The College Playlist: Freshman Year


This post is 2nd in a six-post series.

This is not the first time I am boarding the bus alone but for goodness’ sake, this is Manila— filthy, anarchic Manila (as I have seen T.V. news programs paint its picture). I could easily get lost! Or worse, robbed. Or mugged. Or abducted. Or, seeing these almost flying vehicles, run over when I get down from the bus.

Who would believe that my mother, the woman who kept her dear children out of bicycles for fear that they might hurt themselves and used to take them with her wherever she went, is actually sending me out here alone? She used to tell me that Manila, even in broad daylight, is never safe. Now she is making me tackle this wilderness on my own. I am scared.

Before leaving the house at five in the morning, I almost asked Mommy if she could take me to school instead and then pick me up when my classes are over. But I am already seventeen — old enough to take the daily commute, they say. After all, I am in college now.

Fat raindrops hit my bus window and I watch the tiny waterfalls they make.

I love the rain. When it rains, both the streets and cars are washed. Flowers usually bloom soon after. The earth is wet, the rice fields are majestically green and gold. And there is that peculiar but relaxing smell produced from the mingling of rainwater and foliage. Rain is a gift.

But looking through my bus window, I see rain here is an annoying, unwelcome guest. Everywhere I see people with sour faces, holding on to their umbrellas. The streets are muddy, not cleaned, and pedestrians have to dodge puddle after puddle of mud. There are no flowers, only wilted plants and misplaced trees. It is a sad sight. Not even the rain can cheer Manila up.

The driver starts cursing. It has started to flood so the traffic is getting worse. I sigh. This is going to be one long ride.

**********

It is now a few minutes before nine in the morning and I am still in the bus. I have missed my 7 A.M. class and given the traffic’s pace, I am lucky if I can still attend even just ten minutes of my second class. Another missed quiz again. I wonder how I will be able to pass History1 if I keep on missing quizzes.

Miraculously, the bus inches forward, its wheels almost useless in this flood. I have seen floods worse than this but I cannot understand how streets can be flooded when the rains were not too heavy. Only in Manila, it seems.

After two Pinoy comedy films (Praybeyt Benjamin and Here Comes the Bride), the bus finally comes to my stop — Padre Faura Street. I have missed my second class but there is still enough time to get to the next. I walk through the flood, dreading manholes and pissed that I forgot to roll up my jeans. The usual five-minute walk to the school gates takes fifteen minutes.

As I walk towards a comfort room to dry myself, a professor (I could no longer remember who), seeing my wet jeans, asks, “O, hanggang saan any baha?

Embarrassed, I answer, “Hanggang tuhod, po.” He laughs.

“Well then, welcome to Taft River!”

**********

Thank God, I can be home before dark.

The bus is nearly empty and I have managed to have a window seat. This is a good day.

We are halfway through towards my destination and people starts filing in. A bearded, hefty, old man sits beside me. Every now and then the bus halts to let more passengers in. As there are no more seats, they remain standing, holding on to the back rests of the seats. I could have pitied them but after spending countless bus rides standing up throughout the entire journey, I ignore them. They are fine.

Then, the seat starts trembling. Ugh, I think, why do old men do that? It is bad enough to see them jerking their legs for no reason. It is so much worse to feel its effects. Just ignore him. You’re near your stop, I tell myself. He’ll get bored doing it anyway. They all do.

But he doesn’t. I turn sideways to glare at him, just to show my displeasure and…

… he smirks at me. I cry.

I sob and close my eyes, not knowing what to do, as the old man laughs maniacally, masturbating. The seat keeps trembling. So does my entire body.

I keep crying, muttering a prayer to the Holy Spirit under my breath. What else can a girl of seventeen do?

**********

No one expected that the exam would finish so late in the evening.

“Bye!” My classmates wave at me as they headed out the school gate. I wave back, wondering how they could walk through the eerie, unlit street. Padre Faura looks like a seedy, deserted alley after the sun sets. Why are there no properly functioning lamp posts? My lips quiver. I start praying again.

I drag my feet towards the gate. The sooner you get out of here, the sooner you get home, I tell myself. Once I am out of the school, I hug my backpack in case of a pickpocket lurking somewhere near. My phone vibrates — a text from my mother.

Anak, hintayin mo ‘ko. Sunduin kita.

Thank God! I sigh. Thank you, Mom, and I love you.

 

Shit.

I curse under my breath as the twentieth person says this is his pre-med. That is exactly half the class.

What am I supposed to tell this people? If I say I won’t be going to med school (yes, I’ve made up my mind and no one can convince me now), they will surely ask what I plan to do then after this. Should I be honest then and say that I took this course because

  1. when I was thirteen, I signed a contract that I cannot afford to breach;
  2. my father, the breadwinner of the family, died this summer so I badly needed the scholarship; and
  3. with the new scholarship, it now makes two contracts.

A person from the row in front of mine stands up. It is almost my turn. Should I lie instead? It is either I say this is my pre-med, too (then years later, say I changed my mind) or I say I have always loved biology because… because…

Actually, I don’t love biology. I don’t even like it. So why am I here, majoring in pre-med biology? Let’s see. I guess this all started when I was about five (or four, I cannot remember exactly).

For Christmas, little Wencey asked for a doctor’s set. Mommy and Daddy were thrilled, she can’t understand why. They never liked it whenever she asks for toys, like the red toy motorbike (she got it anyway — she’s got a good grip) or that life-sized dollhouse (“What do you need it for? You wreck all your dolls anyway.”). Anyway, Santa must have judged her to be good enough that year (he always does, she wonders why) and on Christmas morning, there it was under her sock — a brand-new doctor’s set.

Oh, how much she loved that play set! She immediately put up her own hospital with all their stuffed animals — because her sister would no longer lend her dolls — as patients. She wondered aloud why her “tetscope” doesn’t work and Daddy laughed. Mommy stuck her picture on the yellow identification card and wrote her name on it. It now said she’s a pediatrician. Since then, little Wencey had set herself to be a “petrishun”.

That is, until she was ten and decided that the world needs better teachers (yep, tween Wencey wanted to save the world). She told Mommy this and she said that’s great but didn’t she want to be a doctor? She shrugged. “I don’t know, Mommy. I’m not yet sure.”

Shortly after, she found that tatty, green, hardcover book in Mommy’s old things. It was musty and mildewed and the pages were already brittle. It did not look promising but being extremely bored and having read their entire bookshelf already, she read it. And again when she got bored again. And again. And again until she knew it by heart. It was beginner’s biology.

She aced science that year, all thanks to her old but new friend. She was so happy and she told herself that she loves science, biology in particular. In fact, she considered being a doctor again after Mommy said doctors had to study a great deal about biology. Little did she know then that this was all just but a parallax,  no thanks to the tatty, green, hardcover book.

The person beside me sits down and nudges me. I stand up.

Shit.

**********

“Mag-shift na lang kaya kayo? Baka hindi para sa inyo ang Bio.”

It takes all my strength to keep from crying as I grip my exam paper. On its upper right hand corner is a big 56. Four points short of the passing score. This is supposed to be the easiest exam, being the first. If I have failed this then what more the next ones? Stupid! I curse myself.

I know I am not as smart as most people in here are but I got here because of the strong foundation my mother painstakingly built for me. When I was a kid, she never gave up on me. When I was failing math, she would drill me almost every night until I get it. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning when I cannot grasp the new lesson. When I have a really important or difficult exam coming up, she would quiz me and make me reviewers to make sure I get high scores. She helps in my projects and practices me for my oral reports, thinking up possible questions and coaching me how to answer them. As a grade schooler, I had a pretty easy life. My mother sure of that. She worked so much for me — more than most mothers would.

But I am no longer a child now and my mother knows that. She wants me to grow up, especially now that adulthood is just a few months away. She wants me to stop complaining and just do the best that I can. But I am not sure I can do this. Even from the start, it does not feel right.

The professor continues to glare at us. Shamed, I look down. He knows I failed. He has branded me as an academic delinquent already and this is just the first exam!

Maybe he is right. Maybe biology is not really the right path for me. Maybe I made a mistake.

But my conscience whispers to me: Shifting is not an option. Right, mistake or not I have no other choice.

This may be a mistake I have to make.

 

Waiting For the Deadline


Did you see my thinking cap? It must be lying here somewhere. I have been looking for it for weeks now but it seems like it is eluding me.

Last Tuesday morning, I made a list of all the things I expected to accomplish during the long APEC Summit Holiday. Now three days have passed and the list remains the same — no entry is yet crossed.

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Instead, here are the things I did for the past three days:

  1. watched Romeo and Juliet three times (once each day, starting Tuesday);

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  1. recited Juliet’s monologue in the famous balcony scene again and again in the shower (because I can’t sing);

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  1. started reading Anna Karenina (I need to read the book before I watch the film adaptation);

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  1. memorized Pablo Neruda’s The Queen (how I wish I were that queen!);

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  1. played with my hair by putting it up in foam rollers as I watched Britney Spears’ music videos (and I remembered how I fell in love with dancing because of her);

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  1. tried to replicate Britney’s parts in Me Against the Music while in the shower (even the speaking voice gets tired and yes, I take looooong showers);

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  1. and currently, writing this rambling post.

And you know what’s horrible about all this? It is the fact that I feel not even an ounce of guilt for my indolence. It seems that I truly believe that my excuses are valid reasons.

Not in the mood, not in the right condition, not the right weather, not the right pen, and the list goes on. Mere excuses, all lies.

It is not that I am not trying. On Thursday morning I actually managed to get out of bed at 3 A.M. to start studying for two upcoming exams. But after the ceremonial cup of coffee, I found myself scribbling about random things that seem to pop out of my head endlessly and the next thing I know, it was lunch time.

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I know what is wrong — I am not interested in what is in my to-do list. That is why I always find a way to evade it. Maybe if my to-do list includes more of literature and history instead of studying hefty science books, I would have been halfway through it now. Or I maybe even finished by now. Nature versus nurture must really be the recurring theme of my dear life.

Hoping that Saturday morning will see more light as Monday approaches. As always, my thinking cap magically appears when the deadline looms. Deadlines are my lifeline.

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Wish me luck!

 

Celebrating in Bed


This post is in response to the The Daily Prompt’s Celebrate Good Times.

(Click to see source)
(Click to see source)

When I was twelve, my mother asked my sister and me how we would like to celebrate our eighteenth birthdays. My sister asked for a party. I asked for an entire day in bed without anyone telling me to get my lazy ass off it. My mother laughed. She did not think I was serious.

Ironically, on the actual day I turned eighteen, I pulled an all-nighter in preparation for an upcoming exam in Organic Chemistry which I eventually failed dramatically (but that is another story). So much for a celebration. But on the other hand, I would have neither opted for a “real” celebration. I am in love with our culture but I am not quite a fan of the Filipino way of celebrating birthdays, graduations, weddings, baptisms, and the like.

A Filipino celebration is never complete without handaan (feast), inuman (drinking), and the much-loved videoke. It sounds fun and some people actually love organizing such events. But the introvert that I am is definitely not enticed.

First of all, throwing a party is a laborious task. The host or hostess has to prepare for it days or even weeks before. He or she has to wake up early on the actual date in order to make sure that the house is spotlessly clean and to prepare the food that everyone will feast on later. During the party he or she has to go back and forth the sala and the kitchen to make sure that all the guests are comfortable and that there is enough food for everyone. Then, after everyone has said goodbye, he or she is in charge of the mess that is left, including drunken guests who are no longer capable of going home safely by themselves. Going all through these hassles looks stressful and being stressed does not appear celebratory for me.

Secondly, I shun drinking to get drunk. Just recalling past Christmas celebrations with the family makes me shudder. There was always chaos in the house after my uncles had too much beer. They would quarrel among themselves, bringing back their past resentments with one another (sometimes with tears galore), and then they would turn to their wives who would loudly chide them as if they were children. The morning after is not much better with hangover making them irritable. Grouchy uncles on Christmas morning is a clear indication that spirits destroy the Christmas spirit. Again, does not appear celebratory.

Lastly, the singing. By nature, Filipinos are music lovers. That is why almost everyone, even those who cannot carry a tune (like me), loves to sing. Celebrations are always an opportunity to sing before an audience and are, thus, always welcome. But let’s face it: some singing are more of a noise than music. The “singers” might say, walang basagan ng trip, and they may get away with it but in the end, it is the host or the hostess who has to face the trouble next morning when neighbors who were not pleased would definitely complain. Now, there is no fun in that.

I have never been amused by large and noisy parties and on my birthdays, I always prefer the small family feast we have always had. But if I were to be asked, my idea of a perfect celebration is in bed, especially now that I am far from my loved ones who I always share my special days with.

This may sound crazy but you see, my bed is my comfort place. I can do almost everything in it. I study, read, write, think, and dream in it. So where else should I spend my special day if not in my favorite place?

Maybe spending the entire day in bed is not realistic for one has to work or go to school (pre-teen me did not realize that). But it would have been nice to wake up to everyone singing Happy Birthday while I blow out the candles on a birthday cake. Then later in the evening I would throw a pajama party for all my friends. We would gorge ourselves with pizza, French fries, and cakes while we watch cheesy rom-com movies and, of course, the national sleepover and break-up movie, One More Chance. This is how sixteen-year-old me pictured my twentieth birthday celebration. The actual day was a far cry from this silly fantasy.

On my twentieth birthday, I was awakened not by singing but by the alarm that was set to two hours earlier than my usual waking time. It was just like a regular day and I went through my daily routine as if it was not a red-letter day in my calendar. I took a quick bath, put on whatever shirt and shorts are on top of the pile of clothes in my closet, grab a McCafe and hash brown, then drag my feet to school. On that particular day, we had an exam and an oral report so I was almost sleepless the night before. So when the day was over, I rushed back to my dorm room, put on bed clothes, then slept. Birthday cake in bed? I had it in my dreams. Haha.

As a new grown-up, I no longer see birthdays as the special days that I was used to in childhood. Nowadays, I only have personal celebrations. I celebrate every tiny accomplishment I make — submitting a paper on time, surviving a hell week, passing an exam I was sure I would fail. And I always celebrate each accomplishment in the same place — in bed. Sometimes, I prop myself up with pillows while I catch up with my reading. Sometimes, I lie on my belly while I write on my journal. But usually, I catch some extra hours of shuteye. That would make a perfect sem-ender, if you ask me.

Some people, especially the party-hungry ones, might say my way of celebating is boring. But between getting drunk in a college party and sleeping in, I would definitely choose the solace my bed can offer. Waking up feeling refreshed and energized for another exam or semester is much better than waking up with a hangover, right? Ah, the pleasures of celebrating in bed!

How to Cram for a Biology Exam


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First of all, I want to remind you that it needs time and effort to be able to understand biological concepts. So, if you are aiming to get good marks, do NOT cram. But if you really have a hectic schedule (which is a thing common to biology majors) and cramming is the only choice you have, then the following tips might be able to help you.

  • Stay away from distractions. I think this is self-explanatory. Turn off the television. Put away your favorite objects of recreation. Log out from Facebook and other social networking sites. Focus your attention to your studying and nothing else.
  • Keep everything you need in your study area. This will save you time and energy from getting up often to find a particular book or to sharpen a broken pencil. Also, keep a water bottle and some food near you in case you get thirsty or hungry.
  • Read the lecture notes first before touching the book. A class lecture is usually a mere summary of what is discussed in the book so it will be best to study your notes first as these will give you an overview of the lessons. Having prior knowledge of the topics will give you a better chance of understanding what the book says.
  • Do not try to read everything. Remember you have little time to spare so reading and understanding everything will almost be impossible. Instead, get the main idea of every section and make sure you understand all the important concepts, especially the basic ones.
  • Take note of the emphasized words. Those words in boldface are boldfaced for a reason. List them down and look up their meanings. These words will be mentioned repeatedly throughout the chapter and sometimes, throughout the book so know them by heart.
  • Pay attention to tables, graphs, and pictures. A single figure is a good summary of what may have been discussed in two to three pages. They will save you time and may be easier to recall than the text.
  • Answer online self-help quizzes. This will help you give an idea of the type of questions that teachers may formulate. You will also be able to evaluate your knowledge and go back to those sections that you have not yet completely understood. Be careful though for you may be tempted to click on other sites that may divert your attention.
  • Get some sleep. Pulling an all-nighter will only make you tired and sleepy on the day of the exam. You will find difficulty in focusing on the questions and you might fall asleep. You do not want to ruin your chances of passing, do you?Image
  • Ditch the coffee. If you really have to stay up late, at least do away with the coffee. Coffee is addictive and you will develop a tolerance for it if you drink it too often. Have a chocolate instead. Chocolate has lesser amounts of caffeine but that will be enough to keep you alert. Besides, who does not want chocolate?                                     Image
  • Listen to your classmates’ discussions before the start of the exam. This is my favorite technique. It will give you a wrap-up and remind you of the things you might have missed. You may also ask your classmates about things you are not sure of. Just hope that they will be willing to help you.                                                    Image

These tips will not guarantee you with a high score. Remember you are just cramming. From the start accept whatever mark you will get. After the exam, start studying for the next. You will need to catch up. And, try your best not to cram again.