Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Remembering Joe Strummer On His 7th Death Anniversary

Seven years have passed and I personally still have not gotten over the fact that Joe Strummer, the highly politically-charged frontman of The Clash and later on of The Mescaleros, is no longer of this world.

And why is that? Roughly three decades down the line and Strummer continues to inspire and touch generations of musicians, as well as artists and thinkers. I was introduced to The Clash through the local radio show Capital Radio (which is, incidentally, a song by The Clash) aired over at the now-defunct XB 102. The legendary Jingle Chordbook magazine likewise exposed me to The Clash alongside the rudimentaries of punk both locally and internationally.

Joe Strummer died last December 22, 2002 secondary to a congenital heart condition, yet another issue that is close to my, well, heart. It is very unusual for me to be affected by the death of someone whom I have never been with nor met physically, but Strummer did have that effect on me. I grew up listening to his music and realizing how he broke barriers of musical definition, which for me is the best thing about him.

Paul Simonon may be the most goodlooking Clash for me, but it is Strummer whom I love more. Love indeed, that I even have to write about him here when I have already written another post at Trash Radio Manila.

Yes, the Trash Radio Manila playlist is also here. The tracklist is as follows:

1. Armagideon Time (The Clash)
2. Joe Strummer on the political nature of The Clash as lifted from Rockers Galore album
3. London's Burning (The Clash)
4. Safe European Home (The Clash)
5. Police On My Back (The Clash)
6. Capitol Radio Two (The Clash)
7. Bhindi Bhagee (Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros)
8. Joe Strummer ("Without people, we're nothing), lifted from The Future Is Unwritten
9. The Sound Of The Sinners (The Clash)
10. Train In Vain (The Clash)
11. The Road To Rock 'n' Roll (Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros)
12. Redemption Song (Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros)

That is it, my little post on the "other" man that I profoundly love. Merry Christmas to one and all. Be safe and happy.

[A related post also appears at Trash Radio Manila.]

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Last Song Syndrome 13: Train In Vain (The Clash), For A Man Who Sang While He Was Sleeping

"All the times
When we were close

I'll remember these things the most

I see all my dreams come tumbling down

I won't be happy without you around

So all alone I keep the wolves at bay

There is only one thing that I can say...

Did you stand by me?
No, not at all.

- The Clash, "Train In Vain"

(Like it has always been said, the truth is stranger than fiction...it is just a matter of deciding which is truth and which is fiction.)

Many years ago, I packed my things and went to live with The Man Who Sings In His Sleep. Why I did this, without telling my family and friends, without even that unflinching conviction that my decision will turn out well, I was not really sure. I just thought it was an impulsive, ergo, adventurous, ergo, fun thing to do.

And why This Man? I was not sure either. He was not handsome, but he was sweet. He was not muscular, but he was charming. All I knew was, he sang to me, lured me to his house, fed me the most amazing seafood stew I have ever had, and since then I was hooked.

We lived in a small but nice house situated near the railroad track. It is not as bad as it sounds. The railroad was about a kilometer away, such that every train that passed on the tracks sounded more like a musical drone in our house.

That drone would eventually serve as my alarm clock. Everyday, at six and a half in the morning, I would wait for the train to pass. That was the time for me to leave for work.

The Man Who Sings In His Sleep would still be dozing by then. He had curiously acquired this habit of singing along the sound of the passing train WHILE ASLEEP. So it was again quite bizarre that I would listen to both the train and the humming of The Man just before I leave.

This Man sang just about anything in his sleep. Maybe it depended on his mood just before he hit the sack. I noticed though that he was partial to the songs of these English bands. The Jam, The Who, Colourfield, Ocean Colour Scene. And yes, The Clash.

How he loved The Clash.

So it went on this way for months. By far I had not regretted my choice to live with him. It was not always rosy, but living with The Man gave me an indescribable sense of comfort, that nothing could go wrong. Until one morning.

As I was wearing my shoes, I heard the train pass. Soon enough, I heard him sing. The Clash. Again.

"Did you stand by me? No, not at all. Did you stand by me? No way!"

I gasped as I sat by his side. Was he trying to read my heart and mind in his sleep? Right that moment, I was about to say: Please do not sing that song to me. I made a choice and lived with you. I may not have been sure then, but things are different now. I am here. I will always be here.

But before I could open my mouth, he stopped singing. His eyes still closed, The Man gave the funniest smirk that I have ever seen on his face. I was taken aback, then found myself laughing and kissing his face.

You silly silly one, I whispered over and over. I love you. I am now late for work, but what do I care now? He opened his eyes, saw me laughing, and gave me a puzzled look. What is going on?

I continued to laugh, and soon enough he was laughing with me, and we were laughing and hugging one another, long after the train had sounded off its passing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why Manny Pacquiao Does Not Impress Me Much (Revisiting The Blog Rounds 16th Edition: In The Company Of Unsung Heroes)

Now all you Pacman lovers, before you hit me with your best punch, let me just clarify a few things.

I did not say I hate Manny. He is a sportsman of the highest order, and an inspiration for every Filipino to make the most of their abilities, regardless of social status. A Pacquiao fight can practically put traffic to a grinding halt.

Pacquiao represents the average Pinoy with almost supernatural skills. Unlike the mestizo celebrities, Manny is physically Filipino: brown skin, brawny, rough at the edges, raw. The appeal is very much like Nora Aunor's at her prime. It is but logical for the everyday Pinoy to look up at someone whom he can actually identify with. I definitely recognise and respect this fact.

However, Pacquiao seems to have become too larger-than-life, and it seems he has already fallen into the excesses brought about by the fruits of his success. While it is rather unfair to look at the person with extreme scrutiny that comes with being a celebrity, it is also but rightful that we do not regard these people as infallible which they are definitely not.

There are many other people just as worthy of accolades, like Efren G. Peñaflorida, Jr., a young man who offered pushcart classes as an alternative form of education who is presently getting his fair share of attention when he was recently declared the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year. Efren's achievement can be best viewed as a wake-up call to the Philippine government: the man's effort is so laudable that it makes one think about why one has to resort to pushcarts to reach the underprivileged.

Very sad. Something is definitely wrong. Certainly, we need heroes whose deeds make us think critically, and not just heroes whom we can put on billboards.

For this reason, I am re-publishing the round-up of The Blog Rounds 16th Edition which I hosted last year. This first appeared on my Multiply account last July 23, 2008. I love the subject of heroes, especially so when the heroes are "unsung", so to speak. And for me, as long as we strive to be better persons, the subject of heroes will never ever die.

As for Pacman, I rest my case. For now.

July 23, 2008

"Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they'll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer. I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams."
- May Parker to Peter, talking about young Henry's dream to be like Spider-Man, in Spider-Man 2 (Photo from this site.)

One thing I particularly like about the Spider-Man character is that he has always been depicted as being flawed, and yet capable of extraordinary deeds. This is something that I admitted rather unabashedly in Dr. Em Dy's little contest on superheroes. The protagonist, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, is far from being an unsung hero among people familiar with the comic subculture, but imagine if someon
e like Peter Parker does exist among us ... would anyone be able to recognize him?

For all we know, our world's Peter Parker may be walking among the unnamed, unrecognized, and often unappreciated lot in the sea of humanity. They are collectively called The Unsung Heroes. And some of them are just right beside us.

Parents: Shoo-in

"My mother is unsung in so many ways. But not to my brother, my sister, and not to me," Dr. Brian announces with pride as he takes a break from his board exam review. Find out here why, she is, to him, both "unsung" and not at the same time.

Dr. Remo speaks of his mother with similar fondness in his post where he makes an interesting analogy of his mother's
foray into politics with "cooking tinola".

Dr. Gaya pays homage to fathers as well.

Dr. Che salutes the parents who dream of better lives for their children.

Heroes In And Out Of The Classroom

What would each and everyone of us be without teachers? (Photo of classroom from this site.)

Dr. Martin feels that teachers, particularly those who teach grade school and high school, have yet to be truly recognized for perform
ing their duties and at the same time putting up with the numerous ills of Philippine education.

On the other hand, Dr. Clairebear speaks of our teachers in medical school who, in spite of the status that they enjoy in their respective fields, continue to unselfishly impart knowledge, even without compensation.

Some of us remember those teachers who made a difference in our lives.

In his post entitled "Of Physicians and Physicists", Dr. Ian thanks his erstwhile college physics teacher for helping him in becoming "... not just a good physician but a better Filipino as well" via an open lette

Dr. J.A. recalls in her post how a homeroom adviser has given a person she termed as a "short-tempered teenager" a second chance.

I am personally amazed that even after many years, my high school math teacher
would still be teaching me life's profound lessons, far more relevant than sines, cosines, and tangents.

Heroes In The Hospital

The hospital is never short of opportunities for people to prove their capacity to be heroes.

Dr. Gaya identifies, through her first submission to The Blog Rounds, their batch's answer to the Iron Lady of Israel
, her then co-intern Twinkle as her unsung hero "... for her quiet strength in facing failures, and courage in rising despite of and above them."

We all know what Dr. Ness exactly means when she calls Manong Cardo her hero. The way she speaks of his consistency and steadiness with holding patients for anesthesia in perfect alignment makes me wish we have more efficient people like him inside the OR.

Dr. Manggy, on the other hand, talks about dedicated nurses whom he had the pleasure of working with; too bad that somehow, he did not get their names. This is definitely one familiar situation for me as well.

And there are the "bantays", people who give up a great deal of time and money to watch over their loved ones in the ho
spital. Dr. Joey recognizes the invaluable role that the "bantays" play in patient care and treatment.

Finally, Megamom reminds us to treat our obvious heroes with compassion.

Common People

r. Che mentions more people who are heroes in their own humble yet invaluable ways: farmers, barangay health workers, the youth, the OFW. (Photo of farmer from this site.)

Dr. Meloinks specifically identifies Mang Roberto, the taxi cab driver who returned his documents, as one deserving of Class I hero classification.

Dr. Emer names Mr. Sencio, his favorite newspaper vendor afflicted with hypertension and diabetes, his unsung hero. It may actually seem that Dr. Emer sees Mr. Sencio as a representative of a multitude of Filipinos who would rather give up basic healthcare just so to be able to provide financial help to immediate family members.


This round-up concludes with the following questions:

1. Are we actually short of heroes?

Dr. Meloinks writes an extensive discourse, classifying the heroes that we know into groups. Yes, he says, we are in search of heroes who are more "real-time, realistic, relatable, and bite-sized". Read about it here.

2. What of "fallen heroes"?

And what sort of help can we give our personal unsung heroes who fall way below our expectations? Our heroes are, after all, human.

3. When does the job end and heroism begin?

Dr. Em Dy provokes every one of us into thinking what exactly does heroism
constitute, specifically so in the medical profession.

With this I end this rather kilometric-long round-up. Thank you everyone for your contributions. And yes, as far as I know, at various times and circumstances, we are all capable of being heroes, unsung or not.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Day Ben Kingsley Made Me Cry

[I have always liked and respected Ben Kingsley, and I will always remember him for his phenomenal performance in "Gandhi". I suppose almost everyone else who has heard of Kingsley thinks like I do. It's been more than 25 years since "Gandhi" came out in the moviehouse; yes, it's been a long time. I wrote this when I was in Hong Kong, in August of 2007, while I was sitting by the sidewalk and watching people go by. I am not too sure what circumstances made me suddenly write about Ben Kingsley. More often than not, the truth is a lot lot stranger than fiction ... even stranger than this story....]

Moviehouse somewhere in Manila, 1983. My eyes transfixed on the big screen, marveling at the man playing a revered historical character. To my right, my mother, equally awed. To my left ... was it my sister? Or was it just my mother and I watching? At any rate, the person seated to my left seemed hardly interested.

Then came the scene that etched a lasting impression in my pre-pubescent mind. A frail, bespectacled, shaven man in loin clothes, fronting a large congregation of Indians, confronted by soldiers. His voice rang like a decisive bell in the theatre hall.

"My name is Gandhi. Mohandas K. Gandhi."

Mohandas Gandhi. The great Mahatma Gandhi. Of course, I had heard about this man and his incredible deeds, for I had read his biography long before I saw Richard Attenborough's masterpiece. In my mind, Gandhi's greatness was a given.

What intrigued me more, however, was the competent actor who gave life to Gandhi's character onscreen. I did not mind that the film lasted forever: the actor captivated me the whole time. By the time the credits started rolling, I eagerly waited. The name then appeared in the cast list.

Ben Kingsley.

Ben Kingsley! I have never heard of this actor before, I said to myself. What would he be like in his other films...but wait, he is supposed to be new to the movies. Oh, then maybe he is a theatre actor. I resolved to find out who Kingsley is ...

... but to no avail. Back in those days, it was hard to do research. There was no such thing as the World Wide Web. The school library subscribed only to local periodicals, and no foreign magazines, much more foreign celebrity magazines, were on the shelves. It was a frustrating game of hide and seek, with me playing "It" to minuscule (if at all existent) articles on Ben Kingsley in the showbusiness section of the newspapers.

That is, until the list of nominees for the American Academy Awards came out on a teaser for the awards night on television. Kingsley was a strong contender for the best actor award.

How my young heart lept! I will finally see how Kingsley looks like off-screen. Taking note of the date and time of the awards ceremony, I started to rush to my mother who was preparing dinner at that time.

Halfway down the stairways, I stopped, apprehensive.

I know my mother quite well....


Ever since I started figuring in the honors list in my second year of primary school, my mother slowly but surely imposed a great deal on my study habits.It started with long examinations, then progressed to include even those short subject quizzes. She pored onto my written examinations, and if I did not get a perfect score, I would be lucky if I get just a harsh scolding. Obtaining the results that she wanted, my mother imposed more. Television time was reduced, and admonitions became more and more severe. If I wanted to watch television badly, I had to ask permission from my mother, and be ready for corresponding justifications.


What the heck, I though to myself. Just how often did I ask her permission to see some fancy show show on television? Five? Six? As seldom as thunderstorm on a Good Friday?


"O?" came the response. She was still busy in the kitchen.

"Ma, puwede ba ako manood ng TV sa Linggo? (Ma, can I watch TV this coming Sunday?)" As I was saying this, I walked towards my mother until she was in full view.

My mother was only in her mid-thirties, but already her beautiful face was scarred by years of hard work, bitterness, and an aggressive aspiration to rise above the humdrum middle class lifestyle our family was trapped in.

Without looking at me, my mother asked. "Ano'ng panonoorin mo? (What are you going to watch?)"

I sat by the dinner table. "Ma, naaalala mo yung Gandhi, yung pinanood natin dati? (Ma, do you remember Gandhi, the film we saw recently?)"


"Na-nominate yung actor na Gandhi, si Ben Kingsley. Gusto ko sana siyang mapanood sa Oscars. (Ben Kingsley, the actor who played Gandhi, was nominated. I wish to see him in the Oscars.)"

My mother raised her head and looked at me. "Ows? (Really?)" To which I nodded.

"Sige (Alright)", she said. "Panoorin natin. (Let's watch the program together.)" It seems that my mother was interested in watching Kingsley, too.

And this made me happy. Very happy.


It was Sunday afternoon, at least that is what I remember. I could hardly contain my excitement. This is a delayed telecast of the awards night, and I did know that Kingsley bagged the Best Actor award, but I just had to see him on television. I thought, I will finally get to watch Ben Kingsley who was said to have shaved his head and shed substantial weight to fit in the role of Gandhi. Admirable, my young impressionable self gasped, at the same time frowning on matinee idols who play too safe with their choice of roles.

All these concerns had suddenly turned me into some star-struck fan, and I was half-amused at the thought.

Suddenly, a loud angry voice ripped my reveries apart.

"Halika nga rito! (Will you come here!)"

It was my mother. Oh God. I went to her room extremely worried.

There she was, squatting in front of my schoolbag which she sneaked out of my room, all of my text books and notebooks lying open on the floor. My heart pounded hard.

"Ma?" My voice quivered.

"Ano ito? (What is this?)" Her eyes were ablaze. She was holding a piece of paper right in front of my nose, waving it frantically. I peered tentatively.

My quiz.

My quiz! Was it in Current Events or in Science? My imperfect quiz. My cursed imperfect score written on the right-hand corner of the paper in decisive red ink. I choked.

"Bakit hindi mo ipinapakita ito? (Why aren't you showing this to me?)", my mother demanded.

At that moment, all facilities for verbal self-defense escaped me. For all I knew, I might have actually kept the quiz from her on purpose. A stupid quiz should not come in the way of watching Ben Kingsley. I tried to speak but not even a whimper came out of my throat.

A barrage of words came flying like angry daggers. Accusing, demeaning words stung my ears and eyes. Then came everything else. Books, clotheshangers, paperweights, footwear all hurtled at my direction.

Helplessly I shielded myself from my mother's wrath, tears falling profusely from my eyes. I dashed for the door as my mother was shouting "Lumayas ka! Lumayas ka! (Get out! Get out!)" She ran after me but I had already gotten out of her room. I was too horrified to even think about television at that point.

As my mother was about to slam the door, she bellowed, all of her life's hurt and disappointment lacing every word she uttered.

"Hindi ka manonood ng TV ngayong gabi! (You are not going to watch TV tonight!)"

I sat in the corner of my room, sobbing my heart out.


Many years have passed.

Steven Spielberg shot an ambitious project in black and white. The movie: Schindler's List. The actors: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley.

I went to the moviehouse, wanting to know what made this film controversial, and if it was worth all the hype that was built around it.

Ben Kingsley's role demanded little, but there he was, his performance muted yet effective still. My mind moved back and forth in time. My chest hurt in the process.

No tears were shed this time. Just an indescribable, hollow feeling that will hound me for as long as Kingsley continues to perform onscreen.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Small Video Footage, For A Change

A friend directed me to a page that contains this very quaint video.

The title: La poésie comme l'amour n'est que foi

La poésie comme l'amour n'est que foi
[Merci beaucoup, mon ami. Très intéressant. ]

Read more here. The person in question is Silence Sonore.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Post-Mortem Lesson 7: Joy and Sorrow

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

- Kahlil Gibran, "The Prophet"

Before I used to ask why something that gives you joy can give you sorrow in one unfortunate instance.

I once even arrived at a rather unjust conclusion that attachment to earthly things has a lot to do with this. That it is all organic, a man's tendency to hold on to his physical possessions and attributes.

I have been wrong, of course....there are things beyond the physical realm that I failed to factor in.

I fully understand now.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Last Song Syndrome 12: C.R.E.E.P. (The Fall), Clever and Witty, Never Mind That It Is As Old As Mark E. Smith

"He reads books of the list book club,
And after two months, his stance a familiar hunch
It's that same slouch you had the last time he came around."
- The Fall, "C.R.E.E.P."

When I was still attending the university, "chong" music lorded it over the airwaves, thanks to the likes of XB102, 105.1FM, and later on, NU107. Chong is better known as New Wave, the former being a local variation. While I was wary of this label, I do admit that I like a good deal of chong music and, well, chong artists. I'm pretty sure that did not make me a "chong", in the same manner that listening to punk and hardcore did not make me a punk either.

C.R.E.E.P. is one of those supposedly chong songs that I really like. The Fall is essentially, from its inception in 1977 up to the present, Mark E. Smith, lyricist, frontman, and a known book lover. I have to emphasize the latter; it seems that C.R.E.E.P. is in itself a criticism aimed at so-called book lovers. Of course I did not really care then. The song had been my constant companion: it played while I was dissecting my frogs, cats, and sharks in my Zoology classes, it was blasting off the speakers when I was having a good time with friends, it was consoling me when things went wrong, it was appealing to my failing memory whenever I crammed for my examinations.

Lately I have been organising my messy digital files and I came across this collection of John Peel sessions of The Fall. I know it was Je who got hold of them years ago, himself being a fan of cleverly written songs and edgy artists. The song never fails to delight, even after all these years, but I now understand what Mark E. Smith was saying all along. Great to have C.R.E.E.P. on my player once again: it is one clever and witty song...

...which is exactly what I have always wanted my companion to be.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Public Service: A Typhoon Named Ketsana/Ondoy (and more typhoons to come?!)

Ketsana (PAGASA name: Ondoy) : the proper name for the typhoon that left Metro Manila (National Capital region, Republic of the Philippines) and its surrounding areas practically underwater, creating what is now said to be the worst flood to have hit Manila in 50 years.

The winds started rushing in late in the morning of Saturday, September 26, and soon after the rains were pouring in. Perhaps I underestimated this outburst of Mother Nature, because I was still bent on walking from my house to Powerplant Mall to get some groceries.

Many hours later, I found out that I was one lucky lucky bastard.

Lucky because, I live in a high place and my area was one of the very few parts of the metro which was not hit by floods: all I had to deal with along the way that fateful Saturday was numerous puddles and temporarily lost cable and connection services. SMS were coming in from friends, mainly checking on one another's safety, and then reality gripped me. More than 80% of Metro Manila was flooded, leaving 246 people dead (as of the latest count) and many more homeless, without electricity, food, and water,

This is just an example of how the typhoon has affected the lives of even the people I know. Fortunately for my friend Jan, the floods receded and her family was alright. (You can read about her own account here and see some other photos courtesy of Maren Mae here.) As of this time, there are still people left stranded on the rooftops and in buildings, and as such boats and divers' services were being solicited. Many homeless families in Marikina, one of the places hardest hit by the storm, are cramped in classrooms, babies still covered with mud, and many with wounds. There is no electricity nor water for the most part of the area. It is likely indeed that an epidemic will break soon.

It also does not help to know that another typhoon is about to come in on Thursday, tomorrow .... (yep, Parma is not just another name for ham nor the Italian city anymore :( )

It is disheartening, to say to the least. TIME asks succinctly, why wasn't Manila prepared? Indeed, when disasters like this hit our city, we often find ourselves huddled, fending for ourselves, helping one another, cursing tragedy and thanking the heavens at the same time ... and the government, until 3 to 4 days later, was hardly in sight...and that's another (bad) story.

Eventually it is just about us, and the people who care, the people we care for, and the people who need our care.

There are many ways to help, and a list can be found here. A good friend forwarded me this link which will take you to a spreadsheet containing a good number of places where goods and monetary help can be donated. This is sufficient information for the moment. Do take time in going over the list, that alone can give you many ideas on how to help out. No one should pressure you to give beyond your means, for no effort is too small nor insignificant, as long as it comes from the heart. Another very useful link here on ML Quezon III's blogsite. Check it out.

[I will be going back to my usual self-indulgent posts next time when it is more appropriate. *grins* See you later, friends.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Human Soul In My Hands

*****[Disclaimer: This story appeared for the first time in Trash Radio Manila. I was creating a mood for a playlist and thought of putting this up. Wrong venue, I figured out later on. *shrugs*
So I thought of reprinting my crude attempt at story-writing here. Je, bless his soul, the very talented writer that he was, had told me that my writing style is too "clinical" (I do not know what he meant, and I think I mentioned this in my past post), but he admitted to having enjoyed reading this story. To my classmates in primary school who may come across this piece, I changed some details just a wee bit, but this actually happened...go do the guessing now.]*****

At six years of age, I, semi-autistic cartoon-preoccupied Catholic school girl in my first year in primary school, had a very little inkling of what a human soul is like. I only knew that a soul is what comes out of the human body at death, yet another concept that was alien to me. And that I could not, pity my feeble brain, theoretically distinguish a soul from a spirit, or a ghost perhaps.

But what did I care then? I was living in comfort world, studying in a school just adjacent to a church, the school canteen annexed strategically to a funeral parlour. At recess time we just had to look at the windows to know if there was an ongoing wake; the reflection of the candles and incandescent bulbs on the window glass said it all. We would get our lunchboxes and eat and gleefully exchange stories, unmindful of what was at the other side of the wall.

Now we had a classmate named Rachel (not her real name) who was new to our school. We found Rachel to be rather unusual. For one, she hardly talked: the infrequent questions that went her way, most probably by accident, were returned with a sly smile and nothing more. She was never seen to use a handkerchief, so oftentimes she went around with snot dried up over her lips, which did not help to flatter her white face. Her school uniform always bore creases in all places, and if one was lucky he may be able to identify a number of areas that required reinforcement with numerous stitches. Her straight brown hair was unkempt at all times and needed de-lousing.

But most of all, we never saw her bring food, or buy snacks at the canteen for that matter. During recess time, Rachel would approach the richer kids, palm up, and hiss, her voice coming off a mouth most likely filled with saliva: Pahingi.

[Pahingi, this wretched Tagalog word which can mean a lot depending on the person saying it or the circumstance during which this is uttered, translates to "Can I have...". In this case, Rachel was always seen to ask for food.]

So it was no surprise that Rachel never joined one group, nor was welcomed by any. She would just mosey along, or stay near the sink for the most part of snack time, fidgeting with the contents of her pockets.

One day, the class was having an art activity. I asked permission to go to the canteen to drink from the tap faucet. My teacher agreed.

I descended onto the few steps of stairs that led to the canteen. The windows of the funeral parlour shone brightly as I walked.

Rachel was standing by the sink when I got there. Her hands were wet, the left holding a few one peso coins. She gave me a crooked smile. I whispered a tentative “hello” then leaned onto the faucet.

Rachel bent towards me and hissed.

Gusto mo makakita ng kaluluwa? (Would you like to see a soul?)”

I straightened my back and wondered what she meant.

Ano yun? (What did you say?),” I asked. Maybe I heard her wrong.

Rachel’s almond brown eyes gleamed. “Eto o. Hawak ko ang kaluluwa ng lola ko (Here, I am holding my grandmother’s soul),” and she opened her right hand. I looked at her palm and squinted my eyes.

I saw a few pieces of smooth white wafer-like material, like scraps of cement. Except that Rachel’s had a matte, powdery appearance to it. There were no traces of white residue or soap suds on her palm. Rachel was then grinning, her mouth revealing dirty, uneven set of teeth. The yellow light from the window was shining on her right cheek, rendering a rather grotesque appearance to her face. I got a bit scared, but my sense of curiosity prevailed.

Nahahawakan mo kaluluwa ng lola mo? Paano? (You are actually able to hold your grandmother’s soul? How is that possible?)’ Then pointing at Rachel’s right palm, I asked. “Paano mo nakuha ito? (How did you get this?)”

Rachel beamed.

Nang namatay ang lola ko, nilibing siya. Noong hinukay siya, nakita namin ito.” (When my grandmother died, she was buried. When her body was exhumed, we found this.) Rachel then went towards the faucet, and as water dripped from the tap, so did questions flow in my head. I found her tale to be too incredible.

She then continued.

Tapos kinuha ko to. Binasa ko siya kasama ang mga piso. Naging makikintab sila. Tingnan mo! (Then I got this and washed my peso coins with it. Look how shiny they’ve become!)” Rachel shook the shiny coins on her left hands. “Gusto mo subukan natin sa piso mo? (Would you like to try to do the same thing on your peso coin?)” she excitedly offered.

I touched the glistening coins on her palm, running my fingers on the embossed figures. I frowned.

Sabon naman yan eh! (That must be soap!)” I snorted, as I thought to myself how stupid I was to even start to think about believing her tall tale.

Hindi ito sabon! (This is not soap!)” Rachel insisted, drool threatening to escape from the corners of her mouth. “Kaya nga pahiram ng piso mo, ipapakita ko sa iyo na kikintab yun ng walang bula (That is why I’m borrowing your peso coin, I will show you that it is going to be shiny without creating any soapsuds.)” The shadows on her pale face were getting more and more grotesque. I would rather not wrong this girl since she was becoming creepier by the minute.

Hesitantly, I dug into my pocket. Taking out my dainty wallet, I clicked it open and picked out some dirty coins. Rachel, having kept her own set of shiny coins in her pocket, was nearly breathless, posed in her favorite gesture of supplication, as I was giving her my coins.

She tossed the coins and the “soul” and shook them together in her palms cupped upon another. Rachel then brought her hands to her mouth and muttered what seemed to be a spell. She placed her hands directly beneath the faucet, which continued to spew water.

I watched intently as Rachel mumbled more unintelligible words while gently wiping the coins and the “soul” alternately. My coins, and the soul of Rachel’s grandmother, in the hands of one girl so earnest to prove that she was not pulling my leg. The coins started to catch the reflection of candles and light bulbs from the window. No bubbles to diffuse the eerie glint of the coins, no words to break the morbid silence enveloping this irreverent ritual.

Finally, Rachel spoke.

Ayan, makintab na. (Here, they’re already shiny.)”

She brought the coins up close to my eyes.

Ang kintab nga! (Shiny indeed!)” I conceded as I started to pick up my coins from her palm, trying to avoid touching the white matter beneath.

Rachel, her face glittering with her little victory, inched nearer. Her white forehead, her glistening nose, the top of her upper lip smeared with sweat and snot, her crooked smile, her dirty, uneven teeth – for the first time, I had seen her countenance in full detail. I felt an unexplainable sense of fear.

Sige (Go ahead),” she urged, “Hawakan mo ang kaluluwa ng lola ko. (Touch my grandmother’s soul.)”

As if by trance, I lifted my right hand. I shivered as I tried to feel the “soul” that Rachel was alluding to. The white wafer remained matte, not at all slippery. The whole experience was making me sick on the spot.

With the little courage left in me, I spoke.

Rachel, baka hinihintay na ako ni Miss Aldaba. Baka magalit siya. (Rachel, Miss Aldaba, might be waiting for me. She might get mad at me.)”

Having said this, I quickly left, scurrying past the sink, past the sickening reflection off the window, past the short flight of stairs. I could no longer bear the sight of Rachel, palms up, holding her grandmother’s soul, anymore.

Reaching the classroom, I nodded to my teacher who then gestured me to my desk. I picked up my artwork with trembling hands, my heart throbbing hard and fast, my thoughts running crazily in my mind.

No. I had not seen a human soul before, but I had just touched one.

I shut my eyes tight.* * * * *

Rachel stayed in school for only a few months. We would still see her during snack time, fidgeting by the sink and talking to herself. I never got to talk to her again, nor did I tell my groupmates about my fateful encounter with her.

Sometimes, while I eat lunch with the group, I would catch Rachel looking at me, her little form illuminated by yellow light coming off the window of the funeral parlour….

Then she was gone, and no one has ever gotten to know where she went.

Human Soul In My Hands
16 August 2007

Photo credit: Grad pic courtesy of my good friend AL Bjornstad.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How To Have Mindless Fun On A Very Rainy Wednesday Morning (not that I mind...)

***Sometimes I get questions like, how do you derive fun from being alone? Or, how could you still afford to smile about in spite of?

Other times, questions shift to the opposite side of the spectrum: How could you remain glum when you have many friends to talk to? Why could you not just (
and I am really beginning to friggin' hate this thoughtless phrase) move on?

Bottomline is, I suppose I am in a not-so-usual situation and as such I make a pretty good case in progress for life situation studies. [
Holmes and Rahe collated 43 life events/stressors and ranked death of a spouse as the top stressor. This list appears in Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry. ] Thus I get a good number of questions mainly about how I cope with my loss.

I will not even think about giving any "inspirational" tips - I am far from being inspired anyway - but I do think it is all about will, about wanting to rise above the situation. And even if this is true, I do forget about it at times. These are the times when spontaneity takes over.

It was a very very rainy Wednesday morning and I was in my clinic, watching the flood rise gradually, approaching the sidewalk that fronts the building. There were very few patients owing to the horrible weather. A nurse turned on the radio, and I went to a small room (where the radio was), which is annexed to the lab. I locked the door and thought about staying there for just a few minutes, alone.

Suddenly, this song played. I remember this tune really really well, for I was a fan of The Boy once in my young and nubile life, and I am not ashamed to admit it.

This video did play in my mind and pretty soon I was having fun dancing a la George O'Dowd, complete with gyrations and footwork. I swear I had fun dancing by myself in that room. By the time I went out, I was grinning, and the nurses were trying to figure out why....

Culture Club, of all things, made my rainy floody Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I once called you a bubble. You still are. I will not write your name, but I pretty much doubt if you go over my profile, or my blog (you only do so to look at the photos) or even if you do, I seriously doubt if you understood what I say. But let me tell you a story I never told you before.

There is a friend of mine, a son of a poetess, who writes stories and songs. One day, he asked for a message from God. The message went:

"God wants you to know that happiness has nothing to do with pleasure."

I learned about this soon enough and asked my friend, my heart brimming with care, and doubt, and joy, and sadness.

"If wanting to share your life with one you really care for is happiness, is it really worth the wait and the tears to share it with someone who is not sure of himself?"

And he said, with the wisdom of a man who spent a lot more years on earth than I did.

"Sometimes it is worth the wait, sometimes it is worth the tears. Although we can never really be sure until the waiting is over and the tears are shed."

Then I walked away with resolve in my being: I will break the bubble of doubt and challenge fate to a duel.

[Yes. A duel. Because whether you take this or not, I believe in my heart that you are worth the fight, waiting and tears and scars healed and unhealed be damned.]

Don't stray too far, Bubble. Don't ever burst on me.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Post-Mortem Lesson 6: Recluse

It is certainly true that we who have lost our loved ones strive to make our lives as near normal (as we knew it) as possible even though we know at the bottom of our hearts that it will never ever be the same again. It is even harder to establish some sense of normalcy in our daily routine when the person who died has lived with us, or spent time with us under a single roof.

I do not mean to underestimate the sense of loss of friends but it cannot be denied that the impact of loss on the person who has lived with the departed, as far as re-establishing the daily routine is concerned (and I am very careful that I make this disclaimer), is more pronounced and more profound.

Various coping mechanisms are adopted by this particular subset of the bereaved. Some resort to shoving bitter memories at the deepest recesses of their brains by drowning themselves in work. Others, like a friend of mine who was coping with the death of his mother, stayed in bed for many days half-hoping they die in their sleep and join their beloved in the other world. A few sell their homes or leave them to either start anew or avoid being reminded by memories of the deceased and hurt themselves in the process.

None of these are options for me, though I do admit to pushing myself to work many times. However, probably the most pronounced change on me of late, aside from rapid weight loss (30lbs in 4 months!) is my preference to stay home.

I was never a homebody. I would rather stay out of the house and roam around the bars or go for an out-of-towner. It is a different story now. Unless it is absolutely necessary for me to go out, I would rather be at home. Lounging around within the corners of my abode. Nestled among my litter comprised of books, records, CDs. Surfing the net or communicating with friends online. Watching travel shows. Attempting to cook....

A friend wondered if I am trying to draw some sense of comfort from my home, which I shared with Je for 6 years. I never really thought of it that way, but since she pointed it out, then maybe I am actually doing so. It is my way of keeping myself safe, perhaps; only I can protect myself from life's further insult, and I could use a lot of help from places where I can have a sense of security and normalcy.

If this makes me a recluse then yes I think I am for now. And the from the looks of it, most of my friends understand, and they let me be, but at the same time, they check on me. (Thank you God for giving me some really understanding, not so insensitive friends....)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ang Naaalala Ko Tuwing Buwan Ng Wika

Ang buwan ng Agosto ang siyang itinalagang Buwan Ng Wika. Alam nating lahat ito, at malamang ay may kanya-kanya tayong mga alaala kung paano natin ipinagdiriwang ito noong tayo ay pumapasok pa sa elementarya at mataas na paaralan.

Malamang ay minsan na kayong sumayaw ng Itik-Itik (katulad ko, hahaha!), o ng Tinikling, o gumanap bilang isang marangal na binata o mayuming binibini sa isa sa mga dulang Pilipino sa inyong paaralan. Huwag na rin kayong mahiyang aminin na minsan sa buhay niyo ay humarap kayo sa maraming tao upang tumula, katulad ng mga kaklase ko noon na nakasuot ng camisa de chino at baro't saya habang tumutula ng "Ang Gabi Ni Armando Castro". (Tagapangasiwa ako noon kaya ligtas ako sa pagtula).

Subalit hindi ako nakaligtas sa mga kantahan. Taun-taon na lang ay kinakanta ng bawat antas ng aming paaralan ang awit na "Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika". Minsan, nilalapatan siya ng mga titik na likha ng mga kaklase kong marunong magsulat ng Tagalog, pero pareho pa rin ang himig. At aaminin ko, minsan na rin akong nagsawa.

Pero ngayong nagbabaliktanaw ako, natatawa na lang ako. Kasi naman, tuwang buwan ng Agosto, ang mga sumasagi sa isipan ko ay sina Manuel L. Quezon, Jose P. Rizal, mga manunula katulad ni Huseng Batute, Francisco Balagtas at Manuel Principe Bautista, mga manunulat katulad nina Liwayway Arceo, Rogelio Sikat, at Lope K. Santos...at si HAJJI ALEJANDRO! Para sa di nakakikilala sa kanya, siya ang umawit ng "Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika".

Sa kasawiang-palad ay wala akong mahanap na kuha ni Hajji Alejandro habang inaawit ang "Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika" sa Folk Arts Theatre o kung saan pa man. Eto na lamang ang video/minus one. Salamat kay Delfindakila.)

Lulubusin ko na rin ang pagpapakilala sa awit na ito. Ang lumikha ng awit ay si Ryan Cayabyab. Inawit ito ni Hajji sa Metro Manila Popular Music Festival noong 1978 at ang awit na ito, sa aking pagkakatanda, ang nagkamit ng Unang Gantimpala. Hindi ako magugulat kung hanggang ngayon ay inaawit pa rin ito sa mga paaralan.

Kayo? Ano ang naaalala niyo tuwing buwan ng Agosto?

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Last Song Syndrome 11: Next To You (The Police), When Physical Presence Is Near Impossible

"You took me over baby, let me find a way." - The Police, "Next To You"

If only I can stretch myself so thin, I would like to be everywhere, be with all the people I want to be with, be in all places where I want to be, all at the same time. But I can't. This song is perfect, just perfect, for me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Post-Mortem Lesson 5: What Is It Like?

This is one question I am quite fond of asking. What is it like to be in a particular situation? To be in a less fortunate state? To be confronted with your greatest fear? A good number of times I have been taken as a pessimist, one who looks at the worst possibilities, but for me it is one of my rather perverted means of being able to understand people and situations.

A week ago, I had an in-depth chat with a friend in Second Life. Like me, she has had her fair share of losses: her fiance died, and later on, her husband succumbed to cancer. It was an enriching conversation, to say to the least. She then gave me a link to a video clip. "I think you should watch this," she said in essence, "as this video might give you fresh insights on death from a scientific point of view."

The video in question is that of Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher who herself had a stroke and was witness to her own body's gradual shutdown of functions. She has hence recovered and eventually travelled to give talks mainly on her recovery. I took the liberty of embedding the video. You may visit its source at http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html.

Probably the most striking part in the video is when Jill narrated how the right half of her brain struggled with the left, affecting her perception of being "one" with her environment as against being "one", a solitary being. This is an experience where Jill is practically at the brink of death, and stories of people coming from a near-death experience are always very interesting and intriguing.

What is it like, indeed, to approach the end of your life? When you see a good number of people drop one by one like flies, you tend to start wondering yourself. I, for one, am not very religious, but I believe in a Higher Being, and I believe that when a person dies, his energy has to go somewhere. An energy converted to another, if I wish to be nerdy about this.

However, I see little point in being nerdy when it comes to people I care for who have left this physical world. Why rationalise [and hurt myself more in the process]? For me, they cannot be truly gone, they are just somewhere, in a place I cannot physically be in, energy conversion be damned. I guess even Science can support me somehow at this point.

For now, though, it is faith that tells me: the people that I care for are in a better place, in another level of existence, and that I know that I am [still] cared for in return. And that I make this statement regardless of religion, regardless of science.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Last Song Syndrome 10: Manila Girl (Urban Bandits and Put3Ska), Because I Am One

"Manila girl, Manila girl
No walls gonna block you

Nobody's gonna stop you..."

One quintessential Pinoy Punk song turned into a classic Pinoy Ska song. It's all about what I am and what most girls in Manila are.

I love and hate Manila at the same time. Manila is both beautiful and ugly, warm and stone-cold. It is a boiling city, and yet it is in a state of decay. But I was born in the heart of Manila, grew up and spent most of my life in Manila. This may sound like cliche, but I have seen many prettier and cleaner cities, and have wanted to leave Manila many times, but I always find myself staying on.

Manila is my home. I am a Manila girl.

(In photo: Sunset at Manila Bay)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.

(Rabindranath Tagore, "Peace My Heart")

Corazon Gacita Samson
31 January 1945 - 02 July 2005)

(It's been four years....)

No photos. My mom is camera-shy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Amusing Myself With Duran Duran

No one in his right mind, as far as I know, would want to be depressed all the time, not even those who are clinically diagnosed with major depression. Sulking and feeling sorry for oneself at all times can be one major drag. I was only a little worried that I was wallowing too much in depression until I read all my posts of late (here and in Trash Radio Manila) and realised that my worries about sounding too morose and bleak do have some bases after all. So I thought I should exert extra effort to regain the usual smiley, sarcastic, self-deprecating mood that I have always had prior to Je's demise.

I sorely miss being happy, really.

So last weekend, one sunny Sunday afternoon, in an effort to humour myself, I sat beside our turntable and the crates that held our modest collection of records. I dug deeper into the less played portions of the crates, did not find much to make me smile, until, in one crate, I found a copy of Duran Duran's Seven And The Ragged Tiger LP.

What?! Duran Duran?

I was never a fan of Duran Duran, and I picked up this album during one of my trips only because it cost a whistle. It was the 80s, and Duran Duran, the hottest boy band of that era, was raking in cash via their lust-fueled songs and highly suggestive videos enjoying heavy rotation on MTV. I actually hated Duran because I thought they were just using their good looks as an excuse to write and play stupid songs. In fact, here in Manila, local radio created a corny "rivalry" of sorts among the fans: Durannies and Spandau Ballet fans were oftentimes pitted against one another in the process. I even declared once that I'd rather be a Spandau Ballet fan that become a Duran devotee. That is how I used to hate them.

But I was young, and when you're an opinionated youngster living in the 80s, it was either you loved or loathed Duran Duran. No grey area there. Which was why I was not able to get past the boys' good looks. It took me a couple of years to find out that, hey, not only is John Taylor good-looking, he actually plays decent funky bass lines. That the androgynous Nick Rhodes does know his synths pretty well. That Simon le Bon, oh never mind his icky voice, can actually give an electric show onstage. I admit that I have been a bit unfair.

I recall my friends getting crazy over Duran Duran and how they chided me for not liking the boys. Little did they know that "Hungry Like A Wolf" (which is NOT in Seven And The Ragged Tiger by the way) is one of my favorite songs from the band that I hated so much: it was my guilty pleasure (of which I had a few). I do not hate Duran Duran anymore. Is this a sign of age or of a slackening taste in music? I am not too sure, but I am certainly amused, smiling to myself as I was listening to "The Reflex" which was playing on the turntable. If you are a jaded middle-aged woman living in the new millennium and who has just lost a partner to myocardial infarction, amusement does count a lot at this point.

(I still do not like Duran Duran though, and I still think they wrote silly songs. That is why I am not putting any Duran song on my player. But, who knows, I might change my mind.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Post-Mortem Lesson 4: What is Your Friend

I have a mouthful to say about death and friendship. This seems to be a universal phenomenon: when you die, you become a family member to many, and a friend to all. One of the tasks of those who are left behind is to know if they are dealing with a genuine sympathizer or with someone who is simply taking advantage of their grief for self-glorification.

Instances need not be enumerated as they are unique to that particular departed person and situation. It is enough to say that some people can be really exploitative, not knowing their place at all. I have seen so many people fall to this dangerous trap, and I feel so sorry for them. Two years ago it was my turn to be exposed to the same situation and the same people. My decisions regarding the disposition of the dead were questioned and had put me in a not-so-good light. Again, two years later, I find myself in the same scenario.

In moments like these, there are only a few things to remember. Always respect the wishes of the dead. Let not the comments of people affect your decision as long as you know you are right. Know the people who have been truly friends with the dead through thick and thin and recognize their presence and efforts. And in times of indecision, think real hard, search within your mind, heart and soul for answers. Somewhere, they will be there.

For me, this is one of my most challenging post-mortem lessons. That is, in life, as in death, you must know the true friends of your beloved departed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Trippy Sham Shui Po

This is another one of my rehashed posts during my stay in Hong Kong some two years ago.

Sham Shui Po is one of my favorite spots in Hong Kong, and Je's as well. It is a very unpretentious shopping place, kind of reminds me of Raon in Quiapo and Tutuban. Being a bit notorious for looking quite decrepit and for having pickpockets, it took me some time before I finally decided to go to this place. I was impressed with what I saw that I wrote about it in my Multiply account. About a month later, Je came over to Hong Kong and asked to be brought to Sham Shui Po.

It is worth visiting, and like we all know, some precious things can actually be found in trash.

from my Multiply Account
posted on June 17, 2007

Sham Shui Po is not for the faint-hearted tourist. The place is quite similar to Tutuban – wholesale clothes shops, beads shops and the like – except that in Sham Shui Po, the whole stretch of a street named Apliu is one big flea market. Everything is just there. Phones, antiques (one can actually find a defective but genuine Omega pocketwatch amidst the junk), hardware, shoes, bags, audio stuff, remotes. It’s up to the buyer to tell whether the items are genuine or paste. But like the saying goes, there’s always treasure in trash.

Parallel to Apliu St. is Cheung Sha Wan St., where the clothes shops are. (I didn’t find most of the designs to my liking though.) Further north is a haven for geeks, the Golden Computer Centre. Should one go hungry, he can go the opposite way and find a streetful of fruits, noodles, meat, vegetables, and chicken and duck feet. Walk further and one will see a good number of well-stocked beads shops, more than enough to satisfy the ladies’ DIY cravings.

I did not see too many tourists during the few times that I was there. I read somewhere that there are quite a number of pickpockets in the area. Then again, I’ve been in places far worse. By far, the tenet that has worked best for me when shopping is never get too excited to spend hard-earned money like a fiend. Watch it though when you’re in Sham, you might just be overcome by excitement.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Last Song Syndrome 9: Something I Learned Today (Husker Du), Missing Zen Arcade

Something I Learned Today is the first track off Husker Du's fantastic album, Zen Arcade.

No fancy reason for my choice. It's just that I miss listening to this song. We lost our copy of the CD some years back, and though I have a digital back-up of all the songs, nothing beats having the real thing. I miss Bob Mould, his pained voice, his tortured guitar riffs.

That's about it...almost.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Post-Mortem Lesson 3: Definition of Bereavement Revisited

Even repeated experiences of death of loved ones, as in my case, do not sufficiently prepare a person for another one of these episodes. Two years after my mom died, a friend and a mentor passed away. I was praying hard: I felt that I cannot endure another death, so please God let it not come so soon. But it did, again, a month ago. And this one is the most devastating, to date.

Initially I was telling people, I want to drown myself in work, I want to be extremely busy. I guess it was all self-defense. Friends and family members were very sympathetic and tried to help to make life a little easier. But nothing and no one really protected me from the impact of this loss. No one seemed quite sure with what to tell me, no matter how well-meaning they are. And so there are times I would feel that I want to simply disappear in thin air.

So I decided to talk to people who have had the same experience: a friend who has had the same experience as mine, and a psychiatrist friend who for a time was dealing with her own loss.

They both told me essentially something similar. Appreciate the experience, and allow yourself to mourn. This is something I can read in the book, but it sounds very credible and honest coming from them. I certainly appreciate that they did not pressure me to get over it, did not give me a time limit, and instead assured me that my emotions are expected (illogical as they are, bereavement is inherently illogical). To suppress mourning is to prolong it, which is not good.

This is probably the best advice I got...

...except that the world does not wait for people who grieve. This world of bills, employment, heavy traffic, inconsiderate people, diplomate exams, and all earthly concerns (immediately pressing but insignificant in the final analysis) can be really, really cruel.

The world simply does not wait.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Blog Rounds May 2009 Edition: Birthplace

My entry to this edition of The Blog Rounds (hosted by Doc Harry) is a reprint from my Multiply account. It is a post with a topic I feel strongly about (Doc Che and Doc Ness have previously read and left comments). I am not too sure if this article speaks somewhat of my (*gasp*) artistry, but I am certain that it touches on a vital childhood experience which influenced much of the way I think and look at life at present.

This is something I should have submitted to Doc Gaya last month as well.

It does seem that I am doing you disservice by rehashing an old post, but really, I do not mean to be lazy. At any rate, I hope you enjoy this entry, which is far from meriting a Palanca or even a mention from some literati, but probably the best that I could come up at the moment.

(It was Mother's Day last weekend, so reposting this is also akin to hitting two birds with one scalpel.)

Reposted from my Multiply account, June 1, 2008

For the most part of her life, my mother lived in Manila. But she was born in Marabut, Samar, during the post-war era. Mother was said to have worked hard doing the household chores (which, I was told, included fetching water from the poso, washing clothes, and scrubbing the floor, and other countless tasks), being the eldest in a brood of eleven. She claimed to have played (if she ever did) just as hard, climbing coconut trees and swimming in the pristine beach that was practically at the backyard. Ma eventually left home to go to Manila in her mid-teens. It was the 1960s: the world by then had largely recovered from the ravages of World War 2, and mom was dreaming of a better life….

I was a child when these things were being told to me the first time around, and I could not quite understand my mother’s intentions for doing so. And so from my innocent but impaired point of view, my mother’s birthplace was a land of squalor and poverty, where there is not much to be done except fish and do the chores. Definitely different from my father’s more cosmopolitan hometown in San Fernando, Pampanga where the paternal ancestral house was a whole lot bigger with many air condition units, where I used to spend my summer vacations playing pekwa and karate with my male cousins while my Ima prepared our merienda or dinner, depending on the time of the day.

This birthplace of my mother, Marabut, she often referred to as “Bisaya”. As in, “pupunta ka ng Bisaya pag di ka nagtino (If you don’t behave, you are going to Bisaya)”. It was an admonition that sounded ridiculously dreadful, but dreadful nevertheless. As fate would have it, my mother one day received news that her grandmother died, and that she was being asked to go to Marabut to oversee the funeral proceedings. She tugged me and my younger sister along with her on her trip down south.

I was going to my mother’s birthplace.

The plane landed in Tacloban City. My mother dressed me and my sister up in white frocks and was eagerly taking pictures of us as we waited for transport to the pier. It was near sundown when we were picked up by a frail banca that will take us to Marabut. The boat trip across the channel seemed forever. It had become incredibly dark, we were at the middle of the sea, and the strong currents nearly capsized the rickety banca. By the time the hapless boat was approaching the shore, a considerably-sized crowd made up of men bearing torches had already gathered by the beach. Our pilot shouted in the vernacular, while my mother whispered to me. The people initially thought we were aswangs, she said. Or rebels. Or probably both. We were finally brought to a two-storey nipa structure, and I was too tired and confused.

That was how we arrived at “Bisaya”: a community by the sea, populated by people who spoke a strange, gruff-sounding dialect (as opposed to the sing-song Capampangan), not exactly too friendly towards us kids I must say. As we went inside the house of my grandparents, my eyes were caught by the art paper cut-outs stuck on the wall: it bore the name of my departed great grandmother and the date of her death. Beneath the cut-outs was an altar and some photos. Pretty soon I was about to lie down on the mat when my mother stopped me.


Before I could even ask, a relative came in with cloves and cloves of garlic. She painstakingly made a garlic ring around our banig. Maraming aswang, I was told in hushed tones.

Outside, a tall calamansi tree stood, its leaves extending through the window as if eavesdropping.

Apparently, our purpose became clearer by the day. We were there to attend the pasiyam, the nine-day novena for the dead. I had very little recollection of the prayer sessions: I was seven years old, and concepts such as God, prayer, and death were hardly existent in my mind at that period of my life.

Instead, what I remember was the smell of the sea, the very unusual Samar weather, the day-to-day activities in that little barrio, and the pervading fear of aswangs, manananggals, and mangbabarangs.

The smell of sea was not foreign to me, having gone to the beach a few times. But the beach here did not seem to like me. It tend to grab me menacingly by the feet whenever I attempted to wade, and just as it was about to pull me off the shore, my mother’s voice would ring a few yards away. “Balik ka dito!” I would then scramble back to the house and sit by the window where the calamansi tree stood nearby. I could not even remember playing with the kids (not even with my sister), and there was nothing in the house that could amuse me, not even a toy or an interesting flower vase. The house was practically bare: no TV, no radio. NOTHING. It was during these boring moments that I would see the sun compete with rainfall for the most part of the day. How horrible it was to me to see the bright afternoon sun marred by rain, everyday! How lonely it felt for me to be staying here, not understanding the dialect, getting depressed with the horrible weather. My only physical clue to the community’s livelihood was the sight and the shrill call of the vendor passing by the houses every three o’clock or so in the afternoon: Pating! Bili na kayo ng pating!

Further into the mainland, I could see mountains, and once I asked my mother if I could go there, accompanied by an adult. She refused vehemently.

Hindi puwede. Maraming aswang doon.

I started counting the days with my fingers: I wanted to go home so bad.

It was the last day of the pasiyam, and a feast was being prepared. Two cows were slaughtered, I think, and two pigs. I watched a huge cauldron that contained boiling water and entrails. Everyone was in high spirits. I was, too, for we will be going back to Manila really soon. A few days back we, together with our relatives, spent half a day swimming in the beach, teasing the sea as it sent its strong waves rushing towards us. But that’s about the only excursion I had; most of the time, I was boring myself to death in the house.

Our last night was spent at my mother’s aunt, whose house stood on stilts by the sea. For dinner, she served us small shells with safety pins. I pulled the little creature out of the shell with a pin and popped it in my mouth, and I found it tasty. It was the first time I actually enjoyed being here, prying pins inside shells, guided by the light of the moon and the gas lamp, overlooking the sea which seemed so still and yet so foreboding. Food does have a way of enhancing some pleasant memories.

We left the following morning. The weather was cool, and the sea breeze cavorted with me as the banca took us back to Tacloban City.

In the next few years following my visit to Marabut, I was revolting against going back. It felt as if my wings had been clipped during the entirety of my stay; moreover, I felt like a stranger in a place where my mother spent her young life, treated like a stranger even by my own relatives. Growing up, questions of this mysterious visit continued to pile up. Or more like, the urge to seek validations intensified, but I did not have the heart to ask my mother ever.

Did she leave her birthplace because she felt the same way I did, somehow? (The mere fact that she never taught me how to speak Waray seemed telling.) Maybe I did not want to hear the answers as well.

It was only until adulthood, when so many things both joyful and bitter have gripped my life, did I think that many events may have changed a lot of my life’s perspectives. Travel did that to me too, as I went to various places both cosmopolitan and rustic. Slowly, my mind and heart started to open up to a little more.

During my mother’s wake a few years ago, I met some of the folks whom I had encountered in Marabut. I could hardly remember their faces, but they remembered me as that quiet little girl. They were present for the most part of the wake: quiet, reserved, unobtrusive, and, to my immense relief, never the ones to claim exclusivity of knowledge of my mother’s ways (which, sadly, is an irritating habit that afflicts many Filipinos during the wake: the dead suddenly becomes a relative to many and a friend to all.) It was then that I felt a slight tinge of embarrassment for some of the thoughts that have ever crossed my mind about matters related to Marabut.

I came to the realization that it was actually I who had set a perimeter of loneliness around me because I did not care to understand these people’s ways, their beliefs, their lifestyle that so differed from mine.

Roughly a week before my mother passed away, she expressed her desire to come back to Marabut, Samar, and see the beach. This wish was not granted, as her condition continued to deteriorate, barring all manners of travel, worse, all possibilities of getting out of the hospital alive. Looking back, she must had been meaning to set her sight on her birthplace, Marabut, the place that formed the very essence of her person and helped her survive life’s hardships. Probably her way of paying her respects, of expressing gratitude, of being physically one with the sea, sand, and the breeze in the land she once called home after being away for so long.

It is high time that I, too, go back to Marabut as well, and make reconciliations with the sea, sand, and the breeze….

(Photo credit: I borrowed the above photo from this website. Please take a look at the other Marabut photos as well.)