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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Asin" (Salt)

As submitted to EV Mail News for publication.

"For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another." -Mark 9:49-50

One of the many things I miss the most in the Philippines and one that is very hard to find here in Midwest America (that's where we live right now) is salt water. No not the kind we use for cooking or brining because that would be easy to make. I'm talking about a whole large body of salt water. The seas! The oceans! The salt-water beaches of Leyte and Samar! Those I miss so much right now.

We have beautiful lakes and fresh water rivers here in Illinois but they are kind of bland, so to speak. Our beaches in the city of Chicago are fresh-water though how fresh is kind of questionable sometimes. Ha! But they're way so much better than our Ilog Pasig in Manila for sure.

Salt water supposedly has some healing powers. I remember from my childhood when my elders especially my grandmothers used to tell me that the beach is the place to go when someone is being plagued with some kind of disease or illness that baffle even the medical doctors or from any type of rash or skin malady or body aches and pains and arthritis, the salt water of our beaches is the key ingredient for the treatment.

Their prescription for cure: just soak once or twice a day for a month or two and you will feel like a brand new person after that. I've no idea if this is true because I don't remember getting healed from any kind of disease. All I remember is having fun at the beach with family and friends, riding the waves no matter that I already looked like a roasted pig due to too much sun and with the taste of salt water on my lips that lasted for days. Those were fun days indeed!

But the news of the healing powers of salt water seem to continue to spread around the world. The Dead Sea (which is actually a salt lake) bordering Jordan and Israel in the Middle East is well known for its supposed healing powers. The Sea has continually attracted millions of visitors from around the world for hundreds of years. It is known to be a place of refuge even for King David of the Old Testament Bible. Various diseases afflicting mankind are said to get healed when people soak in its salty waters. But I guess visitors are more likely to float than soak in those salty waters due to its very high salinity and density levels.

Another thing for which salt is of importance is cooking. Food definitely tastes so much better with salt. Even in baking pastries a pinch of salt is needed in order to enhance the flavor of the cakes. No one likes to eat bland food and I'm pretty sure Filipinos are on top of that list.

We love the tasty, flavorful, very rich and sometimes very salty food. Salt has always been a part of the Filipino diet and sometimes it's even way too much part of it that we find out too late about the adverse consequences to our health. But I'm not even gonna talk about the side effects for now. All I can say is that everything and anything extreme is always bad and that includes salt. A pinch goes a long, long way and a dash can make any meal palatable just don't go overboard.

The reason I wanted to write about salt today because aside from the truth that I suddenly have a craving to swim in salt water and how it reminds me that I miss "home" but also as a Christian I have been compared to salt by my Savior. This got me to thinking about the properties of salt, the healing powers of salt water, the need humans have for salt in our food, etc.

It's such a lowly mineral and what a seemingly insignificant matter from earth. It's just a microscopic speck but what an impact it has on our lives! That's salt to you. And that's what Christians are supposed to be here on earth according to God. We ought to have some sort of an impact in the world, in our communities and in other people's lives. We are the salt of the earth. We are commanded by God to be "salty" and to have some "flavor" towards others. Our lives, our stories, and our testimonies in Jesus must take some form of "saltiness" so that we can glorify our Father in heaven.

"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid." -Matthew 5:13-14

Monday, June 25, 2012

10 "Filipino Ways" I'm Not Too Proud Of...

A repost. As originally published on EV Mail News.

I do realize that I might be putting a brick to my head the moment I decided to write about this 10 things today. I know I don't have any right to judge nor to point any fingers at anyone because I can be judged right back. And that pointy finger I use? It's much dirtier than anybody else's.

And yet it is my hope that this article will not be considered as judgmental nor should it be taken as something written in stone. We're just having some fun here. There might be some tinge of truth to some of the things on the list so it's my intention to use these truths to help ourselves change and become "better people."

I've realized a long time ago that nobody is perfect but at the same time I've also understood the need of accountability and the essence of checks and balances among us. If only we will commit to do what is right, to maintain integrity at all times and make ourselves accountable to the highest of standards, this world will be a much better place. Sadly, not all people think this way. We have a long way to go. I have a long way to go. God's standards in my life are a given but it doesn't mean I'm perfect. It only shows how much I need Him every day because I'm too messed up.

So with this 10 things article today, I hope that we will all have a good time with it and maybe, just maybe, we will think about some of what's on the list that truly hits home, then hopefully and prayerfully, we can make a decision to change.

So here we go:

1.) "Crab Mentality." I've never exactly understood what this phrase mean. I remember learning it in school. Even the famous books of Jose Rizal (the "Noli" and the "Fili") this negative mentality has been condemned and trashed. One thing I do know, it is something bad. And it's supposedly something Filipinos do a lot to put down others. In my research, "crab mentality" is defined as "a type of thinking in which a person tries to pull others down if he or she can't get ahead." Do I need to say more? Don't you think we need to get rid of this kind of behavior quick?

2.) Procrastination and tardiness. Filipino time, really?! Is there even such a thing? It's just a made up excuse to be late all the time and be disrespectful towards others. There! I got it off my chest. I hate being late and I also don't appreciate other people being late at my expense. We all have the same 24 hours, don't we? As my Pastor in Tacloban said: "Plan to be on time and you will always be late but plan to be early and you will be on time." A basic truth that has been very helpful to me ever since.

3.) "Crowding around." I'm not particularly a fan of big crowds especially the rowdy, boisterous, rude kinds. I try to stay away from those at all times. There's nothing that’s too important for me to join or to buy, or to watch, if the whole city is in "it," pushing and shoving. Some Filipinos are sometimes fond of crowding especially if there's some kind of a panic buying mode or a craze that we wanna be a part of. Ever since I've experienced the "respect my space" mentality here in America, the more I get nervous about too much crowding. If you can tell that I have big pores on my face, you're way too close.

4.) Gossiping. I guess this one is not "exclusive" to Filipinos. It's a favorite pastime for all people, period. But for some odd reason, Filipinos have quite mastered the "art." Even here in America, Filipino groups still have the tendency to split up and quarrel due to excessive gossiping. In a way I'm glad I'm the only Filipino on my floor at work because all the Filipinos on the other floors have rifts due to gossiping. "Nakakahiya." "Makaarawod hin duro."

5.) Driving skills. What driving skills? Are you kidding me? I think the Philippine roads are a "blank canvass" of a "no-holds-barred" style of driving. I was too scared to cross the streets in Manila when we went back for a vacation after 5 years of being away, too scared that I refused to get out of the house without a car and a very good driver that came with it.

6.) "Non-unity." Ooh, this one is huge! "Bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan 'wag magagalit!" Living in a foreign land can be very traumatic. It can be a scary and lonely experience especially when you're alone, with no family or old friends around and when homesickness kicks in with a vengeance. Those are the times we need to feel at home away from home. It's this time when we long for some kababayan bonding. But sadly, even though we are a "minority" in foreign lands but with the staggering numbers of Pinoys abroad we’d think that we would have some semblance of a "force to be reckoned with" as a group but in Chicago alone I don't know any Filipino organizations that have a strong influence in the society.

7.) "Takaw-mata." We usually want more in life than we can handle. And we want what we can't have and we want what others have. "I will buy all the i-gadgets even though I can't afford it because that's what everybody has, even though it will cause me to wallow in debt." "Bahala na bukas." This is mostly the kind of mentality I encounter among our kababayan here. And more often than not, we are in denial about it.

8.) Exclusivity. This is sort of a personal experience for me anywhere I go here in America where there are Filipinos who don't know me. Pinoys usually flock together and tend to socialize with our own race alone. And there's nothing wrong with that, it only becomes wrong when we shun other people based on the color of their skin or based on the language they speak. Just because I look different from the "average" Filipino, I've often been a victim of "unknowing discrimination" from my own kababayan. How do I know? Because I understand what they're saying about me when they think I’m not one of them. It was fun at first but it gets really annoying as it happens more and more.

9.) Traveling "heavy!" This one is funny. We love to travel with all our possessions (as much as possible). Maybe I'm exaggerating here but our baggage include: our favorite pillows, blankets, favorite (smelly) foods, fruits and vegetables (because they're fresh-er), pasalubong, our favorite tsinelas, socks, all our toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, facial wash, sabon, body lotion, hand lotion, deodorant, moisturizers, astringents, toothbrush, toothpaste, cologne, perfume, ap-ap solution, whitening products, tiger balm, white flower, aciete de manzanilla, our pet dogs, cats, the chickens, and maybe some eggs. Ok, ok I know this is becoming a ridiculous list but you see the point. And by the time we get through Customs, half of our stuff are confiscated and thrown away! Duh.

10.) Holding grudges "'til death do us part." We do this all the time. When asked why we're not speaking to somebody we can't even remember the reason for the quarrel. We just want to carry those grudges to keep us burdened and miserable. We love to "hurt" other people by not speaking to them or caring about their life not knowing that we hurt ourselves more by holding grudges. Remember, emotional stress and keeping hard feelings can kill you!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

10 Things I Love About Chicago

A repost. As originally published on EV Mail News for the week of April 16-22, 2012.
Link: EV Mail News (Digital Version)

Since I will be staying in Chicago for a very long time, I might as well count my blessings and appreciate the great things that my new home city has to offer, right?

So here it is… I've listed down 10 things that I love about Chicago. And while I was thinking of what to include in the list, there's no surprise that I’ve ended up with more than 10 things. How can you put the things you love (or like so much) into just one short list? But since I've promised that I will write the “10-thing series” for this column, and since I'm a person of my word, 10 things it’s gonna be.

Chicago is a great city, and not only because of the “superficial” things tourists see when they come to visit, but also because of the wonderful “unseen” and every day things we get enjoy and experience. I guess my perspective on this subject can be considered as "biased," ever since I've began to call this place as my own. A perspective coming from the heart always changes everything.

But of course, I wouldn't even pretend and say that this is the greatest city in the world because everything here is fine and dandy, for I'll be lying. As in any other places, there will always be problems. There are unresolved issues and not everybody can be pleased. Chicago is not exempt or immune to that. There are also the negative and the bad things that happen here just like everywhere else. But this article today is not about those bad things. I chose to focus on the things I love, the ones I like so much, which are beautiful, wonderful and great.

You might think that I’m contradicting myself on some points on the list, but I beg to disagree. You have to read between the lines. For example with the commute, I know I said I love the 10-15 minutes commute I used to have in the Philippines before but I also love the commute here in Chicago considering that I don’t have to drive long hours or to contend with traffic. I love the best of both worlds, I guess.

And oh, these so-called wonderful things are the rules. You know what they say about rules --they are made to be broken, or whatever. For every rule, there’s always an exception. There will always be the wayward number of people who simply can’t or won’t follow the rules. Their number will always be in the minority.

So let’s begin, shall we?

(1.) Traffic. What traffic? This opinion comes from someone who has seen traffic at its worst. Ok maybe not the worst, but one of the worst in the world. Actually, it’s one of the top ten, to be exact. Yes, that’s how Manila traffic is ranked today. Not a good place to be but it’s the reality. That’s why I say that traffic (what traffic?) in Chicago is actually heaven for people like me. Cars actually stop (literally!) for pedestrians over here. It’s the law. When the sign says stop, drivers do stop, even when the police are not around. Also, drivers normally don’t change lanes just because.

(2.) Commute. I don’t drive here in Chicago, not because I don’t want to, it’s just that I don’t have the need for it. I travel by train and by bus everywhere and anywhere in the city. And I’m only speaking here about Chicago’s public transportation since it’s the one I have experience with. I’m not too sure about the other major cities in America. In Chicago, I can almost go anywhere in the city without the need to drive. Our public transportation system here is comprehensive and connected all the way.

(3.) Snow. Although I’ve already mentioned in my past articles that winter and the freezing weather are not my absolute favorites but still I can’t deny it, I do love the snow, especially the fresh, light coating of the first, new snow of winter. It’s always glorious. No words are enough to describe it or to express how it makes me feel. Simply spectacular.

(4.) Spring and autumn. Oh, these seasons are two of my favorites. Again, there are not enough words to express how these seasons make me feel. Refreshing, eternal hope and a new promise are only some of the words I can think of to describe spring. And autumn, oh where do I begin? All the grandeur and magnificence of God’s creation come together in time for “fall.” The deep, rich colors and the crisp chill in the air that’s just perfect. I can live with spring and autumn anytime.

(5.) Inexpensive food. This is one of the things that make this nation great. No matter how a family may not be able to have a car or luxury items, especially at this economic downturn, but at least food is aplenty and inexpensive. Of course, as anywhere else, there will be places where food can be a luxury in itself and will cost you arm and leg, but I’m talking about the every day, regular food. As I’m looking at my bills and receipts right now, food and grocery items are always the least amount in them.

(6.) Public parks. If you remember, I wrote an entire article for this column about our parks here in Chicago. (Please see EV Mail News issue for the week of August 15-21, 2011 for my article “Concerts at the Park.”) They’re great!

(7.) The "American" way of having disagreements. I admire most Americans on this. They do know how to argue, have debates, disagreements and exchange of words, but I’ve never seen them hold a grudge (openly) forever and ever after. But I won’t pretend to know what’s in their hearts and minds nor will I say convincingly that they actually don’t have any hard feelings after such disagreements. All I’m talking about is what I see among my network of people and what I’ve personally experienced. This perception is coming from a Filipino who has seen open and evident grudges among family and friends in the Philippines being paraded around at no end.

(8.) Thinking "green." No, this is not about the money. And no, this is also not about the Filipino way of thinking "green." This is living in an “environmentally friendly” way. Honestly, I’m not too big on recycling or in “saving the earth” movement (I ought to be ashamed of myself, I know) but I like how Chicago is going in that direction. Less pollution, no smelly garbage lying around (most of the time) which means no rats (I hope), clean waters and clean air in the city.

(9.) The "1-2-3" way of life. If we say “1-2-3” in the Philippines, it has the negative connotation of doing things improperly, ineffectively and poorly. In other words, the “1-2-3” of doing things for Filipinos is the "haw-syaw" way. That's not what I mean here. Let me explain. Americans have a knack of doing things step by step. When we buy furniture or a small appliance, they come with a manual that has the “1-2-3” steps for us to follow from its assembly to the usage. For the most part, everything has a place and there’s a place for everything. American corporations are continually coming up with ways on how to make our lives easier. You have a new packaged food you haven’t tried yet? Check out the instructions, there’ll be a “1-2-3” way to do it. A new patio set? Read the manual, it’s easy as 1-2-3!

(10.) Living the "American dream." The American dream is this --as long as you work hard and dream big, America will give you the opportunity and the way to achieve them. My family is a living proof to this. We came here with almost nothing --no house, no car, no possessions, no friends, and no jobs-- but look at where we are right now. It wasn’t very easy at first but I’m a believer in hard work and God’s rewards. Thank God for His abundant blessings indeed!

Monday, May 28, 2012

10 Things I Miss the Most from the Philippines

A repost. As originally published on EV Mail News for the week of April 2-8, 2012.
Link: EV Mail News (Digital Version)

When some things that are very important to us become suddenly lost or just not around anymore, that's the time when we finally realize how much we miss and love those things (and people). That's exactly what happened to me when I first left my homeland after more than 30 years of living there, when my family and I were suddenly "uprooted" and transferred to Chicago.

It was some kind of a whirlwind situation for us that I didn't even have the time or the comprehension to grasp what was happening and what it really meant for us. As for me, as long as my family is together, it doesn't matter what journey we had to embark, or where ever God would allow us to be. At this time, we’re in Chicago and that's that.

And yet, this doesn't mean that I don't miss my life back "home" in Tacloban. Now that we've settled in Chicago well enough, I have more time and the needed peace to think over and ponder what has transpired in the past (almost) 7 years of our lives. Too many words have been left unsaid to friends and family back home; so many things to be done that are neglected now, or have been taken for granted, since I've never really thought that we would be leaving the Philippines.

And how about the countless great things from my homeland that we’ve left unappreciated and un-enjoyed? With the power (and maybe the curse) of hindsight and afterthought, I would have loved to explore and enjoy my country more in the past 20 years of my life if only I've known I’d be missing it so much now.

As promised, here’s one of the articles for my "10 Things-series" that I've talked about in my previous article. This is a bit of nostalgic and bittersweet; I hope you’ll all bear with me.

(1.) The warm, summerlike weather all-year round. I know that one of the most exciting things to look forward to in coming to America is to experience winter, snow and cold for the first time. But I'm sorry to say that even though snow can be pretty, fun (for kids) and heart-warming especially during the holidays, winter can get old so quick. Just like how I've taken for granted the beautiful, warm climate in the Philippines all my life and now I want it back! I've come to realize that I can live with warm weather anytime rather than have winter for 5 (or more) months a year.

(2.) Summer outfit, sandals and "tsinelas" (flip-flops). Of course, with the summer-like weather comes the short-sleeves, pedal pushers, skirts, summer dresses and sandals. My toes get cramped with thick socks, closed shoes and boots for too long. (Sigh.) I guess that's why we love our summers here in Chicago too much because we know how short and fleeting it can be.

(3.) The "greeneries" and flowers everywhere. Winter time can be gloomy and sad sometimes. What with all the "dead" trees, shrubs and no flowers (except in the flower shop). I don't care now if all the forest of plants, shrubs, grasses and coconut trees in the Philippines bring bugs and insects. I'd rather have green around me than gloom. I may be exaggerating quite a bit here but I think you know what I mean.

(4.) The beaches, sand and salt water. Oooh, how I love and miss the beaches back home! We do have a huge lake here in Chicago (Lake Michigan) and a very long river (Chicago River) but there's nothing like salt water and beach sand. I miss the way the specks of our black sand in San Jose, Tacloban twinkle under the sun. Again, I guess we miss what we don't have anymore.

(5.) The short commutes, jeepneys, tricycles and "pedicabs." I go to work everyday by train (with a short walk) and I'm thankful that I don't have to drive and no traffic to contend with. But (here's that but again!) the train ride takes about 40 to 45 minutes one-way and I'm stuck on the train for 1 hour and 30 minutes everyday. That's 7.5 hours a week, almost a day in my computation! Oh well, I guess it's not that bad. I just miss the 10 to 15 minute commute I had to make to work when I was in Tacloban, then I can go home everyday for lunch, too! (Sigh again.)

(6.) The food! And that brings us to the food. Do I need to say more? I know how we get tired of our everyday Filipino food sometimes that we might have a craving for a "McDo" burger or a Japanese sushi once in a while but imagine having no Filipino delicacies and specialties the whole year round! (Like the chocolate moron, binagol, "law-law," ginamos, "buraw nga bulad," or my Mama's famous Carabao "beef" steak.) Oh my, my. my..... I'm drooling just about right now.

(7.) The "malling" experience. For some reason, malls in America have a different feel and ambiance to them compared to the ones in the Philippines. Although I really didn't go much "malling" in the Philippines except when we were in Manila every Christmas season to be with my husband's family, and yet I miss the Filipino way of "malling." We do mall in style! Even if it’s just to cool off from the heat outside. (LOL)

(8.) Siestas, "istambay" and "pahuway." Do I need to elaborate on this? I feel that I've been deprived of pure relaxation and "real" vacation for almost 7 years now. Oh, that's not counting the one time we went home to the Philippines for an "almost-a-month" of vacation 3 years ago. That was great! I need more of those please.

(9.) One word: Alice. Ever since I can remember right after I got married, we've had Alice in our life in Tacloban. She's not just a nanny to my son nor a helper at our home. She's family. She helped me with household chores and endless domestic errands while I worked full-time. She took care of Meldrick just like any mother would. She cried when we left for Chicago, I bawled. Now, I'm left alone with everything --working full-time, taking care of my husband and son (not that I'm complaining), the cooking, cleaning, scrubbing, dusting, vacuuming and "attacking" the endless pile of laundry and ironing every week. Whew! It's now more than ever that I appreciate what Alice did for our family.

(10.) Family and friends. And of course, what is life like without family and close friends? It would be like going through the motions of life but not actually living it. I miss them so much. I miss the weekly fellowships we had at friends' homes, sharing a meal, playing games, having Bible studies, laughing and crying together, loving and growing together. I miss my parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, and cousins no matter how frustrating and "hair-pulling" stressful they can be sometimes. That's what family is all about, right? That's what they are there for, to make our life "miserable" yet full of joy, full of "drama" yet we’re filled with inexplicable fulfillment when they’re around. How I miss them so.
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