Salalah Photo Dump!

I have been working and living in Salalah, Oman for eight years. Actually, the province is officially called Dhofar and Salalah is the capital. But in the tourism industry, the name Salalah represents the whole province. From July to September of every year, Salalah is transformed into lush, verdant paradise. It’s called “Khareef” or monsoon season. You wouldn’t believe you’re in the Middle East!

Local and international tourists come here for nature tripping, not shopping. There are a few malls here but not as massive as the ones you find in Dubai. If you want to enjoy Salalah, bring a tent or a mat, and some foldable chairs. Be ready to drive in your SUV at dawn so you can catch the magnificent sunrise.

Some public beaches are very accessible from the main roads while some are hidden and secluded. These isolated beaches are great places for unwinding and meditation. You will also find fertile coconut and banana plantations.

Some waterfalls are seasonal and come to life only during Khareef.
Be ready to share the beach with camels and horses.
You need to be a skilled driver to safely navigate your way around.
On foggy days, visibility is poor. You need to watch out for the camels, cows and goats that suddenly appear!
Imagine yourself sitting at the edge of these rock formations and taking it all in.
And that’s me, at Taqah beach, bothering the flocks of birds that were resting on the sand.
An artist’s rendition of the above scenario. The photo that she copied (not the one above) showed only two birds hovering above me. I so love this!

Profitable skills for young people

When you’re young, time and energy are your currency. Use them to learn and master skills that will help you gain financial independence. And even if, eventually, you land another full time job, extra skills will be handy for a side hustle. Remember, one source of income is never enough. Here are five skills that young people should have. And the good news is, there are free resources you can access to learn them.

1.Baking and cooking

The pleasure that food brings is unequalled by other desires, and so people will always crave for it. And they will always be willing to pay for something that satisfies their hunger and comforts their emotions as well. Therefore, baking and cooking are money-making skills. Fortunately, the internet is generous with free recipes and culinary tips. Take advantage of them.  For better profit and to avoid losses from spoilage, make products that have longer shelf life. Examples are cookies, candies, pickled veggies and sardined fish. Make sure that you also know proper costing. Sales don’t always mean profit. Many great bakers and cooks fall into bankruptcy because they didn’t know that they’re selling at a loss!  Learn this skill and eat to your heart’s content.

2. Phone and computer repair

Who doesn’t use these gadgets these days? Every gadget, no matter the brand, is bound to fail in one way or another. If you know how to fix PCs, laptops, tabs and phones—you will not go hungry! You will always have a customer. You should be good at both the hardware and software aspects. And because technology continually evolves, you need to keep yourself updated all the time. You can start practicing with your own or your family’s gadgets. If you’re a Filipino, you may avail of TESDA’s free course on Computer Systems Servicing.

3. Copywriting

Do you have a flair for words? Copywriting may be for you. Copywriting is a type of persuasive writing intended for use in advertising and marketing.  The purpose of the product—called copy or sales copy — is to generate sales and profits. Aside from typical advertisements we see on mainstream media, copywriters also write product descriptions, advertorials, e-mails and website content. With the far reach of the internet, business organizations have to make their presence felt in the digital world. That is why there is a great demand for copywriters. Almost everything you see on the internet is a form of copywriting. You need to be creative, research-oriented and excellent in your native language and in English. You should also have an eye for details for the editing and proofreading tasks.

You can read free articles about copywriting to improve your skills. Check out websites of well-known businesses—from retailers to real estate developers—and you will see great examples of copies. Then, try to write your own. You can create your own blog where you can post samples of your work. Also, you can contact companies and offer your initial service for free, on the condition that you can mention them in your resume and include them in your portfolio. Remember, only your initial service is free.

You may join platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr to find copywriting and other freelance opportunities.

4. Driving

The growth of online businesses and e-commerce also spurred the demand for delivery services that need riders and drivers to deliver the goods, literally. Therefore, if you enjoy driving a motorbike or a van, you can join the fleet. Of course, choose the best company and platform. Pay may be minimum, but you can get tips from generous customers. It’s not easy to find free driving courses, but it depends on where you are, your connections and your family. A lot of people learned driving from a family member, especially fathers and older brothers. You need a budget for gas to master driving. For this gig, you need not just a valid driver’s license but also a cool head and superb navigational skills. Of course, you should be at least 18 years old.

5. Gardening

Gardening may not appeal to you if you’re young, but you will reap rewards if you manage to psych yourself into it. If you have the space, you can grow ornamental plants and edible herbs. The lockdowns have somehow reignited people’s interest in flowers, plants and herbs. In the new normal and even in the post-pandemic scenario, people will still likely spend more hours at home. People are redecorating and landscaping their homes for better ambiance. Those who have been into floriculture and gardening pre-pandemic time have earned money selling their orchids, roses, snake plants and bonsai trees. On the other hand, the demand for organic, fertilizer-free herbs such as oregano, mint and sage has increased because of people’s serious attention to health and better diet. Edible herbs can also be made into tea! Aside from the potential profit, gardening also boosts a person’s mental health and well-being. If you visit rural areas, seeds and cuttings can be obtained cheap or even free. Pots can be made from recycled materials.

The best time to learn new skills is when you’re young. (And the second best time is now!) Don’t waste your spare time sitting idly. Learn the skills that pay the bills!

Quiet Gratitude

I choose to practice quiet gratitude. I am not the type to exclaim “Thank you Lord” on social media. I am not inclined to say ”Thank you God for the blessings I don’t deserve.”, or ” God is so good to me.”

Of course, I am grateful, but do I really need social media to tell God how grateful I am? Does God need Facebook to know how I feel? I thank God all the time. Yes, all the time, but I do so in the privacy of my heart.

Do you know why?

First of all, the words “God” and ”Lord” are sacred words. You don’t just utter them or mention them. These words should be treated with the highest reverence. If I am not sure about the absolute purity of my intention, I would rather not mention these words.

Second of all, out of deference for other people. There are good people out there who are struggling. People who are kinder than me, nicer than me, more generous than me, more hardworking than me, more religious than me, more prayerful than me. And yet, they are suffering from ordeals that I have been spared from.

If you or your loved ones survived a terrible accident where other people perished, you don’t need to shout on Facebook “Thank you Lord for saving me.” Thank the Lord in private because other people have died. How would their families feel? Why didn’t God save their loved ones? No one exactly knows.

If you got a promotion or received material blessings, do you need to reveal it to the whole world, and involve the name of God by saying “Thank you Lord for the blessings I don’t deserve!” What? God gave you blessings you don’t deserve? While your hardworking, kind neighbor is skipping meals because of poverty? What does that make God? Playing favorites?

I know that out there, there are better teachers who are paid less. There are more patient migrant workers who are treated inhumanely. There are women and men who would have been far better mothers and fathers, yet have not been given their own children. Somewhere, there are really good people who are struck by tragedies every so often.

Out of respect for other people’s suffering, I thank the Lord quietly. AND I AM SURE HE HEARS IT.

Just hold on

How are you, my friend?

This time last year, you were cautiously but optimistically anticipating 2021. You wanted to skip the remaining parts of 2020, and just fast forward to the next year. You were expecting that the pandemic would be over by now, and that your life would be back to pre-pandemic normal.

Now, it’s already September 2021. The virus has mutated and countries are dealing with third, fourth and fifth waves of the pandemic. The end to this plague is still nowhere in sight. In many parts of the world, the situation is grimmer and bleaker.

Maybe, you have lost a loved one or a special friend in this pandemic, and you’re grieving. You’re mourning the loss of someone who breathed their last alone and scared, in an ICU bed.

Or maybe you lost your job, or you just closed your business. You don’t know where the next rent or the next meal would come from.

Or you haven’t been re-united with your parents, kids and partner because of the travel restrictions.

Or maybe you’re a hugger, but you haven’t hugged anyone, and haven’t been hugged for a year and a half. And you feel so sad.

Or maybe you’re tired of the frequent zoom meetings, and the work-from-home set up is not for you. You can’t get things done.

Or maybe your mind cannot catch up with the online lessons, and you cannot really comprehend what the teacher is saying.

Or maybe, the isolation and all the complications are pushing you to your wit’s end, and you’re thinking of ending everything.

Just hold on, my friend. Look for micro-solutions to survive the day. Reach out to someone, and there is always a person out there who is just waiting for you to ask. There is always someone to run to.  There is always something that can be done. And there is always a reserve of inner strength that you can harness.

Survive for just one more day. Then, REPEAT.

The hidden blessings of childlessness

One of the biggest heartaches that a person can experience is not having a child when you really want to be a parent. It causes so much emotional pain—-not only because your personal desire has not been granted, but also because of the insensitivity of society. Childless couples are often the target of sarcastic jokes and comments, especially in Asian cultures. And that certainly adds insult to injury.

If you are childless, you have been deprived of a unique kind of joy that only children can bring. However, being childless has hidden blessings. Once couples have accepted and acknowledged that they cannot have children, they can move on to find these invisible blessings.

  1. Less worries and stress. Being a parent is a roller coaster of emotions. When you become a parent, you constantly think about the welfare of your children. From their infancy up to adulthood, you never stop worrying about them. There are always nagging questions in your head. Can the baby breathe? How is he coping in school? Is she being bullied? Why haven’t my kids come home yet? Can they get a job after college? The worries are endless. But if you’re childless, you don’t experience this level of anxiety.
  2. Being spared of the worst possible heartache: death of a child. With all the crazy things going on—-crimes, accidents, juvenile suicide, diseases, natural disasters— death is everywhere. The fear and threat are real and hitting people closer. There are so many young people dying, causing unfathomable pain on the parents. It is a pain that never leaves you and never heals. It is a kind of pain that hangs like Damocle’s sword on every mother and father.If you are childless, this possibility does not exist. In this context, being childless is a big blessing.
  3. Less financial worries. It is expensive to have children. Baby food, diapers, clothes, tuition fee—- everything costs a lot. Many parents work two or three jobs in order to provide for their families. They have to give up many things—-like their own medical check ups or a new pair of shoes —- to make both ends meet. If you are childless, you have more available money. You are also less likely to have huge debts and loans that most parents have to pay until old age.
  4. More time for yourself. You can take care of your health and have access to expensive health services that many parents skip. Also, you can focus on your other interests; like joining a charitable organization, starting a business, or learning a new skill. You can learn how to play the piano, or start working on that novel you have been meaning to write.
  5. More time for your partner. You can devote more time to your spouse and make sure that his or her needs are met. If your marriage is based on love, being childless should not ruin your relationship. You can spend time together in romantic places and enjoy adventures that couples with children rarely do. Candle-lit dinners at nice hotels, trips to exotic places. Use your time and resources to strengthen your bond.

If life did not give you the child you wanted and prayed for, don’t waste your time crying , complaining and comparing. The child you never had saved you from a lot of hardships. The child you never had gave you freedom to do many other wonderful things.

You can find collateral beauty in childlessness, if you will seek it. Life can still be amazing!

Till debt do us part

Are you tempted to borrow money to have a special pre-nuptial shoot or a grand wedding reception? Don’t do it! You are putting your relationship at risk.

A scroll on your Facebook and Instagram feed will make you feel envious of that couple who had a photoshoot in a posh resort. You gasp in awe at another couple’s lavish wedding reception.  Created by a crew of artistic and tech-savvy kids, the mementos boast of almost Hollywood-caliber videos and photos. You sigh in envy.

And now it is your turn to tie the knot, and you feel the urge to follow the trend. You feel the pressure from your own family members and friends. “It’s just once in a lifetime.” “It is your way of showing your love for one another.” “You’re creating special memories.” You hear a lot of things and you also come up with all justifications, even if you know the truth very well. YOU CANNOT AFFORD IT.

Here is my advice. STICK TO YOUR BUDGET. By “budget”, we mean the money on hand—not the money you anticipate to earn in the months or years to come.

The wedding is just 1% of your marriage. Don’t go into financial misery because of this 1%.

Starting a marriage with debt is just so wrong. How are you creating nice memories on an interest-bearing loan? How can emptying your savings account be a proof of your love?

A wrong financial decision will have a lot of ripple effects.  Once you start a family, the expenditures are endless. You need to find a place to live in and equip it with the right furniture and appliances. Once the wife gets pregnant, there will be constant visits to the doctor. When the baby comes, expenses are tripled. Add to these other issues that always come up—like a parent needing medication or a typhoon damaging your roof.

What if you started with zero in your emergency fund? What if you are still paying the loans you incurred for that wedding reception? You will borrow more and more. And it will be harder and harder to get out of debt.

 Ask any marriage counselor. Money problems are a constant irritant in marriages. Many relationships have turned cold, if not bitter, because of constant financial issues.  You can avoid or minimize such irritants by proper handling of finances right at the onset.

Therefore, start your marriage right with a simple, well-budgeted wedding. There is no need for an extravagant pre-nuptial photoshoot.  With a little creativity— you, your partner and some friends can come up with a scaled down version of a shoot. Sure, the quality is not the same. So what? The success of your relationship does not depend on that.

A simple church or civil ceremony, followed by an understated reception, will do. There is no need for a couturier or a venue filled with roses. Nor is there a need for wedding souvenirs.  Again, your love for one another is not measured by how much the wedding bill is. If that were true, celebrity marriages would have lasted a lifetime. Memories are created on a daily basis— not just on the pre-nuptial shoot or on your wedding day. If you put a price tag on the quality of memories, then—you have no idea what true love is.

Have a realistic look at what kind of wedding you can afford, without emptying your savings account or needing to go to a loan-shark. Stop comparing yourself with other couples who have higher incomes or rich inheritance.

Again, the wedding is just 1% of your marriage but if you go overboard with your budget, it has the potential to affect your life and your marriage for many years.

A frugal, solemn wedding is a step in the right direction.

Middle Age woes

Forty. That’s generally accepted as the start of middle age. And it ends at 60. This is a difficult and challenging period. Here are the reasons.

  1. You are starting to have health problems. Your body starts to feel the impact of the unhealthy lifestyle that you have indulged in during your younger years. Your blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels are off the charts, and you need a regular visit to your doctor.
  2. You are dealing with teenage kids who are at the craziest stage of life. Your unpredictable, rebellious and entitled brats provoke you all the time and give you endless worries.
  3. You are dealing with your own senior parents who need attention and medical care. Giving your own time to aging parents can be hard if you yourself are unhealthy and problematic. You are lucky if they have enough savings and insurance to cover their expenses. However, if they don’t, you end up spending for their medication, caregiver fees and others. This is really tough if you’re poor, or even if you’re middle class. You have to work longer hours to make both ends meet.
  4. You have become physically unattractive. Looking at your naked self at the mirror makes you cringe.   Wrinkles, receding hairline, curves at the wrong places. Your self-confidence starts to erode.
  5. Your marriage has become boring and dysfunctional. As years pass, “life” happens and marriages tend to lose their spark. Arguments and conflict arise frequently, and many relationships crumble. Divorce and separation ensue.
  6. Job burn out. It’s not really the job, but the long years that you have been hustling. Every little thing in the office annoys you, and issues that are tolerated by most people become intolerable to you. You are exhausted after the first hour of work.
  7. You realize that none of your dreams has come true.  The high-paying job, the beach house, the awards, travels to exotic places—not even one came to fruition.

Yes, middle age is a tough age, and the first tip to survive this is to be aware that it is tough.  Acknowledge this fact, and work gradually to alleviate the situation. Start with your health. This is non-negotiable. Eat more greens, reduce processed food and cut down on sugar. Exercise can be as simple as stationary jumping for three minutes.

Do deep breathing when you’re stressed. Inhale slowly for eight seconds, then hold it for seven seconds, and then exhale slowly for eight seconds. Repeat.

Practice calm communication with office mates, kids, spouse and parents. If a marriage is beyond repair, split amicably.

Find a source of income that can be automated. You can sell through dropshipping, or create and sell an online course that features your skills, like low-carb baking and carpentry As long as your income depends on the number of hours you work, you will never have enough money. As you grow older, you will be less and less capable of working.  So, it is about time to learn a new business model.

Work on that dream, even for twenty minutes a day. Whatever it is. You will be surprised where those twenty minutes can lead you.

Remember the oft-repeated saying:  Life begins at 40…(or older!)

The cheapest coffin

(Published on rappler.com on June 15, 2021)

As I walked about three paces behind the funeral parlor staff, my eyes roamed around the somber display room. The staff was showing me different models of coffins.  I never knew there could be so many designs for coffins. Some were gilded while some had shiny black coating. Some were adorned with intricate carvings. All had soft, silky pleated paddings inside, probably to make the “journey” to the other side as comfortable as possible. Then, finally, he asked me, “Alin ang gusto mo?” (Which one would you like?). I took a deep breath: “Yung pinakamura”. (The cheapest.)

That was mid-morning of January 17, 1997—when I spoke those two cruel words. “The cheapest.” My father died before dawn in our small home where he battled prostate cancer for about seven years. He was 67.

 When my father died, I and my three siblings were adults with jobs. But we were struggling financially. We already had our own families to support, and lack of money was a perennial issue. I did not want to incur additional debts, so I chose the coffin and funeral service that was within our means. After a few days of vigil, my father was buried in an overcrowded public cemetery where the “sepultoreros” had a hard time putting the coffin inside the tomb because of the narrow, uneven path.

 “The cheapest.” Those two words still haunt me sometimes, but I know that my father had long forgiven me.

My father was a tall, dark and handsome Bicolano who eventually settled in Bataan after marrying my mother. He was a long-time security guard at PLDT, a major telephone company in the Philippines.  Employees and colleagues called him “Sarge”, the clipped form of “Sergeant”, a rank which he was not really entitled to. It was just a term of respect and endearment.  With his meager pay, he raised the four of us. My mother helped too by opening a small carinderia.

With calm and reticent nature, my father seldom raised his voice and never had violent outbursts of emotions. He was a kind, sensible and intelligent man.

He was a voracious reader. Every day, he would buy an issue of the English newspaper Manila Bulletin and read about national issues. And every payday, he would buy an edition of Reader’s Digest and read up on international events. Yes, he was earning a pittance but he religiously set aside money for these two publications.  When I was still a child, I often wished he would bring home dolls and toys. But I was always disappointed. Instead, he would always come home with Manila Bulletin and Reader’s Digest tucked under his arm.  In fact, I grew up surrounded by stacks and stacks of these reading materials.

We usually brought meals to my father while he was on duty. A few times, I caught PLDT employees asking him about grammar. Yes, degree holders asking a security guard about English grammar. During his days off, my father would read on a bench outside our carinderia. A neighbor would sometimes join him for a chat. As I eavesdropped, I would hear my father talk about global issues that I never heard from teachers at school. He was a profound thinker— and therein lies his flaw. He was a thinker, not a doer.

Meanwhile, the piles of Manila Bulletin and Reader’s Digest were getting higher by the day. Bereft of luxuries, I grudgingly turned to them. They became my toys. We had no TV nor radio. They became my source of information and entertainment. My young, immature self was still unaware of the rich inheritance I was receiving: the gift of language.

As I grew older, I realized and understood my father’s decision not to buy toys, but to buy newspapers and magazines instead.  He was indeed a smart man. He knew where to invest the little spare money he had. I will be forever grateful to my father for introducing the English language to me —its beauty, chaos and complexity. It became my stepping stone to a better quality of life.

That cheap coffin was not a fitting resting place for the mortal body of the man to whom we owe so much. But that choice was the best for everyone at that time.  Anyway, a few years ago— we were able to purchase a piece of decent memorial lot and his remains have been moved there.

Somewhere up there in heaven, there is a tall, dark and handsome security guard sitting on a bench, reading the latest news.

Leoncio Naval Sasota. That’s his name. You can call him “Sarge”.

Natural phenomena and our interpretation of the Bible

Volcanic eruptions. Massive earthquakes. Severe storms and floods. Widespread diseases. Are these things happening because they are written in the Bible?

No.

These phenomena have been happening for hundreds of thousands of years—even millions of years. Geologists, archeologists and scientists have confirmed this. On the other hand, Jesus Christ was born between 6 BC and 4 BC—quite recent in the context of world history. The New Testament was written within the period of 100 years after Jesus’ death. And the Old Testament was written from about 1200 BC to 165 BC. The writers of the Bible (and other Holy Books) used these extreme phenomena to teach moral values. They knew these events have been happening for so long, and they chose to incorporate them into their teaching. And there is nothing wrong with that.

In a Sumerian epic written four thousand years ago, there was a great flood that killed almost all humans, except the hero Atrahasis who was saved because the god Enki appeared in his dream. Enki told him to build a big boat and bring on pairs of each animal. And you all know what happened next, right? Because the story is so familiar to us. Yes, Noah and his ark! Only the names are different, depending on who is telling the story.

We have to re-evaluate how we interpret the Bible.

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