ganito kasi yon : more awkward situations pinoys confront everyday

[ Note :  The video above has nothing to do with the post, just touched me in a very positive way. here’s hoping the pain and misery following the massive floods back home is minimized, and that a sea change on our pork barrel culture starts to happen.  Yeah, right.  Btw, “ganito kasi yon” is Tagalog loosely for this is the short explanation.  Thanks for reading! ]

CALL US A lot of things, but don’t call us Pinoys (also known as Filipinos) anti-social.  We smile and laugh easily, engage with other people like it’s second nature to us, are great listeners, and can easily wriggle out of a potentially embarrassing situation via diplomacy or tact.

But more than all these, Pinoys are good talkers.  We love to show our facility in English to fellow English speakers (maybe sometimes too vigorously), love to show how we can discuss government and politics, even if we sometimes don’t have the slightest idea of what we’re talking about, and even use the smallest excuse to show off our familiarity with international showbiz, cable entertainment and even socially relevant issues where our region is concerned.

Trouble is, no matter how sociable we are, how cosmopolitan or how well we pass ourselves off as citizens of the world, there will always be aspects of our culture that will remain imprinted on our collective selves.  Conversely, there will be aspects of other cultures that will grate on us, simply because, like the proverbial fingerprint, no two cultures are alike, although on surface we may seem similar.  Whenever we confront face-to-face other cultures, there will be an inevitable clash, and it will be folly for us to compare these cultures with our own.   At the same time,  when these cultures try to compare ours to them, it takes every bit of our strength not to react negatively and instead tell them, live and let live.

Below are just a few examples of how these awkward situations surface whenever different cultures clash.   They are not theoretical or abstract  scenarios but actual vignettes of what happens when what we consider questionable (or sometimes disgusting) happens to be completely acceptable in other cultures.  And vice versa.

it's just more fun ! :)

it’s just more fun ! 🙂

Unwashed hair.  Let’s talk about our hosts first.  Because it’s a temperate climate here, dreadlocks and braids are acceptable hairstyles, especially among those who pursue the so-called alternative lifestyle.  Frankly, it’s a look that fits a certain body type and personality; and if you can wear a mop on your head and pull it off, well kudos to you.

Unfortunately, it’s a style that precludes daily washing of your hair, and such lack of washing is aggravated by the volume of hair and the resulting need for grooming.  It becomes worse when the temperatures rise and the owner of the hair adds sweat to the natural oils trapped in his dreadlocks.  I think you begin to see (and smell) the picture.

Now, about us Pinoys.  Washing our brown bodies is a daily essential, and our hair is no exception.  We like to smell good not just for ourselves but especially for those around us.  We think nothing of anointing ourselves with lotions, colognes, perfumes and other fragrances twice or even thrice a day, especially our ladies.  Does it follow that we should expect others to do the same?

Sorry kabayan but the short answer is no.  I have a dreadlocked colleague who is otherwise a decent chap and pleasant enough, but even in the cold weather, his hair is beginning to reek.  I thought that it was just me being an odor-sensitive Pinoy, but a tactless workmate hit it right on the nail : he mentioned that even with a hairnet and cap, it looked (smelled) like Dreadlock Guy hadn’t washed his hair for a week.  And with winter ending soon, the warmer weather was going to make it worse.  Now the million-dollar question is : who’s gonna be the one to tell Mr Alien Predator  (of the famous braids) that the hair ain’t helping his social life??? 🙂

kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap :(

kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap 😦

Corruption and lack of honesty in public service.  As they say in all democratic countries, public service is a public trust, although in many developing countries like ours, this rule is usually honored in the breach.  In those same free states also goes the saying  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There’s more : Graft exists in all societies, to the victors in public office belong the spoils, and if you want to avoid more trouble, think twice before reporting a crime to the police.  We’ve all known these truths to be self-evident back home, so much that a political career untainted by corruption is probably beyond comprehension, it’s simply inconceivable to us.  And yet, whenever a New Zealander asks me any detail about how pervasive corruption is in our political culture, I hasten to justify it, explain it away, or compare it to other countries where dishonesty is tolerated as much as it is condemned.

The truth is, we accept the evils of crony capitalism and the old-boy network as part of the necessary evils that make modern government work, as long as it doesn’t offend our sense of proportion or some vague moral boundary (a line which I think was crossed by that Pinay found to own 28 houses in the Philippines and several more in the USA).  But the moment people in other countries try to pass judgment or tsk-tsk the way our government  runs things, the usual instinct is for Pinoys to circle the wagons and defend ours as the Confucian way of governance (which usually means look the other way or your time will come, mwahahahaha).

digital stealing.  We like to do the right thing, watch movies as they actually come out in the moviehouses, borrow DVDs from the corner rental, and wait for the clearance sales on movies we missed.  But the temptation to go to the dark side is too strong sometimes, when people give you the latest, unreleased films on their flash drives, when they talk about the newest pictures even before the reviewers do, and when a lot of people do it, you begin to wonder if it’s worth being one of the good guys.

It’s even worse back home, where frankly speaking everything can be downloaded without paying for it if you know your way around the internet, intellectual property is a joke, and paying for licensed software is something only big companies do.

Don’t think that Kiwis don’t know that Third World countries do this with impunity, because they automatically assume that Asians use software, listen to music and watch movies without always paying for it, and that’s putting it mildly.

To them I fashion, as usual, a defensive response.  The day will come when everything on the internet will be shareware, free-to-use and for everyone to download as they please.  Besides, I like to delude myself into thinking that the world is divided into two : those who pay for stuff and those who can’t afford to pay for it, but ultimately still end up using it, I mean who doesn’t depend on gigabyte power these days?

What I mean is, those who pay for movies, music and software, unless they opt for a lifestyle change, won’t consider downloading it illegally, while those on the other side of the fence have much more important issues of survival and won’t  have the money or inclination to buy the digital stuff.

Yes, we Asians download stuff like it’s the most natural thing, without even considering paying for it.  We watch the latest movies and listen to the latest hits, and only pause to buy the movies or music as an afterthought,  And software we buy, if we buy it at all, is of the bootleg variety.  But we also have mortgages to maintain, rents to pay, groceries to shop, tuition payments to meet, and yes, bills to pay.  These, out of a puny paycheck that’s running on fumes.  Is it still a surprise then that I can hardly think of respecting intellectual property?

If it sounds like I’m justifying stealing things I should be paying for, I’m not.  But as sure as the sun rises at dawn and sets 12 hours later, movies, music and software will always be stolen (or copied, as simple as that) outside the so-called Western world.  It’s just a fact of life.

Now, how do I tell all these to my Kiwi hosts and keep my straight face on?

World War W*

[ Thanks to YouTube poster LooksCrisp for the series of pics in the video! ]

LET’S JUST SAY Wellington (my temporary adopted city) has received more than its share of natural (and man-made) eff-ups lately, if you’ll forgive the french.   All around the Wellington region are cows and farmers bearing the brunt of the latest dairy industry PR fiasco that’s resulted in NZ milk being banned from China, Russia, a few former Soviet republics and Sri Lanka.  Then there’s a share in the nationwide drought earlier this year, punishing gale-force winds that torture man and beast once too often, tsunami alerts, and of course, the series of tremors that brought them about.

You would believe me I think if I say that we can sit and bear all of the above misfortunes EXCEPT the last one, the latest of which once again caused a stir over the weekend all over Central New Zealand reminiscent of a month ago, when quite a few shelves and their contents were turned topsy-turvy.

Owing to prudence, common sense and just plain good luck, Mahal and I kept clear of that most recent quake, but we still had our share of Freaky Friday when everything rocked in Windy Welly.

It all started when Mahal and I thought we would cap our short leave from work together by going on an afternoon car ride to somewhere we’d never been, or a cozy little gulod we’d never seen.  Better yet, rare exhibitions of Renoir, Cezanne and other impressionists on the one hand, and Andy Warhol on the other, were being held at Te Papa, the museum in town.  Whichever came first or wherever exit first presented itself on the motorway would be our destination.

Just before we filled up our faithful steed at the last-chance petrol station, we abruptly decided that uptown was too far for us and went for a mall we’d never gone to.  There wasn’t any logical, practical or sane reason for doing so.  At 2.31 pm, as soon as we finished refilling the tank, all the cars in the vicinity, including our own, began swaying.  Mahal thought I was fooling around and pushing the car, when she realized everything else was moving.  People around us started running around, before the quake stopped around 20 seconds later.

You’d think that by then we’d reconsider travelling and call it a day, but no siree.  Not having a TV, laptop or talk radio around, there didn’t seem to be any urgency to change plans, and we still went to that mall away from Lower Hutt where we lived, but still outside Wellington City proper.

We still had around an hour of normal malling pleasure, looking at the K-Mart and local shops before we  found out that the majority of the mall stores were closing early just to be on the safe side, structural concerns and all.  Mall employees were also being let off early.  So that ended our surprisingly short excursion to Porirua.

The surprises weren’t over by any means.  When we got to the motorway, traffic was a bit heavier than usual, which wasn’t that unusual since it was Friday afternoon, and the heavy flow away from the city was expected.

What wasn’t expected was that the traffic on the other side, which we could plainly see, was also heavy.  What we hadn’t known until then was that because there was minor chaos in Wellington, all city-bound vehicles since the quake took place had been having a hard time reaching their destination.

Around a couple of hours later on the news, we saw that thousands of commuters were stranded trying to leave the city, and the situation was aggravated by the train system suspended for safety reasons.  People were trying to get home by any means, and police were flagging down motorists for instant carpooling.  Happily, in true Wellingtonian spirit, many motorists obliged.

It dawned on us that had we gone through with our original plan of visiting the museum and surprising Ganda and Bunso in their new jobs, we would’ve been the ones surprised, ending up most likely trapped in the gridlock that ensued and unable to go home for a good hour plus.

Still and all, it was a relief for most of us.  Given that it was a magnitude 6.6 earthquake (at the epicenter), stronger than the one around a month earlier, and that magnitude 5 aftershocks filled the next 24 hours till today, it was a Godsend that there were no serious injuries.

I can only surmise that there was something (or maybe Someone) beyond the usual five senses that told us to avoid town that fateful Friday, saving us from a lot of grief and a lot of inconvenience, and we certainly aren’t complaining.  Thank you po.

I’m likewise hoping that Messieurs Cezanne and Renoir as well as Mr Warhol will be kind enough to extend their hospitality for a few more days.   I don’t think, all things equal, Mahal and I will be able to view their iconic  paintings in our lifetimes if we pass up this opportunity.

And no more earthquakes, please?

Thanks for reading!

*W stands for Wellington, city or region, also known as the biggest little capital anywhere on the Southern Hemisphere.

getting lost in your own backyard

all colorful, all beautiful, and all Southeast Asian.  Thanks to for the pic!

all colorful, all beautiful, and all Southeast Asian. Thanks to for the pic!

[ Note : We could only share in the triumph vicariously, but hearfelt congrats just the same to the Men’s Basketball Team of the Philippines also known as Smart Gilas, for a job well done.  Onward to the World Championships! Advance happy anniversary and more power to the KASAGIP Charitable Trust of Wellington, New Zealand! ]

WE ARE separated from our neighbor states by land and sea, but we are linked by more than just a bit of culture, cuisine and language.  Diplomats and politicians like to say platitudes like these often, but it’s truer than you think.  We look, cook and talk a lot like our Malayan cousins down south, our Indochinese relations eastward and of course, the great unifier of culture and takeaway, the Middle Kingdom in the north.  There are a lot of similarities that cancel out the differences throughout the Southeast Asian region, but the root causes and origin of these similarities, ultimately, are those who call themselves the pride of the Han race, whose mission and vision is to invade every country on the planet via cheap manufacturing and sweet and sour sauce.

But enough of hackneyed cliches and media stereotypes.  I’ve told you more than once before that one of the many gigs we’ve done is cleaning houses, and a couple of these happened to be owned by immigrants like ourselves.  At the same time, you’ve heard me mention many times that I’m quite taken by fellow Southeast Asian migrants (to New Zealand) but even more by the latter who also have Chinese ancestry.

The surface signs are obvious : looks, language and food preference.  Because Pinoys have more than a few ml’s of Chinese blood running through their veins, it’s common for us to be mistaken for Chinese.  But the same is true with Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Thais, Laotians and Burmese.  And the reason is obvious: after centuries of assimilation with the local inhabitants, the Chinese have imprinted themselves on numerous cultures, absorbed the best and worst of the host countries they’ve migrated to, and have produced a fusion of multiple subcultures that for lack of  a better term, I’m describing as Chinatownization anywhere and everywhere.

patis (fish sauce) looks, smells and tastes the same everywhere in the SE Asian region.  Uncanny!  Thanks & acknowledgment for the pic to :)

patis (fish sauce) looks, smells and tastes the same everywhere in the SE Asian region. Uncanny! Thanks & acknowledgment for the pic to 🙂

Just look at the food.  Nearly every home I’ve visited either to clean or as a guest has a 20-kg bag or sack of rice in a corner of the kitchen.  They invariably have instant noodles in the pantry, use nearly the same condiments, and favor the same veggies.  They have a kind of universal fish paste (bagoong) as well as fish sauce (patis), the kinds that produce aromas that Kiwis don’t appreciate too much, in their respective kitchens.  You would be forgiven for mistaking for your own kitchens those in various Asian immigrant homes, given the parallel smells, sounds and sights.  The ginger and oyster sauce, hissing of the sauteeing kawali (woks) and the blending of rice and corn with sauces heavily flavored with soy sauce, sap vinegar and tamarind are almost uncanny.

It doesn’t stop there.  Many faiths encourage and enjoin their believers into a stable monotheism, but the lines seem to blur in the Far East.  And nowhere is this more evident in their houses.  Either Christianity or Buddhism is usually dominant but don’t be surprised if both are respected and the text or image representing another or more religions is present.  This is often because the spouses practice different religions and neither expects the other to change.   A sort-of functional ecumenism follows for the children, who hopefully aren’t coerced into either faith.  Again, this may not be that common back home in the Philippines, but how often have you seen Catholicism and non-denominational Christianity coexist in Pinoy households, or altars to different deities set up in different corners of Chinese Filipino homes?

Finally there’s a remarkable contrast I observed in these houses, first because of the similarity with ours and second because it is shared by quite a few immigrant countries across the board : There is not much priority placed in fixtures, furniture and appliances, but more than the usual comfort zone is invested in education and the mind.  I have seen one home where the carpet is threadbare and the sofa set from a secondhand shop, but the books , PCs and iPads reminded me of a small library.  There was also more than the usual number of examination guides, prospectuses to universities and study helps designed to help the students in that abode get ahead in every which way possible.  Needless to say, the members of the family in that house were honor students and matriculating in the top universities not just in Wellington but in New Zealand.  Under the watchful eyes of both Asian parents.

With a few variations, I saw the same in two other homes, with funds for luxury deprioritized in favor of the future of the kids.  It’s almost as if the migrants are making up for lost time in their adopted countries by heavier investment in skills and training.  Hard to argue with that, right?

Thanks for reading!

hi-definition bonding with kids is even cooler when they’re your own

It's Friday casual. As usual, I will hide from Mahal after posting this w/o her knowledge. ;)

It’s Friday casual. As usual, I will hide from Mahal after posting this w/o her knowledge. 😉

[ Note : “high definition” : high resolution, greater detail often on a wide format of viewing.  “Bonding” : Establish a relationship with someone based on shared feelings, interests, or experiences. Thanks for reading this extra long post! ]

AN ETERNITY AGO, when there were more sons and daughters in my age group than mothers or fathers, I often bristled at the slightest impression that any parent of  my contemporaries had a favorite (or worse, favorites) in their brood.  Bad enough that the folks had to apportion their affection among multiple offspring, were they that awful that they couldn’t even distribute such affection equally?

Many years later, now to be exact, I know now this inequitable maldistribution of wealth to be an unfortunate but inevitable fact of life.  Should you ask, it’s because the naive son has become a naive father (and quite possibly a naive lolo in the near future, need you ask again), and mainly because one, there is simply no way love and affection, spoils and favors can be dealt out in a perfectly symmetric way to sons and daughters.  Two, in your brood there is always the one who seeks you out just a little more, appreciates you more and is a little more demanding of your time.  The resulting surplus of communication and appreciation, despite what many parents deny, is what manifests itself as a show of favorite/s, the Joseph among the Twelve or maybe John the Beloved among the Apostles.

So it shouldn’t be too much of a shock for me to tell you that whoever among Panganay, Ganda and Bunso communicate, share more of their time and show a little more concern more often is for that particular point in time my favorite.  I’m too old now to worry about offending them, they all know that I love them as much as I love myself (which is a lot), but then and now whoever is closer to me is that, closer.

That evening it was Bunso, who on his own asked if he could have dinner with Mahal and me, which of course we obliged as we hadn’t seen him much since he got his first job, and then his second job at a superpopular cafe chain.  Engaging with people is a natural skill with him, so we were so happy when he made the move.

Except that between this dinner and the last, I was unaware that Bunso had quickly grown from a laugh-a-minute, outspoken and gregarious individual into a brooding, intense and introspective 18-year old.  Sure he was still talkative, animated as life itself, and never shied away from controversy, if it meant defending the things he stood for.

But there was a seriousness with him, a loss of innocence that only a recent milestone of adult life could’ve made possible.  Yes Mahal, Bunso had fallen in love.  And was fortunate enough to have survived it.

In so many words he told us  that it was both an exhilarating and sobering experience, but that was it.  No other juicy tidbits.  We were privileged to have been part of his milestone, yet respected his privacy enough not to ask further.  It was all I could do to restrain myself from asking a million and one questions, for after all could you blame me for thinking that the baby, the youngest of the litter, was now nearly a full-grown man?

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Beyond this, Bunso also told us something we hadn’t expected.  Panganay, from whom we hadn’t heard for some time, was down with something, but couldn’t tell us what.

It was high time for me to give Panganay a long overdue call.  Overdue mainly because he had been busy with his stuff, but also because the latter didn’t sound too much like he needed any presence other than friends and the current ladylove of his life, who I was also more than a little curious to see.  Almost immediately after Bunso left the next day, I called.

Anak, kumusta ka na?  Ano na’ng nangyayare sa buhay mo?  I wanted to know all about his mystery ailment, but also wanted to give him the chance to open up first.

“Wala Pa, may nabugbog lang akong muscles and full bed rest ang recommend ng doc.”

I knew his condition was a tad more serious than he let on, so I probed a little further.

Kailangan mo raw ng medical procedure anak?

“Oo, pero nagiipon pa ako.”  That last  statement of independence melted me a little, so I tried a half-joke, half-expression of concern.

Kung barya na lang ang kulang anak, tawagan mo kami agad ni Tita H.  I think he knew we were half serious because Mahal reinforced the offer a minute later.

Now, on to more important matters.

May girlfriend ka na raw Anak?  At superganda pa according to Bunso?  At supersexy? 😉

“Linoloko lang kayo ni Bunso” Panganay stammered, but more out of modesty than anything.

Anak, I semi-scolded him, kapag sinabing maganda ang syota mo, umoo ka na lang.  At kapag sinabing sexy ang GF mo, sabihin mo OO NGA.

We both had to laugh at that.

We couldn’t end the call without an offer to cook him and his new girlfriend an authentic, adobo and sinigang Pinoy dinner very soon.  Hopefully, while he’s convalescing from his momentary setback.

The moments are few and far between, but when you reconnect with the younger generation, you feel a bit younger again, and the years of your youth come back for a while.  It’s even better when the reconnection is with your own kids.

Before I forget, may I just add one more crazy piece of advice for you after reading this blog, from someone who has no business giving advice anyway : try bonding with your chikitings about things they care about, things they do and things that affect their everyday lives.  It just might work one of these days.

thanks for reading!

[ Postcript : Just in case you feel Ganda might be left out here, her boyfriend is an above average basketball player, so anytime I watch one of their Pinoy community league games, I can bond with them easily.  So there. 🙂 ]