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!)

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!

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!

readjustment bureau

OFWs in a hurry to leave the airport to meet Nanay, Tatay, Junior, Ate, Bunso, and most of all Mahal :)

OFWs in a hurry to leave the airport to meet Nanay, Tatay, Junior, Ate, Bunso, and most of all Mahal 🙂

[ belated happy birthday to classmate and friend Allan Refuerzo, Imee Sy and Rory Reyes! ]

ADJUSTMENT IS a well-worn, familiar route on the migrant GPS.  All kinds of adjustment occupy the migrant mind : adjustment to climate, adjustment to ways of doing things, and adjustment to language are just some of the constants we live with as settlers on foreign lands.  You might survive without swift adjustment, but embracing it will make your life a whole lot easier.

You’re able to get along with more locals faster, you’re understood more readily, you don’t stand out or attract too much unwanted attention, you discover faster ways of doing things, and ultimately you get more things done.  You reach short-term goals faster, which helps you get to long-term goals faster.

What doesn’t always get mentioned in the migrant, balikbayan or OFW discussion, a lot of which certainly gets heard both at home and abroad, is the adjustment the Pinoy makes or has to make whenever he/she (for brevity, he na lang) returns home, either for vacation or for good.  Part of the law of the universe states that what goes up must comes down, for every action is an opposite reaction, and balancing the positive force is, necessarily, the negative counterpart.

It’s not as difficult as returning toothpaste to the proverbial tube, reversing the downflow of a river or stream (it’s impossible, actually) or unmaking a hurtful comment, but it’s somewhere  in the neighborhood.  Even though you seek to undo a lifetime of habits,  beliefs and culture, it’s doable because you have no other choice (you’re already overseas), economics coerce you to (you have a family to feed) and pride is a great, awesome motivator (you can’t go home and face everyone who’s never stopped encouraging you, as well as those who can’t wait to see you fall flat on your face).

But is it as practical to unlearn your new accent, start driving on the right side of the road again, pick up typical Pinoy ways of doing things like chismis, kaplastikan and sipsipan and socialize with all sorts of people like you never left home?

[ Please don’t misunderstand.  The shadier side of being Pinoy is done just as often in my temporary adopted land, by both the locals and Pinoys like me.  It’s just that well, it is so acceptable and traditional the way we do it back home, and people where I am still pretend  they don’t do it as well, or at least don’t mention it in polite conversation.  I’m not being a hypocrite, or at least I hope I don’t sound like one.  😉 ]

But back to readjustment.  My last trip home, I probably had the hardest time to adjust, because I was coming from very cold weather, had very little time to prepare for a homecoming (there was a death in the family), and I was coming home to the hottest weather in the Philippines, April-May scorchers.

I think I mentioned in a previous blog that (1) just standing in place made me sweat buckets, and (2) the heat waves were coming from both the atmosphere and the white-hot concrete, how could I cope?  Additionally the humidity and muggy air were not helping any; I could almost slice the air with a knife, and I could likewise imagine the insides of my nostrils sweating from the hot, hot air. The immediate and obvious question is, without the aid of an air-conditioner or an unexpected shower, how do you adjust to hot weather after half a decade away?

The short answer is you don’t, not unless you have the time, patience and forbearance to bear it and realize that everyone else is enduring this three-quarters of the year, why can’t you?  Mind over matter, sensible dressing and knowing when to cool down are just a few ways to acclimatize (pun intended) yourself to the weather that’s been part of your DNA and that of your forbears.

a food court big enough to hold a movie premiere in. :)

a food court big enough to hold a movie premiere in. 🙂

Another readjustment Mahal and I have found challenging is to get used to people eating out or planning to eat out at the drop of a pin.  Because eating places are accessible and plentiful, public transport is universal and nearly 24/7 and Pinoys are naturally apt to get together and celebrate via lunch or dinner, it’s quite normal to just call or SMS the members of your barkada, posse or extended family and meet at the mall.  Anything goes from there, but for sure you will select a place to share a meal and just watch the masses of Pinoy mallgoers like yourself pass you by.

We literally ate out every night our short stay back home, not just to meet friends and contemporaries but because it was the easiest and most convenient way to catch up with people that we had to meet by necessity.  Not only did we not have a proper meeting place, we needed to meet someplace halfway close to where all parties came from.  And no other place was more equidistant than a mall, and where in the mall was it more conducive to meet than a restaurant or fast food place?

And because we met for dinner just as often as we met for lunch, this brings us to another quirk we had to get used to all over again : our kabayan back at home stay up late as often as they want, and we seriously had an issue with this. In Wellington, almost every weekday we are tucked in by around 9.30 just to be able to get up by around 5.30, enjoy hearty breakfast, bike to work and report for duty by 7.00 am.

would you believe happy hour hasn't even started? :)

would you believe happy hour hasn’t even started? 🙂

In contrast, nobody in Manila seems to be ready to call it a day until around midnight, everyone starts howling at the moon by around 7.30 pm, sits down for dinner after traffic and their favorite telenovela around 9.00 pm, finishes social obligations including Facebook and e-mails 11-ish, sips barako coffee and enjoys late night news half past, and finally catch zzzz’s at the stroke of 12.

If this sounds familiar to you, so many people we’ve met do this regularly, which was why they didn’t think twice about meeting us at ungodly hours of the night. Just to be able to readjust to these three areas made our recent visit more interesting, and although life would’ve been easier without the readjustment, we would not exchange it for anything else.  As the Chinese proverb goes, may you live in interesting times.  And living it adjusting, readjusting, and readjusting yet again.

Thanks for reading!

reminders for the visit home

almost there... almost there... kill me, please :(

almost there… almost there… kill me, please 😦

I COULDN’T believe it, but there I was.  Dusk, microwave-heating sun long gone, and barely moving, waiting for our ride, and I was perspiring.  Not the ga-munggo (beadlike), slow-drip way, but sweating buckets, just idling my engine and revving my pistons.  I didn’t know which was more unlikely : that I was nearly suffocating without the maximum Philippine heat, or that I was no longer used to weather here.

I am literally embarrassed to tell you this, but the tropical paradise that I thought would be an unexpected treat, after leaving late-autumn Wellington, wasn’t the purely pleasant experience that I thought it would be.  Not only does the climate average around 10 to 15 degrees higher, the humidity or water droplets in the air is doubly stifling, almost like the air is sweating right along with you.   This partly explains why, even after sunset, and despite just staying in place, my sweat glands were working overtime, on practically every square inch of skin available.

Curiously, all around me were kabayan, fellow worker ants and others just trying to survive, and they weren’t sweating a bit.  In fact, some looked quite comfortable in the last heat wave of the day.  Just a bit bushed and lonesome for home.

Lesson : You live or die with the temperature-cum-humidity.  You can take refuge in the air-conditioned hotel room, mall and rarefied resto function rooms, but if you want to be true to yourself and your motherland, spend a few hours each day under the Metro Mania sun, complete with muggy air, soot and carbon monoxide.  It’s good for sustaining your gratitude for living in your adopted land.

What I won’t forget about this trip home was the fact that I suffered a permanent gout attack that last the duration of the two weeks plus here.  I don’t know which factor was responsible for it : the airplane food I consumed, the free alcohol during the same flight, the extended period of time I spent on my fat behind, bloating the blood vessels coursing through my legs, or my recent lack of exercise.  Or a combination of some or all.  Whatever my legs looked like those of the Jollibee mascot or the stumps of a sumo wrestler’s, resulting in restricted mobility.  My gait was labored, and every step was an ordeal, whether we were checking out the latest 1st class imitations in St Francis Square, enjoying the newest extensions to the Pasig malls, or looking for cheap DVD copies in Greenhills.

What’s worse, the inflammation wasn’t subsiding any time soon, and the usual trick of drinking water by the giant glassful wasn’t working.  My brother prescribed gout medication and it eased the pain somewhat, but since I arrived and to this day, my lower leg and ankle have been numb, tender and unable to bear the usual weight of a slightly overweight, middle-aged Asian, that’s me.

Lesson : Make preparations and allowances for your ailments, conditions and particular quirks of your body.  The usual medications might not be available, you might require a strict diet regimen that your hosts and the local milieu cannot provide efficiently, and the climate, drinking water and time zone are a triple whammy combining to convert pleasure into torture.  NOT the sort of Facebook posts you’d want your 800 friends to see.

Lastly, Mahal had her folks, six brothers and sisters, dozen-plus nephews and nieces to visit in various parts of Luzon, there were old cronies, contemporaries and buddies to look up and pester, and an election that just happened to be taking place while we were here!  So much to do and not enough time, obviously, to do it in.

Lesson : You can’t do everything, much as you’d like to do so.  Focus on what you intended to do in the first place, which is family, friends, and the agenda attached to your trip, whatever that is.  So pick your spots and fight the battles that count.  You can’t win them all, because winning the war is the prize that matters.  You can’t please everybody, keep the big picture in mind, and begin with the end (of the trip) in mind.

Most of the above sounds easier than it actually is, and doesn’t talk about anything you don’t already know.  But forewarned is forearmed, preparation is the key to victory, and all that.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you, because all my travails can still serve as a bad example.  And all that.

dodging awkward situations with your pinay wife / gf / partner



[ Maraming maraming salamat Arlene and Jun Ahorro, Arlene Gill and Aline Parrone and George and Hazel Bautista for their supreme kindness and hospitality during our trip to Auckland, may we return the favor someday soon! ]

WE DON’T guarantee 100% success; in our fallible imperfect world, nothing does.  But having had the benefit of experience, knowing our Pinay sisterhood since we were very young (and that was quite a few summers ago), we believe we are eminently qualified to help you,  precious reader, from as my audacious title suggests, dodging potentially awkward situations with your Pinay loved one.

The fundamental disconnect between cultures and values, the yawning divide between races and religions (or lack of same) and the clash between generations and familial priorities are some of  the sources of friction between Pinays and their significant others, who would otherwise be genuinely and sincerely in love, but it could be anything, as little as a momentary or wayward glance to an innocent phrase or comment that could open the proverbial can of worms.

First awkward situation.  While you are in the company of Pinay loved one, you encounter a pretty lady.  Do you (a) strike up a conversation, attract her attention and hope your Pinay loved one doesn’t notice, (b) be friendly in a guarded manner, but only if the hot lady is herself friendly first (although that’s highly unlikely), or (c) ignore her completely.  If the answer isn’t obvious, I’ll tell you what I’d do.

This was what happened: on our way to Auckland to catch the Ogie Alcasid concert, a very rare appearance by a world-class Filipino performer in this part of the world by the way, and on the discount flight to the City of Sails, I found myself seated next to a very attractive Kiwi woman.  From my peripheral view, she was slim, smartly dressed and didn’t seem to have any companion.  Of course, to my left was Mahal, who was ready to raise an eyebrow and flash a pout of disapproval if I so much as turned my head and display my famous Pinoy charm on said Attractive Kiwi Woman.

The flight was sixty-five minutes long, Mahal fell asleep somewhere between Wellington and Auckland and there was little reading matter to occupy my wandering mind, save for the usual glossy airline/travel mag that wasn’t exactly in the John Grisham or Stephen King neighborhood.  Did I talk to or even attempt to look at Ms Attractive Kiwi Woman?

The short answer is no. 😉

Common sense, a desire to not stoke any embers of  the time my conscience was less than virtuous and my eye was a little more than wandering, and the recognition that I was much better off letting sleeping dogs lie, were compelling reasons for my course of action, despite the fact that outside Mahal, encountering pretty young women and sitting this close to them was about as often as seeing more than a handful of stars as well as the moon on a clear Manila night, the odds of which is the equivalent to slim to none.

Which brings me to my valuable lesson : whenever you are with the love of your life, specifically your Pinay love, and you meet at close quarters a female topping 8 out of 10 on the hotness scale, ignore said female.  Pretend that she doesn’t exist and devote even more attention than usual on your beloved.  Whether or not she notices, it’s a win-win.  If she does, well you get a good-little-boy pat on the back.  If she doesn’t, well all you lost was the chance to admire a fine young thing while testing your steely resistance to temptation; you can always ogle the next nice-looking lady the next time, of course this means the next time you’re not with your Pinay Lady.

even more awkward!

even more awkward!

Second situation.  You are the judge-by-default when your Pinay love selects dresses and stuff for her party / night out.  She asks you in succession does this dress highlight my assets, de-emphasize my less flattering parts and in general, make me look prettier?  The good news is the answer is easy, the dress does none of those things.  The bad news is she’s right there’s waiting for an answer in a New York minute.  What to do?  Do you (a) tell her all is good, yes yes yes and she looks like a supermodel; (b) bite the bullet and tell her the dress doesn’t do anything for her, she looks 10 years older in that awful dress and please donate it to the needy or anyone else who’ll want it, or (c) tell her exactly how the dress might have been good for her, had she had the right skin color, height and vital statistics?  Remember, there’s no middle ground and you can’t give her a safe, wishy-washy opinion.

You want her to look at her best but at the same time you don’t want to hurt her feelings and ruin her day.  The problem with Pinays is they take their appearance very seriously and believe that, though they already look good on their own and are as beautiful as any other race on the planet, they have to trounce the competition and must claim their birthright of being the most desirable women on Earth.

I’m not sure if my answer fits into the category of (a), (b) or (c), but I would tell my Pinay love that whatever she wears is immaterial to me, because she is the only beautiful woman in my life, and ultimately the opinion of others does not count.  Of course in reality this answer will not be the one she is looking for, but this is one case where what you think isn’t as important as how the other person feels, and believe me, dear reader, how your Pinay love feels is very important.

Thanks for reading!

ang pikon laging talo unless…

[ Note : If it sounds like I’m goofing off, it’s only partly true.  I wanted to note the similarity between the Philippines and New Zealand as regards the almost painful emphasis on political correctness and the (unsurprisingly) onion-skinned response every time something politically incorrect is said about their respective cultures, and I also wanted to tell you about my news program viewing habits here.  But because of a recent event, it might just be as well if I did it in one sitting. Thanks for reading and apologies in advance for the longish rant-and-rave ! ]

I taught a journalism class at Duke (University) for 3 years.  The first question I asked on the first day of the semester was always the same : What is objective journalism? After the students gave their answers I’d tell them they were all wrong; there’s no such thing.  None of us is objective.  We all have biases that we grew up with or that develop through the years.  The key is understanding that you’re biased and trying as hard as you can to put those biases aside and be fair.  – John Feinstein in One on One.

IT’S NOT that hard to understand.  If I take pains to be politically correct and sensitive to the cultural diversity that exists between nations and states (and even within a particular society), common sense dictates that I expect the same courtesy to be granted me, especially when I host visitors from other countries and places.  Sounds good in theory right?  In practice however, that’s not always the case, and it’s not always a clear-cut case of doing as the Romans do.

Danish minister of parliament Marie Krarup criticized as “uncivilized” and “grotesque” a traditional welcome ritual performed by Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, on a parliamentary defense committee visit last week.  To be perfectly blunt about it, Krarup said she was “shocked to be welcomed by a half-naked man in grass skirt, shouting and screaming in Maori.”  She added several other unflattering details, glossing over the fact that such a dance ritual, called a powhiri, has been a traditional welcome ceremony used in New Zealand for centuries honoring visitors from all over the world.

Whether or not you appreciate the aesthetics of the dance is ultimately beside the point.  As many radio commentators have presumed, the Danish official must have been prepped and briefed by her handlers about NZ customs and would at least have basic awareness on how New Zealand fetes and welcomes its honored visitors.

As mentioned, because the majority of NZ society takes pains to observe political correctness, an entire spectrum of Kiwis (and Maoris, of course) have expressed dismay and disdain for Krarup’s comments, ranging from measured criticism to wholesale condemnation.

But it’s not that cut-and-dried, as some people have expressed support for Krarup’s sentiments.  Compared to other cultures, Maoris may admittedly appear a bit aggressive and for lack of a better term, in-your-face that it may put off some people.  But it doesn’t detract from the rich culture and history of said people, who have rightly shown their displeasure, particularly as it concerns a guest of NZ who should have at least shown a little more tact.

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Taking the devil’s advocate view, doth the media in my host country protest too much? To appear too onion-skinned and sensitive to criticism of native culture, especially from overseas, is a common trait of columnists and opinion makers, often in support of other agenda and interests.  A desire to curry favor with the political leadership, increase readership/viewership, or protect itself from appearing to promote specific interest groups are the usual suspects, but in my humble view, most New Zealand TV news programs are often vanilla-safe, fence-sitting or neutral to the point of being unhelpful on what an issue means to ordinary people.  I realize this is an extreme judgment, but one thing for sure : you’ll never hear an honest opinion from the TV newsreaders here except by way of occasional funny remarks or tongue-in-cheek comments.

[Content from radio or print media is another matter totally, but we can discuss that some other time. ]

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Back home, I notice that anything highlighting our imperfect Pinoy society is fair game for media, as long as it isn’t coming from foreign personalities or foreign media.  If any utterance or reportage (print, electronic or video) comes from abroad, it then acquires a “meddler” or “foreign devil” status that instantly deserves universal scourging, sometimes disproportionate to the original comment.

One example is the prevalence of Asian dating sites, specifically our kabayan Pinays making themselves relatively more accessible to prospective husbands from the First World.  Everybody back home in the Philippines knows about this; it’s not only a fact of supply-and-demand relationships, women from other cultures also promote themselves as desirable partners to men in return for favorable migration and economic outcomes.  Men, wherever they come from, provide stability and security = Women who offer love, affection and the comforts of life.  Pinays just seem to do a better marketing job than others.

But just imagine a non-Pinoy making this observation in whatever medium and you can rest assure that almost immediately will surface (1) a thousand and one aspersions on this person’s right to make judgments (as if anyone needed credentials to make an opinion) (2) numerous conjectures as to the motives of this person, as if you needed a reason to point out the good or the bad in anything and (3) counter-comments and opposing judgments that ironically will only call more attention to the original criticism that otherwise wouldn’t have been noticed that much.

Just one more example of how overkill becomes counterproductive when it comes to our paranoia over other people criticizing us.  Few may remember Homeland star Claire Danes in the movie Brokedown Palace above, but after its production, Danes had some colorful things to say about Manila.  Quoting Wikipedia :

In 1998, just after the filming of Brokedown Palace in Manila, Danes was quoted in Vogue magazine as saying that Manila was a “ghastly and weird city”.  She further remarked in Premiere magazine that the city “smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over and that there is no sewage system and the people do not have anything—no arms, no legs, no eyes”. Kim Atienza, son of then–Mayor of ManilaLito Atienza, responded to the comments by saying that, “those are irresponsible, bigoted and sweeping statements that we cannot accept”.  Her films were subsequently banned from being screened in the Philippines.  Joseph Estrada, then President of the Philippines, condemned her publicly , and she was declared persona non grata.

It may have been somewhat over-the-top, but what did Danes say about our beloved Manila that wasn’t true about any other Third World city?  The comment about our lack of extremities and eyes should’ve been taken in context, considering that she shot some scenes in our famous National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong City.  Comments on her comments made by high officials only gave them more mileage and legitimacy, which I’m guessing wasn’t the intent of those officials.

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On the other hand, there is only one case where you can raise a hoot when your culture is offended and get almost instant results : if you’re the number one consumer market in the world.  Everyone who cares knows that China (1) trades with and acknowledges Taiwan, but officially refuses to accept the latter’s existence and (2) executes more criminals than the rest of the world combined.  In so many words, (1) and (2) are official government policy.

But any official mouthpiece of any nation enjoying diplomatic relations with China who tries making a comment about those things on any media platform (I hope blogs don’t count) risks reaping the whirlwind, or causing a shock-and-awe response from the combine of sanctions and propaganda from the People’s Republic of China with massive ripple effects all around.

The Chinese community is so established in NZ that there are two TV channels dedicated to Chinese content.  One station I think airs predominantly pro-Mainland programs, while the other station allows pro-Taiwan content.  (I can watch both because they’re free; no cable needed; and I learned passable Mandarin in high school, although I need a lot of practice to speak and understand it well.) Both channels operate in the so-called free market of ideas, but steer clear of any criticism of Chinese government and culture.  It would be therefore be hard to imagine either TV station airing any local (much less foreign) entity saying anything negative about China.  The closest thing it resembles to me is the late years of Philippine martial law, where it was still unsafe to say anything about government but you constantly tried to test the limits of criticizing authority without getting in trouble.

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I tried, but couldn’t find an accurate translation for the Filipino adjective pikon; the closest was irritable or sore loser.  None suits my purposes right now, because pikon may also mean onion-skinned or sensitive to teasing or criticism.  I say this because besides the singular exception above, most countries, New Zealand and the Philippines definitely included, should whenever they hear foreign criticism of their respective cultures should remember the common-sense advice : ang pikon laging talo.

belated happy birthday Oscar “Oca” Gomez Jr !

Oca and the love of his life Mari.  Is that Bruce Lee's statue in the background? :)

Oca and the love of his life Mari. Is that Bruce Lee’s statue in the background? 🙂

If there is one thing I remember about my friend from university Oscar Oca Gomez, it is that he was passionate about almost everything he did.  About his politics, sports (which he wrote a lot about), his interests and best of all, women who happened to catch his eye, he never held back an ounce of feeling or a spark of sentiment.  He was either non-responsive or all in, never in between.

Whether it was exuding full confidence in the Philippines (he never understood why skilled and talented people ever left the country), covering the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons for the Philippine Collegian sports section (we were lucky enough to be part of the student body when UP won its only UAAP basketball title) or being son, brother  and later husband and father to the family he loves, Oca has always given 101%.  Still does, I’m sure.

I haven’t seen him for so long now that I’m afraid we will almost not recognize each other when we finally do meet, with only the memories of presswork all-nighters, UAAP games and passionate discussions about life and love to remind us of the wonderful life in Diliman that we never appreciated then, but will always treasure.

We are grown men now, parents of children who are almost full-grown themselves, and we have nowhere to go but late middle age.  Only the memories of our youth, maybe the passions that inflamed us then, and the joy of seeing the successes of our children (and grandchildren) will keep us young.

That, and maybe a reunion with friends of yesteryear.  Thanks for the memories Kuya Oca, and it will certainly be a treat to see you one of these days.  Belated happy birthday and warmest regards to your gorgeous wife Mari, and beautiful kids Gio, Fiona, Cheska and Francine!

reblog : the Philippines 70 years hence seen thru a Pinoy youth

thanks and acknowledgment to!

thanks and acknowledgment to!

[ Note : I’m so happy when Generation Y-ers can engender nostalgia for values of a bygone era, even happier when the member of Generation Y is our own son.  It acquires triple satisfaction when it coincides with today’s commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan.  Lifted with permission from both the author and publisher of Issue No.1 of Pinoy Stop  (Wellington) newsmagazine, maraming salamat po! ]

Every journey begins with one step.  We go on for miles and miles, sometimes knowing where we are going and what we’re looking for. Most of the time we just walk down roads idly, letting our instincts lead the way. We see different things along our different paths. Some things we wish to take with us or at least know more about. We share our experiences to other people but some things we won’t even bat an eyelash for.

That is how I saw the Philippines five years ago, a country proud of its people and their achievements but apathetic to its misgivings and failures. A country that has taken a path unique in many ways, such as being an Asian democracy albeit a flawed one at that. It has millions of skilled workers, all with warm hearts; countless natural resources, filled with so much unrealized potential.

This is what thousands of Filipinos and Americans died for during the infamous Bataan Death March They marched down a seemingly-endless road their captors forced upon them. Many of them did not survive. Whether by starvation, dehydration, exhaustion or by a bullet, their death neither came quick nor easy. Now in remembrance of their deeds and what they fought for, the Philippines commemorates the said event the same day it happened seventy­-one years ago on April 9.

April 9 is a public holiday in the Philippines, with most of the workforce and the student population exempted from work and school, respectively, and the usual Filipino past times would follow such as going to the mall or just resting. As a young person myself I can recall that I did the same on that holiday, enjoying my free time and disregarding the story behind it. That I regret doing, not only because I feel that as a Filipino, I am indebted to those people who died on that road but also because  there are lessons to be learned. Our country’s history has shown us many things. It has shown us that we as a nation bend. We do not break. We have been given a myriad of paths through the years, all of which would not have been possible if not for the people who lost their lives during the death march.

A period of nation-building followed the war.  We chose the paths we have taken. We took the lead. Our neighbors looked up to us. As the rest of Southeast Asia grappled with nation building, weak economies and civil wars, the Philippines was the shining beacon of prosperity and democracy in the region. Unfortunately because of dictatorship, we entered a period of economic stagnation and political crises.  We then, overthrew that regime in a bloodless revolution. After the democratic transition, the expectations of the international community was high. We did not meet those expectations, we didn’t even meet our own. Now under the current government we are seeing  a slow but steady and assured resurgence of our country, not only in the economy but with our political ideals, moral and ethical principles as well. If we have any captors at present, it is us.

We as a people have always chosen what we want to tell others about our experiences. We  are proud of our country’s rich history and culture and are known for our resilience, perseverance and work ethic.  But we ignore the lessons from the past.  Events such as the ‘Fall of Bataan’ and the subsequent death march should serve as a reminder to us all of the hardships our people have experienced.  That is something we should never take for granted.  We owe it to them to aim higher to accept criticisms so we can make ourselves better and make our country proud of all our actions.  We may be forced down a road we have not chosen but we persevere through it and learn from that experience.  We survive — stronger and wiser.

To my countrymen, we do not take holidays so we can take a break off from work and rest.    It has a far greater purpose than that.