ganito kasi yon : more awkward situations pinoys confront everyday

[ Note :  The video above has nothing to do with the post, just touched me in a very positive way. here’s hoping the pain and misery following the massive floods back home is minimized, and that a sea change on our pork barrel culture starts to happen.  Yeah, right.  Btw, “ganito kasi yon” is Tagalog loosely for this is the short explanation.  Thanks for reading! ]

CALL US A lot of things, but don’t call us Pinoys (also known as Filipinos) anti-social.  We smile and laugh easily, engage with other people like it’s second nature to us, are great listeners, and can easily wriggle out of a potentially embarrassing situation via diplomacy or tact.

But more than all these, Pinoys are good talkers.  We love to show our facility in English to fellow English speakers (maybe sometimes too vigorously), love to show how we can discuss government and politics, even if we sometimes don’t have the slightest idea of what we’re talking about, and even use the smallest excuse to show off our familiarity with international showbiz, cable entertainment and even socially relevant issues where our region is concerned.

Trouble is, no matter how sociable we are, how cosmopolitan or how well we pass ourselves off as citizens of the world, there will always be aspects of our culture that will remain imprinted on our collective selves.  Conversely, there will be aspects of other cultures that will grate on us, simply because, like the proverbial fingerprint, no two cultures are alike, although on surface we may seem similar.  Whenever we confront face-to-face other cultures, there will be an inevitable clash, and it will be folly for us to compare these cultures with our own.   At the same time,  when these cultures try to compare ours to them, it takes every bit of our strength not to react negatively and instead tell them, live and let live.

Below are just a few examples of how these awkward situations surface whenever different cultures clash.   They are not theoretical or abstract  scenarios but actual vignettes of what happens when what we consider questionable (or sometimes disgusting) happens to be completely acceptable in other cultures.  And vice versa.

it's just more fun ! :)

it’s just more fun ! 🙂

Unwashed hair.  Let’s talk about our hosts first.  Because it’s a temperate climate here, dreadlocks and braids are acceptable hairstyles, especially among those who pursue the so-called alternative lifestyle.  Frankly, it’s a look that fits a certain body type and personality; and if you can wear a mop on your head and pull it off, well kudos to you.

Unfortunately, it’s a style that precludes daily washing of your hair, and such lack of washing is aggravated by the volume of hair and the resulting need for grooming.  It becomes worse when the temperatures rise and the owner of the hair adds sweat to the natural oils trapped in his dreadlocks.  I think you begin to see (and smell) the picture.

Now, about us Pinoys.  Washing our brown bodies is a daily essential, and our hair is no exception.  We like to smell good not just for ourselves but especially for those around us.  We think nothing of anointing ourselves with lotions, colognes, perfumes and other fragrances twice or even thrice a day, especially our ladies.  Does it follow that we should expect others to do the same?

Sorry kabayan but the short answer is no.  I have a dreadlocked colleague who is otherwise a decent chap and pleasant enough, but even in the cold weather, his hair is beginning to reek.  I thought that it was just me being an odor-sensitive Pinoy, but a tactless workmate hit it right on the nail : he mentioned that even with a hairnet and cap, it looked (smelled) like Dreadlock Guy hadn’t washed his hair for a week.  And with winter ending soon, the warmer weather was going to make it worse.  Now the million-dollar question is : who’s gonna be the one to tell Mr Alien Predator  (of the famous braids) that the hair ain’t helping his social life??? 🙂

kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap :(

kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap 😦

Corruption and lack of honesty in public service.  As they say in all democratic countries, public service is a public trust, although in many developing countries like ours, this rule is usually honored in the breach.  In those same free states also goes the saying  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There’s more : Graft exists in all societies, to the victors in public office belong the spoils, and if you want to avoid more trouble, think twice before reporting a crime to the police.  We’ve all known these truths to be self-evident back home, so much that a political career untainted by corruption is probably beyond comprehension, it’s simply inconceivable to us.  And yet, whenever a New Zealander asks me any detail about how pervasive corruption is in our political culture, I hasten to justify it, explain it away, or compare it to other countries where dishonesty is tolerated as much as it is condemned.

The truth is, we accept the evils of crony capitalism and the old-boy network as part of the necessary evils that make modern government work, as long as it doesn’t offend our sense of proportion or some vague moral boundary (a line which I think was crossed by that Pinay found to own 28 houses in the Philippines and several more in the USA).  But the moment people in other countries try to pass judgment or tsk-tsk the way our government  runs things, the usual instinct is for Pinoys to circle the wagons and defend ours as the Confucian way of governance (which usually means look the other way or your time will come, mwahahahaha).

digital stealing.  We like to do the right thing, watch movies as they actually come out in the moviehouses, borrow DVDs from the corner rental, and wait for the clearance sales on movies we missed.  But the temptation to go to the dark side is too strong sometimes, when people give you the latest, unreleased films on their flash drives, when they talk about the newest pictures even before the reviewers do, and when a lot of people do it, you begin to wonder if it’s worth being one of the good guys.

It’s even worse back home, where frankly speaking everything can be downloaded without paying for it if you know your way around the internet, intellectual property is a joke, and paying for licensed software is something only big companies do.

Don’t think that Kiwis don’t know that Third World countries do this with impunity, because they automatically assume that Asians use software, listen to music and watch movies without always paying for it, and that’s putting it mildly.

To them I fashion, as usual, a defensive response.  The day will come when everything on the internet will be shareware, free-to-use and for everyone to download as they please.  Besides, I like to delude myself into thinking that the world is divided into two : those who pay for stuff and those who can’t afford to pay for it, but ultimately still end up using it, I mean who doesn’t depend on gigabyte power these days?

What I mean is, those who pay for movies, music and software, unless they opt for a lifestyle change, won’t consider downloading it illegally, while those on the other side of the fence have much more important issues of survival and won’t  have the money or inclination to buy the digital stuff.

Yes, we Asians download stuff like it’s the most natural thing, without even considering paying for it.  We watch the latest movies and listen to the latest hits, and only pause to buy the movies or music as an afterthought,  And software we buy, if we buy it at all, is of the bootleg variety.  But we also have mortgages to maintain, rents to pay, groceries to shop, tuition payments to meet, and yes, bills to pay.  These, out of a puny paycheck that’s running on fumes.  Is it still a surprise then that I can hardly think of respecting intellectual property?

If it sounds like I’m justifying stealing things I should be paying for, I’m not.  But as sure as the sun rises at dawn and sets 12 hours later, movies, music and software will always be stolen (or copied, as simple as that) outside the so-called Western world.  It’s just a fact of life.

Now, how do I tell all these to my Kiwi hosts and keep my straight face on?

bansot, potot & boy liit : celebrating pinoy height

the bigger they are, the harder they fall. thanks to for the photo.

the bigger they are, the harder they fall. thanks to for the photo.

BANSOT IS a rather severe term. it means unflatteringly short, positively runt-like especially next to lanky and statuesque companions. I’m not too vain to deny that it’s been used on me a few times in life; in school I’ve never stood taller than 3rd or 4th in line (when everyone’s arranged in ascending order) ; in adult life I’ve never been surprised to be among the shortest in the many workgangs i’ve been privileged to join; and by nature any male above 5’7 (1.68 m) and female above 5’4 (1.65 m) I consider model-sized.

Still it’s not too brutal, sometimes it’s almost endearing. A cute Visayan classmate in university called me potot, I didn’t mind cuz of the speaker’s eye-candy charms but the nickname was in reality even more unflattering than bansot (short AND pudgy).  Contributing to the mitigation is the fact that hundreds of thousands of my kabayan share my below-average height, in fact it’s the supra 67-inchers that stand out back home in the Philippines, and no one would bat an eyelash at anyone below, because it’s the norm.

It’s a totally different story though half a hemisphere away in Isla Puting Balat. Here, the average height allows you to play interbarangay basketball with the bigs, and the guys on the high-end of the range are positively stratospheric, so that seeing people 6’5 (1.95 m) and above on Queen street is not rare. And so I find myself among the smallest members at the workplace, not that it’s a bad thing at all. I’m used to looking above eye level all my life.

Quite the converse of sour-graping: in my quiet little cave, small is good. For one thing, in a temperate, four-season clime like Wellington’s, being relatively short allows me to keep warm more easily than it would a considerably taller person. Think about it.

Shorter means less flesh for warmth-giving blood to circulate in, shorter bones and ligaments to percolate, and lower volumes of body fluids to heat up on a cold, windy and rainy day. Just curl up, snuggle up to the nearest willing snugglee and avoid the consequences of using rusty heaters, hungry fireplaces and extravagant electric blankets. As they say, kapag maigsi ang kumot, matutong bumaluktot.  Never  truer than with compact Asian bantams like me.

And as long as we’re on the subject of Asians, Mahal just loves it when a new store she visits provides a section for either teens, Asians, or even better, both. The obvious reason is for as long as we can remember, the fit is more snug, the symmetry is accommodated and the look is ultimately better if Asian dimensions are thoughtfully considered in any article of clothing, be it a trouser, skirt, blouse or especially outerwear like blazers, coats and jackets. More than a few times esposa hermosa found something she liked but couldn’t fit into perfectly, went to the teens section and found a similar item in her size.

Other times, the more established chains “downsize” their popular brands and made available to Orientals like Mahal and Pinays like her, trendy designs that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to wear unless they came from Asian-based labels. For me, I’ve never been conscious about the difference between getting garments off the adult or the boys rack, as far as I’m concerned, as long as the shoe fits, wear it all day.

Lastly, being the runt of the litter may not be the most attractive role, but on the odd day it has advantages. You fit into spaces no one else can fit into, your smaller hands and fingers can reach into tinier nooks, corners and crevices, and you can even be allowed to perform one-man jobs (observing all the safety procedures, of course) where two men can’t fit into the space. Your time and energy acquires a premium that only a privileged minority at work can provide. The bite-sized, fun-sized minority.

I don’t remember the exact words, but one of my favorite authors once said, the only time I have the right to look down on my fellow man is to do so when helping him up. I may not have the height to look down on people, but I can always aim for the stars.

Thanks for reading !

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!


jogging in a winter wonderland

It doesn’t snow in Wellington, even during winter, so this is just for effect. It does snow around the hills near the region though. 🙂

WHENEVER I stop running around the block for more than a few days, even forgetting to just trot or skip on the pavement, I feel one of the following : (1) fear, because I’m not burning straightaway the carbohydrates, fats and especially sugars I indiscriminately stuff my mouth with, (2) guilt, because I’m not doing everything I can to keep pistons, indoor plumbing and mind-body interfaces in perfect working condition, an absolute must considering my 1965 vintage, and (3) blahness / lack of energy, because the natural energy boost given by exercise and intense fuel combustion is so absent from my day, and unless I get an unexpected boost of adrenaline, I just end up dropping off to sleep watching the news.

Yesterday I felt all three, but there was no way I could fill my running quota, as in succession icy rain, antarctic winds and prickly hail conspired to make sure the weather didn’t accommodate.

The only thing that could force me, beyond all the snafus and small pleasures intervening, to brave the cold and pain (hailstones actually pelted my wet face cycling home) was an absolute urgency to go out, and wouldn’t you know it, it happened.  It was the due date to pay the TelstraClear phone and internet bill, around 10% extra  would be added to the amount due if I paid even just an hour later, and there would also be hell to pay from esposa hermosa‘s wrath, who had only reminded me around two dozen times to take care of such, so that was enough for me to forget all my sensory complaints and literally run all the way to the mall, in the process filling up 15 out of the 20 minutes minimum daily run.

Having finished telling you about my daily dose of rejuvenating exercise, I want to tell you the peripherals or what makes running in this neck of the woods a bit quaint especially at this time of the year.  For this week for starters, the average temperature of Wellington is 10 degrees Celsius.  I strongly suspect that even this depressing mark of the mercury is taken between noon and three pee em, the only hours when the sun is actually out for an appreciable length of time.

As I related earlier, the freezer-like atmosphere is pulled down a bit further (if you can believe that) by wind chill factor, rain and hailstones, which happen to take place more often at this time of the year.  Most seasoned runners will tell you that feeling the winter cold at its worst is only for the first few minutes, as your body adjusts, the muscles harden themselves accordingly and the rest of your body protects itself by warming up with the help of hormones, adrenaline and other body chemicals.  You could give me every assurance from a dozen sports science articles, it’s still goose-bump chilly that I feel throughout my (involuntary) run, I only lose the shivers when I’m almost back home.

It’s also significant that for the last few weeks since winter crept around the alley, I don’t recall sweating a single bead of sweat regardless of the intensity or length of the run.

I shouldn’t complain too much though.  Little kids in P.E. classes run much earlier than I do, when the brutal cold is a couple of degrees more so; grandpas and grandmas actually run past me in matching track suits, on what I assume are longer runs and more challenging routes; and I actually saw a Kiwi mom (1) push her infant in a carrier, (2) walk the dog on an extended leash, and (3) complement all these with a quality run with the help of a multi-lap stopwatch.  Compared to all these sights, my own running regimen seems positively marshmallowy.

You may ask, in the face of all my moaning and groaning, whingeing and whining about physical exertion against the elements, why I don’t just call it a day when it gets too frigid, or at the very least resort to a treadmill or even pay a small fee at the gym and try Zumba as a milder aerobics approach ?

There are three reasons for this, and first is that there may be more barat (miserly)Pinoys or more exercise-stubborn fortysomethings, but none who are both more barat and stubborn than Your Loyal Blogger, and the second is that I still cling to the unproven belief that exercise produces more antibody resistance to viruses, hardens bones, generates more muscle cells and white blood cells for injury response and fatigue recovery, and the wild hope that continued, consistent and regular swinging of arms and stretching of limbs provides you more armor against the viciousness of cancer, the fog of dementia and the inevitability of lifestyle diseases like hypertension, diabetes and arthritis.

It sometimes feels like a losing battle against the nightmare of your body cells eating themselves alive, your muscles atrophying or forgetfulness setting in like concrete, but somehow Running, small measured steps that they are, are the reassuring first steps in the journey of your healthy destiny.  That alone is enough for me to soldier on towards the grim end.

I almost forgot the third reason why I insist on jogging in a winter wonderland.  It’s also because cold as it is on these early winter days, it’s going to get much, much colder before the spring thaw.  Best that I get going now before it gets worse.

Thanks for reading !

the asymmetric loveliness of peklat bungi & other imperfections

SOMEBODY CLOSE to me has been on pins and needles recently for a few reasons, most prominent of which is the stress of going through medical exams and tests, evolving into worries about not measuring up to the test requirements, and preoccupations about imaginary imperfections and flaws, cosmetic or otherwise, in this person’s otherwise ideal-looking appearance.

I want to tell him that he looks better than half the people in his generation, he’s fit, and has 90% uncharted rest of his life ahead of him, but this person just wouldn’t understand, from the vantage point of needing to see everything mapped out before him, having all the options available, and looking his Sunday best at all times, albeit with nowhere (yet) to go.

In short, not having seen the ugly side of life, he is at a loss with what he sees as his many imperfections.

Swallowing hard and begging your kind indulgence, I’m going to tell Person Close To Me (PCTM) a few warts and scabs about myself.  He’s seen some of them, but I will remind him about such, in order that he realize that he hasn’t got such a bad deal, and that there are worse things than being 17 :

Deviated septum – this is actually a kind way of saying I had the pleasure of having the bridge of my nose bent 10 degrees by a wayward elbow in halfcourt basketball, circa 1984.  The nosebender had this distressing habit of swinging his elbows around everytime he collared the rebound, and my face happened to be in the way.  I had to have cotton swabs in my nostrils for 48 hours and breathed through my mouth the whole time, and eventually it straightened out, but I never poked my nose (literally) into a loose ball situation again.

Rolled ankle – bulbuous with angry veins wrapped around it today, I landed on my left ankle hard and cruelly (tapilok) one wet afternoon many years ago while playing the same game above, and was immobilized for a week.  The swelling subsided, but the veins remained where they were, and I would never be a foot model again.  These are the wages by the way, of recklessly playing on slippery, sunbaked and sometimes muddy concrete that a teenager’s love for basketball never complained about.

Bicycle accident – I lost one front tooth and chipped another  while using my face as landing gear, flying out of a bike that thought it was a plane two years ago, ironic because I thought the last vestige of my lost youth would be my winning smile, instead it was one of the first to surrender to the ravages of time.  To top it all, I fractured a pinkie finger without even knowing it as I was so worried about the tooth I thought I could still recover, and because I failed to properly do the exercises taught by the physiotherapist, it remains bent out of shape to this day.

Miscellaneous – My thunder thighs go to sleep 15 minutes after I sit down.  My gimpy knees start screaming when I don’t jog on the softer grass.  I break out in a rash when the thermometer goes below 14 degrees Celsius.  And whether it’s because of blocked sinuses, fatty tissue or some other obstruction, my sleep apnea-snoring concerts are world class, and esposa hermosa needs to either sleep ahead or wear factory earmuffs to stay sane at night.

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

There you go.  You wanted imperfections?  Everybody has them my dear, and it’s what makes each of us unique.  If we were all Bradley Coopers and Megan Foxes (who blew $60,000 on cosmetic surgery and still hated the way she looked afterward, ayeeeee!), the world would certainly be a less interesting (but more sigh-inducing) place.  We lose weight, gain it back, get buff, go to flab.  In short, we’re never happy and never sad about the way we look, constantly justify and torture ourselves with our self-image.  It’s our lifelong preoccupation, and the day we stop making ourselves look better, in our eyes, is the day we start to die.

To be perfectly honest, PCTM, the way you look now is as good as it gets.  My unsolicited advice is savor it , because as much as you’re eye candy material now, it’s all downhill from here 🙂

Thanks for reading !

Utterly domesticated but no longer utterly clueless

Typical Pinoy dishes that Mahal would create, and which we would devour 🙂

I REALIZED IT when she was asked to work late on Late Mall Night Thursday.  No merienda when I got home, no dinner, and no updates on any replacement meals.  My response to such a development was telling.

I stared at the empty dinner table, went away for a quarter of an hour doing nothing, and came back to stare at the same dinner table.  Repeat process until around half-past nine, when she returned.  Mercifully, she brought takeaway sushi and katsudon, which of course I gobbled up, without forgetting to ask why no food was around.

I was taken aback by her response.  Anong ginawa mo bago ako dumating Mahal, and in a mock-gesture of indignation pointed out that I should at least be considerate enough to improvise as she did all the cooking : breakfast, straight through lunch and supper.

Truth be told, I had been spoiled rotten since esposa hermosa arrived.  Where my diet was limited to McDonald’s , meat pies and mooching from my flatmate whenever I had a craving for Pinoy fare, since Mahal reached NZ shores I could now ask for (almost) anything on the Barrio Fiesta menu, and as long as she wasn’t tired and the ingredients were available (usually soy sauce, cane vinegar, ginisa mix, menudo mix, tomatoes, sinigang mix or ginger) she would readily sashay to the kitchen and magically whip up a dish that made me misty-eyed (and moisty-tongued) for home.

In return, all that was asked was that I complement her tasks, and follow intelligently her tips and cues to make her life easier.  By complement I mean this : when she prepared her inspiring meals I was expected to fill the rice cooker (which a first-grader could do) and wash the dishes.  If she did the laundry and made every article of clothing fresh and fragrant, it was logical that I would hang them on the clothesline for drying (we don’t have a dryer), and later fold everything for the aparador.

I hardly realized it, but she had taken over every useful activity around the house, devised simple ways to make the latter easier and more efficient, and turned me into a content worker ant in a self-contained colony of satisfying household chores.

And because she’s OCD about toilet being spotless, she prefers that nobody else clean the bathroom and does it herself.  Who am I to rain on her parade?  Even Kuya Flatmate gets out of her way on that one, especially since the lavatory always ends up looking like a 5-star facility afterward.

Such dependence I sometimes took to extreme lengths, as I told you about in the first paragraph.  I no longer went out without her, or at least asking her first. The few times I ventured out alone were to the library (she chooses cooking over reading anytime, who’d complain about that ???) and to look at action figures and McDo Happy Meal toys at weekend markets to update my toy collection (she likes toys even less than reading).

E.H. hates it when I waste time looking for toys like these, but at least I leave her in peace to cook. 🙂

Filling the clothesline, folding laundry, flicking the rice cooker switch, taking out the garbage and checking the mail.  Odds and ends, bits and pieces and making sure everything’s in place.  For doing these small favors, I get three squares, my stomach’s never lonesome for homeland and homestyle cooking, and did I say the bed’s always warmed up, sheets Downy fresh and pillows patted down?  Not a bad bargain.

Thanks for reading !


How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Harry Potter

Guess what they're waiting for? Clue : it's not the Queen...

Dear kabatch, schoolmates, brods, kabayan, officemates, Huttmates and friends :

A FEW DAYS from now, on 14th July to be exact (NZ time), theaters worldwide will open to the general public Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2, the eighth and final slice of the adventures of the boy-wizard.  Across multiple media on various platforms across the seven seas and seven continents, you’ve probably heard more than you care to know about the franchise, so I won’t add any more superlatives, just two observations :

(1) First, that there will be relatively fewer people who will watch pirated, copied or otherwise illegal versions of the movie.  Casual and serious fans alike have waited too long and have invested too much in both emotions and expectations to see an inferior version of what will probably be the most intense, action-filled and (expectedly) climactic episode.  I can only be certain about my own experience, and after being enthralled and captivated by the storyline, imagination and near-perfect pacing of the saga, I wouldn’t want to diminish the experience with a poor picture, shadows of moviegoers flitting across the screen, and an imperfect suspension of disbelief which is de rigueur with all cinema in the fantasy genre.

(2)  But the second observation is where it gets tricky : Notwithstanding the expectation of viewers to very high (literary and cinematic) standards, or at least to that which they have become accustomed (HPs 1- 7), or maybe because of it, I dare to say that better than three-fourths or 75% of the viewing public already know how the story will end, or at least have a pretty good idea how things will turn out (no spoilers nor spoiler alerts here, not to worry).

Whether or not statistics will bear me out, this is impressive.  Movies have been adapted from novels and short stories before (Stephen King, John Grisham, Irving Wallace, J.R. Tolkien, etc.) but so rarely in filmmaking history have movies been crafted to become literally (pun intended) cinematic mirror images of the original work.  As a result of both deliberate design and close collaboration between writer and production/directing teams, important plotlines and character development of key personages are given due attention.  And yet, it is mind-boggling that interest and the box-office groundswell is, beyond already high expectations, at an all-time high.

But you’ve already heard so much of this and that, especially given the Hollywood culture of hyperbole.  Knocking on wood, the entertainment industry on both sides of the Atlantic, the monolithic combine of film and downstream industries (movie merchandise, apparel and theme parks) cannot afford to see a less-than-supernova ending to the Harry Potter film franchise, with the box office gross expected to be between US$500 to 700 million at least.  Anywhere in the civilized world, it is THE movie and box-office event of the year, to say the least.

It seems to require a gargantuan effort, but how to explain how a story about an idealistic, if naive boy wizard against a resurrected and much more powerful wizard captured the imagination of a jaded, desensitized and media-savvy generation of precocious online connoisseurs?

Attempting to just contemplate possible answers to this is daunting.  Harry Potter is many things to many people : reinventing the age-old belief that the world of magic exists; the cutting edge special effects that have been a Harry Potter signature from HP & The Sorcerer‘s / Philosopher’s Stone; the byzantine, multi-layered and symmetrically-perfect storylines in HP & The Prisoner from Azkaban, HP & The Goblet of Fire and HP  & The Half-Blood Prince, or simply the world-class acting from thespians like Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith and (not the least, heh heh) Ralph Fiennes.  Simply put, there are so many reasons to enjoy the seven-part story.

Again, I can only speak from personal experience (what other kind is there?), while I  put in words why the Harry Potter experience has been so memorable for me.

Before I launch into another few paragraphs extolling the franchise, a public relations exercise that the movie hardly needs, I confess that I bumped into those remarkable books at a very difficult time in my life.  I was trying to pick up the pieces ( if any had remained ) of my life after relationship and career setbacks, and I had little to look forward to.

Without intending to, I absorbed the world in which Harry Potter and his friends inhabited.  So real and yet so different was it from the mundane, impersonal world in which I existed.  Enemies and dark forces awaited Harry at every turn, but his response to these were his emerging magical powers and his inexhaustible supply of gallantry, courage and love for his friends.

On the surface he was treated as an outsider-cum-newcomer to the wizarding world, but on a deeper level being a powerful wizard (and therefore an insider) was his birthright, he had only to assert himself and take what was his by destiny.

On more than one level this appealed to me, then and now.  I had lost a considerable amount of hope and  satisfaction in life, but the books reminded me that beyond the deep, dark forest there was a sunlit clearing that led to my destination.

Fast forward a few years later as a migrant in an unfamiliar land, I’m sometimes treated as an outsider and an unwanted newcomer.  Only hard work and striving for goals will allow me to earn my rightful place as an accepted immigrant in my adopted land.

Yes, Harry was kind and compassionate, but when the moment required, he confronted his foes and vanquished them with love against hate, truth against lies, and good against evil.  Sort of like telling me to confront my real-world problems head-on at full-tilt, the better to smash them to smithereens.

Now, multiply this template of applying Potter-good versus Voldemort-evil a hundred million-fold in everyday events in lives the world over, and I began to see why Harry’s creator and her masterpiece will most likely stand the test of time.  Potter is Everyman, Lord Voldemort is Everything That Is Wrong in Life, and we are limited in our triumphs only by the creativity we use in righting such wrongs.

In the end, in each and every one of us is Harry, and on Thursday a hundred million strong of us will be battle-ready to smack our Lord Voldemorts out of existence.  Now  that is the true genius of J.K. Rowling.

Thanks for reading !


Belated Birthday Thoughts for The Incredible Tita Lily / LBY / Mrs Yang

I AM almost never at a loss for words.  In a previous life, I may have been a lexicographer, a surrogate writer of love letters (like the main character in G Garcia Marquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera), or a royal speechwriter.  I am at ease expressing myself, especially using the written word.
Which is why I’m a bit surprised, putting pen to paper, when attempting to communicate my thoughts about a particular person who came to mind on her birthday.  She is not so much remarkable as she is incredible, as she has made, in my life among many others, an impact that is beyond compare.  I am momentarily unable to say what I feel.
At least, I will try.  There are many, many instances on which I have witnessed the greatness of this person, but on one particular occasion she asked me to help sort out items which she had stored in boxes from decades past.  Through the years, she never threw out anything which she felt was a record of her busy life, and as a result she had a room full of journals, envelopes, folders and assorted containers of artifacts of her life.
She asked me to take my time, not to rush, and to sort things by the year, and to consult her first before dumping anything. 
My first impression was that not a scrap of paper was thrown away from the last four, maybe five decades.  Receipts, lists, notes, letters, bills, statements, mass cards, novena cards, promissory notes, greeting cards.  Every scrap of paper that documented the length and breadth of human transactions, business, personal and whatever else, was stored in those boxes.  
The one thing that stood out, and which made a real impression on me was the consistency of two particular things :  Cancelled cheques and thank you cards.
Over and over again, this remarkable person issued cheques almost every day of the week, every week of the month, and every month of the year.  She issued cheques for tuition payments for children she would never see, bill payments for people she hardly knew, donation remittances for charities she had hardly heard from, and even utility payments for people who could no longer support themselves. 
She was an equal opportunity, across-the-board, all-weather philanthrophist, although her favorite activity, I noticed, was writing greeting and gift cards herself, replying to thank you cards, and buying big bags of sweets and delicacies, then dividing them up for redistribution for nephews, nieces, grand-nephews and grand-nieces.
Like a freshly-glazed mirror image, all these perfectly reflected what she was/is at work.  I was fortunate enough to be a worker bee three years at 105 Paseo de Roxas and most of my free time, I chose to hang around in her office, which never ran out of tasty merienda, candy, chichirya and Friday club provisions.
I never saw her turn down a request for help as long as her inner compass pointed to the request as legitimate.  Three quarters of the time, she knew the assistance, in the form of loans, would take forever and a day to return, the remaining quarter she chalked up to spreading good karma that would eventually find its way back to her.
And find its way it did, in a BIG way, tenfold or more probably.  Because she is blessed in almost every way; she has resources for herself and everybody else (and the number is considerable) who depend on her; friends relatives and loved ones that keep multiplying like YouTube hits; health and a youthful countenance that doesn’t quit, and above all a positive outlook that renews itself everyday.
It would be no exaggeration to say that she has sent more or less a thousand children to school, been primarily responsible for the professional careers of hundreds of practicing doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers and nurses, sent so many migrant hopefuls (including myself) on their way to their land of promise, and paid for the life-saving hospital expenses of people who otherwise might never been able to shoulder it themselves.
Besides the magnitude of this once-in-a-lifetime generosity, the collateral wonder is that unless the moon is blue, the sun is dancing or Halley’s comet has chanced to pass by, you would never hear about it, all these unceasing gestures of altruism, least of all from her.  And she probably prefers it that way.
**               **               **
It’s a very belated birthday greeting that I have for her, almost a week past.  I’m ashamed for myself, after all she has done for me, my children, my brothers, my parents, and everyone else in my family.  It comes as no surprise that she has been like this all her life, to co-worker, colleague, neighbor, co-CWL devotee, co-parishioner, and has never made a distinction between relative and friend; even people who have not been kind to her have been recipients of her legendary kindness.
I have only one other anecdote about her, among so many others, and this concerns her driver, Mang Gaudencio.  He and his three sons, along with the rest of his family, have been helped by her sterling recommendations on the way to good jobs and stable lives.  Mang Gaudi told me once that, despite his age, if his employer ever needed them and his organs (any of them) were still serviceable, he would gladly donate his kidney, liver, eyes, lungs or heart to her.  And he would consider himself richer for it.
[ The knee-jerk reaction I felt was that why did he think of it ahead of me?  Because no greater source of pride would I have than to be able to say that a part of me could be used by this person I’m talking about, now. ]
He was probably exaggerating when he said it, but I couldn’t blame him.  For besides my parents, I know of no other person who has so enriched my life, in terms of her immeasurable  and inspiring selflessness, as this person.  I once thought that it would take my entire lifetime to repay her for all the things she has done for me.  Now I know that one lifetime is simply not enough.
Belated happy birthday Tita Lily / LBY, you are definitely one of a kind.  Speaking for myself and the rest of the Bautista and SycipLaw families, I love you very much, thank you for being in our lives !
Your nephew

Side Dish to OFW’s Main Course

Blue vacuum cleaner

Image via Wikipedia

[ Notes from NOel : I’m not sure of the blog-worthiness of this activity, just that it was a first for me, at least in this city, though it certainly won’t be the last. So sorry for the late birthday greetings to Sec A memorables Dr Jo Te-Enriquez (29th Nov), Dr Gilbert Jao (1st Dec), Daisy Chua (4th Dec) and Jesse Chu (6th Dec), Liza Pavon-Wong (4th Dec), 3-point shooter Rodney Uyan (6th Dec), laugh-a-minute Jeff Lu (12th Dec), world class graphic designer Christine Chiang – Schultheiss (14th Dec) and 6-E buddy Klemson See (17th Dec) ! Many happy returns ! And sincerest condolences to schoolmate Mr Dan de Guzman and the rest of the family of Ms Nena de Guzman – Alvarez who passed away recently.]

Dear kabatch, brods, schoolmates, officemates, kabayan and friends :

Whether you’re a tradesman, IT guy or medical professional, a little extra cash never hurts, and fellow Pinoys know this only too well. Your mortgage payments get a little help, you’re able to sneak in a rare movie at the mall, and the kamag-anak back home get a little more than chocolates and the souvenir T-shirt.

During the holidays, the noche buena buffet table gets more crowded, more gifts are placed under the tree, and the trip back home becomes less of a dream. Kabayan all around know about it, but unless you’re this close (hold two fingers together), magaling makisama (get along well) and are willing to forego TV hours and weekend nappy time, you won’t hear about the open secret : there’s serious barya to be earned cleaning houses and offices.

Obviously the easiest way to get cleaning jobs is the referral method, although there may be gigs had via agencies and cleaning companies. As soon as you signify your willingness and you don’t look like you’re afraid of hard work, the vacuum cleaner (and mop, scourer, detergent and other stuff) is yours.

 As fate would have it, the house on our cleaning hit-list belonged to an Asian couple, a Malaysian married to a Singaporean, with three sons. They looked so similar to Filipinos that, if not for their accents, there would hardly be any discernible difference.

Modest to a fault, they said that spotless, perfect work wasn’t an essential to satisfy them, although if you were starting a job and wanted to impress, doing mediocre work would hardly be ideal. (more on this later.)

Modest in their dwelling as well, it was an impressive facade outside, double garage and manicured lawn, but the interior was surprisingly spartan and furnished with basic, no-frills furniture. The only luxury we saw, if you could call it that, was a beautiful, expensive looking piano, around which were dozens of sheet music and exercise books.

We started work immediately, working our way literally from top to bottom. Our plate was full : Sweeping cobwebs on the ceiling moulds, using both damp and dry rags on the bookshelves and ledges, mopping the tiles, changing the sheets and pillowcases, and finally, vacuuming the carpets.

[In case you’re wondering, there are two of us, and although my spirit is willing, the bulk of the cleaning is done by my more experienced partner, to save both time and energy for other pursuits. And just to be on the safe side, seeing all those reality / hidden camera shows that spy on nosy cleaners, I paid little more than cursory attention to any item unless I held it for cleaning or gently pushed it out of the way.]

Earlier I said that we worked literally from top to bottom, and though the explanation is common-sensical, it’s not common knowledge, at least not for ignorant little me : Starting from the top avoids the problem of having to repeat some cleaning in case dust or dirt resettles on some place you’ve already done.

I also cleaned from the furthest places retreating into the most accessible, since doing the opposite would’ve resulted in me redoing spots I would almost surely come back to before winding up. I couldn’t help but notice, despite my earlier commitment not to be nosy, that the heart and soul of the house was the academics and well-roundedness of the pre-teen and teenage kids. Reference books, reviewers for university entrance exams, learning software for technical topics, and other similar stuff were standard fare for each non-adult inhabitant, which I conceded was an attribute for ultra-competitive Asian families.

But the fact that this clan was also flexing its muscles among fellow migrant overachievers was a factor, because while initially it seemed a luxury, the need for each child to own a PC or laptop, in light of the necessity to submit well-prepared work (reports and term papers), advances in the hard sciences, and keeping abreast of promising careers, made such appliance an absolute essential.

Businesslike schedules on the fridge whiteboard, neat aparadors, and a garden that hardly needed maintenance gave this CSI wannabe another clue : that each family member pulled his or her weight in duties and chores, all helping out in the daily (or weekly) upkeep of the nest.

Remember we said that despite the tight ship, the kids looked well-rounded? This was why : Cricket practice and games, soccer practice and games, piano lessons, bible study were all part of each son’s sked, and these were the regular fare. And beholding the wall pics and awards, the lucky kids seemed to enjoy all these aspects of being young Rennaissance Men. I mentally saluted their broad-minded folks on that.

* * *

Have I said that cleaning house without being nosy was next to impossible if one was by nature a curious person? If no, I’m saying it now.

A few more details : We were paid the minimum hourly wage for what the homeowners thought would be a job fairly done in four hours. At the outset we thought this would be a breeze since a quick overview gave the impression that we would be in and out in a brisk two-and-a-half hours, three at most.

As the hours dragged on, and we kept adding on to our to-do list, we realized that three $20 notes we were paid was actually a bargain : our pride and gigil would not allow us to leave without vacuuming every cobweb, sweeping every speck of dust, and scrubbing to nothingness every ounce of grime.

In all, I signed off at the four-hour mark and my partner put in another 90 minutes before declaring the job finished. The owners probably knew this; by saying they didn’t expect much, they diplomatically ( if not psychologically ) put the burden on us to go beyond expectations and go overboard on the job. Whether or not it was the intention, the house became ultra – clean as a result.

The furniture, colors and interiors of the house we cleaned, notable in their simplicity and tastefulness, reminded me of many homes back in the Philippines. If anything, I realized that there was a marked effort to remind the visitor (even accidental ones like me) that, despite its being in NZ, the house was inhabited by Asians who someday would be going home.

Which, after all, is what most migrants dream to do, after doing well in their adopted land. An ageless fact of migrant life, confirmed in a most unexpected place of part-time work.

Thanks for reading ! NOel