Tuesday, April 22, 2003

The 18th of April was Good Friday. In the Phillipines of my youth, you had to be very quiet and very sombre during Good Friday. It was a day of penance, a day to remember the sacrifice of Christ for humanity.

For a child, it was day of mystery. I went to church and saw these old women praying at stations, kneeling for the whole day at the church without a sound. All I can see were their lips moving, mumbling. The women always covered their hair with a "belo". I am currently in search for the belo in order to create images from my childhood of religion. If you have any belo from your grandmama, contact me!!!

The images of Christ were huge to a child. Invariably, they were always European in image -- aquiline nose, fair skin, and long brown hair. If God really made man in his image, then Europe really did a number on the image of Christ.

There was something grotesque about praying to a statue. I kept wondering about who changes Christ's clothes during the different parts of the year. Whoever did it saw God naked. How embarassing for God. He must be saying, "Damn, it's Easter season again. Yup, sure enough, here's Tatang Barong with his newly washed clothes....Take it easy Tatang, I might be a statue, but I am delicate like a flower....Not bad....Velvet. I dress better than his children."

The other main stay of Good Friday is of course the pabasa. Generally, it is a tradition of reading about the story of Christ's death. I guess it is a Tagalog tradition because I some from Pangasinan have never heard of it. I was lucky enough to attend one this past 18th. It was wonderful!

There is a magic to a pabasa. There is the intonation and melody. There is the singing. There is the give an take between different readers. The leader is followed closely by everyone else. But if someone is unhappy with how things are going, there could be a rebellion in the music or intonation. But even then, the melody is repeated over and over with pasyon! That is the key. Passion. It is the passion of the story of Christ's life. It must be repeated with passion. With feeling. With sentiment. With humor. After all, the pasyon must reflect the Filipino daily life which is full of feeling, passion and humor.

It took me a while to get the rhythm down. But pretty soon, I was singing albeit I was using a very low volume. My friend's father became part of this one group of men who participated in the pasyon while I was looking on. They had the spirit of the pasyon in them. Considering they were all over 60 years old, I was quite surprised by their humor and their singing. In some ways, it is not surprising because they have been doing it for their whole life. But, in another way, their singing spoke of their dedication.

Their singing is like the rapids in a river. Everyone else's singing is like the river merrily coursing on its way to the ocean. But soon enough, here are the rapids. Huge boulders block the water. There is a fall of ten to fifteen feet. The channel narrows into the huge boulders. The water rushes past speeds up to meet and overcome the obstacle. Their voice were lilting, teasing and showing off. "Oh, you can extend your one syllable to two measures? We can extend one syllable into three measures."

But of course, this is a karinderia. So what about the food? Well, there is no meat in the pabasa because you must sacrifice just like Christ sacrificed. But the good thing is that fish is not classified as meat. There was a huge baked salmon in the party. I think it had some parsley and salt and pepper. There was also some fried fish. I did not delve into that one because I did not want to deal with the bones. To compensate for not eating the fried fish, I instead delved into the fried ukoy which is made up of small shrimps and scraped squash which is then deep fried. Umm, YUM. Not good for your triglycerides though.

And can we celebrate rice as a dessert item? Good lord, there was rice dessert everywhere. Kutsinta is the consummate standard. How can you not have kutsinta and still call it a party. It is squishy but imminently biteable. Then we have the palitaw. And the ube covered in coconut shavings. Can you feel your blood sugar reaching 200 or the dreaded 300 level? Well, how about the suman? Surely, you can dip it into some more sugar just to make it taste just right.

I guess I'll start getting notes so that I get to name everything that I try out. Hmm, maybe I will do that.

Sige, sa susunod, we'll discuss Kalderetang Easter.


Thursday, April 17, 2003

It's a full moon tonight. There is something about nights like this. It drives the minds and souls of men apart. The moon affects the mind so that nothing makes sense. The moon affects the heart so that emotions are much deeper. Emotions bleed truer.


Normal cholesterol; Low HDL; High LDL; High Triglycerides. Seeing the numbers on the piece of paper forced me to reality. I have known about the possibility of cardiovascular disease in myself. After all, with the diet of adobo, kare-kare, rice and bagoong, the Philippine diet is a prescription for heart disease and diabetes.

But, those dishes are some of the defining moments of being Pinoy. Dinuguan with putong puti is a staple for the Easter weekend. There is a prize for the quiet and the solitude of Good Friday. It is all the food that you will have when Christ is resurrected. Just as He is reborn, so shall all the delightful food be reborn with Him.

As the Holy Week approaches, I lament at the lack of tradition for Filipinos in the US. I suppose that I speak of the middle-age group. I know for a fact that somewhere in Oakland, CA there are PABASAS wherein the life of Christ is recounted in a traditional songfest. As I remember, they start from Thursday and can go on till Easter. The sections of the Bible are sung in verse. The melody is made up as you go along and depends on the participants. I hopefully will have an opportunity to witness a pabasa this Good Friday. Maybe, I will have an opportunity to interview some of the old timers about traditions.


Knives are the heart of the kitchen. Very early on, I decided that I needed to replace my trusty knife that was bought at Thrifty. That particular knife had been so used that the wood surrounding the tang of the knife had started to rot. I decided that I really should buy a knife that will last me a long time. So off I went to Ohrbach's in Oakland where the Sears store currently resides.

I was wide-eyed at the assortment of knives available. It seemed that each type of cutting required a different sort of knife. There's a bread knife; a chef's knife; a boning knife; even a knife for paring fruits. I was in knife heaven. But which brand to buy? I could go American of course. That is the usual standby. But in this instant, I decided that I wanted the German knife. Henckel's! I was impressed by the handle of the knife. Now, this was before Henckel's began producing knives for the mass market. There was only the professional series being sold. I ended up with a 12" chef's knife, a boning knife, a paring knife, and the sharpener.

The interesting thing was that I always thought that knives were always sharpened. In the Philippines, the knife sharpener rode his bicycle around with a contraption that allowed him to sharpen knives. He would take the bicycle chain and place it on the contraption so that the contraption's wheel would begin rotating as he pedaled. Then, he would place the knife against the wheel and sparks would fly like firecrackers in the sky.

In the advertisement for the Henckel's knife, they explained that their knife never needs to be sharpened by the wheel. The knife edge is really composed of a series of teeth. When the knife is sharp, the teeth are aligned straight. When the knife starts getting dull, the teeth have been bent out of shape. I tested this claim and must admit that after running the paring knife across the circular sharpener, the paring knife cuts as good as new. This works with the chef's knife too.

This past weekend, a friend's mother gave a set of the miracle blades which one sees on the telivision late-night advertisements. These knives purport to never need sharpening. If one were to examine the edges of the knives, they are really knife teeth with an exaggerated size. I suppose that is one reason why they never need sharpening. The teeth are so hugh that they will never misalign.

I had gone to a knife store during the Christmas holiday to buy a knife as a present. I was looking at the stock and was hoping that they would have Henckel's. When I asked, the seller made a face and said that Henckel's was not very good. I knew immediately that I would never buy a knife from that store for my personal use. I mean, I understand that you are trying to sell, but come on. To lie about it!

I am deciding whether someday, I will have a knife solely dedicated to slicing a turkey. The romantic part of me is infatuated with the idea of giving that knife to my kid. The idea of a family heirloom. But the problem with that is that if you have more than one child, who gets the knife? It's not fair for the others. Furthermore, it would only promote the need for material gains. I'm all for being rich, but not for gaining more and more material crap.

Sige, Ingat kayo.

Friday, April 11, 2003

The freedom to speak. What a great gift it is to be able to say what you think wherever you are. Sometimes, I don't understand Americans. They say that they fight for the freedom of speech, but then again, they muzzle other people.

The baseball hall of fame has cancelled a showing of the movie "Bull Durham" because they were afraid that Susan Sarandon and her husband Tim Robbins would make a political statement. What is so bad about that? They actually use their brains and express intelligent opinion. In a world where everyone just believes what the media says, it is a pleasure to actually hear opinions. That's actually one sign that you live in a democracy. You can speak your mind and you don't have to get worried about being shot or disappearing.

I saw Michael Moore when he spoke after winning his Oscar. He criticized the war in Iraq. He got booed by the audience. I suppose people equate criticism of the war in Iraq with not supporting the troops. I suppose that stems from Vietnam. But to get back to the point, this is the stuff that democracy is supposed to do. You can speak your own mind. But hey, in return, if people don't like what you say, they can boo you off the stage.

I just go back to the first time I saw blacks demonstrating against segregation in the South. If you look at the old tapes, you will see them march and get beaten. Blacks would march in Freedom busses and get off the bus stations and they would be greeted by a mass of whites with hate-filled faces. The blacks would demonstrate and march in the middle of the road and the police would use fire hoses to stop them from demonstrating. Not only water was used, but German sheperds were also used to attack and intimidate the demonstrators. Oh, and of course, the usual array of batons and sticks were also used to beat people into submission.

Pretty much, anything was doable to the people demonstrating against segregation. The techniques of intimidation and force are much subtler nowadays. But the idea behind it is still the same. Ignorance.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

April 8, 2003
Today, the US begins control of Baghdad. No sign of Saddam anywhere. I found it disturbing that Americans were destroying Saddam?s pictures/monuments. I was hoping that we could leave those things to the Iraqis themselves. There?s nothing like blowing up a symbol of dominance. It releases the soul.

Iraqis were gathering around a big statue. Maybe they will destroy it with their hands. More likely, they will ask a tank to pull it down. An American tank. What type of symbolism does that send? That we will help all that are oppressed by dictators? Or does it have to be a dictator that has mass weapons of destruction. I am still confused by our American policy on foreign affairs.