Friday, October 31, 2008


Hey. Are you a Dr. Juvenal Urbino, the aristocrat in love with the Poetic Festival when all around him, people are dying in the bloody Civil War?!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fil Am Books

Poet Luisa Igloria shows us the link to Bino Realuyo's fil-am book project.

Halohalo and a Broken Heart

“What shall we do?!” Prathibha asked when I chanced upon her online and read that Pooja was making a last minute request to allow us into the course.
“Have I let you try ‘halohalo’ when you were here?” I asked back.
“No,” she said.
“Halohalo,” I said, suppressing my guilt for neglecting her, “is a Tagalog word for ‘mixture.’ This Filipino delicacy is a mixture of a variety of sweetened fruits, beans, langka, jellies, lecheflan with crushed ice, topped by a scoop of ice cream, sprinkled with crunchy chips. It’s so sweet and creamy and crunchy all at the same time, you’d forget everything once you tasted it.”
“I wish I had that now,” she said. “The news has been so devastating to me.”
So, with a broken heart and a gnawing stomach, and a futile wish that Prateeh (in Kathmandu) were here, I set out to my favourite halohalo parlor, known in Davao as Mercorner, because it sits in a junction where Mt. Apo Road slants irregularly towards where it meets Quirino only to get lost and emerge at the other side as Duterte street. Merco’s homegrown icecream shops have been known for years in Davao, so that the moment I ordered it, the waiter broke into a smile, I almost thought he knew what was on my mind.
The halohalo that day - in Merco, they always come in tall glasses - was just as I expected it: the creamy smoothness of the ube ice cream contrasting with the rough crunchiness of the chips in my tongue. I almost gobbled up the whole scoop on top even before I can stir it with the mixtures at the bottom.
For this is what halohalo is all about: it had to be stirred and mixed together, so that, in the end, it will lack the steady and consistent smoothness of an ice cream. The roughness of crushed ice both shocks and delights the tongue, carrying with it a hint of flavour, a prelude to the variety of tastes and textures soon to follow.
With halohalo, every scoop is both a surprise and a new experience; at one moment, you ladle a fibrous piece of langka to taste its melting sweetness; and then, the next moment, a scoop of smooth jellies linger and titillate your tongue; and then, all of a sudden, you find beans, thick and starchy, crushing under your teeth; and so on.
Scoop after scoop, I savored those brief, delicious moments, drawing enough lessons from the beans and the jellies and enough sweetness to last a lifetime.
For halohalo has always been more than pleasure of the palate for me. I have sought it, time and again, when life starts to turn sour or bitter.
And that Friday afternoon, for both Prateeh and me, life indeed was soooooo bitter, I was only too glad for just a glass of sweetness!

I miss it again!

I got an email from the Asian Center for Journalism the previous week that Creative Writing, the course that I put on my list to take the following semester, was on a first come, first served basis; and that the professor would only take 10 students for it; and that I, and Prateeh of Nepal; and Yuri of Jakarta, and Pooja in Manila did not make it.
“I can’t believe it!” I said, because I felt I was among the first to express interest in it.
In fact, I was already interested in the course even before it was offered; because the course has been an unfinished business for me ever since I failed to come up with the collected works demanded for the creative writing thesis for that MA in English in Creative Writing I took at the Silliman University (SU) many years ago.
The pressure of the daily deadline, earning a living, raising a kid with asthma and finally looking for means to pay the boys’ tuition (including my inability to write a good enough short story?!) have prevented me from coming up with so-called body of works.
(How could I come up with a body of works, when I don’t even own my body in the first place?” I used to retort to friends who asked about it, referring to the role women are always forced to assume as mother, the nurturer and breadwinner at the same time).
That’s why, when the news first came out that they’re going to offer three units of creative writing as an elective for the MA Journalism Fellowship we’re currently taking at the ADMU, I was secretly dancing with joy.
"What am I going to do with a subject like THAT?" Seng Thong had asked from Ventiane. "It can't earn extra money in Laos!"
"But money can't buy everything you want in in life, Seng," I said, "Including love!"
"Why are you so crazy about THAT course?" he asked.
"Because it's my first love," I said. I did not say, journalism is just an alibi, an excuse.
But I was on the road when the emails came. It was obvious that everybody has beaten me to it. When they sent their list of courses, I was still on a Rural Transit bus bound for Dipolog, looking out to what I could make out of Kulambogan town of Lanao del Norte, wondering whether the Jamiatul cooperative of the Maranao women I knew years ago was still there; hearing some stories from the passenger who sat next to me, about what happened there at the height of the government and MILF fighting in August.
Or, perhaps, I was on the wharf sitting next to a police officer inspecting passenger baggage when darkness descended upon Mukas, Lanao del Norte; and I was in panic because I thought I was left behind by my bus, still stranded in Ozamis, on my way to Cagayan de Oro.
I never had the chance to log on to an internet café during that long and exhausting trip. Except perhaps, if I had succumbed to that temptation at the sight of that cozy internet café in Dapitan, just across the shop where they sell souvenir t shirts featuring the Rizal shrine and Dakak; but then, I fought off that impulse, and asked the tricycle, instead, to bring me to the Polo crossing, where buses bound for Cagayan de Oro pass by. I spent a straight 15 hours on the road from Dapitan to Davao, only to find out about the devastating news after I arrived!
Now that I can hear the halls of learning slamming its door shut on me again, I don’t know how to console myself because like the first time, I feel disoriented and confused; and suddenly, I realized, life has lost its meaning!

Three Men in my Life

It just strikes me more frequently these days that for how many years now, I’ve been living with three men in the house; three very different men at different stages of their lives; Ja, the more mature one if you happen to look at him, but who--and I only discovered this after years of violent disagreements and long periods of moping—is still very much the boy that lived on Malvar street many years ago, when Davao city was still a rustic town and he was a six year old on a carabao’s back in love with a 10 year old girl up on a camachiles tree; the girl whose black underwear he happened to see when he looked up in a mad rush of newly discovered feelings. Karl, the toddler who made life beautiful for me inside that two-story apartment on Tres de Abril in Cebu when I was still picking up the shattered pieces more than a decade ago, has grown up now to discover the world of men, the world with its own code of silence, a world where he does not allow me to enter supposedly because I, his mother, am a woman; a world where I secretly sneak into, every time he opens up to me to unravel the latest adventures of his teenage life; and Sean, the only one who loves me, no matter how bad I look, no matter how I misbehaved; in love with me like no other person in the world, past and present, but who is now discovering the curiosities of numbers: what twenty pesos can do that five pesos cannot; and what happens when he and his Dad join forces against me! These days, I’ve been reminding them more frequently that I’m supposed to be the only woman in the house; I should be treated like one: delicately, like how they’d treat a princess; or honoured, like how they’d treat a queen!
Instead, I feel quite the opposite. I’m the one who had to stop a difficult writing assignment midway to do an emergency washing for that uniform that Karl had to wear the following day but forgotten; I’m always the one pinned down to count Sean’s breathing every time he had attacks of asthma while Ja keep convincing me at my back that the child was getting better every minute; and then, after finally deciding (on my own) to rush him to the hospital, I had to take all the blame from the doctor, who scolded me for going there almost too late!
I grew up in a house without a man except for my father, who used to be distant, aloof and morose that God had given him three daughters (“Daughters!” as Topol exclaims, his eyes rolling up to the heavens in the movie version of that musicale “Fiddler in the Roof”) and no son! I have survived a girlhood longing for a company of men, never had a playmate except a dog named Janggo, but now that I have male company in abundance, I don’t feel any better at all!

DISCLAIMER (just in case the three men that I love might read this): the writer of this blog disclaims any ownership of this entry, which she claims to have been written by a madwoman while she was asleep or dreaming. The writer, in no uncertain term, claims that the culprit was an impostor who often visited her both in her sleep and wakefulness to mine her life of materials that can be turned into a piece of writing for the sole purpose of entertainment; with the stupid ambition of stealing the world’s attention away from the current meltdown in the US economy.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Something struck me about what Joey D. of Mindanao Times said after the press con as I was writing this.
“No, I don’t rely in the words of old folks,” he said.
“But aren't they wisdom nuggets?” I said. “Coming down through the ages?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I rely more on the wisdom of strangers, told to me in time of distress.”
“Did it ever happen to you? You were in the midst of something and then, out of the blue, you sit down in a jeepney and something that a man tells you seems to hit a cord somewhere deep within you, something that resonates with what is happening to you right at that moment.”
“How did you come to know of such things?” I asked, because it happened to me so many times.
“They always happen to me—and these are people who don’t know me. Isn’t that ironic? The people that you know always give you the wrong advice.”
I stared at him, nodding, knotting my brows.
“Because those are words from the Spirit,” he said, nodding, too.

Reading in Secret

Flipping through the pages of Salman Rushdie’s “The Enchantress of Florence,” I was on my desk in our working room on the second floor of the apartment on Mapa street when the chimes played again, and I looked up at the yellow balloon that held them; which Ja attached to a cord from the ceiling.
“They’re trying to tell me something,” I thought. A subtle, almost imperceptible breeze from the huge picture window that framed the neighborhood of Mapa outside, tossed the balloon, causing it to turn and make the mysterious sound.
Moved by the playfulness of the wind, I think of Prathibha (simply Prateeh to me), and of those other chimes in Nepal; and my thoughts went back again to that two weeks in July, when we stayed together somewhere in Loyola Heights, a walking distance away from the university, in a room whose windows faced a high wall so that neither air nor light could come in. We only hear the sound of water when we awoke to a heavy rain early in the morning; and in Manila, it rained heavily in the middle of July; once, we had to come to class soaked in dirty brown water that flooded Katipunan Avenue (and I thought, it beat the hell out of the floodwaters in the hinterlands of Mindanao where the Matigsalogs live!), but scared of missing anything in Chay H.’s class, we merely left our clothes to dry as we tackled the ethical dilemmas of blogging, sponsorship, advertisements. We were on the second floor of the Ateneo de Manila’s old Bellarmine Hall. Unlike the other structures in the campus which were new, the building had a special meaning to Chay, our teacher--Chay, herself, pointed out--because it was still the one they used during her college days.
I had arrived at the airport late in the afternoon of a Friday, slightly out of my wits for leaving my boys in Davao, not knowing which part of Esteban Abada I was going, I had to stop the trolley and rip open my bag in the midst of the onrushing crowd at the passenger terminal, to rummage for that notebook where I wrote the number of the house where I was supposed to stay.
Seven. It was a house with a green gate, highly-fenced. A framed certificate on the wall said it was one of the accredited dormitories off campus. The taxi driver tracked it down very near where Esteban Abada met Katipunan in Loyola, where a flyover slowly made its ascent, across the 24 hour convenience store they call the Mini Stop, where Prateeh and I would sometimes drop by for a cup of instant noodles or a styro cup of coffee; and where, on the eve of my departure for home, I had spotted Jaybee smoking near the huddle of tricycles that parked outside the store.
From where we stayed, Prateeh and I would sometimes walk up to the campus gate, connected by a walk bridge somewhere near McDonald’s and Pizza Hut two or three blocs away. It was the walkbridge of my suffering, I told Prateeh, who laughed, because we were thinking of the 2,500 word assignment for Media Law that we had to send online only two hours away. But that was much, much later.
When I arrived at number seven, the woman who met me at the door said I had a Taiwanese woman for a roommate. I was still trying to figure this out because I was expecting to dorm with somebody from Nepal, when Prateeh came in, saying, she was no Taiwanese at all, although she admitted, shyly, she was a little bit fair for Nepalese standard, and we settled for such basic things as where to find food and water, where to find the nearest internet café and for Pratee, where to find the right currency. She kept talking about what it was like to be a journalist in Nepal, working for the Kantipur television, which was actively involved in a broad democratic movement that had forced the king of Nepal to resign.
I said, I was lucky to have Prathibha (she said I would never be able to pronounce her name correctly) for a roommate, first, because her simple joys consisted of a walk in the rain and poetry; she was easily scandalized by the sight of somebody (me) eating corned beef, because she never eat meat at all, a big problem when you’re in Manila, where it was very rare to find a store selling vegetarian food! But she said she loved the Philippines because it never cast her off like a stranger, something that she felt when she was in Europe. Here, everybody mistook her for a Filipina until she opens her mouth, because she speaks the English spoken by the Caucasian sisters, who trained her in Kathmandu and taught her the Hail Mary’s even if she’s a Buddhist.
I love her most for tolerating my infatuation for Salman Rushdie, whose book we found inside the bookstore, sinfully expensive, but which we bought and hid among my pile of dirty clothes to prevent Ja from discovering it when I’m home.
So, when I heard the chimes again in the other room of our Mapa apartment, I asked Ja if someone was playing with the yellow balloon. “It’s only the wind, Ma,” Ja called from the other room. So, I lay there, listening to the windbells, thinking of Prateeh, reading the book in secret, trying to figure out what the wind was trying to say.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Love Notes to Flo

In an airy, open space that served as our function area on Naong beach, just a tricycle ride from Dipolog bus terminal, while listening with horror to Thelma, the Subanen woman from Zamboanga del Norte, recount a motorcycle ride that sliced part of the sole of her right foot because she clipped both her feet on to the burning motorcycle engine when they were about to fall on a cliff, I saw you concealing yourself behind the post.
Someone pointed you out to me. He hides himself with the grace of an antler, I thought. Who could he be?!
Every time I moved, the antler moved gracefully, covering its track, tilting its face from behind a trunk of a dead tree.
From where I was, all I can see was a brown shirt and a backpack. I chased you down the corner to see a glimpse of your face. Finally, you gave in. You came to me asking for the girl we both lost more than 20 years ago.
What do I remember about that girl? A vague memory of her shy, awkward strides, her fears of offending somebody, or of what her friends might say! I can’t even remember her face.
I can remember the university gate where we camped in, the shards of broken glass near the door of the administration building after it was hit by water cannon, the cries of teachers, the squad of soldiers in camouflage and long firearms facing the picketline, the police and their truncheons, the bruises on our arms, the awareness that even an ounce of water, when shot in a trajectory, could also hurt and kill. I can still remember some godforsaken thing she used to wear, the stupid things she used to think, some moments inside the picket line with huge streamers marked “Imlan resign,” few stolen moments at someone else's backdoor grabbing a bite of skyflakes in the midst of a hunger strike, an old black typewriter where we used to type—what? I can’t even remember.
Everything has become a blur, except for the memory of your sweatshirt.
Why do you ask me about what happened to that girl? She might have died so many years ago. She might have been trapped inside the university wall, unable to get out. All I can say is I'm happy to be here--for I am the one who survived!