The Mortal Vanity of My Immortal Ego

We're not in autumn yet, probably late summer of our lives.

We saw this on Prof. Vince Ty's Multiply account & couldn't pass it up, early fall in NY. Thanks Vince!

 Dear kabatch, kabayan and friends :

WE HAVE an uncle we’ve known practically all our life, who we thought would live forever. Not even his love affair with markang demonyo, his two-pack-a-day habit with suki Philip Morris and his weekend binges with whatever form of alcohol & barkada that happened to be available could disabuse us of the emotional conviction that he would be around for at least five more Olympics.

We also cherish a cousin from way back, who in his wild wild years could drink in one swig one bilog (Crazy Horse, they called him, and wouldn’t you?), with just water for chaser, and yet was strong enough to lift one end of the water trailer that was constantly linked to his pick-up, never lost a staring match and had the battlescars to back up his bloodshot stares.

And lastly, someone we consider as close to us as anyone was on the valedictory of his / her dramatic weight-loss / fitness regimen, after spending most of last century overweight and lardy; on the way to losing the final 10 kg needed to bring him / her over the hump of lifestyle confidence and health security. This was the eye before the storm, a meniscus ligament tear that seriously stalled his / her efforts towards a lifechanging makeover.

**      **      **      **      **      **

The first guy, the uncle, is unsurprisingly saddled with TB, emphysema, and in the kindest terms possible, his liver has seen better days. His quality of life is such that to extend him another 2-3 years would not be doing him much of a favor, what with magnified aches and pains, an ordeal just to get through the day, and most of all the profound regret sustained by irresponsible debts of youth that make us pay with the compounded interest of twilight years.

Two years ago, the cousin felt the prelude of tightness around the chest, zipped to the hospital, and made it smoothly through a minor heart attack before the doc told him matter-of-factly that micro-tears and deep ridges riddled his aorta, and even though rehab and taking things slowly have helped, he is surely no longer the same wild, reckless and devil-may-care sort of iron man. But he’s one of the lucky ones, very easily cheating Death on the latter’s off-day.

The last fellow ? Well, his only fault was living as OC as one could the rigors of daily exercise, making up for years and years of living on saturated fats, refined sugars and meaty, greasy megameals. Ironically, if not for a routine check-up he wouldn’t have known that his knee was living on borrowed time, succumbing to the intensity of extended workouts and marathon badminton evenings, he would never have known, too, that the meniscus tear would reveal severe osteo-arthritis that had burdened his lower limbs the majority of his adult life. Just to be able to walk normally now for him, post-therapy, would be a Godsend.

We’ve heard stories and stories of this sort almost every month of our lives, from colleagues, friends and loved ones. The difference is these particular anecdotes strike a bit too close to home.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

The trouble with this loyal batchmate, friend and kabayan is that, in the face of all logic and evidence, we still believe that such a thing/s could not happen to us.

It doesn’t matter that we have led a more or less healthy lifestyle after the youth of excess and bad decisions. It doesn’t matter that we have had a typical family history of the usual : hypertension, diabetes, tumors and various conditions that dot the landscape of Modern Urban Man’s health and fitness chart: fair to moderate, with clouds of high blood pressure and thunderstorms of malignant neoplasmas. scattered diabetes and prostate enlargements on the horizon, unless we’re lucky. Umbrella or raincoat ? No thanks, we’ll wing it and head for the nearest McDo if it pours.

Just an unbelievably naive faith that we live a charmed life, and bad things happen to everyone. Just not us.

There’s a fundamental disconnect between the jaded eye with which we view the ailments and physical misfortune of others, and the disbelief with which we view any kind of similar condition that may befall us, now or in the near future.

But why should we be any different from the next guy? We were born in the same hospitals, were exposed to the same pollution, tried the same vices, and now attempt to live life with the same kinds of compromise. Well and good, NOel. But underneath the pale skin and rickety bones, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts (and bodies) of men?

You’re only young once. I’ll try anything once. Pick your poison; try a new drug every week. Gosh, did you think you were bulletproof or something? Youth is truly wasted on the young.

In your teens and baby-blue 20s, when you’re so young it hurts, it’s almost a tradition to live life on the edge, live life dangerously, live life as if every day were your last. JFK, James Dean, Princess Diana, MJ, Rico Yan, even Miko Sotto all exited at (nearly) the prime of their lives and this defined their identity as celebrities that never fulfilled their dreamy potential. 

Because it became cool to contemplate leaving your earthly existence while beautiful and young (or young and beautiful), you could combine looking perfectly and living recklessly. At least, that’s how some young people lived and continue to live in recent generations. Some nerds called it the dilemma of existentialism, others called it the solace of nihilism.

But come a certain age, you begin to look askance at all the wrong and incredibly stupid things you did without a second thought, like sample every kind of funny cigaret within reach ( well, you could always say I did not inhale right? ), derive happiness from chemicals of every color, and treat your throat like a testing ground for aspiring baristas, bartenders and cocktail mixers.

After you hit the big three-oh, some of the vices you loved so well begin to lose their luster, and by four-oh, they lose their appeal completely.

We’ll never be able to reverse anything negative we started in life, but we CAN try to limit their far-reaching effects, and at least try to live life happily in proportion to whatever boo-boos made in the past. Here are a few non-binding guidelines we set for ourselves :

Take life in small, measured increments. One thing for sure, we can no longer contemplate life by the gulp, lunge, or leap of faith ( faith that you can bound over whatever distance you foolishly didn’t measure ) that characterized so much of our behavior before. Easy does it, and small steps are better for those no longer able to leap without looking, and pay for all its consequences.

Savor the past, the good parts, because it’s immutable. Moreover, we can select morsels and chunks that help us get through life, through its inspiring and valuable lessons.

Lower expectations, which isn’t a good idea when you’re an up-and-comer and young-man/woman-in-a-hurry, but not that bad an idea when you’re mid-40s and at a crossroads. When the day ends without one major upheaval, without too many dramas, and with body and soul intact, then maybe you can consider it a day well spent. As they say, you live to fight another day.

That’s the short list.

Suma total, we ultimately won’t be able to live life the way we truly want, and the end in all probability won’t be pretty, but we can at least enjoy the present, live in the moment, and count our blessings.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the memories !


PS. Uncle has plateaued, cousin is doing much much better thanks, and ka-close is patiently waiting to heal, before continuing with the makeover. Thank God for small (and big) blessings !

Louella & MyApo : Random Ramblings from a Part-time Apo Admirer

( Notes : We emphasize that Ms Louella Docot and her associates in AKLnzPINOYs neither know this Wellington kabayan or have asked us to say anything here, we just want to express our sentiments esp after watching the segment on that NZ national TV newsfeature show, Campbell Live. Kudos mga kapatid ! )

Dear Kabayan :

THROUGH THE EVER-SIFTING sands of hazy time and semi-reliable memory, I can’t anymore remember the first ever Apo song I ever heard, but it’s definitely, definitely between  Pumapatak Na Naman ang Ulan and the generically – titled Pagibig.

Back in the 1970s ( and sometimes even now ) it was still tolerated (actually almost acceptable) to slow things down when one faced the prospect of a rainy day, was between jobs or was recovering from a drinking session the evening past. All these elements were present in the first song’s narrator’s kadramahan, and of course, the times-of-your-life, feel-good and timeless quality of the second song made it an all-time favorite of mine . . .

As did probably 90% of Apo songs, for not only me but for a majority of our generation growing up in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

In the span of more than a quarter century that followed, this band of minstrels have taken me through the ups and downs, hills and valleys of life, very ably capturing the aches and pangs of love, anger, confrontation, rejection and reconciliation, in fact almost every emotion on the spectrum of human feelings.

Which was why, when I saw on national TV earlier this week their efforts, I felt, between a lump in my throat and numerous goose-bumps, a combination of awe, empathy and respect for the inspired group of countrymen and countrywomen that have joined hands to bring to these shores that quintessentially Pinoy music group, the Apo Hiking Society.

Awe because no truer gesture of fandom and loyalty may an artist receive from an admirer than to bankroll with his / her own funds a concert, and bring those very artists across far away miles just to make possible such a performance.

Empathy, because while we may not claim to be as rabid a fan of the Apo as Ms Louella Docot and Co., we savor our share of the Apo repertoire and have celebrated many a milestone in life with the accurate lyrical narratives of the typical Apo song. It’s like Danny, Jimmy and Buboy have been there through many triumphs (if at all), heartaches and bondings with friends lovers and barkada of our so-called life.

Respect because not many people will value their convictions enough to put their money where their mouth is. Louella (and her group) is too modest to admit it, but she has put up her life’s savings, two years’ worth of wages for many Pinoys living in NZ, and a small fortune by any standard, except for a very small class of fortunate few and privileged. All for the love of the Apo.

Circa Eighties, when Ewan was on the mental playlist of every adolescent, teener and young adult (no mp3s, iPods or Walkmans then), it served as a perpetual battlecry for us eternal romantics ( sugod mga kapatid !), that no matter how doomed, clueless or nerdy our approach was for the unreachable crush ng bayan, there was still that one sliver of a chance in case she gave us the tiniest benefit of the doubt, namely that precious word Ewan.

Batang Bata Ka Pa served as a club anthem for the youth of our generation, the last of the baby boomers that couldn’t talk back to our elders (still unthinkable then) but could at least respectfully challenge them to a fair discussion of issues, and why couldn’t we do it in the form of a song?

[ Before I ramble any more, please allow me to digress. There may be other, more popular bands in different eras of Philppine consciousness : VST & Co., Boyfriends, Eraserheads, Parokya ni Edgar, we enjoyed at one point or another in our lives, but Apo Hiking Society have not been as polarizing, were truly mainstream, and touched every socio-economic class of Pinoy society. There may have been others more elegant, eye-catching and media-savvy (Side A, The Company, Hagibis) but have not had the consistency, longevity and relevance as The Apo. ]

The trio stayed away from being too politically conscious but you could feel it in their beat, the urgency of their message, and the timeliness of their language. The times they are a changing. It was almost as if they didn’t want to alienate any sector of society with their songs, but at the same time they were surely on the side of peaceful reform, before radical change would hold sway. With the slightest effort, they could make you feel the swell of pride in being a Filipino, purely in the strength of their lyrics and melody, and just as you appreciated the theme of their music, you knew that the change they spoke of was coming.

 But can anyone deny that the greatest strength of the Apo is their universal gift of music and their ability to make us connect with their gift, by just making us relate to every phrase and bar of music, every story and fable each song contains, and every pinch of emotion that we feel whenever we hear one of their songs? There will always be greater and lesser bands, but this particular group has encapsulated the life and times of many Pinoys for the last few generations, and it seems hard to believe they won’t be around forever.

And that’s just it, their mortality as a Philippine institution. More than anything else, it’s probably the fact that very soon, they will no longer be singing for millions and millions of Pinoys that drove Louella and her group to make the final decision to bring the Apo to New Zealand, a decision that most in the Filipino community will be thankful for.

At this point we have said more than enough. On their own, the Apo Hiking Society more than deserve our support for being part of our lives for so long. The fact that our neighbors, friends and compatriots are financially underwriting the event, on the strength of their life’s savings makes it all the more worthwhile.

Let’s all attend the Apo concert produced by Louella Docot and her group. As our kababayan, they deserve no less.

Mabuhay ang Pinoy !

Kabayan NOel

My Lords Her Name is Mariang OFW & She Begs Your Succor

[ Notes : We wanted to shoot the breeze about how our life had been affected by our preference for soft drinks over water, alcohol over water, and now coffee over water, especially as it relates to creeping middle age, but some things take precedence over everything else. Let it never be said, even for one minute, that this space ( regardless of how many or how few people actually visit or read it ) was not available to those in need of the same. We think the material below will be self-explanatory and, more importantly, the message self-evident. Should you find it worth the effort, please send & resend to others.]

The Hon. Benigno Aquino III

The Hon. Manuel Villar Jr

The Hon. Gilbert Teodoro

His Excellency Joseph Ejercito Estrada

The Hon. Richard Gordon

their candidates for vice-president and all other

serious aspirants to high public office

My Lords and Ladies :

IN NATURE AND ELSEWHERE, eloquence is usually an afterthought as one contemplates a plaintive cry for help. Yet there is something about a cry for help that touches the sensitive, that tickles the raw nerve, and squeezes the bleeding heart in all of us who profess to be members of humankind.

In our fallible world of infallible hopes, dreams and expectations, it’s bound to happen. Out of ten passports with work visas pasted on them, one will return with streaks of crimson blood on its pages, never to be used again. Out of ten seamen’s books issued from our shores, before too long one or two will be swallowed by the sea along with its owner, such is the uncertainty that befalls a wayfarer of the mighty sea. Out of a hundred migrant hopefuls seeking to become citizens of the world, one will be sent back in shackles, humbled by his/her legal misfortunes, or worse, languish behind bars for years and years in foreign, unknown lands without anyone knowing back home.

This election season, your time is precious and finite we know, swallowed up as it is by the frenzy of campaigning and legal solicitation of public votes and private support. I am only seeking a few moments of time to bring to you the plight of the person below, whose letter was smuggled out of her detention center and which, miraculously (relative to what it has gone through to reach your eyes), you will read shortly.

By way of background, a friend, herself an OFW, escaped a long stint at the same Sharjah detention center literally by the skin of her teeth if not for the heroic acts of friends and loved ones. However she was still interned at the said place for a month and the friendship she formed with its many inmates became one of the indelible (good) memories she carved out of the place.

Her letter, transcribed from her original handwriting, needs little translation. She originally intended for this letter to reach responsible consular authorities in the jurisdiction; however given the length of what she has had to endure, we can’t be faulted for thinking that she needs a wider audience now.

One more thought. Considering that most forms of the inmates’ communication with the outside world are considered verboten and never unsupervised, you will forgive her I hope if she foregoes with the niceties and omits the usual honorifics associated with your exalted positions :

Mahal kong sugo : Ako ang right hand ng boss ko lahat ng in and outs, legal and illegal sa akin nadaan bago sa boss naming. Lahat ng secret nila, lahat ng personal deal, legal or illegal sa akin nila pinagkakatiwala.

Natapos ko ang 3 years ko then nagrenew ako ng contract, nagchange management; Yung bagong boss Mr. Mohammad S at Mr. Rahman S, lahat ng mga deals nila sa akin din nila pinagkakatiwala, kahit anong bilin nila at gastos, personal or para sa company, lahat yon galing sa pondo at budget ng kompanya at lahat ng katiwalian nila tungkol sa pera sa akin nila pinadadaan.

Pinagbukas pa ako ni Mr. Rahman S ng account ng HSBC para maging dummy account. Ang mali ko lang ginamit ko ang account na yon nun nagapply ako ng visa sa France kaya ginawa kong and/or naming magasawa, pero dummy account yun ng boss ko. Lahat ng tseke gusto niyang ipasok duon niya pinapadeposit.

Nun magreresign na ako dahil kailangan ko ng mas malaking sweldo dahil lumalaki na ang anak ko sabi niya magantay ako ng isang buwan, dahil tiwala ako sa knila, sumunod ako after one week pinakulong na nila ko at sinabing nagforgery daw ako ng tseke, samantalang wala akong pinipirmihang tseke at lahat ng gingawa kong tseke, si Mr. Rahman S ang pumipirma, lalagyan ko ng details, amount, payee then siya ang maglalagay o magsasabe ng date tapos pipirmahan niya so paano ako magfoforgery eh siya ang pumipirma.

Nung gabi na yon dinala nila ko sa police station, sa office pa lang tinotorture na nila ako then ng dinala ako sa police hinarass at tinorture ako kaya ako nakapirma sa sulat at pinasulat nila yon sa akin at ang halaga ay 400,000 dhs (dirhams), di ko na maalala pa mga ibang nangyare dahil nagkakamemory loss ako.

Dahil yun pinasulat nila ay dhs 400,000 at sa unang mga buwan ko sa kulungan, humingi kame ng tulong sa embahada sa Dubai pero wala kaming nakuhang tulong, natapos ang criminal case ko sinampahan ako ng civil, natapos ang una then nun idedeport na ako nagbukas ulit ng civil case na katulad ng nauna na hanging ngayon ay naghihearing, 24 months nako sa kulungan (31 months sa Arabic calendar) at nagpapasalamat ako at nakilala naming si Mr. Nel ng migrante dahil sa wakas mula ng pinafollow up ako ng migrante, dinalaw at kinausap ako ng mga sugo ng embahada ng dubai (Ms. Lilibeth at Mr. A)

Ngunit nakakasama ng loob ng huling tawag ko at nakausap ko pa si vice consul Edwin M sinabihan pa niya ko iupdate ko at sila at kinokondena pa nya ko plus hindi niya alam ang nangyayari sa kaso ko bakit ganon, naiintindihan ko na madaming may kaso pero (since) ako ang may pinakamabigat na kaso sa Sharjah jail at ako ang pinakamatagal na sa Sharjah jail, di ba tungkulin nila na tulungan ako sa lahat ng aspeto (spiritually, morally, psychologically plus financially) noong araw na yun 03-02 humihingi lang ako ng update sa kaso pero nabaligtad sila ang humihingi ng info.

Sana po kagalang-galang na sugo, tulungan nyo po ako, alam ko po na may mga mali din po akong nagawa ngunit halos 3 taon na ako sa kulungan at wala pa ring linaw ang kaso ko, sabi nila dito pag di daw po ako nagbayad habang buhay ako sa kulungan, parang awa na po ninyo, maliliit pa ang tatlo ko ng mga anak, hindi ko na po kailangan linisin ang pangalan ko, ang importante po makalabas ako ng kulungan dahil sa halos araw-araw na nasa kulungan ako, unti-unting nawawala ang katinuan ko pati ang mga nangyayari kung hindi ko sinusulat nalilimutan ko, nagkakamemory loss ako plus para na akong nasisiraan ng bait.

Nawawala ako ng pagasa. Mahal na sugo, para na ninyong awa tulungan po ninyo akong makalabas ng kulungan kahit deport ako, makauwi lang. Hirap na hirap na po ako, hindi ko na po alam ang gagawin ko at habang sinusulat ko ito madami po akong gusting sabihn at isalaysay pero d ko na maalala, ito lang ang natatandaan ko sa nangyare, yung iba d ko na matandaan pagod na ang utak ko, sana po maintindihan ninyo ako at sana po tulungan ninyo ako ng totoo dahil wala akong ibang inaasahan, para na ninyong awa, tulungan ninyo po ako alam ko pong may mga pagkakamali din ako at nagsisisisi na po ako at hindi pa po ba sapat ang halos 3 taon na pagkakakulong ko at bakit po nila sinasabing habang buhay ako sa kulungan hindi naman po ako pumatay at hindi rin drugs ang kaso ko.

 Para na ninyong awa tulungan ninyo po ako bago ako mawalan ng bait.

( nothing follows. )

To forestall the aggravation of her delicate situation, any names and personal details in her narration have been shrouded ; however these may be furnished should any of you choose to extend any and all assistance from the Philippine government, which she richly and rightfully deserves. The original hand-written manuscript (and its authenticated photocopies) may also be furnished upon request.

The letter is complete and unabridged, unedited and kept consistent in its urgency. Though under a great deal of stress, the letter – writer, our sister Filipino and co-OFW is obviously lucid and crystal clear in her intent to regain liberty.

My Lords, her name is Myra Temprosa Ibuna, late of Manila, late of UAE and most recently of the Sharjah Detention Center, but her name might as well be Mariang OFW. She is Everywoman, and she humbly begs for your succor. Blood as Pinoy as yours and mine flows through her veins, and like you and me, she desires only the most basic elements of existence : life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So far, the system, her employers and our government, via its diplomats in a cold and hostile land, have let her down wretchedly.

Please don’t fail her again.