Archive for the ‘Scribbles’ Category

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“Tree without Leaves, Isolated” image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

You’re not diagnosed with any debilitating illness. In fact, the last blood work you had showed you are most certainly in good health. Your doctor was pleased that you managed to keep the cholesterol level down because you stayed away from fried food and other lip-smacking but cholesterol-laden dishes. Good for you! You exercised regularly, too, and you still do. Didn’t your personal trainer remarked how stronger and leaner you have become? Rejoice! You are in tip-top shape. So, why do you feel like the world is one bleak wintry landscape that you always wake up to?

You find your self-made routine repetitive and monotonous, but it shouldn’t be. It’s the routine you set up for yourself being the creature of habit that you are. Reading has always been your solace – it still is except you find yourself less spirited than you started out. You have always managed to come out of the book you immersed yourself in unscathed, but this time you pushed the book aside, hoping to pick it up later, when you started feeling like Madame Bovary and how the world weighed heavily on your shoulders. Working out has become the crutches you cling to with tenacity except about a week ago you were ready to throw them away. Eating has become mundane; if only you could go on without repast and not get vertiginous.

Social interaction, you realise, is tiring, to say the least. You want to engage people in conversation except you seem to know the outcome having written the scene in your mind. The ending is always the same; you leave feeling as if you never had a conversation at all. Worse, you feel ostracized. Yet you try and push yourself socialise, only to end up absolutely empty at times. Then you start to question yourself – are you going mad? Have you joined the ranks of the living dead?

Solitude has never been a problem with you. You actually revelled in solitude. You left your world every now and then to re-join society and returned when you felt you’ve had enough. But lately, it’s different. You dread stepping out of your world because you don’t see any point in the exercise.

“What’s up universe? Another one of your pranks?” you mumble to yourself.

OFWs IN QUEUE

Homecoming is such a bittersweet affair for Filipino OFWs (acronym for overseas foreign workers). They are welcomed as modern day heroes upon coming home (think remittances), but there is much less love when they depart. It is one queue after the other that an OFW has to hurdle in order to exit the country and return to work. One questions why hailed heroes are made through go to such lengths to exit especially when their documents are sound. Why can’t information be disseminated clearly and widely? Why can’t everything be done in a one-stop? Why is the process so convoluted?

Queuing begins with securing the all-important OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate). There is still love felt when lining up for the OEC at POEA Ortigas or its satellite branches in Trinoma, Quezon City, and SM Aurora because the goal is to get it over and done with as soon as possible. After all, once that document – in triplicate – is within one’s hands, it is sweet vacation all the way. This is, of course, granted the computers didn’t break down, the employees came on time, and you were aware of the new ruling that only Balik-Manggagawa (BM) Online appointments would be entertained at the Trinoma QC branch. 7Walk-in applicants were turned away and told to book online by the security guard on the day I came. In fairness to POEA, there is announcement at the entrance of the Trinoma branch, but too bad if you weren’t within the area in May. Booking an appointment online is another queue an OFW has to conquer because, at times, the site is unavailable due the voluminous traffic of OFWs trying to book an appointment! Adding to the frustration is discovering that your records are not updated: enter the old OEC number and the annoying response is “number not found”. Go figure.

 

Crowd by xedos4

“Crowd”/Image by xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The illness-inducing aggravation begins with the journey to the airport which, depending on the flight, could begin at the crack of dawn. Traffic snarls are a constant worry because one can be stuck on the highway for hours and miss the flight. Take the gown designer, reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, of Ms Universe Pia Wurtzbach, who missed his flight to Los Angeles because of the bumper-to-bumper traffic. He said he wanted to get down and run to the airport, brimming he was with glorious purpose of delivering the gown to the Philippine candidate.

Count your blessings if the trip down EDSA is smooth because queue one was a cinch. Major queues are to follow at NAIA 2. There are several queues for the OFW to undergo – getting inside the airport; the POEA validation at the other end of the airport; another stop to get a stamp on the OEC; airline check-in counter; terminal fee exemption; immigration clearance; then security screening after immigration. However, this year, I skipped the POEA clearance and the pit stop queues and moved right on to the airline check-in counter. There was a new ruling I discovered when I was queuing for the POEA validation – those with an OEC processed through BM Online or at POEA Ortigas (I forget the third one) can go straight to the airline check-in counter. Airline check-in wasn’t agonizing as it looked despite the serpentine line and the heat (the afternoon sun was just too much for the cooling system). The PAL employees were in full work mode. A ground staff rallied her team, saying, “Double time, guys. Mahaba ang pila.” (The line is long.)

The next queue is for the terminal fee payment. This was, surprisingly, quick because this time a stamp on the boarding pass and you were in the immigration area where, unfortunately, was another meandering column. One isn’t home free. After exiting immigration is another line – security screening where instructions get a bit muddled. A sign says there is no need to take off the shoes, which everyone followed to the letter, but only to be told later by one of the airport staff, when you’re about to be frisked, that shoes have to be taken off and placed on a tray for screening.

 

Group of People by Renjith Krishnan

“Group of People”/Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Queues are still in place at the departure lounge. First is the line for the terminal fee refund stand in front of the Duty Free shops. The line is as long as one’s shoelaces. Next, when you’re raring to relieve yourself, you just have to hold it in until there is a cubicle available at the lavatory. Third, if you are famished, lines at the eateries are never short.

The final line? There’s still the queue to board the plane assuming that the plane is connected to the departure gate. But if it isn’t, you have to line up to get to the bus and then stand in line to get to your seat in the plane.

With what an OFW has to endure in returning and leaving home, I can’t help but wonder if there is a subconscious animosity towards people working abroad. The whole set-up is screaming a patronizing attitude of “Pagtiyagaan mo nalang. (Make do with it.)” Seamless queuing per se is not a problem as it shows order. What is riling is the lack of foresight and strong commitment in addressing perennial issues particularly the disproportional number of OFWs to the employees deployed at the airport and the OEC centres. Another is the work hours and days not extended during Christmas and New Year. Trinoma, for example, was closed OEC for online appointments until January 11.

Why are the OEC and the process of securing it an anathema to the OFW?

SOLITUDE

A four-poster is just perfect for days of solitude. (Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe, Sanur, Bali)

A four-poster is just perfect for days of solitude. (Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe, Sanur, Bali)

Solitude is an alien concept these days. Let me rephrase that. The concept of solitude has been inadvertently undermined amidst the ubiquity and garrulousness of the world on all of the social media. It has, sadly, transmogrified into the cringing absence of communication because everyone’s busy checking the timeline or posting updates and photos or scrolling through the chat history, if not typing a message or nonsensical comment. Solitude has become isolation in the midst of connections which is strange to the point of ludicrousness.

A generation ago solitude meant getting away from the madding crowd to collect one’s scattered thoughts or piece together one’s frayed soul and tattered confidence. Some left to look for hope and a sense of purpose while others searched high and low for determination and patience. One left the world for a moment that defies measurement. Let’s frame it this way: one filed for an indefinite leave of absence from the world to be whole again.

My journey of solitude begins with a trip to a tranquil place where the only sounds are the morning greetings of insects, chickens, and birds, and vehicles plying the road after the crack of dawn. There are also the silent salutations of the bougainvillea and frangipani day in day out. This is, naturally, dovetailed with a room of my own fitted with a bed that invites and promises deep slumber and days peppered with quiet time.

Walk through the doors to your bungalow of solitude (Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe)

Walk through the doors to your bungalow of solitude (Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe)

Walk the pathway and the bungalow of solitude is on your left

Walk the pathway and the bungalow of solitude is on your right

Accompanying me on this trip are mostly books that have been neglected a while. I have this mental list of reading that I need to accomplish but, unfortunately, get derailed with both mundane and important things to do. The books though are literally arranged neatly within my field of vision at my place so whenever I pass by I am reminded of what I have to and must do. I have a self-imposed moratorium in buying books because my situation has become a case of tsundoku, or buying books and letting them pile up unread on the shelves, floors, and nightstands. Apart from books, my entourage also comprises of either my iPad or laptop and mobile phone. The former is for blogging and the other is for texting home.

Reading time

Reading time

The recluse in me needs to get away from the human vagaries that more often than not leave me enervated and almost completely jaded. I need to find stable mental and psychological ground so I can calm the anxieties and fears, and stoke to life the nearly fading embers of hope in humanity and life. Solitude affords me that opportunity even if for a moment.

MEMORIES

A status on Facebook sometime back went something like this: “There are 179 days left before Christmas.” Christmas in the Philippines is a big thing and which starts much earlier than the rest of the world. The moment the -ber months (i.e. September, October and November) arrive, Christmas songs are played over the radio, in shopping malls, and in supermarkets, and Christmas decorations slowly start to show up on the shelves. But Christmas is not much of the problem – although the traffic snarls and crowded places get on my nerves – as the thought of half of the year being over and the other six months will pass by like a breeze.

The last six months found me walking into memories of the past, of people – some who have long crossed onto the other side – that left me wondering of how things would have been had they stayed a little longer.  There was this phase when the memories of my late paternal grandparents – Lolo Manuel and Lola Emma – kept streaming into my consciousness. Lolo means grandfather and Lola is grandmother in Filipino. Lola Emma crossed over first, leaving everyone reeling in shock and sadness. Lolo Manuel joined her several years later. Pictures of their smiling faces flitted in and out of my mind during moments of my spacing out – it is that time when I stare into space without me noticing it unless someone poked me or something to bring me back to the present.

My paternal grandparents

My paternal grandparents

Corn-on-the-cob and my grandparents were like hand in glove. When I was in elementary they’d come and stay at our house almost every month. They made the trip to Manila from Mindoro to stock up on fabric and things a tailor needed because Lolo owned a tailoring shop, but it’s gone now, as none of his children followed in his footsteps. They usually brought with them corn-on-the-cob, ube (sweetened yam pudding), rice, suman (glutinous rice steamed in banana leaves, which dipped in sugar) and panotcha (peanuts caked in dark brown sugar). My favourite items were the corn and the ube – they were special treats for me.

Unlike the fallacious belief that grandparents are stodgy, always believing in the traditional way of a woman’s life, my Lolo and Lola never put pressure on me to get hitched. One conversation I had with Lola, in fact, had her calmly telling me to always do my best and not to be in a rush to get married. Lolo, on the other hand, never pried into my personal affairs although he showed great concern with my academic performance. He was, at one point, greatly dismayed with my endeavour to complete an apron for my sewing class. He took a look at it and sent me off to indulge in my favourite pastime, reading. My Lolo got a high mark for my apron project.

There were moments when I felt that I had let them down, but Angel Reader Audrey – yes, I consulted with an Angel Reader when I was still in Singapore upon the suggestion of a former flatmate – said I needn’t worry because they were both proud of me and, continued Audrey, were smiling at me while pointing to my left shoulder. Audrey said they were on my left when I went to see her for our one-on-one session then.

I am filled with envy whenever friends and students talk about their grandparents and the gathering or reunion they attended or the weekend they spent with them because they, fortunately, can still record new memories with them while I can only rewind them in my mind.

 

MY LITTLE SPACE

The words of Virginia Woolf always echo in my mind whenever I am beset by the feeling of being hemmed in. This occurs when the people am talking to brush away what I say as ramblings of a mere woman or, worse, tolerate it because a woman should be tolerated. Woolf believed that for a woman to be a writer she needs a room of her own (and money) given the predominantly patriarchal society that women, to this day, still find themselves mired in. I come from a family of writers and artists so Woolf’s words reverberate greatly in our world. We all need our own room to ruminate and create.

I have never given up on having – demanding for it when necessary – a room or space for me whatever the situation is. At work, I must have my own area preferably near a window so I can look out every now and then. I did get such a space when I was working in Singapore, and enjoyed the sunlight streaming through mid-day much to the consternation of my colleagues who thought me as “a poor thing” because there was sun in my space. Anyway, the problem wasn’t with the physical aspect of it. There were invisible barriers I had to hurdle – from social to political – to, well, be seen and exist.

A social setting is a bit tricky to negotiate for one’s own space. Unlike the workplace, where one is left alone because one has to be a productive employee, a social space doesn’t allow for fences. Privacy is immediately cancelled because the point is to actually let people in and in engage in social interaction. This has somewhat become my bugbear so I find myself skipping large gatherings to avoid awkward moments and possible scuffles. I like my space small, allowing only a few people in when I feel like it. Unfortunately, this has lead people to misconstrue my behaviour as signs of condescension and haughtiness, which could only be further from the truth. I am no social butterfly; however, I am amicable and pleasant to talk to once you get to know me, but my little space is still hallowed ground because I also do not intrude in anyone’s personal space willy- nilly.

It's uninterrupted reading in my little space - the capacious Lobby Lounge of Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta.

It’s uninterrupted reading in my little space – the capacious Lobby Lounge of Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta.

Expanding Woolf’s concept into the field of education, I must have my own space – an office and classroom in this case. Teachers are generally given a desk in a huge faculty room. I have had a desk in such a room earlier in my years of teaching. I didn’t mind it because I had ample space to manoeuvre – literally – and had cabinets for my books and other materials. However, an experience two years ago left me steering clear of the faculty room. I had to share an office with another colleague a year ago, which didn’t turn out well as others hoped it would. Unequal office space and its entire ramifications aside, we were dialectically opposed and no powwow would ever reconcile us – ever.

I need an office to myself because I have and want to think, to write, to hear my thoughts, and to actually work (read: mark voluminous papers and exams). That having an office all to myself is a symbol of status never crossed my mind until I met this Filipino working in a competitor-school. He has an office, he told me, and in the course of the conversation I casually alluded to my office. His stare dripped with incredulity when he learnt that I have one, which had me half expecting him to ask me for proof. It was days later when I learnt the reason for his cockiness: he had the title of director of something while I, in his eyes, was simply a teacher with an office.

Meanwhile, the classroom has been a refuge of some sort especially when the noise in the hallway becomes insufferable particularly when the students are out of their classes. My classroom is situated at the far end of the new wing of the school, in a sort of cul-de-sac, so the din is kept at bay. I can work without being interrupted by banshee-screams, gossip and silly juvenile drama that go on in the hallway. The plus point: I can play Taylor Swift’s Red CD without having to worry about the volume unduly wafting through the corridor. Another point why I want a classroom of my own is I can prepare for my classes ahead of time so when the students arrive we can get to work right away. Sadly, this point is lost on some people and think am being a pompous diva.

It's breakfast in a room with a view, which is definitely my kind of space.

It’s breakfast in a room with a view, which is definitely my kind of space.

A space for reading is also of paramount importance. I usually read in my room or in the living room when am at home, but it is different when I am outside. A little corner with a comfortable chair in a café would do and which is why Starbucks – any outlet – is a perfect reading place, but only when it just opened or during the dead hours of the mall. Recently, I found a nice a little space that I claimed temporarily as my own reading corner for a couple of hours and several hundreds of rupiah. The Lobby Lounge at Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta, with its comfortable sofa chairs and equally spaced tables set the perfect ambience for reading while enjoying cappuccino and muffins. The capacious area, well- lit by the floor-to-ceiling windows, banished all feelings of being hemmed in. It was good to read without interruption, to breathe easily, and just be away from the ruckus of urban life for a bit.

BEKASI TRANSFORMING Part I

It was his parting question in a short FB message that lingered on my mind. Nobody had asked me that before. They have asked the usual though – “How are you?”, “How was class?” and “What am I doing?”, but never the question he asked.

Bekasi, a city in West Java, sits within the Jabotadek metropolitan region. I see it as a city separated from Jakarta by 45 minutes on a smooth traffic day. It walking towards future but still looks back in its melded past and present. In 2009, the year I came, Indonesia’s factory town was a breath of fresh air from the urban life I led in fast-pace Singapore. There was this rustic ambience that engulfed the city and, when you are piecing the fragments of your life, the slower life pace made it easier for you to get up in the morning. You didn’t get jostled to hurry up nor cursed for holding up the traffic. You were allowed to walk at your own pace and spared the name-calling and look of annoyance. Traffic still existed but it wasn’t an insufferable situation one finds himself/herself these days, which is an enervating traffic that comes to a standstill because of the sudden downpour.

He is Vic Carpio, now a nurse in Los Angeles and a former JASMS student of mine. Chatting with Vic was always pleasant. In a sea of angst-filled teenagers, Vic possessed a level of maturity that made an exchange of ideas and vocabulary (his favourite word: chicanery) possible.

Flying off the handle is not a daily occurrence, which was how life was for me before because the pace of living in Bekasi enables one to take in the sights, sounds and psyche of the locals. One is asked questions, not out of officiousness but earnest inquisitiveness. My asthma seemed to have vanished because, contrary to popular belief, the city isn’t that polluted despite the presence of factories. My bugbear then was the scarcity of couscous and asparagus. Carrefour was a huge disappointment because there wasn’t consistency with the availability of products plus its international section was non-existent. When it comes to malls, one had to temper expectations because local malls Metropolitan Mall (MM), Mega Bekasi and Cyber Park Bekasi (CBP) were nondescript.

Get your cup of joe  and pastry at Starbucks in Metropolitan Mall, Bekasi.

Get your cup of joe and pastry at Starbucks in Metropolitan Mall, Bekasi.

MM then was the only place to do a Starbucks or Baskin and Robbins, with its limited flavour selection, run. The cinema was another pull factor until that impasse between Hollywood producers and the local exporters when the latter refused to pay the new taxes, I believe, set by the former. With only local films shown, MM’s Cinema 21 was deserted resulting in CBP enjoying brisk business in selling pirated DVDs. It is a complete mall in the sense it has, for example, Pizza Hut, J Co, Dunkin Donut, A & W and KFC; other restaurants like Es Teler, Hoka Hoka Bento, a Chinese outlet called Ta-Wan that has flavourful Chinese congee, and a Japanese-Indonesian-Singaporean restaurant called Eaton; supermarket Super Indo; warehouse outlet Ace; pharmacies Century and Guardian; bookstore Gramedia; and bakery Bread Talk. The upper floors have endless shops selling mobile phones and related accessories, and a travel agency. Public holidays always see MM seething with people, young and old, kerudong-covered or not.

Mega Bekasi, on the other hand, although cavernous, was bland. Its smattering of shops sold vanilla items, but it boasted a Dunkin Donut outlet and a Pizza Hut franchise, and a larger Cinema 21 that had an arcade unlike MM. Then through the years it acquired tenants like Ta-wan, a Chinese dim sum place, and a bigger Gramedia, Indonesia’s ubiquitous school appliances store that has expanded its products to include DVDs, computers and accessories, and sports equipment.

Neighbouring CBP was insipid, but it attracted its own throng of followers particularly the movie buffs who preferred trawling through boxes of pirated DVDs. Helios, a gym, enticed its fair share of gym rats and pseudo- gym goers. Computers and all things computers also pulled its share of followers. Then the winds of change blew in its direction and the sole McDonald’s outlet on the long stretch of Kalimalang was refurbished; the only Domino’s outlet set up shop, and a new cinema franchise opened up to challenge Cinema 21’s hegemony. Blitz Megaplex, with its industrial decor, upped the ante with its ticketing kiosk, mini basketball area, numerous sitting areas, and the fact that they leased out their theatres for functions needing seats, a stage and a big screen.

People always did a double take to see who was speaking. Vic’s deep voice never failed to grab anyone’s attention. He also had the knack of looking the person in the eye – including teachers – when speaking, which didn’t sit well with my colleagues who held atavistic views of right and wrong.

Bekasi is doing swimmingly. It’s successfully re-imaging itself from mere factory town into an almost mirror-image of Jakarta.

 

To be continued

FIRECRACKER WOES

Local TV networks are starting their countdown on the stories that made headlines in the Philippines. The Napoles pork barrel scam and typhoon Super Yolanda that decimated the city of Tacloban are certainly going to be part of that list. Now, this story still makes it to the news as an annual feature. It’s nothing new and has almost become banal. Serving as news -public reminder to the throngs of mindless users, it comes, as I have observed, in two forms – the first focuses on the proliferation of illegal firecrackers sold in, for example, downtown Manila and the efforts done by the local authorities to put a stop to it. Sadly, it is a never-ending cat-and-mouse game. When police officers are around, vendors are law-abiding citizens, but shenanigans occur like clockwork the moment they’re not there. The forbidden firecrackers, according to one TV news reports, are not displayed conspicuously together with the other wares on sale; some are hidden under other products while some are sold in the guise of boxed candies.

The second is on hospitals and their “firecracker accident” units. Doctors are on duty to attend to those who met mishaps with firecrackers innocently or otherwise together with victims of stray bullets. These bullets are fired by gun owners who are oblivious to the concept of ricochet and the great danger they present to the people. Emphasizing the grotesque, I remembered one news report on the early hours of New Year’s Eve sometime back showing victims at the hospitals, writhing and howling in pain as the physicians tried to piece their mangled limbs together. This year one pre-New Year’s Eve reports highlighted the instruments used to align bones, collect the embedded firecracker bits, or insert a screw to join separated bones are discussed, hoping to put out interest in lighting firecrackers to usher in the New Year.

But the TV and print reports always fall on deaf ears. A few days I was greeted with news of a teenager losing his hand to a firecracker called Super Yolanda. He’s not getting any sympathy from me. Another boy lost two of his fingers after lighting a piccolo firecracker that he bought behind his mother’s back.  There he was on TV crying and saying, in between sobs, that he wouldn’t do it again. No sympathy for this young cretin, too. Meanwhile, in a different channel, an adult pedicab driver lighted a firecracker and threw it away from him, not minding the passersby, to while away his boredom as he waited for passengers. Whoever sympathises with this Neanderthal is dumber than a box of rocks.

I miss the New Year celebrations where you can still be out of your house to admire the fireworks’ display lighting up the dark sky without fear of being hit by stray bullets or a firecracker exploding in your face. My parents made a ritual of lighting sparklers shortly before midnight when we were still young; we’d then wait for 12 and blow the horns we bought and watch the fireworks display from the other street. But that’s all in the past. Every year is the same in Quezon City – the air is thick with firecracker smoke as our neighbours are wont to light firecrackers with wanton abandonment and the fear of stray bullets has a tenacious grip on our minds.  Nice as they may be, our neighbours have no compunction in lighting firecrackers that are powerful enough to render one deaf or give a senior citizen a nervous tic or a heart attack. They’d let out laughter synonymous to patients having escaped from a mental asylum after each explosion. It’s pure lunacy! I suppose I must be thankful that they haven’t, in the years they’ve been burning their money, fired a gun unlike my old high school buddy. Close to a decade ago, my high school buddy’s sibling would have never seen the light of day had he turned his head on his pillow. A bullet had lodged, he discovered, a few centimetres away from where his head was when he woke up from his nap.

It is ludicrous from any angle. Why can’t Quezon City have a complete ban on firecrackers like Davao City and Muntinlupa? Where is the merriment in welcoming 2014 when you’re petrified to the point of paralysis at the very sound of firecrackers going off like grenades? I understand the belief of making noise to ward off evil spirits, but it doesn’t mean revellers and other people accompany the evil spirits.