Our family’s wooden water cart

My sister, brother, and I were inside a cab on our way to the Rabbit bus terminal on Taft Avenue to send off our sister when the subject about having a complete childhood got mentioned.

Conversations about our childhood do not fail to make us laugh because we get to be reminded of something forever lost but not totally forgotten. These memories remind us that no matter how fast we grow old each day (my sister just turned 26 but this, according to her does not bother her because she feels likes she’s only 22) and our responsibilities getting more insurmountable by the day, there is certainly no reason for us to feel short-changed because we had years of childhood behind us that were well-spent.

When we were younger we quarreled, physically abused each other, almost got each other killed in fits of uncontrolled childish anger. We of course but know deep inside that we share nothing but mutual filial love. We fought each other to a proportion that can only be described as epic just because of a piece of pandesal our mother usually brought from work. We created alliances — me and my older sister against the rest, my brothers against our older sister, my other brother against both my sister and my brother after me — that can have as many permutations as mathematically possible.

We laughed at the mischief we did together: playing hide-and-seek around the house, turning the house upside down to spite our poor house help whom we suspected to be flirting with our houseboy, stealing pineapples from the nearby Dole plantation, sucking santan flowers thinking that the sweet discharge is a kind of milk, going up the rooftop to see the rest of our village, playing with the refrigerator by keeping it open to know if it works like an air-conditioner, and fighting for control of the TV remote control.

While inside the taxi, the cramped car reminded us of our water cart. In our village, before each household got its own running water, we had to push a wooden cart that contained a big rubber vat we call ‘tadyaw’ that contained water we fetch from the public water source to our house. We took turns pushing and pulling this mammoth cart that carried our humongous rubber tub.

This wooden cart eventually got destroyed because of us. One day, the five of us decided to do something we’ve been wanting to do but never got the courage to do because of our parents’ stern discouragement: “This cart is the only way we can get water. Do not play with it”. With their absence, our audacity, call it recalcitrance, got fired up. So we brought our helpless wooden cart to the highest point of our yard and with the help of gravity, rode on it down like it was our version of a roller coaster. The rougher was the way down, the stronger was our shouts and the more we became addicted to the bump and twists.

Of course it broke down. As punishment, we were made to kneel on rock salt our mother had spread on the cold concrete floor. We did not question her mode of punishment; we thought it was reasonable a punishment for a sin as grand as destroying our only water cart.

But not having water for more than a week proved to be more challenging.

A panicky guest and riding a PNR train from Blumentritt to Buendia

Sending off Prince to the airport has been one of the most stressful tasks I’ve had this summer so far. After buying a dozen of Krispy Kreme for his pasalubong for his mother, we walked to SM Makati and took a MIA bus from EDSA thinking that we’d be able to show him the places which he would not otherwise see if he took a cab, but this turned out to be a bad decision. Not only did this make the travel time longer, it also caused Prince so much stress worrying because he has only an hour and a half left before his scheduled departure. Although we kept on reassuring him that he still has enough time left, he was not convinced. So we went off the bus before it U-turned near the entrance of SM Mall of Asia and took a taxi from Roxas Boulevard to the airport.

As if Fate was having her field day, we were caught in a heavy traffic just before we turned left to that avenue from Baclaran. Our rather fastidious guest was already starting to be restless and panicky. From the backseat of the taxi where I and a friend were seated, I was fighting hard the urge of hitting Prince with my empty can of soda so he’ll quit murmuring impatient gibberish. Good thing the cab driver was calm the whole time, and his quiet calmness miraculously got brushed on the people in the backseat.

We reached the airport on time, as predicted. Prince still has got to learn much about how to be a jetsetter, but soon he’ll learn the ropes and stop being theatrical and hysterical just because he’s not yet at the airport two hours before his flight. Happy that we saw him checking in, we hopped on a bus that took us to EDSA LRT station on Taft Avenue.

Earlier that day, we planned to joyride on an LRT to Monumento in Caloocan. We endured standing from EDSA to Monumento, passing 16 stations, in packed coaches with people who have variegated idea as to what smells good. When CK, cheap Bench colognes, Channel No. 5, smuggled imitation perfumes, natural pheromones, body odor, and sweat intermingle, one can only expect an explosive extravaganza of not very pleasant olfactory experience.

When we reached the final station, we went down the stairs, got caught in a line of people that resembled a line of those waiting to receive the holy communion, only that the line was more disorderly in a schizophrenic way. We crossed the street, found the nearest 7eleven store, and as if it was but natural, we bought a2-liter Coke and took turns in gulping its content. We cam all the way from the southernmost part of Manila to somewhere in its northernmost part, almost 40 minutes by train, only to drink Coke.

Too proud to go home with nothing to brag about but the Coke-drinking spree, we bought a ticket to Blumentritt to ride a Philippine National Railways (PNR) train to Buendia. This we already planned to undertake during my first week in Manila but has been postponed a lot of times.

Below are photos taken during the trip from Sampaloc, Manila to Pio del Pilar in Makati:

The system is archaic in a lot of sense. These two women were in-charge of the ticketing. The price depends on the destination; surprisingly the ticket price is so cheap, 10 pesos between 10 stations, which in regular public transport will easily cost one around 60 pesos, even higher if on a taxi.

There are some interesting scenes. Because the trains pass by residential areas for the poor, shanties, makeshift houses, kids playing oblivious of the dangers posed by the trains, people bathing, and yes, some people cooking right in the middle of the tracks, are normal fixtures seen in a hilarious way more than as social problematique.

Also, one very noticeable feature of these PNR trains is the predominance of the male riding population. Women are allotted one coach out of the six. And I saw no woman inside coaches general public . Furthermore, these men are not the young urban professional types like those seen in either of the LRTs or MRT. They all seemed tired from a day’s work doing manual labor.

This is the station in front the condominium of my friend where I stay in Buendia.

The math of waiting



Let’s say, for instance, that we’re all able to experience an entire day, barring all other elements of magical realism or supernatural interventions from the insecure god or deities of whatever religion we practice, granting that we have 24 hours a day, and forget for a while the 23 hours, 46 minutes, and 56.06 seconds for Earth to complete its axis which corresponds to an Earth day they used to teach us in our elementary Science classes, and from this let us do a daunting task, I know, most of us have never tried before – computing for the time we spend waiting.

By the time you wake up, you wait for your estranged spirit, after an entire night of Dionysian odyssey, to return to your physical being. It can be through a morning prayer, a quiet contemplation, or simply having a blank state of mind. If you do not do the first two, then the third one is considered waiting time, which I believe is what most all of us do. (15 minutes).

You take a bath, and let’s be conservative this time, you read yesterday’s paper while doing away with the shit you accumulated from the previous day, you wait for the heater to warm the water to your desired temperature, and you wait for your hair to dry. (15 minutes.)

You stand outside waiting for the elevator that takes forever to arrive (of course it’s not forever because if it is, this essay will be nothing but a waste of time). (10 minutes. By the way, on my way to the ground floor this afternoon, I had to wait for 20 minutes [!] because only one out of four Otis elevators was functioning in the building where I live.)

You walk to the nearest MRT station, wait in line for the ticket (10 minutes, if the station is in Santolan; 45 minutes if it’s Cubao or Taft Ave). You will have to wait for another 15 minutes for the train to arrive. By the time you reach the station, on your way to the actual workplace you will ordinarily have to wait again for another 15-20 minutes inside a jeepney that waits to fill in all available seating space with passengers.

In your workplace, you wait in line for the use of photocopier or printer (5 minutes), to fill in you mug with coffee from a dispenser (2 minutes), for lunch at the cafeteria (7 minutes), a call on hold (10 minutes), for your prima donna boss to arrive at a meeting (15 minutes).

Then you do another reverse computation on your way home. Total: 3 hours and 42 minutes – the time we spend waiting. And if you’re thinking that this is just too much. Think of the people who do nothing but wait for the second coming.



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.



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.