Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black Friday

BLACK Friday in the United States (US) is anything but dreary, an aunt told me as a prelude to her story about the single lens reflex professional camera she got for less than half the regular price.

In the US, the Friday after Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28 this year), is called “Black Friday”.

Ushering in the season for Christmas shopping, Black Friday is promoted through sales spectacles, which, according to Wikipedia, attract aggressive crowds, assaults, shootings and trampling of shoppers by throngs of people rushing to get the best deal before supplies run out.

I was agog over the aunt’s tale of how she camped on the sidewalk with a hundred other New Yorkers on Thanksgiving night so when the stores opened the day after, she got her hands on the toy of her dreams at a marked-down price any self-respecting Cebuano (read: “tihik” or thrifty/stingy) could brag about.

The aunt and I have the family posterior. Because I got carried away by her recounting of how she used her head, elbow and nails to move the crowds out of the way when the store opened, I forgot to ask her how useful (if ever) is our inherited prominence in clearing away opposition.

I might have used the tip in dealing with last Friday’s multiple obstacle course.

Nov. 29 required traveling to and fro Intramuros, the walled city, seat of power during the Spanish colonial times.

A day bookended by history is not just a diversion from academia but, as my teachers like to say, evidence that there is life after clearing away distractions.

I was aware that Nov. 29 is a Friday. A newsroom advice for public relations officers is to refrain from organizing an event on a Friday. The start of the weekend seems to be everyone’s favorite for scheduling events. Yet, it means one competes with more rivals to get the attention of editors, reporters and photographers, specially in the lifestyle beat.

To turn the screw a bit more, Nov. 29 is a Friday that’s a mere 26 days away from Christmas. Shopping is said to be the Filipino’s favorite preoccupation.

In Manila, shopping is serious, next only to breathing and commuting, in no particular order. By mid-November, when bonuses and yearend windfalls are released, if there is no sane reason to leave home, stay put in Manila. This is how to avoid the hordes or prevent yourself from turning into another barbarian.

Such aversion to shopping (“It’s more fun in the Philippines…”) is questionable in a Filipino. As a hypochondriac gains security from a self-mounted pharmacopoeia, we do our American colonial past justice by surrounding ourselves with malls and arcades.

But no mall—even with its obsessively self-flushing toilets (and eternally renewing toilet paper)— has the attractions of Divisoria. This is the grand dame that spawns her prodigious progeny: bazaars, street vendors, “biyaheras” (Filipinos who shop abroad and resell here), sellers (not to be confused with the international variety) and mall/bazaar crossbreeds (unlike regular mall locators, these mutants are found in areas with lighter traffic, lower rent and a liberal policy of encouraging haggling and wholesale discounts).

Months before Christmas, every commuter and motorist learns to respect the moods of Divisoria. When she yawns, she inhales the flow of traffic, even as far as provinces outside of Metro Manila. Only God can foretell what will happen if she coughs.

On hindsight, it was downright silly of me to expect I could slip out of Intramuros before Friday’s afternoon rush hour. At 3 p.m., my editor and I prowled for a taxi to take us back to Makati and the airport. Two hours later, we found a taxi whose driver was insane enough to take us. (Or perhaps he was sane, just terrorized by possibly two insane women who leaped into his taxi, stubbornly dropped their posteriors and locked the doors of his taxi, without giving him a chance to reject their destinations and drive away.)

Another two hours and we got out of the rational-defeating hysteria of downtown to the refined chaos of uptown. Is the season of Black Fridays due to the old historical snub that Divisoria suffered from Intramuros, where non-Christianized Chinese were forbidden to trade and live so they had to set up in Binondo, which includes present-day Divisoria?

Just before my tired old self hit the bed on Saturday dawn, I remembered the third curse haunting Nov. 29: payday. Never, as my teachers say, turn your back on history.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 1, 2013 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What I want for Christmas

TO go home.
To be home.
To find home wherever I will be.
To find everyone back home.
To still have a home.
To escape home.
To eat.
To eat without worrying when the next meal will be.
To drink.
To drink something clean.
To be clean.
To clean up.
To be dry.
To stay dry.
To comfort my children when it rains.
To look at the sea without fear.
To be scared and laugh afterwards for being scared.
To not be alone.
To be alone.
To tell someone.
To get away from the cameras and media surge.
To not see the dead.
To not smell the dead.
To find my dead.
To bury my dead.
To seek amends with the dead.
To get aid.
To not depend on relief.
To have a boat, tools, a means to face tomorrow.
To fish again.
To not always be in a line, waiting.
To start.
To return.

(This list was compiled after listening for 13 days to the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda interviewed by Filipino and foreign journalists, and 34 days before Christmas and the world’s longest yuletide celebration.)

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 24, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


DAY 5 after Typhoon Yolanda, the clotheslines were up.

As of this writing, a week after Yolanda’s storm surge left Leyte, Samar, the northern part of Cebu and other places in ruin, many problems continue to make the aftermath of the storm as challenging as the uprising of the sea.

We could dwell on these problems and lose sight of the most important: the survivors’ will to live.

I first heard a CNN reporter close his report that life in Tacloban was moving on, five days after Yolanda and with no sight yet of relief goods reaching survivors.

His narration was direct and matter-of-fact. There was no attempt to squeeze every ounce of emotion. He just said that after the rains fell on a city where few had shelter, he saw clothes being hung out to dry.

As the camera panned and caught in passing the few pieces of clothing hanging on a clothesline that tossed and swung above a sea of debris, I was filled with wonder.

Filipinos are meticulous about personal hygiene. In a disaster, where just finding water to drink is a challenge, the act of using a spot of rain to clean up is a shout to the rest of us: I am here and I am moving on.

Awash from Day Zero in horrific images—first destruction, then death and misery, begging, looting, the mass exodus to leave what the media now call ghost cities or towns—we view the residents left or fleeing Leyte and Samar with pity.

Yet pity is only an emotion reserved for those unable to help themselves.

As the residents of Bohol and Cebu picked up the pieces after the Oct. 15 earthquake, residents of Leyte and Samar have shown they are shaken but determined to keep their stake in the land of the living.

While considerable airtime has dwelled on the looting, there are reports of local businessmen giving away food stocks to their fellow residents. One entrepreneur said that he no longer had anything to feed his hogs.

Yet, he could very well have slaughtered his pigs and sold the pork at exorbitant prices. Or taken his cue from another entrepreneur who shot two men dead because he suspected them of wanting to steal from his auto warehouse.

Yet, of the choices open for profit or self-protection, these survivors, victims themselves of the calamity, chose to help neighbors.

In the place of calamity survivors, would I have done the same? If family members were struck down or unaccounted for, if I lost all I owned, if I had nothing to my name, if corpses surrounded me, if I did not know what to do first in the paucity of choices facing me, would I have the presence of mind to see a downpour as not another trial but an opportunity to clean up and face another day?

That is why I believe we should match the great dignity and strength of the stricken residents of Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Samar by doing all that we can.

There will be time enough for inquisitions and audits. It is important that the national and local governments listen to media criticism and continue their duties, intent on efficiency and accountability.

Long after the foreign media pack up to chase a bigger disaster in another part of the world, Filipino journalists will continue to show to us what still has to be done: reach communities that have yet to articulate their needs to media or government, protect children orphaned by the disaster from human traffickers and other exploiters, assist tent cities or settlements in Cebu and Manila set up for those who have left disaster zones, volunteer as wet nurses to breastfeed infants in evacuation centers to fight hunger, malnutrition and diarrhea, listen to those who have lost loved ones or, worse, do not yet know what has happened to them.

There’s enough work to keep us occupied even when the national and local media move on to other assignments. Every person keeping house knows this: there’s no end to laundry work.

Wash, dry, use, wash. For as long as the clothesline holds, “way problema”.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 17, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Disaster preparedness

THE RULE that it is easier to deal with a deprivation than a loss applied in our family when typhoon Yolanda hit the country.

On Friday morning, the older son called from Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu. He used the landline, which was miraculously working.

In Mactan, electricity was cut early in the morning. Power was later cut off in Cebu City after he made the call.

The loss of power was expected. However, the disconnection from the Internet, even if temporary, created anxiety in my sons, both of whom belong to the generation that regards their mobile phones and the wifi as their technological extensions for information and socialization.

Cebuanos benefited from the barrage of typhoon advisories disseminated by the government and media. Our household stocked on the necessities, like food and water. My yaya trimmed the plants and trees surrounding our house, and tied down those that might sway and snap off in the wind. Our roof was recently checked for holes and leaks.

Yet, another basic—information—was compromised when power was disconnected for the next two days, as it was first advised. There are three mobile phones in our household but no spare batteries. We have a radio that’s only used when I’m around. My teenagers probably do not know what AM stations are. Their world is in their mobile phones.

Deprived of the means to recharge, that world became rather precarious during the Friday blackout.

The older son called me in Manila to check the path of Yolanda in the country. He was irked when I fell asleep while praying the rosary and went online only two hours after he first made the request for information.

While my impulse was to check TV reports, my son directed me first to Twitter and then to Facebook, when I told him I forgot my username and password in Twitter as I have never Tweeted. His impatience was palpable across the rather erratic phone connection as he directed me to look for the DOST_pagasa page.

When I finally found the latest Severe Weather Bulletin, I found out to my dismay and my son’s consternation that I could barely read maps or scientific jargon.

Son: Do you know where Cebu is?
Me: This map has no labels.
Son (groans or perhaps wind howls): Did you even pass Geography?

When I was a child, storms were communions in mystery. We only used candlelight to eat and clean up after meals. I remember sitting or lying in the dark with my sister and father, listening to the wind and the rain and the night as if these were august personages deciding the fate of the world.

My father asked us to pray silently and solitarily, fingering the beads of our rosaries until the storm passed or we fell asleep. Once, when I won a silent but fierce toe-wrestling contest, my sister smiled or perhaps giggled. In the dark came my father’s reprimand. Perhaps my father could see like a cat. Or like a good parent, he didn’t require sight to sense that when my sister misbehaved, I instigated.

Storms seem different now. They are still mysteries but knowable. We can control our reactions to storms to save lives, harvest crops, secure property, rescue and direct assistance. For as long as we have information, we can take on the gods.

The deprivation of power that was a precautionary safeguard with Yolanda’s entry, and the later loss of power and communication as the typhoon exited reveal how we are made vulnerable.

As I write this, friends and strangers still have to hear word from loved ones cut off in Tacloban, Ormoc and other parts of Leyte. Listening to the emotional reports and testimonies of veteran journalists and news teams, who risked their life and lost their equipment while covering the areas suffering the worst of Yolanda, I remember my late father’s peculiarity.

He bought a newspaper daily and never switched off his radio. But during a storm, he chose the dark. Reading by candlelight was bad for the eyes. He also claimed that sitting in the dark made him realize that his favorite radio commentators were a bunch of deaf old men who couldn’t wait for the other person to finish speaking.

Only praying the rosary was worth doing on a stormy night, he said. Only God was about. Whether you prayed or fell asleep, He still heard you.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 10, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

House with personality

CAN a house be like a human body and be inhabited by a soul in much the same way an hermit crab moves ina discarded shell and in no time, turns the shell into not just its domain but an essential part of the whole, the hard shell acting as armor and camouflage for the hidden secret self?

Baguio got me into thinking about houses.

I’ve visited this city in the north of Luzon a few times. I haven’t explored it as a tourist. Either work or the weather kept me indoors. Although the city seems smaller and more cohesive than most, I have yet to walk around and get to know it beyond the jars of ube jam and strawberry preserves we go up Mines View for.

My inattentiveness was tested when the older son recently asked me to point out the “White House” in the settlements hugging a mountain slope, along with the city’s other famous residents: its pine trees.

Which one, I asked, peering at a distance not obscured by fog, for once.

The son repeated the gleanings he got from the Internet about Baguio ranking high as the world’s most haunted places. Among the sites where many met gruesome deaths during World War II, the “White House” stood out.

A check with the Internet yielded many articles and blogs about the residence formerly owned by the Laperal clan, whose members met mortal ends, adjective to be stressed, according to the Internet mash of local history and urban legend.

The accounts include a YouTube uploading of a TV network’s “investigation” of the paranormal occurrences in house no. 14 along Leonard Wood Road. The video clip’s climax—the audible whisper of a female voice declaring “we are here” in an empty bedroom where the close-circuit TV fell off several times and had to be adjusted by a crew member, made progressively hesitant to go back in the house during the evening stakeout–generates spirited online debate as to whether it was indeed a recording of paranormal forces or the voice-over of a famous broadcast veteran.

The White House stories are entertaining, the right stuff for Halloween storytelling.

Answering the older son’s question—which one is it?—was a different matter.

According to reports, the White House is open to the public. Artworks made of bamboo are exhibited in the former living room. The house and its interiors are well-preserved heritage, harking to not just the architecture popular during the 1930s but also to endurance that withstood the 1990 earthquake.

The mention of bamboo art instantly made me see a white-painted structure that stood by the road. On my first visit to Baguio, I spotted a few tourists entering this house. The advertised bamboo art exhibit seemed promising; however, we were on our way to an appointment and could not stop.

In consequent trips, we often drove past the bamboo art museum on our way to other places. Compared to other attractions along the winding drive up Baguio, sightseers seldom gathered here. No selfie-aficionado was ever spotted specially in the evenings, even though the bamboo art museum is a brisk walk away from an always crowded branch of Glen 50’s Diner.

Perhaps even for the Scooby-Doo crowd, burgers and milkshakes don’t go down well with this house, with its many windows and air of perpetual watching. Long before I read about its history/myths, I found the former Laperal House to be like one of those “tupig” roadside sellers who wave at motorists to stop and sample this Ilokano delicacy of sticky rice and coconut.

Seekers always find what they seek, whether it is wartime tragedy, evidence of the occult, or well-preserved architectural traditions. As a formerly disinterested visitor who has passed the White House of Baguio and heard its calling, I am certain of only one thing: what’s found in this dwelling is not as sweet as an Ilokano rice cake.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 3, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”