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Remembering my dear friend Melbin | steppanyaki.com

A little after New Year’s Day this 2016, I pawed through a box of old CDs left in my old bedroom. My mom had been badgering me for the longest time to sort its contents so we could throw out what needed to be thrown out already.

A few of the CDs I uncovered were my own—dating as far back as to my last few years in high school and early college. I had always been a bit of a downloading fanatic, especially in the days of Kazaa, and I had grown quite a collection of mp3s. From songs from the ‘80s to random ‘90s cartoon jingles—you name it, I probably had it.

One of my quirkier interests included acquiring anime and video game soundtracks—a hobby I shared with a good friend from high school, Melbin Asturias. Melbin went through the extra effort of copying the soundtracks of Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X and Tenkuu No Escaflowne onto Sony CD-Rs, which were some of the pricier recordable CDs back then (If I remember correctly, they were at 40 pesos a pop). Kids our age weren’t normally into listening to classic music, or any orchestral-arranged music, for that matter. We would use these soundtracks for our many plays in school.

I suppose it was the love of anything Japan-produced that brought us together.

We fell in love with Rurouni Kenshin and soon, Melbin was even creating fan fiction about it (She is amazing at it). Back when Sta. Lucia East Grand Mall had a skating rink, I also vaguely remember us talking about how we learned to use chopsticks (I was just starting to learn it then) while eating a bento meal in Tokyo Tokyo.

I visited her house once in high school, and she proudly showed me her freshly re-organized bookshelf. These included some of the classics we had taken up, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth and Hamlet, as well as Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (sadly I never got to read the whole unabridged version—some parts bored the hell out of me). As of writing this paragraph, I also recall how we both loved with a passion Greek mythology. Melbin even had a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. She would always ace the exams on Greek mythology because she knew all of these by heart.

Our friendship, as it turns out, would grow even further because of a shared love for books and writing. When the Harry Potter books and film series came out, we ogled over the October 2001 (yeesh—was that really 15 years ago?) Vanity Fair cover with Daniel Radcliffe (as Harry Potter), riding a broomstick. We couldn’t get over how manly the veins were on his arms (LOL). Of course, we had the soundtrack too to the The Sorcerer’s Stone and knew each note to Hedwig’s Theme.

Singing was also one of the things that we both enjoyed. We were both members of the high school chorale, the Komusikasyon Club, and we bonded over many, many days preparing for the annual Eco Songfest.

As we grew older and joined the workforce, we spent less time together, busy navigating the meandering paths of our twenties and so-called careers. Nevertheless, we kept e-mailing each other and would catch up with our other high school friends from time to time. By that time, Melbin had already been to Japan (I think several times already) because of her brother who works for a Japanese company.

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We would e-mail each other jokes, and Melbin would send me her brilliant fanfiction.net write-ups, as if expecting me to find something wrong with them. Of course, they were all beautifully written. Melbin had a way of writing that envelops you into the worlds she creates. And effortlessly, at that. She would continue to be inspired with her favorite series like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and use her writing prowess to weave the imaginative stirrings in her mind. She was childlike like that, with a penchant for cartoons.

One time, she invited me to go bowling as she just felt like joining an office bowling competition. I brought my boyfriend along with me and we had a great afternoon. Melbin was like that. She would decide on something she wanted to do and there would be no stopping her.

The last few times we got together, she would invite me to a mall to watch the latest Hunger Games movie or to catch an animated flick. I remember meeting her at one of those coin massage chair places in the mall. I tried it out and we were just lounging around and chatting while feeling the roller mechanisms knead our weary muscles.

She would tell me about her new work, how she manages to do a U.S.-time shift while still doing English tutoring for the Japanese on the side. She also told me about how she went on a solo trip whim and spent a weekend in Cebu. I envied her for her adventurous spirit, as I also wanted to experience traveling alone. I messaged her in 2015 to ask if she was watching the annual Eiga Sai film screenings, but she was busy with her new work. It seemed at the time she had already found a job that she felt like keeping, and I was happy for her.

Recently, I was devastated to hear about her passing. I thought it was a really bad joke—I was going about my usual watching reruns of my favorite local romantic series while having breakfast (tikoy and coffee, to be specific—not that you had to know), when I received a call and heard the news.

The sadness wasn’t automatic. It wasn’t a great wave of melancholy that washed upon me, like how you would see scenes in soap operas. It was a reluctant mix of shock, disbelief and confusion.

I was overwhelmed with an adrenaline-like rush and went through the robotic motions of showering, dressing up and commuting to meet the friend who had given me the news. We would be going to the wake together.

Nothing can ever prepare you for seeing a dear friend encased in a coffin. The feeling is horrific. I usually have no qualms about looking at deceased relatives in their final moment, but my friend and I were trembling as we wept and looked upon the face in the casket.

Two days after the news, I sign into my old Yahoo! e-mail account and search for my past conversations with Melbin—there was the time she would forward Jose Rizal Facebook memes to the batch e-mail distribution list, the time when she was reaching out for help to look for law students for a research she was doing, and the many e-mail exchanges on her short stories. I felt myself smiling despite the saddening reality that she is already gone. Melbin, Ann, Melbapu, Melbatoast, toastyann.

Melbin had never seemed to lose her fun-loving and lighthearted personality through the years—those shoulders heaving helplessly as she would laugh at my various accent impersonations (my Science Congress teammates would remember this with our electrostatic precipitator project); her drumming her fingertips together while raising her eyebrows in her “scheming” pose; her sometimes wry, sarcastic and nonchalant remarks; her high-pitched, incessant giggling. Her matter-of-fact approach to life. Just today, I realized with a smile that Melbin would always be one of the first few in line at the canteen when the recess bell would ring. I noticed it many times.

Though we can’t turn the wheels of time, we do have these heartwarming memories to turn to when we think of Melbin. To me, she would always be the same round-faced, jolly, pensive girl who was both carefree and pragmatic, bizarre yet just like everyone else. I can still see her face in my mind now, lighting up with the simple crack of a joke, the skin crinkling around her eyes.

My 10 Best Moments in 2015

It’s officially four hours away to 2016 as I write this blog entry – mom’s preparing the Media Noche feast (a humble combination of hot chocolate, ham, white bread, refrigerator cake, Nathaniel’s buko (coconut) ice cream, tuna carbonara and red wine).

I’m a bit bummed because for the past two months, I have been lethargic due to the outpouring of work, holiday obligations and the lack of enthusiasm to get back into exercising (but I was very sprightly coming from my Japan trip, sigh). Some clothes just don’t fit the same way in a matter of weeks (due to impulsive and incessant snacking).

Despite all of this, I still can’t believe that another year has passed, and am feeling a slight stirring in my heart as I think of what 2016 could hold. Here are some of the events I am most thankful for this 2015:

  1. February – first time to visit Europe and see snow!

It was quite the nerve-wracking experience of a lifetime back in February as we were told that we had less than seven days to apply for a Schengen VISA for a business trip. On top of that, purchase items to protect us from the winter cold.

The obligatory coat-boots-snow shot with @triciasomebody. #KalvebodBrygge

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Thankfully, we got ours just in time and off we were to Europe! I was stressed the entire time, but I got a glimpse (and touch) of snow, my first real peach (I’ve been eating peaches out of cans my whole life), saw the Little Mermaid up close, and had my first dose of jet lag.

Not so bad to experience at the age of 30. 🙂

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  1. April – Reconnecting with my cousin in Batangas!

Being one of the eldest grandchildren on my father’s side, I grew up playing and babysitting my younger cousins. But we had not expected that my uncle and cousin would be visiting! Which called for some spur-of-the-moment balikbayan outing planning.

As luck would have it, we were invited by my brother-in-law to stay at a hotel he manages in Bauan, Batangas. We got to ride a boat to nearby Sombrero Island, which, as the name entails, is shaped like a sombrero! My cousin and I got to spend some time to catch up with each other while enjoying a specially prepared lunch by the beach.

sombrero island batangas steppanyaki

  1. May – first time to go surfing in Baler!

Like most trips, only those that are prepared last minute push through. And in May, my boyfriend and his pals planned a quick weekend trip to Baler in Aurora. Because of the tour we mistakenly booked, we had to squeeze in a really cramped van and endure the five hours travel time.

Alas, the misadventures did not end there. The beachside cottage we booked was a true disappointment. The beds had sand on them, we weren’t even sure if the beddings had been washed, and the restroom was horrid. It had cement walls, no tiles on the floor and as you shower, the water would flood the entire room. Ugh.

Nevertheless, the sights of Baler were truly one for the books, which sort of balanced the misfortune of our travel and accommodation. We saw the largest Balete Tree in Aurora, hiked to the Ditumabo Falls (totally worth it, but the crowd was massive), visited Manuel Quezon’s old house, saw the amazing rock formations at Diguisit Beach, and tried our hand at surfing (which I totally flopped at, LOL).

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ditumabo falls baler aurora steppanyaki

balete tree baler aurora steppanyaki

I would want to go back and stay (if I can afford it) at Costa Pacifica Baler and visit the rest of what Baler has to offer.

  1. June – first time to visit Germany!

Another business trip! We had more time to prepare for this one, but I’m happy to say it was less stressful than our trip in February. And we were able to sneak in some time to enjoy Munich’s Bavarian specialties (and the beer!). I must admit I was quite speechless taking in all the view of the glockenspiel and other centuries-old architecture.

Bavarian plate. That odd reunion with Silke though! @erikacita @triciasomebody

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The world-famous glockenspiel. Didn't move though at 10 pm.

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  1. July – Getting back into the running game

Because of an upcoming race, my boyfriend together with former officemates decided to train regularly together. I used to run frequently a few years back, but got out of the habit. It was great hitting the track again and feeling the runner’s high once more.

Stretching with Coach Tracy #InstaSize

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  1. August – Seeing my barkada again

Now that some of my friends have started their own families, we’ve come to give a greater appreciation for each time we get together. During the first birthday of my friend’s son, we got to enjoy a cup of coffee after a long, long time.

Sweet dreams are made of these. ☺️

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  1. October – Getting into OTWOL

I remember my indifference to the James Reid and Nadine Lustre (Jadine) love team as I would hear about their movies. But when I started watching their TV series, “On The Wings Of Love”, I was instantly hooked! There’s something very charming about their portrayal and they have such strong chemistry. I actually watched a few episodes in Japan just to catch up, until my access was blocked.

  1. October – Tried yoga again

I discovered a yoga studio just a 10-minute walk away, and the price isn’t bad! The yoga instructors are so friendly and professional as well. Having never practiced it seriously, though, I was wobbly as ever and ungraceful. They offer Ashtanga, Hatha and Bikram yoga sessions.

I feel bad I haven’t been able to go back in the past month. Work has been crazy, and I felt myself wallowing in whatever time I could get to sleep or rest or just go out to unwind. I suppose that goes with the holiday season.

In case you’re interested, the name of the yoga studio is iBreathe Yoga Studio. Check out their Facebook page !

  1. October – Tokyo!

No words can describe how exhilarating and unbelievable it still feels to realize that I have already been to Japan, my dream destination. I felt so alive and so youthful during my stay there—exploring as long as my legs could carry me, and enjoying every morsel of food (glorious food!) because I would keep burning the calories from these anyway.

I’ll never forget the taste of ramen and chirashi. I’ll keep dreaming about it until the next time I’m back in Japan.

Garlicky #ramen at some random spot in #Shibuya 😍🍜

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There are a lot of things I would have wanted to do differently, but as they say, chalk it all up to experience! At least I have a better idea of how train stations in Japan work, and man, it is confusing! But ultimately, knowing that I can actually plan and pay for my own travel whims is one of the most fulfilling feelings in the world.

  1. November – Starting a blog

My six-day Tokyo trip changed me—I bounced back with renewed energy and enthusiasm at work (also lost some weight, which is usually the case when I travel abroad), and I got to think about what I would want to achieve in 2016. All this inspiration pushed me to finally start my own website and share all these stories with you.

I hope you’ve been enjoying my posts so far. I plan on posting more frequently, it’s just that I suffered from a torn hand ligament. Hopefully I can dive back into writing more often as soon as I’m done with therapy.

It took me an hour to write this, and now it is officially 3 hours away to 2016! I hope you had a fulfilling 2015, and I wish you a blessed new year.