Saturday, December 03, 2011

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

I am always skeptical about a country that is all glitter and glow. I know that it is meant to mesmerize you with its glitz and glamour, lure you until it sucked you dry. Just the same, when we got out of the airport and I saw the splendor of the hotels along the Macau International Airport, I cannot help but be in awe and remain breathless for several minutes. I was watching my companions composed of my wife, our two daughters and their cousins, my wife’s sister and her balikbayan friend and could not help admire my children’s nonchalant of the sparkling landscape considering that we were all first timers. This made me think I am old and ancient - like I did not belong to this generation.

With maps we got from the counter in our hands, we got busy trying to figure out our bearings as if in a competition who would find it first. We had no luck trying to find the location of our hotel until it was one of our nieces who figured out that we were looking at the wrong map. One page was for Taipa where we were at the time and another big one for Macau where the hotel actually was. Having seen where to go, we hailed a cab, with the help of a Filipina working at the airport and headed for Hotel Royal.

We arrived at the hotel around 10:30 pm and had dinner of freshly cooked rice (we brought a rice cooker... shhhh) and a bevy of the never-miss, reliable adobo and tapa. Afterwhich, we went out of the hotel and took a 10-minute stroll of Macau. Our feet took us to the elegant Grand Lisboa Hotel. Once inside the hotel, I couldn't help but notice two tall ladies with plunging necklines with their boobs almost jutting out and heard my sister-in-law muttering "Russians". I thought that couldn't be as I have seen the likes before. They were more like Asians trying to look the mestiza type. I found several more and when I heard one of them talk. confirmed my hunch. They were Filipino transvestites plying their trade (whatever it is) in the hotel's casino. Since I was already there, I tried my luck at the machines and lost about HK$10. I collected the money and gave the remainder to my eldest daughter while I transferred to another machine. This time, I was lucky. I won HK$200. Noticing that my sister in law's friend was not playing, I told them to go back to the hotel and hit the sack.

The following day, we went to tour the place. We walked a narrow lane that was almost European in its appearance. Our first stop was the ruins of St. Paul It's one of the main tourist attractions of the place as one can trace the Portuguese influence. We took pictures and headed down the steps to walk the long stretch of food stalls where each stall gave out free samples of their goodies like the pork fillets and biscuits. My sister-in-law took us to a food stall that sold a variety of balls and innards that were cooked a la shabu shabu style, soaked in a thick sauce of curry and other hot stuff. That was sufficient for our lunch. Too bad that we did not bring along rice. From there, we took a bus ride going to Taipa where the grand hotels were like the famous Venetian, a replica of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas and the new Galaxy Hotel are among others. Our first stop was the City of Dreams, a podium like structure with four towers comprising Hard Rock, Crown and the Grand Hyatt Hotels. It had a huge casino but I managed to keep my small winnings in tow as I have strained myself from playing the machines. Instead, we lined up to watch the "Bubble Show", a spectacular light and sound production on a 360 degree dome screen about four powerful dragons enjoying tremendous power while holding the Jade Emperor's ball. It also had at its center a huge opening that emitted a nicely patterned water sculpture raining down on the floor and four minor openings that showed giant jellyfish-like structures of light. The show is reputed to be a billion dollar production.

We next went to the Venetian and took a stroll on what seemed like Venice with its canals and gondolas which, by the way, were being operated rather efficiently by Filipino gondoliers singing a variety of songs while managing the canal with their oars. The ride was too expensive for us that we just watched the gondoliers and listened to them belt out a song. Tired, we headed back to the hotel and slept.

My wife woke me up at around 4:00 am only to ask me if I wanted to try the small casino at the ground floor of the hotel. Without any hesitation, I obliged. Unfortunately, I lost my winnings. Lucky for her as she won HK$500. After breakfast, we headed for the ferry that was to take us to Hong Kong. When we landed in HK, I was relieved to find out that the our hotel, The Royal Pacific Hotel and Towers was just a few steps above the dock as it sits along the banks of the Victoria Harbor. I have been to Hong Kong before and knowing that it was all shopping and walking endlessly amid a throng of people, I planned to just stay inside the hotel. However, my eldest daughter insisted that I went with them on a tour of the sitting giant buddha perched on top of a mountain after a 30 minute cable car ride. I could not resist my daughter so I went only to be frightened by the cable car as I have fear of heights. Nevertheless, the buddha was wonderful alright but was not coaxed to climb the long plight of stairs to reach it.

The following day, everybody was geared up to go shopping. This time, I told everyone that I only intended to stay at the hotel, go to sleep and head for the airport at around 3 pm. And that was what I did exactly. At around 2:30, I took a bath and headed for Nathan Road and took the A21 bus for the airport. I suspect my early return was by design so that I can pick them up the following day but my wife swears that that was not the case. Oh well...

What was funny was that upon landing at the airport, I received a text message from my brother-in-law that he was at the Resort World and was waiting for me. Without any hesitation as I was already hungry (it was 9:30 pm and I have not had anything to eat except for a lame sandwich on the plane) I took the shuttle bus that ply along NAIA 3 and Resort World and Marriott Hotel. There, we had dinner and again, since I was already there, took another shot at the machines. NO LUCK!!!

In all, I enjoyed this trip not because of the fantastic lights and the man-made spectacle Macau had to offer. My joy was not only because the free bus rides we took to take us to different places were all very convenient and luxurious but most especially because it was a welcome respite from work and I had the time of my life spending it with my loved ones. How I wish my two boys were there too and I would have enjoyed my visit of Macau, in all its plastic, superficial splendor. Nevertheless, I thank the mighty provider to have endowed me with a fantastic experience and pray that I shall be blessed with more.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's not all about Kimchi

I was a tourist when I first visited South Korea. Being a tourist is not the best way to see a country. Not only is the time too short with a fully-packed itinerary that one does not have time to use all the senses to their fullest capacity. What you get is a sensory overload of impressions without actually ingesting the essence of each aroma, taste, sight and touch. More so, one is trapped in a plastic bubble bouncing here and there and not really acquiring the pulse of the country and its people. Hence, my first time was all temples and shopping malls and whatever a tour guide does to drain you of valued cash with no actual contact with the locals. It is not too long before I suspected I was only seeing what they want me to see - a sugar-coated candy that will be sweet till the last bite. And to think I am diabetic!

This is the reason why I got so excited that Sunday morning when I got a text from no less than the Brother President asking me if I wanted to join him in Korea to arrange for a school cultural exchange deal. After making sure it was the South and not the North we were visiting, I readily said yes after excitedly telling my wife about it and getting her nod. I began making preparations for the trip. I saw to it that I had a suit, undershirts, matching ties, shoes, and most of all, calling cards – a very important commodity for Koreans and the Japanese.

I was part of a 3-man delegation headed by the Brother President, who we fondly call Broden, and Ms. Lani Maderazo, the Head of the Cultural Program of the school. We were escorted by Mr. Kevin Lee, a Korean whose line of work is about creating exchange programs between Korean schools and different schools abroad primarily for sports, but in effect, also covers the academics and the arts.

We arrived at Incheon Airport around 11:30 pm on October 16 aboard Cebu Pacific Flight 5J194. We had to traverse a long road going to our first destination at Cheungchungbok-do. As it was already way past dinner, I was extremely hungry. Kevin, God bless him, intended to feed us first before heading off to our first destination. Unfortunately, the restaurants at the airport were already closed so, we went out and had dinner at what I supposed is a usual stop for those arriving and leaving the airport. It goes without saying that I was excited to eat my bibimbop so much so that when Kevin saw me gobbling the food, he told me to slow down and savor the taste. That was my first faux pas.

On our arrival at Cheungchungbok-do after about an hour and a half drive at a 120 km car cruise, Kevin billeted us at the elegant Ramada Hotel. The place was chilly and very quiet as if we were the only creatures still alive at that time. It was 1:30 am. The following morning, after a hearty buffet breakfast at the hotel, clad in our finest suits, we went to our first destination, the Daesong Elementary School, a privately-owned school where Kevin's son studies. The school is very impressive. It employs Canadian teachers who teach English; as a result, the students there spoke in correct grammar and have good pronunciation skills.

he second school we visited was Saegwa High School - the real purpose of our visit to Korea as the two school presidents of both schools are to sign a Memorandum of Understanding as regards the exchange program our schools are to make. We were greeted with a banner welcoming our arrival and warmly met by no less than the president and his committee. Just like the first school, we were taken to the school’s head’s office, asked to sit down on huge stately sofas opposite one another that surround a huge coffee table. With an interpreter nearby, we were formally introduced to one another and after a brief exchange of pleasantries and calling cards, were offered tea to drink. With all the protocol we underwent in both schools, I was already feeling like an ambassador on a State visit. Then, we were led to an auditorium where students had been waiting for us. I began to suspect music like “Hail to the Chief” would begin to fill the air by then but I realized that would be wishing for “the whole nine yards.” Nevertheless, I felt I was a member of the Diplomatic Corps with all the fanfare afforded to us.

The two presidents took turns in speaking their prepared speeches with the Korean translator at the podium interpreting. After the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding and photo ops, we were taken to lunch at a traditional restaurant on a mountain called Songrisen, about an hour drive from the school. It was my first traditional restaurant experience where you had to eat with nothing to separate a diner and the floor except for a thin pillow. I sat with my feet in a lotus position while the side dishes (about 20 of them) and the main course were being served. After 10 minutes, my feet began to feel numb and before I felt pins and needles, I managed a short stretch or else I would have to be put on a stretcher because I could not even stand on my own. The food, for me, was delicious for unlike Filipino food that is always more on the salty kind. There were some that certainly had to be an acquired taste. However, it was not all too different for my taste buds for after all, I have a huge appetite for stranger things. After lunch, our hosts took us to the nearby Songrisan National Park where one finds a very ancient temple and a very big Buddha that dwarfs any human being beside it. Images of the Forbidden City flashed before my eyes as we walked marvelling at the temple and nearby edifices. The multi-colored trees on the background gave me a feeling of peace and tranquillity. I could have stayed there for a whole day reading a good book or painting with watercolor sufficient to make me a very contented man.

That night, we were invited to a lavish dinner by the school administrators and some members, probably officers, of the parents association. Just like lunch, we were to dine the Korean way; leave shoes at the front, wear the provided slippers and sit on the floor while eating. Added to my agony of having to sit on the floor, I still have yet to master using their iron chopsticks. My second faux pas came when I dropped food on that immaculately clean floor simply because it slipped from my chopsticks. The female interpreter could sense how hard it was for me and she could only empathize. But I had no complaints for they fed us well. We were presented gifts and after bidding everyone adieu, went back to the hotel satiated.

The next day, we started early as we had to leave for Seoul. Along the way, our first stop was a school for the arts, similar, in lack of a better comparison, to our Makiling High School for the Arts. It, too, was on top of a mountain. However, students there stay for a five-day retreat to gain experience in ceramic pottery, candle-making, dance, drama and what-have-you. We were met by the owner, a sculptor, and several guys whose names I do not recall in spite of the cards given me. We were served lunch and after a tour of the area, we were on our way to Seoul.

We visited more schools but to avoid redundancy, allow me to just talk about two more schools which I find very notable. The first one is the Ahyon Polytechnic School, a school where teen-agers learn the rudiments of the performing arts. At the ground floor, one finds the students learning how to do make-up and props for the theatre. The materials they use are just too impressive and the students’ works, impeccable. The second floor is composed of rooms that had standard varied musical instruments. Each room is complete with drum sets, amps for guitars and are ready for recording sessions. The piano room had several pianos with headsets attached to each one lest the room becomes a cacophony of piano renditions of varied tunes playing simultaneously. The teacher can just plug in to what piano he wanted to hear just like what we have in speech clinics. We were treated to a two-woman act of a song and dance routine as they rehearsed for a show the following day - a show we were invited to watch. One group played Quicy Jones’ Ai No Corrida, a disco sound from the early 80’s that amazed us at how they sounded just like the original.

The other is the Gwanak Camp, a facility where students learn to speak English. Not necessarily a school as we conceive it to be, this is a public facility where Grade 6 pupils in different schools come for five days to learn from teachers coming from the US, Canada and Great Britain. The facility is very impressive as it has top of the line gadgets and learning tools imaginable

As for the cultural aspect of our visit, we were given a taste of both the pop and the high-end cultural shows. We were taken to the Korean Broadcasting System more popularly known as KBS (we have it in cable here) where famous singers like the group of Sandara Park used to play (we were told that her group is no longer famous). We were able to catch the more popular group called Sistar, an all- girl group who is uber sexy and beautiful (well, they sound good, too) among others. We also watched a cultural show entitled Miso, a dance concert featuring a love story that was tragic but was resolved with a happy ending.

My impressions of South Korea never changed from what I have when I first set foot in it. The country, with its very efficient system, seems to be flawless. With practically all vehicles, even the motorcycles that mobilize the city to its fast paced rhythm are armed with a GPS. The city streets are clean and devoid of people who have nothing better to do than ogle and watch for unknowing victims, or those “istambays” drinking at the corner of the street that plagues Manila. There, everyone is busy trying to live a decent life, industrious and effectively doing their chores.

With my recent trip, I have learned how the elders educate their young - with a fully functional government funding most of the schools with a “no holds barred” policy of providing the learners with excellent, quality education. The schools, with their ubiquitous huge mirrors that welcome everyone, one suspects that these are not just for vanity’s sake but for something more sublime, their flare for traditions, rituals and protocols like bowing and leaving the slippers at the door, and the respect one gives to another no matter what stature one has in society that even superiors bow to his/her subordinates as a sign of respect. One can feel the love for country and what it stands for in each and everyone. I can just marvel at the level of confidence of every individual knowing that one is just as good as the person beside him/her. With the government spending for more instructors who are native speakers of English, I have the feeling that while we have seen the influx of Koreans here in the country, someday, the onrush will stop as they have already acquired what they want from us in their own land and we will, once more, be left behind as we impatiently hie into the roads of progress, rather carelessly, only to be marred by an undisciplined populace made lazy by an obfuscate political system and an unabashed corruption of greedy leaders who care for nothing except to enrich themselves by stealing from the public coffers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Samu't sari

It's raining again and I have nothing to do. Actually, that's not true. There are tons of things to do but I don't feel like doing them. I have not written anything for quite some time now and before I lose touch of my writing self, I better exercise. So here I am, amid the raging storm hearing the winds pounce on the roof and finding its way in tiny crevices in the window causing it to howl madly like a wolf in mourning, I blast away on my keypad trying to make sense of thoughts that go through my mind :)

Interestingly, two years ago, we had one of the worst flooding in Manila. Yesterday was Ondoy's 2nd year anniversary and here we are experiencing bad weather once again.

Yesterday was declared to be family day and we decided we'd eat together and have fun. I cooked seafood pasta in marinara sauce with basil thrown into it while my wife brought home Savory chicken and bread. I was looking forward to a nice dinner but lo and behold, my two elder children called up to say they can't go home early as they were still in a meeting in their respective companies. We had to eat ahead of them. Drats.

Looking further on, my son, Mickey, was in a concert at the Philamlife Auditorium. His friend, Reginald Espiritu who is now studying at the Berklee School of Music, came home for the summer break and decided he'd do a concert with his friends in Manila and that included my son. So, together with members of the Manila Symphony Orchestra and the Lasallian Youth Orchestra, they practiced and managed to put up a concert. They also invited three other entertainers - Rivermaya, Julianne Tarroja and Quest. I've invited the school President, Bro. Dennis and our visiting brother from Mexico, Bro. Lazaro and they both came. It was a truly remarkable night especially for Mickey as he was the concert master and even played solo in the opening.

I've finally reconnected with my cousins, Ferdie and Mon Macasaet. These guys were with me for a year when we all studied at St. Paul San Miguel, Bulacan. Facebook is just wonderful. I called them up and managed to talk to their mom, Ate Dolor. I plan to take my sisters Ate Linda and Ate Becky to their house this Sunday. Hopefully the weather will be better by then.

Through Mon's account, I traced our former classmates and quite frankly, I could not recognize anyone. After 30 years, we sure have changed a lot. For sure, I have grown tons of weight and where I gain in body structure, I have lost in hair. I have contacted the ones I remember but nobody has replied back except for the acceptance of my friend invites to Lally and Boyet. Well, maybe they have forgotten about me for after all, I only stayed in St. Paul for a year.

Through Ferdie's account, I managed to get in touch with Nats, son of Ate Bine, whom my father had pleaded to take me as no school in Manila would accept me. It was through her intercession that I managed to get into St. Paul and continue with my life. She is now 85 years old.

As the cliche goes, how time flies. Now that I am nearing my retirement, I long for old friends and reminisce. Oh well...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Several more brushstrokes and the wall shall be alive

I am doing a collaboration mural with several artists notably A. G. "dolphin" Sano. The guy's been doing murals for almost forever, I think. His works are everywhere in the Philippines. There's one in C5, here in school, another in Paliparan, Marikina and a lot more others. We started last Wednesday, 17 Aug, and I was amazed how fast we worked. I was able to sketch about four faces. I have started doing the painting and coloring and I'm almost done. A few more working days (nights) and I shall be doing the finishing touches. I intend to help the others as soon as I am done with my share of the wall. So far I have about 5 figures in it. The only thing is that we work at night. Last Wednesday, we started at 9 pm and ended at 4 am. You can just imagine how my day was that Thursday. I had to prepare the artworks which are contest winners and selected works in our on-the-spot painting contest for exhibit. That entailed framing, naming and posting them on the panels. Needless to say that I was already very sleepy before lunch. The drive home was terrible. I could feel my muscles shutting down on me. To make matters worse, the traffic situation at C5 was at its worst. I almost had an accident that night. I just realized I was headed right in front of a parked Pajero. (Hope my wife doesn't read this)

The good thing about doing the project is the association and the bonding one experiences doing something like this. The painters I am working with are advocates. A. G. is a strong advocate of, you guessed right, dolphins! I guess he saw The Cove. A movie about how dolphins are being slaughtered in one part of Japan. He is also against the killing of sharks. His girlfriend, May, is an NGO worker and an advocate of nature. I have no advocacy yet and maybe hanging on with these guys would turn me into an advocate, somehow.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Ars Gratia Artis

During the 70's, sex movies flourished. If I remember it correctly, what started the band wagon was a documentary film entitled "Language of Love". This was the first movie that showed two people having actual carnal knowledge with genitals and all being shown on the big screen. This brought mild porn to the mainstream with movies bearing titles like "Marsha" and the like giving rise to the term "Bomba". Naturally, Filipinos cannot be far behind. The first Filipino movie that showed nudity, to my recollection was "Uhaw", a Merle Fernandez film. Then things went haywire and the movies became bolder and bolder. Foreign films like "Lush Combo" and other smut began to show up. Old movie houses which would have double shows, triple even, became the favorite choice of movie enthusiasts of this genre for these cinemas had what was termed as "singit" or "in-between" screenings which were usually the porno stuff which were best shown in the privacy of someone's bedroom. I was a sophomore then and classmates who had cheated their age to get a driver's license and had been issued cedulas became very popular not because they were able to purchase beer but because they could enter the movie house at will even if the show was "For Adults Only." What we usually did was have them pay for the tickets for us and we were allowed to watch under the premise that we were all "adults". During martial law, these genre faded but made a comeback when Gloria Diaz and Elizabeth Oropesa made a film that would showcase their wet braless blouses showing their nipples. This was the birth of the "bold" era. Then the "pene" era arrived.

Why did I suddenly begin remembering these events in my life? Well, because of the oft repeated argument that these films were done for art's sake. Be it bomba or bold, the starlets would be heard justifying the display of their naked bodies onscreen was inevitable since the role called for it - as if that was okay making and that made a lot of sense. Like art was a license of some sort to do dastardly things and it would be alright.

What has that got to do with the present? A lot! I have been reading in the papers about a very controversial exhibit now being shown at the CCP of supposedly "art" which causing an uproar with a lot of people, especially Catholic church officials because said exhibit, they claim, is a desecration of Jesus Christ and the Holy Family. I am referring to "Kulo" an exhibit of some 30 artists from the University of Santo Tomas led by Mideo Cruz.

I have not seen the exhibit personally but I know that it includes the image of Jesus Christ with a male organ right on His face, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary given horns and whiskers, etc. Based on the reports I have been reading, what can I say, as an artist and an Art educator?

During the 60's, John Lennon caused the ire of the public when he said that the Beatles was more popular than Jesus. Quickly, people burned their albums condemning the British singer as an arrogant bastard whose popularity got over his head. Later on, John explained that he never meant to displease the public. He never said that he or the Beatles as a group is more powerful than Jesus Christ. All he said was that it seemed like people idolize them too much that they are beginning to be more popular than Jesus. There's a big difference there.

Anyway, having that in mind, my first reaction is to be non-judgmental especially that I have not seen the exhibit personally. I tried to rationalize and asked questions like, "What is the theme of the exhibit?" "What is it's message?" "Could it be that the artists are depicting the abasement of religion in modern times? That they wanted to show their audience that we are losing our faith and this is how they know how to show that message?" If this is correct, are they right? Are they using the right method to show their opinions? At any rate, I have to see the raison d'etre of the exhibit before I can pass judgment.

On the other hand, I cannot discount the possibility that one of the ploys of artists in order to be popular is to launch a piece that has a super shocking factor. A piece that shocks the world enough to make the people talk about it. That would definitely place someone in the map. Definitely, "Kulo" is one that has uber shocking effect attacking the primary religion of a land that even Presidents and other political leaders kowtow and listen to its priests.

Objectively, what do I think of the works on exhibit? While it did manage to cause fire, like true art should, I believe that it has overdone it. The question remains - Is its shocking factor sufficient for it to be considered as good art? Will it be enough to exonerate the artists of said exhibit from the prelates' ire? Can it be considered good art even if it denigrates the sensibilities of the faithful? Is it alright to insult someone's beliefs for the sake of Art?

For me, I would have not been troubled by genitals on display not because that is quite ordinary these days but because it is part of the human body and hence could be the subject of art. However, I have problems when art is used to insult someone else's beliefs. We should treat each other with respect. If there is something I feel passionately about, I expect another to respect that even if he or she does not believe it.

What about the artists' freedom of expression? Isn't there a constitutional guarantee for one to exercise this freedom? Yes, but then I believe that the right to freedom of expression carries with it a concomitant amount of responsibility. Every kind of freedom, as a matter of fact, does. We do not want freedom to go haywire for it may cause mayhem for everyone and anyone can claim having the right. As an Art educator, I think the freedom to express should be exercised with caution. Art should transcend thought, thought that is productive, a thought that stimulates the mind but nevertheless the same should promulgate goodwill in the end.

I don't know what the charter of the Cultural Center of the Philippines is but based on its title alone, I think its main purpose is to showcase and propagate Filipino culture. The present exhibit is not representative of the culture of the Filipino people. As a matter of fact, it is going to the opposite end. Also, it is probably a first of its kind, ergo, is not within the Filipino psyche. I would have understood had the exhibit been shown in another gallery for it is, after all, at this time alternative art rather than the mainstream.

In the end, is it good art for me? Again, I do not have the exact data on the exhibit. I don't know its theme or its reason for being. However, in my opinion, art is still about good taste and good taste is one that does not involve leaving a sour flavor in the mouth.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Smoking

I heard from the news this morning, while having breakfast, that the DOH is planning to push for the No Smoking ban started by the MMDA in some specified areas, be made nationwide. It seems that the world of smokers, which unfortunately includes me, is getting smaller and smaller. However, I am not fazed for I don’t smoke that much anyway and I am a bit sceptical that this law would ever be fully enforceable for several reasons. First is the ningas kugon mentality we have, a term every Filipino knows as that of something being good only at the start but failing to follow it through. Filipinos have this characteristic of initializing something but failing to finish it. Hence, most of the things we do are usually temporary in nature.

Second is that the law enforcers who are supposed to put this law into effect are mostly smokers themselves. This being the case, they may be more lax in applying the law.

I may be wrong with my assumptions but nevertheless, I think that the move of the DOH is still flawed. If they want to really get rid of smokers, why not go to the main source - the tobacco companies! Close them altogether and let us not produce cigarettes anymore. This also means we would stop importing cigarettes for to do so would defeat the very purpose of why we are closing the tobacco industry.

With this thought, let us see how strong a resolve the powers behind this can be.

Saturday, July 09, 2011


Among the top news this week is the revelation that former president GMA authorized the PCSO to grant bishops with SUV's as a donation to help them in their mission to help the poor. It seems like the approval of the president was not done from her own volition but through the request of the beneficiaries. As one bishop asked for the donation as a gift for his birthday, after all, the car that he had was already seven years old and according to him was no longer in good condition (and I had my last car for 15 years and it still served its purpose). Naturally, the news has received flak from the people especially when the constitution has mandated that no amount of donation should be given to any religion or its representative unless such is assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution or government orphanage or leprosarium.

No public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid, or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution, or system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher, or dignitary as such, except when such priest, preacher, minister, or dignitary is assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution, or government orphanage or leprosarium.

I will leave the law angle to my friend, Connie who is an expert in the field and has written all about it, rather, superbly in her own blog.

Suffice it to say that the bishops justify their action contending that the donation is not really for them but for the benefit of their flock - to facilitate reaching the far-flung barrios, maybe. They also contend that the Pnoy government is just trying to get back at them for their hard stand on the RH bill. The former statement got me to reflect. I have yet to see a bishop do real missionary work. There have only been a couple of times that I have seen an actual bishop in my lifetime and I have been schooled in a Catholic school and still teach in one. And in all these times, it has been in a church and only upon the invitation of the parish or diocese where they say mass and/or give confirmation. This led me to be a skeptic of their justification.

Besides, why an SUV in the first place? To give them the high stature their office represent? But what about the vow of poverty and simplicity? Sometimes, I get to thinking and I get disappointed. Wag na ngang mag-isip ulit.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A crown jewel for twenty six

I wake up today in luxury. We celebrated Nitz' birthday and our 26th anniversary yesterday. As agreed, we were to hear mass at 6 a.m. I acceded thinking it was her birthday and since it's a Wednesday, I assumed it would be a very ordinary short mass. However, when I woke up, Nitz was no longer in bed. (She is currently sleeping with her 87 year old mother as the mother's companion, Theresa, our trusted house help, has gone on vacation in her hometown in Bicol.) Before I digress, Nitz had already gone when I tried to go to her to wake her up. I thought she might have gone to church already or she could just be buying bread. To be sure, I texted her to know her whereabouts. True enough, she was already in church. It was her day and it should be very special. So, I got dressed and went to join her.

Alas, it was not an ordinary mass as I expected. They call it Chrisma. I have never attended one and I can only surmise that it was a mass that would celebrate the renewal of a priest's vows. There were about 50 priests coming from different towns and parishes with the archbishop celebrating the mass. In other words, it was a long celebration. There was this part when the priests lined up to receive the blessings of the archbishop with a bear hug and that alone consumed about twenty minutes or so. T make a long story short, the mass took about two hours.

When Nitz and I received holy communion, we did not finish the mass anymore and proceeded to have a simple breakfast at Jolibee. From there, I helped her cook her favorite dish by chopping about ten onions to smithereens causing my eyes to bleed tears.

After lunch, we set off for the hotel, Crowne Plaza, which is a gift from our eldest daughter, Kraiganne. When we got to the place, I joined the valet to see where he would park the car. (Actually, I forgot to bring my contraband of cigarettes and I didn't like my wife to see I brought some. :) When I tried to rejoin the family at the check in counter, I was told that they are checking in at the 19th floor. It was then that I realized this was not the usual hotel check-ins we usually do. True enough, we were led to a suite room at the 17th floor. My daughter made sure we would enjoy something different this time. Very nice.

When we were settled, we were joined by our two sons. First to arrive from school was Coby. Still clad in his chef uniform, he arrived with some delicacies and a bunch of flowers for his mom. Mickey was still in the office in a meeting with his bosses. He joined us at dinner together with my sister-in-law, her husband, and their child.

Our twenty-sixth anniversary is just like the way we always celebrate it. Fun and enjoyment with nary a care in the world about office work, debts and all that negative vibes which is just as it should be. With this famiy I've got, who needs to be rich?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

traje de boda

Just like playing the guitar, I have indulged in poetry without any formal training. I am basically self-taught and having discovered my interest in it when I turned 40ish, I am rather late. Equipped with nothing but vague memories of what at the time seemed meaningless lectures from high school teachers, I plunged ahead thinking I could make it on my own, with lots of help from an online university to provide me with the ins and outs of what poetry is, and how it is done. Armed with a little knowledge gathered from online friends and reading here and there, I tried my best to get myself published once I thought I was ready. After all, why am I studying the craft if my products could not be read or heard, or so, I thought.

Slowly, I managed to sneak into the world of letters having some of my works published in the same online university. As a matter of fact, I even managed to give a public reading of three of my poems in Richmond, Canada, with the auspices of my very good friend, the late Arlene Lawson.

I can say that poetry has been very good to me. I have befriended a lot of poets and writers from abroad. That gave me enough courage to try new depths. It was during this time when I chanced upon a site for Filipinos in the diaspora, a term I even had to look up. I submitted some of my works and failed miserably. It was then that I knew my knowledge is not yet up to par. I should have been crushed but that is not my way.

At the time, I was already practicing to write by maintaining this blog. Unbeknownst to me, I shall be friends with two remarkable sisters, one is a visual artist, the other, the associate editor of the same mag I wanted to penetrate. I don't recall who among the sisters I got to know first but I did exchange blog links with at least one of them. Then, from out of nowhere, the associate editor, Aileen, contacted me one time to tell me that she was interested in publishing my first poem ever that is written in tagalog,Malapot na Tubig or should I say, Filipino, as more people in the academe refer to it. I was ecstatic. To think I was contacted and offered to be published in the mag I wanted to penetrate was heaven to me considering that neither she nor I knew where we are coming from. She would ask me again for my permission for another poem and ask me to join a project of a thousand views of Eileen Tabios' "Girl Singing". That gave me a natural high.

Nevertheless, this post is about the associate editor, Aileen Ibardaloza's, first book of poems entitled traje de boda published by Meritage Press with the cover having been designed by none other but the sister, Sophia. I am fortunate enough to have the honor of having a copy together with another book the poet has sent my way, Toni Morrison's beloved.

From the title alone, I hint the union of two personalities, which I suspect is a metaphor for the merging of two cultures not necessarily worlds apart. To me, the term traje de boda does not simply mean a wedding dress but it suggests sophistication brought about by a rich Spanish heritage deeply embedded in our veins. The fact that we have been influenced by more colonizers complicates our entire being rendering the traje de boda as not only consisting of a heritage taken from the conquistador but is, in fact, the conglomeration of a hodge podge of different sets of values, mores and sentiments rolled into one. In all its ups and downs, this mix is what makes us unique as a people.

I say that the merger of two cultures does not necessarily mean of two opposing worlds as the culture of one of the halves is already known to one of the partners after having been exposed to it, nay, probably to what the other's kindred wanted to be exposed. I say this having in mind one of the poems, Viand, a term we all know to be a dish to go with rice. We enter the world of the union with lines such as
having encountered
the word before,

on whom
language was never


While this can be seen as something light, if not comical, yet we know the situation can be serious as with matter/of children,/politics,in-laws, finances (La Paloma) but everything is worth it considering the happiness the union brings as in Italian Wedding Soup or the commitment one gives in For Paul

But this is not all that I got from the book. I also feel the sense of longing for what once was while learning to embrace the new. I managed a smile upon reading Quiapo a poem written, I suppose, from memory. I, too, have not gone to the place in a very long time and the images that the poem conjured are the same as mine. It may be acaulescent (another word I had to look up. Man do I have a very limited vocabulary) for it is the arm that stretches to all directions. Any part of Manila points to Quiapo and vice versa. It is the heart from where the blood flows; where vendors of abortive potions, assorted herbs, amulets juxtaposed with red candles sell beside the grand ole church to where the Black Nazarene sleeps. It is the age-old traditions of pre-colonial times trapped within an urban jungle.

The book, too, is about relationships made more complicated by players with different circumstances, forged by time between joy and angst, turmoil and plentitude, naivete and wit and so much more. The ironies in The hay(na)ku of the Broken Fourth Wall, replete with sharp images give it power. Who would miss the reference to Jose Rizal and Josephine with the words dulce extrangera? A term Rizal gave to his "lonely" wife. We feel the loneliness of the man as he leaves behind an alien woman who will live in a foreign land in condemnation of her beloved's family and yet continue to fight the battle of her husband and dying of extreme poverty in yet another land that is HongKong?

If there is one thing I learned from this book, other than rousing my otherwise, short attention span, it would be knowing how to make a poem, deliver its punches, enjamb in more ways than one. I have concretized what I have read before that what is universal lies in the particular. That one can write about what one knows without fear of not being understood by another person from the outside looking in. That one should learn how to speak from the heart and surely, there will be someone somewhere who could relate to it and this will grow until what one has written is accepted to be universal truth.

Like I said, I am just self-taught. I may be way-off with my understanding of the book, its essence and raison d'etre and for that I apologize. But I shall not apologize for my innocence. This has been what I saw, or witnessed as I turn each page and I am owning it. To my friend, congratulations on a job well done.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Two Saints

Sometime in 1996, I was commissioned by then Director, Mr. Ochave to create a painting of St. La Salle. My first problem was that I did not have any picture of the subject except for paintings already done by different artists. This made me think that the portrait that I shall be doing will be a painting of a painting. Why do I have to do that when there are lots of copies of the same painting available? It was then that I thought of doing a mosaic to put a different spin on the subject. Hence, what I did was to get colored paper, cut them into squares of about 1/4 of an inch and arrange these squares of different colors until it formed a likeness to the saint. Here is a picture of the outcome.

Unfortunately, the colored papers are now fading away and given a few more years, the face will eventually be gone. Prior to this, I made a mosaic
(my first) of another La Salle saint, Bro. Miguel Febres Cordero who had just been canonized that year (circa 1982) and from whom then newly constructed Prep building was named. I used chips of wood which I laboriously painted with different colors. It was exhibited at the facade of the building until the same has been rebuilt into a bigger edifice which it is now. I don't know where they placed the painting but I have lost track of it is now. Sometimes, this is the problem when an "unknown" artist does a work for free. It does not seem like the piece has any worth and the people that should be taking care of it are unmindful of whatever happens to it. In fairness, I don't think they've thrown it away. It's just somewhere out there waiting to be re-discovered.

A masochist by heart, this year, knowing that retirement is closing in on me, I wanted to leave behind a legacy which will remind everyone that I worked in this school for almost 30 years. I wanted to do another portrait of the founder but the Brother president had something else in mind. Since we have just finished the new administration building, he wanted me to do a portrait of the saint from whom the building is named. This time, I opted to use oil using the same principle of juxtaposing colors instead of mixing them, a technique that closely resembles George Seurat's pointillism. I made a 4' X 5' portrait of St. Mutien Marie. Here it is. Please disregard the big difference in my weight and the amount of hair on my forehead.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Start of Something Big

On January 28, we held the school's annual on-the-spot art contest. Participated in by grade schoolers from Grades 1 - 7, the competition extended to high school with the following categories. Category 1 (Grades 1 - 3) painting; Category 2 (Grades 4 - 5) painting; Category 3 (Grades 6 - 7) Mobile-Making; Category 4 (high school) painting; and, Category 5 (High school)painting. We invited artists like Mr. Boy Ventura, Mr. Mario Patdu, Bro. Lazaro and our own alumnus, Mahal Adams to judge the entries. When the winners were known, we put these on exhibit together with selected works and various works done by students for the schoolyear. We awarded the winners and opened the exhibit on February 15 with a simple ceremony attended by no less than the President of the school, the principals and their assistants, coordinators, teachers, winners and some guests.

The Judges Judging!

As part of the affair, I wrote a short article to introduce the exhibit which we entitled: The Start of Something Big I am reprinting it here for safekeeping for whatever it is worth.

People’s view of Art as a subject has often been misdirected. This is borne out of the misconception that art only involves doing things that are mere pieces of indefinable hubristic ornaments perceived with an even-a-child-could-do-that attitude that, at best, are hung on walls or those that are put on pedestals to adorn hallways; however, art is about a nation’s history and culture giving the people not only a sense of pride but more importantly, endowing it with a soul. It is during the Art subject that one finds meaning to what one is as a human being, a citizen of a country and, eventually, the world. It is in the Art subject that one begins to know how his forefathers lived, what clothes they wore, etc. It is in the Art subject that students begin to see how his/her people view things around them.

Given the right treatment in teaching the subject, the lessons learned and the values derived from it can be limitless. While it is true that engaging in art can be frolicsome, it is not as superficial as it is purported to be. Engaging in Art can be as important as the other subjects. More than anything, it is more accessible and even much more timelessly relevant than any other. Unbeknownst to even more, we use art in our everyday life more than we know it. There is Art in everything we see and do. There should be art in your choice of clothes- making your color choices match or even designing your own. The most complicated product could not have been successful had not the designers known how to make its packaging as beautiful as it is. From the latest car models to the smallest everyday gizmo one can have in his/her collection, everything started with paper and pencil to make the product not only workable but enticingly beautiful and, most especially, saleable.

The Art subject provides you with the mundane to your most essential needs. It not only teaches you about aesthetics, it also teaches you how to observe the handling of materials and the characteristics of colors to enable you to come up with your own style. The subject is where you start to fulfil your fantasy, make your reality known and shape your future and the world.
From this exhibit, you will find budding artists who will design beautiful packages, engineers who will build strong machines, architects who will create astounding buildings and painters who will record our history through their art. Together, these people will carve the landscape of tomorrow be it in the visual arts, fashion, industry or technology. So in essence, this is the start of something big.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A walk back to 1973 and I was 16 years old again

Back in 1973, I was exiled (or should I say banished, if that is a better term) by my father to far away San Miguel, Bulacan in a parish school called St. Paul's College. It was just a year after Marcos had declared Martial Law. How I wish the reason for my exile was because I was hiding from the military because of my political views. However, it was not that romantic. I was far from being political at the time. I was just 16 years old going 17 and I think I was too young to join either the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan or SDK or the more renegade Kabataang Makabayan (KM). Let us just say that I have not been a good boy. It was the 70's and we, meaning my friends and I, were experimenting with a lot of things and discovering the world on our own.

Last Wednesday, I was one of the school's representatives to go on an ocular visit of San Miguel for the school's prospective alternative learning (ALE otherwise known as a field trip) to the Madlum Caves, Biak-na-Bato and nearby Balingcupang, a series of caves which was used by Aguinaldo and his katipuneros as hideouts during the war. As fate would have it, I successfully convinced my companions to make a detour to go visit what was my hometown for a year. When we reached the place, I could not believe it but the place barely changed. Of course, the old St. Paul school was no longer there as it has moved to a bigger lot along the highway, which was really the plan even while I was there back in 73. And yet, the municipal hall, the old house built in 1931 which was bought by the Paulinian nuns to be the rooms for some of its college classes, the restaurant-cum-dormitory where I stayed during the second half of my schooling there are still recognizable. Suddenly, I remember the prominent surnames like Buencamino, Pengson, Libunao, Tecson, Reyes, Sevilla, my favorite teachers, Mr. Rolando Waminal (English) and Mr. Perez, (Chemistry), with whom I shared several bottles of beer until about 9 or 10 pm practically everyday in the restaurant where I stayed. I also remembered my classmate that I had a teen-aged crush on, a pretty lass from nearby San Ildefonso. It was just like yesterday and I was 16 years old again.

The picture above was the immediate vicinity of the then St. Paul's College which we used as our playing area. I remember hanging out on an old grotto together with my classmates during recess and lunchtime.

The picture below shows the facade of the building. When asked what it was now, I was told that they were transforming it into a memorial chapel.

I remember being in the honor's class, (there were only two) Junior Jade, and our classroom was the first room immediately after the gate. When inside the classroom, I would peek out the window to check out who was outside and when outside, I could peek in and see if classes have already started.

I was with two of my cousins, Ferdie and Ramon, who came to study here. They were former seminarians who got out and found refuge in San Miguel. Ferdie, the older one, was my age but he was already a Senior. I would have been a Senior, too but unfortunately, I had to repeat the year. I was a bad student, remember? The younger one, Ramon, was my classmate. Ferdie commuted everyday from Baliwag to San Miguel while Ramon and I opted to live in a dorm inside an old house which turned out, after googling it,used to be owned by the Santiago's. I had lots and lots of stories to tell about this house which, from day 1, the natives told us, was haunted. I remember people staring at us after knowing that we lived there.

Ramon and I had two more guys living in the house. I could not remember their names but the older one was a very intelligent guy who just arrived from the Visayas and the other, a Freshman which, for some unknown reason, my mind tells me his name is Alex Montinola. So until someone reminds me who the guy is, he will be Alex to me.

The house was huge with its flooring made of thick slabs of narra wood that no matter how hard you jumped, it would not tremble. The rooms were transformed into classrooms by day until around 7 pm. After classes and when every student had gone home, it became eerie, especially when all lights are turned off. It would be pitch black that one would think he had his eyes closed for he could not even see his palm even if it was right in front of his face. There was an adjacent building where two caretakers lived. We would cross the rooms and join them for a drink of our favorite brew, a long neck and a pulutan of ginataang rimas.

The layout of the house, as I recall it, was that there was a big staircase which leads to the comfort room to the right. Turn left and there would be a dining room but we rarely ate there for none of us cooked. Press on farther and the next would be our sleeping room. There were four beds (cots, I think). If you notice, there are balusters next to a tree. What we did was cut two of these balusters, put them back, and come night time, crawl out using the balusters and hang on and get down to the adjoining tree, go out of the gate and travel all the way to Baliwag to watch a movie.

AFter a month, my cousin left the dorm leaving the three of us. Soon after, my other classmate dropped-out because of his raging hormones told him he wanted to marry a girl from college in the same school but the relationship was thwarted by the girl's family. A few days thereafter, Alex moved to the restaurant where we ate. I was all alone. Sometimes, I would ask some classmates to stay and sleep with me but most often, I was alone. What I would do was cover underneath my blanket and think, if there would be a ghost or whatever, he/she can take me anywhere he/she wants but I am not taking off my blanket!

St. Paul and San Miguel will always be in my mind until memory fails me. It was a milestone not only because this was where I learned how to be on my own and live independently but most of all, I should say that during this time of my life when I was slumped to the ground, this was where I stood up! It was smooth sailing from then on. San Miguel, Bulacan, you will always be in my heart.