Thursday, October 28, 2010

a rather delayed music-related apology

like a rough version of a disney princess sans the talking animals and poofy skirts, i burst into song every now and then. there was a very long phase when i would hum or sing the first few lines of 'if i believed' by patti austin without even realizing that i was audible. i'm not sure why though – it was just something to sing when it was too quiet, like when in the toilet, while waiting for ... um ... important events.

i like hearing people sing in public, especially those who don't really mean to call attention to themselves. during a visit to a small grocery nearby, i heard a chorus of voices from different aisles singing along with the britney song playing. it was strangely mood-lifting, even if (or maybe because) one of the singers was a pre-pubertal boy. i quietly joined them.

my older sister was never really a burst-into-song type of person but she likes some kinds of music. when ate was still single and living with us, we had random sleepovers where, before sleeping, she would order me to sing entire songs of the sentimental kind. i don't know why i obliged. maybe it was some residual effect of her bullying me my entire childhood.

many, many years ago, ate and i had to buy a few items at some computer store at the mall. with everything i needed, i headed for the cashier with my sister behind me. as i was paying, an air supply song started to play. i was starting to snicker as the song was nearing the refrain, when all of a sudden, i heard someone belt behind me,


i was so startled that ate would sing so loudly and boldly in public that i whipped my head around to tease her with an extremely naughty 'i-never-knew-you-were-a-singer' look.

in a perfect world, that story would have ended with me and ate laughing our heads off and walking away for some window shopping. but this is not a perfect world ...

and it was not my sister behind me.

in other words, i had given a complete stranger what probably seemed like a piercing 'what-the-hell' look. i felt awful. i still do. needless to say, she stopped singing after she saw my facial expression change from mischief to utter remorse.

wherever you are, stranger, i'm very sorry. please keep singing. i really don't mind. what would we be without music and spontaneity and self-expression? we need more people who are not afraid to express themselves while waiting in line to pay for printer cartridges. at the end of the day, we really do need ... less lonely people in the world.

all together now!!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

listening fail

i'll be the first to admit that i don't speak very clearly or loudly, especially when caught off-guard. i'd like to blame it on my small mouth, but shouldn't, given that i am supposed to have a basic grasp of the physiology of voice production (didn't that sound impressive? i like pretending i know stuff).

in high school, i was forced to join an extemporaneous speaking contest because, apparently, no one else had an unholy fear of teachers. i only won it because the night before, i guessed the topic correctly and practiced an entire speech before sleeping. if i had guessed differently, i probably would've mumbled illogically until they took the microphone away.

this flaw often gave me problems way back when food delivery service was still low-tech and they didn't keep computerized customer records.

one time, i called to have pizza delivered (most likely thin-crust garlic and cheese from shakey's) (aaaand i just made myself hungry). after i gave my contact info to the lady on the other end of the line, she asked me to repeat my address – our street name in particular.

'topaz,' i said as clearly as i could, short of showering saliva all over the phone.

'what is it again?'

'TOPAZ,' i said, giving my vocal cords a workout.

'can you please spell it?'

'T ...'

'ok, T,' she repeated after me.

'O ...'

and it continued, that cycle of dictation and confirmation, until the final letter.

'you got it?' i asked. 'topaz! topaz!'

'ahhhhh ok,' she exclaimed, relieved that she finally recognized the word. 'KOOKAK, right?'

righty-o. because 'kookak' is how you pronounce t-o-p-a-z and, you know, there is really such a word.

i don't remember if the pizza was good (who am i kidding? it's always good) but i suspect that 'kookak' has been permanently etched into my memory, sufficiently displacing more important information, such as friends' birthdays and the tv schedule of ace of cakes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the search for a purple dress and two hands

it's not always easy to figure out what kids want to say. my nephew juancho is now 8 years old (which is so dangerously close to puberty, i want to cry) so it's not really a challenge to carry a decent conversation with him. he who used to tell the best stories and had the cutest way of talking has turned into a smart boy (when he's in the mood) and doesn't give me as much blog fodder as he used to. he does, however, lend me his diary of a wimpy kid books so he still plays a very important role in my life.

speaking with 4-year-old martina, on the other hand, is still pretty hilarious.

martina's 'work'
she calls the house every now and then, sometimes just to report that she is sitting down (whoohoo!) or that she 'was sick tomorrow'. these days, i hear her say that she is 'very busy with work'. one time, she left me for a while and came back with the product of her labor. it was a piece of paper filled with red scribbles and her name written at the top. when i asked her what it was, she said it was a letter and proceeded to read it to me:

'i love you very much, tita eng. dear, martina.'


(she can learn about the proper use of salutations later on.)

one boring afternoon, i thought it was a good idea to force-feed martina with so you think you can dance videos. i think it was because i saw marteens krumping to a justin bieber (deeber, according to her) song. i showed her the krump performances from sytycd and didn't stop there. i must've shown her more than 10 dance routines that day. she seemed pleased.

the next time martina visited, she wanted to see more sytycd dance videos. i happily obliged but she was looking for a particular number.

'where's the one with the purple dress?'

try as i might, i couldn't remember which dance had purple costumes, so i pressed her for more details.

'you know, the one with the purple dress, and fur ... and the TWO HANDS?'


we searched high and low for that elusive dance number. i felt like i disappointed my new convert. every time i saw her, she asked me if i had found the video she wanted. during one of those times, i futilely asked, 'was the dance fast or slow?' slow, she offered. i honestly don't know what possessed me to clarify.

a few more weeks passed and i still couldn't find the purple-dress video. little did i know that insomnia would prove serendipitous in my quest. it was about 4 am and i was watching a sytycd rerun when i saw a samba number by katee and joshua of season 4. i sat upright on my bed when i realized what i was looking at:

a purple dress. with fur. and the dancer had two hands!

that had to be it!!! i felt ecstatic, much like when i found out i had passed the medical boards (i rejoice in big and miniscule victories equally).

when i was finally able to show martina the precious video (which i saved on my phone, mind you), a smile slowly formed on her face and she whispered reverently, 'it's the purple dress.'

she watched the video a dozen times in succession that day. i watched it with her, not so much because i was scared she would drop my phone, but because i knew i had to savor every moment before she turned 8.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

remembering inang

and speaking of stairs and falling, i miss inang.

inang was mama's mama. she lived with our family from the time they moved from an apartment to the house where we still live to this day (tangential sharing: i was born around that time, so i'm as old as this ... extremely young house).

with no exaggeration, i believe i am who i am today because inang was a big part of my childhood. as to whether this is something she brags about to her angel friends in heaven, i'm not exactly sure. inang passed away in 1998 but i still remember many amusing and amazing grandmothery things about her.
  • she taught me not to step on books because we should love them (which is also why i don't step on family members, select friends and many kinds of cheese).
  • she told us there is no such thing as utang (loan) among family members so what's mine is my whole family's (why did i document this?).
  • she insisted that we finish everything on our plate and nap every day after lunch (i've happily discovered that these are so much easier to do in adulthood).
  • she taught us how to pray, mostly in front of a picture of Jesus with such a piercing and haunting look, it gave me and my sisters nightmares throughout our whole childhood.
  • she was into recycling way before 'earth-friendly' was even a concept: she never threw away any article of clothing. when she saw us attempting to dispose of shoes, she would adopt them even if they just gathered dust and mold in her cabinet. she never threw away food and would rather eat expired or rotten food than spare her health.
  • she thought it was an absolute sin to sing at the dinner table or while washing the dishes because it meant a life of being single (wait ...).
  • at the table, she always pushed the food away from her and nearer to dad, her favorite. dad always ended with a fortress of food and plates around him because of all the rearrangements inang made.
  • she hated it when people went out of the way for her. she never put herself ahead of anyone or anything. no snarky comments from me about this one. 
  • toward the end of her life, she suffered from alzheimer's and went into illogical episodes. one time, she wanted me to get the big knife from the kitchen so she could hurt herself. i tried to reason with her on this one.
very agitated inang: 'bakit di mo kunin ang kutsilyo?!' (why won't you get the knife?!)
me, trying to be funny: 'inang, wag. masakit yon.' (no, that would be quite painful.)
inang: 'ayaw mo ha! ayaw mo! ikaw nalang sasaktan ko!' (you don't want to get it? i'll hurt you instead!)
me: 'wag. apo nyo ako, diba?' (don't, i'm your granddaughter, remember?)
inang: 'ah ok.'
 she took a nap after that.

and as i wipe away the hot tears that have fallen from all this reminiscing, i recall that i started by talking about stairs and falling. eherrrrm. regrouping for a second ... and another ... ok back to my little story.

after we had the second floor built, inang liked sitting at the foot of the stairs. one time, as i was going down our stairs with a friend, i accidentally missed a step. if you have fallen down stairs even just once in your life, then you know the kind of rapid panic and gut-wrenching sensation it brings all in the span of a few milliseconds. if the staircase is long enough, you can have your whole life flash before your eyes. if you fall just a few steps, you'll probably remember breakfast.

my friend wondered why i disappeared from her side and started laughing (screaming?) as i rolled down the steps ... on a straight course towards my poor unsuspecting grandmother who had her back to us. despite the pain, i was able to summon all my energy towards stopping my freefall so i wouldn't knock over my fragile inang. let me just say: that was not the easiest thing. when she saw me in my awkward position behind her (she was deaf and probably didn't hear me shouting while falling), she scolded me for being careless. i laughed and cried at the same time. i think. or maybe i passed out.

i still think about inang a lot. i think about how she would've loved juancho and martina to bits. i wish sometimes she was still alive because now i have my own money and could buy her ice cream and cake and slippers. i think about how she would've been so proud of me now, not because i passed the medical boards or that i have a steady job, but because i almost always finish my food.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

the power of dried mangoes

this is the story of two store owners ... or a lesson in subtraction ... or why dried mangoes will someday rule the world.

my sisters and i spent a weekend in hong kong for my older sister's 40th birthday. because i knew i would see her, i had brought five small bags of dried mangoes from cebu for a chinese friend who absolutely loved the stuff. interestingly, many of my friends from hong kong adored dried mangoes, but little did i realize just how popular they were. all it took was one fateful morning for me to find out. 

5 – 1 = 4

to meet my friend for lunch, my sisters and i walked a few blocks from our hotel to a nearby mall. in theory, it should've taken 15 uneventful minutes at the most. instead, on an almost crowd-free sidewalk, i fell. i fell hard. i fell like no adult should. it was one of those moments you're not really sure is happening because of the level of absurdity of the situation.

battered right knee
(glad i was wearing jeans that day!)
one minute i was walking casually and looking into small shops, the next minute i found myself in an intimate relationship with the tiled sidewalk while very much aware of the searing pain traveling from my severely bruised knees to my shocked face. i had tripped somehow and instead of being able to get back my balance, a small group from behind me had (accidentally?) shoved me further down. i looked like i was ready to do push-ups on the street. after a few (REALLY LONG!!!) seconds, my sisters realized that i was immobile from the pain and helped me wobble to a sitting position in front of some random store. the store owner, who witnessed my embarrassing spill, quickly offered the couch inside his little shop and gave me some of his medicinal oil (in lieu of the ice i requested) along with a quick lecture on traditional chinese medicine. after gaining back some strength, pride and confidence in my ability to walk upright, i timidly offered the kind man a bag of dried mangoes in gratitude. i had wanted to buy something from his shop to pay him back for his generosity, but he was selling jewelry, of all things. i really wasn't in the right financial state or age bracket to buy a jade dragon ring. thankfully, the owner's face lit up when he saw our little gift and declared his love of dried mangoes. perfect. and that is how five became four.

4 – 1 = 3

my sisters looking profoundly concerned
and affected after my accident
after profusely thanking mr jewelry store owner again, we continued to walk (hobble, in my case) towards our destination. completely forgetting that my every step felt like torture, my sisters veered off our beeline to look at much-needed items, such as wii accessories and phone chargers and ipods. i let my sisters shop and haggle to their heart's content while i sat motionlessly on a spare chair to prevent anything from hitting my swollen knees. the second store owner we encountered that day was quite eager to do business with us, maybe especially after he saw the four remaining bags of dried mangoes sticking out of my little gift bag. after my sisters paid for their purchases, the store owner deftly (maybe a little too deftly!) got a bag from my stash and smiled as though we handed it to him willingly. we just looked at him incredulously, knowing we couldn't possibly repossess our goods. or maybe we could have, but we were getting hungry (and i really needed some ice). and that is how four became three.

although i ended up giving her only three bags, my friend was still ecstatic about the dried mangoes. we told her what had happened to the other two bags and she laughed knowingly.  maybe dried mangoes is the key to world peace.

(ps, i iced my knees when i got back to the hotel late that afternoon but not before more shopping at the mall. my sisters, on the other hand, ventured out again in the guise of buying me dinner but came back with more hong kong finds and a cute consolatory bag for me, the injured one.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

sliding food and talking heads

i spend most of my waking hours in front of my computer, to the left of which is a big, inviting tv. non-important factoid: i'm addicted to cable tv. so imagine how much temptation i have to fight (and succumb to) every day, trying to build up some kind of work momentum for a decent amount of productivity. my workspace wasn't intentionally designed as such; i had to move my original 'office' out from my bedroom (talk about temptation) because i realized – after numerous tear-filled calls to the poor dsl provider who i thought had exceptionally bad connection problems at the time and was out to get me – that my room had some kind of invisible, hateful force field that repelled wireless signals from our router.

the view over my right shoulder
so on a daily basis, i try to ignore the tv on my left, and another source of distraction on my right, the stairs. every now and then, the people from downstairs (ie, the rest of my family) slide items across the floor to deliver them to me instead of taking a few more extra steps to actually hand them to me, like what normal people do. i suspect topi has invented her own form of shuffleboard in her head, where instead of pucks she uses my telephone bills, loose change and the occasional dhl package. dad has also recently unknowingly joined the game, and often gives me different kinds of food (ok, fine, it's always chips) by forcing whatever through the balusters. one day, i'm going to find chicharon or clover on the floor and stairs.

every now and then, dad's head appears to ask me something about the computer. the questions range from 'how do you remove a paper jam' to 'why are the letters in my email all slanted now!?' (it's called accidental italics, dad ... or a haunted computer). very rarely, he asks me about grammar.

the other day, dad asked me which was correct for a business letter, 'had' or 'have'. it seemed like 'had' was more appropriate so i told him how to word his sentence properly. he looked at me quizzically and said, 'isn't there a rule that you can only use had if you mention a date?'

'what do you mean, like 'before September 1, 2010, i had been to that place?'

'are you sure? i remember some kind of rule like that,' dad said.

'dad, that is really very oddly specific.'

he laughed at himself and went back to his computer. i, on the other hand, went back to work, even more unsure of my own grammar, and a teeny bit more wary of talking heads on the floor.

Friday, October 15, 2010

beauty in the eye of the drunken beholder

i have a longstanding love-hate relationship with beauty. mostly because i grew up feeling like i got the short end of the stick in the looks department. at the risk of feeding my self-absorption, i've written about it a few times to get some of my demons out. this will be one of those times. i promise to make it short and non-pathetic.

my london-based (or who the hell knows where she will be by the time i publish this) friend ana always tells me i'm in the wrong country. maybe i am. more than once, friends (hmm) have advised me to move abroad where people would probably 'love my skin color' or my 'general look'. does that mean i look like a slug in my own country? maybe. unless of course the foreigners come over to appreciate me.

last month, in boracay, i met a very friendly and interesting canadian couple. of course most people are 'friendly and interesting' after half a day of drinking. i liked talking to the girlfriend, in particular, because she kept saying that she 'couldn't understand why all filipinas were stunning.' to this i replied, 'it's only because you're used to seeing people who look like you. here, people who look like you are considered the prettiest.'

she couldn't understand what i was saying (i blame the alcohol) and insisted (with a drunken slur) for maybe a dozen more times. every now and then, i wanted to explain the social aspect of beauty and the effect of media on our perception ... but the truth is i didn't really want her to stop. she said i was 'stunning'! about 3 or more times! it was like being in a fun parallel universe where being white and having a high-bridged nose were liabilities. plus she let me taste her jager bomb. like i said, it was a really FUN parallel universe.

blog makeover

in 2004, it seemed like a good idea to choose a random blog template and comment on it.

today, because the blog darkness was getting me down, i decided on a quick makeover. it's the blog equivalent of getting a trim: quite boring but fresh. and fewer split ends.

a brighter blog is always a good sign.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

a twenty for your thoughts

... a nickel for a kiss ... a diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime ... oh wait. not the point.

it was a happy day in february 2010. rina was throwing her best friend gailey a bridal shower at nail tropics in serendra and my sister and i were invited. apple and i were a bit early but decided to check out the place. on our way there, we saw rina and gailey unloading the food for the shower from their car. there was a whole truckload (fine, 'carload') of food, and we all grabbed a few bags and trays and bottles so it would take just one trip from the car to the venue.

so picture four relatively well-dressed, well-bred (ahem) women with fingers and hands nearly bleeding from holding overstuffed plastic bags (sorry, earth). and then picture that one of them saw a twenty-peso bill on the ground.

'uy! twenty pesos!'

for some reason we all stood around it, like a strangely hypnotized, bag-wielding coven around a magic brew. except the magic brew was a filthy, dirt-encrusted, wrinkly, folded twenty-peso bill that we were just staring at because no one had a free hand. i was seriously contemplating kneeling on the ground to pick up the bill (along with a few dozen microorganisms) with my lips.

i don't know why twenty pesos was so attractive at the time. i doubt that anyone in that group was greedy or hungry. and yet, for what felt like a very long time, we stared. and stood there. still holding the food (and vodka!).

after minutes of nothingness, a man who saw our helpless state picked up the twenty and held it out to us. as if it weren't embarrassing enough, the man looked slightly distracted and tired, like he just came from a full day's worth of manual labor and had no time for silly girls longing for twenty pesos. we insisted that he take the money instead but he said nothing and just inserted the bill in one of our clutched hands.

there was nothing to do after that except to laugh at our own absurdity. and to start drinking, of course. vodka waits for no one.

in-flight lessons

i'm quite ambivalent about cebu pacific gimmicks – not just the recently viral dancing-to-in-flight-safety-demonstration gimmicks, but also the contests they hold just after the seatbelt light is switched off. if you haven't been on a cebu pac flight, here's a quick rundown: they ask passengers to show an item (like a 'bring me' game for lazy folk) and the person who raises the item the quickest gets something exciting. like a purse. with the cebu pac logo. whoohooo.

christine and i took a cebu pac flight to boracay last month. christine is someone i consider to be very laid-back. she's seen it all, she's been through a lot, she's done it all. it would seem that it would take a massive effort to impress the woman who has traveled the world for work and pleasure and knows a million (and a half) people from everywhere. although from almost 20 years of knowing her, i know that she'd always had a competitive heart, i also know she has become more grounded and relaxed on many levels (except when 'attacked' by harmless little fishies, but that's another boracay story). so a tiny cebu pac game couldn't possibly interest her, right?

true enough, when the mechanics were being explained, christine seemed almost half-asleep, probably from her hectic work week prior to our mini-vacation. i had also started to doze off myself ... probably because i like sleeping. i kept my sunglasses on because the window was open and i was pretending to be a paparazzi-hounded celebrity.

the flight attendant's voice was very faint in my ears at that point: 'who can show me a pair of sunglasses?' without warning and with lightning-fast hand speed that should be reserved for life-or-death emergencies and tv gameshows, christine grabbed the shades from my face and held it up frantically while sounding like she was stifling a scream. i, on the other hand, had let out an actual scream of pain. if you've never had sunglasses snatched while you were wearing them, then let me explain why in my usual verbose manner: OUCHY.

life lessons learned:
1. we never really change.
2. do not wear shades inside a moving plane. especially not beside type A types who want to win insignificant items with an image of a smiling yellow plane on them.

ps, christine didn't win. she thought she did though, and looked really disappointed when the flight attendant gave the prize to the person seated behind her. i think christine finally went to sleep after that.