morning with kin, evening with kabatch, & a day to remember

April, Jhun, me, and Tita Nannette.  Jhun's son Gio took the pick, so sayang he's not in the frame.

April, Jhun, me, and Tita Nannette. Jhun’s son Gio took the pick, so sayang he’s not in the frame.

ONE THING I can’t deny my current visit home, and that’s the hospitality of friends.  Because I committed myself to help out with securing daughter Ganda’s academic credentials, I denied myself the pleasure and company of three invitations Tuesday, from a high school classmate (thanks Jerome!) a fraternity brother (thanks Atty Samboy Concepcion and brods!) and political science buddies (salamat Attys Rowel Barba, Eric Acolola and Commissioner Jaime Fortes), each promising a tasty dinner, laughs-a-minute and memories of half a lifetime.

Instead I was chasing documents, pushing papers and schmoozing professors younger than me because I promised my daughter that if ever I got home to the Philippines before she did, I’d do my best to get her what she needed to shorten her course list  (she nearly graduated back home) towards a Marketing degree at the Victoria University at Wellington.

But the day before I just couldn’t help but anticipate meeting  a couple of groups of people despite the fact that we had agreed to meet on very short notice, less than 24 hours before a lunch and less than 24 hours before a dinner.  Even with social networking and SMS messaging at your fingertips, people still need to set aside time from work and play to assemble.

I met my second cousins, siblings Jhun and  April, their Mom Nannette and Jhun’s son Gio at Landmark the other day, continuing a lifelong conversation we’ve always had.  A towering presence was their dad/husband and one of the most remarkable uncles I’ve had, Atty Renato Montenegro,  who must’ve been there with us smiling silently.  I marveled at how ageless Tita Nannette stayed, at the durability of April considering the number of graveyard shift hours she logged in at Convergys, the steady development in Jhun’s career as a section chief at a top ten bank, and the personal bests his son Gio put in as a budding marathoner.

But most of all we talked about endless summers in my mom’s (and their dad’s) hometown in Masbate, where days were long and nights were cool.  Coconuts were there for the taking, beaches were white, and hunting on horseback was there for anyone who fancied it.  Twenty-five years later, I still remembered it like yesterday, and obviously so did my cousins, who have been there probably ten times as much as I have.  Just reminiscing, and talking about their sis Ining back in Wellington took up the better part of two hours, and by then everyone had to break up and return to the real world.  Thanks and till next time!

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(counterclockwise) Me, Philip, Archie, Stef, Gina and Richard :)

(clockwise) Me, Philip, Archie, Stef, Gina and Richard 🙂

That night I met high school friends  who had blazed trails in their separate career paths, and have been all the better for it.  One had cornered LPG sales in a major Metro Manila market, another had successfully switched careers from sales to I.T.; a third was a leader in a company that did business in at least a dozen industries in industrializing Philippines, and still another was starting to get both patients and recognition in his/her medical specialty.  All I had were my traveler’s tales and notes from all over, but because they had seen so little of me the past decade, I was the star of the night.  [ You will forgive me by the way if I don’t identify them by their accomplishments as they are all rather shy about achievement? ]

We talked and joked about a zillion things  childishly and childlikely, because as you might know former playmates and schoolmates are the only people we can behave like foolish teenagers with, because they tolerate us and we all did the same thing together, once upon a time.

There was a recurring theme though : Is marriage, or even a life partner, essential to happiness in our day and age?  It was more than a discussion in the abstract, as I and my only other married seatmate (obviously happy in his marriage) were in the minority that night.

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Nobody took sides because we all discussed the pros and cons of being in a relationship, but we all agreed that the pursuit of happiness was, reduced to its lowest terms, dependent on the self.  We each were responsible (with all respect due to family and lovers) for our personal joy, and we figuratively live and die with that reality.

Other than that, everything else was shallowness and frivolity.  There was a little sober talk about our folks in their twilight years, schoolmates who’d met a sudden demise, and the inescapability of terminal illness, but we otherwise couldn’t deny ourselves the guffaws, giggles and mwahahahas that all reunions, even the impromptu ones, churn out.

Just for the record, thanks for rounding us up quicker than we could say I’m coming! Richard, and thanks for making the night memorable Archie, Philip, Gina, and Stef!  Mga alamat kayo!

rough commuter notes on an unscheduled homecoming.

no, these MRT passengers did not miss their ride.  They are walking on the tracks from an MRT car that broke down.  Looks dangerous no?  thanks to for the photo!

no, these MRT passengers did not miss their ride. They are walking on the tracks from an MRT car that broke down. Looks dangerous no? thanks to for the photo!

BECAUSE I’D been a worker overseas the last few years, trying not to stick out too much and conceding that I’m sometimes the round peg in a square hole is commonplace for me.  It is an acquired skill, and blending in takes practice and patience.

Which is why it was a disorienting change to be among fellow mocha-skinned, and five-foot guys in the giant sardine can also known as the MRT.  The last time I was doing this was nearly eight years ago when I was working in a call center.  I was like everyone else, trying to get to work on time, from work in time to rest, and keeping my head down.

This time I was the prodigal son come home, hyperconscious of everything around me, wondering if it really looked like everything had frozen in time, and curious if I looked like I’d been away for so long.

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Turned out nobody really cared.  It was the same pushing and shoving near the entrance,  the unsubtle reminder for you to go towards the middle if you weren’t alighting soon, and grab the nearest strap on the handrail.  The ubiquitous telecom provider (Globe Smart and Sun), shampoo and fast food ads were still over the place, the air was smelling of cologne, deodorant and after-shave.  Nearly everything was the same.

I said nearly right?  It might’ve been my migrant paranoia, but I sensed an urgency, a restlessness among everyone in the MRT car I was riding.  Everyone seemed to be in  a job they were holding only until they could leave for overseas, and nobody wanted to waste their youth, energy and talents while there was so much money to be made overseas.

Or maybe it was just me.  Nearly all the passengers in my MRT car were smartly and fashionably dressed, even the guys had their hair fashionably jelled, the women were wearing smart pumps and perfect make-up.  And these were nearly 100% salesladies and messengers, though I have nothing against working in the retail and services industries, they require so much hard work and dedication.  The scattered call center babies going home from the graveyard shift didn’t look too tired; in their cool sweaters, cardigans, iPhones and Galaxies they still looked like they were ready for an impromptu gimmick (outing).

In short, everything was what it should be, worker ants getting a little disposable income for the first time, enjoying mass transport and going about their daily grind but ready to enjoy the weekend ahead.

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I felt a different sort of nostalgia on the Quezon Boulevard – Quezon Avenue route between Manila and Quezon City. When you travel on a jeepney, as I did all those years between our house in Paco and the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, there are no designated zones that determine how much fare you pay the driver. You tell him the landmark nearest the spot you want to get off, and from a fare matrix, he determines the proper amount of coin to charge.

Surprise, surprise. It was with a moist eye that I saw that the well-worn landmarks not only of the route but of my youth were long gone, either demolished or abandoned, even before I left for far-flung kingdoms in Australasia. Pantranco?  All I saw was a shell of a building (if at all) near the corner of Quezon Ave. and Roosevelt.  Delta? The driver looked bewildered when I mentioned the place , and although there was still a theater in the spot, it was no longer used for cinema.  Instead of the old “highway” jeepney stop on the crossroads of EDSA and Quezon Ave, there was a criss-crossing of a bridge and underpass that I couldn’t recognize anymore. The only thing that looked the same was the Welcome Rotonda and the Quezon Memorial Circle. Otherwise, I might as well have been in another city, with all the new high-rises, unfamiliar eating places and old landmarks that were no longer there.

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Don’t worry, I saved the worst for last.  Truly, the most depressing and dreary sight that greeted me was Epifanio delos Santos Avenue himself, the artery that joined most of the cities and municipalities of Metropolitan Manila.

Instead of gentrifying or greening the great snake that was EDSA, buildings remained uninhabited, and old structures that should’ve been condemned remained standing.  In their midst were disorganized condos and high-rises sprouting with scant regard for the gravel, sand and assorted debris the different construction projects were spewing as a by-product.

All along the thoroughfare were giant ads featuring Ann Curtis, Marian Rivera and a little of Angel Locsin, the latter the least foreign-looking of the trio and therefore the one who rose with the least looks (and for me the most merit, yes I’m biased).  These were the made-up, Photoshopped distractions that couldn’t hide the truth : very nearly we were going the way of Beijing and Shanghai, where burgeoning construction and development has resulted in permanently smogged megapolises and where breathable air has without exaggeration already become a luxury.

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I confess it wasn’t an innocent era I came from, and I hardly contributed to the financial and environmental health of my homeland. But looking at the present state of boulevards and avenues of my younger days, I can’t help but miss the naive climes and cooler mornings of the Seventies, Eighties and sometime Nineties, where life was simpler then.

Thanks for reading!

keeping Papa company before final boarding call

procession[ Note : It’s my simplistic assumption, but a lot of superstitions about the recently departed involve the belief that the first 40 days after a person’s death, his/her spirit continues to move about among us, tying loose ends before leaving for a better place.  Those left behind don’t want to ruffle any feathers during that time, hence the pamahiin or superstitions.  Take care everyone! ]

THE FIRST night after Mahal’s Papa (out of respect, I’ll call him Papa too OK?) was buried, it was almost expected that he would make himself felt (magpaparamdam) to at least one, more or all of his loved ones.  None of his seven children and their families had gone back to their respective homes, and Mahal and I were going to stay until everything was settled with her mom.  I could hear them joking about it in Panggalatok, but I knew everyone was a little nervous and moreover, all the lights were going to be kept on, a strong sign the whole family was apprehensive.  And it was probably practical that there were only two bedrooms in the house for 12 adults and 11 grandchildren to sleep in; only the bravest were going to sleep in the sala or living room.

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But before that, there had been a slew of funeral and necrological arrangements, a mixture of rural Catholicism and local superstition that I witnessed, and putting here for posterity.  Even Mahal was unfamiliar with some of them, though we respected the beliefs of the milieu and just went with the flow.

All of Papa’s bedclothes, the ones he used from the time of his third episode (either a stroke or a heart attack, likelier it’s the former), his toiletries, his mattress, everything associated with his illness, were burned.  Even a wooden board symbolizing the room he died in was extracted from his bedroom floor.  I’m not sure if this was done to accompany him on his last earthly journey or because the articles were touched with the aura of death, but either reason was a good one.  The morning he was buried, with the obsequious arbularyo or medicine man in attendance, the smoke from such ritual burning hurt the eyes and irritated the nose, but it was a chore that had to be done.

Am not complaining, but nearly everything served was pork the last 48 hours.  Pork dinuguan, pork afritada, nilagang pork was on our plates, enough to make me queasy and probably raising my blood pressure and cholesterol levels a few clicks.  This was because a whole sow was slaughtered for its blood and flesh (I told you this in a previous post) and it would have been a shame to waste any of the meat available.

After the event was completely another matter.  All of the food, drinks, even the unused sachets of coffee, sugar and milk was headed for disposal, another pamahiin (superstition).  They were considered blighted, unclean and definitely unusable, and the last moments of the handaan after burial was to be their use-by date.  Thereafter, nothing would be left and everything not consumed would be chucked into the rubbish bin or fed to pets.  This was the one time the famous Pinoy trait of saving everything was set aside.

Before we stepped out to join the funeral procession bringing Papa’s earthly remains to the cemetery, we were told that we could not return for anything we might have forgotten, lest we risk getting lost in the transition between this and the next world.  So anything important like cellphones, prescription glasses, sunglasses (it was gonna be a sunny Saturday), wallets and keys, once left behind, were to remain there until the interment was complete.  I for one wasn’t going to get lost for eternity just because of a junior Samsung (that was confusing me anyway).

Because it was early morning, we didn’t yet feel the heat or smoke from burning of rubbish (pagsiga) even as we accompanied the funeral hearse the entire way between home and memorial park, a good thirty-minute walk. It was part of tradition, and at the same time the church, where the priest was going to bless the casket (along with quite a few others that were being buried that Saturday), was on the way.  Papa’s favorite songs rendered by a surprisingly good singer and her able organist ensured that there wasn’t a dry eye among the marchers and mourners, all the way to the cemetery gates.

Each of Papa’s 11 grandchildren was carried over his casket just before it was interred, so that none of them would be bothered by malevolent spirits who happened to be in the vicinity of Papa and his companion “good” spirits.  Such task was a dicey one, because if any part of the 11 children’s persons touched the casket, they would be in mortal peril.  If that were the case, I thought to myself, wouldn’t not carrying them over the casket been the more prudent option.

Then there were the paid mourners, “crying ladies” who sang a mixture of Panggalatok and Latin prayers that no one understood anymore.  Such prayers were said to facilitate a smooth trip to Heaven or Purgatory, although to my mind they were being chanted more for the benefit of the bereaved.  It didn’t escape my attention that that chapter of Maccabees, explaining to readers / listeners the existence of Purgatory (where souls are “purged” in preparation for heavenly entry) and part of the book that’s a fundamental difference between Catholicism and other Christian bibles, was the designated Gospel for the Mass for the Dead.

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Back to the paramdam.  All the assurances that any manifestation was to be a “friendly” one, being after all from the loving patriarch of the family, didn’t keep nearly everyone, from Mahal’s mom Mama to our youngest toddler nephews and nieces from staying up as late as possible, to keep the inevitable quiet night away.  And they did a good job, because from my area of the bedroom I heard them talking and reminiscing about Papa as late as 1 am.

By 3 am though, everything was eerily silent.  I couldn’t hold it in anymore, so I got up and went to the little boys’ room for  a leak and no one, repeat no one was up.  All sorts of light, heavy breathing and snoring filled the air, but other than that it was just the crickets and the shuffling of my slippers.

I went back to sleep uneventfully, not knowing that less than an hour later, one of my five bilas (sisters-in-law) heard someone sweeping the floor and later assumed it was me, because I did admit I went to the toilet.  I’d never deny being helpful for pogi points, but at 4 in the morning?  Nope, sorry it wasn’t me.  🙂

Why was I not surprised to learn that Papa was a fastidious sweeper when he was alive, sweeping the floor every now and then after playful grandchildren scattered candy wrappers all over the floor?

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Then just before the break of dawn, Doggie the family dog (yes, that was actually his name) let loose a low pitched wail that culminated in a plaintive howl.  It went on for a few minutes, and there was nothing canine about it.  It was either an expression of mourning for his departed master, or the dog was sensing a presence.   I have never been an overly superstitious person (most of us Pinoys are, admit it), nor am I particularly a believer in the supernatural, but nearly every hair on my back and neck stood up those few minutes.

Needless to say, every member of the household woke up early that morning.

Papa may or may not have actually visited us that night/morning, but in one way or another he made sure his departure from our midst was an eventful one.  God bless you and safe travels Papa!

Thanks for reading!

time to stop hating LeBron James

I said I'd stop hating LBJ, I didn't say start LIKING him. :)

I said I’d stop hating LBJ, I didn’t say start LIKING him. 🙂

[Note : Mahal will kill me if I post another blog about her.  I fear for my life, so this is the result.  Thanks for reading! ]

AT FIRST I thought I hated LeBron James (LBJ for brevity) and the Cleveland Cavs.  How dare they (at the time) think they could just blaze a path to the NBA World Championship with only the latest Michael Jordan reincarnation, albeit the overall No. 1 draft pick, do-everything, no-weakness and play-any-position kind of phenom?  How dare they think they could just wipe away years and years of being the league doormat by appearing in the conference finals not once but twice the first six seasons with LBJ?  (Actually, they did erase all memories of futility with those few magic seasons.)  And how dare they think they could keep LBJ in a Cavs uniform by relying on that most ephemeral of professional sports values, loyalty and gratitude?

Then I thought I hated LeBron James and the Miami Heat.  How dare they (at the time) think they could buy a championship nucleus just like that, LBJ, D-Wade and Chris Bosh?  (Actually, they did.)  How dare they just give the keys to the kingdom to LBJ and tell him, yes, LeBron, go ahead and seduce all the players you think you need to win a title, we trust you that much.  And how dare they just buy all the marginal role players that stepped up when the Big Three just choked and came up short in the clutch?  (Actually, if ever any of the Big Three choked, the other two just stepped up and filled in big time for him.)  And how dare they continue believing in their half-billion-dollar trio even after the latter choked in the 2012 NBA Finals?  (It actually paid off with the first of two NBA titles a season later.)

It was only, duh, maybe sometime this season that I admitted to myself, OK you can start laughing now, that neither of the above had been the case.

I actually just hate LeBron James, as if you didn’t know.

It’s not hard to hate him, and off the top of my head I can enumerate quite a few reasons.  He actually believed the myriad salutations of him as The Second Coming of His Airness, Red 23.  The latter as if you didn’t know is only the most popular and one of the top two most successful players in the 60+ seasons of the NBA (Bill Russell being the other).  LBJ started using Number 23  as his jersey number, began copying the latter’s moves and focused his entire life towards becoming Emjay the Second, and who could blame him?  He had all the tools, and he certainly had the desire.  But his lack of humility cost him a huge chunk of popularity and goodwill, probably his first 10 seasons as a pro.

Then after building up a boundless reservoir of goodwill with the Cleveland Cavs, he made a media event, witnessed by tens of millions, of The Decision (to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat), which many say was a foregone conclusion by the time he actually declared it officially.  He disappointed the city, state (Ohio) and fans of the Cavs, who could not see that it was after all a business decision made by a professional athlete who thought of his personal interests first before anyone else’s.  It was nonetheless  something that made it so much easier to hate him.

straight into the dugout after a playoff loss against the Orlando Magic or Boston Celtics, not bothering to congratulate the winning team.  Boo!

straight into the dugout after a playoff loss against the Orlando Magic or Boston Celtics, not bothering to congratulate the winning team. Boo!

Then three seasons ago against the Orlando Magic or Boston Celtics I think, the latter might I mention one of my sentimental favorites no matter how they fare win-wise this season, he refused to shake hands after a losing series in the conference semifinals.  (unneccessary sidelight : I have a replica jersey of the one Celtic that no Beantown fan would want, Ray Allen’s No. 20, the player who not only treacherously left Boston for the Heat, but who miraculously saved the Heat’s season with a Game Seven, Hail Mary three-pointer with :01 in regulation time.  There was (ugh) no other light-colored jersey left.  And it was on sale 😦 )  That nailed it in the eyes of so many NBA fans who already had bucketsful of hate reserved for him anyway.  One of the unwritten rules of sports is no matter how painful the loss, after the final buzzer you accept the results, shake hands and get ready for the next battle.  It was a minor mistake  in the long term, but symbolically it  showed what an immature, childish and self-centered albeit gifted player he was/is.

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Fast forward half a decade later and LBJ is on top of the basketball world.  He could retire right now, at the peak of (well, maybe the start of the descent) of his career, and still be a sure thing to be voted in the Basketball Hall of Fame his first nomination, on the strength of his current accomplishments.  He is still hated, but he is just as much loved and respected, if that makes sense at all.  Let me give you a few more reasons to hate him:

He is actually one of the most gracefully and athletically gifted athletes, let alone big men of his generation.  At six-foot-eight inches he can do anything a graceful five-foot seven speedster can do.  But because he is big and brawny, he is never given the benefit of the doubt.  It’s so easy for him to just bump and grind his way to the basket, which he does when he needs to.  But most of the time he uses fakes, dribble drives and sleight-of-hand tricks that often leave much faster players scratching their heads.

He and his Big Three partners lost their first season together (2011) against the Dallas Mavericks.   They lost ignominiously, and it was all the more painful because so much was expected of them; nothing less than a championship would suffice.  Instead of going home with their tails between their legs they prepared for the next season the day after their championship loss, and ended up winning the following season against Oklahoma City Thunder, and again winning wondrously after that against the San Antonio Spurs.

As I said, there are so many reasons to hate LBJ, but they’re no longer rational ones.  He’s paid his dues, and everything he’s done, any other sane person with his talent, skill and body would do.

Hating LeBron has stopped me from completely enjoying watching the NBA the last few seasons.  Instead of appreciating and enjoying the skill and drama between basketball protagonists, it has been a waiting game to see how long LBJ will last before he falls.  And because he and his teammates were the last team standing two years running, it hasn’t been a pretty sight for me.

The only way to stop suffering now is to step back and enjoy LBJ for what he is : a freak of nature, a superhuman talent whose desire and achievements will be hard to equal this or the next few decades.  I would be very surprised to see an LBJ-like player again, and he has already done justice to the Michael Jordan comparisons so early in his career.

And that is why, for me at least , it’s time to stop hating LeBron.

His goodwill visit to the Philippines and the humongous donation his Miami Heat gave to the Yolanda victims certainly hasn’t hurt.  I’m still not a Miami Heat fan, and I will probably never wear a Miami Heat No. 6 replica jersey,  but I admire LeBron James for what he is : for being LeBron James.

ground zero of a lamay slash libing

as much a part of life as anything. thanks and acknowledgment to for the pic!

as much a part of life as anything. thanks and acknowledgment to for the pic!

WHEN WE alit from the tricycle (a side-car vehicle powered by a motorcycle), after literally the last leg of a 16-hour trip between Wellington (NZ) and San Carlos City, Pangasinan,  there was about 10 meters between the gate and the front door, but no one stepped out to receive us or help with our bags.  As Mahal’s nephews and nieces started running out to greet her, they were quickly shushed and waved away by their respective parents, Mahal’s siblings.  Later we were told that when a person enters a funeral held in a house (where funerals are usually held in rural areas) for the first time, he or she must enter alone and must not be received by loved ones until the former has finished entering such dwelling.  Something about the first entry being special and symbolizing entry into the next world, that much I got.

As soon as Mahal came in though it was tears and group hugs all around; her dad had been a good husband and  father to all of them, his wife and seven kids, provided all the love, guidance and parenting that a father was capable of, just that his time came too soon.  Now it was for the rest of the family to carry on.

I’d been to Mahal’s childhood home twice before, and on each visit it was immaculate.  Not so this time, and not just because there were many many visitors and condolers (is that the word?) .  It was considered inauspicious to do any sort of cleaning while the family was in mourning.  And because everyone was so busy with cooking, attending to guests, selecting songs on the karaoke and other tasks, it might have been just as well.

Less bearable than an untidy house (that unsurprisingly no one seemed to mind) was the fengshui-ish injunction against anybody bathing, showering or otherwise doing any ablutions, which apparently was also verboten in a house of temporary mourning.  On this issue I could see many members of the family, particularly the younger generation, starting to buckle under the antideluvian rule.  Was it a hard and fast rule?  When was it instituted?  Fortunately, the local arbularyo (medicine man) commented that it wasn’t strictly applied anymore, and at least the very young children could be bathed.  And speaking of young children there were quite a few, as Mahal was in a brood of seven, almost all of whom were married with offspring.

None of the immediate family in general served guests, it was up to extended family who I admit were quite devoted to their tasks as if they were the next of kin.  The reasoning was I think the deceased was to be alone in his trek to the next world and involving oneself in serving guests would be tempting fate.  Of course there were exceptions, like Mahal’s younger brothers who were quite solicitous of our needs.

Each time some mourner or visitor left the premises we weren’t allowed to say or wave goodbye, it was considered bad luck, just asking for trouble.  No matter how well somebody sang a song on the videoke we also weren’t supposed to clap or applaud him/her, yup bad luck again.  And I know it’s a bit creepy, but even in the wee hours of the night when nearly everyone was turning in, at least one person had to stay awake to keep vigil over the deceased.  Believe it or not, when even the designated person fell asleep and the whole house was quiet Wednesday morning, my mother-in-law says she felt a nudge from nowhere and guiltily fixed coffee for herself.  How could not even one of the family stay awake for her beloved?

Every member of the family immediate or extended was welcome to attend the funeral, in fact the wake was held for more than a week just to suit this purpose.  Relatives from everywhere,  would you believe some who happened to be vacationing from Australia asked if it were possible for the bereaved to wait for them?  No problem, Papa (the deceased) would’ve welcomed distant cousins early or late, from near or far.

The morning of the eve of Mahal’s dad’s interment talk was rife about purchasing  a live adult sow for the humongous dinner later that night, which would’ve been attended by the entire barangay and all branches of the bereaved families.  When I commented that buying a live animal would require efforts to slaughter, dress and clean the pig (obviously), Mahal explained that one of the common funeral practices in their province was to slaughter a pig, drain its blood completely and to bring the same around the four corners of the household, probably a practice that found its roots in ritual sacrifice to appease spirits and to facilitate the deceased’s journey into the next world.  With a few centuries’ worth of tradition backing that up, it was hardly the time to say anything negative.

I’m sure there’ll be one or two more surprises about Pinoy funerals and wakes I’ll discover.  Thanks for keeping us company in Mahal’s difficult time!

WLG to MLA in 16 quick hours just part of pagbabalik (heading home)

all coffeed up and nowhere to go, that is until boarding time. thanks and acknowledgment to for the pic!

all coffeed up and nowhere to go, that is until boarding time. thanks and acknowledgment to for the pic!

[Note : Nothing posted here that’s clever or profound (not that we’ve ever posted anything such), just thought you might want to know what I’ve been up to.  Thanks in advance for reading! ]

I’M ONLY doing this because I might forget later, and it might be worth doing for posterity’s sake.

I’m not sure about others, but the things that stand out every time I go home are, in no particular order, the length of travel time, the people I met, and how much weight I gained.  And since my current trip home isn’t over, I can only tell you about the first of three.

The trip home was one of the shortest in the six-plus years I’ve been commuting between Wellington and Manila.  Only two years back, I spent nearly six hours in Singapore, and so anything after that was a short wait.  Indeed,  my bottom had hardly warmed the seat after going round mall-ish Sydney Airport when the boarding time advice for the  flight to MNL appeared on the board.  Total waiting time was maybe 2 hours and change, not bad.

I’m not exaggerating, but between the perfume counters, bookshops and fast food kiosks, I saw nearly four-fifths Asians manning the trenches.  And without asking you, I know you guessed right, it was Chinese and Pinoys hawking the duty-free, ultra flashy goods.  As usual I’m biased, but in an English-speaking country, desperately needing staff for first class retail points of sale, our kabayan lord it all over other salespeople.  Nothing personal.

We also shared the flight from New Zealand with the Kiwi girls’ volleyball team, nearly all white and hardened from training.  Nobody paid much attention to them, but they were quite jolly and well-mannered.  A few days later I saw them in the papers doing battle against rival Aussies.  Hope the Kiwis won.  (After the Pinays of course.)

I was also mildly surprised that nobody clapped or applauded the pilots when we landed at NAIA.  It doesn’t happen everytime, but particularly when the flight is full of OFWs and not just migrants (say when the flight is from Singapore), each trip home might be from a different workplace and so it’s always a special experience for the uring manggagawa.  This time, everyone just wanted to get out of the plane.

I was happy for two things : although the plane was Australia’s flag carrier (o sige na nga, Qantas!), more than one of the flight attendants was Filipina and was therefore very handy for the older passengers who were comfortable in the mother tongue; and all the reminders like to please pay attention to the safety briefing, when meals were to be served and when to fasten (and unfasten) the seat belts were in of course, Tagalog as well as English.  (Maybe next time there will be Bisaya and / or Ilokano translations too.)

I almost forgot.  I’m not 100% sure if it’s my imagination, but because we were riding in a plumper and more powerful plane (a 737 I think) the travel time was cut by nearly 20%.  I know this because I watched only three episodes of House of Cards, an awesome political drama starring Kevin Spacey, and read maybe half an hour’s worth of Game of Thrones 3 (A Storm of Swords, half of which was already adapted into Season 3 of the similarly named TV series) and before I realized it, the captain was already announcing our descent to Ninoy Aquino International.

There.  Hopefully next time I can tell you about the rest of our trip, which was in preparation for a week of traditional mourning in the province.

Thanks for reading!

the longest trip home

Mahal and the first man in her life.

Mahal and the first man in her life.

[Note :   Sadly,  Mahal  never quite made it in time to say goodbye to her Papa on his deathbed.  Fortunately for many other kabayan overseas, they make it home in time to bid fond farewells before loved ones cross the Great Beyond.  I just thought about what would’ve happened had Mahal made it home. Thanks for all the kind wishes and the condolences, and thanks for reading! ]

AMONG ALL the overseas Filipino narratives, the rush home to visit a sick or dying relative is almost certainly the most compelling.  You begin with an internal contradiction :  the Pinoy’s instinctive need to provide for his/her family, versus the fond wish to stay close with parents and extended family, who traditionally are as much a part of immediate family as anything.  You continue with the constant conflict between wanting to come home and spend more time with kinsmen, and postponing annual trips in order to send a little more hard-earned cash home to help out with the leaking ceiling, an additional carabao or dried-up fishpen.

Alas, through the years the visits grow less and less, until you wonder where all the time went.  Suddenly, siblings begin to earnestly make more requests for you to come home, and the need for speed, speed to rejoin and reconnect with the olds, acquires a new urgency.  Money and financial support, while helpful still, isn’t that essential anymore.  Tatay and Nanay just want you to come home and enjoy more time with them, not while you can, but while they can.

Still it’s hard to comply with such requests, what with the uncertainties of working overseas, your employer’s rostering planned well in advance, the difficulty of bringing all the kids home with you, and an eye trained towards career advancement that includes a hundred-and-one percent dedication, extra  hours and extra shifts, the proverbial performance beyond the call of duty thing and all that.  How could the feeble voices and grainy images of Tatay and Nanay, albeit on Skype and Face Time, compete with that?

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…Until the shock of the news comes, it’s still beyond belief.  Words like cancer and terminal are still avoided, but the message is clear.  You had better get home as soon as you can kapatid, every day is a blessing now.  Then it’s a series of ominous don’ts.

Don’t ask to speak with him because he gets tired easily. Don’t ask for details, because we will just start crying and the keyboard is wet enough. Don’t delay.

But still you cry, because you feel so helpless, thousands and thousands of kilometers away, unable to help your elders while you are in the midst of so much affluence, technology, and the detachment of a different culture. You want to literally teleport yourself from one hemisphere to another, project yourself astrally if you had the power, but in reality you are here and your loved ones are there, and until you fly home there is nothing you can do about it.

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Leave must be applied for, special requests granted, goodbyes rushed and suitcases packed. You do everything quietly and efficiently, but all the while you are in a daze, thinking of what to say and how to say it, and behind all that thinking the guilt of never being able to make up for lost time bears heavily on your stressed, stressed conscience.

You rush home,  take the first taxi to the bus terminal, take whatever bus is there, take the tricycle, and walk the familiar footpath up the munting dampa, up the worn steps and on the wooden slats still burnished by coconut husks. The air is thick with liniment, the bedsheets need changing, and there are enough vials and drugs to fill an aisle of Mercury Drug, but everyone is happy to see you…

Tatay, Baby is here. (You have been an adult half your life, but everyone still calls you Baby.)

The figure in bed has seen better days, and to say that he is at Death’s door wouldn’t be an exaggeration.  He has one last battle to fight, and that is the battle to die with dignity.

He can no longer speak except in whispers, but his eyes are still bright. And those eyes are trained on you.

Thank you for coming home, Baby, his eyes seem to say.

That’s all. His eyes close shortly afterward, and they never open again.

Thanks for waiting for me, Tatay.

hitting an early highlight w/Mahal & anakis 1st week of 2014

Post-lunch contentment with Mahal & anakis wasn't complete without Bunso, who was working while we were sipping.  Thanks BF of Ganda for shooting the pic!

Post-lunch contentment with Mahal & anakis wasn’t complete without Bunso, who was working while we were sipping. Thanks BF of Ganda for shooting the pic!

NINETY MINUTES (at least) doing anything that’s not pure recreation, not pure rest or keeping close company with someone who isn’t your beloved, particularly on a non-working day, is hazardous to your mental health.  The only exception/s is/are (1) when it’s spent on a special day or holiday, on which thanksgiving and introspection is better spent in communion with other people, and (2) when (1) is spent with loved ones and/or family.

That is how Mahal and I convinced myself (Mahal needs to help me convince myself) despite previous postponements, to go all the way and spend a nice, all-extras-included New Year’s lunch with son Panganay and girlfriend (if any), daughter Ganda and boyfriend (if any), and younger son Bunso and partner (if any).

Which would’ve been great, had all of the aforementioned not had previous engagements, holiday shifts, basketball games, gym workouts and overtime work intervening.  In the end, we just settled on whoever was available for the Saturday post HNY lunch, which unfortunately didn’t include Panganay’s girlfriend (visiting a sick friend) and Bunso, who was at work.

Which didn’t bode well for Panganay and Ganda, who hadn’t exactly been on the same wavelength recently.  Panganay was having uncharacteristically the best of times with Bunso, who traditionally had always been on Ganda’s side, so Bunso would’ve smoothed any wrinkles between the two.

But it being a new beginning, and it being the first get-together for the year, we were all hoping for the best.

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It turned out that we had nothing to fear.  Brother and sister both wanted to have a good time, and sister’s boyfriend, to be fair, wanted to get along with everybody.  The Beef Wellington and Heineken beer certainly didn’t hurt, although designated drivers could only drink a bottle at most.

We were all so happy that we didn’t mind Panganay bragging about his recent promotion, his anticipated work as an extra on Avatar 2 (to be filmed in NZ, largely expected as its producer had recently set up base in Wellington), and so much good luck that had come his way.  I figured, for him to appear (albeit as an extra) in a movie that had a good shot to be in the top 100 films of all time was as good as it got.  (Besides, to somehow balance it out, he also underwent a minor operation in 2013.) On New Year week, and with family around, we all had a right to feel happy with ourselves.

Ganda, after her migration seriously stalled her academics, had rounded up enough credentials and documents to get admitted to the nerdiest school in town, a bit out-of-character for her and therefore doubly impressive.  As if that weren’t enough, I couldn’t stop smiling with the news that her devoted (so far) Pinoy BF (yes, he’s Pinoy) not only approved of her going back to school but was actually going to help her with matriculation fees (??!!) New school, new boyfriend and new outlook in life, and I couldn’t help but be impressed with Ganda, who I thought was hapless enough to have inherited my happy-go-lucky attitude in life.  I couldn’t be more thrilled to be wrong.

All ready for the next batch of caffeine addicts, Bunso can produce a mocha latte, a caramel latte, a frapuccino & a coffee of the day in less than 7 mins, which is what he did for us. :) Proud dad moment!

All ready for the next batch of caffeine addicts, Bunso can produce a mocha latte, a caramel latte, a frapuccino & a coffee of the day in less than 7 mins, which is what he did for us. 🙂 Proud dad moment!

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We still hadn’t given up on Bunso, who while working was only a half-dozen blocks away in his barista job.  Instead of hoping he would join us for his lunch break, we decided to surprise him at  Istarbak, have our post-lunch coffee there and sample his wares.

I almost got teary-eyed watching him in the first job he loved (he worked a previous job but didn’t like it), conjuring coffee creations for urban addicts who were eager to sample first-hand the talented techniques of the rookie Istarbak brewer.  I was almost certainly biased, but it seemed to me that as the cafe queue grew longer, Bunso worked faster and more dexterously, never sacrificing quality for quantity.  Of course, this included our lattes, frappucino and coffee of the day.  Seeing Bunso work for the first time,  we were one proud dad and stepmom that afternoon.

Considering that I had already experienced what would probably be one of the highlights of 2014 on only the fourth day (and first Saturday!) of the year, it was a good day.

Thanks Mahal for convincing me to gamble on those 90 minutes.  Practically risk-free!

Thanks for reading!

media noche compromises that make me feel somewhat better

Fireworks and firecrackers are a noisy staple during New Year's celebrations.  They also add to underground economic activity this time of the year.

Fireworks and firecrackers are a noisy staple during New Year’s celebrations. They also add to underground economic activity this time of the year. Thanks to for the pic!

[ Note : Media noche is Tagalog for the New Year’s Eve dinner.  Thank you all for reading this blog, all the best for 2014! ]

CONSIDERING MY relatively advanced age (in relation to gifts I shouldn’t be expecting anymore), I got quite a haul from loved ones this year: wife Mahal gave me a junior Samsung mobile I didn’t anticipate but appreciate a lot (now I just have to figure out how to use it, heh heh) daughter Ganda and son Bunso were particularly thoughtful, and my grubby hands got some unexpected treats from cousins and friends, you know who you are.

I also received quite a few heartwarming and heartfelt greetings during the Christmas and New Year’s season, some from friends I hadn’t met in a while, and if you know how long I’ve been around, a while is quite a while.  Thank you, and you made my day.

My tummy was also more than a bit contented the whole silly season, as I ate more than my share more than a few times, what can I say but it is the season of celebration and congratulations all around, decadence and self-indulgence will be forgiven if only for a few gastronomic days.

Unfortunately, I have not even begun to think about New Year’s resolutions much less actually make them.  I like that stat I just googled now that 78% of NYRs (new year’s resolutions) end up on the boulevard of broken dreams; it not only makes me go beh buti nga (or nyah nyah nyah) at every do-gooder who thinks he/she can actually use  a date on the calendar (albeit a popular one) to reinvent himself/herself, not gonna happen bro/sis, but misery actually loves more miserable company.  🙂

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Seriously, besides quitting smoking, which I didn’t even do as an NYR (a month before Christmas six years ago actually), I have never, that’s not-ever, committed to one that didn’t fall apart maybe a day or two after, and I actually think you are setting yourself up for failure and disappointment if, in a drunken haze, after making a total embarrassment of yourself and wallowing in lard and booze, you foist vague and unrealistic expectations on yourself just because you want to start the year right.  The blowback and considerable disfigurement to the ego is almost surely going to insulate one against making reasonable improvements in one’s life, whether or not it’s New Year’s Eve.

Filipinos believe serving at least 12 fruits with round or roundish shapes on the New Year's dinner table brings good luck the rest of the year.

Filipinos believe serving at least 12 fruits with round or roundish shapes on the New Year’s dinner table brings good luck the rest of the year. Thanks to for the pic!

Instead, and before I stray too far again from my intended topic,  I want to, and with you Precious Reader as my witness, make New Year’s Compromises with myself, in view of the fact that I know I can still create a better Me the remainder of my lifetime, all the while acknowledging that my circumstances in life like age, health and physical limitations  inherent laziness will only allow me a certain level of success before harsh reality sets in.

Food.  My worse-kept secret, to anyone who’s known me and seen me eat, is that I’m a compulsive eater. I can try to exercise all I want, pretend to be a good boy when Mahal and I share a meal, but I probably eat three-plus full meals a day, and between four and six snacks all of my waking hours, and probably gorge on anything that I find remotely edible on the dinner and kitchen table (and elsewhere) on a particularly bad (good, if you’re me) day.  If you’re dieting or a fastidious eater, I’m not a pretty sight.  I’m not good to have around, period.

I picked up this distressing habit from way early in life, when eating as much as you can in preparation for the busy day ahead, and keeping your plate clean in preparation for a blemish-free spouse later in life were urban legends that were ingrained on us by the previous generation (and not just in our household, OK Mom? 🙂 ) to the detriment of our social niceties and general health.  As a result, anything that’s wasted by anyone I see dining I almost always view as an obligation to be saved for later, or worse, eaten on the spot.  No matter how much I miscalculate putting food on my plate, I am compelled by a self-imposed-compunction to place such contents of plate in my mouth, and I often do this without regard for my fullness or the risk of gagging.  I won’t go so far as to assume any others in my generation are like me, but I know it’s no longer acceptable this day and age.

But enough of that.  My compromise is that I accept that it’s quite difficult to change my eating habits (and I want to change), but I can only do it gradually.  So my practical solution, simplistic as it may be, is to eat smaller portions, and in view of the reality that I’m gonna eat again later.  Without going into more detail, I will have to try cutting into smaller bitefuls whatever it is I’m engrossed with (literally), fool myself using smaller plates, and moving to more healthful alternatives when I can’t control myself.  Ultimately I know it’s not the nutritive or satisfaction element that motivates my eating; it’s the action or motion of feeding myself that is so compellingly compulsive.  If I can deal with my most important compromise with myself, then the rest should be easy to follow…

Bow to middle age, but be considerate of Mahal’s youth.  Realistically ( I keep using that word and its variants) I can no longer stay out all night, carouse with friends or use mood-inducing chemicals to lubricate my sociable-ness, if there’s such a word.  The health and social consequences (esp the day after) are too disturbing for me to maintain such a lifestyle, and of course you know I’m exaggerating.  The excesses of pleasure and vice are cheques I wrote years before and my body is now struggling to encash, and the results aren’t good.  It takes longer and longer for me to recover from a late night, it takes more grief for my bumps and bruises to heal; and while I do my best to exercise regularly, it seems that a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips seems particularly applicable to me.

The irony is that Mahal at this point being a bit younger than me is still full of energy and enthusiasm for life, not that I blame her, for her muscles are still largely tauter, her skin is still tighter, and her body still processes more fluidly and efficiently, which is quite normal for a person her age.  If I don’t at least keep the pretense of keeping up with her and do the things she does with the approximate intensity, then ultimately she will look for others to do her activities with, and that does not bode well for me.

The compromise therefore is that I will need to be more disciplined in my hours of rest, my recreational activities and how I pace myself, and at the same time keep a reserve of energy available should Mahal decide to go on a brisk walk, do an afternoon of shopping, or host a barbecue for her Pinay friends.  All of these involve vim and vigor of a man half my years, and for a few hours at least, I should be pumped and primed.

opening doors windows and drawers is also done during New Year's Eve, to "allow" good luck to come in.  Thanks to for the pic!

opening doors windows and drawers is also done during New Year’s Eve, to “allow” good luck to come in. Thanks to for the pic!

Online time.  This is one compromise that I shouldn’t compromise on, because it takes the most out of me, time and energy-wise.  Literally, I spend too much time on online games, specifically Candy Crush Saga and Word Battle.  I could use the same time alternatively improving myself in all aspects of life, spend more time with family, and rest and recreation.  Instead I line up candies for scores and level-ups no one cares about, and vie for the longest and most esoteric-sounding words with strangers doing the same thing, vegetating on their beanbags.  Surely,  I have better things to do.

There, those are my New Year’s compromises that aren’t resolutions I will almost certainly break less than a week after, but which are things that hopefully will make my life more bearable, and ultimately worth living more.  Do you have any New Year’s compromises of your own?

Thanks for reading and happy 2014 to you and family!