Saturday, March 31, 2012


OK. What will they think of next?

I know there is an entire science where people dedicate their lives to turn them into full-fledged and profitable careers to convince the public to buy this, buy that ... not this, but that.  Considering the kind of economic crunch most if not nearly all of us are experiencing (except for Manny Pacquiao and the selected few whose houses are featured from Tatler to Yes Magazine), the world of advertising has never been more competitive --- if not neurotic.

You still need proof? 

Drive down the stretch of EDSA, baby.  If that is not a visual overload, I do not know what is.  

I do remember in my younger and more vulnerable days, those precious years when I still had use for styling mousse and a blow dryer, there was a skyline on EDSA.  Yes, you could still see the sky and not this proliferation of gargantuan billboards trying to outdo each other and creating such a mental frenzy to anyone still capable of functional vision.

I couldn't help but remember the most memorable scenes from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, filmed decades ago but slowly but surely becoming a part of our everyday reality. All the subliminal messages bombarded into our brain cells that we become so completely oblivious of carbon monoxide belched out by those evil buses who are going to gas us out of this incarnation.

We have become so desensitized by so many mammoth photos of the Presidential Baby Sister endorsing everything from wristwatches to washing machines or even insect-killing electric fans! Dios mio! Or the Pambansang Kamao himself endorsing everything from beer to your favorite sawsawan vinegar. Betcha by golly!

And, of course, we all remember that big brouhaha about the series of giant billboards lining the other side of EDSA going northbound from the Guadalupe Bridge.  Who would have thought that a mayor would make such a stink-o branding the wall-to-wall photos of crotch-worthy rugby players a hazard for drivers?  Well, yes ... if he who is behind the wheel is busy assessing the battle of the bulges.  One thing you can say about Bench: it certainly knows how to grab public attention.  After all, it was through the ad campaigns of Ben Chan's clothing and now lifestyle line that Richard Gomez became an icon --- and Jake Cuenca became the poster boy of extra-tight skivvies, right?

The sensation caused by so much flesh and so little underwear was enough for the company to launch bi-annual fashion shows at no less than the Smart Araneta Coliseum.  This fiesta of briefs and bras is like a nightmare version of a Victoria's Secret Fashion show where you do not have a select number of angels strutting their stuff down the ramp but the entire cast of Dante's Inferno parading down the ramp in glammed-up interpretations on What You can Do with a Pair of Briefs and a Lot of Guts.

In a marketplace too crowded with each product screaming, "Buy me! Buy me!" the bottom line is that you gotta have a gimmick. 

Amid the boom of real estate development, where our country is trying to impersonate Hong Kong and Singapore in the proliferation of high rise residences, SM Development Corporation has adequately taken the same route of using celebrity endorsements to push their projects.  

I mean, I love (and I mean this from the bottom of my heart) Anne-Bisyosa herself but to make her and Kim Chiu as the muses of condos is something I am still trying to figure out. (I am also still trying to decipher why there was a billboard with Krissy, adorable Baby James-morphed-as-toddler-Bimby and our favorite indie actor turned telenovela prince Coco "Da Yammy" Martin huddled together.  I have to make a research paper on semiotics to make sense out of that one.) Throw in Matteo G. in the fray as well.  It must be representing the young and exciting lifestyle --- but I doubt if anyone within the age range of Anne, Kim or Matteo can afford these condos not unless they are Anne, Kim and Matteo.  

Or better yet, the most celebrated ice cream product in the market today had everyone cooing and swooning over the taste of their favorite flavors. Is yours almond? Belgian chocolate? Truffles?  A great part of this sudden craving to take a bite of these ice cream bars has got nothing to do with cooling off with the onslaught of summer. It had everything to do with the high-end launch that had all of Manila's most recently photographed denizens of the society pages ( call them the "A"-set, Honey ... the beautiful people who make a living out of existing in a beautiful manner and to be seen as nothing else but such) taking a delicious bite.

I laughed when one of my cheapskate friends (definitely not invited to the launch) made a comment about the cost per bar of the newly launched product and described it as Pinipig Crunch without the pinipig.  But then again, said friend of mine could not distinguish Lady Godiva truffles from a mini-bar of Chocnut. "Pasensiya ka na," he said with utmost sarcasm when another friend commented about his somewhat low-end taste having been born and raised on the wrong side of the City of Makati, "Hindi ako sanay kumain ng mamahaling ice-cream. Masaya na ako sa Scramble." Point well taken except for the fact that my other friend reacted: "Scramble? Wat dat?"  

So it is not enough that you have monumental launches or sponsor crowd-pleasing events.  As Mommy Rose of Gypsy Rose Lee would say, you really gotta have a gimmick.  And now it is a battle of the ultimate gimmickry.

In a few days, for instance, at the island resort of Boracay --- you can be rest assured that the sanctity of the Lenten Season will be venerated by events sponsored by cigarette companies, telecommunication corporations and all the beverage products associated with summer.  

Part of the fun of escaping to the island is to be part of the splashy events where everyone can come in their board shorts, bikinis and Havaianas then crawl back to their resorts with mouth frothing, fine white sand on their faces and not remembering what happened the night before.

All the while, the narrow passageways between Stations 1 to 3 of Boracay will be filled with promo boys and girls whose main duty (at about P3000/day pay) is to flash their abs or their bobbing bosoms to convince folks that it is OK to have shots of nicotine
or booze while watching the sunset and listening to house music. They charm you, flirt with you ... then convince you to get a prepaid card where you can have unlimited text messages.  Fair enough.

Can anyone really imagine Boracay in the summer without all the advertising?

So it is now a matter of really pushing the envelope right at the edge of the table.  What else can advertisers do to sell their products without falling in the same trap that has been done for the past twenty years? Well, trust creativity ... and the art of being tongue-in-cheek.  

When you start mounting fashion shows in supermarkets on a weekend ---with clothes straight from the racks of a designer like Randy Ortiz or directed by Jackie Aquino --- you know that some strange mindset is operating somewhere.  When a detergent bar like Champion decides to show how potent their stain-removing power can work on beloved clothes, uh, you wonder --- what were these people thinking?  Simple. They staged that fashion show while housewives were busy trying to spell broccoli. 

Well, who are we to say just how far people would go to sell their product? 

It is no longer merely what ... but how you can catch the attention of a blase audience who is so used to voyeurism that their lives have been diminished to that of a housemate in Kuya's house.  But when you have models sashaying down supermarket aisles wearing transparent plastic overcoats and splashing catsup, mustard, mayonnaise and God knows what else they had in mind --- you know that this has gone beyond crazy. And all this is done to show how Champion can remove stains that easily.

This had people applauding and perhaps You-Tubing the entire event without completely understanding how downright surreal life has become. But then ... whatever.  If you build, they will come. If you amuse, they might just buy.  And if they buy, you have made your point. Better yet, you created that important event that had your product remembered.

OK. I get it.  In a crowded marketplace, you can't just be good. You also have to be better in being crazy.

And being crazy can be an entire science itself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Recently the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development expressed her dismay over prime time television.  She commented against the carelessness of telenovelas in misinforming the public about certain procedures followed by the government regarding legal adoption.  Apparently there have been some really shabby writing for tv that completely muddled information about how to go about adopting kids in our country.

There indeed has been a lot of misinformation going around.

Secretary Dinky Sulliman should go beyond the Standard Operating Procedures that go hand in hand with bureaucracy.  She, together with the rest of the government officials who really care about the welfare of the public must also see what commercial television is capable of doing if not already practicing.

Yes, right.  It is not good to confuse the mind of the television viewer in believing that it is that easy to go to an orphanage and take home a kid like a bag of burger and French fries from a drive-through.  But more than that, maybe even greater scrutiny and care should be focused beyond the surface level of what these shows illustrate --- or how they tend to abuse that all too esoteric term called "artistic license."  As far as any book on aesthetics is concerned, the term "artistic license" was never used as a euphemism for blatant stupidity.

Well, I will not judge the quality of writing at this point out of sheer ethics. But I will be adamant about the lack of if not shady research exercised by some writers. Many of them tend to confuse what is solid fact and what is purely a fragment of their imagination. Or some even indulge in the realm of pseudo-scientific for the sake of the dramatic.  Oh, come on!

When left unverified, the audience may be all that gullible to take everything thrown to them hook, line and sinker. 

For instance, let it be said that:

(a) Children suffering from Aspergers Syndrome cannot be cured by a certain dosage of electrical current ... much less by being hit by lightning.

(b) Those who are mentally challenged may never achieve the degree of normalcy found in others --- and that what is more important is that they become useful to society with whatever is deemed as their maximum potential.

(c) There are no fantasy creatures spewed by volcanoes or coming from wishing wells, fountains or even magic mirrors that can solve the loneliness of children, fulfill wishes of the deprived, etc. They are such cute creatures to sell as stuffed toys for the sake of merchandising but the problem is that we have seen them so many years before (think of the young Phoebe Cates in Gremlins and you realize that we are seeing Yesterday Once More).

(d) Just for the record, not all rich people are evil, scheming, overdressed and, worse, over made-up to look like transvestites with exceptionally bad taste. There are many good people who just happen to be rich and do not get their kicks literally kicking poor people in the face. More so, not all rich people arm themselves with enough gold plated or gold tone jewelry enough to create havoc in the environment.

(e) Not all gays wear blue eye shadow, addicted to jeggings and fulfill the role of the village buffoon or idiot if only to find worthiness in society. More so, not all gay people dress weird. Some wear suits and are more macho than the most macho among the straights.

(f) Despite the percentage of missing persons, not all families have lost children that they are seeking for because of the careless of switching in the hospital nursery or brought about by tragic accidents like cars falling off cliffs, exploding buses or even all too quaint fires in the neighborhood. If so, then this must be the best argument for the passage of the RH Bill.  If Filipinos tend to lose their kids like they lose puppies, then we should really tell PNoy that it is urgent that we have zero population growth by the end of the year. (Let us instead be a nation of eunuchs.)

(g) Although we all have a thing or two hide, life can be complete without a mind-boggling secret kept in diaries, lockets or buried in a box somewhere in the backyard together with a bunch of corpses.

Oh, and another thing ... according to the latest health statistics, amnesia is not anywhere close to heart attacks, tuberculosis or cancer as diseases or ailments most evident in Philippine society.  There are more people suffering from bleeding ulcers, dyspepsia or even halitosis than there are inflicted by memory loss.

Now having said that, we must also accept certain facts about other things that television tends to say but we never really get to talk about.  

Since we are so amused, addicted and even anesthetized by what tv feeds us, we never get to really to think of whatever statements or implications, values or insights into life that these programs have to offer.  The audience chooses to see itself as a passive recipient, armed with a remote control and conditioned to absorb whatever is being broadcast ... or made to react and express judgment through text votes.

And that includes young people. No, that requires further clarification. Television has the greatest effect on young people because what they see on tv has become the surrogate teacher which they believe equips them with the survival tactics to get through daily life.  This cannot be helped.  School provides so much ... but media is more encompassing. The moment you allow sounds and images to enter the sanctity of your home --- whether it is your living room and especially the bedroom --- what is said and reinforced becomes part of daily life and teaching.

So maybe even worse than all the over-the-top burnt-out plots and characters we are fed with 24/7 in commercial television are the implied values that are ingrained in the minds of the youth.  The Motion Picture and Television Ratings and Classification Board (MTRCB) is trying its damn best to exercise as much of its authority in regulating and monitoring television shows within the acceptable parameter. That is, the MTRCB can only do so much (lest it earns the ire of the Freedom of Expression advocates who will simply refuse to be gagged or muted in their various forms of idealistic elocution).  Yet everyone --- including the most liberal flibbertigibbet among us ---that monitoring movies is really quite different from being damn stricter when it comes to television.

Easily said, you do not need to dress up, spend for transportation and snacks then pay P200 to watch a television show. Commercial television is free and accessible and omnipresent.  Even the poorest of the poor can get a hold of a tv set for their amusement.  TV is still the cheapest form of entertainment ...perhaps next to videoke marathons staged in garages or wakes.

Worse is the fact that there is really no way that families can completely monitor everything that their kids watch in their own private territories. Well, let's face it: not all parents are like Carmina Villarroel and Zoren Legaspi (and about seventy-five percent cannot look as good as them) who would cuddle up with their kids to explain why they cannot watch certain tv show.  

To think that we are not even talking about what the kids are watching or reading or doing with the internet, huh?

The point is that whether we are aware of it or not ... television does not merely entertain. It conditions. And whether they like to admit it or not, television has a social responsibility for it has become the beacon not only of popular culture but the medium that shapes and reshapes traditions.  More than motion picture, print media or radio, television has become the compass where young people find their sense of direction, validation and even ambition.

If Bruno Bettelheim talked about the uses of enchantment in fairy tales, then maybe all these television programs --- consumed with addictive gusto --- have replaced all the fables and morality anecdotes. These narratives serve as guides to what is acceptable in a culture ... and what is not.

So the more a material embraces the values of other cultures in the desire of media to keep up with the rest of the world, then the looser the cultural boundaries have become.  The more simplistic (or even idiotic) the approach to the narrative, then the more disastrous the messages conveyed on all levels.

A discussion on the repercussions of irresponsible television can go on forever but then let us limit the talk to what we decided to deal with: how the medium has screwed up the kids.  There are indeed very apparent manifestations of television culture creating a completely different set of values and priorities among the young.  

Let us count some of the ways:

(a) Firstly, entertainment in television does not give adequate premium to education.  This does not include advocacy shows which are precisely espousing the cannons of EdTV (Educational Television) and appreciation must be adequately given to networks who allocate time for using the medium to give basic instructions to kids at home.  

Ventures such as these have more positive effects on kids than say ... watching two women outspit and outcurse each other in Face to Face.

What is meant here is that young characters played out in telenovelas never underline the importance of school because they are too preoccupied in addressing their growing hormonal problems.

Sure, we can dress them up in the most adorable school uniforms (whether they look like misplaced English boarding school masters and misses ... or Korean school children) but no one seems to be reading a book, dealing with his or her assignment or even researching using the 3G installed on their iPads.  Instead they are goo-gooing each other to death, swapping sweet nothings at each other ... or trying newer (and more upsetting ways) to find a historic level of cuteness.

Of course all these twists and turns ends up in heartbreaks (as we hear the recorded background music of an acoustic artist singing about ... uh, young love, sweet love) and a chance to cry in a manner that is touching but still cute.

So where does school fit in? Of course school is important: that is where you bond with your BFF and swap updates about his latest text message, her latest Facebook shoutout, what he tweeted ... or worse, what she did on the webcam last night out of a dare. (Thought bubble: WHAAAAAAAAAAAT??!!!)

(b) They may dress in school uniforms, appear to be in classrooms (where all teachers are more than mentors but either tormentors or simply transient homo sapiens) or carrying books and notebooks in those endless corridors that constitute "depicting school life on tv" --- but nobody really gives a hoot about studying. And why?

Simple. Because who needs to study when tv makes all kids want to be ON tv. 

Perhaps even more than the option to make a career out of nursing, culinary arts, HRM or being a graphic artist, computer engineer or medical technician, the dream of a substantial number of kids the moment they hit puberty is to be an artista. 

Proof of this passion ("Gusto ko po kasing makatulong sa aking pamilya ...", "Dream ko po talaga ang maging artista ..." , "Idol ko po talaga sina Gerald at Kim ...", "Magaling po akong umiyak ...") is the long lines for reality search auditions ... or reality searches promising fame and prospects of fortune.  And it cannot be helped.  

Think of it as an extension of the fantasies provided by television --- where even the common and the ordinary can be transformed into a prince and princess just by sheer luck --- which, in this case, happens to be a tv camera pointed right at their faces.  In a matter of a few years, the ordinary boy or girl can be transformed into a popular matinee idol, made rich by his or her showbiz career ... and made even richer by a barrage of commercial endorsements.

One no longer wonders whether the passion or preoccupation of young people is for the art of being an actor or the art of being popular --- and hopefully very, very rich complete with perks. These are two worlds apart: the good actor ... and the fame whore.  But then considering the equations that operate nowadays --- who needs to be a good actor to be rich?  It is more practical to be just your run-of-the-mill media slut.

So what does this say about young people who want to be artistas because they feel that this is indeed the destiny designed for them by the Universe?  Perhaps it is the fantasy of wearing designer clothes or being photographed as magazine covers and features ... or performing all over the world not necessarily with talent but with just sheer physical presence ( a smile and a wave would do ... or they can sing lip sync) and a lot of guts.  

For all you know, the little media princess will have her house and cabinet featured in a popular entertainment magazine where she can prove once and for all to the world that ... she did it all para matulungan ang kanyang mga magulang.

With all these mind ... who really needs education? With all these myths and promises that we are fed literally with the tube --- can you blame kids for their misconception that fame and fortune can only be achieved by being beautiful, looked at and admired ... without the aid of proper education or even respect for learning?  I think not.

For the feeding of illusions and the warping of values are indeed far more dangerous and long-lasting.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


All right, it is not going to be one of the greatest movies to be enthroned in the altars of world cinema.  In short, cineastes and the most obtuse of the film scholars will not and will never even consider The Hunger Games as anything more important than a small bag of Doritos --- with matching nutritional value.

We are not even talking about major Oscar material here (not this soon anyway ... considering we still haven't gotten over trying to understand Terence Mallick's movie, right?).  But the point is that ... well, I like it ... and I am not going to apologize for liking it.  I was even on the verge of loving the movie.

I do not feel guilty for really, really liking a movie based on a young adult novel ... and has swarms of fans now screaming Team Gale versus Team Peeta.  

I do not feel any less of a human being because I read all the novels of Suzanne Collins comprising the trilogy (and that I have also read her previous series featuring Gregor the Overlander).  And, yes, again: I do read young adult novels. 

Even at my age, I find these materials of such vast and varied interest ... because it goes beyond the popcorn ease of breezing through a James Patterson crime novel... or going through the emotional wringer of Nicholas Sparks, right? And you do not have to go through all that seeming made-for-tv sort of narrative of Jodi Picoult.

Reading Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why or Matthew Green's Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend should give you an extra kick and definitely much more intellectual premium than say ... spending six hours Facebooking or indulging in Twitter for your next emotional meltdown.

But enough of my paperback literacy.  I am writing this because last night, amid a day characterized by Murphy's Law, I decided to attack the movie house and watch Hunger Games alone.  And I felt good after.  No, that stands to be corrected. I felt very, very good.  I forgot that that very afternoon, my PC crashed. And that my car needs to have the battery changed.  Or that certain days prove that life can be a bitch.  That's how good a nice cinematic experience can change your entire disposition about the meaning of human existence.

I actually went home feeling good.

I actually went home feeling good because even if I read the novel (the first is the best of the trilogy), I did not feel shortchanged. Well, Harry Potter's movies did not make me feel shortchanged either ...but after a while, all those wizards and ghouls can be a bit overbearing.  But Hunger Games was not at all out to impress.  It was just there.

Despite the fact that this movie has been hailed as the most awaited franchise to hit the screens, the results were satisfying on both the box office and the critical levels as well.  Hey, it is not that easy to make close to twenty million US dollars on the first set of midnight screenings alone, much less harvest more than a hundred million dollars on your first three days of showing --- when you have the first of an untested franchise, right?  Better yet, how could you possibly fail if you get relatively good reviews which are best deserved.

Yes, the fallout expectations were still there because the book was much more violent (and therefore more effective) in illustrating the inhumanity of it all ... and the irony of reality television where the suffering --- real and simulated, intense and stupid --- of ordinary people can be translated into sadistic, voyeuristic entertainment.  

The movie has been watered down (booed, of course, by those who want to see teenagers gorge each other's eyes out or disembowel another's digestive system) for reasons of audience rating. I mean, how can you possibly get all those tweens and teens and eternal teeners into the moviehouse if you get an R-18 rating, right?  That does not only poop on the whole excitement bit ...but a damn setback to the box office receipts.

Besides, if you want violence to the level of the surreal like Quentin Tarantino's ... then go look for a DVD of Battle Royale, that Japanese film shot in 2000 and allegedly the template for Hunger Games.  If you want high school kids (complete in their Tween Hearts school uniforms) kill each other in the most violent fashion possible, then watch this Japanese piece.  Hunger Games had its share of demented, violence-crazed kids --- but they are not exactly Gogo Yubaris from Kill Bill.

Instead, Hunger Games worked on different levels. If you're into all the oh-oh-ohs and swooning for Who Gets the Girl, then you will have your share: Boy-Next-Door Gale or Intense-Thinking-Lover-Boy Peeta? If you want a touch of pain that is so infamous among Filipino producers (I can almost hear members of the Creative Department of Star Cinema cooing, "Where's the heart? Where's the pain? How will the audience empathize? Where is the hook?"), you have it here as well.  At the same time, the movie takes extra caution not to go to the level of the saccharine sappy (which the Twilight series seemed to dedicate so much of its screen time to create an overkill) or the downright unforgivably corny.

All right, all right: you don't have tousle-haired Edwards or the Hulk-like muscles of Jacob ... but instead you are given permutations of the same templates in more human and humane terms.  And one thing I love about Hunger Games (the novels and the first installment film) is that the heroine is no angst-ridden What-am-I-gonna-do-with-my-miserable-life sort of schlep who is in constant vacillation and is actually just in dire need for a good dosage of primordial copulation (Translation: What Bella really needs is a good f--k to shut her up). 

Instead, Katniss Everdeen is a survivor: armed with the instincts of a hunter, warrior and mother, even her weaknesses become her strength when placed in an arena that hails the survival of the fittest.  That eternal love triangle that involves the heroine and her two boys is not your cut and dry high school teen romance. The film never overplayed it --- but obliged the audience with an ample supply of scenes to elicit the sighs that they paid for.

But more important is that the Hunger Games goes beyond the template of young adult blockbusters.  Harry Potter had his magic ...but Hunger Games provides a socio-political satire that lacerates the very flesh and fabric of government and society today.  Set in a post-apocalyptic America (very much like the premise given by Battle Royale) wherein the youth are sacrificed to atone for the sins of the generations before them, Collins gives an insight into the world of media circuses providing entertainment to numb the population into false beliefs and subjugation.

This, together with the idea of the inhumanity of reality television, is what makes Hunger Games as a social commentary hit the mark.  The dehumanization of young people to be pawns for the entertainment of the audience, the exploitation of feelings and thoughts in the name of survival (and therefore winning) to earn audience approval ... and financial sponsors are no longer stuff made for fantasies.  They are very much in the here and now.

The control room where the Games are manipulated by omniscient technicians that provide tests --- both challenging or downright stupid --- to measure the durability of the Tributes is no different from what we see on reality tv shows. Even local franchises practice this power to teach contestants lessons and appreciate their learning --- and to empower them to be better human beings. Or even become heroes.  Yeah, right.  What it still boils down to is the discovery of celebrities who are recognizable and therefore purchasable. What it is all about is really simple: to entertain, to amuse and to provide folly --- even at the expense of another human being's dignity.

That is what Hunger Games all the more haunting: the idea --- the very idea --- that we are not looking at a world imagined decades or centuries from the here and now.  What is being illustrated by the movie --- is the here and now.  When governments use media to perpetuate what they want to be known as truth --- when hope is falsely given by manipulated elements (like everybody loves star-crossed lovers because they will get more sponsors) or when emotional blackmail becomes the main course of every media menu --- then we know we are in much deeper trouble than we ever imagined.

Why?  Because we are not even aware of how media rearranges our brain cells --- and make us believe the two-dimensional (or even 3D ) images they flash to condition us.  In the name of entertainment, we are not only de-sensitized.  We are made downright dumb. And brainwashed.  And turned into social zombies cheering for make-believe or synthetic heroes.

OK. I have said my piece: I hope the reader finds time to catch the movie, grab the DVD ... and even compare this with Battle Royale. 

Yes, I love reading young adult novels.  They are not only easy to read.  Sometimes, they have more to say because they are not pretending to be anything else than what they want to serve in our lives.

May the odds always be in your favor.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


All right.  Granted that you are that sort of person with such joie de vivre, then you must be the sort who you can sincerely say, "Age is just a number".  You can expel this pronouncement without feeling like you are making such a terrible excuse for attempting to move like Jagger. But can you really say deep in your heart that youth is indeed just a state of mind?

After looking at the mirror and counting your laugh lines or even grabbing the measuring tape to account for your ever-ballooning girth, can you really say that attitude can conquer the onslaught of Mother Nature?  

Better yet, past the age of fifty --- can you even dare do fifty percent of the acrobatic steps shamelessly exhibited by the young in performing their numbers for Showtime?  I guess you can --- if your name is Madonna.

Or is it possible that according to the laws of human decency, there is a cut-off age in which:
(a) one can wear skin tight jeans and look really sexy rather ridiculous like a walking version of a Magnolia Drumstick 
(b) women can wear bikinis and men can don skimpy Speedos on the beach and still elicit oooohs and aaahs ... and not Oh my Gods! or even Yuuuuchs! and 
(c) adults can actually party without looking like drugged-out chaperons desperately trying to keep up with the beat and dancing to the tune of Nikki Minaj?

Then you remember your own wild days, then look at the kids now and say, "You should have seen the things we used to do when we were your age." But you don't say that. Not to your kids. Not when you have become a parent.  Not when you try to tell them to quit smoking ... because when you were their age you were rolling joints before your Theology classes.

Remember that in our younger and more vicious days, we would easily pick out middle age to senior citizens to laugh at the way they dress and the behavior they exhibited impersonating the youth.  We would throw scathing side remarks, condemning these pathetic creatures in their desperate attempt to cling onto years lost or actually delude themselves into thinking that they can still look good wearing the clothes that their grandchildren have in their closets.

Well, guess what?  Even before we can master the skill of mental multiplication sans the aid of a calculator, we find ourselves in exactly that same predicament but now as the objects of mockery.  When you see people your age salivate at the sight of women like Marian Rivera, Sam Pinto and Anne Curtis ... it is no longer the macho in them at work. You call them perverts.  

We do not know how fast the years sped by ... or at what speed the planet revolved around the sun, but what we know is that our birthday cakes are getting far too crowded by candles.  Worse, we could no longer extinguish all those lighted darlings in one puff.

In our younger days, we used to find such great excitement each time our natal day is just around the corner. But now that happiness has been replaced by dread. Plain and simple unadulterated dread.  Suddenly age has been diminished to the anticipation of discounts accrued by possessing a senior citizen card. (Just imagine all the free movies we can catch ... or how much discounts we can get from Mercury Drugstore each time there is a necessity to buy our 40mg of Nexium.)

Yes, aging can be a bitch. No, it is a bitch. 

By the time you hit your thirties, you realize that you can no longer do 25% of the things you so easily do in your twenties.  By the time you hit your forties, you realize you cannot do half the things you can still do in your thirties. So imagine how it is when you hit your fifties ... your sixties ... and your seventies?

Worse, they used to call you Kuya ... then it became Sir ... and soon, our of endearment, they call you Tatay and you will never be ready for the day they start calling you Lolo. If you are single and never raised kids of your own, you lose track of the benchmarks of age --- like your kid's first step, first day in school, first love ... first child.

Single people age in a kind of time warp --- not unless they are unusually attached to their nephews, nieces or pet chihuahuas o poodles. It is that or they have taken hobbies like bonsai or breeding koi fish.

Because of this disparity between reality and fashionable taste, they begin to believe that it is still OK to wear carrot-cut jeans even until the age of sixty. They still think it is cool to walk around Greenbelt wearing lemon yellow or acid green skinny jeans. They still greet each other with "Hey, Bro ..." or "Dude, how's it hanging?"  (And in the background, you hear the sound of barfing.)

Uhm, that can be dangerous.  Like fifty year old women wearing those fashionable high heel shoes that seemingly came from the planet Uranus.  Or middle age men sporting the hairstyle of Justin Bieber.  That boils down to a matter of taste or discretion. Or mental health.

But then again ... that is also a question of choice. Or courage.

( I precisely remember the time I attended a reunion of sorts with batch mates from college: I arrived in the venue to find that everybody looked and dressed like everybody else. I guess that goes hand in hand with being in your fifties, right? Lacoste shirts. Short sleeved checkered shirts. Fred Perrys.  Your conventional 501s.  Worse, cotton twill slacks from Levis or Topman.  And there I was wearing distressed and tattered jeans that looked like I went through a tunnel of barbed wire in order to get to dinner.

My schoolmates welcomed me, smiled --- and were either caught in ultimate amusement or expected me to look like that. I came dressed as their children ...and not as one of them.  Some would excuse it as that artistic quirk but for the greater majority it will be interpreted along the same line as abusing Botox.)

So is there really such a thing as "age appropriate". Or do we only appropriate certain behavior out of wanting to be pigeon-holed to a certain chronology of years? 

Does that mean that after you hit your forties you have no more right to appreciate Maroon 5 and stick to your Burt Bacharach albums reminiscing about the time when all good singers sang like Whitney Houston?  

Does that mean you will only hit the dance floor when they play "Take on Me" or any of the songs of the Go-go's ( giving that extra oomph to emphasize the chorus of "Head Over Heels"?).  You automatically shudder at the thought of moving your body to the collection of Hed Kandi and you think that Big Fish is a wet market.

Does being age appropriate mean --- that your world view stops with the mindset of your chosen generation because anything else after that belongs to somebody else?  Maybe not.  

There may be truth to age being merely a numeral: you may eventually grow hips wide enough to look like a turnip or look like a hamburger franchise mascot. Or your metabolism can slow down so that working out six days a week will not bring you back to your 31 inch waistline (not unless you have Dr Belo implement all the most recent developments in weight loss technology on your person) --- but that does not mean you let your brain hit a ceiling.

There are no limits to learning. And adapting. And changing.  That has got nothing to do with age.  But it has everything to do with understanding the world ... and appreciating life just a tad bit better. Sige, fine. Wear your skinny jeans.  Sport the skimpiest of tattered denim shorts matched by Lady Gaga pambuwis-buhay high-heeled plaform shoes. If that is how you want to enjoy life, do it. 

And if anybody dares to question your sanity --- just give them the finger.  Tell them, "When you get to be my age, can you still do the things I am doing now?"

So, if you don't mind, let me do my moves like Jagger.

Friday, March 16, 2012


My mother always said, "They are never going to be like the ones who came before.  Times have changed.  They are not as dedicated.  For them, it is only work."

My best friend said it better, "If you can do without them, then do so. Actually, they only become necessities because you choose to make them indispensable.  But simplify your lifestyle and you don't really need them.  Think First World!"

I wish it were that simple. But my best friend has a point.  And my mother was spot on when it came to her reminiscing.

While I was growing up in Pasay City, we had a laundrywoman who was with us for more than forty years.  I remember that even after some of our housekeepers left the employment of my family, they would come visit Mama and my Lola ... and they were treated as part of the family.  Well, why shouldn't they?  These women were around during all the highlights of the changing life of my family.  They were there earlier than me ... and they would tell stories (in exquisite details) of what happened the day that I was born. 

One of my fondest memories of my childhood was our old housekeepers gathered together to help my Mom and my Lola prepare the noche buena meal.  They would all be huddled together deboning the chicken for the galantina, preparing the enormous oval kettle for the hamon Tsina or stirring an enormous siyansi full of ground yam mixed with condensed milk to make my Mom's delicious haleyang ube. 

I clearly remember the faces of Teresa and Conda, babbling the day away with my mother and lola in the kitchen or out there in backyard under the avocado tree--- while the smell of delicious meals drifted into the living room.  These are the memories of my youth --- and the housekeepers who were not considered katulong or kasambahay but rather kasamahan will always be a part of the sounds, smells and images of my past.

But now things are so different.  

I still consider myself lucky that I have housekeepers who have stayed with me for more than 20 years.  But still they are different. I realize that I am made to believe that they were irreplaceable out of habit ... or because you are too tired, too lazy to readjust to somebody else entering and living inside your abode to be a part of your life.  It is the familiarity of a) knowing how many teaspoons of sugar you put in your coffee  b) how you want the yolks of your sunny side up fried eggs to look like at breakfast  c) how you want your shirts folded according to color inside your cabinet  d) how you want your vitamins to be ready first thing in the morning, what newspapers you read and where to lay out the clothes you will wear for the day  e) which foods and drinks you cannot take because of your allergies ...Oh, you can go on and on and on.

Suddenly, when they decide to go ("Kuya, magbabakasiyon po muna ako sa amin ...") or when you decide to let them go ("Inday, tapos na ang ating mga maliligayang araw ..."), you are confronted by changes in your lifestyle. And even the way you will face the rest of the day because of your state of mind right at the very first minute after you regain consciousness.

Consider for instance that after twenty-two years, one evening as I was busy Facebooking one of my housekeepers unceremoniously announced, "Kuya, aalis po ako." I was still focused on my computer, "Ah, ok. Uuwi ka ng probinsiya?" She said yes. "Kelan ang balik mo?" And she dropped the bomb. "Hindi na po. Gusto ko na pong mag-retire."  That was when I fell of my seat.  At the age of 43, she wants to retire.  Fine. I am not  one to argue with her about that.  I would have wanted to retire when I was in my forties ... but that was not a practical thing to do.  

That night, I un-friended about 30 of my so-called friends from Facebook.

So it all boiled down to that.  I was going to lose her after two decades.  And maybe I shouldn't feel so bad because:
(a) She held a consistent record of picking fights with all the other maids and drivers including a most dramatic event when she ran after a driver wielding a butter knife;
(b) She had this thing for Downey ... because everything she washed and touched had to have fabric softener in it.
(c) She did not believe in organizing clothes that she washes and irons ... After the deeds are done, she simply dumps them into the cabinet and looks at me with that Bahala na si Batman look.
(d) She knew a grand total of five dishes which she repeats, recycles and rams down my throat each night when I choose to have dinner at home. Her favorite dish involves bean sprouts --- so much so that I was positive that togue was coming out of my nostrils. (She was also very instrumental for the rise in my uric acid content.)
(e) She places the bottle of peanut butter in the refrigerator all the time.
(f) She threw away a whole block of blue cheese given to me by my brother because she said it already smelled and had amag.
(g) She regaled me with all the sordid stories of my neighbors.
(h) She pioneered interactive television: she spoke with the characters of her favorite telenovelas. After a while, I felt fear that she was actually having a virtual relationship with Dingdong Dantes.

And so she left and I had to look for an immediate replacement.

My other housekeeper recommended a kababayan of hers who was supposedly in her mid-thirties, a mother (both a plus and minus factor) with relatives in the Quezon Province. OK, fine.  I was not about to be choosy since I was not going to mess up my life trying to figure out a viable replacement for my crippled household. 

I am lucky enough to have an excellent driver (who dresses better than me because he is always in long sleeves while I am in t-shirts and shorts) but that would not be enough for me to subsist.  Thus, the new maid was brought home, trained by the other housekeeper and then left to her own design and imagination.  

And there lies the rub.  Or rubs.

The new housekeeper was --- uh, presentable enough.  I mean, I was not exactly hunting for someone who could be mistaken for Shamcey Supsup, right?  But what was categorically disturbing was that ... she looked sorta kinda bloated. (My exiting maid whispered to me, "Kuya, buntis ba yan?" to which I replied, "Hindi. Malusog lang.")  Then came her certain ...uh, sanitation problems which I will not elaborate in exquisite detail lest this writing deteriorates to the tasteless.  Let me just put it this way: she does not believe in the magic of Downey.

Ok, but I am only getting started.  Let me enumerate her other ways:
(a) She cooked a dish involving breast of chicken with melted cheese. I was kind enough to complement her: "Masarap ito, ha?" She said thank you and fed me that same dish five times in a single week.  
(b) She was the only creature I know who could burn fried eggs.
(c) She only knew three dishes. One of them was the chicken with melted cheese.  The other was what was supposed be hamburger that certainly did not look or taste like one.
(d) She had this thing for washing. In a week's time she washed everything she touched including the curtains of all the rooms, my bed sheets, pillow cases.  And she did not believe in Downey.
(e) She watched television at the slightest provocation. The tv set in the kitchen was always on.  Even at ten in the evening, the tv set was still on ... as she cooked, washed, cleaned.
(f) She had a very strange ring tone in her cell phone.  If I am not mistaken, it was Thus Spach Zarathustra or the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I failed to ask her if she was a fan of Kubrick.

But if I were to list the top hit of my new maid's unparalleled achievements is her Most Unique Sandwich Award.

For the past six years, I have the same lunch over and over again during weekdays. Maybe I have Asperger's syndrome ... whatever: I am indeed a creature of habit and regularity inasmuch as I must have my cup of coffee at the end of every meal --- my serving of Metamucil and Berroca in the evening --- and that is without fail.  

So every lunch I have salad, fruits and a peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread or wheat ciabatta. That is almost like a religious ritual.  One of my housekeepers exercises her creativity by making my peanut butter sandwich a bit more varied: she adds jams and jellies (strawberry jam and guava jelly, actually). And my new maid saw this.

I will not blame her for what happened. Not completely.

One day I had this strange compulsion to buy wheat pan de sal and coco jam from a branch of Pontoja's.  I had this thing that I wanted to have pan de sal and coco jam for breakfast the next day.  That would at least spare me of the burned fried eggs ... which my doctor told me was toxic. (Now I am wondering if the new maid is out to kill me.) But I should have realized that if she was going to commit any act of murder, it did not involve burned egg whites. It was through peanut butter.

I was quietly eating my packed lunch from my office when a strange taste suddenly filled my mouth after my first bite into the wheat bread. What the f--k is this? For the first time in my life ... or anybody's life ... a new culinary innovation was made: peanut butter with coco jam.  I was ... uh, petrified. I was too numb to react ... except to laugh.

I can go on and on and on.  Well, at least, the new maid had this thing for fixing my closet too.  She would arrange and rearrange all my clothes ... in some system that exists in her mind. I believe she fixes them in alphabetical order.

But despite all the pluses and minuses of her presence in my household, I had to eventually let her go.  And the reason did not involve the peanut butter sandwich ... or the unusual amount of consumption of powdered detergent since she came into my life.  A speculation was confirmed: she was not malusog. She was really buntis.   She told this to my driver,"Akala ko mataba lang ako pero buntis pala ako uli..."  It was then that I found out the truth: she already had four children back in the province.

Miracle of miracle, she is about to have her fifth kid.

This weekend, the newer maid came into my life.  So far, so good.  She is very respectful and positive. To everything I say, Yes na lang siya nang yes. 

I am still smiling. And praying. We shall see.  We shall wait and see.

And I remember what my mother always said, "Iba na sila ngayon."  Yes, Mama. They don't make 'em like Teresa and Conda any more.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


It was only a week ago that I spent a weekend in Bangkok: I call this a part of my guiltless ritual of self-indulgence. I fly off somewhere all by my sweet self so that I can call my own shots, not be pressured by appointments and with minimal internet accessibility to diminish my addiction for social networks.

I have not returned to Thailand for quite some time. There was always a reason not to go on a relatively short trip primarily because of work schedule.  But since I had a lot of free time on hand --- and with a resolution that I will use my passport at least six times this year (I have already used it once by the end of February), then the Bangkok trip was all systems go.  

And it was then that I realized a lot more things.  

Actually, they were more of confirmation rather than downright realization.  Considering how tourism has become such a major concern because of the kind of dollar booster the industry can serve an economy, it is not surprising that even in our country there is this mad scramble to find the right formula to entice foreigners to come visit the seven thousand islands. 

But here is the catch ... and it is something that we all know (including the gods and demigods who run this government): the moment you step out of this country, you begin to see just how we have been so left behind.  You don't have to go far: just enter our airport --- including the two new terminals --- and you realize we suck.  And we suck big time.

Right at the point of departure you realize that there seems to be a divine chaos that rules the system of how we live ... or maybe we can all take that with a grain of salt and sigh of resignation and claim that this our very way of life.  Filipinos have accepted that chaos is part of our existence as we conveniently brand this as our native spontaneity. Chill, they call it: just go with the flow. Going with the flow can also be interpreted as Bahala na si Batman.

That preference for non-rigidness includes the endless queues in paying for your travel tax (do you do it before or after checking in your luggage at the airline counter?), then paying for your airport tax (which to this very day I am still trying to figure out why we have to pay for the use of an airport that was already built with our taxes ... uh, I will let Mar Roxas and Kim Henares explain that because I am sure I will not understand it any way) then before going into security.  Of course, I am unreasonably nitpicking.

I will not even comment on the design and treatment of restaurants and various commercial establishments in the pre-departure area ... or how the Duty Free shops look exceptionally tacky compared to their counterparts in foreign airports. I might just be accused on colonial thinking or bashing anything local because I have a fixation for Duty Free shops. Whatever.  But any which way we look at it --- our airports are so far behind the design and operations procedure compared to say --- Hong Kong or Singapore.  

Pero Hong Kong and Singapore naman yon! And so? Just because Pilipinas lang tayo, we do not have to have new airports that look like outlet stores in the suburban sticks, right?  Whatever again.

Or I need not repeat with utmost urgency the way the oldest NAIA 1 looks like it is about to crumble since the whole place already smells like an old sandwich. 

Yes, now that I am giving it particular thought I have always tried to figure out what made that building not only look dingy but feel dilapidated.  It has got nothing to do with age because there are many older buildings, erected in the 1960s all over America and Europe which still look spiffy and have achieved a certain character representative of its era and design. There is a sense of historical significance to an old building that is well kept and maintained. NAIA 1 is neither well-kept or maintained. It was just allowed to be used and merely exists.

But honestly NAIA 1 looks and feels like a mother who bore far too many children than her womb can possibly handle. There is local term that is on the verge of being vulgar to describe that place: laspag.  Ill-kept, seemingly unloved and not caring about how she looks, smells and appeals to people, this is the initial and final image that both foreigners and locals get the moment they land or leave our Island Republic.  Uhm, so is it a wonder that it has been branded as one of the worst airports in the world?

How can you convince the world that it is more fun in the Philippines if they enter and exit through your dirty kitchen?

Ah, but then Korina's better half is already taking care of that, isn't he?  Renovations are being done, complete with controversies which is so typical of the way we do things here.  There is a lot of rattling to usher in some kind of fanfare for the great achievements we want to create.  Anything done without a hint of a scandal or controversy will be largely glossed over, ignored and underrated. But let us not even go into that. Let Mar and his team do major surgery on NAIA 1 ... then we can start talking again.

I wanted to talk about Bangkok.

I wanted to share my nerve-shattering experience the moment I landed (on time on Flight 5J929 of CebuPac) at the Suvarnabhumi Airport at exact 8:30AM on a Thursday.  (I will not even emphasize on the sheer size of Thailand's premiere airport because that become self-explanatory with what I have to unravel.)  But then since I had not gone back to Bangkok for the longest time, I was not prepared for something that the viajeras from Manila have already known and come to accept: I have never seen so many people lined up for immigration in my entire life.

There were about ten windows operating at the Immigration to examine passports of incoming residents and foreign tourists that time in the morning.  In front of them was about close to one thousand people. Yes, thereabouts.  

What made matters even worse was that more planes were landing, unloading passengers to the immigration area until I had the strange feeling that this was on the set of The Ten Commandments and we were re-enacting the parting of the Red Sea except for a sad fact that there was no Moses in view.

I felt bad and good at the same time as I lined up surrounded by what looked like an international evacuation procedure of people of all shapes, sizes, languages and nationalities wanting to have their passports stamped so that they can have their Tom Yan overload.  I felt bad because it was not a joke ... nor was it anything close to fun to be standing for almost two hours waiting in line.  

Yet at the same time I felt good.  I felt good because I realized that this kind of systematic chaos was not an exclusive property of Filipinos.  Here I am in Thailand, and I feel like I am back in NAIA 3 all over again.  Well, except for one major difference: I was standing in line in what looks like pandemonium because there are just too many tourists flying into Thailand every hour by the hour every single day.  It was not because of sheer lack of manpower ---- but because their system could not handle the people traffic taking place.

Later I was to find out that the average number of tourists flying in and out of Suvarnabhumi Airport ranges from twenty to thirty thousand a day.  That is not even during the peak season.  The Filipino manager of the hotel I stayed in said that approximately fifteen million tourists come to Thailand each year. Fifteen million!!!  OK, I am already flabbergasted thinking of all the dollars being exchanged by these tourists in all these currency changer booths strategically scattered all over major shopping malls as well as the busiest streets of the city.

I stayed in a modest hotel in Pratunam and saw the Thai economy at work: by some twist of fate, I landed in a hotel where the Filipino viajeras stay because we were right in the midst of the garment wholesalers.  The experience of seeing the sheer volume of buyers purchasing garments to be shipped to their various countries stunned me --- not because I never realized the extent of the Thai garment industry ... but the life and activity of the business taking place.  I suddenly understood where all those goods sold in bazaars and tiangges and stalls in Greenhills and even other shopping centers are sold.

When somebody asked me to describe the Bangkok I rediscovered last week, I said that it was like walking in Juan Luna Street leading to the malls of Divisoria.  Fact: there was just an over-abundance of people.  It had become a cosmopolis that overflows with people, traffic and crisscrossed walkways, buildings and railway routes.  From the side streets where I stayed in Pratunam, I felt like I was on the set of Ridley Scott's iconic Blade Runner. But what was important was that Thailand was alive ---and the tourist industry is not only booming. It is exploding.

I would walk from my hotel, check out Shibuya at 9am, then go straight to Platinum Mall ... then proceed all the way to the Central Shopping Center where you had eight floors of high-end stores, culminating in two storeys of restaurants and movie houses. I would walk all the way to that small store across the President's Tower to get my Thai silk.  I would take cab and spend the whole day in MBK Shopping Center.  I would go out and have my share of slices of pineapple and durian sold by street vendors. Those are options open for anyone who goes there on an Eat, Pray, Shop sort of expedition.

Or if you want a taste of the real local life, you can go into little carinderias where you can have your serving of Tom Yan with two cups of rice for 90 Baht (which is approximately P125.00)or eat right there in the sidewalks where they have grilled catfish caked with rock salt.  OK, enough: the experience has been well captured in the menu.

I spent three nights in Bangkok. I had my long walking tours and Thai food solo pig-outs.  At the end of the trip I realized I spent more money on a weekend in Boracay than four days and three nights in Bangkok. And that included the shopping.  I am still figuring out how that happened.  For one thing, it is cheaper to fly in a promo ticket to Thailand than to take a flight to Caticlan.  Then there is a matter of the hotel: if you are not all too picky and happy with simple comforts, a night in a Bangkok hotel can cost you a little less than P2000 which is not something you are going to get from any beachfront room or cottage in any of the stations of Boracay's long stretch.

It took me about an hour and fifteen minutes to have my passport stamped as I exited from Bangkok.  Again there were long lines waiting at 7AM on a Sunday of tourists flying out of Thailand.

Then I landed in Manila and asked myself ... why can't we attract as much tourists considering that we have as much to offer? I am wrestling with my demons trying to explain that.  We are, after all, an English-speaking country (an advantage, definitely),  possess beautiful beaches and resorts (which the world has recognized and praised) and have the most beautiful, loving and smiling people.  Hindi ba it is more fun in the Philippines?

Thailand has just recovered from a political turmoil and devastating natural disasters like floods that destroyed villages and threatened to barge into Bangkok.  Those events happened in most recent memory.  Yet Thailand is back into fighting form. That is because the government and the people seem to be one in getting their country back into shape and making sure that they remain competitive in the region.

Consider that even Vietnam with its numerous years of war is now back in the game.

And then there is us.

That is why leaving the country even for a short vacation can be somewhat unsettling. You shouldn't really compare. But maybe you cannot help it. And we all should. Just to knock some sense into us.