Posts Tagged ‘travel’

pop goes the world: paradise in mindanao

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  14 June 2012, Thursday

Paradise in Mindanao

Maayong buntag ka ninyong tanan. (Good day to all of you.)

I’m practicing my Visayan because I have fallen in love with Mindanao, after visiting Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan City, and Davao City last week.

In Cagayan de Oro City last Friday, I witnessed the turnover of an integrated health facility by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Employees Union (PCSO-SEU) to the residents of a typhoon Sendong settlement area built by Habitat for Humanity in Barangay Canitoan.

It was my second visit to the city; the first time was in January, a few weeks after Sendong devastated the area. We spent less than a day in both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, not enough time to get to know the place.

This time around, I got to stay a couple of days.

The PCSO-SEU project is an advocacy of the PCSO employees, who have internalized the agency’s mission of charity. By contributing a portion of their bonuses to the SEU fund, they were able to put up a 54 square meter clinic on a 100 square meter lot donated by the city government under Mayor Vicente Emano, through a linkage of the SEU with Mater et Puer (Mother and Child) Foundation, a non-government organization whose members are women professionals, most of them from Davao City.

The PCSO-SEU Integrated Health Facility at Bgy. Canitoan, Cagayan de Oro. At the left are personnel from PCSO-Manila and Misamis Oriental who attended the inauguration.

The clinic includes a reception area, treatment room, birthing room, recovery room, and standby water tank, all donated by the SEU. The rest of the land will be planted with vegetables and herbs.

Mayor Emano attended the ceremony, along with personnel from the PCSO: physician Jose Bernardo Gochoco, special projects department manager, and SEU officers Chris Bautista, president; Andreo Nualda, first vice-president; Andrew Barcelona, second VP; Soledad Rasing, third VP; Jerusa Corpuz, secretary; Estela Divina, treasurer; Alex Asuit, auditor; Teddy Tomas, budget and accounting department representative; Archie Sopenasky, PR department representative; and lawyer Ravena Joy Rama, VisMin cluster representative.

PCSO will be donating medical supplies and equipment for the clinic, while the Cagayan de Oro government will provide the people to run it – doctors, nurses, dentists, and maintenance workers.

PCSO-SEU water tank in Bgy. Canitoan, Cagayan de Oro. A similar tank will be installed at a PCSO-SEU clinic in Iligan City.

The PCSO-SEU plans to put up a similar health facility in a settlement in nearby Iligan City, which we also visited. Details on its construction are being worked out with the project partners.

Among the other places we got to see were the Agus 4 and Agus 6/7 hydroelectric facilities in Iligan City, the City of Waterfalls. Unbeknownst to many are the vast catchment basin of Agus 4, covered with water plants on the surface, while underground tunnels honeycomb the earth beneath. Three giant turbines of shiny steel there are among those driving power to the region.

Underground tunnel at Agus 4 hydroelectric plant, Iligan City.

The cascading waters of Maria Cristina Falls power Agus 6/7. The foliage around the falls are lush and exotic; its waters rush down to a nature park which welcomes visitors who take pictures under the spray of the falls.

Maria Cristina Falls, Iligan City. It had rained the night before our visit, hence the muddy waters. Usually the waters are clear, say the locals. 

There’s a nature park in Davao, too. Nestled in the pine-covered hills of Toril is Eden Nature Park, which has a zipline facility, buffet dining hall, and activities for visitors such as hiking.

Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and Davao have highly urbanized centers with malls and shops. The ambiance is Quezon City or Las Piñas, but with more trees. Everything is so clean. The roads are well-paved. Many of the cars tooling about on the roads are late models. The area looks prosperous and developed, but still closer to nature than Manila.

So close, in fact, that the beaches on Samal Island are a mere half-hour away from Davao city proper, including a banca ride across a stretch of sea. At Chema’s by the Sea, a private garden resort on the island, a pocket white sand beach and saltwater infinity pool invite relaxation, as the wide-spreading branches of talisay trees provide shade.

Saltwater infinity pool at Chema’s By the Sea resort, Samal Island. 

SMART’s 3G signal is fairly strong; I can imagine myself filing my MST columns from there, toes in the sand and drink in hand, cackling evilly while my editors hunch over their keyboards in their cramped windowless offices in Makati.

I now know where I’m going to build my retirement cottage.

A cup of brewed mountain arabica coffee at Chema’s By the Sea.

Mag-amping kamo. (Take care.)  *** 

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S. Check out my Instagram feed: @jennydecember

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pop goes the world: it’s more waiting in the philippines

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  17 May 2012, Thursday

It’s More Waiting in the Philippines

No, it is not more fun in the Philippines, dammit.

I spent the last three weeks abroad visiting family and friends in the United States, chronicling in this space my impressions of three different areas – the East Bay Area and Los Angeles in California, and Waukee and Des Moines in Iowa.

But with all the charms and attractions of other spaces, of all the places there’s nothing like home. I counted down the days till my flight back, eager to feel the warm tropical sun on my skin and my children’s arms around me.

Checking in at the San Francisco international airport, I found that our Philippine Airlines flight to Manila was delayed by two hours. The staff apologized. “The runway in Manila is closed for repairs until five-thirty in the morning.”

Checking in at SFO for the Philippine Airlines flight to Manila, 12 May 2012.

Everyone groaned in dismay, but given $15 vouchers for dinner at the airport restaurants, shrugged in resignation and waited.

The moment our plane landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 2, I raced the other passengers off the jetway and sped off to the immigration counters…

…and ran smack into a wall of dense, moist heat.

That’s supposed to happen outside the airport, not in. What happened to the airconditioning? That tired old excuse of “But it’s a very hot summer, hindi kaya ng aircon” is unacceptable. We have some of the best engineers in the world. Surely they can design a cooling system for the airport that can handle the load?

Bear in mind as well that passengers from chillier climes are arriving, and the sudden change in temperature can lead to sniffles or flu. Illness will put a damper on anyone’s vacation, and that’s not fun.

I peeled off my light hoodie and got in line for Immigration. A very long line. An I’m-I-having-fun-yet queue mirrored multiple times right and left in a cramped space, which added to the feeling of being hot and crowded.

A worse ordeal followed – the claiming of the luggage. First, there were no clear signs indicating which carousel passengers are supposed to go to. You have to check all the monitors to find the one that displays your flight.

In our case, the monitor showed four indicated flights. One carousel to handle the baggage from four airplanes? The area cannot accommodate the number of people waiting for their bags, crammed four deep around the carousel, which snakes in S-curves against the wall to maximize space.

A section of the baggage carousel area at NAIA terminal 2, 14 May 2012.

At the San Francisco and Los Angeles airports, I’ve never had to wait longer than 15 minutes for my checked-in luggage to appear on a roomy long carousel dedicated to only one flight. Here, long minutes crawled by. No luggage. Others who arrived on later flights got theirs first. “Unfair!” people muttered. After an hour of fruitless waiting, I was hot, annoyed, and close to tears.

A Customs official told me brusquely, “You are at the correct carousel. Just wait.” A friendlier baggage handler assured me my bags were not mislaid. “They radioed us that two more container vans of luggage have just been offloaded,” he explained. It took an hour to offload our bags? “And this carousel is not handling four flights. Only two.”

He moved aside the plastic strips that cover the hole from which the bags emerge. “See here,” he said, as I bent down and peeked. I saw a small gray room. “There isn’t enough space in there for all the luggage. That’s the reason for the wait.”

After 15 more minutes, my luggage popped out. I left NAIA sweaty and upset. My daughters who were waiting outside were worried, wondering what kept me.

I can’t help comparing the difference between our airports and the ones I’ve seen abroad. It’s no wonder that last year NAIA terminal 1 was judged the worst airport in the world, according to a website survey.

In reaction to that, last January President Aquino promised a P1 billion revamp. Some money should go to improving the runways, immigration queues, airconditioning, and luggage handling of the other terminals too.

The airport is the first impression that travelers get of our country. Fix it, to whom it may concern. Make it truly more fun in the Philippines. Make the reality match the slick expensive advertising-agency slogan.

Dammit.   *** 

Photos taken with an iPhone 4s.

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pop goes the world: la-la land

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  10 May 2012, Thursday

La-La Land

Los Angeles, California – From the fresh, wide-open spaces of Iowa, it’s a jarring shift to the cacophony and color of LA. It is late spring and the days are warm, the nights chill. Buildings and homes of wood, adobe, and concrete line the roads and blanket the hills. Cars zoom on cracked roads. Garish neon lights spell “open”, “cerveza”, “deli”.

The 134 in Los Angeles. 

It’s a bustling, vibrant city, like Manila but sped up a hundred times faster. Scenes flash by like in a film.

At a ritzy bakery, two well-groomed men complain about the two queues that have formed in front of the pastry cases. “What’s with the lines? Is this a tourist destination now? I’m going to the Glendale branch.” “But it’s way hotter here in Burbank!” “Did you see that woman, she cut the line! Stupid hag.”

Downtown, a Latina crosses the street in front, an iguana slung over a plump shoulder. She smiles to herself.

In a deli in Westwood, a blonde in her sixties argues with a man whose cap is on backwards. “I need financial help!” she says, swigging white wine. It looks like it is not her first glass. He remonstrates with her, sotto voce. She becomes more agitated. “Then sure, let’s stay here! I’m ordering more wine.” He tells her they must leave. Staggering, she gets to her feet. She is wearing a baby-doll nightgown, with a black lace peignoir as a robe, and knee-high boots. She adjusts her scanty clothing by tugging downward on her neckline to expose her sagging, wrinkly breasts.

She tells her story in a deli. 

And so on.

LA is, after all, home to Hollywood and the big-name studios that dominate commercial filmmaking. But in real life there are no actors, and there is no director to yell “Cut!”

There are no retakes. You have only one chance to get it right.

The city is hyper fast, jigging on dope and speed and it’s getting to me. On the way home after a day of sightseeing, there’s heavy traffic on the freeway and cars stutter to a standstill. I suffer a bout of hypertension.

Back where I’m staying, my host says it could instead have been a mild panic attack from the stress of travel and prescribes aromatherapy.

He draws me a hot bath and hands me a precious bottle of vintage Tasmanian lavender oil, instructing me to pour two capfuls of the oil in the water. “Lavender relieves stress and anxiety,” he says. “Immerse yourself.”

A bottle of vintage Tasmanian lavender oil. (Visit 

The scent of the oil, borne on the curling steam, suffuses my senses as I ease into the hot water. I sink into the fragrant pool. I hear my heartbeat, amplified by the water, at first rapid, slowing to a regular thump-THUMP. I am more aware of my body, and myself. I calm down.

Minutes pass. I hear my friends outside the bathroom door. “Do you think she’s alright?” “She’s having fun,” my host says.

When the water is lukewarm I emerge from the bath, relaxed and ready for sleep. More of the oil is rubbed into my spine. A soothing slumber claims me.

When I wake, my host’s longhair cat, Meeps, twines himself around my ankles and leads me to the kitchen screen door. We stare through it at the garden beyond. The trees and foliage are lush, almost tropical in their exuberance. I do not know their names but I enjoy them anyway.

Meeps at the kitchen door. 

Yes, this is also LA – a place where people advocate exotic healing remedies, let plants grow wild and riotous in their gardens, and shelter wanderers in their homes and anoint them with flower oil and bless them with peace.

The jacaranda trees sport majestic purple plumage in the Los Angeles springtime. 

Then one morning I read news of the Andi Eigenmann-Albie Casino bar brawl and the Raymart Santiago-Claudine Barretto-Mon Tulfo airport fight. A video of the latter shows the celebrities and their entourage engaged in a screaming, kicking, and punching melee. They are actors, but this time they’re not acting. In both instances, you can almost smell the testosterone and the rage. LA does not have a monopoly on drama.

My host would have said only one thing. “Throw them all into a lavender bath.” ***

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S in May 2012, without effects or edited with Instagram and/or Snapseed.

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pop goes the world: leaving on a jet plane

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  26 April 2012, Thursday

Leaving on a Jet Plane

San Francisco, California – It was the old woman’s first time on a big plane, she said.

It was a Boeing 747-400 with an upper deck where business class passengers could lie down to sleep, unlike us cattle in economy, herded three in a row where in business class they sat two. Before taking this Manila to San Francisco flight, she’d only flown to Davao and back.

On board a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila to San Francisco.

Over the twelve-hour flight, the old woman told me her life story. She was migrating to join her daughter in Sacramento. She had five other children; all of them were college graduates, two were in South Africa, one in the USA, the other worked on a cruise ship, two were in the Philippines taking care of her husband, who had had a mild stroke.

“He had a mistress,” she said darkly, as if that were explanation enough for his illness.

She told me about their properties, two lots in Valenzuela that she bought “back when land was a lot cheaper than it is now,” and several more in Nueva Ecija. One of her sons had their old home torn down and a new one built at a cost of seven million pesos.

Perhaps she was nervous and wanted to allay her anxiety by chatting. Certainly she was an extrovert; it never occurred to her that I wanted to be left alone with my book. I listened to her, making noncommittal noises at the appropriate moments.

When the flight attendants went around with the debarkation and customs forms, she turned to me and said, “You told me you’re a writer. Please help me with the forms. My daughter said the chances are my seatmate would be Filipino, and to ask them to help me if I needed anything.”

As she shrugged her heavy black knit coat on, and adjusted her gray knit cap on her hair, I filled out the blanks on the forms for her, referring to her passport for some of the information. She was born in 1938, and her given name was “Maria”, simply that.

“Sign here,” I said.

“Thank you, anak,” she replied. “How lucky I was to be sitting next to a writer when I needed one.”

“You’re welcome, Nanay,” I said.

The plane taxied to a stop. I bade her good luck and farewell, and sped to the door. It wasn’t open yet. People were milling around, waiting. I crept too close to the door and the flight attendant, who was on the in-plane phone, gently nudged me back under the telephone cord.

From the deck above, other passengers were descending and joining the crowd around the door; their arrival caused waves to ripple and eddy within the mass. A strident voice cut through our anticipation. “Would you let us through, please?” It was a middle-aged blonde. She sounded annoyed. We Filipinos stared at her. There was no need to say anything; all one had to do was push one’s way through the milling group. The waves of people parted as she passed, then closed again upon itself.

Filipino culture stays the same no matter where the Filipinos are. We assume that young people will defer to their elders, and that in an unfamiliar situation, a Filipino will help a kababayan.

Our concept of personal space is carried within us, so that we don’t mind if we are gently jostled as part of a crowd, unlike Westerners who require about a couple of feet of personal space around them (refer to cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s studies on proxemics).

We think of ourselves as family, so that we can share stories about our personal lives and not feel it an intrusion upon our privacy, and address each other – even perfect strangers – by kinship terms – “mother” and “child”.

When you are Filipino you are part of something bigger than yourself, wherever in the world you may be.   ***

Photo taken 20 April 2012 with an iPhone 4S, edited with Instagram effects.

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pop goes the world: a slogan by any other name

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 January 2012, Thursday

A Slogan By Any Other Name

People are having fun with “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”!

But not necessarily the good clean kind, okay. Have you seen the user-generated photo on the Internet of a blonde-bewigged Madame Auring (who must be in her mid-60s at least), stuffed in a leopard-print swimsuit overflowing with her ample breasts, with the text, “Growing old – more fun in the Philippines?”

Fortune teller to the stars and now B-list celeb Madam Auring. Image here.

It’s only one of the many fan-made photos created in the week following the Department of Tourism’s launch of its new campaign, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”.

Print and online columnists and commenters immediately weighed in with their thoughts. Most of the arguments go like this: let’s be positive rather than negative, let’s be united and show support, the slogans are easy to remember and pronounce, and flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways (for); and it’s boring, vague, unnecessary, and plagiarized (against).

I was monitoring the Internet the day of the launch and saw the onslaught of comments; the initial pattern of public attitudes toward the slogans; and the actual shift to a “majority” stand, all within half a day online. The public perception was later reflected in the evening news and the next day in the newspapers.

Twitter, because of its immediacy, was the first to “cover” the event, and comments both for and against emerged here first. Most people were underwhelmed by the phrases, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” (international campaign) and “#1For Fun” (domestic).

A lot of what first went around was sarcastic. But then, that’s what happens when the slogans are phrased in such a way as to lend themselves to all kinds of interpretation.

Image here.

As for the accusation that the current DOT slogan was lifted from a 1951 Swiss campaign for suntanning – “It’s more fun in Switzerland!” – I think we can safely say that it was a coincidence. But then, that’s the problem when the phrase is so common and banal! It was a certainty that it had already been used somewhere, sometime, in that context.

DOT Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. has defended the campaign created for them by award-winning advertising agency BBDO by saying that they weren’t looking to be creative, but to tell the truth about the country and simply describe it because it really is “more fun” here.   But given the wealth of creative genius that this country boasts, couldn’t we have come up with something more original and interesting, or at least something less lame?

I liked the old DOT campaign better – “Wow Philippines”. (By the way, it was also created by BBDO, as was the older “More than the usual” campaign). It conveyed interest and excitement in one short word -”wow” – without making unsupportable or subjective claims such as “more”, that open the claim to unmerciless mockery, which the phrase has been subjected to.

Image here.

Perhaps if it were worded “It’s fun in the Philippines”, it would have been less likely to be made fun of.

However, compared to the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” fiasco of November 2010, this new one is an improvement. The fact that #itsmorefuninthephilippines is trending worldwide shows we are working with this and, yes, having more fun with it.

But is it going to do its job, meaning, is the slogan going to attract more tourists? The DOT should have a survey form for foreigners that they can fill out on the inbound planes – “What influenced you to visit the Philippines?” No fair claiming any increase in tourist arrivals to the slogan without accurate monitoring with a survey instrument constructed with the proper methodology!

What struck me most about the entire phenomenon was that anyone can always come up with pros and cons for any topic. It’s social construction, meaning that many aspects of our daily experience are accepted as a result of agreement among members of society. In this manner social reality is created.

I saw this occur in real time – a people constructing their social reality through computer-media communication via social media. For a communication scholar such as myself, it was intellectually orgasmic. Phd dissertation topic, anyone?

At first, perception toward the new DOT slogan was skewed toward the negative – people were making fun of the slogan. Then, influential Tweeters, bloggers, and celebs chimed in urging support for the campaign.

Later, some of the “pros” went further and berated the “cons” for being too negative and, worse, unpatriotic! Suddenly the tide turned – negative comments are now interpreted as “bashing”, masyadong nega, hindi maka-Pilipino. Even the mockery is more gentle than it was at the start; it’s somehow toned down. It’s as if a sort of bullying took place.

Image here.

Why do some ideas spread so fast and embed so strongly, like a virus? Why are some ideas accepted and others not? Writer and researcher Malcolm Gladwell might have an explanation for this in his book “The Tipping Point” (2000).

There are three types of influential persons who have rare and particular social gifts, he says, upon whose involvement “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent”: the “connectors” are people who “link us up with the world”, who have social networks of over a hundred people; the “mavens” are “information specialists, people we rely on to connect us with new information;” and “salesmen”, the persuaders who have charisma plus powerful negotiation skills, and who tend to have “an indefinable trait that goes beyong what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.”

Once these people jump on one side of an idea or the other, they bring about the “tipping point”, the “moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” Then, others who are less influential or undecided tip that way. Then an idea becomes the dominant ideology.

For now, people are having fun with “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”. Let’s hope it brings in the visitors and their much-needed moolah.

But we have to remember that it’s not all about slogans, which are just a bunch of words strung together. The slogans need to be backed up by a genuine product – a safe and tourist-friendly Philippines, where people can truly have more fun. ***

Malcolm Gladwell portrait here.

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pop goes the world: pinoy this way

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today29 September 2011, Thursday

Pinoy This Way

San Francisco, California – Every two or three years I hop on a plane for a vacation in the US with friends and family. I divide my precious few weeks’ of leave between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, revisiting old haunts and discovering new.

At Pebble Beach, one of my favorite places to visit. 26 Sept. 2011.

On the plane I sat between two prayerful Filipina ladies, both US citizens. The one on my right at the window seat was chatty. She had just escorted her ailing mother, also a citizen, to Cavite to be cared for there by other family members. “I’ll miss her,” she said, “but it’s not easy to care for seniors in the US.”

The older lady on my left (aisle seat) was meticulously made-up and dressed, a teacher at a college in Bukidnon, handling public administration and law. She was on her way to rejoin her daughter and grandchildren.

We didn’t know each other’s names, but that didn’t matter. “Ingat,” we said in farewell.

When I emerged from the airport doors pulling my luggage stuffed with ensaymada, hopia, and Queensland butter in cans, my family enfolded me in their arms and took me to IHOP for a meal. “We’re sure you’re hungry,” they said. They urged me to eat a bacon omelette, pancakes slathered with whipped butter and syrup, hash browns. (It was eleven o’clock in the evening.)

The next day we went to Target, where the woman behind the mobile phone counter explained in Tagalog-accented English to a tall white man that they do not sell jailbroken iPhones. When he had left, she shrugged at me. “Ganun talaga dito,” she said, knowing I was Pinay even if I had not opened my mouth.

The cashier who rang up our purchases was an elderly Filipina with carefully-waved salt-and-pepper hair and a stylish black-and-white scarf around her neck. She smiled knowingly as my sister and I spoke to each other in Tagalog.

At a Filipino supermarket the day after, I saw shelves crammed with Cream Silk and Sunsilk, Chippy and Chiz Curls, and Ligo sardines; refrigerated cases stuffed with Star margarine, Magnolia Ube with Beans ice cream (made in a California facility), and Pampanga tocino; racks full of San Mig Light, Pale Pilsen, and Red Horse Beer.

The aisles were decorated with fake coconut trees and banig on the walls as backdrops, whereas Target and Wal*Mart had pumpkins and Halloween masks. There was a Goldilocks’ outside and a bakery that sold hot pandesal. “Ibili natin si Papa ng mamon,” I overheard a young girl say. In those few hundred square meters was recreated a little slice of the Philippines, filled with even more bits of the Philippines that the homesick can buy to alleviate the longing for the flavors of Inang Bayan.

My sister at Island Pacific supermarket, Union City, CA.

At home, my sister uses a thick paper towel to wipe the bathroom and kitchen counters clean; she rinses it and hangs it to dry. She reuses these paper towels until they fall apart. “Sayang e. Puede pa naman.” Our leftovers from the huge American portions at restaurants are boxed and taken home; she makes sure we eat them the next day.

When Pedring hits, Filipinos call each other up. “Have you heard about the flooding in the Philippines? Kamusta pamilya mo doon?” We trade news and commiseration.

All this reminds me of Fil-Canadian Mikey Bustos’s “Pinoy This Way” (a parody of a Lady Gaga hit), that became an Internet sensation in April: “Back home, a land far away/ Where we work hard every day/ It makes us grateful, baby, we’re Pinoy this way….Nothing ever goes to waste/ Appreciate, don’t throw away/ Baby, we’re Pinoy this way!”


Cultural values embedded through socialization at home, school, and other settings in context are difficult to shake off. They permeate our core, unconsciously, communicated through language and food and tradition and rituals.

No matter how we may intellectualize “What makes a Filipino?” and debate from whence comes identity, the reality is that if we are born in the Philippines we are steeped in it from birth, through communication, behaviors, and expectations. If we are not, it can be learned, and is generally taught by immediate family members who developed their personalities within the context of Filipino culture. It is all carried inside us and comes out when we interact with others.

What’s it all about, wherever the Filipino may be? Work. Frugality. Sacrifice. Hospitality. Food. Family. Because we’re Pinoy that way.

* * * * *

Book Bonanza:  From University of the Philippines professor emerita and University of Santo Tomas Publishing House directress Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo:

“In February of this year, the UST Publishing House launched seven more new titles… all by Thomasian writers…: The House of True Desire, essays by Cirilo Bautista; Selected Poems by Rita Gadi; At Sa Tahanan ng Alabok , poetry by Louie Sanchez; Insectisimo, poetry by Lourd de Veyra;  Superpanalo Sound,s a novel by Lourd de Veyra; Clairvoyance, poetry by Carlomar Daoana; and Body Haul, poetry by Allan Pastrana.” Also launched was Everyday Things by US-based poet Fidelito Cortes.

These books and others forthcoming are part of the “400 Years, 400 Books” Project and will be presented to the public at the closing of the University’s Quadricentennial Celebrations in January 2012. The books are already available at the UST Publishing House Bookstore on campus and in National Bookstore branches. ***

taste more:

the rain falls mainly on the train

This is what it looks like on the train on a rainy day.

Fat drops of water pelt the windshield glass;

through the blur, people are color in motion.

The train doors whoosh open and shut

as the people of color hop on and off,

on their way to home, work, or secret destinations.

Some will find money or lust or murder  when they arrive;

others will be lucky and find love.

Those who only have lonely gray thoughts peer out the window

and wonder when the rain will stop to let sunshine in.

Below the train are streets filled with cars traversing

the city roads that wind, slick with moisture,

stretching time and the trip to wherever.

Yet the journey each one makes in their mind

is longer, more torturous in its windings,

more cunning in its twists and turns.

Far more devious are the journeys of the heart

and the color people cram the train cars hanging on to life

even as their hearts break and beg for another day, another hour

with the beloved.

Still the rain comes down relentless

washing away the doubt the sin the pain

until all that remains is the blur of love lost and gained

and beating hearts looking for the way home.

taste more:

where to stay in manila when there isn’t room in the family nipa hut

When my sisters – one based in Dubai and the other in the US – came to Manila early this month for a three-week vacation, one of the concerns that arose was accommodation – where could they stay that is comfortable, affordable, and safe?

Filipinos, as long as they have room, open up their homes to friends and family. Hotels are too expensive especially for extended stays and families believe in staying together. I would have loved for my sisters to stay with me, but my two daughters and I, along with my househelper, her son, and her niece, live in a one-bedroom unit above a disused horseracing stable – not the best arrangements for guests. Luckily, we have an aunt who insisted that my sisters stay in her capacious “empty-nest” home.

Then a cousin from another side of the family popped up in Facebook chat to ask the same thing – “Where can I stay when I come to Manila in September?”

This time I flexed my muscles and exerted my ultra-buff mouse-clicking finger to do some research:

  1. For short stays, try an affordable hotel:, which promises a “place for every Juan”. The earlier you book, the cheaper the rate.

2.  For transient and extended stays, why not rent a fully-furnished room, apartment, or house? Check out This is a service provided both for tourists and property owners. The home page shows several excellent property lists sorted by cities (Makati, Mandaluyong, Quezon City, etc.) and by access to public transportation (LRT 1 and 2, MRT). There is a wide range of places (condos, flats, houses) and prices that will suit anyone’s tastes and budgets. For the impecunious traveler, there are also options for bedspace and flat-sharing.

Twin beds and aircon? Looks good. One of the rooms at

Hotels are, well, hotels. Rental units are cheaper and provide more space, privacy, and freedom. When my Dubai-based sister had my eldest daughter and me over to visit her in 2000, she rented a condo for our stay. She said that renting a unit rather than booking into a hotel was the preferred option for many Filipinos and others looking to make the most of their money.

Conversely, a high-school classmate who came to Manila last December with his family chose to check into a house-for-rent run by a religious organization affiliated with our school. Other friends from college have booked at the PCED Hostel at the University of the Philippines. They cite ease, convenience, and less hassle for their Manila-based families as their reasons for not staying at the old ancestral manse.

But what if you do not have easy access to places like those? That’s why I like the concept of because before the Internet, word-of-mouth and the newspaper classifieds were the only places to look for rental units, and it took a lot of phone-calling to narrow down choices.

At this website, you have an entire database of properties, all arranged and sorted to make decisions easier. As the site gets more public awareness, more property owners will be posting about what they have available, to offer even more options for the traveler.

One of the rooms offered at

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do you know where your towel is?

Should you decide to take a vacation off-planet, or be sent by the office to some distant galaxy to peddle your wares, it is essential to have a handbook that will help you negotiate the intricacies of interstellar travel. I highly recommend Douglas Adams‘ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

From the publishing corporations of Ursa Minor, the only book you’ll ever need. Image from here.

Mr. Adams died in 2001, and fans all over this planet and elsewhere in the universe and other parallel dimensions remember his life and works each year on May 25, “Towel Day“.  Users of this guidebook and readers of the author’s other works carry with them a towel and have their pictures taken with it.

Why a towel, you ask? Ah. Obviously you do not have a copy of HHGTTG yet. I strongly advise you to get one. Not only does it contain information about must-see scenic spots all over known space, it also gives the answer to the ultimate question on life, the universe, and everything. However, it does not provide the question.  Oh, yes, towels. I hadn’t forgotten. Here:

From The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value — you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (non-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit, etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Very sound advice, to be sure. Any person or creature possessed of even the rudiments of sentient thought will realize the necessity of having a towel with them at all times. I carry a small one in my bag whenever I leave the house, and I make sure my linen closet is stocked with an abundance of thick fluffy towels. Moreover, I always know, at any given time, where each one is.  Clearly I am a man to be reckoned with.

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pop goes the world: folk vs. pop culture

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  20 May 2010, Thursday

Folk Against Pop Culture

Carabao turds are greenish-gray-brown in color and mushy when you step in them. Kiping is edible – first deep-fry or microwave. Buntal hats and fans make interesting decorations.

You learn something interesting every day, as we found out when we attended the Pahiyas festival in Lucban, Quezon, last May 15. The fiesta honors the town’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador, and celebrates the agricultural harvest. The bounty of the land –vegetables, fruits, rice husks, bamboo -  is used to decorate homes along the procession route. Kiping is the signature decorative element: these are leaf-shaped ornaments of rice flour, cooked to stiffness, tinted with food coloring to traffic-stopping hues. The procession route is changed yearly to give the residents of different streets a chance to showcase their creativity in adorning their houses.

It’s a small town. You can walk around the main parts in a couple of hours. Most of the houses are decorated for the fiesta. The most eye-catching was a large, multi-story house, well-built of expensive materials, imposing next to its humbler neighbors.

From ground to roof, sunflowers crafted of colored kiping and pamaypay (fans) and decorative circles of bamboo sections and vegetables – eggplants, stringbeans – covered the façade so completely that the original paint color could not be discerned.

A large model of Lucban church with models of miniature people was displayed on a table in front of the door; before it, smiling teenagers in salakot, barong, and baro’t saya posed for photographers.

One wall of a house across the way was festooned with yards of fabric of scarlet, emerald, turquoise, and magenta, glowing in patterns embroidered in gold and silver thread. The sheer audacity of the sumptuous cloth nonchalantly stapled to the house’s window frames was breathtaking.

After that, a kaleidoscope of details: dense crowds of people, posing and taking pictures. Sun-yellow, leaf-green, and orange kiping strung into ornaments like chandeliers. Fringes of rice husks. Farm implements, vegetables, and hay used to create tableaus.

Suddenly, amidst the jumble of visuals and sounds, a jarring note. Banners of products passed by, borne by parade participants, advertising snacks. Juice. A daily newspaper. A telco. Erika Alcasid, an 11-year-old visitor from Manila, was disappointed. “With the decorations and all, it looked like I imagined fiestas would be,” she said. “Then I saw the flags with the ads. The specialness was gone.”

Pahiyas began as a religious festival in honor of a Roman Catholic saint, whose intercession merited the townspeople’s thanksgiving for blessings and bountiful harvests.  Today’s Pahiyas is the collision of folk culture and popular culture. Popular culture is mass media-based, commercial in nature, and oriented to the individualistic, new, and trendy, constantly changing. Folk culture is rooted in the traditional, rural, religious, conservative, transmitted interpersonally within the community; change happens slowly and infrequently; individualism is subordinate to traditional community standards.

Commercialization is not a feature of folk culture, though some of its elements may be co-opted or copied by pop culture. The inclusion of advertising in Pahiyas points to the increasing commercialization of festivals; religiosity seems an afterthought, rather than the primary purpose. The commodification of the event, once an occasion celebrated with joy and solemn ritual, shows how heavy and far-reaching the impact of market forces are upon practically all aspects of society.

Yet some would argue that sponsors’ resources are needed to ensure the event’s “success”, more so in during the current hard times brought about by the global economic recession. Yet the people of Lucban did fine before using simple farm tools and produce to decorate. Do they really need those vinyl advertising banners?

India, with its myriad of religious and folk rituals, is looking for answers to the same question. Gayatri Sankar comments, “The impacts of commercialization and consumerism have polluted the true religious meanings and traditional customs…People tend to celebrate festivals not only as a customary practice but also as a means to exercise their spending power…festivals are no longer simple religious practices but are ways when producers make their fortunes.”

A study done by Ajit Abhimeshi et al, concluded that “The commercialization of the festivals (is) mainly driven by markets and the nexus between the local leadership, (and) companies who want to market their products.”

An opposing view from Rita Putatunda derides the “sanctimonious nay-sayers who talk piously about the so-called ‘terrible commercialization’ of the festival…” Speaking about Diwali, a “unique festival about light, noise, joy, ebullience, and mirth…rooted in the ancient culture of this land,” Putatunda says any commercialization is adapted into the celebration. “Indians being Indians, we will just go ahead and send off another salvo of colorfully noisy rockets into the Diwali sky.”

And that is what Filipinos do as well. We assess, absorb, adapt, and embrace all that is useful and functional into that which needs to be carried on.  We have no problem merging pop with folk because it not a matter of folk “versus” pop, rather it is folk “plus” pop.

Just as Pahiyas celebrates the survival of farmers in an often harsh environment, so too does the present-day adaptation of commerce and pop culture into existing traditions represent the effort to sustain the staging of traditional events at the appointed time. Filipinos have roots in the past and hopes for future, yet always live in the present, celebrating life in all ways and with all means that may come.

And Erika’s disappointment was forgotten after she saw a black carabao whose back was adorned with painted leaves in rainbow colors.

Munching on the town’s specialties of meringue and apas cookies, sipping from a can of Sprite and listening to Korean boy band music on her iPod, she epitomized the merging and blending of cultural elements, even as she was one with the annual ritual of gratitude for the land, the water, and the plentiful harvests. ***

All photos by Jenny Ortuoste.

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