Twelve Hours

December 8, 2009

“Don’t ever forget me.” Those were the last words I heard before I sadly hung up the phone. The 5 minute walk to board the airplane felt like I was being executed. I walked hesitantly, wishing my feet would just start to cement itself to the ground- the found where I was born, raised and lived for my whole life. I reached gate 90 of Ninoy Aguino International Airport and a woman probably in her 30’s was calling passengers to board the aircraft. I walked slowly towards the glass that was separating me and a Boeing 747. “Excuse me miss.” The same woman announcing was the one guarding the gate said politely. She continued: “you can board the plane now young lady.” I just nodded in reply, gave her my boarding pass and I walked inside the seemingly endless grey tunnel connecting the gate and the aircraft. I approached 36-k my ‘death chair’ for the next 12 hours. The moment I heard the doors close and saw the orange seatbelt sign light up, I knew my life ended, well the life I knew I had and now I have 12 hours to think before my new life started.

Moving is never really easy to do. Truckloads of belongings, strangers helping out almost as many as the ants that would pile up on a slice of cake, how hard can moving get? So hard, that the one moving gets stressed out and her whole world freezes as she tries to contain herself from bursting like a bubble. In my case, I had 4 bags of luggage, a backpack, my pillow, a perky stewardess, a pilot and over 100,000 kg of big, fat steel that flies. They were all the things I needed to move, from one country to another. 11 more hours until my new life… I started to empty out the contents of my bulging backpack- A box full of letters, a photo album, and other memorabilia items that I have received from my friends. I t has only been an hour and I wanted to jump off the plane and escape my unknown future. In a rush, reality strikes, ouch! It does bite. My heart pumped faster and faster. I was scared. I have always wondered how prisoners felt in solitary confinement; well wonder is over because I just found out. No one was there to hold me, I was alone, and a river with thorns started flooding my face. I grew pale, I felt numb. Tick-tock, 10 more hours till the big fat steel that flies, lands its feet to an unfamiliar ground.

I looked up and the seatbelt sign was off. I tried to stand but an old lady beside me was snoring like an active volcano that was about to erupt. I hate airplanes, the way they smelled, looked and the way the seats are arranged and lined up for the outmost inconvenience for its passengers. I felt disgusted; I hated the lilac, floral printed seats, navy blue seatbelts, Barbie-doll faces of the stewardess and the unbelievably flat so-called pillow they give out. Tick-tock, 9 more long uncomfortable hours to go…

I slid open the oval-shaped window they had beside each window seat. I saw the tiny stars twinkling quietly beneath the ocean of blackness. I wish my life was peaceful. I looked around me and surprisingly, everyone was asleep. On the other hand, I couldn’t sleep; my mind was like a busy sidewalk in NYC like the ones you’d see on TV. Every man and woman walking was like everything I was scared of, thought of and the people were actually people I care about. All the happy memories, even sad walked passed me. Nothing but a frown was painted on my face. I glanced back outside one more time and realized the difference of the busy sidewalk I had in mind and the serene ocean of stars, for some reason, even though I wished that my life was as peaceful as the sky, I would still prefer my sidewalk. As busy and crowded as it may be, it is still good, happy and exciting. Too many thoughts and finally, I was tired.

Tick-tock 5 more hours to go… Before I opened my eyes, I wished hard that I was in my room and the whole me in an airplane was just a nightmare. As my brain started to function again, my senses were awake and I heard the rustling of food trays, carts along the aisle, children playing and the lavatory doors open and close constantly. I opened my eyes slowly and sadly, Mt. Vesuvius was still right beside me. I opened the windows again, there were fewer stars this time and the glass was moist and it felt really cold just like how I felt inside. I was shivering inside and out. I have never felt so alone before.

Tick-tock-tick-tock 4 more hours… Time is moving too slow. In my head, the walk sign turned green and the sidewalk became busy again. Not only that, my emotions started to blend itself just like a mango a-go-go jamba juice of mixed emotions. At least I had a little happiness in me; I was going to live with my mom. After years and years of separation, for the first time after a long while, I was going to see her. I have been longing to hug her and feel her tight squeeze on my body. I was starting to be optimistic. Tick-tock 3 more hours to go…

I started packing all the stuff I took out from my backpack. It hasn’t been that long but I already missed my country, my friends and the rest of my family, my dog, my room, my old school. Every little thing I owned and every person I knew just popped in my head just like popcorn. All of a sudden, I just realized how much they mean to me. I regret not telling them how much they mean to me. I regret not telling them how much I love them, how grateful I am just to know them and how much I appreciate their worth. I sighed heavily, there’s no more turning back. I opened the shade once more and slowly light seeped in. It was the sunrise, it was so breathtaking and it made me hopeful that maybe this is not such a bad idea; that maybe everything would be ok, that maybe I was just being an instigator. “I should give this a chance” I whispered to myself. “Don’t worry I’ll never forget you best friend.” I pictured her in my head and a smile came out. I leaned over towards the window more and I saw land. It may be unfamiliar for now but as a start at least I knew it was San Francisco. At last we landed.


Bridging the gap

December 8, 2009

 Did you know that the Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA) in the Philippines are conducting free lessons or workshops for our kababayans to learn how to access the internet and be able to communicate with their loved ones who are working abroad? Since more than 10% of the Filipino population is working abroad, the Filipinos need to be up to date when it comes to technology in terms of communication. There is a reason why the Philippines is considered to be the text capital of the world.




The internet-the most popular communication tool with the filipino communities- is what I consider one of the few greatest man made invention ever. The internet makes the world a smaller place for everybody. With websites such as friendster, myspace, skype, facebook, multiply, twitter and more, OFW’s would not feel as lonely as they would have when they miss their loved ones and not be able to do anything about it. As long as technology advances it is already assumed that there will be Filipinos using that social tool. Since cellphones are very expensive for long distance calls, people just use the internet to call and text usually through yahoo messenger.

I personally communicate with my loved ones back home by everything and anything on the internet that includes chatting, video chat, social networking sites and I even remit money online too. It makes me feel close to them and we are always updated with each others lives. Because of this, distance is not something that I am scared of being a reason to break relationships. Regardless of time differences also, theres always that one hour where everyone is still awake and thats the time we find to spend with each other online.

It is so amazing to see how technology has evolved throughout these years and see people evolve with it as well. With that said, The internet is a faster and cheaper form of communication that links families and overseas Filipinos.



Rock the Revolution

December 8, 2009

Nature growing

Rivers flowing

But mining interrupts

The flow of life

The growth of life


and Destorying

As women in the diaspora

Exhaust themselves for life

Caring for the elder

While yearning for their young

Earning so little

And yet, responsible for so much

In true Rizal fashion

A calling to the youth





Stand up

And help those

Who can’t help themselves

The world is in your hands

Crumbling to pieces

The Abra must be saved

Your mothers no longer enslaved

Make the change

You wish to see

In the world

Myths: Aswang

December 8, 2009

There are many mythical creatures in Filipino folklores but the one that is most commonly told are about Aswangs. The aswangs are evil vampire-like creatures that are told in many stories from the different places such as cities and provinces of the Philippines. When I was about 13 years old I went to the Philippines to visit by relatives. When I was there my uncle told me when my aunt pregnant one night the neighbors saw something in the roof of their house. My uncle heard a strange sound on the roof and woke up my aunt. He went outside and asked the neighbor who was on the roof or throwing rocks they said they saw something like an aswang. Ever since that night my aunt would sleep with a bible and a rosary next to her.

There are many different stories about the aswang. Aswangs are like a combination of a witch and a vampire and always portrayed as a woman. They are also known as witches, manananggals, shapeshifters, lycanthropes and monsters. The aswang stories differ from regions and the people who tell them. One description that is highly told of an aswang is that they can slip their bodies in half from the torso. The bottom half stays on ground while the upper half with wings flies to look for food.  Aswangs favor pregnant women because they feast on the unborn child. The aswang goes on roof of their victims/mothers house and sticks out its long thin tongue, which penetrates through the mother’s belly button sucking out the child and organs. Another story of an aswang is that they are beautiful when they are in human form. They find their victims especially men and take them to an abandoned area where they kill the man and eat his organs. Aswangs are mythological creatures that have been told since pre-colonial times.


December 8, 2009

One of the most popular and best known dances of the Philippines is Tinikling and it is also known to be the Philippines national dance. It is also considered to be one of the oldest dance that originated from Leyte in the Visayan Islands. Tinikling means “bamboo dance” in English. The dance imitates the movement of the tikling birds as they walk between grass stems, run over tree branches, or dodge bamboo traps set by rice farmers. Dancers would imitate the tikling bird speed and  being able to go maneuver between two large bamboo poles. Tinikling involves five steps; during the first four steps, the dancers dance opposite each other, and during the last step, they start from the same side of the poles. The bamboo is also used as a percussive instrument as it is banged against the ground and each other in a pattern. The bamboo has to be closed and hard enough to make a sound, and the dancers must be quick enough to not get their foot or feet caught. As the dance continues, the banging of the bamboo becomes faster and harder, the sound of the clashing bamboo and the quickness of feet

Before Tinikling became what it is today, it went through different changes. There had been different stories of the dance origin that have been passed down through oral histories and folklore.

One of the stories of the origin of Tinikling started with the people that worked on the fields and paddies in the Philippines. When the Spaniards came from Spain and conquered the Philippines, the natives were sent to the haciendas. The natives lost control of their land because they were an economic system that is largely based on rural and agricultural operations of large farmlands administered by caretakers for the King of Spain. The natives had to work all day to please the Spaniards. The natives could have completely lost control of their destiny under an exploitative system. The people of the Philippines worked in the fields and paddies for nearly four hundred years from 1500-1898.

As punishment for the people who worked too slowly they would be sent out of the paddies for punishment. As punishment they would have to stand between two bamboo poles cut from the grove. Sometimes, the sticks would have thorns sticking out. The natives’ feet would be between two poles then clapped bruising. The punishment became a cycle because most of the natives would bruise their feet so that they would work less and if they worked less the more bruising and punishment there are.

The punishment later became the dance it is today. When the Tinikling is danced, there is music of plucked strings in Iberian-influence staccato interspersing with tremolos and kept in time with double stepping sway balances. By practicing to escape the bamboo sticks during punishment, the Tinikling soon became a challenge, an art, and a dance.

Lumpia Shanghai

December 8, 2009

More than 300 years ago Filipinos have been gathering food or anything that nature had to offer them. Trade or importing from other countries such as spices and food plants from Malaysians, Indonesians, Arabians, Indians, and Chinese helped the Filipinos create many different types of dishes instead always using the ingredient. Filipino food is a mixture of Eastern and Western Culture. Chinese influenced Filipino food such as noodles, which Filipinos use to make different types of pancit. Also, Chinese influence famous Filipino dishes as lumpia, kikiam, siopao, and siomai. Spanish influences on Filipino food such as rice-meat dishes and desserts, which Filipinos use to make puchero, tortas, and brazo de mercedes. American also had an influence on Filipino dishes such as burger, salads, and pie. With American/ Italian spaghetti Filipinos created their own Filipino spaghetti, which is sweet.

Lumpia is a Philippine appetizer/entrée and it is a Chinese influence. Lumpia was brought by the Chinese immigrants from the Fujian province of China to Southeast Asia and became popular where they settled in the Philippines and Indonesia. Since I was little my mom would always make lumpia for our family parties. I would watch my mom make it and I would ask her if I could help but she told me when I’m older. One day when my mom left the kitchen I placed the meat onto the wrapped and rolled it. My mom came into the kitchen and saw me making it she was impressed. She asked me if I wanted to help her.


1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound ground pork

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup minced carrots

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup thinly sliced green cabbage

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon soy sauce

30 lumpia wrappers

2 cups vegetable oil for frying


Place a wok or large skillet over high heat, and pour in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Cook pork, stirring frequently, until no pink is showing. Remove pork from pan and set aside. Drain grease from pan, leaving a thin coating. Cook garlic and onion in the same pan for 2 minutes. Stir in the cooked pork, carrots, green onions, and cabbage. Season with pepper, salt, garlic powder, and soy sauce. Remove from heat, and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Place three heaping tablespoons of the filling diagonally near one corner of each wrapper, leaving a 1 1/2 inch space at both ends. Fold the side along the length of the filling over the filling, tuck in both ends, and roll neatly. Keep the roll tight as you assemble. Moisten the other side of the wrapper with water to seal the edge. Cover the rolls with plastic wrap to retain moisture.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat, add oil to 1/2 inch depth, and heat for 5 minutes. Slide 3 or 4 lumpia into the oil. Fry the rolls for 1 to 2 minutes, until all sides are golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Cultural Dancing- Itik Itik

December 8, 2009

Dancing is very important to the Filipino community it enriches the uniqueness of the Filipino culture. Dancing has been part of the Philippines since the pre-colonial times. Natives used dancing to tell stories, celebrate life, and call upon mother nature. The movement of bodies and the tapping of feet accompanied by the rhythm of music have become a way of life for them. Whether it is the cha-cha-cha, disco, modern, folk or classical ballet, the Filipinos simply loved to dance. The traditional dance of the Philippines is derived from a unique mix of Spanish, Malay and Muslim influences.

Philippine dances were used to represent Filipinos cultural roots and way of life. Most of the dances were after the European dances during the Spanish times. Movement of bodies and feet with the Itik-itik is one of the many cultural dances of the Philippines. It is popular among the Visayan settlers of the province of Surigoa del Norte. The steps to itik-itik is somewhat like the movements of a duck, walks short choppy steps and splashes water on its back. This dance started when a young woman names Kanang, singer and dancer, was asked to dance the Sibay at a baptismal reception. She began improvising steps imitating a duck. This is one of the cultural dances of the Philippines.

I woke up to loud noises and shouting all around me. What was happening? As a six year old child, it seemed like we were always on the run from something. All I knew was the Japanese were bad people and the Americans were here to save us. This morning seemed different. I quickly realized that the loud noises and shouting I heard were joyful and filled with happiness. I overheard the adults talking about how it’s finally over and the Japanese were gone.

All of a sudden the sound of huge trucks filled the streets. Since we were obviously curious to the commotion outside, everyone in my family ran to see American tanks driving down the streets tossing canned goods and chocolate bars towards us. I saw my cousins and other children around me shout “Victory Joe!” which I didn’t understand but decided to do anyway. I saw people around me crying and hugging the American soldiers that came to greet us. Some of them were even flirting with the young Filipina women nearby. At the time I didn’t realize the importance of what was going on around me. I was just happy I got a yummy chocolate bar and my parents were finally smiling which I hadn’t seen them do in a very long time.

(This was a memory my tita had of the end of World War II in the Philippines in 1945)

Tabi Tabi Po…

December 7, 2009

15 Minute Smoke Break” by Gem Mateo
This is an interpretation of the “kapre,” a giant that lurks at the top of large trees and likes to scare children at night.

I was really excited to see the art show, “Tabi Tabi Po,” at 1AM Gallery in downtown San Francisco, especially since it was free. I have been to some art shows in Honolulu and had an expectation of how this show was going to turn out: music, artsy crowd, and beautiful artwork. And I was right. My expectation was met and more.

The “Tabi Tabi Po” exhibition was a very interesting one. Each piece of artwork was tied to a bigger theme of Filipino “scary” stories that the lolas, lolos, nanays, and tatays like to tell us at night to prevent us from doing anything mischievous. Being Filipino at this exhibition put me at ease because I was familiar with the folkloric stories and that everyone else around me was Filipino or at least knew someone that was. So I didn’t have to think and ponder really hard about what each piece was for more than 5 min. It was a cool, welcoming environment.

I took a look around and was amazed at each artists’ interpretation of the folkloric creatures. A common creature that caught my eye was the “Mananaggal,” the one I am most terrified of. This is the monster that splits in half. The torso grows wings and flies around in search of pregnant women with fetuses. How disgusting, right? That’s how I feel, but I found pieces that made the monster look cute and appealing and made me forget how scared I am of them for a second. Other monsters that artists painted were the “aswangs,” dwendes,” “kapres,” and the “tikbalang.”

Being at this exhibition reassured me about how talented and artistic Filipinos can be. Art is a wonderful tool for us to keep records of our stories and history as well as to convey a message in a visual manner. If you haven’t had the chance to check out “Tabi Tabi Po,” the exhibition is open until the 12th of December! So head on out there.

SPAM and the Philippines

December 7, 2009

World War II made a huge impact on the lives of the Filipino people, most specifically on the food. Because the Japanese took over the Philippine islands, the Filipino people were constantly running away from them, which meant they had to leave their crops and animals they couldn’t bring with them behind. Since American soldiers were present basically everywhere around the Philippine islands, their food rations were the only way they could get food to survive. These soldiers would then give their surplus items to the Filipino people. One of the key products that came from these rations was SPAM, which nowadays is considered a main food dish that Filipinos treasure.

SPAM’s efficient storage in cans made it an easy and effective way to get meat to the soldiers on the front lines.  Soldiers basically had to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner since there was hardly any other food available.  These soldiers also began to joke that SPAM was simply “ham that didn’t pass its physical” or “meatloaf without basic training.”

The Philippines is actually one of three places that are known for their love of SPAM, the other two being Hawaii (of course!) and Guam. A surprising fact I learned about SPAM was that if you look at the word you see the two countries that took over the Philippines, SP for Spain and AM for America. Coincidence? That’s up to you to decide.  Today, SPAM is still strong as ever and is even part of the “silog” family! Spamsilog, which is slices of SPAM with garlic fried rice and a sunny side up egg is normally eaten for breakfast but can be eaten at any time. So next time you eat SPAM remember that it plays a major part in the history of the Philippines.