in Inside Story

Of studying and cooking

An edited (and much better) version of this rant is on today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

I am posting here my original draft, typos and all. 


Lumpiang Shanghai Edson-style

I love food. It nourishes me. It makes me happy.

So when I got a Fulbright scholarship to study in the US almost two years ago, I checked if Columbia, Missouri had a Filipino restaurant.

It didn’t.

I am not complaining. The Fulbright Scholarship Program made sure I got into the best journalism school in the world (of course I am being totally biased here). The Missouri School of Journalism is not only the oldest in the world; it also has the nicest and smartest people I have ever met.

But I love food. I love Filipino food.

So when I got the scholarship, I practiced cooking my favorite dishes. It meant I had to perfect adobo. I needed to master pinakbet. I had to roll up my sleeves to prepare delicious lumpiang shanghai rolls.

Columbia is a small city of close to 110,000 people. It’s really hot in the summer and then it freezes in the winter. It has a small Filipino store. It also has a few Asian stores where I buy my Filipino soy sauce, vinegar and my lumpia wrappers.

My journey toward my degree is parallel to my culinary adventures. Here are a few examples:

  1. Pork adobo tastes best with some pork fat. But slices sold in stores here don’t have fat. No pork skins, either. Studying here is like pork slices without the fat. My program here is awesome. My professors are very helpful, encouraging and smart. I get to work in some projects with them, learning from them in the process. I also get to teach classes. So yes, I get the meat. But since there is only one mall here (this is a university town) and since I don’t have a car (buses operate once every 40 minutes, never on Sundays or holidays), it is hard for me to move around. I get bored sometimes, but also become more productive. So I don’t get the fat. It’s not as good, but it’s definitely much healthier.
  2. It is difficult to find malunggay leaves here so I put spinach in my tinola. Also in my sandwiches. Sometimes in my sinigang, too. Studying away from my comfort zone is like tinola without malunggay. It is a constant challenge not to miss my family and friends back home. I missed rejoicing with my family when my brother officially became an engineer. I missed several weddings. It’s always tough to find a good time to Skype with my parents and siblings, and with my best friend (there is a 13-hour difference between Missouri and the Philippines; it becomes 14 when daylight saving time ends in November). Of course, I have my spinach here. I made a lot of new friends. They are adorable. They keep me sane and grounded. I write a lot of research papers with them (a cool bonding moment, I must admit). Tinola without green leaves tastes bland. Malunggay leaves, and recently I discovered even spinach, make it much better.
  3. I could not find yema wrappers here. I tried searching, but I could not find one. No one makes yema here, probably. But I do. One time I used it as topping for a rice cake I made. My classmates liked it. Studying here is like being a yema without the colorful plastic wrappers around you. You can be yourself. You have to be yourself. You have to embrace where you come from, because here you are different. Some will always see you as different. That’s fine. I wear my University of the Philippines centennial jacket to school. I wear shirts embroidered with our map, different colors for each day. But some will see beyond the color of your skin and see your passion for what you do. Most people here appreciate hard work. And I appreciate that. It makes me strive to work harder and enjoy what I do.

When I quit my newspaper job, which I really loved, one of my editors teased me that people should stop going to school at some point. That was exactly what I felt when I finished college, not so long ago. I wanted to do the real thing. I have been going to school since I was three. I wanted to practice what I learned.

But now, I realize that school can also be the real thing. It is what you make it. I don’t just go to school. I meet new people. I make new friends. I make lasting friendships that transcend race and distance. I research about journalism, something that I care about, and find ways to improve how we practice it. I learn new things, be it an old theory I have never heard of or hierarchical linear modeling. I get to visit new places. I discover more about myself. And I get to cook and eat the dishes that I love.

I love studying. It nourishes me. It makes me happy.

Here is the link to the improved version over at Inquirer.

And here is the newspaper layout!

Philippine Daily Inquirer
18 Jun 2012

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