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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Financial (Mis)Understanding

One of the perks of my job as a financial advisor is never facing the same set of faces everyday. While some people may find that daunting, I relish it because it means no two workdays will ever be the same. It keeps me on my toes, and makes "an interesting day" part of the job description.

I have been feeling distressed as of late, though. And it stems mainly from the observation that some would-be clients do not comprehend financial terms as they were meant to be conveyed. (Hint: compound interest has nothing to do with parking lots) I realize a lot of jargon in the financial world seems to be made to be deliberately obfuscated, as if they were code words of a secret fraternity that no outsider should ever know.

But I'm not talking about derivatives or corporate mergers. I'm referring to terms that I expect high school graduates to have no problem comprehending, but are somehow (intentionally?) "misunderstood". I've compiled a list of terms that seem to generally confound people when I try to explain how to utilize them.

1. Emergency Fund

On my drive yesterday, I heard Randell Tiongson, one of the country's famous financial advisors, over the radio talk about emergency funds and how much one should set aside for this (three to six months worth of salary).

Reading the terms, this means a fund purposely set aside for unexpected expenses (or not factored in as a daily/expected expense). This list would include a sudden onset of major illness, which requires hospitalization; the smashing of your car in a four-car collision, rendering you at the mercy of public transport until your car insurance company deems the accident to be, well, accidental; or the loss of your job (goodbye, useless superior!) which will most likely ensure you will be knocked off your feet financially, even if only for a couple of months.


In short, these are occurrences that are unwanted but you have to prepare for, because they impact your financial state.

Therefore, a trip to an Asian country, just because there was a piso sale with your favorite airline, does not constitute an emergency.

Neither does your need to complete #100daysofhappiness by eating at another fancy restaurant.

And if you just bought a new smartphone, when the phone company announces a new model coming out, trying to scour for funds just to have the "latest" incarnation is not a correct use of the term "emergency".

Don't wait until you have a real emergency to find out how to properly utilize it.

2. Insurance

By definition, any insurance product is designed for protection and uncertainty. Whether it's life, car, fire or mortgage insurance, the aim of insurance is to make sure that someone benefits from the insurance proceeds: with life insurance, it's so your beneficiaries - oftentimes your family/loved ones - can hopefully retain their standard of living should you pass away unexpectedly, seeing as they all depend on your income for survival. When a coconut falls on your car, breaking your windshield, you can't very well haul the tree to court to collect damages, it is the car insurance company that covers the cost of repair.

Again, these are instances no one wants, but everyone has to prepare for because paying full cost for a windshield or asking a spouse who just stayed at home to suddenly find a job while grieving for your loss can be devastating.

So it surprises me no end when people say, "walang pakinabang/gastos lang ang insurance" - thank your lucky stars if none of these events happen to you, but you and I know better. We have people in their thirties dropping dead from a heart attack, or an innocent bystander waiting for the bus (at the proper bus stop!) getting rammed down. These are not fictional stories, they are in our current headlines.

Getting insurance is a way to cushion life's unpleasant eventualities/occurrences from being a sinkhole to your finances. (Seriously, I cannot comprehend breadwinners who think of insurance as a waste - I daresay it is foolhardy to have a family, especially raising children, without protecting yourself: do you have any idea how much tuition fees are these days?)

And today, life insurance policies have evolved to have an investment component in them (a way to address the notion that insurance is a waste), but that is for another post. Suffice to say that I have clients who are happy that they are actually "earning" with their insurance policies, just to lay the "" notion to rest.

3. Investment

Arguably the most contentious term here, spurred on by the fact that Filipinos are generally averse to anything related to risk. (And it also surprises me when they are averse to the previous term - insurance - which is designed as a risk management tool. Ayaw sa risk, ayaw sa risk management - truly, financial advisors in this country have our work cut out for us.)

Ask the average citizen here what financial product they know, and overwhelmingly, they'll say "bangko." Those who fancy themselves as financially savvy will say "ay, nagta-time deposit ako!" These are products that have minimal to virtually no risk, which explains why your money in the bank isn't growing. (The current bank deposit has an interest rate of less than 1% annually, and given our inflation rate,you're actually losing money by letting them sleep there. Again, this deserves another post.)

The general rule with investments is: (blank) risk = (blank) rewards. So if you invest in a fund that has more risk, you will probably earn a lot more than if you placed your funds in a relatively risk-free vehicle (my bank deposit example illustrates this clearly). More equals more, less equals less.

Nowadays, there are more investment options to choose from, from the POV of an ordinary citizen. You do not need millions of pesos in order to take part of stock market gains - you can gain access to those levels of profits by investing in a mutual fund. (Pooled funds from numerous investors which can be chosen based on risk appetite and desired returns.) Banks have offered their counterparts called UITFs (unit investment trust funds), and companies like Citisec Online also offer their services for those who wish to get their feet wet in the stock market, but by investing in a number and variety of listed companies.

So when someone approaches you and tells you "invest ka sakin, kikita ka ng 30% in two weeks!", realize that you are taking a huge risk, seeing as the stock market (on average) hasn't even breached this number, on an annual basis. Legitimate investment  companies will have returns that approximate or slightly surpass the stock market indices, since they invest in the same place.

Study the companies that want you to invest in, because as with all investments, you have to bear the brunt of the risks yourself - but you also reap the rewards fully.

4. Retirement Fund

Another two-word term that seems to be confusing, I find it easier to state one acronym to instantly illuminate the client in front of me: "SSS".

The Social Security System was designed to "force" workers to save a part of their earnings for when they retire, and to have them use this once the mandatory "retirement age" kicks in. Ideally,this is a fund that is - all together now - for retirement, so it would be logical that one doesn't withdraw or use this fund prematurely, e.g. while you are still working, in your thirties, etc.

And because of the length of time before it is needed, the way to build this fund into a sizable amount is to start early and save consistently.

You often hear seniors who are now collecting their SSS pensions complain: "Eto na yun?" Some have even been interviewed on TV because either the agency miscalculated the benefits due, or the companies they worked for did not properly remit the correct payments.

Against this backdrop, I often encourage my clients to set up their own (voluntary and personal) retirement fund. That way, they can monitor it closely, increase/decrease contributions as the circumstances warrant, and without going through bureaucratic processes. Private companies that offer this often make it easier for clients to do so by installing auto debit arrangements.

But guess what? Even in these auto-debit setups, some people fail to have money in their accounts to be actually debited from. They completely forget what they signed up and agreed to do - set aside a certain amount of their salary to be saved for retirement - and then wonder - surprisingly - why their fund isn't growing!

I've also encountered people who say "tsaka ko na pagipunan yan, matagal pa naman" but fast forward to almost a decade, and when I see them again, they sheepishly mutter, "di ko pa nga naumpisahan yung pang retirement ko, hehe", punctuated by an awkward laugh.

Do people expect a retirement fund to just magically appear? Are they expecting dole outs from relatives or the government? How can they even proclaim - loudly - "ang hirap ng buhay!" but are not doing anything constructive to prepare for a certain question we all face once age 60 hits - who/what will fund my retirement, so romantically called The Golden Years?

Anyone who has heard of the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare should heed its' lesson: slow but sure wins the race. Nowhere is this more evident than when preparing for your retirement fund.

Most of us will never be multimillionaires, let alone billionaires, in this lifetime. But one statement from a foreign speaker at an event I recently attended still rings in my ears: it's not your fault if you were born poor, but it's definitely your fault if you die poor.

In a country that relishes and champions the underdog, it may sound harsh, where "maawa ka" is a common expression. But until we face the reality that we are solely responsible for our financial state and future, this culture of dependency or fatalism where money is concerned will not die out anytime soon.

Your finances are your responsibility. Start now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Where's My Thank You Card, Makati?

On a particularly stressful day, I got out of the office to find that my car has been towed.

I was able to park right in front of our building entrance - luckily, or unfortunately, given the towing incident. I remember lining up the car quite gingerly into the designated parking slot, but because the car behind me was a 4WD, and took up some of my parking space, I had no choice but to to have the front part of the car gut out (nakausli in the vernacular) beyond the slot.

I was waiting for the Makati parking attendant to issue me my parking ticket (and s/he would have been able to tell me that a little portion of my car was over the drop-off/loading zone). When the attendant didn't show up (I parked just before 230pm), I decided I would pay my fee after two hours. (Every 2 hours of street parking in Makati is 40 pesos, a third hour and you have to add 50, or the lovely total of 90 pesos for 3 hours.)

I was appalled to find my car missing as soon as I got out of the office. There was a chalk inscription on the sidewalk (I was too annoyed to take a picture) saying "the owner of this vehicle, claim car at impounding, Amorsolo-De la Rosa".

I got to the impounding area and explained why I shouldn't have been towed - it wasn't my fault that the car behind me was taking up my "proper" space. "I want to contest this."

"Ok," said the traffic enforcer at the impounding hut. (Literally, they were holding office in a makeshift hut.) "But you still have to pay the fee even if you plan to contest it."

"Then what would be the point of contesting it, if I have to pay, anyway?" I asked - rhetorically, of course.

He let my dig slide right over....way over there. He scribbled furiously on some papers and said, "that's one thousand pesos. Take it or leave it, contest it or not."

"Don't I get a thank you card from Binay?" I responded.


"I am one of, if not the most anti-Binay people in Makati, yet here I am, being forced to give him again, where's my thank you card?"

The traffic enforcer pretends not to hear anything, and looks down, gazing his pants.

"Not even a calendar? Or keychain...nothing?"

He mumbles a thank you upon getting my cash, and I imagine him feeling victorious because he still has my money, whatever I say, against my will.

I've always liked living here. This is not one of those days.

*My ticket (from the picture) was issued by P/A Baylon (parking attendant), at 2:39 PM. It can't be a coincidence that I waited a good 3 minutes when I just parked - with no parking attendant around, at 2:30pm -  and 9 minutes later, when I had already gotten in the building, my car was towed ASAP...can it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Because She Has To Have The Last Word

Having finished my haircut, I was reminded by Art that we ran out of bread and that I should get replacement for it. "You can pass by Pan de Manila so we can also have some of their Coco Jam."


Luckily the mall I was in had a Pan de Manila branch, so I went in and headed straight for the Coco Jam. I placed it on the cashier's counter and went to choose the bread we would pair it with.

I noticed that the loaf I picked up didn't have an indication for the expiry date. I went for the loaf beside it, and it also didn't have one.

"Miss," I asked the cashier. "Kailan expiry nito?" (When does this expire)

She glanced over, looked at what I was holding, and said, "Kakagawa pa lang nyan, sir." (That's freshly baked, sir.)

"OK...pero kailan siya masisira?" (But when does it go bad?)

"Ay, sir, kakagawa pa lang nga niyan." (Like I said, it was just freshly baked/made.)

I wasn't sure if she was just ignoring the question, or if she was just lazy and didn't want to go the baker or back office to ask the information I wanted. "Alam ko na kakagawa lang niya, ang tinatanong ko, kailan masisira para alam namin kailan di na pwede kainin?" (I know it's freshly baked, my question was, when will it expire so we know when to throw it out?)

She looks at me with an exasperated smirk, and heads to the baking area. "Kuya! Sagutin mo nga tanong ng customer!" (Can you answer this customer's question!)

The baker comes out and I repeat the question. He goes over to where the breads are, looks at several loaves, and is just as surprised that there is no expiration date on any of them. He finally finds one in the middle of the bunch with an expiration label and hands it to me.

I say my thanks, and I headed to the counter, smug that I could drive home the point that the cashier wasn't helpful and needed someone else to do what appeared to me was her job.

She looks at me condescendingly as I approach her and beats me in having the last word: "Sabi ko sa inyo kakagawa lang ng tinapay, ayaw maniwala sa akin, kulit!" (I already told you, it was freshly baked, you didn't want to believe me! So noodgy!)

I rolled my eyes so hard, I saw the stores in the floor above us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

From Hallowed To Hollow

A manic Monday, indeed.


Yesterday's top news stories were focused on two items: the karaoke rendition of Sen. Revilla in his privilege speech (complete with an MTV-style recording), and the new career of Rep. Pacquiao as coach of a professional basketball team.


The general "mood" as measured in social media has been negative as far as these two items were concerned. More vitriol has been spewed in Revilla's direction, with several commenters noting that so much money has been spent for a senator to air his sentiments, and that it was clearly an insult to people's sensibilities - at least to those with a Facebook account - to think a song number would somehow earn him pity points vis a vis the charges he is facing from the Ombudsman.

The Pacquiao item registered a more lenient reaction, and based on unscientific observation, I'd say half disapproved of the Pambansang Kamao entering another field, with the other half calling the other side as afflicted with crab mentality, and just jealous that Manny gets to add another cap to wear while "you negative people are just feeling so superior in cyberspace while putting a national hero down!"

Let's lay it out plainly: obviously these two politicians enjoy overwhelming support from their constituents - the entire country for Revilla and Saranggani province for Pacquiao - or they wouldn't be where they are presently, on our payroll as public servants.

Reading these two news items repeatedly throughout all of yesterday, it occurred to me that both personalities are more similar than one would have guessed.

1. They were "superstars" in their fields before entering politics.

Sen. Bong Revilla is, of course, heir to the Agimat film franchise. His father was also an actor in the same role, and Bong's son has followed suit in the acting profession. (I am unaware though if Bong's son has the same pull to get a seat in the Senate.) He is considered attractive - even Sen. Miriam Santiago admits this - which is certainly a boon in a culture that prizes how we appear over how we truly are.

Manny Pacquiao needs no further introduction, as his fame has reached worldwide proportions. A classic rags-to-riches story, he overcame poverty and hardship with the sweat of his brow mixed with blood from the beatings he received; his trajectory from inexperienced pugilist to international sports icon is the stuff that local telenovelas take pleasure in repeating over and over. For decades.

Their supporters argue that they are both "supremely qualified" to be public officials. Whatever the case or persuasion, their stature in their initial professions would be immensely instrumental in securing for themselves elective positions.

2. They both view their public positions as a part time job, at best.

How else to explain the ability of Sen. Revilla to appear on a weekly television show, entitled Kap's Amazing Stories? Or to make an annual entry to the Metro Manila Film Festival? Clearly, Senate work must be a breeze given the fact that the senator finds it impossible to leave his "roots" in entertainment.

This is even more pronounced in Pacquiao's case, as he takes months off to practice for any upcoming bout. Last year, he had the dubious distinction of being the top lawmaker - in terms of number of absences. He has dabbled with the idea of doing pastoral/religious work, has TV specials, makes advertisements in all media, and goes around the world to promote his fights.

No wonder other lawmakers see no problem in doing the same: Sen. Chiz Escudero was seen as a co-anchor in a morning talk show a few months back and also had his face plastered over a commercial for a processed meats company. (The fact that it was election season then was purely coincidental, I'm guessing.)

Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez hosts a dancing show (as she has taken flamenco classes), and if I'm not mistaken, is part of a panel on a showbiz news show.

I received some criticisms for my article on Anne Curtis - some of them were quite constructive, for which I am thankful - but the one thing I can never fault Anne for is that she is wasting public funds. She can be a trapeze artist or molecular biologist, and if that is what she wants to do, that is her prerogative as a private individual.

But this is not the case with Revilla and Pacquiao.

I seem to remember that Revilla took one of the top spots - if not the topmost with the most number of votes - in the Senate race. And Pacquiao was practically a shoo-in as representative of his province. In short, they were overwhelmingly chosen and given votes of confidence, probably two of a very small group of politicians, in this country, that nobody can accuse of cheating their way to power.

Their cavalier attitude towards the positions they were elected into reflects quite clearly in light of yesterday's headlines.

Revilla bandied about a 'list' in his privilege speech - this being the season of lists - which turned out to be some diluted form of slumbook or yearbook dedications to his fellow senators. We did not hear him present factual evidence to disprove the accusations he is charged with. To end his speech on a sweet note, he played an AV presentation of what he said was an original song, and he didn't sing half-bad, although he has no chance of being another Lea Salonga as far as singing careers go.

Pacquiao probably never heard anyone criticize him for his legislative attendance last year, which explains why he readily accepted the new coaching job. Far be it from anyone of us to stand in Manny's way of being a jack of all trades, but public office - where public officials receive public money to do their job - is a full time job.

And before someone accuses me of just parading my opinion as a baseless claim, let's take a look at Republic Act No. 6713, section 7 (b) (2): "Public officials and employees during their incumbency shall not engage in the private practice of their profession, unless authorized by the Constitution or law, provided that such practice will not conflict or tend to conflict with their official functions;"

If having 60 absences is not a "conflict" for a public official in the exercise of his official function, then we have no right firing private employees or expelling students who do a third of Manny's record number of absences while receiving a salary from all of us.

3. Politics is a family enterprise.

While Bong was giving his speech, you could see his wife, Rep. Lani Mercado Revilla, shedding tears and Bong's son looking pensive; incidentally, the latter is also the vice mayor of their home province.

Manny's wife and 2 brothers ran in the last elections, as well. Jinkee handily won as vice mayor, as did his brothers: one is a councilor, the other, chairman of a district.

In this, they learned from the oligarchs and long entrenched dynasties: once you have your foot in, make the public positions your personal property, and your hometowns your personal fiefdoms.

No wonder: no legislator wants to create an enabling law for the constitutional provision banning political dynasties.

4. Song, dance and sports are par for the (political) course.

Given the above, it was hardly surprising that Revilla resorted to a trick he must have perfected as an actor: get the sympathy of the public with a made-for-Senate/TV news composition.

I felt like I was watching some permutation of That's Entertainment. This is what passes for a "privilege speech."

Neither was I overly perturbed that Pacquiao had another sports venture in the works: we have validated him over and over as a boxing icon, allowing him to have a legislative post (and his vote was one that nearly derailed the RH Law) even while he pursues more heights in other fields of sport. (Sarcastic comments online were egging him to try Mixed Martial Arts or joining the Azkals next.)

As a child, my father used to regale me with stories of how respected our senators were. He worked in some (legal) cases with Sen. Jovito Salonga  and the awe and admiration he had for the senator was palpable. Their conversations - of which I was able to eavesdrop one - centered on helping the disadvantaged, and it was a burden the senator carried until the end.

Clearly, those days of the Senate are long gone. Yesterday's events just highlighted a saying I have always found to be true: empty drums make the loudest noise.

Of course, sometimes it comes in the form of a music video.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Happiness For 388 Pesos (+10%)

On a rainy Thursday, my friends and I met up for lunch at the Tomas Morato branch of the famed Singaporean export, Boon Tong Kee, after being tempted by an online ad proclaiming their eat-all-you-can promotion, for only 388 pesos. (Add 10% for service charge.)

We're not entirely sure if this is part of their anniversary promotion, but if memory serves me right, we took part of a similar deal last year around August. (And it was close to 500 pesos then.)

In any case, we were glad that the stars of Boon Tong Kee are featured in the current lineup.

The Signature Boiled Chicken, the reason people come to Boon Tong Kee, was readily replenished when close to being totally devoured. I couldn't really get a "clean" shot because as soon as a fresh batch arrived, someone pounced on it.

Roasted Chicken, which was slightly drier but crispier. (Some people don't like this, but I do.)

Char Siew, or Roasted Pork, was quite a pleasant surprise. It may be too strong flavor wise to some, but my friend Liza found it delicious. As did I.

Stuffed Tofu, a dish that makes you feel virtuous, until you realize more than half of each triangle was meat. Good feeling gone - in exchange for a good tasting, uhm, vegetable.

What we came for: Coffee Pork Ribs. Why? Basta.

A new addition from last year's spread, their Sio Mai was not their strong suit. Especially with shops like Tim Ho Wan and Shi Lin here, a comparison would make this seem...let's just change the subject, shall we?

Birthday Noodles, which was wonderful texture wise. My friend Wins really loved the "topping".

How does Boon Tong Kee make their veggies so enticingly delicious? This French (?) String Bean is a prime example. My friend Malyn and I agreed: if this was representative of vegetarian dishes, we'd be vege-heads for life. Well, maybe.

Fish Fillet, which seemed bland after the previous dishes.

The dessert section consisted of 2 fruits, so we headed to Il Terrazzo just across the street for our coffee and sugar rush. But Boon Tong Kee's promotion will only be until tomorrow - yes, tomorrow (see and enlarge poster above) - so if you fancy Hainanese Chicken and Coffee Pork Ribs the way we do, head over to any of their branches to partake of this moderately priced form of happiness.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Importance Of Being Anne

Anne Curtis has been taking a beating in social media (where her fans have been mightily defending her) in the, uhm, aftermath of her followup headlining concert. Much of the criticisms leveled her way has to do with her 'audacity' to pass off herself as a bona fide singer - in a country where Miss Saigon herself, Ms. Lea Salonga, once intimated was difficult to perform in front of, since almost everyone can sing.

I confess: I had 'liberal' guilt as I was thinking about the public reaction to Anne.

As a former chain smoker (it's been well over a decade since I last puffed my last stick), I would certainly be a 6 on a 7-point scale on the conservative-liberal spectrum. This is why I have no issue with people who light up, even if studies have conclusively proven cigarettes as harmful: you're an adult, you just have to accept the consequences of your choices.

And while I am not considering bunjee jumping this very moment, anyone else is free to do it. The possibility of death is there, but for thrill seekers, the rush outweighs the cost (and statistically, they would be right to discard the latter). Before you jump on my throat and say it is illogical to think of smoking and bunjee jumping on the same terms, my emphasis here is that as long as (1) one accepts the consequences if anything untoward happens and (2) as long as the only 'victim' is yourself, then you can smoke and bunjee jump - and even do them simultaneously - for all I care.

The reason my 'liberal' guilt came up is that, in the Anne Curtis scenario, she satisfies all those points.

First, I think it's clear with how she calls herself or her events - Anne-bisyosa (a play on ambisyosa or ambitious, with her name worked into it) or Anne-kapal (playing off ang kapal, or having a thick hide), that she doesn't think of herself as a singer. If anything, she actually uses the self-denigration card to charm her fans, and they eat it up.

She can't sing, her fans know it, and they're willing to cough up 5,000 pesos to see her prove that she can't sing. (Her own fans have dubbed her "The Noise of the Philippines" - see this article to read more.)

She didn't strap me down and force me to watch her concert.

Entertaining her heart out.
(Courtesy of

The people who watched her concert used their own money, they didn't take it out of my wallet. True, as a financial advisor, I would rather they put the 5,000 pesos to better use - in their savings or investments - but all I can do is advise, the decision still falls on the individual.

If you think of her as a comical act rather than a serious singer, I don't think even her critics will object to her having a concert every night. With her concert reportedly sold out, I'm sure the producers are raring to mount her next concert as we speak.

But will this be the future of music for this country, the way our film festivals have gone?

Every year, come December, when the Metro Manila Film Festival rolls around, we seem to have the same question collectively: this is the best we can come up with?

A warrior whose legacy has been passed from father to son (and incidentally, both father and son have become senators in real life), with the last incarnation being accused of copying the effects from a Hollywood fim; something about a fairy being okay; a kid who starred in a giant-commercial-masked-as-a-film that supposedly trumped the earnings of Spider Man.

Film critics and blogs have a field day when the roster for the film festival is announced; but every year, the defense of the producers is the same: this is what people want to see. This is what people pay to see. We have to make a living, so stop giving us grief about artistic standards and integrity.

What we are willing to spend money for is a reflection of what we value.

And when people willingly give money to watch a film on its' tenth incarnation, or 5,000 pesos to hear a non-singer, on the pretext that "we came here to be entertained!" how does that reflect on the kind of standards we have as a nation?

Fans of these entertainers claim that the critics are being too high-brow, elitist, snobby.

Is it any wonder why we also don't demand better credentials for our politicians? Or why so many entertainers are now in political posts? And why there are interviews where, when voters are asked why they voted an entertainer, their responses fall into two categories: guwapo kasi (he's good looking) and kasi pinagtatanggol niya ang mahihirap, tulad ng pelikula niya. (He will champion the poor, like in his films.)

We keep wishing for a more educated electorate, one that will be discerning and more critical in their decision making. I don't see that happening when what we get is a steady diet of lunchtime variety shows with gyrating dancers in skimpy wear, with audience members waiting to be called in order to humiliate themselves on national television to earn a little money.

Did I say earn? I meant win. I went to get coffee from our office cafeteria yesterday a few minutes before 3PM, and the "lunchtime variety show" was still on. Seeing the mass of people cheering, all I could think of was, don't these people have jobs?

Yes, Anne doesn't call herself a singer. What leaves me worried is, given her concert receipts, what this means for those who are actual singers.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Putting It Out There

One of the things I like about submitting my posts to certain online outfits is that I get to receive feedback from their readers. I was doing a review of some of them in an effort to survey the kinds of articles I have sent, and I have to say, it wasn't all that pleasant as far as experiences go.

Some of the criticisms were downright nasty and personal, and had nothing to do with the article I wrote. In one instance, one reader, upon seeing my picture, commented that I must be a "rich snob" who could easily "spew my views from an ivory tower." Another one commented I look "like a Mongoloid," while another dismissed my article on the first paragraph alone because I declared I wasn't that interested in sports and following teams around.

Then there are those that take the opposite view only because they know my style of writing and the topics I like to discuss; in other words, their opposition is still rooted in who wrote it, and not what I wrote about. Their comments begin with "I've seen his other articles...why do you even publish his pieces?" Or they even question editorial decisions by stating "you're really lowering your standards by allowing this fluff piece to be posted."

I take it all in. I have to.

Not because I am a masochist, but because it makes me realize that in this big, vast world, putting it out there can be returned with unpleasant words or ghastly reactions. Some of them don't even make sense, but by putting my posts up not just in my own blog but to a wider audience, I cannot be accused of simply "preaching to the choir" as my blog readers would make an effort to read my posts.

(Courtesy of the

And I stand in awe of every writer, musician, painter, artist who had the courage to state, convey and communicate what was in their heart and mind, knowing that by doing so, they can be ridiculed, made fun of, dismissed and branded a nuisance and time-waster. They have forged on because they needed to be expressed, these thoughts, songs, sculptures, and while public acclaim is great when you can get it, it is this ability to express one's insides, guts and all, that makes it worthy of doing, over and over.

Not everyone can do this, I realize now. If in some small measure, I was able to give a voice to those who thought like me but are unable to do so, for whatever reason, then I will have done my craft service.

And I thank all those who have taken time out to read my thoughts - and expressing their reactions - because what matters is that by doing so, we have made a connection.

That is a gift I am truly grateful for.


"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." - Winston Churchill