Ying Villanueva, a special friend
- Kevin G. Belmonte () - April 18, 2009 - 12:00am

Weng Domingo is a really close friend of ours. Weng knows all about my passion for cacti and succulents, having stayed with us at Tagaytay Highlands and seeing my collection there. Most recently, we spent the Holy Week together at Punta Fuego and Tali where we reflected on our Lord’s Resurrection, the good and not-so good in life, and how we are all really blessed to have each other as friends. 

One of Weng’s special friends is Ying Villanueva. Ying, who is Thai and married to Yoohoo Villanueva (I’ve known Yoohoo since college), had a real flair for cooking. Her specialty was Thai cuisine. She even had a Thai “cooking school” for friends, and this was how Weng, who was one of her students, became close to her. In Weng’s words, “Ying is synonymous with Thai food, for that is what she is famous for. She conducted Thai cooking classes, catered Thai cuisine and even acquainted us with the Thai embassy residence as a source for fresh Thai produce.”

Last year, Ying lost her battle with cancer. At Ying’s wake, Weng saw the solemn yet beautiful Thai-inspired flower arrangement at the altar. This arrangement contained orchids and succulents. The succulent used was the locally famous “Rose Cactus” because its leaves and overall shape remind one of a rose flower (By the way, the “Rose Cactus” isn’t even a cactus but a succulent belonging to the genus Echeverria, which is mainly from Mexico. These plants do quite well in more “temperate” climates like Baguio and Tagaytay but I am sure they can be coaxed to grow well even in more humid environments like Metro Manila).

With this “inspiration” from the succulent and orchid arrangements at Ying’s wake, Weng wrote this short tribute to her special friend:

“Dying echoes a similar aura to those of succulents. As death becomes a realization, we become satisfied with lower levels of contentment. With the gradual deprivation of life and its conveniences, the most basic and ordinary things such as water, food, air and light fill us with gratitude. Just as succulents are generally easy to care for, so is our spirit.

“These thoughts lingered in my mind, as I was awed by the extraordinary arrangement that surrounded Ying’s urn at her wake. Glimpses of the healing beauties of Nature — succulents were so appropriately to create the ambience. So fitting, I thought, for like passing away, succulents reveal one’s forgiving nature.

“A bud that got nipped early is how Ying’s life touched me. Indeed, life is short and uncertain. Yoohoo and their two kids must have yearned to be with her even for one more second.

“Looking at a variety of succulents reminds one of humans. Some are easy to be drawn to, like the Senecio nipkensis with its bright red flower and smooth leaves. Others are repelling (to me) like the Titanopsis calcarea with its warty leaves. To me, Ying is like Senecio nipkensis — very warm, light and transparent.

Memories of Ying continue to resonate. Back in April 2008, I was on a trip to the Holy Land, which was quite tight and hectic. We had all of one-day free time in Israel. I decided to give up my spa and shopping time for that day and made the two-hour journey from our hotel to Tel Aviv, where Ying was undergoing treatment for her cancer. My visit with Ying that day turned out to be the highlight of my entire journey. I’ve always believed that time, our time, is the best gift we can give.

“Life and death comes to us all. When we are born, the only sure thing is death…but love is stronger than death. Ying touched my life, and many, many others. She will be with us always.”

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