Oh, to be happy and gay

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Gee, I don’t know about you, but I suspect that the Virgin Mary has better things to do with her time than to worry about some gay men posing as female saints. Er, not to mention that — considering that the Philippines is now struggling with soaring food prices and a rice shortage — the cleric should be spending their time on far more pressing issues that surely matter more to their congregants. I’m just sayin’.

If nothing else, I won’t have any part in a religion whose gods have no sense of humor about these things. I can only imagine that Jesus and Mary are having a rollickin’ good time up there watching these guys celebrating life and love and all that other good stuff the Church has scorned for so long.

Manila bombing and a Man of Peace

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By now most people have heard about the bombing of the Glorietta 2 Mall in Makati, the financial hub of the Philippines. For those of you who’ve never been there, Makati is the luxury shopping capital of the country, with old European fashion houses claiming their share of real estate right alongside Kate Spade and Kamiseta. Traditional Pinoy restaurants attract as many customers as the ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe and California Pizza Kitchen.

At the moment 11 people are reported dead, with over 100 more injured. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although in a city that’s beyond weary of coups d’etat, impeachment threats, talks of Constitutional Charter changes, and the occasional kidnap-for-ransom of foreigners and Chinese businessmen, there’s definitely no shortage of theories and rumors.

I only hope that this doesn’t further increase the number of Pinoys who are fleeing the country for safer harbors (i.e., the United States). It’s difficult for me to write that, as I myself enjoy the relative security of living in America and have done so since I was a little girl. While I have lived elsewhere for significant chunks of time (Japan and, of course, the Philippines), this is where I’m most comfortable, having been raised primarily in this country, in this culture. I can hardly blame anyone for wanting to grab their share of this enormous, generous pie.

But I do mourn for my old country, not just because of the lives lost under the rubble of last week’s tragedy, but also because of what I perceive as its agonizing death in the face of so much corruption and the palpable sense of defeat. So many writers, artists, intellectuals, politicians, and yes, ordinary citizens, are rallying their fellow Pinoys and Pinays to stand up to the terrorists, the cronies, the cruel and indifferent rich who plunder the nation’s resources and ignore the poor and dying. But is that enough? According to the thousands who emigrate to the Middle East, Australia, Europe, and the United States, no.

When I was in Manila a few weeks ago, not a few people mentioned the extremely tight security in and around Makati. You could see it in the routine bag searches, metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs that are just a part of life around the hotels and shopping malls that dot the cityscape. But I also noticed that, particularly in the entrances to the malls, the security staff are often quite lax about their inspections. Backpacks receive cursory glances, and more often that not, they’re only manually inspected and are then handed back to their owner around the metal detectors, rather than through them.

It bothers me that I, my mother and my cousins spent a considerable amount of time in Glorietta during our visit, as it was closest to our hotel. It’s a beautiful, sprawling mall that’s filled to bursting from the moment it opens at 10am to the time it closes late in the evening. But it bothers me more that despite the city’s claim of security, despite the presence of thousands of people at any given day within its walls, despite the country’s desperate attempts to attract foreign tourists (when nearby Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, even Vietnam get so much more of them), something this awful should still happen.

And the idiots in the government offices and at Malacanang will continue to get their panties and briefs in a twist trying to figure out what’s going on, while the rest of the country continues to plan their escape abroad, all the while keeping their head down and hoping that something like this doesn’t happen to them.

p.s. I missed the Daniel Pearl Music Day. However, I did see a very moving, very thought-provoking film this weekend called 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, about the filmmaker’s interview with His Holiness in Dharamsala, India. I thought I knew plenty about the Tibet situation, but I hadn’t realized the extent of current Chinese atrocities in the region. I find lately that merely catching a glimpse of the Dalai Lama even in a photograph or poster is enough to make me burst into tears. The man is goodness and unconditional love personified, and he just exudes this aura of peace, something I’ve never found in any other human being, even the late Pope John Paul II. On the one hand, I will miss him when he retires and will mourn his eventual passing, as I don’t think we’ll see anyone quite like him again for a very long time. On the other hand, I’m starting to understand now that the tragedy regarding the Panchen Lama (the young boy whom His Holiness personally chose to be among the few who will discover the next Dalai Lama, and who was kidnapped by the Chinese in 1995 and has not been heard from since), while horrible and deserving of much more international attention than it’s receiving, is something that is of only minor concern to the ultimate global fate of Buddhism as a whole.

The Dalai Lama himself has said that the institution of his office is something that Tibetans themselves must evaluate, implying that his official role is only tangential to his actual mission, i.e., that of promoting peace and harmony. Like the Buddhist monk whom I heard speak this weekend, His Holiness is concerned not with converting as many people as possible to Buddhism, but rather with encouraging open and honest dialogue between warring enemies so that peaceful resolutions may be found. He only wants love among our neighbors, not hatred, and I gather that his tireless efforts, his amazing schedule of activities, is done in the name of disseminating this revolutionary idea as much as possible before his health forces him to retire.

I’ve never been a fan of George Bush and have often been ashamed of calling him my president. But I have to admit, I raised a cheer when the man not only attended the ceremony on Capitol Hill honoring His Holiness as the recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, but he and Mrs. Bush also chose to sit next to the Dalai Lama. Perhaps there’s hope after all for this administration, and for the possibility of lasting peace.

MRA

Jessica Zafra Rules!!!

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I totally heart Jessica Zafra. Am in the middle of reading her latest (?) book, Twisted 7, a compilation of columns she’s written for a Philippine daily paper. She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s snarky, she’s brilliant, she’s Twisted. She’s exactly the kind of columnist I want to be, sort of like a Pinay Janeane Garofalo with a wicked, wicked pen.

I just submitted another column to the local paper. It’s supposed to be biweekly (it was originally weekly, until I got a full-time job that morphed into the Job That Took Over My Life), but lately it’s been Whenever I Can Squeeze In The Time. Anyway, like Jessica, I write about whatever comes to mind, whether it’s the whole immigration controversy in the U.S., traveling, gay marriage (a rather weak attempt at satire, I have to admit, but hey, I was new at it), and stuff like What Women Don’t Want. It suddenly occurred to me earlier this afternoon that I’m one of very few women columnists they have, and possibly the only one who contributes on a regular basis. It’s not necessarily the editor’s fault, as he’s fantastic and helpful and just plain adorable, but I wonder why this is so, as I’ve met plenty of very talented women writers in town, most of whom have opinions out the wazoo. Where the hell are they? (Knowing us women, they’re probably doing the whole Superwoman routine everyday, which doesn’t really leave much time to spout off on paper. But then again, maybe that should change. If we don’t stand up and demand attention, we’ll never get it.)

MRA

Desperate plea for publicity, or just a bad joke best forgotten?

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I missed this one:

ABC Apologizes for ‘Housewives’ Joke
ABC Studios sorry for racial slur on ‘Desperate Housewives’

Never having seen Desperate Housewives, I wasn’t especially interested in any news related to it, but I can see why this one would draw such ire from my fellow Pinoys and Pinays. On the other hand, my own opinion on the matter is similar to that of actor Alec Mapa, a Filipino-American actor with a recurring role on the show:

“The last time I was in Manila, I saw an infant walking through rush-hour traffic with her hand held out begging for change. Clearly, we have bigger concerns in the Philippines than something a fictional character said on television. Having said that, it’s unfortunate that the Philippines was used as a punch line. My family is filled with doctors and medical professionals. I know first hand from them that the medical schools in the Philippines are topnotch. Anyone of us would be lucky to be under the care of any doctor or healthcare professional from the PI.”

The sad fact of the matter is that medical doctors trained in the Philippines cannot immediately practice their profession if they were to emigrate to the United States. Most Filipino-trained physicians I know end up going back to school for a nursing degree, mostly because they’re aware of the difficulty and expense of obtaining certification to practice medicine here. The American Medical Association claims that their restrictions on foreign medical school graduates were put in place to ensure that the quality of medical care that Americans receive remains the same, regardless of where their physicians may have finished school. And quite frankly, as someone who relies on a team of medical professionals (gastroenterologist, internist, ob/gyn) to keep her system running smoothly, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

In any case, I agree with Mapa. Good God, the mere fact that the Philippines is desperately losing whatever physicians it does have should be of primary concern, not what someone says in passing on some television show in the United States. When I attended college in Manila in the late ’80s, there were only about a dozen accredited nursing schools in the entire metropolitan area. Now, however, reports are that that number has multiplied, although apparently the government shut down a few in 2005 for their substandard teaching and curriculum, not to mention the low passing rate of its graduates. Quite a few of these nursing schools have special “fast-track” training programs for doctors wanting to re-engineer their careers and start over again as nurses — in a foreign country.

Godawful political and bureaucratic corruption. Children being sold into prostitution, often to service male, middle-aged sex tourists from the US, Europe, Japan, and Australia. A crumbling healthcare system (one report I saw on TV while I was there documented the horrifying lack of ambulances in Manila, with one hit-and-run victim forced to wait five hours before one finally arrived).

What the hell are these government officials doing, wasting their precious time and resources wailing about some stupid TV show in the United States, when they have people literally dying in the streets?

The Printed Word in the Philippines

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One of the things I did enjoy doing when I was in the Philippines was scooping up as many magazines as I could get my hands on. Content-junkie that I am, I love love love anything to do with news, gossip, info…anything printed. I used to get several newspapers a day when I lived there many years ago, but the magazine industry has boomed tremendously since that time, with glossy pages, high-quality color photography, and more sophisticated content finally making their way onto the newsstands. Newspapers just seemed a little too boring, ya know? (Especially since I could get the same stuff online, especially the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)

Some of the magazines I picked up were Enterprise (local business), Marie Claire (local franchise of the American title), Metro (beauty, fashion and society), Sense & Style (ditto), and Yes! (like OK!, the entertainment/gossip rag). I was disappointed by Enterprise, which was poorly written and even more badly edited. Articles about outsourcing and the call center biz in the Philippines were interesting enough, but it could’ve used more profiles about successful entrepreneurs instead of stuffing a bunch of numbers and statistics into each article.

Marie Claire, Sense & Style and Metro were, as expected, glossy, gossipy and glamorous, if a bit over the top in its fawning articles about the celebrity du jour. I know that all fashion magazines, to some extent, are mere catalogs for the products advertised, but the Philippine versions seemed more so, with content including interviews with product managers of global brands such as Lancome, Shiseido and Shu Uemura on what makes their respective lines so “powerful.”

Yes! was unexpectedly good, as far as celebrity mags go. The in-depth story of concert queen Pops Fernandez‘s fantastically bad marriage to balladeer Martin Nievera, was surprisingly interesting and intimate. Granted, I was appalled that Pops (of whom I was once a big fan) would choose to open up really, really old wounds (c’mon, girl, it’s been nine years since your annulment — ever heard of the term Let sleeping dogs lie?), especially since she kept harping about how she was only thinking of her two kids with Martin, Robin and Ram. Martin did a despicable thing, but can’t you guys just be adults and move on, for cryin’ out loud? Did I mention that it’s been nine years?

What I don’t like about magazines in the Philippines is that they’re almost always encased in clear plastic cellophane. The better to discourage squatters from engaging in some free reading at the newsstand, I suppose, but it makes it more difficult to judge the quality of the writing and content, ya know? Nearly all new books at the shops were given the same ultra-secure treatment up until a few years ago, but thankfully it appears that practice is slowly being phased out. If only Barnes & Noble or Borders could step in and shake things up a bit…

I did buy a couple of books while I was there:

a) A biography of John L. Gokongwei, Jr., by Marites A. Khanser. Gokongwei, one of the richest men in Asia, started out as a dirt-poor, fatherless boy in China and now commands an enormous empire throughout the Southeast Asian region. The book, John L. Gokongwei, Jr.: The Path of Entrepreneurship, narrates his life story as well as his philosophy on entrepreneurship. I love reading about self-made men and women, and this particular bio can’t be found here in the U.S. It’s also rare in the sense that this is the only biography I know exists of a Chinese-Filipino mogul.

b) Killing Time in a Warm Place, by Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr. Never heard of the book, but I’ve heard of the author. A novel set in the Philippines during the Marcos years, the story centers around a young, male, middle-class protagonist who finds himself involved in the events and places that defined that era.

c) Tw7sted, by Jessica Zafra. I’ve read a few of Zafra’s columns, but wasn’t really wholly familiar with her humor and intellect. I found this at Powerbooks in Robinson’s Mall (owned by the aforementioned Gokongwei) in Malate and bought it on impulse. She seems just like the person I’d enjoy hanging out with.

I think I’ve started reading more collection-of books by columnists because of my own current gig at the local paper. While I haven’t read Zafra’s book yet, my hunch is that she has a similar sensibility to mine, so I can’t resist but take some inspiration from this remarkable woman’s ouevre.

M.

Where did September go?

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It just screams at you, you know? “41 posts, last published July 27, 2007.” Err, that was over two months ago. So I got lazy. Blame the 100+ degree days and the fact that I skipped abroad for a few weeks.

Went to the Philippines to spend some time with my mom and to reacquaint myself with the old country. God, I’d forgotten how much I love and loathe the place. Love: the familiarity, the only-in-the-tropics yellow sunlight, the curious mix of Tagalog and English, the unintentionally hilarious TV shows (Seriously, Kokey? What the hell, they couldn’t come up with at least an original-looking alien, they had to rip off the look of a twenty-five-year-old American icon, all the way down to the red hoodie sweatshirt? And where did I get the idea Ruffa Gutierrez could act?), the obsession with celebrities, the cool local fashion scene, the stuck-in-the-80’s music industry, the over-the-top journalism, Anchor Butter (yes, I realize it’s from New Zealand, but damned if I can find it here in the U.S.), and speaking of which, the FOOD.

Hate: the crowds, the pollution, the noise, the funny smell in certain places, the obsession with celebrities, the uber-bitchy gossip mags (of which I bought plenty when I was there, natch), the mind-numbing traffic, the lack of clean restrooms in most establishments, the insects (geckos and roaches and ants, oh my!), the seriously-in-need-of-an-overhaul political system, the alarming rise in violent criminal activity, the degrading premium put on physical appearances, the snobbery…I could go on and on, but I may lose my balikbayan status, so I’ll shut up now.

Of course, I ended up catching my cousin’s flu halfway through my trip, which meant that I spent way more time than I wanted to lying around in bed nursing a headache, a fever, stuffed sinuses, and a bad cough (that I still have, weeks later). I engaged in a full-on pity party for awhile until I soon realized that there are definitely worst ways to recuperate from an illness than living in a cute little bungalow by the sea and having the full-time services of a housekeeper.

One of the things I definitely did not enjoy was the startling strength of the Philippine peso (or perhaps, more accurately, the weakness of the American dollar). I mean, people, c’mon! I thought this was a Third World country! (Can I still use that term?) I love shopping in the Philippines, as I can find outstanding clothes, accessories, beauty products, books, music, DVD’s, etc., that I can’t get in the U.S. But for some reason, the last 5 years have witnessed a remarkable economic transformation in the country, as the price of goods and services have risen to the point where quite a few locally made products are rivaling the U.S in prices. I had to whip out my calculator more than a few times to confirm just what I was seeing on tags.

Ah well. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my stay. If anything, I have to admit, I found myself more than once scanning the pitiful local want ads to see if I qualified for interesting employment. (For the most part, I don’t, as I’m apparently too old to be considered for most plum positions.) B. would be apoplectic at the thought of relocating there, not because of any animosity towards the place but rather because he and I are well aware that healthcare providers are engaged in a mass exodus of the country, which doesn’t bode well for his own financial status if he were to find a job there. But for awhile, I did dream of a life surrounded by people who share my ethnic heritage, who talk in a comforting language I’m still familiar with, and who think nothing of bursting into song in the middle of the street, as if they’re all playing small but important roles in a grand musical.