Archive for the ‘Here & There’ Category

PHILIPPINE BREAD 

A traditional Filipino breakfast is someone’s version of lunch or dinner: sinangag (garlic fried rice), tocino (Philippine version of the Spanish bacon) or corned beef, and fried egg (usually sunny side up) washed down with black coffee. This is too heavy for me so I opt for two pieces of pan de sal slathered with jam, cream cheese, peanut butter, or butter. Pan de sal is part of any Filipino’s breakfast or merienda (roughly translated as snack) if you’re going for a lighter fare. Unfortunately, it is difficult looking for pan de sal outside of the Philippines unless you’re somewhere in the US where Filipino bakeries and convenience stores are ubiquitous.

pan de sal by Kamuning Bakery


In the Philippines, pan de sal is now usually sold in major bakeries in the malls and supermarkets in the cities which means that they are not the usual piping hot, fresh-from-the-oven bread that is less on sweetness which is normally expected of Filipino bread. As its name would have it – pan de sal translates to salt bread – it’s leaning on the salty side, but not enough to give you blood pressure problems. However, French Baker, a bakery cum cafe located in most SM malls, has bucked the trend and has been selling huge, fresh-from-the-oven cracked pan de sal (it cracks when you pinch it).

Outside of the malls and within residential areas, Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City is still the to-go to place for freshly baked pan de sal which is available early in the morning. This small mom-and-pop store, which opened its doors in 1939 on the corner of K-1st and Judge Jimenez streets, is still standing but has since gone through major upgrades and expansion. For one thing, they now have an outlet at SM North Edsa, one of the major malls under the SM group. Another noted difference is the absence of the homey, neighborhood store vibe which has been replaced by a more formal bakery ambience complete with a glass display of refrigerated cakes and drinks, and several racks filled with an array of wrapped breads. 

The sale of pan de sal is an open secret.There is no sign advertising its sale. One simply goes up to the counter and places an order with the crew (sadly, a grumpy one) who then asks monotonously how many pieces you want and proceeds to pick up the pan de sal with tongs and drop them in a paper bag. The carb-conscious eater shuns the regular pan de sal because it primarily uses white flour, but Kamuning Bakery has got its ear on the ground about healthy eating and has come with wheat pan de sal. Regrettably, it wasn’t available that day. 

pan de suelo by Kamuning Bakery


Looking around the bakery, I spotted what I thought was a bag of wheat pan de sal. I was mistaken and was immediately corrected by grumpy chops who said it was pan de suelo. Pan de suelo is, as my research yielded, a precursor of pan de sal. Made from wheat flour, its consistency resembles a bagel or a softer French baguette. My Spanish should have kicked in after hearing the name: pan de suelo translates to “floor bread” thus one gets an inkling of its texture. Not a fan of the French baguette, the pan de suelo, I discovered, was a good alternative to the pan de sal. A few minutes in the toaster oven and you have a softer pan de suelo ready to be smothered with one’s spread of choice. This time I went for pineapple jam from The Fruit Garden.

The pan de sal and pan de suelo are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pantheon of tinapay (Filipino for bread which is pronounced as tee-na-pie). Word of caution: you need to love carbs to discover them.

What is for breakfast- pan de suelo (back) or pan de sal?

DANCING BAMBOOS 

I had noticed them as we sped down the highway on her scooter. They piqued my curiosity and sense of amazement. The analogy of my gal-pal Eta, who observes Galungan (think Thanksgiving), when I asked about a decorative post outside the back gate of Sanur-based Hotel Puri Tempo Doelo was striking. It was a little shrine on a pole which was slightly taller than me. She said it was a religious fixture related to Galungan and Kuningan, religious traditions that celebrate the triumph of dharma over adharma. In a nutshell, dharma is the belief in Hinduism of fulfilling one’s divine duty and nature thus overcoming its opposite, adharma. Adharma is the antonym connoting chaos and disharmony. Both traditions are marked by prayers at the temple.

This solitary decorated bamboo pole transformed into numerous towering bamboo poles undulating against the clear blue skies in Ubud. They lined the narrow streets of Ubud, the ends drooping down as if bowing respectfully to welcome visitors. I was completely taken by the sight of these bamboo poles swaying like carefree dancers in the cool breezes. Eta explained that these decorated poles are known as penjor, which to make a non-Hindu understand, is analogous to a Christmas tree of those who celebrate Christmas. The concept is similar in terms of symbolizing a tradition, each household having one, and the decor running the gamut of simple to absolutely breathtaking that normally include coconut leaves, fruits like bananas and apples, and stalks of rice grains. The drooping end has a miniature triangular cage that contains the offerings for deities and spirits of ancestors.

A penjor dancing in Ubud


The 10-meter penjor is usually placed in front of houses or business establishments of Hindus as a sign of gratitude and religious offerings a day before the start of Galungan which is on a Wednesday once every 210 days based on the Balinese calendar. Galungan was observed on March 28, 2017. Following Galungan, which is 10 days after it is observed, is Kuningan or the time when the spirits of ancestors return to heaven. It normally falls on a Saturday and only two weeks after Kuningan are these dancing bamboos taken down.


The penjor truly fascinated me. Gazing at them dancing in the air, I marveled at the creativity and dedication involved in making them, not to mention the patience in weaving them for hours. The adherence to a time honored traditions – making offerings of prayers and crops – in the midst of modernity that erode religious and cultural traditions filled me with awe stoking the fires of faith. That gods and ancestors are always looking done protectively at mortals and their kin is assuring; they will always triumph against modernization’s threat of oblivion.

A penjor at Bali’s domestic airport

ARRIVALS

“We just need the blue and white paper. We already cleared customs, so keep your passport,” said this man behind me to a woman he was with.

We were in a queue to exit the Tom Bradley International airport three days before New Year’s Eve. It was moving along well, guided by the constant reminder of a staff to “Move up” and “Keep your passport. You don’t need it. Just prepare your customs card.”

“Don’t look nervous. You should look happy. You’re here,” he continued.

That was when I turned around and saw a Filipino woman – her passport was a dead give away – standing next to an American pushing the luggage trolley while speaking to the woman. Glancing at the woman’s mien, she looked pensive, deep in thought possibly, I surmised, about the reality of her new life in the US confronting her that very minute. She wasn’t a tourist I was very certain about that; I was only holding a passport while she had, aside from her passport, a file with other documents.

His line struck a cord in me. Arrivals can go myriad of ways. She must have been ecstatic at arriving in the US, but that elation must have been wrapped in apprehension at what awaits her new life which, indubitably, would be radically dissimilar from her former life. Everything would be different in all aspects: terrain, language, weather, culture, customs, and routine. She was alone in a way. Living in a new country isn’t always smooth sailing. Aside from battling homesickness, among many things, this feeling of being besieged cocoons an immigrant tightly that if one was to survive in a new world s/he has to steel herself/himself against the odds to succeed. 

My arrival at Los Angeles was nothing to compared to hers. Hers was a permanent relocation while mine was transitory, a promise made to my wonderful man to see him again. Like the Filipino behind me, I was ecstatic, thrilled, elated, but simultaneously anxious to the point of being apprehensive. A lot can happen and change in five months and questions whirled in my head: Does he still feel the same way? Do I still feel the same way? Would this be the beginning of the end? Will we fight? What will we say to each other? Will we get along?

Arrivals aren’t always what people generally perceive them to be. But the outcome can be altered by not overthinking and letting things unfold naturally. Following my own advice, I took a deep breath and a step to embrace my arrival.

Tom Bradley International Airport arrival

SOLITUDE 

The airport is one place that sees the opposite spectra of feelings: sadness in bidding one adieu or happiness in welcoming back a familiar face, a loved face. There is another dimension to the airport. It is a place of solitude particularly when you are a solo traveller. It is an isolation that provides a belated opportunity to simply be and to ruminate. There was, however, a time that being at the airport meant feelings of sadness as I grappled with the closure of one life and the slow process of picking up myself. Those days are gone. These days it gives me the solitude to collect my thoughts, process my feelings, and breathe slowly. It also gives me the much vaunted chanced to read – it is passion that has provided succor and refuge, delight and knowledge.

The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa (NAIA, Terminal 2)

OF TOUR GUIDES 

Being a tourist in LA (or anywhere) is a tale of adventures laced with tour guide misadventures. The adventures are a given, but signing up a tour guide is a shot in the dark. It’s partly a boon because you don’t have to do a anything except show up at the appointed time and place; it is a double blessing when the guide is punctual, polite, and knowledgeable. However, it is the exact opposite when your guide’s favorite line is “I don’t know” and functions more of a driver.
Everything was copacetic with Ming, tour guide # 1, my guide for the whole day at Disneyland, Anaheim. He was loquacious and had perfect timing; he knew when to talk and to keep quiet. His bonhomous demeanor was definitely a plus point. 

“Disneyland is the most expensive theme park in California,” said Ming, slipping into work mode. “The one in Anaheim is the first Disneyland to open which was designed by Mr. Walt Disney.”

Speeding down the carpool lane, he continued with his spiel: “The carpool lane is really good. We go faster than other cars. The other and biggest Disneyland in America is in Orlando. There’s also a Disneyland in Paris and Japan. The newest Disneyland is in Shanghai – it opened June 16.”

In between Disneyland facts, he shared a bit of his life. He mentioned he is Vietnamese and has been residing in the US for six years now.

“This time is peak season for the travel agency,” he said when I asked how busy he was. “Then it is slow from September until before the beginning of Spring break. December is also very busy.”

Disneyland was already teeming with visitors from every walk of life brimming with excitement and accessorized with Mickey or Minnie headbands – with bow or lacy veil – when we got there. 

“Today is not very hot,” quipped Ming with a smile, as we waited for the Mickey and Friends tram to pull up.

Continued the lanky tour guide: “There is only one entrance and exit to Disneyland. We meet to the right of exit then we take tram back to this parking lot. Don’t take train because you go different parking lot.”

Meanwhile, Jeff, guide # 2, paled in comparison to Ming. He was polite and punctual, but his tour guide skills left much to be desired. Driver, in fact, would be a better term to describe his function who just dropped you off and collected you later. He wasn’t much of a talker; we – me and two other people – only got to know of the destination we were heading once we got there. 

“This is Beverly Hills,” he announced after we had passed the huge sign.

It took much to not roll my eyes in exasperation and blurt out, “You don’t say.” But patience reared its head and I flashed him a wry smile. He redeemed himself when he cheerfully trumpeted in his monotonic voice we would be heading to the famed Santa Monica pier. This time I didn’t mind him letting us loose and coming back for us again. Then – Jeff’s redemption holding steadfast – he took us to Getty Center for its famed pavilions, gardens, and permanent exhibitions. However, his redemption was short lived. He expected us to be back at the parking lot in 40 minutes. Sacrilegious! Waiting for the tram ride to the arrival plaza already took 15+ minutes; pray tell, where is the enjoyment of viewing the collections in less than 15 minutes? Face palm.

Then there’s Al whose way of saying his name was peculiar. 

“Call me A-L,” he said when I asked for his name that Saturday morning before we set off for Universal Studios Hollywood.

I thought he was being funny but he was dead serious. It was how he introduced himself to the whole tour group. Like Ming, he lived up to his name of tour guide, as he rattled on details about LA: how earthquakes are usual phenomena, how traffic congested is less on the weekends, and that drought has been a problem for five years. 

Finally, there is Angela Lin, the schoolmarm of a tour guide to Las Vegas and Arizona, who slips into Mandarin and English when the needs calls for it. Shepherding a group of 60 people is no easy feat; her job is akin to a teacher escorting her students on a field trip which is a trying situation, to say the least, given the diverse interests, habits, and quirks. But she would brook no interference in her schedule. In her words, “I am sorry if I push you, but I have a schedule. There was this lady who was late and wanted us to wait for her for another 10 minutes. I told her, ‘Sorry’ and left her.”

The Taiwanese has been in the US for 30 years working in the travel industry, ferrying tourists – Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesians et al – around the country. Prior to her US residency, she was a tour guide in Taiwan for 10 years. Compared to her male counterparts, she was convincing (her smile can disarm the most resolved in not spending an extra dime) in control of everything: no missing tourist, no delays, the requisite spiels about Las Vegas and Arizona, the dos and don’ts, the best shows to see in Vegas (she recommends “Ka” and “The Variety Show”), the urgency of buying bottles of water before heading to Vegas, and the location of the popular brands at the Outlets at Barstow and Desert Hills Premium Outlets.

“I come to Vegas on my free time and watch the shows. I earn money, I also spend money,” quipped the Michael Kors fan on the night she escorted the 19 people (me included) to MGM Grand for Cirque du Soleil’s new epic tale,”Ka”. 

On the downside, she keeps forgetting there are non-Mandarin speakers on the group and you have to remind her for the English version of her previous spiel. There’s also this annoying habit of evading questions.

Tour guides come in various shapes and sizes, armed with what they perceive is the best approach to guiding you through your adventures in a foreign land. Some do it badly while others do a better job. Adventure or misadventure, tour guides definitely lend mood and color to the overall experience.

“Signpost With 3d Characters Shows Travelling Or Guidance” image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

TOURIST MODE 

Tourist mode was activated the moment I boarded the flight and the passenger to my left – one of my four seat mates – engaged me in a conversation. The other two were lost in their world of newspapers, prayer books, and rosary.
“Ah, you are a tourist,” he nearly exclaimed in surprise, having initiated the conversation with an explanation of why he was traveling. His opening gambit was the plane: it was old; the seat area was too small; and the entertainment system was absolutely antiquated. There was hardly any room to move without hitting the passenger to your left or right. Moreover, I had to crane my neck to watch the inflight movie; after a minute I gave up and returned to reading my book. This was only after Abe, as he introduced himself, stopped talking only to resume our tête-à-tête a few minutes after.

He lives in Las Vegas and was on bereavement leave: his 91-year-old mother had gone gently in the night. Upon learning of the grim news, he quickly booked a flight back to the Philippines, but without his family. It wasn’t a social visit, anyway.

“The second flight to Los Angeles has a bigger and better plane,” he related, “and my sister is on that flight.”

Noting my slightly arched eyebrow, he continued: “Strange, isn’t it? Our bookings are different.”

“Ah, you are a tourist, he repeated. “Galing!” (Roughly translated from Filipino as “Brilliant!”)

“You can say that. School is out so I am a tourist again,” I replied, grinning.


I decided to don my tourist hat this school break to give my teacher’s hat a break for a couple of weeks. It has been more a year since I was a bona fide tourist, traipsing through Ambon, and I was getting restless. It was time to take a break from a routine, which was fast turning into a mundane one, and lose myself in another world. Getting lost is good every now and then. In fact, stepping out of the world of teaching is requisite for those who chose to devote their life and energy to moulding minds against all odds. A teacher shouldn’t lose his/her sanity in the pursuit of bettering the minds of the future leaders of the world.

Being a tourist – a stranger in another land – gives back the worn to the frazzle Ms G (read: me) and ilk whose passion for teaching, compassion for students, and energy in marking voluminous paper and thinking of new strategies to employ in the classroom got depleted to the max, leaving them scraping the bottom of the barrels. 

Being a tourist gives the crotchety teacher a chance to breathe normally, not out of exasperation or anger. It affords her/him to inhale positive energy and exhale negativity.

Being a tourist makes it possible again for the soul-frayed teacher to reconnect with herself/himself and be whole again. Unknown or ignored by most, as a teacher, I exert great energy in and out of the classroom; every lesson, every activity, every paper, and test is done with bounds of energy, both physical and mental, which ultimately get exhausted. How do I go about replenishing my exhausted energy level? I switch to tourist mode because it’s time to rejuvenate to be whole again. It’s time for some major me-time.

OLD SCHOOL

Author JB Fletcher used it to complete her mystery novels and she got her writing done without missing her deadline. She didn’t need any newfangled gadget to help her with her research for her stories that she did old school. But times are certainly different. Students these days do not know how lucky they are when it comes to completing their research papers, yet they still gripe endlessly of how hard it is to do research when everything is available with the click of the button on their tablet or laptop. A decade or so ago, research entailed a lot of legwork, effort, and a well-functioning typewriter.

Almost two decades ago, research paper writing began with trooping to the library come rain or shine, traffic or no traffic, which was the easiest part of the process. Every free time I had at university was spent dashing to the main library and scouring the shelves for references. The hard part didn’t begin until, armed with pen and notebook, I was in flipping through the card catalogue and jotting down the complete name of the author, title, and the book’s call number then going up and down the floors. Not to forget learning the Dewey Decimal System beforehand! Difficulty escalated with the tracking down of the books and looking for replacements if it wasn’t available, i.e. borrowed by another library user or out for binding or not borrowed but nowhere to be found on the shelf. The thrill of getting hold of a much-wanted reference was ineffable ecstasy which, unfortunately, was ephemeral. I was brought back down to earth from cloud 9 when the difficulty level went up a notch higher with the reading and subsequent whittling down of the bibliography list to the essential sources.

Nowadays, my students don’t have much legwork to do because research is easy. Google whatever and voila! In seconds, myriad results are listed on the monitor that they could pour through immediately. I wished it had been that easy when I was working on my papers! Results weren’t that easy to come by. But appreciation of the ease they have is overshadowed by the whining about having to write a research paper and – gasp! – thinking. “Using the grey matter”, as Hercule Poirot referred to thinking, didn’t figure much in their lifestyles.

This was what my generation used in writing research papers etc. [Djournal Coffee Bar, Grand Indonesia]

This was what my generation used in writing research papers etc. [Djournal Coffee Bar, Grand Indonesia]

Typing up the research paper old school would give my students a massive myocardial infarction. Imagine having to adjust the margins of the page, the spacing of the lines, and the page numbers manually which was frustrating to say the least. One mistake and you had to re-type the whole page! Then there’s that waiting for the liquid correction fluid to dry up before you could start typing over it. I’d get impatient so I’d use a fan to speed up the drying. Doing the bibliography using the conventional typewriter was easy-peasy than the footnotes which really tested one’s patience and determination in finishing the research paper. Old school typing is just half of the problem. There’s also that little issue of changing the faded ribbon of ink with a new one that more often than not is one incredibly messy affair.

Writing the research paper is another whole issue. I live by the dictum “to write you must read and vice-versa” which has carried me through the years I have been employed as an editor and teacher. Reading is like breathing to me; to tell me to take a break is akin to saying don’t breathe. However, today’s generation, at least in my experience, is a generation that abhors reading with a passion because reading has lamentably become synonymous to being un-cool. Heaven forbid that a student should be seen with his/her head buried in a book! Reading a classic or an article has been replaced with reading updates on whichever social media platform they’ve signed up. So, wonder no more if you’re faced with someone whose writing skills (don’t forget the reading and speaking skills) leave much to be desired.

Being old school has been raked through the mud long enough. Newfangled gadgets are fantastic as they add ease to an otherwise arduous process, but gadgets can never replace a fundamental aspect of research paper writing which is the all-important, old school skill called critical thinking.