Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cagayan de Oro, a week before the deluge

“In this season of love and kindness, think Cagayan de Oro”
My last night in Cagayan de Oro City last December 10 was a memorable one – and not only because it was raining furiously.

I arrived in CDO, as it is sometimes called, five days before to fair weather. The friendly cab driver, who took me from Lumbia airport to my hotel, however, said it had been raining intermittently all week. He also complained about the pre-holiday traffic, especially in the part of town where I was bound for – near Gaisano Mall.

I spent the next days talking with entrepreneurs in the city, carefully selected for their innovative ways of doing business. I was doing field research for a book on “Product Strategies of Micro and Small Enterprises” to be published by my office, the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation. A wonderful excuse for visiting Cagayan de Oro again, if you ask me.

I haven’t told you yet Cagayan de Oro is my favorite city in the South, have I? I have been there thrice before and my experience left no doubt its tagline as “The City of Golden Friendship” is not just empty sloganeering to promote tourism. Its people are gentle and genteel, warm and hospitable, and yes … always smiling. When they say “kamusta ka,” they actually wait for you to answer! Most of the people I talked with during that trip would pick me up at my hotel and take me back or, if I was going someplace else, bring me to my next destination. I always came away  with gifts of their products in spite of my lame protests “I don’t want any freebies, just discounts.”

One of my best and most admirable friends is from CDO. Her name is Loreta Rafisura , a handmade paper maker, social entrepreneur, Fair Trade champion, poet and writer I met on my first visit there some 12 years ago. She is a survivor of two episodes of cancer, the reason, I surmise, she is always in a joyful and thankful mode, constantly looking for ways to reach out to the poor, like putting up a library and computer center for them. We call each other kindred spirits, which flatters me no end. Loreta is why a trip to Cagayan de Oro is to me always something devoutly to be wished for. In this last visit, she coordinated all my meetings with other business women -- Vivian Libao, abaca bag maker of Puyo fame;  Esmer Gabutina who has wonderful ways with sinamay; and Litlit Mejia who parlayed her mom's home-based ham making venture into a modern, globally-competitive manufacturing industry-cum-restaurant chain known as SLERS.

There are other reasons I love Cagayan de Oro and nurture the secret wish to retire there someday. It is  climatically well situated, being outside the typhoon belt. The temperature is almost never harsh, but fairly cool, at an average of 28 degrees centigrade.

It is also one of the most progressive cities in Mindanao, with a thriving industry and trade community. Easily the most famous is Cagayan de Oro’s ham-making and meat processing industry, with 40 producers as of last count. No visitor hardly ever leaves Cagayan de Oro without a package or two of jamon de Cagayan, the most popular of which are Oro, Pines, and SLERS brands.

On my third day in the golden city during that recent visit, I took a bus to Iligan City for more interviews and meetings with entrepreneurs. An hour and half’s ride from CDO, Iligan is another beautiful , prosperous and pleasant place – but that is another story. Let me just say that there, again, I was blessed with sunshine plus a gracious host by the name of Danny Capin, a fortunate combination that allowed me, at last, a glimpse at majestic Maria Cristina Falls, which eluded me on my previous visit to Lanao del Norte.
From meeting the grand dame of Iligan, I was driven straight to the bus terminal to go back to Cagayan de Oro, where I would spend a last night before flying back to Manila the following day.

That final evening in CDO was unforgettable – not so much for what happened as for what took place after.
Up to that time, I was having amazingly good luck with the weather. But when it rained, it poured -- torrentially.

From the bus terminal, I took a cab to the Fair Trade store, along Velez Street, where I had deposited the bulk of my luggage for safekeeping. The rain started as I was having a merienda of jamon de cagayan sandwiches with the young ladies manning the store. After shopping there for more items for my Christmas gift-giving, I was ready to go to my new hotel a block away. As the rain didn’t show any sign of relenting, I accepted one of the girls’ offer to accompany me to the hotel with a big umbrella.
I must have been beat – though I didn’t feel it – for as soon as I hit the bed in my hotel room, I fell into deep sleep. It was dark when I woke up and I could hear the rain had slowed down into a drizzle.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Of flawed dads and errant daughters

The “mother and child” relationship has been celebrated and idealized so much in art and literature– and yes even in our minds – it almost sounds like a cliché. A mother is so highly revered she is almost deified: the “holiest thing alive” (Samuel Coleridge), “the sweetest sound to mortals given” (William Goldsmith Brown), the one God had to create “because He couldn’t be everywhere at the same time.” (Jewish proverb). In my generation, one of the first songs we learned was the mushy, catchy tune about she“who helped us when we fell and would some pretty stories tell (stories tell) and kissed the place to make it well (it well) …”

Fatherhood is more light-weight stuff. To be sure, dads are treated affectionately, but also often flippantly, sometimes irreverently. A dad is usually remembered for his practical uses: “a banker provided by nature” (French proverb); “ “the provider for all, the enemy of all” (J August Strinberg), someone equivalent “to a hundred schoolmasters” (English proverb); someone who “just has a way of putting things together” (Erica Cosby.) As a child of 14, Mark Twain recalls “an ignorant father” whom he "could hardly stand to have around." “But when I got to be 21,” he hastens to add, “ I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

The physical bond between mother and child is so obviously represented by the umbilical cord. Alas, fathers have no such unassailable ties. They have no wombs to carry their young in, no flowing breasts to suckle and nurture them with; they are deemed to have participated little at human creation except at the exact second of conception. Nowadays, with artificial insemination and upcoming sperm-in-a-dish technology, they need not be physically around at the crucial sperm-meets-egg moment.

The biological gap with fathers is often exacerbated by the patriarch’s traditional role of providing for the family. Dad has to leave home when the sun rises, often when kids are still in bed, and doesn’t come back until nightfall – tired and stressed and hungry and unable to relate to their young in touchy-feely ways except for the perfunctory hug, kiss, and “how was your day, kid?”

And yet, he is expected to be the disciplinarian – the one who should not spare the rod. “Wait till I tell your father you did this and didn’t do that,” a mom would often threaten a misbehaving youngster.

When a marriage flounders and eventually breaks, it is often assumed it is Dad’s fault. He is supposed, often unfairly, to be the one more easily seduced (than moms) by barkada, drinking, gambling, extramarital flings, and other threats to family happiness.

No wonder, Dads, poor dads, are regarded as “provider for all, enemies to all.”

And yet -- what would life be for all of us without our fathers? They can be the sweetest, most indulgent, most protective of all creatures. Come to think of it, families and society in general seem to demand too much of a father. He needs to be strong like Superman, provide like a tycoon, discipline like a Zen guru, show a good moral example like Caesar’s wife. In addition, he should be fun to be with – like Bill Cosby or Dolphy.

My friend has this memory of her father which she calls a “mixed bag of sweet, sour, and bitter.“

“I loved-hated my dad,” she began.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Ways of skinning the 'CAT'

Fresh high school graduates are awash with thrills and jitters. Graduation is saying goodbye to the best friend, the barkada, the first love or the current squeeze or crush, the favorite teacher, the beloved campus of their youth. It is turning their backs on childhood and irresponsible ways. It is also the excitement of the senior ball, the battery of final exams, the career orientation seminar. The anticipation of yet another phase of student life: college.

As they get ready for college, there is one major challenge they have to hurdle, one that can send chills down their spines. Will they pass the college entrance tests? Will they get accepted to the universities and courses of their dreams?

How did the successful ones do it? Let’s hear it straight from the winning horses’ mouths:


How they did it

Michelle, who made it through the UPCAT and thence to the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Home Economics a few years ago, said she went through a stoic regimen worthy of military cadets. She made sure she spent at least three hours a day for her self-review. She would rise an hour earlier and go to bed two hours later than her usual waking and sleeping schedule. Saturday was the Great Review Day when she would work from break of dawn to the wee hours of morning. Sundays, however was R’n’R day – she needed that weekly break to unwind and recharge.

As Michelle was a self-reviewer, she bought review manuals from a reputable review center which she mastered with a discipline she didn’t know she had. Not content with that, she prepared detailed outlines for all subjects and exchanged notes with fellow self-reviewers – sometimes by phone, at times by Internet chat, occasionally by meeting together for a combined “group study and social” encounter.

Eric, who passed both Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and UP entrance tests but finally enrolled at ADMU, partly because he couldn’t imagine himself cheering for other than the Blue Eagles come UPAA season, believed in the minimalist approach.

He took care to study only subjects he was weak in. A constant essay-writing contest winner and an editor of their school paper, Eric felt confident he could breeze through the English grammar portion of the exam – which he did.

However, he knew Math was his waterloo. Abstract reasoning, too, was almost esoteric to him. Thus, he spent time grilling himself in numbers and abstract-thinking exercises. Weekends, he would go to his uncle’s house in Pasig City (Eric lives in Novaliches, Quezon City) and stay there overnight. The uncle would oblige with lessons Eric calls “algebra for dummies.” “He was better than my Algebra teacher,” he gushes about his uncle “he made finding those elusive X’s easy or at least doable for me even if it took me double the time it would for a regular Math whiz to get it.”

Sam thinks he may have luck on his side. He was a student of the UP Integrated School and weekly UPCAT reviews were integrated into their school calendar. He made it to the State University’s College of Architecture. He reckons that during his time, the passing rate of UP Integrated School graduates was about 70 per cent.

Michelle might have worked as hard as never before. She says her mother was also a sigurista who made her take fish oil and ginkgo bulova capsules, said to be great memory aids. She can’t say whether they worked. But look, she made it to where she wanted to be.

Sam’s mom had her own way of “loading the dice” for her son. She and the whole family stormed the heavens. They lighted candles at the shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan before the exams and went back to light some more when Sam passed. His mom finished countless rounds of novenas to the Sacred Heart before her son began to take the exams.

To each his own way of “climbing the mountain,” or "skinning the... uhrmm ... CAT."

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Japanese and I

A war baby, I was fed, while growing up, with stories about the difficult war years and the uneasy peace of the Japanese occupation.
It should have been easy for me to hate the Hapon but the ambivalent stories impressed upon me made it hard for me to indict them absolutely. Sure, I heard later accounts about “Japanese atrocities “ (why does that phrase sound almost like a cliché?), how the Japanese treacherously bombed Pearl Harbor, how 10,000 Filipino and American soldiers perished in the Bataan Death March, how Japanese soldiers used some Pinays for personal "comfort." But maybe because my immediate family was largely spared of wartime catastrophes, with no one dead nor hurt nor gravely abused, the tales twice told me were mostly benign.
The first story happened on Day 1 of my chequered life.
From Gagalangin, Tondo where we lived to Ermita where the Philippine General Hospital was located was an hour’s distance by karetela (horse-drawn carriage). My long expectant mom, whose time finally had come, would have preferred to be whisked away in a cab for she sensed, by dint of experience, the baby inside her was in a hurry to get out. But alas, taxis were as hard to come by those days as American Spam luncheon meat and Hereford corned beef were hard to buy. Sure enough, whby the time the karetela ho-hooed to a stop, its seats and floor had been splattered with placental blood, with baby’s head already bobbing out. My dad, by then a bundle of nerves, clambered down so hurriedly he almost slipped by the pavement. Who would happen to come by and steady him with a swift hand but a Japanese officer who, summarizing the situation in one sweeping glance, later helped lift anxious mother and half-born infant from out of the carriage into the hospital’s obstetric unit?
When I was a toddler, another friendly Japanese soldier came into my life, or so my Lola loved to tell me. He was a sentry who would pass by our house to and from work. I reminded him of his own daughter whom he sorely missed, he would tell my Lola who subbed as my guardian every time my mom tended her rice store at the talipapa. For the entitlement to pinch my cheeks and make goo-goo eyes at me, the Japanese would give me pieces of bubble gum and candy.
These stories are, of course, third-person accounts but were told and retold so many times I sometimes confuse the memory of the telling with first-hand memory. Actually, it would take about 30 years more before I made my first true Japanese friend.
The Nagoya International Training Center, Nagoya, Japan, where I was sent on a fellowship training on small business promotion by my office in 1974, became both school and home to me for three months.
I arrived at the Center in the early evening after a two-hour trip by shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. The train ride had been pleasant but uneventful and I was reading a pocketbook some of the time -- until we reached tall, snow capped mountain ranges partly hidden by blue gray clouds -- whereupon a couple of Japanese gentlemen suddenly rose from their seats to jolt me away from my book, almost frantically pointing outward. “Look, Fuji, Fuji!” they chimed. Truly, what right had I to bury my nose on a banal story when I could feast my eyes on splendor and majesty just by looking out the window?! I was grateful for the magnificent eyeful, but more than that, I was amazed how proud they were of their Mt. Fuji and – as I found out later -- of many things Japanese.
I fell in love with the Japanese people overnight.

Monday, February 28, 2011

I was at EDSA, too

“Who do you think you are -- Gabriela Silang?” my husband snapped, as his eyes swept me over from teased head to 5'1", 98-lb frame to size-4-1/2 feet, when I woke him early and told him we HAD to go to EDSA that Saturday morning 25 years ago.
I hardly slept the night before. I kept vigil with what was happening out there with my ears glued to Radio Veritas. I kept track of the events that stockpiled within hours, ringing if faintly the death knell of a hated regime.
I heard the incredible turns of events unfolding -- blow by blow:
Ramos holing inside Camp Crame. Enrile at nearby Camp Aguinaldo. Both men grimly proclaiming they were ready to die with their ideals intact. FM’s cabinet men coming forward – one by one – publicly resigning from their posts, emphatically renouncing their boss. Butch Aquino imploring the public to join the crowd amassing, nay, snowballing, at EDSA to safeguard the camps and those who sought refuge there. Cardinal Sin urging his flock to leave home and make a stand as a Christian duty.
How could I have slept? For the first time, the dream seemed possible – our liberation from the dictatorship, the end of martial rule, the stop to crony capitalism, massive corruption, the killing of political dissenters (and their disappearances), and other human rights crimes ad infinitum.
(Why I had the radio on that night -- I who hardly ever turned on the set except to find out what was the exact radio time so I could adjust my watch or our clocks – I still cannot explain. My best guess is that Providence wearied of my ambivalence and [divinely] intervened.)
My husband was, of course right. I was no Gabriela Silang. No one would call me feisty, the pipsqueak that I am. I knew deep down I was a mouse, a mouse that wanted to roar, but a mouse just the same. I have this tiny heart that goes out to the poor and the oppressed, but my ass, oh my ass -- it had remained firmly fence-seated and inert and comfortable and very safe.
Ideologically, you might describe me as left of center but as the Marcos rule increasingly strangled not just the economy but also the national psyche, I had veered leftwards more and more. I had also grown more and more restless with my do-nothing ideology.
Months before, I had begun to walk my talk as I joined yellow-confetti rallies and parades in Cubao and Makati as well as the boycott against crony companies.
Still when my husband flatly refused to accompany me to EDSA that Saturday, Feb. 22, 1986, I did little beyond mutter limply about “history in the making and here we are cooling our butts.” Still then a young(ish), unliberated woman, I felt I had no choice but to stay put and vicariously join the crowds by staying tuned to Radio Veritas.
The following morning, Sunday, it was my husband’s turn to wake me with unaccustomed urgency. “Let’s go,” he said. “And bring sandwiches for the soldiers (who were guarding the camps 24/7 and presumably were unfed).
As I was spreading mayo and inserting sweet ham on slices of loaf bread, my husband added: " Don’t forget towels."
Towels? I asked, uncomprehending. Yes, towels, wet towels -- he repeated. It seemed soldiers – those who had not yet defected – were throwing tear gas bombs at the crowds to disperse them.
My home was unfortunately and constantly short of towels. But I had dozens of gauge diapers (well laundered and well bleached after months of use by my then three-year old Bunso). I got them out from the cabinet and force-pressed them inside an overnight bag. My husband lugged a jug of water in case the diapers needed wetting. On the way to where the action was, we bought packs of biscuits and tetra juices.
We arrived to a fiesta atmosphere at EDSA. We met no tanks, no tear gas brigades, no Marcos soldiers creating mayhem. Only people smiling and laughing, and sharing their baon of food and drinks, and listening to transistors, and trading the latest bulletins on which military contingent or which general had defected and which were still steadfastly on the way to the camps to destroy Crame and Aguinaldo and scare away the crowds. There was tension, too, of course, as bang-bang military action was constantly half-expected. But in the meantime, the people seemed bent to savor the unusual -- uhm uhm -- oneness. In that huge picnic that randomly bloomed on the highway, the often divisive Pinoys seemed at last about to pull their act together.
Fast food chains were giving away Styrofoam packs of meals. Soft drink companies kept drinks flowing. We walked past the crowds to hew close to the camp’s gates and fences to find soldiers who didn't look hungry -- just bored and sleepy. I forced on them the sandwiches I prepared anyway.
Then a priest said mass, happily very near where we chose to stay. When the final “go in peace” blessings were given, there was a mild commotion. And I saw Fidel Ramos executing his now famous triumphant leap. Some people in the crowd followed his cue and jumped too. Others broke into clapping. But the elation was premature … it was all a rumor … the news that Marcos had fled.
We went back that night to camp out with a group of neighbors with whom we hitched a ride. The fiesta spirit prevailed at least in our part of EDSA (the Green Meadows area). The towels … I mean, the diapers .. didn’t have to be steeped in water and distributed. There were no bombs – teargas or the more lethal kind. There were no tanks to stop with rosaries and white roses – though we women were given these -- just in case, the leaders said. After dinner, we rehearsed for how we women would take the front lines when the tanks appeared with our smiles and peace offerings and loud prayers. We were assured in the same breath that the menfolk would actually be leading the regiment from behind, ready to overtake the women should the soldiers prove serious in wiping us off the street.
I fidgeted as I waited for the tanks, fingering my white rose and beads. But by the time the sun rose, they had not rolled in. I was almost disappointed. It could have been my mouse-roaring moment. Tsk.
I tried to snatch some sleep on blankets we spread on the pavement. But it was cold outdoors, with summer weeks away. When I couldn't stand the chill, I'd rise to seek warmth from one of the smoldering bonfires. Just then, a queue of people began to form, at the end of which were steaming coffee and hot pandesal, courtesy of a congregation of nuns and priests. I joined the line, yawning, beginning to warm up.
We went back the following evening , Monday, with our eldest son, Ariel, then a teenager, in tow. Adrian, our next son, was imploring to be allowed to join, too. I shushed him with an assurance: tomorrow will be your turn. I was so sure it would be a long, long road show. I reckoned Marcos and family would dig in for many days.
But I was wrong. On Tuesday, there was no more reason to stay the night. By about 8 pm, the whole of EDSA exploded into cheering and dancing and singing. The dictator had truly and finally fled.
We walked home that night – feeling like we were stepping on air -- never imagining 25 years later the EDSA peaceful revolution we just took part in would be called a failed success.
Photo: from OFW News on Web

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Resolved as it is hereby resolved 1: muling pagsusulat

Sa buong buhay ko, hindi ako kailanman naglista ng New Year’s resolution – puwera na lang marahil kung ako ay napilitan nang ako’y nasa hayskul dahil asaynment ito sa Homeroom o sa English Composition o sa Pilipino) pagkatapos ng dalawang linggong Christmas vacation.
Hindi ko alam bakit hindi ako naki-uso sa ganitong tradisyon. Wala bang dapat baguhin sa buhay o sa katauhan ko? (Ang sagot: marami, hindi nga mabilang. Kung baga sa kotse, hindi lang kumpuni ang kailangan kundi major overhaul). Hindi ba ako naniniwala sa kakayahan kong tuparin ang mga pagbabagong ninanasa? (Marahil, nguni’t paano malalaman kung hindi susubukan?) O tamad lang ako o walang panahon o tiyagang mag-litanya ng mga resolusyon? (Tamad? -- medyo. Walang panahon? -- hindi yata, lalo na ngayong namaalam na ako -- o, kay tamis na GOODbye -- sa dati kong kaaway at inaaway na bundy clock. Walang tiyaga? -- oong-oo. Pati nga pagkain, kinakainipan ko, kaya kadalasan nasusuway ang “unang utos” sa Food and Nutrition na “chew your food well” ).
Nguni’t nitong pagpasok ng 2011, ginulat ko ang sarili ko sa pamamagitan ng pagbigay ng ultimatum sa sarili ko upang umpisahan ang mga prayoridad na dapat gawin. Hindi ko man tinatak sa papel ang mga ito, tila bumaon naman sa utak ko. Dahil kaya nararamdaman kong kulang na ako ng tinatatawag na luxury of time na sabi nga ay wala ring tiyagang maghintay kangino man?

Muling pagsusulat
Mag-uumpisa ulit ako ng daily journal, sabi ko sa sarili ko -- isang gawain na sinangtabi ko nang nahaling ako sa pagba-blog sa Internet. Mahigit na dalawang dosena na ang napuno kong kuwaderno kung saan ko binubunton ang lahat ng kadramahan ko sa buhay – maliit, malaki, o pinalaki. Matagal ko ding prinoblema ang mga kuwadernong ito (kay dami naman kase!) – sino ang pupunit o susunog sa kanila kapag may nangyaring hindi inaasahan? Paghati-hatiin ko kaya sa aking mga anak bilang kapalit sa ari-arian at kayamanang hindi ko naipundar? Tanggapin kaya nila? God provides, wika nga, dahil noong isang taon lahat ng papel sa bahay – libro, magasin, litrato, kuaderno, kalendaryo – ay inanod o winasak ni Ondoy. May nailigtas man, dahil nagdikit-dikit ang mga pahina, sa basurahan din humantong.
Susulat akong muli. Kailangan ko ng talambuhay sa pagwawakas ng aking panahon. Hindi lamang para sa mga madramang pangyayari (na pakonti na nang pakonti kahit nga pilit akong nangi-imbento at nagpapasimuno) kundi para rin sa mga pangkaraniwang mga ritwal. Kailangan ko ng tala -- kailan ba ako huling/dapat akong muling magpunta sa bangko, sa post office, sa grocery store, sa doktor, sa botika, sa VFI (kung saan ako sumusulat), sa UP ISSI (kung saan muli akong susulat)? Hwag nyong sabihing “to-do” list lang ang katapat nito, o isang organizer. Ang hindi mapagkait na ispasyo ng kuaderno ang kailangan ko dahil kahit pamimili o pagbabangko, kaya ko pa ding singitan ng drama – o hindi ako si Annamanila.
Kay rami kong natanggap na fancy notebook, note pad at stationery noong nakaraang Pasko. Kung hindi ito isang pagtutulak na ako’y muling magsulat, hindi ko alam kung ano ang itatawag.
(sa susunod: pagkukumpuni ng lumang makina)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Unforgettable Christmas Stories

Paskung-pasko ay nagmamaktol si Dina. “Ano ba naman si Santa Claus, hindi ba siya marunong magbasa?” Ilang Pasko nang humihiling siya at sumusulat: “Mahal na Santa Claus ang gusto ko pong aginaldo ay pinggan-pingganan. Yun lang po at wala nang iba.”
Nang magising siya kinaumagahan ng Pasko, isang matambok na balutan ang nakita niya sa ulunan ng kanyang kama. Sa laki, sa bigat, at sa korte ng balot, alam na niya -- siniphayo na naman siya ni Santa.
Pilit na pilit na binuksan niya ito. “Ang pangit!” ang bulong niya pagkakita sa isang aparador-aparadorang yari sa kahoy. Malagana niyang hinila at tinulak ang maliliit na mga drawers nito, pagkatapos ay tinabig. Tumayo siya upang maghilamos; ni hindi sinulyapan ang laruang sumambulat sa sahig.
Gaya ng nakagawian nila, nagsimba silang mag-anak at nakinig ng misa sa kapilyang malapit sa kanila. Umuwi sila sa nagpuputok at wala nang maupuang sala na kung sa bagay at talaga namang napakaliit kahit walang bisita. Nakahilera duon ang siyam – oo, siyam -- niyang pinsang nakatira ilang bloke lang ang layo sa kanilang bahay. Siyam na dahilan kung bakit tuwing Pasko, nakakaisip mamundok at magtago ang kanyang amang kadalasan ay “alaws pe-pe.” Sa madaling salita: laging broke.
“Uncle, may bago akong poem,” sabi ng listang-lista at kyut na kyut na pinsan niyang si Myrla sa kanyang Papa. Kayang-kayang paikutin ni Myrla ang kanyang ama sa kanyang hinliliit. Kung may mga Paskong mas broke pa sa broke ang kanyang ama; si Myrla lamang ang palihim nitong inaabutan ng pisong papel.
Nag-curtsy pa si Myrla bago bumigkas ng tula nang malakas at punung-puno ng drama. Nang matapos ang palakpakan, tuloy-tuloy ang bata sa kandungan ng tatay ni Dina at buong lambing itong binulungan. Nang ginagap ng tiyuhin niya ang kanyang bulsa, mabilis siyang sinaway ng bata: “Uncle, ayaw ko ng pera.” “Eh, ano ang gusto mo--” tudyo ng matandang lalaki, “ang pitaka ko?” “Yun” – sagot ni Myrla sabay turo sa lamesa kung saan nakapatong ang maliit na aparador na kangina lang ay tila gustong wasakin ni Dina.
“Teka, kay Dina ‘yan” sagot ng Papa ni Dina sabay kamot ng ulo. “Pero, hmmm, ayaw yata niya.”
Sa puntong ito tumayo si Dina, tumakbo papuntang silid, nagbabaga ang mukha at nangigilid ang luha. Sinusi niya ang pinto at iniyak lahat ng sama ng loob –kay Santa, kay Myrla, sa kanyang Papa. Nakatulog siyang humihikbi. Pag-gising niya, tahimik at walang tao sa kabahayan. Mabilis niyang nakita ang agad hinanap ng kanyang mga mata.
Ang maliit na aparador ay nasa lamesa pa din at hindi na pangit.
He wrote me a heart-breaking letter from Palawan where he had a business buying and selling lobsters and other seafood. "I am sorry, I can’t come home on Christmas," he said. The pre-Christmas catch was very meager, he explained, and he had to wait another week of diving to make his trip worthwhile. “Don’t worry,” he hastened to add, “I’ll ask my mom and dad to bring my caboodle of nieces and nephews to spend Christmas eve with you and the children,” as though it would make an iota of difference.
As the holidays approached, I prepared myself for a blue-blue Christmas.
I was inconsolable but I behaved coolly that Christmas eve. I decorated, cooked, whipped, baked. When my in-laws arrived, I thought they hugged me more tightly and greeted me more warmly than they usually did. I was terrific: I acted the part of a faultlesssly gracious host.
At half past two am, the last guest had left, the last dish was wiped clean and the last child had been tucked into bed. I breathed in the silence, feeling numb.
Just then, I sensed the stillness outside break -- even before I heard a cab stop, gently purr, and one of its doors open and shut smartly.
I was all ears as our sweet sweet gate screeched sweetly open followed by the sweet sweet sound of familiar footsteps. Then the sweet sweet knocking on the sweet sweet door told me in no uncertain terms the sweetheart made it home for Christmas.
Christmas rush many years ago.
The old woman cheerfully sat beside me on what must be the last remaining seat in the congested bus, carrying a box of cake on one hand and a bayong containing a live chicken on the other. She let the bag drop on the floor as the fowl complained cackling but kept the cake close by her. The box was so big it spilled from her narrow lap to rest on a fraction of mine. She kept lifting the box up, anxious it would bother me. I turned to smile at her to implicitly assure her it was no trouble at all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

When wife meets mistress

When Nena learned her husband was keeping a mistress, her gut reaction was "to destroy." She wanted to die or to kill or at least to maim (her husband and the other woman), but in time was able to keep hold of herself. She thought, on second thoughts, she could talk sense into the errant pair. At 35, she believed human kindness and reason could work wonders.
Here is an account of their first meeting – Nena and Leny, the wife and the mistress, respectively:
I dropped by Leny’s apartment just as she was on her way to school. Our meeting was a pleasant one, surprisingly. She remarked how good and young I looked. But of course, I took care to look my best – wore my most flattering blouse, suffered my girdle, had my hair blow-dried. I told her in turn she was everything my husband told me she was. Inwardly, I groaned – she looked so young, fragile, and innocent.
She told me she didn’t really have to go school that day. “Great,” I said. “Why don’t we drop by his office – and watch his jaw drop.
When we entered the office, holding hands and beaming, work ground to a halt. We must have made a grand show.
Yes, my husband's jaw dropped as we made our way to his cubicle. When he recovered his senses, he said: “Let’s go out to dinner.” We made plans for the three of us that night – noble, win-win plans. Silently, I congratulated myself. How clever I was!
If our lofty plans had materialized, Leny would study full time. I would be her guardian, mentor and friend. He would keep distance. When she finished and started a career, we would be the best of friends – all three of us.
Two months later, Leny was pregnant by my husband.

Monica tried a similar approach.She arranged to meet Eva, her husband Ding’s officemate and paramour.
Eva turned out to be really nice. She promised to forget Ding. And she also asked me to bring her home so she could meet “Ding’s children … so I can stand firm on my decision to break up with him." Taking a crowded bus, we were hanging by the estribo all the way. When we alighted, Eva said: “You could have pushed me from the bus, you know.”
Surprisingly, Eva was as as good as her word. Maybe it also helped that she was fired out from the office where she and Ding worked. Ding grieved Eva’s loss but Monica’s ordeal was far from over. It wasn’t long before Ding found another lover.

Not all wives can manage their dark impulses when meeting their husband’s mistresses for the first time. Carla is one of the feisty, uncontrolled ones.
Carla happens to be Nena’s sister, fiercely loyal to each other, but poles apart in temperament.
When Carla got wind of what was happening, she did some research to confirm her fears. Once she was certain something was afoul, she followed her husband Ben as she drove supposedly to overtime work. She left herown car behind and instead took a cab so Ben wouldn't notice he was being tailed.
But inside Carla’s bag was a gun, Ben’s gun.
He parked by a narrow alley in a semi-depressed part of Manila, went out of the car, and walked. I paid the cab, and watched him enter a small yard where a petite young woman waited. I was in turmoil … I must have entered the yard too and walked past him. All I remember is holding the woman by the collar and pointing Ben’s gun at her temple ...

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Over 60 and swooning

“Karma” – my BFF Gabby calls it.
She couldn’t relate to me, she says – which, shorn of diplomatese, may have meant she laughed at me -- in my Dao Ming Zu days.
Those were days I’d go home early to catch plays and replays of “Meteor Garden” where Taiwanese actor Jerry Yan (aka Dao Ming Zu) strutted, with his magnificent abs, big hair, and brooding, slit-eyed looks, into and under the skin not only of the saccharine Shan Cai but also of his huge audience of women, young and old and, yes, older. Days all I wanted to do at lunchtime was to recount the latest Dao Ming Zu tragedy or crisis with office friends, never mind if all of us watched the show the night before. Days I’d watch Meteor Garden episodes on CD which I cajoled my niece Maila to lend me and which I didn’t return though she more than cajoled. Days I’d shop at Bench, where Jerry was poster boy, only so I could grab a free poster.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time I swooned over a 20 year old. There was Diether Ocampo back in his Ang TV and Gimik days; and before him Romnick Sarmenta; and before him Dranreb Belleza; and before him …. ooops, my memory fails me.
She has been karma’d, Gabby confesses, because now, she’s hopelessly in love with K-pop idol Jang Geun Seok of “You’re Beautiful” fame. Hah, I wanted to gloat, JGS is only a Korean reproduction of my DMZ – a second rate, trying-hard copy cat.
This must be second childhood, Gabby frets. “I bought a lot of JGS stuff. I listen to his soundtracks and constantly watch his manhwas (Korean dramas). He has a new one showing here now,” she adds, referring of course to Korea where she is an exchange professor.
Gabby offers she is an escapist-dreamer whose outlook in life is “that there should always be magic and that anything is possible” -- her way of explaining why she is hooked to the young Kor-Kor idol. She is not keen on reality, she says, because reality for others is not HER reality.
Unlike Gabby, I don’t shun roller-coaster reality, even if some of the bumps really did hurt. It has brought enough high and magical moments, to savor while they lasted and to re-savor in the remembering. No, life has been good or has evened out for me – with its admixture of joys and griefs, surprises and disappointments, and gains and losses. Truly, I have sometimes surprised myself how well I played some tough cards life dealt me.
(Which reminds me how an online scrabble buddy recently complained about the tight board we were playing -- you know, the kind where you could only move edgewise. Don’t you just hate it? -- she asked. I replied honestly that I have learned to enjoy the challenge of difficult boards and bad tiles where I have to dip deep into my ingenuity, stock of words, and other resources to form a "respectable” word without passing or exchanging tiles.)
But I escape too sometimes. There is also this secret place in my mind, that I stealthily enter when I am alone, where everything is magical and where I am young forever and the season is always summer.
Is it horribly wrong – this living and dreaming-daydreaming, waking up and then starting the cycle again? Is it so ridiculous and laughable – this delighting in everything that elicits a smile and perhaps some kilig, regardless if it's Jerry Yan, Jan Geun Seok, an old flame, a virtual friend, or some other who has caught our fancy?
There is a secret chamber inside everyone -- young and old, male and female, rich and poor, wise or not so -- that one takes refuge in when the going gets rough or merely tiresome.
We don’t stop dreaming or swooning just because we are 50, 60, or older.
Maybe I should watch “You’re Beautiful” one of these days and then …. who knows?

Photo: from

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

House of Many Rooms

My house has many rooms
I lock or unlock at will
Some brick-walled
Fortressed, forbidding
Others with swinging doors
Where I wraithlike slither
From room to room
In the order of the moon's
Waxing and waning
Or shuttle in reverse
In the surreal fashion of dreams
Or flit from end to end
Edge to center and back again
Godlike, omnipresent
In every which corner
Of my house of many rooms.

My house has a charmed chamber
A treasure trove
Of mysterious joys
Of things old
And half-forgotten
That I visit often
When the rains pour
And joints grow cold
And eyes mist with tears
Of remembering and forgetting.
The sun ever shines
Brooks gurgle
Birds twitter
Embers smolder
In that charmed chamber
In my house of many rooms.

have this charmed place too
In your house of many rooms
However far you've gone
In whatever clime.

Soon we will meet again
In the chamber of a million charms
Where we all began
And to which we will come back
To know each other
For the first time.

Photo: “The mysterious Door” by , c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

(Written on the occasion of the 50th year anniversary of our high school graduation)

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