Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Counting my Centavos

I recently opened Abby’s coin banks and took away her collection of P.05’s, P.10’s and P.25’s after hearing the news that so much of these coins have been “saved”, there isn’t much left circulating around.

Now, before anyone starts thinking how patriotic I am by wanting to spare the government from spending P.80 centavos for each P.05 centavo coin made, and nominates me for membership in the gallery of nationalistic martyrs … well, that’s only my second consideration. My foremost concern actually is the preservation of my own equanimity. You see, one of the things that are guaranteed to raise my hackles is getting shortchanged, and I’ve been getting a lot of that long before that news came out.

Cang’s is particularly notorious for this practice some time ago. I’ve had enough of my change lacking as much as P.15 centavos each time I’d buy from them, I finally demanded an explanation. You see, my thinking goes along these lines: Since I’m paying the exact price being demanded for the merchandise I’m purchasing, I expect to receive the exact change due to me! Is that too much to expect?

About two or three years ago, when I demanded for that explanation, the cashier at Cang’s answered dismissively that they didn’t have the coins. The lady did not even bother to glance up as she spoke to me. With my blood pressure shooting up to record heights, I said, “So … you don’t have P.05 centavo coins? I can help you with that!”

I marched to Veteran’s Bank and had a P20.00 bill converted to P.05 centavo coins. (Looking back, I should have made it P100 or better still P500, but on second thoughts, that would be too heavy, or most likely, I didn’t have that much money at that time. Knowing me, I would have gone for the P500 if I had that amount right there and then!)

Needless to say, I went back, got something and paid with my plastic-full of P.05 coins with a parting shot: “There! Now you can give the right change to all the customers!”

That incident also got me started at counting my change to make sure that I’m given the right amount. I always call cashiers’ attention to any mistake, whether it is to my advantage or the stores’. I once gave back P50.00 excess change. The cashier practically grabbed it from me without a word. I sighed wondering where good manners have gone.

Two months ago, I almost lost P1.00 in a single day: shortchanged by P.25 at Lee and by P.75 at Fortune Mart. No big deal to most, but it mattered to me.

I’ve heard comments like “singko ra bitaw”, the point being, “why bother?” What is it with these kinds of people anyway? Is it a matter of pride? That being seen making tilok (scrapping the bottom of the barrel) of the lowly singko s'tabos might risk being thought of as destitute?

Or do we simply have too much we can’t be bothered with singko anymore, or diez or biente singko for that matter? Don’t we all know that there can’t be a million without even one centavo?

If you’re a student living in anticipation of your next allowance, try this: see if inadvertently finding a single piso won’t send you singing praises when you’re down to your last singko pisos, with next allowance not due for two more days.

With conditions as they are now, I am sure that the public would understand if stores are unable to give exact change. However, I demand that storeowners should train their cashiers to take the time to explain their lack of coins and to ask if it was all right with the customer concerned.

Indeed, there are those who’d ask if you had P.35 or P2.85 and so on (so it is easier for them to give a round change), but we still see plenty who’d just casually hand over change that’s a few centavos short, fully expecting the customer to accept meekly like the proverbial lamb.

This should change. Consumers, we should be more vigilant and assertive of our rights.

Storeowners, teach your employees Good Manners and Right Conduct. That’s basic.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

She makes my heart happy!

That's Powpee ... Abby's baby. She refers to herself as Powpee's Mommy. Of course, that makes me the Lola (grandma)!!!

We got this mixed Pomeranian for Abby two and a half years ago when she saw a falling star and started wishing for a puppy.

At five years old then, we wanted her to go on believing that the world still held wonders such as falling stars and tooth fairies.

She named her puppy herself, Pow-Pee ... because she was always pooing and peeing ... see?

Next to Abby (or is it Abby next to her?), Powpee is the most adored member of the household! Even my husband cannot resist her charms.

Too bad she eats mostly inun-unan, that's fish cooked in vinegar, salt, and garlic. That made her breath deadly!!! But we love her nonetheless! We just don't encourage her to open her cute little mouth when she lies down like that on our laps :)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

My Southdale Separation Blues

In Southdale, children are loved. We parents did not have to worry about sweaty backs or messed up hairs - their teachers would take care of those concerns for us. And they do not leave the school until all the children have been picked up! I wholeheartedly miss all that!

I equally miss the friendship and camaraderie that formed among us parents and between us and school personnel. I miss seeing my friends Teacher Maru and Tita Chedette everyday!

So why did we transfer Abby to another school?

As with any other organization or thing or endeavor or in everything else in life, we experience dissatisfaction and we complain - we had these in Southdale, too - but these, by themselves, would not have caused us to decide to transfer elsewhere.

Rather, let me state the most important ones, ones that have become our foremost reasons for making our painful move.

- Firstly, we wanted Abby brought up with Catholic principles and values under the guidance of the nuns;

- secondly, we wanted her educated under the discipline and structure that Catholic schools provide;

- and finally, we want to toughen her up by allowing her to continue growing in an environment where she is not so pampered or cuddled; where she has to learn to swim or sink - in other words, get her used to living in the real world, where one does not always find warmth and care; where more often than not, there is indifference and one has to fend off for one's self alone - no more loving angels to watch over one's back; and where one has to move, not at one's own pace, but at the pace that the majority is moving, or be left behind!

In a nutshell, we believe that Abby will be more likely to develop strength of character in a tougher environment, where there is competition and where she gets to meet and learn to deal with people and fellow children from all walks of life;

- and in a place where things are not being taken cared of for her any longer, we hope that she will learn to get by under her own efforts and initiative;

- in a place where one has to assert one's self to get noticed or heard, we hope that she will develop competiveness and assertiveness, a toughness in spirit, and a steely determination to get whatever she is aiming for - for in the harsh world that awaits her when she grows up, one gets ahead only with these qualities.

After all, we parents have been through all those as we were growing up, and those were what made us who and what we are now. If we have risen from humble beginnings, we did so because we had the drive and the character to do so. We particularly did not want Abby to grow up soft and without any motivation whatsoever to reach up for something better, specifically because everything has been laid out for her.

Of course, we want these tempered with the right values that we, her parents, and with the help of her school, hope would be instilled in her - love and compassion for others.

I know that that's a tall order - but hey! if we have to dream for our children, we might as well aim for the best!

But I still do miss, sincerely and with all my heart, the loving and caring my baby would have received in Southdale.

In her old school, Abby developed into a beautiful, smart, confident, and caring individual. Academically, she can hold her ground with the best there is! Under Southdale's tutelage, English became her first language and Abby can't be cowered into silence when faced by foreigners! She will take them on as easily as she would any other person she would meet, Filipino or not!

I will always be grateful for that and I will acknowledge that everywhere and at all times!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Small Town Blues

A view of our beautiful Rizal Boulevard

Perdices Street - the center of commerce - home to SuperLee Plaza, Cang's Department Store, Nijosa, Mart One, Unitop, and Tops and Bottoms! Practically all the "major" stores in Dumaguete. Together, they provide us DumagueteƱos with our basic day-to-day needs.

I fell in love with Dumaguete from the first moment I stepped into her shores. There and then, I promised myself that I would make her my home. True enough, here I am!

I love living under this small town atmosphere. Dumaguete offers just enough of our needs, especially good schools for our children to thrive in. We have restaurants, sufficiently equipped hospitals, cable TV, internet access, lots of mountains and beaches, and of course, stores that have a little of almost everything … and that was what gave me the rankles recently … that “little of everything” part.

I was never very particular with the things that I buy for my family, so I never minded having limited choices available to me, compared for instance, to what Cebu, Bacolod or Manila have to offer. But entire Dumaguete running out of girls’ undershirts under size 30??? I almost cried out of frustration as I hopped from one store or another. I even tried the ones off the beaten track to no avail.

But how did I get into this predicament in the first place? My fault, actually, but excusable due to ignorance, I hope. Let me backtrack a bit.

We transferred my daughter to Catherina Cittadini (St. Louis) School because her father and I wanted Catholic education for her. I got my introduction to Real World 101 when school opened last June 4. I was overwhelmed seeing for the first time that heaving mass of children hurrying around in all directions.

(Of course, I see that sight every time I’d pass by Silliman Elem or any other elementary school for that matter, but the difference lies between just looking as against actually seeing something because you are already living it, having become a part of that world.)

My culture shock could possibly be explained by the fact that Abby spent four years in a school with only fifty or so students. I got my first ever case of separation jitters (not Abby, but ME!), when I found myself hesitant about leaving my baby all alone among strangers in that big world. Unlike Southdale where the teachers knew each child and would greet them each day with smiles and huge hugs (Oh! how I miss that!!! Whenever I'd think of big hugs, I'd see Teacher Shwa with her arms around frighten little children!), this new world we have ventured in lacked the warmth and familiarity that we have become accustomed to.

But I’m digressing here. Let’s forget my separation blues and get back to my small town blues. It started when I caught sight of those enormous box bags that more than half of the student population lug behind them. They simply were too heavy and too bulky to eyes that were used to seeing only Teddy, a towel, and a water tumbler inside Abby’s tiny schoolbag. (In Southdale, books and notebooks did not have to be brought home.)

I immediately told my husband that Cittadini children looked like they were going abroad with all those "luggages" they were heaving around!! I dismissed it as a fad or trend that the children were seriously into. Little did I know that those huge bags were a necessity, with all the books and notebooks that have to be brought to and from school each day.

I got tired of seeing Abby off to school with two bags (not to mention hurrying back to the house when one bag got left behind) so off I went to the SuperLee, and Mart One, and guess what? Nada. No more box bags for girls! There was one left at Cang’s though, but at P2,000.00 (US$36.00, more or less), it was obscenely expensive!

I could not afford it right there and then. When I finally went back, it was gone. I hunched my shoulders and wearily trotted off to Nijosa, not really expecting much, but … Alleluia! … they still had 3 box bags left! I should have taken time to reflect: how come they’re still there when others sold like hot pancakes in the other stores? Yeah! You guessed it right! Those Illustrazio bags were even more obscenely priced than that one in Cang’s!

That was when I first realized that blissful Dumaguete is not that heavenly after all when one needs something it cannot provide. How I wished I were in Cebu or Manila. That wish stayed on when life found me hunting for the next item in the list … that cursed undershirt that I did not know was part of the new school’s required get up. I started with oh-so-high standards; aiming for cotton soft sandos I wanted Abby to have. Finding none of them, my standards went down a notch and I decided to settle for Guitar brands instead … and lower and lower they went … until I was down to praying, "Lord, please help me find size 28 sandos … maski unsa na lang Lord basta gamay!"

Then there’s the case of the girls’ panty shorts. Would you believe we could buy panty shorts for little girls only at SuperLee? And that only Barbizon carries that product line? Of course, they’ve run out of stock … again!

Next in my list were Burlington girl socks similar to the one Tita Nini Cabrera bought for her daughter Cody. They were soft and dainty and the garter does not leave marks around the ankles like the alligator brand socks that I got for Abby. I started hunting for those and found them sold only at SuperLee! This time, I got lucky. I snatched up the last 6 pairs.

When Tita Nini went back to SuperLee to buy more of the same socks … oh well … I wanted to say to her, "Sorry! But what did you expect? You are in Dumaguete! No shoppers’ heaven here."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Filipinos: A Look into Ourselves

A VERY INTERESTING PERSPECTIVE: In one of the luncheons he hosted recently for clients of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco asked the writer Francisco Sionil Jose to share some of his observations of the current scene. This is the paper Mr. Jose read on that occasion.

What did South Korea look like after the Korean War in 1953? Battered, poor - but look at Korea now. In the Fifties, the traffic in Taipei was composed of bicycles and Army trucks, the streets flanked by tile-roofed low buildings. Jakarta was a giant village and Kuala Lumpur a small village surrounded by jungle and rubber plantations. Bangkok was criss-crossed with canals, the tallest structure was the Wat Arun, the Temple of the Sun, and it dominated the city's skyline. Rice fields all the way from Don Muang airport - then a huddle of galvanized iron-roofed bodegas, to the Victory monument.

Visit these cities today and weep - for they are more beautiful, cleaner and prosperous than Manila. In the Fifties and Sixties we were the most envied country in Southeast Asia. Remember further that when Indonesia got its independence in 1949, it had only 114 university graduates compared to the hundreds of Ph.D.'s which were already in our universities. Why then were we left behind? The economic explanation is simple. We did not produce cheaper and better products.

The basic question really is: why we did not modernize fast enough and thereby doomed our people to poverty? This is the harsh truth about us today. Just consider these: some 15 years ago a survey showed that half of all grade school pupils dropped out after grade 5 because they had no money to continue schooling. Thousands of young adults today are therefore unable to find jobs. Our natural resources have been ravaged and they are not renewable.

Our tremendous population increase eats up all of our economic gains. There is hunger in this country now; our poorest eat only once a day.

But this physical poverty is really not as serious as the greater poverty that afflicts us and this is the poverty of the spirit. Why then are we poor? More than ten years ago, James Fallows, editor of the Atlantic Monthly came to the Philippines and wrote about our damaged culture which, he asserted, impeded our development. Many disagreed with him but I do find a great deal of truth in his analysis.

This is not to say that I blame our social and moral malaise on colonialism alone. But we did inherit from Spain a social system and an elite that, on purpose, exploited the masses. Then, too, in the Iberian peninsula, to work with one's hands is frowned upon and we inherited that vice as well. Colonialism by foreigners may no longer be what it was, but we are now a colony of our own elite.

We are poor because we are poor - this is not a tautology. The culture of poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are lazy. I pass by a slum area every morning -dozens of adults do nothing but idle, gossip and drink.

We do not save. Look at the Japanese and how they save in spite of the fact that the interest given them by their banks is so little. They work very hard too.

We are great show-offs. Look at our women, how overdressed, over-coiffed they are, and Imelda epitomizes that extravagance. Look at our men, their manicured nails, their personal jewelry, their diamondrings. Yabang - that is what we are, and all that money expended on status symbols, on yabang. How much better if it were channeled into production.

We are poor because our nationalism is inward looking. Under its guise we protect inefficient industries and monopolies.

We did not pursue agrarian reform like Japan and Taiwan. It is not so much the development of the rural sector, making it productive and a good market as well. Agrarian reform releases the energies of the landlords who, before thereform, merely waited for the harvest. They become entrepreneurs, the harbingers of change. Our nationalist icons like Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Tanada opposed agrarian reform, the single most important factor that would have altered the rural areas and lifted the peasant from poverty. Both of them were merely anti-American.

And finally, we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings. We condone cronyism and corruption and we don't ostracize or punish the crooks in our midst. Both cronyism and corruption are wasteful but we allow their practice because our loyalty is to family or friend, not to the larger good.

We can tackle our poverty in two very distinct ways. The first choice: a nationalist revolution, a continuationof the revolution in 1896. But even before we can use violence to change inequities in our society, we must first have a profound change in our way of thinking, in our culture. My regret about EDSA is that change would have been possible then with a minimum of bloodshed. In fact, a revolution may not be bloody at all if something like EDSA would present itself again. Or a dictator unlike Marcos.

The second is through education, perhaps a longer and more complex process. The only problem is that it may take so long and by the time conditions have changed, we may be back where we were, caught up with this tremendous population explosion which the Catholic Church exacerbates in its conformity with doctrinal purity.

We are faced with a growing compulsion to violence, but even if the communist won, they will rule as badly because they will be hostage to the same obstructions in our culture, the barkada, the vaulting egos that sundered the revolution in 1896, the Huk revolt in 1949-53.

To repeat neither education nor revolution can succeed if we do not internalize new attitudes, new ways of thinking.

Let us go back to basics and remember those American slogans: A Ford in every garage. A chicken in every pot. Money is like fertilizer: to do any good it must be spread around. Some Filipinos, taunted wherever they are, are shamed to admit they are Filipinos.

I have, myself, been embarrassed to explain for instance why Imelda, her children and the Marcos cronies are back, and in positions of power?

Are there redeeming features in our country that we can be proud of? Of course, lots of them. When people say for instance that our corruptionwill never be banished, just remember that Arsenio Lacson as mayor ofManila and Ramon Magsaysay as President brought a clean government.

We do not have the classical arts that brought Hinduism and Buddhism to continental and archipelagic Southeast Asia, but our artists have now ranged the world, showing what we have done with Western art forms, enriched with our own ethnic traditions. Our professionals, not just our domestics, are all over, showing how an accomplished people we are!

Look at our history. We are the first in Asia to rise against Western colonialism, the first to establish a republic. Recall the Battle of Tirad Pass and glory in the heroism of Gregorio Del Pilar and the 48 Filipinos who died but stopped the Texas Rangers from capturing the President of that First Republic. Its equivalent in ancient history is the Battle of Thermopylae where the Spartans and their king Leonidas, died to a man, defending the pass against the invading Persians.

Rizal - what nation on earth has produced a man like him? At 35, he was a novelist, a poet, an anthropologist, a sculptor, a medical doctor, a teacher and martyr.

We are now 80 million and in another two decades we will pass the 100 million mark. Eighty million - that is a mass market in any language, a mass market that should absorb our increased production in goods and services - a mass market which any entrepreneur can hope to exploit, like the proverbial oil for the lamps of China. Japan was only 70 million when it had confidence enough and the wherewithal to challenge the United States and almost won. It is the same confidence that enabled Japan to flourish from the rubble of defeat in World War II.

I am not looking for a foreign power for us to challenge. But we have a real and insidious enemy that we must vanquish, and this enemy is worse than the intransigence of any foreign power.

We are our OWN ENEMY. And we must have the COURAGE, the WILL, to CHANGE OURSELVES.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Donkey

One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do.

Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey. He invited all his neighbours to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.

At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing.

He would shake it off and take a step up. As the farmer's neighbours continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up.

Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

MORAL :Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up.

Each of our troubles is a steppingstone.

We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up.

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

1. Free your heart from hatred - Forgive.
2. Free your mind from worries - Most never happen.
3. Live simply and appreciate what you have.
4. Give more.
5. Expect less

This story was forwarded to me by email. I was so inspired by it I decided to share it with everybody who would stumble into this blog. It tells of turning life's adversaries into one's own advantage, of rising above one's own difficulties ... Be inspired, as I was by the simple but profound lesson that it told.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Remembering David Atwood

He embraced life with all the joy and enthusiasm of a child; in their four short years together, he showered his wife Caye with all the love that will last her a lifetime; he was a fiercely proud father who strove to see only the best in his children; he fell trying to defend his daughter from a brutal attacker and took the blows that would have been for her; he fought valiantly for that life that he loved so much, and he fought long and hard before he lost; he touched the lives of many Filipinos and they were all the better because of him. That is the David Atwood I will always remember.

I met David through this column. It is but fitting that I’d say goodbye to him here.

I never expected having this column would bring me such a sweet reward as having David for a friend. He was truly a sweet Welsh gentleman who came to the Philippines in his twilight years to marry a widow with five children. He took them into his heart, Caye and all, made them his own.

He first emailed me last December after reading an article I wrote with which he identified with. We became cyber friends since then. What would have been our first meeting turned into a comedy of errors when he invited me a day earlier for the Christmas party that his family was having. He lamented saying … “Olga, what can I say? I am 70 years old. Please forgive this old man.”

We regularly chatted online and discussed almost everything under the sun. But mostly, he despaired over us Filipinos. He saw so much promised in us and was bewildered at our stubborn refusal to better ourselves. These sessions were almost always ended when he would write … “I have to go now Olga. Caye just woke up and I have to cook her breakfast. She is so beautiful even early in the morning. I love her so much.”

And that’s the David I will always remember with the most affection … the passionate and devoted husband who still wrote and hid love notes for Caye to find among her things even after four years of marriage.

David is no longer with us. What would have been his last words? I knew him only for a very short while, but I knew him well enough to know that if he could, he would want to say these to all of us, most especially to his beloved Caye –

Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free
I’m following the path God laid for me
I took His hand when I heard Him call
I turned my back and left it all.

I could not stay another day
To laugh, to love, to work or play
Tasks left undone must stay that way
I found that place at the close of the day.

If my parting has left a void
Then fill it with remembered joy
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss
Ah yes, these things I too will miss.

Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow
My life’s been full, I savored much
Good friends, good times, a loved one’s touch.

Perhaps my time seemed all too brief
Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief
Lift up your heart and share with me
God wanted me now, He set me free.

David Atwood died in Wales. His daughter Jayne will be sending his ashes to Caye. There will be a memorial to celebrate his life. As he requested, his ashes will then be scattered in his favorite places here in Dumaguete.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Goodbye David ...

I’m Free

Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free
I’m following the path God laid for me
I took His hand when I heard Him call
I turned my back and left it all.

I could not stay another day
To laugh, to love, to work or play
Tasks left undone must stay that way
I found that place at the close of the day.

If my parting has left a void
Then fill it with remembered joy
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss
Ah yes, these things I too will miss

Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow
My life’s been full, I savored much
Good friends, good times, a loved one’s touch

Perhaps my time seemed all too brief
Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief
Lift up your heart and share with me
God wanted me now, He set me free.

-author unknown-

In memory of DAVID ATWOOD, dear friend, gone so soon ...