Thursday, December 29, 2005

2006: a dog's year

Since it's the year of the dog anyway, I formally introduce Captain, the alleged Japanese spitz I like to babble about. See how cute he is? I mean, he was? He just looks like a cuddly thing beside Pikachu and Clefairy.

Monday, October 31, 2005

my “eligibility” as a foreigner partner

Still groggy from sleeping at 5 and waking up at 6 to catch my 8am boat trip to Cebu, I lazily lugged around the supermarket in Ayala around twelve noon to run errands for my brother. With my stomach grumbling of hunger and my bodily systems nearly shutting down of fatigue, I was a walking zombie in a UP shirt. I was dying to get done with my chores so after circling the supermarket a gazillion times, (I couldn’t find the object of my brother’s obsession --- kropek) I gave up and looked for the counter with the shortest line. While waiting for my turn, I realized that the three persons ahead of me were all senior citizens and foreigners. I looked to my left and I saw another aged foreigner. I looked behind me and saw the same thing. “What the…?” I started muttering at the back of my mind. Is it their feast day or something? Because they were swarming around the place. But the picture isn’t even complete --- not without a Filipina either linking arms with them or HHWW (holding hands while walking). At that moment, I could only think of two words: sugar daddy.

Don’t blame me for harboring harsh thoughts. I had an unfortunate experience with being judged as an eligible partner for a foreigner. Once, I went to a salon to get my kinky hair trimmed. Trying to establish good customer relations, the haircutter, a woman, started talking about rebonding my hair. Acting good-naturedly, I rode her small talk and asked for the rates. She answered, “Four thousand pesos.” Probably sensing that I swallowed a huge lump of saliva after she mentioned the price, she quickly added, “But for hair as short as yours, it can go for two thousand five hundred.” Rushing to end the topic (before her crazy ideas start to seep through the deepest recesses of my brain), I said, “Okay. I’ll save up for it.” Silence. Suddenly, as if a lightning of inspiration struck her cerebellum if not desperation, she offered her unsolicited advice: “Marry a foreigner! You know, foreigners like Filipinas with a beauty like yours.” I tried to smile as sweetly as possible although deep inside I was dying to strangle her alive. But I said nothing and miraculously, it worked. She resumed her job without another word, while I suspiciously kept close watch of what she was doing in case she would snip off my ears in vengeance for ignoring her.
There’s no wrong with what she said, I realized later. Some foreigners are hunks, like Tom Cruise or Keanu Reeves but the image that flashed in my mind when she said that was an old but filthy rich foreigner. In other words, matandang mayamang foreigner na madaling mamatay (I invented the foreigner part). Those are what they call the “prerequisites” in looking for a partner. I remember my cousin who decided to stop going to school for awhile after shifting courses twice or thrice already. She enthusiastically babbled about her envy towards her neighbor: “Blah blah blah is soooo lucky. She married a foreigner. I’ll just marry one, too.” In that case, foreigners should really drop by our country more often. With more and more women looking up to them as saviors from damnation and as hope from their poverty-stricken condition, the demand for them here is high. If in their countries, they are already considered surpluses because of their old age, here, they are the prime commodities in a disillusioned “love” market.

Monday, October 24, 2005


The sign on the road reads Verie Hills Subdivision. Indeed, the affluence of neatly lined houses affirms that it is the “millionaire’s lane”. But farther into the lane, one discovers a small, simple home; its wealth dwells not on the structure but on the goodness that the owner’s heart overflows with.
A monthly honorarium of P 1,000 can barely suffice for a college student but this same amount has been supporting 42-year-old Helen Niaga. A Child Development Worker (CDW) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) program, Helen arms herself every morning with a bulky bag that contains a banig (mat), books, and toys for her students, and treks a hilly slope to get to her community, Sitio Campisot, Liloan. A living proof that the lack of college education does not deter anybody from serving fellow Filipinos, Helen is the epitome of faith and real public service.
Meanwhile, students aged three to five anxiously wait for their mentor every morning. With eyes fixed from afar, Lovely, four, began reciting her ABC’s softly enough for her seatmate to hear. When her classmates shouted, “Naa na si Tita Helen! (Tita Helen is here!)” she stopped and craned her neck to see her teacher clearly. Sure enough, Helen was making her way towards her with all smiles. All at the same time, the kids run to her and grab her hand.
To signal the residents of her arrival, she strikes a hollow arm-length steel pipe as if it were a bell. Soon, other children, carrying their bags and school materials appear. Today, their “classroom” is an unfinished house. The next day, it could be under the shade of a tree or in a public building. With no permanent room to hold their classes, the weather is an influential determinant. But the children are oblivious to this. As she leads them to their classroom, she whispers, “Niadtong usang adlaw, naay nihilak nga bata kay di na gusto mouli. (The other day, one of the kids cried because he did not want to go home.)”
As a CDW, it is her responsibility to prepare her students mentally, physically, and socially for the next level, conforming to the basic premise of the ECD program that an early development is crucial to the success of the children’s future. Like other teachers, she follows a plan that will cater to the development of her students’ potentials.
One wonders why after three years of her continued service to the children of Sitio Campisot, she does not seem worn out. Aside from her community service, she sells vegetables, teaches catechism in different schools, and does volunteer work for the parish. She admits, though, that she does get tired. But her happiness and fulfilment compensates for everything she works hard for.
Diha koy estudyante nga naa na sa grade one. Pag-abot niya ngadto, kamao na siya mu-count. Unya gipangutana siya kung diin siya nakat-on og ihap. Ingon siya ‘kang Tita Helen!’ (I had a student who is now in grade one. She already knew how to count. She was asked where she learned how to count. She said she learned it from me.)”
Nothing makes her happier than to see her students learn from her class. One day, she tests the children’s skills in distinguishing shapes. She picks up a square toy and asks her student to tell her the shape.
Unsa ni Love? (What is this, Love?)”
“Circle,” Love shyly answers.
Unsa man ni Mary Rose? (What is this, Mary Rose?)” she asks another.
“Square,” Mary Rose answers.
She picks up other shapes and places them in the palm of her hand.
Asa man ang square, Love? (Where is the square, Love?)”
When the child picks out the square toy, she smiles at her proudly.
At the end of a long, tiresome day, she can only say, “Dili jud mabayran sa sapi ang kalipay.” (Money really can’t buy happiness.)
By Maria Carla Bren Vianney L. Yap
Published: October 5, 2004; Sun Star Cebu; Community Force Section; Editor: Pura L. Kintanar

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Problem with Vianney

The Spanish era paved the way for the baptism of Filipinos with the names of saints. If your name is Maria (Mary), Jose (Joseph), Pablo (Paul), or Juan (John), it’s a testimony that colonial influence still exists.
Naming their children can be an arduous task for parents.
While some parents are contented by giving their names or their spouse’s names or even the names of their favourite local and Hollywood celebrities, athletes, and presidents, quite a number a strong with conviction that their children’s names should have significant meanings in their lives.
Victoria, for example, was the name given to a friend after her mother victoriously delivered her despite the hardships and dangers of labor. Her name simply means victory over death.
Speaking of names, I have a long one.
It is both a combination of my parents’ names, Carlos and Breña, and the name of a saint, the Curé of Ars, Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney, whose feast day falls on August, the month of my birth.
In all the years of my existence in this world, I could not yet fathom if having the name of that saint is an advantage or not. My identity either stands out in the people’s memory for the uniqueness of my name or it becomes easily buried in oblivion for the “weirdness” of it.
At times, I have even been the laughingstock in conferences every time the emcee mispronounces my name and reads it as Va-ya-ni. Naughty classmates of mine would then jokingly call me Bayani, likening me to comedian Bayani Agbayani.
People have varied reactions when I introduce myself to them, too. Some people smile sheepishly and say, “Nice name…Um,…, where did you get it?” Others openly strike and say, “Your name’s so weird.”
If others know about Saint John Vianney, they are quick to point out that it’s a guy’s name. Still, there are a few, who appreciate it. “Hey! I like your name. It’s unique.”
Three years ago, in a national summer camp, I had to spell it out so they can understand.
“Hi. I am Vianney and I’m from…”
“What!?!” my subcampmates asked in unison.
“I am Vianney… V-I-A-N-N-E-Y”
In the end, I had to cut it shorter to Vian for their convenience.
Despite all those setbacks, I only have one consolation. Priests and catechists never have any difficulty at all in remembering my name.
I could not understand why most people I meet don’t know who I was named after.
Saint John Marie Vianney is the patron saint of diocesan priests so I could see no reason why he is unpopular. But then, I thought, as the bearer of his name, the challenge is up to me to let the people know about him.
I may not be the original Vianney. I may never beat Saint John Vianney’s simplicity, humility, and kindness, but in my own little ways, I can let the people understand how he was like in his days. It won’t be easy. But this is my calling: to live up to his name and his good examples.
By Maria Carla Bren Vianney L. Yap
Published: August 29, 2004; Sun Star Cebu, Light Section; Editor: Lorenzo P. Niñal

Blue Glass

Reality TV must have doused my mind too much. When I look at the common everyday things, an invisible video camera lodged somewhere in my brain reels on and silently checks if the shots I took were perfectly framed for editing. Then the assuming writer-editor takes on the job, mentally clicking away captions and titles for each new frame as the story unfolds, directed by the master storyteller that is only a piece of my imagination. The process is literally endless and probably inherent, with countless new episodes for a slight mood swing, a major hunger pang or a cursory trip from this world and back. I do not wonder then why I carried this feverish passion when the chance to travel to Bohol jumped at me. With the invisible camera still at the back of my head, I set out on a journey that allowed me to zoom in on the details of what’s really at the other side of my world.
Easy to say, yes. From a hypocritical point of view, the whole immersion thing was an absurdity in that it relied on the overused strategy of “eating what they eat, doing what they do” to feel how they are feeling. But for compliance’s sake, I decided it was favourable for me to just go and do what I was told. No questions. Period. But along the way, as I was struggling with the acrid odour of the ship, lugging my bags despite the weakening condition of my lungs, and enduring the bumpy ride up the sleepy purok, in near madness I almost cried out loud, “Wait a minute! This is not right!” when a far more important question should have been, “What is right?” What is right? I should have asked myself that when we came to live with Manong Boy, Manang Tata, and their eight children in Trinidad.
The sleepy purok in Trinidad didn’t really shock me out of my guts. From hearsays, I even imagined it was worse – no water (uh-oh, no bath?) and no electricity (what about my phone?). It turned out that there was plenty of water but no electricity. I heaved a sigh of relief as I remembered rushing to the department store at the last minute for flashlight and batteries. But that was, I realized later, only the beginning of my troubles.
How could these people lead this kind of life? I cringed at the thought of not having a proper rest room where nobody can peep through. I cried during cooking sessions with the dirty kitchen constantly blowing smoke and ashes on our faces. During the night, the mosquitoes nearly sucked my blood to death. And beware of going barefoot, you might step on something squishy that is either the cat’s or the dog’s poo. (or probably the chicken’s or the pig’s)
On the brighter side, life is fun when you make it. I mean, rather than moping around and grumbling about how things never went your way, why not make the most of it? Personally, I loved our poso baths with touches of mischief and carefree spirits. I thoroughly enjoyed our acoustic concert with the farmers (They were the audience and we were, ehem, the performers.) and I so often fantasized about “candlelit” dinners in their home. And the kids! James, my favourite, was the ever-shy four-year-old kid who peeps out at us from the bedroom when we weren’t looking.
What is right, I now dare ask. Life is fun wherever you are. It’s how you put up with it. But for people, like Manong Boy and Manang Tata, how can they be happy when deep inside they are continuously being haunted with the threat of being evicted out of the land they tilled? And with eight mouths to feed, what could be more depressing than the thought of not being able to provide for their daily sustenance? But all of these anxieties, our hosts never showed. They gave us the best rooms, took out their best plates and utensils for us to use, and helped us prepare the meals. At night, before we went to sleep, they made sure we were all right and cozy with our blankets and mattresses. Sometimes, I think it’s the ingrained Filipino values that make the Pinoys survive in this harsh world. And when it comes to the typical warm Filipino hospitality, our hosts were the perfect examples.
It’s quite sad that when you look a little deeper into things, reality sometimes leaves you with no room for hope. All that idealism is thrown away into the trash in an instant. But if the people, like Manong Boy and Manang Tata, never cease to hope, never cease to dream for a better life, why should we? I am constantly reminded of a particular scene in our hosts’ home. We were desperately looking for extra glasses to use. (Imagine how many we were in that house.) Manang Tata took out a blue glass from her prized collection. It looked queer back then, glinting against the pitch-black night that enveloped the house. But now, I see it as the hope we should cling on to –faint in daylight but when darkness falls, when the worst of the worst casts its ugly doom, it comes, shining its light upon the people who never stopped believing and never stopped dreaming. And I so salute our hosts for that. Until now, they never stop dreaming. They never stop believing and hoping that all the fight is worth it.
So now I’m back in the midst of the city bustle. I may never hold the solution to the great fight the farmers are in right now. Solutions? They come and they go. What must never fade is faith. For faith makes one strong. And when faith makes one strong enough to withstand the fluctuating current of destiny, any action will be stronger.
To sum it all up, just three words: Dream. Believe. Survive. I told you I was struck with the reality show fever. And I’m not even talking about reality shows.

on blogging

The bandwagon has moved my way and now, I am riding on it. I never really thought I'd be writing my mind out...I mean, like this. This is one very personal thing that has kept me quite sane for years now and thoughts of exposing it for ridicule gives me a feeling of uncertainty. But sometimes you just have to speak it all out... The people may never understand you but hey, that's the very reason why you should speak in the first place -- to establish a common ground and to foster the unity of minds, of the hearts and of the souls...
Bits of chocolate. Yum. Just the thought of it makes my mouth water. But aside from its undeniably delectable taste, chocolates have kept me sane through the years, just like the pen.
Precisely the reason why this blog is named bits of chocolate. I'd like to think that by sounding off some of my thoughts instead of keeping them locked away in oblivion, I keep my sanity in check.
Things are hard and life is rough but I'm grateful I'm still moving on. Many thanks to the pens and the chocolates in this world!