Teacher’s Pet or Pest?

      There is a saying that goes “A hundred years from now, it will not matter what clothes you wore or what car you drove.  What matters is that you made a difference in the life of a child.” 

      That expression always reminds me of teachers, for which group of people, aside from your own parents, can have such a deep and reverberating impact on your life?  From my sweet kindergarten teacher to my taskmaster of a college professor to my two mentors whom I have the utmost respect and admiration, my teachers have shown me the joy of literature, the agony of mathematical equations, and the problems of social inequity. 

      From them, I learned to listen with rapt attention and also, to pretend to listen while reading a novel or daydreaming about my latest crush.  Out of sheer necessity, I have taught myself basic survival skills such as sitting still through a mind-numbing lecture, cramming facts and figures into the not-so-receptive receptacle that was my brain, and when all else failed, copying off a classmate’s work without getting caught.  

      Truly, teachers are people who can arouse a wealth of emotions in their students, from adoration to hatred, and from inspiration to apathy.  They can motivate one to soar to intellectual heights and drive another to the depths of human madness.  

      The following then is an ode to my teachers, whether I liked them or not, and whether I mentioned them in this piece or not.  They wielded their incredible power and influence over me, and countless other minds, and helped shaped the generations that have come and gone.  This is also a dedication to my mother’s family, which boasts a long line of well- respected educators, including my grandparents, numerous uncle and aunts, my mom herself as well as my own sisters.  Last, but not the least, this piece is dedicated to my firstborn, Joanne, who persevered in her studies to become a teacher, despite initial efforts to steer her towards a more lucrative profession.  She was the one who shared with me this gem:  “You have to love what you do, or else, you will spend your whole workday looking at the clock and counting the hours until it’s time to go home.”  Words of wisdom straight from the mouth of babes… 

      As a kid, I was lucky to have been part of a kids’ TV show called TV Kinderland.   It was sort of a local version of a Barney the Dinosaur show where the kids played games and were taught songs, but unlike Barney, nothing was scripted and instead of a dinosaur, we had a beautiful teacher named Ms. Chelo.  

      I was too small to remember much of it, but I do remember the last day of our show.  We played a game where you sat on as many balloons as you can and tried to make them pop.  I was one of the youngest in the group, and trying to sit on a balloon that was bigger than my head and getting it to stay put long enough for me to pop it was a monumental task in itself.  While balloons were popping all around me, I was helplessly chasing one balloon after another.  Ms. Chelo felt sorry for me and motioned me to come to her, where she had crouched on the floor and had a balloon trapped firmly between her hands.  I happily went over to her and sat on the balloon, but hard as I tried, it bounced me up and down the air but would not yield.  I was getting frustrated and I looked at Ms. Chelo with defeat in my eyes, so she told me to try one last time.  

      The next scene always seemed to play slow motion in my mind. At that instant that I sat on that balloon, I saw one of Ms. Chelo’s long, manicured nails dig deep into that stubborn latex, and it gave up its ghost in one ear-popping explosion.  I did it!  

      I remember beaming at Ms. Chelo as I unintentionally turned my back on the audience, while the TV camera zoomed in on me trying to peel the remnants of the balloon from off the seat of my panties.  Not exactly a Kodak moment, but it was laughed off as cute because I was a kid.  An entirely different take whatsoever if I had been an adult…

      The even more interesting thing about TV Kinderland was that, even when it was yanked off the airwaves shortly after, it came back on the air twenty-some years down the road when my firstborn was in kindergarten.  When I heard about it, I excitedly signed her up. 

      On the first day of the show, it was like stepping back in time.  The format was the same— short prayer, light snacks, fun games and catchy songs.  Also, the set and even the teacher was the same.  Yes, Ms. Chelo was back, and was as ageless and as beautiful as ever.  What was even sweeter, her own daughter was now the one producing the show.  Who knows she could have been one of the kids a generation ago, that romped around the set trying to pop balloons?  The show was short-lived but it lasted long enough to forever stamp a smile on me and my daughter as we share some wonderful memories of Ms. Chelo and TV Kinderland.

      The next year found me officially enrolled.  Kindergarten at Stella Maris School was a wonderful experience.  The school had an extensive area with a lot of playground equipment.  There were winding roads that meandered off to seemingly unknown destinations.  There was a quaint chapel on the grounds that forever smelled of incense.  There was a “bahay kubo” (a playhouse made of thatched nipa leaves) that, although practically bare, was fully furnished by our imagination.  There was also this gigantic sprawling tree that grew low on the ground and welcomed kids with open arms, or should I say, branches.  Most of all, there were a lot of nooks and crannies that a little tyke like me could crawl into and hide.  It was paradise.

       The queen in that paradise was none other than my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Nelly Potestades.  She always had her pulled back in a ponytail and tied it with a flowing scarf, and completed the look with a ready smile.  Sweet and serene, she exacted obedience and loyalty from an unruly mob with her unflagging patience and kind ways.  I felt she saw something special in me, a little girl with short bob and bangs, with even shorter dress that had her panties forever peeking out from under the hem, no matter how often she pulled them up.  Then again, I have the feeling I was not the only one who felt that way.  Maybe that’s how she made all her students feel: special.  She just had that gift, you know.

      First grade was no less wonderful.  Mrs. Anita Uy was as kind and motherly as you would expect a first grade teacher to be.  She always made it a point to see something positive in everyone.  

      One time I drew a Christmas tree with sparkling lights, and she made a major production of it (to me) by posting it in our class bulletin board.  The remembrance of that act of kindness never fails to light me up as brightly as those lights I drew on my Christmas tree.

      First grade was not all that wonderful, though.  The fly in the ointment came in the form of our Religion teacher, a mean-spirited spinster who made it her personal crusade to strike fear in the hearts of 7-year-olds whom she treated like heathens.  She always seemed like she was on the warpath, and I tried to dodge out of firing range as much as I could, until one day, I took a direct hit and and became one of her casualties.  She caught me clowning around in class so she dragged me to the front of the class by grasping the hair of my sideburns, and once there, pulled me up by my nose as high as I could go.  

      Needless to say, I suffered more from embarrassment than the actual pain she inflicted on me.  The punishment really didn’t fit the crime, and every time I think about it, I remember that Religion teacher whose idea of spreading the word of God was giving kids a taste of hell.  

     By the second grade, my family had moved to a different city and I transferred to a different school.  Miss Perlita Sayawan was my teacher.  She was actually an excellent teacher, able to reach out to her students and make them think, but somehow, there was something about her that was intimidating.  She would get the ball rolling with her lecture for the day, but when she would toss the ball back to us by asking us questions, there were few souls in the class brave enough to subject themselves to her intense scrutiny.  I wasn’t scared of her, so I would try to “save” the class by trying to participate more, but eventually, the novelty of it all wore off.  She would fume over this non-participation and glare at us, which, of course, didn’t help matters.  There was always a dark cloud of angry silence that hung above us.  The angrier she became, the more hushed the class got, until either she would storm off the room or the bell would thankfully grant us a reprieve.  Third grade couldn’t come soon enough for me and my classmates. 

      Third grade came and went like a blur, and before I knew it, I was in fourth grade.  Our teacher was a heavy-set woman who had a very dour disposition.  For the purpose of this discussion, let’s just call her the little dictator because she ruled the class with an iron fist.  She would always look at me with disapproval every time I came in drenched in sweat after yet another hour of fun in the sun, so one day, she decided to declare martial law and ban playing during lunch break.  

      When we heard this, my friends and I were up in arms over the idea.  Why were we being punished for being kids and acting like kids?  The other grades were free to run and play.  What made us different?  Just because the sight of our dirty faces gave her displeasure did not give her the right to keep us from having fun!

      When the lunch hour bell rang, we marched silently outside and loitered around the playground wearing long faces.  I was fuming at the injustice of it all so I  started to pace the sidewalk.  I heard noises behind me, and when I looked back, I discovered that I had attracted quite a following.  Some of my classmates had formed a single line behind me and were mimicking my every move.  If I walked, they’d walk. If I ran, they’d run.  If I skipped and hopped, they’d skip and hop.  Hey, this was fun!  

      I tried to make my moves as complicated as possible to see if they could keep up. Pretty soon, we were zigzagging the entire playground, still in single file, WHEN THE BELL RANG!  

      When the bell rang, we looked at each other in horror.  Oops!  There was no mistaking what we did during lunch break.  Although the crime was not premeditated, we were guilty all the same.  

      We sneaked into the classroom with guilt written over our grubby faces, our sweaty bodies and our dirty uniforms.  Our little dictator of a teacher took one incredulous look at us and hissed, “Who was the mastermind behind this?”  It didn’t take much brainpower to figure out that I was the leader of this little rebellion, but to their credit, none of my partners-in-crime turned me in.  

      This angered her even more.  “If nobody will admit to anything, I will punish the whole class!”  Clever ploy, because of course I could not in all fairness allow the whole class to suffer because of me. 

      I stepped forward and admitted to the crime.  She looked at me in triumph.  Aha!  She got me where she wanted me. 

      She made me extend both hands with palms facing upward.  

      WHACK!  The ruler came down on my palms like an angry crack of lightning.

       WHACK!  WHACK!  WHACK!!!  The blows came in rapid succession this time.  Many, many more blows followed. 

      Now if she was hoping this show of force was sufficient to quell the rebellion, she was so wrong.  It only served to inflame it.  

      As I looked at the satisfaction on her face while she was giving me corporal punishment, a little subversive idea started to flicker inside me, and it fed on every blow until it burst into a raging fire.  I WAS GOING TO PLAY EVERY SINGLE DAY DURING OUR LUNCH HOUR, AND NOBODY WAS GOING TO STOP ME.  IF THAT MEANT BEING PUNISHED EVERY SINGLE TIME, SO BE IT.

      The next day during our lunch period, my classmates watched my every move.  I paced the sidewalk as I did yesterday.  When I looked back, I was not surprised to see an even bigger crowd forming single-file behind me, mimicking my every move.  I smiled.  The little dictator’s show of force backfired on her.  Not only did it garner sympathy for me, it also made the others resent her for having curtailed our right to play.  

      When the bell rang that day to signal the end of our lunch hour, we marched into our seats like condemned men, grim with the thought of our impending execution, but content, because we got our last wish.  

      My teacher could not believe her eyes.  This raggedy band of pint-sized rebels had dared disobey her for the second time!  

      She looked at me and I looked at her.  She could tell by my unflinching gaze that I was ready to take it all the way to the Supreme Court of grade school, the Principal’s Office.  

      She shot me one look filled with pure venom, and then she turned her back on me and started her lecture.  

      I could not believe it.  Was that it?  Was victory ours without bloodshed?  My classmates and I looked at each other in disbelief.  When you’re ready to go into battle and your enemy suddenly waves the white flag without any resistance, it can be unnerving. You are scared to let your guard down.  

      Our fears were unfounded though.  The little dictator lifted martial law without any fanfare and peace eventually ruled the land.

      After this turbulent episode, fifth and sixth grade were tame in comparison.   I had Ms Sayawan for a teacher again in sixth grade.  She had recently gotten married and what wonders marriage did for her!  She was kinder and more lenient, and smiled and joked around more often.  Hey, I thought, if this is what marriage does to people, I’m marrying off all these nuns in my school!

      By the time I got to high school, my interest in my school subjects was extremely polarized.  Of the three R’s, only Reading and ‘Riting merited my undivided attention.  ‘Rithmetic along with its cousin Science bored me to tears.  I usually logged in my highest reading mileage of the current bestsellers during these classes.  Based on this, I classified my high school teachers into two: those that taught Literature and those that did not.

       First, let’s talk about those that did not.  My favorite non-Literature teacher was Ms. Sofia Alino.  Slender and graceful, she inspired us to strive to be what an ideal UP alumni should be: idealistic, principled and patriotic.  She helped us develop a social conscience and a national pride, all with a graceful flick of her wrist and her favorite expression “Cuidao ha!”  

      Helping us to be fluent with our mother tongue was our Pilipino teacher, Mrs. Nellas.  She was soft-spoken and mild-mannered, so I took advantage of this by reading most of my novels in her class.  I never thought she noticed, but years later when my sister Joy became her co-teacher in the same high school, she remarked, “Joy, you’re so nice, but your sister Emma, all she did in my class was read other books.”  Busted!  

      Mrs. Carvajal tried to breathe life into Biology, but to a very uninterested me, mitosis was even less interesting than halitosis.  I also tried to invoke the power of osmosis to make the day’s lessons permeate my brain cell membrane.  No such luck.  

      Physics under Mr. Castillo was entertaining.  He would draw stick figures that picked up loads and used pulleys to illustrate his mathematical problems.  At the end of the year, I had become a genius at drawing stick figures, but I couldn’t solve a Physics problem to save my life!  

      Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry caused me a lot of pain and suffering in my high school life.  Quadratic equations, the Pythagorean Theorem, and sine, cosine and cotangent were a few of the torture devices that our Math teacher, Mr. Lutao, used on me.  Every fraction, polynomial and logarithm taunted me with their inscrutability.  When finals came, I, along with a few others, would beg clemency from Mr. Lutao.  He would turn us away, saying “I am not afraid of tearrrrs, even tears of blood.”  

      I would study enough to pass the exams, then immediately expunge all traces of the material from my system as soon as the test was done.  I hated math with a passion, as you can see.  

      What I failed to realize was that the discipline and the hard work that went into solving all those equations were tools that would come in handy later in life. Mr. Teofilo Lutao went on to become one of the most beloved teachers in the history of UP High.  When he got diagnosed with lung cancer, his students from all walks of life rallied to him and even donated money for his treatment (In the Philippines, most people are not insured so hospital bills are paid for in cash).  I got a chance to talk to him over the phone long-distance before he got worse.  He tried to put a brave front, laughing and joking about stuff. In the end, cancer made him a statistic, but he lives on with each retelling of the anecdotes that made him a legend.

      Now if Math and Science were my nemeses in high school, English subjects were my all-time favorites.  My English teachers were always accorded my undivided attention, well, almost always anyway. 

      My teacher in first year high school was Mrs. Fe Reyes, a kind, soft-spoken lady who made literature heavenly.  Bullfinch’s Age of Fable was my bible.  Greek gods and goddesses descended from Mount Olympus whenever school was in session.  The heroes of the Trojan War roamed the battleground of my imagination.  One-eyed Cyclops, serpent-haired Medusa and the three-headed dog Cerberus haunted my darkest nights.  Doomed creatures and tragic figures begged for their tales to be told and I, mere mortal, could not but listen.  Thus, a whole year passed while I devoured Greek mythology under Mrs. Reyes tutelage. 

      Glutton that I was, not satisfied with the present fare, I also feasted on others.  The menu: Roman (quite similar to Greek mythology), Indian (mostly from the book “The Dance of Shiva and other Tales from India”), Nordic (Valhalla) and English (Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales).  Let me not forget to mention Filipino folklore with their array of characters like the manananggal , tiyanak and aswangs.  A veritable smorgasbord indeed.

      Now it would be remiss of me to say that I loved Greek mythology without sharing with you the characters that sparked my interest and set my imagination on fire.

      My favorite goddess was Athena, or Minerva as the Romans called her.  While the other girls in my class flocked to the altar of Venus or Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, I reserved my devotion for the Goddess of Wisdom.  Said to have sprung from Zeus’ head mature and fully armored, she embodied traits I strived to cultivate: strength, wisdom and refinement.  She was also a patroness of the arts and handicrafts, including weaving.  

      A story goes that there was once a young maiden named Arachne who was skilled at weaving.  People from all over praised her handiwork and some were even heard to remark that Athena herself must have taught her.  

      All this praise went to the young maiden’s head.  She became vain and arrogant.  She found that even being compared to a goddess was beneath her.  In fact, she scoffed at the notion that Athena herself might have anything at all to teach her that she boldly challenged anyone, even the goddess herself, to a competition.  

      From among the crowd, a beggar cautioned her to be a little more humble and to take back her foolhardy words.  Arachne was unrepentant.  The beggar, who later turned out to be Athena, entered the weaving contest.  

      At the end of the match, everyone was amazed at how lifelike both of the tapestries turned out to be.  Although the mortal’s handiwork was exquisite, the goddess’s was clearly the more superior of the two. 

      The beggar/ goddess then revealed her true self to everyone. As a punishment, Athena touched the maiden’s forehead and filled her with shame.  Arachne couldn’t handle the shame and hang herself.  Taking pity on her, Athena brought her back to life but as a spider, to spend a lifetime of remorse, hanging by the thread and weaving her masterpieces.  Thus, the term arachnid for spiders came to be.

      Of the gods, I had a soft spot for the god of fire, arts and smiths, Hephaestus or Vulcan.  (I’ve always rooted for the underdog.)  Although he had the dubious distinction of being the only god who was ugly, he still managed to create beauty through artistic expressions.  It was said that when he was born, his mother found him so repulsive that she threw him out from Mount Olympus where he landed in the bowels of the earth.  There, he was raised by nymphs who taught him to be a blacksmith.  He became so skilled at it, fashioning many wonderful weapons for the other gods, that he was designated the artisan of the gods.  For the father of the gods himself, Zeus, he made the thunderbolt.  Zeus was so pleased at this creation that he gave Aphrodite, or Venus, to Hephaestus for a wife.  That is how the ugliest of the gods ended up marrying the most beautiful of the goddesses.  As to whether she was faithful to him during their marriage is an entirely different story.

      As to mortals, one of my favorite was Pygmalion.  Pygmalion became disenchanted with womenfolk in general.  Nobody could really measure up to his expectations. Being a sculptor, he made a marble statue of what he envisioned his ideal woman to be.  He called her Galatea.  So skilled was he that the sculpture looked alive, a maiden blushing at the intensity of her lover’s gaze.  He began treating her as such, dressing her and occasionally kissing her cheek.  

      One afternoon at the festival of the goddess of love, Pygmalion said a silent prayer to Venus wishing for someone like his statue to love.  He was in luck.  Venus has never been known to turn a deaf ear to a lover’s plea.  

      When Pygmalion got home, he kissed the statue’s cheek as usual.  Did he imagine it, or was her blush redder than usual?  Was he dreaming, or did her cheek feel more like flesh than marble?  To his delight, he found his ideal woman had come to life.  As their union was blessed by no less than the Goddess of Love herself, it would be safe to assume that theirs was a happy and fruitful one.  Thus, to be a Pygmalion is to mold someone into what you think they should be.  In psychology, there is a concept called the Pygmalion effect.  It theorizes that people will live up to whatever expectations or standards you set for them.  This is a concept that has been tried by some companies.  Its success is still debatable, though.  

      Another interesting character was Narcissus.  He was a handsome youth who caught the fancy of many a nymph.  One such nymph was named Echo.  She pursued him but he resisted her advances.  She became so lovelorn that she eventually faded away into a mere voice, repeating everything she heard, hence, the word echo.  

When the other nymphs heard about this, they placed a curse on Narcissus.  Since he could not love anybody but himself, they made him fall in love with his reflection in the river.  From that day forth, Narcissus could not do anything but gaze at his reflection in the river.  He eventually died of a broken heart, and by the place where his body lay grew a flower that they named after him.  Thus, to be narcissistic is to be vain, self-centered and “in love with yourself”.  Umm, sounds like some people I know…

      By far, though, my favorite was Prometheus.  Prometheus was a Titan who was neither a god nor a man.  He enjoyed the company of the gods but was also considered a benefactor of mankind.  Now he could have continued to enjoy this comfortable existence, but he saw man living in darkness and he wanted to give them the gift of fire.  This was expressly forbidden by the gods.  Unable to stand it any longer, he finally went up to Mount Olympus to steal fire from the gods in defiance of their order.  With the advent of fire, man could control the dark, cook his food, make weapons and do other things.  

      The gods were displeased at Prometheus for this theft that they condemned him to be chained to a rock with an eagle eating his liver in the morning.  Being immortal, the next day, the liver grew back, so that the cycle could be repeated and the punishment was unending.  

      Prometheus’ willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of mankind struck a chord in me.  I see his spirit alive and well in teachers who, despite low salaries and adverse working conditions, continue to spread the fire of knowledge that Prometheus had given mankind as a gift.

      For my sophomore year in high school, I had to come down back to terra firma.  Creative writing under Mrs. Wenceslao was no less magical, though.  To be given free rein of your imagination and expression, and to earn high marks for something you love to do anyway— that’s my definition of heaven.  The hours and days never seemed enough.  I looked forward to every assignment, tackled the day’s work with gusto and yearned for more challenges.  Years later, I heard that Mrs. Wenceslao finally did some creative writing of her own, was herself published, and won several national awards to boot.  I wished that she had shared some of her work with us amateurs back then.  Maybe some of that creative genius could have rubbed off on us.

       On my third year, I had Ms. Bunagan.  She was a lady through and through.  She spoke in a well-modulated voice, articulated her views with perfect diction and moved in a very refined way.  This initially put me ill at ease, awkward teenager that I was, but our pleasurable forays into the world of literature soon dispelled all my fears.  She always kept a professional distance from us students, so I was surprised to hear from another class one day that she had praised my style of writing to them.  A compliment from Ms. Bunagan was a rare gem indeed and one you cherish for a lifetime.  Mine is tucked away lovingly in my treasure trove of memories.

      On my last year in high school, I had a colorful character for a teacher.  Let me just call her Professor Green. Mrs. Green was an attractive woman with a prima donna complex.  She was a spoiled daddy’s girl who demanded everyone’s attention and adoration and expected her every whim and caprice to be catered to.  This is not to say that she was not an excellent teacher, because she was.  She was just cold to some students, sarcastic to others, and sweet to a select few.  Me?  I didn’t care.  I was just there because I had to be.  Besides, I knew I could never be one of the select few.  You see, her and me, we got history.  Let me take you back to when I was a freshman in high school.

      The arena: the English Quiz Bowl.  The gladiators: me and a senior named Raymond Canoy.  The Empress/ Mistress of Ceremonies: none other than the Chairman of the English Department herself who also happened to be the Principal of the high school, Mrs. Green.  

      We were down to the last round.  All the other contestants had been felled by javelins of wrong spelling, swords of erroneous choices and lances of incorrect answers.  It was just me and Raymond Canoy left standing in the field.  

      I could hear the cheers of the freshmen and the jeers from the upper years.  I could tell by the expression on the Mistress of Ceremonies’ face that she would have given me the thumbs down if it had been hers to decide, for she clearly favored my opponent. 

      Finally, the deciding question: What PT refers to a kind of barbershop philosophy found in Rizal’s novels?  (Foreign readers will not understand this question.)  

      Raymond Canoy got the first stab.  He lunged into thin air and missed 

      My turn.  I went straight for the jugular.  Pilosopong Tasio, I answered. It was a direct hit.  I was declared the winner.  

      It was a Pyrrhic victory.  There was a mixed reaction from the crowds.  Some viewed me with admiration.  The rest were resentful at the upstart who bested the local favorite.  Even the Mistress of Ceremonies herself did not congratulate me.  Her final act of compassion?  She approached the loser and tried to comfort him.  Is it any wonder then that it would take three long years before she would host another English Quiz Bowl?  As it turned out, it   would take another Quiz Bowl for us to lock horns again.

      Fast forward to my senior year…  Now the day before the much-awaited English Quiz Bowl is certainly not a day to get in trouble with your English professor.  Trouble is, trouble has never had any trouble finding me.  Now I never really cared for Mrs. Green on a personal level, but on a professional one, she had my utmost respect and admiration.  On that fateful day, she posed this question to the class:  Was the novel “The Little Prince” a work of fiction or fact?  

    For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is a popular children’s book written by Antoine Saint-Exupery about this pilot who gets lost in the Sahara Desert and befriends a little prince from asteroid B12.  In his quest for his beloved rose, The Little Prince traveled to different planets peopled by The King, The Conceited Man, The Drunk, The Businessman, The Lamplighter and The Geographer.  Fact or fiction?  

      Granted, we have a lot of these characters in our own planet, but it would take a stretch of imagination to believe in the existence of The Little Prince who supposedly traveled around the galaxy by hitching a ride on a flock of geese.  Clearly, in my opinion, it was an allegorical story about the innocence of childhood as personified by The Little Prince and the folly of man who, in the quest for riches and glory, forgets what is really important in life.  What is essential is invisible to the eye… 

      There was now a heated discussion going on, with the two protagonists being two of the most long-winded and blustery debaters this side of Class ’82.  This was gonna be a long day, I thought to myself.  I fiddled around for something to do.  Hmm, there was the next period’s homework that I was planning to do during recess…  

      I took it out of my bag and was soon engrossed in it.  I was almost done with my homework, all the while half-listening to those two.  They were still at it!  

      This surprised me.  Mrs. Green usually keeps a tight rein on her students, and for her to have let this circus get this far was simply out of character.   

      I looked up from my homework.  A strange sight greeted me.  There was Mrs. Green behind her table, darting indignant glances across the room, blinking back tears.  

      Uh-oh.  This doesn’t look good.  I asked a classmate sitting in front of me what the matter was.  She whispered to me, “She’s been glaring at you this entire time”   Well, thanks a lot for telling me NOW!  

      I slipped my homework under my chair and put on an innocent look.  Not working.  She was still doing the blinking-back-tears routine.  Definitely not good.  An uneasy hush filled the room.  

      Finally, she let it out.  “Some of you here think you’re too good for this class.”  Uh-oh, here it comes.  “You don’t even bother to pay attention to anything going around here.”  

      Wait a minute.  You expect me to waste my time on these two bozos? Besides, was I really the only one going out of my mind listening to those two?  

      The harangue went on and on.  Mercifully, the bell rang.  Escape at last!  

      She hadn’t mentioned any names so far, so maybe I was off the hook.  Mrs. Green scooped up her books and left in a huff.  Whew.  Narrow escape.  

      Well, not so fast.  In the next minute, she had stormed back into the classroom, spat out my name like an angry accusation, and then stormed out again. 

      That, my friend, was a category five hurricane, and I was right smack in the middle of it.  What was that all about anyway?  First of all, it wasn’t like I wasn’t listening to her: she hadn’t even said a word while those two were in the middle of the fact or fiction debate.  Second, why should she care if I, or anyone else for that matter, wasn’t listening?  Aren’t kids entitled to a get-me-outta-here-I’m-bored-to-death blackout episodes every now and then?  She should compare notes with my Math and Science teachers!  I thought she was overreacting, as usual.  I was prepared to dismiss the whole episode from my mind, but my best friend Florence urged me to make amends with her.  So I did, or tried to anyway.

      I knocked on the Principal’s office and opened the door.  There she was, in her chair, eyes puffy, nose red, mouth still trembling at the indignation of not having a student’s full and unwavering attention.  Boy, she was spoiled. 

      I began by telling her that I respected her as a teacher and did not mean to insult her by my behavior.  I explained the situation further, but she cut me off with the same guilt-trip speech she had used earlier.  After that, she rotated her chair deliberately and turned her back on me.  Literally and figuratively.  I guess I was dismissed!  

      Not being somebody who hangs around where they’re not wanted, I bid adieu and went back to my friends, who could not believe the story I had to tell. Cross swords with the principal! Now that was bold. 

      The next day was the English Quiz Bowl.  The Mistress of Ceremonies was none other than Mrs. Green herself.  

      I had no problem with that.  I had apologized for offending her and that was that.  

      She, however, apparently still had a problem.  Every time I would answer correctly, she would smirk, pout and use a variety of facial expressions that preschoolers are known to use.  Now this would not have been so obvious if she hadn’t been at the podium standing in front of everybody, and if I hadn’t gotten a lot of questions right.  

      As it was, I won the English Quiz Bowl again, much to her disappointment.  I did not expect any congratulations from her that day, and got none.  

      After the Quiz Bowl, my friends gathered around me, flabbergasted at her infantile behavior.  I had nothing more to say.  Everyone, I figured, is entitled to a childish outburst every now and then, even an English professor.      

      The next day, somebody delivered a gift to me.  Inside the box was a card that read, “That knowledge is indeed power you truly proved at the English Quiz Bowl yesterday.  Congratulations.”  

      I did not have to look at the signature to see who it was from.  She had redeemed herself with this gesture.  A truce was called.  She lectured in class, I listened.  No more class discussions running amuck, no more next-period homework done in her class.  Harmony had prevailed at last.

      Off to college at last…  

      College as a Med Tech student was an endless torture.  Chemistry had never been a favorite in high school, but now I was inundated with Chem I to Chem IV, Clin Chem I, Bio Chem II…  The list was endless.  

      I was lost in the periodic table of the elements, couldn’t care less about acids or bases and regarded the Bunsen burner with distrust.  I must have blocked out a sizeable part of this phase in my life.  Or maybe I skipped more classes than I showed up for.  Whatever the reason, my mind cannot come up with any teachers’ names or faces.  Which is just as well.  They were probably just as eager to delete me from their memory as I had them.

    My life was spiraling downhill in proportion to my grades.  In the college I was going to, my former high school classmates who were Mr. Lutao’s (remember my Math teacher?) protégés were lording it over the school.  They were excelling in all the classes, even those that had been mediocre students back in high school.  I truly believed that the discipline and tenacity that Mr. Lutao tried to instill in those who listened were instrumental in helping them tackle college life.  Too bad, I missed that lesson.  

      By virtue of my being from the same school, most of my teachers thought me smart and cut me some slack.  But I knew I couldn’t fake it any longer.  Something had to change.  Something had to happen.  And it did.  

      Found myself pregnant.  Had to quit school.  Had to re-eval my life.  Had to quit bumming around.  Had to forget my dreams of becoming a doctor.  Had to think of something else to do with my life.  Mass Comm. or Journalism?  Tempting option, but was not sure I had the talent or disciple to make it big.  Psychology?  Also an attractive choice, but where do I go from there? Socio-anthropology?  Enticing alternative.  My sister was a So-An major and I loved her textbooks, but it seemed like another dead-end.  Nursing school?  Hmm, now that was a possibility…  It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made in my young life!

      Brand new school, brand new start.  I was going to shake off my loser attitude and emerge the winner I was meant to be.  My resolve was strong, but there was just one minor obstacle to overcome: this college of nursing didn’t want me.  

      This nursing college had a reputation of producing outstanding nurses and board-placers, but it was strict on one thing: in its long history, they have never had a married student and they were not about to start now.  Roadblock.  

      Fortunately, the President of the entire university happened to be a very close friend of my mother and the godfather at my wedding.  He and the Dean of the College of Nursing came to a compromise: I was going to be allowed to take the entrance exam but I had to be in the upper percentile to be even considered for admission.  If at any point, I got pregnant again or my marital or maternal duties interfered with my school performance, I could be asked to leave.  Tough conditions, but fair.  I took the entrance exam.  I passed with flying colors.  They had no choice but to let me in.

      In nursing school, I was pleasantly surprised to find all the subjects fascinating and worthwhile.  Nursing stirred a love for learning in me that I thought only literary subjects could inspire.  I had Anatomy and Physiology as a Med Tech student, but as a nursing student, it was presented with a holistic approach that appealed to me.  It was like science with a heart, not just mere facts and figures that I had to memorize.  Med- Surg Nursing walked you through the different medical and surgical conditions, gave you the signs and the symptoms of the different diseases, correlated it to the anatomy and physiology of the human body, and discussed the different nursing interventions to correct the condition or alleviate the symptoms.  Psychology gave me a better understanding about human behavior, including my own, and helped me deal with my own issues in life.  

      When we were assigned to different areas of the hospital as a nursing student, I liked the fact that nurses can still make a difference in people’s lives without having to take on the full responsibility that doctors have.  A lot of people in the Philippines took up nursing as a ticket to get into the US of A.  That was not my driving force.  I just wanted to find a profession that I could love and still make a decent living of.  Seems like I found my calling at last…

      Now I would have loved to boast that in my four years there, I was the poster child for good behavior and unflagging devotion to the college of nursing, but reality sometimes gets in the way of good intentions.  I was so active in my extra-curricular activities that sometimes nursing took a backseat.  Though I got high marks in my nursing subjects, it was my stint as a member of the school paper’s editorial board that got me award after award.  Though I wasn’t an officer in the college of nursing, I was elected time and again to the Student Council of the entire school.  Though I loved my nursing classes, I also found pleasure elsewhere, taking all the Literature classes they’d allow me.  Even took a Nipponggo (Japanese) class for the heck of it.  (Loved it, by the way.  Was good at it, too.  Watashi wa anata wo aishite inamasu.   In English, I love you.)  Things were definitely looking up for me.  

      This was definitely a far cry from my previous college when I was down in the dumps and I felt like a loser with a capital L.  

      I don’t know what turned my life around.  Was it the freedom that marriage unexpectedly afforded me?  Was it newfound vigor that this new environment brought me?  Whatever it was, I had found my niche.  I loved this brand new world I was in.

      Looking back, I can credit one teacher with putting me back on my feet and straightening me out on my first day in class.  

      Mrs. Mancao had a reputation for being a terror of a teacher.  She was not the most brilliant or inspiring of teachers, but when she talked, you listened.  It was that simple.  When she gave tests, you better read that chapter word for word and memorize every comma and period.  If you want to live to see another day, don’t even think of cheating.  My mind had grown lazy from apathy and disuse, but I had no other choice but to listen, read and study.  Back in my previous college and even in my high school years, I had given up on myself as ever being a serious student.  Under Mrs. Mancao, there was no other option than to be one.  As my study habits and work ethics improved in Mrs. Mancao’s class, so did my performance and my grades in my other subjects.  I finally learned a long overdue lesson in humility.     

      One teacher I would also like to mention is Mrs. Caballero.  Slender and pretty, she was just a few years older than I was and treated me like one of her peers.  We had one thing in common, you see.  We had both gotten married at a young age.  She had been a former student of this college of nursing, but got kicked out on her last year of college when she got pregnant.  Not even her being a consistent honor student saved her.  She went to another college to finish her studies, where she graduated with honors.  I was always amazed to think she would come back to a place that had treated her so shabbily, but come back she did, with a vengeance.  She was one of the best instructors that school ever had.

      Now if I had to name two professors that inspired me the most it would have to be Dr. Marlon Lopez and Dr. Romola Savellon.  Dr. Lopez taught Psychology and Dr. Savellon taught Literature.  These two are remarkable to me not only because they were excellent teachers, but also because they managed to stick to their principles and still managed to climb up the corporate ladder without muddying themselves in the murky waters of school politics.

      Psychology under Dr. Lopez was like entering another world where life’s secrets were bared before you.  To me, the battle raging between the id, ego and superego was fascinating.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs made me understand that physiological and safety needs have to be addressed first for people to be able to move forward to fulfilling love or self- actualization needs.  A discussion of defense mechanisms gave me insight into myself and others.  Knowledge on human behavior culled by years of study by Freud and Erikson were mine for the taking with a mere flip of the pages of my books.  I looked forward to the daily pop quizzes and of course, the day’s lessons.  My enthusiasm for the class was no secret.  

      On the day of our finals, Dr. Lopez added two essay questions to my exams.  He wrote down that these questions were optional.  I didn’t have to answer them, as he wasn’t giving me any extra points for doing so.  

I did not need extra points. The fact that my fave teacher singled me out by adding two essay questions to my exam was motivation enough. I was one of the last ones to turn my paper in as I labored over those two questions.  He even teased me that he was just expecting a short essay, not a whole article for the school paper.  

    Well, Dr. Lopez simply had that quality of making people do more than what was expected of them.  He continued to work his magic on his students in the years to come.  He later on became the Dean of the College of Nursing where of course he churned out top-notch students and graduates.  He is presently the Vice-President of College Affairs in the same school.  Last time I visited the school, he took me on a tour on the school campus.  He really takes a personal pride in his work and it shows. (Update : he is now the President of the entire school, now named Cebu Normal University.)

      Now Literature has always been my first love, but Mrs. Savellon, another fave teacher, elevated Literature to dizzying new heights.  It was like turning up the volume a couple of decibels higher, like painting the rainbow a few shades deeper or like making the sun a few shades brighter.  I was fascinated.  A deceptively simple story had nuances that you never noticed before.  A few leading questions can make you gain insights that you didn’t think possible.  The more I got, the more I craved.  I signed up for as many classes under her that they would allow.  When I graduated, I think I was the only nursing student that had as many Lit classes as an English major.

      Now my story about teachers will not be complete if I don’t include the second time I made a teacher cry.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was not proud of either of these two incidents.  I never meant to offend either teacher.  Even after all these years, I still find it hard to understand the furor that I unintentionally caused.  I never set out to find trouble, but as I’ve said before, trouble has never had any trouble finding me.

      I graduated from nursing school with a grade point average higher than our valedictorian did, but my dismal performance in my previous college ruled out any possibility of walking on stage with honors.  Though it was a bitter pill to swallow, I knew it was nobody’s fault but mine, and I had no choice but to accept it. 

      The next step was taking the board exams.  Now for those of you unfamiliar with the set-up of our educational system, college, especially nursing school, was like high school in the sense that you had the same set of classmates from freshman to senior year.  After we graduated, we were bundled off to the big city of Manila for a month-long review class.  We were housed under the same roof under the watchful eye of nuns.  Sounds archaic?  Try adding a chaperone to the mix.  We didn’t have just any teacher for a chaperone; we had Mrs. America Silva, one of the most competent teachers on staff but also the strictest.  

      She already laid down the law.  Phone calls?  Not allowed.  Family visits?  Forget it.  Oh, and exploring the city?  Dream on.  We were not allowed to go out except on weekends, and only if you were good.  Trouble being my middle name, I got in trouble the very first day we got there.      

      There were 3-4 students in each room.  The accommodations were simple but adequate.  My only problem was that there was only one flimsy pillow per bed.  I asked Mrs. Silva if I could call my cousins who lived nearby if they could bring me some extra ones.  I got a resounding no for an answer.  I then asked if I could come visit them really quick to pick up the pillows.  The answer was a NO again, this time in capital letters.  

      Now I am not rebellious by nature, but blind obedience to authority has never been one of my strongest points.  Besides, I’ve never had any qualms breaking rules, especially when I find them unreasonable.  (I knew that the other review classes weren’t subject to such rules.) 

      Opportunity came knocking when Ms. Silva made the mistake of leaving the boarding house to go on some errand.  I quickly made my exit.  I wasn’t planning on some grand misadventure.  All I wanted was to slip out to get my pillows and slip back in without any fanfare.  Of course, life never turns out the way you plan it.  

      As soon as I arrived back at the boarding house, triumphantly holding my pillows aloft, guess who should step in right behind me?  You guessed it! 

      She was so mad at me that she would not speak a word to me directly.  She told the class that the one who broke the rules that day was not allowed to go out at all for the weekend.  (Fair enough.  I have never been one to shirk responsibility for my actions, especially if I get caught.)  

      Then, like a drill sergeant, she outlined our schedule in the weeks to come.  5 AM, everyone was expected to wake up to study.  (There was going to be a room monitor to make sure this was being followed.)  8 AM to 5 PM was the formal review.  (We had some guest reviewers.)  8 PM, absolutely LIGHTS OUT. 

      Oh, boy.  I knew I was going to have a problem with this schedule.  First of all, I am not an early bird, and to drag me out of bed for whatever reason at such an unholy hour is sure asking for unholy behavior on my part!  Second, I study best from sundown to midnight.  Outside that time frame, my mind goes cruise control on la-la land.  Whatever happened to considering the individual’s needs, I wanted to ask.  Still, I was NOT in a position to argue, so I wisely kept my mouth shut.  I guess I had no choice but to try to survive boot camp, Mrs. Silva version.

      First day of boot camp, the room monitor bodily dragged me from my warm bed and sat me up on a chair with a book before me.  No one can say I didn’t try.  I studied until I got cross-eyed, then studied some more.  By the time formal review classes started, my mind was oxygen-depleted and sleep-deprived.  I was absolutely useless.  They might as well have propped a cardboard figure of me for all the learning I was getting.

      I couldn’t handle it anymore.  I had to get my zzz’s.  

      Always the escape artist, I slipped upstairs where the rooms were.  Hmm, bedroom or restroom?  Pick the least obvious choice, instinct told me.  I sneaked inside one of the bathroom stalls. Once there, I closed my eyes to savor the sweetness of slumber while keeping my ears open for intruders.  

      Less than an hour later, I heard footsteps.  Mrs. Silva’s.  I heard her go to my room, and then check out the other rooms.  When I heard her footsteps getting closer to the bathroom, I slipped back downstairs to go back to review class, as if nothing ever happened, refreshed and recharged, ready to take on the world of review class.  Amazing what a little catnap can do for you!  

      When Mrs. Silva came downstairs, she looked at me with suspicion.  With no incriminating evidence, I was off the hook, for the moment at least.  I paid the price for my duplicity, though.  Dozing on and off all day made me miss most of the day’s lesson, and by the time night came, I was wide-awake.  Which meant that by the time it was time to wake up the next day, my brain cells were screaming for sleep.  A vicious cycle.  One I seemed destined not to break.

      Second day of boot camp was a rerun of the previous day.  Forced myself to study at dawn, forced myself to stay awake in review class, and forced myself to sleep at night.  This time, when I sneaked out to take a nap, I stooped lower.  Much lower.  I slept under the bed.  How low can you go? 

      Third day of boot camp, I made up my mind not to wake up at dawn.  The room monitor tried reason, tears, bribes, threats, promises…  No dice. 

I sandwiched my head firmly between the two pillows I had gotten from my cousin’s house.  I was going to handcuff myself to the bed if that’s what it took to keep me there.  I heard her call out to Mrs. Silva to report me. I prepared myself for bodily injury or physical mutilation.  None came.  Success! I went back to sleep.  Won the first round… 
      That day, I woke up after 7, took my shower, had breakfast and went straight to review class.  Didn’t doze off at all during the entire lecture.  A first!  

      After dinner, I studied until midnight, went to bed thereafter and slept like a baby.  Ditto the next day, and all the other days that followed.  This turn of events strengthened my resolve to follow my own circadian rhythm and not someone else’s master schedule.  

      I was unaware that my act of rebellion sparked similar acts, and pretty soon, everyone was pretty much following their own routine.  Boot camp was slowly being disbanded.  Part of it anyway.  There was still that tricky part about me not being able to go out on weekends.      

      Saturday came.  It was our first weekend and I was grounded.  Mrs. Silva was ready to post sentries if necessary, but there was no need.  I had prepared myself for a very uneventful day. I was going to make amends for all the commotion I had caused.  I was going to stay in my little corner and study.  Honestly.  And study I did.  It actually felt good to be a meek little mouse for a change.  

      When Mrs. Silva got back from her day out and saw me curled up in my little corner, she actually felt sorry for me.  She told my classmates to tell me that I was not grounded anymore, that I could go out tomorrow.  What!  Make her feel less guilty?  Not a chance.  Besides, I was actually getting the hang of this whole studying thing.  I was prepared to stay home again tomorrow and milk this guilt trip of hers for all it was worth.  Fate, however, had other plans.

      When Mrs. Silva left with my classmates that Sunday morning, she actually managed to smile at me.  I started to believe there was hope for me yet.  I hit my books, determined to be the soul of remorse and atonement. 

      The phone rang.  It was for me.  Strike one.  No personal calls allowed, remember?  

      It was my cousin.  He was an aspiring model and actor.  He and a couple of friends wanted to drop by to say hi to me and my classmates.  He promised his visit was going to be very brief.  He would not take no for an answer, so what could I do but say yes?  Strike two.  No outside visits allowed.  

      When my cousin and his friends came in, I quickly ushered them in, introduced them to some of my friends who were there, and was ready to shoo them out of the building after I accepted the cake they had brought for me.  Wait, wait, they said.  One picture.  

      I forced a smile for the camera, glancing nervously at the door.  Last one, they begged. Okay.  One more picture can’t hurt, right?  

      I posed, hands outstretched in a theatrical gesture, a big smile pasted on my face.  At the exact time that the lights flashed Mrs. Silva walked in.  

      She had gone home early because she felt sorry for me, only to find me in the center of a bevy of people, obviously having the time of my life.  Strike three.  Having fun when you’re grounded was an absolute no-no.  

      My cousin left right after that.  Too late.  The harm was done.  Mrs. Silva refused to speak to me or even glance at my direction for the rest of that time we spent there.  That was a good three weeks.  

      I felt bad but there was nothing I could do.  I knew she was as stubborn as I was and would not accept any form of apology until she was good and ready.  I let it slide but this time, with no more rules left to break, I stayed out of trouble.  I found out a few days before our actual board exams that she had written our Dean of Nursing a tear-streaked letter expressing her frustrations about me.  I heard that Dr. Lopez tried to appease her and come to my defense, jokingly saying that the ones who usually cause so much trouble are the ones that top the board exams.

      I felt downright miserable to have caused so much commotion.  Time and again I wished I were like the rest of my classmates who are told about all the rules and actually obey them.  Without question.  Without asking for an explanation.  Without wondering what if. I felt bad for causing Mrs. Silva a lot of hurt.  I knew she felt a lot of pressure about being a chaperone, that she felt it her personal mission to ensure that we all passed.

      The day before the actual 2-day board exams, Mrs. Silva told us to go to bed early, close our books and let our minds rest.  I did as I was told.  Or tried to anyway.  At around midnight, I bolted upright in my bed.  The ghosts of guilt, the shadows of shame and the dread of retribution gripped me by the throat.  I suddenly feared some great karmic force would somehow make me fail my exams, with Mrs. Silva and all the people I have wronged jeering at me.  I could not let that happen.  

      Like a madman, I studied like I’ve never studied before.  At around 6 am, I finally surrendered to exhaustion and crawled into my bed.  A little before 7, they asked me if I wanted to go to early morning mass with the rest of the class.  Count me in.  This was definitely a time when I wanted God on my side!  Never mind if I had less than an hour’s sleep!  

      There were three big tests scheduled that day, all with an allotment of one hour and a half: 8-9:30, 10-11:30 then 1-2:30.  What I had in my favor was that I am a fast reader and usually finish my tests way ahead of everybody.  The downside was that that day I had hardly slept a wink, and my eyes and my brain were nearing automatic shutdown, with or without my permission.  I only had one ghost of a chance.  If I could finish my first test in 30 minutes (not so hard to do considering my track record) then somehow convince the proctor to let me take the second test right after (a harder thing to accomplish, because everyone was supposed to start the tests together.)  

      I took the first test with my head resting on the desk and me reading the questions sideways.  (I was too tired to even take the test sitting up!)  I was done in 30 minutes.  

      I hobbled over to the proctor, and pleaded my case.  I told her in my most convincing manner that I was really, really sick, that I really could not last any longer, and could I just please take the second test now, I promised I was not going to reveal to anyone the contents of that test.  Something about my bloodshot eyes and my unusual request must have convinced her, because she gave me the test without any fuss.

      I finished it as fast as I could, my brain and my hand on autopilot.  When I handed her my test, I could barely keep my eyes open while I mumbled my thanks and bolted for the door. 

      As soon as I entered my room, I crashed into my bed.  This was around 9:30.  I woke up a few minutes before 1 pm, grabbed a quick lunch, and tackled the rest of the exams with renewed vigor.  The person seated next to me gave me a strange look.  

      That night, I took Mrs. Silva’s advice, stayed away from my books and slept early.  

      The second day of the board exams went by without any incident.  As I got up to hand in the last exam, the person seated next to me, the one who had looked at me funny the first day, asked for my name.  I told her, and then I asked why.  She said, “I’m gonna look up your name in the papers when the results come out.  I wanna know if you passed or failed.”  With the way I had acted on the first day, she had probably figured me out to be either a madman or a genius!

      When the results of the board exams finally came out, I was relieved to find out that I had passed.  Even better, I had topped the board.  Well, not exactly.  Does placing 12th nationwide count?  Our valedictorian placed 17th.  Sweet.  Overcame another hurdle again with a stroke of luck and the grace of God.

      Oh, do you want to hear about the time I took the CGFNS exam (an exam we had to take to be able to get a visa to work in the US)?  No, I did not make any teacher cry.  This time, I did the crying.   

      The day of the exam, I woke up with a massive ear infection.  It felt like bongo drums were playing inside my ear, with the beat rising to a crescendo with each passing minute.  I was in agony the whole time I was taking the written exam, with one hand cupped over my ear to drown out the frenzied drumming inside and the other hand scribbling the answers furiously so I could finish the exam and go to a doctor.  I was in luck again.  The building where the exams were held happened to have an EENT doctor in the house.  

      I stumbled into his office with this wild and pained look on my face.  He was on his lunch break but one look at me and he felt sorry.  He motioned me to his chair, looked inside my ear and then took out the biggest bulb syringe I have ever seen in my life.  He then proceeded to irrigate my ear.  

      After the procedure, I felt like singing Alleluia!  I was completely healed!  After thanking and paying the doctor, I went back for the second half of the exam.  Just just in time.  This second half was an oral test.  I wouldn’t have made it if the doctor hadn’t bend his rules and seen me on his lunch hour.  The same way I wouldn’t have made it if the proctor on our board exams hadn’t bend the rules and let me take the second test ahead of everybody else.  

      Rules are there for a reason , but sometimes you have to consider the human factor, too.  I am just glad that those two came through for me, a complete stranger, when I needed it the most.

      Well, I’m happy to report that despite the run-ins I’ve had with authority figures, I generally consider myself a law-abiding citizen and a productive member of our society.  As for my character, my teachers can vouch for me, except for maybe one, or two, or make that three.  Then again, I think we’re better off asking my mother for character reference…

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