30 October 2007

i love my husband

So syrrupy and so corny! I know, but I can't help writing about my husband. It is just very convenient. This is a happy time for him because all the kids (not little anymore, really) are here together once more. The oldest one is back for a short vacation from her posting in Europe. My husband, their father is in a blissful state. The children are all grown up now (Meeza is almost in her teen years, the older ones in their early twenties), and all we do nowadays is sigh, sigh, sigh, at how lucky we are to have them. All of them are beautiful, very sweet and loving in their own identifiable ways, very ambitious, very zestful in life.

What can I say about this man in our lives? The first thing that comes to my mind is how so comfortable we are with him. This is what basically describes him - easygoing. He is funny, very indulgent, open, unselfish, and would do anything for any of us. My mom-in-law, yieldingly, said to me once, there is no mountain high enough, no ocean deep enough (or to that effect) that my husband will not navigate - for our sakes - the four women in his life. Those words resonated in my ears a thousand times. And I am thankful and feel blessed for that.

26 October 2007


My husband has fallen in love with Taal, the cold mountain with a lake and an active volcano in the middle. This is where Splendido, the golf and country club is cocooned. He just had discovered Splendido, but I already feasted on the beauty of Taal long before I even met him. I am glad my husband found Splendido and Taal.

My parents always brought us here when we were children. The long trip, for us, started along the coast of Manila Bay and wove into the smaller roads festooned with fruit stalls. Along these roads we experienced the sight of freshly cut beef from Batangas cattle that hanged on rods and also smelled the brewing of the coffee called "Barako". A barako literally means a thug or a bully. This is the coffee that raises your adrenaline, I know.

In the vicinity of the famous lake, there are quaint, European-like houses owned presumably by well-to-do families. My husband is reminded, he says, of countryside England because of these houses and the cold climate.

As a child, I looked for my favourite fruit when we stopped over at the stalls. It is called 'tiessa' and it looks like a ripe papaya on the outside. The taste is like a chiku gone chalky, my brothers would say. But, it did not discourage me and I suspect I had more Vitamin A because of the 'tiessa'. All of us liked the 'atis' (sugar fruit) because of its unbelievable sweetness and we spit out the seeds to hit on each other. I found the pictures of these fruits (Marketman's) and I am brought back to the magic of Taal.

waterloo, bournemouth

A conversation like this comes up now and then.

MEEZA: Where is 'waterloo'?

ME (remembering the battle movie): It was where Napoleon Bonaparte lost. It was his last battle. Rod Steiger was Napoleon in the movie...

HUBBY(with 'stop it mom look' at me) : Waterloo is the railway station where Daddy used to take trains from London to Bournemouth where Daddy went to school.

MEEZA (lighting up, more interested in Dad's history than Napoleon's): Can we go to Bournemouth soon?

21 October 2007

as i see it

The first time that I went to Saudi Arabia, I was struck with many things, one of which is the stark difference betwen the Saudi women and the Asian Muslim women. The Saudis called us Asian looking women, "Siti" for reasons I do not know. It must be a convenient form of salutation.

In Asia, we drive, do our shopping without our husbands tagging along, and more important, I think, work outside our homes. In the Philippines, where I was born, the Muslim women generally participate in political exercises, like voting, referendums, campaigns, running for offices, etc. I will not go to the extent of how the Saudi women might be wanting of liberties that we have in our lives. For all I know, they maybe a happy lot even without these "freedoms".

One other difference is how we cover ourselves. I have to admit, I was quite disturbed with seeing the swarms of women in black, faces unseen and unfathomable. While I saw some Asians (they are Asians, because of their heights and their sounds too) wearing the niqab or burka fully concealing themselves too, most of us wore our tudungs or hijabs which is less restrictive, but some would think as less pleasing to Allah.

A lot of us would do away with the hijab, too. My cousin, Shalimar, is very exasperated with her mom who does not bother covering up. This is another unique story and brings both of us to marvel about the eccentricities of people in our lives.

In airports, the hijabs we wear become problematic, when people stare and look at us like we were going to blow up some aeroplanes. More security checks and questions for us too because of our names. Hello!! Do I look like a suicide bomber tagging along my beautiful precious child to finish our lives just like that?

Hijabs, niqabs, burkas - we have our choices, let no one dictate us. We were always taught that our modesty is the responsibility of our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons, but let it be our own accountability too. We must be able to use our minds, do interpretative thinking, be real Muslims, fair and just and not imposing and intolerant. And if we choose to cover up (or not), then let us do it with dignity and without fear.

16 October 2007

secrets of happiness

What makes you happy? I don't mean the euphoric-manic, fleeting, on and off feeling but the kind that's peaceful, serene and permanent even in the midst of troubles and misfortunes. I learned late in life the inverse proportion between happiness and my needs (including the need to be happy)...the less my needs are, the more that I can be happy. And learned that you can't look for happiness. It just sits still for you to embrace it.

Happiness comes from contentment, in giving (generous people are always a happy bunch) and acceptance of things that you cannot change. Optimistic people are happy people. They see a half-full cup rather than a half-empty cup. Happiness depends on how you resolve sticky situations in your life. It also is reliant on how well you can study people and their motives and intentions and choose your friends from among them.

Being able to forgive and forget is a secret to life-long happiness. "He who lives happiest has forgotten most" says Robert Anton Wilson. I agree. Being unforgiving, combative, hateful, envious, proud, greedy give way to disenchantment and discontent. It will only leave a gaping hole in one's heart and a disposition that's unsmiling, haughty and disrespectful.

Be less needy, generous, optimistic, forgive and forget, choose your friends - these are secrets to being happy.

15 October 2007

hari raya cookie

The kueh mor is the ultimate cookie for me. The most jaded eaters here would say that it is on equal footing with the best brioches and turrones of the world. This little cookie is even more "godly" than the one that bears the name "the food for the gods" which is really just a crumbly fudgy square of a biscuit. The "suman" even deserves this accolade more, really.

The kueh mor is indescribable, only metaphors can figure its essence. It has the taste of the oozing madness of a white chocolate; the melt in the mouth rapture followed by gorgeous happiness as you swallow the flowing sweetness.

This cookie has the stamp of a rich and old tradition. It is a favourite among visitors during Hari Raya. It is prepared in volumes for this occasion and is served in opened houses.

The kueh mor is basically made from flour, sugar and butter or ghee. The unique ones have added nuts in them. It is made into a small ball and then baked, coated with icing sugar and in most houses placed gingerly in beautiful crystal jars.

This cookie or kueh (cake) literally leaves you speechless. Don't attempt to talk with a kueh mor in your mouth or the consequences can be fatal!

11 October 2007


Every now and then I get this kind of mail in my inbox and I'd like to save this one here - for posterity.

"This is from a book called Disorder in the American Courts, and things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now published by court reporters who had the torment of staying calm while these exchanges were actually taking place.

ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
WITNESS: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.
ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget.
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?
ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
WITNESS: He said, "Where am I, Cathy?"
ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan!
ATTORNEY: Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo?
WITNESS: We both do.
WITNESS: Yes, voodoo.
ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?
ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: Uh, he's twenty-one.
ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Are you ####### me?

ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS: Are you ####### me? Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?
ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death.
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Now whose death do you suppose terminated it?
ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard.
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?
ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.
ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All my autopsies are performed on dead people. Would you like to rephrase that?
ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?
ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy on him!
ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
WITNESS: Huh....are you qualified to ask that question?
And the best for last:
ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law."

09 October 2007

maestro, maestra

Near the door of the room where I hold my classes there is a poster (not my making - it was a product of a reading project launched in school) which reads "If you can read this, then thank your teacher". It does not seek for approval or attention for the reading teachers nor an aggrandizement of some sort. It was just posted alongside other quotable quotes for the sake of the reading project. Nonetheless, it became a reminder for me, a teacher who was taught.

I am lucky to have had good teachers while in school. The ones that had influenced my thinking and my personality were the ones who made me laugh because of their great sense of humour, their booming voices and flair for drama.

I remember Mrs Lu, maths teacher in secondary school, who reduced us to tears and laughter with her surprise quizzes but brought us out from our phlegmatic number-hating selves. We knew we had one of her surprises when she came in and commanded us in her very loud voice - "SPREAD OUT", meaning space out your seats. Then, there would be the deafening dragging and pushing of chairs for a few seconds. It was to be that way for three more years with her.

At the same school, in senior year, we had Mrs Paulate, the bespectaled schoolmarm who was soft spoken but very vocal and intent on perfecting everyone's writing skills. She was from the old school, disciplinarian and very autocratic. In post writing conferences, she would delve on the exact reason why we wrote a particular thought or idea, unmasking us all, and almost always there would be a funny confession or a struggle for language then a quick funny rejoinder from her. In parting, she would deliver a poem and my favourite was "BLOW, BLOW, THY WINTER WIND" every word of which she enunciated and emoted perfectly.

The most eccentric teacher I had in university was the late Dr Cesar Adib Majul, who taught me and classmates, the Muqaddimah. He would now and then interspersed his lessons with surah recitations. Then in a booming voice and with an intent of startling us from our wandering thoughts or in an appreciation of a good discussion, would say "KUN FAYAQUN" to illustrate the beauty and majesty of Creation and of course celebrate the genius of Ibn Khaldun.

So, when you find yourself wondering how you started reading or writing or enjoying learning, then you have got to thank your teachers - really - seriously.

06 October 2007

many lives (3)

It is a pleasure to live in Brunei, a true dar-ul-salam. The people and the settings are uncomplicated, peaceful in contentment, rich in culture and safe and nurturing especially for children growing up. As a result, Meeza has a different childhood from mine; hers is one that is quiet, serene and pious brought about by her secure and loving environment. Her years in Ugama school gave her a composure I can't ever have. It was I, her mom, who reached out and clung to her, the child, for comfort in one moment of fear when we hit turbulence on air. She recited her surahs calmly and steadily, while all I thought about was my impending doom.

In my childhood, the first realization of who I am, was when Zainab, my patrician grandmother, washed for wudhu and donned her pristine 'talukung' to do her solat. Immediately, after her dua at the end of praying, we, the smaller ones, rushed to kiss her hands and her cheeks. In the afternoons, she would sit down on the wooden floor, a thin stick on her hand pointing out to her children the tajwids in the Qur'an.

She and my grandfather and their younger children whose ages were not far from us, lived in a huge, wooden and water-logged house which was connected by bamboo bridges to the smaller houses behind. On those flimsy pathways, we flew our kites and watched for green snakes slither on the water underneath. When it was our time to read the Qur'an, we sped to the smaller houses to escape. Expectedly, because we were the Hollywood-fed, part-time 'hacienda' children (referring to Rosalinda's land-owning roots) who preferred to play and be restless and rowdy as their horse-riding ancestors. Omar, the secular one, seemed not to mind that we were not at par with our cousins in Qur'an reading.

Then, the time came when we felt that something was on the air, when the young uncles and aunties went for their studies, became doctors and alims and chose to stay in exile in far away lands like Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia. I remember having seen the pyramids in postcards and opening parcels containing tasbihs and hijabs for the adults and gold-plated pens for us children. We did not see them for a very long time; only the ones who went for haj or umrah did meet them. Soon, the seventies came and everything changed. It was a turbulent decade for Muslims in the Philippines. The eighties was the time for peace-making and happily for us, the now weary uncles and aunties came home and embraced their secular elders. The future now looked hopeful.

04 October 2007

many lives (2) - adat based

Aside from our secular and non-secular lives, we also had a life that was something not really talked about but simmered and surfaced now and then. We call it our 'adat', age-old customs and traditions that have mingled into our identities: Muslim, Asian, People of the Current, People of the Lake, et al. We referred to 'adat' in times of marriages, births, deaths, wars, and when misfortunes occured in families - close and extended.

'Adat' was called on upon when a girl in our extended family eloped and when an uncle was killed in a dispute with another clan. There was always a quiet busyness, almost eerie and sinister, when people came streaming in and out of our grandparent's house. We knew that the elderly men talked about remedies and planned retributions for honor lost. And, of course, there were peace-making gestures spoken in a language that was subtle, respectful and hopeful because it opened an opportunity or a window for face-saving and diplomacy. My father being one of the elders and who was steeped in the 'Rule of Law' usually had his way. Years later in his career, he became one of only three Muslim justices in the second highest civil court of the land and had a role in developing the Muslim family code and jurisprudence.

Faith, Adat and Hollywood. I really don't know how they worked together. But they did. In the meantime, from where I am, I hear about a continuing revivalism of the Faith sans the 'adat' and whether that's good or bad news, is really another matter for debate.

02 October 2007

many lives (1)

Omar et Rosalinda lived semi-secular lives and loved Hollywood. Understandably so, because they grew up when America was firmly grounded in post-war Philippines. They brought us kids (in our pyjamas) for late night shows in a cinema (we called it the 'theater') a few blocks away from where we lived. Our favourite was Yul Brynner and we were mesmerized with movies such as Taras Bulba, The King and I and the Battle of Neretva. We also watched Sean Connery in many James Bond movies and Omar Sharif in Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia. We slept through movies such as The Lion in Winter and Mary Queen of Scots because of the heavy British accents and the never-ending dialogues. I would love to see these two movies again since I am now so accustomed to this mode of speaking in the almost two decades of living in Brunei.

I remember that the cinema had soft red leatherette chairs as we sat in the 'Lodge' section. We had those seats courtesy of a prosperous uncle who owned the cinema. The chairs were big enough that we curled up in sleep when we were burdened with too many dialogues. However, we watched the war movies with eyes wide awake. The late night double shows started at nine and finished at twelve midnight. Double shows - meaning, there were two films back to back. So, it could be Guns of Navarone 'doubled with' Mutiny on the Bounty at the price of one.

Post movies, we, the children re-enacted the scenes in rowdy mock battles - brothers and sisters with our imaginary weapons battling each other and falling down on the ground, wounded but unbowed. That explains why the girls never had dolls for toys - otherwise, we would have made warriors of them or perhaps doll-played the downfall of Mary Queen of Scots?