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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.






Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Hardest English Word To Spell

It's 'onion'. Apparently.

At least that's the impression I got going around the produce section of the nearby supermarket, seeing as they misspelled it twice.

Care for some "onoins"?


'Onins' for Odin, perhaps?

Am I being a spelling Nazi? Perhaps. But for this behemoth, this Super Monolith, which earns billions of pesos, I find it inexcusable: surely, they could spare some part - some minute, insignificant part of those billions - to hire someone to make sure they can at least spell correctly?

After all, if you've got it all for us, that would include a decent proofreader.

Just sayin'.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Fine Apple This Day

As I was about to close my Facebook News Feed, my eye caught an article shared by a friend who lives in Mindanao: Apple CEO Tim Cook has come out of the closet.

Apple CEO Tim Cook
(Courtesy of twitter.com)

I needed to hear it from him directly, so I searched out for the article he wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek entitled Tim Cook Speaks Up. He talks about how inherently private he is as a person but he now realizes that it is imperative that he be public about his sexual orientation. 

It was this particular passage that resonated the most. "I don't consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I've benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it's worth the trade-off with my own privacy."

I first heard the phrase "the personal is the political" at a time when Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were battling it out to be The teen pop sensation. At the time, I never made much of it. But as I grew more interested and involved with how politics is played out in our country, that phrase has come back to remind me of its veracity, over and over, and what it signifies to me is that the causes I champion and will continue to fight for have values that are dear to who I am and what I deem important.

When I support laws that will empower and encourage women to report rapes, it is because I firmly believe in equality, and any act that seeks to highlight femaleness as a weakness to be exploited must be arrested. 

I strongly championed for the Reproductive Health Bill to be passed, because I believe that what you do and what happens to your body is your decision, not the government's, nor any religion's to make. 

And when I speak out against politicians who have been in power for decades, fielding their spouses, children, uncles and even assistants to "take their place" because they've reached the amount of terms they can stay in a particular elective position, it's because (1) our Constitution prohibits political dynasties and (2) public office is a trust, not a birthright to be passed down like royalty.

So when Tim Cook announced he has come out, I couldn't help but wonder: what kind of backlash would he be getting for being open about who he is? 

Make no mistake: coming out is a political act. It is a decision that no gay person takes lightly, because of the horrible repercussions that may ensue once it is done.

You can be denied a job, or fired from your current one, just for stating this.

You automatically define yourself as "abnormal" in a statistical sense, although some sectors would gleefully remind us that, in their unscientific view, this abnormality extends to our mental faculties, or worse, that we have been "possessed" by an evil spirit and that an exorcism must be performed posthaste.

There's the (ridiculous) notion that gay men shouldn't work in banks because they'll be stealing nonstop for their papas. (Boyfriends) If that's true, then our banking system should have collapsed a long time ago, because I personally know many bankers who are gay. And in high ranking positions, too.

I have been together with my partner for 18 years (which I wrote about a few months back, and it was published by Rappler) - and from what my straight friends tell me, that is an achievement whether one identifies as straight or gay, in these times - but we are not offered any legal protection nor benefits, hospitals can bar either one of us should we need to be confined in a medical facility, and we can't declare each other as beneficiaries in our insurance policies because, despite sharing bank accounts, mortgage payments and silverware, we are not legally recognized as having "insurable interest".

The rejection by our own family - the people who we were taught would stand by us, no matter what - would probably rank as the highest cost that one incurs as a result of coming out. And in a society as family-centric such as ours (not to mention our predilection to ignore privacy boundaries), this is cause for great stress and strain for the individual, who is facing the rejection and at the same time is being blamed for "tearing this family apart!"

As I looked at the local comments on social media about Cook's announcement, it dawned on me just how far we have to go, to the destination being A Time When Sexual Orientation Doesn't Matter One Bit.

There are comments about why the iPhone 6 bends - "no wonder, the CEO is gay!"

A little hand wringing about "bakit ba ang daming baklaaaaa?!?" (Why are there so many gay men?)

But most of the negative feedback stemmed from a statement that Cook himself wrote: "I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts that God has given me." It didn't matter that Cook never specified which God he was referring to. Each comment simply assumed that they shared the same faith and that Cook was an evil man.

"God punished Sodom and Gomorrah! Apple is next!"

"How dare you take the Lord's name in vain! You're going to hell!"

"Nakakasuka ka! Ipinagmalaki mo pa kabadingan mo!" (You disgust me! You dared flaunt your homosexuality!)

It didn't matter that Cook must have worked his butt off - bad pun, I know - to get to where he is now, commanding a company that is admired worldwide. (Even Android users have to agree - albeit begrudgingly - that Apple has the loyalty card played to a tee.) Cook even frames his declaration as just a mere facet of who he is, "an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic, and many other things," but that doesn't mean anything to these people who fancy themselves as definitive moral guardians who must bend this world to their world view.

Personally, I'm happy that a successful man who didn't need to come out decided to do so. Every act of coming out represents a chipping of the "quaint" world view, the one that likes to paint gay people as loud, obnoxious, flamboyant, good for laughs and not much else, sex-starved and driven only by lust, child molesters and irresponsible good-for-nothing members of this world. 

We aren't there yet, but one day, sexual orientation won't matter. I doubt I will see it in my lifetime; but then again, I never thought I'd see an African American be President on the USA. Twice. 

Anytime I feel optimistic, what grounds me is that we are one of only 2 countries in the world that still doesn't have divorce and some of us still giggle when we say the word "condom". We are supposed to be a secular democracy but Senate meetings begin with a prayer. So, the road may be longer for this country.

But I'm much more interested in the road that Cook is trying to build. At the end of his piece, he reveals that he has pictures of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy in his office. "All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know I'm doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick."

As Aesop's Tortoise showed us, slow but sure wins the race. Brick by brick, towards equality.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Extreme (Sears) Couponing

If you're a fan of the show Extreme Couponing, then you'll know how frustrating it is to be living in the Philippines, where couponing is practically nonexistent.

So when I was contacted to write a sponsored post for the online store of Sears, I readily said yes, just to see if I could make like those people featured in Extreme Couponing. Imagine, having to shop and not paying a cent! (Sometimes the store even has to give you back a rebate, all because of coupons.)

(From salon.com)

I decided to check out the Sears deals - after all, I'll need my coupons if I'm going coupon shopping. (And without having to drag around a big binder, like those that I see on the show.) Just access the link, and it's your gateway to the best Sears coupons.

Reading through the store's description, Sears has been immortalized in American culture because it was mentioned in the hit show The Brady Bunch, and since then, Americans have come to recognize Sears as their preferred one-stop shop, whether it's for home, work, do-it-yourself or even fitness equipment.

I decided to check the discount site's claims by combing through the various Sears deals and Sears coupons I could find. (After all, if I'm going to give a fair review, I need to "go through the process" so to speak.)

A Sears coupon for appliances? Check.

A Sears coupon for kids' clothing and accessories? Check.

One for sports and fitness items? Check.

On jewelry? Check.

Patio furniture? Check.

One of the newest - and I dare say, innovative - features that Sears gives its customers is the In-Vehicle Pickup, advertised with these words: "Stay in your car. We'll come to you." Imagine, you don't have to sweat it out with the rest of the shopping public; just drive to the store, they'll probably have some kind of identifier for you and your car, and your orders will be brought to your car. (I'm not sure if that will work here in the Philippines, though: there might be robbers waiting to pounce on store employees while they are walking or taking your orders to your car.)

But strangely, it begs the question: why bother?

And I ask that because on several Sears coupons, they include free shipping for orders and purchases made with the coupons online! Why spend for gas, precious time and effort going all the way to the store, when it can be delivered to your doorstep, free of charge, with the right Sears coupon?

In fact, the best draw of shopping online is that you don't have to leave home to shop!

And the Sears website is a smorgasbord of items for every thing you expect to find in a well-stocked department store: from appliances, baby stuff and beauty products, to home improvement items and toys and games, they've got it.

Sears started out as a mail-order catalog, and their business grew so much, at one point their catalogs were known as the "Consumers' Bible". Until recently, they were the number one retail company in America, and given this rich heritage, it makes perfect sense for them to offer online shopping - after all, isn't that really just catalog shopping in electronic form?

Couple this with the fact that this generation is a wired one - even our country, supposedly a Third World one, is also well on-point with this trend, so imagine how indispensable it is to be online in the US, as well as a desire to look for the best deals possible, and it is to your advantage to look for the best Sears deals that you can find. Even our ways to pay have evolved - now everything is done electronically and without even bringing out any cash (which would make the physical wallet superfluous, haha) because of the new ways consumers are buying.

Sears has maintained top position in the retail industry because of its willingness to incorporate changes as they come. And by combining online shopping with their Sears deals, it's no wonder they are now an institution, even for a mobile, current generation.

Couponing The Nordstrom Way

Having gotten an email to write a sponsored post, I decided to answer in the affirmative, simply because I've never done anything remotely close to it since I started my blog. I did feel a bit of panic when I learned I would have to write about Nordstrom, as I am not exactly a habitue of fashion houses.

But when I learned it was about Nordstrom coupons, I thought 'well, that's new'.

(From switchpay.com)

I've been to Nordstrom when I was in the US years ago, and what struck me was that they seemed to be a luxury store, carrying goods known for quality and price (as in you have to pay for good quality). So the thought of Nordstrom coupons did puzzle me a bit, but when I opened the site (in the link above, as well as the online store of Nordstrom), I began to understand why the words "Nordstrom coupons" can coexist quite peacefully.

The products featured were mark-downs from a previous fashion season. And I was able to witness how America does sales and discounts: they mean it. Prices could be discounted by as much as 90% (yes, that's ninety, your eyes are fine), so I decided to check out the Men's section, and while they didn't go as high as 90%, I was able to spot several items being sold at 75% off - needless to say, the shopper in me was awakened simply because this would be a smart way to save money, shop online and still be fashionable.

You could argue that "you bought last season's jacket?" but let me present you with an equally compelling argument: fashion comes in, goes out of style, then springs back to life again. You might as well stock up, if you want to be smart - and trendy in a future time.

One nifty feature I enjoyed while researching on Nordstrom coupons was that as soon as I opened the store site, I recognized that the prices were in Philippine pesos. What a relief - no need to bring out the calculator, having to convert the prices from dollars to our currency, and having to factor in the Nordstrom coupon discount, because if you're on a shopping spree, the last thing you want to be doing is solving fractions and percentages - and while the original prices were, indeed, quite high, having the Nordstrom promo codes really helped in bringing the price down from the rafters.

Truth be told, some of the items were cheaper than what I see in our local department stores - there was a polo shirt that was going for 480 pesos, and last I checked our department stores, they were averaging close to a thousand pesos, so maybe all you need to do is to shop wisely: look for deals without scrimping on quality.

The good part about shopping in the online Nordstrom store is that they carry brands that are well known for their quality, so even if the prices are marked down, the quality remains: there's Diesel, Levi's, and until I visited the site, I wasn't even aware that Jimmy Choo - known for footwear that the ladies in Sex and the City gushed over several seasons - had a men's fragrance out! (Confession: I linger at the fragrance section of department stores, trying to get free spritzes.)

So if you're a shopper that likes to spend wisely - and hate looking for parking or jostling with the crowds - then online shopping with Nordstrom coupons is the way to go. It's certainly the wave of the future, and while Carrie Bradshaw may insist that (physical) shopping is her cardio, seeing the slashed prices at Nordstrom's online store just might make your heart beat much, much faster.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Your Kids Are Not Retirement Plans

My job as financial adviser gives me a rare opportunity to witness how people think in terms of money, savings, investments and how they integrate these thoughts in their lives. Personal finance has always been a touchy, "private" subject in this country, which should be of no surprise given that the word personal is in the term. So it is a skill to be able to extract financial information from clients without appearing to be intrusive, and I find that the best way to do this is to let clients tell their story.

After all, I don't know anyone who doesn't like to talk about themselves.

But after meeting with a number of clients, I find it disturbing - to say the least - that a percentage of parents find themselves feeling good about their financial future because of their offspring. I was once again reminded of this mindset with a recent client call I made.

Mr. X was referred to me through another referral who became my client. I was apprised early on that Mr. X took to heart the biblical order of "go forth and multiply," and true enough, as soon as I met him, I learned that he and his wife had 6 kids.

"6 kids! Wow! Mr. X, I have to say that this is quite a departure from what I have observed with many people I see these days, the most number of kids in a family I usually encounter is 3."

He beams with pride. "They make me happy. Especially _________ (the youngest), she can be stubborn but also very malambing. (affectionate)"

"I have no doubt. And daughters na bunso (youngest) seem to have a special bond with their fathers, always."

We get to talking about his business and I ask him how it is doing, and while it sustains him and his family, he sees the endpoint of the business' lifespan as the time when his youngest will have graduated from college. I then ask him if he looks forward to retirement with his wife.

"Yes, and especially since I have six kids."

I nodded. "A large family feels warmer, somehow. I remember when my grandfather would gather all of us at his house, with so many uncles, aunts and cousins, happy times."

Mr. X then takes the pin out. "And, of course, I can relax knowing I will be taken cared of by then."

For a moment, I thought he was referring to a well-oiled financial plan that he has already begun. "That's good, Mr. X...after all, preparation is key if we want a comfortable retirement. How long have you started preparing for it?"

(Courtesy of retirerichandhappy.com)

He then decides to drop the grenade. "My kids will take care of me and my wife."

I could see my jaw drop in my mind. "But, Mr. X, won't that be something they have to decide for themselves, especially if they plan to have their own families as well?"

"Not really. I always remind them of the hard work I put in just to get them their education, so it's only fair that they pay me back later."

Since I could see where his train of thought was going, I decided to inject a little humor in the conversation. "So which of your six kids will you live with? Will you decide by drawing lots or a dice throw?"

He seems to have given this matter some thought since he answers straight away. "We can live right here, where we're at. But they'll need to give us an allowance, every month. Binibiro ko nga yung panganay ko (I've been joshing with my eldest) that I should have them spread their allowance contributions over different dates, haha!"

"It's a plan, alright, Mr. X." I smiled back. "However, would you be willing to make your own retirement plan up? I can help give you a summary of how much you'll probably be needing then on a monthly basis."

As with most clients, they usually forget to include the effects of inflation by the time they retire, and focus on what they're spending right now. After accounting for inflation, he is taken aback by how large the amount translates to in 20 to 30 years.

"Wow! Ang laki pala kakailanganin namin! (We need a huge amount) Good thing there are six of them, huh? Di masyadong mabigat (it's not too demanding) if divided by 6."

"Mr. X, how sure are you that all 6 of them will be able to support you then? While it's good to wish them success in their future endeavors, the current job market is such that I know people with master's degrees who are working in call centers simply because they can't find work...wouldn't it be more prudent to prepare for your retirement yourselves?"

He turns to me with a knowing smile. "Maybe. But that's exactly why I have six kids...they can't all be failures, right? Surely, at least half of them will be successful."

I can see that he was using the matalino ako (I'm sly) route, so I thank him for his time and leave him with these parting words. "Thank you, Mr. X. While you seem to have a plan for retirement, the biggest loophole I observe is that it is dependent on others: on what others will earn, on what others are willing to give to you. My job as financial adviser is to help people take control of their own financial well being, with variables under their control. If you are ready to start a plan that is of your own making, please let me know."

And while he seems to be pleased with himself, I cannot help but be bothered: Bothered by the fact that he views his children as hens laying the proverbial golden eggs. Bothered that he couldn't be bothered to save up for his own retirement. Bothered that he would knowingly be dependent on other people - their income, decisions, moods, situations - in order to survive.

It was a plan, indeed: a plan that would fail because he failed to plan on his own, for his own.

None of us can see the future: who knows, Mr, X may be right. One of his kids may turn out to be the Bill Gates of the Philippines, or maybe one of them can surpass Manny Pacquiao as this country's highest earning professional boxer. But there's a reason their names and reputations precede them: they're one-of-a-kind, the kind that comes along only in the bluest of moons.

We need to impress on ourselves, and especially on our children, that we control our financial future. We need to stop being fatalistic, or depend on somebody else - whether it's the government or our offspring - to feed us. Until we make this conscious decision to prepare for our own finances and futures, we will always be reduced to begging.

Is that how you want to spend your golden years?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On Booboos And Butthurt

More to the point, a Malaysian company's booboo, and (some) Filipinos who feel the (requisite?) "butthurt" at the perceived attack on our country, yet again.

(Courtesy of YouTube/News Graph)

I'm not sure which ad agency was it that produced this "not for public consumption yet" advertisement, that - there's no two ways about it - clearly targeted the Philippines as a less than desirable place to invest one's business in, raising four key points: unfriendly climate, safety concerns, less government support and poor infrastructure. (In case you doubt this, take a look at the video, that clearly states this, and also highlights why Malaysia is a better alternative.)

Someone put it this way in an online comment (I'm paraphrasing): it would be akin to Philippine Airlines making an ad that, given recent events, would portray Malaysian Airlines as your gateway to the afterlife, or the one airline not needing a return flight ticket. 

Even though this is a "war" between businesses, it hit a nerve that some Filipinos would probably say reeks of personalan - but I have to say, every issue that paints an unflattering picture of the country is always deemed as below-the-belt, anyway: basketball, beauty contests, treatment of our Overseas Foreign Workers (OFW), say anything not-positive, and be prepared to be accused of the R word, racism. (Even when none was intended or implied. It's immaterial to some citizens.)

However bad a taste the ad left in one's mouth, I cannot help but ask: why do we get so riled up when someone from another country makes mention of the ills we have, when we make no bones about how unhappy we are with the same points, and we criticize our own government for those exact same things, every frigging hour?

Take the ad's point about (our) poor infrastructure, and juxtapose this with countless (local) videos and news reports about the horrendous lines for our trains. We roundly hurl invective after insult against the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), for our never ending pasakit (suffering) just to get in the station, which could take hours, all because many train cars have broken down, are poorly maintained, and if you're horribly unfortunate, you could get a ride off-track. I'm sure Secretary Abaya feels our collective loathing, but a Malaysian company says this, suddenly it's supposed to be all out war?

Just a week ago, we all expressed disgust and fear when a roadside "incident" revealed that cops were trying to extort money from supposed drug dealers, making us unsure if we can even approach our law enforcement agents. But all hell breaks lose when Aegis Malaysia (or at least the company doing their ads) says just about the same thing? (And in a more general sense, even)

Our independent film makers always lament how the government does not given any support, to the point that they have to showcase their films in other countries (some even reaping awards). How is this different from an ad - albeit done in another country - that essentially repeats this?

(I won't even touch the weather angle, for the obvious absurd reason.)

So let me see if I got this right: we can complain about how our government and public services suck rain boots, but as long as it's just us. Outside/foreign observers should never dare say the same things, things we gnash our teeth over.

Okaaaaaaay.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The iPhone6 Reminds Me Of My Mom

This morning will certainly be abuzz about the launch of the new iPhone variant, iPhone6. I can see it now: scores of online posts debating on the new features (if any) or mere upgrades and refinements of existing ones, how exorbitant the prices will be, who will be getting it as soon as it hits the shelves, etc.

(From business insider.com/ the Apple website)

All I could think of was my mom.

In particular, a life lesson she would inculcate in me many, many years before anyone even heard of the word iPhone, as this occurred in my elementary school years.

I must have been at the 4th or 5th grade, or about to enter that level. As is customary, my mom would take me and my sister out to buy the school supplies needed. (I have to confess a certain, er, predisposition to wrapping my new textbooks in plastic. As Jessica Zafra once wrote, there seems to be a secret society of book wrappers. Count me in.)

I noticed that we skipped one "ritual" that year: that of buying a new pair of shoes. The scene that I remember most from the shoe department is the sight of a saleslady in blue, carrying a mike, barking out shoe sizes to a stockroom person, and the needed shoe would just fall out of a hole in the ceiling. I would giggle because it seemed like a scene straight out of a cartoon series: an irate lady, incessant shouting, shoes falling from the sky.

My pout must have been too obvious since my mom called me out on it even before we walked out of the department store.

"Ba't ganyan mukha mo?" She asked. (Why is your face contorted that way?)

I muttered, and she asked me to speak up. "Why didn't we buy new shoes?"

She stopped walking and turned to me, sensing this was going to take a little explaining: "Because you still don't need a new pair."

"But we always buy a new pair every school year."

"That's true. We did. But remember last year, when we bought a new pair that was a half size larger than you were used to? That was in anticipation of this year, when it would still fit you, even if your foot size grew."

"So...is that why I was using extra thick socks last year?"

She smiled. "Yes. That way, you won't be too bothered with a shoe that was slightly larger than what you'd usually get. Besides, your shoe is still in good condition, right?"

I looked down while I said my next statement: "But everyone will be in new shoes...and they'll know I didn't buy new ones."

"If they're the kind of friends who think you are worth less just because you don't have new shoes, then you need new friends. Why, when I was in school, Angkong (Grandpa) would ask me to have the same shoe from my older sister repaired. And by then, I was getting it from two older sisters. You're lucky because at least it's still your own shoe."

I remember thinking what a cheapskate my mom was at that time, but over the years, she would instill this lesson in us again and again: in the bags we used, our trusty Isuzu Gemini which we had for 15 years (my mom sold it to a car collector who was floored by how well maintained it was after all that time), or the clothes we had.

You could say that my active dislike of anything trendy or labeled Right Now has its roots in what my mom taught me early on: differentiating between a need and a want. And that if something can still be used, there's no sense throwing it away, just because a newer version has come along.

Fast forward to today, and I know for certain that there will be people discarding their iPhone 5's for no other reason than "there's a new version out." I actually got to talk to one of them, and the justification he gave me (at that time, he was moving from iPhone 4 to 5) was that "I'm selling my old one, anyway, so it's not like I'm paying full price for the new model. In a way, I'm being smart about it, having someone subsidize my new phone."

"I suppose you can think of it that way," I said. "But, you can't sell it at the same price you bought it, it will be way lower since the new model is out, and since the new model has supposedly better features, it will be more expensive than the last iteration. So, you'd be shelling out more and more money out as each new variant comes."

"Ano bang paki no? Eh, pera ko naman to!" (What do you care? It's my money!)

"Don't get me wrong, I know it's your money to burn. But I can't help but see the discrepancy in your financial goals, when you have indicated to me that you don't have too much money in your savings for emergencies and rainy days, but you seem to have ready cash to spend once a new iPhone is out."

"You're only young once, so live it like it's your last, right?"

He will undoubtedly be one of those lining up for the iPhone6. And I also have no doubt that his savings account has not increased by much. How can it take off, when every year, like clockwork, a tech company is getting his funds, an amount that could ensure a comfortable emergency fund and even an excellent start to a good retirement account, if only he began saving these amounts since the iPhone first came out?

At an average of at least 40k per model, that's a total of 200k for 5 models. Even if you were able to sell these older models at half the price, that would still mean a missed opportunity of saving at least 100k.

And for something you don't really need. Which is in contrast to an emergency fund. Or a fund for health concerns. Or protecting your family, with kids aged 7, 5 and 3. Any parent who would deem getting a new phone more imperative than ensuring their family's financial well being should have their parental privileges - yes, parenthood is a privilege - revoked.

As Tim Cook entices the Philippine market to give out 40k once again for their company's newest darling, I would like to give a shout out to my mom, who gave me a lesson that can only be described as priceless.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Day I Saw A Parenting Fail Before My Eyes

(Courtesy of izismile.com)

As part of my birthday celebration, we gathered - yet again - for more food, and this time, over a buffet that claims to span the entire world. (They tried. A for Effort.) So there I was, happily munching on my sashimi - the one item I almost always am sure will be on my plate - when I heard giggling from the next table.

I looked over and my jaw literally dropped at what was about to transpire.

Some siblings (wearing almost identical clothing), probably aged 8 to about 15, were laughing because they picked up the sticky label of a bottled water from the floor. They were passing it on to each other so they were squealing so as not to be "stuck" by it. Then one of the siblings saw a potential victim.

An elderly woman, heavy-set and limping because she seemed to have a foot ailment, who was walking very slowly while eyeing the buffet spread and gingerly placing items on her plate. (It seemed like even her arm mobility was similarly compromised.)

He started following the woman, mimicking her actions from behind, which elicited even more laughter from the other siblings. Then he ran back to their table, grabbed the bottled water sticker/label, then placed it on the back of the elderly woman - who probably had slower reflexes and did not realize what had just transpired. The three siblings then started pointing at the woman and laughed out hysterically, even dancing behind her back, with so much glee.

Just as I was beginning to frown, the parents went over to see why they were making so much noise. Finally, I thought, someone will straighten them out.

The father saw the sticker behind the woman's back, then asked one of the children, "Who did this? Did you do this?"

The guilty child looked woeful and muttered, "Yeah, I did."

Then the father erupted in laughter.

He then explained what happened to his wife, who then joined in on the laughter.

Just when I thought this unreal scene couldn't get any lower, the father then rushed back to the table (where they had a maid waiting): "Yung camera, bilis! Kunan natin tapos ipost natin mamaya! Hahaha!" (Get the camera, quick! Let's post this online later!)

I guess my death stare hasn't been functioning well, because I bored my gaze right through the parents, who seemed oblivious. (Operative word seemed, because I know that they knew I was giving them the evil eye, but they pretended not to notice.)

I turned around and got up my seat to remove the sticker from the old woman's dress, but she was lost in a sea of people fighting it out for tempura, Indian curry and mushroom lasagna.

When I took my seat again, the parents were high-fiving their kids, beaming with pride.

Just because you can procreate doesn't mean you should.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

It's Official: I'm Retro

(Courtesy of pinterest.com)

For my friends who I've already told this snippet to, bear with me.

I was driving along C-5 one hectic afternoon, and when I turned on the radio, Waterfalls by TLC was playing. I got out my rusty pipes and started singing my heart out - I was in the privacy of my own car, anyway, and not mutilating a song over a videoke machine, inducing homicidal rage in the neighborhood cats - and when the song ended, the DJ then said, "That was Waterfalls, from the girl group TLC...part of our Retro Day!"

 Whatthehell.

The first thing that shot through my mind was, this is NOT retro. Hello. Retro would be bell bottoms, Saturday Night Fever, ABBA...until the DJ continued her spiel: "This song is 20 years old...all the way back from 1994."

What the hell, indeed. And for this DJ - who might have been barely a toddler when this song debuted, this really was a blast from the past. I've mulled about this for some time, and I think the reason I reacted so strongly is because of what it means in terms of how many years have gone by in my own life.

When talk of retro and revisits are front and center, another R word comes to the forefront: relevance. Am I no longer relevant? Will I be replaced by someone more relevant? Are my contributions less relevant now that I'm older? As my birthday tomorrow signals the inevitability of time marching on, and this being the last year I can cling on to the statement "I'm in my thirties," I find myself wondering what the hell it is I've learned about life so far.

With no embellishments, or lengthy explanations, this is what I've come up so far.

1. Life isn't fair, and it doesn't give a flying fig. Suck it up.
2. Happiness/being positive about any SNAFU is sometimes a choice. Sometimes it's hypocrisy/a lie.
3. Feelings are more important than the pop treatment we see portrayed in TV and movies. Always listen to them.
4. Families come in so much, much, much more shapes and forms than the traditional mode. In fact, the "normal, regular" family - one pop, one mum, 2 and a half kids - might soon be like Caucasians in America, a minority. Not one is better than the other. Period.
5. We all have sh*t and baggage to deal with. Knowing this helps in imbibing empathy. But sometimes, people use it as their get-out-of-everything-free-card.
6. 1000 Friends in Facebook doesn't mean you have that number of friends. The real ones are extremely rare. Seriously.
7. I've knocked fashion and material things - but let me quote a friend: "When you're sad and crying, it's better to be and do so inside a Mercedes Benz than on a tricycle with 5 other people crammed into a space meant for 2."
8. It's not wrong to want more, earn more, have more. It's just politically incorrect to declare the same.
9. Never work with friends, if you value your friendship more.
10. If you've found the one, hang on until your fingernails fall off. Besides, kung talaga siya nga, you won't have to. 

Older, not necessarily wiser, but learning that even the most effed up experiences have their value. I can live with being labeled retro - while listening to some really great music.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Financial (Mis)Understanding

One of the perks of my job as a financial advisor is never facing the same set of faces everyday. While some people may find that daunting, I relish it because it means no two workdays will ever be the same. It keeps me on my toes, and makes "an interesting day" part of the job description.

I have been feeling distressed as of late, though. And it stems mainly from the observation that some would-be clients do not comprehend financial terms as they were meant to be conveyed. (Hint: compound interest has nothing to do with parking lots) I realize a lot of jargon in the financial world seems to be made to be deliberately obfuscated, as if they were code words of a secret fraternity that no outsider should ever know.

But I'm not talking about derivatives or corporate mergers. I'm referring to terms that I expect high school graduates to have no problem comprehending, but are somehow (intentionally?) "misunderstood". I've compiled a list of terms that seem to generally confound people when I try to explain how to utilize them.

1. Emergency Fund

On my drive yesterday, I heard Randell Tiongson, one of the country's famous financial advisors, over the radio talk about emergency funds and how much one should set aside for this (three to six months worth of salary).

Reading the terms, this means a fund purposely set aside for unexpected expenses (or not factored in as a daily/expected expense). This list would include a sudden onset of major illness, which requires hospitalization; the smashing of your car in a four-car collision, rendering you at the mercy of public transport until your car insurance company deems the accident to be, well, accidental; or the loss of your job (goodbye, useless superior!) which will most likely ensure you will be knocked off your feet financially, even if only for a couple of months.

(From mecob.co.tz)

In short, these are occurrences that are unwanted but you have to prepare for, because they impact your financial state.

Therefore, a trip to an Asian country, just because there was a piso sale with your favorite airline, does not constitute an emergency.

Neither does your need to complete #100daysofhappiness by eating at another fancy restaurant.

And if you just bought a new smartphone, when the phone company announces a new model coming out, trying to scour for funds just to have the "latest" incarnation is not a correct use of the term "emergency".

Don't wait until you have a real emergency to find out how to properly utilize it.

2. Insurance

By definition, any insurance product is designed for protection and uncertainty. Whether it's life, car, fire or mortgage insurance, the aim of insurance is to make sure that someone benefits from the insurance proceeds: with life insurance, it's so your beneficiaries - oftentimes your family/loved ones - can hopefully retain their standard of living should you pass away unexpectedly, seeing as they all depend on your income for survival. When a coconut falls on your car, breaking your windshield, you can't very well haul the tree to court to collect damages, it is the car insurance company that covers the cost of repair.

Again, these are instances no one wants, but everyone has to prepare for because paying full cost for a windshield or asking a spouse who just stayed at home to suddenly find a job while grieving for your loss can be devastating.

So it surprises me no end when people say, "walang pakinabang/gastos lang ang insurance" - thank your lucky stars if none of these events happen to you, but you and I know better. We have people in their thirties dropping dead from a heart attack, or an innocent bystander waiting for the bus (at the proper bus stop!) getting rammed down. These are not fictional stories, they are in our current headlines.

Getting insurance is a way to cushion life's unpleasant eventualities/occurrences from being a sinkhole to your finances. (Seriously, I cannot comprehend breadwinners who think of insurance as a waste - I daresay it is foolhardy to have a family, especially raising children, without protecting yourself: do you have any idea how much tuition fees are these days?)

And today, life insurance policies have evolved to have an investment component in them (a way to address the notion that insurance is a waste), but that is for another post. Suffice to say that I have clients who are happy that they are actually "earning" with their insurance policies, just to lay the "" notion to rest.

3. Investment

Arguably the most contentious term here, spurred on by the fact that Filipinos are generally averse to anything related to risk. (And it also surprises me when they are averse to the previous term - insurance - which is designed as a risk management tool. Ayaw sa risk, ayaw sa risk management - truly, financial advisors in this country have our work cut out for us.)

Ask the average citizen here what financial product they know, and overwhelmingly, they'll say "bangko." Those who fancy themselves as financially savvy will say "ay, nagta-time deposit ako!" These are products that have minimal to virtually no risk, which explains why your money in the bank isn't growing. (The current bank deposit has an interest rate of less than 1% annually, and given our inflation rate,you're actually losing money by letting them sleep there. Again, this deserves another post.)

The general rule with investments is: (blank) risk = (blank) rewards. So if you invest in a fund that has more risk, you will probably earn a lot more than if you placed your funds in a relatively risk-free vehicle (my bank deposit example illustrates this clearly). More equals more, less equals less.

Nowadays, there are more investment options to choose from, from the POV of an ordinary citizen. You do not need millions of pesos in order to take part of stock market gains - you can gain access to those levels of profits by investing in a mutual fund. (Pooled funds from numerous investors which can be chosen based on risk appetite and desired returns.) Banks have offered their counterparts called UITFs (unit investment trust funds), and companies like Citisec Online also offer their services for those who wish to get their feet wet in the stock market, but by investing in a number and variety of listed companies.

So when someone approaches you and tells you "invest ka sakin, kikita ka ng 30% in two weeks!", realize that you are taking a huge risk, seeing as the stock market (on average) hasn't even breached this number, on an annual basis. Legitimate investment  companies will have returns that approximate or slightly surpass the stock market indices, since they invest in the same place.

Study the companies that want you to invest in, because as with all investments, you have to bear the brunt of the risks yourself - but you also reap the rewards fully.

4. Retirement Fund

Another two-word term that seems to be confusing, I find it easier to state one acronym to instantly illuminate the client in front of me: "SSS".

The Social Security System was designed to "force" workers to save a part of their earnings for when they retire, and to have them use this once the mandatory "retirement age" kicks in. Ideally,this is a fund that is - all together now - for retirement, so it would be logical that one doesn't withdraw or use this fund prematurely, e.g. while you are still working, in your thirties, etc.

And because of the length of time before it is needed, the way to build this fund into a sizable amount is to start early and save consistently.

You often hear seniors who are now collecting their SSS pensions complain: "Eto na yun?" Some have even been interviewed on TV because either the agency miscalculated the benefits due, or the companies they worked for did not properly remit the correct payments.

Against this backdrop, I often encourage my clients to set up their own (voluntary and personal) retirement fund. That way, they can monitor it closely, increase/decrease contributions as the circumstances warrant, and without going through bureaucratic processes. Private companies that offer this often make it easier for clients to do so by installing auto debit arrangements.

But guess what? Even in these auto-debit setups, some people fail to have money in their accounts to be actually debited from. They completely forget what they signed up and agreed to do - set aside a certain amount of their salary to be saved for retirement - and then wonder - surprisingly - why their fund isn't growing!

I've also encountered people who say "tsaka ko na pagipunan yan, matagal pa naman" but fast forward to almost a decade, and when I see them again, they sheepishly mutter, "di ko pa nga naumpisahan yung pang retirement ko, hehe", punctuated by an awkward laugh.

Do people expect a retirement fund to just magically appear? Are they expecting dole outs from relatives or the government? How can they even proclaim - loudly - "ang hirap ng buhay!" but are not doing anything constructive to prepare for a certain question we all face once age 60 hits - who/what will fund my retirement, so romantically called The Golden Years?

Anyone who has heard of the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare should heed its' lesson: slow but sure wins the race. Nowhere is this more evident than when preparing for your retirement fund.

Most of us will never be multimillionaires, let alone billionaires, in this lifetime. But one statement from a foreign speaker at an event I recently attended still rings in my ears: it's not your fault if you were born poor, but it's definitely your fault if you die poor.

In a country that relishes and champions the underdog, it may sound harsh, where "maawa ka" is a common expression. But until we face the reality that we are solely responsible for our financial state and future, this culture of dependency or fatalism where money is concerned will not die out anytime soon.

Your finances are your responsibility. Start now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Where's My Thank You Card, Makati?

On a particularly stressful day, I got out of the office to find that my car has been towed.


I was able to park right in front of our building entrance - luckily, or unfortunately, given the towing incident. I remember lining up the car quite gingerly into the designated parking slot, but because the car behind me was a 4WD, and took up some of my parking space, I had no choice but to to have the front part of the car gut out (nakausli in the vernacular) beyond the slot.

I was waiting for the Makati parking attendant to issue me my parking ticket (and s/he would have been able to tell me that a little portion of my car was over the drop-off/loading zone). When the attendant didn't show up (I parked just before 230pm), I decided I would pay my fee after two hours. (Every 2 hours of street parking in Makati is 40 pesos, a third hour and you have to add 50, or the lovely total of 90 pesos for 3 hours.)

I was appalled to find my car missing as soon as I got out of the office. There was a chalk inscription on the sidewalk (I was too annoyed to take a picture) saying "the owner of this vehicle, claim car at impounding, Amorsolo-De la Rosa".

I got to the impounding area and explained why I shouldn't have been towed - it wasn't my fault that the car behind me was taking up my "proper" space. "I want to contest this."

"Ok," said the traffic enforcer at the impounding hut. (Literally, they were holding office in a makeshift hut.) "But you still have to pay the fee even if you plan to contest it."

"Then what would be the point of contesting it, if I have to pay, anyway?" I asked - rhetorically, of course.

He let my dig slide right over....way over there. He scribbled furiously on some papers and said, "that's one thousand pesos. Take it or leave it, contest it or not."

"Don't I get a thank you card from Binay?" I responded.

"Huh?"

"I am one of, if not the most anti-Binay people in Makati, yet here I am, being forced to give him money...so again, where's my thank you card?"

The traffic enforcer pretends not to hear anything, and looks down, gazing his pants.

"Not even a calendar? Or keychain...nothing?"

He mumbles a thank you upon getting my cash, and I imagine him feeling victorious because he still has my money, whatever I say, against my will.

I've always liked living here. This is not one of those days.

*My ticket (from the picture) was issued by P/A Baylon (parking attendant), at 2:39 PM. It can't be a coincidence that I waited a good 3 minutes when I just parked - with no parking attendant around, at 2:30pm -  and 9 minutes later, when I had already gotten in the building, my car was towed ASAP...can it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Because She Has To Have The Last Word

Having finished my haircut, I was reminded by Art that we ran out of bread and that I should get replacement for it. "You can pass by Pan de Manila so we can also have some of their Coco Jam."

(From paranaquecity.net)

Luckily the mall I was in had a Pan de Manila branch, so I went in and headed straight for the Coco Jam. I placed it on the cashier's counter and went to choose the bread we would pair it with.

I noticed that the loaf I picked up didn't have an indication for the expiry date. I went for the loaf beside it, and it also didn't have one.

"Miss," I asked the cashier. "Kailan expiry nito?" (When does this expire)

She glanced over, looked at what I was holding, and said, "Kakagawa pa lang nyan, sir." (That's freshly baked, sir.)

"OK...pero kailan siya masisira?" (But when does it go bad?)

"Ay, sir, kakagawa pa lang nga niyan." (Like I said, it was just freshly baked/made.)

I wasn't sure if she was just ignoring the question, or if she was just lazy and didn't want to go the baker or back office to ask the information I wanted. "Alam ko na kakagawa lang niya, ang tinatanong ko, kailan masisira para alam namin kailan di na pwede kainin?" (I know it's freshly baked, my question was, when will it expire so we know when to throw it out?)

She looks at me with an exasperated smirk, and heads to the baking area. "Kuya! Sagutin mo nga tanong ng customer!" (Can you answer this customer's question!)

The baker comes out and I repeat the question. He goes over to where the breads are, looks at several loaves, and is just as surprised that there is no expiration date on any of them. He finally finds one in the middle of the bunch with an expiration label and hands it to me.

I say my thanks, and I headed to the counter, smug that I could drive home the point that the cashier wasn't helpful and needed someone else to do what appeared to me was her job.

She looks at me condescendingly as I approach her and beats me in having the last word: "Sabi ko sa inyo kakagawa lang ng tinapay, ayaw maniwala sa akin, kulit!" (I already told you, it was freshly baked, you didn't want to believe me! So noodgy!)

I rolled my eyes so hard, I saw the stores in the floor above us.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

From Hallowed To Hollow

A manic Monday, indeed.

(From en.wikipedia.org)

Yesterday's top news stories were focused on two items: the karaoke rendition of Sen. Revilla in his privilege speech (complete with an MTV-style recording), and the new career of Rep. Pacquiao as coach of a professional basketball team.

(From spin.ph)

The general "mood" as measured in social media has been negative as far as these two items were concerned. More vitriol has been spewed in Revilla's direction, with several commenters noting that so much money has been spent for a senator to air his sentiments, and that it was clearly an insult to people's sensibilities - at least to those with a Facebook account - to think a song number would somehow earn him pity points vis a vis the charges he is facing from the Ombudsman.

The Pacquiao item registered a more lenient reaction, and based on unscientific observation, I'd say half disapproved of the Pambansang Kamao entering another field, with the other half calling the other side as afflicted with crab mentality, and just jealous that Manny gets to add another cap to wear while "you negative people are just feeling so superior in cyberspace while putting a national hero down!"

Let's lay it out plainly: obviously these two politicians enjoy overwhelming support from their constituents - the entire country for Revilla and Saranggani province for Pacquiao - or they wouldn't be where they are presently, on our payroll as public servants.

Reading these two news items repeatedly throughout all of yesterday, it occurred to me that both personalities are more similar than one would have guessed.

1. They were "superstars" in their fields before entering politics.

Sen. Bong Revilla is, of course, heir to the Agimat film franchise. His father was also an actor in the same role, and Bong's son has followed suit in the acting profession. (I am unaware though if Bong's son has the same pull to get a seat in the Senate.) He is considered attractive - even Sen. Miriam Santiago admits this - which is certainly a boon in a culture that prizes how we appear over how we truly are.

Manny Pacquiao needs no further introduction, as his fame has reached worldwide proportions. A classic rags-to-riches story, he overcame poverty and hardship with the sweat of his brow mixed with blood from the beatings he received; his trajectory from inexperienced pugilist to international sports icon is the stuff that local telenovelas take pleasure in repeating over and over. For decades.

Their supporters argue that they are both "supremely qualified" to be public officials. Whatever the case or persuasion, their stature in their initial professions would be immensely instrumental in securing for themselves elective positions.

2. They both view their public positions as a part time job, at best.

How else to explain the ability of Sen. Revilla to appear on a weekly television show, entitled Kap's Amazing Stories? Or to make an annual entry to the Metro Manila Film Festival? Clearly, Senate work must be a breeze given the fact that the senator finds it impossible to leave his "roots" in entertainment.

This is even more pronounced in Pacquiao's case, as he takes months off to practice for any upcoming bout. Last year, he had the dubious distinction of being the top lawmaker - in terms of number of absences. He has dabbled with the idea of doing pastoral/religious work, has TV specials, makes advertisements in all media, and goes around the world to promote his fights.

No wonder other lawmakers see no problem in doing the same: Sen. Chiz Escudero was seen as a co-anchor in a morning talk show a few months back and also had his face plastered over a commercial for a processed meats company. (The fact that it was election season then was purely coincidental, I'm guessing.)

Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez hosts a dancing show (as she has taken flamenco classes), and if I'm not mistaken, is part of a panel on a showbiz news show.

I received some criticisms for my article on Anne Curtis - some of them were quite constructive, for which I am thankful - but the one thing I can never fault Anne for is that she is wasting public funds. She can be a trapeze artist or molecular biologist, and if that is what she wants to do, that is her prerogative as a private individual.

But this is not the case with Revilla and Pacquiao.

I seem to remember that Revilla took one of the top spots - if not the topmost with the most number of votes - in the Senate race. And Pacquiao was practically a shoo-in as representative of his province. In short, they were overwhelmingly chosen and given votes of confidence, probably two of a very small group of politicians, in this country, that nobody can accuse of cheating their way to power.

Their cavalier attitude towards the positions they were elected into reflects quite clearly in light of yesterday's headlines.

Revilla bandied about a 'list' in his privilege speech - this being the season of lists - which turned out to be some diluted form of slumbook or yearbook dedications to his fellow senators. We did not hear him present factual evidence to disprove the accusations he is charged with. To end his speech on a sweet note, he played an AV presentation of what he said was an original song, and he didn't sing half-bad, although he has no chance of being another Lea Salonga as far as singing careers go.

Pacquiao probably never heard anyone criticize him for his legislative attendance last year, which explains why he readily accepted the new coaching job. Far be it from anyone of us to stand in Manny's way of being a jack of all trades, but public office - where public officials receive public money to do their job - is a full time job.

And before someone accuses me of just parading my opinion as a baseless claim, let's take a look at Republic Act No. 6713, section 7 (b) (2): "Public officials and employees during their incumbency shall not engage in the private practice of their profession, unless authorized by the Constitution or law, provided that such practice will not conflict or tend to conflict with their official functions;"

If having 60 absences is not a "conflict" for a public official in the exercise of his official function, then we have no right firing private employees or expelling students who do a third of Manny's record number of absences while receiving a salary from all of us.

3. Politics is a family enterprise.

While Bong was giving his speech, you could see his wife, Rep. Lani Mercado Revilla, shedding tears and Bong's son looking pensive; incidentally, the latter is also the vice mayor of their home province.

Manny's wife and 2 brothers ran in the last elections, as well. Jinkee handily won as vice mayor, as did his brothers: one is a councilor, the other, chairman of a district.

In this, they learned from the oligarchs and long entrenched dynasties: once you have your foot in, make the public positions your personal property, and your hometowns your personal fiefdoms.

No wonder: no legislator wants to create an enabling law for the constitutional provision banning political dynasties.

4. Song, dance and sports are par for the (political) course.

Given the above, it was hardly surprising that Revilla resorted to a trick he must have perfected as an actor: get the sympathy of the public with a made-for-Senate/TV news composition.

I felt like I was watching some permutation of That's Entertainment. This is what passes for a "privilege speech."

Neither was I overly perturbed that Pacquiao had another sports venture in the works: we have validated him over and over as a boxing icon, allowing him to have a legislative post (and his vote was one that nearly derailed the RH Law) even while he pursues more heights in other fields of sport. (Sarcastic comments online were egging him to try Mixed Martial Arts or joining the Azkals next.)

As a child, my father used to regale me with stories of how respected our senators were. He worked in some (legal) cases with Sen. Jovito Salonga  and the awe and admiration he had for the senator was palpable. Their conversations - of which I was able to eavesdrop one - centered on helping the disadvantaged, and it was a burden the senator carried until the end.

Clearly, those days of the Senate are long gone. Yesterday's events just highlighted a saying I have always found to be true: empty drums make the loudest noise.

Of course, sometimes it comes in the form of a music video.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Happiness For 388 Pesos (+10%)

On a rainy Thursday, my friends and I met up for lunch at the Tomas Morato branch of the famed Singaporean export, Boon Tong Kee, after being tempted by an online ad proclaiming their eat-all-you-can promotion, for only 388 pesos. (Add 10% for service charge.)


We're not entirely sure if this is part of their anniversary promotion, but if memory serves me right, we took part of a similar deal last year around August. (And it was close to 500 pesos then.)

In any case, we were glad that the stars of Boon Tong Kee are featured in the current lineup.


The Signature Boiled Chicken, the reason people come to Boon Tong Kee, was readily replenished when close to being totally devoured. I couldn't really get a "clean" shot because as soon as a fresh batch arrived, someone pounced on it.


Roasted Chicken, which was slightly drier but crispier. (Some people don't like this, but I do.)


Char Siew, or Roasted Pork, was quite a pleasant surprise. It may be too strong flavor wise to some, but my friend Liza found it delicious. As did I.


Stuffed Tofu, a dish that makes you feel virtuous, until you realize more than half of each triangle was meat. Good feeling gone - in exchange for a good tasting, uhm, vegetable.


What we came for: Coffee Pork Ribs. Why? Basta.


A new addition from last year's spread, their Sio Mai was not their strong suit. Especially with shops like Tim Ho Wan and Shi Lin here, a comparison would make this seem...let's just change the subject, shall we?


Birthday Noodles, which was wonderful texture wise. My friend Wins really loved the "topping".


How does Boon Tong Kee make their veggies so enticingly delicious? This French (?) String Bean is a prime example. My friend Malyn and I agreed: if this was representative of vegetarian dishes, we'd be vege-heads for life. Well, maybe.


Fish Fillet, which seemed bland after the previous dishes.

The dessert section consisted of 2 fruits, so we headed to Il Terrazzo just across the street for our coffee and sugar rush. But Boon Tong Kee's promotion will only be until tomorrow - yes, tomorrow (see and enlarge poster above) - so if you fancy Hainanese Chicken and Coffee Pork Ribs the way we do, head over to any of their branches to partake of this moderately priced form of happiness.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Importance Of Being Anne

Anne Curtis has been taking a beating in social media (where her fans have been mightily defending her) in the, uhm, aftermath of her followup headlining concert. Much of the criticisms leveled her way has to do with her 'audacity' to pass off herself as a bona fide singer - in a country where Miss Saigon herself, Ms. Lea Salonga, once intimated was difficult to perform in front of, since almost everyone can sing.

I confess: I had 'liberal' guilt as I was thinking about the public reaction to Anne.

As a former chain smoker (it's been well over a decade since I last puffed my last stick), I would certainly be a 6 on a 7-point scale on the conservative-liberal spectrum. This is why I have no issue with people who light up, even if studies have conclusively proven cigarettes as harmful: you're an adult, you just have to accept the consequences of your choices.

And while I am not considering bunjee jumping this very moment, anyone else is free to do it. The possibility of death is there, but for thrill seekers, the rush outweighs the cost (and statistically, they would be right to discard the latter). Before you jump on my throat and say it is illogical to think of smoking and bunjee jumping on the same terms, my emphasis here is that as long as (1) one accepts the consequences if anything untoward happens and (2) as long as the only 'victim' is yourself, then you can smoke and bunjee jump - and even do them simultaneously - for all I care.

The reason my 'liberal' guilt came up is that, in the Anne Curtis scenario, she satisfies all those points.

First, I think it's clear with how she calls herself or her events - Anne-bisyosa (a play on ambisyosa or ambitious, with her name worked into it) or Anne-kapal (playing off ang kapal, or having a thick hide), that she doesn't think of herself as a singer. If anything, she actually uses the self-denigration card to charm her fans, and they eat it up.

She can't sing, her fans know it, and they're willing to cough up 5,000 pesos to see her prove that she can't sing. (Her own fans have dubbed her "The Noise of the Philippines" - see this article to read more.)

She didn't strap me down and force me to watch her concert.

Entertaining her heart out.
(Courtesy of allvoices.com)

The people who watched her concert used their own money, they didn't take it out of my wallet. True, as a financial advisor, I would rather they put the 5,000 pesos to better use - in their savings or investments - but all I can do is advise, the decision still falls on the individual.

If you think of her as a comical act rather than a serious singer, I don't think even her critics will object to her having a concert every night. With her concert reportedly sold out, I'm sure the producers are raring to mount her next concert as we speak.

But will this be the future of music for this country, the way our film festivals have gone?

Every year, come December, when the Metro Manila Film Festival rolls around, we seem to have the same question collectively: this is the best we can come up with?

A warrior whose legacy has been passed from father to son (and incidentally, both father and son have become senators in real life), with the last incarnation being accused of copying the effects from a Hollywood fim; something about a fairy being okay; a kid who starred in a giant-commercial-masked-as-a-film that supposedly trumped the earnings of Spider Man.

Film critics and blogs have a field day when the roster for the film festival is announced; but every year, the defense of the producers is the same: this is what people want to see. This is what people pay to see. We have to make a living, so stop giving us grief about artistic standards and integrity.

What we are willing to spend money for is a reflection of what we value.

And when people willingly give money to watch a film on its' tenth incarnation, or 5,000 pesos to hear a non-singer, on the pretext that "we came here to be entertained!" how does that reflect on the kind of standards we have as a nation?

Fans of these entertainers claim that the critics are being too high-brow, elitist, snobby.

Is it any wonder why we also don't demand better credentials for our politicians? Or why so many entertainers are now in political posts? And why there are interviews where, when voters are asked why they voted an entertainer, their responses fall into two categories: guwapo kasi (he's good looking) and kasi pinagtatanggol niya ang mahihirap, tulad ng pelikula niya. (He will champion the poor, like in his films.)

We keep wishing for a more educated electorate, one that will be discerning and more critical in their decision making. I don't see that happening when what we get is a steady diet of lunchtime variety shows with gyrating dancers in skimpy wear, with audience members waiting to be called in order to humiliate themselves on national television to earn a little money.

Did I say earn? I meant win. I went to get coffee from our office cafeteria yesterday a few minutes before 3PM, and the "lunchtime variety show" was still on. Seeing the mass of people cheering, all I could think of was, don't these people have jobs?

Yes, Anne doesn't call herself a singer. What leaves me worried is, given her concert receipts, what this means for those who are actual singers.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Putting It Out There

One of the things I like about submitting my posts to certain online outfits is that I get to receive feedback from their readers. I was doing a review of some of them in an effort to survey the kinds of articles I have sent, and I have to say, it wasn't all that pleasant as far as experiences go.

Some of the criticisms were downright nasty and personal, and had nothing to do with the article I wrote. In one instance, one reader, upon seeing my picture, commented that I must be a "rich snob" who could easily "spew my views from an ivory tower." Another one commented I look "like a Mongoloid," while another dismissed my article on the first paragraph alone because I declared I wasn't that interested in sports and following teams around.

Then there are those that take the opposite view only because they know my style of writing and the topics I like to discuss; in other words, their opposition is still rooted in who wrote it, and not what I wrote about. Their comments begin with "I've seen his other articles...why do you even publish his pieces?" Or they even question editorial decisions by stating "you're really lowering your standards by allowing this fluff piece to be posted."

I take it all in. I have to.

Not because I am a masochist, but because it makes me realize that in this big, vast world, putting it out there can be returned with unpleasant words or ghastly reactions. Some of them don't even make sense, but by putting my posts up not just in my own blog but to a wider audience, I cannot be accused of simply "preaching to the choir" as my blog readers would make an effort to read my posts.

(Courtesy of the guardian.com)

And I stand in awe of every writer, musician, painter, artist who had the courage to state, convey and communicate what was in their heart and mind, knowing that by doing so, they can be ridiculed, made fun of, dismissed and branded a nuisance and time-waster. They have forged on because they needed to be expressed, these thoughts, songs, sculptures, and while public acclaim is great when you can get it, it is this ability to express one's insides, guts and all, that makes it worthy of doing, over and over.

Not everyone can do this, I realize now. If in some small measure, I was able to give a voice to those who thought like me but are unable to do so, for whatever reason, then I will have done my craft service.

And I thank all those who have taken time out to read my thoughts - and expressing their reactions - because what matters is that by doing so, we have made a connection.

That is a gift I am truly grateful for.

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

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." - Winston Churchill

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Someone To Roll My Eyes With

It's odd, but this is what crossed my mind as the day began, celebrating the 17 years I had with my partner.

(Courtesy of solaronemedia.com)

Having just come from the national catatonia known as Holy Week in the Philippines (when pretty much everything shuts down), I made an early start on Monday to shake off the lethargy by getting to the briefing by our investment officer early.

I thought I would be able to enjoy a few moments alone to savor my caffeine fix; alas, that was not to be. Many of my colleagues probably had the same thought of getting things done, so I arrived at the office with everyone all perky, and regaling each other with their Holy Week exploits.

One such person made a pointed announcement of declaring her piety, how she was up at 430AM doing something at the church, the services she attended and helped organized, and how she was telling us this to "encourage" us to be more like her.

I had the urge to look for Art to roll my eyes with.

Having spent 17 years with this man, he already knows - automatically, it seems - what would get a rise out of me, what would make me double over in laughter, and yes, what would induce eye-rolling in me, the type which would enable me to "see my brain," as that Facebook meme suggested.

I'm told that 17 years is nothing to sneeze at, and it must be why we received many heartfelt greetings when we opened our social media accounts. And while I am tempted to say that this has nothing to do with a couple being gay or straight, being half of a gay couple that has weathered close to two decades has given me a changed perspective from the time I was cognizant of my orientation and giddy at the thought of stepping out on first dates, to where I am right now.

The biggest difference between gay and straight couples is that there are no defined gender roles with us, because that point is effectively rendered moot in a same-sex relationship, of course. (And it irks me no end when clueless people have to ask "but who's the bride/woman/less dominant in your relationship?" which is a clear attempt to make it fit into a heterogenous mold, or at least make it "less mysterious" to those who have no idea how gay couples "make it work.")

Instead, we think of our contributions to the relationship as a meritocracy of sorts: if you're skilled/good at (insert action here), then you will be "assigned" that role. Art is an excellent cook, a skill he learned from his parents who ran a carinderia while he and his siblings were in school. I can't cook to save my life - heating and steaming things doesn't really qualify as "cooking" in Art's book - so anything culinary is usually his domain.

In matters where we have to deal with bureaucracies, dealing with inept service, or making our voice heard, I end up taking the lead because I do have a knack for acidic vocabulary as well as conveying when I want things to be done a certain way. I had relegated my passion for writing to the back burner when I first started out in a different field, but I couldn't really keep that almost-faint ember from reigniting the older I got (and realizing I have to do what I want to do now, no longer constrained by "survival" and focusing on doing what makes my heart sing).

And while I have seen changes in how the LGBT community has been received over the years, the incontestable fact still remains that many of the institutions that we hold dear or are of importance still do not recognize our unions, something that I have been taught is a basic human need, the need for validation from others.

There has been little change insofar as receiving benefits are concerned: despite the years we have shared a life, I cannot declare Art as my beneficiary in an insurance policy, nor can I declare him my next-of-kin should I need to be hospitalized. (And of course hospitals only authorize family members as the only ones "allowed" to stay with a patient, even if those particular people have come close to killing each other, with so much hate seething.)

Many LGBT members are still devout and loyal to the faith they were raised in, despite being shunned, ostracized, and even hated by their very religion, a facet that few straight people - if any, at all - will have to grapple with. For many people, their faith is a source of hope, strength, and even love, but LGBT members have to deny a basic, core part of our identity in order to be welcome, being "asked" to remain celibate in order to be "accepted."

It is against this backdrop that Art and I are celebrating our 17th year together. Which is why we cherish each and everyone who took the time out to wish us well, and even more years of "blissful togetherness," as a friend put it.

Make no mistake, there were moments that were hellish - and the future will no doubt be a mix of bliss and hell - and it is at this point that I see our similarity with any other straight couple, whether married or not. Any relationship demands compromise if it is to savor longevity, and gone now is my youthful idealism of declaring that any potential partner "has to accept me fully, no ifs, no buts!" I have stopped seeing compromise as an enemy to individuality but rather - and yes, this may seem strange and the antithesis of that position - as an acceptance of each other's quirks, and making a life together possible, even enjoyable, realizing that we are two different people who have decided to share our time and commitment to and with each other.

Did we celebrate the day in a big way? Not by traditional definitions. We didn't have a band playing our favorite songs, a ballroom reserved to entertain and dine in, or exquisite calligraphy on hand painted invitations to commemorate it.

We went to work, and when Art got home, he wasn't feeling well, so I had to "cook" our dinner (see reference to heating above) and showed off my skill in cooking (the one that passes Art's definition) rice, the one thing he concedes I can do better than he does.

A bit on the mundane side, yes, but it is the sum of the mundane that has made our life together. When you have someone you feel so much passion and love for, that mundaneness can be a thrill. The big dramatic moments - when we had a fight about his dad, or when we received letters from a relative calling us monkeys - are mere markers in the big tapestry that we call a shared life.

Odd, indeed, but knowing I have someone to roll my eyes with makes my heart still go a-flutter.