Personal geography

Screen shot from Google Maps

This month’s National Geographic features an essay by Garrison Keillor about his personal geography. It begins,“When a man lives in one place for most of his life, he doesn’t need GPS.”

I’m fascinated with people who have lived most of their life in one place, because this is not the way of my own family—a trend started long ago, by my grandfather, and perhaps even by his father before him. Back then, for them, moving was not a matter of choice, but of sheer survival: if they stayed put, they could die. Now, reading my grandfather’s stories, it seems to me that his life has been a long succession of moves that affected not only his life but his descendants’ as well. Take me, for example. It’s because of my grandfather that I am here, in Canada, staring out at snow-laden trees instead of at coconut palms waving on an island beach. (No, I’m not bitter. Really.)

I will probably always need a GPS—except perhaps in Vancouver. Which makes me think that a good definition of home might be “the place where you don’t get lost.” But needing navigational instruments to find your bearings is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means you are exploring, expanding the map of your world.

This excerpt from my grandfather’s memoirs takes place in Daet, Camarines Norte. I’ve never been there, but at least now I can add a pin to the map of my personal geography wish list. It’s south of Manila, by the sea—between it and North America, there is nothing but the blue expanse of the North Pacific. I would like to go there someday. In the meantime, here’s the story.

The week that war was declared, and the American and Filipino armed forces were preparing for the expected Japanese invasion of the Philippines, my Father had to go to Manila, where my sister, Chita, was studying in St. Paul’s College then at Herran Street in Paco. I recall his arrival with my sister and two nuns.

From then on it was a flurry of activities that led to our having to leave Daet and go up the mountains to flee the coming Japanese occupation forces. I remember that while crossing a river, I dropped my pair of Keds rubber shoes and couldn’t retrieve it from the rapids. That was the last time I wore shoes. Not until we left the mountains some months after for the safety and comfort of Manila did I again got to wear a pair.

My brother Ricky was born up in the mountains while we weathered the initial shock of having to be uprooted from our Daet home. It was up there, though, that I metamorphosed from a pampered niño-bonito to a rather dependable aide to my Father. I remember chores like walking about 5 kilometres back and forth every morning to get fresh carabao milk for breakfast.

Coming home from one of these trips I recall having to stay away and hide at the back of our hut because I saw a military truck parked in front of our house. They were on routine patrol. Things like these helped keep our senses keen and sharp, and ever alert for the unexpected.

In the beginning the enemy soldiers were not scary, but later on [when] we began hearing of some atrocious actions on their part, especially towards the women, our neighborhood thought of a plan on how to put our area on alert when Japanese soldiers were coming. Tomtoms were used, and whenever we heard them, our women, young and old, left their houses to hide. Can you imagine this happening at night?

Next: From the sea to the mountains

On true love and diets

My baby sister is in the throes of a new relationship. Seeing the way her eyes shine whenever she says his name, I can’t help but remember how I felt when I was about her age, getting to know someone special and exciting. I remember the uncontrollable smile spreading over my face, the butterflies in my stomach. But then, as the weeks went by, I also felt, rather strangely, a twinge of sadness. First time to hold hands, first tentative kiss—it’s a time of thrilling firsts that, unfortunately, will never come again. Love flares, then it changes, mellows out, and only time will tell if it’s the real thing, the kind that lasts forever.

Lots of people nowadays, I’m told, want true love as much as ever, but don’t really believe that it exists. I think maybe it’s because we’re reading all the wrong love stories. You know, the ones in which the characters are beautiful and young. They have their whole lives before them, and every day is a romance.

In real life, we get to find out if it’s true love at the end of the story, not at the beginning. That’s why in real love stories, the characters are usually old—or at least, no longer young. They have a weatherbeaten look about them, because they’ve been through a few storms. But, like this couple I read about this week, they stuck together till the end.

I think we need to tell each other a lot more stories like this.


I’ve also been thinking about something else that’s rather more prosaic: diets.

A friend of mine who runs the kitchen at a conference centre gave me some of her expert tips on how to come up with healthy, affordable and interesting menus. So I’ve been trying it out, and I’ve found that a little time invested every week, going through recipes and making lists, really makes a difference. Now Mom and I know exactly what and how much to buy before even setting foot in a grocery store. And we’ve had some delicious, healthy meals, making the most of what’s in season.

I found some great printable templates here. There’s a variety of formats so you can choose what works best for you. I like this one from A Feathered Nest, which combines a weekly menu plan with a shopping list on just one sheet that you can take  to the grocery store with you.


Another interesting article I read this week talks about media diets. What is your media diet? asks Publishing Perspectives. Hmmm. Never thought about it before. But you know how you start by looking at your diet when you want to start eating healthier? Scrutinizing your media diet could also have the same kind of benefit.

So here’s mine.

During the week I get the news and other items of interest by scanning my Twitter and Facebook feeds for updates from the National Post, Real Simple magazine, Mental Floss, and a few other publications and personalities. I’ve also started to regularly check out the “This Day in History” section of

I watch the occasional Ted Talk or documentary on the internet, but I rarely watch the news on TV and I never listen to the radio.

I subscribe to the print edition of the National Post weekend paper, which I read cover-to-cover on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. I also subscribe to the print edition of the National Geographic and Verily Magazine, which I keep in various handy places around the house so I can pick them up and read an article or two whenever I have a few minutes to spare. I also subscribe to the digital edition of Creative Nonfiction, but I’m finding that I don’t get nearly as much pleasure from it as from my printed magazines. So I’ve taken to buying up their printed back issues when they go on sale.

And yes, Publishing Perspectives, I still do end my day with a book. Actually I always have at least three books going: one for fun, one for educational or research purposes, and a spiritual one.

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit it: when it comes to media—especially printed media—I’m a bit of a glutton. But at least you don’t get fat from intellectual calories.


Last but not least—I found a writing buddy! We’ve agreed to work together, not to critique each other’s work, but to keep each other on top of our writing goals. I’ve never been accountable for my writing to anybody except my editors, so this should be an interesting endeavour, and hopefully a fruitful one as well, for both of us.

It’s one of my goals to post something new here at least once a week. So thanks for reading, and stay tuned.