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.

An odd character

Until now I am still trying to figure out how to read this man, not necessarily the writings on the banner he proudly brandished, which was, surprisingly, written in near impeccable English, but the very idea of his being there, complete with a huge plastic pail headgear, the colorful Disney bag, and the reddish teeth that peek every time he smiled. He professed to be a Chinese national seeking political asylum in this country but whose request was repeatedly denied by the Philippine government. So while waiting for the decision on his appeal as stated, he played mendicant.

The wide avenue of Recto in Manila has different versions of characters like him. And one’s visit to this part of the capital is never consummated without encountering an oddity like the man pictured here. I guess he views sanity using a different eyepiece. For him, the rest must be an incomprehensible, meaningless bustle. And he an oasis of rare sanity amid a huge desert of demented humanity.

Letting go of fatalism: finding a job

I’m on a frenzy now. A mix of emotions that border on the absurd. I just started looking for jobs in the Philippines last night and it’s not easy. I’ve never tried looking for a serious work before. My application as an instructor in the University of the Philippines was not that difficult, at least, because the panel already knew my strengths and weaknesses and that I did not have to sell my self to a certain extent. But for a job in a private corporation in Manila, my credentials may speak for me, but I think it won’t be enough considering the competition in the working world this time.

manila

I intend to work in Manila after, in case, this will be my first time to work in my country’s capital city and to actually stay there and immerse my self in the hustle and bustle of a big metropolis. I am scared but am even more excited. Bigger world means being able to experience a lot of things that I will otherwise miss if I stay in one place during my entire lifetime.

I am trying to console myself that the economic condition of the world in general and my lack of working experience might delegate me to the lowest position, or worse not being able to find a job at all, but I am trying to be hopeful.

In fact I am considering finding another scholarship for a graduate degree just to postpone my entrance to the working world. I just hate the idea of working. I loved formal learning so much, but this time, I’ve got to choose, and it appears that the best choice is to work.

For most twenty-somethings this part of life is one of the most dreadful. I just can’t imagine being asked about my salary and not being able to answer because it’s dismally low. I can’t imagine being asked about what I do if it’s something I am not happy doing. A lot of things to consider, but at the end of the day it all boils down to a fact that I have to work. I may study forever and reason out that I am learning for learning’s sake, but then again, learning is not an end in itself. I have to apply what I have learned through a job and receive remuneration for doing my job.

manila2

I’ve been quite fatalistic these past few years. If given a chance to choose between a stable job or studying abroad, without any consideration, I’ll choose the former, but as I age I am starting to realize that I can’t think of adventures all the time because travelers also have to take a rest, or that superheroes have Louis or grandma waiting for them after a day of saving the world from all nemeses.

I guess I have to slow down on my fatalism and be more pragmatic and realistic. I have to plan my next action. A new life will greet me a month from now, and I cannot afford to fail.

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.

shirt2

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.

A cultural taboo of oversleeping

sleeping-man

Shame of all shame.

I woke up at 11:30 this morning. Although I had a very sating sleep, and it felt so good, but instead I reacted differently, I panicked and was filled with guilt and self-loathing. For somebody who grew up in the Philippines where one’s industry is measured by the time one wakes up in the morning, waking up at such late a time is tantamount to indolence and faineance.

Once upon a time, the natives’ god, out of solitude and loneliness decided to create man. He accidentally cooked up several races of man: because of his fretfulness – the white men, his forgetfulness – black men, until he reached perfection – the brown-skinned men he called Filipinos. After a very tiring day, as the story goes, the natives’ god went to sleep and so did his newly created human beings. The next day, just before sunrise, the white men woke up first, followed by the black-skinned men, causing them to step on the faces of their still sleeping brown-skinned brothers. This resulted to the dominant Filipino facial feature of  an almost flat nose.

The myth, aside from explaining the reason for the conspicuous wide nose of the people from the Philippines also gives a commentary on the value placed by the society where the myth originated on industry and time and how they relate with that crucial time of the day when farmers go to work.

Farm animals, specifically water buffaloes, or carabao in the native language, do not have sweat glands so this explains why they cannot work in the middle of the scorching sun forcing farmers to work before dawn when it is cool. This is why it is morally upright and compelling for farmers, and the Philippine society dependent on agriculture, to wake up early. The story above was told to me by my father who grew up in the plains of Iloilo as a young farmer; the same story was told to him by his  mother who is also a farmer.

Although I’ve been spending the last eight years of my life in urban areas, I know that I have never outgrown this urge to wake up early and to feel unwell whenever I wake up late in the morning. A case of oversleeping transformed into a taboo. When I was still studying in college I wake up an hour before my first class to do some writing or last minute cramming; this didn’t change when I was teaching in the university.

Longer nights during these months compounded by winter in Hanoi make me sleep until almost forever. This disturbs my Circadian rhythm which I have a little chance of recovering, but I hope to reverse this soon.

So whenever I visit my hometown my father’s prodding to wake up early is as constant as the idea of home. So tonight, I resolve to sleep earlier than usual, stick to this resolution and wake up earlier tomorrow.

I will never forgive myself if I wake up again at 11 in the morning.

Rice porridge and fear of (or fascination with) the unknown

chao

ba-oi

porridge

In between my three-hour class in Tay Son this evening, I went to a quan hang, or a small kiosk selling rice porridge. I asked the old woman to give me a bowl of the thick mixture and to add egg into it. The steamy porridge alleviated my hunger for the next two hours before I had my full dinner back in my house. The soothing aroma of the herbs carried by the rising steam reminded me of the arroz caldo in my high school canteen back then and the comforting taste of a bowl of it as well as the memories of the past now impossible to revisit.

Chao, as Vietnamese call this rice porridge is a food devoid of any pretensions. It is as simple as the lives of most of Vietnam’s people. Only the necessary are mixed and cooked together, offered in plastic bowls and eaten while being seated on kiddie-size monobloc chairs beside the passing traffic of motorists and pedestrian.

I think that the unique flavor of chao is brought about by an amalgam of fresh ingredients, herbs, gossips, family affairs, early evening conversations, and other cacophonies that make up the Vietnamese society.

Co oi, cho chau mot bat chao voi trung. (Aunty, can I have a bowl of chao with egg?), I asked. She smiled at me, and suggested if I wanted to have mien (a kind of rice vermicelli) instead, since she might have noticed that I often eat at her place. I said, Chau muon chao thoi co a (I just want to have chao auntie). Which she responded with, Khong noi co, chau goi ba (Don’t call me auntie, call me grandmother). I pretended not to hear her. With my thirty-minute break, lengthening the conversation with her would not be a good idea; notwithstanding, I was already on the verge of starvation.

I am already accustomed to the simple life here in Vietnam. Everyday, I face almost similar concerns: cycling from my house to the university, translating from Vietnamese to English or vice versa, writing in Vietnamese, battling with heat or cold (although dusty roads are already a staple),  working out, attending my part-time classes, and other miscellanies such as going to coffee shops, writing literary attempts, or just to reading books by Maxim Gorky, or an anthology of O. Henry’s works.

I’ve never lived a life simpler than this one, and it scares me a bit because in three months time, I’m going back to the Philippines and face real concerns of an adult like me. I’ll be turning 23 in the next few months, although sometimes I try to brush off the thoughts of being older than I am old; however, there’s a part of me that says: “Hey, John have a time of your life; you’ve never had a good rest before. Enjoy what you have now.” And another part saying: “Shocks! You’ve wasted a good nine months of your life running after something you’re not even certain what it constitutes of. John, grow up. Give up your fascination for the unknown, the what ifs, the other side of the mountain, the dark side of the moon.”

I’ve reflected on these things while eating my rice porridge which almost made me forget the perfection of the aromatic blend of herbs, sticky rice, boiled chicken, and native egg in my porcelain bowl. It almost made me forget to have a taste of my present and to enjoy it while it lasts. I’ve tried to behold the future knowing that it’s futile to grasp it.

Ba oi. Chau tra tien. Bao nhieu tien? (Ba, I’m paying. How much is it?

Muoi lam nghin. (Fifteen thousand.)

Satisfactions doesn’t have to be expensive.

You’re a twenty-something if…

This is one of those flop days. A flopped day is when I can’t think of anything sensible and cerebral. However, I am not saying that most of my days are inspired and I can always think as intellectually as I would want. The weather this time just adds to the gloom. The temperature outside makes someone like me who is used to the Philippines’ tropical climate of humid and hot days to be sluggish and sleepy.

So here I am writing about something that in a way is the reason why this blog exists – to celebrate life as a twenty-something. For most of us, it’s nice to go back to the past and remember the thing’s we’ve been through, laughing at the atrocious piece of clothing we wore before, being nostalgic about the better days that had been, or simply reminiscing the simple pleasures of life then.

I’m listing them down here for my readers who grew up during the same time as I did in the Philippines. Please feel free to add.

You’re a twenty-something if…

You were born between 1988-1979

20

You know the melody of this chocolate commercial:
Wanna see what happens to a bag of Nips?
What goes on before they touch my lips?
A Choco Rainbow, Chocolate Nips.
Nips, Nips.

You know what these acronyms stood for: WOW, SIGA. These were policies in the early 90s of Department of Education, Culture, and Sports (then DECS now DepEd) on school beautification and food sustainability.

It was possible to go to school with a 5 to 20 pesos baon.

20-1

You collected stickers of Lion King from Maggi Rich Mami Noodles and pasted them on the door of your fridge, to your mother’s horror.

You know Julio at Julia, Kambal ng Tadhana, enjoyed watching this mid-morning program, you can even sing the theme song of this anime.

You know who Pong Pagong was.

You memorized the lyrics of Sineskwela. Sa daigdig ng agham, tuklasin ang kaalaman, halina’t lumipad sa daigdig ng isipan…

You either watched Gimik or T.G.I.S. on lazy Saturday afternoons.

Your elementary school teacher was the first to have an analog mobile phone which was as big as an uncut bar of laundry detergent.

You saw on television Erap’s (Joseph Estrada) ouster or you were at EDSA that time.

Your notebooks had pictures of local stars on their covers.

You know who Judiel was. You were fascinated by the “dancing sun”, and your entire class had to go out to stare at the sky to witness the apparition of the Virgin.

You still had to go through the CAT (Citizen’s Army Training) and had to march under the sun every Thursday or Friday afternoons.

You watched TV Patrol with Noli de Castro, Mel Tiangco, and Ka Kiko as anchors, and Ernie Baron as weatherman.

You know who comprised the Apo Hiking Society and that they had a noon time show Sa Linggo na’APO sila.

You know who the main characters of Villa Quintana were.

20-4

Kapamilya and Kapuso didn’t exist yet. They were the Sarimanok Network and the Rainbow Channel respectively.

You had to suffer blackouts that lasted for 12 hours or for as long as two days.

You played Chinese garter, sipa, sungka, snakes and ladders etc.

20-2

20-3

You know how a five-peso and ten-peso bills looked like. You even used the big one peso coins and the octagonal two-peso coins.

You had a Nintendo Family Computer in your house with the huge cartridges you insert into it to play Super Mario, Pacman, or Bomber.

And the list goes on.