Jose Rizal and Filipino virility

I first knew about him when I was in my second grade in my Sibika at Kultura (Civics and Culture) class. Before that, the only place I saw him was on big one-peso coins measuring almost two inches in diameter until it went out of circulation. He is Jose Protacio Mercado Rizal y Realonda or simply Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero who died on the 30th of December 1896 in Bagumbayan, now known as Luneta in Manila.

He inspired awe in me during those impressionable years of my life. He was, according to our Sibika at Kultura book, a doctor, farmer, writer, sportsman, orator, poet, engineer, painter, sculptor, teacher and all other possible professions I already forgot. He must be very good, I thought, for of course he is the national hero of my country, the pride of the Malay race (although most Malays from Indonesia and Malaysia would sneer at this epithet).

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In college, the Rizal I knew when I was eight years old was deconstructed to a point of irrecognizability. He was depicted as a person committing the same mistakes, same blunders, same indecisiveness as any living mortal. He was even rumored to be gay. The last one shocked me for I never thought of him having sex with any of the members of the propaganda.

However, just recently, I chanced upon an article entitled “Women First in Heart of First Filipino” which basically enumerated the love interests of Rizal. Based of the latest count, he had no less than ten women all scattered around Europe and in his hometown in Laguna. They were Segunda Katigbak, Leonor Valenzuela, Consuelo Ortiga, a certain girl named Julia whom he met when he was 15 years old in Laguna, O Sei San, Gertrude Beckette, Nelly Boustead, Suzanne Jacoby, and finally Josephine Bracken whom he met in Dapitan.

What even impressed me more was aside those professions he had that I learned in my second grade, the national hero was also a woman’s man, a Don Juan.

Not that I am being skeptical about the claim, nor I am questioning the historical proofs that strengthen the claim that Rizal, indeed, was a real man, virile, I think is the better word. However, despite all these relationships with women attributed to him, I wonder why he didn’t have a child, except for the case of miscarriage suffered by the Irish girl Josephine Bracken in Dapitan which purportedly was Rizal’s supposed progeny.

In the Philippine society, a man’s virility is primarily measured by the number of women he conquered and successfully slept with. Virility is a positive trait that will guarantee the continuation of a family name, honor, wealth and all other factors related. As much as Rizal is a representation of an ideal Filipino, his virility must therefore be emphasized. This explains the outrage of most people when Rizal was suspected to be a homosexual, for this allegation is not only an attack on Rizal but an assault to long-held values of manliness in the Philippines.

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Narcissism in the gym

I am far from being a narcissist. In fact I’m the opposite. I’m one of those brand of people who find amusement in loathing themselves, or something quite like that. Popular culture has oversimplified the definition of narcissism that it simply is “excessive self-love” which is partly correct.

But according to the American Psychiatric Association, narcissism or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a pattern of traits and behaviors which signify infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambition.

Most narcissists (75 per cent) are men.

NPD is new (1980) mental health category. There is only scant research regarding narcissism. But what there is has not demonstrated any ethnic, social, cultural, economic, genetic, or professional predilection to NPD. It is estimated that 0.7-1 per cent of the general population suffer from NPD.

Pathological narcissism was first described in detail by Freud. The onset of narcissism is in infancy, childhood and early adolescence. It is commonly attributed to childhood abuse and trauma inflicted by parents, authority figures, or even peers.

Narcissists are either “Cerebral” (derive their narcissistic supply from their intelligence or academic achievements) – or “Somatic” (derive their narcissistic supply from their physique, exercise, physical or sexual prowess and “conquests”).

Going back to pop culture’s definition, most of people who are branded narcissists are not of the pathological type. They simply are people who succumb to vanity and society’s pressure to look good, achieve as much, or conquer as many possible mate as one can obtain.

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Since most narcissists are men, 75 per cent, the best places to study them are in areas like gym and beauty salons where mirrors abound, an important aspect of the metaphor of Narcissus. As an example, the gym where I go to every afternoon right after my class has mirrors on all its walls. Although most of the men that go there to work out do look at their reflections on the mirrors in a subtle, non-obvious manner, some go beyond and do it in a very conspicuous way, sometimes even bordering to exhibitionism.

For in the modern society, body-building, which used to be done for health reasons, is now morphing into a capitalistic endeavor that thrives on the market’s demand for bulging muscles in men who breed hidden narcissist in all of them. I do not say I am immune from it; in fact I sometimes have hidden pleasures in marveling on the reflections of my body on the mirrors in the place where I work out. But I just reason that I worked hard to achieve the definition I see.

We humans are such subtle narcissists.

The best way to say “I love you.”

For most of us, saying ‘I love you’ is as simple as saying the line because we think that the best way to say something is to say it as simple as possible. We tend to think that saying more than what is necessary pollutes our thoughts rendering what we say less pure, less real, a lesser version of what we have distilled in our mind.

But love thrives in exaggeration; it has to be bigger than life. Without drama, love is as bland as rice porridge minus the chicken entrails.

lovers_on_the_seine_large Lovers on the Seine by Rolf Harris

I once asked my father how he wooed my mother. He said that he didn’t have to do anything to capture the heart of my mother because she was head over heels in love with him the first time they met. Incredulous, I asked him to provide evidence for this as I didn’t want to ask my mother if what he said was true. He took a hardbound maroon book; it was his college thesis. On the inside of the front cover was a love poem my mother wrote for him.

The poem my mother wrote for him was something that is beyond my ability to critique. It was a poem written out of love that started twenty-five years ago. It was a poem only a young woman in love can compose.

Below are expression of love by some literary greats. I hope you find inspiration from them:

“I cannot exist without you – I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again – my life seems to stop there – I see no further. You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I were dissolving ….I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for religion – I have shudder’d at it – I shudder no more – I could be martyr’d for my religion – love is my religion – I could die for that – I could die for you. My creed is love and you are its only tenet – you have ravish’d me away by a power I cannot resist.” –John Keats to Fanny Brawne

“I am fast shut up like a little lake in the embrace of some big mountains. If you were to climb up the mountains, you would see me down below, deep and shining – and quite fathomless, my dear. You might drop your heart into me and you’d never hear it touch bottom.” -Katherine Mansfield to John Middleton Murray

“My dearest, When two souls, which have sought each other for, however long in the throng, have finally found each other …a union, fiery and pure as they themselves are… begins on earth and continues forever in heaven. This union is love, true love, … a religion, which deifies the loved one, whose life comes from devotion and passion, and for which the greatest sacrifices are the sweetest delights. This is the love which you inspire in me… Your soul is made to love with the purity and passion of angels; but perhaps it can only love another angel, in which case I must tremble with apprehension.” –Victor Hugo to Adele Foucher

“But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you. Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us, –but they never will, unless you wish it.” –Lord Byron to Teresa Guiccioli

I have my share of this act of immortalizing my love through language. I said “I love you” in myriad of ways to a number of people whom I love, I loved, I am loving, and I  stopped feeling anything other than indifference.  I expressed them in the truest possible sense that my language can allow me. Although in love, we may run out of words to express the depth of the emotion, the emotion shall go beyond–it may blossom and endure like my parents’, or remain seeking like mine every now and then. But language is the only possible way that it can be enjoyed by the spirit.

Let’s write them down. Probably,  one winter night hundred years from now, our version of “I love you” will inspire a young man to write his own “I love you” in a language only his heart can express.

When old rich start acting like nouveaux riche: redefining “class”

This article was posted four months ago but has caused violent reactions from a reader. I am posting it here again with the paragraphs deemed by that reader a personal attack edited.

I am not a believer of dialectics. Loosely used, it means the art of argumentation or debate, but it is customarily used in one of its more restricted sense. In classical literature it refers to the tradition of continuing debate or discussion of eternally unresolved issues such as “beauty versus truth” or “individual versus the state”.

Or “rich versus poor”.

Possibly because the academe cushions me from the last dialectic, I am spared from the drudgery of the realities outside. For inside the academe it is not the content of my bank account that matters more but how much gray matter my cranium contains, the breadth and depth of my understanding of all the different truths trying to outdo each other in the bigger scheme of things.

This dialectic, no matter how hard it is for me to grasp, is glaring. So glaring that it forces itself beyond the perimeter that contains it.

In Iloilo, social gatherings are done in a manner that will allow maximum exposure of the family’s wealth. Let’s take for example a fictional wedding. This vow, which is supposed to be an expression of endless love, means more than just complying with the sacrament of holy matrimony. We see beautiful people garbed in a rather opulent fashion. The ladies posing their best smiles while wearing their red dresses possibly designed by a couturier from Manila. The men were equally handsome in their jackets and ties despite the hot and humid August sun.

The wedding is set in a white mansion, let’s say the one owned by the Lopezes, a prominent family in Iloilo; the mansion and its wide garden is often used for weddings of the sons and daughters of rich families in Iloilo as well as movie stars in Manila. It must be noted that the mansion is found in the middle of the city, just beside a major thoroughfare.

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When I was still studying in Iloilo, whenever the jeepney I’m on passed by in front of the mansion, I would never fail to question the logic behind the decision of building a mansion right in front of a poor neighborhood side by side a crumbling used-to-be commercial area. But probably, the poor neighborhood and the nearly destitute state of the surrounding buildings serve as foils for the mansion. Beauty, if we go back to dialectic, is affirmed when anything ugly, despicable, or vile surrounds it such as poverty.

Going back to that almost perfect wedding scene, one can imagine a montage of scenes in a wedding and some incidental scenes before the wedding; if I may add, this will come out in the society page local newspaper featuring a wedding-of-the-year that tied the knot between a man and a woman who love each other, not mentioning cementing of bond between family whose wealth will remain secured within their circle.

Iloilo brags itself to be the place of origin of the richest family in the Philippines who owns a media empire, a power corporation that supplies electricity for the entire of Metro Manila area, and real estates, among others. In addition, there are lesser known families who consider themselves to belong in the upper class.

Most of these rich families, originally, were owners of sugarcane plantations during the beginning of the 20th century that amassed enough capital to diversify their investments. Now, despite the death of the sugarcane industry, they remain in the higher echelon of the social strata comprising the social elites of the city.

The distinction between the old rich and the nuoveau riche is not as much evident as the amount of wealth that they have, as some nouveaux riches have far more assets than the old rich families in Iloilo. Class can never be used to describe the opulence, ostentation, display of wealth in that fictionalized wedding scene. What then is class? It’s a refinement in taste, culture, manner, even language. It can never be acquired, if my theorizing is correct, for one has to be born with it. Ascribed, as social scientists say it.

My bohemian lifestyle in the academe is a far cry from this certain ‘class’ that is used to describe the two families who staged the wedding for the entire city to witness.

The nouveaux riches, being the subject of the constant ridicule by the old rich, are deemed too loud, garish, showy of their newly acquired wealth whereas members of the old money tend to be less tacky, more subtle, classy. They let their snobbishness speak for itself including all the possible meanings and subtexts that can be attributed to this unusually elevated chin. But looking at the montage, it appears to me that the distinctions, the line that separates these two entities are blurring. This old rich family ostentatiously paraded its wealth, with class, in the wedding, and allowing a full view of the passing pedestrian, decrepit public vehicles, and the poor neighborhood to behold is devoid of class.

A panorama of beauty amid poverty. A perfect dialectic.

True enough, a perfectly orchestrated wedding, done with all possible ‘class’ an old rich family in Iloilo can muster, in the rented palatial white mansion surrounded by the peering members of the other end of the dialectic is very classy I must say.

And scandalous, if I may add.

Washing dirty clothes on a Christmas Eve

Five and a half hours before Christmas. This same time last year, we were together as one family in South Cotabato in the Philippines: my parents and my five other siblings, two are already working (my sister and I), my two brothers who were still studying in college, and my two sisters (one in high school and our youngest in her second grade in primary school).

This Christmas, however, is different. I’m here in Vietnam studying. My sister and my younger brother in Pampanga are now working for a BPO company, my two other siblings who are in Iloilo decided not to go home, and our parent in Mindanao with our youngest sister.

I called my eldest sister this afternoon when I came back from school after she sent me an sms that she missed me. She is the most emotional in the family, the one who easily cried when teased, the one who had to go back home several times when she left for college because she couldn’t bear to be alone, the one I am closest with. She told me that our younger brother has to work from seven this evening until tomorrow morning, therefore celebrating his Christmas while taking call.

I’ll call my mother later for I know that by this time all the lines are busy.

As for me, I’ll just let this pass, probably sleep a little later tonight and send emails to friends I’ve met and temporarily forgotten. I have piles of dirty clothes filling up two laundry baskets. I’ll wash them after I am finished writing this post.

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Christmas is a communal concept. If all of a sudden everyone decides to stop celebrating Christmas then it’ll stop to exist. Like all other things we choose to forget, it will silently just die a natural death.

All the happy memories I have of my childhood were during Christmas eves. They are the most colorful, the most difficult to forget, the most important. However, tonight, a Christmas eve spent washing dirty clothes, is not very bad. This Christmas eve will add to my memories of past Christmas eves when I was with my family eating during the Noche Buena, or trying to avoid sleep because I didn’t want to think about being away from them on that special night. And now soaking my clothes, adding detergent, and hanging them later after finishing a cycle just in time before the clock strikes midnight.

Probably next Christmas eve will be different. Probably I’ll spend it with my family in Mindanao. Probably I’ll do something less tiring than washing two baskets of soiled clothes.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Waiting for the green light

She was the most beautiful woman I’ve seen. Everything around, the roaring motorbikes, impatient drivers, cold wind, the red traffic light came together that afternoon to act as a romantic background to this beauty one will seldom see in his lifetime. Unlike most young women in Vietnam, she was not riding a Piaggio, Vespa, or latest Japanese motorbike models, instead she was riding a beaten up Honda Dream. I thought it was so unlucky of me to wait for 45 seconds for the green light, but her presence during that time made me think otherwise.

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She was not looking at anyone; her attention was straight ahead. I wonder what her name is, how old she is, of if she’s married. But I didn’t want to spoil the frame of that moment capturing a view that was beyond my ability to put into words. I wanted her to remain in that place to represent aesthetics at its most sublime form.

36 seconds before the light turned green.

She fixed her helmet and turned off her motorbike in such a graceful and flowing manner.

24  seconds before the light turned green.

She remained motionless, almost statue-like. The subtle rise and fall of her breasts as she inhaled and exhaled the cold, dust-laden Hanoian air gave life to the perfect white marble in front of me.

12  seconds before the light turned green.

She brought her motorbike back to life with her almost  magical key. She looked like a goddess giving life to her creation. It was unforgettable.

Yellow light.

She looked at my direction and fixed her sunglasses. I knew she smiled at me.

Green light.