Monday, October 27, 2008

You'll Live Longer But You Won't Have Any Friends

The stink in farts controls blood pressure.

"Nuff Sad.

Beautiful Filipinas

These pictures are from my photographer friend, Forti. They are from his "Beautiful Filipina" series.

He has not taken any formal photography lessons. He does not have to. He does not take pictures with his camera. He takes them with his heart. When you look at his pictures, you don't see "subjects", you see real people with real lives. Their eyes tell their stories. And Forti's photographs do not just make us look. They make us listen to those stories.

The first picture makes me mad. A girl that young should not have eyes that old. She seems to have seen and experienced more than anyone that age should have. I worry about what might happen to her.

The second picture makes me uneasy. The old woman’s eyes are hard and unflinching. She seems to have gone through countless tragedies and hardships in her life . She sees nothing but more of the same for the rest of her life. But she will survive. Because that is what she does. Perhaps this is what the girl in the first picture will look like after 70 years. But, then again considering other possibilities, only if the girl is lucky.

The third picture is of a family living off the streets. The children’s eyes do not yet seem to have lost their innocence. It makes me wonder how far their mother’s love can keep the innocence there.

The fourth picture makes me uncomfortable There are too many contradictions going on in the image. The squalor and waste of the surroundings against the freshness of the flower; the youth of the girl against the worldliness of her gaze and pose. Everything co-exists in the picture but, in my mind, there is something that is not right.

The fifth picture makes me smile. It seems familiar. I see a hint of innocence remaining in the woman’s eyes. She has known much love in her life and remains secure in the care and protection of her family. This is how we would like our mothers and grandmothers to look like.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I Heart Filipino Food

As I've always said - there's nothing better, more satisfying, more comforting, more delicious, more everything than well-cooked Filipino food.

I'm always glad when people agree with my opinions.

Filipino food was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal

And, yey, Anthony Bourdain, is in the Philippines to shoot an episode (By the way, who has my copy of Kitchen Confidential? I need it back).

Happy Birthday, Gina!

November 2 is my sister Gina’s birthday. She was born in 1970. She lives with her husband and three kids in Chicago.

Gina and I are different in many ways. Sometimes, you have to wonder how people raised in the same environment could be so different from each other. For one thing, I’m much more anal and prone to sweating the small stuff. But we’re alike in a lot of ways too. Family is both important to us. I guess we just show it in different ways.

A friend once told me that sentimentality is a luxury for those with extra time to spare. I know that life in Chicago is not easy especially without a support system to rely on. But she and my brother in law are doing what they need to do.

I’m writing this post to let my sister know that I’m proud of her. And that I love her and her family very much.

Friday Nights at the Happy House

Happy House = that’s what my friends call my place.

I like it when my friends come over. I guess people like coming over too.

Not to over-analyze everything but here’s a brief rundown on what I think makes the House Happy.

1. There’s always food and drinks. I realize that’s one more reason why I stock up. I like to know that when I invite people over for a spur-of-the-moment thing , they won’t go hungry.

2. More than that, I try to keep the food and drinks interesting – there’s always some strange, “I’ve never had this before” item in my fridge or pantry – something to look forward to, even for those who’ve been over several times.

3. My overhead fluorescent lamp got busted 8 years ago. I haven’t bothered to replace it since. Net effect – available lighting is dim and soft. Everyone looks attractive – even the friends who aren't as attractive as the rest of us (they have great personalities so I keep them)

4. My place is so small that everybody’s seated close to each other and nobody gets left out in a conversation. Although at one time, there were about 20+ people for a party and people were chatting while holding their drinks in the bathroom,

5. I have lots of interesting stuff. Talking about them is good as a conversation starter for new-comers or conversation pieces for drunk people.

6. I have a really, really comfortable sofa and lots of pillows. When you’re drunk, you just plop over and nobody minds. Or when it's just about chilling out or catching up, everybody just lies down wherever they can and we have our conversations that way until everyone drifts off to nap time.

7. There are no judgments in the Happy House. Just love and acceptance. I guess people sense that because the talk is always open and free-flowing. If these walls could talk - I would not need to blog.

8. Have I mentioned the drinks?

Come on over.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Goody Goody

My high-school email group is promoting October 21 as Do Good Day. The teachers and ICM sisters who raised us will be proud.

Please join us in spreading random acts of kindness. For ideas on what to do, you can check this site out.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Shattered Dream: A Song Left Unsung

As it sometimes happens, I found myself in a karaoke party last week-end. While people sang and made merry, I sat in a corner. Unnoticed. Alone.

As I nursed my drink, my mind wandered to one summer a long time ago. The memories are almost faded but the residual pain still stings sharply

Let me tell you my story.

I was innocent, naïve, bright-eyed and hopeful. After all, I was only 36.

I had a dream, you see. I wanted to sing. By God, I wanted to sing!

But all my life , I was told I could not. I was told I was out of tune. I was told I could not carry a note.

My attempts to prove otherwise had always been met with much taunting and derision. Vulnerable and unsure in my younger years, I kept silent.

But the music in my soul was restless. Finally, it could no longer be kept still.

It was that summer that I enrolled in the Ryan Cayabyab School of Music and met Teacher Jun. I knew – I was sure, certain – that with the right teacher, I could be a great singer.

I would show the naysayers. I would show all of them. After the end of the ten sessions I had paid for in advance, I would be asked to do a solo in a recital.

My friends and family would be there – invited on some pretext. I knew they would snicker as soon as they saw me on stage. But I also knew they would be be struck silent as soon as I had opened my mouth to release the beautiful notes that had been too long suppressed.

Everybody would rise at the end of my song, clapping wildly, tears pouring down their eyes. I would look down on them from the stage with triumph and magnanimity, generous with my love and forgiveness.

On my first session, I was ushered into a small room with a piano, a stool and a mirror. Teacher Jun was there waiting for me. He asked me to sing a piece of my choosing to show my range. I chose I’ll Never Say Goodbye which I had practiced over and over again in the bathroom to prepare for this moment, my moment.

Four lines into the song, I was asked to stop. Teacher Jun said it may be best for us to begin with scales. One hour of do-re-mi’s standing in front of a mirror with your hands on your tummy can pass by very slowly.

On my second session, a week later, I was prepared to give my showcase piece another go. But Teacher Jun had other ideas. He still wanted me to do scales. Who was I to argue? At the end of the session, I was sweating. So was Teacher Jun. But I felt we were making progress. I was on my way.

I was happy. But, alas, all too briefly.

On the third session, I did not even have the chance to do scales. Teacher Jun sat me down, looked me in the eye and very gently informed me that in our short time together, I was not able to hit one note right.

He suspected I might be tone-deaf, thus unable to emulate the piano notes correctly. He said that I should not waste my money by finishing the singing lessons . I had 7 pre-paid sessions still unused but he could make arrangements to convert these into Introduction to Piano lessons.

Starting from the basics would train my ears. And then maybe, someday, I could go back and try singing again. Who was he kidding?

We had 45 minutes left in the session. But there was no point in staying.

I left the room with my shoulders slumped and my head bowed. On my way out, I saw the ten-year olds waiting for their piano lesson sessions. I was better than them. I had an MBA. I hated them. I hated them all. I wished them acne and a lifetime of spurned love.

I never went back to Ryan Cayabyab's School of Music. I have never sung in public again.

Less you think so, I have no bitterness in my heart. None, whatsoever. But, let me just say that Paul Potts stole my dream 9 years later and made it his reality. I hate Paul Potts too. I have perfect teeth. He needs to go to a good dentist.. And I wonder - when Susan Boyle finally gets kisssed, will she turn into a princess?

Next time you see me in a karaoke party,leave me alone or buy me another beer and let's just discuss Friedrich Nietzsche

Quotes that Have Inspired me in Countless Profound Ways

Some people quote from great literary works of art – I quote lines from characters on prime-time:

Ugly Betty's Father – “ Growing up is not about making the right decisions; its about dealing with the consequences of the decisions we make

Lucas from One Tree Hill – “Sometimes all we can pray for is the courage to wake up another day

So, shoot me.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Juan, Juan. . . I have a Koan

A koan is a short story or a sentence that initially does not seem to make sense. It is a device used by Zen Buddhist monks to guide medidation.

Because of its paradoxical nature, a koan forces the mind not to think analytically but intuitively.

In the process of contemplation, turning the question over and over again in one’s head, one hopefully finds perspective and gains insight. And one day – some day – when the mind is clear and peaceful, an answer will come.

Not THE answer because there can be no absolute, unequivocal ONE to a koan. Zen practice tells us that the answers we arrive at may change as we ourselves change.

In other words, a koan is the perfect thing to think about when you’re sitting on the toilet with constipation.

It relaxes the muscles so that release is easier. The shit will probably come out of your butt ahead of an answer coming to your head. Enlightenment is bliss - but so is relieving yourself.

Not to worry – you’ll probably be back on the toilet bowl in 12 hours to have another go at the koan.

While I’m not shitting as I write, I find myself this Sunday afternoon with (as usual) nothing to do and The Buzz providing mindless prattle in the background. Perfect time to Zen.

One of the more famous koans is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” .

Let me try and have a go at it.

I think (right now, at this moment)….to clap, one needs two hands. A hand by itself does not clap. No sound is produced. But that does not make the hand non-existent nor does it negate the movement that the hand is making. It just is not clapping. But, it’s something. Something is better than nothing.

I’m going to add “Koans” to my topic Labels for this blog. It should be interesting to revisit the question every now and then, or to have a go at other Koans, to track my progress towards Enlightenment (or regular bowel movement )

Care to have a go at this koan? What does your present state of consciousness tell you?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I am Sam

No, not me.

Sam is the name of the man from Kenya I met today. We were both waiting our turn to see the doctor (regular check-up for me, he was getting a prescription for vitamins).

Sam used to manage a farm cooperative in his country. From what I gathered, he had a comfortable life. He has a wife and a son. His family has some properties.

Sam is very tall and very thin. He looks like what I imagine an African warrior might look like.

He is in the Philippines as a volunteer for an international organization. He is based in Agusan to share his expertise with a local group.

Why would a Kenyan leave his country to do volunteer work in the Philippines?

He said his former job exposed him to the inequalities of the system. Big business was getting the big bucks. The farmers didn’t get much. He couldn’t do much to change the system in his country because he was so much a part of it.

So, he left and ended up here. He wants to do good. He wants to share his knowledge so that the system he is so familiar with ends up working for the farmers. He plans to go back home after his posting in the Philippines.

He will apply whatever knowledge and experience he gains here to make changes there.

He has good intentions. He is ready and willing to do the hard work. He wants to do more. But change is slow. The people are different. The culture is different. Even the food is different. He has not been eating well (hence the trip to Manila to see the doctor). He spends a lot of time attending long and rambling meetings.

What is a man to do?

He told me that he could be frustrated and depressed. But, he chooses not to. He knew, before coming here, that it would be difficult. He knew it would be different. But different doesn’t have to be bad. He is learning. He is adjusting. He sees the small incremental changes.

He is teaching himself to appreciate rather than complain.

His journey has taken him here. He will make the most of it.

What a great guy Sam is.

No, I am not Sam. But, maybe someday when I grow up, I can be.

Her Name is Lola

My grandmother is 97 years old. She has survived her husband, her two eldest children and several grandchildren.

Her father was an American soldier. I don’t know anything about her mother. Come to think of it, I've never asked.

She lives by herself in Los Angeles in a senior citizens’ condominium. Her children want her to live with one of them. She prefers to live by herself. She visits with them every now and then but, after a few days, she always asks to be brought back to her apartment.

Her apartment is full of pictures of her kids and grandkids and the dolls and stuffed animals she collects. The apartment smells of perfume and powder.

A Guatemalan lady comes in everyday to clean up, run errands and occasionally do her nails. But, Lola pretty much takes care of herself. Whenever there’s something special she wants to eat, she goes out to the market to buy the ingredients and cooks it herself. I hope she's still able to do that.

On other days, when she wants to socialize with the other seniors in the dining hall downstairs, she makes sure that she first does her hair, puts on her make-up and dresses up before she goes down.

Lola loves dogs. Her succession of pooches had names like Juanita (only she would name a dog after herself), Snowball and Queen. She loves to dance. She loves to dress up.

On the day my Dad was buried (in 1990), grief-stricken, as she was, Lola came to church wearing huge dark sunglasses, this long, black, high-necked, long-sleeved, billowy dress with a huge cloth flower in front.

Anyone who was there to see it, could probably describe the dress as well - it had that kind of impact. Walking beside her, I could hear her mumbling something incoherently. Leaning close her to offer consolation, I finally understood what she was saying - I was stepping on her dress. She wanted me to take my foot out.

All of her children and most of her grandchildren take after her vanity. Lola has probably won every senior citizen beauty contest in her building.

But, she also puts up her feet and eats with her hands, especially when she gets access to contraband guinamos. I hope that we are all also as down-to-earth as our grandmother.

She was an English teacher for most of her life. One of the best compliments she could ever give anyone outside the family is to say that the person was “well-educated”. But, Lola breaks into her native Visayan whenever she wants to get a special point across.

She used to write long, chatty letters full of Bible verses and stories about people we both love who have gone on ahead of us. She used to remember all her grand-children’s birthdays, would always send a card and, when she could afford to, have a few dollar bills inserted. I would still receive the cards with dollar bills even after I had started working already.

The last few letters from her were repetitive and her handwriting was already difficult to read. She doesn’t write to me anymore.

She never addresses me by my first name but calls me “June Love First Born Apo” , stringing the words together like they were one long hypenated name.

Her name is Lola. She loves to cha-cha.

We should all be so lucky.

I love her. I really should call her more often.

Where's your daddy? Tell me where's your daddy!

According to Facebook, I have been to 58 cities in 17 countries. I don't usually take pictures during trips anymore. But the few times that I do, or somebody sends me a set from their own camera, they just get forgotten.

I was cleaning up pictures this afternoon and came across these ones. Before I delete them - let's have some fun.

If you can tell me where these pictures were taken (bonus points for tie-breaking for those who can tell exactly where in a city or country) - winner gets a prize of his/her choosing as long as it doesn't involve money or giving up my body for your earthly pleasure.

Some of the pics are really easy. For the others, you'll have to look at the background for clues and make some logical conclusions.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I Was a Teen-Age Dorky Dork

My elementary/high-school email group is very active. We have our own web-site. Mini-reunions are being planned and held all over the world.

Amongst ourselves, we share a lot of history but, prior to this renewed friendship, our knowledge of each other was largely from our time together as students.
At that time, we were probably too absorbed in our own troubles and uncertainties (our so called teen-age angst, if you will :-) ) that we had very little capacity to be aware of or sensitive to the concerns of others.
Coming together as adults - we can look back and laugh at each other and ourselves

But, no mater how anyone tries to rationalize it now, I was a dork.

Being the cool and suave person I am now – it might be hard to imagine I was anything but.

Let me make my point:

1. One day, walking through the school grounds, I was hit in the head by a volleyball. The ball whacked me on the head and then bounced off. I pretended not to notice and walked right on. It was either that or: a) get mad; b) volley the ball back; d)faint from the pain – all of which I was too embarrassed to do. This is the first time I am publicly sharing this story.

2. In Music class in grade school we were required to perform at the end of each term to showcase our musicality. I have no musicality. To pass the class, I lip-synched and danced to a 45’ recording of Long Haired Lover from Liverpool. Our former teacher is now a nun. I'm not saying these two events are related but - one never knows.

3. My prom date dumped me . The date started really well. Picked her up. Had the corsage. Somebody else ended up bringing her home. I ended up helping the Food Committee clean-up and bring the left overs home. Prom Date is now one of my oldest,dearest and closest friends. Jon Cryer would play me in the movie. Molly Ringwald would be Prom Date. Huh, what? They made it into a movie already? Imagine that :-).

4. I was crowned Mr. Nutrition of 1976. They cancelled the competition immediately after.

Who am I kidding? I'm still a dork. But, now YOU have your own examples to prove it


The Three Days of Darkness

That’s what my friend thought I was preparing for when she came to visit and saw my bathroom for the first time.

I’m paranoid about running out of my brands-of-choice for everything from toilet paper (Joy 2 ply)) to shaving blades (Mach3) . It goes on.

And we’re just talking about my bathroom here. You should see my pantry

Or my liquor cabinet (which by itself should be the subject of another post – another friend at one time thought I might need an intervention)

Or my magazine pile. Or my DVD pile.

Why am I such a hoarder?

I’ve never really thought about it before but now that I have a blog, and my very own public (yes, all three of you :-) ), everything is potential material.

Theory 1

The “three days of darkness” theory does strike some resonance It’s a Catholic boy thing. The 3 days will supposedly signal the end of the world, giving people time to repent and pray before Judgment Day .

Stocking up on food and water kinda make sense – we wouldn’t want to go hungry or thirsty waiting for the Lord to come. But toiletries? I guess that would be me not wanting to risk being badly groomed when I meet our Maker. Who knows maybe hygiene might count for extra points when determining who’s in or out (all the stinky people with acne will go to hell).

Between eating and exfoliating – hopefully, I could still be able to squeeze in some praying and reflection.

Theory 2

I’m manifesting my history. Both my parents grew up during the war. I was in grade school during the rice shortage caused by the giant typhoons across Northern Luzon in the 70;s. Coup attempts during my lifetime have closed down supermarkets. These were life-or-death situations. Again, stocking up on food and water makes sense. But liquor? I’m explaining that with the need to numb the pain and fear during these emergencies. And, if you’re drinking anyway – you might as well have the makings for various cocktails.

Theory 3

More than the fear of running out of stuck – I fear boredom. The magazines and DVDs are there to make sure that in the event that I’m holed up in the condo and can’t get out (i.e. because of war, super typhoons, coups, gas attacks, cable TV not working, killer running amuck in the hallway, Judgment Day) – at least I would always have something to read or watch.



Since putting up this post, I've decided to stop the hoarding. I am not going to buy any more toiletries until I've used up everything I have. If you come across me and catch a whiff of coconut-vanilla - that would be the smell of the liquid soap I filched from a hotel in Taipei in 1986.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I Support the Arts

My friend - a poor, struggling but well-fed and talented photographer - took test shots for his portfolio this rainy afternoon. I was bamboozled into being a stand-in for the real models.

State of My Nation Address

a) I’ve found that the best way to immediately cope with any kind of depression or failure is to do a good deed.

First, it takes your mind off your situation.

Second, it lets you acknowledge that there might be problems greater than yours. We've heard one variation or the other of this throughout our lives (i.e. "think of all the children in China" - this was, of course, way before China started on the road to economic superpower-hood) .

The third reason is a bit more compelling. Doing something good for others (especially at your "down-and-out-est") - and not expecting anything in return - is empowering. It makes you feel less helpless. As as a pick-me-up, this sure beats bingeing, self-pity, whining, moaning and boring your friends with all of the above- hands down.

I've since added "generosity" to the blessings for which I pray when I'm introuble, ie - "Lord, in this time of trial, please give me strength, wisdom, courage, sincerity and generosity".

b) I can't explain nor control everything. Me, being me, I'm going to try but if I can't - then I'll just have to let go and respect the flow. Things always eventually explain themselves (or as Inday Badiday’s mother supposedly said, “Even the falling of a leaf has a reason”). Going with the flow sometimes means momentarily going flaky (i.e. breaking into song, biting people, etc) as I adjust but then again that's what makes me so interesting.

c) When things go crazy around me, I go to my Center. No, it's not a pet name for a certain anatomical part. No, it's not my tummy either (although one of my beliefs is: “When in doubt, eat”). My Center is that place inside me (sorry, even I, am rolling my eyes as I write but bear with me ) where it's quite and peaceful and there's a voice saying - "You are a good person". "You will see this through". "You ate too much" ...ooops, scratch the latter.

Anyway, when things go crazy – I try to detach myself from the situation, think good thoughts, and concentrate on my breathing until it's even. I picked that up from meditation class. It works. I think the key is getting into a calm, peaceful state. Maybe it's the breathing. Anyway,did I mention I go flaky sometimes?

d) I'm not entitled to anything. I'm a first born and for the longest time, I was the cutest child (till about two years ago). That has, unfortunately, lead me to believe that things will fall into my plate just because I am.
But, that's not how the cookie crumbles. You gotta work it, baby. Then again, working your ass off doesn't necessarily guarantee you anything but it's better than staring into space and waiting to die.

e) We should all ask ourselves the question - What Am I Good At and How Can I Use It? For myself, I have the gift to communicate and inspire (I do, really).
I have the gift of listening and getting people to talk about themselves (an offshoot of being naturally curious about other people's lives - ok, I'm nosey). I'm able to connect with all sorts of people. I'm curious. I'm mildly entertaining (if all else fails, I go for the self-deprecating bald/fat jokes). Ok, so - what do I do with these gifts aside from going into show business? I'm still figuring this out.

But, I have a feeling I might find out soon – Watch out for this space!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Secrets of the Yaya Motherhood

If you’ve had a yaya in your life, you might be able to relate to this.

When I was barely a year old, my Manang came to live with our family. She was 22 and had never before travelled outside her small village in Negros Occidental. She stayed for 43 years.

With my one other surviving sister living with her family in the US, Manang is the closest that remains of my nuclear family. I sometimes think about her life and how she might think of it herself.

As a young girl, she must have had her own dreams and hopes and aspirations. She once told me that all she wanted when she left her village was to ride a big boat and see the lights of the city. Did she imagine that her life would be devoted to serving our family?

She was third-runner up in a neighborhood beauty contest when I was growing up. What did it feel being belle-of-the ball and then coming back to our house to her chores and duties?

While taking care of my dad, mom and my sister thru long sicknesses, did she resent not having had the opportunity to do the same for her own parents since she was far away from them and with us?

She has always been very smart but did not have the opportunity to finish high school. Did she feel frustrated when we discussed topics she could no longer relate to? My Dad once said that if Manang had the opportunity to finish school, she could have been a lawyer. The context for the statement is forgetten but it’s something my Manang recounted over and over again.

We were her children as much as my parents and she took care of my sisters and I as such. When I first left home for college, she would pack care packages in my luggage – little things I didn’t ask for that she thought I would find useful (like nails tied to opposite ends of a nylon rope to hang my laundry on).

When my sister, Grace, first discovered that her hair was falling off from the chemo, it was Manang she screamed for in fear and panic to come and help her. It was also Manang who was with my sister Gina when my eldest nephew was born and the first in our family to hold the baby.

She fought our battles, sang us to sleep, nursed us thru minor scrapes and major illnesses. She would jump up and down with joy whenever one of us brought home a medal. Did Manang feel left out when all those family pictures were taken without her?

Less she begins sounding like one, Manang is no saint. She could be loud, opinionated, obstinate, petty and vindictive. She once danced around the living room when she found out that somebody she particularly disliked was diagnosed with a sickness. During the later years, she would boss around my Mom and lord it over the house like nobody's business. Was this her way of venting her frustrations and regrets for everything she thinks could have been for her, had she taken other paths in life?

She would drive me crazy if we ever lived in the same house again.

But - no matter how strangely she manifested it - she loved us unquestionably. She loved me best of all. I was the baby she came to take care of and have the sweet baby face to show for it :-). Until recently, she would still run after me to wipe the sweat off my back with the handy white towels she always had around. Here's your visual - I'm 5'11" about 150 lbs (ok - 190; ok, ok - 200; shut up already), she's barely a little over four feet tall.

Manang has been retired for 2 years now. She is back home in her village in Negros – which has grown and changed as much as we all have over the last 45 years. Given the norms of her hometown, she must have come back in “triumph” - lugging with her the spoils of our now defunct household – bits and pieces of our former life. Of couse, she blew all her money on a big welcome home party for herself.

I guess – by some counts - I’m doing right by her. She will be provided for during her lifetime. I try to help out materially in other ways when asked for. She is surrounded by nephews and nieces she had helped send thru school over many years (how productive and grateful they are is another story all together). I know she is better off financially than the siblings she had left behind. Even better off than she might have been if she didn’t leave the village those many years ago.

On other counts, I’m not so sure. When we talk on the phone, she annoys me with her stories of even more relatives in need and her long-winded stories of how she spends her days. One of her favorite topics nowadays is how much her neighbors and relatives tell her how good she is for having sacrificed her life to serve our family and how lucky she is to have me supporting her.This goes on and on with minimal variation, if I let it. I try to make the calls as short as possible, sometimes being curt and dismissive - always feeling guilty afterwards.

But, I had a flash of an insight recently. Other people, under different circumstances, might talk about the bridges and buildings they had built during the day, the awards and recognitions they have received, the places they’ve seen - all attesting to a life well-lived.

My Manang has no bridges or buildings to speak of. No degrees. No awards. She had us. We are her life's work. We are the witnesses to her life well-lived. And she deserves to talk about it all she wants.

I blog. She brags to whoever will listen. We both could benefit from some editing in our chosen media. Seen in those terms, I guess she and I are no different. She raised me after all.

I love my Manang.



a) If my life were made into a movie, Aling Dionisia Pacquaio, in her introductory movie role, would be Manang

b) Sharon Cuneta's Yaya Luring supposedly is a Gold card member of a major international bank - meaning she has an 8-figure bank account, aside from being a media personality herself.

c) The picture accompanying this post was probably taken just a few months after Manang came to live with us. The handwriting is my Dad’s. Jun-jun is me. To understand the Filipino penchant for nicknames, see this.

b) Manang has visited me a few times. I posted another blog entry from her last visit here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Angkor, Wat is Happening?

I love a good road trip with people I like. Certain experiences are best experienced with a group – sharing big orders of food, understanding complex subway routes, greeting the New Year, doing stupid dares , etc.

But, l also like taking solo trips. You can take your time, set your own schedule. A better writer ( was it Pico Iyer?) once said that “travelling is one form of standing still”. So true. I find that the best time for me to take stock and think through stuff is when I’m away alone somewhere , relaxed and not distracted by the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

I was on a solo-trip to Cambodia a few months ago. This is a perfect destination for a solo trip. The temples are best enjoyed by yourself. You can take as long as you want staring at a mural, without worrying about somebody getting bored and wanting to do something else.

During the first day of my visit, I was at Angkor Wat just before the sun rose. For about an hour, I was the only one inside. I don’t have adequate words to describe the experience. But, try to imagine this - a temple hundreds of years old, alone by yourself walking through long dark hallways, illumination provided only by a flashlight, no sound except for the morning slowly coming alive. Not eerie. Strangely peaceful.

I was kind of disappointed when first light came and I heard the footsteps of the other visitors finally coming in.

One of the few bummers about a solo trip is when something funny happens and you don’t have someone to laugh about it immediately.

I stayed at a place called Palm Village which I found thru Trip Advisor. I highly recommend this place for anyone thinking of a trip to Siem Riep. I paid a little over US$150 for 4 days/3 nights including most meals ,the cost of a chauffeur-driven one day-tour and a traditional Cambodian massage and steam bath.

Which brings me to the funny part.

The massage started out well enough. Thatched hut. Two girls from the village. Four Hands. Nice.

My first surprise was when they took out their knives and started slicing fresh tomatoes and other vegetables which they then proceeded to spread all over me. I’ve had my share of massages before , none of them involved salad ingredients.

Not being too familiar with Khmer culture, having a wild imagination and with visions of their sharp knives still fresh in my memory, the thought crossed my mind that they might be prepping me up to be sautéed for lunch (theirs) like in a bad Roger Corman film set in Asia.

After about 30 minutes, they asked me to stand and sit by the wooden floor (all thru gestures, the girls had very basic English). My thoughts about being cooked alive in some kind of ceremony resurrected when they set a big cauldron of boiling water in front of me.

One of the girls left the room and came back with a big woven mat (i.e. “banig”). The girls then proceeded to unroll the mat which they encircled around me and the cauldron, forming some kind of cylinder. The top was open but not for long. A blanket was then thrown over the opening so that I was completely enclosed, sweating buckers from the boiling water .

That was when I realized that this was the traditonal steam bath I had signed up for. It would have been classic if the girls started chanting as part of the treatment. Sadly they did not. But, at this point, I started to chuckle. Slowly at first. A fit not long after.

I was still laughing when they finally pulled off the blanket and took away the mat. I was then asked to shower to wash off the salad ingredients.

I was asked to go back to the massage table for the last treatment. I started to laugh again.

I was okay with the papaya pulp that was rubbed all over my body but lost it when they started to wrap me completely with banana leaves so that only my eyes were showing. This is exactly how certain Filipino dishes are prepared for steaming. Between my body twitching with suppressed laugher and the slickness of the papaya pulp, the girls had a hard time of it.

After my massage and after leaving the girls a huge tip - well worth every penny - I went back to the pool-side and started texting my friends back home about the experience. It would have been so much funnier if they were around.

And then again, that could have meant missing my pre-dawn moment at Angkor Wat.

I was a superstar in Japan

Assuming my schedule works out and I’m able to use my NW miles (or, “jikan to okane ga attara”, if I remember my lessons correctly…), I should have a trip to Japan coming up in a few weeks.

I love Tokyo. I lived there for six months ten years ago for the internship portion of my Japan-focused MBA. One of the fun-nest times of my life.

My friends and I all lived in one area. During weeknights, we would all come home from work and cook dinner together or wait till 9 pm to eat. That was when the nearby supermarket would slash 50% off on their set meals. You had to be creative on a student's budget.

And – I remember this with fondness and no embarrassment at all – once or twice, I was able to save on meals by going around one of the bigger supermarkets and filling-up on the free food samples.

During week-ends, we would go out and party in one of the clubs(Gas Panic Attack!) . That was the time of my life when complete strangers would buy me drinks because they thought I was the life of the party. Sigh.

Or, we would just hang-out and amuse ourselves with silly things. One of our cheesiest forms of entertainment was to do all sorts of crazy stuff just to see how the proper Japanese man/woman-on-the-street would react.

Our stunts could be as simple as smiling openly at people in the train (nobody smiled back) or doing the duck-walk while crossing a busy street (people stared, I wonder why).

But our absolute most favorite thing was to go to Harajuko on a Sunday (note, you gotta watch the video in the link to fully appreciate what follows).

Here is my favorite Harajuko story:

One time, tired of just sitting around and giving commentary on the people passing by, my friends and I had the inspired ideaa of testing how impressionable young Japanese girls are. So, we decided that I would pretend to be a famous movie star spotted by my fans ( it didn’t take us long to come up with the scenario because we were a very bright bunch :-)).

As it happened, that day I was wearing a black trench coat and had my dark glasses on so I looked the part (plus, of course, I’m movie star handsome).

So, we walked around a bit and picked a crowded spot in which to do the experiment. I slipped away from the group and then slowly walked back to where they were. My friends started screaming . I made like I was avoiding them. They went after me, shouting my name and demanding for my autograph. I was so into the role . I might even have said “Leave me alone”.
By the time I stopped to “sign autographs”, there was already a group of Japanese goth girls milling around our group, pointing at me and asking "who is he?" (as translated during the post-mortem by one of the friends who was better at Japanese than the rest of us)

I don’t remember exactly how the afternoon ended. We probably went back to the dorm and waited for the 9 pm discounts to have dinner.

Good times, those. Hey, one day I might write about the glorious day I hit a hole-in-one.