Sunday, December 26, 2004

Again, Mortality

I'm ill. I'm afraid it might be something I ate. I had washed my hands the day of the PSI-Asia Christmas party, though I'm afraid I may not have washed them enough. I recognize the flu-like symptoms, the weakness, the labored breathing. I hope to God it's not encephalitis of any shape or form. I'd know what it would mean if that were the case.

I'm fond of the trappings of death-- the stories of walking corpses, the jokes about their smell, the absurdity of funerals, funeral parlors and the sometimes cadaverous aspects of the people who run the same parlors. I love the grand irony, the ultimate punchline: people making a living off of the dead.

Yet for all that... I may have prayed for Death's cold embrace at one time or another, but I am not fond of dying. Not in the way such deaths occur in these parts. One is felled by a preventable disease made inevitable because he has little in the way of money and much in the way of relatives who pooh-pooh his infirmity. One is shot or stabbed to death because he stayed too long in his favorite watering hole-- perhaps because he ogled the wrong strumpet, or because he was too ardent in his videoke rendition of My Way. One dies because he bothers to tie himself to a tree in the middle of a flashflood, trying to reach out and save neighbors who would not have saved him had their situations been reversed.

All those years that could have been spent eating, breathing, discovering, sleeping, learning, copulating, flushed down the toilet: such a heinous waste, punchline to the ultimate bad joke. A wasted life because it was cut short.

* * *

Every time I fall ill this way, I wonder if my time is up. Often because I cannot bring myself to trust the Universe completely.

My childhood is rife with stories of people who got exactly what they wished for. After receiving their hearts' desire, they often found something just as precious taken away from them: neglected, unappreciated, until it was too late to take back the granted wish. Often it was freedom. Or innocence. The love of a woman, friends and family. Sometimes, it was life. This was the original devil's bargain, and one made it with the Universe every day.

A child of seventeen runs away with her lover from her constricting parents into what she presumes to be a life of bliss. The rush of young love wears off, reality sets in, and soon enough, she is poor, pregnant and bereft of family and lover. The former, she had repudiated; the latter, she lost to another woman younger than her.

A father wishes to raise his child above the muck of poverty. He exposes her to every luxury his meager wealth can purchase. And then he is surprised when the daughter disdains him, does no work in the house and cannot get by without donning the trappings of the rich.

Two friends search for God and find him on their separate journeys. They return to where their quests began eager to share with the other the face and words of the One True God. Soon, there is blood on the temple steps.

There were times I would be blessed by a Subway sandwich; a sunlit sky; a lover's kiss; the delicate hands, welcoming smile, arresting eyes, fair shouldres and creamy skin of a woman. Then I would wonder if-- having seen, heard, touched, tasted and smelled a piece of heaven on earth-- I would pay for it tomorrow with my life.

Three nights ago, I got to sing with a band and a beautiful lady. I got good reviews for my work. I won an electric water-heater built into a coffeepot. Two nights ago, I dined with my girlfriend. I am thankful for these gifts, though now that I am ill, I find myself wondering what will be taken by the Universe as payment.

Damned stupid of me to think this way.

At this point, I am supposed to make an accounting of my life and lay it at the feet of the Lord.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Fun Trivia

Firstly, Merry Christmas. If I have readers of an Islamic persuasion, just think of today as the day we traditionally celebrate Saint Issa's birth. If you area Jew, please know that he wasn't born so his followers could lynch you-- you guys have really got to get over your fear of the goy. Remember: not everyone is out to put you to the sword!

No, Jesus/Issa/Yeshua wasn't born on 25 December; we just assigned it to 25 December because--

1. his original twelve disciples weren't that big on dates. It was enough that Issa was born, lived, worked, made wild promises about spiritual renewal and rising from the dead, died and kept those wild promises in their time.

2. the early church-- which had taken on the trappings of a Roman bureaucracy-- needed festivals and celebrations to happen simultaneously with the old pagan festival dates. All the better to infiltrate, co-opt and subvert (Hmmm, reads like America). With the introduction of Christmas, the sun god Mithra was shown the door, and his religion closed up shop.

I'm with the early Christians on the thorny subject of dates. It doesn't matter to me when exactly the Messiah was born. He came, cared about humanity, made wild promises and kept them. So.

There was a time when Christianity and Judaism were more tightly knit. Early Christianity in some quarters was treated as another sect of Judaism. There were--gasp!-- Christian rabbi preaching in the synagogues. Then the early church sunk its foot root in Rome and Constantinople. For some reason, the Christian Jews folded, died out. Christianity and Judaism have since taken separate roads.

Christendom does not celebrate the Savior's birth at the exact same time. The shape of our planet and its own rotation has seen to that. People live in different time zones, so the light from Christmas morning reaches people at different times, some (Asia) earlier than others (USA, Europe).

Friday, December 24, 2004

Hello, Saori (reprised)

Dear Saori,

My family usually sleeps through Christmas morning. We're often too tired from all the before-Christmas preparations. After attending the midnight mass to honor the birth of Jesus, we wind up eating, passing around presents and going to sleep at 3:00 a.m. (4:00 a.m. on your clock). It's pretty much the same, I think, for most middle class families living in the Metro-Manila area.
In the provinces, it's a little different. There is a service (or mass depending on the type of Christianity the Filipino observes) and usually a dance or party that is open to the community. At least, this has been my observation of one province.

Dancing and shows are still big in the rural areas, partly because the nearest shopping mall is far, far away. The communities are more tightly knit, because they literally have to depend on each other to make a livelihood. They have few activities outside of agriculture, the market, school or tending to livestock. They welcome any reason to celebrate and break the routine of the day-to-day activity. The influence of the city, though, is causing mini-malls, bars, coffee shops and Internet cafes to appear like mushrooms in the areas that border the can expect that some of our province-based countrymen will spend Christmas in one of those.
I am glad your father is getting better.

[My cousin] is spending time at our other cousin's home. I'm sure she misses you and she will be happy to hear that you and your father are fine.

I would appreciate seeing those pictures you mentioned. Perhaps one day I'll go to Japan to see the cherry blossoms fall for myself. In the meantime, I'm saving my imaginary money for a trip to China, to climb the mountains and visit the temples I've only seen in movies and dreams.

Do have a merry Christmas, Saori-san.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I feel awful.

I've been ringing up a third of the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines--yes, we have an ECC here-- in the vain hope that tewnty of their number sign up for a workshop that's only about three weeks away.

The few calls that make it past the company's front desk are routed to and intercepted by secretaries who are paid to say "No, he isn't here." To be fair, most of them have (graciously or rudely) offered to take the faxed or emailed invitation to their bosses to look at.

Sadly nobody wants to set up a meeting with my supervisor, and nobody wants to go to a damn workshop-- even if the facilitators are Japan-based master trainer Elizabeth Matsui and Johnson & Johnson product development and management alumnus and corporate guru Beth MacDonald.

Never mind that those three days will involve exciting, fun-filled, intensely interactive training activities designed to further sharpen your already formidable motivational skills and increase your company's productivity by increasing your rapport with virtually anyone working under you.

Never mind that you will be rubbing shoulders with other leaders in business or the academe like yourself at the spacious, comfortable and well-stocked Asian Institute of Management Conference Center in the beating heart of Philippine commerce, Makati City.

Nooo. The latest applications of Neuro. Linguistic. Programming. in a motivational setting don't interest them at all. Mind control does not interest the disciples of big business!

Naaw. The money and time they're spending in Boracay or in Hong Kong are far too important to splurge on something as trivial as profitable and effective guided self-development that actually affects your students or your employees.


But I'm griping. And it's not fair of me to pick on them so.

If I were in their shoes, I'd be hard pressed myself to respond to the obvious benefits of this workshop called Masterful Manipula-- er, Masterful Facilitation.(1) I'd want to go home to my wife or my mistress and bang her (pick your meaning) silly. I'd want to go on that well-deserved Christmas leave and not worry about conferences, seminars or what have you until after the new year is well underway.


I'm in need of a leave myself. I'm retooling my damn spiel and preparing to charge into making those phone calls tomorrow. Maybe then I won't be stuttering so much.

C'est la vie.

(1)Masterful Facilitation conducted by Elizabeth Matsui and Beth MacDonald. Workshop starts Jan 14th and ends on the 16th. In case none of the members of our local ECC express interest in ths thing, you can call these numbers or stop by the address for more details.

PSI-Asia (The Center for Leadership)
14th Floor 6780 Ayala Avenue, Makati City, Philippines
tel nos. 813-1188 813-1189 813-1173

Monday, December 20, 2004

Hello, Saori

A letter to a new friend I want to share with my readers. I hope she doesn't mind.


[My cousin] texted me and asked me to pray for you and your dad. And I will, as soon as I finish this letter.

In all my time studying other people, I have found so much to admire in your countrymen. They have their faults as well-- every nation does. But the one thing that has always touched me about your people is your resilience in the face of adversity. I have found that this resilience is common in other cultures as well, but it is most pronounced in Asian cultures: yours, mine, J_____'s and C_____'s.

I've never really seen sakura falling, except in movies or in anime. But I do understand what it means. Each blossom is like a snowflake-- beautiful and unique. And each will only come into its full beauty once, before "dying," falling onto the earth and into memory in a shower of petals. Try as we might, none of us can keep these blossoms from falling.

But we remember. And we know the cherry trees will one day, soon, bloom again.

Whether one is Christian or Buddhist, (in my case both) one cannot fail to understand these lessons:

Life is troubled, fleeting and poignantly beautiful. But the Giver of Life is always good. In the face of suffering, there is always hope; in the face of death, there is renewal.

We remember. And we know the cherry trees will one day bloom again.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Ninja Christmas

The "Brr" months and the long-awaited vacation came early for students and harried University folk, which is just as well. I'm just hoping (with a wink and my trademark smirk, for show) that there isn't a catch... like school or work starting early.

When late October came, I was expecting Christmas bunting and related frippery to make their tentative appearance. I was shocked because the only gold I saw crowned the head of a visually impaired, tall and willowy blonde girl with an inviting smile; I saw her the day I helped billet my cousin at the UP International Center(1). There was no evidence of Christmas at all.

Then November came and the story was still the same.

No bunting. No lights. No tall, willowy, visually impaired blonde-- she promptly disappeared before I could return and make her acquaintance. And horror of horrors, no one was caroling. Well, someone tried-- a poor, hungry kid in Los Banos whose singing could evoke either pity or scornful laughter. I went so far as to sing with him, providing for us both the lyrics he didn't know. I handed him twenty pesos and told him to smile more. I think I only succeeded in freaking him out.

I remember thinking, Who could blame anyone for not feeling festive? Fuel prices were going up and taking everything else with them. As odious as working conditions were in mideast countries, they'd just gotten worse for Filipinos because of the war. In the face of Hollywood and massive call center-sponsored accent training, the Filipino's English was still atrocious(2).

Then there were those nasty typhoons making thoroughly felt the depradations of decades of indiscriminate logging-- legal or otherwise. And the poor Filipino lost his King.(3)

I didn't notice how stealthily Christmas snuck up on us all until I saw actual (and improvised) lights and bunting hanging on street lamps and fences the middle of December. Wonderfully, I also heard the faint report of small firecrackers-- always a good sign, unless followed by voices screaming for lost appendages. Best of all, I heard kids caroling at the gate.

Call him short-sighted, call him shallow, call him English-impaired, but you can't find the Filipino spirit wanting for resilience.

(1) I have never seen that girl again, and the inquiries of my cousin have met with blank looks. If my cousin hadn't actually see her that day, I'd think she was an aparition.

(2) Self-serving comment on my part, but I do wince in pain when I hear people talking about the "advices" they gave or took; the "furnitures" they had to sell or install... yes, I'm elitist and should be roasted in my own fat by slavering untranationalists.

(3) His corpus is resting, on display for fans and supporters at the Santo Domingo church, a stone's throw from my house. Believe the reports, my friends: the line to see this guy's remains is long no matter what the time of day.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Words for the Week
  • The Fourth Estate n. mass media

  • Big Brother n. authoritatrian leader and invader of privacy

Curiouser and Curiouser

Here's another take on just what happened between ABS-CBN reporter Dolan Castro and the cops.

A driver for ABS-CBN was caught driving drunk by nearby cops the night before Castro's fateful visit. The cops extract a confession from their catch. Castro shows up at the police station presumably the following morning and tries to, er, influence the cops holding the drunk driver to let him go. The cops say "No way" and Castro screams harrassment, bringing the force of the fourth estate behind him, and causing the concerned cops to be relieved of their jobs.

True? I hope not, for Castro's sake.