Good to Great


Nas’ one-minute video has been popping up on my news feed every so often and it’s one of those things that makes scrolling through social media addictive.  You get content in bite-size pieces already curated by friends, acquaintances and semi-strangers on Facebook.  Wait.  Big oooops.  Nas doesn’t like using the word acquaintance because for him, everyone’s a friend and friendship is not bound by the amount of time you spend together.   You see why with that kind of open attitude alone how arresting his one-minute videos are but this particular one I saw today made me want to go to Palestine.  A loud voice inside my head stopped my daydreaming and screamed, “Your family is not going to allow you to take your 8 and 5 year old sons to Palestine.”

Okay, if I can’t go to Palestine and stay in an apartment being offered by Nas to anyone who wants it for free, the second best thing I can do is find out more about Nas which led me to his TEDx talk in India where he explained how to make life go from good to great:

“The only thing to make life great is to build something that’s bigger than me, something that if I die, will continue tomorrow, the day after, the year after.”

That something could be a company or a non-profit.  It could be anything.  Nas thought that for him, it would be creating an app that would allow other people to create videos like him but then it bombed big time.  That failed attempt led him to persist until he created a global media company of passionate content creators like himself.  Don’t let flops of life stop you.  Use them to nudge you closer to your goals.

The talk reminded me of our Dgroup leader, Jen’s discussion last week about legacy and how the enemy is not the bad things but the good things that get us stuck in our comfort zones, the kind of comfort zone that you need to transcend and that Nas illustrates here:


If you do something for a length of time and it makes you too complacent, it’s usually a subtle invitation to level up which would then involve an amount of discomfort, even a perceived period of destabilization.  Those who have made leaps of faith can attest to the rewards but struggles are always part of the package.

Watching Nas’ TEDx talk made me think of that something I’m hoping to create and build that is bigger than me, that represents a number of converging dreams:  Abot Tala.  It compels me to take action despite how crazy and preposterous an idea it seems.  It has gotten some degree of traction and almost a life of its own until my guide and mentor in the process prevented me from smashing my head against the wall.  Now I’ve slowed down a bit and let go of my timeline on steroids.

Doubts still creep up which is why it’s good to watch Nas today to silence those doubts if yelling at them to shut up doesn’t work.  “I don’t think anyone would want to pay that much for this.”  “The good rentals are just too expensive!”  “How on earth am I going to find a partner with resources for this?”  “This might work in a developed, prosperous country like the US, but the Philippines is a different story.” On and on this downward spiral of discouragement would envelope me staring at the Excel spreadsheet, “Arrrrrgh!  How can I make this work?”  Even if you regard yourself as entirely of possibility, there are days and hours when it doesn’t ring true.   You know it’s time to chill and talk to a friend.


Jen, our Dgroup leader read this blog and sent me a message: “I agree we all need to level up and not be stuck in complacency. But at the same time, our desire to make a difference, to improve and to have a better life should also be somehow tempered by an attitude of gratitude – or else we will never be satisfied. Ultimately, I think we need to frame all of our efforts in the grand scheme of things.”

Hearing people like Nas talk about going from good to great can be inspiring and instrumental in moving us away from “just having a good life” to one filled with a higher purpose.  However, on the other side of searching and striving is contentment that’s different from complacency.

I searched for the article that appeared several times on my news feed, “What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?” by Krista:

What if I all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between. Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?

The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.

But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up – beyond mom and sister and wife. But these people in my primary circle of impact know they are loved and that I would choose them again, given the choice. Can this be enough?

What if I never build an orphanage in Africa but send bags of groceries to people here and there and support a couple of kids through sponsorship. What if I just offer the small gifts I have to the world and let that be enough.

Are we either Nas or Krista, or do we swing from one end to another depending on the circumstance, or can one person be both?


Read more about Abot Tala here:

Who Wants to Flip It?

So Extreme You Might Fall Off the Spectrum

If You Build It Will They Come?

Joel’s Ask Me Anything

Seth and Two Kens

Rosa and the Stars






Unholy Traffic


It’s been a while since I experienced Holy Week in the Philippines.  Like Christmas in China, it is not an important holiday so I’ve forgotten how much of nightmare getting out and into the city could be.  A three-hour drive to Subic turned to six and a one-hour drive from Zambales back to Subic tripled in length.  I was mulling it over in my head that it wasn’t this bad years ago and I remembered we just stayed at home mostly because my grandmother wouldn’t allow any form of merry-making during this solemn period.  Maybe as the mantle was passed from generation to generation, the rules have relaxed and now, most everyone would abandon the city for the beaches.  The more sensible ones know better, wait when the crowds are gone and won’t budge from their homes till it’s safe to venture out.  That’s what we promise to do next year.

Despite the unwanted hours on the road, when we got to our destination, we stayed in my aunt’s place, woke up to monkeys clambering over the trees in her backyard and biked around the village embraced by the rainforest.  We are still so lucky and blessed to be in the presence of all this lush, towering Eden.




Holy and Not at Casa San Miguel


On Good Friday, Coke and the Pundaquit Virtuosi played Haydn’s Seven Last Words and in between, Mark Strand’s verses were read, reflecting each part, so both music and literature spoke to the soul.  Before people were ushered into the theater, they passed through a tunnel of branches and lit candles, where the 14 stations of the cross hung and you had to bend low, humbling yourself as Christ did when he took the burden for humanity.  Casa’s resident artist, Jazel Kristin presented the Ego Altar provoking viewers to re-assess our selfie-junk-processed-food obsessed society.

When my grandmother was alive, we wouldn’t think of doing anything resembling a celebration during Holy Week but here we were balancing the sanctity of the season, Haydn and art with bottles of beer and bags of popcorn till past midnight because it’s not often that college friends re-unite.

In the words of Mark Strand:


The story of the end, of the last word
of the end, when told, is a story that never ends.
We tell it and retell it — one word, then another
until it seems that no last word is possible,
that none would be bearable. Thus, when the hero
of the story says to himself, as to someone far away,
‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’
we may feel that he is pleading for us, that we are
the secret life of the story and, as long as his plea
is not answered, we shall be spared. So the story
continues. So we continue. And the end, once more,
becomes the next, and the next after that.


There is an island in the dark, a dreamt-of place
where the muttering wind shifts over the white lawns
and riffles the leaves of trees, the high trees
that are streaked with gold and line the walkways there;
and those already arrived are happy to be the silken
remains of something they were but cannot recall;
they move to the sound of stars, which is also imagined,
but who cares about that; the polished columns they see
may be no more than shafts of sunlight, but for those
who live on and on in the radiance of their remains
this is of little importance. There is an island
in the dark and you will be there, I promise you, you
shall be with me in paradise, in the single season of being,
in the place of forever, you shall find yourself. And there
the leaves will turn and never fall, there the wind
will sing and be your voice as if for the first time.


Someday some one will write a story set
in a place called The Skull, and it will tell,
among other things, of a parting between mother
and son, of how she wandered off, of how he vanished
in air. But before that happens, it will describe
how their faces shone with a feeble light and how
the son was moved to say, ‘Woman, look at your son,’
then to a friend nearby, ‘Son, look at your mother.’
At which point the writer will put down his pen
and imagine that while those words were spoken
something else happened, something unusual like
a purpose revealed, a secret exchanged, a truth
to which they, the mother and son, would be bound,
but what it was no one would know. Not even the writer.


These are the days when the sky is filled with
the odor of lilac, when darkness becomes desire,
when there is nothing that does not wish to be born.
These are the days of spring when the fate
of the present is a breezy fullness, when the world’s
great gift for fiction gilds even the dirt we walk on.
On such days we feel we could live forever, yet all
the while we know we cannot. This is the doubleness
in which we dwell. The great master of weather
and everything else, if he wishes, can bring forth
a dark of a different kind, one hidden by darkness
so deep it cannot be seen. No one escapes.
Not even the man who saved others, and believed
he was the chosen son. When the dark came down
even he cried out, ‘Father, father, why have you
forsaken me?’ But to his words no answer came.


To be thirsty. To say, ‘I thirst.’ To be given,
instead of water, vinegar, and that to be pressed
from a sponge. To close one’s eyes and see the giant
world that is born each time the eyes are closed.
To see one’s death. To see the darkening clouds
as the tragic cloth of a day of mourning. To be the one
mourned. To open the dictionary of the Beyond and discover
what one suspected, that the only word in it
is nothing. To try to open one’s eyes, but not to be
able to. To feel the mouth burn. To feel the sudden
presence of what, again and again, was not said.
To translate it and have it remain unsaid. To know
at last that nothing is more real than nothing.


‘It is finished,’ he said. You could hear him say it,
the words almost a whisper, then not even that,
but an echo so faint it seemed no longer to come
from him, but from elsewhere. This was his moment,
his final moment. “It is finished,” he said into a vastness
that led to an even greater vastness, and yet all of it
within him. He contained it all. That was the miracle,
to be both large and small in the same instant, to be
like us, but more so, then finally to give up the ghost,
which is what happened. And from the storm that swirled
a formal nakedness took shape, the truth of disguise
and the mask of belief were joined forever.


Back down these stairs to the same scene,
to the moon, the stars, the night wind. Hours pass
and only the harp off in the distance and the wind
moving through it. And soon the sun’s gray disk,
darkened by clouds, sailing above. And beyond,
as always, the sea of endless transparence, of utmost
calm, a place of constant beginning that has within it
what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand
has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart.
To that place, to the keeper of that place, I commit myself.





At the Circuit


I miss terribly the parks in China and how each xiaqu (residential area) had its own park and a group of xiaqus would have its own bigger park where ladies and men congregate to line dance, kids feel free to play and everyone enjoys the outdoors without the pressure or temptation of commercial activities.  It’s public benefit at its finest.  The government takes care of the people by providing space for activities with no economic benefit except people’s well-being.  Sadly, that doesn’t work in the Philippines where there is hardly room for public parks.  If we’re lucky, the private sector provides it but it then has to have a revenue generating portion or else upkeep and maintenance would be impossible.

Such is one park at the Circuit in Makati we are grateful for since there is finally space along the Pasig River where skateboarders can hone and display their skills, where people can sit on the grass without being asked to leave, where families and barkadas can bond, where owners show-off their dogs (yes, you can do that too in High Street) and where it is generally wonderful to hang-out in an environment designed for relaxation and for skateboarders, adventure.




It is still my dream that someday, Manila can be included in a list such as this:

What would be the ultimate child-friendly city look like?

It’s one of those impossible dreams that one harbors despite the obvious signs that in our country, sadly, land has to have ROI.  Unfortunately for some governments,  the people’s well-being is not high enough an ROI for them.  Where private sector can step in to make a difference, we hope it goes beyond tokenism into all-out radicalism.

Anything less is a drop in the bucket.

Not that we’re not thankful for the drops — we have subsisted on crumbs for so long, the drops seem like flood.  We don’t recognize they are just drops.






Gopala Grows


Homeschooling families from as far as Angeles, Pampanga went all the way to Silang, Cavite for Gopala Learning Haven’s first Homeschool Festival.  We got there just in time for each child’s release of butterflies from triangular, folded pieces of papers.   It’s been a year since our love affair with Gopala started and it’s a joy to see the new additions to this idyllic place that I wish was located closer to us so that we can go there every day.

Laksmi found an amazing bargain that turned out to be Jimmy’s dream playroom.  A kids activity center closed down in one SM mall and the owner was selling all the mini houses as a package deal.  Laksmi got the whole lot for a song and the owner said that something curiously held him back from selling to other people who inquired.  When he heard what Laksmi’s learning haven was all about, he readily parted with the play houses.  He admired what Laksmi was doing, providing space for kids to run free in nature.

The room below the eating area was transformed from a rundown storage place into a workshop for arts and crafts.  The books that were in the playroom before found a new home appropriately in a more quiet area.   As always, Joshua had a ball biking through the gently sloping green.  Dads were content to lounge in the hammocks among the trees while mothers discussed homeschooling issues.

The highlight for everyone was the steep trek to the river but do not let the gorgeous photos deceive you.  Pollution comes from the neighboring golf course and there are plastic trash strewn among the tree roots, begging for a clean-up.  Gopala regularly conducts this but a clean-up a few times a year is not enough.  People whose garbage end up where they shouldn’t be must be held more accountable.


We wanted to press forward and go on walking past the area where we landed from the sloping side of the land but we weren’t allowed to do so since the group was too big and some may not be prepared for a distance they say takes about two or three hours to traverse.  We’re already excited about the longer trek next time.



Our Finds at the Big Bad Wolf


I was planning on heading to the check out counter after finding six books but we were inundated with tables upon tables of choices at hard to resist prices.  Everyone had baskets or shopping carts but I was stubbornly clutching the books in my hand, refusing to get a cart because I promised this will be a quick jaunt and I’m not going to over-buy, until I scooped up some more, gave up and decided to get a cart before heading to join the kilometric queue.  When we did merge with the the line, it was a whole new ballgame.  That’s when we found MORE Minecraft books that Joshua and Jimmy were pining for.  That’s when I found two books for myself that I did not intend to get because I get kindle books because they’re cheaper.  This time, the physical books themselves beat the kindle cost so who can resist the lure of the smell and touch of new books.

I usually get second hand children’s books from Booksale and Biblio but this is too good to pass — brand new books at close to pre-loved price.  This is the dream I’ve had whenever I salivated in lust and envy at bookstores in China where they had books the way it should be pegged affordably but the only drawback there was they were in Chinese!

Back at the Big Bad, I saw Joshua leafing through a book called The Savage by David Almond and illustrated by Dave McKean.  “Do you want this?” I asked him.  He answered no.  I leaf through it myself and I want it for myself but I ask him around three more times, “Are you sure you don’t want this?”  He keeps saying he doesn’t want it, but I put it in with our pile and figured I’d still read it to him.  Mine is the mother dilemma of not liking some of the “babyish” books Jimmy wants me to read so I’m always on the look-out for read-aloud books that keep me going.  I don’t know if my sneaky cheat would work but we found the biography of Minecraft creator, Markus Pearsson.  I grabbed it and said, “I’ll get this for you.”   I’m hoping it will make Jimmy fall asleep faster while Joshua listens with (likely, unlikely) sustained attention.

A good technique for next time may be to just go to the tables where the lines don’t pass through, join the line, shop while you queue and voila, time saved.  But there is no way you can really save time with the crowds.  Nobody’s budging because the deals are too good to pass up.  The fun is in discovering books people leave in the wrong pile, seeing you want that book yourself, change your mind and put it in another stack.  That practice should be avoided and you should return things where you find them but that’s the element of anarchy that is part of the game.  Another entertaining feature of standing in line for hours is discreetly ogling other people’s baskets and carts.  A kid peaks into our cart and asks where we found the Minecraft books.

Nearing the cashier, there are more books on the wooden palette dividers.  You can see how people changed their minds before the final purchase is made.  When I get home, I thought hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten these two out of eighteen.  I intended to buy less than ten but ended up buying almost twenty so if I got them at half or more than half the price that means I still spent more than I intended, but still get much, much more than one gets in the regular bookstore.  Chuck budgeting out the window because it’s fun, satisfying and we can’t wait for next year.  I want to sneak in there at 5:00 in the morning.




美国神话学大师约瑟夫·坎贝尔(Joseph Campbell,1904-1987)在《千面英雄》总结出英雄是能够了解、接受进而克服自己命运的挑战之人。《千面英雄》从“千面”的角度来解释单一英雄原型。“启程”“启蒙”“归来”是坎贝尔神话理论的中心思想。我们再次前往菲律宾原始热带丛林,未经雕饰的海水沙滩探险,享受淳朴的风土人情。想象一下,湛蓝的天空、变化多端的海,高耸的椰子树、悦耳的涛声。

天津乐学乐尚Levelup教育中心负责人卡尔Carl倾情加盟,他与妻子Samantha创办的幼儿园,英语和艺术培训机构。5年间,乐尚默默无闻的存在,不打广告,学员近300人 。这十天的旅程由Carl和5名菲律宾引导师facilitators全程陪着孩子们。他们拥有10多年与儿童工作的经验,能够确保孩子们在菲律宾的整个过程都能处于英语浸入式环境。第一英雄之旅,孩子们与引导师Camile,Marc等人结下了深厚情感。第二次英雄之旅,我们共同见证影子戏老师Taj 与孩子们营造的光与影的梦幻世界。


孩子居住的艺术中心:这里不仅有音乐,画廊,雕塑,日式禅意庭院,专业演出舞台,还有15亩芒果林,离海滩步行5分钟,天然的游戏场所,让孩子们身心得到释放。孩子们七天独立生活: 混龄生活,男女生分宿。4-5人一间,拥有独立卫生间。温馨提示,自然环境中,蚊虫多。



Photos from Hero’s Journey July 2017

Photos from Hero’s Journey February 2017

We hope you can join us this coming February 2018!


Places Included in the February 2018 Hero’s Journey:


Check out more stories about the Hero’s Journey here:

Culmination and the Awesomeness of Ensemble

Surviving the Obstacles

On with the Journey

Meeting Destiny at Prado Farms

Las Casas Filipinas, Island Waters and Six Mothers

Hero’s Journey Version 2.0

Why Hero’s Journey

Hero’s Journey 1.0