Monday, 29 September 2008

Daddy's girl turns 12

I’m struggling for the right words and thoughts about my other daughter – Stella Marie Isabelle or Aia.

Writing between deadlines is tough for someone who is not an essayist.

Several months back, I wrote about my son Andre – when he turned 8 last March – and later my eldest princess, Ara – on the eve of her graduation from high school.
Aia wryly asked: “Bakit ako wala, Dad?”
To soothe her ruffled feelings, I assured her that she’ll have hers on her birthday which is about an hour away from now in Philippine standard time.
My Aia is turning 12.
I’d dare say that my baby girl is his “Daddy’s Girl” as she’s always there to lift me up when I’m down.

It was Aia who’d always ask me if I’m OK. She could sense when I’m in low gear and she’d spring up and try to flag my sagging spirit.
When I grew my hair long to reflect how indignant I was with the way things are going my way here, Aia would egg me to get a haircut. And when I reasoned out that I can’t find a good barber here in Dubai, she told me that, “bukas, may darating nang magaling na Filipinong barber dyan” and she’ll be praying for it to become a reality.
And that became the cue for me to reconsider and give in to my family's wishes. I just waited for the right time to finally shed my locks and mark a new beginning.

No wonder, my little Miss Congeniality was selected to join her school’s cheering squad and was even chosen as “muse” of an all-girls school.
But looking back, Aia really has the charm built into her system.
When she was still in her nursery years at the Little Angels of St. Therese School in Galas and at St. Joseph’s College, she already got ribbons for being “Most Friendly.”
When she moved to Angelicum and later to the Holy Spirit School in Quezon City, her classmates would gravitate around her as her warm and cheerful disposition was infectious.
I saw her former mates at Angelicum jump for joy and bust their lungs out when they saw Aia at the Sto. Domingo courtyard where we waited for Andre last January.
My baby girl has also taken over and is continuing my life-long relations with the Labayos where – like me – she was “adopted” as a member of the family.
Ara, who was so aloof when she was a kid, has made a turnaround. She was even described in her yearbook as someone who has “built a friendship with almost every being”. I suspect that Aia’s charm had rubbed on to her big sister.
Aia is also somebody who is full of surprises.
Emerging from the shadows of her ate, Aia surprised many in the family circle when she excelled in taekwondo where she rose to become a red belter at the age of 10.

A few days before I left for Dubai in February 2006, she came home with a bronze medal after competing in the Women’s NCAA (WNCAA) where she represented her school.
Unfortunately, her enthusiasm for the sport died down. But her feat still remains my source of pride and joy.
How I wish it was easy for me to get teleported back home just to kiss my baby girl and wish her well as she starts her last year as a pre-teener.

I may be thousands of miles away but deep in Aia’s heart – Daddy’s at home.

Happy birthday Daday!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Tumatanda ka na, Batch!!!

My back aches and my knees wobble as I limp back to my personal jungle in a bunker somewhere in the deserts of the Arabian Gulf.

A small amber bottle of Colchicine is parked on my desk, flanked by a cheap mug, a Sherlock Holmes-like magnifier and my baby Andre's B-daman. The med standing by in case my uric acid unexpectedly shoots up.

When I first came to Dubai, I only pop a caplet of Enervon C. After seeing my doctor last December, my pillbox menu now includes Colchicine (an anti-gout drug), Allopurinol (to flush out excess uric acid), Lipitor -- Pfizer's best-seller -- (to lower my cholesterol level) and Metformin -- which Doc Europa said was meant to help me slim down. Later I'd found out that this is an anti-diabetes drug.

I still blame the poor quality of water that comes out from the tap for the brittleness of my hair, which has turned salt and pepperish -- highlights as others describe it -- after spending (some say, wasting) over two and half years in this part of the world.

About a year ago, I was flabbergasted when a former colleague, who was in her 20s, didn't have an idea what the hell is Tears for Fears when she asked me what's playing on my iPod. I even had to tell another that Spandau Ballet doesn't have anything to do with Swan Lake or The Nutcracker.

Not to be outdone, I nearly dropped dead laughing when the same pa-cutesy (read: tanga) 20-something thought that Bananarama was a concoction at Baskin-Robbins.

Geez, the icons of my youth gone and forgotten -- and terribly recalled by today's youngsters!

When Ara and Aia asked me to let them watch the Fall Out Boy concert, my memory bank retrieved images of Lee Majors, who became the Fall Guy after making a successful run as the Six Million Dollar Man.

I see my presumptuous, eternally youthful "friends" snickering.

The reason behind these LOL moments suddenly got rammed into my face when my high school batchmate Joel Valencia forwarded a mail to our Yahoogroup which had the title of this entry.

"Tumatanda ka na, Batch!!!"

Ka-boom...aaargh! Reality bites!

Am I really getting that old? Have I already graduated into the Jurassic list?

I'll be clocking the last year of my third decade of existence in a few weeks' time and I'm still on denial mode that soon, I'll be joining the age of the "Life Beginners".

But come to think of it, hindi lang naman ako ang tumatanda.

My mom -- the heartthrob of her generation -- turned 70 last May.

My Tito Pito, who was the macho guwapito during his prime, has turned silver and gray.

My Ate Marichi -- the eldest among my first cousins -- is now a lola.

Some nephews and nieces whom I used to carry in my arms have either joined the work force or are about to get their rolled up cartolinas for the last time.

From wearing booties, my Ara is now going to school in stilletos. I dropped a tear when Mara texted me that my baby girl Aia is "dalaga na" and "Dadoy" Andre now has a love interest in school.

Life goes on.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus was right -- change is central to the universe.

"Everything flows, nothing stands still. Nothing endures but change."

And here's what Joel had sent me ...

Tumatanda ka na, Batch!!! (author unknown)

Nasa Friday Magic Madness na yung mga paborito mong kanta.

Nakaka-relate ka na sa Classic MTV.

Lesbiana na yung kinaaaliwan mong child star dati.

Nanay na lagi ang role ng crush na crush mong matinee idol noon.

Dati, pag may panot, sisigaw ka agad ng "PENDONG!".Ngayon, pag may sumisigaw nun, ikaw na yung napapraning.

Parang botika na ang cabinet mo. May multivitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, royal jelly, tsaka ginko biloba.

Dati, laging may inuman. Sa inuman, may lechon, sisig, kaldereta, inihaw na liempo, pusit, at kung anu-ano pa. Ngayon, nagkukumpulan na lang kayo ng mga kasama mo sa Starbucks at oorder ng tea.

Wala na ang mga kaibigan mo noon. Ang dating masasayang tawanan ng barkada sa canteen,napalitan na ng walang katapusang pagrereklamo tungkol sa kumpanya ninyo.

Wala na ang best friend mo na lagi mong pinupuntahan kapag may problema ka. Ang lagi mo na lang kausap ngayon e ang kaopisina mong hindi ka sigurado kung binebenta ka sa iba pag nakatalikod ka. Ang hirap nang magtiwala!

Mahirap nang makahanap ng totoong kaibigan. Hindi mo kayang pagkatiwalaan ang kasama mo araw-araw sa opisina. Kung sabagay, nagkakilala lang kayo dahil gusto ninyong kumita ng pera at umakyat sa tinatawag nilang "corporate ladder".

Anumang pagkakaibigang umusbong galing sa pera at ambisyon ay hindi talaga totoong pagkakaibigan. Pera din at ambisyon ang sisira sa inyong dalawa.

Pera na ang nagpapatakbo ng buhay mo.

Alipin ka na ng Meralco, PLDT, SkyCable, Globe, Smart, at Sun.

Alipin ka ng Midnight Madness.

Alipin ka ng tollgate sa expressway.

Alipin ka ng credit card mo.

Alipin ka ng ATM. Alipin ka ng BIR.

Dati-rati masaya ka na sa isang platong instant pancit canton. Ngayon, dapat may kasamang Italian chicken ang fettucine alfredo mo..

Masaya ka na noon pag nakakapag-ober- da-bakod kayo para makapag--swimming. Ngayon, ayaw mong lumangoy kung hindi Boracay o Puerto Galera ang lugar.

Dati, sulit na sulit na sa yo ang gin pomelo. Ngayon, pagkatapos ng ilang bote ng red wine, maghahanap ka ng San Mig Light o Vodka Cruiser.

Wala ka nang magawa. Sumasabay ang lifestyle mo sa income mo.

Nagtataka ka kung bakit hindi ka pa rin nakakaipon kahit tumataas ang sweldo mo. Yung mga bagay na gusto mong bilhin dati na sinasabi mong hindi mo kailangan, abot-kamay mo na.

Pero kahit nasa iyo na ang mga gusto mong bilhin, hindi ka pa rin makuntento. Saan ka ba papunta?

Friend, gumising ka.

Hindi ka nabuhay sa mundong ito para maging isa lang sa mga baterya ng mga machines sa Matrix.

Hanapin mo ang dahilan kung bakit nilagay ka rito.

Kung ang buhay mo ngayon ay uulit-ulit lang hanggang maging singkwenta anyos ka na, magsisisi ka.

Lumingon ka kung paano ka nagsimula, isipin ang mga tao at mga bagay na nagpasaya sa yo.

Balikan mo sila.

Ikaw ang nagbago, hindi ang mundo.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

My Daddy and Mommy

Today is GRANDPARENTS DAY and I remember my Daddy and Mommy (my mom’s parents) who – more than 20 after their passing -- are still regarded with awe and referred to with utmost respect by friends and relatives in our hometown in Dauis, Bohol.

Daddy (Valeriano Aranas Penales) was a public servant. He worked for the General Auditing Office (now the Commission on Audit) where he rose from clerk to provincial auditor. He was often referred to as the “first Filipino auditor,” but I won’t take that hook-line-and-sinker until I get that fact confirmed. The nomadic nature of his work prompted Daddy to take his family – and countless numbers of nephews and nieces and extended family members in his entourage– to places where he was posted (Lanao, Leyte, Cebu, Capiz, Negros) while Mommy (Clara Aba Reyes of Tanjay, Negros Oriental) managed the huge household.

Daddy – fondly called as Tiyo Ano – was the “godfather” of the Penales clan. He was the youngest in a brood of 16 and as expected outlived his siblings.

He was a tall mestizo with a statesmanlike bearing and charisma. He was always dressed to the nines with a Dick Tracy hat and two-toned Fred Astaire shoes. His Zippo was secured by a silver chain attached to his belt loop. His porma was accented by a cigar or a pipe (Mixture #79 was his favourite). Godfather na godfather ang dating!

When I was about two years old, I thought Daddy was part of the detective series “Streets of San Francisco” and I was made to believe that my Kuya Lou (Penales) was Michael Douglas (Karl Malden’s sidekick in the series). My confusion – or excitement – was heightened everytime the show Kojak goes on air as my Daddy shares the same hair-state with Telly Savalas.

Daddy was so simpatico, gentlemanly and affable. He could make women swoon even while already way past the golden age. Tita Moni once told that when Daddy went to Congress to visit his friend, Speaker Cornelio Villareal, he was mistaken for US President Dwight Eisenhower when he stepped out of the fin-tailed limo that took him there.

My late Tita Susing (My mom’s elder sis) would sometimes refer to Daddy as “Valentino” – punctuated with a naughty wink for whatever reason I yet have to discover. But true enough, Daddy died on St. Valentine’s Day in 1986 when he was 85.

Mommy Car – we were told -- was a “super OC”. She’d always win the “cleanest and most orderly” house contest wherever they lived. I remember Mommy – although she with a failing eyesight – dutifully inspecting all rooms in our ancestral house in Dauis every morning and directing whoever was at hand to fix this or that, making sure that not a speck of dust was on the ledge or furniture. Daddy and Mommy’s house could pass as a living proof for Johnson’s Floor Wax for having the shiniest floor and banisters in town. While leading the nightly orasyon – where all members of the household are gathered before the family altar when the bells toll at 6pm – the series of “Maghimaya ka Maria” (Hail Mary) would sometimes be cut to give way to sudden instructions on how to cook our dinner or to ask if all the Petromax (paraffin lamp) were already lit up (there was no electricity in Dauis until the late 1970s).

Unfortunately, I have faint memory of my paternal grandparents. I only saw my lolo (Brigido Gutierrez of San Jacinto, Masbate) once when he went to Manila for a visit when I was about 2-3 years old. He died about a year after Papa died in 1980. I never saw my lola who passed away before I was born. A giant picture of my lola adorned my Papa’s study. One of my paternal aunts asked for lola’s portrait when Papa died.

My kids are fortunate to have their grandparents – my Mama and Tita Moni -- looking after them and from afar, their Lola Sita and Tiya Perlita (Mara’s mum and auntie).

Me and my Mama

The kids with their Lolo Orling in 2002. The old man died in Nov. 5, 2006, a year after seeing all his grandchildren (including Arlene's kids) in one roof.

With my Ate Luisa- my mom's cousin. She took care of me when I was a kid.

To cap this entry, I’m reposting the following piece which I first read on its English version (I presume, it was the original). The essay was written on a hand-made poster displayed at the visitor’s lounge of the St. Joseph’s Home – the retirement home of nuns belonging to the Religious of the Virgin Mary congregation – which I saw while visiting my dear auntie, Sister Diosdada Loquellano. It was after reading this piece that I came to value more and understand my Mama, Tita Moni, Tito Pito and my aunties and uncles and even cousins who are now ageing gracefully.

My mom and Tita Moni (3rd and 4th from left) with my dear aunties Sis. Zenaida Cinches and Sis. Diosdada Loquellano at St Joseph's Home

Sa Aking Pagtanda
Rev. Fr. Ariel F. Robles

Sa aking pagtanda, unawain mo sana ako at pagpasensiyahan.

Kapag dala ng kalabuan ng mata ay nakabasag ako ng pinggan o nakatapon ng sabaw sa hapag kainan, huwag mo sana akong kagagalitan.

Maramdamin ang isang matanda. Nagse-self-pity ako sa tuwing sisigawan mo ako.

Kapag mahina na ang tainga ko at hindi ko maintindihan ang sinasabi mo, huwag mo naman sana akong sabihan ng “bingi!” Paki-ulit nalang ang sinabi mo o pakisulat na lang.

Pasensiya ka na, anak, matanda na talaga ako.

Kapag mahina na ang tuhod ko, pagtiyagaan mo sana akong tulungang tumayo, katulad nang pag-aalalay ko sa iyo noong nag-aaral ka pa lamang lumakad.

Pagpasensiyahan mo sana ako kung ako man ay nagiging makulit at paulit-ulit na parang sirang plaka. Basta pakinggan mo na lang ako. Huwag mo sana akong pagtatawanan o pagsasawaang pakinggan.

Natatandaan mo pa ba anak noong bata ka pa? Kapag gusto mo ng lobo, paulit-ulit mo ‘yong sasabihin, maghapon kang nangungulit hangga’t hindi mo nakukuha ang gusto mo. Pinagtiyagaan ko ang kakulitan mo.

Pagpasensiyahan mo na rin sana ang aking amoy. Amoy matanda, amoy lupa. Huwag mo sana akong piliting maligo. Mahina na ang katawan ko. Madaling magkasakit kapag nalamigan, huwag mo sana akong pandirihan.

Natatandaan mo pa ba noong bata ka pa? Pinagtiyagaan kitang habulin sa ilalim ng kama kapag ayaw mong maligo.

Pagpasensyahan mo sana kung madalas ako’y masungit, dala na marahil ito ng katandaan. Pagtanda mo, maiintindihan mo rin.

Kapag may konti kang panahon, magkuwentuhan naman tayo, kahit sandali lang. Inip na ako sa bahay, maghapong nag-iisa. Walang kausap. Alam kong busy ka sa trabaho, subalit nais kong malaman mo na sabik na sabik na akong makakuwentuhan ka, kahit alam kong hindi ka interesado sa mga kuwento ko.

Natatandaan mo ba anak noong bata ka pa, pinagtiyagaan kong pakinggan at intindihin ang pautal-utal mong kuwento tungkol sa iyong teddy bear.

At kapag dumating ang sandali na ako’y magkakasakit at maratay sa banig ng karamdaman, huwag mo sana akong pagsawaang alagaan.

Pagpasensiyahan mo na sana kung ako man ay maihi o madumi sa higaan, pagtiyagaan mo sana akong alagaan sa mga huling sandali ng aking buhay. Tutal hindi na naman ako magtatagal.

Kapag dumating ang sandali ng aking pagpanaw, hawakan mo sana ang aking kamay at bigyan mo ako ng lakas ng loob na harapin ang kamatayan.

At huwag kang mag-alala, kapag kaharap ko na ang Diyos na lumikha, ibubulong ko sa kaniya na pagapalain ka sana … dahil naging mapagmahal ka sa iyong ama’t ina…

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

28 years ago

…. Mountain Dew was first introduced in the Philippines

…. The municipality of Makati had a bank called Bangko Makati and its ad campaign tagline was “Basta Kayo Oo…sa Bangko Makati”

…. “Ibalik ang Swerti” was the buzz word popularized by the houseboy “Estong”

… John Lennon was fatally shot in New York

…. Iran and Iraq were at war

….Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the US presidential race

… Eat Bulaga was giving top-rating noontime show Student Canteen a run for its money

….Flor de Luna and Annaliza were the rival primetime soaps

…. Our Grade 4 batch performed a Thai dance during the Pista ng Sto Nino sa San Beda (Frolics) field demonstration

…. Bedan scouts took a Philippine Navy troop transport ship (LT-38) and went on a field trip to Corregidor

…. For school year 1980-81, section 32 (my block from Grade 1 to Grade 4) was dissolved and the class members were distributed to different sections. I went to section 21 for Grade 5 under Mr Daniel Dino

… was the last academic year that San Beda had Mr Ricardo Liwanag as principal. He was the last laity headmaster of San Beda Grade School.

…. You’d easily bump into Chito and Joey Loyzaga in campus

… President Marcos ordered the Board of Censors to take the likes of Voltes V, Mazinger Z, UFO Grendizer, Mekanda Robot, Daimos and Danguard Ace off the air for “excessive violence” on TV

… Jollibee was an ice cream parlor in Cubao

…Manila COD Department Store and Rustan’s were the places to be in Cubao.

….Shoemart was a simple shoe store along Aurora Boulevard. They also sell Boy Scouts paraphernalia.

… Our neighbor Itoy Esguerra was the “sparkplug” of the Letran Knights and the national basketball team

…. Papa hosted a general meeting of the Penales clan at Daddy’s house in Dauis, Bohol where plans for a grand clan reunion was hatched

…. Papa and Mama took me on my first trip to Bicol (Legaspi and Sorsogon)

… Papa was admitted to the Philippine Heart Center a few days after we arrived from Bicol. Mama stayed with him in the hospital. Coming to the hospital from school was a daily routine for me from June to August.

And on this very day 28 years ago at 1am (Philippine standard time), Papa breathed his last.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

A rat's life in Dubai

I hear buzzes, hisses, clicks and taps and the occasional hum of the printer as it labours to deliver a page. I see the silhouette of a four-eyed sub from across my monitor and now I hear incomprehensible mumbles from a running-order meeting a click away from where I sit.

I’m trying to keep myself from dozing off. I feel like a sock puppet forcibly being propped up on a barbecue stick.

I need to type words on this screen to prevent the white space before me from teleporting me to the world I desire to be in right this very moment.

What I’m scribbling right now will perhaps eventually make it to my blog as a regular entry – or maybe, will totally disappear with just a click of the mouse.

A cocktail of meds prescribed by my doc over the weekend for my pharyngitis, a 15-minute catnap in lieu of the required 8-hour nighttime sleep and the nagging question whether I’ll be homeless again at the end of the day are working in unison to try to zap the lights out of me.

Wuz slipping in and out consciousness when my CPE came over and unloaded my day’s share of trash that needs to be spun into gold.

Like a battle-weary infantryman, I slowly swung into action, summoning whatever strength left to push my page through.

Along the way, I’d get updates from FB like Pocholo Lagniton announcing that he’s cheering for the old Chronicle pack whose libel suit was quashed by the Court of Appeals, Bing Orosa craving for a cuppa, Bocap being “committed” to work for a “good man” till 2010, and Joel Saracho needing a kneading. Syet, buti pa mga “miserable” friends ko may life.

Dubai pala has more than 860,000 registered vehicles or 541 cars for every 1,000 residents. Meaning, there are roughly 400 of us lowly slaves running after or waiting for eternity for buses and taxis while being baked to perfection inside D-shaped toasters that are supposed to make commuting a desirable option.

Page done. Time check 1645. Sabi ni Tata, power will be restored daw by 1700 but just like last night, nakapako pa rin ang pangako. So pano ‘to, I’ll just again prepare to face the eventuality that I’ll be spending the night in the bunker for the 2nd straight night. Pusang ina!

Eto another flash from Outlook: “Bro, pwede paki-edit?” wat is dis? Ay hayup, farewell letter ni alleged dahil nag-resign na nga pala ang hitad at lilipat na ng ibang disyerto.

“Now is my last day here in Gulf News after two and half years, what I can say is...THANK YOU (from the bottom of my heart)..........I don't want to say goodbye........but just want to say see you later guys!..........I will definitely miss you all!!!!”

Hmmmm…nabasa ko na to dati. Aha! copy-pasting na naman to. Pati ba naman mga ganyan kasimpleng bagay pine-plagiarise na rin? Sige oks na yan. Low-batt na low-batt na ko. Pilot light na lang power ko.

Sporadic clicks punctuated by the lift’s bell and isolated bantering are the only signs of life here in the bunker. Everyone’s waiting for the cannon to pop, to signal the break of fast – and bye-bye time.

Lucky bastards….they have houses to come home to while here I am, homeless and clueless.

Two and a half years sa Dubai and I now live like a rat. Eto na nga siguro ang karma ko.