Basic Skills as Basic Tools

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Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.
– Confucius


Everytime I share some kind of trivia in family gatherings, my sister S and my father M would always ask, “How did you know that?”. As an adolescent I would always reply, “Because I’m smart!” But now as an adult I realized that I really am not all that.

True, I have been blessed with a very good memory which helps retain anything of my interest (it has also allowed me to win a few quiz bees back in the day). For the longest time, I counted on memorization to gain information. However, pregnancy, motherhood and all the hormones involved must have done something to my brain: I can feel my capacity of recollection slowly wane. This is how I came to see that there are other methods for learning and they are actually very much within my reach!

Somehow, somewhere along the way I discovered that a few basic skills could be turned into very dependable tools for my continual search of knowledge.


I first learned how to read when I was 5. I will never forget the first story book I read with my mother E- Pamilya Ismid. Papá will unbelievingly shake his head if I told this to him, but I swear I could still remember the awesome feeling I got when I became aware that I COULD READ! It was as if a whole new world opened up before me- a world made up of endless halls decked with numerous doors waiting to be opened.

So I read and read and read some more… my parents would insist on diversifying my library while I pushed for my preference to simply complete my collection of a certain series about twin sisters. Thank goodness my parents were persistent and did not give in! You see, I didn’t know until several years ago that there are actually two kinds of literacy:

Simple literacy is the ability of a person to read and write with understanding a simple message in any language or dialect.

Functional literacy, meanwhile, is a significantly higher level of literacy that includes not only reading and writing skills, but also numeracy (the ‘rithmetic that completes the ‘three Rs’), which leads to a higher order of thinking that allows persons to participate more meaningfully in life situations requiring a reasonable capacity to communicate in a written language.”

– Juan Miguel Luz, A nation of nonreaders

It was only in college where I found out that the kind of materials you read actually mattered- a lot. I met many fellow students who may not be very eloquent, yet their arguments had structure and logic (and sense, of course). I envied them but I just associated it with the superior Spanish educational system and never made any connection with what type of reading they did. Because of this, I continued with life without really developing the functional aspect of reading.

Although something inside me was already aware that it’s not the same to read Nancy Drew mysteries or Noli Me Tangere or a Trigonometry Manual, at the time I simply didn’t care. Consequently, it took me quite a while to reach a “higher order of thinking”.

Come 2008 when I was admitted to my Master’s Degree. Reality struck quite hard: knowing how to read matters even more. There were so many interesting materials to be studied and of varying subjects, too, that it overwhelmed me at one point.

This made me recall how much I laughed at my parents (I was 14, alright?) and told them how funny they seem reading a book entitled “How to Read a Book”. I remember finally admitting to myself that the idea wasn’t silly at all. Ah yes, the joke was on me because had I known then how to effectively read, I would have been more productive and perhaps I would have better contributed to past debates and brainstorming sessions. (Although, I can’t help but think that perhaps the author could’ve entitled the book “How to read effectively”?)

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Fast forward to the present time… I find myself in a new country, under totally new circumstances, but with the same childlike eagerness to learn how to read. Say what you want about the French, but these people READ. If you’re a book lover/hoarder just like me, come to Paris and you’ll see more than a couple of bookstores in one street as well as specialized stores for classical, hardbound editions. Likewise, you could find used books at more than half the price, and some really old ones that are worth 50 cents of a euro; plus if you’re lucky enough, you could find free books in the streets or in bus stops (you can also leave your own pre-loved books for others to enjoy)!

I used to wonder what made them read so much*. From what I’m seeing, for them reading is a habit borne out of necessity. In the short time that I’ve been acquainted to the language, I observed that the French grammar is so complex, one must read and re-read anything written so as to avoid any misunderstanding. Now, this is only my opinion, but I recall “complaining” to my French teachers before because it seemed like there were more exceptions than there are rules, concerning the written language**. Thus, reading is a basic, vital skill for one to thrive in this setting.

Back in the Philippines and even in Spain, I never once stopped to mind any notice on cork boards or almost any type of announcement. People just find a way to get hold of the message through neighbors and peers. Not in France. Maybe it’s because this is a more individualistic society (something to be certainly be discussed in another post). The thing is, now I read EVERYTHING, ANYTHING that is posted in the walls of our building, the grocery glass doors, the vandalism on the streets… just in case. And more often than not, I actually learn one new thing before I go to sleep.


I speak 3 foreign languages and in all of them, there is a clear distinction between: hearing and listening, oír y escuchar, and écouter et entendre.

The first words of each pair  mean “to be aware of sound through the ear” while the second ones mean “to pay attention”. The former seems to be a passive activity, the latter requires a more active involvement.

As a child and a teenager, I didn’t really excel in listening as much as I could have done. I talked a lot. I talked so much, I got chosen as one of the Northern Mindanao representatives for a national extemporaneous speech contest.During the moments I did listen, I filtered between interesting and uninteresting, and only tuned in to what caught my attention. And then almost immediately, I would go back to talking.

Adulthood has taught me that as a responsible citizen, it is my obligation to listen to many things, including those that don’t necessarily interest me. It is informative, it is enriching and it gives a clear basis for any argument I may wish to express. For this to be possible, it is imperative to know how to listen.

Eventually, I learned to listen when I was 28 years old after I enrolled in a Bikram Yoga class. This exercise, based on active meditation is only feasible with open ears and a clear mind. It is not always easy to clear the mind, but opening the ears is achievable. Listening, just like any other skill, could be enhanced through repetitive practice. So after one year and a half of constant training, I was finally beginning to listen.

Strange as it might sound, thanks to this, I’ve never enjoyed going on job interviews as much as I am doing now. For some topics I thought I knew fairly well, I discovered so many fine points that are easily overlooked. As a result, two of those meetings have given me several ideas for future blog entries. It’s a pity I won’t get to work with such bright people, so in the meantime I’ll make myself busy by diffusing what they shared with me.

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Online, I found heaps of guidelines and principles for effective listening. Let me share those that I consider indispensable if we want to increase understanding:

Stop talking

If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.

-Mark Twain

Clear enough. Next.

Be patient

In Spain (at least from the Central Plateau southwards), Germans have always been viewed as very polite and formal people. The reason being that they patiently wait for the other person to finish talking before they speak. This is of course very unlike the Spanish, who are known for their passionate nature (well, some of them) and who would cut the other in mid-sentence to prove a point.

Well, my very knowledgeable friend J (I call him the “Walking Encyclopedia”) told me that Germans do it actually out of habit. I don’t speak German but according to him, the grammar is such that the verb is located at the end of the sentence!*** So logically, they would have to know what entirely happened before they could even form an opinion inside their heads.

(Pause for polite laughter)

Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t mean that patience should be taken for granted. A true seeker of knowledge would apply this principle for the sake of being taught something new.

An everyday affair

Needless to say, one of the many things I am grateful for at this time of my life is the opportunity I have to practice reading and listening. The fact that I’m living in a foreign country, that I have to hone my ability to speak its native language and most of all, that a tiny person’s life depends on me forces me to:

i) read, re-read and read again as many times as I have to, and

ii) to listen very intently to whatever anyone says to me

These are exciting times, indeed. And I can’t help but insist on how thankful I am because I’m not sure I’d be doing the same if motherhood and unemployment simultaneously found me in any of my comfort zones (geographically speaking)…




* Here, let me echo host and blogger Lourd de Veyra, “We read not because of the message, but because it feels good to read. It’s ‘delicious’ to ‘feed’ on words. It feels good to drown in sentences that are very well sewn together. There are words that could make you drunk, or worse. Is it too much? I don’t think so. Some people get addicted to Candy Crush. You could also get addicted to words and written words. Everything could be developed.” (Translated from Tagalog)

**For an easier explanation, let’s just say that spoken French and written French are like two dialects of the same language. If you believe that the spoken French is beautiful, then you might just cry tears of joy if you get the chance to read the “masters” in original version (Hugo, Dumas, Camus, etc…)

*** According to Wikipedia: “The main sentence structure rule is that the conjugated verb is the second element in a main clause or the last in a subordinate clause. Verbs in the infinitive are generally placed after their respective objects.”



  1. “A nation of nonreaders”, by Juan Miguel Luz, available at:
  2. “Hoy, basahin mo ‘to”, by Lourd de Veyra, available at:
  3. “Spoken vs Written French: The 5 Differences You Need to Know”, available at:
  4. Quora: Why are written and spoken French so different? available at:
  6. Listening Skills, available at:
  7. Wikipedia

Of Bears and Men

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The bear went over the mountain

The bear went over the mountain

The bear went over the mountain

to see what he could see.

And all that he could see

and all that he could see

was the other side of the mountain

the other side of the mountain

the other side of the mountain

was all that he could see.

The bear went over the river…

(Sang to the tune of “For he’s a jolly good fellow”)

I learned this song so I could sing it to my son. He would smile until his eyes become two flat lines in his chubby face, while generously showing his toothless gums.

One day, while feeding my very own almond-eyed baby bear, I remembered part of the cover story in the National Geographic’s May 2016 edition:

“Le 7 août 2015, à Yellowstone, un garde a découvert le corps en partie dévoré d’un homme, près d’un chemin de randonnée, non loin d’un des plus grands hôtels du parc national. La victime, Lance Crosby, 63 ans, du Montana, occupait un emploi saisonnier d’infirmier dans une clinique du parc. Ce matin-là, ses collègues avaient signalé son absence.

L’enquête a révélé que Crosby était parti seul en randonnée, la veille, sans emporter de spray anti-ours, et qu’il avait rencontré une femelle grizzli avec ses deux petits. L’animal avait tué et en partie dévoré- ses oursons avaient aussi eu leur part…

L’animal a été capturé. Une analyse d’ADN a prouvé qu’il était impliqué dans la mort de Crosby. Partant du principe qu’un grizzli adulte qui a goûté de la chair humaine… est devenu trop dangereux- même s’il n’était pas responsable de la rencontre fatale- on a administré un sédatif et un anesthésiant à l’ours avant de l’abattre.”

(“On the 7th of August 2015 in Yellowstone, a guard discovered the partially eaten corpse of a man near a trekking trail not far away from one of the biggest hotels in the National Park. The victim, Lance Crosby, 63, from Montana, seasonally worked as a nurse in the park’s clinic. That morning, his work mates sounded the alarm for his absence.

Investigations revealed that Crosby went to trek alone the night before without applying anti-bear spray, and that he had an encounter with a female grizzly and her two cubs. The animal killed and partly devoured him- her offspring had their share as well…

The animal was captured. A DNA analysis proved that it was involved with Crosby’s death. Considering that an adult grizzly who has tasted human flesh has become too dangerous- even if it was not responsible for the deadly encounter-, the bear was given a sedative and an anesthetic before it was shot to death.”)


What was the point of killing the bear?

Oh the irony! wildlife reserves (national parks, safaris, etc…) were built and are maintained because progressive minds wanted to preserve that portion of untamed earth, while letting ordinary citizens enjoy it as well. However, when the “savage” side of this project shows itself and as a result claims a human life, these same progressive minds intervene and apply their rules to something that was supposed to be left “pure” and “natural”

  * * *

According to the information I found, the genus Ursus which gave rise to the Grizzly Bear has existed for more than 5 million years ago. Meanwhile the earliest remains of  the genus Homo where humans belong, dates 2.8 million years ago. This means that bears have populated the earth millions of years before humans.This also means that it was our race that invaded their territory, pushed them further back to the mountains and reduced the expanse of their habitat to parks and other “protected” areas. Already, we have committed this first transgression: we knowingly trespassed the their territories.

The bear-human relationship has oftenly been deemed unsafe, causing numerous “Bear Awareness Programs” to be conducted to avoid future damages. However, the fact remains that bears act out of instinct: usually shy and not known to actively prey on humans, most attacks “result from a bear that has been surprised at very close range, especially if it has a supply of food to protect, or female grizzlies protecting their offspring” (Wikipedia).

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On the contrary, men act out of judgement. An example is that according to them, people should be protected from any harm and should not be exposed to a risk such as an animal attack. Thus, the animal that caused the death of one of a person should not be allowed to live any longer, lest it puts another human life in danger.

I don’t see anything wrong with the principle, except when we place it in a context where an attack occurred inside the natural habitat of the animal- where it was supposed to roam freely and live as it should. For me, trouble starts when these kinds of incidents (because I believe they could be prevented), happen in places where people are supposed to have been briefed about the risks and dangers of not following the recommended precautions.

  * * *

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that men have always tried to dominate nature- the first human beings started with animal domestication and plant cultivation. Men did it and are still doing it because men could.

In the same way, the female grizzly fed on Crosby because it could: the two-legged animal was alone, with no weapons or thick clothing to protect himself… Indeed, it was one of the few moments when the natural order of things came to pass: man, once reduced to being a part and not master of nature, was subjected under its laws. It did not last long, though. For as soon as this was discovered, men quickly reacted and sought justice for the loss of a human life.

This manner of seeking retribution made me realize that the Yellowstone National park is mainly located at the US Federal States of Wyoming, extending up to Idaho and Montana. These are 3 out of 31 states where  death penalty is still applied (the other 19 have already abolished the Capital Punishment). Which means that if the inhabitants of these areas punish their fellow humans by taking their lives, how much worse will they treat an animal? a creature easily classified as second-class citizen?

Instantly, I reflected about occasions when we find that man is capable of granting leniency towards certain groups, like those under the legal age and the mentally ill. The reason seems obvious: they cannot be held responsible for their actions. Digging deeper, we find a humane consideration placed upon terms such as “minor” or “insanity”; which could also be connected to an “inadequate psychological and/or emotional development” leading to a lack of basis for making sound judgements (to discern right from wrong). This is why they are given “lighter” sentences when called to answer for their crimes.

Thus, it bothers me so much that the female grizzly was given the same punishment as an adult, mentally fit man who killed another. Animals act mostly on instinct. The only criterion they apply to discern right from wrong is their need to survive. That is the only way they are wired to react and this makes them unable to judge situations the way we do.

I can’t stop asking questions… If we are open to assessing situations according to the context and the characteristics of the parties involved: why was the bear sacrificed? was there really no other way of managing the situation? Furthermore, didn’t anyone try to find an alternative for the bear? Most importantly, what happened to the cubs?

Now, I often think about the executed female grizzly- suppose she was just going over the mountain to see what she could see? and all that she saw was the other side of the mountain harboring either a potential danger or a promising meal for her and her cubs; all that she saw were two-legged creatures populating that side of the mountain, and how these beings try so hard to place her kind under their own rules; and the last thing that she saw was the barrel of a gun. She must’ve been dismayed.

The day of Crosby’s death was a sad day because a human life was lost. Death, especially one so absurd, is always distressing. But I find no reason to purposely end the life of an animal for having followed its natural instinct: perhaps to procure food for itself and its young or perhaps to defend itself from threat.

More questions arise: What’s next? will they kill another bear or a wolf if it took another person’s life? how long will they keep doing that? how long are men going to force their will on something so complex as nature? how long will it take for men to (at least sometimes) humble themselves before the mystifying and sophisticated system in which they are part of?

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Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I wonder where this leaves mankind, we who love to boast about how far we’ve evolved; we who insist on our superiority over animals because of the soul we possess…



  1. Quammen, D. (2016, May). Yellowstone, le vrai Far West. National Geographic, 40-65
  3. Wikipedia

Why do Classical Greek sculptures have small penises? (translated from Spanish)

This article caught my attention because I have always wondered about this myself. A few years ago, when my husband and I went to the Rodin Museum we asked ourselves the same question. At first I thought it was a matter of balancing the weight of the sculptures: if there’s too much weight in front, it could be difficult to compensate it by adding some kind of weight at the back… I was never more wrong!

This article was originally written by Anibal Clemente Cristóbal in his blog “Historia y Arqueología”.

I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr. Torres of Miter Arbórea for sharing this article in LinkedIn.

Why do Classical Greek sculptures have small penises?

The answer is more serious than it may appear. As explained by a professor and expert in Classical Antiquity, after forty years of research the mystery of the famous “Bronzes of Riace” also known as the “Warriors of Riace” is revealed.

In 1972, two Greek statues dating around 5th Century BC were found by scuba divers 300 meters from the Riace Coast (Calabria), in the south of Italy. During the inauguration of the Magna Grecia Museum (a splendid home for these works of art) presided by Prime Minister Mario Renzi, details from investigations about the two impressive bronze pieces were disclosed: it is discovered that they were created in Argo and Athens, inside the workshops of the best artists of the time. It is assumed that during the Roman era, a shipwreck caused them to fall into the sea while being transported to Rome (Romans were seduced by the beauty of the Classical Greek art, thus they tried to decorate their houses with these magnificent pieces). Fortunately, many marble replicas have been fabricated.

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Greek bronze pieces- which were both grandiose and costly- numbered in the thousands during that time, but they have reached us mainly through marble replicas. Due to ignorance, (most) art made from bronze were melted. However those that were able to survive until our day and age such as the “Riace”, allow us to admire their (utmost) precision: the veins, the perfectly-defined curls, the eyelashes, the teeth that appear in between the lips, the scrotum behind which we could perceive the shape of testicles.

Given this symmetry and perfect harmony, it is striking that the two gigantic warriors each present a small penis. Why are the penises small? This question, asked by many as they admire the sculptures in the museum, is spontaneous: Why do Classical Greek statues have small penises? Surely, it is neither due to commonplace prudence nor due to fear of creating public embarrassment. The reasons for this were significant.

The Greeks’ ability in using sophisticated techniques and achieving perfection, especially in reproducing the human body, has fascinated the whole world. For instance, the perfection of the “Riace Bronzes” is astonishing, but their virility was considered, with much surprise, exceedingly small. The reason behind these limited dimensions is much more serious than it may seem: where statues are concerned, a large penis could mean little control over one’s impulses and the inability to exercise restraint. “In Ancient Greece, a small penis was a coveted aspect by the alpha male” (the male which the majority aspires to become because it is the dominant figure), explains Professor Andrew Lear to the Quartz web, an expert in Classical Antiquity who teaches in Harvard, Columbia and New York University.

“There is a distinction between the non-erected masculine genitalia of ideal men (such as heroes, gods and athletes) compared to the thick and erected penises of the satyrs (mythical creatures characterized by their carefree attitude, drunkenness and untamed lust) as well as with other types of men who are not regaded as ideal. The statues of very old and decrepit men were usually represented with big penises”, added Professor Lear. Undeniably, for Greeks, a big penis defined a vulgar, wild and barbaric man. (Back then) Beauty was something else. In fact, Professor Lear did not have to discover this; the famous playwright Aristophanes already wrote about it in “The Clouds”: “Healthy chest, wide shoulders, short tounge, strong buttocks and small member.”

Those were different times. The ideal Greek man was rational, intellectual and authoritative. This concept was inherited by the Romans: since Vetrubius (80 BC – 15 BC)- an architect, engineer and a Roman writer, the most famous architectural theorist of all times- the proportions from the Classical era have always been a real obsession for artists and sculptors of all periods… In that ideal governed by harmony, the small penis symbolized virtude, spiritual superiority, the allure of the hero. We can likewise appreciate this in Michaelangelo’s David, a great figure of the Italian Renaissance. This idea has evolved over time. Now, the penis’ size matters, something that according to Professor Lear could be because of the “expansion of pornography”. While a Greek man considered that beauty was elegance, which translated to behavior, the tendency today is to gravitate towards a false concept of beauty perhaps caused by the (general) acceptance of plastic surgery. Times have (surely) changed.


For those who are wondering…

It is not merely out of caprice that I have translated this article. I admit, I thought about drawing a few laughs from people’s first impression. But the reason goes far beyond having a good time.

In women’s struggle for equity, fairness and higher regard from the society, it is easy to make light of what men are going through themselves. After all, they are considered as the “oppressors”, our “enemies”, aren’t they? Well, that is not always true! I know many women who tolerate and encourage macho attitude from men. Honestly, isn’t that far worse? Yes, most men oppress us, but there are times when we ourselves are also very tough, judgemental, biased and very demanding to our fellow women.

The truth is, I would like to question how it is to be masculine in the time of now. I wrote about being feminine during modern times in my last post, but have we ever stopped to wonder about the type pressure our male counterparts have to face to demonstrate their manhood? As far as gender equity goes, it is not surprising for them to be equally affected by the evolving definition of what is “masculine”.

There are so many male figures across continents and along human history who have been considered as the ideal alpha- he who embodies the very definition of masculinity. Images ranging from Greek heroes to football players are surely flashing through your mind. Every culture would also have their own understanding of manliness. For instance, did you know that in some countries wearing a flower behind the ear is considered as enhancing not only to the female beauty but also to the male attractiveness?

It may appear that men are not bothered by these issues, but isn’t nonchalance also expected from the homme? How would we know if they are not “allowed” to show sensitivity or express such concerns without being snickered at?

The wider object of this post is to create awareness that if we are really determined to build a society that is generous and unbiased, the first step really is to reach out for reconciliation, search for forgiveness… Perhaps in admitting our own shortcomings and forgiving ourselves first, we may find it easier to pardon those who do us wrong and make our pursuit of justice a journey less rough. Possibly this process of reconciliation could lead us towards finding a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it- compassion, in short.

Where there is compassion, there is understanding. And where there is understanding, appreaciation of the other becomes a natural reaction. When that time comes, maybe people’s worth will be recognized essentially for their deeds and words (as reflection of their thoughts). By then, maybe there will be no need to make a big deal whenever a woman’s name is included among the “Top-Whatever-It-Is” list because it will be normal. Likewise, masculinity will not be a hindrance to a display of men’s emotions and they can freely be in touch with their feminine side without being targets of jokes and teasings.

At the end of the day, it is neither feminism nor male chauvinism which would bring “true” progress to our society. It would benefit us more to define what it is to be a humanist and for that definition to be put into practice.

Here’s to a brighter future!



  1. “¿Por qué las clásicas esculturas griegas tienen el pene pequeño?”, available at:
  2. Merriam-Webster online dictionary, available at: