Word Watching: How It Began

Image credit Bill Barfield via Flckr

Image credit Bill Barfield via Flckr

Word-watching, as a conscious and deliberate practice available to everyone, is an idea that crystallized in my mind some months ago, but the seed took hold several years back during the Sunday family reunions of my childhood.

Impressionable Eyes and Ears

Our large extended family offered my many cousins a backdrop of happy memories, a source of some adult maladjustment, and the stuff good novels are made of.   For me, the setting gave birth to an observant and questioning mind and a lifelong preoccupation with WORDS.

My mother had six siblings who each had three to seven children so a usual Sunday lunch at my maternal grandparents’ house meant a scramble for parking space.  There was also the inevitable drama which sometimes started early on, while parking.  At lunch, an argument would invariably come up between one or more aunts and uncles which would end up with an aunt or two, or my mother storming off in a huff.

At 7 years of age, I came to the conclusion that women are high-strung, reactive, and domineering while men are laid-back provocateurs spewing mild sarcasm, with a smile for added impact.  I also observed that people don’t listen to what they are saying, much less to what the other person is saying.

Arguing Seemed to be the Norm

As we cousins grew up, the drama became part of the entertainment.  We would sit around the airy comedor and adjacent sala  after lunch, clustered naturally by age group, playing games or just hanging out.

Among the elders, any innocent-sounding declarative sentence always resulted in an explosion of debates, cross arguments, and simultaneous heated discussions.

It would be about the smallest of things like which distant relative’s offspring is taking care of the fruit trees in the province, the quickest route to get to the bank, a tentative compliment of an aunt’s “improved” nose, or whether the roasted pork had more cholesterol than the spicy beef.

We cousins carried on, used to “our normal.”

In the heated exchange, it was obvious to anyone half listening that they were arguing FOR the same point.  But they were too angry to notice, intent on proving the other wrong.  

We cousins would look at each other with questioning faces and then break out in snickers.  It never crossed our mind to point this out to our elders.  The accepted rule of a time gone by was:  The younger generation – some already in their mid 20′s and married –  were forbidden to take part in the elders’ conversation, much less interrupt! That suited us just fine because it was truly hilarious to watch them get all worked up where every impassioned rebuttal actually strengthened the other person’s point.

A Universal Human Shortcoming

Years later when I started working, I witnessed similar scenarios in all kinds of settings among different groups –  traversing various cultures and languages – and spilling over to written exchanges with the message getting lost in translation.

The conclusion of many years ago applies now. We humans do not pay attention to what others communicate, yet we are quick to react.

Word-watching  is essential.  It is a deliberate process that begins first with us and the words WE think and say.


At the Table of Yolanda (Haiyan)

F image credit: EPCR via flckr

F image credit: EPCR via flckr

Dennis Grajo and World Vision Philippines were among several individuals and organizations deeply moved to spontaneously help victims of Super Typhoon Hiayan.  It is by its local name, Yolanda, that we Filipinos remember.  Yolanda was the strongest tropical storm on record to make landfall, based on its peak wind speed of 313 km/hr (195 mph).  The devastation was unprecedented.

Dennis wrote this poem in Filipino – poignantly haunting in its original form and shown here beneath the translation.  He requested that I translate it into English, which I fear does not capture the intensity of his experience.

Under the World Vision Child Sponsorship Program, Dennis sponsors children’s education. He was previously, himself, a sponsored child, and it was at the Inspire Event to honor child sponsors that we met.



Let’s have a breakfast of heavy sighs,

Let’s sip right here now, our suffering.

Let’s make some coffee of these teardrops

and troubled litany this morning.

Make light snack of your doubts and fears

that the same scene unfolds tomorrow.

Pour suffering on the empty plate.

Stay by the quaking table of sorrow!

Your lunch is a scarcity of dreams

Lacking in color, fortunes gone puff!

With tears, make broth of leftover rice,

Stretching what’s meager, hardly enough!

In cooking oil, fry your dwindling hope,

Sorely lacking or none to speak of?

Turned mute and deaf – turned anguish from joy.

Swallow that too or spit it all out?

They lie still in the ground now, come supper,

Countless graves over West, there yonder.

Hunger gone silent, their time no longer.

Close, they need lay, one next to the other.

Mix loneliness into bitterness,

Make it dessert for staving belly.

Forgotten old flavors and sweetness,

absent to taste. Don’t think of it any!

But if you act now and in each morrow,

There’ll be no lack, ill fortune, less sorrow.

New destinies arise for the taking,

On stable roads, no danger of slipping!

At the table of ruins, BE a victor.

Dig up a new life and then work like a plow.

In the mud, leave all pain of loss ever more.

Bury thoughts of defeat; only triumph to know!



Mag-agahan tayo ng buntung-hininga,
Higupin ngayon din, ating pagdurusa,
Gawin nating kape dito sa umaga
Mga butil ng luha at mga litanya.

Papakin ninyo ang mga pangamba
Na bukas uulit ganitong eksena,
Ilagay sa plato ang lahat ng dusa,
At manatili ka sa umuugang mesa!

Inyong tanghalian ay salat na pangarap,
Nagkulang sa kulay hindi nagkapalad,
Isabaw sa bahaw ang luhang pumatak,
Ipagharimunan pagkat hindi sapat!

Igisa sa mantika ang salat na pag-asa,
Kulang na kulang ba o walang natira?
Napipi’t nabingi – lungkot na ligaya,
Isusubo mo rin o iyong iluluwa?

Naglupasay naman para sa hapunan
Ang maraming hukay doon sa kanluran,
Dikit-dikit lagi ang pangangailangan,
Gutom mapapawi, lilipas din naman.

Isahok sa pait ang pangungulila
Gawing panghimagas ng gutom na sikmura,
Tamis na nalimot pati na sustansya
Lasapin ng dila, walaing bahala!

Ngunit kung kikilos ngayon saka bukas
Hindi magkukulang walang pagkamalas,
Kapalarang tuwid tiyak na lalabas
Patag na kalsadang hindi na madulas!

Sa hapag ng laban, magsikap manalo,
Bungkalin ang buhay saka iararo,
Upang mga sakit ng pagkasiphayo,
Mamatay sa putik at diwang matalo!

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Black Forests and Pink Dreams

Black Forest; the words conjured an image of a slice of velvety dark chocolate and soft, creamy icing topped by a perfect single cherry.  A delicate plate patterned with blue Iris flowers and silver leaves cradled this tempting mental image.  I could almost smell the coffee aroma of swirling smoke coming from the matching blue and silver cup next to it.  The Black Forest cake was a favorite at the hotel’s patisserie and our French pastry chef never missed an opportunity to point that out.  But I was now tens of thousands of kilometers and years away from that palatial hotel I worked at in Muscat, Oman.

Image credit Adrian Hoe via Flickr

Image credit Adrian Hoe via Flickr

Spacing Out, Listening to a Foreign Language

We’ve been driving for hours.  An unlikely mix of inactivity and tiredness made me sigh audibly.  It’s surprising how tiredness could come from not doing much.    The scenery was of various shades of green, early yet in September for any signs of fall. The voices in the car sounded muffled. I could pick out words and phrases in the conversation, which was in German.

They spoke in soft tones, this genuinely genteel family – a truly pleasant surprise.  I recalled my encounters with German chefs while working in hotels – belligerent opposition to requests of banquet clients and rowdy celebration at the end of successful food and beverage festivals.  Genteel was not an adjective I had associated with Germans.

I leaned back, turned towards the window, and was lulled to sleep by the movement of the car.

A gentle shaking on my shoulder woke me up.  We had arrived at a cottage with large wooden beams, white walls, and a reddish-brown triangular roof, one of many such structures.  The cluster of cottages made picturesque silhouettes against the deep green woods and bright blue sky.   It felt good to stretch.  A walk was just what I needed and I allowed myself to be led to the back of the cottage to begin.   Flower patches and vegetable gardens lay near the cottage followed by a long stretch of short grass.  Beyond that stood a formidable wall of tall fir trees, the rim of Germany’s Black Forest.

Fully Awake in the Sacred Silence

When we reached the end of the stretch of grass, my self-appointed tour guide did a formal sweep of his right arm and announced in a simple utterance “Schwarzwald.” With that, he took my hand, led me through the first row of fir trees and we were instantly in a different world.

Thin slivers of sunlight peered through the dark green canopy in the eerily silent space.  I instinctively tightened my hold and he gently squeezed to reassure me.  Except for the crunching of our shoes on the moist ground and the wind-swaying sound of the topmost branches, it was completely silent. Closing my eyes allowed me to hear other, more subtle sounds – birds, a gurgling brook in the distance, a pine cone dropping and rolling, and other sounds an unaccustomed, city-bred woman like me could not identify.  Deliberately, I slowed my breathing to a rhythm that somehow kept pace with the hypnotic flow of the forest.  We walked without speaking.  It was unnecessary. It didn’t feel right to inject the sacred space with human voices.  It would have been disrespectful.

Feeling Great to be Alive

Too soon it seemed, we approached a clearing with a view of the sky slicing through.  We’ve reached the end of this side of the Black Forest.  Without noticing it, I came to a complete stop, transfixed by the moment.  Tall dark trees lined our either side, a light green canopy covered directly above, and in front, the soft rays of the afternoon sun slanted toward us in a cascade of warmth.  I felt a tightening in my chest and stinging in my eyes which rapidly turned misty. They were happy tears – a feeling of immense gratitude from bearing witness to wonders of nature, juxtaposed in one suspended moment.

Ouch! A distinct kick in my lower stomach broke the spell.  Someone else was feeling good to be alive.  I gently rested my left hand over my swollen tummy to calm our impatient baby.  A sigh of serene joy escaped my lips as I turned to smile at my husband – attentive and loving, with gentle brown eyes . We walked hand-in-hand over the last stretch of the Black Forest.  In our tomorrows danced pink dreams of a dark-haired little girl in a schlafsack.

{In our distant future, the partnership would dissolve, replaced by a somehow steadfast connection. Our dark-haired schlafsack girl is an everyday gift. The memory of the Black Forest moment remains.}

Image credit Jonas Ahlstrom via Flickr

Image credit Jonas Ahlstrom via Flickr

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Hotel Event Planning: Showtime of a Different Kind

image credit: manilahotel.com.ph

image credit: manilahotel.com.ph

Hotel events manager, Madam Annette, walks deliberately between rows of round tables, head sweeping side-to-side not missing a single detail –  table numbers, floral centerpieces, crisp folded linen, gleaming cutlery, and the waiters in their smart uniforms. The head table takes longer to inspect.  She scans a list of names on her clipboard while simultaneously adjusting matching place cards one centimeter away from each gold-rimmed plate.

The backdrop gets her attention next.  She gives it a brisk tug to make sure it is safely attached, then moves center stage and motions to an unseen someone in a booth across. The lights immediately lower to a warm glow, the air-conditioning settles to a comfortable 20-to-22 degrees Centigrade, and instrumental background music comes on.  Satisfied, she walks back down, pauses by a side door, and nods. The ballroom doors open.  It’s show time!

Parallel Shows

Guests arrive in groups and soon the ballroom is filled with laughter and conversation.  At the back-of-the-house there’s organized chaos as the kitchen staff expertly assemble the food which the waiters pick up in quick succession with their trays.  At the hallway, the service manager hollers and claps his hands for them to speed up. Then he fluidly changes from stern expression to warm smile as he opens the door back to the ballroom.  At the audio room, the atmosphere is relaxed, at least until the complicated part of the program where music and lighting sequences need to match the stage cues exactly.

Invisible Directors

Think of a time when you’ve attended a function in a hotel.  Do you look back to good conversation at the table, the guest speaker’s remarks, program highlights, and the fun dancing? That is proof of a well-planned event.

The role of hotel event planners is to provide the space for people’s lives to unfold, in style. The client and their guests are the main characters. The hotel whips up the setting, lights, music, props, camera crew, food, and beverage, without anyone noticing.

The guests should be fully engaged with each other as their food and drinks are served and cleared unobtrusively. They should not be distracted by music drowning their conversation, staff obstructing their view of the stage, or uncomfortable room temperature limiting their dancing.  This invisible direction is orchestrated by hotel event planners, and it begins long before the event.

Yelling “Cut” is Not an Option

Even with the most meticulous planning, Murphy’s Law can happen.  Imagine these scenarios.

  • The exquisite three-tiered wedding cake with handmade favors in pretty light blue ribbons is being wheeled in … but this wedding’s color motif is peach!
  • The guest of honor steps onto the podium to deliver his much awaited speech … but only the top of his head is visible and it is 6 inches beneath the microphone!
  • It’s open bar and drinks are flowing. Pepsi is flying from bar to tables … but it’s Coca Cola who is hosting the event!

They make amusing anecdotes but when they’re happening, you just want to yell “Cut!” so the scene freezes and you can correct the mistake.

This particular event is smoothly wrapping up. Laughter continues as guests move out of the ballroom in groups, some swaying slightly; whether from the music or the alcohol is hard to tell.  Madam Annette appears from nowhere to send the client off.  With seemingly random questions between handshakes and smiles, she has expertly gauged that the client is satisfied.

The ballroom doors close.  Activity immediately erupts as waiters start stripping off tablecloths, rolling round tables out, and bringing in rectangular ones.   Time to set up for the next show.


Cupid Means Business

image credit: flckr, casa flores de belen

image credit: flckr, casa flores de belen


The price of flowers shoots up dramatically while shops put up expensive chocolates on tempting display.  Women turn extra sweet to men who turn absentmindedly occupied doing the price Math. There’s no room in the inn because hotels run at peak occupancy and restaurants are all booked up. If you haven’t guessed it yet, then the billboards, the flyers, and the ads will tell you …  repeatedly. Valentine’s Day is coming.

Famous Words and Staggering Numbers

There are many versions of St. Valentine’s history. February 14 is not exactly his birthday, but he was first to ever sign “Your valentine” on a note. Cupid’s origins have also been much written about. To him is ascribed the cautionary phrase, “Love is blind.”

Together, Valentine and Cupid have been driving consumer business for many years but don’t just take my word for it. Ask Corporate Hallmark which reports approximately 142 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged industry-wide. Statisticsbrain.com figures additionally show that an average of 196 million roses are produced for Valentine’s Day while average annual Valentine’s Day spending is $ 13.19 Billion. (It’s unclear if this is in the U.S. alone.)

The Pressure is On

From the same set of statistics, here’s an interesting finding: 53% of women would end their relationship if they didn’t get something for Valentine’s Day. Pretty drastic don’t you think?

This brings me to the downside. The hype that comes with Valentines puts pressure on couples to give presents, dine out, and do something special because friends, peers, movie stars, sports celebrities, and practically everybody else is seen to be celebrating. It then begins to seem like the end of the world if they’ve got no photos to flaunt later on social media.

By focusing on couples, Valentines also makes otherwise perfectly content singles feel unfulfilled and lonely.

We must all remember that billboards, ads, and elegant chocolate and flower displays are really only purchase suggestions, and Valentine celebrations by famous celebrity couples, your peers, and your friends are a choice they make.

Your Way or No Way is Fine

YOU decide IF you want to celebrate and how.

  • You can give little cards and candy to your parents, grandparents, children, friends, or to solitary patients in hospital wards.
  • You can have a fun group dinner with family, friends, gym buddies, or the choir/jamming pals, and bring leftovers to the homeless.
  • You can get your pet a new toy and give her extra cuddles.
  • You can buy yourself a huge bouquet of lovely flowers or a bottle of good wine/brandy AND premium Godiva chocolates.

Love, after all, comes in many forms including healthy self-nurturing.

And which business does Cupid push hardest?  Matchmaking of course, but ONLY YOU get to choose –  and that includes choosing not to choose – to whom you send that lightly perfumed, NON-digital Hallmark card signed “Your valentine.” It doesn’t even have to be dated February 14 and it won’t be anybody’s business but yours.

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A Job of Surprising Skills: The Voice and the Background Noise

Are you a good listener? I’m not talking about being nonjudgmental while your partner rants. I mean understanding sentences spoken rapidly in a singsong tone.  Do you get impatient watching The Voice when the judges, with swivel chairs facing away from a singer, take a long time to hit their lighted buzzers?

image credit: flickr Aaron Joseph Co

image credit: flickr Aaron Joseph Co

Swivel Chair Settings

This article is NOT about The Voice but it also involves swivel chairs. In the first swivel chair sits a pretty teenager who is frowning worriedly into her computer screen. A white-haired man is next to her. His forehead rests on the table edge while he stares at his shoes below. Beside him, a poised, middle-aged lady sits serene and still, her eyes closed.

The occupant of the fourth swivel chair is pacing slowly behind it, his sleek pony tail swinging gently. Then, he sits down and puts on his earphones (like the other three). “Hah!” he suddenly exclaims as he bangs the table with his right fist, and then types rapidly on his keyboard. What just happened?

Welcome to the world of audio transcription.

Voice transcription involves listening to audio files and typing the words to come up with a professional document that complies with very specific style guides.

Many people think transcription is a simple process. You listen, you type; what more is there to it? A whole lot more.

No Real Quick Route

My medical transcription experience began with a six-month course. The class studied transcription software, medical style guides, and U.S. geography and spent hours learning from a doctor about pharmacology, the body systems, their functions, symptoms, diseases, diagnostic tests, and treatments. We constantly exercised touch-typing to reach speeds of over 80 words a minute.  On-the-job transcription training at a hospital for two months followed, capped by actual work in a BPO company. Many months into work I continued to struggle but kept on, reluctant to waste the time and resources poured into the learning process.

You’re thinking that’s medical transcription; regular business transcription should be a walk in the park, right? Not quite.

Mastery of the medical jargon is just one aspect. Listening skills, familiarity with idiomatic expressions, and research are essential.

“What’s That? What Did He Just say?”

While listening to audio files, I would often catch a reflection of my scrunched-up face with a confused, frustrated expression – brows stuck together, eyes squinting like I’ve been hit by an unpleasant odor. Why?

Voice files come in a range of accents, inflections, pronunciations, and self-concocted phrases from some people who speak English creatively as a second language.

Background noise presents another challenge. Doctors dictate around emergency rooms or in hospital waiting rooms against a background of wailing ambulance sirens, crying children, and slamming doors. Or they dictate at home with the doorbell ringing, the dog barking, even the toilet flushing. Business transcription settings depend on the industry. It could be outside the police station with more sirens, at the courtroom with the gavel pounding, on the road with horns blowing, or on a boat with the seagulls squawking.

Find it Fast within TAT

Does the sentence you’re listening to make sense? You must research unfamiliar words but carefully choose credible websites. If it’s a group discussion, you need to distinguish the voices of the speakers to identify who is saying what. But before that, you have to figure out what the subject of the discussion is.

Let’s not forget the turnaround time (TAT) for medical files of 24 to 48 hours; longer for business transcription. Within that time frame, the audio file needs to be transcribed, edited, proofread, quality checked, reviewed for accuracy and style guide compliance, and smoothly uploaded. Multiply this process by the number of files to be transcribed and multiply further by the number of clients you have.

Oh wow! So one needs to be an English Major with sensitive hearing who is quick on the keyboard? English degree not necessary but sharp ears and nimble fingers are a definite asset.

A Surprising Skill Set

Don’t get me wrong. Transcribing gets easier with exposure. Those four characters in swivel chairs are regular folk and very good at what they do.

So what does it take to be a good transcriber? You get a head start if you have:

  1. Fast typing speed;
  2. Good listening skills;
  3. English language proficiency; and
  4. Intuitive research ability.

From my years of transcribing, I found that you must also possess:

  • a firm grasp of context;
  • a vivid imagination; and
  • decent detective skills.

What! A Sherlock Holmes too?  Well, consider these real scenarios.

A doctor dictates a patient’s work history in relation to a work accident and you encounter an inaudible word, but you’re pretty sure it’s not a medical term. You then rely on a word-sounds-like premise to research online. Visualizing the patient’s work setting while performing a specific Google search helps you find the word. “Yes!” you fist-pump.

While transcribing a market study of Australian beer brands, a participant describes the bottle label using the same word repeatedly, yet you cannot identify the word. Again, from a word-sounds-like approach, you search online for an image of that beer brand. Staring at the image as you listen, you arrive at the descriptive word. “Got it!” you happily exclaim half jumping from your swivel chair.

In an interview, a communications officer from a marketing company talks about social media and states she has what-sounds-like 800 connections. You are aware that connection is a term used in LinkedIn, so you search out her name and read that she actually has 500 connections. “Success!” you smile proudly.

Only an audio transcriber will truly understand that triumphant Eureka moment when you figure out what that pesky inaudible word is you have been listening to over and over. Identifying that word often brings all the pieces together to make sense of the report.

So you want to do voice transcription? Try an experiment using cable TV and a mirror.  Select Channel News Asia, the Australian channel, or the BBC. (The acceptance speech of an Oscar foreign film category winner would be great!)  Listen for a few minutes. Was your face all scrunched up in confusion? Were you smiling and amused?

In the end, the transcribers who do well and enjoy their work are those who welcome unfamiliar accents, like to dig out information, appreciate details, and thrive on deadlines. They are briskly efficient but also laid-back chill – unfazed by the voice and the background noise.

image credit: flickr Inaki Antonana

image credit: flickr Inaki Antonana

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Make Love Work: An Imperative on Love

A catchy title, this book has with the same melodious, three-word cadence as the title of that famous bestseller-turned-movie, which starts with Eat and ends with Pray.  They also share a common word in their titles and the stickiest and trickiest of subjects, love.

Scientific, Academic, or Literary, It Isn’t

Make Love Work is not a flowing unfolding of stories.  Neither is it researched writing from a PhD in psychology or an MFT with marriage and family counseling experience.  You will not find specific steps on how to start and maintain relationships nor is there any pretense that the writing comes from a particularly learned individual.  It does not even aim to demonstrate a superior command of the English language nor can it realistically claim to have an objective perspective.

Real and Candid, It Is

Honest, sincere, and with the best of intentions is what this book is, written by one who has been interested since childhood in how relationships work … or don’t work.  Based on a blog of personal accounts and observations, the purpose of Make Love Work is “to give you some information on how to look at your relationship too.”  Within the personal narratives are seemingly rhetorical, idle questions that will nonetheless make you pause and consider.  To the extent that YOU pursue the answers to those questions rests the potential that the purpose is met.

A Lifetime of Subjective Expertise

Author Eugen Grathwohl spent years discussing relationships in chat forums, with blog followers, and in actual encounters with just about anyone willing to share insights.  He has observed and analyzed the relationships in his family, among friends, work colleagues, and neighbors, and draws from his own fair share of partnerships.  Intercultural pairings are of special interest to this German blogger and translator, who spent time in Africa, has long been fascinated by Asia, and is currently based in the Philippines.  The individuals he has interacted with in the Philippines represent only a small demographic of the population, however, and his observations and conclusions do not apply to the majority.

If you are looking for an objective, sufficiently-researched, coherently-presented discussion about relationships, this is not the book for you.  If what you seek is a raw, unfiltered, and unedited take on first-hand and real-life pairings, attachments, couplings, and separations, this would be of value.

At the very least, from its title alone, Make Love Work reminds us with a strong command that after the magical serendipity and the intoxicating chemistry of initial meeting, we must WORK ON LOVE if we want to move up to the ever-after stage.