Jumping the Tombs

For me, memorial parks are more like golf courses: manicured lawns, sprinklers, the reception area with marble floors and columns. The memorial park is like a slice of white-picket-fences America, lined with stunted and balding alder trees to give the burial grounds a more suburban, refined feel.

Before all of this, though, there was the venerable sementeryo.

I’m never sure about what to call “cemeteries” in the Philippines: as with a lot of things here, the Western ideal takes a whole new meaning. The Filipino graveyard is as much about life as it is about death: people do live in shacks in the graveyard, mausoleums become homes for caretakers and undertakers and gravediggers and their families. On All Saints’ Day, the land of the dead becomes everything in the land of the living: a marketplace, a picnic area, a park, a playground. A casket can become a photo booth (or at least one enterprising funeral home thought of that brilliant idea), just as the tombs in the front of the cemetery become sari-sari stores.

Far from the “Six Feet Under” feel of memorial parks, or notions of “the family plot.”

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Making Skater Heaven

I’m not being a grumpy old man about skateboarding. It’s just that they need a place.

I’m a fan of skateboarding: I watch the X-Games, I used to play the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, and the history of skateboarding – Rodney Mullen, Jamie Thomas, Steve Caballero, Bob Burnquist – appeals to me. I don’t skate (and I can’t, for that matter), but I do appreciate the thrill of pushing the limits that comes with it.

At the same time, though, I don’t want to see anyone get hurt doing it. I’ve seen people twist their ankles on an ollie up the sidewalk. I’ve seen at least five skaters almost get crushed because they’re dodging cars while the “Do Not Cross” sign is on. I’ve seen two or three office workers get bumped by an errant skater.

I’ve overheard some conversations that skaters should be “banned” from BGC. I’m not so sure about that, though. The most authorities can do, I think, is to remind skaters to wear protective headgear and pads when they skate.

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A #Laboracay Rant

Carlos Maningat writes:

“By bragging their #Laboracay escapade, they are also flaunting their skimpy ignorance of what Labor Day really is – which is about the massacre of protesting workers who asserted the eight-hour workday and other rights at work which most Boracay-goers are enjoying. But we cannot blame them, for their ignorance is only shaped by a socio-economic structure that is increasingly reversing the gains of workers’ movements and burrowing labour and unionism in oblivion.”

Ooooh, angry.

When I was younger, I would have probably said the same thing. Or close to the same thing: I would have railed on with complicated words and complex sentences. Then again, I’m in the twilight of my youth. I’m long past the sun and sand and surf and whatever you look forward to at the beach these days. I can happily lounge around the pool of some resort in hiking shoes if I have to, warming myself up for a date with the air conditioner and cable TV.

But this isn’t the reason why I “hate” #Laboracay. I have shallow reasons. That hashtag annoys the hell out of me.

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On Selfies

Towards the end of “Samurai X” – OK, “Rurouni Kenshin” – the dojo was supposed to have its pictures taken by a photographer in the village.  In the group, it was only Sannosuke who was averse to the idea of still pictures, claiming that the camera will “suck the soul” of anyone who may gaze into the lens.  He or she will be frozen, he claims.  A lot like a mechanical Medusa of sorts, that the blinding flash of the light will momentarily turn you to stone.

I’m not sure about the statistics of Instagram, but I bet that a majority of the pictures there are selfies.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s word for 2013 was “selfie.”  Their definition: “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or web cam and uploaded to a social media website.”  But we all know that there’s more to the selfie than just merely being a photograph.  It’s not an ID picture, but a filtered, saturated, “artistic” self-portrait.  It’s the self-image – in the strictest sense of the word “image” – that we want to project.

The selfie is the closest approximation we have to show the world how we see ourselves in the mirror.  The touch-ups, the angles, the filters and the colors and the hues are touches of personality that a clear eyesight prevents us (perhaps even betrays us) from seeing in the real world.  There’s a somewhat obvious subtext to the selfie: the way we see ourselves, is the way we want to be seen.

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The Turkey and I

Besides the family dog, the first pet that I truly had was the turkey.

I was about eight when Dad and my uncle bought a couple of turkeys home.  For some reason, I took to feeding the turkey not as a chore, but as a “mission” of sorts.  Feeding leftovers to the neighbor’s pigs was one thing, but taking care of the turkey was another.  I even made the turkey gobble on cue: all I had to do was stand in front of it, jump around, and imitate Taz from “Tazmania.”

Until that fateful day when Dad decided that the turkey was fat enough to be killed.  I was inconsolable: for much of the day I looked at my relatives as cold-hearted pet-killers.  Eventually I relented: after a gift of a plastic robot and a talk with Dad over the facts of life, I sat down to one of the best pets I ever had.

It wasn’t exactly a good meal, though: my pet turkey ended up as adobo and afritada, not the roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce of our 20th century colonial masters.  It wasn’t bad – a rather earthy, gamey chicken – but a bit sinewy and rubbery.  That’s the first and the last turkey we kept.

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Yolanda: Notes on a Disaster

Twenty-three years ago, Typhoon Uring (international codename: “Thelma”) turned Ormoc from a peaceful port overlooking the Camotes Sea, to a wasteland of despair and death.  The flash flood of 1991 gave way to the most haunting images left behind by Typhoon Uring: entire houses flattened by floodwaters, and streets ravaged by rubbish and debris.  Almost 5,000 people died from the flash floods.  An estimated 3,000 were declared missing, and P600 million worth of property were damaged by a storm that was, for a time, deemed the worst of them all.

Perhaps the most haunting images of all were rotting bloated corpses: like statues etched in blocks of impure marble and clothed with tattered rags, it seemed that the sculptor wanted to capture drowning and despair in their most literal forms.

And here we are, in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (international codename: “Haiyan”). Most storms hit the same places in the Philippines’ eastern seaboard.  The Eastern Visayas region – Samar and Leyte in particular – is no stranger when it comes to typhoons.  Yet at the same time, the region is no stranger to the poverty and vulnerability that comes with generations of underdevelopment.  Eastern Visayas is a place of extreme wealth in the hands of a few, and despondent poverty for the multitude.

The chatter in Philippine social media today spares no barbs for the Aquino administration, international humanitarian agencies, and even reporters from here and all over the globe.  Everything from politics to donation protocols to media coverage was put in the spotlight.  The images of hope – a street child donating a peso, a dirt-poor 80-year-old woman donating a half-open packet of milk to those starving in Leyte, lone helicopter pilots doing airdrops on their own, ShelterBox volunteers – are often shadowed by the criticisms of an angry public, mostly spared from the devastation of Yolanda.  “Donations are not being distributed fast enough,” one says.  “Politicians are hoarding donations for them to put their names on the bags,” says another.  That storm of opinions, brewing and swirling in Twitter and Facebook, did in words what Yolanda did in gales and storm surges: to shake the very core of our being.

Yet the devastation caused by Yolanda was just the exclamation point to the tragic story of Eastern Visayas: mired in hardship and poverty for decades, perhaps even generations.  Samar and Leyte became the poster provinces of rural poverty in the Philippines.  Yolanda barreled through the Visayas and not only uprooted trees and destroyed buildings and claimed lives: it also exposed the extent of poverty and underdevelopment in a place that needed aid and support way before the strongest typhoons of this year started brewing.

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Greetings from Jakarta

It was the poet T. Mulya Lubis who once wrote, roughly translated, “Indonesia’s future is two hundred million mouths gaping.”  As the Blue Bird taxi took me from the Soekarno Airport to Kuningan (sort of the Makati/Fort Bonifacio of our friendly neighbors south of the country), it was easy to see that the one marked, obvious difference between the Philippines and Indonesia is that we drive on the left.

I guess this is reason to believe in the wise words of my high school English teacher: there are more things that bring us together than keep us apart.

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