happy birthday Doc Gerry So !

happy birthday (31st July) to an old friend, Dr Gerald So !

Can you imagine someone who was in love with both the printed and spoken word before he reached his teens?  Someone who already had a rough idea of what he was to do with his gifts and talents, when he was not even at the threshold of life?

Imagine someone like this, a Rennaissance man in his pre-teens, and you have an idea of what Gerald was.  I call him that, just as he sometimes still calls me Emmanuel, just like it was Gerald, Emmanuel, Nelson and Simon (Gerry, Noel, Sonny, and Simon)  nearly 35 years ago.

The promise has given way to the fulfillment.  He wedded the highest body of knowledge on earth, the science of healing, to the highest body of knowledge in the heavens, knowing God.  If you know anyone else who has been a student of both theology and specialized medical science, please tell me, because I hardly know of any other.

Without beholding him three decades later, I know he has kept himself fit and healthy comparable to a man half his age.  He devotes nearly all his waking hours to the love of his life and his family.  And though he has stayed Stateside more than half of his life, part of him remains in the Philippines permanently.

I pay him the supreme compliment of remembering him when I am posed by the most challenging of dilemmas, be it a practical problem, or even an existentialist issue.  When I am truly flustered by not knowing the right thing to do, I merely ask myself :  What would Gerald do?  More often than not, because he would do, not always the popular thing, not always the cool thing, but always the right thing, his would be the conviction of ten righteous men.

I have not seen you since the early 1980s Gerald, but thank you for being at my side all these years.

Happy birthday, many happy returns, and God bless you always!

NZ randomly, thru unjaundiced unbiased Pinoy eyes


Metro Manila on a typical day, from the nearby hills of Antipolo

[ Note : Vin is a thinly disguised nickname for one of the few Kiwis I know in the Land of the Long White Cloud.  He is uniquely positioned, for he has been NZ-based most of his life, but he has been to the Philippines twice, and has known both its curses and blessings, unburdened by the homegrown praises and insults of its brown sons and daughters. ]

Dear Vin :

I say this with no small amount of karma awareness. I know how temporary my stay is here, literally.  I realize that no matter how long I’ve been here in your beautiful country, I will never acquire a vested or inalienable right to keeping feet planted on New Zealand ground, as long as I persist in relying on my work visa.

At the same time, I have acquired familiarity with your country deserved by many of its permanent residents, a status I hope to one day reach.

But because I have stayed away from my homeland for more than two years, I have failed to see the small yet significant changes that have taken over the Islands.  It had to take someone like you with fresh eyes to show me how long I’ve been away and how much I have come to appreciate the creature comforts taken for granted in Wellington.

At first I didn’t believe you when you said that your first trip back home, you hardly saw the sun and almost never saw blue sky the time you were there.  How wrong I was.  I saw more sun and blue sky in Wellington in one week than in all four weeks I was in Metro Manila, and despite the different months of our respective stays, it is no coincidence.

The truth is I had seen many sunless, cloudy and makulimlim days in previous vacations to the Philippines, but I based such occurrence on the weather.  I now know better.  There is a permanent miasma of carbon monoxide, particulates, and industrial strength pollutants, better known as smog, right on top of the metropolis.  For the same reason, you no longer enjoy seeing stars at night, but the effect is more dramatic during daytime.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it had always been like this, a world of half-shadows, not-quite-sunny days and playing hide-and-seek with the sun.  But the latter has always smiled on the Philippines, and we have always had an abundance of sunshine year-round, 24/7 every day of the year.  Something like this, not seeing the sun when you open your window and come out the door, is a bit disorienting.  And we have only ourselves to blame.

And I don’t know if this is related to the weather, but it’s even more humid now.  The same smog that blocks the sun also keeps the air uncomfortably heavy , builds more greenhouse gases, encourages people to use air conditioning, which in turn burdens the air more with CFCs, and it’s a vicious cycle.  Most OFWs like me come home and stay in rarefied, air-conditioned condotel rooms so it doesn’t matter much, but for the rest of Pinoys, especially those who can’t afford it, the only recourse is to seek temporary relief at the malls.

I actually deliberated between braving the clean cold air of New Zealand and the tainted warm air of the Philippines, and I’m ashamed to tell you my choice.  At least there is still a lesson to be learned, and it is the fact that you can still avoid the fate met by my country.

The rich will continue to be richer, and the poor will continue to be poorer, but this happens whether you are in New Zealand or in the Philippines.  What is irreplaceable is the purity of your food and water, the rivers you bathe in, and the air you breathe.  It is probably too late now for the country of my birth, but definitely not so in New Zealand.  For now it remains liveable, drinkable, edible and breathable.  You would do well to keep it that way.

Save your country my Kiwi friend, precious little time remains.

staring down batman in robinsons pasig & westfield wellington

BESIDES THE reunions, homecomings and the reinforced memories of anticipated pleasures and updated conveniences, most of my trip home earlier this month seems a blur.

At the risk of trivializing the bulk of the remainder that happened, the news highlights of July were the death of durable comedian Dolphy, Roger Federer‘s restoration to tennis glory, and, the one we could have seen coming, the Denver Colorado massacre identified with the Dark Knight Rises premiere.

There were two flash floods that literally swept me aside, the second rendering the only road out of my subdivision into Ortigas Extension and immobilizing me 3.5 hours before my departure back to NZ, but in hindsight the first three were more momentous.

The shooting, tragic as it may be, obscures two facts of life in American society, sorry for the simplistic view: the accessibility of lawful firearms available only to highly trained professionals in war conditions in other countries  makes psychotic mass murderers out of what would otherwise be the unlikeliest daydreamers.  The second fact of life is that many brands in the conveyor belt of American TV and film  glorifiy crimefighting, and to achieve realism a necessary byproduct is the glorification of crime itself.

Which is just a four paragraph, roundabout way to get me talking about DK3, my own acronym by the way.  I’ve always been partial to the DC stable of superheroes, and because of his flawed, not-quite-superpower-endowed and millionaire-playboy-MMA-ascetic duality, this partiality extends all the way to the hallowed (and hollowed) Batcave.

Before I forget, may I add that this is probably the only movie I’ve seen from the milieux of two moviegoer demographics half a hemisphere apart.  Waiting for the first flash flood to subside Wednesday evening of the 18th, I chanced to pass by the cinema at that favored mall by Ortigas.  Idle hands motioned me aside and furtively asked me if I wanted to watch an advance screening of DK3.

Are you kidding?  half of me disbelieving, but the other half already conjuring images of raspy Caped Crusader one-liners and Batman-Bane ultimate showdowns.

Yes, yes.  You don’t even have to pay me right now.  Just show this ticket (a glossy mini-reproduction of the DK3 poster), come out after you’re stamped, and pay me.  No risk, diba?  And all for less than the cab ride back to Cainta, hardly scalper’s prices.

So scruples gave way to momentary weakness and I handed over coin, and saw the advanced screening of my favorite anti-hero, for a nameless fundraiser I didn’t even bother to find out.  It was a back alley, black market, secondary economy transaction, and I couldn’t waste valuable Batfan time stressing over it.

[ I saw it a second time, over the Amazing Spiderman and Kitkat Perry’s Part of Me, with esposa and Ganda, in the midst of an equally rapt and focused Wellington audience last night. So I have first hand, personal knowledge of the universal appeal of the Cowled One.]

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Right away I can tell you that I’m somewhere between the casual fan and the ultra nerdy geek who has followed all the various Batman titles (Detective, Batman, the Brave and the Bold), seen and dissected all the permutations of Batman in TV and Cinema (starring among others Adam West, Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Val Kilmer and now Christian Bale), all the different story arcs and subplots in animation, etc.  I resurrect my childhood interest every now and then, but only as it coincides with every new movie offering (and new Batman action figures, of course).

But you don’t have to be a specialist in Batman dogma to know that Tim Burton has yet again taken liberties with the fundamentals of his legend as well as with common sense:

Secret identity. Outside of faithful butler Alfred and maybe the Justice League and of course his forever young ward Dick Grayson, no one is 100% sure who Batman is , although they can suspect it’s his powerful friend Bruce Wayne.  In DK3, everybody except the young clueless orphans know who owns those eyes under those pointy ears, and even the latter might have a vague idea.  Catwoman / Anne Hathaway, Bane the Churchill sounding wrestler terrorist, Morgan Freeman / Mr Fox the mentor and weapons specialist and even Blake / Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the young policeman turned detective, anybody who’s got at least a line of dialog here knows, making one of Batman’s last lines in the movie truly ironic : if you’re gonna fight crime alone, wear a mask.  Logical, but what if the mask is transparent?

superhero mash-ups and love teams.  Except for isolated, spontaneous fight scene situations, Batman never takes it upon himself to team up with a super-hero colleague, he’s a lone wolf and loathes needing help; it’s part of his damn-the-torpedoes shtick.  In this movie, not only does the Caped Crusader need an assist from no less than one of his most famous foes Selina Kyle; aka Catwoman, it actually requires a paradigm shifting, self-preservation instinct fighting sacrifice from the latter to save the day for him (watch the scene later), very un-Batman like if you ask me.  In fairness to the Catwoman, there is a famously conflicted love-hate relationship played up again and again between bida and contrabida, but for them to triumph as King and Queen of Gotham Crimefighting is a bit much to take.  Well, they do look good together, costumed or otherwise.

The three most glaring assaults on logic came from my female coviewers who by the way were anything but Batman afficionados and on whom I had to give kudos for their incisive comics IQ.  Sez esposa hermosa : first, if Bane was really that troublesome, that evil and that stress-causing for everybody in the Big Apple, why didn’t NSA or Obama have him terminated using ultra-accurate assassin shooters from beyond reach?  Even better, why not just incinerate him from satellite-based lasers with minimum risk to everybody concerned?  It only occurred to me after the movie, courtesy of some discussion from Ganda, that a clinical hit on Bane would have done away with gargantuan, million-dollar logistics to battle him or give in to his absurd “restore the balance” demands on the good citizens of Gotham City.  But it looked like this practical option was foreign to the eggheads in National Security, despite the fact that a city of 12 million was hostage to a decaying neutron bomb and its mindless triggerman.

Porous borders and blast radii.  Stretching my credulity most was the fact that this same neutron bomb, with a blast radius of 8 kilometers would be detonated if even one citizen left the city premises via this suspension bridge that looked quite frail and rickety.  I could not suspend even my accommodating Batfan mind for a few moments and accept that a huge city the size of Gotham could be monitored and all of its inhabitants kept within by at most, a modest platoon of Bane loyalists.  And what loyalty could hold the latter to the arch-villain when he would kill his lieutenants at the slightest whim?  While we’re at it, how could the Batman transport the same bomb to open sea, drop it, and negotiate the necessary 8 kilometers to safety, all within 5 seconds of available movie time?

But movie time stretches amazingly, and by the way it’s a Batman movie, and Batman movies are supposed to suspend your disbelief while entertaining you to pieces. Who cares if realism and reality happen to fall by the wayside?  In Manila, and Wellington, and anywhere else, the Bat is and will always be the Number One Draw, and you better not trip on your cape rushing to your seat, if you wanna catch the Dark Knight 3 start to finish!

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hiding ciggies out of sight, out of mind, for good : note to Phil lawmakers

this an example of an Australian cigarette showcase, the NZ counterpart will show even less.

IT’S NOT enough that all sorts of media exposure, advertising generation and public affairs sponsorship is to be curtailed forever.  It’s also not nearly enough that the scariest, most graphic and direst COPD, emphysema, cancer and tobacco-related warnings are posted on the cartons and cardboard containers.

On top of very stringent retail selling, underage / minors prohibitions and the basic prohibition against smoking in public places, confined places, public transport, buildings libraries and almost every place you can imagine, stores of all kinds may no longer display tobacco products in plain sight.

I chose to keep that last sentence by itself, for emphasis and clarity.  Imagine you, a shopkeeper, selling ciggies but not allowed to showcase them like any product or commodity.

Yes, I use the word commodity because, poison cigs may be, but they still provide a so-called “benefit” or pleasure that is desired by human beings.  For cigarette smoke, as many of its inhalers know, produce in the body certain reactions that are difficult to replicate in nature.  A certain “rush” or shiver that only extreme physical and/or emotional stimuli generate.  A temporary calmness that paves that way for thought and focus.  Or a kick-start to the circulation after a heavy meal.

Regardless of the perceived benefits, the long-term destruction and social evil brought about by ciggies has created a long line of anti-tobacco legislation in NZ, and this latest law disallowing shopkeepers fromn displaying them only the latest.

Some experts say it will further deter current and potential smokers from being stimulated by the visual aid of the cigarettes and the encouragement of choosing between colorful brands, much like candies in a glass showcase.

Other say it won’t do much for the great majority who are already addicted and already know what to buy and how much the same cost.

My best example would have to be my own when I smoked.  I knew the brand I liked and the best substitute in case the first wasn’t available, the minimum and maximum price of such brand/s, and what my preferences look like.

Now the force of memory and knowing exactly what you like will have be important if one wants to continue smoking.  No sign or even a shadow of any tobacco product, no information as to brand, price or availability can be discerned anywhere, and retail establishments face stiff fines should this policy be violated.

Whatever you feel about this and other anti-tobacco policies, you can’t deny the symbolic effect of what it means.  Imagine entering a grocery store in your country, finding no trace of cigarettes or similar products anywhere, not being allowed to ask about brands price or any kind of information.  You have to know exactly what you want, know how much it costs and short of robbing the store at gunpoint, you won’t be given what you want unless you are an adult and are fully aware of what you are buying.

One can only commend New Zealand for the political will with which it makes known its anti-tobacco and pro-health policy in favor of its present and future generations.

Thanks for reading and onward to a tobacco-free NZ by 2025!

belated happy birthday Evelyn Cheng !

IT WAS great to see you again at the 30th anniv reunion, after so many years, at least 20 if I’m not mistaken.

Esposa hermosa remarked how young-looking you all were, and you deserved special mention of course.

I told her what an achiever you were in elementary school, and how you continue to serve your high school contemporaries by being a batch officer.

What we didn’t know was that you also migrated faraway lands, to Australia coincidentally (and so close to NZ) and now enjoy the best of the Philippines and Down Under by shuttling between your two homes.

So sorry for the late greeting, sorry too that we failed to make it to your birthday bash, regards to the family, and many happy returns !

on my last day as balikbayan: tips & tricks for the next time

one of the last images home

THE PHYSICAL and cultural shock assaults you almost as soon as you disembark.  The temperature has dipped around 15 degrees.  The air is no longer dusty, humidity is alien here.  There is no longer the omnipresent wall-to-wall humanity and careless strewing about of garbage, street children and in-your-face advertising, be it on billboards, electric posts or brochures shoved in your face by anxious street hawkers.

Yes, Noel, you are back in NZ where you are a guest worker, after three weeks of R&R back home in tropical Philippines.

I’ll never be an expert in travel, nor will I earn good bread as an scheduler for balikbayans, but I can tell you one universal truth in the topic: coming home is without a doubt an emotional exercise, so nine times out of ten your heart rules your mind.

You always want to spend your every waking moment meeting friends and relatives you haven’t met for years and years.  You want to taste every dish you missed, and you know such dish/es can’t be prepared exactly the way you want it, except in your mother’s kitchen / your hometown / your favorite restaurant, take your pick.  In any case, you lick the plate dry because such gastronomic treats are there only while you are home.

You want to visit every place you missed, and which brings back a flood of memories, be it the first house you stayed in, your school, your first place of work, where you lost your virginity (don’t tell me it’s not important to you), and where you met the love of your life.

You want to give your last peso to the beggar that so pricked your conscience, knowing that you will never see that beggar again, you want to give the clothes off your back to the mother and the baby sucking her breast, and you want to buy a king-size dinner for the skeletal lola selling her wares on the sunbaked sidewalk.

Deep down you know that, as you have known on the first day of your vacation back home, you will never do all the things you want to do as described on the last three paragraphs, because there simply isn’t enough time.

I can think of only a few tips that I learned the hard way, and which by the way I keep forgetting until it’s too late, that is until I’m confronted by the problem/s I could’ve avoided had I remembered such tip :

Pick the budget trip, but be ready to pay the price for such.  Aided by internet and esposa’s sharp eye for bargains, I was able to get probably the cheapest available pair of tickets home, how does NZ$2100 sound?  It comes with a steep price though.  We spent a total of 31 hours on the road, were intentionally starved and made thirsty by the airline so we could buy their convenience store wares at five-star prices, and boarded flights before the cock crowed and in the dead of night.  I think we also changed planes three times, which was in keeping with the discount nature of the trip, par for the course.

you said just put the overweight baggage in the handcarried bag right?

If you have herculean patience for this sort of thing, meaning you can wait like cops on a stakeout, carry along two tons of handcarried hollow blocks (the airline allows only feather-light luggage allowance to punish your thrifty ways) and eat like birds in transit, good for you; it is an absolute must that you bring along a good book/s with you, that you never lose your temper no matter how unreasonable the situation, and that you should be ready for delays and very short boarding times, because the airline knows you are paying next to nothing for riding with them, and they are literally making you pay for it.

If you can do that, by all means ride with Jetstar (oops, sorry to let that slip) ! 🙂

Plan ahead, and I mean waaaay ahead.  That means even if it’s two month in advance, go book that lunch or dinner with the barkada you haven’t met in one group since Cory was in Malacañang, or with the elementary gang that you wiped snot with before Michael Jackson bleached himself ghost-white.  It’s alright if things miscarry by the time you’re home, because you can always adjust later.  The important thing is you can mobilize the troops, organize the entire roster of people you want to meet, and the actual time and place scheduled will be secondary.  Remember, you are the one coming from far away, so they will understand if you demand a little more flexibility over your schedule.

next time it will be in one of these villas I will spend half my vacay in . . .

Plan around major events.  You come home for one reason only, and that’s to recharge and reconnect, but in truth there are quite a few sub-events to make it worth the trip home.  Mostly there’s the reunion or homecoming that the home crowd has been planning for ages, or maybe your clan is planning to give the patriarch and matriarch their well-deserved anniversary, after so many years of staying together.  You might also be itching to attend the graduation of one of your children / nephews / nieces on whom you have invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  This is a good time to witness the fruits of your labor, and to also bask in the gratitude of whoever is graduating.

So you can plan your trip home around these major events, so you can schedule side-trips like sunbathing in that tourist spot where everybody except you has gone to, or make an ocular inspection of that investment you made that you’ve never seen before.  The point is to visit as many places you can without forgetting the important things, because it might be quite a while before you get back home.

Fill out that inventory.  No balikbayan trip is complete without the pabili or list of things friends ask you to buy for them when you go home.  In truth this is quite an imposition, and many of the things that are requested can also be bought in your adopted land, but they are less expensive in the Philippines.  Not only that, but when it’s your friend’s turn to leave for home, you can this time ask him/her to return the favor and ask for your own goodies.

But it’s not an easy checklist to do.  There is only so much you can buy without overshooting your baggage allowance, and because everyone wants something, you have to be strategic in your buying.  Buy only the most important things they ask for, and try to get one thing each for as many friends you can.  That way you can say you did  your best, for the greatest number of people in your circle.  And it almost goes without saying (but I’m saying it here) that you should ask for the money to buy pabili with, otherwise you would have to spend your own money, already in limited supply right?

Give everything away.  This sounds like it doesn’t need to be said, but I’m saying it anyway : you should be prepared to give everything that you brought home away.  It is a gesture of friendship and love that you are giving away anything requested by a friend or family member; usually you can replace it when you return to your adopted homeland, and people usually covet something worn or used by a balikbayan.  A second reason is that you are going to buy so many things from the Philippines anyway, be it for fashion or to reinforce your Pinoy-ness.  You will almost surely fill your suitcase/s with new items and things picked up from your travels, so you won’t miss your old things so much.  Give them away, lighten your load, and make somebody feel better.

I know you have already done so, as I have, but I advise you to enjoy yourself, like you’ve never have before.  You certainly deserve it, mabuhay!

holding back the years with Tita Amy and Tito George

clockwise: cousin Ann Marie B Ceñido, aunt Lily B Yang. Mahal, Tita Amy, Dad, Tito George, Kuya Dr Donald Bautista, and Mom

[ Note : huge thanks to bro Jude Bautista for the pic ! ]

TOWARDS THE end of our balikbayan vacation, I realized that it wouldn’t be possible to meet all the people I had hoped to see, even with around half a week left.

For every person I was actually able to meet, there were around five to 10 people I failed to engage as promised.  For every gathering that was thoughtfully organized for me, there was an equivalent event that I declined or had to cancel at the last moment.

I sincerely apologize and plead poor planning and inconsiderateness on my part; I assure you that though the preponderance of efforts to meet tends to your side, the loss is mine to regret.  The obvious lesson here is to plan more carefully, set aside more time, and be more solicitous of other people’s expectations, energies and willingness to meet little old me.

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There was one singular occasion when I felt like a fortysomething kid,  and it was because I met people who helped take care of me growing up.  These people were with me during the good times, and inevitably during part of the bad times as well, when I wasn’t so easy to be with.  Thanks to a fortuitous birthday shindig organized for her by generous Tita Lily, I met last Thursday the 19th Tita (Aunt) Amy and her husband Tito (Uncle) George.

Tita  Amy as a young accounting apprentice also brought me to nursery school, helped me bathe, wiped my bum and talked me through all those afternoon naps so my cheeks would grow rosier and my toddler bones would grow longer.

Tito George was her stoic suitor with whom she would play Carpenters 45s on the phonograph, over and over, while I wondered why she ever gave him the time of day.  Decades later, when he would become a crafty and extremely successful agent of industrial commodities, and turned out to be not so stoic after all, gave me the hard lessons of life, without much varnish and even less garnish.

Together they were the classic baby boomer couple who almost non-chalantly achieved the Filipino dream, and produced in their brood the Ateneo lawyer, HSBC VP and Montessori teacher.  In the process they (again) talked me through the highs and lows, smooth and rough spots, and probably because had some emotional investment in me, were in equal parts concerned, alarmed and proud when I became a husband, dad and middle-ager myself, wondering where all those years went.

It was a chance for me to be a kid again when I recounted all my adventures overseas, and they had to give wry smiles and winks when I introduced to them esposa hermosa for the first time.

Though it had been some time since we last met, it was like we had just resumed a long-running conversation on life and love, and it took off like we had never stopped.

I hope it won’t be too long before we meet again, Tito and Tita.  Meeting you was one of the highlights of my trip !

sorry Mr/Ms OFW but do not pass GO unless we COLLECT P2500

The new heroes of the millennium shouldn’t need to stress out during their precious vacations . . .

[Note : Not only the batch-officer organizers, but also everyone who organized a gathering prior to and after the actual SJCS Batch 82 30th anniv reunion are to be commended and praised woohoo!  You know who you are, but if you think someone/s should be given a special mention, please buzz this loyal blogger and I will oblige ! ]

MODERN MAN, if the utopians and dystopians are to be believed, sacrifices a whole lot for the common good of humanity’s survival and welfare.  Diminution of personal rights, the alienation of man from society  in favor of Big Brother and the totalitarian state; and so many other scary Matrix-type scenarios that make you long for the days when life was simpler and we were closer to the heavens.

Being more or less a fatalistic worker ant type, I can live with most of the necessary evils of modern society.  I almost forgot that it’s easy for me to do this because where I temporarily call home, there are ten times less people, the pie of basic services isn’t sliced into wafer-thin portions, and it isn’t a test of Job-like patience to wait, wait, and wait some more to get issued a basic ID document, certification or registration that in NZ takes probably 1% of the time it takes here, and done for free no less.

Granted, basic services like the processing and issuance of police clearances have vastly improved compared to as recently as 10 years ago.  For one thing, many malls have opened up counters to help clearance-seeking Pinoys, thus avoiding the need to go to an NBI (National Bureau of Invesigation) main or regional office.  Too, the lines are orderly, the “fixers” who move you up the queue (or find a way to sort your papers without spending time in queues) in return for a small fee, are substantially less now, and there are even small waiting rooms to assuage the interminable wait of the waiting.

But all these small innovations couldn’t make up for the fact that, because I had a relatively common sounding name, it was procedure for me to wait for “Quality Control” to find out whether or not I’d been convicted of homicide, murder, rape, robbery, theft and a few other unsavory felonies or dodgy misdemeanors.

At the main office 10 days later, I stood patiently in line with Cruzes, dela Cruzes, Santoses, Reyeses, Mendozas in a motley crew of anonymous and Everyman sounding surname-holders who wished they came from a more unique-sounding family tree.

Most Filipino surnames were either handed down from the Spaniard colonizers or Christianized versions of original Pintado names, most probably Sanskrit in origin.  Regardless of the provenance, because the population has ballooned to around 90 million in the last few generations, it’s becoming harder and harder to tell apart the law-abiding and recidivist versions of every Tom, Dick and Jerry, or Tomas, Ricardo and Geraldo to most of us.

And that’s why the bored-sounding NBI apparatchik asked me perfunctory questions like what was your last job?  Where you an employee of XYZ Corporation during the years so-and-so?  The questions were answerable by a simple yes or no, meaning the questioner was probably aware that only the stupidest criminal would walk into a national law-enforcement agency and expose his criminal record, and all his attempts to escape the long arm of the law, after obviously being able to blend into the background.

I did sweat a bit when the interviewer asked me if I lived in the vicinity of Paco, Manila during a specific time, because the latter was where I grew up.  Fortunately, it was a different street and barangay altogether, but that specific line of questioning did give me a few anxious moments.

All told, it was a lesson for me to exhort future expecting parents and grandparents, especially those with alias-sounding names, to give their kids unique, or at least multiple given names to avoid being given a hard time at the airport, border or checkpoint.

***               ***              ***               ***

Another close encounter with bureaucracy was at the POEA where I had to obtain an Overseas Employment Certificate or OEC.  Every Filipino who works overseas must carry this certificate upon leaving, lest he or she wants to (again) be hassled at departure.

I could see OFWs like me from all guilds and professions, patiently lined up with passports, employment contracts and supporting documents at the cavernous processing area in the POEA.

Everyone knew it was a big, money-making scheme by whoever was in power, sorry for the cynicism.  When you’re abroad, all that matters to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines is that you remit foreign exchange home, in one way or another.  The generalization is unfortunate, but OFWs in dire straits and sticky situations know better than to rely on the assistance and initiative of our representatives abroad.  Before I say anything more negative, I’ll leave it at that.

But you could tell that everyone knew the reality of needing an OEC on the way back to work after your leave in your eternal barrio.  Some domestic helpers were flanked by their suitcases having come obviously straight from the airport, and intending to sort out their OEC before boarding the plane/boat/bus ride home.

Plumbers, welders, carpenters, forklift drivers all held their visas and pasaportes, having done gigs in Europe, the Americas, Africas, no outpost was too remote to be represented.  Everyone needed the same document, no matter how exotic the location, how narrow the specialization, how thick with greenbacks the pay envelope.

The OEC, useless as it was, was the great equalizer among worker classes in the OFW universe.

For the record, the queueing number of 735 that I held in my sweaty palm sounded worse than it actually was.  I was done in around two hours, but mainly because my details were already in the system and nothing needed to be updated.

The two-and-a-half thousand pesos I dutifully paid was for : OFW insurance, processing fees, Philhealth premiums and Pag-ibig membership fees.  None of these levies would ultimately redound to my benefit, but like millions of other dollar-slaves, I pay them without question, in return for P-Noy leaving me alone.

To be fair, I did come across an update in the papers including new cancers and dread diseases under the coverage of Philhealth, and that’s some comfort at least for the great masses of Pinoys who can’t even use the toilet at St Lukes, Medical City, Cardinal Santos Medical.  It’s not world-class health insurance, but it’s better than nothing.

But I won’t hold my breath waiting under the guava tree for the remainder of the blessings of those hard-earned twenty-five hundred pesos.  As they say, iabuloy mo na lang sa Inang Bayan.

Thanks for reading !

manila mall images that can’t get unstuck

this is a good way to combine the two things I’ve been seeing, and seeing…

FEW THINGS are more disorienting than seeing so many sandaled scantily-clothed and sun-drenched brown brothers and sisters carrying around tablets, iPads and iPhones as if connective technology and dressing down were, taken together, the most natural thing in the world.

I counted, because I had not much to do.  One out of every twenty passers-by while I hunkered down in my little corner of Air-Conditioned Generic Mall in Pasig was carrying a touch-screen, MegaGig and WiFi-sucking gadget that everyone had grown dependent on.  How could so many people afford these pricey things?  How could people go to work, work, go home from work, perform family obligations and still log on substantial hours on the Internet?  Simply because every other waking minute is devoted to these machines.

I counted, because I had not much to do.  One in every ten passers by was wearing the barest of footwear, in all colors of the rainbow, thong sandals, jandals, slippers, flip-flops, Havaianas, Crocs, it mattered not that the wearers were going to work in office attire, were attending business meetings or were shooting off to the gym.  It was as natural as Florsheims and sensible shoes, and the more comfortable you were, the better.

It’s a sign of the times that people are relieved it only takes two hours to get home, where before it took three.  The irony is it should actually only take, with minimum traffic and judicious time management, one hour.  Color-coding, use of counter-flow and lane supplements during rush hour fail to obscure the reality that there are simply too many vehicles and not enough roads for 14 million people in Metro Manila.

But because we are so used to suffering and enduring inconveniences in road transportation, two hours instead of three is heaven on earth.

Before I say any more, I’m catching the next jeepney to Galleria.

Thanks for reading!


a Blitz reunion with Dodie, Bong V, Joed A and Ronald R

the captions will come later hopefully !

YOU ARE close to your friends in high school, but the capacity to do the craziest things you do with friends in college.

This was especially true with Your Loyal Blogger, who tried all sorts of beverages and chemicals during those crazy crazy years in university, and therefore the silliest memories of myself, are retained by friends I visited yesterday.

They are named Dodie de Guzman – Gutierez, Bong Valarao, Joed Alcid, and Ronald Ramirez, only a small delegation of the group called Blitz in UP Manila.  One plus hour wasn’t enough to remember all those crazy things we did in school, but hopefully there will be other times.

God bless you Dodie and your wonderful family (Jovit, Jed, Tintin and Josh) for being gracious hosts to us!

Thanks for reading !