All The Women, Independent

Mmes. Lulli Salcedo and Tina Cifra throw their hands up at us

For women’s month we sought to celebrate the diversity and independence of womanhood by featuring two strong and self-reliant single women, of differing ages and backgrounds, and the homes that they have made their own.

Ms. Luli Salcedo, an established veteran in the crazy and cutthroat advertising industry, is an exceptional example of a mature lady in her prime, looking forward to her golden years with grace. Her fresh and airy condominium in Mandaluyong is a serene spot smack in the middle of the gridlocked metropolis. “I’m a city girl but for my home I chose a country style.” From the bathroom to the kitchen, flowers and fruits fill each corner and adorn each wall. No area is bereft of charming little reminders of the pastoral life, even the eaves above the windows serve as display ledges for rows of porcelain collectibles. “I thought that since I only have a little space, I need to fill the gaps.” The rustic theme was a conscious effort on Luli’s part, “I think it makes up for the province I never had,” she explains.

Luli considers herself to be a creature of comfort, and her home had to satisfy her high standards of cosiness. “My home is my refuge from the office and the world. The moment I enter my place, I like to switch off all the tensions and stresses from work, the traffic, and people.”

It took a mix of the old and new, foreign and Filipino, to create Luli’s comfy country haven. “A lot of the things are from our old house. I have a blue pitcher that my grandfather bought in France. It should be over 80 years old.” Like her grandfather before her, Luli is also an avid traveller and collector. She has glassware from Spain and Italy, a pair of wooden clogs from Holland, and sculpture and candleholders from Bali. However, her larger living pieces are all locally made. “My furniture is from Pampanga and Baguio. The cabinet, an American hutch is from Greenhills. The coffee table is from Rustans.” An eclectic collection of candles and table lamps impart a warm and peaceful glow to the rooms and sunlight softly streams through curtains colourfully patterned with spring flowers. “The curtains are by Hanae Mori, a Japanese designer. They were a gift from my aunt.”

Improving her home is one extravagance on which she doesn’t scrimp on. She doesn’t mind spending money on features that she considers to be important, like fixing the floor, adding cabinets, and putting in the shower enclosure. She next plans to get the ceiling done, and to put in ceramic tiles and Spanish lamps.

“Fixing things the way I want to,” is what Luli rates as the best thing about having her own place. “I enjoy living alone,” she admits. The solitary life allows her to indulge her inner snob. “If you don’t feel like talking or eating, you’re not hurting anybody’s feelings. You don’t need to make pakisama.” The trade-off is that her inner handywoman also sees a lot of employment. “I have to do everything. I have to make sure the house is clean. If it’s dirty, you have nobody to blame but yourself. If anything goes wrong I have to take care of it or wait for the maintenance.”

Luli found the feat of getting her own place to be very liberating, but adds that one should pick a home for the right reasons. “I think women should always trust their intuition. I did, the first time I set my eyes on this place, I fell in love with it. It’s not like a typical condominium since it has gardens and walkways.” Her rules for house-hunting can be pretty much applied to everyday living as well. “You should be true to yourself. You have to be real. Know what you want. Don’t make choices based on what other people say is prestigious or impressive,” she cautions.

Living alone has fortified her spirit. “You get to know yourself better, your limits, your strengths, and your weaknesses. I used to be easily scared of ghosts and other things. But you have to realize that it’s all in the mind. You don’t really have a choice. You have to tell yourself that there’s nothing to be scared about. At first I couldn’t sleep for a month because I’d hear something in the middle of the night and wake up.” The experience made her realize something about herself. “I’m strong pala. I can choose not to be afraid of anything.”

Luli knows a thing or two about how to make the most out of life as a successful single woman. “If you’re single, you have to be your own best friend. In your journey you will stumble and fall a few times. If you don’t know yourself and if you don’t trust yourself, you might not be able to get up. If you like yourself and you’re happy with yourself, it’s a lot of fun to be single and successful. But if you’re the type who always needs to have somebody with you, somebody to tell you that you’re this or that, then it’s going to be difficult.”

Speaking with the wisdom that can only be gained through experience and a life well-lived, she offers a few words that most single women out there might find worth listening to. “You need to love yourself. The reason why I enjoy single life is because I have a big loving family. I have very few friends but they’re friends that I’ve kept for decades. These are the people I can talk to or run to. These are the people who are always there for me. That’s what’s important.”

Dra. Tina Cifra is a young pediatrician making her mark at the vast and venerable Philippine General Hospital. A far cry from the stereotypical medical hermit, she manages to find humour in even the most dire and morbid situations that frequently occur in her demanding profession. Tina is one doctor who you can easily take the hospital out of. Once you do manage to take her out of the hospital, that is. “My apartment is such a safe, snug haven from the madness of the hospital where you’re being jostled about everyday by patients and their mothers, and by consultants and their fellows. When I get home it’s such a relief,” she exclaims.

The contents of her quirky condo unit in Ermita stand testament to her extracurricular persona as a voracious reader, obsessive learner, movie and music lover. Tina’s shelves and storage space are crammed full of novels, textbooks, magazines, videos and CDs, ample evidence of a colourful life outside the medical realm. Amidst the crush and clutter, Tina feels right at home. “I like my place because it’s so cosy, and everything is within reach. It’s near work and near a mall, which is great.” So far, Tina’s been having a blast exploiting the benefits of unsupervised living. “Being on my own is exhilarating. After Catholic’s girl’s school, what do you think? Nobody’s looking over your shoulder. I can come and go as I please, watch TV till the wee hours, nobody’s going to scream at me and bang on my door at 3 am. I can make as much noise as I want. I can make telebabad all day, which is a pet peeve, since I was deprived of that in high school.”

Her place has played host to a ton of merry memories. “I’ve had the most fun here doing school projects, having sleep-overs and running around with friends.” And even if she enjoys the company, Tina has never seriously considered getting a roommate to help split costs and chores. “I’m too selfish to share my space,” she admits. “But independence has its downside. Nobody’s there to help wash the dishes. I have to do my own grocery shopping. When you get home there’s no food ready. And it’s really a drag taking out the trash, especially when it’s full of take-out boxes.”

Tina tries to fix up her home to reflect her tastes and personality, although given her limited time and finances, it still has lots of catching up to do. “When I first moved in, it was like a little girl’s room, with posters of movie stars on the wall, some of which are still there. But it evolved over time,” she explains. “I don’t usually go for pink. I think it’s more of a reflection of me when I was 18. It could be sleeker.”

As a young professional just starting out, Tina really couldn’t afford to splurge on interior design. Most of her furnishings were bought at a furniture fair in Megamall. And yet, she has striven to add personal touches to her space, using it as an outlet for her creative sensibilities. “We were at this restaurant and there was this artist showing his collages. I thought, look at that, that’s just glue and magazines and paper, I can do better. And I think I did,” she asserts. However, her hopes for more home improvement opportunities remain strong. “A year ago, there was a big renovation. It was an interior decorating spree for a while. It was also when I made the curtains and the collages. It’s never happened again since then,” she says with some frustration. “I just play it by ear. I’m planning a big renovation soon. I want to repaint the walls and change the floors”

Tina has a few choice nuggets of advice for young people starting out on their own. “First, get a job. Always lock your goodie drawer. And never live by yourself if your parents aren’t willing to foot the utility bill!” she advises half-jokingly. Thankfully, Tina manages to revert back to her usual profundity for the closer. “It’s all about independence. Break away, be a rebel. Don’t always try to be part of a whole. You’re complete in yourself.”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

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