Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Home is Where the Internet Access is

Kathy had already set up a G5, two monitors and her laptop on a temporary computer workstation in the house in Alabang because we were getting better Internet connections here than in Makati. A strong earthquake that hit Taiwan seemed to have damaged Internet cables that connected Manila to the rest of the world.

She worked here for three days and three nights, and never leaving for Makati. But on Sunday, when we came home from a party with relatives, she found to her horror that we had no Internet in the house, but there was in Makati. So, off she drove to Makati, even though it was past midnight.

Sacha was too sleepy to care but needed to connect to the Internet in the morning, but found it not working still by then. I had to make an emergency call for the driver to fetch her so she could rush to Makati. She left grumbling about the inconvenience of Alabang (something that did not bother her while we had internet connections).

I stayed home to tinker and fiddle with the wires, modems and wifi but could not get them to work. I tried connecting directly from modem to laptop, but still nothing. I frantically called the telephone company three times, and still nothing. I called Smart Communications to inquire about using my phone to log online but no, that’s not going to work for what we wanted to do. Then I remembered about dial up ISPs – and voila – I connected to the world.

Seeing how we all scampered to where we could connect online, I remarked to my husband that it’s no longer “home is where the heart is,” but “home is where the Internet connection is.”

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Chinese Decision

In 1985, having made the decision to stay in the country, we had offered to buy the house that we had been renting since 1980. It housed our studio as well, while we lived on the second floor that had two bedrooms, one for my husband John and myself, and the other for the children. The living room and a ground floor masters’ bedroom had been converted into photo studios, the library into an equipment room, and we shared the dining room and kitchen with the staff and clients.

When we informed our landlady, with whom we had become friends, that we were interested to purchase her house, she did not want to name a price. Instead, she wanted us to make an offer.

To help me arrive at a fair price to offer her, I decided to look around in the neighborhood to see how much properties were selling for. Then, one day, one of the real estate agents asked me to check out a house in San Lorenzo Village (or San Lo, for short), a first class gated subdivision right next to the Makati Central Business District. Although San Lo was a residential community, they were quite lax and allowed businesses to be established in some of the homes (as long as they didn’t build obviously business buildings). She assured me that San Lo prices were at par with Bautista’s, since Bautista was considered a commercial area.

My only intention for looking around was to get an idea of how much to offer for our house, but I was thrilled to think that there was a possibility that we could live in a nicer neighborhood.

True enough, I found a house in San Lo that met one of the most important specifications that my husband had set – that it must have a living room large enough to be used as a photo studio. I showed it to my husband and he gave his imprimatur. I liked it myself because it had a yard and was near the community park. I envisioned having my young children biking around in this safe neighborhood and making friends with other kids in the neighborhood – something they could not do on busy, noisy and traffic-dangerous Bautista Street.

Since I had a friend in the real estate business who lived in San Lo, I took her to the house to get her advise on how to negotiate with the owners. To my chagrin, she immediately said we should not get that house. I asked her why, and she said “Tumbok yan, and that’s malas” (“tumbok” is the Tagalog word for being at the intersecting point of two roads connecting like a T, and “malas” means to be capable of bringing misfortune). It was my first time to hear the word “tumbok” and I certainly did not believe in superstitions. I argued that my husband and I work very hard and can offset or overcome whatever “malas” the house would bring. “That may be true,” she said, “but many people believe that houses like this are ‘malas’ and if and when you need to upgrade, you would have a hard time selling this property.”

I went home frustrated that we could not push through with buying a house because it was “tumbok” and “malas.” I went to bed early, very disappointed and slightly depressed at seeing all my happy dreams and visions of this San Lo house going pffft, and at the thought of doing house hunting all over again.

All of sudden, a thought came to me that pulled me out of the pits. My inner voice was saying – “Why feel bad? In 1970 when you started the business, you had nothing and hardly any money, and today, you almost bought a house in an exclusive community in the city. You’ve come a long way, Harvey.” That thought was enough to perk me up, and I went downstairs to the studio to reassure my husband that I was feeling okay and not to worry about me.

I saw him working overtime in the studio with a Chinese client. We talked about the house and he (Felix Wu, formerly of Ajinomoto) said he would like to share a story with us of two businessmen – a Chinese and a Filipino.

Here was the story:

There were two entrepreneurs, one Filipino and one Chinese. They both had a “sari-sari” store (a humble variety store that sells, in retail, only small low-priced everyday items).

After a year, the Filipino used the profits of his store to buy himself a TV set. The Chinese man reinvests his money into the store, and turned his “sari-sari” store into a mini-grocery.

After the second year, the Filipino bought himself a second-hand car while the Chinese continued to commute using public transportation. He expanded his store, while the Filipino still had the same “sari-sari” store.

After the third year, the Filipino bought himself a house in BF Homes (a medium-level suburban subdivision) while the Chinaman continued to live in a tiny room above his store, which was by then, close to looking like a department store.

At this point, my husband butted in and said, “You see, the Chinese way is better,” to which I replied, “Better for the business but look at the two and see who is smiling.” It was easy for the three of us to reach the conclusion that the Chinese knew how to do business, while the Filipino knew how to enjoy life.

“Let’s have a Chinese decision,” John said. “Let’s offer to buy this house. After all, the studio is here, we won’t need to transfer, we might lose clients if we transferred, we won’t have to change business forms and stationary, etc.”

“Okay”, I said, “for now, we will have a Chinese decision, but I hope someday, we can enjoy a Filipino decision.”

We offered to buy the house, our offer was well received, and for the next 20 years, we lived and worked here, raised our children and grew our photography business, combining home and business as many Chinese families would. We continue to live our Chinese decision, while waiting for the opportunity to enjoy a Filipino decision.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Cold Knocking

From a post on"

Tap your "network" Mom, Dad, cousin, classmates etc.

We live in a country that's it's who you know and not what you know anyway. *sigh*
End Quote

I beg to disagree with the above statement, so I wrote this and posted it on the same thread.

Cold Knocking:

That may be true for some people you will meet, but many you can meet through a process called "Cold Knocking."

Before graduating from college, I sold encyclopedias. We were told NOT to call on relatives or friends but to do "cold knocking" which meant going door to door, knocking on the doors of people we did not know.

When John and I started, we did not know anybody. Although he's Chinese, he was not connected with the Chinese community. Because I went to U.P. and did not join any sororities, I did not have a "network" of college friends. So I did what I had learned before - I did some "Cold Knocking." I picked up the Yellow Pages and started calling ad agencies. I told them that we were interested to do advertising photography and may I present our portfolio to them?

I prepared a portfolio. We did not really have an advertising portfolio (a simple clearbook with black cartolina inserts) but lakasan lang ng loob (what's the English translation? -* "we had guts"*). Most of the items in the portfolio were shots that were obviously amateurish. I included an article on John called "The Magic Eye of John Chua" that Asia Magazine (now extinct) had published.

John would always say that whether you approach a big agency or a small agency, the effort is the same, so I approached one of the biggest ad agencies - J. Walter Thompson. (Sabi ko na, lakasan lang yan ng loob!). Since all we had was a 35mm camera, one of our first projects was for an audiovisual presentation. Mostly, repros. But we got our break.

We also approached Nation Ad - former partner of Grey Advertising (now partnered with Campaigns), plus a few others that have now already disappeared from the advertising scene.

We were getting all minor assignments, but we made sure that our clients were happy with our work. With money saved, we bought a 120mm camera. The brand was "Kowa" and it was a Hasselblad wannabe. (One established photographer asked me what John's medium format camera was, and I said "Kowa." "Kowa-wa naman kayo" was his reply). *Translation: kowa-wa, take off from "kawawa" which means pitiful.*

I continued to do cold knocking. Tiyaga lang *I persevered*. I cold-knocked on the doors of Ace Comption, now Ace Saatchi and Saatchi. The AD asked me what lights we used. I said "available lights." He asked me how John would control highlights and shadows and I said "magaling siya *he's good* with available lights." I called every now and then but did not get an assignment from them until 7 years later.

When I was selling encyclopedias, I learned to persevere. We were told that maybe in the beginning, the number of rejections compared to acceptance would be higher. Maybe in the beginning, we would have to knock on a hundred doors before we got in. If we quit on the 99th, we would never meet our first customer.

We were told to work hard to improve the ratio - to bring down the number of rejections, but to accept that rejections were part of the game - that every rejection brought us closer to the sale. I also learned this from Tom Hopkins (Official Guide to Success) who welcomed every rejection because they brought him closer to his success. 1, 2, 3, ...96, 97, 98, 99.. hurray! here comes the 100th. Finally, a sale!

33 years later, and I am still asking our people to do cold knocking.

There are a lot of clients waiting to meet you. If you don't call them, how would they know where to find you? Buti nga ngayon may internet. *it's a good thing that now we have internet* but that is not enough.

Sure, go ahead, check out your friends and relatives but do pick up the phone book, buy trade directories, join online fora, print your business cards and give them away.

Zig Ziglar (author of various books on selling) said he would give himself a quota of 20 cards a day to give away. At the end of one particular day, he was about to go home. He loaded gas and saw two cards still in his wallet. So he handed them to the gasoline attendant and requested him to give his cards to two customers of the gasoline station who look like they needed new cars. The following week, he got a call from someone who said he received Ziglar's card from the gas boy. He made a sale.

Once I tried doing that. I was at the Enterprise and saw one food stall that looked like they could use better photos. I bought my lunch there and offered my card to the cashier, and said, "if you need good photos of your food, please ask the owner to give us a call." She said, "Mam, si boss po ang nagshoot nito." *Mam, my boss did the photos."* When I was no longer within hearing distance, I gave out a sigh, and told myself, "you can't win them all" and counted "no. 99."

Good luck. Sorry for the long post. I just wanted to help inspire you to just keep on knocking.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Learning to spell and do math

Learning to Spell

When you are having fun, learning becomes easy. When Kathy was in first grade and learning to spell, she had a hard time. It was a frustrating experience for her. To help her out, we taught her a fun trick – which was to imagine each letter as a person. An “O” would be a rotund person, letter “I” would be a thin person, letter “T” has his feet together but arms outstretched at shoulder-height, letter “A” is standing with legs apart, letter “X” has his feet far apart and his arms outstretched above his head, etc.

As she spelled each word, she imagined the letters marching out one by one joining the others in the right sequence. We started her with short words, but pretty soon, she was spelling long words. Sometimes, she would laugh, imagining how awkwardly certain letters would walk to their position in the word.

Just recently, my husband was trying to write something but couldn’t get right the spelling of a certain word. He kept asking Kathy to repeat the spelling. Getting tired of doing so, Kathy, who is now 26, said, “papa, just imagine people as letters and they are marching one by one. Now, what do you see in your head? Who comes after E?”

Learning Math

Whether doing additions or subtractions, mental arithmetic is not much fun for a 5 year old. When Ching was in prep, she had math homework to do, but she was not in the mood to do them. I asked her to bring out her math worksheets, and we struggled with the first one. She was not paying any attention at all to what we were doing, and counting on our fingers did not do the trick, since our fingers, hers and mine together, only reached up to 20. (I wish I had heard of “Finger Math” then). I was really challenged to make math fun for her to do. I looked around the house for things that she could count, but there were hardly any that reached 21 to 99, until I happened to glance at a jar full of coins (to save money, I throw all my coins into the jar at the end of each day). I gave her some coins in different denomination, and we pretended to be buying and giving change to each other. Sometimes, when she did not have the exact change, she learned to combine different coins to reach the required amount. It was fun, and it took us only a few minutes to finish several pages of homework.

To add variety to things for us to count, I bought multi-colored popsicle sticks and beads, and we often laid them out on the entire floor of the children's room so we could see how much space a thousand sticks occupied when grouped in 5’s, 10’s, or 100’s. I think it helped in understanding math that we were touching them as we were counting. Math was real and physical, not just abstract and mental.

Kathy, on the other hand, learned math the easy way because her school had interdisciplinary programs – meaning, they did activities such as going to the zoo, cooking or doing stage productions, and through these activities, they learned math, writing and other subjects. At the zoo, for example, they helped in preparing food for the animals – and they learned fractions – mix 1-½ cups of chopped carrots with ¾ cup of sliced beans. For theater production, they learned the height, width and depth of props to take onstage, or length and width of costumes to sew.

One of the best-loved books in our family library is Mathemagic, part of a series of books called Childcraft. One of Ching’s early questions as a child was “Is there a number smaller than zero?” I told her yes, but I was befuddled as to how to explain the concept of negative numbers until I read Mathemagic. In one chapter, the book explained negative numbers in a way that a child could understand, by instructing the child:
a. Draw a line and step on it – that’s zero.
b. Take a step forward, that’s one.
c. Take another step forward, that’s two
d. Now, return to zero.
e. Take one step back, that’s minus one.
f. Take another step back, that’s minus two.

When third and final daughter Sacha came along, it was easy. We still had the coins, beads and popsicle sticks. She was playing and counting them even before she went to school. We had Mathemagic, and that was one of the first books she herself read.

Math is easy when it is fun.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Overcoming Childhood Fears

Some childhood fears persevere into adulthood. Mine did, but I wanted to save my children from “inheriting” those fears.

The house where I grew up in was just a couple of houses away from the river, and three or four blocks away from the sea. Since my own mother did not know how to swim, she always worried that we might drown, so we were never allowed to play in or near the river or sea. We also lived along the town’s only avenue, so biking was out of the question. My mother's voice, though not loud, was clear - "Keep off the street. No biking."

Now, fast forward to the time more than 20 years later: At one point, my husband, John, tried to teach me how to ride a bike, but I was afraid that it was something I was to old to learn. I was afraid of falling or of hurting myself, and I could almost hear my mother’s voice in my head warning me that a bus or jeepney might hit me.

It was at that time that I learned that I was pregnant for the first time, and I found a convenient excuse not to continue with the biking lessons. After the baby was born, he would ask again from time to time, but I would make up all sorts of excuses and after some time, he gave up asking.

When our eldest daughter, Ching Ching, was 5, John taught her how to ride a bicycle. She learned quickly and John and she would ride together and leave me with my younger daughter, Kathy, then 1-1/2. When Kathy was five, she also learned how to ride a proper bicycle. A third daughter, Sacha, was born, and following tradition, learned to ride a bike at 5 (Ching Ching was then 12, while Kathy was 8-1/2). So it came to be that all three daughters and their dad would ride their bikes to go as far as Fort Santiago and leave me behind at the Cultural Center Complex to watch over their bags of food, water and towels.

Even with a book to keep me company, it was getting lonely and boring being alone while they biked around town the whole morning. They would return with exciting stories about what happened to them or what they saw and I felt bad that I was not there to share the experience first hand with my children.

It was then that I resolved that I would learn how to bike. I told myself that anyone can learn how to bike – why, I even see chimpanzees ride bicycles in circuses. If a chimpanzee can do it, hmmm, so can I.

There I was, in my early 40’s and my goal was to ride a bike (of course, without trainer-wheels) ; ) . I told my husband about my intention and he was very encouraging. I was determined to learn and went practically every day at the Cultural Center Complex where I could rent a bike. As I mount the bike, I would see that there would be at least 5 others – between the ages of 5 and 10, learning how to ride bicycles. Some were even younger, but their bikes had trainer wheels.

One of the bike-rental stall owners assigned a young boy to teach me. As to be expected, I fell a few, no, many times, but each time I fell, I would get up again and again and ride my bicycle, determined to outgrow my childhood fear. Eventually, I did learn. John taught me how to do figure 8’s, and was very patient in encouraging me to venture a little beyond the square where bikes were being rented out.

I was proud of myself, but still afraid to try biking on the main street. To this day, I still cannot get myself to ride a bike and compete for street space among buses, jeepneys and pedestrians. I may never fully outgrow my childhood fears, but I am grateful that my children- who ride bicycles confidently - have done better than I.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dramatic Reading, Part 2

I started to imagine myself doing the actual dramatic reading. In the TDRs (technical dress rehearsals), there will only be family members of the cast, and I expect them to be supportive. In the actual performance, the audience will be composed of only about 30 people – mostly sponsors who are generous with their time, money and readiness to acclaim the efforts of a non-professional group such as ours. This is probably the most gentle and reassuring way, as Lala said it, “to get your feet wet.”

On the way home, Lala congratulated me, and said that I did fine. She pointed out the fact that Tita Naty did not correct me even once. (That was a great confidence-booster because I had heard my children and their classmates speak of how much fun theater could be but how strict Tita Naty was). I told her that the last time I read that way was when my children were young and I read to them, dramatizing the characters from fairy tales, or stories from Dr. Seuss to keep them entertained.

I’ve had good practice then.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dramatic Reading

A few days ago, Naty Crame-Rogers (whom we all call Tita Naty), 83-year old 2006 National Artist for Drama, sms’ed me an invitation to join her group in a dramatic reading of “the Cradle Song.” She would ask our mutual friend, Lala Castillo, to bring me the script. I was to play Sr. Maria Jesus. The first meeting of the group will be on Friday, November 24.

Lala sent the script on Thursday, which I didn’t get to receive until Friday morning. So it was only then that I discovered that Sr. Maria Jesus was supposed to be an 18-year novice at a convent. “How on earth can I be a convincing 18-year old?” I asked myself. I am 60 and maybe I look 50, but sometimes my voice quakes and quivers like I am 70. But I had not seen Lala in a long time, and it would be nice to chat with her on the way to Tita Naty’s house. Later, I can always make excuses why I could not join.

Through Manila’s traffic, the ride took about an hour – a good amount of time for a chat with Lala. I told her how I felt about playing an 18-year old, gave her the whole slew of excuses that I had prepared. She said not to worry, there is always a double cast, and reassured me that I could quit if I wanted to.

At Tita Naty’s house, I met her motley group of volunteers that does dramatic readings, plays and musicals in her sala (living room) or garden theater. Of course, I already knew Tita Naty. I first saw her perform in the much-heralded Filipino play, Nick Joaquin’s “Portrait of An Artist as Filipino,” when I was a student at the University of the Philippines. She was until recently, the indefatigable drama coach at St. Scholastica’s College where my three daughters attended grade school and where Lala was the grade school principal. Lala retired from St. Scho but was immediately invited to be directress of the Philippine National High School for the Arts. Other participants included Mrs. Mabanta, her 76-year old neighbor who was introduced as the wife of a former government official, Cathy, a tall woman in her mid 30’s who works at a call center, and the only man in the group – Danny Escasa, who I learned works with computers and had met my daughter Sacha in one of meetings of the Philippine Linux Users Group.

After some small talk, Tita Naty started talking about “Cradle Song.” She told the story, and gave some tidbits about previous presentations, including the fact that it had been made into a movie. After learning that the role assigned to me was that of Sr. Maria Jesus, an 18-year-old novice in a convent, I was just about ready to back out. “I’m 60, and my character is 18,” I protested but Tita Naty said she doesn’t really assign actors according to the age or personality of the characters to be portrayed. “But I can’t memorize scripts anymore,” I protested again, to which Tita Naty said, “you don’t need to memorize the script – this is dramatic reading, so you’re allowed to read, well glance at, the script.” “But it’s December already next week, and I won’t have time to rehearse with you,” I reasoned to wriggle my way out of this commitment. “Oh, that’s ok. Everybody is busy in December, so we’ll start rehearsals in January.” “But I may be too busy at work to come for rehearsals or the actual performances,” I tried again, and she said “Oh, but this is relaxing and just what you need to have after work.” Running out of excuses, I surrendered to her persuasive ways and picked up the folder that contained the script, in a way glad to have been “pushed” into trying something I have wanted to do for a long time.

The folders that held the scripts were fastened at the bottom instead of at the top, I suppose to make it easier to “drop” the finished page and move on to the next.

There were more characters than actors so Tita Naty, Lala and Danny doubled up, with Danny actually reading a part for a female character. When the script came to my part, I read, almost cautiously, half expecting Tita Naty to correct how I read. But she didn’t! I know that Tita Naty’s ears are trained to hear if lines are read properly – right pronunciation, enunciation, tone, inflection, emotion – whatever it was that we were supposed to do with our voices to make the characters come alive, so it was with relief that she didn’t correct me, or point to any error in the way I read. At some point when the conversation among the characters was supposed to be excited and animated, she must have noticed that all our voices were going the same way and pitch, and she gave us a short informative lecture on the three pitches – high, medium and low. She advised us to listen to each other, and to change the pitch from the one used by the previous reader. “If she’s high, go medium or low.” Like a choral director, she harmonized our voices while keeping intact the identities of the characters.

I found myself flowing through some 15 pages of script, and Tita Naty was right. Except for the first part when I was nervous, the rest of the practice session was quite relaxing. And fulfilling. I committed to attend the rehearsals in January.