Posts Tagged ‘communication’

pop goes the world: open mouth, insert foot

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  7 March 2013, Thursday

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

A senatorial candidate succeeded in offending Filipino nurses all over the world when she disparaged them in a recent debate.

Thanks to social media and the indignation of people in behalf of one of the hardest-working sectors of the nation, Las Piñas representative Cynthia Villar’s remarks on nurses went viral, something she probably didn’t anticipate when she aired her brains on national television.

She said that nurses don’t need to finish a nursing degree because all they want to be are “room nurses” (sic) and that in America all they want to be are caregivers, and as such they don’t need to be that good.

As expected, these utterly misguided views aroused the ire of right-thinking people, nurses included, who made the following remarks on Facebook:

California-based nurse Ivy: “WTH is she talking about? To be able to work here in the US legally, RN’s need to pass NCLEX, IELTS, or TOEFL to be considered for employment…[nursing] is a regulated profession that has standards to uphold. We use our brains to act in life-threatening situations to save lives.”

Misha: “It’s like saying I can become a doctor, lawyer, or accountant without going to school!”

Harwin: “Akala niya ata eh meaning ng ‘RN’ eh ‘room nurse’.”

Dr. Bob: “I am a dentist-nurse….and have had three US nurse licenses. Let me tell you, it is easier to be a senator in the Philippines than to be a nurse in the US. You will never pass the US licensure exam if you have no knowledge and competence. You can be a senator in the Philippines even if you are a certified idiot.”

If the public had a positive or neutral opinion of Villar prior to this, her stupid remarks have tipped the balance over to the negative side.

Will this faux pas be fatal for her chances in the elections?

It depends on how strong the nurses’ bloc is, many of whom are now actively clamoring against her, and how well her campaign handlers can fix this mess.

Nurses are considered heroes of the country. Many of us have nurses in the family working abroad, sending money home to help ill parents and send younger siblings to school. Any remark against them is like setting a match to tinder, as this incident has shown.

No less than United States President Barack Obama praised a Filipina nurse in his recent State of the Union address, saying, “We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, she wasn’t thinking about how her own home was faring…Her mind was on the 20 precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.”

Online sources say Sanchez was born and grew up in Catanauan, Quezon, and obtained her nursing degree at Mary Chiles Hospital in Sampaloc, Manila, before immigrating to the US in the 1980s.

How unfortunate that a Philippine politician should be the one to put down the country’s own nurses, rather than lifting them up.

And to be so ignorant of the facts as to confuse nursing as a profession to merely comprise being “room nurse” and that caregivers don’t need to be all that good is to show the world the quality, or lack thereof, of her mind.

In terms of political communication, specifically with regard to a candidate’s electoral campaign, Villar’s statement makes damage control necessary, before the information spreads and turns off potential voters.

However, that’s too late. Social media has ensured that this has gone viral. In any case, any information that is disseminated over mass media is impossible to take back; all that can be done it to mitigate its potentially negative effects.

This was done by campaign handlers when Villar apologized on her Facebook Page (her statement since taken down) and to the Philippine Nurses Association. It is customary, in order to regain goodwill, to humbly beg for forgiveness – something few, if any, politicians do once already in power.

Political communication is all about symbols – their construction and manipulation. Political aspects are equated with the people running for office – one is “green”, another “incorruptible,” a third “belonging to a family that has served the people for decades.”

Villar and her handlers must now find out what people think she symbolizes. The nouveau riche standing up for her fellow rich and advancing their agenda? The wife of the builder of homes that shelter Filipinos? (Those homes aren’t given away, by the way. People pay for them and enrich the Villar coffers.)

Who is Villar – just another person with money who wants to extend her empire into national level politics? Is she a person with a genuine desire to serve? Both?

The people who can best answer as to her capacity to serve and effectivity as a leader are her present constituency, from whom we have yet to hear.

Is she worthy to become a senator?

From the viewpoint of a communications scholar, it will be interesting to see how Villar’s campaign people handle this in the months to come.

As a voter, for the good of the country, I’m picking people with good brains and kind hearts. Let us select candidates based not on name recognition, but on their principles, platforms, intelligence, integrity, and compassion.

Choose wisely, Pilipinas. *** 

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pop goes the world: communicating democracy

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  8 November 2012, Thursday

Communicating Democracy

As I write this, the exterior lighting of the Empire State Building in New York City turned a brilliant blue to signal the election victory of President Barack Hussein Obama.

The display on the Empire State Building was courtesy of CNN. Image here.

It was a unique form of communication – call it “architectural”. The usual definition of the term is to find meaning in physical buildings, in their bulk and their spaces, landscaping and lack thereof, and so on, applying hermeneutic approaches to a building as to a text.

But turning part of an entire building blue to announce an Obama win – red would have been used for Romney- and an iconic structure in one of America’s greatest cities at that, shows how technology + innovation = a good idea to further share information.

Using signals, in any case, is nothing new, from the smoke signals used by native Americans to the lighted Batsignal in popular culture; all are ways to communicate simple concepts over long distances.

This is an example of how certain channels enable the fast and efficient dissemination of Information, key to the zeitgeist aptly called the information age.

This US election provided many other instances that illustrated how pivotal the role of communication is to all human activity nowadays, especially with today’s technology that provides instantaneous feedback and real-time discussion online.

It was a concretization of the power of mass communication when placed in the hands of many, rather than few as formerly, when the only media outlets were the tri-media – television, radio, and print – which were in the hands of a few networks that performed agenda-setting to varying degrees.

With power now in the hands of the people to inform and persuade, came also the power to move to action, the classic “AKAP” theory come to life – awareness leads to knowledge to attitude change to practice.

More often than not, it is the jump to that last element where a snag usually occurs. People have been bombarded with anti-smoking information for decades, yet this has not made a dent in the number of smokers worldwide, which in Asia is in fact rising.

In the case of politics, though, with a concrete action easy to perform – go out and vote – the call to action is often heeded.

Within minutes of media reporting that he had won more than the required number of electoral votes, this email from President re-elect Obama was sent to his supporters:

“I’m about to go speak to the crowd here in Chicago, but I wanted to thank you first.

I want you to know that this wasn’t fate, and it wasn’t an accident. You made this happen.

“You organized yourselves block by block. You took ownership of this campaign five and ten dollars at a time. And when it wasn’t easy, you pressed forward.

“I will spend the rest of my presidency honoring your support, and doing what I can to finish what we started.

“But I want you to take real pride, as I do, in how we got the chance in the first place.

“Today is the clearest proof yet that, against the odds, ordinary Americans can overcome powerful interests.

“There’s a lot more work to do.

“But for right now: Thank you.


Michelle and Barack Obama in a victory hug. The image, captioned “Four more years,” is now the most posted photo on Facebook and most Tweeted ever.

The message here is: you found out what needed to be done, and you made it happen.

It can be the same in the Philippines. For instance, given information that there are such things as epal politicians and who they are (awareness and knowledge), the logical thing would be to have an attitude change or reinforcement (either you agree or not that such behavior is appropriate) leading to practice (in other words, action – vote for them or not).

Photo of this epal tarp from the Anti-Epal Page on Facebook.

The thing is, we Filipinos tend not to be discerning about what kind of information we use to make decisions on such important things as elections. Many of us are content with knowing whether or not the candidate can belt out a passable rendition of “My Way” or dance “Gangnam Style” on the campaign platform.

“Being showbiz” or rather being a good sport should not be our main criterion for electing public officials. Let us take a leaf from American democracy, the model of our own, and hinge the results of elections on things that matter – stands on issues and proposed solutions to challenges – with candidates communicating this to the people via debates and forums.

If this were what the public expected from its election procedure, there would be a change in the system.

Because if intellect, integrity, and a genuine desire to serve were to be what we require from our candidates, a lot of candidates would drop out of the running, and perhaps then we would finally have the leaders we need and deserve.

Epal tarps at a cemetery for Undas 2012. Image here.

But given the cultural dimension we operate in, is this likely to happen?

Pessimists will say, there is no hope for the Philippine political situation to improve. Is this true forever? Or can we at least try to make the AKAP journey to heed what we already know and practice what we believe is right?

As John F. Kennedy said in his 1960 inaugural address, “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.

“But let us begin.”  *** 

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pop goes the world: “it’s just grammar.”

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  28 June 2012, Thursday

“It’s Just Grammar.”

How essential is communication to a corporation?

How important is it for today’s workers to possess communication skills?

The answer seems to vary among the different sectors. There are private corporations, whose revenues depend upon the sales of products, that place such a high value upon communication that they retain high-powered advertising agencies to craft the strategies that enable their message to be transmitted to a vast audience using mass media, thereby providing potential customers with information about their products.

They also hire employees who have good communication skills, both written and spoken, who create their messages for their internal audiences. Often, the employees who have the best communication skills become the spokespersons, receptionists, and greeters – the ones who face the public.

There seems to be a larger gap in this respect when it comes to some public agencies and corporations. The concept of “branding” is almost unknown or haphazardly practiced. Communication and communication skills may not be included in their overall strategic plan. Thus, policy emanating from the top is inadequately cascaded both internally – to their employees – and externally – to their customers or the general public.

Organizations that fail to see communication as an essential aspect of their corporate strategy are likely to transmit messages that are misunderstood by both their internal and external publics.

What is “communication”?

As a concept, it is easy to understand – it is simply the sharing of meaning.

Effective communication, the kind that achieves its objectives to inform and persuade, should be as uncomplicated and unambiguous as possible. Use of jargon, beloved among the business and technical crowd as a symbol of belonging to a special in-group, should be eschewed because it tends to alienate others and is difficult to interpret.

Effective communication is carefully presented and flawless in terms of grammar and style.

Quite often, the number-crunchers within an organization scoff, “What’s so important about grammar?”

Grammar is integral to the use of language, both written and spoken. Language is the tool humans use to communicate. And it is through its communication strategies that an organization shows its face to the public.

If an organization is willing to be sloppy in this respect, then they take the risk that this failing will lead to the public’s negative perception of the organization and its mission and activities.

As a consequence, damage control has to be applied. The cycle continues ad infinitum.

That’s bad for the organization; it dances “one step forward, two steps back”, retarding forward momentum and wasting time by having to apply a fix.

But it’s good for writers and spin doctors – more work for them.

It would be great to see a greater awareness of the importance of communication in the public sector. Among the public agencies that already acknowledge the need for excellent communication skills are Malacañang Palace and the Department of Tourism.

Good communication is so important to the Palace that it formed the Presidential Communications Group, under which are the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (with no less than secretary rank given to its current head, the Presidential Spokesman, and the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

The Group has spruced up the official Palace websites and launched social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter in order to get its messages to as many people as possible.

Other public agencies such as the Senate and Congress have followed suit.

The DoT relied on the expertise of an advertising agency for its “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” global campaign – our country’s face to the world.

May the excellent example set by these agencies be followed by others; it would be a great service to the public indeed if effective communication by government was the norm rather than the exception. *** 

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pop goes the world: usapin on climate change

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 3 March 2011, Thursday

Usapin on Climate Change

Climate change and related issues have been in the news rather frequently lately, and after attending a Department of Interior and Local Government executive dialogue for mayors last week where climate change was tackled, I wondered why not enough was being said about the significance of communication in that context.

I recall an academic paper that a group of us PhD candidates wrote last April for a doctoral class in the Communication Research program of the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Mass Communication.

The impact of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. Image here.

Entitled “Communicating Climate Change: Impact, Adaptation, and Mitigation”, the paper was authored by college professors Rodrigo Rivera, Bea Lapa, and Julienne Baldo and media practitioners Cynthia Diangson and myself.

In the course of our research, we realized that many government programs fail or are not effective enough because not enough importance and, consequently, resources, are given to the communication aspect of the program. A professor of ours who has consulted for both government and private organizations glumly told us that in his experience, government tends to dismiss the value of communication plans or gives it the least notice and budget whereas private gives more support.

This is not to say that people in government in general negate the need for an effective communication plan; rather, it is most likely the lack of money and resources that forces many government agencies to pick and choose what areas to spend on in the implementation of programs. However, consultants like myself have come across decision-makers in government who simply don’t care, disregarding our carefully-made communication plans and all the hard work that went into them.

In broad strokes our paper tackled the issue of climate change and the need for adaptation and mitigation strategies to meet the threat and soften the impact of climate change upon five sectors of society – women and the household, indigenous people, farmers and fishers, media, and corporate.

More than ever, our society needs to be pro-active and spread awareness about what is already being done on the matter, what else needs to be done, and who needs to act.

From the introduction I wrote for the paper:

“Climate change…[is a] rallying call to take concrete and immediate action on one of the most severe challenges to ever face the planet and the world community.

“Scientists assert that climate change is an ongoing process that cannot be stopped. Shifts in weather, the melting of the ice caps, and the actions of other natural forces combine to affect the lives of the organisms upon the planet’s surface. Such changes usually take centuries, even millennia, to develop; yet one organism – Man – has, through his use of natural resources in unnatural ways, accelerated the rate of climate change, leading to ill effects that will redound upon not only himself, but also the rest of life on Earth.

“The esteemed, and elderly, British scientist and environmental thinker James Lovelock insists that “humans are too stupid” to prevent climate change from radically impacting lives in the coming years (Hickman, 2010). Over the course of his life, the ninety-year-old Lovelock has observed how the actions of humans have contributed to bringing about this disaster.

“I don’t think we’ve yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle as complex a situation as climate change,” says Lovelock, proponent of the Gaia Theory which postulates that the Earth is a giant, self-regulating organism. “The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.”

“Journalist Leo Hickman, who interviewed Lovelock, ascertained that the scientist believes that “the world’s best hope is to invest in adaptation measures, such as building sea defenses around the cities that are most vulnerable to sea-level rises. (Lovelock) thinks only a catastrophic event would now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously enough,” such as the melting of a glacier massive enough to immediately push up sea levels (Hickman, 2010).

“Humans may be stupid enough to bring about natural disasters through their own actions. Yet humans are also intelligent enough to be aware of the problems they have caused – and to take action to reverse the damage they are responsible for, and to devise and teach other methods to adapt to the related challenges.

“To ensure that the survival of life on this planet extends beyond the timeline set in worst-case scenarios predicted by the most pessimistic of pundits, the common goal of humanity from this moment on should be to strive to become better, more sensitive stewards of the Earth and its resources.

“Because above all, humans endure, and hope.”

Climate change concerns. Image here.

For our paper, we also developed a medium-communication plan to cascade information to stakeholders. Our framework drew concepts from sociologist Prospero Covar’s Pilipinolohiya – Filipino personality and personhood –  taking into account negative and positive Filipino attitudes as well as personhood concepts such as the panlabas and panloob. Filipinos are generally panloob, with the kaluluwa seen as something contained and carried within the body.

Its implications? Prof. Julienne Baldo wrote, for our paper: “It is a common observation that for a Filipino, cleaning his house is enough even if the street outside his home is dirty, since the street is outside his domain. Trash is thrown away practically anywhere, instead of being stashed in pockets or otherwise managed for later disposal.

“The challenge, therefore, in devising an effective Climate Change Communication Plan is to shake this basic Filipino attitude. Basic to the message should be exhortation through effective strategies that the Self extends beyond the body and beyond the walls of the home or lawn.

“Crucial in this endeavor is the use of language and the framing of words. This is because the priority of the communication plan is to device techniques to involve people in the process by giving them a sense of ownership of both the problem and the solution. The thesis should be about the belief that something can be done because it must be done precisely because it involves one’s Self, not just others’. It involves the ako in the Filipino loob.

“Communication planning for climate change demands new ideas and for intellectual skills that deal with the constraining effects of unformed and irrational ideas. What is asked for is the sophistication of simple ideas and simplification of sophisticated ones. Knowledge does not come from a select few, but from all stakeholders. Thinking and planning means thinking and planning together. At the heart of the usapin are a creative imagination and soulful dialogues that create the how-to in going from here to wherever hearts are set to reach.”

Stop Climate Change poster image here.


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communication environment series 5: wensha spa

This article is the fifth in a series of research studies about Philippine communication environments. For the introduction and  theoretical framework, see Part 1. To know more: Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

Professor Julienne Baldo took our Communication Environment class to visit a spa, not only for us to relax at the end of the semester, but also to examine our ideas of body image vis-a-vis current cultural definitions and standards.

On the surface a spa seems like an ordinary, even boring, place to go, where not much happens by way of communication. After all, people go there to rest, not to talk. But as communication scholars always say, communication happens everywhere, anytime – even in places you’d least expect it. And the silence of the spa spoke volumes.

Wensha Spa: Exploring Body Image  and Wellness

The Architecture

The facade of this – and any – establishment conveys meanings that give clues to the kind of place it is and the patrons that frequent it.

First, the sign. Wensha Spa at Timog Avenue corner Quezon Avenue is open 24/7 , and makes this information known via a huge yellow and green neon sign. Mounted on a wall faced with Mactan stone, the bright sign beckons; it can be seen a long way off.

Next, the parking lot – it was crammed with late-model sedans and SUVs, with other patrons being dropped off by cabs.

The use of comparatively simple materials in the sign and the number and type of cars in the parking lot  convey to passersby that the place is upscale but still within a price range that is affordable to those of a certain socio-economic status; that it is decent and perhaps not too expensive, as, say, the same services at a five-star hotel. One can derive meaning from these signs to assess if he or she can afford this establishment’s services or not.

The entrance is of transparent glass, allowing people from the street to see within. Thus, it attracts; an opaque front would be a barrier to walk-in customers because it could denote exclusivity. Since one can peek within, she is aided in her decision-making on whether to enter or not. The impression is one of cleanliness and good service, with a welcoming air.

Once inside, the place offers more clues about its nature. A sofa greets patrons on the left side of the lobby; here, one can wait and view the menu of services. (At the time of our visit, Wensha was offering a promotional discount package of P680 for a massage and all-you-can-eat buffet for a six-hour stay.)

Further into the lobby on the right side is an altar, painted red, upon which are displayed Buddhist statues and offerings of fruit and candy. This leads to the assumption that the owner is Buddhist and is Filipino-Chinese, if not a Chinese national.  Right across the altar is the reception counter, where harried front-desk clerks check in customers, take their shoes, and issue claim tags and locker room keys. One must pay in advance for the chosen services.

At the end of the lobby is a curving staircase. The color scheme changes from bland to black and gold. A huge painting on the upper part of the wall is a surprise. One would not expect to see this, an image that depicts “the bath” in a confused jumble of themes, with a Roman-style bath surrounded by nude Chinese beauties, echoing the “harem” themes of the Orientalist paintings of Gerome and Grecian-inspired ditto of  Alma-Tadema that were so popular among the Victorians during the late 19th century.

The image is replete with meanings and ideas. Are these ladies the concubines of an emperor, perhaps? What would seeing this image make female customers think – that they should look as curvaceous as these painted ladies, so that the “emperors” in their life will take notice of them? that one should be as sensual and sensuous as they are? For male customers – what ideas will they carry away after looking at this painting? That the women in their life should look like this, or aspire to? Would this painting lead someone to believe that frequent bathing at Wensha will make one’s appearance mirror that of the ladies?

Upon reaching the second floor, guests are greeted with a buffet spread of food. It is nondescript and too oily. There  are hardly any vegetable dishes, no fresh fruit, and desserts are kept behind glass cases and cost extra. Do not, under any account, think of coming here for the food. As for drinks, there are dispensers of too-sweet Tang and Nestea. It is all self-service, though waiters scurry around clearing the twelve or fifteen tables that bristle with diners clad in street clothes or spa-supplied bathrobes.

Shabu-shabu is offered, the tiny gas-powered stoves placed directly on the dining tables. Some of the couches are covered in badly-cracked vinyl that pinch skin horribly, especially if one is wearing shorts or a skirt. That lack of attention to the furniture disappoints; with comfort diminished, the estimation of the place is lowered.

The men’s and women’s bathing areas are separate. This reflects cultural norms. Entering the bathing area, guests pass first through a door and into a corridor with more doors on both sides leading to common area (shared) and VIP (exclusive) massage rooms. At the end is a dressing counter with mirrors and one hair dryer – a problem when there are many women getting ready to leave after their baths. At the end are the locker rooms. Guests are issued one towel and one robe. All are expected to undress to bare skin. Clad only in the robe, the baths beckon.

The spaces up to this point are small and narrow, acting as conduits for the guests, leading them inevitably to the baths, which are in a wide and low-ceilinged space, contributing to a feeling of coziness and shelter. However, these are precisely the attributes, along with the lack of windows on the entire second floor, that might induce claustrophobia in those who cannot bear to be in enclosed areas.

The Artifacts and Activities

Inside the “wet” area are several rooms, stalls, and a couple of pools. First on the right is a “body scrub” room, which is tiled and has drains, shower hoses, and a padded waterproof table. Beside this room, along the right-hand wall, are rows of hot-and-cold shower stalls. Then comes the sauna with glass walls; beside it is the steam room, always fogged over; and a toilet.

In the center of the space are the two pools, raised above the surface of the floor – one filled with hot water, the other with ice-cold. Guests first take a bath in the shower stalls with the supplied liquid soap, then step into the hot pool, staying in it for as long as they can possibly stand before switching to the cold pool.

A television set mounted on the wall gives bored bathers something to focus on. There were also TV sets in the dining room, showing the ubiquity of the mass media, and that many people nowadays prefer or require the electronic buzz to stimulate their brains, instead of giving their entire attention to their companions.

First-timers will mostly experience timidity and shyness when disrobing, especially with friends. With strangers, the anxiety is less, but, Julienne assured us, it diminishes with subsequent visits and after one gets used to the experience of bathing nude with strangers.

Bea, Gia, and I, all newbies to the public bath experience, whipped off our towels and stepped into the hot bath as quickly as possible while trying to cover what we could of our private parts, until we were fully hidden by the water. Chitchat opted to merely dip her feet in the pool, admitting her reluctance to disrobe. Julienne was more relaxed and comfortable with herself, and showed no shyness in being nude, although being pregnant, she could not stay in the pool for long.

We had all taken Dr Sylvia Claudio’s class on Gender and Sexuality (Women and Development 227 at the UP-Diliman College of Social Work and Development), where body image was heavily discussed and debated, and agreed that the spa experience forces one to directly confront issues about self and image. How does one perceive beauty? What are one’s standards – do they subscribe to the cultural norm that is Western-based, idolizing a “Barbie” frame – thin waist, big bust – and mestiza looks – fair skin and tall nose? Or is one content with what she looks like, glorifying in her body, with health and glowing skin the prized assets?

The sauna and steam room have a more relaxed ambience, as towels are allowed. Skin takes on a ruddy hue, and, as sweat breaks, one imagines dirt and toxins leaving the body through opened pores. A bucket of ice cubes, drinking water dispenser, and plastic cups are nearby. Rubbing ice over skin helps one take the heat and stay longer in the steam and sauna rooms, where chatting is more animated since the distraction of nudity is eliminated.

After the bath, sauna, and steam, massage is next. Still in a robe, nude or with panties, one chooses a common room, shared with strangers, or VIP rooms that can hold up to three friends. The rooms are dimly lit and there is unobtrusive Asian muzak in the background.

A masseuse approaches and asks if one wants a hard or moderate massage. I ask for “Whatever, and if it hurts I’ll tell you.” I am kneaded and pummeled and rubbed into a state of gelatinous relaxation. I feel almost boneless until she lifts me and cracks my spine. After the massage, one may sleep. (There are charges for every extra hour spent at the spa over six hours.) But before you doze off, the masseuse hands you a ticket upon which different tips amounts are printed. Though a tip is customary in such circumstances, being reminded of this, forcibly, detracts from the entire experiences as one is unpleasantly jerked back to the realization that this is a commercial establishment.

The Spa Goers

In the dining area, which is open to both men and women, there are quite a few foreigners – Koreans, Chinese, Middle Easterners, Caucasians. Most of the patrons were young to middle-aged people, many looking like professionals.  There were people with their arms around each other – lovers, perhaps – but only hetero couples.

We saw no same-sex couples in the women’s area, but Rod said there were in the men’s area. His assessment was that for many of the couples, the hours spent at Wensha were a treat, to unwind and relax after a stressful day’s work. Certainly all the spa goers looked refreshed. Any problems they had were put on hold as they, with their visit to the spa, consciously sought to set aside their cares for a time and attend to themselves for once through this method of alternative healing and recuperation.

After dinner, bath, and massage, Chitchat, Julienne, I, Rod, and Bea glow for the camera. For obvious reasons, photography is not allowed within the bath and massage areas.

Rod, Bea, and I rode a cab home together. We processed our experiences during the trip. Soc-sci geeks forever!

Wensha Spa is at Timog corner Quezon Avenue, Quezon City. There is a branch at Buendia Avenue, near Sofitel.

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communication environment series part 1 – my manila: seng guan temple

This article starts a series of research studies about Philippine communication environments.

I had seen its carved facade before, on a trip with fellow fountain pen collectors to look for pens in the wilds of downtown Manila. A drive-by along that street left me intrigued. I had no idea then that a year later, I would discover the wonder of the temple’s glittering, golden interior.

In this semester’s PhD Communication Environment class at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, our professor, Dr. Joey Lacson, said that it was best for us to learn about communication in different environments by actually visiting them. He and each of us students had to take the rest of the class to a place the others hadn’t visited before.

For her trip, Nina Villena chose to take us to Seng Guan temple in the heart of Binondo – a serendipitous random happenstance that opened my eyes and mind to a different side of my Manila.

From the outside, the temple looks like a hodgepodge of buildings that have sprouted in haphazard fashion through the years. But look closer to discover the wonderful things that abound inside.

The Communication Environment

Communication is, quite simply, the sharing of meaning. It always occurs within context, and this context is rooted in the environment. A person may use varying communication styles depending where she might be – for instance, she may use more formal and academic language while in class, and shift to a more informal way of speaking when with friends or at home.

The environment also conveys information that a person will organize and interpret to derive meaning. The semiotic model helps explain this process by conceiving data as a set of signs that bring up corresponding concepts in the mind. Signs may then be arranged into codes. Languages are examples of complex codes.

Non-verbal signs, touch (haptics), artifacts, and even space and distance (proxemics) may also be   part of a code that will impart meanings within a system of interrelated message senders and receivers.

A system cannot survive without its environment. An environment is active, and this activity creates further impact on the system. Since humans are always immersed in an environment, this reinforces the truism that it is impossible for people not to engage in communication wherever they may be.

Communication and Culture

Culture is “the complex collection of knowledge, folklore, language, rules, rituals, habits, lifestyles, attitudes, beliefs, and customs that link and give a common identity to a particular group of people at a specific point in time.” These elements that comprise a culture are constructed by society, meaning that negotiation takes place between the members of that society regarding the meanings attached to these elements until agreement is reached.

The relationship between communication and culture is complex and intertwined. Cultural elements, taken as artifacts along with their constructed meanings, form the communication environment. These artifacts may also be considered as “text”, the ‘what’ of communication that is observed and subjected to textual analysis so that the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of communication may be understood.

Consequently, any part of an environment may be studied as an artifact in order to derive and interpret meaning from it – meaning that can help the observer understand the context he is in, and guide his actions and responses within that environment.

Seng  Guan Temple: A Trove of Cross-Cultural Communication

The temple, established in 1936, espouses the Mahayana style of Buddhism, specifically that of the Pure Land sect. Part of the sect’s belief system is that nirvana (cessation of existence), the ultimate goal after countless cycles of life,  is no longer achievable during modern times, but that a way to heaven (the “Pure Land”) may still be achieved by good works and endlessly chanting the name of the Buddha – “Amitabha, Amitabha.”

The Architecture

The facade of the entrance is ornately carved in a style that is distinctly Chinese, exotic to eyes not exposed to the culture. There is no gate. The lack of a barrier at the entrance projects an aura of welcome reaches out to visitors and draws them in. Just within the entrance, a jolly Maitreya Buddha greets worshippers and visitors with a smile.

A stone lion, one of a pair, stands guard in front of the Buddha statue. The carving is deep and ornate, the subject a ‘cute’ mythological creature, inviting you to run your fingers over the runnels and recesses in the stone, and reach for the ball in the lion’s mouth. Again it is an artifact that beckons one to enter, approach, and touch.

Mr. Carlos Tan, who works at the temple, offered to be our tour guide and showed us around. Practically nothing was off limits; one feels a deep sense of acceptance for and tolerance of visitors, something that one does not readily experience in churches of other faiths. Although it is not stated directly, the license to explore comes with a common-sense caveat: the temple is a place of worship, and as such a visitor must conduct himself with proper respect for the place and its purpose.

The halls are wide and expansive, with high ceilings and spaces that entice one to roam around. Having an expanse of space is made possible by the practice of not providing seats for worshippers, only red-upholstered kneelers that are tucked away in small storage rooms on off-days.

The interior of the ground floor, with three Buddha images flanked by fresh and faux flowers and offerings of fruit.

The hall on the second floor is even grander, decorated with carvings depicting scenes from the life of Sakyamuni (Gautama) Buddha. The statues are made of silk mache and are hollow. Everywhere, one sees the glint of gold and the vibrancy of red, colors that signify prosperity and happiness.

Largest and grandest of all is this hall just off the second level. It is airconditioned on days when services are held. The Buddha statues here are large and dominant, matching the scale of the room, meant to inspire awe and reverence.

The Artifacts

Inside the temple are many things that are unfamiliar to non-Buddhists but, taken in context, are obviously ritual items. There was a drum that a saffron-robed monk beat in time to the chanting of other monks and worshippers. There was a red book with gold Chinese characters stamped on its cover (sutras?). There was a stick-like object that rested on the books, something that looked like a fan or a paddle, cymbals through which yellow scarves were knotted, and cinnabar-red squat carved figures beside which were padded sticks. Were the figures struck with the sticks?

I deliberately refrained from asking Mr. Tan, preferring to experience the environment as an observer, and trying to derive meaning from what was familiar, and gauging the extent of the unfamiliar. In this instance, much was an unknown quantity.

There were always offertory tables positioned in front of the images. The tables are heavily carved, some gilded as well. The tables bear offerings of fruit and flowers, because according to Buddhist tenets, “Only vegetarian offerings are allowed,” said Mr. Tan.

The Worshippers

Through observing their stance and actions in context, it can be seen how worshippers convey their sense of faith and participate in the rituals of their religion. Two women knelt in front of the Maitreya Buddha’s image holding incense sticks and waving them while chanting Buddha’s name. At the same time, at the second floor hall, monks held a service for a deceased man. The relatives were all clad in white, their culture’s color of mourning. Since no seats are provided, worshippers either kneel or stand and chant along with the monks.

The chanting was atonal, in a language I was unfamiliar with (Chinese, presumably), and sounded utterly alien to my ears. For that reason I found it fascinating; language is not an insurmountable barrier to understanding, because all that is required is a translation. On that initial exposure, the impression I obtained from the chanting was a sense of immense antiquity, that these words had been sung in this manner for centuries, the ritual kept alive by devotion and strict adherence to tradition.

Off that hall was a room where the dead man’s picture was displayed. Red marks pocked the picture “so he can breathe,” someone explained. On an offertory table were sweetmeats in covered glass dishes and plenty of fruit. Red lamps were lit. Just outside that room, people rolled paper into the boat shape of ancient Chinese currency, paper money for the dead to use in the afterlife.

Paper printed with gold Chinese characters, rolled into the proper shape, symbolize money for use in the afterlife. To show respect for the deceased, sacks upon sacks of these are laboriously prepared.

After the service, the portraits are moved to the ancestor worship hall on the ground floor, to be displayed beside the pictures of deceased persons whose relatives are waiting for a memorial service to be held in their behalf. Offerings of canned fruit are arranged in front of them – fruit cocktail, peaches, lychees. Chinese are practical; fresh fruit, they say, will spoil.

A woman lights joss sticks that she places in a large bronze urn, one of several placed in each of the temple’s many halls. The air in the temple is fogged with the heavy fragrance of incense carrying prayers to Buddha.

Inside the ancestor hall are serried rows of shrines that carried pictures of the deceased. Some are ‘double’ shrines for couples. A picture placed in the shrine frame denotes that the person was deceased; a plain red backing, that the person the shrine is reserved for is still alive. A fee is charged by the temple for the storage of the shrines – the more prominent the position, the higher the fee. It costs around one hundred thousand pesos for a central location for a shrine.

From time to time, people entered the hall, knelt before the shrines, said a prayer or meditated, and lit joss sticks before leaving.

Mr Tan also showed us pairs of red, kidney-shaped wooden blocks used in divination, a practice that dates back to China’s prehistory, when animal entrails were used to predict the future and reveal answers to questions. One throws the blocks up in the air; depending on how they fall, the answer to the devotee’s query is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

He often used the Tagalog word misa – as in Catholic Mass – to refer to their services. It may be the word actually used by Filipino Buddhists, or it may have been his way of making concepts easy for non-Buddhists to understand.

Overall, though I could not interpret a great deal of the information I was picking up from my surroundings, I understood enough and connected it with previously-read or gleaned facts and materials that enriched my appreciation of this particular environment.

I came away refreshed in spirit by the aura of peace and tranquility permeating every fragrant corner of the temple, fascinated by its art and history, and above all deeply appreciative of the warm welcome and acceptance extended by Mr. Tan and the others at the temple.

The Seng Guan Temple is along Narra Street, near Jose Abad Santos Street, Manila.

Click on a photo, and click again to see a full-size image.

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pop goes the world: we are family

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 10 June 2010, Thursday

We Are Family

If the Philippines had a theme song, it would be Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”.

Taking yesterday’s proclamation of senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as president –elect and of Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay as vice-president-elect at the Batasan Pambansa from a semiotic viewpoint, the theme of ‘family’ emerged as one of the dominant signs.

Present were children and babies held by nannies or parents, because it is part of Filipino traditional culture that significant celebrations be held with family.

Also in the hall were members from the several dozen ruling dynasties of the country. Some were incoming, others outgoing, elected or appointed public officials. Their faces and genders and credentials may change, but the names stay the same, election year after election year. We might as well be a monarchy with a hierarchy of nobility and aristocracy.

The Aquino family members received much on-camera exposure during the television coverage of the event. Noynoy’s sisters Ballsy, Viel, Pinky, and Kris were seated in a row, clad in black, showbiz celebrity Kris in a glamorous off-shoulder number, her older sisters dressed more conservatively. Apart from showing the difference in their personalities and fashion taste, the clothes were a sign of two things: that the customary one-year mourning period for their mother, the late president Corazon Aquino, is not over; and of just who their mother was, and her place in history.

President-elect Aquino, Enrile, and Nograles are joined by Aquino’s sisters and brothers-in-law. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA).

By extension, their dark garb was also a reminder of the other family member they lost – their father, former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., whose assassination may be said to have set this wave of events in motion, bringing an entire country to this point, where his only son holds the highest office in the land, borne to power on the crest of public sentiment for his parents.

This image references Kris’s hosting of game show “Deal Or No Deal”, which ended 2009.

Seated near the Aquino sisters was Shalani Soledad, Noynoy’s significant other, speaking to singer Ogie Alcasid. The showbiz family of Kris Aquino was well-represented too. It is from their ranks that the incoming president considers recruiting heads of government agencies – Boy Abunda for Tourism, Dingdong Dantes for the National Youth Commission, and Grace Poe for the MTRCB are some of the names he mentioned. Of course he makes these choices based on their qualifications, because it can’t be out of gratitude, can it, for their help in his campaign?

Shalani Soledad being interviewed by a radio news reporter. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA)

In behalf of yet another prominent family, Senate President pro tempore Jinggoy Estrada read a message from his father Joseph. The senator extended his father’s “humble” acceptance of his defeat to Noynoy in the elections, and wished him well. From there the speech degenerated into a rant, citing the “failures” of Comelec and Smartmatic, stating again, as if we didn’t know, that the elder Estrada once served as president, and warning the Filipino people to guard against the corruption in government which he was unable to stem during his own administration.

There too at the Batasan were the Binays of Makati City. With son Junjun taking over from his father as Makati mayor, and daughter Abby the new congresswoman of the second district, they carry on decades of Binay administration in one of the country’s richest cities. The same goes for the Belmontes of Quezon City – father Sonny moves up from mayor to Congress while his daughter Joy steps in as vice-mayor to Herbert Bautista, who for years has held that same position.

We could go on and on.

But what about the families of the millions of people who gave the reins of government to these people via their votes? Who thinks of them?

As a citizen of this republic and the head of a family of my own, I lay this solemn charge upon the incoming set of political leaders – remember the families.

Think of the overseas contract workers who endure separation for years from their loved ones to toil in foreign lands to ensure the survival of their children in a country that cannot provide jobs and better life opportunities for them and their parents, while the government brags of a high GNP pumped by the billions of dollars they remit, ignoring the social cost and its consequences.

Seek to improve the lot of the widowed and children of those murdered in the Ampatuan massacre; those who die fighting on both sides of the insurgents’ war; those who live in hovels mired in abject poverty in sight of your grand mansions; those who cannot continue their education because of financial constraints.

Rescue those who are victims of abuse by the military and private armies and by those who because of the inflated condition of their pockets and egos assert their power over those who have little or none, since they thrive unpunished in a culture of impunity.

Filipino culture values family above all, even above God and country. The way we address each other reflects this – kuya or manong security guard, ate or manang food vendor, nanaytatay this or the other. And how often have we heard someone say, “Gagawin ko ang lahat para sa pamilya”? A Filipino will do, endure, and sacrifice all, for the sake of family.

To our new leaders, do not forget you are Filipinos, imbued with this land’s culture and norms. Accept that you are members of a larger family – the nation. Perform your mandated tasks, bearing in mind that you have our trust, because we have nowhere else to put it.

Remember the Filipino families – not only your own.   ***

“My Brother’s Keeper” by Ronnie T. Tres Reyes. Top Five finalist, 2008 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office “Isang Pitik sa Charity” photo contest. Reyes describes his photo: “Taken one chilly night outside a McDonald’s along Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City. For over a year, this five year old boy has been taking care of his baby brother every night on the steps of the restaurant. Sometimes he lies on the concrete and allows himself to be the baby’s bed and source of warmth.”

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pop goes the world: “wawa we”

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 27 May 2010, Thursday

“Wawa We”

“Wow” is an apt prefix for the title of a show whose huge popularity spans the globe. “Wawa” (a contraction of the Tagalog word for ‘pitiful’) now describes the condition of the show’s host whose antics rocketed the program to the peak of the ratings charts.

Few local television programs have enjoyed the phenomenal success of ABS-CBN’s noontime variety show “Wowowee”. Over two hours long, the show features the usual song and dance production numbers, games, and other staples of Philippine TV. But it broke the mold by giving away more money and products than others and encouraging audience participation with atypical games and other gimmicks.

The cash handouts and scantily-clad dancing girls attracted immense viewership. Since it is carried by The Filipino Channel which broadcasts the network’s shows in the US, Middle East, and other countries, it has even gained foreign fans.

According to a Taylor Nelson Sofres Media Research Philippines report, on May 14, the show posted ratings of 18.1%, well above the 12.2% charted by rival “Eat Bulaga”, the long-running noontime program on GMA Network.

Much of the show’s popularity in its early days may be credited to its host Willy Revillame’s high-energy, down-to-earth performance. The show is said to rake in many millions a day for the network, with Revillame’s compensation at P1 million a day as he himself has said elsewhere. This wallet-busting figure does not include the millions more in fees that he earns from product endorsements.

Willy Revillame. (Image here.)

Sadly, one can’t buy manners or morals. When ABS-CBN’s dzMM radio host Jobert Sucaldito criticized Wowowee for creating a game played by students with low grades, saying in effect that this was fostering mediocrity, Revillame erupted. He called upon network management to fire Sucaldito, citing the big bucks his show was pulling in all due to his efforts. “Either he goes, or I go”, was the gist of what he said.

Jobert Sucaldito, host of dzMM’s “Showbiz Mismo”. (Image here.)

The staggering arrogance of that declaration hits you right in the sternum and cuts off the stream of oxygen to your lungs.

Revillame has been suspended several times from Wowowee and “Magandang Tanghali Bayan”, another show he used to host, for cussing on air. The potty-mouthed celebrity also earned public ire for his ungracious manners when he bawled out his own network’s traffic department – on air – for putting an inset of the live coverage of the late Philippine president Corazon Aquino’s funeral during a Wowowee episode.

Wowowee’s format has also been severely lambasted for fostering a culture of mendicancy. Many of its games revolve around making people do embarrassing things for money. It pains me to see game participants humiliated and taking it all, at a cost to their self-respect and dignity, because times are hard.

And the gyrating nearly-naked Kembot (shimmy) Girls? They are pretty and talented, and the show has made them popular and famous while dancing in scraps of fabric and heavy makeup. What message does this send to young girls? Never mind getting that college degree, anak, just be a Kembot Girl when you grow up? What signal does this send to men? That women are all about the curves and booty-shaking? Where’s the respect?

During the recent election campaign, Revillame, who endorsed Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manny Villar, sent the Kembot Girls to the campaign rallies. Pro-women senatorial candidates Liza Maza and Pia Cayetano, dismayed at the skimpiness of the dancers’ costumes, asked them to dress more appropriately. Maza and Cayetano were running under the NP banner. Like the song says, “Isn’t it ironic?”

The Kembot Girls with Revillame (center) at a Manny Villar campaign rally. Screenshot of an ABS-CBN ‘TV Patrol’ report on the Maza-Cayetano complaint.

Does Wowowee have any redeeming social value whatsoever? Does it uplift attitudes, promote good morals, encourage excellence and self-sufficiency? Revillame claims his show “helps” people. Perhaps, in the way you give a man a fish for a day – and make him do tricks for it first – instead of teaching him how to fish. Does that benefit society in the long term?

ABS-CBN management, to its credit, ignored Revillame’s tantrums and refused to fire Sucaldito. Revillame stormed off for a vacation, leaving the show to co-host Pokwang, whose comic antics now account for much of the show’s drawing power, as Revillame descends into the maelstrom of believing his own spin. On May 15, action star Robin Padilla was given a chance to host; his stint ends Friday. The day he began, ratings shot up to 20.1%, proving that it’s not only Revillame who can steer the show and pull in viewers.

With public opinion against him, it’s significant that Revillame went on leave, asked ABS-CBN to release him from his contract, and apologized for his actions. After a meeting, the network announced that the host will not be released from his contract, which ends next year. Meanwhile, he is on indefinite leave from the show.

It’s painful to watch a person climb from ground zero to the summit of his ambitions, only for him to fall into the yawning crevasse of public contempt, toppled by his own ill-considered actions. It’s too bad that Revillame wasted his chance to make a genuine difference in people’s lives and institute positive values and attitudes.

Someone should take away the happy juice Revillame’s been drinking, before he hurts himself more. ***

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pop goes the world: election theme song

Welcome to a new interactive reading experience. This column comes with its own background music! Click ‘play’ to begin.

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  13 May 2010, Thursday

election theme song

“I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign…” ‘The Sign’, Ace of Base (1994)

The recent elections showed with startling clarity how Filipinos choose their leaders. In the United States, which has a two-party system, people side with one or the other based on the principles each embodies. The Republican Party is seen as traditional, conservative, religious; the Democratic Party, liberal, progressive, secular. Their action plans and policies are in line with these characteristics.

In the Philippines, political parties are merely groups of politicos with the same agendas, not necessarily platforms, loosely cohering because of mutual need and perceived or contrived advantage. That is why jumping ship is done as expediency dictates. Since parties do not stand for a particular set of principles, neither then are voters used to electing leaders based on these criteria, but rather on personalities.

Our elections are, like American Idol, a popularity contest.

Logically, we should select leaders based on what they stand for, what they’ll fight against. Are they pro or anti the Reproductive Health Bill? Divorce? Secularization of the state? How shall they resolve corruption in government? The entrenchment of familial political dynasties? Obtaining justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre?

According to one of my professors at the University of the Philippines, an expert on political communication, it’s the masa (masses) vote that is crucial, via their sheer numbers. “There’s no such thing as a ‘middle-class’ vote,” she said. It is the masses that campaign managers woo with their eye-candy ads, celeb endorsements, and earworm jingles. Given that, did we vote based on how candidates will deal with issues?

Our elections were, like cars on weekdays, color-coded.

“I saw the sign…Life is demanding, without understanding…”

In semiotics, signs and symbols are codes that, when interpreted, may connote or convey a certain meaning in a particular context and culture. The French semiotician Roland Barthes further postulated various levels of meaning. For example, on a primary level, a label with a picture of a bottle of wine means ‘wine’. On a secondary level, ‘wine’ may connote ideas such as ‘health’, ‘luxury’, ‘fine dining’.

A young Roland Barthes. In his later years, he probably would have analyzed the signs in this photo – what do the robe and mustache signify?  Why was the shelf of books used as the backdrop?

During these past elections, more so than at any other time except during the 1986 snap elections, we have seen how the candidates were defined by their media machines and tagged with sometimes essentially meaningless ‘motherhood statement’ taglines to effect maximum audience recall.

These ideas as portrayed in ads were then further abstracted by voters into concepts until the realities of the candidates’ personalities dissolved. These were replaced by symbols stemming from people’s understanding of the how the candidates were portrayed in their own ads, and what roles these candidates may play in government and in their individual lives.

“I saw the sign…No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong…”

In 1986, Corazon Aquino symbolized reform, change, and the overthrow of the dark and oppressive Marcos regime. Though her qualifications were assailed – “Just a housewife” – in the end it was the virtues that people perceived she stood for – “heroism, courage, martyrdom for Inang Bayan” – that carried her to victory in the polls and impelled the People Power movement.

In similar fashion, Noynoy Aquino as a person was reduced to a concept: “The only son of hero parents who will continue their struggle”. We don’t know that he will actually do this, but for many of us this is what he represents. Manny Villar was “The man once poor who will lift us out of poverty and give us houses while swimming through seas of garbage.”

Noynoy Aquino and his mother, the late president Corazon Aquino.

These ideas were further abstracted to symbols and colors. As mnemonics for easy recall, it was a good idea. But the tactic further distanced the person from the sign that connoted him. Aquino was yellow and the “L” sign; Villar, the orange check; Gilbert Teodoro, green. People asked each other, “Who are you voting for? Yellow or orange?” The idea of voting for the principles and platforms of people was mislaid along the way. Tossed, perhaps, into those seas of garbage.

Manny Villar, orange shirt, ‘check’ gesture, tagline…check.

Artifacts also became signs. One strongly identified with the Aquino-Roxas camp was the Collezione Philippine map shirt. I wore such a dress weeks ago – black with a yellow map – but not for political reasons. I simply thought it comfortable. A friend said, “So you’re for Noynoy!” I may or may not have been. But it struck me that my friend assumed whom I was backing in the polls by extracting meaning from the sign he took my dress to be.

Aquino wearing Collezione shirt with yellow Philippine map embroidered logo, fingers flashing ‘L’ (Laban – fight). If the shirt were longer and reached to his knees, you’d have my dress.

With the election results in, one Aquino supporter exclaimed, “Our country is now yellow!” A clueless listener might think this means our land is awash in urine. (True, if you consider those pink MMDA roadside urinals.) But to those aware of the context of the remark, it merely indicates that our new president belongs to the political team symbolized by that color.

Pink MMDA urinal. It has nothing to do really with the column. I just thought you might want to see what one looks like.

In this particular social exercise, signs and symbols played a highly significant part in fixing in voters’ minds characteristics ascribed to the candidates, whether or not these characteristics were actually possessed by that individual. Full spin is deployed in ad campaigns, that’s granted – they say what they want you to know. Yet there were deep levels of abstraction here that further obscured reality.

In the future, seek to discern the symbology and peel off the conceptual layers, from apparent to hidden, until you get to the true meaning at the core. Then you will know if you voted for a color, or for leaders with platforms and principles.

“It opened up my mind, I saw the sign!”   ***

(Photos from all over the Net, collected over time. My apologies for not being able to give individual photo credits.)

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pop goes the world: the invasion of the jejemons

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  6 May 2010, Thursday

The Invasion of the Jejemons

“mUzta nA pOw u. jEjEm0n aQ, kAy0w?”

Much has been made in the news media recently about the “jejemon” phenomenon – a style of spelling mobile phone text messages that leaves many people confused at best or angry at worst.

(Image from

There are many origin stories, one being that Jejemonese was developed to save on texting costs. The word “jejemon” comes from “jeje”, the Spanish spelling of “hehe”, denoting laughter; and “Pokemon”, the ‘90s Japanese anime featuring cuddly monsters. Perceived to be used mostly by teens and young adults of the lower socio-demographics, the current ubiquitousness of the trend has language purists and snobs up in arms, spawning “We hate jejemons!” groups on social media networks and other Internet forums.

Why are jejemons so disliked? Among the comments against them are that they are maarte, making things complicated rather than simplifying them; their messages are difficult to interpret, “which wastes time”; that they highlight mediocrity and incompetence in the use of language. Other remarks are more judgmental – “baduy, stupid, cheap” – casting aspersions on jejemons’ taste, intelligence, and economic power.

Snow Belarmino, a 21-year old female bartender, explains why she became a jejemon. “I’m an ‘addict texter’,” she said. “Jejemon is just a style of writing your text messages. It’s cute to text by adding symbols and changing the spelling of words. Nakakagana, sikat, cool, astig. I like doing it this way because it reflects my personality.”

How does she feel about the haters? Snow is calm; it doesn’t bother her. “Other people just don’t understand the format. Some people ask me to spell the normal way – my mother, a cousin. I adjust, depending on the person I’m texting to.” She estimates that among the people she knows, around 85% of teens are jejemons.

Is Jejemonese really so hard to understand? Its language base is Tagalog and it follows certain internal rules. Spelling is transformed. For instance, the first-person pronoun ako (“I”) may be rendered “aQ”, “aKoH”, “Ak0w”, and so on. Snow says this is “style”. There is heavy use of intercapitals, some doing it for every other letter; unusual symbols such as exclamation points and the rarely-used letters x, q, and z are sprinkled here and there, again for style; and symbols are substituted for others (the numeral zero instead of the letter O). Apart from style, one notices the almost excessive use of the honorific po in jejemon messages.

The difficulty of interpretation is present at the beginning, but I’ve noticed that over time, one picks up on the peculiarities of jejemon spelling quirks, which are fairly consistent for each individual. There is certainly a learning curve, which I don’t mind, as a communication scholar with a special interest in jargons of subcultures.

But others are not as patient or as curious. Facebook, to name just one social media network on the Internet, harbors many anti-jejemon groups. “I hate jejemon!” has 4,411”fans” (or “likers”, now that Facebook has done away with the “Become a fan” button); “Anti-jeje”, 4,869; “I hate jejemon ka pa jan! Ganyan ka nga dati eh!” 2,269; “Weh? Anti-Jejemon ka? If I know jejemon ka rin dati!” 1,325; “STOP using irritating language such as the JEJEMON language!” 459; “Jejemon Haters”, 24,713. By far one of the largest groups is named “GOTTA KILL ‘EM ALL JEJEMON!” with 167,587 – the population of a small city. Now that is scary.

(Image from

Jejemons, on the whole, remain unperturbed. One commented at a hater’s group: “Does this mean war? Not that I’m interfering, but aren’t you being rather harsh to jejemons? What’s objectionable with their words? It’s just spelling, isn’t it? They still use Tagalog. Aren’t you being bitter?” Of course, it was written in elegant Jejemonese.

Another jejemon set up a tongue-in-cheek Facebook group called “Jejemon Evolves to… Wakekemon!” with 1,994 members. “We are evolving – be afraid!” “Wakeke” is ‘90s hacker-speak and denotes laughter, just as “jeje” does.

Language has always been used primarily as a means of communication, but it is also a tool for self-expression.  Jejemonese has been likened to the American “leet speak” of gamers (which uses alpha-numeric symbols to save data ) but is not its exact counterpart. Leet is acknowledged to be more “intellectual” and used primarily by geekdom. American jejemonese is like this: “!f yUh t!yP3 Lyk3 DihS Don’t talk to me!” (It’s the title of a Facebook group with 824,267 fans), and is used mostly by non-geeks, non-techies, and Justin Bieber fangirls.

Dean Rolando Tolentino of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication says the rise of the jejemons is a symptom of the partitioning of society into sub-classes. For linguist Alex Maximo, the phenomenon is linked to hegemony: who has power, who doesn’t, and how the conflicts that arise from the concomitant societal stresses are expressed.

For writer Sarah Grutas, it’s a matter of exclusivity. “It’s like gay speak. (Jejemon) is a form of exclusive language – if you don’t understand it, you don’t belong to the group.” She scoffs at claims of jejemons being poorly educated. “They aren’t stupid, because they had to know the original spelling before they can transform it into jeje. In fact it requires more creativity to type that way. I won’t use jeje language myself, the same way I do not use gay speak. I therefore belong to the out-group.”

I agree with Sarah – jejemons are not dumb. In fact, I have less patience with those who voice their irritation of jejemons and claim to be better educated and more adept at using language, yet use words like kalurkey, a variant of kaloka. What’s with that?

Jejemonese may be considered by some to be the jargon of a sub-culture, but I don’t see jejemons as a true sub-culture. A sub-culture would be horseracing fans, for instance, with their salitang karera, or otaku anime fans. The meanings of their codes – jargons and gestures, the secret words and handshakes – are agreed-upon by in-group members in the pursuit of their activities and are understood only by them.

But jejemons come from many walks of life. Their spelling style that has grammar nazis on the warpath is just a fad. We’ve seen them come and go, from beatnik to hippie to jeprox. Then there was punk and chong and jolog. Now we have jejemons and their evolved forms the wakekemon. People will, in time, get tired of this and move on to the next “cute” fashion.

So chill, people. Next time you get a message like “mUzTah nA yEw poh?”, reflect, instead, on the fact that your jejemon friend is concerned about you and is asking politely how you are. Yes, the medium is the message. But let’s focus on the meaning behind the message, which is the primary reason we use language in the first place. aY0wZ p0w bAh? ***

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