Worth a Thousand Words

This shirt by Tado, on the other hand, is worth

about a couple of hundred pesos.

Traffic Police State

hil to the kingA little more Korean culture has come to our tropical shores. North Korean, in this case.

Lining the streets with propaganda posters is not a new thing in oppressive regimes. Banners of leaders striking a pose and exhorting their people to raise high the banner of revolution and to rain death on capitalist pig-dogs/ infidels/ heretics/ deviants/ lumpenproletariat has been par for the course with dictators, strongmen and various absolute leaders.

Bayani Fernando the First, King of Metro Manila is merely taking part in a grand tradition that goes back at least as early as Hitler and Stalin, was colorfully documented in bad ’80s films that showed Michael Dudikoff slipping into cities like Tehran, Moscow and Baghdad against (literally) a backdrop of bad guys on billboards proclaiming death to America, and is now the linchpin of the entire art industry of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Veneration Without

Every settlement in this country that rates a paved main street has a street named after Dr. Jose Rizal. This is less out of respect for our national hero, whose shoes (though small) are impossible to fill, than out of a national guilt at having only read his works in school, and doing it cursorily while picking out the details that would probably come up on the exam. (That Fr. Damaso was served a chicken neck in his tinola, say.)

Never mind that he was a doctor, historian, philosopher, artist, polyglot and a hundred other things that we will never be, to most Filipinos, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are the end all and be all of Rizal.

To keep his spirit from turning into a hungry ghost and haunting us with aphorisms and snippets of his correspondence with everyone from the women of Malolos to Blumentritt to the Rajah of Madripoor, we’ve named our streets after him. “See?,” we can say with a clean conscience, “we remember.” What it is exactly that we remember must give us pause, but we do remember.

Elsewhere on the bastardization of history: the monument to Apolinario Mabini in Mabini, Batangas shows the hero on his feet in direct contempt of the one thing we all know about the Sublime Paralytic.

Game Over. Continue?

Most of you are probably too young to remember this, but video game arcades used to be a lot more Darwinian than they are now.

The amusement megaplexes that we have now are very heaven compared to the noisy, dingy holes-in-the-wall that we had in the nasty nineties.

Back then, if you were:

a. a scrawny kid

b. a newbie

c. both,

there were scores of bigger (less polite, less wealthy) older boys ready to help you out, and guide you through the intricacies of each game from start to (often premature) finish free of charge. If they were particularly friendly, and you were particularly scrawny, you’d get the privilege of watching them play your character “through the difficult bits,” which was pretty much everything from the word Play.

You don’t see that now in places like Timezone and Tom’s World because of the bright lights and tighter security, but the practice is probably alive in lesser malls and darker video game corners.

The bigger, older boys of our generation have also probably outgrown video games, but their kind is still around in every LTO fixer and MMDA traffic cop that you meet.

The Filipino Dream

Aside from marrying an American, getting a green card, and  washing  senile senior citizens for  a fistful of dollars, it seems the youth has found a new dream.

Ten years ago, the trend was Filipino teenagers wanted to be physical therapists. Five years ago, it was nursing. A source in the personal development industry reveals: Pinoy teens now want to be beauty queens.

Rice and Revolution

“How can an agricultural country not have enough rice?”-Mikonawa, Eater of Moons

We don’t feel it yet, but there is a shortage of rice in this country. The government has resorted to rationing inexpensive NFA rice, and lines form before dawn as the poor and hungry prepare to stand for hours for the chance to buy a few kilograms of rice. In case you doubt the seriousness of the situation, consider that people are now actually falling in line, something that we are not genetically predisposed to do.

It sounds almost absurd, this shortage of rice. Like something from Gabriel Garcia Marquez or the Bible or some other work of magical realism. After all, shouldn’t the Philippines, being an agricultural nation, not have enough food for its people?

But then again, we’re not really an agricultural nation anymore. Not since the Thomasites came over on the good ship USS Thomas armed with their education and civilization and toothpaste, and perhaps not even before that. We’ve all learned to better ourselves through education to escape the drudgery of agriculture. We’ve become doctors and lawyers and such. Nurses and physical therapists and dancers and caregivers and armchair intellectuals.

The Banaue rice terraces are falling into disrepair because the Ifugao youth are not interested in farming and preserving the old ways of life. Terraces or no, this is a phenomenon that has been happening in rural areas all over the country for decades. Probinsiyanos flock to the cities to get an education and a piece of the action, often ending up in slums, destitute and despondent. It’s like England during the Industrial Revolution only with a lot less industry.

The government started by denying that there was a rice shortage, then upped the importation of rice from other rice-producing nations while appealing to dealers not to hoard rice or manipulate prices. Now, a few weeks later, they’ve resorted to rationing, supplies often running out before  those in line get their alloted two to four kilograms of rice. With the Arroyo administration’s penchant for knee-jerk solutions and its callous disregard for human rights, the next step is inevitable: the Pol Pot Solution. Food self-sufficiency at all costs.

Through an all-powerful but legally-questionable Executive Order, We’ll all be rounded up to take part in this new Green Revolution either as a farmer or as fertilizer. We’ll be brought to what idle tracts of arable land have not been planted with export crops like sugar and jatropha, and forced to plant potatoes and rice (though not together) while reciting Joyce Kilmer’s Trees from start of day to set of sun. Peasants who refuse or recite their own favorite poetry will be shot on the spot.

Any form of independent or critical thought will be severely punished, generally by being shot on the spot. Sarcasm, dry humor, non sequiturs and silliness will be outlawed.  As new peasants, we will only be allowed to think about crops, the weather, harvest season, and the inherent goodness of our infallible and infinitely-just government and the President for which it stands.

It will be difficult, at first, but eventually, the scarcity of food crops will be solved. Of course, we will then have the problem of having a scarcity of people, but with the number of Korean tourists arriving daily, who’ll notice, really?

A Simple Law of Nature

As the number of people on a Philippine beach increases, the probability of someone  sculpting a penis out of sand approaches one. The same goes for boobs, but double since they come in pairs.

Going Is Half The Battle

If you want a metric to show that we are on our way to civilization, try the proliferation of pay toilets in our public spaces.

Soon, the days of dreading to walk into a restroom for fear of a mildew-mold-bacteria hybrid monster devouring you from the shoes up will be nothing but a nightmare to scare kids into behaving. No more urine puddles, no stray drops on the toilet seat. No more bits of dinners past floating in the bowl.

In a public restroom outside Vinzons Hall in the University of the Philippines, a toilet bowl has become filled to the brim that it looks like a ceramic flower pot without the flowers or any aesthetic value whatsoever. In an office restroom on Katipunan, someone once left soiled panties and a napkin in a puddle on the floor. It was like a serial killer leaving a calling card, but not as precise or thought out. There is no upper limit, it seems, to the depravity that men can aspire to, and, as is the case with many things, there is a need for someone to keep things in check. Or, at least, clean up afterwards. If you are lucky, someone to dispense lotion and cheap cologne, too.

Of course, for the Filipino with no pocket change and a bladder threatening to fail, pay toilets are the greatest form of capitalist oppression. Just another way for The Man to tell us where, when, and how to do our business. And this is valid, too. Two sides of the same 5-Peso coin, one might say.