PhDs on LDRs

According to a 2017 survey, there are 2.3 million OFWs or overseas Filipino workers; and in another survey it was found that the Philippines is 3rd in the world when it comes to receiving the most amount of remittances at 30 billion US dollars (the 1st is India at 72 billion and the 2nd is China at 64 billion).

I was thinking of these numbers today because I was watching a CNN documentary in Netflix featuring Christiane Amanpour on the topic of Love & Sex around the world.

So far, she has gone to Lebanon, India, Japan, Ghana, Germany and China to find out the current mores and conditions pertaining to marriage, love and sexuality among these countries’ population. She has not visited the Philippines yet; which makes me curious as to how she will portray my country in her stories.

I have an idea, Christiane — and it is that of all the nations in the world, it is Filipinos who are the experts on long distance relationships (LDR).

If PhDs on LDRs will be endowed to anyone, it will be Pinoys who will graduate at the top of their class.

We have turned long distance romantic relationships into an art form.

A story: there is a woman named D who is married to a ship captain named M. The two of them were married just before M went into his first voyage overseas as a sailor (“seaman” is how we Filipinos refer to these men who run the world’s shipping vessels). Out of every year, M and D would meet and be together for one or two months; so 10 months out of 12 they would not be physically in contact. Before the days of internet, D and M would communicate with telegrams and snail mail and long distance phone calls (in fact, D was the first person in my neighborhood to have a telephone back in the days when only business establishments have phone lines; and in fact, my mom owes a lot to D and her telephone because my mom would communicate with her sisters in Canada using this device). Today, D and M have been married for 39 years. They are still together. Ten years ago, M stopped working and settled with his wife in their condo near a mall. Their only child (my childhood playmate K), has finished her studies and was about to get  married. So there is no more need for M to hop into a ship again. I  am curious though — how does it feel for D to now be constantly around M’s presence after him being gone all those long years?

D & M’s story is one that has been happening hundreds of thousands of times among Filipinos. Ever since the government made it a policy to send foreign workers abroad in the 70s to supplement our much-needed dollar reserves, the story of couples who have to sustain their relationships from thousands of miles away has been a quintessential Filipino story (or at least, Filipino middle class story — the class D and Class A have a different one, a topic for another blog post).

It takes a certain faith and resilience to make an LDR work. Especially an LDR that spans years or decades even. Not a few relationships that I personally know have crumbled because the male or female partner was abroad.

There is a song in Tagalog by Joel Ayala (I mentioned in a previous post that it was by Noel Cabangon; well I was wrong — my bad) which I think is the theme song for Pinoy OFWs and their significant others. It is called “Walang Hanggang Paalam”. It’s melody is a sad guitar, accompanied by what sounds like a banduria, and the lyrics go like, “at habang magkalayo, papalapit pa rin ang puso/ kahit na magkahiwalay, tayo’y magkasama sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo.” (we move farther apart though our hearts grow together, and meet from different ends of the world — my awkward translation)

Needless to say, I am a hopeless romantic. I believe that love prevails in the end. And despite the difficulties that distance or time or financial/resource constraints will impose, Pinoys will find a way to care for those they love.

Dubai Creek at night, from a boat. There are over 400,000 Filipinos living in Dubai at the moment, which is more than the population of Baguio City. Go figure.

 

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Nationalism or What do Filipinos Care About?

I am presently working in a foreign country as a temporary economic migrant. Someday, I will return home, but for now, I owe my financial resources to this nation whose culture is as different from mine as night is from day.

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I was thinking about my situation when I came across this article from one of the blogs I follow and usually comment on.  It is asking about nationalism, how it can be a bad thing, and finally, what Filipinos care about.

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First, the question of whether nationalism is “good” or “bad” is maybe a question of gradient and context.  When I was in elementary, the message I got from my teachers is that nationalism is “good” – and that is something we should strive for. We sang the national anthem and recited the “Panatang Makabayan” every morning without fail so this vague thing called “nationalism” could be instilled in our young minds and hearts. I had this idea as a child that it is a noble quality to be willing to die for one’s country. Back then, I was not aware of the nuances – i.e: what exactly are you dying for your country for?

Fast forward to Now.

Nationalism has taken on a bad rap.  The idea that “nationalism” is a dangerous concept probably started in Europe with its issues about the Nazis; fascism;  the breakdown of Yugoslavia due to the nationalist tendencies of the states that made it up; and now the deluge of non-European migrants into European soil. Presently, the US President is the poster child of the poisonous “nationalist” – a word which has become almost synonymous with “bigot”.

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A personal story regarding nationalism & immigration:

My aunts and uncles have all migrated to Canada in the 1990s. They have worked there and paid their taxes and eventually became Canadian citizens. So recently, Justin Trudeau has been welcoming Syrian and other immigrants to Canada. I would think that given their previous positions as economic migrants, my relatives would agree with Trudeau’s policies, in the spirit of paying it forward. But, alas … no. When I spoke with my aunt and uncle, all they could complain about was how the Canadian government policies would mean more taxes for them to pay and how welcoming more immigrants would be such a drain on the economy and how these middle eastern migrants are terrorists-in-disguise etc etc. So I just rolled my eyes and stopped the debate because I love my relatives and I don’t want us to spend their vacation arguing over immigration policies.

So what has this story got to do with JoeAm’s blog post is this: “What inspires Filipinos, broadly? Family, faith in the rituals of it all, gossip, and the practicalities of life: eating and getting around. Where is the MORAL foundation?” — particularly, me, mulling the answer to that question.

F Sionil Jose once wrote that Filipinos are  a shallow people (by the way, FSJ also supported and probably voted for Rodrigo Duterte — go figure).

FSJ said that we are shallow because we are “mayabang” (arrogant), we do not read (hence we are under-educated) and that our  mass media is shallow.

Given this “shallowness”, what inspires us then? I mean what would one expect a child to be inspired of? JoeAm gives this answer “Family, faith in the rituals of it all, gossip, and the practicalities of life”– ouch, but true. If we want to get rid of our shallowness, of this narrow definition of nationalism that we have, then we have to start with the family. And because of this we must consider that the unmet need for family planning in the Philippines is presently at 17.5% — oops, but this is another topic for another blog post  🙂

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So, to connect the ideas of this meandering post: do I believe nationalism is bad? Not necessarily, depending on how it is used. I mean, if one will define nationalism as a sense of loyalty to one’s country of birth/allegiance, that is not a perilous thing. That is actually a virtue. However, if one uses nationalism to justify the exclusion or persecution of “the other”, meaning people who are not part of your country of allegiance then that would just be mean. And if nationalism is used to defend one’s laziness and shortsightedness and unwillingness to make the personal sacrifices needed to combat climate change, well, that is just stupid.

Do Filipinos have a sense of nationalism? Yes and no. We have a superficial (“shallow” is the word FSJ’s used) sense of nation. We love our families to our detriment; and we identify with our tribes/regions (i.e Ilokano, Tagalog, Maranao etc), to the exclusion of our identity as “Filipinos”.

Given this fact, the question of “what inspires us?”, with all due respect, is the wrong question. The question should be: “how should that which inspire us translate to love of nation?”

Like, I love my family, my family inspires me. But would my family have existed at all if Filipino nationalists have not asserted our independence from Spain, America or Japan? My grandmother was telling me a story how the Japanese used to bayonet babies in their village. Without Filipino nationalism, she could have been one of the kids who suffered and then I would not exist.

This is a what-if of history (something my aunts get exasperated about when I bring it up, saying it is futile to think of what ifs).  But part of learning history is wondering about what ifs.  And that is what Filipinos lack, I think, why our love of our family does not translate to love of nation. We lack history. Somebody stole it from us (the colonial masters, the fucked up educational system, the present elites, you name it) – and now we fail to be inspired.

 

 

 

Words

I have never learned how to speak Bisaya.

Not surprising; since 99% of my life was spent in Luzon. There are over 150 languages spoken in this country that I call home. And I only know 2 of them! Shame on me.

We did have a culture before King Philip of Spain and Uncle Sam invaded our land. We were a hodge podge of many tribes; one of those tribes were the Tagalogs; and this was their ancient language called alibata. Blame the Spanish friars for eradicating it from modern society. How's that, Pope Francis! Another historical fact, the Catholic Church should say mea culpa for.

We did have a culture before King Philip of Spain and Uncle Sam invaded our land. We were a hodge podge of many tribes, not so different from the different Scottish clans before the English invasion. One of those tribes were the Tagalogs; and this was their ancient language called alibata. Blame the Spanish friars for eradicating it from modern society. How’s that, Pope Francis! Another historical fact the Catholic Church should say mea culpa for?

Once upon a time, when I was a student, the topic of National Language was an emotional and personal pet crusade. I would debate someone, anyone who would dare to malign Filipino and insist on English’s superiority as a medium of expression. Blame it on the university where I graduated. It insisted on equating “love of country” to “love of national language”.

I was (and still am) an expert Filipino speaker. My first articles and stories were in Filipino. The stories I love passionately (Edgardo M. Reyes and Lualhati Bautista’s novels; Gerardo Sicat and Genoveva Edroza Matute’s short stories, to name a few) and the poems that I used to emulate (Francisco Balagtas’s “Florante at Laura”, Jose Corazon de Jesus’s “Ang Pamana”, Teodoro Agoncillo’s “Republikang Basahan” etc.) were all in Filipino.

It was Mr. F. Sionil Jose that made me realize that the Filipino language (much as the Philippine’s official Language Commission would try to deny it) is actually the Tagalog language with some variations.

 

There is nothing inherently wrong with the Tagalog language. Half of my genes are Tagalog; that must be a reason for my affinity with it. However, I have been traveling to the southern parts of my country for several years now; and I found that a lot of people that I would consider my own, do not even understand me when I speak this language that the academics call “Filipino”.

I first read this book, the life story of a Manila high class prostitute when I was 19 y/o. Re-reading it for the 2nd time was week was an enlightening experience. I learned: 1. This book's values was terribly old-fashioned and Mr. Jose is probably a male chauvinist pig, but I love him anyway!; 2. This book's heroine should have been introduced to Anabel Chong, the pornographic performer who once held the record for the most men fucked in a gang bang; then this book's heroine would have learned something like "she doesn't have the corner on suffering in this world; 3. Virginity is overrated.

I first read this book, the life story of a Manila high class prostitute when I was 19 y/o. Re-reading it for the 2nd time last week was an enlightening experience. I learned: 1. This book’s values are terribly old-fashioned and Mr. Jose is probably a male chauvinist pig (but I love him anyway!); 2. This book’s heroine should have been introduced to Anabel Chong, the pornographic performer who once held the record for the most men fucked in a gang bang; then this book’s heroine would have learned something like she doesn’t have “the corner on suffering in this world”; 3. Virginity is overrated.

Traveling to Cebu, a city in the Visayas, I realized how woefully inadequate my so-called education was because I couldn’t adequately converse in Bisaya! I had to speak to taxi drivers and fishermen in Oslob beach in English!

(Nothing terrible with English … my blog is in English, for one. It is the world’s lingua franca at the moment, true. Scientific and medical journals are written mostly in this language. My favorite writers write in English!

But the roots of this language has nothing to do with my geography. And it is useful and fun and I love it but …

Sunrise in Oslob. Oslob is a southern town in Cebu island. And what's remarkable about it is that every morning, huge whalesharks would swim very near the beach and go so near the fishermen that they would feed them.

Sunrise in Oslob. Oslob is a southern town in Cebu island. And what’s remarkable about it is that every morning, huge whalesharks would swim very near the beach and go so near the fishermen that they would feed them.

Tumalog Falls. a very charming, very pretty waterfall, also in the town of Oslob.

Tumalog Falls. a very charming, very pretty waterfall, also in the town of Oslob.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.. but it is not … entirely mine.

And there is something heartbreakingly sad when a person from Kansas cannot converse with a fellow American from New York because they don’t have the same language, and they have to talk using German to understand each other.) 

***

So these are just words.

And someday, if I’m really bad, they will be forgotten.

***

By the way, the term “I love you” in Bisaya is “Ginihugma ako ha nimo.”

Okay, Cebuanos and other Bisaya-speakers  can shoot me now.

 

Rural Myths and Legends (or A Roadmap to Second Base)

black sands beach

The beach has black sands, most of it is composed of a metal called magnetite. Chinese merchants have been mining the black sands for close to 15 years now. As a result, there are areas in the water that would immediately dip and deepen which is very dangerous for an unsuspecting swimmer.

“Every year, the sea would claim a life. The townspeople believe that, like it’s an obligatory sacrifice. Last year, a group of students from the provincial capitol went on a picnic on this beach. Two of them drowned.”

“You don’t really believe in that baloney, do you?” Alice asked him.

“I’m a scientist, Alice. But there are many stories and I think we should listen to them so that we can understand the people who have to make them up.”

black sands little boy

She nodded. “Where I grew up, our neighbors believe that the forest beside our town was haunted. With black or red dwarves, or something.” Jonas started touching her neck and she was momentarily distracted. She gave him a warning look. He grinned at her, but stopped anyway. Alice continued, “So they believe that when you step into the forest for the first time, you should give the dwarf, the nuno, a sign of your respect. Like you can bow and ask for it to let you pass. You can also wear your shirt inside out, otherwise it may make fun of you and make you get lost in its forest.”

It’s forest? So you really believe in this folktale, huh?” Jonas teased.

“My grandfather used to tell it to me all the time. I think he was just trying to scare me, to keep me from wandering off and getting lost. What’s so funny?”

“I am just thinking that your grandfather was telling you myths and folktales, while my father used to read me A History of the Manhattan Project as bedtime story.”

“So that is the reason why you are such a nerd!” Alice exclaims, shamelessly lying with a straight face.

Jonas is the farthest thing from a nerd one can imagine. As far as physical attributes go, Alice may appear nerdier than he is: with her glasses (gone now; since she started going out with him she had preferred contacts) and her books and her perpetual ponytails (which have disappeared with her glasses; he always managed to unbind her hair whenever he’s around). Jonas looks like a basketball player, though he’s not that tall. A lot of great players in the PBA are not very tall.

Jonas kissed her nose and stretched out on the blanket, his head on her lap.

Now what? Alice thought. They were alone on the beach, save for a few sand crabs scurrying around them. The nearest fisherman was a kilometer away.

Jonas closed his eyes. “There is another story about this sea. Once upon a time, a mermaid used to live here. Every year, at Lent or Christmas, she would take on the body of a beautiful woman and mingle with the local people. She would encourage the males to drink the local wine which she had spiked with her magic potion, and eat some enchanted food from the ocean. She would do this so that they will forget who they are and follow her.”

“And where are the women in this story, I wonder?”

He opened one eye. “They are tending to their kids.”

“What happens when the guys follow the mermaid?”

“They fall on the ocean and they drown.”

Alice laughed. Guffawed and chuckled like a madwoman. She laid down on the blanket beside Jonas, took his hand and started playing with it. “I like your story.”

Jonas turned and embraced her; her legs, arms and torso in a tangle with his. He was smiling, looking into her eyes.

“I knew you would. I like it too. It got you lying down here with me while my other attempts have failed.”

So then … one of them proceeded to go where (as the Star Trek saying goes) no man has gone before. It was not an entirely boring morning.

 

***

Reading Lists and Interesting Pictures:

http://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/83901-pinoys-less-happy-love-survey?utm_content=bufferb106e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://escapology.eu/

http://theadipositivityproject.zenfolio.com/valentine/h35C037#h2faede0b

http://www.lifenews.com/2014/02/12/unborn-babies-feel-anger-and-joy-psychotherapists-study-says/

http://www.bustle.com/articles/60252-18-books-every-woman-should-read-when-shes-18-because-i-sure-wish-i-had

http://www.wheninmanila.com/dont-get-shocked-alibata-is-incorrect-govph/

http://fb-22.sfglobe.com/2015/01/30/husband-and-wife-hear-each-others-thoughts-on-marriage-after-56-years/?src=share_fb_new_33732http://fb-22.sfglobe.com/2015/01/30/husband-and-wife-hear-each-others-thoughts-on-marriage-after-56-years/?src=share_fb_new_33732

Hormone Wars, or Territorial Disputes

There were puddles, and the streets (if you can call them that) were unpaved and … ugly. Alice felt relieved that she chose to bring her sturdiest, most reliable pair of flats for this adventure.

Typical Philippine  rural scene. Neglected unpaved roads that are muddy  during rains and dusty at summer. Alice wonders, what is there to love?

Typical Philippine rural scene. Neglected unpaved roads that are muddy during rains and dusty at summer. Alice wonders, what is there to love?

Jonas appeared very pleased and happy; he was all smiles and was constantly holding and kissing her hands.

How scandalous, Alice was wont to think. This is a rural area, people are not as sophisticated as those in Manila. What must they be thinking of this very ardent displays of affection?

But, truth be told, Alice was just as happy as Jonas; hence, she could not muster the effort to tell him to stop being so frisky.

He proved to be a hospitable host, taking Alice sightseeing on his motorbike (which he borrowed from a co-worker who is currently in Manila).

That day, he took her to see the ricefields in one part of the town. “Agriculture is a primary source of livelihood around here,” he said in that lecture-y way, as if he were a college professor (which, come to think of it, he actually was).

“The problem is that the irrigation has not been working very well and a lot of the kids grow up not wanting to be farmers. So they eventually leave the land, or sell it and they become laborers in Davao or miners.”

“Well farming is hard work,” Alice pointed out. “So can we blame them if they chose another non-back breaking means of livelihood?”

“True,” he agreed, still smiling. His happiness was so effusive and infectious that Alice had to smile back.

But she had to stick to her principles; so she told him the truth. At least in her point of view. “I think it’s ugly. The people are lazy and complacent. The women are spineless against their husbands. All they do is gamble all day and then sell their children to get by.” She waited for him to be angry. He was still looking at her with the most tender expression on his face. She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “I just don’t understand why you love it so much!”

Jonas answered, “Because it’s mine.”

Alice was not entirely sure he was talking about a place.

“That is testosterone talking,” she mutters under her breath, though a portion of her heart accepts the truth in his words.

***

References:

http://opinion.inquirer.net/82224/aquino-has-betrayed-us

http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/82513-abinales-shame-president-aquino-maguindanao-clash?utm_content=bufferf9276&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://isisstudygroup.com/?page_id=3

http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/82250-netizens-aquino-who-gave-orders?utm_content=bufferb9b28&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.rappler.com/nation/82168-marine-battalion-maguindanao?utm_content=buffer3652e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.rappler.com/nation/81958-marwan-target-saf-maguindanao

http://www.interaksyon.com/article/90739/milf-mnlf-not-terrorist-groups-simply-fighting-for-moro-dignity—duterte

http://www.rappler.com/nation/81958-marwan-target-saf-maguindanao

The Price of Peace (or The Price of War)

There is nothing like reading a book about war to make one contemplate about the definition of a certain 5-letter word.

Around 70 years ago, my country went through a war, which is the main reason a lot of wonderful buildings in Manila got razed to the ground.

My grandmother remembers World War II as that point in her young life when she and her family had to evacuate into the mountains to avoid being in the cross fires while the Japs, American GIs and Filipino guerillas had to play a wargame where real blood was involved.

the father of us all

l am not so naive (even if I am a girl) not to think that sometimes the only way to resolve a problem is to man up and then punch the other person’s nose. With all due respect to Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ (who are cute enough to claim self-righteousness, in my opinion) — sometimes, there should be a statute of limitations as far as turning the other cheek is concerned.

***

So now, once again, a flaming issue in my country involve a certain province in the south where more than 40 Filipino policemen were killed to apprehend a certain Malaysian bomb maker (ha! one would say “terrorist” if one were not so afraid to offend Malaysia who is currently brokering a Peace Treaty between Filipino Muslims and Filipino Christians).

My mother’s brother, Rolly, was a soldier who had to risk life and limb to fight a war in a city called Zamboanga (and in another one called Cotabato) oh so many years ago. He had to do that because that was the only way he could earn a decent pay to help my mom and my aunt go to college.

Now Rolly has been retired from active military service. But the situation in the so-called Muslim Mindanao is not so different from what he had probably experienced 40 years ago.

Dapitan's gorgeous sunsets.

Dapitan’s gorgeous sunsets.

I have been to several areas in Mindanao for short visits. I found Dapitan to have one of the most wonderful sunsets I have ever seen. Lanao del Norte was quaint and exotic at the same time. I have never been to Sulu; but one of my friends, who sometimes live there, claim that that they have the most beautiful, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring beaches that will just kick Boracay’s ass.

It pains me to realize that parts of my country are so broken that my government (or some war-freak guys in it) may be contemplating another all-out-war to keep them in order.

***

I am fed up to the ears of old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.  — George McGovern (some guy who could have been, but was not, an American President)

A Case of Puppy Love

Alice stares at Gaia’s receding back, the long Revlon-fair hair, the swaying hips, the arching curve of her spine. She is not a lesbian; but Alice can understand Gaia’s appeal.

“So she was your first love,” she tries to sound as non-chalant as possible

“Are you jealous?”

“Definitely not. My boobs are bigger and my ass don’t sag.”

“I was so young when I knew her.”

“Young, like fourteen?”

Jonas nods.

“Wow! You were like Juliet. As in Romeo’s girlfriend, Juliet.”

“Thank you, darling, for comparing me to a girl.”

“Juliet was 14 when she lost her head over Shakespeare’s fictional rendition of a boy,” Alice points out. The truth is, she cannot bring herself to even feign jealousy as it is pretty obvious that whatever Jonas had felt for Gaia is as dead as the two star-crossed lovers. She cannot keep herself from baiting him, though, because it’s so much fun. “So was she like in love with you too?”

“No, she was in love with a jock from school.”

“Why?”

“I guess because I was fourteen and pimply and she was three years older than me.”

“But she didn’t end up with the jock.”

“Nope. She got pregnant. He left her and went to the US. And I thought that was my chance to win her.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No. She migrated to Canada with her little boy.”

“You must have been devastated.”

“Not really. But she taught me lessons about women that I will never forget.”

Now Alice is jealous. She has always believed (in her vanity) that that woman is her. “So she left and you just gave up.”

“I wrote her for a year, actually. Snail mail, 300 of them I think. She didn’t write back.”

“Like ever?” Alice is really jealous now. Three hundred effing letters for Gaia-with-the-sagging-ass? And Jonas couldn’t even bring himself to email Alice without  prompting!

“Well there was this mail I received from her just before I graduated from college. It was a wedding invitation.”

“She did that?” Alice exclaims. “That’s horrible. That must have been the worst thing a woman has done to you.”

Jonas stares at her, half smiling. “Actually, the worst was when I asked a woman to marry me and she chose to go to Connecticut instead.”

Alice felt her face take on the red shade of the sunset behind them.

alice could never stop while she was still ahead. Which is why she was now as red as this sunset. Needless to say, Jonas hasn't been this amused for a long time; he is surprised that he can still enjoy seeing Alice get embarrassed .

Alice could never stop while she was still ahead. Which is why she was now as red as this sunset. Needless to say, Jonas hasn’t been this amused for a long time; he is surprised that he can still enjoy seeing Alice get embarrassed .