Friday, March 21, 2008

The Holy Weeks we knew

Good Friday. Atlanta Georgia. And here I am nursing a cold while the rest of the family enjoys our first full day on vacation in the deep south. I miss Holy Week back home. It is the only time of the year that Manila's splendor comes out in full bloom. Imagine Manila with no crowds, no polluting vehicles, sky's all sunny and blue and the heat---oh, the lovely heat. People are quiet, the malls are closed. Without the pollution, the greenery comes alive. It may not be as colorful as a spring bloom in the temperate latitudes, but multiple shades of green does have its own beauty and wonder.

I could imagine why the Spaniards and the Americans loved Manila---well, till the pollution took over.

And no traffic friend Wendell Ramos (yes..the actor)loves just to drive around the City during holy week. I too enjoy being able to zoom by without having to worry about traffic or not getting on time. The rest of the city goes on vacation mode. Here is a tip: Boracay or Baguio during Holy week? Forget it, everybody is there. The Manila traffic goes up North to Baguio and the Mall foot traffic goes to Bora. It could get pretty dirty there this time of the year.

Churches are full. Crime rate is down. And Quiapo? Good Friday? Imagine yourself trying to grab a statue of the Black Nazarene with 10,000 other guys all jousting and shoving each other as the procession goes by. Last year only one guy was killed. One foreigner I talked to said that the Quiapo procession has the same reputation as the bull run in Pamplona, Spain. I am still trying to find the guts to do it..well probably next year.

I also remember a lot of travelling to my Dad's province in Tarlac. One of our favorite family story is of how this chicken got stuck in our car's bumper on our way to Tarlac. This answered two important mysteries: How did the chicken cross the road? (answer: Got hit by a car and got stuck in the bumpers) and could you eat meat on Good Friday? (if it came free, why waste it). In Tarlac, We would climb trees, pester the carabao, swim at the river and do things that you would do before hormones took over.

There is another welcome respite for me. Philippine television is on limited broadcast from Holy Thursday to Good Friday. I remember when we were young, we had no cable, the TV stations would show these bathrobe classics during Holy Week, The Ten Commandments,El Cid and my favorite The Robe. There was also Jesus of Nazareth and sometimes Jesus Christ Superstar. I never realized how much noise television makes till it is turned off. I work for a Philippine Television company now, and I now know the reason why we have to do limited broadcast during Holy Week. This is the time we clean the transmitter and the studio.

Enjoy your vacation in lovely Manila.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Hair up there

Apart from the ones they have on their head, women hate hair. They go to all sorts of rituals and chemicals to pluck, remove, and burn excess body hair. I could never imagine myself going through waxing. Or having to pluck my eyebrows.

Men love hair. They will trim them a little, but they are generally resigned to nature’s carpeting.

The Bedouins have a curse which says “May God pluck your beard”. Thus a manly man without bodily hair is bordering on gayhood (ok, “Metrosexual”). Just imagine a fair-skinned guy, with milky white flesh, without any body hair and pinkish nipples…Damn…he will be popular in prison.

“Come to Papa….bwahahahaha”.

Men start growing body hair early in their teens. “Secondary bodily hair” according to my biology teacher. Here is a hint to parents: If you want to know what is the best time to have your son circumcised, the answer is simple. Do it before he starts growing pubic hair. For there is nothing more embarrassing than being uncircumcised and already hairy down there. It could get you into a lot of trouble. I remember this kid who was one year older than me in school. The story going around was that at grade five, he was already “Fidel Castro”. There was even a huge vandalism in the boy’s rest room:

“SI ___________, MAY BULBUL NA”.

After the awkward years of puberty, men’s hair (primary or secondary) becomes a status symbol. I grew up in the 1980s—yep the bad hair decade. I actually envied those in 70’s or even from the 2000s onward. They could wear afros or could have their hair really long like an Apache Indian. In the ‘80s we only have the “Gel Look”. In college, it was mandatory ROTC training for us so, every able bodied males had their “2 x 3s” for two years or in my case it was four years because I took the advanced ROTC course. We were not even allowed to have beards or moustache. I think that it would be late for me to wear an afro. A middle-aged lawyer, in an afro before a judge?

Underarm hair. We do nothing with it, unlike women who have to contend with the how and why of underarm hair removal. But it doesn’t mean men should display them. Imagine yourself in the crowded MRT and the guy next to you is wearing a sleeveless shirt and decides to raise his arms on the grab bar?

We do not shave our legs. We like then as they are thank you. A manly man without hair on his legs is definitely not one of ours and should be treated as a captured spy.

Our facial hair is covered by a few rules. Rule No. 1: You may shave your beard or moustache, Rule No. 2: You must trim your nose hairs or your ear hair, Rule No. 3: You should not shave your eyebrows (Remember Commandant Mauser in the Police Academy Movies?).

And lastly our chest hairs. Chest hairs are acceptable. Hair on the back of a manly man? Scary. I remember this guy I saw on a beach in Hawaii, he had carpeting on his back…and his eyebrows were pretty thick too.

As for me, I am no Burt Reynolds, but I am proud to say that I have sufficient hair on my torso to turn off any un-manly advance by my cellblock mates.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

One Night in Tijuana and the world’s meanest Tequila.

I crossed the Mexican frontier for the first time in my life fifteen years ago. I was visiting my cousins in San Diego California and we decided to have fun by crossing into the Mexican border one evening.

This was pre-9-11 and border crossing was relatively easy. I do not recall being stopped at all. We went inside this US Border Patrol outpost and the lazy border guard simply waved us through---he never even bothered to inspect our passports.

Upon crossing the border, I was transported back to the Third world. There were a row of taxi cab drivers who were jousting to get our attention. There were several beggars begging for food, alms and presenting themselves to be our porters.

We selected this taxi driver who reminded me of Cheech Martin. When we got him, he insisted on not using the meter (he will enjoy driving in Makati) but offered to show us around for a good price. He asked our names and when I introduced myself as an “Ibarra”, he said that he has cousins named “Ibarra” and we could probably be cousins. All sales talk I told myself as I could never imagine how my Asian genes could intermix with his Mexican genes. I wanted to explain to him the common history of Spanish conquest between Mexico and the Philippines so that he will understand why this Asian guy has a Spanish name.


My cab driver cum –primo (cousin) asked us without even a hint of malice. I was just amazed as to how nonchalant they could get about prostitution. He went on to tell us the story of how this tourist he picked up the night before ended up having sex at the back seat of his taxi—before the police came.

Since I was with two married cousin, a little Mexican hanky-panky was out of the question.

“No Pussy today muchacho. Do you know of a good place to drink?”.

He was a little disappointed that we were going to get some clean fun.

He took us to this Mexican bar and dance hall. The waiters and waitresses were Mexican teenagers. After they serve your food and drinks, they would go dancing on the dance floor. Their uniforms reminded me of the uniform in FRIDAYS or at SHAKEYS. The girls were very pretty but I realized that Mexican girls have this tendency to be fat on their waist and legs.

Our waitress was this pretty girl who looks like an improved version of Donita Rose. I poked my cousin and asked him:

“IMAGINE you are in Malate and she is your date?”

He shook his head and blurted:


We finished our beer and we went out of the bar. Outside a pimp was pleading to us to try his girls:

“COME ON MUCHACOS, NICE YOUNG PUSSIES…100 dollars only. Why go to Mexico without having some Pussies, no?”

We politely waved him off. (Mental note: never go to Mexico with married manly men) Our driver saw us and he said something in Spanish to the pimp who immediately left.

We then walked the dirty streets and found a vendor selling real tequilas. The bottle look like the bottle you use for lambanog. The label looks cheap and contains only one word which I recognize: PELIGRO. The bottle was inside a net. It kind of reminds you of some tuba that you buy in Quezon.

Inside the bottle was a real Mescaller caterpillar worm. I smiled, when I realized this was the real deal. No Jose Cuervo here. This is the real stuff, made by some Mexican home brewer. The vendor explained to us in Spanish and broken English that it was traditional in Mexico to offer the pickled worm to the guest of honor ---or the last person to take a shot from the bottle. He also told us that Jose Cuervo removes the worm in their finished products.

I bought two bottles. We hurriedly returned to the border, paid our taxi-driver-cousin-wannabee thirty dollars and happily re-entered the United States. There were no border guards manning the crossing.

A few weeks later, I brought home to the Philippine the wicked looking tequila I got from Tijuana. Several persons got drunk and our houseboy ended up eating the thumb-sized Mescaller worm.