Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Weeping For The Past

Many months ago, my nephew dared me to try chatting on the internet. It was, at that time, a pastime that did not appeal to me. I felt then that the whole process of meeting people through text messaging in the virtual chat rooms was fundamentally a flawed process even if you factor in voice and video chatting.

I believed then that for true friendships to develop, some form of actual physical contact was needed, and that a virtual link alone between two persons cannot result into the emergence and development of that mysterious yet wonderful and magical bond that underlies lasting and durable friendships.

So I chatted and like so many others like me protected my real identity with a false one, believing that it was the safe and logical thing to do. One does not enter an unfamiliar world unprepared for the worst and, for me, my false identity was my shield and protection from the prying eyes that roamed the the digital superhighways and byways of the internet.

As I began to expand and cultivate my contacts, I began to realize how wrong my original assumptions about online friendships was. It was clear that true and genuine friendships can be formed and developed even in the unreal world of the internet chat rooms. The tenuous links between online friends counted little in the real scheme of things. What matters is that both individuals, even though they may have not physically met, have made the connection and have reached out to each other over the physical distances and touched each other's lives in the process.

I made good friends in the chat rooms and over the weeks and months I learned to value and appreciate their friendship. They have brought me great joy and have enriched my life immeasurably. But the original deceit that I committed because of my false identity became the undoing of it all.

All friendships whether made in the real or the virtual world are built on trust and honesty. To build them on lies is to build a castle on shaky and unstable foundations. Like a house of cards, it will fall flat at the first tempest, tremor or assault. And all that was good and beautiful about it will be gone and crushed like rubble on wasted ground.

I walk away from the ashes of my deceit chastened and remorseful. Something that was wonderful and of great beauty has fled from my world. And I am poorer and made miserable because of it.

Mea culpa.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pigging Out

The ubiquitous lechon or roasted pig is the quintessential centerpiece of the Filipino banquet and nothing whets the Pinoy appetite more than the sight, sound and taste of crispy, golden red pork skin followed by generous slices of hot, juicy and tender pork meat.

My experience with the art, for it is an art, of lechon making dates back to my boyhood days when the actual killing and roasting of pigs for our family's parties and celebrations were all done in the backyard of the family home.

That meant waking up early in the morning for the exciting task of capturing the unfortunate porker whose turn it was to grace the party table.

My parents always kept a one or two pigs in a small enclosure that doubled as a pig's sty in one corner of the yard. The coming of the lechonero, the pig butcher, always seemed to me an ominous sign, an arrival signaling doom for the condemned pig like the imminent approach of the executioner at the executioner's block.

For a moment, as a young boy, I would feel dread but such squeamish thoughts were quickly driven away by the visions in my mind of crackling pork skin, succulent flesh and the memories of the tantalizing aroma of roasted pig.

The victim is then dispatched with a special knife designed to cut a hole in the throat and stab the heart or lungs with the intention of causing almost instantaneous death. The blood gushes out and is quickly collected for later use in the making of dinuguan or pork blood stew.

Using hot, boiling water and scrapers, the skin is then freed of all body hair, cleaned thoroughly and prepared for the grisly procedure of cutting open the belly and removing all of the internal organs which are then washed clean and sent to the kitchen to be made into delectable side dishes.

Then the pig's carcass, now a glistening pinkish white, is then impaled on a stout wooden pole, the insides salted and stuffed with bananas and lemon grass and the belly incision sewn shut. The hind legs and snout were then secured to the roasting pole by hemp straps soaked in water to prevent them from burning during cooking.

Then hours before the start of the party, the roasting over glowing embers of mangrove wood begins and this is where skill and timing defines the art of lechon making. The type and quality of the wood, the placement and positioning of the embers, the speed at which the roasting pole is rotated to ensure even cooking, and the instinct and knowledge needed to determine the perfect time to pull the pig out of the fire and serve it - all this come together to produce the perfect lechon. One that has hot, crispy skin on the outside and well-cooked, juicy meat in the inside.

Doctors and nutritionists badmouth the lechon as an example of gastronomic overindulgence. They point to the high levels of cholesterol and a multitude of other not so desirable substances present in this mainstay of the Pinoy festival table.

But Filipinos will continue to gorge on this delectable delicacy irregardless of the health risks. There is something about the lechon that invokes the spirit of celebration and the love of culinary excess that lies within the Filipino psyche. It symbolizes not only good eating but speaks of joy and festivity, of abundance and indulgence, of generosity, gratitude and optimism for the future.

Pigging on lechon may be unhealthy but it is good fun and good eating. For both reasons and more, Filipinos will continue to gorge on this irresistible delicacy while doctors and health experts wring their hands in frustration in the sidelines.

For the good things in life, it seems, one has to take risks, especially when rewards are simply heavenly delicious.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Old Friends

On the right side of my bed are shelves full of Reader's Digest magazines, condensed book compilations, hardcover books, paperbacks and news magazines.

They represent only a fraction of the variety of reading materials the members of our family have individually or collectively acquired over the decades. The love of reading is strongly ingrained in us and is reflected in the often untidy piles of books and magazines scattered all over the family house, a messy situation that our mother, who is obsessed with order and cleanliness, loudly complains about unceasingly almost everyday yet has gradually come to reluctantly accept as the norm in our case.

There is often a light musty smell about these shelves, a a subtle odor of faded ink and old paper that may not appeal to the more fastidious. Yet for those like me, the smell is an aroma that brings back warm memories, memories of the hours and hours spent in close communion and contemplation with these noblest inventions and creations of the human mind, countless hours of unqualified pleasure, instruction and learning from the the vast storehouse of recorded human knowledge and experience.

When I was ill and confined to my bed, they were my constant companions. They dialogue with me and speak to my mind. They answer hard questions and ask harder questions in return. They turn back time and show me how the world used to be or speed time up and try to show me the world as it might be. They tell stories of other peoples in other lands, of strange things and unusual events, of love, romance and high adventure, of wars and conflicts between nations and empires, of man's greatest achievements and his monumental failures. And they tell the story of man and his rise from the bestiality of his past and his quest for the Godlike in himself.

Our friendship has been long and beneficial to me. And like true and loyal friends, they have never failed me and have continued to bring me untold joy, satisfaction and the privilege of being able to drink greedily, time and time again, from the mythical fountain of human knowledge and come away blessed and a little more enlightened each time.

Aldous Huxley, the English novelist and critic, summed it up nicely when he wrote, “Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting."

Monday, February 19, 2007

Kitchen Magic

I have always wondered why most, if not all, of the great chefs and masters of the kitchen are men.

Growing up in a culture that often stereotypes women as fit only for the home,the hearth and kitchen, I would have liked to believe that women should make better cooks then men.

Women, I felt should have more of the patience, dedication and creative sensitivity that elevates the great cook from the merely good ones and what makes a dish a masterpiece of culinary art rather than just a tasty treat.

My brother-in-law, Al, has proven, time and time again, that this opinion is not only flawed but absolute hogwash.

Here is a man who is a man in every sense of the word, yet he not only revels but excels in the culinary arts. An orderly man with an analytical mind, comfortable with numbers and the complexities and subtleties of designing and constructing man-made structures, he brings that obsession with precision, accuracy and order to his love for cooking. Yet he is more than capable of the flashes of insight, creativity and artistic sensitivity that marks the real masters of the kitchen.

Dogmatic and rigid, he is not. He has a flair for experimentation, for trying new and untried methods and a willingness to risk everything on a whim or sudden bolt of inspiration. And he never gives up trying to improve his craft, to learn new things or unlearn that which has become irrelevant or obsolete.

I have been privileged time and time again to sit at his table and I have only but awe and admiration for his skill and artistry.

Houdini, the great escape artist and magician, once wondered if it is possible that a spectacular magical illusion done with consummate skill and finesse by a master illusionist can attain, as a result of such skilled execution, the level of true magic. That may never happen.

But in the realm of the kitchen kings like Al and the few others like him, such things happen regularly. For when they make their fabulous creations, there is only one logical explanation for the masterpieces they bring forth to the table.

It must be magic.

Friday, February 16, 2007

For Marnelli

Just read your comments through the Whozontop website. I am pleased to greet a relative who is now living in the United State, even one I have not yet met personally.

Barangay Salvacion in the town of San Agustin is where my father came from and, by necessity, I am often there to visit. My grandfather's house in that village still stands and my family still traces it roots from there.

I wish you and your family well. Please keep in touch through my e-mail address ( I'll see if I can do some posts about Salvacion and the other small communities in and around Lianga.

Living With The Sea

Lianga, like most coastal communities, has its origins and its history deeply rooted in its intimate relationship with the sea and the bay that bears its name.

It was born because of the rich fishing in its shallow coastal seas and eventually became a business and trading center by taking advantage of the shelter and refuge it provided to boats and ships seeking protection from the storms and bad weather that regularly visited the area.

By the time I was a small boy, Lianga had began to decline in importance as a shipping and trading town as the focus of trade shifted to other more accessible towns and cities in Northern Mindanao. And the town returned to be what it really was when it came to be, a quiet and sleepy, coastal community lazily basking in the warm winds and blue-green waters of the Pacific.

As a small boy growing up, my life was intertwined with the town's fascination with the sea. Waking up was opening your eyes to the sun rising in the eastern horizon, the golden hues dancing in the waters while the rest of the world remained dark and gloomy. Playing meant jumping into the warm waters just off the sea dikes beyond the town market for hours of frolicking and swimming. Clear and sunny afternoons meant fishing with homemade lines for small fish at favorite fishing spots or wading through the tidal marshlands during low tide while hunting for choice shellfish, sea urchins and other exotic yet edible treats.

Even less maritime pursuits for fun and relaxation were colored by the relentless presence of the nearby ocean. The strong yet cool breezes from the east, particularly in the afternoons, were great for kite flying and during the kite season in the midst of summer, the often dazzlingly blue skies would be marred not by clouds but by colored wisps of color shifting to and fro high up in the heavens which were actually flying machines of paper, bamboo sticks, glue and twine controlled by frantic hands on the ground.

Kite fights would often erupt suddenly and for a while the violence in the air would be matched by the air of urgency and frenzied activity below. Then the dénouement would come, the losing kite would flutter helpless away, its lifeline cut and its fliers below would shrug their shoulders and dejectedly go home vowing revenge and retribution on the ecstatic victors. Then the calm would return until the darkening shadows of the evening and the dying breezes would force even the most hardy souls to roll up their strings, pull down their flying machines and return to their homes exhausted and sunburned yet satiated and pleased.

Or on hot and humid days, one can just pull up a comfortable chair or lounge on a hammock in the early afternoons and laze the hours away dozing while cooled and refreshed by the wafting breeze. There is a salty tang to it and the flavors and aromas of the open ocean that are relaxing yet invigorating. No wonder so many outsiders come on weekends to enjoy the town's many beaches and try to capture some of its magic.

Like those who have grown up or lived in Lianga for years, it is a magic I know well and I am thankful for it. The ocean and the town are old friends and will be forever linked to each other. And I intend to reap the benefits of that friendship as long as I stay here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Note Of Apology

I would like to apologize to a couple of individuals who posted comments on some of the posts in this blog but whose comments were never published here because of negligence on my part and some errors in the blog HTML template I am currently using.

The errors have been corrected and all future comments, unless found unsuitable for publication, will be immediately attached and published to the appropriate postings.

Please feel free to comment or e-mail suggestions to me at

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Bond That Ties

Binjo and Josh are first cousins yet when they are together, one gets the impression that they are more than that, they relate like blood brothers. And it shows.

Binjo is older than Josh by two years but both have similar interests. Both are computer game fanatics and are particularly fascinated by online gaming especially Binjo who has become quite adept in this esoteric field.

Both are also into sports with Josh being the more determined and versatile. Binjo is more laid back and is more a recreational sportsman rather than the dedicated athlete and lacks the competitive edge the other possesses.

Totally different persons and yet they complement each other and share a special chemistry that binds then in a way brothers are bound, not only by blood but by the gamut of shared experiences and a sense of a common history and destiny.

When I see them with each other or playing together and witness how well they both mesh and fit with one another, I feel blessed and comforted. All is right with the world.

I don't know if the bond they share will stand the test of time but while it lasts it is a beautiful thing to watch. And I hope that when they grow old they will still see each other in the same light and be able to revel in their individuality yet still derive strength and purpose from the special bond that hold them together.

Friends choose each other, siblings and relatives cannot. But when siblings or relatives chose to become bosom friends, then something magical happens. Their friendships become the stuff of legends, one bound by the strongest of ties and protected by the sturdiest of defenses against the onslaughts of a cruel and jealous world.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

70 Years Of Grace

Mama celebrated her 70th birthday last Monday, February 5, but she chose to have her birthday party the day before so that most if not all of her children and grandchildren would be there to join her for the occasion.

The plan was originally to host a more elaborate gathering worthy of such a memorable event but she firmly insisted before hand that she wanted a more intimate, close-knit, and simple affair. She got what she wanted and, in many ways, it seemed to me later on that it was not only practical but also oddly appropriate.

She had lived most of her adult life in Lianga since she settled here with my father to start a family and a business in the early 1960's. Perhaps then she dreamed of a quiet, simple life in this quiet and little town.

But she would be thrust, by circumstance and a highly developed sense of civic duty, to play a more prominent and public role in the affairs of her new community. She would eventually be recognized for her active participation in civic, religious and community affairs and be held in high esteem by all.

But her focus on her family has never wavered. She together with my father raised five children, practiced her profession as a pharmacist, owned and operated a drugstore, remains either a leader or an active member of various civic and religious organizations and sits on the board of the local bank and the local water utilities body. And she has done all these things well but she remains essentially what she was when she first came to this town, a simple, deeply religious, yet educated woman with an active interest in the affairs of the world and her community but deeply rooted in the the Filipino traditions of love, respect and reverence for the family.

That was why I realized why her desire to celebrate her 70 years of a fruitful and productive life with her family as the focus can be seen as really appropriate if seen from this perspective. Her life, in that sense, has come full circle.

Our lives are often judged by what we accomplish as individuals outside of the home. But some of the greatest of personal achievements are often overlooked because they seem so ordinary and obvious. Those that have managed to keep and preserve their families and keep them bound together in mutual love and respect in spite of the challenges and distractions of the world are persons of consequence not only to their own but to mankind as well.

They hold the fabric of society together and make all of man's creations and the greatest achievements and accomplishments of his civilization possible. They are the mothers and fathers who bring forth and nurture what is the most noble and divine in all of us.

70 years of a well lived life is nothing if viewed from the perspective of eternity. But in human terms and from the viewpoint of the heart, it is more than enough. After all, who needs an eternity when one can achieve the almost impossible in a lifetime.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Best Of Both Worlds

If there is a young man who has it all, it is my young friend, Jame.

Born of German and Filipino parentage, he physically cuts a very striking figure indeed and, if stories (both his own and from others) are to be believed, he is very popular with the girls who, as most Pinays, are generally captivated by any form of Caucasian good looks.

The fact that there is Filipino blood is mixed in with the foreign merely serves to whet their appetites and so by all indications, this young man would probably have no problem getting all the female companionship he desires, that is, if he get them past the eagle eyes of his German father who fidgets and worries all day long that he has been precisely successful in doing just that.

The fact is, I have known Jame since he was a boy and he is, by any standards, a well-mannered, affable, friendly and conscientious young man who is probably the least to get into any kind of trouble of the amorous kind. The father worries though because his antics and escapades with the female species in his youth and bachelorhood are the stuff of legends and he, like all former philanderers are constantly haunted by the fear that his past may return to bedevil them through his offspring.

In my view, he may be worrying too much and for no reason at all. Jame will probably go through the perils, minefields and shoals of young adulthood with relative ease and with the minimum of scars both physical and mental. And with his father using his vast experience and accumulated wisdom to shepherd him through all that, there is really very little need for concern anyway.

German efficiency, industry and durability coupled with the Filipino's innate good heart, friendliness and warmth, this young man straddles the huge divide between two diverse cultures and carries this burden with grace. And he is in every sense lucky because, unlike many of the less fortunate of his kind, he has managed to gain and possess not the worst but the best of two worlds.