Happy 33rd Monthsary. Lufyah.



It is this lack of regret, no, this utter joy, at leaving the supposed center of the universe for a backwater Third World country that has baffled so many of the people I have met here. Many of them -- a few Americans but mostly Filipinos (or former Filipinos) -- seemed to assume that since I was fortunate enough to make it to the States, I would want to stay here permanently. So many times in the past months, I have found myself in the awkward position of having to actually justify why I intended to go back to the Philippines as soon as my studies concluded. I just found it inordinately difficult to come up with reasons for wanting to go home, when this was a decision that seemed so fundamental, so natural, so obvious, that I never really thought I would ever have to defend it before anyone, least of all other Filipinos.

But explain it I had to do, over and over-to relatives, to friends, to classmates and acquaintances. 'I just feel that I would be happier, and be more useful, working back home,' I would say, somewhat apologetically, as if by expressing a desire to stay in the Philippines I was somehow giving offense in some peculiar way. This rather weak response would usually be met with tolerant, half-embarrassed smiles and comments on how much of a sacrifice I was making. What I have never figured out is whether they thought I was a hero or a fool for choosing to make that 'sacrifice.'

Personally, I do not think of myself as either. What is more, I do not even believe that I am making a sacrifice at all.

By choosing to go home, what am I giving up, really? It is not as if by working in Manila I am choosing a life of starvation, deprivation, and abject poverty as compared to the life of wealth and comfort I will supposedly have working in the United States. Certainly on my modest salary from UP -- where I work as a member of the junior faculty -- I will never grow rich, and (thanks to John Osmeña), I will probably never be able to rise above the poverty line by any appreciable margin either. But, with a little extra effort, I will be able to maintain an acceptable level of dignity for myself and my family. Is giving up what amounts to a few extra perks then such a noteworthy sacrifice?

Unlike so many of our OFWs who are forced to go overseas to work for a few years as manual laborers and domestic helpers, my situation, like the situation of so many other university-educated, middle-class Filipinos, does not involve a choice between starvation and survival. Rather, it involves the less spectacular and more prosaic choice of renting a two-bedroom apartment in Quezon City or owning a sprawling house in a New Jersey suburb; of commuting on a UP-Pantranco jeepney or driving the latest model SUV; of making do with a Third World salary or insisting on being paid in the Almighty Dollar.

Neither do I believe that the United States is such a wonderful place to live and raise a family in. This is a country that spends billions on law enforcement and "homeland security," but where almost no one feels safe in their own home. This is a nation with the best medical facilities in the world, but where without health insurance you cannot even get a splinter removed. This is the land of the free, at least until the government starts suspecting you are a terrorist.

And among the Filipinos I have met in the United States, one thing has been nearly as consistent as the surprise that has met my intention to go home. That is if they could keep their higher salaries, if subways could be built in Manila, if the PNP [Philippine National Police] could become less corrupt, if FPJ [Fernando Poe Jr.] could be stopped from becoming president, then they would want to live in the Philippines.

I am glad that I do not have to worry about having any of these conditions met. This May, no matter what happens, I will be flying home.

And it will be the easiest 'sacrifice' I ever had to make.

~ Ibarra Gutierrez, as quoted by Conrado de Quiros, 21 April 2004


Ross is Boss

Alex Ross that is. I've always admired the man for his exceptional work in comics. Exceptional is, of course, an understatement. What I particularly (and consistently) admire when it comes to his art are his renditions of Superman and Batman. Recently, Mr. Ross took the liberty of painting some mock-up posters for the upcoming Superman Movie, were a familiar actor to take on the role of the Man of Steel.

Image courtesy of Super Hero Hype.
What can I say? I'm all for Tom Welling playing Superman. Well, I'm pretty sure there are other buff and square-jawed actors out there which would be solid for the part (like this guy, Henry Cavill, who is said to be Director McG's personal choice for the part), but after Smallville and all, Welling just seems to be the obvious and most logical choice. This poster, however, is in no way related to Warner Brothers' planned 5th installment of the Superman movie franchise, which is scheduled for release around 2006 or 2007. Ross just made this (along with one other image, which you'll find here) just to see how Welling would look like if he were actually cast to play the part (well, Ross actually made them for Wizard, but they never got published).

According to Super Hero Hype:
Back in December, Welling said that he had been approached about the lead role when director Brett Ratner was still on board the project. "I actually went to Brett's house in Los Angeles and we sat down and talked about it a little bit, both knowing that scheduling would always be an issue," Welling said. "Basically, if that movie were to happen, the show would pretty much have to go away, and I don't think that's what anybody wants."
I agree. I don't think Smallville's "going away" is what anybody wants, too. But I don't think anybody wants Nicholas Cage to be Superman either. So there.


You know you can’t expect significant reforms after the elections when the two top contenders for the presidency are competing for support from the Marcos and Estrada camps. Both President Arroyo and actor Fernando Poe Jr. have made no secret of their courtship of deposed President Joseph Estrada, who so far has not changed his mind about endorsing his close friend Poe. President Arroyo flew to Leyte to woo the Romualdez clan, even posing with the family’s most prominent member, former First Lady Imelda Marcos. Not to be outdone, Poe went on a pilgrimage to the Marcos crypt in Batac, Ilocos Norte, and even laid a wreath.

Ask the Arroyo and Poe camps for an explanation and they’ll invoke realpolitik. First you have to win; then you can get serious with reforms. Never mind that both camps are making campaign noises about their commitment to fight corruption. Never mind that both Estrada and Ferdinand Marcos recently made it to a list of the world’s most corrupt — a dubious distinction rejected by both Estrada and Marcos’ heirs. What’s important for the two top contenders in the presidential race is that both Estrada and the Marcoses still command substantial chunks of voter support.

All this is a painful reminder that everything boils down to politics in this country. Vowing to stamp out corruption has become a given in any campaign. Delivering on campaign promises is something else. There’s nothing wrong with posing for pictures with the waxen remains of a dictator and his well-preserved widow, especially if they stood as sponsors at your wedding. Nothing wrong either with chatting with the first president to be arrested and held without bail for massive corruption. Political support, however, does not come free. What deals are struck in exchange for crucial votes?

Amid such political wheeling and dealing, is there a place for a genuine campaign against corruption? We know the answer to this one.

~ Philippine Star Editorial, 19 April 2004



A JAPANESE journalist from Tokyo told me this story: Her father was in the diplomatic service and they moved a lot when she was a kid. She herself grew up in New York, coming back to Japan only when she was 13. Her first language was English, which she speaks to this day with an American accent. She had a hard time speaking Japanese when they moved back to Japan. Though it was the language spoken at home even when they lived in New York, she didn't pick it up that well. So she had to learn the language almost from scratch when she came back. Even now, she says, she sometimes gropes for the right word in Japanese.

But that is not her story. Her story is that when she was in Greece many years ago, an American woman heard her talking in English, and seeing that she was Japanese came up to her and wondered if she could fix her (the American woman's) camera. She was taken aback but swiftly regained her composure. She figured with no small amount of amusement that Japanese honor was at stake. Who knows, if she failed to fix it she would constitute living proof that Japanese technological expertise was on the decline. Yes, it was a Japanese camera, a Canon. For some reason, its carrier presumed it carried a warranty for substitute parts and repair guaranteed by every Japanese citizen.

My friend bravely took on the daunting task. To her relief, the problem turned out to be a simple one. The spool of film had gotten unhooked from the spindle and wouldn't roll. She made a big show about analyzing the situation, with judicious shakes and nods of the head, and as though with strenuous effort slid the roll of film back in place. She gave back the camera to the American tourist with a bow and a few words of broken English. The tourist after a few clicks of the camera was deeply impressed and thanked her profusely.

When my friend told this story to her American friends, they were deeply embarrassed and apologized profusely for their compatriot. She laughed contentedly.

Filipinos have their own reputations abroad, some good, some bad. I still remember the editor of an Arab newspaper telling me that in some parts of Saudi Arabia, cops have started taking bribes on the street. They rarely did that before, but it had spread like an epidemic over the last few years. The source of the virus appeared to be the Filipinos, a thriving community, who had applied their enormous persuasive skills to making the traffic cops look the other way, or the opposite direction of Mecca.

Last week, an official of the EU Commission told me how he found it so easy to deal with Filipinos. Filipinos, he said, were talented, trustworthy and easy to get along with. He himself had had a Filipino maid for some time. He met her in Hong Kong where he and his family had lived for many years, and his family became so dependent on her they brought her along to Japan when they moved there. Which proved to be a considerable social leap upward for the maid. My friend went on to pepper his story with unsavory comments about how Hong Kong was treating the Filipino maids, confining their social engagements to a tiny square where they flocked on Sundays.

I told my friend that the Filipino reputation abroad for being quality service providers wasn't exactly a huge source of pride for the country. He started to apologize, but I said it was completely all right. The export of human labor, which has probably overtaken agricultural products as the country's chief trade item, was the one thing that was keeping the Philippines afloat. No maids, no caretakers, no nurses, no Juan de la Cruz.

Everyone to a man or woman spoke of the many virtues of the Filipinos, and not entirely out of politeness. That went with much head-shaking questions about what was ailing the country. To have such a people with such enviable capabilities but to have fallen to such unenviable straits, it did not make sense. I confessed I did not know the answers, although I suspected the fact that all those talents were being put at the service of the world rather than (directly) of the country might be one of them, if it wasn't the source of the predicament itself.

The artistic talents of Filipinos particularly got rave reviews. It wasn't just in popular music Filipinos excelled in, it was in graphic arts as well. One Singaporean editor told me his paper had several Filipino cartoonists and illustrators, and the quality of their work had brought his paper much prestige and many awards. He wouldn't part with them for all the world, he said, though he wouldn't say that to them or they might immediately ask for a raise. Other Singaporean newspapers had Filipinos as well. I said I knew a couple of them, though most of the graphic artists I knew were in Hong Kong.

There was one other quality Filipinos had, my Singaporean friend said emphatically, addressing himself to the men and women in our company over sake in a dive in Fukuoka on a cold night. It was that, man or woman, Filipinos were exceptionally charming. They laughed a lot, and made friends easily. If you don't watch out, he told the others, you'd lose your boyfriends or girlfriends to them. Or you'd end up being their boyfriend or girlfriend. One Filipino man in fact became the subject of a recent scandal in Singapore, as two well-known Singaporean women fought for his affections.

Filipinos are very articulate as well, one Thai woman told me. You notice, she said, that they're the ones who're very active in conferences, along with the Indians.

Good question: Given the talent, what in God's name has happened to us? The only thing worse than being poor all your life is being rich once and now being abjectly miserable. That's the thing that truly cuts to the quick.

~ Conrado De Quiros, 16 April 2004


Shaolin Shutter

Hadoken!!!"You killed my Mastah...I will make you pay! Finishing strike: Wrath of the Stupid-looking Picture-taker!"
Heh heh heh. Even the way he holds the camera has this Kung-Fu element to it. Makes you wonder how you look when you take your pictures, doesn't it?


It's Out! It's Out!

The new trailer for Spider-man 2 is out, and I just have to say...IT KICKS SO MUCH ASS!!! Check it out at apple.com or at the official site. Oh yeah, small, medium, large, and fullscreen versions of the trailer are also available for download. Sweeeeeet!


Movies, Movies, and More Movies

The last time I was this excited about movies, it was the year Spider-man was going to be shown in theaters. This year, not only am I absolutely pissing my pants over Spider-man 2 in July, I'm dying to see a whole bunch of upcoming flicks, whose trailers I've gotten the chance to see courtesy of Yahoo! Movies. At the rate of things, 2004 is going to go down in history as the year of the movies (click on the links to launch the trailer pages).

  • Hellboy - Though I haven't had the chance to browse through the comics, I guess I know enough about Hellboy to be pretty worked up about the soon-to-open big-screen adaptation. As of this writing, the movie's made it to the top of the charts on its first week at the box office. I can't wait for it to start screening here.

  • I, Robot - Set in the year 2035, Will Smith plays a Homicide detective whose latest case involves a robot suspect accused of murder. Though the plot is more or less patterned after some events in the Animatrix's Second Renaissance, this film still manages to pique my interest. Probably the technogeek in me.

  • Kill Bill Volume 2 - Well, I really liked the first, so I'd be really stupid to not go and see the second.

  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - Mad Scientist tries to take over the world and unleashes his army of old-school giant robots of doom, and man's only hope for survival is a hotshot pilot known as Sky Captain. Sort of has The Rocketeer feel to it, which I find really, really interesting.

  • The Girl Next Door - Elisha Cuthbert plays a porn star. 'Nuff said.

  • The Punisher - Though John Travolta and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos are enough to make me want to go and see this movie, I'm quite interested to see how Thomas Jane is going to pull off his portrayal of Frank Castle. Besides, anything that would help me forget the nightmare of the Lundgren-helmed version is always welcome.

  • The Village - Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Need I say more?

  • Troy - When you mix Greek Mythology and Brad Pitt together, you have something I am destined to watch. This film shares the top spot with Spider-man 2 for "movies that Ejay Paz can afford to cut class for".

  • Van Helsing - Falls under the category of I-don't-care-if-the-setting-is-medieval-and-my-weapons-are-modern-because-it-still-looks-really-cool movies, which I just happen to be a sucker for. Plus, aside from the fact that Hugh Jackman is easily one of my favorite actors, I'm hopeful that I'll get to see Kate Beckinsale in tight leather pants again ala-Underworld.
Other films I'd also want to see: Walking Tall, King Arthur, Ella Enchanted, Harry Potter 3, Thunderbirds, and Taking Lives.

Wait, I think I hear Greenhills and Makati Cinema Square calling me.


Have No Fear...

...the Batmobile is here! Courtesy of the Batman Begins official site.

Now if this doesn't scare the living crap out of any "cowardly and superstitous lot", I don't know what will. Man, I can't wait...and we haven't even reached the middle of this year!