Stations of the cross at BGC

There’s something unsettling about the exercise. People move from one station to the next and do the suggested activities ranging from as simple as reflecting on a Gospel verse, inserting written ‘wails’ in crevices, to as back breaking as carrying a wooden cross (to simulate the carrying of the cross by Jesus as he’s being whipped by Roman guards and sneered at by the spectating public).

Each station is sponsored by a group of stores, an organization, or a commercial web page and all of these sponsors must have suggested to the organizers to tailor fit each according to the line of business of the sponsors.

The shadiest part of this Holy Week extravaganza at BGC is that people take every station very seriously, leaving behind their sense of the ridiculous on the pavement 50 meters away. 

It’s a commercial exercise whose sole purpose is to lure people into thinking that what they’re doing makes them close to God by taking part in His passion right before they hit Starbucks and after their dinner at nearby Cajun prawn bar, and while they take selfies to be posted on Instagram using hashtags that betray their self awareness. That the Holy Week isn’t about Jesus’s death and resurrection but about the celebration of the self.

I’m not close to getting it. BGC wants everything in. And the people willingly do their role in the performance. The business enterprise, without a sense of irony, coopts the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for thirty pieces of silver into a profit maximization bonanza and the people willingly dig in. 

I can feel gastric juice from my gut rush toward my throat.

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Why have we become like this?

A friend of mine, a young woman of 26, asked me if she could leave before three today to join a protest rally on Katipunan, which if a critical mass is reached, will head to EDSA this evening. I indifferently said yes and told her to just make up for the lost hours next week. I on the other hand had to stay until 6 at the school to work on the evaluation of the French class students. I have papers to check this weekend, a class to prepare for, and cats to take care of. I also have to catch up on my workout as I haven’t gone to the gym for a week now because of work.

The people I see on the street, those my age, show that similar look of resignation, save for some undergraduates in their PE shirts or long tees who seem poised to change history tonight.

For all the rest, this protest on EDSA against the clandestine burying of the remains of Marcos is an annoyance, a cause of this monster traffic. The reason they’re stuck on buses on their way home to Fairview or Bacoor.

This is what has become of us. Work has made us unresponsive to events and happenings that would otherwise scandalize us had we been not rendered docile and satisfied but unthinking by work. I hate this feeling. This is what it means to be an adult; I hate that I am one.

I told myself a long time ago when I was much, much younger, that I would be part of history unfolding. That I will not stay home and let pass that rare opportunity to make a difference in this country. But look at me now. I’m scurrying to go home, cursing the traffic on EDSA just to catch some sleep.

And the saddest thing is that, passing by EDSA shrine, I saw a small crowd, hardly a critical mass enough to send the message that the people are indignant. There were several groups taking selfies while a member is holding a placard.

Everyone is tired. Everyone has gone tired. What with the unfulfilled promises of the past two People Power? The world goes on turning, with Marcos’s body finally subject to the actions of worms and vermins, after years of keeping it almost lifelike inside a tomb his family built for him.

But even rats and roaches won’t touch him. Who would want to gnaw on a dessicated body preserved in formaldehyde for almost three decades?

Life goes on.

And that is the tragedy of the Filipino, myself included, this general quiet and seeming indifference, this lack of rage at the direction this country is heading.

And my train goes to the direction of home, and I’m dying for sleep.

Likes

The much, too much a cacophony of noise on my Facebook page brought me back here on my blog to write again. To do the quieter act of writing that I miss a lot. A writing that’s less angry and bitter. I have gone sick of what seems to be a pressing need for everyone on my Facebook news feeds in expressing his thoughts on almost everything.

Nowadays, one’s silence is considered scandalous, the highest and the worst form of apathy. No one has the right to be quiet anymore lest this silence be interpreted as complicity. Of not doing anything to correct the wrong. I suggest we stop or slow down a little, and ask ourselves where this loquacity has led us. It has made us too busy to listen, too self-conscious, too full of ourselves; oh how we enjoy staring at ourselves being reflected in our witty Facebook status. Our Facebook status has become the quickest way for us to be heard, perhaps the only one thing that empowers us in this space that functions best at deadening our senses. Our only pathetic agency. And the likes are concrete indicators that somehow, somebody’s listening, reducing us all to likes, reducing all existentialist questions to questions of likes.

This ephemerality of our chosen medium, of posts being covered, superseded by other posts supposedly more important than the ones before, not necessarily contending against each other but definitely competing for our fleeting attention, has been a bane to us. This ephemerality has brought us nowhere. Although we have this comforting feeling that as a species we’ve made giant progress, in truth we’re deeper into the void we’re made to feel we have escaped.

We’re still lost, maybe even more lost this time. We’ve lost touch of what we truly value. Reflectiveness is a forgotten value of our time. We’ve all fallen victims to the medium. We fret about concerns of deciduous significance. The present is the only thing that really matters to us. We’ve lost hold of our past. And how we dread the uncertain future. The only thing that’s real is this invented present.

All this because of our grinding desire to be heard now, of a want to express what’s currently in our mind lest it obsolesces the next minute, where we are currently at lest time steals it away from us, who we are currently with lest this person abandons us, what we currently eat. Now this is truly sad. Everything is too important, too important we cannot entrust them to our memories.

Perhaps, this is why I am back here now. I want to relish this page and its beautiful silence that I missed so badly.

Manila by afternoon

From Bambang, the LRT station closest to San Lazaro Hospital, it took my train an hour to reach Buendia because of several delays–caused by the sheer number of passengers and the numerous halts due to technical problems.

The passengers were restless throughout the trip. But the Pinoys, a perpetually-patient bunch, endured the whole experience with their humor (a man blurting “maiiwan ang braso ko” when the train was about to close in on him in Doroteo Jose leading some to throw chuckles, a confirmation from those around him that his attempt at humor was successful), texting to death (a national past time that is as quintessentially Filipino as national amnesia), or conversing over the phone with an unseen dramatis persona about a variety of cringe-inducing topics, which, basing on how loud the exchange was, was meant to be overheard by everyone on the train for vain reasons. What these reasons were, exactly, were known only to the guilty extemporaneous speaker on a crowded commuter train.

At the United Nations Avenue station, more than half of the passengers alighted. Rumors, spread by an anonymous chatterbox, circulated on the train that those who just gotten off were the people chosen by God, “mga kaanib ng Iglesia”,  according to one middle-aged man behind me. The blame for causing all the inconvenience was hurled to them. If it were not for their “national evangelical rally” (the exact words of the man in my back) this would have been another normal Tuesday commute. It was impossible for the passengers who just alighted to defend themselves.

On the opposite platform, a massive throng going to Caloocan was gaining number; the swell was acquiring malevolence. I wondered how it would feel dying from stampede.

Pedro Gil, Vito Cruz, finally Gil Puyat. I arrived in Buendia intact.

Ultimately, Manila is a city that defies any sense of order; the only rule she understands is the lack of rule. Her people are one of the hardiest, most abused peoples in the world, but complain they do not, not frequently. They get by cheerfully, quietly, or boisterously sometimes. Whoever survives Manila can consider himself unfortunate for fatefully being in the bowel of the worst living space imaginable but fortunate because he, nevertheless, escaped the bowel to tell the story.

What an impertinence, how can I forget the sunset?

Yes, seeing that sunset made me feel grateful I’m here in Manila. And very lucky.

Is the world any better after 25 years?

No one can claim a more privileged spot under the sun anymore. Each of us is assigned a unique number that corresponds to nothing but happenstance, devoid of any divine plan we all are wont in deluding our pathetic selves that we have. And this interesting thing  I found in http://www.bbc.co.uk, by now has long lost its novelty, only shows how insignificant we all are.

I’m the 4,914,589,331st alive person on the planet, this number changes depending on the number of mortality and births at the moment. Not very special I must say.

I was told that I could expect to live up to a not so ripe age of 64 years and six months. My heartfelt thanks go to BBC for reminding me of my inevitable demise and conditioning my mind into thinking that it’s 64.5 years and tata. And more thanks, this time to fate, because I happened to be born to poor Filipino parents. Had I been a Japanese I could have expected to live up to 82.7 years, too senile for me (I am not an ageist!), but not too young as in the Central African Republic (45.9 years); I still want to get a PhD. before I reach that age and have those initials affixed to my name on my tombstone (or not anymore because it’s tasteless).

I expect to stand before my God, at most, when I’m in my 50s, though. Extending my life after those years, for me, is already overstaying my welcome.

To you who was not ‘informed’

It was a rainy morning when you found yourself at the corner of two normally busy streets. Thinking it was your lucky day because of the unusual absence of heavy traffic, save for a body of water that separated you from the other side of the street, unsuspectingly, you maneuvered your car and crossed the divide that separated you and the other end of the street. And lo! Your car, like a flimsy paper boat, got carried by the raging flood which for you at first appeared nothing but an over-sized puddle, or at least a more forgiving flood. Floods, you realized, although very late, are never forgiving. So you had to have yourself subjected to such shame, thin little boys pushing your car to the salvation afforded by dry concrete.

A nearby team of an overeager TV reporter and his crew ran to you and asked you some perfunctory questions. Thinking rudeness will save you face, you responded to his every question with as much ire you could muster, forgetting that you were being taped by his equally overeager cameraman.

The following evening, you saw yourself on TV, not looking very intelligent, shouting “I was not informed!”. The next morning, portion of that newscast was uploaded on Youtube by some unscrupulous netizen. An hour after the upload, the whole world mercilessly called you names from something as riling as ‘stupid,’ ‘in want of simple commonsense,’ to something as inane as ‘in dire need of bra’. Your friends came to your rescue, giving you encouraging words, supporting you, retorting sarcastically that all of a sudden ‘everyone is informed‘.

From this writer’s point of view, you and your friends are missing the point. It is not your supposed stupidity (or not being informed) that led to the lambasting of your person on Youtube by anonymous individuals. People who have viewed your videos would have, in most cases, felt more pity than derision, would have even ignored that senseless video had you not unleashed your crassness on TV. It’s plain and simple. You were base.

And shouting ‘I was not informed’ in a city as pitiless as Manila, that you were not told it was a raging flood rather than an innocent-looking, little ephemeral stream you thought it was, is, in my humblest of opinions, rather juvenile.

Pinikpikan

Earlier at seven in the morning the following day, before I began my planned three-hour reading period of Margaret Mead’s Male & Female, and to avoid getting distracted in the middle of it, I gave Joker 200 pesos to buy a native chicken in the market after he promised me to cook Pinikpikan for lunch. Pinikpikan is an Ifugao dish done by lightly beating the chicken before cooking it.

Halfway through my reading, Jeddy, Joker’s cousin, called from downstairs and told me that they were about to start. He instructed me to to bring my camera with me. I had told them beforehand that I wanted to document the process of cooking Pinikpikan. What I saw lying on the ground was a mature-looking hen with her prominent comb almost covering her left eye. Her legs were tied to keep her from escaping. I sensed an undeniable docility in the tragic hen’s eyes, as if she already had a full knowledge of her impending death that was bound to be a spectacle.

According to the Ifugaos, the coagulation of blood in the chicken renders it tastier than when it is prepared in the traditional way. One would know that the beating has been done properly when the chicken does not bleed when cut into pieces.

Joker related to me that there is a ritualistic dimension to the exercise. If somebody from the area is about to venture doing something big, for example taking an exam for admission in university or making important decisions such as those that have to do with business, marriage, and war, they prepare chickens this way. If the bile of the beaten chicken looks unhealthy then they are advised to postpone the task or, he said, another chicken is killed until they found one with a healthy-looking bile.

I was glad when Joker told me that they will not beat the chicken to death. Instead they will kill it in the traditional way, that is, quickly slit its throat, sear it with its feathers still on. Minus all the beatings and some violence.

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Choose a 7-8 months old chicken, preferably a free-range native chicken because it has darker (therefore tastier) meat and has not been fed commercial feeds that affect the taste of the meat. However, broiler may also be used.

2. Slit the chicken’s throat and drain the blood in a bowl with vinegar. The vinegar will keep the blood form curdling. Store the blood for future use. In our case, Jeddy’s uncle used the blood to cook Dinuguan (Chocolate Stew) which we ate while drinking Tapuy, an Ilocano rice wine before we had lunch.

3. Using firewood, sear the chicken. He advised to use firewood as the smoke from burning wood will add a delicate taste to the chicken. He’s well aware that there are restaurants in Manila serving the dish that use blowtorch. He confessed this is faster and produces more even burns, but said that it’s too inauthentic a process.

4. Remove the feathers layer by layer, plucking the already seared layer then placing the chicken back in fire after this is done. Repeat the process in as many times as required. I noticed that he made use of the chicken’s feather by inserting a stalk through its nose to give him a better hold of the chicken’s head.

5. When the chicken begins to turn black, remove it from fire and cut it up. Clean the entrails and all the rest of the internal organs. Do not discard them. In fact they’re the choicest parts. In rituals, these parts usually go to the headman.

6. Prepare the chicken and water, enough to cover the chicken, in a big pot. Peel three big ginger roots and two onion bulbs. Slice them thinly. Add them to the chicken and water. Use salt to taste. This dish is so simple that this very simplicity made it perfect.

7. Bring it to a boil. Cook chicken for 45 minutes or until tender. Make sure that the firewood is replenished regularly. Joker also recommended to use firewood when cooking this dish instead of cooking it on top of the stove. He did not, however, elaborate on the advantage of firewood over gas but I am heeding his advice next time I decide to cook this dish.

8. When chicken is cooked, add slices of chayote or green papaya.  You may also add in young chayote stalks.

  

This dish is best served with indigenous rices varities such as tinawon, nagacadan, and julungan.

I felt like a powerful headman when the dish was served–I was given the best parts, but as sign of gratitude, I shared these to the people who partook with me that sumptuous lunch–Joker and his wife got the gizzard and Jeddy had half of the intestines. It was unforgettable. To date, nothing compares to that delicious and simple meal eaten under the scorching heat of the noonday sun while the cool breeze from the mountains of Banaue caressed my sunburnt cheeks.