Dionisia Sira-Chiu: A beautiful life rich with 90-year journey of faith and courage

Dionisia Sira-Chiu’s life story is the story of every woman. Rising, falling and rising again. She has the courage to challenge the status quo of her time and led the way how things can be done by women if they have persistence. Now she tells us her story heading Maya Angelou’s call, ““There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

“Even before you were born, the community is already waiting for you to do something” – Chiu Bun Gim

A woman inspiring fellow women

In her time, women’s struggle to be empowered took roots rising from motherhood to inspiring the family’s thriving business to flourish. Her candle shines forever for women to follow.

What makes a woman’s life different? In particular, what made this one story special?

I have interviewed and written about many women from all over the world and there are few who stood out among those I met. One is Dionisia Sira Chiu, the woman behind the well-respected Chiu families whose businesses are based in Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato Province, but spans the whole Mindanao island.

Dionisia’s journey is a wealth of wisdom about family, relationships, faith, courage, trust and yes, compassion towards others. What struck me most was her tenacity as she went through life’s bumps and hurdles. Did she cry and spent sleepless nights over them? I am sure she did and imagine what lessons I found. Did she, at a point, waver through the challenges? I am sure she did, just like you and me. This one many women would share in common.

Indeed, what makes a woman rise above the rest is that effort to do something for her own community; to spread kindness and to do things that matter to other human beings, especially those in need. Often, our life’s inspiration is driven by the passion of people around us. In her case, it was her late husband Chiu Bun Gim, a migrant from mainland China whose business foresight led him to venture in the Philippines. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Childhood at the time of war and peace

She was born from parents who valued education at a time when going to school was a tough challenge. “My father used his rusty bicycle to take us to school which was 7 kilometers away from our barrio (village) named Balabag to the town of Santa Barbara”, she recalls. She became among the first batch of students who graduated from grade VI together with those from grade VII.

Born on May 8, 1929, Dionisia Sira grew up in a deeply religious family who never missed praying the Angelus every 6pm every day followed by the Holy Rosary. “I was always sleepy during the prayers but I managed to complete them”, she says. Somehow, these seemingly tedious traditions helped build her patience and inner strength. She eventually became the prayer lead during important religious celebrations.

Santa Barbara, a town in Iloilo Province is located 16 kilometers from Iloilo City. Though few people may know at present time, it is part of the country’s important independence history. The Revolutionary Government was inaugurated in its town plaza in October 1898 led by Roque Lopez as president. The revolutionary forces successfully launched the campaign to liberate the province from the Spaniards. Then the Japanese came and occupied many municipalities in Iloilo province.

Driven and determined. She witnessed the violence of war but it did not diminish her desire to reach her goals.

Dionisia, fondly nicknamed Nising to family, friends and acquaintances, was old enough to witness the atrocities. She says, “Many people fled outside Balabag for fear of violence. We have heard of rumours of people being beheaded. It was terrifying that I saw myself how a beheaded guerrilla being kicked by a Japanese soldier.”

“There were times when we have to put off the fire in the kitchen hastily, carrying the uncooked rice in the pot straight from the wood stove and run for safety in our air-raid shelter”, she adds. Every grain of rice is considered sacred in the Philippines and should never be wasted even at war time.

From Visayas to Mindanao

After her first two years studying a degree in Pharmacy from Colegio de San Agustin in Iloilo City in 1951, Nising moved to complete the remaining two years of the degree in the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, graduating on 1953. By then, the family moved to Mindanao taking advantage of the government’s program, the National Land Settlement Association (NLSA). Majority of those who made the move came from the Visayas region.

Immediately after graduation, she took the boat from Cebu City to General Santos City in Mindanao. In that journey, Nising met a Chinese guy named Chiu Bun Gim, who was quiet but was fond of going around in the boat. He brought us and some boat officers together to play games. That fateful meeting, almost uneventful, actually became the start of their long journey together in 1957.

Persistence personified. Her parents instilled in them the value of education and this challenge was not easy in the 50s. But she prevailed pursuing what she wanted.

She spent her early days in Koronadal City taking care of her siblings who were still studying. “I was cooking and keeping the house for them”, she shares. She established her small pharmacy in nearby Kipalbig, Tampakan that she named Sira’s Medicinas Caceres in 1955 specializing in household remedies. With the health clinics and hospitals inaccessible in the 50s and transportation difficult, her pharmacy became the refuge of people in need of immediate treatment.

“I have sewn the wounds of a farmer with abaca fiber who got into an accident. I assisted several child births. One night, I was summoned to help a man who was knifed and was profusely bleeding. Faced with these challenges that could mean life-and-death, I have no choice but to use what I have learned and help save lives. Fortunately, most of these patients survived and I was happy I was able to do my share”, Nising added.

Finding love and the future

They next time she met when Chiu Bun Gim was when she remembered offering her services as an interpreter. She ended up working as secretary doing their admin work ensuring that their communications with clients were done promptly. On the side, she taught them proper verbal and written English.

Their relationship gradually blossomed and they faced together the changes in the business industry as they started a family that grew into six children now leaders in the real estate and trading industry with growing families. Valentin now owns Chiu Kim Enterprises. Joseph owns Viajero and other businesses. The four women Maria Victoria and Maria Veronica, Maria Rosario and Maria Henrietta are main incorporators of Marbel Universal Trading, Inc.

“What I really admired in him was his being soft-spoken and thrifty. Imagine that with his P120 monthly salary from La Perla Cigar & Cigarette Company owned by Lucio Tan, he sent P100 to support his family in Xiamen, mainland China and saved the remaining P20 which later were invested into his business ventures assisted by close friends”, she adds.

During Chiu Bun Gim’s death in 1996, whose tombstone was engraved with his favorite saying, “Be like a candle which burns itself to give light to others”, it devastated her but she said she was prepared. Way back in 1980, he was already having a prostate problem and high blood pressure. This led a surgery administered in Chinese General Hospital in Manila and was followed by a diagnosis of colon cancer in 1992.

He went home to Koronadal City after his surgery where he was cared for by his family. Unable to travel anymore, his family from Xiamen came to visit him and the two families met. This part of her life will need a longer sharing time.

Raising a family of business leaders, Dionisia and Chiu Bun Gim with children. From left: Henriette, Rose, Val, Joseph and twins Vicky and Vernie.

Together with Chiu Bun Gim, they worked hard building a business. Every cent and effort counted. This trait they were able to inculcate in their children’s lives.

A campaign to give back to the elderly

At 90, Nising found her calling to take care of people her age. “One instance that really struck me was when a frail, old woman, probably my age, was begging and went to our store. I asked her why she was alone and nobody accompanied her. She shared with me that her children have no time for her and she had to find food for her needs. It broke my heart. The elderly took care of their children while growing up and now that they are old, nobody can return that love to them”, she laments.

That encounter gave birth to her dream of establishing a home for the aged in Koronadal City. There were a lot of hurdles but with the support of her family and various support groups, the dream is gradually unfolding. The groundbreaking event of the one-hectare site donated by the family was a triumph of compassion over the odds. After a careful selection, the Board of Trustees of Anawim Koronadal Home for the Elderly was set-up composed of respected members of the community.

Dionisia Sira Chiu’s 90-year journey is not over yet. It is just taking a good turn to the more fulfilling phase of giving back.

I am grateful to be a woman. I must have done something great in another life.” – Maya Angelou

Age is just a number. At 90, Dionisia still travels the world, now exploring it with her grandchildren. A life well lived and full of adventure.

An early celebration of her birthday in Hong Kong witnessed by families from the Philippines and China. Everyday is a celebration.

Before his death, Chiu Bun Gim had reunified his family in Xiamen, China and Koronadal City, Philippines. The tradition of annual family reunion started alternating locations in both countries.

Dionisia’s life is inspired by many beautiful quotes and poems among them Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata. Note: Copy of the prose poem photo grabbed from www.sacredart-murals.co.uk.

#MoroccoIsAmazing: Where getting lost is finding yourself … and what you really want

The Morrocans have a beautiful way of doing and selling things. Every product display is a work of art. It seemed like nothing was spared to make them appealing to the eyes.

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, in dimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” ― Pico Iyer

As I packed a small suitcase for my Morocco trip, I resolved not to shop but to have more time to enjoy without thinking of things to carry. The cabin bag is perfect for moving at airports. Easy. No waiting time at the baggage carousel. Every time I travel, this is my goal – no checked-in bag! How wonderful to get out of the plane, queue at the immigration and out to the waiting car. I wish!

How do you say “no” to all these and just enjoy the feast? I did. What I am impressed of the shopkeepers here is they can urge you to buy but they aren’t offended when you don’t. I love that kind of respect. Not all, but most.

I met the same mom and daughter team from Argentina who were traveling from Buenos Aires to Barcelona to Cairo then Marrakesh for a month. One carry-on bag each, less hassle. “We washed and re-used and made sure we carried the lightest clothes we have”, Adriana said. Imagine if they traveled in 3 countries with a lot of heavy bags? That can be a nightmare!

On my first day getting into the souk in this small alley, I was already giddy with excitement on what will I find out. I was honestly not disappointed.

I learned well that the best way to travel in Europe is light and easy. Just lugging bags in the train’s overhead bin had been tough for me. Never again. If it is winter time, nobody will even appreciate (including yourself) what you are wearing. All you need is a comfortably warm jacket and a nice neck warmer. If you have other ideas to solve this, let me know.

Going through the shops are convenient, all of them competing not just with an array of things to sell but also on how they creatively display them.

Going through the labyrinth of souks (traditional markets) in Marrakesh was both fun and mind-boggling. The way between shops are small and often, you compete with a very languidly moving crowd, a motorbike doing deliveries and even horses in intersections. Watch your back! This did not faze me, however, as I found it so amusing in most times when a tourist shrieks and shouts after a close brush with a cart pushed by a harried worker.

I was brought to a carpet shop by my guide who insisted there is no pressure for me to buy. Of course I know they wanted me to. After a lot of explaining I don’t need one, we parted ways. Handwoven carpets can sell from US$500 and up. They’re the best buys when in Morocco. You can also arrange to have them shipped.

Most shops open between 9:00-10:00 in the morning and closes at around 6:00-7:00pm except on Fridays when most of the shop owners go for worship. There are few money changers in the big souk but one can always go to the Jemaa El-Afna Square where you can find Bureau de Change and even withdraw money from the ATM machine. I found it easier to do this in the morning when people are still few. It becomes busier by mid-day and all the way to sunset.

Too many choices! Traditional herbs, tea leaves and different kinds of oils are aplenty. Check out where to buy authentic ones before you decide. Your hotel staff can always help advise where to go.

Marrakesh is not a place for people in a hurry. It is best enjoyed slowly, taking time to look at every incredible doorway, a line of ceramic pots in a riot of colors, a rhapsody of tea leaves and oils. Morroco, in general, is best planned like you have all the time in the world to soak even in every small detail of life. Its history is rich and reading about it before you arrive adds to the excitement. It is like meeting a friend after a long time.

A friendly grandma showed us how they prepare and extract oils from the nuts. A painstaking process that Moroccans are happy to do making their oils, especially the argan oil, among the most-sought after.

“Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell not stuff to show.” – Anonymous

Never assume you’ve seen the best of the Philippines: Visit Siargao if you haven’t, my latest dream paradise!

By Diana Marie Laguardia-Paquingan

Maddie goes island-hopping! Siargao is one of the best places you can introduce your precociously cute toddlers to the beauty of nature. Just one headache, they will not leave.

Siargao Island, Philippines – I long wanted to visit this rising island paradise but the over 12 hours of travel from Davao City with a baby in tow kept me from going. As soon as Philippine Airlines announced its direct flight from Davao City to Siargao earlier this year, I grabbed the opportunity and booked us a flight instantly.

“Siargao is a tear-drop shaped island in the Philippine Sea situated 800 kilometers southeast of Manila in the province of Surigao del Norte. It has a land area of approximately 437 square kilometres.” – Wikipedia

I never had a difficult time planning our itinerary since I already asked few friends who have been there. There are also many blogs about Siargao available in the internet. Once just a haven for surfers, it is fast emerging as a premier tourist destination. It even has a its own box-office hit movie.

A few friendly tips and reminders before heading out to the island:

A perfect break for a working mom. It is hard to get over Siargao’s serene loveliness.

A family trip and a time alone, throw in an amazing atmosphere like this, are among the best times of life.

Of course, the no brainer, bring cash. Wads if you can, and help boost the local economy. I mean, your credit cards might be at rest for awhile.

Never rely on your bank cards – debit, savings or whatever. There is only one ATM in General Luna and sometimes goes offline. Most restaurants and shops do not accept credit/debit which is quite a problem for travellers.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Bring a family member you can share the fun and responsibility. This is my top advice for a family vacation with kids, tag along your sister or brother for an extra hand in baby sitting and in — taking photos. 🙂

Bonding time with a perfect backdrop. It is hard to find fault in Siargao. You’ll love every bit of it.

Bring sunscreen. Lots of them. Too much sun is too challenging to handle. It can also be expensive from the local shops.

Book your accommodation ahead. In my case, I booked our accommodation five months earlier because hotels and bed-n-breakfasts easily sell out. Don’t just walk in and expect to find an accommodation that’s exactly what you wanted for a holiday – and the budget that you have.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

My husband Sherman takes his quiet time. Must be tough balancing two sea urchins in his life now.

Take care of the environment. Limit the use of plastic cups and straws and be mindful of your trash. Do not litter. Throw them in proper garbage boxes. It was a relief that a lot of groups are trying to keep the island protected. When you go visit, help maintain instead of becoming a problem.

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” – Chief Seattle

No to plastic straws! Siargao ingenuously uses this environment-friendly coconut straw for your drinking needs.

We feel fortunate to spend a lot of fun times with our 2-year old daughter Maddie while she still have a lot of time for us.

Our itinerary

Day 1: Arrival and quick tour around General Luna and Cloud 9. General Luna is mostly where the shops and restaurants are located. Entrance fee to Cloud 9 is P50/head (USD1).

Our Maddie is now a certified sea urchin.

Traveling with a toddler: Tips here

Cloud 9 lives up to its name.

Day 2: Magpupungko Rock and tidal pool +Sugba Lagoon. We rented a jeepney for P2500 (USD50) to take us to these spots, which is more comfortable than a tricyle and less expensive than a van that roughly costs P4000/day (USD80). It costs P1200/head (USD24) for a small boat to take you to the lagoon.

Siargao’s colorful jeepneys, a classic Philippine ride, is a comfortable alternative for a tour.

Pristine waters – we are blessed not to travel far to enjoy this!

Planning for a trip in Taiwan with a baby in tow? Here’s what you can do.

Having a toddler in an island trip is double the fun. Maddie is used to traveling before she turned one-year old she is now a wanderlust.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

Day 3: Island Hopping day. I booked a reliable island hopping tour guide, My Siargao Guide (check them out in Facebook) and paid around P1000/head (USD20) to take us into 3 island, Guyam, Naked and Daku Islands.

Siargao is peace. Picture perfect scenery combined with quiet and calm.

Our little one’s tiny legs never got tired exploring the island.

Day 4: Horseback riding and beach bumming. My cousin Tina LaGuardia-Sarraga’s family runs Magic Rides, a fun horseback riding service along the shores of Siargao. Click on the link and make a reservation. It was an amazing first-time experience for Maddie!

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

Horseback by the sea! Maddie took her first pony ride with beautiful cousin Simone courtesy of Magic Rides.

Where to eat? La Carinderia, Harana, Bravo Surf resort, Kermit (best pizza in the island), Shaka, The Dirty Kitchen

“Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.” – Lovelle Drachman

You are in for a pizza treat in Kermit. Don’t miss it!

Traveling also made Maddie easy to adjust to weather and different conditions.

The Author

Diane is Admissions Officer at Tebow-Cure Hospital in Davao City, Philippines. She also operates a 2-bedroom AirBnB place right at the heart of the city.

This hot momma kick-boxed her way to weight loss and fitness; from size XXL to S!

Guest blogger: Katharina Siburian-Hardono

Katharina tried everything to no avail, until she found her way to kick-boxing.

I love to introduce myself as a 48-year old hot momma.

Not only that my fitness journey made me stronger, healthier and happier, it game me the metabolism of a 30-year old. My bragging rights include looking really good with or without my clothes on. Not many middle-aged women can pull-off a hot bikini. I can proudly say I belong to these few.

I was once a size XXL and now I am an S with some muscles. I can say I am proud of who I’ve become! Add to that is being lucky to be a wife of a wonderful husband and a mom of an 18-year old son. I currently work as a miner based in Indonesia.

When I got married in 1997, I was this skinny young girl who had no issues with my weight and health. In 1999, I got pregnant with my only child and for the next nine months, I gained some 55kgs. I ate almost everything and cannot stop, especially durian! I could finish 2-3 durians at one sitting during my last few months of my pregnancy.

I delivered my 5.3kg baby boy to the world carrying 102kg in my body thru caesarean surgery since he was too big to come out on a normal delivery. For the next eight years I struggled losing all the weight I gained.

Stronger and better at 48!

My suspicions started to grow that I had problems with my health, especially my heart and my blood pressure. I couldn’t fit into the clothes I want and I actually didn’t like how I looked like in any clothes I tried! I was so big and I guess not many clothing lines are interested to make cute ones in bigger sizes.

I tried to get rid my body fat through a lot of ways including a very strict diet and joining some sports. Nothing worked. At first I would lose a few kilos and then would gain them back with a vengeance. For a time, I accepted the sad reality that my weight was stuck at 80kgs.

I started thinking of many excuses like many other women — maybe because being big runs in the family, I will stay big and even bigger as I grow older. I was almost hopeless.

In early 2008, I started working with World Vision, a humanitarian agency. The job and culture were something really new that I struggled fitting in. During this time, I lost some 10 kg but I had several disturbing symptoms that made me feel a little uncomfortable. I really enjoyed my work so ignored them.

Looking good is not just vanity; it is good for one’s self-esteem. It makes you feel happier.

Late 2010, I moved to a mining company that required me to travel and work outdoors a lot. It was a stressful environment because of the resistance of surrounding communities. After two years, I developed gallbladder problem and caused me a lot of trouble.

The extensive travel and all the challenges I faced during my early years with the mining company made my health even worse. I went to the doctors and the hospitals too frequently that I started realising I needed something that would help me live longer and healthier.

In 2013, I heard about the increasing interest of women in kick-boxing. Not just the fact that it can help reduce weight but is also great for self-protection. I excitedly started my journey with fight-camps and spent a couple of hours with the trainer twice a week.

My son joined me in the training but my husband then was not interested. Not yet. I started to see significant progress and results. I had become addicted and added some more sessions to the routine. In 2014, a big fitness center opened close to my home.

Pursuing fitness as a family, they also found like-minded friends who make working-out fun.

This time, my husband got encouraged and joined us. The three of us registered and started training in the center. We mixed everything, from cardio to functional training to weight lifting to yoga and Pilates and then kickboxing. We spend at least 2-3 hours every day either at the gym or at the fight camp

The result was amazing!

It is not easy. It takes time. It needs real, honest-to-goodness commitment. When I am traveling and there is no fitness center around, I have to push myself to do my own exercise.

I downloaded several apps to help me get on with it. It was hard at first but when you see the results, I guarantee you, it is addictive, in a good way, of course.

Since we train together, we enjoy the time and share the chance of making new friends that made working-out more appealing. We support and motivate each other. We say good things to each other when we see progress we make, even very small ones.

There are periods when we hit the ‘bored’ zone every now and then, we try hard to drag our asses back to the gym. But we also keep reminding each other that we can now become this small healthy happy family because we are all committed to it and that we want to continue living in good health.

I even constantly say to my husband that I want both of us to be able to see and help take care of our grandchildren in the years to come.

At my age, it is an incredible feeling to look and feel good.

The family that exercises together, stays healthy together.

Katarina Siburian-Hardono has been working for almost 28 years with various companies such as Trakindo-Caterpillar, Phillips Indonesia, AIA Financial, The World Bank, World Vision and currently Agincourt Resources (Martabe Gold Mine) for the past 8 years.

Throw those fears and ‘what ifs’ out of the window: Maryann shows you can learn and drive in your 50s

When you have the persistence, you can do what you want. Maryann did it at 51. So can you!

Three years ago she decided it’s time to drive. Maryann Pudadera-Morales was already 51! Did she survive? You bet, she did! In the Philippines, it is almost a luxury to have a car, hence, not many women drive. Those who dare are a cut above the rest.

For one to do it past midlife even deserves an applause. With the kind of traffic we have in most cities around the country, it takes a lot of nerve and spunk. In her own words, here’s her story and the exciting adventure that went with it.

When did u decide to buy a car and drive?

When I moved as area services manager of South Cotabato 1 Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco 1), my office was in one of the malls in Koronadal City. It was almost a 2km daily commute from the house.  I usually go home at 7pm and my grueling challenge include walking to the highway to get a pedicab. It was uncomfortable passing through dim alleys. It often takes me two ‘rides’ as drivers would demand extra fare for direct trips.

This made me think of “what ifs”.  What if I drive my own car so I can move in and out anytime? I told myself I should start with a second hand car so I can have a trial period and will not lose my head if I end up damaging the car.

A week after, I found out my husband Boyet’s nephew was selling his blue Kia Sportage. I actually love the car! We agreed on a P65k (USD1,300) deal and it was delivered from Bukidnon to Koronadal on July 2015. None of us knew how to drive yet!

My sister Majal recommended Mikmik Marquez who taught at a driving school and in a month’s time I was driving. I maneuvered through the city’s traffic and the rotunda that most new drivers dread. I did not waste time. Few days after, I already drove long distance to nearby towns of Surallah and Tupi.

You think I am too confident? Of course not! While on the wheels, there were too many fears playing on my head: car stalls at the highway or intersection and cause massive traffic jam; attack of my astigmatism & farsightedness especially driving at night; and yes, an accident beyond my control.

What did I do? It is good I started with a good teacher who boosted my self-confidence and believed I can do it. He always had positive feedback when I commit mistakes. I believed on the principle that every driver has a right on the road. Nobody should be pushed or rushed even if other drivers are impatient for their turn. I always stayed calm.

I chose defensive driving most of the time. But before I leave the house, I make sure I check the car and necessary documents. I often forget my driver’s license when I change handbags and it is an inconvenience if you get flagged unexpectedly on the road for random traffic checks.

That kind if independence driving your own car gets to you. It is not about the car. It’s the experience.

What was the feeling when you first drove on your own?

It was on August, 2015. I was nervous and fidgety. I shouted on top of my voice inside the car asking myself “Why is it only now that you learned to drive!”. That day I experienced three engine shut down. I tried to perfect the shifting of gears and the engine stalled every time I was slow. I prayed while on the road. I avoided the highway and took the secondary roads which were less busy.

I scolded myself most of the time that I could have done it earlier but I waited until 50. Eventually, I had a sense of triumph because it gave me more chances to bond with my two fast-growing sons. It was also a huge accomplishment that at my age, I did it.

Until now, my biggest challenge is parking in a crowded area, such as malls teeming with cars and people. It was always tough for me to estimate the distance of the parking space and the cars beside me.

Then you got yourself a new car and drove from Luzon to Mindanao?

It took a while to decide. A mother like me would always look at the practical side of any decision. That was how I approached the idea of buying a new one. By then I was driving for close to two years.

I had countless discussions with my two sons Kyle and Ken on the type of car, how much and the payment terms as our budget will be affected. The most crucial question was, “Do we really need a new car?”

I asked around, checked with my co-workers and went car-shopping. While I was in Bacolod City on a work summit, I test drove a Honda car and I resolved that if ever I buy one, that would be it! I know that car prices are set to go up late that year so I have to decide fast. I did beat my own deadline.

But to save money, I have to buy the car in Manila, drive or get it shipped to Koronadal. That’s three major islands away. We decided it will be a fun challenge to drive it from Luzon to Mindanao. By then Kyle was already driving. I have a back-up.

Our two boys, Kyle and Ken, were my ultimate travel buddies. The car has become our bonding place.

How did we prepared for the one-week Luzon to Mindanao trip?

I started doing a good research. I browsed on the internet, read vlogs, blogs and reviews. I checked the route and roads for travel time. I also asked people who did it then marked the weather patterns. I chose the lodging houses plus the tourist spots along the way, noted the boat-transfer rates, took some notes and brainstormed with Kyle. It was an amazing way to teach my sons how to plan and execute it.

Then we decided on the schedule. I have to time it with my sons’ school holidays. Kyle chose the make of our new car, a metallic silver Honda, and after completing the transaction in Manila, on 14 October 2017, he drove it out of the Honda Cars shop in Shaw Boulevard together with our sales agent Cedric and picked me and Ken at the airport.

We ensured that all the documents are in place especially the car insurance. We want the trip to be hassle-free. We headed to Lucena City for the test-drive and formal turn-over. After a dinner, Cedric left us on our own. On the way we realized we forgot to take our ceremonial hand-over. Lucena was memorable because that was where it all began.

The route you took and what have you learned along the way?

 We travelled almost 1,500 kilometers in a span of two days with our online guide-WAZE.  We set off from SLEX to the Pan-Philippine (Maharlika Highway) with our goal to hit Legaspi City and see the majestic Mayon Volcano before dusk then head for Batangas-Quezon-Camarines Sur and finally, Albay.

I had my first, but short, driving stint (less than an hour) for an automatic vehicle when we traversed the CamSur to Albay road, as Kyle took his first nap from a 4-hour drive from Lucena. We were not able to marvel the real beauty of Mt. Mayon because the weather got bad. We left early at 4:00am and also never caught a glimpse of the beautiful Aurora Province.

Our second night was spent at Matnog, Sorsogon where Brave, the car’s got its name by now, got to her first boat ride in the Roll On/Roll Off (RORO) Fast Cat trip at 4:00am. We bid goodbye to Luzon on 15 October 2017.

Visayas Island came next via Allen, Samar through the San Bernardino Strait. With mixed emotions of fear and excitement, I took the wheels for my second driving leg and my first ever long drive from Samar to Tacloban.  It meant missing some fantastic scenic views especially the San Juanico Bridge which was truly a sight to behold!

Goofy time at Samar’s famous landmark – the amazing San Juanico Bridge. I was driving so I missed most of the view.

Kyle and Ken enjoyed the view of a lifetime on Samar’s famous landmark while I drove. We headed straight to Liloan Port in Southern Leyte for the second ferry boat ride to Surigao after being stranded for almost 2 hours in Palo, Leyte due to the heavy downpour which flooded the main road. We did not drive through the flood fearing the car might stall andl damage the engine.

The Fast-Cat (Catamaran) sailed us quickly back to our beloved home island of Mindanao. From the port to Davao City at midnight of April 15, with me driving, we reached Davao City at 8:00am for some quick stopover in a mall. After the rest, we were on the road again to General Santos City for Brave’s first Preventive Maintenance Check (PMS) at a Honda Cars shop.

On October 16 before dusk, our brand new car was parked in front of our house.

The time I spent with Kyle and Ken was every mom’s amazing adventure. I had their undivided attention and we even were able to talk about our issues, plans and aspirations in life.

After that wonderful trip, we did another one to Iloilo City recently on March 31, 2018 where we traveled through Cotabato City-Pagadian-Dipolog-Dumaguete-Bacolod route.

It always starts with a decision. The rest will follow.

Can you use your lessons in driving at work?

I have been the area manager for three years but had been working with Socoteco 1 for 29 years. Learning how to drive provided me opportunity to understand and relate with the problems and difficulties encountered by the frontline personnel who does a daily grind of job on the road on a 24/7 work shift. It was a tough job to do.

 

 As a woman driver, I always reminded myself to take mind over matter all the time.  Before learning to drive, I was delayed by the belief that I can never ever drive a car because I have difficulties with my eyesight. I also entertained fears that I may cause discomfort to other drivers. My mentor encouraged and boosted my morale.

Dare yourself: Dream. Save.  Conquer.

Any more lessons on driving and traveling?

Traveling in the Philippines means roughing it out! There were challenges on stop overs such as rest-areas with unpleasant odors, misrouted ways, undisciplined drivers and narrow roads. We sometimes had no choice but to hold our breaths and just laugh them off. That’s positivity in action.

Long-haul land travel, at times, can be uncomfortable, but the right attitude makes a big difference. We got left by the fast craft, and we had to settle for the slower boat. We never got annoyed, it was still a good experience! We enjoyed the sea breeze and island views on the upper deck as we wondered, “Are we there yet?”

The trip taught us to be patient. Patience is indeed a virtue with a lot of waiting in the ports, so much like life when you wait for the right things to happen at the right time. Rushing takes you off a fun experience!

The trip was not perfect as we wanted it to be. We had few hitches along the way we could have stayed longer to enjoy the sights. But then that’s a good excuse to do it all over again next time. I know we did the best.

The trip was an exciting adventure that Kyle and Ken will surely remember for the rest of their life. What truly makes us rich is not the things we own but the experience we dare to do – then live to share.

Meet Brave, my new best friend.

A Christmas Love Story: Lino and Vernie finds marriage like a tandem bike ride

Knowing that the challenge will be an arduous one, Vernie and Lino prepared themselves to work as partners. The trip required 100kms per day for 23 days. At that time she was 58yo and Lino was 59yo. Just like life, through coordination, physical preparedness and training prior to the trip made the goal possible.

Guest Blogger: Vernie Chiu Basilio

Our married life got richly defined by our Tandem Bike Challenge for 23 days. It changed the way we viewed our marriage and our faith in God. From April 18 to May 10 , 2015, Lino and I embarked on achieving the goal.

Very much like the day we pledged for a life together 33 years ago, we decided on this long tandem bike ride with faith on God’s great providence and the goodness of the people who supported and cheered on us. It also put to test our support for each other.

We kept our preparations simple. The Couple Tandem Bike is for a cause and the finances used for the journey should be just enough for our day to day expenses. Even the tandem bicycle we used was not expensive. It is a surplus  singled speed tandem bike with old-fashioned brakes, the back-pedal system.

Physically, we were not in a superb condition. Each day we rode for about 100 kilometers, a feat that is impossible without God’s grace. As a woman, I was psychologically anxious most of the time because the road was new to us. But I overcame this by soaking at the scenery and the reaction of most people seeing us bike together. I found it funny most of the time.

Not a geek, I learned to use my pocket wifi and phone installed with Strava app to record our trip and our performance. You can never be too old to learn new things.

As we cycled from Aparri to Koronadal, almost the opposite ends of the country, we faced very difficult challenges but we found comfort and happiness in seeing how beautiful the Philippines is and how kind Filipinos are on our way. For the most part of the ride, the panoramas are breathtaking, the sceneries are idyllic and most the people on the way are welcoming.

Our Couple Tandem Bike 2015 was partly dedicated to the St. Anthony Parish & St. Lawrence Kalinga Orphanage both located in Koronadal City. It was reassuring to see all of the children playing in the streets all over the Philippines. As we passed through populated areas, among our fans and admirers were the children.

Vernie says she wants to inspire other women, as well as couples, that if she can do the adventure at her age, then also can! Biking promotes good health and positive outlook towards life.

They would immediately notice us and always cheered for us even if we were strangers. It served as a great inspiration that every time we passed children we could also share with them the joy that we felt. They would often call the attention of their friends and share the discovery of us riding a tandem bike.

Now we understand why Jesus declared that God’s Kingdom belongs only to those who are like little children. They alone have the capacity to see the important things in life. What is important is invisible to the eyes and only the heart could see.

On our stopovers after a day’s ride, we were always welcomed by people we didn’t even know. During the entire course of the 2,287 km journey from Aparri to Koronadal, we never felt that we were strangers in their hometowns. In some places we had friends waiting for us but more than 95% of the well-wishers were people we didn’t know.

Others expressed their support and concern through messages or calling us while some have shown their support by donating to the cause.

Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Single life may be similar to riding a bicycle but married life is like riding a tandem bicycle designed for two people so that they can take a ride together. To keep the balance, both need to keep moving.

There were also simple truths we learned along the way. If one of us falters, then the travel to our destination becomes harder. Any difficulty affects both of us as the other rider needs to pedal harder and stabilise the bicycle until the other one is able to recover. This teamwork of give and take is one of the secrets of a successful marriage life.

The ride also taught us to take everything one day at a time. We would plan only for the route of the next day and mostly on the potential challenges we might encounter. While most highways are easy, some can be tough.

Vernie and Lino: Perfect combination. This couple proved once more that marriage, just like life, is like a bicycle. You keep pedalling to go through the ups and downs and enjoy whatever comes.

From Sogod to San Ricardo in Southern Leyte, we were met with heavy rains, steep downhill terrain with landslides and some flooding. Our bike skidded so we decided to just walk and push our bike. The opposite happened in Atimonan, Quezon’s bitukang manok (chicken intestine). The terrain was uphill so we did single speed and walked up.

Uphills are the most difficult part because we need to pedal continuously to be able to climb up. In these occasions, the slope was too steep and the road too slippery. We often stop and start pushing the bikes until we could mount them again.

Life can be sprinkled with obstacles along the way. We can step down and push forward.

We learned that sometimes life isn’t lived in a straight line. We need to make decisions on which route to take and sometimes need to go through unnecessary paths because there is no other way to go.

I have to admit that going downhill is fun and easy. I wish we can live our lives this way. Unfortunately, it is when we push uphill that our muscles get stronger, just like life’s challenges. It makes us capable of climbing new heights.

We celebrated our return by sharing “Caldo (Soup) for a Cause”, the success of our efforts will be measured by the donations we received. The support for the completion of the construction of St Anthony Parish in Koronadal City is overwhelming. Donations for St. Lawrence Orphanage could continue as it seeks to serve more abandoned and needy children.

The trip also raised Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato province, in the hearts of those who do not know where it is in the Philippines. For those who want to donate, you can make your deposits for for the construction of St. Anthony Parish Church at PEC – Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) Koronadal Account # 1833116599 and for St. Lawrence Kalinga Foundation, Inc. at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Marbel – account no. 1543579978.

Our goal next year? For more couples to join us! Please email me for queries at linobasilio@yahoo.com.

With Vernie and Lino are their daughters Love and Faith with son-in-law JP.

Vernie Chiu-Basilio, who turns 60 years old next year, is the President of Easy Pay Finance Corp, and member of the Board of Directors of Marbel Universal Trading, Inc. (MUTI). She is a civil engineer by profession, graduated Cum Laude and a second placer at the Civil Engineering Board Exams. Vernie is also a licensed nurse, a junior geodetic engineer, a licensed real estate broker and appraiser. An active advocate in the community, she is an officer of the Philippine Breast Care Foundation, South Cotabato Chapter, a supportive Rotary Ann of RC Koronadal Central and a graduate of HAGGAI International. An adventure-seeker, Vernie has tried skydiving in Hawaii, paragliding in Indonesia and General Santos City, bunjeejumping in Macau Tower, scuba diving in Palawan and locally, she actively participates in marathons and duathlons.