Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Better Impessions of Manila

Lest many think that Manila is just about squatters, take a look at the better impressions I got. There are actually so many, I will start with one or two, as I have pressing deadlines for the paper.

I browsed Market!Market! at the boundary of Makati and Taguig. Don't forget to grab your many arts and crafts for souvenirs at their tiangge. Their mall area has all the local and international boutiques that you will like to explore.

What caught my eye and heart was the very special place for carts bearing different delicacies from around the Philippines. Dried mangoes and broas from Cebu, tawilis and salinas tuyo from Batangas, everything you can do with Pili Nuts from Bicol, pastillas from Bulacan, Peanut Brittle, Ube, and Strawberry Jam from Baguio, and every kakanin you can conceive of!

The dancing fountain is their respite for the hot summer (albeit typhoon) months.

Make sure you get your fill at Market! Market! next time you are in Manila.


Friday, August 24, 2007

What Do You Really Want to Do with Your Life?

Riding home with my eldest cousin and his wife, my kuya explained that, though in transition, he had a plan for his retirement, and ultimately with his life.

Theirs seem to be a model partnership, with 3 healthy and bright children, reasonable career paths and most of the comforts of life. I was excited to resonate with my kuya, who felt that there is something out there that needs to fulfill his life. He is working towards a business, with extreme care and commitment. This business he treats as his legacy to his kids and to the world--his path to giving back according to his gifts.

With my cousins, I have found a common ground: We all want to serve. And we are all testing our directions. I admire my cousin for his endurance and faith in these times of uncertainty for him. With a solid corporate background for many years in Finance, entrepreneurship must be quite an adjustment for him.

I look around all the gifts I have and I am truly grateful. And because I am overwhelmed at having everything I actually dreamed of, I too, am compelled to give back. There is that nagging feeling that I must do more. I keep postponing it for "when the kids are grown."

Though my biggest mission is to raise my kids to the best of my ability remains to be my main mission, I realized that I must discern my bigger "give back" mission to serve NOW. All my kids will never be actually truly grown, with my youngest now only 4 years old. I realized I might run out of time. But wait, Cory Aquino claimed her destiny to be Philippine president at age 50 or so, and my idol Cheche Lazaro started her broadcasting career at about the same age.

Meanwhile, check out Oprah's What Do You Really Do With Your Life? for some inspiration. Women of all career paths and ages took leaps of faith, many times, not knowing where. And yet, by doing so, they found themselves nearer their joy and their true life's calling.

Do you know yet the person you were meant to be?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Squatter Demolition

I went through mixed emotions as I witnessed the demolition of squatter shanties by my mom's condo in Buendia. Word was, MMDA had given the squatters under the bridge 6 months to relocate. The illegal squatters were causing floods in Buendia towards Taft, making the river beneath them their personal garbage can.

The squatters ran the river's edge. Here, you can see why aside from their being illegal residents, their lack of reverence for the environment causes big problems:

The MMDA trucks came in full force and there was resistance from the squatters. The trucks dredged that thick mud-like mound from the sewers from under the bridge.

The squatters started throwing big rocks, protesting that they were not "mga hayop na ipinagtatabuyan." But then they did not act after the warning and did not take advantage of the proposed relocation to Taguig.

I salute the MMDA for giving the squatters another week to take their shanties down and find a legal place to live. If the residents took their homes down themselves, they get to keep the building materials with them. Whatever MMDA sees by next week, they will demolish.

It was kind of strange to see through the squatters' homes from above--almost like doll-houses, but in a sad and viscious state. It was quite astonishing how so many of them can live in such a small space:

So, here again are the residents taking their shanties apart. My biggest concern is that they were throwing all their garbage into the river again, for the MMDA to clean up. It was very sad to see the river. . .

Indeed a deep-rooted problem, the demolition just spurred the squatters to move to the next-door empty lot:

What do you feel about squatter demolitions?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Back from Manila

Got back from Manila yesterday and I am still disoriented, waking at 4:17 a.m. today, with nagging hunger pangs that I decide to feed.

I was amazed to find the quiet dawn at our kitchen quite comforting. It is quiet and dark and very cool—a sharp contrast from the blazing 90’s at mid-day.

Jet lag may very well be my inspiration to assess my first trip back to Manila as an immigrant. I found that that whirlwind of a trip was actually defining, validating, and clarifying to me.

At first, I was hesitant to go home to Manila. Me, the reluctant immigrant, who didn’t want to leave the comforts and frills of home to uproot my 5 children. I did not want to leave the household help (one of my aunts now has 10—I can actually enumerate them but suffice it to say that the houseboy has an assistant, and 2 of them are “pensionadas,” too old to really work but get their loyalty awards for being with the family for many years), the support of many relatives and solid friendships, the long-drawn out lunches with my girlfriends, threshing out our life’s purpose and some gossip, the thriving men’s wear business I built from scratch, the cozy community we lived in had a pool and a salon downstairs. Oh, the salons in Manila—complete with the masahistas for home service, Lani, our ever-loyal one, still charges roughly $7 for one hour to sawa (when the cheapest massage you can get in the States is $60 an hour). Aside from healing massage, she now does bleaching, waxing, and my current favorite, eyebrow threading. I cannot explain to you the lift that eyebrow threading gives to my psyche, as my eyes look lifted and the signs of USA fatigue are threaded away.

What goes around comes around. From converting pesos to US dollars when we got to America, we couldn’t even splurge at the local McDonald’s. Now, I join the many overseas workers and expats in the pleasure of multiplying US dollars times 46 to get unbelievable extended value for my hard-earned money. Shopping in Tutuban and 168 has been given new heights, and strolling in the Mall of Asia has been quite exhilarating, specially because we were able to watch Bourne Ultimatum in the big screen for about $3!

Only in the Philippines can we find ourselves having lunch at their Dampa (fresh sea food picked and cooked while-you-wait) version, then pondered on what movie to watch, considering Razon’s halo-halo or coffee after the movie. Never nagyayari sa US of A ang mga ganito, because, though there may be lots of money to be made, there is never enough time to hang around.

So when my fellow balikbayan brother and sister-in-law got home from our Mall of Asia field trip, we dropped in the neighborhood salon for waxing and threading. My brother got a home massage because he was sore from badminton the day before. What can beat that?

Coming home as an immigrant means keeping your eyes wide open. Every experience is amplified. I noticed that all my friends have proper haircuts and nary a gray strand showing. Heck, even Lani, the masseuse, goes to her own neighborhood salon for her highlights when she is stressed. (I was probably the only one with gray strands showing in the whole Metro Manila!) At the same time, I wanted to hug everyone who greeted me “hello, ma’m-sir!” even if that was all they seemed to do all day. Walang ganyan sa States, ika nga. What I used to take for granted has become precious—the Sunday lunch reunions, small talk, catching up, buying sampaguita from the streets. I know that we are hospitable and warm as a people but to actually see everyone smiling just because and in spite of, was actually profoundly touching.

Every now and then, there was an urge for me to multi-task on
something and I had to restrain myself, willing myself to relax and just take it slow, while making kukot something to eat and making kuwento.

Traffic in Manila forces us to take it slow because there is no choice. What with the rains and floods, my brother spent 3 hours getting from Sucat to Pasay. He almost got culture-shocked out of his wits. For a few inches and a half, fellow drivers will ram their hood into small spaces with nowhere to go. We also forgot that pedestrian lanes don’t count and couldn’t slow down for crossing citizens.

I had to turn down a couple of lunch engagements that begged to become merienda sessions because I wanted to get a massage. My friends have been very understanding. They know that I did not have the stamina for socials as I did not have my own car to drive anymore and my emotional and physical batteries needed recharging with alone time and only quality bonding, with my tita and Lani, working on the dead skin on my feet:

At any given time, there is a beautician--manicurist, hairstylist, waxer and bleacher, and masseuse--in my tita's house:

It was time to go, time to pack. The first trip back to Manila has been interesting. My brother was itching to get back to New Jersey, two days after he got in. He said he expected more from this first trip back. I was surprised that I was quite ready to get back to California, too. I missed my kids and my husband.

I realized that in spite of all the frills of Manila, home is where my kids laugh, where my husband awaits, where I worry by the porch for my boys to come in from school or work, where my girls fill the fridge with the prettiest drawings of princesses that look like me. Home is where your real bed and sheets and towels are, where your garden grows, where you know the grocery aisles by heart, and where you know what the prevailing price of gasoline is.

And here I am, back in the kitchen table, waiting for them to awake. I think that though life in the States is difficult, we have made the right decision. We do things as a family and our precious free time, we spend together. My hair may have no highlights, but the highlight of my day is spent with my family. We rarely watch movies in the theater and we hardly eat out, so we rent movies from Blockbuster and buy tons of microwave popcorn and watch together.

My older boys are poised for University and Film Academy soon. That in itself makes all the sacrifices worth it. What with tuition fees in Manila running to one hundred thousand apiece, my younger kids get to go for free in our efficient California public schools.

As my brother said, sanayan lang. Give us two years in any place in the world and the challenge is to adjust with what we have at hand. I think migrating has given us character and resiliency—very precious gifts, just as hard-earned as the US dollar.

I have to run now, because the sprinkler system has turned on and my newspaper will be soaked if I don’t fetch it.