the least we can do is call her Jennifer

thanks and acknowledgment to for the lovely photo of Ms Jennifer Laude.

thanks and acknowledgment to for the lovely photo of Ms Jennifer Laude.

[ Yes we love our gays, as sure as we love bashing them.  But does this also mean we should protect the most vulnerable of their lot, the sex workers who must endure the occasional psychotic homophobe?  The answer is : is gay-friendly Pope Francis Catholic? 🙂 ]

ALMOST as an afterthought and nearly needless to say, 99.9% of this letter-length hodgepodge of words and phrases is sourced from the richest of info motherlodes : word-of-mouth, hearsay, urban legend, and deep bias, not the least of which is that most overrated of sources, internet news media.

But as my constant companion and excellent listener, you already know that, right?  (That’s my way of saying reader beware, accuracy alert and all that. )

But it really insults the intelligence and taxes the patience of whoever has been witness to the murder of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude and the resulting brouhaha that (1) more than the moral outrage of his/her death is the apparent cover-up of the details of the commission of the crime, and (2) the scant regard for the reckless behavior of American servicemen that is the consequence of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between Pilipinas and Estados Unidos.  Number (1)  is bad enough, but (2) ensures that this sort of thing will not just recur, but will be overlooked and therefore flourish with impunity.

Imagine buying a mislabeled product, bringing it home and finding out it only looked like what you wanted.  What do you do?  Let me guess.  You bring it back to the mall with the receipt, demand a refund (or at the very least an exchange) and come back none the worse for wear.  A no-brainer, right?

Let’s extend the analogy a bit.  We’re all adults here.  (For the kids, you’ll be adults soon right?)  You’re a hot-blooded young stud, you’ve had a bit to drink, after two weeks of non-stop work on a boat in the middle of the sea.  Not only that, you’re starved for a bit of action.  A sweet young thing is in front of you and you can’t wait to bring her somewhere dark and cozy, so you can do dark and cozy things.  After a bit of negotiation, you do just that, bring her to the said dark and cozy place, where you do a lot of necking and smooching, and a lot of other things that can’t be mentioned here.  Along the way you discover that the sweet young thing isn’t what he/she actually is but is more like you, meaning she has all your junk.

Do you say sorry for the foreplay, no matter how enthusiastic, but I’ve just lost interest, and vacate the premises ASAP?  Do you return said not-so sweet young thing to wherever you met and part ways?  Or do you throw a fit or tantrum, demand your money back, and hopefully try your luck again?

You might do one, two or all of those things.  But you certainly don’t beat the sweet young thing up, and break every bone in his/her body and drown him/her in the bathtub.  Because you’re not a crazy, psychotic and homophobic person who reacts as such just because you found someone who has a dick and balls attractive.  (Sorry for the language, but that’s how it is.)

I’m not even sure if Jenny Laude was such (yes, let’s at least call her by her preferred name), but our gay prostitutes are among the most vulnerable in the gay community.  I can’t even imagine the hurt, ridicule, not to mention the danger they expose themselves to, just to earn a living.  I can’t go any further.

The protection afforded by the US Government to US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton is natural and expected.  They will do nothing short of bribe, lie, and conceal the truth to get said US Marine out of the proverbial jam.  Wouldn’t you do the same if one of your citizens were in mortal danger of a long prison sentence in a foreign country?  The problem is, while doing so, justice would be denied to one of our own, who just happens to be a transgender Pinoy/Pinay, Jennifer Laude.

If you wanna continue being outraged, you are certainly free to read on in I just want to commend Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago who is at least entertaining while picking apart the way details of the crime are being obfuscated :

Chief Superintendent Theresa Ann Cid, chief of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory, said evidence recovered at the crime scene included strands of hair, two used condoms, blood and urine samples. The PNP is still completing the tests on the evidence.

Told about the condoms, Santiago remarked: “At least we can safely say that the suspect, or what they call in America as a person of interest, ejaculated twice. Would that be correct?”

Cid replied, “Not necessarily, your honor. The first condom has fresh seminal fluid, with fecal material. The second condom seems not to have the presence of semen… Apparently, they were used.”

Chief Inspector Reynaldo Dave, PNP medico-legal officer, said it was safe to say that the condoms were used in anal sex. The police experts, however, said they could not conclude that the semen samples belonged to Pemberton.

“If he was a male, how does he have sex with the Marine?” Santiago asked.

“I just have to corroborate with the findings on condoms and the other pieces of evidence,” Dave replied. “We can safely conclude (anal or rectal sex).”

Santiago said anal sex is “the usual method for transgenders.” (duh)

***     ***      ***

For every Vice Ganda in the super limelight, and every Diego in Mixed Nuts, we probably have a hundred or so Jennifer Laudes who face the dangers of getting beaten up, or worse, getting killed while trying to earn a little money.  Yes we love our gays in the Philippines, but we should also protect them.  Apologies for the scatterbrained and haphazard way I put this together today.  Jennifer deserved a little better.  She still does.

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!

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!

Ganda & Bunso adapt adjust and assimilate

I’m not sleepy, the sun is just too hard on the eyes. Snow is almost gone on Mt Ruapehu so as traditional Pinoys we dutifully pose for the Facebook post later. They are almost all grown up !

[ Note : Happy birthdays to Andrew Ong (9th Sept), Tess Aldeguer-Tangco (13th Sept), Archie Mallare (15th Sept), Stephen Liao (16th Sept), Wilson Ong (16th Sept), Martin Go (19th Sept), Ronald Y Lui (23rd Sept), and my former boss at Coke, JB Baylon (25th Sept), thanks to all the support and prayers for Jerome and Lady Jalbuena, her therapy is ongoing, and congrats to the UP Pep Squad on the successful defense of their UAAP cheerleading title ! Woohoo ! ]

THAT EAGLES tune is catchy, timeless and endearing, but it’s hard to be the new kid in town.  You feel all the eyes on you, you don’t have a single friend to hang out with, and there’s no one save your folks, usually clueless and too busy themselves, to give you tips on the places to go and sights to see.

The above is true only three-quarters of the time, because during the odd weekend esposa hermosa and I try our darnedest best to show Ganda and Bunso around, the two having been in Wellington less then five months this week.  Their own mom and stepdad, with whom they stay, are also model guides and mentors to Asians acclimatizing themselves to probably the southernmost capital city in the world, with the bonus of being one of the most diverse, multi-lingual and multi-cultural demographics around.

But during workdays they’re on their own, and there is only so much time you can spend in libraries, museums, parks and the like before you have culture and greenery flowing out of your ears.

Being Pinoys, one of the most social creatures in the world, their next impulse is to seek out people, preferably people of their own age.  This isn’t too practical as well, most of their age group being in either university or middle school most of the time.  I advise them not to be choosy in selecting friends and acquaintances, in fact seeking out people of different races, the more multi-colored the better.  Given their natural shyness and /or propensity to gravitate towards youth in their demographic, i.e, Southeast Asian 18-20s, the inclination is to find Pinoys, in the food court, on the street, wherever.

I’m unqualifedly happy that the two, particularly Ganda, have taken the time to tell us about their goings-on in their new environment, I’m sure it’s a heavily edited version, what with all the TMI details that she thinks her folks don’t want to know about, and which only heightens the usual paranoia that fathers reserve for their daughters, particularly those in the blossoming stage.

But I’m under no illusion that our kids tell us everything about their lives.  In the first place, except in relation to the big picture, a lot of the time it’s not my affair anymore, they are after all already young adults and in another era would’ve been encouraged to marry and start their own families.  In the second place, humans reach that inevitable phase when you have to let them soar on their own wings and succeed and fail on their own terms, damn the torpedoes and bite my tongue when they something incredibly clueless and breathtakingly naive.

Don’t tell them that I told you, but I don’t envy them right now : extracted from the comfortable environment of friends, org-mates and BFFs in their respective universities back home, they have been abruptly transplanted into an unfamiliar, less-than-colorful and not-so-welcoming milieu.  Plans for summer vacations, internships and endless frolicking in beaches, rest houses and giant malls have been scuttled indefinitely.  For Ganda, almost a college graduate, and Bunso, barely out of the multi-tasking of high school honors section, it was a lot to ask.

But they have handled it well, with elegance and a maturity beyond their years.  They have adapted to so many things, having four parents instead of two not the least.  Add to that chilly nippy and goose bump-inducing temperatures that pummel them each time they venture out the door; a diet that is not exactly conducive to the Pinoy palate, and having to overhaul their personalities just to be able to make new friends.  It’s just as well that they are just beginning their lives as citizens of the world, for youth are better positioned than any age group to adapt, adjust and molt their skin into any environment, I just don’t know how long it would’ve taken me.  You won’t hear me tell them, but I admire their resiliency, as Asians, as Pinoys and as owners of half my DNA.

I feign indifference when Bunso tips me off about lurking potential suitors in Ganda’s 50-meter radius, but I take it yet as another sign of normalcy : which parent, when you think about it, wouldn’t be proud that the fair members of his brood receive flattering attention?  Not to put too fine a point on it, but if she gives brown skins, black hairs and sub-five-sixers (like her dad) equal priority with the Chris Evanses, budding Mark Zuckerburgs and future Nobel laureates of their new universe, all would be right in my world.

Thanks for reading!

confronting & bowing to my 3 headed hydra in Metro Manila

thanks to for use of this pic 🙂

[Thank you for stopping the rains, especially in Marikina, Cainta and other low-lying areas, Lord.  Please help Pinoys recover soonest. ]

THE ENDLESS monsoon rains, stranded helplessly without a ride home, and a vaguely hopeless feeling that one would never be able to help the people who truly needed it.  This was the three-headed hydra of immutable, timeless classics that mocked me over and over again last time I was back in my hometown, with an unexpected bonus: I was stung by the hydra with each of its heads in one day.

The vaguely hopeless feeling I got when I finally kept a promise to Mom to visit my Ninang (godmother) K, something I knew I wanted to do but dreaded doing: I dreamt I saw her at her pitiful worst, in a most decrepit state, weak, dirty and uncared for. (Mom had done her best to extend help, but she had her own problems.) She had no words for me but moist, accusing eyes that seemed to say : now that I need you, where are you?

When I approached the familiar door of her tiny apartment, it was even tinier than I remembered: she had sublet the small flat to at least two or three other tenants who neither saw or wanted to see her regularly, despite the fact that their rooms were less than a couple of meters away from her own.  The sight of Ninang was even worse than imaginings of my nightmares: she looked like a disheveled gray-haired doll with patchy skin, soiled diapers and a bedsore here and there.  I could not bear looking at her.

Her first few words were : ang init-init dito, gusto ko nang mamatay. (“It’s so hot in here, I want to die.”) A few moments later, I realized she was waking from a bad dream, but the reality was not much different.  Her adopted daughter was in and out, shared what little earnings she made but not without berating her for being a burden.  My little offerings of fruit and a little cash seemed puny next to her giant dilemmas of perpetual aches and pains and undying discomforts.

I pleaded being late to a prior engagement and places to go, people to meet but in truth I felt helpless just beholding her vulnerable state.  I didn’t know which was worse, knowing of her continued days of lonely suffering the remainder of her life, or knowing that unless I struck the Lotto jackpot or became an iPhone Apps gazillionaire, I would never be able to help her avoid the inevitable final dramas of life : growing old, sick and alone.

all for the love of education…

As if I was being punished for leaving my Ninang just like that, a deluge of the Great Flood-like proportions greeted me just a few seconds outside Ninang’s door.  Giant raindrops and abyss-like gutters and potholes pelted me and swung me left and right as I vainly tried to get to the main road.  In around 20 minutes, I could no longer see the concrete of the narrow roads that only an hour ago were as dry as dust.  I ran to a rusty eave of an old two-storey the side of Pedro Gil, and without thinking I instinctively knew I would not be able to hail a taxi for at least an eternity.

Even my conservative estimate was proven wrong.  I stayed under the Chinese water torture of the rusty eave for about 90 minutes before a taxi driver hesitantly idled beside me, and it was only because of the bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I was drenched split-end of hair to tip of toenail and instantly shivering in the nippy cold of his air-conditioned cab, but he didn’t immediately understand when I requested that the aircon be switched off.  When I insisted that the thermostat be lowered at least, he reasoned that the resultant warmer air inside would cause the windshield to fog up, and so I shivered in the traffic jam that was to follow, between Paco and Galleria.

Believe it or not, the rain did not stop for the next few hours.  People around the streets, the city, the region did not seem to mind.  Children were dancing in the rain, adults continued to eat kwekkwek, fishballs, adobong mani and kikiam from ambulant vendors in the seasonal torrent, the rains a necessary evil that cooled everybody down after the microwaving sun.

By the time we reached Mandaluyong on Shaw, the floodwaters were cascading from all over and drowning engines apace.  Only the hardy jeepneys and ever-present Toyota Tamaraw FX (utility vehicles) were enjoying the monsoon, cars everywhere else were sputtering and dying.  I myself was approaching hypothermia, but dared not complain lest the taxi driver kick me out of his vehicle.

Something had distracted a lot of Metro Manilans from the traffic jams, monsoon rains, and the mundane dramas of their lives, a sixth-sense told me, and a luckless commuter like me confirmed it : Midnight Madness in Glorietta, Annual Sale in SM City, and mall-wide credit card discounts in Trinoma, all held on the same Friday the 13th (bad luck for everyone else).  What a surefire formula for heavier-than-usual traffic Metro-wide.

By the time I reached Galleria to meet with esposa hermosa, I was trebly guilty : guilty from shutting out Ninang from present worries, guilty of pushing away monsoon rains from future worries, and guilty of being nearly rid of the famous Metro Manila traffic that never stopped driving me crazy in years past.  But it wasn’t over: in less than 30 minutes I was still going to look for another taxi to bring me and esposa back home to Cainta.

Thanks for reading !

stand by my brother Pinoy

COMMON SENSE is not my strong suit, though at least it nudges me in the direction of thinking that the smaller the host nation, the tinier its migrant communities might be.  But that’s not always the case, as anyone in New Zealand would know.  If a country is hospitable enough, and provides its residents with a living wage, a clean environment, and a good enough quality of life, just sit back and watch the migrants come in.

If you’re not sure where this is leading, well neither am I.  But a country with less than the population of Metro Manila has a robust Asian community, with 100,000 each of Chinese and Indians, with Pinoys soon to follow.  What I’m trying to say is that as long as life is better that the life lived back home, a future exists, water is clean and food is plentiful, people will come in from all over.

But it doesn’t mean that migrants will come in wholesale and assimilate with the natives, disappear into the gene pool, far from it.  In fact, the distance, differences and challenges posed by living in a strange land oftentimes encourage migrants like us to wear our distinctness on our sleeve, to promote and proclaim our Pinoy-ness, our Indian-ness, and our Chineseness, our Asian-ness if you will.  Irony of ironies, but we become more proud of ourselves when we are with strangers.  Love us or hate us, but know us for what we are, we seem to say.

Unfortunately, our positive traits (that by now you’ve probably acquainted yourselves with, if you’re not one of us), reminiscent of Janus, frequently come with negative aspects of our character, because when we show our candid selves, warts and all, everything shows.  We are industrious, but we are also addicted to siestas.  We are loyal to our friends, but we don’t think twice about gossiping about them.  We are thrifty and save our clothes for the next generation, but think nothing of buying first-class imitations at Divisoria and Greenhills.  This is what drives others crazy about us Pinoys.

***               ***               ***               ***               ***

Recently we’ve been given pause by an incident that has cast a shadow of doubt on some of the hardest workers in the Pinoy community, that of our caregivers.  For now we don’t know how it will turn out, if the facts are presented are true, and if a breach of trust has been committed.  But this is an example of us at our best and our worst, as Pinoys and as caregivers.

While we never condone dishonesty and uphold only the highest standards of integrity in work and career, we also need to stand by our countrymen if there is the slightest chance that there might be a misappreciation of facts.  I have been a part of the Pinoy community here and I have never heard of anything that would sully the reputation of even one Filipino, and hopefully it will stay that way.

On the other hand, we all know that in New Zealand and in all countries that respect the rule of law, the wheels of justice grind slow, but they grind exceedingly well.

Forgive me for being cryptic, but that’s all I can say for now.

Thanks for reading !

NZ randomly, thru unjaundiced unbiased Pinoy eyes


Metro Manila on a typical day, from the nearby hills of Antipolo

[ Note : Vin is a thinly disguised nickname for one of the few Kiwis I know in the Land of the Long White Cloud.  He is uniquely positioned, for he has been NZ-based most of his life, but he has been to the Philippines twice, and has known both its curses and blessings, unburdened by the homegrown praises and insults of its brown sons and daughters. ]

Dear Vin :

I say this with no small amount of karma awareness. I know how temporary my stay is here, literally.  I realize that no matter how long I’ve been here in your beautiful country, I will never acquire a vested or inalienable right to keeping feet planted on New Zealand ground, as long as I persist in relying on my work visa.

At the same time, I have acquired familiarity with your country deserved by many of its permanent residents, a status I hope to one day reach.

But because I have stayed away from my homeland for more than two years, I have failed to see the small yet significant changes that have taken over the Islands.  It had to take someone like you with fresh eyes to show me how long I’ve been away and how much I have come to appreciate the creature comforts taken for granted in Wellington.

At first I didn’t believe you when you said that your first trip back home, you hardly saw the sun and almost never saw blue sky the time you were there.  How wrong I was.  I saw more sun and blue sky in Wellington in one week than in all four weeks I was in Metro Manila, and despite the different months of our respective stays, it is no coincidence.

The truth is I had seen many sunless, cloudy and makulimlim days in previous vacations to the Philippines, but I based such occurrence on the weather.  I now know better.  There is a permanent miasma of carbon monoxide, particulates, and industrial strength pollutants, better known as smog, right on top of the metropolis.  For the same reason, you no longer enjoy seeing stars at night, but the effect is more dramatic during daytime.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it had always been like this, a world of half-shadows, not-quite-sunny days and playing hide-and-seek with the sun.  But the latter has always smiled on the Philippines, and we have always had an abundance of sunshine year-round, 24/7 every day of the year.  Something like this, not seeing the sun when you open your window and come out the door, is a bit disorienting.  And we have only ourselves to blame.

And I don’t know if this is related to the weather, but it’s even more humid now.  The same smog that blocks the sun also keeps the air uncomfortably heavy , builds more greenhouse gases, encourages people to use air conditioning, which in turn burdens the air more with CFCs, and it’s a vicious cycle.  Most OFWs like me come home and stay in rarefied, air-conditioned condotel rooms so it doesn’t matter much, but for the rest of Pinoys, especially those who can’t afford it, the only recourse is to seek temporary relief at the malls.

I actually deliberated between braving the clean cold air of New Zealand and the tainted warm air of the Philippines, and I’m ashamed to tell you my choice.  At least there is still a lesson to be learned, and it is the fact that you can still avoid the fate met by my country.

The rich will continue to be richer, and the poor will continue to be poorer, but this happens whether you are in New Zealand or in the Philippines.  What is irreplaceable is the purity of your food and water, the rivers you bathe in, and the air you breathe.  It is probably too late now for the country of my birth, but definitely not so in New Zealand.  For now it remains liveable, drinkable, edible and breathable.  You would do well to keep it that way.

Save your country my Kiwi friend, precious little time remains.

manila mall images that can’t get unstuck

this is a good way to combine the two things I’ve been seeing, and seeing…

FEW THINGS are more disorienting than seeing so many sandaled scantily-clothed and sun-drenched brown brothers and sisters carrying around tablets, iPads and iPhones as if connective technology and dressing down were, taken together, the most natural thing in the world.

I counted, because I had not much to do.  One out of every twenty passers-by while I hunkered down in my little corner of Air-Conditioned Generic Mall in Pasig was carrying a touch-screen, MegaGig and WiFi-sucking gadget that everyone had grown dependent on.  How could so many people afford these pricey things?  How could people go to work, work, go home from work, perform family obligations and still log on substantial hours on the Internet?  Simply because every other waking minute is devoted to these machines.

I counted, because I had not much to do.  One in every ten passers by was wearing the barest of footwear, in all colors of the rainbow, thong sandals, jandals, slippers, flip-flops, Havaianas, Crocs, it mattered not that the wearers were going to work in office attire, were attending business meetings or were shooting off to the gym.  It was as natural as Florsheims and sensible shoes, and the more comfortable you were, the better.

It’s a sign of the times that people are relieved it only takes two hours to get home, where before it took three.  The irony is it should actually only take, with minimum traffic and judicious time management, one hour.  Color-coding, use of counter-flow and lane supplements during rush hour fail to obscure the reality that there are simply too many vehicles and not enough roads for 14 million people in Metro Manila.

But because we are so used to suffering and enduring inconveniences in road transportation, two hours instead of three is heaven on earth.

Before I say any more, I’m catching the next jeepney to Galleria.

Thanks for reading!


seeing three of my four brothers after three years

Farthest is Donald, in the middle is the distinguished looking Tim, and nearest is hyperkinetic Jude 🙂

this is the best picture i have of my first meeting with everyone back home, so I use it.  The report is a bit late, and so the recall may not be total.

the time/place vortex was Choi Garden 1st of the month, which seems to have acquired the preeminent, first-among-equals stature of Chinese restaurant of choice shared with Gloria Maris in Greenhills, a Chinese-Filipino enclave in Metro Manila.  It was an overcast but very humid Sunday, nobody seemed to mind, and the lunch was attended by my parents, favorite aunt Lily, two guests brought by my sister-in-law Joy from her church group, a nephew, and as you can see above, my three brothers.

Only one brother was absent, George who is in Auckland.

Timothy (Tim) is the eldest, a cable-TV industry executive, was full of questions for me about New Zealand, mainly about my job, career prospects (one of his many expertises is human resources), the NZ Filipino community, and how I was adjusting to married life.

Donald, a doctor, was quite interested in health care, care for the elderly (for personal as well as professional reasons, our brood is getting on in years), advances in occupational and physical therapy, also a hobbyhorse for him, and his passions, like cheese, New Zealand sweets, and other stuff.

Jude is the outdoorsy type, and asked about hiking, tramping and other activities like bungee jumping, white-water rafting, rock climbing and activities that I got tired just talking about.

It had been ages and ages since I saw them and shot the breeze with them without thinking about anything else.  Only a glass of beer, peanuts (not too much though) and raucous laughter were needed to make it ideal.

Next time, it will be funnier with brother George around!

Thanks for reading!