Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Horse Talks Back!

Suddenly, the road behind me and the road before me has become life itself and I have turned into a horse. I am a beast living at the mercy of your whip, which dictates upon me which way I should go up and down the cliff, left or right, without much choice because I am a beast. You thought you’re free to put all your lousy burdens upon my back, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for you to do. You don’t even stop to think of how much you’ve been depriving me of my nature, when you profit from all my work.
You want to tame the beast in me when my bestiality has always been the best thing in me. All I want is to run wild in the fields, feel the breeze upon my mane, and give back to nature what nature has given me but your whip and your reins are now preventing me. Don’t talk to me about being grateful to High Heavens for creating my beautiful mane when I don’t even own my own body. My whole body is for sale and you’ve been selling me so many times ever since I became a horse. You’ve been selling my labor up and down the cliff to people who can’t even scale a simple cliff with their own feet. For they got money, of course.
My market value, you measure, by how fast I can go over that cliff and back again, by how much load I can carry, by how many other young horses I can bring to the world, by how soon my hooves can bring a lazy man to his home, by how much my little body can take all the burdens and toil and abuses imaginable. All for a piece of paper that I can’t even chew and swallow! Sometimes, just to make more money, you even come up with such an outrageous concept as improving my pedigree!
Sometimes, of course, you loosen your hold of the reins just enough to let me go up this difficult cliff unhampered. But most of the time, I can’t even take a rest in this beautiful landscape to grab something to eat. There are times when I look at my hooves and think how powerful they are compared to your delicate frame. Why did I ever allow you to push and order me around? You, who can’t even give one decent kick to kill a beast, what quirk of fate had put you where you are now to lord me over? And how stupid can I get to allow you to?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Lessons from the Bagobo Horseman

PART THREE

How did a horse get a full grasp of the mathematical formula of gravitation? Or, was it born with an innate understanding of the principles of levity? Yet, as it moves its rider to higher grounds, the horse musters all its strength and speed as if the universal mind has stamped upon its body the intelligence to understand and defy gravity. There’s only the rider and the horse on the way up the cliff. No other world exists; not even the landscape, which at that height, can be so fatally captivating! But a moment’s inattention can prove too dangerous. The rider has to time all her movements with the horse, has to become one with the horse in mind and body. She has to let go of all controls and trust everything to the horse, which at that moment becomes an embodiment of wisdom; allowing her a glimpse of the eternal mystery of life and death in a flash of a second.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lessons from the Bagobo Horseman

PART TWO

STRICTLY NOT FOR SALE:
Horse’s Mane
Made in Heaven, Guaranteed.

As a girl, I grew up on a horse’s back with father’s voice echoing in my ears, warning me never to loosen my hold of the reins, or else the horse will doze off to sleep and stumble on the next pothole. I had set aside father’s warning only once and sure enough, the ancient family horse that we used to love many, many years ago really dozed off to sleep and would have stumbled on a muddy hole if I hadn’t seized the reins on time and awoke it from lethargy. I still keep hearing father’s voice every time I was on horseback but the Bagobo horseman’s horse was no ordinary horse, a four-year-old female beast, never been touched, never been kissed by another horse and endearingly called “Inday” by its master. “You have to let go of the reins now,” Berto, the horseman, says while we were going down a steep incline and the horse’s body unevenly fell and swayed with the sloping ground.
“You mean, really let go??!” I asked, shocked and doubtful.
With what almost felt like wild panic, I surveyed the steep road full of rocks and mud stretching down before us. What if the horse will trip?
I reluctantly let go of the reins, of course. If I can’t trust this beast, just for once, to take me down this very difficult road, I don’t know whom I can trust anymore. My friends have left me—they took the other side of the cliff on foot---and I can’t even trust my knees! On our way to Tudaya, my knees crumbled and lost their strength after we scaled down that deeper ravine at the other side.
But then, was I amazed! The horse just breezed through all those muddy potholes and sharp-angled slabs of stones without tripping---not even once!
The horse is also used to taking orders from its master at our back, as if by remote control. I only found this out when, anxious at how painful the hard rocks must be for the poor beast, I grabbed the reins for a moment and tried to steer the horse away from the rocky track to a soft, grassy patch.
When we almost succeeded at this attempt, I heard the angry grunts of the horseman at our back. “Huh! What kind of beast are you,” the horseman yelled. “There’s a road up ahead and you refuse to take it?! Such a stupid horse! Why go another way?! Go back! Go back!”
Oh, if only the poor beast could talk! I did not tell the horseman that I had caused the trouble!

APPROACHING the foaming waters at the bottom of the ravine and the other side of the cliff looming before us, the horseman talked to me again for another set of instructions. “When we’re going up the hill, clutch at this,” he says fingering the horse’s rich, untrammeled mane, “This is made precisely for the purpose.”
Doubtfully, I looked at the beast’s mane and considered what the horseman said. Then, I tried to pull my hair, just to see if it doesn’t hurt. But of course, it hurts! Wincing at the horseman’s cruelty, I resolved to be gentle with the horse. But as we started our ascent and the horse gathered momentum for the climb, I never had any other choice but to grab thick clumps of its mane to keep myself from falling. At first, I did it with one hand (for my other hand was holding a hat) but when the horse started trotting over the huge slabs of stones, I threw away the hat to clutch at the horse’s mane with both hands. Boy-oh-boy, how I hang on desperately for dear life! How I thanked God's Great Heavens at that moment for having the wisdom and the foresight to create the horse’s mane long before I needed it!
The moment after that was probably the most difficult and the most dangerous part of the climb but it also brought instant illumination to my muddled mind. I felt as if the universe compressed all the wisdom worth knowing in a lifetime and delivered it to me on the horse’s back. (TO BE CONTINUED)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lessons from a Bagobo Horseman

PART ONE

Just a few hours ago, I learned that during life's most precarious moment, no one is coming to your aid. Except for the advise of a wise horseman, you're on your own. Alone.
I was on horseback for the first time in years, looking down a deep ravine where foaming rapids takes its course more than a hundred feet or so below. The road we were about to negotiate was full of slippery granite stones and muddy craters formed by hooves of horses that have been treading this route before. The only other way out of Tudaya---a hinterland sitio of Santa Cruz town barangay of Sibulan where the Bagobo-Tagabawas live, was through a kilometer climb of another (and deeper) ravine at the other side, a route that was bad for uninitiated knees like mine.
So, I looked down again upon the promise of the road below me, a panorama so beautiful it can make you cry, but my eyes instead took in the image of the cliff precariously hanging near its slippery edge.
"Will I ever get out of here alive?" I asked myself but as I did so, the horse had sunk its left hoof in a soft bed of mud, lurching its body forward so suddenly that it briefly threw me out of balance. I shrieked.
"Hold on! Hold on--and don't ever jump!" said the horseman behind me, with a stiff authority of a scoutmaster. "Jumping off a horseback is a dangerous thing!"
He is a Bagobo-Tagabawa, but his Bisaya is good enough. He is such a small man, one could easily mistake him for a child, but his eight year old son is walking along beside him and so does his 10 year old daughter while he carries my backpack to allow me to concentrate. He said my load is much lighter than the 12 kilos he used to carry for Mt. Apo mountaineers."Always remember," he said, as the horse reaches the grassy spaces in between the boulders, "When negotiating with steep roads like this one, carry your body opposite the slope's direction. That will keep the balance. Then, if the horse makes sudden movement, just hold on, everything will turn out right. Unless the horse's body already lies crumpled on the ground, don't jump. Jumping off the horse back while the horse is negotiating a difficult trail is dangerous."
"Allow the horse freedom to make decisions. The beast is familiar with the trail and knows what to do better than you do. Keep the rein just to keep it from jumping off the cliff but reining it in most of the time, will limit its freedom of movement, hence, impedes its progress. (TO BE CONTINUED)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Now, Back to Work!

B'la is a fictional place that doesn't exist only in the imagination. It exists in the minds of people who once lived or have always been living there even if they're no longer there physically.

Speak, Memory!

My memory is no longer playing tricks on me these days because maybe it has deserted me. I got to the Butuan bus terminal late in the morning yesterday, thinking only of getting the fastest bus home. I placed my backpack on my lap, not on the overhead compartment as most people would have done; perhaps, a sign that I didn't trust my memory that much anymore. I took my seat and left my memory (or what was left of it) spinning the images of the past weeks: mostly of how the yellowish lightbulb of a late night bus from Malalag cast shadows on the tired, bent bodies of farm workers going home from work or how the reddish light inside the jeepney fell on the faces of women trying to find humor out of what happened to them that exhausting day selling sackloads of durian in the market; and how---when I arrived in Gingoog late one night, a grumpy tricycle driver broke into a grin when I told him I was about to die (with exhaustion)!
There were still three people on the Cagayan-bound Bachelor's bus when I arrived at the terminal late in the morning yesterday. When the bus was about full I happened to look around and got a sneaky feeling that something was wrong. Why was I on a bus for Cagayan de Oro when I knew I was supposed to be going home? It took a long while for me to figure out where my home actually was. When I did, I got off the bus very fast only to be told that the aircon bus for Davao city has just left.
Oh, memory, my memory, why has thou forsaken me???

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The End of the Game

7:41 tonight marks the end of my lonely running marathon that tested my will and (psychological) stamina. With all these girls in the next cubicles chatting with baldheaded, toothless white foreigners on their computer screen, I'm going crazy! I got to get home and ask Eve to open that Absolut vodka bottle gathering dust on her bar counter. What a pity!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Let's take a break

...because there are certain things I can't simply let go.

This Spanish Pueblo

So that nobody will know I'm still in Gingoog, right inside an internet cafe, seized by panic while wrestling with sheets of papers I don't understand, feeling the guillotine of an unforgiving deadline on my neck and the sword of Damocles right over my head, I'll try to pretend that it's the middle of October once again and I'm having a nice little chat with jepoi and the androgynous mandaya moore in one of those dreamy beaches on the island garden city of Samal. There, where the nights are hot and and full of possibilities, one can easily drowse inside those seaside cavanas, wake up with a full bladder only to find out that the rest room is a kilometer away! The place is simply enchanting. One can easily conjure a thousand and one debaucheries happening in open air in just one night while no one is watching! But Gingoog is another story. A former Spanish pueblo in between the bigger cities of Cagayan de Oro and Butuan, this coastal town has turned itself into a bustling little city today, where one can enjoy a dip in its clear blue sea and get connected with the world wide web in one of its internet cafes nearby!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chema's by the Sea

Pictures on the Wall

It's about dusk and it's raining hard outside the Inquirer office. Inside, I keep glancing at the pictures on the wall as I open this computer. A bond-sized black and white picture of a man wearing a white hospital gown, his face scrunched in pain, his hands pressed onto each other very hard across his chest, as if to absorb what he might have been feeling at the moment. Several hands can be seen near his head and shoulders pulling the white sheets apparently used to carry him. Commander Robot, the caption says. "Galib Andang grimaces in pain as he is carried from a military plane in Villamor Air Base for treatment of his gunshot wounds."
Next to this picture is another bond-sized black and white picture placed perpendicular to the first one. This other picture shows women carrying placards that read, "Palayain ang mga detinidong pulitical na Moro," "Free all Moro political prisoners." The caption says : A Muslim rally in front of DOJ building in Padre Faura as they demand for the investigation of Muslims fall guys during the government's crackdown on terrorists. The pictures are already dated. The shots were taken on December 8, 2003, apparently months before the dreaded Abu Sayyaf leader was killed in what was widely speculated as a prison massacre. I don't know why I keep staring at the picture.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

This is for Dasia

...because a picture speaks more than a thousand words!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

In Search of my Mother's Garden

Nowadays, I rarely get the chance to talk to my mother, who never ever felt and will never feel at ease with the wildness of my nature. But late in July, I stole the chance to be with her only to stumble upon her garden where everything---from wildflowers to wild ideas---grew in profusion. My mother never had an inkling of the amount of wildness growing in her garden. I found eavesdropping bougainvillas, the secrets of love, fortune, and numerous sensuous delights thriving everywhere.



Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Face of Love

A Gen X-er's link to the next generation! My link.

Sinful Secrets!

I was walking along the seedy parts of Uyanguren last Sunday when suddenly I was drawn by an aroma I couldn't resist. After a couple of vain attempts, I finally managed to track down the culprit: inside a thorn-covered shell that the vendor opened up for me to reveal these sinfully delicious secrets!
A dear friend Janis, who just flew in from Manila, had something to say about durian, which fortunately she tasted for the first time last Sunday: It's a fruit that doesn't know any subtlety, doesn't pretend and doesn't hide anything. It tastes and smells as it should.Its taste is strong and heady, like spice. It lends itself out in the open without pretensions, without shame. It dares exposed itself to the world and because of this, it is simply, deliciously scandalous in both its smell and taste!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Synchronicity

But it's not serendipity but synchronicity, as the venerable Butch Dalisay pointed out here.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Tale of the A Bao A Qu

On my last night in Kuala Lumpur, I was supposed to go looking for the book, “Indigenous Politics, Development and Identity in Peninsular Malaysia,” by Colin Nicholas for my article on the Orang Asli when I found myself straying inside Borders bookstore at the Berjaya Time Square. There, I found a collection of writings in translation by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges. I texted this mystical friend whom everybody called Antares, who was not impressed by Borges at all--—and why would he be? His interests were not earthbound, I found out later. “What crazy idea gets into your head?” he texted back. So, I horded all those Borgesian books in my arms, all in a swoop, found some cushioned chairs, picked up “The Book of Imaginary Beings” and began reading the tale of the A Bao A Qu: "To see the most lovely landscape in the world, a traveler must climb the Tower of Victory in Chitor. A winding staircase gives access to the circular terrace on top, but only those who do not believe in the legend dare climb the tower. On the stairway there has lived since the beginning of time a being sensitive to the many shades of the human soul known as A Bao A Qu. It sleeps until the approach of a traveler and some secret life within it begins to glow and its translucent body begins to stir. As the traveler climbs the stairs, the being regains consciousness and follows at the traveler's heels, becoming more intense in bluish color and coming closer to perfection. But it achieves its ultimate form only at the topmost step, and only when the traveler is one who has already attained Nirvana, whose acts cast no shadows. Otherwise, the being hesitates at the final step and suffers at its inability to achieve perfection. It tumbles to the first step as the traveler climbs down and collapses weary and shapeless, awaiting the approach of the next traveler. In the course of the centuries, A Bao A Qu has reached the terrace only once."
On my way home, I regretted not buying the book, which I thought was much too expensive for my pocket!
It was not until more than a week later, when I was already back in Davao that I opened the magickriver website inside Clickerz Café along Ponciano and began reading Antares’ account of the A Bau A Qu.
I was amazed. Is this Antares, who scoffed at the mention of Borges, who actually traced the Malayan origin of the Borges’ tale by an American scholar based in Alexandria, Egypt?
How could I not be awed by the serendipitous designs of these encounters? First, it was my last night in KL, when it finally dawned on me that I could no longer talk to Colin Nicholas, an anthropologist deeply involved in the issues of indigenous peoples in Peninsular Malaysia. He just left for Penang that morning. His book was the last chance for me to get to know anything substantial about the Orang Asli but it was only available in a certain bookstore, not in the commercial ones like Borders. Knowing that I did not know how to get to that bookstore, I gave up hope, decided to call off my search and strayed inside a bookstore.
How come that the first story I came across was a tale that actually came from an Orang Asli?? And how come I never knew I was actually bringing it back with me on my way back to Davao?

Estranged!

Not until after talking to Datu Teng Odin on the phone (he is the secretary of Mayor Muslimin Sema in Cotabato city), while pursuing this story for Newsbreak, did I find how little did I ever know about the different and differing cultures in Mindanao.
Because I did not want to tell him outright that all I wanted to know was Misuari’s age, I asked Datu Odin if he knew when was it this year that the chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) celebrated his birthday.
He said, he did not know because they don’t normally celebrate birthdays. Muslims don’t, generally. In fact, he said, Mayor Sema did not use to celebrate birthdays but after he ran for public office, he has often given in to pressures even if he did not want to. Mayor Sema was among the 15 MNLF central committee members who wrested control of the MNLF and ousted Misuari---about six years ago, three or four years after the peace pact with the Ramos government. After they also got their own dose of acrid tasting government betrayal three years after betraying Misuari, they have all decided to patch it up with the Moro leader, who until now, is still in jail without trial.

The Blogging Magic

“But what’s the use of writing anything if no one gets to read it?” asked Caloi, when he first heard of the irony of blogging in secret.
Dasia had a way of describing it: it was like shutting the door of your room to whisper your deepest secrets live on the radio.
I just paused in the doorway of davaotoday.com and did not reply.
The idea of a secret blog floating in the worldwide web, just waiting to be discovered, continued to enchant me, like magic. How can I experience magic if I continuously prattle about it?
On May 29, the magic seemed to be working. I was still in Kuching, Sarawak, inside the Medan Pelita cyber café, desperately looking for the next place to stay in KL the following day, when I came upon this blog by fil-am poet Luisa Igloria.
It was not until about a month later, when I was back in Davao that I was able to write her. She was still recovering from a loss and was about to embark on her writing residency at Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois.
Ragdale, she said, was a rare break she’s giving herself from the numerous demands she has to meet as full time mother, full time professor, full time wife and numerous roles she has to play in-between aside from being a woman writer. She sent a picture of a sundial she discovered while taking a walk in the garden at Ragdale and for a moment, it felt like I was there with her! Heh, ilusyonada!
It’s a pity that I’ve just returned to blogging now, I hope it’s not yet too late to say how she wanted to share the rare treat she had enjoyed in her yellow room at Ragdale by inviting ALL Filipino writers, artists, composers to go online, to open the Ragdale website ASAP, find out what’s in store for them there and apply, apply, apply! Luisa Igloria also blogs.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Kuching on my Mind

Tua Pek Kong Temple, just across the Medan Pelita, still haunts me in my daydreams...

The Dangers of Straddling Lines

“He will straddle the line, aware up to the point of knowing he is getting the worst of both worlds, but never stopping to wonder why there should ever have been a line, or even if there is a line at all. He will learn how to be a twinned man and will go on at the game, straddling until he splits up the crotch and in half from the prolonged tension, and then he will be destroyed.”---Thomas Pyncheon, “V”

I have never been any good at straddling lines, though, once or twice, I had been foolishly at it, trying to work for a government press office, while once in a while writing stories for the newspapers, which everybody else around me was doing, anyway; each of us trying to pass herself off as a journalist even if she were associated, one way or another with some interest group or office. Shame on me, indeed, and what a shame!
But unlike most of my peers who were valiantly succeeding at the game, I was failing miserably. I never quite became the “twinned woman” that Pyncheon meant, feeling deep in my gut that there has to be that line somewhere, which I can’t see but which I may have to pay with my life and sanity for crossing or straddling it; and straddling it had felt like a curse.
So, I did not actually split up my crotch in half from the prolonged tension because I was already falling then. I was already deep in the rut when I felt the last gasp of my own life force pulling me out of that hellhole.
Crossing that invisible line to the other side, I discovered how many people have been at the game, splitting their crotches in half in prolonged tension, self-destructing. Straddling lines have been a reality in the country’s journalism profession, which for most people, promised much power but not much pay; and straddling lines have been used by powers-that-be to justify the killings of journalists in the country, now dubbed as the world’s worst place for journalists to be.
Yet, who am I in this world to condemn or even to badmouth the “straddlers?” Vergel Santos, a hardliner in this respect, had even said (during the 5th National Union of Journalists of the Philippines national congress in Tagaytay)—that even freedom is not for free. It comes with a price, he said, and you pay for it in various currencies. You may have to pay for it with courage, or passion, or love, he said.
The impulse to create or to write is not something that one can summon at will just because somebody else is telling one to do it. When someone out there is forcing me to write a story that I don’t want to write in the first place, I get the urge to run and crawl back to the borders, where lines get blurred and where the overwhelming stench of death and decay can easily make one blind.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Chair overlooking the Chao Phraya River

When things are falling apart, all you have to do is lurk in the shadows...

Monday, July 31, 2006

Food for the Gods

Rhymes for Rockman Pace

One o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock, ROCK! Four o'clock, five o'clock, six o'clock ROCK!

Radio listeners in Davao del Sur's sleepy town of Digos have been used to hearing this familiar nursery rhyme precedes the program of "Rockman Pace," followed by his scathing remarks as he used to go on air. He was known all over Digos as "The Rockman," a hardhitting broadcaster, the Digos counterpart of the anti-communist crusader Juan Porras Pala, who died several years earlier from the hands of unidentified gunmen.
One afternoon in July, the Rockman went out of the radio station to buy chicken for lunch. He fell on the pavement near Digos' BPI Bank Building when a shot rang out and two gunmen escaped on a motorcycle. He was ninth in the list of journalists killed in the Philippines this year, according to the list of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
It was eerily quiet in Digos city the following day. Nobody was playing the rhyme on the air. For a while it looked like everybody was saying that the Rockman never criticised anybody on the air, that he mellowed down a bit in the last few months in the radio station where he worked. Until one noted the gestures, the shrugs, the frowns, the smirks from the people's faces when they talked or stopped talking about him.
"He must have angered 'someone big,'" a peddy cab driver blurted out as his vehicle swerved into the gravelly path leading to the Rockman's house.
In the town of Digos, like in most of the country's small towns, one begins to be aware of 'big people' and 'small people' all around. For their own safety, 'small people' are aware of their smallness. They are careful (and think they have to be careful) not to anger 'big people' who can do anything to them. They're saying: Look, what happened to Pace! See??!
No wonder nobody is talking.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Leizel survives Jogjakarta!

Leizel's email on May 28 almost shook the SEAPA fellows dispatched to different parts of Southeast Asia for the one month coverage of their proposed stories in the second country of their choice. In Malaysia, I was wondering why Leizel--the third fellow from the Philippines dispatched to Indonesia--felt she was "so blessed to be alive." On her email, the story began to unfold.
"When I left Baguio (for the SEAPA fellowship), I told myself I’m going for an adventure of a lifetime. And I guess I got what I was looking for - to be right in the middle of a disaster while writing my story. Jogja was in chaos a few hours before I left last Saturday. People were crying and running in the streets, thinking that a tsunami would follow. I really thought it was the end of me. (I just amused myself with the thought that my mother would get an insurance money after I die. Hehe!). Bantul in Southern Jogja, was the most hardly hit. I was there the whole day on Thursday, two days before the earthquake struck.

As I was riding on a taxi to Solo, I realized that good people are everywhere. And they appear when you need them most. I met Moslems and Christians (3 Catholics and 2 Evangelicals) who generously gave their time to make my stay in Jogja meaningful. Eventhough it was my first time to meet all of them, they took a lot of effort to make sure I would leave Jogja fast. Well, I just couldn’t imagine myself dying in a foreign country with nobody to identify my body."
We read the rest of the story in the headline stories of that day. Leizel emails on to say that these Merapi shots were taken by Purwani Prabandari ("Dari"), one of Tempo's editors with whom she stayed with in Jakarta. Purwani took the pictures from Klaten, her hometown.

Friday, June 30, 2006

What Wahyuana Brings from Burma


After risking his limbs entering the borders, Indonesian fellow Wahyuana finally sends me an image of Burma. The laptop where he kept the images of the Shwe Dagun temple (and another temple more striking than Shwe Dagun!) crashed as soon as he arrived in Jakarta.
Damn! Wahyu writes on the email. I have all my pictures there!
But I thank Wahyu for saving one image for me--the image of the monks at the Mahagondayone Monastery in Amapura, Mandalay in North Burma--is one image I can hang on to, at least for a while.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Escape from Burma

"Wahyu, you must be crazy!" I was in the lobby of the Rose Garden Hotel--a resort on Thailand's Nakorn Pathom, 32 km west of downtown Bangkok--with Wahyuana, the fellow from Indonesia on his way to Burma at the start of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) journalism fellowship this year.
"Vhy?" He asked in that Indonesian accent I found amusing.
"Why are you going to Burma?"
He turned to me, puzzled.
"Vhy should I not go to Burma?"
"Because look at them---" I glanced at Myo Zaw and Than Win Htut, the two Burmese on exile here in Thailand, coming out of the hotel elevator on their way to the lobby. "People are going out of Burma, see? Myo Zaw and Win Htut are here, see? They're just too happy to get out of Burma but you, Wahyu, you're going to Burma---Why do you want to go to Buhma? You must be crazy, Vahyu!"
On the eve of our departure to the second country (and for Wahyu, that was to be Burma), tension and uncertainty was up in the air. Even the loud Thai pop song that was playing in the restaurant where we ate spicy Thai food did not help dissipate the tension.
"If you're in Buhma, you can't mention my name!" Win Htut warned Wahyu during our pre-departure briefing. "You mention my name??! You go to prison!" He punctuated his statement with very strong gestures and wild pursing of his mouth. Then, after a while, he said, "But you can mention Myo Zaw. Myo Zaw is a friendly name, he's safe. He's popular among the academics. But me? Everybody is looking for me in Buhma!"
In Buhma, talk only to certain people who will be referred to you by trusted people. These trusted people should also be referred to you by another set of trusted people, Myo Zaw said.
"You should always be careful when you move around! They don't want journalists in Buhma! "
On the internet at the hotel lobby, I chanced upon the computer which Wahyu had been using before I came in. On the screen were images of pain---bandaged arms, blown up bodies, stitched scalps, bloody heads. Those were images of Burma.
"What is in Burma that really fascinates you, Wahyu? Makes you want to go there?"
"I vant to go there because I vant to understand."
"Understand what? You want to understand Burma??"
"No, not Buhma. I vant to unduhstand Moluccas. In Moluccas, people get slaughtered. My friend died in Moluccas. Sometimes, I interview people in Moluccas and then the next thing that I know, they're dead already. I saw the bodies in Moluccas. They used to make me--(he gestures throwing up)! Now, I want to go to Burma to understand these things. Because I don't understand."
I could never write the exact way that Wahyu talk. But this was how, our short talk went before he left for Buhma. In Buhma, he talked to the monks. He went there as a tourist, like Paul Theroux, I joked. "Never talk of politics," he kept saying over and over again, like a mantra. Instead, talk about the price of watches, I said.
He went to Buhma to understand Moluccas. I went to Malaysia and crossed a river in Sarawak because I did not understand anything. Yesterday, Wahyu arrived in Bangkok, at last, to see the rest of the fellows arriving from the second country of our choices. "So, howz Buhma, Wahyu???" everybody was asking.
"No good food in Buhma!" was his conclusion as SEAPA made us sit down to dinner at Bangkok's Royal River Hotel, where we're staying to write our stories.

Friday, June 09, 2006

News from Home

The other day, a friend in KL could not help grabbing the newspaper when the headlines showed Dr. Tun Mahathir criticizing his successor for being so ungrateful as to reveal that the government has been losing money for the mega projects built during his reign. This friend is the kind who (like me) never give a damn about politics but was forced to participate in his country's elections in the previous year because, he said, he was getting sick and tired of the Barisa National, the ruling party which has dominated the politics and economics of Malaysia and there's no other way to see it go but to vote for the opposition. Seeing Dr. Tun Mahathir fumed like hell on the headlines really made his day, he was overjoyed! On the story, more and more people---most of them, from the government, of course---are defending the Pak Lah (the endearing term they use to refer to the Prime Minister, who is Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi)!
Except for this rare treat, though, reading the newspapers of Malaysia makes me feel something is missing.
Dr. James Chin of the University of Malaysia (UNIMAS) in the state of Sarawak compares the current state of the press in Malaysia to the press in the Philippines during the reign of Marcos. "All you read there are press statements from the government," he whispered, over a cup of the Malaysian version of halo-halo. Now, if there's anything that glossing over the copies of the Sarawak-based "Borneo Post" or the Peninsula-centered "The Star" and "New Strait Times," it makes me crave for news from home. I love the way that journalists--and editors---in the Philippines painstakingly choose the details to make the story sharp and crisp. I also love the kind of stories that we write. It is so amusing that--when a few kababayans I happen to meet here project a rather "sanitized" image of home, I find the history of struggle in the Philippines against oppressive regimes something to be talked about. This history of struggle has become so advanced and successful that even Malaysian activists are looking up to it with awe and inspiration. That's why, news still trickle to my email, mostly about the counts of how many activists and journalists have died under the hands of the present regime. They came in handy when people start asking about the country under President Arroyo who continued to cling to power despite her being so unpopular and all the unanswered questions about the previous election. What's happening back home forms part of the experience of Southeast Asia, a region that is supposed to share an experience and a culture, but after having been torn apart and subdivided by different colonizers about half a millennium ago, now find themselves strangers to each other.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Rush of Memories

I never trusted my memory since I arrived in Malaysia. I just felt that words had ceased all production of meanings. Masjid Jamek, Tun Sumbanthan, Puduraya, Hang Tuah, Majaralela, Tun Abdulrahman and Menara Tun Razak never meant anything to me although I was forced to memorize them everyday just to get to where I was going. Most often, I was going somewhere at the 27th or 30th floor of buildings that all looked the same.
So, just to make friends with these strangers, I kept rolling them in my tongue as I inserted bills and pulled out cards at the Putra Train station, hoping that my mind can accommodate their strangeness. Only to discover a couple of steps from the train platform that they had all slipped away. How can I hold on to something that I didn't possess in the first place? I asked as I grappled with wild moments of panic.
I easily lost the memories of names because I never had any memory of the language in the first place. How many times did I catch Mujtaba (Taba), our Indonesian fellow, bursting with laughter because I mangled words in Bahasa and chopped and inverted names? He snickered when I asked the Indonesian fellow Wahyu, if his full name was Wayuatta instead of Wahyuana.
My mind seemed to be playing tricks on me because I thought the Burmese fellow's name was Zio Meow instead of Myo Zaw. After a short talk with Malaysiakini editor Stephen Gan, I stopped at the train platform to ask Taba again what the word "bumaputri" meant? Mujtaba, who was already having trouble how to juggle his work schedules with the time that his band of Malaysian friends wanted him to spend with them, frowned in confusion.
"Ahh! You mean, bumiputra!" he burst out laughing again.
That was why, after I left my cellphone in a faraway village of Sarawak, I was amazed to find out that I remembered the 12-digit telephone number that was supposed to be my lifeline. It was the only strange proof that my memory was working! On my way back to Kuching, I was prompted to remember a name that Prof. Wong Meng Chou had mentioned, but which I had kept inside my notebook and locked inside my luggage in a guesthouse in Kuching. I did not trust my memory to remember strange Chinese names at all. But all of a sudden, the name of Sem Kiong floated in my mind like magic. He was the person I was supposed to track down the Sarawak village of Belaga (pronounced B'laga here) to get to the bottom of my story.
Now, I know, my memory is working, at last, as I begin to feel comfortable in the increasingly familiar Kuching surroundings!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Restless in Kuching

Barely 12 days before the end of the SEAPA journalism fellowship, the sun rising and setting below Kuching, I've been wrestling with my demons as I tried to befriend words to tell the story. What words? What stories?
In Kuala Lumpur, words escaped me as I grappled with the memories of strange sounds and strange phrases, rolling Masjid Jamek at the tip of my tongue as I inserted ringgits and pulled out cards at the Putra train station, only to lose the phrase just a few steps away, my mind playing tricks on me, rendering me helpless, powerless.
But in Kuching, a benign feeling stayed with me since the day I arrived on a cab driven by a Chinese Malaysian driver. As if there was a benign spirit blowing a warm wind to my face. The city had a charming and welcoming air.
I walked over the whole stretch of its cobbled waterfront to watch the river cruises in the distance or gawk at the white men who looked like the white rajahs of old. I liked to listen to Rudyard Kipling's accent spoken on the streets.
How could I write a story as complicated as Malaysia? How could I put this strange country on the palm of my hand?
The cab driver who brought me from the airport was a Chinese guy who scarcely spoke English but even his presence was rather comforting to a stranger like me. He took me straight to the acacia-shaded yard of the Anglican St. Thomas Guesthouse, a very cozy wooden building over a hundred years old, its floors made of ancient wood.
Elsie, the woman who showed me to my room was a Bidayuh who told me that the guesthouse where I was staying used to be a dormitory in 1950s and the 1960s for girls studying at the Anglican school nearby!
Built by Anglican missionaries in 1848, the whole place did not have the spookiness of Kuala Lumpor's Selesa Hotel where I stayed a few days before I arrived in Kuching. A half-opened door just across my room revealed the outlines of a Dutch woman agitatedly talking on her phone. On the dark, ancient stairs as I rushed out to go, were a couple of cheerful Black Americans to stay the night at the inn.
Kuching simply felt homey and warm. Here, you can walk the sidewalks and feel you've been living here all your life. Even the streets had no sharp bends! They flowed out so smoothly, as if those who built the roads really knew the balance of the yin and yang. Most of the shops that I've seen so far have Chinese characters. Lots of Chinese live in Kuching.
Just a walking distance from the Anglican Church, just across a Chinese temple, is the Medan Pelita building (which looks like a mall), which also houses a seven-eleven and an internet cafe!
The Anglican St. Thomas Inn sat close to everything in downtown Kuching. Room at the guesthouse was only 18 ringgits a day, a lot cheaper than the 80 ringgits I paid the YMCA hostel and that spooky Selesa in KL!
Elsie would have given me quite a big room fit for the whole family (with three beds) and a huge bathroom for only 30 ringgits but I declined because I'm just a very simple person with simple needs.
Besides, I was already missing my Sean and Karl and did not want to heighten the emptiness.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lost in Kuala Lumpur

I've been going round and round the labyrinthine concrete maze of Kuala Lumpur the past week and could not get a flight to Kuching, not because Air Asia or Malaysia Airlines have stopped plying the route but because I could not get any confirmation from the sources that I'm going to interview in Sarawak. So, everyday, I ride the Putra train, which is Mujtaba's favorite means of transport here, and the KTM commuter train or the KL monorail train express (which is Allen's if he's not taking a cab) everyday to explore the intestine of the city.
But today, May 22, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) in Bangkok has just booked me a flight to the Cat City (Kuching) and I'll be forced to leave my spooky hotel room in Selesa Inn along Jalan Tun AbdulRahman to fly on an Air Asia 9:30 a.m. flight to Kuching on Thursday.
I'll be alone, so, I'm a bit jittery. What am I going to do if people who speak a strange language will start swarming me again (as what happened at the KL international airport) upon my arrival in Kuching? Luckily, however, I'm beginning to have some idea what I should do. I merely have to keep this in mind in order not to get lost. Besides, I have also discovered a very useful guide how to get to the Anglican St. Thomas Guesthouse, which Professor Wong Meng Chuo of the New Era College in Kajang has recommended to me as one of the best and cheapest place to stay when you're in Kuching and you don't have that much money to spend.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Lures of Travel

I can only reach as far as my mind can go.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wanderlust

Is this not enough to arouse your wonderlust? But this , for its sheer beauty, could easily make me cry. There are things I couldn't let go, things that I carry with me whereever I go.

A Pause for Press Freedom

This blog celebrates the state of press freedom in this country and pauses to consider the kind of readers that we are fighting for.

Monday, May 01, 2006

My Audubon Goose

But maybe, I'm an Audubon goose, afterall.
In the last six years, I've been flailing my wings so hard, bloodying my breasts against the bars of my cage. I've been penned up at the season of migration and painfully and in a state of extreme panic, I feel the footfalls of time passing me by. And I'm dying, no doubt about that.
Yet, somehow, in some quirk of fortune, the cage suddenly opens!
I feel the strong impulse to run, to get out, to fly.
Never mind if I had to leave behind my fledglings in the nest. Never mind if I've been deprived of my pinion feathers for so long, I may no longer know how to fly. Never mind if I'm going to start my journey on foot--because I could not probably afford to miss my appointment for the long journey south.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Migratory vs the Maternal

Somewhere in his book Songlines, Bruce Chatwin writes :

"In The Descent of Man Darwin notes that in certain birds, the migratory impulse is stronger than the maternal. A mother will abandon her fledglings in the nest rather than miss her appointment for the long journey south."

***************************************************

"Darwin quotes the example of Audubon's goose, which, deprived of its pinion feathers, started out to walk the journey on foot. He then goes on to describe the sufferings of a bird, penned up at the season of its migration, which would flail its wings and bloody its breast against the bars of its cage."

But I am not an audubun goose and although I left Karl and Sean in Butuan, the contemplation of this trip is already tearing me apart. Maybe, I am more of a mother than a traveler.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The First Salvo of the Diaspora

It's that line snaking up Bangoy street's Mintrade Building---there's something evil about that line!

On the second week of April, the line at the National Statistics Office serbilis center in Bangoy corner Monteverde streets reached Uyanguren street, three blocks away. I arrived at the scene at 8:30 in the morning aboard a jeepney from Matina and fell in line in between a 23-year-old new graduate from Notre Dame of Kidapawan applying for a job as factory worker in Taiwan and a 37-year-old short, plump and domineering woman applying for a domestic job in Lebanon. We were there to get our birth certificates authenticated by the NSO on the third floor of Mintrade, the first step one has to make before getting one's passport. I took a passport for the first time for this journalism fellowship.
The woman at my back was full of praises about her Lebanon would-be employer. "No cellphone, no Church, no letter, no radio, no communication with family nor with other workers" she said was the standing policy in that country. "And do you know where to go in times of trouble?" I asked. "Of course, the company gave us cellphone numbers and contact numbers of government offices in Malita. "How about the location of the Philippine Embassy in Lebanon, did you look it up?" She stared at me as if I came from another planet and insisted that her employers were really good to take her in. She was forced to wean her one and a half year old child because of this trip. She had five children. Her sari-sari store in Malita was not earning that much and her husband was not earning at all. On the major newspapers that day were headlines about the Arroyo government pushing for Charter change.
The girl from Kidapawan had quite a different story. She never thought of going abroad until her sister from Taiwan insisted to take her there. Her sister has been working there in the last five years. Her income was quite good. It helped her pay off all her debts which was the reason she was forced to leave the country and worked in Taiwan in the first place. The girl from Kidapawan had to be on board the plane to Taipei in May. She loved going to the farm in Kidapawan. She went to the farm even before she took the van to Davao to get her authenticated birth certificate from the NSO serbilis center for her to take advantage of the one-stop-passport processing scheduled in her city the following weekend. She was fair. She had the eyes and features of a Chinese mestiza. She graduated from an accounting course although she kept postponing taking the CPA Board Exams. She worked instead as a sales clerk or a cashier at a certain warehouse in Kidapawan. Most of her neighbors are already going out of the country, leaving behind small children in their wake. Most of her neighbors work as domestic helpers abroad. Her mother and father were having a hard time sending her siblings to school. She still had four other siblings she had to help out. The woman bound for Lebanon said she had to borrow money---from the usurer, perhaps---to pay for the expenses of her trip.
The line going up to the third floor of Mintrade building was long and full of stories. It was here that Filipinos wanting to get out of the country started their first steps to a strange country.
We waited for the line to move, staring at a gray poodle on the dirty floor of a Chinese store advertising hot coffee or tea. A man carrying huge bundles of merchandise and sometimes, pushing a cart full of cartoon boxes would bump on us from behind and the line would bend or break to give way and then reconnect again as soon as the intruder was gone.
The girl talked about never having to fall in line before. Back in college, her mother did all the queueing for her when she had to take the exams. But she was taking a different step this time, the first steps to the diaspora.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Orange Days

My days have turned orange since Sean and Karl left for Butuan. Orange is the color of the sun just before the sky gets dark. When orange dominates ones life, it becomes impossible to get any work done.
So, I begin spending hours contemplating the taste of coffee. I begin to think about the smell of smoke, hoping they could awaken me from this lethargy but they dissipate into the air even before they could fulfill a promise of warmth and satisfaction.
The computer monitor goes blank. My wallet is empty. There is a nagging fear that hovers over my eyelids as I sleep. My orange days are fast turning into sepia. Soon, I will leave the place and there will be nothing left here but shadows.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Reading “Not Home but Here”

NOT HOME BUT HERE
Editor : Luisa Igloria

Skimming through the titles on bookstore shelves, oftentimes give me the feeling of reading a newspaper: You just flip open the pages half-heartedly, over and over, to stop at some item that momentarily grabs your interest, and then, setting it aside for something else.
But this particularly hot morning of a Thursday inside Davao’s Gmall’s National Bookstore, something caught my eye.
It was this orange-covered book, “Not Home But Here,” a collection of writings from the Filipino Diaspora, edited by Fil-Am writer Luisa Igloria.
Let me describe how I found it. It was in the Filipiniana section, switched in between Eric Gamalinda’s Empire of Memory and Carlos Cortes’ Lassitude. I was walking aimlessly in between the bookstore aisle, still smarting with shock at having been frisked by the guard as I entered the mall, trying to understand the meaning of such experience, when something about the cover made me grab the slim volume from the shelf.
Ignoring the sharp look of the security guard, I posed briefly just to look at the cover art by Brenda Fajardo, and opened right into the page where Luisa Igloria wrote about the poet Reetika Vazirani whose poem “It’s Me, I’m Not Home,” inspired the book title.
I discovered in an instant that I could not just put that book down.
Vazirani, as Igloria puts it, was often described as “the writer to have lived in more places than the number of years she had lived on earth because of her obsessive theme about the trauma of living between worlds.”
Her poem, “It’s Me, I’m Not Home,” describes a persona reflecting on the disembodied nature of her own voice that sounds both here and not here at the same time, as it comes out of the answering machine.
The same disembodied feeling reflects the experience of Filipinos in diaspora.
I turned over the book--so slim, it covered only 143-pages--yet, it resonates with something deep inside. I skimmed swiftly over the blurbs and flipped open its Table of Contents page, where names like Nick Carbo, Eileen Tabios, Bino Realuyo, Loreta Medina and eleven others met my hungry eyes.
Now, I began to wonder how is it then, for someone who is desperately stuck here at home and had no intention of leaving, to identify closely with the writings from the diaspora?
Is the disembodied nature of the writers voices---diaspora conjures images of the scattering of seeds, of spores, the detachment from the original body, as Igloria pointed out---echoes the same disembodied voices of those who are left behind?
I thumbed through the pages and savored the beginning of Nick Carbo’s essay “Un Beau Livre,” feeling transported for a while to the seaside village of Mojacar in Andalusia, Spain, where Carbo spent his residency in Fundacion Valparaiso while reflecting on his experiences in the brown diaspora.
For some moments, I was with him as he walked out into the terraced garden to stand in the shade of a thousand-year-old olive tree, “to listen to the ancient secrets, whispered there by the wind.”
The tree was already there when Magellan sailed off for Moluccas only to end up in the group of islands he later called the Philippines.
After a while, I was tempted to pause to listen to the sounds around me.
All I hear were the rustles of paper inside the bookstore as other browsers scanned the pages of other books on the shelves, above the din of air conditioning and the muffled sounds of traffic outside.
Hundreds of years after Ruy Lopez de Villalobos had sailed around Mindanao, the cogon grasses and later, the acacias had given way to the mall and the bookstore, where I stood.
Yet, how likely it still is, that someone—a woman with child, perhaps—must have stood in this aisle to choose between buying this book or buying six kilos of rice? I thought as I come across Loreta Medina’s “Choosing the Sun: Notes from a Journal,” at the part where she was leisurely strolling the beach of Dhaka, finding hardly a Bangladeshi woman strolling there like her.
For, poverty at home represents the other face of the diaspora. In her essay, “What My Lola Taught Me,” Leny Mendoza-Strobel wrote how the notion of a hybrid, fluid identity, that Pico Iyer eloquently wrote about in “The Global Soul,” has little to do with the Filipino Diaspora.
Even as Iyer spoke of the global phenomenon where people live in various parts of the world without feeling of rootedness in a particular place, Mendoza-Strobel showed how the journeys of the Filipino overseas contract workers, mail-order brides could never fit into that category, driven as they are by ‘involuntary displacement.’
Thus, guiltily I devoured the rest of the essays, moving on to Bino Realuyo’s “Life at McDonalds (Life is not English),” on to Merlinda Bobis’ “Border Lover,” on to Eileen Tabios’ “Toasting Poetry as a Way of Life in the Diaspora,” and so forth.
The writing from the diaspora allows me to get a glimpse at the other side of my experience, to connect with that disembodied part of myself I almost wasn’t aware of until now.
It reminds me of a cousin who had left our remote little village to migrate to Switzerland, marrying a Swiss, and straddling all the barriers of race, class, sex and culture just to send money to her family.
Of how schools and universities sprout all over the place teeming with nurses and graduates that will soon fuel the diaspora. How the old colonizers are still very much around, changing the rules of the game.
After reading the book, I was still left with questions. What and where is home in the diaspora? Is the imagined homeland exists only in the mind?
I craned my neck to listen. I had this uneasy feeling that like Nick Carbo, I had to dig up more than 400 years of the country’s colonial past for answers.

Family Album (excerpt of a life)

(My life as Germelina Lacorte is still a work-in-progress. This is an excerpt.)

THIS IS a snapshot of our house, before the old porch was torn down. It was probably taken in the 1980s, in one of the hottest, driest summers of the El Nino, so, all you see here is the stark wooden structure standing against the bleak dried up landscape of B’la, one of those little known villages in the surrounding towns of Mt. Apo.
All the leaves of the trees are gone. Even the bermuda grass in the front yard had browned and wilted.
Ma must have taken this with the Kodak 110 Instamatic camera that Eve was prodding her to buy at that time. A camera is supposed to capture beauty. Here, it captured the color of dust (gray and hazy) and the dried up stems of the gumamelas (brown). Even before time has turned them into sepia. Ma had tucked it for years among her files of old letters.
If we had known, then, that Ma was taking this picture, we would have stopped her at that time. Imagine, the house taken in the midst of a drought! Without even a single leaf to hide the truth. It was unthinkable. We barely reached our teens then. The truth, for us, was just too ugly to bear : a blurry image of a wooden house tilting in the uneven landscape. It was a one-bedroom house, perched high up on wooden pillars, with a porch and staircase facing east, and turns inward to a very small living room that leads to an even smaller dining room and a much smaller dirty kitchen and a bangkera to the south. The porch windows—which had long rectangular boxes holding potted plants—had wooden grills of geometric designs.
The living room—had a couple of wooden jalousie windows facing east---opens to the small bedroom to the west, where we used to peer out at the setting sun with fear in our hearts. Small kerosene lamps light our nights. We slept on wooden lauaan floor and wake up to the harsh sun, dappling the floor near the porch with geometric shapes, and the living room and the bangkera, with stripes.
The dining room opens to a pantawan facing west, where a huge rotting wooden table stood nearby a rickety wooden ladder that led to our muddy backyard. On top of this rickety structure, precariously stood a huge water tank, where once upon a time, a cat had drowned. I used to be afraid that this water tank might fall and spill its contents down the termite-ridden ladder, in a deluge. Nothing of the sort happened and yet, the fear and apprehension I used to suffer in the good old days in that house, stayed with me until now...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Make Tea Not War

At four o'clock in the afternoon, you can hear a pin drops at davaotoday.com. It's the time of the day when you're supposed to get out of the huge dormitory building to follow the scent of sugar and bananas deep fried in oil wafting down the streets and finally come upon the mysterious place where noisy children gather.
But it's about the beginning of summer--the time when schools close to give time for leaves to sprout---and the maruya makers are gone, trying to find someplace else where to cast their mysteries.
Now, as I contemplate the absence of that sweet aroma that had become part of my day, I become aware of the light coming from the window to the right. The sky beyond the roofs of houses, I can see from here, is gray and white. There's the ceaseless buzzing of the electric fan on the wall to my right, and the rustles of papers on the bulletin board on the wall opposite me.
"Make Tea Not War," says a huge poster on the wall, showing a man wearing a white teacup for a hat. He is tight-lipped and he wears a hard look all over his face. He is wearing black and his right forefinger is about to pull the trigger of the gun he perpetually holds. The iron gate on the groundfloor squeaks. The total absence of human voices allows me to hear voices inside.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Stories

Sometimes, I can almost say, I work for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Stories like this appear on its pages once in a while to tell the world where I've been spending my weekends. I've been issued the correspondent's ID and an ATM card where I draw out my pay every 15th of the month although fear hovers over my existence most of the time. The fear has something to do with the next pay. And the next stories. I'm scared of the days when I might stop writing these kind of stories and my by-line won't appear on the pages anymore and I'm lost in some remote, unchartered territories of my mind, unable to find my way home.
Those days have finally come. I don't know what to say.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On the Graveyard Shift

It's one o'clock in the morning.
Inside downtown Davao's Clickerz' internet cafe, a strong lemony scent wafts through the air. A lanky guy wipes a rag next to this computer as somebody raises the volume of a curious music playing from an invisible soundbox. The beat is playful and a bit too loud.
A group of dark-clad youngsters smelling of beer are crowding the counter. They are a noisy lot. Their stance and their presence is threatening. They keep passing by my computer, casting hostile glances at my direction. Some of them are standing right behind my back, as if asking me to leave. I can feel them reading what I'm writing here.
It's one fifteen now. I keep resisting the urge to go home in the comfort of bed. I feel so lost it looks like I could no longer find my way home. I'm stuck here in this place crawling with drug addicts, rugby boys and young people losing their way to the crazy whims of the world.
The Roman Catholic Church has a name for it. Purgatory. Urrrgggh. Even their music is boisterously loud. Their lyrics do not make any sense to me. All I hear is a repetitive chugchugging of drums. I'm shaking. The air conditioning is so cold. These people around me never seem to get tired. The bluish lights near the entrance makes me think it's five o'clock in the morning but it's still two o'clock yet. Five more long hours to go before daylight and the streets of Davao become habitable again.
Maybe, I'll have to go to the sea.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Spy in my Pillow

I can feel a pair of eyes snooping in my room as I was writing this. I saw the dark shape of a head, sticking through the door I was facing as I typed on the keyboard. Several seconds later, the same head materialized through the window to my left, as if its owner wanted to find out what was happening to me, what I was writing here and why. I can feel the piercing pair of eyes as if it were a thermometer, trying to gauge how hot or how cold my room was. Or, more likely it was a barometer trying to tell whether a storm was coming. Was it my temperature he was trying to measure? Was it my storm he was bracing against?

Who was this snooper? Why won’t he come up to me and face things squarely?
I was seeing him only through the peripheral vision of my eyes. But the way he tilted his head to avoid the light and the way the light caught the pair of spectacles he was wearing, the way it sculpted his forehead and his face as he tried to read my face-all were too familiar. I turned around to meet his gaze-perhaps, to ask what was he doing peeping in my room like that, making me feel I was kind of a lunatic---but just as swiftly, he was gone.
Instead, I found myself in my room looking out to another grilled set of windows in our living room, which in turn was also looking out to the busy highway outside.
The blue curtain in my window was tucked away sideways to the left to accommodate the view--but looking out from here, all I saw were the holes of the granite fence walls showing glimpses of jeepneys scrambling along the McArthur highway.
Over an hour ago, the rain was pouring in a tumult down the house. The noise was almost unbearable when the waters slammed down the galvanized iron roofing above our heads. I had stood by that window, watching the last pair of kaimito and coconut trees, swaying across the street littered with small stores and brightly-painted commercial buildings. A kind of a thin, grayish haze seemed to hover over our part of Matina highway. This part of the highway closely approached the intersection just a few houses away, where one curve of the road leads to the SM city mall in Ecoland while another one straight ahead leads to NCCC mall and further down to the old downtown street of Claveria.
The haze and the gray skies were giving me a stifled, oppressed feeling. I blurted this out loud and someone had disagreed. He straightened the pair of spectacles he was wearing, peered at me very closely and said it was the date. February hung ominously over our house, he said, because the day when I was most susceptible to extreme mood swings was getting near. He was talking to me. He said I was sick. He had his own way of seeing things.
Hearing him, I felt sick and tired. The familiar suffocating feeling swept over me.
Then, suddenly, the rain had stopped. He had rushed outside to do his work in some café while I sat here in my room, before the heavenly white screen of my computer monitor. It was the only space in my entire universe where I can be free.
Now, the light in the sky was back. I looked up to see a gleam of white light to the West. I still had an hour before dark and it felt like eternity. I began typing away.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

At the Marco Polo

As usual, I arrived late for the Wednesday Club 888 press conference. I thought there was nobody inside the little bar just beside the hotel's concierge counter, when I saw the empty chairs near the glass door.
But when I entered, everybody was there. I saw Q and Joel Esco and the rest of the group gathered around the bar, sipping lukewarm coffee from their cups while Awi and the others were crowding around a man in pink in the next table, ambush interviewing.
I was in no mood to join them because I just had a row with Karl, who lost his ID when we were supposed to go to the bank to open his savings account this morning. I stormed out of the house in Matina and boarded a jeepney, feeling ill-used and exploited despite my having screamed so loud, I must have awakened the neighbors.
Even as I took my seat very near the presscon's speakers, my anger at Karl's sloppiness had not left me. Probably it had borne a hole in my stomach. Waves of nausea and exasperation swept over me. I've been reminding him about his ID since the other day but it was only when we were about to go that he finally decided to look for it.
"I don't need an ID," he was saying earlier with that sheepish grin all over his face, the same grin used by his Dad, when he was trying to tell the children, "Don't mind Mama, because we know better. She's just plain neurotic, paranoid, etc.. ."
I was angry. I still am. He needed an ID to go to that bank and he had been postponing going there since eternity. Urgghh, children. As if it was for our own sake that we are doing things for them. I've been feeling sooooo bad in being treated this way. I'm a disgruntled ONE. I feel like I could start a WAR!

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Woman in White

I don't know how to go about my story. Angst, according to Nico, would lead to pangs or hunger. I got to write as fast as I can to earn my bread but I can't because I think, I don't have to eat that much to stay alive. Besides, I need to blog.
Today is the last day of the ASEAN Tourism Forum and all the guests are doing the last minute shopping before their flight tomorrow. There's going to be dinner hosted by some city or town somewhere. I don't think I can go there. I don't need to go.
All I care is to be here, inside the press center, sitting before a keyboard and a computer. Somebody left a cup of coffee and a pile of saucers near this desktop I am using. Except for one or two computers, the press center is full. I don't understand my notes. The woman to my right is talking to her companion from Manila. A while ago, I've been laughing at something that Jessica Zafra has written on her blog and this woman asked me if I had done my stories for the day.
Maybe, she was making an accounting, I thought. I heard she was from DOT or something. I told her I have done wwwooooolll my stories already. I was about to tell her, I've done so many stories for ATF, some came out of the Inquirer business features, some did not come out at all. As long as I can blog here all I can, I really couldn't care less whether they come out or not.
She opened her computer and I can tell that she's under some very visible throes how to go about her story. She typed on her keyboard, "media release," all caps. Thirty minutes passed and she was still staring at the white monitor. I don't know what she found there. It must be quite interesting. She's wearing a white blouse and a pair of black pants. Then, her companion pulled a chair and sat beside her and she said, "She's with Inquirer." Her companion smiled. "From Manila?" I said, no. "Provincial," the woman said. I wanted to strangle her.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bargaining with the FireDog

It’s getting late in the year and I haven’t exactly known the FireDog yet. But I can smell hunger stalking in the halls as I sit lusting in the corner after the things that the FireDog can bring, if I manage to strike a successful bargain.
I promise the firedog the most memorable year in terms of pictures if he brings in one of those four to eight megapixel Canon Powershot digital cameras, with 7x optical zoom Canon was selling with a free powershot radio and USB card reader last Christmas season as a holiday treat to unsuspecting customers. Or, I can settle with any of Sony’s Cybershot line with 32 MB internal memory and the Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar lens, as long as these are brought to my doorstep for free before the end of the month.
Or, even that V530 Kodak Easy Share digital camera, now advertised as an amazingly stylish camera, in a very hot deal ad on the Philippine Daily Inquirer, will do for a moment. That V530 is now selling at P20,995; free with 128 MB Kodak SD card and a camera case. It’s a five megapixel digital camera, sleek and stunning in red, grey and black colors, powered by the exclusive Kodak color Science chip. I wonder if this camera is really as good as it looks but it is equipped with Schneider-Krueznach V-Variogin lens, with 3x optical and 4 x digital zoom and an MPEG 4 video that capture high quality, true-to-life colors, so that ad says!
Now that the reign of the firedog begins, I promise to deliver my part if the firedog fulfills his part of the bargain. I’d take pictures of Davao at six o’clock in the morning, standing at that portion of Magallanes street, just a little behind the SP building where the gables of the Royal Mandaya hotel jut out of the old shabby rows of buildings along Bolton street.
I’ll disembark from a jeepney passing by the Bankerohan bridge and take a shot of Davao river, framed by shanties that populate the riverbanks. Or, hang around Bankerohan public market shortly before dusk to take pictures of crowds crawling over the open ukay ukay stalls like ants, under the backdrop of the setting sun.
Walk along Matina’s McArthur highway to buy pan de sal early in the morning, to frame the peak of Mt. Apo blanketed by clouds, with the concrete overpass hanging over the road by the Matina public market.
I promise to be as truthful as I could get, whatever truthfulness means. I’ll take a walk along the seedy aisles and alleys in the city to capture a glimpse of life that other people deem ugly. I’d choose the often forgotten and taken for granted street alleys as mementos to the future. I’ll start with that alley in between the Grand Menseng Hotel and the carinderias lining down Magallanes street that hide the Community Hospital at the back. This alley leads to the bank of the Davao River where people take the boat ride across to the SIR village of Matina. Another small pathway running parallel to the river, branch from this alley going to the emergency room of the Community Hospital, where patients’ relatives keep vigil late at night. This alley stinks of dried urine, where foul-mouthed teenagers ply at night, something that could not be captured by camera. But the sights of barbecue stalls and street food and the transaction going on near the riverbank surely will give future anthropologists something to think about.
I promise to take them all to treasure--but only if the firedog gives me one hell of a chance of owning one of those cameras, instead of just leaving me here drooling over the pages.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Notes from the Year of the WoodCock

Was it a good year? Was it a bad year?
I don’t know. But throughout the year of the Wood Cock, things had a way of turning up.
The year started the morning I was dancing frantically in my room with no lights on. It ended with my blog at some downtown internet café towards the midnight that signaled the start of another year.


I WAS DANCING in my room at the start of the year (that was) while outside, Dad sat at the corner near the door, sketching a brigantine. The boys--Sean and Karl--were staying mostly in the kitchen, eating biscuits and watching Nickolodeon on cable TV, which was eventually cut off later in the year for our failure to pay the subscription fee.
I was dancing not because I was happy and excited but because I was afraid. I was wondering what the Year of the Cock would bring (to my boys) and dancing had a way of chasing away the bad spirits, keeping my heart open and my mind alert. I’ve been hearing things about the Cock even before that. “Isang kahig, isang tuka,” somebody warned. “One eats from whatever she can get from scratch,” went my very poor translation.
But how this creature, the Cock loved to crow and how cocky it can get, how flamboyant and how whimsical---and also how lucky! The Cock had a knack of finding anything wherever it scratched.
Indeed, it was the year I scratched everywhere like crazy. In the nearby city of Tagum, I documented a mining conference where the Mansakas, Mandaya and Dibabawun tribes were angry at what’s happening to their lands and because they can’t understand the paradoxical things the government was telling them about mining. Months later, I documented again the making of the “Tagum Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration on IP Education,” where I watched a Dibabawun balyan (a tribal priest) doing the ritual dance under the mango tree. Midway through his dance, the balyan stopped because the “abian” (spirit) was complaining about the altar. The balyan was using a four-legged wooden table somebody dragged from the workshop hall instead of the traditional “tambara” (altar). For atonement, the abian required the balyan to come back on the full moon, on the 16th day the following month to do another ritual dance.

ALL THOSE scratching yielded gems. Things that I loved simply turned up in the most unlikely places to cheer me up when I was about to lose hope. Bruce Chatwin’s “Songlines” selling at P35 at the NCCC Bookshop when my spirits were down. Or the Winter1993 issue of “The Paris Review” featuring Wang Meng’s fiction, “The Stubborn Porridge,” and Joanna Scott’s “You Must Relax!” and many others I never expected to find.
My dear friend Ava Vivian’s story on the Free Press, I chanced upon to read one afternoon when I entered the City Library while waiting for the rain to stop. Or, the email I got from Janis, the author of the Waray poetry whose lines had always made me cry, now telling me she had survived a year working for the Department of Labor and Employment!
Or Keith texting me from out of nowhere because he was going with us on our trip to Mamasapano, Maguindanao at the height of the rido conflict there when some other colleague had tried to scare me off from riding the helicopter.
Or, when I was running out of everything to give to the house help, Inquirer texted me to pick up an unexpected check for a story I wrote the previous year that the editors had picked up as the newspaper’s Best Feature for the month.
But most of all, the allure of working in our paperless news magazine www.davaotoday.com which never ceased to make me feel both magically invisible and visible, at the same time.

On the first month of the year when I was reeling from friends’ betrayal, I unconsciously opened the old copy of “The Complete Handbook of Astrology,” left lying in my elder son’s room. On the left bottom of the page was a pen and ink drawing in sepia of a girl fainting and being helped by the dwarves. I read, Cancer Affinities, and discovered the archetypal Cancerian: Snow White, the innocent whose trust was betrayed but who found comfort and shelter in the bosom of her tiny family. I have never been a “Snow White,” I hated all the things she represented but the day that I discovered this “archetypal Cancerian” was the day I beamed with gratitude to those bosom friends in my life.

It was also a year of outrage and endless running away. Realizing that the battle I’ve been fighting in the kitchen (or the home, as a whole) was something that I could not win, I decided to run away from home. I took refuge in my sister’s house in Butuan and began thinking of endless possibilities. Loving the taste of freedom and the unbearable lightness of being freed from all weight of responsibilities, I kept dreaming of flight. But in the end I went back home to the kids, quietly cursing myself for having the mentality of a slave.

But things, indeed, had a way of turning up! On the day when we finally launched the maiden issue of Davao’s newest online magazine www.davaotoday.com, I went home to hear the heartwarming news of Karl winning the editorial cartooning contest in the Davao city division elementary school press conference. Towards the end of the year, he would win in the region. But he’s still a boy. He hardly cleaned his room last year. He got me worrying 90 per cent of the time for always coming home late and staying too long in those internet cafes, playing games of Ragnarok, or whatever online game it was that caught his fancy. He found numerous exasperating ways to circumvent the rules we set at home. On the day that he won the division press conference, his campus paper adviser scolded him for coming to school late. On the day that he won the region, the only sign pen that he brought to the contest would not write. So, you see!

BUT STILL, the year ended with a happy note. Like magic.