Sunday, November 30, 2008


11" x 17"
pen and ink on paper


With my hands trembling, I slowly tore off the top of the thick white envelope I got in the mail. It had the university’s logo on the upper left and my name neatly typed across the middle. A couple of days before, two of my friends in high school who took the same exam as I did already received the same envelope. But theirs wasn't as thick as mine and I also found out that the letter inside their envelopes contained the sad news that they didn't make the cut. "Well there's still UST and FEU," said Honesto when he read his.

That night, my mother was still at our neighbor’s house - Aling Josie - exchanging gossip. I was alone at home and staring at the neatly torn top of the thick envelope. "Did I pass? Or did the person who closed my envelope simply placed in thicker wads of paper which would eventually contain the same thing - that I failed."

I gingerly took out the sheets of paper stuffed inside and slowly unfolded one of them. And there it was, the words typed neatly with an electric typewriter on an immaculate white sheet monogrammed with the university’s logo, "you successfully passed...".


I rushed to our next door neighbor and looked for my mother. I told her the news and immediately told her, "I passed it. But is it okay if I go instead to Ateneo?"

"But I thought you preferred that one?" she wondered.

"I know. But now you know that I passed. Besides I am qualified for that full scholarship in Ateneo and take up B.A. English," I told her thinking with the conviction of a young man who believes he can conquer the world.

"Hay naku. Bahala ka. As long as you make sure we can afford the tuition fees," she told me with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Go home and cook the rice for dinner.”

While I was heading back home I passed by the gate of my uncle Tito Sinforoso and his wife Tita Caring.

"Pssst. Psst!!" I heard and turned my head to see Tomas ushering me to come closer.

"Daddy's calling you upstairs to his study," he told me as I came closer. Although, Tito Sinforoso and Tita Caring never had children, they had their wards that they raised. Tomas, was one of them. A child of one of the patients at the National Mental Hospital where Tito Sinforoso and Tita Caring worked until their retirement, I've always found it odd to hear him call my uncle as "daddy".

"Why?" I asked Tomas. "I don't know. He saw you passing by from his window and just told me to call you to him," he said with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Okay," was all I said as I followed him through the gate and down the narrow corridor leading to the main door. I followed him up the wooden flight of stairs with the shiny, polished mahogany banister. I took a mental note that when I come down later I'll slide down from it.

Upon reaching the top, he lifted his right hand and motioned me to wait. He turned to the big black narra door with the shiny brass doorknob. He knocked once and turned it.

"Daddy, he's here," he announced.

"Come in," a low voice came from behind the door. "Go in," Tomas said. When I stepped inside the room I heard him closing the door behind me and the knob clicking.

I have only been to Tito Sinforoso's study twice in my entire young life. The first time, I was playing hide-and-seek with Tomas and three other kids. I hid behind one of the big shelves. It was a good hiding spot except that I shrieked in pain and terror when my foot was caught on a mousetrap, prematurely giving away where I was hiding. The second time I was there was when I sneaked inside when nobody was around and "borrowed" a book that caught my fancy. It was a handsome volume of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. I swore I would return it after reading but I never did.

I stood there in front of his large wooden table which was at the far end of the room surrounded by walls of shelves brimming with books. He was sitting behind it on a high backed wooden swivel chair, the kind they had in the fifties, wearing a crisply ironed white short-sleeved shirt. Come to think of it, I’ve only seen him wearing that kind of shirt when he was alive.

He has white hair cut very short. In fact, it was cut so short it reminds me of Apolinario Mabini, the Great Plebian's photo from one of my school books. It made him look scholarly and old, especially since he wears those black horn-rimmed glasses.

“Sit down,” he said in his soft voice as he raised a hand to gesture me towards the small wooden chair beneath a lamp with a shade made of capiz that gave out an eerie yellowish glow.

“I see you already received your admission letter,” he told me as his eyes gazed on the envelope I had in my hand. “And it seems that from the look of how thick it is, you already received your other documents to enroll there, haven’t you?” he further added.

“Yes sir,” I meekly replied.

“Your mother told me that you also passed P.N.C. (Philippine Normal College now a University), La Salle, UST and Ateneo. I also hear that you topped the exams in the former, is that right?” he inquired. “You know your cousin Linda is a librarian there and she already has a spot for you when you visit her at the library.” (My cousin Linda is the chief librarian in PNC. The moment she heard I topped the exams she already trumpeted that I’ll either be a teacher or a doctor someday. I hear she’s already readied a table just for me in the library.)

He took the black horn-rimmed glasses from the bridge of his nose, blew on it until it fogged and wiped it with a white handkerchief from his breast pocket. He put back his glasses again and neatly folded his kerchief. “So, have you made a decision to which school you’re going to for college?” he asked as he slid his kerchief back into his breast pocket.

“I will enroll in Ateneo. I figured I can go there with the scholarship I got. Besides Tito, they have a good program and some of my former classmates from grade school also passed,” I told him firmly. Of course, it wasn’t really the program nor the other kids I know who are going there. It’s the idea that I’ll be heading for a more exclusive and private Catholic university where every thing I've been comfortable and familiar with will be several notches higher.

“I see. The Jesuits are known for good education,” he said as he leaned back on his swivel chair. He paused for a few seconds in deep thought as I stared down on my toenails thinking I need to cut them soon. They’ve grown too long. I was in this reverie when he sat straight on his chair, making it creak.

“If you so choose to go and enroll in THAT university (he turned his gaze on the envelope in my hand), you won’t be studying inside a classroom. There will be a bigger world out there for you - a much bigger world than you could ever think of,” he told me as he looked me straight in the eye. For a moment, I thought I saw a glint in his eyes, a sort of sparkle that I have never seen in this old scholar of an uncle.

It was right then when I heard my mother calling from below.

“Your mother’s calling you. It is already getting late. You should go now,” he said.

“Yes, sir. I will think about it.”

I stood up when I heard my mother calling my name again and hurriedly went to the door. I gently closed it behind me and took some quick strides toward the steps. I held on to the banister and had the urge to slide down… but I stopped. I smiled at myself and thought, “I’ll do it next time.”

That night, after dinner when I’ve already put the dishes aside and was alone at the table, I opened the envelope again and took out several of the forms. I took a pen from my father’s pant pocket and proceeded to write my name on the form 5 sent by U.P.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Blue Sky
painting - 36" x 36", acrylic on canvas
drawing - 11" x 17", pen and ink on paper

“Hay naku. You actually made the drawing into a painting?!" exclaimed Andre when he saw the finished piece while fiddling through his bag for a cigarette.

"Well, might as well do it. It's already time to put it on canvas you know," I told him.

"Sigh... that painting just reminds me of the past," he added with a grimace as he flicked a lighter to light the cigarette he stuck between his lips.

"Look at it this way. You're still alive and "growing"... well, more like around the waist," I joked.

"HMPH!", was all he said as he raised an eyebrow and puffed a long trail of smoke out the window.


(I wrote this old post on February 24, 2007 for a pen and ink work of the same title above.)

"I AM TIRED OF MY LIFE” is an oft-repeated statement of someone I know dearly. It’s a statement that I can’t blame him for mentioning.

He lost his house twice. He lost a chance at romance. He lost a niece and almost lost his mother who is now groping for her sanity. Now he’s battling for his life in a hospital. There’s not much of a happy moment in between these tragedies, and no matter how much cheering up I or anyone can give him, his is a life full of it. One can even say it’s already his middle name or it’s an invasive twin attached to his side.

For the past few years, he’s been battling a tsunami of emotions predicated by a proportional seesawing of his weight. The last time he had a full and hearty laugh of joy is now but a distant memory for him. Months and days have been spent crying and cursing at the life he leads.

“When will this fucking hardship end? If this is God’s idea of a joke, then He’s much too cruel.”

I am left dumbfounded at the face of this person’s despair. I, who thinks life is hard enough trying to survive running after an elusive dream, merely has to look at this person just to humble myself.

“Do you know why the sky is blue?”

“Aside from a Yahoo commercial I have heard about why it’s blue, no, I don’t.”

“It’s His way of mocking people like me – prisoners of our own tragedies. It’s like you’re in a ten-by-ten foot prison cell with nothing but rough bricks and bars around you. Then there’s this small window above your head and the only thing you can see through it is a tiny piece of blue sky. That’s Him saying, “You can only see this, but you can’t touch it.”

A few weeks have passed. The operation saved his life and I got this message from him, “Am okay. Got out of the hospital and my mom’s doing better. I guess I won’t see you for a while until I get to sort things out. Take care.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Plet sent me this photo in the mail showing me where she's hung Nene in her home. It's staring right beside a huge painting of hers with Manet popping out of a balikbayan box.

She also calls her "Kikay". Hmmm, come to think of it, she is rather quite kikay.

Thanks Pletypus. She now has a proper home.

*Kikay - Tagalog slang word for flirtatious and flamboyant. (I hope I defined it right)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


(left) acrylic on canvas, 40" x 30";
(right) pen and ink on paper, 20" x 14"

(Both works can be viewed at 1/of Gallery)

(I entered this on Illustration Friday on their weekly contest with SIMILAR as a topic.)

Every day at 2 in the morning, like clock work, the section of the street in front of Libertad Market becomes alive with trucks and carts rolling in filled to the brim with the day’s supply of meat. Men would haul the carcasses of pigs and cows on their shoulders with their knives and cleavers dangling from their waists ready to cut the meat into sections once these are dumped on to the stalls. The air is filled with the sweet and dank smell of blood and sweat amidst the cacophony of shouts and yells from the men and women scurrying about preparing for the start of another market day.

It is during one of these early mornings when I found myself buying meat in the market. I buy them from this one particular vendor. I’ve known her only as Aling Emily. She’s hefty, smokes like a chimney and is as foul-mouthed as any of the big rough men who haul the meat from the trucks. I pass by her stall to see her daily supply and get my usual single kilo of pork.

Uy, suki! Maganda at sariwa karne ko ngayon. Galing ng Batangas. May karneng kabayo ako baka gusto mo? (My meat is good and fresh today. I even have horse meat from Batangas),” she waved her hand at me as I stopped by her stall.

“I’ll just have my usual. One kilo of pork. Liempo,” I said.

Ang aga mo yata ngayon ah. Ikaw ang buena mano ko. Oh heto, LIMANG KILO ng baboy para sa iyo (You’re early today. You’re my first customer. Five kilos of pork),” she said, and in one deft stroke, she sliced A HUGE SLAB from the mound of pig’s meat in front of her. She weighed it, placed it in a red plastic bag and handed the slab to me.

“That’s too much,” I remarked with surprise etched on my face.

Hay naku. Libre na yan. Pa-tenk yu ko na yan sa idrinowing mo na project ng anak ko. Perpek iskor daw siya (No, it’s free. It’s my thank you for drawing my daughter’s project. She got a perfect score)”

“Hah? Really?? Thanks. I should’ve ordered more,” I jokingly said.

Kung gusto mo, meron dito akong karne ng kabayo (If you like, I have here horsemeat),” she said while reaching for a mound of unfamiliar dark meat.

“It’s okay. This is already too much. I appreciate it a lot,” I said and proceeded to go to the other stalls.

Oh sige, sa susunod na magpapa-drawing anak ko, sabihin mo lang kung anong karne ang gusto mo (Next time my daughter has another drawing assignment, just tell me what choice of meat you like),” she called at me as another customer came to her stall.

I smiled while walking with the meat in hand and wondered when her daughter will have another drawing assignment.


“So, how would you know if you’re buying a *double dead meat?” I asked Vicky one morning while she opened up the clinic downstairs.

“The taste is different. It’s doesn’t taste fresh,” she said with authority.

“But how would you know if the taste is different, especially if you’re buying it from the meat stalls? You’ll poke your finger into the meat and lick it?” I jabbed her with mischievous sarcasm.

Libertad Market has been raided twice this year by the police. Some unscrupulous meat vendors were caught red-handed selling double dead meat. It was the second raid that I got to witness firsthand when a bunch of lawmen came swooping down through the stalls at dawn apprehending the vendors selling these items. They were cuffed and loaded into waiting police vans and the meat were hauled into another truck, declared as unfit for consumption and hopefully destroyed.

“So why all the trouble of selling this kind of meat anyway?” I further asked Vicky.

“Because they’re cheap,” she said.

“So you buy that stuff?” I asked.

! You can die from eating that or get some weird disease,” she said emphatically.

“But you do know how it tastes like, don’t you?” I followed up.

Of course,” she said.

Hmm, it made me wonder if there’s anything wrong with Vicky.


*Double Dead Meat refers to animals that died (usually of disease) hours or even days prior to being slaughtered. These are passed on in the market as freshly slaughtered. Libertad Market has been the scene of several raids. I found out from a policeman friend here in Pasay that the market and the nearby street of Villanueva has been raided more than 3x this year.

Double dead meat is also called "bocha" in street language.



I was reading a while ago that in medieval Europe, vertical stripe patterns are only worn by traders in the lower ranks like butchers. It's interesting that I remember Aling Emily the butcher wearing her long striped dress.

p.s. I wish I have a good digicam. The painting above beside the pen-and-ink version is a lot better than what you see here. In the words of Flosie who took the picture with her phonecam,"Koyah Dan, magatambok gani ang bayi nimo. Parang nga mag-jump day-ah sa painting."(Kuya Dan, she's so fat. The figure looks like she's gonna "jump" from the painting.) She's Ilongga and spells Emily as "E-m-E-l-y".

Monday, November 10, 2008



He was covered in tattoos, the kind that you see inked on half-naked men in prison. He was also quite old, perhaps as old as my own father who’s turning 79 this year. The tattoos are so faded on his leathery skin that they seemed more like smudges of black grease.

“Son, do you know where I could take the jeep to Moriones?” he asked me in a soft scratchy voice. “I seem to be lost.”

“Naku, Lolo that’s far from here. This is Pasay. Moriones is in Tondo,” I answered in surprise.

“Is that so ‘Toy? Could you just point me where I could take the jeep going to Moriones? I haven’t been out for so long, so many things have changed,” he said in an apologetic tone.

From the short distance from my place to the corner where he can take a ride on a Divisoria-bound jeep, I learned that the old man was recently released from prison in Muntinlupa. Half-understanding what he was telling me during that slow pace to the corner, I found out that he used to live in Tondo before prison and is hoping to find some living relatives in his old street.

“Here we are Lolo. This is where you could take a jeep to Divisoria. You would know your way from there, yes?” I gently asked him.

He did not respond anymore but rather was looking at the jeeps passing by. He was picking out from the vehicles’ signboards his ride through glazed eyes.

Lolo, do you have money?” I gently tapped him on the shoulder and gently asked him.

He turned his head, looked at me with his glassy eyes and looked back again towards the coming jeeps.

I dug into my pockets, took out most of the money with me and gently squeezed his arm.

Lolo, take this. You will need it,” I told him. He looked at my hand holding a few bills and I could see the hesitation in his eyes. I took his hand and placed the bills in his palm.

"Naku, thank you ‘Toy. Thank you. May God bless you. Salamat sa tulong mo", he thanked me profusely, grabbing hold of my arm as if something in him broke.

When I saw a coming vehicle with a Divisoria signboard, I flagged it down and helped him get into it.

As I held him while he took his step up the vehicle, I heard him say, “I hope they remember me.”


I received in my mail a few weeks ago a small package from Filipina-American Evelyn Resella. A doting grandmother, she's one of those great people I have met here in cyberspace. What's more interesting is that she is also an painter.

Her works have always reminded me of Grandma Moses who started painting during her senior years (I believe she was already 72). Grandma Moses, an icon in American art, began painting when she had arthritis and shifted from crochet to painting on hard cardboard.

Evelyn's works have this nostalgic feel in them of a life she left behind here in the Philippines and of that she's been living for the past four decades in the U.S. She paints of fiestas, haranas, the Filipino-American life in California, her travels in the Caribbean and in Hawaii and her family. It's a lot of ideas and subjects for a painter to do. But one thing is very noticeable in her paintings, and it is that one gets a sense of a joie du vivre of a life fully lived.

Extensively colorful like a typical Pinoy fiesta, her canvasses explode with a wide-eyed wonderment in her colors and figures. There's a certain feeling of joy to see images painted with fond memories flowing from every corner. She has canvasses where she paints of bucolic sceneries mishmashed with other very Filipino themes - tinikling, planting rice, jeepenys. Like Moses, all her works are drawn from her earlier experiences, during the times when life was simpler and she, unabashedly, wanes nostalgic in her works.

I am glad I have known this artist. She's currently building up her collection to number 65... the age she had her first one-woman show in California. And perhaps someday, she'll be the Filipino-American equivalent of Grandma Moses.