Friday, December 31, 2010


On this day exactly one year ago, our family just came home from a fun-filled vacation in Japan, and I was getting ready to resume my last semester in college.

Fast forward one year, now in a different country but together with the same awesome bunch, sitting here in this cozy hotel room in the heart of Suzhou typing this entry about my 2010.

Recounting the year's events with flowery words and abstract insights always has the danger of becoming superfluous, but I genuinely feel compelled to write a piece that can serve as a worthy capstone to a wonderful year. I am writing this piece for the same reasons that I blog in the first place.. to cement memories, to encapsulate emotions, to capture what blurry memories and old photographs could not, to elicit a few smiles, even if only from my future self, to bookmark the chronicles of my life.

2010 was undoubtedly the most important year of my life so far - over half a million minutes filled with milestones and achievements, endings and beginnings, colorful experiences, new friendships, and a plethora of firsts.

Half a million minutes. Fifty-two weeks. Take away 1/3 of that for sleep. Another 1/3 for meals, travel, traffic, and idle time. Which leaves a year with only sixteen weeks of actual productive time to flounder and flourish. It's amazing then such a brief span of time can bring about so much change in someone. I've never learned, laughed, loved, and lived as much as I did this year 2010. As the title says, this past year was packed with milestones.

The first few months of 2010 marked the culmination of college life. It was the best semester of my four years in Ateneo, maybe not in terms of grades, but certainly in terms of the learnings I gained, from the implementation of our business plan with LS, to the inspiration I got from some cool business electives, to the fulfillment of my Ateneo experience through the passionate lectures of Bobby Guev and the enlightening teachings of Ma'am Angeles. March 2010 marked the end of university life, the end of seventeen years of schooling, and most importantly, the beginning of real life.

2010 henceforth became a year of freedom and exploration. The ball was finally in my hands. I was living the existentialist ideal. After treading the rigid path of schooling for seventeen years, it felt liberating to finally have the full freedom to shape my life into anything I want it to be. After a flurry of job interviews, I signed my first job offer right on my birthday, and started work exactly a week after. My time with Thomson Reuters marked the second phase of my milestone year.

The company was kind to me right from the start. They allowed me to take a two-week leave three weeks into my employment, and off to England I went with my parents. Participating in the IPEX Print Show in Birmingham opened my eyes to the wide world of international business. As I was helping my dad set up our booth, I felt humbled by the sheer amount of effort and sacrifice my father went through to keep the company running. The exhibition left us with just three days to take a whirlwind tour of London, my dream city ever since reading my first Harry Potter book. After actually visiting the famous sites of the city, I can say that it's now among my favorite cities in the world.

My time at Thomson Reuters was a period of stepping up, becoming more organized, and having my first real taste of the corporate world. Getting my first salary was awesome, yet I never expected that my stay with the company would also turn out to be one of the fondest times of my life. Everyday I would go to work looking forward to the smiles and stories of my officemates. In my four months in the company, I was rotated around various tasks and scopes of responsibility. My time at Thomson Reuters proved that corporate life could be fun and even fulfilling. Moreover, I proved to myself that I can be productive in the corporate world. I was settled with the environment, happy with my officemates, and satisfied with the pay. It was the ideal life of comfort.

Newfound freedom, however, is not meant to settle. When there's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that comes your way, you know that you just have to take the leap. A chance to study in the best university in Shanghai, an entire year abroad all by myself, a blank slate, a perfect setting to wander and venture out. And so at the end of August, I left my job and embarked on the trip of a lifetime, the commencement of my first semester in Fudan University.

When you get to an unfamiliar environment, your awareness gets heightened, learning gets accelerated, and everyone you meet is a potential new friend. At first I thought that the absence of the familiar will be unsettling, but it only took a few weeks for Shanghai to feel like home. It was exciting to have a boisterous, caring bunch of friends as varied as the United Nations, all coming together to study Chinese. Through their stories and cultural comparisons, I was able to live vicariously in countries that were previously mere encyclopedia entries for me. As we shared friendships with people from every corner of the world, the world felt more connected and alive, less mysterious but more beautiful. Together we traversed through a series of firsts and unforgettable experiences, all adventurers in the most vibrant city of the most vibrant economy in the world. We spent nights getting drunk at the posh clubs of Shanghai, taking ten-hour train rides to the northern cities of Beijing and even Mongolia, visiting line-free pavilions in the World Expo, attending one house party after another, playing sports and LAN games, watching movies on the small screen of the dorm television... so busy living life that learning Chinese almost feels like a mere bonus.

The end of 2010 doesn't simply mark the end of a year, but also the end of a decade. This has been my formative decade, ten years that transformed an unassuming Grade 5 student into the person that is typing this entry on this cold New Year's Eve thousands of miles away from home. Everything contained from the years 2001 to 2010 will be the foundation of my life for decades to come. In a span of a decade, I've graduated grade school, high school, and college; and in between these milestones are all the memories, learnings, and friendships that I've ever had. In this lifetime, I will surely look back to this decade the most as it is where most of my childhood memories are contained. The backdrop of events on the world stage, the fall of America and the rise of Asia, the proliferation of mobile phones and the rise of the internet to ubiquity, the musical zeitgeist shriveling from boybands to Justin Bieber, are stories I can tell my grandchildren as the stories of my time.

Coming back to 2010... A year is simply an arbitrary boundary in the life of a person. An hour, a day, even a decade, these are just lines in a pad paper where the words and pictures often spill over. New Year's Day is just a man-made starting point to the perpetual cycle of sunrise and sunset. The chaotic subjectivity of time rarely obeys these man-made dividers, so to have so many wonderful things packed in the span of 365 days... well, is a really special, blessed occurrence. I will always remember 2010 as the year I graduated from college, went to Europe for the first time, represented our company to an international print exhibition, worked for a multinational company, bought three new gadgets, got a scholarship, spent a semester like no other in Shanghai, and ended the year sharing the holidays with the people who matter the most in my life.

Thank You for a wonderful year.

As I let go of 2010, I embrace the new year with a resounding yes to the exciting adventures ahead. Welcome to 2011, a new year, a new decade.

Monday, December 6, 2010

An Affirmation of Religion

It is always disheartening to hear news about the parish scandals and empty cathedrals, the growing impotence of the Church and the decline of religion as a whole. On a personal note, I was quite disturbed when I realized how most of the people I've met here in Shanghai, in this microcosm of the world, do not believe in any religion anymore. Experiencing more of the world has only two possible effects on faith: one, because one has seen and read so much, one realizes that religion is a puny, archaic prison holding one back from a freer pursuit of learning and fulfillment; two, seeing more makes one in awe of the world which in turn translates to an awe of the divine

As for me, I hold the latter position. I am of the opinion that the world is too beautiful and mysterious to not have any sort of higher power behind and within it. This greater power emerges in the world that is greater than the sum of its parts, in the unifying synergy flowing through all things living and non-living, earthly and celestial. This perspective owes little credit to myself though. Catholicism chose me first. I was born and raised in one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in the world. I went through seventeen years of Catholic education, go to mass, and celebrate Christian holidays. Surrounded by all this, I almost have a social obligation to believe. Yet I have a choice, so why do I choose to believe in this flawed two thousand year old framework amidst all the advances in philosophy and science ever since?

It may be true that religion is mostly a social construct. Recent research even suggested that there is a god gene implanted in every human being, granting us the biological propensity to seek for divine meaning. The earliest cave paintings to the development of mythology and monotheism all underscore the huge role religion has played in human society. Through these, we come to realize that the concept of God is not fixed. It differs across culture and evolves with history. It moves in accordance to human failure and folly.

People add and subtract to religion; they come up with their own views of what God should be for them. The Bible was not some divine text that fell from heaven, it was written by people for people. In the Old Testament resided the vengeful yet protective God that echoed the sentiments of the plagued Israelites at the time. In the New Testament there emerged the merciful, accepting God which reflected the ideals of the outcasts who wrote it. What about the time before the Bible and monotheism, does it mean that their pagan gods were necessarily false? I think not. Those gods were real to them, it was how they perceived the divine, and it gave them meaning. In my opinion, no religion is better or worse than the other; the Buddhist, Christians, and Muslims of the world are merely wearing differently colored shades all looking at the same truth.

It may also be true that some aspects of religion have been overridden by the logical consistency of science, that the study of electricity has replaced Zeus and his thunderbolt, that the Big Bang has outmoded the creation stories, and evolution has overthrown the story of the Garden of Eden. All these though do not make religion any less true. Many believe that as science continues to progress, religion will be made obsolete. But I think that's because they confuse science and religion as belonging to one sphere of reality. In this age where everything runs on logic, it is easy to demand for scientific proofs of a deity's existence. But religion does not run on cold logic alone, it beats to another tune, the tune of faith. The point of departure is completely different, but religion and science are essentially two sides of the same fundamental truth.

Even just moving within the logical realm though, it is impossible for a rational individual not to believe in some sort of a source, a primary cause, a first mover. In viewing this mysterious source, one needs to hold on to a framework. One can label it as the hands of randomness, an omnipresent living field, even a playful puppet master; or one can see it as a higher power - a God. I choose to believe in the Christian perspective of this God as Love, with the laws of the universe and all of creation stemming forth from this love. For me, it's just so much more meaningful than viewing the Source as impersonal randomness. Overbearing traditions and the institutional conflicts of the Church aside, I still feel the underlying message of love that this religion brings, I still appreciate the shimmering meaning it imbues to all reality, that's why I believe in it.

More than being about love, religion itself is also a lot like love: the freedom to choose is there, but once you have chosen, you have to stand by it through thick and thin. It can be rewarding with all its practical purposes - instilling order, fostering a sense of community and solidarity, bestowing meaning, promoting values and virtues. Religion, like love, can also be impractical and senseless but still real. When a person slaps you, will you turn the other cheek? Will you really give up your hard-earned material possessions to the poor? Sticking to seemingly pointless traditions and teachings can be part of the deal. Religion is not simply a world view, but a lifestyle requiring action and commitment. Religion, like love, is a tough choice, but it can be the most rewarding choice of all.