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.

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A positive post from a perennially negative man

The sunlight, diffused by my dusty glass windows gives my room a provincial feel, only of course it can’t truly be provincial because EDSA is honking and raging  21 floors below, and the screeching sound of cranes lifting slabs of reinforced  concrete for the two condominiums being built just across the street can still be heard, albeit subdued. Thanks to the insulation my room affords me, I can still enjoy the slight silence of this morning.  Quiet Saturday mornings like now remind me of laid-back mornings in Polomolok when I did not have to force myself to leave the bed and to be woken up by our house help’s guttural, “Gusto nimo mag-kape, Kuya?“.

What happened last night was beyond my comprehension. I was left in my room alone; too tired to run after [this and some succeeding sentences will drop the object of the verb], I opted to just sleep it off and let the next day come up with synthesis of what had happened. I woke up today feeling nothing, the incident eight hours ago remains as enigmatic.

I’ve changed. I guess what differentiates my current self from who I was, say, a year ago is that I expect less from my relationships now. Yes I love still, more passionately by the day, and never shall I feign affection, but when things become as blurry as my window, I keep myself from rushing to wipe it clean right after. Now I let things take their own pace. After all, the dust and hardened grime from the heavy rain of last night are now giving my room a beautiful, rustic glow.

Love songs and how they inspire dread, scornful pity, and cloud one’s judgment

To listen to love songs during late night programming when all cheesy and gut wrenching songs with romantic melodies and lyrics are playing is the worst advice one can give to somebody recovering from a recent breakup.

But tonight, just before all the FM radio stations in General Santos City sign off, I am doing something I would proscribe anyone from doing, with or without of late parting with his/her lover. But I cannot help it, I am doing my sister’s Math project, which she requested me to do last week. I procrastinated until this afternoon when she demanded me to do it with added stipulation that I have to be done with it tonight or she’ll have nothing to submit later this morning to her teacher, and that it will cost her her grades for this grading period. Being a brother ridden with biting guilt that I have not helped my sister with any of her assignments since she started schooling, I humbly acquiesce.

Example is this one below:

8. Of the apples inside the barrel that will be sent to Tampakan for Christmas, 1/13 are green, 2/4 are red Fuji variety, and 7/65 are sour yellow, the remaining apples are native ones grown in Kalsangi (a local farm in Polomolok, South Cotabato famous for its golf course and fine weather). What part of the apples in the barrel are native variety from Kalsangi?

Let me know if you know the answer.

I have no choice but to hear the songs coming from an old stereo to my left, since silence is a harsher company.

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So here I am being drowned by Barry Manilow’s bromidic sermons about love, gasping in Air Supply’s heinous high notes, and helplessly manslaughtered by Engelbert Humperdinck 70s classic, while wracking my head to provide answers to the fraction word problems I wrote myself.

In general, love songs are meant to be confusing. The poetry, or prose, that makes up the so called lyrics is nothing but a gibberish that is arranged in such a way that it sounds intelligible to somebody whose judgment is clouded by a recent heartache or a newly found love. Every line is sprinkled with randomly chosen meaningless abstraction such as the word love (the most overused), memories, the only one, alone, you, heart, waiting, remember, now and then, tomorrow, sun, song I sing, all my life, day without you, and other ludicrous ideas that exist anywhere but in reality.

They all have silly notions that forever can be through, there can be bluer than blue, about a moonriver (a foolish idea) wider than a mile that can be crossed in style someday, somebody whose only want is to grow old with somebody, leaving on a jetplane to someday come back with her wedding ring, or saying ‘I’m yours’ while spending precious time doing an entirely dopey thing of checking one’s tongue in the mirror.

And it would be too much if I still have to comment on the melody. They all sound the same, with some little variations here and there, and whose only purpose is to make anyone of their unsuspecting victims to be out of touch with what’s real.

See, I almost forgot about my sister’s assignment. I have to continue writing now, while ‘Unchained Melody’ envelops my room with an eerie feeling of dread.

Unchained_Melody_by_TOYIB

http://deviantart.com

 

The man with a black umbrella

It has been raining since the time I woke up this morning. Atmospheric conditions such as today’s remind me of rainy November afternoons in Hanoi when all I did was to cuddle a pillow and bury myself with blankets my friend’s mom provided me or to bathe in the rain while cycling with my red bike around Ho Dac Di or Pho Thai Ha.

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Yesterday when I went to Inquirer office in Makati to get my prize and my friend’s for the Virgin Labfest theater review, I mentioned to Gibbs Cadiz, the man who organized the competition, in our chat that I studied in Hanoi for almost a year. It felt as if it was already a long time ago, and the people and the place more fantastic than real. It has almost been five months since I arrived here in Manila and decided to ‘test the water’. Nothing much has come up from this youthful adventure I am embarking on.  I could’ve directly gone home to my parent’s house in Polomolok.

Hanoi was the first thing I thought of when I woke up today. How I miss that city.

While exerting all my efforts to climb the steep stairs going to Boni MRT Station, the black umbrella I bought from 7eleven weeks ago when I got caught in a downpour in Intramuros, flipped a la Mary Poppins to the chagrin of the woman in front of me who seemed to have magnetized all the water soaked in the synthetic fabric of my umbrella’s canopy. She gave me a deathly and almost deadly look and proceeded unceremoniously, before I could say my apologies, to her despirited gaits up the train station.

One of the reasons I love rainy days: people are cool-headed.

Harry Potter

Although I have no intention of watching the latest installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, to the 8-part movie, the film review by Manohla Dargis of the New York Times may help you put the film in a perspective using an unimportant critic’s critique  here.

Concerns and the passion for the environment

Two years ago, I left for Germany because of my passion in saving the environment. At that time, I believed so much in the ability of the youth to create ripples of change that could help in finding solutions to pressing problems facing the world-melting of the polar ice caps, extinctions of wild life, deforestation-and in my case, mitigating soil erosion in my hometown, Polomolok, South Cotabato, home of Dole, Philippines Inc., the world’s biggest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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I joined the competition that time sponsored by Bayer and the United Nations Environment Programme because I wanted to go to Europe, never did it occur to me that I’d be enmeshed with my project and be more involved with the environmental issues Polomolok is confronting due to the presence of the big multinational company.

I cannot deny the benefits the people are getting from Dole. Cannery, a barangay that got its name from the fact the it is the cannery for pineapples harvested from the vast plantation surrounding it, is now lobbying to become a municipality because of the revenue it has amassed making it a good candidate as a second class municipality. Almost all the people living in the place are employees of Dole. In fact, my parents who are both teachers, decided to settle and raise their children in Cannery because of the opportunities awaiting them during that time. Some of my high school classmates are now employees of the company. Despite these good that Dole has brought to the place since it first started its operations in the 60s, the environmental degradation it is causing Polomolok as well as the municipalities of Tupi and Tamapakan is increasing at an alarming rate which may cancel all the gains of  Polomolok for having the company conduct it operations in the area.

The pineapple plantation being predominantly monocrop is placing too much pressure on the soil; soil erosion being one of the problems, aside of course from the resulting high acidity of the soil which will leave the soil virtually unusable in the event Dole Philippines decide to bring its operation elsewhere. The problem of soil erosion is observable in the area beside Dole Cannery Central Elementary School and Polomolok National High School; both are my alma mater. The width of the creek is growing at such a rapid rate that both schools have to build retaining walls along areas that used to be green grounds. Moreover, some houses were abandoned because of the dangers of flash floods. Whenever it rains heavily, the runoff carries with it portion of the topsoil and exposes the more vulnerable and less fertile subsoil. This process that is occurring for years is now slowly felt by the residents and the company. However, nothing substantial has really been done.

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With the global financial crises and the slowdown in the demand for fresh products, the place will be hard hit if Dole halts its operation. I heard from a relative that two months ago the working days were temporarily cut by the company. This resulted to salary cuts, an event they fear was just a dress rehearsal for a more gloomy days ahead, or worse, Dole abandoning its operation.

The soil being unsuitable for rice plantation because of very high chemical level and thin top soil will be of no use to people. Here the people are confronted with the delicate balance between the environment and the people being tipped. Polomolok will be a sad case of an environmental disaster if these concerns are not carefully studied and given appropriate solution.

This Earth Day, I am reminded of that project I conducted almost two years ago. It was already a start but I stopped midway because I also had to face other life’s concerns. I seldom visited my hometown and I have no idea what have become of the trees we planted along the creeks or the students who listened to my lectures regarding soil erosion. Mine was a case of an aborted ripple that was supposed to cause tidal waves but disappeared in the middle of my oceans of concerns.

Still my passion for the environment has not waned; probably I am just awaiting for that day when I finally get tired pursuing all my banal pursuits.

Circumcision and becoming a man

This afternoon, while riding a jeep from Padre Faura to Espana under an afternoon temperature of 35 degrees Centigrade, something ordinary occurred that reminded me of a beyond-the-ordinary event that occurred around twelve years ago. That event gave me a sneak preview of what to expect as I entered the series of rites of passage a Filipino boy has to go through before becoming a real man.

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A family of four rode the jeep when it passed by a government health clinic along Taft Avenue. The family was composed of a father sporting a proud, almost airy, expression; a mother with the undeniable know-it-all character most mothers have; and their two sons who are roughly ten to thirteen years old walking carefully and wearing over-sized shorts while holding the front portion of their shorts in an odd manner. In rural Philippines as well as in some poor areas of Manila, this sight of young boys wearing baggy shorts is common during the months of April and May when school closes therefore giving young boys enough time to recover from this simple surgery called circumcision but almost universally called in the Philippines as ‘tuli’.

I had mine when I was twelve years old; it was the summer of 1997. A week before the operation, my father advised me to clean myself, and if possible, spend time taking a bath by soaking myself in lukewarm water for half an hour everyday until the day. That day, my father brought me to a government clinic in the poblacion, around four kilometers from where we live. We were greeted by a market-like atmosphere of young boys with their father, sometimes also with their mothers, waiting in line for their turn to undergo an operation that will ultimately make real men out of them.

In the Philippines the operation is almost a routine in the general male population. While it is related with religion for Jews and some Christians, in the Philippines circumcision is a social activity that signifies the first step in the long process of becoming a man. Boys are made to feel the pressure by their friends and male relatives to undergo the operation. Although the benefits of the surgery have not been very convincing, a lot of myths have been made up to support the conduct of the surgery. It is said that boys will grow faster when they are circumcised; an uncircumcised man will not be able to impregnate a woman; circumcised men are more virile; etc.

The methods of the operation range from those conducted in private clinics in urban areas to the cruder and more dangerous ‘paltak’ where a village healer cuts the foreskin using a very sharp knife with just one blow, relying so much on a hit or miss.

It was an unforgettable day for me, and so was for my father. I am his eldest son, the first one he accompanied in this very important part of growing up for Filipino men. I tried as hard as I could not to show fear because I did not want to disappoint my father. But I knew I disappointed him when I went out of the clinic after my operation was done looking like I was about to pass out; I sensed it in the way he looked at me. He never talked to me during the entire time we were riding a tricycle back home. I eventually realized that it was my natural reaction whenever I lose an amount of blood. And whenever he told the story about that day he never failed to mention how I looked like I was about to faint.

I followed his advice on how to clean wound. He taught me how to gather young leaves of guava tree, boil them, and wash the wound using the water from boiled guava leaves. But I did not allow him to see my wound. I feigned independence in order to prove him that I was already a real man who could do things without his help. My wound got infected a week after, but I did not call his attention, instead I read the medical self-help book my mother bought on how to properly clean the area and how to use tincture of iodine as antiseptic. After a month and a half, I was completely recovered and healed.

It was an experience that caused a rift between my father and me. It took me a time to forget that look on his face that day when I almost passed out.

All those years, I was haunted by my father’s disappointed look that made me forget how proud he was that day bringing his first-born son to that small government health center in Polomolok, South Cotabato for his entrance to manhood and, most especially, adulthood.

I know I need not prove to him my manhood, nor to anyone else.

I smiled when I saw the two boys carefully avoiding the shorts they wore to touch their wounds from the circumcision; and their parents, with pride in their voice and saying it loudly for all the passengers to hear, advising them what do.

I smiled because I also experienced the same hard and painful process of becoming a man in the Philippines, and along the way understanding my own father.

A high school love story

After having weathered several romantic relationships, trying to figure out what went wrong, what happened along the course of the journey, or what has prodded each of the parties to leave, my previous romantic affairs concluded in un-extraordinary fashion. I loved, lost, loved again, just like anyone of us. Their ends were never preempted by the happiness brought by their beginnings. There was nothing spectacular about their endings, no spark, or anything near magical.

I wrote love letters before. Some I sent and was read by the intended recipient; some were sent but were read by other people other than to whom it was supposed to be sent to. And a few were never sent at all either because of fear to be rejected or for the fear that the person who will receive them will laugh at the cheesy lines I carefully concocted or I simply was not confident that my letters were free of any grammatical blunders.

Youthful insecurities kept me from fully expressing love, too young to understand the complications and complexities of baring my emotion for people to trample it, crush it, or simply ignore it. But I knew I tried to love. That for me was enough no matter how the adult world tried to underrate my ability to feel and to express what I feel in a way I deemed appropriate.

I was so young then, barely 14, when I felt so sure that I was starting to fall in love with a very beautiful girl of my age. We were high school classmates. For reasons of privacy, I will not mention her name here. We both have already moved on. Now she is living a happy life with somebody she loves and loves her in return. She is also running after her dreams like what I am doing.

Then, life was simpler. We were too innocent to care about the future. What is to become of us after a year, a month, or even the following week was the least of our concern. For us then the present was the only thing that mattered.

She was from another elementary school in the poblacion; and being first year high school students then, we were too shy to approach anyone we think a stranger. She caught everyone’s attention, including mine, because she’s beautiful. In that public high school where I graduated from, it was rare to see a beautiful girl who dresses so well and modest all at the same time. You either see a pretty girl who looks drab, a well-dressed one but just too provincial, or both good-looking and nicely-dressed but an epitome of egotism and pride.

She was simply the most beautiful girl, the kindest, and the most intelligent in class (second to me, hahaha): everything a thirteen-year-old boy was looking for in the girl of his life. We were competitors in class; she graduated with the highest honor when she was in elementary; I, in the other hand, was the valedictorian of my class. But we were friends. I tried hard to make her laugh at my jokes or impress her with my scientific knowledge and love for literature. I won competitions outside the school because I wanted her to notice me.

I started formally courting her during our third year in high school. I sent her love letters through a close friend of us both. Sometimes I deliberately borrowed books from her, although I never read then, to insert my love letter inside. She never replied any of my letters, but I know she felt something for me because I noticed a difference in the way she smiled at me. I felt it.

I joined the CAT (Citizen Army Training) program to become an officer so that in our fourth year I could ask her to be my sponsor during the induction of officers and presentation of sponsors. I faced pain, fatigue, and hard work while in the program. She taught me to think of the future and make my self better so that my life in the future will be far better from what my current life.

I started walking with her from our school to the town plaza every afternoon during the last months of our third year in high school.  I took those walks as confirmations that she also felt something for me. Although that time they had a new red car, which was her family’s transportation during that time, she chose not to go with her mother who is a teacher in our school, and walk with her friends, and me to the plaza and wait for the tricycle to transport her to their house four kilometers away in the town. I reasoned that any intelligent girl would not choose to walk on dusty roads surrounded by pineapples with a guy if she’s not interested with him.

Even though I was not a practicing Catholic, I would always accompany her every Wednesday to attend mass after class. One time we were both asked to carry the bread and wine; we did that while we were wearing our high school uniforms. Days following that afternoon we were our classmates’ object of teasing; I secretly liked it, though. I just smile every time I remember that ordinary Wednesday afternoon in the Parish of the Good Shepherd.

This continued until our fourth year, and on September 1st 2002 she said to me that she also loved me, the day we were officially romantically attached. It was however odd. That time, cell phones were just starting to be introduced in our place and so we were sending SMS to each other. I was ironing my school uniform while texting her using my mother’s Nokia 5110i phone (in case you forget, it’s a very fat and heavy Nokia model with an equally big antenna; this model was already not fashionable during that time) when she became my girlfriend. It was anticlimactic.

Earlier that day, as the Corps Commander, I lead my high school’s CAT Battalion  in the town parade so she asked me if I was okay because she heard from her mother that I was sick. The conversation went on further until I asked her if she cared for me. She said “a lot”. I asked her if it was because she loved me. And then she replied a very short answer: “yes”.

That was one of my most memorable high school experience. Looking back now that I am 22 and definitely more mature and experienced with life and how it is to love, that day remained too difficult to surpass. My young heart during that time, for the first time, knew how it was to love and to find out that somebody was also loving me back.

We lasted for seven months. On the 8th of April 2003, I remember it was in a park, I broke up with her. I gave her many reasons why our relationship cannot go on. I told her that I would be studying in a far place; we would not be able to maintain communication; and that I don’t believe in long distance relationships. She said nothing at first just cried. That was the first time I saw her cry. It almost made me regret saying those things and take back what I said telling her I was just kidding. But my resolve was final. She tried to negotiate, telling me that she could wait and that she loved me so much. I said I loved her too, but I could not anymore go on. I gave her reasons why I was ending the relationship but it’s only now that I accepted the fact that it was because of my insecurities. Insecurities about the future, about our fragile relationship, and about myself and who I really am.

We seldom communicated after that, and in the second year of my college she told me that she already has a boyfriend. I was devastated, but I had no choice but to accept it. She had moved on. I hadn’t. I tried my best to divert my attention to my academics just to forget about her. A lot of things happened to our individual lives after that. When we both finished college, we met again, and finally put and end to our love story. She told me her story which made me to fully I understand her.

“You hurt me so much,” she said.

“I’m sorry. It’s not only you who was hurt,” I said.

“I’m with somebody now. I know he loves me so much. He makes me happy.”

“Really? That’s good. I also wanted you to be happy.”

“By leaving me? I suffered a lot because of what you did. Two years after we separated, I still couldn’t move on. I compared every man who tried to love me with you. ‘Ah this man is not as good a conversationalist as Fev.’ ‘This man is too stupid, not like Fev.'”

“I’m sorry.”

“Is that all you can say? Yeah, but I’m so happy this man came. He loves me more than anyone did.”

“It was not only you who was hurt. I was only thinking of what was to become of us in the future.”

“I hope it made you happy.”

Silence.

Our story ended in silence.

Her story, however, will remain to be her story. I will not include it here because for me it is sacred and only she can tell it. I know I will never give full justice to the pains she went through because of a love story that began one Monday morning of June 1999.