Sunday, May 31, 2009

And God Shone His Grace on One Rwandan

It's Pentecost Sunday. The priest who gave the sermon at Mass was fund raising for a Kenyan high school that needs $50,000. Before he got to the "asking" part of his sermon, he talked about being born in Rwanda of a wealthy Tutsi family. In the 1960s when the Tutsi's were being persecuted, his family fled to Uganda. In the refugee camp, because of the harsh conditions, his mother and 2 sisters died within a week.

After several years, a brother who had remained in Rwanda had climbed up in social status and invited the family to return. This priest chose to remain in Uganda because he was in school. The family who returned were all killed during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Only the brother survived, missing fingers, with cuts on his body; and this priest said maybe he survived so he could witness his becoming a priest.

Heavy stuff, very heavy... will have to think about that for days. An entire family wiped out, and he has no rancor, no bitterness. Instead of stewing over this big matter, he is taking care of his flock in Kenya - this high school that needs $50,000.

Does that kind of holiness come from the Holy Spirit? How does one keep sane? How does one be productive when one has been through all that?

On another matter, I've been working on my Facebook site, click here to visit. Facebook has nice photo features, and it's allowed me to connect with some long lost friends/acquaintances. But there's something ephemeral about these internet connections - a sentence thrown out here and there, but no deep exchange. There's a lot of "cutesy" comments posted; and a lot of self-promotion.

By the way, I found out today that Geocities is canceling their free webservice later this year. I almost panicked because my official website was directed to my geocities site. I took care of the matter by redirecting my domain name to my site in No change to viewers of my site: they still pop in and they go straight to my site in

The answer to yesterday's Jack Pot question: Bienvenido Santos.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Jack Pot Question #2 Philippine Literature Category

This is the second Jack Pot Question to literature buffs. Who is the man beside the younger Cecilia?

Hint: He wasn't a sinner.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Figuring out Facebook

These past couple days I've been trying to figure out Facebook. I registered and have a site there (is that what it's called, a "site"?) I was surprised to see the number of family members, friends and acquaintances who are Facebook members. I went through the whole thing of filling out their profile form, and uploading a profile picture and other pictures. And suddenly I had all these people chattering away in my "wall" - I felt as if I were in a cocktail party and surrounded by a hundred people doing mini-monologues. Obviously I don't have to "listen" to all of them, but there they are on my page, with thumbnail pictures of their lovely faces and these messages they've thrown out into the world. "I'm not feeling great today." "Life is good today." "My first poetry animation." etc. etc.

One could sit in front of the computer and answer these short messages or peek into people's profiles, photos and lives.

I know some people with Facebook accounts who say they don't really use it; I see many who seem to have it on constantly, as they cast out messages to their friends.

I am not particularly fond of these truncated messages tossed out there, and the short little messages thrown back at you. (I'm not even going to look into Twitter!) I much prefer blogging where I can write something longer than a paragraph.

To my readers who wonder if I do anything constructive aside from travelling and messing around with Facebook, let me assure you that I have three book projects in production right now: Fundamentals of Creative Writing; Finding God, and Growing Up Filipino II.

All for now,

Jack pot question: Who is the man beside the younger Cecilia?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Turkey Pictures Recovered!!!!!

With John Allen's help, the pictures that were deleted have been recovered! Hurrah! I had been sad believing I'd lost the pictures from the first 9 days of the trip. Some fellow travelers kindly shared their pictures, but I hankered for the pictures with us in them, and also other interesting people.

I'll be posting some favorites.
* First picture shows Lauren and me in front of the Blue Mosque. The next picture shows Nurten Hatirnaz, the editor of Bilge Kultur Sanat,the Turkish publisher that translated my novel.
* After is a picture of John Allen with a man who reportedly won the lotto twice, but also lost all his money so he's back to shining shoes; he's apparently famous in Istanbul.
*The one after shows the four of us in a cafe near the Grand Bazaar,staying out of the rain.
*The one after shows me in Asklepion, trying to look cool.
* Next is a picture of two women making their flat bread, pide. We had been watching the older woman knead the dough and use a rolling pin to flatten the dough and then using the pin, she rolled up the flattened dough, picking it up that way. She then lay it on another surface and deftly unrolled the dough. We all went, "Ahhh!" And the younger women laughed out loud at our reaction.
* Then there's the picture taken in Antalya - great sunny day, sipping Coke, raki, and beer.
* The four of us in Hieropolis.
* Next is a picture of me in Ephesus.
* Next is a picture of Lauren in the ancient Roman public toilet.
* Still Lauren in Ephesus with the amphitheater behind him. St. Paul talked to the Ephesians in that one.
* Next is Lauren in Pamukkale with the Cotton Castle behind him.
* That's me in the amphitheater of Hierapolis.
* And me again in Pamukkale with the Cotton Castle around me.

(definitely more these coming days!)

Monday, May 25, 2009


My articles about Turkey have been reprinted:

tags: travel, Turkey, Cappadocia, Istanbul, Cecilia Brainard

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fundamentals of Creative Writing almost done!

My publisher in the Philippines sent me the cover studies for the book, Fundamentals of Creative Writing, a slender how-to-write book, which they are hoping to release in June, in time for the new school year. We've finished editing the galley proofs, and I've picked the cover, so we may make the June deadline. I'm excited! Making books are so fun!

Fundamentals of Creative Writing is a powerful resource to encourage students and/or aspiring writers to strive for excellence in their writing skills. Not only does it guide readers through the basics of setting, scene, character, conflict, dialogue, plot, point of view, voice, style, theme and tone but it also provides useful activities that challenges the writer to get their creative juices flowing. I would highly recommend this excellent book to anyone who wants to improve and enhance their creative writing skills.
Jacqueline Gullas-Weckman
Vice-President, Academic Affairs
University of the Visayas

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard has written a wonderful resource for students of creative writing. This book, Fundamentals of Creative Writing, provides students with practical steps that truly work. The strategies presented in this book are a product of the authors 15 years of teaching creative writing. She is also a prolific writer who has written numerous short stories, novels, and non-fiction books.
Edmundo F. Litton, Ed.D.
Associate Professor of Education
Loyola Marymount University

This book (Fundamentals of Creative Writing) describes the “essentials” of creative writing, not only from a technical perspective, but also by unveiling how creative writing leads us to imaginatively engage and act upon the world. Brainard’s structure reminds us that, above and beyond technique, the most important thing a writer needs is a genuine love of story and a respect for the power of words.
RocĂ­o G. Davis
Associate Professor of American Literature, University of Navarra, Spain
Author of Begin Here: Reading Asian North American Autobiographies of Childhood

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's Fundamentals of Creative Writing is a marvelous textbook that combines useful technical advice on craft with beautiful practical examples in her own stories. Brainard's treatments of writerly voice and left brain/right brain theory as it connects to writing are among the best available in today's writing textbooks. Her story examples cover a variety of story types, techniques, points of view, and historical as well as contemporary topics and themes. This book will indeed help writing students write strong stories and improve their craft. Brava, Ms. Brainard.
Vince Gotera, Editor of the North American Review
Professor of Creative Writing, University Northern Iowa

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Travel Tips to Turkey - #7

If you're planning to visit Turkey, here are some practical travel tips.

1. Money - If you can, get some Turkish lira before you leave - around $100 worth. I don't like to change money with money lenders in airports because the exchange is terrible. I live in the Los Angeles area and I buy foreign money from Mr. Mahesh Patel with World Banknotes Exchange, tel: 213-627-5404 or 888-533-7283. He has good rates. If you don't have time to get Turkish lira beforehand, buy some at the Istanbul airport. You can use ATMs there, but bring at least 2 credit cards, in case one doesn't work. I like to bring cash and not rely entirely on ATMs, but keep this secure in a money belt. I also like to bring 30-50 $1 bills because they come in handy for tipping or buying small items some times. It's better to use their money, so this is just emergency money.

2. Clothes - You're heard this before: travel light. Dark colored mix-matches, including pants and skirts, and a variety of tops are good. Skirts are great! A good waterproof coat is good. Scarves can dress up your outfits and are needed when visiting mosques. A heavy-duty shawl can be worn in the evening. Forget those cute high heel shoes, bring good walking shoes and/or sandals. I like to bring 2 pairs of shoes or sandals. In case one gets wet, there's another one to wear. If you like to dine out, it's nice to have evening shoes, but this is only if you have space in your suitcase. If you have black tennis shoes or sandals, this can be used in the evening.

3. Other matters: I like to bring a sling purse that I can secure across my torso so my arms are free. Bring sunblock, all the toiletries you need. Bring a hat. Bring a second suitcase that you can pack in your suitcase going there; you can fill this with your purchases coming home. I also like to have a small bag that folds and which I can open when I am there, to hold my hat, map, water, etc. Speaking of water, I like to throw in a small bottle of water in my suitcase, so when I arrive a place, I have water to drink, in case I'm very thirsty and still haven't bought/acquired water bottles. The empty bottle can also be refilled for daytime use, if needed. I like to pack some nuts or chocolates in my suitcase. Bring books and a notebook, a couple of pens, an extra pair of eyeglasses, all your medicines, copies of your passport and credit cards with vital info blacked out (to avoid identity theft but which gives you the info you may need should the originals get lost). I use a TSA lock on my suitcase; you can buy such a lock in Rite Aid or Target. This allows airport security personnel to open your suitcases if needed.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cappadocia, Turkey - #6

There is I think a little space in my heart that was carved out after our visit to Cappadocia, and that space is filled with images and reflections about Capadoccia.

The first time I consciously heard of Cappadocia was from our friend, Doug Noble, who had shown us pictures of early Christian churches carved into rocks. They were interesting pictures but flat pictures only hint at what is actually there. Pictures can never capture the real essence of Cappadocia.

Cappadocia is like another world. First there are the fantastic rock formations that make me think of Bryce. Cappadocia has a fairy tale, hobbit feel. According to our guide, volcanic tufas that eroded caused the peculiar columns and fairy chimneys.

These rock formations had been used by early Christians as hiding places from the Romans. We visited an underground city that went down four levels and in the lower levels there were huge circular wheel-shaped rocks that could be rolled to close off a tunnel entry. There were several of these, and since the tunnels only allowed one person at a time, the Christians could even trap their pursuer by rolling shut two of these round rocks. The circular rocks remind me of the rock that closed off Jesus' tomb. As to the network of tunnels and larger rooms, think of a hamster or gerbil habitat - small cave-like rooms connected by narrow tunnels.

We visited an outdoor museum that had been occupied by early monks, and there were chapels carved into these rocks. There were small rooms, a dining room, and what may have been a kitchen since the rock ceiling had blackened.

The Christians fled from the Romans who persecuted them; and they found refuge in Cappadocia. This was something that was not taught to me when I was in Catholic school. I can't blame my teachers because they probably didn't know either. The orientation was Western: everything happened in Rome, or Jerusalem, and pilgrim places like Lourdes and Fatima were hyped up more than the sites in Israel and in Turkey. It had never really occurred to me that Turkey was very much part of the world of Jesus, Mary, the apostles and early Christians. In my imagination, they roamed around Jerusalem and Galilee, with St. Paul being an exception since he came from Tarsus and preached to the Ephesians.

In Cappadoccia we also went ballooning, one early cloudy morning and the 27 of use were so certain that a) the balloon-people were going to kill us just to get their $200 per person; and b) we'd see nothing but clouds. After waiting around under a thin drizzle, we were herded into the baskets of gigantic colorful balloons and up we went. And wouldn't you believe it? - the sky had cleared up and we had grand views of the Goreme Valley with its mountains and strange formations and fairy chimneys. The feeling of lifting up gently and seeing this enchanting world was unreal, magical. Our balloon pilot was a young former F-16 pilot, handsome and quickly the darling of the women. He said he wanted to come to the United States to visit his ex-girlfriend in Seattle, and he wanted to pilot some ballooning in some part of the US because this would give him the credential to balloon in any part of the world.

We saw Whirling Dervishes. This was not a performance as we had seen in Egypt where a guy had hoops around his skirt and he pulled it up and down so he looked like some kind of doll. This was a religious ceremony - or so we were told; and we were forbidden to clap. The ritual began with the eulogy, followed by the haunting music, and the appearance of the men wearing black robes. Later they removed their robes and danced their prayer, head tilted, one hand up, another pointed down, and always turning in the same circular direction. Watching them was mesmerizing. I was surprised to learn that they do not want to experience ecstasy but want to remain grounded, even as they do their meditative dancing.

We saw a folkloric dance performance, which was better than the one we saw in Istanbul. What Istanbul offered were the topnotch belly dancers, the star of whom was Asena, now three months pregnant and about to stop dancing, gossiped our guide. (Belly dancing is another thing to mull over - why, in a culture that requires women to dress modestly and cover their heads - why do they have belly dancing????)

When we left Cappadocia, it felt as if the tour was ending. The highpoint had passed and we counted the days until we'd get home. We saw Ankara and kidded around that we'd sent President Obama ahead to make sure things were fine for us. We got an earful about Mustafa Kemal and saw his bombastic funereal monument. We had a nice dinner in the citadel, in a rickety ancient two-story house where the chef personally catered to us. And then there was the long trip back to Istanbul, made pleasant by the pretty landscape and good company. Back in Istanbul, Lauren and I hurried to see the Dolmabahce Palace, a very European structure built by a Sultan, and which has a 4 1/2 ton Bohemian chandelier, the largest in Europe. What impressed me most was the toilet which was a hole in the floor- made of marble, but without the crapper. Imagine the surprise of the high level guests who went to the restroom and found a hole in the floor!

And then the trip to Turkey was over. It took 21 hours to get back home: Istanbul to Paris to Los Angeles.

I am still processing what I saw, did, and experienced. There is much to think about.

P.S. Do not ever buy from those factories the Tour Directors take you to - they are extremely overpriced!

(This article is also published in

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Turkey #5 - interesting pictures

Busy today - no time to blog but here are some interesting pictures, some of which came from tour companions Estelle and Dan: