Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On Speaking Tagalog as a Third Language

I'm a Bisaya--a person living in the Visayas Islands of Central Philippines--and my native language is Cebuano.  The Philippine national language is Tagalog, with a prestige register called Filipino, and, as it was a compulsory language to learn in school, I am fluent in its technical use and its use in formal conversations.  It's useful to a certain degree but not really with anything more than understanding televised national news and literature, and conversing with people in the parts of the country that use it as their native tongue.

Tagalog, although it is the national language, is not my second language but my third.  All schools in the Philippines use English as a standard medium of instruction and all but two subjects--history and Filipino--are taught in the world's most imperialistic language, which is also the language of Philippine government and commerce.  On that note, Tagalog isn't very useful to those who don't speak it as a native tongue.  One might argue that because the Philippines has so many languages, it can be used as a uniting language for us and that if two people who speak different regional languages try to converse, they would use Tagalog.  Nope.  This is simply not true in my experience.  Although it is a bit shameful to admit, if a Waray-Waray speaker and a Cebuano speaker were to have a conversation, they would likely use English rather than Tagalog.

Moreover, since I don't actively try to improve my use of Tagalog, I've been largely ignorant about it's non-formal use.  Even though it was pummelled into me during my years in school, I only learned it academically.  Until fairly recently, I have only ever used formal and grammatically correct Tagalog.  I didn't become street smart with the language until about 4 years ago.  If you speak Spanish, imagine me speaking to you in the Usted Form with a Castilian accent while walking around the slums of Bogota.  Or if you're an English speaker, imagine me speaking to you with the British Received Pronunciation while drinking Guinness in a small pub in Kilcullen.  Yeah.  Kinda like that.

Anyway, not actually using Tagalog on a regular basis, it took quite some time for me to learn bits and pieces of the language that are apparently really necessary if you want to survive in a place that uses it.  Among them are the following:


a.)  When someone says, "Wow, ang dami mong alam,"  [Eng: Wow, you know a lot] they're not giving you a compliment.  No matter how deadpan the face of the one saying it is or how nicely it's expressed, it's actually just a sarcastic way of telling you to shut the fudge up.

Someone used this on me after I explained the difference between bisexuality and homosexuality--prompted by her assertion that bisexuality is just homosexuality in disguise.  I thanked her after hearing it and went on about the principles of addressing cisgender people and how to be avoid being offensive.  She repeated what she said.  (i.e. "Ang dami mo talagang alam."  [Eng:  You really know a lot.])  I thanked her again and she left.  Shortly after, a friend, who was also present in that conversation, pointed out that she was actually being sarcastic.  It only hit me then why her grin was too darn big.  She must have thought I was an idiot.

b.)  Po, [a word used to express respect to an elder or "superior"; no direct English translation] is almost absolutely compulsory.

I was never told this in school.  It took a confrontation for me to learn this.  Someone approached me after a forum and said my speech was really rude because I didn't use the word po after each sentence when addressing a Roman Catholic priest.  Right!  That didn't help the guy's cause.  From that day on, I resolved never to use the word with anyone who would expect to hear it.  I am not superior to anyone and nobody is my superior so I will not address anybody as such unless they are really, really kind people and I want to make them feel good!  I refuse to be another brick on a pedestal that boosts anyone's ego.  The most I would do is say things nicely and gently but I'm not going to use a word that would make you feel like you're above me.  You're not.

We Bisaya are generally nice and respectful people but we just express respect by saying things gently, which can be done universally with anyone and everyone.  In our language, which is not mutually intelligible with Tagalog, we don't have a separate word that elevates a person's status in a conversation and I like that about my native tongue.  Sorry, I'm not sorry.

c.)  If you do not know someone very well, or if someone is supposedly socially "superior" to you, it is rude to refer to them in the second person singular.  Instead you should refer to them in the second person plural or even third person plural.  For example:  "Saan ka pupunta?"  [Eng: Where are you going?] should be expressed as "Saan po sila pupunta?" [Eng:  "Where are they going?"; with po in its appropriate place].  Again with po.

d.)  The word tarantado actually means "stupid."  In both my language and in Tagalog, the word taranta (tarantar if expressed appropriately in Cebuano) means "to panic," so I thought adding a "do" after it, like you do with most verbs to turn them into adjectives--a Filipino adaptation of a Spanish grammar rule--would just make it mean "a panicky person."  Nope.  Apparently, it means you're stupid if someone calls you tarantado.  An internet Tagalog-English dictionary translates the word as "flustered."  Wrong.  It really means stupid.  Try being in a street in rural Manila and calling someone that and you're almost sure to get a black eye.

I used it the wrong way on a Tagalog colleague once, telling her, "Masyado ka kasing tarantado eh," after she got rejected from an audition to a singing contest.  I thought I was saying "Because you're very panicky," when I was actually saying "Because you're very stupid."  No wonder she cussed at me and didn't speak to me for over a month after that.  Sorry, we didn't learn such words in school.  I'm glad I didn't use that word too much.

Monday, September 15, 2014

On Beauty Pageants

Sorry, I'm not going to "like" your friend's/sister's/brother's/cousin's/neighbour's photos in support of their candidacy for Miss/Mister/Queen/King/Prince/Princess/Jewel/Heart of what-THE-FUDGE-ever.

In case you don't know what my personal stance is on the matter or in case I haven't been clear enough about it, I do not support beauty pageants--female or male.  I think it's shallow and degrading to publicly compare people to each other, chipping down a bunch of people to one or two, on the basis of personal appearance--even with that question-and-answer portion that supposedly gauges their intellectual capabilities as public role models.  Right.  I don't buy that crap.

If you don't share my opinion, I honestly couldn't care less.  Fair play to you.  I'm not gonna lie; I am going to judge you and think you're misinformed at the very least but, of course, we can still friends.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why I Advocate Pet Neutering

Yoyo sleeping on my foot


We just had our newly adopted cat friend, Yoyo, neutered today.  He isn't weak by any means; he's still as energetic as when he arrived at our house but the vet says we need to give him his antibiotics regularly so his wound doesn't get infected.

Let me tell you, my dear friends and Facebook acquaintances, administering medicine to an adolescent cat is PAINFUL!  Literally!  I've gone through this a few times before and, this morning while preparing to take him to his doctor, I already knew I would be getting scratches on my arms by the end of the day.

However, why did I choose to go through with it?  Some may ask why I had to have him neutered knowing I would put up with such a hassle afterwards.  You see, I put up with it because I love this cat and I love all animals.  We had him neutered not because we deliberately wanted to cause him pain or sadistically take away his right to reproduce but because we don't want to see any more stray domestic animals not having homes.

It's because of humanity's obsession with aesthetics and the utility of certain "pure" domestic animal breeds that many such intended-to-be-pet creatures suffer.  When you get your pure breed German Shepherds or Labs from the pet store, don't think for a second that all their siblings are as lucky as they are.  It's likely they never lived past their 7th month of life and ended up in the puppy mill's backyard mass grave.

Yoyo is a moggie.  We don't know his lineage and neither do we care.  What matters is he's with us and we are tasked with caring for him.  He is the fourth cat friend currently living in the house.  He was left to our care by American relief workers who rescued him as a stray kitten walking alone, looking famished and thirsty.  Like many cats, he was likely abandoned by his previous owners.  Fortunately, he was spotted by kind-hearted people and taken in as a friend.  The oldest among our cats is Mozart, who was given to us by a relative who didn't neuter a female feline and was left stumped when she gave birth to three kittens.  The second arrival is Jemima who just turned up as a kitten one day begging for food.  The third, the youngest one, is Tugger who, like Jemima, also just turned up one night meowing and begging for food and water--possibly milk from his mother because he was so little.  He had a sister whom we also fed and called our own but unfortunately rose to the Heaviside Layer early due to an unknown disease.

Oh, in case you all start thinking I'm exclusively a cat person, you're wrong.  We have two dogs coexisting with the cats in the same house.  Both were also given to us after the owners ran out of ideas.

You might think, "Well, animals don't need to be neutered because there are people like you who would take them in."  If that is so, then why are there stray cats and dogs all over the world?  Tell me that the next time we're both taking a hike somewhere and we pass a kitten or puppy lying lifeless on the pavement with their innards sprayed everywhere.

You see, I've seen way too many skinny and bony stray kittens begging for food and rummaging dumpsters and bins for whatever they could eat just to delay death even for a day.  I've seen sickly cats lying barely alive on the grey gutters of the outskirts of bustling metropolitan areas like Cebu and Manila.  I've been in way too many coastal clean-up activities where I would chance upon innocent-looking rubbish bags and open them to find dead puppies likely put there by their mothers' owners and thrown into the open sea.

Domestic animals are not like wild animals who are, by nature's design, readily capable of surviving without the help of human beings.  They are products of a long domestication process that has made them suitable for cohabitation with people.  Domestic dogs and cats, unlike their wild cousins, leopards and wolves and what not, are not fit to live in the wild and hunt on their own.  Humanity has tamed them and should therefore be responsible for their welfare.  They should thrive in loving human homes, where they are cared and provided for, or they shouldn't be born.  It is, therefore, a strong offence against domestic animals to allow them to keep breeding without ascertaining good homes for each and every one of them.  Quality of life is of utmost importance.

Lecture me about a domestic animal's right to freely reproduce only if you can assure me that I will never again have to see feral and stray domestic cats and dogs.  Tell me how bad I am for spaying my animal friends and removing their right to propagate life only if you are a vegetarian and don't participate in the global tradition of animal cruelty.

Let me share a simple truth that I came across as a child.  The Little Prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's book once said, "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."  Yes, their offspring, too.

Yoyo sleeping in my suitcase

Jemima resting on a bag

Tugger (right) and his sister who didn't make it

Janggo

Janggo asleep after playing at the beach



No photos of our most senior cat, Mozart, and our other dog, Orion.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Letter to Cebu Pacific Air

Dear CEBU PACIFIC AIR, 
The only time I fly with you is when I'm left with no other option—like when I want to go to Cambodia and you're the only airline that connects the Philippines to that country.  Thank you for having the Manila-Siem Reap flight, but no thank you for almost everything else. 
Having said that, because you're never (EVER) my first choice, sometimes I book you on the last-minute, in places that don't have very good internet connection.  [Let's face it, when I'm comfy, I wouldn't think of flying with you.  You are not, in any way, associated with comfort or convenience or other good things.  Ridiculously cheap fares, on occasion, perhaps, but that's it.]  When one doesn't have good internet connection, that buffer GIF with the smiling blue plane and the yellow clouds often does not load properly.  Sometimes it loads but often does not disappear, resulting in me getting stuck on a non-functioning page because nothing happens even when I click on the dimmed background.  I end up having to reload the page over and over again.  I've been trying for over an hour now and I'm persistent because no other airline offers a direct Cebu-Bacolod flight. 
Why do you even have that buffer image, anyway?  One can see the page having successfully loaded in the background and yet it still lingers there.  We don't need to see that smiling plane.  It's absolutely unnecessary.  What do you think we are, children that clap at the sight of cartoon planes?  What are you trying to do by making your website less accessible?  Are you trying to discourage people from flying with you?  If you are, then good news: It's working!  Your ill reputation (of intolerance and many other bad things) already precedes you so it doesn't take much, really. 
One of my aunts vowed never to fly with you ever again because when it was her turn to be checked in at the counter, a good hour before her flight, you denied her a seat and chose to accommodate chance passengers instead just because she didn't get to the check-in counter two hours or over an hour before the slated departure time.  My backpacker friends roll their eyeballs hearing your brand.  Take note: backpackers!  They're not elite fliers; they're like me—budget-conscious—but the idea of flying with you or dealing with you in any way makes them cringe.  You know what word they often use to describe you?  "Ilad-ilad," which in our language means SCAM!  Oh, we know you're legitimate; you're just way too good at infuriating your clientèle. 
Having said all this, because sometimes I still fly with you, I genuinely do hope for changes—not because I'm selfish and I want a life of convenience but because I wish the same for everyone.  This might sound like a rant of purely destructive criticism but it's not.  I really wish you'd get your act straight.  I hope, one day, when people suggest I fly with them with Cebu Pacific, I may return a smile or an enthusiastic "Sure!"  Maybe one day I will no longer hear my friends say, "Oh, you mean Cebu F**k?" 
Sincerely and with zero apologies,
A perpetually dissatisfied customer 

P.S.  It still hasn't loaded.  Forget it!  I'm sailing to Dumaguete and taking a bus to Bacolod instead.  I'd rather put up with six hours of bus time than spend an eternity staring at this smiling plane and having hot fumes build up in my head.


Just in case you were wondering what the GIF image looks like...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

International Day of Non-Violence

Vietnam War Remnants Museum


It's October 2nd, the International Day of Non-Violence, so I think it's appropriate to at least make a bit of noise on this blog after having been on hiatus since I published a photographic essay (using photos taken with a phone camera) of my thoughts on the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).

It's been nearly 3 months since I returned to the Philippines from my month-long AVP exposure journey all over Indonesia and I still haven't published the musings I wrote during that time.  I have three entries already keyed-in.  All that's left is for me to paste them here and click on that orange button but I don't feel comfortable putting those stories out yet—even if it's been a while since I wrote them.  Sure, I wrote stuff for the local paper and the website of Friends Peace Teams in Asia West Pacific and they're both accessible to anyone in the world with an unrestricted internet connection; however, there is a strange force within that's keeping me from publishing the ones written while I was actually going through what I now term "epiphanies."  It's one thing when you're writing about an experience and recalling from a memory of events that happened several weeks to several months in the past; writing real-time—or at least very close to is—is an entirely different story.  The things you come up with are much more raw and the words written down bear so much more life.  Even after having been transcribed from paper to a digital surface, the words still seem, to me, like they could bleed if touched.

Am I being shy?  Not a chance!  Being shy entails resisting an internal prodding to do something; my case is that there is something in me telling me not to do it.  Forcing myself would be a form of self-inflicted violence, wouldn't it?  I don't believe I'm making excuses borne out of fear.  As far as I'm concerned, this is legitimately conscientious.  Perhaps things will ease up in time and I'll decide to get those stories out.  For now, I'll wait.  There's no rush.  After all, I am a Quaker and waiting is something I do on a regular basis.

I digress.

I'm the type of person who checks Reddit and Facebook on a regular basis, looking for news items I could sink my teeth into and there never seems to be a day when violence doesn't greet me with a heavy slap.  It's on the front page of almost every news site and forum I visit.  From the revolution in Syria to war in Mindanao to the recent hostage crisis in Kenya to the Russian government's violence against its LGBT citizens to gun incidents all over the United States of America—it's exhausting!

The sociology behind human violence is something you'd perceive to be outdated in an age like this.  It's largely a recourse that primitive humans employed to ensure the survival of the species.  Heaven, if it exists, knows there are enough of us to ensure our survival for the next millennia.  With the existence of our kind of technology and the speed by which innovation moves forward, the only thing that could wipe us out is nature's indomitable force and nothing can be done to prevent that.  So, I don't get why we're still fighting.

The principles behind causing destruction and suffering to fellow human beings are all antediluvian.  Yes, perhaps even the interpretation you hold of your holy scriptures should undergo some sort of reform to kick away parts that do not apply to the present time.  If you feel a necessity, as a human being, to hold on to a belief as you journey through life, why not let it be rooted in love and peace?  Isn't it easier that way than to be angry all the time?  I'd say religion itself is obsolete but if I speak like that, it would follow that a lot of things are—including states (i.e. countries).  Such an idea is quite far-fetched.

Now, while John Lennon's dream may not reach its realisation in this lifetime, I genuinely believe it's the direction we ought to take.  He isn't the first one to say such things.  Jesus went along similar lines.  Also, he never actually said people should build a religion centred around him and worship his name ceaselessly until their Earthly demise.  He spoke of love and peace and a divine life lived with an understanding of his existence's example, which basically screamed forgiveness and non-violence and respect to every being.  The Buddha did the same and so did Rumi and many, many others before and after them—inlcuding Mohandas K. Gandhi, whose day of birth we commemorate today.

With all that said, isn't a life of peace so much more convenient than being angry and violent all the time?  With peace, there is a simple give and take process that occurs between individuals and everybody wins.  You work to live and let live and you won't have to maintain a mantra of fear.  Whereas, with a violent lifestyle, you actually have to exert a humongous amount of energy.  Anger takes a lot out of you—more so does the act of inflicting pain and taking people's lives away.  Plus, there's the constant fear of getting killed or hurt and there's paranoia that your allies aren't actually allies; you worry almost all the time about the few people you actually care about; you get no sleep.  It all baffles me, really.  Violence is unnecessary and absolutely stupid, if you think about it deeply enough.

I think I've made my point even though this entry isn't coherent in a lot of places.  I apologise; it exhausts me to think of violence.

May Peace Prevail on Earth.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

AVP in a Nutshell (the way I see it)

I went to Indonesia with the Friends Peace Teams to witness, first-hand, how the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) works and how it contributes to the global effort of cultivating cultures of peace.

But what is AVP?

Well, as far as I'm concerned...

AVP is fun and games and getting in touch with the innocent child in each of us.


AVP is days of forging new and lasting friendships.


AVP is sharing stories and learning from them.


AVP is embracing and celebrating the essential oneness in diversity.


AVP is sharing smiles and laughter.


AVP is having new brothers and sisters.




AVP is learning new things about the world you live in and about yourself.


AVP is learning how to stand firm under a raging storm.


AVP is like fresh water smoothly brushing boulders on its way to a serene river.



AVP is Peace through Love and Compassion.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hair Drama



Yesterday, my decision to cut my lush, long black hair received its material counterpart.  I actually made it happen.  From being a mere idea, it became reality after Jamin, a guy who works at the place we're staying at here in Langsa, drove me by motorbike to a shop called Metro Hair where I sat on a chair and a man ran an electric razor and a pair of silver scissors all over the top surface of my skull.

Contrary to what a few people think, I didn't have my precious strands of ebony chopped off just because a lot of people in North Sumatra mistook me for a woman--although I must admit it did provide a bit of reinforcement.  My decision wasn't a crazy arbitrary thing either.  A few people might remember that day in November 2011 when I flipped out and had my head shaved completely bald.  That was arbitrary and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  This time, though, it was done with some sort of mental feasibility study--if such a thing even exists.

I've actually entertained the idea of getting back my clean schoolboy look for quite some time already.  My reasons?  Well, for one, it's much, much neater to look at.  It's easier to manage; it's much cheaper to maintain; it makes me look a lot younger; it feels better; it doesn't cause the area around my neck to store heat; and most importantly, it's easier to travel around a semi-active war zone with.  I don't have to wait long for it to dry up after I wash it and it doesn't attract people's attention.

This is only the second day I've pranced around the world with my new head of short hair and I'm still in the process of getting used to it.  Sometimes, when I visualise myself, I still get an image of a young Asian dude with long hair.  When I realise, though, that I don't anymore or if I get a glimpse of myself through a reflective surface, I instantly get the feeling that I don't know myself.  "Who is that boy I'm looking at?" would be the usual internal question.  Perhaps this has some sort of intellectual application in my life.  Perhaps such a feeling is an indication that I don't actually know myself well enough.