Saturday, May 25, 2013

Brown is beautiful.

I have 3 days off from work starting today so it's nice to have a time to write a new post although I don't have an idea of what it will be.

It is raining outside. It is dark and gloomy and quiet.

It was so different from last week when the sun shyly and coquettishly re-emerged after winter. I saw several of my female neighbors lying outside by their front lawn in their bikinis. I saw two young males lying shirtless on the roof of another house. I saw a mother reading a book while soaking in the sun and another teenage girl mowing the lawn in a skimpy shirt and shorts. People here associate summer with sun-kissed skin that comes with it.

Indeed, Americans love the sun and a healthy tan. To them, brown is beautiful while white is... well, a pallor of death.

In contrast, we Filipinos considered the sun as the enemy to be avoided at all costs. Whenever it comes out, up went our protective umbrellas. In fact, people back home routinely insulted one another by observing that the other had gotten darker (“Umitim ka.”). What would have been the ultimate compliment for an American is for us the ultimate curse. The last time I visited my country I see whitening products everywhere. The harmony of ebony and ivory is now a promise from ebony to ivory.

This white thing was no joke. Every second ad showed miserable brown girls touched by the fairy god mother of whitening products to become happy, fulfilled white versions. A simple equation was evident: brown equals misery and white equals happiness. Do you know that it is a challenge to go to a store and find lotion that doesn’t proclaim its whitening properties? I can’t even watch TV without seeing a minimum of five advertisements proclaiming certain brand of whitening cream that will help one keep her boyfriend.

So you might ask, do I also have an affinity to white skin? YES!

Perhaps because to me white looks pure and reminds me of princess stories. But thinking about it now as I tinker on my keypad, I think my obsession with white skin is not a manifestation about my racial self-hatred or the desire to appear more Caucasian. I think it has to do more with social class. I remember having spent a lot of time basking in the sun when I was younger. I fetched water from a well back in Manarra. I helped my grandma tend our camote garden, fed our chickens, walked so many miles to the market, washed our laundry by the river or did the million other things under the sun. My skin got so dark that I feel like a lowly alipin sa gigilid (slave). When I attended school for the first time, I was fascinated with my classmates who have fairer skin. They looked rich and pretty. I can't be as white as them, so I befriended them. In time, and mainly from avoiding the sun, my skin get a little fairer but only to some extent. I know that my skin tone will remain the same in my life time.

Unless perhaps one is Michael Jackson. But that's a different story.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Please, Pass the Rice.

My uncle Butsoy cooked this yummy paella. Just one of the ways we can cook rice.

You see, there is this long running joke at home that I just laughed and shrugged off. But since Cedric came to live with us, the joke haunts us almost every meal time. In the surface it's hilarious, but deep down we know it is driving Ken crazy.

“We are having rib-eye steak tonight? So what will you have with it? Hmmm... don't tell me, let me guess... is it by any chance rice???" We know it is driving him mental because he would then ask “don't you eat anything else?”

How do you explain to a non-Filipino that we are rice eaters first, second and last. That rice is central to our lives. That it is normal for Cedric and me to demolished a 25 kg bag of rice in a month because we eat rice with everything. Rice with beef, pork, chicken, noodles, fish. We could even pile on one plate rice with pasta and bread and eat it in same sitting.

I wish Ken had come with me when I went home last March so he will see first hand the Filipino obsession with rice. It would have been fun to witness his reaction when he see more varieties of rice in the market than just about everywhere. He might be filled with disbelief to know that some of my countrymen would prefer to be paid with just rice. Give a Filipino some bread and they will still be hungry, give them rice and they are happy.

I remember those rare days when money were tight. My three boys had to do with eating a heap of rice with one puny stick of skewered burnt marinated pork, using a ratio of one tiny morsel of this dish with 4-5 tablespoons of rice. Sometimes it's two plates of steaming hot rice with microscopic menudo, shrinking sinigang and invisible adobo. They definitely have become an expert in stretching a single ulam to go with their rice.

I love rice, as any true-blooded Filipino does. I love garlic too. Although I don’t like it in my breath. But I like making garlic fried rice in the morning with my over-easy egg and bacon. And just imagine how Ken would roll his eyes at the sight of it. He prefer buttered toast with his egg and bacon. Of course!

When we go out to eat, most of the time Ken choose the venue because he wants to be served and waited on. But on occasions that he asked me to pick the place, I always picked the Chinese buffet because of the vast array of food and a choice of fried and plain rice. My son, like any typical Filipino would stacked his plate with two or three kinds of dish and a heaping mound of rice as if preparing for the Hunger Games. Ken could just shake his head.

My two other boys are no different. They prefer to eat in a restaurant that offer unlimited rice. They did not fret when we ate at a Kentucky outlet and all that was left in the bucket was a tiny chicken wing as long as there was still rice. They just pour gravy onto the rice and wadya know this thick brown goo had turned into an ulam(dish).

Gravy on rice? Ken, you gotta see this!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

My Homecoming Trip - part 4.

Yes, I saved the best for last. My family.

Throughout the years my family have grown with all sorts of personalities, which make every get-together fun, interesting, and memorable.

But first, let me set the tone of this monologue by thanking my husband Ken who gave me the gift of “coming home”. To my cousin Celerina from the moment she picked me up from the airport in Texas, to the moment we said goodbye to head off to our own families in Sagay.
So here goes...

Insomnia in Delta Flight 172. Houston to Detroit to Tokyo to Manila. Sixteen hours at just under the speed of sound. I was going back to the Philippines after three years and my old brain just wouldn't shut down.

It was Friday evening, when we began our final descent. I know right away I was back to my birth country because humidity there has a presence. It closed in on me, weighed me down and made me sleepy. It made me want to rip off my clothes because why the heck do I still have my jacket on? You see, the Philippines is a country of scant attire, where sweat from dawn to dusk is no disgrace. And take note that it was winter in Minnesota when I left, and my body was still in hibernation mode. And now… I’m in Manila. My body was in panic. But I know, I will get use to it gradually, or would I?

Anyway, shrieks of excitement and joy echoed throughout the house as I entered. It was a delight to see everyone. My two boys, my daughter-in-law, my grand daughter, my aunties and uncles, and cousins... just everybody! It would be unfair to mention any single one, as each face that I beheld brought back wonderful detailed memories that only face-to-face encounters could bring in stark relief. If you have been away from loved ones for quite sometime and had come home to visit, you know what I mean.

I was overjoyed to see them although secretly I was back in panic mode because the balikbayan box I had sent home while I was still in the US did not arrive on time. Inside that box are “pasalubong” to my kins and friends. FYI, pasalubong or gifts are very popular among us Filipinos. Like all other returnees I know that handing out pasalubong will keep my bond with family and friends or someone who has close relationship with me as it conveyed that they are being remembered while I am away. Pasalubong can be anything, such as shirts, novelty items, chocolates, jewelries, electronics, or toys among others. I would hand them out not wrapped and give to someone as it is.

But then I am prepared to give everything that I brought home away (except my Ipod and my mini-Ipad, Lol.) It is a gesture of love that I can give away anything requested by a family member. Besides I can usually replace it when I return to my adopted homeland, and relatives or friends usually covet something worn or used by a balikbayan. I know that I will almost surely fill my suitcase with new items and things I want to bring back to the US, so I won’t miss my old things so much.

Every week I was there were marked with different activities I did with relatives. There's birthday, graduation, and lots of get-together parties. The fact that other relatives living and working abroad also came home, made our reunion more meaningful. There were tales to tell, jokes to share, accomplishments to recognize and problems to address. All these made us closer to one another. I would wake up each day excited to know what new things will reveal to me as I begin to rediscover my kins. I again find myself belonging to a place after years of thinking that I really weren't from anywhere. I find myself so at home and secure there and felt such deep love for people and sights and smells. When I arrived back in the States I was shocked, even though it is all familiar, at how very different these two worlds are.

Today marks 5 weeks since I returned from the Philippines. The trip home was exhausting in every way possible.  When I was going, I had so much excitement and adrenaline coursing through me, but on the way back, I had only intense sadness and weariness. If Ken and Cedric had not been waiting for me here and if I did not need to see them so badly, I would not have gotten onto the plane.

I feel so much better now, but still can feel the effects of traveling half way around the world and back in 20 days.

Thank you for following the series.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Homecoming Trip - part 3

If you have read my previous posts, you know I was about to set off to my high school reunion.  The upcoming event had been looming on the calendar for months and with each new day that brought me closer to it, my excitement grew.

My enthusiasm for class reunions and everything that comes with it is at the same level as it was when I first attended it. I still consider it a display of pride for our school. It is three days of reconnecting with my fellow students, mentors and to my Sagay roots. I am surrounded by a sea of familiar and not-so-familiar-faces-anymore, and even as a repeat attendee, I was definitely awestruck by the whole ordeal. Just the number of people itself is enough to overwhelm and excite me.

The school's quadrangle was surrounded with booths, each one with banners announcing the year the batch graduated. Our class don a light purple shirt that me and Ann had donated and designed, others had green, blue, red, orange, white and many more which gave the venue a burst of color. We wore a blazing orange the nextday that our classmte Ginnie had provided us with.

I believe our graduating class was special since most of us had known each other from elementary school. So you are right to think that in many ways, it was a reunion like no other. I came, I satisfied my curiosity about old friends and classmates. I hugged each one of them, I laughed with them, and oh how I tried to squeeze the happenings of the last 35 years into brief snippets of conversation before I would rocket on to the next group of long lost pals. By the end of the day, my voice got worst but I still managed to give a long howl to cheer our classmate who competed in the beauty contest.

In our first reunion, I was certain we will live forever. On our 35th I know we won't. Conversations does normally drift to those classmates who have died or dying. Even classmates who are most likely to succeed have lost something – hair, a waistline, a marriage, a job, a spouse, a child, a fortune. Others on the other hand gained something – 50 pounds, a son or daughter-in-law, an illness, an ego. These things actually made me humble and wadya know, most people are nice at 50 than they were at 15. One comment I heard later was that people who hadn't really spoken to one another in high school had ended up in some great conversations. How often does that happen anymore? I just wished we have included a candle-lighting ceremony for more than a dozen classmates who had passed away.

In the company of my friends and classmates, it seems that time slows down and recedes. I felt like a teenager again, laughing and talking till evening unmindful of the summer heat. Except for one, all of my best friends in high school were there hence, that made this home coming very special. Because despite the miles between us, or the time that elapses between visits, these are the people who knew me almost as well as I know myself. Their gift of friendship and laughter never fails to lighten my soul.  I don’t need an old house to remind me what “home” means to me, I find it in my friends- most especially in Ann, Nancy, Zenette, Ping, & Ruby.

I am proud to say that our class now has a fantastic Facebook page, which I created. Ahem, ahem. And we are still connecting, posting pictures and sharing – not just memories of the past, but who we are today.

Part 4: The family.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My Homecoming Trip - part 2

It would be easier for me to recall events of my travel if I cronicled them by stages as they happen. So I am sharing my next big event and talk about the alumni homecoming in my next post.

On my 2nd day, as I try to settle to the vibe of home I find some things not quite the same as when I left them. Foremost is how expensive everything had become. The new peso bills look a bit play money-ish since the color is more vibrant but not quite crisp and by golly, they’re not worth very much anymore.

I cannot believe that I can't seem to spend less than P1,000 for a decent meal for three anymore. A pair of a nice looking sandal for a toddler cost more than the meal we just had, a 15 minute drive in a taxi cost at least P100 and giving the same amount as gift to a relative raises eyebrows all around. So, the initial euphoria I felt about being, wow, part of the faux prosperous quickly dissipated into “how am I gonna stretch my Mickey Mouse bills till I leave”?

One of my purpose in coming home is to get a denture maintenance appointment in Bacolod that would otherwise cost an arm and a leg here in the US. I may show off a nice smile in my pictures if you had seen them, but honestly, I had been needing major overhauling of my incisors and molars long before I came here and the long wait had turned my molar mangled out of commission, and some front teeth chipped almost beyond recognition. Besides that, I’d been forever suffering from overworking one side of my jaw muscles because of a sad lack of personnel on the “weak” side, and I needed porcelain reinforcements. Plus I have a class reunion to attend which make the appointment A MUST.

So on my second day, me and my sister went to see the dentist. The stark difference between here and getting services there is that you simply walk -in and be certain to get attended to right away. I was glad that the dentist was ultra-smooth and personable. Even with the impressive sounding quotation for the dentures, it was still not even a quarter of what it might cost here, but of course, I didn’t tell Doc that. Although I had an idea she already knows it. In fact, my bank account challenged son had to pay the same amount for having two of his tooth pulled here in the US. And he had to go through several appointments before he could get it done while my pretty Filipina dentist had it all done in one day - cleaning, filling, extraction, and new denture. Magic!

Indeed, it was a huge help having it done by a fellow Ilongo and the newer denture technology didn’t hurt either.

Now, I am ready to meet my classmates!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Homecoming Trip - part 1

I am back!!!

Actually, for over 3 weeks now. (Smiling sheepishly)

You see, I kept putting off writing this blog. Not so much because I was busy, but because I am overwhelmed with so many things I want to share with you about my travel to my birth country - Philippines.

There are just so much stuff I want to talk here and pictures I want to share that I decided to write this in parts. So here goes...

Okay, let me start by telling you the one universal truth about this topic. That coming home is without a doubt an emotional exercise. Therefore it was no surprise when the physical and cultural shock assaulted me almost as soon as I disembarked from my Delta flight in Seattle. First, because the temperature has dipped dramatically. The air is no longer dusty and humidity was non-existent. Gone too were the ever present wall-to-wall humanity and scattered garbage. Everything looks spacious and neat. Yet, I felt a pang of sadness for having left the chaos and the hot summer sun of the Philippines.

This sounds like it doesn’t need to be said, but I’m saying it anyway. This trip is different from the ones I had before for so many reasons. Mainly because I was able to join the Balik Sagay celebration. Under the Balik Sagay program, now on its 4th year, we returning Sagaynons were treated to a VIP welcome that included a barrio fiesta lunch at our Kauswagan building complete with folk dances presentation. Our city Mayor and Governor were there to welcome us.

I also joined the walkathon which started from the Kauswagan and ended at our town plaza. The walk allowed me to interact with fellow returnees as we talk about life abroad and what-not while trying to take in the new sights of Sagay as we walk towards the finish line. There were native delicacies and drinks laid before us when we got to the plaza to quench out thirst and hunger. And there were dancing too which I participated with glee.

Then, there was the out-reach activity. Balik Sagay organizer had asked donations from Sagaynons residing abroad which was spent to buy food give-aways for the less fortunate families in our city and other meaningful projects such as public toilets. I was in the forefront of this activity as I did an impromptu hosting of the said event.

The evening brought me back to our town plaza, this time to watch the Mr and Ms Sinigayan Festival. It was such a delightful presentation complete with very artistic and colorful costumes and dances. I was asked to be one of the presentor for the award, but I have to beg off because me and the mayor and some friends had an earlier agreement to go to Taliambong. Another venue where people come to chill out by listening to live bands while enjoying drinks and food which can be bought from a variety of kiosk surrounding the place. We intended to reunite with other SYC member but we couldn't find any in the said place so we decided to go to the Ratsada venue hoping to meet some of them there. Of course, the excitement of coming home makes me want to do a lot of catching up with friends. My vacation is about reconnecting with the people closest to my heart. But well, we were unlucky. There were so many people dancing in the street and it was so hot, we opted to stay in an air conditioned tent. After a little while I decided to call it a day.

All these activities occurred in my first day in Sagay. Just imagine the excitement I am experiencing! I felt like I always wanted to spend my every waking moment meeting friends and relatives I haven’t met for years and years. I wanted to taste every dish I missed and take in as much info about the on-goings in my town as I could. My only woe is that my hometown IS and ALWAYS will be a summer town all year round, where you could count on the sun doing a command performance 364 days of 365, where you could hang your laundry for a couple of hours and bring it down bone-dry, and where shorts, sleeveless and sandals are sensible wear and where the two local seasons are sunny and sunnier. I drank my water with lots of ice thus I ended up with a hoarse voice on my first day.

Indeed, when it’s a homecoming, you take the good with the bad.

Next stop: my high school reunion. Stay tuned


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