those who have been with her for much longer.

School and pub-owner — no hesitation, no conflict.  She is what she is.  No wake and no funeral, just a party at Fred’s Revolucion.

If Blended Learning Center was nearby, I’d want my kids to go there.  If I had loads of capital or won the lotto (like what my friend, Rachael plans), I’d find a way to bring Blended Learning Center to BGC.  BLC at BGC.

Her passing made me think of her boldness and how we are sometimes too shy to run after our dreams, how our confidence fails us.  But not Gina.




Read more about the Blended Learning Center here.

Read more about Abot Tala here.

Breathing with Honey


Last Sunday, we celebrated eight years of an organization (MLAC) dedicated to the well-being of children and families, over five decades of an individual life committed to this pursuit and seventy five years of Dr. Honey Carandang’s existence spent loving, mentoring, serving, being and breathing.  The afternoon was a joyous tapestry woven with care and attention, rhapsodized with singing, flute-playing, guitar-strumming and grandchildren running and dancing on stage, sharing their grandmother with her many admirers and collaborators.

MLAC is an acronym for Tita Honey’s full name but it also stands for Mindfulness, Love and Compassion — what Tita Honey and a team of psychologists want to continuously and tirelessly nurture among families and communities.  It’s their contribution to nation-building as well, especially in this age where hate, disrespect and violence pervades social media, the news and is sadly even exacerbated by leaders who are meant to protect the people.

During her talk, Tita Honey mentioned things that perfectly describe the kind of environment that we want to create in Abot Tala, an alternative to mainstream high school.

  1. When people are treated with reverence, they became conscious of their own sacred worth.
  2. Celebrating together, working together, playing together, singing together — These are the ways in which discipline of community can be practiced.  This is mindfulness.
  3. In this listening together, a true creative silence can grow.
  4. In a true community, we are windows constantly offering each other views of the mystery of presence of the spirit in our lives.
  5. Solitude and community are the discipline of which the space becomes free for us to listen to the presence and the Spirit to respond fearlessly and generously.
  6. Mindfulness, or total presence and attention has a magical aspect that gives VITALITY.  Total presence, attention, no judgement, being available, caring, listening.
  7. Attention is a form of kindness and lack of attention is a form of rudeness.
  8. Inattention is cold and hard.  Attention is warm and caring.  It makes our best possibilities flower.
  9. Never forget our inherent dignity and capacity for kindness and compassion.  It is our birth right.

Often in traditional schools where there are around 40 or more people in a class or even in schools where there are only 20 in a class, there are students who are not given enough attention, who fall between the cracks, who are not thriving and who are looking for options out.  We’d like to provide an alternative to those kids and to those who yearn for more freedom to direct their own education.  When I asked Tita Honey, if this type of space can exist in the Philippines, she replied that their team at MLAC can help prepare the mentors of Abot Tala to be able to provide an environment where mindfulness and care are practiced.

I wouldn’t have been able to attend this event had it not been for a Chilean psychologist whom my sister met in an event at the Chilean ambassador’s place.   Daniela and I linked up on Facebook and tried to set up a meeting.  Since she’s based in Cavite, I asked when she’ll be in Manila next and serendipitously, she mentioned she’ll be attending Tita Honey’s talk.  Here is how Daniela introduces herself on her FB page:

I’m Daniela, a Chilean registered Psychologist in the Philippines interested in mental health, community service, and learning.

I have created this space to connect with other mental health professionals, organizations and individuals invested in the overall well-being of Filipino children and youth. This, out of a desire to better understand mental health and wellness within your cultural context, learn about the work you do, and share what I discover in the process.

If you would like to know more about me and my motivations, check out the “LET’S TALK CHILD & YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH” section under the “About” tab.

I look forward to connecting with you! Help me understand your culture and the state of mental health for young Filipinos!


Check out Daniela’s Facebook page.

Following are photos of slides from Dr. Honey Carandang’s talk:


From the talk, I also got a number of Tita Honey’s books including the newest one which includes this beautiful passage about family being a school of compassion and kindness:

Tita Honey requested for kindness when she sang her breathing song and when she played the flute.  I just wish I could’ve recorded her singing this because it would be great to hear and exercise this several times a day.


Read more about Dr. Honey Carandang here.

Read more about Abot Tala here.


Video Googoo


Upon the urging of Mavis and Lia to make a one minute video for Abot Tala, Owie and I were stoked to come up with a script.  Here are the options:

Video script by Owie dela Cruz:

If you could redefine and redesign “school” for teens – fit for the 21st century  – what would it look like?
Before you answer, take a second to think of all the paradigm shifts happening around us.
What if teens had the freedom to spend their time learning what matters to them?
What if classes and mentorship sessions were crafted based on whatever the learners are really interested in and it constantly evolves as their needs change?
What if we trained them in making life decisions, including how to manage their time, by allowing them to choose their schedule and classes instead of telling them what to do. You know, to actually prepare them for the real world.
What if teens struggling in the current school system – for whatever reason – just need a change in environment?
What if I told you that this option exists here in Manila?
Abot Tala is an alternative to mainstream school. It’s not an after-school program.
It’s a personalized learning space where teens don’t study for quizzes, tests and grades. They’re there because they enjoy learning. They’re inspired to work hard because they get consistent quality feedback and mentorship.
Abot Tala.
It’s what school would look like if we could redefine and redesign it.
Set a family meeting with us. We’ll tell you more about it.
Abot Tala is a member of the liberated learners network.

Video Script by Owie dela Cruz: From a Teen’s Point of View:

I know you value school and it prepared you for the world you grew up in and that’s great.
But take a look around you. So many things have changed and continue to evolve.
My needs as a learner are far different now.
We’re called 21st century learners and according to research, what our generation needs in order to thrive in today’s world are creativity, critical thinking, collaboration & communication.
Our happiness, relationships, mental health and stuff we’re passionate about are just as important as learning academics.
And we need a learning community that supports that.
A safe space where we can discover who we really are and what we’re passionate about.
A community that encourages us to embrace our uniqueness and inspires us to help make the world a better place.
Classes and mentoring sessions that allow us to make mistakes as well as voice our opinions, so we could learn to process our thoughts and make wise decisions while we’re young.
We need mentors who respect us, guide us and believe in us.
We don’t need grades to tell us if we’ve done a good or bad job.
After all, high grades don’t translate to bright futures.
We don’t need tests to check if we were listening in class.
We need rich learning experiences, discussions and consistent feedback so we can improve and constantly strive to be better.
The school system may work for some of my friends…
but there are teens like us who need an alternative to mainstream school.
What we need is finally here in Manila.
Yup, this place exists and it could be the answer your teen is looking for too.
Abot Tala is what school looks like if we could redesign and redefine it.
Visit www.abottala.com for more information.

We made a script based on the flyer which I thought was stilted compared to the ones above but then Tinky liked it so it’s in the running, too.


What if your kids can choose what they learn?
What if your kids could learn without stress and pressure?
What if your kids could grow and thrive in a space rooted in love and passion?
If they could, they would reach for the stars.
Abot Tala is an alternative to mainstream school that may provide the answers you’re looking for.
Is your child bright but bored in school?
Learns differently?
Pursues something seriously?
Suffers from anxiety?
Doesn’t want to sit and listen all day?
Simply wants to be the author of his own education?
Maybe your child is already homeschooling but searching for a community without the rigid structure of school?
In Abot Tala, say goodbye to homework overload, chasing grades, standardized curriculum.
In Abot Tala, say hello to caring mentors, flexibility, interest-based learning, small welcoming community.
Learning is personalized
and collaborative.
What do you get from Abot Tala?
Once a week one on one mentoring sessions
Classes, workshops, tutorials – attend only those that you are interested in
It’s a community where young people feel free to be themselves, to know themselves deeply and what makes them come alive, to discover and develop their gifts and talents, to soar towards goals and dreams they set for themselves within their own time and terms, not other’s.
If school is not working for you, know that there is an alternative.


Which one among the three options would you choose?




Check out: Abot Tala

Ikigai and the Challenge of Convergence


May had lunch here yesterday and how did our conversation lead to ikigai?  Like conversations with old friends inevitably lead to what are we doing with our lives.  I told May she’s getting to her ikigai while I’m still pushing the circles to connect.



I wish the circles didn’t dangle like a wrecked participle.  I wish they intersected and held themselves in balance.

It made me think of the ikigai of Abot Tala and our wish for a convergence of finding space and members.  Maybe the space hasn’t come to us because we need to find more supporters and participants.  We were aiming for space in Taguig, Makati or Pasig but we’ve looked further afield in Quezon City and Paranaque because we wanted to be open to more possibilities.   We’d like to be in BGC but every time I look at spaces there with astronomical rent, it felt like we didn’t have the right to exist in the area.  But didn’t we dream of pitching the idea to the bigwigs of BGC?  Maybe we need to put that into action.  If they are true to what they say, there’s space for this in the “home of passionate minds.”

On the other hand, maybe we HAVE found the space we want but in my mind, it’s not as big as I had hoped for and it’s not located in the premiere part of the city that I preferred.  However, it’s a good starting point where proof of concept can be nurtured and honed.  It’s a humble beginning that could grow and in time, we could move to a more prime spot that we deserve every right to occupy.

Throughout these months of searching for people who support what Abot Tala stands for, there are basically three types: 1) those who are simply not interested, 2) those who profess interest and say they want to help but don’t follow through with their initial enthusiasm, and 3) those who buy into the concept, put their words into action and contribute concretely.   We need to keep meeting more of those from the third group, and refrain from being sad about those from number two.  The convergence among people in group three will eventually happen; it’s just a matter of time.


Find out more about Abot Tala





Between Doubt and Belief


My friend, Rachael and I were discussing by the poolside while watching the kids swim.  I asked her, “What would you do if your kids reached that age when you don’t have to look after them as much?”  Rachael said she would write poetry.  We recalled what we did before we had kids that were shelved temporarily because time and mommy duties did not permit us.  Or is it a case of allowing circumstances not to allow us?  I joined open mics and weekend mountain climbs before whereas  I couldn’t imagine myself doing those now with a 9 year old and a 6 year old waiting for bedtime stories.  In the future, if I could carve up the time, I’d love to participate in the improvisation workshop offered by SPIT after office hours once a week because it might work better than any other therapy I’ve had.

Today, another friend, Justine demonstrated that it is possible to make extraordinary combinations, not merely juggling acts but being in the flow zone of creativity.  Justine is a homeschooling mom of two kids (both under 11), runs a business, does freelance work and continues to write poetry, books and takes one Coursera course after another.  I peeked into her design projects online and read her poems.  Superwoman envy.   Wonder woman inspiration.

Claiming Alexandria: Poems About Life

I’ve always wanted to take advantage of MOOCs but never had.  I have another friend, Boots who also collects Coursera course certificates not as a display trophies but just like Justine, they’re simply both lovers of learning.   I’ve always wanted to write more poems so as a step towards that direction, I grouped the ones I have written since this blog began into a new category, Poetry.   Mostly quite bleak but I hope there will be some brighter ones down the road.

Reading Justine’s poems made me think of stretching time like putty in my hand — that if I wanted it enough, I’d make time for whatever it was I wanted.

I had a difficult conversation one night ago about dreams and much as the person  supported me in my dreams, he still delivered the blow that its scale (perhaps impact) is small.  It’s just going to help a tiny group of people.  It’s not like a real business that could be scaled up and reach masses of people.  There is a level of truth to what he said. What we’re setting up is probably going to help around twenty to thirty young people, and sixty or more if we get to expand.  We’ll be making (barely) enough just to be able to run the model but not much after operational expenses.  Making a difference in the life of one person ought to be enough but the person I was talking to made me feel it wasn’t enough.  But why should I be affected when it is a non-profit venture from the start?

Because we were also discussing this in the context of other dreams not yet attained and other things too complicated, too conflicting, too muddled in my mind to write about at 1:43 in the morning.

When I wake up I remember this video about an 18 year old girl, Maggie Doyne who realizes she doesn’t know herself and decides to travel.  She ends up spending her life savings earned mostly from baby sitting, on buying land in Nepal to build a home for orphans. She placed her own money on the land and raised funds for the building.   Watching the video is an encouraging reminder that what I’m doing may look crazy, insane, impractical to some people: I’m not 18 anymore and I have a family to support.  Blowing savings on a dream may not seem wise but there is also that risk of not risking that may even be a bigger blow.

The video is also a stark reminder that you can’t do anything alone.  You have to galvanize other people who believe in the cause and who share the dream.  That’s what I wish the person armed with both belief and doubt, can understand.  What’s the use of telling your children “Anything is possible as long as you put your heart and mind into it,” when you don’t live it yourself?


Maggie Doyne: You Can Do Anything


Pop Up Update


I may not be blogging as much about Abot Tala as before but I’m doing more things for Abot Tala than ever before.    The biggest challenge is still finding the space.  Promising spaces turn out like some love stories — sadly but simply not-meant-to-be.  Some are way out as in interstellar way out of budget and the ones within the budget, you’d understand why.  The ideal is still to find a super-ally-supporter-believer who has property or connections to those with property to share for this cause.  We’ve looked at co-working spaces, houses, offices, old, new, bare and ready-to-move-in, but still no match because it’s probably still being made in heaven.  Ordered already but the delivery is taking the roundabout route.  It’s still brewing and being perfected for us so that when we step in, that convergence of a-ha’s happens and we would know why it took us this length of time to find it.

I’d like to list down all the people I’ve met in this journey, how the links were made like a web forming itself gracefully, organically, one introduction leading to another leading to another, amazing people who do what they say and not just say something without follow through.  Grateful for the growing constellation but there are days when I fail to see the big picture and the narrowness of vision drowns out the good that is already being built.  Doubts and frustrations creep in but they need to be set aside for productivity’s sake but productivity is not enough.  You go back to the “why” that gave you the strength in the first place, the “why” that often gets lost amidst the “doing.”  Thank goodness for souls who remind us of those whys.

When the rhetorical “Why am I doing this?” gets crowded out by “You’re not good enough to do this,” it’s time to dig deeper and fish out something from the depths that got covered in slime and muck.  You have to extend your whole arm to get at it when it wants half your body submerged.  No, not even.  Your whole body needs to dive in.  Please lend me another metaphor.

The sweat metaphor.  I’ve been going to the gym but cheating and doing only fifteen minutes at a time.  Quickie because I’m ADHD in the gym.  The gym coach said it’s not going to work that way because I’m not sweating.  You have to sweat, he said.  I thought, is that a metaphor for the Abot Tala?  I haven’t sweated enough, I haven’t gone out of my comfort zone enough?  I tell somebody this metaphor and maybe, she said, that’s not necessarily the case.

Going back to the why.  There are people in my family I think would have benefited from something like Abot Tala if it had existed back then when I felt powerless, clueless, “skill-less” to help.  I could imagine all the people who could be helped by this.  And that’s good enough to keep me going, not to mention having team mates with superpowers and strengths different from those I possess.  Team effort makes up for whatever self-limiting beliefs cripple you at the moment.


Check out https://abottala.com/