Fish ‘n’ Chips on the Bicol Express

by Nina Torceliono-Iszatt

When asked how my stay in the Philippines is, I’m so often at a loss as how to answer. I have so very much to say yet how I am unable to articulate something that is so intrinsically part of me. At times enlightened clarity, at others plain confusion. Prior to my arrival eight months ago, I wasn’t even aware I had this craving. This need to know. Me and the Philippines. Me in the Philippines. I intended it to be a ‘year out’ but it’s become far too involved for that. What does it really mean?

I am a 25-year-old half-Filipina (on my mother’s side) and for 24 years I’ve lived in England. I’m very British daw . And it’s true. I’ve inherited the one racial prejudice acceptable to all British (including those on the left…or should that be especially those on the left?). A healthy dislike of all things American. My nationality is as confusing to Filipinos (they don’t understand my aversion to being called FilAm) as my accent.

I am very British. But I’m slowly discovering I have Filipino feelings too. I didn’t know they would be this big. Or taste so good. These untouchable nameless feelings I’m experiencing. Every day. And they’re so very fluid.

Some days it’s about my mother. Well, principally it’s about her. Who she was, how she became who she is, the role of culture and upbringing in becoming. And us. Mother and daughter, the original entrée to the therapist’s couch. We rarely saw eye-to-eye and I often thought the things she said were irrational or overstated. I could never quite understand where she was coming from. Not that I knew this was the problem, I just became teenage and irritated instead. Communication would readily be reduced to altercation. Now I’m in the Philippines our affinity is transforming, becoming enriched. Everyday more of her life is revealed to me, living here brings me closer to understanding. This is why I feel a special tie with Catanduanes, my Bicol home: it’s where she grew up.

How can I explain that thing I have when I travel to Catanduanes? This sense of excitement that unapologetically floods my feelings just before I reach our barangay. "I’m coming home" my elated heart screams. I only know it’s paralleled in the sadness that comes over me every time I leave. Early one morning I left for the airport, one of my lolos taking me by motorbike. (That’s another thing – I never had so many lolos in my life!) Riding along the damaged semi-concrete road, verdant mountains rising on our left, I was surprised to find the gentle drizzle in my face blending effortlessly with tears of both sadness and joy at the beauty of it all.

In Catanduanes I also found Bebo, who was my boyfriend when we visited when I was 11. It’s been so hard to find the vocabulary to explain to my childhood sweetheart how important a part of my discovery he is. Siyempre, there are all sorts of expectations, especially as our mothers were best friends when they were young. Imagine just how many people would love for us to get married – except my parents of course who think I’m far too young. This is diametrically opposed to popular Filipino thought that states my age is ‘tama’ for marriage!

I have had to explain that actually, it’s his friendship that’s most important to me. Sometimes I imagine how my life would have been if I’d grown up in Lictin (our barangay), like my mum. Would I be more like her? Travel the world? Or be married for life with three children of my own to forge intricate relationships with? I indulge myself and believe that Bebo growing up there allows me an insight into the kind of experiences that I might have had. His friends would have been mine, his adventures part of my own.

Sometimes it hits me when I’m hanging out with members of my very large extended family, drinking cheap gin. Barangay Ginebra – taga rito ka! (I always fantasise this line in the advertisements was written just for me). Whilst making kuwentohan in faltering Tagalog (I’ll save learning Bicol for next year!) I feel infinitely happy and part of something. However, they still can’t understand my reluctance to get up and sing or play guitar at the drop-of-a-hat. I’m not fully Filipina (and for the record I have neither intention nor desire of going into show business!)

Occasionally when I’m sitting quietly with my Lola who has Parkinson’s disease, we exchange smiles which convey more than we could in words (not only because of the language barrier) and I’m struck with some intangible realisation. I don’t know quite what it is, just that it happens.

Despite my delight in my Filipino family, I don’t live with them but rent a room by myself. When I first arrived I was sharing a room, and a bed , with 2 small cousins, one of whom practiced comedy tossing and turning before promptly wetting the bed on my first of many jet-lagged nights. I wasn’t allowed to travel alone and always had to await an escort. The well-meaning overprotection of my family pushed me towards a state of mind I was not yet familiar with. After three weeks I declared that I was moving out. The response? Pause… quiet … "We’ll discuss it when your mum arrives". No! We won’t! I’m just informing you! I’ve grown up independently in an individualistic society (never mind that I’ve lived away from home, in London, for 6 years!) I learned early on that I’m not ready for Filipino families just yet!

Sometimes I just love the openness and all encompassing Filipino community. People really look out for each other, helping out in difficult times. But other times, I’m so British, I don’t want kasama, I want space! I’m desperate for some privacy. Here a secret shared isÉa secret shared talaga.

A further confusion arises when I’m treated preferentially on account of being medio maputi – yet I don’t possess the self-confidence that should accompany it because my experience was growing up as a minority and knowing it. Even if racism isn’t always explicit. The understanding that a seemingly neutral comment is inherently racist partially formed my feelings of self-worth. And people here cannot understand how that could be, growing up in a racial minority where nothing is black and white (How to explain what it means to me when the same boys who would tease my brother on account of our colour would have a crush on me? Or how to explain the racism of the middle classes in which you’re okay because you are not one of them, those other foreigners?)

So then it’s even more bewildering to come to the place where my colour is rooted only to discover a different type of racism. I had always grown up feeling a spontaneous solidarity with people of colour. In our differences we are the same. Yet here there exists a strong and open racism especially in reference to the Chinese. If I pause to think for a moment I know it is no different in other countries but I just didn’t expect that to be the case. In fact issues of race are not broadly recognised, although colour certainly is. Skin whitening creams? "Be careful Nina," I have been warned, "you’re getting dark now it’s summer". But I’ve learned to love my colour now! Why would I want to be a pale imitation of myself?

How I loved it when my English girlfriends visited and embraced me with those monumental words "Nina, you’re so Filipino now". And how I loved it even more that their presence reminded me how British I am too. Whilst my accent deteriorated to an incomprehensibly broad British accent (Essex for those who know!), the longer I was with them the more Tagalog I spoke. Instead of relying on my Filipino friends, ako na lang . We were on my ‘home turf’. They had known me in my old life and understood this is equally my home. They disclosed that it was equally important for them too, to be able to see the Filipina version of Nina. Complete with her family in Catanduanes.

How to sum up? It’s all these things and more. It’s rainy season and each typhoon brings with it something new. I am always learning. I am now applying for citizenship (akala ko, staying here for one year would be long enough), and wonder how it will be for my sister who is not automatically able to because my mum was naturalised before she was born.

Today I received an email from a Filipina friend who is visiting her mother and half (English) sister in London. She told me she wished I was there so I could show her my London, where I lived, worked and thought. Then a huge part of me missed London so very badly. But I still smiled inside as I replied. Because it’s a little like my reply when I’m asked, "Sweet or savoury?" Sometimes I’m more sweet, others, savoury but mostly I prefer both. I just like food. I’m British and I’m Filipina. And I love the way that tastes.

 

[Note: This article used to be on Filipino Youth Network in Europe’s (FYNE)
website (http://www.home.zonnet.nl/fyneeurope/page11.html). The page
isn’t there anymore but we managed to retrieve it from google’s cache.
It seemed a shame to lose it!]

How to Construct an Interview

Compiled by Carmelo Macasaddu

There are six basic steps to enable you to structure a professional and thorough interview:

  • Preparation
  • First Impression
  • Questions and Answers
  • Summary
  • Close
  • Follow-up

 

1. PREPARATION – BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

As any professional sales person knows, the preparation before a meeting with a prospective buyer (this case, with a prospective employer) is an essential requirement. Preparation paves the way for a professional performance. You can prepare for an interview by following three basic steps:

(a)Research your company thoroughly by whatever means possible.

Suggested methods are through the prospective employer himself, or at least his company. Contact them and ask for their product literature and company background information. If there is a local branch, call in, speak to the people and ask for the information you feel would be necessary.

If an agency has organised your interview, pick the agency’s brains for whatever information they can provide.

You must try to create as clear a picture as possible about the company that you are approaching, the products they sell, the markets they deal with and as much as you can about the particular job for which you are applying. Not only will this enable you to more fully participate in the interview with your prospective employer, but, if nothing else, it will help you to decide whether you are interested in the company and the job.

(b)Prepare a list of questions you would like to ask the prospective employer.

During the interview you are under pressure trying hard to please and to impress. Quite frequently this has a counter-productive result. What generally happens is that your mind goes blank and you remember all the questions that you want to ask as you are about to leave the interview or, indeed, after you have left.

A list of suggested questions are enclosed. The reason you need the questions is to ensure that by the time you have left the interview, you understand as much about the job and about the company as a prospective employer has found out about you. This should equip you to make an objective decision at the end of the interview session.

It also prevents those awful pregnant pauses when the interviewer says "and do you have any questions?" and you cannot answer. An interview should be a two-way process.

(c)Prepare a list of your selling benefits.

In order to do this, ask yourself one basic question – "Why should that employer offer me that job?", then write down all the reasons.

If you have been thorough in your questioning of the prospective employer then you will have a good idea of what he is looking for. You can then match your own capabilities, experience and ambitions against his criteria.

Examples:

* "I have worked extensively with these development tools."

* "I have the right qualifications."

* "Although I do not have the full experience that you are looking for, I most certainly have ambition and the determination to succeed, together with a willingness to work hard in order to achieve this."

* "Although I have not supported your application, I have supported similar products to exactly the same market."

When listing out your selling benefits also bear in mind if you have what we call in the trade a ‘glory file’, i.e. any written documentation or league tables or memos from your boss that say "what a wonderful guy you are and how well you undertook you duties" – make sure that you take that with you. It saves a lot of unnecessary time in the question and answer session and proves you can do what you say. Written documentation actually proves this and enables you to move to a more constructive area in the interview.

Having completed these three basic steps of preparation, at least you are going to your interview with confidence, knowing that you are as fully equipped as you possibly can be to participate in the interview. Make no mistake – your prospective employer will be impressed that at least you have tried and, if you try half as hard with his customers then you will be creating the right professional image and impression that his company is trying to achieve.

 

2. STRUCTURE OF INTERVIEW

First Impression

It is imperative that you create the right first impression. No matter how well trained or experienced the interviewer it has been proved that "subjectivity rules". People often form an opinion of you, and decide whether to offer the job to you, within the first four minutes of your interview.

Perhaps the following guidelines will help.

(a) GOLDEN RULE – ARRIVE ON TIME or preferably early.

(b) In most cases you will have to complete an application form so leave yourself enough time to do this comfortably and still be able to commence your interview on time.

(c) Always take a CV with you as it helps prevent having to sit there scratching your head trying to remember dates, etc. See attached addendum for completing application forms.

(d) Appearance – clean, smart and unfussy. The days of loud suits and loud ties are gone. The professional image of blue suit and white shirt is usually preferred. If you look good, you will feel confident too.

(e) When you meet your prospective employer try and introduce yourself first if at all possible; it slightly gives you the upper-hand.

"Hello, I’m Joe Bloggs, you must be Mike Stafford". Firm handshake and good eye contact.

(f) Look the man in the eyes as there is nothing worse than having a shifty expression and not being able to look at him – it destroys credibility! Would you buy something from someone who could not look you in the eyes? He is in the market to buy you.

(g) Please, no complaints about "traffic jams", "the previous appointment that dragged on" or anything else. A fresh, strong, positive approach is best.

(h) Do not smoke on interview, even if they do or offer.

 

3. QUESTIONS and ANSWERS

This part of the interview is purely to enable your employer to find out exactly what he wants to know about you, i.e. are you the right man for the job?

It should also be used from your point of view to try and find out as much as you can about the job and the company.

Now you are in the hot seat and this is where the list of questions, you previously prepared, will prove to be invaluable.

(a) Think of the ‘question/answer game’ as being, every time the employer asks you a question and you give a good response, you get a plus point. Every time he gets a negative response, you get a minus point. The more plus points you get, the closer you are to getting the job.

Try to turn your negative points into positive. For example, if he says "Well you have never developed using these languages before" your response should be "No, I haven’t but there is no reason why I can’t. I couldn’t use the tools I am using now until I joined my present company. I learned about it and I am now selling it very successfully"

What you have done in that instance is change the negative point of not being able to use his languages into a positive one in his mind, i.e. no reason why he shouldn’t train you to use his equipment too.

(b) Listen to the questions carefully.

If possible try and work out why the man is asking you the question. For example, "You’ve not been there very long and you weren’t very long in your last job". Is he actually trying to find out whether you are the sort of person who keeps changing jobs very rapidly before having had a chance to prove yourself. Perhaps he wants confirmation that, if he gave you the job, you would not leave him in an equally short time.

A possible response is "No, I wasn’t there very long but I did have good reasons for leaving. However, I don’t like changing jobs frequently and that is why it is very important that the next decision I make is the right one. I want to stay with the next company I join and progress through their organisation without having to leave and join another company to gain a promotion".

Make sure you have refreshed your Technical ability and experience, again do your homework!

(c) Answer the questions specifically and without waffling.

Once you have answered his question, if he wants more information, he will ask for it. When he asks you a question like "What exactly do you do in your current company?" he does not want to hear "Well, I was born at a very early age…." and half an hour later he has your whole life story, but not the answer to his question. Too much detail is boring!

(d) Be honest with him – if you can’t do something, there is no point in telling him that you can.

(e) NEVER answer with ‘I don’t know’. If in doubt, ask to think about it and ask if you can get back to them via your Consultant later.

(f) Although you are bound to read in most advertisements that ‘experience would be desirable’, ENTHUSIASM also counts for a lot in an interview.

If you are enthusiastic, willing to learn and, above all, willing to work hard, those messages must come across in your interview. This should satisfy the man that you are the type of person he would like to have within his company and within his team.

(g) If you don’t understand the question then check it.

(h) Remember, not all employers are trained to interview. It is as much your responsibility to make sure that he has enough correct information about you, as it is his responsibility to extract from you that information.

(i) NEVER BE NEGATIVE ABOUT YOUR CURRENT JOB – SELL THE POSITIVE POINTS ABOUT THE NEW ONE – exciting company – industry – product. Career progression – development – opportunities. Different and exciting style.

(j) Try to show some positive factors about your personality. Smile, be friendly, professional.

(k) Stress that the next position is important to you because you intend staying a long time.

(l) Never give the impression you are on too many interviews, only a select few.

(m) Tell them when you are next available for interview, or can start employment. Ask if you can see where you would be working, meet other members of staff where possible.

(n) If on a long notice period, say you will see if you can negotiate it.

(o) Take any good references you may have with you. This saves time and leaves a good impression – you are prepared and serious and not just "Window Shopping".

(p) Lastly, ask if there is anything that you think of after the interview, can you get back to them via your Consultant or call direct?

(q) At the end of the interview, do ask some questions, even if they have covered everything, at least go over some points already discussed.

 

SUGGESTED QUESTIONS TO ASK AT INTERVIEW

     

  1. What is your company turnover?
  2.  

     

  3. How many employees are there in total in the company?How many employees are there in total in the company?
  4.  

     

  5. Can you draw me an organisation chart and show me where I fit in?
  6.  

     

  7. What development environment do you use?
  8.  

     

  9. What platforms are you likely to develop upon?
  10.  

     

  11. Why do people enjoy working for your company?
  12.  

     

  13. Who are your main competitors?
  14.  

     

  15. What sort of markets do you sell to?
  16.  

     

  17. Can I see some company literature or do you have a demo room where I can have a look at the equipment/product?
  18.  

     

  19. How may calls per day do you expect?
  20.  

     

  21. Give me an understanding of the skill necessary?
  22.  

     

  23. What percentage of the market do you hold?
  24.  

     

  25. What sort of marketing support do you offer to the sales force? i.e. how many national exhibitions per year? Mailshots or generally anything that creates leads?
  26.  

     

  27. How much technical support do you provide to your customers?
  28.  

     

  29. What is your average service down-time response?
  30.  

     

  31. What sort of the training facilities do you have. For your own staff? For customers?
  32.  

     

  33. How long does training take and what does it involve?
  34.  

     

  35. How realistic are the promotion prospects?
  36.  

     

  37. Is there a planned career development path?
  38.  

     

  39. What are the parameters of the product I will be supporting?
  40.  

     

  41. Why has this vacancy arisen?
  42.  

     

  43. To whom would I be reporting?
  44.  

     

  45. What are your plans for product development in the future? New markets?/industries?/diversification?
  46.  

     

  47. How much investment does your company make towards R&D to ensure a constant flow of new products?
  48.  

     

  49. Do you run any competitions or sales incentives? If so, what kind of prizes do you offer?
  50.  

     

  51. When can I start?
  52.  

You should be able to identify when enough information has been exchanged between you and the prospective employer. As soon as you feel this has been achieved, you are probably then ready to go into the next stage of the interview.

 

4. SUMMARY

Having extracted from your prospective employer exactly what he is looking for, i.e. the criteria that he is interviewing against, you then need to summarise your experience against that criteria.

"From what you have told me Mr. Employer, I understand that what you are looking for is somebody to support Office Automation software in a mainly commercial market. You want a bright, energetic young person who can present the right company image and support your product with enthusiasm. I realise that you demand a lot of activity but, there again, you pay well for the results that are gained".

REMEMBER YOUR SELLING BENEFITS LIST! Use this to summarise your experience against his requirements.

IN SUMMARY, MR. EMPLOYER, I AM VERY INTERESTED IN THE VACANCY YOU HAVE AND I FEEL THAT I AM ADEQUATELY QUALIFIED TO BE ABLE TO DO A VERY GOOD JOB FOR YOU.

– what are your particular strengths and weaknesses?

– when did you have your last appraisal and what did they say about you?

 

5. CLOSE

The last, but most important part of your interview structure is ‘The Close’. A trap that a lot of candidates fall into is that they assume the prospective employer understands that they can ‘close’. Please do not assume anything! You have to be able to demonstrate that you can ‘close’. In this case it is asking for the job.

– what committees do you attend and what is your role?

– how do you motivate staff working for you?

"Mr. Employer, are you in a position to make a decision today about this vacancy?"

Listen to his response – is he in such a position? Do you have a second interview? Does he still have other people to consider.

Set yourself one of three objectives to achieve:-

1) Obtain from him a commitment on the time and date when he can give you a decision. Don’t be fobbed off with "Thanks for coming to the interview – we’ll let you know". Respond with "By when will you have made a decision?"

If he says that he still has other people to see, ask him when his last appointment is. If it is, say, 10.00 a.m. Friday, respond with something like "So if I call you at 11 o’clock Friday, you will be able to give me a decision?"

If he says, "Yes, alright, but we would rather call you", show some enthusiasm. "Mr. Employer, you are a very busy man. I know that you are eager to fill this vacancy with the right person but you also have a lot of other priorities too. As far as I am concerned, my main priority is being offered this position, so it is going to be uppermost in my mind and I most certainly won’t forget to ring you" – and don’t forget!!

2) Obtain a commitment on a second interview time and date if that is necessary. If the prospective employer says that you will have to have a second interview with his boss, reach for your diary and say "OK, when I attend my second interview when will it be, where and with whom? Can we arrange that now?" Remember the usual objective of the first interview is to get the second; the usual objective of the second is to get ‘the offer’. Then you decide whether or not you want it.

What you have done is actually assumed that you have got a second interview but, with any luck, you will take him with you on the assumption.

3) Lastly, and most importantly, if a decision can be made there and then as to whether you have got the job. "When can I start?"

4) At the end of the interview, a firm hand shake. If keen let them know you want the position, or would more than seriously consider it.

Thank them for their time and explaining to you what they want.

If you follow these simple but basic rules, you should leave your interview feeling that you have done a good job. Also you should be armed with some sort of commitment, certainly knowing exactly what the next stage will be.

If you have done a really good job, you will be receiving an offer letter in your hand, have a smile on your face and be heading for the nearest pub to celebrate your new appointment.

 

6. FOLLOW-UP

Keep to the arrangements you have agreed with the prospective employer. If you promised to ring him at 10 o’clock on Monday morning – then DO IT at the time you promised!

Regular and efficient follow-up shows enthusiasm and reliability – do not spoil your chances at this final post by irritating the prospective employer with too many unnecessary calls. He will imagine you doing the same thing to his customers.

 

HELPFUL HINTS ON COMPLETING AN APPLICATION FORM

     

  • Remember this is your marketing document – a brochure on you. It is your first introduction to the prospective employer and will create the first impression of you. Surely it is worth some effort? This will determine whether you will progress to the next stage, i.e. the interview.
  •  

     

  • It may be helpful to take a copy of the form and complete the copy in pencil first … to enable you to complete the original form correctly without making alterations.
  •  

     

  • Answers the questions specifically.
  •  

     

  • Use neat clear handwriting, using ink never pencil.
  •  

     

  • Don’t leave spaces on the application form. Why shouldn’t you answer all the questions? If you omit to answer, this will automatically make your prospective employer suspicious.
  •  

     

  • It is very obvious when a candidate has made an effort to complete and present a form fully and effectively. Likewise it is very apparent where no effort has been made at all.
  •  

     

  • "See CV" is a very irritating comment to see on a form – when you may have 200 forms to read. It is obviously easier to get through a large number of applications if they are in a consistent format – so please be co-operative and complete the application form even if you have already made considerable effort on your CV.
  •  

     

  • "To be discussed" is another irritating comment to read on an application form.
  •  

     

  • Omitting remuneration information is not wise – it just means the employer has to contact you to find out your current earnings before deciding whether your application is appropriate.
  •  

     

  • Please be sure that you provide a full enough explanation on your job role, your product and market knowledge etc. for the reader to fully understand your skills and capabilities and knowledge.
  •  

     

  • Don’t forget to list your achievements in each job role. All prospective employers will want to assess how good you were in each job.
  •  

The Manila Boy from Kabul

By Najib Habib, February 2002
Whenever my Filipino friends and I get together to shoot the bull about the good old days, the topic of conversation inevitably drifts to how difficult it is to adapt to the culture of the country we now find ourselves living in: the strange food, the frosty nature of the natives, racism, feeling left out, how hard it is to find decent friends etc. I know the feeling, I experienced it as a hairy, light-skinned foreign-looking kid from central Asia growing up in that great capital of the Philippines, dizzying, dirty and beautiful Manila.
I arrived in the Philippines from Afghanistan a sprightly one year old, as my father was to begin work at an international lending institution then based in Pasay city, overlooking Manila Bays striking blue water and hypnotic sunset. He had been previously an Afghan government official serving the monarchy, ten years before the soviet invasion pushed the county into a long bloody civil war. I was enrolled in the Montessori school system in a large, converted pre-war house behind my Dads office. This was in contrast to the expatriate families who usually sent their kids to US curriculum international schools. It was in that school in Pasay where I started to learn to be pinoy.
No matter what one thinks, your mother culture still has a big influence on how you think and behave, despite living in a country for a long time. At home we practised Islam, spoke Dari, the Afghan language, ate authentic Afghan food prepared by my mother and adhered to Afghan traditions, but outside the home, it was a different ballgame. In an overwhelming Catholic country where the church is hugely influential, I was considered a strange sort of fellow, with bizarre dietary restrictions (‘What? You don’t pork barbecue and lechon ? You eat Lamb? Ugh! You don’t go to church? Why?’). I wasn’t an American or European, people that my classmates could easily identify and caricature, but I did get a fair share of being called’ bumbay’, sort of a derogatory term for people of Indian extraction who smell bad in the hot climate. As a result, I made sure I was always scrupulously clean, washed and perfumed, even up to this day, which now cause my female co-workers in London to regularly complement me on my cologne, and be an object of jealousy to my less-well scrubbed male friends.
As I grew older and hit college, a realisation was growing in me that despite my refusal to be identified as Filipino (we were Afghan after all, owners of a proud and long heritage), I had picked up a host of traits that would identify me as a pinoy, more specifically a ‘batang Manila’ (Manila boy). It came to a point that I knew certain parts of the capital like the back of my hand, all short cuts, legal and illegal. I knew where to find the best arroz caldo porridge at four AM, which was usually in a small street stall that jeepney drivers frequent, whose name to drop when you were caught by the manilas finest in a traffic violation, where to find the cheapest imported shoes, etc. When I went for further studies to the University of Santo Tomas in Quiapo, my speech went from the kind of false-American sing-song English spoken in the private schools across the capital (which, when I use in London, people assume I’m from the Caribbean) to a very hard, Sampaloc accented tagalog. It came to a point that when I spoke on the phone, people would think I was Sampaloc born and bred, but when they saw me in person, treated me as a novelty (‘ Hey, look how well this foreigner speaks tagalog, say something…’). My friends would joke: ‘ He’s more pinoy than us’. Now, my chief source of pleasure when I go to Filipino gatherings in the US or Europe is to speak straight Tagalog to people I meet, leaving them stunned and amazed. ‘You must be half Filipino!’ they exclaim. No, I think, just a product of my environment.
There was no denying it. Twenty-six years of living in Manila has had an indelible impact on me. The way I speak, my sense of humour, my cultural values and attitudes, not to mention my closest friends, are Filipino. This became very much apparent when I left the Philippines and moved abroad to London, where contact with a mass of diverse people of all cultures and colours forces you into a realisation of who you are. You become an amalgam of the places you’ve been, and people you know throughout your life. Hence, in spite of the British weather I dress habitually as if I’m going for stroll across Megamall: white polo shirt with rolled up sleeves, khakis, no socks. I still get bad cravings for bulalo, calamansi juice and of course, arroz caldo with a lot of paminta, though I married an Afghan, and cook both Filipino and Afghan food at home. Its not an easy burden to carry, being a product of two cultures, but I’ll tell you one thing, I feel it great honour to have lived in Manila, and I’m proud to say I’m a Filipino by heart.

The House that Was


By Fe C. Abogadie, September 2001


The year was 1972. I remember clearly. It was the same year that Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines. Just a few months before the proclamation of martial law, my parents, after years of deliberating and planning and saving, finally decided to replace our old nipa-and-bamboo house. They decided to replace it with one made of concrete and hardwood, with galvanized iron for roofing. This decision was to have a great impact on our lives.

Almost 30 years later, and on the other side of the world, I now remember that old house so vividly and with so much nostalgia. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I am afraid that the rapid urbanization of the Philippines is causing the disappearance of these traditional houses, and with it, a whole way of life. Practical reasons of course dictate that if you can afford it, it is better to build a concrete house. It is cheaper in the long term because it can withstand the heavy rains and typhoons so common in the Philippines. In many small villages in the countryside of course there are still these nipa-and-bamboo houses, but they are fast disappearing. Part of me is afraid that they are becoming "extinct". Part of me wants to remember happy memories of life spent in just such a house. Better put them in writing before memory fails.

The old house

The old house was the first house my parents owned after they got married. I remember it as a big house, but maybe it was "big" because I was just a child when I lived in it. To a child less than three feet tall, perhaps every house is big. Apparently there was a religious ceremony performed before the first shovel of soil was dug to construct the new house that was to replace it. Or there should have been, as it is believed to be bad luck if you do not have this blessing done before building a house. In any case, I was not there to witness it. I was at school. I don’t particularly remember my parents explaining to my siblings and me that the old house was going to be demolished that day. Maybe they did not want us to worry ourselves about it. I just remember that one day I went to school, just a 10-minute walk away, and when I came home for lunch there it was, the huge hole in the ground where the workers had erected the first pillar for the new house.

I learned later that in the process of constructing the new house, a few coconut trees had to be cut because they were in the way. I remember eating some of the "ubod", the fleshy topmost part that is the heart of the coconut palm. The "ubod" is rare, for a coconut tree is considered so valuable and is therefore not cut down unless for a very good reason. So the only time one can have "ubod" is when a typhoon has felled down some coconut trees, and yes, when coconut trees are felled down in the course of building a house.

The old house was supported off the ground by a few main pillars made of wood from locally grown hardwood trees. On to these pillars were attached the framework of wood and bamboo that would support the floors, walls and roof. The flooring all throughout the house was made of polished bamboo slats strung close together with rattan strips. The walls and roof were made with nipa palms in thatched layers. The slat design of the flooring meant that the mountain and sea breezes were free to come and go through the floor, so the house interior was naturally cool. I have no memories of it being so hot back then. But then, many coconut and other fruit trees surrounded the house so there was much shade around.

The "pantaw" or front porch

The front entrance was through some bamboo stairs, perhaps 4 or 5 rungs, into a front porch called "pantaw" in Cebuano. The "pantaw" was spacious, certainly big enough for the laundry woman to do her ironing there. That was when ironing was done with the black flat iron using hot coals made from coconut shells (locally known as "uling"). The iron had a heavy bottom and a less heavy top to which a wooden handle was attached. The top part had a zigzagged edge so that when brought down over the bottom part, it formed several holes. The holes were important to let out the smoke. Ironing was much heavier work then, for every piece of clothing was made of cotton and made stiff with cassava starch. My mother, Nanay, told me that starching helped extend the longevity of the clothes. This was well and good but meant more work. For proper ironing, each item had to be sprayed with water first to make them pliant. Thus our laundry woman, Manang Nacia, whenever she had her ironing day, would have piles of clothes around her and the ironing board. Three piles of clothes: one pile for the starched clothes that still needed to be sprayed with water, another pile for the rolled clothes that had been wetted already, and a third pile for the freshly ironed ones. I should know, because Manang Nacia used to allow me to help her with the job as long as I did the piles correctly. I enjoyed very much the ritual of dipping my hands in the bowl of water, sprinkling the water evenly over each item, and then folding and rolling each item into a compact shape.

The "pantaw" was not only a work area. It was also the informal receiving room. When people dropped by for a chat, as was so commonly done then, they would be welcomed into the "pantaw". There were only a couple of chairs as far as I can remember. Most of the time, people would just sit on the floor or on the steps, with their feet extended out in a very relaxed manner. The "pantaw" too was a playroom, especially for my sister Lina and me. (My sister Lina and I were close playmates, for I was only 14 months older than she. In our family she was called Baby Lina. Nanay used to dress us in similar clothes and people would often ask if we were twins). We would lay out our toys in the "pantaw" and play house with our friends, who were also our neighbours. When it was raining, we had fun wetting our hair with the water dripping from the eaves of the nipa roofing.

The "sala" or the living room

From the "pantaw" there was a door leading to the "sala" or the main living room. Perhaps the "sala" was the biggest room in the house. As one enters it, immediately one would be in front of the altar, where one is confronted with images of the crucified Christ or the weeping Virgin Mary and, invariably, of scenes of hell and purgatory. Every house in those days had an altar like ours. It must have given young kids the scare of their lives to imagine themselves being banished to hell, just like those fallen angels, if they did so much as disobey their parents or do something really naughty. At least that was how the old folks back then would get the children to be obedient.

The "sala" was the scene of many incidents of my siblings and I kneeling before the altar. It was mostly my brother Dodong, my sister Baby Lina and myself. (Manoy Ne, our eldest, was already in high school two towns away so we would only see him on weekends, while our youngest, Dayon, was still a baby). Kneeling before the altar was our punishment for misdeeds – we were supposed to ask forgiveness for our sins. But we would just be quiet for the first few minutes and when Nanay went to another part of the house, we would end up poking and teasing each other again or end up either giggling or arguing again. As soon as we hear Nanay’s footsteps coming back, we would pretend again to be solemn before the altar. I wonder if today’s parents still discipline their kids this way.

In the evenings, the "sala" became our bedroom. There was a proper bedroom, just next to the "sala", but that was where my parents slept, together with our baby sister Dayon. Manoy Ne, Dodong, Baby Lina and I slept on the "sala" floor. We had a huge woven mat called "banig" that we would unroll on the floor for sleeping. The "banig" covered most of the "sala" area and on it we would spread our pillows and blankets before hanging the huge mosquito net. We hung the mosquito net by hooking its four corners, the "ears", on to nails hammered into the walls at appropriate locations. Hanging the mosquito net was a huge task, or so it seemed, for we would always argue as to whose turn it was to do it that night. Under the mosquito net, my siblings and I slept right next to each other, my brothers on one side, and my sister Lina and I on the other.

I remember this arrangement as great fun. In modern terms, this is like having a pajama party every night. In those days (and maybe still true nowadays) it was a real luxury to have separate bedrooms for each child so it was perfectly acceptable for several people to sleep together in one room. From a child’s perspective, this was the ultimate in security, for one did not sleep alone. My siblings and I used to play games even when we were already under the mosquito netting, ready for bed. What we loved the most of course was when my mother would read us bedtime stories, usually of fairy tales and of valiant heroes, or stories of good kids being rewarded great riches. There were also nights when our father would challenge us with riddles and we would always try ever so hard to guess the answers.

The "sala" had a wide window on one side, on the east side, to welcome the morning sun. Extending out from this window was a bamboo ledge about a foot wide, enclosed with some kind of a bamboo railing. One stormy day, in the early seventies, when typhoon Asiang was causing havoc and devastation throughout the islands, our baby sister Dayon was put outside on this ledge, in the rain, because she would not stop crying. She was having one of her notorious tantrums and she kept screaming even more while on the ledge. Her cries became mixed with the noise of the heavy rain and the howling winds, and I felt powerless to help her. To this day we still talk about this event, and still tease Dayon for her notorious temper.

The "sunog" or bedroom

The "sala" and the bedroom, which we called "sunog", were right next to each other, separated only by a thin wall of woven canvas made from a bamboo-like material. There was a "door" on each end of this dividing wall, and it was so easy to go in one door and come out the other. They were not really proper doors though, as there were no panels to open and close them. There were just floor-length curtains hanging on them which one pushed to the side to go through into the next room. In the bedroom was our only stand-alone wardrobe called "aparador". This was where my parents kept their valuables. This also contained the nice clothes and linens and towels, together with the necessary mothballs. The "aparador" had a mirror attached to the front side of its main door. Baby Lina and I used to admire ourselves before this mirror with our pretend long hair made from a towel draped over our heads. As little girls, we were never allowed long hair, because long hair would just be an invitation for head lice, according to Nanay. She said that Baby Lina and I could have long hair when we are big enough to make sure our hair was always clean. Of course this did not happen until much later so as little girls, we were always envious of other girls with long hair.

The connecting room

In effect, the "sala" was the centre of the house. On one side it led to the "pantaw", on another side was the front window while on a third side it led to the bedroom. On its fourth side, it led to some kind of a connecting room. We did not really call it a particular name; it was just the room between the "sala" and the kitchen. To one side of this room was a "lantay", probably the Filipino equivalent of a divan, except that ours was made of bamboo, quite wide, and was multi-purpose. The "lantay" was big enough to serve as a double bed for guests. During the day, it also served as a lounger for the adults or as another play area for us kids and our friends. On one wall of this room was a wide opening that led into some kind of a bay window, except that this one was permanently closed. This served as a storage area for all sorts of things, such as the big laundry basket, the big tin containers for rice, the boxes of shoes and Nanay’s sewing paraphernalia. This utility enclosure was hidden from public view by a pair of hanging curtains, and was therefore a favourite hiding place when we played hide-and-seek.

On the other side of the room was the true window, one that could be properly opened and closed with a bamboo panel locally called "sasa". It was propped open with a bamboo pole during the day and was pulled shut at night. From this window one could have a view overlooking the front yard, on which were a number of coconut, citrus and guava trees. One day I was sweeping this yard, being a helpful girl, when one of the young coconuts fell on my head. It was a coconut that had been partially eaten, most probably by a rat, and so had a hole on one end. From this hole poured out the coconut water that drenched me that fateful day. People in the neighbourhood said that the reason I’m smart is because something in my head fell in place just right when that coconut fell on top of my head. They claim it’s true – survivors of falling coconuts are smart people. As far as Nanay was concerned, I think she was just glad that I survived that incident. I, on the other hand, was totally shocked and just cried.

The "kusina" or the kitchen

The "kusina" or kitchen was on the other end of the connecting room, opposite the "sala". As a room it was fairly big, was rectangular in shape, and was really a combined dining room and kitchen. On one end of it was the dining table and on the other end was the cooking area called the "abu". I remember the "abu" as big and tall, for I had to stand on tiptoe to be on eye-level with its top surface. It was a 4-legged wooden structure a few feet tall and its surface was packed hard with ash. Evenly spaced on the top of the packed surface were two clay stoves. I think two stoves was a minimum; one stove for cooking the rice, and the other for cooking the fish, if one were to cook them simultaneously. We used dried coconut palms called "palwa" as firewood back then. This material gave a lot of soot so this meant that all of our pots were black on the outside. It didn’t matter, for most of our pots were made of clay anyway. No need to clean them on the outside, like we do now for iron or aluminium pots.

My parents, Nanay and Tatay, were true believers in the superiority of cooking in clay pots. They said the food cooked better and tasted better. Maybe they were right. I do remember the very pleasant smell of banana leaves cooking. These leaves were used to layer the bottom of the pot for cooking rice or fish, and protected them from burning. Sort of. How it really worked was that if the rice or the fish were on the point of being overcooked, one would smell the burnt banana leaves first. So the cook would rush to the pot to lower the fire before damage could be done to the rice or fish. It worked!

My mind now is full of memories of cooking in the "abu". During the time we lived in the old house, we always had a maid or two, for there were five kids altogether to take care of, and both my parents were working. The maid would usually do the cooking, except when we had "special dishes", when Nanay would take over. It is so funny to remember now that one of our so-called "special dishes" was the plain old pancakes, which we called "hotcakes" at the time. But for us, it really was special, for it was not so easy to find the ingredients then, ingredients like flour and margarine (for butter) and milk (Nanay used powdered milk). It was such a big event for us that we would gather around the "abu" and watch Nanay make the "hotcakes". In our neighbourhood, we were the first kids to taste "hotcakes". We thought we were pretty special.

Another one of our "special dishes" was the misua noodles cooked with canned sardines, usually prepared when there was a typhoon and fresh fish was not available. Back then, anything with canned sardines or canned mackerel was special. Maybe because it was such a rarity, and its taste was so different from the everyday fresh fishes that we took for granted.

In that "abu" in the old house, that was also where I learned to cook "sigay" from my brother Dodong. Although as kids Dodong and I used to fight a lot (for Dodong liked to bully me) we did have happy times together. One of them was getting a kind of small Cowrie shell called "sigay" (pronounced see-guy, with accent on the second syllable) from the local coral reef. The "sigay" shells were used for some games we played in the neighbourhood. Before we could play with them however, the shells had to be cooked properly, or they would smell really bad. Dodong showed me how to cook them using the bottom half of a broken clay pot, on the "abu" that I could barely reach.

Back in those days my family always had a cat. And it was a problem to keep the cat from the leftover food. Since we did not have a refrigerator (there was no electricity in several towns on our side of the province), we used to keep leftover food on top of the dining table, covered with a big woven bamboo contraption with holes. It was like an inverted basket. Normally the cat would not touch the rice and other starchy food, such as the cooked sweet potatoes and bananas. But fish was just irresistible to the cat. Without fail, it would get to any fish left on the table. The clever solution to the problem was a hanging basket over the area between the dining table and the "abu". That was the only safe area for the fish as far as the cat was concerned.

Meal times in the Philippines were, and continue to be, family times. Families eat together around a dining table. In our house, it was the rule that we should not leave food uneaten on our plates. Kids were not allowed to leave the table until they have eaten their portions. As a child, I must have been a picky eater, for I remember a number of occasions being left behind in the dining table. I remember very clearly too the maid pleading with me to finish eating, so she could clear the table. If I continued to delay, she would call Nanay, and Nanay would cajole me into eating what was on my plate. One evening, even Nanay failed at this, and so she called in Tatay. Thus happened my first lesson in the appreciation of fine fish. On this occasion, Tatay took a different approach to teaching me to appreciate food. He told me that the fish on my plate was of the finest kind. It was "first class", for it was caught just earlier that day using the "bobo". He explained to me what a "bobo" is. A "bobo" is a fish trap made of bamboo that the local fishermen would drop with a heavy weight in the deep sea and leave there for "harvesting" a week or so later. Because it was left in the deep sea, the "bobo" trapped only certain kinds of fish – the really big and tasty kind. I was so intrigued by this whole scenario that I could not help but sample this supposedly really fine fish. And indeed, Tatay was right! The fish really tasted fantastic! Since then I would often ask Nanay and Tatay if the fish we were having was from the "bobo". That was how I knew it had to be good. Thinking back now, maybe there were times when they told me it was from the "bobo", even when probably it was not, just so I would finish my portion of fish.

The back porch and the "banggera"

The kitchen led into the back porch which had an elevated counter called a "banggera" that opened into the outside. The dish washing was done on the "banggera", using water that was fetched from the water pump at ground level. The back porch opened to the back stairs, about 5 or 6 rungs, slightly longer than the stairs in the front of the house. I should know, for I fell from those stairs once. Standing on top of those stairs one day, I had this sensation of falling down. To a little girl, it seemed such a very long distance from where I was standing to the bottom of the stairs. Before I knew it, indeed I was really down on the ground. Nanay and Tatay always told us to stay away from the stairs, but I had a streak of stubbornness in me.

One morning Baby Lina and I were sitting on the back stairs, just tickling each other and generally having fun. Suddenly, we decided to see who had a sweeter tongue. We then decided to taste each other’s tongue to find out for sure. We did so and ended up claiming that the other’s tongue was very bland, that one’s own tongue was much sweeter. Ah, those were fun and innocent times indeed!

The "silong" or under the house

Because the old house was supported off the ground by pillars, this meant that there was an area "under" the house that was not exactly underground. This area was called "silong". It was very useful as a general storage area. This was where Tatay kept the dried coconut palms and coconut husks that we used for firewood to keep them from the rain. Manoy Ne and Dodong kept their "sigay" shells here as well, when the"sigay" were not in season anymore (in those days, there was a seasonality to the games that the kids in the neighbourhood played). Dayon as a child was fed Magnolia brand milk and there was a huge mound of Magnolia milk tins under the house. One day a woman came to say she would buy the tins and we kids were all so happy to make money from such an unexpected source.

Not exactly in the "silong" but in the vicinity of the back yard was the Jetmatic water pump we called the "bomba". This pump gave us the water we drank as well as the water that we used for all our other needs. My parents said we were lucky that the water from our pump tasted nice and was not salty, because in fact we were not that far from the seashore. In our neighbourhood, we were the first one to have this kind of water pump and I was very proud. Many of our neighbours came and fetched water from our pump everyday, to use as their drinking water. We did not mind, for all our neighbours were also our friends. In fact, the "bomba" area was a social scene, where neighbours would gather together and gossip. It was also an open-air bathroom for my family. We would pump water into pails and use dippers made from recycled plastic gasoline containers to pour the water over our bodies. (This is how these dippers came to be called "caltex", from the gasoline brand "Caltex", in the same way that we used to refer to toothpaste as "colgate"). Adults would take a bath fully clothed while kids were totally naked. This made it easier for the grownups to scrub clean the little urchins.

Occasionally, there were people I didn’t know who came to fetch water from our pump. They brought along not the usual plastic or tin pails for the water but the hollowed bamboo poles that were open on one end but closed on the other. For the purpose of containing water, these bamboo poles had to be at least a few inches in diameter and a few feet in length. These people carried the poles on their shoulders, something that to me looked really hard work. I asked Nanay who those people were. She said they were "taga-bukid", literally from the mountains. They used the water from our pump as drinking water but for all their other water needs, they used rainwater. I imagined they lived so far away and had such a hard life, and wondered why. In my young mind, I wanted them to be one with us, in the village. I guess because I felt I had such a carefree life, I wanted everybody to have the same. I would always feel sorry if any one of my playmates could not join us because they had to take care of their younger siblings. Baby Lina and I solved this problem by going over to our playmates’ house and play there, together with the younger brothers and sisters that our friends were supposed to be taking care of. This was my first experience of babysitting.

In those days we had an outhouse, a separate small building for the toilet, on the far corner of the lot that my parents owned. It seemed so long ago now, those days when I could not go to the toilet alone. I had to have someone with me then, usually Nanay. It was only much later, when I was older, that it dawned on me that not every household in the village had a toilet.

New house, new life

So in 1972, when the old house gave way to the new, our lives changed as well, mine and that of my family. It is very tempting now to relate those changes to the political changes that were happening in the country then, with the imposition of martial law. But I was too young then to understand what martial law meant. I was just annoyed that suddenly the radio stations stopped broadcasting my favourite drama programs. Looking back now, maybe it was the case – maybe indeed, the changing of houses also marked the end of an innocent time.

On Studying in the UK

On Studying in the UK
by Arnel Jose Banas, Univ. of Warwick 1996-97

BEFORE LEAVING THE PHILIPPINES

  1. Be organised – this is probably one of the most important things to remember. You will be making lots of preparations in Manila before you leave and some adjustments once you arrive in the UK. Plan ahead. List down the things that you wish to do. Time management is essential. Remember to be realistic. You cannot say good-bye to all your friends and relatives.
  2. Do not bring the Philippines with you. You will only be away for about one year. You cannot possibly bring home. Just bring the essentials. You might end up with so many things to bring back with you.
  3. Bring some supplies and consumables – some of the items that your body is used to may not be available here. Or at least you may not know where to get them during your first few weeks. Bring some which will last you for a short while. This will also save your allowance as some items here could be expensive, eg bring something for your face and lips as it will be cold when you arrive. Prepare for autumn and winter.
  4. Bring a Filipino Recipe Book – This will be helpful in preparing some of your favorite recipes for yourself and your new friends who might request you to cook a Filipino dish or two. Also if you miss Pinoy food then you can make it yourself. If you do not know how to cook, do not worry. You will!
  5. Bring instant mixes like adobo (Mama Cita is recommended), menudo mixes, instant gata, sinigang. This may save you time when you want to cook. One way of saving your allowance is to cook your own food.
  6. Do not bring too many clothes. Bring some jackets or coats in preparation for the cold weather. You can buy some here at reasonable prices. I suggest bring some old clothes which you can throw away after your studies. The same thing with your shoes. Just bring some old pairs(and a pair of good ones also). Anyway by the time you finish I am sure you would have bought a new set of wardrobe. But bring some few good clothes as well as there will be parties (and dates). Some of these may be formal gatherings. It may be useful if you bring at least one piece of Filipino inspired clothing. If you intend to engage in sports, then bring some items which you will need.
  7. Bring ID pictures with you. You will need a few for some forms, visa applications etc. 1 x 1 and 2 x 2. Instant photos are expensive here.
  8. If you have an international credit card issued in the Philippines,bring it here as it might come in handy. But try not to use it in the UK as you might lose in the exchange rate. Besides payment will have to be made in Manila.
  9. If your course will require you to write essays, a thesis, or adissertation, bring some of the materials and references which you think you will use. It is possible that your library will not have all the materials you will need. It is helpful to read about your university and your course requirements and anticipate your needs. Start thinking about possible topics for your written projects.
  10. Bring your Philippine driver’s license.
  11. If you wish to send some cards and letters from the UK, I suggest that as early as now, prepare a list of all your relatives and friends whom you might correspond with while in the UK. Include their addresses, phones, e-mail, birthdays etc. Also, the names and other details of some possible contacts in Europe. This will save you the trouble and cost of finding out these details when you need them.
  12. Take care of your affairs in the Philippines. Like pay your insurance and credit card bills before leaving. Or make someone in charge of your private correspondence at home. Or prepare checks in advance for payments of your personal obligations.
  13. Just bring bags or luggages which you think you can manage.
  14. Bring some medicine which you think will be useful.
  15. If you wear eyeglasses, bring an extra pair. If you wear contact lenses, bring your supplies. They are expensive here.
  16. Bring some foreign currency or preferably travellers checks with you for emergency purposes.
  17. If you intend to go other countries like the US during your studies in the UK, it may be more convenient to apply for your visas in the Philippines.
  18. Read something about Philippine history, culture, arts, politics, geography etc. It does not speak well of a Filipino scholar or student who is ignorant about his/her own country.

 

IN THE U.K.

  1. Open a bank account (accounts) promptly.
  2. It may be useful to apply for credit cards here. This will make your life more comfortable. You can use your credit cards even for small purchases. This way you do not have to carry cash with you all the time. You can probably even earn points with a lot of promotions. Some banks here even give cash and free phone calls (Midlands Bank) as long as you open an account with them. An advantage of having a credit card is that somebody keeps track of your expenses for you. This way you will be forced to keep your receipts! But pay your purchases in full all the time so you do not end up paying interest.
  3. KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS. In the UK, it is easy to return and exchange items bought but there are times when they ask for the receipt. You can exchange and return an item bought in different parts of the country.
  4. Be wise in spending your money. You can use your savings for buying pasalubongs and in travelling around the UK or Europe.
  5. You may want to consider HOST. This is a scheme wherein foreign students are paired with a British family for a weekend. You need not go alone. You can apply with a friend. This can give you the chance to see other parts of the UK. However, you will shoulder your transportation expenses.
  6. Do apply for an ISIC card. You can get this at any STA Travel Agency. This will entitle you to discounts.
  7. Everywhere you go, bring your student ID and your NUS card. Always inquire for student discounts e.g. museums, gardens, exhibitions, department stores etc. Do this even outside UK!
  8. Keep a file of important letters and correspondence.
  9. Do have a social life. ENJOY! ENJOY! ENJOY!
  10. But do not forget why you are here as well. STUDY! STUDY! STUDY!
  11. You may find it useful to apply for a rail card and a coach card.
  12. For British Council scholars, co-ordinate with the BC or yourscholarship supervisor. There are items which can be reimbursed. Do not be shy to ask and be rejected.
  13. E-mails allow you to correspond for free. Use it!
  14. In sending letters, it is also cheaper to use aerogrammes. They come in packs.
  15. Try to control the urge of making phone calls. This can easily eat up your allowance.
  16. Control the urge to shop! There are big sales in the entire UK particularly right after Christmas and during.
  17. The UK is a country with a lot of beautiful natural sceneries. Try to see as much as you can.
  18. If you have the time and money, visit other countries as well.
  19. Do keep a diary for your appointments and other activities.
  20. Remember that shopping during the last 3 months of your stay entitles you to reimbursement of the VAT you paid for goods bought. Inquire from the stores where you make your purchases.

 

GOING BACK HOME

  1. You do not have to bring everything back with you. You can leave some items or give them away.
  2. Inquire in advance about sending things back home either by sea or air. There are Filipino forwarding companies usually based in London.
  3. SETTLE ALL YOUR BILLS. Some universities may not release your grades or certificates if there are debts which remain unpaid. The same thing with your bank and credit cards. Non-payment will not only give a bad impression of you but also of other Filipinos.

 

The Youth Need a Voice

By Monica Bains, June 2001

The Filipino Youth Forum met a mixed response from participants on Saturday the 9th June.

The forum took place at the Salvation Army Hall in Oxford Street, London. Mr Jay Ibot organised the event with the support and assistance of the Filipino Embassy and the Philippines Department of Tourism. The forum tried to address the concerns and interests of second and third generation Filipinos living abroad. A major theme was the preservation of national identity and culture. The event attracted Filipinos from as far a field as Canada, USA, Italy and France to make contributions about their experiences.

There was a one-hour delay and a low turnout, which resulted in one big group discussion after the break rather than the planned smaller group discussions.

Father Emile from Rome began the proceedings with a prayer marking the religious nature of Filipino culture. Ambassador Cesar Bautista then gave a talk on the importance of encouraging the community to preserve its culture. It was then followed by speeches made by the various group leaders representing Filipino youth from different countries.

Ambassador Bautista said he was very pleased with the seminar: "I think we had a good selection of participants here, not only from the UK but from the rest of the world."

The Ambassador said he believed the younger participants in the forum would make an active contribution and would bring up the most important issues.

He stressed that the Filipino youth must embrace its culture and values to succeed. He said: "I think that it is clear that they all share the need to improve their role in the society they live in. They need the values of Filipino culture and there is no need to be ashamed about it. They can aspire to be anything that they want if they are proud of their culture."

Mr Bautista said that it was the job of the community to help Filipino youth find their culture: "We have been trying to support them but this is not something we can initiate on our own. This must be initiated by the people themselves and we are here to support them."

A Canadian Filipino Youth Group member called Hose said: "It was interesting – we contributed a lot of things, especially about our culture."

However some said they were not pleased with the seminar. A source that did not want to be named said: "I was very disappointed. I don’t think that they addressed the right questions and basically as part organisers we were told that the structure would be different. What happened when we came here today it all changed. We prepared for this maybe two three months ago and soon as we came here it was out of our control there was a pretence that it was in our control but it wasn’t. The thing is that it’s a youth conference controlled by the older generations and who else is going to know things apart from us."

Retired nurse Mrs Lewes Bing Makado was one of many to make a speech. She discussed the experiences of Filipino youth in Germany.

Among the many solutions discussed she said youngsters needed to take more pride in being Filipino. She said: "The message of how to solve this problem of the youth in the world is that they themselves must know what it is to be a Filipino. They must learn to love being Filipino."

She said the erosion of national identity came about because the first generation Filipinos did not enforce traditional values on to their children. She said: "It happened because most Filipino’s who came abroad were workers. So most of them had no time for their children as they were too busy working."

Another speaker at the forum was Sales Manager Mark Villarosa. Mark said he was born in the Philippines, and came to the UK when he was 15 years of age.


He claimed that to succeed in Western society he had to compromise his Filipino identity:
"I had to take on the persona of a British person I have had to act the mode of what a Londoner is like – aggressive, ambitious. I think right now the level of success I have achieved is down to the fact that I was able to absorb a lot of this culture and become a part of it".

"The problem now is that I have had to let go of quite a few things. In the Philippines there is a strong cohesion of family you meet with them a lot. There is a lot of physical touch in terms of being with them that’s lost in a way here because its not in their culture."

As a solution for the future Mark said that young Filipinos should look to new technology as a way forward: "We are not only young and mobile but we are educated. We also don’t fit into the standard mode of what is traditionally Filipino. So I think that a good way to draw young Filipinos back into a sense of who they are is attract them in a way they understand and that’s why I mentioned technology."

"Posting information about youth movements is what’s needed. I think that is a good way in which we could galvanise the Filipino youth in London."

Mark said he was impressed with the Forum but felt that there was not enough attention placed on the youth: "I think it was the first one, which tried to discuss important issues concerning youth. I think there could have been a bit more emphasis on the young and our own experiences. What we need is to bring our youth together."

 

[Note: Bold text added for easier readability on the web.]

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Being a young Filipino in London

By Jenna

Being a young Filipino girl, I have always been very busy, both academically and with extra curricular activities. Ever since the tender age of four I have been dancing many different types of dance, including Filipino cultural dances, flamenco, Polynesian, tap, ballet and modern dance. I’m very active in the Filipino community in London and attend many events to perform or to support the functions. Aside from my dancing I also sing and do fashion shows.

It may seem that all my time is taken up by my performing but I am also very active in school life. I divide my time equally between schoolwork and my other activities. I organise my time so I have my homework done before I go to rehearsals. It’s really a matter of adjusting to it. If you’re not organised with your time then you are bound to neglect your studies. But if you’re sensible enough to realise that you must have a balance of schoolwork and other activities then things will run smoothly.

Recently I was appointed as a Prefect in my school. This involves responsibility for other members of the school community and it gives you a chance of leadership. I have also received high grades at school, which my mother has been happy with. I am able to cope with everything with the help and support of my mother and friends. As I haven’t ever neglected my studies I have pursued my dancing and have carried on until now. I also have many friends, which I go out with and enjoy myself with. Just like any other teenage girl, we go out to the cinema and go shopping. I have been able to cope very well with what I do. It really depends on the person and if they know how to handle their time between school and other activities. If you know how to handle it then there isn’t a problem

Young Filipinos in Britain and Beyond

By Roann Tubalinal

It all started from when our parents decided to search for a better life. Escaping the market force of the Philippines, they looked for other means of living and found out that working abroad would be a better option. Most of them soon realised that living in a foreign country would guarantee the best opportunity for us. We ate, spoke, lived, and breathed like Filipinos though the air was cold, the sun ungenerous, and the society unfamiliar. Branded the so-called second generation Filipinos – some of us were flown across the seas; others were born in the UK, many by Western fathers. The environment may have been different but the Filipino culture remained incorporated in our daily doses of ‘PAYOS’ and ‘SERMONS’. Most would agree that we have the best of both worlds.

At present, young and talented Filipinos are emerging in fields such as entertainment and music, academia, business, and fashion. Alongside these, others chose different careers but are succeeding equally in their own areas of interest. It is evident that our generation has most certainly achieved something that our parents can only dream of. The ‘SERMONS’ and ‘PAYOS’ clearly worked for most of us. As we head to the future, our aims will vary but our directions should hopefully be the same. One thing is certain, the ‘FUTURE’ can only get better for young ‘PINOYS’ in Britain.

Finally, the population of Filipinos living in Britain is increasing rapidly; co-operation and support from each other can only be beneficial. Most would agree that the days of ‘CRAB MENTALITY’ have long been with us and should now come to its end. As our generation converge the two cultures (Filipino and British) it could only be an effective tool which will benefit the next generations to come. I am hopeful that the next century will be an era whereby issues such as prejudices, stereotyping, racism, and other forms of discriminations will be non-existent.

Debts of Good Will and Interpersonal Justice

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"A debt of good will (utang na loob in Filipino) is incurred when a person becomes the beneficiary of significant assistance or favor given by another. Usually, the beneficiary is in acute need of the assistance given or favor granted. This provides an opportunity for the giving of help to serve as a vehicle for the expression of sympathy or concern. The debt could then be appreciated as one of good will because, by catering to another person’s pressing need, the benefactor is able to express positive dispositions towards the beneficiary. It is not merely the receipt of the assistance or favor that puts the recipient in a position of indebtedness."

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Time of Gastronomic Anticipation

By Fe C. Abogadie

One thing I have in common with probably all Filipinos living abroad is the feeling of excitement and happy expectancy at the thought of going to the home country for a holiday. In my case, I go home once a year, usually during the Christmas season. Nothing beats spending Christmas in the Philippine islands, notwithstanding the heat and humidity, and even as we compare it to the dreamy winter wonderland we associate with Christmas in North America and Europe.

It has become a habit of mine to anticipate my holiday by making a mental list of the things I will do once I get there. This usually consists of taking care of personal business, visiting friends and relatives, doing some shopping and sightseeing, but most of all, of eating all the food that I miss during the rest of the year when I am not living there. The latter is the most fun part.

Sometimes I worry that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about food. I know people who couldn’t care less what they’ll have for dinner any day. These people eat to live. But me, it’s almost as if I live to eat. But I know that I’m not alone in this because I have friends who are as passionate as I am about food. These friends and I really enjoy eating. And I do not mean gluttony. I mean eating so that one derives the utmost pleasure from even the smallest amount of food. This means being adventurous enough to try anything new and being open minded to the many different cuisines one encounters. Globalization has made it possible to obtain in the local supermarket many ingredients once considered highly exotic. Thus the proliferation of many ethnic restaurants in major cities such as London and New York.

Having lived the past ten years of my life away from the Philippines, my recollection of Filipino food is always associated with specific memories of life back home. Invariably these are memories from way back, when I was a child growing up in a small fishing village in one of the Visayan islands. It is usually around the months of August and September, when I find myself pausing at work here in London and having fantasies about the food I will eat back home. Others may think this is pathetic and bordering on the obsessive. But this keeps me going, because the thought of Filipino food brings back happy memories and consequently a smile to my face. A Swedish friend once told me that whenever I talk about food, my eyes glow. That should give you an idea just what an important part food plays in my life. A few years ago, I sent my parents a list of things I wanted to eat when I got home for the holidays. They very gamely obtained everything on the list except for one item. And so here I am again making a mental list of the food I expect to eat when I go home in a few months. I am restricting this list to the seafood which I love the most, or else I’ll take up several more pages of space.

The typical fare of the coastal communities in the Visayas islands understandably consists mostly of seafood and local vegetables in addition to the staple which is rice. The seafood includes not just the usual fishes, but also the different kinds of seaweeds and seashells, octopus, squid, shrimps, sea urchins, crabs, and others. Other people might cringe at the thought of eating these creatures. Not me. I cannot get enough of these things. It is indeed very unfortunate that these are very expensive and difficult to obtain in London. As I often tell friends, I can happily eat rice and seafood everyday, no problem.

In the village where I grew up, when the day’s catch is more than enough, people have three ways of preserving the surplus fish: salting, sundrying and smoking. Salting is done usually to the small fishes such as "bolinao" (anchovies) and "mungpung" (these look like anchovy fry) to make "ginamos" (similar to the "bagoong" in Ilocano). Each family would usually have its own jar of home-made "ginamos". I remember the conversations among the housewives, exchanging tips on how to make the best "ginamos" in town. Apparently, not only does one have to start with fresh fish, the critical thing is the proportion of salt to fish and also knowing when the "ginamos" is ready, which can take from several days to a few weeks. My mother never made her own "ginamos" but my aunt used to give us some. There are specific names given to different types of "ginamos", depending on the state of preservation of the fish. My favorite kind is the "maos na" (literally "limp already"), when the fish is almost disintegrated. If the "ginamos" is very well made, it should give a nice smell at this stage, so nice you want to use it to make a dipping sauce. In my family, we would use it to make a dipping sauce for fried fish, especially "bariles" (tuna), "tuwas" (red snapper) or "tikab" (mackerel). We would cut up some fresh "kalamansi" (the local lime fruit; see Newsweek issue of 31 August 1998, London edition, page 6) and mix the juice with the "ginamos" to give just the right mix of saltiness and sourness. You have to dip the fish into the sauce with your bare hands, bring it to your plate to roll with a ball of rice and voila! You have the perfect mouthful! And it just would not taste the same if you use a spoon and a fork. I tell you, we in the islands really know how to enjoy eating!

Sundrying is another way to preserve the surplus fish. The fishermen have mat-like screens made of thin bamboo slats strung together. These mats are laid on top of table-like structures made of bamboo, a few feet high, and usually located in the open area near the beach where one gets the best of both the sun and the wind. "Labtingaw" is the term used to refer to one-day old dried fish. I don’t know why but the "labtingaw" are always in great demand, especially by the old folks. Maybe because the taste of partially dried fish is peculiarly delicious, so different from anything else I have eaten. The fishes most commonly dried are the small ones such as "bolinao", "mungpung", "karabalyas" (silver fishes with yellow fins) and "mangsi" (sardines). Some of the fishes with thick flesh such as mackerel are sundried as well but first they have to be split lengthwise on one side but not all the way through. The fleshy half is stretched out, the fish degutted, and one ends up with an opened-up fish. This makes the sundrying process more efficient and the fish gets dried more quickly.

My favorites among the dried fishes are the anchovies, the "mungpung" and the "danggit" (sorry, I do not know the English term for this). The danggit is not very common in our area and we have to buy them already dried from the neighboring towns. The danggit is typically only a few inches in length, has thin flesh and a lot of bones. But it is traditionally split open and then sundried so the dried fish is really very thin. This is why my dad always insists that the danggit be fried right, or it doesn’t taste good at all. This means frying it in hot oil for just a few seconds. When fried right, the whole danggit can be eaten; head, tail and all. If overfried, one ends up with something that tastes like charcoal and this may turn people off danggit forever, which is such a pity because it is one of the most tasty of the dried fishes. Danggit is probably the fish equivalent of the durian fruit, because both "smell like hell, but taste like heaven" (again, see Newsweek issue of 31 August 1998, London edition, page 6). Here in London, I have a stock of dried danggit that my mom sent me. Unfortunately, I can only cook them when my flatmates are away on holiday. Frying danggit gives this horrible smell that I don’t cook danggit when my flatmates are around out of consideration for their sensibilities. But in a few months I will be home and then I can have danggit as often as I want and not worry about offending people with their smell.

For some reason, smoking as a way of preserving surplus fish is done only with certain kinds of fish. I remember smoked "mangko" (small tuna) and smoked "karabalyas" but not much else besides. In fact, when I think of smoked fish, I always think of smoked "mangko". When I am home on holiday and would request my dad to buy some smoked fish, he knows without me telling him that I mean the smoked "mangko". He also knows what I want to make out of it, which is my favorite vegetable dish, the "utan". "Utan" is probably our unofficial village dish, and is a stew of commonly available local vegetables flavoured with fish (either dried or smoked or fried). In our house, our "utan" usually has "malunggay" (horseradish) leaves, "bago" leaves, tomatoes, onions, lemongrass and flavoured with flakes of smoked "mangko" and "patis" (fish sauce). A common variation is the use of dried anchovies or fried mackerel instead of the smoked "mangko". Eating this dish gives me a very healthy feeling. It is very nutritious and full of flavour. And there is that satisfying feeling that comes from cooking vegetables that were grown in one’s own backyard. Somehow, this makes me feel very close to nature and is such a contrast to my lifestyle in London.

The people in my village, especially the men, are fond of "kinilaw", a dish of raw fish, usually tuna, flavoured with coconut wine vinegar, ginger, onion, salt and pepper and coconut milk. As a child I never liked this dish. In my family, it was only the men who went for this with gusto. Lately however, I have acquired the taste for it and now I look forward to having some "kinilaw" soon. This dish is often eaten by the villagers to go with the beer and the "tuba" (the local wine made from coconut sap) during their drinking sessions.

Another favorite of mine that I look forward to eating is the "tahong" (mussels). Because of its relatively easy availability here in London (most supermarkets and fishmongers sell them), I don’t miss mussels as much as the other seafood items. But I like the way we cook it at home in the Philippines, just sauteing it in hot oil with garlic, onions and ginger, adding a bit of water, some green onion leaves and salt and pepper to taste. Eating it freshly cooked and savouring the soup causes one to perspire even more in the tropical heat. Last December unfortunately, my mom did not want us to buy any mussels because of the red tide scare. Apparently, a number of fatalities had been reported from eating contaminated shellfish. I hope that this time around, there will be no red tide to spoil my eating pleasure.

"Guso" (a kind of seaweed) is another favorite that I had eaten only in the Philippines. This is commonly available in my island and is very cheap. We usually just cut the seaweed into small pieces, blanch it in boiling water and make it into a salad with chopped onions, ginger and tomatoes and flavour it with "patis" and coconut wine vinegar. Some people add a tiny bit of sugar to enhance the taste. This makes a very good appetizer or a side dish.

There is one dish that is becoming more and more rare, at least in my village. I am referring to the stuffed crab cooked in coconut milk. When I was a little girl, this was a special treat, because even then it was not an everyday fare. It was always expensive, maybe because it is very laborious to make. And apparently one has to use a particular kind of crab, not just any kind, to make this dish. I have never actually seen this dish made but I can imagine that it must be a labour of love. First, one has to take the meat out of the crab shell and cook it with some seasoning and pieces of young and tender coconut meat. Then this whole mixture is put back into the crab shell as stuffing, and the whole crab assembled again, using strips of banana leaves to tie together the pieces if necessary. Usually there will be more stuffing than can fit back into the shell. This extra stuffing is wrapped in banana leaves and shaped into rectangles which are tied closed with strips of banana leaves to prevent them from opening during the cooking. Then both the crabs and the banana-wrapped stuffing are cooked together in coconut milk to the point where all the water is evaporated and only the extracted coconut oil remains. The taste of the stuffing is heavenly, especially when eaten with rice! I particularly enjoy taking out the stuffing from the shell with my bare hands. I remember that when I was a little girl, there was only one lady in our village who made this dish for sale. She was my grandmother’s friend. She owned a little "sari-sari" store where my grandmother used to buy her daily supply of "tuba". Both she and my grandmother are gone now, but I will always remember those days when my grandmother would ask me to buy some tuba from this lady’s store. On those occasions when she had the stuffed crabs for sale, I would gaze longingly at the crabs on display then rush back home to plead with my mom to buy us some for lunch. It was always for lunch because it was believed that to eat anything with coconut milk for dinner is not good for the stomach. I am not sure if there are still people in my village who make this dish. It is one of my fears that the customary passing on from mothers to daughters of family recipes may not have happened, especially in this case, and it will be a great loss indeed. I will have to remember to ask the old folks in the village so I can learn to cook this dish myself.

There is one thing I haven’t eaten for years and years and I’m really hoping to eat it when I go home this December. It is squid in all its black squid ink glory. The squid commonly available in the UK is already degutted and de-skinned, looking white and very uninteresting. I like squid best when it’s cooked with its ink sac. The ink gives the sauce a distinctive flavor. Many years ago, my brothers and I used to tease each other as to who has the blackest mouth and teeth after eating squid. When the squid is fresh straight from the sea, one does not have to do much to bring out its flavour. It can be plainly boiled quickly in water with onions, tomatoes and lemongrass, and flavoured with salt and pepper. The simplicity of this dish brings out the hint of sweetness of the fresh squid. Or the squid can be sauteed briefly in vegetable oil, with garlic and onions, flavored with soy sauce, "kalamansi" juice, salt and pepper. But my favorite way to cook squid is to broil it quickly over charcoal after seasoning it with a bit of salt. Then the squid can be sliced into bite-sized pieces and dipped in coconut wine vinegar with a bit of salt. Some people prefer their dipping sauce to have crushed garlic and some chili pepper. I always eat this with cold rice. And this has to be with bare hands. This tastes even better if you lick the tangy flavor from your fingers. As the Visayans would say, "Lami gyud kaayo!" ("This tastes really good!").

It is only recently that I re-discovered the pleasure of eating with bare hands. As a little girl I used to be embarrassed that many people in my village used bare hands to eat. I thought nothing could be more pleasing to look at than people eating with proper spoons and forks. And as an adult I found it interesting and fun to use the many different kinds of spoons and forks, not to mention knives, at formal dinners. But now I realize that eating in the home islands, especially in the beaches, where the sea breeze is constantly blowing and the seafood is always fresh, is most pleasurable when done with bare hands. Nothing can be more effective in making people relax and shed off their inhibitions. Consequently, people will find eating a lot more pleasurable, maybe even a bit of a sensual experience. Of course there is a time and place for everything but now I have resolved that next time I’m home and my family goes on a picnic to the beach, I will use my bare hands to eat. And I will make the special request that we use banana bracks or leaves as plates. This brings back memories of when I was a little girl and the whole community would celebrate St. John’s day in June by everyone going swimming. Everyone went, without exception. It was like a fluvial fiesta. And people prepared a lot of food and brought them to the beach where everyone shared food. We would eat with banana bracks for plates and use our bare hands. I have decided that I don’t have to wait for St. John’s day to eat this way. I cannot wait!