Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hitler's take on "Pilipinas Kay Ganda" (LOL)

It's the last day of November and while the undersecretary of tourism has resigned and the president PNoy has accepted his resignation (with regret daw), this should have been a closed chapter in the life and times of Noynoy.

I guess some things just don't go away at once...so here's a final tribute (ahem, spoof) to the slogan "Pilipinas Kay Ganda" which I am posting in my blog. I had a blast laughing at this. Not all my friends are on Facebook, so to my blog fans (or stalkers or haters), enjoy this 3 minute video uploaded from YouTube. It's a fitting tribute to the brainers in Malacanan. Enjoy!!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Finding meaning for Christmas

As I post this blog, it is Thanksgiving Day today...and exactly 30 days before Christmas 2010.

In the myriad of all the work load that I seem to be swamped with, I don't seem to feel the Christmas spirit.

Many of my friends and batchmates are busy preparing for the "Christmas" parties. Even at the office, there is the usual Kris Kringle with its weekly theme.

Outside, the malls are decked with all the glitters and lights. Some of my neighbors have actually put up their lanterns (Parols) and begun donning their gardens and trees in all gay apparel.

On my way home from the clinic last night, I watched some of the street children jingling their quarter full cans with coins. As I was looking outside the heavily tinted windows of my car, a child had stretched his face on the window hoping to get a glimpse of an occupant in the car who would probably pull out from his wallet a bill or a few coins to spare. As the rain came down hard on such a gloomy night, the young boy had scampered away in the dark. And all I could do was wonder where Dinky Soliman was in the middle of the rain....

As Christmas is around the bend, I tried desperately to search for the meaning of this yuletide season. As a matter of fact, truth be told, I always try to find some meaning for Christmas.

I asked my driver to put on the CD of Mariah Carey's new Christmas Album. In the stillness of the downpour and traffic, this song which I am posting gave me the goose bumps. I didn't know how to react or how to feel, but it felt so palpably surreal. Christmas is not about me...it's about someone who gave meaning to Christmas - one child made the difference. It was time to make mine.

When I got home, I asked the maid to bring out the Christmas Tree.

[video from YouTube.com]

Monday, November 22, 2010

The story within Harry Potter 7

I am a Harry Potter fan.

My nephew and niece actually grew up on Harry Potter, but my niece is the more avid follower.

Over the weekend, I was one of those that queued for the first installment in the last book of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The 2hr 25 mins film is not being reviewed in depth here. It would spoil the fun of those that have not seen the movie. As for those who are avid followers of J.K. Rowling, they already know the whole story and this first half of the movie's last franchise. To those who have read the book, they watch the movie to critique as to how faithful the movie is to the book. And I guess that is the way this last installment is. How cinematic and aptly faithful the final saga of the Harry Potter franchise movie is to the book, is a fitting way to end the Harry Potter films.

But I will segue to what was most interesting in the HP7 story was the story within a story.

And this was the part of the movie that struck a cord in my review of the film.

The animation of the story of the three brothers who tried to escape death was not only graphically excellent but very well told. As the three brothers attempted to cross the river (which Death had claimed many lives), they built a bridge with magic. But Death showed displeasure at the cunningness of the three brothers. In the face-off, he offered the 3 brothers one magical wish each. The eldest of them asked for a wand that would make him the most powerful sorcerer. The second brother asked for a magic stone that could resurrect back the dead from the past. The last brother asked for the cloak of invisibility which would make it difficult for anyone to find him in his lifetime. Death was disappointed with the request of the last brother, but gave in to his wish.

As the story had gone, Death would take back what it gave - to the first and second brother. But Death searched and searched for the last brother in his lifetime. And only when the humble younger brother was ready to go with Death, did he pass on his cloak of invisibility to his son and peacefully left with Death.

The story touched a raw nerve with the viewers. After all, HP7 is not a child's movie any longer. Those that trekked to the movie house were practically those that grew up with Harry Potter since it's first franchise almost 10 years ago. That the movie had taken a darker turn as well was in keeping with the story of the book.

Yet the story within the story of HP7 was a respite from the morbid culmination of this final installment of Harry Potter. It foreshadowed more death in the upcoming final episodes but was also a constant reminder on the mortality of beings - wizards or muggles - in this world.

This, was an excellent centerpiece, to the story of HP7. Only a creative genius would have thought of playing with a story within a story in order to preempt the audience to the stark realities of life and Death.

This installment has outdone the other HP movies. It's a definite must see film. And even the uneasy ending which leaves you wanting for more leaves you with enough to satisfy your Harry Potter fix.

[Acknowledgements: picture from Apple site; movie trailer from YouTube]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Slogan

Only in the Philippines. (or perhaps it should be read as Only in D' Philippines!)

Over the last week, there has been so much ballyhoo and boohoohoo over the proposed slogan to inspire the world to come to the Philippines. After all, this is not Afghanistan.

So PNoy decides to scrap the proposed new slogan "Pilipinas Kay Ganda". This was to replace the former administration's slogan of "WOW Philippines". Come to think of it, the new slogan is lame and pathetic. It doesn't have a ring to it and it doesn't have the chutzpah of other tourism slogans like "Sparkling Korea" or ""There's No Place Like HongKong" or "Amazing Thailand" or "Malaysia. Truly Asia" or "Incredible India" or "Uniquely Singapore" or "Vietnam. A New Place for the Millenium". I thought that the "WOW Philippines" original slogan had more catch to it. But give it to the current administration that tries desperately to erase the memories of a past administration and they come up with a lackadaisical hurrah much to the cheer of some MIss Philippines during her interview portion in an international beauty pageant.

And after all the castigating and bad (very bad) flak it received the last week, it's back to the drawing board for the amateur team of PNoy on a slogan that would finally put the Philippines as a tourism destination in Asia.

Let me be candid.

I have been to several Asian countries and you wonder why in spite of some turmoils and natural calamities, countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia are pulling away by a million miles from the Philippines. It's not because we do not have the wonderful smiles or the hospitality that we are so popular for or the highly literate English-speaking bravado we are proud of.

We need to look internally as to why the Philippines is not a popular destination.

Look at the initial presentation. Our NAIA I airport is dilapidated. Over the years we have fought internally the transition from the old NAIA I to the new terminal at NAIA III. Talk about favoritism, NAIA II was built only for Philippine Airlines. How greedy could you get? The government builds it only for its flag carrier (hoping that foreigners will fly PAL). This would not have been a conflict of interest if the government owned PAL. Unfortunately, a Chinese taipan owns it. So why were we building it for Lucio Tan again?

Then when terminal III was built, there was so much graft and corruption in the building then subsequent transfer to our government that by the time it was even being used by the local airlines, it was in a state of dilapidation. Pick a new administration and they will try to find fault with previous administrations. I am not saying that the anomalies should not be investigated. But whatever goes on in our country is news in others. And as long as we keep hammering at our own faults and our own sins and at our own greed and corruption, the other countries are cheering behind us. Leaving us behind in the tourism and growth and development industry.

Look at even our commercial of an energy drink. In this commercial, the baggage carousel belt suddenly comes to a halt in the middle of the uploading of the baggages. What does the Pinoy do? He takes an energy drink and then runs on the baggage carousel so that our old dilapidated beaten up baggage carousels run. Geez. Talk about third world. Our own commercials promote our being third world. We may be entertained or think it's funny, but look at the downside. We promote how pathetic a country we are.

In Thailand, for example, there are no petty crimes committed against tourists. That's because for the same crime (say robbery) committed by a Thai on a tourist, the punishment is gazillion more times more severe than when committed against their own citizen. In other countries, justice is swift. It will not take you gazillion years to try someone for substance abuse. In Singapore alone, drug trafficking is punishable by death and you get to hang in a few months! Here, even a massacre in Maguindanao will take years (with each camps lawyers dead) before the court hands in a decision. Which is even subject to several appeals and will drag on and on and on...

In the Philippines, peace and order is just as troublesome as the people that are supposed to protect its own people. Anyone from the lowly traffic enforcer to even the general is mired in so much graft and corruption that no one - NO ONE can be trusted. You need to show them the money! Then some things get done a little faster. With so much graft and corruption, where do we even begin to show the world that the Philippines is a wonderful and beautiful country?

We grab the headlines where foreigners and tourists are kidnapped and held from ransom and some die during the process. Even in the most posh of resorts (recall Dos Palmas), the insurgent Muslim rebels did not even forgive the innocent ones. We have so much problems with peace and order down south that no matter how much dressing we do to make our country look picture perfect for a tourist destination, we fall on our faces the next day with a headline of a foreigner's head on a stick.

Sure we have one of the best beaches or the most beautiful sceneries or the loveliest sunsets in the world, but we lack internal cohesion and the political will to sell our country to the world.

Sanamagan - even our logo looks plagiarized from Poland's tourism logo. The only difference is the Tarsier and the coconut tree!!! [I am not surprised at praising plagiarism in our country, since even the Supreme Court is indifferent on this. International Proprietary rights are not respected in the Philippines, hence the proliferation of millions of generic products as an excuse for poverty...sad...]

We will remain back offices for BPOs and exporters of OFWs where labor is cheaper and where lives do not need to be sacrificed. Our own citizens prefer to take an exodus from this country. That's why our airports are empty. It's very busy only in the mornings and late evenings. Otherwise, it's like the buses on EDSA - empty - during non-peak hours. We are not even a hub for many airlines. If you ask an airline company which country they would consider cutting trips to - Manila is on the top of their list. Most of those in our airports are locals who have the money to travel abroad or OFWs. We have so much OFWs that the we have several flights to and from Manila to the Middle East, the US, Canada, and other Asian countries.

Even if you make Pacquiao or even Dionisia as the poster boy (and mom) for tourism, as long as we do not address internal issues related to the tourism industry, we will never move from point A to B.

It does not take rocket science to build a tourism industry. But the Department of Tourism will need all the help it can get. And the Philippines can only be a tourist destination when chaos and anarchy and order becomes the first rule of the day. At the rate the government is moving, the indecisions and flaks that an amateurish politician is undertaking is putting us back in square one.

I have always emphasized that you cannot sell your country to foreigners if you cannot even entice your own locals to buy what you sell. If you can convince every Juan de la Cruz that the Philippines is beautiful, that there is so much to be proud of in this country, that we need to cultivate a culture of respect and dignity, then we can probably sell the Philippines as the next tourist destination.

[photo of logo from ManilaBoy.blogspot.com]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mislang is not the face of the Filipino people

Mai Mislang was a nobody before her infamous Tweet on the state visit of PNoy in Hanoi recently.

Her sins? Her Tweets - "the wine served during dinner sucked, there are no good looking men in Vietnam, and the motorcycle laden streets of Vietnam being hazardous to life".

Of course, they were her personal opinions. But she is the Assistant Secretary for Communications, working for erstwhile ABS-CBN anchor Ricky Carandang who now heads this new office c/o PNoy. In short, during her official travel to Vietnam, Mislang was tweeting as a government official since she was there as part of the president's entourage. After her tweets, Mislang suddenly shot up to stardom.

And the rest is history.

People from all walks of life (including journalists) began their assault on the misdeeds of Mislang. Whether Malacanan touted her being a cum laude graduate of Mass Communications from UP, nobody cared. That part of the resume should just be burned. If I were her professors in UP, I probably would just cringe and roll over and die from embarrassment. So everyone began to ask for her head on a silver platter. Her demeanor was uncalled for. It was like PNoy had an amateur tag-along in his foreign trip that they needed to spank the baby upon their return to the Philippines.

But this blog is not going to repeat what the other columnists and bloggers have commented on Mislang's tweeting behaviour in Vietnam.

Let's just put some things in perspective.

For one, Mislang is like Kris A, the sister of PNoy. They open their mouths only to recant what they say or say sorry that they were misunderstood and needed to explain what they actually meant when what they said was supposed to mean another thing from what they were going to say. (Did you follow that?) And of course, being more controversial meant being more noticed (which explains why Kris A became so popular even if she had no talent).

Then of course came the various reasons from Malacanan about the tweets of Mislang. That the latter was sorry. That the latter had been reprimanded. That PNoy had full trust and confidence in her and was not going to fire her and that she was keeping her job. I am saddened by the fact that PNoy seems to have no balls in making a simple decision like this. If I were PNoy, I would talk to Carandang and quietly tell him to ask the girl to resign or just get rid of her in the most diplomatic way. And while I campaigned for PNoy for the upcoming elections, I was skeptical because he was practically a newbie and I was afraid that he wouldn't be able to make firmer decisions even on small matter like these. Getting rid of his shooting partner Puno of course is a different story because of Puno's own claim that they are BFF. But Mislang - who in the world is she? She's just one of his many speech writers and some obscure nobody in his back office. He doesn't have to save her hide for the Twitter-ing misdeeds in Hanoi.

Which goes to the final part of this short blog. If Mislang was truly apologetic, she should just resign. An irrevocable resignation. She should not have to bear the torture of having her whole person maligned and denigrated in print media or over the internet. She is not the face of the FIlipino people and I am ashamed at her deeds and actions.

And not all government officials in this country as childish as Mislang and my president. And PNoy should not feel bad about him being criticized as well because he had set expectations at the beginning of his term as president. If he is letting the people down by his incredulous decision-making which is making eyebrows raised all the way to heaven, it is because he had set the tone for this in his inaugural speech shout-out --- KAYO ANG BOSS KO!

Eh ganun naman pala eh. Eh tingnan niyo nga naman, parang asal katulong ko itong si PNoy. Sabi ni boss ganito, tigas ng ulo ni katulong. Ayaw talaga gawin. Akala niya, siya ang amo! Ang kapal talaga ng apog.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Of Millionaires, Billionaires, and Tax Evaders - Part II

Philippine Star columnist Boo Chanco is one of my favorite writers. He is the son of my former Microbiology professor at the University of Santo Tomas, Dr. Pedro Chanco.

Paying taxes from your salaries/stipend/honoraria in the Philippines is based on your income bracket. In short, these gazillionaires or CEOs or whatever you want to call them to be paying P2M in taxes should be making at least P500,000/month including a 13th month pay which is also taxable. This is also presuming that that is all they are getting - nothing more and nothing less. Which of course is highly doubtful.

Based on this premise, you can understand more clearly the article of Boo.

In his article entitled Demand and Supply, Boo writes: (what I comment is in parenthesis, so some of you may get a little dizzy reading this)

"Instead of just buying their own copy of Tony Lopez's BizNews Asia with the list of the Top 500 taxpayers in 2008, I keep getting asked if this or that business leader is on the list and how much he or she paid. It is either Tony's magazine is so difficult to find in news stands or people just don't want to shell out P130. Tony told me it is his exclusive because the BIR took the list down from their website." (You can just smell the people whom the BIR do not want to displeasure.)

"...Donald Dee, Mike Varela, Sergio Luis-Ortiz who are the noisy supporters of Ate Glue and who rotate the leadership of PCCI and ECOP among themselves (were not on) the list. That probably means they paid less than P2.1M in taxes or are in another list as corporations. Because they were vocal Ate Glue supporters, it is difficult to think that they apparently weren't ready to go all the way to their wallets. Then again, talk is a lot cheaper...I did not find any of the Zobel brothers in the list. Their first cousins Inigo Zobel and his sister Mercedes are not on the list too. There is, however, a Patricia Miranda Zobel de Ayala in the list, number 11, with P20M in paid taxes. Makati Business Club chair Ramon del Rosario is number 97, with P6M in paid taxes..."

"Other personalities from the Makati crowd in the list: Joey Cuisia at 29th with P11.2M, Ricardo Romulo at 39th with P9.5M, Oscar Hilado at 41st with P9.3M, PLDT executives Ray Espinosa at 22nd with P12.2M and Napoleon Nazareno at 77th with P7M. Peter Garrucho is at 152nd with P4.4M, Joey Leviste at 197th with P3.6M, urban planner Jun Palafox is 207th with P3.5M and Raul Concepcion is 223rd with P3.3M."

"Other interesting personalities in the list: Eusebio Tanco of STI at 236 with P3.3M, Cosmetic doctor Vicky Belo is 257th with P3.1M, former Chief Justice Art Panganiban is 289th with P2.9M..."

"Curiously, Tonyboy Cojuangco, reported to have donated substantially (P100M) to the PNoy campaign,, was only at 471st and paid only P2.208M, about the cost of a couple of Gretchen's Hermes bags. Medical City big boss, Dr. Alfredo RA Bengzon is 469th at P2.209M."

"Even if it takes so little to be on the list, I didn't find the veritable Washington Sycip, despite his many directorships in blue chip companies and his biting lectures on good governance. Maybe he is also in another list, as a corporation or something."

"On the taipans, here is how Tony Lopez saw it: 'The country's richest individual Henry Sy Sr is in the Top 100, No 73 with tax payment of P7.27M...the second riches, Lucio tan, also missed the grade...' The Gokongweis, father and son are not on the list but son-in-law Perry Pe is 367th with P2.5M in taxes paid. I don't remember seeing the Yuchengcos either who are probabaly in another list too. Also missing in the list is property tycoon Manuel B. Villar, once and probably still is the richest senator. Gibo Teodoro, said to have been the richest in Ate Glue's cabinet isn't there either. Also missed on the list are the former First Gentleman and all of the past presidents..."

"How is it possible that the country's richest are not the highest taxpayers? Tony quotes Mike Varela, a lawyer and chair emeritus of PCCI. 'Maybe these people incorporated themselves...when you are a corporation you can charge everything to it, including the grocery allowance of your wife.' Tony Lopez quotes Donald Dee, the PCCI Treasurer."

"According to the BIzNews Asia article, former BIR Commissioner Joel Tan Torres initially published the list in the agency's website. The list however, disappeared. The current Commissioner Kim Henares told the magazine. "The former commissioner posted it for a time but had to remove it because of complaints."

"The main excuse is that kidnappers will use that list. But I don't think so. Kidnappers, will on the contrary, be disappointed that the folks they thought are rich don't seem to be that rich, based on their tax payments. It is just frustrating that the burden of financing this government placed on the middle class like us whose tax payments are mostly withheld at sourced or added on to the things we buy. And of course, we cannot afford to get top notch tax accountants and are at the mercy of BIR examiners. .."

"Oh well...let us just end with this quote Tony used from Oliver Wendell Holmes: TAXES ARE WHAT WE PAY FOR CIVILIZED SOCIETY. Otherwise, stop complaining about the anarchy around you."

(And I couldn't agree more.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Of Millionaires, Billionaires and Tax Evaders - Part I

The title does not mean that I lumped them all together, but if you think you're being alluded to - too bad!

My blog series is a composite of two opinion makers - Tony Lopez and Boo Chanco.

Hence, they are not my writing. I am sharing the facts they pointed out and I'll let the reader judge. I have also taken the liberty to place my own comments on these. What is written in BOLD and ITALICIZED are from the original writer.

I am dividing it into two parts so that you don't get bored with reading these back-to-back articles that I found interesting and revealing.

The Richest Filipinos and the Biggest Taxpayers Are Not the Same
by Tony Lopez

Forbes Magazine's list of richest Filipinos and their respective net worths are:

1. Henry Sy, Sr. - $5B
2. Lucio Tan - $2B
3. John Gokongwei - $1.5B
4. Jaime Zobel de Ayala - $1.2B
5. Andrew Tan - $1.2B
6. Tony Tan Caktiong - $980M
7. Enrique Razon - $975M
8. Beatrice Campos - $840M
9. George SK Ty - $805M
10. Eduardo Cojuangco - $760M

The list goes on to enumerating 40 richest Pinoys (or should I say Chinoys who make up 50% of the richest) with Philip Ang at number 40 at $50M net worth. That's more zeroes than I could ever see in my lifetime.

For the complete list of the Top 500 Taxpayers of 2008, please get your copy of the latest issue of Biz News Asia weekely news magazine at the nearest bookstore or hotel newsstand.

Compare the Top 40 Richest Filipinos based on the Forbes list with the Top 40 Taxpayers of 2008 based on the BIR list...It is a very interesting and revealing honor roll. It is veritably the roster of current heroes of the Philippines. Two conclusions:

1. People who you think are among the country's richest are not in the Top 500 Taxpayers list. So, too, are prominent and fabulously rich people who often rant about the need for good governance and have good corporate social responsibility.

2. The most rewarding jobs are not in business or top management. They are in entertainment, broadcasting and movies.

In serious business, mining is very remunerative. The highest-paid tycoons are miners - Philex CEO Walter Brown with P26.83M (#9) and Rio Tuba Nickel CEO, Atty. Manny Zamora Jr, with P19.96M (#12).

Behind them are owners and CEOs of conglomerates: SMC chair and CEO Danding Cojuangco Jr with P18.98M tax (#13), PLDT chair and Meralco CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan with P18.55M tax (#14), Unionbank chair and CEO Justo Aboitiz Ortiz with P15.2M (#19), and SMC President and Petron CEO Ramon S. Ang with P14.85M tax (#20). Trailing them are ePLDT and TV5 CEO Ray Espinosa, P12.27M tax (#22) and GMA Network and DZBB Broadcaster Mike Enriquez P11.94M tax (#23).

This makes Enriquez the country's highest paid mediaman. He finds it funny, if not ridiculous, that he paid more taxes than the owners of the two largest TV stations. "This means I pay the correct taxes," he notes. His channel 7 colleagues, Mel Tiangco is #45 with P8.9M in income taxes paid. That makes her the highest paid female broadcaster.

Television is a big moneymaker.

Four of the country's 10 biggest taxpayers work in TV entertainment. Willie Revillame leads the pack at #2 with P58.6M tax followed by Piolo Pascual at #3 with P55.8M tax, Kris Aquino at #8 with P25.44M tax, and Michael V at #10 with P22.26M tax.

Boxing's Manny Pacquiao is the Philippines' number 1 taxpayer with P125M in tax payments. In June 2009, Forbes magazine estimated the Filipino boxing great's income at $40M or P1778B.

He paid P7 of tax for every P100 of income, a tax rate of 7%. Revillame had a higher tax rate, P58.6M out of P365M estimated gross for a 16% tax rate.

To be sure, 2008 was a crisis year for Philippine business. It was the year the world went into the deepest recession in 80 years.

Undeniably, this information has struck a nerve among the average tax payers - like you and I.

The opinion here is these billionaire moguls can hide behind all that corporate blah blah blah and even wash down the dough they're making under some other charge (including their pet's haircut) only to run away from having to pay more in taxes or afford high profile accountants to hid all that moolah they've accumulated so far. So the richest are actually not the richest considering that they really don't TOTALLY own the companies they claim to own - lock, stock, and barrel! Considering individual gross and net income as well as taxes paid, I agree with Tony that the entertainment and media industry is the most enticing. It is not wonder that every Juan de la Cruz is willing to shed their clothes and their shame in order to hit stardom. I mean, let's face it, even the ugly ones or those that don't even have talent at all have gotten a break!

If PNoy actually wants to make the BIR work their butts off and is serious in his campaign on tax evaders, he does not need to go far and wide to look for them. Just pick up the Forbes List and see if there's a match in the richest Pinoys and the biggest taxpayers.

In my next blog, I will take you to a simple arithmetic look at tax evaders and tax evasion in part II of this series.

In the meantime, click on the video below and enjoy the music. I so love the music and lyrics - it's dedicated to all the billionaires and wannabe billionaires...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The journey of the scrapbook

After being single again for the longest time I could recall, loneliness crept into the night.

Somebody once said that "one does not move on from the pain...some simply gets used to the hurt". And for a very long time, I buried myself in that hurt. It seemed that multitasking was a temporary respite to numb the deceptions. But the solitude would be like a stealth, badgering my spirit, forcing me to move away from the pain.

Taking chances is not my cup of tea. No one likes to get hurt - again and again. Only sick people do. And I mean mentally sick. Staying blessedly single is a choice some people make. As my friends would say "All the single ladies..."!

And I tell my friends that being single is a healthy option. Being in a relationship is excruciatingly difficult. You give up on practically everything - from your privacy to life's little pleasures and treasures. Once upon a time, there was just you. Then suddenly one day you wake up to discover that there's now US in the equation. And for the most part, many of those who are not ready to be a couple fall into the trap of falling in love for love's sake (or for lust's sake).

As so as all stories go, it's been 7 years since I gave up on being singly blessed. And while it's been a struggle to stay together so long, it's been a good journey as well. There's still some of the insecurities and perhaps a little complacency that we need to contend with. There's probably a hundred and one reasons for a relationship to be doomed from the start, but a thousand and one reasons for it to go right as well.

I remember watching one episode of the Amazing Race Asia and the losers not minding being eliminated during this leg of the race because the wife didn't want to jump. The husband said that being in the race with her was the most wonderful thing since they got to know one another more than they had known each other during their marriage. (I guess it's in the worst situations that you realize who your partner is.) Besides, he added, that the most important race in life was not about just winning a reality show, it was making sure their marriage would work and working at being together. Amazing!

During our first year, I received a scrapbook from my partner. A simple scrapbook but the best gift. Nothing material about it. It spoke of sincerity and commitment, of thoughtfulness and of going the extra mile to remember. It wasn't a spur of the moment gift. He took the time to collect all the smallest details of our first year - from the first movie ticket, to the first ticket in Disneyland, to the boarding passes on the plane, to the pictures at the mall. It was the kind of gift that mattered when it came to what was a valuable keep.

When my house was renovated, the scrapbook was the first thing I made sure that would be packed in the right place. And true enough, many things eventually got lost during the renovation. But the scrapbook remained intact.

I keep it at my bedside desk. I open it once in awhile just to remind me that I am not alone in my journey of life and love. And I've stopped counting on the years that will be left, but on how great the years that we shared were.

This is one story I do not know how it ends.

Whatever the ending will be, the journey of the scrapbook has constantly reminded me that we all deserve a great life and happy endings.