Sunday, February 29, 2004

Spring Preview

New York seem to be experiencing a snow drought. For the second weekend now it had been perfect weather, today hitting 60 degrees at three weeks before spring officially makes an entry. The last day for February and according to the news, we've only had 0.7" of snow the whole month. Hey, no one is complaining and certainly not me.

A friend and I walked crosstown to Riverside Drive and strolled along the 79th Street Boat Basin. The usual crowd of joggers, baby strollers, bikers and others basking in the nice weather and breeze were already there before us. Seagulls flew overhead, ducks were resting on platforms and it was really a perfect day. And pigeons, lots of pigeons. 

A Friendship Interrupted

Somehow I knew today would be a great one. On the way to mass while crossing the park at 47th Street, I got a call from Lilet, a friend from college. Last time we emailed each other was before she moved from Guam to Arizona in 2001 and then communication got cut. In my usual obsessive way I started searching for her again and our friend, Lee Meily on the internet. I got their addresses from the alumni page of our school and sent an email hoping the links were not outdated. And crossed my fingers hoping for a reply which came in a call.

LILET AND LEE at Nicole's first birthday

Lilet and Lee both excelled in photography class. They churned the best pictures of the simplest of subjects, able to capture emotions and rein them in for the viewer. And I'm not even surprised that to this day Lilet continues to do photography. Her portfolio and her best works are online, in case you are interested. And yes, I'll have you do the pictures for my wedding. Whenever... !

Lee has taken a different interest, choosing instead to concentrate on film photography. Her project ventures with her husband Mark has resulted in award winning motion pictures in the Philippines, often shown in the United States. I've been able to see two of their much acclaimed films, American-Adobo, filmed in New York about a group of friends and their lives many years after college and more recently, Crying Ladies.

We have had many fun times in school. While I've always been interested in journalism and broadcasting, they were, for me, the masters of the arts. Hanging out at Connie's house near school between classes, visiting me in Cavite and the beach parties in Batangas with the rest of the batch. Now we can resume a friendship where we left off. Still waiting for Lee to reply to our mail, though.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Star Sightings

In Manhattan you mingle with all kinds of people. Rich, poor, average or famous. Celebrities from around the world all have called New York City their home one time or another. And with such a small place, you are bound to cross path with a celeb once in a while. More movies and TV shows have been filmed here than anywhere around the world so what else can you expect?

Two weeks ago I was having dinner at Ollie's on the west side and who would be sitting on the next table? Cynthia Nixon (Miranda from Sex and the City) and her two kids. At the corner of 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue the cast of WB11's Morning News gather from spring to early fall until 9:00 AM. I've cross paths with Katie Couric at Rockefeller Center (but I'd have been happier if it were Matt Lauer when he still had hair). At work I've seen Drew Barrymoore a few weeks ago on the way to a meeting. I'm looking forward to seeing Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn in April.

I went with my aunt to lunch a few days ago and who would be in the same restaurant but Rachel Alejandro and Geneva Cruz. Not someone you'd be familiar with but very popular singers/actresses from where I come from - the Philippines.

They politely signed autographs (nope, I didn't ask) and smiled for pictures (that, I did). I don't remember any of Geneva's songs right now but one song of Rachel used to be a favorite, the same one her father Hajji had made popular - "Di ka ba nagsasawa or di kaya'y napapagod sa ating mga tampuhan; walang hanggang katapusan...", yeah, I'm singing as I am typing this. Be glad you're just reading!

Geneva Cruz

Rachel Alejandro

Funny thing is, no one makes a big deal. Unless of course, it's my boyfriend:


Friday, February 27, 2004

A Walk in the Park

The Mall in late winter

It was beautiful sunny albeit nippy weather Saturday and definitely a reason to go visit Central Park. Since Luz was also visiting it was a great reunion for Jiji and I to get together with her and take her around the city.

People come to Central Park no matter what the weather is. Even in the worst of blizzards, I have come to to enjoy the crowds frollicking in the snow. Children with their sleds would take to the stairs near the bethesda fountains. Snowboarders, skiers and just snowball pitching is the sport of the day. When the weather warms up, however, people will come in hordes to stroll, rollerblade, jog and just read under the canopy of massive trees with branches reaching for the sky. And of course, the New Yorker and their dogs will often make their walk at the park to stretch a bit, a release from the crampy apartments this city is famous for.

When we came to visit, the lakes were mostly frozen despite the fact there had not been any snowfall for more than 2 weeks now. We walked around the wolman rink and in back of my head I could hear The Donald (millionaire Trump with a show on TV called 'The Apprentice') with that famous line: You're Fired!

A red bird caught my eye and it was a cardinal that did not flinch (no pun intended) even as I approached it to capture its image into my digital camera. And I remember the reverend and highly controvertial Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila. Donning a bright red attire and un-afraid. Yes, that is the cardinal.

cardinal seen?

We started our walk from Central Park West and exited near the Museum of Natural History to have lunch at the Saigon Grille on Amsterdam. It is always great to get together with old friends.

Thursday, February 19, 2004


I tumbled upon a research by an American-born Filipina named Grace Ebron entitled: Not Just the Maid: Negotiating the Filipina identity in Italy. She starts with how she travelled to Europe to meet her boyfriend’s family and how they were surprised to that she was Asian/Filipina and not Caucasian as they had expected. They asked their son why his American girlfriend had sent the maid instead.

It is a situation that faces many Filipinas in first world countries - to be associated with jobs as maids, housekeepers, nannies. I personally have not had an experience to speak of. But is anything wrong with it? It is a job just the same, isn't it?

Grace Ebron’s write-up is complete with statistics and a thorough backgrounder on the issues that confront compatriots employed in Italy managing domestic chores. Her paper merely validates what is already common knowledge in the Philippines. My first encounter of the word ‘domestic helper’ was in college when I was told that one of teachers in high school had resigned because she was moving to Hong Kong to work as one. Since then I’d often hear of a neighbour leaving their teaching jobs to work as maids (or as euphemized - a domestic helper), nannies or the more recent, as caregivers to the elderly. I used to imagine these women working like ‘Maria’ in ‘The Sound of Music’ until news of the death of one Filipina maid working in Singapore who was killed by her employer. Her body was flown back to Manila and the tragedy opened a can of worms. Reports of abused Filipinas working in Hong Kong, Singapore, and in Europe began to fill the broadsheets and exaggerated by the tabloids. And so it created a new surge of awareness on the fate of the OCW or the overseas contract workers. The horror stories however did not stop the enlisting of more Filipinas for the chance to work abroad. When the OCW trend was just starting, it was the mothers or the women above 30 who went away and earned the dollars. Eventually, high school graduates, some faking their papers to meet the age 18 requirement were leaving by the hordes to work abroad including for factories that made them toil for long hours for meagre salaries.

There are not always sob stories however. There are stories of maids who met and wed their millionaire male employers. Some got entangled in controversy with million dollar bequests after the husband’s death and some chose to live quietly in their hometowns, displaying noveau riche fashion and building palatial houses.

The exodus continues as I speak. Many families have chosen (forced?) their children to study nursing or physical therapy in college for the ultimate chance to be recruited for work abroad. When as before, if you were undecided as to what you wanted to take up in college everyone advised you to take up commerce or management (logic: so you can start your own business), now everyone is urged to, “Mag-narsing ka na lang para me dollars ka” (“Take up nursing so you’ll earn dollars").

And if you’re not so smart, people will actually tell you to: “mag-asawa ka na lang ng foreigner para yumaman ka,” (“go marry a foreigner so you’ll get rich”) because they presume it would be impossible for you to make it through school and find a good paying job anyway. And so that brings about another kind of Filipina - the kind that when you find when you search for “Filipina” on the internet -it brings you to mail-order bride web sites. I did and found very young provincial ladies advertising themselves complete with pictures in hopes of landing a husband who’d take them away from the hot humid weather of the Philippines into snow. How I wonder if they’ve been informed of stories of men who have found their wives here in these websites and then married them and brought them to a foreign land not to live happily ever after. To be insured for huge sums and murdered; or abused and live a life more miserable than what they have left behind.

It is tragic that so much has happened after the Filipinos have ousted the dictatorship of Marcos in 1986 and still the economic and political situation remains volatile. The peso is in its most unstable state, fluctuating with every bit of news – reel or real. Movie stars with nary any political, economic or diplomatic experience run the gamut of the arena further threatening the stability of the economy. The bull in the stock market not having been seen for many years the economists might have forgotten how it looks. And with another actor, FPJ most likely becoming the next president, that bull is definitely on its way to seek another job in some country as another OCW. These factors, which might seem funny to many a cartoon artist that contribute to the editorials of the newspapers, do not create even a chuckle anymore. Sadly, the bottomline to any family is always, will there be food on the table in the next meal? And if there is not, they will look outside of their window and into the far horizon seeking either the dollar earning job or the foreigner husband.

I write with sympathy and at the same time with embarrassing hypocrisy because suddenly I find myself more self-conscious about how people outside of my work environment see me, my culture and my people. I cherish the fact that I come from a people known for their hospitality, friendliness, cleanliness, good food and the women - their being 'carinoso'. Qualities that have also made us sought after doctors, nurses, teachers, nannies, housekeeprs, domestic helpers and caregivers. Somehow though I wish that the other attributes of the Filipino as a people can be recognized. That we are a highly literate culture (96% can read and write after age 15), that many are college educated, professionals, computer-savvy or are skilled workers.

That is an obviously defensive reaction and comes from the fear that one day I will be asked to meet my boyfriend’s family and they would ask him why they’ve been sent the maid instead.

Monday, February 16, 2004


This is about doing the laundry: ironing and making laba -my most dreaded house chore.

This senyorita from Manila had maids back home. I grew up in a house with maids and drivers. Before we owned a washing machine a maid cleaned the house, and another came just to do the laundry by hand and then to iron it after. That is the life I can relate to and will only be too willing to go back to. Here, on my own in Manhattan the chore is all mine. I try not to accumulate so much that I will hog all the machines at my building's basement washroom but I also try not to have to attend to it more than once in two weeks.

I used to be so poor at laundry-ing that I’d flunk right from the sorting. Whites I can define. But what about a blouse that is white in front and black in back? What if it has a dark collar? A bright blue blouse – does that go to the colors or darks? Eh it runs color eh, di ba dapat it should be with the darks? Eh not daw because it is not that dark. Eh di I put it with the bright colors. Eh no one naman said na when it is with color the water should be cold eh. I used warm. The colors ran as though it was in the New York marathon. So my light blues all became a shade darker. Imagine the rest of the batch though. Hay nako…

So when do I put in the bleach? I like those big machines in the Laundromat because it tells you exactly where to put the detergent, the softener and the bleach, when it is time (when the machine lights up the “ADD BLEACH”, silly!). The machines at my apartment's basement, however, you have to put in the detergent, have it run and then add the bleach when it says “ADD BLEACH” tapos wait again for it to say “RINSE” to add the softener. Which meant I had to stare at the machine for the duration of the 35 minute process. What??? Eh what about naman my own internet surfing?

Tapos syempre, you move everything to the dryer when it is done. I have learned to use little heat unless I want to follow the lengths of my pants and grow shorter each time I wash my clothes. Useful hint: get into the dryer sheets habit. It takes out or minimizes the static from your clothes during the dry cold season. And for someone who hates jolts from doorknobs, that is a good tip. Soon as you take the pants and some 'ironables' out of the dryer? Put it on a hanger so you don't have to iron. The rest though, you have no choice but take the iron out of the closet and deal with it.

Ironing? Hay, I miss Aling Thelma’s ‘liston’ on my pants. For a time my pants had two to three lines running down the middle of each leg. I’ve wisened up and now I don’t put lines. I flatten the front of the pants and so now it looks less tailored. I stay safe.

Someone has invented the washine machine. Someone naman make a better and easier way to remove the wrinkles from my clothes than gathering them up in frustration after many attempts to make them look neat and I end up paying $3 per shirt to bring it to the cleaners on the ground floor do my building.

My work allows me to petition for househelp. I think I’ll petition for my maid. Now na.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

The Original Reflections

I had been writing since I was twelve. My mother gifted me a diary that I logged to every night before going to bed. Then I discovered my Uncle Fernando’s typewriter, a heavy Remington with green keys and what I remember most about it was that it was in a dark bedroom of our house where no one slept. It sat on top of a massive desk that belonged to my grandfather that had drawers that were so heavy no one opened them. I typed with two fingers and with much practice I gained speed that way and to this day, I still type faster using my own touch-typing system than what was taught to me in school.

A dreamer and a writer. As a child, I would spend many hours in my mom’s garden imagining fairies, princesses, butterfly-like creatures and things little girls can relate to. And I discovered that I could transpose these imaginings into words and onto paper and then I could read it later and re-live the magic. So during the summers in high school I typed stories of living in places I’ve never been and had no idea I’d ever see. First love taught me about poetry and I have tried that too and still dabble into it now and then.

The owner of the Remington typewriter was also the only writer in the family for a long time. My uncle wrote for the Manila Chronicle when it was still owned by the Lopezes and he encouraged me to write. He was the one who suggested I test for the school paper in college and he cheered me on with every news or feature article I wrote for The Scholastican (the Official School Organ of the St. Scholastica’s College, Manila). He became my number one fan and I remember him proudly reading and bring home each one of the paper that came out with a contribution in my by-line. His confidence in me and my work eventually led me to pursue successfully the editorship post of the paper.

I admire and know that I can never compare with the greatest writers of my time. I do not even pretend I can measure up to a tenth of their talent. I'm surrounded by friends who themselves are very eloquent writers and I am always ready to admit that they are better than I.

I admire J. K. Rowling, Anne Rice and J.R.R. Tolkien. I am in awe how they can develop their characters and create a whole new world that makes me wonder if it is just imagination or something real. I love stories that take me to the edge of my seat and that will make it tormenting for me to put down the book to rest. And I know I can never be like them. Writing to me is just a release, a tool of which I can share my thoughts to my friends, an audience. A more private version of my writing to me is the ultimate panacea to a confused mind.

I have been able to churn many of my favorite poems and write ups as I am reeling from some overwhelmingly poignant time. None of them however had been shared. It would be like walking naked on Lincoln Center to have them read by strangers. These are my work that I share with very few. Those that I’ve shared in my website are those that are less baring of my soul, most of them, written more in moments of jest or crazed stupor.

Now I realize I am not the only writer in the family and certainly not the best. Francis has written the funniest poem about three rats in his room when we were young. Gigi contributes regularly to Stop-Over Magazine in the Philippines on articles related to extreme sports and traveling. Nicole writes haikus and I envy her eloquence in her compositions that I am only too happy when she decided to try out for her school paper as well.

REFLECTIONS was my column at The Scholastican when I was Features Editor from 1997 to 1998.