Friday, October 28, 2005

Going bonkers with banking

Yesterday, I was standing in line at this bank in Emerald Avenue and could not help but feel sad that banks do encourage people to transact their business with their machines. There were only two tellers and there were about 60 of us waiting and seething and ready to explode any minute. Sometimes I do wonder what it is about Filipinos that make us take everything in stride silently and calmly - even rude and undeserved customer treatment.

I was in Grade Six when I opened my first savings account. Every Monday, I would set aside a few pesos from my weekly baon and come recess time, I would walk the two blocks to the bank that was "subok na matibay, subok na matatag" to entrust my money to a very pretty and smiling teller seated behind a marble-finished counter.

The banks of my childhood were institutions that commanded one's awe and respect. One never doubted their stability. It was unthinkable to imagine bankers as anything but paragons of virtue whose main job was to safeguard your money. Banks then had a human face and a warm body that represented it, not sterile machines.
If you wanted to transact business, you talked to a banker in person, not to a recorded voice. If you wanted to visit a bank, you dress up, comb your hair and go downtown. If you wanted your passbook updated, you hand it over to the teller you do not go online and talk to your computer.

Not anymore today.

I do miss the security and comfort that one used to feel inside a bank. It's not just because the marble tiles are gone, or the fact that bankers today look like they are kids fresh out of school rather than like your school teacher or principal.

It has more to do with the fact that today, banks are really just instruments of convenience.

The major changes in the banking industry probably best illustrate the landmarks of our journey towards the new civilization.

Big is better. Our preoccupation with size is best illustrated in the way banks swallow up each other in an effort to prove who is better. Mergers, acquisitions, expansion are the order of the day. In life, having the bigger car or the biggest television set translate into being a better person in the eyes of most.

Loyalty and relationships are fleeting. Having a bank account today does not anymore translate into a "relationship," it only means that you are a statistic in their computer files. A "relationship" is something reserved for those with gazillions of money. Loyalty? You may have an account with one bank, but it does not mean you transact with them all the time. With an ATM card, you can go to any bank within their network.

Consumerism is the trend. Today, there is a product for everything and everyone. If you can be categorized into a group, be assured that someone will think of a product that you will need. Banks today churn out all sorts of products and services tailored specifically for your needs. Some banks even allow you to "shop" for appliances, even win trips abroad while banking with them.

People will buy convenience at any cost. If there is anything that banks are really good at today, it is in the area of giving people convenience. You want to save trips to pay your utilities, income tax, insurance premiums? Go to a bank. You can even buy phone cards for your pre-paid cellphone through your account.

Technology helps, but it can also mess up your life. Banking is probably the best example of how technology works. The power of technology really cuts across all barriers of time and space. You can deposit money in Manila today and someone in Zamboanga can access that money within seconds. On the other hand, an ATM machine can credit your account with a withdrawal transaction that did not get consummated. And you bet, it will take days before someone will be able to unravel the mess. What about the many times that your bank was off-line when you needed to money most?

Cash is king, whoever has the gold rules. Ever been in a situation when you queued up for hours towards a bank teller only to notice someone wearing 10-carat diamonds idly sipping coffee inside the manager's office while two bank employees serve her needs?

Nothing is foolproof, human ingenuity will break even the most advanced security measures. Banks have invested heavily on all sorts of gadgets and devices to protect themselves. But even the most advanced technology will not eliminate fraud, robbery, or the power of human ingenuity.

Some things in life are constant, they will not change. Sooner or later, you will need a bank. This is as certain as death and taxes. Whatever you do, wherever you are, you will not be able to escape the temptation or the necessity of having to deal with banks.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Booooooooooooooooo

If anyone out there needs one more proof that globalization is here, I suggest he or she goes around Metro Manila’s exclusive villages and malls this weekend. Of course, it is easier to simply go into a Pinoy-bashing mode and say that the Halloween frenzy is more a result of the Filipino’s inherent copycat tendencies. But I prefer to ascribe it to globalization – we now celebrate Halloween in Metro Manila because it is no longer a Western thingy – it is now celebrated across the world. Blame it on CNN, blame it on expats, blame it on movies.

So come Saturday, expect kids in costumes to flock to the malls with their orange plastic pumpkin bags. Expect them to holler "crick or creak" or variations thereof to the store personnel in exchange for some cheap candies the total value of which will not even come close to 1/10th of the parking fee their parents have to fork up for the visit to the mall. Forget the cost of the costumes, forget the fact that the whole family will have to drop by Jollibee for snacks and Dad’s for buffet, and forget the fact that Mom will probably have to do some shopping done to while away the time while the kids do their thing. And before you accuse me of being such a spoilsport, let me hasten to add that I will probably be there as well lugging around the tots in the house and enjoying every single thing I am ranting about in this blog.

I am told that at Ayala Alabang, some families spend more for Halloween decors than for Christmas decors. Hmmm… I don’t blame them. Halloween offers more, how shall I say this, opportunities for creativity and fun. I was told one particular house rents a real casket and displays it in front of their house every year. Maybe they should consider buying one permanently although I am not sure storing a coffin in your garage for Halloween is good for anyone’s mental health.

I pass by Valle Verde on the way home from work everyday and today I noticed that they have started to decorate the gate of the village with scarecrows and…doll soldiers. No kidding. Over at Medical Towers Makati, they have a similar "installation art" but at least the soldier is made to look like a ghost from World War I. Maybe they are trying to be relevant; maybe what they are saying is that soldiers today are just as scary as ghosts. Whatever.

But seriously, when I was a kid growing up in the province, we did have this tradition on the eve of all saints day. We did not garb ourselves in silly costumes or anything like that, but the idea was to do some mischief for and on behalf of the dear departed. The usual modus operandi was for groups to serenade a family as decoy while someone does some mischief like stealing chicken, or fruits, or spraying paint on the fence. But when I reached puberty, the tradition had sort of died already. It simply wasn’t safe anymore, one could get shot while doing the mischief and well, it simply wasn’t worth it.

And so this weekend, see you at Malate and Makati. But please, enough already of the Mulawin costumes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Advanced Math

I now know the import of those oft-repeated admonition: tatanda ka din.

When I was young - I mean younger - and foolish, I admit I scoffed at these words. Oh sure, at the back of my mind I know that that is an irreversible fact of life - everyone ages. But when one is at the pink of health and full of vim, cholesterol counts and all that stuff were things incomprehensible and irrelevant. They could very well be asteroids orbiting another solar system in a distant galaxy, you know they are there but they just do not concern you.

And then wham! I hit the threshold age and a few weeks later, I am pacing outside some doctor's clinic waiting for the results of all kinds of tests. Within a span of two weeks, I was poked at, my insides peered at, my blood analyzed, etc, etc. I never realized there was this variety of tests available. And by golly, whoever thought of these tests must have been trained by the Nazi doctors during the Holocaust.

All of a sudden, I am counting cholesterol levels, sugar levels, blood pressure, heart beats, respiration, etc. I have seen an ENT specialist, a cardiologist, an internist, an opthalmologist, a neurologist, an abortionist (just kidding about the last one). And all these on top of my regular doctors and close friends who also happen to be doctors.

You would think that after all those procedures and with a century worth of medical training and expertise among them, they would be able to diagnose what exactly was causing my blood pressure to rise and my constant nausea. No cigar. It seems some things are still beyond the realm of science after all.

And so they all cast if off to something I could have done in the first place (which I always do admittedly) - blame my parents for it - genetics!

I wish I can charge the bills to my parents as well.

Why I write

Someone emailed asking how long it takes me to write entries to this blog. The quick answer is, I don't have that much time to spare so I make do with whatever time I have which is often not much. Sometimes I can dash off a piece in 10, maybe 20 minutes; or the entire given time I can sit in front of the pc online. Sometimes, the entry I am currently writing sits as a screensaver in my pc at work, something that I return to every now and then and whenever I can snatch time from the thousand and one things that ordinary work drones like me have to do, until it assumes some form fit for publishing.

I do wish I have the luxury of brooding over and delicately crafting the entries. But I know that if I do that, very few entries would ever get past my often harsh critical eye.

I fancy myself a writer (blush). That's the worn-out excuse I give whenever I am asked why I bother. I try to be better at it - and someday, I hope I can do or be that. My fondest dream is to be able to save enough money to buy a farm somewhere in Batangas (Tagaytay would be perrrrfect, but I know that is beyond my means), grow fruits and vegetables, and write and read and write all day and night. What bliss it would be to finally have all the time in the world to write.

But why do I do this? Quite frankly, I do not know.

I started writing when I was in high school. But I never got serious about it, although many of my teachers (bless their souls) did encourage me with lavish praises. It was in College when I did try to learn how to write. I was editor of my College paper and of the annual book, and on the side, I moonlighted as columnist of a weekly newspaper. However, to this day, I still can not find the courage and the willpower to actually revisit what I wrote then - I think it is a punishment that awaits all writers: to be haunted by their past hysterical attempts at this craft. But I still write, or try to. And for this, I am extremely thankful to the internet and whoever thought of this blogging thing. At least now there is space for my rants and raves and my often senseless and tedious prose.

To me, writing is therapeutic. It's like having a long conversation where I get to clarify my thoughts and my confusions. The more I write about whatever it is that I am thinking about, the clearer it becomes to me. And then before I know it, it has achieved some form; like an opinion that I never thought I really had to begin with or a point of view that got crystallized.

But more than anything else, I think writing keeps me sane and grounded. The few minutes I spare writing for this blog has been doing wonders for my sanity and health- I have only been blogging for two months and wonder of wonders, in that span of time, I have been able to keep my blood pressure within manageable levels.

So to all of you who write me to tell me that they keep track of my blog, thank you. You are all doing me a great favor.

Long Hair

It happened again today.

I bumped into someone I haven't seen in a while and voila! she took it upon herself to comment about my long hair and asked if I am allowed to wear it long. I have grown used to it already - including unsolicited comments about how to take care of my hair, how to make sure one does not have tangles, etc. Just an aside: why do some people think it is okay to make comments about another person's appearance as a greeting? For example: uy taba mo ngayon ha..or di bagay suot mo. Ehhhhh?

I still get slightly annoyed when people suggest that I should not have long hair at all because it does not look professional. Excuse me?

Women can have long hair, but men can't? Women can cut and style their hair very short like those of men, but men can not have long hair? Where is it written that men should have short hairs? Even Jesus Christ and most of the prophets did have long hair.

For the record, I have highly personal reasons (and they are valid!) for wearing my hair long. I do not necessarily like it because it takes such a lot of effort to groom and it can be pretty inconvenient sometimes (try reading something in a moving vehicle with your view constantly being blocked by hair). Plus it does get itchy on the face when hair scratches skin. But I have made a commitment and I am sticking to it.

I think that people should respect other people's choices. I think that the measure should be hygiene and aesthetics. You want long hair? Then make sure it is clean looking and keep it neat. Be responsible. Otherwise, as the song goes "anong paki mo sa long hair ko, inggit ka lang kasi ikaw nakakalbo!"

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Faded silver screens

While having a spirited conversation about movies with a friend, we hit upon a sudden and sad realization. Not only are moviehouses getting smaller and smaller (and the cost of movie tickets rising in reverse proportion, the smaller the movie house becomes, the more expensive the price of tickets), the old movie houses are decaying and giving way to…of all possible options… churches! I don’t mean that the movie houses are being demolished to give rise to the construction of a new church. No, no, it is more literal – the movie houses themselves are converted into places of worship.

At the Olivarez Shopping Complex in Binan, for example, the moviehouses have become churches of the “Ang Dating Daan” community – yup, that’s the group best remembered for being spoofed by Brother Pete in Bubble Gang. And it is the same everywhere else – from Luzon to Mindanao. At first blush, I think it is ingenious – a movie house after all is as good a stage as any auditorium – the seating has been configured for maximum visual stimulus, the acoustics perfect, etc., etc.

One can make fun of the metaphorical implications of such transformations. Does it mean that the worship happening inside the moviehouse is also make believe? An illusion? And what if the erstwhile moviehouse has a reputation for being – ehem – a house of pleasure? Do they conduct exorcism inside the moviehouse to dilute the carnal atmosphere of the place before their worship?

But something must be said about the social and cultural implications of the general neglect of our moviehouses. Truth is, it can not be denied that many moviehouses, particularly those in old towns are national landmarks, at the very least, in terms of architecture.

In Tacloban City, for example, one such moviehouse called The Republic Theatre, has been converted into a warehouse. But I remember that this particular moviehouse had wooden sofas for seats in its balcony section. Not ordinary sofas, mind. These were intricate sofas carved out of whole timbers, with designs that were really functional and artistic. I heard that the owners of the place simply left the sofas to decay, crushed under the weight of the machines and equipment and supplies that they stocked inside the warehouse. What a waste. Another theatre, Xyrex theatre, had an imposing façade with art deco architecture. This has been demolished too.

I remember the moviehouses in Avenida – those theatres with spacious lobbies and winding staircases. Today, the theatres inside malls do not offer the same experience – you just sneak inside a door and that’s it, no more stately climbing up a staircase as if entering a new world. No more ceremonies.

I understand that the reason why these moviehouses have been reduced to such dismal state is because they are losing business enterprises. Very few people watch movies inside those places anymore. Just another tragic consequence of pirating, greed, and lack of foresight.

Davao in my mind

There are places that stand out from memory; places that you tuck away in a special place in the deep recesses of your mind and revisit every now and then with fondness and yearning. Davao City is one such place to me.

I spent a significant part of my growing years here. This is where the very first traumatic experience in my life happened – a fire that engulfed the whole neighborhood and forced thousands of families to flee like stampeding animals caught in a wildfire. That fire(which happened at midnight) decimated everything on its path – houses, playground, memories; and forcibly, prematurely, and tragically separated a barkada of young boys. To this day, there are times when I wonder what happened to the rest of my childhood friends. (So, in the off chance that they are reading this – Jun and Michael Barriga, Noli and Tonton, etc – I hope you guys are doing well. Email and call me sometime). After that fire, my family packed up and went back to our roots in Leyte.

I did visit Davao many times over the years, even spending a whole year here in the 1980s as part of my “political” work. At least that was the official story. Actually, the main motivation why I chose to come to Davao and spend one year here was to be with this girl who completely swept me off my feet (the feeling was very mutual, mind!) at that year’s National Congress of College Editors. That is another story that needs to be written for the sake of closure. She eventually became a best friend and years later met a merciless and brutal death at the hands of the military. Her name was Maria Teresa Prudencio. She was an idealist. An activist. And to this day, I still can not bear to read the full account of how she was tortured, killed, and left to rot in public as bait for her husband (who was an NPA commander) to come down from the hill. Mga hayup talaga ang mga lintik na militar na mga yun!

The Davao City that I saw this morning from the plane and from the window of the car that fetched me from the new airport to bring me to the Grand Men Seng Hotel is completely different from the city of my childhood affections. For sure, the rustic setting, the old world charm and the vastness of the city are still evident; this, after all, is a city that is so large even breath neck development has not been able to completely alter the landscape. But gone are the landmarks of my childhood. In their places are sterile artifacts that spell progress but lack soul.

Gone are the haunts of my childhood. Boulevard, (actually Magsaysay Blvd is the full name of the stretch) used to be a long walk with the sea on your right and the smell of nipa on mud. I used to spend a lot of time there – throwing stones at flying fishes. Today it is just a row of shanties and commercial stalls. The parks around the City Hall are gone too, they are now simply structures of concrete and rubble. And the quaint old specialty shops at San Pedro Street (one was oddly called USA Store) are gone too, swallowed and gobbled down by the giant Gaisanos and Shoemarts.

Tagumpay Theatre, which eventually became… The New Tagumpay Theatre (they renovated the theatre, see?) was the moviehouse of my childhood (it was the one moviehouse that showed double features of Karate movies – Bruce Lee and all those flying actors that twirled in mid air and spun fans and uttered atrocious lines like “you must be tired of living”) is gone too. I spent far too many Sunday afternoons there – it helped of course that it was owned by the uncle of a good friend of mine so we had unlimited access to the place via a side door. Of course, every time we made our sneaky entry, people would howl and curse at us because when we opened that side door, the whole theatre would be washed out in blinding sunlight coming from the open door and their enjoyment of the movie would be temporarily suspended.

Why I loved Chinese movies was another story. It was courtesy of that childhood friend of mine who was into karate and Bruce Lee. Eventually, I did get to like those movies because it helped me improve my English – I had to read the subtitles fast because the actions were too fast and I had to translate to my friends as well. To this day, I still have this habit of reading subtitles too fast – I can read subtitles at a glance. But the fascination with Chinese movies has stayed. It has become an acquired taste, one of my guilty pleasures in life.

I do miss this city.

A number of things have changed in this city, but there are some things that have not changed as well. Flowers are still a common sight – and they still come really cheap. Over at San Pedro Cathedral, the church with an imposing façade that looks like a ship’s hull (or a bishops’ headgear) roses are still sold at a bargain – about three pesos each. So here, it is quite normal to see young ladies carrying bunches of roses as they walk. It is easy to be romantic in a place like Davao.

And the fruits!!! This is a fruit lovers’ haven. It is sad that when people think Davao fruits they only think of the durian or the pomelo. There are more fruits here and they are really cheap. Bananas of course. Pineapples. Rambutan, lanzones, mangosteen, marang, macopas, longans, etc.

I am told that Shoemart has set up a mall here, as if it is not enough that there are Gaisano malls everywhere and a Victoria’s Mall to boot. Well, this is one urban phenomenon that we will have to pay dearly for in the future – when old quaint specialty shops will be nothing more than fodder to memory, swallowed up by the monolithic SMs.

Too bad am only staying for two days this time. But I promise to come back soon. There is just too much to come back to. And hopefully, one day I will have the time to revisit the memories of my childhood.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Requiem

Some things in this life are so wonderful, they can command awe and take our breath away. But everything in this life is also finite - everything comes to an end eventually. Sad, very sad, but such is life.
And so, there come a time when we ask, even of Shakespeare, even of Kurosawa, even of Picasso - is this all? There comes a time when you ask even of a supposedly perfect relationship - what's more?

This week, something that used to be so beautiful and wonderful finally came to an end. There were no fireworks, no soap opera hysterics, not even a drop of tear. It was as amicable and, well, natural, as dawn breaking into day. No screeching stops, no recriminations; simply an enlightened dialogue between two adults who reached a crossroad and decided to take separate paths. Was it a fitting finale to an almost eight year relationship? I do not know. But how does one determine how a relationship should end?

Funny but I have been humming that song from Tell Me On A Sunday ("don’t write a letter, if you have to leave; don't call me at 3 am from a friend's apartment - I'd like to choose, how I'd hear the news…take me to a park, that's covered with trees, tell me on a Sunday please. Don't want to know, who's to blame, there's no point knowing. I don't want to fight day and night…what's the use in trying.") in the last three months. It probably was a portent of things to come. Not that I wasn’t ready for it because in my heart of hearts, I know it was simply inertia that was fueling the relationship (if one can still call it that). Ever been on bed on a lazy Sunday morning when you know there is nothing urgent to be done and you just lie there wondering if you should get up or just go back to sleep? That was how it has been in the last year. I guess we were both too engrossed on too many different and separate things that we just let it die - just like that.

And so, to all that was and could have been, for the wonderful seven years and 9 months, for all the laughter and the occasional tears, and simply for being there to hold my hand or challenge my mind or share stupid things together, thank you for the great ride.

And yes, let's be there for each other whatever happens. Just because it ended doesn’t mean we can not start another one.

Animal Talk

There are cat lovers and there are dog lovers.
I know some people who are cat people - they have no patience for the slobbering, unabashed affection, and eternal enthusiasm of dogs. They prefer the aloofness, the royal carriage, and the prim and proper demeanor of cats. On the other hand, I know a lot of dog people, the kind who prefer the perky, loyal, frisky, and the action that dogs provide.

I am both. I have a cat and a dog. My current dog is a huge black labrador named Altus. Don't ask why that is his name - when I got him he was already "baptized" and registered. Fluffy the cat is a white pusakal (pusang kalye). I really do not know what her original name is - she moved into my old house and decided to adopt all of us. Fluffy was the name given to her by a friend of mine.

If there is any doubt about the distinctiveness of the characteristics and traits of cats and dogs, they are obliterated beyond doubt by Altus and Fluffy.

Fluffy thinks she is the owner of the house. She decides when she wants to be petted and any space she occupies is her space. In the last week, she has sequestered a place on top of an antique table as hers - that is where she takes her naps. Naturally, we had to move all the buddha figures and the photographs that used to own the spot. We have tried moving Fluffy to other more comfortable places like the sofa or another chair, but our insistence has only yielded a broken picture frame that she simply dislodged from her chosen perch. No use arguing with the owner of the house - the cat rules.

Altus on the other hand demands attention and when not given, he is liable to display all the classic signs of ADHD. He has this penchant for hugging people - and he can hold on tightly in a hug using his front paws anyone he takes a fancy to. We have run into some scary situations because of his unbridled "enthusiasm." He does not bite and is generally genial - but his size betrays his intentions, people generally fear him. Once, he was being walked on the street when a tricycle came by. The foolish driver lost control of his tricycle when Altus playfully lunged at it. Tricycle, driver and passengers all turned turtle. It could have been a comical sight and we would have been in stitches had the passengers seen it in the same light. Unfortunately, they thought the dog was about to devour them. You can guess what happened next.

I just love animals. There was a time when I had less responsibility and clutter. Thus, there was ample space for all kinds of pets in the house and in my life. I had a boxer dog (named Nicole - a really nice tempered, loving, obedient dog - I really really miss that dog! When she died due to old age, I bawled like a baby. Until now, I still can not bear to have another boxer dog as I can’t help but feel that having another boxer dog would be a sign of disloyalty to her).

I also had about fifty (yes, that many) hamsters. I started with two. Hamsters are prolific breeders - they give birth to a litter every 16 days! After a while, I had to separate the males and the females for the sake of domestic peace (both the hamsters' and mine). I had an aquarium (always had one - I have two now, three actually including the pond outside that contains koi). I also had a cage of parakeets, including one who strangely was so docile, we could set it free inside the house and it would simply perch on tables and cabinets. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, this bird soon discovered the true value of freedom and pursued it.
I also had some green turtles in a fish bowl. They were given as gifts. Sadly, I wasn’t really knowledgeable about the proper care of turtles - either the water level of the bowl was too shallow or deep, or the temperature too hot. Whatever.

There too was a crawfish also known as a lobster. That one did not end up in the frying pan though. I guess crawfishes really have short life spans.

I was tempted to get a tarantula and a snake, but my partner at the time thought that was where the line was to be drawn. And maybe it was just as well - I eventually moved to a new job that required too much time and attention I had to give up some of the pets and give them away to people with more time on their hands.
As I write this, Fluffy the cat is scratching on the door of my room probably telling me to stop embarrassing her. Why I am writing this? I have no idea. Just thought about pets today, that's all.

Guilty

Someone actually emailed me to inquire why there has been no recent posting on this blog. I did not realize that aside from the sum total of three people who I know read this blog regularly and simply as fodder for their daily exchange of emails, I did not realize there were other people who have actually found their way somewhere in cyberspace to this spot.
The answer is trite and outworn. I wish it was something dramatic or unusual - but sadly, it is the old, worn out excuse: been so busy lately. And since I have started shamelessly trundling out cliches, I might as well add one more. Yes, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.
I have also been travelling lately and had no easy access to the internet. Having been used to clicking on my own laptop and zapping through the internet in the privacy of my own room (or office), I never realized how inconvenient and uncomfortable it is working in an internet café. I am one of those people who just can't help feeling a bit self-conscious when working beside someone who is also doing his own thing. The last time I was in a café earnestly trying to read emails, I couldn’t help but feel paranoid that the person beside me was also snooping on my emails. True, I did sneak a glance or two (all right, okay…maybe it was more than that) at what he was doing (chatting in YM!… and it wasn’t something you could recite inside a confessional booth).
So I did try, but ended up simply doing emails.
I am guilty of negligence. Thank god, a blog is not a pet that will die on you if you neglect it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

time

Someone once said that time is relative - it is too fast for those who are having fun and too slow for those who are extremely bored. For someone like me who is currently living in a hotel (temporarily, and only because it is covered by a training consulting contract), time is careening out of control everytime I log on to the hotel's wifi connection. They charge 1,000 more than what it would cost for me to walk five blocks to the internet cafes.

But when you have sessions all day, walking ten minutes to find reasonably-priced internet connection is a luxury.

Right now, the time says I have less than two minutes and a window keeps cropping up to remind me. Darn.

Anyway. I sure hope to get back to blogging more regularly when I get back to manila.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Teaching Blues Part 2

In the Philippines, teaching is considered the noblest profession, and rightly so, I think. Teaching is not something that one can take on as a job; anyone who does so is either a fool or a masochist because by no stretch of imagination can the financial rewards match the efforts that go into it. Teaching has to be more than just a job. It must be a passion, a consuming preoccupation, a calling perhaps.

However, I think that the real essence of nobility needs to be defined because I fear that some people equate the nobility that goes with teaching with simple dogged persistence and patience without taking into account the quality of the output. Thus, we have in our midst today tens of thousands of public school teachers who have been bestowed the honorific designation of belonging to the noblest profession simply for having been able to stand and drool in front of a classroom in some god-forsaken public school in the last twenty years.

Please do not get me wrong. I do not look down on public school teachers. Nor am I advocating a class system in the teaching profession. My mom was a public school teacher for more than 40 years and most of her cousins of her generation are in that profession as well. I grew up exposed both to the good and the bad, the admirable and the deplorable aspects of the teaching profession.

Practically all of the more than 40 years that my mom spent teaching was devoted to a barrio a good one-hour trek from our farm house. Forty years! Since she taught the only grade one class in that school, practically all the kids in that barrio was her pupil. No one escaped her clutches. My mom could have transferred to the central school in the middle of the town (my grandfather was after all a district supervisor). She was competent. I knew she taught well because she was my first teacher and I actually sat through many of her classes. But she couldn’t leave the barrio and the barrio people. She was concerned that someone with less dedication and less commitment would take over her grade one class and younger generation of siblings would not prove equal to their older siblings who were her pupils.

But I know of many teachers in the system who bring dishonor to the profession. One teacher (who was a relative) was notorious for letting pupils pull grass in the school backyard under the heat of noon while she whiled away the time preparing and wrapping pulvoron which she sold as a sideline. Another one taught erroneous stuff. What can be more tragic that a teacher who teaches wrong stuff? Still another one I know required pupils to bring all kinds of stuff – from fruits, to root crops, to dried fish and gave special awards to those who brought better material things.

Yes, there are dregs in the public school system. But there are many gems too. I remember my Grade 3 teacher – a spinster who spent her own money on teaching materials for her pupils. She would feed us, specially those who had no money for baon. And she was a great teacher too – she acted out stories with such animation and gusto. She would bring us out of the classroom and conduct classes under the trees and allow us to chase butterflies while she tried to link our lessons to the things around us. She gave us challenging and exciting projects. I remember once, she asked us to do a scavenger hunt and then asked us to inventory our finds into two categories, those items that can be used with the article “a” and the others with the article “an.” To this day, I remember that lesson!

For our science class, we actually nurtured tadpoles and observed them transform into frogs. We conducted experiments that were fun and stimulating. What a way for kids to learn!

Looking back, these influences strengthened my desire to become a teacher, but with a major difference. I would be a teacher that enabled and ennobled.

(more to follow)

Shawled

One clothing item that I really hope found more favor among men in the Philippine setting is the use of the shawl. All around other parts of Asia, men wear shawls – and they are the best fashion accessory: they are convenient, handy, and generally inexpensive. In Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, etc., men wear shawls all the time. Men from Arab countries like Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and rest of the stan-suffixed countries from Afghanistan to Kyrgystan wear them too. And these shawls are transformed into belts, blankets, headgear, bags, trousers, device for carrying children – practically anything.

When I am in these countries, I end up buying shawls and wearing them too. They are just so much better at keeping one’s self warm than jackets. Shawls can be easily adjusted and wrapped around any part of your girth and appendages. And then you can fold them into small squares that do not take up so much space in your bag or even in your pocket.

Sadly, my shawls are relegated to table runners, wall accents, and food for cockroaches and mites everytime I get back to the Philippines, because, sigh, only women and screaming fags are allowed to wear them in public in the Philippines.

Sad, really.

Yosi Kadiri

Last week I was passively watching Pinoy Big Brother on television and was absolutely floored down by the antics of a person suffering from a major case of withdrawal symptoms! To induce some excitement into the generally boring dynamics in Big Brother’s house, cigarettes were banned for a day and Uma (the guy whose gender has been speculated about like it was a major factor in the determination of the national GDP), the chain-smoking guy consequently (not naturally) went berserk.

Interesting aside: for some strange reason, the show made a big deal out of justifying the smoking ban. They made such a big thing out of cleaning the environment and yada yada yada. All these eventually fell flat as it became obvious that only one house occupant was emotionally affected. The rest went about their business as if not being allowed to smoke was the most normal thing in the world. Thus, they changed the rules - only this guy was not allowed to smoke which further heightened the withdrawal symptoms because now, the poor guy was not only disallowed from smoking, he was being singled out for persecution as well.

As can be expected, the poor guy ranted, vented, shouted, almost made lupasay… and just when you thought it would finally get interesting, he....hold your breath... went to sleep. The expected fireworks fizzled out.

Anyway. There’s a mouthful that can be said about that ridiculous show, but let’s reserve that for later. I think it is not going to get any more exciting than when two occupants of the house decided to play spin-a-bottle-strip. The show is desperate for some excitement, they had to do a birthday bash and a 100-second reunion for lovers Say and JB. In short, the excitement will come from outside the house, not inside.

Back to yosi.

If there is one clear poison out there, it is this lethal stuff. In Thailand, cigarettes are packaged in a very unglamorous way – they have pictures of badly stained teeth, TB-ravaged lungs, etc., etc. The message is clear: this stuff can kill you. You think that would turn people off into not buying the stuff? My friends say they have gotten used to the pictures – it has not made a difference in their smoking habits. They tell me they know about the harm cigarettes can do to one’s body and the pictures merely serve to validate them. In other words, dancing with death is cool.

I guess we really need to use more science in what we do. Studies conducted in the late eighties have already shown that fear and scary tactics do not work in prevention efforts – they merely increase the tolerance level to the negative images. Worse, they create denial through justification.

I smoked a lot when I was in College and until about five years ago. Today, I smoke occasionally – when am drinking alcohol, which is rare anyway. What got me to stop was a simpler reason: I calculated the cost and figured out what I would have been able to buy with all that money spent on cigarettes had I saved them: a house and lot.

Craving for chickenjoy

I am writing this blog from the Novotel Hotel in the mountains of Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. It is a rainy day here, and last week, I was informed that heavy rains caused major flash floods that inundated the area where the night market is so there is not much activity there (hint, hint for friends and family who expect pasalubong). Chiang Mai probably gets as many tourists as the whole Philippines does in a year – that is how popular it is. The plane that I took from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was one of more than 10 flights a day, and it wasn’t a small plane – it was a 747 – a huge bird!

Anyway, what is so special about this place? Many people liken it to Baguio City, which is a major insult - to Baguio City. What nonsense – Baguio is ten times more beautiful than Chiang Mai. There are no pine trees here, and it is not even half as cold and mysterious as our mist-filled City of Pines. But it sure has a lot of tourist attractions – from elephant farms, to orchid and butterfly farms, to monkey and snake farms, to temples galores. In other words, they have the facilities. And yes, the hotels and malls and restaurants are world class. I liken it to the ambience of Iloilo City and the vast spaces of Davao City complimented by the facilities of Cebu City. Put all three together, and you have Chiang Mai.

What is amazing about Thailand actually is the professional way they treat tourists. To them, tourism is a legitimate business, not a personal accomodation. In the Philippines, we sort of do our cloying and personalized way of being hospital that almost borders on the ridiculous; as if our warmth as a people can make up for the fact that our public toilets stink to high heavens and some of our less honorable brethren rob tourists blind.

But please, before you dash off that angry denunciation of my Pinoy bashing, let me hasten to add that I do not think that our shortcomings are reflective of our weaknesses as a people. On the contrary, I think that these are clear indicators of our inherent creativity and innovativeness. If only our leaders are not corrupt and if only…well, you know the drill.

Anyway, what I really wanted to write about is how you can take the Filipino out of the country but not take the country out of a Filipino. (And yes, this includes our penchant for collective self-mutilation. No one is more critical of the Pinoy than the Pinoy himself).

I have been here two days – and boy, do I have an intensity 10 craving for chicken joy. Sure, I like exotic food and herbs and all that – but the one food that you can’t find here is chickenjoy. I do not mean the Chickenjoy exactly, I mean greasy, satiating, sensory-filling food.
I went to a KFC outlet yesterday expecting a familiar taste. No cigar. Their friend chicken taste like fried tinolang manok soaked in curry – I guess there is no such thing as a global recipe. They do tweak the recipe to suit local taste. This reminds me of how Macdo’s and Wendy’s spaghetti in the Philippines are so sweet (yes, I am aware that Macdo only serves spaghetti in the Philippines).

The fruits here metaphorically (and obviously literally) grow on trees. Fruits are ridiculously cheap – no wonder they are standard offerings to Buddhist altars everywhere. For example, a kilo of rambutan costs 10 baht (about 15 pesos in the Philippines), a kilo of mangosteen costs around 15baht. Lanzones, longans, oranges, and dragon fruits are common fruits here. And wonder of wonders, lanzones here does not come with ants, which is not to say that they are not sweet.

However, the pineapples, papayas, and melons here taste bland. Nothing like the stuff we have in the Philippines. I took a bite of a pineapple yesterday and immediately had a major craving for Ormoc queen pineapples – those small orange pineapples that taste heavenly.

Anyway. Am only here for a few days. So I guess I have to bear with a few more curry-dipped chicken before I can sink my teeth into those juicy, crispy, salty, greasy chickenjoys!

4Rs: Be Ready, Have Respect, Know your Rights, Practice Responsibility

Having been reared in a family of educators, I grew up exposed to teaching models and jargon. In fact, modesty aside, I knew who Piaget was at a very early age since my grandfather who was a district supervisor would talk about him endlessly. One of the earliest models that stuck to my mind was the 3Rs, which meant Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. I thought it was clever the way the concepts were reduced to R’s although I also thought it was a bad acronym.

I just came from a session where psycho-socio-cultural aspects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, particularly among adolescents, were discussed and analyzed. The emerging consensus was that governments alone, or religions alone, can not save the younger generation from HIV/AIDS. In fact, both governments and religions have been noted to have been largely unsuccessful in managing risky sexual behaviors though generations. If religions and their moral codes work so well in the first place, then maybe we would not be where we are right now. It is probably the desire to be popular that torpedo government efforts.

What struck me the most about efforts to address HIV/AIDS spread among adolescents is the parenting stance that the efforts assume. Why should government, or the church, or anyone for that matter, assume the job of parents? Why should anyone presume to know better than parents? When the church or the government (such as the MTRCB) begins to assume that they are in a better position to point out what is right or wrong for our children, then we are in deep shit because the people who constitute them are hardly ideal parents to begin with. Priests and nuns talking about parenthood? Manoling and his ilk talking about responsible sexual behavior? Oh please.

Of course, the underlying assumption is that parents know what they are doing in the first place. And here comes another paradox. Parents themselves can not act responsibly precisely because the same access to education and information have been denied them. The cycle goes on and on.

If parents can not educate their children about responsible sexual behavior, they shouldn’t be parents in the first place.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Let Luli Be

Today, I got another email that almost made me regurgitate the chicken breast I was devouring for late lunch. The email, which I understand has been going around various email groups (I got mine from two email groups and the return path listed a host of more email groups!) was purportedly written by a certain William "Willy" Santiago.

Pardon me, but who is Mr. Santiago? I do not mean this question in a camp and condescending sort of way; I certainly do not have my eyebrows raised at the moment. It is a genuinely sincere question. I do not know who Mr. William Santiago is, and perhaps it is my fault that we do not breathe the same air. But is it too much to ask that if one feels he has enough authority, not to mention only the best intentions, to dispense supposedly good advice that is broadcast to all Filipinos and his dog and cat, shouldn't he at least provide some information about the chair he is perched in?

For those of you who are blessed not to be at the receiving end of all kinds of political hubris, I quote certain parts of the email here:

"You are an Ateneo alumna and many who know you are proud of you as such. Look at the names in the recent statement, do you know any of them? At least, any that count? I hope you compare this to the Ateneo statement calling for your mom's resignation. Some of your respected teachers -- even your friends -- signed that one.

"Amidst the crisis caused by your mom's decision to run again, I hope you realize that you have such a crucial role to play. After all, your mom is already wary (and quite understandably) of the voices whispering around her. De Venecia, Ramos, Puno and others have their own game to play. But YOUR voice counts. Thus, this letter of appeal. Talk to your mom constantly. Give her sound advice. Save our country, please. Be the Luli that people know as good, well intentioned and wise. Otherwise, the perception which many have of you as the most "progressive" Arroyo will only be for naught. Except to provide punchlines to jokes which Filipinos are now forced to resort to."

The email attempts to hide its political undertones under the cloak of merely dispensing generic advice: it’s a simple letter of appeal, talk to your mom constantly, give her sound advice, etc. But the parental stance and good intentions are sadly blown by the admonition to “save our country.”

If there is doubt about the political persuasion of Mr. Santiago, the email actually begins by retelling that joke about Imelda and Imee being in plane debating about what to drop to people below to make them happy. The punchline is that Imee suggested dropping their dad from the plane to make all Filipinos happy. Now, substitute Imelda with Gloria and Imee with Luli and you get the picture. Then, tell me if the joke works the same way.

I think this is exactly one of the reasons why many Filipinos (including me) has not actively joined the calls for the President’s ouster. I lived through the Marcos regime and was a victim of oppression as a student activist and quite frankly, this abradabra about the ghost of Martial law just does not fly. The fact that Imee Marcos herself is in the same boat as the others who conjure these acrobatic logical deductions reduces the whole message to meaningless political mumbo-jumbo. Please get the message: the fact that people can make up these stories and make all kinds of accusations turns the whole Martial Law logic inside out. Nice try, but no cigar. The context is simply different.

But what really gets my gall is the patronizing tone of the email. What is it about us that makes us reduce issues to a lose-lose pissing contest of what and who is moral or not? If one does not fit another's concept of what is moral or right, does that make the other automatically immoral and wrong? What is with this penchant to dispense moral superiority over others? Why can’t we listen to each other without invoking moral ascendancy? Since when did God give anyone absolute powers to discern what is right or wrong? Since when and under what right did we become parents to Luli? Under what authority does anyone presume to suggest a better way for children to deal with their parents?

As if it is not enough that we have to put up with former trusted accomplices suddenly having an attack of conscience, now we encourage daughters to turn against their mothers all in the name of saving a country. Now we presume to know a better way for a daughter to relate with her mother in the privacy of their home.

I think it is uncalled for and cruel to drag children into the muck simply because of some genetic accident. I do not know Luli personally although from what I read and have observed so far, she is behaving admirably well given the garbage that she has to deal with. But it is not her fault that her mother is GMA, and she is not to blame for the fact that her mother is president. To ask her to use her familial ties for political reasons is not only intrusive, it is out of line. To actually call on her to save the country by giving her mother the "right" advice is pure unadultered sanctimoniousness of the highest order.

And please, what is the point of pitting names against each other? So what if names on a list have not accumulated enough academic and political clout as their teachers? Does that reduce the worth of their opinions? Does that mean they are not worthy of expressing their own convictions? Last I looked, this was a democracy and everyone is entitled to his or her own beliefs.

I have always thought that Ateneo was in the business of molding individuals who can think for themselves. I never for a moment considered the thought that they were in the business of producing robots that operated according to the dictates of some moral masters. As an academic person myself, I believe that the essence of being a teacher is in allowing students to find and speak their own voices, even if they are contrary to mine. How tragic if a teacher expects students to swallow hook, line and sinker all his stereotypes and prejudices.

For the record, sure, I think that GMA did wrong. But beneath all that, one can not argue that despite the tragic flaws she continues to operate from good intentions regardless of how the opposition demonizes everything she does. I wish I can say the same of the opposition. Don’t get me wrong, I do not favor absolute clemency; but I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt and do not want to rush to imposing a moral penance; that can wait. In the meantime, let us get on with our lives while we wait and see how she will make it up to the people.

But I must admit that personally, I think that the fact that the President herself apologized counts for something. After all, even the Marcoses and Erap and his minions continue to profess their innocence even in the face of such irrefutable evidence. I find it futile for people to make interpretations about whether it was sincere or not. Who can fathom the depths of one’s conscience and say one is not sincere enough?

Let Luli be. Let her find her own voice. And if it is contrary to ours, that doesn’t mean she is bad person. We each have to live with our conscience. We all have to face up to our own Higher Being.

Enough of the sanctimoniousness.