I run…therefore I am

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Public property

Public property

Lost metal railings, detached post lights and vandalized park benches – now these are just some of the things you would expect when traversing around the metro.  It is such a requisite that whenever one steps on untouched almost pristine public areas, one would surmise they’re in another country or continent.  Or probably part of a mall/commercial property.  Or one of  ‘em Makati parks that’s being maintained by a foundation.

I know we never had what we may call urban/city planning so the Filipino mind set never placed importance on public structures, sidewalks, parks and various open spaces.  Let’s run this down:

  • public lights – I know we have one of the most hideous designs in public lighting (one topic worthy of an article or more).  Manila (c/o of ex-Mayor Atienza) started all this craze of Sputnik lights to fishball styles (and has spread to the provinces and other cities) one would think he’s in Star City.  But beyond esthetics, let me just say that the design should have the following specifications (if one is to expect a longer street life):
    1. bulbs and wires (the usual prized/saleable items) should be beyond reach of an average Filipino without using a ladder.
    2. initials (B, E, MI etc. – guess the city) of incumbent mayors/governors should not be painted/embedded or etched on them lest they be the first target of the next new administration.
    3. lighting should be either for the streets or for the sidewalks unless one can combine both like the one in Bonifacio Highstreet but that would mean less projects (less profits)
    4. proper color (yellow for the streets and white for the sidewalks) should be observed.
    5. a proper switch or sensor should be in place.  One thing that would ruin any morning is to see kilometers of public lights still blazing during the rush hour.
  • Sidewalks – we learned its existence and vigilant protection from Bayani Fernando and hopefully it remains in our psyche – sidewalks are for walking and pedestrians without exceptions for 365 days of the year.
  • public parks – of the few left in the metropolis, we expect these spaces to be maintained (keeping it green is enough sans the ornamental plants, ponds, Japanese bridges, etc.) and free of scalawags and dark characters.  And since they’re open to the public, barricading them with metal fences (in curlicue designs – another project) defeats its purpose.  So please, stop accessorizing and treating these parks as your home garden for maintaining/up keeping them is beyond impossible.  Here are my requirements for an ideal park that will survive through time – concrete fixed benches, carabao grass, trees and bushes which require little or no maintenance except water every morning.
  • unused open spaces – please sell them at the right market value lest they transform into public parking, carinderia spaces, illegal settlers’ colony or red light district.  Building another public edifice would just add up to more properties to maintain for the local government.  Or maybe a green space which require minimal maintenance.
  • Overpasses for pedestrians – they can be eyesores in a city which has its share of bridges, elevated highways and byways but try to put your self on a pedestrian’s point of view and one gets to walk around the city amidst floods and typhoons, day or night.  The walkways can look distracting in an already crowded concrete landscape but I have tried them out and they can be accessible and useful than endangering one’s life in crossing our streets.  The stairs and passages leading to our MRT/LRT networks are another story – one word comes to mind – decathlon (in leather footwear).
  • unused public buildings – retro fitting is repurposing an old building for its new tenants – it’s more expensive but it’s more green and produces less waste.  And if the building has some historical/architectural significance, the more we should preserve and re-use it instead of letting it decay and be a haven for sex workers/illegal settlers/drug dealers, etc., etc.

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Run Log: 16 June 2010

Run Log:  16 June 2010

LSDs (Long Slow Distance) runs are now a 3x/week habit I’ve been cultivating for more than a month now in preparation for the Milo Marathon this July 4.  Today, I did 8.8 km of our usual route round the village by myself since Dave and Frank are not available.  I thought I won’t last by my lonesome self but with a lot of encouragement from Simon LeBon (‘pulled my shirt off and pray’ – Election Day), Darryl Hall (‘we’re living in dream time, baby’) and Neil Tennant (‘you got no future, you got no past’ – West End Girls), I managed to survive and enjoyed it.  It was slow, meditative and within my control – in pace, running style and background sounds.  I’m hoping to put this training runs in my regular schedule (5:30 am T,W,Th) until August (for the PAU 65k) and September (for the CamSur Marathon).  And on Sundays the long runs but that’s another looong article.

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Conquering Mt. Napulak (the second time)

Conquering Mt. Napulak (the second time)

Igbaras in Iloilo is my second home since we always visit my mom’s beloved hometown every so often.  It is one place where the feeling of familiarity and family (up to relatives of the nth degree) still pervades.  In short, one can easily enter most homes, introduce one self (I’m Ines’ eldest son) and be offered a warm meal and hearty conversations on end.  But with so much to do, one needs to abbreviate the house hopping and endless gatherings for something like climbing up its highest peak, Mt. Napulak.  But proper planning and preparation should never be discounted.

Ours began months before when Jessica, a cousin from the States broached the idea of holding a climbing expedition when she comes over in June.  So as early as 5 am of June 7, we were ready for an adventure of a lifetime.   We were four climbers (including Pau & Tin) with five mountain guides (a.k.a. porters).  With my cousin’s not so normal number of bags, we needed all the help we can get so we hardly have any weight to carry in our ascent.  Jess apparently had everything planned out from the drivers and vehicle to the endless supply of trail food, water and daily meals.

Mt. Napulak with its steep slopes is always a challenge to climbers so imagine us novice hikers struggling to get our butt up every step of the way.  With its ragged terrain, it has become a favorite training base of the armed resistance.  Our main man Murut, in fact, used to be a member of that group before becoming a guide so he knows where to take us, fast and safe.

The first time I climbed this mountain was in 2006.  It was hellish, to say the least.  I was wearing ill-fitting, pseudo-hiking shoes so we reached the top after traveling for 8 hours.  We were tired, hungry and wet since the fog and the rains were unrelenting throughout the night. We hardly had any sleep and subsisted on unappetizing meals.

4 years later, we were trekking a shorter, more scenic route, armed with all the yummy snacks and energy bar we needed throughout the journey.  I had my cousin’s SLR camera dangling by my neck, documenting the interesting scenes along the way – Raffleasia flower buds about to open, us sipping from a natural spring, our coterie of porters grunting from a mountain load of luggage, and of course the breathtaking views of the verdant mountains and dark jungles.

Months before, we had built on our endurance by running regularly so this time around, the steep and winding trails posed little challenge. The scheduled 6-hour travel was trimmed down to 4 hours, with none of the expected aching, itching results.  By 11 am, we were on top of Mt. Napulak, setting up our tents (Ok, it was them porters), and lounging under a rock the size of a house.

A drizzle or two later, we were hauling up our posteriors into the giant black boulder to get a panoramic view of the island of Panay (Iloilo/Antique side).  Just below, we could see the town of Igbaras, surrounded by snaking rivers and endless barren fields.  The perilous limestone labyrinths around the boulder serve to protect it from would-be loggers so old growth trees were in abundance in the area.  We marveled at God’s enormous creation and felt so insignificant and minute.

On top of the boulder the size of a church, we witnessed the changing of the weather in the surrounding areas – a rainfall here, sunshiny weather there.  A blanket of fog would later wrap us and bring in the rains. That’s our signal to go down and run for cover in our tent.  Darkness enveloped the peak early – it was peaceful, relaxed and eerie.  With the sounds of silence and occasional insects around, the setting was fit for a horror movie – one reason to up the scare-o-meter.  Sorry but I had a blast scaring Jessica and the girls throughout the night with stories of Ilonggo supernatural creatures….until I myself had to take a pee in the dead of the night.

I wake up with a damp, aching back.  Apparently, I had slept on the tent floor jutted with rocks while the girls’ were covered in soft blades of grass.  A jolt of coffee would energize us on our journey down.  Despite our sleepless floating state, we managed to descend the mountain in record 2 ½ hours, sans injury and ready to take on the next peak…

07-08 June 2010

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PAU Pow Pow, part II

PAU Pow Pow, part II

Back to our run, we began ranking the returning runners and saying hi while receiving a lot of encouragements (‘malapit na pabalik’, ‘kaya n’yo yan’, etc.).  Fortunately, we took in all their estimated distances toward the turning point (varying from 3-10 kms) to keep us going.  Otherwise, we would never have imagined taking that rollercoaster route, up and down the hills and mountains in a road which doesn’t seem to have any end.

After over 6 hours, we finally reached the turning point (35 km).  We tried to erase in our psyche the treacherous path we just survived from the resort, knowing in the back of our minds that we will be passing the same way again. This time, however, the numerous downhills will be uphills and this would be in the final stretch of the race we’ve been running for the last 7 hours.

Luckily, Dave and I have gotten used to the sun behind our backs (sans any cap, arm/leg/neck protection) but during this time when the legs and knees were just about to buckle down in the next step, you try to entertain and deviate your mind from gloom and surrender. You try to battle the demons and fears in your mind and always remember that a Higher power is leading and guiding you on life’s unpredictable highway.  This is when you take running to a more spiritual level.  When before and during the early part of the race, I can’t seem to shake off the feeling of death and biting the dust, I suddenly felt a resurgence of energy, purpose and calm in my system.  Now, I knew we were going to finish these final kilometers, no matter how far, how endless…

It becomes a psychological game as we tried channeling all the positive energy and vibes over burning feet, aching muscles and weakened knees.  We still managed to make a slow jog in certain parts, timing our breathing and steps in synch.  During the steep ascents on angled roads, the best we could muster was a slow walk. In between, we were able to receive continuous supplies of water, salt and cola drinks from the roving motorclers deployed by Baldrunner.

Finally, we reached the finish line by 1:39 pm, shirtless, scorched and still ready to run a few more meters.  The exhaustion we felt was minor considering the distance and time we’ve covered.  We were the 2nd and 3rd to the last to finish a race which saw 12 runners quitting.  Receiving my trophy from Baldrunner for my first Ultramarathon, no matter if it’s only 8 kms longer than a full one, is a proud moment for me.

I display the trophy in my clinic and patiently explain on end, the ordeal we went through on any curious patient.  My facebook shout out said ‘Once in a while you do something crazy and just go for it. Today, along with Dave, Ian & Eric, we ran 50k of the Sierra Madre area. Under the sun’s biting heat, it was gruelling, tiring and yes, a bit insane. But here I am, practicing for PAU 65 KM.  This can really get addicting…

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PAU Pow Pow

PAU Pow Pow

The idea and invitation came a month before the actual race.  Dave and I were doing our first few runs within our village when he broached the idea of joining the PAU 50K.  It was going to be somewhere in Tanay, Rizal and it will be our first run beyond the 42 km full marathon.  If we survived 42 km, just add 8 km more and we get to finish 50 km and become Ultrarunners.  We will be on the same of plane with the running gods.

Ultra marathon – there’s a term which you rarely hear.  Basically, because it represents less than 10 percent of the running community, I think.  These are runners who go beyond the usual 42 km and double or triple that distance.  Yup, one could easily consider them crazy fanatics running under the cruel sun for hours [that’s beyond 6 hours people]. I still have to penetrate their ranks but they are quite a close-knit and very disciplined bunch.  I guess the respect and acceptance would come once you’ve shown your running record.  Will I make the cut?

The Philippine Association of Ultrarunners is headed by Sir Jovie Narcise, a.k.a. Baldrunner.  He runs one of the more popular running blogs and the organizer of the Bataan Death March 102 and PAU 50 km.  Of course, we start with 50 km first.

A month of short and long runs finally saw us on May 09, 2010 at a national highway along Tanay, Rizal where we took off at 5 am.  None of the blinding lights and blaring music, PAU 50 KM was a refreshing departure from the very commercialized weekly runs at the Fort area. The roads were already quite visible as a little over a hundred runners navigated the double lane roadway ascending towards the hills in the distance.  Even with the uphill climb, the mood was festive and upbeat until the sun gave us a blistering reminder that it was a Sun-day.

Our climb continued with some plateaus in between but with the breathtaking view of Laguna de Bay on one side, the effort was quenched and rewarded.  By this time, we only have brief and minute views of other runners in front so we only had the 4 of us, lumbering and having a grand time. A minor downhill road would separate Ian & Eric from Dave and I as they started taking in the heat.  It has been over 3 hours of running along the cogon bordered highway while stopping over every 5 kms. in our service vehicle laden with revitalizers to quench our hunger and thirst .  We could only imagine how the mountain top appeared decades ago – an army of centuries-old trees surrounded by a verdant landscape.  At that moment, nothing came between us and the rays of the sun.

The first official water station at 10 kms. felt like 15 kms. with the continued rise in altitiude so that by the time we reached the 20-km. pitstop at the Sierra Madre resort, it felt like we’ve climbed 30 kms already.

From there, we started our descent, some very sharp but mostly gradual.  With no returning runner in sight for the next hour or so, we surmised that the route would be circling the mountain to return to the other side of the resort. Which was a relief considering the difficulty we had going down, so going back the same path would be twice the effort going up.  This assumption would take us far psychologically, free of the possible difficult climbs back.

We were imagining most of runners finishing already and celebrating until we saw the leaders of the pack, one by one and later in bunches indicating the tail end of the race.  But we were the last ones in this run.  Then we caught up with 2 more tailenders (one guy would fail while the girl would finish last) aside from Ian & Eric.  The 2 guys would reach the 35 km. turn, run 2 kms. more then give up to take our service vehicle back, 13 kms. short.

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As in most places in Marikina last September 26, 2009,our poor clinic was one of the casualties of storm Ondoy bringing in 5 feet floods with mud.  We were fortunate to be around when the waters started rushing in the clinic (we even treated 2 patients that September 26th morn).  At first we tried warding off the rising waters by sealing the glass doors with dental wax, glue gun or whatever material we thought would prevent water from seeping in.  But when the deluge was too much, we knew our space would be underwater in no time.

So acting as one unit, we started bringing up all our delicate stuffs – the small dental machines, the paper documents, the drawers containing the dental instruments and whatever we could fill the upper space with.  We were fortunate to have built an attic (as extra storage area) because we just couldn’t imagine where to bring all our delicate items.  We left when the waters were waist deep and most of the things were brought up to safety except for the dental chair (too heavy) and the x-ray (mounted on the wall).  It was like in a Titanic movie when it took us time to open, close then lock the metal and glass doors.  All the while, my car was sinking from the deeper waters outside by the parking area.  We ventured out as waters continued to rise, settling in one of covered areas.

By late afternoon, with the continuing rains, I braved the floods and knocked on a high school classmate’s condominium room on the 8th floor after searching for his name on the now wet records.  He and his wifey warmly welcomed me in and later my 2 assistants.  As the night settled in, we continued to observe the worsening conditions – the floods, the rushing trash, the people clambering on building roofs, wet and hungry.  And of course, our clinic and my car – by now a rectangular island of blue metal in a sea of brown.

There was no electricity.  Most of the communications were by mobile phone which by now was at risk of running out of power.  We subsisted on canned foods with gloomy thoughts and restless energy looming through the night.  By 11 pm, we noticed the waters finally settling to a certain level then eventually going down.  By 5 am, water has completely disappeared in front of our clinic.  And so we ventured to check the extent of the damage.  By 9 am, an army of cleaners was summoned by my family, hosing and eliminating every trace of mud from the insides of our clinic space.  Before night fall, mydentalspace is free of any trace from the storm.  Or so I thought…

It would take another 10 days before the major dental appliances (dental chair/x-ray/compressor) all submerged to dry up, be cleaned up and brought to normal working condition.  We started treating patients on the second week after the storm but a month later we had a 4-day break for minor repairs and repainting of the clinic walls.  1.5 months after Ondoy, our clinic is back to normal operations and my car is running again.

Despite everything, we are still very thankful to the Lord as the damage/trials we experienced was not that permanent and we were able to rise out of the problems faster than some.  And we learned a lot from this tempest – no problem that comes along is too difficult to hurdle, family and relations matter more over material possessions and always build an attic which is accessible and useful.

Anyway, you have a detailed rundown of my Ondoy experience.  2009 is one of the most trying year I believe on my 44 years of existence, but the Lord has prepared me for a predicament of this magnitude and I thank Him for giving me strength, fortitude and hope.

December 2009

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Editorial: Weathering our Storms

Editorial:  Weathering our Storms

Life often catches us when we are most vulnerable and unsuspecting.  The day typhoon Ondoy struck Metro Manila, we were busy treating 2 patients at our dental office, unmindful of the voluminous water dropping from the gray clouds.  We could have treated more patients that Saturday morning where it not for the murky waters which started invading our reception area.

That’s when we realized that this was no ordinary calamity.  We started hoarding all our equipments, papers and small appliances up into our small loft.  The dinky space was full to the brim in a matter of 30 minutes.  The big furnitures, dental chairs and x-ray machine were left to soak in the raging waters which had reached waist deep when we left the clinic.

Outside the endless rainfall has rendered the parking lot, roads and cars underwater in few hours – along with it, my own car.  I gathered my assistants and we stayed in a condo unit of a high school classmate for the night, unknowing of the catastrophe that was devastating the whole Metro.  Gloom enveloped Marikina City as I gazed at it 9 stories above the rising, running flood waters.

We woke up (we hardly slept that night) to learn the devastation and death Ondoy brought on areas as far as Laguna and Bulacan.  Inside 17 medical/dental, muddy waters have entered every corner of our clinic and caused some damage and havoc which would take weeks to undo.  With a lot of help from well-meaning family and friends, we never ceased cleaning, repairing, replacing and painting until we were ready to treat our patients in 2 weeks.  A few more renovations later and the clinic never looked better for Christmas 2009.

It’s been 9 months since Ondoy and its traces can still be felt every now and then (a hard starting car engine or the peeling paint on one wall).  And rightly so.  They’re there to remind us of what we’ve gone through and how we were able to rise above these adversities.  They are a testament of how much strength and fortitude human nature can take and overcome them.

May  2010

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Editorial: (almost) 20 years

Editorial:  (almost) 20 years

Come 2010, I will be commemorating 20 years of rendering dental service to patients of every age and case.  How I have survived through two decades without losing interest or hope in a profession which challenges and discourages is beyond me.  I opened my first clinic in our house garage months after I finished an intensive extership training in Oral Surgery at the Philippine General Hospital.

Anyway, the first clinic catered to mostly neighbors, friends and relatives’ dental requirements for two years before moving to the Kabuhat Polyclinic (A. Fernando Ave. cor Marcos highway).  For 17 years, the practice would grow and flourish, surviving brownouts and the Asian crisis while improving on its dental equipments and appliances.  Case in point:  we started reminding patients of their appointments via our neighbor’s phone landline moving to our pocket pager into our own landline (a precious commodity that time) to our multiple cellular phones (courtesy of Sun).  Along the way, I would undergo training in Prosthodontics (3 years) and Orthodontics (1 year).

Finally on July 7, 2007, we got our own 36 (m)2 unit at the Marquinton Residences with a plush reception and its own restroom plus a new medical space.  It’s been an eventful journey from our simple beginnings.  With the recent renovations we just did, I can say that we have finally found a home.  We invite you to enter our new space, you won’t regret it.


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EDITORIAL: Are you prepared for the rush?


Are you prepared for the rush?

Practicing dentistry is nothing short of taking one long roller coaster ride.  One moment you’re in a quiet solitude waiting for patients who never show up.  The next time you’re in a frenzy battle with a wailing pedo. patient, or wrestling with a persistent apical third or even searching for a severed artery from a patient spitting pools of blood.  The ride can be fulfilling as one successfully delivers a well made complete denture or it can be dangerous as one tries to stabilize a fainting patient’s vital signs.  How about retrieving a swallowed reamer or a broken needle?

With its expected tumbles and turns, twists and falls, a dentist should always be at the helm of every emergency (or ordinary) situation within the clinic.  Unexpected turns may catch the complacent dentist in the most uncompromising and frantic moments.  One should, therefore, be ready to contend with it, with enough artillery of knowledge, skill and guts and a lot of luck.  Only then, can one survive the ride.


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The Filipino as a Dentist

It has been exactly 10 years since I finished my last few clinical requirements and finally secured a diploma.  Of course, after six years of toiling and burning the midnight oil, I still had to hurdle the boards, undergo hospital training and actual clinical practice before I finally get the hang of it – you know, the practice of dentistry.

Perhaps, I am quite fortunate for a decade after, I am still holding an explorer and surviving the various obstacles (and abscesses and infections) that come with the caries war and battle of the tartar.  More importantly, I’ve found my own niche – practicing a profession which I tremendously love.  (Am I harping too much on the subject?)

Like everyone else, I had to start from below.  Others, out of lack of interest, patience or luck had to move out of Dentistry and branch out.  This profession is obviously not for everyone, even armed with a DDM title or a place in the boards, as one friend was.  Still for others, this country is not for them to practice the profession – what with all the unethical, not to mention, septic practices, erratic patient appointments, dipping rates and skyrocketting rentals.  Of course, once they’ve set up the office in greener pastures, a whole new set of problems enter the picture – high insurance rates, lawsuits, discrimination, etc.

In the 70’s, hordes of professionals made an exodus to the land of milk and honey and this was known as brain drain.  After the yellow revolution, more and more Filipinos have returned and chosen to stay in this country.  The picture is not exactly rosey nor promising but life is slowly getting better.  And this is perhaps the best time to pay tribute to the Filipino dentist who have remained (out of choice or fate) and chosen to serve and treat his fellow Filipino.

The weather fluctuates at the bate of an eyelash, corruption and pollution darken the atmosphere and balasubas patients abound but hey, this is the only place where we work and fit best.  Mabuhay! ang Dentistang Pinoy!