Tuesday, May 31, 2005

thus spake the oldies

So I started interviewing my parents two weeks ago for the first stage of my fossilization project. Writing a book about your own roots can be really fun, especially if your parents were as colorful as mine.

Armed with my tape recorder, I blurted out the project to them. As soon as my father saw the recorder, he immediately said yes like a child offered a balloon.

“Let me sing. You have to record my singing,” he said.

“We already did that four years ago, remember? We used up one whole cassette tape just to record your singing voice.” [It was a humid afternoon in our old, now-demolished living room. I accompanied him on my off-key piano as he sang Kundimans (traditional Filipino love songs), Frank Sinatra ditties, and some religious standards.]

“Yeah, I know. But I’ll sing again. I want to sing again.” So I let him have his way. He can be stubborn at times. Only after his robust rendition of Frank Sinatra’s (or was it Nat King Cole’s?) When Somebody Loves You was I able to start firing questions.

It was hard to keep them focused because their musty memories were just bursting into a deluge of trivia, painful images, vague recollections, vivid snatches of conversations, and hilarious anecdotes.

My father rambled on about teachers and farmers being heroes of the world and Jose Rizal having been taught by his mother to read and write and all that shit about honoring lowly, hardworking people when all we were talking about was the balangot (woven native leaf) hat he was wearing when he first met my mother. What Rizal had to do with his hat was something that really boggled me.

And my mother, who was busy preparing lunch, was incessantly shouting to my father “Hey, that’s not how it happened,” or “You’re exaggerating,” or “You suck at story-telling!” until she, herself, joined in and recounted how her conservatively virginal posturing finally gave in to my father’s request for their first and only movie date that immediately led to their wedding.

Back then, if people so much as see you go home at ten o’clock together, and in a stormy night at that, they would quickly assume that you just came from some marathon-fucking spree. Such a crazy time, the fifties!

I briefly touched on their childhood too and brought back some nightmarish memories of World War II when my mother watched warplanes fight (she called it “dog fight”) through the coconut leaves covering their dugout. My father recounted how he endured those chilling nights in our ancient house (which still stands, by the way) as agonized wailings wafted from our backyard where suspected traitors were being lacerated, whipped, or drowned in our stone well.

I felt odd to be talking to them about these stuff. I’ve always known them as the oldies. I never imagined them to have been young and wild and scared and flirtatious. It’s like, they were already 60 when I was born and they had no past whatsoever. Which makes me all the more interested to push through with this project.

I guess I should start stocking up cassette tapes. I’m sure there would be more Frank Sinatra songs and war stories; Rizal trivia and balangot hats; flirting and elopements just waiting to be unearthed.

Friday, May 27, 2005

i became a zombie on my way to german class

It is that time of day when the sun, or what’s left of it, yawns in exhaustion. I am on my way to German class, in a passenger jeep that speeds through the surprisingly clear stretch of Mabini. Sugary drizzle tingles the asphalted road. The entr’acte of a full-blown summer storm, perhaps. The barely-there sun and the nimbus clouds render the whole scene in muted sepia tone. The perfect time and perfect weather for the blues. Turn up the sentimental music and bring on the pain. Get ready with sacks of anti-depressant pills. Or valium. Or pot. Or tofu. Or Chinese plastic cats that eternally swing their hands to and fro like a retard.

On a normal state of mind, I will have sunk into a fit of slight depression. But that day, I am not normal, and so I feel something worse. I feel detached. Floating. A zombie without a soul, but nonetheless riding the jeep to get to his zombie German class and endure the annoying “Fragen Sie Ihren Partner” of his zombie teacher.

No, I cannot force myself to feel sad even if I see an old woman sitting by the gutter, wearing oversized red boots, sporting a wrinkled expression of blankness and pain. Not far from her, in front of a seedy bar tended by scantily clad girls, an obese Caucasian guy is being pushed on his wheelchair by two locals like he were some white, flabby idol on a pagan procession. Everywhere I turn there are barbecue stands clouded with smoke. And beside them are street children flashing their toothless grin as they go high on rugby. All these while a bar girl belts out a Barry Manilow anthem in some dingy joint.

I cannot wallow in depression with a sight like that, on a delicious street like this where, at the rumor of rain, the bars shrink and the smug old houses sneer. So I wallow in my zombie detachedness instead. Silently observing. Wickedly flirting with the allure of the banal.

I get off and walk along Williams Street, still a zombie, the rain delicate on my zombie head. To my right is a Chinese school called The Pear Tree from whose grounds grows a gigantic mango tree. As I turn around the corner, a young gay guy goes “Pssst! Boy, pssst!” I walk past him, thinking that he is calling out to an acquaintance. Then he goes “Pssst, hey you, the guy with the Vans bag!” I turn, surprised. And he waves his hand frantically and goes “Hello!”

Now, maybe I should get depressed.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

flight of a famished mind

A frenzy of flying birds will not disturb me. Not when my mind, itself, is part of the pandemonium, flipping about in carnal ecstasy over having found the wings to ride the air with. Oh, the bliss of gliding with vultures in search of carrion; the succulent pain of salivating over the thought of some rotten flesh, which, though not yet in sight, already dangles the promise of being discovered. I will find it soon. A few flapping would get me to where it lays. And wanton devouring will replace the pain.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

to the stage

It’s good to be worlds away from moronic Hollywood crap once in a while. Last weekend I was back to my old love, the theater.

Friday night, I sprinted to the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) Little Theater to watch the ballet recital of my nine-year-old niece, Shekanyah Grace. I played the doting uncle to a proudly beaming little niece in a stiff tutu.

Entitled Vive la Danse, the two-night show featured French children’s songs and folk tunes, to which girls (and two boys) danced excitedly. The performance was faulty, what with a riot of shaky arabesques and uncertain pliés. But amateurish recitals are not watched for the performers’ virtuosity. You go there to cheer for a relative or a friend, which was exactly what some members of the audience did, rather overenthusiastically. They hysterically shouted “Bravo” or “That’s my daughter!” or “My daughter is there!” or “We love you Opalyn!” everytime their daughters went onstage. One guy, in an attempt to be funny, even shouted “My daughter’s not there!”

I almost screeched “Who the fuck cares? Go grab your freaking daughters and get the hell out of this theater!” Maybe there should have been a lecture on theater etiquette before the show. If Bobby Garcia were there, he would’ve thrown a tantrum.

I see some promise in Shekanyah’s performance. Although she still dances rather carelessly at times and she still has some pockets of baby fat, she already has the grace and the limberness of a ballerina. She was, in fact, one of the two students who got Distinction when their ballet class was evaluated by an Australian ballet school a few months ago. That means she’ll be flying to Sydney sometime soon for a ballet scholarship. I’m so proud of her.

What bothered me, though, was the speech of their head ballet teacher. Before the recital started, she came out in a micro-mini, showing off her long legs in distractingly white stockings, and sat on a black bench onstage. Reading from a black folder, she said she had asked the Lord to give her her own ballet company because she wouldn’t want her “girls” to be swallowed up by mainstream ballet groups that would make them wear sexy costumes, dance sensual dances, and star in “Dracula, the Ballet.” Then, she led a prayer so that she and her “girls” would be in the right artistic path, or something like that.

If all ballerinas had this mindset, I guess we’d end up with nothing but the ballet version of “The Passion of the Christ.” And then the line between art and religious propaganda would forever be blurred.

Saturday night, I was in RCBC Theater in Makati for Actor’s Actor Inc.’s Once on This Island. After seeing the first scene, I knew that it was going to be a great show. Some familiar theater stalwarts were in the cast and they hinted at a promise of a great performance.

There was Menchu Lauchengo-Yulo (who gave a sensitive portrayal of Ellen in the Manila run of Miss Saigon and who was such a hilarious witch in Trumpets’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), Michael De Mesa (a fine film actor who played Collins with depth in Rent, although his singing leaves much to be desired), Bituin Escalante (her Mimi in Rent was one of the most memorable; who wouldn’t be enthralled with her huge voice?), Bodjie Pascua (any theater person who doesn’t know this veteran thespian must seriously think of changing careers now) Jett Pangan, May Bayot, and other familiar talents with unbelievably soulful voices.

Surprisingly, Jeffrey Hidalgo was part of the cast (unless it was just some guy who looked like him; I didn’t get to buy a souvenir program so I have no way of checking). It wasn’t hard to notice him among the talented cast members. He stuck out like a wad of booger on a glass tabletop. His accent was distracting and he was too boringly plain to essay the role of a handsome and appealing French mulatto. His character came out flat, drab, and uninspiring. His pop singing style, albeit not lacking in control (in fairness to him, he has improved a lot since his That’s Entertainment days), was ill-suited for the character, making one think what on earth Ti Moune found so lovable about him. Whatever German Moreno taught him in his now-defunct inane teen show did not prepare him for the legitimate stage.

(Little bit of trivia: he was in the same ROTC battalion as I was back in college. I remember we used to snicker derisively whenever he would ask permission from our commander to go home early. We thought, since it was a Saturday, he still had to prepare for some Vegas-style, Bellastar-type production number in Saturday Entertainment. The price you have to pay for being one of Kuya Germs’ boys, or gels.)

But Jeffrey was a minor distraction. The fire of the rest of the cast was enough to salvage the show. All throughout the musical, they swung from character to character; did some SM work; became human props; and supported each other on a minimalist stage draped with native bamboo Venetian blinds. The energy never waned, which riveted the audience. The singing was restrained and controlled. Despite the wild dancing and thrashing onstage, their voices, amazingly, still sounded clear, tireless, and powerful.

Still humming the last line of the last number (…that’s why we tell the story…), I came home refreshed that night. I think I would make veering away from idiotic Hollywood rubbish a habit from now on.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

the dark side calls me to its folds...

There it goes again.

I hear my brain go whoosh-whoosh as it turns into slush inside my shaved head. Too much work (or too much pretense at work) really takes a toll on me. Jeez, I should take a break. Again.

Everytime I close my eyes, I hear a tiny, godly voice (along with the whoosh-whoosh of my poor brain) whisper something like this:

“My child, my precious child, you are heavily-laden; your yoke is far too burdensome for your wearied sinews. Why don’t you pack your goggles, swim trunks, gallons of sunscreen, and hie off to some secluded beach and party till booze comes out of your ears?”

My skin isn’t even done rounding up melanin cells due to three weekends of straight sun-basking (Hundred Islands, Pangasinan; Laiya, Batangas; and Lucban, Quezon). And here I go again, itching to tow my sunburned ass off to another sun-crazed spot! It’s all I could think of right now. Plunge. Swim. Float away with sea snakes and tourists in dorky life vests.

But, since the gods gave me no choice but to sunbathe under the glare of fluorescent bulbs in my little blue cubicle, I’m doomed to just surf the net during breaks. Bummer. And endure the hypnotic drone of the ancient aircon. Super bummer. And overhear mindless office chatter. Ok, I’d rather listen to the aircon.

I’ve stumbled upon cool blogs, though. Great writers, these bloggers! ‘Makes me doubt my writing abilities. It’s essentially the same shit we talk about; they just have some creative undercurrent perennially ebbing and flowing through their writings. Oh well. I never claimed I was the Yoda of blogging, anyway.

Did Yoda ever blog? Or did he just record his image in that hologram thing (where a disbelieving Obi-Wan Kenobi saw Anakin slewing those cute and clueless younglings)? Whichever way he blogged, Yoda’s still my all-time fave Star Wars character (or thingie, whatever he is). He’s again in his elements in The Return of the Sith, though he’s a bit depressed because of failing to kill Chancellor Palpatine who loves showcasing his theatrical laughter. In that scene where Yoda enters Palpatine’s office limping with his short cane, he calmly raises his hand and two monster guards drop dead. Whoaah! I wish I could do that with the loudmouths at my office. Die, you bitches! Here’s my raised hand!

Some elements of the movie, though, appear too cheesy and formulaic. Anakin is portrayed with his brows eternally knitted to symbolize his eventual siding with the Dark Force. I could almost see a thought balloon plastered on his forehead: “Hey, look at me! I’m chummy chummy with Palpatine the Jerk and I’m gonna be his lapdog someday!”

Uhhm, Mr. George Lucas, in case you didn’t know, we already know he would become Darth Vader and spend the rest of his life sounding like a snoring machine inside that silly mask. You didn’t need to make it too obvious that he was thinking of denouncing the Council.

Anakin and Padmé makes a charming couple, if they only knew how to act. I felt like I was watching the first reading of a script. They were merely mouthing their lines! Whatever happened to Natalie Portman? She was a focused and determined actor in Star Wars 2. But here, well, suffice it to say that even a cardboard actor has more flesh than she does.

It may have something to do with how Padmé’s character has been subdued in this film. If she was a strong and resolute leader then, she’s a submissive and meek homebody now. She doesn’t even seem to be cognizant of Senate politics, to think that she is one of the senators of the Republic!

Also, the couple’s dialogues are too predictable. Padmé goes “Hey Anakin honey, don’t you think those separatist junkies have a point?” Then Anakin goes “Don’t talk shit to me, I’m loyal to the Republic blah blah.”

Ironically, in the next scene, Padmé goes “Hold it, Anakin sweetie pie, don’t fuck with the dark force!” To which Anakin replies, “Of course not, Padmé darling. But if it means saving your sorry ass, I might give their shit a try. It won’t hurt to kiss Palpatine’s ass.”

Toward the end, when Padmé follows Anakin to this blazing volcanic planet, Padmé goes, in between sobs and sniffs, “Oh, Anakin sugar cup, I don’t recognize you anymore, who the fuck did you turn out to be? Look at you, you’re full of shit!” And Anakin goes, “Ah, so that Obi-Wan prick poisoned your mind, eh? Here’s to you!” And he strangles the poor girl to kingdom come (well, actually, she still lives long enough to deliver the twins).

As a whole, though, I liked the movie. I’m contradicting myself, ain’t I? (Maybe it’s my slushy brain) Well, despite all the movie’s flaws, I still am a Star Wars fan. And if only to see Master Yoda perform his light saber antics, the movie is worth watching.

At least, it brought my mind away from beaches and swimming. Oh, jeez, there goes that voice again, urging me to party on the beach till I puke my guts out. Yes, my lord, thy will be done.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

edible decor and ice-cold waterfall

A dip into the frigid waters of Taytay Falls in Majayjay was not part of the plan. We were in Quezon Province for the Pahiyas Festival, so, naturally, nobody thought of bringing swimsuits or at least, a change of undies. We didn’t think we’d end up in Majayjay. But what the heck, we were already in front of the cascade. The water was pristine; the falls was splendid! It was a veritable “paradise on earth,” except that, instead of cherubs, it had countless imps perched on boulders, doing all sorts of un-paradise-y stuff such as cooking rice, chattering, screaming, drinking, loitering, and littering.

But it was still a paradise, nevertheless. Which pissed me off all the more—why the hell didn’t I bring my trunks and goggles? Everywhere I go—yes, sometimes, even to class—I always have my black Speedo trunks and my Speedo goggles (with its snake eyes hologram) with me. Being someone who dreams of becoming a fish, I’m always ready to strip and plunge into the water anytime. But this time, I had been a tad too obedient to la Présidente Dionne, our indefatigable organizer and French class leader, who advised us to pack light or, if possible, not to bring a bag at all since we would do a lot of walking around Lucban. She, too, didn’t foresee that we would drive through the sloping, roller-coastery road to Majayjay in wobbly tricycles; trek a kilometer of man-made trail that sometimes narrowed down to allow only a single file at a time; and behold something as breathtaking as this waterfall.

So there we were, seated on mossy rocks, thinking if we should just throw all our cares to the wind, strip down to our undies, and swim. It made Weng recall what brand of panties she wore that morning. It also made me think, did I wear bacon briefs? (In case you don’t know, bacon briefs are undies which are so worn out that the garter has already curled up like bacon).

I wouldn’t want to wade in the water in my jeans. That’s way too uncomfy especially in a body of water with a strong current; there was no way I could swim freely with a pair of denims on. After dilly-dallying for a couple of minutes, I saw Bon, Marc, and Ara who were already splashing in the water with their clothes on. Their wide smiles were enough to convince me to strip down to my underwear, bacon briefs or not, and jump into the chilly waters.

So, with nothing but a black sando and my black briefs (thank goodness it was black, at least, from afar, I looked like I was wearing Speedo), I negotiated my way toward the falls, through slippery boulders and past sunbathing manangs, to enjoy an hour of communing with my element.

Water, incidentally, is also Bon’s element. No wonder she swam eagerly even if the jagged rocks underneath scathed and wounded her. By the time we got back to Lucban, her shin was already bleeding.

I, too, got bruised as my toes and legs bumped and brushed against the ruggedness of the underwater terrain. The experience was quite refreshing, nonetheless. Despite the sweat-inducing ruthlessness of the midday sun, we shivered in the water. You could actually soak a warm bottle of wine there for about thirty minutes and it would come out nice and cool, ready to be quaffed. In fact, some quivering men were drinking brandy near the falls just to survive the coldness of the water.

Within a few minutes, most of us were already soaking wet—Dax, Weng, Lu, Marc (who were all fully dressed), Dulce and her beau, Eric (so happy for you, brod!), Jera and Bianco, and the rest of the gang. Michelle, Cely, Dionne, and Joven walked back up to the parking lot to wait for us. Some of the FSI people stayed on the banks. Weng, Lu, and Dax, I believe, just wanted to dip their feet but I saw the guys splashing water on them; instinctively, I joined in the fun and they all ended up like soggy rag dolls.

I, on the other hand, enjoyed the cold water as it swallowed up my skinny frame and made my tiny bones tingle. I even tried opening my eyes underwater, something I haven’t done since I learned how to swim eons ago. During my formal swimming classes, I would only open my eyes in the water with the aid of a trusty pair of goggles. I was so afraid that my eyes would get irritated not so much because of chlorine or salt water as because my eyelashes easily got stuck in my eyes. And it was always a terrible experience. I somehow carried this childhood fear up to my adult swimming years.

But there, at Taytay Falls, without my goggles, I was forced to open my eyes underwater. Though the view was fuzzy and my freaking lashes were still bothering me, I was able to amply enjoy the sights down there. Hackneyed as this may sound, the water was crystal clear, and that helped me a lot in seeing my way through the raging waters.

We tried staying right under the falls to enjoy the sensation as the water pelted our backs and heads like frozen arrows. But I didn’t stay there long, fearing that the water might actually drill through my skull.

An hour after, our body temperature was already below normal. It was time to head back to Lucban as the jeep would be arriving around 3:00. So we crawled out of the water, and prepared to trek back to the parking lot, along the trail fringed with a pure gushing brook on one side and a verdant gorge peppered with huge rocks on the other. This well-trodden path was sometimes slushy with creamy mud and at times gory with generous splashes of fresh human blood (on our way there, we had come across a man with a bleeding foot being carried away from the falls; I was told he had been wounded by glass shards. Every drop of blood we passed by made Michelle recoil.).

With dripping clothes, we headed back to what we came there for in the first place—the Pahiyas Festival in Lucban.

Edible décor and commercialism. Bedecked in multicolored rice wafers called kipings, the houses seemed like obese bejeweled matrons in a soiree. With a confusion of stinging oranges, blushing pinks, striking blues, fiery greens, bleeding reds, and giggling yellows, the streets were oozing with old-world gaiety and rural merriment. There were tomatoes (or longanisas) strung together and made to appear like Christmas garlands; water falls with painted paper backgrounds; plastic ponds with real fish swimming about; curtains made of string beans; chandeliers made of kipings; and carabaos made of rice stalks. Some even included live chickens in the décor. Tethered on one of the trees was a real, pensive carabao with some sort of headdress. (Three or four Pahiyas festivals ago, I even saw a live monitor lizard among the fruits and vegetables here. We should have a law against the use of animals for decorative purposes.)

Big companies, however, are quick to wring dry any event of its commercial potential. Those traditional rice wafers are not enough, they must've thought. There has to be some touch of class, of élan, of elegance. So, along with kipings, fruits, and vegetables, sprang screaming posters of Globe Telecom (“Making Great Things Possible”) and San Miguel Beer (“Itaas Mo!”) displayed prominently in strategic places. Even the control numbers of each decorated house had Globe’s logo. The walking papier-mâché giants were draped with big banners of Western Union Money Transfer or McDonald’s or Aling Pacita’s Funeral Parlor (“We Embalm You While You Wait”) or whatever local enterprise sponsored them.

When Weng and I went out to look for her friend’s house, we saw a truck filled with people tossing Philam Life shirts to the excited crowd below. And on one side, there was a mascot of Eddie the Electric Bill Collector of MERALCO. I won’t be surprised if they come up with Kadyo the Kubrador ng Jueteng mascot next time. When the morning procession snaked out, I was actually expecting the town’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador to come out wearing a T-shirt that says Lhuiller Pawnshop, Isangla Mo!

But what can we do? These companies are the reason why such festivals still survive. They provide funding in exchange for product exposure. That’s how it works these days. I’m surprised why they haven’t infiltrated the fiesta Mass yet to include casual mention of their products during the liturgy. The priest can go “This Communion is brought to you by Ginebra San Miguel, Bilog Ang Mundo.” Amen to that, Father.

I had no choice but to force myself to dismiss the crass commercialist mood of the festival as just a minor distraction, like pus on smooth skin, or like the bloody cut on Bon’s pale shin. If I fuss about it so much, I won’t get to enjoy the sights. So, forgetting this ugly dreg of our increasingly capitalistic society, we inched through the narrow, crowded streets of Lucban, taking pictures left and right, posing in front of the most colorful houses, and even going up to their second floors. The owners were gracious enough to invite us in.

In one of the houses we entered, Dax chatted with the owner who politely explained how kipings were made. It would’ve been nice to sit with her and chat for a few minutes but the house was getting crowded and we had to prepare for our photo op.

On our way out, there was this tactless guy who said, within hearing range of the polite owner, that guests entering their house should also be fed since this was a fiesta. I controlled the urge to trip him at the stairs so he could go tumbling face first all the way down to the concrete floor below. Being thick hided is one thing; being abusive is another matter altogether.

Which is not to say that we were not famished. Well, our intestines, too, were sort of grumbling already. But we weren’t that famished yet to demand that we be fed by strangers who were already kind enough to let us in their houses to be photographed. Jeez.

Feeding time came quite early. We dropped by Café San Luis, a crowded, Mediterranean-inspired alfresco restaurant managed by a tanned girl in a pink tube top and a cowboy hat. Amazingly, all 24 of us found seats, courtesy of la Présidente who, having gone there ahead of us, must’ve elbowed other guests off the tables to reserve seats. Part of the meal, of course, was the famous pancit habhab. Ok, Michelle, let’s say that again, it’s habhab, not hadhad. The latter is an itchy, smelly skin disease found in the genital area. Let me say that again, habhab.

This Chinese noodle, which is traditionally eaten by devouring it doggie-fashion, without spoon or fork or bare hands, is best served with local vinegar. The rest ate puto and dinuguan (pig’s blood stew).

Snacks (or more appropriately, a very early dinner) was served in Bon’s aunt’s house. While some of us were still dripping with water and sweat, we eagerly partook of the food at the feast table. The fruit and potato salads, which I eventually shared with Michelle after I got for myself two helpings, were awesome! Credit to Bon’s aunt who was kind enough to feed 24 people who just came from a dusty trip from Majayjay.

Before sundown, we were already walking toward the edge of the town where our two rented vans were waiting. In the van, we still had some energy to discuss the local rebels’ disgust over China’s emerging capitalist thrusts (let’s listen to Lu’s lecture on this; nope, she won’t be making up one of her stories like she did in Paris: “Oh, this must be the exact spot where Marie Antoinette picked her nose before being guillotined!”), the military’s connivance with the Abu Sayyaf and their leaking of a list of enemies of the state, or whatever that list is called (come on, Marc, speak up! What do you know about the military’s stench?), why rainforests are called rainforests (go Dax! This is your field of expertise; I know you’ve got a rainforest somewhere on your body), crustaceans (so Michelle, how many feet does a centipede have? Does it fall under the Crustacea family?), and so many other unprintable topics. There was even some room for Michelle’s Spanish song for the Peñafrancia Virgin and some bugtungan (“Ang ano ni Nena, bubuka-bukaka”).

As the night deepened, and after an exhausting conversation in French, our mouths (nos bouches? Hehe) finally got tired, and we fell asleep.

I’m wondering where our next stop would be. Did I hear someone say Peñafrancia? I guess we just have to wait for invitations from true-blooded Bicolanos, right Dax, Michelle? I’d start packing my trunks and goggles this early, just in case.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

this is the FUSS time i'm gonna say i love you

It was an episode straight from Survivor, sans the bickering and psycho-emotional torture. The location was picturesque Quezon Island, one of the most frequented islands among the one hundred dotting the seas of Pangasinan.

Since it had Spartan amenities, we were forced to eat our dinner—de-boned milkfish and eggplant (grilled to mouth-watering perfection by RR, Lawrence, and Lester) squid adobo, steamed shrimps, rice, and mangoes—under the dying light of a kerosene lamp. After which, we washed our soiled hands with nothing but brine and sand.

Because of dark, waterless bathrooms that stunk to high heavens, the women did their peeing in the sea. Gail even had the luxury of having spotlights trained on her while she was peeing—one from JP’s flashlight and the other from some bozo up on the pavilion (I swear, Gail, it wasn’t me! It was JP and that perverted guy). As for us, guys, we had no choice but to relieve our bladders like dogs in dark, nondescript spots. JP, who had the misfortune of feeling the call of nature after dinner, had to defecate and endure the stench of the bathroom up on the rocky hill. I hate to think how he washed himself after that, if he did wash at all.

We had also been given a handful of challenges to hurdle:

1. Take off your wet clothes and change into dry ones on the beach, in front of each other, using a flashlight, a sarong (a long, tie-dyed piece of thin fabric), or a towel.

2. Find out how you could cramp yourselves (we were six) inside a small tent and spend the night there like tuna soaked in salt water.

3. Try to sleep sound as shrieking monster-children scurry after a blasted talangka (tiny crab) that seems to be unexplainably drawn to your tent.

4. At two in the morning, try to sleep in peace as that same freaky talangka seeks refuge under your sheets and crawls its way to salvation from the shrieking monster-children.

5. Without using soap or shower gel, rinse the sand, sweat, and seawater off your body with just five cups of distilled water brought in from mainland Pangasinan.

6. (I’ve got an immunity charm from this one) Have a good night’s sleep while Chris angelically snores his lungs out inside the tent.

7. (This one’s just for JP) Hold your breath as long as you could while you shit inside the stinking bathroom and die of lack of oxygen. Or inhale with gusto the putrid smell of shit and die of suffocation.

We also had self-inflicted challenges courtesy of that time-tested, weather-beaten, intellectually challenging game, Truth or Consequence. It made Licel seek out pebbles in the dark and sent Nikki to the task of pulling our huge and heavy distilled water container from the tent up to our spot near the sand bar (with some help from her sweetie-pie JP, after much prodding from us). I, on the other hand, was ordered to find a stranger and introduce him to our group. This amid riotous laughter, teasing, and ribbing from all of us, most especially from RR and Lester who had gotten the Dolphy-Panchito routine down pat.

The game also led to RR’s confession regarding his feelings for Adie. Good thing she was back in the tent at that time, enabling RR to pour his heart out to us. When she finally returned, we knew what to do.

If it weren’t dark, I’m sure I would’ve seen Adie blush as we teased him to RR, who, as the night waned and as the alcohol took hold of his tongue-with-a-built-in-subwoofer, became increasingly bolder in hinting at his feelings for Adie (do I smell professions of love this early?). The next morning, when Adie lost her slippers to beach thieves, he graciously offered his own and tiptoed his way on the boiling sand. Ahh, the things one would do for love!

The rest of our night was spent waiting for shooting stars while Lester and RR provided entertainment through their non-stop Dolphy and Panchito antics. If RR has a built-in subwoofer, Lester has a whole sound system down his throat; you could hear these two whisper ten kilometers away.

I had a natural high swimming the morning after. Only Gail, clad in an oversized orange life vest and snorkeling goggles, was gutsy enough to join me in the deep part of the sea. Most of the time, though, I unconsciously left her as I swam farther to even deeper waters. Because of this, we became known as the tandem, Aqua Man and Goggle Girl, whatever the hell that means.

The corals in these parts were rather drab and gray. And the fish, too, seemed to be of the dull hue. Upon further inspection underwater, I found out that the boats docked on the beach were anchored on these same corals. I hate to think what would be left of them after a few years.

After a quick early morning swim, we went back to our tent to have ripe mangoes as breakfast. They were so sweet I devoured around three or four in one sitting. We personally picked some of these from mango trees in Tilbang (did I get the name right?) the day before.

Rewind to Tilbang, one day before…

Using Nikki’s pick-up, we drove to Tilbang to pick some fresh mangoes. It was a good thirty-minute drive from downtown Alaminos. In the car, we started talking about the liters of sunblock I poured on myself but somehow ended up talking about Star for A Night champion Sarah Geronimo’s latest hit (This is the FUSS time, I’m gonna say I love you/It’s the FUSS time I’ve ever felt so helpless deep inside.)

Which got me thinking. Why don’t we have something like Search for the Star Phonetics Teacher of the Night? The champion could win, among other prizes, a five-year contract as speech coach of the winners of singing competitions like Search for a Star or Star for a Night so they can learn to pronounce "first" properly. Just a thought.

When we got to Tilbang where a stretch of parched, dried-up farms lay side by side, we turned right at the exact spot where lazy, loose-skinned cows were hanging around. The cows mark the spot, said Nikki. Once you see those cows, it’s time to turn right. True enough, when we turned right and drove ahead, we found the site. Good landmarks, these cows.

Amid two circular ponds were duhat and mango trees. JP and Nikki led the mango picking with their long bamboo stick. I tried picking mangoes myself but gave it up after I got only three and an army of hantiks (huge red ants). So we, Adie, in her prayer-meeting outfit, Licel, Gail, and I just contented ourselves in posing for the camera.

Fast forward to Quezon Island…

Where was I…Ok, so back to Quezon Island…So there we were, fresh off the sea, ready to jump into the boat and go back to Alaminos when they discovered that they lost their slippers—Adie, Licel, Nikki, and JP. If Gail hadn’t chosen garish, shockingly hot pink slippers that naturally repel thieves within a five-kilometer radius, she, too, would have gone home barefoot. Well, at least, Licel didn’t lose her chopsticks, otherwise she would have nothing to clip her long, rich, frizzy, wiry, Nuestra-Señora-de-Antipolo hair with.

Before we left for the bus station on the morning of May 2, we dropped by Lucap Wharf to check out a concert marking the end of Le Tour de Hundred Islands. Contrary to what I had expected, it wasn’t jologs epicenter after all. With cans of beer and servings of bininghoy (sweet, sticky rice stuffed inside halved bamboos), we enjoyed listening to Bob Marley covers, reggae music, and other standards.

As we went up the bus to go home, I don’t know if it was just me or I really did see some pain in RR’s eyes. Could this be the FUSS time he’s ever felt so helpless deep inside? I don't know. I can't tell. I’d rather not fuss about it.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Freddie Kruger tractor, shit-colored church, and riotous baptism

Exactly one year after Puerto Galera, the gang is together again for yet another summer escapade. This time, though, Flores, Boo, Jake, Raymond, and his friends did not make it. We’re just here with Adie, Licel and her officemates, JP (with his girlfriend, Nikki, whose family lives here), Gail (my seatmate on the bus; I scared her out of her wits with my horror stories as we zoomed through the shadowy countryside last night).

We arrived here in Alaminos City around two this morning, went straight to bed, and woke up to a dry, languid sun. Like any other provincial city, the whole place showcases drab concrete and asphalt everywhere—the usual, ostentatious trappings of cityhood.

Since all these concrete roads and buildings intensify the heat of the sun, I ended up having a slight headache. Not wanting to spend my first few hours here nursing my throbbing temples, I decided to go check out the city all by myself (Licel was busy reading Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress; Adie was hanging around Buddha knows where; and Gail was snoring her way to dreamland).

Just right across Adie’s uncle’s house (where we were staying) is Nepo Alley, a pocketsize mall that houses your usual chain of bland fast food stalls and tiangge-ish boutiques. A walk around the mall, which looked more like a classy, high-ceilinged warehouse, convinced me that it wasn’t a place for me to hang around in. Save from an uncharacteristically clean wet market at its back (where you could have your purchased milkfish de-boned for an additional five pesos; the de-boning process itself is such a joy to watch), there was nothing special to see in there. So I just went into its one-peso-per-pee restroom, relieved my complaining bladder, and headed to the exit.

Just before I went out, I saw this display of “great prizes” for some raffle draw the mall was sponsoring. The third prize was some squarish appliance that looked like a small washing machine or a rice dispenser. Second prize was a weird steel machine with an iron snout straight from the workshop of Freddie Kruger. And the first prize was a long, monstrous agricultural implement. Adie told me later that it’s called a hand tractor or kuliglig. Not exactly the type of prizes I would wildly jump up and down for. It’s a raffle I’d gladly not win in, not unless I’d want to use that freaky tractor thing as paperweight, as Licel ingeniously suggested.

So out went my hunky little ass from that mall-cum-Freddie-Kruger-shop to go to (where else)Alaminos City’s place of worship, St. Joseph’s Cathedral (jeez, I’m getting too predictable).

The church is something that could only come out of an interior designer’s worst nightmare. The whole place was painted tombstone-white while the moldings and trimmings were splashed with a gaudy shade of yellow-green, reminiscent of liquid shit that comes out when you have diarrhea. There was a crass attempt at eclecticism by throwing in together a neo-classic retablo (main altar) in pastel colors and striking stained glass windows depicting the crucified Christ with God the Father behind him. These pieces would’ve looked great individually, but together, the effect was anything but godly.

Priests should be trained at the seminary to cultivate their aesthetic tastes so that such bastardization of supposedly sacred ground would be averted. How can one concentrate on her Hail Mary when the church itself reminds her of an unflushed toilet bowl?

The first few pews near the altar were filled with excited parishioners. There would obviously be a ceremony. Great, I’d get to hear a mass in Pangalatok, or Ilocano, or whatever language they speak here. So I sat down behind one of the scaffolds (they’re not yet done applying shit-colored paint at the choir loft and the ceiling) and waited.

After seeing some wailing babies dressed in lace and satin, I knew that this was going to be a baptism. True enough, a lay minister brought out a tacky, light blue Orocan pitcher and a fluffy white towel. Then, an old, bored-looking priest came out. He silently surveyed the noisy crowd, and, without waiting for them to settle down, he began reading from a small, black book.

He spoke with a calm, soothing, monotonous voice that was as enthusiastic as a static TV screen. The poor guy must’ve officiated religious ceremonies all his life; he must've had one too many. From where I sat, I couldn’t catch what he was saying as the sound system was a bit muffled and he was speaking English with a thick accent. So much for my wish to hear a Pangalatok rite.

Curiously, nobody was listening to him. The people were chatting, laughing, taking pictures, or tinkering with their cell phones. Here and there, the din was accented by a loud cry of a baby or the gleeful squeals of little boys. Restless adults were hopping from one pew to the other, greeting guests and exchanging pleasantries as in a party.

Amid all these, the priest simply continued his monotonous drone, unmindful of the cacophony of chattering and shrieking. A few minutes later, he stepped down from the dais and, followed by his assistant with the Orocan pitcher, perfunctorily blessed and baptized each of the garishly dressed babies.

A confusion of flashbulbs, a concert of clicking cameras, and the whole thing was over. Fifteen new infants had just unwittingly become members of the Church. The priest slowly walked back to the sacristy, with the Orocan guy trailing behind him.

At that point, I also walked out of the church while Frere Jacque was blaring from someone’s cell phone. Somehow, I was no longer pissed by the church’s terrible interiors.

Maybe these people deserve it.