Another school year ends here, and begins in Manila

I’m counting the days to Angelo’s “Moving Up” ceremony and the end of his first year in the “real school” as he concludes Pre-K. Yes, another year has passed. Just 2 weeks ago in Manila, I witnessed the frenzy of getting ready for school again as I accompanied my niece to get a schoolbag as she got ready to go into Grade II at the very same school I went to for my own elementary education.

Only those who have grown up in Manila will understand what I say when I reminisce about the “magic of being in National Bookstore“. It was, to me, the equivalent of being let loose in a toy or candy store. Even as I grew older, it was always such a treat to browse the shelves of books, dig into the bargain bins, choose the right ballpen brand and color, pick the unruffled or uncrumpled sheet of cartolina.. To dig into a bin of candy-scented erasers, choose your notebook based on the character printed on the cover, or as was my personal preference, those plain blue but smooth and bright papers in the much coveted Corona notebooks. (They were so expensive even back then!)

We would go to the nearest branch with the list of school supplies in hand, and we’d buy yards and yards of plastic cover. Covering the notebooks and books became another ritual for me which I attacked with much gusto and a sense of artistry. The plastic had to be cut right, the corners when folded should not be sharp, and the folding within the covers had to be done in a way that the flaps were done uniformly.

So each time I go home, I stop by a National Bookstore branch to pick up some magazines and postcards. Although this trip saw me sending home some vintage postcards (with yellowing backs and all) from part of my collection which I didn’t realize was still in the house in San Juan, I still picked up a handful as part of the posctards I sent to Angelo. I was hoping to get one book only but the salesladies at the Shangri-la Plaza branch couldn’t find it. If there was one book I was hoping to pick up during this trip, it was Pilar Pilapil’s “Woman without a Face”. 

The card racks are not as many as it used to be, and there are less of the licensed cards from Hallmark, but you can now pick up greeting cards in the vernacular. Scrapbooking seems to have caught on as well which merited it its own display stand where you’ll find paper, scrapbooks and embellishments (some of them even handmade) all with a Philippine flavor. Handmade paper can likewise be found in their gift wrapping section, and I couldn’t help but be amazed at how a full sheet of brightly dyed handmade paper good enough to wrap a sizeable gift box can cost only P39.35. I remember when a similar size of handmade paper bought straight from the supplier cost twice that much 10 years ago. My sister, Ofie, gently reminded me that the industry has grown and there are more suppliers in the market, driving the price down.

National Bookstore and the memories it brings… I can go on and on.. And on. It’s one of those everyday things back home everyone takes forgranted, but which one can’t help but feel nostalgic about when you find yourself far from home. (So who says it’s just the food you’ll miss?). Staples, OfficeMax, Barnes & Noble, Borders.. They just don’t quite do it for me. Iba pa rin ang laking National Bookstore…

The Path You Choose to Take

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“What advice can you give as I decide on whether or not to go to law school?”  It’s a question I never tire of answering because although it has been years since I asked the same question of friends who had made the same decision, I still remember how that thought weighed heavily on me.

It is different for each one of us who have gone into the pursuit of law.  Even the career paths we ended up choosing after leaving the august halls of the Ateneo were diverse.  Instead of providing my own point of view, I’ve asked a favor of three former classmates and schoolmate from a batch ahead (but who I practically grew up with from elementary to high school) from the

Of the four, two are formerly from the University of the Philippines(like the Pinay New Yorker), and like Carmela, the sole lady lawyer came from one of the more prominent family of legal eagles.  

Atty. Reggie Nolido, currently connected with Corporate Counsels Philippine Law Offices, came from the University of the Philippines where he finished a degree in Economics.  He chose to go to the Ateneo “(b)ecause Ateneo delivers quality education.”  Unlike me who had come into the decision to go into law as a future career on my own, Reggie was practically programmed by his parents to pursue law as a profession from an early age.  That didn’t mean, though, that he had his heart set on it as early as his parents were, as he admits that the idea of actually pursuing law didn’t quite grow into him until he was in college. 

When I asked him what it was that drew him to making that decision to go into law school, he says “It’s a very interesting discipline. Knowing what you can and cannot do. Understanding the logic of relationships, transactions, deals. the thrill of combat in a regulated arena. Parang sports din.”

Meanwhile, for Atty. Noli Tibayan, the lure of law school came while he was already working with the NEDA (National Economic Development Authority) after college.  I have come across many classmates who had decided to go into law school after entering the work force and even when I sat for the Bar Exams, I found examinees who were old enough to be my Mom or Dad, sitting in on the same exam I was taking.  This, I think, goes to show that the realization or the decision to go to law school does not always come automatically for all of us.  Perhaps then, for those truly undecided, it bears some thinking to take pause literally and postpone law school for after some time in the real world as part of the workforce.  Some of us, like Noli, feel the call so to speak, at a later time.

“I thought people would listen to my thought more readily if I had more educational qualification. Feeling then I had enough economics which I had taken up in college, I thought of law studies — something which my mother really wanted me to do but which I rejected so much when she was hounding me to take it..,” Noli continues.  (There again figures some parental influence in the matter.)  And why Ateneo?  “(b)ecause of the Jesuits — believe it or not.”  Then again, having taken up Economics with the Jesuits, it seems an automatic choice for him to continue to pursue his legal education in the same university. 

Nowadays, Noli is part of the corporate world as HR Director for Roche in Manila.  That’s a long way from his days at the NEDA before law school, and while he isn’t actively practicing, his legal education has given him solid footing in this career path.

And there are those of us who are influenced by those moments in history which makes us stop to think about where our lives are going.  For Atty. Reagan De Guzman of the

Reagan continues “Law school was supposed to hone my skills on finding solutions to problems besetting every person every day. Law school was not simply to memorize the law but to immerse oneself on how a law is crafted and how it is to be interpreted and how it should be applied on certain situations. Law is a dynamic process. It evolves as society evolves. But sometimes, its evolution is stunted with self-interest rather than the interest of society as a whole and this is where one’s skills honed in law school will come into play.”

And why Ateneo?  That’s almost a silly question to ask of this true blue Atenean: “… because it’s the only school…… the others are just law schools…. not the Ateneo Law School…. I am biased towards Jesuit teachings and trainings… to always question everything… to have doubts… and yet to still have faith…”

Finally, this lady attorney and I practically grew up together, having gone to the same elementary and high school.  From the very start, her pursuing a law career seemed to be preordained as people saw her famous lawyer dad attend Parent-teacher conferences.  It was a face you couldn’t miss.  The famous lawyer dad and a law career for the daughter were synonymous in people’s minds.

She confided that she knew as early as Grade 1 or 2 (age 6 or 7!) that she wanted to be a lawyer.  “It was when I started hanging around my father’s law office a lot — playing and believe or not, smelling the old musty books. I liked the quiet peaceful feel of the place. It was very formal and the leather/cloth bound books looked so impressive. I liked the steady hum of the aircon, watching him work etc. I’d copy him by reading and writing whatever.”

They travelled the world over, and she tells me now that while she always wanted to be a lawyer, that decision somehow changed after one trip to Europe where she found herself thinking of going another route.  “It seems that all through my life I was destined to go to law school. Then, after high school we went on a trip to Europe. Everything changed and I suddenly wanted to take Hotel & Restaurant Management in Paris. Not going to happen. My parents, being very old fashioned, gave me 2 choices: law or medicine. So back to law.”

Like me, she went to college at the University of the Philippines to get to law school.  It seemed but a step closer to law school with the decision to pursue a legal education already firm in her mind.  “I just took up Poli Sci in college because I wanted to take it easy in my pre-law course since I knew for sure there’s no way I’m not going to take up law.”  She continues on, “Deep inside I knew if I took up law there will be more doors open to me. Private practice, politics, business, foreign service, corporate and the like.”

Her choice to go to Ateneo was partly motivated, though, by the very factors that led her to choose a career in law in the beginning — her father’s stature.  “I was in UP College during the EDSA revolution. You can imagine my student life in UP Poli Sci – with my father’s position, political ties etc etc. One professor would require us to join rallies. So of course I joined – he liked that a lot and I got a good grade. I thought Ateneo would be more peaceful, reasonable, less politicized. Wrong. It does not matter where you go. Its all crazy reading, studying everyday. You have to like it or else you will not see the point of studying all that. If its money you’re after – go into business!”

They chose the paths that have led them to where they are right now, each molded by circumstances peculiar to each one.  In the end, the answer lies within — it’s a choice you have to make not for anyone or anything else but yourself.   The challenge of pursuing one’s dream is to see it through.  And when your journey is ended, you can always choose to take another path.  Going to law school does not mean entering the litigation arena.  There are those of us who use what we have learned in other ways, or choose not to use it at all.

I’d like to think like Reggie, Noli, Reagan and my former classmate did: that it opened doors, that there were better opportunities, and in the end, that we realized we really did it for ourselves after all.  And that’s a good rule of thumb — do it because you want it for yourself, and no matter where you end up, you’ll be able to live with your choice.  Whether you successfully finish the course, pass the Bar Examinations or just decide in the middle of it all that it wasn’t your cup of tea, you can live with the decision and reap the success or face your failure head on knowing you did it because you wanted to.
Related posts can be found in the blog section LAWYER WANNABE which can be found in the navigation bar.

Thinking about Bulalo and dinners from a previous life

I took the opportunity to leave work early and pick Angelo up today.  He didn’t know I was going to be the one to fetch him so his face really lit up when he saw me outside the door to the area where the parents were waiting.  He kept telling me he was so happy I was there.

The teacher signalled to me that she wanted to talk which I accommodated.  She was telling me Angelo seemed to have weak dexterity and she recommended getting him clay or molding toys to help him develope his fingers’ ability to grasp.  He was improving with holding his coloring instruments but was having problems with the pens and scissors.  I was very receptive and have already discussed this with Alan and we have agreed with the teacher’s observation and will be doing that as one of our projects this weekend.

Meanwhile, Alan was going out with friends in the city, so I made dinner just for myself.  My mother-in-law was putting together her own concoction, and Angelo had his pasta shapes.  I had simmered some nilagang baka the previous weekend, but have some bone marrow in soup bones in the freezer.  I boiled the bone marrow with some whole black pepper and a quarter of an onion.  When it was cooked through, I added some of the nilaga from the fridge.  I thawed one of my frozen calamansi sachets and took out my toyo.  Yum!  (I know, cholesterol galore!!)

The meat was so tender the tendon that was with the beef shin was soft as tofu.  It brought me memories of countless late dinners with my Dad at a bulalohan over at Kalentong Street near Shaw Boulevard.  I have many memories of Hosena’s where my favorite was the litid.  It was available only late at night because they simmered and tenderized the tendons the old fashioned way — through hours of slow cooking.  I regret that although I was at my Dad’s practically every other day when I went home last May, I wasn’t able to visit because my Dad can no longer walk up the stairs to the second floor where the bulalohan is.  Maybe next time when I visit, I can bring one of my siblings there for a quick meal between visits with Dad.

I miss those days when Dad and I would sit at a table, and we would eat together.  Or if he had already eaten, he would watch me eat and we would tell each other about our day.  Dad stayed in Kalentong and I tried to stop by as often as I could on my way home from Makati where I worked, before I eventually went home to San Juan.  Sometimes my sister, Ofie, was with me.  No matter how late in the night, I stopped by.  The parlor business we had was open until at least 10 or 11pm, then Dad would get me a cab home.  That was my routine pretty much for the three to four years before I left.  I did it everyday as much as I could when I realized I was not going to be around much longer in 2000.

Strange how a simple meal of bone marrow and beef shin soup can bring back such memories. 

Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2

I find it remarkable how I can pick up something so trivial as hold music while waiting for my party on the other end of the line to come back, and today, it was Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, one of my all time favorites.

It was a piece I learned to play on the piano when I was around 10 years old.  Although I had played the simplified arrangement for younger pianists, I later on found a full piano arrangement which I have yet to really sit down to learn by heart.  It was one of the few pieces I brought to New York when I moved here 8 years ago.

It evokes a feeling of peace and romance without being sad.  It brings back memories of my love affair with the piano which, for now, is all in my heart and mind, but will one day come to life again.  Unfortunately I don’t have a piano here, but there’s always YouTube.

Here’s an audio clip of Rachmaninoff which is a very good rendition of Chopin’s masterpiece.

Waiting for the Bar Exam results?

Then this one is for you…

1. No matter how poorly you felt you did or how horribly illegible your penmanship was, tell yourself you gave it your best shot.

2. Remind yourself that the test is over and done with. No amount of worrying at this point will give you a better chance of making it.

3. Plan for two things: how you will celebrate your victory if you are successful, and what you intend to do if you are not. Will you enroll in a review course immediately? Are you deferring your re-take to next year? And if you are unfortunate not to have made it, give your grieving period a deadline and resolve to move on from there.

4. If you haven’t quite figured what to do with your life, now is the time to make a decision on it. Chances are you are at a non-legal related job right now. Your passing the Bar may or may not impact your career decision, but now is the time to make a choice.

5. Pray… To be accepting of whatever happens, be it good or bad.

Waiting for those exam results

Whether you’re waiting for the entrance exam results to the law school of your choice (if you have already taken it) or if you are waiting for THE big one, the Bar Exam results, waiting can be torture.

We all hope for the best no matter how bad we thought we did.  We pin our hopes and dreams on seeing our names on a list, or receiving a letter acknowledging how we hurdled the examination.  And we should just accept that if the exam is over and done with, there is really nothing that any worrying will do to help at this point.

So pray.

And pray I did back then.  I remember how my Mom and I bumped into a mother and daughter who were also praying for the good news.  It was an agonizing wait — and you agonize not just for yourself but for the others who took or retook the examination with you.  I did it only once so I cannot say I know the feeling of failing.  But others close to me had.  All I can say is that I am grateful for having been spared the agony.  I know of two people who kept taking and taking the exam until they just finally gave up.  I know I wouldn’t have if it were me in that position.  A dream is a dream after all.

"Should I go to law school or not, Atty. Dinns?"

That is a question that I have often been asked by young legal hopefuls.  Depending on whether I have the time or not or if I am in the mood to “impart my wisdom,” I always start and end my answer with “(i)t all depends on how much you really want to be a lawyer.”I’m back to one of my favorite topics thanks to a comment from Sheryl which she made in reference to my post on “Feedback on Feedback: Chasing the dream to be a legal eagle“.  Thanks for your comment, Sheryl, and I want you to know I’m always thrilled when those who bump into my corner of the blogsphere make their presence felt with a comment.  Good luck with the entrance exams..Which brings me back to the question which I have chosen to use as the title for this post.  Is it hard?  Yes, it is.  Is it worth it?  It depends on what your answer is to how much you really want to be a lawyer.  Even passing the entrance exam to your school of choice is not a guarantee that you will be one, but if you have the fire in you to conquer all no matter what obstacles may come your way, then you will have a fighting chance.It’s not even how intelligent or smart you may be, or how eloquent or verbally proficient you are — even the genuises have folded in the face of a struggle to attain something that is not truly in their hearts.  Like when one pursues a legal education to keep the family law firm going..  it has to be YOUR dream.  Good luck to all the legal hopefuls out there.. here’s hoping that those who truly have that dream in their hearts will find themselves a step closer as the school of their choice accepts them.

Related posts can be found in the blog section LAWYER WANNABE which can be found in the navigation bar.

From out of the blue

There are days when we come by some pleasant bit of news like friends from way, way back popping out of the woodwork saying hello and just reconnecting. (Hence, the title of this post..)

I received an e-mail this evening from someone I knew from high school — someone who became a friend thanks to the then Citizen Army Training (aka CAT) which was required in high school.  She was one of our Cadet Officer Candidate Corps or COCC candidates (a year younger than us), and although she eventually dropped out of the program, we remained good friends until I left high school and moved on to UP.  I remember we had gotten in touch two or three times in the many years following but life had gotten the better of us and we lost touch again, and today, I feel like I was given a little present from above when she wrote me.

I am so glad to hear from you again, Jojo.. I hope that you will keep in touch from hereon..

First Day of School

Do you remember the thrill you felt everytime it was the first day of school for the year? I couldn’t help but reminisce on the way to the subway station because the kids were back, hence the more congested buses. But I’m not complaining.

The three-year-old tyke is continuing on to pre-school, but other than being asked by the daycare facility to get him underwear, it was just another week for him since he started after the Fourth of July holiday.

I remember the special thrill of shopping for school supplies at National Bookstore… Of getting new shoes, uniforms, bags and sometimes, lunch boxes. (There were times when I was enrolled as a lunch boarder in school..)  Of seeing classmates I missed during the summer vacation.

There was a different kind of excitement when you got your school supplies list from school and we all went to the bookstore to get them — then you saw the tower of notebooks of different types and brands. There was the composition notebook (with margins please), the writing notebook (with their blue and red lines) and the math notebook with the graph paper pages. I always wanted the Corona notebboks but I remember there was a time early on in elementary when the teachers didn’t like us using spiral notebooks. Still, Corona paper just had a different feel to it.

And the pens, pencils and those cute and scented erasers! It was plain heaven just going through the rows and rows of school tools. I always enjoyed getting a fresh box of crayons… a new pencil case… and those fresh pads of paper.  Do you remember those days?

 

Feedback on Feedback: Chasing the dream to be a legal eagle

I’ve been hoping to have the chance to sit down and write all these thoughts running through my head in response to a comment from Prince in reference to what has to be my most visited blog post here, Back when I was in Law School.  (Link provided below)

It has been ages since I was in his shoes, but I can still remember the disappointment, the shame, the nervous stomach I had to deal with during my first semester in the Ateneo School of Law and all the heartaches of pursuing my dream.  To us and to most of the freshmen who found themselves on the receiving end of the ire and seeming arrogance of our professors during recitation, these men and women behind the teacher’s desk were mean monsters who didn’t know how to treat students as human beings.  That was a misguided thought, and sadly, sometimes it took us years to realize that despite all the horror stories that we heard and went through ourselves, there was a reason for the way things were.

For me, my epiphany came when I took the bar exams.  But that’s another story.. so let’s go back to being a freshman in law school.

Even in pre-law in UP Manila, there were horror stories about teachers who flunked students with such heartlessness you made sure you avoided them when choosing your subjects.  In law school, some such professors are simply unavoidable.  Failure in law school, though, is more often than not caused by one’s inability to cope with the demands of the course for whatever reason or another. This is one place where you will not flunk just because you belong to the wrong fraternity, or because the professor doesn’t like your face. If you suddenly become the teacher’s pet or pet peeve, it is your undoing that will result in a 5. He can keep calling you every meeting, but if you know the law and you read your cases and understood it, you will make it through.

If they seem arrogant and pompous as they ask their questions, it’s because out in the real world, those who practice the legal profession are subjected to the same if not worse interrogation by the officers of the judicial system, as they are expected to adhere to the highest standards in providing their services and knowledge in support of their client. And if you get down tothe nitty gritty of it, they know the law — while you’re still learning it. So yes, they have earned the right to conduct themselves that way, that is why they are part of the roster of professors of the Ateneo School of Law.

I remember when I was a freshman, there were days when I wanted to crawl under the desk when I stood up to recite a case that now appears I had misappreciated because the professor was grilling me to death.  There were days when I looked at a case list of 20 readings, and I had only managed to read through half in the original, and I had digests of only 3 of the remaining ten.  And what about those days when I memorized the legal provisions, and when I was called to recite, I failed to connect the law into one cohesive whole so I missed the point, meriting a wistful shaking of the head from my befuddled professor.  (He was probably asking “What the hell is this student trying to say?”)  Yet there were days when I came to class well-prepared, I aced the question and I sat down with a smile and big sigh of relief. 

Your weakest moment is when you feel so small that you think that you are probably in the wrong place.  That perhaps that investment in time and money was a total waste, and maybe your professor is right when he suggests you shift to another career.  (Atty. Alimurong who did our orientation was very blunt in saying “No English?  Shift to music.”) But dreams have a way of making us learn from such encounters. It is up to us to find a means of coping. I came to law school with very bad study habits but was soon honing my skills at reading cases and writing digests I made a small living off of it by photocopying my digests and selling them at cost. I learned to calm my nerves so I could speak with confidence if not with clarity so that at least the professor didn’t get irritated by roundabout recitations that didn’t quite hit the nail on the head.

The law is not all about eloquence but it does require a sense of being able to express one’s self clearly and succintly. You have to be able to make your point, give the rationale behind your answer, cite the law if you must.  It bears keeping in mind, though, that sometimes, one’s nerves gets the better of us and we are unable to say what we mean to because our knees start shaking before our wit grabs a hold of our tongue.

I went by a simple rule that took me a semester or two to master — Answer the professor in the positive or the negative, state the law, then the reason why that law applies.  Or when asked about a case, give the facts, the issue, and the ruling.

But at the end of the day, what kept me going was this dream in my heart.  And it meant so much to me that I vowed to stay in Ateneo until they booted me out — and they never did.  Even when a reversal of fortunes required me to find a job and another and eventually another.  I was working full time by my sophomore year, and yet that was never an excuse to give up on my dream.  No matter how hard it became, I held on to that dream in my heart.

I had my share of flunking subjects.  I had to repeat a few subjects in the course of my studies.  One semester, I actually took a leave of absence midway through because I felt my chances of surviving the semester were dangerously low — then I took the Bar exams with more prayers than preparation — and I made it.

I went through the so-called terror teachers in Persons & Family Relations, Criminal Law, ObliCon, Succession, Political Law Review, Transportation, Taxation, etc.  (And I am not risking a law suit naming names here, but feel free to write me and we can share stories..)  I was glared at, insulted, and two or three of them flunked me.  At the same time there were those whose subject I managed to pass — sometimes, even I surprised myself.

But I always held on to my dream.  Even when I had to support myself through law school by working and sometimes needing to borrow money to tide me through and doing promissory notes just so I could pay my tuition in installments, I persevered and I held on tight.

I wish I could tell you those horror stories are untrue and are but a rumor but they are not.  Oftentimes they are exaggerated for effect, but those stories should help you better prepare yourself rather than intimidate you.

The case list is not long because the professors want to test your speed reading skills but because they are a necessity. (I’m sure by now Springer has sown terror in you heart just by the thickness of the photocopied original). A lengthy case list should not, by itself, be an excuse not to be ready. I know you will find little if no comfort in this, but that is a reality in law school that you will have to learn to accept early on. Your having been accepted to one of the most prestigious legal learning institutions in the country comes with responsibilities, part of which is that much is expected of you. The mere fact that you managed to go past the entrance exams means they saw something in you, and it’s now up to you to stand up to the challenge.

When you sit for the bar exams as an Ateneo barrister, you will appreciate all the aggravation these professors gave you, and you will see what makes you different from the rest.  I cannot hope to fully describe that here because it will take your sitting down for that exam among the sea of other legal hopefuls to fully comprehend what I’m trying to say.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to what you really want, and to borrow one of Atty. Cynthia Del Castillo’s favorite phrases, what you want “deep in your heart of hearts.”. The challenges will continue, and the case lists will grow. If you think your roster of professors are mostly evil, have you heard of the professor who was a congressman at one point in time, a senator, and then a cabinet secretary who used to have a student recite while standing on a chair? Or how the same professor reportedly had two students hold hands during recitation and those two eventually fell in love? Rumor or fiction, don’t ask me. I took them all with a grain of salt.

The job offers will come, but the opportunity to pursue your dream to become a lawyer is in the “here and now.” Again, ask yourself what you truly want. If the answer continues to be to fulfill that dream to be a true blue legal eagle, then do not allow yourself to be deterred this early in your journey. You should consider yourself lucky that you are facing this challenge without the burden of having to support yourself through it. But that is my story — I urge you to focus on your dream. As I tell those who ask me about law school when they find themselves at the threshhold of making that decison to pursue that dream or not, I tell them they must want it THAT badly in order for them to survive — be it at the Ateneo, in UP, in San Beda or at Arellano.

Would you be able to live with yourself if ten years from now you find yourself wondering how it would’ve been if you had stuck it out? The long and short of it is, you’ll never really know if you give up too soon. I say stay where you are until the Jesuits decide they’ve had enough of you — and even when you get the boot, who’s to stop you from pursuing your dream elsewhere? It is, after all, your dream.

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“Should I go to law school or not, Atty. Dinns?”

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From a Bar Reviewee

Back when I was in Law School