The Next Day of The Rest of Your Life

[ NOte from NOel : Though we were thousands of kilometers away on his graduation day yesterday, our heart was with Bunso, who was accompanied by his proud grandparents and sister. We share with you below our letter of congratulations to him, greetings as well to all graduates this March! Please spare a few moments today to whisper a prayer for our compatriots awaiting a stay of execution in Shenzhen and Xiamen, the People’s Republic of China. Thanks in advance for reading the longish letter ! ]

Dear Bunso :

I am so happy that you are nearly at the end of your high school journey. Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was wishing you well on what was undoubtedly going to be a most remarkable valedictory of your passage into young adulthood, your transition from big fish in a small pond into the ocean of the much larger world outside? I know in my heart that the fleeting time did not diminish, in fact it heightened the sweetness of your high school memories.

I wish I could say that you are entering a world better than the one I joined when I left high school myself, but I will not even try, as I’m sure you will not permit such a delusion. Nature has continued her cyclic rampages, despots contine to claim the divine right of kings while trampling their citizens underfoot, our OFWs continue to be exploited, wrongfully imprisoned, and even executed abroad, and everywhere, people who need the help most urgently continue to be deprived by governments who should be doing the most to help them. Indeed, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Of course, I’m proud that you passed the admission exams of both the Green Archers and the Blue Eagles, especially since those schools were your first two choices. Despite what your uncles, classmates, and comrades tell you, ultimately it is your choice that counts, for after all it is you and not anyone else who will be attending school. So there.

** ** **

I wish I could impart to you the wisdom of the ages as you embark on a new phase in your academic career, but I cannot. For me, college was just one party after another, half-hearted attempts at erudition, chivalry or achievement, most ending in vain. Among the few truths that I learned then and which stayed with me to this day, if I may, was that pleasure, fair-weather companions, and the eye candy purchased by wealth and privilege are all ephemeral and will immediately desert you in hard times. Only the fruits of education and hard work stay true and loyal to you, even in your darkest times.

Just a few observations that I hope will serve you well in your college adventure. Now and then you will called by your peers to join the effort to agitate for change, redress grievances and challenge injustices especially against government , big business and the prevailing social order. Use your own good judgment, follow your conscience and I only hope that at the crucial time, you will be on the right side of history :

Never underestimate the power of peaceful protest. Our February Revolution of 1986 (two years before Kuya was born), the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square at the end of the last century, the current Arab Spring and probably most of the uprisings yet to happen in your lifetime are linked by peaceful protest that grew and grew until social change was inevitable. The symbol of one man standing against armies, tanks and the Establishment is a potent one, raising goosebumps, inspiring revolutions and summoning the groundswell of historic reform. The youth component of peaceful protest is often a crucial one, and before you reach your 20s you will probably join a handful of these causes. Choose your battles carefully, and lend your talents and energies to those that you think will provide meaningful change.

Don’t forget the playground rules that applied in high school are still applicable in university : Some notables are (1) you scratch my back, I scratch yours; (2) In any kind of group work, 20% of the team does 80% of the work ( so choose your groupmates well ) and (3) there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Not set-in-stone rules, but worthwhile to remember.

Lastly, this piece of advice hardly needs to be said, but just in case, make friends from all over and enjoy yourself in college. You will naturally and inevitably be drawn to those who share your likes and interests, but try to diversify the mix of your acquaintances, then choose those whom you will be most comfy with. In particular, try to reach out to those of humbler backgrounds, from remote hometowns, and those who won’t readily gravitate to the popular cliques. It might sound unlikely now, but these fellows are the most interesting ones and will enrich your life and experiences.

Beyond all these, you are in for a wonderful adventure, where you will undoubtedly shape your career and make friends and memories that will last you a lifetime. I envy you because of your youth and opportunity, but I’m so happy for you for the very same reasons. Your life as a collegian awaits!

Congratulations again anak, I love you always, kaawaan ka lagi ng Diyos.


Scribbles in a mallrat’s dog-eared notebook

the NZ malls aren't as pretty, but this is what the nicer ones look like.

the NZ malls aren't as pretty, but this is what the nicer ones look like

[ NOtes from NOel : To be brutally frank about it, there’s not much to look forward on the horizon, and it’s going to be a lot worse before it gets any better. We can only offer moral support, our faith in the human spirit, and our humble prayers to our brothers and sisters in the Land of the Rising Sun. Belated happy birthdays to Atty Bernadette ‘Dit’ Bargas – Abejo and kabatch Ms Jocelyn ‘Asan’ Chan – Tan, thanks so much for appreciating and reposting our post, Maroonmate Ms Julie Lee ! ]

Dear kabatch, schoolmates, brods, kabayan, officemates, friends, Huttmates and anakis :

ROUND THESE PARTS, there’s a Pinoy salawikain ( paraphrased ) that in any urban center, if you want to find your kababayan for whatever reason, whether you’re homesick, you want to get updated on local news, need pesos for a trip home or are just lonesome for brothers and sisters of your color, height and accent, just proceed to the nearest supermall and walk around for a few minutes. It won’t be long before you find kabayan, kaprobinsya and kalahi who’ll smile back if you smile, talk back if you talk, and pretty soon you’ll forget that you’re a thousand miles away from home.

Just a few qualifiers : unless you’re in Auckland, there aren’t many supermalls here approaching the size of Mall of Asia (half a million square meters) or even MegaMall, Trinoma or G-3, stores close their doors after 5 pm (unless there’s a late night schedule usually on Thursdays and Fridays), and compared to payday crowds back home, it’s quite slim pickings for the foot traffic-conscious entrepreneur.

I remember two anecdotes told me by a bean counter ( numbers or stats man ) in the mall business : the first was that, on midnight madness, long weekends or the traditional holidays (Christmas and Easter), if you can see the floor, meaning it’s not covered by wild-eyed shoppers or those desperate to buy anything on sale, you haven’t done your job well enough to draw both hardcore and casual buyers in.

Second, on one of the less dependable holidays for sales, that’s All Souls’ Day November 2nd in the early 2000s, one of the bigger malls in Metro Manila (a favorite of the call center crowd) reported a mall attendance of one million passing through their doors, yup that’s six zeroes after one, on a relatively weak day.

Little doubt then that the Pinoy is a mall creature.

Sorry to veer away from the topic, just wanted to share with you what little we observed in the malls here. They are mostly culled from those frozen moments when I see something that reminds me of home, and at the same time the moment becomes noteworthy for how similar or different it is from what I remember back home.

Food is king, no matter how odd or mismatched the business to the businessman. One of the favorite Pinoy eating-places here is Nando’s, and probably it’s well-loved in other malls and NZ cities as well. It’s a combination of Max’s, Pollo Loco and Kenny Rogers, and every time we visit the place, it’s packed, mostly by South Asians and Chinese, I’m sure you can guess which Southeast Asian group make up the remainder of the unfilled tables.

It was therefore a shock to esposa hermosa and me when we asked the owner-manager ( we’re not sure if he’s Indian or Pakistani ) you must be tired of eating chicken all the time, to which he answered, I have only tasted it once, and I don’t eat it at all. When asked why, he said that he was a 100% vegetarian for religious reasons, not even milk, eggs or fish. When we asked how he reconciles religious restrictions with the dictates of his business, he said that as long as his personal behavior wasn’t affected, there was no problem with his goods or services, as long as people were happy and he followed the law. Adding to the shock was when we found out that some of his waiters and servers were also life-long and dedicated vegetarians. Touche’ to that.

The incongruousness didn’t end there. Elsewhere in the mall where esposa hermosa works is a sushi bar that enjoys a healthy menu, reasonable pricing and probably the best location in the mall. But what struck us a few times when we fetched her on the way home was that three of her co-workers were Chinese, at least two were Korean, and three others were Pinoy like us. Notice what was odd about the staff? That’s right, not a single person in the authentic Japanese fast-food outlet was Japanese, although if you had the formula, the recipe, and knew how to prepare and serve food Japanese-like, I guess native born talent wasn’t essential.

As an aside, better than half of the Malaysian / Singaporean, Vietnamese and even Thai establishments we chanced to visit were owned, staffed and patronized by Chinese cooks and food professionals. It’s like we hadn’t left home at all.

Beat the heat, escape the cold. Bottom line, most mallgoers back home enter the mall not to buy stuff, but almost always, in no particular order, to beat the heat, grab a bite, or take in a movie. It’s not much different here, because the stores close first, restos second, and the moviehouses last.

The only wrinkle is that there are summer months and winter blues here, so it works the other way as well : mallrats both Kiwi and Asian beating back the polar blasts from the Antarctic by meeting the embrace of central heating in most malls here. Coupled with hot marshmallowed coffee and toasted banana muffins, it’s a welcome respite during the frosty months of May to July.

For now, the carefully controlled artificial climates keep you cool in summer, and cozy warm in winter. Not a bad bargain considering that you don’t need to spend anything besides your weekly pamalengke at the grocery or pay your energy or phone bill at the local Kiwibank / NZPost.

MallWorld ends by five. This is the only disorienting feeling we get from malls here : prepare to experience a ghost town as soon as the clock strikes five. Fellow mallrats can hardly believe it when we tell them that come 6 to 7 most days in the Islands, the day is just starting for many stores, cuz that’s when the office crowd starts to fill the mall.

It’s almost as if most employers here would rather close shop by 5 pm everyday rather than pay overtime to their staff, and this literally is the case: the extended recession, leaving many businesses and retailers in the red, has taken its toll on many employers, with most already living month-to-month and can’t afford to pay store staff any more than absolutely necessary.

This is a pity, as many wage earners and salary nine-to-fivers can only visit and patronize the mall after work, and are chained to their machinery or desks the whole workday. Even the recent policy of closing late on Thursday and Friday nights can do wonders for the small businessmen, and hopefully mall owners and administrators might be persuaded to close the mall at a later hour.

** ** **

Meanwhile, the eerie silence of the mid-afternoon mall environment (sunset doesn’t come till 8) convinces us that despite the familiar facades (Espirit, McDonalds’, Gloria Jeans and Starbucks), the wide walkways, the generous lighting and the ever-present escalators, you’re not in MegaMall, Galleria or Shangrila Plaza anymore.

Thanks for reading !

Death Be Not Proud : Bits & Pieces on the Christchurch 11


Christchurch Cathedral before the earthquake.

Dear kabatch, schoolmates, brods, kabayan, officemates, Huttmates and friends :

FOR THIS accidental migrant, there are two caveats or bewares that come attached to every blog, especially one that we create.

The first concerns the basic delusion of all bloggers, that he or she nurtures some pretensions to eloquence and all its rewards. This is dependent on any and all communications of approval or praise from readers who accidentally or otherwise have set aside precious time to read such blog/s.

Well, we confess that we are not immune to this vanity, and therefore each and every offering you read (by force or otherwise) from us carries such a caveat. What we write below is a notable exception however, as we let out as little of ourselves as possible, letting the words speak for themselves.

You see, although we know not a single person out of the Christchurch 11, those who gave up their lives in the pursuit of the Pinoy OFW dream, we feel a certain kinship with them.

One or more of them might have brushed our shoulder in a visit to Wellington, for all we know, or may have attended a chance Filipino Mass in the NZ capital early this year before proceeding southward. To be sure, we’ve never met them personally, or even met friends of friends before or after the tragedy, but at the back of our mind we always wondered, what were they like, and was there anything for us to get to know them a little better?

With advance apologies to their families for taking the initiative ( if one could call it that ) to do this, we thought it would be a half-decent idea for the Pinoy community in NZ and elsewhere, the nursing profession (especially those working away from home) and everyone else in our extended family of lahing kayumanggi to get to know a little more of our compatriots and kabayan as they go home to God.

If ever anyone is offended by anything here, or if the information is spotty or inaccurate, we offer our humble apologies. For the record, the Christchurch 11 were victims of the 22nd February 2011 Christchurch NZ earthquake that according to Prime Minister John Key was among “the darkest day(s) in New Zealand’s history”, at least nine of the 11 were nurses ( we’re not sure about the other two ) and most of them were taking an English language course preparatory or to improve their chances of practicing nursing in New Zealand :

Lalaine Agatep is a 38-year old nurse. A newspaper report from her family was datelined Tuguegarao, Cagayan so it must be safe to presume that she is from the north. A dramatic photo of her sister Leila Garcia and brother-in-law was published in the front page of the Wellington’s Dominion Post a few days after the earthquake.

Mary Louise Anne Amantillo hails from Iloilo and her mother refused to give up on her long after rescue efforts gave way to recovery operations. She was supposed to keep an internet chat appointment with her mom that fateful day, but instead sent an SMS text message the morning of the 22nd, saying simply, “Mom, I’m trapped.” She graduated high school from Angelicum School Iloilo in 2004. She is a 23-year old nurse.

Emmabelle Anoba was born and raised in Minglanilla, Cebu, and her last location was at the third floor of the CTV Bldg, attending classes conducted by King’s Education, a language school. She is a nurse.

Valquin Bensurto listened to Paramore, Oasis, Matisyahu, Snow Patrol and Owl City, liked Cow & Chicken, Detroit Rock City, Gran Torino, South Park and Pranked, and although we can’t confirm it 100%, was a nurse and came from Iloilo.

Ivy Jane Cabunilas’s passage from Earth was confirmed in a report from The Freeman last 8th March, so we are assuming (guardedly) that she is from the Cebu region. She is a practicing nurse.

John Kristoffer Chua passed the Philippine Nursing Board examinations 2009, is 23 years old and grew up in Lapu-lapu City.

Jewel Francisco was the last of the 11 confirmed to have perished in the earthquake (last Friday), was 26 years old. We can’t confirm if she was a nurse.

Jessie-Lloyd Redoble and Ezra Mae Medalle were the star-crossed sweethearts who staked out their careers and future in New Zealand, and who ultimately became linked in eternity. Nurses both, a little more is known about Jessie-Lloyd, who was an alumnus of Andres Bonifacio College of Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte, and passed the nursing licensure examinations of 2008.

Rhea Mae Sumalpong, a 25-year old nurse, graduated from Cebu’s Southwestern Univesity in 2007 and Univesity of San Jose Recoletos in 2002, came from a family of medical professionals and created one of the most beautiful and heartwarming Multiply sites we ever beheld. She came from Naga, Cebu.

We reserve the last place for Erica Avir Reyes Nora, who composed a light-hearted but in hindsight quite poignant sketch of herself in her Facebook page, which appears below. She grew up in Malabon and attended Arellano and Our Lady of Fatima Universities. We reproduce the self-sketch as well as the “font” she has created :

“I’m eRICAh jUzt kOl mE kAng frOm NEw zEaLaNd (hAha) / yOu cAn caLl ME aLcohoLiC bUt i caLL iT a dArn goOd tiMe hAha / cOnfiDenCe iZ waT MAkEs mE sExy /   i dOn’t cAre if u dOn’t Lyk Me eVeryOne dAt mAttErS aLrEadY apprOvEs  / tHe LiTtLe thIngsS mAkE mE LaUgh, iT’s nOt HArd tO pLeAse Me…

I’m a fReE spiRiT / I’m strOng aNd dEterminEd  / i loVE tO loOk aT tHe stArs /  i’M jUst a gUrL, anD dAts aLL i WaNna BE  /  i’M nOt a pErFecT girL. mY HAir dOesn’t aLwaYs stAY in pLACe and i spiLL thinGs a LoT /                   i’M pReTty cLuMSy aND suMtiMez i HAve a brOken HEart…

my fRnDz aND i sumtiMez fiGht aND MAyBE sUmdAyS nOthiNg gOes riGht bUt whEn i thiNk abOut iT aND TAke a stEp BAck / i RemEmBEr hOw amAzing LifE tRuLy is / aNd tHat MAybE jUst MAybE i LikE bEinG UNPERFECT. ”

** ** ** **

We reiterate that you may have had more information than we had; if there are any omissions and inaccuracies here, we apologize in advance in the name of human error.

Earlier we mentioned two caveats in the imperfect art of blogging. The second, we almost forgot to add, is that there exists the peril of getting too involved, of writing or using oneself as an instrument of communication in too personal a manner.

Given the subject matter and the general sentiment among all of us, this is a risk we are willing to assume this time.

To our Christchurch kabayan who left us, God bless you all, good night but not farewell.

Mabuhay tayong lahat !


Sample Doses of Love & Other Drugs

[ NOte from NOel : Just sharing something sent to the anakis a little more than a week ago, thus the Feb theme.  Newswise and electronically we stand no closer to them than other compatriots back home, but in spirit we are kapitbisig with the fallen OFW heroes of the 22nd February Christchurch earthquake,  you will not be forgotten.  Thanks for the kind feedback to fondly remembered kabatch Cathy Gruba-Tanso and Fidel Esteban, which we forgot to acknowledge earlier, and belated happy birthday to kabayan Didith Tayawa -Figuracion, many happy returns! ]
Dear Ganda and Bunso :
So sorry for the late emails, your FB profile pics are proof that you are growing into young adults at a frightening light-speed pace; by the time we meet, you will be full-grown already.  Please try to tuck a little of your babyhood away so I can still cuddle you next time I come home, if only for a while longer.
I know it’s late, but in some time zones the Love Month is barely done, so I’d like to give you golden nuggets of advice about love and relationships.  Odds are, you are thinking that I’m probably not the best person to dispense pearls of wisdom when it comes to this area, but this STILL being Feb (albeit nearly the end) and me being in a nugget-and-pearl dispensing mood, please indulge your old man : 
[ by the way, I didn’t include Kuya in the salutation, no cause for worry as (1) he can read this anyway; (2) either he doesn’t need this anymore; or (3) he is too far gone to benefit from this 🙂 ]
Males overwhelmingly warm up to romance and relationships to appease their physical nature, and I say this not only for you Ganda ( for heightened wariness ) but also for Bunso ( for heightened self-awareness ). It’s famously said that Men think not with their brains but with a more notorious part of their bodies.  It is in our DNA, so ingrained in us that we do it instinctively without seeing the social consequences of such myopia.  Where girls go out for an innocent jog, their male companions see an opportunity to see legs and low cut tank tops.  An occasion for socializing for girls is a chance for their male counterparts to investigate how far they can go or “get lucky.”  It’s not so much a criticism of guys as a realistic view of hormones gone haywire for y- chromosomers.
When they say they’re in Love, half the time it’s just their hormones talking, nothing personal Bunso, you know whereof I speak.  It’s just how we are wired, in a way it’s in our hardware.  The important thing is that you are aware of these realities, and don’t fall so easily for the sweet romantic talk that has been the downfall of so many before you.
That out of the millions and millions of people in this world, there is only one for you and vice-versa.  This is also known as the soulmate theory, so eloquently enunciated by David Pomeranz in Born for You.  I understand that your idea of a perfect someone is one just waiting for you out there, but it’s like eliminating everyone else as incompatible with you !  It’s quite similar to the equally unlikely proposition that in God’s Universe of billions and billions of planets, stars and galaxies, only our Earth can support intelligent life.  Romantic, but how naive does that sound? 
Stated another way, assuming that there is someone who is uniquely compatible with you, what are the chances that, among gazillions of other individuals in the tambiolo, the two of you will meet in a chance encounter and gel?  Call me a cynic, but the odds just aren’t feasible.
Lastly, I’m not an anti-romantic but the pragmatist in me ( not to mention the realist ) insists that if you figure out that your Chosen One starts to look iffy or is emerging as a “none of the above” selection in multiple choice, there is no shame in considering other potential mates.
Avoid getting married for all the right reasons, but get married for only one reason.  You’ve probably learned this gradually, in twists and in turns, until it sounds like a redundancy, but I had to say it for the record.  Career, pahinog ( maturation ), opportunity are all very good and are certainly worthy reasons to put off a lifetime commitment.  Self-denial and postponement of gratification are effective tools towards the attainment of happiness but ultimately, they’re just that, TOOLS.  In themselves you won’t be happy.  On the other hand, marry for one reason, and for one reason only.  Not that he has a shiny new SUV, or that she has a perfect body.  Devote your life to him/her because he/she makes you laugh, makes you happy, will think 10 times before doing anything that might hurt you, will put you first before anyone else, and will NEVER hold back one ounce of love for you.  Now, is that so hard? 🙂
No matter how many times you fall, the first time you fall in love is always the sweetest, and so savor it while it lasts.  Of all the myths about love, this is probably the one that holds the seed of truth in it.  It’s like the first time you learn to swim, ride a bike, and drive a car.  You never forget the first experience, only with falling in love the feel-good memories last a lifetime, till your dying day.  Colors seem brighter, every emotion is magnified ( the positive and the negative, unfortunately ), highs are meteoric, and lows are abysmal.  And I say this not without a note of caution, precisely because unless you have the luck of the ages, you will never end up with your first love.  Something will inevitably go wrong, your beloved will nearly always fall short of expectations, and even when everything goes well, the odds of enjoying a long-term relationship are roughly equal to that of Two and A Half Men returning for a 10th season.
Trust me, I know.
Still, there’s no harm in hoping, as long as it’s about love.  Not coincidentally, they’re the pair of  things we absolutely can’t live without.
I love you and miss you always, kaawaan kayo lagi ng Diyos.