People Power

The Tunisian people successfully toppled their president from power after mass protests in the streets, instigated by a humiliated fruit vendor who set himself on fire (and subsequently died) after a female police officer confiscated his wares and slapped him.  On the heels of these events, the Yemeni and Egyptian people are also taking to the streets to protest their dissatisfaction with their governments.  It is Day 6 of protests in Egypt and  I am transfixed by what I see on Al Jazeera TV.  These images bring my mind back to late February 1986, when a nation took to the streets of its capital Manila.

The People Power Revolution in the Philippines occurred on February 22-25 when masses of people publicly protested against the authoritarian Marcos regime.  Presidential snap elections occurred earlier in the month and declared the incumbent, Ferdinand Marcos, the winner despite widespread rumors of election tampering and corruption.   With members of his cabinet and the military turning against him and the archbishop of Manila calling the people to peaceful protest, Marcos eventually fled the country.  Corazon “Cory” Aquino, his opponent in the election and widow of Marcos-opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., assumed the presidency.

I see a lot of similarities between those protests 25 years ago in the Philippines and the ones today in Egypt.

  • People are fed up with a despotic regime led by someone in power for too long.Despite claiming to be purported democracies, these presidents have been in power for 20+ years (Mubarak for 30 and Marcos for 21)  with administrations full of rampant corruption, political repression, nepotism, and human rights violations.  The media is controlled by the government.

    The Phlippine Sunday Express Headline on September 21, 1972

  • The military fraternizes with protesters. The recent images I’ve seen from Egypt have been ones of a baby sitting on a tank and a woman or man kissing a soldier.  In the Philippines, people brought their families/children to the streets, young women handed flowers and food to the soldiers.
  • Religious prayer is observed despite the chaos. In Egypt, I am struck by a line of men on the floor, kneeling and bowing in prayer as soldiers surround them.  They remind me of the Filipino nuns and priests linking arms and joining the people to form  a human chain against an approaching army of soldiers and tanks.  They prayed the rosary out loud and raised up their hands which held rosary beads or the Bible.   Some protesters even cradled statues of the Virgin Mary.  They used prayer as a powerful tool of resistance. 
  • The United States finds itself in an awkward position.Historically, both Egypt and the Philippines were considered US friends and allies.  Both countries provided the US the anchor it needed to carry out its political interests within a region of instability (the prevention of the spread of communism in Asia and the spread of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East).  In fact, the US aided Marcos when he fled from the Philippines.  He was extracted from Malacañang Palace and eventually brought to Hawaii by US Armed Forces.  He stayed there until his death in 1989.

    Ferdinand & Imelda Marcos visit President Reagan in the US in September 1982

We do not know what the outcome will be in Egypt despite the similarities I just pointed out.  I do hope that the protests will end as peacefully as possible.  The Philippine people are proud that the revolution in 1986 was bloodless with no shots fired at the people.  To learn more about the People Power Revolution, click hereBoth black and white photos above & the photo immediately below were found on Francesca Cojuangco Guingona’s page.

Cory Aquino in 1997 with the ubiquitous "L" sign from the revolution. The hand sign stands for "laban" or "fight". She wears yellow, the color of the revolution. Picture courtesy of the GMA News Blog.

Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, flashes the L-sign during his presidential campaign. Sworn into office on June 30, 2010, he is the current president of the Philippines. Picture courtesy of The Philippine Star.

My First Overseas Trip

Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die

-U2

I grew up in NYC.  My family immigrated to this country in the 1970s and I arrived on my mother’s arm when I was one.  My parents restarted their lives with practically nothing and worked hard the moment they arrived.  We never ate out, we never took trips.  We just couldn’t afford it.  When I was 7 years old, I was shocked to learn that my mother was planning a trip to the Philippines to visit our family.  She missed them so she decided to go home for Christmas and take me with her.

When our plane tickets were booked, mom prepared and shopped for gifts to bring home to our family.  Our suitcases were packed full of American goods to give away.  The plane ride was long but uneventful…I think I got a pair of plastic wings from the flight attendant.  Twenty four hours after we departed JFK, we emerged out of Manila International Airport to the tearful greetings of our family.  I only knew these family members from letters, greetings cards, and occasional conversations on the telephone.  Suddenly their words and voices transformed into flesh.  It was strange to know them yet not know them.

We got in the van and my first observations of the country were the weather and the people.  It was hot.  And tropical.  In December.  “Isn’t December supposed to be cold and full of snow?” my seven year old mind wondered.  I watched the people walking the streets.  They wore t-shirts, shorts, and flip flops.  And then I noticed that they all looked the same: short, brown-skinned, black-haired.  They all looked just like me.  Everywhere.

“WHERE AM I?” I asked myself.

As we crawled through Manila traffic, we approached a group of young kids on the side of the road.  The car slowed down and eventually stopped.  The kids scattered and systematically approached every car with their arms outstretched and one hand up.  I looked at them, confused and amazed.  A young girl appeared and looked inside the car.  It was as if I looked into a mirror.  Our eyes locked.  We were identical:  the same age, the same hair, the same skin, the same almond shaped eyes.  But then I noticed her tattered clothes, her disheveled hair, and her solemn eyes.  She carried a baby on her hip.  My uncle, driving, shooed her away.  I turned to my mother and asked, “Why are there so many children begging on the street?”  I couldn’t understand why they weren’t playing.  “Because they are poor and probably hungry,” my mother explained.

The girl could have been my playmate but instead she asked for money.  I realized then that even though we were the same, she lived in a world so different from mine.  She didn’t play all the time, she probably didn’t have as many toys as I did, and she wasn’t always going to bed on a full stomach.  How did other children in other places live?  Like me?  Like her?  Or some other way?

My fascination with different cultures  can be traced back to this defining experience at a young age.  It started with traveling back to the country of my birth, a place that was simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar.  Growing up bicultural trained me to vacillate easily between two cultures and taught me that life is far more nuanced than we often realize.  Traveling all over the world showed me that despite our differences, people essentially seek the same things:  peace, happiness, a livelihood to support themselves and their families, and the opportunity to improve their lives.

In the intervening years, I haven’t given much thought to the girl I locked eyes with so long ago.  As I write, I wonder.  Where is she now?  Is she living in poverty or did she manage to lift herself out of it?  Is she a wife, a mother?  Is she even alive?

This post was inspired by the organizers of “Travel Talk on Twitter“.  Join like-minded travelers every Tuesday at 0900 0930 & 2100 2130 hrs GMT as we answer 5 questions, 1 question every 10 minutes.  The first #TTOT will kick off this January 25 with the topic “Your First Journey”.

A Goal Without a Plan is Just a Wish

– Larry Elder via Cory Booker

He challenges himself to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle, publicly proclaims it by writing a post on Facebook one day last week and then later that afternoon, writes a second blog post and posts regularly every since?  Aaaaaaack!  And here I am trying to post once a week on my blog?!?

::pause::

::deep breath::

Momentary panic attack now dissipating…

I once read a brief insight written by Jill Koenig, a motivational coach,  called “Running Your Own Race” (short read:  3 minutes, tops).  It brought home the idea that I really can’t compare myself to others because my goals, my capacities and limitations, and my starting point are unique.  So instead, I choose to be inspired by Mayor Booker’s incredible enthusiasm and his ability to bang out a post despite his busy schedule.

There are some true gems in his second post that deal with strategic planning in order to achieve your goal.

Not surprisingly, it starts with the mind.  It starts with a thought coupled with desire.  But a thought without action is useless.

So, he enlists others.  No person is an island.  Introduction to Anthropology 101 at Mount Holyoke taught me that humans are first and foremost, social beings.  Creating a network of people, a support structure is indeed important because we need someone to cheer us on, advise us along the way, and encourage us and make us feel like we are not alone when it gets rough.  I certainly could not have completed last year’s 101 day Bikram Challenge if I did it alone…and I certainly would never have even considered taking it on by myself.

He plans the work and works the plan. Years ago, I got this advice from a good friend after I described how overwhelmed I felt at work.  I think the key to this strategy is flexibility because the unexpected always comes when you least expect it.  Be like a bamboo in the wind:  strong yet flexible.

So, here’s my plan for my 2011 Challenge:

  1. Write it down. Now I understand why writers carry a notebook.  Inspiration hits at any moment.  I need to write down my ideas when they come.
  2. Brainstorm. Inspiration may be great but it is not always present.  Collect insurance by coming up with ideas.  No idea is wrong or silly.
  3. Dedicate time. Based on my schedule:  Sundays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, (and possibly) Fridays are good days to get up early and write.  Perhaps Sunday will be the start of a first draft, and then a few days of percolation, Wednesday for crafting, Thursday for polishing and publication.
  4. Set realistic expectations. It is so easy for me to do the opposite!  When I write, I feel like I have to write an exposition, a treatise, a thesis.  No!  This is a blog.  It is a space for coherent musings that hopefully will encourage others to respond and initiate a dialogue.  It doesn’t have to be perfect because it will never be perfect.
  5. Plan ahead. Start writing other posts and save drafts so that when time is scarce, it will be easier to polish it than start from scratch.

My goal is to form long-term habit of writing but I need to take it one day at a time.  Looking at the big picture, I often get overwhelmed at the huge task before me.  Last year, in the first week of my bikram challenge, I was struck with paralysis.  With only less than 10 classes under my belt, I wondered how the hell I was going to get to 101?! Then, I recalled the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Take the first step in faith.

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

A Goal Without a Plan is Just a Wish

– Larry Elder via Cory Booker

He challenges himself to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle, publicly proclaims it by writing a post on Facebook one day last week and then later that afternoon, writes a second blog post and posts regularly every since?  Aaaaaaack!  And here I am trying to post once a week on my blog?!?

::pause::

::deep breath::

Momentary panic attack now dissipating…

I once read a brief insight written by Jill Koenig, a motivational coach,  called “Running Your Own Race” (short read:  3 minutes, tops).  It brought home the idea that I really can’t compare myself to others because my goals, my capacities and limitations, and my starting point are unique.  So instead, I choose to be inspired by Mayor Booker’s incredible enthusiasm and his ability to bang out a post despite his busy schedule.

There are some true gems in his second post that deal with strategic planning in order to achieve your goal.

Not surprisingly, it starts with the mind.  It starts with a thought coupled with desire.  But a thought without action is useless.

So, he enlists others.  No person is an island.  Introduction to Anthropology 101 at Mount Holyoke taught me that humans are first and foremost, social beings.  Creating a network of people, a support structure is indeed important because we need someone to cheer us on, advise us along the way, and encourage us and make us feel like we are not alone when it gets rough.  I certainly could not have completed last year’s 101 day Bikram Challenge if I did it alone…and I certainly would never have even considered taking it on by myself.

He plans the work and works the plan. Years ago, I got this advice from a good friend after I described how overwhelmed I felt at work.  I think the key to this strategy is flexibility because the unexpected always comes when you least expect it.  Be like a bamboo in the wind:  strong yet flexible.

So, here’s my plan for my 2011 Challenge:

  1. Write it down. Now I understand why writers carry a notebook.  Inspiration hits at any moment.  I need to write down my ideas when they come.
  2. Brainstorm. Inspiration may be great but it is not always present.  Collect insurance by coming up with ideas.  No idea is wrong or silly.
  3. Dedicate time. Based on my schedule:  Sundays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, (and possibly) Fridays are good days to get up early and write.  Perhaps Sunday will be the start of a first draft, and then a few days of percolation, Wednesday for crafting, Thursday for polishing and publication.
  4. Set realistic expectations. It is so easy for me to do the opposite!  When I write, I feel like I have to write an exposition, a treatise, a thesis.  No!  This is a blog.  It is a space for coherent musings that hopefully will encourage others to respond and initiate a dialogue.  It doesn’t have to be perfect because it will never be perfect.
  5. Plan ahead. Start writing other posts and save drafts so that when time is scarce, it will be easier to polish it than start from scratch.

My goal is to form long-term habit of writing but I need to take it one day at a time.  Looking at the big picture, I often get overwhelmed at the huge task before me.  Last year, in the first week of my bikram challenge, I was struck with paralysis.  With only less than 10 classes under my belt, I wondered how the hell I was going to get to 101?! Then, I recalled the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Take the first step in faith.

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

The 2011 Challenge

Last year, I participated in a worldwide Bikram 101 Day Challenge, organized by lovely bloggers The Missus, theDancingJ, and bikramyogachick.  That’s right.  I committed to practicing bikram yoga daily for 90 minutes a day for 101 days straight.  Start date:  January 1, 2010.  Me and hundreds of other yogis chronicled our daily progress individually on our blogs and collectively on the official Bikram 101 blog.  After a bumpy start and a subsequent reset, I began the challenge in earnest in New York City on 9 January and completed it in Johannesburg, South Africa on 18 April.

As I look back on 2010, my goal was to take care of me and and heal myself.  In particular, I wanted to heal a knee injury that subsequently required surgery 18 years ago.  Over time, it caused such chronic and debilitating pain that I lost all strength and mobility in my leg.  It eventually prevented me from having an active lifestyle (running and eventually, even power walking was out of the question)…and from wearing high heels!

That was then.  This is now.

Ever since I started blogging in 2004, I resolved to blog more with every new year.  I wanted to write about topics that fulfill my spirit:  travel, culture, food, my hometown of New York City, and yes, yoga.  For the last six years, I’ve fallen short.  This year, my resolve is stronger because several factors in my life have come together to make it so.  I love to write.  I love the process of crafting words together, connecting ideas, and putting together my musings into something coherent and thoughtful to share with the world.  More importantly, I absolutely love exchanging ideas with others, getting into a conversation and hearing what others have to say.

I take strength from the lesson I learned on April 18, 2010 as I sat sweat-drenched in that Johannesburg studio after the final breathing exercise when the teacher announced that I had just completed my 101 day challenge.  There were gasps of astonishment at first and then…claps…then…cheers from 40+ yogis in the room.  I will always remember that moment and relish in the glow of feeling accomplished.  After that moment, I realized that I can achieve anything ANYTHING when I insert 110% of my focus and effort.  It also requires discipline, sacrifice, and accountability.

So today, I am proclaiming to the blogosphere that I am participating in the WordPress Post-a-Week-2011 Challenge.  I am going to post something on my blog at least once a week.  Today, I was particularly inspired by Newark mayor, Cory Booker, who very publicly and eloquently set a personal challenge for himself.  No more excuses, no more waiting for the time when things are “right”, no more self-imposed obstacles.  I’m not going to sit back and dream.  I’m gonna do…I mean, write.