Notes on Uwian ’15

PINOYS (Filipinos) feel at home and work anywhere all over the world, but are nourished and invigorated by the soil of the homeland.  If you’re the typical OFW or migrant from the Philippines, you want to go back home every year, renew and reunite, act like you never left home, and boost your reserves for another year toiling abroad.  There’s nothing like living in your hometown, going around the province, and spending day after day with friends, loved ones and family.

Although you can schedule anytime to do this, there is no better time than going home during the Christmas holidays.  Everything seems merrier, everything seems mellower, and everybody is in a damn good mood.  Suddenly, you don’t mind spending extra pesos (that anyway don’t seem much because of your OFW dollars), you don’t mind that tipsy uncle who tells you a little too many stories of his youth, and you don’t mind treating everyone and being the taya (party host) once in a while.  After all, you’re only in town once in a blue moon.

We’re not even gonna organize guidelines on what an ideal trip back home should consist of.  Rather, I’m just going to set to electronic paper crib notes (kodigo) on what I think I should, and probably what some of you guys should, be doing.  Bato-bato sa langit lang po:

meet, balance and spend quality time with your former work buddies, school mates, bosom friends and family, in reverse order.  This takes a lot of discipline and time management, but the reason/s should be self-explanatory.  You know who are most important to you diba?  You know who you miss most, and you know who you can’t afford not to be with esp spend quality time with.  Answering these questions often produces the order stated above, e.g. katrabaho you can always meet and greet on the fly, but family (esp your folks) you meet again and again.  Doesn’t take a lot to explain this, but the actual logistics is something else.  I just leave the details to you.

Spend time pampering yourself, esp about the things that you can’t do overseas.  I’ll use my time-worn self as an example:  Sigh, my myopia-cum-astigmatism gets worse every year, and I will probably need new glasses every now and then.  It’s expensive getting new prescription lens to accommodate my middle-aged orbs, but it’s around a third of the cost compared to if  I do it now in Wellington.  The reason is economies of scale and labor costs, but I’m not complaining, it’s just the way it is.  Another big deal is getting your teeth done, no matter how trivial and routine the treatment may be, it’s always cheaper back home.  There are so many other things that you can save on, it doesn’t need to be medical, cosmetic or health/fitness related only.

I honestly don’t think it’s dodgy or unfair to our host country.  I myself feel more comfortable with kabayan doctors, dentists, optometrists etc.  On the other hand, I pay taxes naman wherever I’m situated, so I can’t feel too guilty about my preference.

Visit the places that inspire you, or those that revive memories.  It’s a bit frivolous or decadent, but I love to visit the biggest and liveliest malls in Metro Manila, because it reminds me of my younger years and the fact that the economy is once again bustling and driven by consumer power, a healthier balance of trade and of course, OFW dollars.  I’ll be completely honest you: the ambiance and aura of our haute couture stores and fashion centers, in the heart of third world Philippines, actually look better than anything in New Zealand.  At least, to me.

But I want to visit Fort Santiago, the National Museum and right down my folks’ alley, Paco Park.  Reason?  They remind me so much of salad days and the simple fact that I haven’t been there for over three decades.

There, I think I’ve said my piece.  It should be obvious to you Precious Reader that Mahal and I are planning a trip home, the first in two-and-a-half years that doesn’t involve a sad event.  It’s also a first trip (since six years ago) that we’ll spend at least New Years day in Pilipinas.   It promises to be interesting times.

Thanks for reading!



a little self-denial (& perspective) is (also) good for the Christmas soul

If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, YOU ARE RICHER THAN 75% OF THE WORLD.  If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change, YOU ARE AMONG THE TOP 8% OF THE WORLD’S WEALTHY.  If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, YOU ARE MORE BLESSED THAN THE MILLION PEOPLE WHO WILL NOT SURVIVE THIS WEEK.  If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or the horrible pangs of starvation, YOU ARE LUCKIER THAN 500 MILLION PEOPLE ALIVE AND SUFFERING.  If you can read this message, YOU ARE MORE FORTUNATE THAN 3 BILLION PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO CANNOT READ IT AT ALL.  –

I should be one to talk.  I’m a world-class whiner, complainer, cringe at the slightest sign of bad weather, and scream at the minutest twinge of pain.  As well, I have the least right to preach, pontificate or presume to possess the smallest gem of worldly (or unworldly) wisdom for you Precious Reader.  I just spill my guts to you everytime I post on my humble blog hoping someone like me, trudging through life and trying to survive, is feeling the same way and doing the same things I’m doing, and therefore able to relate to little old me.

Saying as much, I’m sure you will agree that this is the one of only two occasions of the year (the other being New Year’s Eve) where it’s socially acceptable and perfectly alright to be engorged and inebriated (that’s bloated and drunk in everyday lingo) before the end of the day, where everyone eats until you’re queasy and clammy, and where drinking makes us do things we regret later.  But in the end, it’s Christmas!  And so it’s alright.

But for every munch and crunch of that lechon de leche or Swiss ham, recall the cigaret vendors whose altanghap of pandesal and instant noodles will have to carry them through the day.  For every swig of San Mig Light or Pale Pilsen, there will have countless multitudes who will be happy to have a bottle of Pepsi or Coke instead of the usual MWSS juice for a change.  For every Davidoff Cool Water, D&G or Bulgari fragrance you covet and acquire, there are probably a hundred barangays in Mindanao who won’t even have potable water to drink, much less water to take showers with.  For every thousand pesos of bonus money you say you deserved but didn’t get, there are a dozen families who won’t even have a picture of a noche buena to admire, much less to taste.

It’s alright to enjoy ourselves during the festive season, but it’s hard to be extravagantly happy when you know there are people just as deserving as you and me who simply don’t have the means or chance to celebrate.

***           ***           ***

Then let’s not forget the people who, because of their vocation and profession, have to deny themselves the pleasure of the holidays and instead do their best to keep our Christmases safe and happy.

Policemen and security people, retailers and salespersons, and everyone else who needs to work the holiday shift.  We know and they know they can’t celebrate their Christmas the traditional time, so we can only do the next best thing, and give them their due and recognition.  And also by giving them the easiest time possible.

Enough of this.  Please give my best to the rest of your family this Christmas.  And 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.  🙂

***                              ***                              ***

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!

thinking of OFW & kabayan in less friendly or less christmasy places these holidays

[ Note : Maraming maraming salamat sa lahat ng inyong mga bati!  Please allow me to return the greetings soon!  Now, onward to the last few days of 2013! Thanks to Jollibee and YouTube for allowing me to repost!  Woohoohoo! ]

IT’S GREAT to be an OFW or migrant in (1) a country that knows how to treat its guest workers, and (2) a country that is (or used to be) Christian-oriented, because that usually means weary workers, including guest workers, have a Christmas break to look forward to.

But that’s in the ideal world. Often, you don’t choose the country you work in, it chooses you. And you would be quite fortunate to work in a country that is both (1) and (2) in the previous paragraph, because in reality it may only have (1). Sometimes, it has neither. And such absence you feel most acutely if one, you’re in specific situations, OR two, if it’s the festive season.

If you get pregnant in many parts of the Middle East to a man you aren’t married to, you are in very real danger of finding yourself in prison, having broken the laws of the Koran, which is often also the code of criminal statutes of the realm, as well as the latter’s holy book.

If your permit to work has expired, or worse, if you never legally applied for it in many parts of Europe, then not only your means of livelihood, but your right to liberty and travel will be imperilled, and you will be overstressed so as to affect your work (as if you weren’t already stressed in the first place).

If you are a nanny or caregiver in Hongkong, Taiwan or Singapore, God help you if something bad happens to your ward, whether it’s your fault or not. There have been too many examples of things gone awry and our yayas, helpers and sitters swinging helplessly on the wrong end of the dodgy scales of Justice those places, weighted of course against our OFW kabayan.

Back to the Middle East, unless you are willing to risk your work status and liberty, or you are totally confident in dodging the authorities, you never ever expose your Christian faith, or drink a drop of alcohol, two practices that would be entirely acceptable elsewhere but not for our working countrymen there, a place that ironically cannot function without our hard-working, stoic and forever-adapting Pinoy OFWs.

Though I’m still in the middle of my migrant journey in New Zealand, I’ve been quite lucky. My employer and managers are quite supportive of my employment, despite the fact that many locals and New Zealanders are unemployed. New Zealand’s respect for workers’ rights and interests is world-class, and workers who qualify are encouraged to seek permanent resident status.

I wish I could say the same for our kabayan in the rest of the working world. Our stalwart OFWs and migrants face a broad range of negatives from minor border inconveniences just because of the wrong skin color (it’s common to see our compatriots questioned beyond the usual how long are you staying in the First World?), to constant harrassment of Pinay OFWs often suspected of sidelining as prostitutes (is it our fault if we are slim and pretty?), to neurotic employers who refuse to release passports (believe it or not, holding our passports during our duration of employment is SOP), to oppressive labor and criminal laws that occasionally result in tragic consequences for the poor Filipino worker who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (convenient scapegoat, holder of the proverbial empty bag and having our taciturn-ness equated to submissiveness are our usual roles).

And because we tend to avoid complaining, we’re often the last man (person) standing when no one else is left to volunteer for work that no one would rather do. Juan! Because I know you won’t refuse me, I hereby volunteer you for the one-man skeleton shift Christmas and New Year’s Day! Thank you in advance! How often have you seen, heard or read about this scenario? Often enough to know that our kabayan’s inevitable answer will be thank you for your trust in me, sir/mam. And thanks for the extra overtime… (don’t mention it, snicker snicker).

*** *** ***

If there were a giant, traditional and all-encompassing national noche buena (and throw in the New Year’s Eve dinner for good measure) the surefire consequence would be the well-loved and auspicious practice to simultaneously hold a family reunion, where every member is included, in spirit if not in person, from the matriarch/patriarch to the tiniest, most junior toddler in the family.

Anyone absent would be thought of fondly, remembered and prayed for, and of course the priority would be relatives abroad, in the farthest reaches of the world, working like it was any other regular working day, particularly in countries that don’t think too much of Christmas and the birthday of the Redeemer.

Our symbolic national noche buena behooves us to think of our working-class heroes and migrants abroad, not all of whom may have a happy Christmas, what with holiday shifts, adverse weather, extended hours and lonely / one-man working conditions sometimes befouling the holiday mood.

Surrounded by the laughter of loved ones, the glitter of gifts, and the buzz of vintage wine or San Miguel Beer, let’s spare a thought for the sacrifice of our kabayan, who must work like it’s a dreary Monday, who will work because there are no others available, and who love their work because it gives them sustenance, dignity, and a future for their families, not necessarily in that order.

Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat!

the ultimate unmatchable Christmas person

happy times with Tita Lily :)

happy times with Tita Lily 🙂

[ Note : I’ve been dreaming about a certain person quite frequently the last few weeks, and I just realized why.  That person, my aunt Tita Lily, would’ve been celebrating her 90th birthday this month, and moreover was the ultimate Christmas person, practically the modern equivalent of Santa Claus in our cynical day and age.  I was not among her favorite nieces and nephews (for she had many — favorites and otherwise), but in my wishful thinking she knew my quirks and failings enough to be comfortable with me.  Please indulge me in this little reverie about a truly influential person in my life, Ms Lily B Yang ! ]

I WAS tens of thousands of kilometers away when probably the most influential person in my life (after my folks), as well as that of my family, Tita Lily, passed away this May.  For many of us in her family living or working overseas, a dark cloud of extreme sadness and guilt filled our hearts, as our Tita had sent three generations of her relatives to school, supported so many families who couldn’t make ends meet; and found jobs for dozens and dozens of us between jobs, out of jobs, or who just couldn’t get a break in the hustle-and-bustle world outside.  She helped us fill our dinner table, fulfill our dreams and keep our dignity intact; she never failed us in our moment of need.  When death knocked at her door, God was merciful in keeping her suffering short before taking her home.

But come December, it was like a flood of memories all so real came rushing back, so much so that it was like Tita Lily was among us again.  You see, Christmastime was one of her favorite times of the year, if not her most favorite.  It was the best time for her to make people happy, which, hands down, was her favorite activity of all.

She literally had a gift list of thousands upon thousands of giftees, a number that had grown through the years and years of friendships, relationships and even one-off encounters in my aunt’s life.  It didn’t matter if these were close bosom friends from way back, clients of the law firm where she worked and shopkeepers of her favorite stores, or the multitudinous members of her large family, including brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, grand-nephews and grand nieces, and untold numbers of godchildren gained in baptisms, confirmations, first communions, weddings, holy orders, silver anniversaries and even golden anniversaries.

She would start filling out her lists early December and would continue sending gifts well after Christmas Day.  She could never countenance missing a name, or worse, a family, for she often gave to each member of a family as she enjoyed a personal relationship with two or even three generations in a family.

One year I would help her write out gift cards (an absolute essential in her gift protocol), her helper would help her wrap the gifts, and the driver would stand by to deliver the goodies post-haste.  Very soon we realized that she needed more than a staff of two or three and from then on, Tita Lily always prepared for the gift-giving season by having at least two nephews or nieces, two separate wrappers, and of course substitutes who would spell all of them while the gift preparations would extend well into the night.

She was particularly solicitous of people who would be alone and in want during the holidays, cognizant perhaps of her contemporaries who would sometimes be forgotten by the people they had taken care of in earlier decades.  Once she rang up an old officemate who she discovered had suffered a severely bruised hip and was immobilized and hungry for nearly 36 hours.  Not only did my aunt ask her driver to bring said officemate to the hospital, she also insisted that the latter spend Christmas with her, bandages and all.  That impromptu act of kindness was just one of many that Tita Lily did year-round, but which acquired a special sweetness at Christmas.

I could go on and on and on here, but truth to tell I’m already starting to cry.  My aunt was a one-in-a-million kind of person, and amazing as she was, Christmas brought even more out of her.  Everything I do, every kind thought I think and every good deed I do (if ever), I do in her name.  Tita Lily, you will live on in our hearts this Christmastime and forevermore!

Thanks for reading!

sweets for my sweets

IMG_0038[Note : Thank you so much George, Hazel, Kimmy and Hannah from Auckland for your outstanding and thoughtful generosity; your brother/brother-in-law, sister-in-law/tita, nephews/cousins, niece/cousin are all so grateful for your gifts (shown above) from Auckland all the way to Wellington!  Maraming maraming salamat po and please hug and kiss all our rellies back home in Manila!  Advance Maligayang Pasko to all our kabayan in New Zealand, the Philippines and the rest of the OFW and migrant world! ]

THE TOPIC/S of the day are our kabayan’s outstanding performances in this year’s beauty pageants, and the despicable act of a political scion having security guards arrested just for doing their job chillingly reminiscent of Martial Law days, but the urgency now tends to a more personal topic, and one hopefully that you can help me with.

You see, for the first time in years and years, I have a little barya set aside for gifts for my loved ones.   The usual austere mood and logistics dictate that I can only think of gifts for my immediate kin, but it is still a formidable task.  I have little excuse not to think of them, they have after all been so nice and thoughtful to me this year.

More than once I saw sentiments like this posted in social networks like Facebook (actually FB is the only network I’m on) : This year I decided to have a low profile Christmas, thinking of those who can’t even have a decent celebration in their own homes, those who are still in the painful process of recovering from recent tragedies….  I have no gifts nor cards to send to family and friends….for there are others who need them (or their equivalent ) more. But rest assured, you’re always in my thoughts and prayers… Happy holidays, everyone!

I felt something similar to the above, but I JUST HAVE to send a token of appreciation to the people mentioned, especially since I hadn’t done so for so long.  Mahal, who is my caregiver (I’m cranky and creaky when I’m tired and hungry, which is often), driver, cook, muse, lover and everything else in my life; Panganay, who reminds me of more adventurous and difficult times in the distant past; Ganda, who is the light of my life and remains as malambing as the time she was in diapers; and Bunso, whose energy and inspiration never fail to brighten my day.

***         ***         ***

I have not had an ideal relationship with Panganay.  For a significant block of his pre-adolescence I was occupied with problems of my own, and ultimately he, among his siblings, bore the brunt of my neglect and immaturity. We have both made attempts (in varying intensities) to repair our relationship, but it hasn’t been an easy task.

It’s part of human nature to use Christmas and other happy occasions to improve our relationship, and as naively as an old-school father can get, I have taken the time to meet Panganay and his new girlfriend.  This time with one hand tightly clutching my pamasko and the other holding Mahal’s arm, I’m hoping that the holidays can help us form a bond that can only strengthen in time.

***               ***               ***

Ganda has always been sweet and solicitous of her father, even in our leaner, bleaker days.  I remember coming home from NZ once, and she was so afraid I would leave the next day before she woke up, that she insisted on sleeping next to me and tightly clutching my hand until she fell asleep.  Needless to say, by the time she woke up, my hand was no longer there.

Ganda is fully adult now, mature for her age as she ever was, but she still worries for me like she did before.  Too tired, too wet, too hungry and now too old, she never ceases to show her concern and ask if I’m these things, and therefore she never ceases to amaze me.  Even when I ask her if I she needs extra funds for whatever, she almost always declines, and we can only show her some hospitality by treating her and hey boyfriend to a little lunch, dinner or merienda.

YES, her boyfriend, and they have been together for a year now.  Beyond the usual expectations and keeping my hopes up, he has been the perfect gentleman and has shown us every courtesy and concern that a Pinoy boyfriend can give.  THAT is enough for me for now, and obviously he is more than a Christmas gift for Ganda to treasure.

I have to think long and hard before giving Ganda a nice little gift, for not  only have I not given her much for some time now, she also truly deserves one, for all the reasons there can be.

***               ***               ***

Bunso is, to put it bluntly, having the best time of his life in New Zealand.  His special circumstances would not allow him to fully enjoy himself back home, but now he has the freedom, friends and supportive family in his new home away from home, Wellington.  Along the way he has shown remarkable development in his attitude, personality and smarts.   He has truly come into his own.

I honestly don’t know what to give him for Christmas, because he is just starting to discover himself.  He has combined two incredible traits, and I don’t say this just because I’m his dad : he is unselfish, and he is thoughtful.  As a son, brother, friend and colleague, he is a gift to everyone.

***               ***               ***

It’s hard to put into words what Mahal is to me, so I won’t even try : she is everything to me.  So much so that giving her a gift this gift-giving season is truly a challenge.  Fortunately, she has helped me : inasmuch as December is Christmas and our anniversary month AND her birthday, she has offered to allow me to consolidate all these gifts into one, as long as it’s special.

Can you help me think of a truly special gift for her?

Thanks for reading!

old wives’ tales pamahiin & urban legends certified 100% pure pinoy

Quiapo, Manila procession during the Feast of the Black Nazarene, thought to earn forgiveness of sin for all participants.

Quiapo, Manila procession during the Feast of the Black Nazarene, thought to earn forgiveness of sin for all participants.

MORE THAN once you’ve heard in this space that if you’re looking for scholarly research, hard statistics, or cold immutable facts, then I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint more than a little bit. Bad enough that sometimes I’m so lazy that anything outside TriPeaks Solitaire and my new discovery Candy Crush Saga gets little more than a hmm from me, but to do anything beyond humoring a stray bubble of imagination or spark of interest in the big wintry world outside my room would probably be asking a bit too much these days, after fighting the cold, finishing chores and finding a little quality time with Mahal.

The only thing I can do is give voice to whatever wacky and loony thought entertained in my cranium, play with it a little bit and finally run it through the guys in WordPress, who have incidentally been world-class in hosting my little blog and have been very accommodating in allowing me to vent and rave about my life as an accidental (but for the moment quite comfortable) pinoy migrant in Middle Earth.

Speaking of Mahal, we enjoy attending Pinoy Mass, as we just did last week.  Not only do we recharge spiritually, but we also meet kabayan who we otherwise wouldn’t be able to, get access to native dishes sold by enterprising co-faithful, and commune with others in prayer and thanksgiving. Beyond that, I also found occasion to notice something about Mahal after Holy Communion, during which she kept her lips tightly pursed, and I had to ask if anything was the matter.  Evidently, it was first priority for her to consume the holy Host without so much as chewing any part of it, as it was drilled into her from childhood that the latter is/was a definite no-no.

Really???  It has no foundation in either the Scriptures or church law, but allowing the Communion bread to melt in your mouth is the accepted thing to do.  Anything else and you are asking for trouble, I realized, and as I scrutinized the people queuing up and receiving the sacrament, it was true that nearly everyone I saw kept their mouths closed.  And those who didn’t, proceeded at their peril.

If you’ve spent any appreciable length of time in the Philippines as a native or visitor, you’ll know that there are quirky  beliefs resulting from religion, tradition, or a combination of both, that have survived generations as well as urban legends that have been so imbedded in our popular culture that to Juan dela Cruz he accepts it as truth :

rest after that filling meal, but not too long!

rest after that filling meal, but not too long!

If you’ve just finished a meal, don’t engage in intense physical activity.  And if you suffer a bump on the head, jump up and down to reduce and ill effects of such bump.  I combine these two because I never bothered to figure out if they’re sound health advice and I heard about them from way, way back.  Right after lunches and dinners, one of the worst things we could do was to start playing tag, habulan, dodgeball or any of those hysterically active games.  According to the elders and the killjoys, intense play so soon after eating would inevitably result in appendicitis or some other horrible, dreadful juggling of your innards until you’d be sick to your stomach, literally.  About the jumping around after a nasty bump, it reportedly would sort of mitigate the trauma caused by the contusion.   It’s been so much a part of routine that a lot of people in my generation accept it as common-sense truth, although I’m not that sure now.

Don’t take a bath on Tuesday, don’t whistle at night, and don’t sing lively songs on Holy Week.  The last one is self-explanatory for Catholic Philippines, where the only holidays taken as seriously as the Semana Santa break are Christmas, New Years Day, general elections and, used to be, a Manny Pacquiao prizefight.  The solemnity and rituals observed during such feastday week were such that until recently, modern music and regular TV programming were taboo.  Whistling at night, according to elders, was an invitation to malevolent spirits and other denizens of the night.  And the first? Just another remnant of the old days when every day of the week represented a different day of Creation.

Funerals and wakes.  Pregnant women are advised against attending funerals, I’m unaware exactly why but it surely has to do with the unborn child’s welfare and the recently departed who I assume is between the world of the living and the dead.  We’ve known  from our earliest years that  it’s accepted practice to give money to the bereaved during funerals, in fact if you are close to the dead’s family you are expected to give a little something.  It is acceptable and very few will frown at people conducting games of chance and gambling during the same, on the rationale that a portion of the winnings are set aside again for the mourners.

According to the UK's Daily Mail, our Fabella Memorial Hospital, at three moms to a bed, is the busiest maternity ward in the world (blush!) :)

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, our Fabella Memorial Hospital, at three moms to a bed, is the busiest maternity ward in the world (blush!) 🙂

Pregnancy.  On pregnancy itself, the expectant mother is advised against having sex until the very end of her long wait, on the ground that the baby’s head will be harmed by the father’s emissions;  the baby itself soon after delivery is bound by a cloth so that its abdomen will not expand (this is more for cosmetic purposes but is widely practiced to the present time), and cruelly, mothers are advised strongly against bathing or showering for a month after delivery because it will be harmful to their health.  I’m glad I won’t ever be a mom, because I can’t abide by these strange practices, no matter what their benefits are.

Where's the guilty were-reptile? Your guess is as good as mine. :)

Where’s the guilty were-reptile? Your guess is as good as mine. 🙂

Urban legend.  I have only two here, because any more and I won’t stop.  On Balete Drive in the older part of Quezon City (the largest city in the Metro Manila region) there is a persistent story about a ghostly female presence that frequents the area, and there have been so many sightings and testimonial evidence that at least one movie has been made about it.  Crazily, dozens of people have sworn that there is a half-human, half-reptilian creature that preys on unsuspecting women inside fitting rooms in the vast Robinsons Galleria mall.  This urban legend will not die a quiet death, as it has returned again and again the past few decades.

Quiapo procession.  And before I forget, it was a part of my childhood to witness a little portion of the famous Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo Manila where my father managed a printing press in the 1970s.  No matter how sinful you were during the year, if you participated in this yearly procession in your bare feet, you could at least get forgiveness for  most of your sins, assuming of course you did the penance or punishment.  No wonder so many Catholic faithful participated in this event, pictured above.  (Now, whether or not your sins were actually forgiven is probably a matter of conscience and conviction, I guess.)

Ask any Filipino, especially those living in Metro Manila past and present about any of the items above and you will likelier than not get a half-hour lecture on their origins and veracity.  You will emerge either amused, outraged or a true believer.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

belated happy birthday to the best aunt ever !

you're the best aunt ever! Tita Lily with Dad, thanks to bro Jude Bautista for the pic!

you’re the best aunt ever!

After all my blather and slather, you’re probably used to the level of hyperbole and superlatives in almost everything I say, it’s a hazard of the job. 🙂  But I have another astounding tale up my sleeve, because of the astounding personality behind the tale.

Conservatively, my Tita Lily has sent around a thousand children to school.  Some she has sent as part of her commitment to family, some godchildren, children of godchildren, children of friends,  and even grandchildren of friends.  Still others she has given tuition support because of the recipients’ earnest desire to go to school.  And, yet some more, she has sent to school because they would have no other chance otherwise.

She has stood as godmother to hundreds and hundreds of weddings, proudly witnessed as ninang (godmother) to untold numbers of baptized and confirmed little inaanak, and has been sponsor to a goodly number of ordinations, silver (and golden) anniversaries, and many other milestones of other remarkable people.

You may find this hard to believe, but I have never seen her refuse outright a request for help, assistance or support, especially when it involves family.  Facing a choice between protecting oneself against being taken advantage of and extending a helping hand to someone down and out, Tita Lily 99% of the time would rather err on the side of compassion.

She has been a paragon of professionalism, hard work and consistency throughout the six decades that she has worked, and for a single employer at that.  She has served as model for quality performance, honest toil, and innovating her craft as administrator in one of the country’s largest law firms, and continues to serve as one of its valuable resource persons.

Among the many many things I remember about her as a massively fortunate nephew, I once accompanied her on a visit to a nearby hospital.  The person she visited was battling a lingering illness, and entertaining her visitors was the last thing on the patient’s mind.  She hardly recognized my aunt, but the latter treated her as if she were the dearest friend in the world, stayed for quite a while to reassure her that her friends were still around, and offered her prayers for recovery.

On the way out, I asked Tita Lily who the friend was, and why she hardly recognized her.  She said, we have been friends for over half a century now.  I have many friends like that, and I visit a lot of them often (in hospital) these days.  They have very few remaining relatives and even less friends.  I’m just doing what I can for them.

I was touched by that.  My aunt, not that young anymore, but still moving actively and sharing her time and energy for people who can’t do much for themselves anymore.  But then again, that’s what Tita Lily has always been most of her life, thinking of others first and second, and then only does she think of herself last.

Thank you for always being there for us Tita Lily, I love you so much!  Belated happy birthday!

why celebrating Christmas bigtime makes us more pinoy: pasko sa Welly

thinly-disguised shameless self-promotion, but we were chosen by our KASAGIP handler Mimi Rojo-Laurilla to be a flagbearer in the Pasko sa Welly entry of colors portion. Thanks for the chance to serve and to Philippine Army Major (reserve) Marcelo Esparas and NZ Army Band veteran Pat Salandanan for leading us!

thinly-disguised shameless self-promotion, but we were chosen by our KASAGIP handler Mimi Rojo-Laurilla to be a flagbearer in the Pasko sa Welly entry of colors portion. Thanks for the chance to serve and to Philippine Army Major (reserve) Marcelo Esparas and NZ Army Band veteran Pat Salandanan for leading us!

[ Note : sorry for the long title if I haven’t edited it, everyone ! ]

THERE WERE at least two choirs (mostly from the Philippine Embassy and the Wellington Pinoys) who sang well enough to be professionals, but were doing it for love; a parol-making contest, and various Filipiniana performances choreographed by QSM awardee Anita Mansell; Pinoy-themed parlor games hosted by Clark and Didith Figuracion but in the end there were many other events that made the whole so much more than the sum of its parts, the whole that was fondly known as the Pasko sa Wellington for the Filipino community in the southern North Island of New Zealand last Saturday Dec 1st.

It could’ve just been generous praise, but it did sound sincere when Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown told the initially sparse crowd (that eventually grew later in the day) that she marveled at the effort (songs, dance, games and participation) that Pinoys dedicated to the Christmas season.  When told by our Ambassador Virginia Benavidez that the season back home actually started at least three months before, the mayor responded that, with the frenetic Christmas atmosphere generated by migrant Pinoys, it wasn’t surprising to know at all.

different Pinoy choirs singing both the NZ and Philippine national anthems

different Pinoy choirs singing both the NZ and Philippine national anthems

Behind the scenes unbeknownst to our VIP guests, including Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy, Papal Nuncio representative Msgr Emine and Wellington Pinoy chaplain Fr Ambet dela Cruz, Pasko sa Welly was a multilateral effort made possible by many Pinoy interest groups and civic-minded kabayan including the KASAGIP Charitable Trust, Bulwagan Trust, Mabuhay Association, Filifest Dancers, Filinartizts, Catholic groups, Pinoy musicians and so many other priceless contributions from the Pinoy community.

Not the least of which was the performance of a 100% Pinoy band from Upper Hutt and the world-class emceeing of KASAGIP’s very own Neil Martinez, who saved the show from quite a few awkward moments between performances.

Many thanks to all the artisans, entrepreneurs and merchants who sold their wares in the Pasko sa Welly premises and made the event more interesting.

And as the good Wellington mayor quipped, it wouldn’t surprise her to know that each and every Pinoy contributed to the event without any thought of recompense, as if seeing bright and happy faces in and around our Filipino community wasn’t reward enough.  Truly, what makes us celebrate Christmas makes us more Pinoy.

Many thanks as well to the event sponsors like SMDC and Western Union for your contribution, and every person who made an effort to make Pasko sa Welly the great event that it was.

Mabuhay po tayong lahat, maligayang Pasko and thanks for reading!

On the 14th day of Christmas my true love malled with me

Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special !  How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer.  Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? – Bill Watterson

[ Note : belated happy birthdays to Dr Janet del Mundo and Jo Nolasco (21st Dec), SJCSAA Pres. Johann Tan (22nd Dec), Noel Avisado (24th Dec) and John Santiago (26th Dec), not being cynical with the quote above btw, though it seems like the media, and therefore its advertiser-masters, have taken control over Christmas.  Manigong bagong taon po ! ]

AMONG FORMER Commonwealth and Anglophile countries, there is a 13th day of Christmas, an extra 24 hours for those who haven’t had enough of the celebrations, shopping and feel-good moments with friends, relatives and loved ones.  The equivalent of Black Friday in the US, and the scattered “midnight madness” sales back home, it’s the hysterically commercial and inventory-obliterating Boxing Day sales in countries like NZ, where your accidental migrant currently resides.

The origins of Boxing Day are obscured by age and history, but tradesmen used to bring around boxes for gifts and donations from people who wanted to show their appreciation at the end of the year.  Later, the term expanded to “boxing” Christmas gifts or putting them in boxes, after finishing up with the stress of preparing Christmas dinner, which was after all the central event of the season.

This year, as you very well know, Christmas fell on a Sunday, and so the statutory holiday was supposed to fall on the next day.  But since Boxing Day automatically fell on the 26th, we couldn’t have TWO free days crowding one 24 hour period, and so for the first time in long time (in NZ at least) there was a free Monday and Tuesday following a Christmas Sunday.  That’s why instead of the already-generous 13th day, we were going to have yet another, 14th day, which Mahal (and by extension, yours truly) was sure to take advantage of.

Ironic, but Mahal, a mall worker, wanted some down time at the mall.  She’d spent all her working hours rolling sushi and mixing seafood morsels within a one square meter space next to the bento counter.  She wanted to see the rest of the mall, and no amount of feeble protestation from Your Loyal Batchmate / Accidental Migrant kabayan would stop her.

Why?  Well for one thing, it was our very first anniv as esposo y esposa, certainly a milestone for all couples swimming in the sea of love.  Next, for as long as we could remember since the silly season started it was the first time both of us were on days off together.  Before, it was either her or me between shifts, on regular leave or forced leave.  Never both, and so this was probably the only time now and in the next few weeks we were going to have some time together outside the house.  Indoors we were always sleeping or eating, or if I was lucky, doing the nasty. >:)  Lastly but not the leastly, Boxing Day also happened to be Mahal’s birthday.  How much more eventful could this get ???

To be sure, it was nowhere near the mall experience that she or I, or any other Pinoy we knew was used to.  Even the largest mall in the Wellington region, impressive Westfield Queensgate which any Wellingtonian (the region, not just the city) is proud of, has “only” around 45,000 square meters of store space.  Compare this to MegaMall back home, site of so many of our adventures, which (not including support space like parking, administrative areas etc.) is a mini-city of 348,000 square meters!  Unbelievable as it sounds, it’s not even the largest mall in Metro Manila. 😉

For additional perspective, Queensgate Westfield boasts of foot traffic of around 8 million per annum.  This is admittedly impressive for NZ standards, but Megamall gets an equivalent number of visitors every two weeks, no exaggeration given the fact that it can comfortably host 4 million mallgoers an any given time, and you and I know that the mall is frequently filled to the brim with window shoppers and commuters trying to beat the heat, especially on weekends.

But back to our down time together.  Given the fact that we had anniversary, birthday, not to mention Christmas merrymaking to make up for, I was more than ready to accompany Mahal not just to the mall but to every shop she chose to visit.

First was a telecom provider store, with all the nifty gadgets and handhelds showcased in user-friendly demo modules, which I quickly got bored with, good thing she was only looking for a case to protect her device.  I was not as lucky with the next few stores : a shoe store, an accessory store, and a store for summer garments only.  I tried to act interested in her selection of styles and color schemes, how tall her shoe heels as befitted her outfits (it seems that there is now no limit to how tall your shoes can be, as long as you can walk in them stilts), and how gaudy and brilliantly eye-hurting her earrings bracelets and headbands (yes, some headbands can hurt your eyes if you look too closely at them) could be.  After much rolling of eyes, I think I gave up after the fourth store, and she mercifully suggested that I wait in the corridor in front of each store area as she entered and exited them.

The first thing I noticed as I was waiting was that there were other bored/stressed spouses/boyfriends doing the same thing I was doing: waiting, and trying not to be bored to death while doing said waiting.  Of course, eventually we realized we were looking at each other.  Kids were a bit luckier since they were having fun in temporary playpens thoughtfully provided by the mall (and which were probably designed to keep their moms in said mall longer).

Given all the crazy sales, the surplus of shopping time, and the gift-giving mood, it didn’t take a genius to predict that we would later be laden with shopping bags filled with gifts and treasures that, in a day or so, we would never see again.  Well, being generous once a year was a fair bargain, given all the blessings we’d enjoyed.

And for at least ONCE a year, the mall in our temporary adopted land, thousands of kilometers away from home, reminded us of Divisoria, Bulacan and Megamall.  Cheek by jowl with rabid, hysterical buyers that didn’t yield an inch.  There certainly is no place like home, Christmas and the rest of the year.

Thanks for reading !