Me No Speak Americano (anles da accent Pilipino)

Manny Pacquiao gracing the TIME Asia Magazine ...

Image via Wikipedia

[ Note from NOel : Rants and raves below are limited to personal NZ experience, so we sneakily absolve ourselves from liability on hearsay and 2nd hand info, pls be advised … concern and sympathy to all those affected by the bomb throwing right after the last Bar exam at DLSU Sunday back home. ]
Dear batchmates, kabayan, officemates and friends :
ON THE SURFACE, there’s not much that connects Lea Salonga‘s star turn in Miss Saigon, Manny Pacquiao‘s Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You on the American Jimmy Kimmel talk show, and lately, the goose-pimply rendition of Listen by Charice Pempengco on Glee and other YouTube virals.
Not much, except their canny and strategic use of English, to varying degrees of gigil, whenever displaying and/or talking about their considerable (artistic and athletic) talent to the rest of the world. 
Each has done it in his/her own way.  Where Lea and Charice have wowed audiences with the perfect pronunciation and accent, matching anything their predecessors and peers have done, Manny has used a Pinoy accent that is unique and something only he can pull off.  His accent is his own, and the media loves every minute hearing it.
The fact is, Pinoys are able to show off their talents on a worldwide stage, using English with charm and class. 
But on balance, and basing on our own experience picked up in White Man’s Land, we daresay : don’t lose the Pinoy accent.
Meaning, for all the migrant wannabes, Pinoy expats and student visa holders out there, our accent is every bit as palatable as the American, British or Australian versions.
It’s a simplistic comparison, but just listen to Charice P or the Pacman,or even the various beauty queens who reached the money stage in their respective competitions: What is the common theme in their speech?
Well, besides the fact that they exude confidence and humility at the same time, display an endearingly naive, aw-shucks and unassuming attitude, very few try to use or affect an American twang or BBC brogue.

Charice P entertaining Pinoys in the US

[No knock on Lea’s acquired accent, but if the British accent was what she felt comfortable using, kudos to her and her talent to do as the Romans do.  ]
It’s hard to describe, but our accent is a combination of literal pronounciation, Filipinisms, and a particular way of placing accents on syllables, phrases and sentences that can be alternately described as charming and maddening, disorienting and enlightening.
Anglophiles all over the world, in their respective forms of English, like to glide over words and phrases as part of everyday usage, and listeners who hear the first parts of such figures of speech perceive the rest without waiting to hear the same.
What’s up with you is shortened to Wazzup, and finally to zup, in some places, and this is accepted as normal speech.  Filipinos like me are still comfortable with Hello, how are you, and though reminiscent of the previous century, still remains pleasing to the ear of our workmates.  Or at least, that’s what they tell us.
Another example is common expressions of a local populace like Cheers, ta, g’day, no worries which on the whole are used awkwardly by newcomers like us, and this awkwardness is immediately picked up by the locals.
Our end :  Let’s face it, initially we feel stupid and at worst, “trying hard” by mirroring their favorite and well-loved phrases.  We also never get used to the feeling that we’re using such phrases in the wrong way or situation.  The only consolation is with time and practice, the effect becomes less hilarious and more normal sounding, paving the way for us sounding like ordinary Kiwi blokes.
Their end : Take your pick, depending on their media orientation ( TV, movies or sports ) we either sound like Manny P, Jacky Chan or some Asian contestant on a copycat talent show, but at the same time they get the idea that we’re trying to be like them, or at least being agreeable and getting along with them.  The net result is hopefully half the time we understand each other, and we don’t need to (1)  rely on sign language, (2) create a new meaning altogether, or (3) lead us to acceptance by our hosts although this last outcome is the unlikeliest.
Specifically, phrases like pickupapiefo’ya?, watchsomefootyondatelly are just two examples of some tricky phrases that might be worthwhile to learn, and there are plenty more, believe you me.
Our end : Jibberish and gobbledygook, at the outset, because although we know what we are saying, we don’t know if they pick it up; in fact we don’t even know if fellow Pinoys get what we are saying, and worse, will even misinterpret us and tell our foreign masters we are suffering from a rare form of tropical disease.
Their end : Seriously, our workmates will hear snatches and portions of ideas that seem to make sense and for the meantime try to make sense of what they think is intelligent speech.  They might even realize that their oral contractions and abbreviations have been confusing us for some time now (Macca’s for McDonalds, rejo for registration, or telly for television, among many others), and in a benevolent form of reverse psychology, convince us that No, mate, if ya hear us talkin that way, it’s not proper English, forget it, OK?
VOWELS & CONSONANTS, PLOSIVES & SIBILANTS.  On the whole, Pinoys are a textual, literal bunch.  We read out through our mouths (and nostrils) what the latter are told by the eyes, with the brain intervening only incidentally.  Based on what we are told from early childhood, vowels are either short or long, consonants are either in-your-face or invisible, and combinations of sounds are only there for spelling purposes, or some long-forgotten rule.  On the other hand, almost every American vowel sound is a schwa, each consonant has at least two or three variants, and plosives and sibilants have an infinite variety.
We like to make fun of Manny P (and for the previous generation), Elizabeth Ramsey and Yoyoy Villame when they consciously or otherwise exaggerate their Visayan accent, but in truth we don’t sound much different to our foreign listeners.  Reason : we don’t make such a great distinction betwen our short and long a’s, e’s and i’s. 
The irony is Kiwis do the same with their own vowels (pin/pen, lift/left, dintist/dentist), often confusing their Aussie counterparts as well.  So it’s not like they can’t relate to our linguistic quirks and phenomena.
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It’s surprisingly overlooked, but we are probably the 2nd most Westernized nation (after Japan) in the Far East, and this is borne out by our affinity with and ease with English.  Whether or not we speak it with a quaint accent is largely superficial, as long as it gets the job done. 
However, the way we adjust to our foreign hosts, our adaptability and our social skills are what’s equally crucial to our lives overseas.  Endearing ourselves to our newfound friends via a combination of our accent and all others will go a long way towards becoming citizens of the world.
Thanks for reading !

Regarding Dad On A Birthday

 [ He’s very very much alive and in the pink of health, but on such an exalted age (78) and in full possession of all his physical and mental faculties, we thought it timely to pay tribute to his precious attributes. ]

Dear batchmates, friends, brothers and Dad :

IT”S PROBABLY one of life’s enduring injustices: compared to what Mothers do that define their motherhood — growing us in their wombs for 40 weeks, suckling us till we are weaned from both breast and maternal warmth, and stressing themselves to death over our physical, professional and emotional development for the next three decades — Fathers do precious little to claim authorship of their children.

Instead, they spend a lifetime bonding with us, showing us 360 degrees of the beauty and majesty of life, inspiring us to make every experience even better than anything they ever did, convincing us that we were brought into this world to enjoy every pleasure, feel (at least once) every pain and navigate through the highs and lows made possible by every sensory appendage God provided.

In short, while our moms make a vocation out of loving us, our dads dedicate their lives to making us feel loved.

On a personal aside, it was/is a defining element of my father’s character that he didn’t have to say much to show that he loved me. From babyhood, just by looking at his eyes and smile, I could tell that he was very fond of me.

Fast forward to the present though, the sad part is that I never reached any of the lofty heights that Dad pointed out to me. I never became the intellectual giant that he was sure I would become. And I never attained the pinnacle of financial success that he all but assured me was my destiny.

It would not be a stretch to say that among his sons I was probably his favorite, but I was likewise the most spectacular of his disappointments. It’s not a pleasant thing to bring up as I remember him on his birthday, but I can’t sacrifice truth on even the most felicitous of occasions.

He considered me the most talented, adaptive, articulate and potential – laden among his brood. I proved him correct in only the last attribute. But to this day he has kept the faith. Against the sighs, what-could-have-beens and thinly concealed references to his underachieving spawn, he continues to smile his knowing smile.

On the eve of my unlikely adventure into migration – cum – nomadism, when I awkwardly sought to magically transform my visit (tourist) visa into a work permit, my father clasped my hand tightly. He, like the rest of my immediate family, was leaving NZ the next day, leaving me all alone in a brave new world (except for my helpful bro George who had been here 15 years running).

It was a Freaky-Friday drama for an odd couple : it was Dad’s eyes that were naively full of hope for me, while mine were tired and jaded.

Come back prosperous… come back proud… do it for your children.

I looked at him dumbfounded and disoriented, but not without amusement. It was as if the last three decades of underachievement and disappointment hadn’t taken place. His faith had never wavered and was intent to see me through to success as his brightest hope, despite the fact that among his sons were a COO, a doctor and a businessman abroad.

However others saw his yet-unproven son, his version of destiny had at least half a lifetime of secrets to offer me.

For the millionth time I bowed my head, in shame as well as respect for this man who so loved me, thanked him silently for refusing to dispose of his hopes in me, and asked for his blessing.

** ** ** ** **

On the morning of his birthday, he is probably walking the aisles in Paco Market, selecting his favorite coffee beans to entertain his friends with. In a while, he will be teaching catechism to newcomers to the faith.

Later in the day, he will be singing his favorite opera pieces (his one vice) to the captive audience, the pet dog, and still later on will be playing peso-ante poker with my mom.

At least once during the day, he will be thinking of each of his five sons, and odds are even, especially if there’s a twinkle in his eye, he’ll be thinking most of me.

Happy 78th birthday Daddy. You deserve all the love in the world.

love always

son NOel

Similarities Always Better Than Differences

Southeast asia

Image via Wikipedia

THERE ARE probably many more, but one of the unintended consequences of migration is discovering perceptions of other races and cultures, and how others view your own.

Among the more popular and sometimes surprising we have picked up : Cambodians are excellent bakers of bread, pastries and related goodies; Taiwanese are remarkable in picking gadgets apart, studying how they work, and inventing more efficient models of the same (popularizing the term reverse engineering); both Malaysians and Indonesians are world-beaters in badminton, and, rivalling our own homegrown talent, Indian expertise in both information technology ( IT ) and call center operations is well-known the world over.

We’re fortunate enough to have spent our childhood years straddling both Filipino and Chinese cultures, so our face glowed with pride twice over when a Kiwi co-traveller told us that reviewing personal experience, Pinoys and Chinese adapted with greatest ease to a foreign culture, specifically his own.

It was his way of telling us that, at the workplace, in his neighborhood, in church or on the national scene, almost to a man (and woman) these people were the easiest to get along with, and vice-versa.

We avoided making comparisons among Caucasians across borders and continents, because firstly, it is like apples, oranges and bananas. The chasm is simply too great, and you cannot compare for example, Englishmen, French and Russians, just as Australians and Kiwis may look similar on the surface, but are as different as night from day. Natural distrust, historical slights inflicted on one another, and contrasting attitudes rooted in religion and ideology are just some of the reasons.

(This being our naive view, apologies if we may have offended anyone for the previous paragraph.)

Which posed the inevitable question, at least in our distracted train of thought. Among Southeast Asians and similar cultures (Polynesians, South Asians), is the tendency to look for similarities greater than the instinct to spot differences with those not of your own kind?

Pinoys within our own small circle seem to reinforce this urban legend. A flatmate observed that Samoans, Tongans and Fijians love cooking various dishes in coconut milk, and of course we Pinoys can relate to this on so many levels, witness our ginataang tambakol, Bicol express, kakanin, to name just a few orig (or so we thought) recipes.

Spanning the South China Sea : respect for elders, filial piety and involving the family in almost every aspect of life is likewise a hallmark of the Yellow Race, and again, whether we see them as Chinese from the Mainland, Overseas Chinese from different Mini-Dragons of Asia, or local Kiwi-Chinese that are as homegrown as NZ milk and butter, the basic aspects of Chinese character remain the same.

It’s probably a long shot, but various cultures that have been influenced by elements of Confucian philosophy as early as 2000 years ago, notably obedience to the state, respect for authority, and according the highest honor to education and educators, still find elements of the same today, in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indochinese traditions, and across Southeast Asia.

Inevitably, the so-called stereotypes of certain nationalities surface when we try to look for similarities rather than differences with our Asian brothers (and sisters). It’s almost as if we identify with the latter only for as long as the characterstics are positive, and distance ourselves from any comparisons as soon as the negatives become evident.

No names here, but our unfortunate combination of imbibing alcoholic beverages and the occasional crime of passion committed in the name of such, are shared by many other races particularly in the South Pacific.

 Frugality pursued to excess by the entrepreneurially inclined among some of our East Asian brethren, borrowed by other races,  has become such a basic part of our psyche as to be parodied and satirized by many who seek to disparage the otherwise unassailable business ethic of the cultures concerned.

Finally, Filipinos like to single out our former colonizers whenever the subject of our legendary indolence is brought up, but in truth almost all lands and nationalities close to the equator have their special way of dealing with the oppressive climate, while preserving productivity and harnessing energies under the tropical sun.

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It may be a long time coming, but the moment we discard the blinders of petty prejudice, transcend our long-held stereotypes, and banish the bitterness of history is the same time we begin to see the rainbow of races for what they truly are : fellow creatures of God who like us share universal goals of attaining happiness, preserving freedom and living with love.

In our humble view, this is one of the highest blessings that a migrant may enjoy.

Thanks for reading!


Minor, minor comments on “The Grand Design”

A Brief History of Time

Image by bazylek100 via Flickr

[Note : It’s unfair to base your opinion on what we say here, so please try to get more information, or better yet read the book itself (and tell us how wrong we were).  So sorry, this may be one of the least positive e-mails we’ve written, just felt it was something we needed to bring to your attention… Thanks for all the concern after the Christchurch earthquake, Your Loyal Batchmate / Schoolmate / Kabayan is safe and sound, for now.]
Dear kabatch, kabayan and friends :
JUDGING FROM the 30,000+ comments / responses on the Yahoo! Buzz item (reviewing The Grand Design) that were generated, within 1-2 hours after the fact, the topic is at the very least provocative-cum-interesting.
Nevertheless, we still need to sound the Homer-alert here : we consider ourselves laughably unqualified to make any kind of intelligent comment about Prof. Stephen Hawking‘s new findings in his recently published volume.
Well, maybe not findings, but at least conclusions.  In so many words, his inescapable (to him) deductions about Reality (not just the Universe) are that, in no order of importance :
(1) The role of a creator is redundant to his view on the Universe’s origin; and (2) It is not necessary to invoke God when figuring out the nature of Reality.
A simpler way to say it : it took millions and millions of years, but the Creation of the galaxy, solar system, Earth, and eventually life as we know it happened by itself.  No Act of God, no Intelligent Design, and creation of Man in His Own Image ( whose, then ? ).
We’re obviously not doctorate holders, articulate in juggling many-layered and multi-dimensional theories or concepts, or even DIY-ready with gadgets and wondrous devices .  But we do see the dilemma here for even the most casual observer of existence and existing.
Which is harder to believe : that God was and is responsible for who, what and how we are, or, seen through the benefit of ultra-ultra fast motion (an eon a second), our electrons, protons and neutrons assembled themselves into molecules that randomly bonded into compounds that formed building blocks of celestial bodies, biological slime and later, Life as we know it?
This is why, just to be on the safe side, we still attend Filipino Community Mass with bibingka, pandesal and dinuguan available for good measure afterwards.
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Hope you don’t misunderstand, we didn’t mean for the humor to be gratuitous and the remarks to be facetious.  But, given a choice between coming from a Higher Being and evolving from scattered cosmic dust, which scenario seems more palatable to you and me ?
The irony is that around the time of the release of his previous works , A Brief History of Time (and A Briefer History of Time), Prof Hawking could not help but point to a Higher Power in the workings of the known and unknown Universe.
The element that tipped that balance in favor of a decidedly atheist view?  According to one of the most powerful minds of our generation, the inescapable law of gravity guides all the forces towards cohesion, attraction and eventually, creation.
As the publication date, much less the date by which the book is available across seas and oceans, wasn’t till last week, we won’t pretend to have read his newest work, but it doesn’t take more than a reviewer’s summary to produce a particular dread from the central philosophy that emerged :
Is there a thought more abonimable than the realization that, after living on this earth for 8 or at most, 9 decades, you have the prospect of nothingness afterwards?
Actually, less than nothing, because the latter presupposes at least the absence of something, whereas what we’re contemplating is a state where you never were; that you not only not exist, but never did, except in the memories of those you left behind.
At the very least, how does this thought affect those who have little to live for and who long for a change of fortunes in what they fervently believe is an Afterlife?
Even the sinner’s belief that his worldly deeds will lead him to Heaven or Hell seems to be infinitely better than the empirical finding that after our lives here, nothing awaits us.
To reiterate a pretty blunt idea , it would be as if we never existed. 
Extending the premise, if there is no God, would it be far-fetched to say that we are but animate soulless creatures without anything to live for after our natural life-span?
I don’t know about you, but that thought is a pretty hard one to swallow.
Sorry for such a bleak, bleak assessment, but the implications are pretty obvious.  Whether or not we subscribe to any of the religions, faiths or philosophies in this world, perhaps the greatest asset we have to fuel our energies and dreams is the hope that there is more than what we have in this plane of existence.
Take that away, and what do we have?
Thanks for reading !