My fourth tattoo*

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I am not keen on signification, so don’t ask me why I did it again and why this.

The image will seek its own meaning.

*thanks to my great brother

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Going home

Davao has never succeeded in charming me. I left the city without any feeling of attachment to it. I’m now on a Yellow Bus to General Santos. Anyone who spent his growing up years in this part of the country will always have fond memories of this bus company. For us, these yellow buses are so much a part of our lives that we generically call all buses Yellow Bus.

The trip will take roughly three to four hours, depending on whom one asks. From there I will take another bus to Polomolok and then a bumpy tricycle ride from poblacion to our barangay, which I have not seen for more than two years. If I get lucky later, the tricycle driver may be a schoolmate in high school, or, if our memories will not betray us, in elementary school, and I will have my fare for free. Or if not, we can catch up on what has happened to each other in the past ten years, oblivious of the coughing noise coming from the engine of his tricycle.

Going home has always given me this odd feeling. I feel more like a visitor, a guest at my parents’ house rather than a homecoming son. I itch to fly back to Manila after spending a week home. Two weeks down my supposed vacation, I’m imagining going insane. The slowness of life in Cannery will drive anyone to the edge. It has never happened to my parents and some of my high school classmates who decided to stay, though. But I am sure it will to me. The longest time I spent home since leaving for college ten years ago was two weeks. It’s unimaginable staying longer.

But I’m thinking of doing it differently this time. I will wake up tomorrow to a breakfast of rice and fish I imagine my mother will cook for us. Then I will walk to the pineapple plantation of Dole Phils. nearby to have a good view of the beautiful Mt Matutum. And I’ll leaf through those dated volumes of New Standard Encyclopedia our parents bought twenty years ago and will reread those entries that comprised my early memories of reading.

I want to enjoy the days with my parents this Christmas. I miss them. I will give home another look, and perhaps doing this will let me reconsider staying longer next time. Or maybe, it will help me remember how nostalgia feels.

Everyday

While browsing an online travel magazine that left me torpid afterward because of the writer’s endless narration of his itinerary donned in a language too sweet and delicious I’m sure it will leave a diabetic’s sugar level shooting to the ceiling, I thought, unless he was high on drugs which made his senses super keen, he must be lying.

Travel writers are a special group of writers. They thrive in the extraordinary and the bizarre. Most of them have a special truckload of word ammunition that often leaves my mouth agape because of  its sophistication and elegance. I often see a mountain, a room with a view, and a meal as they often are–a mountain, a room with a view, and a meal, respectively. For travel writers, however, a mountain is a cascade of boulders and debris swept by the gentle blow of the easterlies, a room with a view is a room flooded in a carefully orchestrated foxtrot of sunlight and cool wind on a tranquil Saturday morning, a meal is a plateful of freshly harvested farm produce perfectly showered with a local concoction of cane vinegar and a hint of muscovado. To a travel writer, everything is a novelty, and so it has to be written in a hyperbolically romanticized way to an extent that a reader who is a local of the place he’s writing about will not recognize, take offense at, and find patronizing.

I seldom trust, if not completely distrust, travel writers. They do not understand the dreariness and the dryness of the everyday and the commonplace. They are passersby who cannot wait to leave the place and catch the next bus, train, or plane because the thought of what is out there, the other side of the mountain, the horizon, the antipode beckons with tempting invitation that the now is expressed in such succulent platitudes.  I gravitate toward the everyday because the everyday does not imagine itself other than what it is. The everyday defies any attempt at making it look rosier than what it truly is. It is only in the everyday that reflection is possible and truthful.

Bath

Filipinos are wont to say “I took a bath” instead of the more accurate “I took a shower.” They both mean the same to us, but there’s a slight difference, of course. Taking a shower means having running water falling from a shower head several inches above a person done usually to start the day or after a strenuous physical activity while taking a bath is submerging one’s body in a warm or cold water contained within a, what else, bath tub.

I have begun cultivating this desire for afternoon baths ever since I moved to Augustine house uphill. Though I am often stricken with a feeling of guilt whenever I am right in the middle of one of these, due maybe to my environmental stand and those pamphlets distributed before to high schoolers that warned us about the dangers of living a comfortable life that leads to climate change, scarcity of fresh water, and other negative impacts on the environment. It was repeatedly iterated to us that comfort is sinful, destructive, and immoral. I still vividly remember an illustration showing how many pails of water are saved when one’s using pail and dipper to take a shower compared with using either a shower head or a bath tub.

And whenever I deprived myself of the comforts of modern living, I felt good because in a way I knew I was doing my share in saving the environment. So instead of using to pails of water for my morning shower, I limited it to the barest minimum of a pail or, if I am too passionate about saving Mother Earth, half a pail.

It never occurred to me to question the rationale behind this thinking. How could a boy from an unknown part of a country in the backwaters of the world have an impact on the moves to save the environment, or save the world from man-made destruction by attempting to save a pail and a half of water? I had kept myself from enjoying the convenience modern technology has offered my generation because I thought that my little ways will in any way change the tide.

Here in the US, Americans do not heed all these calls for changing their ways and living in a sustainable way. Waste reflects consumption and the more one consumes the more highly it will reflect affluence, the cornerstone of the American dream. The more conspicuous is consumption, therefore the more waste is produced, the better upheld is this value.

I stood up from the shackles of the bathtub, washed myself with warm water, pat myself dry, and left the bathroom without looking back at the dirty water draining out of the ultimate symbol of American comfort.

Another tattoo

I would never imagine getting a tattoo before. Much less having somebody’s name tattooed into my skin.

Nonetheless, for some ideas, thoughts, and emotions human language is incapable of succinctly articulating, we still got our body to express for us most abstractions which our language faculty may sometimes be unable to make concrete.

So why would one go through a painful, permanent, and – to use my elders’ word – desecrating process just to bring a point across?

As I cannot speak for the rest, I reflected on the reasons for the tattoos (currently, I have 3. [A statement implying that my skin will be inked in the future, more or less, well, I really can’t say.]), notwithstanding of course the very obvious irony in this sentence.

Roughly a month ago, I had this one inked into my left shoulder: a simple text bordered by two lines above and below a four-letter name. I was asked why have it and why the name. I replied, “because, …(long pause) you are a permanent part of me.” I left it at that.

I would have continued on and said, “This is too small and simple a symbol for that promise of being with you until the end.” But, of course, I wouldn’t say something like this. You might find it very inconsistent to my unromantic character, I was afraid.

“None of us holds the future,” you retorted.

This, however, beggars my point. Inasmuch as it is a promise, your name tattooed into my body is a declaration that what this we both share now is too important, too life-changing, too strong I am changed by it. And in my humblest of ways, let me be reminded of this change every day.

“Just let me,” I said. “And besides, it’s a bit too late to change my mind.”

Today, the 5th of May here, the 6th there, I’m sorry if it seemed like I have completely forgotten it, I have not, how could I, remember I’m in Eastern Standard Time: Happy 16th month, babe.

I love you.

Remembering a rainy afternoon

It’s raining hard outside, it has been so since this morning when we woke up. We took a bus together, but then I got off alone in front my place, ran upstairs to leave the external hard drive, then caught a quick breakfast at McDonald’s on Boni. I rested a bit, watched some reruns of a fairly neurotic reality TV program on cable, took a hurried bath, then hopped on a jeepney to the center of Mandaluyong. I got rained on looking for the office of that company that specializes in wedding pictures. After almost 30 minutes of waiting for all the files to be transferred, I braved the rain that showed no sign of abetting.

Soaked with rainwater, I reached my place, took a bath again to avoid getting sick (I am not really sure if there is a correlation between taking a bath after having been rained on and not getting sick) and prepared my stuff for gym. I did routines for my shoulders as having broad shoulders will compensate for the undefined abdominals that’s giving me a hard time these days. I guess the good-ol’-days of eating to my heart’s content without accumulating a millimeter of adipose tissues in my mid-section are nearing end. After all these, I’m off to work.

So here I am, staring outside on a rainy Wednesday afternoon thinking about how my day has gone so far. This, I think, is one of those forgettable afternoons that would simply pass me by, but instead of letting it go like all the other afternoons similar to it, I am documenting it to make it less forgettable than the rest.

Daily occurrences: Banaue

Banaue is a community nestled on foots and edges of several hills where the rice terraces that vary in color depending on the season are carved. It’s a municipality of 12,000 composed predominantly of farmers, though it also heavily relies from revenues brought in by tourists.

The people are generally welcoming, especially the younger generations of Ifugao, having gotten used to the onslaught of tourists that are mostly Europeans. Older inhabitants, on the other hand, those who have seen far too many, those who have had their fill of more than a reasonable number of Caucasians  that look ridiculously comic in the traditional Ifugao g-string, have gone jaded and would make an indifferent Parisian in Paris blush. Their ‘you’re-invisible’ attitude toward anyone who is obviously not from the place is several notches above that of an arrogant Frenchman in his native France.

This old weaver refused to have her picture taken; she was aghast when she realized I took her picture as the flash from camera must have startled her. I tried my best to befriend her, but my insolence has created an unbridgeable rift between us.

Right after I found a house to stay in the next two days and introduced to a knowledgeable guide recommended by the caretaker of the house, I asked for a slack time of two hours before we began the trek which the eager guide named Michael happily agreed.

I thought I did not need to begin the trek very early as the sky appeared relatively cloudy and the sun did not give any hint that it’d make its fierceness felt any time. It has been raining in Banaue for weeks before I arrived, according to Joker, the caretaker, while he’s making funny faces to the glee of his three-year old daughter, Gem.

I was lucky, he added, that there was no sign it was going to rain that day as there were some small punctured parts of the sky where the sun’s intense rays cut through.

I spent the two hours walking around the community center and the narrow streets in the fringes. It was barely thirty minutes past seven in the morning. Most people were still in their beds enjoying the cool morning, but few individuals were already on the streets, including these two kids who were playing when I passed by in front their house,


…these two young men who happened to come from nowhere while I was taking the picture of the two boys above,

…and this dog that was scavenging for food beside the street.

As in many small communities all over the Philippines, Banaue not exempt, shame or the fear of losing face is still an important deterrent against deviance. Here is Banaue’s version of a public pillory: a list of names of people who have outstanding debts.

From the public market, I crossed this rusty hanging bridge painted reddish orange as if to mock the corrosion that is slowly eating the metal up. The joints that flimsily hold the bridge together sang a requiem every time I made a step. Two men who were coming toward my direction traipsed fearlessly, furthering the shaking; I feigned a smile and greeted them good morning.

Below the bridge is a small terrace where I caught this farmer plowing the soil. He’s wearing a shirt that made quite a statement:

And on the edge of the paddy, sitting pensively, was  a boy, probably the farmer’s son, who gave me a stare after he saw me taking the picture of the man wearing that intelligent shirt.

Tall houses line the street and their architecture is as haphazard and random as the general plan of the community is random.


Expression of love, I am starting to think, is one of man’s few universal yearnings.

Despite the relative remoteness of Banaue, the community has kept itself abreast with technology. A number of houses have satellite dishes that look exactly as sad as this.

Even though they have cable subscription and an equally lonely-looking satellite dish attached to the east side wall of their house, I was thankful that Joker and his family are of the opinion that television is repulsive, so it remained shut during my stay.

Whenever I go to a new place, as I am wont to do, I would examine its public elementary school. This bleak welcome sign to Banaue Central School did not look very promising.

But there is something this place has that should keep it optimistic despite grinding poverty and government neglect: the smile of a boy playing with his friends outside the gates of the school was the most hopeful I’ve seen for a long while.

This short trip taught me a very important lesson: that I need not much to be happy.