Sunday, February 12, 2017

Small things

It's an x-shaped kibble, one of hundreds in a small bag of cat food, except that this particular one was seen being carried away by a cockroach from the food bowl. Hefting the comparatively heavy loot, the insect was quite agile, its six legs deftly scurrying on its escape route on the floor, while the mouth maintained its captivity of the prize.

I'm guessing that the thieving cockroach, in spite of its designation, is a female, violating its nocturnal nature to search for food for the little cockies that have recently emerged from their eggshells. And she has stumbled upon a small mountain of delectable treats heaped on a stainless bowl. Then she snatched one x, skittered down, and ran its erratic course.

Big Boy, a Ragdoll-Shorthair mixed breed, stopped licking his feet when his ears picked up pitter-pattter of small feet, his eyes followed the imaginary dotted line which was quickly lengthening away from his food bowl. He pounced, but the fur kept his paw from reaching the maverick mom, whose path had suddenly become wobbly and tottering. Still, at the risk of life and limb, she struggled to keep her loot. Only after several near-misses did she ditch the kibble and wedged herself into a crack in the closet.

One may ask, how do you determine the gender of a cockroach? And, does it not seem incongruous to give a female such a name as cockroach? After all, have not the Post Office mended its sexist attitude and, beginning in 2005 and as seen this year of our Lord 2017, revised the Year of the Cock to focus on the delicate Rooster instead. In this enlightened time, it does not matter if the rooster is tough meat or gay as a hen: a fowl with any other name, well, he has a nom de plume. And, for that matter, how do you think a male ladybug would feel if it understood human words? A male species of Dalagang Bukid should be afforded an extenuating excuse if once in a while it ran amuck under the sea bed.

As to the question of gender determination, Sherlock Holmes had observed that any species unencumbered by offspring to feed, will gallivant for days, eating where it finds itself hungry, and leaving leftovers behind. And that cockcroach mom, the one who got away from the cat, was not eating the food she had hijacked: she had intended to bring it to the her little ones. But Big Boy intervened, and a family went hungry for the day, like hundreds of thousands of human family.

That despairing cockroach mom is, as a US dollar will remark, "E pluribus unum" -- Out of many, one. I used to take umbrage at the fact that George Washington should be assigned to the lowest denomination of the currency of a nation that was once great but is now occupied by babbling idiots led by one Donald Trump. Same thing with Rizal, who used to reside in the one peso banknote, until that paper money was done away with, in favor of a coin which kept getting tinny and tiny with every passing generation. Then I learned that common sense is counter-intuitive: What seems bad is really good, if people can only hurdle over their -- what's that alternative term for human nature? -- moronic notions. One dollar or one peso is the lowest denomination, therefore it is the denomination most people can afford, therefore it is the most familiar currency at hand. Go lower or higher and the people behind those currencies get harder to know. One centavo, when it existed in the 1970s (or was it 1980s?), was Tandang Sora, made of material that made it float on water. Then was it Lapu-Lapu on the tiny square coin? Name the three people in the P1,000 bill, and even if you get the names right you most probably doesn't know why they are there. And even if you do, so what? This is about kibbles and roaches (and Big Boy); Quijano de Manila's "Small Beers"; Hawking's Big Bang, which requires you to understand microscopic units so that you may understand the existence of huge nebulae billions of light-years high, and as far; and e.e. cummings' poem about someone with small hands, which nobody, not even the rain, can have. I just hope Cummings meant that that someone was a woman. I dropped all of Shakespeare's sonnets after I read somewhere that they were all written with another man in his mind. Somehow my small mind cannot accommodate the huge talent behind those universal verses anymore. Henceforth I confine myself to x-rated kibbles.

Big Boy, the cockroach-chaser

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Remembering father

Bought this at a Book Sale branch for the stupefying price of P35, cheaper than a pack of Poland hopia. Here I learned that the Japanese invasion of China was much earlier than I thought, which explains my father's immigration to the Philippines, and my subsequent appearance in this world. If not for the beastly Japanese colonizers and murderers, I and my siblings would not be here at all?

David Kwan's description of events in a vicious time, in a country controlled by the corrupt General Chiang Kai Shek, might explain why those who had fled preferred the rebel Mao Tse Tung. In 1975, Mao's chubby visage in large posters proliferated in Chinese book stores in Binondo, shortly after Marcos initiated diplomatic ties with the Red republic. I was then studying in Chiang Kai Shek High School, and learning from Barbara Tuchman's "Stilwell and the American Experience in China" how the general and his profligate wife pocketed millions of American dollars, sent for the purpose of defeating the communist rebels and maintaining Chiang's unwieldy but amenable regime. Much later, Marcos and Imelda would outstrip the Chiang couple in stealing American dollars. It was truly an educational time: There were treasures everywhere!

Maybe the old people who could have appreciated Kwan's narrative are already gone, and the new generation doesn't have the capacity to relate to a time blown to dust, leaving such a book to me, a leaf wobbling in the wind. One thing not to be forgotten was my father's gentle disposition with animals: We always had a lot of dogs and, in hindsight, they were part of the family setting. What my brother, sisters and I never saw was the cow which had been my father's companion, helper and friend way back in a peasant's farm in China. Maybe there was barely anything good to recall in my father's youth, so there was no story of his days in China; but one distinct fact was impressed upon me early on -- my father never ate beef.

Is this about me and my father? Perhaps. Because David Kwan's book is mainly about him and his father, in a backdrop harsh but distant now. And for P35, it can be about any boy remembering his father.

In happier times in Angeles City, father with one of the dogs, and fresh paint

Monday, January 23, 2017


Jojo, September 2016
Saan ka man ngayon, harinawa'y naghahabi ka pa rin ng mga nakakaaliw na mga kuwento tungkol sa iyong girlfriend forever, tungkol sa kagitingan mo bilang hari ng tahanan (Alas siyempre ang gff) -- malikhaing kusinero, dalubhasa sa paghiwalay ng puti sa may kulay na lalabhan, masigasig sa pagpalit ng diaper nang sanggol: kaibigang tunay ng rice cooker at washing machine (o kalan man at batya) at magiliw na lolo sa apong kasalo sa mga laruan.

Sa Gibson na gawa ng Lumanog o mas abang pinsan na gitara, di man plakado ang mga chords mo sa Beatles hanep naman ang hataw mo sa lyrics. Hamak na mas bata tayo nung mula sa kulo ng utak ay napipiga ang anu-anong kathang-isip na naging laman ng People's Tonight. Di ba masaya tayo kahit hindi bottomless ang ating suweldo? Itinatabig ng pagkalulong sa paglikha ng hugot-lines at kuwentong kenkoy ang katotohanang lagi tayong sawi sa pera. Paglipas ng dalawampung taon makita kang naghahabi sa FB ng ilang vignette tungkol kay Nette, si girlfriend forever, kumander ng iyong puso. Panday ka pa rin ng mga nakakatuwa at kakatwang salaysay. Higit sa lahat, ipinakita mong masaya at marangal ang buhay hangga't alam mong kalikutin ang mga alphabets at maghasik ng katatawanan, palitan ang lyrics ng isang awit para maisingit mo ang initials ng pangalan ng lovey-dovey mo, at ipaalam sa amin ni pareng Abner na naiintindihan mo ang pagsubok na ginagapang ng mga naglalakas-loob magsulat.

Nauna ka lang sa amin, at magkita tayong muli. Harinawa.

Monday, January 9, 2017


2017 bewilders me. After searching YouTube in vain last month to watch About a Boy, here it is now in HBO, undistorted and unsegmented, the story of the boy after whom this photogenic tyke, my grandson, is named -- Marcus. The movie was first released in 2002, and what chance is there of HBO choosing to run it after more than 14 years, just as I take a break from my task this afternoon? Sometimes it's no use getting deeper into circumstances beyond my ken: So I just sit back and partake of what this crazy and wonderful existence bestows in blessing. Thank you.

Silver: Loveable Sleepyhead

Sometimes I do not plan to write anything at all, or I want to write but I don't have anything interesting at hand, so I read instead. Then I have to answer a phone call and I put the book face down so as not to lose my place. After the conversation I go back and I find Silver asleep, my book her cozy pillow. This time my iPad is not under the book, so I take this picture, and write this down. The only sound in the room is the click of the keyboard for each letter and punctuation I tap as I record this quiet moment, and the soft hum of the electric fan.

I have figured out that I can read any other time and I'd rather have Silver near me, asleep on my book, or perched on my stomach. We have known each other since she was a wee, undersized kitten, born prematurely, smaller than my hand. She's a mixed breed, but I'll lean on her love, loyalty and gratefulness than trust the majority of my own species. That's one of the hard truths I got from reading books. True love and peace of mind, I get from cats like Silver.

Wee Silver


This cyberphoto is one in a series taken a few years ago. When we were looking at the results we had to smile along when we came upon this unexpected gem -- pure delight, unfeigned happiness, a smile to brighten the day, a reminder that the world can't be all bad when a kitten can knock the anxiety off your heart. Lovely.


Some days are more stressful than others, and I look back to the days of happiness unadulterated with troubles, and I realize that those blissful days are the privilege of youth and its concomitant ignorance, and arrogance. The needs of youth -- shelter, sustenance, and responsibilities -- are shouldered by parents and, if luck shines, by kindly grandmas too. Then we grow up and we fend for ourselves, and inevitably we have to deal with other people, all carrying burdens and fighting innner battles as we do. That's why the smiles of grownups rarely reflect in their eyes.

And there are days so distressful we feel like bending on our knees (and shouting, but we silence our personal turmoil and tune down the desperation), and we see multitudes beseeching the gods of fortune, the saints, the stars, the cards, tea leaves, and the zodiacs -- to give us our daily bread, to cure our illnesses, to vanquish our foes (who are asking for the same thing), to ease our business problems, to mitigate our dread so we can rise up every day without shrinking and trembling at what lies ahead.

A case in point: I started work this morning and found out that not all functions of my eBay link are working -- I cannot reply to a client's question, the link with my email is gone, I cannot post new listings, and I don't know if the problem is temporary. Then I remitted a payment by Paypal, and this triggered a note requiring me to verify my identity, as required by this country, and send a jpeg photo of either my driver's licence, government ID, or passport; I tried to comply but the cyber form provided would not respond. I washed my face and was locked in the bathroom, because the doorknob chose that moment to declare it's disobedience. Smothered by a doomsday feeling I decided to hide in our bedroom: I was cleaning my ear and the cotton bud said my right ear, from now until further notice, was blocked from high fidelity sounds. I replied, "Eh?!"

I found out loooong before this day, this 9th of January 2017, that in time of deep doodoo -- Mt. Pinatubo closing down my bookstore in Pampanga, three heart attacks, a stroke, loss of beloved parents and friends, massive lifestyle downgrade -- I become very calm, I can think my way out, and, if I fail to get out, I'm ready to accept my fate. It's a grand thing to find out that I have been tested and not found wanting. But I was much younger then and not so reliant upon the intelligence, competence, and honesty of others. It's this reliance on other people doing right, and their failure to do so, that bring so much wealth to the manufacturers of Prozac, Zoloft, and other antidepressants. Every night I hope and pray, this li'l pill may sleep bring my way...

Maybe this stressful setup explains the hermits hiding in caves, rock stars shooting denials up their veins, our crazy president deluding himself that death is the cure for those who can't competently cope with the travails of life and had to drown their fears with drugs. All, in one way or another, is a turning away from the pressure of humanity. I have encountered that pressure many times, and there were times that I cowered, suffered panic attacks, only to be saved by a few good souls, and the innate resilience we all have. Surviving the stroke that disabled and scared me, I finally got over my confusion when I decided that I'd rather die than live cowering in fear. Without self-respect, how can we extend respect towards others?

Still, there are times when I look at cats and wonder if it's worth becoming a cat in order to acquire their good nature, serenity, and peace of mind. Cats purr in content with a few loving strokes and tickles on the chin; they sleep a lot -- like Silver now -- tummy up and legs in full stretch; throw a ping pong ball and cats will chase it around the room until they pant. Ok, they are not immortalized by books they cannot write; by masterpieces they cannot paint, sculpt or erect; by wealth they cannot amass through enterprise or plunder; they have none of the deference extended to high office or exalted birth, but to how many of us humans can any of these distinctions apply? It's the journey through life that counts, doesn't it? Not the conveyance (being a cat or being human) nor even the destination. "Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another," said Pope Francis in his 2005 encyclical, Laudato si', an ancient phrase which means "Praise be to you."

Through all our fears, may we earn that praise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas stamps of the Philippines

Philippines' first Christmas postage stamps
Above is the first set of Christmas stamps printed in 1967 to be used as legitimate postage, unlike the TB seals, which were first printed in 1946 and continue to be sold to date as charity labels with no actual postal function, with option to affix along with the recognized postage issues. The 1967 Christmas postage set were printed in Japan for the Philippine Bureau of Posts (now Philpost or Philippine Postal Corporation). Ten million of the 10-centavo values and five million of the 40-centavo values were delivered to the Bureau of Posts and were released starting December 1. The huge quantity makes the set affordable to today's collectors. Dealers sell the mint stamps for P75 -- relatively cheap for a 49 years old set.

The 10-centavo Christmas postage stamp was used for local mail in 1967; as a young student I got some used issues, soaked off the envelopes of letters. It was many years later that I saw and fell in love with the blue 40-centavo issue, not knowing the existence of such a bright partner to the so-familiar 10-centavo nativity scene. Lovely is the concept of Mary in saya carrying the haloed Jesus, and Joseph in barong holding a stalk of sugar cane, probably acquired in the field leading to Mt. Mayon, lighted by a star shining brightly. Completing the scene is the carabao, replacing the western donkey. I learned that 40 centavos was the air mail rate, and, receiving no mail from abroad, I did not get to see it until my allowance was increased to start my collection of Republic stamps.

1968 Christmas caroling set
The caroling set was released on 1968 December 16. Then, for some reasons, no Christmas postage were printed in 1968-1971. The next set was the Lantern-making set of 1972 (December 14), which showed people indoors because a curfew was imposed after the Dictator Marcos placed the entire country under Military Rule.

1972 set

 Then there were no Christmas stamps again in 1973-1975. The solemnity of the midnight mass set in 1976 set, however, made up for the three-year dearth. This was followed by another caroling set in 1977. And the post office issued no Yuletide stamps in 1978; 1979 gave us a miserable pair, followed by a pedestrian single in 1980.

1976 set
                                1977 set
1979 set
1980 Christmas Tree single and FDC
1980 and 1981 surcharges of 1979 set
 Also a 1979 issue was surcharged in 1980, and the other was surcharged for 1981. Then followed the issues 1982 to 2016.
                                 1982 Santa in Barong set
                             1983 Lechon strip set with first Christmas S/S
                                   1984 se-tenant set
                             1985 set
        1986 set

1987 set

1988 set

1989 set

1990 set
 1991 set

1992 set

1993 set

1994 set
1995 set
1996 set
 1997 set

1998 set

1999 set
2000 set

 2001 set 

2002 set

2003 set 

2004 set 

2005 set 

2006 set

2007 set

2008 set

2009 set

2010 set

2011 set

2012 set

2013 set

2014 set

2015 set

2016 set