Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You think you can beat my Kung Fu?

I suppose no trip to Nanjing would be complete without an episide like this happening:

I was at the hotel thawing after that 10 minute walk in freezing temperature, reading a book with some Chinese TV program as background noise, when I heard the door open. I got out of bed and saw, in the foyer, this big Chinese guy in a black coat standing there, talking to the bathroom door. He obviously had the wrong room and had no intention of mayhem, I was sure. Ive never heard of anybody mugged in a hotel room in China. So I smiled and said, "You have the wrong room." He looked at me, perplexed so I said, "You have the wrong room" again and proceeded to walk towards the door to show him what room number this was. But the dude angrily grabbed my wrist and pulled me to where I was as he stared in at my face trying to figure out who the heck I was. Now I dont like being grabbed by some stranger in my own room. Do that and I'll kick your ass. Truth be told, he probably couldve kicked MY ass. He was a big guy and had 50 pounds on me. Anyway...

I pulled my arm away from his grip and yelled angrily in his face--more like his neck, but I was looking up--"THIS IS MY ROOM!" I pointed to my suitcase, my stuff on the bed, the floor, I may even have pointed at my newly-washed-with-hotel-shampoo underwear hanging under the heat ventilating air conditioner to dry. "MY ROOM! This is Three-Oh-Six!! My ROOM!" I was friggin Al Pacino and I was ready to rock.

He looked around and recognition came to his face. He walked toward the door and looked at the fire exit map and saw room 306 highlighted on it. He blinked comically, and then apologized profusely in Chinese. At least I thought he did. His body language said it all, of course. He was bowing, trying to make himself small from embarrassment. I nodded back and showed him out. I was about to return to my book when, Holy cow, how did he get in here? I checked the door and yes, you can open it from the outside. The day before I was having trouble with my hotel key, that card thingie they gave you with the electronic thingamabob on it. I can't open the door and had to ask the concierge's help with the appropriate sign language. They replaced it with a new one, but this one opened the door permanently. They had to go fix the thing and they did but imagine what kind of sleep I had that night. Every little noise in the hallway woke me up.

Nanjing. You gotta love it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Blog pages from Blogger and Typepad seem to be blocked in China. The actual Blogger site though, is not. That means one could post new entries, only the blog page itself can't be viewed. Livejournal pages are ok. I can access them fine. There must be some logic, some fundamental reason why blogspot and typepad pages are blocked, while livejournal pages arent, but I havent figured it out.

Anyway... Nanjing doesnt have a proper winter. The temperature the past week has dipped to the 6 below (C) but still it doesnt seem to want to give me the benefit of fulfilling that ultimate Pinoy childhood fantasy of walking in the snowfall. All I get out of the temperature drop is the loss of all sensation in my face, which often leads to that phenomenon of suddenly tasting something salty in my mouth and realizing that snot is pouring out of my nose without me being able to feel it. I know it's just snow and it's really no big deal and I know my buddies out there in the East Coast of the United States and in Canada are probably sick of it by now, but come on. You remember your first snowfall before it turned into a yearly nuisance you have to live with, right? How you acted like kids in it? A colleague and I were here 2 or 3 years ago in the winter when we were blessed with some early snow in late November. We were in a department store at the time checking out DVD players and he said, "Look outside." Snow. We went out. We looked up at the snowflakes falling out of the night sky, visible only when the streetlights hit it. We tried to catch a few in our tongues. Yes, we looked like idiots. My colleague was going 'Woohoo!'. We only stopped when an old man, hunched over in his coat, hands deep in his pockets, probably feeling the cold down to his bones, stopped and watched us with what looked like bemusement, and went 'Woohoo!' along with us. He looked silly, and, we realized, so did we. We smiled at him, he smiled back, we went on our way.

It wasnt as if it were our first time to see snow. We have. I remember walking down Fifth avenue in Manhattan after some serious winter weather the night before, when a huge chunk of ice fell from some skyscraper and landed two feet in front of me with a crash. I calmly walked on. Everybody else on the street didnt seem to see anything happen. I only realized later that, Holy crap! I couldve been killed! But maybe, having come from a tropical country with a colonial past such as ours, having grown up with Bing Crosby's White Christmas, having had the pleasure of putting up a Christmas tree (plastic, with white frosting) in our childhood, it just takes us back to a more innocent time so we just cut loose. Til that old man came and went Wooohoo!

Or maybe, we were just bored. We were in Nanjing after all, and we take fun wherever we can find it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


My entries are in serious need of a rewrite. But the thought of going through every entry and proofing, editing, and rewriting then fills me with ennui. And something else. My blog entries are like globs of turd. My turd. I have great pleasure in getting turd out, but after the initial interest I have with them, admiring color, shape, and consistency, I dont want to go back to them after a certain period of time has elapsed. But I'd like to think they'd be good for something. That they'll eventually decompose, nourish the earth, and help a few seeds grow.

Friday, December 02, 2005

She blinded me with Science

I was going to write something about the Darwinism-Intelligent Design (ID) debate, commenting about how both sides seem to be yelling in a language that is alien to the other side, but Scott Adams beat me to it. From here in the islands, the debate over introducing ID in the American public schools’ science curriculum is amusing, to say the least. These Americans, ha-ha-ha. What a country, eh? Here, if the Department of Education says ID would be introduced in science classes, the general reaction would be, “Whatever, dude. What’s for dinner?” Over there, they act as if the very future of the planet depended on the outcome of the debate, and that the world would stop turning if the other side won. What Ive decided to write about instead is about the scientific community as seen by someone from the outside, namely me.

I used to be under the impression that scientists agreed on the definition of science. Boy was I wrong. The definition of science is still a hotly debated topic in the rarefied air that philosophers of science breathe. During the recent Kitzmiller et al vs. Dover School District, the expert witness for the plaintiffs, Robert Pennock, admitted that there is no single definition of science that everyone agrees on. It’s boundaries are fuzzy.

But there is an authority that determines whether or not a theory is scientific or not, and that is none other than the scientific community itself. Make that the mainstream scientific community. They get to say whether you’re in or out. In this way, science is a lot like art. “What is Art?” Philosophers haven’t figured out a definition yet ever since the first Cro-Magnon stenciled his hand onto the wall of his cave by blowing a mouthful of pigment on it, and asked “Ugh. Take a look at this. Is it art?” Art is what the Art Community says it is, that vast network of academics, gallery owners, art collectors, and critics. They get to say whether or not your work deserves to be displayed in the Louvre or flushed down the loo.

Instead of museums, the scientific community makes use of a device called the peer-reviewed journal, a sacred document. Once your work and your name appear within its hallowed pages, you’ll know that you’ve arrived. The scientific community has given you its imprimatur. You’ve been anointed and deemed fit to be called brother. The honor of being chosen to be a reviewer of articles for publication is not given lightly. You have to have solid mainstream scientific credentials, that is, you have to agree with the mainstream opinion, to qualify. And you do not, under any circumstances, abuse this privilege or there will be hell to pay. Consider the case of Richard Sternberg, a scientist who happens to edit a scientific journal affiliated with the very mainstream Smithsonian Institution. Sternberg committed the mortal sin of allowing the publication of a non-mainstream view: an article by Stephen Meyer that was sympathetic to Intelligent Design. What followed was recrimination by the keepers of the flame, seeking to tarnish his reputation.

The mainstream scientists and their followers in the lay community believe—wholeheartedly believe—that science is above petty disagreements and tantrums. It is above the worldly dispute over turf or, heaven forbid, the competition for research grants. It is a noble calling where the pursuit of the truth is paramount. Fame? Bite your tongue! And science is indeed that noble a calling. But alas, science is composed of scientists. And scientists are composed of people. People just as petty and as trivial as the rest of us. I suspect the scientists know and accept this; they just don’t talk about it. Kary Mullis, Nobel Prize winner for chemistry minces no words. In writing about the AIDS establishment he said: “What people call science is probably very similar to what people called science in 1634. Galileo was told to recant his beliefs or be excommunicated. People who refuse to accept the commandments of the AIDS establishment are basically told the same thing. ‘If you don't accept what we say, you’re out.’”* That is basically true of all established scientific beliefs. The lay followers of mainstream science, too, will not hesitate to attack anyone who even hints that their heroes have feet of clay.

I’ve heard it said that there isn’t an overarching discipline to study science. There is a Philosophy of Science, but there isn’t any Science of Science. I beg to differ. We have a science of science. Several, in fact. Sociology is one. Anthropology is another. These discipline are apt because the scientific community is just that: a community. A community with its own rules, with its own culture, with its own way of dealing with other communities with which it interacts. The way a community changes and evolves also applies to the scientific community. You have an established order of things at its core, and competing new orders in the fringe seeking acceptance. The core has its own metaphysical underpinnings; its own paradigm with which it interprets the world; the competing order has another. The established core will do anything it can to protect itself from its competitors in the fringe. It is not a fair fight. The established core has all the advantages. It controls the schools and other avenues of communication. There are battles for control throughout the community, Darwinism vs. ID being just one of them**. Others include the battle between the Fossil Fuel theory of Oil (the mainstream view) vs. the Abiotic Theory of Oil. Then there’s the debate between the causes of global warming or the It’s-all-our-fault theory (the maisntream view) vs. the We-have-nothing-to-do-with-it theory. And so on down the entire perimeter of establishment science. What I'd like to see therefore is a comprehensive study of the scientific community as a community; how it deals with issues within, and how it adapts and changes to pressures from without; and how its rules change in response to these. It might clear up a few things about what science really is.

*In 'Case not Closed', Chapter 18 of his book Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, 1998.

**The Darwinism-ID debate is interesting because of the savvy use of social and political maneuverings, especially by one of the leading advocates of ID, The
Discovery Institute. They have correctly chosen their field of battle in such a way that they can win. They know that mano-a-mano with the establishment, they don't have a chance. The mainstream view controls the scientific journals and as mentioned above with the Sternberg episode, are not shy about making an example out of rogues who dare defy them. What they did instead was take the battle outside. By transforming the debate into an Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech issue, incredibly, they have placed Darwin in the unfamiliar position of having to engage them in public, whereas before they simply ignored them. The general impression now among those outside the scientific community of a battle between 2 equal competitors and not one of a David vs. Goliath.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Two Blogs

Aside from the web logs of the merry bunch of geeks I like to call my pals, Ive been regularly checking out the web logs of 2 other people, both famous, both successful. After I get my fair-and-balanced dose of what's going on in the rest of the world (CNN for mainstream media news and GNN and World Net Daily for guerilla news--the latter 2 news sites tend to cancel each other out), I check out the following blogs:

Dean Francis Alfar's Notes from the Peanut Gallery. I dont exactly remember how I came upon this site. I think I was blankly clicking on links on other blogsites just so my click finger had something to do after my brain post-prandially shut down. What a find. In it youll find a record of Alfar's life and thoughts on a whole gamut of things like writing as a creative endeavor, the foibles of running a business, being a dad, and exterminating cockroaches. It has links to his works and sometimes you get a glimpse on how stories form in his mind. He isnt at all stingy with his ideas, probably because he's confident that there's more where they came from (or probably because he can unleash the power of a famous lawfirm on you--I dont know). I found out later that Dean Alfar has won 8--eight!--Palanca awards including this year's for best novel, and I went 'ah'. He has parlayed that creative talent into running successful media companies called Kestrel Studios and Kestrel IMC. The only other person I know who's done that is Carlo J. Caparas who parlayed his komiks writing talent into Golden Lion Productions which had a string of hits with their massacre movies. The titles always followed the formula "The [place] Massacre: [Short ejaculatory prayer]" Like Caparas, Dean Alfar is also into komiks. I'd like to see these 2 get together and chat about komiks. (Carlo J. Caparas's komiks novel Somewhere I think is one of the best in his genre. Alas, I also think he did his best creative work as a writer. He understood his particular medium of short four-to-six page, six-panels-a-page chapters. As a film director though...)

Jessica Zafra's Twisted. I must confess I wasnt a fan. Ive read only one piece she did for Today and it was something about her plucking her hair out by the roots, and it involved a man. It was well written, but I found it sad. I never read another piece after that until I found a piece she's written for the Standard while on a plane. I also saw her on TV once. She had a TV show, but I didnt get to be a regular viewer because I thought one of her co-hosts looked too happy to be there, and after a few minutes of watching, I knew why: He knew how lucky he was to be there. But I was fascinated by her fans, some of whom worship her as a goddess. She has touched something in them. Or maybe she has put her finger on some lost undercurrent of culture which she generously dispenses to those seeking some. I found out about her site while browsing through an internet forum and decided to take a look. I can see why she has a following. Her pieces are witty and entertaining. I dont see anything in it so far that would merit undying loyalty, but perhaps she cultivated that during Twisted's run in print. I daresay we can classify Jessica Zafra as a cultural icon; someone who's grown bigger than her work. I havent figured out what that culture is exactly though but that's no mean feat for someone who writes for a living.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Two videos

Saw 2 videos of note over the weekend. But first... There’s this scene in Richard Linklater’s School of Rock where Dewey Finn was giving a lesson on “The Man” that I thought was spot on:

Oh, you don't know The Man? Well, he's everywhere. In the White House, down the hall. Miss Mullins, she's The Man. And The Man ruined the ozone, and he's burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank.

There used to be a way to stick it to The Man. It was called rock 'n' roll. But guess what. Oh, no. The Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV!

How right he was. I was born before MTV and I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with how music gets to us these days. Before MTV, the music was everything. We didn't care whether or not Joni Mitchell had a hair stylist, or whether or not Crosby, Stills, Nash, or Young had serious blingage. All we cared about was the music as it came out unadorned, unencumbered, unmade-up, and uncoiffed from our radios. Whenever we did get to see them live, it was an event, even if it was just on TV. RPN used to have a show called In Concert where the top rock bands of the day played live on TV. They showed the same shows over and over way into the 80’s (the concerts were recorded in the mid-to-late 70’s) and sometimes even used them as filler whenever a glitch prevented a scheduled program to air on time. Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Chicago, CSN&Y, James Taylor, T. Rex, The Who… they didn't pose or preen for the camera. There were no slick quick cuts or special effects. The announcer calmly and coolly called out their name—“Ladies and gentlemen, the J. Geils Band”--, they came out, and they played. Music videos changed all that. MTV came out in the 80’s and changed everything. Now it’s all about flash. It’s all about slick corporate packaging. It’s an entirely different medium where image is king, talent optional. J-Lo and Gwen Stefani should be kissing the feet of the person who invented music videos.

Today’s music videos have congealed into such a homogenous mass that it’s difficult to tell one from the other. Music videos use their own visual language and as languages go, most music videos have been reduced to repeating hackneyed clichés. Because of this, a new video would be hard-pressed to stand out. Sometimes, to stand out, a video opts for minimalism. That’s what James Blunt’s video “You’re Beautiful” did. The song is about this guy who saw a beautiful woman and fell for her but she’s with another man. But he isn’t worried. He’s got a plan, the lyrics said, even while acknowledging that he’ll never be with her. So in the video, he sings in the rain, takes his shirt off, takes his shoes off, takes out stuff from his pocket, and arranges them in a neat line in front of him with his wet pair of shoes in the middle. I recognize what looks like a wallet and a guitar pick and other things that probably mean something. He sings “I’ll never be with you” one last time, then jumps into the sea from a great height. Perhaps it isn’t something one is supposed to get; it just aims to haunt and perplex with Blunt’s falsetto-laced vocals. Right. Verdict: I don't get it.

The other video is INXS’s Pretty Vegas. It doesn’t do anything to stand out. Like most videos, it’s chock full of clichés: quick editing, rapid changes of scenery and camera angles, the lead singer preening in front of the camera. I would’ve killed it with the remote except that the friggin’ song rocked! The song came out of the Rockstar:INXS TV show, and wasn't written by resident INXS songwriter Andrew Farriss but by former Elvis impersonator J.D. Fortune, who won the competition to replace Michael Hutchence as the band’s lead singer earlier this year. (Hutchence killed himself in his London apartment in November 1997, just a few blocks away from where I was staying at the time.) If the competition for the final three performers was close (Pinoy West End veteran Migs Ayesa, and rocker Marty Casey were the other finalists), it was this song that probably clinched it for Fortune. Migs Ayesa proved weakest in the song-writing department, opting to write sappy pop tunes, and was promptly axed out of the final three. Pretty Vegas sounds like an INXS song, and Fortune, I swear, is possessed by Michael Hutchence in parts of it. He certainly captures the spirit of the band’s early years with his performance. Verdict: the video is nothing special but the song saves it.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


I would like to see the stats on the sales figures. Im just curious. This morning, the shuttle to work took a different route to avoid the gridlock on the west service road of the South Superhighway, when I noticed a billboard for something called White Cat detergent, and smiling down upon us lesser folk who have to go to work on the shuttle, was a gigantic Kris Aquino in yet another celebrity endorsement gig. Corporations and ad agencies seem to think Kris has what it takes to move products or else they won't keep getting her services. She's hawked everything from corned beef, to budget cars, to beer, and now laundry detergent. I have to admit that the image of Kris doing the laundry wouldnt register in my frame of reality, but marketing and ad execs spent years studying the inner workings of the Filipino consumer and concluded that Kris Aquino is the gal for the job.

I dont have strong feelings either for or against Kris Aquino. I havent seen any of her movies, and I havent seen any of her TV shows.* But she seems to be doing very well indeed. You dont get paid peanuts for gigs like these.

When Kris's San Miguel Beer ad came out, it had negative ratings from the people at the office. The build-up was great, the general consenus said, and they were expecting San Miguel to reveal another one of those relatively unknown but beautiful models and launch them into the stratosphere like they did with Angela Luz, Rachel Lobangco, and Ina Raymundo. But when Kris made her appearance, the reactions ranged from disappointed groans to 'Why her?' I saw the ad a few days later, and let's just say it didnt make me want to order San Miguel Pale Pilsen the next time we went to the regular after-office haunt, which is what an ad is supposed to do.

Digression: Used to be San Miguel Pale Pilsen ads featured fiestas, blue collar workers, fisherfolk--remember the FPJ ad where he was helping pull in a fishing net? In short, it was masa-oriented, and those inumans were always fun. Now they have yuppies, fashionistas, and Ferraris. Not exactly my idea of drinking buddies, but that's just me. I generally like inumans where my buddies dont have to worry about spilling their sawsawan on their Diesel shirts. At least San Miguel Pale Pilsen ads dont try to target young people like that insidious Colt 45 ad that overtly targeted 18-year olds. "Kaya mo na 'to," it said. Yes of course. Let me just ask Nanay for my pantoma since Im only 18, still in school, and dont have a job yet.

Where were we? After a little googling, I found out that White Cat detergent is the biggest selling detergent in China. We havent heard of it here, and so the ad people probably thought that Kris Aquino would remedy that in a hurry. The positioning of the product is quite strange to my untrained eye. With Tide and Surf going for the masa appeal with their ads, White Cat seems to be targeting the--what? I have no idea. The fashion-savvy, I-know-who-Manolo-Blahnik-is labanderas?

I found this piece on White Cat's signing of Kris Aquino on the Manila Standard Today website, written by Isah Red.

The cat is finally out of the bag

The mood was calm yet pulsating with eager eyes and salivating mouths. The much talked about endorsement of the number one talk show host has finally transpired in one of the welcoming function rooms of Mandarin Oriental. The popular Kris Aquino was presented with an offer to give her two thumbs-up to a detergent that is so economical and an ace performer in the laundry industry, Whitecat detergent.

It has boldly stepped into the market and will prove yet that it is a world-class competitor. Spearheaded by Willie Ang, together with Jenny Sy as the CEO and Louis Sy as the vice president, they have set up a momentous event in launching their product under RMCE Manufacturing Inc. to the Filipino market.

As the contract signing was ongoing, Kris looked very pleased by the warm reception of the press from both TV and Print, while the other guests were very pleased with the American breakfast served with complimentary drinks of coffee and freshly squeezed juice, pastries such as turnovers, freshly baked croissants, brownies, and sweet apple muffins.

Whitecat started in Mainland China. It’s famous for its cleaning properties such as Zeolite, a binding agent that removes stubborn dirt on soiled clothes. White Cat is set to break new grounds in cleaning clothes without compromising quality.

So watch out for Kris Aquino and Whitecat detergent, a tandem that homemakers will surely come to love.

And with that stellar piece of journalistic poetry, I end this blog entry.

* Addendum: Being aired on weekends, the clicker did chance upon The Buzz once. I remember that episode because the cameraman seemed to have been obsessed with Kris's back. Presumably on the director's instructions, the camera angles almost always featured Kris's bare, pale back as foreground. Im not one to second guess the execs over at ABS-CBN. Im sure being the media giant that they are, theyve conducted studies that showed Filipinos have a keen interest in Kris Aquino's back and showing gratuitous views of it would increase ratings. I remember being fascinated by the creativity of the cameraman's shots; these shots havent been tried on Philippine television before as far as I can tell.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Willie Pete

It's not nice to laugh at such matters but sometimes war is so ridiculous you just can't help it. The new wrinkle in this ever-continuing saga called Iraq revolves around the use of white phosphorus by US troops during the fighting in Fallujah. White phosphorus (WP) was first used extensively during the Vietnam war to transform wide areas of hostile territory into a close approximation of the very depths of Hell. It's nasty. If it touches flesh, it'll burn and keep burning til it reaches bone, and even then it'll continue to burn until deprived of oxygen. A documentary on Italian TV alleged that WP was used on Iraqi civilians in Fallujah; a charge the Pentagon denies, claiming it was only used to illuminate the battlefield. Field reports from the Marines in the area showed that this illuminate-the-battlefield ek-ek was pure bunk. The Pentagon then turned around and admitted that, yes, we used it as a weapon, but against enemy combatants. The opponents of the war, predictably enough, will not stop at yelling, 'A-HA! Liar, liar, pants on fire.' They aim to humiliate G.W. into submission. Good luck. They aim to do this by pointing out the hypocrisy of the US in condemning Saddam's use of chemical weapons while using one themselves.

As it turns out, WP is both a chemical weapon and it isnt, according to how you use it. There are legal niceties involved and the Pentagon has a lot of legal outs, due in part to the ambiguity to which WP's use can be classified as illegal. Thank God for conventions. What would killing people be like without internationally accepted conventions, eh? We're not savages.

Memo to terrorists from Rumsfeld: "We may be bombing the heck out of you, but we're satisfying all conventions of civilized warfare. We're not going to use anything illegal and to show our good faith, we'll stop using WP and use our regular munitions instead. How does thermobaric weapons grab you? Please be assured that you'll be just as dead with these items as with the ambiguously lethal WP. Thank you. P.S.: Sorry about the civilian casualties. Unfortunately, this stuff kills them, too. But having killed your fair share of them, you already knew that."

In the meantime, as all this brouhaha about the use of WP simmers down, there's still the mainly unaddressed and underreported problem with the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions dating back to the first Gulf War. I wonder, how many Filipino workers in Iraq and Kuwait have come home with symptoms similar to Gulf War Syndrome?

There's no such thing as a clean war. No such thing as a holy war. War is heck. Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide: The real enemy cannot be destroyed. The real enemy is war itself.

Monday, November 21, 2005

That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane, and Lenny Bruce is not afraid.

2B? Nt2B? What was the question?

In another sign that the world as we know it is ending, a British mobile phone service is planning to condense classic works of literature into ‘text-speak’ claiming that it would be a big help to students. Im sure it will be. We had Cliff’s Notes, they have Nokia. But what I find interesting is that a whole new language managed to emerge right from under our very noses. Oh, I haven’t been living under a rock; I know about text-speak. Ive seen blog pages and Friendster pages written entirely in text-speak. What I never realized is the level of sophistication it has managed to gain ever since I got my first ‘Gud am ü’ message. (To which I replied, ‘Damn you too, you puwet.’)

For instance, check out this classic piece of literature in text-speak:

Jack-oposnLeadrTaksR'sSuportersAway. MystryBeastOnIslandCauzsPanicBtSimonFindsOutTisOnlyAParachute.
Jtries2kilRbtR's savd ByShipDat c's emergncySmoke.

Entire web pages are written, entire meaningful conversations are being exchanged, using this language loosely based on English. In a way, it's inevitable. Languages have always evolved from more complexity to less complexity. As people draw closer, as technology transforms this planet into one community, shared experiences makes it easier for a language to change from a low context language to a high context language, where meaning is not solely dependent on the words themselves, but on the shared history and experiences of the conversants. Chinese is such a language. Grammatically, it's one of the simplest languages in existence. It has done away with tenses and prepositions, conjugations and inflections. It's a language made of pictographs where a character represents a simple idea and to form complex ideas, all you have to do is put these pictographs together. As a high context language, everything Chinese wants to say isnt in the characters, but in the shared experiences of the Chinese people. They get it because they have a psychic connection with each other. English, on the other hand, is highly complex. It has to be. Being a low context language, the words have to carry the burden of meaning, and you do that by having precise rules of usage. You learn to cook in English by reading a cookbook with all its precise measurements and descriptions. You learn to cook in Chinese by watching a master at work and imitating said master, trying to assimilate his experiences until they become your own.

Which brings us to text-speak. It seems that people who have meaningful conversations using this language have to have by necessity an empathy with each other, and with the cultural context theyre living in. The words themselves don't carry the meaning they wish to convey. You have to supply that yourself, and if youre not empathetic, if youre a words-as-building-blocks-for-logic person, you won't get it. You won't see the connections. Ive blogged about this difficulty once, claiming that text-speak isnt a medium for any meaningful conversation, but perhaps Im just not the kind of person to use it. Im a fuddy-duddy, and Im out of touch with the prevailing zeitgeist. Other people seem to be doing fine. In a way, a weeding out is beginning. Evolution is selecting people who 'get it' for survival. With the greater use of the internet and SMS to get dates, only those who can use it well, those who can find meaning despite the meaning-impoverished text messages, have a greater chance of getting laid.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fly, flu, flown

Speaking of bird flu, the Philippines has so far been spared of any major outbreaks of the H5N1 bird flu virus. We had one case in Bulacan of avian flu, but that was a sissy strain; the kind that only manages to inconvenience poultry with hacking coughs, wheezes, and rales. Being smack dab in the middle of the East Asian Migratory Flyway, it's a wonder why there are bird flu cases elsewhere in the region, notably Indonesia and Thailand, but not here. It has also travelled westward from China into Europe. Why?

I was p0ndering this question on my way home one night when I took a route home that I dont normally take: I passed through Roxas Boulevard. Then it dawned on me. When I was knee high to the tutubing karayom, that expanse of Roxas Boulevard from Buendia to Paranaque was estuarine mudflat and sea. The fabled Manila Bay sunset was visible all the way from Baclaran to Luneta. Now it's reclaimed area. It's Blue Wave and The Mall of Asia. The reason we havent gotten the bird flu is because migratory birds from the Eurasian mainland have nowhere to land. The Tambo mudflats where migratory birds make their winter home to breed is shrinking, giving way to urban sprawl and its concomitant garbage and pollution. This is most probably happening all over the country. Who wants to raise kids in that kind of neighborhood? Certainly not the Great Egret (Egretta alba) or the Striated Heron (Butorides striatus). Metro Manila's migratory wild bird sanctuary is confined to an ever-shrinking area along the Coastal Road in Paranaque, and being Paranaque, if rampant squatting doesnt do it first, it won't be long before some housing project or another will force the poor critters to nest elsewhere. Anywhere. Like, say, for instance, Indonesia, bringing the dreaded H5N1 with them.

(P.S.: We do have places for the birds to land like the Candaba swamps in Pampanga and Olango island in Cebu, but environmental pressures are being exerted on these areas by we the people. Candaba and Olango are being marketed as eco-tourism areas so things bode well for them. The Coastal Road in Paranaque, Im not so sure.)

A close encounter of the feathered kind

The kids were out with their Ate Joy whom I sent on an errand and I was doing some yardwork, when I heard frantic chirping of a Brown Shrike. Nothing unusual about that. They usually show up this time of year to spend winter in warm and sunny Paranaque. I looked up at the malunggay tree and sure enough there was a shrike there. But the chirping didn't come from the bird in the tree. It came from the ground. Which was strange because these birds don't usually go to the ground. I looked for it among the tall grass (which I really should be trimming right about now; maybe I could hire someone) and there it was. I approached it slowly, careful not to scare it away, to take a closer look. It hopped. I moved closer. It hopped again. There was obviously something wrong with it or else it would’ve flown away. Cool! The kids would get a kick out of this, I thought. I moved closer and it tried to hide among the grass, and I very gingerly picked it up. A nice specimen: yellowish-tannish breast feathers and that characteristic mask over its eyes. And it had what looked like whiskers over its beak. It didn't look ill; it was clear-eyed and alert. And it didn't seem to have any injuries. Its wings were folded neatly the way they’re supposed to be folded, so I knew the wings weren’t broken. Maybe it was just stupid. I put it in my cap and waited for the kids.

Brown shrike (Lanius cristatus).
Photo by Romy Ocon from The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines website

They came back a few minutes later and I said, “Look at what I have!” showing them the bird in my cap. Then, flash of much delayed realization: BIRD FLU! Mother of pearl, maybe the bird has the dreaded H5N1 virus! So right at the heels of an excited “Look at what I have!” was a panicked “DON'T TOUCH IT!” a split-second later. My girls’ expressions went from Tatay-is-so-cool to Tatay-is-so-strange in that same split second. “Come on, let’s let it go,” I said.

We went to the back of the house and let it go under the avocado tree. I held it in both hands and tossed it in the air so it could fly away. It didn't. It just landed — plop — on the dry avocado leaves on the ground then proceeded to try to hide under the tall grass. A couple of shrikes was in the avocado tree and were chirping loudly and our bird chirped back. One of the birds in the tree was probably saying, “Quit fooling around, Maurice; let’s go.” To which our bird answered: “Whoa! Dude, how’d you get up there?” The bird in the tree probably shrugged his shoulders (if birds had shoulders) and said to the other bird: “I told him not to eat those morning glory seeds, but he wouldn’t listen.”

It was noon, it was hot, so we didn't stick around to find out what happened and moved back into the house to have lunch. After lunch, the kids and I went back to the yard to see if our bird was still there where we left it. It wasn't. We looked everywhere and we couldn’t find it. “Where is it?,” my younger daughter asked.

“It probably flew away with the other shrikes,” I said.

“Ah.” We went back into the house.

The cat probably ate it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

One minute youre ordering the deaths of entire neighborhoods...

... and the next minute youre a punching bag for civil servants.

The BBC reports that 2 Iraqi court clerks beat up on the erstwhile ruler of Iraq, Saddam 'Da Man' Hussein for insulting 2 Shia saints. How humiliating is that? This used to be a guy who, with a snap of a finger, can have your entire family killed, and here he is, a forlorn, bedraggled shell of the ubertyrant he once was, eating knuckle sandwiches from government employees. Say what you want about the Bush war, but the world is better off without him. But did removing Saddam do any good? Yes it did. For Iran.

In the 80's, the Saddam's Baathist party had the full backing of the White House in its proxy war against Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran. It supplied them with materiel, moral support (Rumsfeld paid him a visit once), and one may surmise, top secret intelligence as well. The war turned out to be a stalemate with millions killed on both sides (most of them Iranians). Saddam already used poison gas on the Iranians, but that didnt cause too much of a fuss. "Hey-ell, Martha, he's a bad dog, but he's our dog." Saddam prevented the Iranians from dominating the Middle East and as long as he did that, he was one of the good guys.

Until he woke up one morning and said, "Im bored. Let's invade Kuwait." That quickly put him on Washington's excrement roster. Disrupt the world's oil supply, will he? The sumbitch is goin down! And he did. It was a turkey shoot when the allied forces made their move, placing vast tracts of the Iraqi landscape under invisible clouds of radiation from the use of depleted uranium ordnance that's still killing Gulf War veterans and Iraqi and Kuwaiti civilians to this very day. (Reporters covering the depleted uranium story saw children playing among the wreckage of Iraqi tanks, while the Geiger counters they were carrying were buzzing like crazed cicadas.)

Then came the September 11 attacks. After the invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration looked for whatever excuse they could to invade Iraq, and they found one: Weapons of Mass Destruction. And they found one Iraqi who was sure that they existed and that Saddam was making more: Ahmed Chalabi, the wealthy Shiite head of the Iraqi National Congress, who has never set foot in Iraq for 45 years. Never mind that UN weapons inspectors like ex-Marine Scott Ritter were testifying that Saddam no longer had the capability to create WMD's and if indeed he had managed to hide some of them from the inspectors, they would have been useless by now. (Apparently, these chemical and biological weapons have an expiry date like my vitamin supplements.) Never mind that that Saddam-Nigerian uranium information was shady at best. GW sent the troops and demolished Saddam's army, the force that was keeping the Iranians at bay. Iraq's population is mostly Shia Muslim like the Iranians and therefore natural allies. I bet the Iranians are just waiting for the US troops to leave Iraq, licking their chops, then they can exert influence on the internal politics of the new Iraqi government. Already, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is talking tough, pledging to push the Israelis nto the sea, and has re-launched Iran's nuclear program. Thanks to George W. Bush, things are falling in place for them.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Mirrors, masks, shadows

Why do we like movies? Sometimes it's because they take us away from here. To galaxies far, far away. And sometimes, in rare instances, they show us who we are. Or give us coordinates by which we can get our bearings. Or maybe just give us memorable lines with which we could resonate. As far as movie ending lines go, it would be tough to beat these two:

After that it got pretty late. And we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again, right? I realized what a terrific person she was and how much fun it was just knowing her and I thought of that old joke, you know, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken." And the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" And the guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much how I feel about relationships. You know, they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd and ... but I guess we keep goin' through it because most of us need the eggs.

--- Annie Hall, Woody Allen
So why did I do it? I could offer a million answers, all false. The truth is that I'm a bad person, but that's going to change, I'm going to change. This is the last of this sort of thing. I'm cleaning up and I'm moving on, going straight and choosing life. I'm looking forward to it already. I'm going to be just like you: the job, the family, the fucking big television, the washing machine, the car, the compact disc and electrical tin opener, good health, low cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisurewear, luggage, three-piece suit, DIY, game shows, junk food, children, walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing the gutters, getting by, looking ahead, to the day you die.
--- Trainspotting, John Hodge (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh)
It's a variation of the inner ipod playlist, I guess. Instead of coming up with songs, it came up with movie lines from the playlist in my head. Those 2 lines are me in a nutshell. The last 10 years. It's been quite a ride.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

In keeping with the recent rock n' roll theme...

Oh Oh, Joey's gone!
Life of a punker is a simple one: be a singer for the
most influential punk band in America, make
some cheesy movies about youself, keep your
hair long 'n' dirty, and make the music fun and
In your Next Life you find Ronald Reagan in HIS
Next Life and kick him with your Chuck Taylors.

Which Dead Rockstar Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Monday, September 26, 2005

Le weekend

The weekend consisted of experiments with apple pancakes and honey, red monggo with bacon, and banana turon with cinnamon. All were a rousing success. Well, not so much the red monggo. My kids sometimes have a traditionalist streak in them and were concerned that the monggo beans weren’t the usual green ones.

My girls ate the apple pancakes with lots of grated cheese on top. I didn't think of that, but yeah, somehow the saltiness of the cheese balanced out the tart-sweetness of the apple. The cinnamon on the turon also was met with skepticism at first but when Cael dipped her fingers in the sugar-and-cinnamon mixture I was going to use, then tasted it, she expressed approval. She has always been skeptical about my use of cinnamon on french toast before (I didn't let her see I put some in the pancakes), so I was pleasantly surprised with the thumbs up. (Cinnamon doesn’t really have any taste. It’s mostly smell. Try this: pinch your nose then place some cinnamon on your tongue. )

Mostly, the weekend was spent just vegetating, except for the time it rained really hard and we couldn’t resist going out and playing kick-the-ball until the street started getting a bit flooded and we had to move back into the yard. We had a good time and made up for the resentment the girls felt Saturday morning when I hogged the remote. I promised them they had the run of the TV on weekends but The Last Waltz was showing, Martin Scorsese’s movie on The Band’s farewell concert. I had to see it. Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, The Staple Singers, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, and The Band? I mean, come on. I could be forgiven, right? Anyway, after letting them play outside in the rain, all was forgiven.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The inner iPod's playlist

The inner ipod kicked in on the shuttle home again and came up with songs I haven’t heard in a while. The ride home is short, good only for 4 or 5 songs if the traffic isnt bad. I could play amateur shrink and analyze why my subconscious chose these, but “Rock got no reason; rock got no rhyme” which brings me to the first song:

School of Rock (Jack Black and the School of Rock) – This one’s easy. At least 4 movie channels were playing this all week. My girls loved it and they don't mind watching it again and again and singing along with it. I sometimes find them doing Dewey Finn impressions. They use ‘Math is a Wonderful Thing’ to give each other pop quizzes.

Steppin’ Out – Joe Jackson. There was a rivalry in my head in the old days between Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello, and it was neck and neck for a while until the album Night and Day came out and clinched it for Joe. “We, so tired of all the darkness in our lives, with no more angry words to say, can come alive. Get into a car and drive to the other side.” For me it’s a wish.

You Can’t Get What You Want (Til You Know What You Want) – Joe Jackson. This one’s from the Body & Soul album. Thanks for stating the obvious, Joe. But really, what do I want? Two words: ‘It’ and ‘All.’ The whole nine yards and then some. But not for me. Im not that important, but I do get in the way. I have to learn to dissolve into insignificance so I can get what I want, so help me God. I mean it, God. Help me.

And finally,

Deacon Blues – Steely Dan. One last shot at a dream, giving it all, going out with a bang. This one resonates. There’s something romantic about this loser’s song that appeals to me: “Learn to work the saxophone, I’ll play just what I feel. Drink scotch whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel.” I like to find reasons why I didn't pursue this dream or that dream. I like to justify and rationalize. I had to put my own dreams on hold because I had to take care of the family, yada-yada-yada, but as the years go by, all those rationalizations, all those justifications seem so hollow. Now, as then, my life isn’t mine own. They belong to the girls now. That makes it much more difficult to bet the farm. But dreams die hard. I could take the easy way out and kill it, or I can wait for that one last bus and catch it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

33 years later and it's like we never learned anything

It’s a sign of the times. I was listening to the radio this morning on the way to work and there were a lot of phoned-in comments from listeners. Most of them were nostalgic for the Marcos days. And he was supposed to be this brutal dictator who trampled on basic human rights and robbed the people blind and yadda-yadda-yadda. To think that most of the callers would rather live in that Philippines than in this one, this so-called democracy.

In 2001, when the presidency was handed to GMA without her having to do anything, there was a feeling of hope that maybe this time we’ll get things right. Not much, since she was, after all, GMA, the astute politician who would do anything, compromise anything, to get what she wants. But the feeling of hope was there, since it was so-called civil society, this network of NGOs and People’s Organizations who have been working at the grassroots trying to make life better for those without a voice, that spearheaded the revolt against Erap. Maybe GMA would listen to them out of gratitude. Plans were drawn up, an agenda for her new government. Through emails and internet fora, the call came forth from these civil society groups for suggestions. I had a few suggestions on electoral reform, but they were too radical and kept them to myself. I suggested instead an obvious program of action that should be part of the new administration’s policy: lessen our dependence on foreign oil. This wasn't a new idea. Just before EDSA 2, I read a Marcos pamphlet on his vision for the Philippines and this is what he said about it (paraphrased): “Reducing dependence on imported oil is a matter of national survival.” Wow. National survival. It can’t get any more important than that. So in my reply to the civil society member who asked for points they could put in the national agenda, I quoted Marcos, the very fella that EDSA 1 got rid of. I said the new Arroyo government should reduce our dependence on foreign oil by instituting a comprehensive energy conservation program plus a program for looking for alternative sources of energy. This was so obvious I’m sure this was suggested by various sectors. The new administration didn't even need to start from scratch. They could just adopt the old Marcos programs: banning vehicles above a certain engine displacement, developing alternative sources of fuel (I remember the old Marcos government was promoting the use of ethanol, bio-diesel, etc), developing geothermal power plants, etc. The Bataan nuclear power plant was even part of this whole lessen-dependence-on-foreign-oil thing. Marcos also had a massive educational campaign on energy conservation to go with everything else.

Whether or not the energy conservation program made it to the final draft presented to GMA, I don't know. What I do know is that there was no energy conservation program instituted after GMA came to power, no calls for alternative fuel sources. It was business as usual, everyone going on their merry way. Government officials rode around in convoys of huge SUVs as if the supply of petroleum would never run out. There was an air of optimism after the ouster of Erap, but this was just too darn optimistic. We had no control of foreign oil and from all indications, the price of petroleum products was going to rise. But there was no sense of urgency. I knew that this would bite us all on the ass one day and that day has arrived.

Now calls are coming from Malakanyang for energy conservation; for the reduction in the consumption of petroleum products, for alternative sources of energy. They’re even quoting Marcos: This is a matter of national survival. Better late than never? Of course, but this should have been first on the agenda from Day One. National survival, remember? The Cory government and the Ramos government botched this as well. Ramos’s enduring legacy is the PPA which guarantees that independent power producers make money no matter what. You and I can cut our electricity consumption by one half and still it won’t affect our utility bills because the IPPs get paid whether or not the energy they can supply actually gets used.

Say what you want about Marcos but he had vision. Compared to the short-sighted leaders we seem to be getting, he was an absolute genius. The present leaders’ idea of government I think is: Let the next president take care of it, I’m going to have a good time. No wonder those radio listeners were nostalgic for the good old days of the dictatorship.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Name that garden slug

Sometimes you never know where your limits are til they hit you in the cojones.

“What do you call your p?”


“Your p. What do you call it? Does it have a name?”

“What? No! Why should it have a name? That’s just weird.”

“Im a weird girl.”

“Sometimes weird is good, but this is just…” I was going to stay ‘stupid.’

“Come on. Give me a name.”

She wasn't going to let up. I wanted to get this over with so I sighed a sigh of resignation and gave her a name off the top of my head. “Call it [some stupid name].”

“Haha. That’s so funny. If yours is [some stupid name], mine is…”

“Stop. Just stop. Girls don't give names to their genitalia. You don't mess with tradition,” was all I managed to get out. Tradition my foot. I wanted to tell her how personification of female genitalia made my stomach churn, but she was obviously enjoying herself and I didn't want to put a damper on her idea of fun.

“Hahaha. Ok. Youre funny.”

I’m beginning to rethink my friendship with this chick. I can handle gross-out humor as well as the next person. I can dish it out as well as the next person, but this… Brrr-r-r-rrr. This was just creepy. It felt wrong in some fundamental way that I can’t explain. I know some guys give names to their dicks in the spirit of fun. It’s allowed. I mean just look at it. The penis is just asking to be made fun of. It looks like an eyeless little alien with one tiny mouth. It looks like a garden slug. It’s a party-going garden slug and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything, but female genitalia are something else entirely. They are the very cradle of life. At one time in human history, they were considered sacred, so much so that medieval architects modeled entrances to cathedrals after vaginas. Maybe that’s why there’s something so fundamentally wrong about something sacred being allowed to be defiled by multiple party-going garden slugs. We have a name for women who do that. Maybe I descended from one of the stone masons who worked on a Spanish cathedral and by the prodding of some genetic memory, am aware of the intrinsic sacredness of this tunnel of love. You just don't make light of it.

“Did I creep you out?,” she said.


“Sorry. I thought it was cute.”


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Work. Ho-hum

This is my first work-related blog entry. I don't know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. What we do for a living is part of what defines us, and the fact that I haven’t had any work-related entries may be seen as a denial of that part of myself. That’s bad. This job keeps food on the table and it deserves a bigger part of this blog. On the other hand, I’d like to think Im much more than the thing I do for a living, and seen in that light, not blogging about what happens at work is a good thing. Besides, nothing really bloggable happens at work. Im not hip to the latest office chismis (read: I dont give a hoot).

This isn’t the same place it was when Grif, Delphi, and the Niggook were here. And the Big Shot and his twin. (B is still with us, but he’s in Indonesia.) Those were the days when we terrorized Blarney’s. I think we were the only All-Pinoy team that ever won their Thursday Quiz Nights. We’d come in during happy hour, order happy-hour priced beer, and nurse them til the quiz begins at 9 when happy hour ended. We never ordered anything after nine. Too expensive. The owners must’ve dreaded us coming in because we never ordered anything full price and yet were always contenders for their prizes, which sometimes included free booze anyway so we never had to order more. Blarney’s had what we called a ‘house team’ composed of expat Brits. These were the Blarney’s regulars who, unlike us, ordered a lot of stuff and kept the place in business. Naturally, the owners wanted these limeys to win. The house team even supplied some of the questions to the quiz, we found out. But still we kicked their alien royal arses a lot of times. It was always down the wire between us cheapskates and Her Majesty’s big spenders.

Anyway, where were we? Head admin chick called my attention this morning to a member of my team’s attendance record and it was appalling. He’s been skipping work a lot. He was tasked to take care of the family business and that’s what’s taking up a lot of his time. I was supposed to talk to him and give him a warning and all that. I’ve never had to do that. He’s an asset to the team and everyone who’s ever worked with him on projects talk about how helpful he is, how he’d drop what he’s doing if there’s anything he could do to help you out when you ask. I spent the whole morning wondering how I’d word the warning ek-ek just right. Warning? What I was going to do was ask him to quit. More accurately, I would reason with him in such a way that the only logical conclusion he’d come up with was to quit. With his record, I can’t find anything for him to do since I wasn’t sure when he’d show up. I asked him once to go fix his schedule and at least give me a regular schedule so we can plan stuff around it. He was willing to work at home if there was anything. But he couldn’t come up with a regular schedule so he ended up doing odd jobs for the team which wasn't making full use of his talents.

So he shows up at 2 and I said to myself, Let’s give him a few minutes to settle down first. So I chilled. After a couple of minutes, email comes in. It was from him and he was quitting. I said, I’d do the same thing if I were in his shoes and thanked him for all the work his done for the team and the company and all that. He saved me the trouble.

Thanks, [blank]. You were a great help. Good luck. And when youre rolling in the moolah, don't forget your old team.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What else could I be?

All apologies

To my kids: Tatay yells at you but that’s only because he doesn’t want to hit you. It bugs your mom when I do that because, “Nakakahiya sa kapitbahay.” But I’d rather disturb the kapitbahay’s soap-opera watching than hit you. I remember I hit Cael once and I still can’t get over that. You were 2, Cael, and you were a lot smarter and gabbier than your playmates who were much older and I forgot that you were 2. I’m sorry. I learned that lesson..

I’m also sorry for when I’m grouchy when I help you with your homework. You see, when I was growing up, lola was too tired to help with homework because she had to go to work so we could eat and go to school. We never had help with our homework from anybody and we—your uncs and aunt—turned out all right, yes? I figure you’d turn out all right too if you were left on your own to do your own studying. I’ll try to be less grouchy next time.

To my wife: I’m sorry for being Homer. I’m sorry me and the kids make a mess and leave the cleaning up to you. It’s just so much fun to make a mess and you should try it sometime but I know you won’t because youre not the type. We’ll try not to make too much of a mess next time.

I’m also sorry for second-guessing your choices on how to prepare the ulam. I have to remember that it’s “Cook’s Choice.” Anyway you also are critical when it’s my turn to cook but I don’t mind because I’m fully convinced that my way is better. Maybe you don’t have that confidence and it bothers you when I say ‘Yaa-a-aak’. But I eat everything naman, right? You once told me that I never complimented your cooking. Remember what I said? “Look, I ate 3 platefuls, isn’t that compliment enough?” Maybe it wasn't and I’ll remember to tell you when you did a great job.

To my friends: I’m sorry when sometimes I’m hyper. I’m that way when I’m depressed I guess. I get on your case and tell you all sorts of rot and keep bugging you with my nonsense. I may have once targeted the boss with such bugging and she was gracious enough to endure it even though she prolly felt like kicking me in the nuts already so I’d leave her alone. It just takes over when I feel weighed down by things beyond my control. I’m not one to ask for help. It’s my training as a panganay, I guess. Especially with the situation we had growing up, I had to project a sense of stability to my younger brothers and my sister. I was the unflappable one. To them I still am, even though deep inside, I’m flapping so hard I could fly to the moon. Blogging helps dissipate some of the vibe. Thank God for it. Im a much calmer individual now.

Finally, to all my ex’s: Sorry it didn't work out. If you remember, I took all responsibility for why that happened. But as I think about it, I probably did it for selfish reasons. It was just so much easier to cope with a failed relationship if you get over the blame game; get it over with and blame yourself. “I’m sorry. It was all my fault.” Boom! Instant relief. I also probably did it out of a misplaced sense of noblesse oblige, or a superiority complex. In accepting all blame, I was actually telling you that it would be stupid of me to expect you to know any better, much less do anything about it. I was subconsciously telling you that you were incapable of doing anything to save the relationship and that I—the "smart" one—shouldve done something. I’m sorry. I’m not better than you. If I implied that by accepting all blame for what happened, then I’m an ass. The failure of our relationship was actually all your fault. All of it. That goes for every single one of you.

Please accept my apologies.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Life is a bowl of kamias

The kamias trees in the back of the house are fruiting again. And if you’ve ever seen a fruiting kamias tree, you’d understand what ‘laden with fruit’ truly means. There’s fruit everywhere on the tree; on the stems, on the trunk--everywhere. The fruit could cover the tree’s entire trunk such that you’d think the tree grew gigantic green warts. They come in clusters like elongenated grapes. The potential of these juicy fruits as a cash crop could be enormous… if they didn't taste so darned acidic. I couldn’t eat one of those buggers without setting my teeth on edge. My girls love them, though. They dip them in sugar and salt in proportions that couldn’t be good for them. Maybe I’ll try to make them into kamias-ade. They have to be good for something.

With today’s horticulture, I know it would be easy to develop a less-acidic strain of kamias. All it would take is a mutant tree scientists could use as a starting point to breed the sweeter strain. Mutants are hard to find, though. Theyre one-in-a-million, random freaks of nature.

We used to have one such mutant tree. Or rather, the neighbor did. There used to be a kamias tree in the lot in front of our house whose fruit—I swear—was so sweet it tasted like balimbing. (Kamias and balimbing are cousins. Kamias is Averrhoa bilimbi while balimbing is Averrhoa carambola.) Whenever that tree fruited, it was a major event in our house. We’d go over there with plastic grocery bags and fill ‘em up with the juicy mutant fruits. Only one other neighbor knew about it and we kept the tree’s presence a secret. We didn't want word to get out that there was this tree that bore so much kamias you can’t see the trunk from the green clusters growing on it, and the fruit was sweet that you won’t believe youre eating kamias. If word got out, people from far and wide would come with their own plastic grocery bags. There won’t be enough for our insatiable greed. This tree was ours and no one else was going to touch it.

Soon we found out that the house and lot where the tree was has been bought. It was bought by an American family: a pastor and his wife and 2 kids. For some reason, no one told him about the tree; how rare and precious it was. I guess everyone thought that being American, he’d have no interest in the tree and all we had to do was ask and he’d let us in with our plastic bags to take as much as we pleased. We’ll tell him how rare it was eventually.

Oh, how right we were. He didn't have any interest in the tree at all. In fact he was so totally uninterested in the tree that he asked the carpenters who were renovating his house to chop it down. Horrors! Our tree!! I was walking home one day and saw our tree’s mutilated trunk, de-leaved, de-branched, and de-rooted, lying on the gutter near the trash cans in front of our new neighbor’s house, waiting to be hauled by the sanitation department to some dumpsite or incinerator somewhere. I had to act fast. I had to save our tree. I carried it home, dug a deep enough hole in our backyard, and stuck the trunk in. I watered like crazy. Maybe there still was time to save it.

Alas, I was hoping against hope. What I propped up in that hole was a corpse. It wasn't going to grow. Kamias is notoriously difficult to propagate from cuttings. I had a whole trunk, but that wasn't going to help. It died eventually; a testament to our unwillingness to share God’s bounty.

Before moving into our new house, I went over to have a look. The avocado and santol trees were in full fruit. So were the kamias trees. I looked hopefully at the green fruits, chock-a-block on the trunk and on the branches.

Our would be neighbors came and asked about when we’d be moving and all that, and asked if they could get some avocado and santol, a lot of which were just falling to the ground anyway. They never mentioned anything about the kamias. Could it be? I said, sure they could get some avocado and santol but be sure to leave some for us, and then walked over to the kamias tree, picked up a fruit, the largest I could find, took a tentative bite out of it…

… and it was so acidic, it can melt the sides of a battleship. Oh well. We missed our chance. I couldn’t look at the kamias trees in the backyard without thinking of what might have been. In the meantime, maybe I’d experiment on the kamias-ade thing.

Burning stuff

I was vegetating in front of the TV Sunday afternoon when my 7-year old came in an said, “Tatay, can we burn stuff in the backyard?”

“No,” I said. “It’s too dangerous. You might burn the house down.”

After a few minutes, I thought, Hmmm.. burning stuff. Could be fun. There wasn't anything on TV anyway. (Cable company just got another fashion station. How many fashion TV stations do we need anyway? One is more than enough.) So I turned the TV off, called the kids, and said, “Let’s go burn stuff.” Yaaa-a-aaaay!!

But first, we have to do things right, I said. I asked them to get a bucket and we filled that up with water. “If youre going to burn stuff, always have an adult with you, and always make sure you have a bucket of water ready just in case. And use the water to put out the fire when youre done. Make sure it’s out completely.” As we got the things we’ll need together—bucket, matches, old newspaper—I tried to think of what important life lesson the kids could learn from this exercise. There’s always chemistry: oxidation, combustion, and all that. But I settled on survival skills. I figure if ever we get stranded on an island, the kids could learn to tend the fire while Tatay goes off into the jungle to hunt wild boar for dinner using only sharpened sticks, bravery, and cunning. Ok. Life lesson settled, off we went.

We got a decent flame with the old newspapers then I asked them to gather dry leaves and sticks to keep the fire going. This they dutifully did. They also learned to blow on the embers if the flames die down from lack of air. But blowing on the embers was pretty dangerous so I told them to fan the embers instead using a magazine. Soon they were tending the flames themselves, giving me the confidence that if ever we get stranded on some island, my girls would keep the fire going and we could cook the wild boar I caught after a terrific chase through the jungle. “Dry leaves! Dry leaves!,” my kids would yell when the flames start going down. “Sticks!” The smoke had me worried a bit. The neighbors might complain. But then I thought I never complained when they played their stereo too loud even though their choice of music isn’t exactly uplifting to the soul.

We had a pretty good fire going. The kids were having so much fun, they burst into song. They had a perfect song for the fire. It was the Spongebob Squarepants Campfire Song. It was a fun song. Youre supposed to sing it faster and faster. They took turns singing Spongebob’s and Patrick’s lines. It’s times like these, when the kids are happy and we’re having fun together that I think of the time, some future time, when we won’t be doing stuff like this anymore. When they’re all grown up and have their own gang to run with. An uncle told me once, before I even dreamt of having kids of my own, “[Cousin] wants to go everywhere with me. She’ll ask if she could come with me to the bakery or to the drugstore or to the office or wherever. I let her, whenever I can. Because one day, there’ll come a time when she wouldn’t want to anymore. I don't want to miss the chance of spending time with her while she still wants to.”

I think we’ll burn stuff again this weekend. I have to remember to get marshmallows.

Spongebob Squarepants’s Campfire Song


I call this one the Campfire Song song

Let’s gather round the campfire and sing our campfire song
Our C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E S-O-N-G song
And if you dont think that we can sing it faster then youre wrong
But itll help if you just sing aloooooong




C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E S-O-N-G song
C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E S-O-N-G song
And if you dont think that we can sing it faster then youre wrong
But itll help if you just sing along

C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E S-O-N-G song. Patrick!


Song!!! C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E S-O-N-G



It’ll help!
It’ll help!!!
If you just sing along!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Six hours later

When I was younger, I always made it a point that it was at 12 o’clock. Practicality demanded it. At 16, even the slight, indiscernible scent of pheromones from ovulating women 3 miles away could cause a chemical reaction that would make one thankful that it’s at 12 o’clock. Now it’s at 6 o’clock. I don't have to worry about involuntary reactions to stimuli since there’s more to it than plain pheromones. It is only on those very rare occasions when the hormones spike and there’s an involuntary rush of blood to the head. I mean the other head. More often I need an ethereal something; a connection. I need to resonate. This means that not only my baser parts are stimulated, but my innermost parts as well; the mind, the soul, call it whatever you like. The reptile brain is dormant. The human brain requires more than procreative instincts. It’s at 6 o’clock because it looks better when Im wearing jeans.

Drink your big Black Cow and get out of here

Who needs an iPod? For a couple of days now I cant seem to get the song Black Cow out of my head. But why Black Cow? It isn’t exactly standard Top 40 radio fare and I doubt if any of the local radio stations have played it in the past several weeks. It’s highly unlikely that Ive subconsciously heard it over the radio so the iPod in my head keeps replaying it. (Kailangan pa bang i-memorize yan? Exactly. I know whereof I speak.) It’s so out-of-left-field.

I remember the first time I heard it on the radio many, many moons ago. I was just a kid then. I grew up with the radio always on. Local stations were steeped in schmaltzy pop or standard 3-minute rock or R&B, or songs from local artists. It was the golden age of original Pinoy music, with song writers like Ryan Cayabyab, Willy Cruz, Rey Valera, Cecille Azarcon-Picazo, etc, churning out hit after hit for Rico J. and Basil and Kuh and Ate Shawie.

Then out of the radio came this intro, bass and keyboards, then the sneering vocals. In the corner of my eye, I saw you in Rudy’s. You were very high. It played in a rock-and-R&B station but it didn't sound like anything Ive ever heard before. I lapped it up and told my nerdy pals about it. Everyone else in school, the cool ones especially, were into rock--Ozzy and Kiss and Alice Cooper—stickin’ it to The Man with screeching guitars and heavy metal vocals. My pals and I decided to stick it to The Man with jazz riffs and tenor saxophone. Steely Dan was now mothership to the cause.

Back to my inner iPod. There has to be a reason my shuffle software decided to play Black Cow. And maybe I know what it is. It’s because Im tired. Tired of bailing some friend out. I use the term ‘friend’ rather loosely because lying, conniving, hypocritical, frassum-wassums generally don't fit the category. But we had something going once and I thought I owed it to that memory. No, that’s not it.

“Just leave me alone,” she said once, in one of her usual fits of misplaced arrogance. I was used to it. I knew she’d be back when she got into a bind again. Believe me, I wanted to leave her alone. I just about had it. But…

“I can’t. Youre a wreck and I can’t walk away from a wreck,” I said. It’s tragic really. Here was this immensely beautiful, immensely talented girl and she was making one wrong decision after another. She left her husband, left her child, for reasons she doesn’t want to talk about and just keeps blundering through life, hooking up with whomever. I can’t say that she’s hanging out with the wrong people because I don't know the people she hangs out with, and that’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to her because it implies a diminished capacity on her part to be responsible for her mistakes. She’s not stupid.

I lend her money. My hard-earned money. Money I toiled for. Money I could’ve used for my kids. I figured she needed it more than they did since we’re not lacking in any of the essentials, thank God, and she needs something to live on—to survive on. So I fork it over. I believed in her talent and that one day she’ll make it and she’ll be able to pay me back. I still do, in fact. If only she’ll take care of herself, which, judging by the way she looks, she’s not doing a very good job at. But it’s just these displays of bad behavior I can’t take. It’s like you owe her; that it’s your duty, nay, your privilege to help her.

She told me, “Youre just nice to me when you want something from me.” I could’ve smacked her right there if I were the type to do things like that. So I took a deep breath and counted to ten and said, “When did I ever get anything from helping you? When? If you can name one thing I got out of being nice to you, I’ll leave you alone and you won’t hear from me again.” She couldn’t come up with anything.

So now I want out. Im tendering my resignation. From now on Im officially out of the wreck rehab business, unless I could really get something out of it.

Right. Who am I kidding? Here are the lyrics to Black Cow:

Black Cow
(Music and lyrics by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen)

In the corner of my eye
I saw you in Rudy's
You were very high
You were high
It was a cryin' disgrace
They saw your face

On the counter by your keys
Was your book of numbers
And your remedies
One of these
Surely will screen out the sorrow
But where are you tomorrow?

I can't cry anymore while you run around
Break away
Just when it seems so clear
That it's over now
Drink your big black cow
And get out of here

Down to Greene Street
There you go
Lookin' so outrageous
And they tell you so
You should know
How all the pros play the game
You change your name

Like a gangster on the run
You will stagger homeward
To your precious one
I'm the one
Who must make everything right
Talk it out till daylight

I don't care anymore
Why you run around
Break away
Just when it seems so clear
That it's over now
Drink your big black cow
And get out of here

Sorry, baby
Sorry, baby

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Wake up and smell the love for the motherland

An officemate brought ube and offered me some. It was smooth and purple with just the right texture: not too 'grainy' and not too sticky. The flavor was good too with just the right amount of sweetness. The taste of sweet ube filled my mouth first, then the taste of fresh milk, then the taste of... pine needles?

"Is this from Baguio?," I asked.


"Ahh.. that explains the pine tree taste." My officemate didnt know what I was talking about, but it was there. Just a hint of pine tree but quite distinct. The milk in the ube probably came from cows raised in Baguio. I remember the Bureau of Animal Industry keeps dairy cows there and they sell milk in plastic bags. We bought milk from them once and they had the distinct taste of pine needles. Not unpleasant but strange. The cows probably ate pine needles on the ground while grazing and flavored the milk.

This got me thinking. Are we what we eat? In the neighborhood I grew up in in Caloocan, we used to have an Indian who came to our street a few times a week. He was selling blankets, umbrellas, and other items and he sold them on installment of a few pesos a day (or was it a week?) He was a friendly fella who spoke good Tagalog and always had a ready smile for us kids. He rode on a scooter and he had a turban on and he had a very distinctive scent. It was the typical 'amoy bumbay' scent. No one else we knew smelled like that. Being kids, we ribbed him about his smell but he never got mad. He still kept his smile.

Fast forward to years later. I was in a supermarket looking for stuff to spice up the evening's dinner of galunggong that I going to cook. I went to town in the spices section, buying cayenne pepper, paprika, cardamon, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, coriander... the works. I later used these spices on the galunggong, sauteeing some onions and tomatoes first, adding patis, then dumping in the cardamom and cumin and cloves and whatever else I could get my hands on, then cooking the galunggong in this melange of spices. The smell in the kitchen was exotic. My mother comes up and goes, "Ano yang niluluto mo? Amoy bumbay!" Eh? I took a whiff and yes it did smell like the friendly neighborhood bumbay. Red onions in the foreground, and the spice mixture in the background. That's exactly what he smelled like. And I remembered Indians use these spices extensively in their cooking. The bumbay smelled of what he ate.

Years later, a colleague told us a story of when he was in Indonesia and he was in an elevator with another Pinoy and in came an Indonesian and he smelled... different. My colleague commented on the fella's smell in Tagalog and wouldnt you know it? The fella understood. He took offense of course and angrily informed the Pinoys that they, too, had a smell of their own.

Do we? Im inclined to think that we do. We're just so used to it that we dont notice it anymore. The brain is a wonderful thing. The first time you visit a garbage dump, your brain will warn you that the environment is probably toxic. It does it by registering the scent molecules youre getting as putrid, triggering chemical reactions in your body, such as acid in your stomach that makes you puke-y, to make you stay away from that vile place. But if you stick around, the brain will acquiesce to your wishes. It will override these reactions and will shut down the nerves that register the scent and you won't notice it anymore. Maybe that's what happened to us. We can't ditch our own distinct Pinoy smell so our brains shuts down the nerves that recognize these scents as something to be aware of.

Our smell probably consists of garlic, tomatoes, onions, and patis. Add to that the Metro Manila air composed of jeep and bus exhausts, mildews and molds endemic to our part of the world (it's humid here most of the time, if not downright wet), and other 'distinctives' like trace elements in our water supply, and vapors from our untreated sewers. All these add to our distinct Pinoy scent, with sources from within and without. We've been living in this vapor stew for so long that's it's already a part of us as a people. Proud to smell Pinoy. Mabuhay!