Saturday, April 30, 2005


A last stab at April

The damsel in distress has called
A knight beside her she would need
The hero comes a-calling, unaware
What tragedy he would heed

Swords do clash, sparks unleash
Hilt and guard awash with sweat
The horns of battle grow with longing
At the stain of blood being let

The honor gained of a battle won
Leaves little glimmer for glory lost
The gauntlet speaks, and it speaks truly
Folly's treason and the lives it cost

Wake, o wake, o slumbering warrior
Escaping to find yourself is a lie
The allure of fantasy is all-so-convenient
Obscuring your fear from your mind's eye

Honor you seek is temporary
The world we have is challenge enough
No need to search for ladies and dragons
Fighting to stay sane is just as tough

History is written, and the tomes have aged
Movements and wars and discoveries
Statesmen and kings, tycoons and the rare sage
Have they relevance in your memories?

Sunday, April 24, 2005


I lack the words
To narrate my return
Always the same excuses
Always the same
Riding the back of my mind

I can no more deny the emptiness
Than I can willingly spill
My own lifeblood
For those that have remained

Yet my soul sings to be let free
But numb from the trying --
The despair of ever wanting to --
Where there is no loss
Only anticipation

How can I explain to the prisoner
When the prison has no walls
And the boundaries may be eternal
The plastic awareness
Has settled into epoxine permanence
The mind plays cruel tricks
But my knowledge of it being so
Offers little comfort

Returned - a strange state to be in
When my home is not here...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Manila Diary - Blunders

Edit May 18: The account of my vacation has gone on too long, with edits and other stuff I have put down all that I have gone through. If you've gotten this far, you deserve a big hug from me. I put down all my thoughts into my Pocket PC, it’s just an entire month of re-adjusting and refining all my thoughts that I get to finish this.

One more note during my Manila stay before the real highlight of the trip (which came, appropriately, in the end, for a slam-bang finish) was my seeing my ex-boss Joecon.

We had a breakfast meeting in his house and we chatted up a great deal. The old man has been sadly diminished, though not significantly. Maybe I notice this because the light in my life is burning more strongly than it ever did during my years of service with him. Or maybe because he has been weighed down by all the problems and he has few competent people to lean on. In a way, it was weird justice because in his own way, he drove people like me away.

I expected him to offer me a job, which was one reason why I basically avoided him during my entire vacation. Interesting prospects, by the way, but it was just too late for me to worry about it (as if I would, with the plans I have made in KSA). If the mood during that day kept up I would expect a little less acrimony IF I do work for him again, but my personal prescription is a big fat NO, of course.

I’ve saved the best part of this story for last…

Remember at the start of my tale I bought a PDA phone?

(Go back, go back, go BAAAACCCKKKK)

When I got home after seeing the SHARE folks for the first time in a year, I spent about five hours getting used to it and putting in entries for my schedule, INCLUDING MY RETURN FLIGHTS to Dubai and KSA. Of course I wasn't in tiptop condition (jet lag) and pretty tired to boot. It didn’t help that I had a few beers that night, though less than usual.

So it was that it happened that I encoded my flight out to Dubai on Tuesday, April 19, instead of Wednesday, April 20... (!) How did that happen I can no longer decipher or try to divine . . .

The result, of course, was that I packed my bags and made all the arrangements to leave on Tuesday. I managed to get a hard-pressed Robert (who had a catering appointment to handle that evening, bless you, Robert, for making time!).

What happened to me was like an out-of-body experience. If it weren’t happening to me, I could have sworn it could have been a skit out of a comedy. As it was, I would relate it to you:

Otep gets off the car, waves off mother, sister, and househelp who wanted to see him off. The trio fight back tears while Robert, visibly hurried, says goodbye too.
Otep pushes the trolley up the ramp, not noticing that he should go to the POEA section, not noticing that he is making a ruckus because he put 54kg worth of luggage onto the trolley.
Otep fumbles around among his things, in his usual clumsy way, for his ticket, Overseas Employment Certificate, and passport. When he gets to the guard, he proudly presents his documents, as if saying smugly, "Isa akong Bagong Bayani! Worship me! Hahahahahaha!!!"
Guard, nonplussed and poker-faced, says, "Ser, bukas pa po ito. Tingnan ninyo, o… April 20."
Otep is SHOCKED (with a strange premonition that some shitty thing will happen, as if often does, to him. Poor soul. Aww!!!) and looks at the guard with the straightest face, "Ha?! Ganoon ba?" (Looks at the ticket, wanting not to believe) "Oo nga 'no!" (Wanting to pat the guard on the back and hit him over the head at the same time).
Otep turns his trolley around, again, noisily, as a long queue of people waits to get into the terminal. Otep does not look into their faces, and dials his sister's phone number, laughing at himself because there just wasn't room enough to cry or be humiliated. He pointedly does not look at the guard or at the other passengers.

(I'm now pausing for your benefit)...

It just took 20 minutes for Robert to broadcast this incident to SHARE people and the gang, the same amount of time it took for them to get back to the Departure area. To quote him: "Pare, kahit na late ako, sulit ang araw na ito!" And I can believe him. I was really sorry for ruining the evening for Robert. Tough call. Of course, the returns for him were huge. I would be stumped to come up with a blooper to top this one as one of the greatest loser moments EVER? My posting a neon-green, colored "L" on my forehead wouldn't have done the same kind of job….

Couldn't you imagine what that guard was thinking while looking at me for about 20 minutes while I waited? Priceless, priceless would be an understatement of a term.

So anyway, I did make it to my flight to Dubai the following night. I spent the next 36 hours with my sister who's based in Dubai, which needs another story for me to tell. Suffice to say that:

1) Dubai is a great place to live in, but not necessarily to save money. Everything is so darned expensive!
2) The head honchos in Dubai are probably among the most progressive and visionary in the entire Gulf. I haven't met a whole of Emiratis, but I can safely surmise that per capita they are among the most open-minded of the Gulf Arabs. Otherwise, I don't see their leadership making some headway in transforming their country.
3) Still, I wouldn't take anything away from a KSA-based life right now.

Things I did in Dubai:

1) Wild Wadi Water Park! What a great place! Pound for pound, though, I'd give Ocean Park the thumbs-up over this, but I had more fun here because I was able to enjoy more of the attractions. Grateful that my sister made the arrangments.
2) Almost getting detained. We took shots of some locals, which generally would be halal if one would go about it surreptitiously. However, we did it in front of the security guard, so we got called into the park office and had to delete the picture.
3) Eat an epicurean meal for the last time. We went to the Fairmont Hotel for dinner - a nice setting of steak! Met up with Sheila B, based in Dubai for some time and getting more womanly while she's at it.

Things I did not do:

1) Visit the strip, or see some of the ladies of the night. 'Nuff said.
2) Get a good night's sleep.
3) Have a sad moment.

So that ends my tale of the first-ever vacation from KSA. Hope the memories will keep me strong enough for the months ahead.


Monday, April 18, 2005

End of the Chinese Tale

Hong Kong.

The brassiest metropolis of China, and I would like to qualify this given that Shanghai has gone on overdrive the past 15 years and is the de facto business capital of the PRC.

It was almost eleven when we got settled into our hotel. Our guide, Henry, was a no-nonsense kind of person, a difference from Fiona who had the gift of gab and courted all attention. Henry had quiet knowledge but was more organized and efficient. We were hungry! The twists and turns of the station exhausted us.

We stayed in the New Territories, several kilometers away from the city center (which explains why the hotel was so cheap). The hotel was part of a mixed-use development with a high-rise apartment building making up the other portion of the property. As I divined, the room was small, but comfortable, though on the first night I slept on the window bench, which was a really bad idea.

The bummer of the Hong Kong trip was the clogged toilet in our hotel room! I’ll save the imagery for you. So we had to switch rooms and move all of our stuff. Stressful since we had to meet our 8:00am schedule but we only got to move at 7:30am!

Because of our experience in Shenzhen, we were not likely to pony up a lot of cash for the goods they were selling at the various tourist shops. I did, however, appreciate the kind of organization these guys had.

Why not promote eco-shopping tourism in the Philippines? Not only do we have the destinations, our people have enough smarts to do this. It doesn’t even need a whole lot of government intervention, only less government red tape. Why this is not being done is a testament to the lack of direction and vision in the country.

Going through Hong Kong, I gained a sense of balance over the things NOT DONE during this trip. Even with better management of my time, I guess it was all a matter of priorities – my primary objective being the happiness of my mother on her 70th birthday. It was also the first real opportunity for me to give something back to her after all of these years.

This opportunity may never come again. While I still have time, I aim to make life better for my mom. One only hopes she will be around if and when my own children come. Well, she is tough as anything, but the main problem is that I’m having a hard time on the relationship end (hahahaha!).

Ocean Park was a blast! Cute pandas (a relatively new attraction), fantastic cable car ride, great dolphin-and-seal show --- the only thing that took some fun away was that it was raining. Plus the fact we managed to run into one of the biggest senior citizen conventions ever. There was a veritable horde of seniors (most probably from elsewhere in China), so we didn’t get to enjoy some of the attractions as much. Back to the Philippine question – WE CAN DO THE SAME THING AS OCEAN PARK, but the question is - who is going to take the risk?

Later that day, we went to the Mongkok night market. It’s an experience to be undergone to give a good description. It’s not that esoteric, by the way, but still…

By that time, however, I was already drained due to the exertions of the day, and I didn’t want to spend as much anymore. I just wanted to sit down, relax, and forget that I would be spending more money. Still, we had to buy the requisite perfumes, knick knacks and some clothes for the people back home.

And so the trip ended with all of us filing into the tour bus to the airport the following morning. I did a cowardly thing though, to protect myself from potential letdown, which was NOT to collect numbers of our tour-mates. My mom had all of them though, but my not taking down numbers was a convenient excuse and an escape. Guess I still have to work on my store of guts. There will be opportunities anyhow; I just have to make proper use of them.

Interlude in Shenzhen

We stayed overnight in Shenzhen before going to Hong Kong.

The hotel was three stars – my sister and my mother shared one bed while I took the other. Still, the place was adequate except that we didn’t have room keys. We went late-night shopping and I came away with a watch. Nice rip-off of a Swiss IWC model.

The next day on the trip was the substantial one – both in event and in expense.

Item A: don’t bring women to a jewelry store or a store with exotic cosmetics.

Item B: don’t bring your credit cards or money with you.

Item C: leave your vanity at home, or else people will spot it and play upon your need to be recognized.

Result without Items A, B, C:

1) Humungous shopping bill.
2) Suddenly useless items which seemed good to buy at the time.
3) An aching wallet.

The funny thing was this incident with Fiona. As I said, she was a nice-looking girl, but what with my mother being in the forefront I tried to stay under the radar. Still, Fiona liked my mother a real lot. During our first stop, she said she would give all the items in the store if only my mother would stay behind in China (Tsk, tsk. As if I would allow that to happen). My mom said that if Fiona wanted a mother-in-law, she shouldn’t worry because her oh-so-cute son (me) was available to be her fiancĂ©.

I ended up with a girlfriend for the rest of the trip. The joke was fun while it lasted.

Shenzhen’s best bet was the Windows to the World theme park, which was said to have been built for HK$600million. We ran out of Chinese money so it was a bit of a stretch getting by in the place. There were theme sections from East and Southeast Asia, Europe, the Americas, the Middle East/Egypt, Africa, and Australia. The only thing out of place was a dinosaur park. Every kid has to have dinosaurs somewhere. The replicas were great. It was a shame we didn’t have more time to tour.

I have observed that I defer often to my mother because she is such a convivial person, sometimes too convivial for her own good. I couldn’t get to the ladies in the tour group, folks! Normally my genial facial expression and pithy comments would demand some amount of attention. But alas, it was my mother’s time to do her thing.

At last we had to leave Shenzhen and Fiona (broken hearts, but most likely mine, sigh!) but the going was really bad. We left Shenzhen late, so one of the convenient entrances to the train station was closed. It was up-down, up-down, and through a maze of passageways. Finally we boarded the train and Shenzhen was history.

Notable notes:
Our tour guides always called us “grupong maganda at guapo,” likely something they learned throughout many tours. PRC people are likely to speak better English if they are government-connected, and they have made great strides in this area.
Chinese are really entrepreneurial, and it’s no great surprise the head honchos reshaped their economy to be capitalist while retaining central control.
The cutest girl that I saw on the trip wasn’t even Fiona, but a girl named Lorelei who even spoke better English. She was one of their people at the tourist shop, which I gather does big business with international buyers.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Reconnecting with China

The days of my vacation are almost ending. The mind does learn new tricks – RESILIENT I think is the best term. When I arrived, I couldn’t wait to go back to KSA. Now that my time is over, I wish I could turn back time and start this month over.

It’s simply too late to go back and try to set meetings with people I would like to meet. I remember a few of them now and I have only REGRET. I can only hope I will have better plans next time.

Before I go on telling about the trip to Hongkong/Shenzhen, let me tell you about the FOOD, food being my main preoccupation:

Shenzhen, pm, April 10: It was the standard Cantonese lauriat, the one where there are eggs and tofu always served. We were hungry, so we wolfed that stuff down.

Shenzhen, am, April 11: Breakfast of mini-siopao, buchi, boiled egg, rice, noodles, and pancit with nothing in it, and oh, corn and peas. The only thing that bothered me was that the servings were a bit mixed up. Our tour group people were aghast.

Shenzhen, noon, April 11: There were a selection of tourist restaurants but our tour just went to one for the entire trip. Same lauriat. The food was better, but it was the same lauriat. No water served, so either buy the bottled type or drink the house tea. I drank the tea.

Shenzhen, pm, April 11: As I said, same restaurant. Same lauriat. It was starting to get cloying, but I hardly noticed. I noticed my tour group mates noticing my not noticing, since I was the only one eating heartily. What's the deal, I was thinking.

When we arrived in HK that evening, Lucky Me! Instant mami never tasted better.

Hong Kong, am, April 12: Breakfast was a cafeteria type affair in downtown Kowloon. Food was actually better.

Hong Kong, noon, April 12: We had an extended stay in the tour spot, and it was raining! We went to a restaurant instead of a McDonalds. It was a mystery since we were all going to Ocean Park. The lauriat sucked. The Shenzhen type was better. I wonder.

Hong Kong, pm, April 12: We were left to our own devices, so I finally had my first Western meal in HK at the Mongkok KFC in the night market. Fabulous, fabulous, but rice was unbelievably expensive!

Hong Kong, am, April 13: Breakfast was loaf of bread and side of luncheon meat.

Hmmm… just made me think… why should I bother writing more about the tour when I can go just go on about the food? Makes me hungry… (grabs a snack)

Think again if you are going on a package tour to China, if you have a thing about some creature comforts and of course, food. Otherwise, the trip was a real blast!

Since the low point of the trip was not making it (screwing up our departure dates, care of yours truly), we were considerably loose when we got to the airport. Cebu Pacific offers a backdoor to Hong Kong through Shenzhen (which is the closest mainland Chinese city apart from Macau). If you have a thing against old airliners, don’t take this flight.

Cebu Pacific openly admits it uses previously mothballed jets which they secure from suppliers with only the avionics updated … it was my first encounter with a DC-9. As with all CP flights, no-frills was the norm.

We arrived at the swanky Shenzhen airport and it was another example how badly the Philippines has been left behind – the Shenzhen airport was utilitarian but still a work of beauty. It took us forever to get out of immigration since somebody with an American passport joined our tour group and had to be sent home. Too bad for her.

We were met by our tour guide, a Shenzhen local named Fiona Yin who was as cute as a button. I’ve always been partial to ladies with Chinese features and here was the real article. Seeing a real Chinese person made me reconnect with my last sojourn to the PRC – a splendid eight days in Kunming and two more in Hong Kong in December 2002. I came off that trip very upbeat (good trip + nice Chinese girl who became my friend), but it’s been long past and that girl hasn’t written me back ever since I left for Saudi Arabia.

China is an object lesson for Filipinos and authoritarian government:
1) Filipinos don’t need ironclad laws, they just need ironclad and incorruptible law enforcement.
2) We already have a good thing in democracy, but we are just too lazy to learn about, and live by, the responsibilities of a democratic society.
3) We are in sore need of national direction which a strong government will provide – however, “strong” does not necessarily have to be repressive.

Okay, I’ll save the commentary and go straight to the action…

Cripes! It’s late and I have a morning appointment, have to go now…

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Manila Diary - Haze!

I've finished laughing for now. What just happened wasn’t funny, but there’s no choice for me but to laugh.

These past ten days or so have been a haze – too many beers in dark rooms. I’m glad that

A) I haven’t lost my wallet
B) I haven’t lost my new Pocket PC
C) I’ve gotten out alive.

My father did tell me it’s not the amount of beer you drink, it’s the people with whom you drink. There is no safety when the guys you drink with are total jerks.

Speaking of my father, I visited his grave at the cemetery. This gives rise to two thoughts:

A) What if my family agreed, as per my father’s wishes, to have him cremated? --- AND
B) Would it have made any difference?

I also visited my late friend Miggy Baluyut in his resting place. The devotion of our other friends to his memory is so touching, almost “faggy” in nature, all in the most positive way, of course. It’s like those buddy moments like the Dirty Dozen or perhaps more recently, the Lord of the Rings movies, but as I said, all in a good way, of course.

I spent Easter celebrating Jene P.’s birthday with the Funny Bunch at Jene’s swanky new home. The future, no, the present, is all so bright for Jene – prospects coming up, a wonderful wife, and supportive friends. Granted, there are always bumps on the road, but wouldn’t there always be?

I slept through parts of “Team America” (finally, I got some good sleep) by the guys who created “South Park” and “Baseketball,” Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The movie was a huge broadside on liberals, self-righteous artist-activists, chick flicks, and for the most part, good taste. Needless to say, the gang lapped it all up. “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog” was also a blast. To use the canine’s words, it’s probably the greatest DVD bargain ever – “for me to poop on!”

And after that – a real alcoholic haze that I was referring to.

Normally, I would pop in a “what have we learned?” portion, but I’d just get onto the funny story:

My sister (the youngest among them, the one with three kids) had referred to us a wonderful four day-three night package to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, all told for a sum of $178++ (plus taxes and other stuff, it went to more than $250) per person. I would pay for me and for my mother, and our eldest sister would join us on the trip. My sister asked for an April 7-10 schedule since it would fit in with her days off and the April 9 public holiday, and this is what I specifically did not look at when I bought the tickets on April 4, Monday. I assumed that my other sister fixed it up with the agent. Turns out the tours were on fixed schedules.

Now, I could have looked at the tickets, but all I did was stick them into my bag, go out, and then proceed on working myself senseless.

The following day, I was pretty groggy when I gave the tickets to my mother and she put them away. That makes us two whiz kids who did not bother to read the fine print, but of course since I was making the arrangements, I take all the blame. Because…

The tour was SPECIFICALLY scheduled from April 10 to April 13. We were already packed and scheduled to leave for the airport when our youngest sister (the one who got us the contact) called us and told us to check the tickets. And lo and behold! The tickets were from the 10th to the 13th.

(Long pause…)

{Aftermath edit, April 23: After we had gotten over the huge deflation over all the anticipation for the trip, it was time to laugh. The only damage it did was to my sister’s schedule since she had to move her days off. A few ruffled feathers, for the most part, and as a plus, my mother got to attend her prayer meeting with her prayer community, which she would have missed otherwise.

Still, that little glitch did not ruin that tour.

Did we learn anything from that episode? For me, obviously not, as events in the near future (as in the following week) would bear out…

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Looking Back - "Aubrey"

I’m taking a break to re-post an old journal entry I wrote two years ago, almost to the day. I attended a Journal Writing workshop that I never felt like attending in the first place, but my friend and erstwhile colleague made such a good case for me to go. It was a worthwhile experience, too bad I did not get to repeat it.

This entry is slightly edited, and it was with a little surprise that I delivered it in public.


It was a 1982, 1400cc, red, box-type Mitsubishi Lancer - my friend Robert's car, Aubrey. His story of naming his car goes something like this - when he first acquired the car from its previous owner, he turned on the radio, and coincidentally the song that was playing was Bread's "Aubrey." Or something like that.

Maybe it's less of the car but more of the person who owned "her," but Aubrey was the confessor of our barkada, the ship of our dreams and aspirations, the granary of our frustrations, fears and disappointments. She of course was also the sounding board of our jokes! What we shared inside the car raises a thought - if Aubrey only had a soul - she would write the story of our lives - the journeys we have traveled, the ribbing and the kidding around, the stories that we told and lived through - she would be part of the soul of several years of friendship.

Aubrey was not just a car, she was an old friend that you've been longing to see and would always like to see - she would always be waiting expectantly for me to hop in. When I hear the familiar crunch of her door hinges, when I inhale the sweet-sour smell of her upholstery, when I run my hand on her cracking paint, and even when I struggle to thrive on the hottest days and her aircondtioner wasn't working - I know I am safe and secure, ready to share another adventure with her and our friends. When I am ensconsced in her arms, I believe that I am among friends, friends who accept me for who I am, who accept my idiosyncrasies, reveling in my own gifts and personhood.

Aubrey was the altar of our friendship, a hallowed place that is no less sacred for all the lewdness we have talked about, all the crazy songs we conceived and sang, the dirty looks we gave to passers-by, and generally, the drunkenness of being young and carefree. Aubrey was a fount of acceptance, of belonging, of HOME.

And like Aubrey, her owner Robert is in his own way a fount of kindness and friendship - someone you'd expect would be there if you're in a crunch. It's sad how seldom I got to tell him I appreciate him (what with all the male way of showing appreciation), how have we as friends - sometimes me in particular, forget to tell him we're sorry that we put him into some amount of inconvenience or hurt, or to give some consideration to his feelings. For, like Aubrey, Robert had become an invaluable tool, an indispensable appliance (if those words could be thought of as complimentary when referring to a person), the ubiquitous glue that binds people together. For all this time, I have known that he is one of those angels who walk this earth, giving guidance and comfort wherever he goes.

Aubrey is no longer with us - she gave up the ghost after being involved in an accident on West Avenue some five or so years ago - though Robert had her fixed, it was clear her time had come and he had to let her go. By some twist of fate, it was also around that time his mother passed away - it was as if an era an ended and a new one must be written. For a time, we shared some experiences with his other car, a Kia Pride CD-5 we called "Jenny." We called her "Si Kia" at first and since Gabby Concepcion was married to Jenny Syquia at that time, it was somehow apt to call her just that.

But then, in some cosmic joke or case of serendipity, Robert bought a new car with the money his mother left him - a bigger vehicle that could take in more people (a proverbial school bus) and take us where we want to go. It was a red Mitsubishi Adventure - we called her "Aubrey II."

As with Jenny, life with Aubrey II was not the same with the THE Aubrey. Another of our friends had a Toyota Tamaraw FX called the “Millennium FX” that we also went around in, but for some reason or another, it wasn't the same too. Like an old pair of shoes worn in to the grooves of my foot, the first Aubrey was a comfort that could never be equaled. As time passes and the tapestry of people's lives change, we also follow our own channels, our own paths. Aubrey II was not the same kind of experience, and neither does she evince the same kind of nostalgia as the first one. Perhaps it's because life does tell us that each moment is something we should cherish, and that we should live each moment with value, and to fill these spaces with love. Same for the people we cherish and love.

Now that we spend less time with one another and our friends, I miss Robert, I miss all of them. Some have gotten married, and some have gone away to other places. I miss Aubrey.

But if by chance I see any kind of box-type Lancer, no matter how beat-up or old-looking, I remember Aubrey and am warmed by the thought that somehow, somewhere out there, angels do exist and miracles happen everyday. They're often man-made.