Smells Like Philippines

“Dad, you smell like the Philippines.” That was what my son told me the other morning.

It was the weekend and I did not have to go to work, so I was preparing breakfast. But I was  cooking omelet and not a typical Filipino dish, like the tapsilog, so I know that’s not it.

What is the “smell of the Philippines” anyway?

Most of us would associate the smell of the Philippines with the typical Filipino dishes. Like the adobo, or the kare-kare, or the tinola, or the lechon. Not to forget the more “smelly” foods that we Pinoys are known for, like the tuyo, the danggit, the pusit, and the bagoong.

Some of us would definitely remember the Philippines with the sweet scent of sampaguita, or the ilang-ilang, or the calachuchi, or the dama de noche. Or some would like the more exotic fragrance of the durian. That is for certain a pungent scent for not the faint of heart, or more accurately, for not the faint of “sikmura.”

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Durian

For expats and oversea workers out there, maybe it is the distinctive smell of the palengke (wet market) of the Philippines that you miss. The mixture of odors of fish, fruits, stale water, pig’s blood, and mud. Or maybe it is the smell of Philippine traffic with the smog, the diesel fumes, cigarette smoke and body odor that you miss.

Since I now live in Iowa, a land lot in the midwest of America, where the nearest ocean is about a thousand miles away, I miss the smell of the ocean. Definitely I associate the salty air smell with somewhat fishy accent with my days in the Philippines and its gorgeous beaches.

By the way, do you ever wonder what gives the ocean its distinctive briny smell? Scientists said it is not mainly the salt nor the fish. It is mostly from the phytoplanktons. The what now? Phytoplanktons are marine microscopic organisms. When they die they release dimethyl sulfide or DMS, the chemical that is responsible for that specific ocean scent.

There’s also memories of certain scents that I associate particularly from the Philippines. Like the barber shops, with the whiff of rubbing alcohol, pomade, and Johnson baby powder. The hair salon that I go to here in the US, does not have that certain nostalgic smell that I used to know.

But there are also the smell of the Philippines, that maybe we are not proud of. Like the stench of the clogged canal and esteros, or the sad fate and smell of our slums and squatters, or the reeking pile of the uncollected garbage, and the stinky street corners and walls, even with “Bawal umihi dito!” written all over them.

Back to my son’s comment, I tried to figure out why he said I smell like the Philippines. Do I smell like tuyo? Or the wet market? Or the stinky walls of Manila? But I knew I just took a shower, and just put on clean clothes.

Then when I sniffed my shirt, it dawned on me that the shirt I was wearing was a shirt I have not worn since I came back from the Philippines a few months ago. So it was last washed in Manila, with the undeniable scent of hang-dried in the sun and Philippine laundry soap. It certainly smells like Philippines!

For expats like me, even the laundry, can remind us and make us long for home.

(*photo from the web)

Malayo Pa Ang Umaga

Dito sa dako ng mundong kinaroroonan ko ngayon (sa northern hemisphere), dahil pumapasok na ang tag-ginaw, ay maikli na ang oras ng liwanag at mahaba na naman ang gabi. Hindi tulad sa Pilipinas, dahil malapit ito sa equator, halos parehas lang ang haba ng araw at ng gabi sa buong taon. Pero ibang haba ng gabi ang aking tatalakayin sa sulating ito.

Bata pa akong paslit noon, nang pinadagdagan ng isang kwarto ang aming munting bahay sa Maynila. Maliit man ang kwarto na ibinigay sa akin ay sarili ko naman iyon. Mahigit lang ng konti sa isang dipa ang kitid, pero malawak na iyon para sa akin. Katunayan, may maliit pa akong basketball goal doon. Iyon ang unang pagkakataon na matulog akong mag-isa.

May isang gabi akong natatandaan, na hindi ako dapuan ng antok. Dahil sa madilim at mapanglaw ang gabi, ay pumunta ako sa kwarto ng aking nanay at tatay. Matapos akong patahanin ng aking nanay, ay pinabalik na akong muli sa aking sariling silid. Sa aking pag-iisa, totoong naramdaman ko noon na napakahaba ng gabi. Nang kapanahunang iyon, hindi pa naisusulat ni Rey Valera ang kantang “malayo pa ang umaga.”

Fast forward natin ang kwento ng mga ilang taon. Unang salta ako dito sa Amerika. Kauna-unahang pagkakataon na totoo akong mapalayo sa aking pamilya. Ang pinakamalapit na kamag-anak ay libo-libong milya ang layo sa aking kinalalagyan. Hindi lang pamilya, kundi iniwan ko rin ang aking nobya sa Pilipinas noon. Tunay na ako ay mag-isa na.

Mga ilang araw pa lang ako sa Amerika galing Pilipinas (may jet-lag pa), ay nasabak na agad sa trabaho. Ayos lang dahil iyon naman talaga ang ipinunta ko rito, para mag-training at mag-hanapbuhay. Sabihin na natin na maganda ang aking edukasyon mula sa UST at St. Luke’s, pero iba pa rin ang sistema sa ibang bansa.

Ang kauna-unahang rotation ko bilang medical intern ay night float (pang-gabi).  Ang oras ng night float rotation ay mula 10 PM hanggang 7 AM. Lahat ng pangangailangan sa ospital, maliit man o malaki, ay ako ang unang tawag. Kapag hindi makatulog ang pasyente, o sumasakit ang tiyan, o may chest pain, o kaya’y hindi makahinga ang pasyente, ako ang unang tinatawag. Siyempre may back-up pa ring mga duktor kung kinakailangan. Ngunit bilang intern, ako ang unang sundalong susugod sa guerra, ika nga.

Hindi tulad kapag pang-araw, maraming mga co-interns, senior residents, at mga attending physicians na kasama mo at madaling mapagtatanungan, kung hindi mo alam ang gagawin. Kapag night float, ikaw ang naiiwang bantay na lumalaboy-laboy sa ospital, habang ang lahat ay natutulog. Parang “you against the world,” ang pakiramdam.

Nang kapanahunang iyon, naho-homesick na ako, nangangapa pa (hindi dahil sa madilim kundi dahil baguhan pa sa sistema) at wala pang alam, nag-iisa pa sa trabaho, baligtad pa ang oras ng aking tulog at gising – doon ko na naranasan na tunay na ako ay nag-iisa. Idagdag pa dito ang mga isipan na hindi ko alam ang magiging bukas sa bagong yugto ng buhay na ito, kaya’t aking nasasaloob na napakahaba ng gabi.

Bilang night float, ay aking inaabangan ang pagdating ng umaga at ang ang pagsikat ng araw. Sapagkat ito’y nangangahulugang tapos na ang aking mahirap na duty, at nariyan na ang aking relyebo. Ngunit maraming pagkakataon noon, sa malamlam na gabi ay aking inaawit: malayo pa ang umaga.

Hindi ako makapaniwala, dalawampung taon na pala ang nakalipas mula noon.

Totoo nga’t marami pang yugto ng buhay na madilim at mahirap na akin pang pinagdaanan mula nooon. Oo nga’t may mga panahon pa rin ngayon na aking nasasaisip na malayo pa ang umaga, lalo na’t busy sa gabi na ako’y on-call. Oo nga’t humahaba ang gabi sa aking kinaroroonan ngayon habang papalapit na ang winter’s solstice. Ngunit hindi na ako nalulungkot. Hindi na ako nangangamba sa dilim. Hindi na ako nababahala kung ano ang hatid ng bukas. Hindi na rin ako nag-iisa, kapiling ko na ang aking asawa (dati kong nobya), at mga anak.

Sa mga nagpapagal sa mahabang gabi (hindi lang sa mga night shift workers); sa mga nag-iisa, nangungulila at malayo sa pamilya (hindi lang sa mga OFW); sa mga nangangapa sa dilim at nag-aalala kung ano ang hatid ng bukas; sa lahat ng dumaranas na “malayo pa ang umaga,” maging fans man o hindi ni Rey Valera – tayo’y manalig na kahit malayo pa, ay sigurado namang darating din ang umaga.

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bukang liwayway sa aming tirahan

Beyond our Shores

(This article was published in Manila Standard Today, Diaspora section, February 9, 2012. This is an English translation of my earlier post “Ibayong Dalampasigan.” The original Tagalog piece may be more nostalgic, but I hope the message transcends beyond the translation.) 

Eighteen years. It seems like yesterday.

It feels only the other day that I woke up to the music of speeding tricycles and the crowing of Mang Karding’s fighting cock. Not too long ago when I walked down our narrow street in Sampaloc. Only yesterday that I inhaled Manila’s warm breeze and the belching smoke of the jeepneys. It was like I just blinked my eyes, and yet eighteen years have passed since I left our motherland.

I am one of the millions of Filipinos who migrated to another country. I grew up in a world where one of the eminent dreams of many of our people is to leave the country. Though it may not be directly indoctrinated in us, but we often hear from older folks, “study good my child, and when you grow up, you can go to another land and have a brighter future.”

As a child I heard stories of our neighbors who went overseas. Like Mang Juan*, who lived three houses down from us. He left for Saudi and there he earned “tons of money.” Tons of money – at least that was what we conceived in our young mind. That money was what Mang Juan used to erect a small sari-sari store in front of their house, where my mother used to send me to buy vinegar.

Or Junior, the eldest son of Ka Linda who lived across our house. He became a seaman and sailed to different places around the world. I could tell if Junior was home, for he always threw a small party for his drinking buddies and there would be a noisy bunch of merry men in our street again. Even Junior’s younger brother also became a seaman. Because of this, Ka Linda was able to renovate the house they offer for rent.

And Nena, who lives in the apartment down the street. The slender and beautiful Nena. She went to Japan.

Even in my own relatives the stories were the same. There was Tata Emo, who sold a few hectares of their field in Bulacan, so he could go to Saudi. However he did not withstand the loneliness of Saudi. He came home and went back to farming. At least his carabao was happy to have him back.

Another is Tito Rey who also departed for the Middle East. He stayed there for a number of years where he endured the searing heat, homesickness and loneliness. There were many birthdays of his children that he was not around to celebrate. But in exchange he was able to send them through college, and they even afford to build a house of their own in Marikina.

There were also my two aunts, nurses who made it to America. I know that without their help I would not be able to chase my dream. Up to this day, these aunts of mine continue to support our relatives in the Philippines. May God continue to bless them.

(photo from here)

But not all who went out of the country had a happy ending. Let’s return to Mang Juan. I know that financially they were better of. However, one of his sons, and perhaps due to the fact that he grew up without a father figure, became lost and got hooked to drugs. I always saw him in our street, with eyes so red, while walking and flying at the same time. If Mang Juan only knew what would happen to his son, would he still have chosen to work overseas?

And Nena. The slender and beautiful Nena. What really happened to her?

Despite these, we do not dwell on the sad stories, for we need to do it for the future of our families. That is why it is not surprising that our generation followed the footsteps of the one before us, and we also took our chances to find our luck beyond our shores. I have cousins who are in Saudi, Singapore, Macau and Canada. I have friends who are now in Australia, China, Middle East and here in America. We are like dust, blown by the wind and scattered to the different corners of the earth.

If I really think about it, only a few of my friends and especially my classmates stayed in the Philippines. The great majority left for foreign lands. Such a sad state for our country. And just like the song of Gloc-9, truly “Walang Natira.”

Eighteen years have I been living in the land of Uncle Sam. There are many things that have changed. I shed my carabao English as my tongue is not twisted anymore, and I can speak English now with an American diction. I don’t call somebody by saying “Psssst!” anymore, but I still turn around when somebody hollers “Hoy!” I now prefer spaghetti sauce that are somewhat sour like real Italian sauce, rather than the typical Pinoy sauce that is sweet. However I still like dried fish and salted eggs.

But there are things that still have not changed. My nose is still flat and I have no plans to have it changed. My color is still dark even if I don’t spend a lot of time under the sun anymore. My Tagalog is still impeccable. Still coursing in my veins is the noble blood of my ancestors. True, I left our homeland, but that does not mean my love for her has changed. Never a day passed that the country of my birth, have not brushed my mind.

One more thing: The new generation of our people still dreams of getting out of our native land. Would it ever change?

(*some names were changed).

Ibayong Dalampasigan

Labing walong taon. Ngunit parang kahapon lamang.

Parang noong isang araw lang ay gumigising ako sa ingay ng arangkada ng mga traysikel at ng tilaok ng tandang na pangsabong ni Mang Karding*. Tila ba kailan lamang ay laman ako ng masikip naming kalsada doon sa Sampaloc. Parang kahapon lang ay linalanghap ko pa ang simoy ng hangin ng Maynila at usok ng mga jeepney. Parang kumurap lang ang aking mga mata, ngunit labing walong taon na pala ang lumipas nang aking lisanin ang ating inang bayan.

Isa ako sa mga libo-libong Pilipino na lumabas ng bansa. Ako ay namulat sa mundo na kung saan ang nangingibabaw na pangarap ng marami sa ating mamamayan ay ang makaalis ng Pilipinas. Hindi man direktong itinuturo sa aming mga bata, ngunit madalas naming marinig sa mga nakatatanda, “mag-aral ka nang mabuti hijo, at pag-laki mo’y maari kang mangibang bayan, at magiging maganda ang iyong kinabukasan.”

Kahit nang ako’y batang paslit pa lamang ay naririnig ko na ang mga kwento ng aming mga kapit-bahay na nakipagsapalaran sa ibang bansa. Gaya ni Mang Juan, na nakatira tatlong bahay mula sa amin. Siya ay tumulak papuntang Saudi, at doo’y kumita ng “limpak-limpak” na salapi. Limpak-limpak na pera – ganito ang dating sa musmos naming kaisipan. Iyon ang ipinundar niya upang makapagtayo ng maliit na tindahan sa harap ng kanilang bahay, kung saan ako inuutusang bumili ng mantika.

O si Junior na anak na panganay ni Ka Linda sa tapat ng aming bahay. Siya ay naging isang seaman, at nakapaglayag sa iba’t-ibang ibayo ng mundo. Alam ko kapag nagbabalik-bayan si Junior. Lagi itong nag-papainom sa kanyang mga kaibigan, kaya may maiiingay na namang nag-iinuman sa tapat ng aming bahay. Kahit ang nakababatang kapatid niya na dating tambay lang lagi sa kanto ay naging seaman din. Dahil dito ay napaayos nila Ka Linda ang kanilang bahay-paupahan.

At si Nena na nakatira doon sa may apartment malapit sa kanto. Ang balingkinitan at magandang si Nena. Siya ay lumipad patungong Japan.

Kahit sa aking mga kamag-anakan ay ganito rin ang istorya. Nandiyan si Tata Emo, na ipinagbili ang ilang hektarya ng kanilang bukid sa Bulacan upang siya ay makaalis papuntang Saudi. Ngunit hindi natagalan ni Tata Emo ang lungkot ng Saudi. Siya ay umuwi at nag-saka na lang muli. Naging masaya naman ang kanyang kalabaw na muli siyang makasama.

Isa pa ay si Tito Rey na lumabas ng bansa patungo ring Middle East. Mga ilang taon din siyang namalagi doon, tiniis ang init, pangungulila at lungkot. Maraming birthday din ng kanyang mga anak ang hindi niya nasaksihan. Nguni’t kapalit naman noo’y ay napatapos niya sa pag-aaral ang kanilang mga anak at nakapagpatayo pa sila ng sariling bahay doon sa Marikina.

Nariyan din ang dalawa kong tiyahin na nurse na nakarating dito sa Amerika. Masasabi ko na malaki ang utang na loob ko sa kanila sa pagtulong nila sa akin na maabot ang pangarap kong makatapak dito sa banyagang lupain na ito. Hanggang sa ngayon ang mga tiyahin kong ito ay patuloy pa rin sa pagtulong sa aming mga kamag-anakan doon sa Pilipinas. Nawa’y patuloy silang pagpalain.

Hindi lahat ng mga nangibang-bayan ay may masayang kasaysayan. Balikan natin si Mang Juan. Oo nga’t naging mas maginhawa ang kanilang buhay. Ngunit isa sa mga anak niya, dahil na rin siguro sa lumaki itong laging wala ang ama, kaya napabayaan at nalulon sa droga. Madalas ko itong nasasalubong sa aming kalye na pula ang mata at sumusuray na naglalakad, habang lumutang sa paglipad. Kung alam lang ni Mang Juan ang mangyayari sa kanyang anak, pipiliin pa rin kaya niya ang umalis ng bansa?

At si Nena. Ang magandang si Nena. Ano nga kaya talaga ang nangyari sa kanya?

Ngunit hindi namin inalintana ang mga malulungkot na kwento, sapagkat kailangan para sa kinabukasan ng pamilya. Kaya naman hindi kataka-taka na ang aming henerasyon ay sumunod sa mga yapak ng mga nauna sa amin, at nakipagsapalaran din na lumabas ng ating bansa. May mga pinsan akong nasa Saudi, Singapore, Macau at Canada ngayon. May mga naging kabarkada akong napadpad rin sa Australia, China, Middle East, at ilan dito sa Amerika. Para kaming mga alikabok sa lupa na hinipan ng malakas na hangin at ikinalat sa iba’t ibang lupalop ng mundo.

Kung aking iisiping mabuti, iilan lang talaga sa aking mga kaibigan at lalo na sa aking mga kamag-aral, ang nanatili sa ating bansa. Karamiha’y lumisan para sa ibayong dalampasigan. Isang malungkot na katotohanan ng ating bayan. At gaya nga ng kanta ni Gloc-9: talagang “Walang Natira.”

Labing walong taon na akong naninirahan sa bayan ni Uncle Sam. Marami nang nagbago. Nawala na ang pilipit ng aking dila at natuto na akong mag-ingles na parang Amerikano at hindi na ako “Carabao English” ngayon. Nag-iba na rin ang ilan sa aking nakagawian. Hindi na ako sumusutsot kapag kailangang tumawag ng pansin, pero lilingon pa rin siguro ako, kapag may sumigaw ng “Hoy!” Pati panlasa ko’y nagbago na rin. Gusto ko na ng maasim-asim na spaghetti sauce ngayon, gaya ng tunay na Italian, at hindi manamis-namis gaya ng sa Pinoy. Pero masarap pa rin sa akin ang tuyo at itlog na maalat.

Ngunit mayroon pa ring hindi nagbabago. Pango pa rin ang aking ilong, at wala akong balak magpatangos nito. Hindi pa rin pumusyaw ang kayumanggi kong kulay kahit hindi na ako masyadong nagbibilad sa init ng araw. Matatas pa rin akong mag-Tagalog. Nanalaytay pa rin sa aking mga ugat ang maharlikang dugo ng aking mga ninuno. Tutoo, linisan ko ang aking bayan, ngunit hindi nangangahulugang nagbago ang aking pagmamahal sa ating bansa. Walang araw na dumaan na hindi dumampi sa aking isipan ang lupa kong sinilangan.

May isa pang hindi nag-bago. Nangangarap pa rin ang bagong henerasyon ng mga Pilipino na makaalis ng bansa. Ang tanong ay hindi bakit, kundi hanggang kailan?

(*names have been changed)

Doon Po Sa Amin

Doon po sa amin, bayan ng Pilipinas,

Tinagurian, Perlas ng Silanganan;

Ngunit ang mga perlas, pilak at ginto,

Inubos at kinurakot ng mga pulitiko.

 

Doon po sa amin, Lupang Hinirang,

Bayan ng magiting at bayaning matatapang;

Kalayaa’y pinaglaban sa dayuhang manlulupig,

Subali’t di makalaya sa kapwa Pilipinong maniniil.

 

Doon po sa amin, bayan ng Pilipinas,

Lupa ng araw at bituing ‘di nagdidilim;

Nguni’t mamaya’y naaapi, naghihirap sa piling mo,

Kaya’t sila’y lumilisan, sa ibang bansa tumatakbo.

Luneta, Cradle of my Childhood

(The following article was published in Manila Standard Today, June 6, 2011. This is an English version of my earlier post, “Alaala ng Luneta.”)

I read a few weeks ago from a blogger that Rizal Park, better known to me as Luneta, is being renovated and updated. This is in time for the celebration of Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday. (Rizal is old indeed, but his relevance never fades.) Included in the project is building a boardwalk in the relief map, and re-opening of the dancing fountain. It is good that this park received some face lift, as it has been left in the dark ages for some time.

The blogger also posted some pictures of Rizal Park, then and now. Suddenly a flood of memories of this place came upon me.

Luneta was not just a national park that my family frequented. This place has a deeper meaning for me. I know it is the death place of our national hero, but it is also the fount of our living.

My father was a certified public accountant and he became an employee of the National Parks Development Committee. This agency was in charge of running the affairs of the park. Its office was right at the heart of Luneta, near the Tourism building. Here, my father served as an accountant for about 20 years, later becoming its chief accountant. His work there provided for our shelter, put food on our table, and sent us to school.

Countless times did we go there, not just to visit our dad, but also to jaunt in the park. I knew Luneta even when I was very young and barely speaking. My mother told me that when I see the park’s landmarks, I will scream: “Uneta na, Uneta na! I spent many hours in its playground – running, swinging, see-sawing, sliding, and climbing the big shoe, the big hippo, and other playground structures. Even when I was in high school, I still visited the playground. No, not to ride on the swing but on bump cars, and to play space invaders in its arcade.

We also spent numerous times in the breakwater at the back of Quirino Grandstand. Here we inhaled fresh sea breeze (or fresh ship fumes?), and played while eating Magnolia drumstick or pinipig crunch. There were also many instances that we stayed until dusk to witness the magnificent Manila Bay sunset.

It was also in one of the swings near the grandstand where I attempted to fly. While my father was pushing me in the swing, I abruptly released my grip and jumped. Yes, I momentarily floated in the air, but also rapidly plunged back to the ground face first. My heart had burst in sadness as my flight was unsuccessful. My lips also had burst open and I had to be rushed to a nearby clinic to have my wound sutured. So you think Rizal was the only one who shed blood in Bagumbayan?

We also passed long hours idling in the lagoon of the dancing fountain, Japanese garden, and Chinese garden. I remember my father would take me at dawn on weekends when I was young, and we would jog around the park. We also saw people practicing tai-chi and eskrima, but we did not join them. And even though I almost passed out from exhaustion, those where one of my sweetest memories.

My sisters and I also skated several times in the skating rink at the water globe there. There were lots of skillful skaters in that rink (I wasn’t one of them). Many times, I stumbled and fell in that place. I scraped my knees – also my pride and dignity.

Of course, we also visited Rizal’s monument a hundred times. It was fascinating to watch the soldiers march around, especially during the changing of the guards. At one time, during my high school days, we stood and paraded in front of that monument in our fatigue uniform as CAT (Citizens’ Army Training) cadets, honored and pledged respect to Rizal. It was also under the shadow of Rizal’s statue that my parents taught me about patriotism and heroism. Rizal became my favorite hero.

After my father’s early death, our visit to Rizal Park had become rare. A few months after his passing, I was still in college then, my mother, due to loneliness, asked me to take her at the breakwater at the back of grandstand. There, we both gazed longingly far into the ocean. But we only caught glimpses of troubled waves and cloudy skies, for we could not view what our future would be.

More years passed. After I finished my studies, I went back there with my then-girlfriend (now my wife). As Rico Puno put it: “namamasyal pa sa Luneta, na walang pera.” Here, while we watched the sinking sun and the floating trash of Manila Bay, we let our dreams sailed into the west across the ocean, where the sun elopes and the light hides.

In 2008, after many years of living in the west, I went back to the land of my birth. One place that I re-visited was Rizal Park. With my wife, children, mother and sisters, we again toured the place that we loved.

We went to the newly opened Manila Ocean Park at the back of the grandstand. Truly, it was beautiful and can be compared to other nation’s top aquariums. My kids and I also rode a kalesa and went around Luneta, which made them happy. I made the kutsero happy too after I handed him our fare.

The water globe and skating rink were gone, the map was in bad shape, and the fountain was not dancing anymore. It seemed that only the carabao and Rizal had not changed.

I reverently approached my hero’s monument. Even though he had no more sentries, he still remained there standing, watching the world around him. I again humbly paid him my respect, and penitently whispered the reason I left him.

Alaala ng Luneta

Noong nakaraang araw ay aking nabasa mula sa isang blogger, na pinagaganda ang Rizal Park, o mas kilalang Luneta sa akin. Ito’y para sa selebrasyon ng ika-150 kaarawan ni Gat Jose Rizal sa darating na Hunyo, 2011. (Totoong matanda na si Rizal, subali’t ang kanyang mga pananaw ay naaangkop pa rin sa panahon.)

Kasama sa mga proyekto ay ang pag-lalagay ng boardwalk sa malaking mapa ng Pilipinas na naroon, at pag-bubukas muli ng mas pinabuting dancing fountain. Salamat naman, sapagka’t matagal-tagal na rin nakatiwangwang at napag-iwanan na ng pag-unlad ang Luneta.

Ipinakita rin ng blogger na ito ang mga larawan ng Rizal Park, noon at ngayon. Biglang bumaha sa aking isipan ang mga ala-ala ko sa lugar na ito………

dancing fountain at Rizal Park, circa 1970’s

(image from here)

Ang Luneta ay hindi lamang isang pambansang likasan na madalas naming pasyalan noon. May mas malalim pa itong kahulugan para sa akin. Oo nga’t dito nagbuwis at nawalan ng buhay ang ating mahal na bayani, ngunit dito rin nagmula ang aming ikinabuhay.

Ang aking ama ay CPA at siya ay  naging empleyado ng National Parks Development Committee (NPDC). Ang NPDC ang namamahala sa pagpapatakbo ng Rizal Park, at ang kanilang opisina ay naroon mismo sa Luneta, sa tabi ng Tourism building. Dito siya naglingkod ng mahigit dalawampung taon bilang chief accountant, at nang malaon ay chief financial officer, hanggang sa kanyang biglaang pagpanaw. Ang trabaho ng aking ama sa Rizal Park ang nagpakain, nagpalaki, at nagpa-aral sa amin.

Madalas kaming lumalagi sa Luneta para dalawin ang aking tatay at para na rin mamasyal. Bago pa lamang ako magsalita ay kilala ko na ang Luneta. Sabi ng aking nanay, kapag nakikita ko na ang mga landmarks nito ay sisigaw na ako ng “Uneta na, Uneta na!” (Luneta, at hindi puneta ang aking sinisigaw.) Maraming oras din ang aking iginugol sa playground doon – tumatakbo, nagswi-swing, nag-papadulas sa mataas na slides, at umaakyat sa malaking sapatos, sa malaking hippopotamus at kung saan-saan pa. Kahit noong high school na ako ay pumupunta pa rin ako dito, hindi para mag-seesaw o mag-swing, kundi para sumakay sa bumpcars at maglaro ng space invaders sa kanilang arcade.

Malimit din kaming namamasyal sa may breakwater sa likod ng Quirino Grandstand. Dito kami lumalanghap ng sariwang hangin ng Manila Bay (o sariwang usok ng mga bapor?) at naglalaro doon habang kumakain ng Magnolia popsicles o pinipig crunch. Maraming beses din kaming inaabutan ng takipsilim doon, upang saksihan ang kahanga-hangang Manila Bay sunset.

Doon din sa isang swing malapit sa grandstand kung saan ko tinangkang lumipad. Habang tinutulak ako sa swing ng aking tatay, ay bigla akong bumitaw at tumalon mula sa duyan. Oo nga at panandalian akong pumailanglang, ngunit mabilis din akong lumagapak sa lupa at sumubsob ang mukha. Nabiyak ang aking puso sa lungkot dahil hindi naging tagumpay ang aking paglipad. Nabiyak din ang aking nguso, at ako’y itinakbo sa clinic doon sa Rizal Park para tahiin ang aking nakangangang sugat. Kaya dumanak din ang aking dugo doon sa Bagumbayan – gapatak nga lang at hindi tulad ng ating bayani.

Madalas din kaming tumambay sa dancing fountain, sa Japanese garden, sa Chinese garden, sa open air amphitheater at nakinig sa libreng “Concert at the Park”. Naalala ko nang ako’y maliit pa, ay sinasama ako ng aking tatay ng madaling araw upang mag-jogging sa palibot-libot doon sa park, bago pa sumikat ang araw. Nakikita ko rin ang mga nagta-tai-chi at nag-e-eskrima doon, pero hindi kami nakisali sa kanila. Kahit pa hapong-hapo at halos tumirik ang aking mata sa pagod, ay isa ito sa masasayang alaala ko.

Mga ilang beses din kaming nag-skating ng aking mga kapatid sa skating rink na nasa water globe doon sa Rizal Park. Maraming mahuhusay na skaters doon (hindi ako kasama dun). Maraming beses din akong nabuwal at sumemplang sa lugar na iyon, kung saan hindi lang tuhod ang nagasgas, kundi ang aking yabang at dangal.

Rizal Monument, circa 1980’s

(image from here)

At siyempre pa, madalas din naming binibista ang monumento ni Rizal, na naging paboritong kong bayani. Nakakaaliw na saksihan ang pagmamarcha ng mga sundalong bantay, lalo na pag-nagpapalit na ng guwardiya. Minsan, noong ako’y nasa high school, ay tumayo at pumarada kami sa harap ng rebulto ni Rizal, habang naka-fatigue uniform bilang CAT (Citizen Army Training), upang magbigay galang. Dito rin sa harap ng monumentong ito, kung saan ipinamulat sa akin ng aking mga magulang ang kagitingan ng ating pambansang bayani.

Noong kami’y nag-aaral  pa (sa Pasay ako nag-elementarya at highschool), ay halos araw-araw kaming nasa Rizal Park. Dinadaanan namin ang aming tatay sa kaniyang opisina, at sabay-sabay na kaming uuwi sa aming bahay sa Sampaloc, mula roon. Ngunit nang namatay na aking ama ay naging madalang na ang aming pagpunta sa Luneta.

Mga ilang buwan pagkamatay ng aking ama, ako’y nasa unang taon ng medical school noon, nang sa aming kalungkutan ay humiling ang aking ina na dalhin ko siya sa breakwater sa likod ng Grandstand sa Luneta. Doon kami ay tumanaw ng malayo sa malawak na dagat. Ngunit mga ligalig na alon at makulimlim na langit lang ang aming nakita, dahil hindi namin matanaw kung ano ang bukas na naghihintay sa amin.

Dumaan pa ang mga taon, nang ako ay makatapos na, pumasyal muli ako sa Rizal Park kasama ng aking girlfriend (na ngayon ay misis ko na). Ika nga ni Rico J. Puno: “namamasyal pa sa Luneta, na walang pera.” Dito, isang dapit-hapon kami ay nangarap, habang nakatunghay sa lumulubog na araw, at sa mga lumulutang na basura ng Manila Bay. Pinaglayag namin ang aming mga panaginip sa buhay, patungo sa kabilang ibayo ng dagat, kung saan nagtatanan at nagtatago ang liwanag.

*******

Noong 2008, pagkalipas ng mahabang panahon at paninirahan sa kanluran, ay muli akong nakabalik sa lupang sinilangan. Isa sa lugar na aking muling dinalaw ay ang Rizal Park. Kasama ng aking asawa at mga anak, pati ng aking nanay at mga kapatid, ay muli kaming nagliwaliw sa lugar na napamahal sa amin.

Pinasok namin ang bagong tayong Manila Ocean Park doon sa likod ng Quirino grandstand. Tunay naman na maganda at hindi pahuhuli ang aquarium na ito sa mga aquarium sa ibang bansa. Sumakay din kami sa kalesa ng aking mga anak upang libutin ang Luneta, na talaga namang ikinasiya nila. Naging masaya rin ‘yung kutsero, matapos kung iabot ang aming bayad.

Wala na pala ‘yung water globe at skating rink, kundi ay rebulto na ni Lapu-lapu ang nakatirik doon. Wala na rin ang malaking relo na halaman (Rado flower clock). Tuyo at sira-sira na ang malaking mapa ng Pilipinas. Hindi na sumasayaw ang dancing fountain. Ang kalabaw at si Rizal na lang yata ang hindi nagbabago at hindi umaalis sa Luneta.

(photo from internet)

Mataimtim kong linapitan ang monumento ng aking bayani. Kahit wala nang mga sundalong nagbabantay dito, ay nanatili pa rin itong nakatindig, nagmamasid sa mundong paligid. Muli akong nagbigay galang…….. at mapakumbabang ibinulong sa kanya, kung bakit ko siya nilisan.

(*An English version of this article was published in Manila Standard Today)

No Green Grass of Home

Many people gripe about their daily commute. For me however, since I moved to Iowa, my morning drive is not really a grind, but can even be a leisure one.

I live at the outskirts of the city which is some distance away. I drive 17 miles (27 km) to the downtown hospital where I work, but this takes me only 15- 20 minutes from my driveway to the hospital’s parking lot. (That is a distance comparable from Luneta to Antipolo, and I know that journey is way more than 20 minutes!) The reason for the fast commute in spite of the distance is because it is mostly interstate highway ride, with speed limit of 60-70 miles per hour with not much traffic to talk about.

But the best part of my daily commute is the 2 miles country road trip from my home to the interstate freeway. It is winding, and up and down the hills, which make it “interesting” to say the least, when snowing, but it certainly is scenic. It is here where I pass green meadows with cattle grazing, horses’ ranches and stables, creeks and ponds, patches of wooded areas, and stretches of soybean fields and cornfields.

The other week, as I was driving to work one morning, I saw a fascinating sight: a cow had her head helplessly stucked out  in a wire fence, as I think it tried to reach for the grass on the other side of the fence. That is one of the perils of sticking your neck out, literally. There was of course, plenty of grass on her side of the enclosure.

grass is greener on the other side

(image from here)

We have heard of the American proverb: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” I know this is a saying about men’s (and cows’) perpetual discontent. But is it wrong to wish for greener pastures?

Why is the grass greener at the other side of the fence? Sometimes, this is not a mere rhetorical question. For sometimes, it is the truth. And I am speaking from a perspective of a “transplant” like me.

With all the OFW’s and expats from the Philippines, sadly to say,  it is more than a diaspora. It is an exodus. I know that’s not good for our motherland. But how can we stop this drain? Can we blame our countrymen from looking at the other side of the fence? This is not a matter of the grass being ‘greener’ on the other side. For many, there is plainly no grass in their side of the fence!

Being away from my native land though, makes me yearn for home. Even after many years of living on the other side of the fence, I still feel the pangs of homesickness. However, unlike Tom Jones, I cannot sing his nostalgic song of homecoming, “Yes they’ll all come to meet me, arms reaching, smiling sweetly, it’s good to touch the green, green grass of home”………for there is none.

I just hope that people in their pursuit of some greener pastures, would not have their head stucked, like that cow, on the fence.

A Divisoria Suit and a Recto Resumé (Couture Edition)

(The following is a haute couture edition of an article I posted a month ago. Published in Manila Standard Today, on May 12, 2011)

January 1994. New Jersey, USA. In one of the hospital affiliates of Columbia University.

I was sitting nervously in a brightly lit, plush, spacious waiting room, with a group of people. I was fighting off my jet-lag, as only a few days ago, I was still plying the streets of Manila, busy applying for my visa, and preparing the needed documents and paper work for my trip.

As I sat, I was still reeling from my initial disappointment of being denied a visitor’s visa by the US Embassy at Roxas Boulevard in Manila. The consul said I don’t have enough invitations from different US hospitals and medical institutions – I only had five separate invitations for interview at hand. How can I pursue my dream of training in the US, if I am even denied of coming for my scheduled interview? Two days later I received three more interview invitations and I went back to the US Embassy. Finally I was granted a visa, and so here I was.

I was wearing a suit, the first ever suit I owned. It was midnight blue in color, made of wool cloth that I bought in Divisoria. It was a double-breasted style suit which was sewn by Mang Willy, a local tailor in Balik-Balik, near my home. I chose double-breasted because I thought it looked more stylish, although I had no idea that it was a little out of fashion already at that particular time. At least my tie was not one foot wide – something from the 70’s era.

Under my suit, I was wearing a white long-sleeved shirt (“trubenize” as my mother would call it), that I bought at SM in Carriedo, the original department store of its kind, before all the big SM malls sprouted like mushrooms all over the Philippines. I was always been more comfortable shopping in the Quiapo area, the “Old Downtown” where the real deals were.

My shoes were “stateside,” I bought it at Cartimar in Pasay. I wanted sturdy shoes that could withstand the cold, and that I could use to walk on snow. But who knows, it could have been made from Marikina and was just exported to the US and then made its way back to the Philippines. I did not realize that my “snow-proof” shoes did not really go with my suit. But what the heck, it served its purpose, for it was snowing that day.

In my lap (not laptop, just lap!), rested a Manila envelope that had in it my curriculum vitae (CV). I even had my CV’s printed by “jet-printer” on fine thick paper at one of the printing shops in Recto, the copyright capital of Manila. Also inside the envelop was a copy of my diploma from University of Santo Tomas, College of Medicine and Surgery. Yes, it was a copy of a real and authentic diploma, and not a dubious certificate that you can get along Recto.

It was the day of my interview. I was applying for a position for a postgraduate training in Internal Medicine. In the same room were other applicants. A few were graduates of other foreign countries like me. But mostly were local graduates from medical schools here in the US. All of us were dressed formally, as if we were attending a funeral or like we were pallbearers. And we looked somber too – maybe that was just the tension in the room.

Looking around the room, I felt uncomfortable in my seat. I felt I was out of my league, not on just how I dressed, but where I came from – a halfway around the world. In my mind I thought, would my Recto-printed resumé have the chance to compete and survive?

*******

January 2011. Des Moines. In one of the hospital affiliates of University of Iowa.

I was sitting at ease in a softly lit, technologically modern, big auditorium. A senior Internal Medicine resident whom I mentored, was presenting a case for the Grand Rounds. In the auditorium are other doctors – attending physicians of different subspecialties like me, medical residents, and some medical students.

I was in my usual everyday work clothes of khaki pants and white long-sleeved shirt, no tie, under my white lab coat. A group of young men and women in one corner of the hall caught my eye. They were nicely and formally dressed, in their dark suits and ties. I figured that they were applicants for the Residency Training Program of this hospital where I work now. That day was their interview day.

It surely brought back memories of my own interview day. I was glad that they looked beyond the suit, the shoes, and the resumé paper, and gave the boy from Sampaloc, Manila the opportunity to prove himself.