Dear College-Student JD,

My name is Married-With-Two-Very-Special-Kids-And-An-Arguably-Boring-Job JD. Or you can call me 29-Year-Old JD for short. I am writing to you from ten years in the future with a very important message.

I know things are not going well where you are right now.

I remember this semester to be tough, since you had to add units to re-take the Sanitation and Filipino classes that you flunked last year. I remember having to travel from one building to another and taking night classes. But you have to do what you have to do.

If it helps, you might want to know that you will fail on that thesis that you dread doing next year. You will cry like a child outside the faculty office after begging your professor to re-consider. She wouldn’t. You would curse her in your head hundreds of times. She will not change her mind, and your only choice is to redo it. OR you don’t get a diploma.

And that college degree – you won’t be actually using it that much in the next ten years (at least). Yeah, bummer. After four years of hard work, you will not be the chef that you have always wanted to be, working at a four star restaurant or a five star hotel. You will not be serving food in a cruise ship while going around the world one dock at a time.

You won’t have the best romantic life either. Remember “A”? That classmate who is taking the same Sanitation and Filipino make-up classes as yours? You will fall for her (or you might already have, I honestly can’t remember). And you will fall hard. But it will not work out. She will dice up your heart with a dull chef’s knife and leave it out cold in the Tagaytay breeze. You will cry not just rivers, but all sorts of bodies of water. And you will drink anything alcoholic in the hopes of rehydrating your spirit. Good luck with that.

The list of failures goes on. And I wish you haven’t stopped reading at this point. You see, I am writing to you not to make you feel like everything is going to be a mistake in the next few years. And, I am definitely not trying to make you undo any of them. I am writing to tell you to not change a thing.

You will fail at your first job application; at being a travel agent; at being a trainer; at being a manager; even at being a husband and a father at times. You will fail miserably. But because you redid that thesis and retook those failed courses, you learned that success is best measured by failures. You will try again.

You won’t get to practice your profession, but you will be faced with an even better calling by 2009 – teaching. I was just kidding when I said it was boring. It’s the best job, at least for us. You will meet different types of people and learn to see similarities instead of differences. You will see people fail right before your eyes, but you will learn to find reward in seeing the success of others. You will love this job as I still do. Plus, you get to travel once in a while, in and out of the country. Enjoy!

As for “A”, it will take a while to move on. You will be incapable of being in a relationship in the next few years. And just when you were about to give up, you will meet “B”, at the perfect place and time. She is smarter than you and she’s a better cook too. You will have conversations about comic books, pasta, religion, and cars. You will be able to talk to her about anything and everything. She will challenge your ideas and your recipes. She will expand your palate, and introduce you to places you never thought of visiting before. “B” will inspire you every day – to travel, to write, to cook, to sing, to teach, to love. And you will love her back every day. She will bring you more love in return, in the form of Samantha and Jared. Two extraordinary kids, which I would rather tell you about in two separate letters.

You see JD, everything will be okay. And I send this to you in the hopes that 40-year old JD would also decide to write back to me and tell me the same thing. But, only time will tell. For now, I will do what we do best: keep going.

With love from the future,

JD

P.S. Don’t you dare complain about it being your last year as a teenager. I’m turning 30 in a year, so suck it up.

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Banana Pancake

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Written on October 23, 2012

Dear Sam, Jared, and the one who has yet to be named,

I am writing this on a long bus ride from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand. We’ve been on the road for 11 hours now. If you know us well by the time you read this, them I’m sure you would be confident that mom and I did not have any arguments on this ‘short’ roadtrip.

Four days ago, your mom and I were in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. People still call it Saigon after all these years, and by the time you read this I hope it remains so.

If you get the chance to visit Saigon, please call it Saigon, like all the locals do. Rule number three in our own travel guide is to blend in with the locals. You are aliens in their land, but do not alienate yourself. Share a smile and learn how they say hello.

Do not ever leave without having Banh Mi at Nhu Lan and Pho at Pho Quynh. Vietnam was influenced by France, so the buns used for the banh mi are (like) baguettes – the crust is crispy and the white bread inside is soft with the slightest hint of sweetness. This is the perfect canvas for the filling that includes pork, paté, and pickled vegetables. As for the pho, do not dare compare it with any chinese noodle soups that you have tried with dad or Lolo Boy in one of those noodle places in Manila. The fact that it’s a noodle soup is probably of Chinese influence, but the flavor of Vietnamese pho is of an entirely different dimension. The broth is rich and is contrasted with the fresh crunch of herbs and vegetables.

Speaking of vegetables, it is plentiful in this side of Southeast Asia. The soil is rich and reddish unlike what you see in Southern Cebu; and this will be more noticeable when you get to Cambodia. By the time you are done exploring the Smiling Temples in Bayon, and watching the sunset in Phnom Bakheng, your skin will definitely have a tinge of red, given that you took the tuktuk (pun intended) in going around Angkor Wat. And don’t you dare take one of those old but air-conditioned Toyota Camrys. The tuktuk is the almost the only way to go. Almost, because you can also rent a bike, and that your mom approves of (although we did not take the bike route since we were fat foodies at the time).

I almost forgot – on your way to Siem Reap you would have passed by Phnom Penh, the capital city. Do not miss the Royal Palace. Mom and I were fortunate enough to be there when the people were mourning for the death of their king, and the palace was adorned with lights and flowers. And, while you’re at it, be better than Mom and Dad and visit the Genocide Museum. Fight the urge to cry if you can, but there is nothing wrong if you find the need to. They say it’s inevitable.

You might find it challenging to leave Cambodia and take the bus to Sihanoukville instead to hit the beach. But on our trip we decided otherwise since we have amazing beaches back home anyway. So, from Siem Reap, we decided to go to Thailand.

I will never impose, since it’s your life and your trip. If you decide to make us envious and go to Myanmar and/or Laos from there, go ahead. Make sure to get a painting for Mom and take lots of photos for Dad. Feed that wanderlust, and let the wind take you where you want to go. That’s the beauty of traveling. That’s why we loved it so much and we probably will until our twilight years.

So we will totally get it when, one day, you decide to go on a trip to who-knows-where. You will have my blessing. Mom will worry like she always does, but I guarantee you will have her blessing too.

Embrace the long layovers, crazy immigration checkpoints, and twelve hour bus rides. Hold your fingers together while waiting for the next restroom stop. Eat strange food in the strangest places, and marvel on sights that will take your breath away. You only live once, as they say, so carpe diem.

Love,

Dad

Two Flat Tires

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It was one of those fateful nights.

I went on an impulsive road trip with my brother and some of our cousins. One way or another, our plan (or the lack of it) was a recipe for screw-up.

LESSON # 1: Do not drive when you’re sleepy.

To start off, we decided to leave late at night. The plan was to catch the sunrise in Baguio. I was tired from work that day and I knew that I should have had some rest but I didn’t. Sleep is for the weak.

One hour down the supposed five-hour drive, I started feeling sleepy. We had to do a premature stopover at a gas station coffee shop. It wasn’t casual coffee-over-stories. It was double espresso, with no cream and sugar, to go. We were back on the road in less than 10 minutes, and I almost burned my tongue in the first few sips of that nasty cup of thick and bitter goo. But it worked. It had to work. I was the only driver in the group. Yes, I know. Bad idea.

I did not fall asleep while driving. No minor accidents. No fender-benders. Not even road kill. But from there I learned the first lesson.

LESSON # 2: Bring a map and ask for directions.

Around two hours later we found ourselves lost. I did not bother checking or bringing a map since I already had this trip not too long ago. Oh wait, I think it was 5 years ago. Or was it 2 years? Okay, it was long enough for me to forget. And to add up, I did not want to ask for directions.

After wasting probably an hour checking road signs and finally deciding to be mature and ask for directions, we were back on our way.

LESSON # 3: Research on your destination.

We made it to our destination at the break of dawn. And yet again, was hit with another curveball. It was the opening of Baguio’s biggest annual festival – the Panagbenga. Long story short, traffic was heavy, parking was a b*tch, and places were crowded.

LESSON # 4: Know how to troubleshoot brakes. (the entire vehicle)

After a few hours, we decided to go to our final destination. Yes, Baguio was just a stopover. We left right after lunch and headed down the winding hillside Kennon Road. We were not even past the “You are now leaving Baguio City” sign when I smelled something burning. It could have been the clutch, I thought, except that I was driving automatic. So we stopped in the roadside to realize that it was the brakes. Thanks to some helpful locals and a small repair shop nearby, we only lost an hour.

LESSON # 5 Maps. Again.

Unfortunately that one hour managed to cause some more mishap. We were still on the road (probably lost, I didn’t really know) at dusk and the countryside did not offer enough streetlights and road signs. Good thing we have a map! No, we didn’t. But at least by then I already knew how to ask for directions, and we arrived in Agno, Pangasinan just in time for dinner.

After a well-deserved grilled seafood dinner, we set up a bonfire by the beach and started drinking. We recounted the things we had to go through that day. How we have put ourselves in a stressful and an arguably dangerous situation. It could be the alcohol but at that point, we started laughing about it. It was all worth it.

But that was not the end.

LESSON # 6: Always have a spare tire.

On our way home the next day, one of our tires blew out. We stopped yet again at roadside to change tires (with the help of some locals). The tire thread was all over the place, and is beyond repair. I called my father to update him on things and he strongly recommended that we buy a new tire, since the spare might not make it. Of course I am a very logical person, so I did not follow his advice.

What are the chances of another tire blowout in a day? Apparently on that day, it was 100%. One hour away from home, we had another blowout on the highway. At midnight. With no tire shop nearby. So we were stranded.

We obviously, eventually, made it home. If we didn’t then I wouldn’t be writing about it seven years later. I vividly remember this particular joyride and the lessons I have learned from it. Sometimes, you might need to take a long drive, even if your destination is just yourself. You need to know your way, but do not be scared of getting lost. There are still good people in the world, and you will be lucky to find them at roadside at the perfect time. And, at any point, you could find yourself stuck up in the middle of nowhere. But, if you are with the right people, even with two flat tires it wouldn’t be so bad.

LESSON 7: There will always be bumps in the road, but it is what makes the trip unforgettable.