Friday, October 24, 2008

Coconut trees and showbiz scandals

This was my column last Wednesday, October 22.

Finding a topic that can be expounded into a full column is not always easy. Sure, there are topics that are just so complicated and rich that they tend to unfold on their own into full-length columns. There are, however, a number of materials that offer lots of promise, but just can’t be mined into full-length columns without the author coming across as someone who is obviously just filling in space. I’ve collected a number of them in a journal that I keep with me all the time and I’d like to share some of them in this space today.

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If you’ve been to the Mall of Asia, you would have noticed the failed attempts at landscaping the reclaimed area. The streets leading to the mall are planted with coconut trees. I suppose that the administrators of the mall were trying for a tropical look. It is also possible that there is scientific basis for the choice of coconut trees—they’re probably best suited for the kind of soil present in the area.

The problem is that on any given day the coconut trees look like they’ve just barely managed to survive a major tornado. These trees were planted a couple of years back and yet up to this day still look scraggly—their fronds are threadbare and windswept. Each tree is still supported by what looks like makeshift scaffolding. It’s a really pitiful sight because the area is buffeted by strong winds day in and day out, which is to be expected given that the area happens to face the Manila Bay. Manila is also visited by at least half a dozen typhoons every year and those trees suffer the brunt of nature’s force. Why those poor trees are still there is indicative of man’s folly. Those trees are clearly better off somewhere else.

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Let’s face it, we’re a country that is gaga over the shenanigans of our local celebrities. Of course we try not to be too obvious about it and most of us project this impression that we’re above it all. But truth to tell, we secretly lap up the scandals, the foibles, and the latest juicy tidbits on the lives of our local stars.

I’m not really sure how the much ballyhooed supposed separation of megastar Sharon Cuneta and Senator Francis Pangilinan is relevant in the life of the nation—but given the tons of newsprint and the inordinate amount of primetime television hours spent on it, it does look like the state of their marriage is a matter of national import. The couple, their relatives and friends, and their respective publicists have already denied the supposed rift but everyone is still speculating about it. Are they supposed to display intimacy in public to finally put the matter to rest?

And while we are at it, we might as well discuss the implications of Cristy Fermin’s lurid exposé on Nadia Montenegro’s supposed indiscretions involving an alleged secret pregnancy and the alleged abandonment of her alleged lovechild. One has to be completely desensitized to the lowest and most extreme levels of depravity not to be shocked that something so damaging, so private, and so malicious could be revealed on public television on a Sunday afternoon.

Fermin was suspended from her television and radio programs, but if we really come to think about it, ABS-CBN’s reaction smacks of hypocrisy. Oh please, our networks thrive on that kind of muckraking because these are exactly the stuff that propels ratings up to the stratosphere. Fermin’s latest breach of ethics was not exactly out of the ordinary —such has been the norm for as long as I can remember, long tolerated if not encouraged by the network and by the local movie industry.

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While in Baguio recently with a number of students for a conference, we had to deal with an emergency when one of the students had to be hospitalized. This required a major sacrifice on the part of one of my fellow professors who had to forego personal needs and comfort in order to care for the student. She dismissed our expressions of sympathy for her situation by telling us that she was doing it in the hope that if ever something similar were to happen to one of her children, somebody else would do exactly what she did for our student. It’s a variation of the “pay it forward” concept that was popularized in a movie; which of course turned the whole idea into a cliché.

One wishes that this idea of canceling debts of gratitude and asking the people who owe us favors to “pay it forward” instead of repaying us is something that becomes part of our culture. Recognizing utang na loob is something that is inherent in our culture. Out of a sense of gratitude, we all try to repay the debt of gratitude but wouldn’t it be really great if instead of accepting “payment” we ask that the people we help pass on the favor to others?

Well, what do you know, there is actually a movement called “Tulong Ko, Pasa Mo” that aims to spread the habit of “paying it forward.” If you are interested in learning more about it, please text 0917-UICTKPM.

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My 7-year-old nephew couldn’t help exclaiming “Wow, Christmas na Christmas na!” when we got to the third level parking of the Mall of Asia over the weekend. His excitement was prompted by the rows of green and red lights that dominated the ceiling of the parking areas of the mall.

No, the lights were not Christmas lights although the colors did remind us strongly of the season that is—gasp!—just around the corner. They were actually overhead sensor devices that indicated if a parking space was occupied or not. If a parking space was occupied, the sensor turned red. When a car vacated the space, the sensor turned green.

It’s an inspired idea, one that offers motorists the convenience of finding out if there is available parking space in the mall without having to drive around and around; in the process wasting gas and contributing to the buildup of toxic carbon monoxide in the area. I’m sure most of you are personally acquainted with the kind of frustration one feels at being allowed entry into a pay parking area only to discover that it is full. When one really comes to think about it, the parking space should be free to begin with since one is already bringing business into the establishment. Or at the very least, the search for precious parking space should be made easier and more convenient.

The sensors are a fine example of how the wonders of technology can be implemented to benefit customers. One can only wish that our malls put in place more of these types of devices that make the lives of their customers less complicated and more hassle-free.

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