learn the natives’ language & you can do no wrong

IF MY eyes and ears could do a double-take, they would.  But you can only be totally surprised once, and everything else that follows is just confirmation.

Pasensya na sa punto ng Tagalog ko, Pilipina kasi ang asawa ko.  Matagal kami sa Pilipinas, pero hindi ko maalis ang punto ng Kiwi, said the Kiwi volunteer who delivered the aparador (closet) that we bought over the weekend from the Salvation Army store.

[ Sorry for the belated translation of the above : excuse my faux Tagalog accent, (I can speak Tagalog because) my wife is Filipina.  We stayed a while in your country, but I couldn’t do anything about the Kiwi accent, pretty good if you ask me. 🙂 ]

He didn’t stop there.  Not waiting for my reply, he said nung nabasa ko yung family name mo sa delivery list, alam ko nang Pinoy ka, pero di ako sigurado.  Pero ngayon sigurado na ako he grinned, and I just had to call my flatmate’s wife.

[ spontaneous translation again : when I came across your surname on the delivery list, I knew you were a Pinoy, but I wasn’t sure.  Now I am. How can you not be flattered by that? ]

Malou, kausapin mo sya, talo pa nya tayo sa Tagalog, and of course Mr Kiwi Volunteer proudly continued with his conversational Tagalog, which reminded us of back home as much as fishballs, kikiam and the slivers of meat we like to call tuhog-tuhog.

His facility in our mother tongue was brought about as much by an intention to settle long-term back home as his love for his wife, and everything about her, including culture, cuisine, and of course, language.

It certainly warms the heart to know that even as we Pinoys love to learn other languages, other races take the time to learn our own.

Then there are people who’ve taken a liking to singing Tagalog songs, like the one above.  It seems cute and entertaining, until you realize the time and effort spent by the artist to just learn the words, and then actually interpret the song in a way that is familiar and heart-warming.

The last example I have of connecting with people through their language is from our adopted country’s very own Hayley Westenra, a popular singer.  She took the time to learn just one song (there could be more) in her Taiwanese hosts’ Mandarin, and naturally brought the house down :

If you want to build instant rapport with the natives whenever you visit overseas, just try speaking, or even better, singing in their language.  You may stutter at first, but you’ll soon realize that, as long as you try, it doesn’t really matter to them.  I can almost hear them say : You had me at hello.

meet the parents

We’ve met the parents !

Masantos ya ngarem ed sikayo amen, plus mano po and beso-beso.

That was the upper limit of my facility in the Pangalatok dialect, as I was too lazy to successfully memorize any more from my endless honeymoon with esposa hermosa.

Thank you for  taking care of my daughter, replied the woman whom I was to address Mama Flor for the rest of my natural life, in an accent that curiously recalled Joe Quirino, only the most popular Ilocano after the late Apo Ferdy, but that’s useless info for those of you too young to remember him.

I couldn’t speak the surprisingly complicated sub-language of Pangasinan, and she was a bit awkward (or chose to be) in my Tagalog, so we began our palaver in the most practical tongue available : English.

Your Papa Rusty and I wanted to see you since you got married anak, and it’s so nice to see you.  What could you say to that?  The numerous everyday phrases I did my best to memorize, despite the giggles and chuckles of my beautiful Pangasinense instructor, dissolved in nervous amnesia as soon as I encountered my in-laws of the first time.

Thank you very much for accepting me as your son-in-law I said, conveniently bypassing the fact that we would’ve married anyway, and pasensya na po kung di ako nag-aral ng Pangalatok I added, papering over my failure to not show up to make a formal appearance until two years after I married their daughter.

Ayos lang yun, nasa malayo ka naman.  So we would be meeting halfway then.  She would try to speak in Tagalog, while I would try to learn their dialect in the little time I was there.

Papa Resty had a slight smile, and he was making approving sounds, from where I sat.  He had had two strokes and was in the midst of therapy, so any sentences coming from him was a bonus.  After we talked about our six-hour trip, my mom’s devotion to Our Lady of Manaoag (their common ground, there wasn’t much we could talk about.

Guess what saved us?  Two things.  Esposa brought along the MagicSing, and each one of her family, from the patriarch down to the youngest grandkid, was a singer.  I don’t mean singer as in someone who can carry a tune, but someone who can belt out Celine Dion, Maroon Five, Rey Valera, Crazy Frog, Red Hot Chili Peppers and every other conceivable song on the list.

Even Mama Flor came up with a soulful Paano popularized by Dulce, and after that nine straight performances from nine members of the Amazing Pangalatoks made Meet Your Absentee In-law Day a memorable one.  I could do no less than my feeble versions of Bread and Side A, pleading a sore, dry throat caused by my travels.  They actually believed me.

I mentioned a second thing that saved the day, and it was of course the famous Region II cooking.  I would’ve been brain-dead not to mention to Mom that her daughter’s cooking saved me from going crazy in NZ, and Mom lost no time in telling me that all of her children, 4 sons and 3 daughters included, were excellent cooks.  If you can believe it, four out of the five siblings present that day participated in the culinary exercises, and it was an impressive sight.

Superb pakbet.  Unbitter ampalaya.  Perfect sinigang na bangus. Creative nilasing na manok, and crispy tilapia.  All under the watchful and benevolent eye of the Master Mommy Chef.

Next on our itinerary was Gerry’s Grill, at the newest SM mall in the province.  I could tell our in-law bonding was going to end as smoothly as it started! 🙂

Thanks for reading !

The last day before the rest of your life

Note :Because of recent events, two years to plan for NZ has become two months.  In the haze of applications, transitions and goodbyes, it will probably be a good thing for them, and I’m writing a letter before things finalize for Ganda and Bunso.  Hope you don’t mind proofreading for me! 🙂 ]

Dear Ganda and Bunso :

WOW, SO glad you breezed through your medicals.  For a while I thought Bunso’s ECG was going to be a source of worry, but I’m glad the doctor signed off at the last moment.

I’m sure you think that it’s a pity that you can’t say proper goodbyes to your friends, relatives and classmates, monies for get-togethers and shindigs have all but dried up, I hope you understand that as it is, I’ve effectively set aside any hope of saving for the next few months, as your mother has likewise, I’m sure.

But the prize is great, that is seeing you here sooner rather than later, allowing you career and educational opportunities that wouldn’t be available back home, and of course seeing you grow into young adults full of hopes and dreams in a brave new world.  Neither your mom nor I would think twice about the little sacrifices needed, in comparison.

If I may say so, you have the best of both worlds.  I say this because you have grown up in the country we will love the rest of our lives, P.I. of course, and you will never forget how it is to have grown up there.

On the other hand, you have the rest of your lives to build your careers, your families and things you can be proud of in a country that rewards you for hard work, initiative and honesty.

I see lots of kids here who are lucky the way you will be lucky, but they missed out on Pinoy culture and values, which is for me something like a vacuum considering they are dyed-in-the-wool offspring of Pinoys and Pinays.  They still speak Tagalog, but haltingly and would rather just reply in English in what usually turns out to be one sided Tagalog conversations.

On the other hand, there will be your contemporaries who are equally talented and hard-working as you, but will never have the opportunities and jobs that you will have.  That’s why I believe you have the advantages of dual cultures and multiple options.  You have an amazing view looking forward, but you have a rich vista of homeland memories as inspiration for fulfillment and success.

In return, all you need to do is be the best that you can be, be passionate about things you enjoy doing, and not be afraid to start the adventure of a lifetime.

I love you always and can’t wait for you to get here.  Kaawaan kayo lagi ng Diyos !


PS.  Just a few reminders :  soak up your telenovelas, they don’t air here; munch up on those chichirya, Piattos and Nova aren’t available except in Asian stores; and don’t fill orders for any pirated DVDs; they’re not worth the hassle 🙂  take care!

You know a foreigner’s been exposed to Pinoy DNA when…

A Filipino stew, using tamarind and pork. Mmmm.

the famous sinigang na baboy, with all the trimmings including gabi I hope :p

There are many ways to be infected with Pinoy DNA (Di Na Awkward), but the most popular are to have a Pinoy girlfriend (or, less frequently, boyfriend), to have relatives by affinity and big groups of friends (known as barkada back home) who are Filipino, and lastly to bear the preponderance of Filipino colleagues or workmates at the workplace.  Below are strong signals that an erstwhile dayuhan (foreigner) is no longer considered an outsider, for not only do Pinoys eagerly love to welcome a former outsider into their fold (misery loves company); once a (or an honorary) Pinoy, always a Pinoy!

S/he no longer finds adobo/menudo too salty, sinigang too sour,  Bicol express /ginatang gulay too spicy, or leche flan too sweet.  I know just the thought of these home cooked dishes, especially to Pinoy expats, causes some of us to salivate and drool, but I can’t imagine how most aliens who are used to more bland, un-spicy and un-spiked dishes would react.  It seems that most of them develop a taste for tangy, sharp-tasting and strongly seasoned foods that we are used to, for I have not found a dayuhan who hasn’t liked our food or at least understood why we prepare our dishes the way we do.

Either that, or they are too courteous to make comments about their wives’ / girlfriends’ cooking.  Of course we can’t expect them to take in adidas, balot, IUD or dinugaan as we’ve been born with these treats, and especially since it’s an acquired taste, but I do know some Kiwis who’ve gotten used to and actually included sinangag, pancit and boneless bangus in their regular diet / menu.  I even had to tell a mate that the chop suey he had gotten used to was a less spicy version of the chow mien and nasi goreng across the South China Sea.

S/he no longer minds or raises hell when everybody talks Tagalog/Visayan/Ilokano in her/his presence.  This used to be a real issue with me, being a purveyor of  political correctness, not to mention sympathy for the husband of a new Pinoy friend who visited our flat frequently.  Everybody would speak Tagalog and all its permutations (Batangueno Tagalog, Bulakeno Tagalog, Caviteno Tagalog) while the Kiwi barely had a chance to follow any of the simultaneous conversations that Filipinos , whenever they get together, frequently conduct.  I would vainly attempt to translate the numerous phrases flying through the air, when his wife once told me : hayaan mo na Noel. Sanay na sya.  I slowly learned to give up after that.

S/he knows most of the obscene / curse words from our language / dialect, and moreover knows how to counter them, for example, when someone sez do you know p-ina mo, they come right back and say yes, and p-ina mo rin.  Sort of makes us blush to learn what they already know, but it’s one way to break the ice, especially in front of salty-speaking beer-drinkers and lambanog-shooters.  Even the objectionable language from different dialects all over the archipelago are fair game, particularly when the foreigner in question has made the rounds of the Islands.  Because foreigners love to hop around the islands, learning a few words here and there seems to be an indispensable part of the travelling experience, and they are all the richer for it.

I've heard that unauthorized DVDs of "Magkaribal" have English & Samoan subtitles. Cheesy!

S/he has at least working knowledge of the Pinoy fondness for telenovelas, not only the homegrown kind but from everywhere tearjerkers abound.  Used to be in the old country,  TV prime time was filled with canned shows from the US, and maybe a weekly special or two from Superstar Nora Aunor or Star for all Seasons Vilma Santos.  Nowadays right after the 6:00 news, you are expected to watch three hours of soap operas featuring homegrown talent like the Baretto Sisters (Gretchen and Claudine), love teams like John Lloyd and Bea or Piolo and Angel, or can’t miss blockbusters from Korea (Boys Over Flowers) and Taiwan (Meteor Garden) or even reboots of proven winners from Mexico (Marimar,  Maria Mercedes, Echabelita, etc).

The simple formula of poor-girl-meets-rich-boy (or poor-boy-meets-rich-girl), fantasy epics or rags-to-riches sagas spanning three generations is run through the mill again and again, across language barriers and cultures and Pinoy viewers will lap up whatever is served them.  Evidently we do our local recipes well, because Samoans, Fijians, Tongans and other Polynesians love our telenovelas, to the extent that whole seasons of pirated DVDs are available, if you know where to look, in Islander communities in NZ, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the same were available in Aussie.  Now, as someone with a significant other, girlfriend or GFF/BFFs from the Pinoy community, you should be prepared to put up with endless viewing of these drama staples, especially if the Pinoys in question are new migrants and/or are Gen X or Gen Y members, who were probably still in the Philippines when the soaps reached or near the peak in popularity.

Just a tongue-in-cheek warning to our guests and white-skinned mates : keep in mind those behavioral observations above and you can’t go wrong in getting along with us Pinoys.  Have you any other tips in mind?

Thanks for reading!


Isang Linggong Pag-Ibig

Philippines - Eye / Mouth / Heart Nostalgia

Image by Jeff_Werner via Flickr


[ Note : just a stream-of-consciousness e-mail. Please excuse the candidness, and the spontaneity. ]

                                          Lunes .

“Hey NOWL, what’s Tey-galog ?”

[ Definitely a trick question ; knowing the asker, he’s already Googled and Wikipidiaed the term; still it’s a pleasant, if odd surprise that he’s asking about our language, or at least, one of them… ]

Back home, there’s no such thing as a national language like Maori or English in your parts, but if you’re looking for the nearest thing to a lingua franca anywhere in our Archipelago, Tagalog is the way to go.

“Hmmm. Okay, thanks for the info NOWL.”

[ Don’t think we’ll ever get used to being called Nowl, as in Nowl Leeming (a popular chain of appliance stores), but at least it’s better than Noelene or NOwl the Filipino, or Phil the Noel-pino, now leave me in peace to drink my well-deserved oxidant-banishing, and wrinkle-discouraging green tea… ]

As backgrounder, in itself it’s a wonder that he even thinks of asking us anything that doesn’t pertain to work, he’s straight-as-an-arrow, serious-as-serious-gets, and professional-as-can-be at work, so anything that distracts you from the mundane list of tasks for the next eight hours in the dead of night is a welcome digression.

Famous last words.

                                                    Martes .

“hey Nowl, just out of curiosity, have you got any idea how much a university education costs in your country relative to the standard of living and average wage, just off the top of your head ?”

Wow Koya, iba na mga tanong mo ha. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were committing to pay for the education of someone back home, obviously someone a tad more important to you than the only other Pinoy you know, that’s ME of course . 🙂

[ of course, we’re not that suspicious, and in the midst of doing three different things, we couldn’t give it more than a raised eyebrow and a hurried 2nd thought, but still… ]

Tuition, depending on the quality of education provided by the school and the degree course and curriculum, costs anywhere between 30,000 to a hundred thousand in Philippine pesos per term. That’s a relatively reasonable 1000 to 3000 in Kiwi dollars, but you have to realize that resources are more scarce back home, average wages are much more modest, and families are usually bigger, are you thinking of any school in particular (or anyone specific) ?

“Hmmm (again, that disturbingly non-chalant hmmm)… no, not really. what’s for lunch ?” . . .

                                                  Miyerkules .

Shows me a piece of paper. “Read this, NOWL.”

(I almost cringed and wanted to say I didn’t want to, but inevitability and morbid curiosity gets the better of NOWL.)

M – A – H – A – L   K – I – T – A .

There was no one else in the building, but i whispered the translation, scared that anyone else would hear. (Smiles.)

I knew that, heh, heh heh (like a Cheshire cat). There’s another word that I failed to write, I need the translation and wanna know why it’s in the middle.”

(Sigh.) Okay, what’s the word?

(writes slowly) “D – I – N.”

Okay, your friend translates for you, gives you her answer, and then translates the same for you?

“Yup, I just wanna know why “din” is in the middle.”

Well, it would be inelegant if it were said anywhere else, and she probably already knows you have a Filipino friend, who’ll do the translation for you. And the interpretation.

[ Kinikilig itong lolo mo, NOel. ]


You know Boss ? In the two plus years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen you like this.


You look like you lack sleep, and you look like (shudder!) you’re bored with work.

“I guess I do. Been chatting with my Filipina friend three nights now…”

[ Shows me her pics, very pretty actually, a duskier version of Isabel Oly, in colegiala camouflage. ]

“Wants me to visit Manila straightaway, that’s why I’ve been picking your brain the past three days. Also wants me to see her family.”

Inay ko po.

Hey boss, aren’t you rushing things a bit? It’s just not like you to uhm, rush into things like this.

“For sure. Am not gonna be rushed into doing things. But let me tell you NOWL, she’s smart, sez she’s a simple Filipina girl, and from what I can tell, she’s not materialistic.”

[ Well, what can I say ? What would YOU say? ]

Barely audible sigh .


“Say Nowl, are there flights out to Manila from here that don’t pass through Sydney or Melbourne?”

Well boss, that’s the idea. Flights are cheap cuz there are so many passengers bound for Manila picked up from either of those cities. Sometimes both.

“You mean, besides the Filipinos IN HERE, there are lots more in Aussie?”

(Duh.) Actually everywhere. Say, are you really serious about going to the Philippines ? It’s just not sightseeing and beaches you’re after, yup?

(Actually I already know what, or who the reason is, I just can’t believe it’s reason enough for him to up and go.)

“Well I HAVE been planning to go on a long holiday, and you know the weather here can be quite frustrating. ( Pauses ). I just don’t know why she’s insisting that I visit her December.”

Whoa. Just my humble opinion Mastah, but unless you’re from there, you DON’T want to travel to the Islands Christmas season. And don’t ask why. Just too iffy, and too many unknowns. And it’s probably the most chaotic time of the year.

“Most chaotic compared to what ?”

Most chaotic compared to ANYWHERE YOU’VE BEEN.

[ Looks taken aback, but quickly recovers. ] “You’re not discouraging me from visiting your own country, are you?”

(I roll my eyes.) I’m not. Just… as you say, don’t rush into this, boss.

(Smiles a self-assured smile). I won’t be (rushed). You know me better than that, Nowl.

[Actually, I don’t. Not after the last few days.]

** ** ** **

Pardon our cynicism, but compressing my dozens of questions into three : Did Mastah know the first rule of online dating / chatting, which is NEVER to send, or even promise to send money, at least until you’ve gotten to know someone considerably longer than a week?

Second : Has Mastah at least taken the precaution of using either the webcam or Skype (or similar telephony) to see or hear if the person is indeed the one in the obviously flattering pictures?

This third is actually the hardest : Is Mastah naive enough to believe that he is the only one his friend is chatting with?

These are the Final Jeopardy questions we want to ask Mastah before the end of the Isang Linggong Pag-ibig. Cross our heart and hope to die, we really, really want to ask him.

But don’t bet on it.

Thanks for reading !