Able to Exhale

Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White in Peter Jac...

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Dear batchmates, schoolmates, brods, officemates, kabayan and friends :

IT’S debatable, but for Pinoy fortysomethings like us, jogging is truly a low-cost, high benefit activity. It’s not very demanding timewise, you literally run on your own pace, and if you stay with the program, you acquire or regain a fitness that takes years off your birth certificate.

[NOte : We distinguish from and avoid the word running as the latter connotes discipline, devotion and intensity that are alien to our species, homo sapiens sarapus matulogus umagus, native to Philippine concrete jungles and smokey mountains.]

It’s better said than done, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and all that, but it takes all our middle-ager’s energy to fight gravity, Wellington’s biting wind, chemically induced post-night shift wakefulness, and lastly but not the leastly, prematurely aging joints and knees when we go jogging towards a new day.

We were planning to catch a few zzz’s after coming home from night shift, but there persisted the danger of sleeping straight through the day and waking up just before another night of work.

Grimly, there was a good chance we wouldn’t have many more jogging opportunities like this, between the greenest valleys and the bluest seas we’ve ever seen, breathing the coldest, purest air that sprayed our windpipe, and smiling among the friendliest and most down-to-earth First Worlders we’ve known. [Not that we’ve known many.]

So we abruptly found ourselves from the bedroom to jogging on the footpath, and who should we see but a wrinkly, long-haired wizard lookalike on the side of the road, smoking a long-stemmed pipe and chewing lemon drops.

Don’t know if it was the adrenaline rush created by the cold, cold morning air, but the old man reminded us both of Gandalf the White and Albus Dumbledore.

We lost no time, between gasping for air, asking is there a work permit in my future? From his deepest pockets he fished out what at first glance appeared to be green and red playing cards, but on closer inspection were actually Pinoy passports. He shuffled and snapped them around his gnarly hands, and looked through them without opening them, if you could imagine such a thing.

He whispered hollowly: steady work and years of plenty come for these souls… but not for you, dawn jogger… Not yet. And with flowing robes and all, he jogged away into the obscure foggy distance before we could ask how so many passports came into his possession, or even how he could jog so fast in his strange garb.

We gave up on the encounter with Gandalf/Dumbledore and resumed our normal route, which was around the block, and soon jogging astride us was a fellow busybody, clad in No Fear shorts, Darlington socks and prominent headband. He smelled of Alaxan Gel, and we think he was humming a Dan Hill tune (for the Gen Xers, he popularized Sometimes When We Touch & a few other Mellow Touch classics).

Surely, this couldn’t be…? For some reason we asked him the first question that popped into our mind, without the usual niceties of an unexpected meet-and-greet with a world-famous kabayan.

Muole ba ko bay? Not that he would know.

Dili, he countered right back. Daghan ka pa agian ug tabangan.

We knew he was a boxer for the ages, but was he psychic as well? We had places to go and promises to keep, and the best way to do this was to stay in NZ. How could he know that? Well, after Gandalf/Dumbledore, we were ready for anything, and sure enough, our temp co-jogger zipped past us in his knee-lengths and warmups, and scooted to the nearest gym.

[By the way, we were already feeling funny about this jog, Inception style, because as far as we could remember we don’t speak a word of Visayan, and besides, we’ve never met a Filipino on the jogging path, much less a superduper famous one.]

A combination of disorientedness, starstruckness and lightheadedness (remember, we just came off eight hours of night shift) convinced us to call it a day, despite having gone around the block only a couple of times, and we were on our way back inside when we saw an Asian couple doing a lively walk just a few meters ahead of us.

It can’t be, we said.

The heights and body shapes were unmistakeable, and yet they should’ve been thousands of kilometers away.

( Are those two Mom and Dad ??? )

Sure enough, we caught up with them and unsurprisingly (both are devoted walkers) they paid us no mind, despite the fact that they hadn’t seen their prodigal prince for almost a year now.

Fighting for their attention (especially among four bros) was nothing new to us, so we just got into their faces, and unsurprisingly broke into the inevitable topic, without even kissing their hands.

Mom, Dad, I’m in a dream aren’t I? (without missing a beat) Are you coming to take me home? (still between breaths) Are you mad because I can’t stay here much longer?

That last one hurt a bit, ‘cuz they supported our decision and the residual consequences all the way. Without looking at us, Mom answered in short bursts, partly in Bicolano (which she almost never does) and mostly in Taglish.

Hi, Noel. For sure, you’re not in OUR dream, so we must be in yours. Dai ka pa ma-uli. And your dad and I will ALWAYS support you, kahit anong mangyare, as long as you listen to God and do the right thing.

We were about to ask, but what’s the right thing? And how come you can walk faster than I can run? when we caught Dad murmuring something unintelligible, with a curious accent which we later realized was Kiwi English. (He hates even listening to that.)

What is it Dad? we asked, regardless of the fact that whatever he said would be pointless, dream to diba? (How clueless we were.) He looked like he was doing some reading from some remote location, and relaying the text to me :

We have endorsed your passport with a work permit… (which) allows you to work in New Zealand in the occupation and workplace specified on the permit. The permit does not entitle you to remain permanently in New Zealand… if you wish to travel overseas and return to work in New Zealand, you mush apply for a work visa before you leave.”

Time to wake up, son.

** ** ** ** **

I sat up bolt upright, my eyes confronting the rays of the 9:00 midmorning sun. I had unconsciously kicked aside the blanket, the precious Wellington summer was imminent.

I had been asleep less than 45 minutes.

Out of my bedroom window I chanced to see the rickety mailbox hold something thick and bulky, and even though I could not make out the postmark, I was fairly sure the sender was Immigration New Zealand. The package could not but be heavy with news and anticipation, such heaviness threatening to pull the package down from the mailbox and straight into the footpath below.

I ran.

Thanks for reading !


Darkest Before Dawn

Joseph McGonagle, Passports and Visas, Saturda...

Image by Dr John2005 via Flickr

[ NOte from NOel : Thanks to all, especially to Hogwarts batchmates and schoolmates, AKLnzPINOYz kabayan, brother Alphans and UPalumniNZ co-Maroons for the mabuhays, wansui’s, banzais, and saluds going our way in our quest for new work visa. God bless you all ! ]

Dear batchmates, schoolmates, kabayan, brods, and friends :

I DON’T REMEMBER with sufficient accuracy if it’s Matrix Part 2 or 3, but there is one scene there where the protagonist (Keannu Reeves, of course) sits in an antiseptic train station waiting between realities, travelling from one to the other, although he is never sure which is which, why he is doing so exactly, or if the train operator will even allow him to board.

In turn, it brings to mind waiting to keep our appointment in an oncologist’s office for a second opinion (apologies to all batchmates, kabayan and friends in the medical professions). You’re not sure if the second doctor will give you a more pathologically pleasing diagnosis, you don’t know if you’re better off just sticking to the first analysis, in fact you’re agonizing between giving up going to a physician and just going to the nearest faith healer.

It is in more or less the same state that I see myself right now, being neither here nor there, coming or going, or perhaps leaving or arriving. Pardon me for bothering you with these trifles, but I’ve always occupied myself with the trivial, the parochial or the frivolous, and whatever else commands the attention of my ADHD befuddled mind for 16 of 24 possible hours in the day — assuming that I use eight for rest or ( somewhat relatedly ) dreaming.

And now that you’ve mentioned it, even in dreams I’m a Nowhere Man. I frequently “play out” unresolved scenarios of my youth back home in dreams. A frequent theme of my dream portfolio are frustrations, failures and great unfulfilled plans. I say frequent because recently, my real-world issues are beginning to overlap into the alternate world of dreams.

Waiting interminably at interview rooms for visa interviewers that will never come, waiting in airport terminals bound for destinations years too soon and with wallets too light for comfort, and greeting family, friends and godchildren half-meant and half joking, but actually waiting for overdue aguinaldo and expired pasalubong.

Waiting, waiting and waiting. That’s the dominant theme, by far.

** ** ** ** **

I hope you’ve saved some money, or at least you’ve recently set aside some wages for yourself in your time of uncertainty, Bisor said to the wall, mostly out of boredom and for lack of anything else to say, but knowing for sure that I would hear.

I avoided his gaze and mumbled something inconsequential, too culturally handicapped to tell him that I sent all disposable foreign exchange home to the suplings.

Like a shark in waters stained crimson by thrashing, bleeding prey, he sensed hyperquickly that my answer was too horrible to verbalize. His look shifted at an awkward angle from murky scepticism to outright incredulity. You mean you haven’t saved anything? Not a one? (Don’t know what that meant exactly but I had a good idea.) Not a thing? Well how are you going home? Inshallah and Bathala na, I gestured, concealing from him that I preserved the return portion of a previous ticket.

Relatedly, he seemed not to grasp the concept that most Pinoys underwrote the matriculation of offspring till university and sometimes beyond, not unlike the blood oath sworn to by clansmen and kin, in protecting the tribe against the elements and rival clans.

After going through the motions of explaining, I left him to his incredulity. I had more pressing problems, foremost of which was not just earning my bread back home but finding how to go about, between seasons of plenty (elections and holidays) finding ways to earn such bread.

Amidst such a depressing atmosphere, surely some remaining breaths of hope survive?

Such as: A more compassionate visa officer; a more relaxed visa regime in the light of The Hobbit’s return (before saner heads prevailed, Warner Bros considered moving filming to the Czech Republic or thereabouts, dooming the hopes of trickle-down beneficiaries of the industry’s most awaited prequel in the magnitude of Star Wars and Harry Potter)? How about the realization that some tradesmen and their skills were never going to return from Aussie till their pension coffers were filled up and ready to start golden years?

In the face of increasing difficulty, still we tried to occupy ourselves with these admittedly more pleasant thoughts, while waiting it out till V-Day (Visa Day).

Hard to deny, but in our idlest moments our soft underbelly felt most deeply the poison-tipped and serrated claws of the demons of bitterness, jealousy and self-doubt. Bitterness. Did our friends and colleagues not try their hardest to help us stay in this Land of Opportunity? Jealousy. Were we not at least equal to those humblest and least qualifed to stay here? Self-doubt. Did we not have the minimum abilities needed to justify being allowed to stay in the land of our hosts?

And yet all those we knew, despite their best intentions, were limited by the nature of immigration policy. Merit and self-help, after all, are the absolute measures of how much longer our stay here would be determined.

Who were we to say who deserved or were undeserving of this land’s blessings?

And after all is said and done, beyond submitting the sum of our efforts and abilities, what else could we do but hope that we justified our status as guest worker?

** ** ** **

As they say, it is always darkest before dawn. The faintest hope that we dare nurture is that the deepest dark of doubt will soon surrender to the brilliance of dreams and wishes fulfilled.

Thanks for reading !


The First Day of The Rest of Your Life

An aspiring seminarian on a vocational discern...

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[ NOte from NOel :  Remember during our high school retreat, when we were asked to write letters to ourselves, that we would read later during the retreat to compare how we were then to how were after the retreat? Well, the retreat letter has been improved, retreat participants now solicit other people to write them letters… I’m honored to write one to my younger son, who has been exemplary in almost every way possible, I’m proud to say.  Thanks in advance for reading ! ]
Hello Bunso :
First of all please let me congratulate you on what is so far a year full of achievement ; you have done everything expected of you as a senior. I’m proud of you.
I remember a peculiar dread that I felt, the days leading to the first day of school, every year of my youth.  A mixture of nervous excitement, coupled with a wish to restart a summer vacation doomed to end without my having done anything to be proud of.
You would have none of this nonsense.  It’s almost as if from the time you finished your junior year, you were ready to accept the challenge of being a senior, grab the tiger by the tail, and hit the ground running.  Your energy and initiative inspire me, anak.
It’s probably not obvious right now, in the midst of all your activities events and milestones as both a student and young adult, but it’s likewise a great time to plan the exciting life ahead of you.
You’re on the brink of a great adventure.  Everything you wanted to do, set out to achieve, all that you’ve started to build on, are beginning to emerge on the horizon.
The first big step that you took is starting school and embarking on your senior year, but things are beginning to look up, you have already completed the first major stage, and you are starting to master your gifts of learning, perception, synthesis and invention.  Not fully, but you are getting there.
But even more exciting is, you have not yet fully realized the nature and extent of your gifts.  And those that you do realize, you are only beginning to appreciate and realize.  You are in the midst of your own Age of Discovery, and instinctively you will know how best to use your gifts to make this world a better place for you and everyone else around you.
I know it’s a long process, but like they say, success is not a destination but a journey.  And I daresay that you have made a tremendous start.
My only regret is I have not been there for you, to see you grow, accomplish your goals, feeling the pride and satisfaction of witnessing your successes, but this is not about me.  It’s about YOU.
During your retreat, you will undoubtedly find time to reflect on what God wants you to do in your life.  Let Him speak to you through His creation and His Word.  I am not a religious person, but I acknowledge that a God-fearing, godly life is its own reward.
Beyond this, I cannot tell you anything else.  As a parent, I have been blessed with an insatiably curious, intuitive and creative son.  I cannot ask for anything more.
God bless you anak.  I love you always, and I wish you well in all that you do.  Kaawan ka lagi ng Diyos.

Dying Days of A Work Permit in Kiwiland

Skyline of Auckland, New Zealand, from Westhav...

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Dear kabayan, schoolmates and friends :

NOT to be morbid about it, but I’m in the dying days of my current work permit (WP).

It’s been a great gig the last two years, and of course I’d like nothing else but to continue work, but I’ve been too lucky the past 24 months (29, counting training and waiting time) and a sudden negative decision from Immigration NZ would frankly be part of the law of averages.

In short, I’ve been too lucky (masyadong sinuswerti) and the odds aren’t my friend this time.

It’s way too easy to declare, (allegedly) indolent locals and industrious WP holders notwithstanding, is INZ in touch with reality at all? Don’t the training, experience and credentials earned by guest workers count, arrayed against the unskilled, inexperienced and (most importantly) unwilling locals who don’t even bother applying for tradesmen jobs?

But it would be, as the Poms say, “bad form” to cry and whine.

I will not dishonor the memory of those more qualifed and less fortunate than I am, Filipinos who have dared and died in the NZ labor marketplace, those who sold the carabao and mortgaged the last piece of arable land in order to pay processing, visa fees and travel expenses to try their luck in the First World Never-Never Land. They deserve more than that.

My most poignant memory is walking to the lunch bar one day at the Albany Industrial Park, North Shore City early 2008. I discerned two figures coming my direction on the sidewalk, which turned out to be a male and female Asian in office attire. Strangely familiar were not only their height and complexion (similar to mine) but the office attire that channeled Makati and Ortigas Centre, short sleeves and necktie versus smart vestida and sensible pumps.

It only took half a second to realize that they were compatriots and countrymen, kabayan who were looking for jobs in the area. Quick hellos and kumustas were exchanged, mixed with the unmistakeable warmth of Pinoy wayfarers crossing paths.

It likewise didn’t take long for their voices to break.

Kuya, ilang linggo na rin kaming naghahanap ng trabaho rito sa Auckland, malapit na maubos ipon namin. Ayaw pa naming bumalik sa Pinas pero mukhang yun na lang ang natitirang option kapag alang swerte.

I couldn’t bear to tell them that I myself was nearly at the end of my rope, using up the remaining few weeks of my tenure before my WP employer would close down for good. From there, I would be looking for a job myself, awkwardly skilled and poorly placed in the job market for suitable PR (permanent-resident) hopefuls like me.

So like the dutiful plastic Pinoy cheerleader that I was, I told them to keep your chin up, kaya nyo yan, keep hunting for that job, and stop counting down till WTR (work-to-residence) Doomsday.

I forget their names, and honestly I’m unaware of their fate. For all I know they might’ve gotten engaged to good jobs, achieved permanent residence status (PR) by the skin of their teeth, and are now living the Kinoy dream, kudos to them. But I wouldn’t bet on it. If they went home and started from scratch anew, it wouldn’t be news to most of us.

And that’s the defining bittersweet memory I have, among a few others, of New Zealand.

** ** ** ** **

But on to happier topics. The silver lining in my dark cloud is that for this and the next generation of Kiwi + Pinoys or Kinoys, the latter will have their cake and eat it too. Families will be better housed, children will be better fed and educated, and overall quality of life improved.

No small feat is the recent UNDP (UN Development Program) report ranking New Zealand third in terms of quality of life, ahead of all first world countries except Norway and Australia. At the same time, money will be sent back home to send relatives to school, improve houses and communities in the countryside, and hopefully infuse our economy with physical and human resources reinforced and enhanced by the wealth and technology of a First World dynamo.

All this will happen whatever my lot as an accidental migrant. But my sojourn here would not have been as memorable without the effort and compassion of a few countrymen, who I must mention as a simple gesture of sincere thanks:

Steve and April Dods : I’m not sure if they’re in Auckland still, but the Dodses gave me their first job offer, without which I couldn’t have secured my first work permit, and absent which I couldn’t have stayed in NZ. They didn’t ask too many questions, gave me my first break, and for that I will always be grateful.

Efren and Butchie Pascual – Against their better judgment and common sense, the Pascuals helped me up when I was down and out, and didn’t expect anything in return. With one vacancy in their roster, they could’ve chosen more qualified and experienced Kiwis to staff their store, and yet they chose me, only because I was a kabayan who needed a break. It will not be forgotten.

Jerome and Lady Jalbuena – Another couple that smiled upon a complete stranger and gave him shelter, as well as encouragement from despair. Again, they had no reason to open their doors for me, share their dinner table or offer me the hospitality of their home. But logic and good sense will always be at odds with kindness, altruism, and an indefinable instinct to pull up the fallen. May you always be blessed, as you blessed me.

Norman Latosa, Bong Fiel and the Pinoy Basketball sa Auckland Family – My happiest days in Auckland were spent as a scorer, timekeeper and unlikely participant in the over- 35 tournament; I played like a kid and forgot I was overseas. All because of the magic of basketball, thanks to you.

The Downer (and Chorus) family of Pinoy linemen, installers and troubleshooters – The best way I can describe them would be genuine Pinoy Good Samaritans. They are part of the 60-strong batch of recruits from all over the Philippines flung via the four winds to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. My second month in Windy Wellington , the Downers (in name only) spotted me and took me in without batting an eyelash and treated me like one of their own. I became an Ilocano, Kapampangan, Ilonggo and Bisaya as well as a Tagalog well-versed in the traits of all because of you. Mabuhay !

AKLnzPINOYS & upalumninz and other community e-groups – Ka Uro, Jinkee Say, comrades in the same groups and the Maroon stalwarts of the State U community, you have done more than your share to promote camaraderie among the Pinoy community in your respective circles. Thank you for allowing me a forum with which to vent and destress myself. You may have helped kabayan more than you will ever know.

The Bautistas, Agustins and Montenegros of Johnsonville and Newlands – In true Pinoy fashion, we had a soft landing in Wellington courtesy of a trio of cousins (and their families), notably Eric and Hope Bautista, Tom and Ineng Agustin and Ricky and Maya Montenegro. They extended to us every comfort and courtesy and gave us a genuine impression of how Filipinos treat kin and loved ones abroad. Maraming salamat po.

George Bautista – I would never have been able to conceive staying here beyond a short visit if it hadn’t been for my brother George, to whom I owe the fruits of generosity, pearls of wise counsel, hugs of tough love, and utterances of unconditional support. No greater compliment can I pay him than to say that he made everything possible, and the debt of gratitude can never be repaid. Maraming salamat, kapatid.

So many more people to thank, so many kindnesses to remember. If I have momentarily forgotten you, sincerest apologies and I will make up for it (if there is a) next time.

** ** ** **

In closing, I note today that it is again one of those perfect, cloudless days in Wellington worthy of a Hobbit shoot or an Avatar inspired tableau. There is not a trace of the howling storm last night, responsible for a million windstrewn leaves all about.

If one were to choose how to spend one’s last days in New Zealand, this would certainly be ideal. For after the whirlwind of uncertainty and struggle, one hopes that the accidental migrant in me will regain the sunshine of a better life in Aotearoa.

Thanks for reading kabayan, and goodbye for now !


Feel-Good Wetworks in Early Nov

Hey there mga anakis :

No matter what you do, and no matter how much you love what you do, don’t take a job requiring regular night shift, OK? It will age you beyond your years.  😦

First of all I’m gladder than glad that you were able to swap goodbyes with Kuya before he left home. I know you didn’t enjoy the best relationship with him and things got quite sticky in the end, but the fact that he took the initiative to bid fond farewell, sibling – to – sibling, means he regretted all the negative vibes.

After all is said and done, he is after all your brother. He is on the verge of something big, and everyday is a new adventure for him. As you try to set aside your differences, I ( as well as your mother, I’m sure ) will forget his kakulitan and past immaturities, and together let’s support and give him encouragement in his moment.

I’m likewise happy that you went with Nana and Lolo to the cemetery to visit my own grandparents, you didn’t have to and no one asked you to, kudos for that. I’m just not sure if you went with them to the Chinese Cemetery (for Lolo’s folks) or to Manila Memorial (with Nana’s parents). If you went to both venues, that’s double kudos; you both deserve a medal.

I’m sure I told you more than once that Lolo was part of a large brood, and being one of the youngest, he was a bit distant from his dad. I do remember him telling us that he was quite close to his mother, sadly they both died before I was born.

I think you were both very young when Nana’s mother passed away, she was quite a character with her loud voice and colorful Bicolano dialect. Nana loved her very much for her quiet strength, something that was passed on to her.

** ** ** ** **

Inasmuch as I’m on the subject of notables who’ve passed on, one of my batchmate’s moms passed on early this year. According to her (my classmate), they weren’t very close, and they argued over all sorts of things. (sounds familiar ba?) To her credit, my classmate did not let this diminish her admiration for her, which fully dawned on her after her mother died. In her own words :

My mother was a picture of greatness, in all that she has done for me and my brothers. Her strength and power to uphold her dignity and carry a torch, that to this day is burning still in my heart – she was so much unappreciated and acknowledged. Today, I tell you, as I also pass forward this message to my own beloved son: a mother’s love, indeed, is the greatest love of all… regarding this woman that I thought I didn’t love for a moment in time, but actually adore.

These words could melt the coldest heart, as it rightly did mine when I read them. Wish you could see my classmate one day.

** ** ** ** **

A grade school classmate of mine lost a precious sister, and needless to say they were probably as close as bro and sis as you two are. Know how siblings realize how each other meant after tragedy? They didn’t need that, as my kabatch and his diche loved each other across the miles and through the years. Here’s what he told me shortly after she passed on:

I was very close to Big Sis 2. She’s always been there for me ever since I was a kid… She was my yaya & tutor. Its kind of hard to lose Big Sis 2 (and) she will be missed.

Now, can any brother and sister be as bonded as they were? In the way he lives his life, loves his family and regards the women he encounters, he honors the memory of his sister.

Relatedly, I’m happy the two of you appreciate each other even before you are fully adults. By the way, he’s another classmate I hope you meet someday.

Finally, I also have occasion to remember one of the coolest dads, who also happens to be a dad of a friend from elementary, HS and college. He recently passed away too, sorry to say, but he left a legacy of memories and coolness to all his kids. He was hands-on, but was never nit-picking or overbearing; he let his kids discover the important things for themselves.

I only saw him (their dad) once, almost three decades ago, but he left such a first-class impression that it resonates with me to this day. If you’ll remember me with just half the fondness, I’ll consider myself lucky.

Almost done here, and I’m hoping as regards schoolwork: Ganda, I hope that you don’t get any grades below 2.75, and Bunso, that you at least maintain your class standing. (It’ll look great for any scholarships, grants or stuff like that.)

Anything else for me is a bonus.

I love and miss you always, kaawan kayo lagi ng Diyos.


Eat + Pray + Love ( But Eat 1st )

Spit barbecue meat hanging on Avenue C in the ...

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[ NOte from NOel : not to take advantage of the halloweeny mood the last few days, but there is a distinct possibility that one or more of the items discussed below may gross you out, make you pass on lunch or dinner, depending on when the next meal is, or at least make you feel queasy. Thanks in advance for reading ! ]

Dear batchmates, brods, schoolmates, officemates, kabayan & friends :

THE WORST possible combination of traits conspire to condemn our Food IQ to the lowest percentile or decile ranking among the 45-year old male demographic. We eat almost anything placed on our plates, and in turn, even boiling an egg would be a culinary challenge for us.

In our dutiful daddy days ages ago, we could prepare simple dishes like sinigang, pritong GG and ginisang ___ ( fill blank with whatever canned meat available ), but beyond that was twilight zone or a no-fly zone for us, and the suplings knew better than to ask for anything creative. Couldn’t blame them, they had their entire lives ahead of them, and no sense in cutting it short just because the misguided dad tried too hard in the kitchen.

But we digress. In the last few days, we noticed a few things about eating habits, not just ours but among those who share our climate, color and language, that our temporary hosts find either quaint, strange or eye-poppingly eerie, depending on how exposed they are to Asian culture, which of course includes cuisine.

If not for their observations, we would not have taken a rhetorical step back and realized, oo nga ano, Pinoy nga naman ( yup, that’s the Pinoy, loosely translated ), there are things that we have accepted as normal as the sun rising and setting every day and yet would definitely raise eyebrows ( and sometimes goose pimples ) of those not familiar with Pinoy customs and practice :

By far the single aspect of our eating culture that causes the greatest consternation among our First World friends is the urban legend that Pinoys are connoisseurs (pardon the spelling if ever) of dog and cat meat, brought about by both sensationalist internet and the ADD-prone news cycle that gobbles up and spits out (pun intended) strange and oddball bits of news.

Our otherwise macho supervisor gets conflicted and crinkly-faced ( he will never admit that he’s grossed out ) whenever he remembers that Pinoys ( and other Asians, for that matter ) have no compunction about eating Man’s Best Friend and Puss in Boots. Conflicted because he doesn’t know which to do first: punch out the nearest Pinoy or Asian around (unfortunately, that’s us) or rush to the nearest toilet and hurl.

Crinkly faced because he wants to wax sarcastic about said culinary predisposition, but his nausea is in danger of cramping his style. Not even our earnest attempt to convince him that this otherwise barbaric practice is limited to a tiny fraction of the population and prevalent usually among those in our northern provinces (no offense intended Lakay, live and let live po) is enough to dissuade him from his self-righteous indignation.

It doesn’t help that where we are now ( and probably elsewhere in the 1st World ) pets are often considered members of the family, figuratively and literally, sharing bedspace and living cheek-by-jowl with their human masters.

The few times we remained unashamed of our country’s dog meat/cat meat eccentricities were when the same supervisor mocked us once too often : like when, seeing our spicy baon (packed lunch) one night, he asked if there was any piece of Brownie or Moning that we were savoring, whereupon we answered : not tonight boss, and just in case you’re wondering, YES we’ve tasted dog meat, and it wasn’t TOO bad. . .

We don’t think Mastah had much to eat the rest of the night.  🙂

Another food aspect that not just Pinoys but plenty Asians share is that in meat products , very little is wasted for the actual cooking, and you know what we mean when we say very little.

We once accompanied our Igorot ex-flatmate ( another Northern anecdote ) to the butcher’s shop prior to his sisig preparation. Admittedly, we hadn’t the slightest idea where the ingredients came from.

Turns out that pig’s heads, while a bit unsightly and gory, serve a dual purpose for the aforementioned specialty. Not being a popular portion of meat, they are relatively inexpensive ( NZ$3 a head ); however the cheeks are a fleshy and tasty component of sisig, albeit a bit time-consuming dish to create.

( We’re not sure if there’s a tangible connection, but it seemed to us that the higher the amount of alcohol consumption involved, the more indiscriminate the meat selection became, particularly if the issue was availability. Just guessing here. )

Don’t forget fish heads ( years back, Mother didn’t mind everyone else taking the rest of the fish, as long as she got the head ), intestines for chicharon ( cracklets ), “adidas” / chicken feet, a popular Chinese dimsum item, ears ( “tenga ng daga” ) and other unusual body parts which we’re sure are also eaten elsewhere in the world but are given more than their due attention in our corner of the jungle.

Undoubtedly, in our case the exotic cuisine has as much to do with economics and and home-grown remedies : when meat is in scarce supply ( and it usually is ) you learn to be creative and make do with what’s on the chopping block (tadtaran), and many of our potions and elixirs are supplemented by fluids and secretions from the animal world.

[ By the way, we hadn’t even thought of discussing these last juicy tidbits with Mastah, just wait till we get the chance.  ;)]

But back to our penchant for saving everything edible : highly debatable, but we save literally till the last possible moment left overs, takeaways and remnants of meals long past in the hope that we will (1) recapture the magic of spectacular cooking (2) conserve cooking energies for another day, and (3) pinch pretty pennies for a rainy day.

The only problem/s with this logic is that the magic of a tasty dish doesn’t necessarily translate to tasty magic the next day, week or month ( yikes ! ), the energy we preserve might be wasted in recovering from an upset stomach, and who can tell if the pennies we save won’t get swallowed by a mindless pig-out the minute we give way to a weak moment.

We confess that in wild, wanton days of youth, we had a relatively simpler rule when it came to devouring doubtful dated food : if it didn’t move, it was edible. 😦 Many a time we could have saved ourselves from a tumultuous case of indigestion or food poisoning if only we were a bit more discerning when it came to questionable kakanin, discolored siopao or sticky rice ( that wasn’t supposed to be sticky in the first place ).

But when you’re young, you’re supposed to be doing stupid things. We just did a little more than our share.

Nevertheless, we still wrap up food, especially the lauriat kind, if it looks too good to waste and some house mates are coming home from night shift. Besides, if worse comes to worst, there’s always the next door (Caucasian) neighbor’s too-friendly pussycat, who recently developed a devoted preference for Pinoy cooking.

For all the yums and slurps of pinoy ulam (dishes), we can’t blame the pusang gala, who, not to worry, will always remain our dinner guest and not our dinner.

Thanks for reading !