Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Somewhere they assemble, fragments in space
gathering into a mound, dissolved and defying nothingness.

How it’s never noticed: one swirling cloud of matter
eddying to the ground. We only give it names – dust,

dirt, mess, filth
– avoided, scorned, evaded, detested,
swept up into the tangles of someone else’s broom

along a sidewalk. What is quickly spurned is barely
seen by the naked eye: transient particles of life,

touched now and then by streams of impeccable sunlight.
So what if this turns up into someone else’s world,

those specks suddenly magnified, figures breathing dust
from our everyday lives? We may never get to know

how the invisible exists, after the sweeping,
after it’s gone. Listen: There are whimpers behind us,

the terribly asthmatic, helplessness mingling
with ways of the unknown, the last remaining pieces

swept away all the same, vague illusions in their place,
perhaps second-guessing, coughing sputum in its wake.

Friday, June 08, 2007

at the core of my being.

(Today is Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day. First celebrated last 2002, the occasion gathers Chinoys from all over the country for an evening of food, camaraderie and superb performances. Incidentally, this year also marks 32 years of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China - two countries separated by a mere strip of water. The piece below was written for the Fil-Chi digest Tulay Magazine and came out in its special Fil-Chi Friendship Day issue last June 14, 2005.)

If I look back on where I was a year-and-a-half ago, things would have been different: One, I would have been dead set on enrolling in a different school; and two, going to UP would have been the last thing on my mind.

It’s not hard to see why. Just take it from someone who before was not allowed to, who all his life had not been encouraged to, and who naturally, had never thought of becoming a Maroon – but ended up being one anyway. At first, my parents didn't think going to UP was such a good idea. They have frequently droned on about how difficult life in the University would be: from having to contend with eccentric professors to carrying placards in the searing heat by day and lining up in some abandoned basement for a fraternity initiation by night. Patiently enduring the long talks, I do appreciate their concerns; yet somehow these just don’t do the trick anymore.

You see, I’m what many people would call a “Chinoy”. If the word doesn’t ring a bell, think of it as somewhere along the line between Mr. Zhang and Mang Pedro – you get the picture. I’m the modern-day product of a few old Chinese chaps who immigrated to the Philippines sometime in the early 20th century, tried out their luck and eventually got settled. Essentially, I’m made up of two identities – a “Pinoy” one and a Chinese one (thus the term Chinoy.) The “Pinoy” one I can readily see day through day, thanks to some 80 million “kababayans” scattered all over this archipelago. But since only about 1 million of these have so-called Chinese identities, with the number all the more smaller in UP, I half-surmised that my parents feared it would be all too easy for everything to disappear into thin air, for a clueless guy like me to have his Chinese identity peeled off in just a matter of time.

Perhaps this is the reason why ever since childhood, our parents saw to it that we grew up knowing this Chinese identity, which I initially had mixed feelings about. On one hand, the trips to Chinese temples and grandiose celebrations of the Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival brought us much enjoyment. Our imaginations widened as we engrossed ourselves in Chinese stories and myths, munched “siomai” and “chopsuey”, acquired trained eyes for Jackie Chan and Jet Li and relished the soothing melodies of “Yue liang dai biao wo de xin”. Those were the days, I suppose.

On the other hand, we were also made to speak Chinese at home (though among us siblings we mostly don’t) and attend Chinese classes alongside English ones until high school. I could still remember my late grandmother as being the greatest influence when it comes to the language game. Once when we were small, she even instructed one of our house help to learn simple Fukien so we could converse with her in the language! But being young, my mind was filled with a lot of questions, as to why we have to talk in Chinese at home when vernacular seemed to be the most convenient way of communicating, as to why we have to take extra pains and headaches in school learning another language when we could be outside playing and having a good time. Numerous times my parents have tried to explain why everything is so, but my stubborn self turned many a deaf ear and only now did I understand the meaning and significance of it all.

Our nation has been and remains a huge melting pot of cultures, where all around us people with similar “Pinoy” identities but are of different ethnicities and nationalities can be seen hobnobbing each other day after day. As I’ve stated before, Chinoys comprise only a minute fraction of this enormous hodgepodge. It is precisely because of this that I am all the more taught to be aware of who I am and of who I must try to become. By taking care of our Chinese identity, I realized that we gave ourselves a sense of individuality in this vast “Pinoy” sea. Since in our everyday lives we interact with myriad people, some of whom may be worlds different from us, our opinions, ideas and beliefs are greatly influenced, which in turn may also influence who we are and who we perceive ourselves to be. Steadfastly holding on to a true identity does not easily permit that.

But still we are Chinoy, and because of this our parents also wanted us to grow up enjoying our freer, other “Pinoy” side, supplementing our Chinese identity and completing our overall Chinoy identity. We are devout Catholics. My siblings and I enjoy Jollibee as much as we enjoy Chowking. We listen to pop music as much as classical Chinese songs, and tales of Maria Makiling and Juan Tamad are very much present in our lives. This is because my parents, inasmuch as they wanted us to retain this distinct Chinese identity, do not limit us there; rather, they allow us to observe and experience things from a perspective that is truly “Chinoy” – one that encompasses both “Pinoy” and Chinese points of view, one that is uniquely ours and theirs as well. This way, we are able to expand our horizons and enrich our knowledge and culture from both sides of the fence.

Now that I’m in UP, I get to really go through what being a Chinoy brings about, especially since there lies an obviously major difference between the environment of an austere, nearly puritanical Chinese school and that of a much politically inclined state university. Of course, things went on fine with my ”Pinoy” identity primarily taking over. But soon my Chinese one gradually showed up and I have to admit, my first few days in the Oblation grounds were a period of much revelation. Though already expected, I was still nevertheless stunned by the sudden change of atmosphere, seeing students casually enter in shorts, slippers and even nightgowns! Furthermore, my monosyllabic surname would always stand out during a roll call, and you could bet that any mention of a Chinese word would elicit “oohs”, “aahs” or plain confused stares from my classmates.

Yet in spite of all these, I’m grateful that I’m still able to live a relatively normal life in the University. I’m even more grateful to have had the privilege of being born into a society where Chinese assimilation has become one of, if not the most, stable. I am fortunate enough to have been able to learn and speak my ancestral tongue in all my thirteen years of schooling and practice centuries-old customs with nothing to fear or be ashamed about. Most of all, I’m free to raise my head and chin up in simply being Chinoy.

With China already an “awakened dragon”, having sent its first astronaut into space and gearing up for the 2008 Olympics, and with an increasing demand for Mandarin speaking jobs to cater to billions of Chinese around the globe, I am finally able to see my parents’ intentions in a different light, as their words now echo like nuggets of wisdom, convincing me to come to terms with my Chinese identity and polish it with dignity. Whatever I do and wherever I find myself in, I know that I will always be who I am – thanks to what they have instilled in me, one that is forever bound to be at the core of my being.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

the ten joys of summer.

Summer has come and gone. The unbearable heat of the noontime sun is gradually giving way to the thick black clouds of the rainy season, and storms – whether we like them or not – are once again looming over the horizon. And here I am, psyching myself up for classes and bracing for the incessant deluge of monsoon (and exam) rains. But if only to look back on the happy, carefree weeks that were, who can deny that summer had been a real blast? Below are ten reasons on why I personally felt my summer had been a swell one, no regrets:

1. Holy Week
As a child, it used to be watching the grandiose candlelit processions of saints that went deep into the night on Good Friday, serving in church and doing the rounds of the Visita Iglesia with my family as I grew older, and most recently taking part in the liturgy of the Word for the second consecutive year. I was up to the challenge: Deliver the Passion as if the congregation were witnessing the actual suffering of Christ, and partake of Easter as a celebration of life itself. Beyond the petty excursions people crave about during this time of year, a simple personal reflection is sometimes all you really need.

2. BusinessOur store was severely undermanned over the summer, resulting in everyone moving and rushing double-time to get things done twice as much, and twice as fast. I wasn’t spared from all the hurly-burly, at times having to attend to different matters all at once. But I learned some new skills, not to mention the understated importance of being an efficient multitasker. And of course, there’s cultivating the work ethic that will prove invaluable in the years to come. Not at all a bad way to keep yourself productive.

3. Bank Tellers
I guess my innate charm hit the mark again. An invariable part of doing errands for my mom consisted of trips to BDO-Iznart for updates, deposits and payments. And how can you not resist meeting and befriending the colorful people who kept the place running: Tito Joel (the manager), Ma’am Ruby, Joy, Ann, Conchita, Emily, Cherry Ann and newest addition Nessie. Bills and passbooks exchanged for jokes and pleasantries, my presence readily given away whenever I wore those rubber slippers that noisily clicked as I made my way along the shiny tiled floors.

4. Weekends
Studying in Manila, I had a lot of catching up to do when it came to good old high school classmates. What better way to spend warm weekend nights than meet up for a nice dinner or a movie, followed by a leisurely nighttime stroll along some quiet downtown street, and afterwards a refreshing cup of coffee? Our pockets were limited but the stories were endless and the camaraderie incomparable.

5. Going Places and Playing Host
This included attending my first real fiesta ("Hopping on a Bus, I Reveled in a Fiesta One Weekend in April") at Ralph’s place an hour away from the city. The journey revealed a nice, budding countryside that brought back to mind the words of my Canadian cousin Edrea: “You should get to know your country first.” Fiestas are almost synonymous with good food – which didn’t leave us at all disappointed. We also had a mini Iloilo-Bacolod exchange program with our classmate Trick, and last summer was Level I: the basics. Hopefully next year, we will be able to move on to Level II: the hinterlands.

6. Voting
My sentiments were voiced out in an earlier post (“The First Ballot”) but I thought it worth mentioning again as the first ballot is such an important milestone for every law-abiding, civic-minded citizen of this country. The elections in our place were generally peaceful and clean, yet I can’t help thinking of the far-flung barrios where people voted in silent fear or submission, unable to exercise their right through a simple exertion of will. There were those who sacrificed more – their freedom and even their lives just to uphold a genuine democratic cause.

7. Algebra and Trigonometry
Well, I played mentor to my brother and got my wish, too. I had been missing Math for quite sometime, and was therefore amazed that I still got a satisfactory grip on the principles with a little recall now and then. What students usually learn in the span of one school year, we crammed into just about 3 weeks. And no doubt it was a great mental workout, being both teacher and student at the same time.

8. American Idol
When the dust finally settled, Jordin Sparks was the last performer standing. I was rooting for versatile technician Melinda Doolittle, with Jordin placing a close second on my list. It’s not everyday that you get to see a promising 17 year-old fresh from high school who endears the world with her thousand-watt smile and who can belt out songs to the sky with a voice defying the force of gravity. Ever since I got hooked on the show after watching Fil-Am sensation Jasmine Trias on it, I’m always looking forward to the next season.

9. APO Hiking Society
They were a feisty, middle-aged trio of boundless energy who gave it their all, conquered our hearts and sang like there’s no tomorrow during their packed concert in Iloilo last June 2. An incredible singing prowess peppered with wisecracking remarks and upbeat humor kept us glued to the stage and elicited rales of laughter from the audience. Champions of OPM, the APO is a true testament to Filipinos as first-class entertainers. And they continue to hike their way up the world, still, to bring the Philippine flag to even greater heights.

And the best reason…

10. 8 Hours of Sleep!
‘Nuff said.