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Monday, May 18, 2015

Dear Parents, Is A Bag More Important Than Your Child's Education?

That is the question I am led to ask upon seeing this news article.

(Photo courtesy of handbag.com)

While the item is discussing a situation happening in Bangkok, I have no doubt that it is also happening on our shores. The article opens with the following paragraph:

Luxury items such as Hermes, Gucci and Louis Vuitton handbags and Blythe dolls have been sold at pawnshops nationwide as parents struggle to find money for their children's tuition fees and related expenses for the new school year this month.

The rest of the article seemed to focus more on how much money the items could fetch, and the security measures employed by different pawnshops to secure these pricey items. As a financial adviser, one of the skills I have to use repeatedly is to draw out information even from what little data is offered by the person in front of me.

Given the paragraph above, one can conclude the following.

1. Luxury items induce desire and are coveted. As a friend once pointed out, they are designed to elicit envy in those who do not have them, and pride in those who do. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it sets the next point up.

2. Not having enough money to maintain a luxury lifestyle does not stop people from buying these items. Clearly, the people who resorted to pawning or selling their LV bags or notebooks/tablets (also mentioned later in the article) had enough resources to purchase them - but at the expense of other expenses or needs that have to be addressed.

3. Being a parent does not automatically endow you with the "children come first" instinct. This is something that I thought would be natural, or even primal. I've heard of new parents who have declared that their world has changed - forever - the moment they see their newborn.

But what happens after that heart wrenching moment? I've seen some parents of my schoolmates who are absent - either physically because they would rather be at work or attend parties than spend time with their kids, or emotionally, unable to connect with their children and not having any desire to do so.

And given the paragraph above, I cannot help but wonder: how is it that any parent can afford to buy a luxury bag but forget to realize the obligation of funding a child's education? It is an entirely different situation when a parent is working already to the bone and still can't make ends meet - at least s/he is trying, given his/her circumstances. But a luxury bag - or any luxury item - automatically means you have a substantial amount of money, which leads nicely to the next point.

4. What we do with what we have is always a choice. Since we have established that these are people who are in possession of a not insignificant amount of money - being able to buy a luxury bag - it becomes apparent that they have deemed "having an Hermes bag" more imperative then "I have to save for my son's tuition next year."

If that means I'm being judgmental, I'd like to say that my "judgment" is based on the actions exhibited. It is easy to shriek and say "I love my child! How dare you judge me? You don't even have your own offspring!" but I have always believed something I have been taught: actions will always speak louder.

The moment you have a bubbly baby in your arms, parents should immediately begin mapping out a financial plan that will prepare them for the coming financial obligations. That includes constant saving, investing in vehicles that overtake the inflation rate, budgeting and cutting costs whenever possible. It must be impressed that another human being is now fully dependent on you - that to me is the simplest definition of being a parent. And that brings up my final point.

5. Make your financial priorities clear. Parents are supposed to put their children's needs before their own. I italicized the word because not every parent does that - obviously, otherwise that article about bags and pawnshops wouldn't have been written.

The best way to do that is to know where you are - how much you have, are earning - and what your goals are for the near and far(ther) future; this will lead you into actions to bridge the gap between the two. As an example: you are earning 40,000 a month currently. You have to compute what your child's tuition fees would be by the time s/he enters college, taking into account inflation and the amount of increase that laws allow schools to impose, and the actual school where you want your child to study. (Many parents are fanatical about keeping the Alma Mater tradition.)

That will help you decide how much to save every month from this point on, where to invest your money so it can earn more than what a deposit account can give you, and if needed, to take a job/s that will provide another stream of income (especially if you want your child studying in a 'prestigious' school). Having a goal can help immensely in deciding your actions as far as finances are concerned.

By all means, splurge once in a while. Get a Frappuccino as a treat. No one is advocating being a miser - and it's no surprise that the word leads nicely to being miserable. But if you find yourself rationalizing all kinds of reasons to down that frothy concoction everyday, or getting a new wardrobe every payday - all the while you don't have any savings at all or aren't building up your retirement fund - you might not be looking for a treat so much as trying to blow your paycheck at every chance you can get.

In an ideal (unrealistic) world, we would have unlimited funds to buy everything our hearts desire. But unless you belong to the top 1%, allocating our funds is a reality we face everyday. What we choose to spend on reveals what we prioritize.

One thing I know, though: I haven't heard of anyone being called a bad parent just because she didn't have a designer bag. Unless there's a new memo about parenting that I haven't received.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Night Of Feasting At Lugang Cafe

Thanks to my Facebook feed, I chanced upon this excellent promotion by Lugang Cafe.

And what a delicious chance it turned out to be.

I have read on some food blogs that have raved about Lugang's version of the dimsum staple, xiao long bao. So reading this promotion made me smile because I could have unlimited amounts of it. I was invited to have lunch at Lugang a few months back, and the memory I have of the hot broth encased in that slightly elastic covering hiding delicious pork is still with me.

We started off with some appetizers (which were also unlimited), and having sampled almost all of them, I can say these are the ones that tickled our taste buds the most.




Garlic Pork Roll. Get this. Get copious amounts of this. The slight blandness of the pork melds well with whatever herbs were encased within the pork and delighted us with the sweet and garlicky sauce around it. It was such a hit at our table, we are embarrassed to reveal how many servings we had.


 Taiwanese Omelette With Preserved Turnip Bits. If you're a fan of any dish with egg in it, then you should take a bite of this - while it's served hot. There was a certain scent (one of the herbs, probably) that permeated through that was both savory and fresh. The turnip bits might be an acquired taste, though I liked it.


Spicy Sliced Offals. Wikipedia defines offals as "internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal," so if you're not a fan on innards (like me), this may not be up your alley. But I was drawn to the spicy smell and I have to admit that it was not unpleasant at all - which is a high compliment coming from someone who detests liver, gizzards and the like. It helped that it was cooked in a spicy sauce. The rest of my party found it delicious, just a tad too spicy.



Steamed Xiao Long Bao. The star dimsum, needing no introduction. There's no time, anyway - everyone was busy gobbling up the tasty morsels.


Soup of the Day. It was spinach that day. If you watch Restaurant Redemption, you'd know that courses like these (in a buffet or order all you can setup) are fillers and presented to offset economic costs. I think my taste buds were spoiled by the Garlic Pork Roll that this seemed unremarkable by the time I tasted it.


Pork Wontons in Spicy Chili Oil. Separately, they work. So it makes sense to join them, right? This elicited a rather divided opinion on the table. Some said it was too spicy, others not enough spice. Maybe we should have ordered a second and third serving to have a control group?

Now, on to the House Specialties. (Note: You can only one House Specialty per person, I would advise you to take part of this promo in at least a group of three to four people, so you can have different House Specialties to sample.)
 


Chicken Topped With Scallion And Ginger Oil. If you love scallions as much as I do, then you're in for a treat. The white, boiled chicken underneath was a perfect canvass for the toppings, and could cause your anti-carb result to crumble. (You cannot eat this without rice. It wouldn't make sense. They just go together, period.)




Hainan Boneless Chicken. My friend Cristie ordered this, and is a perfect alternative to the dish I ordered, from a traditional standpoint. You can see the bird in all of its (pale) glory, with dipping sauces provided at the side to suit everyone's taste. (Of course I still went for the ginger sauce.) And I noticed that this was a larger serving than the one covered in scallions (this was half a chicken).




Crispy Chicken. Can you hear the crunch? Yes, yes and yes. (Yes, I realize that this is the third poultry dish. What can I say? We're chicken fans.) This was dubbed by Art as "Peking Chicken" or what chicken would taste like if they were done the Peking Duck way/style. I have to say this was a crowd pleaser, with happy tummies (and burps) to prove it.



 Wasabi Mayo Prawns. Shrimps in a fried coating covered in wasabi mayonnaise. Enough said. (The broccoli? Decorative. Haha. But seriously, a good counterbalance to the richness of the dish.)

You can view the entire menu list below, and it's a special menu specifically made for the duration of the Feast All You Can promotion. (PhP 588+ on weekdays and PhP 688+ on weekends). Hurry, you only have until the end of May to avail of this promotion.


Happy, happy eating!


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For more information, please check out the sites below.

http://www.lugangcafe.com.ph/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lugang-Cafe/195092840524714

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Emperor Is Fully Clothed

While watching the (very delayed but free) telecast of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, I could hear my eight-year old niece getting riled up and going, "Go, Manny, bugbugin mo siya! (beat him up)"

As expected, another long commercial break followed (I already knew from online reports that Mayweather won by that time) and I talked to her. "I know you're rooting for Manny, but just to be clear...you know that pambubugbog (beating someone up) is bad, right?"

"Oo naman (Of course), tito (uncle) Joey, I wouldn't do that. Mali naman talaga gawin yun (it's wrong to do that)."

"That's right."

She skips a beat, and then does a follow up. "But tito...this is boxing. This is different naman (anyway) from pambubugbog (beating someone up), right?"

What makes this substantially different from a professional boxing match?
(Photo from news.com.au)

Not sure as to how her parents would answer that, I just asked her to talk to her dad about the differences between professional boxing and beating someone out of the ring, where there isn't PPV (pay per view) recording the brawl.

The truth was, I knew exactly how to answer her question. No, I don't see a difference between the two. They both inflict pain, one can actually die from the blows received, and as far as I know, violence in any form is against every moral code I have ever read up on, studied, tried to learn, or live my life by.

That is not to say that I deny bloodthirsty lust as a human urge. The few times I have ever been involved in activities that involve violence, there is a release that I inherently understand as both appealing and cathartic. A time for words, yes, but sometimes, you just want to beat the crap out of someone for being abusive, or hurtful, or (insert your reason here).

So, no, I am not in a position para magmalinis. (To appear blameless or 'pure' as far as violence is concerned) But in those times, I felt "justified" in some way: an unkind word was said, or someone inflicted violence on me first. I certainly didn't do it to get paid, but to address some wrong - perceived or real - that I felt needed correcting or just to get back at someone.

Which is why boxing is especially abhorrent in my book. To necessarily and purposefully harm another human being - for sport? And to attain wealth and some unfathomable (to me, anyway) version of glory and honor?

What can be less honorable than beating up another human being who has conceivably done nothing to you, just because you belong in the same weight class?

What adds moral weight to glorifying this blood soaked activity is the fact that fighters and fans alike invoke God into these bouts. You may call me a heretic for my next sentence, but any God that actually approves of this activity is not someone I would call the path to enlightenment. This country claims to be the bastion of Christianity in Asia - I fail to see anything Christ-like in cheering two men beat each other into a pulp for money and fame.

It was quite interesting to see my niece compartmentalize what I would describe to be an action that would cause cognitive dissonance. I know of no school in this country that endorses violence; in fact, students engaged in violent activities are quite often expelled or suspended. But we have extolled boxing as "the sweet science" - the absolute definition of a misnomer, but so romantically poetic to hear - and raised Manny Pacquiao to saint-like status that, in her mind, pambubugbog is undoubtedly wrong but boxing is "different".

Should I envy my niece for seeing the emperor as fully clothed?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Trivial National Pursuits

As expected, all Monday long my social news feed was cluttered with posts, news items and blow-by-blow accounts of how our candidate to the annual contest known as Miss Universe was faring. Even the "serious" news organizations of this country were giving up-to-the-minute updates.

It is now Tuesday, and apparently, the buzz has shifted to - strangely, of all places - Miss Jamaica. I knew (from my feed) that while our contestant entered the top 10 of the pageant, she did not fare any higher, and news stories were sprouting up saying Filipinos were now behind Miss Jamaica because she "supposedly" has Filipino blood. (Which she has denied.)

No, she doesn't have Filipino blood. Stop asking her.
(Courtesy of twitter.com)

Several of our men in uniform died (it seems needlessly), a city mayor is possibly going to be arrested by the Senate, but what makes us pulse online is if a beauty pageant contestant has Filipino blood? Talk about priorities - or the lack thereof. (I read a report that "Jamaica" suddenly trended online for the Philippines during the Miss Universe pageant.)

As a country, we are "supposed" to be obsessed with two things in the international arena: how congressman Manny Pacquiao fares in his next boxing bout, and how our candidate will do in this year's slew of beauty pageants. If this is what it means to be Filipino, then I most definitely will be on the other side of the fence, what some have labeled as anti-Filipino/un-Filipino.

I don't care much for boxing matches - I find them as having no difference with the gladiator fights of yore (one can die in either scenario from the strikes sustained). I actually wonder if Manny has some cognitive dissonance with what he does in the ring and what he preaches whenever he is asked his religious views - one that pretty clearly states violence as a no-no.

I don't care much for beauty pageants, also. It is an insult to women to be judged on how they look in a bikini and to be assigned some kind of numerical worth on that basis. The very notion of pageants is no doubt related to what is already an epic obsession of young girls to look a certain way, along with the powerful messages transmitted in mass media about whitening lotions, laser therapies and underarm treatments.

What is it about our national DNA that takes pride in the arenas of violence (boxing) and sex (beauty contests)? How do we reconcile that with the fact that we are supposed to be a "deeply Catholic" nation - one that eschews divorce but where illegitimate children are rampant?

And, in Miss Jamaica's case, we seem to ride on the coattails of anyone who is remotely suspected of having a single drop of Filipino blood. Kahit nga wala, basta masuspetsahan lang. (Even if there is no evidence, just suspicion.)

Last year, a bunch of kids from Philippine schools placed well in an international mathematics competition. I didn't hear anyone clamoring for these kids to be paraded on floats when they arrived back home, the way we do when Manny or a beauty contestant comes home. You may think little of this, but it is the bits and pieces that make up our cultural landscape - and we have arrived at a (sad) point where one can be called a "traitor" for not being supportive of either of them.

One argument says "they bring honor to the country!"

We certainly are famous - even our cab driver in Vietnam knows who Manny Pacquiao is - but I'm having a hard time equating it with honor. Unless we are now putting fame and honor on the same footing, the only ones I see gaining from these competitions are Manny or the beauty titlists themselves. (And the companies that sponsor their respective contests, of course.)

Maybe I have un-Filipino views. But that doesn't make me less of a Filipino, the same way one isn't required to be Catholic in order to be considered a Filipino citizen. It just makes me part of the minority - and that suits me just fine, in a major, major way.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

One Sunday At Inagiku

Often touted as one of the top-of-mind Japanese restaurants in Metro Manila, Inagiku (located at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel) has earned itself a loyal following as well as favorable reviews in local foodie blogs. I was once feted here by a friend who insisted that she could cajole the chef into cooking bits of bovine fat into such marvelous crispness that it could send one into food orgasm. (The chef did oblige, and after tasting it furtively, my friend's "request" certainly made a compelling case for the former in the food vs. sex debate.)

In line with this, let's move on to delights more suited to the palate.

Art and I knew Inagiku as a place of calm and quiet, having been to this restaurant separately on weekdays. Sundays, however, are a different matter. As soon as the doors opened (at 11:30 AM), the hostess lead the first party in - and everyone else didn't bother waiting for her to return, and proceeded inside on their own to find "their" tables. 

I proceeded to do a quick run through of the different stations, this being my first time to eat here on a Sunday. I passed by the salad station and thought to myself, you're not going to get much play today.

At the farthest end of the spread was a chef cooking up a huge serving of sukiyaki. I knew right away what my first dish would be.



I had a sip of the sweet, savory broth and felt what everyone feels when having their soup of choice: a warm, fuzzy buzz all over. Though Art insists the broth was too sweet for his taste, I found it to be perching a Goldilocks-like balance with the savory portion: just right. (Proof positive that taste is highly subjective.) I've had three different versions of this dish from other local Japanese restaurants, and they were either too sweet or a little watery. This one hit the spot, and set the tone for the upcoming fare.



Knowing they do their beef justice (see first paragraph), I asked the chef to cook us 2 servings of the 2 beef varieties they had for grilling: a thick cut, and the other one was thinly sliced. We prefer our meat medium to medium rare, and in what seems to me to be an internal magic clock in chefs (or, more likely, having the weight of experience), he knew the exact moment to pull it out of the heat and served it just the way we like it. I knew my arteries were hardening just by smelling the delectable morsels, but as Mr. Wilde advised, I beat temptation by hurling the fat-laden pieces down my throat.



I also opted to have some scallops - in my mind this was considered "lighter fare" - but I think the resulting dish was not as stellar as the beef because the freshness of the seafood was almost drowned in butter/oil.




No trip to a Japanese restaurant can be considered complete (in my book, anyway) without tasting their sashimi - and the sight of the ruby and orange squares (tuna and salmon) all laid out made sure I would not miss out on testing Inagiku's definition of freshness. They did not disappoint: I know it's odd, but I like it when my raw fish doesn't have a fishy smell. The sashimi tasted bright, if that even makes any sense.

There were several other dishes which I failed to take in - mostly because I was already satiated from what I did try. (Does this mean a return trip is in order?) Side note: While we do not have a picture of them, we thoroughly enjoyed the ebi tempura, which had a light but flavorful batter, and shrimps that were noticeably more plump than most.








I found many of the desserts charming to the eye. While I did see many varieties, I only tried a few of them - ah, the vagaries of reaching age 40, but one has to temper the consumption of sweets. But who says we cannot make take them in visually?







For some reason, this green ball struck me as the prettiest of them all.


And inside it was a pleasant surprise.


A swathe of matcha cream topped with red beans, both of which are ingredients that have always tickled my taste buds. But don't fret if you prefer sweets from nature, you will not be disappointed.


I remember reading somewhere - the name of the blog escapes me just now - that you had to request for ice cream because it was not readily "available," and I found that to be just the case. It was quite delightful to be having this cold dessert in unconventional flavors - black bean and wasabi.



The wasabi variety was especially masterful, having the flavor of its namesake without the sting.

We found ourselves in a virtual food coma, but thank goodness for the tea provided, which helped to soothe our feelings of immobility. At more than PhP (Philippine Pesos) 2,300.00 per person, this is not something I would partake of everyday. But if you're looking for Japanese fare that will put a smile on your (now bloated) face, a trip to Inagiku might be just what you need.


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Inagiku
2nd Floor, Makati Shangri-la Hotel
Ayala Avenue corner Makati Avenue,
Makati City 1200
(632)8142580
http://www.shangri-la.com/manila/makatishangrila/dining/restaurants/inagiku/






Thursday, January 1, 2015

Resolutions, Schmesolutions

With 2015 now in its infancy, I don't doubt that a plethora of resolutions are being made, or have been made. After almost four decades of existence, however, I would classify some (if not most) resolutions as mere "schmesolutions".

Which I would define as the art of making resolutions without any intention of achieving them.

All I needed to do was to look back on what transpired last January 2014 to know that this is, tragically, a sad fact.

In between posts of "Happy New Year 2014!" and status updates about feng shui predictions, there was a viral post last year about saving money every week - and I saw a lot of my Facebook friends claiming that "this is the year na mag-iipon ako!" (that I will start saving money) while sharing that post.

The article made saving look achievable - set aside 50 pesos on the first week, then double it to 100 the following week, raise it to 200 on the third, then 400 on the fourth, and so on until you've gone the full 52 weeks of 2014.

(From monsterpiggybank.com)

As a financial planner, I knew the folly of such an exponential plan - you would need to "save" over a million pesos in one of those weeks, not even halfway through the 52 weeks! (By week 16, the plan required you to "set aside" 1,638,400 pesos!)

I've always believed that people should save what they can, with what they have or earn. Only when they are earning more or have more should they also relatively save more. So if you've already set your mind or goal at 15%, even if your salary increases, you can still set your savings rate at 15% or increase it gradually to 20%.

Armed with the knowledge that some of my friends wanted to be financial "savers" (instead of spenders), I approached a couple of them and told them about the nature of my job - to sit down with clients, discuss their goals and reasons for them, know their financial status, then draw a financial map as well as concrete plans/steps on how to do those goals, based on what they have now and how much they can set aside to make those goals a reality.

I showed them why the plan they saw in the Facebook post was actually difficult to achieve - for anyone - and that they should instead have a plan to set aside a set amount of money every month, just to cultivate the habit. In our separate meetings, they both agreed that setting aside a specific amount, and not one that increases every week, was a more manageable way of arriving at their goals - one wanted to set a retirement fund (already aged 50), the other one was a 30 year old who wanted to travel.

Age50 knew he was already running against time, seeing as he wanted to retire by age 60. So he offered to set aside 20,000 a month. I looked at his salary and while he could afford to do so, it would mean a drastic change in his lifestyle - I cautioned him and advised him to just set aside half. He confidently answered, "I can do that! I can give you 10,000 a month!"

Age30 wanted to travel to Europe in 2 years, so I asked him how much he was willing to set aside every month. "Less than a thousand pesos."

I was stunned, to say the least. Surely, I answered, you know that a trip to Europe costs hundreds of thousands? I know people who've spent close to a million pesos in two weeks time traveling there - and they didn't even stay in fancy hotels.

Fast forward to the middle of the year: Age 30 didn't bother meeting me again - and it's safe to say he won't be going to Europe in a couple of years. Or decades, given his unrealistic expectations from setting aside only 12,000 a year. (Actually, I suppose he could still go - on credit. That is a separate subject altogether, because used improperly, it is a financial quicksand that could ruin your life.)

Age50 started saving 10,000 a month in January...then February...but by March, I got a notification from the bank that I should contact the client because they couldn't withdraw the needed monthly amount in the debit arrangement. "I have repairs at home! I will just pay double next month!" he answered back through text messaging, when I asked him about it.

April came, and Age50 was already screening my calls. He didn't make good on his "I'll pay double next month" statement.

May arrived, and I saw (on Facebook) he had spent a pretty penny buying designer clothes - but he couldn't spare enough for his monthly contribution for his retirement fund.

Until November 2014 arrived, and he contacted me, saying "Joey, I mean it this time! Please start deducting from my account so I can set up my retirement fund!" But when I once again asked for his contribution, his response was, "Wait, I have to start saving...now?"

It made me wonder: how were you planning to do what the viral post suggested, to set aside an increasing amount every week, if you couldn't even manage setting aside a set amount monthly?

I've come to the conclusion that, like the proverbial road to hell, financial resolutions are lofty and full of good intentions - with no intention of making them concrete or a reality.

We all say we want to be millionaires. We are envious when we see others succeed in their small business - swinerte lang yan (that's just luck) - disregarding the hard work that business person put in to be "lucky". We keep wondering when will our (literal) fortunes change. Why we don't see our bank accounts increase. Why we are still living hand to mouth at 50.

It's easy to make resolutions. Get a piece of paper, think up something "important sounding so that my Facebook friends will be impressed," and you're done.

But without an achievable, time-bound plan that you have the will to execute, your resolutions will just pile up, year after year. Pretty soon, you'll end up at 60, forced into retirement, without a retirement fund in sight.

Believe me, that does not a pretty picture make.

Don't let 2015 be just another year you spend wishing without any action. It's not a coincidence that the act of dreaming happens when you are asleep - consciously not doing anything. And I promise you that your resolutions will remain in a dream like state - unless you wake up and do something concrete about them.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The P.I.G. Is Now Fat

I woke up this morning and found a status update on Facebook that made me smile, a wide and satisfying one. It gave me such a buzz, I went out with my partner and had steak for lunch.

Perhaps I should explain.

Years ago, a dear friend's dad passed away. Deaths in one's family are never easy, but it was especially hard on my friend, who, after ten months, still seemed to be in a trance like state. (I would cajole him to get out more, and he would be in the counter of a restaurant staring blankly while the server was waiting for him to say his order, for what seemed to be an eternity, and with a line of irate customers behind him, which he couldn't care less for.)

On one such occasion, as we were having our lattes, a mutual acquaintance chanced upon us. This person was from the "I have a fabulous body and I'm showing it off" school of imperiousness, and even joined fitness contests one after another - he was good enough to join but not to win a single event. Ever.

He uttered a barely audible greeting in my direction because he was too busy acting horrified upon seeing my friend. The Proudly Insensitive Guy (or P.I.G.) did a double take, and exclaimed loudly for everyone in the cafe to hear.

(Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org)

"OHMYGAAAAAD!!! What the hell happened to you?!?"

My friend, who really wasn't in the mood for further "socialization" took a short pause, then said, "What do you mean?"

P.I.G. then gestured with both hands towards my friend's body, emphasizing the girth he was witnessing. "You're HUGE! As in, really, really huge!!! Did you gain like, what, between 50 to a hundred pounds?!? I mean, you're humongous!"

My friend and I exchanged furtive glances, and he turned to the P.I.G. and said (calmly), "yes, I did...And?"

P.I.G. then forehead-palmed himself and blurted, "What the hell happened? You were one of those success stories from the gym, you lost a lot of pounds...why are you now as big as a refrigerator???"

At this point, P.I.G. grabbed a chair to join us - even though no one invited him, and with what he just said, no one was rushing to do it - and looked at my friend from head to foot, then sizing him up like a salesperson estimating waist size. I turned away, wishing that the floor beneath me would just swallow me whole, because I could see the car crash happening but I was powerless to stop it.

My friend maintained his demeanor, and replied, "Look, my dad just died. I haven't been to the gym, I've been arranging his affairs, the taxes we've had to pay, and we haven't even settled his medical bills fully..."

The P.I.G. couldn't wait to preach his brand of body-conscious logic: "But that's not an excuse! Are you saying that you can't make time for yourself? I mean...come on...you just let yourself go...all the way to the buffet table!"

I sensed an imperceptible shift in my friend's face - imperceptible except to those who knew him well - that signaled he has had enough of the buffoon he was faced with. "My dad died. I'm still grieving. I'm sorry I don't look my best. I have nothing else to say."

Maybe the P.I.G. thought he saved his best argument for last, because he beamed with pride when he retorted, "Excuse me, my dad also died! But you don't see me letting myself and my body go, do you?" At this point, the P.I.G. actually stood up from his seat and did a full turn, the way he would at those fitness competitions that he never won in, trying to showcase his body to the entire cafe. (He was wearing a fitted tee.)

My friend gave him a slight wave, and made a gesture as if he was shooing a fly away. It was as if the P.I.G. suddenly regained his social cue thermometer and sensed that he was unwanted by everyone at that table. He proceeded to leave in a huff, walking away as if cameras were on him.

Fast forward to this morning: the P.I.G. announced something that made it seem like I swallowed a Cheshire cat. I will attempt to paraphrase what he announced publicly.

"I don't want to be hearing any comments about how fat I've gotten. I'm fat, I know I'm fat, and I don't need to field any questions about how fat I've gotten. I'm also older. But guess what? Everyone's going to get fat and old. Get over yourselves! And don't bother coming near me if you're going to mention anything about my weight or age. Merry Christmas!"

Surely you can forgive me for feeling this much glee, so much schadenfreude?

The P.I.G. is now on the other side of the fence.

And while he may never admit it, I think he has learned a lesson in empathy. And to never judge a person just because they seemed to have "let themselves go." And how words can be hurtful, even when they are couched as expressions of concern. Or that one's "body beautiful" will not last forever, and that instead of rubbing it in other people's faces, to just be happy that you are considered "attractive" for this particular time and space.

We are in the middle of the holiday festivities, and while meeting relatives or having reunions with high school/college classmates, you are bound to hear questions or expressions surrounding our looks or weight: "ang taba-taba mo na" (you've gotten so fat) will undoubtedly be a "standard" greeting. I'm willing to bet the P.I.G. won't be one of them, though, knowing firsthand how things can quickly turn.

At least I hope those are the lessons he has learned, falling from the tree of bodily perfection. But in case he hasn't, his story still serves as an instructive tale for those who bank solely on their looks or body to get by in life, which can be a handicap: some of them never develop their social skills nor the art of conversation simply because of the advantages that beauty is afforded these days: movie and recording deals even when the (beautiful) person can't act/sing, everyone's instant admiration even if she is a neophyte in a company and hasn't shown any skill/achievement worthy of awe, or - horror of horrors - a legislative seat because "ang ganda niya kasi." (She's just so beautiful.)

We've all been told never to judge a book by its cover. Looking at today's advertisements of underwear models, proliferation of beauty clinics and barrage of whitening soaps, it may be difficult to remember that. We're now bombarded with messages that tell us that what's outside is what's paramount, what's important, what matters.

I know of at least one P.I.G. who begs to disagree.