14 7 / 2014

I am fond not just of writing but specifically writing to my friends. Lately, I have been trying to compile my email exchanges with one of my mentors, Mr. Simon Mossesgeld, since the time that I was a graduating college student in 2006-2007. I promised to him that I will print them so we can all laugh at how I was about five to six years ago. I promised him this after telling him that I accidentally read one or two of our exchanges while looking for an old email recently. My emails revealed how clueless, anxious and hilarious I was as a kid a long time ago.

Then I saw this letter which I sent to one of my college friends Henry. This was in 2009. I was 22 and have been working in Manila as a young professional for almost three years. This was also months before I was going to do a solo Southeast Asian trip.

Some views have changed, I think mainly because I have grown and have had much more experience and learning. But it’s a good feeling to look back, see how far you’ve gone, laugh at many things and just be grateful.

—-

On Fri, May 15, 2009 at 11:49 AM

Hi Hens!

I just thought it has been a long time since we last went out with the group! I was answering your Fishing Trip questionnaire last night and I can’t seem to remember what my impression of you was. I think I just looked at all of you as competition. Yea, that was probably what I thought during that sunny afternoon at Silsillah.

Can you believe it, we’re finally done with college. I would never have imagined how this day would be like.

I’m stuck in the office right now, the weather’s greyish and I guess it’s drizzling. And I’m quite sure that it’s a bit hot and humid in Zamboanga; as warm and as bright as the friends and family that have been keeping you company, while I am imbued in the occasional gloominess of being left alone in Manila away from my family and dear friends such as MR, you and my best friend Marc.

I have often thought of going back there. But I have no idea on what to do if I’m going back. I know I have always wanted to get out, explore the world, that this is what I want and the way I saw myself but there are times like this that you wish you’re just there.

If I didn’t leave, I’d probably be teaching in Ateneo or working in a government office. Can you imagine? I think it’s a hilarious thought. But if you come to think about it it’s also insane that I work in a bank at present.

You know what I think? I think my parents are having a hard time because their son is not with them. As a family, we are not cheesy when we express our love and concern for each other. But I know that if the opportunities in Zamboanga are as vast and accessible as those here, my parents would have wanted me to stay. I must say that they were very selfless in understanding that I want something else. They have always been supportive and this causes more melancholy because I know how much they value me, my brother and our family.

Right now, I do not see myself being as sacrificing as my parents when it comes to the children I dream of having when the right time comes. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to let go of them and let them discover on their own how it is to be independent.

I remember my first month of job hunting. I wasn’t familiar yet with public transportation and the routes. It was exhausting to be travelling the entire day from one business district to another, from one company headquarters to another! And I know I looked like an applicant because of the folders and the transparent envelopes where I keep copies of my resume, 2x2 photographs and paper clips. I felt overly disappointed with GMA 7 because they have this transparent drop box for their applicants’ resumes that was placed beside the Wish ko Lang dropbox at the guardhouse. It was inappropriate to see people’s sacred 2x2 pictures and resumes scattered inside the box. My friend from AYLC and I just laughed over it.

Did I also mention that I applied for PAL as Flight Attendant and passed (Believe it or not, I did!)? But BPI’s offer was better at that time so I opted to be a Management Trainee.

Two years and a few months forward, I’m here, sending my thoughts to you.

I am truly blessed with a dependable and reliable team. Hell week for us is every end of the month. You know what I have learned as far as dealing with the clients is concerned? You just have to be very honest and direct about procedures, policies and things to be done. It helps to put yourself in the client’s shoes but you have to make sure that you also compel them to be in your shoes and look at things from your perspective. It becomes like a two-way thing and that’s where agreement usually emerges. I think the same thing applies in general, not just in Customer Servicing and Collections— two positions I have handled so far.

I remember Ma’am Yen, my Department Chair in college who said that in life, people who success are not often times those who are smartest, but those who have drive. And I agree Hens. But I’ve learned that you have to constantly feed this drive. If I’m too tired sometimes, the motivation wanes. When I go through this, I have to struggle with finding the lost motivation and get it back. I wonder if we’ll reach a point in our lives when we don’t have to do this, that the inspiration won’t be like a trapped pet, that when it sees an opportunity to escape, it would.

Something exciting is going to happen to me this end of August and first week of September and I hope to be able to tell you about it.

Until then.

Kenny

cc: Marc <missin’ Zambo like you man>

09 7 / 2014

I probably have about a dozen drafts for my write-up to this album. But none doesn’t feel right or seem accurate enough to describe what I saw and how I felt. The situation has improved though. From about 100 thousand internally displaced persons, the number is down to 25,550 individuals or 4,775 families as of June 30. 67% of these individuals and families are in the ‘Grandstand’ (Joaquin Enriquez Sports Complex). It is truly a gated, secluded community of harsh and desperate realities.

Like most of us, I am lucky. I am lucky to have not been born or exposed to extreme conditions like what the IDPs are going through. I am lucky to not have come from a marginalized group.  image

It could have been me. It could have been my family in one of those dilapidated tents or temporary shanties. It could have been me at the City Council building; enduring the scorching heat of the midday sun to queue for rice donations. I could have been that kid who, as usual, had no slippers or clothes while playing in a muddy, filthy street. I could have been one of those men asking for referral slips from Camp Managers so my sick family can be checked and attended at hospitals for free. I could have been that little boy, trying to make out of what paper and pencil are left to try to write or draw my thoughts. I could have been the one who was judged second class, mendicant, unproductive and hopeless. But I am lucky.

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I wish I was a Vanderbilt so I could be like Anderson. Then I’d have my own news program where I can talk about the plight of the IDPs. Or maybe a Bunuel, so I can be like Diego who will feature how everyday life is in Grandstand. A crazier wish is to be one of Bill and Melinda’s children, so I won’t have to worry about earning and saving but will focus instead on professional philanthropy or social service work. Even the chance of thinking or wishing about these is sheer luck. I could be thinking and wishing for something simple and practical but I am lucky to have been privileged with these kind of imagination.  image

Among the lucky ones, those I consider heroes are the young and determined social workers. They choose to work for more hours than they should be working. They chose to live in tents where beds do not have mattresses or rest rooms are not comfortable. They chose the challenges at the evacuation center, dealing with thousands of needy individuals, than to go home and spend time with their respective families after a day’s work.

Like most of you, I am lucky in terms of the lottery of birth. But there are many who are not. It helps set things in perspective when we realize that we could not have been this fortunate. That if not for luck, they could have been in our shoes.

02 7 / 2014

It was raining when the plane landed at half past seven in the evening. This was unexpected Zamboanga City has always had some sort of a Middle-eastern vibe in terms of the weather. More importantly, I did not bring clothes for the cold. 

As soon as I stepped out of the plane, there was something about the air that felt right. It was chilly, something that I am fond of. It didn’t smell anything as it gently brushed my face. It was pure. It was nostalgic. It felt that I was home. 

There was nothing much at the arrival area of the airport. The lavishly designed iron gates still reminded me that this was built during the Marcos regime. The red brick design was not only old, Spanish-Zamboanga, it also reminded me of the airport in Laoag, Ilocos. The airport’s character, though, lies in its Maranao-inspired roof design. This tells anyone who comes to Zamboanga that they have reached Southern Philippines.

While Zamboanga used to be the seat of Spanish government, the fact remains that it is located in the culturally rich and diverse island of Mindanao. The entire edifice is a metaphor for me. The pillars, bricks and exquisite gates are the migrant influences that support the magnificent series of triangular roofing which may have been inspired by the Torogans of the Maranao upper class. The mix was well thought of. It was a promising picture of great elements put together to create a masterpiece. 

As if to remind of the laid-back life that I awaits for the upcoming days, which is not a bad thing by the way, the same (or same-looking) set of conveyor belts brought back memories of flying back and forth to my hometown. I remember one time, it was also raining when it arrived. While waiting for our bags, we were informed that the conveyor was not working. All of our bags were still in the cart just outside the building and I can clearly see them on top of each other. Since the conveyor was just separated by an old wooden gate from the cart outside, the passengers rushed to the cart and every man was on his own. There was little assistance from the airport personnel, everyone grabbed their bags by themselves. 

That incident reminded me of two things. First, we are not yet as advanced and efficient as we think we are compared with other highly urbanized cities like Cebu and Davao. I can only imagine several factors involved why that incident happened. Second, Zamboanga, while a big city with one of the highest population in the country, is still that “small” town where people don’t demand much and would rather do things on their own then move on with their life.

Maybe because we are too far from imperial Manila or people just don’t care a lot about the Southern Philippines but this sort of neglect (I think the airport is a national issue under DOTC) has taught us to improvise and make the most out of the resources available.

Sure we dread the reality that our airport is not as polished and efficient like the one in Davao and we are vocal about it. But I guess for many Zamboangenos, the basic is enough. And this is something that I always tell myself whenever I go home, that basic is key and I’m going to survive. I like this reminder because it makes me realize that no matter where I’m at, where I am going or whatever crazy circumstances that I’m in, focusing on what’s most important and essential gives clarity. Then I’d find myself thinking and feeling that everything is actually not bad as it seems. 

  

02 7 / 2014

I have never been this excited about coming home. This is the first time that I am returning for a vacation since I decided to come back to Manila two years ago. Though I flew home a couple of times last year, the reason for both occasions was sad and tragic.

It’s also a conscious decision not to come back, at least for some time. I have a love-hate relationship with my hometown. I like that its laid-back. But I don’t like that it has been slow-paced, in so many aspects, for a very long time, Furthermore, almost all of my close friends are not in the city anymore. Like me, they have also decided to venture out. Some of them had not even come home for years. 

I decided to come home because it’s my mom’s 50th birthday. I think it’s a milestone and something that our family should be elated about. When we were talking last Christmas in Manila, I know my parents sensed that I seem to not have the intention of coming home. I am eternally the good son, or at least I want to be because it makes my parents happy, so I told them right there and then, without even thinking about it, that I’m coming home for her birthday.

It’s also just timely that I’m coming home months after the violent, month-long siege that paralyzed the city and wreaked havoc and fear among its residents. I am excited to see how are the evacuation centers now. I want to see for myself the conditions of those displaced and hopefully, I’ll be able to volunteer and do something even for a day. 

I also promised myself to come up with some sort of a photo-essay album about my hometown. A lot of friends in Manila and abroad are curious about Zamboanga and ask me about it often. But a lot of them are also cautious. I don’t blame them. So I will also take on the role of a field photojournalist in this trip. 

Stay tuned! 

02 7 / 2014

Today I join the bandwagon of domestic migrants who bring home, literally, boxes of J.Co donuts. 

At first, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to bring home diabetes-inducing and ultra expensive donuts. But among other things, J.Co is also fancy and it’s a fad these days. I haven’t seen its Greenbelt branch without any queue, anytime of the day, since it opened. 

It’s a hit in Manila. J.Co is also presently located in highly urbanized commercial business districts like Makati (Greenbelt & Glorietta), Quezon City (Trinoma, SM North and Eastwood), Manila (Mall of Asia) and strategically in the busiest and biggest of malls like SM Megamall. In places like this, residents can easily afford even if it’s Php 42.00 a piece (about US$ 1). These residents, the middle class, not only happen to be the  largest group in terms of income bracket but also the biggest group in the economic strata who are online most of the time. The Philippines is one of the most instagrammed countries, so J.Co also gets free advertising on various social networking sites. In fact, J.Co does not need to advertise. Filipinos do it for them. Because normally in the Philippines, if it’s something from abroad and it’s expensive, it must be better. 

I have been thinking of what to bring home. Sad to say I don’t have a lot of time to go to the mall and shop something for each member of the family— at least not anymore. A long time ago, when Goldilocks was not yet in our hometown, my mom would request its polvoron whenever I’d come back from Manila. I figured that  maybe this time, I have to succumb to what everybody else is doing, bring home the unofficial must-bring-home from Metro Manila. To be fair with my mom, she didn’t ask for it. In fact nobody from the family did. They have seen its branches in Manila and seem to be not interested. My mom’s diabetic so she controls her sugar intake. My dad doesn’t like anything impractical. My brother doesn’t care. I don’t like it as well. But maybe our cousins like them. Or they also don’t care. Still, I got a dozen and felt like a walking advertisement.

After the last scan at the airport before going to my gate, a lady  bravely approached and greeted me and asked, “Where did you get your donuts?” As a transient brand ambassador, I should have recorded this moment so I can ask for free J.Co later!

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