brothers & sisters, photographs & memories

believe it or not, these sibling grandparents all have teenaged grandkids!  The lady they are with in white is the smartly dressed Tita Dely Imperial.

believe it or not, these sibling grandparents all have nearly-teenaged grandkids! The lovely lady they are with in white is the smartly dressed Tita Dely Imperial. Mom is on the extreme right, and the fellow who looks like John Lennon is my Tito PD. Tita Beth and Tita Amy are their younger sisters.

[ Thanks Tita Dely Imperial and Tita Rose Lizo for use of the pic! ]

WHETHER THEY love or hate each other (or somewhere in between), cherish or annoy each other to bits (or somewhere in between), avoid each other or play practical jokes all the time (or somewhere in between), brothers and sisters share more than blood and childhood memories.  They are bound by a psychic connection that will not be severed by time or space, and when they reconnect after a long while apart, let’s just say the emotional whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

***         ***         ***

My mom and her three siblings more than deserve to give each other a pat on the back.  After all, they’ve endured a hard childhood, worked through school, successfully raised families and are now enjoying their grandchildren, all in the span of 70 years give or take. But every now and then they like to reminisce about the happy days they spent in their island hometown in Masbate, where the air was pure and nature was free.  Because they had no other choice, they learned to depend on each other, where in the game of Life, family and their brood was the only team that mattered.  Challenges and adversity have come and gone, but Linda, PD, Amy and Beth have remained, and have come through with flying colors for their children, grandchildren and almost surely given their impeccable health (knock-knock) great-grandchildren to admire, now and forever.

***         ***         ***

a rarity : the last time I've seen them in the same frame was definitely more than an eternity ago, and now they're all adults!

a rarity : the last time I’ve seen them in the same frame was definitely more than an eternity ago, and now they’re all adults!

They’re not exactly the closest of siblings, but the last time they met,  with (ahem) their father looking on, you could’ve sworn they might actually have missed each other.

The last few months have been a whirlwind for Panganay, Ganda and Bunso.  New milieus, new school, new jobs, even new loves, everything has been a new taste and new sensation for the trio.  So much so that they haven’t had time to compare notes and look back on their remarkable journeys from Cainta Rizal all the way to Windy Wellington.

I wouldn’t say the experience has brought them closer, but it has afforded them a new perspective with which to view and appreciate each other, if not as immediate family, then as members of individuals who’ve gone through toddlerhood and teenhood with shared eyes ears and feelings.

Almost throughout the dinner, which Mahal and I ate with them after a visit to recuperating Panganay (who was recovering from a sports injury), they were constantly wary of each other.  But only because so much had changed, around the constant reality that they would always be brothers and sister.

Take away the novelty, and what remains on the picture is the simple happiness on their faces.  At least, that hasn’t changed.

***         ***         ***

By many standards I’m an old man, and yet whenever I think of my four brothers, especially about being with them, I feel young.  Why?  Maybe because I grew up with them, and you’re only as old (young) as you feel.  And because we’re all in the same generation, I only need to be with them, physically or otherwise, to be a kid again.

I’ll bet you feel the same with your own brothers and / or sisters!

Thanks for reading!

to look like dad & all its benefits : happy father’s day!

this is not the first time I'm using this pic but it's the best I have..  Mahal, me, my Tita Lily who recently passed away and Dad, dashing as ever!

this is not the first time I’m using this pic but it’s the best I have.. Mahal, me, my Tita Lily who recently passed away and Dad, dashing as ever! Thanks once again to brother Jude Bautista and !

[ Note :  In the Philippines, I’ve always celebrated my birthday near mother’s day, so there are two happy things to remember around then.  Now because of the happy accident of working in NZ, dad’s birthday and New Zealand’s Father’s day are about two weeks apart. Happy father’s day to everyone not just in NZ, but everywhere else! ]

IT’S UNIVERSAL that parents like to claim authorship of anything that resembles success in their kids, and more than a passing resemblance with the same, especially whenever the latter are beautiful, intelligent, gorgeous and otherwise pleasing to the mind and eye.

Among my siblings, Eldest Brother (we are five brothers, no sisters) is unsurprisingly blessed with the most leadership skills and probably the best communicator.  Second Brother is undoubtedly the smartest and the easiest to get along with.  Fourth Brother is the most athletic and attuned to business, while Fifth Brother is the most creative.

Pure luck of the draw and genetics gave me a different gift : I like to think, and more than a few people and rellys agree with me, that I was honored to be the son who resembled (resembles) our father the most.  And because my father (naturally) considered himself not a bad-looking man and a good standard with which to compare his progeny, he almost surely (neither I nor my brothers ever thought to ask him) thought that I was the luckiest one because of the way we received our inheritance in the looks department.  LOLs and smileys all around after that one. 🙂

Seriously, my father has been honorable in executing his fatherly duties in every which way possible.  He was the solid rock of stability around which the rest of the family was built, guided and counseled all of us through our maturity, and to this day serves as an inspiration for his middle-aged sons as they strive to measure up to the greatness that is their father.

But I have enjoyed as good a relationship with my father as anyone could wish for, though I don’t  claim to know enough to say it has been as good as or even better than his relationship with his other sons, my brothers.  Perhaps viewed through the prism of self-regard and self-interest, one always thinks his appearance, his abilities, and his relationships are the best, without the benefit of comparison with a superior standard.

Should you therefore ask me how I have the audacity to write the previous paragraph, I will answer with a contrast I’ve seen with him when it comes to me.

He is probably the most opinionated person I know, holding specific, and perhaps jingoist and xenophobic opinions on everything under the sun.  He is like that, and will not aggressively attack your worldview, but his Old World eloquence and quiet conviction will assure you that you will have hours and hours of debate before you get any  meeting of the minds.

With me, whenever I talk to him about my view of things, his response has almost invariably been, for him, atypical.  He will nod his head, smile knowingly, and listen to all the points I elucidate.  He will usually say ganun pala or I never knew that.

Deep down I know he is only holding his tongue and patronizing me, but because he is my dad it is approval enough for me to shut up and acknowledge his smile.  And I know he is agreeing only because it is me.

He is also, as you might expect, very old school.  In almost everything, from popular culture, religion and customs, the roles of men and women in society, and anything else you might think of.  With many people of his generation, produced by expansionist tyranny and the Last Great War, adherence to traditional values then and now are the bedrock of his core.  (Hard to fault him for that, for in the midst of uncertainty and destruction it was all they could hold on to.)  And that is what he will be to the day he dies.

And yet in my few conversations with him about the tumultuous change overcoming our world,  about explaining to him how and why I have been the only son of his to marry twice, and how when he meets his grandkids again when they return next decade from New Zealand, he will probably not approve of their ways and their appearances, he curiously declines to challenge my points.

In so many words, he pooh-poohs my alarms, soothes my concerns,  and allays my fears.  In a nutshell he tells me :  I am not at all concerned with all that, Noel. Because I trust you to do the right thing.  Not only does he go against form and welcome change, he uncharacteristically reposes a lot of trust in me.

This, to the one who is (no false modesty here) his least successful, least accomplished, least athletic and least creative son.  Truly, to inherit my father’s appearance has also given me a side benefit : to earn the most benefit of the doubt.  The luck of the draw has helped me once again.

***            ***            ***

Lest you think I’m writing this for my dad to see, he will probably not even know about it.  Father’s day in the Philippines is celebrated earlier, and even if they were on the same day, my dad doesn’t care for such things.  That’s one of the greatest things about him ; he is great without even knowing it.

My dad is very much alive today, in I hope the best health of his life, a bit slower now but fit and fighting trim nevertheless.  The only sad part is we are separated by thousands of miles of land and sea.

But if we weren’t, and he were right in front of me now on Father’s Day, I don’t know if I should bow deeply to him the way the ancient Chinese did (he is half Chinese), if I should render a snappy salute for the enormous respect I have him, or just hug and kiss him, as I owe him my life, and everything I am today.  The first, second or third?

I don’t know.  Maybe a combination of them, but most definitely I will hug and kiss him, because it benefits us both.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!  I love you always!

(and to the rest of you as well!)

the persistent & recurring bilocation of the migrant mind

Paco Park, near where I grew up.

Paco Park, near where I grew up.

[ Note : Pardon me for the very senti post today, just that the wet days and windy nights reminded me of typhoons and monsoon seasons so many years ago, when we couldn’t wait for school to be cancelled so we could play all day.  Old houses, asphalt roads, faces resembling faces we hadn’t beheld for years all brought to this blogger the realization that you can take Noel out of Manila, but you can never take Manila out of Noel.  Thanks for reading! ]

IN A very real sense, my mind is frequently in two places and never sitting still.  This pertains to important as well as trivial things.  I bike home on empty streets and imagine the choked, bumper-to-bumper traffic on EDSA.  Mahal prepares dinner in the kitchenette and wonders how it would taste with local ingredients in relentless sunshine back home.  You read the community newspaper and wonder if tabloids in Manila are still as sensational.

We pick out flats to rent but subconsciously we transfer the same houses to tropical backdrops.  Visit malls with scores of window shoppers but daydream of rubbing shoulders with thousands in Robinsons and Megamall.  Nod and smile at strangers on deserted avenues and recall drowning in anonymity in Makati or Pasig City.

For kabayan who’ve arrived in their adopted lands early in life with parents, it might not be such an issue, but for migrants like me who’ve spent half their lives back home, the dilemma is quite real.  You shed the skin of a previous complacent life and jump into a totally unfamiliar new one, all in hopes of something as abstract as a better life overseas for you and family.  In the meantime, part of you will always remain at home.

St Jude Catholic School, where I went to primary and middle school.

St Jude Catholic School, where I went to primary and middle school. It looks a lot better now. 🙂

Part of the reason is that no matter how clean your cut is with your old milieu, there are things you can never truly leave behind.  The barangay you lived in will revisit you regularly in your dreams, the barkada you never stop saying goodbye to (though they themselves will ultimately leave your old haunts as well) will keep coming back, even if each reunion will make you more and more distant from them, and your old loves will keep giving you the familiar aches in your innermost parts especially when you return home.

Every now and then you see a place that reminds of you home, and it’s like opening a floodgate of memories that brings you back.  A block of old houses that resemble the old neighborhood, a corridor of mall stores (they all look similar anyway) that bring you back to your first or second date with a half-forgotten girlfriend, or a dish cooked exactly the same way you tasted it, comfort food that looks, tastes and smells the way it did when you were a teenager.  Sometimes a sliver of memory is all that it takes to bring you back, and you are transported again.  Like it always does every now and then.  So in some ways you are living your everyday life in New York, Vancouver, Sydney or Auckland, but in other, more mysterious ways it is like you never left.  You may find this extra-odd, but for me it’s like living in an MRT station for the purpose of being accessible to places you will frequent, but will never live in permanently.

A call center similar to the one where I used to work.

A call center similar to the one where I used to work. During the shift, it’s crazy-noisy! 😉

Another issue is guilt.  Just as often as not, you aborted a career midstream to bite the bullet and go for a less risky, albeit less paying job overseas.  The well-meaning persistence of relatives, the economic uncertainty and the bright lights of the First World were enough to break the camel’s back and stop you from the (apparent) nonsense of pursuing a middling profession that never seemed to take you over the hump.  Besides, when was family going to receive its rightful priority in the hierarchy of needs fulfillment?  All these questions would be answered decisively by just filing those papers, grab the first letter resembling a job offer and book that flight to the land of dollars, nose jobs and silicone boobs (sorry).

The flip side of course is seeing your colleagues taking the promotions you worked hard for,  receive the recognitions you deserved, knowing that the siblings in Manila are the ones who get to spend all the quality time with the olds, and knowing that those who never left home get to see all your contemporaries any time you want and have a blast any time they want, minus you of course, cuz you’re still toiling in a strange workplace far, far away from home.

In exchange, the air is a little purer, the water’s a little cleaner, you’re able to set aside a little more for your twilight years (which aren’t that far away anymore, hmm?) and maybe, just maybe you can get to finally do that trip you’ve been saving for…

A trip back home, so that you don’t have to divide your heart and mind all the time.

why we’re grateful to Joe & Linda, 54 years and running

a young Joe & Linda more than half a century ago, with toddlers Tim and Donald, and Father George Lalliberte who married them only a few years ago. Your loyal blogger was probably still a bun in the oven ;)

a young Joe & Linda more than half a century ago, with toddlers Tim and Donald, and Father George Lalliberte who married them a few years back. Your loyal blogger was probably still a bun in the oven…

I THOUGHT the day would never come, but it jumped up from just around the corner, and now it’s here to stay.  I have now reached the age where my children, intelligent and discerning as always, have in so many words begun to reproach me from the things I never made accessible to them.

Here are just a few examples.  At least two out of the three (Panganay, Ganda and Bunso of course) have inquired why they never had piano lessons; one has rebuked me for not enrolling at least one of them in a Chinese Filipino school (I attended one), and a right-brained child has asked why nothing was ever done to spur or trigger their creative side/s.  To all these I furnish a motley group of excuses : economics, nurture vs nature, and all that bull-bleep, but I know deep down I have failed them in a thousand different ways, so that any success they have reaped is despite and not because of my pasang-awa parenting.

Chalk it down to a kinder, less selfish generation, cheaper tuition and simpler extra-curricular options, but I cannot say the same for my own parents, who made available a lot of things I didn’t pay forward for my own kids.

Early elementary, mom and dad enrolled me in a summer art class.  When I didn’t show any promise, the following year I attended badminton sessions and was encouraged to learn racquet sports.  And all through my youth (not that it helped) a piano teacher visited me weekly and I learned a third language in an excellent Chinese Filipino school that rivaled many of the best Metro Manila schools across the board.

...and a more recent pic with Dad (center, seated) Mom (to his left), Tita Lily (to his right), my brother Tim and his wife Joy (standing, extreme right) and Mahal (the stunner with the long hair)

…and a more recent pic with Dad (center, seated) Mom (to his left), Tita Lily (to his right), my brother Tim and his wife Joy (standing, extreme right) and Mahal (the stunner with the long hair). I don’t know who the white-shirted guy is, sorry 😦

My folks weren’t the showiest type when it came to hugs and kisses, but were right there when it came to advice and support, which as you know pre-teens and teens need tons of but won’t always admit.   It didn’t stop them from exercising stern discipline and  strict accountability, but as all good parents, they combined affection and hard knocks in a smart combination of tough love.

Best of all, they showed me, and a lot of people my generation, that you could sweep someone off your feet in a whirlwind romance and yet stay with that someone for years and years without losing the thrill of love.  Some people call it being soulmates and lovers, and other people call it commitment.  My folks just called it marriage.

...still photogenic after all these years!

…still photogenic after all these years!

As of yesterday (6th June), my folks have possessed all of these traits 54 years running, raising first five hard-headed but respectful sons, then helping seven grandkids, scores of nephews, nieces and cousins, and now dozens and dozens of people through catechism classes, community centers and livelihood groups to which they belong.

Through it all, they have relied on many comrades, but most of all they have relied on each other in the journey of life, towards happiness and contentment.  I’m extra proud as their son to say that they’re already there, and will always serve as my models for self-sustaining love.

Thanks for being in our lives Joe and Linda, and happy happy 54th wedding anniversary from a grateful clan, Mom and Dad!  Love you always!

si indianero jones at ang paghahanap ng mahiwagang flat (indianero jones and the quest for the elusive flat)

with a little help from TradeMe and the Salvation Army store, Mahal was able to assemble our new living room.  In the foreground is an unfinished TV stand.

with a little help from TradeMe and the Salvation Army store, Mahal was able to assemble our new living room. In the foreground is an unfinished TV stand.

MAHAL AND I have spent the past three weeks applying for, being selected and moving into a new flat.  Hope you don’t mind if I share with you what we’ve been through.  (It’s also my way of telling you why I haven’t been yap-yap-yapping as much recently. 🙂 )

Please DON’T be offended if, first of all, the prospective or potential landlord/landlady categorizes or profiles aspiring tenants like us, especially migrant Pinoys, according to number of children, number of pets (if any), and whether or not we smoke (I quit six years ago) or drink (very moderately naman).  I’m not sure how it goes in Auckland, but those are some of the very first things asked by landlords/landladies when you apply to rent a flat in windy Wellington.

Frankly, he (or she; for brevity i’ll just use the masculine noun and pronoun if you don’t mind) could do a lot worse.

I wish I photocopied the questionnaire, but one landlord actually asked if both Mahal and I were gainfully employed, how much we earned, how many credit cards we had and whether or not we had criminal records.

The fellow, who turned out to be a friendly sort and shortlisted us to be his tenants, said he had previous problems with tenants and now went to the extent of checking the premises periodically for traces of methamphetamine, cannabis and other dangerous drugs not just for consumption but for production.  Turned out that removing all traces of the dratted substances from one of his co-landlord’s properties after the latter had been used as a P-lab (or shabu lab, for us in the Philippines) cost many more thousands of dollars than if they had just screened tenants more judiciously.  Such that being a bit anal in his tenant applications didn’t seem so outrageous anymore.

And I wish I could be as outraged about landlords‘ overkill re kids, pets and smoke, but it’s just a generous helping of commonsense when selecting who will be stewards of your rental investment, which is a favorite source of retirement income for many prudent New Zealanders.  Each additional child means additional pressure on the facilities in terms of wear and tear, risk of damage and maintenance cost to the flat.  Having pets often means lots of hair, scratches and tolerated additional use to just about every corner of the house.  This doesn’t bode well for picture perfectness and pristine-ness of the apartment, but a lot of Kiwis and Maoris are petlovers, what can you do?  And I don’t have to tell you about how nicotine and tobacco smoke leave ugly stains on the walls, especially over time.

There is a finite number of desirable flats near workplaces in our city, and the skilled workforce is constantly growing.  This means it’s a lessor’s market, and because queues for flats form immediately as soon as they are offered, landlords have the luxury of picking from the very best of the bunch.

Mahal and I have no kids, no pets, and neither of us smoke.  But that didn’t mean we were automatically going to be ideal and prime candidates for the choice flats we applied for.  In fact, I don’t think we even made it as a finalist for any of the first few flats we expressed interest in, and the guy I told you about above was just being polite.  To be fair, his flat had central heating, used a sophisticated energy-conscious sunlight absorbing heat-and-light system, had new wallpaper, tiling and carpeting installed wall-to-wall.  I’m sure more than a dozen candidates submitted applications and he would’ve had a hard time just whittling down the list to superperfect, handsome and beautiful shortlisters.  Deep sigh. 😦

Eventually our persistence paid off though.  We found someone who appreciated our (as yet) childless, pet-less and tobaccoless status, liked that we ticked all the boxes on his checklist, and approved our flat application after a cursory interview.

They’re almost self-evident, but I have to give you a very brief summary of what I’ve picked up:  (1) Keep an ideal flat in mind, but don’t be too choosy.  You won’t get the first flat you apply for, almost surely.  (2) It’s probably better to deal with a rental agency than a landlord direct, as it helps both sides.  (3) When you’ve been approved as tenant and before starting to move, sell or give away as much stuff as you can before actually moving, it saves a lot of grief and stress.

And finally, amass as many cardboard boxes (preferably the corrugated ones) as you can, be prepared to throw away stuff you won’t need anymore in your new home, hire a skip bin just before moving, and get as much help as you can.  Congrats on your new flat!

my paradigm-shifting dad on father’s day

with grateful thanks to Jude Bautista for the pic, from left: esposa, me Tita Lily (Yang) and Dad.

[ Note : Despite NZ Father’s Day and Philippine Father’s Day celebrated on different dates, I will use any excuse to remember my dad, who is very much alive and quite healthy by the way, and besides his birthday is less than three weeks away.  Happy dad’s day to everyone! ]

MY DAD, whether or not he realizes it, is a product of at least two aspects of his generation.  First, that of the reality that Asian fathers are more or less emotionally inaccessible to their offspring, and possibly even to their spouses.  Second, he grew up in a traumatic war period where to utter or make any gesture considered disrespectful to our Japanese invaders often resulted in dire, sometimes fatal results.  The result is many fathers coming from his generation consider it not only normal but also practical to be distant from most members of their family, to both survive and to carry on “normally” as many Asian families do.  Leave the feel-good and mushy stuff to Moms and female members of the family, I could almost hear this generation say.

That’s why it took a sea change for my own father when his turn came to be a dad.  He wasn’t touchy-feely and the type who announced a “group hug” all the time, but he never spared any efforts to show how much he cared for all of his sons.  He never hesitated to give (or for that matter, ask) for a hug and kiss from me whenever he got home from work.  Asians are famous for being “inscrutable” and circumspect, and in that respect Dad was/is traditional, because he had a countenance that was perfectly neutral in front of new acquaintances and strangers.  But before friends and loved ones, he always chose to engage rather than resist exposing his feelings and emotions.

He never ignored the template though.  He expected and received unconditional respect from all of his sons, and in return he gave them his unconditional love.  He made all the final decisions that concerned the family, but most of us knew that Mom was just letting him say out loud what made her happy.  Appearances and saving face, after all, still counted in the traditional Pinoy family.

At the end of the day, when I think of all the good things my dad did to me, did for me and did despite me, nothing trumps just being there and being both a towering and nurturing presence in our lives.  In his child’s eyes, a father cannot help but come to his life great and awesome, it is his life’s challenge to humanize himself, bring himself down to his/her level, and hold his child’s hand forever.

This you did with flying colors Dad, and I will never stop being grateful for that.  I love you so much, advance happy birthday, and for the second time this year, happy Father’s day!

homeland quirks giving us pause since Tuesday last

Carla Abellana is the first Marian look-alike the second is Lim Eung Kyeon, who is quite popular in the Philippines because of “Jewel in the Palace”, and there’s a THIRD lookalike, just goes to show how popular Marian is. But it just might be me.

NOW THAT’S a mouthful, but it’s a tentative title (that nevertheless stands if nothing clever surfaces in 30 uninspired minutes) for this rant.  Some things you take for granted as part of reality so I’m sure you probably will do a doubletake if I take the trouble to mention it, but then there you go :

The money looks good but how much do you have left after lunch?  The new peso bills look good, if a bit play money-ish but overall the design is quite crisp, clean and the faces (Ninoy, the two Manuels and the trio on the one thousand-peso bill) look less stressed, but they’re not worth very much anymore.  I was ecstatic when I realized how much the coins we put away were worth when we started exchanging them for the colorful banknotes, but was quickly brought back to earth when I found out how expensive everything had become.

In no way am I complaining about the excellent food, but eating for two here is an instant P1000, plus a smile, extra napkins and generous toothpicks! 🙂

I mean, you get something between a frown and a smirk if you give the taxi driver anything less than P200, even though you’ve been in his cab all of 10 minutes between appointments.  You can’t spend less than P1,000 for a decent meal for two, and the same amount for aguinaldo for a long-forgotten godchild is an absolute must, anything less raises eyebrows all around.  So, the initial euphoria I felt about being, wow, part of the faux prosperous and our newfound wealth quickly dissipated into how are we gonna stretch our Mickey Mouse wads of bills till we leave?

it’s a matter of taste, but I think the new bills look a little better

Celebrity lookalikes. another phenomenon is the movie / TV stars are beginning to look like each other.  Is it just me or are there at least two look-alikes of former it girl Marian Rivera?  That eye-candy reality celebrity Erich Gonzales also has a double who of course, reminds you of her everytime she gestures and opens her mouth.

Then esposa hermosa explains it away by makeup and sharing of makeup artists but even in NZ I already saw Ruffa Gutierrez and Bea Alonzo standing (or posing) side-by-side and they looked identical enough to be sisters of the full blood, I kid you not.  Everything about them : eyes ears nose and shades of eyelids, cheeks and the rest, including facial expressions were eerily similar, if not nearly identical.  I’m no connoisseur of the finer points of beauty, I just call them as I see them.  Perusing this trend, I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least three clones of Anne Curtis next time I visit home.

We have no shortage of great Pinay mestiza (mixed-race) beauties, but we seem to be favoring a very limited number of templates into which only the top tier of entertainers may fit in.  Absent radical (read as surgical) alteration, only if you achieve a certain look,  may you then pass GO and achieve certain stardom.

Overcast City.  And this is probably the most cynical observation this grimy, wide-eyed balikbayan has made today, but in deep-winter Wellington, I have been exposed to more minutes of sunlight in 72 hours than I have in almost 10 days of Manila.  Last time I looked, my hometown was one, more or all of the following : a summer town all year round, where you could count on the sun doing a command performance 364 out of 365 days of the year, where you could hang your laundry for a couple of hours and bring it down bone-dry; and where shorts, sleeveless and sandals are sensible wear (except to coat-and-tie affairs, and even then they might overlook the summer footwear 🙂 ); and where the two local seasons are sunny and sunnier; but nearly all of the last week plus I’ve been here, I haven’t even seen a shadow of the sun (awful pun unintended), though I have waxed nostalgic with the thunderstorms, instant road potholes and prickly raindrops that remind me of my childhood.

But more than a few days straight of not getting any sunshine is simply ridiculous.  It’s a conjunction of my anticipation of nothing but the hottest weather, successive low pressure areas buffeting Manila, and the nimbus clouds following me wherever I go in the metropolis.  To sum it up, it’s not sunny but perspiringly warm, not raining but gosh-awful humid, and not windy but dusty, and smokey.

Indeed, when it’s a homecoming, you take the good with the bad.

Thanks for reading !

are places memory-sensitive, or are memories place-sensitive?

English: Photo of SM Megamall in Mandaluyong C...

English: Photo of SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City, taken from the Manila MRT. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OUTSIDE OF love and family, there is nothing that draws a human being to a particular place better than memories.  Modify that adverb better to other,  what I mean is if at all, nothing comes close.

I recently walked the distance between my favorite malls that I regularly did five years ago just before I tried becoming an OFW (Overworked and Freezing in Wellington, just kidding Wellingtonians and Wellington Kinoys), and I was surprised how starkly I was no longer used to the humidity, pollution and noise that was omnipresent in the area.

If you must know, the two malls are Robinson’s Galleria on Ortigas Ave and SM Megamall on EDSA.  It’s not a matter of taste or preference; like Mt Everest and the raging sea, the malls will always be there no matter what happens.  You go in and out of the mall to use as shortcuts to get elsewhere, you use the malls to find out prices for things you will buy elsewhere ( admit it ), you eat at the malls but only (1) to meet and talk with friends and associates, (2) to try the newest places, and (3) when there are coupons, discounts and promos to avail of.

I have a fourth reason, and that’s to use public transport, whose terminals are in either mall.  Sometimes I use the jeepneys nearer Megamall, and sometimes I board the FX taxis whose stations are less crowded in Galleria.  Like many of the great unwashed, I had little choice but to use public, but it’s always been both convenient and cheap, if a bit time-consuming and crowded.

It might just have been me, but I remembered quite accurately the approximate steps between malls, the alternative paths and short cuts through Ortigas Center, even the cracks on the pavements and footpaths or sidewalks along the way.  I did notice the proliferation of high-rises, elevated walkways and fast food establishments on almost every third building between malls, which were already fortresses of fast food icons in themselves.

What I kept wondering to myself was, much as I’d been away for a goodly amount of time (nearly five years although I visited every now and then), how come it only felt like yesterday?  Why did the oppressive heat, jolting beeps and face-wrinkle inducing carbon monoxide seem so familiar?  Why could I negotiate the maze between Mega and Galle with my eyes closed?  It’s not like I had eidetic memory, and if I had it, most of it would’ve been dusty, consigned to compressed files, or eaten up by forgetfulness by now.  And I’m the least person connected to peanut, fish and other brain food induced sharpness (although I eat anything), especially since I’m a borderline ADHD, dyslexic, autistic and autodidactically pretentious person.  One of two theories I can come up with is that the place itself, whenever I get near it, renews, reconnects and rejuvenates whatever neural or brain cell connections still existing in my brain.  Pretty spaced out I know but I’ve heard and done crazier.

But can the memory itself prioritize data regarding important and crucial places and make them accessible when you need them?  This may be nitpicking, but the moment you behold a place you’ve visited before, particularly places that are close to your heart, it might just be possible that everything you know about a place, including routes, landmarks and peripheral information suddenly comes to the surface and become available.

i don’t think i’d relish getting lost HERE. 😦

This is so much theorizing, neither here nor there and ultimately unprovable except in sophisticated lablike scenarios, but it’s worked everytime I step out of the three malls in the general area of Ortigas Center.  And I’ve worked my last three jobs in big, labyrinthine buildings in Makati City and Pasig, I’d like to test my crackpot theory there.

But I’m not, repeat not gonna try my conspiracy theory in Divisoria, Baclaran and anywhere else.  Even if those places are mildly familiar, methinks I’d pay dearly if ever I get lost there, inaykupo.

Thanks for reading!

happy birthday Bunso !

all dressed up and everywhere to go 🙂

YOU WERE born with the least effort and grief, that much I remember.  It was afternoon, and your mother was already an expert in escorting babies into this valley of tears that we call the real world.  I just went out for a while to complete the funds necessary to satisfy the hospital’s pound of flesh (how apt) and as soon as I returned, you were already being debriefed by co-occupants at the nursery on how to behave as a hyperconscious newborn in a jaded old world.

No chance of a mixup in the nursery by the way.  From the time you were born, you looked a whole lot like me.  How much of a whole lot is a whole lot?  Well, let’s just say if you put your baby and toddler pics and my baby and toddler pics side by side, there would be some scratching of heads before you’d distinguish between the two sets.  And those’re our heads, so you can imagine how much more fun other people would have determining which is which.

But enough of that.  Your mom and grandparents will easily attest to this, but you grew up like it was the most natural thing, and you absorbed everything that you saw, heard, smelled, tasted and felt.  And I mean everything.  You must also have had a great time doing so, because in literally 99 out of a hundred photos I’ve seen you in, you’re either smiling or laughing.  A very happy young man.

The youngest in a group of siblings usually goes one of two routes : he becomes the entitled, insufferable brat, or he is the well-mannered, eager to please brother who constantly defers to his elders.  You would’ve gone crazy (or driven us crazy) evolving into either stereotype, and happily you morphed into someone in the middle, developing into the Bunso I know today.  I like to imagine you had some of my trademark flamboyance with the spoken and written word, and your mother’s creativity, and gift of focusing on the important things, but in truth you are your own person, albeit constantly evolving into something more each day.

When you insisted on attending the school of your choice, enrolling in a course program that no one recommended (but yourself), and joining new clubs and interest groups, I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.  You have a been like a sponge, gathering influences, perspectives and ways-of-thinking that I have never had the pleasure of gathering, you have the physical and mental tools to do so much more than anyone in generations before yours.  Why should I be surprised if you no longer resemble the 11-year old I left in the Philippines an eternity ago?

After all is said and done, I’m just glad that you have turned out the way you have, and I’m happy to have made a small contribution into bringing you into this world.  Although I will always be proud to be called Papa by you, in almost every way we are equals and co-travellers in this Journey called Life.  Hold my hand anak, and whenever you have time for me, let’s explore the world together!

Happy happy birthday Bunso, you deserve every happiness God gives you today, and every day thereafter.  I love you very much, kaawaan ka lagi ng Diyos !

3 Nevers of Dad and 3 Evers of Bunso

Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz in Binondo, Manila, with th...

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I HAVE SO many good memories of my dad, and the best thing about it is that every time I come home to visit, there will be more.  Some of the highlights are his bringing me to Manila Bay shoreline at Luneta before I learned to walk, a practice he continued with my own kids; bringing me to his favorite Binondo watering holes, soccer games and the occasional Cantonese movie; jogging on Roxas Blvd which I originally disliked, having to wake up so early to avoid the blazing Sunday heat, but later realized it was one of the best things we did together; and sharing with me his opinions on why our country would continue suffering age-old problems no matter who was president or which party controlled Congress.

He has rightly counted two among his many blessings as giving him the greatest satisfaction : that he (knock knock) continues to enjoy good health in his advanced age, and that he has seen many of his grandchildren grow up to adulthood, admittedly something not all of his contemporaries have enjoyed.
Which brings me to one of his grandchildren, Bunso, who incidentally celebrates his birthday today.  He likewise has much to be thankful for, not the least of which is an auspicious start to his college life last week, the love of his family and friends, and above average intelligence which will serve him well the rest of his life.
Below are three “nevers” and three “evers” that remind me most of them, and hope that (1) they will agree and (2) you can relate :
(1) Dad NEVER missed a day of work, always treated his employees like family, and lived the conviction that work justified a man and validated his existence.  Like many children of the Great War, he valued every peso he earned, and knew that the pesos kept coming in only because of the hours he put in at the desk.  By trade he was a numbers cruncher / bean counter but he loved the printed word, ran a printing press to prove it, and encouraged all of us to read and express ourselves through the pen, and in his aura I discerned a poet, calligrapher and artist, trades he might have learned had the war and destiny not intervened.
(2) Dad NEVER used corporal punishment as general policy or behaved less than gentlemanly with Mom.  I didn’t say he never punished us, because there were a few times he actually smacked me for some forgotten reason, but because it was such a rare event, I remember it all the more.  Most of the time he used sound reasoning and logic to tell us why we messed up royally, rarely used sarcasm and only resorted to the dreaded belt and slipper when we committed heinous crimes against the rules of the household. In all my years with my folks, I’ve only seen them argue ONCE, and this was when I was 5 or 6 years old.  Otherwise, he’s always allowed Mom to have the last word, never raised his voice at her, and has exhibited perfect patience with his wife 24/7.  That’s Dad for you.
(3) Dad NEVER played favorites, and never compared one son to another.  Well, maybe he never expressed his thoughts out loud, and believe me, he would have had plenty of occasions and reasons to do so, having five sons of diverse and disparate strengths and abilities flung far and wide. He never raised one up at the expense of the other, always appraised and assessed each one of us on our respective merits, and seldom asked any son who happened to be underachieving (wink, wink) why he wasn’t more like the rest. Come to think of it, he could be tactless in other areas but never when it came to praise, or lack of it.  That’s how I remembered, and continue to remember him.
Now comes Bunso, and on his birthday I can’t help but reminisce the following :
(1)  Bunso was EVER the smiling baby, and out of dozens and dozens of baby pictures I have seen only one (1!) picture of him crying, for some reason it reflects perfectly the recollection that he was a happy and good-natured infant, probably because he was the youngest and had his siblings as well as parents around to humor him.  This good naturedness has carried over into puberty and young adulthood, where Bunso is (so far) emotionally well-rounded, easy-going, has certainly avoided the crests and troughs of the emotional tsunami that marked many adolescent years, mine included ;
(2) Bunso was EVER the dancer and actor, which he almost certainly got from either his mother or his grandfather, both of whom were or are good dancers.  At first I just thought he had too many extra-curricular duties on his plate, dancing for this or that event, then I realized for him to be picked and rostered for so many shindigs evidenced only two things : either he had the talent or the goods to do so, or he really loved dancing and related arts.  The truth is probably a combination of both, and while I’m proud of him, I confess it’s not easy to relate, as I have two left feet and a voice only a mother could love 🙂
(3)  Bunso was EVER the responsible student, and only his para-academic activities, org commitments and his precious down-time from hyperactive school schedule prevented him from an honorific graduation, and to his credit, his insistence on a well-balanced high school experience has given him the best of both worlds : respectable grades and development in things he loves to do.  If I sound like a proud dad, it’s because I truly am.
Happy Father’s Day and happy birthday to two guys I will NEVER get tired bonding with and EVER love and admire :  Dad and Bunso .
Thanks for reading !