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A Christmas post… sort of.

Short of being called the Gringe who stole Christmas I for one have never been very fond of the season. Blame it on the impossibly hard-to-avoid traffic and the crush of people in the malls spending their hard-earned money like there’s no tomorrow. I would probably have made Ebeneezer Scrooge proud because as far as I could remember Christmas was never that special to me. Just like the majority of Pinoys, I’ve always equated the season with holidays and food binges but never about the real reason for the holiday, which is the birth of Christ. But inspite of the obviously negative vibes on my part I still celebrate it like everyone else though not as elaborate and, well…”Christmassy” (yeah, I made that up), complete with the uber generic “Merry Christmas” greeting that one can only take so much of. And, in spite of my unabashedly “Scrooge-like” attitude towards this season I still manage to squeeze out a few bucks from my wallet for gifts (that is, IF I find the time for gift hunting) and the traditional “ang pows” (Money gifts) for my nieces. Yes, I’m still a softie at heart when it comes to family.

As of this writing I’ve already received a couple of unoriginal forwarded Christmas wishes on my phone. Great. I could’ve just said thanks though text with the usual “same to you”  reply (how unoriginal, no?) but really, the season have never been that merry for me, particularly this year. Why? Because this will be my first Christmas without my mother. Mama passed away last November, after a month and a half of going in and out of the hospital — which explains the reason why I haven’t visited this and every other blog for some time. I wish I could say that she’s in a better place now, just like what everyone around me is harping, and that I should be happy her pain and suffering has finally ended. But… should I be? Really? How can I be happy knowing that I again failed, as it was with my Dad, in my responsibility as a son? Not that I was never able to take care of her, I did, but perhaps I should have done more.

It’s been over a month now and I still couldn’t quite accept what happened. I miss her terribly, and although our relationship may at times be, well… tempestuous, we remained tight. Yes, we do have our moments, like arguing over inane things (then again, don’t every mon-son relationship have one?). It was inevitable, I guess, when you have two headstrong people living under one roof (and guess who I  got it from?). But, like everything else it’s a forgive and forget kinda thing for us. We may have our misunderstanding one day and be buddies the next, as if nothing happened. Although I took care of  her financially, the last two years after she was first diagnosed with kidney problems she began to depend heavily on me, as I was the only one among the siblings without a family to support therefore have more than enough resource for her meds which can be freakingly expensive, by the way. It’s was, I admit, kinda hard on my part (try balancing your household budget and life-saving med and you’ll know what I mean) but it was my responsibility as the oldest child and I intended to honor that.

It’s all over now, and I’m trying to move on, but there are times (and many of them) when I couldn’t help but think about her and cry. It’s pretty damn hard on my part accepting things as they are, especially when I was beside her as she gasped her last breath of air, looking at me, and then slowly sink into unconsciousness. Truly, the most painful thing one could ever experience in life is to watch the very person who gave you life slowly wither away. The doctors did try to revive her but to no avail. She passed away after that. Admittedly, part of me wanted to see her end her suffering and go, but a part still held on to the hope that she’ll get better and live to see another decade. But that’s like shooting at the moon.

These days, I often find myself asking, what if I had tons of money and had given her the best medical care possible, would she have lived longer? Have I been a good son? Have I made her happy? All those questions would remain unanswered for now, at least until we meet up. Writing this post I’m all alone in the house (the maid took the day off), with two dogs sleeping at my feet as companions. I don’t know, I love being alone at times being a privacy nut and all, but it felt weird knowing that I now do not have anyone to talk to and share stories with over dinner.

It’s sad that I chose to post this piece instead of wishing whatever is left of my readers Christmas cheers for my blogging comeback, or sort of comeback since I still have yet to get over my laziness. But hey, it is never too late to wish one a merry Christmas, right?

Life goes on

Contrary to what most young people today think, the martial law years wasn’t exactly the “dark years”, as some would have it. To anyone reading the history books or the countless articles written about those years, it might have sounded scary enough living under the rule of a dictator, but that was far from the truth. While it was true the press was muffled and a certain number of civil liberties were taken away from the citizens but overall, it wasn’t as draconian as one might think, certainly not the Orwellian type of society with “Big Brother” watching your every move (although it could be said differently for some); nor did it ever resemble that of other authoritarian regimes such as, say, North Korea where everything was rationed and strictly supervised. Neither were there random arrests and mass executions in the streets and countryside like what happened in Cambodia. And no, there weren’t any (at least none that we know of) internment camps like those set up in Vietnam after the communists took over where untold numbers were imprisoned. There were illegal arrests for sure but it was an exception rather than the norm. In short, friends and neighbors weren’t “disappearing” or dropping dead like flies en masse. That nightmarish scenario resides only in the minds of those who haven’t lived through the era.

For the millions of Pinoys life remained pretty normal — at least, in some ways — and went on unhampered, and unless politics runs in your blood, one wouldn’t worry about receiving sinister-looking visitors in the middle of the night and risk being whisked away to Camp Crame for an “interview”. Even days after the declaration of martial law there still were no telltale sign of a national emergency. People still went about their daily business without much hassle. Stores, cinemas and even bars and casinos were still operating although people had to rush home no sooner than the hands on the clock strikes 10 to beat the curfew.

To be fair to the late dictator, he didn’t exactly turn this country into a garrison state as some quarters would like you to think, but it still didn’t make everything he did right. The downside to the improved peace and order situation was the loss of one’s basic freedom: the right to free speech. Criticism of Marcos and the military was a no-no as long as you lived under their, err… protection.

While it was true that there were fewer crimes being committed — most notably during the early days of martial rule — one could attribute the “improved” peace and order situation to the imposition of curfew which, in reality, is a curtailment of one’s freedom. Another reason to the surprisingly low crime rate was the presence of more than the usual number of police and soldiers in our streets that, unfortunately, points to the creeping militarization of the country. That creeping militarization would eventually extend even to schools, as basic military training (CAT in high school and ROTC in college) became prerequisite for a high school and college diploma.

Read more…

Life during the Martial Law era: part 1

The Darkness falls

The first inkling many people had that something definitely was amiss that morning was the eerie silence of the airwaves. For the first time since the last world war, the radios were silent; it crackled with neither the sound of music nor that of human voice, but rather, of a ghostly, unemotional hiss of static. It was as if Manila’s still sleepy inhabitants woke up to a city seemingly frozen in time.

Even in those early years of the seventies, a full decade prior to the advent of cable news and entertainment services — and years before CNN became a byword — Manila’s airwaves was already a busy tangled web of electronic transmissions (AM was king then) what with its hodgepodge of radio stations and four, if I recall it right, television stations that broadcast a steady stream of daily news and assorted programming during the day.

The all too sudden disappearance of familiar faces and voices from both mediums was, for lack of a better word, unnerving to anyone so used to being bombarded with news from the past day’s events. More disconcerting than the silence of the radios, however, was that those bastions of free speech, the newspapers — especially those that made it their life’s work criticizing the powers-that-be — were suspiciously absent on the stands. It was a clear sign that things weren’t as normal as it should be, at least, not in this part of the world.

Far from becoming a ghost town, Manila was abuzz with life, as people went about their daily lives unperturbed — only to slowly realize that everything was indeed strangely different from what it was yesterday. Maybe it was the sudden appearance of armed soldiers in the once neutral streets of the city, or perhaps it was the absence of the many things that people have gotten used to and have taken for granted all those years that made many wonder what in heavens was going on; because along with the broadcasts and ubiquitous dailies, gone too were the daily rallies and protests that was becoming synonymous to the incumbent’s administration.

Read more…

Adieu, good friend…

I received a rather sad news this morning, and I couldn’t help but shed a few tears. And that was only after the initial shock. A friend — a very close friend actually, from my short list of friends — from long ago, when things weren’t as complicated and hectic as it is nowadays, died from a lingering illness last week. It was my sister who broke the sad news to me. Actually it shouldn’t have come as a shock to everyone since we’ve already known about his illness for quite some time already. But I (and even his friends I guess) was led to believe that things were a-ok and that he may have beaten the big C, and that he will still live long enough to see his children get married and start their own families. I was wrong, I guess, and so was everyone. And you know what the worst thing was? I was the last to know; and the fact that he and his family now resides about 4 time zones away from where I am means that I couldn’t say my last goodbyes to the man whom I shared not a few good times together.

We’ve lost touch (or was it intentional?) since he packed up everything and moved, “somewhere better, and safer” he would always say, away from this cursed land where corruption and murder has become the norm. It was, I guess, a wise move on his part but unfortunately, the close ties that we used to enjoy was seemingly broken by the distance. Funny this would happen in an age of electronic mails, blogs and yes… Facebook. In an age of instant messaging and cheap long-distance phone calls, keeping touch with someone from your past would have been as easy as pressing a few buttons. What happened? How can I not have made an effort to move my fingers and renew (or, in this case, relive) the once warm friendship that we had? He did have a Facebook account and all I needed to do was to search for, and add his name. How could I have been so stupid as to think that there is always time?

It’s too late now. All the “should haves” in the world won’t mean a thing now. But really, I should have been more pro-active, and supporting, when he was going through his toughest time. And while I was myself going through some of the toughest times of my life (marriage problems, work and money woes) that shouldn’t have been enough reason to not reach out. He was fighting for his life for Pete’s sake, how could I have been so insensitive? Yes, I (and some of our friends as well) was quite disappointed that he never made an effort to stay in touch after starting a new life in a foreign land, but we ourselves were remiss as well. We did have news about his condition and that alone should have prompted us to take the initiative. But nooo, I was too busy minding my own insignificant little problems.

Damn… excuses, excuses.

I’m sorry my friend… I am really, really sorry.

50… and it sucks

Victor Hugo once said that “forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age”. And yet another great man, Mark Twain, I believe, quoted that ” age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”. Well, in a few days time (June 22 in case you’re interested) I will be celebrating a half century of living in this crazy crazy world, and I can tell you honestly and without batting my short eyelashes that it sucks to high heavens. Yes, you read it right, IT SUCKS! I mean, who would actually believe that having lesser energy and having chronic back and joint aches are a good thing, and that an advancement in age (and in this case, over advancement) is just in one’s mind? I tell ya, all those nicely written quotes extolling the virtues and joys of getting old are pure, unadulterated BS — sayings that I think were just to ease up the usual jitters and anxiety of the awful realization that things are not going to be what it’s used to.

Funny, when I was younger (well, ok… A LOT younger, like when I was a teenager) I wanted to be older so that I can finally do things that I wanted like drive around without anyone looking over my shoulders, spend my money on things without worrying what my parents would say (and do to me if they find out I’ve been spending on useless things). In short, do anything, and I mean anything, stupid or not, without asking for consent. Do things on my own terms and best of all, go watch an adult movie without the guilt, hah!

Know what? Now that I’ve practically done all those things I suddenly realized that getting old isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Sure, there are some benefits to getting older but health-wise, you’re just a few steps away from having heart disease and all sorts of life-threatening ailments that, like it or not, comes with getting old. You come to grips with fear, and anxiety as years pass and you dread every minute you spend inside a doctor’s clinic thinking, “what the hell is it this time?”.

Oh sure, 50 is still young and am still 15 years away from being qualified for a senior citizen’s card; while some may even go as far as to say that 70 years old is still in the distant future, but you if you think about it, 20 years isn’t that far off — at least not for someone who spends the day counting the days — remember, we’ve just celebrated (is that even the right way to say it?) the 20th anniversary of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. It was an event that is still fresh in everyone’s mind like it was only yesterday — at least for those over thirty years of age.

Perhaps, if I had my own family to fall back on I’d be thinking differently about getting older. But I don’t, unfortunately, and the reality that I will spending the last days of my life alone and not unlike the grumpy old men that one sees in the movies — complaining and ranting about practically everything — in an old folks home is fast becoming a reality as days pass quickly. And unless one is filthy rich (which I am not), or is financially well-off (which I hardly am, by the way), the odds of finding someone who will love and care for you for the rest of your miserable years is, well… nil. It would indeed be a miracle if someone comes along and accepts you, warts and all, for what you are and not for what you have. But that’s really stretching things too far since I ain’t lucky, and have never been good, with women anyway.  Ah well, that’s just me being selfish that’s all, always thinking about me, me and me. The sooner that I accept the reality that things are, in my case, going to go down the drain in the years to come the easier, perhaps, it will be for me to settle into this thing called old age.

Ah well, that’s just life for you…

Anyways, now that I’ve let things out of my chest, back to blogging… again. It’s been a while since my last post, obviously as one can see, and just as well since there’s not much happening in my life lately… at least, nothing worth blogging anyway. Oh sure I’ve lots of things to rant about (notice I didn’t include “rave” since there’s not much to rave about these days) like the ongoing senate brouhahas, the RH Bill and the events of the past two months like the execution of three Pinoy drug mules all the way to the current issue in the Spratly Islands, but somehow I just didn’t feel like writing about them, or my take on those events. Either I’m too Goddamn tired of writing or my muse just wasn’t doing her job inspiring me these days. Heck, even my writing stint at the POC is greatly affected by my bout of laziness.

Anyways, in an effort to show some normalcy in my blogging (as well as this long-neglected blog) life I decided to  post some pictures that, well, sort of tell the story of what’s been happening lately in my less-than-significant and boring life.

Meet Elmer, the recent addition to our family.

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He’s a purebred dachshund that I acquired more than two months ago, and who is now creating havoc around the house with his antics. A teething pup isn’t really for the impatient, but dang, he is really cute and lovable when he wants to be.

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And what about our diva slash hound Arabella? Well, she’s gone now. Nope, she’s still alive and well but we’ve sort of dispatched her to another and much better location that would, I believe, better suit her hyperactive nature. Late last year we asked a dog-loving family friend to adopt her after she became somewhat difficult to handle (I guess moving to this tinier place was a bit too much for her) and she would sometimes resort to nipping at other people, the maid especially. The large compound where she now resides have been good for her and she can run (and boy, she really loves to run) around freely. And the good news is, ok, it’s a surprise, really, is that she became pregnant and later bore four pups. Unfortunately though, only two survived. Even the family friend was surprised as Arabella, at  seven years of age, isn’t exactly THAT young and this was her first litter. He resorted to calling the pups, menopause puppies.

Anyone who’s been following this blog would by now know that I frequently post pictures and write about my food trips… oh well more likely food binges. Most would recall that many of the grubs that I sample from the different food places I visit would consist of greasy, and yes, mostly unhealthy but sooo delicious foods that, if consumed daily, would in all probability lead to a heart attack. Well, all that has changed lately. Not only have I started to cut down on my food intake (that is, if I can help it), I’m also trying to wean away from the fatty, greasy foods that I loved so much. These days, I limit my rice intake, as well as meat and rely more on veggies and fish. I guess old age and the ever-looming threat of a heart failure contributed to my 180 degree turnabout.

While I do consume a good amount of veggies in the past, nowadays, I tend to double the intake and whenever possible, I order salads instead of the usual fare of meats whenever I eat out. Like in CYMA, the Greek/Mediterranean resto that I patronize for instance, I prefer this tuna salad over the meat and potatoes that I usually consume and man, does it taste good! And yes, that’s raw tuna meat and some fish (also raw) that I couldn’t identify (have to check on the menu for that) and an assortment of fresh vegetables and olives, plus feta cheese and potatoes. If that ain’t healthy for you, I don’t know what is…

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Oh, and in addition to TRYING to eat healthier, quitting cigarettes (but you know about that, don’t you?) I started to exercise as well — and that is after about two decades of inactivity. Since late last year I’ve been spending time walking and running and sweating it out on my treadmill (yes, I also bought one for the purpose) for 30-35 minutes, four to five times a week. Am still far off from qualifying for the marathon though and equally far off winning the battle of the bulge around my waistline, but I do plan to continue and is still aiming for that holy grail of middle-aged baby-boomers: losing twenty++ pounds. I may have increased my resistance on the treadmill but still suck at the weight-loss department. I’m not really that fat, as some of you who have met me know, but I do need to lose a few inches as well as poundage on the midsection. So, any suggestions, aside from having liposuction??

And last, but not the least, here’s something that I caught while inside a supermarket…

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With it’s size and financial might, you’d think that SM Supermarket Inc. would have hired a proofreader just for this purpose.

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You really gotta hand it to the Japanese, not only are they so stoic, even in the midst of  a devastation, they are so disciplined in fact that, even after the double whammy they received from mother nature, there were no reports of mob rule even in the temporary shelters. People were actually lining up, patiently waiting for hours for their turn on the free phone calls or to get their daily rations. Heck, even some Americans were so envious, some even tried to compare what happened in New Orleans where, after Katrina, there were reports of widespread looting and riots. It’s no wonder they are now being lionized and admired by  many countries, and has become a shining example of a model society.

And now this…

Safes, cash wash up on Japan shores after tsunami

The Associated PressBy TOMOKO A. HOSAKA – Associated Press | AP – Sun, Apr 10, 2011 10:06 PM PHT

There are no cars inside the parking garage at Ofunato police headquarters. Instead, hundreds of dented metal safes, swept out of homes and businesses by last month’s tsunami, crowd the long rectangular building.

Any one could hold someone’s life savings.

Safes were washing up along the tsunami-battered coast, and police were trying to find their owners, a unique problem in the country where many people, especially the elderly, still stash their cash at home.

There are no cars inside the parking garage at Ofunato police headquarters. Instead, hundreds of dented metal safes, swept out of homes and businesses by last month’s tsunami, crowd the long rectangular building.

Any one could hold someone’s life savings.

Safes are washing up along the tsunami-battered coast, and police are trying to find their owners — a unique problem in a country where many people, especially the elderly, still stash their cash at home. By one estimate, some $350 billion worth of yen doesn’t circulate.

There’s even a term for this hidden money in Japanese, “tansu yokin.” Or literally, “wardrobe savings.”

So the massive post-tsunami cleanup under way along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of Japan’s ravaged northeastern coast involves the delicate business of separating junk from valuables. As workers and residents pick through the wreckage, they are increasingly stumbling upon cash and locked safes.

Read the entire article here…

Man, can you imagine if the very same thing happened in this country? We’d have a riot on our hands as everyone, from those thieving cops, barangay officials, neighborhood crooks, all the way to ordinary Pinoys who chose live by the motto: “Finders Keepers”, would have a grand time sifting through those unclaimed safes.

It’s no wonder why secretly, a large number of locals would rather be of another nationality…

Car woes…

Here’s a couple of good reason for me — or for any motorist for that matter — to exterminate with extreme prejudice those  frigging Jeepney drivers and wipe them off the face of this planet…

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Oh yes, those are my car’s driver’s and rear passenger doors… after getting plowed by an errant jeepney.

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It happened last week just a few meters away from the place where I work. The jeepney, one of the many that use the already narrow street in front of our office as their own garage and private terminal, was on a reverse course (read: going the wrong way on a one way street) presumably to get in line in their makeshift terminal in the corner. For some unknown reason, the stupid driver never noticed I was on his path and kept on going. I tried to give way by swerving but it was too late, the bumper had already hit the driver’s side door. As if that wasn’t enough to jolt him (and me), the jeepney continued to plow its merry way to the passenger side door…

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… and finally ending its path of destruction on  my rear fender.

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Pissed, no, actually, I was more than pissed, I was furious at the driver who had just now realized what he had done. But the worst was yet to come. Confronting the driver and trying to keep my cool (that was after I hurled a few unprintables at the guy) at the same time, I decided to forgo the usual exchange of insurance info (just as well since you’ll have a tougher time asking for insurance from these jeepney operators) I just told him to pay me for the damage he had done which, in my estimate, would be around P10,000 minimum, and we’re done.

To make a long story short, I never got the full amount that I wanted. “Driver lang po ako eh, wala naman akong ganyang kalaking halaga (I’m just a driver and I don’t have that much money with me)” was all he could mutter, and said that he’ll talk to the vehicle’s owner, or operator, to help pay for the damages. Thing is, the operator was also broke as hell, and I was only able to get less than half of what am about to spend fixing the car, and unfortunately, wouldn’t be enough to pay for the other expenses such as insurance participation either.

I don’t have anything against jeepney drivers (well, ok, I do have a LOT of beef against them), they are, after all, making an honest living like everyone else in the city. But the sad, and oftentimes infuriating thing is, these guys can be arrogant as hell, and that’s the reason why the jeepney is oftentimes called “the king of the road”. And yet, when push comes to shove such as what happened to me last week, all these road warriors could mutter is “sorry na lang”…