The Coldest Day of Summer

Dear batchmates, kabayan and friends :

SUMMER with all its radiant heat and persistent calls to head to the beach, should be a time for frolic and cool escapes. It should be, especially for the youth, a time for metamorphosis and discovery. A time to recharge and reinvent yourself. Profound change, if we may, from which one never looks back.

It shouldn’t be a time for one to attend a funeral for one’s high school classmate, under the most tragic of circumstances, at that.

But it’s precisely what Bunso did, along with his friends and peers just 24 hours ago, for a fallen comrade in a death that defies explanation and understanding.

Facts are scanty, and we don’t want to make this sad affair any more painful than it already is for those concerned, but there are as always lessons to be learned in a tragedy, particularly one where so young a life is taken away from us.

We can’t make conclusions, but it appears that there was no other person involved in the incident; the deceased was apparently a healthy adolescent female who had no serious issues in her life, we say serious because, all of us having been adolescents, we know how impossible it is not to go though that phase of life without having issues.

(If it helps any, Bunso remembered that while quiet, the girl was a poet who had quite a flair for verse, rhyme and measure.)

At the time of the incident, according to Bunso the story was that there were quite a number of people in the house where it happened, and all was well, nothing of the sort was expected, until of course the fateful discovery of his classmate.

Her closest friends, curiously, are not saying anything about her mental state immediately before the day of the incident, and more details will probably emerge later. But a sad coincidence here is that, only a year ago, Bunso’s batch (they are incoming seniors this June) experienced a previous loss: similar story, although there had been domestic issues, surrounding the death of a batchmate.

One suicide is tragic enough, but two is wretchedly too much to be a coincidence.

** ** ** ** **

Our purpose here however is not to highlight the particular set of circumstances surrounding the above occurrence. Unusual and unexpected, but it could happen anywhere.

You and I both know that in schools that accommodate large student populations, attention and face time from teachers is spread unevenly and (quite frankly) thinly. There are bound to be, behind the jokers, jocks and performers, students who fall between the cracks, who unflatteringly are “failed by the system” and do not get the attention they badly need.

All too often, parents are inadvertently distracted by career, putting bread on the table and the rest of the brood, and the son or daughter who requires the most compassion and least neglect is in the weakest position to demand it. And before we know it, some damage has been done.

We know this, because most of us were products of medium to large schools. Most of us had teachers who, while they meant well, had their plates full just keeping up with the lesson plans, checking papers and figuring out how to keep the hormonally challenged classrooms from bursting at the seams.

Most of us (but not everybody) came from a sibling set of at least three or four, where everyone competed for everyone else’s attention, as well as food on the table, baon and control over which TV program to view. Angst and existential issues (why do I exist? is there a point to my life?) were the least of our worries, as our perennial preoccupation of zits, the crush who wasn’t aware of our existence, and memorizing the lyrics to our favorite tunes took up 90% of our time, when the folks didn’t remember to zing us for not hitting the books.

Rare was the ponderous, introspective and melancholy sort among us who preferred to keep to himself / herself, hardly cared about mundane and pedestrian issues and if ever there was, the rest of the group either left that person alone, or mocked him / her mercilessly. In any case, the outsider / loner faced hard and harder times.

** ** ** ** **

The point we’re trying to make, before we ramble on any further, is that for every sociable, boisterous and irrepressible group of youngsters that dot our community, there is one or two that deserves a different kind of attention from us, who implores that we sit down and talk to him / her in a more participative and emotionally receptive kind of way.

This is not the kind of young person who needs a PSP, iPod or extra baon from us, who prefers that we don’t ask about his / her Facebook or Twitter account, or that relies on the ubiquitous teen proverb about parents : The less seen of us, the better.

It’s sometimes awkward and time-intensive, but usually it’s all they ask : a sit-down with them to just talk, talk about what goes on in their world, issues within and beyond their control. Things that may seem trivial or inconsequential for us adults may mean the world to them, and we might not even realize it.

Appearance, peer acceptance, and attention from those who make their hearts go a flutter. These are probably the things we need to hear them talk about, otherwise we hardly gain their confidence.

We can’t even imagine what the parents of the girl who left us feel right now, and we don’t envy the task ahead for Bunso’s school authorities, but right now we’ll just settle for a happy, talkative 15-year old. Which is what Bunso happens to be.

Thanks for reading !


Countdown to 15 Mins / Two More Bad Habits

[ Notes from YLB : You’re very welcome recent celebrants SuperBro Ricky C., Rufino O., AteMel & Rolly Y; and because of the batch association and its illustrious members (led by the officers), an aspiring nurse has now reached her dreams, and the less privileged of the St Jude Parish have happier Christmases. Beyond all these, Batch 82 gains better karma, & pogi / ganda points for the soul as well. What could be better? btw, thanks to Ms Virginia Russell for reading our letter on her radio show on, and lastly : many thanks and loads of gratitude to cousin Ineng Montenegro – Agustin for bringing us around, and whose smile is as big as her heart.  Kudos pinsan ! ]

Dear batchmates, kabayan and friends :

PUT TWO, actually three highly emotionally charged issues in one situation, and you get a “viral” newsbit that can’t escape comment from us. Actually, hundreds of newsbits, mostly from Yahoo! Buzz, CNN, the morning paper and the daily TV newscasts pass through our eyes and ears weekly, but for lack of time and memory retrieval we can’t make a cringe-worthy rejoinder.

This time, though, we remember enough to respond with memory and emotions of our own. First, a lesbian senior declares that she’s bringing a same-sex partner (presumably her loved one) to the junior-senior prom. Then, in a moralist – interventionist overkill, school board / management decides to cancel said prom to forestall a “scandalous” event, the homosexual couple attending.

Finally, media / public pressure / a negative court decision (but not an injunction) convince the school to reconsider canceling, and go ahead with the school – sanctioned prom anyway, but almost everyone else ( except the lesbian senior and a few un-hip members of the “out of it” crowd ) boycott the event and attend a different, “exclusive” replacement prom, leaving the former out in the cold.

Life-imitating-art issues aside, the drama doesn’t get much higher than that.

First off, we’re not that PC to say that she should’ve been accepted for what she is and just been allowed to attend the prom like any other student, forestalling all that media & political brouhaha, but in the same breath, neither do we deem ourselves that intolerant & say she had it coming, or buti nga sa kanya. ( Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle. )

But that would be getting ahead of ourselves.

No sorting out any of our thoughts here, aesthetically or logically. WYSIWYG.

Every student, no exception, should be given the choice to attend and not be deprived of his/her JS prom. It’s practically a rite of passage, right up there with the senior CAT bivouac, college entrance exams, yearbook pics, graduation ball and of course, commencement exercises. (While these are terms used in the Philippine setting, we believe there are counterpart events everywhere else.)

We spontaneously looked back, trying to imagine our album of memories without any of the above events, and summarily surmised that that wonderful slice called high school life (acknowledgment to Tita Shawi & George Canseco) just wouldn’t have been the same, especially pre-internet, pre-connectivity and pre-interconnectedness, when face-to-face interaction and physical socialization were infinitely more important than they are today.

Whatever our moral, social and sexual leanings, fact of the matter is that homosexuality is a reality of life that, regardless of whether or not we accept it, simply exists and life is made easier when we acknowledge and integrate such fact in our particular reality.

Sure, it sometimes makes people uncomfortable and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the alternative, which is to deny someone the right to express themselves, their sexuality and their way of life, is in the long run more problematic for everyone else.

Having said that, our sympathies go from hereon to the principals and school district boards all across the great United Strands of the AmeriMatrix, where the titans of moral / sexual sensitivities, political correctness and raging hormones all clash on the arena of 15 minutes of fame. To the victors belong the fleeting spoils.

** ** ** ** **

We promised a few more items on our incipient bill of particulars, re things that rub overseas hosts the wrong way, that get their goat, and put them on the wrong side of the morning (or afternoon) whenever we do the following, and with thanks to commentary by QueenHedy, EngrSonny, PeggyPatches1, RaulDLS, ChichiA and GirlieS:

Bad Habit # 4 : Speaking in your own tongue in their presence, and probably nothing raises their hackles more than this. Worse, the only peoples guiltier of this (in fairness, their migrant numbers are vastly greater than ours) are the (mainland) Chinese and the Indians, no offense meant. We make the immediate impression that we’re talking about whoever doesn’t speak the language, in fact Pinoys coined a term for the clueless, binebenta na sya di pa nya alam.

We once thought that frowning upon this indiscretion was limited to actual eyeball dialog, until one of our bisors ahemed while we were on the phone talking to a kababayan. Even the one-sided repartee bothered him in the sense that he had not the slightest idea what was being discussed and that, it being an English language dominated workplace in an English dominated country, a strange speech was being spoken in his presence.

We won’t even begin to pass judgment on that, just that as long as we are visitors in a foreign land, we respect the quirks of their rules and their sentiments regarding alien cultures brought to their shores.

Bad Habit # 5 : Be overwhelmed by the non-Asianness of our hosts. This is literally a loss-of-face issue for us, as our bisor reminds us of the lead character in The Mentalist, one of the guys in the packing department looks like a cross between one of the baddies in Blade Runner and U2’s The Edge, and finally the mill engineer is a dead ringer for Hugh Laurie / Dr House, one of our all-time favorite TV medics.

Otherwise, they’re just regular blokes. We can’t take them seriously on the one hand, and avoid being overwhelmed, on the other. As we have been exposed to Hollywood and American showbiz almost all of our lives, the actors mentioned are almost mythic figures for us. Can you blame us therefore if we often feel like we’re in a movie ourselves?

The sooner we get used to the fact that Caucasians are people just like us, the better.

Thanks for your time!


Salute to Bro / Bad Habits of a Temporary Migrant

Dear batchmates, kabayan and friends :

THIS BLACK SATURDAY, we pause from our migrant tales, memory-scouring and daddy anecdotes to salute a giant on our personal landscape, a model to emulate ( a left-handed compliment considering how weird we turned out , but nevertheless ), someone who has always loomed large in the standard and alternate realities of our universe.

He’s no math wizard but crunches numbers like a strongman; doesn’t own a glib tongue but always ends a negotiation leaving everybody happy; never butters up his criticism but was / is a consummate motivator of every sort of worker under his wing.

In short, he possesses the qualities of a captain of industry, someone who you would want to navigate your business toward the black bottom line, or man your frontline whenever dealing with client, supplier, employee or even competitor.

Our brother Tim has filled every role, and has handled almost every kind of situation there is.

But the undiluted wonder of it all is that he does everything under the radar, as an understatement, effortlessly, and with as little attention to himself as possible. He seems to live by the philosophies of management by remote, and management by invisibility.

In childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, he left us lasting impressions that he would succeed in whatever he tried doing, whether it was playing tournament-level chess, writing for the school paper, starting up his own mobile party logistics business, or just anything else his entrepreneurial mind could fancy.

His finishing school a term early, with double degrees and dean’s list kudos almost throughout his stint at campus belied a healthy aptitude for fun and partying, but this never stopped him from hitting the ground running, reaching senior management within 18 months from joining his first employer.

He has never failed to share both his blessings and knowledge gained with his family and friends, and this has returned to him tenfold. In our parents’ management committee of two, he is always consulted as the unofficial third member, and his counsel is valued by brother, nephew, niece and cousin, actually every member of the clan.

SJCS 76er, DLSU diehard, media industry whiz, management guru, KTV champ, and marketing genius. Among your many titles, we are proud to call you Kuya Tim.

Belated happy birthday, Bro !

** ** ** **

There are bad habits, and there are bad habits. We’ve come up with a short list of faux pas we’re guilty of during a bad day, and sometimes even a good day, that we’re almost sure makes the hosts here in our temporary adopted land uneasy and quite unsure of whether or not we’re grateful that we’re their guests.

Of course, we are, grateful we mean, but the bad habits are there by force of habit, our rush to do the practical instead of the correct, and probably most important, our insistence that unconsciously or not, there are Asian / Pinoy ways of doing things that die hard.

This is by no means a final list, there will continue to be additions, the sad thing is that everytime we update this list, we will have to include the original items :

 Bad Habit Number 1 : Saying yes before we completely understand the speaker . By far ( and so far ), this is the worst bad habit we can think of, and the potential for complications hitting the fan ( just substitute your favorite @#$% ) is doubled if this happens at work. Admittedly Pinoys, whenever choosing between I beg your pardon and nodding assent to words spoken a gear too fast, with accent a little too thick and idioms a tad too quaint, just wing it: umoo ka na lang.

Not only does this lead to misunderstandings and impressions that we are dull beyond comprehension, it sometimes leads to unintended and unfortunate consequences.

Our earliest days at work many months ago, we were told by bisor : open all the windows if you want, but NIVAH leave that door open. Naturally, we didn’t have a clue who or what the heck nivah was, but the first thing we did was to open the door. How could we know that nivah was locally how u say NEVER and we did the opposite of what he told us. Automatic Yup? Never, or Nivah again.

 Bad Habit Number 2 : Making brainless and impromptu comments on some of our hosts’ hygiene or lack of same. Let’s face it, our cultural differences preclude us from thinking our hosts’ hygienic practices are normal or a natural way of adapting to the climate. No matter where we are, in whatever clime, we will always do the same things we did back home.

This however doesn’t give us the right to make comments on how they are. So what if they shower 2 to 3 times a week? So what if they don’t change clothes everyday? And what of it, if they use deodorant only when the mood strikes? (Note: No sarcasm intended.)

We’re not generalizing, but odds are about even, especially the more south your latitude is. It just isn’t a priority to keep yourself smelling good all the time, and we’re just being frank here. With this realization, all the more probably should we be sensitive to the cultural divide and live and let live, but certainly not do as the Romans do, we’re sure you get our drift.

Bad Habit Number 3 : Not laughing automatically and heartily at whatever jokes made by the host/s. The situation is similar to those contemplated in BH #1 but the outcome or expected behavior is markedly different. We’re NOT expected to ask why the punchline is so, and anyway if you bother to find out the humor / irony in the joke, you most likely will laugh ( kahit mababaw ), so it’s usually advisable to just go ahead a have a loud bwahaha. Even if you’re not exactly sure why.

The alternative, as if you didn’t know, is to sit around bewildered while everyone else is making hee-hee-hee and enjoying a good laugh. Soon enough, someone will notice that you’re not getting it, and while a kind soul will try to explain the humor behind the gag, the rest of the room will be thinking, boy these Asians really don’t have a sense of humor. When we actually just think they’re corny. So, tumawa ka na lang kabayan.

** ** ** **

What if the shoe was on the other foot ? (1) Threaten to nuke Puerto Rico whenever it attempts to secede, (2) pulverize the sovereign rights of a former colony like the Philippines, just for kicks ; (3) play with the Euro and expect that the dollar be treated as a sacred commodity; (4) sit on the UN Security Council despite trading with rogue states, and (5) speeding up the execution of thousands of condemned criminals in Texas, California and other states where execution is still legal.

Of course, the Evil Empire ( Note: sarcasm intended ) wouldn’t do these unthinkables. And if they did, like maybe Number 4 above, there would be hell to pay, before the international media and community of nations.

So why does everyone look the other way and ignore the elephant in the room when China does the exact same things?

Every now and then, it makes it clear that “dire consequences” will be met by Taiwan should it pursue anything other than the One China policy. Its Tibet policy has worsened, rather than improved, despite the mediation by third parties. It openly dumps gazillions of greenbacks on the money market daily to suit whatever its policy objective happens to be on any particular day, and doesn’t even bother to hide such fact.

And the PROC has forever sat on the fence while both Iran and North Korea play nuclear brinksmanship with the rest of the world. Beijing won’t even deny that first, billions of barrels of oil are sent from Iran to China every year, and, contrary to Chinese interests, chaos in a beaten North Korea will mean mass migration across the border to guess where? Just a few kilometers from the Forbidden City. And let’s not forget the nameless thousands executed yearly in China, more than the rest of the world combined.

Despite the inexorable march towards a Chinese Century, it’s not a great time for those with Chinese blood and heritage to hold their heads high.

It’s not a perfect world, but let’s thank Providence for the gift of democracy, and the free air we breathe.

Was it Dr Jose Rizal who said there are no tyrants where there are no slaves ?

Happy Easter everyone!