A Traveler's Journal of Eric Tinsay Valles

July 2012
The Diaspora conference went very well. After a few stints at conferences, it is not so difficult to speak in public anymore -- with enough preparation and practice. There was a lot of interest in Singapore --because of potential funding for research-- and in Singapore literature--exactly what the National Arts Council aimed for in funding my trip. I am networking with academics from Armenia to the West Indies. Someone asked me to co-edit a book -- but I passed, since I should really be preparing to reapply for phd admission.
Oxford is old and lovely like a venerable emeritus professor: many of the colleges are centuries-old and occasional vintage cars crawl on the road. I went to a Latin high mass last Friday night at St. ALoysius Gonzaga Oratory, where JOhn Henry Newman and Gerard Manley Hopkins preached.
I had enough time only to visit the Ashmolean museum, which is bigger than Singapore's art museum and has rows of the masters like Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin. I was also treated to a tour of Trinity College, which has big gardens with flowers in full bloom. I also walked for almost an hour to go to an Opus Dei center there, which is near the train station. The residents were watching a Sherlock Holmes movie.
June 2012
 I went to a week-long retreat in Tagaytay and then to the house with my parents and brother in Makati. We spent plenty of time eating by ourselves or with balikbayan relatives. On the last day of the retreat, I spent hours on the highway with my brother as I retrieved a laptop that I had left behind in a drawer of a room at the retreat center. There are new developments such as shiny malls in the south, but some things like narrow one-lane roads and ubiquitous buko pie stalls stay the same.
 I'm also planning to apply for a phd program in English Literature, this time at the Nanyang Technological University here. I just received a scholarship from my school for that.
May 2012
 'Am marking holiday assignments and writing a paper for the Oxford conference in late June. 'Also attended a coaching conference during the past two days, and we were told to ask plenty of questions so that the coached could be committed to a course of action that he himself proposes.

We have some university friends who were with a couple of residents of our Opus Dei center in a poor village in Vietnam recently. They built toilets for an orphanage there.
April 2012
We had our Easter vigil at Holy Cross church, with about 1000 faithful. I was with Patrick C. and his wife, and saw a few of our students. In another church here, 70 adults were baptized.

I'm teaching English Composition, Poetry and the Novel as well as Creative Writing this semester at NUS High School. There are drills in the Composition class, so I'm just marking papers all the time. I get to discuss the works of my poetic heroes in the Poetry class. I try to inspire young writers to write poetry or fiction in the Creative Writing class. The marking load is punishing, but it's rewarding to see the kids progress in their writing. Offered up to God, it is a wonderful prayer. I'm also in charge of competitions, so I coach the talented students so that they could perform well. Last week, a Year 1 (13-year-old) student competed against junior college (17-year-old) students at a national public speaking competition and won 2nd place. Our students are amazing (Singaporeans tend to be exceptionally motivated).
I got funding from the National Arts COuncil for a trip to a conference on diasporas at Oxford university at the end of June. Before then, I'll see my parents and brother for the weekends before and after my retreat during the week of Mama's birthday.
February-March 2012
My paper abstract on the work of Singapore pioneer poet Edwin Thumboo has been accepted for presentation at Oxford University in late June. I'm applying for another grant from the National Arts Council in order to present it. It looks like I'll get one. Given the workload in school, I'm waiting for the next holiday to write the actual paper, though.
We're going to have a retreat for non-members at our center near NUS this weekend. There are also groups from here who are meeting the pope in a youth conference in Rome during the Holy Week and are helping a poor village in Vietnam in May.
January 2012
We were at a Chinese family's house for the traditional Chinese New Year dinner. We watched a Korean drama about lovers from feuding families while waiting for the reunion dinner. We had the Chinese New Year delicacy, sweet cucumber, along with century eggs, fried yam, fried salmon, lechon and other dishes. I skipped shark's fin soup out of solidarity with conservationists.

I'm set to read some poems and talk about migration and the individual again at the River Valley/Ministry of Educaiton colloquium on Feb 6. I feel no pressure now when I prepare for these talks. I've begun writing new poems. I've stepped down as chairman of the school's Staff Welfare Committee so that I could discharge duties as the new teacher coordinator of the school library. I'm planning to address a lack of Singapore-published literary works in our library holdings. Wish me luck.

December 2011
I completed an annual seminar in cool Sydney at the start of summer. I went to Maroubra beach where I read Milosz's "Slow River' among seagulls as green waves teased the golden sand: "In such a season, Every voice becomes for us/ a shout of triumph. glory, pain and glory/ to the grass, to the clouds, to the green oak wood." I finally took a break after a whirlwind semester that started with the launch of my poetry book A World in Transit in June.

After relishing the Impressionists at the Singapore National Museum recently, it was just right to follow that up with a close look at the works of Picasso at the New South Wales gallery. It was comprehensive, covering the Blue, Rose, cubist surrealist and later periods of his career. "The Reader" is strange, but balanced and shows traces of the influence of Cezanne and Gauguin. "The Massacre in Korea" looks back to Goya in depicting a then current conflict. Soaking in Picasso's experimentaiton with past styles gives me greater resolve in studying poetry from different periods for my own work.

I’ve gotten a recharge from long walks here too: around wind-swept cliffs and swamp reserves in Coogee, on Bondi beach in the rain. Last December 8, I walked from the Australian Museum to St. Mary's cathedral to the public library. I also chatted with a paleontologist about how to distinguish between dinosaur bones and rocks. He said, "You've got to get a degree for that." They do look alike and have the same color over time. Other people in my seminar and I later prayed the rosary at St. Mary's.

I have also been studying bioethics and Latin. Regarding bioethics, the late Pope John Paul II traced some violations against it in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae to a mistaken notion of freedom that exalts the individual in an absolute way: “Man is no longer able to see himself as mysteriously different from other earthly creatures; he regards himself merely as one more living being, as an organism … that no longer grasps the transcendent character of his existence.” I’m praying as well as learning from the experiences of others in  Warrane College at the University of New SOuth Wales.
October 2011
I was at the launches of two anthologies, The Coast and Moving Words, which feature poems by Pinoys Catherine Torres of the Philippine embassy, investment banker Tanny Chua and yours truly during the Singapore Writers Festival. The Coast, edited by Daren Shiau & Lee Wei Fen, was launched on 26 October (Wednesday) at the Festival pavilion in SMU. Moving Words, a project of Ethos Books that aims to promote poetry appreciation among the masses, was releasd  on 29 October(Saturday).

Finally, I was part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the birth of
Czeslaw Milosz, the great Polish writer, poet and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature. David Fedo, Aaron Maniam, yours truly and other poets read Milosz's poetry with musical accompaniment starting on 29 Oct (Sat) at the Living Room of the Arts House. This activity was followed by the screening of Valley of the Issa, a film based on Milosz's nostalgic novel about the poet's childhood in Lithuania.
September 2011
The poetry reading on the following day went well with about 20 people in my audience at the ballroom of the Marina Bay Sands convention center. I was one of four readers/performers in different corners of the hall during the lunch break for school heads of departments and principals. Since Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was the keynote speaker, we had to queue up for a full-body screening as in airports. I was late, so the organizers made me go through the security check quickly. LKY said Singapore was lucky not to have been colonized by the French or else the people would be struggling to learn English. He also encouraged the adoption of American English (and is switching his word processor setting to US Eng).
God has been good. It's incredible. I'm even getting to chat with people like F. Sionil Jose whom I never had the chance to meet back home. He gave me chicken essence in exchnage for the roast ducks. He also extended an open invite to coffee at his bookstore.
I'm back to marking papers after lunch with an old schoolmate and the local book launch of Random House-published Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto early this afternoon. She was like Rowling, writing a fantasy novel in Starbucks before landing a contract with a literary agent.

August 2011
 I'm lucky to have my work get noticed here with some good contacts among writers and officials of the National Arts Council. I sent copies of the book to two writers of the daily here, Straits Times. One of them passed on a copy to a senior writer, who arranged an interview in our school pantry two weeks ago. The photo shoot took almost an hour and involved going to different places on campus. The feature on me as well as a few other foreign artists was published last Saturday. A copy of it is here: http://ericvalles.wordpress.com/ . Although what I write --or say in interviews-- may not always be pleasant, I hope it could promote reflection and contribute to serious discussion of issues. I'm not sure if it is evident in the article, but I'm proud to be Pinoy. We could be brutally honest about our failings, which sensitive souls -- and readers -- could recognize as somewhat like their own.
Indeed, publishing a book --as well as appearing in the newspaper--has changed my life. People are sending all sorts of messages by text, email and Facebook. One lady wants to introduce me to an electronic commerce platform, among other things. Some teacher befriended me on Facebook, because we apparently look alike. I am scheduled to speak to teachers on the craft of poetry on Stage B of the ballroom of Marina Bay Sands at 1pm on September 6: feeling a bit like a rock star, Leonard Cohen before Hallelujah.
 I was also part of a panel discussion on migration based on my book at the largest bookstore here, Kinokuniya, on a Saturday afternoon. The discussion was great even if I had the flu then -- took two tablets of Panadol before speaking. The audience of about 30-odd people was responsive. Three audience members, two Americans and an Australian, shared their experiences of migrant or expat life. The moderator, poet Alvin Pang, was incisive and questioned whether what are perceived as problems with foreigners here are, in fact, infrastructure problems. I said that migrants should not be considered as problems but sources of solutions. I talked about strategies that migrants use to cope with the challenges of being forever out of place. I also read three poems, including one that won the Hidden Skyline competition of the British Council's Writing the City website: http://civiclife.sg/writingthecity/index.php/competitions/ . I'm collecting an electronic reader for that. The other panelist, American David Fedo, talked about migrant literature in the US and the plight of Italians from Calabria who migrated to the US. The open forum centered on definitions of migrants, who could be people who stand to lose a lot or have no home to return to. There were also questions about the general elections, which involved debate about the island's need for foreign talents and migrant workers.
I am also getting some notice back home. The Under the Storm anthology of contemporary Philippine poetry features one of my poems. I missed the anthology launch on September 2, Friday, because I was then on a connecting flight to Naga City. I chaperoned the Singapore team to the International Math and Science Olympiad in Naga. They bagged gold and silver medals.
July 2011
It was kind of cold for me--15 degrees, with some wind-- in the morning and at night in the small town of Johnson, Vermont. But it was my first time to write in a studio with a view of a clean, fast-flowing river and not-so-distant, pine-covered hills. It was like working in a postcard photo. While I was there, I also had to send a lot of email and do some school admin.
The tranquil atmosphere in Vermont helped me write new poetry about shards of good in urban squalor. The reading sessions also gave me the opportunity to share my work and to listen to others’ centos and fragmented prose forms that I otherwise would not be exposed to. It is also enlightening to hear about visual artists’ work processes, some of which correspond to my own.

June 2011

 A World in Transit was launched by Ethos (the same literary publisher that released Love Gathers All with Anvil) last June 10 at Books Actually and at Hong Lim Park for this year's Philippine Independence Day Celebration on June 12. It was a lifelong dream come true, and it felt strangely heady to be signing books or giving away copies as competition prizes.

    I commented during a short spiel at the launch that a student of mine had written to say that literature is beautiful but impractical. I replied that he was correct: engineering, medicine or law could make one survive. But poetry is no less important, because it makes us fall in love (one reason why many write poetry), rise to heroic heights and bring out the best of humanity. I also expressed gratitude to my mentors at the National Arts Council's Mentor Access Project, which set me off on this publishing project three years ago; and my publisher Ethos Books' Mr. Fong Hoe Fang, who took time to reply to my query letter but responded favorably.
    I went onstage at Singapore's Hyde Park, Hong Lim Park, right after a group of breakdancers and before the first of several singers. The bleached-blond emcee, Pamela Wildheart, was larger than life --she told me that she used to wear a huge crucific to ward off evil spirits when she was doing public relations work. I told her and the Pinoy audience that A World in Transit is the first full-length poetry book by a Filipino to be published by Ethos in Singapore. The Philippine ambassador, Mrs. Minda Cruz, opened my poetry workshop with an unexpected tribute to the effect that A World in Transit shows that Filipinos are good not only in singing or acting. The participant who took the workshop photos perhaps paid a greater tribute to the possibilities of poetry when she said that the workshop encouraged her write a poem about her primary school-aged son, who has special needs.




By Eric Tinsay Valles


(adapted from notes by famous, now Singapore-based literary agent Fran Lebowitz and the online Publishers Marketplace)


1. READ: You are what you read. Dip into books that are canonical, breaking out, somewhat like your own. Be aware of the spirit of the times by reading a local newspaper, The New York Times, Ceriph, The New Yorker, etc. Some of these periodicals offer cutting-edge, witty writing that could be worth your time.


2. Know thyself. Listen to your voice and write to reflect what you hold dear. Do you want to write like Hemingway or Joyce, Thumboo or Stephenie Meyer? Is that who you want to be? Be authentic. Do you want your work to be censored? Can you be content with writing genre fiction for a smaller market?


3. Know thy market. Publishing is a business. Is your work marketable? What are literary agents or publishers looking for? Attend book launches, submit to writing projects, join competitions, apply for the National Arts Council’s Mentor Access Project. Make friends. Promote yourself –without losing your dignity.


4. Accept your warts. There may be objective problems in your writing that you need to address. Sometimes what you see as a diamond may be, in fact, a piece of charcoal. You might be self-indulgent in your writing. Join a creative writing or reading group such as the fortnightly Babette’s Feast at Books Actually. Discuss your work with people who can be honest with you.

5. Do not take uncalculated risks. Do not feel obliged to let freelance editors edit your manuscript for an undisclosed fee. If you have to pay them, how much do they really care?

6. Read more. Read what is out there in your genre or sub-genre. Is your work as good as the competition? Is it unique? How does it tap into goodwill for well-received titles. Read the acknowledgements of all the books that you like and write down references. Also be on the lookout for calls for conference papers or anthology submissions on the University of Pennsylvania website. Subscribe to alerts@conferencealerts.com for more calls for papers.  If your paper is accepted, log in to the NAC website for a grant application.

7. Write a query letter (of no more than two pages) which includes your credentials, an explanation of what differentiates your work and a synopsis. Be very patient as it may take more than six weeks for literary agents or publishers to reply. Send the letter to Fran Lebowitz of Writers House, Jayapriya Vasudevan of Jacaranda,  Mr. Fong Hoe Fang of Ethos Books: enquiry@ethosbooks.com.sg.

May 2008

I'm preparing lesson plans for the next semester. I'm also attending to staff welfare projects such as the remodeling of the staff pantry and arrangements for the annual Teachers Day staff lunch.

March 2008

This semester could be measured in the amount of marking that I have done. It has been quite heavy going. At the start of the second term, for instance, I marked the midsem test papers while setting the final exam. At the end of that term, I was still marking papers--those of students who wanted a second opinion on their final exam marks. I was fortunate to have attended literary workshops, one for five Sunday afternoons with a local, award-winning poet named Felix Cheong and the other with the Ministry of Education's Gifted Education Branch (the Creative Arts Program). These are opportunities to practice writing and pick up some tips to pass on to students in writing modules.

December 2007

We were rained-in for a big part of a recent theology seminar that I was in as the steady monsoon fell in torrents on Johor. Some parts of the state were flooded. One area that was adversely affected was Kota Tinggi, where we went to view a river and a resort during one of several trips during the sports period. Fortunately, Bukit Tiram house was spared as it is built on high ground. But still, several participants had to spend another sports period dredging up mud from the clogged drains of Bukit Tiram after one such heavy rainfall.

Despite inclement weather, we kept good cheer as we studied and conversed. The regional vicar recalled a pilgrimage made by the prelate in Shanghai a decade ago. I told the other participants about my school. A Filipino priest played video clips of colorful marine flora and fauna off Batangas coast.

September 2007

The staff luncheon which I co-hosted at the bird park went bizarrely well, with NUS High staff enjoying fun and fellowship on the local Teachers Day. Amazingly, the Staff Welfare Committee received more prize donations from parents than we had anticipated: we might have some left over for Christmas giveaways too. Various people also paid loving tribute to Prof. Lai, the outgoing principal who was with me in China recently.

The celebration was emotionally-charged as teachers made speeches in between fairly pro renditions of "You've Got a Friend," "Remember Me this Way" and "Fen Xiang," a Chinese song about sharing among friends. A classmate of mine in the staff oil painting class presented a portrait of the principal, and the head of the art department fired a ceramic house model with our dedications inscribed on the house walls.

Two years of co-hosting Hwa Chong's grand staff dinners have given me enough training to be equal to the task in NUS High: it's curious how what I did in my former school mirrors my responsibilities in a new setting. I donned a Mexican peasant poncho and sombrero (from a former housemate who left the costume behind). I had won a prize for that in my first Hwa Chong dinner. This time around, I was declared ineligible for the best-dressed prize since I'm part of the organizing committee.

I also made a short dedication to Prof. Lai, recited three verses of Frost's "Road NOt Taken" and intoned "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" impromptu as all the staff stood in ovation. Prof. Lai is a very human principal--that is, he truly empathizes with students and staff as he joins students at play and croons "What a Wonderful World" at staff luncheons. Other principals are too keen to maintain a stodgy air to be able to imagine doing the same. In a sense, the culture of our school reflects his style. RI and HCI can covet all the academic awards; we will relish the adventure of learning.

June 2007

Two groups of my second year students last week won gold and silver medals in the Scholastic Environment Fund-sponsored oratorical competition on climate change. They bested teams from my former school Hwa Chong and the other established top school Raffles. This is not the first time that we did better in oratorical contests, but it still felt good to see our students shine--to debunk mistaken perceptions of our students' language proficiency. The gold medal-winning group from NUS High proposed to genetically modify trees to produce leaves with a bigger surface area but thinner to aid in photosynthesis. Unlike many teams from other schools, ours knew their material by heart and answered questions with aplomb.

Several key management staff, including the principal, are leaving. The principal would like to go back to teaching and research. Even my own head of department tendered her resignation. I'm glad that my own little teaching space is stable and am looking forward to writing a literary paper during the holidays. Life goes on as per normal.

March 2007

I have new responsibilities that require administrative work. I am currently chairman of the Staff Welfare Committee, which is tasked with, among other things, planning and implementing a staff wellness/self-improvement program throughout the year. I get to arrange, for instance, mahjong sessions and Pilates classes (even attended a couple of sessions of the latter: became painfully more aware of muscles I had not paid much attention to). I am also coordinating a creative thinking program called Future Problem Solving, in which 2nd year students use a case study approach to think systematically about topical issues. It's an uphill battle to make this program palatable and rigorous at the same time, but I'm doing my utmost. With these new tasks, I get to reach out to different sections of the school community and tap some of my own potencies. That's not too bad, is it?

Apart from holidays (sometimes interrupted by student camps and staff meetings) in June and December, I no longer have extended free periods during which to conduct thoroughgoing literary research. But I'm forging on somehow --on my own terms. 'Wonder what it was like for Einstein at that patent office (not that I aspire to launch a quantum revolution in lit: I'm just really curious).

I'm relishing the holidays-- am now marking papers in relative peace. I was at a couple of Chinese family dinners on the eve of the lunar new year. It was a time to catch up with old friends, savor uncommon delicacies (sea cucumber, cuttlefish, leek dumplings, kueis of all shapes), take it easy. The second dinner was at the NUS high hostel-- some of my students were unhurriedly making dumplings and waiting for the clock to strike midnight so they could join swarms jamming the phonelines for cheap, convenient, instant online reunions.

I was able to visit the NUS museum yesterday--they have paintings and sculptures from all over the region as well as offbeat post-modern art that glorifies the pedestrian (a run-down refrigerator and household appliances lined up in a row). The change of pace was refreshing. 'Will resume marking papers soon.

December 2006

I've received blessings during the past year, including a stable job teaching at NUS High School, only about a 15-minute busride from the house. I have access to all the NUS resources, including online materials for literary research. Our students are smart, promising and determined to pursue high academic goals--giving me the feeling that I'm really shaping the region's future.

Career stability, however, has come at the expense of phd research. The latter is on hold. Indeed, it's a big challenge to juggle teaching and studies at the same time.

October 2006

As different parts of the world have different problems, we have had to contend with a thick, noxious haze from forest fires in Indonesia that hung stubbornly like second-hand smoke over the island over the past week. It was like the morning after New Year's eve back home or the weekend garbage burning in my Manila neighborhood but on a daily basis. I had to stay in the airconditioned staff room for most of the week. Asthmatics had breathing problems. One good thing about this, though, was that it made the full moon on the Midautumn Festival last Friday beautifully copper-like.

Marking papers, the bane of my profession, still takes up most of my time.

'Was able to catch the One Nation in Concert charity show at the Esplanade (the local CCP) two weeks ago featuring volunteer actors and some physically challenged from different organizations: children with Down's syndrome dancing, wheelchair-bound adults doing the chacha, some blind people playing harmonica, all of them decked in rainbow-colored masques, gussy costumes.Their limitations don't seem to stop them from pursuing their dreams of being in the spotlight or helping themselves.

The Teachers' Day in NUSHS was like that in HCI, but, as in most things in this new school, understandably scaled-down. And so I received mini chocolate bars, small cards, a thumb-sized teddy bear, a stress ball, origami, and dainty token gifts (including, would you believe, an eggshell painted with a micro Teacher's Day greeting). I don't really mind: as Napoleon and others have attested, good things come in small packages. I'm sure you also had fun in your own Teachers' Day celebrations

Two former students of mine, Wu Jianmin and Ren Jinfeng of S78 (I think), were recently awarded the prestigious Singapore Armed Forces scholarships (Jinfeng appeared in the Straits Times with his life story of immigrating from China and making it big here). The scholarships provide free tuition and stipends at a university in the UK or US. Another former student who is still in HCI is going to read a paper in a conference in San Francisco. Such news inspires me to try to do my job well and to make some headway in my own research.

July 2006

Language Week (which coincides with a unique school holiday here called "National Harmony Day") came and went. I took charge of coordinating the different special events such as morning assembly talks on the contributions of languages to their respective cultures; a mass book loan campaign with the National Library Board; a discounted book sale, film screening of a Malaysian movie entitled "Sepet"; and a Malay dessert sale. It was hectic, but everything proceeded without a big hitch. I think this will be the start of more responsibilities and my digging in deep, as it were, in this field.

Last Friday, I took part in a cross-country race organized by the school --but as a volunteer medic with a stretcher on the side of the racecourse. I was also selected to join an Extreme Gourmet relay contest: several teachers had to eat exotic dishes in a race with students. I gulped down wasabi.

June 2006


The past three years have affirmed powerfully how a book can change the world or at least a part of it that I hold dear.

Before The Da Vinci Code, if I had said I was a member of Opus Dei, some asked if that was a musical piece. Now, after that little book "for mindless people" has sold 60 million copies, people's eyes dilate and they ask, "Isn't that a fictitious group?" or "Aren't you a band of power-hungry, albino assassins?"

This pop cultural phenomenon conforms to the classical definition of evil as an absence, though not total, of good. The novel and movie that it has generated have put Christian beliefs, however distorted, in the spotlight by themselves or through the scores of apologetical books that they have inspired.

They have also made more people aware of Opus Dei, a Catholic organization mainly for laypeople that makes the humdrum affairs of any job the stuff of sanctity. Hundreds of Japanese, among people of other nationalities, have written email to inquire about corporal mortification (which I practice but not to the point of shedding blood as in the movie) and membership procedures. Suddenly, we are hip! One of our priests in Singapore, Fr. Joe Lopez, has catechized in several parishes and has been quoted in an article of the major local daily, Straits Times. Another priest, Fr. Michael Chan, has been featured as a UK-educated phd and priest of Opus Dei in several publications, including the Chinese equivalent of the New Paper tabloid.

Even my colleagues and friends have not been immune to this frenzy over that one book. After reading a Time magazine feature on the Work (one month before the release of the book's movie version), A Chinese colleague of mine wanted to know more about the Catholic faith. After watching the movie, two old Catholic friends have become all too aware of gaps in their knowledge of the Bible and doctrine. One signed up for Bible study at his parish. The other is keen to attend doctrine classes with us. And then one teacher in my school watched a British-made documentary on the Work broadcast during primetime on a state-run news channel. Chafing under a heavy marking load, she said she would rather be an assistant numerary, a member of the Work who performs domestic chores in our centers.

Read��em and Weep

All types of books, even unlikely ones, can be an effective tool to change lives, even up to the brink of conversion. They can also become a blurb to peddle good books. The publisher of that thriller positing a married Christ also recently released a limited edition of our founder's collection of spiritual reflections, The Way. The publisher did so complete with a glitzy launch in Manhattan.

Books have served as a conduit of grace for countless people, by all means not limited to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, throughout the ages. The Word of God in codified form is the all-time bestseller and a constant goad toward transcendence. St. Augustine, a father of the church in the fourth century, heard a child's voice ordering him to take the Bible and read. He obliged, and the world is all the richer for it. St. Teresa of Avila, known for spiritual locutions and ecstatic raptures in the 16th century, took solace in prayer and spiritual reading during the dark night of her soul. She kept it up for two decades. Our founder, St. Josemaria, nourished his soul in the early 20th century by praying and reading the gospels. He also read spiritual classics such as Thomas a Kempis's The Imitation of Christ and St. Therese of Lisieux's The Story of a Soul. He has been raised to the altars. This reading tradition continues in an undivided chain as we pore over the lives of saints, Christian philosophy and theology as well as literature about the Fall of individual men and their redemption.

For those dealing with intellectuals, books form an integral part of the foundation and growth of the spiritual life. St. Josemaria used to scribble on the books that he gave to the first fellows who became acquainted with Opus Dei this dedication and prayer: "that you seek Christ, that you find Christ, that you get to know Christ." Just as books are said to influence by "osmosis," reading about Christ should enable us to become more like the man-God. The love of the saints for God, expressed in countless books, certainly gives hope. St. Josemaria considered the latter as "books of fire," spreading the warmth of charity to many souls.

For those who have started their faith journeys, books of theology and spirituality are veritable guides. If these books can help make sense of what we believe and of how we relate with the divine, how much easier will it be for us to do the same for our friends and family?

Books As Canon

Books are allies in sharing God's revealed word in two ways.

First, books put a human face on the issues that we experience and help us realise that spiritual considerations inform the experiences of real people. Books also help us understand and appreciate aspects of the interior life. In this sense, books truly mediate between the divine and human. Books are also a mirror that people look into in order to know themselves better.

Second, reading books introduces us to provocative ideas; makes us relish good writing; and equips us with felicitous phrases and creative techniques by which to transmit knowledge and experiences. Illustrating our points with a relevant and revealing literary allusion could demonstrate that we are not only aware of important issues but are also sensitive to how they are put forward.

Here is a caveat, though. Reading books, however sublime, ought to be treated as a means and not as an end. The latter situation is Don Quixote's. He ended up deserving his chosen title of "Knight of the Sad Countenance."

When sifting through books, let us look for the gems of truths in them. We have to do so ever carefully. The late Pope John Paul II, a voracious reader himself, wrote, "I have always had a dilemma: What should I read? I tried to choose the most essential works. So much has been written! Not everything is noble and useful. One must know how to select and ask for advice as to what to read."

What books will I engage with during this vacation? Certainly not Dan Brown's: they test the limits of one's incredulity and my patience. I will instead read up on Thomistic cosmology: e.g., how a substance subsists in itself and accidents in the substance, with an application to an understanding of the holy eucharist. Why not? Obscure but orthodox are the new cool.

March 2006

I had a reunion with my HCI tutorial group last Thursday. I would have wanted the circumstances to have been more upbeat, though. The father of Chai Hui Zhong, the president of the string ensemble, passed away after a 7-month battle with cancer. But he departed after getting baptized--in the Anglican church. My former students are uptight as they are in the thick of preparations for block tests, promos, A Levels. If the performance of my former students is taken as a predictor of their own, they should do very well. I organized a two-part seminar for the school's journalism club of which I am in charge. A reporter from Straits Times and an editor of Reuters gave advice on how to turn in effective news copy. A few students from an independent school attended the first session and made us earn S$18 in registration fees. Last Thursday, I brought a couple of residents from the center and two of our high school friends to the school's S$300,000 observatory, supposedly the "best" in Southeast Asia. We saw the Orion nebula and Saturn, which look exactly as they do in NASA photos. The school provides plenty of enrichment to those who tap its resources.

January 2006

I had a bit part in a comedy sketch put up by some mainland Chinese students for the school's Chinese New Year celebration. I played a wise man (with a Santa Claus beard [the same that I wore at the Hwa Chong staff dinner that I co-hosted] and wicker hat) giving them advice in Mandarin on how to exterminate some Nian monster. It is strange how I get co-opted for this sort of activity (a grotesque fulfillment of a childhood dream). Some of my colleagues did not recognize me.

There were requisite orchestra performances, a dance, songs, games, and other teachers in a combination of music, kungfu and calligraphy. The principal sang "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" (old Coke jingle) in another display of informality that makes working in NUSHS so much cozier than in local Chinese academic institutions. Afterwards, we partook of a local CNY dish, lo hei (noodles for long life). Long life and a sage's wisdom to all!

In a speech to the whole school, a representative from the NUS board of governors emphasized that the people of Singapore had invested a lot of money (S$55m) in the school, and the students have to give something back to the community. I am doing my share.

I began the school year hiking: was flat-out tired after trudging over four kms with students, a few of whom chanted a Chinese funerary song (they had fun so it must give good karma). 'Tried to maximize the time (a skill I picked up from Hwa Chong) by simultaneously holding a meeting with the student editor of the Journalism Club that I am in charge of.

The staff room here seems less chilly and livelier (with occasional peals of laughter) than in my previous school. There is also a free flow of chocolates in the afternoons. The students are brilliant but younger, well-behaved (I don't know for how long; like HCI's 05S6A at the start of the last school year) and hush up when the affective education head raises her arm as if taking a pledge-- the students respond by raising theirs in turn-- as a signal for them to hush up. The school is attracting good students : 20 per cent of the students are gifted.

NUSHS is already building a good reputation in the region, drawing students from China (30), Vietnam (14), the Philippines (at least 2), etc. Even a friend of the Phil national artist in literature, F Sionil JOse, wrote to me asking about application procedures for her daughter who is in a Filipino-Chinese school. I think I will put the skills I learned from my apprenticeship in Hwa Chong to good use here.

September 2005

Some situations and people dovetail in such an uncannily seamless way that their confluence must not be mere coincidence. Four months ago, I was almost ready to give up on teaching because of a technical hurdle. But last weekend, NUS HS offered me a job with even higher pay than in Hwa Chong, the promise of contacts for opportunities in the university and only a ten-minute commute from the house. And before releasing me from my contract at the end of the year, the good VPs of Hwa Chong have promised a bonus. What could all this be for? I'm sure I'll find out in future but only in hindsight.

August 2005

For the college's celebration of Singapore's 40th national day, some teachers, including me, were roped in to strut down a catwalk in costumes. I donned a Merlion suit consisting of a cape with paper scales and a paper mane made by my CT Group (05S72). That costume as well as a similar one won by my student Jeffrey O. won 2nd place (just an aside: it turned out that several of the judges are good friends of mine). A Chemistry teacher beat us to 1st place by wearing half of a variant of the national flag. Though unusually reserved, my CT Group is quite talented. They swept the inter-CT badminton competition with a 1st place overall finish. More than half of the class (16 of 26) hold key student government/CCA posts (president, vice president, secretary or treasurer), including Ares Faculty Head and the presidency of the String Ensemble, Indian Cultural Society, the softball team and the badminton team. Another student is an interschool medalist in judo. Indeed, silent waters run deep--perhaps as deep as the Mariana Trench.

April 2005

The Hwa Chong Guitar Club that I am in charge of --despite my not knowing even how to strum-- won a gold medal at the Singapore YOuth Music Festival last night. That equals their feat two years ago. Never at any stage of their rehearsals did I doubt that they could pull it off. They practiced like mad after classes on Weds, Fris and, this week, Sat. I provided them with logistical backing that included buying S$700 guitars and booking practice venues.

This morning, the 50-member SYF team went on the assembly stage to announce their win --after a misleading introduction in which the members tried to look glum. I'm so relieved: no more extended practices, at least for SYF; no pre-performance butterflies in the stomach. The club played a Spanish serenade and a Toccata. They were technically excellent, but I thought they were a little stiff --too concerned about striking the right chords-- onstage.

Habemus papam! A student from the college, Damien P., baptized at St. Ignatius church last Easter, organized a rosary session at the same church for the conclave. Damien's baptism was marked by animated singing and the catechumens' taking a dip in a shallow pool inside the church. Throughout the ceremony with the water of life, the soothing, tinkling sound of the pool fountain provided an appropriate soundtrack.

I'm up to my neck in essays to mark. The heavy workload has weakened my immune system. 'Am nursing a flu bug.

We went to seven places with altars of repose around the island last Maundy Thursday night. Busloads of people from a couple of local parishes filled up pews. One church popular among Holy Thursday pilgrims was Sacred Heart, near Chinatown. It was unique: one font had an automatically revolving ball from which pilgrims can daub themselves with holy water before entering the church. The church itself has an early 20th century facade but adorned with garish neon lights; the interior is airconditioned, carpeted; and the altar of repose featured brightly lit, water-filled vigil lamps with bubbles streaming upwards; some smoke billowed from a fog machine at the back. It was popular piety set in Vegas. If it helps spur people's devotion to the blessed sacrament, why not?

ON the eve of the lunar new year, we visited the Lams, the Chinese family that we've been visiting around this time since 2000. They moved to a new and more spacious flat in Woodlands, about 30 minutes away by car. We were joined by members from the other center and a French couple in a dinner of jellyfish, sea urchin, pork, several veggie dishes and an ube dessert.

Like the breakfast egg, I try to keep my sunny side up. I've been granted an extension on the never-ending dissertation writing. That's something to cheer about.

I've been assigned a homeroom/civics tutorial class in Hwa Chong, and I think my students are nothing short of cherubic--well-behaved and docile--for now. I was too caught up in classes last Tuesday that it escaped my mind that I was supposed to take 05S72 to a freshman activity at the college auditorium in the afternoon. Instead, I conducted elections of their class officers and discussed other homeroom activities in another room in another building (as stipulated in the official college schedule). I later received email asking about the reason for our absence. After my explanation, the person in charge of the freshman activity apologized for not issuing any reminder about it. The whirlwind of activity and the barrage of notices last week were indeed confusing--'hope the entire term won't be like that.

December 2004

I was out of circulation for the past two weeks because of a philosophy seminar in Sydney. Australia, with its wide, open spaces and spontaneous, unpretentious people, provides ideal conditions for contemplating God's bounty in creation.

You must know that I'm a teacher of General Paper (equivalent to a university freshman-level expository essay and reading comprehension course) at Hwa Chong, the top junior college here based on the A level test (roughly like our old NCEE) results for the past three years. The whirlwind of activity of the past six months makes me feel like I've been in Hwa Chong for six years. I've had a steep learning curve --in the process, I've also become one of the most "visible" teachers oncampus. I prepared and delivered class lectures, marked papers, drafted an exam for the entire first year batch, solicited ads for the yearbook, compiled the best student essays for a publication, rapped in a comedy-musical skit with other new teachers for the school community on Teachers' Day, supervised the school newsletter staff and co-hosted the annual costume staff dinner in which I won a prize for best-dressed male staffer. The school really taps all the teachers' talents (including performing skills that I never really paid much attention to when I was teaching in talent-rich Manila [UNiversity of Asia & the Pacific] more than ten years ago).

I'm also moving mountains to complete the phd dissertation.

December 2003

I'm inching forward in the dissert writing. It's wintry inside the business library (with the aircon on full-blast)and kind of cool and windy outside during frequent afternoon showers. The campus is almost like a ghosttown, since most students have hied off for the holidays.

Orchard Road is all lit up and huge Xmas trees are festooned with Santas, sleighs, elves and reindeer that look flustered in their tropical setting. The locals celebrate Christmas in this multireligious society with shopping binges. We hope to bring some Christmas cheer to old folks at a nursing home.

October 2002

The canonization of St. Josemaria was a very moving affair, a great spiritual agape, as you probably saw on EWTN. If you saw a small Singapore flag waving as the pope was driven past the back section of St. Peter's square, that was either mine or a housemate's. There were probably 300,000 people as the Via della Consolazione, which leads to St. Peter's, was filled with pilgrims. The crowd was international. Our small group was sandwiched among Spaniards, Italians, Filipinos and some Latin Americans. We chatted with, and later lost in the crowd, some Canadians and an Indonesian immigrant living in Ottawa. All sorts of people, even an African girl, asked us what country our flag represented.

The pope looked very frail but tanned, he was hunched for most of the ceremony, but gamely made the rounds of the pilgrim crowd for about half an hour after the angelus. I saw his mitre flap past ahead of us, and Ching Hen sharpened his camera focus and snapped a photo of ... a woman's arm as it blocked his sight.

We arrived at the Vatican at 7 am, but there were already long queues: Ruel prevailed upon the rest of us and we cut in one line. If we hadn't done that, we probably would have gotten a worse location. We were directly in front of the altar but at the back of St. Peter's square.

The liturgy was done very well, and those present were focused on what was going on at the altar. The one who read the Latin gospel was Filipino. The singing gave me goose bumps as it transported everyone to the realm of saints. Our founder's canonization proves that sanctity is really within the reach of everyone.

The pilgrimage to Assisi, the hometown of two great medieval saints to whom I have a devotion, Sts. Francis and Clare, was exhilarating. It was an awesome feeling to stand inside the same Prociuncula where Sts. Francis and Clare prayed and attended mass. That structure is now enclosed in a huge basilica dedicated to Mary Queen of Angels. The incorruptible body of St. Clare is in repose as it was at her death in the 13th century. St. Francis's tomb is at a crypt in another basilica that is adorned by Giotto's paceseting, dramatic frescoes: the latter is another example of genius in the service of God and opulence as a true temple of God deserves. Assisi is an idyllic retreat on a wind-swept hill overlooking acres of farmland. Except for the unmistakable encroachment of commercialism (you have to pay 50 cents before entering a restroom), it inspires one to communion with the divine.

July-August 2002

I'll be travelling to the Philippines THIS SATURDAY, and I'll be there until Aug 24. I'll spend most of the time studying the fathers of the church at Makiling Conference Center in Laguna. I want to see how the Phils has changed over the years (also a barometer of how I've gotten older).

      When I come back here at the end of August, I'd start what I hope would be my final year in the phd program. There's a lot of hard work involved that is best approached one bit at a time.

     Last week, I had coffee with Singapore's foremost poet, Edwin Thumboo, also a former dean of NUS Faculty of arts and social sciences. He commented on two poems that I had emailed to him. He also gave me a copy of CS Lewis's The Allegory of Love, something useful for my research on the opposite desire of evil. All that was in exchange for my suggesting two Filipino poets for him to include in a journal that he is working on. Upon hearing that I was planning to go back home, he called up a Philippine National Artist, the novelist F. Sionil Jose, to arrange a meeting with me. Of course, I have to deliver to Jose an offbeat present in the form of roast duck --'wonder how I'll slip it through customs. Indeed, I'm meeting very interesting people.

June 2002

I'm completing a chapter for the dissert. I've caught World Cup fever (not by choice), since my housemates (including 2 Spaniards and 1 Mexican) watch the matches whenever they're on at night. The past two nights (semifinals), we've had supper in front of the TV. It was Blessed Josemaria's death anniversary yesterday-- you could ask God's help through his intercession for your needs. Several residents of the center and I are going on our own one-week silent retreat in Johor starting on Sat.

May 2002

I'm still reading about Flannery O'Connor and analyzing her short story "Revelation" for a section of a chapter of the dissertation. She wrote through her bout with lupus (as well as kept a pad and pencil under her pillow) until she died in 1964: "the doctor wouldn't let her work, but it was all right to write a little fiction." What passion for work! Then again, her consciousness of mortality was a big spur. As one of her outlaw characters said about a protagonist in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "She would of been a good woman ... if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

Last Fri, an East German LLM student invited me to a barbecue with his classmates at the West Coast park (beside a murky beach) at night. I bought 4 packs of potato chips and 4 mini Pepsi bottles and was at the meeting place (the entrance of the biggest on-campus residence hall) almost on the dot at 8pm (I've learned from previous appointments with Germans not to be too late). Going against stereotype, the German and the other law students trickled in about ten minutes later.

     The group couldn't fit it one car, so a Singaporean volunteered to drive me, an Indian, a South African and a mainland Chinese to the barbecue site. After initially skirting the park (and reaching the highway instead of the beach), we made it to a cluster of benches close to an unused pit. We waited for about an hour for the rest to arrive by taxi. We munched my potato chips, drank Pepsi or some Tiger beer, which the cigarette-smoking Indian brought. I parroted jokes from email services. The law students, mostly in their late 20s, are a clever, generally wholesome bunch. They debated about China's right to annex Tibet and US inolvement in Singapore. The South African volunteered info that he's a Presbyterian and abides by strict moral principles.

     It was just too bad that I had to leave soon after in order to collect my bags from the law lib before it closed. 'Didn't make it on time for that, but was able to get my things early the next day. I now spend lunches or snack breaks with a few of those who had turned up for the barbecue.

April 2002

I've completed a study of my second Chaucer tale, "The Physician's Tale," which is a hagiographical story of a prototypical Christian martyr in a pagan Roman setting: its double message is "the betrayal of innocence is the worst evil" coupled with "Forsake your sins, or your sins will forsake you." I showed that it is possible to use St. Augustine's interpretive concepts to gain a fuller understanding of the neglected story.

    I'm moving on to research into my fourth Flannery O'Connor story, "Revelation." Work on a well-established canonical writer such as Chaucer is really draining: the effort I expend on one of his stories is equivalent to that on three by O'Connor. I lightened up a bit last Sat night with people at the center by watching Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" starring Bjork. It's a disturbing film also about a Christian martyr type who realizes that life is not just another musical. 

March 2002

The sole of my right foot had had blisters for over two weeks, and they spread to the toes early this week. I immediately remembered my late grandma, a diabetic, who had blisters that took time to heal. Also, I felt more thirsty and tired more easily, two other telltale signs of diabetes (That was around the submission of a dissertation chapter to my supervisors). I devoured online info on diabetes.

     After abstaining from softdrinks and sweet desserts/snacks for at least a couple of days, I rushed to the school infirmary to ask the resident doctor to recommend either a foot or diabetes specialist whom I could consult. I nervously told him that I might have diabetes-induced gangrene of the foot. He looked at my foot and said I should not worry: I had fungal infection, not diabetes. I breathed more freely.

     After three days of medication, my right foot still hurts, but the blisters have started to heal. I've learned the pointlessness of resorting to hysteria without adequate facts. I've also bought a new pair of loose-fitting casual leathers.

     This year, I might attend the Easter mass service in our chapel at home. The recession has dried up funds for literature conference grants, so I'm still using the computer at the law lib instead of reading a paper at the Anglo-Am College of Prague.

February 2002

We had a blast on Pros (a housemate)'s birthday on the 17th. We had a ritual explosion of fireworks (Singapore-speak for sparklers) as a barong-clad resident brought back memories with a rendition of "I Want to Hold YOur Hand." The living room was decked with balloons, Pros's pictures and a banner with birthday greetings in several languages.The tribute program also featured the Singapore premiere of a retrospective video on members of Opus Dei in the Philippines from the 70s in black-and-white Kodak to the turn of the millenium in color, wide-angle videocam.

   Medieval pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostella in Spain were awestruck by the sight of the distant shrine as they traversed the surrounding hilly terrain. When they climbed an elevation, they would catch a glimpse of the shrine's spires. When they descended toward a plain, they lost sight of them. Such is our experience on the tortuous road back to our heavenly home and father. Some of us wear shades, others eyepatches that keep us from taking in the full view of the shrine.

     Maybe, like Frodo in the popular children's classic Lord of the Rings, we didn't ask for any eyegear, and all we need is to work on taking it off.
January 2002

I had a very sedate birthday as befitting someone jaded (I feel I peaked physically last year). I may have only about a decade or so to try to contribute to the flourishing of humanity, so it's time to fill life with others.

I helped with a retreat for professionals in Johor. The six participants are exemplars of the local Catholic community. One is the head catechist for all the school-aged kids in his parish (he's also a vp in a software company). Another used to be the president of his parish's Legion of Mary(he failed in business thrice but is full of hope). One other participant is a teacher and part-time magician (two compatible jobs). Two others are brothers suffering from a blood deficiency syndrome called thalassemia. They are like human hummigbirds: they have to eat twice as much as the average person and need to be kept constantly in an airconditioned environment. Their doctor told them that they could live only up to age 12; the elder one is 36. Because of their disease, they are very spiritual and seem to relish every word of the rosary that they recite. Their mother has picked a wife for the elder one by asking ship attendants during a trip if any of them is Catholic and single. One of them fits that bill: a Filipina who has been praying to find, it has turned out, a good husband.

December 2001

This multiethnic society celebrated the close of Ramadan, Eidl Fitr, with a holiday last Monday. Many Moslems donned shiny, bright-colored traditional clothes (as Filipinos do on Christmas). It was a break from daily self-renunciation (symbolized by and imposed with the fast).

     Most of the residents went on a sports cum picnic. Two of us were on the road for an hour in the hope of taking a dip in a pool (my first time since summer; the first pool we went to was closed because of a recent attack on swimmers by a swarm of swimmer-hating bees, the second one was open and, ironically, near the house). A heavy downpour fell earlier in the morning, with the result that there were only two other adults and four kids in the pool. After lunch at KFC, I met a Filipino friend for an Omnimax screening of NASA's space shuttle and Hubble telescope programs. The documentary features breathtaking footage of space shuttles taken in space as the brown outline of Africa streamed past below. It was eerily beautiful. The film also shows sweeping vistas of the Venusian and Martian landscapes.

November 2001

I went on a weeklong spiritual retreat in Ulu Tiram, Johor. I've realized that this year has been a milestone. I am as old as Jesus when He bore His passion and death. It was also around that age when St. Augustine, to whom I look up for his erudition and holiness, underwent conversion. The catastrophic events of Sept 11 have made me very much aware of the need for starting anew. I am resolving to do my daily prayer in the most proper conditions.

A few days before that, I organized a get-together for the research students in the department. We had a riotous time (See this page: http://www.geocities.com/ericvalles/langandlitparty1.html ).

October 2001

I've just come back from a successful presentation at the Central New York Conference on Language and Literature (formerly called "The Hudson MLA") at the State University of New York campus in Cortland, N.Y.. I read a paper on an Augustinian reading of Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale.  The audience included the conference director, Dr. Janet Wolf, who sat in for only my presentation (three presentations were scheduled) at the Chaucer panel session (Session 4.3). The other panelists, both tenured professors (one at Boston University and the other at SUNY Plattsburgh), expressed interest in my take on divergent readings of the Pardoner's moral state during the open forum. I was jittery, but I managed to hold my own. The panel session details are on page 12 of this program:


Exhibits on Signac and Pieter Bruegel the Elder are going on at New York City's Metropolitan Museum. People from all over the world still stroll up and down Park Ave and other Manhattan streets. Con men try to dupe people at the Westside bus terminal. With visibly tighter security, NYC life goes on. Fearful of a sarin attack on Halloween, I avoided the subway and walked from the Greyhound terminal on 41st St to the Met on 81st. It took me over one hour one-way. Autumn in central NY is beautiful: There is a melding of reds, golds, greens and greys that people who are surrounded by tropical green can only imagine. Autumn, I think, gives a deeper, fuller shade to life. I'm glad to have experienced it.

August-September 2001

I've clinched a scholarship from the university and, so, will be on my way to the conference in the Big Apple next month. Boundless opportunities exist for talent, but nothing like sheer hardwork can bring that talent to full development.

I wrote letters to everyone who counted about applying for a conference grant and, even better, a scholarship (the graduate studies representative had told me that I was eligible to apply for one from the university). I even emailed the NUS vice chancellor about reconsidering the cap on graduate students' conference allotments. 'Didn't receive a reply from him, but the faculty vice dean wrote to  say that the school is unable to "exercise the kind of flexibility that you desire." A week after that, the grad studies rep sent email about the scholarship application.

In the light of the terror attacks in the US, I hope justice would be meted out swiftly with divine help. But more than that, I pray that people would be gifted with the understanding that, like Our Lord's death, the grief and suffering of the moment, in the long run, might not be all that bad.

The terror attacks and the possibility of other airplane hijacks in future are helping me work out a conversion of sorts at work and in my dealings with people. Every new day is an anticipation of heaven.
Where to next?
Blast from the Past (1993-1999)
Millennium Journal (Jan to July)
Lang and Lit Party photos
CNYCLL program
1 July 2001

Some good news: I've just been invited to read a paper on Chaucer at the Central New York Conference on Language and Literature at SUNY Cortland in Oct. Bad news: NUS won't give me a second conference grant. 'Am thinking of applying for one from the Lee foundation. You may pray for what is best. Regardless of whether this application pans out, what's important is that some serious academics are taking notice of my research. That could be a sign of good things to come.

I visited a Missionaries of Charity home again last Sunday, that time with a Chinese-Canadian friend. Several volunteeers packed into the kitchen, and we tried to do some extra services for the 40-odd residents that the other volunteers paid no mind to, such as pouring water into near-empty glasses and refilling soup bowls. We also traded banter with the old residents, who felt rather lonely. One old man from East Timor had his leg in a cast, the result of a car accident, he said. His immediate roommate had a foot amputated. Two others in the same row of beds were deaf and nodded to most of our questions (e.g., "Do you want more water?"). It was their way of affirming their existence and participation in community life. Another old man (from another nursing home) visited his wife, comatose for over a year after a stroke. We listened to that man's travails, having a sympathetic audience being the only thing that he really craved for. After our conversation, an elderly volunteer offered us a reward: a spongy Chinese fruit in sweet syrup and several bananas. She got a prayer card of Blessed Josemaria and begged for prayers so that she could obtain permanent resident status after living here for almost 30 years. Like her helpless wards, she wanted to belong.

June 2001

I went on a three-week annual theology course in nearby Tanjong Puteri, JOhor (Malaysia).

Here are some details of the experience: Some course participants studied ethics (e.g., how it is good to be truthful at all times and to keep quiet rather than to lie during critical moments [ such as when one intent on doing evil asks the whereabouts of someone we know]. I studied how fitting it is for our Omnipotent God to be Triune(in accord with Divine Revelation in Sacred Scriptures). The Holy Spirit, for example, embodies divine love because He is an expression of communion between 2 persons,the Father and the Son, in the one essence of God. And it is an inexpressible source of wonder and strength that the Trinity makes His home in us when we are properly disposed. At that instant, we become the abode of perfect Knowledge and Love as well as the maker of the vast recesses of time and space.

I was with ten others in two rented houses near a sprawling golf course. After studying hard in the morning, many of us played hard in the afternoon. Although awkward at ball sports, I joined the others as they had the time of their lives bowling (twice), playing golf (once) at a driving range and sweltering in the equatorial sun during the afternoon breaks. Once (and only then), the bowling ball I had thrown on a second try landed with a thud, rolled slooowly before giving me a spare. Most of the time, it was embarrassing not to knock down any pin after a throw. But it was good to put that in perspective -- it was, after all, just a short, silly game and not life.

Peninsular Malaysia looks like the Philippines and with similarly good bargains (a meal at a country club costs about as much as a MacDonald's value meal in Singapore [S$6]; an hour of Web browsing costs about S$2). Unlike in the Phils, the Malaysian highway was awash with Proton cars and crossed a green ocean of palm trees. Few villages or factories were alongside the highway. There were not too many signs on minor roads, and one sign at an important junction pointed in the wrong direction (it was not repaired after being warped by some vehicle). The rustic towns look so, but have modern amenities such as Internet cafes and laundromats. The local food fare is typically spicy, but their burgers, tuna sandwiches and tropical fruit cocktail [ice kacang] are filling.

I also had a chance to visit Malacca, whose recorded history predates that of Manila by more than a century. The occasion was a mass for Blessed Josemaria that drew about 100 persons in a squat, Baroque-style church that was built in 1700. The first church in the port was built by the Portuguese in the same year that Magellan reached the Philippines, 1521. Later at a dusty museum featuring plenty of historical paintings and prints, I found out that China sent several emissaries to the Malaccan chieftains before this century when that city was THE regional entrepot. Malacca's fortunes turned after the invading Dutch monopolized local trade. An interesting bit of trivia is that one of Malacca's districts is called "Pasay," just like a city in Metro Mla.

May 2001

A flash thunderstorm broke on my way to the hotel where Tita Ler's sisters-in-law were staying, and I got drenched. My aunt's sisters-in-law pitied me enough to buy me my first batik shirt and a Singapore Garden City t-shirt at the hotel lobby store. What if I had gotten soaked outside an Armani shop ....

After buying medicine with them, I suggested that we walk back to their hotel (at the opposite end of Orchard Road). The two of them and their doctor friend obliged. But they had a trying time since they are probably not used to walking long stretches (in high heels). One of them wanted to give up and hail a cab -- when we were a mere couple of blocks away from their hotel.

April 2001

Nothing much changes in my daily routine.

My housemates, several friends and I went on a picnic at the West Coast Park (between a soccer pitch and the sea) two weeks ago. We tried to start a fire for 2 hrs (somehow, we couldn't light the charcoal while munching chips and playing the Beatles' "One" CD). We feasted on chicken, hotdog and FMD-type meat for another 2 hrs. As a bonus, we crooned karaoke-style (everything from classic "Hotel California" to schmaltzy "All NIght Long") with an acoustic guitar for another hour.

All that time, tiny but very pesky tropical mosquitoes pecked at our exposed necks and limbs. They work nights.

March 2001

I accompanied 21 mainland Chinese students to a nursing home near Boon Lay MRT on March 11. Many of the old residents ignored us at first as they concentrated on munching gruel and pork slices for lunch (they didn't want to be fed because they didn't want to look helpless). But, eventually, the golden oldies lightened up. A few of the Chinese students gave impromptu mini concerts for small groups of the residents. One old man returned the favor by belting out some love ditties, one for every Chinese song from the kids. An old teacher gathered a whole group around her and borrowed a mobile phone.

I met Vincent, a 65-year-old man who lumbers about in a wheelchair. He has a drooping face and sometimes drools involuntarily. He has no loved ones left except for his 90-year-old mother who is in another ward. He is content with his assigned task of opening the front gate by remote control. He carries with him a sheaf of Christmas carol scores, his favorites. He greets everyone who passes by with a ready smile. He shows that it doesn't take much to be happy.

Some of the Chinese students are bound to return there to visit their new friends.

February 2001

I was a panelist at a Flannery O'Connor session of the Art & Soul religion and literature conference from February 22 to 25 at Baylor Univ in Waco, Texas. Having listened to so many accomplished writers/critics at Baylor inspires me to work on my own future contribution through my dissertation.

It was a big scholarly feast for me to interact with older literary critics. I was the only postgraduate student among the panelists. The other two are tenured professors. I had overprepared for my presentation, though, and read only about half of my work during the 30 mins allotted to me. But one other panelist was sufficiently impressed to invite me to present another paper at a conference in Vancouver later this year ('will go if I can get a grant from somewhere).

January 2001

I visited the art museum on the Lunar New Year day. Some objects there were amusing: "Washed Up"--shards of glass [picked up from the sea] with printed words e.g., "thoughts,""feelings," "friends"]on them. Others were disturbing (a Filipino oil painting depicting the rich inside an airconditioned car ignoring poor child beggars on a congested highway leading up to a smog-topped city).

Chinese new year's eve dinner with the Lams (friends of the center) was good. We had different dishes, including sea cucumber. We didn't watch Jackie Chan this year; we saw an Andy Lau gambling movie instead.

All in all, it was a peaceful Lunar New Year ('missed the nerve-racking firecracker explosions of Taipei).

December 2000

As a big resolution, I would like to aim for a faith like that of the legendary Chinese ancient who moved a mountain. In practical terms, that would require suspending activities in order to make it to appointments with Our Lord.


My blood family is all right: my mother has been blessed with good breaks in her new career as a seminar speaker; my father is having fun attending protest rallies against the president; my brother had a recent public concert with a singing group.


Genesis is like a fairy tale, but we nonetheless believe it to be true. There are at least four ways of reading it and the rest of the bible, the most basic of which are in the literal and figurative senses. We don't doubt that Moses made the Israelites cross the Red Sea to Canaan (that's the literal reading). That may also have the figurative sense of baptism, with a representative of God bringing believers out of slavery to sin toward dignity as God's Chosen People.


The creation of the world in seven days is true, although as good Catholic bibles will tell you (There are bibles with commentaries in Netherhall), one day for God may be equivalent to millions of years by human standards. A qualified literal reading does not necessarily clash with theories proposed by physics.


A careful study of interpretations approved by the true Church over hundreds of years can be very helpful.


The trip's not sure yet. I first need to get a visa -- and you know what happened to Simon when he tried to get his. I'm supposed to speak at a conference on Faith and Literature in George W's home state of Texas in late February. I'm scheduled to go to Macau (passing through Hong Kong) around June next year for a three-week seminar on theology. Maybe we can meet in HK --but better in Singapore --then.


The old testament is really incredible. But what can be more incredible than the murder of God in the New Testament? Faith makes us believe in the incredible. 

  August 2000


Work was disrupted midweek last week with the celebration of the national day -- expulsion from Malaysia, really. That threw me off reading for a Thursday class in medieval English lit (I'm attending my supervisor's lectures on Chaucer).


As befits a regional hub, Singapore's celebration was an expensive affair, with millions laid out for a laser show of a figure scaling skyscrapers as well as mock meteor showers and other fancy designs in a 15-minute fireworks display. The military parade was overly long, though, and many performers tramped around like heavy wax figures -- the locals are not so spontaneous and nimble as the people back home.


Two weeks ago, my Methodist Chinese friend, Brian; an atheistic Chinese friend, Guo Qian; Damien; a Catholic NUS law student, Christopher ; and I went to the Missionaries of Charity nursing home -- an hour away by public transport. We made it to a late morning mass at the nursing home's foyer. The priest, an Italian based in Calcutta, was barefoot, strummed and bellowed "Seesboomba" (or something like that) on a guitar during the thanksgiving. The choir had several Filipina members. Afterwards, a Korean nun sweetly told us to clean their drainage system. It was tiring but good for the soul. Guo Qian said he would bring his friends later this month to help out.

Go to my homepage: Eric Valles Archives


The Missionaries of Charity take care of about 40 poor elderly wards at a nursing home on Thomson Road.



Off the green and into the blue (An excursion to Desaru)


St. Paul Church, Malacca

St. Francis Xavier's remains were briefly enshrined in an open grave here in 1553 before being shipped to Goa, India.


About 580 years ago, an exiled prince from Sumatra, Parameswara, sought refuge in a fishing village and decreed that it be built into the city of Malacca.


There were thundershowers in May.


An ideal picnic site (not the West Coast park)


A Canossian nun feeds an elderly ward at St. Joseph's Home.


The foyer of meditation at the Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University


A Southern mansion


Browse my other pages:

My Personal Page

January 2001 Entry


November 2000

'Just turned in a 12,000-word paper on Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale. I will start work on another one, this time on Flannery O'Connor. This year has got to be one of the shortest: it seems I've spent much of it typing in front of the computer in the library. It's very demanding to study and work in Singapore, but it's also amazing how much work one can do given the right conditions.


I'm glad that you're making much progress at work and are doubling staff in less than a year. Business will get much better once the political turmoil dies down. I get to read Phil news on the Net:


It's entertaining even if the impact on the economy is no joke.


I will help out in a retreat in Johor, Malaysia (one hour away by car) from Sunday to Wednesday. Pls. pray that we get more participants.


The staff at the business library, my new hangout after the start of remodeling at the law library, have just put up a Christmas tree. I haven't heard any Christmas carols on the radio, but I know some Filipinos have started practicing for caroling.


October 2000


Singapore is a bit soggy these days. Everyone at the center's fine. Yeah, Fr. Joe has just come back from HK and Macau. And you'll be hearing from John soon in the UK.


If you're referring to Minstrel's Psalm, it's about heeding a call to be committed to God. As a newspaper reporter, I used to see professionals and to be on the lookout for scoops. I've talked with Yahoo!'s Jerry Yang, INtel's Andrew Grove and been in a press conference with Bill Gates (He's very tall and gracious).


As an aspiring poet, I try to write based on personal experience and reading. All good writing, I believe, must have something uplifting to communicate. This message can be larded with researched details and some rhetorical flair.


Don't worry too much about being too inefficient or too slow. Good habits can remedy that. As an old song goes, "Do few things, but do them well."

September 2000


I went on a visit to the elderly at the local Canossians' nursing home yesterday. I was with one Filipino (an ABEP candidate at UA&P), a Malaysian-Chinese computer student and four mainland Chinese students.


The first old folks with whom we came in contact were Chinese. BUT we could not communicate, because they spoke Chaozhou hua or Fu Jian hua, not the Mandarin that we know. So we just pushed them around in their wheelchairs to where they seemed they wanted to go.


I asked an octagenarian Chinese man sitting quietly at one corner if he spoke Mandarin. He said he didn't, but spoke flawless English (He said he had worked for the MInistry of Health and his children had moved abroad.). He said he had spent the past eight years "sitting down and trying to relax." Another old resident said he was tired and wanted to go "home." Still, others wanted nothing else but a cold glass of water.



I am resuming work on a dissertation that is far from cohering. It's like driving through fog on winding Ilan roads. 'Saw my two supervisors yesterday after having spent five months practically on my own. They recommended a refocus of the main thesis and a long list of readings. So I'm almost back to the drawing board. BUT I don't mind. Whatever is too easy is not worth doing.


Last Sunday, I went to the bird park in Jurong with a Methodist mainland Chinese student and a Mexican exchange student (whose uncle is now president of that country). There were picture-perfect flamingos and pelicans as well as a talking and singing Amazon parrot. We also saw glorious birds of paradise and more birds cooing near what is touted to be the world's tallest man-made waterfall (Singapore likes these things.).