Saturday, December 31, 2005

13 and round!

New Year’s Eve is as busy as Christmas Eve is in most Filipino households – the cooking and cleaning that comes – as the old year ends and the new one begins. Filipinos believe that you must cast away the bad and begin with a clean slate each year, that’s why New Year’s resolutions are very common, too common that at times these are taken for granted.

Many a home will have been cleaned spotless and polished to welcome the New Year. I remember in our family, all dirty clothes must be washed and pressed otherwise; your entire year will be soiled and crumpled like your soiled and crumpled clothing. As the home is cleaned, so should be the body. My grandmother used to bathe us with lukewarm water and scrub us not with the soft washcloth but the hard (ok smooth but still hard!) stone. Every bodily nook and cranny is reached, cleaned and rinsed in grim businesslike manner. This is the best time to get a haircut, as well as sport on new clothes. One must wear polka dotted clothing or stripes as these represent money. Many would wear red for prosperity.

Then there is the mad dash at the green grocer’s to complete a basket of 13 different rounded fruits. No pineapples as the spikes represent hardships, none of the sour ones as they represent bad luck for the entire year. So ripe atis (custard apple), though sweet is not acceptable because its surface is not smooth. Bananas, though they are sweet and smooth are not round! Therein lays the dilemma. In a country where local fruits are but few in the December-January season and the only foreign alternatives are the good old apples and grapes, how can one come up with thirteen?! But yes, people do come up with the required number but have to do a bit of rationalizing. Many have added the humble coconut because it represents a “waste not, want not” attitude. Every part of a coconut is usable – drink the juice, eat the meat, use the husk for firewood or to mount your orchids in, the hard shell can be converted to bowls or spoons of if really careful, can be like a piggy bank of sorts. The entire tree is usable for wood, the leaves as roofing and the thin, long spines are bunched up together to be the ever useful ‘walis ting-ting’ (stick broom) an every home must-have – good for cleaning cobwebs, sweeping earth, and even scaring wild boar.

So joining the centerpiece of fowl, fish, and pork or beef cuisine is the ‘basket of bounty’ laden with 13 rounded fruits. It is also wise to have a dish each of fish, fowl, pork, and beef and for good measure and to represent long life, a noodle dish to ensure that the entire year would indeed be bountiful. Having had to come up with such a spread for the occasion however, is sure to deplete funds in the coffers of even the wealthiest Filipino and thus defeating the purpose of the wish to be prosperous as the New Year starts.

Yet that is the Pinoy way, begin with a bang, everything fresh and clean, no expense spared and tomorrow begins the reality that a new year has 365 days.

Well fruits are soft and easily rot. Perhaps it should be 13 nuts instead of fruits. For nuts are hardy and strong and can last much longer than ripened fruits do. Also nuts represent health and intelligence – which perhaps we need more than the hopes for prosperity. So instead of wishing to have a really prosperous year, let’s with for a year where we can be truly smart and use our thinking caps daily and be wiser so we learn from our mistakes and move on.

Wishing you all a nutty new year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The trimmings of Christmas

I find that being a parent adds a new dimension and twist into my Christmas season. When once before I had thought of good things to give my loved ones, I now have to consider the things I give my pre-schooler. Then there is the religious side of the season that I must also share if I would ever hope for her to grow up as an individual with a set of values and beliefs, and, well there is also that man on the red suit. Probably much more dominant in the mall and media scenes than the baby in the manger.

And so I began the season telling my daughter that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. This ties in very well with her birthday being also in December. She understands now that birthdays are special days and that one must go and hear mass during one's birthday. It also helped that Christmas fell on a Sunday this year.

I also told her about the story of Christmas. And boy was it difficult. How do I even begin to explain Mary and her virgin pregnancy? So I told it the normal way, that Mary and Joseph fell in love, got married and travelled to Jerusalem to visit their ancestors. Similarly, I showed that we anually go back to the Philippines to visit loved one and friends. Reaching Manila, we sometimes stay in hotels or at relatives' homes. In Joseph and Mary's case, they were just unlucky not to be able to find available space but some good person gave them the manger. At this point I was interrupted by a tiny voice, "Mom, what's a manger?"

Thus the Christmas story diverts a while to pictures and drawings of animals and the different food receptacles they have based on size, diet and food preference.

Then finally baby Jesus was born and three wise men from the East came to bring presents. The names were as challenging to teach (try letting you 3 year old pronounce Balthazar properly!) as well as the gifts they brought a challenge to explain! "Mommy, why did they not bring some toys for the baby Jesus?" my little one blurts out as she closely looks at my kindergarten-like drawings of the wise men. Why not indeed! So I fumbled a bit and came up with another mini-story of my own creation that the baby Jesus needed the gold, to make his crown when he is of age (like Simba) and frankincese and myhrr are also needed for the crowning ceremony. I can see she has not totally bought into my answer but tries to be polite.

Then the shepherds came and sang with the angels and where do I put Santa?

My husband did not grow up in a household where Santa visits at Christmas. Yet I was steeped in Santa lore. I remembered making Valentine's Day card for Santa just to remind him of the presents I wanted and that I was being such an especially good girl that year. Even when I discovered my mom and dad wrapping the red bike for my younger brother and signing it at Santa Claus, I still believed he just asked my folks to sign it on his behalf. We were after all in the Philippines, in Cebu City at that time and he had to cover the United States and the rest of the world!

So I continued my Christmas story with the angels giving gifts to all the people. (Heck if my daughter will believe in a Santa, why the hell not in angels!) And this became a tradition that passed on to every family until today. So when Jesus left the Earth (and she knows about dying having had just my dad passing on) he left other people in charge of giving gifts to the people. One person is Santa Claus. Aha, there goes the tie-in! But only good kids get presents. The naughty ones do not! And her eyes grow just a tad bigger as she affirms, "I'm a good girl, mom."

Then it makes me realise that convuluted and complicated our made-up stories can be to entertain and partly educate our kids, it still comes down to the basic tenet of, "being a god person is important and will reap rewards." And as we open these "rewards" on Christmas day, another truism comes forth - these may not be the 'rewards' we want to deserve but these are what we received and for that, we should all be thankful.

May the spirit of giving and forgiving continue to reign among us, even and moreso after Christmas.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

He sure did it his way....

Alfredo Pena-Montilla Villaruel Jr lived a full life. Probably anything you may have thought you must do, he had done. The good, the bad and sometimes, even the ugly. But he did them all in his own terms. Even dying.

My father was diagnosed with a tumor in his temple in 2002. His doctors told him that the growth of the tumor was so slow that it could probably be really harmful to him by age 85. And of course, who knows if natural or even accidental causes may result in fatality even before reaching such an age...that the family decided to leave the tumor untouched. That plus the statistic of a 70-30 success rate, 30 being the success ratio. So with diet and medication and alternative healing, dad struggled and fought his nemesis. At one point he was doing rather well, in fact we all thought he had it down and managed it well. Until the seizures occurred. They we not unlike epileptic seizures and you can see each attack does cause pain. One serious attack left him in hospital for almost a week. One recently left him in a coma for a couple of days. And still he fought. He wouldn't let cancer get the better of him.

I visited him last July 2005 with my two year old daughter and he played with her and even teased her despite limited bodily movements. The emaciated shell could never really give justice to the strength of character encased within. And boy did my dad keep his sense of humour intact!

His memory was failing him, medications resulted in Alzheimer's, and he at times would not remember who are the people around him but when I asked him who I was, he said "You are Grace." and smile. I told him there were two Graces in the house, my sister-in-law also being a Mary Grace...and asked whether he knew which Grace I was, which name preceded Grace. With a wink, he answered "Well, I'd really like to remember!" And we all laughed - him included.
One time I was helping him walk towards the bathroom and asked whether he wanted to "do number 1 or 2". He replied, "Whichever comes first." And laughed like an imp.

My daughter was eating her breakfast cereals and he would reach into her bowl to get a few spoons to tease her - testing whether my two-year-old would protest or cry. This he did while he had extreme difficulty making arm movements at all!

Nonong, as he was fondly called by family and friends, to us his "children" we called him Dagda. Having only one biological offspring, he and his wife Connie took several of Connie's nephews and niece (that's me!) under their wings. Although I was not officially adopted, he was my father since the age of three.

Dagda taught me how to love languages. When we lived in Cebu, he took up French at the Alliance Francaise to learn the language. That's when I meet Asterix and Obelix for the first time and fell in love with the French language. His "larger than life" Hispanic ancestry also made me interested in Spanish and influenced what course I took in University.

He was a cool dad. He'd take Alvin and me to museums, build and fly gigantic kites, wash the car on weekends and visit zoos. Without fear, we'd take on the road and travel unknown highways with just a change of clothes and a towel each. Every weekend was an adventure to either a camp or swimming pool (Camp Marina in Cebu) or the glorious white-sandy beaches of Cebu.

I learned to love Frank Sinatra because of him (Although I hated it in highschool). Each day, he'd come home from work and after dinner, he'd ask the maid or my elder brothers or me to buy him three bottles of beer. Whilst listening to "Old Blue Eyes" he'd sometimes sing along while slowly enjoying his SMB (San Miguel Beer). On weekends he'd have his friends over, like Jun Hover or Ramon Casa or Papa Jess Betia, all of whom have passed on before him. It just surprised me one day when I was talking music with some friends in Abu Dhabi that I knew almost all the lyrics to all Frank Sinatra songs! Unconsciously, I had memorised them while I say in the dining table doing my homework as my dad was listening to them, all night, 24/7.

I loved sharing books to read with him. He liked Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan and loved Sci-Fi movies. We all watched battlestar Gallactica, Star Wars, Close Encounters, E.T. and many similar movies oh yes and all the old Superman movies with Christopher Reeves in the lead. He'd leave books he's reading lying around the house. He'd often read several books at the same time. So you can pick up a dog-eared book and make your own bookmark somewhere. Even when I took activism seriously in college, I started leaving leftist reading materials around the house, he too shared in reading them so he could understand what it was that I was so focused into. He'd start conversations and disucssions about this too!

Dagda also like being happy. We shared "You Could Die Laughing" by Gary Lising's book many a times and laugh out loud. We'd watch comedic sitcoms like Mork and Mindy and TV and laugh as he would try to imitate Mork saying, "Nanu, nanu!"

He was a great cook. Who could ever forget lazy Sundays with his French toast or his delicious lengua estofada? His very own nilaga (with bone marrow) still leaves my tongue all watery. He also made a mean sopa de ajo with old toasted bread.

He had the gift of being a green thumb. He'd buy these books on how to grow ampalaya, castor, sigarillas, garlic and try to plant them in plots over our house. He'd often succeed too! In his white sando and shorts and rubber slippers, he'd happily till the soil, plant the seeds and water them until they bear fruit.

His business ideas were ahead of his time. I remember sometime in the 80s he talked about bottled water and nobody thought it would be such a hit. Look at us now, so dependent on bottled waters all over the world. He talked about garlic and dried tomatoes then too, and look how big an industry sun-dried tomatoes are today!

He was a great artist. He painted in water colour and oil. His impressions of Bacolod Park and Manila in the 70's whne he eloped with Connie were breathtaking! Sadly, he never got to paint again.

He was trying to write a novel about Alejandro, Faustino and Isidro Villaruel and had convinced me to help him. We've had a few drafts and exchanged emails but he got sick and we dropped it off. I will try to complete this as a promise fulfilled.

But for all his grand plans and talks, he had his feet firmly on the ground. We never missed a Sunday in church as a family. He led by example, that hard work, integrity and honesty will get you top marks.

When he got sicker, he would worry that we would be unable to cope. He didn't want to be a burden. He was a fighter till the end. Last July, his doctor told mom that he'd be lucky to live past his birthday which was August 2nd. He outlived that "deadline" a few more days.
His remains now lie in The Holy Trinity chapel in Paranaque. He will be cremated tomorrow so that mom can take him with her anywhere she decides to settle.

No matter how kindly or badly life dealt him the cards, he chose to do things by his own rules, like Sinatra's classic song, yes, he sure did it his way.

I love you Dad and I will miss you forever.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

UAE Driving Theory

They drive so fast yet walk ever so slowly....now I know why!

There is common whine among expats living in the deserts against the local arabs of the UAE: they are very fast and often dangerous drivers; and yet and this is speaking of the local students in particular, they are quite slow walkers and this is even reflected in their general actions – they walk ever so slowly like the world could cave in and they just don’t care! Finally, I have come to see some bleak yet disturbingly probable explanation. Here’s my take on this local phenomenon.

Driving fast like crazy kamikaze dingbats out of hell.

They are still used to camels. And boy can camels run! If you’ve seen horse races, well camels can give some of the horses a run for their money when it comes to speed. So a local arabo would still feel like he is riding on a camel, that – by instinct – can avoid collision with other camels or objects that may obstruct its path.

You’ve got to see one of these locals perched on his 4 x 4, one leg up one foot on the accelerator, a hand on the steering wheel and the other on a mobile phone talking loudly to his pal who could be driving as well.

Another near-death experience would be two locals trying to outrun one another in the 4 x 4s or one running so close behind another that a small step on the brakes would bring them into collision. These guys think they’re in a camel race!

Another reason why the arabos do not fear meeting death on the roads is the fact that for them, by their faith, one immediately goes to heaven when one dies of an accident. Especially if you drive like crazy and died on the holy month of Ramadan. You will surely go to heaven! Wow, you’ve gotta hand it to these guys about how strong their beliefs are! Yeah right, even if your were such an asshole to everyone but yourself, so long as you died of an accident (since you were THAT assholic, you’d have probably caused he accident anyways!) you go straight to heaven. Bloody convenient, don’t you think?

This year alone, over a hundred deaths have been caused by collisions of speeding cars, predictably driven by local arabos and sad to say, the ages are from 18-35. The youth of this nation is slowly being destroyed by their heedlessness of traffic signs and disregard for road safety.

In the course of a semester, you see several students whose legs are in casts or walking with arms on slings or with crutches. The reason, aside from the most common, football, driving mishaps would come a close second. Scary and real!

Big, heavy feet.

I’ve often wondered about the speed at which these arabos drive and it finally dawned on me looking at my students sandaled feet. My gosh, these people have huge feet! They’ve got huge toes and really stocky feet. The use of sandal left their feet unencumbered by shoes and so their feet grew larger than people wearing shoes all the time. Imagine a “maglulupa” and his feet so adapted to the land, so is an arabos feet – so adapted to the heat and sand – sturdy, strong, humongous.
Which could explain why they walk so slowly...their paces slowed down by the size and weight of their feet. So too would explain why they drive fast, their feet are so heavy, once they step on the accelerator, the gas just gears up from fast to very fast to ridiculously-dangerous fast!

The speed of their walk is inversely proportional to the speed of their driving which is directly proportional to the size of their feet. Good scientific-like explanation to a real desert mystery. How’s that for a theory?

More on this next blog.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Miss Universe

The Miss Universe 2005 pageant had been held over a week ago but well, being in the desert, some telecasts are a bit late in these parts so I just watched it last night. I think I'm not alone when I say I am both reproachful of but also magnetised by beauty pageants. Not only are women showcased like commodities, they are also condescended and blatantly exposed in a 'let's indulge her as we gloat and indulge ourselves' kind of way. It's psychotic. But each year, I never miss watching it since as far back as i can remember. Why? Because everyone watches it. Everyone may have a variety of opinion about it but everyone sits in front of their television sets, eyes glued to the screen as each and every contestant representing her country sashays in wearing her bathing suit, evening gown and national costume.

Strange enough, in my own small, insignificant sphere of the world as we know it - you'd think a lot more men would ogle at these ladies in swimwear but no, it is a fact that more women do. And the comments? "She got wide hips." "Oh she's got a funny nose." "Look at her legs! There like a man's" and many more.

And I'm sure in the dressing room, behind the scene - having watched Miss Congeniality and the like - these beauties would also be in bitchy mode, going at each other like a cat protecting its territory. Yet the contest continues as well as businesses from hair remover to diamonds, masscara to evening gowns...And many other versions have sprung from them like Miss Teen something, mother and daughter pageants, etc. like we can never have enough of them!

One change I've noticed though was how smaller and smaller the world has become. With inter-racial unions, you now have several generations of mullatas, hybrids of a sort that are Amerasians, Eurasians, African-Caucasian mixes. So you have a Miss India who looked like she came from England and a Miss France wholooked like Miss Jamaica. Many an established western countries had representatives that would have a tinge of Eastern European in them - probably a Bulgarian or Russian blood somewhere the family tree.

Imagine later on, if this continues, we'd have no well defined face for any country (except those that would like to keep their bloodline pure, Achtung!) and instead consider beauty in a more general light.

When that time comes, perhaps representatives from Naboo and Tatooine may also join us as the term "universe"...does include their sectors too.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Car, please!

Long time no blog. OK so now every car I see drives me to the point of feverish, mouth-watering, car-less maniac that I am. I want a car but unfortunately cannot afford one. I've called up some ads, emailed further queries to a few more, visited the showrooms just to drive myself more into the insane car-craving mad-woman that I am at this point in time of my life. Car me!

This blog serves as a plea to all you friends and associates of old and recent encounters to please - phu....leez! the operative word being: read between the lines! come up with some sort of financial scheme to get me car-ized and driving! I have three second hand yet not too old vacuum cleaners. What if I made out raffle tickets towards those? Do you think someone would be witless enough or ehem COMPASSIONATE enough to purchase a few stubs? All for a good cause mind you...I can give you a lift anywhere else in Al Ain you'd like to go - and on weekends, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah can be included in the itinerary. Of course for those of you who aren't in the UAE, you can send money order or checques to my office address...hehehehe. Email me and let's coordinate :-)

Since, if I had a car, I'd be one of the many who helps pollute our environment and cause global warming, you can then dump some of the world's pollution problems on me. Fair enough trade off don't you think?

Oh that depressingly pathetic song comes to mind again: "I'm not an actor, I'm not a star...and I don't even have my own car..." Jeez!

Monday, May 02, 2005

New Tarrif and Customs Quota for NAIA

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport has passed a new Tarrif and Customs law effective 1st May to mee the new quota for the income of the airport which is Php 1,000,000/- per day. According to an article from the Manila Bulletin sometime in April, anyone arriving into Manila will be stringently checked to ensure that taxes can be charged onto incoming products brought home by either "balikbayans" or tourists. The new code includes clothing, jewellery and personal effects, electronics, etc...practically everything that you bring will be subject to tax. The alarming thing is why the need to reach a quota, even why set a quota at all? As if sending money home each month isn't enough, Filipinos going home will have to shell out dosh as soon as they land on the homeland's airport.

Somehow the cost of going home each year (or bi-annually) is getting steeper and steeper. Perhaps some if not more will soon opt not to go home at all. Sadly we are losing so many of our very own because of money-making schemes like this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Gasping, Lisps and Stutters

Why is it that the word gasping sounds like you really do run out of breath? Also why do we call it a lisp when people who do have it couldn’t even pronounce it? Perhaps it is to determine if one really does have a lisp. The lisp test. When one walks up to you and says, “I’ve got a listhp.” Then you know, for sure that the person has it. Unlike other defects where one can say I’ve got scoliosis but actually their shoulders are just achy from too many mouse clicks on the Internet.

Most people with stutters have problems with what we call in linguistics as the “stops” that’s your /t/, /d/, /p/ and /b/ for example. So why call it a stutter when you know that surely, the person suffering from one would stutter?!?! Again the stutter test. “Do you know that I stu...stut-stut-stutter?” Yes. There is no other explanation. That must be the reason...to really confirm the problem.

So why not call bulimic people as “bwaaaaak”? So they can come up to you and say, “You know, I’m bwaaaaak.” and smother you with their vomit? I guess that would be too gross.

We have a funny way of naming things. Look at the word ‘abbreviation’ for example. Abbreviations are shortcuts for certain words. Why then is it soooo long? That’s five syllables for crying out loud (or typing really sternly!).

Yeah, OK. So maybe I’ve got some time on my hands to ponder on these things. It’s quarter to seven and I’m still at work. It’s a Wednesday meaning, American Idol’s on tonight. I’m rooting for Vonzelle and Bo but I think it’s going to be a showdown between Constatine and Bo – the battle of the rockers, so to speak. I’m still not counting out Carrie being an early favorite. But please, please, I really thing Anthony or Scott should be voted out – capisce?

Yes, I am. I’m a couch potato but if I had my way, and can name it with something nicer I’d rather call it a boxer. Someone who watches the box all the time – “I’m a boxer, you know.” Sounds really tough. Sometimes, watching these reality shows really is.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Doing the Sand

Just been from a three-day weekend in Abu Dhabi lounging at the Beach Rotana Hotel with my daughter, my husband, my in-laws (sis, bro & cuz). The weather is indeed getting warmer but still not warm enough. In fact, the sea was quite cold thus giving my daughter a bit of a cold these days. We had a great time creating sand castles which looked more like "crap" castles...but what the heck. Amber thoroughly enjoyed splashing in the beach and throwing sand at every living, breathing, moving object that came near her. She excitedly and repeatedly screamed, "Mom, I'm doing the sand!" Now that didn't sound right...or wholesome! Do, the operative word, being to throw or to play with. Oh well a lesson in syntax, context and grammar would have to ensue later to keep her at "appropriate" level as per society's standards. Reminds me of a scene in Mel Brook's 'The History of the World part 1' where he said - as the prince of France - "You do it. Everybody's doing it. I did it and I'm going to do it again."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday - Pinoy Style

It is funny how cultures and traditions meld together to form what is Easter as we know it today.

Pagan times in the Anglo-Saxon regions celebrated the feast of Eastre signifying the beginning of spring and the vernal equinox (when day and nights share equal length) is when they’d give away colourful eggs and feast on rabbits.

During Jesus’ time, the Hebrew celebrated the Pesach or the Passover for 8 days to commemorate their freedom and flight from Egypt. The Last Supper may have been a few days before the Passover and the symbology of the sacrificial lamb tied in with Jesus as the lamb of God.

The Christian leaders agreed in the Council of Nicea to hold Easter on a Sunday but the varying lunar calendar of the Teutonic Easter conflicts with that of the Romans. So it was agreed to hold Easter on the first Sunday after the spring equinox which is after the 21st of March. Thus Easter Sunday can fall on any day between 22nd March and 25th April.

For Catholics, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and the Holy Week starts from Palm Sunday commemorating Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem until Easter Sunday, when he triumphs over death.

In the Philippines, Easter is a part of the Holy Week, a very important celebration in the predominantly Catholic country. I’d like to share some memories of our beautiful Holy Week celebration.

Palaspas or Palm Sunday is celebrated with people going to mass with palm leaves designed like flowers, insects, and many other creative forms. People at the end of mass gather round for the priest to spray holy water on their palm leaves and go home to prepare for a week-long of meditation and reflection.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are normal days and so people go to work, school etc. but in a subdued atmosphere. Revelry is not encouraged because it appears like a direct insult to the graveness of what Christ is about to go through. This is also the time when people refrain from eating meat and would offer small sacrifices i.e. refrain from liquor or smoking as a sign of penance.

Maundy Thursday is when Jesus began his suffering. People go to church and pray, follow the way of the cross (Station of the Cross) and say the rosary. It is advised to visit as many churches as you can. On the street corners you have the local stores and community hangouts converted into a tent where a woman in megaphone or microphone sings out the “Pasyon” in that eerie but melodious sound reminding me of a long-forgotten Spanish tune lost in the folds of religion and history. One line keeps playing in my memories auditory flashback “Nang si Hudas ay madulas....” (When Judas slipped...)

Starting on this day, Thursday, until Saturday, people do not eat. When before it was just abstinence, this time it is fasting. If your physical constitution can handle it, water and bread is ok or none at all would be more commendable.

Friday and Saturday still has the Pasyon singers but now you also have the Penitensya – the penitents who walk the streets in quiet procession wearing crowns of thorns or barbed wire, bare chests with whips – some with pointed edges – that they use to beat themselves on the back. It is such a surreal sight; like the entire Jesus of Nazareth – the Robert Powel version – is being played before your eyes but with local flavour. Oh and yes, watching movies like The Ten Commandments and Jesus of Nazareth is not only encouraged, it’s what’s on in most of the local TV stations so you have no choice but to watch them.

Seen a real live man being nailed onto the cross with blood all over him? Not only is this in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ but visit the Philippines at this time of the year and you will see penitents do the same, and drink and celebrate the next day in drunken abandon!

After visiting all the churches that you can and doing the Station of the cross for a few times, you sit and keep vigil in Church on Saturday night. Early the next morning, at about 4:00am is the “Salubong” where Mama Mary (a big thing for Filipino Catholics) meets her risen son Jesus at dawn on Easter Sunday. Most churches are open and people are there in throngs, the statues of both Mary and Jesus provide a spectacular form of entertainment with candles and hymns being sung, this could be quite a moment!

Then Easter is the Filipino’s excuse to party. In a fiesta like atmosphere Filipinos have also recently adopted Easter eggs and bunnies along with the more traditional food and customs of giving rosaries and prayer books on Easter. I’m the undefeated Easter egg hunter of my family.

For most Filipinos, the Holy week is the time to be with family either off to a retreat somewhere of just at home. Being summer in the Philippines it is a good time to get together before school starts in June. Most Filipinos working or studying in Manila would take the week off to go home to family and be with loved ones.

This is my memory of Holy Week and Easter in the Philippines. I wonder how much of it has changed since then.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Testing, Checking, Confirming

Passion, Death and Resurrection

Having read Irving Wallace’s “The Word” and Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” one wonders if Jesus indeed did live on – literally after his crucifixion. It remains such a mystery if indeed, the disciples had been able to shy him away into safety and there revived and healed continued on and lived and had children as The Word theorizes or had died but left a legacy of wife and children and great, great grandchildren as the Da Vinci Code purports.

It may affect some believers as blasphemous but I think there could be seeds of opportunity to increase and deepen one’s faith in reading books like this. In fact, it is those who have lesser faith who are afraid and would defensively close their eyes on such books (or movies!) so that they are not tempted to lose or change their beliefs. Yet Christ our lord underwent so many temptations in his lifetime. Like the heat and pressure that converts a lowly carbon allotrope (the same carbon you see in your pencil) into a dazzling and durable diamond, so too must we continually test the borders of our faith to ensure we are not stagnating or worse, dwindling.

So do entertain books like the above or movies like Dogma (which I immensely enjoyed!) and see how it affects you as a person...and in relation, your belief system.

Whether he did live on and had children or whether he died on that cross doesn’t dilute the fact that Jesus loved us so much that he suffered and went through all that - which Mel Gibson showed us in “The Passion of the Christ” – pain and trials so that we can believe in something good and thus, strive to be better men and women.

Be open, be bold, be free. Challenge your own set of values, beliefs and standards for only in putting these to the test will we truly know if we indeed believe in them.

The Holy Week

It’s that time of year again when Catholics all over the world reflect on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ – the very foundation of their faith as Christians. Old traditions and habits are hard to break. Starting with Palm Sunday, OFWs in these parts of the desert attended mass last Sunday in droves. They may miss a few Sundays now and then but not during holy days of obligation. A bit surreal is this man standing at the door of the church giving out date palm leaves...probably a more historically correct version of the palms used than our Pacific, south east Asian version of the coconut palm.

People took the palm leaves and sat quietly waiting for the mass to begin. Pinoys on the other hand offered an interesting twist to this rather somber and ho-hum affair by fiddling with their palms and converting them into heart-shaped or caterpillar looking objects complete with antlers and legs! Oh the creativity of being Pinoy! The rest of the community was marveling at how deft our fingers are at the art of palm leave weaving/crafts.

I remember transforming coconut leaves into watches, balls, mattresses, skirts, and many other things while at play. With the growing trend of urbanising and sibdivision-ing (is this even a word?!) large tract of lands that is Manila, children no longer have the trees and natural environment to play in. Creativity and imagination is dumbed out by ready-made plastic toys from China.

The ability to create things and make it beautiful is a gift from God and a talent/skill we should encourage our children to develop in themselves. The decline of our country’s moral fibre goes hand in hand with our relative decline in many ways – and one is the natural joys of a youth at play – not with material things but just with nature and fellow children.

On second thought, while I’m reflecting on Holy Week and self sacrifice, I better hide the PS2 till Easter.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Haciendero

The old man stands gazing out a large French window into the twilight. He is wearing a short-sleeved barong[i] and light cotton trousers, which is getting to be quite the fashion with the elder members of Negrense[ii] society. Gripping his cane harder in his right hand, he heaves a long, heavy sigh pregnant with sadness and perhaps regret. Bowing his head, he shuts his eyes as if the setting sun is hurting them. He could not stop the tears from falling now. The past is much too painful to remember but he is at an age when one thinks nothing only but of the times gone by. ‘Papa…Rosario…has it been really that long ago?’ the man asks himself while tears continue to flow. Slowly, he takes a white handkerchief from his pants pocket, the embroidered initials I.V. like the roman number ‘four’ is visible. The old man wipes his tears away, willing himself to look at the sunset for a few moments before turning his back and walking towards his favorite chair. It is time for afternoon tea. A servant enters the large sala carrying a tray with a huge pot of hot chocolate and some native sweets: kuchinta and palitaw[iii], and some ripe mangoes. Don Isidro Villaruel sits on his favorite arm chair and takes a cup of fragrant hot chocolate from the servant. He nods his head indicating his thanks and waves his hands to tell the servant to leave. With a bow, the servant leaves the old man alone again. He stares at his still hot cup and stirs the drink slowly when he saw his left wrist with a slightly visible scar. He traces the scar with gnarled, trembling, spotty hands. The hands of an old man who has an amazing story to tell – that of living a dual life! He lifts the cup to take a sip but frowns when the hot liquid scalded his lips. He thinks to himself, ‘The children have all grown up now and some are about to start families of their own.’ He attempts another sip, this time rewarded by a sweet, aromatic gulp. He smiles are he muses, ‘Maybe I should tell them about my past?’ He notes that even to himself and in his mind, he is asking a question. He is still afraid that even now, even at his age and after all those many years, the past still makes him want to run away and hide.

[i] Is native Filipino shirt made of jusi or piƱa worn with a balck or white cotton inner shirt as barongs are flimsy, almost transparent with elaborate embroidered designs. This is the national dress for males in the Philippines.

[ii] Refers to the people who live in the island of Negros particularly, Negros Occidental who speak Ilonggo or Hiligaynon, one of the eight major languages in the Philippines.

[iii] Kuchinta is a steamed pudding made from lihiya water. This is eaten with grated coconut as toppings. Palitaw is a form of rice cake made from glutinuous rice and coconut milk and eaten with grated coconut, sesame seeds and brown or white sugar as toppings.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Mothers

Mother’s Day is March 21st here in the desert. I am lucky to have had several mothers in my lifetime and I’d like to give tribute to each one in my blog for this month.

Mama Minda who passed away in 1999 was my biological mother. She was a woman who made bad choices in life with regards to men. Fell in love very young and as quickly fell out of love yet burdened with children and elders to support, she had to hold the role of breadwinner for the family. She’s had her share of life’s ups and downs. Considered book smarts but not street smarts particularly in love. She was very strict and scary when angry but she could be the most romantic and ‘malambing’ mother, singing to you and cooking for you all the delicious desires of your stomach.

Nanay Conching is my maternal grandmother and was practically my mother from birth till I was three. Nanay took care of me because my mother was busy making a living. She was the light of my earliest years. My childhood memories are filled with her ministering to my every needs and whims. Now 80, she is in my thoughts still. I think of ways to make her more comfortable as she prepares herself to the next part of the journey.

Mommy Connie is my mother from age three till now. The mother of my heart. The voice in my head, my conscience, my ideal and the person I seek counsel and guidance from. She is a woman of strength and endless compassion. I admire her spirituality and her capacity to offer love and charity even when there seems to be none left. I pray each night that I never miss the opportunity to be by her side whenever she needs a daughter, a friend or even just someone to listen. I wish her the best of health as there are still so many who depend on her and that she will be blessed with financial riches as there will be no end to how she can share it and with who,

Mama Estella is my godmother, one of my parents’ closest friends. She like all the above women has the capacity to love and give so much of themselves and do not expect any in return but a thoughtful ‘thank you’ from the recipients. Her home was like our home and her children my own siblings. I think of them in times especially when I miss the good old days.

Mamu Ellen was my “mother” when I first came to the United Arab Emirates. She took me under her wings and helped me find friends and form a “sort of” eclectic family that one forms when living abroad. Her sons became my brothers and her house our ‘tambayan’ and second home. She’s now in the US and I wish we’d be able to share some time together when she visits the UAE.

Mama Baby is my mother in law. A shy, reserved woman who loves her family like no other and would stick by her husband through thick and thin. She is the rock that holds her own family together. In her own way, she has offered me support and love and is an email away for times when you just need to communicate with someone. I pray that she is always well and constantly happy.

Tita Mai is my husband’s second mother and my mother-in-law’s younger sister. She is the source of financial succor and the pillar that is the strength of the Korokans in the Middle East. I wish her endless joys and good health.

To all these women, I owe a part of me. I thank you all and to the many others who are mothers, sisters, daughters, friends...ladies I wish you a very happy, healthy, wealthy and peaceful mother’s day. May we always honour the women who bore us, loved us, held us, cared for us, taught us, cried for us, were strong for us, guided us, counseled us, advise us, believed in us, cheered for us, fought for us – us who are sometimes forgetful of all they’ve done and oft times unworthy of their love, time, efforts and energy.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Nostalgic of Tibak Days

Bahaw

Tumaba na sa alikabok
Ang aking aklat na pula
Abo na ang apoy sa puso
Ng aking pagka-aktibista
Panis na ang laway ko
Sa matagal na pananahimik
Bahaw na rin at malamig
Ang sinaing ni Nanay

Humpak pa rin ang pisngi
Ni Tasyong magsasaka
Pawis at nanghihina na
Si Pedrong manggagawa
Patay na ang pag-asa
Ni Neneng sa kakasayaw
Bahaw at basag na ang boses
Ni Isko sa kakasigaw

Malamok, malangaw, mabantot
Ang bansang aking kinagisnan
Maputik, mainit, maalikabok
Ang daan niyang sinusundan
Madugo, mahirap, masakit
Ang kasaysayang pinagdadaanan
Panis na ang bahaw sa mesang
Kaninang umaga lang sinaing ni Nanay

Don't you just have days like this? Don't even ask me to translate it...all these sentiments will disappear in translation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Lalaki

Lalaki. noun. meaning man.
Lalaki. verb. meaning to grow.
Malaki. adjective. meaning big.

So aptly we call men in Filipino because the male genitalia do tend to “grow” when in a state of excitement. But and this is a but with quite a long, audible, pause. How big is big?

On average a Pinoy can harden to between 5 to 7 inches in length. More than that is above the norm. Less than that needs to be helped...or re-think his sexual orientation.

So why do we insist on calling the turtles lalaki? Ok, Ok, because it grows? But then again size is relative. When do you say that that is already “malaki”...as compared to what? The state of being “at rest”? Sooo confusing.

I’d rather men we called LILIIT. That way there is no pressure on the size. The focus would be on how small is could go...after “release”.

Another nomenclature to consider would have been TITIGAS or LALAMBOT because it does harden or soften but size would not be the focal point of the object.

Mala-saging, pahaba, ma-ugat are also more or less variations of a label that relieves the stigma on size being the end all and be all of all manhood. How liberating would that be when Pinoy men are all called TIGAS or mga KATIGASAN!

Whew, all this men-talk makes me suddenly want to go and grab a hotdog sandwich. Now there’s an object where size does matter. Which one would be more “filling” a foot-long or a Weiner? Your choice ladies.

Las Islas Felipinas and fishes

Yoyoy Villame’s novelty song will be forever etched in my memory. Here’ goes (clap your hands and stomp you feet!)

March sixteen fifteen hundred and twenty one
When the Philippines was discovered by Magellan
They were sailing day and night, across the big ocean
Until they came and landed on Limasawa island

I can’t remember the rest of the lyrics but from one blogsite (http://www.motorcyclephilippines.com/forums/showthread.php?threadid=7814) has more:

“Wen Magellan visitated Mactan, to kristianize them everyone...den da batel bigan at dawn... bolos end spers versos gans and kanons...Mactan island he could not grab, Cause LapuLapu is very hard..."

Lapu-lapu was on the one centavo coin. This changed to a fish in the 90’s if I remember correctly.

The fish we know as Lapu-lapu is called hammour in these parts of the desert. Inexpensive as opposed to Manila’s horrendous prices. Affordable thus more Pinoys here can bring it to the table and introduce it’s taste to the young. One convenience they’d find hard to do back home. But that’s just me going off track. hehehe :-)

Lapu-lapu, the man, however remains an enigma. Shouldn’t we try to look more into this intriguing fellow in our history to know more about him? Rather than immerse in the Korean teleseryes of the day?

Here are some sites off the Internet you get on Lapu-lapu, the man, just by a simple keyword search in Google:

http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Harbor/1320/bbilapu.html
http://www.geocities.com/rolborr/lapulapu.html
http://www.yonip.com/main/articles/lapulapu.html

While searching, I also found this interesting site on the Philippines:
http://www.philippines.hvu.nl/index.html

As I reflect on the impact of March 16 in my life as a citizen of the world, and as a Filipino, my stomach yearns for the succulent white meat of inihaw na lapu-lapu. Better visit the fish market on my way home.

For People's Service Corps - UP

Naaalala nyo pa ba...
Ang lamesang blue na pinaitim na ng panahon?
Na siyang saksi sa saya at lumbay sa Palma Hall noon

Naaalala nyo pa ba...
Ang ikatlong palapag ng bulwagang Palma?
Matiyaga't maya-maya'y inaakyat nang tayo'y magkasama-sama

Naaalala nyo pa ba...
Ang logbook (na nawala) ng ating samahang PSC?
Puno ng minutes, doodles, at tula sa mga pinipintakasi

Naalala nyo pa ba...
Ang bench na mahabang, kulay brown?
Na kung sino man ang umupo ay siguradong tanggal ang kanyang frown (what else rhymes with brown!)

Kung naaalala nyo pa nga
Ang lahat nang ito
Naaalala nyo rin kaya
Ang mga nakasama nyo?

Nakipagsaya,
Nakitawa
Naki-kain
Naki-kanta
Naki-gawa
Naki-aral
Naki-isa?

Salamant sa mga ala-ala.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Greys bastos (pa ren!)

I must be old because reunions seem to be the thing floating in the air like a neighbour cooking delicious adobo and the aroma of the pork in soy sauce and vinegar is in the air enticing even the most cold hearted and couldn’t care less kapitbahay to turn his/her nose to that house’s direction. yes, reunions. Virtual and other forms of it. I’ve recently “met up” with friends from my college days; have been doing the same with my highschool and recently orgs and groups and circles I occasionally or frequently encounter are also in the reuniting mood. Nice to know that no matter where you go, people will still refer to you as Greys bastos...the girl so shook hands with men’s crotches! hehehe

Come on people, was that what I will ever be remembered for my stay at the Philippines’ premier university? As the girl whom fratmen avoided because they didn’t want to be touched “there” lest they be discovered that they aren’t in fact, “lalaki” but rather “liliit”? Haven’t I rallied for the noblest of causes? Stood side by side with most of you for freedom of speech and the right to a free, unbiased, state-funded education? Drank alcohol till we passed out at the Sunken Garden or brooded over life’s sorrows while watching the sunset or gazing at the stars?

Sigh. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. At least I know who’s got the ‘goods’ and who doesn’t. Honestly, this old...I barely even remember!

Lion King, Sharon Cuneta and Tantrums

My daughter spent the entire evening miserable because the old people wanted to watch a movie and therefore her current favourite DVD, Lion King, which she calls “Jungle” cannot be played.

She was writhing and wailing on the floor and I pretended not to make big deal about it. Flashbacks of me crying on our stairs looking down at my parents watching the news, when I had wanted to watch The Muppet Show, made me sagely shake my head and smile. Goodness me, I was exactly the same if not worst than my daughter! At least she had the tears. I didn’t. I just had this really annoying wail that would have driven my parents bonkers.

Not people who believed in the rod, they nagged us to death. But in extreme cases, my mother would just ignore us. Such a case when one of us would whine or cry like a baby in need of feeding and immediate nappy change.

So I ignored my little girl while she was building up a storm. After about an hour of forever, she stopped, totally exhausted and eyes sore from all her tears. I went to her and kissed her as asked “iiyakan mo kaya nang ganito ang borfriend mo?”

I’ve had more tears shed for movies of Sharon Cuneta than all my past relationships combined. Makes one wonder if indeed, tears are good indicators of pain and vice versa.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Merchant of Venice and lightsabers

Stunning performance from Al Pacino as Shylock in the most recent cinematic rendition of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. As usual, I fell in love with the fair and clever Portia. As in the book, the scene I loved most is the court/trial of Antonio and Shylock seeking his revenge by means of a pound of flesh.

Portia cleverly argued that Shylock could indeed take a pound of flesh off Antonio but without the blood as that was what was stipulated in their agreement.

Whilst this scene was unfolding, I thought of ways to help poor Shylock gain his somewhat misguided vengence. I say somewhat because indeed he had reason to despise those who in turn despised him. He is after all only human. So how to sever or in much blatant terms, whack off, one pound of flesh off Antonio without the spillage of blood?

I am reminded of several scenes from the Star Wars movies. In Episode 1, Quigon Jin was struck by the laser spear of the Sith. It seared his flesh thus no bloodshed but eventually was fatal. The Sith was cut in half. But no sight of even the slightest drop because the lightsaber would clinically burn the wound and seal it off. In Episode 2, Anakin himself lost his hand and a good part of his arm to Count Dokoo's expert swordsmanship, equalled only by the amazing Yoda (can't wait for the 3rd outting of this film!)

So, to go back on track if indeed there is one, had Shylock the friendship of a Jedi or even a Sith, so long as lightsabers are available, he would have successfully taken his pound of flesh and been satisfied.

Or perhaps a magic wand from one of the Hogwarts characters...?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Mira is free!

As I heard it first hand from Japs during the PSC alumni's gimik at Trellis last March 5th, I sent a silent prayer of thanks to the Almighty for making it possible to free Mira and her colleagues. I sighed a huge sigh of relief, like a sharp pang of fear has been released, upon hearing this good tidings.

Now I marvel at the speed at which information is being transferred and relayed. Imagine it if this were pre-Internet, cell phone and text messages time. She and her companions would have been dead by now! But thank goodness to people who kept calling and forwarding text and emails and just never let it go until news was heard and reached the right people who can do something, this new age of information at a click of a button indeed can be rewarding in situations like this.

Although it comes like a two-edged sword. Mis-information and Dis-information happens twice as quickly on a day-to-day basis. How many lunatics have access to the Internet and may own several websites accessible by even young children? Name it, all the weirdness, horniness, anti-everything and biases or worse can be gleaned upon on the information superhighway. Freedom of expression without the responsibility of such a power can be damaging.

Spiderman's uncle keeps resurfacing in my memory...saying the lines, "With great power comes great responsibility." Makes me think twice what to write when I blog and twice harder still when I read other's blogs.

Is it the truth? And if it truly is, will it make the world a better place? Would it make someone (who reads it) be a better person or at least hope to be a better person?

In this computer age we often rush at things just clicking away without even thinking. The meat of the matter is - computers may give us what we want...but is it really what we need?

Now if my laptop can do laundry and iron my clothes at the same time...then perhaps it is something that I really need!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Mira in Trouble

I received a shocking news this morning. One of my college friend, Mira Gamba, has been picked up by military/police and has gone missing along with three other companions. They are all members of a women's organisation in the Philippines, Gabriela.

Being far away and practically a nobody, my mind rushed on who to contact and what to do in order to help in any way I can. Having been in situations like this during my UP days, I know that if nobody looks for you or asks about you, you are bound to end up raped, abused and worse - dead in an unmarked grave or floating in the Pasig river or burried under a pile of trash either in Smokey Moutain or Payatas.

It is a fact that these things continue to happen in my country. Many activits, politicians, non-government organisation staff, students, teachers who but said one word against a the current ruling elite at that time - can face the possibility of ending up a decaying, unrecognizable mass of flesh and bones.

Mira was a student activist as I was back in our University of the Philippines days. Many of my peers and closest friends were. There were only two choices, apathy or make a difference and care...whilst being in school. We chose to care. Mira chose to care.

In fact, she continues to care so much that she ended up not in the corporate world but in a non-profit women's organisation that aims to uphold women's human rights and give a better chance for women and children in an abusive (most times), patriarchal (since forever) society such as the Philippines.

Thank goodness for emails, online groups and discussion boards, the message about her disappearance spread and reached some of the right people who could make a difference. She and her 3 other companions have been found...and alive.

However, they face the problem of being charged - of possessing firearms and being members of the Communist Party. These women do not carry firearms! Despite the dangerous jungle that is Manila, and their job of visiting families and communities in the remotest and dangerous of places - these women never carry a gun much less a pen knife! It is an obvious plant and the one charge that is by Philippine law, un-bailable.

The problem with our political system is that, anyone who tries to even show that they care for the masses and not themselves and not work towards personal gain but for the benefit of a community, is immediately labelled a communist. Anyone who takes up the issues of the people, raising their level of awareness so that they become more judicious with their choices, is already a rebel and against the government.

Why are we doing this to our own? These women give their time and energy to do good and in the end, they are put in prison and called 'disturbers of the peace'. What peace will we have and our children will have if we do this to the very people who work to achieve it?

I am dumbfounded. I am angry and frustrated. I am in shock. What if that had been me? What if, instead of applying for a job abroad, I had opted for a life of service to my kababayans (countrymen) and worked for an organisation like Gabriela? For indeed I had worked for them during my college days, helped them write up articles and did some research work...so what if I had decided to do what Mira had done? I'd end up behind bars?!?! This is insane! This is ridiculously comedic - it brings tears to my eyes.

Note that the ladies who continue to be in prison and who are wrongfully accused/charged are:

1. Miralyn Gamba, 34 years old of Brgy. Tanauan, Real, Quezon. She is a provincial coordinator of Gabriela
2. Nancy Ella, 33 years old of Brgy. Tanauan, Real, Quezon. She is the First district coordinator of Gabriela
3. Leonila Manalo, 32 years old, municipal coordinator of Real, Quezon.
4. Ailyn Ramos, 23 years old of Tayabas, Quezon, municipal Coordinator of Tayabas, Quezon.

None of these women are communists. None of them have ever carried a gun or used a gun, even if her life depended on it. These are normal, hard working Filipinas whose only dream is to make women's conditions in the Philippines a little bit better than what it currently is.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Another Farewell

JP or Joanne, a dear and long-time friend, lost her mother to cancer a couple of weeks ago. It was a long battle with the first signs when we were still in university together. Her mama joins their father in the Elysian Fields and suffers no more.

To those who knew JP, she flew to Manila to lay her mother to her final resting place. She and her two other sisters, Christine Abinales and Vivien Parenas will be joined by many relatives and friends who loved both their parents and knew them well.

JP said that her mom's cancer had spread first from the breasts which had already been taken off to her stomach and her bones. Finally it had invaded her lungs and a major operation, with unsure results, would have to had scheduled but her mom decided to return to their home in Marbel, South Cotabato and be comformtable in their home. She passed away peacefully and was spared of further pains. A small comfort to the three sisters left behind.

When our friends parents die, especially friends who are close to us, we feel that we too, lost someone dear to us. It tugs painful strings in our hearts and brings us to tears. I realise that one does not need to be related by blood to miss someone and to feel grave sadness when they're gone. I already miss JP's mom. Her beautiful mestiza features with always a smile on her face. Her distinct Visayan "lambing" when she calls her daughters 'ga' - short for 'palangga' (beloved).

Wherever you may be, I know you are finally cancer free. Don't worry, I'll look in on my friend, you daughter, every now and then.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Bye Tatay...

Jess C. Betia was a man who loved life and enjoyed every moment. I called him Papa Jess or Tatay as his own children would address him. He was a loving father and a devoted husband.

Just as 2005 is getting started, we said our final goodbye to Papa Jess. He is survived by his wife, Estella Nessia, and four children: Ma. Lynn, Jesus, John-John and Pearly May.

I have snippets of moments with him and his family forever etched in my memory. Who would forget the "Battle of the Bulge" mahjong sessions with my parents or the countless mahjong games our families have played together.

I will always remember the fun times we shared during gartherings and parties commemorating milestones in life: my parents' wedding where Papa Jess and Mama Stella were sponsors, kids' and grandkids' birthdays, weddings, christenings, confirmations, Christmases, All Souls Days at South Cemetery, or even just the ordinary weekend or night sleep-in when you have nothing else to do.

It is always sad to hear of someone passing away. Even sadder when that someone had been a close friend or family member. Papa Jess is definitely family. And so the pain is deeper and would take longer to heal.

He was my dad's best friend. They worked in Ramcar in the early 70's. Shared so many memories together as their families increased and as the years progressed.

He was a patient father and a sweet husband. I remember one night, Ate Lynn, his eldest daughter, had migraine and he was there by her side, embracing her and soothing her to help the pain go away. If there were family differences (and even in the best of families, there would be) he was the mediator, the peace maker. He loved his children in the good times and loved them more in the bad times. He was always sweet and loving to his wife - telling us kids how he courted and wooed her.

So with much sadness I bid Papa Jess, goodbye. I know that you are in a better place. The years have brought us farther apart and I didn't have that chance to kiss you goodbye. May these silent prayers and thoughts of you be like kisses that reach you in heaven.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Diets and Stuff

OK so my high school reunion looms in the horizon and that is somewhere in the vicinity of July 2005 - about six months away from today. In the past eleven years of living in the UAE, I have ballooned to at whooping 75 kilos from my original 50 kilos in my college days. (Oh dear) So now, what I ate and drank in the past 11 years to have put me in this current state of well-roundedness, I must eliminate within this six-months time frame. (How the hell am I going to do that?!)

The solution diet and exercise. I have begun along with my sister-in-law the abridged Atkins diet and have started going back to the gym again. The objective being that when I see my schoolmates again, I would not be within the category of "OMG, she totally let herself go!"

So after kicking off the week with eating meat and sightly meaty sustenance, I have lost about 2.5 kilos bringing me down to about 72.5 as of this post. My target is at least to go down to 65 which is 10 kilos off my current weight and about 15 kilos more than my original svelt figure.

As I did my early morning sit-ups today, I wonder why go through all this pain and suffering? Just so people who I haven't seen in the past 17 years can judge me whether I got fat or behaved myself in the kitchen? The is a slightly disturbing thing in this mad rush to look ones best for other people. Why the heck and why indeed?

Despite my adherence to feminism and spite for the status quo, I still continue to fall victim of media and society. Although I have come to accept myself as a woman who is fat and has to wear XL and sometimes XXL sized clothes, I feel a pang of guilt for having gone this much bigger when I used to be wearing Ms.

And the sad fact is, I am not alone in this crisis. Thousands of women like, from all walks of life, culture, religion, social strata undergo the same feeling everyday. Why do you think gyms are such lucrative business? And those diet schemes off the Internet that sell like pancakes? Because no matter how educated we have become, we are still trapped by what our current society dictates - that only super model like women and barbie doll look alikes get to live life to the fullest.

So as i weighed myself in the scale this morning, I sent a silent prayer to the God of Slimming and Well-Being: May I see a lower number or get me a new weighing scale! please?!?!
Been listening to South Border's stylised version of an old ballad, "Usahay" and at first i thought it sounded weird that something so old and sort of 'standard' had suddenly taken on a new twist to it. As listening continued, I began to have second thoughts. The lyrics are the same but the sound, which at first I thought was over-acting, slowly sounded pleasant. It grows on you and you find your self singing it in the shower, while making coffee, humming the new tune! To those who are unfamiliar with it, the lyrics in Cebuano (Sugbuhanon) goes like this: Note Tagalog and English transaltions follows.

Usahay (Cebuano)

Usahay, nagadamgo ako
Nga ikaw ug ako nagkahigugma-ay.
Nganong, damguhon ko ikaw
Damguhon sa kanunay
Sa akong kamingaw?

Usahay, nagamahay ako
Nganong nabuhi pa nianing kalibutan.
Nganong giti-awti-awan
Ang gugma ko kanimo
Kanimo Day?

Usahay (Tagalog)

Paminsanminsan napapaniginipan ko
Na ikaw at ako'y nagkaibigan
Bakit kaya kita madalas mapanaginipan
Sa tuwing ako'y nag-iisa (nalulungkot)?

Paminsanminsan, nagsisisi ako
Kung bakit pa ako nabuhay dito sa mundo
Bakit mo naman pinaglaruan lang
Ang pag-ibig ko sa iyo Inday?

Usahay (English)

I sometimes dream
that you and I had fallen in love
Why do I often dream of you
In the midst of my isolated longing?

Sometimes I regret the fact
That I was even born in this world
For why did you only make fun of
my love for you, dear lady?

This is the only song I know that is:

1. short - two stanzas long
2. ended in a question mark
3. there are only four sentences to this song. two statements and two questions but the entire ethos behind it is the sadness the singer feels about the way the object of his/her affection reacted to his/her revelation.

So sad, so common in young hearts and even in those matured and love weary. Oh well, better to have loved and lost that never to have loved at all.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Road Test

Here I am still a failure from procuring a driver's license. I just finished my second road test today and got a big "NO, not today!" result from my two nemesi, the traffic police officer - male and female - who like hawks watched my every move, waiting for that one chance that I will make a mistake.

I feel like a big fat loser today. Friends have been encouraging but still, the knowledge deep down that I could have done better is still my very own. And I know I should have...and yet...

I'll have to do better the next time around.

Phoooeeey!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

New Year Resolutions

Each year at the end, I sit a while and assess how my year had passed. I go over how good I have been to my family, friends as well as colleagues at work and even total strangers. I also review the misdeeds I've made - trying to rationalize each one. Finally I open my list of "to do/to fulfill" and check if I've done most of them.

This had been something my mom had taught us as kids. To set goals and try to achieve them. You can do so consciously, by setting targets or simply just write down the things you want and find out at the end of the year if you're any closer to your dreams.

Last year I noted three major things and two out of the three came about. No bad eh?! This year, my list has gone up to five. Two major things and three small things that I'd like to accomplish.

In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, we forget the things we truly want. When we re-visit the list again after a year, it helps us give focus into our lives and reaffirm what we want to be and where we want to be.

It is not really a matter of keeping score. After all, you are up against no one but yourself. A simple note like losing 10 pounds or reading two new novels before the year ends are do-able enough. And yet it is so easy to forget about them when life hits us with so many woes and business. The fact that you've written it down makes you committed - in the least - to make it a reality.

You can put major stuff but be realistic, after all you only have one year to fulfill them so instead of putting down "become a millionaire" which is next to impossible unless you won the lottery or something, put down "Save $100 a month" and do it. At the end of the year, you may not be a millionaire but you're twelve hundred bucks richer.

It's never to late to begin anything and there is always time to finish things you've begun. Make a difference in your life this 2005.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Rounding Up the Old and Sounding in the New

Living far from the Philippines, one tends to find friends good company during occassions like Christmas and New year, times when you usually spend with your relatives and being Filipinos, you usually spend it with several hundreds of friends and relatives spanning a few days or weeks!

So it was a different new year for us this time. We celebrated with family members on December 30th because everyone else is going back to Abu Dhabi and working. Of course, we weren't able to usher in the new year because technically, it wasn't new year's eve.

On the 31st of December, we went to buy our 13 round fruits to signify bounty. Had this been Manila, it would have required a fortune to purchase one round fruit of 13 varieties. Some friends used to but seven to mean 'lucky 7' because buying all 13 will drastically diminish their cash resources. And you've got to have money when the new year strikes!

So Pinoys would fill their pockets with money. Green money is preferrable as the exchange rate is just unbelievable between the dollar and the peso. It is currently pegged at 56 pesos to a dollar (US) so imagine if you've got hundreds of the green kind from Uncle Sam. Being without money as the new year approches signifies that you will want for money the entire year.

This goes the same for the basic spices of life. Filipinos make sure that the cupboards have enough salt, sugar, rice and food stuff to ensure that you will not lack for anyhting. It is also good to wear polka dotted or striped clothing because these means you'll have lots of money in the coming year.

The religious in us, start the new year hearing mass and afterwards partake of the Noche Buena. It is always good practice - and if you can truyl afford it - to fill your table with foods representing the various commonly edible (to the Filipino palate) produce. So in addition to the 13 fruits of bounty, you must have dishes made of fish, fowl, pork and beef - rounded, if possible, rich in sauces preferrably.

As the New Year arrives, Filipinos open their windows and doors to welcome the coming of the year and to say goodbye to the old one. This is usually done by lighting up firecrackers and banging on pots and pans or simply creating a ruckus by jumping up and down screaming "Happy New Year" and smiling so that you will enjoy happiness all year round.

There will be toasts using the native tuba or the beloved Filipino brew. Some more cultured would prepare a bubbly or wine to toast the coming of the new year.

Despite being another reason to party, the new year celebrations, Pinoy-style is also a chance to re-affirm good plans for the coming year, bridge gaps between severed friends and relations, and also to be thankful for the blessings of the past year.

In the midst of all the round stuff and the polka dots, behind the flashy fireworks and after all the noise to scare evil spirits away lives in the heart of every Filipino to yearning for a better life - not only for himself but for his fellowmen. There - in the heart of each kababayan - cries of pleading arise for a better leadership for our country so that we too can be truly a new dragon in Asia and show the world that we can make a difference.

In the quieter receptions in these parts of the desert, there is the longing to spend these precious times with family. How I wish the Noche Buena we have prepared can be share with poorer relations who would have enjoyed the fare more than us. And from the desert, a silent prayer is sent to all the loved ones who cannot be with us - in the hope that they are truly happy as the new year dawns upon us.