Day 6: Be Careful What You Wish For

I am now writing Chapters 9 and 10, which I’m devoting to my character’s unplanned trip to New York.

This would sound glamorous and fun any other time in New York’s history except this was the 1930s. It was the Great Depression and my character, who came from a wealthy family back in the Philippines, was reduced to selling cigarettes on trains just to survive.
Continue reading

Day 4: Nanowrimo (Behind the scenes)

It’s Day 4 of Nanowrimo and I’m a day ahead on the 1,600-word daily target. I’m hoping to have three days of leeway just in case I get too busy during the FPA conference in Hobart and, of course, if I could, I would rather go hiking while I’m there as it’s my first time in Tas.

About nanowrimo and the process of writing, I’m not sure if I’ve been looking for signs or the signs are coming to me. There are sources of inspiration everywhere. I laughed when I passed by Lorraine Pattiserie near The Ivy, having found out that my French ancestors originated from Lorraine and my first generation character is a son of a pattiserie owner. What a coinkidink!

Continue reading

Day 27: We need a resolution

We started with a prayer and we ended with a prayer. Today, 60 people gathered at Sizzling Fillo to decide the fate of 260,000 Filipinos. To be united or not to be united, that is the question.

The drama unfolded back in 2010 when a group of people decided to set up a new association outside of PCC-NSW  (the umbrella association representing Filipinos in NSW). Almost 8 years later, the splinter group – APCO – has grown into an extremely capable and successfull organisation while PCC-NSW has continued on its mandate, albeit arguably, not as successful in reaching out to the mainstream as APCO has since its inception.

Continue reading

Day 9: Filipina, for better or for worse

The Las Vegas shooting is the worst shooting massacre to happen in the US in recent history. The gory details of how it happened and who it happened to have been laid bare for the public to read. It’s terrible, it’s tragic and I feel for those who were directly affected.

This was interesting enough on its own but then it was revealed that a person of interest initially, and then not, and then a person of interest again, was the shooter’s girlfriend, who happens to be an Australian citizen but … of Philippine heritage.

In some news articles, she was being labeled “hot Asian grandma”. The news is developing and the latest I heard was that she was gifted $100,000, which she thought was break-up money.

I think to myself, “How on earth do you live with a guy like that and not know!?!”

Or, did she know but she chose to ignore it? She gave her first interview just a few hours ago and I’m sure we will hear more.

Another question that popped in my head: how do people see me, knowing that I’m Filipina? As a lot of Filipino women will tell you, we carry a lot of baggage. There’s the one about being mail-order brides; there’s the one about being loud on the train; there’s the one about looking tacky and dressed inappropriately for their age, and many other stereotypes.

Then there’s the debate around Philippine President Duterte – I’ll keep that one for another post but I feel the weight of an entire nation on my shoulders whenever I’m asked, “How do you feel about Duterte?”

On the upside, Filipinos take it as a badge of honour that we have great singers among us, talented dancers, great musical theatre performers, and so on.

I guess I have to take the good with the bad. There’ll be awkward conversations where someone is guaranteed to hone in on the detail: oohhh, did you know that his girlfriend was Filipina? (meaning only a certain kind of woman will date a psychopath, and she’s Filipina!)

Ugh, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. Majority of people won’t think this way but it still irks me.

I guess, for better or for worse, I am a Filipina. There will be brickbats alongside the bouquets.

11.58pm

#Day9

Day 8: Getting all emoji over a jpeg

Reality TV actress and It model Kendall Jenner released a video this week on how terrible she felt about the Pepsi ad. On the face of it, she did nothing wrong. She just happened to be the main talent chosen for the ad. But because she is also one of the most Insta-followed celebrities in the planet, and a member of one of the most high-profile families since the birth of Reality TV, there were high stakes involved.

Both the timing and the concept were horrible: the concept was a puff-ad that looks to be inspired by #BlackLivesMatter but the end product just made it out as if #BlackLivesDontMatter.

A can of Pepsi won’t solve police brutality. To trivialise it just didn’t make commercial sense. If I were part of the Pepsi team, I would say: whatever you do, don’t ever go near politics or religion. That’s just a recipe for controversy right there – a good focus group would have quashed the concept instantly.

The ad was pulled but I’m sure Kendall didn’t have to give her pay cheque back.  The public backlash, however, was brutal. She said in the video that she felt stupid. And it was … stupid.

I wonder though, does Kendall have someone in her team who would have anticipated the consequences? Or did they just see “Pepsi” and the dollar signs?

The same happened with Kylie and Kendall Jenner promoting Tshirts with their image superimposed over Biggies’ face. This has complete disregard for hip hop royalty and what Biggie was to a lot of his music fans. Biggies’ family called the Kardashians over it and the product line was swiftly dropped.

Back to Pepsi and the marketing gaffe. I wonder if someone in the team thought, “Let’s put an Asian guy there, a black dude and a young woman wearing a burqa. That should cover it.”

The ad would have worked … in the 80s. It would have been novel to put together a multi-racial crowd set against the backdrop of a rally.

Today, not so much. Whoever was behind the campaign just did not read the mood of the times very well.

So that’s my preamble to the purpose of this post. To share what I would say is one of the most moving images I’ve ever come across. The image of 35-year-old nurse and mom, Iesha L. Evans. That photo of her looking so defiant in front of the riot squad was so powerful. I’m not surprised that it went viral. I’ve looked at it many times but I still get a lump in my throat each and every time I see it. Read one of the articles about her story here.

One of the most unforgettable images of our time. Source: The Guardian

Which only exacerbates the gross insensitivity of the Pepsi ad. #BlackLivesMatter is a movement you should never, ever misappropriate. Certainly not in an ad.

Not now, not ever.

If Kendall only knew the kind of reaction the Pepsi ad would receive, would she have done it? Advertising is risky business. Sometimes it works, other times it fails. This one tanked. An ad about a can of Pepsi canned.

Maybe a few years from now people will forget. Pepsi will produce a better ad and chalk this one up to a one-off management blunder. To be fair, I know people in the marketing and advertising industry – it can happen to the best of us.

But at the same time, there will still be people like Iesha who will continue to fight for equality; who will stand up for black men unjustly treated because of the colour of their skin. She said she had to do it for her seven-year-old son. She wanted to make sure that when her son grows up, he will know that when confronted with the issue, she stood up for his rights.

I also tip my hat off to the photographer Jonathan Bachman for capturing this amazing, unforgettable image that will survive the test of time and has made its way into our history books.

Isn’t it great though that some of our best memories are now shared and stored in jpegs? Iesha’s photo now lives in the digital memory of hundreds of thousands of people, thanks to the way we process photos.

JPEG (JAY-peg)[1] is a commonly used method of compression for digital images, particularly for those images produced by digital photography. The degree of compression can be adjusted. The term “JPEG” is an acronym for the Joint Photographic Experts Group, which created the standard.

#Day8

Day 7: Putting the UN in Miss Universe

Gloria Diaz, first Filipina to win the Miss Universe pageant. 1969.

While preparations are underway in the Philippines for the next Miss Universe, preparations are underway in North Korea on how to annihilate the universe.

What!?! How can we all be in the same solar system when some countries are completely out of this planet? I can’t believe the future leaves me with two options: Miss Venezuela winning the 2018 crown or the end of the world.

To survive, we’ve got one choice: world peace.

How? Let’s re-invent the Miss Universe beauty pageant, made up of the international ambassadors for world peace, and merge it with the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, which are the actual international ambassadors for world peace.

The synergies are there. Hear me out.

1) The Miss Universe competition is held in more than 190 countries worldwide. The UN General Assembly has 193 member states. It’s a merger of equals. In fact the new organisation will be a real beauty-and-brains outfit. Sometimes half and half.

2) The Miss Universe competition attracts an audience of half a billion people. The UN General Assembly? Five. Combining the two will give the UN a much bigger audience.

Besides, it’s been 65 years since Miss Universe first started and 72 years since the UN General Assembly had its first meeting.

We are wayyyy overdue for world peace.

3) UN speeches are so boring there needs to be some fabulous entertainment in between. Let’s throw a talent segment into the mix.

4) Raising funds for international aid and disaster recovery will be much easier. Nobody does fundraisings and sponsorship deals like beauty queens can.

Do you know how much those evening gowns cost?

5) On swimsuits. In the age of #fitspo, this segment is unnecessary. They all look stunning.

However, if it takes a two-piece to keep the planet in one piece, then I am happy to reconsider. Let’s keep the dialogue open.

6) On the Q&A segment. That scary moment when no words would come out of your mouth? When your brain goes haywire under the glare of the spotlight and you can’t think?

If the pageant is run like the UN, this problem will go away. The United Nations Q&As are so long we would have all blanked out before any of the candidates hit a mental blank.

7) Proximity breeds babies. By mixing beauty queens with brainiacs, we are boosting the gene pool and cutting costs on cosmetic surgeries.

Stop. It’s time for a commercial break.

I have a love-hate relationship with beauty pageants because my only claim to fame, the only celebrity I know who I’m remotely related to is … Gloria Diaz, yes, she who is the first Filipina to be crowned Miss Universe back in 1969. She won Miss Swimsuit, too.

Gloria’s dad is Jaime Baltazar Diaz. I’ve got Miss Universe in my blood! 😀

I found out my paternal grandfather is a first-degree cousin of Jaime Baltazar-Diaz, Gloria’s dad. Her entire family hails from La Union, Aringay in the Philippines, home of all the Baltazars I’m related to so, while she doesn’t know I exist, I’m still going to call her tita.

That is why when I see Instagram celeb and Philippine It Girl @isabelledaza’s IG feeds (Isabelle is Gloria’s daughter), I say to myself: “Looking fabulous, cuz!”

But I digress. Commercial break finished.

Finally, reason number eight: the most compelling reason to combine the two is so that we can finally retire this mean stereotype that beauty queens are a bunch of airheads.

Nothing like a nuclear warhead discussion to sharpen your intellect.

To conclude, putting the UN in Miss Universe will double our chances of managing the North Korea crisis and fast-track our route to world peace.

Think about that while I adjust my (tita Gloria’s) crown.

#Day7

Post-Script: I woke up this morning to news about the terrible tragedy that happened in Las Vegas. While the story broke yesterday, more information trickled in overnight that made me feel even more saddened and horrified. I have made it a rough rule of thumb not to react and post about every tragic news, if I can help it, on Facebook. There’s practically one everyday. If it’s not war, it’s famine. If it’s not about a natural disaster, it’s about terrorism. What to make of a world so connected that we find out about senseless human violence more than a human heart can absorb? Just because I don’t react immediately on Facebook doesn’t mean I don’t care, it’s because I choose to grieve privately.

I continue this exercise of writing a blog a day and I hope that you can understand that the topic I choose to write about might not necessarily be the same topic that occupies are collective minds on a day-to-day basis.

Day 6: Becoming Xander Ford

The face you are born with versus the face you choose. Welcome to a world where cosmetic surgery is the new norm. Photo source: Google

Xander Ford, the Filipino teenager who transformed his looks through facial surgery, is currently trending on Twitter. @iamxanderford, from bullying victim to bonafide internet sensation – but not before going under the knife first.

What Xander did is none of my business. We all have our own personal journey to take and it was the path that he took. Xander said his looks got in the way of a successful singing career and indeed, a month later – thanks, I presume, to a sponsored surgical operation – he has a shot at becoming a teen star.

While I’m not going to judge him, I am going to question to what extent society is responsible for the health risk he took to get to where he is today. His plight is again another example of the entertainment industry’s discrimination against looks. You could be the most talented person onstage but your star won’t shine as brightly as the person who is prettier or younger than you.

Getting stuff done is not unique to the Philippines. It’s the new normal.

But just because it’s accepted doesn’t make it okay. You really have to do your research. The same doctor who was part of the team behind Xander’s transformation was involved in a major cosmetic surgery only six months ago. It was reported that the then 29-year-old woman Shiryl Saturnino went to see him for a liposuction/butt surgery/breast augmentation. A few hours later, she died, while on the operating table. Going under the knife can be fatal.

Xander’s fate could have gone awry but his surgery was successful so instead look where he is: the toast of the town.

But for how long? And if he’s done the surgery as a teenager, does that mean he needs maintenance from now on?

There’s another Filipina actress who was rumoured to have had (another round of) surgery: Arci Munoz. She’s absolutely drop-dead gorgeous and I don’t see any reason why she needs to change. To her credit, she just shrugged off the negative comments.

Arci Munoz in a scene from the hit romcom “Always Be My Baby”.

The risk is that once you start, it’s hard to stop. You really need a good team around you and family support to keep you grounded. It’s hard to ignore this expectation – a very unrealistic one – that when you’re in front of the limelight, being beautiful is the bare minimum, you have to be perfect.

I am not against becoming a better version of yourself. Mentally, emotionally and physically – to realise your maximum potential is a good thing.

But I feel bad for entertainers, performers and anyone else whose success hinges on their looks. I can’t imagine what it’s like for Xander in his previous life as Marlou when he was being bullied because he was ugly.

Can I just say though that for the record, he is not ugly. Pre-op he looked like an average teen.  He may not look like George Clooney but even George Clooney didn’t look like George Clooney when he was young!

The choice of the name Xander is also interesting. It is close to Xian, the name of another actor who eerily has the same facial profile.

One of the famous actors in the Philippines, Xian Lim.

Xander Ford during the big reveal on TV with his mom.

Perhaps in a parallel universe he decided to stay as Marlou, abandoned his dreams to become a singer and instead studied, started his own business or chose another path.

What would his life be then? Have we just lost the next Steve Jobs or the next President? We will never, never know.

The lesson is this: the face we’re born with is no longer the face we need to live with. It is simply the starting point.

Is that a good thing? Maybe if we’re less obsessed with beauty then Xander wouldn’t feel the need to change and Shiryl wouldn’t be dead.

As a society, we can all try to be just a little bit kinder to each other.

Happiness is so elusive it would be a shame to withhold it from anyone simply because of their looks.

#Day6

Day 5: AFL Grand Final 2017

Source: Fox Sports News

I am treading on dangerous territory.

I am about to post about … the AFL.

If there is one thing I know very little about, it’s sport, in general, and in particular, the AFL. On a scale of 1-10, my knowledge on this topic is minus five.

But this weekend was the big AFL Grand Final and it would be a shame if I don’t write about it. Even if it means that this post will be very short.

All I can say is, “you beauty!” a massive congratulations to the Richmond Tigers! It was a long stretch – not since 1982 – and I don’t expect anything less than a Grand Celebration to mark the victory. It’s going to be a year-long party for the fans!

And I have never seen so many grown men weep.

Normally, churches are fully booked on weekends. But not this weekend. Only a brave bride will be so bold as to walk down the aisle on a Grand Final weekend (back-to-back with the NRL grand final).

Herein lies my confession of guilt. I don’t support any particular team, but I have a good reason: I have an obsessive personality and it doesn’t take a lot for me to develop an addiction. I just know that if I ever do decide to back a team, my heart will break with every loss. I’m not sure I can cope. I’m a bad sport when it comes to sport.

That said, I have always had a soft spot for the underdogs. Those who have coveted the trophy for so long and never quite got there. And the past few years have been the years of the underdogs, right? I consider myself one of their lucky charms 😀 Plus, I have commiserated or rejoiced, depending on the season, with fans of the Saints, the Swans, the Eagles and the Bulldogs (do you say “the” before?).

Arguably, choosing which team you support is one of the rites of passage for many Australian migrants. Forget birth, marriage or death: you know you are fully assimilated into the society the minute you have decided to commit, for better or for worse, to a particular AFL team. Or the NRL. But that’s another story.

If you thought Saturday at Punt Road was big, just wait until Sunday. The Tiger Army is set to pack the ground for Richmond’s Family Fun Day to see the premiers at 1PM. Source: Fox Sports Live

Last year, the NRL had its own fairytale dream come true with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks winning their maiden premiership after 50 years (naturally, I Googled this.) Here is the cheat sheet for the big day today: NRL Grand Final: What You Need to Know About Sunday’s Showdown.

But regardless of who goes home with the trophy this year, this long weekend is a fantastic time to appreciate what my adopted country has to offer: the simple things in life are free and it doesn’t discriminate on age, gender or social status.

Whether you’re a diehard fan or a casual observer, the hearty all-Australian embrace is all the same. Now, let’s get some beer.

#Day 5

Day 4: What To Do With Bookshelves

In honour of books that deserve a flat lay.

In the past, you can judge a person by the type of books they have on their bookshelves or the CDs stacked next to their CD player.

Today, you can’t tell. Bookshelves and CDs are a thing of the past. Reading habits and listening preferences are largely invisible thanks to e-books, Kindle, iPads, Spotify, YouTube and more.

I grew up on paperbooks and CDs and if I’m going to be honest, they are mostly just gathering dust and taking up space. Do I donate, throw or keep?

I’ve done it multiple times – we are talking boxes and boxes – books and CDs that I enjoyed but aren’t exactly worth revisiting at a later date. But I’m now down to my last two bookshelves – my favourites – and they are poised to become the victims of my latest attempt at decluttering.

I have a collection of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez books that are as precious to me as jewellery. Sometimes I’ll pick one up, flick through the pages and randomly read a paragraph or two. Bliss.

But then I look at my schedule these days and think, “Realistically, I really won’t have time to go through those books again. I still have books gifted to me or recommended to me that I haven’t even had the chance to read!”

That’s on top of books that I need to read for work. I have taken a particular shine on all things AI.

So I’m staring at all my bookshelves and CD stacks thinking ‘What should I do? What should I do?’ Do I allow myself a museum of sorts?  An alternate universe and time-space continuum based on keeping the physical manifestation of what I’ve read and what I’ve listened to before iTunes?

How can I show off how well-read I am if there’s not a shred of evidence!?!

Facebook profiles and Goodreads listings just don’t have the same effect for me.

What are the pros of keeping them? If I were to look at the next 30 years (assuming I live that long and more), I would probably only look at any one of those books maybe once or twice, if I’m lucky. As for the CDs, I can just about accept that they are on their way out. But not without a tinge of melancholy – because saying goodbye to them is like saying goodbye to a time and place that I enjoyed (So long, R&B hits of the 90s!).

I’d like to think that by ‘cleaning’ my physical hard drive of books and CDs, I will be making way to new learnings, new experiences and new music.

But that just makes me pause and think of the tomes of documents, music files, movie files and images on my phone, PC, ipad and laptop. Who can honestly say that they need more than 2 trillion bytes of memories (the size of an average 2TB hard drive)?

I’m thinking perhaps in my retirement and no one wants to hang out with me anymore, I can rummage through those 2TB of memories, paperbacks and CDs and immerse myself in the past.

Is my future as a 90-year-old so bleak I need to go back to the 90s?

In my mind’s eye, I see an exciting future. People travelling to outerspace, globetrotting is cheap as chips, there’s anti-ageing technology that allow people to stay healthier and younger for longer (yes, please) and … world peace. All those Miss Universe pageants weren’t for nought. The repetitive and subliminal messages worked! 😀

On a serious note, maybe someday I’ll get rid of my books. Maybe someday I’ll get rid of my CDs. But I’m going to give myself some leeway and say, that day is not today. Instead I just dusted off my decade-old copy of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and opened it randomly to page 348:

One afternoon, they hid her in a closet in the pantry where the rats could have eaten her. One Palm Sunday they went into the bedroom while Fernanda was in church and carried Ursula out by the neck and ankles.

“Poor great-great-grandmother,” Amaranta Ursula said. “She died of old age.”

Ursula was startled. “I’m alive!” she said.

“You can see,” Amaranta Ursula said, suppressing her laughter, “that she’s not even breathing.”

I’m talking!” Ursula shouted.

“She can’t even talk,” Aurelanio said. “She died like a little cricket.”

Ursula gave in to the evidence.

“My God,” she exclaimed in a low voice. “So this is what it’s like to be dead.”

#Day4

Day 3 of 30: Don’t Call Me Tita

600full-kung-fu-hustle-screenshot-lightThe word “‘tita” means ”auntie” in Filipino. It is a term of endearment and, more importantly, respect, in the Philippines (See “Filipino Family Kinship“).

I don’t have a problem with it until … it happened to me.

I’m at that age where I’m buying anything anti-ageing.

Calling me tita” is instantly-ageing.

If you must, you can call me “ate” (older sister). I can handle that: I might even like it.

To get on my good side, just call me by my Christian name: Angelina. (Oh wait, that’s someone else’s name.)

The point is, whatever you do, just don’t call me tita.

How do you know if you’ve become a tita? There are a couple of really funny and feel-good blogs about Tita-hood here and here: 17 Reasons Why Tita-hood is Gonna Be The Best Time of Your Life.

To me, it’s a brutal reality check. Marcus Rivera explained it this way:

“It is not about age. It’s about how you carry yourself as an older woman. If you’re skinny and fashionable, you’re called by your name or at worst, ate,” he said.

“If you are rotund (me), dress like a librarian (me) and look like you haven’t exercised for years (also me), you are a tita!”

So now I’m not just old. I’m also fat.

Whoever said they are ageing gracefully is lying. I want to be petulant forever. I want everyone to blame my youth when I don’t pay bills on time. I want to wear short skirts and stay up all night eating fried chicken.

landlady-doneBut while I’m here, I must apologise. I want to say sorry to all the women I have prematurely called tita and all the men I’ve prematurely called tito. None of you deserve the pain, which I now call my karma.

We can fix this. Here are my new rules:

Rule #1. Blood relations are exempt. If you are related to my mom or dad, calling you tita is genuinely a term of endearment. You know I love you, right? All this nonsense doesn’t apply if there’s an inheritance at stake.

Rule #2. If you’re reading this and I call you tita but you would rather I call you ate or by your first name, I will gladly do so.

Rule #3. If you want us to maintain the status quo, that’s fine by me, too.

Rule #4. If you’re reading this and you’ve called me tita in the past and we are NOT related or I didn’t specifically ask you to call me tita, just call me ate or by my first name.

Rule #5. If we are related and I am your auntie, proceed as normal. Your inheritance is at stake.

Now that’s out in the open, I feel so much better.

But wait, I think I still need some Xanax. My nephew’s daughter just called me … lola.


* Lola means “granny” in Filipino.

Photo credit: Google images of actress Qiu Yuen as the landlady in “Kung Fu Hustle”.