Friday, December 30, 2011


I am alone in a resort island in my annual celebration of self-indulgence.  And self-assessment.  In a few hours, it will be the last day of 2011.  After the fireworks, the sounds of paper trumpets and the revelry that accompany intoxication of all possible alcoholic permutations comes reality. 

The resort island is now overrun by people so hungry, so enthusiastic ... and, yes, even lusting for every possible form of abandonment to throw away the evil spirits attached to the year about to end.  2012 is the Year of the Dragon, they say.  It is also the year when the Mayan Calendar ends. But let us not go there.  

I remember the exact moment when 2011 came in. 

I was also here on the Island, right at the rooftop of Tides Hotel together with new friends.  We felt like the foreigners because the entire poolside was overflowing with American, European and God-knows-from-where-they-flew-in guests. When 2011 came in, I was too many frozen Margaritas ready fist pumping to the tune of the Black Eyed Peas, "Time of My Life."  I precisely remember that.  I told myself that I am going to make sure that 2011 will be better than 2010.

In a lot of ways it was not.  But, now that I look back and really think hard about it ... the year had a lot of learning for me ... so I guess it was better.

Some wise man said that you have to take the bad with the good. And, more often, than not ... it is the bad that brings out what is really good.

Nobody has existed in this dimension who got everything he wanted. 

True enough, it is in being deprived that you get a better perspective of not only the here and now but where exactly you want to go ... and where you have been.  Man, success is such an upper.  How did they brand it?  Together with power, it is an aphrodisiac.   Successful people have inherent sex appeal for they emanate a smell tantamount to that of a bitch in the height of heat.  Everybody wants a piece of your meat...or, bluntly put, to be screwed by or to screw you.

But disappointments possess a completely flavor.  

Think of Liza Minelli singing one of her signature songs from Cabaret (perhaps the only movie we remember her for) where she goes, "Everybody loves a winner ... that's why nobody loves me." It goes beyond poetic justification or that shameless self-imagined scenario of being pathetically dramatic while whimpering about personal tragedies.  The point is that it is true: disappointments teach you far much more than success because they ground you.  They shake you. More important, failure gives you perspective.

Inasmuch as the year brought a lot of reasons to be thankful --- far too many to enumerate --- the setbacks were the ones that ushered in the real lessons.  The realizations.  The truth.  

How many people have I known whose success was the very cause of their warped lives?  How many of those whose careers I have seen right at the very start until they peaked and crashed reveal the entire story of life's heartless cycle?

How many successful people can truly claim that they have true friends and allies?  How many in that roster would remain if and when the time comes that Lady Luck has turned away and all the honor and glory have diminished to the ignorable? 

There is nothing phenomenal about that. Even before we completely evolved into human beings we have all practiced the rule of selective alliances.  It is a question of either keeping yourself in power or opting for the alternatives ... if and when.

That is why 2011 can be considered as "interesting times" because the learning was painful inasmuch as enriching. All I can do (together with so many, I presume) is to pray for a much better 2012 and to have the strength and humility to accept what comes along the way.

In the meantime, it is a matter of acknowledging the lessons.  It is a matter of validating everything that 2011 meant to teach me.  Otherwise, all would be so sadly wasted.  If I did not learn anything from all this, then what was the point?  Why should I still be a survivor?  

That is why I decided to list the lessons down.  Maybe this will serve as a checklist which can serve as a benchmark for the year that will end.  Maybe in years to come, when I review this blog, I will recall all the circumstances that brought me into formulating these lessons to turn them into simplistic equations.  

Then I would have known why it was all worth the process I went through.

So here goes:

1. The bottom line is your self. Never put your life in the hands of others.  Even though how you love them and they love you, you and only you can be accountable for what you do with your life.

Never depend or expect that somebody else will come along right at that precise moment in time to be your Superman-slash-Angel of the Lord. You must never entrust the steering wheel of your life to any other individual except yourself.  

You can have such great true friends who will never abandon you regardless of the weather ... or you may even have a family who will support you all the way BUT it is still important to presume that you are on your own and that you cannot depend on the generosity of others to tide you through the twists and turns of your life's journey.

It is also good to have a map because being on the driver's seat is no guarantee that you will get to where you want to go especially if you don't know where it is exactly you want to find your journey.

And since we are on the subject of journeys ..

2. It is not enough that you want to go somewhere but you must know not only how but why. Sad to say, there is a pointlessness in such an adventure if you cannot identify why you want to go anywhere.

Worse is the fact that so many embark in a journey in life for all the wrong reasons.  I have said it once and I will say it again: success is not necessarily fulfillment. For how many successful people are out there who are plagued by such emptiness because one conquest after another does not necessarily fill the needs of the soul.

The question at the end of the day is still going to be: "So what's that for?" Why go through all the obstacle courses when you never had an end goal, an ultimate dream that does not involve the mere flaunting of one's superiority over the cast of mortals around you?  

The point is --- What is the point of going through what you want to go through?

3. Never underestimate the power of giving.

This has got nothing to do with dole-outs, blatant displays of charity or even the obsession of others to play for an audience to announce, "Oh, look how good I am!"  Anybody who cannot render an act of charity without public announcement is bound to be a politician or a poseur.  Nowadays there is barely any difference between a politician and a poseur. Add media whores to the category.

Giving as it is understood --- should come from the heart and not for an agenda.  Giving should not be rendered to impress but to fulfill. That is why the most precious gifts are those that look seemingly insignificant because the giver wants to treat his gesture as such.  

You do not make a big deal out of what is inherent to one's nature.  You only announce that you are doing so much because you need much more in return.

The measure of true giving is not the amount accrued and delivered but the impact it has in the lives of those who receive.  Sometimes too the greatest gifts are those which one did not even give much thought in delivering.

4. Know those who truly love you --- and validate whatever emotions they have invested in you.  Sometimes it is the people who we take for granted who will stick by our side through hell and high water. Never abuse faithfulness and loyalty nor demand these if you cannot give them back.

Affirm the goodness that they provide to our lives. Make sure they know how important they are to you ... not because they are of use, not because they are convenient to have around ... but because they have also chosen to be with you.

In any level of relationship, friendship is the best foundation.  Whether it is a parent to his child, a man to his woman or whatever ... friendship should always be the strongest groundwork to hold up whatever structure two people choose to build on.

In any human interaction, if you cannot be friends --- then you cannot go any deeper than merely knowing each other's names so nothing more should be expected.

I have always believed that the ones I love the most are those who could make me laugh.  In a world of too much ambiguity, there should be such precious value given to true and tested friends.

5. All things shall come to pass.

It can get so bad ... but it only feels worse when you start recalling how good it used to be.

It may never be as good but what is important is that you are still there giving a good fight.  I always put to mind that despite the seeming power and invincibility of tormentors, they too shall come to pass.  They too shall need to confront the day when their clout and powers are gone and they need to stick by their guns when the chicken come home to roost --- or something like that.

All things shall come to pass which is why if you equate your happiness and identity with tangible, perishable things... then your happiness shall be so shallow ... and like everything that has become the object of your idolatry, you too shall be forgotten.

Remember what they say about things that you cannot take with you when it is time to go?  We will all turn to fertilizers ... but there are others who will remain immortal because they will be remembered, cherished and revered.  

And finally ...

6. Regardless of all one has gone through in 2011, BE GRATEFUL.  

Be thankful that there are chances in 2012.  Be happy that the journey continues.

It is in moments such as these that I look back at the past twelve months and say, "Whew!"  One of my best friends died.  A number of projects did not materialize.  Some of those that did underperformed. My dog died.  Each morning just reading the headlines made you want to go back to bed ... and each night catching the late night news gave you bouts of insomnia. But still...

I look around me and realize that there are more reasons to say thank you than to complain.  I think of my greatest treasures, the biggest and most wonderful gifts God gave me --- and these are the ones not measured by denominations, not purchasable at any imaginable cost.  These are the people who believe in me ... and love me. 

It could have been better ... but it could have also been worse.

There were lessons learned ... and I am still learning ... which means there is still so much to do in the year about to unfold.

By Sunday, almost half of the population of the guests who are now on this island would have gone back home.  Suddenly the pathways winding through the stores and bars will look so empty again.  That is reality.  That is the real world after the parties.

And that is where the real journey continues.

Happy New Year!


Saturday, December 17, 2011


New beginnings.  I have always wondered why at the end of every year and the start of new  ones that there is this quiet and even unannounced resolve to start changes.  

It goes with the territory: a new year, a new beginning.  Thus we conjure all these resolutions --- some trivial, others life-changing.  We announce to the world or even silently tell ourselves that now is the time to make these landmark changes not only to bring closure but to reinvent what is remaining with the rest of our lives.

I have a handful of friends who have spent decades making new year resolutions to quit smoking.  But to this very day they still come armed with their packs of Marlboro and Phillip Morris, saying that there will always be another year.  More often than not, we forget all the entries we have made on our resolution lists by time the 8th of January comes creeping in.  But still.  We make them each year out of habit or tradition ... and whether we know it or not, we actually move slowly but surely to achieve their fulfillment.

More important perhaps is the fact that we make resolutions. This only goes to show that ... well, we do recognize what we need to change about ourselves. There is that effort to correct what we deem is wrong with our lives if not our selves.

So as we enter the final stretch of the year, let me list down my resolutions and see just how many of them I can actually accomplish by the time the Mayan Calendar has finally ended.

(1) My guiding principle for the new year is that I will avoid people who I do not really like, will never learn to like or has stopped liking since 2010 or earlier.

I find it pointless trying to be nice.  Polite we must be --- and civil.  Manners do not only manifest breeding and education but also intelligence. But to push it a bit too much and pretend there is pleasure in another's company even though there is absolutely none --- that is called downright hypocrisy.  

To invest time in small talk or even --- oh, God --- rendering rehearsed, pre-packaged, three-in-one sort of instant smiles --- can not only be exasperating but downright degrading.  In an attempt to be more environmentally-friendly, I shall try my damn best to remove every opportunity to turn non-biodegradable.  

By law of survival, plastics last for centuries simply because they cannot be broken down into carbon components that could be of good use to the planet.  Thus, I shall have a long-term plan to be of greater service. We are all destined to be fertilizers so I will keep that tried and tested path.

I shall avoid (as much as possible) people who I do not like and/or who do not like me but smile at my face then stab me at the back. Can I be completely honest? One has the compulsion to do the same for specimens of that phylum. You know you do not like/hate each other but still you put on the Smiley look and behave like long-lost friends and even inquire about each other's health. Yuuuuch! Such activities induce acid reflux.

You meet these sorts of people especially at work or in social gatherings which has got nothing to do with bonding but merely cheap socializing. And this leads me to the second resolution...

(2) If I am going to exert effort in dressing up to go somewhere, then it should be to a place where I really want to go and not an event that I am only compelled to attend.

It cannot be helped. There are social obligations. And they can be a drag. Not for all. There are those who make a living out of socializing ... and making sure the world knows about it.

Different strokes for different folks. Or maybe been there, done that.  There are people (like me) who reach a certain age when you only want to be with people you enjoy especially when the occasion suggests that it should be enjoyed. For one thing, I hate dressing up in suits because they are indeed quite uncomfortable in the tropics.  More so, having chosen to be into the t-shirt/jeans/shorts sort of dressing, donning a suit and imbibing the behavior required for such an apparel cane be so debilitating.  

Yet we all know that there are events which have become social obligations --- if not career moves --- in order to be close to people who hold positions of authority and power.  You dress to the nines in order to mingle in the territory of the gods.

How many times in a lifetime do you need to attend parties just to be able to rub the tummy of some Golden Buddha?

How many times do you have to go into the whole dynamics of social pleasantries, indulge in really inane conversation, feign concern and interest just to be able to maintain a level of forcibly sincere conversation?

They call it networking. Or schmoozing. Or brown nosing. Whatever.  It is an accepted business practice minced with alcohol.

I wish it were that easy but for me it is not.  Maybe there is a growing sociopath in me.  I am not just comfortable with these simulated catered fiestas. Being there is a task. That takes tremendous effort. And energy.  And persistence.  And talent for unrecognizable insincerity.  But after a while you realize that it does not do anything for the soul.  

I guess when you are buttering up someone --- or trying to belong to the stratum of a social class which you feel is the ultimate goal of this present reincarnation --- then it becomes part of a life-long struggle to find meaning in life.  That is when it becomes investment socializing --- when you deliberately turn friendships into self-promotion and every opportunity for human interaction becomes a business venture.

I recently attended such an event where everybody just went into auto-whoring mode, trying to make their presence felt  in the company of top executives while being disguised in polyester elegance.  

I am quite sure the top honchos knew exactly what was happening which made all the minions look either refreshingly cheap or downright pathetic.  Despite the expensive hors d'ouvres, the event diminished into the excitement of a makeshift brothel.  I could sense the disgust in the gods as the mortals slithered doing their own versions of Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils in order to be noticed.  (Unfortunately, the head of John The Baptist was not offered as a final tribute that evening.)

Indeed there must be an art to social whoring. It is all over history. Including the Bible.

Unfortunately I would leave that to others.  All that buttering-up can lead to positions up the social and career ladder but you can rest assure, you only get group text greetings from such creatures --- and their forms of communication have all the sincerity and depth of form letters.

(3) I will stop endlessly worrying about tomorrow.  Because of a preoccupation for insuring the future, one ends up forgetting about what is transpiring in the present.

Again, it cannot be helped to keep thinking about the uncertainty of the future.  

I, for one, have been conditioned by my father to keep my head together and always think of the future.  My Dad was a conservative thinker: he was not one to take great risks especially if the future of his family would be part of the gamble.  Despite my contradictory opinions about the way my Dad used to make his judgment calls, I have begun to realize something that really shocked me: as I grew older, I have turned into my Dad.

Now I am beginning to reassess where and how I am going to deal with the so many more decades ahead in my life --- and I have also come to one big conclusion: Oh, what the heck! 

 There are a lot of things I do that other people find very, very strange (like flying off to the beach by myself with two books and my IPod and enjoying it, like watching movies alone on weekends, like staying home on a Saturday night reading trashy paperbacks) but I like it. I really, really like it in a major, major way.  I like to be alone.  I am learning to enjoy my own company.  And I don't believe any other human being is destined on this planet to complete me.

Comes a point in your life when you realize you have fulfilled most of your obligations with others --- that it is really about time to address one's personal needs. It has got nothing to do with selfishness --- it has everything to do with affirming one's self.  

I remember what was often told to me by some of my closest friends: "What you can't take with you to the other life doesn't really matter."  Quite right.  And the other is that, "We work hard to have a good life not merely to have a good living." Extremely correct. I know a lot of very, very rich people --- and I can assure you, they are not very happy.  They are assumed to be happy, they present themselves to be happy --- but they are just rich. Period.

That's because they have dedicated all their lives in being richer that they have lost the fun of being alive.

So let's boogie.  The Universe knows how to balance things off ...and take care of everything that needs fixing.

(4) Minimize hate ... maximize life.  

Sounds all too simple but actually difficult.  OK, I will consistently repeat that mantra.  I shall stop imagining scenarios that embody an ultimate desire of mine: to get even with people who kicked me in the ass.

We are all vulnerable to that guilty pleasure of imagining this classic scene where you finally give your most hated enemy on earth the finger.  Having been gifted with such a tremendous imagination, I have plotted out everything including camera shots and dialogue.

( I emerge from the elevator at the designated floor where the demigod holds office. I walk past the secretary, straight into the office where I will wear such a sunshine smile on my face as the god ---somewhat shocked by my sudden appearance --- smiles back and asks, "How are you?" And I reply, "Never been better ... and, by the way, F--K YOU!" I give the finger, do an exquisite turnaround and exit the premises. CUT!)

All these scenes of revenge are so delicious, vile and even on the verge of being cheesy that I know it is going to be a box-office hit.  Yes, I have enough of these scenes to realize that I have an entire film festival in my mind.

But then again .... why bother?  

After much thought, I have also realized that designing these tacky scenes actually give importance to the people who I choose to avoid.  The more energy you invest on someone, the greater importance you give him/her/it to your life.  So just move on.  Forgive ...but don't forget.  (I never believed that the latter is a requirement of the former. I can forgive but you better damn remember that I will not forget.)

Even while others feel that treading on the waters of Facebook is a waste of time, you can still gather morsels of wisdom from your so-called friends.  Just this morning someone posted: "Life should be defined by possibilities ... not limitations."

That is very, very true.  Struck a raw nerve here.  The moment you decide to hate somebody, you create a limitation.  And pulverizing said individual in an act of revenge a distant possibility. That only happens in the movies. And the Universe will take care of itself.  Believe me, it happens all the time.

Finally ....

(5) Before people get bored of me, I will get bored with myself.

The beautiful thing about new year celebrations is that ... it is going to be a brand new year.

I remember the exact place where I was when 2011 came marching in: at the rooftop party of Tides Hotel in Boracay, jumping with my fist in the air while dancing to the tune of Black Eyed Peas Time of My Life with new found friends.  I told myself 2011 is going to be a great year.  It was great in the sense that it was most challenging--- perhaps one of the most trying years of my life. But I learned. I learned so much to be thankful that 2011 is all that it came to be.

And one thing I also ascertained was that you can never be the same person for more than two years.  I am 57 years old (that is three years from forced retirement in this country if I had chosen the traditional 9 to 5 job) and I have chanced on the formula to stay younger than my years.

Better than Botox is the curiosity for life --- the love for life and the determination to make each step along the way become part of a more interesting journey.  Just because people say you are like this or that --- does not mean that you can not be anything else. That's a lot of bull.  You should never let anybody define your life except yourself.  And you can only find excitement in life by being excited about it.

Mellow like a fruit ... then you rot.

There is a joy in being unpredictable.  There is a thrill in being someone or something so completely different from who you are today. Keep surprising yourself ... and you keep the world interested in you.  And if you are interested in yourself, how can you remain uninteresting to the rest of the world.  It is as simple as that.

There is no such thing as retirement for me. Only reinvention. And resurrection. Why? Because living a full life is the best revenge.

Our family dentist is Dr. Rogelio Librojo.  He is now 88 years old and still one of the most renowned dental authorities in the country today. He has fathered a family of medical professionals --- and is still practicing in his clinic in Magallanes Village today.  I have known him for more than two-thirds of my life and I discovered his secret formula: it is called "being alive." He loves music. He loves a good talk. He is excited about every day. He is up to date with the developments in his field. In other words, he never lets his brain rest.  Therefore he is alive.

I want to be like Dr. Librojo when I grow up. 

That is why I am sure 2012 will be one of the best years of my life.  I will try something new. I will throw away all the excess baggage that have become safety nets and parachutes. I am not going to sky dive. I am going to hang glide this time. I am going to enjoy the view and fly.

Oh ... and since we are into gliding ... let me add another possible resolution.

This coming year, I may finally learn how to drive a car. May, I said. I am not promising. But I am trying.


I thought when people get to reach my age that there would be fewer and fewer things that happen around one's existence that demand explanation.  I was very, very wrong.

For one thing, I am writing this on an early Saturday evening the week before Christmas eve.  I had decided to attend an affair on the other side of the city and despite all warnings I mustered the courage, strength and foolishness to brave the roads.  I had to turn back after an hour and a half of being stuck in traffic at C5 where one's capacity for patience was tested to the limits.

Which leads me to the point that at my age there are still some things that I need to understand.  I do not need a detailed explanation --- but just a few sentences of very logical, irrefutable points as to why certain things happen and exist in our lifetime. For instance, the traffic ten days before Christmas in Metro Manila.  I want to know why is that! I want an explanation why it becomes plain torture or an opportunity for masochism to drive around the streets of the city around the time that Santa Claus is speculated to be coming to town.

I have always been made to believe that we are living in a Third World country. Despite claims that our economy is improving and that we are not going to suffer because of what is happening to the money bags from the other side of the world, I still feel the pinch. I still hear people complaining how much harder this year turned out compared to twelve months ago.  Come to think of it, I have been hearing that same line repeated over and over again for the past ten years --- even when Erap and Gloria were still the presidents.

So then how can one explain all those cars, vans, buses, trucks and extraterritorial vehicles caught bumper to bumper whether you are going through EDSA or C5?  Can all these people possibly be rushing to Bonifacio High Street, any of the SM Retail Kingdoms or the Ayala Wonderlands to indulge in vicious marathon Christmas shopping?  Are the streets clogged and congested because everyone is making a mad rush to grab a gift and have it wrapped in time for the Big Day that will transpire a week from now?

Most likely.  I have already been privy to the sudden surge in mall-indulging population where everyone seems to be in such a hurry ... or a state of dismay.  

But still I ask --- for the rest of the year --- where do they hide all these cars, vans, jeepneys and buses?  Do they just take them out of the garages to congest the streets this time every year?

Oh, speaking of shopping malls and shopping per se, there is the second point I really do not understand.  

Can somebody please explain to me why any normal-thinking set of parents would bring their babies/toddlers/little bundles of joy in malls or department stores or even "tiangges" this time of the Christmas frenzy?

Where is the logic in that?  Why would any sensible thinking Mommy or Daddy actually drag their infants or toddlers being pushed around in space-consuming-crowd-irritating trolleys or strollers around malls and department stores?  Worse, why would you bring your three to six year old kid around shopping centers when you know that:
(a) together with the Christmas season is the proliferation of all sorts of highly infectious ailments like colds, coughs or even sore eyes!
(b) chances that your kid will be pushed, shoved or even stepped on are very high especially when you bring them to shopping areas where a great percentage of the population are either pushing carts loaded with merchandise or lugging packages off the counter and
(c) the possibility of losing your child amid the frenzy of human traffic is tremendously great.

Well, this leads me to the fact that I feel no sympathy but instead feel intense anger when I see whimpering mothers who are desperately looking for their children at the Customer Service counters of department stores ... or frantically rendering what Eugene Domingo describes as "TV Patrol Acting" as they implore security officers as well as personnel of the malls to look for their lost offspring. Duh!  

I mean, why did you have to bring that child to this little corner of capitalist hell, Woman?  Don't give me that pathetic classic excuse that you do not have anyone to take care of your kid so that you had to lug him along! It is when I hear such half-brained excuses that I am more than convinced that the RH Bill should be passed as a law in this country.  Either that or we turn all the churches into Day Care Centers!  How does that sound to you, Padre?

With my limited knowledge of parenting, I was made to believe that you bring your kids to: (a) parks    (b) playgrounds   (c) resorts  (d) movie houses that show animated features or 3D cartoons  (e) amusement parks  and (f) learning centers.  Not unless parents are determined to teach their offspring the importance of free trade, the art of haggling, the therapy to cure claustrophobia or how to identify body odors of one thousand homo sapiens, then bringing them to malls and tiangges during the holidays should be cited as a possible proof of child abuse.

And that is just talking about things that boggle my mind during the holidays.  The season lasts for approximately the latter half of the twelfth and there are fifty other weeks each year that ceaselessly provide questions that I wish for answers.

Among them include:

(a) While working out in the gym, why is it that there are some people who spend more time lounging and chatting rather than working out?  Could there be truth to the speculation that workout centers have become the new pick-up joints ... or, worse, venues for social bonding rather than defining one's triceps and deltoids?  
(b) Here is a real aaaargh! moment: if you are gym junkie or bunny, you know how absolute frustrating it is when one of your fellow members takes forever in using --- if not occupying --- any single machine.  Just when you are so set into burning your calories or toning your muscles, you find a specimen of humanity garbed in his complete workout clothes deposited on one of the machines --- vegetating.  No, he is not using the machine --- he is just sitting there sending text messages or worse --- meditating on his past incarnations.
     Is there really a polite way of nudging this creature into consciousness to make him realize that there are other people who want to make use of the machine?
     Is there protocol and rules of decorum practiced in order to remind such individuals that unless one is taking a yoga class --- going on auto-semi-consciousness is not usually practiced in other areas of the fitness center?

(b) Since we are already on the subject of fitness, has it not occurred to the greater percentage of the local population that it is impolite to call anyone fat?
    I often wonder: do they mistake it as honesty or being witty or simply out of having something to say when they suddenly blurt out, "Hey, you're so fat now!" or, worse, "What happened to you? You have gained so much weight?"  Or have you heard that line that justifies filing a lawsuit or serving a fist sandwich? It goes something like, "Since when did you become a pig?"
    If any of those line qualify as wit, then we are living in a planet of retards.  If that is supposed to be a form of social bonding, then we must start breeding sociopaths.
    And you call that honesty? Yeah, sure --- maybe I or some poor bloke added a few or a lot of inches around our middle. So what is that to you?!!!  Not unless you are my doctor (specifically my cardiologist) or you are my dietician --- then you have no right to give any running commentary on how I present myself in this human form.
    By reminding someone that he has gained weight and that he does not look his best, does that give the person a sense of accomplishment?  Does he feel more superior because his friend or acquaintance gained more pounds?  Is that a put-down under the guise of concern?
    Well, not unless the comment is given to someone who weighs close to 300 pounds carrying a history of hypertension and cardiac problems, there is no decent justification why anybody can mutter with such petulance and glee any statement about the human weight.

The list can go on and on. But then I guess I am in this frame of mind because the traffic outside is bad, it is raining ... and, worse, Christmas is a week away and calamities are still occurring.  

In the meantime, there is this need to understand.  But of course, ours is not to fully grasp the irony of human existence ... even on trivial matter such as this.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I don't get it.

Is it because --- really --- there are much fewer Christmas lights I see at night that I feel this isn't December enough?  Or there seems to be such a general dearth of Yuletide decor in various establishments that you barely feel that we are right smack in the doorway of Jingle Bell Land?

You know what made it worse?  The heat.  Disyembre na ba?! How can anyone convince me it is December when I am experiencing such humidity.  This isn't December! This is something like late April or early May. 

Worse yet, if it is not humidity you are dealing with --- then it must be rainfall.  You look outside and see gray skies, impersonating some accident that became a season of the year alternating with grueling heat.  That's why I don't get it.

I remember years ago when I was wearing cardigans and sweatshirts even at home here in the south because the air was so deliciously cold.  I remember that starting the last week of November until about the first week of February I did not find any use for air conditioning at night or in the very late afternoons.

I guess that is global warming for you.  Or at least that would convince the few remaining big time capitalists that the polar caps are melting and that whole shtick in Happy Feet 2 is based on fact and not merely the fancy of animated dancing Emperor Penguins.  But let us not go into that.  We are still talking about the weather and why this doesn't feel like Christmas at all despite the token Christmas carols you hear once in a while from the radio or the pipe-in music of stores and malls.

And even hearing Christmas songs becomes suspect. I am bothered to hear I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus in September especially in a mall. This is because I know that this is not about the joys of the coming Yuletide season. It is about cajoling the shopper to bring out his wallet and start that much dreaded buying spree. Even for confirmed shopaholics, Christmas can still be a drag --- or an ordeal.

It is when you have to reckon with the amount of money you have to spend to complete your Christmas list, then the season has turned more into an obstacle than an event to anticipate. After wrapping all the gifts --- special and even obligatory --- sincere or done out of politeness --- you realize the amount of financial depletion you have encountered all for the sake of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Mankind.

Now I get myself thinking: when was the last time I really felt Christmas?  

When was the year of most recent memory when I was actually excited about the approaching season and not reacting to pressures that accompany the holidays?  

When was the latest time that I actually enjoyed Christmas --- despite the unforgivable traffic everywhere and anywhere, the escalating expenses because of the endless shopping?

Do I really, really enjoy those obligatory Christmas parties that destroy every existing methods of dieting and test your will power in practicing weight control?

Do I really enjoy playing Kris Kringle and receiving an Angry Bird key chain for an exchange gift?  I confess: I got it all wrong. It is the thought that counts and not the gift or its price.

A good friend of mine said that Christmas is only for children.

He was insistent that Christmas was made for children --- who are rewarded at a specific time of the year when they can be showered with all the toys and gifts that they have longed for.  Christmas is, after all, a celebration of Divine Birth --- and it is only appropriate that this should be dedicated to the innocent. God knows how many more years you will bask on this beautiful naivete before you outgrow toys and develop needs far greater and more complex.

Then somebody said that Christmas is really about family.

That also made a lot of sense.  Christmas in Manila is when all roads to the international airports get clogged up with the returning overseas workers, yearning to come home and share their noche buena with their families.  There is a lot of hugging, kissing, crying ... very much like the campaign launched by Coca-Cola.  Christmas is not only for family reunions but for getting together for whatever reason whatsoever.

Aside from the traditional Filipino parol, a new symbol of Disyembre sa Pinas is the balikbayan box. This is the box that contains all the pasalubongs and aguinaldos that our overseas relatives bring home to fill the empty spaces around the Christmas trees. 

But I completely agree that Christmas should always be about people --- not only relatives (who you cannot choose) but friends and those who appear in our lives out of circumstance. About people who just had to be around throughout the year that passed --- whether out of choice or out of chance.  

It is about office mates who make fools of themselves in Christmas parties singing their favorite karaoke pieces or dancing to the latest and most popular tunes.  It is about feeling euphoric about the thirteenth month salary and the company bonus. 

Christmas is a lot of things to all of us.  But for me --- Christmas is about food.

I am not talking about the sudden proliferation of a) fruit cakes   b) rum cakes   c) food for the gods   d) chocolate chip cookies or whatever concoction sweet, salty or sour that can come out of the kitchen.  If there is one thing about Christmas that I remember about my youth, then it is my grandmother's macaroni recipe that she incorporates with chorizo de bilbao or my mother slaving for hours in the kitchen deboning chicken for her Galantina while also steaming the embutido.  It is watching both my Mama and Lola dealing with their own Jamon Tsina, as they iron brown sugar on the slap of dried pork leg boiling in pineapple sauce.  

Or that very vivid picture of my Mama grinding yam in order to make halayang ube, then later on exerting too much effort stirring the pasty root with butter and condensed milk until it reaches the right density. I remember her promising that this would be the last year she would be cooking halayang ube because she was getting too old to do all the stirring ... which she would not allow anyone else to do because the outcome of the dessert will be different. To this day I still do not understand why she insisted on doing this herself.

As I am writing this, I suddenly gain a perfect recollection of our old kitchen ... and remember the smell from that little corner at the back of the house where the ladies of the house concoct their annual Christmas feasts.

That is the Christmas that I remember. That is the Christmas that I miss.

Now that my grandmother is gone --- and my Mom will be 99 years old this Christmas (which happens to also be her birthday), the home cooked meals for Noche Buena are no longer there.  Having been deprived of culinary talents like some of my friends, my mother and grandmother's secret recipes have not been passed on as part of family tradition.  For the past so many years, Christmas has ceased to be what I remembered ... but something I had to deal with each year.

And maybe that is why, especially this year, I am still trying to go deep into my heart to find the Christmas of my youth.  Yes, my friend was right. Christmas is really for children.  Perhaps I am having such difficulty feeling it because somewhere along the way, I gave up being that child who used to really feel joy singing Christmas tunes.

Just last week, I put up my Christmas tree.  I have also done most of my Christmas shopping refusing to be caught in that frantic rush in stores.  I have asked my assistants to wrap the presents.  Now it is only a matter of deciding when I can feel Christmas all over again.

Friday, December 2, 2011


A video supposedly shot in Singapore some time earlier this year goes viral in the internet.  Again, all hell breaks loose ... or a part of it, anyway.

Snippets about this story were already floated last weekend. 

There was supposed to be a bomb to explode in another Sunday afternoon talk show but that was supposedly neutralized by powers that be. Even more ironic is that the big news about the alleged abortion was completely superseded by the cliffhanging and tearful confessions of a girl involving her Break-Up of the Year.  

So just when curious insiders were convinced that the whole revelation about the abortion issue was now a dud, out came the viral video in YouTube. Quite timely, really. Because the whole Is-He-or-Isn't-He issue about the battered love birds has now simmered into tired whispers and puede ba, tama na, tantanan na!

This leads us to wonder how the public has been so particularly addicted to juicy and controversial news bits about the private lives of celebrities. This has become part of our weekly diet. Hindi kumpleto ang linggo kung walang iskandalo. 

We cannot seem to find adequate excitement in our lives by just talking about our own problems. As mere mortals we are really quite uninteresting. We are not product endorsers, we are not red carpet habitues and our living quarters are not featured in twenty pages of Yes Magazine.  As humble members of the madlang masa or the dwindling middle class, our lives are really insipid, devoid of excitement and saddled with problems that are oh-so-boring and predictable. Like budgeting. Or traffic in December. Or finding the best cure for athlete's foot. We are not telenovela material.

We do not have partners who record videos announcing to the world that the next morning our baby will be aborted for the sake of career and under strict instructions from management.  Hu-wow!

We do not have the courage to go on nationwide television to discuss the tragic yet fantastic turns of our much romanticized love lives --- whether this involves questions of the authenticity of gender of mate, physical abuse that include a variety of wrestling moves or even the infliction of STD.  Di ba? 

In our little simple lives, teen-age girls giving birth out of wedlock are not reason enough for national coverage.  They happen every day and are usually discussed over coffee and pan de sals stuffed with potted meat lasting for a maximum of ten minutes.

Although things like that happen to the children of our next door neighbor or even our own relatives, media will not be interested in finding out the gory or schmaltzy details not unless it will be used in an episode of Face to Face or re-enacted in a weekly drama anthology.  More so, debates on the real identity of the father of the child will be utterly insignificant because honestly ... who cares about us and our problems? We are mere manifestations of statistics.

But when these jests of fate or fruits of carelessness happen to celebrities ... we are talking national issues. 

We are dealing with sociological and even theological problems that seemingly affect the lives of everyone who still believes in God and human decency.  We must know the facts in order to have opinions.  It seems that we are talking about creatures that exist in a completely different dimension or solar system.

But wait ... there's more.

Our fondness for the mind-boggling, moral challenging twists and turns in the lives of media personalities is not merely living our existence vicariously.  It gives us a feeling of superiority --- even of sanctimony.  Despite the wealth, power, fame and glory of these stars, we see their vulnerabilities and tell ourselves that we are far better off because we have scruples. 

Because of our fortitude, we know what is right from wrong --- unlike these false idols. We savor and relish the pay-off: wealth for miserable scandalous lives --- while we claim that we love them so much.  (There must be a logic there somewhere.)

Oh, let them drive their Hummers, lug their LV and Hermes bags and earn eight-digit fees for endorsing everything from hollow blocks to feminine hygiene washes. Let them live in their mansions, have their European and African vacations and don clothes that approximately cost our gross income for a year. But reading about their public sins, discussing their foibles and fixating on their national confessions give us a kind of moral authority that makes us feel so good. Even if we idolize them, seeing them make fools of themselves and behave like bejeweled monkeys level the playing field --- or so we would like to think.

All these seem to prove that God can actually be very fair. 

Oh, yes! Let them live in their fantasy world where an eternal spotlight is aimed at them --- but are they truly happy?  This gives us a feeling of peace. Of evenness.  Of balance in the Universe.  Why?  Because we have the discretion to make valid judgments even based on press releases and presumptions. And why do we do this?  Because we are seeking for the truth.

That's it: we are feeling indignation, fascination and even addiction because we seek for the truth. This is the truth that can be found when a man talks to us on a video on the plans of his girlfriend to have an abortion the next day.  This is the truth we savor watching a young woman in tears yield cryptic statements as to why she broke off with her  popular boyfriend. This is the truth we relish when two boys wearing tuxedos pounce on each other at a bar in a five-star hotel right after a dress-up ball.

And sometimes we are no longer sure about the truth that we are looking for.  After all, in a world where one can be bombarded by so much information, something repeated over and over again will become the truth even if it is not real.  In an age where everything is based on perception, truth has ceased from being absolute.  It has become relative ... and based on consensus.  

With that follows unspeakable consequences because we may not even know what we are looking for in the first place.