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Friday, December 13, 2013

LGBT: The One Dimensional Minority

First off, I'd like to apologize to my readers for the lack of posts as of late. My new work doesn't allow me much time to write as often as I used to, but when something upsetting happens, I find that writing about it can be cathartic and renewing, letting the toxin out of my system.

I am in the middle of a month long seminar that will further my skills in financial coaching, and one of the most engaging parts is when coaches share real life experiences of how our sessions with our clients have commenced. The topic of financial coaching might be foreign sounding to Pinoys, but it is badly needed as many Filipinos do not save their money, choosing to be one-day millionaires. (Something I will write more about in the future.)

On a daily basis, we would swap stories, on how difficult it is to make people face the truth about their finances, to make a financial plan for themselves, their loved ones, their retirement, etc. Through this process, we learn to troubleshoot objections we hear, and it prepares us if the situation should arise.

On the day Mandela died - poetically now, it seems - one coach began sharing about an unusual dilemma: he had a client who was more-than-adequate in the financial literacy department. This client was under 30, a single male, who already owned a handful of condo units being rented out; he has insurance policies in place from different companies, he invests in various instruments ranging from stocks to variable unit linked products, and still had extra money to place elsewhere.

The coach threw the question to the moderator and to all of us: does he even need a coach? Personally, I would classify this client as an ideal one, who needs no prodding as far as saving and investing are concerned. The coach felt that he was almost useless in a scenario like this, and was opening the floor to suggestions.

I was quite excited to hear how different coaches would "attack" the problem, but before anyone could contribute anything useful, the coach concerned uttered: "I think I should have worn a tighter shirt."

There was a palapable moment when the room could have heard a pin drop, then chaos ensued.

"Aaaaaaaaay! Bakla ang kliente mo?" (Your client is a gay man?)

"You're right! You should have won a tight shirt...or flexed your arms!" (Note: this particular coach was into bodybuilding)

"Dapat sa gym mo binentahan! Sa may showers!" (You should have attempted the sale at the gym, at the shower area!)

The coach replies: "Ayoko nga! Baka may mangyaring iba, hahaha!" (No way! Something 'else' might happen!)

Even more suggestions followed.

"Spottan mo sa gym!" (Spot him at the gym!)

"Go on a date, one on one!"

"Anything for the sale, I'm sure your girlfriend won't mind!"

"Tell him you'll do anything for the sale...anything!!!"

"Alamin mo kung may boyfriend! Ligawan mo!" (Find out if he has a boyfriend! Court him!)

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was truly one of those moments where I had to ask, is this sh*t really happening?

For weeks, we have been complaining about how difficult it is to re-educate the Filipino public about saving up for a rainy day. We wailed at how, the moment we suggest a plan to set money aside for future use, clients would immediately shut down and say "I have no money!" even if they were decked out in the latest shoes or sporting the latest gadget. We wanted to shake the people we talked to, in order to knock some financial sense into their consumer-driven habits.

Here comes this client, a self made man before reaching 30 years old, having no dependents, various properties and other assets to his name, and still looking for ways to make his money grow. This was a person who we didn't have to coach from scratch, who was aware of fiscal responsibility and appreciation, and acted prudently beyond his years.

And the best thing we can suggest is to wear a tighter shirt? All because he is a gay man? (I didn't even get to ask the coach how he knew this piece of information.)

What is it about the word "gay" that induces so much myopia, particularly from those who are afflicted with homophobia?

Just because someone is gay, it doesn't mean sex is the only thing on that person's mind - at least, no more or less than a straight person's.

When we portray gay people as having sex, sexual acts, and sexual positions on the brain 24/7 - and we act, think and speak about them accordingly - we make the LGBT community caricatures of a whole person.

We make it okay to think of the LGBT community as inferior to those who are heterosexual, incapable of rising above sexual urges, always succumbing to lust at the slightest whiff.

We make it okay to make laws that demean the LGBT community, after all, the popular notion is that they are "sex-obsessed" and should be policed and restricted legally.

On the day Mandela died, a man who fought for equality and freedom, the amount of homophobia that oozed out of practically every participant in that seminar served as a stark reminder that his work is not done.

We pride ourselves in thinking we are "tolerant" towards the LGBT community. We fancy ourselves "moral" being Asia's bastion of Christianity. We think that because we have a gay friend, that makes us "accepting".

Until we learn to see "gay" as just a part of one's totality - albeit an important part - then straight people should be ready to be judged along those same, narrow, bigoted lines.

Half of (straight) marriages end in divorce - and we're not even counting those who are legally separated, annulled, or living separately. Using that same yardstick, what would that say about straight people?

A friend summed it up quite nicely: our sexual orientations may be diverse, but we all deserve equality.

(Courtesy of sexualitycounselingnyc.com)

Indeed.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Death Of Objectivity

As we are all coming to terms with typhoon Haiyan's (local name: Yolanda) destruction of lives and properties, it's no surprise that news organizations are jostling for the "best", be it angle, human interest story,  or scandal. A disaster of this magnitude has gotten the world's attention - and helping hand - and that is where CNN's Anderson Cooper comes in.

(Courtesy of nydailynews.com)

One of the most recognizable faces where news reporting is concerned, Cooper has been to various high-risk areas (calamities, war zones) and is often seen reporting "from the ground" - where the action is. It seemed rather natural and expected that he would do the same in Haiyan's wake, as he has the experience in covering similar events.

What he reported from Tacloban City on the fifth day (after Haiyan left) was certainly a blow to our rescue efforts capabilities: he noted that power was still out, roads were still blocked, corpses were piled up by the road, there was extremely minimal - if any at all - government presence to convey authority and order. He compared our plight with those of Japan and Haiti's after they experienced their worst disasters, and found us to have the slowest response time, from an official government source.

Local news reader Korina Sanchez, wife of the current DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) secretary Mar Roxas, was reportedly displeased with Cooper's report, and shot back in her own radio show, saying (I'm paraphrasing) that he doesn't know what he was talking about/reporting on.

(Courtesy of sarablack.com)

This was certainly not unexpected on Korina's part. It is but natural to defend one's spouse, especially when he is cast in a bad light, in such public a manner.

The way I see it, there are two questions that are front and center:

(1) Was Cooper's report factual and objective?
(2) If so, why would a fellow journalist take issue with it?

If the answer to the first question is a No, the second question need not be tackled. (It opens up a whole slew of other concerns focusing on Cooper.)

I watched Cooper's report and found nothing false, misleading or exaggerated as to approach falsehood: there was no centralized government presence where he was reporting from, no makeshift medical booth or treatment area, no official giving out rations or supplies, bodies were strewn on roads, concrete, fallen roofs. It was the fifth day after Haiyan left, and Cooper was quite objective in stating what he saw, what we all saw on our TV screens.

It leads us to the second question: why was Sanchez bothered by facts? I presume that her comment was in response to the same Cooper report, and unless she saw something else, I am hard pressed to see why she would take issue with someone who did a textbook definition of objective reporting.

In my past blog entries, I have spoken against and taken issue with journalists who are seen endorsing products, or are relatives of current government officials, for the same reason: one way or another, their objectivity is bound to be compromised.

Whether they realize it or not, once they are connected - by ad or marriage - they can no longer claim impartiality, a hallmark of journalists, at least that's what I was taught. If a journalist is compromised, it is akin to being a lobbyist, only much worse: at least a lobbyist starts out with an agenda in mind, and makes that agenda known. With a journalist, s/he may act contrary to the public interest and the truth while assuming a deluded mantle of incorruptibility by way of his or her profession.

Think about it: how can you speak out against your own spouse - in public - when you are married to him? Even when factual observation bears out the truth, it becomes an untenable position to be in, the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Add to that Mr. Roxas' "chances" for 2016, and it becomes an everyday question I ask when I see Korina's face delivering the news: how can she effectively deliver the news about any inefficiencies of, say, the DILG, if she is married to its' head honcho?

There's a reason why raffle contests do not allow relatives of the organizers to join. And also why our Constitution wisely prohibits political dynasties. The outcomes, the processes cannot be undermined by a cloud of suspicion, the chance of tampering, the spectre of nepotism. It is to ensure that our tallies will be considered correct, that no intervention has taken place, and no corruption is allowed to fester. Once there is doubt, once there is compromise, everything and everyone becomes suspect.

Journalism, the press - sometimes referred to as the fourth branch of government in democracies - is given much leeway and latitude to ensure that the other three branches perform their duties, with the knowledge that they are always under scrutiny.

How can a journalist perform her duty, to her utmost capability of upholding the tenet of impartiality, when she is, quite literally, in bed with the subject of her report?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Question For Our Senators

Have you ever heard of the term "conflict of interest"?

I ask this because I have not heard of anyone bringing this up publicly, in light of what is about to transpire on November 7: alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles is set to appear before the Senate to answer your questions, and the unsaid objective is that you will be able to get to the bottom of this elaborate scheme after subjecting her to your collective scrutiny.

(Courtesy of whattalking.com)

No one is mentioning a glaring fact: aren't the legislators supposedly involved in this scam the ones who are truly on trial?

The Commission on Audit report already makes mention of at least three senators and other representatives from the Lower House who have unsettled, questionable or dubious ways of managing their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), lovingly called pork barrel by everyone in the country.

Using that frame of reference, we can liken the legislators as the accused in any court case. So I harken back to my first question, in a more detailed manner:

Isn't there a clear conflict of interest, in the matter of senators questioning Napoles?

Would our justice system allow the accused in any other criminal case do the cross examination of a vital witness? In what universe - or at least the universe of democracies with a corresponding justice system - does the one charged with an offense or a crime be the one to test that an eyewitness account can be considered valid/reliable?

When the whistleblowers first appeared in the Senate, and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada made a calculated gesture of appearing as well but announcing at the start of the session that he was inhibiting himself, and excusing himself while all cameras were focused there, the only question I had racing in my mind was, shouldn't ALL legislators be inhibiting themselves, given that THEY are the ones we want to be held accountable?

Our money was entrusted to these legislators, and the best responses they can give us are:

- my signature was forged!
- it's not my job to check where I allocate my funds!
- I only allocated so-and-so, why are you all raising hell?

The distrust and anger we collectively feel is heightened by the fact that it is OUR REPRESENTATIVES - supposedly the ones we elected for our interests - involved in this maze of anomalous transactions.

Which part of "it's not your money, it's ours!" is particularly difficult to understand? Is that the reason why these legislators have such a cavalier attitude towards how money that was placed at their disposal be spent?

And when we find senators whose net worth have increased dramatically over the same period, can you stop us from having the gravest of doubts of how that could have occurred?

As a public official once put it (and I'm paraphrasing), no one gets rich by entering public service, and if you do amass wealth while serving, you are doing something wrong.

We haven't even begun the question of impartiality: how can the senators be neutral when they - some of them, anyway - are already crying foul at how the COA report has already painted them as far as public perception goes, even going so far as shedding copious tears on TV? (I guess it's hard to take the acting hat off for some.)

So the question really needs to be asked of our senators:

Why are you - the ones we citizens are demanding an accounting of public funds we entrusted to you - also the ones about to "grill" alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles come November 7?

Wouldn't this be another monumental waste of time, money and effort, in a clear case of conflict of interest?

Or is this just a showcase for some of you with 2016 ambitions?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ready For Retirement?

Say the word "retirement" and what comes to mind?

A person in their 60's - at least - who's had enough wisdom to "save up" for what is also another term associated with the R word, the Golden Years. It connotes an end of a journey, a time when one can be relaxed, and possibly having enough time now to visit other countries.

So it pains me when I see taxi drivers who are in this age range, who can barely hear you and are constantly nodding off, still plying their taxi routes. It has only served to highlight what I have seen over and over again, when I see clients.

Retirement has less to do with chronological age, as it relates more to affordability. More specifically, the question that we all need to answer is, can I afford to retire?


(Courtesy of themoneyupdate.com)

This may be a good time to confront the notion that we should have children so that "aalagaan tayo pag tumanda na" (we will be taken care of in our old age), which strikes me as a tad selfish. While it is the parent's duty to provide for a child's needs, it cannot be seen as "automatic" in reverse.

The reason is that the child will grow up to be an adult, and will go on to (hopefully) be a productive citizen, and will maybe find a partner in life and have children, a pressure that is especially marked in this country. How many times have we heard of the wail "kailan mo ba ako bibigyan ng apo?" (When are my grandchildren arriving?)

I've read articles of how unhappy the "sandwich generation" is - the ones who are expected to raise kids and are also pressed to support their parents. Who wouldn't be - between the two sets of mouths to feed (among other needs), when are you supposed to have me-time?

It's time we changed our mindset about this: we should plan for our own retirement. It's good if our kids want to take care of us then/want to do it, but we've all heard the saying "if you want something done, you have to do it yourself." Besides, with our large family size, the more common scene is how siblings pass you around, treating you as a burden that they are obligated to carry.

Wouldn't that be the most painful thing? We all strove to break free from our parents when we considered ourselves "adults" - we craved independence then. It was all about standing on your own feet with the sweat of your own brow - hitting your 60's shouldn't change that, in fact, you're supposed to be "made".

Do you see yourself that way, 40, 30, 20...10 years down the line?

Are you, truthfully, ready for retirement?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Funny Thing About Acceptance

Dyosa. Ganda. Galing ng transpormasyon. (Goddess. Beautiful. An astonishing transformation.)

Kiray as Goddess.
(Styled by Fanny Serrano
Photographed by MJ Suayan
Taken from Serrano's Facebook page)

These, and much more, were heaped upon the actress known as Kiray, after a styling done by famous make up artist Fanny Serrano and photographed by MJ Suayan was publicized. Photos that captured the transformation were posted on Serrano's Facebook page, and roundly applauded as masterful. Many people were actually left wondering who the model was initially, proof that this was, indeed, a complete 180 turn.

Serrano himself has said that he initiated the contact with Kiray, presenting himself as a form of fairy godparent because he couldn't stand the negative feedback Kiray was getting as one of the supposedly 'worst-dressed' people at a recent social function. Some of the barbs, he observed, were downright personal and he wanted to do something about it.

It certainly showcased Serrano's mastery of the make up brush. It also highlighted how good camera angles, neck stretching and other tricks that professional models do can make a 'superior' picture. The shot of self esteem this must give Kiray - who is usually made fun for her physical appearance - is incalculable.

If this is all the photoshoot conveys, I am more than happy that Kiray must be basking in the afterglow of being called a goddess, or that Serrano has reminded people of his talent, or that MJ Suayan's studio will now be booked solid.

Finally, Kiray can count herself as one of the 'pretty girls' of local showbiz, with the photographs to prove it.

Something left me unsettled, though.

It was what the meta-message said, a term I learned from reading one of Dr. Margarita Holmes' many articles: it simply means the message behind the message. Which I certainly do not think was the intention behind the generosity shown by Serrano and Suayan to Kiray, an attempt to stave off further negative, painful name-calling.

In order to be accepted, you have to look a certain way. In order to win positive feedback, you have to deny parts of yourself. In order to be desirable, you must be someone else.

I admit I may be reading too much into it. After all, no opinion is to be treated as writ in stone. But I can't help but feel that the beauty industry - worldwide, one that is valued in the billions - must be having a satisfactory smile at the reception this has been getting.

An industry that likes to think of itself as "enhancing" a person, but is making a simple statement, no matter how it's packaged: you're just not good enough. But you could be, if you buy our magic potion.

Dark skin? Filipinas must strive to have alabaster layers like Snow White.

Still not promoted? You must not have the latest designer dress or shoes.

Dateless? Not if you schedule visits to a celebrity doctor's clinic for the latest noninvasive procedure.

If this makes me a Scrooge to the happy bubble Kiray must be in right now, then so be it. I'm seriously happy for her if this makes her feel good.

I just wished we lived in a world that saw past the physical and the outer form. It's not realistic, I may be a dreamer, call me insane, but I wish people were valued because of their talents, skills, and that je ne sais quoi that each of us has, instead of the ability to approximate some perceived ideal, and in the process, remove all traces of what made us us in the first place.

Crazy, huh?


Friday, September 20, 2013

"Yan Lang Bibilhin Nyo?"

It's been quite awhile since I've written, owing to my new work. But when something of note takes place, there's nothing left to do but to immortalize it through the written word.

(Courtesy of food spotting.com)

After concluding my business at one of our offices located near Mall of Asia, I discovered I had to take a scenic (read: long, winding, unnecessary) route to get back to Makati. It was the first time I came across the place called Aseana City, and what stood out (for me, anyway) was the giant warehouse/shopping center SNR.

I then remembered that we had not done our weekly grocery shopping so I decided to drop by the store to purchase a couple of roast chickens for a couple of meals. It was mid-afternoon so I was dismayed to find a huge amount of people, practically blocking all passageways with their huge carts and lazy, I'm-leisurely-strolling vibe.

Mentally "sucking it up" (I detest crowds, big whoop), I made my way to the roasting area. With my premature senility kicking in, I managed to forget - again - that I had to pay first at the checkout counter before getting my stash. (Quite odd since you can't leave the place if you don't show your receipt.)

As I feared, hordes of carts were lined up in practically every counter. I was resigned to wasting at least an hour when I espied the very last two lanes - just one cart! I rushed over (even bumping into a college classmate) and lined up behind a single female customer, who was next to be served.

She turned to me and said, "would you like to go first? I don't have my card and it turns out I'm only allowed to go to the food service area and not the shopping area. Anyway, I'm just buying these two conditioners so go ahead."

So we switched places, and I told the checkout counter employee that I was ordering two roast chickens.

Apparently, she wasn't well-versed as to what code or button to use and started calling the next counter person, who was busy ringing up her customers' purchases. She then turned to me and asked, nasaan ang mga manok? (Where are the chickens?)

I informed her of their own store's policy of paying first before getting the chickens. And then she responded in a completely surprising way.

"Yan lang bibilhin nyo?" (That's all you're buying?)

In a split second, I decided to not make a big deal out of it. A smile crept up uncontrollably and I said "yes. That's all I'm ordering."

She then raised both her eyebrows, as if to say "wow, you've got a lot of nerve shopping here when others have carts and spend tens of thousands." As luck would have it, the woman who gave me way turned out to be my mouthpiece.

"Eh, ano bang paki mo kung yan lang bibilhin niya? (What do you care if that's all he purchases?) I'm just buying these two conditioners...ano, pagsasabihan mo rin ako na eto lang bibilhin ko?" (What, are you also going to berate me for my purchases?)

My work here is done, it seems.




Sunday, August 18, 2013

Making It Work At Work


There is no doubt that physical activity is one of the keys to maintaining and improving one’s health. From the days when Jane Fonda was sometimes ridiculed for her work in promoting aerobics, to our present time, when we have an obesity epidemic brought about by unhealthy food choices, subliminal and outright advertising of “supposed” health products that do more harm than good, stress levels at home and at work, and lack of actual physical movement due to improvements in automation in every facet of our lives, it has become a problem for exercise professionals to get people to actually move.

When I say move, I mean anything that raises your heart rate and taxes your body’s muscular endurance or strength, aerobic capacity and flexibility: that could mean something as “simple” as walking, to events like all-out triathlons that have been increasing in visibility as of late. Despite what we see in media, the data does not lie: our country has one of the highest rates of obesity in Southeast Asia, and you only need to see what our kids choose to eat to know that there is a problem as far as health is concerned.

Should this be a burden for business owners and managers? Absolutely!  Any business worth their weight in (insert business product or service here) knows that their company cannot possibly survive, much less thrive, unless they have a fully functioning, competent workforce present, and one of the imminent dangers this workforce faces is having a poor state of health, which leads to substandard levels of personal productivity, feelings of depression, lethargy, absenteeism – all of which can affect a business and its’ bottom line.

What can businesses do to shore up the health of their human resources? Should businesses do something about it, at all? To answer these, I will share ideas from “Workplace Health Promotion” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Council on Exercise, and my own personal experience as a fitness professional.

Mixing business with fitness.
(Courtesy of wellness.nifs.org)

 It Makes Good Business Sense

Businesses spend money when they hire, train, compensate and give other by benefits to an employee they hire. Multiply that by how many employees you have and you can see that this is not an amount to be trifled with: you do this because you are in expectation that what they deliver will help the business become profitable.

Think of their physical well-being as an insurance that what you have materially invested so far in their development will not be wasted due to sick days or lacklustre performances. It is vital for business owners and managers to realize that the state of their employees’ health has a direct impact on how productive they are, and the healthier they are, the less stress on other expenses that can be controlled. (Think of the medical claims your employees use annually under your company health packages, and how much smaller your premiums would be if there are less claims made because majority of them are reporting less illnesses.)

It Has To Come From The Top

Like many ideas that need traction, prioritizing your employees’ health will be boosted immensely if this was mandated and supported by the company’s top brass. To quote the American Council on Exercise (ACE) article “Fostering a Workplace Culture of Physical Activity,” they note that “when leaders regularly communicate the importance of employee health and well-being – and walk the talk – it becomes part of the corporate identity.”

You can do this by not only stating in an official capacity that physical activity is encouraged, but by actually providing opportunities to do so with your existing facilities. You can encourage stair walking and make stairwells “more appealing with paint, artwork and motivational signage.” You can designate your company canteen to make a “healthy choice” option  and challenge them to make it appealing so that even those who think healthy food is blah would have their interest piqued. You can relegate the smoking area to the lengthiest route and dingiest area to discourage the habit.

All you need are a determination to make this policy work and creative thinking.

Make Room For Physical Activity

In the old days, the only company perk that has “physical benefit” written all over it was the company’s basketball court, which, because of basketball rules and company politics, could only be taken advantage of by a select population of work: usually middle to upper management, men and only a handful out of the entire workforce population.

I’m glad to say that times have changed, and more and more companies are devoting physical spaces to exercise equipment and possibilities. I have taught exercise classes in company gyms, meeting rooms and even a chapel (which was used sparingly), and advised management teams on what and how they can utilize their space to accommodate more employees to exercise and move their bodies. Gyms should remember to provide for equipment for (1) muscular endurance (2) muscular strength (3) aerobic endurance and (4) flexibility. Consult a fitness professional so that you can properly take steps to making your workplace a healthier, stress controlled environment.

It Makes It Harder To Say No

A common “excuse” people use is the time/distance factor: they usually whine that they have “no time” to exercise, or that gyms, parks and other facilities are just so out of the way and inconvenient. Having exercise equipment and spaces right where they work eliminates the distance factor altogether, and as for the time element? Did you know that the American College of Sports Medicine has revised its’ recommendation for physical activity? You can do 15 minutes of exercise in the morning, and another 15 in the afternoon or after work, to complete their recommended time of 30 minutes of daily exercise. Surely, everyone can spare 15 minutes to move instead of taking a cigarette break or catching up on celebrity gossip, and it would clearly be time well spent.

On the other end are the gym “fanatics” who are so obsessed with exercise that they have started cutting their office hours just to catch a class or get in a few more reps (repetitions) on their chest exercises. I was once conducting a mind body class when this client (a doctor) got a phone call (which she answered while class was in progress, a big no-no) and was telling her secretary to tell her patients she would be late and that she was stuck in traffic, but in truth, she just wanted to finish the class. Having a facility on-site makes it unnecessary to resort to fibs just to have more exercise time.

It Shows Concern and Improves Company Loyalty

Employees will know that the company wants to take care of them and makes the effort to prove it by “walking the talk”. It is a win-win situation that boosts morale, reduces workplace sickness, improves employee confidence and well-being, and has a positive effect on the company earnings.

Like that popular sorts company ad says, Just Do It. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.


---------------

*This post first appeared in the fitness section of Asian Dragon magazine, July-August 2013 issue.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Are We Racists?

Last night certainly made a compelling case for it.

I'm talking about the aftermath of our loss to Iran in the FIBA games. It was hard not to be "caught up" as far as game updates were concerned, even for someone who cannot be considered a basketball aficionado by any stretch. All night long, my News Feed was filled with blow-by-blow accounts of the scores, who shot what, how many people were attending, how thrilling it was to be in the arena.

It was unavoidable because that's all anyone was talking about on my Facebook Wall (and their respective pages).

Not being as interested, I was at home watching movies and chanced upon the Iran-Philippines game during a commercial break. It was half-time, and they were displaying the game statistics. As a dispassionate observer, I could tell that we were outclassed, in both offense (two point shots showed Iran scoring more than twice our %) and defense (number of blocks). Coupled with what I have been reading (how this was a David-Goliath matchup, how Iran is seen as the team to beat, how uphill of a battle it was for the Philippines) it didn't take a second for me to see the writing on the wall.

So, when the final scores came in, I wasn't shocked at all. I'm sure our team didn't let this go without a fight, given the expectations after a still talked about game against Korea where we emerged victorious. But numbers don't lie, and I can be pragmatic to a fault.

Then the online onslaught began. I suddenly saw posts crying foul.

One by one, I saw status updates that focused on how the Iran basketball team "smelled": that we would have won had our players worn gas masks. There were memes posted about how it was a battle of Puso (heart) vs. Putok (body odor), and how it was natural for the latter to win.

Another faction complained about the height of the Iranian players, and how "unfair" this was for our boys.

The worst of the lot was when people started singling out individual players, calling them "yucky looking" and at least three people mentioning a particular player, saying that "you look like a pedophile!"

Pride or racism?
(Courtesy of facebook.com)

This might be a good time to talk about Pinoy Pride.

It's a nebulous concept at best, because I subscribe to the late George Carlin's philosophy: why be proud for something you were born into? Just as you happened to be a certain height, you also happened to be born in the Philippines. It is not an "achievement" to be paraded around.

When people win in, say, international singing contests, I attribute it to that person's personal singing talent and the hard work s/he put into it. I never understood the idea that it's because "galing yan sa Pinas kasi!" - we barely have enough facilities for basic education, much less support for something viewed as "extras" like the arts. It has always felt like nakikisakay tayo, us piggybacking on the coattails of someone's personal achievement.

And when things don't go our way, we are quick to view it as luto, we were singled out because of our color/nationality, and how discriminated we are on the world stage. I know this makes many people uncomfortable, but harping about achievements being dependent on one's nationality lends itself to racism quite seamlessly. It can't be helped: if we think that our pride is based on nationality, then any "infraction" is seen as an insult and an attack on this form of pride.

Which then lends itself also to direct this "infraction" as a racist attack towards others who are seen as the "perpetrators" - and in last night's case, to insult and disparage the Iranian basketball team that has somehow "wounded" our national pride.

We feel justified in calling them foul-smelling, and that we should wear protective gear should we come into physical proximity with them.

We think we raise ourselves up by putting down others for the supposed "characteristics" of another country, as in "everyone knows they all smell bad!"

We think nothing of calling someone as resembling a pedophile, as if it was a function of nationality, disregarding the fact that every country has its own share of offenders, sexual or otherwise.

We disrespect the hard work that others have put into their profession - and they just happened to be Iranian, or Chinese, or some other nationality - and instead, label their victories as "cheating" because of their height, or some other physical characteristic that everyone knows would be a boon before stepping into the game.

We disrespect ourselves, when we imply - actually, we went past implying and stated it outright - that our team didn't win because of a lack of gas masks, negating and belittling how hard they have worked to get to where they are.

We feel entitled because of where we were born, and not because of determination, hard work and perseverance.

Until we celebrate achievement for being the product of hard work, I fear this country will remain stunted, substituting racism for pride.



Friday, August 2, 2013

Obsessing Over The Superficial, Yet Again

The last few days saw an outpour of online support for the new Pope and his statement as far as gay people are concerned: his "Who am I to judge them?" has certainly made the rounds across social boards, and was largely seen as a (welcome) departure from his predecessor's feelings about the subject matter.

Now comes archbishop Oscar Cruz, who has taken it upon himself to "refine" - so to speak - on what the head of the world's Catholics had to say concerning gay people. In a recent Huffington Post article, Cruz agrees that gay people should not be disrespected, but only if they wouldn't "dress up as females, wear high heels, and other such acts."

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dan-littauer/philippines-archbishop-ba_b_3687005.html

It certainly highlights what I wrote for Rappler earlier this year: a predilection for this country to focus on what's outside, not the inside, in "determining" if someone is (supposedly) gay.

http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/23821-homosexuality-effeminacy

There are three things I find problematic with how Cruz sees gay people.

(Courtesy of cbcpforlife.com)

(1) The first - and rather obvious - landmine is that how one chooses to comport oneself is never reliable as an indication of one's sexual orientation.

I would have thought that in 2013, we are all astute enough to know that just because a guy doesn't play basketball does it make him gay, so should we have known that not all gay men like dressing up in women's clothes. If I may make an unscientific observation, given this country's purported (Catholic) religiosity and supposed moral uprightness, the pressure to act according to socially accepted norms is that much greater, and I theorize that there are more gay men who wear what Cruz would call "appropriate" clothing than what is commonly described as "parlorista" wear.

Cruz, however, cannot be faulted for what seems to be the general, prevalent notion: if you're gay, you must be a beauty pageant aficionado, wear makeup/are extremely knowledgeable about the subject, and want nothing more than a sex change to be a "real" woman. I can counter all these misconceptions in one fell swoop, using myself: I loathe beauty contests and see them as hideously disrespectful of women, I know absolutely zilch about beauty products, and I have never entertained the thought of going through any sex reassignment surgery.

See, at the heart of it all is that anyone who identifies as a gay man does so because he is attracted - romantically, sexually - to men. Period. That is the only thing that needs to be defined. What he wears, how he dresses, what bags he uses, which restaurants he goes to are not dictated by some "gay manual". If people see "more" gay people in industries like entertainment and fashion, it's because gay people are more readily accepted - some say essential, wink, wink - in certain fields, and let's face it: the thought of working in an environment where you could be beaten up for being honest about who you are is not exactly an appealing concept.

But it doesn't mean that someone like me, who has no idea about fashion design, will aspire to be an Oscar de la Renta just because "it's what gays (are supposed to) do" - in fact, I pity the straight guy who may be interested in dancing but doesn't learn it for fear of cultural reprisal: they work on the same assumption of compartment, that only straight guys do this, and only gay guys do that.

I've read an observation that somehow, the rules go up earlier for men, or rather boys: no crying, strength measures your manhood, emotions are for sissies. But that deserves another post.

(2) It sounds no different from a rapist telling a judge that he wouldn't have violated the victim if she wasn't wearing such a short skirt.

It's called blaming the victim. Simple. In other words, not being held accountable for our actions. In my line of thinking, even if a woman was to go streaking across EDSA, that still doesn't give you the right to forcibly have sex with her. I dare you to tell me otherwise, and come up with a plausible reason why I shouldn't persist in it.

Similarly, when you laugh/make homophobic remarks, hold yourself responsible for your words and actions. Don't pass it off by saying something lame like "eh, kasi, kalalaking tao, ganyan manamit!" Unless your name is Joan Rivers, and you work on the show called Fashion Police, everyone would best be reminded that freedom of expression also includes the right to wear, pierce, string, etc. anything on one's hair, face and body. In our secular democracy, there is no law that prevents men from wearing skirts or women from wearing pants, which I understand certain religions expressly forbid.

By all means, no one's stopping you from making fun of others. But have the balls to say it's because you're a homophobe, you revel in hatred, and won't apologize for it.

Besides, if you want to talk about gender-conforming clothing, Mr. Cruz may want to consider that his fellow priests certainly do not fall into that category themselves as far as their work clothes are concerned.

(3) What you laugh at/find worthy of ridicule is a reflection of you, and not the object of laughter.

I prefer to think of it as a Rorschach inkblot: that famous psychological tool using a series of images to determine your state of mind. We may be looking at the same thing, but we will all perceive it differently.

Likewise, when you go out of your way to denigrate someone who doesn't "measure up" to your standard of clothing, action or morality, it reveals who you are: a judgmental individual who cannot accept any other view but your own, and is hellbent with subverting any idea that contradicts yours, free choice and decision making be damned.

As a non Catholic, I appreciated what Pope Francis tried to do: extend an open palm to the LGBT community, however trite it may have seemed to some quarters. I have also read several commentaries that the core position of the Catholic Church has not changed; in fact, other priests have come out saying gays are still going to hell.

I am not looking to change anyone's religion or how they treat the LGBT community. I have long maintained that it is religion, not sexual orientation, that is a matter of choice. But the new Pope has given me a sense of his humility that I do not see quite often in religious leaders (ironically).

And as I've indicated to some friends, I prefer the Dalai Lama's formula, who said that his philosophy is kindness, and that his temple is the heart. That really is what all anyone can ask for: that we treat each other with kindness and compassion, regardless of how we identify ourselves.

That can only happen when you take your eyes off the exterior, and focus on the inside.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The New Fallback Career

That's what politics has become in these parts.

And no one drives this point home more decisively than Manny Pacquiao.

Punching his way to the presidency?
(Courtesy of mp8.ph)

My Sunday night was jolted when my online news feed was bombarded with headlines and reactions reporting on the famous boxer's apparently not-yet-publicized longstanding desire to be the President of this country.

http://www.rappler.com/thewrap/july-29-2013-edition/manny-pacquiao-for-president-why-not

Unscientifically, I can divide the reactions into two camps: the Give Chance To Others and the Did Marquez Smack Him That Hard groups.

The first one argues that the intelligent ones - like Marcos and GMA - have been given their time in the spotlight, and they ask if intelligence demands that one surrenders our moral compass. They also say that the boxing icon has proven to be generous privately, so imagine what he can do in an official capacity. And lastly, how unfair it is to pigeonhole him as being "only" a boxer, as most people have more to them than meets the eye.

The latter group replies that he's had his chance as a legislator, to prove his mettle. The legislative record shows Pacquiao has had the most absences in Congress, and was quite vocal about opposing the RH Law, despite it being supported by a majority of citizens in this country. He's also started his own political dynasty and has no qualms admitting he consults religious leaders when deciding on secular matters. A small portion of this group opines that his decisive loss by Marquez's hand sealed his fate as far as boxing is concerned, and he now has to find a new field to be victorious in once again.

Frankly, it shouldn't be that surprising that he went the political route. It is a reflection of one of the biggest changes in our political landscape these past years, that of parlaying popularity in other fields into political currency. To be more accurate, when one's star is fading in a previous career, it's time to dive in the warm waters of politics.

Admit it: how many times have those of us in our late thirties/early forties wax nostalgic when we hear so-and-so is now the councilor or board member of a province we've never been to, and think "wasn't s/he the 'it' girl/boy of the 80's/90's or figured in some scandal?"

It certainly doesn't help that we have set questionably low standards for who we think deserves to lead us and represent us on the national stage. The entry of literal clowns into places like the Senate has the backing of our Constitution, and it infuriates me no end when people argue from the standpoint of the least common denominator and say anyone should be free to run for this country's top post.

Is it a crime to aspire for greatness? To expect a leader to be a little better than most of us? To be a role model worthy of emulation? To highlight substance over form?

It's been often said that one needs only a pure heart, willing to serve, to run for public office. My response has always been, you can do that without having any government position. Manny himself has been known to give handouts.

Is he now throwing his hat in the political ring because his boxing career is now in its twilight years? Will he be going for an occasional bout or two if he wins as President, the way he did as a legislator? Why should I vote him for President, when he thinks public service is a part time job? (To be fair, we have sitting senators who have shown Manny that he doesn't have to give up his "previous career" as they continue appearing in films and variety shows.)

In the meantime, I'll have to have a discussion with my high school counselor. She never informed me that, when all else fails, there's always politics to fallback to.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Red Carpet As One Big Faux Pas

That, in a (fashion savvy) nutshell, was pretty much my thought balloon at yesterday's SONA. (State of the Nation Address)

You'd think they were celebrities, instead of public servants.
(Courtesy of www.inquirer.net)

An occasion that was supposed to give an accounting of how last year's fiscal policies helped or harmed our national economy turned into a spectacle: shallow, banal, superficial, inconsequential - except for the designers and stylists who were probably more than happy to cater to the whims of our lawmakers to make an unforgettable entrance.

Having lived a stone's throw away from where the Lower House of the Philippine Congress is for almost half my life, I have often wondered if our lawmakers have desensitized themselves to what awaits them every time they enter or leave their place of work: scores and scores of informal settlers, big-bellied children in almost near-nude states and without slippers walking aimlessly or begging, shanties that occupy the islands that separate opposite road traffic - these are the sights, smells and sounds that surround them.

Here is a sampling of the headlines following yesterday's Congressional fashion show:


Maybe I'm wrong in thinking that a report of what the government has done for the past year should be an occasion tempered with austerity and economy. Maybe I have misunderstood what it means to be a public servant: to put the needs of others before yourself. Maybe I have misread the times, one where a cast member of the reality show Jersey Shore known for her enormous breasts and number of catfights she gets into can claim that she's actually written a "book".

It doesn't matter if these clothes that lawmakers emblazoned on themselves while walking on a literal red carpet were paid for out of their own pockets, with earnings from their private endeavors. It's what it symbolizes that is difficult to swallow.

What is the red carpet associated with?

Hollywood. Excess. Glamour. Wealth. Status. Privilege. Star Power.

I see nothing about these words that should ever be connected with public servants. I think the one person who I was most disappointed with was Sen. Pia Cayetano, one of the authors of the RH Law, a measure I actively campaigned for (and have lost friends over) because I fervently believe it to be part and parcel of a whole range of measures that will fight poverty in the long run.

As someone posted over Facebook, there is a "serious disconnect" if one says that s/he is waging a war on poverty, then appears to have spent countless hours and pesos to ensure she would be photographed to death and be the toast of lifestyle pages in print and online media.

It is in the same ballpark on how I feel about society pages in a country such as ours. When we are surrounded by so much poverty and hardship, that most of us cannot eat three meals a day, when just a few days ago, there was much negative commentary on how "squatters have it easy" - a recognition that there are so many people in dire need around us, it boggles my sense of propriety when there are people who can casually parade a bag in the dailies that costs a million pesos and pooh-pooh it as an afterthought purchase.

I don't mind celebrities who make it a priority to appear/be glamorous and be thought of as wealthy. They are paid to make us feel inadequate, envious and to have reason to label this life as unfair.

I mind public servants who do. We all should.


Friday, July 19, 2013

The Threat Of Sameness

Over the course of these past few weeks, the topic of homosexuality could hardly be avoided: from the striking down of the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) by the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States), to NBA player Jason Collins and singer Charice both "officially" coming out (and, more recently for the latter, being named as the "Hottest Lesbian" in a popular LGBT website), and to the ratings success of the GMA-7 show "My Husband's Lover", there seems to be an unofficial sentiment which was voiced by someone I hardly knew in a seminar I recently attended: "What the hell...suddenly the gays are everywhere?!"

(Courtesy of pinoystop.com)

What the hell, indeed.

Over the course of my lifetime, we have traversed from "the love that hides in the closet" to "will you please shut up already?!?"

The uncomfortable pinch I feel in my gut tells me this new, slightly varied reaction is another form of homophobia: no, not the kind that uses violence; rather, it plays up the "we're sick of it" card, turning a potential plus - that of being treated equally  - into a minus; to continue using the words of the guy in the seminar, "...I can't stand the fact that they're in our faces na (already) all the time!"

It's the underlying message that disturbs me.

What it says is, sumosobra na kayong mga bakla at tomboy. (You gays and lesbians are taking it too far.) What it also means is "we're just tolerating you, but don't force us to turn against you, and that will happen if you don't somehow censor yourselves."

It begs the question: what would homophobes and moralists consider "acceptable behavior"?

My theory is that as long as gays and lesbians - the visible ones, anyway - act according to preconceived norms, expectations, and roles, then it would be considered "fine." Take a look at the three instances I mentioned above, and why the sentiment of the conservative crowd has been palpably, hideously negative.

(1) Marriage Equality

This has been a banner year for marriage equality, with the UK being the latest country to approve of it. (For those who are quizzical about the term, marriage equality is what I and several people in the LGBT movement prefer to use, as opposed to "gay marriage" which qualifies it, separates it and makes it seem different.)

Let me state clearly that what the movement is fighting for is a legal right. There has never been a thrust for changing the policies of religions, to force faiths to bless/accept these unions. This is all in the realm of secular law, and I leave those who struggle with what their chosen faith says about same sex unions with their own thoughts and decisions.

The reason why DOMA was even introduced is to effectively - and legally - bar the LGBT community from participating in the legal right to marriage, and it's no surprise that those who pushed for it were largely conservatives who had ties to certain religions. It springs from the belief that gays aren't supposed to get married: a cursory look at any social media board for the reasons to oppose it range from "what they do (in bed) is disgusting!" to "how can they even reproduce, which is the entire point of marriage?!?" and the veiled-but-hypocritical concern for "the child who does not have a strong male/female presence in the house?"

(2) "Charice is a singer. Let's focus on that, nothing else, please."

I saw this reaction on a Facebook post, when she had just come out, and has said that she was seeing someone (in fact, there were footage/photos of the couple). Contrast this reaction to those given other stars (who are implicitly assumed to be heterosexual): a lot of the questions range from "who's your crush/manliligaw" to the more pushy "so, have you set a wedding date already?"

Somehow, it's perfectly fine to be nosy and prying about a celebrity's love life, give us all the sordid details, with pictures please, as long as your partner is of the opposite sex. But heaven forbid that a reporter should dare ask Charice who she is seeing, even though practically everyone in this country embraced her as "our own" when she "went international" and appeared on Oprah and Ellen, worked with Akon, and became a sometime member of the hit show Glee.

It lines up perfectly with the experience of several people who have come out to their parents and have been begrudgingly accepted/tolerated: OK, you're gay, we know it. But please, don't talk about your romantic life, we have no interest in it, thank you. Gays aren't supposed to be able to form healthy, loving relationships, they are all doomed to failure, especially where gay men in this country are concerned, where the guys they have a "relationship" with can be summed up by what a character in My Husband's Lover said this week: "Diba pera lang naman ang habol ng mga lalaki sa inyo?!?" (Aren't men only after your money?)

(3) "How dare you make their lives seem normal!"

This was an online reaction I saw directed towards the people behind the hit show My Husband's Lover, which revolves around two gay men who used to be a couple, but one has opted to get married and have kids, as was expected of him by his parents, religion and society, and the show is told from the viewpoint of the wife caught up in this particular situation.

Since gay people cannot get legally married in this country, I wonder what the reaction was specifically aimed at: Was it the fact that a telenovela was being shown with two gay men as the lead roles? Or that she was unsettled because this was a rare instance when gay men are being shown on television neither as comic relief nor caricatures, and with attractive qualities for the heterosexual female? Gay men aren't supposed to be the lead characters, or given any serious lines; they're supposed to be the sidekick; wearing make up, talking really loudly and acting abrasively, and have mannerisms that "clearly" identify them as bakla.

My theory is that what some sectors find so threatening is the fact that somehow, we are the same and want the same things: someone to love, and hopefully grow old with. Someone who will be recognized as a partner legally, with all the rights given to any other spouse. To be asked about our romantic lives, the way we have asked those of our straight colleagues, for decades. To be anyone and do anything, even be an athlete in a sport that would make the most homophobic parent tear up.

And when we have all been taught the same misconceptions from birth about the gay community - that they are untrustworthy, out to steal for their papas; that they will be miserable; that they are deformities of nature; that they are only good as parloristas (for gay men) and security guards (for gay women) - it must be incredibly jarring to be faced with realities that turn those long-ingrained beliefs upside down.

What this tells me is that some sectors will work their hardest to make the gay community stay in the fringes, occasionally allowed to sit at the table, and only if we act in "proper decorum", and whose rights and privileges can be revoked without question or appeal. It has come to the point that we are now accepted because we are perceived as different, and are treated as a danger when we wish to be treated no differently.

What a strange, strange world we live in.








Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Endless Coffee Pork Ribs Day

And before you can say, "What? Why/How were those two conceived to be a match for each other?" let me present to you Exhibit A.


Dark, sweet, caramelized, meaty...it was certainly the highlight for me and my very good friends Liza and Malyn when we decided to partake of the 1st Year Anniversary (in the country) offer of the famed Singaporean eatery, Boon Tong Kee.

I was glancing distractedly at my Facebook News Feed when a poster in red caught my eye, and it turned out to be a list of foods that were included in their eat-all-you-can anniversary promotion. I had to blink because I wasn't sure if I read it correctly, but the price for this (wow!) offer was PhP 488++. You can understand my incredulity if you knew that a regular, whole Signature Boiled Chicken from BTK costs over PhP 800 here. And before I could entertain more doubts, I picked up the phone and made a reservation.


While waiting for the rest of my party to arrive, I decided to start off with the Bacon Meatball Soup; throw in the word "bacon" and I'm there.


The bacon was much more subtle than I expected (it seemed to be grounded in) and hoped for, but it was drizzling outside, and set me up for a good experience, since I find any soup dish is best enjoyed on rainy days. (Is that just me?) I was also served their "appetizer" of pickled vegetables, so I will give fair warning: do not partake of it if you are not a fan of spicy food.


Innocuous looking, it was. You bite into it, and think, okay. But as Malyn pointed out later, it's the kind of spiciness that "blooms" and creeps up on you.

By this time, both of my friends have arrived, and we started with the Crispy Chicken Salad, which has quite a spicy kick (maybe you could ask the server to place the sauce on the side if you don't like it hot). It was crunchy and had the token, er, salad, and believe me, no one in our table was complaining that the ratio of meat to vegetables favored the former.


We then moved on to Stuffed Beancurd and Deep Fried Stuffed Fritter, both of which were quite enjoyed by everyone. The fritter was for me the best of the three "official" appetizers (on the anniversary list), which was much more filling than expected.



Pretty soon, our main dishes arrived, and while you go to Boon Tong Kee for their Signature Boiled Chicken, we were looking forward more to the Coffee Pork Ribs, which admittedly on first bite had that "let me wrap my head around this combination first" quality.


The more we dug in, the more the combination felt right. It was not too sweet but definitely was a central flavor, but the burnt coffee with the pork was quite sublime. I understand the restaurant is also having a promotion over Deal Grocer for this exact dish, and it is now teetering closer to being the reason why one travels to eat at this famed Singaporean eatery.

Of course, what most people come here for is this:


Light but flavorful, this must-have never lets you down, and paired with their own ginger sauce, must simply be eaten with their equally famous Chicken Rice.


This is a dish that can honestly be eaten on its own. It's that good.

Malyn opted to order the Birthday Noodles, while Liza went for the Sambal Fried Rice.



I was surprised to see so much sauce with the noodles, as I am used to the usual variety served in Chinese lauriats, with those matching cute little pink colored eggs. The sauce was flavorful, but Liza swears the Sambal Rice was even better than the Chicken variety, especially when paired with the Coffee Pork Ribs. What I loved about it were the dilis and peanuts that adorned it.

We took on the Fish Fillet with Spring Onions and Ginger as well as the Fried Beef Fillet with Black Pepper Sauce, and this was where some improvements could be made. The fish did not taste too fresh (I thought this would be a steamed, light dish) while the beef dish left me wondering if they just slathered the sauce in the last few minutes of cooking, as the taste did not seem to permeate through the bovine center.



We couldn't leave without trying the other chicken variation, Crispy Roast Chicken. It might have been a mistake to have this after the pork ribs and boiled chicken, because it's quite delicious, but somehow did not have the same luster as the other two as far as taste was concerned.


Then again, I know a few people who cannot stand any variation of Hainanese chicken, and this would be the superior version of the fowl for them. (It was crispy, indeed.)

And again, the Imperial Pork Ribs falls into the "should have served this beforehand" situation: it seemed like a slightly "lesser" version after the Coffee Pork Ribs, and I'm pretty sure I would have been quite satisfied with it had they served it first. Oh, well. There are just some things that stand out.


The award for "pleasant unexpected surprise" goes to...gasp!...the vegetable dish!


Labeled Poached Spinach with Assorted Egg, we ordered this as our FYI dish. (As in "FYI, we also eat _________, you just don't see us do it.) We were surprised to see a soup-like concoction, and we had to admit, it tasted good, which was a nice surprise. When we were ruminating over it, Malyn even exclaimed, "It's spinach, and it's poached! Why don't you just kill me now?"

The promotion works on a per-order basis (it's actually an "order all you can" scenario) and the serving sizes are for one person, two at the most. Leftovers are charged double (our server repeated this at least thrice) and our thought balloon was "tell your chefs they will be working hard today!"

Curiously, we seemed to be the only table enjoying the promotion: no one was looking at the "red" menu, and were paying full price for everything. More for us, then. And for you. But don't dawdle - this promotion only lasts until July 21, 2013. At 488++, you are definitely getting more than your money's worth.

By the way, we had at least five orders of the Coffee Pork Ribs.

That's all I'm saying.

--------------------

A special shoutout to Miguel Aranaz, Marketing Manager for Boon Tong Kee Philippines, who cleared up a confusion in the schedule of their promotion. This is the way I wish companies would respond to consumers: prompt, clear and efficient. I hope BTK Philippines knows they have a valuable asset in you.

--------------------

Boon Tong Kee
3/F (Near Cinemas)
Power Plant Mall, Makati
(02)8900160
https://www.facebook.com/BoonTongKeePH

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Calamansi Cupcake Fix

Having seen so many cupcake stores springing up all over the metro, I always go back to the moment when a cupcake actually held my attention for more than five seconds: one hot summer in Boracay - my first time to the so-called 'party island' - we attempted to avoid the crowds and heat by ducking into a store that turned out to sell these wonderful, little pockets of joy.

Calamansi cupcakes.

It had that tart-sweet medley from its namesake fruit, but none of the acidity that can be a little too much at times. It was possibly the first time I looked at a cupcake in a different light - I used to dismiss them as 'filler' desserts. Fast forward to today, when entire stores are opened celebrating the little bugger. I guess my cavalier treatment of it returned to bite me in a decidedly big way, given its size.

On my recent trip to Boracay, I was greatly disappointed to find that when we got to the store, it had already sold out. Not being a beach person, that cupcake was one of the highlights of the trip - yes, I'm shallow, sue me - and given the amount of people on the island, it was no longer conducive to a "breezy" experience.

Imagine my surprise when Art called me to say that he was bringing home some calamnsi cupcakes. I thought to myself how good competition is for consumers like me, and I don't have to fly all the way out of Manila to have it.


I was wrong. This was waaaaaaay better. I kid you not. And I have to thank Sweet Mamita.

Located in Manila's south (Paranaque), Sweet Mamita is run on a per-order basis. The particular one I enjoyed from them is called Calamansi Delight, and it certainly lives up to the name it was christened with. The big wow! factor that made it superior to the one I had in Boracay was the thick frosting on top (which was absent in the island version), and each bite was quite spectacular, as I could tell that the creator did not spare any expense in order to create this sublime, sweet and sour delicacy that has to be tasted to be believed.

Art ordered a dozen of them for PhP 600, so at PhP 50 a pop, it was less pricey than the ones I see in cutesy-themed cupcake stores (almost approaching the PhP 100/cupcake variety range). Give them a call, email them or visit their page (details below) and if this was a sampling of what they offer, then I have found cupcake nirvana.

And her name is Sweet Mamita.


--------------------

Sweet Mamita
Better Living Subdivision, Paranaque City, Metro Manila
(+632) 7882708/ (+632) 8526732
(+63) 917 888 5362
Email: sweetmamitagoodies@gmail.com (for inquiries)
https://www.facebook.com/sweetmamitagoodies?fref=ts

--------------------

*A couple of people I really like have asked me about the scarcity of my posts as of late. I've been going through some training for a new endeavor and have had to put my blog on pause for a short while. Here's hoping I won't be gone that long anymore.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Boobs, Boobs Everywhere

This is what greeted me when I got out of the elevator.

(Courtesy of www.ign.com)

If you divided these among three women, that is.

While Art was getting ready, I went ahead to get the car for our weekly grocery shopping. When I got to the lobby, three young women in tops (I wager they were in their early 20's) that would make mothers indignant and nuns blush stood, er, in full attention, ready to push me back in the car using their barely concealed breasts. Now I know this is a dream scenario for most men, but because I'm part of the 10, 2.5 or even not one percent (depending on which statistic you choose to believe), their charms are lost on me.

All I could think of was, why are three pairs of boobs blocking my exit?

Since they were trying to inch their way in and I was trying to get out before the elevator door closed, I had no choice but to force my way out, having to graze a couple of those pairs in the process. One of them feigned an aray expression, while the other one attempted to use sarcasm and hollered "I'm sorry, ha."

You're not taking the Mass Railway Transit, ladies, where you have to practically shove people to get a spot. And even if you were taking the MRT, didn't your parents ever tell you that you're supposed to let people out before pushing your way in, whatever form of transportation? I suppose I could have shamed them for their rudeness and lack of knowledge of social conduct, but my saliva wasn't worth wasting on those three.

Within ten minutes, we had gotten to the supermarket; as we parked at an available spot that was closest to the store entrance, we were then surprised because a car suddenly parked beside us, which was part of the driveway. Before we could size up the driver, another car parked beside her, effectively blocking the entire driveway. As Art and I were (literally) collectively rolling our eyes, the security guard had to go over and explain to these two geniuses why they couldn't park where they were at.

As we got in the store, Art and I ended up talking about the elections in relation to what we just witnessed: after certain candidates won, there was a "theory" that it was because the masa was stupid enough to vote for these same faces, over and over. But we just witnessed two cars park on the driveway, and we could assume that these were reasonably educated people who were better off than half of the people in this country financially to afford those not-so-old car models. So much for that "theory" relating intelligence with socio-economic status.

Before I could dismiss it as a fluke, one of the geniuses also exited the supermarket at the same time we did. He wasted no time driving against the one way path, going a longer way than if he had followed the clearly marked paths, in order to get to the car park exit.

Boob heads: when it rains, they...bounce all over the place.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Context Of Jessica Vs. Vice

"Mare! Kamusta na...Grabe, ang laki ng tinaba mo, ha?" (How are you, friend?...My, you've gotten really fat, haven't you?)

This is a "standard" greeting we use when we see old-time friends (or should it be "frenemies"?). This is also the cultural context that I think we are all failing to consider in the current debacle between GMA-7 news anchor Jessica Soho and ABS-CBN comedian Vice Ganda.

(Courtesy of youtube.com)

As this is now all over the news (and tellingly, ABS-CBN is keeping mum), I came across an interesting (albeit older) article in Science Blogs about what jokes reveal. What the article comes up with is that (1) not all jokes are universally funny and (2) there is an in-group that a joke caters to, and those without the "particular assumptions, experiences and contexts" will fail to find the humor. (The underlying assumption is also that the joke teller is a member or identifies with the in-group.)

In discussing Vice's remarks about Jessica, it might be useful to separate them into two distinctive parts: those that pertain to Jessica's weight, and those that refer to rape.

(Courtesy of bohol.ph)

The opening I used (ang laki ng tinaba mo) is an indication of what we deem to be acceptable as a greeting, comment, or "free-for-all" to pick on. We need not look further than the recent elections, where senator-elect Nancy Binay was, for a large part, ridiculed for the color of her skin. That Jessica is being ridiculed for her weight is a matter that is accepted culturally; the same way that an effeminate male child is shamed "acceptably" lest he becomes a full-fledged homosexual; the same way soap operas have dark colored protagonists who were supremely unhappy but managed to be triumphant and be coincidentally fair-skinned at the same time; the same way shorter people are still used as comedy fodder in variety and comedy shows.

And those that are picked on for their less-than-perfect physical attributes are supposed to take it all in as good natured fun, lest they be labeled as pikon.

In a country where how we appear matters so much more than what we truly are, these jokes about physical attributes are par for the course. It is extremely hypocritical to be chastising Vice for sounding out on his stage what we hear everyday, that certain physical configurations are to be embarrassed about, reinforced by parents, schools, classmates, friends, office mates, and vastly helped by companies that have ads that promise you can be thinner, whiter, taller.

The matter of rape is not a laughing matter. I understand why the GMA-7 reporters came to the defense of their boss, and saying that it is something you do not wish on anyone. You may ask, in what context would such a joke be permissible? Is it even possible for it to be permitted on any level, knowing the rape statistics of this country?

A few days ago, new Manila mayor Joseph Estrada was quoted as saying, "It's enough that we've had two women presidents." Was anyone indignant or angered by this statement, the same way people are now criticizing Vice unceasingly? Why is a joke causing so much anger, but when a former President says that women have a ceiling in this country, that they should be relegated to a certain place only, the silence is deafening?

Rape is about power, not sex. And in these 7,107 islands, it is women and children who largely form the powerless.

When we tell women that their only assets are their breasts and curves, what message does that send to young girls? When we compile magazine lists of "100 sexiest women" all in near-nude states, can calling it "women empowerment" conceal the fact that it is the very opposite? When our male politicians proudly parade their second, third, fourth wives, and the children they spawned from different women - and have them run for public office at the same time - why do we accept it and say "macho kasi"? When our legislators insist that all women follow a single form of family planning, one approved by an organization that hasn't been shy about its' misogynist credentials, are we not telling women they have no power over their own bodies?

Viewed against this backdrop, against a culture that systematically tells women they have no control, it becomes clearer why Vice Ganda can tell jokes that trivialize rape.

It comes from an entire culture that can afford to trivialize women, without batting an eyelash, accepting it as a given.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Matter Of National Insecurity

First, it was Manila. Their next target: Boracay.

Troubled paradise?
(Courtesy of boracay-condos.com)

That is, if you believe the online conspiracy theorists now coming out of the woodwork over the perceived "attacks" on the Philippines. After the very recent brouhaha over Dan Brown's Inferno, his latest work of fiction, which describes Manila in less-than-flattering terms (and the ensuing "butthurt" comments, to use online lingo) we now have a review that exudes a similar tone in the Los Angeles Times for that paradise we lovingly claim as the best beach in the world, Boracay.

Enter our next so-called "attacker," Catharine Hamm.

Her May 26, 2013 article in the LA Times differs from the Inferno fiasco in one important respect: Catharine made a review out of her personal, actual stay in Boracay. Her not-so-positive experience begins with the boat ride after landing at the Caticlan airport; she notices the "water standing in the streets after recent rains," as well as the establishments that line the roads, charmingly described as "pot-holed obstacle courses." She found the flurry of activities and amount of people "all a bit overwhelming" and was saddened by the sight of children begging, with "the occasional mom with a baby and another child with hand outstretched."

And while she found the people "quite wonderful," she concludes that Boracay is "a place for partyers or rich people, of which I am neither."

Question: is there going to be a second round of whining from Boracay offcials or from another religious organization, the way MMDA Chairman Tolentino and the CBCP did over a work of fiction?

What is it about us that we seem to take negative comments - whether from a real or imagined place - on such an intensely personal level that we hand out persona non grata credentials as if they were going out of style, to parties who do not know nor care that they are already banned from entering our shores?

Viewing the comments under the Hamm article, one observation struck me, calling the Filipino community in Los Angeles obviously slighted. Even when we cross borders, there seems to be this need to prop ourselves up, however superficially, as a tall member of the world community, that any tinge of (perceived) negativity is viewed as a hostile act, needing our anger and large capital letters on social boards?

When Desperate Housewives hinted that medical degrees from our country were questionable, how did we react? When Jessica Sanchez came is second in last year's American Idol, why was the general consensus "it was rigged because they're racist?" When Joan Rivers proclaimed that people here ate dog meat, why did we get so infuriated, as if we have never heard of such a thing?

Quite a contrast (one can say logically) when the case is reversed: that when an achievement is accomplished by someone even just suspected of being partially Pinoy, our news organizations jump at it and we laud it as a product of Pinoy pride/talent.

The sterling thread that binds these two opposite sides of the same coin is that we depend - deeply, irrationally, unhealthily - on what others think and say of us, whether they speak of us in glowing or scathing terms. And we act accordingly, for show, in a shallow manner, because all that matters is how we appear.

When will we stop depending on what they say?

We have cried mightily, day in and out, for our officials to clean up our streets, to get rid of prostitution, to manage the hellish traffic jams. They have responded as if they have heard nothing. Is it because it came from us, your own kababayans? But when a fictional book calls Manila the "gates of hell," only then will officials move to do something about our "image?"

Why is it that our hotel doormen eye their kababyans as if to say "what are you doing here?" but subserviently bow down when another hotel guest with a different nationality comes in next, offering to carry their bags and whatnot all the way to their hotel rooms?

Hamm's article is non-fiction, albeit an account of her personal experience. As I gleaned from the comments online, the Pinoy Pride crowd is already making a predictable response: that Hamm's account is her own and can't be given weight, that she and other writers (cough, cough) have an agenda to destroy our trajectory towards economic ascendancy, etc. 

Until we can learn to face criticisms in the eye, weigh them and see the merit and substance behind, we will always fall victim into more posturing, more temporal makeovers, and nothing of actual substance being implemented.

How long are we going to be tragically, terminally insecure?