Pre – Departure Briefing


Image by ozmafan via Flickr

[ Note : No pretensions to eloquence and wittiness here, just a basic, bare-to-the-bones sit-down (electronic lang nga) with your progeniture. Balancing the interests of full disclosure and discretion, we will again not identify the subject of this e-mail. Thank you for reading and allowing us to share. ]

Dear Pogi:

Many times I’ve tried to e-mail you, but I didn’t want to rain on your parade.

Each triumphant Facebook post you made about your Jabbawockeezlike group, it didn’t feel right to say anything negative.

 Your graduation day (nice pics btw) and baccalaureate post, which was quite a teary-eyed experience for me, I certainly didn’t want to spoil with a less-than-positive comment.

The event wasn’t about me, it was all about you.

Finally, when you broke the news online that you were leaving to join your mother overseas and all the attendant kudos, congrats and senti comments about your departure, again I held my tongue. It would be the height of unkindness to say something bad during your valedictory.

Now is as good a time as any though, to tell you what I feel.

Your relationship with your siblings has been less than ideal, and instead of trying to develop a bond with them your last few months back home, you have allowed whatever it is that came between you to fester.

Your relationships with the opposite sex have sometimes been a bit too colorful for comfort, which would not be so bad if not for the fact that you have a younger sister and a more impressionable younger brother.

Lastly, you have too often let inertia and your mother’s unwavering faith carry the day for you, and you will probably agree that it’s more by pure providence than anything else that you are on your way to a better life overseas.

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Barely had the keystrokes left my fingertips when I realized how ridiculous my last three sentences sounded, not just to a young person in your milieu but in light of how I lived my own late teens and 20s.

While you were hostile, I was indifferent to my brothers. If you were reckless in your love life, I was nearly insane. And if you were indolent or lethargic in all but your narrowest interests, I was clueless and regrettably ignorant of how to go about starting a decent life for myself, much less for my family.

If there is anything wrong with how you have lived your life, I mean, far be it for me to point it out, or tell you how rightly or wrongly you have lived it.

If anything, you have actually acquitted yourself in evolving from naive and arrogant teener to a relatively more analytical and tolerant twentysomething.

That you have survived your helter-skelter youth without making a major, major mistake is actually a minor feat. How I wish I could say the same for myself.

That you have mapped out a more-or-less coherent plan for the rest of your unlived life is even more promising, given that I had no inkling of what to do on a daily basis while enjoying being young and selfish at the same time.

If I have been remiss in my concern or too critical of you in the last few months, it probably has more to do with my own failings both as an person in my own right and as a parent on whom you could have derived more lessons and support, in life and in love.

Whether or not you agree with me now, I will be more than happy to accept your understanding and, in time, your forgiveness.

   **    **    **    **    **

Having said that, on to bigger things. You have so much going for you Pogi. Have you read somewhere on the Internet : if your belly is full, you’re luckier than a quarter of the world’s population; if you have money in your pocket, better off than half, and if you’ve a job (or on your way to having one), count yourself among the extremely fortunate one-fourth of the planet ?

Your lot is much better than any of those people. You’re well on your way to becoming a citizen of the First World, with all the privileges and benefits it entails. With your university education, it’s not an exaggeration to say that you have an unlimited future.

In return, all that Destiny asks of you is not such a big thing : in your own way, try to change the world. And of course, for the better and not the other way. You owe it not only to those who came before you (and who will come after ) but to yourself;  I can’t think of a more profound way to make full use of your talents.

Don’t let time, space, geography, speed bumps or any other dimension limit you. You can do this any which way you want, as long as it’s in our version of reality.

I may not have had the opportunity you had, but I had something very similar. A good education, supportive family, and a head on my shoulders. I took everything, and I mean everything for granted.

I hope you will not make the same mistake, and rely on your good looks and (so far) good luck. I don’t remember the exact words, but it’s true : Ang masipag ay madalas sinuswerte.

Finally, it might not be such a bad idea to bury the hatchet with your bro and sis. Whatever it was that started your cold war, it simply isn’t worth sustaining it. Once you leave, please bear in mind that you won’t know when you’ll see each other again. I know there’s every chance that they’ll join you and your mom, but then again, you never know what will intervene. Stranger things have been known to happen.

In time, we will probably look back on these difficult but challenging times, and laugh about it. But this is not that time. It’s time to be men, ready to take on the world.

I say this as much for myself as for you.

I love you very much and miss you always. Nawa’y kaawaan ka lagi ng Diyos.


Top 10 Items Found in Balikbayan Boxes

you'll be surprised how much love and generosity you can cram into this box[ Note from NOel : For maximum satisfaction, this list should be extended to 25, even more.  But once a list is allowed to grow unattended, it grows beyond ridiculous limits, so we’re limiting it to 10.  La-de-da. ]
Dear batchmates, schoolmates, kabayan, officemates & friends :
IT’S ONLY August, but given the notoriously long Yuletide season, and the two-month lead time needed to send balikbayan boxes (for brevity, B-boxes) home, the preparation for these boxes groaning with goodies and goodwill have begun in earnest.
For the uninitiated, the best way to send anything home AND spread Christmas joy and spirit, as well as the blessings of earning the almight dollar, is to fill up the balikbayan box and send it to grateful rellies in the Islands.
A cardboard box measuring roughly 2 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet, it theoretically contains anything you might want to send home that costs too much to send by ordinary or courier mail, and yet is too precious to chuck into the rubbish bin.  It’s a nightmare for the environmentally conscious as who knows how or what it might be used for, for example rusty old PCs, microwave ovens or worse, old-model faxes or printers abandoned by their  own manufacturers.
But the disparity of cultures between the First and Third Worlds is too wide, and the unwritten code for use, re-use and recycling anything is no exception.  On our side of the pond, it seems to be as long as there’s still the smallest of hope for further use, never throw out anything.  And if we feel our family members back home can still make use of that blower that nobody dares use anymore, then why not send it?
Without further fanfare :
Candy. Specifically chocolates, which Pinoys, like most human beings, are unable to resist, especially in colorful packages, taste bud-seducing, tongue-caressing flavors and exotic-sounding brands and wrappers.  By far this is the most popular item that comes first, second and last on any balikbayan box must-buy list, and without which no padala would be complete. 
Middle 1970s, a grateful cousin my mother had helped to get to Germany as a midwife sent home, before the invention of the B-box, a giant travelling suitcase (the kind you can’t lift by yourself unless you pump iron) filled with goodies from Frankfurt, 90% of which was chocolates of every shape, color and size.  For the next few weeks, that sent my blood sugar whooshing into the stratosphere, as every day my brothers and I devised ways and means to spirit away a Van Houten, Tobleron or Lindt bar or two from the formidably stocked icebox of mama mia
Years later, everytime a generous soul overseas sends home a box, the chocolates are still there, but the brands are more familiar : Nestle Crunch, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Milky Way, Snickers, Three Musketeers, Smarties and Cadbury Fruit & Nut, but the agony and ecstasy remain the same.  They’re loved by everyone, easy to line the box edges with in case the middle is nearly full, they’re handy to distribute in case numerous nephews, nieces and apo’s line up for aguinaldo, and if you send confections made from your particular host country, your kapamilya back home will remember it better than a postcard or picture (especially if they save the wrapper).  Which is why you’re sending gifts from abroad diba?
New & slightly used Nikes, Pumas, Adidases and the like.  What is it about these shoes, notorious reminders of the fashion dictatorship controlled by the First World, that rankles us yet holds us in sway? Either it’s the multi-billion dollar marketing complete with sexual and subliminal messages that make their logos and products a part of our psyche (down to the molecular level), or just the fact that their kicks are cool.  Regardless, including these shoes in the box would (1) make or break Kuya‘s posturing with his barkada the rest of the year, (2) elevate his status in basketball (no matter how crappy he actually plays), (3) draw approving nods from the babes and give him incentive to cruise along with the rest of the family for the groceries, pamamalengke, and the like.
We remember finding bargain basement cross-trainer Nikes which we snapped up for both Kuya and Bunso two years ago, it made their Christmas as it was a surprise, and that since the models weren’t available back home, no one else had it.  Neither cared how much we actually bought it for, and that was just fine for us.  All’s well that ends well.
Alcohol.  This is probably the most popular item after the first two, and for obvious reasons.  Pinoys love their bubbly, and as long as imbibed responsibly, can become a well-loved bonder of families.  It doesn’t matter if it’s proudly brewed Heineken, Merlot, Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc in those cute bottles, or the mellow brandy that loosens all those tongues, as long as it’s “imported” and from abroad, it’s thoroughly appreciated, especially by the male segment of the family.  Surely helping are all those recent studies about resveratrol (found in red wine) revitalizing the cardiovascular system, taken advantage of by lolo and raising lola’s eyebrows.
Makeup from Clinique, Shiseido, L’Oreal, Maybelline, Cover Girl etcYou can’t go wrong with these, especially if you’ve got a significant other, mom (or grandmom), daughter, or other important female rellys back home.  Reason :  Beauty as most humans know is almost as crucial to the fairer sex’s existence as sustenance and shelter, and everything you can do to prettify, maintain, sustain (or prop it up) is worth its weight in gold.  It appears that the above brands are the best in the industry, along with a few others that escape us now but are instantly recognizable to anyone with an eye for a boyfriend or husband material.  Now, it doesn’t matter if the articles of beauty aids that you buy were from a sale or are near their “use by” date, as long as the logo is clear and the endorser (usually a crossover star from music to TV or vice-versa) swears by it, then it’s good to go.  By the way, make up items are a breeze to squeeze through the tightest spots in your box, so they’re ideal as last minute additions on those shopping lists.
Canned goods and related food items.  Who hasn’t sent home cans of corned beef and luncheon meat, “Spanish” sardines (de-susi pa), Campbell soup and blocks of cheese to grateful recipients in those overstocked B-boxes?  How about Cheerios, Frito-Lays Oreos and Chips Ahoy, all those things that are easily purchased back home but you can’t resist stocking your kahon with?  That’s the great irony of the balikbayan box :  if you really wanted to, you could just conveniently send home foreign exchange for the family to buy the very goodies you’re agonizing to buy, wrap up, hatid and posted just have to be personalized and sent with the personal touch.  And so we continue looking for new stuff for Jun-jun and Boyet to taste. 
Books. Initially this might seem like a surprise item on this list, but the legendary love of knowledge Pinoys are famous for is most evident in the year-long, long-term and thoughtful pasalubong they send through the B-box.  Most popular are picture books, atlases, mini-encyclopedias, classics, but the ever-popular Harry Potter, Lord of The Rings, Grisham, Stephen King, detective paperbacks, trade books, and hard copy non fiction tomes always find their way into these boxes, all the more to extend the passion for learning that, our kababayan have leaned, is universal and timeless anywhere and everywhere.  Lastly, they’re good space-eaters in case you don’t know anymore what to put in your box.
Appliances that have seen better days.  First, we thought to limit this to small or portable applicances, but it seems anything that can be squeezed into the box, including stereos, PCs, power tools and yes, even fridges, are fair game for B-box material.  Several points need to be brought up for this item/s :  For one thing, there is no weight limit to the load, unless of course the sheer bulk and mass rips it open ; secondly, Filipnos are loath to chuck into the rubbish bin anything that can still be salvaged or repaired by diligent tagaayos back home.  Happily, this outcome hits the proverbial two birds with one pebble.  Willing kamag-anak are able to benefit from dishwashers, iceboxes, toasters and the like, and OFWs can take advantage of inexpensive local ingenuity, courtesy of our kababayan repairmen.
DVDs, CDs, VHS and audio cassettesNever mind that we can download almost any form of audio-visual entertainment on the internet, that music is practically free, and pirated DVDs is without doubt a way of life back home.  Because intellectual property is respected as much as physical property in most of the industrialized world, and music and film catalogs are scrupulously and meticulously updated overseas, Pinoys are usually inspired to build audio-visual libraries in their respective hometowns, with a wary eye of course to the fact that technology forces us to change formats every few years.  Complete VHS librares might be rendered obsolete by a sudden, necessary switch to DVD, and the latter in turn superceded by the Blu-ray revolution.  We both know though that there will always be a willing audience back in the province, as long as the necessary viewers and players are available.  So your complete (genuine) boxed sets of Die Hard, Clint Eastwood, M.A.S.H. as well as Greatest Hits of Daughtry, Dr Hook, Fleetwood Mac, Matt Monroe and Nat King Cole will always be welcome material for the box, just keep it in a cool dry place until the next fiesta or big wedding.
Miscellaneous sale items.  Some of the more unusual things we’ve seen : Lamps shaped in the form of Kiwis and kangaroos, pewter figurines, cigaret holders, cookie/candy jars, flower vases,  anything that can be used in fact but are hardly ideal candidates for pasalubong are chucked into the box.  The philosophy seems to be that these things are rare and precious back in the homeland, will always remind us of our overseas adventures, and again, that phobia of throwing anything away, and so send home to your heart’s content.
Souvenirs, memorabilia, photo albums and the like.  Similar to the previous group of items, these consist of a varied class of articles but are mostly artifacts that are sold to commemorate visits or travels to far-flung and exotic outposts and are therefore of dubious value to anyone other than those who purchased the souvenir.  The purpose therefore is to store and keep them for later use and reminiscing when one has, so to speak, gone the balikbayan route. 
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If there ever was a gift giving situation where “it’s the thought that counts,” then this has to be it.  More than half of the balkbayan box consists of gifts you hardly ever use, that are more of sentimental value than anything else, and have been lovingly used by previous owners.  The food items are probably cheaper (and fresher) from the Duty-Free counter.  But nothing replaces the wide-eyed wonderment and sparkle on every loved one’s eyes as the balikbayan box is pried open, admired and eaten up by every member of your family.  Advance Merry Christmas !
Thanks for reading !

Texts From the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

You do know that once it's tattooed, it's VERY hard to remove right?

Love as a concept as opposed to love the verb

[ Note : Just a haphazardly patched quilt of words and phrases that surfaced in the last 72 hours… if they don’t make sense, apologies !  As concessions to discretion and modesty, we won’t mention the subject of this e-mail by name.  Thanks for reading ! ]

Dear batchmates, schoolmates, kabayan and friends :
IT’S SCARY.  One moment you’re changing their disposable diapers, spooning Nutrilin into their tiny mouths and saving every available peso for their next Promil can, and the next thing you know they’re asking permission for a tat.
Frankly, in this day and age, we would have thought that asking for permission was more a superfluity than anything else.  When you have permissiveness and perversion migrating into the realm of the banal and commonplace, everything else just gets demoted to dust and details.
Meaning, if they let you know what they’re up to and tell you the whys and hows, consider it a bonus.
Change as we know it is as impactful only as our attitudes and responses to the same, and the more unprepared and reactive we are (as opposed to adaptive or proactive), the greater the chances for negative (or undesirable) results.  Or so we’re told.
Papi, me tatanungin po ako, wag kang magagalit ha?  OK lang ba magpatattoo?  Gift sa akin ng tagagawa ng piercings ko.
Hmm.  You mean the one who did your tongue stud, the navel pierce, and the extra ear holes? 
You actually have to pay good money to get these things?
Something tells me this latest project of body art had been a foregone conclusion before the press release.   Hands down, we’re sure you’re on top of his (the tagagawa) list of customer loyalty awards, just don’t let him get carried away.  Seriously.
We’re actually faced with something of a Hobson’s choice here.  On the one hand, you know deep in your gut that whether you vote yes or no, the decision’s already been made.  Practical issues of distance and time, specifically the thousands of kilometers preventing you from doing anything about it, and timewise, by the time you do get home, the tattoo would have been there for ages.
On the other hand, your saying yes will just  be added voice in case extra support is needed, if the decision is violently objected to by some other relevant party, specifically the person’s mother.
So what to do?  Oh well.
Kung yan ang magpapaligaya sa yo, sana minsan lang ito at huwag mo nang dagdagan Ganda?
Don’t worry po, Chinese character pa nga yung tattoo eh. Ai ching, Love daw po yon.
That’s not the kind of Chinese heritage that your lolo and nana will appreciate, Ganda.  Don’t show them your version of gua ai di anytime soon, hear?
If we were to apply our generation’s set of culture and value systems to the behavior of today’s youth, our best bet is chaos would ensue.  Although on the surface the differences aren’t easily discernible, in the scant decade-and-a- half that intervened, a sea change has overwhelmed goals, tastes, preferences, and, faster than you can say Britney S or LiLo, moral choices.  As much as good or bad, it has to do with relevant or irrelevant; applicable or inapplicable to an up-to-date list of priorities and objectives.
Hope you don’t get the wrong idea.  Ganda never misses a class, chases good grades, guides Bunso in his senior year adventures, and resists rather than abets, at least on schooldays, her partygoing nature.  The boasting ends there, lest we be accused of putting on blinders when describing those closest to us.
Would you be outraged if we declare, as if it weren’t a truth of the world, that youth must be allowed to be wasted by the young, and if attention need be paid to beauty, vanity and self-promotion, best do it at the height of decadence and youth?
Bahala ka na Ineng, wag mo lang sanang pagsisihan.
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In Inception, the central character (hasn’t he been immortalized already  in Titanic by the way) says that a good test to apply when unsure if one is in a dream is to ask how did I get here?  If you can’t answer the same, chances are, you’re in one. 
Along parallel lines, we might as well ask ourselves when looking at the suplings : how did they grow up so fast? How long before they’re all grown up and out of sight?
Between the disposable diapers and the Chinese tattoo passed such a painfully short gap of precious memories.
Thanks for reading !